Monday, June 30, 2008

Congaree Canoe Trip

Congaree National Park, which is just a short 30 min drive from our house, offers free guided canoe trips on the weekends. I found out about this great opportunity last year but children under 5 are not allowed. I remembered to call a few weeks ago. (You have to call to make reservations 2 weeks in advance.) I was so excited to reserve a spot for our family. The group had a total of 8 boats.

The trip lasted several hours. It started off with brief instructions on how to paddle, what to look for, etc. There were 2 guides who were very informative and extremely helpful. They told us all about the oldgrowth floodplain forest. I love how most park rangers really love their job and are enthusiastic about sharing.
We paddled along and stopped at a spot to eat lunch. There was a great big hollow cypress tree near where we were eating. It was so cool to get inside and look up through the tree.

We climbed back in and paddled back. We were given 2 canoes on this trip so the kids switched boats on the way back and they both did an awesome job paddling most of the way. I was surprised by how pleasant the temperature was in the forest. I was thinking it was going to be really hot, (canoing in the summer sounds hot, right?) but because of the canopy of trees and the slight breeze as we paddled over the water it was actually very nice.

It was so beautiful and peaceful to be in the woods with the spanish moss hanging over and the sounds of birds all around. We didn't get to see many animals on the creek probably because could here us coming and so stayed away. On the way out of the Park we stopped at the nature center and spotted 2 really cool creatures with the other rangers that were inside. They brought us out and showed us this elephant staghorn beetle and tree frog that had been hanging around the building. I'm so excited to research these guys and put them in our nature journals.
I highly recommend this trip to anyone looking for a fun, free outdoor activity. The trip fills up fast so you have to call 803-776-4396 ext. 0 Saturday or Sunday 2 weeks before your trip. Click here for the link and more information.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Meal Plan and the Morrisons

My friend Anna (see her blog Homegrown Sunshine) has posted her meal plan a few times and I thought it was a great idea. She and her family are our oldest vegan friends. I guess they are the only vegan family friends we have:) We all met in Boone before changing our eating habits. Anna and I have been learning together about vegan cooking for about 8 years. (Is that how long it's been?) She has given me some great ideas and recipes.

This reminds me that I never posted pictures from the time they visited us a few weeks ago. They stopped through on the way from the beach back to Durham, NC. We had a wonderful time together.

Anna and I got to chat and hang out together while the kids played. We have a lot and common and so have lots to share. We could talk for hours!
The guys went to campus together one day so Scott could attend Daniel's class. They spent the afternoon studying and working together.
So, back to the meal plan. If I post my meals here, I can use this for my own records and start to use the same plans over again. Another reason to post is to help answer the question, "Wow, you don't eat any meat or dairy? What do you eat?" I get that a lot;) So here's the answer.

Pesto Pasta, corn on the cob, and homemade peach cobbler
Thai coconut curry stir fry with tofu, broccoli, green beans and jasmine rice. Salad
Black bean burritos and zucchini bread
Veggie burgers and Not dogs for kids
Falafel pitas, hummus, tempeh and potato salad
Vegan Sloppy Joes, Mac and Cheesy
Veggie plate: Mashed potatoes, green beans, left over mac and cheesy, and corn bread

Note: Pesto, potatoes, green beans fresh from our garden
Corn and peaches from the local farmers market
For lunch: Tempeh and potato salad made great sandwiches during the week. Having extra black beans was also helpful for making quick lunch burritos. We also enjoyed tons of peaches, watermelon, plums, and corn from the local market throughout the week. As always, good ole PB&Js (with homemade strawberry jam) for lunch too.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Battle Continues

