Welcome to my F-ing life!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Wicked Garden Project - Phase One

It has officially begun...

Ground has been broken. Seeds have sprouted. Saplings have been replanted. Recipes are being devised.

It is actually going quite smoothly. We have to do this project in phases due to available funds, but I think we've got it all planned out well enough so we don't go broke.

Granma had a fantastic idea (thanks, Mom!) that we (being inexperienced gardeners) didn't even think of:  Rent a tiller! It saved us (well, Papa Bear anyway) hours and hours of work.  Renting one wasn't too expensive at Home Depot and it was really worth it. The lumber for the structure was the most expensive thing so far.

Here is the garden BEFORE:

And here is the garden AFTER (or, more appropriately, so far...):

Phase One...Complete!

The kids were a great help all weekend. They got down and dirty and had fun doing it!

The Dirty Drama Queen

We have three trays of seeds going, plus some other plants I purchased while at Home Depot renting the tiller. 

The two trays we started last week were growing quickly, so we needed to transplant some of them into bigger peat pots.

At one point, we all thought we were growing Catzilla plants...either that, or Gizmo was trying to take a nap.

Papa Bear asked me if I would like a potting bench for the garden, and of course I said yes. So he built me one with the leftover lumber and I got to use it all weekend! It took him like 30 minutes to throw this together for me.  Once we start on Phase Three of the garden, it will be attached to one side of the structure.

After we were done for the day, we let Little Lawyer play with the hose. She had more fun doing that than anything else the whole weekend...

This weekend begins Phase Two in the Wicked Garden. We will be spreading the poo. Yup, you read that right. The neighborhood may smell of manure in the morning, but my crops will love me for it (and I could care less what the neighbors say anyway). Now that the soil has been churned like buttah, I want to do a layer of poo and a layer of really good top soil.

Phase Three will include the addition of either chicken wire or screen on and/or around the structure.  I am a little more than concerned about opossum and squirrel dining out in my all-you-can-eat garden buffet smorgasbord while I am not paying attention.  I have read and researched multiple remedies for this potential problem, such as cayenne pepper spray around the garden and electric fencing (ZAP!) for keeping these little critters at bay.  I am still mulling over what to do...

I need to start planning the layout of where to put these luscious little plants. I have read many a theory as to where to put specific plants according to where the sun rises and sets and whether Jupiter is aligned with Mars in the proper moon phase, etc., but I think I want to draw out a map so that everything will fit and when it comes time to plant, everybody will know what goes where. You know, in case I get hit by a falling house or something.

So that's where we stand so far. 

As I always like to leave on a yummy note, here is one of my favorite recipes.  This one is comfort food at its finest (well, for me anyway...). Takes minutes to make and is magically delicious!

Honey Cream Shrimp and Scallop Pasta            Makes 6 servings

You will need:

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined *
3/4 pound bay scallops (you can certainly leave these out if you don't like them. I happen to love them.)
3 shallots, chopped
1-1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
12 ounces heavy whipping cream
3 tbsp honey
3 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
3 tbsp fresh chopped basil (or dried is fine, but just use 1 tbsp if you use dried)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 box of your favorite brand of angel hair pasta

Now do these things:

Put water on to boil for pasta. Salt water. Wait (but don't watch!) for water to boil.

Hey, while you're waiting...heat the olive oil in a big skillet or frying pan over medium high heat. I prefer one with high sides for making this dish.

Did you notice the * that I put next to the shrimp up there? Well, I did that so that I could tell you that you can do this one of two ways depending on your grocery budget and what's readily available in your grocery. If I can, I will always buy fresh, uncooked shrimp and peel/devein it myself. Sometimes, when I want shrimp, I buy it already peeled, deveined and cooked in the freezer section. Sometimes it's on sale and I buy two bags!

If you have fresh, uncooked shrimp, add them with the scallops and shallots to the hot olive oil and cook until the shrimp just turn pink.  If using frozen shrimp, please have the good sense to thaw them first.  You don't have to throw them in the skillet with the scallops and shallots at this point...it will severely overcook them. That's disgusting. Just hang on to the thawed shrimp until I give you the "Shrimp Signal", okay?

Remove the scallops (and shrimp if you used fresh) after 3-4 minutes. Set them aside.

Deglaze the pan with the white wine and reduce by about half. Add the cream and cook until it thickens up a little bit, stirring all the while (feel free to whistle if you're into that sort of thing). This will probably take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. Watch it carefully so it doesn't boil over.

By this time, your water should be boiling away, so go on and add your pasta! You know you want to.

