Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Learning from the holiday season

Last evening at my final Christmas party of the season the topic of conversation among us five women naturally turned to New Year’s Resolutions. Of course, food and health are always at the top of the list. Someone wants to lose weight. Someone wants to exercise more. Everyone wants to incorporate more healthy habits into their lifestyles. The timing of the conversation was good for me as I had been reading two magazines that afternoon about holistic health as I looked forward to today’s seasonal acupuncture treatment.

For the first time in years, my health took a strong winter downturn last week when the doctor told me I had the flu. Since I began getting seasonal acupuncture treatments I felt that had helped me ward it off. This year for some reason that I’ll have to ask the acupuncturist about, he didn’t want to do the winter treatment as early as usual. Thus, I got the flu. At least that’s how it stacks up in my mind whether the lack of a treatment can be blamed or not.

Not having an appetite around the holidays helped me adjust my own perspective on eating. I returned to three lessons I learned years ago that I hope I will more strongly ingrain into my eating habits in the new year.

First, eat only when hungry. For me that generally means eating small portions at meals and not taking seconds. Although I often taste something so delicious that I immediately want another helping, I find that if I allow my food to settle long enough for my stomach to send my brain the signal that I’m full (approximately 20 minutes) then I will no longer want that second helping. So I’m going into the new year trying to make that an eating habit that I will not lose at the first temptation.

Second, the holiday season also reminded me of the kinds of foods my body most craves—whole foods that are not weighed down with heavy sauces, cheeses, dressings, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love a cheesy casserole now and then. There are sauces and dressings that truly enhance the taste of foods that I also enjoy. But at least in my family, the holidays seems to be a time for casseroles in which the vegetables play a secondary role to the cream of something soup, crackers and cheese. Now that the potlucks are nearly over, I’ll be returning to those naked vegetable dishes that let their natural colors and flavors set the tone. I can taste those roasted vegetables already!

Third, the holidays wouldn’t be such a special food time without the loads of candies and cookies that everyone associates with the season. Each family has a specialty, something dear that grandma always made or that Mom has perfected through the years. We still have three tins of those delights on our dining room table, along with a pie made from real pumpkin in the refrigerator. I’ve been generally avoiding most of it (notice I only said most, not all!) because as I’ve been recovering my health I’m reminded of how refined sugar can deplete the immune system. I would rather be healthy for the New Year instead of having my sweet tooth pacified.

As I look to 2011, my food challenges are to eat only when hungry, cherish naked vegetables and keep sweets in their place, which isn’t in my desk drawer. What are your food challenges for 2011?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Vegetables in winter provide inspiration for pasta variations



The world outside my door has been white all week with a glistening armor of ice protecting its purity. Here and there the ice breaks up as we walk on it, pound it with shovels, throw down de-icer, but the icicles still hang from the garage roof and I continue to walk cautiously when I go out.

My previously green garden is so glaringly white that it’s hard to imagine how it looked just two months ago. But when I pick up the jars of re-hydrated vegetables on my kitchen counter some of that memory returns. I wanted a quick supper to prepare last night so I turned to a long-time favorite—pasta with a mock Alfredo sauce. It’s a 15-minute recipe made with cream cheese, butter and Parmesan (yes, full of fat although you can do as I did and use a lower-fat cream cheese like Neufchatel. I can use this dish to please myself and my husband even when we might have two different cravings.

Last night was no different. I wanted vegetables and found two of them in my jars of dried vegetables. I re-hydrated beets and tomatoes to toss in with the pasta and picked out a bag of locally-grown spinach from the refrigerator for a green addition. I tossed that all together with whole-wheat linguine then added the Alfredo sauce. It looked quite appetizing, but I wasn’t finished.

I knew I needed a little more protein but didn’t want meat so I toasted walnuts to top my dish. My husband, however, is a seafood lover so I unthawed shrimp to add to his, thus giving us each a variation to make us happy.

Pasta is an easy way to please just about anyone in the family. You can even set it up as a pasta bar if you like, allowing each person to choose what they’ll throw into their mix. Re-hydrated or unthawed and warmed vegetables plus whatever might be in season can provide several variations that you can offer with chicken, meatballs or seafood. It’s fun and it tastes good, especially when you need a reminder of those good vegetables you put so much time and energy into growing and preserving this year.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Soup season brings forward an old favorite

Who doesn’t like vegetable soup? It’s so filled with flavors and textures that there should be something in it that appeals to everyone. And this is certainly the season to make it.

For the past month I’ve been making one pot of soup a week. It’s a great meal to store in the refrigerator and eat on all week. Pair it with your favorite bread (I made Parmesan Skillet Flatbread to go with ours) and you have a warming, healthy meal.

Even though I’ve published this vegetable soup recipe before, I thought it was worth bringing to the forefront again for new readers as well as those of you who have been around for awhile but forgot this was in your repertoire.

If you have a favorite soup recipe for these cold days, please post it as a comment so we can all enjoy it.

A few nutrition specifics:
Garlic contains allicin, which is a powerful anti-bacterial agent, that are released only when you crush or slice it, so always be sure to take that extra step. Studies have also shown that garlic consumption has reduced the risk of various cancers.
Kombu is seaweed that is dried, sold in sheets and used in many Asian dishes. It includes a lot of trace minerals and is high in potassium, iodine, calcium and vitamins A and C.
Quinoa is a high-energy protein that can ease digestion. It has more calcium than milk and is rich in minerals.

Ingredients:
½ cup quinoa
2 cups water
dash of salt
Combine and cook until quinoa is soft, about 15 minutes. You can also substitute another grain of your choice.
3 celeries
2 carrots
1 onion
2 TBSP olive oil
Chop into bite size pieces. Warm about olive oil in the soup pot. Add chopped veggies and sauté 5 – 7 minutes, until onions are nearly translucent.
½ cup chicken broth
1 pint tomato juice
2 cups water
1 small piece of dried kombu
Two cloves of garlic
Add liquids and kombu to pot. Smash and peel the garlic and throw them into the pot. Bring to boil then simmer lightly, covered, 10 minutes or so.
1 ½ cups frozen green beans
1 ½ cups frozen corn
2 cups frozen broccoli
1 ½ cups frozen greens
1 quart jar of tomatoes
Directions:
If any of the vegetables are frozen together in a glob, put them in the microwave for a minute or two to separate. If any of them are not chopped, chop into bite-size pieces. Add vegetables to the pot. You can substitute whatever vegetables you have in the freezer or that you prefer. Depending on how much broth you like (I prefer a more stew-like consistency with less broth), you might find that you need to add more liquid.
1 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp Italian seasonings – such as basil, parley, oregano
Season the pot and simmer, covered, until all vegetables are done. You can substitute your favorite seasonings. You might also need to add salt, depending on how much was in the liquids and tomatoes you used. The kombu does add some salt, so wait until that has been in the pot 30 minutes or so until tasting.
When vegetables are finished, remove the garlic cloves and kombu then add your grain. If the grain isn’t soft, continue cooking until it is. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shop for a good deal that benefits everyone

Twenty five years ago when I was living in New York City I didn’t like going to the grocery store. Like most people in the city, I didn’t have a car so I could only buy what I could carry. (I heard a number of people use that as an excuse for eating most of their meals out.)

