Inspiring spaces + outdoor rugs

If you live in the city, chances are your apartment is teeny.  Square footage is not something you can afford to waste when you live in a shoebox, so if you’re lucky enough to have a patio or balcony, making use of the extra space is key.  Outdoor spaces often get the cold shoulder when it comes to decorating, but when the area actually feels like it’s part of your home, it has a dramatic effect on how spacious your apartment feels.  If your treat your patio like a room (albeit a very small room) and decorate accordingly,  you’ll actually want to start spending time out there.  Soon your guests will want to start hanging out there, too, then all of a sudden your apartment feels twice as big.

An inviting outdoor city space and a $10 rug from Ikea

My patio is made of rough concrete and kind of feels like a sidewalk under your feet.  It’s got a huge crack in it that runs the entire length of the floor.  Outdoor rugs are fantastic for covering up cosmetic problems like this.  Not only do they add instant style to an overlooked space, but they’re also cheap, durable, and easy to clean.  Most outdoor rugs are also mold resistant and stand up well in high-traffic areas.

Click through to see a few of my favs!

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WTF CSA?!

My fiancé and I finally joined a CSA this year and we’re now three weeks in.  Unpacking the crate every Tuesday feels like Christmas to me.  I don’t know why I didn’t join one sooner!  So far, participating in the CSA has provided us with so much food that we almost don’t know what to do with it all.  Last night after work, Greg shelled peas and cut up garlic scapes while I washed, chopped, and froze the broccoli, parsley, spinach, and onions.  We still have lettuce, kale, and about one metric ton of rainbow swiss chard that need processed.  Needless to say, it’s been a fun challenge trying to plan our meals for the week so that we use up as much fresh food as possible.  When the produce is this delicious, it’s a mortal sin to let any of it to go to waste.  Luckily, the CSA we joined is awesome and sends me a weekly email giving me a heads up on what I can expect at the next pick-up (complete with recipes!).  That being said, when the first crate arrived and I peeked inside, I saw something that made me say to myself, “Wtf is this?!”

Is anyone else as new to garlic scapes as I was three weeks ago?? Garlic scapes are the long, thick, twisty, immature flower stalks of the garlic plant.  When you cut them off, it forces the plant to put all of it’s energy into developing the garlic bulb.  Some folks toss the scapes into the compost pile, but they’re actually very edible and very delicious.  For the last three weeks I’ve found myself looking for different things to do with the mountain of garlic scapes we keep getting.  If you’re sitting at home right now like I was, wondering what the heck you’re supposed to do with all those scapes, fear not.  A garlic scape is sort of like a green onion, so anything you would do with one can be done with the other.  My CSA recommends chopping them up and stirring them into mashed potatoes or throwing them into soups and stews. (This recipe for spinach, pea, and garlic scape soup looks especially amazing.)  You could also turn them into a bright green and flavorful pesto or use them in a rub to flavor chicken.  I’ve even seen people grill them and add them to a nice veggie stir fry.  Who knew these things were so versatile?

Last week I made a gigantic batch of pesto and it was a huge hit, so I thought I’d share the recipe.  Pesto freezes well, so I made extra to keep on hand for a quick dinner some time down the road.

Garlic scape and walnut pesto:

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What to eat in January and February

When I mention to people that I’m going to the farmers’ market on an icy Saturday morning in February, I sometimes get a few confused looks.  “What can you get this time of year?” is the question that invariably follows.  While it is true that the market in the dead of winter seems almost vacant compared to the summer market (WCGM is getting bigger and more crowded every year), you can still find enough good local food to keep your belly happy and full until spring.  Here’s what I’m expecting to see tomorrow:

1. Potatoes, carrots, turnips, and parsnips store well and are available all winter.

2. Venison:  January is deer hunting season in southeastern Pennsylvania, so if you are lucky enough to know a hunter, you might be able to snag yourself some fresh venison.  My best friend lives in a hunting family and tried for years to convince me to eat venison.  I finally gave in this time and now I have more deer meat in my freezer than I know what to do with.  It is so tasty and the fact that it was killed in the woods behind my parents’ house really makes it the ultimate local food.

3. Beets, winter radishes, and a few varieties of dark leafy greens might turn up.

4. Dried goods like seeds, nuts, and grains.  These past few weeks I’ve seen this artisan pasta vendor at our market.  We have an awesome bread guy, too.

5. Canned or preserved fruits and vegetables let you have a taste of summer even when it’s 10 degrees out.  I tip my hat to the Amish lady at our farmers’ market whose canning abilities are something to marvel at.  She cans EVERYTHING: sauces, condiments, jellies, jams, vegetables, compotes, you name it.  And she bakes wicked sticky buns.

6.  Sprouts of almost all varieties can be grown indoors year-round.  I’ve never tried, but apparently it’s really easy and really cheap.  There’s no soil involved and they are ready to eat 3 to 6 days after “planting”.

