When It Rains It Pours

Somewhere there is some Garden God laughing.

“Haha, Claire,” he is saying with an evil chuckle, “Start writing about your garden… and I will go and really mess it all up.”

This is currently what I am dealing with.

It all began about two weeks ago…

Adam and I knew we were being ambitious.

We had big plans for the garden, but we also had the rest of the yard to think about. We moved into our newly built house in early 2013. Landscaping is the goal for this summer.

And, for the record, landscaping is a lot of work.

Scratch that.

Just getting grass planted and growing is a lot of work.

We spent much of Mother’s Day weekend spraying the bazillion weeds that had crept up and then tilling the yard up.

The house sits on five acres. This was a big undertaking.

Adam sat on a tiller for a total of sixteen hours. (And got an amazing farmers tan in the process.) During this we also tilled up the entire garden including the new garden beds. We have gone from last years eight to twenty four.

Twenty. Four.

While Adam was on the tiller, I went out to last years garden beds to weed and remove all the straw we laid last fall to cover the garlic and strawberry plants.

The strawberries looked pretty good. They were full of weeds, but were flowering and look like we will have a good amount of berries in the next few weeks.

However, of the one hundred garlic cloves we planted last fall we have about ten that made it through the brutally cold winter.

I am bummed.

We use garlic so often. I was looking forward to having bulbs straight from our backyard.

The silver lining is that I don’t have to thin the bulbs out.

So, there is that.

And, then…

Last week, I set the seedlings outside on an afternoon that was sunny and warm to help harden them off. Hardening off seedlings helps them to build a resistance and strength against small rainstorms and wind.

I wasn’t prepared for the element that would wreck havoc my tomato and pepper plants on that nice afternoon.

My dear darling chickens decided that the small seedlings looked like a good snack while I worked in my office just inside.

… We nearly had Free Range Indiana Hen for dinner that night.

I was not pleased.

I transferred the partically chewed tomatoes to new flats with new soil and, now, ten days later they are looking a bit better.

I just don’t know how many times I am going to have to save these tomatoes.

And, then… last week it rained.

It rained a lot.

So the plants didn’t see sunlight for a while and the ground was soaked.

We couldn’t work compost into the dirt. We couldn’t get the plants out of the flats and into the ground. We couldn’t even walk through the backyard to the garden without sinking.

The ground is still muddy.

And the plants are still in the flats.

The goal is to get the plants into the ground today after work.

I keep telling myself, “They aren’t dead until they are dead!”

But, they look pathetic.

I can’t help be think they are longing for leg room.

And, in the back of my mind I am wondering if they really are too far gone.

I may be chalking last years sucessful garden to beginners luck and purchasing plants to get things going.

I guess that’s how things go sometimes.

May Sarton

May Sarton

Hope your gardens are looking much better than mine!

Lessons From Mom’s Kitchen

Happy Mother’s Day to the Mom’s out there! I have quite a few friends who are celebrating their first Mother’s Day, which, I can only image is super special.

When I watch these girlfriends with their new babies, I can’t help but wonder what I will be like as a Mom.

Will I do the right thing?

Will I lead my children to be independent adults?

Will I maintain who I am in motherhood?

Will I keep working?

Will I use cloth diapers?

Will I ditch the Windex and switch completely to all natural cleaning supplies?

And, what’s the deal with vaccinating?

Or, how about gluten? Will I give them gluten?

Or breast milk long enough?

… And, what is long enough without being weird?

Oye.

Being a mom is tough. And, confusing.

And, I am not a Mom yet! Heck. Being a mom is just barely a blip on my five year plan radar.

Growing up, I was surrounded by great mom’s who have set the bar high for motherhood without even knowing it. My aunts, friend’s moms and my own mother were (and still are) all wonderful mothers and great role models. And, they made it look easy.

I can hear my own mother laughing.

She is probably thinking something along the lines of, “It wasn’t easy… but, it’s only as hard as you make it…” Referring to the (exhaustive) list on concerns I rattled off earlier.

