DIY Dried Herbs

Having a garden can be so fulfilling. From picking to preserving the process can be as long or as short as you want it to be and you can reap the benefits of your hard work for longer than your gardening season if you plan it. When I first started gardening, I started out small with herbs, but quickly realized that I couldn’t use enough fresh herbs to completely use up what I was growing. This became a problem year after year, and I’d feel so discouraged letting my herb plants die feeling like I didn’t get their full use. Jump forward to this year, when I finally took the time to preserve my own herbs so I could enjoy them for the months ahead.

Drying herbs is really quite easy with the bulk of time spent waiting for the herbs themselves to dry out. Other than that it’s just harvest, hang, and store. I’ll outline the steps briefly below. These steps can be followed with all herbs so that you can enjoy them before and after the season is over.

  1. Harvest Herbs – using shears or scissors, snip long stems of whatever herb you’re harvesting. Make sure the stems are long and even enough to put together in a bunch for hanging. The images that I took here show the process with my Oregano plant.
  2. Hang Herbs – pull your harvest into a bunch and secure at the ends. I used a rubber band, but you could also use string, a hair tie or ribbon to secure. Make sure whatever you use is nice and snug around the stems, because as the herbs dry out they will lose some of their girth and could slip and fall out of the band. Then use string or ribbon or whatever you have lying around to create a way to hang the herbs. I used a rubber band to secure and then slipped string through the rubber band to hang by a loop. Hang the herbs in a dry, cool place (I chose an armoire closet in my dining room). Some of the leaves may fall off during the drying process. If the mess concerns you, you can wrap a paper bag around the herbs to catch anything that falls. Leave in cool, dry place until herbs dry out – this will vary by location – just make sure not to remove the herbs until they are nice and crispy. Once dry the leaves should fall off super easily, sometimes with even just a slight touch.
  3. Harvest Dried Herbs – now this step may seem redundant, and I guess it sort of is, but now that your herbs are dry you need to pull the leaves from the stems for storage.

Vegan Caramel Corn

Caramel corn is a necessity in our house around the holidays. Every year my husband’s mom makes loads of it and gives us each a giant bag at Christmas time. This year, I thought it would be fun to make some a little early for a Halloween treat exchange at my work, and I thought it’d be even more fun to try and make it vegan. Although, I’m not really sure what my MIL’s recipe is, maybe hers is vegan too, but I digress. This recipe is super easy to make, and even easier if you can list an extra pair of hands (thanks, honey!). You see, caramel corn is a delicate process. Caramel can burn quite quickly if you’re not careful, so having someone else helping in the kitchen can make the whole process a little less stressful.

The first batch that I made of this I used regular white sugar. Now, the first batch didn’t turn out bad so if that’s all you have on hand it’ll totally work. Just keep in mind that the white sugar will make it a bit more like kettle corn than caramel corn. On my second batch, I decided to go with brown sugar instead and this was where I hit the sweet spot. The brown sugar caramelized perfectly and became even more delectable after baking it in the oven for a bit. It came out perfectly crunch with just the right amount of sweet and chewy. Nobody wants to be digging caramel out of their teeth for hours. This recipe would make a great Christmas gift for family and friends or stuff it into little baggies for kid’s school functions or holiday parties. Now I won’t be making it for that purpose since my MIL makes it every year, but best believe as soon as I run out, I’ll be heading into the kitchen to make some more!

Vegan Caramel Corn

Approx. 10 cups of plain popped popcorn (for me, this was right around 2 batches in the air popper)

2 heaping Tbsp of vegan butter (I used Earth Balance)

1/2 tsp table salt

2 Tbsp plain unsweetened almond milk (or non-dairy milk of your choice)

1/4 cup organic 100% maple syrup

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp baking soda

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F and prepare two baking sheets with either parchment paper or silicone baking mats (I used one of each and both came out the same).
  2. Add all ingredients except baking soda to a pot over medium high heat and bring to a boil.
  3. Stirring constantly, add the baking soda and reduce heat to low. Stir for about a minute or until you see the mixture change to a dark caramel-y color.
  4. Dump your popcorn into paper bags and evenly pour your caramel mixture into the popcorn.
  5. Shake the popcorn vigorously until well coated (this is where the extra set of hands comes in!!)
  6. Spread the coated popcorn evenly out onto your baking sheets and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the popcorn reaches a nice golden brown color.
  7. Remove from the oven and lay out on a either a new piece of parchment paper, a clean baking sheet or I used a couple of clean cutting boards. This cooling process will allow the popcorn to become crispy and delectable.
  8. Store in large ziploc bags or sealed containers until you’re ready for some seriously delicious snacking!

