Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How I Grew the Biggest Lemons in Pennsylvania!

About seven years ago, I ordered a lemon tree through the mail. 

At the time, I was seriously over the edge in terms of doing EVERYTHING organic and decided that growing my own organic lemons was a good idea.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I live in Pennsylvania. Not Florida.

But the optimistic website assured me that I could grow lemons ANYWHERE. So, I said, “Awesome! Send me a tree!” (I’m sure that’s technically historical fiction, as the facts are fuzzy these many years later.)

The tree arrived and I carefully followed the directions and planted it in a humongous pot filled with wood chips mixed with soil (per the instructions that came with my tiny little tree).

For seven long years, I tended my plant. It grew and grew, eventually sprouting long sharp spikes that poked us when we passed too closely. One year, my angry husband cut all the spikes off the tree, but even that didn’t deter it. It just grew new spikes.

We moved it inside each winter where it proceeded to be forgotten for weeks at a time, only to be rescued from death by heavy watering, removal of all its dead leaves, and being doused with a seaweed fertilizer concoction.

Anyway – all that is to say – it’s not been an easy life for our little lemon tree. And for six long years it produced not one lemon.

But this year everything changed. This year we grew lemons! Really, really, really BIG lemons. Grapefruit sized lemons!

Early in the summer they were tiny little green balls, more like limes.

Somewhere about August they began to swell to epic proportions. So much so, that I took to Facebook to see if anyone knew what I was growing.

After much serious and some not-at-all-serious-but-very-entertaining discussion/speculation, it was decided that what I was growing were indeed lemons, but they wouldn’t be fully ripened until Thanksgiving, maybe even Christmas.

And what do you know? This is the lemon I picked from my tree last night.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Cara's Famous Fabulous Clean-Out-the-Fridge Dip

Thanksgiving is upon us, and with it, perhaps a few house guests? A few gatherings? That’s the drill at my house. Lots of extra people, lots of extra food, lots of wine, lots of cooking, and hopefully, lots of other people in the kitchen besides me to load the dishwasher!

My family has a tradition of everyone helping with the big meal. This means that cousins and friends will arrive with bags and coolers of food. Space in the fridge will be at a premium. 

So, this week one of our most important tasks will be freeing up some room in the fridge. Here’s one of my favorite solutions (beyond just several nights of everybody-eat-anything-you-want-in-the-fridge) - The Clean Out the Fridge Dip and/or Cheese Spread.

Let me explain.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Garden Hacks

At the beginning of the summer when I realized I had NO TIME for my garden, I thought, I’ll figure out some garden hacks and then I’ll blog about them. Sadly, not all my hacks worked, but there is still potential and the information is worth sharing, so here we go….

Let’s start with the biggest flop with the potential to be the biggest success. I do think this one is a keeper, but it needs some modifications and a lot more attention.

Gutter Step Garden
Nick built this lovely idea for me last year to house the strawberries. We had to relocate them so we could tear out the garden that was their home of the past twelve years and replace it with an expanded driveway. They were happy in the gutters and looked beautiful all summer and fall.

The garden is basically four gutters with caps on both ends mounted on a set of stair stringers and then given a frame to add stability. We didn’t poke holes for drainage because the caps were not a good seal and they leaked beautifully. Also, the gutter step garden is on a slight slant, so the water naturally drained off one end.

Lucky for me, I didn’t put all my strawberries in the gutter garden. I sagely planted half of them in an inground garden. Why am I lucky you ask? Remember last winter? The seven-month-long bitter, miserable slog through below freezing temperatures, daily record breaks, and endless snow? Why yes, that winter. By spring my strawberries in the gutter garden were dead beyond dead.

Friday, August 7, 2015

My Life is In The Weeds.....

Hello Kid Friendly Organic Life readers! Did you think I’d abandoned you? Never! However, I have been more than a bit distracted of late. Here’s why -

My novel was published just this week by The Story Plant. I’m super excited. Between promoting I’m Not Her and writing (and re-writing) my next novel for Story Plant, I’ve had very little time for me (and you). Here’s what my gardens look like –

See if you can find cucumbers, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, one pepper plant, sweet potatoes, and popcorn hidden in this garden.....
And here we have a zucchini not minding the weeds one bit, and behind that are tomatoes completely swallowed by weeds and blight, sunflowers towering above the wreckage with a watermelon somewhere in that mess...

Friday, July 10, 2015

Full Confession: I am no longer an organic gardener

After this past week I can no longer call myself an organic farmer. Sigh.

