Gardening 101:Tomatoes

Growing food is a skill I would really like to have. If I could choose one thing to plant it would be tomatoes. Home grown tomatoes are so good,  pico de gallo, marinara, and BLT's are among my favorite foods. So after doing a little bit of research here's how to do it. I plan on doing this and will be sure to update this post with insights and results.

If you have space indoors you can start a seed on a sunny window during February to no later than April. I however intend to purchase a tomato plant (you should plan for 2 plants for each tomato member eating family member..more if you plan on canning) and planting in April.

Step 1: Cover the ground where you plan on planting for a few days to get it nice and warm. Purchase a tomatoes plant and begin the process of  transplanting it into your garden (containers work too-as pictured above). Good first-time growers’ varieties include Better Boy, Creole, Big Boy, Early Girl, Brandywine, Celebrity, Lemon Boy, or just about any cherry or grape tomato variety.

Plant several varieties

 Step 2: Place the plants in a sunny spot with at least 7 hours of direct sunlight. Warm sunshine will ensure the best taste.

Step 3: Prepare the garden bed by adding lots of compost (5 to 8 pounds per square foot) to the soil. Turn compost into the top 3 inches. Tomatoes need a growing medium rich in organic matter.You can use store-bought compost or composted manure available in the 40-pound bags. Apparently this is very inexpensive.

Step 4: Plant them deeply. About 75% in. It's even ok to bury some of the leaves. It all works out I've been assured.

Step 5: Give each plan about 1 gallon of warm water within 10 minutes of transplanting to avoid shock. (about 80 degree water)

Step 6: Space then 18 to 36 inches apart (less in warmer climates)

Step 7: Continue to water about 16 ounces of warm water per plant every day for the first 7 to 10 days after transplanting.

Step 8: Wait a week or two after transplanting,and then place a mulch of straw, dried grass, or pine needles to control weeds and keep the soil moist during dry weather. The mulch should be about an inch thick and surround at least a circle 12 inches in diameter around the stem. Pine needles are especially good for helping raise the acidity of the soil.

Step 9: Ensure that plants are receiving 1 to 3 inches of rain weekly. If not, give each plant about 2 gallons per plant per week, beginning 14 days after transplanting. The tomato plant should be watered 2 to 3 times weekly (so, water each plant with about .75 to 1 gallon each time ). In hot or dry weather you can water even more frequently with larger volumes.

Step 10: Consider using a tomato cage or a stake to support the tomato vine about 14 days after transplanting.

 Step 11: Choose whether to use chemical fertilizers. If the soil is enriched with organic matter Tomatoes can grow very well organically. If you do use chemical fertilizers, try using half the recommended concentration per gallon (using package directions), but fertilize twice as often, in order to avoid the stress caused by the feast-famine of the longer fertilization gaps.(watch out for over fertilization it can make plants more susceptible to disease and insects...usually the overuse of fertilizer causes more leaves than fruit.

Step 12: Shake your plants gently once or twice each week for about 5 seconds once flowering begins. Shaking the tomato plant increases fruit production by more evenly distributing pollen. Who knew!

Step 13: Watch for fruit to appear 45 to 90 days after transplanting. Tomato plants usually have small, green fruit to start. Wait until the fruit is of good size with a bright, deep coloring. This means that the fruit is ripe and ready to pick. Ripeness is usually determined by a slight softness. Be careful not to squeeze too hard and bruise the fruit. Also, be careful of allowing it to become overly ripe, which results in a very soft tomato.

Information and lots more found here

Then proceed to make these delicious recipes's what's for dinner

I have been uninspired by most of my recipes lately as  my son who has a  scary food allergy (nuts), was diagnosed with some super annoying new ones. We're trying some experimental diets (that include things that he has (justifiably) said taste like air. My plan is to add things back one by one to find his major triggers. Among the many things he "shouldn't" have are wheat. (any good gluten, flour, sugar, milk, cheese, sugar, grapes, banana, soy, garlic, chocolate free recipes are welcome--by the way)

Barley, like what contains gluten so this would be a no-no..we're trying it anyway though. Barley is a cereal grain with a pasta like consistency. It's a good source of fiber and it's good in soups and stews. This recipe looks delicious.
Basil Beef and Barley Soup


  • 1  lb.  boneless sirloin steak
  • 1/4  cup  all-purpose flour
  • 1  Tbsp.  dried basil, crushed
  • 1  Tbsp.  vegetable oil
  • 1  cup  quick-cooking barley
  • 1  14.5-oz. can  diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano
  • 1  cup  packaged peeled fresh baby carrots, bias sliced
  • 1  cup  lower-sodium beef broth
  •     Small fresh basil leaves (optional)


1. Cut steak into 1/2-inch pieces. In shallow dish combine flour, basil, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. black pepper; add meat and toss to coat.
2. In 4-to 5-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add meat; cook until browned on all sides. Stir in any remaining flour mixture. Stir in barley, tomatoes (do not drain), carrots, beef broth and 3 cups water. Bring to a boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 10 minutes.
3. Ladle into bowls and top with fresh basil. Makes 4 servings.

