Apartment Gardening: A Tour of Our Patio + Six Helpful Books

Happy Friday!

Since we moved to Tennessee two months ago, I’ve started a little container garden on our tiny covered patio. Some of the plants are fairly established now and I’ve been able to harvest plenty of fresh herbs, some lettuce, and a little cilantro so far. :) I really enjoy stepping out onto the patio every morning with Beatrice to water the plants and enjoy our own tiny garden retreat. Here’s a quick tour…

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This garden box houses assorted herbs: oregano, lemon thyme, and sage. The lemon thyme is my favorite – it smells delicious and I use it in my cooking all the time. I also read that it can be a mosquito deterrent. The oregano is kind of bossy and tries to take over the container regularly.

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This long garden box contains lettuce and kale (once they’re finished I plan to replace them green beans). I’d like to plant some mesclun or arugula but I’m not sure if it’s on the verge of getting a little too hot for lettuces. I’ll probably attempt it anyway. :)

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A pot of rosemary. I have high hopes for this rosemary in our new southern climate and keep telling it that I believe it can become a bush one day if it really wants to.

Gardening Books Review

This is the crazy barrel. I threw in everything from okra and nasturtiums to carnations and basil (the basil was an accident, so I wasn’t completely crazy). So far the nasturtiums are doing amazing and everything else seems to be holding it’s own. We’ll see how that turns out.

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This potted fig was a birthday gift from Will. :) I think the leaves are beautiful and I can’t wait to see what the fruit looks like.

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Here are a few of my most elegant planters, containing basil, carnations, and cilantro. ;) The plants aren’t too picky, and cans and salad bins are great for starting seeds. I have some thyme seedling which I started in eggshells as well, but I didn’t take a photo.

I’ve been doing a little bit of reading over the past few years as we’ve attempted various gardens, and today I thought I’d share a few books that popped out at me.

Vegetable Garden Book Round-Up

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener
by Nikki Jabbour

★ Favorite Large-Plot Gardening Book ★

I read this book the year we planted our hugely ambitious, massive first garden when we were renting a farmhouse on 5 acres. Although that garden was a weedy jungle by mid-July and an early frost killed everything just when it was at its peak, it did produce some delicious cucumbers, peppers, and eggplants, an alarming number of squash, and several hundred radishes (even our pigs did not want radishes by the time they were done). My point is, however, that this book really inspired me to garden (maybe I was a little too inspired, in fact). :) I read this one almost cover to cover, and loved that it showed you how to grow things in every season – even winter with root crops and cold frames. It also introduced me to the concept of planting crops close together instead of in neat lines, so that the vegetables themselves shade out any weeds and there isn’t room for them to grow. I thought it was a pretty neat concept (efficient too!). Apparently the author has a new book out called Groundbreaking Food Gardens, which I would be interested in reading since her first book was so good.

Grow All You Can Eat in Three Square Feet

Grow All You Can Eat in Three Square Feet
by DK Publishing

★ Favorite Small-Space Gardening Book ★

This was another birthday gift from Will, and it’s a really fun book for gardening in a small space. It has lots of ideas for all kinds of growing spaces, from a small yard plot, to raised beds, to container gardening. The book has lots of DIY plans for making your own planters, trellises, and even “saddlebags” that can be thrown over a railing if your gardening space is a patio or balcony. I appreciated the section on rotating plants through your containers as the seasons progress (replacing fast-growing spring plants with summer ones so that you can make the most of the containers you have), and of course there’s lots of suggestions for what plants thrive most in the conditions you have to offer. Lots of fun, with plenty of pictures and illustrations.

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The Speedy Vegetable Garden
by Mark Diacono and Lia Leendertz

☆ Another Good Small-Space Gardening Resource ☆

I picked up this book from the library just a few weeks ago and have been enjoying flipping through it. From sprouts to microgreens to full-grown veggies, this book covers how to grow crops that can be harvested quickly, and includes lots of photos and recipes. Most of the plants can be grown in containers, which is helpful to me since I’m growing herbs and greens on our patio, and I like that the focus of the book is growing small, quick harvests rather than a massive garden master-plan (that would be fun one day, but isn’t possible at present).

The New Self-Sufficient Gardener

The New Self-Sufficient Gardener
by John Seymour

★ Favorite Gardening Reference Book ★

This attractive green book is packed with information and is published by DK as well. It doesn’t have any photos but the illustrations are plentiful and beautiful. Whenever I have a question about a particular plant, the answer is usually in this book. It covers vegetables, fruits, composting, preserving, and even some animals you might keep in the gardens like chickens, ducks, and bees. The author lived on a 70-acre farm in Wales and somehow as you read it you get the idea of an old English farmer having wrote it. ;) He also wrote The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It which is one of Will’s favorite books of all time, and has more of a whole farmstead focus.

