Category Archives: Homestead and Garden

All Good Things: 116 Farmstead Market & Table Softly Opens

One glimpse of her yellow, brown and button-accented apron encasing the junior waitstaffer and I was smitten – dually smitten with the wearer, as well as the space within which she was ringing up a coffee for me and a “Dublin Dr. Pepper” for my husband.

We were standing at the counter of 116 Farmstead Market & Table on soft open day.  Nestled between several historical downtown Luther, Okla. structures, the new business was populated with the owners, their children, the store manager, and several walk-ins who had come with well-wishes to “see what they’ve done with the place.”

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Entrance: Downtown Luther, OK main street approach. May 7th, 2016.

As someone who has had a fairly rigorous education of the disappearing downtowns across Oklahoma, I’m especially glad to see any lifegiving effort begin to turn that trend around.  And knowing this particular project was generated by those I knew to be thoughtful and conscientious about their plans, and how they can go about adding good to their world, I asked Matthew Winton for a few thoughts at the end of their first day.

Q: When you stand in 116 Farmstead Market & Table, sun shining, breezes blowing through the new store, what goes through your mind?

It’s difficult to quantify what it means to see my wife, kids, Angela, friends and family gathered together at 116.  Sometimes it diminishes things to define them.  I’ll try [to quantify]:

I saw people serving one another literally and figuratively. I saw neighbors treating others as they want to be treated – kindness, sharing, love. I heard the stories of people who had lived in Luther all their lives trying their best in 15 minutes to sum up what it meant for them to grow up in that place.

 For us, it isn’t so much a philosophical proposition as it is a spiritual one. The purpose of 116 is to nourish soul through body.  You likely experience this as an educator with your students, although your experience is nourishment of soul through mind.  It’s the same thing in my thinking. I experience it in my law practice, parents experience it in parenting their children, and on.  This may be getting too esoteric, but it really is the purpose behind 116.  We seek to [meet] a community need, which is a place to eat and buy groceries, but the purpose is simply to create a space for people to intersect and share their stories.  If we are ambassadors, then 116 is our embassy.

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Inside shot of the “table” area looking toward the service counter. May 7, 2016.

Q: I understand you’re open Tuesday through Saturday, and your grand opening is coming up soon.  What information would you like others to know about your store or what to expect?

The full open for 116 will be Saturday, June 4.  Store hours will be: Tues-Fri, 7-3 and Sat., 8-5.  We will modify these as we learn the needs of the community.  Angela Hilliard is the manager (there is a great story behind how our paths crossed and other cool intricacies to how she joined us, but I’ll save that for the first Luther Speaks event).

The goal is to provide locally grown or produced meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables.  Of course, there are a number of items not produced locally, such as coffee and tea, so we use local roasters and wholesalers for these items.  We want to tell the story of the farms and farmers/ranchers who produce these items.

As producers of all natural beef, we never get tired of sharing what is a daily work with those for whom we produce food.  We believe we were created from dirt, are tasked with caring for the dirt, and want to share that story with others.  The 116 is our attempt to provide a beautiful space for that story to be told.

Wendell Berry once said that ‘eating is an agricultural act;’ he called it an ‘annual drama.’  The 116 Farmstead Market and Table is a stage for that drama to be shown and told, from the Market where producers’ products and stories are shared, to “Luther Speaks” nights, which are opportunities (think: Moth Radio Hour but Luther style) to tell stories about the land, the people, and what they produce together.

The Table is a chance to enjoy a seasonal menu of breakfast and lunch items made from what is sold in the Market.

It seems culture tells us we can have everything all the time, which we know can’t be true.  It is true, though, that we are all tied by place.  Today was a great experience of that truth – from the Luther High Class of 1960 to those who had never been to Luther before…everyone has a story to tell and the 116 is a place to slow down and share those stories.

Social media is great for information, but connection really happens over a cup  of coffee or sharing a meal face to face, spilling drinks, seeing people’s kids run around without pants on, looking at beautiful works of art, slowing down for a moment.  This isn’t pretending life is all okay; it is reconnecting if but for a moment to place, and toil, and dirt.

Americana-style fiber art rendering of the U.S. flag. May 7, 2016.

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Please plan a trip down highway 66 to visit the 116 Farmstead Market & Table. Please take the time to sit, connect and enjoy your time with the good folks who are creating this shared community story with their new business; spend time looking through all the elements on the mural hanging over their door.  Make sure to ask about their 2nd floor space, and event areas. Read much more information than I can share by visiting their website. And by all means, find out when the first “Luther Speaks” event will take place so we can all attend and listen.

But more than anything, take moments to “nourish your soul and your body,” when visiting 116, and every day.  I’m pretty sure we all want that for you.

Very much.

My Little Victory Garden: Lessons We Teach Our Plants

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Concord grape vine, April 8, 2016. Red Dirt Kelly’s homestead.

Over half my vine’s branches were hewn and burned this past February.

“Give up the weight, dear vine, so you can focus your energies upon doing a smaller job very well.”  My enlivened whispers continued as I ripped a full nine feet of harsh, brown-dry entanglements from the left side. Then again on the right.

Oh, how I might grow if only the lessons I impart upon my plants were turned ’round to myself.

How to Make Redbud Jelly

Redbud blooming season has almost passed in Oklahoma, but the opportunity to make delicate, floral jelly happens every year.

These easy step by step instructions, plus a few common questions and answers should help guide you through the process easily.  Once you’re finished, stand back and admire your stock of unique gifts for friends, or delicious wares for your pantry.  Happy canning!