I have already written about our problem with the squash vine borer and the destruction of our zucchini plants. Even after we pulled out all but 2 zucchini plants we are still finding little eggs and evidence that the pest is still lurking around the garden. A few days we have even seen the moth and have been able to swat at and kill 2 of them. Here is a picture of one that Daniel injured and we were able to get a closer look.
We have been finding the eggs on other plants, mostly the acorn and spaghetti squash. Daniel has been on a hunt throughout the days these past few weeks searching for these tiny brown eggs. One morning he even got the girls to search with him and paid them a quarter for every egg they found!
See if you can find one on this plant.:)
We have had pretty good success with keeping the acorn squash plants alive, but it has taken a lot of work. A few days ago I ordered some beneficial nematodes from Planet Natural that we can apply to the garden. They will attack and hopefully get rid of this pesky problem and we can have healthy squash beds without all the worry. A few friends of mine have had really good results for a long time after introducing the tiny beneficial worms.

We have had several zucchinis and I've been making the wonderful sweet bread with them. I've shared this with lots of people already and everyone loves it so I thought I'd post it here. It is a little healthier than the traditional recipe (still has a lot of sugar) and is very tasty! I made up the recipe by combing ingredients from this recipe from Cooking Light and one from my all-time favorite cookbook, Joy of Cooking. Then I substitute Ener-G Egg Replacer for the eggs.

Healthy Zucchini Bread
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 egg substitutes Ener-G Egg Replacer
1/3 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups shredded zucchini (12 ounces)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 350°.

Mix wet then dry ingredients in separate bowls. Stir together.

Divide batter evenly between 2 (8 x 4-inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 40 mins to 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Collecting seeds

We had an awesome crop of lettuce this spring. We ate green leaf, red leaf, romaine, spinach, kale and chard for several months without buying any from the store. That says a lot for this family. We each usually eat at least one salad a day plus put it in our sandwiches and in other cooked dishes. Now that it is too hot and all of the greens have flowered and gone to seed we are trying to save some of them for this fall's planting. It was hard to leave the plants in the ground long enough for this to happen. They were taking up valuable summertime space and as they go to seed they get tall and start to look a little messy. I wanted to just pull them up and put in a tomato plant or something. Well, anyway, we are hoping that our patience will pay off as we have finally pulled up all the greens and are collecting some of the seeds. I am posting some pictures of the process.
In back of this picture you can see some of the lettuce that has flowered . This is some of what we pulled up and brought inside.

Each lettuce plant had tons, I'm guessing (but I may be way off) 100+ flowers and in each flower I counted about 8-10 or so seeds. At first we thought it was going to be a tedious process. I spent an hour one night pulling the flowers off and pinching groups of seeds out of each flower head. I thought it was kind of fun:) But then Daniel discovered a more efficient way by just tapping or pounding the flowers. Soon the girls joined in on the fun! So, here Arianna and Ellen are first tapping then squeezing the flowers. The seeds just fall out.

You can see how tiny these lettuce seeds are compared to the letters of the comic strip we were using to catch the seeds.

Here they dumped the seeds into the bowl.

Then we dumped the seeds into a labeled envelope that we'll save for the fall. I put the potato harvest from this morning behind it. Daniel pulled out about 5 plants. We still have lots more in the ground.

I took some pictures of the girls with the zinnia flowers we planted. They are such a beautiful bright red. E and A loved getting to cut and bring them inside. Girls just love fresh flowers!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Father's Day Photos

I asked Daniel what he wanted to do for father's day and he couldn't really think of anything (except sleep in). He just wanted a regular day...go figure! So we had a very relaxing day just hanging out. He played with the girls and then worked outside in the yard and garden for several hours. Then he came back in to play and read with the girls some more. I didn't do much either and since he spent so much time with the girls I got a break on Father's day :) I know I don't say it enough but I am so thankful for the father that he is--always so willing to help, work, love, laugh, and play. He's the parent at the park or wherever that actually wants to play with the kids most of the time. The girls are very lucky, as am I, for having such a wonderful dad.

I'm posting some pictures of things we've done in the past few weeks. Daniel likes to use every moment possible to be with and teach the girls. So here he is doing some work and play and showing the girls a few new things. Here they are bike riding and discovering all kinds of new stuff along the way.

