Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On The Subject of Kale

Yes, that is what our "grass" looks like right now (sorry I've fallen victim to the demon Instagram; I'm trying hard not to over-use the filters and such -- but they're awful fun!). Pretty sad, I know (and no, it has nothing to do with kale, but I just had to mention it because it makes my plant loving heart so sad to see it looking like this!). And a dramatic difference from last year when it looked like this at the end of summer (and we thought the little drought we went through last year was tough):

So lush and green! And my herbs (behind my in-laws cat that yes, is about to attack my sweet little puppy) looked lush and wonderful, too, whereas this year they're barely hanging on and constantly wilted and pathetic. It all makes me sad. We desperately need rain. And lots of it. There are cracks in the ground outside big enough to lose our dog in, just about. I've nearly twisted my ankle in them a couple times, too. Gotta be careful out there! 

Anyway, that's not really the point of this post. This post is about kale! I love kale. It's so pretty and dark green and leafy. It's packed full of nutrients, too. Did you know that one serving of kale is a good source of dietary fiber, protein, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Folate, Iron, Magnesium, and Phosphorus, and is also a good source of  vitamin A, C, K, B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper, and Manganese, according to If you can get your hands on organic kale, then all the better, as it graces the EWG's list of produce most heavily sprayed with pesticides, and is potentially even more dangerous than the items on the main list -- the leafy greens, kale, collards, and also green beans have gotten special mention this year as they "did not meet traditional Dirty Dozen criteria but were commonly contaminated with highly toxic organophosphate insecticides. These insecticides are toxic to the nervous system and have been largely removed from agriculture over the past decade. But they are not banned and still show up on some food crops.". So if you're going to avoid anything conventionally grown, it looks like green beans and leafy greens are it! But one thing I love so much about the EWG's list is that they make the distinction that eating even conventionally grown produce is better for your health than avoiding it entirely just because you can't afford to go all organic. EAT YOU FRUITS AND VEGGIES! If you can't afford anything organic, eat them anyway! The risks of not doing so outweigh the risk of consuming things sprayed with pesticides. Their list is helpful though; they offer the "Dirty Dozen" and the "Clean 15" -- the former simply being the produce you would do best to buy organic if you can and the latter being the produce you can most safely consume non-organic. But back to kale! It makes me really, really happy to see it growing in my garden, even if I am having to water a lot more often than I'd like just to keep it alive. I don't buy organic seed, but it is organically grown. I use DE and other natural methods (like squishing!) when I have a pest problem, and fertilize with things like decomposed manure, coffee grounds, and epsom salts. I love gardening 100% safely, naturally, the way God intended! Companion planting is another great way to reduce pest problems, though I've only lightly dabbled in that yet, as there is much to learn and I'm still in the early stages of learning.

My favorite thing to do with kale is make it into kale chips! They are so good they're practically like junk food, except that it's not! I love foods like that. It is addictive and I easily sit down and eat an entire batch by myself if I'm not careful to set some aside for David. Here is some I made this morning (yes, kale in the morning! Kale in the noontime! Kale at suppertime! Kale, kale, kale, all the time!).

There are all kinds of ways to make kale chips; if you look online you'll find many methods from high heat for a short time, to low heat for a long time, and all kinds of seasons and oils and the list goes on. I've experimented a lot with making kale chips though, and have pinned down my favorite method. Here it is for you, so you can avoid some of the trial and error I experienced trying to perfect the kale chip!

Kale Chips

One bunch of kale
pepper (optional)
olive oil

Preheat oven to 250°F.

Cut or tear the kale off the stems into bite small sized pieces (but keep in mind they will shrink considerably while baking, so don't make them too small, unless you want kale crumbs). Small stems can be left (such as tips of leaves and very small leaves), but if they're very big they'll be very hard and difficult to chew. Toss kale in just enough olive oil to evenly coat both sides of the leaves. Work it with your hands for a minute or two until it all looks glossy -- add more olive oil if necessary. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and work the leaves again to make sure they're evenly coated. Spread out onto a cookie sheet or in the bottom of a baking dish, being careful that you don't layer them thickly, or you'll have some leaves stay soggy! Bake at 250° until crisp to the touch. Remove from oven and allow them to cool briefly before you eat them; they'll crisp up even more as they cool! Be careful too, not to let them overcook; if they start to turn brown they're getting overdone and will taste bitter. I bake mine for 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of the bunch) in my convection oven, so if you have a traditional oven adjust your time accordingly!