Redbud blooms in jar

RECIPE – REDBUD JELLY

3 cups of redbuds
Approx. 2 cups boiling water
2-3 Tablespoons lemon juice
3 Tablespoons Sure-Jel powder
2 cups sugar; 1-2 tsp. butter

1.  Gather 3 cups of fresh, new redbud blooms.  Be careful while gathering.  Honeybees like to visit the trees so you’ll have to share with them. Continue reading How to Make Redbud Jelly

How Billie Holiday, Hoboken Coffee and The Pioneer Woman Talked Me Down from my Starbucks Addiction

Technology news is full of information about self-tracking apps helping to “quantify” yourself.  Fitbits track your sleep and exercise.  Apps like Mint help you track your spending habits. And…no, let’s just stop right there.  Apps like Mint track your spending patterns and help you see how out of control your coffee drinking habits are.

Okay, let’s stop again.  Mint tracked my “Coffee Shop” budget for six months and slapped me into reality.  And now, I’m better.  Here’s what happened…

A conversation sometime last year:

Me: I’m setting up our monthly budgets in Mint.  How much do you spend for golf every month.

Mick:  I don’t know, I don’t keep track.

Me:  Well, my one “luxury” every month is going to the coffee shop, relaxing with a latte, and reading.  I’m budgeting $120 per month for me.  That’s my luxury item.  How about you?  What’s your average golf expenditures?

Mick’s golf budget is not part of this story.  But, the idea that I was using social exchange theory is.  In one sense, quite honestly, I was trying to justify my coffee spending habits by externalizing Mick’s golf activity spending habits.  Fair for you; fair for me…

In another way, however, I was trying to find a “number” that fit with how much we were each going to allow ourselves on luxury items per month we had already been spending, but needed to acknowledge.  This “budget line item” allowance we gave ourselves worked like a charm.  For six months or so, we kept a silent tally in our heads of “approximately THAT number” for “our THING.”

But at some point, however, my number began to slip.  I quit paying attention to my “Coffee Shop” line item. And, it gently creeped upward. Until April of 2014.  April was big month.  A full month.  Cram packed with activities, late nights, extra projects, and…extra stops at Starbucks.  I met colleagues at Starbucks to go over goals for research.  It was legislative session, so I had planning sessions at Starbucks followed by phone meetings at Starbucks.  All of the sudden, my $120 Starbucks habit had turned into…wait, WHAT? TWO-HUNDRED AND TWENTY-SEVEN DOLLARS??? Continue reading How Billie Holiday, Hoboken Coffee and The Pioneer Woman Talked Me Down from my Starbucks Addiction

Mother’s Day Strawberries

photo-5As my blade makes its way through a cool, ripe Stilwell strawberry, I breathe in the heady sweetness wafting upwards and across my face.

It’s Mother’s Day, and I’ve just returned from a two-day road trip to places I’ve not been, visiting with people I’ve only just met, with one daughter at my side.

A gathering of family on Mother’s Day brought my other daughter to my side accompanied by her man. Along with them came my husband, and we all celebrated his mother by eating food she had prepared for us on the day she should have rested, and received.

The berries for our dessert had been left behind, so we joyfully ate cake with whipped topping and drank our tea.

Tonight in my own kitchen, as I finish cleaning the berries previously selected for today’s dessert, I close my eyes and remember the slice of homemade pound cake with orange glaze.  I pretend to spoon my just-prepared berries over the cake, lift a full bite to my mouth, and enjoy the sweet goodness of Mother’s Day.

Thank you, God, for my own mother who helped me learn to prepare food, for my mother-in-law who prepared our food today, for my two daughters who are standing on their own as they continue to prepare food leaps and bounds over my historical 20-something capacity.  Thank you, God, for the sweet goodness of Mother’s Day.

So incredibly sweet and good.

 

My Little Victory Garden: Pesto Party

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Our kitchen smells like buttery toasty garlic-y basil.

Tonight at 8:15 p.m. I was so tired I had contemplated going to bed when I recalled a phone call from my younger daughter a few days earlier.

“I’m going to get a few groceries, mom.  What do I need to make pesto?”

And so the discussion about pine nuts and parmesan began.

So I was sitting there, recalling that discussion about pine nuts and parmesan and  looked over at her.

“Hey, I know it’s 8:15, it’s dark outside, and it feels late…but do you want to make your pesto tonight?”

She’s been living with us since July and I really haven’t had that many meal preps in the kitchen with her.  I felt like I wanted to bond.  To create our own “farm to fork” night right in my kitchen.  The basil in my garden is almost waist high.  The timing was now.

“Yeah,” she said.  “Let’s do it.”

My heart smiled and my legs pushed me out of my comfy chair.  Before long the entire island was covered with parts of a food processor, garlic infused oil she had brought from California a few months earlier, loads of sweet smelling basil, and her groceries.

We deleafed basil, shredded cheese, measured ingredients, chopped, and presto! Or, should I write…PESTO!?

The oily, complex flavor was delicious.

But the time in my kitchen with my daughter working by my side was even better.

My Little Victory Garden: The Sauce Tomato Crucible

PicsArt_1378691620801There are always the less-than-lovelies.  And, they have a purpose.

My sauce tomatoes are not sliced nor diced.  They are not stuffed with glorious salads, nor wedged and placed on top of beautiful pizzas.