The Japanese beetles got me. I’ve put up with squash bugs and voles and those nasty invisible beetles that eat up my beans. And while we’ve had Japanese beetles before, I’ve never reached for the chemical weapons with any of them. I moved plants around, incentified the cats, and picked thousands of beetles off plants to drop them to their certain death in my bucket of dish soap.

But then last year happened. I wrote about it. It was devastating. They killed my peach and my nectarine trees, both of which were loaded with their first real crop. I was heartbroken. We ardently applied the milky spore – spent hundreds on it to be sure we treated all the ground around the gardens and fruit trees. We ordered new fruit trees and chalked the whole experience up to the difficult but noble pursuit of organic gardening.

And then I came home from my camping trip in June to find the Japanese beetles were back by the millions. They were devouring my grapes which had barely survived the onslaught last year. They had lived, but been reduced to the size they were the second year of their lives (they are eight this year). The beetles swarmed my gorgeous plum tree which was loaded with beautiful tiny purple plums for the first time ever. The raspberries and asparagus, even the rhubarb were swarmed by beetles.

What the heck? How did this happen? What about all that milky spore? Seems last year’s beetles must have sent out a message and it went viral and now all their friends and relatives had converged on our little hillside for a mass feast.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Every Woman's Fantasy...

Quick! What’s every woman’s fantasy?

No, that’s not it. It’s a Roomba! A robotic vacuum cleaner.

Guess what?

I got one. Which means, technically, all my dreams have come true. This is pretty much accurate.

Shout out to my FIL and my little brother who pitched in Amazon loot for my birthday which enabled me to bring Ed home finally.

Here’s Ed.

How do I know his name is Ed?

When I told Nick his name was Ed, he asked how I knew that. I said, “It says it there, right on his top.” He said, “You mean P3?” 

(Men, they can ruin everything.)

I chose Ed after carefully considering the options within my budget and reading some of the 400 reviews on Amazon. (Seriously, there are more than 400 reviews of robotic vacuum cleaners on Amazon. Who are these people?) The part that really sold me was that when reviewers were talking about Ed, they always referred to the vacuum as “he”. As in, “He does really well on hardwood floors, but doesn’t like carpet quite as much.” And “My only complaint about him is that he can get stuck moving from hardwood to carpet and he only holds a charge about 35 minutes.” I wanted this vacuum who had so clearly carved a place in the hearts of these reviewers.

Ed was super easy to assemble, just needing me to attach his happy little brush that sweeps objects out of edges and into his path and also the dust cloth. Then the hard part came…I had to wait 16 hours for him to charge up his rechargeable batteries! (It only took that long the first time, subsequently, he was much quicker to get back in the game.)

When he was all charged up, I prepped the kitchen. I removed the mats near the door and picked up larger items like shoes, baseball hats, dogs, and dice (I have a kid with a serious D&D habit, so there are dice in every nook and cranny of my house). Then I put the chairs up on the table and counter. 

(My children did such a great job removing all their crap from the table, just like I asked. Ahem.)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

My Ten Rules for Healthy Eating and Cooking

Last night I finished teaching a six week class on Healthy Cooking for the Community Education program of our school district. It was great fun and forced me to truly examine my own beliefs about healthy cooking.

Let’s first toss aside a few incorrect assumptions.

Healthy cooking is not about losing weight, although if you truly cook in a healthy way your weight will naturally find its way to a healthy number that works for your body.

Healthy cooking is not about using “light” ingredients. It’s about using real ingredients –the kind that heal and grow your body. Many times these ingredients are anything but light.

Healthy cooking does not mean bland, boring food. On the contrary, it means exploring all kinds of taste sensations. It means cooking fabulous food that you LOVE to eat.

At last night’s class I shared my ten rules for Healthy Cooking. I’ll share them with you now. (and if you want to learn more about these rules, be sure to sign up for my class in the fall!)

Ten Rules of Healthy Cooking and Eating:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up or How to Make Your Sock Drawer Look Like Mine!

I’ve just finished reading a book, I have to write about. Even as I made notes and underlined and laughed while reading it, I thought, “I can’t wait to blog about this….”

I need to qualify all that I’m about to write by saying, this woman is nuts. But it’s a good nuts. Pretty much every chapter had me shaking my head and muttering, “What a lunatic,” but I said it with a smile on my face. I adore this woman and her ideas. I just wouldn’t ever want to live with her.

The book is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing by Marie Kondo. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s been all over the news lately. It’s a small book that’s selling like hot cakes.

Most of us are enamored with the idea of organizing our stuff, but this book goes beyond that. It preaches that you get rid of huge amounts of your belongings – anything that doesn’t “spark joy.”

