Less Noise, More Green: 2013

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Year as a URI Master Gardener

URI Master Gardener Program
The Produce Donation Project at Roger Williams Park in Providence, RI

When I look back over 2013, many of my fondest gardening memories involve being a Master Gardener. It really was a large part of my life.  I completed my training at the University of Rhode Island in April and quickly met the volunteer requirement. In total, I have volunteered almost 400 hours in 2013!

I became aware of the Master Gardeners in 2012 when I volunteered on a new permaculture project, still in the design stages, which was being installed by URI in a large city park near where I live. I was looking for a community gardening project to get involved with and this was perfect. Many of the people involved were Master Gardeners and I quickly realized that I had found 'my people'. They had the same passion and drive as I did for gardening and encouraged me to apply for the program. I spent that summer working on the Edible Forest Garden as well as in the adjacent Community Garden where a food donation Master Gardener project was flourishing.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Best and Worst Gardening Experiences of 2013

My garden in early 2013

Welcome back! I hope you all had a restful Christmas season with your loved ones and were able to take some time to take care of yourselves, too. There had been much video game playing and eating happening here, along with some nice time spent with family and friends.

At the end of 2013, I'm sure we are all thinking about our plans for the coming year, especially in our gardens. Before I settle into my sofa with my catalogs and tea (I love this time of year!) I find it helpful to look back at the year that was and think about my gardening successes and disappointments. Here are my top five best and worst gardening experiences of 2013. I wonder how they will compare with yours? Lets start with the dark times!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Season's Greetings and Mince Pie Love

What is there to say about mince pies? They are a little piece of heaven wrapped in a blanket of pastry. No one else in my family will eat mince pies but I make them anyway because they make me very happy. They are a gift to myself. I hope you get to eat your favorite food today, too.

I wish you all a wonderful, meaningful Holiday, spent with those you love.

I will be taking some time to be with my family, but will be back with you again soon.

All the Best,


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Rhode Island Coffee and Chocolate Chip Cookies

This cookie recipe pays homage to my adopted state of Rhode Island. 

There is nothing more Rhode Island than coffee syrup, which is a strong coffee and sugar reduction. In fact, coffee milk is the official state drink. To be a true Rhode Islander, though, you have to say it correctly: 

"I'll have a cawafee cabinet, because cawafee syrup is wicked good."

Translation:  I'll have a coffee milkshake, because coffee syrup is really delicious.

Now if you ever find yourself in Rhode Island you'll blend right in.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Winter Solstice: rhythm and light

As a child, I remember being aware of the changing seasons. Those changes influenced my outdoor play and were milestones during the school year. As I grew up, I stopped noticing the natural world and the truth is it wasn't until I became a gardener that I found that connection again. Watching nature in action, along with my efforts to grow and nurture plants, made me open my eyes and see again the awesomeness of our world and how the earth has patterns that influence us all.

Saturday was the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.  Signifying the return of light into the world and with it the hope of life, this day is acknowledged all over the world and has been for 6,000 years.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Pot Luck Dish: Welsh Rarebit Macaroni and Cheese

I know what you are thinking, what the world needs is another macaroni and cheese recipe, but trust me, this one is a keeper!

This dish is a nod to a classic British dish: Welsh Rarebit. Welsh Rarebit is a delicious cheese on toast recipe made traditionally with ale and mustard. It is neither Welsh in origin or includes rabbit as an ingredient! Dating back to the 1700's, there is debate as to where the name comes from, but it does seems to be a corruption of the name Welsh Rabbit. Apparently the Welsh loved cheese and were forbidden to hunt on royal land (which was a vast majority of Wales at the time), so some witty English person came up with the name Welsh Rabbit for grilled cheese, the closest to rabbit the Welsh would get. I'm sure they were very proud of themselves.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Quick and Frugal Meals: Peanut Butter and Pea Pasta Sauce

With only a few days left before Christmas Day, it is whirlwind of activity here at home. Finding the time to shop, wrap, clean, cook holiday food, write cards, attend parties, etc., on top of all the usual running around with school activities and general life chores, is certainly challenging! What I don't have time for this week is complicated food. 

Peanut butter is a cheap and tasty protein that sits on my pantry shelf waiting to be more than just a sandwich filling. Peanut butter was not popular in the UK when I was growing up and it took me a while to warm up to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Add it to a sauce, however, and it transforms into something magical. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pot Luck Dish: Chai Shortbread Cookies

A lot of Holiday cookies are about excess - icing, decorations, chocolate, etc., and that is all you end up tasting. In that respect, shortbread is the anti-Holiday cookie. It is a true classic. The buttery taste is understated, shifting the focus to the crumbly texture and there is not a sugar bauble in sight! Decadent without being flashy. Words for us all to live by!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Buying Locally: Newport Vineyards and Parthena Perry Designs

The vineyard was beautiful in the snow.

