The Greens, The Garden, The Greenhouse

After much talk and deliberation on what to do with our adult hoods, my fiancée  has decided to become a professional gardener. He switched careers from a professional chef, to wanting to grow the food that people cook. We talked about it and now is the time for him to follow his dreams of gardening, growing, and selling his produce to the local restaurants to help them buy, and cook local foods. It’s his way of giving back, and motivating people to know what they are eating, and eat healthy. He’s a forager, a grower, and a mad scientist of dirt.

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Matt has been growing the micro greens indoors all winter. He plans to move them into a greenhouse in our back yard. He and a business partner grow micro greens and deliver them to local restaurants that they use to garnish fancy dishes. The wheat-grass is delivered to a local health food restaurant, which they juice for customers to drink in smoothies, or as a shot.

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Watering the garden.

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When I visit him at the indoor garden, I get bored sometimes because gardening isn’t really my thing.

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We borrowed two of these storage hoop house frames from his family to put up in the yard. He ordered thick clear plastic to put over the tops, and a shade cloth for hot days. Matt and his friends then added grommets to the plastic to tie it to the greenhouse along the bottom with cable ties, and has left one side only attached to the greenhouse with bungee cords so he can roll it up when it gets too hot outside. He plans to rototiller the yard on the left of the greenhouse to plant in the ground.

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The greenhouse is up and running! The seed starters he started indoors under artificial light will be brought out here, and then put in the ground when they are ready. He’s started tomatoes, kale, spinach, and other great veggies. He’s got a few space heaters and fans in the greenhouse, and plans to move all of the indoor greens out here too. One location for everything will make his job easier!

Next: foraging for wild ramps and morels!

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Saving Money in the Morning

If you’re making a new year’s resolution to save money, why not start in the morning? Spending money first thing is not only a bad habit to get into, but an easy habit to break with the right materials. I’ve done similar articles on how I easily save $8000 a year by making small changes, and this is one of them.

Coffee / Espresso: 

If you love coffee in the morning, invest a little in your favorite brand, and save yourself some money. I love the coffee maker we got for only $35, (You can buy a one cup espresso maker at Target for the same price.) We also got 2 of the Aladdin mugs that are microwaveable AND fit into my bike beverage carrier, and I got a mug warmer for my desk. We buy 2 lbs of coffee beans at around $18 a bag at Costco every couple of weeks. (Mind you the fiancee drinks about 6-8 cups a DAY, every day, so we brew a lot of coffee.)

Price for maker, ($25) beans, (if we buy coffee every three weeks, that’s 17 two pound bags at $11 each which is $187), two Coffee Mugs ($18) in one year: $230 a year.
Extras include Soy Creamer and Organic Sugar. I also buy a bottle of flavor syrup that lasts me about a year since I don’t use it every day. Cost there: Sugar $10 for large bag at Costco, Creamer $51 a year ($3 each and buy one every 3 weeks or so). Total: $61 a year.

At home coffee a year for 2 people: $357.50, ($178.75 per person)

Compare that to take out coffee for one person,  5 days a week, 52 weeks a year at an average of $4 a piece: $1033.

That’s a savings of $868 a year! Think of what you can get with that money…

Faves: 

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1. Aladdin Mug from Amazon,  2. Mr. Coffee Maker (12 cup, programmable for only $24), 3. Torani Syrup in Caramel, if you want to jazz things up a little bit. This one is from the World Market for $8, 4. Organic Valley Soy Creamer, 5. my Anthropologie Mug,  6. Organic Sugar that we get from Costco. AND if you’re really feeling funky, add some cinnamon, heat and froth the milk before adding it to your drink with this IKEA frother for only $6. 8. I also have a coffee cup desk warmer ($10) to save me some trips to the microwave.

What do you like to have in the morning to get energized? Green Tea? Chai? Or even a nice cup of Earl Gray? Or maybe you don’t drink anything but juice with your breakfast.

Just think of all of the paper cups and sleeves you’ll save by making your own drinks at home. So if you’re a coffee and espresso drinker, Happy Saving!

