Cinco de Mayo Recipes

I adore Mexican food. Give me all the nachos, tacos, guacamole, fajitas, margaritas, burritos, enchiladas you can give me. When I go to a Mexican restaurant with its 12 pages of entrees, I have the hardest time deciding what I want (because I want it all). I probably make some sort of dish for the family every single week and I secretly love when there are leftovers so I can eat more for lunch the next day.

One of the best things about Mexican dishes is that they are fairly simple, full of fresh ingredients and are quick. I remember a restaurant my husband and I used to go to when we lived in western NY that would practically have your dish to you before you were able to put your napkin on your lap.

It is very easy to stock your pantry with the basic tex mex ingredients so you can whip up something delicious anytime. I always try to have these on hand in the pantry, fridge or freezer:

  • Tortillas/Shells
  • Beans & Rice
  • Tomatoes & Onions
  • Cilantro IS MY FAVORITE and I keep a bunch in a little jar of water on the counter
  • Ground Beef or Turkey
  • Avocado (I mean, c’mon)
  • Chips or Corn Tortillas
  • Salsa
  • Red Hot Sauce
  • Cumin (I use this so much, I buy it in bulk)
  • Limes

You can do SO MUCH with this shopping list.

Cinco de Mayo is my excuse to eat all the tex mex food I want and not feel guilty about it. I am a huge fan of chips and dips, but frankly, my family could care less about anything but guacamole. Don’t get me wrong, guacamole is my go-to dish so I love it like a 4th child. But, I also love a hot cheesy melty dip too. Not the queso kind, that is the one thing I do not like about Tex Mex food, just the real cheesy melty kind….with lots of stuff. Bring me all the stuff.

Today I am going to try out a Hot Mexican Corn Dip. I am halving the recipe I found from The Cookie Rookie because I know it will just be me eating this. While I bake the Dip, I am also going to make some homemade Tortilla Chips to go with it. They will all be ready at the same time so I can completely blow my mind with yummy goodness.

But, wait, there’s more! I will also be making some sweet and simple Churros and a tasty Mojito to round out this meal of meals. Or should I say, meal of calories. No guilt, be quiet, just enjoy.

Let’s get cooking….

CORN DIP INGREDIENTS: (remember, this is half the full recipe and it is still a substantial amount)

  • 1 can corn
  • 1 Tbsp chopped red onion
  • 1/2 a jalapeno, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp Franks Red Hot
  • 1/2 lime
  • 1 clove garlic (I can’t believe I stuck to this #garliclover)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro or a big handful, whatever
  • 1 block of cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • shredded cheese – atleast 1/2 cup….I used a mexican cheese blend
  • feta or cojita cheese – about 4 oz

CHIPS INGREDIENTS:

  • corn tortillas
  • mister of oil
  • salt

Blend the softened cream cheese, half the shredded cheese, sour cream, red hot, squeezed lime juice and garlic in a blender or (to be honest) just use a spatula. I got out my Vitamix to do this and it seemed like overkill and kinda sucked to clean. Next time I am just going to mix by hand.

Add the cream cheese mixture to a large bowl and add the corn, the rest of the shredded cheese, the feta, the cilantro, the jalapeno and the red onion and mix together.

Throw it all into a baking container, sprinkle a little more cheese on top and bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes (20 would work better for me since my baking dish was small and deep).

⇒While the dip is baking, cut your corn tortillas into 8 little wedges with a pizza cutter. Lay them out onto a baking sheet and use a mister to spray them with some oil. I used avocado oil….duh. Sprinkle them with some salt and throw into the oven with the dip for the last 7-8 minutes that the dip has to bake. Keep an eye on them so they don’t brown too much. I like to use a stone baking sheet for these because I can heat the stone up in the oven while the dip is baking during the first half and it guarantees you get a crispy chip on both sides.

Hot Chips with Hot Dip. #winning

Now we need is a refreshing drink.

Most people reach for a margarita when having a taco or guac & chips but my favorite is the almighty Mojito. It goes perfectly with the fresh clean mexican ingredients. Fresh limes, mint and a couple shots of rum. Yes, please.

