Gardening On The Semi Cheap…

As I’ve stated many times, I’m a blog addict.  I read all types of blogs, cooking, gardening, decorating, wildlife, etc.. A common theme I’ve been seeing on a few gardening blogs is how cheap it is to grow your own food.  Maybe I’m completely off when I say, I disagree with that.  There are many times I have said it would be cheaper to just go buy these vegetables, but I enjoy gardening that for me it’s more for the effects my garden has on me than a monetary issue.

A successful garden takes work and money, how much of both is entirely up to each individual.  For instance, if you just want a couple patio tomato plants that’s inexpensive and easy enough to manage.  Buy a container (or even use a bucket (clean, not used to store chemicals or other toxic ickiness) with some dirt and you are in business.  Give it some water, sun and a little food and you will get yourself some beautiful tomatoes.  As your garden grows so does the effort and expense.  There are ways to cut down your expenses like sharing seeds with a friend or two, repurposing containers or even getting them for free from some bakeries, wait to purchase gardening items on sale (end of the season most stores offer huge discounts on gardening supplies that they want to get rid of), be mindful of what you are planting by reading the seed packets for information or looking online to help you grow the seeds with the best results,  and keep your garden to a manageable size.

Seed packets normally have more seeds than any one person can use, so sharing with one or two other people is a simple route that is easy to do.  You could also coordinate with a neighbor and each grow certain items that you share with the other.  Cuts down on the amount of seeds you need to purchase.

Some garden stores will offer their old containers from trees or plants that they no longer need either free or at a very minimal charge.  They aren’t fancy, usually the black or green plastic, but they will get the job done for less money than the fancy pots.  Bakeries are another option to find containers for growing, they usually have the 5 gallon buckets that frosting and such comes, again usually for free or a very small charge.

Waiting for the sales, seems like a no brainer idea, however, sometimes when you are in the moment and you are all motivated to grow a garden you might over buy and wind up with items you don’t need or could have found at a much less price.  End of season is a great time to buy more expensive items because stores want to make room for the holiday items so they markdown like crazy.  Garden beds, seeds, tools and sometimes when you are lucky, dirt.

When you take the time to grow seeds you want to know how to get the best results, ie the most vegetables from each plant.  Make sure you know if it’s even possible to grow that vegetable in your zone.  Okra, watermelon and other heat loving vegetables/fruit does not do well in my neck of the woods, so I don’t grow it.  Save your money for ones that are suited for your zone.  To check your zone you can go here.

And lastly, be realistic in your garden size, keep it manageable or you are just setting yourself up for failure and wasting money.  Keep in mind how many people will be eating the vegetables, are you planning on canning your tomatoes (or other vegetables) or just eating them fresh, will you actually eat it?

I’ve never actually added up how much I spend each year growing my garden.  The initial cost was more than the yearly maintenance cost, usually.  Garden beds and containers are where the majority of my vegetables are grown.  I do like to put a few pumpkin plants and a few others in random spots amongst my flowers because I think it looks really cool.  Soil is pricey, and each year you need to amend the soil to make sure it has enough nutrients to feed the new batch of plants.  You can of course make your own compost using kitchen scraps and yard clippings (not treated with pesticides or other toxic chemicals), but that too you will need to consider the work and cost involved.  Reuse your containers, just give them a thorough cleaning before each use and you will save quite a bit of money.

My point isn’t to sound like Debbie Downer, just to make sure you are aware that growing your own food isn’t this free and easy route to go.  I would hate for you to expect to not have to visit the grocery store/farmer’s market for any vegetables during the summer growing months because you were going to have this fantastic garden that was going to provide everything you need for free.

A successful garden takes time, effort and money but to me it’s more than worth it.  My kids get to learn about food, how it’s grown, even work on their counting (how many containers do we need for the seeds, etc…) gets them outside and a lot of times gets them to eat vegetables that maybe they wouldn’t have.  Also, I love getting to go just out to my backyard to grab some zucchini to throw on the grill with dinner, or some sweet tomatoes for a salad, you get the point, right?

If gardening sounds like it’s for you, then get out there and get your hands dirty, or put on some gloves and get the gloves dirty!!!

 

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Types of Garage Sales

I think I have a love hate relationship with garage sales.  On one hand, I just love going to them, looking through all the stuff (mostly junk) that people are trying to sell.  There are those few times when you come across a really cool item at an even cooler price, but that seems to be the rarity.

This morning on my way to get my hair done I stopped at a few and rolled on by a few.  As I headed to the salon I started thinking about the sales and how different they can be from one another.  My conclusion, there are three types of garage sales: ones where people truly want to get rid of stuff and sell if for really cheap, the ones where people have clearly looked up the value of the items they are selling and now want to get that looked up price, and lastly the ones that are trying to get rich selling stuff they think is worth a lot more than it truly is (a broken pair of skis for $100, really?).

