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garden, landscaping

Kicking Off Summer at the Delbert Meier House


Kicking Off Summer at This American HouseIt was a long winter with a lot of long absences from the house so this Memorial Day weekend feels like quite a treat. Mother Nature gave us a couple of idyllic days filled with sunshine, warm breezes and bleeding hearts. There was a little rain as well but that just gave us an excuse to impose a day of inside projects.

bleeding hearts

These bleeding hearts are just about my favorite thing this year. At least, I think these are bleeding hearts. I had been calling them court jesters for their similarity to the hats worn from ye olde court jesters. But then The Mister had no idea what I was talking about when I was raving about the gorgeous court jesters in the yard.

Happy summer, folks!

UPDATE: Thanks to Cliff for emailing in with the identify of what we thought might be bleeding hearts. It turns out that we’re growing columbines in our backyard. These wildflowers are self propagating and bloom from late spring through early summer. Thanks for the note, Cliff!

city boys, garden, recipes, small town life

Stand Back, Johnny Appleseed! Apples, Apples, Apples!


Apple Tree at the Delbert Meier House | This American House

It looks like my countless hours gazing longingly at the apple tree in the backyard, sending it good growing mojo, and dreaming of delicious baked goods paid off. We’ve hit the apple lotto, folks, and the payout is huge! I had no idea one tree could produce so many apples. Maybe it’s because the tree was never harvested last fall. Maybe it’s the little apple dance I did under the tree this spring. Or maybe we’re just lucky jerks who bought a house with a magic apple tree. Whatever the reason, we should be able to eat an apple a day for the next three years from the fruit of this one tree!

Apples, Apples, Apples! | This American HouseLet me tell you, the anticipation of testing the apples for tastiness was quite a burden. It kicked off this spring, when the tree filled with leaves and blooms.

“Do you think we’ll actually be able to eat them?” The Mister asked.

“I hope so. But I don’t know.” I said.

We watched as the buds turned into little green fruit. And as the apples grew and started to turn red I asked The Mister, “Do you think they’ll be edible?”

“Gee, I hope they are,” he replied.

This American House

Starting sometime in mid-July, our curiosity got the best of us. We plucked an apple off the tree and sliced into it. It wasn’t ripe (of course) but it looked like an apple and wasn’t full of worms so it seemed promising enough. Every few weeks we’d pluck another apple off the tree for another taste test. And each time we got more and more hopeful that the apples would indeed be tasty eventually.

Well, folks, it has finally happened. The apples have ripened and they are delicious! I mean, they’re no Honey Crisp apple. They’re more like a Red Delicious, which is probably what they really are. But they’re apples growing on a tree in our backyard!  And there are a ton of them!

This has to be a bushel of apples, right? | This American House

I don’t know how many apples make a bushel but I’m sure we’ve picked at least that many so far. In the past two weekends I have filled one giant IKEA bag and four reusable grocery bags with apples. I’ve given two bags of apples to neighbors and have a few more bags earmarked for friends back in the city. I plan to freeze some apples for winter baking but I’m actually going to keep most of them in the refrigerator. That’s the wonderful thing about apples — they keep for months when refrigerated.

I’ve also turned out two batches of apple butter recently. Both recipes used the crock pot, and let me tell you, nothing makes a house smell better than cooking apples! The first batch of apple butter, using a recipe from AllRecipes, was a little lackluster but we happily smeared it on toast anyway. For the second batch I used Brown Eyed Baker’s Slow Cooker Apple Butter recipe. OH. MY. GOODNESS. I want to eat this apple butter by the spoonful!

Stand back, Johnny Appleseed. There’s a new king of apples in town!

Images: This American House


city boys, garden

Grow Your Own: 5 Lessons from Our First Garden


5 Lessons from Our First Garden | This American House

Now that the temperatures are starting to fall and most of the “crops” have been harvested, it seems like a good time to look back on the lessons learned from our first year gardening. For city boys I think we had a pretty respectable season. But there are plenty of ways we can improve for next year.

We kept it pretty simple for our first garden. Even though they’re not very aesthetically pleasing, we kept the raised beds and concrete blocks that the previous owners left behind. We were so overwhelmed with all of the other landscaping this spring that it didn’t seem like a good idea to start from scratch with the garden. We both hate those blocks with a passion but they did make it easier for two novices to feel like they know what they’re doing. That said, the blocks are coming up this year! We’re going to start fresh with one big garden plot next spring.

