our greatest expression & a first-in-twenty-years garden.

tomato-basilthere’s just something about having my hands in the dirt & watching things grow.

peaceful and grounding.

soothing. intentional. life-giving. healing. hopeful.

when i was 12 years old i had surgery, and when i got home after too many days in the hospital, apparently i walked straight through the house to the backyard to check on my vegetable garden.

for our wedding, we got a lemon tree instead of a unity candle. to commemorate our first anniversary we got a fig tree.

to celebrate the birth of our son and my husband’s sweet grandpa’s life-richly-lived, we got a beautiful Charles White peony.

my mother’s day gift this year was a little stunner of a rose bush. as if the sweetly scented, delicate, creamy-apricot-y blossoms weren’t enough, the name is fantastic: Champagne Wishes.

and this spring, i got to build my first garden at our very own house. to say that it’s been a treat to spend mornings and evenings watching things grow is an understatement. for Christmas and my birthday, i asked for a gift certificate for supplies. i poured over catalogues and websites hoping to find just the right mix of trusted, must-grow and fun, new-to-me flower and vegetable varieties to plant in my first-in-twenty-years garden.

as seed-starting and mother nature would have it, there has been plenty of trial & error, anticipation, shriveled seedlings, and excitement woven throughout these past few learning-laden months. i’ve planted & re-planted seeds. some sprouted the first time. some sprouted the second time. some sprouted when i tossed a handful on a patch of bare dirt a few weeks ago. others i’ll try again next year. we had a big storm in the spring with wind that scattered my fledgling vegetable plants, damaging many of them. and as for the raised garden, i planted it late in the season and for sure planted more than i had space for.

we have to start somewhere, right? and sometimes starting is the most important step, even if the rest looks a little more trial & error and a little less polished & perfected. as it turns out, i’m ok with this year being more about simply enjoying that i finally get to have a garden and a yard to experiment in, learning through experience, and tucking observations & tidbits away for next year. i’m a rookie, i tried some things i knew could be challenging, and i often learn best as i go. or maybe i’m just in la-la land since somehow my dahlias & sweet peas are blooming after having absolutely zero success last year. that alone is a gigantic – and beautiful!- win in my book.

florals

as i’ve spent mornings and evenings watering, weeding, and watching our backyard actually turn into something rather pretty, i’ve thought a lot about what it is about gardening that draws me in. because, truth be told, it’s a lot of work. much more work than i anticipated it being back in march/april when my mind was a swirl of idyllic daydreams. it was a fair amount of work & time to build the raised bed. planting took time to plan, prep, and actually do. since our yard was full of random overgrown bushes, digging everything up & preparing the beds was a task and a half. and now the watering, worrying about 90º+ days, and maintaining everything takes time away from other things i’d like to be doing.

but even with all of that, gardening brings me incredible joy & thankfulness, and i’m realizing two things.

dahlias

first, i want to pass gardening on to charlie in some way. not that he’ll want to be in the garden with me all the time or will be a farmer some day…but just the simple joy of watching something grow. the being-together-ness of it. planting seeds with him this spring was an experience i’ll always treasure, and it’s been so fun to see him still get excited to water the plants (tonight’s entertainment: him running back & forth between his water table & a planted container on the patio, watering the rhubarb).

i love that sometimes as he plays in the backyard, he’s running over to me with a bubble wand, as i prune the tomato plants, so that i can blow bubbles with him or with a toy from his water table, as i snip flowers for a bouquet, for me to come splash with him. i’m thankful that he sees and experiences what’s growing around him and that it’s all part of where he lives, plays, and is learning about the world around him.

gardening buddy

second, and probably the most enduring truth in my life about gardening is that it holds immense hope for me. and when so much these days feels uncertain, hard, or discouraging, getting my hands in the dirt, catching a new blossom opening, and watching our vegetables grow feels…healing. it causes me to take a deep breath. to slow down. it restores something that was missing…something that i can’t quite put into words but am deeply grateful for.

floret_truckthe process of creating our little garden began over the winter as i thought ahead to the promise of warmer days. then in march/april when we were all completely over winter, i was able to tuck seeds into their little piles of dirt with hopeful anticipation…waking up each day to see what had sprouted overnight, watching them stretch and grow. once the days were warmer, i nestled the seedlings that had soldiered on through the long, cold winter into the ground, believing that one day, a little bud just might pop out.

then one did! and another. and another! then things started to grow much bigger than i imagined (hello 6 foot tomato plants?!)…some budded but didn’t blossom…a storm/extreme heat left their marks. i know in my head that it’s just a garden/plant/seed, but when those things happened, i felt guilty for having been over-zealous and planting too much, for not planning better, for not thinking of all the random scenarios so that i could have avoided them. and you know what i’m learning (albeit very slowly and with lots of over-thinking)?

sprouts

it’s ok. the plants figure it out. earlier this spring, after a particularly damaging storm hit their farm, our CSA (and favorite) farmer said, “[the plants] mostly just simply re-grow…sometimes even growing back even bigger and more bountiful than before. what a lovely example of resilience for us all as we weather life.” oh my heart, if that it’s so. dang. true.

