Friday, January 23, 2015

My seeds are here!

This may be the most exciting part about gardening! or is it when they start to sprout? or maybe when I get a veggie?  Well I guess for me there a lots of exciting parts, but this is definitely on the top of the list.

What's more exciting than getting seeds in the mail?  Seeds in cute packaging!

Out west our summer starts early so last night I planted a few seeds inside to give them a little head start before I plant them outside.

Not only do I garden because it's fun and I want fresh organic veggies in my back yard, but also because I'm cheap.  I prefer to start my plants from seed to save money and I start them in any container I can find.  I then label the containers with paint so I know which seedling is which when I transplant them outside.

Every year I try new plants and keep the ones that did well the previous year.  Gardening in the desert is always an experiment, every year is different and every year I encounter a new pest.  Here is what I am planting this year and I will keep you posted on how they work out.

These guys have done great in the past and get to come back:

Greencrop Bush Beans - My Grandma grows these back east and loves them, so last year I tried them                                         out here and couldn't believe how well they did. 
Basil- Italian Genovese


Parsley- Moss Curled

Bachelor's Button- multiple colors

Marigolds- multiple colors

Cosmos- multiple colors

Cherry Tomatos - Lizzano

Mint- This stuff grows like a weed so I always keep it in little containers.

Thyme- A few plants actually made it through the winter this year.

Oregano- Comes back on it's own every year and grows like a weed.

New for this year:

Basil - Thai, Red Rubin, Lemon, and Cinnamon

Eggplant- Long Purple - Last year a friend of mine grew these Long Purple/Japanese eggplants with
                                        great success.
Cucumbers- Armenian Burpless 

Chile Peppers- Pasilla Bajio and Ancho/Poblano

Yellow Summer Squash- Cube of Butter

Green Summer Squash- Cocozelle - Last year I grew a different variety and it did alright so I'm
                                      going to try a slightly different one this year.

Mustard Spinach-  Supposed to be hardier than spinach, so I am hoping it can take the heat.

I am hoping to have everything outside and growing sometime in March...

Monday, January 12, 2015

My Current Paint Crush

If you know me in the "real" world then you know I love to decorate and redecorate everything.  As a kid I was pretty lucky and my mom let me express myself through my room and my clothes.  When I look back now I have no idea what I was thinking most of the time, but that's how we learn right? Trial and error? ...and let's be honest that's still pretty much how I operate today, I am constantly trying out new things and redoing them until I'm happy.

So with all of this decorating I have been reusing and refinishing furniture since I was a teenager.  I've tried ALOT of methods...I have tried sanding which is alot of work and messy.  I have tried using a chemical stripper which is even more of a mess and dangerous because when a label says not to get that product on your skin or in your eyes, I inevitably will do both.  I have even tried using a safe green soy chemical stripper with no luck.  Then after all of that you still have to stain or paint and do a top coat which involves even more sanding.  It's just exhausting and half way through the project I am so over it, which is why when I heard about Annie Sloan Chalk Paint I could not wait to try it.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint is now my go to product whenever I need to refinish something.  At first I was very skeptical.  Did I really not have to sand or strip the furniture? Will it really cover? Will it actually hold up?

My very first project with the paint was this bergere chair I found at a local Salvation Army store.  It desperately needed some love and I was dying to try the chalk paint.

All I did was wipe the wood clean with some soap and water then paint, no sanding!  I used the color Versailles and it took 2 full coats then I went back over a few spots a third time.  I waited a day then put on the Annie Sloan Clear Wax.  I am thrilled with the way it came out and how much easier it was.  I painted this chair almost 2 years ago and it still looks great.

My most recent project with the chalk paint was this little vanity I picked up at a garage sale. 

I saw the cute little wooden wheels and had to have it.  The seller was an older guy who told me he had picked it up years ago with the intention of refinishing it himself, but after some sanding gave up and never finished.  There were a few rough spots here and there that I sanded down smooth and I sanded the top so I could stain it.  Once the top was done I covered the rest of it with 3 coats of Paris Grey.  I lightly distressed the edges and sealed the entire piece with the Clear Wax. This little guy now lives by my back door and catches all our mail and belongings when we walk in.  

If you have not experimented with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint yet trust me you will not be disappointed.  I am already dreaming up my next project and I'm thinking it will be a piece for my back yard.  I can't wait to share that with you and see how this stuff holds up outdoors. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Is it Spring yet?

Today was an absolutely gorgeous day, it is spring right?  Winter's over?  I really wish it was.  I received my favorite seed catalog, Botanical Interests, in the mail the other day and I have been dreaming about what to plant this year ever since.  It was so lovely out today so I spent most of the afternoon cleaning up and doing a little pruning around the yard.  I love to garden and work on our little yard, except when it is the middle of summer, then I will tell you I hate it and it's a stupid idea.  I have small pots every where with herbs and flowers, but my main section is in the very back of yard behind our garage.  I have a few planters that I fill every year with different veggies and it's a constant experiment.  If something works it gets to come back next year, if it can't make it through the heat, gets too buggy, or takes too much water or work it gets kicked to the curb.  I currently have a pomegranate bush, rose bush, blackberry bush, hydrangea,  6 cabbages, and some garlic.

But this year I want more.  I want more space and more veggies.  I want to add a large raised bed with a little olive tree in the middle for a little protection from the sun.  I just hope the Mr. is on board since he will be in charge of building the raised bed.  This is what I have in  mind...

Don't be jealous of my drawing skills, it took years of practice to become this skilled....

I will keep you posted on the progress of my little plan, but for today I will have to settle for something a little smaller to satisfy my need to play with something green.  

