My First Tomato!

The First, Juicy, Red Tomato From My Organic Container Gardens

The First, Juicy, Red Tomato From My Organic Container Gardens

I’ve finally harvested my first batch of exactly four tomatoes from my container gardens.  The one pictured above was delicious and bright, juicy, red all the way through.  Aside from a few minor obstacles that were remedied pretty easily, including mule deer, aphids and cabbage worms, my baptism into vegetable gardening has been pretty successful.  Of course, this doesn’t count all the seeds that never sprouted or the few seedlings that didn’t make it past the first few hot days we had here but, oh well.

Southern, Coastal California is perfect for growing just about anything.  Especially here on Catalina Island, it never gets too hot, too cold or too dry (humidity-wise that is – we can go months without seeing a drop of rain).

I found a great organic, vegetable oil based pesticide that took care of the aphids and cabbage worms.  Pesticidal Oil by Worry Free Brand is what I used though it seems recently, that there are quite a few brands to choose from, which is great.  I rinsed the leaves and fruit well with water, then gave them a light misting with the oil after they had dried.  I had to re-apply once or twice more but it seemed to have done the trick.  The only drawback I’ve seen so far is that the tomatoes were just a bit sticky even after rinsing well with water but it doesn’t seem to have effected the taste.  I probably put too much oil on in the first place.

The mule deer on the island are really desperate for food considering the dry winter we had.  They even climb one flight of stairs on an almost nightly basis to get to our property and yummy plants.  At one point they were knocking large ceramic planters over and even breaking a couple in their early morning forays for food (usually around 4am).  I finally put deer netting up over all our plants including the shrubbery and they’ve pretty much given up for the time being.

I feel so bad for the poor deer since they’re probably starving to death but I know that feeding them is not the right thing to do.  We have a hunting season on the island but I’m not sure how I feel about that as a solution to the problem either.  I suppose if the hunters eat the deer they kill it’s okay, even though I’ve chosen to not eat any animal based foods myself.  Actually, if you’re going to eat meat, killing the animal yourself is probably the most humane way to go about it.

My Organic, Container Vegetable Garden

Container Veggie Garden

Container Veggie Garden – Tomato, Zucchini & Spinach

Is anyone else out there as freaked out as I am about the insane cost of groceries?  Here on Catalina Island all of our produce is brought over on a barge, in a refrigerated shipping container so it’s even more expensive than it is on the mainland. I couldn’t believe recently that one green bell pepper (yes green, not yellow or red) at our small market was almost two dollars!

I’m drawing on all the self-control I have to not roll right into a political/ socio-economic tirade. But be warned readers, I don’t know how much longer I can contain my frustration.

Anyway, to continue with the less controversial topic of gardening, since I’ve embarked on my juicer journey, I’ve obviously been buying a lot more fresh fruits and veggies than I  have in the past which is a good thing. Last year I’d decided to start a vegetable garden but just never got around to it, which is the fate of many grand ideas. This Spring I bought two large garden containers that were $45 each and the fact that I couldn’t return them was just the miserly incentive I needed to actually do it.

The containers I bought at our local hardware store are intended for city dwellers or those with limited outdoor space, hence the name “City Pickers”. They’re about 1′ 9″ x 2′ about 9″ deep and one of their greatest features is that they’re on wheels! If you think your spinach might be getting a bit too much sun, just wheel it over to a shadier spot.

I found this feature especially convenient last week when our neighbors were having their thirty-foot palm trees trimmed. Large fronds were dive-bombing to the ground right where my garden was, so I just wheeled them out of harm’s way until the tree-trimming was finished.

Watering the plants in the container is fool-proof.  There’s a plastic tube that rests on the bottom and comes through the soil at the top. The reservoir holds two gallons of water to replenish daily and a screen keeps the soil from direct contact with the water reservoir so the plants are never over watered (there’s an over-flow opening on each side). Just pour the water through the tube and it’s wicked up into the soil as needed.

I went into this project rather blindly since I’ve never actually grown vegetables before. I have plenty of experience with ornamental plants and even herbs but not veggies. My mom had a small vegetable garden in our back yard when we were kids, so she gave me some good general pointers.  She, however, lives in the wet, humid north-east, US (NJ) and I live in the very sunny, dry south-west, US (CA), so it’s a very different experience.

