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I Got A Little Carried Away

I badly needed to do some pruning in the veggie bed.  The pole bean plants absolutely took over, and the leaves they continued to produce were incredible.  I’ve seen pictures of garden structures like teepees and trellises that use winding pole beans as shade and covering, and they are glorious.  That being said, mine produced like six actual green beans.  They were much larger and tougher than the bush beans, which are more like the green beans you find at the grocery store.  Then the winding vines of the plant jumped to the cage for my cucumber plants and ended up pulling three of the four garden stakes inward, making the entire bed close to collapse.  I tried to pull them out, leaving the cucumbers in tact, but they were so intertwined that it was impossible.  So I ripped up everything.   Keep Reading

Cool as a Cucumber

My garden exploded.

Seriously.

When I last documented, about six weeks ago, the garden looked like this: 

Mid-May, it looked like this:

 

Now, it looks like this:

Out of control!

Closeup – pole beans on the left and cucumbers on the right

Apparently, you’re supposed to prune and remove the weaker-looking plants to make room for the strong ones to grow.  I meant to do that, but then I got busy.  And I felt bad destroying some of the plants I had grown attached to.  Now, they’re all so intertwined that I definitely missed the window of opportunity.  I wouldn’t know where to start even if I wanted to take some out.

The first harvest was from the bush bean plants.  I’ve harvested from them twice, and they were delicious.  The pole bean plants have grown tremendously and are larger than the trellises, but they haven’t produced any actual green beans yet.

The herbs were also growing strong, and I was thrilled to snip some of my own homegrown basil to use in an appetizer for my dad’s birthday!  It was the absolute most Martha Stewart I’ve ever felt in my life.

Rachel Ray’s antipasti cups – super easy and a crowdpleaser

Then came the cucumbers.

Their leaves exploded pretty early, and I was excited to see the yellow flowers that I knew meant the cukes were close behind.  At the end of May, I was thrilled to see this little guy blooming.

Behind him were some tiny little guys that looked like those baby pickles seen in delis.  I had no idea how quickly they’d turn into monsters.

That was last Saturday, and today I harvested the rest of these:

My mom immediately asked what happened to the little guy on the right.  Here he is in action, growing up against the chicken wire that made him start curving around.

If you look closely in the pic above you can see the little spikes that grow on the outside of the cucumbers.  I had no idea this happened, but they help protect the fruit from insects.

So, now I have an insane amount of cucumbers.  Thankfully, I took a cooking class recently that included a Thai cucumber salad with peppers, carrots, onion, and an herb trio (basil, cilantro, and mint) that was to die for.  I made a big batch of it earlier this week and have been enjoying some with every lunch this week.  I also sliced some up to eat drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil, and sprinkled with chili powder.  

I also snipped some parsley and dill today to make Paleomg’s herb-crusted salmon.  Ridiculously easy and delish! Here’s a quick rundown of the herbs growing in the cinder block holes around the perimeter of the garden.  I’m a little worried that the gigantic cucumber and pole bean leaves are going to shade them too much from continuing to grow, so I have another little project planned for more herbs coming up this weekend.  In the meantime, here’s what I currently have growing.

oregano

 

thyme

 

dill

 

basil

 

a little sage peekin’ through

There you have it!  I’ll have pics of my herb project for you soon.  In the meantime, I’ll just be here snacking on sliced cucumbers, enjoying the Thai cucumber salad, and drinking cucumber water.  Let me know if you have any recipes I need to try, and if you’re local and want to come steal some cucumber, give me a ring!

How to Spend Summer in DFW Part Two

Last summer, I created a big list of all the things I wanted to do in the DFW metroplex.  Some with kids, some date-nights, some more cultural, etc.

Then I did zero of them.

None of the things.

To be fair, we were selling a house, temporarily moving in with my parents, buying another house, and permanently moving there.  (For those keeping track at home, that’s two moves in one summer.  And “permanent” = “never moving again.ever.”)

Since then, we did manage to check out Lee Harvey’s and enjoy a little date night with our handsome pup, but the list remains otherwise still completely in “to do” mode.

This summer, things are different.  (See note about never moving again, above.)  PLUS, my stepson will be spending a lot of the summer with us, which is even better!  My last day of school was Friday, and we began typing our summer fun list as soon as I got home.

