Urban Gardening Experience 2018

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Time to share!

Before I get into my urban gardening experiences. Let me give you a bit of background. I have always loved nature and plants. All of my elementary school science projects revolved around plants, how they grow and how we can help them grow. I’ve also had many interests in sustainability. So it made sense for me to go to Oberlin College (which I affectionately call hippie school) and study biology and botany. Fun fact about Oberlin, it has been on Forbes List of top colleges and universities in America and it is always listed as one of the most vegan friendly!

Anyway, after Oberlin I went to graduate school and received my masters in horticultural science. I bred zinnias for water stress tolerance and disease resistance. So I basically spent two years working with beautiful flowers all day.

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Wanted to keep it up so after school I worked at Longwood Gardens. America’s most visited botanical gardens.IMG_7137.jpg

I was fortunate at Longwood I was provided with greenhouse space and a garden plot to garden to my hearts content. I planted purple cauliflower, cabbage, peppers, okra, cucumbers and gherkins and lots and lots of zinnias. It was awesome.

IMG_7277Fast forward to this year. I wanted another garden. But I live in a town house where my “backyard” is mostly shaded, home to my boyfriend’s grill and our patio furniture. The “front yard” is maintained by the property and thus subject to the homeowners association. I decided to try a balcony garden.

I have a degree in working with plants but my veggie gardening is fairly limited. So I went to Pinterest. I saw that people purchased large storage containers drilled holes in the bottom and filled it with potting mix to make a raised bed or container garden.

Do that is what I did. I started out in late winter seeding inside. I picked up some seed starter trays from the dollar tree and seeded, green beans, beets, zucchini, spinach, snack peppers, lettuce, mint and basil. I grew them under desk lamp light until they got larger.

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I then planted them up into 4 inch or 6 inch pots and moved them to the window.

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Once it got warm enough (and after April 15th our last frost date!) I planted them into my containers outside.

Instead of walking you through the entire season let me share some things that I learned.

  1. I got too excited and planted too many things and way too close together. When it comes to container planting less is more. Plants are already confined to the container they don’t need to compete with each other for space too!
  2. Some things just aren’t suited for containers. My poor poor zucchini! They were planted too close and even after I thinned them they still did not have enough space.
  3. You have to keep up with the fertilizing, especially if you are harvesting. An in ground garden does not need to be fertilized as often but with the limited organic matter and nutrients you gotta keep an eye on this! Watch for yellowing or slowing in growth or fruit production.
  4. Container plants dry out so quickly! My balcony more or less gets full sun. Containers only hold but so much water so I had to water the garden every day. Which made it difficult when going on vacation. I usually had to pull them all into the house for long weekends when I was not there.
  5. Many plants will outgrow the container unless you keep them cut back. My basil and mint QUICKLY out grew the containers and I had to pot them into larger containers and keep them cut back so they would maintain their size.
  6. The harvest was not that bountiful. Plants need a lot of space to grow a lot of food. I probably harvested about 30 green beans and six beets. I did have nearly too many snack peppers and lettuce; I couldn’t harvest them fast enough! The basil and mint are plentiful. But no spinach, no zucchini, sadly.
  1. Keep an eye out for pests and diseases. Remove diseased material from the container as to not continuous re-infect the plant.

This was definitely a summer of trial and error. This fall I will focus on a few plants that do well in small containers. I will keep you posted. Until then hopefully this helps give you an idea of what its like to start a container garden!

Ramen Buddha Bowl with Creamy Peanut Sauce

This super easy and super super inexpensive vegan ramen recipe is perfect for when you want something delicious but don’t wanna put in the work. Great for college students looking to take their normal instant ramen to the next level.

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My favorite meals are definitely the Buddha Bowls tons of veggies over a grain or starch with a delicious sauce.  I like them because it is easy to customize based off of what I have and no two Buddha bowls are the same! This recipe is more or less a Buddha bowl made with ramen as the base and a creamy peanut sauce on top. I used this recipe to meal prep but I think it is more perfect to have on a lazy evening when you don’t feel like cooking.

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Don’t forget this is a bargain blog this is not the healthiest thing in the world and I definitely don’t recommend eating this all the time (even though you might want to!). If you can’t stand the idea of using instant ramen use real ramen or another pasta or grain. I have the substitute sauce recipe below if you decide to do that.

