‘Tis The Season (Of Gifting)

I LOVE giving people gifts. I’ve always prided myself as a pretty creative gifter. Maybe that’s because I pay attention to people more than most others do….well that sounds a little creepy.

Last year, I crocheted 7 infinity scarves for my close friends and family, each tailored with their favorite color. This allowed me to watch horribly-entertaining shows on Netflix for hours on end. And I wanted to set fire to all of my yarn only a few times! Success. (Minus the fact that one of my good friends turned out to be allergic to the baby alpaca yarn I made her scarf with and ended up with a lovely red rash around her neck…sorry, Laura) To make all of these, I started back in October.

This year, 4 days until Christmas, and I haven’t even started my gift-making-extravaganza yet.

I’m so screwed. :/

For the next few days, I will be feverishly working on gift baskets, which will include homemade chapstick, whipped body butter, relaxing bath salts and invigorating sugar scrubs.

I have very few of the ingredients I need for all of this, so additionally I will have to brave the psycho-crazy-last-minute shoppers. And I will be one of them.

There are a few gifts that I have completed so far, however.

This year, I decided to let the gift keep on giving even after Christmas: potted paperwhite lilies that will bloom (hopefully) sometime in January.

It was very easy to do, and fairly cheap for as many as I made. All you need are paperwhite lily bulbs, potting soil and a flower pot really. If you want to fancy-it-up you can wrap the pots with ribbon, or even decorate them. You can also top the potting soil with decorative shells or beads of different colors.

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I put 3 bulbs to a flower pot. You can do less, or more if the pots are bigger. I wrapped the flower pots with ribbon and included some fun shells and beads on top of the soil. Instead of decorating the pots, I’m going to write the names of the people I’m giving them to on the pot with chalk. The chalk will eventually come off, or can be washed off, and they can reuse the pot for flowers in the summer if they wish.

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The lilies need watered about every 3 days. Unfortunately, they will only bloom once. (Which is actually fine with me. I’m surprised I haven’t killed all of them off already.)

Although I thought this was a fun idea, one remark I got was: ‘You made a gift for someone to finish doing all the work on…’ Ya, well, I figured they needed a new hobby as well. I’m thoughtful like that dammit.

Another gift idea I had involves booze. ….no one is shocked….

One of my roommates is really in to beer. She loves everything about it, especially trying new ones. So, in a bout of cleverness, I decided to give her the 12 Beers of Christmas.

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I bought 12 different singles and wrapped each of them with white paper, writing the number order in which to drink the beers. One a day for 12 days, with the last one to be opened Christmas Eve. Each one I bought was a special seasonal, and no two were from the same brewery, including the bomber I bought for Day 12. I finished off each one with a festive ribbon, which I successfully curled without ruining it. And then I wrote a poem to accompany them.

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Go me.

As for the rest of my brilliant Christmas gift ideas….well, they may turn out to be New Year gifts instead. What better way to ring in the New Year than with a present?! Maybe that was my plan all along.

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I Can Can. Can You?

You know all those veggies in the previous post? Well they have to go somewhere, right? Mostly, they’re going to my stomach, which is super happy about that, but one person can only eat so many veggies…

Besides being frozen, dehydrated, put in recipes, given to the dog as treats, and given away, I have taught myself (with much help from others and from a step-by-step book) the art of canning.

My Mom and I actually went in on this project together. We acquired all of the supplies (minus a pressure cooker) and the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. I read and learned…and then still asked for help because I am a disaster in the kitchen when it comes to cooking or preparing food at all.

For our first trick, we turned cucumbers into dill pickles. This actually was not that difficult to do. We went with a kosher pickle recipe and added a few things to it. All the ingredients, minus the spices, were from local farmer’s markets. The cucumbers were from my own garden.

