Becoming a Farm Girl: Part Three

Note: This is the final post in a three part series to celebrate National Agriculture Day that will show my (non-traditional) journey to Agriculture. My hope with this story is to shed light on the many different faces of a “farmer” and how those who are not born into family farms can still learn, celebrate, find careers and purpose in this important industry.

Becoming a Farm Girl: Part One
Becoming a Farm Girl: Part Two

Adam and I had a blast together at the fraternity dance and continued to see each other.

It didn’t take me long to see that he was completely different from all of the other guys I had ever dated.

And, it wasn’t just because he drove a big, diesel truck you could hear coming down the road causing all the girls in my sorority to yell “Bye Claire!” before he would pick me up for a date.

He was a good friend. He made me a priority. He was motivated and intelligent. He was a leader on campus.

And, he had a job lined up after graduation… in Indianapolis.

At another one Adam's fraternity's formals as we approached graduation.

At another one Adam’s fraternity’s formals as we approached graduation.

The more I learned about him, the more I loved and I began to redefine my job search. By Valentine’s Day, I had a job offer of my own in Indianapolis.

Flash forward three years, Adam had returned to his small hometown to work with his dad at their family agriculture construction business and, after our May 2011 wedding, I joined him.

May 21, 2011.

May 21, 2011.

A hospitality job was hard to come by in the small town, so when a local school reached out because they were looking for a food and nutrition director, I took the job.

It was a great school, but it was by no means my “dream” job. I often felt confined by the rules and regulations in the world of school lunch and my culinary creativity was pretty stifled within the medium of chicken nuggets.

I spent a lot of time trying to make my day to day more stimulating.

After getting to know some of the students, I wanted to do more to make students feel engaged and excited about lunch. I began to look around at the many school lunch websites and blogs to see what other directors across the nation were doing to enhance their school lunch programs. One program that really caught my eye was Farm to School.

Farm to School is a program that connects school lunch programs to local farmers and provides education opportunities, such as school gardens and field trips. Programs were strong in states like California and Texas.

I loved the idea. After all that I had learned about farming and where food comes from in my college years and summer internship, I thought it was a great thing to teach kids, especially those who grew up like me. I wanted to teach them there is no stereotypical “farmer” and they can grow food too, be it in their own backyard or as a potential career down the road.

In late 2012 I reached out to the leaders to see what the program was doing in the state of Indiana. I learned that the program was in its early stages of getting off the ground. I asked if I could get involved and was met with an eager “yes.”

I was actually the first food service director involved in the Indiana group full of local growers, Extension officers, leaders in the Nutrition Services of the Department of Education and more. Because of this, I was asked to speak on a panel at the 2013 Horticulture Congress in Indianapolis to introduce local growers to the program and gauge interest.

I even made the cover of AgriNews... which really excited Adam!

I even made the cover of AgriNews… which really excited Adam!

The impact this day had on me was amazing. I think it may be the first time in my life that I truly felt inspired.

The panel went great, but what was so exhilarating to me was meeting all the people who grew food and were creating unique products with their food. Their products were fabulous. They had neat stories and passion.

Ironically, the congress was held the same week Adam and I had moved into our new home, set on a large piece of land. When I got home that evening, I told Adam about my great day. I told him that I wanted to learn to grow our own food and that we had to plant a garden.

It didn’t take much convincing: Adam, recalling his childhood dreams of being a farmer, was on board.

In order to get our first garden into the ground last summer we hit the library, talked to some family and friends, and watched a lot of YouTube videos. The amount of information we found was pretty amazing.

But, as the garden grew, we wanted to learn more. We wanted to do more in taking charge of growing food, not just for ourselves, but maybe even for others.

I built relationships with extension office leaders and learned about some free work shops they were hosting to educate the community. In the fall of 2013, I went to a hands-on workshop about composting and an info session about community gardens.

Also, thanks to some of those relationships and my eagerness, I was able to attend a weeklong produce safety training hosted by the USDA. There I learned so much. We received information about how produce is inspected, what certifications, insurance, and handling practices are needed at a farm in order to supply food for sale, how to create urban and community gardens and more.

During the training I also went to an actual farm that is a resource for inner city schools in Baltimore. It introduces students to gardens, food that they might not see at home, raising goats and chickens and teaches them culinary skills. Two young men I met and spoke with were preparing to be the first in their families to graduate high school and hoping to serve in the military… as chefs!

I still have a lot to learn, but these experiences are tools that could potentially help Adam and I create a new business venture down the road. Maybe we will help contribute to a CSA, a Farm to School program, or have a stand at a Farmer’s Market. I have since moved on from K-12 food service and in my new role I work closely with chefs. Maybe we create a company that supplies fresh, local produce directly to chefs. But, then again, maybe I go back to that younger demographic and help them learn how to grow their own food. Who knows!?

And speaking of Adam, he is also learning a lot and making moves to help feed others. He made a connection with a longtime farmer who is now serving as his mentor. Last fall, Adam asked if he could donate his time helping with the harvest. He was looking to learn more about the challenges and realities his clients face. He continued to ask questions and learn as much as he could about working a field of corn.

A Shot Adam took farming last fall.

A Shot Adam took farming last fall.

Thanks to his persistence and excitement, he will be going 50-50 with this farmer on forty acres of land this year. He is beyond excited to get into the field to continue to learn, to play a small part feeding the world, and to fulfill his childhood dream of being a farmer when he grew up.