Then add the honey, tomatoes and basil and stir with all the love you can muster! Return the scallops and shrimp (or use thawed at this point) to the pan. Cook to heat shrimp and scallops - about 1 minute or so. Salt and pepper to taste.

Drain pasta and divide between serving bowls. Top pasta with the yumminess that is now yours located in the pan on the stove.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Wicked Garden Project

It has been mulled over, fantasized about, dreamed about, discussed and wanted for a long, long time. Things that constantly held me back were (1) the cost to begin, (2) my inherent lack of gardening skills - I kill plastic plants, (3) space constrictions, and (4) craptastic Florida soil and weather - I hate heat. But there are lots of positives that really outweigh the negatives. The health benefits, the long term cost savings, the family time putting it together...and the list continues to grow.

I love using fresh herbs in just about everything.  All I can envision in my chef's minds-eye is the ultimate herb garden 20 feet from the kitchen where I can go snip whatever I feel like using. You may have your Brad Pitt / Tom Cruise / Celebrity Hunk-o-the-Month dreams....I have my herb garden dreams. Strange, I know. But it's who I am.
Well, it's happening now and there's nothing I can (or want to) do to stop it. Here we go! We're starting a food garden.

The main reason that I want to start this project is health. Papa Bear and Granma need to seriously watch what they eat now. Papa Bear needs to control his cholesterol and lose weight, and Granma needs to watch her salt intake and lose weight. They have been medically 'warned' to do these things. I need them around for a lot longer, so I need to do what I can to help.  By growing our own herbs, veggies and fruits, we can somewhat control the freshness/organic-ness of the food we eat, save money by not having to pay through the nose for some of these items at the grocery store, and teach ourselves and the kids about the whole growing your own food process, while sneaking in mild exercise.

Just because I have not been formally advised by a doctor to watch my cholesterol, salt intake or loose 5,000 pounds does not mean I don't need to follow suit and do the same - I do need to. So this endeavor will not only benefit the two who need to be healthier, but it will be good for everyone in the house.

Here is the portion of the yard where the magic will happen:

This is the eastern corner of the back yard. It gets the most full sun during the day. I figured this would be the optimal spot to build, since most of the food I plan on growing requires full sun.  Papa Bear will be building a greenhouse of sorts, or really more of a shelter for most of the garden, as the back yard is Grand Central Station for squirrels, possum and a wide variety of feathered friends.

Granma was generous enough to offer not only a huge chunk of her back yard, but to purchase the lumber and nails for the structure last weekend, so we are all set there.  Last night, Papa Bear sprayed weed and grass killer and began cutting the lumber for construction. He is projecting a completed structure by the end of this weekend.  I have purchased several varieties of seeds and two of those Jiffy Greenhouse things with the peat moss pellets. Little Lawyer and I spent yesterday afternoon planting 144 seeds....

There are 72 peat pellets in each tray, with 12 rows of 6 pellets.  I decided to pick 24 different seeds and plant 6 of each.  Here is what has been planted (and is currently germinating on the porch):

Tray #1 (7-14 day germination)                          Tray #2 (10-28 day germination)
     Tendergreen Bush Beans                                            Mustard Greens
     White Silver Queen Sweet Corn                                 Leeks
     Icicle Radishes                                                           Scallions
     Red Radishes                                                             Lavender
     Swiss Chard                                                              Flat Leaf Parsley
     Cherry Tomatoes                                                       Cayenne Peppers
     Grape Tomatoes                                                        Serrano Peppers
     Carrots                                                                      Tarragon
     Thyme                                                                        Rosemary
     Sweet Basil                                                                Banana Peppers
     Cilantro                                                                      Mammoth Dill
     Bouquet Dill                                                               Eggplant

I have also ordered (but have not gotten yet) other types of herbs, as well as some saplings for blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, two varieties of tomato plants and a dwarf banana tree.  I am also considering other varieties of dwarf fruit trees to add, such as lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit and avocado.

I thought it might be fun to document the progress, including the disasters and failures (in my world, there is bound to be an abundance of those!) as well as the successes and fruits of our labor. If anyone out there has ideas, tips, suggestions or just wants to tell me that I have bitten off way more than I can chew, then step up and say something!

Last night we celebrated the beginning of The Wicked Garden Project with a dish that can (and will) use tons of fresh herbs and veggies when they're ready...

Chicken Tandoori

8 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs
Juice of one lemon
Kosher salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp plain yogurt
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and rough chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1-3/4 tsp plus 1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sour cream
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped

Early in the day, make small shallow cuts in the chicken thighs with a sharp knife. Toss the chicken with the lemon juice and about 2 teaspoons of salt in a large bowl. Let stand while you get the rest of the prep done.

