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Starting Seedlings & Garden Planning

After months of cold and dark, we at Caramelize Life love to look forward to spring by starting plants from seed indoors.  Snow covers the frozen earth and the bountiful green garden of last year is hard to remember.  It is time, in the deep dark of February and March, that planning spring starts and a garden layout is particularly inspiring especially here in Northern Mountains of Washington.

For timing your indoor starts, February/March is the perfect time to take stock of your seeds.  If you have gathered seed from last year’s garden, wonderful, and if not, making your mail orders or stopping by your local supplier now fits the timing for spring planting.

In the Methow you can find our favorite seeds sold at  They carry seeds from our very own Twisp Ancestree Herbals and Uprising Organics that sources seeds sown by Pacific Northwest growers including Kelleigh Mc Millian’s Sowing Seeds Farm from Twisp River.

Begin by taking stock of what and how much your family will eat throughout the year.  For instance, if you use a lot of onions in your meals, plan a plot that is big enough for cold storage (or freezing) that lasts the year (for our families that is a plot 8×12’ at least).  We use more and more tomatoes every year (for fresh bites for sure, but also for canning, salsas, frozen sauces, you name it) so our tomato plots continue to expand.

We seed cayenne peppers, jalapeño peppers, several tomato varieties and tomatillos.  Each of these plants comes up easily, but you will need a south facing window and possibly an additional light close to your plants (our solution is an old ski pole with florescent light hanging from adjustable ropes to change position as the seedlings grow.)  Watering with mist seems to work best for all these heat loving plants, and their moisture needs are minimal.

Keep a close eye on your seedlings as they come up.  Tomatoes in particular can become gangly, but it’s possibly to gently push them down or build up soil around them.  Little cotyledons (the non-productive leaves) will help anchor the plants, and we like to coax them towards the soil.

Keep in mind when your growing season begins to time your planting of seeds.  For us in the Methow Valley, we count on possible frost until the end of May.  This is the soonest the tomatoes can go in the ground.  Most, however, have a much longer growing season.

If you are curious about your planting season and want to know what zone you live in there are several sites that can help you determine what will grow best in your area and when to plant. has an interactive map for Wa, Or, and Id. and the Sunset online site has an in depth look at the PNW as well as links to everyplace else.

There is nothing like green little baby plants to lift spirits towards spring.  Love them gently!

Finding the end of the rainbow


It’s green, it’s good and it’s easy to make.

Aunt Polly’s Grasshopper Pie

In our family everyone gets to pick their birthday cake and most choices don’t fall into the traditional category and well, neither do most family members.

One of our favorites has been handed down from the Perry side of our lineage. It’s perfect for those who don’t bake, and as my littlest one who only likes the frosting on cakes and cupcakes, often handing them back sans topping would say there’s no dough!

24 Oreo cookies
20 Large Marshmallows
1/2 c milk
1/2 pint cream, whipped
4 tbs creme de mente

crush the cookies and press them into the cake pan making a crust.

in a double boiler, melt marshmallows in milk
let cool
add creme de ment and whipped cream
fold and blend
sprinkle crumbs on the top
chill for a few hours or pop it in the freezer to speed up the process.

If you would like to take it a step further by making the Oreos and Marshmallows your own check out my favorite recipes on smitten kitchen; springy-fluffy-marshmallows and my-kingdom-for-a-glass-of-milk:

Fresh Fish & Zesty Salsa Warm up Winter Nights…

Perch Tacos with Salsa Verde

This taco recipe is a simple, full proof meal that can be easily modified to your liking.  Combining the sweet tang of tomatillos (even easier to grow than tomatoes) and the smokiness of jalapenos hits a perfect balance.  Paired with the light fresh texture of winter white fish, we see it pleases almost any palate.

“Son!” is the constant refrain heard from inside the Ice Shanty throughout the winter.  That’s short for “it’s on!”-a phrase we learned quickly when perch and trout fishing out on the ice with family and friends.  Once the state fish and wildlife department announces the ice is thick enough and safe, the shanty is skied out to live on Lake Paterson until the spring thaw.  (It is converted into “deer camp” in the fall.)

And through the winter, patiently braving the cold is rewarded with buckets of fresh, flaky perch, delicate trout and delectable Kokanee (lake dwelling sockeye salmon).

Since the fish and water are so cold in the dead of winter, there is never a trace of “fishy” flavor in these perch.  They may be smallish, even tiny, but are so fresh and prolific that it is completely worth the effort.  Being small fish, they are perfect for tacos, chowders or an easy fish and chips.

Ice fishing is fun and productive.  It is a wonderful first fishing experience for children because they can easily bait their own hook, catch their fish and keep going at it, all by themselves.

The first time that Phoenix  age 6, went ice fishing, he was so ecstatic that he plunged his hands into the icy water, refusing gloves, bringing up one fish after another off his line.  (That’s not to suggest you catch the perch with your hands, he was just very enthused.)

Paired with the Salsa Verde below this recipe is packed with flavor.

1 lb Perch or other white fish such as halibut or snapper
t 1.c bread crumbs
1 large organic egg or 2 small
1 c. Jalapeño Salsa Verde
1-3 T. Olive oil
8 tortillas
1 c. shredded purple cabbage
½ c. Mexican crema or creme fraiche
½  c. additional Jalapeño Salsa Verde or Tomato Salsa
1 c. chopped fresh cilantro
½ c. green onions
Lime wedges for serving

The fish works well breaded and fried, or quickly broiled.  For frying, mix your eggs, briefly soak the fish fillets, then bread.  In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Arrange the fish on the pan and cook until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn over and cook until the fish is opaque throughout, about 1-2 more minutes more. Timing depends on the thickness of your fish.  Rather than time it exactly, take your cue from the fish.
To assemble each taco, place 1/8 of the fish in the center of the tortilla and top with 2 T. cabbage, 1-2 T. crema, 1-2 T. salsa, then garnish with 1 T. cilantro and 1 T. green onions.  Wrap and bake briefly or sauté in a heavy skillet.  Serve the tacos with lime wedges, sour cream or topping of choice.

Jalapeño—Tomatillo Salsa

2 Pint Yield

This salsa recipe is one of our favorites.  It combines the exotic sweetness of tomatillos with the smoky zest of jalapeños.  Without being big and chunky in texture, it is much thicker than similar tomato salsas.  Go liberal on garlic and cilantro to taste, as the salsa benefits from each.  And feel free to change up the ratios to your liking–with this recipe it is fun to get creative.

We’ve been whittling down this salsa for years and one thing is for sure: amount does not equate to quality.  Even the smallest batch of this salsa goes a long way, both because of its flavor and thickness.  It’s definitely spiced up our winter nights:)  Enjoy!

5 1/2 c. husked and chopped Tomatillos
1 c. chopped Jalapenos, fresh or roasted
1 c. chopped onion
6 cloves minced garlic
1/2 t. salt
2-3 T. freshly ground cumin
1/2 c. cider vinegar

up to 1/2 c. other pepper variety to taste such as green chills or cayennes (optional)

1/4 c. lime juice

1/2 c. cilantro

Chop tomatillos, peppers, onion and garlic separately by hand or food processor.  Combine all ingredients except cilantro and lime juice in a sauce pan over medium high heat.  Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for at least 5 minutes.  Add lime juice and cilantro for last 2 minutes of cooking.  Ladle hot salsa into jars.  Can in water bath or pressure cooker, or enjoy fresh.

recipe Serves 4

Note: We usually make a double or triple batch of this salsa.  It is just as good preserved by canning or freezing. 

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