And now you know how to make one of the yummiest and healthiest snacks EVAR! Go you!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Gardeny Talk

I think it's time for a brief garden update! Back in February I posted about getting my garden started early since it had been such a warm winter. Here is the list I had hoped to get planted in early spring:


I managed to get all of those things planted, except the leeks and garlic. Despite what the packaging from the garlic I bought last year said, I really do think it's best to plant garlic in the fall. It might grow if you plant it in the springtime, but Autumn is better. I didn't even bother to buy any garlic seed when it was out this year (WHY do they only sell it in the spring if it's best planted in the fall?!), and that worked out to be an excellent decision, as a friend of ours dug up part of his massive garlic patch to give to us. We have been using the bulbs for cooking and I saved all the seed for sowing in the fall. I am excited! I plan on planting a garlic barrier all around my garden. He gave me enough seed to probably get two sides well covered, and I'll do the other two sides the following year. Exciting! I'm a garlic freak. :) 

I harvested tons of radishes this spring, but most of them were too tough to eat. We spent some time visiting my family in Texas around the time they should have been harvested and extended our trip once we were there, and it was just a little too long for my poor radishes to go. We ate what we could and tossed the rest, and I let a few continue to grow so I could harvest my own radish seeds!

My potatoes are doing very poorly. I think this is my fault because I thought for a while that the sprinkler was reaching them, but it wasn't. For anyone who lives under a rock and doesn't know, we've been having a severe drought and haven't seen more than a few drops of rain in 2-3 months now I think. Combined with temperatures that are slightly above average and you have some seriously struggling gardens (and yards and forests, and lawn mower repairmen). My one potted tomato is constantly curled up and shriveling despite the fact that I do water it often. 

So yes, I have tomatoes too. They're not doing nearly as well as my tomatoes did last year, despite the fact that bugs have been a nearly non-existent problem (praise the Lord for that blessing!) I also planted cucumbers, yellow summer squash, swiss chard, and Piel De Sapo or "Toad Skin Melon". 
Toad Skin Melon in Progress
My kale is still going strong and we've been eating kale for months now. Love me some kale! I even got to sell a little bit of my kale to some ladies at church and that was a huge blessing because I really needed a little extra money that week for groceries! So it was perfect timing, as usual. God always brings us what we need just when we need it!

This week I am hoping to plant some more lettuce for the fall garden, and then a couple weeks after I'll plant more kale, radishes, chard, and hopefully some carrots! Hopefully someday I'll get a cold frame, too so we can have lettuce even further into the cold months!

As soon as my cucumbers are big enough to harvest, I'll be trying out this method of harvest and let you know what happens: "When a cucumber is taken from the vine let it be cut with a knife, leaving about an eighth of an inch of the cucumber on the stem, then slit the stem with the knife from its end to the vine leaving a small portion of the cucumber on each division and on each separate slip there will be a new cucumber as large as the first."

So there is my gardeny update. How are your gardens doing this summer?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Spicy Peach Salsa

You must try this. Must! I got it into my head tonight that our kielbasa could use a little somethin' and this is what I came up with:

Spicy Peach Salsa

A lot of people make peach salsa without cooking it down. I'm sure that's delicious but I love the texture of cooked peaches, so I chose to cook mine down. Here is what I used to make this amazing condiment (it's so good I want to eat it like it's the main course!):

6-8 small peaches (they were very small - but oh so delicious - picked from a friends tree), diced
1 med/lrg garden fresh tomato
Jalapeno pepper
Cayenne Pepper

My peaches were sweet enough and bursting with flavor, so I didn't add any sweetener. You might want to if your peaches aren't as ripe as mine were (mine were actually over-ripe). Nothing is as good as sweet and spicy! I also left the peach skins on, but that's optional. I put the cut peaches in my saucepan and added around 3/4 cup water and let them simmer until soft and easy to mash. As they cooked I sliced up my jalapeno pepper (I only had one since I used all the others for dinner last night but if you are buying yours from the store or have more in your garden than I did, use them! They're delicious with the sweet peaches), tomato (again, I only had one from the garden today), and some cilantro. All of this is just to taste, so keep tasting as you make this salsa and add stuff until it tastes how you want! After I slightly mashed the peaches I added the pepper, tomato, and a pinch of salt and a LOT of cayenne (I wanted it speecy spicy), and let it simmer for just a couple more minutes. Took it off the heat, added a little more cilantro, and let it sit to cool. Now I just have practice great self-control as I wait for dinner to be ready before I can devour it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lists Make Me Happy

I love lists. I love organization. I love having tidy little places for every little thing. I'm a neat freak, okay? My heart skips a beat when I see a well organized drawer, pantry, closet, or whatever else. If I see a well-organized garage... be still my beating heart! There is little as beautiful as a well organized garage! I love the phrase, "A place for everything, and everything in its place". Yes, I am that person. I'd apologize, except that I'm so happy to be that person that I don't feel any sorrow at all. What I do feel sorry for is all of the people out there who aren't yet list-makers. Why? Because it makes life so much simpler. And simple is good, right?