How to Arrange Market Style Flowers

I absolutely love having fresh flowers in the house. Something about them makes everything feel brighter. The last few years, I’ve started buying the market style bunches of flowers and greenery instead of buying prearranged bouquets. This may seem like a daunting task, but once you get the hang of arranging your own flowers it’s actually cheaper and more fun to do it yourself. For example, my grocery store sells bouquets for around $15. These are the smaller bouquets with a few different kinds of flowers but not in a large quantity. Or I can get three larger bunches of flowers, which I get to pick, for only $12. This makes for a much larger bouquet made out of whatever flowers I choose. Once you start creating your own bouquets, you’ll realize how easy it is and you’ll never go back!

When buying fresh market bunches of flowers make sure to get at least one greenery bunch and a variety of sizes of flowers. In this bouquet, I only purchased three bunches – ferns, daisies and large yellow mums – but it still made for quite a full bouquet. Having a variety of sizes will make it so that the bouquet is balanced. To begin, fill a vase with water and pour in the flower food that comes with the flowers. If you don’t have flower food, you can also take some aspirin and grind it up in the water.

Start with the largest flowers first and place them in the vase. Make sure to remove all leaves that may reach the water line so that they don’t dirty the water. To figure out how much stem to cut off, I like to set my vase on the edge of the counter, then hold the flower next to the vase allowing the stem to go below the counter if necessary. Once the height of the flower has been determined, you can cut the stem to length. Place the largest flowers in the center. You can vary the heights of the stems slightly so that they aren’t all leaning up against each other. Next, prepare the smaller flowers. The smaller flowers can be arranged around the larger ones, again varying the height of the stems so that the bouquet is balanced but rounded, placing the the shorter cuts on the outside near the edge and the taller cuts closer to the center. If you have more than one variety of small flowers, you can treat these the same way. Use the smaller flowers like fillers to work around the larger flowers and fill in any gaps. You still want the largest flowers to be the focal point so make sure not to overpower them with smaller bunches of flowers (like I did in the photo below LOL).

Lastly, add the greenery. I usually like to add these in a triangular pattern. I had 5 fern stalks in my bunch this time so I put two stalks at 4 o’clock, two at 8 o’clock and one at noon. I made sure the largest flowers were still the most prominent and in the front. Take a step back and look at the bouquet fully. At this point, you can always pull stems out and rearrange if you’re not happy with the way things look. I think it’s always prettier when bouquets look a little bit more on the wild side, but to each their own 🙂 In the photos below you can see I broke my own rule on the left by adding too many of the smaller flowers to the center. This ruined the appearance of the larger flowers making them look squished into the bottom edge of the vase. The photo on the right is after I rearranged the larger flowers into the middle. I think it gives it a much more professional look and makes the mums look fuller and brighter.

So that’s pretty much it! I love how this bouquet turned out and also love that making my own arrangements means I can have flowers in the house more often. It really is the best way to brighten a room or a mood and for only $12 and about 15 minutes it’s totally worth the extra work!

Until next time,

MelissaRose

Buying a Pop-Up Camper: What to look for

My husband and I love to camp. There’s something so relaxing and freeing about getting out into the wilderness for even just a night, and living in California affords us so many options for places to go. The past few years, we haven’t gone camping as much as we have wanted to. We take a week long trip in May every year, but other than that we haven’t been able to make it out much. Between buying a new house, issues with the camper we were using previously and other scheduled trips we just didn’t have time to get out into the wilderness. This year though, we decided we wanted to try and get out more. What better way to do that than to have a camper trailer that was accessible to us at all times and ready to go at a moments notice. So we started shopping. We learned alot about what we needed and wanted throughout the process. Firstly, we knew that we needed something that we could fit into our garage since we don’t have RV parking at our house. We didn’t want the extra expense of storage and we didn’t like the idea of having to go somewhere else to pick it up before we were able to head out. This basically made it next to impossible to buy anything but a pop-up camper trailer, also known as fold out camper trailers or tent trailers. This realization didn’t bother us one bit. Once we knew what we could fit, we started thinking about all the other things we needed to consider and look for when shopping for our pop up. So, I thought I would use our experience to create a new section on my blog – Pop-Up Camping. This post will outline what to look for, and future posts will tell you about our adventures in pop-up camping including trips, set up and tear down, organizational tips, makeover stories and more. I hope you enjoy! Now let’s get into the things you should look for when buying a pop-up camper.

Budget

This first consideration may seem like a no-brainer, but the first thing you need to think about before even looking at pop-ups is your budget. Sure, it can be super fun to look at dealerships and websites and dream about your new pop-up, but if you’re limited on price it’s better to know before you start drooling over what you can’t afford. When we bought our camper, we knew we wanted to stay around $2,000. Once looking online we figured this gave us enough money to get something nice but older and hopefully something that didn’t need any mechanical work and only minor cosmetic work if any. We wanted something functional and mechanically sound so that we could take it camping as soon as possible. If you have more to spend, consider looking at options below your budget that will give you money leftover for supplies if you need them. We had to look for a few weeks to find something that fit our needs and our budget, but once we found what we were looking for, it was totally worth the search and the wait. Keep in mind that pricing may vary depending on your area. Many campers I saw in other states were quite a bit cheaper than in California for whatever reason. I even saw some that were under $1,000 in certain states. This may be because of the wage limits or cost of living, but just wanted to throw that in there since $2,000 may seem like alot more to people who live in other more reasonably priced areas.

