A Little Whimsy This Year

Lavender near bloom

Seashells collected from Dauphin Island over the years

praying Buddha made of lava rock – a serene addition for sure

second attempt at growing succulents, a few overwintered well and are even sprouting new ones

oregano in a giant pot adorning the patio

the little ceramic saguaro came from my mother’s collection

a garden fairy among the blooming sage

I call them pansies – they are not – but they are pretty

chive blossoms

flowering sage

the outdoor kitchen, not much to look at yet but it is functional and quite helpful

the newest area of the garden – Strawberry Fields”, host to the strawberry patch, 2 tire beds (which we are still struggling with how to use), a few flowers, lemon balm, rhubarb, Thai basil, artichoke, horseradish and a couple dozen fennel plants

under cover of Remay and wire hoops are a few cauliflower plants, not headed up yet but still plenty of time

the green bean patch, we may or may not need to plant a second batch depending on how they produce, we do like our green beans! and I can a few for my son and his family

THIS! Is why I spend hours every day in the heat and humidity – to graze a meal anytime I want

on the right snow peas, the left is newly planted sweet potatoes, in the back the green bean patch, to the far left where all the little orange and blue flags are is the fennel – small but sturdy

in the front a Thai basil – I will allow it to grow and flower, more decorative than anything and behind another view of the sweet potato row. That long row was home to about 40 pounds of carrots, mostly in the freezer now

this cattle panel arch is going to be our little oasis – a shade and a spot to sit a spell on long days in the garden – it will be covered with shade cloth and a couple chairs along with a small table will complete the ensemble

my Favorite! Peas!

We planted tomatoes in three batches, the first quite early in April. They are doing matvelously but we have been extremely lucky with good weather. They are all covered with flowers at various stages. Yes, we have aphids, again this year. And endless battle. Gene just released the second of three batches of lacewings to control the aphids.

just a handful of late cabbages now starting to head up – they are a variety that makes delicate little cone shaped things

a tomato plant from the first planting this plant has three developing fruits on it already!

they are looking pretty good so far this year

lettuces

bee attractant?

cilantro going to seed for the next go round – now called coriander

What’s happening in your garden this spring!

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January Musings

            With a full week of January still to be seen, one would expect thoughts of spring further away than a dim horizon. Au contraire.

I rose early this morning because there was a thawing chicken in the fridge calling for the oven. We always keep two or three whole chickens in the freezer because you just never know when a roasted chicken dinner seems the right thing or some week-long meal planning is needed. Winter is my favorite time to roast or simmer a whole bird. Besides, a whole chicken is much less expensive and for our two person household that chicken will make many meals – as you will see.

I went straight to the kitchen and turned the oven to 350F, stripped the bird of its wrapper, rinsed and laid it to rest in a roasting pan prepared with a swizzle of olive oil, a twig of rosemary, crushed garlic cloves and some broken black peppercorns. To this I added carrot, onion and cold water. Another drizzle of olive oil and a dusting of salt and pepper before topping with a snug lid – that bird was put in the heat within just a few minutes. The timer was set for an hour and twenty.

Gazing out the kitchen window I spied a beautiful morning, bright, clear, stone cold, but no breeze, and it took me to the garden for a quick jaunt to see how things were faring. Still well below freezing the cabbages were frozen solid. I adjusted some coverings here and there on Brussels sprouts, kale and oriental greens.

Feeling a little silly in nothing but my pj’s, bathrobe and sandals (yes I knew it was cold) I ran in for a thermos of coffee and another layer of warm clothes. Time slipped by as I sipped my morning brew and basked in the intense January sun. Morning birds and the a niente melody of wind chimes lulled me…

Gene came along and joined me on the patio until a breeze chilled us. Just as well… that chicken was near ready.

The bird rested before being stripped of its bones which were thrown in a pot along with cold water, more garlic and astragalus lozenges. It went to simmer for the making of soup stock.

The breasts were set aside – one for today’s lunch, the other for another lunch on another day. Plenty of scrappy bits for a few chicken salad sandwiches – into a bag and into the freezer. The remainder chopped for what will become chicken noodle soup.

And then it was time to prepare lunch. A few days ago I ran across a recipe that was so familiar I just had to make it.

Take a look at Heather’s Sour Cream Chicken Enchilada Skillet recipe.

Of course I made some changes. One chicken breast instead of three, and bumped up the spices. Of course some onion, and I decreased the sour cream and cheese, doubled the green chilis.

