Value in Gardens: A Tiny Pile of Carrots

Want a great way to make yourself feel crazy? Grow a home garden and expect the returns to pay for themselves the first year. “We’ll grow things from seeds,” I thought. “We’ll only need dirt and sun and water, so surely enough will grow to make THAT worth it.”

In my recent post, The Jungle in the Garden, I may have sounded very optimistic about the yield of my garden. Surely, it’s going to be more than the dry desert of wizened weeds I was originally expecting, but let’s get serious here. A bag of carrots cost 1.49 at the grocery store. I expected grocery-store-like carrots, not that weird little-man carrot I featured in a recent entry. and I definitely didn’t expect this pile of small, shrimpy, twisty carrots.

This pile, while far better than the sad carrot yields of my childhood gardens, shows that home gardening is HARD. I was so excited to pull my root veggies out, feeling them hesitate like reluctant children having to get up for school. But every single one of them was smaller than I expected, having fought for sunlight with the recently mushrooming tomato plants.

I will write later about the delicious, warming chili I made with that pile of small carrots, but basically, I am learning and truly enjoying how much gardening is humbling. The things that farmers do, no matter how you feel about big-scale farming, ARE AMAZING. Consistent, huge carrots are an amazing thing, even if you want sustainable practices in that big scale process.

The other thing it teaches me is hope and patience: I’m leaving some of my carrots in the ground because it turns out carrots are biennial – they’ll grow and flower next year, yielding me carrot seeds! While I know I cannot recuperate time, energy, or even the money it takes to grow a garden, I’m so thrilled to continue using the “children” of this year’s small carrots as I grow as a gardener.




57. C’s Honey-Garlic Meatballs

C made delicious cheese dipย for my first dinner party, and thank goodness she was able to make it to this next dinner party, because she became the champion – with the only beef meatball of the evening, her honey garlic meatballs were homey and delicious, but not just regular red-sauce-covered meatballs either.

C and I recently got to go to a winery and learn about wine before sitting by a pond and enjoying the sunset, and it reminded me how much I appreciate her positive, calm energy. She behaves like a person who can tell when things are a big deal and when they aren’t, and so many people our age really can’t – because we haven’t experienced everything in life yet, we often think our little problems are way too big. C makes me feel like if I was to tell her about my concerns and worries, she would laugh kindly at some and sympathize with the others. It’s a good feeling.

The recipe C used was this one, and she’s a novice at meatballs like I am, so it probably isn’t incredibly complex:ย I am hoping to make some of these for the next potluck I go to, because it doesn’t contain any of the things that can sometimes throw people off – weird, surprising ingredients, scary amounts of spice, or unrecognizable shapes/colors. Most folks recognize a meatball, honey and garlic are familiar flavors without being bland, and there’s nothing newfangled or strange – I personally am a fan of trying things like quinoa and starfruit and any number of other less known foods, but it’s nice to not push people too far out of their comfort zones, especially since I am starting to get invited to parties where I don’t know very many people very well. C has given me a good back-pocket recipe that turns out great meatballs. ๐Ÿ™‚

(Note on the picture: the only picture gotten of this meatball was with other meatballs; it’s the one in the lower right corner!)

GoSun Veggies!

As the veggies are coming in in the garden, I’m even more excited to use the GoSun. I asked recently on their community forum about how to dry tomatoes in it; they said it probably wouldn’t work unless I artificially lowered the temperature by putting something over part of the parabolic dish, but I’m hopeful. It’d be so cool if my dried tomatoes in future pasta dishes were actually sun-dried tomatoes. ๐Ÿ™‚

This batch was from canned tomatoes (the variety that comes with oregano and garlic already in it) mixed with chopped peppers and zucchini. I would say that in the future, I might want to leave them out for a little while or press them between paper towels, because these particular veggies generate so much liquid that I get a stewed flavor rather than a roasted flavor. Another option I’m considering is putting some nice long-grain rice with a little oil down at the bottom of these high-water-volume veggies so that it can cook along with the veggies and make a nice veggie rice dish.

I have yet to see a successful bell pepper plant in my garden this year, since all the plants I thought were going to unfurl as pepper plants turned out to be tomatoes. We’re going to have the world’s best crop of tomatoes, it looks like, but I’m a little worried that it will be no peppers for us, which is sad. At our grocery stores, a dollar a pepper is a good deal for fresh green peppers, so it’d be quite easy to recoup the money spent on seeds and soil if our pepper plants were to grow up big and strong, but so far, nothing doing. Maybe they are hiding in the jungle; we’ll just have to wait and see. This morning I found more masquerading carrots, so we have a few more of those coming. ๐Ÿ™‚


56. Dara’s Creamy Avocado Sauce

On Saturday, I found a food processor that works, and for only 3 dollars at a yard sale. It’s an old-school GE model with only an on-off switch and a pulse switch, and I’m obsessed. It will be perfect for future sauces, pureed soups, and pretty much all the hard-to-chop things that have been haunting me lately.

But I was making this sauce on Friday. So it will go down in history as a good, but chunky sauce in my kitchen, the last of the era, I hope.