Field Trip: Love Rock Farm

Last week a few of my fellow coworkers and I took a field trip to an amazing little New Berlin Farm, Love Rock Farm, where we get some of the produce for the Restaurant I’m spending my summer working for. A bit about Love Rock: Love Rock is a CSA and market garden that supplies delicious, herbicide and pesticide free fruits and vegetables to over 25 families and a handful of restaurants in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. This will be the CSA’s second season and they are excited to expand their offerings by adding eggs, poultry and flower options to the CSA shares this year.

What is CSA? It’s a Community Supported Agriculture farm where you can either use some of their land to grow your own veggies as a volunteer in exchange for food, and you can also “buy in” as a member to receive a box of produce every week, or bi-weekly for a small price. For those that don’t have the time to shop and want fresh goods delivered, this is a great option.

I knew the farm was run mostly by one person, Drew, our head chef’s brother, but I didn’t realize the size of this farm! He’s working long hours, asking for volunteers in return for produce, and hand picking and delivering produce, it’s like 2 full time jobs!

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This is a view from the backside (yes, I said backside) of the farm. to the left were some abandoned crops that had life in them. Being a CSA farm, you are able to use other’s land to use as gardening space if you have none of your own at home.

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The space was much larger than I had expected for being in the city. It was actually gorgeous, and on a lake.

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It’s hard to tell that’s a lake, but it is.

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The cucumbers were grown in this tent, to contain them. They grow fast, and spread faster.

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Crops that weren’t quite ready yet.

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Baby crops.

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I loved the cabbage patch. Due to obvious reasons that I grew up in the 80’s and had a cabbage patch. We have a dish at the restaurant that has grilled Ox Heart cabbage, pine nuts, and anchovy oil. SO good! If you haven’t thought of grilling cabbage, consider it.

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This reminded me of the Little Shop of Horrors plant.

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Cabbage presentation.

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One of my favorite parts of the tour was the chickens! I got to hold one. There are about 20 chickens there, and one giant rooster that apparently has his “favorite girls” and you aren’t allowed to hang out with them. It’s like chicken drama. I love it.

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Chicken!

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There was a LOT of garlic. This barn smelled amazing and can definitely ward off vampires. Drew sells his produce at the Milwaukee farmer’s market every weekend.

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This is Drew’s mother in law harvesting some potatoes. They pulled 150 pounds that day between her, another coworker, and my fiancée. It was cool to see how potatoes just fall off of the bushes they grow from when you pull them from the ground.

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A view from the barn! There are many varieties of tomatoes, but only a few were ready at the moment.

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The beam sticking out of the top window in the barn is used to attach a pulley and bring produce up to the top floor to dry out.

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I had to take a pic of the great vintage pulley.

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Here’s the beam. We couldn’t have asked for a more gorgeous day.

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Here’s some of the produce at the street front farm stand. Someone doesn’t watch the farmstand, you leave money based on the honor system. It was refreshing to see people act this way in the Milwaukee area.

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Carrots and Cucumbers and Cabbage, oh my! Drew sent Matt (fiancée) home with a box of amazing produce for a day of volunteer work helping out. A lot of farmer’s offer this as a bargain for help weeding, pulling, and harvesting. It’s totally worth it, just bring water, and sunscreen. He told me that as they got hungry pulling veggies, there was plenty of fresh food to snack on.

Happy farming!

Foraging for Wild Ramps

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The Ramp in it’s natural habitat.

Dating a chef has opened my eyes to many new foods. Truffle salt, sautéed kale, scrambled eggs with sour cream mixed in, and wild ramps to name a few.So, what is a ramp? The wild ramps are a wild onion in the leek family that grow about 3 weeks out of the year then they are gone. They grow wild, in parks, and woods, in moist nutrient rich soil, and if you’re lucky, you can find them in your backyard in the city. They grow sometime in the month of May, depending on what the winter was like. This year, they came later. We are lucky enough to have them grow in his parent’s backyard in Door County. We can only pick them sporadically so they come back the next year which isn’t a problem, because there are too many of them to pick them all!

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All that you see that’s green are Ramps!

