Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Shopping" For My Garden

 By Katie

I've been pretty clear about the fact that I'm currently obsessed with gardening, right? Well, let me illustrate the depths to which this obsession as taken root.

Taken root, people. Seriously? I am queen of comedy, with the punning.

...wait, was that an actual pun? I could never remember the definition.

OK, so it's Saturday morning, and I am clearly distractable. A couple things you should know:

  1. Like (apparently) all amateur gardeners, I bought a gajillion seeds and was WAAAAAY too ambitious in planting them. I read in a snarky but helpful garden blog that this is a bad idea if you don't have grow lights (which I don't), but I went ahead and did it anyway. Because I'm a rebel. And because I like to make the right-of-passage mistakes that people more wise and experienced warn me against. Whatever. The blogger was right: it is very difficult to grow a large quantity of seedlings without grow lights. Especially without proper window space and in a spring that's been swinging back and forth between hot sun and almost-freezing wind. Oops. So I killed a lot of seedlings. I'm trying not to feel super guilty. I'll do better next spring, Mother Nature! FYI, things that do surprisingly well under mild neglect, not enough sunshine, and sporadic watering? Peppers of all kinds, squash, and basil.
  2. I have a dog walking business. As such, I spend my days outside, traversing the various semi-urban, suburban, and rural spaces Madison, WI has to offer. Since it's almost May and everything has turned green (and yellow, and blue, and white, and pink), I have an endless repertoire of landscapes to study. This has been super helpful. It's meant that every day, all day, has turned into a massive "shopping" trip for plants. I peruse, I make mental notes, and I slowly decide what I want to buy based on others' purchases and designs.

I note what catches my eye (like this beautiful sloped rock garden), see what plants they've used, and pull together some kind of mental list of likes and dislikes. Here are some of the landscapes and plants that have inspired me over the past couple of weeks.

Gorgeous, mature rock plantings

Crabapple in bloom

I love the glimpse of a fiery Japanese maple over the traditional fence

Hostas and daffodils in foreground; someone PLEASE tell me what the shrubs behind them are!

Adore these dilapidated stairs

I love the redbud in the background

There's mystery in stairs that lead to the unseen
Betula Papyrifera 'Paper birch'
Van Houtte Spirea (I'm almost positive)

Blue spruce sets off the brighter greens in the foreground

The spreading limbs of the oak? tree combine with the dainty Japanese maple

This street view is why I love spring. Color abounds!

Lysimachia nummularia 'Creeping Jenny' in the foreground

Creeping phlox, rock cress, daffodils and sedums combine to make a lovely raised rock bed
So I take all of these accumulated visuals, combining them with lots and lots of gardening books strewn around the house, and I go to various nurseries to check out availabilities and pricing. Yesterday, I had about 45 minutes to kill in the late afternoon, so I stopped at a big store's plant sale and meandered up and down aisles, taking pictures of everything like a weirdo.

Not sure why my hands looks like I just dipped it in oil, but...

As you can see, I have come to have a truly one-track mind. Apart from the seedling misadventures, I'm making slow but sure progress in my garden...but those pictures will be for another post. Happy gardening!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Quin--WHAT?! Lime-Cilantro Quinoa Salad

by Anita

Some of you may be familiar with quinoa and some of you may run from it since you may not even know how to pronounce it. Well, it's a basic grain. Yup, just that simple.

So here's the foundation for you to get to know quinoa (per Wikipedia): "a species of goosefoot, is a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal, or grain, as it is not a member of the grass family. As a chenopod, quinoa is closely related to species such as beetsspinach, and tumbleweeds."

Now that that is out of the way, I must say that I make quinoa just as I would when I crave pasta, rice, or potatoes (except for mashed potatoes, nothing compares to those). So hopefully that gives you a background if you are still nervous about the grain. It's much lighter overall than pasta or potatoes and it is packed with fiber, protein, magnesium, iron, and it is also gluten free. Pretty damn awesome if you ask me! 

Since I have been attempting a "Real Food" challenge to remove processed foods from my diet, quinoa fits the bill for a great go-to recipe item. I found this great recipe for the power packed grain from the blog I have been following and created the dish for an Easter brunch. It stuck out like a sore thumb on the counter in the mix of the buttery, meaty, eggy, casserole dishes alongside the sweet and gooey breads galore on the remarkably glutenous day that it turned out to be for my extended family. However, the crowd was pleased with the dish...or that's what they told me.

This recipe is also easily doubled for a big BBQ, pot luck, or for your own selfish devouring. 



