Growing an Herb Garden

Growing an indoor or outdoor herb garden can be just as useful as it is fun! My boys and I have been working on a few projects since the beginning of 2020 and growing a successful little herb garden has been one of them. Of course it always helps if you have or know of someone with a green thumb. For me, that’s my sister! She taught me a lot of valuable insights when it came to taming chives, splitting parsley pods, and fluffing up basil bushes. If it wasn’t for her, my indoor creations would have been a flop. So now that I’ve mastered a few of these tricks, I’m going to share them with my KARA family! But first, let’s check out the benefits!

Herbaceous Benefits

Herbs have a wide variety of health benefits, including fighting infections (basil), reducing nasal congestion from allergies (rosemary), and relieving nausea and IBS symptoms (peppermint). They are also known to keep teeth healthy and freshen breath! Check out more benefits here.

Michigan State University also advocates that gardening has plenty of developmental benefits for children! Zipping around the lawn with tools and bags of seeds provides practice for gross motor skills. Pinching little seeds and grasping hand tools help develop fine motor skills. Playing with water and soil helps provide children with sensory play. Children are also able to develop reading skills when looking at garden tags, math skills when counting seeds, and a love of nature through nutritional education. And let’s not forget all the fresh air and exercise that are good for every family member! Check it out here.

Green Goodness

So now that we are familiar with the goodness of these greens, let’s start making our own from scratch!

What we need is:

  1. A medium to large pot with holes in the base
  2. Gardening soil (or a glass jar for sprouts)
  3. Seeds of desired herbs

Seeds that we planted included basil, garlic greens, sunflower greens, alfalfa sprouts, and a very cool little plant called burgundy oxalis. We also inherited a pot of chives that we have been mothering diligently.

I chose these plants because they are very easy to grow and work for a variety of dishes. I did try my hand at favourites like cilantro and parsley but found these extraordinarily temperamental. The cilantro came up all spindly and the parsley didn’t even germinate. Oh well – I’ll just have to keep practicing!

So let’s get down to the whys and hows of the plants that were successful! Oxalis burgundy shamrock grows wild in Alberta. Purple basil – nutmeg and basil. Lemon basil. Garlic greens! Alfalfa sprouts 5 days. Sunflower greens. Pea sprout 3 inches

Chives

Chives are the only plant I haven’t kept in my kitchen herbarium. That’s because they do so well outdoors! Chives are a perennial plant (they come back year after year) and can easily be grown indoors and out. Be careful with them though because their beautiful flowers spread seeds like crazy as they try to invade and take over your entire garden. Very edible and delicious, they are an onion that can be used in any pasta dish and can even be enjoyed raw from the garden.

I was lucky to inherit my already well established chives from a friend who planted them in their own large pot. This prevents them from getting out hand. However, as I understand it, chives are best planted and grown in cooler seasons like spring. In early May, my outdoor chives are already starting to bloom! They also prefer sunny spots and to be planted in well-draining, well-composted soil. Ensure that they are planted in the ground or a pot with holes in the base to prevent drowning. Sow seeds 2 inches apart and no more than ¼ inch deep (quite shallow with a sprinkling of soil on top). Harvesting them actually produces more chives if done properly as you can take one third of them by thinning them every couple of weeks. Just pick one stock for every three and you will always have happy chives!

Basil

Basil thrives in a sunny window in well-drained soil. It is super sensitive to cool weather so it sits in my south facing window right next to my kitchen sink. I find some herbs smell even when not cooking and basil is certainly one of them! Its powerful aroma is very pleasant though and really makes doing dishes more delightful.

Sowing seeds is very easy but must be done 10 to 12 inches apart. I only planted one as space was a commodity in my little herbarium, but that didn’t stop the basil from becoming one of the main attractions! It grew into a little tufty plant and if I kept taking leaves from the top, the basil got bushier and bushier on the bottom! Another super cool thing about basil is that you can take a cutting and germinate a new plant! Select a 4 inch section of basil that has not yet flowered and place it in water. Roots should form within a week and you can gift it to a close friend or make a second thriving plant. Totally awesome!