I’ve planted tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, green onions and spinach. As expected the zucchini and tomatoes are thriving but the others are having a slow start. I think it’s too hot and sunny for the spinach so I’m thinking of moving that container. There are 5 baby tomatoes on the vine and the squash plants have sprouted beautiful orange flowers, some of which, I hope, will eventually become squash.

I haven’t had too many problems with pests but one young tomato was eaten by a cabbage worm (I think) and I have seen some aphids.  I rinsed as many of the aphids off the leaves as I could, let them dry and sprayed a light mist of vegetable-oil based, organic pesticide to the leaves and it seems to have done the trick.

I’m hoping, in a couple of weeks, to have a great shot of me to post, biting into one of my own, home-grown, juicy, red, organic, tomatoes!  Here’s hoping!

How To Make An Awesome Veggie Burger From Juicer Pulp (Among Other Things)

Easy Vegan Black Bean and Juicer Pulp Veggie Burger Recipe

Easy Vegan Black Bean and Juicer Pulp Veggie Burger Recipe

(Here are links to the first two posts on this subject)

Juicing – Healthy and Great Tasting! – 1/29/2013

What To Do With Juicer Vegetable Pulp – 2/9/13

Note:  The following recipe was created for juicer machine pulp but I think it would be a great recipe on its own with one or two substitutions that are suggested in the recipe – so if you don’t have a juicer – read on.

My veggie burger, juicer pulp journey has taken some interesting turns since last I posted.  I’ve learned a lot about the basics of cooking which,  if you’ve read my other posts on this subject, you’re already aware, that I’ve never been a big fan of cooking or even eating for that matter.  On March 1st I celebrated my one year anniversary of giving up all animal based products in my diet.  I have to admit that over the holidays I did cheat a bit and have some cookies here and there that I’m sure were made with dairy products but that was about it.  I even gave up one of my favorite appetizers, crackers and brie cheese.  I watched everyone else eating it and I was surprisingly satisfied with corn chips with salsa and a few other vegan dishes.

So, to update those who are just joining us, I’d asked for a Jack LaLane juicer for Christmas thinking it would give me a really easy way to get the nutrients I needed without cooking.  Well, this was true to a point but juicer pulp was just not something I’d considered.  I’m not sure what I thought would happen to the remainder of the fruits and vegetables after the juice was extracted  but it turns out that there’s quite a bit of pulp leftover.  My problem was, what I would do with it, as throwing it away or even composting was out of the question.

As of my last post I’d found a somewhat clumsy way of separating the vegetable and fruit pulps, when I discovered, by accident, that veggie pulp tasted pretty horrendous on oatmeal.  Well, I’ve backtracked quite a bit on that idea.  I’m no longer separating anything since the new veggie burger recipe I’ve finally perfected (very subjectively speaking) tastes great with either fruit, vegetable or mixed pulp.  I still use mostly veggie pulp in my humus spread recipe but you can toss just about anything (within the context of juicing, of course) into the veggie burger mix.

My first few veggie burger attempts turned out not so well.  I won’t repeat what my husband said when he tried one.  But through a lot of experimentation and many failures, I think I’ve finally come up with something that’s not too bad!  I actually like them but there are no guarantees to anyone with a finely tuned culinary palate.

So, without further ado…the recipe:

Vegan Black Bean and Juicer Pulp Veggie Burger

Makes about six patties.

4 Tbsp olive oil

1 16oz can black beans – well-drained and about the same volume of fruit &/or veggie juicer pulp.  In lieu of juicer pulp, the same volume of lentils or blended chick peas would work.  You can also experiment with spinach and broccoli or other veggies and fruits chopped finely in a food processor.  This portion of the recipe is a wild card.  Have fun with it!

