How Does Your Garden Grow? Deliciously!

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The outer edge of the garden is for my herbs, and the inside is full of vegetables! Chewie likes to sniff the herbs, as you can see!

 

Hello, friends! It’s a beautiful summer day here. How is it where you live? I hope it’s as gorgeous as it is here! Because we now have our forever home, I have FINALLY been able to have the vegetable and herb garden of my dreams. We decided to make raised beds so I wouldn’t have to stoop or kneel to weed or pick my veggies and herbs. Now I’m really glad we made that decision. We also decided to make the raised beds out of stone instead of wood, because stone lasts forever, and we knew we would have to replace wooden beds in 3-5 years. I actually had to make the footprint of the garden larger twice while it was being built because I didn’t want to outgrow it too soon. We used organic soil once the stone was in place, and only use organic fertilizers on it as well. We never use pesticides or any chemicals of any sort on it, as there are lots of great natural ways to prevent infestations of bugs.

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This is my tomato section, you can see how tall and luscious they can get with organic fertilizer and soil!

 

Eventually I would like to have a massive garden, and grow veggies and herbs to sell to restaurants who are interested in providing their customers with organic, scrumptious and beautiful vegetables and herbs. For now, though, I am focusing on growing enough for our family. I am writing about this today because I want to encourage you all to grow your own vegetables and herbs. It’s astonishingly easy to do, and requires very little maintenance along the way to deliciousness. I also want to share my recipe for salsa from my home grown tomatoes, peppers, onions and cilantro.

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The back side of my garden with more herbs on the outside, and the inside has veggies, veggies and more veggies!

 

You don’t have to use stone, or make raised beds. Making a garden is as simple as clearing a spot for it, planting vegetables, adding organic fertilizer, watering every other day, picking weeds (I used to pull weeds every day and because they’re so small and tender they literally pull out in seconds, but now that the plants are so tall and well established they have pushed the weeds out), and enjoying the bounty of your garden. If you live in an apartment or condo (or like us were renting a home), you can grow your vegetables and herbs in pots on your patio.

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Ok, I admit, I already outgrew my raised garden and had to use the edge of the fenced in area to plant my melons, zucchini, and cucumbers.

 

The vegetables I am growing are onions, peppers, asparagus, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, arugula, kale, potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, corn, and garlic. The fruit selection is strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes (they are a vegetable!8 different kinds!), blueberries, and watermelon. The herbs are 5 different kinds of basil, 4 different types of oregano, 6 different types of thyme, rosemary, French tarragon, lavender, 3 kinds of mint, curry, and probably a lot more that I can’t recall right now. As you can tell I love herbs!

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Just outside of the fenced in area of our yard, I am growing potatoes and garlic!

 

One of the main advantages to growing your own over buying store bought produce is price. For example, if you buy herbs from the grocery store it can cost anywhere from $3-6, and you can use them for 1-2 meals. Buying potted herbs costs $2.5-4.00, and they can last anywhere from 8 months to indefinitely. I have rosemary and parsley in pots that I brought with me from our old house that are going on 1 1/2 years old now. They wintered inside our house, I took them outside once it got warm enough, and they are flourishing now! That’s a great return on a $4.00 investment!

Another reason for growing your own is that you can control what goes into your food. You can use organic soil, fertilizer and pesticides like I do. For me it is such a relief to know how my food is grown, and what is used in the process. In addition, store bought produce is often picked half-ripe so that it can ripen once it gets to the grocery store, causing it to not grow to its full potential of nutritional value. Home grown produce can be picked at the peak of ripeness, thereby getting the full value of every single vitamin and mineral it contains. It’s also super convenient, instead of driving to the grocery store, you can walk out into your yard, snip off some basil, pick a few tomatoes, peppers, and onions, and you are on your way to a delicious homemade tomato sauce.

So with the bounty I currently have from my garden, I made my yummy salsa the other day. It is so easy to make fresh salsa, but it’s even easier when I can go into my yard to pick the ingredients for it. I will share it with you now!

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Valerie’s Fresh Garden Salsa

  • 4-6 large tomatoes chopped into smallish pieces FullSizeRender (210)
  • 1 medium size onion, finely chopped (I used two large green onions) FullSizeRender (212)
  • 2 jalapenos– seeded and insides removed if you don’t like much heat, I put them in intact because we love heat in our salsa! I also used sport peppers (heat index, somewhere between bell pepper and jalapeno) and banana peppers too!FullSizeRender (211)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro FullSizeRender (215)
  • 1/2 cup each extra virgin olive oil and vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

Chop tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro and add to large bowl. FullSizeRender (214)

Add extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to the bowl and mix well. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed. It tastes really good right away, but it’s even better the longer it sits. So if you make it in advance of the time you want to serve it, and let it sit and chill in the fridge that would taste extra amazing!

