The Suburban Farmer

I love spring! The flowers are blooming, the grass is lush and green, and the leaves are popping out on the trees. The girls have been noticing all sorts of different birds that I didn’t even realize live here – robins, for one. They’re frantically looking for bird nests, but we haven’t seen one, yet.

We’ve started planting our vegetable garden and feeding all the plants in the yard, getting ready for warmer weather. I’ve given the girls their annual “bee” talk, about how we need to protect the bees and not hurt them because there aren’t as many as there should be anymore. We try to use products in the yard that are as natural as possible to help out our little pollinating friends.

With that in mind, I started a compost bin last fall. Compost bin, you ask?! Yes, I’m becoming a Suburban Farmer. I felt badly that I kept throwing away so many veggies and veggie by-products (like broccoli stems, kale stalks, carrot tops...) that I wanted to put to good use.

The soil in our backyard is virtually clay and doesn’t support life of any kind, even weeds. Every time we plant something there is a long process of mixing the clay with all sorts of additives like compost (from the store) and planting mix. And then we cross our fingers that we used enough! 

I’m hoping all the great nutrients in the compost we create will revitalize our drab soil and perk up the garden. At the very least, it won’t do it any harm. By the way, there are some pretty strict rules as to what you should and shouldn’t compost. Here’s a quick guide to follow. We kept kitchen scraps out of it (other than clean fruit and veggie waste) because the compost bin started smelling a bit funky. Not exactly what I had in mind for a nice backyard scent. Keeping bread, etc., out of there really fixed the smell.

After months of adding to the compost bin, churning it up and watering it, the time came to check out what we had created. Because we’re constantly adding to the pile, not all of it had decomposed to dirt, but the bottom third of the bin was definitely garden-ready. We put it on plants that were in need of help (two of our hydrangeas have seen better days and needed some extra nutrients) and added it to our raised vegetable bed. I thought we’d have so much more dirt, but we don’t live on a farm, so there’s a limit to how much compost we can create. Still, I am so excited about it! We’re reducing the amount of trash we send to the landfill and putting nutrients back into the soil, naturally. And the girls love finding worms after the rain to put into the bin. I love that they’re learning, in a very hand’s on way, what worms do for the earth and that we don’t need to throw everything away in the trash.

Here's a super easy tutorial that's more or less what we did. Compost bins can run into the hundreds of dollars, crazy. We bought a $10 trash bin at Lowes, drilled some holes, and secured the top with a strap so critters wouldn't pry it open. Quick and easy! Plus, once it gets too heavy, you can push it on its side and roll it around to mix up the contents.

I started a Compost Pinterest board so I would feel like I knew what I was doing. I’m ever the researcher/planner.

And, not surprisingly, there are a ton of counter-top bins to put your waste in before hauling it out to the yard. Now your compost can look pretty on the counter!

Here’s to creating compost bins and dirt of your very own!

Snowy Cabins to Covet

Winter vacation is upon us! I feel like the girls are in school for a max of two weeks before there’s another day off or holiday or vacation. When do they learn?! Well, I guess it is only preschool.

With all the rain and snow we’ve gotten in California lately, it seems like everyone and their mother is going skiing for the break. Except us. We’re going to hit the sun in two weeks, so I’m OK with skipping the snow this time around.

To get in the mood of the season, I wanted to find some great snowy scenes and over the top cabins. It’s the closest thing I’m going to get to the snow any time soon. I can visualize myself freezing in the powdery white, having a drink by one of the cozy fireplaces, and snuggling up in a fabulous faux fur throw. Who wouldn't want to visit the snow in one of these places? Enjoy!

Nestled in the Mountains

And now for the interior...

I'd visit any one of these places any day of the week. I'm waiting on my invite...

Valentine Buys and Craft Ideas

With Valentine's Day only a week away, I'm setting the mood at home by baking heart cookies, bringing out my Valentine's XO Wreath, and diving head first into Valentine crafts with the girls

On a personal love-note, my husband and I just celebrated the 15 year anniversary of our first date. How did that happen so quickly?! I still feel like we're in college and haven't aged that much. Time flies when you're having fun and in love!

Buys

I thought I'd do a quick round up of some fun love-themed gifts and decor to help everyone else get into the mood. They're not your traditional romantic gifts, these are a little more fun and lighthearted. Because after 15 years, that's what love is, right?! Hope these spark a little V-Day love in your worlds!

Craft Ideas

It wouldn't be a holiday if I didn't have some DIY on the menu. I found some new Valentine crafts that would be so fun to do! I'm hoping I have some time this weekend to get one of them done. Find even more ideas from years past here. Cheer's to Crafting Love.

Happy Thanksgiving!

With Thanksgiving less than a week away, I wanted to share some beautiful tablescapes to inspire you and some helpful tips to make Turkey Day entertaining that much easier.

