Spring Plant Sale at South Coast Botanic Garden Tomorrow!

One of our favorite places is having their Spring Plant Sale tomorrow! If you are in Southern California, the South Coast Botanic Garden is in Palos Verdes and definitely worth checking out. We have a membership to the garden, and love going on a regular basis. For more information on the plant sale, visit their website.

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E’s Birthday Surprise – His Own Children’s Garden!

I have been searching for months for what I thought would be the perfect birthday present for E – a vintage train. The kind that people usually set up at Christmas time, to go around the base of the Christmas tree. He is wild about trains. He loves his Thomas the Train books, his wooden train whistle, and he goes nuts over my old battery powered train that my grandpa used to set up every year at Christmas. Since that one is pretty sentimental to me, I wanted to get E one of his own. I couldn’t find one anywhere, since apparently most antique stores only have them stocked around the holiday season.

I was getting discouraged and feeling like the little small presents I had gotten for him weren’t special enough for his first birthday. E has been helping me a lot in the garden (actually putting dirt in flower pots, picking out flower seed packets, etc.). When a friend suggested that I make him his own little children’s garden, I knew that would be the perfect birthday morning surprise. 🙂

The night before E’s birthday, we went to the dollar store and let him pick out any of the garden decorations he liked. I also grabbed some other things that I thought would be fun and educational, like giant plastic fake crayons, small hula hoops in a rainbow of colors, etc. After he went to sleep for the night, I went out into the back yard and started prepping a section of garden bed next to our patio. I pulled out all of the weeds (it has been a somewhat neglected area for a while), and set everything up. Most of the plants that I had in there were edible already, which is good since he is still putting everything in his mouth, especially plants.

When I was planning his garden, I saw a lot of horrible children’s garden advice all over the internet. It disturbs me how people recommend poisonous plants for children’s gardens. Tomatoes are great, but the leaves of the tomato plant are poisonous if ingested. Sweet peas are pretty and smell nice but also poisonous. I could go on and on, but instead I am going to make a list of the plants that I will be using in his garden. Some still had to be removed after his birthday morning, and we will be planting more. I am also using plants that mostly require very little water and are drought friendly. E’s garden will include:

1. Marigolds
2. Lavender
3. Rosemary
4. Nasturtiums
5. Pansy
6. Red Valerian
7. Pelargonium(which are commonly called geraniums in stores)
8. Mint
9. Lemon Balm
10. Sage
11. Aloe Vera
12. Sedum
13. Various varieties of lettuce
14. Spinach

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It is still a work in progress, but he loves it. 🙂 I will post an update once it is completed!

Weekly Dose of E

This little guy is really starting to enjoy helping me in the garden! I can’t wait until our raised beds are full of veggies again, especially since he has really been enjoying eating almost any vegetable I give him. 🙂 Today I even got a high five for split pea soup. It happened to be one of the rare soups I gave him that wasn’t homemade, but I will take what I can get!

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Also pretty exciting in the past week…he is finally clapping! I’ve been trying to get this guy to clap for months and every time I tried, he just shook his head NO at me. Then one night, my husband and I were watching Nashville while E was eating. He wasn’t paying any attention to the show until a song from last season came on. It happened to be the same song he would dance in my belly to every time it came on. All of a sudden, he finally started clapping. Now, he has been clapping for anything he really likes, particularly a few of his favorite songs. 🙂

I seriously cannot believe this little guy is going to be one in just a couple of days…I want him to stay my baby forever!

Resuming My Cook-Once-A-Week Routine!

Back when we used to shoot a lot of weddings, I got in the habit of cooking lots of meals for dinner in batches on one evening, and freezing the individual dinners. It was great on the nights when I was up for all hours, working on wedding photos. We would just pull something out of the freezer, throw it in the oven, and have a healthy, homemade meal in about half an hour. Since our son was born, I somehow got out of the habit of doing that. I decided that it was time to start again! We have gotten in the habit of having too much takeout food when things get busy and I knew that this is exactly what we need.

