The Garden Wrap-up: 10 Commandments for Novice Gardeners

Well, like all good things…the summer garden is coming to an end…at least the first round of it! The bugs have invaded!!
It has definitely been an encouraging season…I have never had so many squash, cucumbers, and beans coming out of my ears!! It’s been so wonderful to have extra to share! We even have a freezer full of squash for when I get the wintertime blues and need some summer sunshine. Ya know? I did learn a few things…let me share with you my lessons learned.

10 Commandments of Gardening with Erica (aka-The Novice)

  1. Thou shalt cage your tomatoes before they are bushes.
  2. Thou shalt secure said tomato cages in order to prevent them from blowing over in the freak summer storms.
  3. Thou shalt not plant thy zucchini plants so close together that you can’t reach the zucchini.
  4. Thou shalt not plant pokey cucumbers again. The smooth skinned ones are much nicer to your poor fingers.
  5. Thou shalt uproot and burn your diseased tomato plants very early on so as not to infect other plants.
  6. Thou shalt trellis your beans…Even if they are “bush” beans. Unless you fancy digging in bushes to discover said beans.
  7. Thou shalt also trellis your cucumbers so as to avoid the crazy vine maze they create. Unless you just really like vine mazes and watching your kids continually trip over rampant cucumber vines.
  8. Thou shalt let nature do its thing and not too concerned when your compost pile starts sprouting strange plants of unknown origin.
  9. Thou shalt adopt and accept the motto “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again…and again…and again.”
  10. Thou shalt let go of the notion of perfection. Weeds are friends right?
  11. (I know it’s more than 10…one more for good measure). Never let your garden go a day without picking produce, lest you find baseball bat sized zucchini. Tomato baseball anyone?

Who doesn’t love summer bounty? We have been totally blessed by it this year…there is so much JOY in going to your backyard to pick things for dinner. The kids especially love it. Everyday the girls would go out and pick a small cucumber from the garden and some strawberries and then go swing on their new play set. Incredible.

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We still have more coming! The winter squash is coming along nicely! Hopefully we will get some pumpkins out of that!! I had watermelons planted, but unfortunately they didn’t do too well. Boo. See # 9 above. The sweet potatoes will be harvested in the fall! I am super excited about that! I hope they do as well as they did last year since we planted 10 times more than we planted last year! That’s a lot of potatoes yo.

Ok, I’m off to roast up some coffee for Coffee With a Mission at church this week!

"It's Begining to Smell a lot Like Coffee"

Everywhere you go…

Ok, so I might have a little too much Christmas spirit in me at the moment. Never a bad thing right? Unless it happens to be 75 degrees outside on December 6th. Which is what it is. December 6th, and 75 degrees. Does make for a little damper on your Christmas moods. I mean, I’m reaching for the iced sweet tea and indulging in my bad dental addiction-chewing on ice. Don’t spank me.

What I SHOULD be reaching for in these supposed cold winter months is Coffee. Ah yes. Freshly roasted, freshly brewed, dark, hot, belly warming goodness. I may or may not also have a bad addiction to hot black beverages as well. Funny. Ice and coffee. Like total opposites. Unless of course you combine the two. The iced coffee inventor should be kissed. He probably is. AND he probably hates coffee AND ice. Cuz ya know….have you ever been into a coffee shop and asked the opinion of the barista on a good cup and they are like “well I don’t actually drink coffee.” Say what?  Its like the skinny chicks (sorry, I’m not trying to stereotype) who work at like Five Guys hamburger joint and when you ask them about the burger they are like “I’m actually a vegetarian and have never tried our sandwiches.” Right. “Double cheeseburger with bacon” I’d say. Not that I eat there very often. Maybe once a year. Don’t want ya’ll thinking I’m addicted to cheeseburgers too. Just cheese and bacon.

So what was this post about again? Oh right coffeeeeee. (It’s getting late so it’s been a while since I’ve had some…ya know?)