Size

Size matters when it comes to pop-up campers – especially if you have parking restrictions, a large number of people to sleep, or a smaller vehicle for towing. For us, the sleeping capacity was not as important as our ability to fit the trailer in our garage while also still affording us space to reach our washer and dryer and fit my hubbies motorcycle. However, we did want to make sure that there was enough sleeping room for us, our three dogs, and an extra bed for friends and family when necessary. We have a larger SUV so weight was not something that was a huge factor, but if you have a smaller 6 cylinder vehicle or similar it’s important to also factor in how much your vehicle can tow. Camping World’s website has a great feature that will help you determine what you can tow based on the make and model of your vehicle. Check that out here. Another important consideration is parking space. Measure out where your trailer is going to live and make sure that whatever trailer you purchase will fit into that space. We found that the most important dimension to check was the trailer length, since most pop-up camper trailers are right around 7-8 feet wide. Sleeping capacity could also be something that you may need to consider. If you have children or often take people with you on your camping trips it’s important to make sure everyone has somewhere to sleep. Most pop-up camper trailers feature full size (or comparable) beds that pop out on either side and one dinette that folds into a bed. Sometimes there are other seating areas (like in our new trailer) that also fold down into beds. The dinettes are sometimes smaller twin beds, but I have also seen pop-up camper dinettes that fold down into full-size beds as well. Overall, you want to make sure that you have enough space to fit everybody comfortably – pups included!

Amenities

Amenities are things I would consider to be wants more than needs from a camper. For example, one of my amenities that I knew I wanted in our new trailer was that the stove would move from the inside of the trailer to the outside for outdoor cooking. Now, this wasn’t necessarily a make it or break it feature (since I could always purchase a small outdoor camping stove as well), but it was something that I looked for when looking at trailers. Other amenities to think about would be things like, do you want your trailer to have a refrigerator? Does it need to have a toilet or shower? Do the amenities run on propane or electricity or only full hook-ups? All of these items will make a difference in your experience camping if they are things that you are either used to having or want to have on your trips. For us, we knew we wanted a refrigerator but also knew we didn’t want a toilet or a shower in our camper. We typically stay in places that have full plumbing and showers available and so we didn’t want the unnecessary hassle of having a black water tank on board our trailer. Plus, the idea of having a tank of waste kind of grosses me out. We figured that by eliminating the need for this amenity we could also lengthen the life of our trailer by having one less item that may require ongoing (and stinky) maintenance. One of the last amenities we thought alot about was the amount of storage available in the camper. Since we had been using another camper trailer, we already have a stock pile of camping supplies that we knew needed to fit in our new trailer unless we were willing to downsize. In thinking about it, we realized we could probably part ways with some of our supplies since we don’t use them and that we could simplify our needs to fit into the storage area available without sacrificing what we need. Each family’s needs may be different depending on the type of camping they do and what’s important to them during trips. I find it best to make a mental list of what those amenities are either before or while shopping for your new camper trailer.

Condition

Once you’ve decided all of your restrictions and desires you can start the fun part – looking for your new pop-up trailer! There are many things to look for and many questions to ask the seller when shopping for a new pop-up trailer. First, check all of the canvas and make sure there are no tears, rips or holes. The canvas can be one of the most expensive things to replace on a camper so it’s important to make sure that the one you’re buying is worth the money you’re paying. If there are tears in the canvas and you don’t mind spending another couple grand to replace it be sure to factor that into your offer price. Keep in mind that smaller tears can be patched, but I haven’t done this myself and so cannot attest to the level of complication or the skill needed to do that. Ask the seller where the unit has been stored, if they are the first, second or third owner (or whatever!), and ask them how long the trailer has gone unused. This question is important because I’ve actually heard that the worst thing you can do for a camper or rv of any kind is to let it sit unused. Have them walk you through all of the amenities to ensure that everything works. Plug in the electrical, check the pilot lights and overall have the seller show you that everything works. You’re not being a dick – you can trust people all day long, but it’s important to protect yourself especially in the case of the seller not knowing that something may not be functioning as it should. Also be sure to check the structural integrity of the trailer. Check for dry rot in the subfloor, any possible leaks or sagging in the top, and make sure that the lift system for setting the camper up is functional. When we bought our trailer, the seller even walked us through taking the entire trailer down so that he could show us that everything was in working order. A pop-up camper is an investment, and it’s important to do your due diligence to make sure everything is in working order before purchasing, otherwise you’ll just be stuck with something you won’t be able to enjoy as you should. A great resource can be found on ThePopUpPrincess.com where they have a three page PDF document of questions you can ask your seller before purchasing.

