The Dirty Secrets–Pantry Meals, Cheap Meals, Canned Meals, and More for Tips for Your Quarantine Kitchen

Ok, I think we can all agree that food media and culture as a whole has changed in the past 20 years. We now have easy access to blogs, recipes, information, and research. Meanwhile, Michael Pollan and other researched-based advocates opened our eyes to the less-than-desirable aspects of processed foods and ingredients. We get to be seasoned foodies without ever having attended culinary school.

But the reality is that many people do not have the luxury to be selective about ingredients and methods, pandemic or not. They may live in food deserts with no access to fresh products (what would you do if the only store you could reach was Dollar General?), they may have inadequate funds, limited equipment, and lack the basics we take for granted, like reliable internet access for help.

When I first got married, I had recently birthed the Demon-Baby. My husband worked endless hours of overtime to keep us afloat, and I stretched our meager budget as far as it would go. And you know how I did that? Lots of processed products, canned products, protein stretching, and shortcuts. No shame in my game.

Those meals represented my efforts to provide us some semblance of “homecooked” meals, even if it was just a medley of frozen and canned ingredients hastily tossed together. Even before we got married, our college garage apartment produced many memorable bargain meals that we still recall with fondness: Bisquick cinnamon rolls and casseroles, sautéed chicken with Rice-a-Roni pasta, cheese omelets, and that time my husband and one of his best friends learned that splattering hot oil next to boiling liquid was a very, very, very bad idea.

As we all face uncertain weeks ahead, I thought I would dust off some of those meals and ideas. They are not really recipes per se, but ideas based on how I stretched our budget, made the most of processed foods, fresh food, and managed not to kill any of us.

  • Easy and Cheap Chicken Pot Pie: Stir together 2 cups cooked chicken (I often only used one chicken breast), 1 can cream of celery soup, 1 cup milk or half-and-half, 1 tsp. seasoned salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1 can drained peas, and 1 can drained corn. Using a box of refrigerated pie curst, line the bottom of pie plate with 1 roll of the crust. Pour in chicken mixture, top with the other roll of crust, crimping edges. Cut a hole or two in the top to vent. Bake at 400 F 35-40 minutes until top begins to brown. Rest 5-10 minutes before serving. (Or use any combo of canned veg you have).
  • Under $5 Corn Chowder: Stir together 1-1/2 cups milk or half-and-half with one can of cream-style corn into a saucepan over low heat. (The regular size can of corn, not the 7-oz baby size). Add 4 slices chopped ham from the deli (or 1/2 cup chopped diced and browned smoked sausage, or some cooked bacon), 1 can of sliced or diced potatoes, drained, 1 can whole kernel corn, drained, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat about 10-15 minutes, and stir in 1 cup grated cheddar until melted. Serve with bread or rolls if you can.
  • Chicken Squares: Combine 6-oz of room temperature cream cheese with 6-oz of room temperature margarine, 4 TBS milk, 2 chopped green onions and add 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. black pepper. Add 3 cups shredded cooked chicken, mixing well. Separate two tubes of crescent roll dough into eight squares (which is two of triangles still together for each). Press the perforated seam of each square together firmly to create a solid square of dough. Place a spoonful of the chicken mixture into the center of each square. Bring the dough corners to the center, pinching all the edges to seal. Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
  • Pantry Spicy Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: For the soup, combine 3 cups Spicy V-8 juice, 1 can condensed tomato soup, 1 can condensed cheddar cheese soup, and 1 tsp. dried basil in a saucepan. Heat on medium, whisking occasionally until hot and combined. For the sandwiches: Combine one can of condensed nacho cheese soup with 1-1/2 cups fiesta blend shredded cheese. Spread a couple of TBS of cheese mix between two slices of bread, and brush outside of sandwiches with melted margarine or butter. Cook the sandwiches grilled cheese-style until golden. Slice on the diagonal and serve with the soup. *If you can get your hands on a baguette or sausage buns, make mini sandwiches for optimal dipping, which makes picky eaters happier. They like to dip stuff*
  • My Spaghetti Casserole was a staple and continues to be a go-to. I would serve it with frozen or canned green beans that I seasoned with what I had on hand. You can make garlic bread using the ends of a bread loaf or sandwish bread you need to use up. Brush bread with a couple of TBS of butter mixed with a 1/4 tsp. garlic powder and 1/2 tsp. dried parsley. Toast in the oven.
  • Chicken Fajita Chowder relies on mostly pantry-ready ingredients and you can reduce the chicken to stretch it further (the beans add plenty of protein). If you don’t have chips, cornbread is a good side, or even crackers.
  • You don’t get any more affordable than Salmon Croquettes. We would serve this with boxed mac and cheese and canned peas.
  • When I Was in a Bind: I often would throw together a couple of diced, cooked chicken breasts with sautéed diced onion and minced garlic, add a can of cream of celery soup, 2 TBS. lemon juice, 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 cup of milk, 1 tsp. seasoned salt and one 1 tsp. paprika. If I had any dried parsley or thyme, I added some. I’d simmer it for a bit and serve over wedges of cornbread.
  • Top Some Potatoes: Potatoes are affordable, and last if you store them properly. If you can bake potatoes, you can top them endlessly, like with shredded chicken or beef, BBQ sauce, and cheese (maybe chopped onion or even slaw for the adults). How about cooked chicken, broccoli, and cheese sauce (maybe with some bacon bits)? Cook frozen breaded chicken strips, dice them, toss with ranch dressing, top potatoes, and drizzle with hot sauce (and sprinkle of blue cheese if you can find it). Try potato tacos, with all the usual ground beef and taco fixings on top. Potatoes are the ultimate affordable canvas to stretch protein.

