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Archive for February, 2012

I never used to start seeds indoors. For nearly 20 years of gardening. You need equipment which requires either money or DIY chops (neither of which I have). You need time and a certain degree of obsessive compulsive tendencies to keep the seedlings healthy. I started what I could direct, and bought nursery starts for the ones I couldn’t.

Talk about expensive. Once you’re planting 25 tomato plants you really have to start them yourself from seed.

I first got into seed starting about 6 years ago when I found out about winter sowing. Winter sowing is a great way to get into seed starting. Somehow, you don’t feel bad when they don’t germinate, since winter sowing is really just direct sowing in a container.  I started my alpine strawberries (which you supposedly can’t start from seed) this way. Great instructions for this method are here.

Of course, once you’ve seen those seeds growing in a container, you get the bug, and you start to think, hmmm, I could probably try a couple of tomatoes.

Yeah. That’s one slippery slope.

Over the past few years I’ve now acquired 4 heated seed mats and a collection of can lamps and shop lights that service the equivalent of about 10 flats. I grew 80 tomatoes last year, most of which I donated to the Peterson Garden Project plant sale. I’m able to start seeds for my friend Kelly’s seed bank.

I’m not going to tell you how to do it, other than to say make sure you use sterilized containers (I reuse everything, so this is important), use a seed starting medium rather than compost or potting soil (it really makes a difference), and keep a fan blowing in the room, to discourage damping off. Go ahead and start more than you need–you’ll either learn to discard the ones that don’t thrive, or better yet you’ll find a plant sale like I did, or like my friend “creme” on MyFolia, you’ll start your own to help fund the whole enterprise. You don’t need that much space, either. Last year I ended up with more than 200 seedlings in 4″ pots, from flats that fit on a large trestle table.

Once you get past the fear (remind me, what was I afraid of?) it’s the best thing in the world to see those seedlings peeking through when it’s still cold and snowy outside.

Were you afraid to start seeds yourself? What gave you the push down that slippery slope?

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“Vegetarian” is always a great theme to cook with: you’re pretty much guaranteed all your guests can eat it, vegetarian dishes are generally pretty healthy (other than those pasta and cheese options), cooking with all vegetables (especially seasonal) is generally the most sustainable way to cook, and cooking vegetarian is easy: no worrying about bringing meat up to safe temps!

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Wahoo! I FINALLY cooked an entirely SOLE meal, and was up to the veggie challenge. I have been slacking off, more or less, during this entire challenge, but i finally did it. On a week that most of the other recappers are busy! Oh, well.

For my vegetarian dish, i made a fresh salad and a fritatta of sorts. The fritatta was more veg than egg, and i DID use balsamic on the salad but ALL other ingredients were from either right down the road (literally), or a neighboring state (Californian olive oil).

This “fritatta” turned out way more veg than egg, but was still pretty yummy. I followed my normal fritatta guidelines: potato crust, veggies, egg mixture poured over the top and baked at 400/425 for 20 minutes or until firm throughout. For this meal i used the following ingredients:

  • 5 eggs from a neighbor’s hens
  • half bunch kale (from Gathering Together Farm (GTF), an organic farm 1 mile from my house)
  • 3 cloves garlic (from GTF)
  • 1 purple potato (GTF)
  • 1 crown broccoli (GTF)
  • 1/3 leek (the white part) (GTF)
  • 1 smoked serrano pepper (from my step-mom in Eugene)
  • pinch dried basil (stored from my Austin garden)
  • Salt/Pepper
  • Splash milk from Lochmead Dairy (about 40 minutes away, no hormones added)

For the salad, i tossed GTF’s salad mix with a shredded beet (from Denison Farms, also local/organic), chopped walnuts (that i picked locally this past Fall), more salt and pepper and a drizzle of California olive oil and who-knows-where Balsamic. Local, fresh, seasonal, healthy, SOLE and vegetarian! I finally did it!