I loved this concept that we should only wear clothing that sparks joy for us and we should only keep things in our home that spark joy in our lives. Sure, there’s the stuff you need that maybe doesn’t spark a lot of joy – a spatula, the paper-towel holder, the sheets for the guest room bed – but it’s something to strive for. My teenage daughter has a ladle on her Amazon wishlist that is shaped like the Lochness monster. She loves it. It sparks joy. Maybe it will grace her kitchen someday. She also has a tea infuser that looks like a shark swimming around your cup as it makes your tea. My kid definitely gets the sparks joy concept.

I’ve been trying in recent years not to bring anything in to my house that I don’t really love. No furniture to serve a purpose – it needs to be something that makes me happy.

Our living room is large, there’s room in there for lots of furniture, but currently there is only a couch (it sparks a tiny flicker of joy only because my mom recovered it for me and I remember that fun weekend, but it’s filthy and it’s days are numbered, but it’s the only real seating left in the room, so there it is.), a coffee table (which does spark some joy because Nick refinished it and it’s functional, simple, and pretty), and the dog’s recliner (an ugly, worn out, hand-me-down recliner that our incredibly untrainable dog sleeps on most nights – we hold on to it so that she won’t get on the other furniture.). I know we need some seating, but I’ve yet to find anything I can afford that even remotely sparks joy.

We moved the screened porch furniture in for the winter, so for now there’s lots of seats, but as soon as it warms up that room will be barren again. No matter – I’m not buying anything until I find the furniture that speaks to me. Kondo backs me up on this and I love her for it.

When it comes to clothing, Kondo spends almost half the book on her system.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Two Fabo-licious New Recipes

Sorry, I can’t stay away. I know I said I wouldn’t be blogging very often on this site, but it’s only been a week or so and I’m already back! Not writing has turned out to be more stressful than writing. So this is just a quick fix.

I have to share with you two new recipes I’ve developed this week that are total yum, relatively healthy, and super easy.

The first is a recipe for Whole Wheat Flaxseed Oyster Crackers. That’s a terrible name, so let’s call them Healthy Oyster Crackers That Also Make a Great Snack. Okay, not much better. You can name them whatever you want. 

Healthy Crackers In Need of a Name

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
¼ cup flaxseed meal
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
6 Tablespoons butter (cut into small pieces)
2/3 cup warm water

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

First, Let Me Explain.....

Maybe you’ve wondered why I haven’t written as much lately (or maybe you haven’t noticed). Here is my litany of excuses and my plan for this blog moving forward.

Excuse Number One: I signed a book deal for my womens fiction so I am finally writing for real. This is a good thing. Truly. I am following my arrow. The awesome people at StoryPlant are making it happen!

Excuse Number Two: There’s only so many times you can write about starting seedlings, which is what I’d planned to write about this week. The thing is – I’ve written about starting seedlings before and before that and then I wrote about seed starting mediums. So instead of wasting my time and yours, check out those links. That said, I will probably never run out of things to say that have to do with a Kid Friendly Organic Life. And just in case you’re wondering, here’s one of my Sophie's Choice seedlings  coming along:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How to Save LOTS of Money and Bring a Little Summer to Your Winter!

This is your two minute warning, or actually, your four month warning.

It’s time to start the petunias!

Okay, maybe you're not concerned. Maybe, like I’ve been told by at least one reader, you skip the garden posts on this blog. Fine. I take no offense. Really. I’ll just pick up my trusty trowel and slink away.

But for the rest of you – aren’t you itching for a little summer? Or more importantly, do you spend much too much money on annuals each summer? Have you ever purchased happy little seed packets of annual flowers, only to be disappointed when all they produce is leaves and die before a proper bloom can happen?

We are such suckers for a pretty picture. I gave up on the seeds years ago and started buying flats of annuals instead. It ate at me, though, because they cost a fortune and I am nothing if not a skin-flint. Yet I could never resist, especially the wave petunias.

Petunias are happy flowers, and better yet, they’re resilient. The perfect flower for the easily distracted gardener. They can look nearly dead one day, but a little splash of water and they offer a dozen more trumpet-blooms within hours.

They’re worth the price tag, right? Maybe. But what if you didn’t have to pay it? What if you could grow wave petunias from seeds? Instead of paying $5-8 for one wave petunia, what if you could pay $1.75 for eight? You can. But you need to get started.

 There’s really only one trick to growing your own gorgeous wave petunias from inexpensive seeds, like mine….

