It’s Salad Season!

It’s salad season. Finally.

Although I’ve resorted to buying questionable salad greens from the grocery store during the winter months, it’s so nice to be getting them fresh from the farmers market and even picking them from my backyard.

I’ve been buying a spinach arugula mix from Brynside Branch Farm through the Monroe Farm Market for the past couple weeks. It’s amazing. And the spinach in my garden has been growing like gangbusters, so I’ve mixed it in as well.

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This was my lunch last weekend–the mother of all salads. Sometimes just a salad as a meal won’t keep me full, so I’ve been adding some avocado to bulk it up a bit. And, the more veggies you throw on the better–fresh radishes from the farmers market, beets I canned last fall, grape tomatoes and olives. I even added hemp seeds for some crunch. I only just bought some of these–I’m still trying to figure out what to use them in. They are great on salads, though. Hemp seeds are one of the only plant sources that contain ALL of the essential amino acids. Don’t worry–you can’t plant them and grow weed.

I haven’t bought salad dressing for over a year. Once I realized the store-bought stuff is just loaded with sodium, sugar and plenty of wonky chemicals and preservatives, I started making my own. And homemade tastes amazingly better anyway. Seriously, the sky’s the limit when it comes to making your own. The combinations are endless.

I had a little bit of tahini left from making hummus a couple months ago, and I figured it was only a matter of time before it went bad, so I started with that as a base. The tahini reminds me of Mediterranean food, so I added some garlic and red wine vinegar to just continue down that path.

Mediterranean Tahini Vinaigrette (4 servings)

  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 3 Tb red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tb (about 3 cloves) garlic, minced
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • dash of pepper

Mix everything in a jar and shake vigorously. Will keep in a jar in the fridge for 1 week or so. It doesn’t look like the most appetizing salad dressing ever, but it is packed with flavor.

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Simple White Wine Calf’s Liver

Last fall, we bought a half of a beef from a friend of our’s father, who raises beef cattle. As I did in the freezer for the last remaining packages of steaks and stew meat, among a modest pile of neatly packaged burger, I couldn’t be more pleased. It was the best way to buy beef for us for many reasons. It was economical. I know the farmer who raised this cow and know that it was treated well. Because of this, the meat is superb. Delicious in the way grass-fed meat can only be.

The funny thing about buying the beef was I asked for some things that the butcher didn’t usually get asked for. Like short ribs. Ox tail. Tongue. Cheeks. Sweetbreads. And the offal. I would have even taken some of the bones if I would have thought of it. Maybe I can ask for those this fall when we order. Or some suet. I could make a lot of things with beef bones and suet.

I didn’t get the cheeks or the sweetbreads, but I did get a few packages of short ribs. The ox tail. Two packages of tongue (I think he threw in an extra since no one seems to want it). And several packages of beef liver.

Liver is something I’ve taken a liking to over the past few years. It’s hard to explain. Most people crinkle up their nose at it, but it’s really not bad at all. I used to crinkle up my nose at it, but I think it’s because I just hadn’t had it fixed in a way that I liked. I’ve had some bad liver. Tough liver. Liver that almost tasted sour. If you don’t like liver, then you probably had some bad liver, too. If you do like venison, then you’re already halfway there to liking beef liver. Some people describe it as having a metallic taste, but I don’t think so. I think it tastes a lot like deer meat.

I’ve made it a couple times, but it’s hard to find recipes for it. Usually, when I’m faced with a weird cut of meat, I can find something to do with it in my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. That cookbook is seriously comprehensive. It should be in everyone’s kitchen, even if you don’t think you want to cook French food. There are hundreds of recipes for every kind of sauce, vegetable, cut of meat, egg dish and pastry you can imagine. There happen to only be two recipes for beef liver in it. And I’ve tried both.

I looked on Pinterest yesterday for a new recipe, but I just couldn’t find one that seemed appetizing. I decided to just wing it on my own and keep it simple. I wanted to let the delicate taste and texture of this cut of meat stand out. When in doubt, just use a little white wine and butter. You simply cannot go wrong.

