The humble loquat

I’ll start by saying that I don’t advocate tasting a plant until you know what it is and are sure it won’t kill you.  I didn’t necessarily take my own advice here, but I’m still alive to tell about it so here goes.

A couple weeks ago I was checking some books out of the library and noticed a fruit tree that was dripping with clusters of golden fruit.  They looked like apricots, but were a little smaller and more yellow than orange.

I picked one and smelled it, then poked it with my finger and the juice smelled sweet, so I took a bite (again, I don’t suggest this approach although it worked out here).  It was sweet with a little tart and about four bean sized seeds in the middle.  I picked another to take with me and do some research.

As I drove back to work I noticed another tree covered with this fruit on the corner of a street, not in front of anyone’s house, and just screaming to be harvested.  I HAD to figure out what this was, what I could do with the fruit, and make it back to the lone tree before someone else claimed “my” fruit as their own (can you claim adverse possession on a fruit tree?).

Google to the rescue.  I figured out pretty quickly that these were loquats, and that their season in this area is February-April.  Since that day I have seen no less than eight other loquat trees filled to the brim with these golden little gems also known as Japanese Plums.  They don’t travel well, so it’s hard to find them in grocery stores.  You might catch them at a farmer’s market, but it’s even better if you luck out and find an unclaimed tree for gleaning (just not “my tree”).  Around here, the rule is that if any fruit is hanging over someone’s fence into a public area it’s available for anyone to pick.  And, if a neighbor’s tree comes over the fence into your yard, the fruit on your side of the fence is yours.  We luck out because our neighbor has an avocado tree that has branches over the fence in our yard.  We get hundreds of avocados without having to take care of the tree (they also get hundreds on their side of the fence and we love our neighbors).

Back to loquats…the picture here stinks, but you get the idea.  This tree was literally just forgotten on the corner, but not for long.

I grabbed a box and headed back.  I brought a step stool and just made it look to the passersby like I owned it and was doing my normal harvesting.  I picked as many as I could reach, and I even got my family in on the action.  A couple cousins were in town that weekend so we all headed back to the tree (this time a little more prepared with a long handled fruit picker) and filled up another bag.  I love that my family supports my craziness.

All together I ended up with 12 pounds of loquats for free.  I used my harvest to can some loquat jam, loquat fruit leather, and vanilla scented loquat upside down cake.  All were delicious and I’ll post those recipes some other time. It’s still loquat season around here, so time to get out and pick some fruit!

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Gnocchi

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but a couple of weeks ago we had a glut of potatoes.  We got a ton from our CSA basket and maybe even a bag from a neighbor (?) and I was just tired of baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, and standard potato food.  I wanted something new, something exciting, so I thought to myself, “Self…what’s new and exciting that you can do with a potato?”  Gnocchi was the first thing that came to mind.  Granted it’s not new (people have been making gnocchi for a long time), and it’s probably not all that exciting to some, but I’ve had it once before at a restaurant and wanted a bite of those pillowy puffs of potato without paying out the nose for them.

I used this recipe from Tyler Florence on Food Network (side note: all of the Tyler Florence recipes I’ve ever tried have come out great…it seems like he does his homework on how to make things easy and taste good on the first try).

I made all the gnocchi before dropping it in batches into boiling water.

And, I only cooked what we were eating that night.  There was plenty to freeze, so I floured a baking sheet, spread the gnocchi on it so that none were on top of each other and put it in the freezer.  After they were frozen, I took them off the cookie sheet, put them all into a freezer bag and then we could just pull out the portion we wanted for future meals.  Just bring some water to a boil, drop them in until they float and add whatever sauce you want.  I used a brown butter sauce the first time, but after cooking the frozen ones I just dropped them into a small saute pan with the butter and let them cook until they got a little crispy on the outside.  All they needed at that point was a little parmesan cheese and it’s a gourmet meal at home in no time.

Gnocchi is a great recipe to do a lot at once because you can freeze it for later and it’s so easy to reheat.

