Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Square Foot Gardening: Planning Your Garden

When planning your SFG, you want to pick a location with good sunlight (Mel recommends six to eight hours of sunlight per day) away from large bushes and trees.

We decided to install our SFG in the front yard to keep it away from the dogs. They often spend the day in the backyard when we're at work, and we know we can't trust them alone with the garden. More than once Lola has chomped container plants and destroyed seed starts. What we hadn't thought about was the neighbor's cat who sees our soft and cushy SFG soil as the primo spot in the neighborhood for a litter box, but that has been solved by watering the garden daily even the square feet that aren't planted yet. He doesn't like to get his paws wet so he stays out now.

Another consideration for planning is siting your boxes close to the watering source. We installed ours next to the house so it is easier to water without having to haul the hose around the yard. It doesn't seem like that big of deal, but I like to do anything I can to make it easier for daily watering.

Locating the garden in the front yard means that we walk by it every day on the way to and from work and walking the dogs and we see it often looking out the front windows. It is satisfying to watch our progress, and we always receive lots of compliments from the neighbors who can see it when they walk by.

One of our 4'x4' boxes last year.

After you've chosen your location, you'll want take into consideration how much space you have and how many vegetables you want to harvest.

Our front yard is huge and could accommodate several boxes, but we started small last year with two 4'x4' boxes that are 6" deep and one 2'x2' box that is 12" deep for carrots and leeks for a total of 36 square feet of garden space. According to Mel, one 4'x4' box that is 6" deep will supply enough produce to make a salad for one person every day of the growing season and a second 4'x4' box will supply the daily dinner vegetables for that person. We eat a lot of vegetables, and I found that between our three boxes, it was plenty for two people. You can see a list of what our 36 sf yielded last year here. In addition to daily vegetables, I also had enough basil to freeze about 20 cups of pesto, enough tomatillos and jalapenos to make a dozen small jars of salsa, and enough beets and carrots to make a half dozen servings of raviolis to freeze.

Honestly, for us determining how many square feet to build was mainly influenced by the quantities in which the soil ingredients were available. I only found peat moss in 3.9 cubic feet bags (expands to 8 cubic feet), so it made sense to me to make 24 cubic feet of soil since peat moss is 1/3 of the mix along with compost and vermiculite.

Once you determine how many square feet you will build, you can decide on the configuration of your boxes. I built an additional 2'x8' box this year so that I would have 8 additional square feet for climbing plants like tomatoes and eggplants (a 4'x4' box only gives you 4 square feet for climbing plants because the vertical frame is only along one side of the box). You should plan your configuration so that you don't need to reach more than two square feet to get to any of your plants and so that have enough space for at least three feet aisles between the boxes.

When it comes down to it, take a look at how much space you have, how many vegetables you want to harvest and then do a little research on the soil ingredients available in your area. I live in a pretty small town so maybe in more urban areas the ingredients are available in a wider variety of quantities.

After you've made your plans, you can work on your shopping list and building your boxes, vertical frames and mixing your soil... stay tuned!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Holiday Weekend: Rivers, Zabar's and Peonies

This is the first Memorial day weekend we haven't spent at the cabin in years, but Lola still isn't 100% and we didn't want to risk it. But, we did bring her down to the River, which is flowing again this weekend to play and she had a ball chasing rocks and romping in the water. I think it is only a matter of a couple of weeks before she can run free and wild again. Although we we stayed in town, I'm happy to report we didn't do one thing around the house this weekend, and it was a great break. Some scenes from our long weekend...

Zabar's dinner. (Andrew's parents lived in Manhattan when he was little, and they'd often go there to get good cheese and meats for dinner. Even though they haven't lived there for some 25 years, everyone in the family still likes to eat Zabar's dinners regularly.)

Hiking in the ski basin. We learned our lesson from last year when they shut down all of the forests in June because of wild fires, and we went while we still have the chance. I haven't been up there since ski season ended, and it felt so good to be out of town and in the fresh air.

Waiting for the peonies to open. (They are in full bloom now in case you're wondering.) I read Lily's lovely post Peonies: A One Act Play on Friday afternoon and headed straight to the grocery store to procure my own peonies. Unfortunately, they are not good growers here in New Mexico so I need to rely on Trader Joe to supply my annual peonie fix.

More drama on the Chama. The Chama is actually NOT dramatic much at all, but it is so fun to say...  This was our first time out this year. We did a day run and it was hectic at the put in and take out because of the holiday crowds, but we felt all alone on the River. Nothing beats a day on the water!

And the drive toward Abiquiu was gorgeous.