I think that’s pretty much everything you need to look for when purchasing a used pop-up camper. Stay tuned for more posts about camping with a pop-up trailer such as camping adventures, how-to posts and makeover process posts. Let me know in the comments below if you like to camp with a pop-up trailer and if you have any suggestions on fun posts for the future!

Until next time,

MelissaRose

Easy No-Sew Upcycles

Upcycling is a great way to take items you find at the thrift store and turn them into something new. This has become a popular topic on Youtube and the in the blog world as people recreate and recycle items all over the world. Items range from clothing, home decor, and furniture, but sometimes you just want something quick and easy to turn the drab old item into something new and fabulous. I’m all for spending time to recreate your new favorite piece, but sometimes I’m all about instant gratification. Give me a pair of scissors and 10 minutes and let me get to creating!

These two upcycles are very, very basic. Like, so basic that literally all you need is a sharp pair of scissors and 10 minutes (or less if you start getting good at this). They do not require a sewing machine or any other fancy equipment. You can also use these upcycle tips on all sorts of items including jeans, t-shirts, blouses, linen or cotton pants, and anything else you’re feeling brave enough to chop up. There are probably a thousand other tutorials you could read or watch to help you accomplish the same thing, but this is how I accomplish my end product so I hope you find it helpful.

The first DIY we’ll dive into is a pair of cropped jeans. These are super popular right now and range from skinnies, to wide legs, to boot cut, to bell. Luckily, the frayed hem look is also super trendy right now. You can have a slightly frayed hem, fray that hangs for inches or something inbetween. This makes it so that you don’t have to hem your jeans or pants after trimming them, and makes for a super fun and easy on-trend upcycle.

To begin, grab a pair of jeans. These can be an old pair you’re no longer loving or a pair that you grabbed from the thrift store that may need some extra love. The pair I’m using today are an amazing button-fly pair of vintage GAP jeans I found at the thrift store. The only thing I’m not in love with about them is the boot cut leg. I’m going to chop off the ends of the legs to turn them into a cool pair of cropped jeans with a slight flare at the end along with a raw frayed hem. Also grab a pair of sharp scissors. It’s important when you’re working with fabric, especially denim, to have sharp scissors. This ensures that you get clean straight cuts that will look intentional in the end. You can find good fabric scissors for relatively cheap on Amazon or at your local craft store. If you’re able to, I’d suggest buying some that are mid-range in price so that they last through many DIYs.

Once you have chosen your jeans, try them on and fold them up to where you’d like them to be cropped. Use photos of styles you like as a reference and a full-length mirror so that you’re able to get to a length that you’ll actually enjoy wearing. I looked up cropped jean images on Pinterest to give me a better idea of what the trend looks like and where to fold my jeans relative to my height. Once you have them folded, carefully remove the jeans without unfolding the legs. At this point, you really only need one leg to stay folded for measuring, but make sure you fold both when you have them on so you can imagine the finished look.

After removing the pants with one leg folded, use your scissors to snip a small marking at your fold line. This will act as a guide so that you can unfold the pant leg and still know where you want to cut your jeans. Unfold your pant leg and get ready to chop!

With the leg of the jeans lying flat, cut slowly and steadily in a straight line. If necessary, of if your pant legs are super wide, you can refold the leg and add another snip mark on the other side of the leg to act as a guide for a straight cut. If you’re comfortable with just going for it, simply cut straight across. A good rule to have with this is to always cut less than you originally intend. This way, if you mess up or cut a less than desirable line, you always have more to go back and cut off.

You’ve done it now! One leg is complete (well, mostly). Neatly fold the jeans in half so the longer leg is underneath the shorter leg. This will act as another guide to make sure you cut both legs the same length. Trim along the edge of the shorter leg, and voila! You have successfully cut off both ends in a symmetrical fashion. You could also use the first end piece you cut off as a guide. Lay the cut off piece on the un-cut leg and hold down as you cut off the longer leg. This will create the same symmetrical cut and ensure that your pant legs are both the same length.

All that’s left to do now is throw these babies in the wash. The more you wash them the more they will fray. You could also do this process by hand if you were short on time. Simply pull on the threads at the end of the leg over and over and over. You could also use tweezers to pull fibers from the end to get them really distressed, but I do suggest washing them at some point to get a naturally frayed look.

Onto DIY number two! This DIY is super versatile as well and there are SO MANY cutting options you can experiment with. For this particular t-shirt upcycle, I’m going to cut a v-hole (is that a thing?) in the neck to give my basic white t-shirt a more edgy look without sewing, dying or doing anything too terribly difficult or time consuming.

To begin, grab your t-shirt and your trusty fabric scissors. Again, sharp scissors are crucial with t-shirt fabric as well to get clean intentional looking cuts without any weird spikes of fabric jutting out.