During my college years in the UK my alcoholic drink of choice was hard cider. I liked both sweet and dry varieties, both were on tap in the pub and both packed quite a punch! When I moved to the US in 1990, hard cider was nowhere to be found. Occasionally you could find an import in a liquor store, but never at a restaurant or bar. Fast forward twenty years and hard cider is available both as an import and from US breweries. Lucky me!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pot Luck Dish: Festive Bulgur Wheat Salad

Bulgur Wheat Salad Recipe

This dish has been a hit whenever I've brought it to a gathering. Sweet, fresh and crunchy, it is a good balance to a lot of the heavier casseroles you tend to find at pot luck events. Be ready to share the recipe!

Whole grains are great to use as a base in salads because they add substance, but are firm enough to retain their texture after the dressing has been added. In fact, this salad improves with a little marinating in the fridge!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Eggs for Supper: Corn and Parsnip Quiche

Frugal, quick and versatile - what's not to love about eggs? When I have about two minutes to prepare something to eat, eggs save me every time. For breakfast, lunch or supper, eggs provide a wonderful source of protein for just pennies, so you know my frugal and healthy December menu plan is chock full of egg based goodness!

Here are some of the ways I incorporate eggs into our evening meals.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Frugal and Healthy Meals : Curried Lentil Soup

 For those of you who may have read yesterday's guest post on spinning with a drop spindle early in the day, we have added two short video tutorials which really demonstrate the technique well. Be sure to scroll down and revisit the post if you missed them.

The time between Thanksgiving and New Year's can be a trying time for our digestive systems! I'm not just talking about the increase in calories, but the amount of rich foods we eat along with all the stress of the Holidays, can make us really sluggish.

To try to offset the rich food, December seems the right time to cook simple, healthy, uncomplicated meals that focus on vegetables, whole grains, beans and pulses. A little balance is needed and appreciated by our stomachs!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Guest Post: Learning to Spin with a handmade drop spindle, plus video tutorials!

This is the first of what I hope will be many guest posts from my best friend, Roda. She is a talented fiber artist, something I am very far from being, and has agreed to share with us some of her knowledge and in the  process hopefully inspire some creative Holiday gift making. That last bit was aimed at myself. Roda has two alpacas in her backyard, which will be supplying her with fiber once they are sheared.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hoop House Dreams and Winter Stores Report

Like the rest of the northeast, we woke up yesterday to snow on the ground and freezing rain falling from the sky. Ugh. I looked out at my garden beds and my heart fell even further.

I knew this weather was coming, of course, and over the weekend I pulled up all the remaining turnips and rutabaga and harvested almost all of the curly kale. The brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli were no where near ready to be picked so they had to stay. The carrots would be fine.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pot Luck Recipes: Salt Caramel Brownies

The Holiday party season has officially started. This weekend we had our first Christmas gathering here at the house, with my in-laws, before they go to Florida for the winter.  Saturday was a hive of activity with our tree going up and being decorated and some of the other decorations being hung. I have yet to forage in the garden for items to make the natural trimmings.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Week of Gift Giving Ideas, Day 6: Gifts for our Homes (and ourselves!)

Today is the last day in the Week of Gift Giving Ideas Series and I hope you have found some useful ideas for homemade gifts. I want to wrap the week up with some great homemade decorating ideas, which are really gifts for ourselves and our families to enjoy. I also have some yummy holiday drink recipes. Any kind of hot chocolate is always a hit in our house!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Week of Gift Giving Ideas, Day 5: Homemade Hostess Gifts

Between all the Holiday social events and the small gifts you need for neighbors, teachers and co-workers, I like to have a supply of 'hostess' gifts ready to grab and go. For me, the easiest way to do this is to make a lot of one thing - something that anyone would like. Decorate with a little Holiday bling and you have a perfect gift.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Week of Gift Giving Ideas, Day 4: Homemade Gifts for Kids

Today's homemade gift ideas are SO MUCH FUN!! My two kids are sixteen and thirteen so I have made many a gift for them over the years and I think I had as much fun making them as they did playing with them.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Week of Gift Giving, Day 3: Homemade Gifts for Cooks

I really appreciate gifts I can use in the kitchen. I spend so much of my time thinking about what I'm going to cook and then even more time actually cooking, that anything that makes my time in the kitchen more enjoyable is a very thoughtful gift. To see each project, click on the title, or go to my Pinterest board Homemade Gift Ideas for Cooks to see photos and access all the tutorials at once.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Week of Gift Giving Ideas: Day 2: Gifts for Gardeners

I love it if I can find gifts to give that I would be thrilled to receive myself and I think all the projects listed today fall into that category! I hope you find some gift ideas for the gardeners on your list. Click on the name of the project to be linked to the tutorial, or visit my Pinterest site to access all the links, with photos of the projects, on the board titled Homemade Gifts for Gardeners.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Week of Gift Giving Ideas, Day 1: Gifts from your favorite blogs!