Let’s make one…or two…or three…

MOJITO INGREDIENTS:

  • lime
  • bunch of mint
  • rum
  • club soda
  • ice
  • sugar

Take a tall glass, add 2 Tbsps of sugar, 4-6 wedges of limes and a whole bunch of mint….be generous…mint is amazing. Now muddle that goodness. Muddling is when you mash the ingredients with a bar tool that is like a pestle to release the flavor of the herbs or fruits. I don’t have a muddling tool but you can use the end of a wooden spoon to muddle your lime and mint. Once you are done muddling, add a generous amount of ice – at least half a glass. Now add your rum – 2 shots will do. Fill the rest with some club soda! Garnish with a lime wedge and a sprig of mint. Delish. This is great served with a stainless steel straw so you can continue to muddle the mint and lime in your glass as you drink to release more fresh flavor. Mmmmmmm.

Time for some dessert…

When my kids were young, they would always beg for a churro from Costco so it became and bargaining chip for me. Now that they are all in school, I can shop alone so they never get churros anymore. I am not a dessert person really, but these are so easy to make, I can’t say no.

CHURRO INGREDIENTS:

  • refrigerated crescent rolls 1-2 packages
  • cinnamon & sugar
  • 2-3 Tbsp of butter – melted

Roll out your crescent rolls, but leave them in rectangles instead of triangles. Brush 2 of them with melted butter and sprinkle with Cinnamon & Sugar mixture. Normally, the cinnamon to sugar ratio is 1 tsp to 2 Tbsp but my kids are getting a 1:1 ratio instead because sugar is a treat and they are sweet enough. Now put the other rectangle on top so you basically have a cinnamon sugar sandwich – my kids would eat these daily if I let them. Use a pizza cutter to slice them into 6 long strips. Twist each strip a few times and place on a cookie sheet and bake at 375° for 9-12 minutes. When they are done cooking, brush them one more time with melted butter and sprinkle more cinnamon & sugar on top. Eat one to make sure it’s OK before you give it to the family….

There you have it – some Cinco de Mayo dishes that are easy to make and fresh and delicious. I had some leftover fajita fixings, so I made a chicken quesadilla and some nachos as well…..man, mexican food is so easy and versatile. No guilt.

I hope you all have a great Cinco de Mayo this weekend! Make sure to get your avocados soon so they are ripe in time for the weekend.

Homemade Charcoal Toothpaste – 2 ways

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There was a time when the thought of making my own soap, detergent, shampoo or toothpaste seemed ridiculous to me. Way over my head. Now, I almost feel like I have super powers when I make a candle or shampoo or detergent. Why didn’t I start this earlier?

I know that my health journey with Plexus gut health supplements led to my devotion to toxin-free living and now I am more confident in making my own products because I know the value and importance of using clean ingredients.

But I did wonder today why more people aren’t making their own products too? My first thought was that is must be because they think they can’t do it. Then I thought it’s probably because they have no time. Or maybe even that they just don’t know or care about clean ingredients.

I feel it is important to show you that you CAN make these products yourself, you DO have the time and it IS important for your health.

Today, let’s start with toothpaste…..did you know that toothpaste doesn’t really do that much? Clean teeth come from the act of brushing and scrubbing, they are NOT cleansed from toothpaste. If toothpaste doesn’t really clean your teeth, why are we spending LOADS of money on these special toothpastes when we should really be perfecting our brushing technique (and most likely paying attention and taking our time)? I have an idea – it’s the attack of the killer consumerism. I’m no activist, but we are told to buy more and more special stuff every day when we REALLY should be purchasing less. Less purchasing = less waste. How many toothpaste tubes do you go through each year? (made ya think….) But, I am going off on a tangent here, back to toothpaste….

So if toothpaste is just a “cosmetic” thing and we don’t really need to use anything special, let’s stop buying it and make our own. It’s super simple to do and truly, there are tons of recipes. Since it really doesn’t matter, pick the one you like.

I am going natural. I tried 2 different recipes tonight and it took me less than 15 minutes to make them both. My daughter took a shower in the time I measured, mixed and cleaned up after myself. Although, that’s not saying much since she is a teen. But, truly, it was super quick and super easy.

Both recipes contain activated charcoal (as I am a firm believer in this goodness) but one is more syrupy while the other is more pasty.

