Gardening and Seeds

Let’s talk about gardening!

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While my blog is mainly about cooking and baking, I will most definitely be talking about gardening throughout the year because it, too, is also one of my biggest passions. I’ve been waiting a long time to finally write about gardening. The weather is so wonderful today; not too cold, not too warm, sunny, and a nice cool breeze, I thought it would be the perfect day to talk about gardening.  I love, love, love everything about gardening. Now, granted, I really only started gardening last year because we finally bought our first house, but I have learned a lot from my experience and from all the research I do over the fall and winter seasons. I can remember, ever since I was a little girl, I have always wanted a garden of my own. Farming “runs in my family”, so to speak. On my mom’s side of the family (the Korean side) my grandparents both farmed and I had a great-uncle that farmed tobacco. I’m so grateful for our home and I love the history and charm of our 75 year old house, but I often tell my husband a little jokingly, mostly seriously that if a farm ever became available for us I would sell our house in a split second. I’ve always wanted to live on a farm with cows, pigs, horses, goats, chickens, the whole nine yards, but for now gardening will satisfy me :).

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For me, gardening is a very humbling experience. It reminds me that we are only the workers, we plant and care for and harvest the garden, but God is the one who gives life. Last year, I planted basil. Have you ever seen a basil seed? It’s so tiny. To myself I thought, “There’s no way this tiny, single seed is going to produce a basil plant.” So instead of planting just one seed per 2 inches, I planted all of the seeds from the seed packet in the row and I was humbled. I had so much basil last year my freezer was packed with ziplock bags full and I still had so much I had to give it away. Even to the tiniest seed, God gives life. It’s humbling to watch one  tiny seed grow and produce a plant that will feed you, not just once, but many times over.

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As a first time gardener last year, I did a lot of research on seeds and planting. I came across three different varieties of seeds: heirloom, hybrid, and genetically modified.  Let’s talk about the worst of the three first, GMOs (which I will refer to as GM- genetically engineered or GMO- genetically modified organism). As I sat down and did my research on GMOs (I always research anything before I buy it) I was horrified by the things I was  reading. It wasn’t just one person or one website that I was getting my information from, there were several articles and websites that all agreed and came to the same conclusion as I did: they’re horrible, disgusting, nasty “creatures”, because they’re no longer the vegetables that God intended them to be. I have had a couple people ask me, “Are GMOs really all that bad?” After I stare at them dumb-founded, with a fantasy of wanting to smack them (which I would never, ever do) I always go into a quick lesson on GMOs. ( Just a thought, but if God wanted food to taste better and be bigger and glow in the dark, don’t you think He would have made them that way? I don’t know about you, but I think when ever we try to mess around with God’s grand design is when we get ourselves into trouble the most.) GMOs aren’t anything new. For the last 20 years, since introducing the Flavr Savr Tomato, they have been a controversy. When something is labeled “Genetically Modified” it is referring to the manipulation of the DNA, by man, that changes the essential makeup of plants and animals. Scientists take genetic material from one source, be it animal or another plant and in some cases bacteria and viruses, to give an existing plant or animal a new quality such as bug resistance, ability to produce their own pesticide, ability to withstand weedkiller, more meat, bigger eggs, etc. Is it just me or have you noticed the size of chicken breasts lately? They are ginormous! In the last several years there has been a growing amount of evidence that connects GMOs with many health problems and in some cases death. For myself, that does not sound like anything I want myself or my family to eat. Right now, in our grocery stores, more than 80% of our processed foods and most of our sweet corn are GM and there’s very little we can do about it. Why? Because our government has protected the making of GMOs. We can push to get non-GMO foods labeled, but other than that there’s very little we can do at this time. I won’t spend too much time on discussing GMOs. I highly encourage you to do your own research to further educate yourselves and become more aware of the foods you and your family are eating.