Happy Cyber Monday, the busiest internet sales day of the year! Are you planning to buy holiday gifts from internet sites this year? More and more of us are, me included.

As you think about gifts for loved ones, don't forget to shop at your favorite blogs. Many bloggers run online stores, have Etsy shops or have written books. Purchasing a gift from these sites is a great way to show support for the blogs that inform and entertain us all year.

Here is a list of the blogs that I regularly visit and that have items for sale that would make great gifts. I am receiving no incentive for recommending them to you, I just want to show my appreciation for the joy they add to my day!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Less Noise, More Green: Week of Gift Giving Ideas

Well, here we are - it's December. Thanksgiving was late this year and it feels like it became the holiday season overnight! I better get moving.

I love to make homemade gifts for friends and family, as I'm sure many of you do. What I don't like is trying to come up with new ideas every year. To help us all out, I have searched the internet for interesting and easy homemade gift tutorials which I will be sharing with you all this week. I'm calling it a Week of Gift Giving Ideas.

Starting tomorrow the week will look like this:

Friday, November 29, 2013

Roasted tomato pasta sauce recipe and winter stores report

How is everyone doing the day after Thanksgiving?  We are having a quiet day at home and are looking forward to Thanksgiving  leftovers for supper tonight! We spend Thanksgiving at my in-laws. This year I brought a pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce, but came home with enough leftovers to feed us for another meal at least. Thank you Cindy! 

The media is always full of ‘how to use up your leftovers’ recipes the day after Thanksgiving, but I like the leftovers just the way they are! Instead, I have a great recipe for you - a four ingredient pasta sauce I made this week, using some of my frozen roasted tomatoes. Sometimes simple is just right, especially after a Holiday (it is also delicious).

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lets talk turkey and have some pie

Today I made two pies with real pumpkin. After careful consideration by both Computer Boy and Art Girl, it is official. Real pumpkin rocks!! This pie is lighter and has a creamier texture than the canned pumpkin pie I made last week. It truly is a superior product. Good thing I made two.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New England Cranberry Sauce and the original local foodies

Today, eating locally grown food is trendy. To do so is a choice, given the selection of food we can find at our local supermarkets. Go back in time and not as far back as you would think, and eating locally was the only choice. Your diet consisted of what could be grown, raised or foraged near by.

The original people to do this in my part of the world were the Narragansett Native Americans, who lived here (and still do), in what would become Rhode Island. With Thanksgiving just two days away I have been wondering about what that original local diet consisted of.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Finding the interest in Pinterest

These are some of my Pinterest boards.

Do you use Pinterest? I started learning about it when I started blogging. Pinterest is an online scrapbook and organizational tool and if you are a visual person it is a great way to group your ideas. Many people use the site to pin recipes they find on line, or save images they find inspiring for their kitchen redo project, for example.

I began using Pinterest as a way for Less Noise, More Green readers to pin posts containing information they wanted to keep to their own boards. If you click on the Pinterest page at the top of the blog you will see that the information is grouped into categories, hopefully making it easy to find the information you want.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Homegrown peanuts make amazing peanut butter!

Today was the day I have been waiting for. In October, I pulled up the peanut plants I had growing in the garden and hung them up to dry (the peanuts dangling like some kind of alien creature). Now ready, the time had come to see how many peanuts we had and to decide what to do with them.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Biscuits for Bandit

This is my dog, Bandit. Isn’t he cute? He is an All-American, which in the world of 4H Dog Clubs means he is a mutt. I think that term is great. Bandit had a sad beginning. He was born in Arkansas and was admitted to a kill shelter by the time he was three months old. No one wanted him. He was scheduled to be euthanized but was rescued by a group that saves dogs in southern kill shelters and brings them to the northeast to try for adoption here. He spent many days in a cage in the back of a truck with lots of other dogs. 