It’s those little words of wisdom that make moms great and my mom was full of them.

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She wasn’t a huge fan of a lecture. In fact, I think half the time I took advice from her, she didn’t mean for it come off that way. It was just something she would say in passing through her nurturing, keeping it real, you will know when you figure it out style of mothering.

I have carried much of my mom’s advice into my adult years and it has shaped me to become the woman I am today. She would say something little, be it about relationships, friendships, failures or life, that would just stick with you.

What is interesting is that many of her bits of wisdom are related to the kitchen. She was and still is a great cook. She is actually more like an artist than a cook. The kitchen is her studio. Her creativity is unlimited. She can really make a meal come to life.

But, what is really interesting is that these “words of wisdom” weren’t actually words. These few great life lessons are things I have interoperated from her actions in the kitchen.

And, the saying is true: Actions do speak louder than words.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Yes, my mom is very good at keeping it real.

But, that doesn’t mean she just lets it all hang out. She just knows her limits.

When entertaining my mom has an arsenal of favorite crowd pleasing dishes. These are menu items that she knows she could have mostly prepared earlier in the day and that, I think by now, she has memorized.

She knows a dinner party was not the time to try something new. However, if she does want to give something new a whirl, she will do a test run before the party.

This means she could spend time with her guests. She has always wanted people to feel comfortable in her home. No one feels comfortable when the hostess is stressed and working hard (Or worse, struggling) to get dinner on the table.

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Try New Things

Sure. There are times to stick with what you are good at and there are other times that you should stretch yourself.

My mom had that arsenal of great dishes, but she also loved to bust out a cook book and try something totally new and different. She taught us that if you can read a recipe, you can cook just about anything. I would say that 85% of my meals growing up were made from scratch.

But, she didn’t stop with just new recipes.

She was a maven of the natural food stores before they hit the main steam. I remember my sister was once on a tropical, rain forest, monkey-loving kick. (Don’t be embarrassed, Kerry. We all were seven once…) So, my mom purchased coconuts so we could see what they looked like on the inside and try the milk.

My mom made an effort and pushed herself and us. She saw value in broadening our palates.

Today, my siblings and I are far from picky eaters. We will try any kind of food, because we know from growing up that it might just become one of our favorites.

Think Outside of the Box

Literally.

Growing up we rarely ate processed food. I remember longing for my mom to buy Dunk-A-Roo’s and lunchables so I could be like everyone else at the lunch table.

I also remember hearing, on multiple occasions, my friends say “Your house has weird food” as they looked into the pantry trying to find a snack.

And, by typical standards, yeah. We did.

Instead, of the Pringles or Cheetos they were looking for, we had homemade Chex Mix. Or, blue corn chips with salsa she had canned. Or, hummus that she made.

… talk about freaking your friends out. “Umm… why are these chips dark?”

I know that her meaning behind this might have been for us to avoid added sugars, unneeded calories or artificial ingredients but it really taught me to not settle for the easy route. I enjoy using my skills, knowledge and creativity to the extreme.

Find Balance

My mom knew that nutrition was important. That is why she made meals from scratch and put an emphasis on fruits and vegetables versus chips no matter how much we complained.

But, she also knew that life is all about balance and you have got to live.

On occasion she would make phenomenal desserts or meals, like risotto, that were more caloric, but were worth experiencing and often were served at times that were worth celebrating.

I remember her once saying, “You can eat a cookie. Just don’t eat ten.”

As an adult, I love this lesson and because of it I have adapted an 80/20 lifestyle when it comes to food. I try to make the right choices 80% of the time.

I try to have fruit and vegetables at every meal. I do my best to make much of what we eat from scratch.

But, when there are cupcakes at a friend’s bridal shower, I am going to eat one. And, if I want to make ice cream, I make ice cream and I enjoy it. I don’t worry about it blowing “my diet.”

I savor each bite because it’s special and something that decadent deserves it.

And, so do I.

