Category Archives: food

My Lady Garden and the One in Our Yard

lettuce crop

lettuce in the spring

The hot summer and our bathroom renovations dragged on and both depleted my energy and the will to blog about the house. I’ll whine blog about that later. My gardening philosophy is throw a few seeds (or starter plants from the nursery) in the ground, say a prayer and water as needed. The results are usually decent. DH really owns the garden here. It started out as a joint project, but I got pushed out. Or maybe I jumped ship as he was all too serious about it.

I did have a lady garden, though.

At any rate, with our warm spring, he planted early lettuce and it grew like gangbusters. We ate like happy bunnies. The results since then have been, uh, mixed. We were thrilled to pull our first carrot, tiny as it was. I should say that I’m not sure what variety he planted (the baby kind?) and that the soil might have been too packed too allow for optimal growth.


home grown carrot

first carrot

That was back around June. Yesterday, the Ukrainian grandma next door brought us these:

home grown carrots

They looked like normal carrots! What’s her Old World secret? We’ll never know; she doesn’t speak English.

She’s got a bumper crop of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and pretty much everything else she planted.

We’ve harvested a handful of sunflower seeds, two small red cabbages, 3 cukes and barely any tomatoes. Though we do have some promising Brussels sprouts growing. I’m most disappointed about the tomatoes. I love fresh Romas. DH likes variety: yellow tomatoes, peach tomatoes, purpleish tomatoes- he’s harvesting a few of each. But I don’t want a fuzzy orange tomato that’s sweet like a peach. I want a nice plump Roma. Guess which plant is not producing?

Oh well, it’s our first garden. There’s room to improve next year. Besides, the weather has cooled a bit and the season’s not over yet, so who knows what surprises Mother Nature may have in store for us?

S’mores, FTW!

ingredients for smores, marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolateSo neither the s’more room nor the snore room plans were executed as we initially hoped, but we’re still living the dream. At the moment the dream feels a bit nightmarish given that we’re down two bathrooms, my living room looks like a warehouse for a plumbing supply outlet, there is dust everywhere and our wood floors are a mess. This is why we’re going low-key with our weekend entertaining.

By low-key, I mean not more than a few hours of advance planning and crossing my fingers that we keep the party, S’more Fest, outside. And also crossing my legs that no one has to use the bathroom during our short fete.

We bought a $5 metal fire pit at a garage sale last summer. I scraped off the rust, sprayed on new paint, and we were good to go.

The old girl, er grill, is still doing the job and we’re using remains of the bushes we chopped down last year for the fire, so if you discount the boatload of carbon emissions we’ll be releasing, it’ll be kind of a green party.

Anyhoo, given that last night’s practice mini-s’mores fest involving just five neighborhood boys resulted in the use of nearly an entire bag of marshmallows, I’m not sure how many bags I need to pick up for tonight.

(Especially because I’m not exactly sure who’s coming–see paragraph 2.)

(If you happen to read this before 8:00 on Saturday and you’re local, stop over!)

On a related note, I’m thinking of re-upping at Weight Watchers after a few months away. Apparently my dietary self-control is limited unless I’m paying someone to hold me accountable. *sigh*

This is not a sponsored post or party (see note about running to the store), but FYI, Hershey’s is giving away cool prizes like fire pits that are much nicer than the one we’ll be using tonight. Check out the Hershey’s Facebook page for deets and promise to invite me over if you win. In exchange I’ll teach you my special golden double-roasted marshmallow technique.

So I’m Reading This Book… (And Giving One Away)

Let’s just say “grey” is on the cover. From the very first page it’s clear this book is hot! It’s full of things I never imagined doing. Things that look exotic and dangerous, yet so tempting.

I got so excited, I told my husband I’d try something new for him this week. I mean, this Cooking Light: Way to Cook Grilling, The Complete Visual Guide to Grilling? I can’t wait to get busy with it.

