Saturday, February 28, 2015

Homemade Olive Oil Mayo

2 T. lemon juice
1 pastured egg from a reliable source (this will be eaten raw)
½ t. mustard powder
½ t. sea salt
¼ c. + 1 cup oil (I mix avocado oil, MCT oil, and olive oil but you can use all of a light-tasting olive oil)

Combine all of the ingredients except for a cup of oil into a food processor.  Look at the time. Turn it on.  Drizzle in the remaining cup of oil.  Take two minutes to do this. The sound of the mixture will change as it emulsifies.

This will keep for a month in the fridge. 

Use eggs like this is you can find them (fresh from the back yard).

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Friday, February 27, 2015

DIY Veggie Boxes & How to Start Your Backyard Garden

Spring! What better time to get started on that backyard veggie plot you've been meaning to do?  It is so fun with kids to plant seeds and veggie starts, and watch them grow, and pick and eat the spoils. 

But where to start?

1. Choose a location

The first thing you need to do when deciding to put in a backyard veggie box is to determine what space you have available.  Veggies do best with as much sun as possible; and, if this isn't possible, full morning sun is better for your box than afternoon sun.  A south-facing spot close to the house is where gardeners often like to put their boxes, since the veggies get extra protection from the house and lots of sun.

Also think about your daily view outside and where you spend your time outside.  There are conflicting theories on where to put your box based on this.  One theory says put it in plain view so you will see it and be inspired to work on it, and the other says to put it out of view so it doesn't look bad on the years you decide not to plant anything.  I am in the camp to put it in plain view and in a place where you spend time outside.  Then you can weed or water as you pass by instead of it being a chore.

Have some garden that could be spruced up?  Think about some perennial edibles as landscaping.  These are fruits and veggies that come back year after year.  A great low option in a full sun area is strawberries.  These send out runners with new plants every year, and kids love picking the ripe fruits.  They give fruit all summer long, and into the fall.  Mid-height are asparagus.  Did you know that these plants will produce every spring for up to 20 years?  A great higher option is blueberries.  We have also had great luck with golden raspberries.  These gems give twice annually.  Artichokes are an unusual-looking perennial that can actually be placed in an area with deer and survive.  Currants are also delicious and deer resistant, and can be part-shade.  Or how about replacing a decorative tree with a fruit tree?  Figs, persimmons, pluots, and plums do great in our area.  Or do you have any blackberry plants back there?  Learn how to trellis and manage the canes to keep them from becoming a nuisance, since they are delicious.

A backyard herb box is another perennial spot that could stand to be close to the back door, if you have sun there.  A bit of fresh rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano will go a long way in your cooking.  Keep some mint- in a pot- and it makes summer drinks sparkle.  Annual herbs like basil and chives are worth replanting every year (they die with the frost).

2. Determine the Size and Number of Boxes

Make sure you think about how far across you want to reach into the box, and space between your box or boxes.  As a rule of thumb, three feet should be enough so that you can still move between your boxes when they are overloaded with zucchini and tomatoes int he heat of summer.  I also don't like to go wider than four feet across, so we can reach in two feet from each side.  You never want to step on your dirt.  You could keep them at three feet wide for smaller arms.  We used to use old half wine barrels as veggie boxes; they are a great size.

3. Choose your Box Materials and Set it Up

Are you going to buy a kit?  Half wine barrels?  Another reused object?  You don't need to go much deeper than 6", though a foot or more in depth is common.  How about Trex or redwood?  All of these work.  The only real recommendation I have is not to use pressure treated wood, or wood with old lead paint on it, since the area will be kept moist and any chemicals in the wood will get into the soil and your food.

If you are going to build a box, they will cut the wood for you at Home Depot, and show you which screws to use, or which corner brackets.  You don't even really need a bottom; weed cloth under the dirt will do just fine.

4. Choose your Dirt

Ah, dirt. So much to say about dirt.  I read about a mix of a third vermiculite, a third mixed compost, and a third peat moss and am happy with it.  We add compost every year, the the peat moss and vermiculite keep it fluffy.  We also have to turn the soil every year to break up roots.