veggie babes

and i figure it out, too. i trim the squash back to keep them from trampling the carrots. i found 6 foot polls to stake & secure the tomato plants. i let the shallots go & will plant them in a different spot next year. the peony is in the ground now (so its growth won’t be confused by my planting it too late), and i’m guessing it will be just fine. i’ve learned how to prune a rose bush and lemon tree. i’ll try ranunculus again next year.

garden bouquet

while there are things i’ll do differently next year that may result in a few more wins, there will still be lots of learning. and that’s a really good thing. because it means i’m still trying. still hoping. still getting to have these crazy fun, life-giving, special experiences with my boy.

while i have the wonderful gift of gathering little fistfuls of blooms that i grew. watching tiny cantaloupe buds turn into actual growing melons…streaky red-yellow tomatoes grow, slowly but surely…peppers slowly transition from green to bright red.

both/and. the tension of growth & learning, letting go & transitions, holding hope & trusting.

for a seed to achieve its greatest expression,
it must come completely undone. the shell cracks,
its insides come out, and everything changes.
to someone who doesn’t understand growth,
it would look like complete destruction.

~ cynthia occelli

 

lunchtime glory days & a salad “recipe.”

in college, my favorite lunch spot was Mrs. Green’s. to my great benefit, it was right next to the business school that i spent many seemingly endless days at for 2+ years. had Chick-fil-A been in good old Harrisonburg at the time*, much less fifty steps from my home-away-from-home, i’m not sure how i would have fared. but i digress.

Mrs. Green’s was in the basement of a building, and – maybe for choosing lettuce and vegetables? – the unexpected rewards of lunch there were the sunshine & lake views. the back side of the building was lower than the front, so our tired minds & sleepy peepers welcomed the vitamin D and entertainment from the ducks playing in Newman Lake.

it was a surprise to exactly no one that the easiest part of lunch, for me, was deciding where to go. however, once i was there, all bets were off. the spread of deliciousness to choose from was fantastic. different types of lettuce, spring greens, spinach…endless vegetables & proteins & fruit…toppings, toppings, & more toppings…dressings. all ready & waiting. it’s a good thing we paid by visit, not by plate weight.

those were lunchtime glory days! in trying to channel my inner Mrs. Green, this little ditty has become my faithful go-to. with a little prep (roasting beets & shaking up a jar of dressing) that is mostly hands-off (hooray!), i can throw it together quickly, it travels well, and, so far, it’s been a crowd-pleaser, too.

beets are a vegetable that i first started to explore, basically out of sheer necessity, six years ago. i joined a CSA for the first time, and these little jewels were, shall we say, bountiful. the only thing i connected beets to up until that time were the magenta, pungent pools of pickled, rubbery cubes on salad bars, but i was hopeful. i mean, how could something so pretty (deep purple! gold! striped! even the greens are cool) not have at least a little potential?!

friends, i’m here to tell you that i found their potential. and it’s delicious. just sweet enough, velvety, good both warm and cold, and easy. that’s maybe one of their finer features on the topic of weekend prep for weekday meals. this delightfully thrown together salad has all the right things going on between crisp greens, sweet/savory beets, creamy avocado & feta, fresh berries, and salty nuts all mingling with the maple balsamic vinaigrette.

with beets and greens rocking it in our CSA boxes and berries at the peak of their season, i’ve been a pretty happy camper re-living a little slice of those good old glory days.

*seriously, the pickins were slim in suuuper-small-town VA when i was there. it was a BIG day when we got a Super Walmart in addition to the regular Walmart.

:: roasted beet salad with maple balsamic vinaigrette ::
how to roast beets adapted – barely – from the kitchn

beet salad with maple balsamic vinaigrette

salad recipes sometimes seem a little silly to me because you can throw together whatever you like & happen to have. however, just as quickly as i say that, sometimes i need to see a new pile of goodness to keep my salad rotation – pardon the pun – fresh. with all of that said, the list of ingredients below are the the cast of characters that are often on hand at our house, but sub in whatever you have & love!

i used the kitchn’s recipe for oven roasted beets the first time i made them this way. their instructions are great, but in the interest of keeping things all in one place, i’ve outlined the process with my adjustments below. i roast a bunch in one batch over the weekend, peel & dice them, and they’re read to go all week.

ingredients

salad
1½ cups greens
⅓ cup roasted beets, diced
⅓ cup roasted sweet potato, diced
¼ avocado, diced
⅓ cup cooked chicken, diced/shredded
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
handful of fresh or dried berries
nuts or seeds (sunflower seeds, pepitas, chopped pecans…whatever you like)
maple balsamic vinaigrette

maple balsamic vinaigrette
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
½ teaspoon dry mustard powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

instructions

maple balsamic vinaigrette
add all of the ingredients to a jar of your choice (pint sized or larger) & shake to combine.

