Tales of Cover Cropping

We started using cover crop on our garden two winters ago, and have evolved our approach and process. The first year, we used a 3-way mix of rye, vetch and peas, and simply broadforked the matured greens into the soil when it was time to plant. This year we are taking a slightly different approach.

Our 5-way cover crop is TALL this year…like shoulder height (!) and beautiful and lush thanks to a long spring with epic amounts of rain. Instead of broadforking this year, we are going to try a direct plan totally no till method. First step is cutting the cover crop (I used some old hedge trimming shears…a scythe would be MUCH better!) close the ground and letting it dry out for a week or so in place. At 32 1/2 weeks pregnant this was a hard job but not impossible. Then we will plant starts directly into the soft moist soil below. No tilling, no broadforking. It “should” keep in the moisture and retain the lighter soil structure that the cover crop helps develop. Also, the fallen greens will be a natural weed barrier for the growing season.

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Honestly this plan is coming 50% from farming practice research, and 50% from a lack of time. Our garden is usually a huge focus this time of year, but this year with baby around the corner and the remodel taking 100% of Matt’s time…well, we are lucky to have a few things actually get in the ground.

If this green mulching, no till method works it will really change how we work with our garden in future years. We are already loving that the areas where cover crop was planted all winter has ZERO weeds (!) and the soil is soft and dark. After breaking down all this decomposing cover crop  it should just continue to get better and better…not bad for what used to be a lawn!

DIY Blackboard Kitchen Countertops: An Update

Remember wayyyy back, like over a year now, when I introduced our grand plan to DIY our kitchen countertops? Well, that is still the plan and I am THRILLED to report that we are actually now working on that project.

The house remodel scope significantly morphed, and ended up going far past the kitchen and dining room, so we decided to finish up those other spaces (keeping our kitchen usable) and finally ending with it’s demo…and the long awaited counters!

If you don’t know the story of how we came to choose salvaged solid slate blackboards as our countertops, you can check that out here. These beauties (or rather, diamonds in the rough) have been leaning against our house for the past year, patiently waiting for their turn.

While they have been waiting, so have we. We always a knew that they would work as counters, but were still just assuming that we could successfully get off the old 1940s adhesive that is awkwardly stuck all over the slabs. If we could not get it off cleanly, we were going to have to come up with Plan B for counters…and that was NOT the goal.

After a super rainy start to spring, this week blessed us with some sunshine, and an opening to get outdoors, set up the sawhorses and get to glue removal. I need to keep baby away from all construction fumes, so this is a solo job for my sweet handy husband.

He set out with two main approached: a heat gun (borrowed from our local tool library) and Jasco Premium Paint and Epoxy Remover. Much to our excitement, the heat gun worked like a charm to pull off big blobs of glue and then the residue remaining dissolved with the chemicals…and a significant amount of elbow grease. We are planning to use the “natural” more textured side of these slabs and it is stunning to see them really clean. It is a huge weight off our shoulders to know that we have a solution that works!

Two down, maybe 6 more to go? We have roughly 35 slabs to work with (!) but only need 6 for the kitchen. Extras will be practice for cutting, other projects or maybe passing them along to other inspired DIYers.

The forecast promises more rain this week, but then we hope to get back to our lovely counters, finish glue removal, demo the kitchen and then cut the new counters to fit!

State of the Garden

Two years ago we rebuilt our garden from scratch. Installation of a 45×65′ 8 foot tall deer fence was only the start. We then had to rip out well established grass, add tons of compost, and start to figure out a useful layout.

That first year we only planted about half of our usable space. Last year we changed prep methods again and planted 3/4 of our fenced area. Winter cover crops became part of our routine and the soil is dramatically different than when we started.

What is also dramatically different this year is the amount of time we can devote to this garden. We are 9 weeks out from Grain’s due date (eek!) and we are pouring 100% of our time and focus into the house. So, as you might imagine, our garden is a bit neglected. The cover crop is waist high and very happy (and thankfully doing good things for our soil and keeping weeds at bay!), our garlic that was planted in the fall looks great, and the raspberries are taking off like crazy. We have been harvesting the spring greens from our over wintered kale and chard…but the whole thing looks pretty messy. Bolting kale “trees” are tall and buzzing with bees.

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Messy, overgrown garden this spring. but check out those second year asparagus in the raised bed! We are looking forward to our first harvest next year.

