In the garden: February

It’s fun to go to a garden center in spring to pick out baby plants to transplant into your garden. If you are looking for unusual or particular varieties of plants to grow in your garden, you might enjoy starting your own seeds instead. It’s a little more fuss than buying seedlings and takes a little space, but seed starting is a great option if you are looking to start your gardening fun while it’s still winter!

It’s a bit soon to start seeds in the upper Midwest because the plants won’t be able to get in the ground until the middle or end of May in most cases. I have a new LED grow light set-up so I started some arugula and salad mix a couple weeks ago; they will be ready to harvest and eat before I need to start seeds for the plants that will go outside.

My set-up has trays with a rack in them, wicking pads on top the rack, and then the trays with the seeds. Water goes in the section with the racks and the wicking pad moves water up to the base of the seedling tray. It’s great because I don’t need to water them daily (even though I admire and sweet-talk them almost daily!). I bought this set-up with the LED lights but a DIY version would be a fun project. Seeds like warm feet so a warm room or plant heating pad really help, as does a good light source. Sadly window light in most houses isn’t enough for starting seeds.

A Christmas Eve of cooking misadventures

Happy Holidays, readers! At the Yarnstead, we celebrate Winter Solstice and Christmas but consider the holidays to start with Thanksgiving (what I like to think of as a day-long festival of gratitude, served with pie and stuffing). Yesterday we hosted the larger side of the family for a big Christmas Eve day party. My plan was to make roasted sweet potatoes, polenta, hot turkey sandwiches, chicken wings, and pie; the rest of the meal was brought by our guests, and it was delicious.

It was not, however, the meal I had planned because half of my contributions went awry. Not the pie, thank goodness. That was made easier by cooking my pumpkin in the Instant Pot I received from some dear friends as a congratulatory gift on my new job. Here’s how I did it:

  • Cut pumpkin in half and scoop out seeds and stringy pulp
  • Put rack, pumpkin halves, and 1 cup water in IP
  • Close lid, set to Sealing, and pressure cook on High for 10 minutes
  • When done, turn off warming cycle and release pressure. Steam-proof oven mitts strongly recommended! The cooked pumpkin falls right off the rind

The chicken wings were also winners, baking cooperatively in the background while the rest of the drama was happening.

First misadventure, the sweet potatoes. Since Christmas Eve was on a Sunday this year, I had time on Saturday to make the parts of the meal that could be prepared ahead. Luckily I’m an earlier riser than my teen daughter who had ambitious kitchen plans for food gift-making but neglected to do gift work on the 23rd while off school (and I was at work). Anyway, I had some sweet potatoes in cold storage from the last outdoor farmer’s market. The farmer recommended this light-fleshed variety as mild-flavored, even liked by people who don’t usually like sweet potatoes (not me, I love ’em). Into the oven they went on my favorite Lodge cast iron griddle. And when they came out, I thought they looked … well, let’s just say that no amount of food styling could have made them look appealing. Plus they were very bland tasting. I opted to serve roasted brussel sprouts instead.

Then the turkey fiasco. I cooked three boneless turkey breasts on Saturday. When I cut them on Sunday into manageable size pieces for shredding and reheating, I discovered they were raw in the middle. Ugh. They must have been frozen when I cooked them. I should have checked their temperature and cut them into pieces before cooking them to be sure the middle was done. So 45 minutes before the guests were expected, I slid to HyVee in my minivan to buy cooked and turkey from their hot food counter.

Polenta soup? I decided to use the IP for polenta to free up my hands and attention for other kitchen jobs. Either I mismeasured the amount of liquid or the cookbook was wrong because I got very watery polenta. I bailed out about half of the liquid, since it had risen to the top. It was still very wet but tasty. #sigh

Here’s hoping your culinary adventures all end well and that you have a delicious, warm, and happy 2018!

Eclipse Frittata, an almost recipe

One highlight of the summer was a trip to Door County with friends. Our long weekend overlapped with summer’s big astronomical event, the total solar eclipse that crossed North America. Door County experienced about 70-80% of totality, and we went to the Lake Michigan shore to experience it. We took all the usual beach supplies, plus eclipse glasses, pinhole viewers, and a potluck picnic.

I can’t claim credit for this improv egg dish whipped up by kitchen whiz JL, but I will take credit for the name ;). It’s a great choice for a delicious easy meal that helps with leftovers. This one is really an egg bake since it takes almost an hour in the oven, rather than being started on the stove and finished in the oven, but the word frittata is just too much fun to pass by.


I’m calling it an “almost recipe” since you can vary it and still get yummy results. Just open the fridge and see what ingredients are waiting for you. Put in your favorite cheese and vegetables or greens. Here’s what I used.

Cooked pasta, about 1/2 pound before cooking

Approximately 1/2 cup pinto beans

1 c shredded cheese

9 eggs, beaten 

1/2 cup milk

Garlicky green beans (or other leftover cooked veggies), 1-2 cups

Put into greased 9×13 pan. 

Bake in preheated 350 oven for about 1 hour. Begin checking for doneness at 50 minutes with toothpick. It’s done when toothpick comes out clean or with baked egg crumbs and no liquid. 

