tips for making dinner prep easier


i've tried denying it for quite some time, but let's face the truth.

i'm not crazy about cooking dinner. 

when dinner time rolls around, i oftentimes feel exhausted & irritated. i am a morning person afterall! i used to hold myself to so many expectations for dinner. needless to say, i've trashed some of those expectations over the years & found my rhythm in the kitchen.

today i thought i'd share some tips i implement into my daily routine for making dinner prep much easier! 


1. MEAL PLAN: here's my thorough blog post on meal planning & oh boy, does it make the week easier! i buy exactly what i need from the grocery store once a week & plan what we will eat around our weekly schedule. 


2. TAKE NOTES: when meal planning, i take notes on what needs to be done the day before or morning before that evening's supper. i check the meal plan that evening & thaw my meats, cut vegetables or prepare the crockpot for tomorrow's dinner. 

3. CROCKPOT MEALS: crockpot meals are your friend. we have 1-2 crockpot meals per week & they make eating dinner at home possible during those busy evenings. 


4. CANNED GOODS: i often opt for the fresh option, but i stand strong in purchasing canned beans. i used to soak & crockpot our beans, but i've since started purchasing pre-cooked canned beans. they're affordable & so much easier.

5. LIST OF EASY MEALS: use an evening this week to jot down a list of easy meals. on those nights when you have very little time to cook, prepare an easy meal! one of my favorite is nacho night. i throw out tortilla chips, a handful of toppings & melt with shredded chips! so easy & delicious!


6. RICE COOKER: my family gifted me a rice cooker for christmas & i use this kitchen tool all of the time. it cooks our rice perfectly & has the option of delaying cooking time so that our rice is warm right when we're sitting down to eat. 


7. PREP RAW INGREDIENTS IN BULK: when harvesting salad from the garden, we always harvest enough for the week. it makes washing, chopping & preparing much easier than doing this task every single night. this can also be done for supermarket purchased goods. prep your fresh ingredients once a week for the entire week to make meal prep easier. 

8. SHARE THE RESPONSIBILITY: sharing the responsibility of cooking & cleaning is key. when i cook, my husband always washes the dishes. it lifts the weight of cooking at home tremendously & i feel incredibly supported by his willingness to contribute to our home life.

what are some of your tips for making dinner prep easy peasy?
love,
natalie

u-pick strawberries & my homemade strawberry jam recipe


over memorial day weekend, we took a trip to our friends' farm for an afternoon of berry picking!


throughout the spring & summer months, we always try to set aside time to pick our two favorites -strawberries & blueberries. we love supporting our fellow farmers' u-pick farms because we know they can grow berries much better than we could given our available space.

to find a u-pick farm, ask around or visit your local farmers' market & ask the vendors. (i find that the websites listing u-pick farms are often outdated & unhelpful).


i use our strawberries in a variety of ways. i typically freeze large freezer bags full of berries for smoothies, pies & more. i also like making berry simple syrups & canning jam for gifts!


when we arrived home from our berry picking afternoon, i got right to work canning 20 pounds of strawberries!

today i thought i'd share my strawberry jam recipe for you!


homemade strawberry jam recipe
(one batch makes about 6 quart size jars)

ingredients:
8 cups strawberries, tops cut off
1 box sure-jell fruit pectin
7 cups sugar

2. measure strawberries & add to large stockpot. crush strawberries thoroughly. 
3. add pectin to fruit in stockpot & mix until well combined. bring to a full rolling boil (a boil that continues even when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.
4. add sugar to fruit mixture & stir until sugar is fully dissolved. return to a full rolling boil & boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
5. remove pot from heat & skim off foam with a large spoon.
6. ladle prepared jam into prepared jars immediately, filling to 1/4 inch from top of jar. wipe rim & screw lid on tightly. place in canner & cover in water.
7. process as usual. (i process my jam for 15 minutes).
8. enjoy for up to one year!


what are some of your favorite recipes for farm fresh strawberries?
love,
natalie

happy memorial day weekend!


happy memorial day weekend, dear friends!

i am signing off here to spend the day with family grilling, chatting, pooling & more! 

i hope the same for you! xo.
love,
natalie

to the new mrs. wolfe: a vintage-inspired bridal shower


friends, it's time to celebrate!

