Meet Sarah, garden to table made simple

A big part of growing an edible garden is eating the food that you grow. This can also be the most challenging part. It requires attention to the garden, time to harvest and clean, and then preparation of the food.

Starting now, preparing your harvested food no longer needs to be a challenge. It can be easy and delicious with inspiration and guidance from my friend Sarah Adler, Founder of Simply Real Health. Sarah is dedicated to helping people eat in a healthy and simple way that happily works in the context of daily life, not against it. She takes the mystery out of eating real, whole food and makes it a lifestyle. Her cookbook and blog not only make it easy for me to turn my harvest into a meal, but inspire the vegetables and fruits that I choose to grow in the garden.

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I had the opportunity to ask Sarah a series of questions about incorporating eating real food into your daily life. Let’s be honest, it is hard enough to find the time to grow a garden, let alone harvest and prepare the food. Sarah was kind enough to provide advice and tools that make it easy to whip up your fresh harvest. Plus, learn how she developed Simply Real Health and what she believes is the key to making a healthy lifestyle an intuitive part of our daily lives.

Megan: What is your advice for taking the intimidation out of cooking food? How can it feel less overwhelming and time consuming?

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Sarah: Oh my gosh. YES. Healthy cooking has a weird connotation—that it’s either super complicated with obscure ingredients, or that it tastes so boring and bland. It doesn’t have to be either way. Honestly, if you start with fresh and good quality ingredients, it becomes more about slightly enhancing them, than trying to cover the flavor up.

I would say start with roasting a vegetable. All you need is a baking sheet, olive oil, good sea salt and some pepper at 400. Actually—you can cook MOST things this way, so don’t over complicate it. Butter/olive oil and sea salt and pepper are often times all you need to elevate most things.

Megan: Do you have any tips for making it easy to whip up something delicious with your fresh harvest without having to go to the grocery store?

Sarah: Yes! Make sure your pantry is intentionally stocked well. I don’t mean packed with random things—I mean just some basics. Butter, olive oil, sea salt and pepper, maybe some Italian herbs, some quinoa or brown rice, a few cans or jars of dried beans, organic sausages or chicken breasts in the freezer, and a good block of parmesan. Maybe some eggs and a harissa paste or Dijon mustard, and you can literally make 6 different kinds of meals there, with your fresh produce as the star. carinaskrobeckiphotography_simplyrealhealth4-0_536

Megan: What advice would you give to those who love real food, but struggle with finding the time and energy to prepare meals each week?

Sarah: Well, if you can find 1 hour to think about your food each week- whether it’s getting yourself to the store to buy healthy pre-made stuff, or to keep your pantry stocked so you can whip up some simple things that you know work well for your lifestyle, you can work a lot of magic.

But you have to have the value of eating well first. And the value that you are worth it- worth feeling great, worth investing in yourself. Because even that ONE HOUR of time can be the center domino that shifts and changes so much else in your week for the better. It starts there—not the other way around that everything else in life comes first, then food as an afterthought.

Because it impacts so much else, it has to be something you dedicate at least 60 minutes to. And it doesn’t have to be cooking huge meals from scratch everyday. It’s just the intention of feeding yourself well, whatever that means to you.

Otherwise, that Netflix marathon or those trashy magazines, or that instagram feed scrolling will always sneak themselves in. We all have the time, it’s a just a matter of making food a little bit higher on your priority list.  carinaskrobeckiphotography_simplyrealhealth4-0_441

Megan: Why did you write the Simply Real Health Cookbook?

Sarah: Well, two reasons really. One, I’m a cookbook lover, and I have so many- they’re beautiful and so soothing for me to read and wander through. But. I started to realized that I never really cooked from them—they’d sit there most of the time, because all of the recipes were either a) healthy and required 15 different ingredients and spices (and ain’t no one got time for that on a busy weekday), or b) they were “simple” and “quick” recipes that were all pasta or flour based. And as much as it would be nice to feel amazing eating pasta every single night, I knew my body well enough to know that wasn’t going to fly either.