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Grow Wings, but Remember Your Roots

The summer I was thirteen I had the incredibly amazing opportunity to go to Australia and stay with a family there. Before I left, I had a sleep over with a few close friends. My mom stocked up on vegemite, essentially Australia’s Peanut Butter. It’s rough, but the Aussie’s love it. She also made Pavlova, a traditional Australian dessert that is similar to a meringue with fruit.

She could have run up to the grocery store and picked up a cake that had “Bon Voyage” scripted on it. But instead, she did the research and wanted not just me, but my friends, to experience a piece of Australia’s culture.

When I got to Australia’s customs the attendant asked me in a thick Australian accent, “Miss, do you have lots of sweets and lollie’s in your bag?”

Umm? Lollie’s?

She pulled a gallon zip lock baggie of candy from my checked baggage.

Skittles, Jolly Ranchers, and sandwich crackers with peanut butter filled the bag. As kid whose mom rarely bought this kind of stuff I wasn’t sure what to think.

But, I won’t lie… it made me pretty excited.

On the bag there was a note from my mom. “To share a piece of America with a new friend… because you can’t bring Apple Pie.”

I love broadening my horizons but I know you always have to remember where you came from.

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Around the Table Is the Best Place to Be

When Adam and I first started dating there were dates where we just talked and talked about our favorite things, what are families are like, where we grew up and so on.

While these conversations were exciting, we really didn’t have that much in common.

At least on the surface.

He liked to hunt, fish, and farm. He grew up in a small town surrounded by a corn field.

I liked shopping, shoes, and wine. I lived like a princess in a suburban bubble.

Even our parents seemed pretty different.

Adam’s Dad built a small business up from the ground and his Mom was a tough love nurse. They met in grade school and married in their late teens.

My dad was a right brained, successful marketer and my mom had stayed at home since I was born. They met at Business School and married approaching thirty.

But, then we got to the core. The values they imparted on us. That’s when the similarities started rolling in.

One major part of our childhood that both Adam and I valued was that our families ate dinner together at a table almost every night.

Both of our mother’s, who were driving kids to and from practice most week nights, made an effort to eat dinner as a family around the kitchen table.

TV’s were off.

… Phone’s and Ipad’s weren’t an issue.

It didn’t matter if it wasn’t until eight o’clock.

Or, that you had a paper due the next day.

You sat and spoke to one another. Listened about the other person’s day. Talked about current events. Learned it’s okay to have an opinion, but you need to respect someone else’s. Helped each other get through something challenging. Laughed. Said thanks.

This is something that Adam and I do everyday and know we will do when we have our own children.

And, if it’s the only lesson I am able to take from my mom and impart on my future children I will know I had done something right thanks to the huge impact it has had on me and my relationships with everyone I love.

Thank you, Nancy.

Thank you, Mom.

For teaching us both the most important lesson of all:

When you have family, friends and love with your whole heart, you have everything.

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Cinco de Mayo Rhubarb Mojitos

I am like… oh, 95% positive that I made the first purchase of the season at Carmel’s Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning.

I had been in Indianapolis Friday night for dinner with friends who were running the next morning in the 500 Festival’s 5k and Mini Marathon.

Hey, girls, heyyy!

Hey, girls, heyyy!

I, however, was not.

I can power through an intense spin class like a champ but am pretty sure that I have not run more than two miles since last summer.

I blame the winter.

So, the girls all rose early to get to the race and I began the drive home. On the way, I stopped in downtown Carmel to check out their Farmer’s Market.

It was opening day of the market for 2014, but I had never been to the market period. I had always heard great things so I was eager to see what they had to offer.

I got there about forty minutes before the market opened thanks to the early race start so I grabbed a Starbucks and brainstormed a few blog ideas in my car while I waited. Ten minutes to open I decided to hop out of my car and see what was going on.

I took a lap around the market and was beyond impressed.

There was so much available, despite the cold, late spring. I even saw tomatoes. Obviously, green house tomatoes. But still… tomatoes!