Another note – if you decide to plant purple basil instead of the regular kind, it tastes like nutmeg!

Garlic and Sunflower Greens

This was one plant that resulted from trial and error. My husband decided to grow his own garlic from a clove bought from the store. He brought home some garlic, ate almost all of it, but saved the last clove and buried it in a corner of the herbarium. Within a couple of days it had sprouted into what looked like a green onion stalk, and it didn’t stop there… My husband and I even started measuring its growth day by day, it was growing that fast! We placed a few bets too to see when it would outshine my other plants.  I called my sister to see what her thoughts were. She said that although it would never produce new cloves, the garlic green that was growing, at a surprisingly fast rate, was deliciously edible and very much worth the short amount of time it took to grow. We would chop off the green top little by little to munch on as a snack – absolutely scrumptious!

We later found out we can also do this with sunflower seeds (not roasted ones) harvested from our sunflowers. They make nice little greens that taste great in a salad!

Alphalpha Sprouts

These quick to germinate little sprouts are very easy to grow – and you don’t even need dirt! Just a glass jar and paper towel will work! Place about 2 tablespoons of alfalfa seeds in a glass jar and let them soak in 1½ cups of water overnight (6+ hours). Drain them through the paper towel (or cheese cloth or dish cloth). Put them back in the jar and add ½ cup of fresh water. Swill them around to wash them and drain again. Then leave the jar on its side with paper towel over the opening to allow them to spread out and the moisture to be partially trapped. Repeat the rinsing and draining process every morning and evening for 4 days, always leaving the jar on its side. The sprouts will be roughly 3 to 4 cm in length with green tips when ready to eat. You can then put them in a sealed container in the fried until needed. I also noticed that they lasted longer when wrapped in paper towel then in a baggie. Add to sandwiches and salads for a delectable treat!

Burgundy Oxalis

By far the coolest thing I’ve ever grown, this bushy plant grows easily and tastes exactly like a crisp green apple! For someone who is allergic to apples, this was a very welcome treat. Also known as purple shamrock, this plant is a type of clover. And with that said, it does contain a small amount of acid which can be toxic in high doses. Used in many foods found in the supermarket, the US National Institute of Health notes that it is safe for people who eat a variety of foods.

This plant tends to prefer shade but I’ve left two in my indoor herbarium facing a south facing window and they seem to love it! Both plants have grown into bushy clusters that overtake a few others. If planted in the garden, beware as it likes to get out of control.

Plant burgundy oxalis in well-drained soils and keep it well watered. Plant it in a shadier spot. If you want to keep it growing big but control it from spreading, pluck the little yellow flowers before they bloom. All the leaves, stems and flowers are edible on this plant – but refrain from eating too much!

Our Blossoming Best

So, there you have it. With minimal supplies, you can easily start your own growing adventure. While we’ve discussed several plants, there really are endless possibilities. I recommend that you plant what you most often use in your own cooking. This can be heavily influenced by your favourite cuisines, so if you love Italian food, perhaps basil and thyme might be good choices. If you enjoy Mexican, perhaps cilantro and oregano. Just remember that it’s always nice to try new things! I hope this has been helpful and has inspired you to start down the incredibly rewarding path of beginning your own small garden!

Dinner Recipes

As a parent, cooking tasty meals that our kids will eat can be difficult. Too often, our lives get busy and we lose ambition in the kitchen. We may even end up ordering pizza or some other form of take‑out to battle the blank faces we get in the grocery store. My husband is here to help! He has a few delicious, quick, and inexpensive meal ideas that might get you into that apron again! But be warned, he’s a huge fan of garlic! So I’ve written each of his favourite go-to recipes with half the amount of garlic he normally uses!