My sauce tomatoes have a mission.  They are ridded of spots, bruises, overripe sections and holes bored by grasshoppers.  They are lovingly washed and quartered, then inspected before being packed into my sauté pan.

My sauce tomatoes were born for blending into spicy fresh salsas. Or, for pairing up with herbs from the garden and garlic to reduce into something beautiful.

My sauce tomatoes were made for simmering, for steaming, and for bubbling aromatically.

And tonight’s batch was extra-tangy-amazingly…saucy.

Bravissimo!

My Little Victory Garden: Salsa Like Wine

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Who needs chips?  A spoonful into my mouth, oh my…I close my eyes.

Green coolness, fragrantly salted hits the tip of my tongue and

Garden onion aroma goes up my nose;

Black pepper accompanies the bite 

And as it slides toward my throat I taste

Fire grilled chilis, and a garlic finish.

I exhale to recall the savory essence of my homegrown

Salsa Verde, vintage 2013.

A very garden-y year.

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My Kitchen Utensils Deserve a Service Award

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This past weekend I was preparing pan fried okra.  I gently lifted one of my range fed eggs from its nest in the carton. My left hand opened the refrigerator, grabbed the milk, and closed the door in one fluid sequence. My fingers slid over the smooth chrome edge as I choose the proper sized mixing bowl.  I instinctively pivoted and opened my kitchen utensil drawer and lowered my hand to grab my Kitchen Aid medium sized whisk.  You can buy some decorative kitchen items here, which can also add an asthetic to your home improvement. The muscle memory in my hand was already preparing for the size of its handle and the weight distribution of its shape.

And then my brain jolted.  I stopped my “cooking dance” and pulled the drawer open further.  Where was my whisk?  I searched back, back, back…and…oh.  We had a potluck dinner at work and I had taken it with me to prep the Caprese salad dressing right before serving time.

Bummer.

I poked around in the drawer here and there, dissatisfied.  But then I spied my mother’s old spiral, or spring, whisk.  She had given it to Rylee, and it was back in my drawer now that Ry was living with us for a while.

My best guess was that my mother had received it as a wedding shower gift.  It had certainly been in the family for as long as I could remember.

“Okay,” I thought.  “I’ll give it a whirl.” And then I giggled because I had just made a pun.

About eight seconds later I was looking at a perfectly mixed egg and milk batter with beautiful, frothy bubbles floating on top.

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“Wow! So much for my whining,” I thought to myself.  “Good for you, old spiral whisk.  You’ve still got it in you.”

It’s possible that whisk is fifty years old.  How may meals has it served our family?  How many meals have we served because the whisk served its purpose for us?

I finished my okra, then respectfully washed the whisk and picked up a tea towel to finish the job.  Walking back to my utensil drawer, I decided that the whisk needed a more respectful place and so I rearranged just a bit before closing the drawer again.

Yeah, I’ll give a whirl again.  Very soon.

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My Little Victory Garden: Secrets to Making Crabapple Jam, Jelly, or Jamly

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When my neighbor and I see each other in the back yard, we almost always say “hi, there!”  Sometimes we yell a question or check in with how each other is doing.  And about twice a week, we start a conversation by walking toward our adjoining fence.  By the time we reach the fence, we’re halfway through with our discussion, and carry on by assuming our fence-leaning postures.  Lisa usually lays her arms over the top, and I usually lean my whole body against the fence and stand on one foot.  So, there we stand, three feet apart leaning on the fence and talking…about the topic of the day.

Today’s topic was “the proper consistency of jelly products.”  Lisa contends that you get what you get, and you eat whatever your fruit decides to offer, “whether it’s jelly, jam, or…jammmlllyy.”  In other words, there is a spectrum of what you end up with depending upon the year, the fruit, how ripe or unripe it was, the water content, whether you juiced it in a high-filtered juicer or one that extracts as much pulp as possible, et cetera et cetera et cetera.

The point being ~ there’s no real perfection in a recipe unless you’re a manufacturer with specifications, and then that takes the joy out of life.

So, how do you deal with crabapples?  After all, some years they’re tiny, other years they are fairly good-sized, sometimes they’re a little overripe, and sometimes…well, I could go on but I feel I’ve made my point.

If you “Google” crabapple jelly recipes, you’ll find about thirty.  Most will tell you exact measurements.  Which brings me to secret number one: there are no exact measurements when making crabapple jelly.  This is why you need a recipe that explains how you work with the fruit instead of trying to force it into a place it just won’t go.  Therefore…

