I have posted about my black thumb and failed gardening attempts several times in the past. After approximately 5 batches of failed herbs last summer, I gave up and started buying adult basil plants to graze off of and eventually kill with my black thumb.
I could not bear the thought of killing more seedlings this year, so I set out to do some research on balcony gardening before I planted my newest experiments. I’m still learning, so please feel free to correct me (nicely) in the comments section, but this is what I’ve found from my research:
1) Buy big containers with plenty of aeration. One issue I ran into last year was buying a small (adorable) window box for 3 kinds of herbs, which didn’t allow for the roots to stretch out and grow strong. I found these great planters and used 12″ for cilantro, 15″ for basil and bell pepper, and 18″ for tomatoes.
2) Use moisture-control soil. This type of soil might not be necessary if you live in a fairly temperate climes. Since I live in a place where scorching sun beats down in the afternoon, I need a soil that contains moisture throughout the day. I used the Miracle-Gro brand.
3) Give your plants 6 hours of sunlight per day. I had to rearrange my balcony to ensure my babies were getting enough sunlight. Some corners of our small space only see about 2 hours per day, so keep an eye on where the sun hits and when.
4) Be careful when replanting into the planters. Break up any clumps in the potting soil with your hands, dig a hole for the plant to rest in, loosen up the plant soil without damaging the roots, and gently tamp down the potting soil (not too firmly) around the plant.
6) Test the soil for moisture before watering. One of the most frequent errors I made last year was letting my plants dry up and then over-watering them. To see if your plants need water, just dunk your finger about 1 inch into the soil. If it feels a little dry, give the plant a good drink of water. Most of my plants need daily watering, but they will probably require twice daily watering in the heat of the summer.
7) Fertilizer? I’ve read a thousand different opinions regarding fertilizer. Apparently this topic is highly controversial. I bought fertilizer, but I’m going to see how well my plants grow on their own before I decide to use it. It’s ultimately up to you about whether or not it’s safe for consumption or healthy for the plants.
8) Pray to all of the spirits that your shiz grows.
9) Prune (trim) your herbs every other week or so. Some herbs (e.g., basil) will stop growing once they sprout their little flowers. To stimulate growth, trim back the plant by cutting just above the bottom leaf sprouts. This youtube video does a great job of explaining how to prune.
10) Enjoy the fruits of your labor!
My plants are already adjusting to their new lifestyle after a week in the sun! I’m hoping I can keep this up for the duration of summer, but I will not give up! After all, the Californian sun isn’t always very forgiving. If I’m successful, I might add some other fruits and veggies to the collection, but I might need a bigger balcony. ;)
Do you have a balcony garden? What are some useful things you’ve learned over time?
Welcome to CARAMEL WEEK!!! This week marks a momentous occasion when strong and courageous women bloggers stand up for what is good and holy in the world–caramel.
I honestly could not be more excited for all of the delicious recipes from caramel week! To think of all of the caramel taste testing that went on during recipe development is mind-boggling. There was a lot of spoon-dipping and finger-licking in my kitchen alone!
It took me a surprisingly long time to decide on what to make, mainly because caramel anything is amazing. A local restaurant serves an incredible bananas foster bread pudding, so I thought a riff on that might be fun to try. Boy, am I glad I did! This caramel banana bread pudding is The Taste.
I always start my recipe development by scouring the internet and cookbooks for recipes similar to what I’m planning on making. I usually check Foodgawker.com, FoodNetwork.com, America’s Test Kitchen, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, and whatever other books I have lying around.
Once I’ve found a few favorites, I examine the ingredients in each, decide upon what I think would taste the best, and what my ratios should look like. I really liked the idea of challah bread because it is thick and eggy, which fits perfectly with an eggy bread pudding. I decided to use more brown sugar in my recipe because bananas and brown sugar are like bread and butter, like Sonny and Cher, like a shmoke and a pancake. I also knew that I would need to replace some milk with heavy whipping cream because…well…heavy whipping cream makes everything better. Obviously.
After I decide upon my ingredient list, I make up ratios needed to increase the flavor town (pinch of salt here, extra vanilla here, etc.). Eventually my bread pudding recipe was ready to go and I was ready to start cooking!
I ran into a problem when I was pouring the milk and egg mixture over my challah; I didn’t have enough liquid to cover the bread! Nothing to fear, I simply added a splash more cream and wrote down a new estimated amount on the recipe.
If my recipe is a winner, I post it on the blog. If it’s terrible or mediocre, it’s back to the drawing board! Recipe development sounds scary, but it’s really fun to get creative with your favorite ingredients and to try out new foods.
