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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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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