Storing Barley:

Hulled Barley- should be kept away from light, heat, and moisture, it will stay fresh for several months. It should be stored, refrigerated, in an airtight container. 

Pearled barley- can be kept at room temperature for a longer time since most of the oils which could go rancid have already been removed. 

Barley should be tightly sealed, either in a tightly covered jar or in a sealable plastic bag. If you purchase in bulk, transfer the barley to a tightly sealed storage container when you get home. If you purchased pre-packaged barley, transfer after you first open the package. 

In warm weather, store barley in the refrigerator; freeze for longer storage. 

Storing info found here.

Yummy Pasta Carbonara

This is easy and delicious. My kids LOVE this dish.

Pasta Carbonara (adapted from Nordstrom Cookbook)

1 T. Kosher salt, plus salt to taste
1 pound of Pasta ( I use farfalle)
1/2 pound high-quality, thick-cut bacon, coarsely chopped
1 yellow onion chopped
1/2 pound button mushrooms, stems trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick (I have ommitted these no big deal)
2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1/4 cup (1 ounce) crumbled blue cheese
3/4 cup (3 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese, preferably parmigiano-reggiano
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 large egg yolks
Freshly ground black pepper

Cook your pasta (al dente)and while it's cooking
Sautee bacon, until most of the fat has been rendered and the bacon is crisp (6-8 minutes)
Drain all but 3 tablespoons of the bacon fat
Add the onion and mushrooms and cook stirring constantly until the onion is soft (about 4 minutes)
Add the cream, bring to a simmer, and cook until the sauce begins to thicken (about 4 minutes)
Add the blue cheese and half of the parmesan cheese and stir to combine
Add the peas, stir, and then remove from the heat.
Place egg yolks in the center of the sauce and stir in rapidly, not allowing the egg yolk to cook before combining with the sauce

Toss sauce with pasta and season with salt and pepper to taste...add remaining cheese to individual plates as garnish. 

This is seriously delicious. Enjoy!

Valentine's Day Ideas

There are some great Valentines ideas out in blogland..allow me to round some up for you.

Kids Classroom Valentines Ideas (Last year we (copied of course) bought big bright bouncy balls and put them in clear cellophane.. i printed cards that said have a Ball this Valentine's day. I cut them the same width as the bag and stapled them on (as in the idea below) They were a hit!)

This idea and more found here

Valentines Craft Ideas

The two above are my favorites..Courtesy of this lovely blog.
Valentine's Recipes
What a sweet idea for Valentine's breakfast. Go here for details.

Maybe the prettiest Valentine's Cookies I've ever seen. Check them out here.

Stay tuned for a fabulous Valentine's dinner recipe. And while you're at it---write little love notes each day to the ones you love starting today.

Back to Basics: How to Roast a Chicken

Once I learned to do this, I never. Ever, bought another Costco chicken again--and i hold Costco chicken in high regard. This is truly the yummiest recipe I've found--and wanna know a secret. I don't even use carrots, or's foolproof.


  • 1 (5 to 6 pound) roasting chicken
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large bunch fresh thyme, plus 20 sprigs
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
  • 4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 bulb of fennel, tops removed, and cut into wedges
  • Olive oil


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pin feathers and pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place the onions, carrots, and fennel in a roasting pan. Toss with salt, pepper, 20 sprigs of thyme, and olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.
Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve it with the vegetables.

January, goals, and Food Storage for $5 a week

The beginning of the year is always a great time to re-evaluate, re-focus and make some goals.  Food storage is one of those goals that seems to always be a forgotten, ignored or even feared. I get it! it's  overwhelming.