  1. Use this recipe.   Julie Van Rosendaal took the time to write out the how, why, where, etc. on the proper process of making crabapple jam.  There is no reason to keep reading recipes that say x amount of fruit, x amount of water, and x amount of sugar.  I agree with her explanations, her sugar ratio, and her explanation about when the jam/jelly/jamly is ready.  You’ll be glad you didn’t waste your time reading through 200 hundred mixed reviews of every recipe out there.  This one is the best and I stand by my recommendation…and I’m picky.
  2. Make sure the fruit is ripe before you pick it.  If you rush crabapples, you’ll recreate a mistake I’ve made twice…the fruit will have too much tannin when prepped and it will give your mouth an astringent treatment.  If you’ve eaten a green persimmon…same thing.  You’ll know the crabapples are ripe and ready to harvest when some of them are already falling off the tree.  If you can find one or two that are slightly wrinkled on the tree, this is also a good sign. If the fruit is by and large yellow and slightly wrinkly, you may have missed the window.  Taste the apples – they need to be tart, but not astringent in order to work best.  You’ll be glad you waited and so will everyone who eats your jam.20130810_202646
  3. The only juicer you can really use on crabapples is a fine-straining type.  If you want to save some hassle and use straight crabapple juice, I would caution you about this decision.  Only if you’ve strained the juice well will it work – seeds, stems and blossoms can also add astringency to juice.  My best recommendation is to give up your thoughts about using a juicer and just cook the apples like the recipe says.  However, if you INSIST on using a juicer, make sure and understand that there will be a lower pectin rate, you’ll need to strain the juice, and your color might be slightly less because you didn’t cook the whole apples long enough for the peels to stain the juice a nice deep pink color.
  4. Take time on the front end to prep your fruit well.  The best fruit is washed fruit, destemmed and deleafed fruit, and WORM-FREE fruit.  Please be careful and inspect your fruit.  If you miss things like I mentioned, they’ll show up in your beautiful jelly or between someone’s teeth.
  5. In order to make sure it sets up, it really IS okay to use some SureGel or other type of pectin.  Although the recipe says that crabapples make their own pectin (and they do), I still use about 1/2 box per every 4 cups.  Otherwise, you might end up cooking the jamly down for 30, 40 or even more minutes in order to get it to the right setting up stage.  Either way, it will be lovely, but if you’re worrying about it setting up – give yourself a break and use SureGel!
  6. Can you recook jelly that didn’t set up?  ABSOLUTELY.  I’ve done this four or five times. Just open all the jars, dump them back into your stock pot, rinse and dry your jars and lids, then recook.  Remember the test – – reduce it until it’s clear, pure, beautiful…and test it on a cold plate.  The timing should be: already cold plate, add one drop of hot jelly out of your pan, put in freezer for 60 seconds only, take out.  If it wrinkles when you push it with your fingernail, it’s ready!  If it doesn’t, keep cooking!!
  7. Don’t have a crabapple tree?  Use the barter system!  I have never, ever seen a crabapple tree completely stripped of all the beautiful ripe fruit during picking season.  And, I’ve never owned a crabapple tree…I just look for trees in public spaces, or in my neighbor’s yards.  If you knock on a door and introduce yourself, pitch this idea:  “I’d love to pick a few gallons of your crabapples.  May I have permission if I bring you back a jar of jelly?”  All they can say is “no.”  And generally, they say, “heck yeah!”  We’ve utilized trees on golf courses, on university campuses, on street medians and in people’s yards.  Keep your eyes open, and let people know you’re looking.  There may be trees right around your corner!

Okay – that’s it.  You can use ANY kind of strainer:  a jelly bag, a colander, a strainer like mine (see below), but just make sure you really break apart the apples when you’re cooking them and you wait until all your juice finishes dripping into your pan.

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Crabapple jelly/jam/jamly is a beautiful thing.  So, take time to honor the beauty and you’ll be richly rewarded with jars upon jars of delicious, precious, jew-ly jamly every time you make it.

My Little Victory Garden: Jam Therapy

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Three times my friend communicated that “the blackberries are ready,” and to “meet me at Wellston…we’ll drive down together to pick them.”

But the first time they weren’t really ready. Then the heat was too extreme. Then it rained. And then I think my friend might have gotten tired of trying, and we dropped that plan.

I had already let the thought of those precious blackberries fade from my mind when I drove by my favorite sand plum thicket and spotted the color of ripeness.  I picked a few, took them home to show Mick, and within a few hours we were headed back to strip the thicket and head to the kitchen.

In spite of the lingering effects of chigger bites I suffered the next week, making that jam was a beautiful thing.  You see, I’ve been writing and coding and building tables for my dissertation.  And jam therapy seems to be the best thing to clear my head this summer.

I’ve cleared my head six more times since then…

Mick’s friend called and reported that his “daughter’s pasture had wild blackberries, and would we like to come pick some?” Our answer was, “Yes!”

Our arms were scratched, I picked up a piece of wire in the pasture that made a horrible screeching noise against my brakes, and it was so hot our clothes were soaked when we finished.  But we got about 6 or 7 pounds of blackberries and my second “jam session” was once again a beautiful thing.

Then I called my friend Cathy because she had planned on going for the original blackberry run that never happened and I wanted to chat with her while picking fruit.  I knew my contact down in Blanchard had grapes and that it was time for them to be turning.  So after she answered, I said, “Hey, wanna go pick grapes with me?”  And she responded, “Yee-haw” or “Yippee-Skippy” or something like that.

So the two of us packed our containers, do-rags, rubber boots, bug spray and more equipment than we probably needed and headed to the vineyard.  We picked Mars, Vanessa, Jupiter, and one other variety.  And then, we took her 14# bag and my 10# bag up to the shed to pay for them.  The farmer weighed Cathy’s bag and said, “Okay, that’s 14 times 6…uh, that’s…”

I looked at Cathy’s face.  Her eyes were blinking as she tried to register the fact that he actually WAS charging us $6 per pound for the grapes.  She was stuttering, so I decided to help.  “That’s $84, I’m pretty sure.”

In my head I was screaming, “EIGHT-FOUR DOLLARS???  WHAT-DO-YOU-THINK YOU’RE DOING?  THIS IS HIGHWAY ROBBERY!!”