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Matt taking a house project break with Alki

We do have roughly 70 tomato starts in our living room, alongside zucchini and pumpkins. We plan to get them in the ground towards the end of May (it is still pretty chilly at night). Tuck in some of our favorite beans and call it good for this planting season. Whatever we don’t plant we will (hopefully) at least scuffle hoe to rip up weeds and throw down some more cover crop. It may not look “pretty” but will be a garden that still works to improve the soil and make next year even better.

If anyone wants to come work in a garden, you have an open invitation!

PS – baby Grain update. We are 31 weeks. Baby is moving a TON, and I felt hiccups for the first time today!

10 Week Countdown

Today we hit 30 weeks in our pregnancy with Grain. My belly is a basketball and Matt is constantly cracking good hearted jokes about me being a turtle with my shell on backwards.

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Matt is cranking away on the remodel…we are going to need every last day to get this thing done. What is left? A lot:

-finish building/installing kitchen cabinets

-clean blackboard slate (old glue from when they were installed in a school)

-demo existing counters and backsplash

-install new counters and backsplash

-refinish hardwood floors

-install crown/baseboard and other molding

-paint kitchen cabinets, pantry and new fireplace builtins (this may be a post baby project)

Ambitious? Yes, but it is what we need to do. We scheduled the crowning piece for the final week in June: refinishing the hardwood floors! Two weeks before my due date could be an issue, but we have a place to stay nearby, with backup plans if baby has decided to come early. People keep asking about the nursery and I just have to laugh…not till the upstairs is done!

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We decided to put open bookshelves for cookbooks etc on the end of our new cabinet section. When all trimmed out and painted white, this kitchen is going to look SO GOOD!

Spring is still taking it’s time in arriving in the PNW. We still have not hit 60 more than a few times! The garden is so far behind and it has been so wet that there has not been much motivation to do anything. We have some tomatoes and squash started in the house, so when it does warm up we will get them outside (and free up space!).

Living in a remodel has been not comfortable, but we are managing it pretty darn well. Luckily our master bedroom is still an untouched retreat where we can have some sense of normalcy in our house. I have been doing a lot of sleeping, resting, taking baths…Matt has been fabulous at just letting me be however I need to be to grow little Grain. It is exhausting!

Since I do not have a direct role in the remodel physically, I am supporting with a constant stream of supplies, research, food and project management (ha!). Getting bids on hardwood floors was a focus last month and we are thrilled with the team we found. I need to order backsplash tile soon, and measure for crown and baseboard molding (I misplaced my list of lengths many months ago…ugh!)

Wish us luck in this last stretch! It is slightly intimidating, but we can see the light at the end of this long long tunnel. And there will be a baby to snuggle when we get there!

Some Favorite Recipes

We were down all last week with a terrible, horrible, no good very bad stomach bug. It was awful. Matt and I are rarely sick at the same time, but this round took us both out for the whole week. We could barely eat, drink or even move…let alone work on the mountain of projects that we have in the works.

But that sickness is starting to become a memory, and we are regaining our stregth. Last night we celebrated a dear friend’s birthday with a homemade cake. I have been on the search for a really excellent basic, from scratch yellow cake. They are always too dense and almost cornbread like. This one make have proved me wrong. For good measure, I also threw in our favorite cookie recipe below.

Fluffy, Moist Homemade Yellow Cake

source: Divas Can Cook
Ingredients
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened, room temperature (do not microwave)
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated, room temperature
  • 3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325. F. (do not use convection like I did…cooked too fast to start)
  2. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.
  4. Add in egg yolks and vanilla, mixing until fully incorporated. Set aside.
  5. In a seperate bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt.
  6. Gradually add dry ingredients into wet ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk.
  7. Mix until batter is fluffy but be careful not to over mix.
  8. Beat egg whites until stiff and thick. (holds a nice peak)
  9. Very gently fold egg whites into batter and mix JUST until incorporated.
  10. Pour batter into prepared pans and spread into even layers.
  11. Bake for 30-35 minutes.
  12. Remove from oven and let cake cool in pans until pans are warm to the touch.
  13. Carefully remove cakes from pan and place on a cooling rack to finish cooling.
  14. When cakes are completely cooled frost with chocolate buttercream frosting.

 

Lauren’s Amazing Cookies (coconut, chocolate, oatmeal)

  • 1 cup butter (or 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup coconut oil)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 ½ cup oatmeal
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • Vanilla
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • Cinnamon
  • 1 ½ cup shredded coconut
  • 1 bag chocolate chips

 

Cream together butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla. Add dry ingredients. Mix in coconut and chocolate chips. Make into 1-2 inch balls and flatten slightly on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until edges start to turn slightly golden. Remove from oven and cool. They will continue to darken out of the oven. Enjoy!