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Hybrid seeds. I’m not totally against hybrid seeds, but I’m not a fan of them and I will never buy them. I like my food the way it was intended. Don’t get me wrong, hybrid seeds are not GM, but they’re not natural. Take carrots, for example. All of our carrots at the grocery stores are orange, but did you know that carrots used to naturally come in four other colors besides orange? They come in orange, red, purple, yellow, and white. Really. Then why do they only come in orange at the store? Because they have been bred that way. For many, many years farmers and gardeners have been creating new varieties of crops for things like withstanding drought and disease resistance by cross-pollinating two related plants. This process normally took anywhere from 6 to 10 plant generations to achieve. In the mid- 1800s, Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel discovered a way to speed up the process to create desired traits within just one generation. This process produces seeds that are known as F1 hybrid seeds. There’s one big problem with this for me. I like to save my seeds for next year’s planting so that I’m not constantly buying seeds year after year. Second generation  hybrid seeds do not reproduce the same as the parent hybrid plant. So if you liked the taste, size and color of the parent hybrid plant, the second generation plant will not taste, look, or be as big as the parent plant. You can probably imagine that seed companies love hybrid seed because it keeps you dependent on buying new seeds year after year. With the cost of seeds going up every year, it can get really expensive fast if you’re having to buy your seeds every year.

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Now, I’ve saved the best for last, Heirloom seeds. I love heirloom seeds and I recommend them to everyone interested in gardening. They’re called heirlooms because they’re seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation.  Here’s a link to 6 advantages of heirloom seeds and vegetables. The only disadvantage that I’ve had since planting and growing heirloom vegetables is getting this look from people where I feel like a new-age hippie. I’m not a hippie, but I do care more, now, about what I eat and protecting my family from GMOs so we can live long and healthy lives. I like the history that comes with some of the seeds, the taste, the look, and the diversity of heirloom seeds and plants. I used carrots earlier as example for hybrid vegetables. Let me now talk about them as heirloom vegetables. Last year, when I planted my carrots I got purple, yellow, and white. I didn’t get a single orange carrot.

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I was a little hesitant eating the carrots, but I was amazed at the difference in taste and quality. They tasted amazing. I think the white carrots were my favorite. They were a little spicy, but very sweet. Each different color of carrot had it’s own distinct taste. Rainbow carrots were very common in the middle ages, but it’s sad that you no longer see them anymore. The same goes for all vegetables and plants. There are so many varieties of tomatoes, watermelon, apples, peppers, etc. Growing heirloom vegetables was a fun experience for my family and I, because you never knew exactly what you were getting as far as taste and variety. Can you imagine growing the exact, same type of lettuce or cucumber that Thomas Jefferson grew in his own garden or eating a tomato variety that is originally from 1800s Russia? Heirloom seeds have added to my love of gardening and has opened my eyes even more to how wonderful our God truly is. I have been ordering and will continue to order my seeds from rareseeds.com. They have over 1600 heirloom varieties and exotic fruits and vegetables from around the world. Check them out, you won’t be disappointed. 😉

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I may not be an expert gardener, but I do look forward to sharing my experiences with you this year. I encourage all of you to do your own research, you may learn something new. 🙂 Until next time…

-Marisa-

 

Homemade Butter

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This post will be short and sweet. After the last post I thought to myself, ‘What would go great with homemade bread?… Homemade butter, of course!.’ 🙂 And that’s exactly what I made the other night. It was so delicious and creamy and hard to believe that it was so extremely easy to make. There was only one ingredient (or two, if you like salted butter) and a mixer. That was it. Cost wise, it won’t save you any money and in fact it will cost more to make it than it will be to go and buy real butter at the store because of the price of cream, but it was so much more delicious than store butter and it was  fun to make. If I had to make butter with an old fashioned churner I probably wouldn’t be saying it was fun to make, but because it was more of a science lesson for my girls and I, it was fun. I got the recipe for homemade butter from here. I used 1 pint of HEAVY whipping cream and ended up with almost 2 cups of butter and about 2 1/2 cups of buttermilk.