The methodology is very similar to my Mom’s red enchilada casserole to which she adds torn corn tortillas, cooked hamburger, onions and cheese and baked until bubbly. I’ve been making the exact recipe for over forty years.

The new Enchilada Skillet recipe was quick to assemble and very tasty and good enough to add to my favorites file.

So this single roasted chicken is going to make eight large servings of the aforementioned casserole, three chicken salad sandwiches, countless bowls of soup (almost a gallon) and a big bowl of warm chicken scrap soup for the dogs which they love. That’s a pretty good return on one roasted chicken.

Homemade noodles, celery, onion, carrots, together with the chicken and broth will become soup tomorrow.

___________________

The chicken chores almost done, I take the compostable scraps out to the compost bin, birdsong still fills the crisp air and bits of green peak out of the walkway soil. I am reminded that an ancient pagan holiday called Imbolc is just around the corner. Halfway between winter solstice (which is the shortest day of the year) and the vernal equinox (which roughly coincides with Easter), Imbolc symbolizes new beginnings. Lengthening daylight will encourage hens to lay more eggs and as they become plentiful we will decorate them for Easter. Imbolc aligns with Groundhog Day, a no less mythical day in celebration of a large rodent who predicts the weather.

Early spring gives one hope after a long dark and cold few months of winter. The days are getting noticeably longer. Seeds have been ordered and a new garden map laid out. Promises made perhaps at New Years are either coming to fruition or tossed aside – either way newness abounds and we feel refreshed and alive for the gentle reminders that spring is coming.

I thoughtfully and intentionally augment the already earthy smelling compost bin with what will become new dirt for the new plants quite possibly in a new garden bed. Full circle – these scraps, some of which were grown in this garden, are now going to contribute to the growth of the next round. Celebration can be that simple.

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The Great Snowstorm of 2018

a Christmas past

After much hype and ado, the great snowstorm of 2018 hit the northern Arkansas Ozarks with a whimper. We woke to a heavy dusting of unmeasurable snow and damp walkways. The weather person was right – we did get snow. Our day also brought cinnamon rolls and the artificial tree scattered across the living room floor ready to assemble.

That’s the whole of the story in a nutshell – but the other whole of the story includes the best bread pudding I’ve ever made, time saving holiday tree tips, and glorious photos of the non-snow snow day. Sausage and eggs. New pj’s. Et cetera ad nauseam and so on.

Frozen snow laden days always take me to the kitchen to cook a “big breakfast” – biscuits and gravy, bacon or sausage, eggs and fried potatoes. Sometimes fresh salsa for the scramble or an onion and pepper saute. The obligatory orange juice and coffee goes without saying. All that was in the plan. In anticipation of being snowbound for several days, we made three runs to the grocery making certain the kitchen and bathroom were well stocked. You know the mantra; bread, milk, toilet paper. In our case it also includes chocolate, bubbly, and maybe a good cheese/cracker combo.

Cinnamon rolls with a light vanilla icing and chopped pecans

At the last minute (last night) Gene wondered if we could instead have cinnamon rolls as a special occasion snowstorm morning meal. Sure, why not. As an aside, until now Gene has never once in our five plus years (I know that really isn’t very long in the whole scheme of things, but you know it’s our timeline here) made a special food request. Always expressing satisfaction at what I put on the table and refusing to suggest anything additional, I am sometimes suspect. But that is another story.

So we slept in, having noted in the wee hours of the morning that the storm had brought less than one tenth of an inch and likely not much else on the way. We arose quite late and I made cinnamon rolls from scratch, leaving them to rise while Gene made our coffee (which I so adore) then we sipped and speculated – mostly about the weather.

I would like to complain make note of the weather forecast and the forecasters… our weather site of choice has a fifteen day forecast. You may know all of this and if so feel free to skip ahead some distance. Fifteen days ago (!) when today first appeared on the fifteen day forecast it said “snow”. It said a rather high percentage chance of snow and that surprised me. I thought, “How can they know with that level of certainly that it WILL snow on the 8th of December two weeks ahead? Bah. Certainly that is a ruse.”

Each day thereafter the snow forecast persisted, wavering between 60 – 100%. The closer it got to the intended day the more detailed the information became. First it was 1 – 3 inches, then more, then less. Some days included ice, rain and/or flurries (flurries, the scariest snow forecast one can get in the Ozarks. Why, I remember two storms where “flurries” were forecast – one dumped over a foot of snow and the other graciously left behind eighteen inches! But once again I digress). For a few hours the forecast stated we could possibly get 8 – 13 inches. That prompted our third trip to the grocery. Does everyone except me have powdered sugar in the pantry in December?

