After snoozing a little later than normal due to a late night of Phishing, Saturday morning Jim and I heading out a local flea market (snagging 2 vinyls, 4 books and a really cool painting that is actually a secret key box for a whoopin' total of $3), then it was off to ShadyBrook Farm for strawberry picking. It was overcast and threatening rain, so we basically had the entire place to ourselves and loved it! We ended up with almost 15 lbs of strawberries (and a quart of raspberries).
Fresh picked strawberries are just so, so delicious. I'm pretty sure I could have eaten the entire 15 lbs solo, but I thought it was in my better judgement to capture the delightful goodness for future consumption.
In anticipation of a good garden crop this year, I decided that strawberry jam would be an easy intro to canning and preserving our own fruits and veggies. To get started I purchased a set of canning jars with lids, a canning starter kit that included a jar lifter and lid magnet thingy, pectin, and combo pressure cooker/water bath canner. I'm pretty sure you can do the water bath canning with just a large pot, but you need a pressure cooker for less acidic foods like green beans and meats, so I just decided to get it from the start. I basically just followed the recipe on the pectin but there's a lot of good info about making jams and canning out there, so I did a little reading ahead of time.
In less than 2 hours we had completed our first ever homemade strawberry jam. Aren't the little jars just so cute?!
New to the whole process, I had no idea the quantity needed to make jam. It turned out to be not nearly as many as we thought. We had plenty left....
I decided to freeze a few batches by lying in a single layer on a cookie sheet, then transferring to a freezer safe ziploc bag once frozen. Maybe I'll get inspired to make another batch of jam or even a strawberry pie!
The rest we ate on cereal, with yogurt, and of course strawberry shortcake. Using gluten free bisquick I made my own shortcakes and we pilled them high with strawberries and whip cream!! YUM!
Before landing on the decision to largely expand our garden with the help of raised beds, there was a lot of debating, waxing & waning, and muling it over...and over. We did a lot of research about the benefits, cost of building our own, and even looked into several premade, synthetic versions. There was really no doubt that we wanted a larger and more awesome garden (Jim is already plotting out where to put more beds next year!), I think it really came down fear. Fear that building the beds would be more difficult than we thought, which happens A LOT with projects; fear that we would invest the time and money and not accomplish what we had envisioned; and fear that we'd end up with some kind of unexplained garden catastrophe.
As for a garden disaster, we just try and do our best to pay special attention to the plants for signs of distress, pests, etc; watch the weather and make necessary changes to watering patterns or perhaps building a little garden tent at 9 o'clock at night to shade our lettuces during a major heat wave; and just in general obsess and fret over it all. What else can you do? Other than that we're really pleased with the results. The beds turned out amazing (you rock Jim!), building our own ended up being cheaper than any of the synthetic ones, and construction ended up being relatively simple and was completed in one afternoon.
We basically followed along with the instructions found here. We debated about construction materials, but decided to go with cedar planks which we found at our local Lowe's. We purchased 8 planks and one 4 x 4 along with decking screws. I forgot to take pictures during the construction phase. oops.
But within a few hours Jim accomplished this....
Then we positioned them in the desired areas, cleared any weeds or grass, dug holes for the posts, and leveled the beds. This was a little bit of work for us because one bed is on a hilly area but certainly easier than clearing and tilling the soil to create a new garden area.
After the beds were in place and any loose soil was leveled, we layered the bottom with newspaper to act as a weed barrier. The newspaper helps block out the sunlight but will eventually decompose.
...then we added hardware cloth to prevent moles and other critters from coming through the bottom and getting to the plant's roots. Jim used fencing shears (I don't know the technical word) to trim the metal mesh for the corners. We searched around the yard and found sticks with little hooks on them to use as pins to keep the cloth down until we added the soil.
The website recommends an additional step using PVC pipe to create an arc for bird netting. We skipped this step but did add a bracket on each long side to keep the planks from separating from the pressure of the soil.
Then fill 'er up!!!
