Friday, May 31, 2013

Tip of the Day ~ Turn up your cuffs!

When wearing rubber gloves to protect your hands, turn the cuffs up to protect your forearms and elbows.  Should you raise your hand, the liquid you are working with will pool in the cuff instead of running down your arm.

Broccoli Salad

This is a crispy salad that has a huge amount of flavor and crunch.  It is one of my family's all time favorites!
1/4 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 slices of bacon - cooked & crumbled
4 cups of broccoli
1/2 cup carrots - shredded
1/2 cup red onion - finely diced
1/2 cup cheddar cheese - shredded
1/2 cup roasted sunflower seeds
Cook up your bacon.  Either cut it into small pieces before cooking or cook and them crumble.
In a small bowl, measure out the mayonnaise, sugar and vinegar.  
Whisk until combined and smooth.
In a large bowl combine your broccoli, onion and carrots. Stir together well.
Add bacon, sunflower seeds and cheese.  Stir well to combine.
Top with dressing mixture and once again stir well.
Chill for 15 to 30 minutes before serving. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Tip of the Day~Garden Ties

 The best way to tie up any of your plants to a steak or trellis is using strips of nylon stockings, pantyhose, tights, whatever you want to call them.  The thin stretchy material provides a firm hold, tight knot and doesn't cut into the plant.  One pair of stockings makes many ties.  So, go through your drawer and grab that pair with the little snag and go tie up your tomatoes!
Don't have any of your own stockings?  Ask your Grandma.
Or buy a cheap pair at your local second hand store.

The Secrets to Companion Planting

Since I was a little girl, my mom has always said, "Tomatoes love beans, but hate corn. Plant your corn on the opposite side of the garden as the tomatoes."  Now that I am growing tomatoes, beans, and corn of my own, I have seen first-hand that Mom was right.  The tomatoes and beans planted next to one another did produce more abundantly.   
Over the years, I have dabbled a bit in other companion planting pairs.  It turns out, corn and beans  like each other as well.  Many of your herbs and flowering plants benefit your fruits and veggies.  Lemon balm, rosemary and basil are three herbs that have a glorious scent when touched or the wind blows.  It turns out, bugs don't appreciate those beautiful scents as much as us.  I have even torn the leaves of lemon balm and scattered them in my squash to chase away the bugs, and it worked!
 Marigolds are not the only flower that chases the bugs away from you garden either (by the way marigolds chase away the bad bugs above and under the soil), nasturtiums, yarrow, angelica, chamomile and morning glory lure beneficial insects and help to control the bad bugs.
As I have mentioned in my "Not so ugly truth about weeds" post, weeds can also be beneficial.  Dandelions and clover have deep root systems that bring nutrients up to the shallow root plants like corn and radishes.  No, you don't want your radish patch smothered in clover, but one here and there is great.  I have also always used grass and weeds to make living paths between my rows.  It is not good to walk on the soil that has your veggies growing in.  Walking on bare soil compacts it.  Planning your garden to have strips of grass for walking and working protects your soil from compaction and erosion.
When the weeds and grass grow up a bit, just mow or weed eat it down, and voila, you have another benefit, a bit of green mulch to feed your veggies.
I have always played around a little with companion planting and I have always lived in a small city lot, so companion planting gave the added benefit of fitting more produce into smaller spaces. Despite the small space, I have always had a harvest, even in the super dry and hot summers.
Now that I have moved out to the country, I have an entire 5 acres to spread out my garden, but instead I have chosen to fully embrace companion planting.  
Not only will I reap the benefits of added nutrients and insect lures/repellents, but the plants that I have placed together will grow in blocks rather than rows.  Planting companion plants closely together, like you would flowers in a flower garden, leave less exposed soil, so unwanted weeds will not grow up between your plants.  
If you already have your garden in, never fear, I bet you have a little room to squeeze a few beneficial plants in here and there.  
Here is a list of things that love each other:
Tomatoes, Basil, Onions
Onions, Carrots
Horseradish, Potatoes
Radishes, Nasturtiums, Cucumbers
Cilantro, Spinach
Corn, Greenbeans
Corn, Squash
Spinach, Lettuce, Peas
Tomatoes, Parsley, Basil, Asparagus
Nasturtiums, Squash
Onions & Garlic are good for Fruit Trees and Night Shades (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes)
Beans are good for Beets, Turnips and Onions
Borage is good for Strawberries and Cucumbers
Marigolds are good for Tomatoes, Asparagus and Squash
Geranium is good for Tomatoes, Grapes and Roses
My favorite benefit of companion planting is how lush and beautiful the garden looks because of the variety and health this method provides.  Try it out for yourself and see how your harvest benefits! ~Rebecca

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The not so ugly truth about weeds.