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Simple White Wine Calf’s Liver (serves 2 generously)

  • 1/2 pound of calf’s liver, cut into 1/2 inch strips
  • 1 Tb butter
  • 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 small red onion, cut into slices
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine

Melt the butter with the olive oil on medium heat in a large skillet. Pat the liver slices dry with paper towels and dredge in flour very lightly. When the skillet is hot and the butter has melted and begins to foam, add the slices of liver to the skillet, being careful not to over crowd them. Do not touch them for 4 minutes or so, and gently check underneath to see if are getting a nice deep golden brown crust. If they aren’t there yet, leave them for another couple minutes. Once the bottom is nice and brown, turn them carefully and brown the other side, another 4 or so minutes. I like them still just slightly pink inside, but you may want them a little more done. Once they’re done, remove them from the skillet and add the onion slices. Stir around the skillet a bit until they begin to soften and get translucent. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the skillet to get the bits of browned liver incorporated. Let cook on medium heat so that the wine reduces for just a couple minutes. Add the slices of liver back to the skillet to coat with the wine mixture. Serve immediately.

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These were so light and tender. You could cut them like butter. We ate them with a glass of wine that I used to deglaze the pan with, which was perfect. The red onion was key because it was slightly sweet, and contrasted perfectly with the rich savory liver.

Liver is extremely healthy. It’s high in iron, and you can get your daily requirement of several vitamins like B12 and K. Also, it’s really high in protein and low in fat, too. If you think you don’t like liver, just try this recipe before you write it off for good. You might still not like it, but this recipe could be the one that wins you over to being a liver-eater!

How to Cut Up a (Wild) Turkey

Its turkey season in West Virginia. I was almost giddy this year when the spring season finally arrived, since we’re out of meat from the turkey the Hubs got last year. (Here’s the link from my post last year about butchering that turkey).

I’d never cut a turkey up before. Or really cooked it, for that matter. But I got the cookbook Afield, which has tons of recipes for wild turkey (and other game), along with tips on butchering game and how to put it up. I absolutely love that cookbook. It is so practical. If you hunt or find yourself the recipient of game meat occasionally, I would definitely check it out.

The only way I’d ever had wild turkey was fried breast cutlets. They are delicious, but that’s only the beginning. There is a lot more meat on these birds than you might think. It’s versatile, too. Like a lot of other wild game, these birds are very lean. Their leg and thigh meat is dark like their domesticated counterparts, and is some of the tastiest.

Most people typically eat the breast meat when a wild turkey is killed. But it’s really easy to cut up the rest of the bird and get more out of it. Once, it’s killed, prep the bird (I recommend doing this outside). Cut off the head and feet. Pluck the bird. It doesn’t take long, and if you grab a handful of feathers with a firm grip, they come out fairly easily. Once you get the body plucked, pluck the feathers up to the last joint on the wing, and cut the wings off here. Next, gut the bird. Cut a circle under the tailbone to get the entrails out. This is probably the worst part. They might just fall out of the hole, or you’ll have to pull them out by the handful. Be extra careful with the intestines to get them in one piece so you don’t get poop all over the rest of the bird. If you can reach your hand all the way up in the bird, reach it up as high as you can and pull from the top (near the neck). Now, spray out the inside with a water hose (and give the outside a good rinsing, too).

Once inside, I rinsed the turkey off again in the sink. I patted it dry with paper towels to keep the mess down (marginally). Now you’re read to start butchering.

Make sure you have a really sharp knife. Also, get a platter or containers out to put the parts in.

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Start with the turkey on its side, breast toward you. Cut up the wings first.

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Carefully cut the meat off the wing bone. Cut away the meat attaching the wing to the body. You might find it easier to turn the turkey breast away from you (depending on if you’re right handed or left handed–just whatever is more comfortable). This is a palm-sized muscle right behind the wing. Cut down to the back bone, and cut it away.

Next, move onto the legs.

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Turn the turkey on it’s back and cut the legs (with the bird breast-side up) straight down to the backbone.

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Carefully cut around on the backside of the legs. Take the tip of the knife and make a shallow cut around the round muscle attaching the leg muscle to the backbone. The backbone is a solid plate-like bone that you’ll have to cut around. You can feel it easily because its near the top of the skin, and it’s easy to see. Cut all the way around until you can see the hip joint. Separate the hip joint  with your hands by bending them apart. You might have to cut a bit of tendon or tissue to get it apart.

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Next, cut the breast meat away.

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Cut along the long, solid breast bone that runs down the middle of the bird.