1/2 medium-sized red onion – minced or chopped

2 tsp parsley (dried or fresh)

1 – 1.5 tsp salt

1.5 tsp chili powder

1.5 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp turmeric

1/2 cup (approximate) fine bread crumbs or flour

Drain the black beans well and pour into a large mixing bowl.  Use a potato masher to turn the beans to a paste-like consistency but still with some whole or partially intact beans.  Next add the juicer pulp and use a rubber scraper to mix the beans and pulp thoroughly.  Now add the olive oil and remainder of ingredients.  Mix all the ingredients thoroughly.  Begin adding the bread crumbs or flour until you can make a ball with the batter in your hands and no liquid  seeps through your fingers.  Make a patty with the mixture and flatten consistently (be sure it isn’t thicker in the center).  At this point I grill the patties on my George Foreman Grill for about ten minutes but you can fry them in a pan with olive oil.  The latter method is obviously higher in fat if that’s a consideration.  It’s very important that the burgers are grilled thoroughly or the centers will be very mushy and unappetising.  I leave them on until the grill lines are really dark brown but not burned.

I usually make a batch or two and refrigerate them.  I throw them in the microwave at work then add spinach, ketchup, yellow mustard and a little tahini.  Yum!

If any real cooks out there have suggestions for improvement, I welcome them!  Bon Appetit!

Juicing – Healthy and Great Tasting!

Tomatos, Squash and Zuchinni Are Perfect Vegetables To Juice

Tomatoes, Squash and Zucchini Are Perfect Vegetables To Juice

Ok, I realize this post is a bit off-topic…again…but I just couldn’t contain my excitement.  I received a Jack LaLanne Power Juicer for Christmas and was anxious to share my newly acquired knowledge.  That being said, a guru, I am not!  I’m still a newbie in the world of juicing and I have a lot of learning to do.  It’s not as easy as it may at first appear but it’s definitely worth the time.  I can’t tell you how much better I feel since drinking just one glass of fresh juice per day.  I even find myself craving the newly discovered flavors and I have never been a vegetable lover.  My mom used to jokingly ask how I could call myself a vegetarian without eating any vegetables.  My diet was maybe healthier than the average person’s but not by much.

The inspiration for delving into the world of juicing was triggered by a fairly recent decision I’d made to eliminate all animal based foods from my diet.  I’d been a pseudo vegetarian for years, eating no meat at all but never having the discipline to completely eliminate one of my favorite foods, fish, from my diet. My reasoning was that since fish lived an essentially “natural” life up until they were caught, their suffering was minimal and short-lived.  In my distorted view, this made it morally acceptable to eat fish, or at least better than eating captive animals.  This rationale, of course, doesn’t take into account the environmental impact of commercial fishing, etc., but up till now, I’d decided to ignore these pesky details.

The film Forks Over Knives gave me the final push I needed to give up all animal based foods, including dairy, completely.  This decision initially created a huge dilemma that loomed awkwardly before me.  The problem was, I couldn’t stand to cook!  In other words, a “Foodie”, I was not!  How and what the heck would I eat?  So I dove clumsily into the world of Veganism and subsisted largely on cereal with soy (or rice) milk, curried rice and lentils, lots of humus, apples, oranges and bananas.

While watching yet another documentary film, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, a revelation began to form.  The subject of the film had decided to consume nothing but what came out of his juicer, for about two months, in order to detoxify his body and lose weight.  The juicer seemed like the answer to all my problems.  Not only would it add the nutrients I’d been lacking, but it looked fast, easy and didn’t appear to require many bowls, dishes or utensils that I would later have to wash.  My husband and I vowed to get one.

Jack LaLanne Power Juicer

Jack LaLanne Power Juicer

After Christmas was over and we were back in our own home, we excitedly ripped open the box and stared at the very complicated looking, shiny, machine.  Notes and stickers all over the box and machine stressed reading the instructions before proceeding any further.   This seemed to make good sense considering we could barely tell which way was up.  After using the juicer almost daily since then, I can agree that the instructions, most certainly, must be read, no matter how tempting it may be to start shoving apples down the chute. The Jack LaLanne Power Juicer is the first and only juicer I’ve used so I can’t comment on how any other juicers work.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned so far.  Fruits and vegetables produce varying ratios of juice to pulp. For example, apples produce a lot of juice and not very much pulp while a carrot produces a small amount of juice and leaves quite a bit of pulp behind.  Pulp??? – you ask?  What the heck is that?  I had a very similar reaction. After trying a couple of the recipes in the book the juicer came with (which were amazingly delicious), I looked into the pulp bin and asked myself, what do I do with this stuff ?  I went online but didn’t really find what I was looking for.