Here's a useful schedule that some brilliant person put together.  With it, you should be able to accumulate food for two adults for a whole year -- in about a year spending $5/week.
Week 1 6 lbs salt
Week 2 5 cans cream of chicken soup
Week 3 20 lbs sugar
Week 4 8 cans tomato soup
Week 5 7 boxes macaroni & cheese
Week 6 50 lbs wheat
Week 7 10 lbs powdered milk
Week 8 8 cans tuna
Week 9 6 lbs macaroni
Week 10 50 lbs wheat
Week 11 6 lbs yeast
Week 12 20 lbs sugar
Week 13 5 cans cream of chicken soup
Week 14 1 bottle 500 multi-vitamins
Week 15 50 lbs wheat
Week 16 10 lbs powdered milk
Week 17 8 cans tomato soup
Week 18 20 lbs sugar
Week 19 5 cans cream of mushroom soup
Week 20 50 lbs wheat
Week 21 5 lbs honey
Week 22 7 boxes macaroni & cheese
Week 23 5 cans cream of mushroom soup
Week 24 20 lbs sugar
Week 25 50 lbs wheat
Week 26 20 lbs sugar
Week 27 10 lbs powdered milk
Week 28 20 lbs sugar
Week 29 5 lbs peanut butter
Week 30 8 cans tomato soup
Week 31 7 boxes macaroni & cheese
Week 32 50 lbs wheat
Week 33 10 lbs powdered milk
Week 34 8 cans tuna
Week 35 6 lbs macaroni
Week 36 50 lbs wheat
Week 37 6 lbs shortening
Week 38 20 lbs sugar
Week 39 5 cans cream of chicken soup
Week 40 1 bottle 500 multi-vitamins
Week 41 50 lbs wheat
Week 42 6 lbs salt
Week 43 8 cans tomato soup
Week 44 20 lbs sugar
Week 45 1 bottle 500 aspirin
Week 46 50 lbs wheat
Week 47 5 lbs honey
Week 48 8 cans tuna
Week 49 5 cans cream of mushroom soup
Week 50 20 lbs sugar
Week 51 50 lbs wheat
Week 52 8 cans tomato soup

Organizing Your Pantry

 Ina Garten’s pantry

Organizing a pantry can be a daunting task. I’ve broken it down into a few steps that are easy to follow and can be accomplished in a very short time. Of course as with all my tips, you can customize this to fit your needs.

If like me you love to organize, you might want to take this a step further and put all your food in clear airtight containers with labels on them. You may also want to use baskets to coral small items. The most important thing to remember is to group items by type and use.

Step 1: Clean out your pantry and throw away any expired items, and donate any items you NEVER use. We all have the occasional can of something we’ve never known what to do with. Do not clutter valuable space with things you do not need...sort items onto a counter or a table by group, breakfast items, school lunch items, canned, staples, baking, create as many categories as you need. 

Step 2: Designate shelves. A small pantry usually has at least 4 shelves. I always leave the bottom (usually the floor) for heavy items like large containers filled with Flour, Sugar, Wheat flour, Rice, brown Sugar, Powdered Sugar, and large containers of oil and vinegar. It’s also good to have a large basket for paper products such as extra napkins and plasticware--basically things that children have no interest in. 

Shelf 1, working from the bottom up, is great for canned items-- a great way to store canned items is in hard plastic basket-like containers (usually found near Tupperware) that you can pull out to actually see what you have. I also put boxed items or anything used for dinner prep on this shelf.

Shelf 2 is good for baking items: cocoa powder, shortening, oatmeal, flax seed, granola, etc

Shelf 3, hopefully out of the reach of children, is great for cereals and snack items. I like using this shelf for animal crackers, cheese crackers, and other like items. 

The top shelf is great for lunch prep items. I store extra drinks, chips, and treats up there—Where my kids can’t see it or reach it.

A Few Tips:
Create a Master grocery list of items you usually buy and attach a pen to the door using Velcro, as you run out of items circle them on your list. If you want to take it a step further when you go shopping write down the aisle number of each item and then reorganize your list by aisle number. This saves so much time in the long run. You can even write prices next to each item for more detailed shopping. 

Keep pasta and dry goods in clear jars and containers. This will help you know what you have and will help prevent wasting money—too often we buy items we think we need and end up with multiples. 

Keep extra grocery bags contained on a hook on the door of your pantry as well as re-usable tote bags for when you go shopping. 

Keep a small basket filled with on the go snacks. I like to keep a few snack size zip lock bags with animal crackers, homemade trail mix, pretzels and cheerios ready to throw in my purse when I’m on the go—this also minimizes unplanned drive-thru stops which are expensive and usually unhealthy.