For the bread pudding you will need:
- 1 loaf challah bread (the loaf I found at the store was huge, so just use what you need to fill a 9 x 13 pan) — cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1 banana — mushed
- 3.5 cups milk
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 5 eggs
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 Tbsp butter (melted and cooled slightly)
- 1 Tbsp cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp vanilla
- 1 Tbsp rum
- 1/2 tsp salt
For ingredients and directions for the salted caramel sauce, visit Comfortably Domestic’s blog. Her sauce is wonderful. It tastes almost like a Werther’s Original, but so much better!
- Leave the challah out on a cookie sheet overnight to dry. You can also dry the bread out in the oven at 325 for 10 minutes.
- Place the challah in a 9 x 13 pan. Do not use a glass pan for this! The pan will go straight from the fridge to the oven and we don’t want any broken glass pudding mixtures in the bottom of our oven.
- Mix all other ingredients in a large bowl until combined.
- Pour mixture over bread.
- Put the bread pudding in the fridge for 1 hour. Squish the bread down into the milk every 20 minutes so that each cube of bread is soaking. This allows the bread to absorb all of that nummy milk mixture and to ensure you aren’t inadvertently making croutons.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Bake for 45 minutes or until pudding is no longer jiggly.
- Serve and drizzle Kirsten’s salted caramel over the top.
Check out the other wonderful caramel treats throughout the week with this schedule of events:
- Monday–Comfortably Domestic-Crockpot Dulce de Leche / Kvetchin’ Kitchen-Caramel Apple Pie
- Tuesday–Decadent Philistines Save the World-Salted Caramel Pork Loin with Shaved Brussel Sprout and Apple Salad / Bakeaholic Mama-Chewy Milk Dud Brownies
- Wednesday–Inside NanaBread’s Head-Chocolate Alfajores with Salted Vanilla Bean Caramels / Comfortably Domestic-Alfajores Caramel Sandwich Cookies / The Girly Girl Cooks-Almost Famous Fairground Caramel Sauce / Climbing Grier Mountain-Dulce de Leche Milkshakes with Caramel Drizzle
- Thursday–Tenaciously Yours-Popcorn Crunch Sundae / Kvetchin’ Kitchen – Red Wine Caramel Sauce
- Friday–Country Cleaver-Pear Caramel Mini Cheesecakes / Munching in the Mitten-Caramel Cake
- Saturday–Comfortably Domestic-DIY Dulce de Leche Coffee Creamer / The Hill Country Cook-Salted Caramel Pie
Have you ever created your own unique recipe? How do you develop recipes?
Welcome to another edition of your semi-monthly box of goodies from One Kitchen Many Hearts! Our little corner of the internet decided to come together (probably because of our shared love of treats) and send each other care packages every other month. This month’s “Spring Fling” themed box arrived from Megan at Country Cleaver and she blew my mind with the awesomeness of this box!
Honestly, the box of pre-made mole was the first item I saw and I was…well…horrified. I mean, the 1970s box design doesn’t exactly scream, “Eat me! I’m the best authentic mole in town!” As soon as I saw the note with the awesome hand-drawn mole, I knew immediately she sent me the box because of our shared love for the Austin Powers movies. Do you remember the mole scene? ”Yes, nice to mole you…MEET you! Nice to meet your mole. Don’t say mole. I said mole.” hahaha cracks me up every time. I honestly can’t wait to try it.
Then my jaw fell to the floor when I saw THIS BEAST:
Megan and I recently waged a war on Twitter against Jonathan in regards to how to care for cast iron. If you haven’t visited Megan’s blog, go there now. On Tuesdays she sometimes writes a “How To Tuesday” post with cooking basics. A recent post was on how to season cast iron pans, and I realized we had been cleaning ours wrong all along! I took the only obvious course of action, which was to blame Jonathan and publicly shame him on social media. Obviously. I think she sent us this pan to end any marital conflict she may have inflicted upon us. Thank you, Megan.
She also sent me a baggie of dried cantaloupe. Can you say nummy? I think I’m going to chop it up and add it to yogurt, or oatmeal, or cookies…too many possibilities!
I also love the possibilities for this little peanuty guy:
Megan did such a great job finding box items that were special to me. Thank you, Megan!!!
To see what I sent Jeanne, hop on over to Inside NanaBread’s Head.
Check out the rest of the loot here:
How do you stay in touch with friends? Do you ever send care packages?
I realize it’s been awhile since I’ve posted about Josie, so here’s an update for you.
She swallowed a palm tree seed (a big one), which got stuck in her stomach and basically blocked her up. She had to have an emergency surgery, but the recovery went really well. Around the same time, she was stung by a bee and went into anaphylactic shock. She passed out on the living room floor and her breathing got very shallow. Luckily, we drove to the vet at the speed of sound and she bounced back fairly quickly.
Needless to say, we have had some major health scares with Josie in 2013 and I’m so thankful she’s still with us. I have to admit she has benefited greatly from “mommy guilt” these past few months. She’s been getting extra treats, extra love, extra playtime…you name it!