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My Journey to Real Food

I think my experience with food as I grew up was pretty common.  I ate what was in front of me.  I didn’t really think about where my food came from or how it wound up on my plate ready for consumption.  I knew I had a problem, though, about three years ago.

Here’s the story of how I came to realize that I needed help in the food department, and pronto.

I never pictured myself to have much of a green thumb.  My grandma was an excellent gardener and I just figured that her lifetime of acquired skill wandered right past me or ended up on the other side of the family tree (my cousin majored in horticulture in college).  But, I was trying to minimize my environmental impact so I spent way too much money on a composter from Costco and in went my melon rinds, tree leaves, dryer lint, etc.  Keep in mind, at the time I lived in a condo with no yard.  What was I planning to do with the compost?  Honestly, just dump it on the ground or pass it on to people with a yard so I could at least keep some stuff from the landfill.  Even if you don’t have a yard, keeping stuff out of a landfill is still a worthy reason to compost.

While I didn’t have a yard, I at least had a porch, and that porch was looking a little sad.  I thought some green could do it (and me) some good, so I huffed up to Ikea and bought something that looked the least likely to die quickly. It was a little spikey leafed plant but I don’t actually know what it’s called.  I bought a ceramic pot to put it in and headed home.  At that point I had a pretty reasonable size compost heap, so I thought that might help my little Ikea plant survive my sporadic waterings and basic lack of care.  I mixed some compost in with the cheapest soil I could get at Home Depot and thus started my adventure.

Time passed and the plant was still alive, and then I saw some other green thing start to poke through the soil.  I figured it was a weed, but if it was green and growing in my container I decided it couldn’t really do any harm to just let it grow and see what happened.  It kept growing and soon enough little green balls started to form on it.  At that point I was intrigued enough that I decided to let it carry on.  After a while they started to turn red and, believe it or not, I still didn’t know what they were.

Well, my mom came over one afternoon and I asked her about it.  She informed me that it was a tomato plant. “I didn’t plant anything there,” says I.  “It volunteered,” she replied.  I started laughing…ha ha…I can’t grow anything intentionally so plants have to volunteer for my container, like getting the short straw…oh mom, you’re so funny.  “No, Jenny, that’s what they call it when a tomato plant sprouts unintentionally.” “So, is it safe to eat?” I asked.  “Jenny, it’s a tomato,” she responded almost in disbelief.

Right, I thought, it’s a tomato.  I began going through some soul-searching questions in my mind: a) How did I not know what kind of plant that was? b) Why did I question, after finding out what it was, whether or not it was safe to eat just because it was growing unintentionally? c) If this can grow without me even trying, is it possible that with a little effort I can do better?

I picked the little cherry tomato, ate it, and it was oh-so-delicious.  I realized that if something could grow in the haphazard conditions I provided, then with any bit of intentionality I might have some luck.

And there the seed of interest in real food, grown from the ground or made with my hands “volunteered.”  I didn’t plant it intentionally, but it definitely started to grow.

Have you started the journey to real food?  What sparked your quest?

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Yogurt making trick

A couple days ago I shared my method for making yogurt here.  The biggest challenge while making it is keeping a constant read on the temperature so you know when to take the milk off the heat and when to add the yogurt.

In the past, I just kept putting the thermometer in the milk and taking it out.  I didn’t want to leave it sitting in the double boiler because I’d get an inaccurate read if the thermometer was touching the bottom of the bowl.  The last time I made yogurt, I knew there had to be a better way (my thermometer is from the Dollar Store so it doesn’t have a handy clip to keep it in the pan without touching the walls).  Enter my handy-dandy bamboo skewer.

I had a skewer that was just long enough to fit across the top of the bowl, so I used tape to attach it to the back of my thermometer.  Now, I can get a quick and accurate read of the temperature of the milk while it’s heating on the double boiler and when it’s cooling on the counter.  If I ever need to use the thermometer for something else I can take the tape off the back (or since it was a dollar I could buy another one).