PS, in exciting personal-blogging news: i’ve launched a brand new website: Pocket Pause. I will post a full on introduction for my next Friday post on March 9th, but feel free to check it out now!

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Do you enjoy cooking vegetarian dishes, or do you find them limiting?

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We are now 3 months into the Dark Days Challenge. As I read different blog posts from different participants across the country I am starting to see come common challenges  for some of the participants out there. In certain areas, some people are very low or running out of stored fall vegetables like squash and potatoes, and at the same time, they do not have farmer’s markets open in their area at all. Many areas have very active year-round farmer’s markets and that really makes things easy for them in terms of finding local foods. With those open markets it also helps keep with a seasonal eating theme.

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South Region (MD, VA, NC, SC, GA) with Emily from Sincerely, Emily

Annie (MD) from AnnieRie Unplugged shared her Valentine’s Day meal with us this week. Annie made marinated local rockfish (also know as striped bass), a beautiful sweet potato and a side of collard greens sautéed with bacon, onion and garlic. She also made an all-local, nice side salad using fresh bib lettuce, baby beets, bleu cheese with peach vinaigrette. Head over to her blog to read more about her meal and see her local resources.

Liz (VA) from Family Foodie Survival Guide stopped at a small farmers market near her house this past weekend and found some ingredients for to use in her meal this week. She cooked up some sausage and onions and added a side of carrots and a nice helping of red quinoa too. She says that “Sometimes, the SOLE dinner is the easiest one in the fridge.” Visit her blog to see additional photos and read about the small market she stopped at.

Monika (NC) from Windy City Vegan made a beautiful Korean bibimbap for her meal this week claiming that it is not only a fun word to say, but it is another great way to get a variety of vegetables into her family without a replying on a sauce or a soup. She used kale, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, sweet peppers and rice for her local ingredients. She also added sprouted tofu for her protein. Presentation is everything with this dish. Stop by her blog to read more about this fun dish, its presentation, and see her recipe.

Jessica (SC) from Eat.Drink.Nourish. ate out and ate local! While on a weekend trip to Charleston, SC they ate at great restaurant that prides itself on using fresh, local ingredients to create low-country cuisine — they even list their local farmer resources on the menu! Although she doesn’t have a photo of her meal, it does sound delicious – roasted beet salad with house-cured duck and entree of shrimp and grits. YUM.  Visit her blog to read about the restaurant they went to.

Rebecca (VA) from Eating Floyd is starting to run low on some of the vegetables she had cellared from last fall. She is also having to make more frequent trips to a place called Green’s Garage (no car maintenance there – just local foods) more often, but the pickin’s are getting more and more slim, especially for fresh local greens. This week she cooked a beautiful roasted fall vegetable tart. Head over to her blog to read more about her challenges and see this beautiful tart.

Victoria (MD) from The Soffritto made a spicy salsa soup this week using a jar of homemade salsa, homemade chicken stock, home-grown & canned roasted red peppers and a splash of local cream. How’s that for local! The soup was served topped with a bit of local cheese. I have been drooling over the photos of her canned items, dreaming that one day I could also have such beautiful canned items in my pantry. Stop by her blog to see more photos and her recipe too.

Jes (VA) from Eating Appalachia had the sun shining with 65F one day and 7” of snow the next. She didn’t let that stop her from making a nice kale & arugula salad with roasted acorn squash that was both eye catching and filling. With flavor combinations from herbs and spices along with some extra busts of flavor from the raisins and cashews, her salad looks great for spring, summer, winter or fall. Visit her blog to see her recipe and some photos from her winter wonderland.

Susan (VA) from Backyard Grocery had a few hectic, yet exciting weeks. It was time to slow down and have a nice local home-cooked meal. She made venison tenderloin and an omelet for breakfast. This high protein meal was all local. The venison tenderloin was pan friend in butter and the omelet was made up of a local duck egg and local chicken eggs and a bit of local cheese.  Stop by her blog to see more photos and a great step-by-step of her cooking process.