The Edible Garden
by Sunset Books

☆ Another Great Gardening Reference Book ☆

If you prefer photos, this book is also a great reference book. It’s not big, but it covers plenty of herbs, fruits, and vegetables, as well as garden design and planting techniques. I also like that the book has divisions by season that cover what you might be up to in the garden at any given time of year. I flip through this one often.

Grow Cook Eat

Grow Cook Eat
by Willi Galloway

★ Favorite Gardening Book for Cooking ★

This is a beautiful book. It’s fun to look through for that fact alone. I enjoy this book because the focus is on eating the food you grow.

For each vegetable or herb, the book goes through planting, growing, harvesting, storing, cooking ideas, suggested varieties, and ends with a recipe. I use this book as both a gardening reference and a cookbook during the summer. :)

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Did any of you plant a garden this year? What’s the one fruit, vegetable, or flower (or all three) that you most enjoy growing? Do you have a favorite gardening book? I’d love to hear your suggestions! :)

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What We Ate: Strawberry & Toasted Pecan Salad (with Blush Wine Vinaigrette)

Last night I tried my hand at salad-making and put together a Strawberry & Toasted Pecan Salad. This is not so much because I am a fancy Master of Salads but is much more related to the fact that unless a salad is disguised as Not a Salad, I view it with deep suspicion and mild loathing.

Salad is disgusting.

I want to like salads, and many a depressed head of lettuce has rotted it’s days away in solitary confinement in my veggie drawer, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that if I want to eat more salad, I’m going to have to tempt/lure/trick myself. Look, a strawberry! Pay no attention to the green stuff. This salad looked and tasted pretty delicious and is perfect for spring, so I thought I’d share the recipe. I wrote it to serve two, but it can be easily doubled or tripled or… you get the idea.

What We Ate: Strawberry & Toasted Pecan Salad

Strawberry & Toasted Pecan Salad

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • A sufficient amount of greens. I used half a head of Romaine and some young Black-Seeded Simpson lettuce from my patio garden, but I think baby spinach would be a delicious substitution.
  • 8-10 strawberries
  • 1/3 cup pecan halves
  • Brianna’s Blush Wine Vinaigrette dressing

Method:

  1. Wash the lettuce and spin off excess moisture in a salad spinner, before tearing lettuce into bite-size pieces. (This is my least favorite part. I don’t know why I hate washing lettuce when it’s so easy, but I do). Toss it in your salad bowl.
  2. Pour the pecans into a skillet over medium heat and toast, tossing occasionally, until you just begin to smell a nutty aroma and they seem… well… toasty (about 5-7 minutes). Give them a quick rough chop or throw them in as is.
  3. Wash, hull, and slice your strawberries over the salad.
  4. Drizzle as much dressing over the top as you desire (I like to have a little salad with my dressing).

Strawberry & Toasted Pecan Salad

As you can see, it’s so easy and simple it hardly calls for a recipe, and I’m sure you can think of plenty of ways to make it your own. I’ve tried this salad with candied pecans (for a quick and very easy tutorial, click here), but personally, I prefer the pecans just toasted, since the strawberries and dressing already add a bit of sweetness. If you have some feta cheese on hand, especially if you choose to make this salad with spinach, I’m sure that would add some delicious saltiness.

The dressing really makes the salad. I’m sure you could substitute a balsamic vinaigrette and it would be delicious with the strawberries, but really recommend the blush wine vinaigrette. It’s amazing.

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Do you all have any favorite salad recipes (in particular, ones that make you forget you’re eating a salad)? ;) I could really use some more suggestions. I’m trying to be mature and responsible and make salads with dinner, but it’s hard to get excited about a bowl of leaves with a bit of tomato and carrot on top (how depressing!). Do you have any tricks for making salads more fun?

Monday Inspiration: Seven Skirts for Spring

I haven’t purchased a new skirt in several years, but something about spring always makes wearing skirts particularly appealing. Today I thought I’d share a few of my favorites from this season which, although mostly out of my price range, are still fun to dream about and draw inspiration from. :)

High Seas Skirt

High Seas Skirt by Maeve (Anthropologie)

This skirt is so fun – I love the nautical stripes and the fit-and-flare silhouette. If it wasn’t for the exorbitant Anthropologie price tag, I’d be sorely tempted on this one. :)

Tulle Midi Skirt

Tulle Midi Skirt by Bailey 44 (Anthropologie)

This skirt is so lovely. It would be difficult not to secretly feel like a princess or a ballerina while wearing this ethereal treat (I guess I’m still 5 at heart).