By the time the mayor began her opening day speech and rang a bell to signal the commence of the market, I was standing underneath a vendor’s tent that was selling vibrant rhubarb and big, green spears of asparagus handing over some cash.

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Note: There’s no prize or celebration for the first purchase of the season. Dang!

They were the two things I was looking for and I couldn’t wait to get them home.

Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable and is typically cooked in sugar to be added to desserts. Rhubarb is typically harvested in mid to late spring. The color of rhubarb is the best. It can be from deep reds to pinks with a little green.

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I had never had rhubarb until I started dating Adam. Rhubarb crisp is one of his families most loved desserts.

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I thought about making the crisp but then remembered that Cinco de Mayo was just around the corner and decided to use the rhubarb to add subtle flavor to one my favorite Mexican vacation cocktails, the mojito.

Mojitos are incredibly refreshing and are not as sweet as a margarita. And, with all the mint left over from the Derby’s Juleps it seemed perfect for Cinco de Mayo!

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Rhubarb Mojito

Rhubarb Syrup:
3 large stalks rhubarb, thinly sliced
1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ cups water

Place all ingredients in a medium pot, stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about five minutes or until rhubarb is tender.
Strain rhubarb collecting the liquid mixture in a bowl. Clean pot and pour liquid mixture back into pot. Boil over medium heat until liquid becomes a syrup. About fifteen minutes.
Let cool completely before using.

Rhubarb Mojito

6-7 mint leaves, torn
3 tablespoons rhubarb syrup
1 ounce white rum
Club Soda
Fresh lime juice

Add the mint, syrup and rum to tall glass. Stir to combine. Add ice and top with club soda and juice from a lime wedge. Garnish with mint and lime wedge.

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Love ‘Em to Death

Last week Adam and I transplanted the seedlings from their starter kits to larger flats. The seedling’s love the extra leg room and are beginning to look like plants.

Zucchini, Cucumbers and Kale... getting big!

Zucchini, Cucumbers and Kale… getting big!

While we were transplanting the seedling’s I noticed that the tomato plants didn’t look so great. They didn’t have a good green color. They looked… purple.

As I pulled the flat closer to me I realized it was kind of heavy and with further investigation I found that the plants were sitting in about a half inch of water.

Water is important for plants, but these guys were saturated.

We found that the cause was from Adam and me both watering them each day. I had been traveling for work so Adam thought I wasn’t able to get to it. We didn’t talk about it. One thing led to another… and the seedlings were over watered.

Yes. Like I just said, watering your plants is important. And necessary. But, there’s a fine line.

Over watering is actually worse than under watering. Over watering prevents a plant from obtaining nutrients and oxygen to develop their roots.

You would think that the more attention you give your plants, the better they would do.

But, that’s not the case.

You can actually love your plants to death.

Fortunately, with the tomato plants, we found it early and acted quickly. We put them into new flats with new soil. The tomatoes are looking much better and my mind is running wild with images of all the caprese salads that will grace my table come August.

Tomato plants looking better and getting adult leaves.

Tomato plants looking better and getting adult leaves.

I have fallen victim to loving a plant to complete death before. I bought a rosemary plant and thought it would be so cute to grow on my kitchen island in a large, rustic coffee mug. I didn’t know rosemary needs to be in pot that drains water well.

My coffee mug did not do the job.

BMOC, Herbs-2

The old water sat in the bottom of the mug causing the root to rot which prevented water and nutrients getting to the plant. What happened is that it looked like it was dry and I kept watering it. Soon, the plant was dead.

I now have a rosemary plant in a Terra cotta pot that I water when the soil dries out and it is doing great.

Much better!

Much better!