Tablescapes

Let the Thanksgiving beauty wash over you ;-)

Easy Decorating Tips

These are so easy you could do them yourself. Really! There are still 5 days to pull these little DIYs together...

Be inspired by the season! Enjoy your Thanksgiving with lots of family and friends.

We're heading out to visit family for the holiday. Wish me luck with an almost 2 and almost 4 year old crammed into two flights! I know (hope) we'll survive, its just a question of how many times I have to run up and down the aisle after Baby M, the child never sits still!

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Better Than Your Average Pumpkin Pie

The family is packing up and heading out this Thanksgiving, making the trek across the country to my in-laws'. I was a little sad not to be making my own turkey dinner (only a little), so when Toddler G asked me to make a pumpkin pie the other day, I was super excited. I'd heard that adding Dulce de Leche to a pumpkin pie would make it even better and I couldn't wait to try it out.

Pumpkin Pie with Dulce de Leche drizzled over the top

There wasn't enough time in my weekend schedule to bake a pie from scratch - I usually like to make my own pie crusts - so I opted for the Trader Joe's version. They sell frozen pie crusts and canned organic pumpkin, the can even has an easy recipe on the side. I don't know why, but pumpkin pie has always intimidated me. But this recipe is crazy easy, it really surprised me.

After letting the crust defrost, I tried to unwrap it and put it in the pie pan. That was near impossible. The crust broke into a million pieces! Urg. I spent a ton of time trying to press the pieces together, and barely got it into the pan. Note to self, make crust from scratch, it takes almost as much time.

After mixing the ingredients and putting the pie in the oven for a few minutes, I added the secret ingredient  - Dulce de Leche (another Trader Joe's holiday staple). I heated a few tablespoons in the microwave and drizzled it onto the pie. Important note, make sure the pie has cooked for 10 minutes or so in order for the dulce de leche to stay on the top rather than sink to the bottom. You could even make designs in it (wish I'd thought of this before I started, next time!).

Voila! The pie was done and Toddler G got to sample her requested pie. It was great, Toddler G even had 3 bites! (She usually won't eat pie at all, so this was really impressive). The Dulce de Leche added a lot of extra yum to an already yummy pie. I'm most definitely going to make pumpkin pie with Dulce de Leche going forward, without a doubt!

Hope you try it and love it, too! Tell me your thoughts and any pumpkin pie twists you use and love.

PS. This post is in no way affiliated with Trader Joe's, it just happens to be my favorite grocery store.

Pumpkin Seed Fever

This pre-Halloween weekend is turning into a busy one - its all-pumpkin all-the-time. 

I picked up a few more pumpkins at Trader Joe's (cheapest, best pumpkins around!), cleaned out a total of 4 (felt like 100), then carved and cleaned up the seeds for roasting.

I've never roasted pumpkin seeds on my own before. I only have memories of making them with my mom every year as a kid. Thanks mom!

As its my first time, I wanted to try at least two different flavors, something completely different than what you typically expect of a pumpkin seed - sweet and salty pumpkin seeds. I found a bunch of different recipes for both Cinnamon-Sugar seeds and Old Bay seeds. I decided I had to try them both

The process I used is identical for both flavors, only the last step of which seasonings I tossed with is different. So, first things first:

Cinnamon-Sugar Pumpkin Seeds

Ingredients
2 cups pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Old Bay Pumpkin Seeds

Ingredients
1 cup pumpkin seeds (this is all I had left, but you can easily increase the amounts for however much you have)
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1/2 tsp salt
 

What to do next

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. After rinsing and patting the seeds dry, I placed them on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets and drizzled the oil over them.
  3. Toss with a spatula
  4. Bake the seeds 15 minutes (tossing every 5 minutes)
  5. After removing the seeds from the oven and while still warm, add your seasonings of choice, tossing again with the spatula.
  6. You're done! Eat and Enjoy!

Cinnamon-Sugar on the left, Old Bay on the right

So easy and yummy. I thought the Cinnamon-Sugar seeds would be my favorite, but the Old Bay seeds really surprised me and are delicious! Such a great treat at 9am - this is what I get for having two little girls who wanted to make pumpkin seeds as soon as they woke up. Glad it's Sunday!

I hope you try these and love them as much as I do.

Happy weekend-before-Halloween!

Fall Feasting

I've been baking and cooking up a storm lately. Between apple picking and wanting to try out a bunch of new recipes, I've been keeping my kitchen very busy!

The latest, and most amazing soup I've made in a long time, was inspired by one I found in InStyle, not quite where you'd expect to find a great recipe. Missy Robbins' Tuscan Kale and Root Vegetable Ribollita had such a yummy looking picture that I just had to try it.

This is my spin on it:

My version of the Tuscan Kale soup I found in InStyle magazine

This recipe has a mix of root veggies that I wouldn't typically think about using (celery root and parsnips, anyone?!), but they were so great together that I'm keeping this one in my recipe file.