Now, several hours after originally writing this, it is snowing dollar size chunques of snow and sticking, so, who the heck knows. 

cinnamon rolls ready for the oven

I baked the cinnamon rolls from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook circa 1974 and it certainly is a solid recipe but nothing to rave about. The recipe made 30 quite small cinnamon rolls because really, who needs giant cinnamon rolls when you can just eat three small ones. So there are approximately 22 rolls left to pack up into the freezer for other days (don’t tell me about any math discrepancies you may note here). 

I am already considering the last of these cinnamon rolls joining some other bread delicacies and pumpkin or squash for a later bread pudding. 

Recalling the best bread pudding I’ve ever made – on Dauphin Island many years ago with a group of lady friends sharing a house for a week. Nearing the end of the trip quite a lot of day old bread-like scraps were being considered for the trash can. Being of the ever “use it up” mentality I collected the stale donuts, a couple of crusty croissants, dinner rolls and sourdough bread scraps and along with some eggs, yogurt, half and half, random nuts and a couple of shriveling apples I made a bread pudding. It was The Best Ever. Never to be duplicated – but that happens a lot when I’m in the kitchen – random food never to be duplicated.

Today’s cinnamon rolls need more depth. They are good, light and fluffy dough with plenty of cinnamon (I did triple the amount) but this evening I will spend a few moments  scouring internet recipes to see what and how cinnamon roll decadence can be better achieved.

While Gene was later cooking sausage patties, over-broken eggs and toast I moved furniture, pulled the Christmas tree out of the box and was pleasantly surprised to find at least 45 minutes shaved off the assembly time because one of us had the foresight last year to rubber band the matching branches together instead of indiscriminately tossing them into the tree box. Cool idea! Neither of us remembers doing it but hurrah for us!

New pj’s and crocs for a walk in the snow.

After cinnamon rolls, coffee and our two PM breakfast I went to the garden to check the cloches, survey the yard and collect some of that surging snow storm on my tongue. There is nothing like the quiet of snowfall in a pine forest – an interesting form of vertical susurration. Hopefully enough snow will accumulate to bring that special sound to our ears before nightfall. Note to self: look for the 4th of July sparklers.  

 

Cinnamon, sugar, pecans

dusk on a snowy day

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The Making of Tomato Pie, savory

Even though I consider myself a southern woman I had never had, much less eaten, a tomato pie until last summer. How did I survive without this delicacy?!

I make this pie several times throughout the summer and it is sorely missed once the last ripe tomatoes are gone. It is often served with a side vegetable like green beans, fried okra or slaw and followed with a fruit dessert. For Gene and I, who eat little meat, the tomato pie is a main course and a whole pie makes two meals for us.

Get those tomatoes sliced and draining a couple hours before mealtime to remove the extra moisture otherwise the pie will be soggy. This is experience speaking to you.

Sliced tomatoes need to drain well to remove excess moisture for a sturdy pie. These tomatoes are Black Krims and Celebrity.

Gather your herbs and rinse them well. Leave to dry on a clean kitchen towel or use a salad spinner. Then just before adding them to the pie topping chop finely with a sharp knife.

Freshly gathered herbs to season the pie – clockwise starting top left; parsley, basil, chives, thyme, summer savory, Greek oregano

Use the fine side of the cheese grater to grate sharp cheddar.

Freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese

Saute the onions in some butter just until tender and allow them to cool some.

Chop and saute onions in a bit of butter

I keep several pieces of pie dough in the freezer and thaw it out in the fridge the evening before. When your tomatoes are good and drained lay them out in the pre-baked pie shell and top with the cooled onions.

The sauteed onions top the sliced and drained tomatoes

The pie filling as it is called (I call it a topping) is the grand finale of this delicacy. When making it don’t change a thing the first time – try it the way it is. It is so perfect. And the amount seems like it is not enough but it is really perfect also. Dollop the topping on and then gently pat it into place with a fork. It will look scant to you but it is plenty and will fill in little empty spaces as it bakes.

Ready for the oven – topped with cheese, mayo and herbs

Sometimes we have a cucumber and banana smoothie for dessert after this pie. Yum!

Can you believe it? I do not have a photo of the finished pie! Leek pie, check. Onion pie, check. Green tomato pie, check. No Tomato Pie pic. Am I a bad blogger?!