Here are a few other watering tips:

– Gardens typically need about an inch of rain each week. But, like a healthy diet, everything in moderation. One inch in twenty minutes isn’t great for a plant. Keep an eye on the weather and supplement as needed.
– If the weather gets particularly hot and dry, you may need to water more. And, if it’s cool it may not need as much.
– Water plants in the morning. This ensures that water dries off, instead of staying on the plant all through the night making it susceptible to fungus and bacteria. And, if you water them in the middle of the day, the water might evaporate before it’s absorbed by the plant.
– Provide water directly to plants roots versus spraying all over.
– Get a sprayer head that is designed for gardens. It will ensure the rate of the spray isn’t too strong and some are designed to make it easy to reach in-between plants.

Love your plants.

… Just not to death.

Dollars and Sense at the Farmer’s Market

Farmers Market Season is upon us!

And I love it.

I love the energy at a Farmer’s Market.

I love the people watching.

I love checking out the unique, artisanal products or heirloom produce that I could never find at a normal grocery store.

I love it all.

This morning Adam and I ventured out to our local Farmer’s Market.

It was a quick trip as we had some landscaping work to do back at the homestead. (… Work that made us realize we really are adults as our alma mater is celebrating its biggest spring event with the bars opening at 7AM.)

The Farmer’s Market didn’t have many produce vendors present thanks to the chilly, late spring we are experiencing. But, we did pick up some bratwurst from a local pork producer. They seemed like a great idea for dinner after a day of working in the yard.

As Adam paid the vendor $15.60 for the ten brats, I thought of the most common question and biggest complaint I always tend to hear in regards to local meat: Why is it so expensive?

Last year, after a trip to the Farmer’s Market, I came home with a free range whole chicken. I was excited about this bird. The vendor was full of information and clearly very passionate. And, I wasn’t sure that I had ever had a free range chicken. I kept reading the taste was amazingly different in comparison to a normal chicken breast at the store.

I also had never cooked a whole chicken. So, it seemed like a fun challenge and I couldn’t wait to see if I could taste a difference.

Adam was excited too… and then he asked how much it was.

I had not told him because in the back of my mind I knew how my [insert nice way to say “tight ass”] husband would react.

And, I was right.

The word “ridiculous” was used often and before I knew it he was researching how to raise meat chickens.

God love him and his “Why pay someone when I can do that” attitude…

Proof of this attitude?  His landscaping project of the day was creating this beautiful wall for our patio.  So happy to give it a little character.

Proof of this attitude? His landscaping project of the day was creating this beautiful wall for our patio. So happy to give it a little character.

So, in early September, we became the proud owners of fifty free range broilers.

The babies from last September.

The babies from last September.

Adam created a “chicken mobile” out of a large wagon. The top of the wagon had bedding, water and feed. Then a little ramp gave the chicken’s access to the ground so they could roam and snack on grass and bugs. We could move the wagon around the yard so the chickens wouldn’t eat one piece of land to entirety.

A chick on the top of the chicken mobile.

A chick on the top of the chicken mobile.

And relaxing in the grass under the chicken mobile.

And relaxing in the grass under the chicken mobile.

We thought it was going to be great. Easy, too. We would have little, happy, free range birds and, in a couple months, a freezer full of organic, natural roasters for far less then we could purchase.

Right?

Wrong.

Okay, not totally.

In the end, the chickens came out great. They taste wonderful. We have enjoyed sharing them with family and friends and love how one bird can make us a couple meals.

However, they were a lot of work.

They required our attention twice a day, everyday.

They ate a ton. They drank a ton. (Note: Getting water to chickens on a cold, dark late November morning? Not exactly fun.)

There was quite a bit of cost to get started and the butchering at two bucks a pop added up fast. (… Although, that was worth every penny, in my book.)

When it was all said and done, Adam and I sat down and went over all our expenses. There was the chicken mobile, the feed, the equipment like heating lamps and water dispensers, the bedding, the butchering, and our labor.

We realized, using basic economics, if we were going to sell them at a market, $20.00 per chicken really isn’t that “ridiculous.”

As consumers, we have not just a choice, but also a voice.

And for the last sixty years or so, American consumers have voiced that meat should not only be available for every meal, it should also be cheap.