Using a tape measure, measure out where the center of your neckline is. If you don’t have a tape measure, you could also either eye-ball it while laying the shirt out flat, or try the shirt on to determine where you want the center to be. I used a tape measure and pinched the material at the center of the tape, on this t-shirt, it was approximately at the 7 inch mark.

Using the center as a guide, fold the shirt in half down the front of the neckline, making sure the fabric on both sides of the fold is laying flat. Also make sure the ribbed neckline at the top is lined up so that your cut is even on both sides. Once you’re ready, cut along the messy dotted lined (stupid phone markup), or cut at whatever width and length you’d like your opening to be. You can follow the same rule as with the jeans, if you cut less now, you can always adjust later if you want the opening to be larger.

Using long smooth cuts, cut a triangle section from your shirt. After you’ve completed the cut, you can go back in with your scissors to cut away any weird or uneven lines, or to trim more away from the ribbed neckline if necessary. When you’re finished adjusting your cuts, stretch the opening slightly to smooth out your cut lines. Washing the tee will also soften the edges and make the shirt look like it was made that way from the store.

And there you have it! From plain, boring white tee, to edgy and trendy top. You could adjust your cuts in so many ways with this as well. Make the opening larger, cut slits in the shape of a triangle, make a larger cut in the back for an open back look – the options are endless!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these super easy no-sew upcycles. I know that there are thousands of tutorials like this out there, but I really wanted to give you guys something visual that didn’t require a video or a bunch of additional steps or materials. Let me know if you try out these upcycles or if you have any other favorite methods that I should try!

Until next time!

MelissaRose

Hardening Off Seedlings

This year, I decided to start my vegetable garden from seeds. I wanted to save some money versus buying plants from the store, but I also wanted the experience of growing my own food from start to finish. There were a couple of steps I didn’t know about until doing further research – how to harden off my seedlings was one of those steps. Hardening off seedlings is basically preparing your seedlings for life outside. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. They have been growing and living in a stable and controlled environment inside where there is no real exposure to the elements. Hardening them off gives them a transition period to get acclimated to some of the new things they’ll experience without just throwing them out to fend for themselves. In this post, I’ll explain how I’ve been doing this with my own seedlings and also provide some further in depth information you can check out on your own from people who are far more experienced than I am.

The first and probably most important thing to consider when getting ready to harden off your seedlings is the weather outside. You don’t want the conditions to be so extreme that the seedlings become shocked or die because they’ve been exposed too quickly. For my first day of this process, I waited for a day that was slightly cloudy, not too windy, and definitely not raining. I placed the seedlings under my covered patio, away from direct sunlight, and let them sit outside for about an hour. Afterwards, I brought them back inside, and made sure nobody got too tousled by the wind. We did have some light winds that day, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You want your seedlings to grow strong roots to be able to withstand wind since they will likely be exposed to it outside at some point. The early exposure to the light wind helps trigger their roots to grow nice and strong so they can keep themselves upright even with a breeze. Luckily, everything went smoothly the first day.

The second day, the weather was about the same as before. This time, I placed them outside in the same spot, but left them out for two hours instead of just one. You want to gradually increase the exposure. On the third day, I placed them outside in the same spot for several hours. The several hours was a bit more by accident on my part than intentionally, but no seedlings were damaged. I sighed a breath of relief and was proud of the little seedlings for seeming to transition so quickly. If you’re looking for a more structured set of instructions, check out the Homestead and Chill blog post about hardening off seedlings. She gives great day by day instructions. I am more winging it and learning by my own experience, but did use this blog as somewhat of a guide. So far, my less than perfect process has worked for me, but I live in a fairly forgiving climate in California. If you live in a more extreme weather zone I’d definitely recommend checking out their post.

Yesterday was my fourth day of hardening off my seedlings. I left them out almost all day. The first half of the day they were under my covered patio, but then we had some people over and needed the table, so they went out into the direct sun. I was a little nervous about this at first with it being the warmest part of the day but the seedlings did great! I was outside all day as well (it was like 72 degrees outside!) so I was able to keep an eye on them and make sure they didn’t start drooping, burning or doing anything that looked bad. I’m happy to say that they did great, and I think with a few more days of transition, they’ll be ready to be planted outside! I can’t wait!

Once the seedlings are ready to be planted outside I’m also going to install my new soaker hose irrigation system. I will be sure to document it so that I can create a post here. I’m excited to have a system set up as I’ve always watered my plants myself and it wasn’t always the best outcome. I think having an irrigation system will help me save time, money and hopefully keep my plants more luscious and alive longer too! Are you working on a garden this year? Are you to the point of hardening off seedlings yet or just getting ready to seed?

Until next time!