Pulse 2 tablespoons of yogurt, olive oil, red onion, garlic, ginger, tomato paste, coriander, cumin, 1-3/4 teaspoon paprika and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor to form a paste. Smear this fragrant concoction over the chicken in the bowl, making sure it's slathered everywhere. Cover and refrigerate. Marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes.  I like to marinate this longer if possible.  If I make this early enough in the day, I will let in soak in the flavors until dinner. You can also do the marinade the night before and let it go all night.

Combine the remaining 1/2 cup yogurt with 1/4 teaspoon paprika, cilantro, sour cream and a pinch of salt in medium bowl. Store in fridge until ready to serve.

Preheat oven to 450. Heat a large, well oiled (2 tbsps of olive or vegetable oil will work) cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add chicken skin side down and cook until skin browns, about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the marinade to pan. Turn the chicken over and cook another 5 minutes. Place skillet in preheated oven and cook 30-35 minutes.

Plate the chicken and top with your premade yogurt sauce in the fridge. I like to serve with jasmine rice and a veggie.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Fun with Little Lawyer - The Board Game

Little Lawyer was bored last night. She wanted something to do.

On one hand, I feel sorry for her. She doesn't have a room to hang out in. She either sits on the couch and watches TV, plays on a laptop, or reads, or she does the exact same thing in our bedroom. She's not really a 'toy' kind of kid, either...she doesn't play with dolls, cars, action figures, etc. She likes to read, draw and play games. A kid that likes to read? Yay!! She also likes to experiment with things; she once asked me if she could hatch a refrigerated egg to see what would happen, whether or not she could raise a tadpole, and she performs air quality tests in the house using a piece of packing tape facing outwards in every room to see how much crap from the air gets stuck to it.

My other hand doesn't feel so sorry for her and I will explain why.  Papa Bear and I are from a time (as many were before us) that we entertained ourselves. We had no technology to help feed our every waking moment with flashing colors, ready-made characters, stale story lines and i-anythings. When my kids complain that they are bored, I tell them to find something to do! Then they just roll their eyes at me...and they go find something to do!

After about 30 minutes of her telling me she was bored, she came bounding into the living room full of excitement. She asked me if I would play a game with her. I detest most board games, so when we play games, it usually involves cards. I kick butt at Go Fish and Old Maid. So I agreed to play a game, assuming it would be a card game.

It was a board game. A very cool, new board game.

It was the best board game I have ever played.
It's called 'Treasure Hunt'. Little Lawyer created it.

Treasure Hunt has all the necessary elements of the classic board game: dice, tokens/coins, cards, playing pieces and a stunning platform to play the game on.

She asked which color I wanted to be. Being the good sportsman I am, I let her choose first since she did all the hard work creating this masterpiece. She chose Blue, and that left me with Green.

She told me rules. It was a 2 player game (so she only made 2 playing pieces). We each had to roll one die to see who got the highest number and go first. She rolled a 1 and I rolled a 2. VICTORY!!

I rolled my first turn, noticing the little traps she had set up for me within the board. There were 'Back X Spaces', 'Forward X Spaces', Get A Coin', and 'Read A Card'.  I was destined to land on them all.

We rolled the dice. We went back spaces, we went forward. We got coins. We read cards (which told you to pick up coins, go forward or back, or pick up another card). We laughed. It was fantastic.

And of course, she was beating the pants off me. She got to the finish way ahead of me.  She even offered to let me skip ahead six spaces at one point in the game, citing she was the creator and could introduce a new rule.  I declined, but thanked her anyway.

Then Little Lawyer did something amazing. 

When she was just about on top of the finish line (about 3 spaces away), she rolled a 6.  I shouted, "You won!"

Ah, no....

She calmly informed me that she did not in fact win (yet).

Apparently, in this wonderful game, you must roll the exact number needed to land on the 'Finish' square in order to claim ultimate victory. She had 3 spaces to go and rolled a 6, which meant she had to move forward 3 spaces to the last square and go backwards the remaining 3 spaces she needed to move to make her full 6.

I was in awe of this logic. 

I have seen and heard of games that made you wait on the last space you landed on until you rolled the number that you require to reach the finish.  But I have never heard of a game that made you go forward and then backwards to move all of the spaces that one rolls, thereby delaying the person in the lead from winning! Genius!

There very well may be a game out there somewhere with that rule (or something similar), but I have never heard of it, and I am fairly certain Little Lawyer hasn't either.

I may win this one yet!!! Muhahaha!


After three more rolls of the dice, she nailed it. Did the victory dance. Taunted me. Teased me.

Hey, she's 9. She's allowed.

I could get used to being beaten at games by her.  If she keeps making 'em, I'll keep playing 'em!