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it extends down the chest cavity toward the wing and connects to the ribs, so run your knife all the way behind the muscle to cut it loose.

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You’re pretty much done with all the major cuts of meat at this point. You might cut more bits off the bone for ground meat if there are any left.

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I think the meat gets a little tough after it’s been frozen. I’ll keep one breast out to fry fresh. I cut up the other breast to grind into sausage or burger later this year. I’ll freeze the legs whole for braising later, too.

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Some tips: This is the second time I’ve done this and I can say it was about A HUNDRED times easier the second time. It took way less time, too. So, if you try it and get really frustrated, don’t worry. It helped so much to have a good butcher kit. (Here’s the one I have from Amazon.)

I saved the carcass to make stock with. You might want to leave the skin on (particularly on the legs) if the skin looks like it’s in pretty good shape. Last year, I did not. The skin looked like scaly and flaky. It was a bigger bird, so maybe it was just older. I froze the legs individually, because they are pretty large, and we’ll only eat one at a time.

Turkey sausage is easy, but you’ll need a meat grinder. I cut pieces into one or two inch chunks. The ratio is three to one, turkey meat to pork fat, so I froze the turkey meat in a three pound portion to make sausage later.

We ate the fresh breast last night, breaded in flour and cornmeal and pan fried. It was amazing. I cut the breast into two-inch wide strips, across the grain of the meat, and pound them out flat with a meat tenderizer.

At any rate, I’m glad I was able to put up more turkey meat this year. If you’re lucky enough to bag one or know someone who did, I hope you’ll try this. Once you taste some turkey sausage or a hearty stew made from braised turkey leg, you won’t be sorry!

The Post About Bourbon and a Recipe for Old Fashioneds

Last weekend was the 140th Kentucky Derby, an event I always celebrate because its just so darn fun.

The food. The fashion. The fastest two minutes in sports…

I didn’t make by signature pecan pie this year, but the Hubs and I did make mint juleps. We bought some less-expensive bourbon for mixing juleps,  and I have quite a bit left over. If we’d bought the really good stuff, I wouldn’t be thinking about cocktail recipes, I’d just be drinking it on the rocks. I’m just not feeling any more juleps–I think they are a little too sweet for me. I started thinking about what kinds of other cocktails I could make with bourbon.

Earlier this week, I was thinking about this post and what I could use the rest of my bourbon to make. I was just scrollin’ my Facebook feed, and ran across my friend, Sara’s, pic of her set-up for making an authentic Old Fashioned. Bingo!

An Old Fashioned really is kind of an old school cocktail, made from sugar, bitters and bourbon, and garnished with an orange rind and cherry. I’m so sucked into Mad Men right now, and these have always seemed so Don Draper-y  to me. Especially the way Sara made them. Super fancy. Way fancier than mine would have been, in fact. So I asked her to share her process for making them, which I’m sharing with you. The cherries make all the difference in this recipe.

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photo credit: Sara Jones

This recipe comes from the “Hotel Diplomat” in Stockholm Sweden:

Items needed-  Bourbon (we used Buffalo Trace), soda water, sugar cube, Luxardo Cherries, Orange rind, Angostura Aromatic Bitters, Angostura Orange Bitters, pestle, beaker, Block/cube ice, Old Fashioned Glass.

1) Place sugar cube on a napkin and saturate with both Angostura Aromatic and Orange bitters.  Place in Beaker.

2) Add approximately 3 tablespoons club soda to beaker and break up sugar cube with pestle.  Stir until diluted.

3) Add a large cube of ice to the glass (preferably one that fits the whole glass)**

4) Pour the club soda mixture into the glass and add a teaspoon of Luxardo Cherry juice and add cherry*

5)  Add a shot (or two) of bourbon.

6) Slice a small orange rind and twist into glass and rim (some people actually light it with a match and let the oils “pop” onto the glass.  Add rind to drink.

7)  Enjoy!

*Luxardo Cherries go back to their Italian roots. Produced in Luxardo, Italy, these cherries are nothing like the bright red orbs you find in cocktails from workaday bars. Dense and chewy with a sweet-tart flavor, these maraschino cherries are made with prized sour marasca cherries preserved in the fruit’s famed liqueur.  These are expensive, but they’re worth every penny. They are absolutely, positively the best cherries you will ever taste. Everyone hates maraschino cherries as they are usually sweet and taste like candy, but these have a deep, complex flavor that are unlike anything you have ever tasted.