The syrupy recipe was easy:

Just mix it together – it’s so simple. The messiest part was opening up the capsules of charcoal, but who really cares….we are kitchen scientists and we’re having fun!

The pasty recipe was simple too:

Mix together the dry ingredients and add the water slowly until you reach desired consistency then add your oils and mix. Make sure this is not kept in a metal container of any kind because clays absorb impurities such as toxins and heavy metals and can possibly pull from the container. Stainless steel is A-OK.

So, what do these ingredients do?

  • Coconut oil will pull bacteria and other toxins out of your gums and crevices.
  • Baking Soda will clean your mouth and whiten your smile.
  • Activated Charcoal works wonders by pulling the stains off your teeth.
  • Bentonite Clay absorbs toxins, impurities, heavy metals and other internal contaminants. It’s is also great for remineralizing teeth because of its high mineral content. This can help with any tooth decay.

So, you choose which one to try. Or try them both, it takes no time to make and they are so much more cost effective than buying those expensive toothpaste tubes. It also helps reduce waste – say no to plastic!

I tried them both (wow my teeth are clean tonight!) and I prefer the pasty toothpaste. It has the right feel in my mouth and holds the Spearmint ‘taste’ better. The activated charcoal, clay and baking soda aren’t the best tasting ingredients, so having the spearmint makes all the difference. My teeth feel exceptionally clean (and I am a stickler for that – I love going to the dentist for cleanings) so I am VERY pleased with this experiment.

I hope this inspires you to try it too. Remember, you have the time, the means and the reason. Happy Brushing!

Backyard Chickens

So I did a thing.

I have wanted chickens for years, but my town wouldn’t allow them. I watched as friends around the country raise their own flocks with envy. Finally, last Spring, they changed the law in our town after years of pushing. I was so excited for the change, but knew I couldn’t get any chicks due to lack of planning. I also knew I was travelling a ton last year and didn’t have my yard ready to protect my own den of hens.This year, however, is perfectly set up to bring up some chicks: very little travel, lots of home time and a homesteading journey mentality. I am ready for this next step!I researched the local laws which told me I was allowed up to 6 chickens for my property and no roosters. I looked into chicken breeds to see what would fit into our lifestyle – time, committment, space, cost, weather, need. I knew I wanted chickens for fresh eggs, but I also wanted chickens purely for the pet too. Living more simply and sustainably is my goal and raising chickens is just one more step in that homesteading journey.There are a bunch of chicken breeds and even more hybrids. I narrowed down my choice to the Barred Plymouth Rock breed. Barred Rock chickens are an Anerican heritage breed first seen around 1850 in the Boston area. They were the most popular chicken breed for much of the early twentieth century – a classic, mainly because they were great egg layers AND good meat chickens. They are just gorgeous with their black and white stripes, red comb and yellow beak. Barred Rocks are very docile, tame birds which makes them great around kids and as pets. I was drawn to them because of their heritage, their disposition, their beauty and their cold hardiness. New England weather is a big consideration.Since Thursday, we have housed 6 chicks in a simple dog crate box lined with pine shavings. They need a heater because they haven’t developed their feathers yet, but they are already growing fast! Fresh water and starter crumbles to eat and some love and affection. They peep and sleep and eat all day.The chicks will live inside the house with me for awhile until I get the yard ready and build their coop (besides, they need to grow their full feathers before going outside for good). Luckily, coop designs are EVERYWHERE. The kids are really enjoying the chicks (and so am I) and I have been doing lots of coop design planning. I think I have narrowed down my plan, but it’s still going to be a trial since this is my first year raising chickens. We all have to start somewhere.Chickens tend to lay an egg every 24-48 hours depending on the breed and start laying around 5-6 months of age. It all depends on how much daylight they receive too. So, winter months when the days are shorter could mean less eggs. Having fresh eggs is going to be so rewarding as is caring for these beautiful hens. We have already named 3 of them….My point is this…if you really want to raise chickens like I do, look into your local laws and do your research. Chicks are SUPER cute, but they are animals and they grow fast and have lots of needs. Beware before you buy. Be prepared. Be committed. I had been calling the 3 local tractor supply stores for weeks trying to find the breed of chick I wanted so when the day came that one of those stores said they had them, I jumped in my car and flew there right away. The excitement was ridiculous. I was happy to see that I had to sign a waiver before I took them and was asked if I had all the proper supplies. Keeping chickens is not so.ethinf to be taken lightly.Once you do the research and make a committment, I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying the experience of raising chickens. I am still only less than a week into this new chapter of our lives, but very excited for the future.