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And voila! The finished product! It tastes delicious and it’s so good for you too. It’s full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that our bodies need to be healthy. It also helps prevent all kinds of diseases like cancer and heart disease. So remember to grow your own herbs and produce, and make yummy things with that home grown produce like my salsa. It will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 🙂

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Four Reasons I’m Zealous about Zucchini!

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Gorgeous, grilled zucchini!

Gorgeous, grilled zucchini!

My new love these days is zucchini. It’s a vegetable I haven’t been all that excited about in the past, but lately it’s been calling my name! I’ve been cooking with it and trying new recipes for my family. Now we are all loving zucchini. My favorite new zucchini dish that I’m sharing with you today is a recipe for lasagna made with zucchini instead of pasta noodles. The advantage is that with the zucchini replacing pasta, there are much fewer carbs in this dish. Remember that carbs turn into sugar in your body and cause weight gain and other illnesses like cancer, heart disease and a whole host of other awful things. Also, replacing the super carby pasta with a cool vegetable like zucchini means gaining lots of nutritional advantages which I will highlight for you next. Last, I will share my zucchini lasagna recipe with you.

1. Nutrition– Zucchini and all summer squash is 95% water, which is naturally low in calories (33 for a medium zucchini), a gram of protein and less than a gram of fat. It has 6 grams of carbohydrates but two of them are fiber, this makes it a low glycemic food which will not spike blood sugar, but will instead provide a steady source of glucose to your system.

2. Vitamins– Zucchini is a great source of two antioxidant vitamins which help boost immunity and supports healthy aging, 35 milligrams of vitamin C (between 39-46% RDA for adults) and 392 IU of vitamin A (13-27%).

3. Potassium– One of the main electrolytes in your body needed in proper balance (2 to 1) with sodium . The typical American diet tends to be very high in sodium which throws the balance off and leads to high blood pressure. A medium zucchini has 512 mg of potassium, or 11% of your daily needs.

4. Very versatile vegetable– Raw zucchini gives an extra crunch to salads, It can be cut into strips or rounds for dipping in hummus. It’s great in stir fries and soups. Also, who doesn’t love zucchini bread or muffins? I definitely do! In about a month, they will be abundant in backyard gardens, so you’ll have plenty of this veggie to work with soon.

Delicious, nutritious zucchini lasagna!

Delicious, nutritious zucchini lasagna!

Zucchini Lasagna

  • 1 LB ground beef
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 3 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbs chopped fresh basil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 medium zucchini
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Slice and salt your zucchini first!

Slice and salt your zucchini first!

The first thing you want to do is thinly slice your zucchini lengthwise with a mandolin. If you don’t have a mandolin (I don’t) slice it as best as you can. Lightly salt the zucchini and set aside for 15 minutes to get as much of the water out of it as you can. Then blot with paper towels.

Brown your ground beef!

Brown your ground beef!

In a large pot, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil, and then add the ground beef and brown. Add the tomatoes, basil, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally for 25 minutes.

Gotta grate the cheese, please!

Gotta grate the cheese, please!

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella and egg.

Grill the zucchini and start the layering of the lasagna!

Grill the zucchini and start the layering of the lasagna!

Now, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, spray your baking dish with nonstick cooking spray, grill the zucchini for 2 minutes each side to make it less soft, and start layering the lasagna. Spread 1/3 of the meat sauce, 1/3 of the zucchini, and 1/3 of the cheese mixture. Then, 1/3 zucchini, 1/3 cheese, 1/3 meat sauce and repeat one more time until the pan is full. Cover with foil.

Ready for the oven!

Ready for the oven!

Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil, and bake 20 more minutes uncovered. Add some more grated parmesan to the top and bake for 10 more minutes. Let stand 5-10 minutes and serve.

Beautiful piece of lasagna!

Beautiful piece of lasagna!

Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you that it was DELICIOUS! in fact, my family ate it in 1 sitting! They kept going back at it like savages until it was gone. According to my calculations one slice is 300 calories, compared to 400 calories for a slice of regular lasagna. And the health benefits are by far greater than the caloric savings as I mentioned above. It’s a win-win, my friends! Try it and let me know how you like it! Eating foods like this will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

The “Eyes” have it!

