Big Batch Burrito Bowls (Freezer Meal)

Yields 6 portions

This seems like a lot of prep, but it actually comes together pretty quickly. The secret is that few of the individual parts need to be *cooked* before assembling the bowls in freezer containers…just mixed or lightly heated.

For the rice (cook the rice first; it’s the part that takes the longest and you can do other prep while it cooks):

  • 1 c brown rice
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c minced cilantro

Cook the rice in your usual way. Allow to cool. Add lime juice, salt, and cilantro to taste. Mix well.

For the beans:

  • 2 cans black beans, mostly drained (leave a little juice to make it saucy)
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 Tbl dehydrated onion

Mix everything together in a bowl. No need to heat.

For the TVP:

  • 1.5 c textured vegetable protein (TVP)
  • 2 c water
  • 1 packet taco seasoning mix

Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand 10 mins or so. Note, if you don’t like TVP, you can omit, or sub more beans, or brown a pound of ground beef, turkey, or pork with the taco seasoning.

For the veggies:

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 med onion, diced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, diced (you can also add hot peppers, if you like)
  • 1 large zucchini, diced
  • 2 c corn kernels (cut from 4-5 cobs of corn, or frozen)
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp salt

Sautee the onion and pepper in the olive oil until the onion starts to go translucent. Add remaining ingredients and cook until crisp-tender (a little undercooked).

To assemble:

Use 3 cup flat containers. Fill each corner with one of the dishes. Put a hefty dollop of salsa in the middle. Cool, seal, and freeze.

 

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Starting your first garden

 

GardeningInfographicSM

Poster text by Emily Springfield and images by Victoria Zakrzewski. You may reuse it for non-commercial purposes if you attribute it to the authors.

Why do I need a root cellar?

I’ve been gardening for about 15 years now. I’ve gardened at home, at a neighbor’s house, at a community garden, in full sun, in half-shade, in the ground, in raised beds, in containers of all sizes, in a small greenhouse, on the windowsill, under lights, and in the weedy strip between two parking lots. I’ve gardened for joy, for science, for security, for reducing my carbon footprint, and for taste. I have explored all kinds of ways of extending the homegrown food season, from  lights to row covers to that greenhouse I mentioned.

And what is the #1 piece of equipment I recommend if you are serious about growing your own food? A cool storage space, like a root cellar.

Why? Root cellars:

  • allow you to eat locally-grown food pretty much all year long
  • are very low-maintenance – much less work than a greenhouse
  • are perfect storage for high-calorie, nutrient-dense crops like root vegetables
  • if you have a bad garden year, you can stock them with food from the market
  • unlike a greenhouse, they let you take the winter off from gardening
  • unlike canning, prepping food for the root cellar takes very little time and energy
  • zero ongoing energy costs for storage

Ways to do cold storage

Cool storage, for winter squash, sweet potatoes, and onions, can be up to 50 degrees, so a cool corner of a basement can work. But true cold storage, for root vegetables, apples, and cabbage, needs to be around 35-40 degrees, but can never freeze. This space will need to be vented to the outdoors (this assumes your winters get down to freezing). Some options include:

  • Large buckets or tubs layering crops between peat moss or wood shavings, stored in an attached garage or unheated breezeway
  • Wall off a corner of the basement that has a window that can be opened/closed as needed
  • Bury a fridge (with a vent installed) in a hillside – see instructions in Anna Hess’s book $10 Root Cellar along with some other DIY ideas!

 

Should I buy seeds or transplants?

I get asked this all the time, and I also see plants for sale at outrageous prices that people should really be planting as seeds.

Short list:

Always use transplants (either buy them or start indoors):

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Onions (plant the dry “sets” that look like baby onions, or plants that look like scallions)
  • Kale/collards
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Woody herbs, like rosemary, sage, and basil

Always plant as seeds directly in the garden:

  • Peas and beans
  • Lettuce
  • Corn
  • Root vegetables: carrots, radishes, parsnips, beets, turnips, rutabagas
  • Cilantro

Here’s my long answer – in visual form!

Seeds or transplants.jpg

What should I plant in my first garden?

Gardeners

Grow what you love.

This always holds true, but it’s especially important for your first garden. And notice – I didn’t say “grow what you love to eat” – just grow things that make you happy. Do zinnias remind you of your favorite grandmother? Be sure to include them. Do sunflowers make you smile? Grow those. Have you always wondered what peanut plants look like? Save a spot for them!

If you are really not sure what you like yet, some good “starter” garden vegetables are:

  • Tomatoes
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Zucchini
  • Snow peas
  • Potatoes

All of these are easy to grow, produce a reasonable amount of food in a small  space, and taste noticeably better than store-bought varieties. Obviously, don’t grow anything you know you won’t eat.