I might be able to scrap one more tomato pie out of the ripening tomatoes in the kitchen but I think summer and summer food has come to an end now with the temperatures as low as they have gotten this week. Time for some winter food!

What is your favorite fall food?

Tomato Cheddar Pie

3 large heirloom tomatoes (about 2 pounds), sliced 1/4″ thick

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

All-purpose flour (for surface)

pie dough for an 8 or 9 inch shell

1 cup finely chopped Vidalia onion (about 1/2 medium onion)

1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar (about 4 ounces)

1/2 cup mayonnaise (preferably Duke’s)

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, oregano, parsley, and/or thyme

1 teaspoon mild hot sauce

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Make the filling and bake the pie:

Line a rimmed baking sheet with several layers of paper towels. Arrange tomato slices on prepared sheet, sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt, and cover with more paper towels. Let drain at least 30 minutes. (I drain for a couple hours)

Position rack in bottom rung of oven and preheat to 350°F. Pre-bake your favorite pie dough shell for ten minutes, then cool

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium. Add onion, butter, and 1/4 tsp. salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened and just starting to brown, 5–8 minutes. Let cool.

Combine cheese, mayonnaise, herbs, hot sauce, pepper, onion mixture, and remaining 1/4 tsp. salt in a medium bowl. Blot tomatoes with fresh paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible. Arrange tomato slices in pie shell and top with filling; smooth. (I do this ahead of time even the evening before, and refrigerate)

Bake pie, rotating halfway through, until golden brown, 40–45 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before slicing.

 

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Missing My Mother’s Comments

Eunice, three years old, Phoenix, AZ

My mother will be eighty soon. She is still pretty spry and spunky for eighty. But she doesn’t get to her computer anymore to check email and read my blog. And the bottom line is – I miss her encouraging comments.

If I was talking about family history or gardening or such she might have some small correction or a helpful hint and would always pat me on the back for a job well done.

I still rely on her if I have a canning question but sometimes now she calls me for a canning question of her own. YES! She is still canning – but just a little bit. Mom grew enough green beans in her small garden this summer  to put up a partial canner load. I was tickled for her and scared to death thinking about all the things that could go wrong.

My sister is throwing a party for her and I am hoping the weather cooperates so we can make the trek out west without snow in the equation.

If you know my mother and would like to send her a card or even attend her birthday party drop me a line and I will get the details to you.

Happy day!

S

 

 

 

 

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What Was New In The Garden – summer 2018

I planted two new tomato varieties this past spring; San Marzano and Brad’s Atomic Grape (because Baker Creek was pushing them and they looked cool).

San Marzano, Celebrity, Brad’s Atomic Grape, Green Zebra

The San Marzano tomatoes grew well, we had plenty of hot dry weather. Do they ever need a lot of calcium! Yes they do. I have a specific tomato planting method and it includes, what I think to be adequate, eggshells. Additionally I do a foliar feed that includes calcium. All that and it wasn’t enough. I kept pushing the calcium and the blossom end rot was persistent. Finally after the plants had about all the blight they could stand (that’s another story and a successful one at that) the tomatoes turned around and came on like crazy – no blossom end rot. They are still pumping out lots of fruit even though the plants are a little on the scruffy side. Next year, more calcium, sooner. I’m loving these great little paste tomatoes. For a better look at calcium uptake in the garden you might want to read this article.

Brad’s Atomic Grape tomato

The Brad’s Atomic Grape – good and fast germination, sturdy plants in the garden. I was in love. Then I hated them – it was impossible to tell when they were ripe, the skin was objectionably thick and the fruits too small to peel, seedy, no flavor. I wrote a poor review. But I am back in love with them and will amend my review. These things have finally came into their own. One plant easily trained on a cattle panel arch and it is no less than ten feet high (but curved of course) and spans a good four feet wide. That plant has been COVERED in tomatoes for the last two months. I pick a couple pounds every couple days off that one plant. These plants have become less seedy, more flavorful and thinner skinned as the season progresses.

Amaranth

That was my new thing for summer ’18, along with some amaranth. The bugs loved the amaranth but the amaranth did not care one bit and grew any which way it could and decorated itself with big beautiful flower heads. For an in-depth look at amaranth surface anatomy check out this article.

 

 

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Summer Garden, Winding Down

This years irregular weather has provided a challenging garden season and pushed us to some creative solutions. We put tents made of cloth covered hardware cloth over the pots of mint and used window shade cloth to not only cover some windows but also some plants. Gene also put in soaker hoses and irrigation thingys to save us time in the hot sun. It was worth every dime and manhour that it took to install. We haven’t harvested as much as last year – but still plenty to fill the table daily and put some by.