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Yogurt

My daughter loves yogurt.  She asks for it with just about every meal, so if I bought it all the time it would add up fast.  I’m thankful that a couple years ago I learned how to make it myself by just using milk and a couple tablespoons of yogurt (with live, active cultures) as a starter.

At my local market, 32 oz. of plain yogurt is $2.99, but I can get a gallon of milk (128 oz.) for $3.29.  So, 32 oz. of homemade yogurt using store bought milk costs 82.3 cents.  That’s a 72% savings over buying yogurt in the store.

You can find a variety of methods online for making your own yogurt, but my method (that hasn’t failed me yet) involves the following steps:

  1. Measure your milk by pouring it into the jar you’ll be storing it in, then pour the milk into a double boiler (I use a metal bowl over a pan of simmering water).
  2. Bring the milk to 180 deg. over a double boiler stirring occassionally.
  3. Once it’s up to temperature, remove it from the heat and let it sit at room temperature to cool to 95-110 deg.
  4. While it’s cooling, rinse out the jar and pour water from the double boiler into the jar to sterilize it (you only want the yogurt cultures growing in that jar) and just let it sit there until the milk has cooled to between 95-110 deg.
  5. Once the milk has cooled, pour the hot water from the jar and any water left in the double boiler into a tea kettle or other heat retaining device.
  6. Mix a couple tablespoons of yogurt into the milk (must contain live, active cultures), then pour this into the sterilized jar. 
  7. Put the lid on the jar and wrap it in a towel to maintain the optimum temperature for the cultures to grow.  I just slide an oven mitt over the jar because it’s easy to handle and I know it will insulate well.
  8. Put the wrapped jar in a cooler (I use my water bath canner because it’s just the right size for the jar and my tea kettle). Put the tea kettle or other heat retaining device in the cooler next to the jar of milk.  If the tea kettle’s too hot you can put a hot pad under it so your cooler doesn’t melt.
  9. Close your cooler and don’t move or touch or open your yogurt until the next morning (10-12 hours).  After the time has passed, remove it from the cooler and it will be thick, creamy, and delicious (probably even a little warm).
  10. Stick it in your fridge and make sure to save some of that batch for your next batch.

A couple things to note: yogurt cultures weaken over time, so when I buy store bought yogurt I use a couple tablespoons to make a batch of my own yogurt and save the rest of the store bought in an ice cube tray so I can use that “first generation” of yogurt to make quite a few batches (defrost them by putting a little of the hot milk into a bowl with the cubes before adding the yogurt to your batch…if you add the cubes directly to your jar of milk it could bring the temp a little too low for effective culturing, and do not microwave to defrost them).  My “second generation” of yogurt is the batch I make with the store bought.  As I’m coming to the end of my store bought cultures I make one jar of yogurt and freeze it in the ice cube trays to use as a starter for the “third generation.”  This way I get many more batches of yogurt from one store bought yogurt container.  If I just used a couple tablespoons from the first batch to make the second, then a couple tablespoons from the second to make the third, I would get about 5 batches before the cultures weaken to the point of needing a new starter.  By thinking in generations, I get about 30 batches from the same container of store bought.  You could also make a bigger batch of yogurt when you’re making it to use for a starter, and it would last even longer.  I do a quart at a time, but might double that in my next batch.

I’ve heard of people making yogurt using their slow cooker as well, and like I said, when you start looking for ways to make it you’ll find plenty.  See what works for you and stick with it.  It’s definitely worth it to make your own, and once you try it you’ll see that it’s even easier than it sounds.

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Garage Sale Success Story

I have a genuine love/hate relationship with garage sales (both my own and other people’s).  When I’m out garage saling, I love finding a great deal on something like my $1 spice rack, a barely used cast iron skillet, and a bag of 10 sets of knitting needles for $2.  I hate that I have to get up early to find the good stuff.