I have had this jasmine plant sitting on my counter for almost a year now and he needs a little help.  I love this little guy because when these flowers bloom it is amazing, the smell fills my entire kitchen.  The only problem with him is that he is a bit ugly and out grew the little trellis he is growing up.  

So...I ordered these super cute topiary frames from Factory Direct Craft on Amazon to spruce this guy up a bit.

It was incredibly quick an easy, I just pulled out the old moss and trellis and inserted the new frame into the dirt.  I then carefully wrapped the vines up and around the metal frame and secured the vines in place with some raffia.

It will take him a little bit longer to completely cover the frame, but I enjoy having something green to play with in the house.  I threw some new moss on top of the dirt and he was all done with his little makeover.  Now back to daydreaming with my seed catalog...

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Snow Day Fun, or Not...

One of the things I love about our neighborhood is the events they hold for kids and families.  Yesterday they held a "Snow Day" for the kids which is very fun considering we live in the desert.  There were snacks and most importantly snow! They brought in a huge ramp/mountain for sledding and covered the whole thing with snow.  Tons of kids showed up and stayed long after the event was cleaned up and the mountain taken down.

This morning the park was empty and there was still quite a bit of snow left so it was the perfect time to take my "kids" to the park to play.  I was so excited for them to get to play in the snow for the first time so we all ran to the park.  However, once we got there  I was the only one left excited.   They had no idea what it was and would jump over the small piles and only wanted to walk in the grass.  I'm sure they were not thrilled about the cold stuff on the their feet.  I should have put their shoes on, but I was a bad pet parent and was just in such a hurry to go play in the snow.  I made them walk in it for a couple minutes convinced they would change their minds, but no such luck.  Oh well, I guess they are truly desert doggies.  At least I got a couple pictures of them looking cute in it.


 Leo (in green) and Morty

 quickly pulling me off the snow

Saturday, January 3, 2015

My attempt at Shortbread Cookies

Every year my mom and I bake tons of Christmas cookies together and every year we eat them all and wish we hadn't.  Don't get me wrong, they are delicious and I often thought Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without them, but this year which may be the first time ever we didn't do it.  Instead of a full day baking and weeks of eating I decided to make just one cookie to enjoy on Christmas day.  

Two years ago my parents went to Scotland and brought me back a shortbread mould and a shortbread recipe from their friends that they stayed with and this was the perfect time to try it out.  

I must confess right away, this post was supposed to happen before Christmas and my cookies were supposed to be amazing on my first try.  Of course, as with many of my plans things went wrong and it's my fault.  Here's what went wrong and what went right on my second try.

Here is the recipe and my story...

8 oz Unsalted Butter
8 oz Plain Flour
4 oz Corn Flour
4 oz Caster Sugar

First lets talk about the ingredients and what to use in America since this recipe is from Scotland.  I did a little research and read that the butter is super important since that's where the flavor comes from.  In Scotland the butter is different than it is here, they have different cows; their cows are cuter and they make different tasting butter.  I was happy to find at Sprouts and Wholefoods a butter from Ireland and England.  The butter from Ireland was cheaper so that's what I bought, I'm cheap.   

Their plain flour is the same as our all purpose flour and it was easy to find corn flour.  The caster sugar was a little more tricky, I read that you can find it here but it's expensive so I decided to make my own.  Caster sugar is a very fine sugar, but don't get it confused with powdered sugar.  You can take you own granulated sugar and grind it down into a finer sugar and use that.  I read about some people using a food processor and a coffee grinder, so coffee grinder it was.  

Once your sugar is ready to go add the butter at room temperature and all the other ingredients into a large bowl and mix well.  Some recipes online say to do this by hand but Martha Stewart says this is only the case because in the olden days they did not have power.  As Gwyneth Paltrow knows you do not argue with Martha, so in the mixer went my ingredients.

This is what it looks like all ready to go and this is where my problems started.  I first attempted to use the mould my mom gave me and it never worked.  I would get the dough in the mould put in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes, but I could never get the dough back out to bake.  Yes, I tried buttering it, I tried flouring it, I tried buttering and flouring, I tried everything and it just never worked out for me.  Some day when I figure it out I will post it but today is not that day.  Martha Stewart uses really cute tart moulds which I do not have, so I used an old pie pan.  You can split the dough in half and fill 2 pans with this recipe. 

This dough is really sticky so use some cling wrap when smoothing the dough into the pan and then prick some holes all over so it doesn't rise too much in the oven.

My cookies did rise a little and the holes disappeared every time. Oh and you see that tea pot cookie cutter in the picture? I had the genius idea of using the dough like sugar cookie dough to make shapes..this did not work out, the dough just turns into blobs in the oven. 

Now here is where I had the biggest problem...

All over the internet people were giving different temperatures and one person even said to bake at a high temperature for 5 minutes and then turn it down.  Well instead of just following the recipe I had and cooking it for 45 minutes at 320 degrees Fahrenheit I got creative and cooked it at a high temperature.  The dough bubbled! Crazy bubbles all over and the cookies were not pretty.  They tasted fine but they were extra crumbly and ugly.

After Christmas I had a chance to make these again, this time I followed the rules and cooked them at 320 degrees Fahrenheit.  You do not want them to brown just to firm up, so start checking on them early, maybe 25 to 30 minutes in and leave them until they are golden and firm.  

Take them out, sprinkle with some of the fine sugar, and cut them into slices.  If you wait too long to cut them they will break.  Once they have cooled a little transfer them to a cooling rack to finish.

bubbly, extra crumbly, ugly, but tasty cookies

At last! A pretty, no bubbles cookie.