**To get a good ice cube, boil water and freeze it in a plastic container (this will make the ice cube clear and not cloudy).  Break it out and chip it until you get the desired size you need.

A lot of people seem to be turned off by bourbon. I know at one time I didn’t think I liked bourbon. But a trip to Louisville and a couple bourbon tastings later, I found “my” bourbon. And, true to form, I decided I liked one of the most expensive kinds. Maker’s Mark is pretty good, but have you ever tried Maker’s 46? I think they called it that because it is approximately $46 for a fifth. All kidding aside, this bourbon will knock your socks off. Delicious. And there was a time I didn’t think I would ever say that about bourbon.

Did you know that bourbon is a protected product? Meaning bourbon can ONLY be made in the United States (and some purists maintain, can only be made in Kentucky). It must be at least 51% corn and aged in charred oak barrels. Generally, bourbon can be aged for any length of time, and the longer, the greater depth of flavor. However, straight bourbon must be aged a minimum of two years.

On the way to Louisville, we toured a couple distilleries that are part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. It is a network of bourbon distilleries that visitors can tour and buy spirits at. I think there might even be organized tours visiting all of them, but we just stopped in at a couple of them. I find it fascinating that there is a product so universally enjoyed that is still made from the same few simple ingredients and in the same way that it was 150 years ago. I was surprised how “low tech” the operation was at Woodford Reserve, the distillery we took a tour of. Mother nature does most of the heavy lifting in their operations.

If they could make a perfume that smelled the way the rack house smells and bottle it, I swear, I’d wear it. Wow. The rack houses are purposely not climate-controlled because it’s the natural swing in temperature that causes the bourbon to expand and contract through that charred oak, which gives bourbon it’s distinctive flavor.

I’m not saying you have to tour the Bourbon trail or visit a distillery to really appreciate bourbon. Just keep an open mind if you initially scrunched up your nose at the thought of drinking bourbon. It is an acquired taste, and there are dozens of cocktails you can enjoy it in once you find a bourbon you like. Just keep tasting until you find it.

Special shout out to Sara Jones for providing her photo and text for this post!

The legal jargon: This was not a sponsored post. (Unfortunately) Neither I nor Sara received any free bourbon to write this post. Or any other consideration. 

What To Put On Your Body (Part II)

074A couple years ago, I wrote a post about the body products I use or don’t use. I think it got about the highest number of views of any post, which surprised me.

It doesn’t really have anything to do with food or gardening, but for the same reason that I don’t eat processed crap food–for health–I carefully consider what body products I put on me. Our skin is our largest organ, and anything we put on our skin (hello, lotion) gets absorbed and enters our systems–including the nasty ingredients.

I decided to write about it again for a couple reasons. One, because I was thinking about it the other day as I shopped for self-tanner. (Y’all know I’m pasty white without it, so it just keeps my skin looking a little less zombie-esque.) And, secondly, I’ve changed my philosophy on a couple products that I previously thought were okay.

By now, you guys might have picked up on this whole parabens thing. Skin products are starting to advertise that they are “paraben free.” For those of you who don’t know about this yet, parabens are compounds found in all sorts of body products to extend shelf-life, preserve and stabilize the formula. They have also come under fire in the past five years because once in our system, some of them can mimic estrogen. This “extra” estrogen in our system can cause a whole host of problems, but some of the most serious are early puberty (in children), increased risk of breast and reproductive organ cancer and infertility (in both women and men).

I tried to find some articles from neutral sources outlining some of the concerns for your reading pleasure. Here is one from 2009 on Yahoo, one from Real Simple magazine, one on Livestrong.com, and finally, one from 2011 in the L.A. Times.

The studies have not directly linked parabens to breast cancer, but I personnally, think there is a pretty compelling link and cause for concern. I just don’t want to take any chances if there are safe skin products out there (and they are becoming increasingly popular and easy to find) that work just as well. Of course, I want to emphasize it’s a personal decision.