Hmm.. am I missing anything?  I guess I’ll find out tomorrow!

Making butter

One of the goals I recently set for myself (see that post here) was to learn how to make butter and cheese.  There are two reasons for my wanting to do this.   The first is that I like to try new things in the kitchen and experimenting with dairy seemed like a fun challenge.  The second reason is that in the very near future, I will stop buying conventional, factory farmed animal products all together and eat dairy and eggs only when they come from a local source.  This means knowing how to process local milk and cream (easy to find) into things like butter and cheese (harder to find).

I’ve never tried to make cheese before, but my 5th grade class made butter once as part of a lesson about the daily life of a Puritan.  We “churned” our own butter by passing around a bowl of cream, taking turns stirring it.  Eventually it turned into this creamy, sweet butter that we spread on muffins.  To a butter-loving ten year old who worshipped a yellow goddess made of butter and would have eaten butter on a popsicle stick daily if only my mom would just let me pack my own lunch, it was a very cool day.  If my fifth grade self could do it, I figured my 24 year old self should at least give it a shot.  (Now my ten year old self is kicking me for waiting this long to make it again.)

For months I’ve been stalking Williams-Sonoma’s agrarian page and coveting all the little cheese kits, mini herb gardens, and whatnot.  Everything on that site is so cute, especially the DIY kitchen kits. (Apparently you can make your own tofu.. who knew!)  Anyway, I finally couldn’t take it anymore and ordered the mozzarella/ricotta kit and the DIY butter kit.  As soon as the package arrived, I ripped it apart and started making butter before the cardboard hit the floor.  It is SO easy.

butter2

Here’s how to do it: Continue reading

Gardening in 2013

I didn’t attempt to winterize anything I grew last year.  Didn’t bring any plants inside, didn’t try to protect them from the freezing cold wind.. in short, I was neglectful and let everything die.  I feel a little bit bad about about this.  It’s not nice to watch from your cozy apartment window as your helpless basil shrivels up and your once prolific parsley turns yellow and freezes to death.  It’s also a little bit pointless to have a blog about urban gardening and not actually have a garden.  Shame on me!  The only good thing to come out of  my irresponsible plant-parenting is that now I have the opportunity to start fresh.

veg

One of my goals for the new year is to design and execute a manageable mini vegetable garden.  I say manageable because I’m a new gardener and I don’t want to get in over my head by taking on more than I can handle.  The other challenge is that I live in an apartment with a very small patio and no real yard.  I’ll have to get creative with the use of space and everything I grow will probably have to be in containers.  I found a few great resources to help me get started:

1. There are so many sites out there that will help you come up with a planting time line.  Sproutrobot.com is one that I really like!  All you have to do is enter your zip code and sprout robot tells you what you should be planting and when.  The Vegetable Garden has a similar page that tells you what zone you live in and how to plant accordingly.  In my area, gardeners should start cabbage and leeks indoors this month.

2. Better Homes and Gardens has awesome tips on how to start a vegetable garden and offers free downloads of garden plans to make it even easier.

3. Blogs supply me with endless urban design and gardening inspiration!  I’ve recently started following garden betty, urban gardens, the dirt, and raised urban gardens.  I’m always looking for inspiration, so if anyone has any recommendations for blogs I should check out, let me know!

My biggest challenge will probably come with the planning aspect of things, but I am determined!  What are your gardening challenges/goals for the new year?

Holiday Gift Guide

If you’re a last minute shopper like most of the people I know and you’re stumped by what to get the foodie, the green-thumb, or even the black-thumb in your life, consider these six gift ideas:

1. Grow-your-own mushroom kits.  These kits are practically fool-proof and require minimal care: all they want from you is a cool, some-what humid indoor spot in your apartment and in return they will yield several crops of delicate, earthy mushrooms over the course of a few months. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.  Williams-Sonoma’s Agrarian line has Shiitake and Oyster mushroom kits for $25 a piece, Back to the Roots has a GYO mushroom kit for $19.95, and this White button mushroom kit sells for $27 on harrisseeds.com.

gyo mushrooms

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Farming for the Future

Ok, I’m stoked about this.  The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) is hosting their 22nd annual Farming for the Future conference in February 2013.  It’s a weekend long event being held in State College, PA.  It just so happens that I was already planning to travel to the State College area that weekend so I am definitely going to hit up this conference.  The list of workshops looks particularly interesting.  Beekeeping for the Future: Practices for Today, Birds of a Feather: Backyard Poultry Basics, Sprouting Small Grains for Fodder, Farm Advocacy 101, and the Salmonella Chronicles all sound really cool to me.  One of the keynote speakers is Vermont-based writer and speaker Ben Hewitt.  I’ve never heard of him, but I checked out his website and I’m very curious! He talks a lot about localizing the food system and I love that, so I just might pick up a copy of his book “The Town That Food Saved” and read it before the conference.

Can’t wait!!  Is anyone else going?