So, I wrote the book as a solution, to my own problem really. That I am a small business owner first- and thus my days are totally packed to the brim, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my health and energy on food that was just quick and easy and non-intentional.

Because Simply Real Health started as a food blog, I knew all the recipes that people loved and commented and shared all the time, so the book became my little gift to them- a way to have everything in one place, beautifully styled, and a true guidebook into HOW you make healthy eating and living doable, easy and delicious (all at the same time).

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Megan: What do people need to make eating real food an intuitive part of their everyday life?

Sarah: A basic understanding of what real food is vs. what is marketed to us as healthy food. The two are wildly different. And, starting to notice how connected your energy, mood and hunger are to what you eat. Once you realize how powerful food actually is to the things that matter most in your life, it becomes a little bit more motivating and encouraging to want to eat well.

Megan: Why did you start a career and business in teaching healthy lifestyles?

Sarah: Because truly, in this country, we are never taught how to eat in a way that creates a balanced and joyful relationship to food. In so many other countries, food is this centerpoint of a beautiful and celebrated life. Here in the US, the only way most of us learn about food is through marketing or through diets, which creates a terrible relationship to food, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Knowledge is power. And in the world of fad diets, extreme workout plans, social media, it’s so easy to get lost in all the clutter. I want to help people clear that clutter and confusion and see that it’s actually really easy (and such a better, happier way to live your life) if you can actually KNOW and appreciate good food, in all its beauty.

All of this comes from my own personal experience of course—I use to be obsessed with eating healthy, and counting my calories, measuring carbs, tracking my workouts, etc. But I had a TERRIBLE RELATIONSHIP with food that I didn’t realize was taking over so much of my life. Real food started the journey for me out of that more limited way of thinking and my life has changed because of it.simplyrealhealth-167

Megan: What is your greatest learning from helping hundreds of people to live a healthier lifestyle and eat real food?

Sarah: That getting clear once and for all about what healthy food actually is (instead of what we’re taught it is by the media) is the best gift you could ever give yourself- physically, mentally and emotionally. It changes everything.

Megan: What is your favorite edible plant to grow and why?

Sarah: I am currently working on my gardening skills, and so far, mint makes me feel like a gardening queen. Isn’t that because it’s the easiest to grow? So whatever that says about me. Ha! But I do love it—fresh mint tea, in greek salads, fun cocktails, marinades, etc. Give me all the mint. And the basil, although I eat it too fast for the poor plant to keep up. I could bathe in it.

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Megan: What is your most favorite recipe to make?

Sarah: I love the Pesto Kale Salad from the cookbook. I will never ever get sick of making or eating that salad- it transforms kale into this hearty, delicious and filling meal. And the process of making it—rubbing each leaf to help soften it, smelling the basil whirling around in the blender.. ah it’s heavenly! Not to mention it gets better the next day, so it is always such a great use of time for more than one meal alone.

Megan: What is your favorite food?

Sarah: I love mezze night. Like, lots of little jars of things, sauces, crackers, olives, good cheeses, smoked salmon, salami, nuts. AH, I die. You get a little bit of everything, and goes so well with a glass of wine, literally in any season. That’s my dream. Or, a huge salad and lamb burger on top.carinaskrobeckiphotography_simplyrealhealth4-0_455

Megan: If you were given a few more hours in the day, what would you choose to do?

Sarah: Oo, I’d do a yoga class or take a luxuriously long walk or read, or cozy up by the fire, or find a farmers market (so I could buy myself flowers) ha! Such girly things, but all of them give me fuel and make me feel relaxed and inspired.

Megan: What resources do you provide through Simply Real Health that make it easier to cook and prepare your own meals?

Sarah: The cookbook, for sure. There’s over 150 easy and healthy (and naturally gluten-free) recipes in there, every single one of them with a picture, and most of them with 5 ingredients or less.

I also write seasonal meal plans every quarter that help people learn to efficiently shop and cook and eat healthy delicious real food, all in under 3 hours a week.

carinaskrobeckiphotography_simplyrealhealth4-0_436Then there’s the online Food Academy, which is like a 3 week masterclass school in real food: what to pay attention to, what to ignore, how to navigate the store, cooking, eating out, dinners, traveling, and just REAL LIFE stuff, with a more balanced and joyful approach to being healthy.

