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.

 

Plan(ning) to Eat and liking it

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What a difference a month makes! I am busily and happily meal planning again.

Last month, I reviewed some of the many options and was going to write my meal plan old school in my bullet journal. I did that for a while, still feeling not very inspired to try new things and keep my shopping list in any kind of useful order.

More Internet research led me to Plan to Eat (affiliate link) and its free 30-day trial. I am really liking this recipe storage, meal planning, and shopping list tool. Plan to Eat lets you use the recipes you choose from online sources or your cookbooks. When you add a recipe from a blog to your “recipe book,” the blog name is prominently displayed on the recipe view with a link back to the original page. The recipes showing on the left above are from the Plan to Eat blog.

You can choose to manually add your favorite recipes from print sources, or do what I did: enter the ingredients and amounts, and in the direction section, refer back by cookbook name and page number. I’ll just add others as the time comes to cook them. I also added Leftovers, DIY Tacos, and Scrambled Eggs with no directions. I can mark entrees as “in freezer” if prepared ahead and frozen or I made a double batch.

So far I’m planning our suppers and some baking but have the option to do all three meals plus snacks daily. The notes section is very useful to remind me to thaw things!

I switched to a paid version about halfway through my 30-day trial and signed up for the affiliate program (if anyone starts a free trial through my link later signs up for a paid version, I receive a commission). An annual plan is $39, and monthly plans are $4.95.

It’s easy to drag your recipe selections onto the calendar and move them around. I have mine set up to sync with my Google calendar which in turn shows up on my phone’s calendar app, but I also set up a shortcut to the Plan to Eat mobile site on my phone’s home screen.

The automatic making of shopping lists is a favorite feature of mine. Because it’s web-based and works on mobile, you can use it on any smartphone, tablet, or computer. If you are in an area where you don’t get cell reception, you can download your shopping list before you go.

You can keep a standard list of staples so you don’t forget toilet paper or cat food, and even make separate lists for different stores if that’s how your brain works. Once you have the list, you can check off items you already have so you can reduce spending and food waste. That’s also when I think about substituting for something in freezer or pantry and make a note. Good thing, since I am behind on my January goal of emptying freezer and cupboards. I’ve changed it to having the freezer and cupboards empty by farmers’ market time, so I have a few more weeks!

Stuck in the meal planning rut: when you don’t follow your own advice

fullsizeoutput_1669.jpegIn January, I started my third year of a cooking challenge to work my way through the food in the freezer and cupboards. I’m still at it because I am in a meal planning rut. Think of it as the home cook’s version of writer’s block. Just like words, the ingredients are all around but not coming together in any sort of satisfying way.

Visiting with my sister over the weekend, I quizzed her about her subscription to Plated. I was really intrigued, but with so many stores in town that will deliver my groceries and a fair amount of food already in my house, I probably don’t need a service that delivers the ingredients with the meal plan.

I had a subscription a few years back to The Fresh 20 which got me out of a previous meal planning black hole, and later I used a simple DIY method. Too bad I don’t stick with my own advice.

I surfed the web and found there are even more meal planning service options now. The Fresh 20 (no affiliation, just a happy former customer) still would be my favorite; it’s closest to my cooking style, uses unprocessed food prepared in a way that reduces waste, and isn’t overly complicated. Your mileage may vary. Happily many services will give you a free sample week, which is a great way to try out several and see which one works best for you.

100 Days of Real Food has some meal planning resourcesWisconsin Whisk bloggers have an impressive recipe output that can help me get unstuck. Hip Foodie Mom posts healthy meal plans on her blog. The Leek and The Carrot is thinking meal planning lately too! I’m saving online recipes in my Evernote account, and I have some cookbooks specifically to help with meal planning.

I guess I’ve come to rely on the garden and farmers’ market for inspiration, but in February, those seem like a daydream. I’d love to hear what meal planning tips or services have worked for you. I am going to put my meal plan in my bullet journal – but don’t google that or you’ll fall down a rabbit hole of fancy pages. My meal plan will be full of scribbles, arrows, and if I break out of my rut, crumbs and food stains.

Chex mix and podcasts: fuel for a creative holiday season 

 Snow is falling again right now, and I’m grateful for a chance to regroup and recharge indoors after a busy summer and fall. For starters, homemade Chex mix is WAY better than store-bought, especially if made from this recipe and using Cheez-its Duos (sharp cheddar and parmesan mixed together) for the cheesy crackers. Annie’s Organic Worcestershire Sauce is vegan, so my vegetarian family member dug right in too.