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What is challenging you in your area? Are you starting to get low on some of your homegrown preserved & stored foods? Are your farmers markets all closed or still going strong?

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Although I have posted this recipe at both my other blogs, and I know i have a few overlapping followers with Not Dabbling – i think this recipe is worth sharing as much as possible!  If you don’t mind, I’d also like to introduce to you all my new blog: Bathtime. I’ve been blogging for my soap company, Nude Soap for a while, but mostly just promotional stuff. I’ve decided that it would be fun to write more posts about wellness, herbs, DIY bath and body care and other bath and natural living related topics – similar to those posts sometimes found here and back at my other blog, An Austin Homestead. I would love it if you’d check out Bathtime, which will be a “weekly” with just one post per week.

In other personal blogging news, i’ve been hard at work trying to transition An Austin Homestead to its new location and title… and things are NOT going well. Sometimes the internet can be extremely aggravating. So for now, enjoy this post here at Not Dabbling in Normal, and maybe check it out over at Bathtime as well. You can also find some cool resources over there and i think you’ll enjoy the future posts. Happy Friday!

I like to save money and packaging by making all natural alternatives to common and oft-used around the house products. I make all our soap, of course and i also i try to can or freeze most of our preserved foods. I buy in bulk and use reusable handmade bags, and i especially like to keep my family healthy by keeping almost all commercially made body products out of our house. Products like toothpaste.

Did you know that sodium laureth sulfate, the same stuff used to make commercial shampoos rather, is in most toothpaste? Have you read the ingredients on most toothpastes in the store… if you have you’ll see lots of chemicals, flavors, colors and other artificial nastiness. And flouride. I have mixed feelings on flouride, but despite my dentist’s opinion on the stuff, he checked out my teeth as ‘problem free’ in my last visit…. after i’d switched to making my own tooth powder. I’ve been using my tooth powder for about 1.5 years. My last dentist appointment was also about 1.5 years ago, before the tooth powder. I had 2 supposed cavities and gingivitis. Commercial toothpaste: cavities and gingivitis. Homemade tooth powder: no cavities or gingivitis and a clean bill of mouth health. Want to make some for yourself? I thought so:

Homemade Tooth Powder

  • Baking Soda
  • Course grind salt, preferably sea salt, preferably sea salt with lots of minerals like Real Salt
  • Optional (but really great for polishing teeth and clearing up stains) montmorillonite (french) clay
  • Essential oils: i highly recommend Clove for its gum healing properties, and tea tree for a great all around antiseptic. Add peppermint if you love the taste.

I store my tooth powder in a small jar and serve it up with a spoon into a spoon rest for daily use. To mix tooth powder, fill your jar about 3/4 of the way full with baking soda. Add salt to almost fill and add a half teaspoon of clay. Pour these ingredients into a larger jar (to facilitate easier shaking) and add about 8 drops cloves and 3-5 drops tea tree. You may end up adding more or less depending on your taste later on. Shake!

Pour back into your storage jar and enjoy clean, healthy teeth and gums for pennies! You may find your teeth feeling cleaner then you’ve noticed in a long time, i sure did the first time i used this. The clay will help get those tea stained teeth back to pearly whites in no time!

Do you make your own bath and body products? How about tooth powder?

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Friends, Food, and Fun!

Although our weather has been mild here in the midwest, I’ve still had a major case of the winter “blahs”.  Some days have been cold and snowy, while others have been cold and rainy, while others have been unseasonably warm and sunny!  It has almost been more frustrating than a normal, predictable winter.  While I’ve enjoyed being able to get outside more often than I normally would in February, I’m frustrated that it feels like April but it’s still two months away!  Add to that the normal pressures of family and work, and I decided I needed a weekend away!  After speaking to a few of my friends, they were definitely feeling the same way.  Our wonderful husbands agreed to watch the kiddos, and we were off!