Other tips:

  • Bisquick and other pre-made mixes are often very cheap, and versatile for pantry cooking, especially if you are short on time. I’ve made many a casserole from on-hand cans and a mix.
  • Combo meals that combine proteins with starches and/or veggies allow you to stretch ingredients further. Think pot pies, Shephards Pie, casseroles, breakfast scrambles, hashes, stews, soups, etc. Eggs are the often least expensive per-serving protein there is.
  • Nearly anything can be transformed into hand pies/meat pies. If you need to clean out the fridge of leftovers, use refrigerated pie dough or frozen bread dough to create a “sweep the kitchen” hand pie night. Use leftover protein, starches, and vegetables, and convince your kids it’s like personal pizza night, but better. Same goes for grilled sandwiches/panini.
  • Ask yourself if what a recipe calls for is TRULY necessary. It may call for three cups of shredded chicken, but you could probably fake it with two. Out of fresh ginger? You could probably scrape by with a fraction of that amount of ginger powder. Will it be just like the recipe? No, obviously, but it could help you try and hit closer to the flavor profile than nothing at all. I frequently substitute fresh herbs with dried (decreasing the amount by half). Some skipping and substitutions can get you by, but remember, don’t be that butthole who goes onto a website and gives terrible recipe reviews after you do so. While being a pantry MacGyver can keep your family well-fed, it’s not fair to compare a hacked recipe to what the writer intended.
  • The good-looking chicken breasts in the refridgerated case are going to be the most expensive. For now, I’d go for the frozen bags (which are often smaller and less-than-neatly cut), or if you have the time, grab the cheap cuts like legs or leg quarters and cook and shred the meat for later.
  • When in doubt, trust dishes like Red Beans and Rice, Jambalaya, Stewed Chicken and Rice, Beef Tips, Meatloaf, etc. They are classics for a reason.

So, these are just some basics from the early days extreme budget eating that I hope inspire anyone struggling under quarantine frustration or scarcity. If you have questions about this post or how to stretch what you have, leave a comment, or if you prefer to ask a question privately, drop me an email (check my profile for the address).

Keep calm and drink on, my friends.

 

 

 

Quarantine Update and a Giveaway!

What a difference a week makes. So much changed so quickly, and like the rest of you, we are doing our best to adapt. No, I’m not making cute, color-coded homeschooling schedules, or using this “opportunity” to clean out my closet Martha Stewart style. If you are a Pinterest supermom, more power to you. We are just taking each day that is in front of us and making the best of it.