We are beginners though so I would love to hear from any chicken parents that have advice they wish they knew before starting their flock! Please share with my readers and with me!

Peep peep!

Worms: the Gardeners BFF

20190424_183011Yup, I said it. I am BFFs with worms. Ask any gardener and they will say the same. Worms are beneficial to the garden because they aerate and fertilize your garden. They break down plant and leaf matter and turn it into worm castings (worm poop doesn’t sound as cool) that fertilize your garden. They are nature’s best garden helper. Having worms in your garden is a sign of a healthy soil.

There are many different types of worms. Worms that live near the surface, worms that live in vertical burrows that descend several feet below the surface and worms that live in horizontal burrows just below the surface. With all these different and dissecting burrows, it’s no wonder the garden soil is aerated and the roots are watered so easily when you have worms in your garden.

As any gardener will tell you, the nutrients in your soil and the health of your soil is extremely important. All the minerals in your veggies come directly from your soil. Veggies just won’t grow properly in nutrient-depleted soil. So, how do we create nutrient-dense soil?

Encouraging worms to work their magic is definitely one way to do this. Worms love to eat decaying matter and turn it into castings that are very fertile – containing more iron, calcium, phosphorous and nitrogen than the soil around them. More organic and nutrient dense soil is everything a happy growing vegetable needs. So we need to create a worm garden….

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The best way to create a happy and healthy worm garden is first to find some worms and then to make sure they are fed and not disturbed. The best way to find some great garden worms is to wait until a wet and rainy evening and then go out in the yard with a headlamp and a bucket….sounds like a funny situation, right? – I should know. My family has 4 fishermen in it so we know when to take advantage of a good spring rain. Nightcrawlers are the big fat worms that are great for the garden and for the end of a hook. It makes sense to keep a good supply of them for when needed while also creating a better garden!

Now, FEED them: Worms love their plant matter and leaf litter, so make sure to keep your garden full of compostable material. Do you remember The Magic School Bus? Ms. Frizzle taught us all about how much life is actually in dead and decaying matter (The Rot Squad – 1st season) and how important it is to so many other creatures in our circle of life. Don’t be afraid of a little light composting in the garden, it’s super easy. Even if you just put out your coffee grinds, a banana peel or some dried leaves for the worms, they will be happy and happy worms stay put.

Now, DO NOT DISTURB: Another important way to create a happy worm garden is to NOT till your soil. Just leave it be. Worms don’t like to be tilled (duh) but if you must dig, use a garden fork so you wont disturb or dissect any of them. They will not grow into two worms if they get cut…..one side of the worm maaaaay live, but more likely, you just killed one of your free garden workers. I don’t think their coworkers will want to stick around.

Work with your garden worms and they will keep your garden growing happily for years.

Happy Digging!

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Sheet Pan Lemon Chicken

I love a sheet pan, one pot, easy peasy meal. I hate washing dishes and let’s face it, when I convince my kids to wash them…..I gotta do them again afterwards. The solution is just to use less dishes.

My instant pot makes some incredible weeknight dishes for our busy family of 5. The crock pot would too, if I was a better meal planner. The sheet pan is my best friend. Ya know when you finally feel comfortable enough with a specific cooking method that you can stray from following recipes exactly? That’s a sheet pan meal for me.

Sure, I’ve still made mistakes, but who cares…..I only got one pan to clean.

