June Gardening Update

It’s officially summer now in North Carolina. The longest day of the year has come and gone – the beginning of the true heat and humidity that makes living in the South such a sweaty experience, especially if you’re doing any gardening outside.

But with the heat comes the harvest. The squash and the cucumbers. The tomatoes. The canning. Summer has become my favorite time of the year simply because of the food. It seems like just about everyone around here has a garden they love to talk about, and usually they like to share their harvest with others. Almost everyone in my family has a garden of their own and sends vegetables our way as they come in. We share our vegetables with others in our family who don’t have gardens of their own. The summer months bring everyone together in that way. And there’s nothing better than throwing some fresh vegetables from your own garden on the grill for dinner.

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Tomato plants are healthy, but obviously we need to do some weeding. 

 

I’m pleased to report that our garden is doing rather well this year. The weather has been decent – plenty of rain, but enough sunshine to keep the garden from rotting. For the first few weeks, our plants didn’t seem to want to grow. It took the tomatoes and squash a while to establish their roots and begin growing upward. Our squash and cucumber plants continue to be small, but they seem healthy and are producing some. And the green beans are quickly taking over their trellis.

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First row of green beans.

I think the reason our garden took a while to establish is because we didn’t loosen up the soil enough. We turned the dirt over twice before planting. But the second time, instead of borrowing my dad’s much more efficient tiller, we used another tiller that doesn’t do the job quite as well. I think the roots had some compact soil to deal with, and it took them a while to work their way down. But now that they have, I’m quite impressed with how everything is progressing.

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Cucumber plants are just growing on the ground – no trellis or anything. Top left corner – you can see a pretty decent-sized cucumber almost ready to be picked.

We’ve done only minimal fertilizing. Definitely could do a bit more weeding. I think my husband and I tend to be lazy gardeners. Now that everything is growing well, we don’t tend to spend much time out in the garden other than to gather the vegetables as they come in. Of course, we check on it often to make sure we haven’t been invaded with squash bugs or some other pest.

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Tiny squash on a tiny squash plant. 

Hopefully, we won’t have too much of a problem with deer eating the tomatoes this year. This has definitely been a problem in the past. I believe the only solution really is to fence in the garden. Fencing it in would also keep our pesky chickens out – worst offenders sometimes for devouring our tomatoes. But putting up a fence sounds like a lot of work. So for now, we’re just crossing our fingers that all vegetable thieves will stay out, or at least minimize their indulgence.

Yeah, right. I’m sure the garden gods are laughing at me right now.

My next gardening update will be around the time that it’s time to start canning. Canning…  is a lot of work. It’s one of those tasks I look forward to every year, but I sort of dread it at the same time. It’s a long process and can be tedious, but the end result is so worth it. If you’re interested in doing some canning yourself, be sure to check back in another month or two. I’ll be canning tomato sauce that I use in soup recipes. I’ll also, with the help of my husband, be canning some green beans with a pressure canner.

Thanks for reading! Share your gardening stories with me. How is your garden shaping up this year? Did you plant anything new and exciting?

5 Ingredient Fried Salmon Patties

This quick, easy lunch recipe is perfect for a busy mom. The best thing about them is that they can be made ahead of time and cooked as needed. One can of salmon makes about five patties that can be stored in the fridge for up to two days. I usually make up a batch, fry 2 or 3 patties, and store the remainder to fry the next day for lunch. Fried patties can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.

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Salmon Patties

1 can wild caught salmon
1 large egg
9-10 saltine or club crackers, crushed (may substitute club crackers)
1 tsp seasoning salt
1 tsp black pepper

(You will also need a fat for frying. I’m sure that goes without saying. I like to use an olive oil spray, because it only lightly coats the pan, and the patties don’t have to be drained after cooking. They turn out crispy on each side and soft around the edges.)