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Washing off the cucumbers

Scruba, scruba, scruba

Scruba, scruba, scruba

Fresh dill from the farmer's market

Fresh dill from the farmer’s market

Garlic, bay leaf, 1/2 serrano pepper, and spices into each pickle jar

Garlic, bay leaf, 1/2 serrano pepper, and spices into each pickle jar

Klondike helped

Klondike helped

Heating jars, lids, ingredients

Heating jars, lids, ingredients

In they go

In they go

The final product

The final product

Mmmmm pickles

Mmmmm pickles

We ended up making 8 pints of pickles, which will be ready to open NEXT WEEK!!! I’m very excited to try them and see how they turn out!

In a frenzy of pickling excitement, we also made zucchini relish!! All of the zucchinis were from my garden.

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Chopped bell peppers, onion, and shredded zucchini

The spices

The spices

Ingredients

Ingredients

Toss everything in together

Toss everything in together

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Simmer

Can it! And there you have it: Zucchini relish

Can it! And there you have it: Zucchini relish

End of Summer BBQ anyone??

Canning is actually easier than I thought it would be….but I also haven’t done anything extremely difficult. I can still cross this off of my Summer Bucket List as my new learned skill.

*Pats self on back*

 

Garden To Table Goodness

I have been meaning to follow up with the Let Your Garden Grow post for a while now. Veggies are happening!! So SO many veggies. I’ve actually considered opening an zucchini stand next to the neighborhood kids’ lemonade stand….but I don’t want to steal their thunder. Although the garden has had some ups and downs, as expected, it is flourishing for the most part.

There are a few lessons I have learned along the way that only a plant could teach me (and Google when the plant won’t divulge).

  • Patience is a virtue – anyone who knows me knows that I am not necessarily the most patient person. (Those of you thinking “understatement of the century” just hush)
  • Don’t cast off something as dead, even though it may look it. My tomato plant has looked AWFUL for the past month, but still keeps giving me yellow pear tomatoes. In return, I’ll keep watering it as its reward.
  • Never trust an automated watering system. The zucchini are wilting due to lack of water. The cucumbers are sickly due to too much water. The green beans are exploding due to the right amount of water. It’s like Goldilocks, but with plants and water. Yeah, ok, that was a stretch.
  • Do NOT plant Fall veggies in the Summer. They will not do well. RIP arugula. (On the other hand, my kale and spinach are rocking it!)
  • If your neighboring community garden beds are full of rotting veggies due to lack of picking, it’s a free for all. It drives me nuts that people decide to plant and grow all this food and then let it go to waste. That’s where I come in to happily harvest those veggies for them, and either take them home, to my restaurant for use, or to the Food Bank. There are too many people who do not have food to let all of that go to waste. *Soapbox moment of the day brought to you by neglectful, lazy plant parents*
  • Carrots are deceiving. They may look ready to pick, but the joke’s on you when you pull up a tiny root instead. This goes for turnips and radishes as well. Sneaky bastards.
  • Vine plants will choke out anything else around them. Beware.
  • I LOVE the feeling of picking my dinner, or lunch, or what have you. I have a hate-hate relationship with the grocery store. Going out to the garden or out my front door to pick fresh ingredients beats it all. It’s such a good feeling to know what you’re eating, how it was grown, and where exactly it’s coming from. For me, that’s exciting.
  • I’m proud of this first garden attempt. It has gone well for the most part and has been overwhelmingly rewarding.

Here are a few things I have harvested:

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Green beans, zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, wax beans, tomatoes of all shapes and sizes, cucumbers, eggplant, turnips, carrots, snap peas, green onion, broccoli, spinach, kale, lettuce, and radishes.

My kind of ‘grocery shopping.’

Let Your Garden Grow!

There’s really nothing better than fresh vegetables.

Except for when you grow them yourself. That extra little touch of TLC and knowing exactly where your food came from makes gardening such a rewarding hobby. I can say that, because as of, well, two days ago, I am a self-proclaimed organic gardener; I’m going to go ahead and add that to my repertoire, and I have the blisters to prove it. I am so excited for the first season of growing my own food and learning what all goes in to it.