With my own garage sales, I love clearing things out and making a little extra money.  Our most recent sale earned us $600, which came at the perfect time because Dan had just been laid off. What I hate (you’ll see a trend here) is getting up early to set up.  I love, as in L.O.V.E. my sleep.  Still, though, a couple times a year I can be coaxed to get up before the crack of dawn (usually as my husband pours ice on my head to wake me up) to peddle my wares in my driveway.  We typically have tremendous success, but every once in a while we’ve had a flop.  Here’s what I’ve learned about how to have a successful sale and how to avoid some common pitfalls.

1. Save up for your sale– Create a little spot in your garage or find a spare closet and use it to store anything you want to sell.  The bigger this pile is before your sale the more money you’ll make (economies of scale, and such), so go through every room and purge.  Every time we think we can’t get rid of anything else we find a random box with more stuff.  I’ve also been known to check out the free section on Craigslist and pick up any curbside freebies to include.  Just because someone else doesn’t want to go to the trouble of selling it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t (unless they request no resellers…I always respect that).

2. Advertise– Craigslist is the way to go for this one.  Even if there’s not a CL for your immediate area, post it on whichever location is closest and you might be surprised by who makes the drive.  Include specific types of items for sale and you’re more likely to drum up business.  If someone wants “skis” and you have it in your posting, it will show up in their search results and you might have someone come just for that item.  Even better, include brand names, descriptions, and even a couple pictures of specialty items to peak people’s interests.  You can also post on Facebook, and I’ve heard of some other garage sale specific sites, but when I looked for some sales in my area there weren’t very many listed.  I stick to the tried and true.  You may have a different experience with those other sites.

3. Signage– In addition to online advertising, the signs you use can really make a difference.  Our part of town is popular for garage sales.  People drive up and down the blocks looking for sales, so we only put up a couple signs and get tons of business.  Even if your location isn’t so great, guide people to your sale from the two or three most popular streets around you.  The worst sign I ever saw was just an arrow on a piece of cardboard that said “sale.”  No date, no address, nothing.  I drove for a few blocks but there were no more signs so I turned around.  Write big and very clear, include an address, and get neon paper (any color works, we use pink) and include that color on all your signs.  Make it easy for people to find you and they will. Make sure to take down your signs when you’re done.

4. Location– You might not have the best spot for a sale, but if you know someone who lives in a heavily trafficked area ask if you can camp on their lawn for a Saturday morning.  We lived in a condo association for six years, and the one time we tried to have a sale there it was dismal.  No traffic so all the sales were to our neighbors and maybe a few passersby.  The next time we loaded up our SUV and took it to my parent’s house.  They have a great location and we more than tripled our profit.  There’s a big neighborhood intersection two blocks away from where we live now with a big enough area that people bring their stuff and sell out within two hours with no signs or advertising.  Think through options for a location before you go through the trouble of putting everything out.

5. Sell stuff– This might seem obvious, but I have literally been to garage sales where I don’t really think the person actually wanted to part with what they put out.  If you’re not willing to budge on the price, label it with your price and write “firm” so people know what to expect.  Other than that, you’re trying to get rid of things, not put them on display to pack up at the end of the day and haul back to your garage.  Instead of trying to convince people why something is worth what we’re asking, we decided that our goal is to make a little money before toting everything to the thrift store.  We figure, we’re donating it at the end of this, so if we can make a few dollars and not have to pack it up then let’s do it.  People like to negotiate for a deal, so if you want to start a little higher on the price that’s fine, but if you really want to sell stuff you need to be flexible.