So we’re making the plunge! We are going to start (very small I shall say) roasting coffee for family and friends to see how it goes. As most of you know, our dream and goal is to get a larger commercial sized roaster, plug that baby in and roast us some big time orders. You know, get all technically a business and stuff. It’s a hard process and will take a significant amount of investment…but we are excited that it might happen someday! I’m excited. Can you tell?

If you’d like us to roast something for you and are looking for a specific variety of coffee…let us know! We have lots of connections to get lots of different origins! We try very diligently to order the green coffee beans from trust worthy companies who can give us information about the farm that it came from. We make it a point to buy Fair Trade or Socially Sustainable coffee as well as organic. I feel that I can get behind what I offer to others because I know that I am treating everyone in the line with integrity and dignity. For me, that’s worth the extra few bucks! Know where your food comes from!

Alright. So that’s that.

December 6, 2012. One year ago! On a COLD day.

And in case you needed (which of course you don’t) any further convincing that you should try out some coffee…our customer support central answering system is excellent.

(Also taken one year ago)

Fall Garden and Spring Planning

Alex and I have done some back-breaking, brow-sweating work these past couple of weekends trying to get the spring garden bed in place. We choose to create a new garden bed in a place more conveniently located behind the house. We got two loads of beautiful, black, compost which we laid on top of newspaper. We then covered the compost with our lovely woodchips, about 6 inches deep. We plan to get some manure and sprinkle that on top and let the bed rest until spring. Many have questioned our “No-Till” gardening method, and while I am very new to it all, I genuinely feel like this is how we are going to heal this land. There are some great articles online that talk about this no-till philosophy and permaculture.  Anyways, not to bore you. Someday, when I am more skilled I will post a more informative post on that!

In the meantime, we built an 18 x 30 ft garden bed, which ends up about 540 square feet. This is more than double what we did this year! So, I am excited about that. Obviously, in comparison to the land, this is still a very small bed but it took over 10 hours of work just to get that. Any bigger and we’re going to need some serious equipment. Not to mention all this while pregnant! I am pretty sure this baby is coming out with a pitchfork in hand! Lol!

photo 3 (22)Here’s the progress..as you can see the difference between compost and woodchips.

photo 5 (5)Elyse is checking out the new garden! Kids love this!

photo 2 (30)Good rich earth. Man, I love the smell of it! So excited for next spring!

In my current garden, I harvested all of the sweet potatoes last week. I am not sure exactly how many I got, but my guess is around 30-40 pounds. Not entirely sure. I’d say it was worth the 6 dollars I spent on the plant slips!

My tomato plants are still producing, but most of the tomatoes are only turning slightly orangish- not getting to red. If I put them on the counter they turn redder over the week. So, overall guess the tomatoes weren’t a total flop. I’ve got some lettuce planted and it is growing very nicely. I also have some collards, but they don’t seem to be taking off as much. Hmm. They’re not dead yet though! Let’s see what else. Oh! I have a couple of snap pea plants that are doing well. I am sad that I literally only have like 4 plants of those growing, but oh well. This weather has been very confusing for plants lately.

photo 4 (9)So overall, with this last years garden, I am not thrilled with the results but I am not entirely disappointed. I got some great harvests of some things, like my sweet potatoes and squash. The pest issue was pretty significant and I need to come up with some better ways to help with that. I plan to be much more intentional with companion planting and using herbs and flowers in the garden next year. Hopefully, that will help some.

So what’s next for the MonroePost homestead? I am not sure exactly what’s in the lineup next but here’s a few projects we’re eyeing and trying to budget for!

  • Power to Alex’s garage
  • Finish garage organization
  • Build chicken/duck coop
  • Build a more sophisticated compost pile
  • Start a vermicompost system
  • Prepare old garden bed area to become the small orchard in the spring

We will keep you posted!