Adam even asked the farmer, “Why are you letting me farm with you?”

His response “I’ve never met someone who shows so much passion and excitement for farming. It’s hard to find someone willing to work for free just to be involved.”

I know that we wouldn’t have had these opportunities and knowledge if we had not spoken up.

I am a firm believer that what you get out of life, be it opportunities or information, that you can’t work your butt off for, is what you have the guts to ask for.

I would not know what I know about growing food or how others grow food if I had not asked questions and asked to get involved.

I am the girl asking questions at the market. I want to know.

In order to create a successful garden, I reached out to old pros and asked questions.

Adam did the same.

It’s really hard to get into actual farming if you are not born into it.

He was interested. He wanted to learn. So, he asked.

If you want to know about how the produce you see at your farmers market is grown, ask the farmer.

If the farmer at the edge of town raises cattle and you want to know how he treats his cows or who he sells the beef to, ask. You might be surprised. A lot of family farmers sell to corporations like Tyson.

(However, another fun question to ask is if you can buy directly from him. There is nothing better than making a relationship where you can support someone in your local community and get fresh meat for your family.)

A farmer will likely be more than happy to answer any question and help give you a better understanding of their world. They are proud of what they do and they want to clear up any misconceptions that, unfortunately, strike the agriculture industry every day.

If you want to know how to start a garden, do what I did. Reach out to your extension offices, ask questions at the local nursery, or you could even ask me.

I am by no means an expert, but I do have a year of experience under my belt and if I don’t know the answer, at this point, I probably know someone who does.

And, like the farmers, I am proud of what I have learned and accomplished. Not to mention, nothing makes me happier to know that someone is inspired by this blog and wants to start a garden.

… Isn’t it funny?

If you had told me ten years ago that this would be my life and this is what makes me feel like I have a purpose, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Chickens? Dirt? Muck Boots? Puhleease.

I might have even laughed.

But, I have picked up a bit of wisdom since sixteen. And, yes, I still have a lot to learn about life, but one thing I know to be sure is that life takes us all down many different roads.

And if there is anything on those roads that makes you truly fulfilled and alive, you should listen to it.

As a young adult, I honestly have struggled trying to determine what to be when I grow up. I didn’t know what really drove me or what I was passionate about.

Until now.

I love the evenings when I am in the garden with Adam enjoying the sunset and a glass of wine while the hens are roaming nearby.

I can’t help but smile when I have a fabulous conversation with a farmer at the market about the food they grew.

I feel like I have a purpose when a friend texts me saying she wants to grow cilantro, but doesn’t know where to begin.

My heart is so happy when I see Adam thrilled about making his childhood farming dreams come true.

And, never in my life do I feel more completely “Claire” than when I am in my kitchen preparing an amazing meal with fresh ingredients straight from my backyard.

Fresh ingredients that I planted, tended to, and picked with my own hands.

… So, maybe I am a Farm Girl after all.

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Becoming a Farm Girl: Part Two

Note: This is the second of a three part series to celebrate National Agriculture Day that will show my (non-traditional) journey to Agriculture. My hope with this story is to shed light on the many different faces of a “farmer” and how those who are not born into family farms can still learn, celebrate, find careers and purpose in this important industry.

Just days after my eighteenth birthday, I headed to college at Purdue University.

First football game!  Showing off our student tickets with my roommate, Sarah in our dorm.

First football game! Showing off our student tickets with my roommate, Sarah. Sarah was so nice and was also a member of Purdue’s Triathlon team!

Like many undergrads, my hometown bubble burst the instant I got to campus. (As it should.)

There were a few girls I made connections with on my dorm floor. But, for the most part they were pretty different. (… Think poor hygiene, curious sexual orientations, painfully shy, etc.)

I remember the huge sense of relief that came over me when I arrived at the orientation for sorority recruitment. Finally, girls that were friendly, passionate, motivated, and, not to mention, looked like they could be great shopping buddies.

Finally girls that made me feel more like me.

Throughout recruitment we were put in groups of about twenty girls and spent a lot of time in alphabetical order. I was sandwiched between a tall, beautiful girl named Amy and a tiny, peppy blonde named Kelsey.

Kelsey’s dorm was one building over from mine. She was a cheerleader and Homecoming Queen in high school. Amy and I quickly made the connection that our mom’s were in the same Purdue sorority only a few years apart.

Kelsey and Amy also found a lot of common ground. They were both from small towns in Indiana. Kelsey’s family had horses. Amy’s raised pigs. I listened as they talked about funny memories from the summer’s fairs where both of them participated in 4H competitions.

During their conversation, I was reminded of an English class as a sophomore in high school:

We were learning to write resumes and the textbook shared a few samples. One of the samples listed 4H as an activity. Our poor teacher had to explain the organization to the class full of “yuppie” teenagers.

I remember the sense of confusion and even giggles that day.

Sewing, farm animals, and pageants?

We all were certain this was the oldest textbook on the planet. 4H had to be something that was only around when our parents were kids.

Please. No one does anything like that now.

Back in the recruitment line, I looked at my new “friends” and thought “Huh… So 4H really is a thing…?”

I also remember thinking, “These girls are really nice and kind of remind me of my friends at home, but wow… we grew up so differently. Could we really be friends?”

At the end of the week the three of us wound up in the same sorority.

(And, to this day, they are great friends of mine.)