Ramps have a mild, onion flavor, rich in a fresh garlic scent when they are fresh from the ground. You can tell if what you have is a ramp or not when you pull it from the ground because of the look and smell. If it smells like an onion, it’s probably an onion. They grow in bunches, and you can’t just pull them, you need a shovel to pull the roots out. (This is a lot of work!) There is a white bulb at the end, and a purple stalk with a dirty thin membrane around the bulb that easily slides off for easy cleaning.

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Here you can see the purple stem and when the white bulb.

What can you do with a ramp? You can cook the WHOLE thing when they are fresh! (After a while the green part will wilt and you should discard it.) Peel the thin membrane off and cut off the roots, give them a wash, and they are good to go. Chop the whole thing and put them in mashed potatoes, or grill the ramp whole and eat next to some good grilled chicken or put on a bratwurst.

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The woods where we found the ramps was pretty gorgeous, even in the beginning of spring when the leaves weren’t on the trees yet.

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Collecting our ramps for later cleaning and distributing.

We sold the ramps to the restaurant we used to work for in Green Bay, and the one that the fiancée works for now. They will turn it into an awesome cream of ramp soup, and the restaurant that he works for now does an amazing ramp pizza with white sauce and mushrooms, a dish with grilled ramps and asparagus with a fried egg, and a wild ramp risotto. The fiancée even dehydrated them and powdered them for a year round flavor additive. If you get to experience ramps at a local restaurant or from a friend, how lucky you’ll be!

Happy foraging!

Project: Backyard Garden, Part 2

After some cold days of digging and planting, and a small injury, we have made some progress in the yard! Still far from done, but it’s a start.

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This is a shot before we did anything at all.

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We started by digging up the dirt by the garage so we could put new dirt there and mix up a nice little dirt cocktail for the planters and the yard. We had worm castings, coconut coir, potting soil, existing dirt, and other things that boyfriend is aware of that I am not… Dirt type things. (He’s the gardner, I just dig where he tells me.)

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 We dug up the paving stones so we could roto-till the yard and move them to a new location that made more sense.

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I managed to set one of the paving stones down… on my finger. I don’t recommend that, for obvious reasons. One week later, still have the nail! Woo hoo!

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The other side of the yard is going to be left untouched for the landlord’s dog to run free.

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We created a new patio! It took a lot of sand, landscaping fabric, and elbow grease. Boyfriend doesn’t let me move the stones anymore. For a fair reason. I think we are still going to move the stones that are trailing up to the new little patio area so they are closer together. And they need sand under them so they don’t sink.

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 We started filling dirt into the painted pallets and planting them! We will start planting them and standing them up to save space in the yard.

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The pallets with landscaping fabric on the back, ready to plant!

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 A view from above. The neighbors are even getting in on the planting too! They have some planters in the yard for their own plants.

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 We are going to plant in the dirt that we dug up and tilled, and the dirt along the garage that we dug up as well. Boyfriend has been mixing good dirt into the dirt already there to make it plantable.

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We’ve been watching a kitten that likes to come into the garden with us and hang out. It’s a fenced in yard so he’s not going anywhere.

I’m happy with the progress! We have peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, more lettuce, sprouts, broccoli, wheatgrass, herbs, I got some lavender and pansies, and when it’s not 50 degrees I will enjoy spending more time out there digging in the dirt. Happy gardening!

Big City Living, Easier Than Small City Living

With my move to Milwaukee in the last few months, I’ve discovered that living in a bigger city is easier than living in a smaller city. Easier, with all of the conveniences of transport, shopping, and things to do. I will never say “I’m bored. There’s nothing going on here…” again. I’m selling my car to fund my college career, seeing as how I work 5 blocks away from home and I walk to campus, just 2 blocks away. Oh, the gas money I’ll save! The grocery stores are everywhere, but the one we love most is Trader Joe’s, and it’s only a few miles. They have a wide selection of organic foods, whole foods, and natural selections, which was hard to find in a small town.