Nine things that have surprised me about pregnancy

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  1. How exhausting it is to grow a baby.

I had always heard that you would be tired, but I did not anticipate this level of fogginess and exhaustion until after baby arrived. I guess I am probably underestimating that as well!

  1. Loss of my abs.

Now I don’t mean them disappearing and being replaced by a bump. That I was totally prepared for. What I did not expect was not having any strength AT ALL from my core. At week 26, sitting up, rolling over or lifting anything is totally dependent on my arms or legs or Matt hauling me around. It is quite disorienting and frustrating to be honest.

  1. Needing diaper rash cream…well before the baby is here

Let’s just say that there is a lot going on with lady parts in pregnancy, and a lot of moisture that I have never before experienced. Diaper rash cream is a life saver.

  1. Pregnancy underwear.

It is a thing, and totally worth it. I have resisted the idea of buying too many maternity wardrobe pieces, but this and a few other key investments were 1000% worth it. Same goes for bras.

  1. Dates are no longer important, it is all about # of weeks

My mental calendar is no longer focused on months or dates, but around how many weeks along is baby. 40 weeks is the goal. 9 months is just a confusing common metric that somehow got thrown into how we talk about it.

  1. So.Many.Decisions.

Some of these decisions are quick and easy, others take research and sometimes difficult conversations. Where to have the baby? What kind of provider care do we want? What do we register for? Find out gender or surprise? Genetic testing? If it’s a boy, do we circumcise? How do we want our birth to go? Birth photographer? Vaccination schedule? And then finally, at the end of the day, what should we have for dinner? Because life still goes on.

  1. Increased awareness of others and pregnancy challenges.

We had a slightly bumpy road to get here, but very visibly carrying a baby has brought out a whole new level of awareness. A few weeks back a girlfriend had a miscarriage. A coworker due at nearly the same time as I am lost her twins at 5 months. Survivors guilt, empathy, sadness, happiness, love…they are a complicated bundle of emotions that all tangle together harder when you have a constant kicking reminder that you are carrying a miracle.

  1. Leg cramps.

Like terrible, debilitating, wake-up-screaming-like-a-banshee leg cramps. Not just in my calf either, but down the sides of my lower legs, quads, and even hands and fingers. My midwife was great and cleared me from any medical concerns, and got me on extra magnesium which is helping. Some local midwives I met through our birth class also added insight for Epsom salt soaks and a topical homeopathic cream that have made a huge difference.

  1. Hating salmon.

My only real food aversion would of course be one of the BEST things for me to eat while pregnant. It is getting slightly less repulsive now that I am nearly in my third trimester but it still makes me sad that of all things, this is what my body does not want to eat.

 

I am so excited to meet Grain (our in-utero name for baby) and witness many many more surprises that await us on our journey as a family.

Coconut Chocolate “Ice Cream” (Dairy Free!)

I love making ice cream at home. We have tried many combinations over the years, pretty much settling on a standard base that we mix up with different flavors. In the summer, peach is a favorite, as well as fresh garden mint with cookies. Fall leans towards brown butter or whiskey or something else rich and delicious.

This weekend I wanted to try a dairy free “ice cream” and modified our standard base to accomodate. Coconut chocolate seemed to fit the bill.

Last time I attempted a coconut milk base it turned out a little more grainy than I prefer, so this time I added arrowroot powder. Also note, this is not a vegan base since it does feature rich homegrown egg yolks.

Verdict: this was pretty much perfect! I am looking forward to mixing it up again with different add-ins all summer long!

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Coconut Chocolate “Ice Cream”

  • 4 cups full fat coconut milk (we use cartons from our local Asian market)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbs good quality cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp arrowroot powder
  • 1 Tbs coconut oil
  • pinch of salt
  • vanilla extract
  • 4 egg yolks

METHOD

In saucepan, heat HALF the coconut milk with sugars, cocoa, oil, and arrowroot powder, and salt until heated through, stirring or whisking constantly (not boiling). Temper egg yolks with some of the hot chocolate mixture, and add to pot. Continue cooking until the consistency is of thin pudding. Add in vanilla extract and remaining 2 cups of coconut milk.

At this point I choose to pour the ice cream mix through a mesh strainer to remove any lumps, but this is optional .

Cool ice cream base in the fridge until cold, overnight is ideal. Churn in ice cream maker for ~20 minutes or until done. Freeze in containers for at least 30 minutes before serving.

YUM!