I have a friend who changes out her soil every year or two, and swears by the mix at Orchard.  Another book I read says to use ages horse manure as your base, and add other types of compost as you add the plants (by "types" and "mixed" for compost here, all I mean is that the source of compost is not all from one thing-- different veggies and foods and manure all mixed in give more nutrients to the soil).  They give away aged manure for free at Sienna Ranch if you want to give that one a try (it's in the back of the parking lot).

Every gardener you ask will give you a different answer about what to use.  They will all agree it is the heart of your veggie garden's success.

5. How are you Going to Water?

You can irrigate.  If you add a veggie system to your existing irrigation, I recommend giving it its own program.  When it is hot, you will want the water to go on daily.  When it's cooler, you can miss a day or two.

Some say to water by hand for this reason.  The thought is also that you will look at the veggies every day as you are watering, and pick weeds, or harvest, or thin seedlings, or whatever else needs to get done.

If you add irrigation, think about if you want to use drip or sprinklers.  The sprinklers can also be bubblers in the middle, or a middle circle sprayer, or half arcs on both sides.  The shape of your box will largely determine the spraying needs of your box.  I get frustrated with sprayers when my chard grows big in front of the sprayer and blocks the water from getting to the plants in back.  I get frustrated with my drip lines when I am planting and need to plant at the exact spot where the water comes out of the drip line.

If you have more than one box, make sure you put easy shut-off valves on each box for your irrigation.  This way, you can easily water some boxes and not others, depending on what you have planted.

6. Seeds or Starts?

The best advice we got our first year gardening was to buy starts.  Yes, they are more expensive.  But they have also sprouted already and you will get the spacing right (there is a tag on them that says how much space to leave between plants and they have already been thinned out) and it is very satisfying to watch them grow.

Seeds do, however, give you more variety.  There are often six or eight types of tomato starts at the store, but twenty types of seeds.  As you get more experience, too, you can save seeds from your best plants in your little microclimate and grow these every year.

When you buy either seeds or starts, think about what you like to eat.  Who cares about your gorgeous tomato plants if they make your face break out in a rash?  Don't like cucumbers?  Plant something else instead.

7. Pest Control

There is nothing sadder than waking up to check on your newly planed box of starts that you and the kids spent all day shopping for, and planting, and having had slugs eat every plant down to the nub overnight.  Okay.  There are many things more sad.  But this is avoidable.  There is a natural product called Sluggo that you sprinkle around and it keeps them away.  Some swear by leaving open beer cans around for the slugs to drown in.

Read about companion planting.  This is the idea that some plants compliment each other and like to be planted together.  The Native American planted corn, beans, and squash together for a reason.  You often see marigolds with tomato plants.

8. Kids in the Garden

My kids love to help in the garden.  They are 3 and 6 now, and point things out to me in other people's gardens.  It is so satisfying to have the neighbor kids come over and pick strawberries, or eat a warm cherry tomato on a hot day.

I like to give my kids real garden jobs, like turning the soil, carrying things, and harvesting.  We try to make them eat everything they pick (to discourage green things being picked-- they are quick to learn when something is ready this way).  I also keep some jobs to myself, like watering (in a drought), and I did most of the pruning when they were young (although they were able to do a lot with scissors instead of shears at a young age).

I have a kids' sized wheelbarrow for them, and little hand tools, and a small shrub rake.  The actual items, but smaller sized, work well for us.  They each have their own real garden gloves (Orchard sells these) and I have three kneeling pads.  In the tool corral at Home Depot, they sell a waist apron made of canvas for under $1 that is nice for holding supplies.  I have found that my kids love dressing for a job nearly as much as they like doing it.

Good luck!

I hope this gets you off to a good start!  Folks at the nursery are incredibly helpful, and it is so satisfying to have your family grow food at home. Pin It

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


I took this photo on 2/15.   Last year, it was a week later.