One of the biggest contributors to the list is our local library, which is walking distance from our house.  Kiddo BEGS to go to the library.  The day I brought him there to get his very own library card, you would’ve looked at his face and assumed it was Christmas morning.  I love, love, love that he loves the library.  I also love, love, love all the programs they provide over the summer.  Especially because they’re F-R-E-E!  We’re planning to check out arts-and-crafts hours, creative challenges, family STEM activities, and much more, on top of going to get tons of books as well!

Some other things we want to check out:

  • The Dallas Museum of Art has free admission and tons of fun kid-centered activities to entertain littles of all ages
  • Ride the McKinney Ave Trolley and picnic in Klyde Warren Park – I’ve taken both my kiddo and my nephew on the trolley (also free!) and they both had a blast.  It stops right in front of Klyde Warren Park, so it’s the perfect opportunity to adventure without dealing with parking.  The Park has SO MUCH to offer, and I haven’t explored any of it.  I’m pumped to check it out on a weekday, when it will hopefully be less busy.
  • Dallas Arboretum – always stunning.  The kiddo actually requested this one, so I’m happy to oblige.  It’s pricier, but always well worth the cost of admission.
  • The Sixth Floor Museum – I feel like I went here in middle school, but I truly can’t remember.  My husband is a huge history buff, and neither he nor the kiddo have been, so we’re planning to go together.

 

A few in Fort Worth – probably a day trip:

 

Screen-free (aside from a screen with the instructions for some of them) options for home:

  • Make balloon-powered lego cars 
  • Read
  • Play guitar
  • Coloring books
  • Go for a walk
  • Write a letter
  • Make cookies
  • Wash the car
  • Play with legos
  • Play a board game
  • Puzzle
  • Go to a playground
  • Make paper airplanes
  • Write a story
  • Make a comic
  • Make pasta at Lulu’s
  • Science Activities (very vague, but I found approximately eleventy-billion ideas on Pinterest to try; some are listed specifically below)
  • Alka seltzer rockets
  • Spirograph – putting a Christmas present to good use
  • Kanoodle puzzles (affiliate link) – my mom bought these for kiddo a few weeks ago as a gift, and he and I are both obsessed – it’s a wealth of two- and three-dimensional puzzles to build
  • Fidget spinner art – bless.  The teacher inside me hates this with a fiery passion, but the spinners have invaded my home, so we might as well be creative with them. 
  • Science molding kit
  • Magnet kit (both kits were presents from Lulu as well – we’re excited to check them out)
  • Make your own slushies 
  • Density experiment
  • Magnet maze 
  • Elephant toothpaste – he can’t remember where he heard about this, but he’s asked me three times in the past 36 hours if we can do this, and it was the last thing he said when I tucked him in tonight.  We’ll have to move this to the top of our priority list.  

 

There you have it.  Lots of fun, at all price points, in addition to the million pool parties at Lulu’s and Booya’s this summer.  Stay tuned for our official reviews!

Beans, Beans, They’re Good For Your Heart

As promised, here is how my veggies are growing!

Like I said before, I decided to get extra nerdy this year to see what works best with growing vegetables.  To start, I took a few of each type of seed, and placed them in separate plastic bags with a damp paper towel.  I duct-taped these (because painters tape fell off in the heat last year) to the window so they could soak up the moisture in some sunshine.  One week later, most had started to sprout a little bit.  The big exception to this was the bell peppers.  I’m starting to understand why bell peppers cost about $7 each.

A week later (I had planned to do something with them earlier, but the week got away from me), I needed to get the seeds out, but we were expecting storms.  I pulled a few egg cartons from my recycling stash and decided to make good use of them.  We get amazing afternoon sun in our kitchen, so I filled four egg cartons with some of the soil mixture from the bed in the backyard.  This commenced what I called “driving my husband crazy by bringing dirt inside.”  I put the pre-sprouted seeds from the baggies into two of the egg cartons, and I put new seeds in the other two egg cartons.  The latter is serving as my sort of control group, but it isn’t very accurate since they were planted a week later.

Here are the initial plantings, with the pre-sprouted seeds on the left.  I even had the forethought to put the cartons onto a jelly roll pan so that they didn’t leak water all over the place.  If that’s not adulting at it’s finest, I don’t know what is.

Here is my fancy diagram, showing what I planted where: 

As you can see, the beans and cucumber had sprouted the most in the baggies.