roasted beets

  1. preheat oven to 400º.
  2. tear off a piece of aluminum foil that’s big enough to create a little packet for the amount of beets you’re roasting. set the foil on a baking pan/sheet.
  3. if your beets still have the greens on them, cut them off right where they connect to the beet.
    *save your stems & greens! they are great washed, cut, and mixed into your salad greens, sautéed as a side or mixed in to eggs, in smoothies, or lots of other ways. this salad from sara at sprouted kitchen is the bomb.
  4. scrub the beets a little & and toss them onto the foil. no need to dry them; extra water is actually good. it will create some steam in the foil packet & will help the skins slide off even more easily. (before i seal up the foil, i make sure there is a tablespoon or so of water in the packet.)
  5. trim off any rough parts of the beets if you’d like, but even that’s probably not necessary.
  6. roll the top & sides of the aluminum foil to create a little rectangular packet.
  7. slide the pan into the oven & roast for 45-60 minutes (45 for smaller beets, 60 for larger).
  8. take the pan out of the oven & let the beets cool, still enclosed in the packet, for 20 mins or so.
  9. peeled roasted beetopen up the packet, and when the beets are cool enough to touch, apply a little pressure & a downward motion to the skin of the beet, and it should slide right off.

 

 

a happiest place & veggie fried quinoa.

cooking is, and has always been, one of my happiest places. it soothes, refreshes, motivates, & heals me. i like to start with a clean kitchen & open work surfaces so i have a full arsenal of vessels & tools to pick from and plenty of space to spread out. then a little more cleaning – this time the ingredients – before prepping, & chopping. i love the sound of the water, the rhythm of the knife, the colors as the ingredients find their order, & the aromas as it all comes together…mmm.

there are pictures of me in the kitchen spanning almost every age, i think. one of my favorites (that i’m still trying to find) is of me standing on the open dishwasher door, probably not even 2 years old. my mom was making brownies, & i wanted to help mix the batter :o)

my love for the kitchen grew deeper as i grew up. i had cookie parties with friends, i baked with all the kids i babysat ([insert unfathomably messy toddler & kitchen images] – totally worth it), & in college my roommates & i cooked dinner on thursday nights before Friends came on. the connection that cooking creates for me is indescribable. it connects me to deepest places in my spirit that i can forget in the hustle & bustle of a tedious day. it connects me to family & friends. as if that wasn’t enough goodness, over the past 5 months, i’ve been able to experience yet another connection: i’ve been incredibly blessed to be able to share my love of cooking with my most favorite cooking partner of all.

i can’t wait to keep sharing & learning together in the kitchen. cooking through what i can already see will be a growing collection of incredible cookbooks, trying new ingredients, supporting our beloved CSAs, exploring farmer’s markets, gathering loved ones around our table. sharing life, joy, sorrow, celebration, stories.

and, one day, passing our passion on to our own family. what a gift this life is!

:: veggie fried quinoa ::
adapted from peas & crayons

veggie fried quinoa

you can truly make this recipe your own in so many ways. you could simplify everything by subbing frozen veggies. if you pre-cook quinoa & keep it in the fridge or freezer, that makes things even easier. sometimes we soak our quinoa*, and sometimes we cook the quinoa in vegetable or chicken stock to add a little extra flavor.

2 cups quinoa
2 1/2 – 3 cups water or vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 lb chicken, ground pork, shrimp, etc., optional
1 tbsp butter or oil (coconut or olive oil work well)
1 small onion, diced
2 – 3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 celery ribs, diced
2 carrots, diced
1/2 cup peas or edamame
2 – 3 eggs
2 – 4 tbsp low sodium tamari or soy sauce
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 tsp ground ginger, optional
1 tbsp sesame seeds, optional

to prepare quinoa
first, rinse quinoa in mesh strainer for a few minutes (to rinse of the bitter outer coating). add rinsed quinoa to medium sauce pan & enough water to cover quinoa by a half inch. bring the water & quinoa to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until water evaporates (7-10 minutes). quinoa will be al denté.

to prepare veggies/protein
in a large sauté pan, heat butter or oil over medium heat. add half of the onion & cook 1-2 minutes. if you’re including a protein, add it to the pan with the onions and sauté until cooked through; remove from pan & keep warm in a medium sized bowl.

return pan to heat and add remaining onion, carrots, & celery. stirring occasionally, cook vegetables until they are tender (about 5 minutes). next, add garlic & peas or edamame and cook 1-2 minutes longer. remove sautéed vegetables from the pan, adding them to the bowl with cooked protein.

place pan back on stove. if needed and/or if you want, now might be a good time to add a little more butter or oil to the pan. crack eggs into pan & scramble, cooking to desired texture.

to assemble
once eggs are cooked, you can begin adding everything back to the pan: quinoa, veggies, and protein, if included. add tamari or soy sauce, salt, & pepper. if you are including ginger or sesame seeds, you can add them now, too. mix to combine & warm all the ingredients.

* soaked quinoa has a softer texture, but it also has nutritional benefits. i first learned about soaking quinoa from summer, then read more from the nourshing gourmet. it is an easy, almost entirely hands-off process that includes rinsing the quinoa, covering it with water & mixing in a little lemon juice, raw cider vinegar, or kefir, & letting it sit for 8 hours or so before cooking it however you usually do.