Tag Archives: vegetables

Playing in the Dirt

I’ve never considered myself to have a green thumb.  Gardening never interested me, mostly because in my mind, it involved dirty fingers (yes I understand you can wear gloves), worms, and big straw hats.

Many people point out that since I’ve successfully kept my dog alive for the past 4 1/2 years, I should be able to keep a plant alive.  I disagree; unlike Dog, a plant will not tell me when it needs food or water.  In fact, at my last job, one of my tasks was to water the plants, and I’m pretty certain that one of them was overwatered (obviously I was trying to overcompensate for forgetting to water them on a regular basis).

But then one of the plants, which had apparently never flowered in the years my boss had it, suddenly blossomed one day, so I began thinking that maybe the other plant just died because it was old.  That happens, right?

I’ve noticed that in the past few years, my love for clothes-and-shoe-shopping has diminished quickly, only to be replaced by a love for household-goods-shopping.  As I walked home a few weeks ago, I just had to stop by Sur La Table and poke my head around the store.  By the way, it’s probably my favorite place ever, so I can never just walk past and window shop.

It was a week before Easter, and they already had some Easter stuff on sale, and one of the items was a children’s gardening kit.  It was 6 different types of seeds, some soil pellets, and an egg carton.  Oh, and a “growth chart” printed in Comic Sans.  Totally meant for kids.  But it was $6 and I bought it.

Since I’ve never actually gardened before, I read the directions several times before putting the soil pellets in water, soaking them until they magically became soil (I have seriously never seen this before), carefully dividing them amongst the carton’s wells, putting the seeds in, and covering them all with the remaining soil.  I set the carton next to a windowsill and stared at it.

Of course I knew the seeds weren’t going to magically grow right away, but still.  I wanted my baby cucumber, squash, watermelon, radishes, green beans, and carrots to succeed, so I was willing them to grow.

After a few days, a few seedlings actually started popping up.  The green beans and radishes were the first to sprout, followed by the squash and cucumber.  I had doubts about the watermelon and carrots, especially as I transplanted them to my newly-delivered Amazon-ordered planter boxes.  But after a few days and a dose of Miracle-Grow plant food, they’re still chugging along.

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Day 5 – success!

The growth of the seedlings, which I likened to the absence of failure, sparked some kind of odd fascination with gardening that has since become borderline obsessive.  I spent hours scouring Amazon (and other gardening sites) for the best planters for small spaces, the best soil, how far apart I should plant seedlings, and the easiest vegetables to grow.  Box after box started arriving filled with gardening supplies and vegetable seeds.  I saved egg cartons so I could start more seedlings.

It eventually got to the point where I ran out of room on my window ledge to plant stuff (I even had to give away some of my watermelon and cantaloupe seedlings because I didn’t have enough planters, so I had to buy some bigger pots to put on my rooftop.  When I became paranoid about birds eating the tomato plants, I moved them closer to the back staircase so I could keep an eye on them.

Today, I’m about a month into my gardening phase, and though nothing has borne fruit (or vegetables) yet, the plants are actually still alive and looking pretty good.  My new favorite places to shop are Sloat Garden Center and Home Depot, and I spend every morning gleefully looking at my plant babies.  This morning, as I potted four of my watermelon seedlings, Dog came over and watched.  I think it’s the first time he’s realized that I’ve been tending to something other than him.

Oh, and I’ll have salad in a few more weeks.  But the best part of this gardening experience by far, is that I don’t mind a bit of soil under my neatly manicured nails; in fact, I think it’s sort of fun to play in the dirt.

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A ledge full of plant babies!

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One-Pan Pasta

I’m pretty domestic now.

To give you an idea of how far I’ve come, I used to own one cookware item.  One.  It was a straight-sided sauté pan.  Technically if you count the lid, you could say I owned two pieces of cookware.  If you opened my refrigerator, you would find these things: bacon, beer, and ketchup.  My freezer had nothing more than frozen potatoes.  I learned that frying up the potatoes in the bacon grease in my single pan made for a bomb-diggity breakfast.

I should also add that my pan cost me $12.99 from Target (or was it TJ Maxx?), and the only reason I bought it was because I thought it was perfect for making Hamburger Helper.  And to give you an idea of exactly how un-domestic and lazy I was back then, I didn’t even have milk in my refrigerator, so I would only pick the flavors of Hamburger Helper that didn’t require some sort of cheesy sauce.

Then I met Sam, and he moved all of his kitchen stuff into my kitchen, and now I don’t have room for the gadgets that I do want now: a stand mixer, food processor/slicer, etc.  Also, my refrigerator is stocked to the point where I can probably make cupcakes on a whim.  So sometimes I do.  Today I made chocolate ice cream just because I could.. and because I didn’t want some of my fresh ingredients (eggs, cream, etc) to spoil while I’m gone over the weekend.

The point of the story is that my trusty pan has seen me through my bachelorette days with what my friends affectionately call my “lumberjack breakfasts,” and now it’s the perfect item for making one of my new favorite dishes: the one-pan pasta.

I first saw this recipe in a Martha Stewart Living magazine (which, fyi, I’m totally obsessed with her and Barefoot Contessa.  I want them to be my unofficial aunts so they can plan fabulous parties for me).  The sheer beauty and simplicity of the dish made me want to try it.  So I did, and I totally loved everything about it.

Over the past few trials, I’ve modified the recipe a bit to my liking.  But here is the original, with some of my changes:

  • 12 ounces linguine  — I actually just dump in the entire box, and I prefer fettucine
  • 12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)  —  I prefer shallots, as you can use two and they have a milder flavor than onions
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced  — I prefer to chop them up
  • 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes  — more if you like a stronger kick
  • 2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish  — I’m not a fan of basil, so one time I just put two or three leaves, and threw in some arugula instead
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable broth + 1/2 cup water
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

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The great thing about this dish is that the only prep you’ll have to do is slice, chop, halve the onions, garlic and tomatoes.  Then everything else goes into the pan.

Boom.

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Have you seen anything more gorgeous?

Throw everything into the pan, then bring the water and vegetable broth to a boil over high heat, and let it bubble away for about 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally with tongs so the pasta doesn’t stick together.

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At some point, you’re going to wonder if it’s actually going to work, because it doesn’t look very cohesive.  But fret not: the sauce doesn’t start to thicken up until literally the last minute of cooking.

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Once the noodles are al dente, dish it up, grate some fresh parmesan on top, and eat.  THAT SIMPLE.

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A few things to note:

– You can use any type of pasta that has a cooking time of about 12-13 minutes.  If you’re gluten-free, you may have to play around with it, as gluten-free pastas have much shorter cooking times, and the ratio of water to pasta may be too much, and the sauce won’t thicken up in time.  Plus, gluten-free pastas turn to mush when they’re overcooked.

– You can also throw in some other ingredients after it’s done cooking, like baby spinach or grilled shrimp.  Or you can just leave it as it is (it’s super vegetarian-friendly), and it’ll taste like it came from a kitchen in a rustic Italian villa.

– If you’re freaking out about the sauce not thickening up, just keep stirring, and magically at some point it will turn into a beautiful dish.  Seriously, trust me on this one.  I’ve made this dish numerous times, and I still sort of freak out at minute 11 because it’s still watery.  Then at minute 12, it’s suddenly perfect.  And I also forgot half a cup of water today, but it still turned out delicious.  Really, I don’t think there’s a way for you to mess this up.

Happy cooking!