Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Garden Planting Plan

This whole garden thing is closer to happening! I purchased seeds today, and planting is scheduled to happen on Sunday. Hopefully this daily rain thing will let up a little so it's not all mud by then. But we'll see.

After consulting the experienced (yet self-proclaimed NON-master) gardener -- my mama! -- I made some adjustments and have come up with the following for my planting plan.

I know it seems like a lot, but I figure go big or go home. A garden isn't a garden without tomatoes, onions, carrots, green peppers......  And Mike requested cucumbers. And green onions. And pumpkins. After all, it is his yard so I figured I should comply.

If you have any suggestions, input, or comments please leave them below. I can sure use all the advice I can get! I'm not really sure how it will all work out, but hopefully I'll have a little success anyway.  Stay tuned for updates!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Tilling. I think this is officially one of those 'man's jobs'. I'm totally not a sexist... I can change a tire and use a drill, and I think a man can wash the dishes and sweep the floor. But some things are just easier when done by a particular person. Example: tilling.

I had been talking about renting a tiller for this new garden project I've decided to do, and Mike insisted that I wait until the weekend so he could help me. He told me I'd hurt myself if I tried to do it alone, so just to appease him, I waited until the weekend.

I called up the rental place, and he said they'd be open for 3 more hours and one of the tillers hadn't been rented yet that day. So I immediately called my brother, traded him cars for the afternoon (a tiller doesn't fit well in the back seat of a Camry), and went to pick up the tiller. Mind you, I had a cake in the oven (so domestic, I know) and had to juggle baking time with closing time of the rental place. It all worked out, no worries.

We finally got to the rental place, and it's all men in there, and a fairly dirty place. I guess, what should I expect from a place that rents out machinery, right? But really, it reminded me of going into the Farmer's Co-op building back home. Rightfully so, they looked at me like an idiot when I walked in there all alone, sporting a pink t-shirt and asking if I could rent a tiller. "Who's gonna be doin' the tillin'?" I guess it was his equipment; he was allowed to be worried about it.

I went out back to the 'shop' to look at the tiller before I signed a rental agreement. The guy who was smoking a cigarette (inside!), missing a front tooth and wearing a week's worth of dirt showed me the tiller. "This what you had in mind?" Umm, I guess, as long as it does the job. He offered me a cultivator and three different sizes of tillers. "Dude, I just want to till my garden."

So inside I went, to sign my rental agreement. "What'd ya think?" I told him I'd take it. Mike came in shortly thereafter. He backed my brother's Jeep up to the loading dock and got operating instructions. The chain-smoking, tooth-missing, dirt-wearing guy asked Mike, "You ev'r used one these b'fore?" To which he replied "Uh, yeah, I think so. A while back." He didn't sound very convincing, I just don't think he wanted to listen to operating instructions. But he got them anyway... "you pull this here pin out, flip this guy upside down, push here, pull there. There's the choke, and this lever...." I'm not sure if he stopped making sense or if I just stopped listening. Probably the latter, as I don't even know what a 'choke' does. Anyway, they loaded this beast up and off we went.

We got the tiller to Mike's house, and off to work he went. He attempted to 'pull the pin and flip this guy upside down' and couldn't figure it out. I think he had stopped listening to Mr. Rent-It too. Once he got the tiller started and held the lever down that made it go, the thing took off. It only had one speed:  GO. In a matter of seconds, I was doubled over in laughter. After a couple minutes, I asked Mike if he was mad. No. But beads of sweat, strained back muscles, three blisters, and six inches of torn-up dirt later, I'm pretty sure he had a different answer.

Days later, things are looking great. The roots that were torn up have all died, and I think it's ready to be planted. I'm waiting for this stretch of 35 degree nights to be over, and I'll get to work. Best of all, Mike even says he'll do the whole tiller-rental thing again if needed. Maybe he wasn't so mad after all!

Thanks Mikey, for tilling!
...and for not letting me do it myself!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I think I can... I think I can...

With only a month to go until T-day, I'm finally at a point where I think I can complete this triathlon! I have completed each individual leg multiple times... I can swim 750m without drowning, bike 20k without falling off, and run 5k without walking. Success! Granted I have never done all three back-to-back, but I have done two in a row successfully. According to the all-knowing-online-triathlon-training program, I don't have to do them all for a couple more weeks.