Dara over at Cookin Canuck dreamed up a sauce that works so well with salmon that I am tempted to use it on, well, pretty much everything. With a greek yogurt base and a little bit of heat in the spicing, this sauce worked up pretty smoothly even though I didn’t really get all the avocado chunks out. It was a great counterpoint to the strong fish flavor, calming it down on the tongue. I’m convinced that the combination, not just the salmon, got me my second place ranking in the meatball cook-off.

I grew up really picky and always wanted all my food extremely plain in the past, so it was funny to find that in adulthood I wanted to try every sauce I could get my hands on: I’m a hollandaise, honey mustard, barbeque, and bechamel kind of girl now. I generally though, reserve my sauce time for out of the house, where trained chefs can keep them from falling apart. Other than the occasional cheese sauce, I just leave that to the professionals, because the results are pretty amazingly catastrophic when they are bad. This sauce, though, crucially requires no cooking. I’m now going to rely on yogurt sauces when I need something that won’t fail or fall or burn.

And just as a tiny extra tidbit this week, here’s a carrot we pulled up this week that looks like a little person. ๐Ÿ™‚


55. Dara’s Baked Salmon Meatballs

First off, great job to Dara at the Cookin’ Canuck blog because these salmon meatballs won me second place at the meatball-cookoff at dinner party 2. I owe it all to her super classy but yet approachable website and recipe.

However, watching me try to get the skin off a salmon filet was anything but classy. While I reckon I’ve improved in cooking these six months, I have definitely had my share of issues with cooking meats/fishes in the past, namely that I look like a fool while cutting/peeling/shaping them into food-like substances. It’s pretty fun, though, once I finally got all the chunks of salmon into the mixture bowl, to shape it all into balls. I felt a sense of accomplishment and then went immediately to wash my hands a zillion times and take the trash out – salmon was good but very fishy smelling.

I was happy I made these early in the day, because Husband and I spent the rest of the day airing the house out, cleaning, making the Sausage Ball recipe I’ll surely put on here soon that formed both a key part of the party and our breakfasts for days after, and making some yummy sauces. I needn’t have worried, because N brought two kinds of meatballs and sauces too, but my first impulse before a party is to make way too much food, just in case others choose to come without anything. This, of course, results in way too much, but that’s a good problem to have, at least in my world.

The party was the best I’ve thrown; we had a nice mix of Husband’s work friends and my friends from grad school, as well as the surprise visit from K, who I went to college with and who lives about 2 hours away. She was just at the beginning of a road trip and visiting me and staying the night was actually on her way, so we ended up having a lovely time yard saling together the next morning. ๐Ÿ™‚ Overall, I’ll keep filling you all in as I write up all the recipes, but suffice it to say: meatballs are a wonderful way to bring people together.

Summary of the Meatballs/”Meatballs” to come:


  • N’s thai peanut quinoa & chickpea โ€œmeatballsโ€
  • Cโ€™s turkey meatball pizza bites
  • Jโ€™s falafel
  • Husband’s cheddar sausage meatballs
  • my avocado sauce and queso sauce to put on top
  • and the grand prize winner, Cโ€™s honey-garlic beef meatballs (her first time trying them!)



54. C’s Sweet Potato “Muffins”

Yesterday, we were all out of breakfast foods after the long road trip, and I had a hankering for something sweet and nutritious, so I broke out my small stack of remaining gifted recipes, and found this one, which was actually in a birthday card from my Mom, C.


I have no muffin tins, so I just made the recipe as a big cake and cut it into pieces. I substituted some of the milk and sugar for more sweet potato (the can I had was very large) and it turned out moist, dense, and sweet. I liked having big chunks of pecan and raisin to break up the bread a bit too. This will go down in history as one of my favorite breakfast foods, and it really isn’t that bad for you either. I saved some of it just in case we have more folks at the potluck tonight than planned, and I still have plenty for a week of breakfasts.

Best of all: it took maybe 15 minutes to put together, not even using the stand mixer! It is usually unthinkable for me to cook something before 8am, but this seemed reasonable and by the time my sleepyhead mom woke up, I had the thing cooking in the oven. It doesn’t take forever though I did have to give in an extra 5 minutes there at the end, and it browns a little on top which helps you decide it is indeed done.

I enjoyed putting a little cream cheese on top, and my mom tried butter on top, both of which were great additions. It doesn’t have streusel or anything but it does seem like a variety of “coffee cake” especially since I didn’t do it in a muffin tin. Overall, a rave review and a creation I intend to return to for potluck brunch or other occasions that warrant sweet breads.


The Jungle in the Garden

So, I’m officially home, and to my great astonishment, the garden has mushroomed. It has exploded. It is everywhere!

Husband let me know that he’d been eating salads off the garden’s greens for the whole time I was gone, and I noticed that the basil is thick and lush again (time for more Brie-Basil Pasta, perhaps?).

The squash are almost ready to flower, and our strawberry plants remain thick and green even though they seem to have stopped flowering. The biggest growers by far, however, are the tomatoes: they’ve spread in every direction! We’ve also got two thriving pepper plants, which is good because I feel like I add bell peppers to every single recipe, and we’ve got carrots. I got impatient and tried to pull one too early a while back, so I’ve been resisting digging any of them up; I need to figure out exactly how long this variety of carrots takes to mature!

