Balcony Garden Update

This is what my garden looked like 1 month ago.  Here it is today (iPhone photo edition).

Bonus: how many cats can you spot?

My tomatoes are taller than me (I’m 5’9″)!  The first fruits appeared earlier this week:

Yummy.  This is where you can tell I have no idea what I’m doing.  Do I trim the plants so they’re not so huge?  Let them grow?  Who knows!

Right now my table is covered in Hidcote Lavender plants that I am going to plant at my parents’ new house.

This is the other side of my balcony.  Squirrels have been digging in my railing planters and getting dirt everywhere.

Also crazy: my lemon cucumber plant!  Some of the leaves have white spots – I’m not sure what that’s from.  It’s also starting to take over my gold nugget cherry tomatoes:

I don’t know if that’s bad – should I cut it back, or let it grow?  It hasn’t grown any cucumbers yet.

Purple beans spotted!

It’s getting a bit overwhelming now that everything is growing to massive sizes, but also fun seeing as how my plants are usually half-dead at this point in the summer.

Happy Victoria Day

Happy long weekend!

Today, I “finished” setting up my balcony.  (“Finished” because I can never stop moving things around.)

There’s also 4 different types of lettuce in another box behind the basil, but squirrels keep stealing it. :(

I hope everyone had a nice long weekend!

I’m the worst blogger ever.

I haven’t updated since February, and it’s almost April!  Oops.

Here are some things that happened this month:

- I became hypothyroid again, which came with some fun depression and fatigue.  My doctor adjusted my medication accordingly.  Right after this happened, Miss Lizzy blogged about the “seasonal thyroid drop” – apparently needing to increase your thyroid meds is common this time of year.  I feel much better now that I’ve added an additional 30mg/day.

- I have been working a lot, which goes against my “take it easy” plan, but I’ve been doing very well.

- I started kickboxing last week with a friend.  Terrifying.  I’m going to continue, but I need to buy my own gloves.  I smelled the smell of the shared class boxing gloves and I will never look at life the same way.

- I started planting!  I’m doing much more research this year, so I won’t be quite so terrible at gardening. I did go a little crazy at Urban Harvest.  Here’s what I have planned:

  • Cherry Tomatoes (Black, Chadwick, Gold Nugget)
  • Roma Tomatoes
  • Beans (Tendergreen, Royalty Purple – THEY’RE PURPLE! PURPLE BEANS!!!)
  • Cucumber (Homemade Pickles, Lemon – it looks like a lemon but tastes like a cucumber!!!)
  • Hot Peppers (Chinese 5 Colour, which I literally only bought because they looked cool and the description said “rare” and I’m a sucker)
  • A bunch of greens, including kale, spinach, and some lettuces
I ALSO bought a bunch of lavender plants from Richters, to see what I can keep alive.
I should have started planting seeds earlier, but here’s what I’ve got so far.  I even bought a lamp (TERTIAL from IKEA, with an OttLite plant bulb).

I hope things turn out this year.

Vitamix: Day 7 / Yesterday

At 6:30pm on Friday I was sitting at my desk, singing along to Christmas music, just having finished creating and ordering a bunch of Christmas presents, after a long day of laundry, chores, and running errands.  And I suddenly realized… hey, it’s 6:30pm and I’M STILL AWAKE.  Not one single nap all day!

It feels like my energy is increasing every day.  I suspect it’s at least partially because I’ve been actually putting effort into what I eat.  (Also, Vitamix.)

I’ve been really trying to pull myself out of the vicious cycle I mentioned a few days ago.  Not only that, I’m actually getting excited about being in the kitchen and preparing food again.  I’m not eating the same 3-4 things because I’m too tired to think of and/or prepare anything else.  Or worse, skipping meals because I just don’t feel like making food.

On Friday night, I went to the Movember gala in Toronto with some friends.

I only had one small drink and we left early (11pm-ish), but I wasn’t in bed until around 1:30am.  I could hardly get out of bed on Saturday.  I was WRECKED.  My doctor told me the most important thing I need to do is go to bed, get up, and have meals at the same time every day.  That’s what I was doing all week, and it was working. It’s amazing how throwing off my schedule by a few hours completely undid everything.