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This recipe can even be simplified further by tossing your veggies in the pot with the boiling pasta. But I definitely recommend the flavor and texture of the roasted veggies.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes (Not including roasting veggies)

Total time 15 minutes

Ingredients:

1 ‘soy sauce’ or ‘oriental’ flavored ramen ( make sure it is vegan friendly!)

2 teaspoons creamy peanut butter

1/2 teaspoon lime juice

1/2 teaspoon sriracha (add more or less depending on your spice needs)

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1/4 cup warm water

A few drops of sesame oil (optional)

A pinch of sesame seeds (optional)

Chopped vegetables of your choice! I used fresh carrots, frozen lima beans, corn, peas and broccoli.

If you are roasting your veggies:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place veggies on silicone mat lined baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven and set aside.

  1. Bring a small pot of water to a boil add in ramen noodles ( and vegetables of choice if needed). Do not add in seasoning packet!!
  2. While ramen is cooking, in a small bowl mix together the ramen noodle seasoning packet, and the remainder of the ingredients (minus the sesame seeds). Use a whisk to mix well. Peanut butter will take a little to mix completely in but keep working at it!
  3. Drain and rinse pasta. Place in serving bowl. Top with lots and lots of veggies as well as your peanut sauce. Sprinkle sesame seeds over top. Enjoy!

If you prefer an instant ramen free option:

Cook your grain or pasta according to package instructions. Top with lots of veggies. Replace the ramen seasoning packet with:

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Let me know what you think and if you try this recipe out!

High Protein Baked Oatmeal Cups

I have been in LOVE with these high protein vegan baked oatmeal cups for the last few weeks! I meal prep them once a week and have a few for breakfast everyday. I love this recipe because I can customize it based on what I’m craving or even whats in my pantry as well.

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I am always looking to add more high protein meals to my diet. One because I workout regularly and two because society told me I need a lot of protein. Either way whenever I look up high protein vegan meals especially breakfasts, I see regular breakfasts (oatmeal, pancakes, smoothies) with protein powder. Protein powder is great and usually an easy way to add protein to a dish. But it is not always easily accessible and its hardly ever cheap. Using the inspiration from my Two-Ingredient Brownies I used pureed beans to add in a bit more protein! Like in the brownie recipe, you can’t taste the beans you just get a lovely fudge like muffin texture.

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This recipe is insanely simple and I’m sure you already have all of the ingredients in your pantry. This is also the base recipe (pictured are muffins with cocoa powder!) and can be customized easily. Ive added jam and chocolate chips both of those complement the nut butter and add a bit of sweetness too! Think: nuts and seeds, dried or fresh fruit too.

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Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

Total time 30 minutes

Makes about 15 muffins

Ingredients:

1 cup pureed or mashed beans (I’ve used pinto, black and kidney) . Mash with a fork or puree in a blender you may need to add a few tablespoons of water to blend)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 Chia or flax egg (see below)

3.5 cups old fashioned oats

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 cups plant milk (or water)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/3 cup nut or seed butter (I’ve used almond and peanut butter)

  1.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Make your chia or flax egg. For chia mix 1 tbsp of chia seeds with 2.5 tbsp of water. For flax use 1 tbsp of ground flax seeds with 3 tbsp of water. Let sit.
  3. Combine all of your dry ingredients into a large bowl. This includes the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and baking powder. Mix well.
  4. Add in the vanilla extract, nut butter, bean puree and chia or flax egg. Mix together making sure the nut butter and beans are thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Add in the plant milk slowly while mixing. Once all of the milk is added stir to make sure everything is well combined. This is where you can add any extras like chocolate chips, jam, dried fruit or nuts.
  6. Scoop mixture into nonstick cupcake/muffin tins. I add about 1/3 cup of the batter to each.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes then remove from the oven. Let cool for 10-15 then remove from pan. Enjoy right away or meal prep for the week! I pack 3 for breakfast everyday. Also think about topping with extra nut or seed butter, jam or even maple syrup!

Let me know what you think and if you try this recipe out!

 

 

Tofu Egg Salad

This recipe is so easy and delicious I feel bad for calling it a recipe.

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Okay I know that most vegans especially when transitioning miss certain foods. I haven’t really missed any meat (does sushi count?) and I’ve gotten my dessert fix for sure. Anything else you can think of they have vegan versions of now (including shrimp? has any one tried this??). But I have and continue to miss eggs every once in a while. My favorite breakfast was toast with butter and grape jam and soft scrambled eggs. I’ve seen a few other vegans rave about black salt or Kala Namak it is mostly found in the Himalayas and smells and tastes of sulfur or eggs. I for sure thought it was one of those random vegan items that are found in the secret back rooms of Whole Foods or at Trader Joe’s when you give the password and offer up your first born. But I found some on Amazon for $2, purchased it and I now get to enjoy the taste of eggs again!