Bid Night 2005.  New members were in blue.  Kelsey is on the far left.  Amy is in the center right.  Yours truly has the big, blingy, white sunglasses on her head.

Bid Night 2005. New members were in blue. Kelsey is on the far left. Amy is in the center right. Yours truly has the big, blingy, white sunglasses on her head.

My first year of college wore on and I continued to meet new people and to learn new things about myself, the world, and others.

And it was in that first year, I learned that farming is far from backwards.

Many of the students at Purdue had parents who raised animals, were farmers, or had careers somehow related to the agriculture industry. And, many of these students were following in their footsteps.

In fact, one in ten students at Purdue were a part of the College of Agriculture.

Before college, I was led to believe that agriculture and farming was “old fashioned” and that it was not viable career. But, the young people in the College of Agriculture knew that the industry was diverse, growing and innovative. These future agriculture leaders were studying at Purdue because the future of the industry demanded higher education.

They knew that there were jobs in agriculture that would put the over thirty different majors within the College of Agriculture, including Agriculture Communications, Agribusiness Sales and Marketing, Food Science and Engineering, to use.

The industry of producing, processing, and selling food actually makes up 15 percent of the American work force.

However, it also wasn’t too out of the ordinary for the students to be preparing to take over their parent’s roles on the family farm. Of the over two million farms that cover the nation, 97% of them are family owned and operated.

They knew that they were learning skills in the College of Agriculture that would help them feed not only America, but the world, as nearly a quarter of the raw US farm products are exported. These students were motivated and beyond intelligent.

But, they didn’t carry these facts around with them every day. At school, they were just fellow Boilermakers.

And at the time, I didn’t realize how much my selected course of study relied on the Ag Students.

I chose to study Hospitality Management thanks to a passion for putting on events. (…Thanks, High School 5K!) However, the summer before my junior year I studied abroad in Switzerland and was bit by the culinary bug.

Prepping an Apple Tart at a culinary class in a Swiss kitchen.

Prepping an Apple Tart at a culinary class in a Swiss kitchen in 2007.

This led me to Los Angeles for an internship the summer before my senior year. The internship was with a food service company that was contracted at a large corporation to handle the catering and cafeteria service.

As a Midwestern girl, I was beyond stoked for a summer in LA. I packed my bags and headed west with visions of hanging with surfers, spotting stars everywhere and becoming Lauren Conrad’s next BFF on The Hills.

I never in a million years would have imagined the group of people that I ended up spending a lot of time with in Southern California… Farmers.

In addition to the day to day tasks in regards to catering events and running a large cafeteria, I was asked to help with a handful of projects. One particular project was to create an onsite, bi-weekly Farmers Market.

The corporation valued work life balance and to support that my boss decided to bring the Farmer’s Market to work. The employees would have the opportunity to shop on their lunch hour versus giving up time at home with their families on the weekend.

I worked through our produce supplier to connect with growers located close to LA County. As I met with them to learn about their produce, I was so surprised to see the many different faces of farmers. Some were young, some old. Some men, some women. There were many different backgrounds, from Hispanic to Australian to American through and through.

But, they all had one common thread: They were so proud of the food they produced. And, they couldn’t wait to share it!

My conversations with these farmers left me energized and eager to do their products justice as I tried to sell them at the pseudo Farmer’s Market.

But, I didn’t have to try too hard. It was 2008 and SoCal was on the forefront of the organic, local, green, Farm to Fork movement. The farm fresh produce sold itself.

The market was a huge success. We sold out of everything each week. I loved seeing the corporation’s employees so thrilled to have healthy options to take home to their children instead of swinging by In-and-Out after work. I was also intrigued with how interested some of the people were in learning about the people who grew their food. And also, how they grew the food. They weren’t afraid to ask questions.

Lovin' Life in SoCal in 2008!

Lovin’ Life in SoCal in 2008!

That August I left LA to begin my final year at Purdue, convinced I would be back the following June to start my career.

But a couple months later, my plans began to change when a boy, named Adam, asked me to his fraternity’s dance.

… His Agriculture fraternity’s dance.

Becoming a Farm Girl: Part One

Note: This is the first of a three part series to celebrate National Agriculture Day that will show my (non-traditional) journey to Agriculture. My hope with this story is to shed light on the many different faces of a “farmer” and how those who are not born into family farms can still learn, celebrate, find careers and purpose in this important industry.

At the beginning of 2014, a good friend and sorority sister encouraged me to join a blogging group supported by her employer, Indiana’s Soybean Alliance. The group is a network of women bloggers with agriculture backgrounds. The group holds monthly lunch meetings that include blogging speakers or workshops.

It sounded like a great opportunity so I eagerly began attending meetings. And just a few months in, I have already learned so much.

I am getting better with layout design (Aren’t the bigger pictures nice?), social media (“Like” Bloom on Facebook, if you haven’t already!), and I have really loved networking with woman who have been doing this for years and have found success in the blogging world.

Not to mention, they have been a lot of fun to get to know.

But, just like any time I join new group, especially a group of women that have known each other for years, I can’t help but wonder where or if I fit in.

A big element that adds even more pressure to trying to fit in is that all of these women grew up on farms, have careers in the agriculture industry and/or are farm wives. The group is even nicknamed the “Farm Girls” within the Indiana Women Blogger’s Network.

The issue?

Well… I am not really a “Farm Girl.”

At least, I never thought I was.