Other than a solo trip to the grocery store, the Heathens and I have not left the house since March 13tth. Though the older kids thought I was being a bit harsh by not letting them go see their friends, the changes over the past week have demonstrated to them why I took social distancing very seriously. First, I want to protect their health, but I also explained to them that I am in the high-risk category. I almost died of a respiratory illness that progressed to severe pneumonia as a child, and even after I got out of the hospital, I still had to have in-home care and rehabilitation. I would never wish that experience on anyone, so beyond our own bubble, we need to stay home to help our community and nation turn the tide on this terrible pandemic. My husband is still working, but continues to practice aggressive social distancing as well.The first week of at-home school was an adjustmenet. The teachers in our area literally had one hour to pull together the materials for the students and come up with a fast plan. Between daily online class and the remaining work, Bean and I are spending about 4 hours a day on school, not including independent reading. The boys are in high school, and are able to manage themselves. However, my friends with multiple elementary-age kids in different grades are struggling to juggle it, most especially those still having to work. Regardless, I admire Bean’s teacher for her dedication and the effort she is putting in to make this  situation work for the students. I swear, if we ever we had the opportunity to push through legislation for teacher pay raises, it would pass with flying colors the week the kids go back to school. Luckily, this week is our spring break, so we all have a chance to regroup.

As far as the emotional climate, our kids are pragmatic. They watch the news and understand the gravity of the situation. We are honest with them, and they get that our community as a whole is worried. This situation is a marathon not a sprint. However, we combat anxiety with practicality. We are ok, we are taking commonsense measures to protect ourselves and others, and we’ll get through this. I think the hardest part for my Louisiana community is the isolation. We can handle tornados, hurricanes, and being robbed of the Super Bowl #stillbitter, but we handle those things by banding together. The Cajun Navy loads up the boats, we gather, we feed one another, we volunteer, or we just spend time with our neighbors. It’s one thing to go through something stressful, but going through it in isolation makes it just a we bit tougher. But you know what? The drive-thru daquiri shops are still open! Gotta find the silver lining somewhere, right?

If you follow me on Instagram, I’ve been posting pics of our meals and other cooking adventures. Over the next week or so, I’m going to be posting some easy recipes, or ideas for making the most of what’s in the pantry.  We all could use some inspiration while adapting to this temporary normal.

On the knitting front. I have enough stash to last, not to mention needlepoint and 100 other crafting projects to keep me occupied when I’m not being the worst homeschool teacher in the world. I just cast on Fantastitch by Stephen West, as well as a baby blanket for my grandnephew. The one thing I can say about our time in quarantine is that I won’t be complaining of boredom any time soon.

 

*photo credit Stephen West *

So, in an effort to spread a little joy, I giving away a free downloadable copy of the Fantastitch pattern via Ravelry code. If you would like a chance to win a copy of this pattern, leave a comment about what you are doing to stay occupied during quarantine. I’ll draw for the winner this Friday! In the meantime, stay sane, my friends!

 

Whelp, that escalated quickly.

Well, we survived Mardi Gras, but Spring as sprung, which means we are deep into pollen hell. The bright side is that, after ending up at the hospital last year for a severe allergic reaction, my allergist is my new BFF. He’s got me on a serious medication regiment that involves lots of pills, four different inhalers, and occasional breathing treatments. So, it’s still bad, but it’s not as bad as it could be. **Spoiler alert, it’s about to be.**

Meanwhile, they broke ground on the pool we are adding:

Which is exciting, but until they stop bulldozing my yard, we can’t get started  building the garden. This has my husband less than pleased. He’s got the full-on itch to start planting, but I don’t see that happening for quite a while. However, we at least now know how much space we will have, which allows us to start the design process. Our last yard was tiny, so the garden was more utilitarian than anything. This time, we still want to shoot for our year-round suburban farm goals, but create a space that blends better aesthetically with the property as a whole. We are also considering dabbling in beekeeping, but that is going to require a lot more research before we know if it’s feasible for us.

Despite the yard being a construction zone, I will probably try to plant jalapenos in an out-of-the way corner because my candied jalapeno stash is officially gone. I took a jar with me (along with my plain pickled jalapenos) to serve with the chili at the Cub Scout winter camp out. They were a surprising hit. Two of the moms loved them so much, I gifted them the last of my jars. The salsa is also gone, as well as the vodka sauce, so I’m not thrilled at the prospect of no canning this summer.

Meanwhile, here are some finished knits:

Pattern: None. Just provisionally CO 110 stitches, knit until I was almost out of yarn, and grafted the ends.

Yarn: Must Stash Yarn & Fiber Perfect Must Match in the Must Stash Does Mardi Gras colorway.