Speaking of next spring, it’s going to be a much different planting experience. This year we were faced a garden that had been unattended and hadn’t been cleaned out at the end of the season. It was covered in a mass of leaves, dead plants and weeds, weeds, weeds. We’re already prepping the garden the next year. We’ve started pulling plants out of the beds and, as we do, we’re also taking up all the concrete blocks. We kept up on the weeds this year and we’ve started putting organic matter on the entire garden plot. Here’s hoping that next year we have rich, healthy soil.Looking Back on Our First Garden | This American House

But enough about next year, let’s look at what learned this year.

Lesson #1: Better planning would help. We planted two beds of potatoes, one bed of onions, one bed of green beans, three tomato plants, a row of beets and some carrots. It was all very haphazard. I bought the seed potatoes and onions early in the season so they went into the ground first. And then as we would pick up other seeds and seedlings we’d fit them into one of the empty beds. Next year we should start earlier and really map out the garden – especially since we won’t have the raised beds.

Lesson #2: Sometimes weeds are actually plants. The carrots that I planted never made it to harvest. In fact, I’m not even sure they made it past seedling stage. Thanks to some overzealous weeding early in the summer, the carrots were pulled out and composted. Oops.

Lesson #3: Starting indoors might be easier. We wouldn’t have lost the carrots if I had started them indoors. Placing seedlings in the ground will make it easier to know which little sprouts are plants and which are weeds. Since I dumped the carrot seeds into a bed that was also very weedy, they were bound to be pulled up before they got a chance to grow.

Lesson #5: It’s easier than it seems. Even in our bungling way, and despite many weeks when the garden went completely unattended, we grew food. We definitely have a lot to learn but it’s good to know that it’s not all that difficult to garden. That said, I’m glad we don’t have to live solely on what we grow!

Lesson #5: The food you grow is the tastiest. I’ve never liked tomatoes. I mean, I don’t hate them but I’ll skip past tomatoes when I’m dressing a hamburger or whatever. But when it comes to the tomatoes that came out of our garden, I want to put them on everything! They’re that delicious! There’s something about growing your own food that makes it taste all the better.

We have a long way to go before we’re gentlemen farmers, but I think we’re well on our way. Happy harvesting, folks!

Images: This American House

garden, kitchen, recipes

6 Ways to Use All Those End of Summer Tomatoes


How to Use All of Those Tomatoes Before the Frost | This American House

It’s the end of summer and all of the tomatoes are suddenly getting ripe all at once. And what’s that in the forecast? Frost?! Uh oh! If you don’t get those tomatoes off the vine soon, you’ll lose them! Whatever will you do? Well, you’ll set aside an afternoon to prep that beautiful late summer fruit and then you’ll use one (or more) of the methods and recipes below to make use of them all.

Freeze them: You’ll want to peel the tomatoes first but then you can chop them up and put them in freezer bags or containers. They’ll be great for soups and sauces this winter.

Can them: Freezing tomatoes will only preserve them for a 3-6 months. While canning is a lot more labor intensive, it will also preserve them for much, much longer. For beginners, there’s a wonderfully illustrated tutorial on canning over one Food in Jars.

Make Salsa: Why buy jarred salsa when making your own is so easy? By tossing together just a few ingredients – tomatoes, onions, jalepeno, green pepper, cilantro and lime juice – you can whip up a batch of fresh salsa in a jiffy. Once you’ve perfected your salsa recipe, make a big batch and can it!

Make Pasta Sauce: I haven’t purchased jarred pasta sauce in years because homemade is just too easy. I like this Food Network recipe for its simplicity. Then again, I rarely stick to a recipe when it comes to sauce. Add extra veggies or olives to make the recipe your own.

Make Homemade ketchup: Ditch that overly sweetened bottled ketchup and make your own. This recipe from Ball, the canning jar folks, looks fairly straightforward.

Make Fried Green Tomatoes: Let’s face it – not all of the tomatoes will ripen before the first big frost. What a great excuse to make fried green tomatoes. There’s a great tutorial at Southern Living. Although most recipes, like this one from My Recipes, call for a flour/cornmeal mixture for the breading, I prefer using panko crumbs.


Image: This American House