Chewy Delicious Cookies

Every now and then…wait…more like once a week…I get a craving for some cookies. Alex stumbled upon this recipe and the first time we made it we just looked at each other with wide eyes like “oh cookie where have you been all my life?” Ya’ll know I am not much of a cookbook girl, more of a blog-pinterest-make it up myself, kind of girl-so had he not tried these I probably never would have tried the recipe myself. Thank God for husbands who like to follow recipes. Rebel girl here. Anyways. After we made the cookies a few times we have tweaked a few things to make them match up more with our real foodie lifestyle, ya know. Good stuff.

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Now. I will warn you, these are highly, highly, HIGHLY addictive. I have been known to eat 4-5 in one sitting. I a humbly admitting this to you so that you don’t have to feel bad if you do the same. We’re paddling the same boat. No guilt. Tell yourself how much better these are for you than chemical laden alternatives that line the shelf of the stores. And we all know that most people can down a 1/2 dozen oreos in no time. *(Ps-that was not a hatin on Oreos sentence, I am just sayin…)

The other fun thing about these cookies is that they are entirely customizable. If you are a plain jane like me, I like just chocolate chips. Alex likes what we consider “trail mix” cookies with dried fruit, nuts and chocolate. Both entirely good. So add what you want, possibilities are endless for your “add-ins”. If you really want to be a rebel add some additional spices, such as nutmeg. Mmm. Just no oregano or anything like that, k?

Alright enough fluff. Here’s the recipe.

Chewy Delicious Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup sprouted flour (or combination of whole wheat and All-Purpose flour)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled *(If you use a cup or less of add-ins you can reduce butter to 4T).
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup organic sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses (don’t skip this!)
  • 1/2 cup to 11/2 cups Add-Ins (such as chocolate chips, nuts, coconut, dried fruit, etc.)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Whisk oats, flour, salt, cinnamon and baking soda together in a bowl.

2. In large bowl whisk melted butter, egg, vanilla and sugar together until combined.

3. Stir the oat mixture into this wet mix. Then fold in the add-ins.

4. Take approx 1 Tablespoon of dough and with slightly wet hands, roll into a ball and place on cookie sheet.

6. Bake on middle rack in preheated oven for 13-16 minutes (usually closer to the 16 min mark). You want the edges to look set but the middle to look a little underdone. Over baking these will lead to a brittle cookie [bad]. If you slightly under bake them they will turn out chewy and delicious [good]. Let the cookies cool on the pan for 5-10 mins before moving to a cooling rack. Don’t try to peel them off right away they will break!

7. Store in an airtight container.

Note: I have gotten word from a friend, Hi Cara!, that these freeze well. I’ve never tried freezing as they hardly make it to the next day. One time I suggested to Alex that we freeze some and he just looked at me. You know, the look, the…”Are you kidding me?” look. So yeah. Maybe if I made a double batch but that’s just dangerous. Lol.

Hope you enjoy!

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-Erica

 

 

 

Super Simple Sweet Potato Spectacular

I know you are laughing at my post title. Its pretty epic. So are these potatoes. I love sweet potatoes just about any way they are prepared. Baked, mashed, pie, fries (oh yum), cakes, waffles, etc, etc. So, no doubt I be loving this recipe. Found this recipe in an old, weird, paper, spiral bound book I got fo’ free somewhere. It even had an orange cover. I basically tweaked the recipe to my likin’ (hearing my country twang yet?).

Here goes…

Ingredients:

  • Sweet potatoes (use as many as you like-I could eat like 5) naw seriously 2-3 fit in a 12 inch skillet. So plan accordingly.
  • 1 T  PER POTATO (3 potatoes? Use 3 T oil) -cold pressed, unrefined coconut oil (do NOT sub anything else or skimp on this, k?)
  • pinch of salt
  • lil pinch of cinnamon sugar

Directions:

Peel sweet potatoes.