I started by asking my husband to keep an eye on E for an hour or two so I could cook. Then I started making a huge batch of sauteed chopped veggies in my wok (4-5 bell peppers, various colors, one whole chopped onion, 4 cloves minced garlic, tomato, and a bit of coconut oil, and a tiny bit of salt & pepper). I also started cooking a bunch of rice on another burner. On a third burner, I started cooking up a bunch of lean ground beef with a bit of salt, pepper, and dried oregano. On the fourth burner, I started boiling water for pasta. I grabbed a couple of boxes of Indian food mixes that I found in the non-perishable section at Trader Joe’s, two cans of organic garbanzo beans, a jar of pasta sauce, and a can of diced tomatoes. I also had a package of marinated carne asada my husband found at Target that was set aside in the fridge, ready to barbecue. Here is what I made with the above ingredients! I made multiple batches of most of the meals, so it actually ended up being enough for almost two weeks!

Meal #1: Trader Joe’s Punjab Eggplant. Added garbanzo beans and veggie mix, served over plain jasmine rice.

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Meal #2: Gluten free rice pasta with lean ground beef meat sauce and veggie mixture. aliciainwonderlandblog.com

Meal #3: Barbequed carne asada with rice mixture. I added the can of diced tomatoes, some salt and pepper to some plain rice, and added in a bit of the veggie mix and some garbanzo beans. This marinade on the meat was amazing, and I was really excited that we found one that did not have soy in it!
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Meal #4: Trader Joe’s Punjab Choley with extra can of added garbanzo beans and plain jasmine rice.aliciainwonderlandblog.com

It was so easy, and really didn’t take that long! For each meal, I took the frozen portions out, put them in an oven safe dish and baked for about half an hour at 375 degrees F. It is such a relief not having to worry about what I am going to come up with each night for dinner. 🙂 Also, I am quite proud to say that even my meat-loving Texan husband was a big fan of the two vegan meals we had last week. Definitely a major win for me!

Garden Updates & How We Celebrated Our Anniversary

First, I am going to start this post with a few exciting seasonal updates with our garden.

The first is…I finally pruned our grape vines! They were already existing when we bought the house, and in desperate need of pruning. I estimate that it has been at least 3-4 years since they were last pruned. When we bought the house, we were in escrow during the time they should have been pruned. I was already sneaking in earth worms and compost…pruning things before the house was officially ours might have been a bit strange. 🙂 Then last year, they got ignored again while everything was chaos with my pregnancy bed rest. I was pretty happy to finally be able to get rid of some of the excess growth. We wanted to replace the fence that they grow on, but I have a feeling that will have to wait until next year since we are in the middle of a major project in the back, and the new leaves have already started coming in.

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The first of this season’s grape leaves!
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I finally was able to prune our mature peach tree as well! Also below, all of our citrus has been sprouting blossoms like crazy ever since I fed them with a bunch of my homemade compost. 🙂
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This is one that I am very excited about…we are going to be getting our first home grown cherries! I planted two dwarf cherry trees, and it took a lot of research to find out which varieties of cherry trees will actually produce fruit here in Southern California. Since we don’t get very cold in the winter, most varieties of cherries won’t produce fruit here. Our neighbor paid his landscaper to plant some cherry trees in their yard a few years back, and the landscaper keeps making excuses why the trees haven’t produced any fruit. I bet our neighbor that my trees would make fruit before his ever do (since his are the wrong type for producing fruit in this climate). I’m going to be so proud when these little cherries are ready to pick. 🙂
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Since our backyard and normal vegetable area is about to undergo a huge makeover, I planted a bunch of lettuces in one of our wine barrels. Time for some salads! 🙂BY0A9753

I also planted a ton of nasturtiums in flower pots since I love the way they look and I also love using the flowers in salads. I just think it is so beautiful when new life springs up out of the dirt.
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Finally, I get to the backyard project! Recently, we debated doing an addition to our house, to enlarge the bedrooms a bit. Our bedrooms are all pretty tiny. When all of the estimates told us we would probably have to spend somewhere in the $200,000 range just to add on an additional 500 square feet of living space, we decided it was not a project we plan to pursue. Our bedrooms are small and cozy and that is fine. We recently watched Once Upon a Time in Wonderland and liked the way the genie had his bottle decorated anyway! Our bedrooms feel a bit like a genie bottle at times since they are so small, but it does not make sense to spend so much just to make them a bit bigger. It definitely would not increase the value of the house that much. Instead of adding onto the bedrooms, we decided to create our dream backyard and our ideal outdoor living space. We could have gotten a house with bigger bedrooms elsewhere, but part of why we picked this house was because the weather is nice here (5 miles from the ocean) and we have a lot of outdoor space.