Needles: US 2

Patterns: “Barley” hat by Tin Can Knits and “Spring into Summer Romper” by OGE Knitwear Designs

Yarn: Berrocco Comfort in the Grey colorway

Needles: US 6 and 8 for the hat, and US 4 for the romper

Notes and Mods: Love both of the patterns, although I think there are a couple of sections of the romper pattern that could use tech editing. Still got time before my great nephew is due, so I am shooting for a few more finished projects for him. **Spoiler alert–Looks like I just got a whole bunch of free time**

In other knitting news, I recently met Melissa, who is a local yarn dyer!

I had no idea we had a local dyer, and I’ve been drooling over her social media posts ever since. I snagged these when she created them exclusively for our LYS. You should seriously check out her Facebook page.

And just about the time I was finishing this post, Louisiana announced they are closing schools for 30 days. If you thought there was a run on toilet paper this week, that isn’t anything compared to what’s about to happen at the liquor store. Stay strong, my friends!

If you need me, I’ll be hiding in the bathroom, with books, yarn, copious amounts of alcohol, and Netflix. Those kids can smell fear, and but this certainly isn’t my first rodeo. #gocleanyourroom #thosewindowsneedwashing #sayi’mboredonemoredamntime

 

 

Catching My Breath & Some Finished Knits

 

Holy Guacamole. The past 5 months have about done me in. I still can’t believe it, but we made some BIG changes in rapid succession. Husband and I are always looking toward the current plan, the 5-year plan, and the retirement plan. With G-Man being a senior in high school and Bear not too far behind, we have often talked about moving away from home and making a change.

But one day, during our many conversations, he cut to the heart of the matter, which was that deep down, we never want to be too far away from our families. We also know that college students are like boomerangs. You may set them free, but they come back quicker than you think. So, we vetoed major moves while the boys are in college. Bean still has plenty of time before that’s a concern.

But, if we planned on staying in Louisiana, we wanted to settle into a home that was better for our long-term plans. Fast-forward a week, and we found a house, like THE house that ticks all of the boxes for at least the next ten years. So, long story short, we bought the house, moved, sold our house, and all the crap that comes with it. After this, I’m ready for life to settle down.

In the meantime, I finished a few knits in between all of the chaos:

I finally assembled Knitterati 2018 Gradient Lapghan. I’m glad this project is complete, let me tell you.

Pattern: Tale as Old as Time (available for for purchase on Ravelry).

Yarn: Must Stash Yarn’s Perfect Must Match in the La Belle Et La Bete colorways.

Needles: US 2

Notes: Technically, after reading the pattern, I just did a provisional cast-on of 112 stitches in the round, knit until I was getting close to being out of yarn, and grafted the ends together.

Pattern: Beeswax Hat (available for purchase on Ravelry)

Yarn: Plymouth Yarn Baby Alpaca DK in the Chestnut colorway.

Needles: US 6

Notes: I love the cable hack she has in this pattern. It makes it a pretty quick knit.

Pattern: Crisp Apple Strudel (available for purchase on Ravelry)

Yarn: Berocco Vintage DK in the Pumpkin colorway.

Needles: US 5

Notes: I love these. That is all.

Pattern: Basic Granny Square (free on Ravelry).

Yarn: Caron Cakes in the Berries & Cream colorway.

Hook: US H

Notes: Tried my hand at some basic crochet. I did this small blanket as a learning project, and I just wasn’t a fan of the process. I think I’ll try again someday, but for now, knitting is my thing.

Pattern: PussyHat Project (free on Ravelry).

Yarn: Spud & Chloe Worsted in the Penguin colorway.

Needles: US 7 and US 9

Notes: Altered the pattern to knit in the round.

Pattern: Pixelated (available for purchase on Ravelry).

Yarn: Shelridge Yarns Windmere Bulky in the Thistleflower colorway.

Needles: US 11 & US 13

Notes: Cute pattern and I added a removable pompom to the top.

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We are just about to finish the last few house projects this week, and then it’s on to *gulp* college tours. Send bourbon stat!

 

 

 

 

 

A Starter Pork Rub Recipe and a Memorial Day Menu Link Round-Up


So, I’m firing up the smoker for the holiday weekend, and here’s the skinny on the menu:

I’m smoking several racks of ribs in The Beast, using an adjusted pork rub recipe (see that recipe at the end) and this BBQ sauce recipe from Burnt Finger BBQ. I really love the addition of the thyme and the oregano in this sauce, as helps develop a more complex flavor that goes beyond the traditional too-sweet or too-vinegary commercial brands. It is one of the most balanced sauces I’ve tried in terms of flavor.