Of course simple is good. You bet your sweet bippy it's good! We all have too much. Too much of everything. Too much stuff. Too much to do. Too much to remember! Just too, too much. So with all of those too muches in mind, why don't you start today? What is something you struggle to get done the way you'd like for it to be done? Is it your health? Make a list of the supplements you want to take, the exercise you want to do, even the things you want to avoid, or only allow yourself on special occasions. Make a list and then consult the list often. Is it your home? That's a biggie for most of us. It is difficult to keep a house clean. I don't have children yet, so it's just me and my husband at home and our little non-shedding doggy, Miso. "How much work can that be?" The frazzled mother of 4 may scoff. Let me tell you now, it's still a lot! Granted, you, mother of 4, have much more to work at and clean than I do. But I still have my fair share! My husband works from home so I get him pretty much 24/7. This has been a huge source of joy for me, especially being someone who does not like to be alone for extended periods and hasn't been blessed with children. But it also means dishes for two all day long, tracking in dirt for two all day long, and all the other things that accompany daily life.

So in order to keep up with things that sometimes fall through the cracks (such as wiping down baseboards and light switches), I found a simple chore chart and tailored it to my specific needs. This way nothing gets missed. All the basics are covered, leaving me not only feeling more relaxed about cleaning (because I know that even if there is a clump of dust bunnies in the corner on Monday morning, come Tuesday they'll be spinning down the vortex of dust bunny death), but more relaxed in general! I don't have to worry about remembering to make time to wipe my dogs nose art off the windows, because it's in my schedule every week and will get done. And because it's done weekly, it never gets to the point where I am embarrassed to have someone in my home. Nothing has time to smell bad, look yucky, or anything else. Surprise visitors are no longer feared or stressed over, but instead are easily welcomed without worry about the appearance of your home. Just take this basic idea and modify it to your needs. Do you do a lot of cooking in your oven that leaves greasy splatters behind? Schedule it to be cleaned more than monthly and never let it get to the point where cleaning it becomes a big ordeal. If you struggle to keep up with your home, schedule in every little thing from cleaning floors, to laundry, to kitty litter boxes. If you only need a little help, leave out whatever you feel you can. I didn't include laundry on my list because with only two people in the house I only have to do it about once a week and to be as energy efficient as possible, do it only when I have enough for a full load, so no set days for laundry for me (though it does typically fall on Monday/Tuesday)! But again, tailor to your personal needs!

My list here has me washing dishes after breakfast, and then after dinner washing up whatever is left-over at that point; I tend to wash dishes between 2 and 3 times per day, depending on how we eat that day, just to keep up with them. I hand wash everything, too, which does take me more time than it would if I just loaded into the dishwasher all day and then washed at night. But I try to use that time of hand washing to pray for friends and family (yes, try, which means I often fail and stand there washing dishes mindlessly), so it is definitely not wasted time! I do occasionally use the dishwasher though, if I get overwhelmed with the number of dishes to wash, feel unwell, or the like.

The pick-up basket is someone else's brain-child, and one I actually haven't implemented yet, at least not officially. Because it just the two of us, there are usually only a couple things out of place at the end of the day, thus the lack of official basket. But I still use the idea, even if I don't need a whole basket to perform the task, and I would highly recommend it! It's a very quick, easy way to keep your home free of that oppressive clutter!

The Chore of the Day can usually be done in around 15 minutes or so depending on the size of your home. We live in a small apartment with very few knick-knacks; one bedroom, one bathroom, an office, kitchen, and the living room. So I can do a lot of those chores in less than 15 minutes. Not to say I am done with housework in 15 minutes. Far from it! That's just for the Chore of the Day. There is still plenty to do after that. But this definitely makes it easier to be sure you've hit all the major points you want to clean regularly.

So what are you waiting for? Make up your own list, and see how much easier it can be to keep your house in shape!

Keep in mind, this schedule is for maintaining a clean home; not starting from scratch. If your home is very messy or highly cluttered, see my posts (part one and part two) on de-cluttering to get started!