earlier in the spring, i co-hosted a beautiful shower for my dear friend, tori. 

this weekend is tori's wedding (yay!) so i wanted to honor her by sharing some of the details of her sweet afternoon with you!


together with tori's mama & my mom, we created a sweet & lovely space to celebrate the new mrs.! 

tori's mom & my mama made a spread of the most amazing food. we paired antique glass pieces with vintage platters to give the space that vintage charm we all love.

i purchased cardboard letters from the craft store & covered them in gold glitter & decoupage to create the "mrs" for the wall. i spent the evening making paper flowers for her shower & added handmade bunting for a pop of color.


throughout the shower, we displayed fresh flowers & potted bulbs.

the cake was custom-made just for tori's shower & we paired it with fresh strawberries, spiced nuts & petit fours to create a fun dessert bar!


when i first started this blog, tori was my first of (maybe) five blog readers. she's always been an inspiration & encourager of my creative life. it's amazing to see how this little online space has grown along with our friendship.

2006-present
i have been waiting for this exciting weekend for nearly seven years! nick & tori, we cannot wait to party with you!

congratulations to the new mr. & mrs. wolfe!
love,
natalie

may: currently




 






currently, we are:

+ harvesting baskets full of lettuce, radishes, beets, turnips, spinach, arugula & more from the garden
+ admiring our first farm fresh flower bouquet of the season 
+ learning a lot from our may spending freeze
+ enjoying the sight of baby bunnies in the pasture
+ savoring dinnertime on the patio
+ reading our favorite books late into the night
+ picking peonies from my mother-in-law's garden
+ making packing lists & preparing for our summer adventure throughout europe (!!!)
 + working long hours in the studio (n) & working long hours at the farm (l)
+ snacking on my new favorite - gluten free pretzels from aldi's 
+ bbqing with friends on the weekends
+ waking up early for a good run before the day starts
+ spending more hours out than in

what are you currently doing? please share!
love,
natalie 

may spending freeze update




if there's one big thing i've learned thus far during my may spending freeze, it's this:

i am really good at collecting crap.

without any real effort at all, junk begins to pile up & our home feels like it might bust at the seams. i spend money on crap i'll rarely use because it feels good to buy stuff. the thrill of that new thing begins to fade so i replace that dull feeling with another new shiny toy & of course, the cycle continues.


i've learned a lot about myself during this may spending freeze & actually, quite a bit more than i thought i might. 

for example, it's been hard to challenge what we need versus what i want. 

i've also learned that "consumer" is a large part of my identify, which in itself has been difficult to swallow. 

i've had quite a few wins so far, though.

i resisted the urge to buy new sheets after a large hole appeared in our fitted sheet. as i was sorting through donations from a friend, i found a lovely new set of blue sheets that matched our bedding & fit our mattress perfectly. win win!

i've organized & purged almost every corner of our home. it feels good to have more space to breathe.

the junk i collected from my organization/purging spree was put into a yard sale. my efforts paid off when at the end of the weekend, we made over $500 towards our europe trip. yay!

i've also been able to enjoy what we already have. i've read books & enjoyed a glass of iced tea on our patio.

& perhaps the biggest win is the time i've saved from not shopping. i knew i would save money during our spending freeze, but i never thought i'd save so much time from not shopping. it takes an incredible amount of time to drive to target, wander the aisles, buy that unneeded item, check out, drive home & put it somewhere to collect dust. 


we've still got a couple of weeks left in this month-long experiment, but i am learning that the reward is much richer than the perceived sacrifices. 

i'd love to read how you're doing in your spending freeze! please share in the comments & use the hashtag #mayspendingfreeze on instagram!
love,
natalie

growing greens: a beginner's guide


friends! as you all know, my cute farmer is sharing his knowledge of gardening throughout the summer on my blog! join us as he talks about greens today! yay!
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Greens such as lettuce, spinach, mustards, and arugula are some of the easiest garden crops to grow. Their fast growth and short time from seed to harvest make them an easy choice for a garden that is tight on space. Also, most greens can perform well in partial shade, which is a plus for urban gardeners who don’t get a lot of sun.