Despite my newfound confidence, I do still have some concerns:
1. What do I wear that I can swim, bike and run in comfortably?
2. Since there won't be a black line at the bottom of the lake to help me go in a straight line, how will I know I'm not swimming crooked?
3. What is an acceptable time to finish?
4. Will my bicycle hold up??

The bicycle. I've learned the hard way that this is one of those things that you get what you pay for. Some things are, some things aren't. A bicycle is definitely on the "are" list. I didn't want to pay $600-$800 for a bike... not really in the budget. So I bought an older one that was fixed up, and I'm a little concerned it's a lemon. (Note: it's the last fixed-up bike I ever buy.) The second time I rode it, the chain fell off and wrapped around the pedal three times. So there I was, stranded on the trail with a broken bike and no cell phone, two miles from home. All those $800-bikers weren't so impressed. Since that fateful day, it's held up just fine. But I don't do any cell phone-less rides anymore.

Want more information on what this triatlon craziness is all about? Here's the link if you want to check it out. Feel free to come and cheer me on. Please bring your own cowbell, poster, or personalized shirt. Maybe then people will actually think I'm cool.

32 days to go.
must... keep... training....

Monday, April 18, 2011

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Fruits and vegetables in a cake? Truth. This cake has carrots, raisins, pineapple, and applesauce. And cinnamon, which is has several health benefits including regulating blood sugar and cholesterol.

Ok, so it's just regular old carrot cake (with a couple minor changes). I've never made carrot cake from scratch before, but it was kind of fun. Granted it still has sugar, flour, and the regular cake ingredients, but it has a lot of healthy stuff too.

Carrot Cake
6 c grated carrots
1 c brown sugar
1 c raisins
4 eggs
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/2 c applesauce
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c crushed pineapple, drained
3 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 c chopped walnuts

In a medium bowl, combine carrots and brown sugar. Let this sit for an hour, then stir in the raisins.
Preheat your oven to 350.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Gradually mix in the oil, sugar and vanilla. Stir in the pineapple. In separate bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, then stir this into the wet mixture. Finally mix in the carrot mixture and the walnuts. Pour evenly into the prepared pans. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until done, depending what pans you're using. Allow to cool partially before removing from pan.

When completely cooled, I frosted the cake with slightly adjusted cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
2 - 8 oz packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 c powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Using a mixer, cream together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the vanilla, then gradually stir in the powdered sugar.

Of course I had to dress things up a little, so I piped on a little border and some carrots.

I just had to try a piece.

Friday, April 15, 2011

You can take the girl out of the farm...

...but you can't take the farm out of the girl. That's what my dad told me when I told him about my new plan. I think he's right.

One thing I miss most about living 'on the farm' (even though I never actually lived on a farm), is the fresh, home-grown, readily-available food. Namely, the vegetables. In my grandma's garden there was a summer's worth of sweet corn and watermelon, and in the fall you had your pick of Grandpa's pumpkins. In my mom's garden was a plethora of strawberries, tomatoes, and green peppers... and nothing was better than fresh green beans. When I was little, the strawberries and green beans made it into our bellies before they even made it in the house.  Now I pay $3 for a quart of strawberries, $1 for a single green pepper, and $2 a pound for tomatoes. They might be bigger and prettier, but they don't taste as nearly good. Especially the sweet corn.

Last summer I attempted to grow a few things in pots on my apartment balcony, but it was a complete flop. A balcony just isn't conducive to growing anything substantial. So this year I asked around, and I have found a home for my garden! The house Mike lives in has a great backyard that little old Bea used to care for diligently, but the currently 27-year-old male landlord couldn't care less about Bea's garden. So I asked him if I could 'borrow' his backyard for the summer. Graciously, he offered it up. Thanks Matt!

Here's what I'm working with:

 I don't know how big the area is -- maybe 10'x20'. Full sunlight over most of it.

Oh, and found a football and a golf ball in there. That's what the boys grow in the garden.

Little Old Bea had lined the east and west sides of the yard, along the fence, with 3-foot-wide gardens the length of the fences. Now it's dirt, leaves, and an occasional surviving perennial popping up. Might look great with hostas??