Getting help with plumber's putty while installing our new faucet.

Taking measurements of the roof to see how much rain water we could be collecting (if we had enough barrels, gutters, and storage.)

Just a great picture of father and son holding seeds and posing for a picture by Arianna a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Thank you rain.

Here's a picture of our garden tonight. We harvested tons of beans and basil last week. We realized that we didn't plant enough to have extras for canning but we did successfully can 2 quarts of green beans. We ate one of the jars tonight and they were so good. We did plant enough to eat them fresh for at least one meal a day. They were so good fresh we couldn't let them sit long enough to store and can. I made a big batch of pesto and had pesto pasta, pesto pizza, and pesto burgers (veggie burgers with pesto spread).

We are still planting things around the yard. Last week I bought a pack of watermelon and pickling cucumber transplants and planted them in some empty spots in the garden. We've had a bug get to a few of our basil plants and now some pepper plants. Something is eating right around the base of the stem. The plant falls just falls over. We pulled up 7 zucchini plants with caterpillars. Anyway, that, and another new bed we started a few weeks ago, has given us a little extra space to plant some new stuff. We had a few little transplants that we started from seed a month or so ago also and I went ahead and planted most of those (basil, dill, peppers, tomatoes). Daniel and I both planted a bunch of seeds today. I started more bush beans and corn. Daniel put down squash, tomatoes and sunflower seeds in our front yard. He said the soil was a lot richer in the front yard especially around the trees and along the border of the yard. Oh yea, I almost forgot, we also started a bed of luffa gourds. They are supposed to grow a vine up to 30 feet in a season so we planted them so they will reach up some bamboo and shade a south facing window to the playroom. (you can see the window in the picture behind the big pomegranate bush). I think there are about 14 total plants. Hopefully I'll have tons of luffa sponges to share!

For the past week we have had to do some heavy watering to keep things from wilting. We have such poor, sandy soil it seemed like everything was just withering away in that 100+ degree heat. Thankfully, we had a very refreshing evening storm last night. All 5 barrels (and lots of extra buckets and plastic bins thanks to my husband running around in a lightning storm collecting extra water.) Don't worry parents, he was careful ;). The plants really perked back up today. Even the potatoes that we thought for sure where about to go are looking much better.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Animals in and around our home

In the past week or 2 we have come across some amazing animals right around our home. I'll start with the beneficial ones. First we got a bucket full of gambozia fish from some friends who told us they can live in our rain barrels and eat mosquito larvae. So we now have pet fish living in 3 of the barrels. I think they are very happy since I haven't seen any mosquitos around the barrels since we put them in there.
Arianna had fun trying to catch them with her hand before we put them in the rain barrel.

Then Daniel spotted what he thought was a small snake next to the pomegranate bush. He and Ellen scurried around and caught it with a net and bucket. When we did a little research we learned that it was actually a legless lizard called a "slender glass lizard." It is great to have around the yard as it eats insects and even small rodents. Ellen was so excited to get to pick it up. She pet it first then did not hesitate to hold it. We asked her to carry it back to where we found it. She loved it. We had a great lesson on the difference between snakes and lizards and learned lots of great facts about them.

Here's Arianna's snake. She's never been to excited about holding creatures like this so she went and made one so that she could hold her own snake.
I guess it was actually a few days before that Ellen spotted this next creature in the bottom of our yard. We were all standing down there near our compost when Ellen said, " Snake, does anyone else see that snake." We later looked him up and identified him as a yellow rat snake. They are not venimous and are also great to have around the yard since they will eat the small rodents and other guys who may be wanted to taste some of our garden. We were unable to catch him but we did get a nice long look at him. He curled up (as seen in the picture) and froze when we got near him. As you can see our cat Max had walked right past him and decided to lay down right in front of the snake. Not sure why he did that but we were all kind of nervous while Max relaxed next to the snake's mouth. The snake never tried to bite or anything. He eventually moved deeper into the sticks and we couldn't get him.A few days later we found this little wren fluttering around our dining room. Once again Daniel and Ellen were excited about trying to catch him to set him free. Arianna and I were staying away as we were both a little freaked out as he might fly in our face. We trapped him in the girls room and they eventually got him out. Daniel used this cloth to hold him and let us get a closer look. Very sweet.