I know I live in a small agriculture based town on eighty acres that are farmed. And, my husband has a major passion and career in the agriculture industry. And, that I have five little hens.

But, it wasn’t always this way.

My insecurity about fitting in became even more prevalent a couple days ago when I was reading a beautiful “Farm Girl” blog. The blog is full of great stories and a good look into her love of agriculture. On a particular post the Farm Girl wrote as she regaled about her childhood on the farm, “And who doesn’t have memories of playing through the beans?”

Umm… Me?

In fact, about five years ago, I asked my then boyfriend as we drove on country roads through northern Indiana what “that other plant” was.

They were beans.

So, no. I don’t have any memories of running through beans.

But, I do remember running through large sprinklers on summer evenings as the Country Club watered the golf course.

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And, just like the Farm Girl, I also have fond memories of childhood and love where I grew up.

Where I grew up, there were cement bike paths connecting every neighborhood, and tunnels that ran under main roads so children wouldn’t have to cross the street.

We would race each other around the cul-de-sac and ring our neighbor’s doors to see if they could come play “Ghost in the Grave Yard” or “Hide and Go Seek” after dinner on summer nights.

The town was also always hosting some major event.

It would come to life after winter for a St. Patrick’s Day parade, where my Dad starred as St. Patrick a handful of years.

My dad, the Irish man, in his element as St. Patrick with me and my brother.  Cerca 2000

My dad, the Irish man, in his element as St. Patrick with me and my brother. Cerca 2000

There was a PGA golf tournament each spring bringing in all the big players. I had friends who got on ESPN during the tournament and others that babysat the pro’s children at an “undisclosed location.” I often worked at the pro shop the week of the tournament and admired the golfer’s wives diamonds and black AMEX cards.

The 4th of July celebration included concerts from Boys to Men, Kool and Gang and more. And, fireworks were beyond spectacular.

Dublin's 4th of July Celebration is half the reason why I love the Holiday so much.  Getting into the Patriotic spirit in 2006.

Dublin’s 4th of July Celebration is half the reason why I love the Holiday so much. Getting into the Patriotic spirit in 2006.

In early high school I raged to Flogging Molly before they made it big at one of the worlds largest Irish Festivals that is held every August.

I still love where I grew up.

The town was and still is beautiful. So was my home.

My old backyard.

My old backyard.

I always felt safe and that could be because the town has been ranked one of the safest in the nation.

It is also ranked as one of the most intelligent towns in the country.

I do not know anyone from my high school that did not go onto college. In fact, my old high school has topped High School rankings for years.

In school, we were challenged. We were told we could be whatever we wanted to be and were given over three hundred courses to choose from to figure that out.

We had award winning yearbooks and news magazines. Our morning announcements were live from a studio that looked almost like any other professional news room. The school’s musicians were composing musicals. The students who were strong in math and science were taking leaps to prepare them for medical school. Honors foreign language classes traveled abroad to experience cultures first hand.

At the Don Quixote statue in Madrid, Spain in 2004.  I am in the center in the red tank top.

At the Don Quixote statue in Madrid, Spain in 2004. I am in the center in the red tank top.

Even through the school’s extracurricular activities we were doing extraordinary things. There was always some cause to support, be it a huge dodge ball tournament for the victims of a hurricane or a formal event for the whole city to raise awareness about a crippling disease. As a senior, I was president of an organization that raised over $26,000 for Juvenile Glaucoma through speaking (At seventeen years old…!) to major local business leaders to encourage donations for a community wide 5K.

Awarding the winner of the 5K in 2005.

Awarding the winner of the 5K in 2005.

We were given opportunities and we were encouraged to change the world.

But, despite our 4.0 GPA’s, near perfect SATs or scholarships to the colleges of our choice, if you had asked me, or any of my friends, where our food comes from, we would have likely said, “the grocery store.”

In our childhood years, we had a huge disconnect to where and how food gets to our table.

Of those three hundred class options listed in the course catalog, not one of them was related to agriculture.

Or, Horticulture.

Heck, the only thing even related to food was a class called “Global Gourmet.” (Likely placed the course catalog knowing that one day these young people are going to be in a dinner meeting and probably shouldn’t be ordering chicken tenders…)

Where I grew up, farming and agriculture were not considered to be a career.

And, why would it?

Where I grew up, no one farmed.

I have looked back at my family tree trying to find any connection to agriculture and as far as five generations back I learned I come from a long line of industrialists: Car dealership owners, patent officers, military leaders, engineers, and marketers.

And, it wasn’t just my family. My friend’s parents were teachers, computer programmers, development managers, architects, government representatives and more.

There were no “Farmers.”

No “Farm Wives.”

No “Farm Boys” and no “Farm Girls.”

Where I grew up, “Farmer’s Daughters” were only in Beach Boys songs.

The only hint of agriculture in my town was a field of corn.

A field of cement corn.

Not my image.  Credit to livbit.com.

Not my image. Credit to livbit.com.

Literally illustrating, “Agriculture is what we were. Progress, industry, cement: that is what we are.”

Where I grew up, farming was backwards.

Go Garden: Starting Seeds

Last night, we started seventeen different seeds.

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Things that we will not be starting indoors are items like root vegetables such as carrots, beets and radishes. We saved some lettuces to sow right into the ground as well.

A good rule of thumb is that seeds should be started indoors about six to seven weeks before the last frost. The last chance of frost in my area is May 11 (…Here’s hoping!). So, I am right on track as it’s about six and half weeks out.