  1. Drain can of salmon and place remaining contents on a plate. Discard any bones, skin, or slimier elements that you don’t want in the patties. Place usable salmon in a mixing bowl. (It is not necessary to remove all bones. The bones are soft enough to eat, but I recommend removing as many as you can.)
  2. Using a fork, shred the salmon until it appears crumbly and any larger pieces have been broken up.
  3. Thoroughly mix the salmon with all remaining ingredients.
  4. Divide the mix into 4 to 6 servings depending on what size you want your patties to be. Shape each serving into a patty. It’s important to ensure that the patties are not loosely formed so that they don’t fall apart when you’re cooking them. The end result should be a firm, flat patty that you can pick up with one hand without it falling to pieces.
  5. Heat your skillet pan over medium to medium high heat and spray lightly with cooking oil.
  6. Place patties in the pan. Cook each side for about 4 or 5 minutes. Both sides should be golden brown and have a crispy, firm texture. (Following
  7. Remove patties from heat, let cool for a minute, and serve. Store leftover patties for up to a week in the fridge.
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Shaped and ready to fry.
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The finished product.

Happy cooking. And thanks for reading!

Little Man’s Chickens: 1 month update

It’s a cloudy Friday morning, and I’m watching our brood of baby chicks in the kitchen. They’re just beginning to wake up and wander around their little brooder. Four weeks ago when we brought the chicks home, their brooder seemed like the perfect wide open space that they needed to grow and explore during their stay with us in the house. Now it looks tiny. And the chicks look so much bigger.

Soon it will be time to move them outside. We should probably get around to fixing up the old coop for them. Our hens outside are currently living in the new chicken coop my husband and brother-in-law built a few months back, but the new brood will be staying in the old coop for a few weeks while they adjust to the outside world.

We introduced Belle, one of our Buff Orpingtons, to the baby chicks the other day. I’ve never seen any of our chickens sit so quietly still before. They all just stared at each other for about 5 minutes. Can someone say awkward? Nah, I’m sure they’ll all be good friends some day.

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Intense staring contest going on here, guys.

April 9th: Baby chicks move into a temporary plastic tub for the night. They seem quite at home, except for the one Legbar who chirped all night. She was the last female of her brood and left her brothers behind. I think she missed them, poor thing. She was fine the next morning, though. And she has definitely been the feistiest of the group since then.

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The Crested Cream Legbar – behind her is one of the Black Copper Marans.
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April 11th: The dogs (Luna, Rocky, and Jasmine) are quite curious about, and possibly hungry for, the new members of the family. As you can see, the Legbar is not easily intimidated (little head just above Luna’s nose).

April 14th: The baby chicks have been moved into their new home, the brooder constructed by my husband and brother-in-law. They are enjoying the additional space, and already they look so much bigger.

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The combs of the two Splash Marans have really started to grow.
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The Legbar (far left) is always watching.

April 18th: The chicks spend a few minutes outside their brooder. Little man is excited to hold them in his lap while they look around. At this point, the wing and tail feathers are where there is the most noticeable difference.

April 25th: The chickens have been moved in for two weeks now. They continue to grow rapidly and are eating ridiculous amounts of food. Their favorite treat is a crushed saltine cracker.

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Wing feather progression. (Chicks are probably close to 3 weeks old at this point.)

May 4th: At this point, we have started to notice huge differences in how the different breeds are developing. The two Splash Marans have the largest combs that are already turning pink. Their wattles are also starting to grow. We are not certain, but these two may end up being roosters. The two Black Copper Marans have smaller combs that are more yellow in color at this point and are not showing any wattles at this point. (Why do chickens have wattles and combs? Find the answer here.)

May 10th: It’s officially been 1 month since we brought the chicks home. The Legbar is sporting the cutest little mohawk of feathers right now. And one of the Black Copper Marans has several red feathers showing up on her breast, while the other one does not. All the chicks seem to be growing fast and doing well.

It’s been an exciting month with our new family members. Keep an eye out for our next update coming soon. And please feel free to comment with your own baby chick experiences. I’d love to hear your stories!

As always, thanks for reading.

It’s gardening season again!

I hate winter. Absolutely hate it.

It’s just so freaking cold. Everything’s dead. No flowers. No leaves in the trees. Just cold, dead winter.

When the daffodils start pushing up through the dirt and the trees start looking a little greener, I start to get really excited. Not only is winter on it’s way out the door and I can finally walk outside in a t-shirt, but I also know that gardening season is quickly approaching.

I’m from a family of farmers that goes back several generations on my dad’s side. My grandfather, who worked in a textile mill, was the first generation to work in something other than agriculture. My dad runs his own printing company.