To where, you ask?!  Only about 5-10 minutes away for most of us.  We are so blessed to have the posh Crop-a-doodle-do farmhouse just “down the road” so to speak!  My friends and I love to scrapbook, but seldom actually have time to do it.  About once a year, we plan our getaway girls weekend at Crop-a-doodle-do.

We checked in at noon on Friday, headed out to the scrapbooking room, and got to work.  Maybe work isn’t the right word….  it’s just nice to have room to spread out, be creative, talk with friends, and EAT!

Besides the gorgeous and totally girly (which is a WONDERFULLY welcome change for me, always surrounded by boys!) shabby chic accommodations, we were constantly spoiled with snacks and DELICIOUS meals throughout the weekend.  Saturday morning, we woke up to this amazing french toast souffle.

After we finished up breakfast, we decided to stay in our complimentary fluffy robes for the rest of the morning. It was so nice to sit around and relax all day!

Our all time favorite meal of the entire weekend is the “Doodle Cornbread Salad”.  It’s a variation of a chef salad, served in a glass jar complete with a red ribbon!  The cornbread and bell peppers add just enough sweetness… it’s to die for!  (Who would have ever thought I’d say that about a salad?!)

After lunch, we enjoyed our selected spa services… I chose a much needed massage!  Before we knew it, dinner time arrived.  We were served a mexican lasagne type dish.  So good!!!!  The best part of these meals (not to mention the snacks and desserts!) was that they just magically appeared… we didn’t have to fix anything or clean up afterward.  We sat down, ate, and enjoyed civilized conversation… no cutting little people’s food, no constantly getting interrupted mid sentence.  It was so nice!

Despite our fun and relaxing weekend, I was ready to head home Sunday at checkout time.  The weekend was perfect.  It was close by, we had a great time together, but we were ready to get back home to our families and back into our routines… until next year!

Do you “get away” often?  If so, what are your favorite places to relax and rejuvenate?

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The little French children

You’ve probably been seeing all the news the last couple of weeks: the French are better parents than we are.

In addition to having a cooler language, better wine, older monuments, sexier politicians, and hotter women.

And, apparently, their children are perfectly toilet trained, sh*tting out €20 bills from the age of 6 months.

Or something. I’m afraid I haven’t read the book, um, yet.

As a child, among my multiple geographic and ancestral confusions was the fact that my father was a university French professor. He was really into it. Our family were “French manque;” think of it as “fake French” or in the modern parlance “French wannabe.”

My father’s French was so good, his accent so flawless and his grammar so perfect, that French people told him this was how they could tell he wasn’t French.  My mother, despite her claim that she didn’t speak French, nevertheless managed to type my father’s six French-language scholarly books for him. Flawlessly. On. A. Typewriter. (i.e. no automatic accents or auto-correct. She used to go back through and add all the accents in by hand.)

(Side note: My parents did everything flawlessly. I hope my children appreciate what a hot mess I am.)

In our house, it wasn’t “Dinnertime!” It was “à table!”  Instead of “bedtime!”– “à do-do.”

And French children were so smart! They could speak French perfectly by the time they were two! Whereas we had to spend hours in front of the mirror learning not just the proper pronunciation of the French short u, but the actual facio-muscular configuration. (Not kidding.) Americans actually make this sound all the time–it’s that fleeting moment between the “y” and the “o” in “you.” There are French people, in particular grad students to whom you have surrendered your bed, and for whom your mother has been cooking all day, who use the supposed inability of Americans to make this sound as evidence of our evolutionary failings. I say it perfectly. If the only word I ever had to say was tu, there isn’t a native French speaker on the planet who wouldn’t think I was one of them.

I’ll put my French “u” up against any French person’s attempt at any  American “r” anytime.

And then there’s dinner. “The little French children wait for dinner with their napkins tucked and their silverware in their hands.” “The little French children wait their turn for food.” “The little French children [were doing something perfect that I will never learn, because at this point I had stopped listening].

