Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How to Freeze Fresh Strawberries

I love fresh strawberries in the spring! Unfortunately, like most berries, strawberries do not stay fresh for long. In order to enjoy them in salads and smoothies year round, I freeze them in gallon sized ziplock bags. Right now my freezer is literally packed with bags of strawberries, mulberries, and blackberries. I will probably eat just enough of them to make some room to add blueberries later next month. 

Freezing strawberries is very simple, but there is a process, so here it is!

First wash all of the strawberries thoroughly and make a "V" shaped cut in the top of each strawberry to take off the leaves at the top.

You can freeze the strawberries whole or sliced in a variety of ways, but I suggest slicing them in half lengthwise. This way they are still in big enough pieces to use on top of a cake or for dipping, but not so huge that they would take forever to chop up if I throw them in the blender for a smoothie. 

Lay out all of the strawberry slices on a baking sheet so that they do not overlap and put them in the freezer for 24 hours. This will allow each individual strawberry to freeze so you end up with a bag of separate berries instead of a giant frozen block of strawberries.

After waiting a day, simply put all of the strawberries into freezer ziplock bag and pull them out any time you want a taste of early summer!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Houmas House Plantation Gardens

DH was so sweet to take me on a day trip to visit the Houmas House Plantation and Gardens outside of Baton Rouge for my birthday! I love touring old plantation homes- the history, the odd contraptions they used to solve problems we never think about today, and the large self-sufficient estates. But the Houmas House was so much more than a usual tour because of the incredible gardens, and of course, I'm a sucker for breathtaking landscaping because I can appreciate how much work goes into it!

I wish I had gotten better pictures, but I wasn't planning on blogging about the trip until later thinking back on how wonderful the visit was! So just know that these pictures do not do justice to the beautifully crafted jungle of plants that cover the grounds.

The main house has an 8 oak alley. It used to be 24 oak but most were destroyed to make way for a levee along the Mississippi River. The gorgeous oak trees are literally all over the property, setting the frame for the gardens. The oldest trees span in age from 300-600 years old.

The oak tree all the way to the left has what looks like a fancy bird house it in, but it actually houses a huge bee hive where they make their own honey to sell in the gift shop. Love that!

A central circular pond is surrounded by 4 quadrants of gardens that include the vegetable gardens, vine covered walkways, formal gardens, and water gardens.

There are formal gardens with the typical trimmed hedges, symmetrical lawns, and Greek statues.

 The formal gardens have nooks and crannies with quaint seating areas, and even the flower gardens are dotted with edible plants such as dill, artichoke, broccoli raab, cabbage, and kale.

Does this picture look familiar??? Look closely... 

That's right, it is Monet's Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge paining! It even has a Japanese tea house from the top, from which the view is even more of a likeness to the painting. To see this reinvention of the well-known painting is like seeing art come to life! This pond and waterfall is just one piece of the elaborate water gardens that have fountains, flowing streams, and waterfalls that flow into a seeing of pools and koi ponds graced with Louisiana irises and water lilies. Simply breath-taking!

The vegetable gardens were fascinating to me! They use all of the food that they grow in the vegetable gardens in the kitchen for use in the restaurants on the property, which I love. 

They had gotten 11 inches of rain the week that we visited, so you will notice the water still puddled between the rows of vegetables.

The trellises are all formed from intertwined branches and vines creating an artistic yet natural look.

While the vegetables have an overgrown, natural look to them with interplanted crops and curved rows forming a variety of shapes and designs, there is still a visible order and intentionality to the plantings.

I also recommend the tour of the house. The view of the gardens and the property from the second story balcony and fantastic!

Overall, I wish I would have taken a thousand more pictures! What I have are the few that I quickly snapped at the end. I guess that is the sign of truly living in the moment and enjoying it- being so present where you are that is doesn't occur to you to preserve it for later. I hope you have the chance to visit. You will not be disappointed!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How to Freeze Fresh Garden Shell Peas

The rain let up just long enough this week for me to rush to the garden and pick all the shell peas. While snap peas have edible pods, shell peas take longer to process into what you find in the freezer section at the grocery store. While we will eat some fresh, I always want to freeze some to enjoy later!