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Big city perks I’ve noticed:

  • Last week some girlfriends and I wanted food from a specific restaurant, and there is a bicycle delivery service called FlavorCycle that will pick up your food and deliver it to you (limited restaurants.)
  • I walked to class today (as I do every day) and wanted to check out a bike shop to see about a new bike. It was only 3 blocks away, and I was able to walk there too.
  • There’s a grocery store, specialty beer and wine store, pizza place, breakfast place, movie theater, coffee shop, etc, all just 5 blocks or less away.
  • I moved here just three months ago and found out a dozen or so friends had done the same. I already have friends here. My boyfriend wanted to move here too, and he has friends from his very small hometown that have already moved here as well. People like moving to big cities, so we both already knew a ton of people here.
  • I went for a bike ride the other day and realized the beach was less than a mile up the road, within walking distance, and if I ride my bike, NO parking! And NO parking tickets!
  • There is an endless supply of restaurants, all with different price ranges to fit my budget. I have a picky diet, and there are restaurants here that suit what I need with many (not just a few) selections. There are tons of bars to meet friends at, and you can literally try something different every time you go out. Awesome bands tour in bigger cities, thus, more shows for music lovers.

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Hello Milwaukee beach and Lake Michigan! Photo courtesy of a friend and MKE local, Kaitlyn. (Follow her on Twitter @KaitlynMKE )Yes, this is the view from the rooftop solarium of her apartment… I know, I’m jealous too.

Rent is a little more, but I will save like $400 a month when I sell the car. No gas, no car payment, no insurance, and I can always take the bus that’s included in my tuition if I need to travel farther away. Public transportation is much easier in a larger city than in a smaller one, there are more busses, more stops, and more times the bus runs. I have a bike for exercise and travel as well! Well, I did have a bike. I recently hit the pedal with my car while it was in the garage, bending it, and it fell off while I was riding it. Minus a few scrapes and a bum arm, I’m lucky I wasn’t hurt any further. Now, I’m in the market for a new one.

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If money was no object… How about this one?

We’ve also started to grow a garden! I know you can do this in a small city too, but it’s not impossible to grow an urban garden. We’ve started tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, beans, peppers, herbs, and many other foods. The plan is to grow half of what we eat, and once we have a juicer, many meals can be provided through juicing the right veggies and fruits to get all of the nutrition you need.

Herbs Garden

What may be mildly impressive to some may be very impressive to others. Knowing that I helped these little seedlings grow and will help them grow more outside gives me great satisfaction. I love knowing what’s in my food, and knowing I helped grow it ensures I know exactly what’s in my food. So far, loving the bigger city life. I am learning which neighborhoods to stay out of, and where to shop for what I need for less money and high quality very quickly.

Do you live in a large or small city? Which do you prefer?

Coconut Oil to Renew Wood

I got this chair from my father as a hand me down. Well, the true story is he had it in storage and I begged and bothered him for this chair until he dug it out. It’s something I remember from my childhood, and it’s broken and missing cushions, but knowing me, it wasn’t going to stop me from wanting it. The wood on this old teak chair was dry and looked just sad. There were 2 choices I had, I could polyurethane it or find something to renew the wood itself. I came across a blog post about rubbing coconut oil on old dry wood to renew the luster. I thought it was worth a shot. After testing it on the underside and liking what I saw, I went ahead and did the rest of the chair.

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This is what the chair looked like before, dry and aged.

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Here’s another shot. Cats love to help. They also love coconut oil.

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Here’s what it started to look like once I rubbed the oil on the chair. It looks amazing! The downside was that I had to rub and rub and rub to get the oily feeling out of the chair. I wanted that refreshed look without the feel, and went through quite a few paper towels.

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Here’s the arm of the chair after I finished it.

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The finished chair! With no cushions, I just draped a blanket over it and added a folded blanket to the seat.

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This is the arm in the sunlight. The chair looks great next to the table by it (that WILL get refinished this summer.)

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I think the chair looks great. NOTE: Don’t start using coconut oil on chairs and furniture around your house to freshen them up if you plan on refinishing them. You’ll get the oil into the grain making the color weird or keeping a water based poly from sticking to the furniture. I would only recommend this for pieces like this, natural wood that’s been dried out that you just want to bring back to life. Happy re-finishing!