One of my absolute favorite sheet pan meals is my Fajita Bowl. It’s a perfect medley of chicken, peppers and onions and makes for great lunch meal preps for the week. During the winter, I love to do a medley of carrots, parsnips and brussel sprouts with chicken. But, today it is Spring, and I am trying out a new recipe from Erin at Well Plated. It caught my eye because of the asparagus. The asparagus is bountiful right now. It’s not in my garden this year (since I dug it all up) but the markets are overflowing with beautiful looking stems. Asparagus is one of my favorite veggies and roasting them in the oven is super easy (I also love to just saute them) and delicious.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound baby potatoes — cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil — divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary — divided
  • 2 pounds asparagus — tough ends trimmed and discarded, cut into 2-inch pieces (about 2 bunches)
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts — or thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 large lemon — juice and zest (you should have about 1/4 cup lemon juice total)
  • salt and pepper

I am going to wing the amounts on this recipe since I do not need to cook this much for my family. But, that’s the beauty of sheet pan cooking – throw what ya got on the pan, add some oils and herbs and roast away. So simple and satisfying.

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 400° and prep your veggies as listed in ingredients.
  • Rub or mist your sheet pan with olive oil
  • Put potatoes on pan and sprinkle with 1 T evoo, 1 T rosemary & salt/pepper
  • Throw in oven and roast for 20 minutes
  • Meanwhile, place the asparagus, chicken, and garlic powder in a large bowl. Drizzle with the lemon juice, the lemon zest, remaining 2 T olive oil, 1 T rosemary & salt/pepper. Toss to coat, then add to the baking pan with the potatoes. Loosely toss with a spatula and spread out evenly.
  • Roast for 15-20 minutes more, stirring a couple times.
  • ENJOY!

Cook time was quick and easy, but there was quite alot of juice from the asparagus which stopped my potatoes from getting nice and crispy (the way I like them!). So, I suggest you either do your asparagus separately (so much for one sheet pan!) or raise the food up with a wire rack under the food in the sheet pan. If the juice doesn’t bother you, no worries. The family still enjoyed it all and nobody had anything bad to say about the recipe. Success! It’s not easy to please 5 people at the same time.

Delish. Go make yourself some. Squeeze some lemon on top before serving and a little extra sprinkle of rosemary. Best part….I got leftovers for tomorrow. Mmm… Unless my kids eat it during the night.

Homemade Leave-in Detangler

Hair care products are one of the worst offenders when it comes to nasty ingredients that are absorbed into our skin. I want to keep all 5 heads in this house as safe as possible so I need safe and clean ingredients. There are certainly options out there, but they are NOT within my budget.

The boys don’t necessarily need a detangler since their hair is short, but my daughter and I definitely do. She has super thick hair down to her cheeks and my baby fine hair tangles if you look at it the wrong way. I am not a “roll the windows down” kind of girl unless I am wearing a hat. That would be disastrous.

I have tried many different kinds but the ones that make my hair super soft are always the ones that I don’t want to put on my hair and I definitely don’t want those chemicals on my daughter’s head either. I have come to grips with the fact that I may have to be patient or forgiving when it comes to moving to a more natural hair detangler and that’s OK. We shall see!

When looking at the varying recipes, I noticed that most of them used some sort of carrier oil (like jojoba or argan) or glycerin as the main ingredient and basically, the most active ingredient for detangling. Sure, that makes sense. But, with my baby fine hair, any amount of oil sitting on my hair can make it look greasy or wet. So, I need to be very light-handed with my spraying. There were also a bunch of recipes that use coconut milk, but I do not want to have to refrigerate my detangler….that’s just odd.

I found 3 recipes that seemed simple enough, so I am starting simple first:

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Grab a 4 oz spray bottle and mix in a measuring cup 1 Tbsp of either Jojoba Oil, Argan Oil or Almond oil. I used Argan. Add 10-15 drops each of 2 different oils of your choice. Lemon + Rosemary or Lavender + Lemon or Peppermint + Rosemary or whatever you like. I just used 20 drops of Rosemary since I also use a Rosemary Homemade Shampoo. An extra optional ingredient is 1/2 tsp of Aloe Vera Gel. Pour that into your spray bottle and fill the rest up with distilled water. This is from a recipe at Natural Living Family.

Shake and use before combing!

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Such a simple recipe that can be made in minutes – no joke.

Let’s see if it works…. YES!

This was not a full test run, since my hair was already washed, but I wet my head and sprayed and combed my hair with complete ease. Tomorrow I will do a full test after showering – stay tuned!

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Natural DIY Tick Repellent

Last week, my son found a tick on his thigh after an evening walk in the woods the night before. He was bit by a deer tick. Ugh.