The first, and most time consuming part of the process, is to actually shell the peas. That's right, open up all those long green pods and scrape all the peas inside into a nice pile. It may sound tedious, but its not so bad to do on the back porch on a rainy day or while watching some TV in the evening. After all, I have to come in from the garden sometime...

Next, you are going to blanch the peas. This is a fancy word for what DH calls "flash boiling". You bring water to a boil on the stove, dump in the peas, and bring it back to a boil for two minutes. This process actually locks in the nutrients and taste so that they don't deteriorate during their time in the freezer.

After two minutes, drain the peas into a strainer.

Plunge the strainer into a bowl of ice water for about a minute to cool them quickly.

Lay the peas out in a single layer on a baking sheet and put it in the freezer for 24 hours. 

The next day store the peas in a labeled freezer ziplock bag, and use it whenever you want for almost just as delicious as fresh peas off the vine!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Swiss Chard Pesto-Salsa

I have a lot of swiss chard in my garden right now, which means its time to find a tasty way to eat it. After making this recipe, I am so glad that I grew swiss chard! 

So this isn't a pesto like you would use on pasta, but it also isn't a salsa that you would eat with chips. It's a delicious in between like a...palsa...or salsto. Either way, it has a surprising and fresh taste that goes perfect on quesadillas!

Swiss Chard Pesto-Salsa

5-6 oz swiss chard (about half a bunch)
1/2 oz fresh cilantro
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. hot sauce (I used Homemade Hot Sauce)
2 tbsp. pepitas
1/4 cup olive oil

So simple to make! Wash and dry the swiss chard and cilantro, and then chop everything together in a food processor to the desired consistency. Keep refrigerated.

We decided to use our first batch of pesto-salsa in rabbit quesadillas, and they were delicious! I was too hungry to take a very pretty picture, but two tortillas stuffed with rabbit, grilled onions, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, and swiss chard pesto salsa made an excellent meal! I kind of felt like I was eating at a fancy gourmet farm to table restaurant. Well, a girl can dream :) Enjoy!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Garden Insects: Good Guys or Bad Guys?

You know the dilemma. You're playing in the garden, and there it is...a new bug. Is it a friend or foe? You don't have time to research it or look it up. You must decide- to squish or not to squish? 

There are no sure ways to tell whether a mystery insect is beneficial or a garden pest just by looking at it, but there are some general indications that can help you figure it out most of the time. Hopefully this chart with some general guidelines will help you know which bugs to squish and which ones to leave alone :)

Characteristics of Garden Pests

Good Bugs

1. They are Hunters
Usually good bugs are good because they eat other bugs, specifically the bad bugs. As hunters they will usually be sitting on a leaf, poised for attack. Their movement will be sly like a ninja with a swift attack on prey that comes near.

2. They are Loners
Usually hunters will hunt alone, not in big packs. They will be hiding most of the time, so they are sometimes difficult to spot in the garden.

3. They do not Play Favorites with Plants
SInce these bugs are after bugs and not after plants, you can find them on almost any and every plant in your garden. The wider their range of placement, the more likely they are to be good.

4. There is no Damage Left Behind
If you observe them closely, you should not see their mouth attached to your plant in any way. You also shouldn’t see any damage to the plants around them (unless it is left from the bug they just ate)

Bad Bugs

1. They are Gatherers
Bad bugs are there for the free salad bar. You have done a wonderful job growing something tasty and they thank you for the meal. They will eat and eat until they have enjoyed all the wonderful food that you grew for yourself. Free loaders!

2. They Come in Hoards
Most bad bugs flock together in huge groups, devouring an entire crop in record time, laying eggs and increasing in numbers until there is nothing left to ravage.

3. They are Usually Attracted to One Plant
Bad bugs often target a single type of plant. If all of the bugs in question are found only on any particular plant or family of plants, it is most likely a pest.

4. The Evidence is Clear
There are holes in leaves, droppings from the meal they gorged on your plants, wilted leaves, or vegetables with damage on them. Usually you will see the evidence of a bad bug long before you find the bug!