6. Put prices on everything and stay organized– There are a couple different camps here, but we’ve done it both ways and always have more success when we grab a roll of masking tape and sharpie and price everything (even the 25 cent things).  It takes the stress out of the morning because we’re not trying to price it when someone asks.  We can put some thought into the prices, and we’re both on the same page.  Once, I sold one of my husband’s items for less than he was expecting, and after that I decided that it’s easier if we price things ahead of time to avoid any misunderstandings. It’s easier for the shoppers and it’s easier for us.  The argument against labeling is that someone might be willing to pay $1 for something that you mark as 50 cents. To be frank, I don’t care.  If it’s worth 50 cents to me and someone would pay $1, let them feel like they’re getting a deal and I get what I feel it’s worth.  Win/win.  People will still negotiate even with marked prices and that’s okay.  It’s just easier to have a designated starting point.

7. Don’t join up with neighbors– We tried to have a dual family garage sale with our neighbors one year and it did not work.  We both made less than we would have if we’d had them on different weekends. The theory is that there’s more stuff to sell so it might draw more people.  Well, if you advertise, put up good signs, and have enough stuff on your own, you don’t need to join up with anyone to draw a crowd.  My self-imposed garage sale budget is $20 on any given day.  If there are two houses next to each other, I’m more likely to split my $20 between the two than just spend it all at one house (depending on what’s for sale, of course).  Do each other a favor and claim separate weekends for your sales.

There are a lot of other things that help: use or borrow tables to keep things off the ground and easier to reach; merchandise your items by type: kitchen, books, electronics, etc; towards the end of the day sell clothes by the bag not by the piece; be nice to people and engage in conversation…I use garage sales as another way to get to know people in my community; get your kids involved by setting up a coffee/donut cart or selling lemonade as long as you have an extra adult to help supervise (depending on the age of the kids).

There are probably a lot of other great tips and tricks, so feel free to share yours.

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My Plant Diary

It’s pretty widely acknowledged that a great habit for a gardener to keep is writing in a garden journal with records of plants, weather, pest management, fruit yield, and other details that are easily forgotten from year to year.

I started my journal in a spiral bound notebook with the date written in the margin and any notable events to the right.  I also drew pictures of my garden bed shape and relative size so I have a map of where things are planted.  Well, I was noticing that as I was doing things in the garden it was harder and harder to remember to write stuff down.  I would finish something and move on to the next thing without writing any notes, and I have to admit that I’m somewhat notorious for starting journals and letting them sit for a couple years between entries.

I knew there had to be a better way, so I turned to the app store on my phone and found a free app that did just what I needed.  My Plant Diary app lets me track everything related to my garden on my smartphone, which for me is a huge advantage over my handwritten journal.

Here are a few things I like about the app:

– I can add multiple diaries so each plant has it’s own section with individual entries for each plant.  I can add new diaries at any point when I add new plants to my garden, so it grows as my garden grows.

– I never took my spiral bound plant journal with me anywhere, but I almost always have my phone so even if I forget to record something and remember it later I can add to the diary at any point.  Uber convenient.

– In my handwritten journal everything was organized chronologically, but the app lets me see things by individual plants which is much more useful for me.  In future years, I’m not going to care so much about what I was doing on February 4 as much as I’ll look at my “Tomato” diary and get an idea of when and how they grew.

– I love that I can take pictures of the actual plants and include them with each entry.  This is an amazing feature that I’d have no way of replicating in a spiral bound book unless I took pictures and printed them.

– For each diary, you can view it on a calendar so instead of just looking at a list of dates you really get a visual of when things are happening in your garden.

There are a couple things that could really enhance the app including:

– Weather tracking.  I made my own work around by adding “Weather” as a separate diary, and I enter the day’s low and high temperature in the spot reserved for the plant’s height and width.  Then I can see on the graph for that diary how the temps are changing.

– I would also love if there was a way to actually export at least the diary info or send it via e-mail so it could be printed somehow.  I know that sounds a bit counter to all the benefits I’m touting of keeping the info electronically, but let’s be honest, I won’t have this phone forever and being able to keep a printed copy in a folder somewhere would be a nice back up.

– What would put it over the top is if it had a task reminder system for each plant.  That way I could future date tasks that I don’t want to forget about like, “Plant seedling outside,” “Time to fertilize.”  Those sorts of things that I can plan out when I’m reviewing plant details without having to remember.  I guess the work around for this would be a separate entry under each plant titled “Future tasks,” and I can list details there.