Any plant which grows where it is not wanted is considered a weed, right?  Clover in the drive, dandelions in the yard, grass in the garden, violets by the gate, chickweed in the patio pavers.  People spend a considerable amount of time pulling those weeds and money on herbicides killing those weeds.  Folks consider weeds to be ugly and harmful to the plants they have growing in the garden and the yard.
Well, I am ready to make a not-so-popular declaration.  Weeds really are not all that bad.  In fact, having a few weeds in good.  Weed free is really not so good.
Have you ever noticed, when God plants a garden, when planting environments are allowed to grow up naturally, lots of different kinds of plants grow together.  Think of a meadow.  Grasses, wildflowers and "weeds" all grow together.  You see, this is actually a very healthy plant environment.  It is the way God intended it.  As a result of all of these plants being mixed together, they are healthier, because the plants support one another.  A deep rooted plant, such as dandelion, reaches down to the nutrients that the shallower plants can't reach, and brings that nutrients closer to the surface.
That spring of milkweed will attract caterpillars, keeping them off of the rudbuckia.
It is a fact that a diverse environment is a healthy environment.  Keeping large spaces of one single species is not the way God intended it.  Planting 5 acres of Kentucky Bluegrass, may look beautiful (in the same way a stick thin, made up model looks beautiful) but that is neither healthy, nor the way God intended our 5 acres to be.
That being said, I do realize there are times when weeds do need to be removed.  Spending thousands of dollars on a patio or driveway is a good reason to kill the grass growing up through the pavers.  Pulling the grass that is growing under the tomatoes is wise, because tomatoes won't grow well with another plant smothering their "feet".
The problem with today's culture is that there is an idea that every weed needs to be removed.  Instead of using harmful chemicals to treat the entire yard, simply spray the one large patch of violets and embrace the rest.  Violets really are beautiful and edible.  Harvest them instead of killing them.  Instead of spending hours digging every single dandelion from the yard, dig a few and have the kids harvest the rest.  Your vegetable garden does not need to be weed free to produce an abundance of veggies.  More than once I have had someone comment on my beautiful weeds in my veggie patch.  I love growing a large garden, but I have 2 small children and I refuse to spend their entire childhood pulling weeds.  Despite my "lack" of "good gardening technique"  I always have an abundant harvest and I rarely have problems with insect infestation.
Okay, so here is the not so ugly truth about weeds.  You don't have to spend all of your time and money getting rid of them.  A few weeds in the garden and yard is good.  A lot of weeds in the garden or the yard is fine, maybe even good.  Zero weeds in the garden or yard is actually bad.  Weeds actually have many benefits.  They attract beneficial animals/insects.  Weeds help prevent bad animals/insects from eating your plants.  They can increase nutrients in your soil.  Some weeds can be harvested for the dinner table.  Many weeds are actually beautiful.  A few minutes a day pulling weeds in the garden is good.  Hours and hours a week pulling weeds in the garden is bad.  A little vinegar poured on the cracks of the patio to kill the grass is good.  A huge sack full of weed and feed poured over the entire estate is bad.
So, there you have it.  Grab yourself a cup of coffee, sit back and relax. Say a little prayer thanking the Creator for that little patch of clover, which has helped feed the grass with it's long roots and attract the little bee that has helped to pollinate your apple tree. And, if a well meaning friend gasps and says to you, "My husband would die if he saw all of those weeds in your garden!", just smile and tell her you are practicing an amazing new companion planting technique.
~ Rebecca

Tip of the Day~Harvesting Lettuce

If your's isn't ready already, then soon it will be time to harvest lettuce.  The very first time I planted lettuce, I thought pulling the entire plant was the way it was harvested.  Don't make the same mistake I did.  Grab a pair of scissors and snip your lettuce leaves about 1 inch above the ground.  It is a quick, easy and clean way to harvest.  More lettuce leaves will grow up from the little chopped plants.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Popcorn

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Popcorn & Donna's Caramel Popcorn
I have been making chocolate covered strawberry popcorn for the Farmer's Market.  This stuff is amazing.  Kids and husbands gobble it up.  Moms and grandmas hide it in the cupboard so that they can gobble in peace.  Chocolate covered strawberry popcorn is good stuff.
However, due to it's drizzle of chocolate, it isn't holding up in the heat and sunshine at the market.  So, we won't be making it to sell, but trust me we will still be making it to eat.  And, so should you.  Here is the recipe:
1&1/2 cups un-popped popcorn, popped
(This makes 6-7 quarts, so have a couple of large bowls ready)
1 lb. of white chocolate, melted
8 tbsp. strawberry cake mix
chocolate chips, divided, melt half
decorating sprinkles

In a large bowl, or a couple, quickly drizzle white chocolate all over popcorn. Sprinkle dry cake mix over melty white chocolate and stir well.  You have to work quickly, in fact, it helps to divide the chocolate and cake mix in two batches, drizzle, sprinkle, stir, drizzle, sprinkle, stir. Spread the popcorn mixture out on a large, wax paper covered surface. Using the back of your spoon, press down the popcorn, so that is in one flat single layer.  Using a fork, drizzle half of the chocolate chips over all of the popcorn, before it melts, toss on the decorating sprinkles.  Drop the rest of the chocolate chips evenly over the mixture.  Allow all of the chocolate to harden.  Store in sealed bags or covered containers.

