Book Review, gardening

Z’s Book Club: Groundbreaking Gardens by Niki Jabbour

My adventures carried me into gardening this year and now I have more starts than I have space (Seriously, if you want some summer squash, call me). I tried to garden as a child and always failed. This year’s success is a pleasant and welcome surprise and has led me to start planning a bigger, better garden for next year. I sold my entire library when I lost my home last year, including my dusty old gardening books. A search for inspiration led me to my local library, where I found this little ditty called Groundbreaking Food Gardens by Niki Jabbour, who is a gardening inspiration all by herself. She must have called all her friends in the industry and asked them to design an amazing garden for this book.

You could not ask for better advisors than those whose plans are featured in this book. There are 73 different plans, all from professional gardeners. These include award winning landscape designer Jessi Bloom, Roger Doiron (founder of Kitchen Gardens International), and Paul Zammit (Director of Horticulture at Toronto Botanical Garden). I mean it is just really cool to see the ideas of people who make their living growing things. Plans span from urban rooftop ideas to country garden plans complete with natural pest control strategies.

Particularly relevant to me were plans that included chickens. Jessi Bloom’s “Eggs and Everything” plan is brilliant. It provides versatility in free ranging and the blurb has a few great ideas for composting and making the most of your chickens’ amazing gardening abilities. The illustrations are clear and easily understood and each blurb contains golden nuggets of tried and true advice from some of the best in the business. I am in love!


Jessi Bloom’s “Eggs and Everything” design


Many plans also include composting options. From a natural comfrey tea tower that becomes the Keurig of compost tea, to a more traditional waste management program, there is something for everyone in this book. Whether you are a newbie like me or an old thumb looking for some inspiration from today’s great gardeners, Groundbreaking Gardens is worth a look. You will definitely learn something new and garner inspiration no matter what space you are working with, whether you are gardening for beauty, food, or both. This book is just fantastic and so is Niki Jabbour. She is an award winning author herself. Her book The Year Round Vegetable Gardener is a must read. She can also be found on twitter @NikiJabbour. I highly recommend her twitter if you have fallen in love with gardening. She is very supportive and inclusive of her fellow gardeners and her page is a wealth of information and inspiration.

Emma Cooper’s ingenius comfrey tea composting tower
Health and Wellness

Being Whole: Week 5



The tale of the last 3 weeks is one of failure… and not even on an epic scale. There was no big thing that stopped me from rowing. I write from a place of peace about it, hoping I’ve found the calm before the storm of productivity I have needed for so long. Other things have happened. My Dude and I have developed some goals of our own, and I really want to come through for him in a big way, so a couple of weeks ago I interviewed for a position at the YMCA closest to home. As of today, I have been hired to start on Monday. It’s just housekeeping, but the additional income will help and it doesn’t hurt that it puts me in the building 5 days a week for rowing and whatnot.

Meanwhile, I continue to do what I have been doing (in addition to my day job). That’s a whole lot of gardening and chicken wrangling, cheese making, bread making, and reading about EVERYTHING. It’s been tiring and the radiation doesn’t help, I’m sure. It seems to have hit me pretty hard this time. I’ve been trying to make the best of it by working on things I CAN do. Once I get going, the ball tends to roll on it’s own and sometimes it even speeds up! I really want to get great at making things, so I’m building a routine for the week that provides space to practice bread and cheese at LEAST once per week (each). It’s still about being whole, which means making time to grow the skills I want (NEED) to grow. A second job is a big undertaking, but the benefits are big too. I am tired, but I see the shoes I need to fill and I just want to fill them and then some.

Something I learned from my chickens is that sometimes what we need is something to challenge us. I was so afraid to take the plunge when I got my hens, but as soon as I brought them home, I knew it was just what I needed; a new challenge to drive me in the direction of my best life. From there, things have only just begun to snowball. I am overwhelmed and excited to enter into a closer relationship with merciless Mother Earth, and a better relationship with my body. Perhaps along the way other doors will open.

Enjoy some photos of things I created this week (the cheese is mozzarella and the pizza is venison, bacon, capers, alfredo… the crust, cheese and sauce are all scratch made!) Also witness my boys’ celebrations of Summer’s arrival. We are all trying to live our best life. Happy Summer!


Health and Wellness

Being Whole: Week 2

This week was rough… it’s actually become more like 2 weeks. I am halfway through week 3. Last week the kids were home and so it was more difficult to make time… I made it Monday-Wednesday and then failed all through the weekend. This past Monday, I had a procedure, so it has been slow going. I went today, foolishly intending to do 2×20 minute workouts to make up for some of what I lost last week. I got dizzy 5 minutes in, pushed it to 15 minutes and now I have the migraine of all migraines. Nevertheless, I persist. My promise to myself is to cut any workouts this week off as soon as my head starts hurting. As long as I go to the gym and get to the machine, I will call it good for the next week or so.