I also work with people one on one, speak to a lot of different groups, teach cooking classes once a month or so, and run a big 8 week group coaching program twice a year. (all the details are over here).

Megan: Are there resources you recommend for making it easy to cook real food?

Sarah: Yes, there are so many!

I love Sara and Hugh Forte of Sprouted Kitchen (both their books and blog are amazing)

Dishing Up The Dirt by Andrea Bemis is such a beautiful farm to table food blog

Podcast wise, Shawn Stevenson of The Model Health Show is my all time favorite, as well as the Cherry Bombe Radio Podcast (from Cherry Bombe Magazine that celebrates women and food—another of my favorites).

I also have a list of my fav Seattle food spots here on the blog, and a list of my favorite books and resources here.

Megan: What is next for you?

Sarah: Oh gosh. So many fun things are coming, most of which are still under wraps right now. But, more than ever I feel so excited about being able to help more people address and create a more joyful, longterm and sustainable relationship to food, without ever having to diet or be continually doing program after program. I don’t think it’s talked about enough—but we all have a relationship to food, and when it can be a more positive thing in life, everything else lights up even more. I love seeing that light in other people, and feel so honored to play just a tiny role in that journey for someone.simplyrealhealth-170

Thank you Sarah for sharing this wealth of information, resources, and inspiration! Be sure to follow Sarah and check out Simply Real Health.

And stock the pantry with those key staples so that your fresh harvest can shine all season long.

Photography by Jasmine Pulley and Carina Skrobecki

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March garden checklist

Here we go! March marks the beginning of garden season. It is the time to make the final preparations for planting your seeds.

Plan your garden
If you haven’t decided what you want to grow and where you want to grow it, do it now. For help planning your garden, check out this post.

Build your garden
Create the infrastructure you need to grow food. Construct raised beds, mounded beds, or procure containers. This could also mean carving out any space in your yard. For example, I have extra space up against my back fence where I have planted strawberries, a hop plant, and summer squash. You don’t need to construct anything, just make sure the soil is in good shape for growing plants, learn how to prepare your soil for planting. This is also a good time to add drip irrigation and/or hoop housing.

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Hop plant climbing the back fence.

Build a trellis (or two)
If you plan to grow peas, raspberries,  or even cucumbers or squash, you will want to have a trellis in place to support these climbing plants or plants that need extra support.

Weed and prepare the soil
Be sure to weed the spaces that you are going to be planting seeds. After you weed, prepare the soil. If you have a container garden, you will also need to prepare the soil for your containers by purchasing potting soil, compost, and fertilizer. DSC_0014

Start planting seeds
You can plant pea, potato, arugula, lettuce, and spinach seeds outdoors in the Pacific Northwest in March. I plan to get all of these into the ground by the end of the month and will plant the majority of my seeds outdoors in early April.

Plant berries and bare-root plants
If you want blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, hydrangeas, lilacs, roses, or other bare-root or berry plants, get them in the ground this month. You can purchase these plants from your local nursery.

Divide perennials
If you have any perennials that you want to share or plant in another space in your yard/garden, you can dig them up, divide them, and replant. For example, I am going to dig up the roots of my mint plant, cut the root mass into separate chunks/divisions. Then replant the division or give one to a friend. You can do this with thyme, rhubarb (my rhubarb comes from a division from a friend), oregano, and chives.

Prune
This is a great time to prune your plants. Prune roses, hydrangeas, ferns, trees, blueberries, raspberries, grasses, and other bushes. Remove dead branches, and branches that rub up against one another to create more air circulation. This is important to maintain plants so that they stay healthy and strong.

Lastly, enjoy the fresh cut flowers that you planted in the Fall! Daffodils and tulips should be popping up. Did you miss the chance to plant flower bulbs in the Fall? Don’t fret, get ready now to plant dahlia tubers in May.