Pan-fried Salmon

Let’s start with the salmon because it’s my favourite! I request it whenever there’s a good sale on. Salmon is an excellent choice for the healthy–minded too! It’s high in vitamins, very high in protein, and contains antioxidants. To get started, get yourself a 250g (approximately half-pound) filet of salmon for a family of four. Pink Salmon is the least expensive option on the list, but other types have distinctly different tastes. Go with your gut (literally) on this one. The best tasting is Sockeye in my opinion. Pair it with rice and asparagus (also pan-friend in butter) and my kids and I go nuts for it! If asparagus is out of season, go with broccoli with melted cheese. Mmmmmm…

Required Ingredients:

250g or ½ lb of salmon, cut into desired portions

125mL/½ cup of butter/margarine

3 cloves minced garlic (double if you’re a fan)

2 tsp basil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Empty butter/margarine into large skillet/frying pan.
  2. Turn heat to medium on large burner.
  3. Mince garlic.
  4. Add garlic and basil to pan once butter has melted/begins soft boil.
  5. Place salmon skin-up on skillet.
  6. Wait for salmon to grow pink-white half-way though; flip – ensure butter/margarine fills space under filet.
  7. Continue cooking until salmon is fully cooked.
  8. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

That’s it!

Another note: Many people don’t like the skin on their fish, so if you have a dog, give it to them! They love it and it’s very beneficial to their coat.

Butter Chicken

Next is his butter chicken on rice. This one is actually his go-to, favourite comfort food. He typically buys the Asian Home Gourmet powdered spice, which is always at Save-On-Foods and it’s the best priced by far! Try to stay away from the larger brands like VH sauces. I made this mistake once and it didn’t contain a lick of taste. This recipe is very budget friendly, as chicken can be extremely inexpensive, and one packet of spice will make two meals for a family of four (that’s eight husband-sized servings!).

Required Ingredients:

500g/1lb chicken breast

1 package [sauce]

2 cups rice

1 cup milk/coconut milk.

½ cup butter/margarine

Garlic to taste

Directions:

  1. Set rice to cook depending on your preference – He normally finds a rice cooker produces best results. I prefer the pot.
  2. Pour milk into medium pot, set burner to medium-low.
  3. Add sauce mix – whisk immediately, and every minute or so thereafter.
  4. Empty butter/margarine into large skillet/frying pan.
  5. Turn heat to medium-high on large burner.
  6. Mince garlic.
  7. Add garlic to pan.
  8. Cut chicken into 1cm cubes – add to skillet/frying pan.
  9. When sauce reaches just slightly under desired consistency, remove from heat. Let final thickening occur as it cools.
  10. When chicken is completely cooked, mix with sauce.
  11. Pour sauce/chicken mixture over rice on plate.

Enjoy! But there are no leftovers for puppies here! The spice doesn’t mix well with them so best to enjoy all of it by yourselves.

Tasty Tortellini

And finally, my husband’s favourite pasta recipe! He typically tries to avoid using premade tomato sauces as they’re loaded with sugar. A healthy oil sauce may be similar calorie-wise, but with less of the negative effects of a high-sugar meal. Like the other recipes, this one only requires a pot and frying pan, along with a chopping board.

Required Ingredients:

1 package tortellini

Mushrooms or veggies (zucchini is great) to your preference

1/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese

1/3 cup of your favourite cooking oil

1 tbsp butter/margarine

5 cloves of garlic

1 tsp basil

Directions:

  1. Heat oil and butter in large frying pan/skillet.
  2. Boil tortellini in large pot.
  3. Mince garlic.
  4. Add garlic and basil to frying pan/skillet.
  5. Chop mushrooms veggies. Add to frying pan skillet.
  6. When tortellini is cooked, drain.
  7. Add parmesan cheese to frying pan skillet. Whisk until cheese melts into oil/butter mixture.
  8. Add tortellini to frying pan/skillet; stir to coat tortellini in sauce.

Ready to serve!