The grocery nearest to my apartment was dingy and the gum-smacking teenage cashiers obviously would have preferred to be elsewhere. So when I could, I shopped at the fresh fruit and vegetable stand that I passed on my walk home from the subway. Maybe that should have clued me in to what would be in my future.

When I moved to Kentucky twenty years ago, I missed those stands but I discovered the joy of shopping in a well-lit, clean grocery store with clerks who offered a friendly a smile. I could redeem coupons, choose from a wide variety of items and easily take home three bags filled with food if I so chose. I truly began to enjoy grocery shopping, searching for healthy bargains as I perused the aisles.

My motivation for where I shop and what I buy has changed since then. I no longer look for the cheapest sales or the one store that will have everything I need. My shopping priorities revolve around good health, eating local foods, buying in bulk and getting a good deal.

Good health. I believe the best way to establish good health, at least for me, is to eat primarily whole foods. I still used canned goods sometimes but most of my vegetables come either from my garden, my freezer or shelf of preserved garden vegetables or the produce department. The fresher the food is the better it is for my health, not to mention ensuring the most flavor.

Eating local foods is also strongly tied to good health. I belong to Good Foods Coop in Lexington that buys what they can locally and in-season. The less distance a food has to travel, the fresher it is and the more nutrients it maintains. That means eating primarily what is in-season in our region. (It does limit my fruit choices and I’m still puzzling over that problem.) That diminished trip also means fewer fossil fuels are burned to get the food to me. I get a fresher meal and a cleaner environment all at the same time.

Buying in bulk. I began to consider this when someone I interviewed for an article about simple living pointed out how much energy and how many resources are wasted in packaging the food I was buying. So even though there are just two of us in the Brown household, I began buying in bulk when possible and looking for items with less packaging. That led me to the Amish grocery store that’s about 15 minutes from here. They buy everything in bulk and package it simply. I was amused not long ago when I went to the store to refill my supply of flour and sugar and checked out after an Amish man. There I was with my less packaged products to cook with from scratch. There he stood with boxes of manufactured cereal and snacks. So no, everything at this store isn’t healthy and environmentally friendly to the max, but they do better than many places. And since we don’t have a grocery store in my town, it’s the nearest source for baking basics.

Getting a good deal. I’ve come to understand that there’s more to getting a good deal than only saving money. No, I’m not overrun with piles of money that I can throw at organic and local choices. But luckily for us, what we save from gardening gives us a little bit extra to spend on the more expensive items. As I’ve gotten to know the stores available to me and the local farmers, I’ve found ways to save money while following my shopping priorities. If I can shop to make myself and the earth healthier at the same time than I think I’m getting a very good deal.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Seed saving season

Every winter I receive at least a dozen seed catalogs that encourage me to think ahead to spring. And every fall I consider that if I would save my own seeds, I wouldn’t need to buy as many next year. This year, I’ve tried to do more than just think about seed saving.

Squash and bean seeds are easy enough to save. Squash seeds are large so I rinse them then put them in a bowl or on a paper towel to dry before storing them in a glass or hard plastic jar and labeling. Beans can be left on the vine until they dry then it’s simple to open the pod and pop them out for storage.

Then there are tomatoes. I’ve tried a few different methods but I think the one Jim showed me this year worked the best. It’s the method he used for years as a farmer and agriculture teacher, now adapted to our back yard garden. Here’s what I did.

1. Collect all frost-bitten (or too green to ripen) tomatoes from the vines. Put them in a bucket.

2. Let the rain cover them. If it doesn’t rain, use your water hose to add water. (The rainwater is my addition. Jim prefers the power of the garden hose to help separate the seed from the pulp.)

3. Put on your rubber gloves, crush the remaining tomato chunks with your hands, releasing the seeds into the water. Remove as much pulp and skin as you can.

4. Soak for a week or so to encourage seed separation from the rest of the pulp.

5. Place half of a large screen over another bucket. Pour out the water and seeds over the screen. The seeds and a few tomato bits will remain on the screen. Cover the seeds with another screen (to avoid feeding the birds)and put outside in the sun with the top screen securely in place. (We used bricks to hold it down.)

6. Let seeds dry. If the sun is out and you’ve removed most of the tomato bits, it shouldn’t take more than a day or two.

7. Use your hand and fingertips to loosen seeds from screen and pour into a storage jar. Label and keep for spring.

I collected my Constaluto Genovese and San Marzano seeds yesterday then reused those screens for two other types of tomatoes. I had hoped to collect the rest of the dried seeds today but Mother Nature delayed me with a morning rain. That’s okay because planting season is still months away and Mr. Sunshine is at work to dry for me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pay homage to your end-of-season tomatoes

Thank you David Lebovitz.

This past weekend I was invited to a party and asked to bring something to eat. As is my habit, I first looked at what I had in the house before deciding what to cook. Across my blue kitchen windowsill sat a row of our final ripe tomatoes of the season—red and yellow. They were such a pretty sight and in need of using before they spoiled. I wanted to make a dish that would show them off.

Tomato quiche? I searched for a recipe but didn’t find any that I thought would pay adequate homage to the tomatoes.

Tomato tart? I don’t really know what defines a “tart” except that it is made with pastry dough. So I did an online search. That’s when I found David Lebovitz’s website. Lebovitz is a chef whose site is subtitled, Living the Sweet Life in Paris. He not only includes beautiful photos of dining in France, but he also has a simple recipe for a French tomato Tart.

I should have taken a photo of my creation because it truly was beautiful. And the taste? Exquisite. It was truly a fitting salute to the end of the 2010 tomato season.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Grind your own herbs and spices

When was the last time you replaced the spices you rely on to add flavor to your dishes? I’ve been wanting to replace many of mine for several months. This is the time of the year when I can do just that with some of what I’ve been growing.

This morning, for example, I put the hot peppers I had dehydrated into my blender and pulverized them. Keep in mind that I dehydrated the peppers outside to avoid their strong scent taking over the house. Pulverizing them also emitted a strong odor that made me sneeze. I think, however, that the result is worth the temporary inconvenience. We now have a small jar of very aromatic hot pepper spice that will add zing to many dishes this winter.

Although spices don’t go bad, they do lose flavor and aroma. One good reason to grow herbs is that at the end of the season, you can easily dry them (either by hanging in a dry location or using a dehydrator), grind or crush them and replace your old spices. I find herbs easier to grow than vegetables since bugs don’t seem to bother them. (I will admit, thought, that a small animal did eat my borage earlier in the year. I wasn’t really sure what to do with it anyway!)

I like using herbs fresh when they are in season. Some plants hold up to the cold quite well, only giving up their productivity when the temperatures drop to an extreme. For example, my first rosemary plant lived outside through its first winter. The next year, however, we had an ice storm that decimated it. This year I covered my parsley wioth dried leaves before our first hard freeze and it still looks good.

Store your spices in a dry, dark place in a tightly sealed container. Although it’s convenient to keep them near the stove, the heat can quicken their demise.

Herbs and spices not only add flavor to your meals, but also nutrition. whfoods.com reports that Oregano has 23 percent of the daily recommended value of Vitamin K. Cayenne Pepper has 30 percent of the daily recommended value of Vitamin A.