After we paid for the grapes, I took my $60 bag and Cathy took her $84 dollar bag and we walked to the car.  Then we opened the doors and gently laid the grapes in the back seat.  Then we closed the doors and checked through the windows to make sure the grapes were okay.  Then we got in the front seat.  Then we closed the front doors, buckled our seatbelts, and exploded with, “What the??…”  “I KNOW, right?”

Then we took our solid gold, no – PLATINUM grapes home and went our separate ways.

Later I got a text from Cathy.  “Drinking fresh Jupiter grape juice – Oh. My. Larry….this stuff is good.”

Then I juiced all mine, cooked them down with a rosemary bouquet and turned it into Rosemary Grape jam.  Another therapy session.  And, it’s probably my favorite of all I’ve made this summer. Cripes, maybe they were worth the six bucks a pound…who knows? After all, I charge $125 per session when I provide psychtherapy…maybe $6 was actually a bargain, eh?

Then Mick and I drove to Stratford and got peaches, and I made jam.  TWO therapy sessions today:  jalapeño and cherry bomb pepper peach jam, and spiced peach jam with bourbon and crystalized ginger.  Each time I scrape the very last bits from my large stock pot I close my eyes and think, “Okay – I can do another table.  I can write another few pages….I can do this.”

I was in WalMart one day and saw $3 bags of apricots.  I bought five of them and made apricot jam.  And felt better when they were done.

I invited two friends over who wanted to learn how to can.  I had jam therapy vicariously through Rose’s first pickles and Katie’s first peach jam.  When the day was over, we were all a little worn out but I was calm and peaceful as a cucumber.

My daughter and my husband have dispatched the location of two loaded crabapple trees that I’ll probably harvest this weekend or next.  I haven’t even built my last two statistical tables or my final model but I KNOW I’ll need crabapple jam therapy to get me through.

Blackberries, peaches, grapes, apricots…all procured by hand in one way or another.  All cleaned, prepared, cooked and put up into half pints or pints, each pinging with a beautiful seal when it’s over.

I can’t wait to climb the crabapple trees.  I can’t wait to smell that beautiful tart-apple-ly aroma, or see the lovely pink sunset color when the jam is packed into the sparkling jars.  I can’t wait to feel relaxed and worn out after I complete my (most likely) 60th half-pint of jam this summer.

Why?  Because I know that between each therapy session in my kitchen, is a pile of pages stacking…and stacking…and stacking up in my master dissertation document.  I think on my defense day, I’ll take my committee jam.

After all, that’s only appropriate, right?

Oklahoma Cooking: Cheesy Spring Green Grits

Across Oklahoma today, the wind is preparing to sweep across the plain. Big time.

I planted my peppers and tomatoes last Saturday, and Mick promptly dug them up and stored them in our garage last night! Why? Evidently storms are coming: thunder, lightening, rain, hail, possible tornadoes and ice? Yes!

While outside surveying what plants we were willing to gamble on this upcoming craziness, I pulled/cut four ingredients for the kitchen:  chives, green garlic, cilantro and asparagus.  I just turned them into a truly dandy meal I’ll call “Cheesy Spring Green Grits.”  Prep time, five minutes.  Cook time, 5-8 minutes.  Eating time, [you fill in the blank].

Bring 2 1/4 cups of water to a boil.  Then…
Add 1.5 Tablespoons minced chives, two medium spears of asparagus chopped into bite-sized pieces, 1 tsp. ground pepper, one clove green minced garlic head (this is just new garlic, use regular dried bulbs if you don’t have any) and 1/2 cup quick grits.  Stir occasionally so that it doesn’t boil over.  While this is cooking, wrap 1 or 2 slices of bacon in a paper towel and microwave for 1.5 minutes.

Once the grits are done to your preferential thickness texture, turn off the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese.

Spoon into ramekins or other serving bowls, and top with crumbled bacon and chopped cilantro.

I ate mine while I was typing this post.  Bon apetit!

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My Little Victory Garden: “The Shadow” Voice is Haunting Me!

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Somewhere under this blanket of ice are several new veggie sprouts!

This morning I was awakened at 5:50 a.m. by a text message tone: “Be safe. Get to work when you can. Late is okay. Jeans ok.”

My blurry vision sent the message to my tired brain. This was followed by my body bolting upright and me running into the bathroom to grab my robe. “Get robe, get robe, get robe…okay, get slippers, get slippers, get slippers…”

I was still tying the belt on my bathrobe when I made it to the window in my office and peered outside. Thunder, lightening, rain, snow and sleet. As I identified each type of precipitation coming down at the same time I was thinking, “Cool.” Then I thought, “Oh No! What about my teeny tiny little sprouts?”

I’m pretty sure I have beets and lettuce coming up, and possibly radishes.

Into my head flashed this vision:

I could hear the creepy narrator voice saying, “Who knows what evil lurks beneath the layers of ice? Only the Shadow knows…BWAH-HA-HA-HAAAAAAaaaa!”

I hastily posted a Facebook message (paraphrased): “I sure hope my little sprouts come through this!”

Friends hastily responded: “They’re Okies, they’ll do fine.” And, “They’re safe under the blanket of ice.”

I took a deep breath, sighed, tried to relax. For about 15 seconds… Continue reading My Little Victory Garden: “The Shadow” Voice is Haunting Me!

My Little Victory Garden: A Gal Can Only Wait So Long…

For two weeks I’ve been dropping hints to Mick:

I was wondering if you might be in the mood to till my garden? It’s almost time, ya know.

Hey, so what exactly would need to be done in order for you to till my garden? Do you need oil or spark plugs or anything?