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1. You only need heavy whipping cream and salt, but the salt is optional. I used 1 1/2 tsp. of salt for our butter because I like a little salt, but I don’t like it overly salted like the butter you but at the store.

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2. Pour the heavy whipping cream and salt into your mixer and turn it on to medium speed at first until it starts to thicken into whipped cream like this:

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and then turn the speed up to whatever you feel comfortable with and let it continue mixing. After about 10 minutes, depending on the speed, it should start to look like this:

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Once we hit this phase, give it another 2-3 minutes and it will look like this:

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This is when the cream has started the curdling phase and the color starts to turn to a very pale yellow. Continue to let the cream mix, maybe stopping the mixer once to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and you will notice the cream starting to curdle even more.

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Finally, once you see that the mixture has become very grainy and has separated leaving buttermilk on the bottom

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 continue to mix it for another 2-3 minutes and then stop. All in all, I’d say that it took about 15-20 minutes of mixing to get the cream to the butter stage. Now comes the fun and messy part of squeezing the remaining liquid from the butter.

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Place the butter into a strainer, with a bowl underneath to catch the buttermilk, and either using a spatula or your hands (I used my hands) squeeze as much of the liquid out of the butter as you can.

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It helped me to take smaller chunks at a time because I got more liquid out that way than squeezing it all at one time. I  actually got a lot of buttermilk out by doing it the way I did.

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I saved my buttermilk for future recipes and it should be fine up to a week or two.

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I put my butter into a jar and it should keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.

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After I had made the butter I couldn’t wait to try it and I cut myself a nice, thick slice of bread and smothered it with the butter.

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It was DELICIOUS!!! Try it. You won’t be sorry.

Homemade Butter

(Adapted from Living Well, Spending Less)

Ingredients

4 cups Heavy Whipping Cream

Salt, to taste

Directions

1. Pour the cold whipping cream into the bowl of your stand mixer. Add as much salt as you’d prefer to the cream and turn the mixer on to a medium speed.

2. Once the cream has turned in whipped cream, turn the mixer on to a higher speed. Continue to mix for about 10 minutes or until the cream has become grainy and it has separated into butter and butter milk.

3. With a bowl underneath a colander, transfer the butter and buttermilk to the colander and squeeze as much liquid as possible from the butter. Store the buttermilk in a sealed container, in the refrigerator, for up to two weeks. Store the butter in the refrigerator for up to four weeks. Enjoy!

Homemade Bread

“God gives us the ingredients for our daily bread, but He expects us to do the baking.”

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A couple of years ago my husband bought me a stand mixer for my Christmas present and I LOVED it. Baking was so much easier and it got me to try a lot of new baking recipes that I wasn’t able to make before. One of those recipes included bread. Since I married my husband, over 5 years ago, I started making a lot of what we ate from scratch because it was cheaper for us. However, the last five years has also opened my eyes to the other benefits of making things from scratch, like the health benefits and taste. We started to pay close attention to what we were eating including the ingredients in our food and this led us to ban a lot of things in our home. One of the things we stay away from at the grocery store is bread. Have you ever read the ingredients label on a package of bread? There are so many additives and chemicals in the bread that it’s not something I really want my girls to eat even if it is does involve making a quick lunch of peanut butter and jelly. One of the ingredients in bread that we really wanted to avoid was called Azodicarbonamide, or ADA. This chemical achieves similar results that ascorbic acid achieves, but it’s also used as a dough relaxer by bread factories to help the dough keep its form after being divided with pressure. The principle use of ADA is in the making of foamed plastic. Plastic!? That was definitely the tide turner.

A few months ago, my poor mixer met its death early and while I was waiting for a replacement we had to go out and buy a loaf of bread for my girls. It literally took me half an hour to find a loaf of bread that didn’t have ADA in it! Even the “All Natural” breads had it in them. It was frustrating and when I finally found a loaf of ADA-free bread it was nearly $4.00. At this point I had been making bread for about 1 1/2 years so when we finally ate this store bought bread it was DISGUSTING. And that’s when I vowed never again under any circumstances would we ever buy commercial bread.