Side Dishes:

  • Baked Beans from Pioneer Woman’s A Year of Holidays cookbook. Unfortunately, I could not find an original link for this online. Her first recipe on her site from 2009, as well as the recipes you find on Food Network, are different from what appears in this book. This version was the one I tried several years ago and Husband will accept no deviations.
  • This coleslaw recipe is as basic as it gets, which is exactly why I love it. I make plenty of specialty or spicy coleslaws depending on the menu, but this one is dependable and plays well as an accompaniment to the bolder flavors of a traditional BBQ menu. Also, one bag of corner-cutting coleslaw mix is perfect for this amount of dressing. This is a minor step-up from KFC but close enough to appeal to all.

  • I’m experimenting with this corn salad recipe, also from Food Network. Bean loves corn like I love my Diet Coke. But, there’s only so many times I can Instant Pot corn on the cob before I want to tear my hair out. Hopefully, this will be a compromise. I’ll post a final review after I feed the horde.

Moving along to the current version of the pork rub I use, which is essentially Melissa Cookston’s recipe with a minor variation. Not only is Melissa a BBQ goddess, but out of the 25 BBQ cookbooks I own, her seasoning profiles are the ones I keep coming back to when I need a starting point or inspiration. I use this for ribs and pork butt.

 

Sweet Memphis Style BBQ Rub

  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1 TBS onion powder
  • 2 TBS granulated garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp black pepper finely ground
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 2 TBS smoked paprika

Procedure

Lightly grind turbinado sugar on coffee grinder of processor until lightly powdered. Combine sugar with remaining ingredients, stirring well until incorporated.

So there ya have it. What’s on your holiday menu?

A Finished Knits Round-Up

So, I’m finally getting around to posting all the finished projects I completed recently. Without further ado, here are the details:

Pattern: Celestarium Shawl

Yarn: Madelinetosh Tosh Sock in the Deep colorway

Needles: US 4

Notes and Mods: The beads on this shawl mimic the night sky as seen from the North Pole. Used silver-lined beads from Michaels and applied them using the crochet hook method. Used the circular cast on with crochet hook. Just placed bead in the loop before picking up the stitch. I also used kfb for the increases instead of M1 because its faster and easier for me. I set up the pattern in Knit Companion and used magic markers to count stitches. As this got bigger, I pre-marked bead placement on each row with removable stitch markers. Taking one minute to do that on a large row saved time counting stitches along the way and made the project portable, as it became just endless knit stitches with a bead here or there. I omitted the  YO/ktog. I like the look of projects that did not better. Finally, I incorporated Stellar Waves edging instead of original border.

Pattern: Elm Blanket

Yarn: Yarn Bee Soft & Sleek Solids in the Mustard and Teal Green Colorways

Needles: US 8

Notes and Mods: I have no clue why they call this that colorway teal green because it is far more blue. Otherwise, the pattern is very easy and I like going with less traditional colors for babies.

The remaining projects were from the Cascade 2018 Gradient Lapghan Knitterati knitalong.

Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 6 from the Knitterati 2018 knitalong.

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Merino in the Forged Iron colorway

Needles: US 7

Notes and Mods: I should have gone down a needle size. My row gauge was off and I had to omit a few rows.

Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 7 from Knitterati 2018

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Merino in Blue Indigo colorway

Needles: US 7

Notes and Mods: Only did five pattern repeats because my row gauge was a but off on this one as I was too lazy to swatch.


Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 8

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Merino in the Country Blue colorway

Needle: US 6

Notes and Mods: Had to go down a needle size from the pattern because I could tell after 2 rows it was way too big.

Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 9

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Merino in Iguana colorway

Needles: US 5

Notes and Mods: Fabric construction was interesting, so I am skeptical it will hold the dimensions evenly when final blanket is assembled.

Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 10

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Merino in the Blackberry Wine colorway

Needles: US 6

Notes and Mods: None. Easy knit.

Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 11

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Merino in the Glacier Grey colorway.

Needles: US 7

Notes and Mods: I should have gone down a needle size as the is pushing the dimension limit. I don’t like the way these cables look. They are too puffy in the middle.

Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 12

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Merino in December Sky colorway.