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Garden design inspiration

After the technical and strategic post How to plan a garden, I think it is time to let down our hair and day dream about how your garden could look and feel. This is why gardening is so great, you have the power to create a beautiful space and environment all by planting and caring for seeds! img_4849

My friend and garden muse, Tracey aka The Fake Farmgirl, inspires me to think creatively and to move outside the lines to create a beautiful, lush garden. In my 2016 reflections, I stated that my goal in 2017 is to get more colorful and experimental. To get my juices flowing, Tracey was gracious enough to share how she thinks about garden design and planning. The best part, she doesn’t overthink it. She pairs her garden knowledge with her vision and creates a space that is brimming with life. dsc_0040

Megan: When you first started gardening, did you have a vision for how you wanted the garden to look? 

Tracey: So when we moved into our house, 4 years ago, we had these hideous Junipers that took up 80% of our back yard. My poor husband was tasked with chopping them down and when he was done we had this gaping hole in our yard…And my journey began. He built me a few raised beds and I went to town. I started to look on Pinterest every day to get inspiration and became obsessed with Potager gardens. Potager is French for kitchen garden. I found that most of these gardens have a blend of veggies, flowers, and herbs that commingle to create an aesthetically pleasing space. There is also often a use of structures to create visual appeal. I love the idea because it allows me to create a beautiful space in my garden.

Megan: What does your dream garden look like and why?

Tracey: I hate dirt. I think that a garden teeming with life is the best use of space. My dream garden is alive with ornamentals, food, flowers and structures all co habituating and creating a space that invites people in. there are also a few chickens in my dream garden lol…img_5408

Megan: How do you plan your garden? Based on what you want to eat? How you want it to look? 

Tracey: All of that. I think about the veggies first, then I try to think about companion plants. What bugs are going to attack my veggies and what can I plant nearby to try to prevent infestations or detour pests? I love Borage so I always put a ton next to squash to encourage pollinators to visit. Sage near my brussel sprouts and kale to keep cabbage moths away. I also think about where I can put structures or grow vines… I want green everywhere.

Megan: Do you draw a visual of what you want your garden to look like and then plant it? How do you time everything so that it is all blooming at the same time?

Tracey: Lol no, I should. I really just go for it.

Megan: How do you know what flowers, veggies, and herbs to pair together? Do you plant all of these in your beds or just focus on veggies?

Tracey: Everything goes in my beds, I read and take classes on companions. I focus on the veggies and what is best to plant near and away. img_5409

Megan: Do you suggest any MUST-HAVE veggies, flowers, herbs that we should plant in our garden beds? And why?

Tracey: I’m really into Pineapple Sage – I love how its red flowers pop amongst my brassicas, and it is such a hummingbird attracter! I also love Nasturtium. Be careful though, it ATTRACTS aphids so it can back fire. Plant it near tomatoes and the two will live in harmony. I’m also really into Borage, I’d try that if you haven’t, around squash. It’s a must-have. It re seeds so you will only need to plant it once. I’m also into artichokes, I like to let one bloom. I just planted leeks too, and plan to let them flower. img_1060

Just the name “Pineapple Sage” makes me feel all warm and fuzzy with excitement to grow plants. Yum! Beyond thinking about a space overflowing with vegetables, herbs, and fruit, you can also think about creating spaces in your garden where you can relax. For example, my childhood garden was built around a brick patio where my family enjoyed dinner together all summer long. There were two entrances to the garden, both trellised and covered in honeysuckle and clematis. It was dreamy. Your garden can be an outdoor extension of your home and a place of inspiration and peace. Dream big!

My 2016 garden. The plan is to add a lot more color in 2017!dsc_0040

A few months ago, Tracey also shared her insight about natural pest control in the garden, check it out.

January & February garden checklist

You won’t be getting too dirty in January and February, but you will get busy. Now is the time to plan and prepare your garden. Whether you are starting a garden for the first time, on your 5th year, or starting an herb pot, you want to put a little strategy behind your vision.

Your main task in January and February is to plan and make preparations to be ready to plant seeds and/or transplants in your garden, yard, and/or containers.