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Seriously, I know this is a budget blog but I got so much bang for my buck and it adds a kick to my tofu scrambles, chickpea flour omlettes and of course this Tofu Egg Salad.

 

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

1 block of firm or extra firm tofu

1/3 cup vegan mayo

2 tablespoons yellow mustard

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon black salt (optional but awesome)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric (optional, for color)

Salt and pepper to taste

Feel free to customize by adding onion or relish or anything else!

  1. Drain tofu and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel.
  2. Use hands to crumble tofu or a fork to mash it into a medium bowl.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Serve with crackers, on toast, a bagel or  eat with a spoon if you want. No judgement here!

 

Let me know what you think and if you try this recipe out!

 

 

One Pot Lasagna Soup

This super simple one-pot recipe is just as satisfying as a large slice of lasagna but not nearly as expensive. It also helps use broken pieces of lasagna noodles or mostly empty boxes of pasta. Perfect for a pantry clean out!

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I became vegan for a couple of different reasons, one because it feels good. I feel like I am functioning optimally and looking my best. Two because it is one of the most sustainable decisions you can make. I want to be more sustainable. I make little changes here and there to reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse. I’ve signed up for email only receipts, use reusable grocery bags, recycle as much as possible and use every thing. I’m talking using a paintbrush to get the last bit of lip balm. That’s part of the reason why I like this recipe. I never knew what to do with the bits of broken lasagna noodles (or even bits and pieces of different shaped noodles!) and this is a perfect way to use everything!

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Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

1 cup dry Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)

5 cups vegetable broth (or more depending on how soupy you want it)

1 32 oz can of Tomato Sauce

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (or a bit of basil, oregano and rosemary)

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons onion powder

1 cup frozen spinach

2 cups broken pieces of uncooked lasagna noodles or mismatched bits of pasta

1 tablespoon light oil (olive or vegetable)

Salt and pepper to taste

Nutritional Yeast for serving

  1. Add TVP to a medium bowl with equal parts vegetable broth or water. Let sit 10 minutes.
  2. In a large pot, preheat to medium high heat. Add oil.
  3. Add in re-hydrated TVP, garlic powder, onion powder and Italian seasoning.
  4. Stir to incorporate sauté for a minute or two.
  5. Add can of tomato sauce and stir until it warms through and begins to bubble.
  6. Pour in vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Add in broken lasagna noodles and/or mismatched bits of pasta.
  7. Boil until pasta is tender. Add in spinach. Salt and pepper to taste
  8. Serve with a sprinkle (or a lot) of nutritional yeast.

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Let me know what you think and if you try this recipe out!

Sweet Potato Souffle Overnight Oats

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This super simple, delicious and filling vegan overnight oats recipe will have you excited to start your day. I am normally a savory breakfast person. Usually nothing sounds better to me than a breakfast burrito. But every once in a while I crave sweet breakfast recipes. As a person who meal preps everything I needed something that also fit my active on the go lifestyle.

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In comes the idea for Sweet Potato Souffle Overnight Oats. My mom always always makes Sweet Potato Souffle for holidays and family gatherings. It is basically mashed sweet potatoes, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and a crunchy topping made from corn flakes and pecans. When I went vegan, my mom easily made this vegan for our family events.

This recipe is honestly so good and kept me full all morning.

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Prep Time: 25 minutes

Cook time: 5

Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

1 large sweet potato

1/3 cup almond butter (I used homemade!)

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon vegan butter or coconut oil

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 teaspoons chia seeds

2.5 cups oats of choice (I used quick)

5 cups of plant based milk or water

Topping (optional)

3/4 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup corn flakes

1/2 cup maple syrup

This recipe makes 5 days worth of overnight oats.

 

1. Peel, dice and steam your sweet potato until tender about 15 minutes. You can also roast the potato and scoop out the insides.

2. Mash sweet potato with vegan butter or coconut oil, brown sugar, salt, vanilla and cinnamon. Set aside.

3. Prepare your containers (5 mason jars or Tupperware). Add 1/2 cup of oats to each one.

4. On top of the oats add 1/3 cup of the mashed sweet potato mixture. Add chia seeds and a tablespoon of almond butter.

5. Add 1 cup plant milk or water to each. Refrigerate overnight.

6. For the topping, mix together the corn flakes, chopped pecans and maple syrup. It is okay to break up the cereal a bit. Add this to a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes. Once you start to smell it toasting you can remove it.