For company on your snowy commute or as you busily prepare holiday treats or even just do your housecleaning, may I suggest some podcasts? They spice up even ordinary activities and give listeners all kinds of creative ideas. I listen on my phone using the Downcast app, but you can listen straight from your browser too. Here are a few of my current favorites:

The Feed with hosts Rick Bayless and Steve Dolinsky

5 Minutes on the Farm, a local food podcast featuring a different southern Wisconsin food producer each week (monthly over the winter)

Prairie Girls Knit & Spin. “May your drafting be consistent and your gauge never lie.” If only.

Woolful, interviews from the fiber world

The SweetGeorgia Show, color, craft, and creativity

and always, Science Friday! Because science. Love it.

I’d love to hear what your favorites are. Please share them in the comments.

How spelt flour changed my baking life

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I’ve tried whole-grain recipes for baking from time to time with mixed results. Substituting whole wheat for half the all-purpose flour worked in a lot of recipes. For quick breads, I often did well substituting whole wheat for all the all-purpose if I added in a little extra liquid. Sometimes I had tried whole wheat pastry flour, sometimes white whole wheat, sometimes “regular” whole wheat.

Sandwich breads calling for some or all whole-wheat flour often tasted too strong to our family or had a not-great texture. If I limited the substitution to no more than one-third of the recipe, then it worked much better. Oat flour worked in that way too (it’s not hard to make your own oat flour out of rolled oats if you have a food processor) and made me wonder about other non-wheat whole grain flours.

Last winter I saw a recipe for spelt pizza dough on the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day blog. I love their pizza and flatbread cookbook but had somehow missed that recipe. I bought a small bag of spelt flour to try it out. It was a hit with the whole family; we find the spelt mild-flavored and delicious without being overpowering.

From there, I moved on to the whole wheat biscuits from 100 Days of Real Food, but substituted spelt flour for all the whole wheat. Yum, and the kids gobbled them up too. I went to my beloved New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day cookbook and used spelt instead of whole wheat in the 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread: another winner! If you are looking to add some whole grain into your baking, give spelt flour a try.

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Five years of blogging!

On October 21, 2011, I pressed “Publish” on my first post, Adventures in wool dyeing.pablo-2A lot has happened in five years!

90 posts, the most popular of which was my May 2014 review of the stash2go app for iPhone and iPad

4 recipes: ground cherry salsa, savory potato, easy sauce from roasted tomatoes, and improvised cream cheese pockets (chicken & vegetarian versions)

1 free knitting pattern

A fair number of garden layouts that didn’t last

A lot of experimenting to find the right balance of gardening/CSA/farmers’ market as sources for produce

A three-year old picture of creeping bellflower in my yard three years ago with the caption “volunteer bellflower” with no irony at all (it is pretty-but ah, such naiveté … followed by the devastating discovery that is a really, really invasive species)

An easy way to dry herbs

Tips for success with your CSA box

A lot of happiness from growing and cooking with local food (especially my homegrown herbs and berries), talking blogging with friends, and building my cookbook collection

Recurring struggles with making creative space, finding family balance, setting goals that are challenging but not crazy-making, and getting spinning back into my life

A pattern of circling back to natural dye plant gardening and yarn dyeing

65 finished fiber arts projects of various sizes (no clue I was that productive, absolutely no clue. Ha, just said that to my daughter, who said it sounded about right and lovingly mocked me bringing my knitting everywhere. Ahem, anyway, thanks to Ravelry for making it easy to keep tabs)

9 frogged fiber arts projects (plus some that never got far enough to get on Ravelry in the first place)

Guest appearances on the blog by crochet, weaving, felt making, and needlepoint. In an ideal world, I’d be good at sewing, have time for it, and use Grandma’s sewing machine for more than mending!

And just in the last year or so, some developments that help me look forward to the next five years: Wisconsin Whisk welcomed me to their blogging collective, my blog got a new look and domain name, and thanks to a Whisk blogging workshop, I’ve gotten lots of advice and encouragement for additional improvements.

Thank you, readers, for your support! Stay tuned for my new challenges: whole grain baking, more food preserving, my fiber arts activities as part of slow fashion, and a deeper dive into how gardening, food, and fiber arts interconnect.