It’s still a little chilly and grey here in Okinawa, but I’m itching to start gardening again! A few of last year’s plants didn’t make it over the cold season. I let all of my basil and cilantro go to seed, and most of my green bell pepper plants didn’t make it. Though I admit, I kinda gave up on the peppers after being overwhelmed with trying to rid them of stinkbugs (largely unsuccessfully). Last year was my second year keeping a garden. In the end, I only managed to grow a few small bell peppers, a few strawberries that the caterpillars got to enjoy. I was pretty successful in the herb department and ended up with an overwhelming supply of basil, dill, parsley, and a bit of cilantro. My tomato never made it to fruit-bearing stage and it was a constant battle between me and the caterpillars, stinkbugs, and super hot, dry weather, but I learned a lot and had fun doing it.
This year I’ve decided to embrace the caterpillars and grow flowers instead of food. We had a partially sunny day here yesterday (a break from the dreary past few months we’ve been experiencing), which inspired me to go to Makeman (Okinawa’s version of Home Depot) and buy some plants. Here’s what I got:
I also got what I think are African violets, and surrounded it with a pretty snapdragon-looking plant (the label was in Japanese, so I’m not quite sure what it is). Makeman had a display pot with these two planted together inside it, so I assume (and hope) they will be good companion plants.
Finally, I got two very pretty violet-colored flowering plants. The label said Lavender Mora, but I think in this case lavender refers to the color rather than the species. It’s not the good-smelling herb that you use for sachets. This doesn’t seem to have a smell at all, but they’re pretty. I hope the butterflies like them!
I still have a few good-looking plants left over from last year, so thankfully I didn’t have to spend too much to fill out the empty pots. My strawberry is still looking great after a good pruning. I have one very determined Nasturtium that’s been with me for almost 3 years now that likes to surprise me by repeatedly dying off and growing back again, looking better than ever. Both of these I started from seed.
I’ve also kept up with my windowsill herb garden in the kitchen. I have my three most commonly used herbs here, basil, parsley, and dill. These three have been doing really well. They get most of my attention and are also sheltered from weather and bugs, which helps a lot. I decided to attempt growing a tomato plant on the windowsill this year as well. Not sure if it can be done indoors, but we shall see. If the bugs can’t get to it, maybe I’ve got a chance at success this time! (pictures to come)
If you’re planning on doing some gardening this year, this Miracle-Gro coupon might come in handy. It’s for $3/1 Miracle-Gro Expand ‘n Gro concentrated planting mix. Click “Get a $3 coupon” in the lower right corner of the page.
What will you grow this year?
Grow your own veggies. Even if you can only afford enough space on your patio for a few potted plants, every little bit helps. A quick Google search will turn up many useful guides for beginners. I recommend trying bell peppers and tomatoes.
Buy fruits that are in-season. They will generally be cheaper and taste better than when buying out-of-season.
When buying leafy greens like lettuce or cabbage by the pound, tear off and discard brown or otherwise inedible leaves before placing them in your cart, if your store allows it, to avoid paying for the extra weight. This also goes for corn husks on fresh corn sold by the pound. Stores will have a bin set up in the produce department for such waste.
Compare prices of onions and potatoes to those in pre-packaged bulk bags. The larger bags might be a better deal. Plan to eat or cook and freeze all of the veggies within a week, because it won’t be worth your money if they go uneaten, to be discarded later.
Consider buying un-trimmed celery if the price per pound is cheaper. Celery leaves are edible can be used as seasoning in stews, salads, and other dishes. They can also be used as a replacement for parsley if you’ve run out. I’ve found a great way to store celery that keeps it from getting limp too quickly: Trim off any brown spots, then wrap the entire celery bunch tightly in a long piece of aluminum foil. Wrap this in a second layer of foil. Store it in the produce drawer in your refrigerator for up to three weeks. I’ve found it works far better than storing it in plastic.