7.  Keep the topping separate until you are ready to eat. Serve hot or cold. Top with as much topping as you’d like!

I hope you enjoy it! Let me know if you try it out and what you think of the recipe!

 

Loaded Vegan Pizza

Who says vegans can’t enjoy pizza?? This recipe is simple, customizable and definitely satisfies those pizza cravings. The crust is fluffy and the edges are crispy. Honestly  I made this recipe 3 times in a row because I could not get enough!

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I never was a big pizza eater growing up mostly because I’m not a big fan of tomato sauce but also because eating pizza never made me feel good. I know part of it was because I am lactose intolerant but I swear all of the grease and oil did not help. This pizza is free of that gross excess oil, mostly guilt free and doesn’t leave you feeling like a potato.

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Probably the best thing about pizza is how customizable it is. To my leftover mozzarella vegan cheese topping I added black olives, mushrooms, spinach and some of my oven fried tofu bites coated in barbecue and sriracha. Man, this pizza was good. But you can add whatever you like!

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Yeast doin’ its thang.

I know when something like active dry yeast is on a ingredient list it can be a little intimidating. But trust me it is easy to work with and it worth it.

Prep Time: 1 hour (includes dough rise time)

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 1 hour and 15 minutes

This recipe is great to re-purpose leftover vegetables.

Ingredients:

1 heaping teaspoon Active Dry Yeast

1/2 cup warm water

1.5 cup flour

2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 15 oz can tomato sauce

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons Corn meal (optional)

For my toppings I used:

1/2 small can of sliced black olives

1/4 cup defrosted frozen spinach

1/4 cup chopped mushrooms

1/2 cup oven fried tofu (tossed in barbecue and sriracha to taste)

a few tablespoons of Daiya Mozzarella style shreds

1. In a large bowl add the yeast, water and sugar, stir (be gentle!) and let yeast bloom for about 5 minutes.

2.Once the yeast is ready, add 1/2 cup of flour stir well. Then in a separate bowl combine 1 cup of flour and the salt. stir well.

3. Add the salt/flour mixture to the yeast mixture in increments mixing as you add.

4. Once mixed the dough should be sticky. Bring to a floured area and knead until the dough is soft and no longer sticky.

5. Return dough to rinsed bowl and let sit covered for about 45 minutes.

6. While the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

7.  Prep the sauce by mixing the tomato sauce, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. Additionally, prep the remainder of your toppings.

8. Once your dough has risen, place it on a floured surface and roll it into your desired shape. Mine is rectangular because my baking sheet/silicone mat are rectangular. Once the shape and size that you like. Place it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper or on a pizza stone if you’re fancy. I dusted my silicone mat with corn meal because that is what people do?

9. Add the desired amount of sauce and toppings. Bake for about 15-17 minutes until crust is golden.

10. Slice and serve hot.

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Quick Oven-Fried Tofu

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There is nothing like crispy tofu. When it is perfectly crispy on the outside and still soft on the inside it is the perfect base for things like orange or sesame tofu, great to eat on its own like popcorn chicken or to top something like a Thai curry. This recipe is super fool proof and comes out the exact same every time.

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Tofu may be hard to work with especially if you are new to cooking with it. But this recipe helps to keep it simple! I prefer to work with frozen tofu. I buy regular blocks of tofu, drain the packages and store them in freezer bags. I feel as though the texture is so much better, it has less water and can hold more flavor or sauce than tofu that has not been frozen and defrosted. But I’ve done this recipe both ways and it all comes out amazingly crispy and delicious. This is another great use for silicone mats.

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Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

1 block of extra firm tofu (drained and/or frozen and defrosted)

Any spices to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Cooking spray (optional, helps add color)

Sauce of your choice optional)

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Cube your block of tofu to the desired size. Season with desired seasonings to taste.

3. Place tofu on silicone baking sheets or parchment paper evenly spaced out. Spray with a bit of oil to add color and crisp them up a little more.

4. Bake for 30 minutes flipping halfway.

5. If you’d like, with about 5 minutes remaining, coat the tofu in a sauce of your choosing and bake for the remaining 5-8 minutes.

Let me know what you think and if you try this recipe out!

Two-Ingredient Brownies

I love this recipe because it is delicious, simple and very quick. I love a dessert recipe that doesn’t require every pot and pan I own and hours of prep and clean up.

