Less Noise, More Green: December 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: