I was just reviewing my last few posts and thinking that I am very glad to have been able to share those beautiful flowers...especially considering that they are almost all dead...ha! Happily the gladiolus and sunflowers have begun to bloom, and the marigolds are still pretty resilient.
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I just love how happy sunflowers look!
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fresh picked cucumbers straight off the vine!
If you read my last post, you know that our little garden has been quite healthy, the only question is whether we got more yield from the zucchinis or the cucumbers! I've used cucumbers for salad frozen some in pieces (who knows how those will taste),, and tried to fry them (too much water and not enough flavor); but we've had so many, they go bad before I can give them away (though I did plenty of that too!) With that in mind, I began to consider some alternatives to using the cucumbers fresh. So today, I've included a recipe from my first experiment with pickling. I'd love to hear your ideas, especially since they're so many recipes out there and so many different ways to pickle! So with that, I present to you my very own 
Sweet and Salty Dilled Cucumbers!

My first attempt was inspired by a few recipes from AllRecipes.com and also from my trusty Old Sturbridge Village cookbook: A Taste of Sturbridge
Brine:
4 cups of white vinegar
4 cups of water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup of sea salt
2 tbs mustard seed
2 tbs dill weed**
3 cloves garlic, chopped
dash of  ground black pepper 

Try adding: 
Jalapenos (cut in circles or diced)
Clove of garlic (per jar, if you really want that garlic flavor)
Fresh baby dill sprigs (one per jar)--for extra zing
Onion, chopped (a healthy portion per jar)

as a side note: I may or may not have also added healthy shakes of the following spices (since they're secretly in almost everything I make, including sweets):
crushed red pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper

**Every recipe I looked at in my cookbooks and online said to use dill seed--not weed, which I did not realize until after I had already prepared the brine...and which likely led to the unusual flavor of these pickles.

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continually mix your brine as you bring it to a roiling boil.
 In the meantime, bring brine ingredients to a roiling boil. Pour the boiling brine over the cucumbers. I of course, did not have enough brine solution, or maybe my jars were too big, (make sure to check this ratio before proceeding, unless you're as carefree as I am!) and so I added a bit of water to each jar to have enough solution to cover all of the cucumbers. As a note, I did use hot water, but boiling a larger volume of brine would have been better for sterilization purposes...instead of risking bacterial contamination.  

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this is a good example of too many cucumbers in the pickle jar!
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chop cucumbers into spears
Rinse and cut cucumbers into spears (or whatever shape you prefer, mine were "thick cut" mostly because I hate chopping vegetables). Place cucumber spears into jars (try to distribute them evenly). 
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perhaps thick cut is a bit generous...
I then sealed the jars (self-sealing jars work best, to help pressurize the jar and keep it relatively sterile), rinsed the outsides, and placed them all in the refrigerator. Don't worry if you are not able to seal your jar, the refrigeration will do it for you! 
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ready to eat!
Wait a few days for your refrigerator pickles, and enjoy! (Note, the color and consistency of my brine were a bit...intimidating...so make sure to shake well periodically during refrigeration and prior to serving). These pickles have a very interesting flavor--sort of sweet and salty with a crisp dill finish...and the jars with jalapeno have an excellent heat that I quite enjoy. That being said, they don't really taste like pickles...which is why I named them sweet and salty dilled cucumbers. Additionally, I made a few jars with green beans and jalapenos...though I haven't tried them yet, I expect they taste pretty similarly (it is the same brine after all),
 
It's been quite a while since my last update...but I hope you've all been enjoying your summer! (I can't believe it's already august) We've gotten quite a lot of vegetables since my last update, and so I thought I'd share with you some recipes from my little garden over a few posts. 
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Our very first zucchini! It's a bit small, and it didn't quite ripen...but still! Ha!
The first recipe I tried was inspired by the sheer number of zucchini our little garden began to produce. The recipe calls for 3 cups of shredded zucchini, which ended up being about two medium sized or one large zucchini. Three cups, despite the recipe directions, made two cakes (one 9x13 and 1 bread-pan sized). I also found that the frosting made enough for the 9X13 (with a little left-over), depending on how heavy-handed you are.  The second time I made cake, I used glass pyrex dishes, which I like since they can be covered and used to store the cake. 
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It doesn't really look great going in or coming out of the oven, but trust me...it's delicious!
The original recipe comes from A Taste of Sturbridge, a lovely cookbook that is developed from Old Sturbridge Village, a living museum portraying life in New England in the 1830s. The museum is a really fun treat for families (if you happen to be visiting Massachusetts). I have also seen a lot of yummy zucchini recipes to try out on Pinterest lately, and you can find many other delicious recipes for fresh zucchini on AllRecipes as well. This recipe is not terribly healthy and can be modified for your tastes/ingredients, (for example, in one batch, I ran out of oil and substituted with particularly liquefied zucchini and a bit of melted butter) but it may not taste quite the same without all that addictive and delicious sugar.

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After we picked that first one, the zucchini kept coming...here are the two zucchini i ended up using in my first batch of cake, with some first tomatoes and green beans.
Ingredients 
  • Cake:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

  • 3 cups white sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 2 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (if desired)

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 4 eggs

  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

  • 3 cups grated zucchini
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All done! Now we just need frosting!
  • Frosting:

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract (if desired)
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Whip together cream cheese and butter before sweetening to taste with confectioners sugar



Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (165 degrees C). Lightly grease cake pans.
Whisk eggs in a mixing bowl. Add sugar; mix well. Add oil and zucchini. Mix well (I use my stand mixer, on low for a good five or ten minutes for each mixing step in this first section). It can get a bit messy, especially if you overfill your mixing bowl like I always do,, so if you don't have a lid, consider draping a paper towel over the bowl (just be careful to keep it away from the mixing blade!). If you're using a stand mixer, take the blade out of the mix occasionally to scrape large chunks of zucchini off--otherwise you may end up with chunks. 

In a separate bowl (if you're a good little baker--I try to be good about this, since distributing the chemicals from the baking powder and salt through out helps the dough to rise better, but honestly you could just dump them all in) combine flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon (if desired). If you've been an especially good little baker, you will have sifted your flour prior to this step...this helps the cake to rise---however, as I do not have a sifter, I usually just add my dry ingredients to an over-large bowl and then gently tap the side of the bowl with one hand while turning it slowly with the other, to mix the ingredients and slightly sift the flour.  Add the dry ingredients, slowly, to the wet ingredients while mixing. Mix well. The batter will be very liquidy, and you may want to add more flour, but i recommend avoiding this temptation. 
Add in chocolate and nuts (if desired)--it should be noted that most times when I make this cake, the chocolate tends to fall to the bottom of the bowl, the best way to counteract this (that I've found) is to mix the chocolate in by hand as I pour the batter into my baking pans of choice. I then also add a few chocolate pieces on top, to allow them to fall as the cake cooks. (Sometimes, if the chocolate is sinking really badly, I take the cake out mid-baking and add more chocolate!). I really only add nuts if the bf makes me! (he can be so healthy sometimes!) Your baking time will depend on your pan size and material. Glass pans (pyrex, etc.) bake more quickly than do the traditional aluminum-based ones, and larger cake pans take longer than smaller cake pans. Interestingly, the little bread pan you see above baked longer than the large 9x13 pyrex dish (likely because it is metal, and deeper than the glass dish--which has a larger surface area and so can heat quicker). The cake in the glass dish baked for 30 minutes, while the cake in the bread pan took about 45 minutes. 
Once you've put the cake in the oven, you can make your frosting. I usually pull out the cream cheese, set it on the counter, and melt the butter in the preheating oven while I am preparing the cake (if I have the foresight). Combine the cream cheese and butter, whip well. add vanilla (you can also try this recipe with lemon, or almond...both are delicious) and mix in confectioner's sugar to taste. If you are the good baker, you will sift the sugar to get rid of the clumps before mixing. I, still, don't have a sifter, so I just mix for over-long and get rid of lumps that way. If you're a bit heavy handed, you can add more cream cheese (to cut the sugary sweet flavor) or milk (if the frosting is too thick). I recommend mixing for a long time before adding milk, since this is a temptation that more than often leads to either too much sugar (trying to balance out the milk) or a very runny frosting, and since mixing well generally gets the right consistency. And that's is! When your cake comes out of the oven, let it rest for a little while (until it is cool to the touch) before frosting, unless you want your frosting to turn to icing on your too-hot cake....(it happens to me quite often, unfortunately). You could definitely eat this cake without frosting if you were looking to cut some calories, however my coworkers seemed to prefer the frosted version (ha!) Enjoy! and happy harvesting!
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Voila! Enjoy!
 

I cannot believe how beautiful the garden is looking...and how simple it has really been! (Especially when you consider the start!) We haven't had any veggies yet (though we did get a couple of strawberries!) and the flowers have been a bit sporadically haggard...but overall the yard looks better than ever! To gloat a bit more, I've decided to share some of my photos with you, I hope you enjoy!

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The front garden bed is still doing remarkably well, though I have been pulling grass out once a week (and it's still a bit untidy--oh well)
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Our tomatoes are looking fantastic! The early girl in the front has a little bunch of vine tomatoes growing, and this monster beefsteak is large and in charge. We also have tomatoes growing in a container--in CO, this is pretty exciting!
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We finally have some sunflowers budding in the little bed behind the veggie garden! They are almost as tall as the annual salvia already! The gladiolus bulbs are so strong, I can't wait to see them all flower, and if I've timed it correctly, maybe they'll flower alongside the sunflowers! (What luck!)
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Roses on the side of the house are my favorite to cut and place in a little vase on my kitchen table. They are plentiful enough that I don't feel guilty about cutting flowers, and they are just so pretty! (Especially since there's nothing else planted back there)
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I really can't believe how enormous the zucchini is!! We have at least four little zucchini growing, and the thing just keeps on blooming! It has seriously dwarfed the cantaloupe and watermelon planted nearby, but those little guys have flowers and so hopefully we'll get some fruit soon! In the meantime, I need to find a good zucchini bread recipe!
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The poppy is still surviving, with some new buds about to bloom..the marigolds have done very well, spreading only a little, and the Shasta daisy is bigger, but still flowerless
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Peppers galore! We'll soon be swimming in them from the looks of these healthy plants!
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I am so happy to see my roses in bloom! I transplanted this little guy at the end of the summer last year, and it's doing so well! I just love the hot pink color of the flowers beside the yellow marigold.
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The butterfly bush is blooming!!! I'll keep my camera ready for flutterbies!

I've been pleased at how very little we've had to do to get the garden in ship-shape! The bf has been dutifully watering every night, and I've been weeding about once a week (sometimes more often if it bothers me enough). Sometimes if I've let the weeds take over, I'll take a hoe and stir the dirt to make it easier to remove the weeds. All in all, definitely worth the minimal effort..and pretty soon, we'll be swimming in vegetables! I've just planted a few button bells in some of the empty places, so hopefully those sprout soon!

 

I've been wanting to share some lovely specimen from my garden....sooo here we go!

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Hard to believe this is natural lighting with no enhancements! I love the way this asiatic lilly looks beside the greens and the yellow pansy. The mulch is the perfect touch! (kudos bf) though, it looks like I need to start weeding again...
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I snapped this photo just before this columbine finished shedding its first-of-the-year flowers. Can you see the new little buds?
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This little pink poppy flower was quite a surprise, the others having been all orange, I'm glad I was able to get a quick pic of it before it fell off, even if the plant is a bit tipsy. I only hope it flowers long enough to share its beauty with the Shasta daisy that's growing next door...at least there are some violas and marigolds to keep it company!
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I had to enhance this butterfly bush a bit so you could see the bud starting to form...but it's there, I promise! And it quite good company with that happy little viola!
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I just love the way these colors look together--I just wish I could remember the name of the greens! (And the onion has seen better days, I suppose)
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This is my favorite, no sunflowers in the sunflower bed yet, but my little red flowers have sprung back to life and better yet, the bulbs are sprouting!!!
 