In lieu of real progress, I took some beginning shots last week, which you can check out below. Starting weight is 280 on the dot. Down 8lbs from 2-3 weeks ago. I will do measurements as soon as I can find the one-man tape measure lying around here somewhere. It’s mostly about how I feel, improving my mood, boosting my energy each day. Progress is good, however and I really want to know what rowing does for my upper body as the weeks go by.

So… to keep it short and sweet, here are my before shots…

TIP: If you need help with converting rower information into a calorie count, I found this really helpful link. You enter what the display says and your weight and it will give you a real calorie count for your workout. Helpful if you are bigger like me and can’t figure out how to adjust the weight on the machine. ( This is a calculator for the Concept 2 machine specifically, but I think it can be adapted for most rowers. If you have more accurate info on this, PLEASE comment. I am very new and don’t know what is common when it comes to equipment. ( )


Thanks for tuning in!


Winner Dinner: Salmon with Tomaotes Pizzaiola and Mushrooms

Winner Dinners are winners because they are quick, simple, and easily adapted … you can bake it all together on a sheet pan!

Salmon However much you need to serve your clan, Fresh or frozen. This recipe prepared on a half sheet pan can serve up to 7. I usually get the biggest piece I can find at Sam’s and use any leftovers in a quiche. If using frozen, let it cook for 30-45 minutes before adding any other ingredients to the pan to ensure everything finishes at the same time. 
Tomatoes- I find Romas to be the quickest to de-seed and the hardiest when it comes to the heat of the oven. For this recipe, anything will work… it doesn’t even have to be tomato, if you’ve got a squash laying around or some asparagus it will work. For tomatoes, I find it helpful to dry them with a paper towel so they’ll hold up better in the oven and not get too juicy. When using Romas, I usually prep 2 tomato halves for every adult being served, one for each child. 
CheeseI used a Kroger pizza blend, but you can’t go wrong with any cheese, use what you’ve got. Plan on about an ounce or two of cheese per tomato if using Romas.
Butter- You can sub all butter for olive oil in this recipe. You will likely use a half stick (4T) in this recipe when feeding up to 6.
Olive Oil- You can use butter if you like, but I find coating the mushrooms with olive oil makes them more low maintenance in the oven. You could melt the butter and toss or place a pat on top of the mushrooms and stir to coat the mushrooms once it melts. I often do the mushrooms on the stove top so that I can brown the butter for killer flavor!)
SeasoningsSalt, Pepper… and I used Chive in the tomatoes and Tony Chachere’s Cajun seasoning for the fish this time around. You can ALWAYS mix it up. Lemon pepper, Italian seasoning, etc.

The Cooking:

Step 1: Preheat to 400°F and assemble ingredients. All you need in terms of cookware is a half sheet pan or cookie sheet.

Step 2: The Salmon- Cut 4 “half pats” (2T in 4 thin slices) off your stick of butter and then cut those in half and line them up down the middle of your salmon, dividing them evenly among servings. The butter will melt and help lock in the salmon’s natural juices. You can also melt the butter and brush it on or use olive oil. Next, add your seasoning. It can be as simple as a bit of garlic, salt, and pepper (I used my go-to Tony Chachere’s Cajun Seasoning with some Frank’s Red hot drizzled on). Place the salmon on your cookie sheet and into the oven. Be sure to let it bake awhile if cooking from frozen.

Step 3: Tomatoes- Cut the stems off the tomatoes and clean out the innards. For Romas, cut off as little as you need to and then halve longways so that you have a nice deep “cheese boat”. Pat them dry with a paper towel and then cut another 2T off of your butter, this time cubing it and dividing the tiny cubes among the tomatoes. I made 8 “halves” and so each had 1/4 T of butter, use more or less as you like. Add cheese, chive, salt and pepper and then when the Salmon is cooked through and flaky but not yet browned, add the tomatoes to your sheetpan.

Step 4: Mushrooms- Slice up your mushrooms or leave them whole, toss them in about 2T of olive oil (per 4 servings- ish, they should all have a thin coating of oil), add salt and pepper and then dump these on the pan also. Close the oven, forget about it for 15 minutes.

Everything is done when the tomatoes have roasted and the cheese is brown, the salmon has a nice crispy browned top, and the mushrooms have wilted into mouthwatering deliciousness.


Being Whole: Where to Begin

It is that time of year again when the sun heats the earth and everything rises and moves and turns green… It is again time to look at my winter body, wishing I had done more to get it ready.  I’ve spent most of my adult life without a vehicle and this year working from home AND having transportation had me loafing it bigtime. My body paid for it. Every year I have this familiar feeling… “If I could just lose 100lbs”… and then I go hard and fail. This year it has to be different.