So how are they doing?  I’m so glad you asked!  One week in, and look at the growth!

Those are pole beans at the very top of the picture, with bush beans right in front of them.  At the bottom left are the cucumbers.  Over to the right, you can see the baby dill and basil sprouts.

I’m obsessed with them.  I read this the other day and, while it aims to inspire perseverance in the midst of personal growth, it’s a beautiful description of what I’m witnessing in my kitchen daily:

For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone.  The shall cracks, its insides come out, and everything changes.  For someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” – Cynthia Occelli

Because the beans are the largest of my seeds, they have made it easiest to witness this process.  First, tiny sprouts begin forming.  Next, the bean begins to crack open, just a tiny bit.  It continues opening each day, pushing the skin off like a shell until it falls off completely.  Then, before you know it, boom! It’s grown six inches taller and has numerous leaves.

I was playing around with a macro lens earlier and snapped a few close ups of my babies to share.  If you have any photography skills whatsoever, please forgive my novice .

Here is one of the pole beans opening up to release some leaves. You can see the white skin being shed in the background.

This is one of the bush beans starting to shed its brown skin before opening up.  You can see the beginning of leaves forming just inside.

One last non-macro shot because the sun is shining and glorious! 

Soon these beauties will be transplanted outside where I can get them a trellis to support them.  Is anyone else starting their gardens yet?  Any recommendations?

Opening Day

I’m eschewing the post I intended to write tonight to bring you this breaking news:

 

 

Baseball is back!!!!

 

Even more exciting, I’m watching it from my own living room!  Several years after cutting ties with cable, I have only one regret… sports.  I miss watching games from home.  I justified it by reminding myself that I needed to be working on school and didn’t really have time to be up at night watching games, but that time has passed.  We decided to get Sling TV knowing that our newfound access to Fox Sports Southwest would mean Rangers baseball and probably a few Aggie football games as well.  So worth it.

 

So, while I’m sitting here without peanuts, Cracker Jacks, or even a hot dog, I’m reminded of how ridiculously happy baseball makes me.  If you need me for the next six ish months, you can find me parked in my living room rooting for Yuuuuuuuuu, yelling ADRIAAAAAN, and cheering the return of Nap-o-li!  Come October, I hope I’m doing exactly the same.

 

Let’s Go Rangers!

I’m baaaack!

Good to see you here again!

My internship for grad school basically ruled my life for the past few months, but it’s over now.  I graduated, just in time for spring break and a fabulous girls’ weekend in NYC with some of my faves!

We saw Glenn Close star in Sunset Boulevard on Broadway, and she was incredible.  The entire show was amazing, but holy moly does she control the stage with her presence.  We shivered in the cold, ate entirely too much delicious food, and squeezed in some r&r too.  It was the perfect weekend.

With my rediscovered free time, I’m in need of a project.  I feel a little bit scattered not knowing where to channel my energy: I’m excited to be reading for pleasure again, I’ve been working on a few knitting projects, and I’m elated to start up a veggie garden again at our new house.

Oh!  and I bought an Instant Pot, which may just be the greatest kitchen appliance of all time.  I’m still learning my way around it, but the number one best thing about it so far is that, because it does everything, it cuts down majorly on dish washing.  The other morning, I made hard-boiled (technically steamed, not boiled, but whatev) eggs in it before work, rinsed out the steel insert, and then popped in a pork shoulder to slow cook all day while I was at work.  Easy peasy!

So, internet friends, send me your book recommendations, recipes I must try, garden tips, and what you want to read about here!  and, since you’ve been waiting months (with bated breath I’m sure) for an update, let me honor your time by gracing you with a picture of our mascot, Murph.

 

’til next time!

Tell Me Something Good!

Life can be hard.  It’s gotten especially real lately – illness, disease, devastating accidents, and more have hit my friends and family.  Then there’s the news, full of death and war and increasing negativity.  Don’t even get me started with the election.  I can’t.   In the past few weeks, this has all been weighing so heavily on me, and I think about them as I drive home every day.  Today, as I groaned about the 18 wheeler meandering along in the left lane of the freeway as I passed by going only 55, I had to stop myself.  Think of something positive!

I’ve been focusing on Matthew 12:34 lately – “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” – and trying to fill my heart with positive so that I speak good and not evil.

