Home for the holidays (and a few of my favorite things)
Random Thoughts

Home for the Holidays (and a Few of My Favorite Things)

For the first time in many years, my husband and I are staying home for the holidays. With both of our families living in other states, I have to say it’s really nice not needing to worry about weather, traffic, peak travel prices, a toddler’s sleep schedule.

We’re looking forward to hosting Friendsmas dinner in our home in a couple weeks and are even more excited to wake up in our own bed on Christmas Day.

Gemma’s at that age (just over two-and-a-half) where she’s starting to understand celebrations, family traditions, and — of course — presents, so it’s going to be especially fun to see all of her reactions on Christmas morning.

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Homemade hot chocolate mix from The New Camp Cookbook (plus a giveaway!)
Recipes, Sips & Syrups

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix from The New Camp Cookbook (Plus a Giveaway!)

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that my favorite gifts tend to be of the homemade variety — especially if they’re made to go in my stomach!

I’ve also found that jars of all shapes and sizes are the perfect vehicle for packaging such gifts. Sometimes they can even be the gift! (Remember these DIY jar koozies from last year?)

Some of my standbys to make for gifts are this rich and creamy chai concentrate, pickles of all kinds (especially quick pickles like these roasted beets, radish pods, or pineapple guavas), fermented foods like kimchi or sauerkraut, and my zippy grapefruitcello and orangecello (though these take time to age, so you need to think about making them at least a month ahead of time).

Today, however, I’m sharing a new recipe that actually comes from my book, The New Camp Cookbook. Because it’s intended for camping (or tailgating or cabin trips), you know that it travels well, keeps for a while, and is super easy to make!

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How to make a Christmas tree last longer
Garden of Eatin', How-To, Trees & Shrubs

How to Make a Christmas Tree Last Longer

If you’re as enthusiastic about the holiday season as I am, you probably like to decorate your Christmas tree early, and that means bringing home a live tree soon after Thanksgiving and hoping it lasts several weeks.

If you’re not diligent at the start of the season, however, you could end up with more fallen pine needles than presents under the tree by Christmas Day.

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The making of The Backyard Fire Cookbook cover
Makings of a Book, Work

The Making of The Backyard Fire Cookbook Cover

The creative process of shooting a cookbook cover is always inspiring, exciting, surprising, confusing, and nerve-wracking — all at once.

Take, for example, the first cover I ever shot — the one for The CSA Cookbook. We photographed three variations of essentially the same scene, and in the end, the publisher chose the cover that I was originally uncertain about (but have since grown to love).

Then, there was The New Camp Cookbook cover. After submitting our ideas to the art director and getting the green light on a concept that everybody was on board with, the publisher ended up choosing a cover image that hadn’t even been on our radar at all.

With my third book, The Backyard Fire Cookbook (now available for preorder!), the process felt a bit more fine-tuned as it’s intended to be a companion title to my second book.

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I stayed in an Earthship: eco living in the high desert
Excursions, Garden of Eatin', House & Home

I Stayed in an Earthship: Eco Living in the High Desert

I’ve been intrigued with alternative building methods ever since seeing the first container home featured in Dwell magazine.

Combine that with seven years of living near the Port of Los Angeles, where I used to drive over the bridge and watch containers stack up like blocks in the harbor, and you could say my quiet intrigue eventually turned into an obsession with all sorts of sustainable building designs, from domes and straw bale homes to cob and earthbag construction.

I love reading about new materials like hempcrete, studying the mechanics of passive solar design, learning how to incorporate permaculture principles into my garden, and generally trying to live in harmony with our ecosystem.

Will and I have daydreamed about building our own eco home “some day,” but in the meantime, we’ve settled for visiting some of the more unconventional structures so we can learn from their experiments and live vicariously in them. (Remember way back when we toured Arcosanti in Arizona?)

That was how we found — and decided to stay in — an Earthship one weekend while road-tripping through New Mexico.

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Five-alarm three-bean chili from The New Camp Cookbook
Everyday Eats & Sweets, Recipes

Five-Alarm Three-Bean Chili from The New Camp Cookbook (Plus a Giveaway!)

In my experience, people usually fall into two camps when it comes to chili: those who staunchly believe that chili isn’t chili without meat (or with beans, for that matter)… let’s call them Texans, and those who embrace any kind of hot, hearty stew as soon as temperatures start dropping.

I’m in the latter group, and while some might argue that this three-bean chili is actually a bean stew, all I know is it’s the perfect recipe to have simmering away on a cold day.

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8 canning tips and tricks for modern-day home canning
Canning, Freezing & More Preserving, Recipes

8 Canning Tips and Tricks for Modern-Day Home Canning

At some point in your homemaking journey — whether you’re a cook, gardener, or full-blown homesteader — you’ve probably learned how to preserve food. And for many people, boiling water bath canning is the gateway to all other food preserving.