Starting seeds is relatively easy. And, garden companies make it even easier.

We use plastic seed starter flats that you can get at any grocery or home improvement store. Some have soil pellets in the containers when you purchase them. We used these last year and I didn’t have any issues or complaints. They were great. But, this year we added natural and organic seed starter soil to our starter flats.

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Once soil is in each container in the flat, be sure to water the soil thoroughly before planting. Make sure the soil isn’t too packed or becomes too wet.

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Seed companies have really made seeds easy to use. The back of the seed packets have all the basics like when to plant, how deep to plant a seed, if it can grow well in a container or if it needs to be transplanted into the ground and more.

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We planted about three to four seeds in each individual container. Once they germinate, we will thin the weaker plants. Sometimes seeds will not germinate, and having more seeds in each individual container will help ensure you get a healthy plant.

Once complete, put plastic lid on the kit and place it in a warm (65-75 degrees) area of your home away from direct sunlight. You do not want to use light until the seeds have germinated.

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Check your seeds daily. Make sure soil is moist, but not wet. You should see signs of germination in about 7 to 10 days. Then, you should move the seeds to a heated lamp or sunlight.

Two other little tips I have picked up from my second year of planting seed indoors:
– Make a “Cheat Sheet” to show were everything is. Even once the seedlings begin growing, it will be hard to tell what is what for a while.

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– Mark numbers on each side of the starter kit and mark them on your cheat sheet. The kit can get flipped around or backwards. You will want to know if that’s the side with tomatoes or not.

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Next time you see these babies there should be some GREEN!

Note: There are many, many other ways to begin seeds. Some people like to reuse recycled yogurt containers. Others, have natural wooden flats that they use year to year. Some make up their own starter soil with compost, worm casings, etc. Do what works best for you. I believe this is the most approachable start for the “Rookie/Novice Gardener.”

Spring Has Sprung.

Well okay, not in Indiana.

There were snow flurries today.

But, we spent the weekend in Atlanta celebrating a good friend and sorority sister’s wedding.

And, in Atlanta spring had arrived.

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It was gorgeous day for a wedding. Saturday was sunny and temperatures were in the seventies. Trees had come in bloom and the wedding was held at Atlanta’s Botanical Gardens where large tulips made the perfect background for the outdoor ceremony.

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Like any wedding, I really look forward to spending time with my college friends who are now located in new homes across the nation. This weekend was a lot of fun because we had so much time to spend together and were able to really catch up.

Everyone got in on Friday and Ashley, whose boyfriend is currently assigned to a project in Atlanta, lined up a dinner at Einstein. Einstein was located right in the heart of Midtown in an area that is similar to Chicago’s Boystown.

Einstein is a restaurant and bar that has a great menu. They have a good amount of small plates and a few entrees, many sandwiches, and amazing selection of sides. They also have received plenty of accolades about their brunch.

With so many great choices, I struggled deciding on something for dinner. I ended up making a meal out of the Crab and Shrimp Cake small plate that sat on a bed of edamame succotash and sides of beets and fried green tomatoes.

Fried green tomatoes are a huge staple in the south and we actually saw them at every meal we ate this weekend in Atlanta… even at the wedding!

Out at an Irish pub after dinner!

Out at an Irish pub after dinner!

The next morning I made brunch reservations at South City Kitchen. Based on some research I had done before the weekend, South City Kitchen sources meat and produce from local growers and bread from a local bakery. It also happened to be right around the corner from our hotel.

South City Kitchen is a bright and cheery restaurant in the Midtown area. There was a patio in the front of the restaurant just off the street and seating inside on both the first and second floors. The waiter led our group upstairs where we were seated at a large table.

We ordered cocktails, because…

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I had a Bellini and Adam had a bloody Mary.

Corn bread and biscuits with apple butter were brought to the table. The corn bread was great and got me inspired to make my own with all the corn in the freezer. Stay tuned for that one…!

Yummy, mini corn bread muffins.

Yummy, mini corn bread muffins.

The South City Kitchen’s menu was a good balance of brunch and lunch options. There were salads and sandwiches, and then your typical brunch fair like eggs and pancakes.

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Adam had been excited all morning to try chicken and waffles. He had never had it, but as an avid Diners, Drive In’s and Dives viewer he had to see what it was all about.

When it arrived his excitement was at an all time high. He even took a picture of it and texted it to a couple friends.

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He dug into the fluffy waffle and decided it was well worth all the excitement.

“It’s like sex in my mouth,” he exclaimed between bites.

“God, your classy,” I replied as I reached over to get a bite.

I am a big fan of a sweet and salty combo. I mix in M&M’s with popcorn. Chocolate chips with nuts. And, Chicken and Waffles is basically the epitome of sweet and salty combinations.

There’s the juicy, salty fried chicken and then the sweet maple syrup and soft waffle. It was good.

I had barbecue pulled pork egg Benedict with pork and coleslaw with, in true southern fashion, grits on the side. The eggs were perfectly poached and the sweet barbecue worked so well with this brunch classic.

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Other entrees that graced our table were the smoke roasted beef eggs Benedict, a BLT with fried green tomatoes as the “T,” salmon, chicken livers and two more plates of chicken and waffles.