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I am committed to do whatever I need to so these eyes last me the rest of my life!

I am committed to do whatever I need to so these eyes last me the rest of my life!

This post isn’t like my usual ones and some of you may stop reading because you’ll think, “my eyes are fine” or “this doesn’t pertain to me, I’m a young person”. But here’s why you should read this, because we all have eyes and we all want to be able to see with them for our entire lives, right? Here’s another surprising fact, more people are having problems with their eyes as they grow older; macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts are all becoming more and more common in Americans. A lot of this has to do with the way we eat, because we eat more junk and processed food in this country, and we are gaining more weight than ever, diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure are more prevalent. THESE DISEASES AND MANY OTHERS IMPACT OUR VISION. So it stands to reason that if we can clean up the way we eat, we can help prevent the diseases that affect our eyes. After all, our eyes are our windows to the world, are they not? Can you imagine not being able to see? I sure can’t!

Well, I have to admit I’m getting old. I guess we all are, aren’t we? Anyway, I went to the optometrist the other day and while my eyes are pretty healthy for my age, I learned that I have the beginnings of cataracts in my left eye and “cloudy areas” in my right one, which is a pre-cataract condition. I will need cataract surgery in a few years. WOW, WHAT A SOBERING THOUGHT! Also, my mom has glaucoma in her left eye and macular degeneration in her right one, probably due to her diabetes, so I have a genetic predisposition to these diseases of the eye as well. My mom’s eye issues are under control due to her careful management of her illnesses, but my goal is to do what I can so I don’t ever get those very serious conditions. My dad, stepmom and stepdad have all had cataract surgery, so what I’m saying is that MOST OF YOU READING THIS WILL HAVE TO DEAL WITH SOME FORM OF EYE DISEASE IN THE FUTURE unless we do what we can now to “feed our eyes” the best things we can to optimize our vision.

One of the best, and easiest, things you can do for your eyes, wear a pair of polarized sunglasses!

One of the best, and easiest, things you can do for your eyes, wear a pair of polarized sunglasses!

One of the best things we can do for our eyes is a very easy one, wear a pair of polarized sunglasses when you’re outside in the sun. There is a link between sun exposure and cataracts so no one should go outside without a decent pair of sunglasses. They don’t have to be expensive ones either, just look for a polarized pair because they help cut down on the glare from the sun. Easy peasy right?!

Great sources of Vitamin A!

Great sources of Vitamin A!

Remember how moms in the old days would say to eat carrots because it helps your eyes? Well it turns out mom is always right. Carrots are a great source of vitamin A which is an essential nutrient for your eyes. Other sources of vitamin A are fish oils, eggs, milk, but mostly in leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, tomato products, fruits and some vegetables.

Promising minerals to help keep eyes healthy!

Promising minerals to help keep eyes healthy!

New research has pointed to some minerals that are more promising for helping to prevent diseases of the eye than vitamin A. These are carotinoids called lutein and zeaxanthin. Food sources with the highest amount of lutein and zeaxanthin are egg yolks, corn, orange peppers, kiwi fruit, grapes, spinach, orange juice, zucchini and squash. There are also supplements you can purchase containing these nutrients, but as I’ve said before make sure you are purchasing PHARMACEUTICAL GRADE SUPPLEMENTS, not supplements purchased from a grocery store or big box store. That way you ensure you are putting pure nutrients into your body with no fillers or other mysterious additives. Other nutrients that are helpful are Omega 3 fatty acids, which have been found to help prevent macular degeneration. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in the highest concentrations in flax seeds, walnuts, sardines, salmon, beef, soybeans, tofu, shrimp, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Vitamin E Tocotrienols are found to delay the onset and progression of cataracts. and your best food sources are rice bran, barley, annatto seeds, and palm oil. However, by far the best way to get your tocotrienols is in supplement form.

So, as a result of my research and the findings from my visit to the Optometrist, I’m going to begin eating more leafy green, orange and yellow vegetables. I will also begin taking a lutein/zeaxanthin and vitamin E tocotrienol supplement daily to help slow the progression of my cataract condition. I want my eyes to be healthy until I take my last breath and it doesn’t seem that difficult to do. Take care of your eyes, my friends, and you’ll live a life of vitality- like Valerie!