Category Archives: My Little Victory Garden

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

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 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 this white cedar 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?

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…

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.”

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?

My Little Victory Garden: Dance of the Misty Canning Faery Sprites

This afternoon I was canning.  Nothing out of the ordinary was going on.  A rote, repetitive “chop, chop, peel, peel, stuff, stuff, garlic…salt and lid” process was taking place at my kitchen island. Over and over, nine half-pints full.

I was on auto-pilot.

But as I started the hot water bath, the natural science of heat transfer, water evaporation, and magic woke my numb mind up.  I had forgotten about the Misty Canning Faery Sprites.  But there they were; steam flickers dancing across every gleaming tin lid of every clattering jar.

They didn’t stay for long. Quickly appearing in a different form every time, they would flirt with me then disappear as fast as they came.  I had forgotten about them and was dull, but the faeries reminded me of the kitchen magic waiting to be rediscovered every time I cook.

So now I’m sharing them with you…tiny moments of the faery dance I saw on top of the lids of my canned peppers this afternoon.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I.

My “awakening” was unexpected, and crinkled the corners of my eyes…curled up my mouth and lifted my spirits.

Take care friends, Kelly

My Little Victory Garden: Morning to Midday to Afternoon and…All the Time

In the coolness of the morning…

I put seven pounds of carrots through the food processor in order to turn them into carrot cake for the 4th of July, and carrot hummus for a healthy evening snack to enjoy with homegrown cucumbers.

To make carrot hummus, simply puree well in a blender or food processor: 1 c shredded carrots; 1/4 c. tahini; 1 can drained chickpeas; 2 quartered garlic cloves; 3 T rough chopped parsley; 1-2 T. olive oil; salt to taste; 1 T. lemon juice. To arrange like photo, simply peel cucumbers, scoop out seed-pulp, and fill seed space with hummus. Best served chilled.

Continue reading My Little Victory Garden: Morning to Midday to Afternoon and…All the Time

My Little Victory Garden: Predicting the Need for a Smudging Ceremony

Nature is heralding the summer heat in Oklahoma with fortissimo intensity.  At night, the tree frogs talk to the world with their throats wide open and their volume buttons cranked full to the right. During the day the locusts (you say cicadas, I say locusts?) track the heat waves by vibrating their deafening buzz into rhythmic rolls. In my hot, damp garden soil millions of microbial bugs and extra-small spiders or beetles are working overtime, fueled by perfect conditions to break down a rotten tomato here, or a forgotten carrot there.

My senses are keenly aware of this exorbitant activity of Life as I work beneath the large rhubarb leaves to eradicate weeds, or pull back a curtain of tangled yellow cherry tomato vines to discover the last of the onions.

The Summer is alive, pulsating, pushing and stretching all the plant life in My Little Victory Garden; my efforts to match the production yet keep order sometimes continue until the last ray of sunlight says, “Stop.  We’ll start again tomorrow.”  I’m glad the Light knows my limits because when I stand up and stretch my tired back, or rest my shaking legs – taxed from assuming a squatting position for too long while checking every pepper plant, I’m surprised that Dusk is already here.

The locusts fade, the frogs take over, and the tiny microbials may still be scurrying but I can no longer see them.  There is no denying that the Earth is using all her energy to feed the Cycle of Life right now.  But I know a secret…

I know that sometime when the days are shorter, the frogs will eventually change their song for slumber. The locusts will have laid their eggs, moved on or died, and given their bodies back to the earth.  And I’ll be spending more time inside the house as the weather changes to a cooler flavor.  And THAT, my friends, is when I’ll need a smudging ceremony. My living area will need to be cleansed of the lurking spirits of Worry about my dissertation, the lingering shadows of summer that mock what Wasn’t Completed and must wait until next year, the dread of Time spent in research when I desperately want to run away and sleep for four days and then read forty books.

I’m preparing for that time by drying my beautiful sage I pulled from the garden today.  I’m also saving just a bit for recipes I might find that would allow for some dried sage in lieu of fresh. And I’m predicting that when that time comes in late fall or early winter, I’ll walk over to my firebox to build the evening fire, see my smudge sticks and then smile.  I love finding winter stores I’ve forgotten.