Needles: US 7

Notes and Mods: Fastest and easiest of the blocks but probably should have gone up a needle size. I had to block this pretty aggressively to get it to size.

Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 13

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Merino in the Grapeade colorway

Needles: US 7

Notes and Mods: I liked the twisted stitch detailing.

Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 14

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Merino in Flint Grey colorway

Needles: US 7

Notes and Mods: I hate bobbles. That is all.

Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 15

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Merino in the Violet Ice colorway.

Needles: US 6

Notes and Mods: I liked the structural detailing on this one.

Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 16

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Merino in the Chive colorway

Needles: US 7

Notes and Mods: Just glad to be done. Now I just need to suck it up and assemble the blanket and border.

So, there ya go. I think I may be ready for some instant gratification knitting.

Raised Garden Beds and Year-Round Gardening–How We Transformed a Tiny Yard Into a Suburban Farm

As you’ve seen on the blog, last year, we (and by we, I mean my husband) installed a series of raised garden beds and started adapting multi-season gardening approach. This week, a friend from church contacted me and wanted to know more about how we transformed a postage stamp-sized backyard into a thriving, year-round vegetable garden. While I’ve documented the garden a lot over the past year, here’s a more in-depth look at how we did it.

First, just so you know, the distance from the porch to the  fence is only about 12 feet. We spaced the beds so that the mower could fit between them and the fence on all sides. Our beds are just a basic construction, and you can find plenty of instructions online. Pioneer Woman had a good, beginner tutorial on her blog way back in the day.

Next, we calculated how much soil we would need, and I ordered it from Lowes for delivery. A professional nursery can help you with the calculations if need be.  We tried sourcing the soil locally, but my nursery wanted about two-times the price of what we could get at Lowes. This was an expensive initial investment, but well worth it. We started with good soil suitable for raised beds, but we also sometimes add compost or fertilizer when we switch out crops as needed. I know it’s tempting to go for the cheap topsoil to save money, but that’s a bad plan. By the time you add the stuff you would need to make it workable/grow-worthy, you might as well have invested in decent dirt. If you really want to guarantee success, you can test your soil and see what it needs for your plants. It’s simply a matter of how deep a mental dive you want to take. But long story short, raised beds and container gardens succeed or fail on the soil quality. That’s the shortcut you cannot take.

In garden adventures past, we stuck to summer crops, usually tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and melons, with an occasional experiment. Also, I have a kitchen herb garden with basil, rosemary, thyme, and sage. So, when transitioning to the multi-season model, we found that the LSU Ag Center had excellent information online about what would grow in our area and when to plant. So, I’d check out your state resources, especially university agricultural programs. Based on what we found, we planted cabbage, carrots, spinach, broccoli, and strawberries (note, we plant strawberries in the fall here for a spring harvest). We based our selections on space, and obviously what we would use. Overall, all of our winter crops were a success. While I have several gardening books that are “supposed” to be geared to our region, I’ve found that our state agriculture resources are much more realistic about what can grow here and when.

If you look my posts from last summer, you can see that our tiny garden fed the dang neighborhood. So, if you are thinking about starting your own raised bed garden, here are my quick takeaways:

  • Building the beds is fairly easy if you have minimal knowledge of a power drill and a level.
  • Soil is an investment, and is what will make or break your garden. Just like you have to cut your hair, you have to occasionally add stuff to your soil to keep it healthy.
  • Local garden clubs, agricultural centers, or state-based information sources are great avenues finding out what grows in your area and when to plant it. Mass-market books may be overly optimistic/uninformed for your region, which I learned when I saw guidelines for planting things which no farmer here would ever plant.
  • Year-round gardens require planning, but it can be done (obviously depending on your climate). By adapting to a year-round model, we are making the most of both the space and investment.
  • Even with a garden so small, we have excess. We can items religiously, share with neighbors, and freeze anything we didn’t can. You can make friends, fill your freezer/pantry, and take a tiny step toward more mindful eating. Bonus points for sharing with those in need.
  • Even if you can only start with a pot of tomatoes on apartment balcony, just go for it. We all need a little more green in our lives.

So, that’s the intro on the garden. I’m dreaming to tomato pies, tarts, and replenishing my stash of Roasted Tomato-Lime Salsa. I may hate summer in Louisiana, otherwise known as The Hellmouth, but it sure is dang tasty.