Hope this helps solve the mystery of that new bug in your garden!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Dealing with Trying to Conceive: What to Expect When You're Still Not Expecting

A little bit of my story...
A year ago today was one of the happiest days of my life: I found out I was pregnant with our first child! Six weeks later I had a miscarriage, and we were devastated. We never stopped trying, and I was sure that baby number 2 would not be far behind. But as the months continue to pass, I have learned that waiting can be just as devastating as losing a baby. Miscarriage is something not many women talk about, and trying to conceive is another category we keep to ourselves as women. I won't attempt to say that I know what every woman in this or that scenario is going through. I don't. We all deal with it differently. But if you can relate to this season of waiting, then I just want you to know that you aren't alone!

What to Expect When 
You're Still Not Expecting

1. Little Things Will Really Annoy You (a whole new set of pet peeves)

Babies are sweet and adorable, and you want one more than anything, so how can they seem to make you so angry? It won't be everyday, but some days, you will really dislike everyone who has a baby. But even more, you will get overly annoyed when someone complains about their kids. Or says that you are lucky not to have them. Or gets pregnant without trying. Or...well you get the idea. No one does these things to intentionally upset you, but it is a challenge to not take everything in the kids realm personally.

2. Social Media is not Your Friend

Facebook. Just don't go there. All those baby pictures...and baby bumps...and pregnancy announcements. And Google. Quit googling. I mean it! There is no secret position, food, vitamin, supplement, phase of the moon, etc. that will magically get you pregnant. Most forums offer false hope with strange one in a million scenarios that may not even be true. Oh, and resist the urge to pin baby stuff. I know that's a cute nursery color palette, but leave it alone.

3. You Could Win a Debate Championship With Yourself

Every little change in your body will become a sign. Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, breaking out, being moody, etc. could mean that you are pregnant! But you try not to think about it, because you don't want to get yourself too excited just to let yourself down. Again. But then again, the signs are all looking up this time. This could be the month! But what if it really is nothing? There is no use in thinking about it for another two weeks until you can take the test. Two weeks! Torture...why can't I make myself stop debating with myself?

4. Your Calendar Takes on a Whole New Look

There is a lot to keep track of if you are charting cycles at all. You will create your own system of keeping up with all the symptoms: circles mean one thing, squares another, lines another, not to mention diagrams and numbers. What did I write in my calendar before? It is starting to look like a Pollock painting!

5. You Learn a Whole New Set of Acronyms

If you spend any time at all on TTC (trying to conceive) forums, you will quickly learn an entirely new language comprised of so many acronyms it will make your head spin! Anyone TTC using OPKs to detect O will debate on using FMU or how many DPOs to wait before using an HPT until AF visits. We're all just waiting for that BFP and the EWCM to BD. If you aren't sure what any of that means, just ask your OB-GYN! Unfortunately, reading forums will not get you pregnant, so don't overindulge. Besides, most of the comments are TMI.

6. You Will Have Bad Days and Good Days

Some days you will wake up and everything is great. You have a purpose today. If you never have a baby, you know that it will be just fine. You may have weeks of these days, or even months. But sooner or later, you wake up one day and it is not alright. You have waited and waited, you are doing everything right, and life is not fair. You get discouraged. Your friend's baby born long after you started trying is celebrating their first birthday, or second, or third. You can't make it one more day like this. Something has to give! Don't worry, something does give, and it will be the bad day. After some bad days you will wake up again one morning, and you will realize that it is another good day, and you are ok with life just the way things are. It would probably help my husband if there were some kind of meter to show him which day I am on, but I try to keep him up to date :)

7. You Will Have an Identity Crisis

What am I here for? What is the best way to use my time while waiting? Is there a reason that I don't have kids yet? Is there something that I am supposed to do first? Is there a kid out there already that is there for me to adopt? Is there something wrong with me? Am I broken? Am I inadequate? Am I not supposed to have kids? Or is it all just without purpose and the way things are? Am I okay with the possibility of never being a mom? How much longer will/ can/ should I wait? Sorry, I don't have the answers. Just questions. Lots of questions. My advice- ask the questions, but don't dwell on them too long. After all, I'm not sure I am ready to handle all of the answers.