Ticks make us all nervous these days because of the diseases you can get from them…..specifically Lyme. Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection that you get from the bite of an infected tick. Fever, headache, joint pain/stiffness, fatigue and basic flu like symptoms are typically how Lyme presents itself. Some people also get a rash around the bite that looks like a bullseye. It can be easily treated if caught early but because of it’s similar symptoms to other illnesses, diagnosis can be difficult and is often missed.

We live in Connecticut, where Lyme was first discovered and for some odd reason, it makes me more scared of getting bitten and infected. Especially when it comes to my kids. Lyme is treated with heavy rounds of antibiotics which are perfect for getting rid of the baddies, but they also get rid of the good bacteria that I have worked so hard to put in my gut and my family’s guts as well. Gut health is very important to overall health and happiness.

Preventative measures must be taken because we simply aren’t going to stop going outdoors for fear of tick bites:

  • wear tick repellent
  • dress appropriately so you can see ticks and remove them right away
  • check for ticks after being outdoors and remove them COMPLETELY
  • tick proof your yard by mowing regularly, removing brush and keeping areas that could attract rodents clean and neat
  • introduce tick eating creatures into your yard – chickens, amphibians, etc….
  • sprinkle diatomaceous earth around your yard
  • educate yourself

We have a tick removal kit in our bathroom just in case of bites. Removing a tick is not as easy as you think – if the tick has bitten you and you grab its body to pull it off, the head could be left inside you. Yuck. The entire tick must be removed. This is why prevention is key.

I have put my fair share of toxic chemicals on my body to keep away insects. I would much prefer a cleaner option for myself and for my kids. I read that ticks detect animals’ breath and body odors, as well as sensing body heat, moisture, and vibrations. Most insect repellents work by masking the human odor…..this is how DEET works. Essential oils can do the same although they may not be as effective as DEET. Although, nothing is completely reliable – not even DEET.

While researching combinations of essential oils to use for a tick repellent, there were several different suggestions.

The lists go on….

The only thing to do is try them out. Start with 1/2 cup distilled water and 1 cup vinegar and then add your oils of choice. Some recipes just used distilled water. I saw no explanation behind the amount of drops of each oil and some recipes just used equal amounts – 9 drops of each or 20 drops of each. Who knows? I suppose you should just find a combination that you like. Spray it on your clothes whenever you go outdoors. When you return inside, check yourself for ticks. **QUICK TIP: use a sticky roller on your clothing to catch any ticks!**

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From what I have read, the spirochete that carries the Lyme bacteria that comes from the tick bite takes a long time to travel from the belly of the tick into your body, so if you catch a tick on your body within 24-36 hours, you have a much greater chance of not catching the infection at all.

Prevention is everything! Use those essential oils – besides, you will definitely smell better than bug spray.

 

 

10 New Ways to Use Up Your Hard Boiled Eggs from Easter

I LOVE to dye eggs – it’s such a fun and creative activity. If you saw my recent post on how to dye eggs naturally, you can see I dyed quite a few. Every year, we go through this dance where the entire week after Easter becomes a challenge for all the different ways to eat up the eggs. It’s also the week of crazy sugar-high kids and cats pooping easter grass. Nothing new to see here…

So, what now? My kids are already over the hard boiled eggs I suggested they eat for dinner, for lunch and for breakfast. Time to get creative…

My favorite basic ways to eat up eggs are:

  • Avocado Toast with sliced HBE (Hard Boiled Eggs) & Everything But The Bagel Seasoning
  • BLT or Spinach Salads
  • Egg Salad Sandwiches made with mustard or curry powder
  • just plain with a sprinkle of salt

But, sometimes we need a little bit more to keep away the boredom. So, I compiled a list of some more creative egg recipes. Enjoy.

Soy Sauce Eggs from Belly Full:

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Chickpea and Tomato Salad from Simply Recipes:

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HBE and Avocado Bowl from Eating Bird Food: (because I love complete meals in bowls)

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A vegetarian Chickpea & Fennel Sub Sandwich from Martha Stewart:

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There is nothing extravagant about this “recipe” but it is one of my favorites and you can use already cooked bacon which makes it SUPER easy from Meal Plan Addict:

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An egg casserole for breakfast which uses 8 of those HBE from All Recipes:

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Macaroni Salad from Taste of Home:

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Egg and Asparagus Breakfast Croquettes from Taste of Home:

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A Six Layer Salad that can be made ahead from Taste of Home:

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Scotch Eggs make a great appetizer from Sweet and Savory:

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See? There are other ways to eat up all those hard boiled eggs!