MelissaRose

Transferring Pre-Sprouted Seeds

When I pre-sprouted my seeds, I wasn’t fully sure what I was doing. I read some articles online about pre-sprouting and thought it would be a great choice considering my zone and the time of year. You can read more about my process here. I am happy to say that almost all of my seeds sprouted using this method. I was so happy to open up my little ziploc green houses and see baby plants forming inside. Some of the seeds such as the lettuce and the broccoli only took a few days, the tomatoes, squash and peppers took a bit longer. Sadly, the only ones that didn’t sprout completely, were the peppers. I only had a couple of bell pepper seeds sprout, so I have now planted those directly in the dirt along with some unsprouted seeds, so we will see how that goes. In this post, I want to show you how I transferred them into egg carton planters.

I used egg cartons as planters for a couple of different reasons. First, was for cost – these are basically free versus buying new planters from the store and would ordinarily just be tossed out anyway. Second, because of the material the cartons are made of. I buy cage free organic eggs which come in recycled containers made of paper product pulp. This makes them safe for the plants, but they are also great at retaining moisture, which seedlings need in their earlier stages. So not only is this a great sustainable option it’s a great problem solving option as well that doesn’t cost any money. All in all, I was able to get 10 seed varieties and my bag of seed starter for under $20. This is SO much cheaper than what it cost me last year to start my garden from seedlings from the hardware store, and I think this is so much better because I know exactly how the seeds are being raised and can rest assured that they are completely organic.

I have been saving egg cartons for a few months and a tray from a vegetable snack platter to rest them on. I bought some Jiffy Seed Starter from Lowes to plant my seeds in. Using seed starter is very important as regular potting mix does not have the appropriate nutrients or pH balance for young seedlings, so be sure to use something like this instead. To start, I numbered my egg cartons, 1, 2 and 3. I then created a diagram on another page of my garden planner from Homestead and Chill so that I wouldn’t forget which seed went where. You’d be surprised how difficult it is to tell plants apart when they’re this young! I used a regular kitchen spoon (dirt don’t hurt) to add starter to each egg cup. I then gently pulled the seeds from their paper towels and pressed them each into their own slot. I left the little leaves of each seed atop the dirt but made the sure the roots were covered. The hardest part at this point was making sure I didn’t damage the roots when pulling them from the paper towel. Many of the little roots actually grew through the towel itself, so it was important to pull very gently. If you’re not able to remove it from the paper, you can take some of the towel with the root and plant it with the seed as the paper towel will biodegrade in the starter mix. After planting each type of seed, I wrote it down on my garden planner. I did one seed per cup with the exception of the mixed greens. I had so many seeds (I think I pre-sprouted too many) that I didn’t want to just throw them away. I had enough to put a few per cup (which I imagine I’ll have to thin out later) as well as give some to a friend. It will be a good lesson though, to see how to thin them out and give them their own planters later on.

Once all the little plant babies were in their new homes, I used a spray bottle filled with water to moisten each seed cup. It’s still important to keep the seedlings most and warm as this will continue to encourage growth. I do this by placing them in the sun during the day, and atop the refrigerator at night. Each time I move the cartons I give each cup a good spritz with the water bottle. It’s so exciting to see them grow and perk up even after just a couple of days. There are still some seeds in the ziploc baggies which I need to figure out what to do with. I think I might just plant them also and have a surplus of seedlings to give away to friends, family and neighbors. We will see how many survive, but I’m having a good feeling so far!

Are you doing any gardening yet? I know alot of people throughout the US are stuck in the cold right now. What do you think about starting a garden from seeds?

Until next time,

MelissaRose

Vegetarian Verde “Chicken” Enchiladas

I used to watch ALOT of Top Chef. Like binge-watching for hours and hours and hours. One episode that I can recall, a particular chef made his version of an enchilada (spoilers ahead). I don’t remember exactly what kind of enchilada, but I do remember that he made them with flour tortillas. Long story short, he ended up being kicked out simply because he made his dish with flour and not corn tortillas. I was floored! I had eaten both versions of enchiladas and thought both tortilla options were great even if they were different. So I say, cooking is an experiment, an adventure, and I think you can make your enchiladas however you want to. In fact, one of my very favorite recipes of my mom’s was chicken enchiladas with green chile sauce and flour tortillas. Once my husband had it, it was one of his favorite dinners too. But once I stopped eating chicken a few years ago, I wasn’t able to make this recipe anymore – that is, until recently. I found a way to recreate an old family recipe without sacrificing my values, and I am SO stoked about it!

This is another recipe that I use Beyond Meat products to substitute real meat. Their products are great because they are the closest thing that I’ve found to matching the texture of real meat. For these enchiladas, I use the Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips. Gardein and Morningstar make their own versions as well, but I haven’t tried those yet so cannot say whether those will work well or not. The Beyond Meat strips work perfectly in this recipe since it calls for shredded chicken, and I much prefer their texture over some of the other vegetarian enchilada recipes I have tried. You could also make this recipe vegan by substituting the cheese for your favorite dairy-free alternative. Serve with your favorite Mexican style rice or beans and enjoy!

Also, sorry I don’t have photos of this, but I forgot to take them the last time I made this (I’m a horrible blogger LOL). But I will try to get some the next batch I make.