Full Bellies

I hope you give these a try. With minimal cleanup and only about 20 minutes start to finish, these meals will satisfy both your stomach and your schedule, while allowing you to avoid the fast food trap. Leave me a note if you try any of them or want to share your own recipes!

Nutritious Desserts!

Nutritious Desserts!

Do you have one or more picky eaters at home? Do you struggle with kids who like candy too much? Do you like providing your munchkins with healthy dessert options? Are you a parent with limited meal prep time?

If you answer yes to any of the above questions, I recommend giving this blog a good read, because I’ve compiled some of the best dessert recipes and info on healthy dining that I’ve come across over my last few years of being a Mom!

First Thing’s First, The Basics of Nutrition

Good food provides our children with nutrients and energy. Nutrients, both macro and micronutrients, support the reactions cells have in our bodies and provide us with energy. Energy allows our bodies to function. The two together make for one healthy individual.

Macronutrients are the calories needed for energy. The term “burning calories” is very real as our bodies live off of this “fuel.” Macronutrients come in the form of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Most foods contain high amounts of these macronutrients, so I won’t dive too deep into their importance.

Micronutrients are composed of vitamins and minerals. We need a smaller amount of micronutrients than macronutrients, but they are still essential to healthy living as they help support our cells in their ability to regenerate. Cells make up our entire being, organs and all. Click here to learn more!

So children, with organs and tissues still developing, and more energy than we can sometimes handle, need the perfect mix of these vitamins, minerals, and fuel. As a Mom with children who live for chocolate‑themed holidays, how do I put the health back into our desserts? A little help from our new Canada Food Guide has given me some clues.

The Canada Food Guide

You may have noticed that the new Canada Food Guide has done away with portion sizes and redirected its information towards the importance of certain foods. This is a wonderful adoption as no person is the same and we don’t all require the same amount of food. Children going through growth spurts eat a lot, as do athletes, as they are really active.

My toddlers are exceptionally active. More active than me as I sit at my computer desk telling you this. 😊

Vegetables and Fruit

Vegetables are a mix and match when it comes to what they provide us. Starchy vegetables, like corn and potatoes, have carbohydrates and vitamins. Dark green veggies pack plenty of protein and minerals.

Fruit contains a perfect blend of carbohydrates, vitamins (like Vitamin C and Vitamin B-9 (folate)), and minerals (like potassium). They also have plenty of fiber, which is indigestible, helping to clear our bodies of waste.

According to the Canada Food Guide, healthy living suggests half of our diets should consist of vegetables and fruit.

Protein Foods

Protein foods, such as plant-based foods, provide vitamins and minerals in addition to proteins.

Plant-based protein food, like nuts, seeds, beans, peas, and lentils, provide more fiber and less saturated fats. Try to choose these types over animal-based ones.

According to the Canada Food Guide, healthy living suggests one quarter of our diets should consist of protein foods.

Whole Grains

Known for their high-fiber content, whole grain foods, such as quinoa, pasta, rice, and oatmeal, also provide us with vitamins and minerals.

Foods with high-fiber content help rid our bodies of waste, preventing diseases associated with digestion. Fiber also helps slow the rate that sugar is absorbed, helping regulate our sugar levels.

According to the Canada Food Guide, healthy living suggests one quarter of our diets should consist of whole grain foods.

So it’s clear that vitamins, minerals, and fiber are just as important as those high fuel foods we enjoy so much! How do we get them into desserts that usually don’t include them? Luckily, I have a few recipes up my sleeve that are packed with these micronutrients and still taste delicious!

Chocolate Pudding

Yes, you read that right. I have a very fast, very healthy chocolate pudding recipe that my kids (and I) love!

All you need:

A big container and lid, like a tupperwear

Chocolate flavoured almond milk

Chia seeds

What you do:

Mix the almond milk and chia seeds together with a 1:1 ratio in the container. Place the lid on and shake vigorously. Place the pudding in the fridge for 24 hours. Serve cold.