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This is actually started as a veganized version of my absolute favorite dessert recipe. For my birthday each year, before I was vegan, I would make brownies that had York Peppermint Patties in the middle. It was the perfect combination of warm gooey brownie and cool mint. I would always make a batch and bring them to work or school.

Alas, York Peppermint Patties are not vegan. There are vegan alternatives but this is a budget blog. This recipe costs less than 3 dollars to make a whole pan!

It cheats because one of the ingredients is an accidentally boxed brownie mix. But can you guess the other main ingredient? Black beans! I’m sure you’ve heard of many black bean brownie recipes but this one is by far the easiest. While recipe testing I wasn’t so sure. I, like some of you, probably are nervous about using a can of beans in a dessert. You cannot taste it at all even before baked. Trust me, I ate a lot of batter.

The first time I made this recipe I used a bit of peppermint extract to mimic the brownies for my birthday. But since then I’ve added Oreos (think of the many flavors and the endless possibilities!), nuts, melted peanut butter and other vegan candies. This base recipe is simple and makes ooey gooey brownies on its own but you can easily step it up a notch for whatever you’re feeling.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Bake time: 45 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes

Ingredients:

15 once can of black beans

About 1 cup of water (You can substitute plant based milk too, I’ve used almond, soy and chocolate soy milk)

Box of accidentally vegan brownie mix.

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Rinse, drain and return your black beans to their can.

3. Fill the remaining space in the can of black beans with the liquid of your choice, water or plant milk.

4. Pour the contents of the can into a blender. Blend until completely smooth.

5. Empty the contents of the brownie mix into a large bowl. Pour over the black bean mixture and mix well*

6. Add brownie batter to a greased 8 x 8 pan and bake for 45 minutes until a knife comes out clean.

7. Let cool (pop it into the fridge to cool faster!) cut and eat all of it.

*This is where you can add your extras (a teaspoon of peppermint extract, a handful of chocolate chips, nuts etc. If you’re adding nut butter I recommend melting and adding it after you pour the batter into the baking dish. That way you can swirl it around to make a marble design. If you’re adding cookies pour a small amount of batter in the bottom then add the cookies and pour the remaining batter on top.

Please let me know if you try this recipe out and what you think!

One-Pot Thai Curry

This is the second part of easy one-pot recipes using a can of coconut milk I found in my pantry.  My boyfriend and I took a cooking class recently on Northern Thai cooking. In the class we made a colorful (but spicy!) papaya and peanut salad, a curry soup and coconut mango rice for desert. It was such a fun experience and definitely inspired this recipe.

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In the class we made our own curry paste from scratch, using an assortment of spices, like puya chilies, lemon grass, cardamom  and lime. This paste also included some things that I have never heard of or tried before like galangal which looks like a giant hand of ginger.

For this recipe I thought it would be easier and definitely less expensive to purchase pre-made red curry paste. With pre-made curry pastes, you have to check for fish or shrimp ingredients on the label. This one I picked up is both gluten free and vegan.

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I am all about the ‘fix it and forget it’ type recipes I made this one in my rice cooker and on the stove. Both one pot, one just a bit easier than the other (especially if you have access to a rice cooker but not a stove!). This is also perfect for tossing in whatever frozen vegetables you have on hand. Perfectly customizable. I also oven-fried some tofu to top my curry I’ll post that recipe soon!

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

 

Ingredients:

1.5 cups of rice

1 15 oz can of coconut milk

Your favorite frozen and/or fresh vegetables to taste

2 tablespoons of Thai Red Curry Paste

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 Tablespoons onion powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Rice Cooker:

1. Toss rice, the appropriate proportion of water, can of coconut milk, curry paste and any raw not-frozen vegetables to the rice cooker stir and set for white rice.

2. When there is about 10-12 minutes left on the rice cooker add in your frozen vegetables.

3. Serve with any additional toppings (tofu!)

Stove Top:

1.Toss rice, 3 cups of water, one can of coconut milk, curry paste and any raw not-frozen vegetables to a pot. Bring to a boil.

2. Once it is boiling, cover it and turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 20 or so minutes until rice is tender

3. Add in frozen vegetables, cover and let cook until frozen vegetables are cooked through.

4. Serve with any additional toppings (tofu!)

 

Let me know what you think and if you try this out!

 

Edit: This is similar to a recipe by Sarah’s Vegan Kitchen! Check out her video here.