Slice potatoes in thin rounds (1/4- 1/8 in). Don’t go like paper thin as we are not making chips here, but slightly crispy gooey center rounds. I don’t have one of those fancy mandolin things but feel free to use it if ya got it. Otherwise, please use a sharp knife. (Thanks bro for sharpening my knives for me!)

Heat coconut oil in a skillet. [Word here: I love my cast iron skillet and use nothing else…I haven’t tried this in stainless steel or in non-stick so I apologize if your results aren’t 100% like mine if you don’t have a cast iron…but I recommend you get one. I got this one cuz it was cheap, works great for me. End Word.]

Next, carefully add the sweet potato rounds to the hot oil (not smoking or bubbling just hot). Try to keep a single layer (a few overhangs is ok!) Let them cook on one side for a few mins then flip them and continue to do that process until they start to brown up a bit. I find that my metal spatula works best (not in non-stick obviously though!). Now there is a perfect line between brown delicious and brown burned. Don’t go to the other side of the line. Keep your oil on like medium to prevent oil from getting too hot. You are not really frying these, you are more like pan-frying with a little oil. Also make sure every potato gets enough oil on it.

When it gets looking good add your pinch of salt, sug and cinnamon. Yum, these are so good I usually eat them on the way to the table. If for some reason they don’t turn out good, come on over and I’ll teach ya how to make some. I love these. Hope you do too!!

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Geeking out in the Kitchen- DIY Coconut Milk

For a while now I have been trying to completely rid my pantry of BPA lined cans. I have successfully gotten rid of canned beans (make your own and freeze them in “can” sizes 14.5oz to be exact), canned vegetables (that’s an easy one), & canned soup (gross, who eats that stuff anyways). I have ran into a few that I am having a hard time with. Tomatoes are probably the biggest challenge. Due the the acidity of the tomatoes BPA lining is the most effective. Some companies have ditched the BPA but only for another non-researched chemical. Yet still, other companies are packing tomatoes in glass or plastic making them slightly more desirable if it weren’t for the huge price increase. So, while I wait for my beloved huge tomato garden in the new house, where I can pack all my own tomatoes for the year in glass-I opt for the organic ones from Costco. The only two other canned goods in my pantry are fish and coconut milk. I’ll deal with fish another day since we barely eat any canned fish. Coconut milk on the other hand usually gets weekly use. LOVE that stuff. Apparently there are brands that do not use BPA in their cans or packaging, but some of those are the ones you get from the asian market. I love the asian market but I get s a little wigged out using stuff when I can’t read the packaging because it is in some foreign language. Hmm. So on a random forum I stumbled on someone was like “why don’t you make it instead.” Read: Erica says “whaaaaa??” I am ashamed to admit that was my reaction. My favorite story is my brother telling someone they can make waffles at home and they look at him blankly, speechlessly, “noo waay“. Awesome.

Anyways

Coconut milk. Yes, so I proceed to use the beloved Google (sorry hun, not a Bing lover yet)- I mean who goes around saying “Just Bing It!” No.

Homemade Coconut milk. It is possible. I have all the ingredients and the vital tool (I assume you need it)-A Vitamix. Off to the kitchen. Quickly-this could be epic.

Add 2 cups of warm water and 1 cup of unsweetened dried coconut into Vitamix and blitz to oblivion for a few minutes. Using a nut milk bag/sprouting bag (not as crazy as it sounds, ok?) strain the liquid out in a bowl or container. Revel in awe and amazement at your creation. I might stop drinking cows milk. This stuff is like milk from heaven. Seriously good. Then look in the bag at all the stuff you strained out- its like snow! I haven’t come up with an idea for this stuff yet but my mind is working. I am thinking that it is probably like coconut flour, which I have seen a lot of recipes for. Maybe mix back into smoothies or baked goods? Either way its fun to play with!