Parabens are not the only nasty ingredients in body products these days. There are other things that I try to avoid, particularly fragrance. It’s completely unnecessary. Any time you see “fragrance” on the list of ingredients, a red flag should go up.  Added fragrance is made up of phthalates, which bind fragrance oils together. Phthalates have been linked to a number of risks, including increased risk of breast cancer, endocrine disruption and even obesity. (Body products aren’t the only way we are exposed to phthalates. They are in thousands of products like food containers and cash register receipts. Read here for more info.) Additionally, because the formulation of fragrances is considered proprietary, manufacturers don’t disclose what it’s made up of. So who really knows? It should be avoided. Those with sensitive skin are often advised to avoid fragrance because it can be particularly irritating to sensitive skin. Livestrong lists it as one of five ingredients to avoid in skin care products.

Sodium laureth sulfate is another ingredient I try to avoid. It is often the second ingredient listed behind water (did you know the ingredients are listed according to how much of each is in the product?) on many body washes and shampoos. Its a surfactant, meaning it makes the product bubbly or foamy to give it a soapy quality. Many of the sodium laureth sulfate-free shampoos I’ve tried don’t get really foamy and they work just as well. Do you really need foamy bubbly shampoo for it to work? No. Sodium laureth sulfate is a known skin irritant, particularly at higher concentrations. So why bother with it, since it doesn’t make your shampoo or body wash any more effective and can irritate skin? I think it’s just something added in to products to enhance the consumer experience–to make you feel like you are getting cleaner. Trust me, my consumer experience is enhanced knowing my products are free from nasties that could irritate my skin and increase my risk for breast cancer (scary!).

So, what do I use?

To start with, I use the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website religiously. I check all my skin products and make-up to see how they stack up. Bookmark it! You’ll thank me.

Body Lotion: I have tried all kinds of products, and I am particularly fond of Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion. It’s fragrance free and has a score of 2 on the EWG Skin Deep site (the lower the better). I’ve tried Nature’s Gate and Dr. Bronner’s brands for body lotion, and am not particularly crazy about either. They seem greasy and don’t absorb well.

In the Shower: I love Dr. Bronner’s 18 in 1 Castile Soap. I have the citrus scent (derived from natural citrus oil–but you can buy unscented). I use it for body wash and in place of shaving cream. Honestly, once I ran out of shaving cream and just used this stuff instead, and haven’t looked back since. It’s kinda slick, so it’s perfect, and it actually does a better job than shaving cream, I think.

About once a week, I exfoliate with the sugar scrub that we made at Mixed Con last year. Dixie Crystals sponsored the Sugar Suite at the conference, where attendees learned how to make sugar body scrub and lip scrub. It’s ridiculous easy. I used up all the at I made at Mixed Con, and had to make another batch. I used 1 cup of granulated sugar, 1/2 cup of grapeseed oil (you can buy this at the grocery store), and a few drops of lavender essential oil. Mix it all together, and actually, you may start out with 1/4 cup of grapeseed oil and add as much as needed to get the right consistency. It should hold together like wet sand. I say, if it’s safe enough to eat (except the essential oil–don’t eat that), it’s definitely okay to put it on your body.

Which brings me to another pantry staple that doubles as a skin product–coconut oil. I love it as a moisturizer. You can pretty much do like 101 things with it. It’s great as a treatment for your hair, you can obviously cook with it (delicious for stir-fry and Asian dishes), rub it on rough elbows and heels. I’ve even used it as a an eye make-up remover. Bonus–it smells amazing. It’s a little pricey, though; anywhere from $9 to $20 for a pint. If you find it on sale, stock up.

Shampoo/Conditioner: Right now, I’m using the Nature’s Gate formula for fine hair, but I’m not crazy about them. I did use deLux, which I loved and thought was all-natural, until I decided to check the label and see that sodium laureth sulfate is one of the main ingredients. I have used Kiss My Face Big Body Shampoo and Conditioner before, and really liked it. I have a bottle of JASON brand to use next, but haven’t tried it yet. All are rated pretty well by EWG Skin Deep.

Make-Up: I kinda rotate through products without sticking with any one brand. I love bareMinerals mineral make-up, and Boots No. 7 Stay Perfect Eye Mousse, which you can get at drugstores for like $6. Some other brands I like (and trust) are Tarte, Physician’s Formula, Korres, and Benefit, which have products rated well on EWG Skin Deep. I do like both Tarte and Korres, particularly, because virtually ALL of their products are safe. It’s nice that a company feels its important enough to use safe ingredients throughout its line. They are a little pricey, though, so I’m still on a search for drugstore brands that are just as safe and good-quality.