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Wonders of Tumeric (or How I Fooled My Family)

Tumeric is everywhere. I can’t get away from it.

My mother-in-law was here visiting for two weeks and she told me how she takes it daily for her arthritis. I took a pottery class last week and the teacher said the same thing. I can’t open a magazine without seeing mention of it and many of the blogs and websites I follow fall over themselves to fawn over it.

To be honest, turmeric is new to me. I hadn’t heard of it until it started turning up in processed food as a natural coloring to replaced artificial colors. It’s bright mustard yellow. I could sort of remember seeing it in Indian food recipes. I’m not a big fan of Indian food, so the tiny little jar of turmeric I found in the back of my cupboard was from the original set of herbs I got at a wedding shower 20 years ago. I opened it and sniffed, but it smelled like the plastic jar it was in.

So I stopped by one of my favorite sources for spices (Park Street Pantry) and bought a fresh jar in a glass container. 
But what do I do with it? And what’s so great about it?

Tumeric is a tropical plant. It grows from root cuttings, not seeds and takes 250 days to harvest! It won’t stand for temperatures below 65 degrees, so that leaves out New Freedom, PA so I guess there will be no forthcoming post How-to-grow-your-own-tumeric-and-make-a-million (It’s the top selling herbal supplement as of press time).

Tumeric is closely related to ginger. In fact, it’s taste is described as “peppery, warm, and bitter” while it’s scent is similar to ginger. When I open the lid of my little jar, I smell Indian restaurants.

I searched in vain for a recipe for dish that my little finicky family might enjoy and finally opted for simply sprinkling it in recipes we already eat. You don’t even notice the taste. During our Super Bowl Commercial viewing party, I made this dip which was scrumptious with carrots, lightly steamed green beans, pretzels, cheese sticks, and tortilla chips.

Yummo Mustard Dip 

¾ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon agave nectar
3 Tablespoons Dijon mustard (less if you can’t handle the heat!)
1 teaspoon turmeric

Mix ingredients together and serve with pretty much anything!

Next I slipped a teaspoon in to the mac n cheese and although the color was shocking yellow, no one noticed anything odd (except me, I was certain I could taste it and had to work very hard on my nope-it-wasn’t-me face). 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Recipe Organization - Dream or Reality? (or Something More?)

For many years I’ve had a dream.

It’s not an earth-changing dream or even a technically difficult dream. It certainly isn’t an impossible dream.

I’ve dreamed of organizing all my recipes. (Sorry if you were expecting something more exciting, this being the time of year we dedicate much writing and even an entire day of school to the man who had the most famous dream, does make my dream seem sub-par.)

I took a stab at this dream a few years back. I rounded up all the recipes torn from magazines and scattered willy-nilly throughout my house. I trimmed them neatly and taped them to notebook paper (see below, okay, maybe they aren't so neatly trimmed), and put them in notebooks.
The problem was that there were so many and the notebooks quickly became unorganized. Sorting the recipes and putting them in the notebooks in a sensible order became too big of a task. 

Where do you put zucchini bread? Vegetables? Bread? Dessert? The process was rife with too many tiny decisions that left me creating new piles of “Recipes that don’t belong anywhere but I don’t want to lose.”

Other piles grew from there – “Recipes I must try,” “Healthy recipes the kids probably won’t eat,” “Recipes to try for the blog,” and “Recipes to make for book club.”

The notebooks themselves were full to bursting already and any attempts at opening them to insert a new recipe generally led to much bigger disasters when pages slipped out of the overtaxed rings. Sometimes I’d carefully re-order the pages and squeeze them back into the binder but most of the time I just put the loose pages in a new pile called, “To be re-filed.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Power of Signs

Signs have power. Did you ever notice that? 

You can tell someone, this is the rule… but until they see it in writing, preferably on a sign, they don’t actually take you seriously. Or maybe that’s just my house. We’re a family of readers (and writers). We like to see things in print.

Some of my kids favorite signs of late include…..

And, even better….

(I place these signs above the toilet at 5:25 AM after the schools auto-robot caller has woken me and crashed my day.)

But I’ve utilized signs to keep the laundry sorted….

The meals eaten….

My daughter uses a sign to keep out the riff-raff….

Sure, I’m mostly kidding, but sometimes putting up a sign is much better than giving an order. I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me to do something, my inner adolescent soul prickles. I don’t want to do it. I’ll probably do it, but I might wait until you’re not looking or until it feels like it’s my idea.

For better or worse, my kids have inherited many of my own quirks. So I’ve learned they respond better to directions in writing than in nag-form. I’ve begun leaving messages for them on their chore chart.