These are taken about a mile south of Ghost Ranch.

And now here we are on Monday evening, lounging around having happy hour and feeling quite relaxed.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Square Foot Gardening 2012

I've written about how much I love Square Foot Gardening (SFG) before (that was my very first post). That post includes a brief description of SFG and lists all of the veggies and flowers we grew in only 36 square feet of garden last year.

Square Foot Gardening is a method developed by Mel Bartholomew that involves planting your garden in a raised bed filled with special soil and divided into square feet by a visible grid. Each square foot is planted with a different type of plant and the number of plants that fit into each square foot is determined by the size of the plants. SFGs are small, intensive and highly efficient.

This year we decided to expand and add two more boxes. We spent the whole weekend shopping for materials, building the boxes, mixing the soil, assembling the vertical frames and planting all of our our square footage. We had two 4'x4' boxes and one 2'x2' box from last year, and this year we added one 2'x8' box and another 4'x4'.

Of course there are lots of different methods for gardening, but we've found SFG to be easy, fun and so rewarding. My favorite things about Square Foot Gardening are:

The time commitment. Initially, it is a lot of work to build the boxes and mix the soil, but after that initial time investment, I spend very little time gardening. I water the garden, which is compact and close to the house, admire my lovely vegetables, harvest our nightly salad and any other veggies we're planning to eat and pull out the occasional weed that has popped up. We opted out of our community garden plot this year because it was too time consuming (and back breaking) to till the soil, add soil amendments, plant rows of vegetables, weed (so many weeds!) and water every night.

The yield. Each square foot produces a bountiful harvest, and you can really pack so much into just a 4'x4' box. The vegetables are not only plentiful, but they taste amazing because they are organically grown in nutrient rich soil.

The soil. So light and airy, and it sparkles in the sunlight from the vermiculite. As pretty as soil can be, this stuff really is beautiful. It is a mixture of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 compost. After years of gardening in the hard, rocky clay soils in New Mexico, this soil is a dream. Not only that, but once you mix it, you don't need to add any additional amendments, and it is organic and natural.

The lack of weeds. If you so much as spill a drop of water in New Mexico, a weed will pop up. We had so much trouble keeping the weeds down when we gardened in the typical way. At the community garden, weeding was a nightly task. In the SFG, you only have to worry about the occasional weed seed that blows in, and it is easily identifiable because it is outside of the grid.

The water efficiency. This is especially important to me because we can grow more vegetables with less water than we were using at the community garden. Water is expensive in Santa Fe (and scarce!), and I like the idea of reducing the amount needed for the garden. I've found that the soil holds moisture very well, and last year, we often went out of town for the weekend without worrying about the plants drying up.

Last year, I read Mel's entire book in one weekend at the cabin and came home totally enthused to start our SFG. I was pretty adamant about following Mel's instructions exactly, and Andrew joked that I had joined a cult that I read about in a book I bought at Home Depot.

Mel lays everything out really well in his book including instructions for planning how many square feet you will need and shopping lists for materials. His book is obviously the starting point for planning your own SFG. They should have it at your local library and they sell it at hardware stores.

My plan is to write a few posts over the next week or so about how to set up your SFG and build the boxes, mix the soil and assemble the vertical frames. I also paid close attention to the costs involved this year so I can report on that too.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mama's Little Baby Loves Rhubarb Rhubarb

Be-Bop-A-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie! It wouldn't be spring without rhubarb pies... My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Luckily for me there is a piping hot rhubarb pie straight out of the oven just waiting to be devoured.

I love, love, love rhubarb, and while I like finding new ways to bake with it, nothing can replace a good old strawberry rhubarb pie. For me this is the quintessential way to serve rhubarb. This pie reminds me of my grandmother, the huge leafy rhubarb plants in her backyard and the smell of the filling oozing out the sides of the pie plate and spilling onto the bottom of the oven. It makes me miss my Minnesota home.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
From the Joy of Cooking

2 basic pie crusts
1 pound unpeeled young rhubarb stalks, diced
1 pint strawberries, quartered
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar (more if you like it sweet)
1 tablespoon butter,  cut into small pieces
2 teaspoons quick-cooking tapioca

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and place a baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch any filling that bubbles over. Combine fruit in large bowl and sprinkle flour and sugar over fruit. Stir gently and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Prepare pie shell in a 9-inch pie plate. Add fruit mixture and dot with butter. Add top pie shell and prick. Add foil or crust protectors to edges of crust. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. About 5 to 10 minutes before the pie is done, remove crust protectors.