Face wash and make-up remover: I mentioned that I’ve used coconut oil as eye make-up remover, and it worked great. I still have the same tub of Vaseline petroleum jelly that I had in the last post for eye make-up remover, but I plan to switch soon. I was recently at a workshop about cleaning your home with all natural products, and the lady talked briefly about skin care. She said petroleum byprouducts aren’t good for your skin because they can clog it up and not allow it to breathe. Which makes sense, since that stuff seals out water. She recommended Alba Un-petroleum jelly in place of your usual Vaseline or whatever brand. I have not tried this stuff, but it looks pretty legit. I don’t know how it would work as an eye make-up remover, but I suspect it would do okay.

As a matter of fact, right now I have the Alba Hawaiian facial cleanser and moisturizer, also, and both are pretty nice. I’m constantly switching brands since I haven’t found one I love yet.  Actually, the Kiss My Face Potent and Pure Exfoliating Face Wash is wonderful, but it’s $15, and that seems a little steep. Maybe I’m just a cheapo, but c’mon. That’s the same reason I don’t regularly buy Philosophy Purity Made Simple, which is also rated well on EWG. I love that stuff, but not at $22 for eight ounces…

Facial Moisturizer: I’m at a total loss here. I have tried a dozen different kinds over the past few years, but found none that I’m in love with… Actually, there have been a few that I loved, but I suffered from sticker shock. I got a free sample of bareMinerals Multi-Wrinkle Repair once, and I loved it. But it’s $50 for one ounce. Maybe I should just break down and spend some money on some decent wrinkle cream. I dunno. What kinds do you guys like?

Deodorant: Okay, here’s where I’ve changed my position. I read the Food Babe blog religiously, and recently she did a post about aluminum in deodorant/anti-perspirants. Once she started researching aluminum zirconium, which is the ingredient in anti-perspirant that makes it work (She explains the science behind it in the post) she discovered it’s linked to breast cancer and alzheimer’s disease.  She switched to an aluminum free deodorant immediately. I read the post and did some research of my own, and decided I didn’t want to take my chances. I switched to an aluminum free deodorant, too. She had a promo code for Primal Pit Paste (corny name, I know) on her webpage, and I gave it a try. Does it work? Yes. Absolutely. Even after working out, I wasn’t stinky. I was skeptical this “hippie deodorant” would work, but I don’t notice any difference in my old stand-by, Degree. Do I love it? Eh. I bought it in the jar because it was cheaper than the stick, but I’m not crazy about it in a jar. Just too much trouble. She recommends some other brands, which I would likely try next, particularly Naturally Fresh, since it’s only $4, compared to the $9 I paid for PPP.

Sunless Tanner: Here’s where I’m still kinda stuck. Very few of them are rated very well on EWG. Probably because the chemicals that make them work aren’t totally safe. Tarte’s Brazilliance Skin is rated a 5 on EWG’s site, but it’s $39. I’m not willing to invest that much for something I’ve never tried before. I settled on Nivea Sun Kissed Radiance Gradual Tanning Moisturizer since it was only $11, and gradual sunless tanning moisturizer is harder to have a mishap with (we’ve all had orange palms and weird streaky legs…). It’s also rated a 5, which isn’t great, but not terrible either. Caribbean Solutions is the lowest rated self-tanner on EWG, at 2. I see that Coppertone has a gradual tan moisturizing lotion that is rated a 4, so that’s a little better than mine. Maybe I’ll get that next. I guess I’ll just have to wait for pasty white legs to be in fashion.

Perfume: Gosh, I LOVE LOVE LOVE wearing perfume, but some of it is laced with these same chemicals. Most perfumes rely heavily on alcohol, which can be drying to skin. But there are also a number of other chemicals in them. For example, Gucci Flora Eau De Parfum contains BHT, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, and Benzyl Salicylate, all three of which have been linked to endocrine disruption and reproductive cancer. Now, I’m just as guilty of this as anybody, because I wear perfume Every. Single. Day. But as soon as I finish up my current scent, I’m thinking of experimenting with essential oils. This is what gives perfumes their fragrance anyway. I think it would be neat to mix my own signature fragrance. Something floral and citrusy, since those are the notes I like in perfumes anyway. I’m sure making your own would be cheaper anyway, since it seem like perfume is wildly expensive these days.