Vegetarian Verde “Chicken” Enchiladas

6 flour tortillas, soft taco or medium sized

1 28oz can green chile enchilada sauce

2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese

1 9oz bag Beyond Meat Chicken-Free strips, defrosted

Optional toppings could include, salsa, avocado, olives or whatever else you like!

  1. Take the defrosted chicken-free strips and shred into bite sized pieces. Beyond Meat has a great video on how to do this here.
  2. Take the shredded strips and mix with 1 cup of cheese and some of the enchilada sauce. I don’t use a pre-measured amount, I use just enough to combine the mixture without it being soupy.
  3. Preheat oven to 350° and prepare a 9″ square pan (I use glass, or you could use a larger pan and double the recipe if you want more than 6 enchiladas). If not using glass, I suggest spraying your pan down with cooking spray or oil.
  4. Pour some enchilada sauce into the bottom of your pan. The amount is not terribly important as you can add more as you go.
  5. Take a tortilla and lay it in the sauce at the bottom of the pan, flip over to coat tortilla in enchilada sauce. Take the chicken-free strip mixture and spoon into the tortilla – about two spoonfuls.
  6. Roll tortilla up and place in pan seam side down.
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 with the remaining tortillas, adding more enchilada sauce if needed as you go.
  8. Once all tortillas are filled, cover them with the remaining 1 cup of cheese and any desired toppings.
  9. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until cheese is completely melted.
  10. Let sit for 5 before serving.

Easy Pizza Dough

Good pizza can be hard to find. With so many restaurants offering low-cost carry-out and delivery pizzas, it can be difficult to sift through what’s delicious and what’s just cheap. The worst is when you pay a higher price for a pizza and are disappointed when you bite into it. A fool-proof way to avoid either of these instances? Make your own. I think pizza dough can be as daunting as making bread because of the yeast, kneading and rise time but it’s really quite easy once you try it out. And the results are so worth it! Making your own pizza is cheaper, more tasty and more satisfying than buying it from a chain restaurant. And not only that, I find that it’s usually more filling too.

Another great and unique thing about homemade pizza are the toppings. You can put whatever you like on them! I’ve done honey sauce, with arugula and pears, the basic caprese style with pesto and tomatoes, and huge vegetable pizzas with almost every kind of veggie you can think of. The options are endless! You can use this dough recipe to make any kind of pizza that suits your taste. It stays great as leftovers if wrapped in foil or kept in a plastic bag. This particular recipe makes two rather large pizzas with thick crusts. You can split in half if you want smaller pizzas or just one large one. Like many of my other recipes, I use a stand mixer which makes this so much easier, but you can always make it by kneading by hand. The photo posted is a pizza topped with homemade pizza sauce (maybe I’ll post a separate recipe for this), mozzarella cheese, spinach leaves, grape tomatoes, baby bella mushrooms and chopped green bell peppers. It was absolutely scrumptious and I can’t wait to make it again!

What’s your favorite kind of pizza? Does pineapple belong on pizza 😉 ?

Easy Pizza Dough

2 cups warm water

1 Tbsp yeast

5 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp salt

Olive oil, enough to coat a bowl and baking sheets and to brush on the crusts before baking – shouldn’t take more than a few tablespoons

  1. Place yeast in warm water and let sit until foamy (about 5 minutes)
  2. Add 2 1/2 cups of flour and stir to combine.
  3. Add remaining flour and salt and knead with dough hook until a dough ball is formed.
  4. Place in a bowl coated with olive oil, cover with either plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and let rise for 30 minutes.
  5. While the dough is rising, wipe the baking sheets down with olive oil and preheat the oven to 400°F.
  6. Once the dough has risen, split into two equal parts and roll out onto the baking sheets pinching around the edges to create a crust.
  7. Place dough in the oven for about 6-8 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven and brush outer crusts with olive oil.
  9. Place toppings as desired and place back in the oven for 18-20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and cheese is melted.
  10. Let cool and slice; enjoy your homemade pizza!

Recipe adapted from Chef In Training

Easy French Bread

Going into 2019, I knew I wanted to make some changes to my everyday life. Some of these changes included more physical activity, a period of detox and some food changes, but overall I think my main focus is becoming more self-sustainable. This is fairly broad but to me it means making more of my own food, or growing it, and depending less on the idea that I have to spend money to take care of myself. This also ties in with the idea of sustainability, such as reusing items, buying less, and contributing less to our growing garbage problem. Basically, I want to buck societal norms and get back to a simpler way of life. Maybe I’ll do another post on my reasoning and inspiration behind this entirely, but for now let’s just stick to one point specifically.