But when you start figuring out all sorts of work arounds because an app doesn’t do everything you want, you either need to make one yourself or find another one.  For now, these are things I can live with to make my gardening life that much easier.

Any gardeners out there who have another recommendation for keeping track of your garden?

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Dinner under pressure

Back in January (pre-job loss) we realized that we had been eating out way too often, so I started cooking more meals at home and realized that I had to do at least a little meal planning to make sure we had stuff to eat.  Well, one chilly winter’s eve I was in a serious mood for some chili and cornbread.  Hot, out-of-the-oven cornbread with butter and honey right next to a steaming bowl of spicy (but not too spicy) chili was the plan, but as I started cooking the meat I realized that we didn’t have any canned beans.  Drats.  Foiled again.

Any other day, this would have derailed our plans and I would have copped out with spaghetti, but not today.  I had dried beans in the cabinet, but they’ve been in the cabinet for at least a year because they normally take an overnight soak before cooking for an hour and I don’t usually plan that far ahead.

Enter my pressure cooker.  This thing has come in handy more than once, and it saved dinner.  I really don’t understand why they ever stopped being used in modern kitchens, but if you don’t have one and if you ever cook at home be ready for your culinary life to change.  I have literally cooked potatoes from rock hard to smashable soft in a total of 5 minutes.  Add a little milk, butter, salt, and pepper and mashed potatoes are on the table in less time than it takes to get everybody loaded in the car to go out. When there’s a hungry toddler and a hungry husband staring at you from the table, the faster the better!

Pressure cookers are a little intimidating at first, but I cooked my unsoaked beans for about 25 minutes and they came out perfectly al dente.  The chili came out great, all thanks to my pressure cooker.  I used one bag of beans that cost me $0.79 and made the equivalent of four cans of beans that normally sell for $1.19 each.  So, in addition to saving me time, it also saved me money.

If you want to get a pressure cooker there are a few things to keep in mind:

1- Size: Think about what you’re hoping to cook in it and how many people you’ll be feeding, then read the info on the box (or the user manual if you can get to it) to see if they make any recommendations first.  You don’t want to buy one only to get it home and realize that you can’t cook the amount of food you wanted to because you can only fill it so full.  For example, with some types of food you can only fill the pressure cooker half full because of the way things expand when they’re cooking.  A little research can save you a lot of grief.

2- Price: There is a plethora of pressure cookers out there at all different price points.  The price is sometimes connected to the features or actual components of the cooker (mine, for example, came with an attachable strainer so I could hold the cooker with two hands and drain it at the same time), but sometimes the price is more driven by the brand name.  I have a Presto cooker that cost about $26 at a local discount store.  They seem to be making a come back, so if you keep an eye out you’re sure to spot a deal.  They also pop up all over Craigslist and as long as all the parts are there and the seal is totally in tact (no holes, tears, or obvious wear), go for it.

3- Features: As I mentioned already, different cookers come with different features (multiple pressure release valves, the attachable strainer, different pressure regulators), so again think about what you make most that could be sped up by cooking it using the pressure cooker and see if any of the features will make that easier for you.  The strainer is great for when I make beans, potatoes, and a whole variety of other foods.

When you get it home, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing it and preparing it for use, and then just make something.  Cut up some vegetables, pull out some chicken, or open a bag of beans and (again, following the instructions provided by the manufacturer), try it out.  I waited at least a few weeks before breaking mine open because I was a little intimidated not having used one before.  It was S.O. E.A.S.Y!!  After the first time I was hooked.

Of course, spread the word that you’re looking for one and someone is bound to rustle one out of the back of a cabinet or a box in the garage.  If you can make a trade for it, then all the better.