And then? I’ll toss a bunch of dried sage into my fire along with lavender, a few cedar chips and some sweet grass if I can gather some soon. Then sit down… Continue reading My Little Victory Garden: Predicting the Need for a Smudging Ceremony

My Little Victory Garden: Brilliant Ideas Gone Bad

This past week has been strange for me.  This past Monday was my last day at Oklahoma State University.  And, although I’ve only worked there eight years, I also attended grad school there for my master’s degree, and again for my doctoral degree.  I’ve spent more time at OSU, therefore, than in any one of the homes Mick and I have owned.  And so leaving there was a bittersweet event.

My garden, however, was a constant in my life and very therapeutic for me during this time.  I returned to it every day and the growth of the plants, the production of new vegetables and the continued needs it required of me was familiar among the change…and that is a good, good thing.

I’m so grateful for the jumbled mass of English peas that are now providing sweet and tender early morsels for our salads.  I pick them and then put them in my pockets to carry back to the kitchen, but sometimes they don’t make it to the house.  Rather, they leap into my mouth, as if possessed by an uncanny lifeforce and are eaten raw, whole and rapidly.

This week has also been about “fails,” however.  I made a little video of my garden to give you a tour, and now cannot figure out how to get the video file from my Android phone to my new Macbook Air.  Fail score = +1.  I purchased some beautiful Stilwell strawberries last week from the Urban Agrarian and made strawberry-balsamic-black pepper preserves.  The taste is delightful, but the pectin level was too low, or I didn’t cook them down enough.  Either way, I have a batch of delicious tasting, runny preserves on my hands.  Fail score = +1/2.

And, I had to thin all my cabbage plants so I got this GREAT idea to make stuffed cabbage rolls with the big green leaves.  What I didn’t realize is that cabbage outer leaves are much tougher than the main portions of cabbage heads, so although I cooked them for 45 minutes, they were still tough when I pulled them out of the oven.  Fail score = +2 (for all the time and work I put into them).  Total fails this week?  At least +3.5 points worth.  Where do I get the point values?  From thin air, just like I get some of my great cooking ideas…and some of my really, really bad cooking ideas.

These brilliant ideas gone good OR bad usually start with these three questions:

1. What does my garden have to offer this week?

2. What do I have in my freezer that needs to be used?

3. What does the local farmer’s market have in season to help the situation?

The total sum of these answers always gets me my ideas for weekly food to feed my family.  But not always are those ideas as brilliant as they seem in my head when they are born.

Therefore, this post is dedicated to all the garden fails of the world.  I’m going to show you what I loved about my cabbage roll dish, and what I simply couldn’t endorse.  Here we go: Continue reading My Little Victory Garden: Brilliant Ideas Gone Bad

My Little Victory Garden: A Rose Named Rachel

This past week has been one of the grandest growing, cooking and discovery weeks for all good things I’ve had since early last October.  But I’m not going to write about any of it.  I’m leaving my position at Oklahoma State University tomorrow and will be starting a new career with the Great Plains Integris residency program in two weeks.  But today I’m not going to write about that either.  I’m going to write about my eldest who is finishing up her undergraduate work at the University of Oklahoma.  And, I’m going to show you what she did.

Rachel’s love for photography began at Edmond Memorial High School when she joined the Yearbook team.  Andrew Defrancesco has also been an inspiration to thousands of people due to to his photography skills. She then started her college career at the Kansas City Art Institute and completed two years of a highly rigorous program.  There was a boy, however, and a family and culture she missed.  So she returned to Oklahoma and eventually found her way to the right university program to complete her good work there.

I’ll be honest.  I’m a complete sap when it comes describing my tender feelings toward my offspring.  I treasure Rachel’s photography, pottery, fibers and art history growing experience in so many ways. But I may have found the beacon my heart will return to for years to come.  That beacon emits from the deserts of the West where she traveled with a group of peers for a photography shoot.  Their destinations included Death Valley, the Painted Desert and the Mohave Desert.

University of Oklahoma Photography Trip, 2012. Rachel Apple, senior Photography major.

I had downloaded an entire album of Native American flute music to put in the background of this film.  However, I just couldn’t do it.  Rather, I decided to use a song my youngest introduced me to a few years ago by Copeland called “Brightest.”  Rachel, today both you and your work are the “brightest fireflies in my jar.”  I love you, and am very happy for you. – “Mams,” aka [kelly]

The photographs in this video are copyrighted by Rachel Apple.  If you are interested in purchasing a print, you may reach her through our “Contact” form on this site, or write us and we’ll send you her contact information. Thanks.

My Little Victory Garden: Everyone Begins Somewhere

See recipe at the end of this post. Yum.