One of my main resolutions for 2019 is to become more self-sustainable with my food. This includes making more of my own items from scratch, such as breads, sauces, jellies etc., as well as growing a larger garden than I did last year. Obviously with it being January, starting the garden is a couple months away, so to keep myself busy until then, I’ve been learning how to make things that I can do inside away from the blustery weather. My favorite of these so far is bread. Bread is one of those things that I think makes a kitchen feel homey and inviting. The smell, the process and the feeling of being able to create something so simple and yet so widely consumed is very special to me. I remember my mom making bread and rolls and pastries and thinking that she must possess some kind of magic to be able to create things that were even better than store bought. As I got older, I seriously thought that I needed some kind of special training or voodoo to be able to accomplish the same thing. The whole process seemed so complicated. The yeast rising, the kneading, the rolling – it all felt so out of reach. What if I messed up? What if my bread didn’t rise? What if I fail? It seems very dramatic, I know, but I do feel like this is the stigma around bread (or dough in general)! Finally, I mustered the courage to give it a shot, and I’m happy to report that tasty baked goods aren’t just for those with fairy dust. With no tricks up my sleeve, and no magic bread-wand, I am able to confidently create warm loaves of bread that make my house smell as if a bakery exploded in my kitchen.

The most difficult part of making bread, I think, is the time consumed to create it. It’s not like making cookies where prep time takes 20 minutes and you bake each batch for 8 minutes and voila! – cookies for everyone! It’s at least a 2-3 hour process because of the rising times. Now, don’t get me wrong, waiting for dough to rise is not difficult in the slightest. You literally do nothing but wait (which for those of us without patience can be quite trying). With a stand mixer, your job is even easier. Pour contents into mixer, wait; pull contents out of mixer, wait; put contents into oven, wait. OK, so maybe it’s not THAT simple, but it’s close. This bread recipe is one of the first that I’ve tried that isn’t a “30 Minute Roll” or a quick bread recipe (like banana or pumpkin). The first time I attempted it, I doubled the recipe and was able to give one loaf away. The bread was good, don’t get me wrong, but it was a little more dense than I had hoped it would be. So, for my second try, I did only one loaf and I tweaked the recipe a bit to what I thought might provide a better outcome. And boy, was I pleased when my fragrant and golden brown loaf was ready to come out of the oven. Not only did it smell divine, it looked like one of the prettiest things I’ve ever been able to bake. As I pulled it out and checked it for done-ness (a fully baked loaf of bread should sound hollow when you tap on it) I think my eyes may have welled up a bit, like I was holding my very own baby for this first time. It was perfect. I slathered the baby in melted butter and waiting for it to cool a bit before digging in. OK, comparing the bread to a baby now sounds wrong… and quite gross. Anywho, I paired this perfect loaf with my Vegan “Chicken” Noodle Soup and could not have been happier with the results. It was light, it was buttery and filled with carby, bready goodness.

I guess what I’m getting at here, is if I can make bread, so can you. You’d be surprised at how much money it could save you versus buying bread at the store. We’ve used this bread now for french toast, dipping and just for snacking, but I think it could also be used for sandwiches, homemade croutons, bread pudding and pretty much anything else. And money isn’t the only thing you’re saving. Think of all the plastic wrapping and those little plastic bread clips and zip ties you aren’t throwing away. I like to keep my homemade bread in a small paper bag on the counter, but I’ve also heard you can wrap it in foil or make fabric bread bags (which I may do with some fabric scraps in the future). So cast your doubts aside and get your butt in the kitchen. You don’t need any special skills or bread fairy dust for this recipe, just a few hours to wait for the dough to rise and a bit of optimism.

Do you like to make your own bread? What are your favorite recipes? And what are some ways that you try to make your home more self-sustainable?

<b>Easy French Bread</b>

1 packet of active dry yeast

2 Tbsp sugar

1 cup warm water (for yeast activation)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for coating large bowl

  1. Dissolve sugar in warm water. Once sugar is mostly dissolved, add yeast and let sit for 5-10 minutes or until foamy.
  2. Once foamy, add the salt, vegetable oil and half of the flour. Stir to combine (I use my stand mixer with a dough hook throughout this whole process).
  3. Add the rest of the flour and mix until a dough ball forms. I let this knead in the mixer for about 4-6 minutes.
  4. Coat a large bowl with vegetable oil and place dough ball inside to rise. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a dish towel to keep any drafts out. Let sit for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  5. Once doubled, remove dough and work with your hands for a few minutes. Stretch it out in a rectangular shape and roll into a loaf, folding the ends under to create the rounded edges.
  6. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon baking sheet and let rise for another hour. At this point I like to slice little lines into the top of my loaf. Some people wait until the rising time is complete – to each their own, do what makes you happy. I like my lines to be smaller so that’s why I do it before.
  7. After the hour is up, preheat your oven to 375°F and bake for 25 minutes.
  8. Enjoy the smell coming from your oven and prepare for goodness.
  9. Once the bread has finished baking (tap to ensure that it’s done), remove from the oven and brush melted butter over the top. Move to a cooling rack and let rest before slicing.
  10. Pat yourself on the back, because you just made your very own French bread! Well done!