If you didn’t grow spices yourself this year, check your farmers market. Now is the time to stock up for winter.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pepper jelly utilizes end-of-season produce

I’m preparing to pull up stakes and tomato cages from the yard since a frost finally decimated the remaining plants. That leaves me only with the freshness I have already harvested to use in my creating and exploring. I recently put the hot peppers to use in a jelly.

Jelly-making was new to me so, as I typically do when I try cooking something unfamiliar, I read several recipes to pick up tips then sort of pieced together the best parts of them for my jelly. It turns out that making jelly isn’t that difficult. This type of jelly can also yield a culinary as well as a slightly medicinal product.
Here are the basic steps I followed.

1. Wash and cut up peppers. I used one pound bell peppers and ½ pound hot peppers. You can vary the ratio but be forewarned that even that 2:1 ratio can yield a spicy product, depending on the types of peppers you use.
2. Cook peppers with 1 ½ cups white vinegar. Bring to boil then simmer for 30 minutes or so.
3. Strain mixture through cheesecloth, getting out as much liquid as possible. It will be approximately 2 cups of juice.
4. Return juice to pan. Combine with 2 ½ cups sugar. Bring to boil then add two packages powdered pectin. Boil hard for one minute then simmer 30 minutes or so until slightly thicker.
5. Fill four jelly jars and process in a hot water bath for five minutes.
6. When canning, always remember to sterilize your jars, lids and funnel.

Because I used a combination of green, red and orange peppers, our jelly is a pretty color. Some recipes recommend adding food coloring to your liking.

Jim loves the jelly on toast, saying if he adds butter also then it cuts the heat. I, on the other hand, found toast even with butter to be too hot for my mouth. Next I’ll try it with cream cheese on crackers, a combination I had once at a party. Until then, I know that if my head gets congested, I need only take a bite of pepper jelly to breath freely once again.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Preparing for frost

Every time I hear a weather prediction of low evening temperatures, I scurry around the garden picking anything that’s ripe. I’m still finding five types of tomatoes. Yes, the kitchen windowsill is full again. They might be smaller than they were a month ago, but they are so precious at this late date.

Then there are the peppers—bells and hot peppers. I tried a pepper jelly recipe over the weekend that I’ll share soon. It turned out to be a good way to use that end-of-the-season abundance.

I’ve also been cutting many of the herbs. Herbs are simple to hang in your kitchen and dry. They can also be fun to add to flower arrangements (I mixed my last zinnias with lemon balm) or turn into wreaths. I crafted some rosemary wreaths (I love that smell!) that I shared with friends. Next I want to try winding lavender through them.

Speaking of flower arrangements, I also cut marigold and mum blooms to put into a piece of florist’s foam and turn into a nice fall arrangement for the living room.

Yes, the end of the season is an especially creative time in our household. I so value these last few days of beautiful living things in my yard that I want to put them all to good use. In the process, I remember the many blessings that have allowed me to enjoy this fruitful before-frost harvest.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Help refine this recipe . . . win a book

Attending the food show on Sunday inspired me to draw on the knowledge I’ve been harvesting for years to create a new soup recipe. I bought three pounds of navy beans on sale several months ago and they were sitting on my counter tempting me to experiment with them. So I went to work, utilizing seasonal vegetables and freshly cut herbs from the garden.

The result? Jim and I both enjoyed it immensely. But, I’m guessing you could probably help me refine this recipe. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I challenge you to try this recipe and add your own twist. Send your addition to the recipe to me at writerbeth@windstream.com. I’ll publish your ideas and draw one name for a copy of A Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer Survivors, in which I have an essay. Deadline to send in your suggestion is midnight on Wednesday, November 3.

Here’s my recipe. Now let me see yours.

Fall Navy Bean Soup
1 1/4 cup navy beans
½ yellow onion
½ red onion
1 carrot
3 medium beets
1 small butternut squash
salt, pepper, garlic powder
baking soda
1 sprig fresh majoram
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/3 cup chopped parsely
2 sage leaves, chopped
1 ½ TBSP vegetable bouillon

Soak beans in salt water a few hours to soften. Rinse. Put in soup pot, cover with water, sprinkle in salt and baking soda then bring to hard boil for 10 minutes. (I'm told this makes them less gaseous.)

While beans cook, peel and chop onions, carrots and beets. Drain beans through colander and rinse. Return to pot and cover with about 2 inches of water. Add vegetables and bouillon plus salt, pepper and garlic powder. Cover and bring to boil then simmer 1- 1 ½ hours until beans are soft. Add squash and cook until soft (10 – 20 minutes depending on their size). Remove 2 cups soup and puree in blender. Return puree to soup pot with fresh herbs. You can puree more if you want to make the soup thicker without cooking it down. Stir and cook without lid until you like the soup’s taste and consistency. Enjoy!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Exploring the Incredible Food Show

I had so much fun yesterday! I spent the afternoon in a corner of culinary heaven. The second annual Incredible Food Show took place in Lexington offering more than 80 vendors and more cooking demonstrations that one person could attend. I learned, I sampled and I left with a bounty of information and happy tummy.

Vendors nearly all offered samples of their products. There was everything from beer cheese to five meat Tuscan pasta to cheesecake brownie cake. Yes, the portions were small but with so many items to try I couldn’t have stomached larger samples.

These Kentucky-based producers demonstrated that right in the Commonwealth there all sorts of local food creators to choose from. Kentucky chefs, using Kentucky products, were also featured in cooking demonstrations. One series, called Sunday Suppers, hosted a chef each hour of the afternoon making one course of Sunday supper. I made it to three of the four demonstrations and, just as when I watch a cooking show on television, I picked up tips to use at home. The difference was that this time I actually got to taste the dishes on the spot.

Here are three quick tips I picked up from the chefs.

Chef Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia in Louisville made a creamy butternut squash soup without cream or butter. How did he do it? He made a stock from vegetables, roasted the squash then pureed it and added stock to it until it was the correct consistency. It was smooth, velvety and delicious!
Chef Ouita Michel of Holly Hill Inn in Midway created the main course—stuffed veal with apples and squash. I liked the trick she used for coring the apples. The cut them in two then used a melon baller to remove the core. Her entire creation was definitely a feast for the eyes, reminding me of the importance of presentation.
Chef Brigitte Nguyen made apple desserts. She credits Cook’s Illustrated with the pie dough recipe she uses. She also explained that the best pie crust is made with butter and shortening—butter to make it flaky and shortening to make it tender. I believe she used 1/12 cups of butter to ½ cup shortening.
When the next Incredible Food Show rolls around, I plan to be right there again.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The gift of gardening

Yesterday I lost an earring and found a pair of glasses. It reminded me of the balance of life—things come to us and go away. Sometimes what comes to us is totally unanticipated. It might be something we never would have put on an “I need” list yet when it arrives we discover joy in the richness it has added to our lives. We realize it’s a true gift from God.

Gardening is like that for me. It wasn’t something I had written on my “To do before I die” list. I hadn’t thought that much about how I had become a gardener until recently when I was asked to give a talk to a group of high school students about how I, as a writer, brought green spaces into my life. I called it “Writing as a gardener . . . gardening as a writer.”

As I prepared the talk, I remembered the disillusionment I felt after a few years in the work world—going into a building to work before 8:30 every morning and not leaving until 5:00 or later. It seemed so unnatural to be that disconnected with nature when God had given us so much beauty and goodness. Writing requires substantial time sitting at a desk and putting down the words, but it seemed there should be a better way than doing this in an office cubbyhole every day.