When I started making bread I tried to start out easy. I looked at a lot recipes for bread: French bread, “easy” bread, and sandwich bread. It took a lot of trial and error for me to finally get the hang of it. Bread making is a precise “art” and it’s not something that you can rush to make. It takes a while, but the end result will be well worth the wait. With homemade bread, I know what my family is eating and that makes me happy and relieved. This is also a bread that is nice and filling, unlike the name and store brands that leave you wanting more to eat. For a while we were eating just plain white sandwich bread, but then I stumbled onto this recipe, Oatmeal White Bread, and we love it. It’s a simple recipe and so far it’s the best bread we’ve ever had.

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1. Mix brown sugar, softened butter, salt, warm milk, warm water, yeast and 3 cups of flour together. P1110409

Once you get those mixed together add in quick cooking oats and mix well.

2. Add in more flour 1/2 cup increments at a time until the dough starts to pull from the sides of the mixer (I ended up using 5 1/2 cups) like this:

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Then stop adding in flour and switch over to the dough hook and knead the dough until a soft dough is obtained. (Note: don’t worry if the dough is a little sticky, you want it to be sticky just not overly sticky. )

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2. Once the dough is soft ( I kneaded mine for about 5-6 minutes on low speed) transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl, turning it once to coat both sides with oil,

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and let it rise in a warm place for about an hour and a half or until the dough has doubled in size.

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3. Punch the dough down

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and divide it into two equal pieces.

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Roll each half into a 12 x 9 rectangle (or something close to it)

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and bring the short edges together to overlap

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and then tightly roll the dough starting at the short end. Seal the edges together and pinch the sides closed with the rest of the seam.

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Grease two loaf pans ( the original recipe calls for two 9 x 5 loaf pans, but mine were a little bigger than that and they worked out just fine) and sprinkle oats on the bottom.

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Place each loaf seam-side down and gently press the dough so that all four sides will touch the pan. Go ahead and pre-heat the oven to 400F (which will help speed up the second rising).

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Place both pans in a warm place again and allow the dough to double again.

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Once the dough has doubled (about an hour to an hour and a half) bake both loaves for 25-30 minutes or until browned. You will know the bread is ready if when you tap on the top it sounds hollow.

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Let the bread rest and cool completely before you slice it up.

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Enjoy!

Oatmeal White Bread

(adapted from Cooks Joy)

Ingredients:

3 tbsp. Brown Sugar

3 tbsp. softened Butter

2 tsp. Salt

2 cups warm Milk (warmed in the microwave for 1 minute, 20 seconds)

3/4 cup warm Water

4 tsp. Yeast

5-6 cups Bread Flour

1 cup Quick Cooking Oats

Directions:

1. Mix the  brown sugar, butter, salt, milk, yeast, and 3 cups of flour together with a paddle attachment. Next, add in the oats and mix together thoroughly on low speed. Add in more flour 1/2 cup at a  time until the dough starts to pull from the sides of the mixer. Stop adding the flour and knead the dough, with the dough hook attachment, until a soft dough is obtained (about 5 minutes on low speed).

2. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat it, and place the bowl in a warm area. Let the dough rise for one to one and a half hours, or until it is doubled in size.

3. Punch the dough down and turn it out and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Roll each half into a 12 x 9 rectangle and bring the short ends together in the middle to overlap.  Tightly roll the dough starting at the short edge and seal the ends to make a seam. Pinch the sides closed and bring them together with the seam.

4. Grease two loaf pans and sprinkle oats on the bottom of each pan and place the loaves seam-side down in each pan.

5. Preheat the oven to 400F. Allow the loaves to rise again and then bake both  for 25-30 minutes, or until brown.