1. Lettuce
It’s hard to buy grocery store salad mix after getting used to garden-fresh lettuce. This is one crop we try to keep in the garden as year-round as possible. Lettuce performs best for us in the spring and fall, having a hard time during the heat of our Southern summers. The earliest I will plant lettuce is the first week of March, though I may need to bring out the row cover if we get a late freeze in April.

When it comes to selecting the right lettuce variety, you have to make one key decision—head lettuce or leaf lettuce? Think of how you like to buy your lettuce from the store. Do you buy it as a head or do you like to buy the box of pre-washed spring mix? We usually plant a mix of both in our garden for the variety.


2. Head Lettuce
Our favorite lettuce variety right now is butterhead (‘Nancy’ from Johnny’s has been superb). As a head lettuce, I will grow the plants out in the greenhouse and transplant them into the garden when they are 3-4 inches tall. I space them 12 inches apart in the bed, fitting 3 rows in a bed that is 36 inches wide. This lettuce is grown until it forms a tight head and then the whole plant is harvested at once. Usually 45-55 days from planting to harvest.

3. Leaf Lettuce
Although leaf lettuce can be grown as an individual plant and harvested all at once like head lettuce, we like to use the “cut-and-come-again” method. This involves planting the seeds as a 2-4 inch wide “band” or broadcasting the seeds over the entire width of the bed and harvesting the leaves when they are 3-6 inches tall. The nice thing about this method is that the leaves will grow back allowing you to make 2-3 cuttings per planting. This is a great way to harvest an instant salad. All you have to do is bring the leaves in and wash. Johnny’s sells some great lettuce mixes for this kind of planting (like the Allstar Gourmet Mix).


4. Spinach
Like lettuce, spinach can either be transplanted or directly sown. I’ve started growing spinach transplants so that we have a more consistent stand. This is more time-consuming than direct seeding, but makes better use of the garden space. The key to growing good spinach is planting at the right time. In our area spinach is planted in the early fall or spring. Spinach seed requires soil temperatures in the range of 65-80 degrees for consistent germination, which can be difficult. Soils may be too cold in the spring and too hot in late summer. I avoid this issue by starting my seeds in the greenhouse, which is consistently 70-80 degrees. As transplants, spinach is spaced 6 inches apart with 4 rows fitting a 36-inch wide bed. For baby spinach, you can directly seed at a closer spacing and make multiple harvests. At our spacing we will harvest only the largest leaves, allowing the plants to continue growing and setting new leaves. We really like the variety ‘Space,’ which sets smooth, richly-flavored leaves.



5. Mustards and Arugula
These greens are the easiest to grow of the bunch. Their small, round seeds germinate quickly in a wide range of soil temperatures and the seedlings hit the ground running. There is a wide range of mustard greens to choose from, but most of them have a spicy kick that can really make a salad spectacular. We usually plant a few rows of arugula and a few rows of our favorite greens mix (Premium Greens Mix from Johnny’s).  We plant in rows at 4 rows to a bed and harvest as cut-and-come-again. It only takes 20-30 days for these greens to be ready to harvest and they are a great compliment to a mild-flavored lettuce. Mustards are also able to tolerate the summer heat, making them a great green to plant in succession (every 2-4 weeks) all season long.

6. Container Gardening
All of these greens are great for container gardening if you are limited on space. As long as you have 4-6 hours of light exposure your greens will grow just fine. And because greens are shallow-rooted, you don’t need a deep pot. I recommend growing in a fertilized soil-less media (i.e. potting soil), so you don’t have to mess with fertilizers. But if you are adding fertilizer to the media, you won’t need much. A good multi-purpose organic fertilizer is liquid fish, which can be mixed in a watering can (1 oz per gal) and watered in as needed after the greens start growing. To plant simply scatter your seeds over the surface of the media and cover lightly with new potting mix. Keep the soil moist and you should have germination in a few days. Wait a month and you’ll have fresh greens to harvest from your patio.




Greens are such a rewarding garden crop. If any of this sounds too complicated or confusing, just take a handful of seeds (lettuce or mustards), scatter them over your garden bed, scratch them in with a rake, and water. In a week you should have a nice patch of greens coming up. Then just take the scissors out to the garden whenever you’re in the mood for a salad.

- Luke

p.s. check out luke's post on planting potatoes!
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