Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Back in the garden

For the first time since 2013, our little container garden is back in full production and I'm thrilled. Especially since we're in the midst of tomato season. Nothing tastes better than a home-grown tomato, nothing.

crazy hot peppers in an Earthbox 

I still grow our little garden in Earthboxes. They're self-watering containers and if you don't want to fork out the bucks for them there are tutorials on how to make your own. This year I planted 3 Sweet Million cherry tomato plants, 3 Better Boy tomato plants and jalapenos, ghost peppers and Carolina Reaper peppers. The latter two I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, but the boy likes them (he's weird).

Dwarf sunflower, aren't they cute?

I also planted nasturtiums, two kinds of basil, green onions, spinach (which is long gone by now) and dwarf sunflowers, all from seed. Unfortunately, for the first time ever my zinnias didn't germinate well so I only have a few of those, but I'll try again next year.

Salad with homegrown purple basil and a nasturium (edible and pretty!)

The tomatoes are doing great and every day I excitedly hunt for more cherry tomatoes. I'm still waiting on my first Better Boy. And as soon as we have a few of those I'll be able to make homemade salsa, yum yum!

Last year I planted one cherry tomato plant and wanted more, so this year I went with more cherry tomatoes and fewer full-size. It's working out well. I got my first ripe cherry tomato on July 17 and am now up to a handful a day.

This year's garden is reminding me that it doesn't take much for you to treat yourself to the freshest crops around. Just adding a little fresh basil can make a regular salad something special. I've learned from past experience that cucumbers and zucchini just don't do well, so I buy those locally and save my limited space and energy for the things that do pay off, like tomatoes. 

Even small container gardens can be a pain when you have to water them daily during a hot spell, but this year its been raining so much that I don't have to water nearly as much. And they've always produced so much more in the Earthboxes than planted in the ground.

I just love being able to grab some fresh ingredients from right outside the back door to enhance a recipe. I finally bought a spiralizer and used it to turn some summer squash into "squashetti." Specifically I bought a veggetti. It produces only two sizes of noodles so it's not fancy, but it's inexpensive, compact and works well. Plus who knew summer squash noodles are delish served cold in a salad with peas, feta cheese and heaps of basil and then coated with balsamic vinaigrette? Well, I do now.

The basil is producing quite prolifically, so I've been throwing it on my daily salads and it is delicious and sells heavenly.

What are your favorite plants to grow? Any fresh-from-the-garden recipes to share?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Spring flings

This spring feels like a personal awakening as well as a seasonal one. After years of not feeling quite myself due to this and that, I feel like my petals are slowly unfurling along with the daffodils and tulips.

I've been enjoying more time in the garden, even the weeding.

I planted more spring bulbs for the first time in years and they've added a lovely bit of early color. 

The apple tree didn't bloom last spring, but t put on quite the show this year.

We've also been getting out an about. This weekend we saw Kedi, a lovely, touching documentary film about the street cats in Istanbul. It was better than expected and I had high hopes to begin with.

Then today, on national picnic day, we had a picnic in Inniswoods Metro Gardens and admired their spring blooms.

Entrance to the Secret Garden

Inside the Secret Garden

Earlier this spring there were more cat capers with a visit to Eat, Purr, Love, the first cat cafe in Ohio which opened right in our neighborhood. A very zen place for cat lovers.

All the cats a up for adoption and 120+ have been adopted since it opened last August.

How's your spring going?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

What I bought: Clothing purchased in 2016

Girdwood, Alaska

Ever since reading that the average US shopper spends $1,100 per year on clothing and purchases 68 items plus 8 pairs of shoes (Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline), I've been curious of how I measure up. I've taken a mental tally the last few years, but apparently I haven't officially tracked it since 2013This year, inspired once again by Exacting Life, I've dug out my receipts to add it up once again.

In 2016, as in the year before that, many of my clothing purchases were made in preparation for another trip to Alaska (hence the photos). So most items were casual or outdoor wear. Luckily I purchased hiking boots and a good raincoat for my first trip in 2015 so those were covered. I also purchased two dresses and earrings for my cousin's wedding and rehearsal dinner, but luckily I found both on clearance. And, bonus, they're both suitable for work as well so I've worn them each a few times.

Portage Glacier

Items purchased in 2016:

  • Convertible hiking pants: $37.43
  • Red dress and black and white dress for wedding: $88.29
  • Black and white dress: $26.98
  • Two sweatshirt jackets: $38.68
  • Blue Style & Co. sweatshirt jacket: $28
  • Four t-shirts: $24.54
  • Two souvenir t-shirts: $10.99
  • White cardigan sweater: $26.88
  • Black and white blouse: $16.11
  • White blouse: $12.99
  • Tan blouse: $26.98
  • Black work shoes: $42.99
Total spent: $320.57
Total items: 18

Accessories purchased:
  • Gold earrings: $6.72
  • Silver pendant necklace: $8.00
Total spent: $14.72
Total items: 2

Homer, Alaska

I'm happy with my purchases this year., although the number of items is always higher than I'd guess. I've worn all the clothing multiple times, except maybe for the tan blouse. I like how it looks, but the fabric traps heat so there's a limited time period when I can comfortably wear it.

