Taco Tuesday

I just hammered this out. It needs editing for sure. I just had to get it out of my mind.

A Story, a Rant, a Query.

I grew up eating tacos when we could get them. Some history first. Mom (Eunice) was born and raised in Arizona until she was about 11, then Arkansas. Her mother (Thelma) was born in California, moved to Arizona then to Arkansas.  HER mother (Lydia) walked westward with a wagon train from somewhere back east all the way to California and to my knowledge lived there all her life. This line of women and their sisters were English, Scandinavian, fairly white. The men many of them took up with were of Hispanic and Native American descent. Thelma raised her children on what is now commonly called Tex-Mex – tacos, Spanish rice, tamales, burritos etc. 

When I was growing up Grandma. – Thelma – always had a pot of beans and a pot of  Spanish rice cooking or cooked to go along with everything else on the table. There were tacos sometimes. If and when a relative or friend brought them from out west.

Our immediate family had tacos on the table quite often and we were overly familiar with Del Taco and Taco Bell. Tacos. All I knew was hamburger tacos with a little lettuce, cheese, onions and some taco sauce. At some point in my adulthood I was introduced to real tacos made with all manner of meats roasted in all manner of ways. I had my first fish taco in a stand at the Las Vegas flea market. Changed my life, thanks to my sister.

So I went along in adulthood making hamburger tacos and eating tacos from Taco Bell which I still love thank you very much. Just saying… do not slam my love of crappy tacos. Actually the only crappy taco I have ever had was in New Mexico. I didn’t know you should never order Mexican food in New Mexico. What they serve in New Mexico is New Mexico’an cuisine – a whole different ball game. Please don’t be offended if I have used incorrect terminology here. You can however correct me and I’ll be appreciative.

Back to Mom’s taco making skills. Our mother was not the greatest cook in the world but she was one hell of a baker. Her potato soup was really good as was her … ahhh… hmmm. We certainly didn’t starve – she always kept us well fed no matter how poor we were. Tacos. Hamburger fried up with a packet of taco seasoning from the store, shredded iceberg, diced onions, grated longhorn style cheese and bottled hot sauce I know not what brand. The corn tortillas were always yellow, tender and stood up to her dipping each one of them in a sizzling hot 1/2 inch of grease, carefully folded in half on the spatula as it was lifted from the hot oil and each  laid on it’s own paper napkin to soak up the excess, all stacked up until they were all fried like that. That’s how I made tacos until oh maybe ten or fifteen years ago. I don’t make them very often anymore because I want to eat too many of them and have eaten too many of them on several occasions.  More than several occasions. I have yet to meet a taco I didn’t like except for that time in New Mexico.

As we travelled back and forth across the country, mostly the midwest, corn tortillas were difficult if not impossible to find. Most grocers looked at Mom like she was crazy when she described what she was looking for. Sometimes there would be corn tortillas available in a big flat tin can! 

The more we zig zagged back and forth across the midwest along with thousands of other pipeline workers during the 60’s many of whom were also asking for unusual grocery store items the easier it was to find corn and flour tortillas. This was over a time period of several years. Then we settled back into Arizona where corn tortillas were always available. And there was a Del Taco in every town.

Did I mention we lived in a very small trailer the four of us? Then the five of us. The kitchen was minuscule. The refrigerator tiny (especially on the days Mom had her “sprinkling” stashed in there – it took up a lot of space – and that is another story). The freezer compartment barely big enough for an ice cube tray and a few items for the upcoming week. 

One thing Mom did always have in the freezer was every single unused corn tortilla. One or two left at the end of a meal, three of four, whatever. They got wrapped up tight and twist tied and stuck away for later. Of course these tortillas would get freezer burned, dried out and they just wouldn’t hold up to the hot oil treatment with any integrity at all. She developed a recipe new to her (I still can’t throw away a corn tortilla). Enchilada casserole. The internet is filled with enchilada casserole recipes now but not then. Mom would make a batch of her famous red gravy enchilada sauce, grate all the leftover cheese bits, there might be some meat in it but most likely not, plenty of diced onions and out she’d take all the partial packages of moldering corn tortillas from the freezer. These ragged corn tortillas would be hand torn and stirred into the simmering sauce along with the aforementioned items and then baked in the oven until hot and bubbly. This dish eventually became Mom’s Onion Enchilada Casserole. It was favored far and wide among friends and family. I still make this dish and love it. It is quite possibly the best thing Mom ever cooked, even though it was baked. It wasn’t a baked item. You know. Cake. She was a cake queen.

I have only recently in the past few years branched out beyond homemade tacos made with meat other than hamburger. Carnitas today for the second whole time in my life. Very good. Except for the crappy corn tortilla part of the taco.

Which leads me to my rant.

Where in the heck can you get a decent corn tortilla in north central Arkansas that will hold up to being folded and stuffed? Organic would be nice. I have tried several organic tortillas and they are tasty but expensive and only available in small packages. 

The carnitas tacos today were mighty fine but the corn tortillas less than stellar. Yes I have a tortilla press. Yes I’ve made them from scratch a few times. No I was too tired for such nonsense today. These tortillas were frozen and a little gone over for tacos but we made do.

Here is the query part of this ramble… what is YOUR taco story? Do you eat them?  Do you make them? What is your favorite place to buy tacos? What is the most tacos you have eaten in one sitting? Do you have a specific recipe you use at home?  Soft or hard shell? A favorite corn tortilla? What have I forgotten to ask you about tacos? 

If you try to talk to me about flour tortillas I will scold you. Flour tortillas are not the makings of tacos no matter what Taco Bell says. Stamping my foot on the ground.

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An Overview of Gardening at Moonmooring

Welcome to Moonmooring blog. I write mostly about food (much of that about gardening) and about everyday stuff in the life of a gardener/regular person in the Ozarks.

Below, you will find several excerpts, and their links, from a sampling of my posts over the past few years. I think these will give you an idea of who I am and what we do here.

My partner, Gene, and I have been gardening intensely here for seven years. I had gardened previous to that over 25 years or so with varying levels of interest.

One of my earliest and fond memories is of planting peas. It was February 14, my traditional day to plant peas weather be damned. The soil was thin and poor, full of small broken stones with a little crumbly soil in-between them. I was on my hands and knees in the cold and the damp, scratching at the nearly frozen ground with a rusted trowel. I was doing my best at the time. The unmistakeable smell of snow had been in the air and halfway along the twelve or fifteen foot row the light changed. Snow fell. Huge flakes of snow. I fell back onto the cold ground and howled with laughter, one hand clutching dry pea seeds. That day I felt for the first time that I was a real gardener. I knew that snow was one of the best things a row of freshly planted peas could ask for. Just a flurry or a light dusting. It was a plentiful row of snow peas that year.

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

I have gardened with my grandmother, my father, husband, friends, Gene, in the desert, in a trailer park, in open fields, and on an apartment patio, and for the better part of the last 35 years in the Ozarks. If you have one tomato plant in a pot you are a gardener. And it is a feather in your bonnet on the road to healing the earth.

Now those excerpts and links.

From A New Year; written  Feb 4, 2020

“…in other news, … a great kitchen door after years of that area being butt ugly and dysfunctional. Don’t ask – just know this – in the Ozarks sometimes houses are held together just fine with spit and masking tape.”

“The garden has overwintered nicely with greens to nosh on throughout, and carrots that just recently finished their last harvest, radishes, cilantro (I could fill bathtubs with cilantro!), green onions, all little things not taking much time nor space but providing a bit of fresh for the dinner table on nearly a daily basis.”

“I’m determined to spend less time and energy in the summer garden this year, as there is a book or two to write and it’s just too darn hot to garden a lot. Here’s the plan. Let volunteers grow where they may and see what happens. Oh sure, we will plant a bit of corn and the English peas went in yesterday and cucumbers! Oh gosh I miss cucumbers soooo much in the winter. Grocery store cukes just do not compare. There may or may not be green beans. I know I know… sacrilege. What will the grand-children eat if not “Gigi’s” beans?! There must be squash also, if we can beat the squash bugs back far enough without poisoning ourselves in the process. Who knows what else. Not me at this moment. It will all happen the way it will and likely by accident this year. A little chaos might be good for me.” Read More Here

January Musings; written January 24, 2019; celebrations of a garden

“…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.” Read More Here

Summer Garden Winding Down;  written Sept 2, 2018

“This year’s irregular weather has provided challenging garden seasons and pushed us to some creative solutions. “

“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.”

“One day we were lucky enough to notice pollen shed and watched for a while. It was fascinating and beautiful. For a comprehensive article on the whole story of corn pollination” Read More Here

Audrey the Compost Bin; written May 21, 2009

“My compost has a life of its own, as it should. Compost should contain gazillions of living organisms to add to the soil. Sometimes it seems though, that I live for my compost pile. It always wants to be fed, needs to be fed in fact. I mow and pile it on. I rake and pile it on. I weedeat, rake and pile it on. Once in a while I water it. If it’s lucky I bless it with a bucket of dilute pee. Over days I watch it breath in and out. Filled to the top with new grass clippings and dried leaves I imagine its lungs expanded and a few days later it heats up and collapses in upon itself. Empty lungs. Time to do it all over again.” Read More Here

Thanks for looking in !

Sarah

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Not An Answer, But a Message

 

I had a burst of tears this evening. It surprised me because all is okay in my world in spite of what the news is telling us all. I was apologetic to Gene and I was taken aback at my sudden irrational display of emotion. I think of myself as level headed, strong willed, reasonable and logical in a crisis situation. I tend to bark orders at anyone in the vicinity of an emergency situation, then walk away afterwards to write a critique. So spontaneous tears surprised me this evening.

Gene, my partner, is a wise man in many ways. He is especially wise in how to communicate with me, clearly, addressing sometimes painful and emotional aspects of this woman’s worldview. He quelled my apology with gentle words of support and a reminder that I need never apologize for crying. He eased me into conversation about what was on my mind, gently questioning and repeating what I had to say to him.

Together we came to the conclusion that my tears were of grief. Grief for the world we are stepping away from, being pushed away from, torn from even. Grief for the people who do not have the means to protect themselves even for a short while with very little to no shelter. No way to acquire, store, nor prepare food for any period of time. There are so many people who do not have the means to do these few basic things.

I am grieving for the person with an abscessed tooth and no dentist, the mother who can’t get home to her children, the couple who have to postpone their wedding, an old woman and her dog – alone. The list goes on.

I am grieving at how this virus is changing the way we shop, move around the world and our own neighborhoods, interact with family, friends and others. I am grieving at the loss of great leaders who care more for the peoples welfare than they do their own benefit.

The list still goes on.

If you are experiencing stress, anxiety, anger, frustration, fear, lack of control, confusion about how we got here; maybe you too are grieving for the loss of something slipping from your grip.

The world changes every day, every year. This world passes through the solar system and moves deeper into the cosmos; we, along for the ride.

Sometimes it gets bumpy.

Reach for a friend, write a letter; reach for some peace, allow yourself  kindness; reach for the Man Upstairs, pick some flowers, meditate, wash dishes with intention, breath a little slower. This might be the best moment we have for a while.

We’re going to have to give this some time to change into something better. And we are going to have to make some adjustments as the wheel turns.

A lot is going to be required from each of us and we will need to do our best.

“It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.” 

Winston S. Churchill
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A New Year

How many times have I posted a similar endearment along with a promise to write more here? Too many to count – but this year I hope to hold myself accountable to that statement.

There are reasons – excuses if you will. Both parents have died in the last couple of years and a person finds themselves in a different reality during times of loss. I’m not over it yet but the stress of them being ill has passed. Mom and Dad led good lives, prosperous in many ways, children who didn’t give them too much grief in adulthood, beautiful grand-children and the list goes on. They had the means to follow through with all their life goals and jaunting about the parts of the world that interested them.

There are hundreds of letters filled with precious memories and lifes details.

I have since become the caretaker of the family archives – a daunting task for sure but one I have eagerly accepted and even longed for. I had no idea what that would entail until it happened.

There were originally twelve moving boxes of photographs, some over one hundred years old. True some took up a lot of space because they were in albums but this was one huge amount of photos. Since the inception of photography this family has taken avidly to it. There were also several boxes of memorabilia and interesting documents from their early life in the Arkansas Ozarks and their subsequent travels from 1960 to 1970 during which we lived, or camped depending on your definition of live, in about sixty locations. I’m still sorting the exact number out of these records.

The acquisition of this collection has been a large stress on its own. Just in the last month or so have I felt like I could really get a handle on it and morph it all into some kind of tale that can be shared with those who enjoy a good family biography.

Placing a new kitchen door. What a view!

Placing a new kitchen door. What a view!

So in other news, the kitchen is getting a little upgrade – Henry helped us put in a great kitchen door after years of that area being butt ugly and dysfunctional. Don’t ask – just know this – in the Ozarks sometimes houses are held together just fine with spit and masking tape.

The garden has overwintered nicely with greens to nosh on throughout, and carrots that just recently finished their last harvest, radishes, cilantro (I could fill bathtubs with cilantro!), green onions, all little things not taking much time nor space but providing a bit of fresh for the dinner table on nearly a daily basis.

I’m determined to spend less time and energy in the summer garden this year, as there is a book or two to write and it’s just too darn hot to garden a lot. Here’s the plan. Let volunteers grow where they may and see what happens. Oh sure, we will plant a bit of corn and the English peas went in yesterday and cucumbers! Oh gosh I miss cucumbers soooo much in the winter. Grocery store cukes just do not compare. There may or may not be green beans. I know I know… sacrilege. What will the grand-children eat if not “Gigi’s” beans?! There must be squash also, if we can beat the squash bugs back far enough without poisoning ourselves in the process. Who knows what else. Not me at this moment. It will all happen the way it will and likely by accident this year. A little chaos might be good for me.

A good example of how to work with summer heat. Chervil which notoriously dislikes summer heat over-summered until frost under this tent of hardware cloth and row cover.

I do know this… there will be a huge fall and winter garden this year to spite the heat of summer. And it will be filled with green leafy things and all manner of roots to grace our table. That plan is well under way.

May a flurry of wet snow fall upon your spring pea planting,

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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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