I love the visual emphasis. This books photos are both seductive (you know you want me) and instructive Cooking Light Visual Guide to Grilling(grilled lettuce is supposed to look the way it does in the photo).

The book starts off with a primer on grilling and smoking. The obligatory burger chapter follows, but goes beyond the same old, same old. Spicy Poblano  Burgers with Picked Red Onions and Chipotle Cream, anybody?

The book also includes chapters on meats, poultry, fish and shellfish as well as vegetables and fruits.

Ten days later….

So far I’ve tried the Grilled Romaine (twice), Chicken Shawarma, Brown Sugar and Mustard Salmon, and Grilled Flank Steak with Onions, Avocado and Tomatoes. Each recipe was a hit with three of the four people in my family (the fourth mostly eats hot dogs and pasta, so it’s barely worth counting his opinion).

When the right season hits, I want to try Caramelized Fresh Figs with Sweet Cream.

I like that the recipes are simple and easy to follow. And, hello, Cooking Light! These dishes won’t weight you down.

I appreciate the many photos, or visual guides, in the book. And I’ve learned a few foodie facts thanks to the many how-to tips and tricks sprinkled throughout the book.

Often, the larger food photos are dotted with bits of information about the role of various ingredients, for example, in the spread featuring Grilled Chicken Thighs with Roasted Grape Tomatoes, a blurb on the photo explains that fresh grated lemon rind intensifies the tangy flavor of the marinade.

This book is my grilling Bible for the summer of 2012.

In fact, I like it so much, I asked if I could give one away to a lucky reader (hopefully a carnivore, though as noted above, there are plenty of recipes for all types of eaters). But grilled meat? Yum!

Win your own copy of Cooking Light: Way to Cook Grilling, The Complete Visual Guide to Grilling

To enter:

1. (Required) Comment once on this blog sharing a favorite grilling tip (or whatever). Comment by 11:00 PM CST on May 29, 2012 for a basic entry. US addresses only. No purchase necessary to win, but the winner must be 18 years of age. The prize has a retail value of roughly $24.95.

You can also have up to four optional extra entries; I need a separate comment for each of these items, so I can count each one as an extra entry:

2. Tweet about the entry and come back to let me know you did.

3. “Like” Reluctant Renovator on Facebook and come back to let me know.

4. Subscribe to our newsletter, Progress Notes. We send updates every now and then featuring favorite tidbits from the blog as well as tips on home product finds and giveaways. Come back to let me know.

5. Subscribe to my YouTube Channel so you can keep up with Reluctant Renovator video blogs. Come back to let me know.

Winner will be chosen and notified by June 2, 2012 and will have two days to respond to me. If no response is received, a new winner will be chosen. Prize will be fulfilled by the PR agency working with this book.

And since I started this post sexy talk, let me end with this shot I grabbed at one of the ethnic markets in town. (Sorry, no butt recipes in the book.)

butt beef

As part of the Reluctant Renovator blogaversary celebration, check out these other giveaways!

Type-A Parent Conference Pass

Serta Mattress Set

Lands’ End Swimsuit




Happy Mother’s Day!

As a long-time mom, I decided to commemorate this Mother’s Day with a video of things I never expected to say as a parent, including those things (groan) my mom said to me that I swore I would not ever say to my kids. It’s in my DNA, people. I just can’t help myself.


I’m thrilled to be hosting a family gathering with my husband’s family–including his 90-something year-old grandmother (a neatnik who I hope will not have a heart or bladder attack when she goes to use the bathroom and sees it’s completely gutted), his parents, his sister’s family, my parents and my brother’s family.

And, no, that was not a sarcastic “thrilled.” It’s so wonderful to have a home and be able to share our food, our space, and our love.

It’s also nice to host a family gathering without worrying about someone storming out, making a fuss or causing a food fight. Well, we do have a rambunctious lot of kids ages 6-14, but hopefully they’ll be using their manners.