All day yesterday, I dragged myself around like a zombie.  It felt like all of my limbs were too heavy for my body and I just wanted to go to bed and sleep for the whole day.

And I couldn’t think of anything to make in my Vitamix aside from my morning smoothie that didn’t involve a walk to the grocery store for ingredients.  I did make apple sauce because I needed some for a recipe.

Apples in a blender.  That doesn’t count.  (Plus I ended up using store bought applesauce in my recipe anyway.)  So, no Vitamix recipe yesterday.  I suck.

Speaking of recipes, ugh.

My friend’s birthday party was last night and I wanted to make cookies.  I’ve been wanting to try more stuff from the BabyCakes cookbooks, so I picked Sugar Cookies from BabyCakes Covers the Classics.

I have Erin McKenna’s original cookbook as well, and I’m really sad to admit that I haven’t been overly impressed with either.  I bought them because there are such rave reviews about the bakery, and the pictures in the books are AMAZING (I’m shallow and easily distracted by pretty things), but so far I’ve made a handful of things and none of them have turned out.  I don’t know if it’s because I suck at baking (although, as of today, 56% of Amazon reviews for her first book and 43% for the second book are 3 stars or lower, so it’s not just me), but it’s really frustrating, especially when ingredients are so expensive.

She uses a lot of coconut oil.  A LOT.  At $30 per jar and 3/4 cups of coconut oil in a recipe, that’s a lot of money to waste.

Anyway, Lori cookies.  For Lori’s birthday.

The recipe was fairly easy, but it took more than a few tries to get the hang of cutting out shapes because the dough was so soft.  Overall, everything seemed good until I took the cookies out of the oven.  They just tasted gross.  My boyfriend said “there’s no sweetness to them.”  I thought they tasted like bland cardboard.  He suggested I make a glaze, so I quickly whipped something up and dunked the cookies.

Then they just tasted like gross cookies covered in sugar, on top of looking like they were prepared by a five-year-old.  At that point, there was no time left so I just brought them to the party anyway.  The birthday girl herself said they tasted salty; her husband said they didn’t even taste like cookies.  Everyone agreed they were not good.

I really wanted to try making cinnamon buns and ice cream cake and all sorts of things from her books, but I’m not sure if I should even bother.  I am a big giant baby when it comes to being disappointed.

How do you deal with baking failures?

Gardening Obsession Starts Here

While my knowledge of gardening still doesn’t go much beyond “plants need water and sun”, it’s August 17th and my balcony garden is still alive!  This is a first.  Usually, my plants die by June or July from a mixture of me being lazy and forgetting to water them, and going away on summer vacation.  This year I’ve actually watered my plants and cut off the dead bits.  And most of them are still alive!  Brown thumb be damned!

I’ve had a few casualties.  I found out that the parsley problem I posted a picture of earlier was mildew, so I cut off all the affected bits and that left about… 3 leaves.  One of my margarita mint plants just outright died for no apparent reason.  The other one looks like this:

I’m kind of proud of this one because I ordered the plant from Richters, and it got stuck at a Canada Post facility during the postal strike this summer.  When it finally arrived, it was nearly dead, and now it looks like this.

I’m also proud of my pepper plant.  HEY EVERYBODY, I GREW HOT PEPPERS AND THEY GREW AND DIDN’T DIE.

Gardening is fun when your plants don’t die.  But there are a million things I still don’t know.  Like, when do I pick the peppers?  (Probably now, because they’re red?)  What do I do with my plants in the winter?  Which ones should I bring inside and which ones should I compost (and can I leave any outside)?  What the hell do I use sage for?

I have learned a lot though.  For instance, flipping through a container gardening book in the bookstore a few weeks ago taught me that you can grow carrots in containers.  Now I am obsessed with growing carrots in containers.