The year before that, it was in bloom the second week of March, as was the case the previous year.  

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Monday, December 15, 2014

DIY Kids Target Practice

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Kindergarten Printable Writing Paper with Picture Box and Name and Date

My son is working on writing and telling stories with pictures and words as he is learning to read at school.  He really loves it and wants to practice at home.  There are a number of books available at stores like Lakeshore Learning (a few of their things are below, with links to amazon).

But he was feeling like the pre-bound books were way too long for his stories.  He wanted just a page or two or three.  So we created a template when an online search didn't have what he wanted.  We made two printables, one with space for name and date, and the other without.  Enjoy!

Here is the writing paper with a box for pictures and name and date lines.

Here is the writing paper with just a box for pictures and lines for story writing.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Kids' Art: Popsicle Stick Snowflakes/ Stars

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Kids' Hanukkah Art: Dreidel Decorating

We have been getting ready for Hanukkah, and I saw this make your own dreidel kit and thought the kids would love it.

This was really fun for both ages (3 and 6).

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Kids Art: Make a Dreidel out of a coloring page and a pencil

We found this dreidel coloring page online (I didn't note from where- sorry~!) and cut and glued and taped and attached it to a pencil!  Super fun!!

The little one clutched his for hours.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hanukkah Recipes: Latkes and Cranberry Apple Sauce

Hanukkah is a holiday which celebrates the Jews in the old temple hunkering down during a war with enough oil to last only one night.  But...  the oil lasted in their candelabra for eight nights, which was a miracle.  

It wasn't typically a major holiday until fairly recently, when the Christmas hype and marketing caused people to overestimate its importance and start giving mounds of gifts.  Passover, in the spring, is a much more important holiday, as are Rosh Hashannah (the New Year, celebrated in the fall) and Yom Kippur (ten days after Rosh Hashannah).  

Families typically celebrate Hanukkah, also transliterated into being spelled as Chanukah or Chanukkah, by lighting the candles of the menorah at sundown, adding an extra candle for each night until the slots are all full.  While the menorah is being lit, the family says two prayers (a special one is added on the first night to mark how special it is to be together and start Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights).  The menorah is a special Hanukkah candelabra that is handed down through the generations, and kids in school often make them, so many times families have more than one.  The candles, also specially made for the holiday, are allowed to burn until they are finished, and the menorah was historically placed in the street-facing window to spread the light of the holiday.  

The commercialization of December has added gifts to Hanukkah.  Families used to give gelt, or money, and play games like dreidel and sing songs.  They eat latkes, cooked in oil to again remember the oil that lasted for eight nights.  In Israel they eat donuts for the same reason.  Nowadays families will either give a gift each night, or choose one night to exchange gifts or give the children more than one gift on one night.  Families have different traditions based on what their lineage is (Askenazi or Sephardic), and this is true of many Jewish holidays, especially with the traditional foods, which differ by region.  What is traditionally eaten by Jews whose ancestors are Russian is different than those with Spanish ancestry. 

My great-great grandparents came from Russia and Poland, which makes me Askenazi.  They emigrated to Ellis Island in the middle of the 19th Century.  Growing up, we celebrated Hanukkah with Latkes and Cranberry-Apple sauce, which was my mom's change on the typical apple sauce eaten with latkes.  Others prefer sour cream on their latkes, and I often serve them with dripped yogurt instead.   The menu for Hanukkah isn't really fixed, since it is so many nights, but there is often one night chosen to be celebrated more than the others.  In addition to serving latkes, often a brisket or roasted chicken is eaten, or chicken soup.

Traditional Potato Latkes (almost my Mom's recipe)

Growing up, we got to eat these exactly once per year, on one of the eight nights of Hanukkah.  It was a much-anticipated evening, since making them is so small feat.  I skip the potato peeling as an adult, and it shaves off a lot of the prep time.  We also like to have two skillets working at a time.  My home, however, smells like latkes for a week after making them~ just like it did when I was young. 