There are a couple of things I’ve noticed about social media.

First, I really am influenced by messages I receive throughout the week about what I might want to buy for cooking meals, where I might wish to plan my next trip, or how I decide to choose spend some of my discretionary funds to purchase a book for upcoming summer reading.

For example, this week I saw that Stilwell Strawberries had just been received at the Urban Agrarian, I “Tweeted” them a question asking if they would be bringing some to the Edmond Farmer’s Market opening day, and received this reply back: “Absolutely.”  Immediately, I began planning what to cook for my family on Sunday night, but more so, I COULD begin that planning because of the social tools we now use today. I had heard a “rally cry” that began in the eastern Oklahoma strawberry fields and had been carried through the central OKC relay system, with the end result landing on my kitchen table.

Second, because of social media, the producers in Oklahoma have become personal to me.  I’ve intentionally shifted my food budget from approximately 10-15% local purchases two years ago, to approximately 50% or more local purchases today.  Every month when I read the Oklahoma Food Cooperative‘s “Producer Notes” I get to hear what is going on at the farm/ranch level.  I get to learn how it is that I have new product choices or why it is that certain weather or economic factors influence what I choose for a particular month.

I can plan my own garden because I know I’m more or less likely to get certain crops at the market every year at pretty decent prices, therefore I plant to harvest what I know will help me save money and I have the best chance of growing successfully….and that complements what I can already get through our local food distributions systems here in the state.  I can ask questions about certain products or swap recipes (or send photographs of the final products!) to my connections on Facebook and Twitter which then helps all of us gain more ideas about how to manage and balance our food purchases and inventory.

In other words, just two years after I started building a social media network comprised of locally focused resources that interest me, I feel more informed and competent about running my own household and my own life here in central Oklahoma. And, I have a much greater sense of connection to those in Oklahoma who are producing healthy, local food.  And finally, I count myself in that bunch to a degree because I really enjoy the goodness I get from my garden in so many ways.

I’m writing this post because I’ve recently received a few messages from people who feel “inadequate” in terms of growing gardens or cooking locally.  The majority of these notes were from people younger than I who expressed self-doubts about whether or not they could “grow anything.”  Continue reading My Little Victory Garden: Everyone Begins Somewhere

My Little Victory Garden: Peashoots, Rain and Tornadoes in Oklahoma

Pea shoots cut in the evening sun. Everything is so green...

We’ve been sent a mixed blessing from the weather gods here in Oklahoma.  On the one hand, we’ve received a wonderful Spring rainfall and our state is green. The vegetables in my garden are green.  The trees, the wheat and the landscape…all green.  It’s beautiful here.

But on top of all that green, at least in some locations across the state (notably Norman and Woodward…ESPECIALLY Woodward) is now a blanketing of debris strewn about by tornadoes.  And in a few cases, there are also grieving people who lost family members, including children.  The losses also go past the people, however. And even if we know and understand that people are what matters, businesses, homes and a large variety of property now has to be cleaned up, rebuilt and managed.

I felt strange today.  And lucky.  Although I slept through the night both Friday and Saturday, and felt assured that we had warning systems in place as well as a storm shelter buried into our garage floor, many Oklahomans didn’t.  People are tired, they’re sad, and they’re trying to help manage their lives as well as figure out how to help those in need.

I was thinking through these various thoughts as I went to one of two patches of peas I’m growing.  One I’ve grown simply to use the shoots and that’s what I’m going to share with you today.  The other, I’ll let grow to fruition and enjoy peas in a few weeks.

Pea shoots, cut early and properly, are an incredible addition to a healthy and balanced meal plan.  There are literally endless ways to eat this beautiful plant that tastes just like the mild side of English peas.  A Chinese graduate student was visiting our home Wednesday night and he said the people in his village ate them all the time, stir fried along with other vegetables.  But you can also use them fresh in salads, on sandwiches as a lettuce substitute, cream them into a beautiful coulis, or in so many other ways.

I urge you to check out this website for all you ever wanted to know about pea shoots, recipes, and beautiful photos of the possibilities.  And, if you’d like, you can grow them inside your home by a window like people grow bean sprouts or wheat grass.

Tonight I used them for a “local Okie” ingredient meal and I must say, this is one of my favorite Little Victory Garden creations to date: Continue reading My Little Victory Garden: Peashoots, Rain and Tornadoes in Oklahoma