Yesterday I started googling plant-related things, and I now have about 40 Chrome tabs open with different websites and articles.  A particular favourite is You Grow Girl, because she’s also Toronto-based, and her amazing pictures make me want to hoard plants like a crazy person.   Like these.  And now I feel that I desperately need to grow 16 varieties of tomatoes.

This obsessive reading led me to researching indoor winter gardening, and the crazy idea that I’m going to operate some sort of indoor vegetable garden in my bedroom over the summer.  Yes, I’ve jumped from “I can keep an easy-to-grow plant more or less alive!” to “I’m going to grow veggies in -30 degree weather in a West-facing window”.

I also accidentally found Urban Harvest, and now I’m in danger of purchasing ALL THE SEEDS.

I think I need an intervention.

I’m Terrible at Blogging / I’m a Crazy Plant Lady

There’s a reason I haven’t posted in 42 days.  Actually, there are a few reasons, in backwards order:

1.  I’ve been sick for the last week.  My Annual Summer Cold™ (again! I told you, every 6 weeks).  Before that…
2. I was in Las Vegas!  And before that…
3. I was in Italy!  And before that…
4. I didn’t feel like it.

So, here I am.   I have a bit of energy back and a million things to write about.  Whether or not I get around to it is another story, but for now, I am going to write about plants.

I am turning into a crazy plant lady.  Let’s look at May 27th versus today (also, professional camera vs. crappy point & shoot):

Due to the excuses listed above, I haven’t done very much work on my balcony, and my plants have suffered.  (Although, my friend Chan watered everything while I was away, making this the first summer where my plants haven’t died by July.)

I suck at herbs.  These are the best ones.  My Thai basil (bottom) is finally growing, though the rosemary (top left) has basically done nothing in 2 months, the lemon thyme (right) is dying, and the sage (top right) is turning brown.  Though that could be because of a HUGE FREAKING WEED I pulled from between them today:

I swear it wasn’t there before I left for Vegas, but when I pulled it out it was like 3 feet tall.

This is the second herb container on June 6th versus today:

HAY WOULD YOU LIKE SOME PARSLEY?  This container used to contain:  parsley, catnip, chives, and oregano.  The catnip was moved to its own container after I found out it’s a member of the mint family and would take over everything.  The oregano was brutally slaughtered in an over-excited trimming exercise.  The chives are hidden somewhere behind the parsley, and the parsley has taken over the entire container and appears to have some sort of disease:

The internet tells me this might be some sort of fungus?  I don’t know if I should pull the whole thing out or try to fix it somehow.  Either way, I sure as hell don’t want to eat it.  Here’s a picture of the oregano (or loloregano):

So now I have:  sad-looking half-dead chives, an oregano stump, and a huge parsley AIDS plant.   YUMMY.

On the other side of my balcony, I have: a bunch of chocolate mint plants, 2 margarita mint plants, more basil that isn’t growing, cayenne peppers that aren’t growing, and a bunch of flowers.  Including this bad boy:

The same friend, Chan, brought this over about a month ago.  If you can’t tell, it used to be a sunflower.  “I didn’t know you could grow sunflowers on a balcony!” I exclaimed.

Turns out, you can’t.  Or I can’t.  Sad face. :(

Last but not least, lavender.  Spanish on the left and French on the right.  I keep buying lavender plants from Richters, because I LOVE the smell, and I am determined to have one that lasts longer than 3 weeks.  So far I’m 1/3 of the way there.

I should have taken a picture of that flower plant behind the lavender, because a few weeks ago it was blooming like crazy.  I think it’s kind of done now.  The plant in the white container looks so green and healthy because it belongs to Chan, not me.  It’s wilting because it’s under my care.

So there you go.  Brown Thumb Crazy Plant Lady.

Ride for Heart 2011

I did it!

I was lying in bed Saturday afternoon, surrounded by kleenex, too tired to move.  I called my mom and said, “I don’t want to do 50km… let’s just do 25.” I haven’t recovered from my cold, and I was feeling more like lying in bed watching Netflix than biking.

Then I woke up yesterday morning and decided, “screw it… I’m doing 50km.”