She lined the south tree-line with another 3-foot-wide garden. Not much there now.

I've spent a few hours raking leaves in the garden area and digging up random stumps and roots that have consumed the garden over five years of neglect. Saturday is tilling day... then the planting will begin! Tomatoes, green peppers, onions, carrots.... I don't know how successful my first garden will be, but I'm excited to give it a try.

Fresh veggies, here I come!!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Chocolate Cupcakes with Mint Buttercream Frosting

I thought these would be perfect for St Patty's Day, but leaving for work at 6:30am and getting home at 8:30pm made this next to impossible. Also the reason I can't have a dog. Last weekend I mentioned to a friend that I thought these would be delicious, and she decided that we just had to make them. So here they are!

For the cupcakes I used my favorite recipe, thanks the The Pioneer Woman. I amended it slightly, but you can click here for her full recipe.

Chocolate Cupcakes
2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
½ cups buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla
1 cup butter
4 heaping tbsp cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake pan with cupcake papers.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk, eggs, baking soda, and vanilla. Stir and set aside.
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and stir to combine. Add the boiling water, allow to bubble for a few seconds, then turn off heat.
Pour chocolate mixture over flour mixture. Stir a few times to cool the chocolate. Pour buttermilk mixture over the top and stir to combine.
Fill each cupcake paper 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes. Allow to cool for a little in the pan, then place them on a baking rack to finish cooling.

After some pre-garden work and some quality friend time, the cupcakes were cool and in need of some frosting.

Mint Buttercream Frosting
1 c butter, room temperature
6 cups powdered sugar
1/2 c milk
1 1/2 tsp mint extract

Using the paddle attachment on an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add 4 cups of the powdered sugar and mix well. Add 1/2 c milk and mint extract and stir. Combine in the remaining two cups of powdered sugar. You can use more or less, depending on the consistency you need.

I frosted the cupcakes using a large round tip and icing bag. I added brown sprinkles to half for a little extra pizazz. Here's the finished product!

I was a little afraid that people weren't quite into the mint-chocolate thing as much as me, so I made half of them with vanilla frosting rather than mint.

And of course some sprinkles
on half of those to spice it up!

And I only ate one... Double success!

Photography 101

During the past few months I've been wanting to try my hand at photography, but the frigid winter weather hasn't been so conducive to doing so. But I think Spring is finally upon us, so a friend and I headed to the Old Market on Saturday so I could see what this camera business is all about.

All my life I've had a 'point-and-shoot', but it was time to step it up. One of my college friends does a good amount of photography in his journalism work, and he had recently upgraded his camera. So he let me use the one he was retiring to see if I liked it. And I finally had a change to see whether I did or not.

It was a perfect Spring morning--sun starting to shine, just warm enough to be comfortable in a sweatshirt. After a coffee shop stop and a battery run, the photography began.

The camera has "auto" options, and I had tried those a few times, but I had never figured out how to change the aperture, the ISO, or the shutter speed. (At least I think those are the three components I was changing... See Connie and Becky, I'm getting this!) But by accident, we figured it out. And what a big difference those make.

Without knowing what my 
settings were (or even should be),
this is what I got. 

  After playing around with 
 things, I got a much better idea of what the numbers meant. Now onto more exciting scenery.

I had never walked around the Gene Lahey Mall before, and I finally realized what I have been missing. What a great place. It's definitely going to be a picnic-filled summer.

I know none of the following photos are spectacular by any means, but they're the first ones I've taken with manual settings. No 'auto' used here. It's a great first step!

After the Gene Lahey Mall, we wandered around downtown for a while. We went to The Passageway, which I've never really taken the time to enjoy. There are so many fun shops in there, and it's very neat to walk through.

 Outside of an art gallery, there was a really strange garden -- if you can call it that. It had lots of strange trees (left), and there was a set of heads all the way around the outside that represented the signs of the Zodiac. And on the inside, heads that represented the planets. In the middle there was a shallow pool with another head. I really don't get it, and to be honest I was a little creeped out. Without the heads it would have been a really cool little place!

Fun morning. Fun learning. Fun discovering.
What's next??