Note that a pressure cooker and pressure canner are not the same thing.  A pressure canner actually has a guage that measures the level of pressure in the cooker for canning things like tomatos, carrots, or other food that needs to be canned under a specific pressure due to food safety.  Those are much more expensive than a pressure cooker.

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How My Garden Grows

After I realized how badly I needed to connect with real food here, I decided it was time to start growing something on purpose.

I saw a great tutorial here on www.Instructables.com for growing my own container garden, so I picked some milk crates up off of Craigslist for a few dollars each.  I can’t say I had the best luck (not much sun on my little spot of concrete otherwise known as my backyard), but I planted everything from seed and got some lettuce, one carrot that was about an inch long, a bit of basil, and a couple tomatos.  The intrinsic satisfaction of making a salad out of everything that I grew was worth the effort even if said salad was eaten in one bite.  I know that if my little veggies had more sun they would have been much more productive.

We moved from that condo so I now have a backyard with plenty of space for a real garden.  Last summer I had a huge zucchini plant (I’ve never really heard of a small one), a few tomato plants, some lettuce, strawberries, and a variety of herbs.

My Ikea plant continued to thrive and is still alive after four years (a.m.a.z.i.n.g…it’s kind of like the goldfish you win at the fair that lives longer than your dog).  My biggest problem now is that my toddler picks the tomatos when they’re two days away from perfect and eats them fresh from the vine.  I think the gardening gene from my grandma is recessive and is just now starting to surface.  And, if that’s the biggest problem in my garden I’ll take it.

I’m planning for this year’s garden with some serious elbow grease.  I built my raised planter beds while my husband was on a trip, have some seedlings going under a grow light in the garage with more getting planted next month, and planted some beet and radish seeds directly into the ground so they’re starting to poke through the soil.  I even have a little gardening journal (okay, a spiral bound notebook) that helps me remember what I’ve done, weather patterns, dates of sprouting, etc.

My hope is that I’ll be able to provide for all of our vegetable needs during the growing season with enough left over to freeze or can for later in the year.  I decided that I needed to start somewhere and I usually wait until too late in the season and just give up until the next year.  My goal at the beginning of 2012 was to be more intentional with my days so they don’t fly by so quickly.  Gardening is one way I’m doing that.

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My $3 dinner

Now that I’ve been cooking at home for a while on our self imposed “30-day eat at home challenge” I’m trying to stretch my creativity in what I make.  Enter the eggplant.

I never, ever though that I was an eggplant fan.  It seemed bitter when raw and slimy when cooked.  Gross.  Then we got some in our CSA basket, and they got moldy and rotted in our fridge.  Then, we got more in our CSA basked, and those went bad and ended up in the compost too.  Finally, by about the fifth eggplant I decided that I needed to try it to see if my thoughts were valid.  The only thing I could think of was eggplant parmesan.  I figured the eggplant could be camouflaged a bit, so we could ease ourselves into it.

When I made it for the first time using this recipe, Dan and I suddenly realized what we’d been missing and I regretted not trying it sooner.  We even ate the eggplant crisps without the cheese and sauce, and put some in the freezer for later.

So, the other day I was at the store picking up some basics, and I saw an eggplant that had been marked down to 34 cents which seemed pretty reasonable (I love the 50% off section at Fresh and Easy).  Dan had put in a request for eggplant parm this week, but since we didn’t have any at the time I filled in that meal slot with something else.  When I saw it on sale I knew it was meant to be.

I made it a couple nights ago and after calculating the cost I discovered that it was just under $3 for the whole dish that fed the three of us, and there’s leftovers.

Eggplant: $0.34, Pasta: .50, Sauce: .50, Cheese: .85

Throw in some extra pennies for the oil, breadcrumbs, and eggs, and we’re still under $1/person.  Even a good deal at a cheap restaurant can’t beat that.  It doesn’t always work out to be that inexpensive but it’s a good one to keep in the file.  If you’ve never had eggplant, it’s worth trying at least once, and now I’m on the hunt for more recipes so we can expand our eggplant repertoire.

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