So, I want to hear it.  Come at me with your good news.  Big, small, seemingly insignificant, I want all of it.

Allow me to kick things off:

  • I desperately needed a pick me up at lunch today and there was enough coffee left in the work room for me to fill up a mug.
  • I may have finally found something that will help my poor puppy stop itching constantly.
  • The temperatures are dropping.  Fall, ya’ll.
  • I have a massive to do list, but I have exactly zero on my schedule for Saturday, so I can knock some of it out.
  • iMessage is letting me keep up with friends who are across the world.
  • My students are as stoked about Harry Potter as I am.

Your turn!

Why I Love Whole 30 & Why You Should Try It

Since I’ve had a few people ask me about it lately, I thought I would share exactly why I’m so passionate about Whole 30.  Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.  If you choose to purchase something via these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  I am sharing them of my own volition because I think your life will be better with them.

Several years ago, I was breaking out in hives all over my body.  I’d had one or two sporadic episodes similar to this one before, but they could be tied directly to an allergic reaction or stress.  Four years ago, it was a different story.  They began toward the end of the school year.  I was preparing to buy my first house and spend three months living alone doing whatever I wanted to do with almost no responsibility.  I should’ve been living the high life, but I was miserable.  Hideous itchy hives + Texas heat did not result in a happy camper.  They were on my arms, my legs, my stomach, my neck, and no doctor could figure out what was causing them.  I even sucked it up and went in for allergy testing.  (Those who know of my severe needle phobia will believe me when I say that allergy testing required a strong sedative and a driver.)  Then blood testing.  Still no answer.  As bad as the hives were, not knowing what caused them was worse.  At one point, I was sobbing on the phone with my mom who had to finally just yell at me to stop looking online for answers.  The internet is not your friend when you have a medical mystery on your hands.  Then one day, I noticed a friend on Facebook tagging pictures of her food as #Whole30.

This is what I did to my neck in my sleep because the hives were itching so badly.
This is what I did to my neck in my sleep because the hives were itching so badly.

I was curious, so I did what I do best and typed “whole 30” into my search bar.  I expected to find some sort of diet.  While it is a detailed eating plan, it does not have the same tired “lose weight in x # of days” intent as others do.  In fact, one of the main guidelines is to stay off your scale entirely for the duration.  In a nutshell, Whole 30 is a thirty day reset for your digestive system to heal and to reveal food sensitivities.

The general rules: no dairy, no sugar (or sugar substitutes), no grains, no legumes, no alcohol.  The creators also warn against “paleo” treats like pancakes, waffles, brownies, cookies, etc. made with alternative flours and sugar substitutes.  This leads to the natural question of what can you eat?  The answer is simpler than you would think.  All meat, eggs, vegetables, and fruit.  In other words, real food.

As I mentioned above, Whole 30 isn’t a diet, and the intent is not weight loss.  (That being said, most people do lose weight since they eat healthier, more nutrient-dense food.  Without changing my activity level or eating less food, I lost about 7 pounds.)  By removing the foods that are bad for your digestive system, your gut has time to heal and eliminate inflammation.  How bad is inflammation?  It turns out, very.  Gut inflammation is linked to just about every physical complaint under the sun: allergies, autoimmune diseases, chronic pain, arthritis, and many, many more.  Within several days of beginning my Whole 30, the hives were gone.  Once I made it through the carb flu, I had more energy, and my brain was less foggy.  I felt phenomenal!

The two most difficult aspects are the first week and the planning.  I mentioned the carb flu above.  It’s real, ya’ll.  We are addicted to sugar.  All of us.  Sugar is in everything.  Even table salt!  As your body adjusts to new food instead of the terrible food it’s grown to depend on, it freaks out and will seem like it’s attacking you.  Press through.  It’s worth it.  This timeline provides some insight and much reassurance amid the hardest days.  As for the planning, it’s essential.  Going out to eat during a Whole 30 is challenging.  What has worked best for me is to look at the menu online ahead of time and decide what I want.  That way, it’s possible to look up any ingredients you are unsure of, and you can make a decision without any peer pressure to choose something else.  My go-to restaurant meal is fajitas – I swap out the cheese and sour cream for extra guac and veggies, and decline the tortillas.