Yet there were also times when, as a journalist working on an assignment, I learned about the benefit of planting beans with corn in Central America. I later interviewed Fr. Al Fritsch at Appalachia Science the Public Interest about living simply and making organic gardening and edible landscaping part of that lifestyle. I toured farms in Appalachia, met with farmers in Honduras and began to ask questions about the food I ate. Over the course of several years, my work as a journalist unearthed my desire to integrate gardening and more outdoor time into my life.

So I am blessed with the lifestyle I now have that allows me to write, most days from my home, and get up from my desk for a walk around the yard, a weeding break or time for harvesting the vegetables. Tonight I’ll eat chili made with our own tomatoes and roasted vegetable—all from the back yard garden. I’ll also be thankful, once again, that God dropped this wonderful gift into my life.

Fall Roasted Vegetables

Peel and cut into uniform pieces butternut squash, onions, peppers and potatoes. Cut beets into slightly smaller pieces because they take longer to roast. If you have okra to add, cut off the ends and leave this in slightly larger pieces. Experiment with the vegetable mixture you like.

Toss everything with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Put on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast in 400 degree oven for 30 – 45 minutes, stirring every 10 – 15 minutes. The length of time the vegetables take to cook will depend on the size you cut them. Enjoy vegetables alone or mixed with rice.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Creating breakfast paninis

First thing this morning I was in the kitchen chopping onions and peppers to put into a frittata. I promised to cook breakfast paninis on Saturday at the Farmer’s Market before the Farm and Garden Tour so I thought I should try out my ideas. I experimented with an apple chutney and cream cheese panini a few weeks ago. (I love the recipe for pear or apple chutney in Simply in Season published by the Mennnonite Central Committee.) That’s a definite must as it’s a wonderful and healthy sweet treat for the person who likes sugar to start the day.

I need a savory version, also. Since I have to make a number of sandwiches, I decided cooking frittatas in advance would be the best approach.

Frittatas are simply oven omelets. You sauté the vegetables on top of the stove in an oven-proof skillet, mix the eggs with some milk, salt and pepper, then pour them into the skillet. You can also add cheese or meat if you like. When the eggs are done on the bottom but still a little runny on top, put the skillet in the oven under the broiler to finish cooking.

I tried it this morning making two versions—one sandwich I dressed with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes to go with the eggs. On the other, I put Dijon mustard and a sliced tomato. Voila, breakfast in a sandwich that I hope surpasses anything you might get at a drive through.

The Farm and Garden Tour begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Garrard County Farmers’ Market, 302 Stanford St. Participants will receive a goodie bag with samples of local products, a breakfast sandwich made with local produce and a guide to the farms and gardens that will be open for visitors. For more information, contact Maria Turner at 859-792-8923 or mria_r_turner@yahoo.com.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Fall Trifecta

I saw something in the Lexington newspaper about the unusual convergence of so many sporting events in the city at once this weekend. In my household, today’s trifecta has nothing to do with sports and everything to do with food.

This morning my prayer group came here for brunch. This afternoon I’ll be preparing treats for tomorrow morning’s coffee and donuts at church. This evening we’ll be having a guest for supper. It’s a good thing the garden is still handing over its gifts!

The brunch menu looked like this:
Stuffed roasted tomatoes
Corn and basil tart
Fruit salad
Cinnamon pecan rolls

I garnished the tomatoes with fresh parsley and the fruit salad with fresh mint. At this time of year when I’m very aware that a frost could mean the end of my herbs, I seem to more often remember to actually use them than during the rest of the year.

It certainly looked and smelled good when it was all ready. The only problem was with the stuffed tomatoes. At this time of year since we’ve had so little rain, the Roma and San Marzano tomatoes are less than plump. Nonetheless, I followed the recipe by cutting them in half, scooping out the seeds, marinating and roasting before stuffing. When I pulled them out of the oven, I saw that was a mistake. The tomatoes had flattened. I stuffed them, put them under the broiler and tasted. Everyone around the table agreed that even though they didn’t look beautiful, they definitely made the taste buds cheer. I’ll try them again for supper but I won’t roast them in advance.

Everything else was a hit so the group members more or less agreed on their rating. (Deb suggested upping the score simply because cinnamon rolls were on the menu.)

Deb, Martha and Patti’s rating: 9

I’ll take it!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Reminders for the change of season

It’s seasonal acupuncture treatment time which means I got a “tune up” yesterday to deal with fall allergies along with a pep talk about diet from Doug McLaren, the acupuncturist. Although I eat a healthy diet I can always use a reminder from a professional about what I should and shouldn’t be putting into my body.

Today’s topic: caffeine and sugar. I’m not a huge consumer of caffeine. I like a cup of black or green tea when the mornings are chilly, as they’ve been recently. Sometimes I go for a second, or a glass of iced tea, in the afternoon for a little boost. Doug reminded me that caffeine can have a negative influence on the body. Allergies go along with inflammation. Caffeine, because it stresses the body, can exacerbate that inflammation.

Then there’s sugar. I learned a number of years ago that refined sugar can suppress the immune system, which also isn’t good if you’re fighting inflammation. Of course, knowing that and acting on it are not the same thing! I don’t have chocolate growing in my garden (if only!) but my chat with Doug reminded me that I do have butternut squash, which is wonderfully sweet, and it’s time to get to the orchard for some good apples.

The other reminder I heard today—it’s time to begin to slow down. Summer is a time of long, light-filled days and lots of energy. When fall begins to re-introduce itself, that’s a signal that we should be shifting our energies along with the season. All I need to do is look at my garden to see a reminder of that. Not much is growing anymore—tomatoes, peppers and greens. There are a few scraggly potato plants and the raspberries will continue until frost if we get some rain. That means I don’t have to spend as much time harvesting or preserving. What will I do instead? I think I’ll cut some herbs from the garden, make them into a nice cup of caffeine-free tea and, if I must have a sweet treat, I’ll try to make an apple my first choice.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Collaborating with a restaurant chef

I’ve eaten out at restaurants far too often this month. My birthday was in the middle of the month and my September birthday friends all seemed to want to get together for a meal. Just when the birthday meals were concluding, there was a business luncheon then a weekend writing conference. Whew! I feel like I have to re-introduce myself to my own kitchen.

One thing I have learned about eating out is that I don’t have to consume everything put before me in one meal. Instead, I can collaborate with a restaurant chef right here in my own home.

Often, I bring home a box of leftovers. That’s what happened over the weekend when we ate at Amerigo in Nashville on Saturday evening. I wasn’t very hungry when we arrived so I ordered Cuattro Fromaggi pizza with pesto sour cream sauce drizzled on it. (That, by the way, was quite pretty and added a wonderful aroma.) I usually prefer pizza with some vegetables but I didn’t see any combinations that appealed to me. So, I stole veggies from Jim’s plate to top the four cheeses and the thin crust. Then I ate half of my plate of pizza.

The other half, I prepared for lunch today. I sautéed garden red peppers, Swish chard and tomatoes to top the leftovers. Yum! I had quite a satisfying lunch.