Pintuck Pleat Chambray Skirt

Pintuck Pleat Chambray Skirt (eShakti)

I had a pleated chambray skirt similar to this several years ago and I wore it until it was threadbare. Chambray tends to go with almost anything and holds up well, so I’m a fan.

Her Fifties Colorblock Skirt

Her Fifties Colorblock Skirt (eShakti)

I love the length and shape of this skirt, and the crisp white with the bold, grass-green stripes. So fresh and cheerful. :)

Papillon Skirt

Papillon Pleated Skirt by Essentiel (Anthropologie)

What could be more spring-like than this white pleated skirt with butterflies floating across it? It looks elegant, but playful too.

Spring Street Skirt

Spring Street Skirt (Shabby Apple)

Another tulle skirt. I guess I’m really just loving tulle skirts this spring. :)

Pintura Ball Skirt

Pintura Ball Skirt by Geisha Designs (Anthropologie)

This skirt is definitely the most extravagant of the seven. I’m not sure I’d have the occasion to wear a floor-length taffeta skirt very often, but it looks so luxurious and the colors are gorgeous – like a watercolor. I couldn’t resist. :)

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What about you all? Do you have a favorite skirt you’ve been admiring this spring (even if just from afar)? :) Did everyone have a nice Mother’s Day?

What We Ate vs. Friday Favorites: Moist Chocolate Mug Cake with Strawberries

Happy Friday!

I thought I’d share another list of favorites to kick off the weekend, and one of the favorites happens to be a recipe, so I guess this post is a What We Ate and Friday Favorites mash-up… the best of both worlds! :)

Vader's Little Princess

Vader’s Little Princess

Beatrice received this book for Christmas from two of her wonderful aunts, and we pulled it out this past week in honor of May the 4th. Each page is a short comic or illustration imagining Darth Vader bringing up little Princess Leia (and tapping into his softer side). ;) Although I wish they’d put a little less emphasis on Leia as the “rebellious teen,” I get it… she IS a Rebel after all. There are a lot of funny Star Wars references and the illustrations range from cute to clever – it’s a fun little book. :)

White Collar

White Collar

I think my friend Anna first told me about this series several years ago, but I was probably too swept up in Psych or Merlin to investigate it further at the time. Last month, however, my sister-in-law Rebekah told us how much she was enjoying White Collar and suggested we might like it. We enjoy having a good show to follow together so we looked into it and were immediately hooked. The characters are likable and fun, the crime-solving is clever and interesting, the over-arching story is suitably mysterious, and because the crime is “white collar” every episode doesn’t start with a murder (unlike Monk or Psych). Will and I enjoy the sweet, supportive marriage between Agent Peter Burke and his wife Elizabeth, their almost parental relationship with smooth, charming ex-con Neal Caffrey, and of course the “Crazy Uncle” and conspiracy theorist extraordinaire, Mozzie. ;)

Will and I have a deal that we are only allowed to watch movies or shows on the weekend (unless by special dispensation ;D). I enjoy this rule because it helps us make sure we spend time just talking, reading, or playing board games together several nights each week, but it’s also fun having our little Friday Movie Night tradition, and we get really excited snuggling into the couch to find out what’s going to happen next and will Neal ever get his hands on that elusive music box?! ;) We’ve only just started Season 2 so I can’t speak for the entire show, but if you’re looking for a fun and interesting series to get started on, I would really recommend this one. Just be warned: it’s really hard to watch just one episode! ;D

Moist Chocolate Mug Cake with Strawberries (For Two)

Mug Cakes

While you’re all settled in for a weekend White Collar marathon, you’re probably going to need some snacks… and while baking is really fun, sometimes you just want a quick treat at 9pm without an hour of cook time and a sink full of dishes. I bring you… the mug cake. Now that Will and I have a microwave (that I actually remember to use 25% of the time!), I have been mastering the art of these magic little miracles. This recipe is our favorite so far, and makes enough for two mugs (because treats are better with a friend). You can easily halve it if you’d like though. :)

Moist Chocolate Mug Cake with Strawberries (For Two)

Moist Chocolate Mug Cake with Strawberries (For Two)
Adapted from Table For Two

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil (melted coconut oil works too)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter (or Nutella!)
  • 8-10 strawberries

Method:

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
  2. Whisk in the milk and oil until all ingredients are combined and the batter has no clumps (there may be a few tiny clumps of cocoa powder – that’s okay).
  3. Divide batter equally between two microwave-safe mugs. Be sure you use a fairly generously-sized mug so the cake has room to rise (it doesn’t have to be massive, but just make sure it’s not tiny).
  4. Drop a spoonful of peanut butter (or Nutella) into the center of each mug, and push it down a little into the batter so the surface is level. This will form the moist, gooey center of your cake. Mmm.
  5. Place a paper towel in the microwave and set one of the mugs on top (just in case you have a volcano situation… it didn’t occur in any of my tests, but if your mug is a bit too shallow, you never know).
  6. Microwave the mug cake for 60-80 seconds.
  7. Carefully remove mug from microwave and repeat with the second mug. Top each mug with 4-5 sliced strawberries. Dig in with a spoon. YUM.

These cakes may not be gourmet but they really are delicious, and just the right amount for one person. :) They’d probably be even more scrumptious with some fresh whipped cream on top, if you’re feeling extra decadent.

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What about you all – any weekend plans? Are you reading any good books? Are you a fan of White Collar, or is there a different series you are currently enjoying? Are you a believer in the magic of microwaved mug cakes, or do you consider them to be a baking abomination? I’d love to hear what favorites you guys are enjoying this weekend – please share in the comments! :)

Six Months of Beatrice

Today my baby is six months old.

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How was she ever so small!? On the one hand, it feels like I was holding her in my arms for the first time only a few days ago, and on the other hand, I can’t imagine life without her mischievous, crinkly-eyed, gummy grins.

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I was telling Beatrice this morning about the first time her Daddy and I saw her and I almost started to cry. I still can’t believe God entrusted us with this beautiful, precious, sweet daughter. How can she hold my whole heart in those tiny, chubby hands, and enchant me with one conspiratorial grin?

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Will and I were broken-hearted when we lost our first baby two summers ago, and I still don’t know why God wished to take that little child home to Himself so soon. He is good though, and He is kind, and though I still remember the pain and ache of loss, I realize that if He hadn’t taken our first child we would never have met little Beatrice. I don’t understand God’s ways, but when I catch a glimpse of them I am always filled with wonder and quieted by His goodness, and love, and mercy. It comforts me to think that we didn’t really lose a child, but gained one, and while we hold our precious Beatrice in our arms, God holds the baby we never got to meet. It makes me think of what Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”IMG_20150120_051355

We chose the name Beatrice because it means “Bringer of Joy,” as well as “Blessing,” or “Blessed.” Beatrice has brought so much joy into our lives since the moment we knew of her, and she is indeed the dearest blessing God has given Will and I. Her middle name means “Grace,” because God gave us a daughter when our arms were empty and we cried to Him. I don’t know how He ever trusts us with these tiny, precious souls, but He is gracious indeed! :)

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Beatrice, you have your father’s dancing blue eyes and impossibly long eyelashes. You are always ready to share a conspiratorial grin with him that only you two understand, and he is the only one who can always make you laugh. When I catch you smiling at each other adoringly, my heart melts.Will & B

You are a serious little lady. You sit in your highchair and watch me cook with eyebrows raised in mild interest. You seem to enjoy walks in the stroller even though you frown and furrow your brow in concentration. You love to hold books and try to turn the pages when we read to you.

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You are also a cheerful, pleasant soul. You enjoy baths and smiling at yourself in the mirror. Your favorite songs make you laugh. You are quick to smile and your eyes often twinkle with a look of secret mischief. You squeal with happy delight at being alive and then you try to eat your toes.

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You are intense and calm, serious and cheerful. You wish to be held constantly, or at least be near enough to touch, and have no interest in crawling or standing – you prefer to be carried. We are thankful that you like to cuddle (even if it’s inconvenient when I am trying to make dinner) and love to watch your quiet, calm, serious little ways and joyful smiles.

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You are the loveliest, most perfect, beautiful gift I have ever been given, and it fills me with awe to hear your happy singing begin from your crib at 6am each morning (even if it is a tad early), or see your eyes light up in a smile, or stroke your fluffy head and hold your tiny fingers while you sleep.

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As I write this you are crying because you are tired and you do not want to sleep. You want cuddles, and books, and kisses, and to grab tightly to my shirt with chubby fingers and bury your face in my neck, while you choke back sniffles dramatically (you know I can never resist you when you do that). You are tiring and demanding and amazing and worth every minute.

IMG_20150507_091533Your Daddy and I love you so very much, Beatrice, and we are thankful for every moment we are given with you.