Explore pre-planned gardens

Gardener’s Supply Company has a GREAT free drag-and-drop garden planning tool, and also a gallery of garden plans for a couple different sizes of beds.

gardenPlanner

Screenshot of a pre-planned garden from Gardener’s Supply Co.

Don’t overextend yourself

If you’ve never gardened before, I recommend starting with one 4’x8′ raised bed. This is enough space to get appreciable harvests, but not so big as to overwhelm. I know this seems small, but the #1 reason I see that people abandon gardening after a year is that they take on too much the first year, and gardening becomes a chore instead of a delight. Once you get the first year under your belt, the steepest part of the learning curve is out of the way…and adding more beds the next year doesn’t feel like much more work.

 

 

No, you don’t need a greenhouse

I often hear people say “I need to get a greenhouse” very early on in their gardening lives. They assume that a greenhouse is just one of those big things you need to “garden right,” like a hose and seeds.

Nope.

I owned a greenhouse for four years, and while it had its good points, I am not in a hurry to do it again. Here are my observations, based on my own greenhouse, those of friends, and my stint working on a commercial organic farm – you make your own decision.

Particulars of my greenhouse

  • 8×12′ “barn-shaped” twin wall polycarbonate greenhouse – NOT very air-tight
  • No irrigation system (beyond dragging a hose in the door and watering)
  • Automatic vent openers failed again and again, so venting was manual (roof, gable end, and door). Rigged window screen and a low fence in the door to keep critters out when the door was open
  • Oriented on east/west axis (so the long sides faced north and south)
  • Very exposed site
  • Insulated with straw bales around base each winter
  • Southern Michigan, zone 5, min temp -30

Basic physics and maintenance

  • A greenhouse this size (or smaller) doesn’t have the thermal mass to avoid big temperature swings. There was a huge danger of freezing/cooking crops…perhaps in the same day.
  • In the winter, it was generally 5-10 degrees warmer than outside.
  • By May, it was regularly too hot for any cool-weather crops, even with the vents open.
  • Summer temps (with all vents/door open) were generally around 100 degrees.
  • Greenhouses are NOT good places for starting seeds, due to temp swings and pests. Much better to start indoors under good lights.
  • I could not water it enough in the summer months to allow warm-weather crops to thrive. And, because it wasn’t movable, it never really recharged the soil moisture over the winter.
  • Pests LOVE greenhouses. Aphids, hornworms, voles, chipmunks all flock in there because you’ve protected them from the elements and predators.
  • In short, you have to be much more hands-on in a greenhouse and provide for more of its needs than in an open-air garden.

Good points

  • Somewhat extended growing season.
    • Peas in greenhouse bore fruit 6 weeks before those outside (keep in mind, they were planted 11 weeks earlier than those outside).
    • Kale overwintered reliably and resprouted in spring, resulting in huge harvests in April and May.
  • Amazing to have a warm place to sit in the sun on sunny winter days.
  • Friends who have somewhat larger, better-sealed hoop houses (often with chickens/rabbits in the mix) have had much better luck with extended harvests.

If I did it again…

  • I’d make it bigger.
  • I’d use a solid, insulated north wall and add thermal mass in any way possible.
  • I’d have some kind of irrigation on a timer. Knowing myself, I can’t be bothered to water every day, and timed irrigation is the only way I’d keep the soil hydrated.

My conclusion

For me, home-sized greenhouses aren’t worth it. I will gladly buy produce from farms with commercial-sized hoop houses for the early spring months. I will start seeds indoors under lights. I will grow a few greens in a southern window of my house in February. But I’d save the money and hassle of another big thing to maintain and not buy another greenhouse.

Replacement bulb for Coleman lantern

So way back in 2010, I reviewed the Coleman  Rugged Rechargeable Full-Size Lantern with U-shaped Fluorescent Bulb (Model 2000000867) . My main complaint was that the light it gave was a really horrid blue color. As the years have passed, I’ve come to associate that color with emergencies, stress, and wretchedness.

Last week, the power went out, and we discovered the bulb had burned out. (10,000 hours, my left foot…) The replacements from Coleman are close to $20 each, so I looked around to other places. Turns out, this lantern uses a pretty standard 4-pin, U-shaped bulb. And when I got to looking, I found bulbs the right size, shape, and wattage…in a totally different color spectrum from Lightbulbs.com. Bulb was delivered today. It fits perfectly, and the color is a nice, warm, yellow – just like all my favorite home light bulbs.  The key is to look for bulbs with color temperatures of 2700 or less.

Hooray!

p.s. – They don’t make this lantern any more; all new lanterns seem to be LEDs.