Even though farming wasn’t a primary source of income for my dad and his dad, they both maintain(ed) vegetable gardens to supplement their diets. My grandfather was well known in our town for his tomatoes. I can still remember his Styrofoam cup full of change that people gave him to buy some of his tomatoes.

I’ve helped my dad throughout the years with his vegetable garden and I’ve learned most of what I know from him. Of course, I’ve expanded my knowledge (which is not substantial by any means) through research with this cool thing called the internet.

My husband also comes from a family that were traditionally farmers. He remembers well his childhood days of helping his grandfather in the fields in exchange for a Dr. Pepper and a can of beanie weenies.

My husband and I decided to grow a vegetable garden on our own for the first time back in 2013. We had some success at first with some early spring vegetables – cabbage, lettuce, and some radishes. However, our summer crops were ruined that year by a particularly wet summer. Our plants just drowned in all the rain.

This year we are working on our third garden as a family. We’ve planted tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers so far. We will be planting several rows of green beans over the next few weeks.

3 rows of freshly planted tomato plants.

And I could not be more excited to be gardening again. And I’m also glad that this year we have an eager 3-year-old to help us out.  Little man likes to check on the garden and use all the tools that still tower over his head. Sometimes he increases our workload, but I don’t mind as long as he’s enjoying the experience.

Little man loves to use the gardening tools.

I think gardening is such an important life skill, even if it’s something as simple as growing herbs in a kitchen window. Everyone should experience the thrill of seeing something you planted grow into something you can eat. What an awesome reward for all your hard work!

I’d love to hear your gardening stories! Are you growing anything new and exciting this year?

As always, thanks for reading.

30-Minute Chili Beans

I can remember asking my mom “how long until dinner’s ready” and being disappointed by any answer that was less than “five minutes!” Waiting 30 minutes for dinner seemed like waiting for an eternity!

Now that I do my own cooking, I’ve realized just how wonderful a meal that comes together in 30 minutes or less really is. This recipe for chili beans is one of my favorites. It’s a variation of a recipe that my aunt gave me back when my husband and I got married. My aunt’s chili is a popular dish in my family, and she has made if for us many times. I’ve altered it to my own tastes and make it regularly for my family. The best thing about it is that it comes together quickly but tastes like it’s been simmering all day.

Another great thing about this recipe is that many of the ingredients can be easily substituted. Kidney beans and black beans are my choice, but it could be made with cannellini, navy, or pinto beans instead. The hamburger can be substituted with ground turkey. Or for a meatless version, skip the ground beef, and throw in some lentils instead.

I like to top off my bowl with some shredded cheese and crackers. Green onions are also a great option.

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30-minute Chili Beans

1 lb hamburger
1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed
1 15 oz can kidney beans, rinsed
1 29 oz can tomato sauce
1 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Olive oil

This is a one pot recipe. I use a large nonstick soup/stock pot. (Slow Cooker Variation: Just follow the first two steps, throw all the ingredients in the crock pot, and cook on high for 3-4 hours, or on low for 5-6 hours. And don’t forget to take out the bay leaf.)

  1. Over medium high heat, cook chopped onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil until translucent. Transfer onions to a bowl and set aside.
  2. Add ground beef to pot and brown over medium high heat. Drain.
  3. Return onions to pot with ground beef.
  4. Stir in all remaining ingredients. (May need to add a little water if the chili seems to thick for your taste. I usually add about 1/2 cup at this point, but I like mine a little more on the soupy side.)
  5. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  6. Remove bay leaf before serving. Enjoy!

If you enjoyed this recipe, let me know in the comments!

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Part-time Yogi

It was many years ago as a teenager when I first discovered yoga. I was immediately swept away by all the incredible photos of people standing on their heads or stretching their legs behind their heads. I had to know how they did it. And I wanted to do it, too.

If I’m being honest, I’ve never been a fan of exercise. I hated gym class in school — too much running. I was never all that great at sports — again, too much running.

In high school, my physical activity of choice was marching band. I was in the colorguard and loved every awesome minute of it. My favorite aspect of it was the dancing, particularly all the flexibility and balance that came along with dancing around a football field 8+ hours a week.

But I’ve aged out of marching band, obviously. And I’m still not a fan of exercise.

So as a late twenty-something whose never learned to love exercise, my interest in practicing yoga regularly has become something very important to me.