Tip of the Day~When onions go to seed

Can you see the round little seed pods on the tips of these onion greens?  
These onions have gone to seed.  They have stopped growing.  If left in the garden, they would bloom, and probably be pretty, but they would lose their value in the kitchen.  I had tried to move these onions, they didn't appreciate it and quickly went to seed.  That's okay though, they made wonderful green onions.  For green onions, just snip off the seed head, roots, and peel away any brown onion paper.  Rinse your onions, dry them off a bit and then store them in the fridge.  These are great on tacos, in sandwiches, toasted on top of garlic or herb bread.  If you harvest more than you can eat, you can also chop them and store them in a baggie in the freezer.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Marshmallow Fondant

Using fondant to decorate desserts and pastries helps to create beautiful works of art.  Fondant can be easier to work with than buttercream or royal icing in some instances and it has a smoothness that is hard to achieve with other icings and frostings.
However, I have heard many times that folks just don't love the taste or cost of fondant. Well, I have found a solution for both of those.  Marshmallow fondant.
If you like marshmallows, you will like this fondant and it is super easy and inexpensive to make yourself.
Here is how you do it:

Ingredients: 8 oz. marshmallows
2 Tbsp water
1/2 tsp butter flavor or another flavor or extract of your choice

2 lbs powdered sugar

In the microwave, heat the marshmallows for about 2 minutes. Try not to let them poof up and over the side of the bowl, like I did.  Keep your eye on them.  When they are good and melty, give them a stir, until they are smooth. Stir in the flavor and water.  Stir 3/4 of the powdered sugar into the melted marshmallows mixture. 
On a large flat surface, sprinkle the remaining powdered sugar. Grease your hands with the shortening. Knead the marshmallow fondant in the sprinkled sugar  until you achieve a firm but still pliable consistency.
To color the fondant, use a gel or paste cake color.  Wearing gloves and keeping hands greased with the shortening will prevent staining on your hands and keep the fondant from getting overly sticky as you knead.  If your fondant gets too firm to knead the color in well, microwave the fondant for 10 - 15 seconds.  This will make the fondant much softer, which will help you knead the color in faster.  As the fondant cools, it will firm back up.
Roll the fondant out on a flat surface that has been lightly dusted with powdered sugar.  You can then cover your dessert, or use cookie cutters or decorating tools to cut out shapes.  Fondant can also be pressed into shapes using your fingers, just like working with clay or playdoh.  You can also press fondant into a sugar dusted mold to make shapes and designs.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Chocolate No-Bake Cookies

This is my all time favorite cookie recipe. It is a great summer cookie because it doesn't heat up the house with you make them.  
Here are the ingredients:
2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
4 cups quick oats
In a sauce pan, combine sugar, butter, cocoa, vanilla and milk.
Heat it over medium heat, whisking as it melts.
Bring the mixture to a rolling boil and allow it to cook for 3 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent it from boiling over.
Turn off the heat and stir in the quick oats.

With a pair of spoons, scoop out the mixture and drop them onto wax paper to cool.
As soon as the cookies cool, you can transfer them to a container, or eat them.  They should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

Carpet Freshener

This recipe is just another money saving cleaner, with the added bonus of being 100% All Natural.
It does an awesome job of deodorizing your carpets and rugs, plus if you use insect killing essential oils, such as tea tree, you can kill any of those little buggers that the dog drug in.
Here are the ingredients:
1 cup of cornstarch
1 cup of baking soda
Essential oils- use to desired strength, I use 1 mL
Whisk together cornstarch, baking soda and essential oil.
With your hand or a sifter, smooth out any lumps.

Pour you concoction into a jar.
Screw on a recycled parmesan cheese lid and shake it out all over your carpet.  You don't have to apply it with a heavy hand, just a fair amount of dusting does the job well.  Allow the freshener to set on the carpet for 15-30 minutes and then vacuum as normal.
Keep in mind that you will have to vacuum up the amount you shake out, so be sure you have plenty of space in your vacuum bag or collection canister.  Also, be sure to check with your vacuum cleaner's manual to see if carpet freshener is safe to use for your vacuum.

A Beautiful Day for a Wedding

Thank you for being patient with us last week while we were so busy preparing for my sister's wedding.  It turned out beautifully!  It truly was a day filled with love and laughter, tears of joy, dancing, feasting and celebrating.

Congratulations Bobby and Shelby! We love you!