It started with fast food. We want a cheese burger for a buck. Five chicken nuggets for 99 cents.

And, it’s now what we see in the grocery store and that is why a $20.00 chicken has such a sticker shock.

We are lucky, in a sense, that in America meat is so widely available and isn’t going to break the bank. In fact, out of all the countries in the world, American’s spend the least percentage of their income on food.

However, farmers feel the backlash of the availability of the cheap food, even though our society demanded it, and some farming practices are coming under fire.

Farmers are smart, resilient and able to adapt. That is what they did and they will do it again, if that is what the market demands.

However, thanks to my food service role in K-12 education I know the reality is that the cheap, widely available meat is likely here to stay. And, I could never completely go over to the one side of this agriculture fence and say “Organic or BUST” because there is not just a huge market, but a need.

I know that I am incredibly fortunate that I am able to make a choice when I purchase food for Adam and me. And my choice in purchases is reflected in my belief to support local growers.

I am also fortunate to have a voice.

A voice that wants to ask, if we really are spending so much less of our income on food in comparison to our peers around the world, couldn’t we ditch the amped up cable package and reallocate that cash to receive a product that supports the earth, local farmers, the local community and provides great nutrition?

I swung by the grocery store this afternoon and couldn’t help but check the prices on bratwurst. A package of five was for sale for just under six dollars.

I spent a whopping four more dollars for my ten brats.

Four dollars that might go back and help that farmer raise more pigs. Or pay his rent. Or send his kid to college.

Or perhaps its four dollars that will stay in my community supporting other small business like my husbands. Or the cute lady who owns this fun accessory boutique that sucks me in when I drop off my dry cleaning. Or the new bakery on the square that I haven’t been to yet, but sounds delicious.

Four bucks.

Four bucks is less than a fast food meal.

… less than my drink at Starbs!

Money well spent.

Go Garden: Tools Needed

Last night, to celebrate Earth Day and because “it’s time,” Adam wanted to till up the soil in our garden beds. Tilling the soil is important because it makes it easier to work in compost to help enhance the soil and makes seeds or seedlings easier to plant.

Because we have so many garden beds and they are so large, we like to use a rototiller. But, the rototiller was not feeling very festive and, last night, it decided that it didn’t want to work.

Adam was upset. We could use a shovel to till the ground but, the rototiller is a tool that makes our lives so much easier.

Some other garden tools that I found really useful and important to have in our first year of gardening are the following:

Work Gloves: Just like a cook’s best tool, a gardener’s best tool is their hands. However, in the garden your hands might need protection from branches, thorns, etc. You can spend a lot on gloves if you really wanted to, but a good fitting pair of cotton gloves with grips work great and won’t break the bank.

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Kneeler Pad: This will save your knees and quads when gardening. Even as a young, athletic person this was a life saver. You can also find them in cute patterns which always makes things fun!

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Hose with a Spray Nozzle: Watering cans look very “classic gardener,” but the amount of water needed to water a decent sized garden would likely require many trips back and forth from your outdoor tap. Be sure to measure the distance from an outdoor tap to the garden to ensure you purchase a long enough hose. Also look for nozzles with a rain spray option for gentle, thorough amount of moisture.

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Trowel: This one is super important. It will help with planting, weeding, incorporating compost into soil, and more. A trowel is in the garden with me at all times.

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Pruning Sheers: I use mine to harvest produce such as lettuce, so that it will regenerate itself, zucchini’s and peppers. They are also great to have for flower arranging and trimming landscaping.

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There are so many tools out there to help a gardener, but I feel these are the best to invest in first.

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A few other of my favorite tools that I would recommend investing in as you continue to grow your garden are:

Wheelbarrow
Hand Fork/Cultivator
Garden Hoe
Rake (… the one you use for leaves in the fall will work just fine)
A good shovel or spade
Rototiller
Compost bins

… Oh, and don’t forget sunscreen and a hat!

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I learned that one the hard way…

Are there any garden tools that you swear by?