My spin on it included ground turkey, cannellini beans instead of gigante beans (as a result of not finding gigante beans in any store), and reducing the amount of parmesan cheese and olive oil to keep the calories down. And I'm not sure how big the original servings were (4-6 as per the original recipe), but I'm going to get approximately 10 servings out of it - LOTS of soup!

Ingredients (my version):
½ lb sourdough baguette, torn into 1-inch pieces
1 lb ground turkey
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, diced
1 small celery root, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
3 small carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (about ½ cup)
3 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (about 1½ cups)
½ tsp crushed red pepper
2 14-oz cans diced tomatoes
½ bunch Italian parsley
1 rosemary sprig
1 sage sprig
5 thyme sprigs
1 ¼-lb piece Parmesan rind
1 lb. Tuscan kale, stems removed and leaves torn (about 4 cups, loosely packed) - I used a 10-oz bag of kale from Trader Joe's, already prepped and no need to trim
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions (my version):
1. Preheat oven to 200°F.
2. Spread torn bread on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until crisp but not browned, about 1 hour.
3. While bread is baking, cook ground turkey on high in a non-stick pan, no oil needed! Lightly salt and pepper the meat while its cooking. Hold to the side.
4. Once turkey is cooked, heat olive oil in a large stockpot over low heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and translucent. Add garlic, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in root vegetables, red pepper, tomatoes, and ground turkey.
5. The original recipe said to gather parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme into a bunch and tie with kitchen twine. I don't own kitchen twine so I laid them into the pot and stirred around them to keep them together. Miraculously, it worked! Add to the pot along with the Parmesan. Add 8 cups of water to cover the vegetables; bring to a simmer over moderately high heat.
6. Cover and reduce the heat to low; simmer until vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes.
7. Discard herb bundle and Parmesan rind.
8. Stir in kale and beans. Cook until kale is wilted and beans are heated through.
9. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
10. Spoon soup into bowls, add dried bread to individual bowls until it's soaked. This step is perfect for my family as my husband usually gets home late and eats dinner after the rest of us. The bread doesn't have to get soggy if you add to individual bowls as you need it, instead of to the pot as the original recipe says to do.

I hope you try this out and love it as much as I did. Let me know what you think!

Decorating for Fall

It's October, the temperature is finally dipping below 80 degrees, we actually got rain (wait, what?!) and my Fall decorating is done. I did a fair amount of DIY this time around, and I'm really excited about the results.

The first project I tackled was my Pompom tree. I was able to cut branches off a tree in the backyard and then hot glued pompoms from Beverly's in fall colors. I love it! So does Baby M, she keeps pulling off one particular pompom for some reason, no clue why. I've given up re-gluing it.

My inspiration for a fall pitcher of cotton and wheat is from here. I actually saw this last year but hadn't gotten around to putting something together. But, this year I was on my game. I added pheasant feathers and feel like it exudes the feeling of fall, yeah!

I spray painted for the first time ever - super exciting! I was inspired by this, and was able to snag a bunch of Dollar Store pumpkins to make it an incredibly cheap project. I mixed the white and gold with some Dollar Store paper stuffing. I have a handful of Dollar Store pears that still need to be painted, but I think I'll make those for Xmas.

I've been on a tassel kick (more to come in a future post) and my first practice in tassel making turned into this fall-color-inspired garland. I hope its not too boho looking, but I had fun making it and practicing my tassel skills.

A few small projects were crafts that I did with Toddler G and changing out the scrapbook paper in my kitchen frames. You've gotta love Target's Spritz Crafts. It's so fun to mark the progress that Toddler G has made from last year - she was able to do one all by herself! She knew she could do it, I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised.

And finally, the biggest project I undertook was the Apple Wreath. I cleared out the red apple supply of 3 different Dollar Stores. And thank goodness I did, because it would have been a fortune if I had purchased them all at Michael's. It took almost 40 apples and two bags of miniature apples, which I did have to get at Michael's, along with the straw wreath. But the burlap ribbons wrapped around the wreath and used for hanging all came from the Dollar Store. I am constantly amazed with the variety of products they sell. Crazy awesome for my wallet! I also opted against the moss between the apples, I felt like it just didn't need it.

Since all of these projects have been completed I've been baking up a storm. My family, along with all of the West Coast cousins, made the trip to Gizdich Ranch for a fun-filled apple picking trip. And, as usual, we totally over-picked and ended up with 20-some pounds of apples. It's been my goal this week to bake/make something apple every day. I've made an apple crispapple butter, and apple strudel muffins so far. I somewhat botched the muffin recipe by adding way too much butter to the crumble on top, but I have a feeling they tasted even better because of it. Today, it may be a pie (if Baby M naps long enough).

What are you all doing for fall decorating? Baking? I'd love to hear.