When buying fresh herbs, wash them immediately upon returning home from the grocery store. Trim and discard any rotting stems. Wrap in damp paper towels and store in the refrigerator in plastic bags. You can also bunch them together and store them upright in a shallow glass of water. Cover the entire setup with a sealed plastic bag and change the water daily to keep them for up to 1 week. Best yet- grow your own herbs on your windowsill or patio. Herbs are incredibly easy to grow and require minimal care. A daily watering and monthly fertilizing with all-purpose fertilizer should do the trick. Grow herbs you know you will actually use frequently. I recommend trying basil, parsley, and dill.
Learning to store your produce properly will extend its shelf life, and reduce the amount you have to throw out and replace. The Thriving Vegetarians blog has a nice summary of how to store many common fruits and veggies. I also love my Rubbermaid Produce Savers. They are great for berries and half-onions! Here’s a coupon!
Compare the prices of fresh veggies to frozen. Frozen is often cheaper and has comparable nutritional value (possibly better, if your “fresh” produce has been picked more than a couple days ago.
For a better deal on poultry, compare price per pound between plastic wrapped-on-styrofoam to bagged. The large bags of chicken are often cheaper per pound, and they are easy to separate and repackage into smaller bags once you get home. Also consider buying a whole chicken and butchering it yourself at home.
Grocery stores often have a reduced price meat section. If the meat has been refrigerated properly and frozen by the sell-by date, it’s generally safe to eat. Remember, that bright red color of your packaged ground beef or steak is likely caused by the carbon monoxide that was artificially pumped into the package before it was wrapped. It tells you nothing about the freshness of the meat so don’t be fooled, and check the dates! The USDA has a good FAQ page regarding meat color and freshness.
When buying steak, look at the price per pound, not just the actual price tag. Opt for a cheaper cut of meat. Compare price per pound on ground meats too. It might be cheaper to buy a large piece of meat and grind it yourself at home if you own a meat grinder.
Do you ever have leftover cooked veggies from dinner? If you’re not likely to re-heat and eat the next day, toss them into a plastic bag in your freezer. They are still good for making soup or stew. Re-inventing leftovers means you don’t have to buy as much food later. That’s money saved!
Use coupons! Produce and meat coupons are rare, but they are out there. Try looking up some of your favorite brands online to see if they have a mailing list. I recommend Driscoll’s for berries, they frequently email me with printable coupons when I fill out their berry surveys. Johnsonville is a good one for sausage. They frequently have printable coupons available.
Got any tips to share? I’d love to hear them!
I hope you had a safe and happy holiday season! I’m sorry I haven’t posted much lately. Christmas always leaves my head spinning after all of the decorating, shopping, parties, and food, food, food! We had a nice holiday, just the two of us this year. We weren’t able to go on leave to visit family, but we were grateful for a little time off together (and I’m always grateful to have my hubby home with me instead of on deployment!). As a military wife, that’s the best gift I could ask for!
2012 will be our last year here in Okinawa and we’re really starting to hear the clock ticking. We made a list of the few things we haven’t done yet, so we can make sure to focus on seeing this stuff before we leave:
- -Whale Watching
- -Forest Adventure Park
- -More snorkeling (that’s my wish, hubby is content watching from shore!)
- -Tug of war in Naha (I don’t know how we missed this huge event two years in a row!)
- -Tangerine picking (or grape picking, or really any type of picking!)
- -Find Tsuboya pottery district (we’ve already made a few failed attempts at locating it)
- -Visit some of the outer islands like the Keramas
I also want to continue exploring and poking around in places I’ve never been before, because there is always something “off the map” to discover. I’m sure there are a few castles we have not managed to find yet, and we haven’t spotted the endangered and elusive Okinawan Rail yet either.
One of my blog-related New Year’s resolutions is to post a LOT more pictures of Okinawa and share more of my experiences in this wonderful place. All of the following pictures were taken by me in the late months of 2011:
This is a dragon fruit, which tastes kind of like a kiwi, but the fruit is bright purplish-pink. It grows on a cactus-looking vine.
Did you know Starfruit grows from the side of the branch? Me neither!