Though it requires more gear in the kitchen than, say, mason jar fermenting or oven dehydrating, there’s something about canning a batch of tomatoes, jams, or pickles that’s deeply satisfying.

Maybe it speaks to our off-grid fantasies of being a self-sufficient mountain mama (or mountain man). Maybe it’s because the distinctive pop of the lids brings a sense of accomplishment and joy, or the fact that we end up giving some of those jars away as gifts that brings even greater joy.

I learned how to preserve food just a couple months into tending an edible garden (before I learned how much I actually needed to grow to feed my family). That first summer, I canned 24 jars of tomatoes and 40 jars of jams and jellies. (These feijoa-white peach preserves were one of my first batches in the kitchen, and the first canning recipe I ever posted on my blog. Wild, eh?)

Almost a decade later, I’ve learned some useful tips and tricks for modern-day home canning, and even picked up a few time-saving habits as an ambassador for Ball Canning, America’s favorite mason jars.

Learn from these little nuggets of information I’ve gleaned from their test kitchen, as well as from my own experiences (hundreds of jars later!).

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Homemade "tin can" cranberry jelly
Canning, Freezing & More Preserving, Recipes

Homemade “Tin Can” Cranberry Jelly

Growing up, I always ate Thanksgiving dinner with my friends’ families since my own family never celebrated it — not because they weren’t thankful on that day, but because it was never a part of their culture. So when that fourth Thursday rolled around every November, I couldn’t wait to partake in the classic American holiday.

I loved watching the grand entrance of the turkey, steaming hot from the oven and being carved up at the table, I loved the green bean casseroles with French fried onions, the marshmallow-glazed sweet potatoes, and especially the Marie Callender’s pies. (Pecan was my favorite.)

But most of all, I loved the cranberry sauce that came out of a can. It was so fun to see the jiggly relish scooped out of the can, ridges and all, plunked down into a serving dish, and sliced up into individual rounds.

Homemade cranberry jelly

I still get nostalgic for that molded cranberry jelly, even though I now make my own and my palate has shifted to fancy-schmancy cranberry sauces with ginger and bourbon and other delights.

I guess it’s the shape that I’m most fond of, and its appearance on the dinner table always brings me back to some of my favorite childhood memories.

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Avocado Green Mattress review: my thoughts 1 year later
House & Home

Avocado Green Mattress Review: My Thoughts 1 Year Later

I’m obsessed with home renovation and home buying shows on HGTV.

But every episode always has a happy ending, and there have been plenty of times when I’ve wondered how the people on those shows feel one year later, or how they’ve changed things up once the cameras left the premises.

How did they decorate after all the props were taken away? Did they keep the paint colors the same? Do they still love the flooring/furniture/windows that they chose/bought/installed?

I wish every show had a “One Year Later” follow-up season so we can really see what happened after those first impressions, because even if I’m intrigued by something I’ve seen, I’m more convinced after I hear how it’s been working out.

My other obsession (reading online reviews) means I don’t make a lot of decisions on the fly, as I want to be assured I won’t go wrong. I imagine there are probably more than a few people out there like me, because ever since I posted my original review for the Avocado Green Mattress, I’ve had many readers ask if I would still recommend it.

And without hesitation, I say yes!

Here’s my experience one year later, after many nights of sharing a bed with my husband and toddler in all four seasons.

(And, the original discount that Avocado gave to Garden Betty readers is still valid! Click here to get $150 off any mattress, or keep reading to the end where you’ll find the link with your special code to use at checkout.)

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My 10 most-asked questions after 1 year of living in Central Oregon
Random Thoughts

My 10 Most-Asked Questions After 1 Year of Living in Central Oregon

I can hardly believe it myself, but as of this month, I’ve been living in Central Oregon for one year!

You might recall that my family and I relocated last October from Los Angeles to Bend, a move prompted by our desire to put down roots in a place that felt like a better fit for our lifestyle.

After Gemma’s birth, we reprioritized what we wanted for our future, and that was a slower pace, a safer community, better public schools, and being only minutes away from all the things we loved to do, such as hiking, camping, and snowboarding.

At the same time, we didn’t want to live in an isolated mountain town that required long commutes into civilization, whether for medical care or a date-worthy restaurant meal.

Bend beat out several other places on our short list (which I share in #7 below) and so far, we have had no regrets about our decision to move here. In fact, our only sort-of regret is that we didn’t make the move sooner.

I’ve had so many readers write me in the last year to ask about our move, some who are itching to make a change themselves, and some who are merely curious how an LA girl is handling the snow. (Hint: I love it!)

I’ve been wanting to give an update on our first year in Bend, and thought these questions (with my answers) gave a great overview of our experience so far.

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