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! :)

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! :)

Doctor Who?

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I have a confession to make: I do not enjoy watching Doctor Who. Before all my Whovian friends disown me – it’s not for lack of trying! In fact, the situation both puzzles and disappoints me. Several times I’ve borrowed a season from the library and tried to get into it, but after 2 episodes I start getting creeped out and even the intro music makes my skin start to crawl. By the 3rd I start to feel a bit sick to my stomach, and usually halfway through the fifth I feel so weirded out that I have to go take a walk or get a hug or bake some cookies. And yet the next time I hear my friends talking about the show, I wonder wistfully if I should give it another try. It just doesn’t add up… a BBC show, humorous situations, quirky yet lovable characters, insightful themes, jammy dodgers, long striped scarves, a devoted but playful following of fans… what’s not to love? I think it’s the aliens. Something about all the aliens and things that are gooey or unnatural… unfortunately I just get too creeped out to enjoy the story. It’s a very unfortunate handicap. For now I will just continue to smile uncertainly at Doctor Who jokes and references I’m not sure I quite understand, try to remember what T.A.R.D.I.S. stands for, and enjoy as much of the nerdy, hilarious culture of my dear friends that I so wish I could get swept up into. :)

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Rebekah, one of my favorite Whovians. ;)

All that to say, although I can’t watch the show, I do appreciate it and WISH I could watch it, so the next best thing is of course to read about it. :) My amazing sister-in-law, Rebekah Hendrian, who is not only a warm, generous, creative, and caring friend but is ALSO an incredibly talented writer (I’m totally going to brag it up about her because she’s also very humble), wrote an essay for a book called Bigger on the Inside: Christian Themes in Doctor Who that’s being released tomorrow! If you’re a fan of Doctor Who, you should definitely check it out because I’m sure it’s going to be a fun and interesting read. If you’re not a fan, you should also definitely check it out! The essays are very accessible even to those of us who have no idea what a Time Lord is or why he’s called a Doctor (?), and now you’ll have something to talk about with your dear Whovian friends without having to actually watch the series if. It’s a win for everybody! :D

Dr. Who

If you live near Lancaster, PA, you can head on over to the Release Party tomorrow to hear a lecture on the topic of Doctor Who presented by Greg Thornbury (co-editor of the book and president of The King’s College, NYC), buy a signed copy, or, even better attempt to WIN a FREE copy by entering the Doctor Who Costume Contest. That’s right. You get to dress up, connect with fellow Whovians, and win free books. Could it get any better? You can find out more here, and be sure to say hi to Rebekah and get her to sign your book – she is definitely worth meeting and you will love her. :) In addition to being a writer by night, she works at a coffee shop/bookstore by day (I KNOW… so cool), and sometimes she writes hilarious articles on her blog – check it out. :)

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If you can’t make it to the event and want to read the book anyway (I know I do), you can order it from Hearts and Minds and use the discount code SQHALO to receive 10% off! Whoo hoo!

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So are any of you all Doctor Who fans (or wish you were)? What do you love about the series, and what am I missing (go ahead, rub it in)? ;) If any of you decide to stop by the event or read the book, let me know what you think! When I get a chance to read the whole book I’ll probably post a follow-up review, but I’d love to hear your opinions. :)