What do I do now?

Ok, so you're waiting. Whether you are waiting actively or passively, time is passing, which means it must be filled with something. So what do we do with the time while we are waiting? This is a question I asked myself a year ago, and still find myself constantly asking. You know what you want to be doing, so what do you do in the mean time? As I tell the elementary students that I work with, you can either pout and miss out or change your attitude and get to play with the group. The time will pass one way or another, so let's choose to use it the best that we can!

1. Make Plans

I am a planner, which means I usually have all kinds of projects lined up. When you are trying to conceive, it is difficult to not base all decisions about future plans around possible due dates. The thought process goes something like this: "Do I want to teach a dance class? Well, if I get pregnant tomorrow, then I will be 4 months pregnant at the end. Can I teach dance while being 4 months pregnant?" There are so many things that I have said yes to over the last year that my hopeful calendar would have told me to turn down. I am so glad that I did not miss out on those experiences. Besides, keeping busy will help keep your mind off of what you are missing. So make plans! Take trips! Make commitments! And we can only hope that you will have a reason (like being pregnant) to cancel them later ;)

My husband and I took a trip to China! There is so much life to be lived!

2. Don't Count by the Month

I know that feeling. Month after month. Another failure. Another negative pregnancy test. It is easy to fall apart every month with the disappointment, but I would encourage you to use something else to keep track of the time. I used to mark time by the months, but each one was so discouraging. I still get discouraged, but now I wait until I get to the bottom of a bottle of prenatal vitamins. I can hold it together for 100 days until I take that last pill, and then have a day where I fall apart. I know it sounds strange, but find something longer term to use as a time keeper, and it will help you have a more positive outlook during the waiting.

The bigger the bottle of vitamins, the better!

3. Live in Today

I know you want a baby. I know you want the baby shower, the cute nursery, the life of being a mommy, but that is not your life today. Don't peruse the baby aisle at Target. Don't pin articles on making your own baby food. Resist the urge to buy that really cute preggo shirt that's on clearance. There will be a day and time for all of that, but it is not today. Today you are child-free. So go do something that can only be done today. Focus on what is happening around you here and now and let the future take care of itself.

4. Cancel the Pity Party

I am a really good hostess when it comes to pity parties, but let's fact it, they don't help. When I think about my situation and put it into perspective of what the average person in the world is going through, I quickly realize that I really have nothing to throw a party over. There are people starving, living in war torn areas, fighting cancer, and losing their families in tragic natural disasters. I live an amazing life- I just haven't been able to reproduce yet. It is a real struggle, but definitely not at the top of the list. Okay, I guess I can put away the party hats...

5. Choose Joy

My life is wonderful and I am blessed in so many incredible ways. So why is it that I get so focused on the one thing that I don't have instead of all of the things that I do? It is easy to get discouraged when I look at everyone with babies and me without one. But if I made a list of all of the amazing things that I have been blessed with while being completely undeserving, I could fill a book. Instead of putting my attention on what I don't have, I have to make an intentional effort to be thankful for the many blessings in life that I do have!

6. Keep the Faith

I don't know what your beliefs are, but I am a Christ-follower. Between the miscarriage and the waiting, my relationship with and faith in God has been tested. At the end of it all, here is what I know to be true- God loves me, He has a plan for me, and while this world will bring me trouble, He will work all things together for good for those who love and obey Him. I trust His timing and judgement because His thoughts are higher than my thoughts and His ways higher than my ways. God has given me all that I have, and it is His to take away. If I am never able to have a baby, I am made complete in Him. Nothing that happens to me changes those truths, and it is all that I can stand on when everything else gives way. I pray that you find that same certainty and peace! And when you have a bad day, come back to this truth and rest in it!

I don't pretend to have all the answers. Honestly, this list is as much to make a reminder for myself as it is to help anyone else. Whatever day you are having, and no matter how long you wait, know that you are NOT the only one. Keep your head up- there is a lot to be learned in the waiting. And who you are and become in the waiting is the truest reflection of your character. Make it beautiful rather than bitter!