Our neighbor is a landscaper, so we ordered 2 yards of sifted top soil from him. We actually ended up with 5 yards because the guy thought we could use some extra dirt, but that's another story. We mixed the top soil with our compost as well as bagged organic humus from Lowes.
And there you have it! Raised garden beds. You'll have more control over weeds and pest; better soil quality and drainage; easier accessibility to the crops which allows for closer planting and higher yields; a longer growing season because the enclosed soil will warm up sooner than the ground; and you can plop one down pretty much anywhere and turn the area into a beautiful vegetable or flower garden.
*Food Should Taste Good chips. My favorite are the multigrain with hummus or the sweet potato, no dip needed. They make over 15 varieties but my local health food store only carries a few. BJ's actually carries family size bags of the sweet potato flavor, which just ends up being bad news for my waistline.
*RedBridge beer. With summer weather move in quickly I decided it was time to switch over from red wine to something a little more refreshing. Although I will partake in an occasional mixer, I'm not one for liquor on a regular basis. RedBridge is the only gluten free beer my local beer distributor carries, so I decided to give it a go. It's cold, refreshing, and taste like beer.
*Schar's Crackers. When I transitioned over a mainly gluten free diet, just gave up crackers in general. Recently after being hit with a 24hr flu bug I went in search of crackers just to sooth my tummy and ended up going for Schar's and got lucky. They're pretty darn good. Jim even likes them. The company has been making gluten free products in Europe for 30 years, so I think that is a good indicator of the quality and taste.
*Namaste Pizza Crust Mix. Pizza crust was something I tried about half a dozen or more brands before I found one I liked. The bag is enough for 2 crusts and has some yummy seasonings right in the mix. Make sure to spread it out a lot of the pan because it really bubbles up when you bake it. I like to brush it with a little olive oil too. In fact pizza is on the menu for tonight!
Due to high prices, poor quality produce, and over a year of me bitching about it I finally broke down and started boycotting our local Genuardi's. It was convenience that kept me going back. It's right around the corner and takes me about 2 minutes to get there, while other grocery stores in the area could be up to 15 minutes, depending on traffic. But, life has calmed down a bit leaving me extra time and a clear head, so a few months ago I finally made the switch. I know buy our soy milk, OJ, cereals, canned foods, and other miscellaneous items at Target; hit up BJ's for bulk foods about once every 4-6 weeks; travel as needed to Trader Joe's and/or Whole Foods for specific health food items; and buy our weekly produce at a small farmers market with quality produce, seafood, and speciality items with very reasonable pricing.
The store is in a small shopping plaza and run by Mexicans (whom I am very found of in general) so I like to refer to it as the Meximart. It's a little bit of traveling from the house, but pretty close to my office so I switched up my shopping day and go on my lunch break to save on travel time and gas. I think they're starting to recognize me, which it's just one more reason to keep me going back. I also like the bit of randomness the place displays. They sometimes have strange varieties of beans and striped eggplants, other times heaping piles of heads of romaine, huge bunches of kale. And the registers are always lined with unusual chocolates, little treats and containers filled with dried fruits. Which is how I ended up with a container of coconut chips. At the time I not one single idea of how I would eventually use a half pound of chipped up exotic fruit, but something about the little neatly stacked display at the end of the register pulled me in.
Unloading the groceries at home, I thought...coconut cream pie. Probably because that's about the only thing I think of when I think about coconut. But I think that might actually be made with coconut milk? Anyways, yesterday in a random spout of cooking I had an inspiration and decided on a coconut layer atop a gooey, yummy chocolate brownie.
Gluten Free Coconut Deluxe Brownies
Prepare 1 boxed/package of gluten free brownie mix according to the directions and spread into pan.
In a separate bowl mixed:
1/2 C. sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 single serving all natural, unsweetened applesauce
Once blended add in 1/2-3/4 C. coconut chips and 1 C. all purpose gluten free flower.
Spoon onto brownie mixture and bake at 350....cooking time may vary (the brownie mix said 30-35 minutes and I ended up cooking mine for about 1 hr. 10 minutes)