2 eggs
1 egg yolk
3 cups potatoes, grated and drained (we use the food processor)
2 T onion, grated
1/4 t. pepper
2 T flour (can substitute white flour with whole wheat, rice, or coconut flour without noticing)
1 t. baking powder
coconut or olive oil for frying

Mix ingredients in large bowl.  Cut open a stack of brown paper bags.  Heat oil about 1/4" deep in skillet.

Place mixture in to hot oil by tablespoonful and flatten.  Fry both sides. Take out onto cut open brown grocery bags, or layer in a Pyrex with the paper in between and keep warm in the oven at 200 degrees.

Serve with applesauce, cranberry-apple sauce, sour cream, or dripped yogurt (cultured cream cheese).  Best served HOT.  Recipe can easily be scaled up or down.

Egg-Free, Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Latkes

My husband and I started making these nearly a decade ago, when I stopped eating potatoes and vegetable oils like canola oil.  I have included an egg-free version, so you can see that substitute binders like flaxseeds and chia work just as well as eggs.  

3 eggs (3 T flaxseed meal or chia seeds soaked in 1/2 cup water for at least 10 minutes if egg-free)

3 cups sweet or regular potatoes (or a mix), grated and drained (food processor)
2 T grated onion
1 t salt
1/4 t pepper
2 T flour (rice or coconut flour if gluten free)
1 t baking powder
olive oil for frying

Mix ingredients in large bowl.  Cut open a stack of brown paper bags.  Heat oil about 1/4" deep in skillet.

Place mixture in to hot oil by tablespoonful and flatten.  Fry both sides. Take out onto cut open brown grocery bags, or layer in a Pyrex with the paper in between and keep warm in the oven at 200 degrees.

Serve with applesauce, cranberry-apple sauce, sour cream, or dripped yogurt (cultured cream cheese).  Best served HOT.  Recipe can easily be scaled up or down.

Cranberry Apple Sauce

Boil a bag of cranberries and three cut, cored, and (optionally) skinned apples with a cup of homemade chicken stock and a cinnamon stick. Lower to a simmer for 15 minutes.  Mash with a potato masher if you prefer a different consistency.

Cultured Cream Cheese

Cultured cream cheese is just a fancy way of saying dripped yogurt, or even Greek Yogurt.  This is delicious on crackers or bread, or even as a dip for veggies.

To make it, place your colander into a bowl.  Line it with a cloth (cheesecloth or similar~ even a light dish towel or cloth napkin would work).

Dump a quart or two of full-fat organic yogurt into the colander.  Place in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Save the liquid~ it is called whey and is useful for fermenting or it is high in probiotics and you could eat it plain or in a smoothie.

Using heads and feet make a thicker stock.  We usually use a carcass from a roasted chicken, and add a third of a pound of chicken heads, a third of a pound of chicken feet, and a few chicken necks.  We get all of our meat from our local meat club CSA Marin Sun Farms.  Their chickens are pastured on the heels of the cows, which is as good as it gets for chickens.
  1. Fill a stock pot with filtered water, the bones, a quartered onion with its peel, 3 roughly chopped carrots, the greens and middles of a head of celery, and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.
  2. Bring it to a boil.
  3. Skim off any foam.
  4. Lower to a low simmer, and simmer, covered, for 12 to 24 hours.
  5. Strain and store.  We like to use canning jars and put the lids on while hot so they sort of "can" themselves.  Many recommend to use stock within a week, but we feel like this gives us a bit more time with it.  We store it refrigerated and use it as often as possible-- often in place of water in cooking or just to drink as a beverage with meals.
As long as you are making this, you may as well go ahead and make some chicken soup!  Good ol' Jewish Penicillin.  

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Kids' Cooking: Making Pancake Batter from Scratch

We have been making these pancakes a lot, and my older son, who is in K, wanted me to write out the recipe so he could make the batter.

Now they can make these from start to finish, with only a little hovering by a grown-up.

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