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After brunch the boys headed to a bar to catch up on March Madness and some craft beers. My friends, Kelsey and Katie, joined me for the walk to Piedmont Park. Piedmont Park is a park in Midtown, but what we didn’t realize just how huge this park is.

Girls at the park.  Loved the views of the city!

Girls at the park. Loved the views of the city!

It’s massive and, on the nice Saturday afternoon, it was booming with life. We saw soccer games, baseball games, kickball games, runners, bikers, boot camp classes, families picnicking, and lots and lots of puppies!

At the edge of the park, there was a large farmers market that was just winding down for the day. Many of the vendors were selling early spring produce such lettuce, kale and green onions. We weren’t really looking to buy anything because we had long drives back to our homes.

Although, if we had seen asparagus I would have found a way to make that work.

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As we were approaching the end of the vendor tents, a table of pretty glass bottles caught my eye. The sign said it was a USDA organic ginger farm named Verdant Kitchen. The couple that ran the table offered us a sample of their ginger syrup.

It was zingy, sweet and interesting!

I looked down at the other items on the table, as the woman told us about all the different things you could make with the syrup, ranging from desserts to cocktails. You could even make your own ginger ale. In addition to the syrup, they also were selling ground ginger, dehydrated ginger and chocolate covered ginger candies.

She went on and told us that their farm is located in Savannah. This got me wondering, “Where is ginger typically grown?”

I like ginger and love to use it in Asian inspired meals, like stir-fry. I had even considered it when trying to come up with the name of this blog because my first name is Virginia. Something like, “Ginger’s Roots.” It didn’t paint the whole picture though.

Despite a bit of a crush on ginger, we had never even thought of growing it in our own garden.

So, I asked.

The man asked if I wanted to know where ginger is grown domestically or internationally.

Unsure of what I was even looking for, I just said domestically. He said normally it’s in Hawaii and a little bit in California and that it was pretty unique to be grown in America, let alone Georgia.

Thanks to Google, I learned that it typically comes from India, Africa, or the Caribbean. (And, that it needs a pretty warm climate to survive. So, ginger won’t be gracing our garden anytime soon…)

I thought this was very interesting. I had never thought about where ginger grows or even how it is grown.

And, thanks to the woman who was still sharing recipes that you could create with the ginger syrup, Katie and I each bought a bottle.

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She said that we could find all the recipes on their website.

I asked the man what his favorite ginger syrup recipe is. He kind of laughed, saying that he enjoys them all. But, he really just likes it over vanilla ice cream and that it is also great in rum.

Something that I will have to try soon!

But, not tonight.

It’s a whopping 18 degrees tonight, making ice cream very unappealing. And, after all the fun at the wedding, it’s time for a little detox.

Sorority girls with the B&G!

Sorority girls with the B&G!

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Cleaning Out the Freezer: Sweet Corn Tart

We get about four eggs a day from the hens.  Which is very nice.  I love having fresh eggs.

But, four eggs a day adds up pretty quickly.

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I have to get a little creative to try to make sure these fresh eggy’s don’t go to waste.

Hardboiled eggs are a staple in the fridge.  They are great for Adam to grab on his way out the door in the morning.  He never had been much of a breakfast eater so the nutrition guru in me is glad he is finally eating something in the morning.

When I am not traveling, I work at home so I am typically able to take a little more time in the morning. I like to make an omelet or fry a couple eggs to make a little breakfast sandwich.

Thanks to my home office, I also get to eat lunch at home.  I love this because it’s another meal that I am able to be in control of what I eat in terms of portions and ingredients.  It also saves me some cash.  And, some “ZZZ’s” since I don’t have to pack a lunch in the morning. 🙂

When I started my Lent resolution of getting through the veggie’s in the freezer I knew the hardest thing for us to get through would be the sweet corn.  We froze tons of it and I try to avoid starchy vegetables. They don’t bring as much to the table in terms of nutrients and health.

The corn freezing adventures of Summer 2013!

The corn freezing adventures of Summer 2013!

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Trust me, if taste were the only factor I had to worry about, I would be saying, “Bring on the starchy veg!”

I have been a potato kinda girl my whole life.   Baked, fried, tot, mashed… whatever!

But, I also have had thunder thighs my whole life.  (Literally.)

I can’t help but think that there might be a connection…

So, I decided to focus the sweet corn towards a lunch entrée versus dinner. This way, I have more of the day to burn off the natural sugars found in starchy vegetables like corn.

This tart became a great solution.  It used my plentiful eggs and sweet corn.  I made the crust using this recipe. And just used other odds and ends from the fridge so it cost me nearly nothing.

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And, it didn’t cost me too many calories either.

Thanks to my tools and knowledge from a couple years of calorie reporting in K-12 nutrition, I would say a 1/4 slice of this tart is about 400 calories.  Not too bad for lunch when you balance it out with a glass of water and piece of fruit.  And, it gets you nearly a week’s worth of lunches!

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Sweet Corn Tart:

Ingredients

2 slices bacon, chopped

2 cups corn kernels (Frozen works well.  If using ears of corn it will take about four)

½ cup chopped green onions

1 cup 2% milk

¼ cup grated Parmesan Cheese

Pinch of both salt and pepper

2 large egg whites, lightly beaten

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Cooking Spray

Pizza Dough (You could use a mix too.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cook bacon in a skillet until lightly browned.  Add corn and green onions and sauté mixture for about three minutes.