I sniffled my way through the route with my parents and finished 45.23km (cheaters, that’s not 50km!) in 2:40:02 at a pace of 3:32 min/km and an average speed of 17 km/hr.

Slow, but not too shabby for a sick person who hasn’t been able to exercise for a while.  We only stopped twice and I didn’t walk up any of the hills like I saw a lot of people doing.

Here’s a map of the route from my Garmin Forerunner:

I wanted to share a recipe that I used to make bars for the ride.  This is one of my favourite recipes ever.  I’m not clear on how oats fit into the gluten/gluten-free thing, but I bought some Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Rolled Oats and decided to give it a whirl.

Peanut Butter Energy Bars

1.5 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup ground flax
1/4 cup sesame seeds
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut
3/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp natural cane sugar

1. In a large bowl, mix oats, flax, sesame seeds, and coconut.  Set aside.
2. In a small saucepan over low to medium heat, mix together brown rice syrup, peanut butter, vanilla, and sugar.  Stir frequently until peanut butter is melted, colour is consistent, and it just starts to boil.  Be careful not to burn it.
3. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir well.
4. Spread into a 9×9″ pan and put in the fridge until it’s hardened (about an hour).  Cut into 16 sections.

The mixture is really sticky, so I usually spread it into the pan and then cover it with plastic wrap and use my hands to squish it all down.  I like the silicone pans because you can just pop out the whole thing later to cut it.

I was running low on time, so I just snapped a crappy picture:

Super delicious.  I brought them on the bike ride to share with people on my team – everyone loved them!

One last thing… my herbs are out of control.

You can kind of see the difference from a week and a half ago.  Now I have to learn how to use herbs in cooking.

Smoothie Time

Last weekend, I bought a bunch of plants, and then spent about 3 hours cleaning my balcony and planting things.

I planted 8 herbs and 5 kinds of flowers.  I’m generally a plant killer, but I’m going to water them this time, I swear!  Plus it’s been really nice to sit out on my balcony on my days off and read A Feast for Crows.

Unrelated:  Being gluten-free for almost a month now, I’ve learned that I suck at preparing food for myself.  I’m way too lazy, and I basically have NO appetite now (what’s up with that?).  So, between laziness and hardly ever feeling hungry, I’ve been skipping breakfast a lot and that’s a Bad Thing.  So I decided I need to start making smoothies again for breakfast.

About 6-7 years ago, my brother and I saw an infomercial for a Magic Bullet blender and ordered one.  When you ordered one, you got a second one, FREE!!  INSTANT GUACAMOLE FOR EVERYONE!

My friends made fun of me for buying a “smaller, crappier blender” from a freaking infomercial, but I’ve actually used it on a regular basis since I got it and it has outlived two other “real” blenders.

Last week I whipped out the Magic Bullet, threw in some kale, a bunch of fruit, and some almond milk, and attempted to make a Green Monster.

I took the first sip, and… OH GOD THERE ARE CHUNKS OF KALE IN MY TEETH.  It was disgusting.  It didn’t blend at all.   I tried to re-blend it, but it just… slowly whirred to a stop.  R.I.P. Magic Bullet.  I ended up pouring the smoothie through a wire mesh strainer and filtering out all the kale.  GROSS.

Time to buy a grown up blender.  Check out this bad boy:

Yeah, that’s right.  I’m going to leave that “700 Watts of Power” sticker on it so everyone knows how awesome my blender is.  HEY HAVE YOU SEEN MY NEW BLENDER?  CHECK OUT HOW MANY WATTS IT HAS, IT’S RIGHT THERE ON THE STICKER.

Simple smoothie:  1 cup of milk, 1 heaping cup of frozen blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, and 1 Tbsp of almond butter.

I pressed the smoothie button, and 30 seconds later I had a perfect smoothie.  It was delicious and it fit perfectly into my favourite moustache glass.  Plus, now I can enjoy breakfast on my balcony while smelling herbs that I don’t know how to cook with.

Smoothies every day for breakfast from now on!