Everything I want to be in life requires discipline and mastery of my body, but it has always been a weak spot. It won’t be long before I give up altogether from old age. I had to ask myself what has kept me from success all these years. I think a big issue for me is exercise itself. My father was very embarrassed of me growing up and I dieted a lot and we biked a lot. It was never enough. Often workouts were filled with embarrassment and frustration. I always did something wrong or wasn’t fast enough, etc. As a result, I sort of hate exercise because his voice is always there with me, angry. Our relationship has changed since we’ve both grown up, but the memories are still there. Not just the workout words, but the swimsuit words and the casually hateful words (“you look like you have one BIG boob and two small ones” “my god I did not realize how disgusting you were until I noticed you sitting there just now” “Nobody likes the fat kid”) . Deep down, we all want to be loved as we are. That’s a natural feeling… but personally I really DO want to do better. The only way to work through this stuff is to do the work. I am not proving anything to dear ole Dad by being a lard.

My body has been amazing to me through the birth of two children and has fought cancer off one time. We are working on a 2nd win. I owe my body some major tough love.  I want to be a survivor. I want to endure, I want the strength I need to accomplish anything. I would like to be confident that I can protect myself, my children, and my meager estate from any predator.  Your body is the weapon you never lose. We joke about things like WWIII and the Apocalypse, but the reality is… we are one bad decision away from a major crisis. I want to be ready. The person I see in the mirror everyday does not match who I feel like on the inside. This isn’t even about being ugly, but it never hurts to be put together on every level. In spite of my level-head and resilience, my body signals to the world that I do not know how to care for myself. Unacceptable, but true. I want to fix it. The bad habits are life long and deeply instilled in me.

So how do I get there? Well… the truth is I don’t have a magic answer. I made it clear to myself that I would not be looking for magic answers this time around. Discipline is the primary goal. Discipline will get you up and moving faster than someone trying to motivate themselves to step up because it is the development of a habit, maintainance of a standard. The practice of survival ensures success… so how do I do this? By building fitness into my everyday life.

One of my greatest loves is hiking. I love to get my blood pumping to some music and walk for hours, checking out nature, breathing in that primo oxygen fresh from Nature’s teet. Rebuilding that practice is a goal. My kids are finally old enough to keep up with shorter distances. I have committed to one “hike” or walk per week no less than 1 mile long. My kids stay with their father every other week, so I can get in a long hike on those weeks and do a shorty on the weeks I have kids. Maybe even do long hikes alternating Saturdays and Short hikes alternating Sundays, but we are starting small.

While procrastinating on starting the hiking, I was thinking about other fitness goals I have.  My arms are huge. They are muscular in the biceps, but I have lots of loose skin and fat and my chest and back could use some major work. This led me to look at what I could do on a regular basis to get my upper body toned up. I settled on rowing. This week, I chose to go and just spend 20 minutes checking out a machine to see if I like it (things you hate are not sustainable and I wasn’t sure my upper body could take rowing). That first tryout session was great and I absolutely love rowing. It is so immersive, you can get into a rhythm and forget about everything for awhile… not only this, but it shreds the upper body and it’s good practice for the real thing (SURVIVAL. YAR!)

My “beginner” session was about 25 minutes and most of it was spent getting the stroke down and just trying different speeds and feeling what was happening to my body. That was Sunday. I went back Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday each time doing just 20 minutes at a sustainable pace (25spm). 20 minutes is long enough for me to break a sweat and feel the work without hurting myself or being too exhausted to go back the next day. On Wednesday, I also attended a beginner yoga class and those two things really kicked my butt, but I really enjoyed them both. I realize that I have SO much work to do, but my problem is diving in too deep too soon. My only goal right now is to continue rowing 5x a week and to try and go to a Yoga class weekly, do a hike weekly… I want to get in an average of 30 minutes a day of activity (3.5 hours total).

The most important thing right now is to get into a practice with rowing. Go to the place and do the thing 5x a week. One of those times can match up with a Beginner Yoga class and that’s two birds with one stone. If I were to also walk to the Y, there’s 3 birds. Swimming lessons for the kids are over after this week, so we will spend that time outside hiking and exploring nature and if I can keep that going for a month or so, then I can step it up and do more building on that foundation of practice.  By taking it slow, I can be more mindful of how my body feels and what it needs, which may help when it comes to food choices. I have been slacking on every front, but when I take the time to think about what I really want and prepare so that I am not under pressure to make poor choices, success is inevitable. I may fail again, but at least I am trying to get back up.