The potato barrel seems to be retaining too much moisture, but we’ve also just had a really wet month of June so far, which is bound to make them a little yellow and sad when they are in a barrel. The bush of mint seems to be thriving at the back of our yard, and our onion, while overshadowed currently by the mushrooming tomato plant, seem to still be sending up their tall thin feelers toward the sky.

When I think about how worried I was in early April that my tiny sproutlings would never take in the soil, that they’d wither immediately and die, I can hardly believe it! No matter how much fruit/veg comes out of the garden, I’m stunned at the way living things can blossom under sunshine and abundant rain. It makes me even more excited for the project we’re planning, where we’re going to add a new raised bed with a tomato trellis at the back of our yard. It gets even more direct sunlight than the current beds, which seems to bode quite well. Maybe we’ll also give our plants a little more space next year, knowing what kind of jungle can come out of just a few sprouts!

Finally: Dinner Party 2

So, we had a dinner party in January, and there was one in March that got cancelled, so finally, finally, we’re having dinner party the second. Meatball/”Meatball” cook-off style.

I’m hosting this in tandem with N, who has me very excited about cooking up a few kinds of meatballs in hopes of being the crowd favorite. Husband has invited a friend from work, we’ve invited a neighbor or two, and some of the folks from the first dinner party are returning. A good time and a full stomach is sure to be had by all.

I am so excited to get home tomorrow, folks. I love travelling, but I’m ready to be cooking in my own kitchen again, sleeping in my own bed, moving forward on my summer projects at my normal space. I miss coffee fresh-ground (sounds snobby, but everyone’s got a comfort thing like that, I think) and obviously, I miss Husband. This is the first 8-day absence since marriage! I’m ready to bug him to go get ice cream with me again.

So, I promise I’ll get back to posts about actual recipes, but it’s been fun to have the chance to write a little more creatively while on the road. If you are just tuning in, please do check out the many numbered posts about recipes I’ve tried for the project; it’s not always a personal travelogue around here. ๐Ÿ™‚

Cookbook: 101 Classic Cookbooks

One of my activities this week has been reading 101 Classic Cookbooks, a present from my cousin for our wedding. It was a prescient present, given that I had asked for recipes from everyone but didn’t know that I would be so taken with blogging.

This book is very cool, because half of it is recipes, like a traditional cookbook, but the first half of the book is beautiful descriptions of the 101 cookbooks that the editors thought were most influential to the history of American cooking. It goes from hundreds of years ago right up to the most ultra-modern cuisine, and the reason I liked it was because it shows how the whole world has influenced American cooking. While it is a kind of cuisine in its own right, it can trace threads of influence from so many different groups of people who have immigrated, become Americans, and made their mark on our dining experience.

I’m excited to try more of the recipes they include because they’ve found 4 or 5 recipes from each book that are either indicative of the time or very delicious – there’s even a recipe for roasted possum, but I doubt that will be my choice to try! I’m excited to try their recipes for Spanish foods that I haven’t gotten a chance to attempt yet (I know I make a lackluster paella, so I need some help there).ย  It’s also fun to imagine a hundred or two hundred years ago, someone sharing a meal that I can still mostly recreate here and now, in the modern world.

Some of the folks who came to my wedding didn’t give me a single recipe but instead recommended cookbooks; while I’m not Julie of Julie and Julia, cooking a whole book worth of recipes, I’d sure like to know which cookbooks I can borrow from the library are standout good, like 101 Classic Cookbooks is. Any recommendations? I also love hearing if a cookbook has a special story for you – you know how it goes on this blog.




Sister’s Gouda and Butternut Squash Casserole

So the main stop on my road trip this summer has been to visit my sister, and last night, she cooked for us! I realized that I appreciate more than ever the space of my own kitchen, and it has translated into giving my sister space to cook the way she wants. She cooks like a person who works in a real kitchen: quick and high-heat and occasionally messy but always producing stunning food.

She made us a variation on this recipe: which she got from her Blue Apron subscription. With us, she substituted a few things: chestnuts were replaced with slivered almonds, the spice blend was her own (lots of rosemary and garlic), and there were no brussel sprouts. I know someday I will grow up enough to like brussel sprouts, but this day was not that day.

The result was a brimming full casserole dish with truly wonderful, grown-up macaroni-and-cheese feel: it had sweet bits with the squash, savory gouda and parmesan, and just the right crunch with the almonds. If I made it, I’d probably have done a little more sauce so it could fill each rigatoni tube, but honestly, her way was healthier so I should probably stick with her genius.

Watching my sister cook made me realize how far I’ve come: my sister has been interested in high quality cooking for a long time, but my experience with it is still new; these six months of blogging have taught me a lot though! I’m pretty excited to be rounding the bend on half a year cooking and blogging, and it’s neat to measure myself against someone whose cooking will always be better than mine, but who I now can almost keep up with in terms of knowledge of techniques, even if my results will always be less magical (at least a little bit). I am definitely trying this at home though!