  • 2 cups water or chicken/vegetable stock 
  • 3 cups cooked quinoa (1 cup dry)
  • ¼ pine nuts, toasted
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper of any color, diced
  • OPTIONAL: 3/4 chopped dried fruit like raisins, apricots, dates, etc.
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (better quality than regular olive oil)


  1. Boil water or chicken/vegetable in a sauce pan to cook quinoa. Cook per directions on package.
  2. Toast pine nuts in a saute pan for 5 minutes or less on low to medium heat.
  3. Chop and dice cilantro and bell peppers.
  4. Mix all salad ingredients together with the cooked quinoa.
  5. In a separate, bowl or food storage container whisk together all dressing ingredients, slowly adding the extra virgin olive oil while whisking.
  6. Add the quinoa and added ingredients to the bowl with the dressing and mix thoroughly.
  7. Ready to eat? Serve as a side dish, add to a spinach salad, stuff into a pita with lettuce, or have as light snack. Keep stored in refrigerator up to 7 days for freshness. 8
Serves: 6-8

Ingredients for the quinoa salad: bell pepper, pine nuts, cilantro, and optional dried fruit.

Ingredients for the zesty and simple dressing: Extra virgin olive oil, lime juice, Dijon (honey if you want) mustard, garlic, salt.

Bell pepper slices...always good for snacking at every time of day.

My rough dice

The final "salad": cooked quinoa with a lime-cilantro dressing and tasty Mediterranean ingredients
I got so excited with the tantalizing flavors of this quick dish that I had an impromptu porch party with a few friends and made a 2nd batch within 30 minutes since I had everything already out. Let me know what type of fun items you use to change up your quinoa! Go and conquer the quinoa!

Holy Meatball!

by Anita

There are some days when you want a meatball. "Ahh tasty ahh meat-ah-balla" (said in in my best Italian accent). Well, as a part of the "Real Food Challenge" that I have tried out (with some success), the first day of my challenge I made a simple, yet delicious whole wheat pasta with a red sauce and homemade meatballs. The end result was a healthy and nutritious dinner that can stretch your dollar for a few days if you make the whole pound of pasta. Leftover pasta is always the best!

To check myself and to be honest with you, eliminating all processed foods is a process in itself but if you have a partner in crime to take on that challenge then it can be done as long as you have the right snacks in place. HA! My boyfriend took on the challenge with me and went to the grocery store on his own to gather the ingredients for our dinner. One minor road bump was the search for WHOLE WHEAT bread crumbs--prepared--and ready to purchase. That was not found at our grocery store. So we got creative and just eliminated bread crumbs all together from this recipe to eliminate the "un-real" foods for the night. We also steamed some fresh broccoli to have as a side dish.

Enjoy this for dinner by yourself or make it with some friends with a delicious glass of Malbec, Pinot Noir or Chianti. 



  • 1 lb whole-wheat pasta
  • Red pasta sauce (Organic Tomato Basil Sauce)
  • 1 lb ground beef (Laura's lean beef)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese; and extra for garnish.
  • ½ cup carrot bits (diced and chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons soy sauce (Gluten Free used)
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning (Substituted with dried Oregano, Thyme, Sage, Onion Salt, Pepper)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  1. Boil pasta according to package directions. Whole wheat noodles take longer.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. 
  3. Mix together ground beef and next 8 ingredients. This is where you get your hands dirty to mix all the ingredients. :)
  4. Drizzle a baking sheet with olive oil to cover the pan.
  5. Roll the beef mixture into meatballs the size of golf balls. Place them in rows onto the greased baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes or until brown all the way through. 
  7. Ready to eat? Serve meatballs on top of cooked pasta and warm pasta sauce. 
Serves: 5 
The base ingredients for the meatballs: beef, egg, Italian seasoning, garlic, cheese,  & carrots (omit bread crumbs)

Some of the tasty liquids: Tomato Basil pasta sauce, Red Wine Vinegar & Soy Sauce used in the meatballs

Don't watch the water boiling or else...

In a bowl, mix all of your base ingredients and liquids along with the diced carrots

Down and dirty with the meat balls!
The rolled up and baked meatballs ~ about 1 - 1.5 inches

A quick and easy side dish: steamed chopped broccoli. Add some extra grated Parmesan cheese on top! 

Mix your baked meatballs in with your warmed up pasta sauce and  cooked whole wheat pasta and top with grated Parmesan cheese for a garnish.

My taste tester LOVES his broccoli!
 This dinner was a quick and super easy meal to prepare and you can certainly make a big batch of meatballs and freeze them for that lazy dinner day. Bon Apetito!

Who wears short shorts?

by Crystal

 ...not me. Usually, I stray away from shorts. But I've been loving yellow lately (umm...who hasn't been?!), so when I found these, I obviously had to have them. I may have worn them twice in the past two days. Shhhh - don't tell my skirts and dresses.

In retrospect, I should have probably tucked in my shirt and taken the hair tie off my wrist. But let's not kid ourselves, my shirts are usually untucked and my hair's up in a ponytail halfway through most days.

Outfit details:
Chambray shirt: Old Navy
Shorts: Gap Outlet
Wedges: Life Stride via DSW
Sunglasses: Coach