veggies

While you can definitely find something to eat if you go out, it’s much easier to make the majority of your meals at home.  Meal planning is essential here.  At the very least, you want to make sure your fridge is stocked with  healthy meal ingredients, but it never hurts to keep a few emergency staples on hand.  Meatballs, hard boiled eggs, and some raw almonds or cashews are great when you get hangry.  My experience with Whole 30 and the discovery of a few food-bloggers has totally expanded my food world.  There are so many foods I’d never tried, but it was a fun challenge to go try them.  What did I have to lose, right?  This is where the internet is definitely your friend (as opposed to when self-diagnosing medical mysteries).  I spent many minutes looking up food online ahead of time (What is a parsnip?  What does it look like?) and googling “where to find ________ in the grocery store” while trying not to look like a complete dummy in the aisles of Whole Foods.  I even discovered that, after 26 years of my parents depriving me of their greatness, Brussels sprouts are my absolute favorite food.  Yes.  I’m serious.

As I mentioned, planning is key.  The Whole 30 site has a ton of resources, and it led me to the discovery of my cooking spirit animal.  Seriously, Mel Joulwan is a genius, and I cook almost exclusively out of her two cookbooks, Well Fed
and Well Fed 2.  They contain the Brussels sprout recipe that turned my mom into a fan as well, a to-die-for chili recipe (that’s bean-free, too!), and paleo versions of some really awesome dishes from all over the globe.  The original book behind Whole 30, It Starts With Food, provides a very in-depth yet easy to read explanation of the science behind the program.  I didn’t actually read this until about a year after my first Whole 30, and it made me even more of a believer.  My inner nerd geeked out big time with the science, and it shed light on how much the food we eat impacts everything.  Lastly, The Whole30 is the newest book of the bunch, and it combines a lot of the science with a ton of recipes in the second half of the book.  There’s also an instagram account @whole30recipes that provides a wealth of additional ideas.

So?  What do you think?  Are you ready to try one?  Let me know if you’re interested, if you have any questions, or if you want to know more!

Crock Pot, You’re My Friend

Do you ever find yourself with a line from a movie or a song stuck in your head but have no idea what it’s from?  I kept repeating the line “you’re my friend” to myself the other morning while prepping my crock pot dinner, and it was driving me crazy.  Finally, I remembered it’s from “Red Solo Cup.”  Toby Keith, proclaiming his affection for his beloved drink vessel, sings:

Red solo cup, you’re not just a cup

You’re my… you’re my friend

That.  That is how I feel about my crock pot.  Right now, I have a class Tuesday night, so I rush home with just enough time after work to grab my stuff for class, feed the puppy, and well, cram in the assignment that’s probably due that night.  (Procrastination is a problem for me.)  I hate eating fast food, though, so when I don’t have time to make dinner after work, I love tossing stuff in a slow cooker in the morning and letting it do all the work all day.  Getting to walk in the door and being knocked down by the uh-mazing smell of dinner wafting my way is pretty fantastic, too.

I usually try to be as environmentally friendly as I can, but every once in a while, when I just can’t with any more cleaning, I’ll use those ingenious slow cooker liners to eliminate ALL dish-doing.  Is there anything more winning than that?

crock pot

This particular meal was a taco ranch chicken I found on Pinterest somewhere.  Chicken, chicken broth, taco seasoning, and ranch seasoning.  Yes, please!  I started mixing my own taco seasoning about a year ago, and I finally got around to trying my own ranch mix.  About three ingredients into the recipe, I realized I needed to just go ahead and double it.

 homemade ranch dressing mixhomemade ranch dressing mix

It totally reminded me of those sand art things that were so popular when I was a kid!  This particular recipe was a little too dill-heavy for me, but I’ll definitely be using it up and trying again.  I have to share a warning from personal experience.  When I finished adding all the ingredients, I screwed on the lid and shook violently to mix all of the seasonings.  But I couldn’t resist taking a whiff to see how delicious it smelled.  Friends, RESIST the urge!  At least wait until the next morning to let everything settle.  All of the really fine garlic powder and onion powder particles were still floating around, and those guys are strong.  I may have singed off all of my nose hairs.  By the next morning, though, it smelled just dreamy.

Do you use a slow cooker?  I’ve been feeling a little uninspired with the recipes I have found because most of them seem filled with cream-of-something or very sugary sauces that I try to avoid.  I would love to add to my recipe repertoire if you have any to share!

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