We’ll be serving salad with lettuce straight from our garden, my classic cucumber-tomato extravaganza,  guacamole, a lemon-cucumber-dill salad, a black-bean-roasted corn-avocado deal, lot of chips, grilled hot dogs, chicken sausages and chicken breast.

If the morning’s mild, sunny weather holds, we’ll be in for a great day.

However you celebrate, happy mother’s day!

Moen MotionSense Touchless Faucet Earns a Golden Hammer Award

Golden Hammer from Reluctant RenovatorWe’re awarding our first Golden Hammer! It’s an honor we give to recognize excellence in product design, innovation or customer service. The new Moen MotionSense Faucet earned this award due its innovative functionality–it’s touchless! (And pretty.)

MotionSense is great for families and foodies.

It’s perfect for the home cook who finds herself elbow deep in ground turkey as she’s mixing up meatballs or burgers and doesn’t want to touch the faucet with her germy hands.

It’s also great for young children who can’t reach the faucet handle and want to wash hands or get a drink of water.

And it’s pretty useful when washing dishes by hand. Water on. Water off.

Watch the video to learn more about the MotionSense and see it in action. (Seriously, peeps. It’s less than 2 minutes long. If you can’t find the time, you need to read this.)

The MotionSense is EPA WaterSense certified.  It will be available in the fall of 2012 at finer kitchen design outlets later this year. Look for a less expensive version with the same technology at your favorite Big Box in 2013. Chrome, oil rubbed bronze, and “spot resist” stainless finishes will be available with a price of around $650 depending on the finish.

moen motionsense faucet

Stayed tuned for more eye-catching favorites from my time at KBIS, the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show. MotionSense is the only Golden Hammer recipient from the show, but there will be more Golden Hammers awarded in the coming months, as well as a few Rusty Nail awards, the GH’s evil twin.

No compensation was received for this post. The MotionSense was my top family-friendly pick from the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show.

More Passover Prep. Or, How Not to Make Horseradish

Passover brisket

There's a brisket under all those mushrooms and onions.

The Passover Prep continues. One brisket, dozens of hard boiled eggs, 8 roasted beets, 120 turkey meatballs and a giant bowl of quinoa later, I’m here to tell about it.

Oh, I also made my own horseradish, the condiment of choice for the seder’s requisite “bitter herb.” I first did this a few years ago, but I was a bit confused this time around because when making the first batch with the white root, I didn’t experience the strong odor that practically burns the hair from your nostrils. In fact, even chopped up it barely had any flavor. I brushed it off as no big deal since batch one was to be the Mild batch.

I asked hubs to pick up another horseradish root for me, so I could make a second batch, the Hot one. This time the root came wrapped it plastic. As soon as I unwrapped it, the familiar scent wafted up to my nose. I must have had a dud of a root the last time.

And then it dawned on me that my original root was not a dud, it was

(wait for it)

parsnip. D’oh!

Batch number two is guaranteed to make old men and young boys cry when it hits their tongue. (My middle-aged husband will love it!).

I blended a small spoonful from the Hot batch into the Mild one and giving it just enough of an authentic horseradish taste. Like substituting Folgers for a fine coffee, no one would be the wiser. I mean, the consistency and color were right on and so was the smell.

But within an hour of my little taste test, my kishkes started rumbling and I had a revelation every bit as eye-opening as God speaking to Moses in the form of a burning bush: Do not serve raw parsnip to your 26 dinner guests unless you want them to be rushing for the bathroom (whose door, by the way, does not lock because we still bask in the room’s original pink 1950s splendor).

So, like the burning bush, batch one of the horseradish will not be consumed.

In addition to cooking and cleaning, I’m also putting together our Passover haggadah, the guidebook for the ritual meal. Next year, I need to check out Haggadot, a site that helps people DIY their Haggadahs (or haggadot).

Today’s agenda: finish the haggadah, cook another brisket, prep salads and make my boys work so hard to clean the house that they understand the bitterness of tyranny and can enjoy the Festival of Freedom.