So there ya go. Preservative free, BPA free, coconut milk. I am sure I could also do with fresh coconuts but I have bad luck with those. I’m excited. Mine is currently chilling off in the fridge-and apparently it thickens up as it cools? Im seeing Ice Cream in my future.

 

Ok so here’s the recipe again in case you didn’t catch it.

Homemade Coconut Milk

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (could use less if you don’t mind a thinner milk)

Mix these TWO ingredients together in a blender (Vitamix)-try a regular one and let me know how it works

Strain the milk through the mesh bag listed above (could use cheese cloth or a very fine strainer I suppose)

Drink warm or chill off in fridge. Only keeps for a day or so- so just make what you need!

 

IMG_3274Dried Coconut (Don’t mind the dishes)

IMG_3275My Beloved (Yes I know I have a lot of beloveds)

IMG_3276Finished Coconut Milk Chilling in Fridge

IMG_3277The powdery snowy stuff!

Hooray for ditching another canned good!

Rootstocks, Cultivars, Fireblight oh My!

Decided to delve into the MASSIVE amount of information to learn a little bit on how to start our apple orchard. Whoa. It’s a bit overwhelming. I really wish they had like “apple orchards for dummies” book. Like anything, I think its really important to learn the “behind the scenes” info. I suppose I could just go out and buy an apple tree or two from a nursery, but I am quickly realizing there is more there than meets the eye. I want to know about this apple tree! So this week I am trying to learn about the different rootstocks (which in the beginning I didn’t even know what those were!), the different varieties (cultivars), the best varieties for organic growing, the best disease-resistant trees. There is so much to learn but I am feeling a little more confident with this new information under my belt. I feel like this will get us the best results in the long run, rather than being ignorant and then running into problems. With up-front info I know what I can expect when I grow a certain rootstock of apple tree, etc.

While I have a TON more information to learn here’s a few thoughts I have at the moment (subject to change!)

That’s it for now! Gotta go get the baby up from her nap!

 

red apple

 

© Borys2001 | Stock Free Images &Dreamstime Stock Photos

 

Cup of Peru

I can’t help but to think of a famous commercial line every morning “the best part of waking up is ________ in your cup.” I would have to agree that coffee is pretty much the best part of waking up. I would have to disagree that the unnamed brand is best. Far from it. Now, what I look forward to and would consider the best part of waking up is to taste a fresh batch of coffee that I have roasted. You see, after roasting green coffee beans they need to “rest” for a couple of days before grinding and brewing. There is a unique flavor profile that emerges when you give the freshly roasted beans a day or two to chill. If you tried to drink freshly roasted coffee, while it isn’t horrible, it has a lot of acidic and off balanced flavors. The rest time also lets you build a nice bit of anticipation so that when the day is finally here when you can brew it up, you are fully appreciative of the effort it took to get that coffee to your cup (and I am not just talking roasting here). As Alex mentioned in the previous post, there is a lot of farmer abuse in the coffee industry. I hate to say it, but that unnamed brand above is not innocent by any stretch of the imagination. I am not here to bash though. That is not my goal. As with any food that we eat, we appreciate knowing the origins, relationships, etc that are involved. How was the person who grew this food treated? Same goes with coffee. The best part of waking up is knowing that you are supporting family farmers and in exchange you get a delicious cup of hot unique coffee.

This morning we are enjoying a cup of Peruvian coffee. I roasted this on Wednesday at a nice medium to dark roast. This is one of my favorite coffee origins. Peru coffee is very smooth and rich with low acidity. I love “chocolatey” coffee and this definitely fits the bill. We appreciate the integrity of this coffee and I know that I honestly look forward to my pot of coffee love every morning.

If you cannot access freshly roasted coffee, we have recently started ordering from a guy online (Alex mentioned in previous post) Deans Beans. We just ordered a big batch of green coffee from him to try, but like Alex said, he sells roasted as well-at an extremely good price. This would be a great resource for all your coffee needs (until we get our big roaster of course-then you should buy from us!)