We found Bandit in a shelter here in Rhode Island. He was eight months old. He was the last of the group to be adopted. When we saw him he had an eye infection and was skinny, but he was very friendly and played ball with the kids. We couldn’t understand why no one had adopted him. I think he was waiting for us.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How to lose fifty pounds in one day for charity and this week's winter stores report

Aaahhhh, I‘m fifty pounds lighter! No, it’s not a miracle diet, I had a good old fashioned house purge. We do this a couple of times a year, once over the summer and again before the end of the year. Clothes, housewares, books, sports equipment- whatever needs to go.  

It always upsets me how much we find to donate. For a family that tries to not purchase anything they don’t really need, we accumulate a lot of stuff. I really hate clutter so out of the house it goes and hopefully to someone who can use it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Recipe for Spicy Pumpkin Gingerbread

I make gingerbread all year round. It travels well and I have to make three packed lunches five days a week! This recipe is my tried and true, go to safe bet. It has a lot of ingredients in it for a “quick” bread but I promise it is worth the effort. At this time of year I add pumpkin to the mix to shake things up a little.

This is the first time I’ve used fresh pumpkin in this recipe and I am thrilled with the result!  I put the fresh pumpkin in a strainer for about thirty minutes and was amazed at how much water drained out. Even after that the puree was quite light and I think this really adds to the moist texture of the bread. The pumpkin taste is identifiable but does not compete with the gingerbread spices, of which there is a lot because that’s how we like it! Feel free to cut back on the kick.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

New Providence Journal blog entry with pasta recipe

I have a new blog post in the Providence Journal:

It's about preserving food for the winter and includes a great recipe for sun dried tomato and pea pasta. If you visit the post, please give me a "like"! Art Girl made the labels!

Vegetable stock recipe

Vegetable, bean and orzo soup made with homemade broth.

This pile of vegetable scraps looks destined for the compost bin and that would be a great way to recycle the nutrients still viable in these plants. Another great way to use them is to make vegetable broth.

Using vegetable stock in soups, stews or to cook grains adds flavor and nutrients to your meals and is really simple to make. By making stock yourself you can control the amount of sodium used which can be very high in commercial broths.

Here's how I make vegetable stock.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Using fresh pumpkin in fall desserts

This is the post where you are reminded that anybody who writes a blog is human and not perfect in any way. You are reminded and then you forgive the blogger (me) for being a bubble head.

Today I made a pumpkin pie. The purpose of making the pie was to use the fresh sugar pumpkin that I had roasted and pureed. I promised Computer Boy that I would make him a real pumpkin pie this year and this was to be the pie. Except that’s not what happened.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Disinfecting seedling pots

I grew a lot of seedlings this year.

I have thoroughly enjoyed using grow lights this year. I was able to get stronger plants into the ground earlier and was able to grow a wider variety of plants, flowers and herbs.  I plan on using them again next growing season and every season after that!
Part of preparing for growing seedlings indoors next year is to sanitize all the equipment that came into contact with the growing mediums this year.  Bacteria or fungi, such as Rhizoctonia (causes damping off) and Pythium (root rot) can live on in caked on soil or root debris. If your seedlings had diseases you shouldn’t reuse the pots they grew in. All other pots and trays should be washed and disinfected before they are stored for the winter.
As I grew a lot of seedlings this year I had a lot of pots to wash. Ugh. I had been putting it off but as the days were getting darker, shorter and colder and I had to do this task outside, I took advantage of the warm temperature this weekend and got the job done.

Friday, November 15, 2013

How to clean leeks

Leeks are dirty vegetables and they are sneaky about it. Look at a leek from the outside and you see a beautifully sleek, slender, green and white vegetable- but you are being deceived. Cut a leek open, separate the layers and you expose the truth. Leeks have a dirty little secret. Literally.

Have you ever cooked with leeks and found the dish to be crunchy? That's the dirt. Is your leek soup gritty? Same story. Washing leeks only on the outside is a recipe for a ruined meal. Unless you know where to look, the soil hiding in the leaves can easily be overlooked.

 Here is a quick tutorial on how clean leeks.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Food For Thought: Do we need retail shopping on Thanksgiving?

Whatever our individual philosophies are concerning food, I’m sure that we would all agree that food is an important part of our lives. I believe that food and the shared experience of preparing and eating a meal is very important to family life. Food, when tied to community, becomes nourishing for more than just the body. Meals eaten with loved ones strengthens ties and creates an opportunity for conversation, debate and humor. 

For me, a naturalized American, Thanksgiving is the one holiday where as a nation we celebrate how lucky we are to have family and community, regardless of faith. The meal becomes part of our families’ collective memory and shared experience. We think about others less fortunate and give (Thanks giving, remember) so that all can participate in the holiday.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Granola Recipe and Winter Stores Report

My family loves cereal in the morning and Art Girl and Computer Man are big granola fans. I like granola because you can add extra nutrition in the form of dried fruit and nuts. We often eats it with yogurt  instead of milk. Here is the recipe for the granola most requested in my house.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Preparing the beds for winter

The cold snap we're having has encouraged the lettuce, spinach and beets.