I just wish I was a little better at being consistent with it. I’ll be good and stick to it for 3 or 4 weeks. But then life will get in the way and excuses will pop up. And before I know it, I’m stiff again and looking at my yoga mat with a mixture of guilt and dread.

Because let’s face it, yoga is not at all like riding a bike. If it’s been more than a week or so since I’ve practiced, it doesn’t come as easily and feels like starting over. And every time I start over, I feel like I’m never going to get to the point where I want to be.

I realized yesterday that I absolutely need yoga in my life. I spent a good few hours out in the yard digging daylilies out of my flower beds. After all the digging, raking, and pushing the wheelbarrow around the yard half a dozen times, my body was weak and stiff and sore.

And I didn’t feel any better this morning when I woke up and practically hobbled to the bathroom. I felt old and creaky, and I’m embarrassed to admit just how out of shape I really felt.

It’s easy as a busy mom to fall into the habit of feeling like chasing my toddler around all day is enough physical activity to keep me healthy. It’s definitely not. Walking back and forth between the kitchen, the bathroom, and the playroom 500 times a day is just not enough. And it especially doesn’t do anything for keeping me flexible.

But yoga does. It’s not the perfect exercise by any means. I still think it’s necessary to do some cardio and muscle-building exercises a few times a week. But yoga does improve flexibility and balance substantially. I can always tell a difference when I’ve been practicing regularly for a few weeks. I don’t feel stiff. I breathe more easily. And I feel more stable on my feet.

I’m not proud to admit that I’m inconsistent about my yoga practice. But I’m not ashamed to be human. I’m not perfect and never will be. Even if I practiced yoga everyday, I still wouldn’t reach a point where I could say I was a perfect yogi. No one could ever be perfect, right?

It’s not only the physical aspect of yoga that attracts me, it’s the mental benefits as well. I’ve tried working meditation into my daily routine and have found it to be a great way to start my day. I love the clarity that comes from those few moments of quiet reflection. I feel peaceful and grounded, and that’s so important for someone whose days can get unbelievably hectic. If you’ve ever considered trying meditation, I recommend trying some guided meditations to start like this one that contains some awesome positive affirmations.

I miss my yoga mat. I’m pretty sure it’s missing me. So I’ve got to make time for my yoga practice. It’s so important for my mental and physical health. And one day, I’d like to be able to pass along the habit to my son knowing that I set a good example of someone who practices regularly.

What kinds of activities do you wish you were better at sticking to? How do you manage to find time to take care of your mental and physical well-being? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Little Man’s Chickens

It’s been over four years now since my husband and I brought our first baby chicks home with us. We had six altogether; four Buff Orpingtons, 1 Silver-laced Wyandotte, and a Black Australorp.

My husband had chickens when he was a kid. He had fond memories of them and had always talked about getting some more. I had never thought about owning chickens before but was intrigued by the idea. So we built a coop, and we bought some chickens.

We named all of them as they got older. They were a good group of chickens and they’ve been kind enough to lay hundreds of eggs over the last few years.

We only have three of the original six left at this point, plus two Easter-Eggers that we were given by a sweet lady I met while completing an internship last year.

We’ve been talking about getting a few more chickens for several months now. Our son is of the age now where he can and likes to help with caring for our animals. He has always loved the chickens. And with the new coop that we recently built, he is able to crawl up into it to gather the eggs.

Little man’s birthday is coming up next month, so my husband and I thought it might be a fun (and practical) idea to get him his own chickens.

I think he was pretty excited about the idea. Okay, he was VERY excited.

So anyway, yesterday was the day. We all gathered in the Jeep and took off down the road to buy some baby chicks.

We ended up coming home with five altogether. We have one female Crested Cream Legbar and four Marans (two black and two splash) that could be either male or female.

Little man couldn’t stop smiling down at them on the way home, and he hasn’t stopped checking on them since we got them set up in their brooder. He’s already in love with his new pets. I can tell he’s going to be (and already is) a great chicken owner.

So I’m looking forward to seeing the chicks grow up. I’m looking forward to the beautiful dark brown and blue eggs that they will lay. But most importantly, I’m looking forward to watching my son admire and take care of his chickens. I think it will be a good experience for all of us.

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Close-up of the Crested Cream Legbar chick hanging out under the warming light.