Originally, we planned to start on this project sooner, but the recent rain storm here in Southern California delayed our start a bit. Our three year wedding anniversary was on Tuesday, and we decided that we wanted to celebrate our anniversary by really digging into this project, literally. 🙂 We are both really excited about what we have planned for this area. It is all going to be grass free, with drought resistant plants. There are going to be a bunch of different shaded seating areas for entertaining. To start, my husband rented a sod cutter to remove all of the old grass (it was mostly dead and weeds anyway).
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Then we went on a treasure hunt for a bunch of garden accents. There are still a bunch of things that we are looking for, but we are really excited about some of the things we have found so far!
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E likes these hand painted planters that I found. 🙂
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We are trying to get this yard finished up in time for E to have a birthday party. I apologize for those who know me…we may be a bit M.I.A. for the next few weeks while we work on all of this. I am going to be blogging our progress though as the project continues! Coming up soon, I will also be writing about my first experience with wine tasting! 🙂

Weekly Dose of Baby E

I skipped last week, so technically this is a double dose. E and I have been working hard on our garden, preparing everything for spring. He has been a good little helper (for the most part). It is really cute to see him studying everything I am doing in the garden. I even caught him a couple of times putting little bits of dirt into flower pots, just like he saw me doing. 🙂 I can’t wait until he can actually help me!

Below: he was sleeping while I worked on pruning our grape vines. When I heard him wake up via the baby monitor, I brought him outside with me. He was a little sleepy and confused but still happy.

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Below: teasing his “sister” Stella (our toy poodle), who was being camera shy that day.
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I am trying to teach him to be gentle with the plants. He was being gentle with my nasturtiums. I cannot say that he was this gentle with some of my succulents unfortunately. BY0A1608

Below: I love this little patch of wild weeds in our backyard but my husband hates them. Apparently they are getting ripped up soon and replaced with artificial grass (part of a huge backyard makeover project that we are starting this weekend…SO EXCITED!).
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Starting Solids!

Originally, I set a goal for myself that I would only feed our baby breastmilk and nothing else for his entire first year. I had read a number of studies that said that delaying introducing solids and doing breastmilk only for an entire year can help prevent/eliminate food allergies. Since we had such a battle from the start with him reacting to things in my diet, and the fact that food allergies seem to run rampant in my family, this was an idea I was strongly committed to (despite our pediatrician’s opinion that it was not a good idea). My best friend (who is quite an experienced mom now) told me that I would have to be mindful of that one day I may just notice that E is READY for supplemental foods. Unfortunately, that day came way sooner than I was hoping it would.

A little over a week ago, E started getting insanely hungry. Usually nursing on just one side is enough to fill him up, but for a couple of days he still seemed hungry after draining both sides. I knew that it was not a supply issue on my part since he was going through his diapers about twice as fast as normal. At the end of two very grueling days of pretty much non-stop nursing, I gave in and decided he could try some infant rice cereal. I had no idea it would be so hard to find a good one though! As I stood in the baby aisle at Target browsing through all of the different options, I got a little overwhelmed. Most of the rice cereals had either wheat, soy or dairy ingredients, so they were not an option for E. I was already sad about giving up on my goal in the first place, and this was even more frustrating. I finally found one that is organic and had no allergen ingredients. It also has the added benefit of pre and probiotics. I have read that probiotics can help with food allergies, so I am hoping introducing these into his diet may help him outgrow these allergies. The cereal that we have been using is Happy Bellies organic brown rice cereal.