Try it yourself sometime. Take home the leftovers then dress them up with whatever you have from your garden. You’re sure to create a unique dish that will be a one-time wonder.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Advice for canning season

I’m really big on not re-inventing the wheel. If someone else has already done it well, then I don’t need to make my own attempt unless I think I can truly improve upon it. I’m not yet a seasoned enough canner to offer much advice on canning. So yesterday when I heard the radio piece on Here and Now about canning, I thought, ‘That’s a great resource to list on my blog.’

I’m sure everything Kathy Gunst says about canning is absolutely true. But, I will say we’ve broken her rules on a couple of occasions. For example, we have successfully canned carrots. Yes, canning does require acid, salt or sugar, or some combination, and we did locate a recipe for canning carrots that worked in The Joy of Cooking.

Also, I’m sure it is preferable to store canned vegetables in a cool, dark place. But, we don’t have such a place in our home. We store our jars high on a shelf in the kitchen where they are exposed to light and, sometimes, to less-than-cool temperatures. Still, they’ve been preserved nicely and retain their good taste. The light, however, does oxidize the vegetables, which slightly darkens their color.

If you’re new to canning, follow directions and you should be fine. If you pick up one of your jars in December and find the lid popped up or that it smells bad, don’t take a chance. Throw it out. Otherwise, prepare to enjoy the goodness of your garden all the year long.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The garden revives

This year, I was determined to have a nice fall garden. I kept the weeds down in the patches that will continue to produce until frost and I did some late plantings—four kinds of greens, cucumbers, Roma green beans, squash and potatoes. I was looking forward to spending time in the garden until Mother Nature told me to rest for the winter.

Then the heat arrived, the rain left, the weeds starting taking over, and, you can guess what happened to my determination. Only about three potato plants sprouted. The cucumbers and squash that began to grow died in the dry heat. Only a sprinkling of lettuce and another green came up (I can’t yet tell what it is). The beans, however, grew. Their vines got longer and longer, winding up the trellis then down the other side. If Jack were here, he certainly would have tried some climbing. They looked wonderfully healthy but I didn’t see any flowers, until last week.

Earlier this week, I went out to cut Swiss chard and stopped at the beans on my way. There, much to my surprise, was a small cluster of fully grown beans, next to some babies that were just forming. I picked a small bunch that I’ve now added to and will cook them this weekend, just as the rains return. I think I’ll be spending some of my fall in the garden after all.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fruit for breakfast

I love fruit, especially when I can get it outside of my door. We have a peach tree that we have to duck under when we walk from the carport to our kitchen door. It took root from a pit that Jim through on the ground several years ago. It grew so nicely that we didn’t dare to move it to a more convenient place. This is our third year to have peaches on it and although they’ve battled with the elements, they survived, holding the peaches in their green-leafed palms for us to pick as we go in and out of the house.

In the front of the house we have raspberry bushes, which benefited greatly from the big rains we had several weeks ago. I’ve been picking plump, ripe berries that never all make it into the house. It’s too easy to just pop them right into my mouth. The bushes are so unruly that if someone were to ask me why we let the weeds grow so tall in the front yard, it wouldn’t surprise me!

When time for breakfast arrives, I’m especially happy to have the peaches and raspberries. Besides mixing them with plain yogurt and a few nuts, I also cut them up to put on top of waffles or pancakes. It’s easy to make a simple syrup to serve with the fruit. Simply combine the fruit in a pan with equal parts water and sugar. Cook on medium to medium high until it begins to boil then turn it down to simmer until it thickens a bit. In the meantime, toast some pumpkin seeds or nuts to add crunch to the meal. We poured our syrup with peaches and raspberries over biscuits that Jim made. He declared it to be a delicious “Upside down cobbler.”

Don’t have fruit in your yard? No problem. Find your local orchard. It’s the season when, in many places, their fruit is abundant. Then you, too, can have fruit for breakfast.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

When your garden is more generous than you can handle

We have far more delicious food in our house these days than we can possibly eat. Last night I made beet greens with caramelized onions and sun-dried tomatoes, corn on the cob and salmon cakes (a recipe adapted from the Barefoot Contessa and made with our own red onions and green peppers.) Jim has also been on a cooking tear, making gumbo, green bean casserole, fried potatoes and one tomato sandwich after another.

So what do you do when the garden is so generous that you can’t possibly eat it all? Some weeks there isn’t even enough time to preserve it. Remember, there’s always someone who needs food. Especially these days when money is tight for so many, food pantries and other non-profits who provide food to people are in need of donations. Though food pantries used to accept only packaged foods, many have changed their policies and now accept home grown fruits and vegetables.

Two weeks ago I took green beans and okra to our local pantry. The director told me she was especially concerned for senior citizens who were coming to the pantry in increasing numbers. Her observation was that these seniors had fewer resources to draw on than younger folks in need.

So I did a little research to check into the state of senior hunger today. According to a 2010 report from Feeding America, 1.7 million households with seniors are food insecure. They also report that nearly 10 percent of the elderly in the U.S. live below the poverty line. Like children, the health of older people depends on good nutritional intake.

When the garden is generous, let it inspire you to be generous, too. Every community can use help in some way. Check with the local food bank, senior citizen program, health department. Someone will be able to point you in a direction that will allow you to share the fruits of your labor.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

August is the worst month for a gardener and cook (who also has a full time job) to blog about food. There are beans and tomatoes to can, the fall garden to plant, the meals to cook. I enjoy all of those things much more when the thermometer isn't stretching toward 100 degrees.

So I’m taking a shortcut this week and posting a recipe Neal gave me. It’s a great way to use your overabundance of squash. If you like the soup, cut up one pound of squash and put it in a freezer bag so you’ll be able to recapture the taste of summer this winter.

Italian Squash Soup

Ingredients:

2-3 cloves fresh garlic
1 lb. cubed squash
1 lb. cubed potato
1 small sliced carrot
1 can crushed tomato
2 cans vegetable broth
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. dried parsley

Cooking:

Finely chop garlic. Heat olive oil just short of smoking and add garlic. Sauté until lightly browned and then add squash. Cook for ten minutes stirring frequently. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for one-half hour.

Beth’s addition: throw in homemade noodles at the end (or any other kind of grain) to add a special touch.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Create a garden gift of beet pasta

I enjoy giving friends gifts from my garden. Whether it’s something I’ve just picked, a jar of sun-dried tomatoes, a butter made special with fresh herbs or something else, it feels good to know I’ve put my care and affection into the gift twice—while raising it and while preparing it.

So I undertook an experiment this weekend. A few years ago I read an article in Martha Stewart Living about making pasta with vegetables. Since I always have more beets than I can use, and because the color of beets is so appealing to me, I decided to make beet pasta to take to our friends who we’ll be visiting in Montana. Keep in mind, I’ve made pasta before but always used it fresh or froze it. To transport it, I had to dry it, a first for me. And I’ve never made pasta with beets.

I read through the recipe and got started. Roast the beets and puree. That proved to be the first point of question when the beets didn’t puree smoothly. I added water and they pureed, sort of, but were a bit lumpy for my liking. Nonetheless, I forged ahead.

Mix in the eggs and salt. Add flour. This is when I discovered I had used all of my all-purpose white flour. I prefer to always use at least some whole-wheat flour, but would not have chosen to use all whole-wheat pastry flour except that it was the best thing I had on hand. Into the food processor it went.