I hated the little French children. The new revelations of their perfection just demonstrate, in a backhanded sort of way, how rational this attitude actually was.

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Welcome to our new recapper DeeDee, who has taken over the Midwest Group for Jenn. DeeDee joined us as a contributor at Not Dabbling in Normal this past November introducing herself in a post called “Baby Step.” We have been able to follow along in her journey as she gets back to the basics in the kitchen and in her life. Her family is on this journey with her and they are very supportive of each other. She will now be doing the detailed recaps for the Midwest Region. Welcome DeeDee!

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Mild weather continues; everyone I (Xan) know feels like we ought to be able to PLANT something already. The larder’s getting bare, and we all want to eat something fresh. On the plus side, local and seasonal is becoming routine for a lot of our contributors. WoohooTofu made Cheddar Apple frittata (oh yum), and a wonderfully creative Celeriac Gratin. Sanborn Sanctuary described their meal (pork chops, sweet potato mash and spinach salad) better than I ever could: “We were having a good time with locally grown, excellent food and fun, wonderful friends, what more could anyone ask for?” There’s also pictures of chickens. I’m a sucker for pictures of chickens.

Dave at Our Happy Acres took both “local” and “west” to a whole new level, and ate fresh, seasonal and local in Hawaii, where our “exotic” is their “everyday.” (Literally, with a year-round growing season. One can only dream). Although he’s not doing too badly in the harvest department, even at home. He sent us some backlog Dark Days from January as well, a pot roast and a paean to the northern locavore’s friend, the freezer.

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The West Region (CA, CO, TX, UT  Mexico) with Emily from Sincerely, Emily

This is my first shot at the recap for the West Region and it is fun to see what resources this group has. I did not hear from some of the participants from the West Region and I certainly don’t want to leave you out of the recaps if you are still cooking away out there during this Dark Days Challenge. If you did not get my email, please please leave a comment here so I can get in touch with you and be sure to include you in the next recap.

They are now out of their homegrown potatoes and the challenge has entered another layer of challenge for Rick (UT) at Stoney Acres. Rick went super simple and all local for their DDC lunch this past week. A turkey sandwich with a nice fresh side salad. His turkey sandwich looks very good. Why don’t you head over to his blog to read more about his lunch and local ingredients.

Rick (UT) from Stoney Acres also has a meal that missed a past recap, but is worth mentioning. He calls it his “almost local” meal made up of barbecue chicken with home grown mashed potatoes and local corn on the cob.  As I mentioned above, they are now out of their homegrown potatoes, but it sure looked like they enjoyed them in this meal. Stop by his blog to see his local resources.

Teresa (CA) from Not from a Box packed a great lunch for a long hike. She made bacon sandwiches with arugula and slow-roasted tomatoes. This lunch was enjoyed in the great outdoors. The slow-roasted tomatoes where from last fall, slowly roasted and tucked away in the freezer for times just like these. Go check out her post about her hike and her mountain-top meal. Food always seems to taste better outside, especially when enjoyed on a mountain top! After all, you have worked for it.

Teresa (CA) from Not from a Box also cooked up a meal to celebrate the return of more evening light and the inevitable approach of spring. She made sun-kissed carrots baked in foil and chicken legs in a creamed herb sauce and a nice ciabatta. Stop by her blog to see her recipes for both the chicken with herb cream sauce and her sun-kissed carrots. You will also be able to see where she has locally sourced her ingredients for both of her meals.

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Hello from the midwest!  Maggie from Dog Hill Kitchen was the one loyal Dark Days participant I heard from this week.  I’m hoping I didn’t miss anyone transitioning from the experienced Jennifer to the newby me (DeeDee).  If I did, I apologize, and please comment below so I can be sure to include you next time!  Maggie made a delicious looking soup featuring home grown mung bean sprouts, among other local ingredients.  Head on over to her blog for more details about this beautiful dish!

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