Back to basics in the kitchen

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 7.39.15 PMFall is my favorite season, and I have been keen for something resembling order in the kitchen. No, not in the cabinets. I needed to simplify meals so that the planning and cooking would accommodate the busy lives of two teens, large afternoon snacks that pushed supper later, a family mostly wanting quick and familiar meals, and a parent trying to get away from constantly rushing to get food on the table (yep, that last one’s me).
Thankfully, years ago, one of my excellent friends talked about how she had been meal planning in a pattern: one night each week was pasta, another was maybe a rice or potato dish, etc. So, with thanks to RB, we’ve started our new basic meal plan:
  • Monday is pasta night; we can vary the sauces or toppings
  • Taco Tuesday. I may also put together freezer taco kits to make future weeks really easy. Cheater chilaquiles will surely appear as an occasional substitute.
  • Wednesday we have breakfast for dinner (pancakes, waffles, eggs, or maybe even cereal if things get really crazy)
  • Thursday leftovers or bagel sandwiches
  • Friday frozen pizza or something made ahead and frozen
  • Crock pot Saturday
  • Sunday I’m leaving open for whatever I feel like cooking and I’ll try to cook ahead some things for the week’s lunches or suppers

I’m also keeping a list of standard food items (cheese, crackers, baked beans, frozen berries, dried fruit, etc.) we can have around for when the plan goes awry or we just don’t feel like it.

 I still enjoying using Plan to Eat to save recipes, get that shopping list made for me, and fill in those weekends! A number of grocery stores in town will shop for you and either deliver it or have it ready for pick-up at a prearranged time, so using that and the shopping list generated by Plan to Eat gives me some unrushed time in the kitchen. It’s got me wondering about online shopping and home delivery for non-perishable items.  Readers, have you used Amazon or other services for this? Please share your advice in the comments.


Getting local produce from the farmers market is as basic as it gets to me, so we will take full advantage of the remaining few weeks of the outdoor farmers market. If your CSA has a market pick-up location or market share option (prepaid shopping cards for your choice of veggies from the stand), you can stock up on veggies and buy local cheese, meat, syrup, or other items while you are there. Next on my list is to use some of this year’s frozen berries in sauces and recipes and, girl, dye some yarn – there’s too many non-edible plant things in the freezer!

All the food, fiber, and gardening of summer

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This summer I had my head in the game but not my butt in the chair when it comes to writing (to steal a phrase from the #AmWriting podcast). I missed blogging but let myself be swept up in the moment. They won’t be teens at home forever and, despite what one often hears, these are great parenting years.

Lots happening around the Yarnstead with the basement finally getting spruced up and the tree that’s too close to the wires coming down. There was gardening, cooking, going to the farmers market, learning lots about food photography (a great day of learning and sisterhood plus my debut as a hand model;), making of yarn, making of things with yarn, and going to the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. Many but not all of these photos will be familiar if you follow me on Instagram. Off blog topics, there were visits to both of our amazing Great Lakes and many hours of teaching my eldest to drive (gulp).

Memorial Day garden gallery

Left column (top to bottom): herb garden, walking onions, tomato and ground cherry bed, kale that resprouted from last year, pollinator garden in dire need of weeding

Middle column (top to bottom): Also in dire need of weeding, the top two are views of the   big mixed garden bed (perennials, rhubarb, blackberries, new asparagus, some dye plants); bottom image are the raised beds close to the house with veggies and flowers

Right column (top to bottom): Blueberries, raspberries, front corner so we don’t have to mow there garden bed, 3 new Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium, edible berries and a dye plant)

The yard is always a work in progress! The weeds thrive in all kinds of growing conditions, which can be frustrating in the spring, but getting my hands in the dirt to weed can be a meditation.

When a treasure box is waiting on your doorstep

Text this afternoon from me: Is there a box on the doorstep?

Daughter: Ya. it’s huuuuuuuuuuuge.img_4351

I had checked the package tracking earlier today and was eager to get home to my first Harvestbox. I dug through the thick packaging and past the dry ice (pro tip: they are not kidding when they tell you not to touch that stuff, so watch where you grab the bag).

The package comes with a friendly greeting, plus info on defrosting, the farm where my poultry was raised out under the sky, and directions for returning the packaging if I want.img_4353

I had been wanting some boneless cuts of pastured chicken for a long time, partly because of family preference and partly because they are easy to use in our favorite recipes. At my farmers’ market, there was delicious chicken of the whole, half, or quarter variety, but no boneless cuts. I had been unable to find pastured boneless cuts at the stores I usually use. This bundle is a mix of boneless and bone-in cuts.

Almost all of these went straight into the chest freezer in the basement, but I’m looking forward to cooking some tomorrow. I love how they are bagged by type of cut, and Harvestbox sends a note with a magnet so you can keep track of how much you’ve used. They also sell grass-fed beef and free-range pork although I plan to keep buying those from the farmers’ market. There was room in the box for one bonus pack, so I did buy some grass-fed bacon because more bacon = always better.

This is not a sponsored post; in fact, Harvestbox knows nothing about it (surprise! you hoo, over here;)

I’ll be using this chicken in my meal planning with Plan to Eat, the very useful recipe-storing, list-making, and meal planning website. If you’d like to try Plan to Eat, please use my referral code for a free trial; if you decide to sign up for a paid plan after the trial, I will get a small commission.