Happy Easter!

Backyard Garden Design

Our backyard garden is in dire need of an update. The raised beds have rotted after several years, the trees have overgrown and I learned what worked from our first design and what did not. I am ready to make some big changes.

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When planning a garden, there are many factors to take into account. Sunlight, ease of use, eye appeal, watering, how much you are willing/able to care for, what plants you even want to grow, what space they take up and your own abilities. This is the 3rd home where I have created a backyard garden so I have a pretty good idea of what I like to grow and what I can grow. I know my hardiness zone and I know my level of commitment so it’s time for an upgrade.

I knew I definitely wanted something a little taller than my last one – I previously had about an 8″ high raised bed. This time, I am building a 12″ high raised bed.

My husband suggested that I build two 16×4 foot beds with a 3 foot space between them to allow movement and mowing. The boards I planned to use were 2×6’s at 8′ long, so a 16′ bed would work. But, my last beds were long and I found I just didn’t have enough ease of access to all the veggies so I wanted smaller sized beds this time. I decided on 4’x8′ beds – 4 of them. I also wanted to build them in a more central location in my backyard. Last time I built my beds against the fence and that took away even more access to the garden veggies. Now I can walk entirely around each garden bed which gives me lots of access. #easeofuse

I used pine boards to make my garden because I like that my walls rot after 6 or so years so I can change my design again, but cedar or redwood will last much longer if you want a more permanent choice. I used 4 2″x3″ stud boards to create my stakes but you can buy stakes if you don’t want the extra work of cutting them. I was just trying to save some $$. Oh, and do NOT use treated wood – that stuff has arsenic in it and you DO NOT want that leaching into your food. #keepitclean

Supply List:

  • 24 2″x6″x8′ pine boards
  • 4 2″x3″ studs
  • outdoor screws (I used 2 1/2″ wood screws – living on the edge)
  • a drill
  • a sledgehammer
  • a measuring tape (this is your best friend)
  • rotary saw
  • some good tunes to keep you working

OK, you are going to get the instructions that I finally figured out on my last two beds. The ones that are actually pretty easy and work perfectly. The first two garden beds are not as pretty, they were definitely my learning experience. But, I wanted to do this independently (usually my husband takes over these types of projects and I just hand him tools) because I felt a desire to get it done asap and I work from home which gives me the liberty to work outside during the week. I also love a good challenge!

I could have gotten this done in one day if I knew what I was doing. But, now that I do, I kinda wanna build raised beds all over the house…..where can I go next? Although, 2 days to get this completed is not too shabby either. My over 40 body is not as excited.

Let’s start with CUTTING:

These are garden beds, not indoor furniture, so I am not going to get really exact here, but I do want my work to look nice and be functional. (which it is!) So, start with making your cuts. Fashion some protective eyewear and have fun – rotary saws are loud, but not hard to use. So, to make a 4’x8′ bed that is 12″ tall, you need FOUR 8′ boards and FOUR 4′ boards and FOUR stakes. I cut all of my 4 footers together – so for 4 beds, I needed 16 4′ boards, so I cut 8 boards in half. The rotary saw is easy, just make sure to raise your boards off the ground and hold on so it doesn’t pinch the blade when you are completing your cut.

Then I needed to cut my stakes – **Lesson Learned** – I thought I could just take those studs and make FOUR 2′ stakes out of them by cutting each piece at an angle. NO. Stakes must have a point in the CENTER of the bottom, not just to one side. If you try to drive a stake into the ground with only one slanted side, it will move out of position by inches.  I learned the hard way. NO bueno. So, go ahead and cut those angles every 2 feet, but then take each stake and cut off that little tip so the stake has a point in the center.

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See the stakes with the point in the center!!!