Strawberry Rhubarb Yogurt

Every year we make big batches of strawberry jam and raspberry jam, 95% of which gets used to flavor Scott’s homemade yogurt. Today was strawberry jam day, and as per usual, we were wondering about quantities and comparing relative ease and price of different types of jam. Raspberry takes a lot less work than strawberry because there’s no hulling or slicing, but raspberries cost twice as much per quart (seriously, $8 a quart now!). Blueberry would be a nice compromise, but Scott’s not a huge fan, and he’s the one eating it, so, no.

As it turns out, I had 2 pints of rhubarb compote in the fridge – jars that didn’t seal from a massive batch I did a couple weeks ago. I’d been intending to re-can them today, and I thought…rhubarb yogurt? We immediately dished up some plain yogurt, added a dollop of rhubarb and…you know, not half bad! We then decided to gild the lily and add a couple scoops of strawberries to the rhubarb and – perfection. Added a nice bit of that berry sweetness and brightness – the rhubarb on its own is a fairly subtle flavoring.

Advantages:

  • Rhubarb is incredibly easy to grow, and pests don’t bother it, so it’s basically free.
  • Rhubarb takes a lot less prep than the strawberries.
  • You don’t have to cook it nearly as long since you’re not waiting for pectin alchemy to happen.
  • If you want a rhubarb cobbler or pie, just pop open a jar.
  • It tastes really good!

Strawberry Jam Recipe

For each pint of jam:

  • 4 c. sliced strawberries
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 Tbl. lemon juice

Stir all together in a pot or big frying pan until it’s jammy. Then can it (15 mins water bath).  You can safely do three or even four batches in one big pot (make sure the pot isn’t more than half full because it will boil up at one point).

Rhubarb Sauce Recipe

This is how I make it to eat straight. This is good in a dish as dessert, baked with a crumble topping for cobbler, used instead of applesauce in baked goods or on meat. I also want to try making a BBQ-ish sauce by adding some roasted hot peppers and onions (and maybe a little tomato paste). For each pint of sauce:

  • 1 lb. rhubarb, washed and sliced into 1-inch pieces (about 4 cups sliced)
  • 2 Tbl. maple syrup
  • 1/2 c. sugar (might need more to taste)
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Simmer all ingredients until it purees itself. Take the vanilla pod out before canning. Leave extra head space when canning; it expands like applesauce. 15 mins water bath.

Strawberry Rhubarb Yogurt Sauce

For flavoring yogurt, I might try this next year:

For 8 pints:

  • 7 lb. rhubarb, washed and sliced into 1-inch pieces (about 7 quarts)
  • 1 quart strawberries, washed and sliced
  • 8 c. sugar
  • Does it even need lemon juice?

Simmer until saucy. It won’t set like jam, but if you’re stirring it into yogurt (or eating it as cobbler or pie), who cares? Water bath 15 mins in pints.

Instant chicken pot pie

In our house, chicken pot pie is topped with mashed potatoes, not pie crust.

I tried layering this in a jar to get the “mashed potatoes on top” look, but the seasonings all stayed at the bottom and the potatoes had sifted down, anyway, so I ended up stirring it all together. Tasted fine…hits the warm and soothing notes well!

  • 1 c. freeze-dried potato “dices” (and their attendant potato powder)
  • 1/2 c. freeze-dried chicken
  • 1/2 c. freeze-dried green beans
  • 1/4 c. freeze-dried corn
  • 1/4 c. freeze-dried cauliflower
  • 1/4 c. freeze-dried bell pepper
  • 1 Tbl. freeze-dried onion
  • 1 tsp. chicken bouillon granules
  • 1/4 tsp. Mrs. Dash seasoning mix

Rehydrate with 2 c. water.

Nearly Instant Chicken Vegetable Curry

If you use quick-cooking brown rice, you’ll need to simmer this in a pan for 10 mins or more, rather than pouring on boiling water and waiting. I used canned coconut milk (cream), but apparently you can get it in powder form, too. Using that and instant white rice would make this a good camping food candidate.

  • 1c. “instant” brown rice
  • 1/2 c. freeze-dried chicken
  • 1/2 c. freeze-dried cauliflower
  • 1/2 c. freeze-dried green beans
  • 1/4 c. freeze-dried spinach
  • 1/2 c. freeze-dried zucchini
  • 1 tsp. freeze-dried onion
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1/4 c. canned coconut milk

Rehydrate with 2 c. water

I couldn’t stop eating this one, and it’s the only recipe I’ve made that can rescue Auguson Farms freeze-dried chicken – stuff tastes like cardboard in everything else and seems to stick in the throat. This is saucier, spicier, and cooks longer, so it really helps the sub-standard chicken.

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