Basic Pie Crust

This is my go-to pie crust recipe - simple and dependable. There's nothing new here, but I like that I can make it in the food processor.

Basic Pie Crust
Makes 1 Nine-inch Crust
Adapted slightly from Everyday Food, November 2008

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water

In a food processor, pulse flour, salt and sugar. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal with a few pea-sized pieces of butter remaining. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons ice water. Pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed (if necessary, add up to 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon at a time). Don't overmix.

At this point, Martha recommends turning the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap, pressing it into a 1 inch thick disk and refrigerating at least 1 hour. I never do this, and my pies turn out great.

On a well floured surface, roll dough into a 14-inch round with a floured rolling pin. Wrap dough around rolling pin and unroll over a 9-inch pie plate. Gently fit into bottom and up sides of plate. Do not stretch dough.

Using kitchen shears, trim dough to a 1-inch overhang. Fold under itself to form a rim and press to seal. Using thumb and forefinger, crimp rim of crust. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to 1 day.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ring of Fire

We were lucky enough to see the Ring of Fire solar eclipse tonight in Santa Fe.

Responsible viewing

Approaching the Ring of Fire

big woop

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Spring Cuts For All The Ladies

I finally took a better picture of my psychological shift. I intended to take one earlier, but I quickly found out that the styling for this cut is way beyond the time I find appropriate to spend on a workday. I need something that takes 10 minutes or less, and this is not it so I've just been drying it like usual and it really doesn't look any different. But, I found some time one afternoon to give it a try for a night out of sushi and cocktails, and I think it turned out ok. Honestly, I hate these photos - why is it so hard to take a nice photo of yourself?? But, I don't know when I'll have the patience to curl my hair like this again so these will have to do...

I'm not the only lady in the house who got a spring cut.

Unfortunately, one of the cuts is pretty terrible. Poor girl!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Quinoa Cups

Normally, quick and easy are not on my list of criteria for new recipes I want to try. In fact, I usually avoid them. I don't want short cuts or pared down versions because for me that takes the joy out of cooking. I find it so relaxing to spend an evening chopping and sauteeing and simmering away in my kitchen, and the final product is always so rewarding.

But lately, work has been so all consuming that I haven't even had the time for meal planning. I'm finding that my attention has been drawn to recipes that don't require much effort. Not really the kind of cooking I want to be doing, but it's all I can manage these days. I'm hoping that will change soon, but in the meantime, I've been on the lookout for recipes that are quick and nutritious.

I made a batch of these quoina cups from Iowa Girl Eats for our lunches this week. This recipe fits the bill lately - I threw them together in less than 15 minutes. They are super easy and quick and a good clean out the fridge recipe. Start with the base recipe of eggs and quinoa and add whatever you have on hand. I added half a red pepper, two green onions, white cheddar cheese, green chile, and shredded zucchini. We couldn't resist when I pulled them out of the oven last night, and we gobbled down several right away. In to the tuppies for the rest of them...

I used a regular sized muffin pan, and this recipe made 17 cups.

Quinoa Cups


2 cups cooked quinoa (about 3/4 cup uncooked)
2 eggs
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
+ whatever veggies you have on hand. I added:
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
3 Tablespoons chopped green chile
2 green onions, chopped
1 cup shredded white cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add all ingredients to a large bowl and mix to combine. Liberally spray a mini muffin tin with non-stick spray and spoon mixture to the top of each cup. (If using a regular sized muffin tin, spoon mixture about 3/4 full.) Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges of the cups are golden brown. Let cool for at least 5 minutes in the tin before eating. Do not underbake or they won't come out of the pan.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Rhubarb Scones

Andrew's dad was in town this weekend, and he is always an enthusiastic audience for my baked goods, especially when rhubarb is involved. Never one to turn down the opportunity to please loved ones with baked goods I made rhubarb scones. They were so good, you guys!

I recommend buying (oh god, yes, we actually have to buy rhubarb here in New Mexico) the best quality rhubarb you can find because the flavor of your rhubarb will strongly influence the success of these scones.