Juicer Pulp.  What's Left Over After Juicing

Juicer Pulp. What’s Left Over After Juicing

All the pulp left over after making a nice tall glass of juice presented me with quite a dilemma.  I have a compost bin but this was too much to simply “throw away” especially considering how expensive produce is now.  I had to find a purpose for this pulverized produce.

My first idea was to try separating the fruit pulp from the vegetable pulp by using plastic bags in the bin and switching them so that only fruit landed in one and only veggies in the other.  I figured I could at least mix the apple pulp with my oatmeal in the morning.

I spooned the first batch of separated apple pulp onto my oatmeal the next morning and could barely get it down.  It tasted awful!  As I rooted through my cereal, I found that there were pieces of green bell pepper, that I’d juiced earlier, mixed in with the apple.  For a moment I was puzzled as to how the pepper got mixed with the apple but I took a closer look at the machine and quickly realized that the pulp ended up all over the inside of the machine and not just in the pulp bin.

Juicer Pulp That's Left Under the Lid Of the Juicer

Juicer Pulp That’s Left Under the Lid Of the Juicer

The solution to this problem is to always juice fruits first and before replacing the bag, scrape the inside of the lid and filter with a rubber scraper to remove as much of the fruit pulp as possible.

The next morning’s oatmeal tasted great!  After juicing the apple, I place the bag in the fridge and just spoon it onto my cereal the next morning.

In my next post:  What to do with vegetable pulp?

Rustic Jewelry Hanger Using Upcycled Wood

Recycled Wood Jewelry Hanger by Kristy
Recycled Wood Jewelry Hanger by Kristy

Summer is really over now, although it doesn’t feel like it here on Catalina Island.  Even today it’s in the mid seventies and there are only a few wispy clouds and a bright blue sky beyond.  

My newest project is a collaborative effort.  My Dad (a retired Carpenter/Contractor) is making the bases for my rustic recycled jewelry hangers from wood he’s saved and repurposed.  The branches, which act as hooks to hang necklace or bracelets, are left over when I prune shrubs in the garden.  I lightly sand the branches and base and seal them with non-toxic, water based, varnish. 

Recycled Wood Jewelry Hanger by Kristy
Recycled Wood Jewelry Hanger by Kristy

This example has a hemp cord tie to hang it by and a hole in the back for a small nail.  I don’t really like how it hangs so I’ll be keeping this one as a prototype.  I think I’ve solved the problem of hanging it, so my next attempt will hopefully be featured in my Etsy Shop, Catalina Inspired.  It’s fun working on a project with my Dad and especially using recycled materials.

Recycled Wood Jewelry Hanger by Kristy

Handmade Notecards With Recycled, Repurposed Paper Products

Lotus Flower Notecard Made Using All Recycled Materials

Lotus Flower Notecard Made Using All Recycled Materials

Handmade Recycled Paper Bead Necklace

Handmade Recycled Paper Bead Necklace

It’s been my mission for several years to find a purpose for all the catalogs, junk mail and other paper products I’m constantly throwing away or tossing in the recycle bin.  I’m a creative person, I thought, there must be a way to reuse and repurpose these raw materials. I’ve tried numerous notecard ideas, handmade paper, paper beads and more.  The problem has always been that, though the finished product may be beautiful, it simply took too long to assemble and therefore, wasn’t saleable. 

Monogram Letter A Notecards Made From Recycled Materials

Monogram Letter A Notecards Made From Recycled Materials

The lotus blossom notecards pictured at the beginning of this post are my latest attempt.  They’re made almost entirely from recycled materials.  The card stock came from cereal boxes, the white background paper was put together from junk mail or other scrap, the colored paper was taken from mail order catalogs and the brown paper on the back was once packing material.  Although it’s not recycled, the cards are fastened with sustainable hemp cord and the envelopes are made (elsewhere)from 100% recycled paper.

Lotus Flower notecards are all stamped on the back "Made Using Recycled Materials"

Lotus Flower notecards are all stamped on the back “Made Using Recycled Materials”

The lotus flower notecards, so far, have come the closest to being worth my while and I admit, they are fun to make.  I’ve listed several of these recycled cards in my Etsy shop, Catalina Inspired and I plan to offer them at the Catalina Festival of Art in two weeks along with my tile necklaces and crochet headbands.  Whether anyone else finds them as fun as I do, remains to be seen.