I was thinking…if I got the rototiller out of the shed and pulled it up to the patio, would that help you with tilling my garden?

A gal can only wait so long.

So what if it’s still two weeks before I should really be planting my early spring veggies? And so what if I have to go out to the garden every few evenings in February because my seeds have germinated, my tiny sprouts have started, and a cold snap is in the forecast? And so what IF every brain cell in my head knows that I really should wait just a bit more before feeling the soft earth in my hands and obsessively spacing my tiny seeds just so? Like Rafiki said to Simba in “The Lion King,” – It is TIME.

Therefore today was the day that I got down on my knees and worked every nook and cranny of My Little Victory Garden. No weed had a chance; they were all pulled up, every single root.

I paid homage to the grasshopper skeletons I found. I apologized to the cricket family for disrupting their home while thanking them for the reworked soil. I pulled as many oak leaves from the ground as I could find so as not to induce my seedlings with too much tannic acid. I carefully dug up the last three carrots and the four green onions, moved my purple sage, and transplanted my Gilly flowers. And then I smiled…and went to find my husband.

And this is what he did:

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So I could do this:

Continue reading My Little Victory Garden: A Gal Can Only Wait So Long…

A Sweet Secret for your Sweet Potato Fries

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I’m an Oklahoma local cook through and through.  Tonight I made locally grown sweet potato fries to go with our teriyaki grilled beef and cucumber salad.  I roast them by brushing the pan with olive oil, then brushing the thinly cut fries lightly with olive oil once they’re “single-layered.”  I roast them for about 15 minutes, then turn them and sprinkle them with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  When they’re nicely toasted (about 25-30 minutes at 425 degrees), I pull them from the oven.

Then I usually eat about five of them.  And so does Mick.

So I THEN sprinkle the remaining fries, made for our DINNER, with a light dusting of maple sugar.

The sugar sprinkle is a perfect complement to the savory salt/pepper flair they already possess.  In fact, the sprinkle will make your eyes twinkle when you eat them…probably really fast. Like, I’m talking SCARFING them down because they’re that good.

Like I said.  I’m an Oklahoma local cook through and through, but I’m incredibly glad Vermont gives us maple sugar.

Thank you, Vermont.

Whistle While You Work…or Cook!

Well, the summer nights are over in Oklahoma and with the onset of freezing temperatures comes…work! Monday evening of this week hubby and I realized we had just a few short nights to finish completely cleaning out our garden. I think our conversation went something like this:

Mick: “I think it’s going to freeze Friday or Saturday night. Or both.”

Me: “That’s good. I’m ready for cooler weather. Wait…when? Wait…Holy Toledo, MICK, we need to clean out the garden!!”

Mick: “Okay, we can do that tomorrow.”

Me: “TOMORROW!?? We need to start now!”

Mick: “Okay, it’s already dark outside, and it’s 9:45 p.m., but if you want to get started go right ahead. Otherwise, I’ll help you tomorrow.”

Me: “Tomorrow sounds great.”

First came jalapeno evening where we picked, cleaned and processed a gallon of fresh jalapenos and 19 half-pints of pickled jalapenos while watching the last presidential debate.

Next came the tomatoes…

 

We experienced a “barely-freeze” two weeks ago and my tomato vines turned brown, but the actual tomatoes were fine! So we picked a couple of gallons of grape tomatoes and yellow cherry tomatoes. They’re still waiting to be processed in our nice cool garage.

I also found one carrot, we cut the pumpkin blossoms, and we found about fifty tiny basil plants that were coming up from seed. I potted about ten baby basil plants and brought them inside. Right now they look pretty happy. I’m not telling them about all their other siblings I sacrificed during last night’s freeze. I can hardly bear to think about it, much less tell their family. Cripes! Continue reading Whistle While You Work…or Cook!

Rachel’s Little Winter Victory Garden

We stood in her backyard, surveying the fence line.  Which side got the most sun, or the least? Where would the shade be too much for young plants? What would the soil prove to be worth when we dug under the Bermuda grass?

The answers to these questions came to my daughter and I over the first thirty minutes of our work this evening.  We were starting her yard with a winter garden.  Depending upon the weather, some vegetables like lettuces, spinach or green onions could grow through much of the winter.

When we turned over the first shovel-full of soil, we found a nice dark color, three worms and a couple of rolly pollies.  And we smiled.  In my head, I thought: “It’s wick.  She’s got something to help get her started…it won’t be all from scratch.”

Four bags each of composted manure and cottonseed hull mulch, several bags of seeds, and a good deal of work later, Rachel’s garden is well on its way.  I have a feeling it will be cleared out, built up, seeded and tucked in before you know it.  After all, she is my kid…and her grandparents’ grandchild.

Happy gardening, Rachel.  I promise you…you’re about to witness miracles.

***

excerpt from the Secret Garden

Mistress Mary put her hand on his arm again without knowing it.

“Will there be roses?” she whispered. “Can you tell? I thought perhaps they were all dead.”

“Eh! No! Not them–not all of ’em!” he answered. “Look here!”

He stepped over to the nearest tree–an old, old one with gray lichen all over its bark, but upholding a curtain of tangled sprays and branches. He took a thick knife out of his Pocket and opened one of its blades.

“There’s lots o’ dead wood as ought to be cut out,” he said. “An’ there’s a lot o’ old wood, but it made some new last year. This here’s a new bit,” and he touched a shoot which looked brownish green instead of hard, dry gray. Mary touched it herself in an eager, reverent way.