For St. Patrick’s Day, we took her and her best pug pal, Bailey, to a pug meetup event at a local doggy daycare.
They had toys, jungle gym equipment, and even a little water feature for the pups to swim in!
If you don’t know this already, pugs are one of the goofiest breeds of dogs out there. They love to make people laugh, they look ridiculous, and they roll around snorting all day long. To see a group of 20 pugs roaming around a jungle gym was one of the most glorious things of my life.
I think this lab had his fill of pugs:
We had a wonderful time playing with the pugs, but the best part was how zonked Josie was afterward.
What’s your favorite breed of dog? How do your pets benefit from guilt? Extra treats? Sleeping on the bed?
If you’ve been following the blog and theme weeks for awhile, you know that Jeanne from Inside NanaBread’s Head is a large part of my world. She keeps our little group organized and up-to-date on crafting, hooch, and Tex Mex delights. She’s hilarious, caring, and absolutely one-of-a-kind. So we decided to throw her a virtual surprise party for her 50th birthday!!!
We all brought a dish to share for the party…AND…we’ve scheduled an even bigger birthday surprise for Saturday. So stay tuned! It arrived on Jeanne’s doorstep in the form of 11 sealed packages. :) heeheehee
Now Jeanne’s love of Tex Mex inspired something deep inside of me to make a cheesy dip…obviously. So I created this Cheesy Chorizo Dip to bring to the virtual party. Can I get an amen?
You will need:
- 1 package softened cream cheese (8 oz.)
- 8 oz. light sour cream
- 1 Tbsp. taco seasoning
- 1/2 diced onion
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1/2 minced jalapeño
- 1/2 chorizo sausage
- 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 2 diced green onions
- 1-2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
- Bag o’ tortilla chips!
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Mix the cream cheese, sour cream, and taco seasoning together.
Brown the chorizo and onion together over medium high heat until thoroughly cooked. Toss in the garlic and jalapeño, sautéing for about 1 minute, until the flavors are released.
Mix the chorizo mixture with the cream cheese mixture. Attempt not to eat with spoon.
Put the mixture into an oven-proof dish and top with the shredded cheese.
Bake until mixture is bubbly and golden brown (approximately 10 minutes…I didn’t actually time this because I was doing other things in the kitchen. Don’t trust me, just keep an eye on it!)
Top with the green onions and cilantro. EAT with chips!
Jonathan and I couldn’t agree on whether or not this was better than my original taco dip recipe, but the meat added an element of yowza! Enjoy!
Happy happy birthday, Jeanne!
To keep the party going, check out… Kirsten’s Orange Cream Pie, Allison’s Coca Cola Cake, Beka’s Aged Manhattan, Megan’s Nutella Turnovers, Anne’s Mexican Vanilla Ice Cream Cones, Monica’s Tropical Ice Cream, Katie’s Chocolate Cake with Cooked Flour Frosting, Lauren’s Mini Key Lime Pies with an Animal Cracker Crust, Madeline’s Fig, Fontina and Pecan Flatbread, Carrie’s Coconut Banana Brownie Pie, and Kat’s Guacamole.
By now you know that every other month my group of bloggy buddies sends each other goodies in the mail. It’s a wonderful way to stay in touch, give each other trinkets unique from our region of the US, and to stuff our faces with the noms we receive. Normally I only receive packages when I go on an Amazon.com shopping bender, so a handcrafted box of love is a wonderful change of pace.
This month’s theme was Winter Essentials (i.e., all of the things you need to successfully survive the winter in a girly and elegant way). I realize winter is non-existent in California, but we played along anyway.
I received my winter essentials box from Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic. Homegirl is a wonderful food nerd, crafter, mother of 4 boys, Midwesterner, and friend. I love getting boxes from her because she intuitively knows what I need as a Midwestern expat…she gets me.
To start, she sent a mitts and paws kit, complete with lotions and soaps to keep my hands from drying up. I can’t tell you how grateful I was for this because my hands get so dry and cracked, even in milder climates. Sad times.
She also made homemade hot cocoa mix! I laughed out loud when I saw this because I attempted to make hot cocoa mix for Allison’s box, but failed miserably. My attempt at cocoa was clumpy and bitter, so I ended up throwing it directly in the trash. Kirsten, I’m going to need your recipe! Alton failed me…as always, that bastard!
I got another box of Danish dark chocolate…score! This stuff is incredible. So incredible that it’s hard not to eat the entire thing in one sitting.
Speaking of eating everything in one sitting, Kirsten also sent me the best orange shortbread cookies in the world! These cookies disappeared faster than the Girl Scout cookies, which is really saying something. They had the perfect balance of tart orange zest and buttery cookie dough. The recipe is in the works and will be up on her blog soon, so stay tuned.
Thanks for an incredible box, Kirsten!
What is on your winter essentials list?