Before diving into what you will plant and where, there are a few other important items to-do.

January & February checklist

  • Purchase and plant bare root plants: roses, fruit trees, shrubs, etc. You will see these at your local nursery in February, possibly on sale. If you want roses, blueberries, raspberries, hydrangeas, lilacs, and other fruit and flowers like these, this is the time to make it happen. Learn more about planting bare root plants. 
  • Take inventory of garden supplies, seeds, fertilizers, and potting soil. Do you have what you need to plant seeds? Do you have the seeds you will be planting? Are your gloves still in good shape? Do you have enough fertilizer? 
  • Build structures to support growing plants. Are you planning to grow any plants that climb or need support? Like climbing peas or raspberries? You will need a trellis. Do you want to install irrigation this year? Do you want another raised bed? I have two raised beds and have decided it is time to add a third. I am creating a plan to build this bed before I need to plant seeds in this bed in March. DSC_0183
  • Prune perennial fruit trees/bushes and roses. Time to get everything cleaned up! 
  • Plant onion and leek seeds indoors. If you want to grow your own onion and leek transplants, now is the time to do it. These crops take a long time to grow so it is best to plant as transplants versus directly planting the seeds in the ground. 
  • Finish harvesting any crops that overwintered in your garden. It is time to finish off those leeks, carrots, and beets. Make room to plant in March! img_6704

While you are making preparations to be able to plant your seeds and transplants in March (specific to Seattle), you need to make a plan for what and where you will plant. 

Check out this post to create a plan for what crops you will grow and where they will be planted.

Time to start daydreaming about a yard full of flowers and edible food!DSC_0091

How to plan a garden

Deciding what vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers you want to grow can be exciting and overwhelming. It is fun to think about a garden full of life, beauty, and food. But it is daunting to figure out when and where to plant. img_7763

Since the goal of this blog is to make it easy to grow food, I am going to try to keep this really simple and digestible. This is a long post, but hopefully easy to skim for the information you need. 

I am embarrassed to admit that this is the first year I have been this organized. I have never planned using an Excel spreadsheet, implemented crop rotation, or even considered the variety of crops.

I say all of this because YOU CAN GROW FOOD AS LONG AS YOU 1.) Get the seeds in the ground when they should be planted 2.) Tend to your garden. HOWEVER, if you spend the extra hour or two to strategize and document your plan, it will make it easier to plan year-over-year, you will yield more food, and it will be possible to make the most of the growing season.

Disclaimer: Everything in this post is based on what has worked for me personally. I am not saying it is the perfect way to plan. Also, like everything, you can get even more strategic and organized, but I am trying to keep it fairly simple.

Here we go!

If you use Excel, I strongly suggest using it for garden planning. You can also use an “Excel” Google Doc. This will allow you to easily make changes, stay organized, and save to reference year-over-year. Paper and pencil work great too. My Dad did want me to title this post “Garden planning for nerds”. 

In this order, plan what crops you will grow and where:

  1. Make a list of the plants yoplantandfamilynamesu want to grow. Consider your available space and what grows best in your region. 
  2. Label each plant with its family name. You will want to plant families together. This will make it easy to decide where to plant each crop and ensure that you rotate these families of crops to control pests and diseases. You can find each crop’s family name online or in a garden book like High-Yield Vegetable Gardening. To learn more about this topic, check out this podcast. Add a column “Family”. For example, broccoli, cabbage, kale, and bok choy are all part of the Brassicaceae family “Brassicas”.
  3. Determine the location you will plant your crops. This is where Excel really comes in handy.
    1. Sort the crops by family name. You want to plant families together.
    2. Choose a bed, trellis, or other location for your crops. Separate crops by bed, container, or other space in yard. I always put my tomatoes in containers because I think they are easier to manage in pots. I have a specific space in the yard with a trellis created for my Peas. I also consider if the crop is an annual or perennial. I prefer not to plant perennials in my raised beds. Perennials come back year after year so I want a location that I can dedicate to that crop. I found a space in my yard next to my back deck for perennial herbs like thyme, oregano, and sage.
    3. Decide what crops will go in which raised bed. Now that you know which crops will be planted in a raised bed, you can plan which crops will go in what bed. plantlocation
      1. Choose one crop and one bed. I started with Garlic because it is already planted in one of my raised beds, bed #1. I will plant the other crops in garlic’s family in that bed, these would be “Alliums” and include leeks and chives.
      2. Determine best companions. I reference this site or a garden book. Alliums (leeks, onions, etc) help Brassicas. So I will add all crops in the Brassicaceae/Brassica family into bed #1. Dill is also helpful to Brassicas, so I will add this to bed #1.
      3. Consider the space a crop needs to grow. I know that squash require a lot of space and room to sprawl. I think my bed #3 is best positioned for squash to sprawl out and over. Squash and beans are good companions so I will add beans to bed #3. Beans are good companions with spinach, swiss chard, and cilantro, all added to bed #3.
      4. What is left? That leaves me with carrots, lettuce, salad greens, arugula, and cucumbers. All will work well together and be put into my remaining bed #2. 
      5. Add flowers. One of my goals this year is to add more color and creativity to my raised beds. For the first year, I am going to plant beneficial flowers in my raised beds. I have added zinnias, calendula, and cosmos into beds #2 and #3. I had room to add them in bed #2 and purposely added to bed #3 to help attract insects to pollenate the squash.
  4. Plan where each crop will be planted within the bed. This will make it quick and easy to actually plant the seeds and transplants in your bed because you already know where to plant. To do this, I also drew my beds in Excel (10 columns wide and 15 columns long for my 10ft x 5ft beds). gardenplanning_inbed
    1. Consider the size of each crop. It is really helpful to make note of the height (short, medium, tall) that each crop will reach at full maturity. There have been so many times when I have planted a tall crop in front of a short crop and the short crop was always too shaded to reach its full potential. Now that you know which crop is going in each bed, you can plan the actual location of the crop in the bed by considering the height of the crop. Plant the taller crops on the north side of the garden or where shorter crops will not be shaded.
    2. How much you want of each crop. If you really love a certain crop, you want to make sure you have plenty of space dedicated to growing that crop. For example, my family loves lettuce, salad greens, spinach, and beans. I want to be sure to dedicate plenty of space to these crops.
    3. The life span of each crop. You need to know how long a plant will take up that space in the garden so that you are always growing something. It is such a bummer when you finish harvesting and have not prepared to replace that space with a new crop. For example, garlic will be harvested in July and that space will be available for a new crop. Decide now what you want to fill that space and can be planted in July/August.

Other Considerations:

  • Determine the month you will plant the seeds or transplant. You can find this information by searching on the internet, on the seed package, or in a garden book like Food Grown Right, In Your Backyard. You can also determine the month by knowing your last frost date. Most Spring crops can be planted after the last frost date. If you are using Excel, add a column and list the “Planting Month”. Some plants can be seeded continually every other week for multiple months. Note this by using “month – month”. So Lettuce can be directly seeded every week/ or every other week from March – September.
  • Consider crop variety. Until this year I did not pay much attention to the variety of crop. I just bought carrot seeds. Then I learned there are varieties that do best in my local environment. This year I am specifically researching the best varieties of each crop or at least documenting the varieties I choose so that I can better document the success of each crop. I love this Encyclopedia Botanica Podcast episode about garden planning and the best 2016 seed varieties.
  • Add a section for “date planted” and “notes“. It is super helpful to keep track of the day you actual planted your seeds/transplants. Also, add a note section for special notes on planting, harvesting, or anything else you want to note for this year or next. gardeningplanning

Please know, from personal experience, it is worth every minute to plan what you will grow and where it will be grown. Once plants starting sprouting, every extra minute you have will be used maintaining, harvesting, and enjoying your garden. You will not have the time or want to spend the time trying to figure out what to plant next and where to plant it.  Plus, when next year roles around, you already have a solid planning foundation in place.

Too much? Probably! I hope this post is helpful. Please share your tips, tricks, and questions in the comment section!

Need help planning your garden? Please contact me to learn more.