Right away, he was beyond excited about finally getting to have some food of his own. He has been trying to sneak and grab our food for a while now, so he was quite proud of himself. After about a week of him doing okay with the rice cereal (minus a scary rash initially that turned out to be heat rash), I decided to make a bit of homemade spinach puree for him. He had been trying to grab my vegetable juice every morning, so he was quite excited to get his own bit of green fun. He absolutely loves spinach, and likes it even more than the rice cereal! Like mother, like son. 🙂
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Saving Every Last Drop – Preserving Broth & Juice

Alicia in Wonderland Blog

Alicia in Wonderland Blog

Once our baby is consuming food other than just breastmilk, I plan on making our own organic baby food and freezing portions of it. I found these baby food freezer containers and like the fact that they are bpa free. I originally bought these freezer containers only for that purpose (you can find containers here) but soon realized they could serve other purposes too. When our little lemon tree had its big bumper crop of fruit for the year, it was more lemons than we could use at one time, but I didn’t want to waste any of that precious juice. I juiced all of the lemons that we weren’t going to be able to use right away and poured the juice into the baby food containers. It worked out to be approximately two lemons worth of juice for each 2 ounce container. After they were frozen, I transferred the frozen cubes to freezer bags for long term storage so the cubes could be used for other things (you can find the freezer bags I use here). It worked out really well since now I always have fresh squeezed lemon juice on hand whenever I need it for a recipe or for making lemonade!

After I perfected my pot roast recipe (recipe shown here), I wanted to save every last drop of the delicious broth that was left over from the crock pot. I used the baby food containers again to make some small portions of broth, perfect for making my homemade dog treats (recipes here and here). I also saved larger portions of the broth in the freezer bags.

The Perfect Pot Roast Recipe

The Perfect Pot Roast Recipe - Alicia in Wonderland Blog

My husband is originally from Texas, and before I met him, I was a vegetarian. In our house, he is definitely the top chef when it comes to making any kind of beef dish. I have been working on perfecting my pot roast recipe for a while now, and have finally found the perfect blend of ingredients. There is a Sunday pot roast that we love from a local diner, and sometimes I wish we could have it on days other than just Sunday. We actually enjoyed my newly perfected recipe even more than our favorite diner’s recipe 🙂

Ingredients:
Beef chuck roast
White potatoes, cubed
Baby carrots
3 sprigs each of the following fresh herbs: thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano
3 large cloves of peeled garlic
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt
water

The process is super simple. I just threw all of the ingredients in the crock pot, and filled up the rest of the way with water. I left the herbs whole on their branches. I cooked it all in the crock pot for 6 hours on high and an additional two hours on low.I used a very large cut of meat though to make quite a few meals, so you may want to adjust that if using a smaller piece of beef. Super easy and amazingly delicious! I even saved the broth for other uses (post coming tomorrow!).

Homemade Dog Treats Made with Juicing Leftovers

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I have been doing a lot of juicing lately. I have read so many places that juicing helps your body heal by delivering a straight shot of nutrients to your system. Since I still have torn abdominal muscles and damaged ligaments from my pregnancy, I have been doing anything I can to help my body heal. I have been starting off most mornings with a glass of carrot/beet/apple/ginger/spinach juice before breakfast. After I am finished running these goodies through the juicer, I have all this leftover fibery pulp. Adding the fiber to the compost bin is definitely one good way to use the leftovers, but I kept thinking that there must be a few better uses for this great fiber that I could whip up.

I often make some homemade dog treats for our dogs with carrots (recipe here), so I know they are fans of veggies. For my first experiment in reusing the fiber leftovers, I decided to make some dog treats. Our dogs have been going nuts over these treats, and I can barely make enough to keep up with their requests for them! These are so far their favorite treats of any they have had.

I love finding ways to utilize every last bit of nutrients, and will post another recipe tomorrow that I whipped up using the juicing leftovers! It reminds me of a funny quote from one of my favorite shows, Gilmore Girls, about chef Sookie:

Ingredients:
3 cups of vegetable/fruit fiber leftover in juicer
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup beef broth (I use homemade beef broth leftover from my pot roast recipe, coming soon)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Mix all ingredients together in stand mixer. Scoop a small amount of batter into silicone baking squares. You can find the tray that I use here. Bake in oven for 35-40 minutes, until cooked though to center. Take out and cool on wire rack (mine can be found here).

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