“That one?” she said. “Is that one quite alive quite?”

Dickon curved his wide smiling mouth.

“It’s as wick as you or me,” he said; and Mary remembered that Martha had told her that “wick” meant “alive” or “lively.”

“I’m glad it’s wick!” she cried out in her whisper. “I want them all to be wick. Let us go round the garden and count how many wick ones there are.”

She quite panted with eagerness, and Dickon was as eager as she was. They went from tree to tree and from bush to bush. Dickon carried his knife in his hand and showed her things which she thought wonderful.

“They’ve run wild,” he said, “but th’ strongest ones has fair thrived on it. The delicatest ones has died out, but th’ others has growed an’ growed, an’ spread an’ spread, till they’s a wonder. See here!” and he pulled down a thick gray, dry-looking branch. “A body might think this was dead wood, but I don’t believe it is–down to th’ root. I’ll cut it low down an’ see.”

He knelt and with his knife cut the lifeless-looking branch through, not far above the earth.

“There!” he said exultantly. “I told thee so. There’s green in that wood yet. Look at it.”

Mary was down on her knees before he spoke, gazing with all her might.

“When it looks a bit greenish an’ juicy like that, it’s wick,” he explained. “When th’ inside is dry an’ breaks easy, like this here piece I’ve cut off, it’s done for. There’s a big root here as all this live wood sprung out of, an’ if th’ old wood’s cut off an’ it’s dug round, and took care of there’ll be–” he stopped and lifted his face to look up at the climbing and hanging sprays above him–“there’ll be a fountain o’ roses here this summer.”

They went from bush to bush and from tree to tree. He was very strong and clever with his knife and knew how to cut the dry and dead wood away, and could tell when an unpromising bough or twig had still green life in it. In the course of half an hour Mary thought she could tell too, and when he cut through a lifeless-looking branch she would cry out joyfully under her breath when she caught sight of the least shade of moist green. The spade, and hoe, and fork were very useful. He showed her how to use the fork while he dug about roots with the spade and stirred the earth and let the air in.

They were working industriously round one of the biggest standard roses when he caught sight of something which made him utter an exclamation of surprise.

“Why!” he cried, pointing to the grass a few feet away. “Who did that there?”

It was one of Mary’s own little clearings round the pale green points.

“I did it,” said Mary.

“Why, I thought tha’ didn’t know nothin’ about gardenin’,” he exclaimed.

“I don’t,” she answered, “but they were so little, and the grass was so thick and strong, and they looked as if they had no room to breathe. So I made a place for them. I don’t even know what they are.”

Simple Ideas: Apple Cider with a Breath of Rosemary

A serene view helps the cider be that much better.

This morning’s walk to the Intellegentsia coffee house was interrupted by the Chicago marathon.  Everywhere we tried to walk, our path was blocked with thousands of runners being cheered on my a supportive crowd, offering an endless supply of water cups.  Dance music filled the air to add another layer of, “You can DO it!” attitude to the environment.

So we made a contingency plan, and I’m so glad we did.  Our detour led us to one of the first locations my children had tried during our vacation:  GrahamWich, a Graham Elliot restaurant that offered a light breakfast menu and was right around the corner.  The quiche with Swiss cheese was delightful, and the crust especially flaky and tender.

But the apple cider was amazing.  I took a second sip.  Again, the tangy freshness sat with my taste buds but I couldn’t really distinguish any special notes. “Must be the apples,” I thought.  No, the third sip revealed the secret.  On the back of my palate, right before I was tempted with another bit of quiche I found it: rosemary.  Notes of rosemary danced across my tongue, and I smiled. Continue reading Simple Ideas: Apple Cider with a Breath of Rosemary

My Little Victory Garden: Rustic Baked Hen Legs with White Toscana Poached Pears

Sometimes I think I should change the title of “My Little Victory Garden” posts to “Scrappy Cooking.”  Indeed, the theme is most often: do what you can with what you have.

So this week I once again looked in my freezer for forgotten protein and found…a bulk pack of 14 chicken legs I had purchased on sale for $5.00.  “Okay,” I thought.  “There’s my main dish.  Next, check the garden.”  I couldn’t find my rosemary.  My little plant is only 6″ tall and has been completely swallowed up by my massive pumpkin plant.

Therefore, I used my neighbor’s rosemary.  She had borrowed an egg earlier that day.  I have dibs on her tomatillos she was growing with the seeds I had given her (I pulled my plant up because I thought it was a weed!).  And she’s used my Anaheim and jalapeno peppers no less than six times this summer…okay, you get the drift.  We’re ingredient swappers.  I’ll cherish her forever.

After walking into the house I noticed fruit flies had already started swarming around the lovely D’Anjou pears my parents brought me from Tuttle so I quickly settled on a complementary dish of poached pears and…there! In the back of my refrigerator was a crisp, medium dry bottle of white Toscana (Italian wine from the Tuscany area) taking up space.  I think it has been in there for at least six weeks.  And…that was all I needed to finish my entrée.

If you’d like to cook with me, I’ll share the simple recipe I concocted.  Here we go:

First, mix 1/2 c. olive oil and 1/3 c. balsamic vinegar with 1/2 T. sea salt, 3-4 thinly sliced cloves of garlic, ground pepper to cover the top of the liquid, and one 5″ twig of rosemary.  Strip the rosemary from the twig and mince most of it, careful not to include the tough portions that attached to the twig.  I put in about 25% of my rosemary whole for a pretty look on the baked poultry.