Instead of getting a nice, silky-looking pasta dough, it was barely sticking together. Maybe my eggs weren’t large enough. The recipe had called for two eggs and one egg yolk. I added the extra white in anyway to moisten the mixture. That worked so I a little water then gathered it all into a ball to wrap in plastic and rest for awhile.

Finally, the fun part had arrived. I’ve had a pasta maker for several years—a manual, hand crank pasta maker that I feed the pasta through several times to continue to work the dough, then cut it and make fettuccine or tagliatelle, if I choose those options instead of something I can hand-cut like ravioli or lasagna. When I unwrapped the dough, it felt much more like the silky product it should be. Relief. Next I began to feed it through the machine. It looked beautiful—so reddish, pink just like the beets.

As I said earlier, I had never dried pasta. I also didn’t have a drying rack. I found as many narrow, wooden kitchen tools as I could and propped them between chairs in the dining room to hang the pasta on. (My cat had to stay outside; I’m sure she would have thought it was there for her to play with.) By this morning, it was perfectly dried. I bagged it and looked upon my creation with a smile.

Now if I can just get it into my bag without crushing it to bits.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Try this easy berry cobbler

Berries are a wonderful source of nutrients to work into your meal. We grow raspberries, blueberries and strawberries that I love to eat fresh as well as freeze so I can enjoy their summer bursts of flavor throughout the year. In Kentucky, we’re now in blackberry season. Blackberries are a wonderful source of fiber, Vitamin C and Vitamin K.

My friend Pat asked for the blackberry cobbler recipe. This came from one of those scraps of newspaper that I ripped out of the food section so I have to credit Sharon Thompson, food writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper.

Easy cobbler
2 cups fresh blackberries
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar, divided
1 tsp. baking powder
1 stick butter, melted
½ cup milk
½ tsp vanilla
½ cup sugar
½ cup hot water

Place blackberries in the bottom of a 9 x 9 inch square pan. Combine flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder, melted butter, milk and vanilla. Pour over fruit. Combine remaining ½ cup sugar and water, and pour over flour mixture. Bake in 350 degree oven about 45 minutes. Canned or frozen fruit may be used.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Satisfying a meat lover during vegetable season

This is the time of year when I could be happily vegetarian. Give me that good squash, beets, greens, corn, tomatoes and beans and I can sauté, roast or grill my way to a wonderful meal.

But I live with a meat-lover—the kind of man who would be happy with a steak as big as his plate, a slice of bread and potatoes of any kind. That’s not my idea of an appealing or healthy meal. So, the past few weeks have been challenge time. Can I actually prepare dishes that are so good that they don’t leave Jim asking for that plate of steak?

He tells me I’ve been doing well. I’m even on a streak of preparing dishes he rates a “10.” So, here are a few of the things I’ve been cooking with our garden vegetables:
Broccoli and cheese soup—it’s an Emeril recipe that includes butter; you can’t go wrong on flavor with that.
Zucchini soup—a favorite I became familiar with in Mexico. You sauté, add broth and boil until soft, puree then add a little cream. It works with any vegetable.
Yellow squash casserole—I like the recipe from The Joy of Cooking. Jim even said it tastes like his grandmother’s.
Swiss chard and ricotta pie—adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook, I turned one of my favorites into one of Jim’s by adding leftover, shredded chicken.
Blackberry cobbler—made with wild berries, which Jim insists tastes better.

None of the recipes are complicated; the leftovers are good. None of them have unique ingredients. But I made them all with freshly harvested, locally grown vegetables and fruits. That adds flavor you can’t buy, flavor that will please even a meat and potatoes man.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A tour through the early July garden

Welcome to a tour of my early July garden. It's been dry and hot, but so far, the plants and the gardener are surviving.
Last night Jim and I made a trellis of sticks and strings for the kidney and pinto bean plants. The package said they were bush beans. When they started putting out runners, I knew someone had gotten confused.
We picked our first ripe tomato on Sunday. This is one of our favorite heirloom varieties--Oxheart.
Jim set the racoon trap a couple of nights ago after I noticed some downed corn stalks. The ears aren't ready yet but perhaps the varmints are extra hungry this year. So far, they've evaded us although this trap and bate (a Honey Bunn) have worked in years past. Next to the corn are hot peppers, beets (I roasted some of those yesterday) and squash. We have four types of sqush in the garden, divided by rows so they won't cross fertilizer and come out with a vegetable we don't recognize. It has happened to me before!
Growing pumpkin.
Growing butternut squash.
This year I have zinnias, marigolds and geranimums planted in the garden to help ward off bugs. The nasturtiums haven't really surfaced and I miss their pretty flowers.
The Swiss chard will continue producing until frost. I love that crop. In the background is lettuce that is developing seed; I'm hoping to collect more seeds this year.
On the side of our house we turned a fertile patch of soil that previously housed a tall fir tree (downed by an ice storm) into another garden. It has tomatoes, bell peppers and basil.

If you have a favorite plant in your garden this year, comment with a photo so we can all share with you!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

For the scent of basil

This morning I cut some of the fresh, beautiful basil that is happily growing in my garden. It grew so generously from seed that I planted it with the vegetables as well as in two pots on the front sidewalk and still had some to give away. When I cut it, the aroma is so enticing that I want to use it immediately.

So that’s what I did, almost. I brought it inside, washed it, dried it and put half of it into a bag; the other half went into a container with chives. When my hunger awakened, it would be the centerpiece of my lunch for the day.

But oh, the garden had some other fresh goodies to add to the lunch, also. When it came time to prepare it, I chopped zucchini, sweet onion and garlic from the garden, along with part of a red pepper from the store. I sautéed them all in olive oil and butter, with a little salt, then tossed some al dente penne pasta with it, sprinkling on some parmesan cheese to stick to the veggies and pasta. It seemed a little dry, so I added a bit more olive oil and tossed again. I filled my pasta bowl then topped it with grated pecorino romano cheese.

Yes, I felt like I was in heaven. A good bowl of pasta can make me happy any day of the week. And it took less than 30 minutes to prepare and cook.

Just in case you’re growing basil, too, check out the piece from NPR about this year’s basil blight. If I see it coming my way, I’ll harvest as much as I can and bring one of the pots inside to see if it will continue to grow, free of blight. It will just depend on which way the wind blows.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lime-scented quinoa salad

Okay, you caught me. My friend Maria asked for the recipe to the salad I made last week. I sort of made it up as I went but I’m going to make an attempt here to put measurements to what I did. I hope it turns out well. If not, adjust it to your tastes!

Lime-scented quinoa salad

1 cup cooked lentils
1 ½ cups cooked quinoa
1 cup blanched asparagus
1 handful fresh cilantro
1 sprig of spicy oregano
1 lime, juiced

Mix together all ingredients with the lime juice. Add a little salt and pepper. Taste for seasonings. You might want more herbs or lime juice. Chill and serve cold. It’s quite refreshing!\

I’m thinking about adding some toasted pumpkin seeds next time; sometimes it’s nice to have that crunch.


If you ever try one of my recipes and discover a different measurement works better, please do share with me. I’m a recipe-writing novice so I appreciate every experience another cook wants to relay.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Gardening and cooking during the heat

This has not been a week for gardening or cooking. The heat and dryness make the garden inhospitable and takes away my appetite. Although weeding the dry ground isn’t easy, the garden work must go on if we want to reap the rewards in a few weeks.