I don't set strict budgets for my spending, but instead keep a watch on my monthly credit card bill. Everything possible goes on the card and is paid off monthly. If I have a high month, I tighten the discretionary spending for the following month or two. It might not be textbook, but it works for me and I'm still able to save a significant portion of my income.

Seldovia, Alaska

After several years of relatively low spending on clothing, I suspect this year will be higher as I really need to replace and supplement my summer wardrobe, both work and casual.

I am curious to see how my overall clothing inventory numbers compare to last time, so stay tuned for an upcoming post.

How does your clothing spending compare to the average?

Friday, January 27, 2017

Focusing on healthier eating

roasted broccoli, beets and sweet potatoes with couscous

I'm not big on setting new year resolutions, but I do often pick an area of my life that I want to focus on and improve. This year, I'm focusing on eating healthier.

This is a big challenge for me because I've never loved cooking and for the last few years I've barely cooked at all. Not that we eat out every night, mainly on weekends, but I've been living on salad, pita and hummus, canned soup, frozen pizzas and frozen dinners for far too long. Because I eat veggies and fruit pretty much every day, I always thought I ate pretty healthy. In reality, however, my diet was far from it and I was ready for a change.

My main inspiration for this change comes from 100 Days of Real Food. Blogger Lisa Leake advocates for a real food diet that includes lots organic fruits and veggies, full-fat organic dairy, locally-raised meat and whole grains. Read real food defined for details.

I've been eating pretty simple meals. A lot of roasted veggies, including sweet potatoes, broccoli and green beans with couscous or quinoa. Grilled chicken wraps with lots of veggies. A few stir frys. And of course my salad, pita and hummus habit, while reduced, is still going as it's quick, easy and is real food.

My little buddy Lucy loves my new frequent
dish-washing routine and has to supervise every. single. time.

This has been a big change and yummy though it's been, it hasn't been easy. Even with sticking to simple meals, cooking and then cleaning up most week nights takes up an hour or more of my free time after work.

I'm also taking a "small changes are better than nothing" approach, which is a challenge for this perfectionist. I'm aiming for real food 80% of the time, but I'm not there yet. Still, there has definitely been progress.

Positive changes:
  • Trying new recipes: I've gone from a menu rut to trying several great new recipes, including sweet potato and black bean quinoa bowls, roasted vegetables, white chicken chili and chicken stir fry (I love the sauce and not having to rely on the bottled stuff).
  • Eating new foods: I've gone from never cooking and thinking I didn't like sweet potatoes to eating them 2-4 times per week (probably too much, but they are delicious roasted). I've also tried beets and quinoa for the first time and found that black beans are a tasty and easy addition to dishes.
  • Less food waste: Even though I've been buying more produce than ever, because I'm cooking more very little of it is going to waste, which is a big change from before. 
  • No more added sugar: I stopped adding sugar to my morning coffee, opting instead for a teaspoon of honey and milk in my first cup only. As a result, the jittery low blood-sugar feeling I was experiencing during late mornings is history. I also cut out the sugary-filled flavored yogurt and cereal I was eating for breakfast, opting instead for plain greek yogurt with fruit, honey and granola. Although this week I caved and bought some flavored yogurt. It tastes almost sickly sweet.

Areas for improvement:
  • I haven't been able to quit my weekly frozen margarita pizza habit or my "more times than I should per week" ice cream habit. But, I'm not having pretzels as soon as I get home, candy and an ice cream every night so this too is progress.
  • Organic food only - Leake advocates for only eating organic food and especially organic, grass-fed meat. I'm experiencing sticker shock at the price of an all-organic diet, so while I'm buying more organic than ever (which was almost none), it's not even 50% of our food. And I haven't bought any organic meat which tends to be 3-6 times more than even the natural meat at our healthier grocery stores.
  • Whole grain breads - I'm also struggling to find pita bread, tortillas and bread with whole grains and five ingredients or less so I've been continuing to eat the standard stuff. I plan to make a trip to Trader Joe's tomorrow to see if I have more success there.
  • Meal-planning - The first week I committed to cooking only real food, I went to the grocery four times for this or that. Lately I've cut back to just two, but it would be nice to get down to just one trip most of the time.
  • Frozen lunches - I've been taking leftovers from dinner 2-3 times a week, but on the other days I'm still grabbing a frozen dinner for lunch, which doesn't meet the criteria for real food.
I'll also admit that I was hoping that if I switched to a real-food diet the extra pounds would just start melting off and, sadly, that hasn't been the case. I've been losing and then gaining the same 3-4 pounds since the beginning of the year ad not really making progress. Maybe it's because I'm not following the plan strictly. Time will tell.

Is anyone else trying to eat healthier these days? Any challenges or recipes to share?


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