So now the bad bug news. We've been hoping to not have to deal with these pests but, a few days ago we got a close look at some of our yellowing zucchini plants and realized they had some squash vine borers in them. Oh how sad! Daniel dug out tons of these little rascals in all of the plants. He pulled about 8 plants completely out and we are leaving 3 just to see if they can live after the surgery done to their vines.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Garlic Harvest

We decided to grow garlic last fall. It was simple to do and low maintenance throughout. Our books recommend getting garlic from a seed store but we went to the grocery and picked out a couple of nice organic cloves (the danger in either case is taking garlic home to grow that was not grown in your region and isn't as productive given certain environmental conditions). Pick a sunny space in your yard (maybe a flower bed or anywhere you can spare) and plant bulbs 6 inches apart about a month or 2 before the soil freezes. After planting cover with a layer of straw or mulch. In the spring you can remove the mulch and look for sprouts. Garlic will grow well with only moderate attention, but it is slow growing. It is ready to harvest when the leaves begin to turn brown or fall over. This generally happens in late summer but as you can see we are harvesting here at the beginning of June (probably a combination of poor soil and extreme heat). But it was worth it! Remember that the garlic will inhabit its place in the yard from Fall to late summer but you can companion plant with lettuce underneath the maturing garlic.

Here the girls are spreading our first harvest of vermicompost (worm poo) in the spot where we will be planting the garlic cloves. This was November of 2007

Jen took this picture so she would remember where the cloves were planted.
Garlic growing in spring of this year.
After we pulled it up last week we let it sit and cure in a shady spot for about a week.
Note: Cost=3 bulbs. Payoff=30 bulbs.

Also, here is a quick pic of some of our early summer harvest. We still have greens producing but most of the lettuce, kale, and chard are going to seed. The girls wanted to put hands on the beans as they harvested these. We are eating beans like crazy, and the zucchini is producing well. Below Jennifer is holding some basil. We are eating it like the beans (as much as we want). Last, a picture of the corn. Tomatoes, peppers, corn, and eggplant are flowering and have their first fruits hanging. Very exciting. More later.

Note to self: It is frightening to check the girls growth from garlic planting to garlic harvest. They themselves are growing like crazy!

Sunday, June 01, 2008


I know some of you are waiting for us to talk and show more pictures about gardening, but we've had to take a break for a few days. Daniel and I had our 8 year anniversary on Tuesday of last week. We celebrated by dropping the kids off with my mom and BB and spending the weekend alone in Boone. That's where we met (in college), spent lots of time together, married, owned homes, had the girls--we lived there for 8 years. It was like going back home. We spent the first night walking down the main street of the small downtown and we ate at our favorite new place, Tupelos (very veg friendly, Daniel worked for the owners at their first restaurant). The second day of our vacation was spent hiking 2 of our favorite trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Rough Ridge and Moses Cone Bass Lake trails.

This is the view from Howard's Knob which is just a short drive from downtown. You can see Boone and Appalachian State in the background.
Top of Rough Ridge trail and Grandfather Mountain
View from the top

I could say so much more about the memories of old times and the talk of the way things have changed since we lived there. I won't bore you with that. Since it was our anniversary I'll just say that I'm so thankful to be married to Daniel, my best friend. I'm a quality time kinda person so to be able to spend 2 days of uninterrupted QT time with him was wonderful. Thanks Mimi and BB for keeping the girls so we could make it happen.