What it gives you:

Apart from it’s wonderful nutty flavor, almond milk also has Vitamin D and calcium added to it, just like regular milk (both are enriched, meaning we added it after pasteurization). Almond milk has less proteins and carbs than cow’s milk but more Vitamin E. Chia seeds have a lot of everything, including fiber, protein, nutrients, minerals, and even antioxidants. What is particularly impressive about them, however, is their ability to bind to toxins and carry them out of our bodies!

Coconut Cookie Dough Balls

Get ready for this one, it’s a no-bake cookie recipe!

All you need:

A food processor or blender

2 cups of pitted dates

1 ½ tbsp. of coconut butter

What you do:

Blend everything together in your food processor and scoop out with a spoon. Roll 1 to 2 inch balls with your hands and place in the fridge. FYI – my younger son loves these as is, but my older one typically won’t eat them unless there’s mini M&M’s in them. You win some, you lose some. Place in the fridge and serve cold.

What it gives you:

Dates are packed with fiber. For anyone that has eaten too many of these at one time, you don’t need me to go into details. Coconut butter though, this one is worth explaining. It’s packed with healthy fats that provide us with clean fuel, but it also has lauric acid (which is a really powerful antibiotic if you didn’t catch my breastmilk blog), one of the very few foods that do.

Purchasing tip: Coconut butter runs at high prices in grocery stores since its health benefits hit the newspapers, but it is still very reasonably priced at Asian food markets.

Acorn Squash Custard

This one is an old family secret, although many families seem to have co-authored it online, which must mean it’s a good one! It takes a bit longer but has little actual work time.

All you need:

A sharp knife

A spoon

A baking sheet

1 acorn squash

½ cup of brown sugar

¼ cup of butter

What you do:

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place both halves face down on the baking sheet and bake for 1 hour. Once baked, it should be tender enough for a fork to pass through, like butter. Turn the halves over, face up, and add the brown sugar and butter to one of the halves. Put the two halves together (place one on top of the other) and put them back in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove them from the oven, peel off the skins, and blend with a fork or blender. Serve warm.

What it gives you:

Squash is the healthy ingredient here, so I will elaborate on it. It packs vitamins, folate, minerals, and fiber! The mineral manganese, which it is rich in, helps boost bone strength and your body’s ability to process carbohydrates and fats (which is good since these are this custard’s other ingredients)!

Added bonus: acorn squash seeds are just like pumpkin seeds! Roast them up in your already preheated oven with some salt and you have a fiber-y snack for the next day!

Peanut Butter Banana Ice Cream

I always buy too many bananas. We used to do our best to buy the right amount, but their brown, spotted bodies always seemed to stare me down at the end of each week. I had to come up with an alternative to watching them deteriorate. Luckily, this recipe came to the rescue and no ice cream maker was required!

All you need:

A blender or food processor

A baking sheet

Baking parchment paper

4 spotty bananas

2 tbsp. of peanut butter

What you do:

Cut up your bananas into slices and lay them on your parchment papered tray. Put them in the freezer until frozen, about 2 hours. Pulverize them in your blender a few times, using a spoon to scrape the sides when needed. Once a creamy texture, add the peanut butter and blend one more time. Serve cold.

What it gives you:

Peanut butter is a plant-based protein food, containing mono-unsaturated fats. This means they are easily digestible and give you healthy, clean fuel. It’s also very rich in vitamins and minerals. Bananas are a powerhouse when it comes to nutrients. They are packed with vitamins and minerals, most famously, potassium, which helps regulate muscle control like your breathing and heartbeat. Their also easy to digest since their rich in fiber. The combo is simply delicious – and no more spotty bananas!

More Information

If you like these healthy, low cost recipes, I know you’ll enjoy KARA’s Collective Kitchen program, which also packs in the nutritional information and easy how-to creations! Call KARA to register for this one as soon as possible because it can fill up quick!