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Place the bacon, corn and green onion mixture in a large bowl.  Add milk, two tablespoons of Parmesan, S&P, egg whites and egg.  Stir until the mixture is well blended.

Spray a tart or pie pan (10 inch diameter or so is best). Pat dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan to cover the surface.

Pour bacon mixture into the dough and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan Cheese. Place pie or tart pan on a large baking sheet.

DO put a baking sheet under the pie or tart pan.  You will have a mess otherwise.

DO put a baking sheet under the pie or tart pan. You will have a mess otherwise.

Bake for about 35-45 minutes, or until well set.

Let cool for ten minutes on a wire rack.  Serve right away or refrigerate for up to a week.

I just would zap a piece for about 45 seconds on days that I had the tart for lunch.

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It also could make a great entrée for a brunch!

Cleaning Out the Freezer: Pesto Pizza and Homemade Chicago Style Crust

Weekends are great for pizza.

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Adam and I used to order pizza often, but last summer I canned some pizza sauce and we began making pizza more and more often. We love to make pizza at home so much that if we were to ever able to design the patio of our dreams it would include a large stone pizza oven.

Unfortunately for us, this, and the remainder of our dream patio, would probably require winning the lottery…

But, it doesn’t stop us from making pizza at home.

There are plenty of mixes for pizza crust, but it’s so easy to make from scratch. Not to mention, worlds cheaper.

Here is my go to for a fluffy, thick pizza crust similar to Chicago Style pizza. (… Still working on perfecting a great thin crust dough. Any rec’s out there?!)

Pizza Crust
¾ cups of warm water
1 tablespoon of dry yeast
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 ¼ cup of flour
1 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons of olive oil

In a small bowl, mix together water, yeast and sugar. Let sit for about 5 minutes or until it gets foamy.
Mix flour and salt in a large bowl or using a stand mixer with a dough hook.
Add yeast mixture and oil. Mix until dough is smooth. Should take about five minutes.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl and turn it to coat in the oil.
Cover with either saran wrap or a slightly damp towel. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size, about 25 minutes.
Add dough to cookie sheet or pizza stone, pressing outward to create crust. Let rise for another 20 minutes. You may have to press it back into shape. (We like to use a cast iron skillet for the Chicago Style effect. It also ensures the crust cooks evenly really well.)
Add pizza toppings and bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes.

Cast iron is honestly the best.

Cast iron is honestly the best.

Instead of sauce on this weekend’s pizza, I busted out some frozen pesto I had made last August when the basil plant was booming. The pesto recipe is here.

It’s so good and I love the smell of it thanks to the strong, fragrant basil. I used about a cup to cover the crust.

Other toppings included some shredded chicken from the birds that we raised last fall that was cooked a few days earlier, mushrooms, red onions, some crushed red pepper and feta cheese. Random stuff, yes. But, I was just trying to get some stuff out of the fridge.

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The pizza was perfect for a relaxing weekend night. The dough had a great texture and taste.

But, if you are not cleaning the refrigerator out like me, sliced tomato and fresh mozzarella are also excellent toppings for a pesto pizza.

Hope you are all having a fabulous weekend!

Go Garden: Getting Started

The major focus on Bloom in February was “Why Garden?”

We talked money, health, and reducing your impact on the earth and, if I did my job right, you are convinced.

Right…?!

If not, read the money one again.

Okay, all you Garden Believers… This month’s focus will be “Go Garden!”

This works really well because it’s just about time to get plans going for this summer’s garden and to get seeds started.

I like to start my seeds inside because it means I will have vegetables earlier and take full advantage of Indiana’s growing season.

Getting seeds started last spring.

Getting seeds started last spring.

Before you get seeds planted, it’s important to know your area’s last frost date.

For me, it is May 11. (Although, based on today’s snow and cold temps the critic in me says not to hold my breath…)

The USDA’s website has a great tool for finding your last frost date.

Most seeds are ready to transplant into the ground after about six weeks. So, I will be starting seeds indoors within the next few weeks and will be posting about the whole process.

If you want to get growing and follow along with me, here are a few things you should do before we get “dirt”-y!

1. Determine what you want to grow

First year veteran caveat: Start small.

Reasons? Too much too soon can be overwhelming. There’s weeding, pest control, watering, etc. needed for every plant. Not to mention, it can also mean you are swimming in produce before you know it and your good food could go to waste.

Holy Tomatoes.

Holy Tomatoes.

Note: A solution to too many garden veggies? After annoying your friends and family members to “Pleeeeease take some zucchini” and/or ding dong ditching your neighbors leaving behind baskets full of cucumbers (Hmm… just me??), take them to your local food pantry. We have a church down the street that serves our community and they love to have fresh veggies because they are not seen often.

Another thing to keep in mind, and it should be common sense but, only plant things you want eat. Even though Butternut Squash is becoming super trendy, but it will never grace my garden. (Okay, never say “never…”) But, for now… I just can’t. The texture. Bleh.

2. Plan a good spot for your garden

Our plants grow in the ground, but you could use containers on your deck or create raised beds. Whatever works with your situation, be it a yard or just a balcony.

Our garden in late May 2013.  Seeds had recently been transplanted into the ground.

Our garden in late May 2013. Seeds had recently been transplanted into the ground. Our garden faces west in order to receive plenty of sun.

Surprisingly, plants don’t need too much space.