Aaron and I decided we wanted to grow our own fresh vegetables this year, and, while he has done this many many many times before, this was really my first time gardening outside of simply watering flowers. Needless to say, I didn’t really know what to do.

We started with seeds and germination stations. Lots and lots and lots of them.

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This was one of 7

Leaf lettuce, spinach, kale, green onion, yellow squash, cucumbers, arugula, beans, peas, zucchini, peppers, and carrots.

Keeping everything organic was, and is, really important to us, and we have succeeded so far, even from the seedling and germination process. We wanted no synthetics. The reality is, it doesn’t get very exciting…until you see that first tiny little green sprout – that’s when it gets real. It’s the first miniature ‘hello’ from what will be your dinner a few months down the road.

Once they got big enough, we transferred them into solo cups – yes they can be used for more than just adult frothy beverages. We put a slit in the bottom of each cup for drainage and then potted each plant individually into them. Our original labels got a little jumbled in the germination stations, so we guestimated what a few of the plants were and labeled each solo cup. Needless to say our ‘carrots’ were definitely not carrots, but peppers (which was a pleasant surprise because we thought that they had all died out). Unfortunately, the kale and spinach decided vegetable heaven was a better alternative for them. The plants can actually stay in these cups for a long time, which made it nice until we could find a home for them.

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We got extremely lucky and were able to reserve some brand new community garden beds for the season. We originally ‘rented’ two of them, but quickly got our hands on two more, as we have a ton of plants.

When we showed up, the beds were all dried out and weeded over. And that’s when the work begins. Within minutes we had broken the rake that we brought with us. Thank goodness for Home Depot. After soaking all the beds, we were finally able to pull the weeds and till the soil. To supplement the soil provided, we used Maxfield’s Organic Soil Conditioner, Maxfield’s Organic Planting Mix, and some composted manure. I bought these all at Ace Hardware.  Delish.

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The beginning

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Tilled and supplemented

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Soil, anyone?

Let me tell you, hand-tilling compacted soil is HARD.

After all the beds had beautifully tilled soil and supplements, thanks to yours truly, it was time to start the planting.

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Here’s how we broke down our garden beds:

One bed we dedicated strictly to cucumbers, because we have so many plants. We want to make our own pickles with them, too.

Cucumber bed

Cucumber bed

Pickle recipe

  • For brine: combine 3 cups water with 2-3 tbs of kosher salt, 6 tbs of white vinegar, stir until dissolved. Cut 2-3 full size cucumbers in slices or spears. Layer cucumbers in a dish or bowl (Corningware works well) with sprigs of fresh dill. Pour brine over cucumbers and grate 1-2 cloves of garlic on top. Cover and refrigerate 2 days before eating.

One bed has lettuce, beans, and arugula.

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Lettuce on left. Beans in middle. Arugula on right.

One for yellow squash, since the plants will get large.

Yellow squash bed.

Yellow squash bed

And one for zucchini and peppers.

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Zucchini on the outside. Peppers in the middle.

Obviously we still have several plants left and will be planting them in large planter buckets. And probably giving the rest away that we just don’t have room for.

After hours and hours of gardening and planting 177 vegetable plants (yes, I counted), instead of getting bored or tired, I got the urge and desire to plant EVERYTHING! So I went out and got some broccoli plants, a yellow pear tomato plant, and the last cilantro and basil plant that the nursery had. For potting soil, I used BlackGold Organic Potting Soil. I’ve turned into a planting fiend! It’s addicting!

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Broccoli

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Yellow pear tomato plant

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My one little cilantro and basil plant

I had to make myself stop and call it a day.

The hard part is done. Creating a home for the vegetables was more rewarding than I thought it was going to be and was very successful. I think I’ve found my new favorite hobby. I can’t wait to watch our garden grow!

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What a beautiful view!

Klondike helped, too!

Klondike helped, too!

Do you have a garden? What’s  your favorite vegetable to plant?

Further reading:

Organic vs. non-organic soil