This was taken at a beach near Kouri Island. The landscape in Okinawa is so beautiful, with mountainous rock coming straight up out of the ocean. Scattered here and there, you will also see these little islets of rock near the shore.
A beach near Cape Hedo. Picture taken from the roadway.
I often come across things that I’m not exactly sure what they are and have to guess. I think this is an old bus stop that is no longer used? It reminds me of the turtle from the movie Neverending Story!
This is Cape Hedo, on the northern end of the island.
View of the reef from the cliffs of Cape Hedo. The snorkeling is fantastic in Okinawa!
An observatory near Cape Hedo, shaped like an Okinawan Rail, a very endangered flightless bird that lives only on this island.
Views from inside the bird-servatory
Driving here can sometimes be quite confusing!
I’m a DBZ fan so I had to try it! It tastes nothing like squash! More like Red Bull. You can literally find vending machines like this EVERYWHERE. Like, seriously, every street corner. I was driving in the country one day and got lost in a sugar cane field. Lo and behold, there was a vending machine right in the middle of the field and not a soul around! Lol.
They have really cute cars here. Some of them look like toys! The majority of the cars are small and boxy, like the Nissan Cube. Rarely you will see an “American” type car, like a Pt Cruiser. The roads are much narrower than in the states, and the parking spaces are tiny, so trust me when I say, you WANT a small car here! When we went home on leave last year, I was pretty shocked to see big cars again.
This is Tadake falls, which you can only get to by hiking down a river.
This is American Village, a shopping plaza near Kadena AB, the largest base on the island.
Looking out from Sunset Beach on the west side of the island, you can just see the outline of the Kerama islands in the distance (one of the places I hope to visit before leaving Oki).
Please feel free to post any thoughts on anything I share with you. I’d be happy to answer questions about Okinawa or to hear about what you’d like me to share next!
Ebay has a new thing called “Extras,” where you can print coupons and request free samples from different brands. The coupons currently available appear to be similar to the ones available on Smartsource.com. There are currently 28 different free samples you can request, including fragrances, Carefree, Dove and Atkins. Just to be clear, these aren’t things you bid on, they’re free!
Woo! Sorry I haven’t been updating lately. With the holidays upon us, I have been super busy with shopping, decorating, mailing and cooking! We are booked just about every weekend from Thanksgiving until New Years each year because someone we know is always having a holiday party of some sort! We hosted Thanksgiving dinner at our house for a small group of friends (about 10 of us total, including 2 kids and a baby), where I made Turkey, ham, cornbread stuffin’ (yep that’s stuffin’ with a n’!), and pumpkin and apple pies. Our guests brought corn and potatoes to complete the meal and we absolutely stuffed ourselves! We ended up with a good amount of leftover turkey and ham, so I got out the crock pot and whipped up some split pea and ham soup, which my hubby loves, and some turkey and rice soup. I put my vacuum sealer to work and stored everything in the freezer for easy meals when we’re feeling lazy. The soup comes in handy too, since we’re coming up on flu season. Between the soup, the pumpkin puree I made around Halloween time, and our regular store of meat, veggies, and baking stuff, my freezer is completely packed right now! Someday, when we move into a bigger place, I think I’ll be asking Santa for a deep freezer!
Anyway, I’ll try to post more often!
Just wanted to share a few cute things I spotted on Uncommon Goods. I can’t resist window-shopping!
Shower Squids – Hanging creatures that hold all of your shower items and shampoo bottles in their adjustable tentacles! It’s weird, adorable, and I love it!
Urbano Eco Trash Can – If I didn’t already use reusable shopping bags, this would be a must. I would use it instead of a kitchen trash can and save myself from buying trash bags too!
Ipad & Kindle Book Case – Wow, this is so gorgeous! I prefer old-fashioned paper books, but this almost makes me want a Kindle.
Mechanical Music Box Set – Make your own music box! For the music lover who has everything.
And, since you should never pay retail if you can help it, enter code SAVE10 at checkout to save 10% on your order. (offer expires 11/11/11)