Garlic chives flowers

I know chives can be invasive but I do love these garlic chives and their flowers. I may have allowed them to grow in too many places and will definitely have to start pushing back at them this spring. I will also not allow as many seeds to fall on the ground – instead gathering them to adorn the top of a loaf of rye bread.

Volunteer Celebrity tomato

We let four volunteer tomato plants grow where they stood this year. Three of them are Celebrity and one is a Green Zebra. All of them have done better than any of the other tomato plants. Coming up later means they had less problems with blight. We also used a foliar spray made with 1 teaspoon of baking soda mixed into a gallon of tepid water and sprayed lightly on the underside of the plants the minute we saw signs. IF I had kept up with it better I think we would have totally rid ourselves of blight ridden tomato plants. As it is, it is a much decreased problem this year and the four volunteers are faring better than the rest. The largest Celebrity of the three is covered with beautiful four-ounce fruits – I stopped counting at fifty. The first ripe one came off yesterday and we have had fried green tomatoes once from the same plant. Tomatoes… couldn’t we all just talk about tomatoes for days.

Okra flower with bug

Then there is the okra. I cut back to four plants this year because There Was So Much Okra last year! One plant up and died leaving us with three. There Is Still So Much Okra. I pick six to ten okra pods every day and about every three days I clean, chop, bread and freeze a quart size zip lock baggy of okra. We eat okra also, and I have shared a little. I once jokingly said the only reason I grow okra is to be assured of something to compost. Tsk, tsk… I have learned to Love it.

Bodacious corn

This is our third little patch of corn this summer. Spread the wealth I say. Yes we grow it in rows and Gene has become such an expert at hand pollinating corn. One day we were lucky enough to notice pollen shed and watch for a while. It was fascinating and beautiful. For a comprehensive article on the whole story of corn pollination click here. You can also look online for how to hand pollinate corn – it’s really very easy and very effective.

So our third batch of corn. We always chow down on all the corn on the cob we can eat the evening of harvest, then blanch, scrape and freeze the rest for all kinds of recipes and great eating.

Amaranth

Among the seed packets my sister thoughtfully sent for Christmas last year was amaranth. I know next to nothing about amaranth but we planted several seeds after a cursory online search. All the seeds came up. Most of them lived. I was only able to keep a few alive during the intense heat because, sorry to say, it wasn’t a high priority. Am I a bad gardener? Then a huge wind took several of them down. This one survived all that albeit flat on the ground with its’ roots barely hanging on to the soil. As plants will do, this one made a 90 degree turn reaching for the sun and has produced a big beautiful head of flowering seed pod. You might notice all the bug eaten leaves. These plants are hardy! If it was standing it would be in the six to seven foot range for height and the stalk is several inches wide. Next year I plan on putting them up against a support where they might be tied up with some twine. And definitely in the flower garden along with the Thai basil. And other things too.

Zucchini

Five late zucchini plants in straw bales near a trap planting (ok it was a volunteer that I took advantage of) of butternut squash laying on the ground. Every. Single. Day. one of us attends the plants in the bales and on the ground, turning Every. Single. Leaf. over to look for squash bugs and their eggs. We remove them to a plastic jug filled with water. This is a lot of work. Do not mash the bugs as that attracts more bugs (from what I have read and I ain’t taking any chances), just drown them. We also used diatomaceous earth before the plants began blooming. So far so good. I think we are going to have some summer squash soon! For thorough info on getting rid of squash bugs read this Moonmooring post here.

Gene running the weed eater

Wait. What!? The last sunflower. It came up real late and was a volunteer to boot. I don’t believe it received much water. There are only so many hours in a gardener’s day.

What else is happening out there you might ask? Lots still. The last of the third planting of green beans. Pole beans kicking in. Watermelons still to harvest and the honeydew have been truly amazing. Five pounds of tomatillos from one plant yesterday (there are several plants… yikes!), the San Marzano, Black Krim, Atomic and mystery tomato all still kicking out more than enough every day. Peppers, peppers, peppers. Sweet potatoes are looking massive. The Brussels sprouts made it through the heat and some kale also. Time to dig up the volunteer leeks to transplant, pull the green onions from their shade. And we cut our first fall cilantro today for salsa. Life is good. Now it is time to start the fall plantings!

Do you plant a fall garden? If so what do you grow in it?

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