At any rate, the level of exposure you feel comfortable with is up to you. You might have a history of cancer in your family, and want to limit your exposure to these toxic chemicals as much as possible, or you may see it as not that big of a deal, and be in love with your scented lotion or body spray. There’s no shortage of reading out there about potential risks body products pose, and I’ve embedded a number of links. Everyone should arrive at an informed decision on their own. This is just my opinion. I feel the same way about what kind of food I eat. I hope to be a healthy old lady one day.

The legal jargon: This post was not sponsored nor did I receive any consideration for it. All of the products were purchased by me. Additionally, I have embedded links to the products I mentioned from the retailer I purchase them from. I do NOT get any kickback if you click the links. The links are for demonstration only.

Early Spring in the Delicious Potager

It seems like spring is speeding right by. Weren’t we scraping ice and snow off windshields like a couple weeks ago? (Wait, I guess we were still doing that at the end of March.)

Spring is a super busy time for gardening. It feels like you go from zero to sixty in the garden in a matter of a couple days or one nice weekend. There’s seeds to start, soil to till, cool weather plants to get planted, and all kinds of planning for the rest of the growing season.

A few weeks back, I spent some time getting ready for the growing season. I ordered some new seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I have ordered from them or Seed Savers Exchange in the past. Both are great sources, with lots of odd heirlooms that are hard to find these days. I don’t use all the seeds usually, and they will keep from year to year if you store them properly (dry and not a huge temp change) but you do loose some germination percentage as the years go by. I wouldn’t count on having much success past three years.

This year, I added asparagus to my garden. I am stoked since it’s one of my favorite vegetables, and supposedly fairly low maintenance. And a perennial. A friend of my mom’s who has a huge garden gave me a couple crowns as she was splitting hers up this spring. I won’t harvest them this year so they can get established, but they did already shot up some stalks. The hardest thing for me was trying to decide where to plant them. I hope they’ll be around for several years. But, that means I need a permanent place for them in my garden. I settled on one of my small raised beds. I figured I could plant something with shallow roots around them so I don’t waste any space, since asparagus has such a short season. I sowed some spinach around them. With all this rain, it’s growing like gangbusters in there.

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Last week, I also took down my hoop house since I doubt we’ll have any more frosts. I had some kale that I over wintered under them, along with more kale, radishes, and lettuce I planted earlier in the spring. Now that the plastic is off, I look for it all to start growing like crazy,  too. I wasn’t watering it as much as I should with the plastic on it–one of the draw backs of a hoop house with warm spring temps. It gets hot and dried out quickly.

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After several weeks, I see that I have some tiny carrot seedlings. I had almost given up on them. Carrots do take a long time to germinate, but I was getting worried.

Of course, my vegetable garden is the focus of most of my effort, but I’ve been thrilled with my flower beds this spring. They are so low maintenance and full of perennials. It’s nice to have something growing out back that I can enjoy without stressing out and worrying about it–unlike my vegetable garden.

Last weekend, a family member was clearing out her flower beds and sent mom and I some perennials she divided up. I was planning on extending my flower garden at some point, but with the new goodies to plant, I went ahead and added about five feet onto the end. I planted a hosta, irises, buttercups, and lady’s mantle. I’d never heard of it before, but look at these leaves!

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Very neat! She also sent some lily of the valley, which I was particularly excited about since it’s my birth month flower.

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This spring I did build a new raised bed. I’ve been wanting one like this for a while–long and narrow that sits against the chain link fence so I can grow peas and beans. I just need to get some dirt to fill it with. It’s eight by two feet. Perfect for a row of beans.

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And, limping along, are my tomato and pepper seeds I started in the first week of March. They should be bigger and sturdier by now. I’ve never had much luck starting seeds, but I continue to try. I planted two kinds of tomatoes, but the Rutgers were the only kind to germinate. Also, out of a dozen or so pepper seed starts, only three germinated. They are lipstick peppers, a long sweet red pepper.

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I hate wishing away springtime, but it’s so hard not to be anxious to start harvesting from my garden. And enjoying the summer blooms in my flower beds. It won’t be long, though. By the end of May last year, I had so much arugula coming out of my garden I couldn’t eat it fast enough. With gardening, it seems there is never a happy medium. You’re either getting nothing or have vegetables coming out your ears.