It's been a bit late in coming, but I wanted to share with you some of my new additions to my garden as well as to give you a little progress report on the veggies that I recently planted!
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As you can see, my bulbs have not been sprouting, so last week we went out and bought some flowers to brighten up the place a bit
With my seeds and bulbs having failed pretty miserably, I thought I'd stick with the transplanting method... So me and bf went out and picked up a few perrenials (columbine, poppy, lilly) and some annuals (pansy, marigold, viola) to put in some beds around the yard...but first it seemed like a good idea to clean things up a bit.
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Sadly I think we may have lost the daffodils to the heat or the weed killer, but luckily I managed to snap a photo of its only bloom...too bad it is surrounded by weeds and grass.
The bf bought some mulch to help stop the massive weed issue, so after waiting a few days (probably too long), the landlords dropped off some weed killer and bf sprayed down the yard. We then got to work weeding and transplanting. 
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In this bed, in the backyard, I found a place for the poppy beside the returning daisy and a few other small growers.
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Here we have a few pansies planted by some unknown returning perennial and an onion bulb
We happened to have planted a few mostly dead flowers last year, and apparently they were perennials, since some of them have begun to grow this spring. So I planted a few flowers around them to supplement and add a bit more color. 
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A few violas next to this butterfly bush which has miraculously come back from the mostly dead transplant that failed to thrive last year.
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In the corner of the yard, we have a few roses, and what might be daffodils, so I added some onion bulbs and marigolds to supplement the pink color....if anything ever flowers
After a little bit of work, I think the garden came out quite nice. It will be interesting to see if any of the bulbs I planted grow. 
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Here's the final result for the bed in front of the house.
In addition to our newly replenished flower beds, the veggies in our little garden seem to be doing very well! We have sprouts of beans and broccoli from the seeds that were planted two weeks ago. The peppers look great, and we have even managed not to kill the watermelon. We did kill the cucumber but managed to sprout a few seeds...and the strawberry is bigger, although looks like it's had a bit too much heat. With any luck we may actually have some produce this summer.
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We caged the tomatoes, and I know it's hard to see, but there's a solid row of bean sprouts and two rows of broccoli, though the carrots are not sprouting as of yet.
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watermelon, cantaloupe, zucchini and cucumber...and a whole lot of weeds
 
It's been a gorgeous few days here, downright hot even! While this is quite lovely, it is also long anticipated, and I can't really blame the bf for being antsy for our recently potted sprouts to get on with it and do something already! So since our pots have remained resolutely barren (and those that were green have since wilted) we picked up a few plants to transplant this weekend.
We bought a few container plants as well, just assuming we may fail to grow anything! I planted a hanging strawberry, and a tomato in a big container...of course I didn't get a chance to decorate all of these, but check out this quick post I wrote for your own inspiration on decorating your plain plastic pots!
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We bought some healthy looking plants to supplant my failed seed project!
We began by digging up the nasty side yard of our little rental house...of course, even though Bf called the landlord before we started, we still ran into a few unexpected burrows cables. To avoid damage and potentially sending yourself back to the dark ages, I recommend tracing out the intended garden area and looking for buried cables before you start digging.
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Bf dug up the nasty dirt with a shovel to turn it over.
After turning over a large (cable free) plot of land, we broke apart large chunks of dirt with a hoe, picked out all of the rocks and sticks and roots, and raked the dirt smooth. Bf made neat rows and we planted a few seeds and transplanted a few plants. The handle of the hoe turned out to serve as a nice measurement for seeds requiring 1-2 inches of soil depth. We added a bit of potting soil to cover the seeds and drowned them in water.
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Some onions were left for too long in our spare bedroom, I've decided to plant them for some extra greenery in a few dead beds around the yard.
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Can you see the little baby strawberry? We planted this guy here in the hopes that he'd adapt to life in a hanging basket better than the bulbs did!
And now for the big reveal.... Ha! I promise to keep you thrilled readers updated on the progress, of course!
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Our little veggie garden! Lets hope they thrive!
 