Whisk the marinade together, then put the 7 hen legs plus the marinade in a gallon bag.  Shake, and leave overnight…or AT LEAST for 1.5 hours.

When you’re ready to bake the chicken, arrange in a pan and pour remaining marinade over the meat.  Bake at 375 for 1:15 or 400 for 1 hour.  The skin should be pulling away and darker brown when the meat is done.

While the chicken is roasting it will then be time to poach your pears.  I used all the pears that were ripe and tender, meaning: six.  Therefore, you could probably use about one pear for every two or three chicken legs.

I hardly ever peel my fruit (apologies to all the purists) because I just like to eat pears and apples with the peelings ON…it makes me think I’ve not sacrificed all the vitamins to the compost gods.  So, I destemmed and deseeded my pears then sliced them thinly and as evenly as possible.  It’s important that you try to match the size and density of your slices as closely as possible so they will finish at the same time.

Once the pears were prepped, I skinned and diced one large shallot.  I then sautéed the shallot in about 2.5-3 Tablespoons of butter, until the edges were just turning brown and it had softened nicely.

Next I added the pears and tossed them with the leftover butter, then added about 2/3rd’s bottle of white, med-dry wine to the pan and raised the temperature until the mixture began to simmer.  I added two sprigs of rosemary to the mixture, 1/3 c. sugar, and two slices of lemon and let the mixture cook the pears for about 30 minutes, until the fruit was nicely tender.  I then scooped out all the fruit (as well as the rosemary sprigs) into a bowl and reduced the liquid until a just slightly-thick sauce appeared.

When your chicken is about five minutes from being done, gently place the pears back into the reduction and warm up the mixture.  After you’ve pulled the chicken from the oven, arrange nicely on a platter and dish the poached pears across the top of your meat.

I would suggest serving with some good bread, a mixture of crisp greens and perhaps a side of purple roasted potatoes or a squash medley as your side.  Therefore, your starch, hot, cold, crisp, sweet and savory are all balanced.  Have some chilled Toscana left?  Then you know EXACTLY what to serve with the meal!

One note – the savory/sweet pears are not all that good cold (the shallot & rosemary flavor is a strange combination right out of the refrigerator), so if you’re going to have leftovers, make sure and warm the pears.

I’m glad I had a few moments this evening to share my recipe with you.  How about you?  Have you picked any pears?  Any if so, how have you prepared them?

Take care…Kelly

My Little Victory Garden: Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Three days ago I carefully chose 1.5 pounds of beautiful ground sirloin from the meat market. I had big plans for that meat. And by “big” I mean burgers. But when I returned home I discovered only a mere five or six ounces of charcoal left in the bottom of the bag on our patio.

“No problem,” Mick said. “I’ll pick up a bag when I get groceries on Sunday afternoon and we’ll have them for dinner.”

Three days in the refrigerator is about as long as I want to go with freshly ground meat, so I agreed. Flash forward three days. Mick returned with all the groceries except one thing: charcoal.

“No problem,” I said. “I’ll just turn that meat into really good taco meat and we’ll have it for wraps and taco salad over the next few days. The garden lettuce is ready to eat and the grape tomatoes are prolific. That will be fine.”

Five minutes later I had exhausted the search in my pantry for the two packets of taco seasoning I was sure I had recently seen.  Mick and I retraced our steps and realized those suckers go fast when you’re using them on pulled pork for lots of people and you really only had one instead of two.

“No problem,” I said. “I’ll just make chili.”

By now you can probably get a sense of our preferential hierarchy for fast hamburger meals: grilled hamburgers win, with tacos coming in an easy second, and only because it was pretty hot outside chili was pulling up the rear position.

So I browned the hamburger meat while I chopped the last of my garlic and some of my beautiful onions I harvested earlier this year. I like to pretend I’m the only woman in 1947s going to the Cordon Bleu Culinary School in France just like Julia Child, and I chop my onions like I’m competing with the entire line of disapproving male students. When my knife is sharpened to it’s finest edge, I can SPANK those onions!

I drained the beef, blotted any remnants of grease, returned it to the pan, tossed in the garlic, the onions, the cumin, the salt, the paprika and…wait. Where was the chili powder?  I searched more and more frantically until I finally breathed a sigh of relief.  “THERE you are,” I said to the jar of chili powder…that had about 1.5 tablespoons in it! “Crud,” I thought to myself.  “Am I going to have to turn this into stew?”

It’s like me to occasionally run out of taco seasoning packets.  But it’s really not like me to run out of chili powder.  I cook a great deal of chili and am constantly scoping out the “Clearance Spice Bins” at any store I visit.  My two mainstays are Italian Seasoning and Chili Powder.  I had to have more.  So, I searched again.  And finally, behind the salt, silver decorative pearls, the bulk garlic powder and my precious Muscavado Sugar was a jumbo sized chili powder container.

Yes!

I secretly saluted all the time I had spent digging through the spice bins, finished my chili and ate dinner.

For dessert, I had a slice of cake that included ingredients I had cleaned out of no less than four little plastic bags in my freezer.  And for tomorrow?  I think we’re combining at least five or six packages of leftovers for a “clean out the fridge before Mick leaves town” meal.

“Necessity” is indeed a beautiful thing that fosters the highest caliber “Invention” in our kitchen every week of every year.  And boy, is she a great teacher, or what?