Rhubarb Cream Scones


2½ cups (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar (3.5 ounces) plus 3 tablespoons
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
2 cups diced rhubarb (¼-inch cubes), about 3 stalks
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 400F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Adjust a baking rack to the middle position. In a small bowl, mix the rhubarb with 3 tablespoons sugar.
2. In a food processor, pulse the flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder, and salt a few times, just to mix. Distribute the butter evenly over the dry ingredients and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer to a large bowl.
3. Stir the rhubarb into the flour mixture. Lightly beat the egg, yolk, and cream together in a bowl (use the same one you used for the rhubarb), then add this mixture to the flour mixture. Stir until just combined.
4. On a well-floured surface with floured hands, pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick round (about 8 inches in diameter). Using a 2-inch round cutter or rim of a glass dipped in flour, cut out as many rounds as possible, rerolling scraps as necessary. Arrange rounds about 1 inch apart on baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until pale golden.  Transfer the scones to a cooling rack and let them cool slightly before serving.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ti Amo Celeste

I've had a major crush on Bianchi celeste for years, and last night as I was indulging my current obsession, Andrew remarked that my fingers were sporting a sweet celeste (a little too green in the photo, but more of a true celeste in person). Without even realizing it, my nails are now cruising around town like a hot pista.

Ciao bella!! Swoon, swoon, swoon...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Turkey Parmesan Burgers


These burgers are quick and tasty. Perfect for a quick weekday meal. Overall, this is not a very exacting recipe so feel free to make adjustments. In particular, I like to be very liberal with the fresh basil.

Turkey Parmesan Burgers

8 slices toasted bread of your choice
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons minced fresh basil, divided, plus 12 large basil leaves
3/4 cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less depending on how spicy you like it)
1 pound ground turkey
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces whole-milk mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
4 large spinach leaves (original recipe calls for radicchio)

Blend bread crumbs and Parmesan in a pie dish; mix in 2 tablespoons minced basil. 

Mix tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons basil and red pepper flakes in small saucepan. Transfer 1 1/2 tablespoons sauce to large bowl. Add turkey, 1/2 tablespoon oil, onion, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Sprinkle with pepper; blend. Shape into four 1/2-inch-thick patties; coat with crumb mixture. Heat sauce over low heat. 

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook patties until bottoms are crusty, 4 minutes. Turn patties over; top with cheese. Cook 3 minutes. Cover; cook until cooked through and cheese is melted, about 1 minute. 

Assemble burgers with bread, spinach, basil leaves, and warm marinara.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Dancin', Walkin' and Kissin'

I was listening to my ipod at the gym this afternoon, and when I ran out of podcasts I shuffled through the music. I have one of those little ipods without a screen that I can clip onto my shirt, which is really convenient, but you never really know what you're going to be listening to. I was just climbing away on the stair master when this sweet song came on:

Yes, that's right, there was wedding music on my ipod so I knew what songs were coming up next. It was so much fun to hear our ceremony music!

Our parents danced down the aisle to Going to the Chapel:

They were really into it. And THEN, we walked down the aisle to I Walk the Line.

After the ceremony, I was so excited that I leaped into Andrew's arms, and Then He Kissed Me came on. A song I have loved since childhood when Elisabeth Shue danced around her bedroom to it in the open scene of Adventures in Babysitting.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Life Lesson: Muddling is OK


When I was younger I always thought that people who were older than me really knew what was going on. They knew how to plan for retirement, buy a house, pay the mortgage, pick a health care plan, manage all of the demands of adult life, raise kids. But now that I’m in my 30s, I've realized a comforting lesson of adulthood: no one really knows what they’re doing. Everyone is just muddling through the best they can.

We have friends that are almost 40, and they don’t know any better than us how to negotiate big life situations. Even our parents are still figuring things out. We can read books and ask lots of questions, but really we’re all just learning how to manage life by actually living it. No one woke up on their 30th birthday with the answers. We’re all just muddling through and learning from our experiences the best we can.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Simple Pleasures

It's almost embarrassing how much happiness I've been receiving from my finger nails lately.

After a tough and busy week at work, one of my coworkers brought me nail polish as a treat. I normally don't wear nail polish, but I figured that since it was a gift, I should try it - grenadine and sparkles.  Turns out it is super cute and so much fun to look down and see my pretty nails typing away.

I usually hate painting my nails because it starts to chip within hours and never lasts more than a few days. It seemed like a lot of hassle. BUT, she brought me Essie nail polish. I had never tried it before, but it lasted all week. A full 7 days that included some serious yard work with absolutely no chipping! I could have kept wearing it, but I was anxious to try a new color.

Ever since I realized that it is possible to have chip-free nails, I've been a little obsessed with what my next color will be. Luckily Andrew intervened at the store as I weighed my different options as if I was making a major purchase and put all five of the colors I was considering into my basket. Yes, I know, five new nail polishes!!! I was feeling a little guilty for buying five nail polishes - I mean who needs that?? But, when I got home, I lined them all up on the table, and it has made me so happy to see the colorful bottles.

Simple pleasures!
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