Next, time to BUILD:

Now, I already measured my space and figured out where the beds would sit relative to other structures in the yard (fences and shed wall) and made sure to have an equal spacing all around the beds. 3′ border around the entire garden area and in between beds. Math IS important! And so is measuring…..do it more than once. #measuremeasuremeasure

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The first step is to make a box. Take 2 long boards and 2 short boards and put one screw into each joint. Just one. This gives you some play to make sure your box is in the right place and is not a parallelogram. Place your box in the right spot and than measure the diagonal to make sure it’s square. You don’t need to do trigonometry, just make sure both diagonals are the same.

 

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Once you get your diagonals equal and your beds in the right spot, put the 4 stakes in each corner. Just enough to be level or lower than your 12″ bed height. I marked each stake with a 11″ mark and hammered them in to that point. Measure your diagonals again just to make sure nothing shifted.

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Now make another box on top of your first box. Make sure when you are making these boxes that you are lining up the edges nicely. Check your diagonals AGAIN and then once they are all good, you can screw the top and bottom boards into the stakes.

And that is it. Seriously. You CAN do it yourself and pretty quickly once you realize how easy this is. I may stain them with some linseed oil or not….I will figure that out this weekend…..

I used a staple gun to put weed block paper on the bottom of the beds. It’s an extra step that will make a huge difference.

Now, it’s time to fill those babies up. Find out if your local transfer station has free compost for residents. I know mine does, so I will be hitting that next week! Then I can add more structures….I have plans for growing upwards and maybe even creating a small pergola between the beds on the long side so grow something up and over for fun! Stay tuned!

Happy Building!

 

Herb & Butter Mushroom Pappardelle

With 3 kids and busy school nights, pasta is a regular occurance in our house. I definitely don’t mind because I love it too. There are so many options for different shapes of pasta and so many different ways to eat it. So versatile.

I grew up eating homemade spaghetti sauce from a recipe by my mother’s Aunt Teeny. It was a favorite of mine (and my sisters!) and always a special treat. When I was old and brave enough, I made it myself with all the fresh meatballs and italian sausages. I believe that recipe card is the most worn and well loved of all the recipes I own. #celebritystatus

I will never stop making Aunt Teeny’s sauce, but, I need a new simple and delicious pasta dish to add to my medley of recipes. Something that will use fresh herbs from the garden…

I found a delicious option from Half Baked Harvest that I just adjusted a little bit to fit better with my lazy cooking style. After a full day of building raised garden beds in my backyard, I still had time and energy to whip up this simple and fresh recipe AND gobble it down while still standing at the countertop. No time to sit when your food is this good.

Let’s cook:

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound pappardelle or whatever pasta you wish
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 – 1 1/2 lbs of mushrooms – feel free to mix and match
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic cloves, smashed 
  • 1 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (I just squeezed half a large lemon)
  • grated/ribboned cheese of choice (I used a fresh block of parmigiano but Half Baked Harvest used Burrata and Manchego)

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Instructions:

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook your pasta to al dente. How cute are these little birds nests of pappardelle?

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2. In a skillet, heat your EVOO over high heat. Add mushrooms when it’s ready and let them cook undisturbed for around 5 minutes. I had 16 oz of mushrooms in my skillet, but I love them so much, I may add more next time. Give them a stir and cook for another 3-5 minutes. To be honest, I have no idea how long I cooked my mushrooms for….I just know how I like them cooked and just let ’em do their thing.. Reduce heat to medium and add the butter, smashed garlic, half the rough chopped basil, all the sage and thyme to the skillet. Mix and cook for another 5 minutes (or whatever?)

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It smells amazing in here. I need to cook with more fresh herbs…

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3. Add the wine if you haven’t already drank it along with the lemon juice and stir. When it gets back to a simmer, add your cooked pasta to the skillet. Give it a sprinkle of salt and pepper and just let it incorporate for a few minutes. Remove the garlic. Once the pasta is warmed, plate the meal and sprinkle with other half of roughly chopped basil. Shave some cheese on top – or not.

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That’s it. Pour yourself another glass of white wine and scarf it down fast, because you can’t believe how delicious it is. Mmmmmm…

This dish is easy to make and fairly quick. When the garden gets growing again, it will be easy to harvest fresh herbs. Now I just need to figure out how to forage for wild mushrooms…..

Happy Cooking!