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Kelly Emberg and Samantha Binkley share the fruits of their labor and tips for staying well

The “model gardener” Kelly Emberg and “spice girl” Samantha Binkley welcome us into their homes to share the fruits of their labor and tips for staying well.

Image Credits Photography by Vincent Knakal

When shelter-in-place orders were issued in mid-March, we found ourselves wondering what we’d do to fill our extra time. For Fairbanks Ranch resident Kelly Emberg, it’s  been an opportunity to make lemonade from lemons in her expansive vegetable garden and home orchard. The former fashion model, known as “The Model Gardener,” admits that she became distracted with other projects over the last couple of years, leaving her garden “terribly neglected.” So, when the world came to an abrupt stop, Emberg says, “[I] worked every day from sunup until sundown, stone by stone, wood chip by wood chip, bed by bed, sprinkler by sprinkler, putting my garden back together again. Now it is full of nature — bees, hummingbirds, rabbits, vegetables, fruits, pests, and more. At first it seemed like I would never be able to get it back to the way it was. But by sheer determination and lots of extra time on my hands, my garden has never looked better!”

To track her progress, Emberg posts pictures on social media. “Some of my followers have told me that I inspired them to start growing, and that fills my soul, because I know how life-changing it is!” she says. “Even though I’ve been gardening for 12 years, I’m constantly learning. One of the best things that happened during this quarantine: it led me back to my passion.”

Tomatoes are her favorite thing to grow, so naturally Emberg has 16 different varieties. “Nothing tastes better than a home-grown tomato. My favorites are the heirloom varieties like Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, and Black Cherry. When you do grow your own food, the produce keeps coming, so I’m always having to create new ways to cook, can, dehydrate, or freeze my harvest,” she says.

She also finds reward in growing plants she’s never eaten or seen before. “My daughter, Ruby, bought me some experimental varieties of seeds from 7 Seed Company for Mother’s Day,” says Emberg. “I have always said, ‘One seed can change your life, and maybe even the world.’ Well, I might be a little overly optimistic with the ‘changing the world’ thing, but I promise your life will be better for diving into the garden and getting your hands dirty. It is a powerful feeling to be able to grow the food you eat. If I can do it, so can you. Trust me!” kellyemberg.com, Instagram: @kellyemberg

Kelly Emberg’s Simple Salsa Recipe

4 nice size tomatoes
½ to 3 jalapeños or serranos (depending on how hot you like it — serranos are hotter)
salt and pepper to taste
2 garlic cloves

Cut tomatoes in wedges and place them in a frying pan on medium heat, skin side down. You want to blacken the skins.
In a smaller frying pan, blacken jalapeños or serranos on all sides.
In a food processor, chop the garlic cloves.
Add the chili peppers without their stems to the food processor and blend with the garlic.
Add the blackened tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste, and blend. You can always add fresh cilantro if you would like.

This simple salsa recipe was inspired by Emberg’s friend, Ester LeDesma. 

Kelly’s Summer Gardening Tips:

  • Peppers and eggplant love the heat and can be planted in July.
  • As far as herbs go, you can still plant dill and cilantro, depending on the weather pattern.
  • Do your gardening and harvesting in the early morning or during the late afternoon when it is cooler.
  • Water, water, water! Summer can be hot and your plants need to be hydrated!
  • Only water in the morning and use a drip system. Most veggies don’t like their leaves to get wet, which can also cause disease.
  • If you see a snail, kill it immediately! Each brown snail can lay 80 eggs every 6 weeks. Do the math!
  • Don’t fret if you can’t eat everything you grow. There are always hungry family members, neighbors, friends, and charities that would gladly take the extra produce off your hands.
  • If you don’t get to your vegetables before they go to seed, save the seeds and plant them next year. Just make sure they are an heirloom variety and not a hybrid type.
Kelly Emberg in her Fairbanks Ranch garden
Kelly Emberg in her Fairbanks Ranch garden

Del Mar’s Samantha “Sam” Binkley has been taking advantage of the extended time at home to really hone in on her mental and physical health. “I do home workouts and I walk almost every day in my neighborhood. I’ve watched spring blossom in everyone’s yard and waved at my neighbors from afar,” Binkley says. “For my mental health, well, cooking of course is my therapy, so tuning out the ‘noise’ of the day, turning on my stove, and creating a delicious, healthy meal for my family remains a part of my routine. It’s how I show I love and care, and it’s a reassurance that we are going to be okay.”

The certified health coach and founder of Healthy On You, an organic spice and salt blend line, has also been hard at work on her own home kitchen garden. “Nothing gives me more satisfaction than planting seeds and watching them grow. Since we’ve been home, I’ve grown beans, chards, cucumbers, lettuces, squash, various herbs, and now the tomatoes and corn have completely taken over!” she says.

Samantha Binkley has been staying connected via virtual Zoom sessions
Known for her lively cooking classes, Samantha Binkley has
been staying connected via virtual Zoom sessions. Her next
online classes are scheduled for July 12 and 19.

Binkley’s favorite summertime dish is her Grilled Turmeric Ginger Chicken Skewers. The recipe uses her Healthy On You “Here Comes the Yum” spice blend. “It combines turmeric and ginger, two powerful anti-inflammatory spices, and a mixture of coriander, garlic, and cumin to create a flavor sensation that’s warm and truly satisfying. It also reminds me of my childhood and my mom’s Indo-Caribbean cooking style,” Binkley says.

Also known for her lively cooking classes, Binkley has been staying connected via virtual Zoom sessions. “The online classes I’ve held throughout the pandemic have saved me from feeling isolated. Knowing that I would see everyone’s face in their own kitchens, cooking with me, gave me something to look forward to every Sunday,” she says. Her next online classes are scheduled for July 12 and 19.

Whatever your passion, Binkley encourages finding ways to stay engaged during this unique moment in time. “Gardening, cooking, reading books that you would not have otherwise picked up, finding new hobbies — things will return to ‘normal’ and you would have missed the opportunity.” sambinkley.com, healthyonyou.com

Samantha Binkley’s Turmeric Ginger Chicken Skewers with Lemony Yogurt Sauce

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cubed
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp Healthy On You “Here Comes the Yum” spice blend
Grilling skewers
Sea salt and pepper to taste

For the yogurt sauce: 
½ cup Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon zest
Sea salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients and refrigerate until ready to serve with the chicken skewers.

Marinate the chicken: 
Whisk together the Greek yogurt and the “Here Comes the Yum” spice blend, and season with salt and pepper.
Add the cubed chicken to a sealable bag
Add the marinade and massage it into the chicken through the bag.
Seal and set in the refrigerator for one hour or more.

Grill the chicken: 
Remove the marinated chicken from the bag and thread onto the skewers.
Grill on the stovetop or on a BBQ for 8-10 minutes per side. (The chicken is cooked when the juices run clear.)
Serve with your yogurt sauce and grains or salad of your choice

Serves 2-3 

Samantha Binkley in her Del Mar kitchen with her Turmeric Ginger Chicken Skewers and Lemony Yogurt Sauce
Samantha Binkley in her Del Mar kitchen with her Turmeric Ginger Chicken Skewers and Lemony Yogurt Sauce

One Comment

  • gary mawla


    Put some peach or mango in the salsa and make it mild: very, very delicious

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