Sometimes I like to chat up the ones that believe they are going to make thousands and thousands of dollars on their crap, I mean items.  It’s interesting to hear them talk about how they are giving this stuff away at a steal and that they would hold on to it but they already have three more of the exact same item.

My fondness of garage sales seems to be waning a bit.  The idea of driving around endless neighborhoods looking at stuff I don’t need or even want is starting to seem like a waste of time and energy.  Maybe it’s like my couponing phase, the fun has ceased and I’m ready for a new hobby.  Sure I’ll still stop at one if it’s on my way and I have time, but I won’t go looking for them.

Maybe I’m just tired and I’ll feel differently after I go to a garage sale where I pick up a Le Creuset Goose Pot for $10…. lol, in my dreams!!!

How Much Is Too Much

The other night I was watching one of my reality television shows that I love, Married To Medicine, which isn’t anything new.  It’s entertainment and I enjoy the ridiculousness of it, that’s why I watch many of the shows I enjoy.  However, this particular episode one of the wives was getting little gift boxes for kids that were less fortunate than hers.  She said something in the lines of her kids being very privileged (which they are) and her wanting them to help give to those less fortunate.  Quite honestly I applaud that belief, but that’s not where I’m going with this.  What I started thinking about was the amount of toys/stuff/crap my kids have.  How much is too much?  When do you say your kids are privileged?  For me, I think there are different levels of privilege, this particular family is on the upper end.

Not like we give our kids everything they want, but they do get a lot.  It can be difficult to say no to a $20 toy here and there, but they all add up.  Next thing you know you are wading through your own personal Toys R Us!!  I mean really, how many freaking dump trucks does Thing 1 need?  Certainly not 14 of them (yes, I counted).  At three years old it tough explaining to them that a few really should go to kids that do not have any dump trucks, he sees it as someone taking his toy.  It’s a tough lesson sometimes, but hopefully will get easier as he gets older.  Thing 2 on the other hand is a little more accepting of the idea of giving it to kids that do not have tons of toys or cannot afford toys at all.

Easter was a good holiday to see if I could show some restraint.  It’s not like Christmas with all the crazy amounts of toys and the Black Friday deals that seem to never end, it’s kind of like it’s cousin once removed… I’ll admit, it was tough.  You see all the cool stuff you know your kids would love to find in their baskets, but then think “stuff doesn’t equate love”.  Yes, that sounds cheesy but it’s true.

I so want for my kids to appreciate what they have and to learn to understand not everyone has what they have.  I need to learn to appreciate what we have so I can show my kids how to appreciate what we have, teach by example.

I truly am thankful for what we have, for how hard my hubs works to give us what we have.  We are privileged…

 

Strawberry Macarons

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The only macaron flavor I have ever made is salted caramel, it’s my absolute favorite.  It’s not that I don’t like other flavors, but if I’m making them I want those in particular.  However, about a week ago I started thinking about my Easter table and what I wanted to serve, and the idea of a nice pink macaron came into my mind.  This is a flavor I have never tried, and I’ve tried a lot of flavors, so I wasn’t sure how well it would turn out.  Never going to find out unless you try, right?

So last night I pondered how to go about tinting the shell.  Yes I could use a store bought natural food coloring, but since I had beet powder on hand and I figured that mixed with a little strawberry puree would do the trick.  I knew I wanted to do a buttercream filling, but then I had to figure out how to mix in more strawberry puree without going overboard.  Nothing like a little trial and error…

*Note: you can ground your own almonds if you do not have almond flour, however, you need to make sure you are able to make them very fine, it’s a tad tedious if you don’t have the proper equipment.  Also, you want to toss your almonds in the freezer for 30 minutes or more before you ground them or they will turn into an oily mess.

Thankfully, I didn’t have much error and it all came about quite smoothly.

For the Recipe:

Macaron Shell:

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250 g almond flour

400 g powdered sugar

12 g beet powder (this made a very light pink shell, adjust to the color you want)

440 g egg white

50 g sugar

1/4 c strawberry purée

In a bowl, sieve the ground almonds, powdered sugar (aka confectioners sugar) and beet powder into a bowl to make sure there are no lumps.  Set aside.  In a mixing bowl add the egg whites and whip to firm peaks.  Then add the sugar and whip until you get a stiff merengue.  Next, gently fold in the dry ingredients and strawberry purée.  Take care not to over mix.

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Line baking sheets with parchment paper and pipe nice round circles about 1 1/2″ in diameter using a pastry bag.  You can use a tip on the bag if it’s easier for you, but I use the plastic disposable bags and find it just as easy to cut the tip and just do it that way.  I’ve also seen people draw circles on the underside of the parchment paper to use as a guide, this might sound kooky, but I just like to count how long I pipe each circle to keep them uniform.

After you pipe all the shells let them dry on the counter for an hour to allow them to get a skin.  Bake in a 335 F degree oven for 12-14 minutes, until the top has a dry look to it.  Take out, slide the parchment paper onto a cooling rack and let cool before you remove the cookies.