So this morning I went out to check the asparagus. As I walked through a few rows on my way to the asparagus bed, the garden offered a few treats, as it unfailingly does. The first zinnia has a small bud flowering on it and several squash plants have bright, pretty, yellow flowers. Hurrah!

After checking the vegetables, I cut herbs for my meal tonight. I’m making Chocolate Chicken Mole, one of my favorite Latin recipes. I’m also going to try a rice, lentil and asparagus salad so I think the fresh cilantro and spicy oregano will add a nice flavor to that. In addition, I plan to make an easy side dish by pairing some of our home-canned green beans (the fresh ones aren’t close to ready yet) with our home-canned salsa. Even though everything won’t be from our garden, we’ll still have some real garden goodness.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bean and Grain Lunch Bowl

One of the great benefits of gardening is that it allows for experimenting with cooking creativity. When something is growing plentifully in my garden, I don’t feel at all guilty about cutting it and trying it in a new recipe knowing it might totally flop. Since I hadn’t cooked in a few days, today I decided it was time for creativity and experimentation.

My inspiration was beans and garlic scapes. I had been craving beans of any sort for a few days. They’re such nutrient-filled little packages that I’m always promising myself I’ll eat them more often then forgetting to do so.

Garlic scapes are the seed pods that develop on top of garlic stalks in early June. The stalk curls and if you leave the scape, I think it will turn into a flower. To get larger garlic bulbs, cut the scape so the plant’s energy will go the bulb.

After cutting the scapes I was enraptured by the garlic fragrance and wanted to cook with them. So I decided it could probably enhance an easy lunch. Here’s what I created.

Bean and Grain Lunch Bowl

Put some lentils on to cook (if using another bean, it will likely need more cooking time). Add vegetable broth and one garlic scape with outer skin removed, leaving the still developing flower. Bring to boil then turn to simmer until done, approximately 30 minutes.

Slice medium onion and caramelize or sauté (depending on how much time you have since caramelizing takes longer). Chop one cup Swiss chard and add to onions. Measure 2/3 cups tomatoes (preferably home-canned but store-bought should work) and add to mixture. Cook on low heat until you develop a nice mixture.

Cook quinoa in water five minutes. If using another grain, allow for whatever cooking time it requires.

If you grow herbs or have some fresh from the farmer’s market or store, pick out some of your favorites. I cut some cilantro, parsley and chives. Cut them directly into your lunch bowl.

When all ingredients are cooked, spoon out equal amounts from each ingredient into bowl with the herbs. Mix and eat.

I found this to be delicious, although I didn’t get a strong garlic flavor, which surprised me. It was also quite filling and packed with everything good for me, so if I eat a piece of cake later, I won’t feel guilty.

I still have more garlic scapes in the kitchen. The creative experimentation will continue.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Strawberry-braised chicken

The strawberries are still coming in so I experimented yesterday with a savory dish where they could add a unique flavor. I’ve discovered that one of the best-tasting and easiest ways to cook the locally-raised chickens that we enjoyed is through braising on top of the stove. It seems to add moisture to the chicken. So I created a strawberry braising liquid that I then turned into a gravy. As you read the directions below, keep in mind that I didn’t measure as I went, so these are guesses.

Here’s how I did it:
1. Heat olive oil in skillet.
2. Dredge chicken pieces (enough to fill one, covered skillet) in flour, salt and pepper. Sear chicken in hot skillet.
3. Remove the chicken and brown about ¼ cup chopped onions and a couple of garlic cloves.
4. Add onions, garlic and 1 cup freshly cut strawberries to food process and puree the mixture. Pour it into the skillet and add about ½ cup red wine, a splash of balsamic vinegar, a splash of organic grade B maple syrup, thyme, salt, pepper and enough water to give the liquid a loose consistency.
5. When the liquid is simmering, add the chicken pieces. Cover and simmer approximately 30 minutes, turning once or twice.
6. Add chopped broccoli and cook another 10 minutes.
7. Remove chicken and broccoli. Taste liquid to determine if you need to add anything to balance the flavor. Add corn starch to thicken for a gravy.

I served this over a bed of brown rice with lemon-butter asparagus on the side and a cheese spread (another edible I created yesterday with some garden goodness) on crackers.

It certainly looked good, but would it taste good? Jim and I sometimes have different tastes, so I waited to see what he thought. The result made me smile.

Jim’s rating: 10
Beth’s rating: 9

I’m not sure what I thought it still needed to earn a phenomenal 10, but the fact that Jim didn’t even suggest one change to the recipe told me it was a huge hit. So give it a try yourself, if not with strawberries then with whatever berry is in season around your house these days. Berries aren’t only for dessert!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Introducing the young to gardening on Strawberry Sunday

I so enjoy helping someone new to gardening learn about its joys. It’s especially fun when that person is a child. Whether working with an adult or child, however, I believe in mixing the “chore” with the pleasure.

Since she was able to overcome her fear of bees to go into garden with me, I’ve been gardening with our goddaughter, Anna. She’s a fourth-grader now who also helps her dad in his garden. When she asked if she could come over on Sunday, I told her yes, if she would work in the garden with me. Knowing we have ripe strawberries to pick, she readily agreed.

We started out with the most laborious task—weeding a couple rows of the garden. The weeds aren’t too bad yet (even though it has rained so much) so that didn’t take us long.

Next, we planted two rows of beans. I decided to experiment this year with kidney beans and pinto beans. I’ve never eaten either of them fresh so would like to try that. Plus, we can leave them on the vines to dry and use in the winter. Sounds like an easy plan to me.

Then, we came to the strawberries—so ripe that they’re almost purple,
 so juicy that you just have to accept you’ll have a few pink spots on your shirt if you nibble while picking. Anna kept exclaiming that she had hit the jackpot as she found cluster after cluster of strawberries just glowing as if shouting “pick me now!”

With Jim’s help, we gathered so many strawberries that we had more than enough for a good batch of jam. So we decided to start with chocolate-covered strawberries. We melted dark chocolate chips then dipped, dried, dipped, dried, sampled, dipped until the only chocolate left in the pan was what we could scrape up with a few more berries.

Then Jim took over for the jam-making lesson. They separated berries, removed the stems and leaves, added the ingredients to the pot, sterilized the jars and lids. “It smells like cotton candy in here,” Anna said. And so it did.

While the jam cooked, we went outside for some fresh air and to harvest asparagus. I showed Anna how to cut it under the surface and we carried in a good bunch that we could eat for supper. I cut it, tossed it with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper then put it in a foul pouch with some sliced onions.

After Jim finished the jam, he put the vegetables and Rainbow trout on the grill while I made us green salad. Neither Ann nor I had ever tried Rainbow trout and we both loved it. When Jim pulled the crunchy skin from the foil, Anna first turned up her nose at the idea of eating fish skin. Then she decided to try it, declaring, “I can’t believe I just ate fish scales.”

Of course, we had chocolate-covered strawberries for dessert.

