Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What grows in an early spring garden?

Spinach and baby lettuces

Spring has finally settled in to stay.  We still have some very cool days and chilly nights mixed in with some spectacular weather days of clear blue skies with fluffy white clouds.  It's still a little too cool outside for me to want to chance putting out my summer vegetable seedlings.  Even under row covers, some nights are just too cold for heat loving plants like tomatoes, squash and peppers that are just starting out.  So they continue to grow in their soil blocks in the bay window under the lights for another week or two.

While I wait for the warm temperatures to be more consistent, I thought you might enjoy a peek at how things are going in the garden both inside and out.

 This spinach is ginormous!  It's amazing what a little compost and a covered hoop tunnel will do to help overwinter plants and get them off to an early start.

 Seedlings coming along in soil blocks including: cabbage, basil, dill, artichokes and tomatoes.

Making larger soil blocks for the growing tomato seedlings at my reclaimed vintage sink turned potting table.

Larger blocks ready for the tomato transplants.  The post on making soil blocks can be found here.

Squash, tomato and sunflower seedlings that graduated to the larger soil blocks a couple of weeks ago.

While I wait to move everything outside, I'll be exploring ways to use my ginormous spinach harvests for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  What's your favorite way to eat your spinach?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

 A close up of some baby salad greens

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Pea shoots

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Choconut peanut butter bites

Choconut peanut butter bites

Do you ever want just a little something sweet?  The classic combination of chocolate and peanut butter is just so satisfying.  Here's a healthier version of a peanut butter cup using all natural ingredients that was inspired by this original recipe at Bondi harvest.

Choconut peanut butter bites

3/4 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup raw almonds
2 tablespoons coconut water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons agave nectar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 additional tablespoon agave nectar
1 tablespoon cacao nibs
natural peanut butter (or almond butter)
chia seeds

In a food processor, blend the coconut oil, almonds, shredded coconut, vanilla extract and agave nectar until thoroughly combined and fairly smooth.  (I left a little coconut texture in my mixture.)

Remove half of the mixture and spoon it into oiled mini muffin tins and smooth down.  Place a small mound (approximately 1/2 teaspoon or so) of peanut butter on top of the plain coconut mixture.

To the remaining half of the coconut mixture left in the food processor, add the cocoa powder and the additional 1 tablespoon of agave nectar and blend until thoroughly mixed.  Add in the cacao nibs and pulse a few times to mix them in without breaking them up completely.

Place a spoonful of the chocolate coconut mixture on top of the peanut butter layer and smooth to cover completely.  Sprinkle the tops of the cups with a few chia seeds. Place the muffin tin in the refrigerator or freezer until the mixture is firm to the touch, approximately 15-30 minutes.  Unmold and store in a container in the freezer or fridge until ready to eat.

In the ongoing celebration of US VegWeek, I wanted to share a few more resources for exploring vegetarian and vegan culinary adventures.

Like cooking shows?  Check out these online videos:
Bondi Harvest - whole food recipes, many of them vegetarian or vegan
Bahvna's Vegetarian Kitchen - Indian, American and international cuisine
Sidesaddle Kitchen - Raw. Vegan. Not Gross. - one of my favorites for the hostess' endearing quirkiness and the yummy easy recipes

I still enjoy getting sticky fingerprints on a good recipe in a book.  Here are some of my favorite vegetarian and vegan cookbooks:
Ani's Raw Food Kitchen and Ani's Raw Food Essentials - simple, delicious raw dishes
Sexy Crazy Kitchen - from simple to elegant enough for entertaining
Curtis Cooks with Heart and Soul - southern cooking gone vegetarian
Traditional Vegetarian Cooking - from Europe's Crank's Restaurant - the baked goods are fantastic

Happy cooking and thanks for reading!

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Cherry blossoms

Saturday, April 19, 2014

US VegWeek 2014 - recipes, resources and inspiration

As part of my effort to live a sustainable lifestyle, I eat a vegetarian, mostly vegan diet so I was excited to see that next week is US VegWeek and there is a 7-day VegPledge! challenge to go along with the event.  The website has lots of information as well as local event listings, restaurant deals and product coupons and recipes to help you celebrate the week.   If the 7-day event is too overwhelming, I challenge you to replace just one meal with a vegetarian one.  Switch your lunchtime sandwich to an abundantly colorful salad with beans and a tasty dressing or have a mile high piled veggie burger for dinner.  You might be surprised at how deliciously satisfying you find it.  Here are a few of my favorite recipes to get you started:

Green Smoothie 
Overnight oat and chia seed pudding 

Confetti salad 
Save the tuna salad 

Penne a La Vodka 


If you want to read more about a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, I recommend:

Finally, I recently enjoyed this video of a conference keynote address by Kemi Nekvapil, former baker and actress turned raw food chef, yoga instructor and well being advocate.  Her talk is refreshingly funny and inspires me to think that it is possible to achieve those goals I've set for eating healthy and chasing my dreams.