Strawberry Filling:

8 oz. unsalted butter, let it sit out at room temperature for an hour, you want it soft enough to whip up but not too soft (warm days this can be achieved in under an hour)

4 oz. mascarpone cheese

8 oz. powdered sugar

1/2 c. strawberry purée

In the bowl of a mixer add all the ingredients and whip until nice and fluffy.

To Assemble:

Spoon the filling into a piping bag (again I used disposable plastic that I cut, no tip) and pipe onto one of the shells.  Top with another, tada!!

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After you finish assembling all the cookies, put them in the refrigerator to firm up the strawberry filling.

To serve, you can pull them out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes beforehand.  I personally like the straight out, still firm, but that might just be me.

Enjoy!!

 

Kalbi, Korean Short Ribs

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Who doesn’t like Korean short ribs?  They are sweet, meaty and not that difficult to make and at my house they are a hit with everyone, which is always a bonus.  They are best prepared on a grill, either outside or inside, because you need that nice char on the meat.  Someone once told me they made theirs in a slow cooker….um, no!!!

For the Recipe:

3 lbs. flanken style short ribs

1 c. soy sauce, low sodium is preferred

3/4 c. sugar

1/4 c. brown sugar

2 tbsp. honey

2 tbsp. sesame oil

2 tbsp. grated ginger

3 garlic cloves, give them a whack before you put them in

1 bunch of green onions, cut into 2″ pieces

2 tbsp. Asian sesame seeds, toasted

Put all the ingredients in a Ziploc bag, or container with a lit, to marinate.  My tip… place the bag in another container just in case there happens to be a small hole in the bag, trust me, it happens.  Let sit anywhere from 6-24 hours.  I normally do mine around 8-10 so it doesn’t get too marinated, but that’s just me.

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When you are ready to grill keep in mind that this marinade is full of sugar and sugar burns easily.  Also, these short ribs usually are very marbled, and fat burns.  So bottom line, if you do these on a barbeque they will flame up, don’t do them on high, instead do them on a medium heat and keep your eye on them.  If you do them on an inside grill (George Foreman grill works great) still don’t cook on high, and put a little oil on your grill to help with sticking.  These cook quite quickly, about 2 minutes per side (but use your judgement), you want to have a nice char (not burnt) look to them.  If you want to use the leftover marinade to drizzle over rice or the ribs be sure to bring it to a good simmer on the stove to make sure it’s safe.

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Serve with rice.

Enjoy!!

Potato Topping

Whenever I go to a restaurant, not only am I there enjoying the food, but I’m also taking notes (mental) for ideas in cooking at home.  Now I’ve known people that will ask a server to get the recipe, I am not that kind of person, it just seems so, I don’t know, rude.  Maybe I’m way off on this feeling, but it’s just me, instead, my hubs and I play the “what do you taste in this” game.  This potato dip is one of those “mental notes”.  Honestly, I couldn’t get enough of the stuff, and it’s really quite basic.

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For the Recipe:

1/2 c. sour cream

1/2 c. cream cheese, softened

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

1 tbsp. chives, minced (if you don’t have chives you can substitute green onions)

2 tsp. parsley, minced

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.  Yup, that’s it!!

Enjoy!!

 

Semi-Homemade Breakfast

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It’s not like I’m totally opposed to those exploding cans of premade croissants and biscuits, I’m actually quite fond of them, however, If given the choice I’m going to pick homemade.  The choice is not always available, like this morning, and to be honest, the can of croissants worked really well for this recipe.  A little prep work and you’ve got a breakfast or brunch item that you can customize and have ready in a jiffy.

I think this could actually be pretty good using only vegetables too.  Maybe some mushrooms, spinach, swiss chard, and some swiss cheese.  Hhmmm, maybe I’ll have to do some testing…

For the Recipe: 4 VERY generous servings or 6 normal

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2 tbsp. olive oil

1/4 large onion, chopped

4 eggs

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. milk

1 can croissants

6 slices of bacon, cut into bite size strips and cooked

1 oz. cheddar cheese, sliced or grated

2 tbsp. chives, minced (reserve just a few sprinkles for the top before baking)

2 tbsp. parsley, minced

 

In a sauté pan add the olive oil and onions.  Sauté until softened.  Mix the eggs, pepper, salt, and milk in a bowl, add to the onions, cook until eggs are done.  Set aside.

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On a baking sheet or pizza stone place your croissants, you can do a straight line, ring, whatever your creative little heart desires, but you will want to place two croissants with their short straight sides back to back (the points will be facing outward in opposite directions)

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Now layer your ingredients, eggs, bacon, parsley, chives and cheese.

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Fold over the flaps, then seal the ends by bringing up the extra dough and pinching closed.  Sprinkle with some chives.

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Bake at 375 F. for 20-25 minutes or until a nice golden brown.

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