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It has been a blessing in disguise to have not begun my garden outside earlier--hopefully the roses and the trees survive all this wet snow!
I have been "closely" monitoring my seed starter now for a while now, and after my initial excitement at seeing little shoots sprouting from my newly planted seeds, I have subsequently killed all the tomatoes. A few days after finding my sprouts, I watered and placed them in the afternoon sun for a few hours. I then took them back inside and placed them in their original place atop the washing machine--wherein I failed to do anything else with them all week. Now it has snowed again, making me grateful that I haven't planted them outside, but certain that it is time to transplant! So I will be placing some of the sprouts in pots and hopefully can save some of these dead little guys!
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Oops! They have collapsed!
Of course, being a master procrastinator, I didn't get back to this project until several days after I wrote the first part of this post...by then, the sprouts were beyond dead--but I figured I'd try anyway. 
I began by cutting up the individual pots from this seed starter. I tried to select a few with some stronger looking (ie: less dead) sprouts. 
After I had cut out an individual pot, I filled a plastic pot with potting soil and dug a little hole. I then placed the pot into the little hole and added more potting soil on top. I think it is easier if you water the first bit of dirt and then add your pot, because otherwise the little pot floats when you water---even if you've added a bunch of dirt to cover it. Another thing to think about (assuming the little sprouts survive this transplant) is the drainage in the pot. Most seeds and bulbs tell you what type of sunlight and water drainage levels are required. For seeds that require more drainage, I placed a few rocks at the bottom of the pot, and tried not to pack the dirt too much. 
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here you can see some of my pots on the counter beside my "Thriving" basil plant. I figured it was best to wait until the snow had passed before placing them outside.
Of course, having finally gotten the energy to plant my seedlings, I had to wait a few days before they could be placed outside...since I didn't want to kill them with frost...Eventually though, it warmed enough for me to set them on the little deck.  Of course, I still have quite a few seedlings left over--so now I need to work up the energy to rake the yard and prepare a suitable place to plant some of them! (I am thinking I should have done that before starting the seeds....oh well!)
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I was so happy to have ~60 degree weather today! I put together another pot and planted one of my peony bulbs! Hopefully I can manage to gets some plants in my potted garden this year!
 
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Look how many seeds have sprouted!
I was feeling pretty proud of myself this morning when I checked on the seeds and saw so many little sprouts that I had to share with all of you.
I've cracked the lid to my seed started and moved it from its former place atop the cabinet above my washer to the top of the washer itself--hopefully it will get more light there--but not too much! Now I just need to think about thinning out the seedlings....maybe for another morning!
 
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This was the view from my window as I began blogging on Monday
I am laughing to myself a bit that I am posting this after a week of snowstorms here in NoCo--we sure did need the water though! With such a dry winter we were almost 8 feet below normal water levels in the beginning of march and now we're up to 90% (though the drought continues in the south). In any case, I am determined to think of spring! 
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Seeds!







So to start my spring right, this year I will attempt a garden. I am typically not terribly good at gardening, so this probably won't end very well--but it's important to try new things, and it sure would be nice to have fresh vegetables! To start my garden, I will need to do a lot of work, and I thought I'd share with you as I went along--so enjoy and feel free to share tips, since I will surely need a lot of advice! Now to business--I bought this seed starter a few weeks ago with good intentions, although with all this snow, I'm glad my laziness kicked in (my seeds may not have done well in this weather, or so I shall tell myself). Anyway, I added a few spoonfuls of seed starter to each tray in the seed starter. This proved to be poor decision making, since I didn't end up needing every tray and then I began to worry I'd forget where I had placed seeds.
To resolve one of my concerns, I decided to make tags for my seeds. I purchased some clothespins from the dollar store and painted them in fun colors. I decided to use magazine clippings to add labels (a la ransom note style). A little mod podge on the painted pin and a little on top sticks the letters and then seals them down. (If you are so inclined, mod podge makes an outdoor formula--but i just used the regular kind).
I wasn't very fussy about letter placement, which I think is just fine--they work well and are pretty cute too!
After my pots were labelled, i added abother scoop of soil and covered the tray with the plastic cover. Now lets hope my seeds sprout!