Natural Easter Egg Dyes

If I didn’t already know Easter was one week away, I would be able to tell by Pinterest.

Lately, my Pinterest feed has been an Easter Explosion.

It’s full little deviled eggs made to look like baby chicks that you might need a art degree and tons of patience to create, Cadbury Egg stuffed cupcakes (… because why wouldn’t you stuff an indulgent dessert with another indulgent dessert?), and more ideas for how to decorate Easter eggs than you can begin to think of.

I have seen glitter covered eggs.

Eggs to look like the Despicable Me minions.

Or, Ninja Turtles.

Or, Super Mario Brother’s characters.

I have even seen, what the pinner called, “Hipster” eggs… complete with mustaches and the saying “Keep Calm and Easter On.”

As silly as these Easter eggs pins seem, there was one that really caught my eye. It was a beautiful shot of pastel eggs that looked like the epitome of spring. The caption said that they were dyed naturally.

I was intrigued.

When working at the school there were a handful of students allergic to food dyes, which I first thought was odd. Then, after a little research, I learned that food dye allergies are relatively prevalent and can cause many issues from eczema to breathing problems. In this research, I also learned that some grocers are making naturally dyed baked goods in order to reach those who suffer from the allergy. I read about an example of how Whole Foods made a little girl’s birthday cupcakes pink by using beets.

Thanks to how pink my hands get when I cook beets, I knew it must work well.

So, I decided to give naturally dyed eggs a go in hopes of the pretty pastel eggs on Pinterest.

But, I didn’t get pastel.

I got these amazing jewel tone eggs.

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Here is what I did for each color:

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Red/Pink- One medium beet cut in pieces added to four cups boiling water, two tablespoons white vinegar, strain (Note: I was kind of disappointed in the shade of pink I got… I was expecting more. Next time, I would use two beets.)
Orange- Two Tablespoons paprika added to one cup boiling water, one Tablespoon white vinegar
Yellow- Two Tablespoons turmeric added to one cup boiling water, one Tablespoon white vinegar (This dye was the best. So vibrant and strong. Even my hands had a yellow tint 24 hours and two showers later.)
Blue- One quarter red cabbage cut in pieces added to four cups boiling water, two Tablespoons white vinegar, strain
Grey Blue- 1 cup frozen blueberries defrosted in one cup water, One Tablespoon white vinegar
Purple- 1 cup red wine

Hard boil eggs and let cool completely.

Let all dyes come to room temperature before dying.

(I used mainly white eggs. I tried with a couple brown ones, but they don’t get as vibrant.)

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In some of the dyes, brown eggs just got more brown...

In some of the dyes, brown eggs just got more brown…

Paler shades sat in dye for about ninety minutes. Darker shades were submerged in dye over night.

Mason jars worked great for holding the dye and eggs.

Mason jars worked great for holding the dye and eggs.

After removing the eggs from the dye, I put them on a wire rack to dry.

Place a paper towel under the rack to keep messes to a minimum.

Place a paper towel under the rack to keep messes to a minimum.

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Keep the finished eggs refrigerated and eat within a week. I think egg salad might be for dinner one night this week… 🙂

Go Garden: Sprouts Have Sprung!

Just a quick little update on the seedlings.

We planted these seeds about ten days ago. Since then, things have germinated and the little plants are looking good and green.

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We have thinned out the seedlings so that the strongest sprout is growing and there is only one seedling per space in the flat.

You can see that a couple of these spots had multiple seedlings going.  I would pull the weaker seedling very gently, so not to disturb the roots of the stronger plant.

You can see that a couple of these spots had multiple seedlings going. I would pull the weaker seedling very gently, so not to disturb the roots of the stronger plant.

We continue to check on the seedlings everyday and get them water. We also raise the heating lamp as the seedlings grow so that they don’t run into it.

I will check back in with these on the blog in a couple weeks when we begin hardening the seeds off.

Who else has seeds going? I would love to hear what you are growing!

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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