Thanks for reading!

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Spring bloom

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Spring garden: seed starting

 (photo courtesy of Will Parkhurst)

This year I opted to try a new method of starting seeds using soil blocks.  I saw this system when I went to the Mother Earth News Fair this past fall.  In previous years, I have made little pots out of newspaper to start my seedlings.  However, this method promised to be less time intensive, use less space and produce seedlings with strong root systems in less time than with regular seed sprouting techniques - it all sounded almost too good to be true.  I saw a demonstration at the fair and the kit came with a video so I figured I was off to a good start.  Here is how I made out on this adventure so far:

Mixed the potting soil mix with lots of water and fill the form to make the blocks

 It took several tries (ok a bunch) and my method isn't pretty, but I finally got the form filled so everything didn't fall out when I tried to unmold the blocks.

And finally some blocks that held together nicely.

The blocks sit on heating mats to encourage sprouting.  You can see a few blocks tumbled over when I watered, but overall things stayed together pretty well especially on the blocks I made later.

After a couple of weeks, we have sprouts!  

Some pepper seedlings

Although I had a little difficulty getting good blocks on my first tries, after a little practice, I was able to get better at figuring out the right amount of water needed to make the blocks hold together.  This method saved so much space over the potting cups I've used in the past because there are 20 small blocks in each large one.  I have 10 large block so the potential of 200 small seedlings if they all sprouted (which they won't) so I was able to get all the seedlings started in about half the space of last year.  It also saved time overall not having to make the paper pots beforehand and them filling them individually with potting soil mix. I'm definitely going to use this method again.  

Thanks for reading!  

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:
how I started seeds last year
mid-summer garden

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Quick sautéed greens

Sautéed kale, shiitake mushrooms and cherry tomatoes

Despite your best intentions, do you ever find yourself coming in late at the end of the day just  too tired to think about making the healthy dinner you had envisioned?  If you have a few simple items on hand, there's no need for you to resort to a tiny frozen dinner or expensive takeout.  You can pull this easy vegan recipe together in about the time it would take to have something not nearly so good for you delivered. This is savory and satisfying without being too heavy especially when you are eating late. An added bonus is that all those good nutrients will give you a little boost of energy to get you through the rest of your evening.

Sautéed greens

serves 2-3 as an entrée or 4-5 as a side dish

1 bunch of kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, collards or other sturdy greens -chopped into bite sized pieces,  tough sections of the stems removed
1 handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved if desired
1/2 an onion, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced (shiitake used above)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup water
Braggs amino acids, tamari or soy sauce to taste
pinch of hot pepper flakes or hot sauce (optional)
sprouted mung beans or sesame seeds as a topping (optional)

In a large skillet or wok, heat the olive oil  on high heat.  Saute the onions, garlic and mushrooms until the vegetables start to lightly brown.  Add in the greens, tomatoes, amino acids or soy sauce, sesame oil and water.  Toss everything well to coat.  Turn down the heat to medium and cover with a lid and steam for just a couple of minutes to wilt the greens.   Remove from the heat and season with pepper or hot sauce if desired.  Sprinkle each serving with a few mung bean sprouts or sesame seeds (a few roasted cashews might be a nice variation). You could eat this entire recipe by yourself and not need to feel the least bit guilty.  You can also serve over rice or quinoa or add your favorite protein for a heartier meal.

Thanks for reading!

Spring blooms

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:
Veggie chili
Asian noodle salad
Save the tuna salad

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring photo exhibition

Exhibition at the Annmarie Art Center

I am honored to have three of my photographs chosen for the spring exposition of the Insta-Artist exhibition at the Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center in southern Maryland.  The exhibit was juried by the Director of Digital Learning Programs of the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.  All of the submissions were required to be taken using a smart phone.  It is amazing how much photography has changed over the years from when my father used a large box camera with flash bulbs. This exhibition celebrates how those changes make creating art through photography accessible to so many.

Hubby, son and I attended the opening night and got to meet the other artists, nibble on homemade treats and listen to lovely live music while checking out all the exhibits.  The show runs through June 1, 2014 if you are in the DC metro area and want to stop by to see it,  see the other art on display and walk the gardens which will soon be in full bloom.  You can also view all the entries online here.

 A view of the exhibit from the balcony

Enjoying the other artwork on display

Thanks for reading!

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