 This is the weather we were treated to this morning:


 Freezing sleet, oh joy! As we knew this was coming, it prompted a lot of activity this weekend to prepare the garden for winter.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Homemade Chicken Soup

Is there anything better than chicken soup on a cold day? I love everything about it. I love how the aroma fills the house, how the soup tastes better the next day and that the recipe is so flexible and forgiving.

Soup is a great way to use up whatever needs to be eaten in the fridge. I have a loose recipe that I follow but it is never the same soup twice. I don’t measure the ingredients yet it always turns out delicious. 

Included each time I make this soup is the following:
Chicken stock, one pound of tomatoes (defrosted or canned), cooked chicken, oregano, salt and pepper. The rest depends on what I have on hand.  I always add a green (kale or spinach) and then either a grain or beans. Here is the recipe for the chicken soup I made this week.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Facebook and Pinterest Pages

New to Less Noise, More Green this week is the addition of links to this blog's Facebook and Pinterest pages! You can click through to see these by using the links on the page bar, which is located under the banner. Hope you enjoy them and thank you for the support!


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Homemade chicken stock

I buy a lot of whole chickens. They are a frugal way to buy meat and one bird can serve as the basis for several meals.  As with any convenience food, the more processed a chicken is, the more it will cost. This is why chicken breasts cost so much more per pound than a whole chicken. You are paying for someone to cut and trim your meat.  

This week I roasted a six pound chicken. The four of us ate the breasts as part of a roast dinner then I pulled all the remaining meat off the bones and refrigerated it for later. The carcass I used to make stock.

Homemade chicken stock is so much tastier than store bought. You can adjust the seasoning to your tastes and control the amount of sodium added. I don’t add salt or pepper to my stock. I add it when I add the stock to a recipe. This way I avoid over salting.

Here is my simple recipe for Chicken Stock.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Transplanting strawberry runners

These runners were hiding amongst the green beans.

There are chores in my vegetable garden that I just haven’t done and now I am running out of time. After I planted the last of the fall crops, including the garlic, I just ran out of steam. Writing yesterday about winter moving closer each day motivated me to get back out into the beds and wrap this up, already.  

On the list today was pulling up all the remaining flowers and annual herbs that are dead and a general tidy up of pots, frames and supports. Check and check.

 I also needed to transplant strawberry runners which had crept into neighboring beds. I should have done this task six weeks ago. The weather today was mild and wet so I took the opportunity and moved the runners.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Winter is coming and winter stores report

This is the dogwood in my front yard

 There is nowhere I would rather be than New England in the fall. It is spectacular. As we move into November, though, the leaves are changing from vibrant golds and ambers to burnt oranges and rust tones. The days are colder and nights are freezing more frequently. Winter is coming.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Eating with the Seasons: using preserved fruits and vegetables in the winter, part 2

Kousa berry muffins. I have another cup and a half of puree frozen for use this winter.
Yesterday, I shared with you some ideas for using the preserved vegetables we've all worked so hard to put up this summer, in our winter meals. Today, lets talk about cooking with preserved fruit.

During the winter I use a lot of dried fruit. Currants, raisins, golden raisins (sultanas), apricots and cranberries, all find their way into my cooking. I use them in scones, muffins and quick breads, or add them to homemade granola or muesli. I often soak dried fruit to plump it up before using in baking. Pair dried fruit with nuts, such as apricots with almonds and cranberries with walnuts, for great flavor combinations. Sometimes I create my own trail mix for snacking, but dried fruit is high in calories so watch portion size!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Eating with the Seasons: cooking with preserved fruit and vegetables in the winter, part one

Dehydrated zucchini and summer squash

Eating fresh and local in New England is not hard May through November. November through April is more challenging. I use extending techniques at both ends of the season to produce more fresh food but there comes a time when all the fresh is gone. We have a winter farmer’s market here were I shop for some local fresh produce, but during the winter months I rely on the produce I preserved during the rest of the year.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Home Food Budgeting and Management

Firstly, let me give a warm welcome to all of you who have found your way here from Rhonda’s wonderful Down to Earth blog. I am honored and grateful that she has sent you my way. Please make yourselves at home and I hope you find something of interest among the posts here.

Budgeting for food to feed our households is a very personal thing. We all have our priorities when it comes to where the food dollars are spent and some have more dollars to spend than others.  Whatever the size of the budget, we all want to get the most value from those dollars and the best quality food.