But, they do need three key things in their designated location:

– At least six hours of sunlight a day. But, if you don’t have full sun in your yard don’t feel like a garden is a lost cause. Plants like leafy greens do great with shade.
Water… Unless you really want to work on your biceps and walk back and forth with a full watering can, make sure your hose can reach the garden beds. You can thank me later for that one.
– Good Soil (We will talk more about creating nutrient rich soil once it warms up a bit.)

3. Get materials needed for starting seeds

There are great seed starting kits that can be found at any home improvement or garden store. These kits make it super easy. There are directions right on the kits. Some even have “greenhouse” covers to help keep heat in, replicating the warmer, summer temperatures.

Seed packets can also be found at home and garden stores. I even saw them at the grocery store today.

Last year all our seeds were packaged by Burpee. I enjoyed them and they worked out great. Burpee is an excellent brand and you will be able to find their products easily. We will be growing many different Burpee seeds this spring.

However, there are lots of other seed companies out there. Adam and I are planning to try a couple different companies, such as Gurney’s. Their seeds come through the mail.

Many of the seed companies out there also have Certified Organic seeds, if that’s something you are interested in.

Also, Adam and I use Grow Lamps to provide artificial light and heat to plants in the beginning. I have a friend who puts her starter kits right by a window that gets a lot of light throughout the day. Her plants do great.

It’s up to you and how much you want to invest. You can find Grow Lights in many different sizes and levels of quality so their prices can range from $50-$500.

Our Grow Lamp, starter kits and spray bottle in 2013.  Label sheets are on the floor in front of the kits.

Our Grow Lamp, starter kits and spray bottle in 2013. Label sheets are on the floor in front of the kits.

Other small items to have ready to go before you get sow seeds:

Labels and a marker: I made ours last year with toothpicks and label stickers so that they looked like little flags.

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Spray bottle: These are super cheap and you can find them anywhere. Make sure they didn’t hold any cleaning chemicals before you use them to water your plants.
Watering Can
Potting soil

Alright snow… get out of here. We have garden’s to plant!

Cleaning Out The Freezer: Zucchini Sandwich Cookies

This past week Ree Drummand, The Pioneer Women, posted this photo of her Mason jar collection.

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It made me laugh. Here is mine…

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I see you, Ree.

PS- Who wants pickles?!

Digging through my glass jar collection inspired me to do some major spring cleaning and the timing also coincided very well with Lent. A great time for making changes, simplifying and setting goals… among other things. So I decided that, from now until Easter, Adam and I will deep clean and/or declutter a different area of the house each day.

It’s surprisingly going really well! Today we even took on our closet and were able to take three department store bags of old clothes to Goodwill.

One area of the house that isn’t assigned a specific day but we are focusing on this Lenten season is the freezer.

Now, I understand the typical thing to do during Lent is to fast, eat less of something or totally give up some kind of food, like dessert or carbs or whatever. But, we still have quite a bit of frozen garden vegetables that we need to go through.

We have some sweet corn, a little bit of sliced poblano peppers, cherry tomatoes, sliced zucchini and grated zucchini in the freezer and it’s only a matter of time before there is more. So, opposed to basically everyone else during Lent, we are going to make an effort to eat.

And in the spirit of continuing to be totally weird and different, I figured why not kick off this abnormal Lenten goal with a dessert.

It’s rare for me to bake. And, if I do bake, it’s even more rarely a sweet treat.

But, grated zucchini is great for baked desserts. One of Adam’s favorite desserts is Chocolate Zucchini Cake and I made it for his birthday in December. It also works really well in chocolate chip cookies.

In July I froze a bunch of zucchini's in 1/2 cup portions to make for easy baking.

In July I froze a bunch of zucchini’s in 1/2 cup portions to make for easy baking.

This cookie was kind of inspired by the chocolate chip cookie recipe and also by a Martha Stewart recipe where she makes it super decadent and turns it into a sandwich cookie.

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What is nice about baking cookies is that I typically have all the ingredients in the pantry so I can bake them on a whim. Although, yesterday I was missing chocolate chips. But, with the cream cheese icing filling they didn’t need them… unless you really want them.

They were sweet and had a great balance of spice with the cinnamon, which compliments zucchini really well.

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Couple good baking tips for the newbie’s and/or novice:

– It takes a little planning, but makes sure ingredients like eggs, butter, and cream cheese are room temperature. It’s easier to incorporate into the dough, makes more even cooking and a lighter texture.
– More planning. Make sure your oven is completely preheated before putting in baked goods. This also helps ensure more even and thorough cooking.
– The icing recipe below is also great for red velvet cakes!

Zucchini Sandwich Cookies

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Cookies:
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon Baking Powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 ½ sticks of butter, divided and room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup grated zucchini
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup walnuts or chocolate chips (if desired)

Sandwich Filling:
8 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350.
Mix together flour, cinnamon, baking soda and powder, and salt in bowl.
Beat one stick of butter and sugars until combined and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
Beat in dry mixture into the sugars. Mix in the grated zucchini, oats and nuts and/or chocolate chips.
Refrigerate for one hour.
If making sandwiches you want the cookies to be similar in size, so use an ice cream scoop to place on a greased or parchment paper lined cookie sheet at least one inch apart.
Bake twenty minutes, until edges are golden brown.
Cool completely on a wire rack.
To make sandwich filling, mix cream cheese and powdered sugar together. Spread on cool cookies to create sandwiches.

Check back often the next few weeks for many more recipes as we make our way through the freezer!