Now if we can just get those weeds out of the raspberry patch, maybe we will have a raspberry Sunday sometime next month.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Red, red strawberry season

It’s that time of year when I taste a little bit of heaven every time I pluck another plump, juicy berry from our strawberry patch. Several years ago we planted three varieties of strawberries in two raised beds. Raised beds are wonderful to work in. As you pick, or weed, you can sit on the edge to do the work, which I find much more comfortable than kneeling or squatting in a row.

We started picking berries about two weeks ago, seemingly sooner than several friends. We must have a variety that produces early, or as Jim says, maybe we just love our strawberries a whole lot so they arrive more promptly. I do try to keep them weeded in the spring so the stray growth doesn't rob the strawberries of the nutrients they need.

The rain has blessed us by coming at the right time to make the berries big but still tasty. Garden berries are so much better than the bland containers of red fruits you buy in the grocery. When picked at the height of their ripeness, they don’t need any sugar because they are innately so sweet.

But speaking of those grocery containers, I save them for picking and storing berries. I gently pull mine from the plant and put them directly into the container as they will stay fresh longer without washing them. Save that until just before you want to eat them.

So far, our strawberries have found their way into:

Breakfast yogurt mix (strawberries, plain yogurt and nuts—when you mix it up yourself you avoid the high fructose corn syrup and additional calories)
Strawberry Muffins
Chocolate-covered strawberries
Strawberry shortcake
Strawberry jam

Jim made the first batch of jam last night. It’s a feast for the eyes with its beautiful color, and the way it scents the house is another bonus. Some of it turned out to be more like syrup than jam, but that’s not a problem. We’ll use it on ice cream and pancakes. I rarely eat pancakes without fruit to top them.

Later this week, I might try a breakfast pizza with strawberries for my writing students. Little did they know when they asked for pizza (first thing in the morning) what I might conjure up!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Finding joy on a Friday afternoon

I’m just in from planting tomatoes since I have some nice-sized ones that I grew from seed and the weather forecast looks tomato-friendly for the next week. When I dare to plant something even a few days earlier than my central Kentucky planting chart suggests, I look at the five day forecast to decide if I should take the gamble. Since it’s the end of the first week of May, I don’t think it’s much of a gamble anyway.

It was a joy to get into the garden and put my hands in the dirt after a week of meetings, driving to Lexington four days, deadlines and all the other accompaniments of an assignment-filled week. Being in the garden at 3:00 in the afternoon on a Friday reminded me of why I like working from home. No, I tend not to make as much money as I would if I worked full-time for someone else rather than freelancing, but it’s wonderful to be able to take a break and fill my lungs with fresh spring air. Working in the garden after a stressful week is a healing balm for my mind and body.

I think that’s what part of gardening is about. It puts us in touch with nature through the food on our plate as well as our awareness of seasonal cycles. There is a time to expect sunshine and rain that will nourish as well as months when we have to be enriched by something quieter, even darker because the sun doesn’t shine for as many hours. Living in harmony with nature rather than fighting against it can provide healing not only for us, but also for the world that sustains us.

The food we’re getting from the garden this spring is not only healing, but it also makes me look forward to mealtime. We’ve moved on from rhubarb to green salad, asparagus and strawberries. Two heads of broccoli are making stead progress for an upcoming harvest as are the new spring onions. I look forward to spending the weekend experimenting with how to reflect the harmony I strive for in my lifestyle in the food I prepare and eat..

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Timing the garden

Our spring came later than usual this year in central Kentucky. The beginning of the month was as dry as August and filled with encouraging sunshine. But it only takes a day for clouds, rain and cool winds to reappear and remind us it’s not summer yet. That’s what we have this week.

Gardeners pay attention to the weather because it’s important. The vegetables I have in the ground now are thriving because this is when they like to grow. Lettuce, spinach, arugula, onions, potatoes, beets, peas, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage are all happily opening their arms to the drizzle and the cool nights. The weather will make them sweet, crisp and filled with flavor. This is their season.

Just last week the warm weather dangled temptation in front of many gardeners, including my husband. “When are you going to plant your tomatoes?” he asked as he eyed the healthy plants I grew from seed. He encouraged me to go ahead and put a few of them in the ground. I declined. In Kentucky it’s never a good idea to put summer crops in the ground until some time in May.

If you’re new to gardening and unsure about the timing of setting our your plants, check with your local agricultural extension office. When I first started gardening, a friend gave me a gardening guide from the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service that included earliest and latest safe planting dates. Just last year I picked up an updated version. It’s invaluable, especially on those tempting days of spring.

Monday, April 26, 2010

First garden meal of the season

Jim and I are fans of the television show Chopped and he’s been promising to give me a Chopped challenge. It came on Sunday in our modified version—prepare an entrée plate, no time limit, with fresh garden asparagus, onions, arugula and radishes.

So I went to work. All of those great veggies sounded like they would pair nicely with rice and fish, so I first got out two salmon fillets to unthaw. Then I put on a pot of brown rice to cook. Next, I sliced the onions thinly and put them in a sauté pan with olive oil and a little butter and salt to slowly caramelize them. We love onions that way!

With the longest cooking items on, I turned the oven on 425 degrees then cut the asparagus in one to two inch pieces, tossed it with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and put it in to roast. I also prepared the salmon with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and put it in approximately 10 minutes later. Remember, you only need a small amount of salt to bring out flavors; no need to go overboard because then you’ll only taste salt.

As the rice cooked, I considered what to add to it. I decided to head outside to check out the herbs. I cut some oregano, parsley and sage. I put the sage into the pan where I was slowly browning some butter and two whole garlic cloves. Then I chopped the oregano and added it to the cooked rice, along with chopped arugula and a little bit of freshly grated parmesan cheese. I used that as the bed for the salmon (topped with fresh parsley) and the onions and asparagus, which I mixed. On the side, I placed a fresh arugula and radish salad, a piece of parmesan flatbread (leftover) and a bowl of tomato soup (leftover also).

Since the sun was shining, I suggested we eat outside, which turned out to be a wonderful choice for our first garden meal of the season. By the way, it might not have gotten me anywhere in a competition but Jim gave the whole thing a 10 and didn’t even add salt. This recipe is a keeper!

Friday, April 23, 2010

A week of exploring rhubarb

Yes, it’s been exploration week. Rhubarb stays good in the refrigerator for about a week, so I wanted to use some of it fresh while I could. It has lots of Vitamin K and calcium plus some other healthy goodies plus I didn't want to lose out on the flavor. So I began my search for rhubarb recipes.

Recipe #1: Rhubarb pie. There are plenty of recipes out there for this favorite. I wish I had my grandmother’s recipe because it’s my mom’s favorite pie. We liked the one I made, although we agreed that to get the true rhubarb flavor, it needed less sugar to allow the sour to bite through a tad.

Recipe #2: Lentils and rhubarb stew. This one wasn’t such a hit. In fact, it’s probably the lowest rated recipe Jim ever agreed to give me an opinion on. This dish, which I found online, was way too sour and just tasted odd. But being the leftover queen that I have become, there was no chance I would throw it out. Instead, I made brown rice last night to combine with it. I also used our canned tomatoes for tomato soup to accompany it. That made it a whole new meal that wasn’t bad, although I still don’t think I’ll try the stew again.

Recipe #3: Rhubarb slaw. I haven’t tried this one yet, or the Rhubarb lemonade recipe my friend Shirley sent to me. I think she said she got them from a magazine. After the lentil stew experiment, I’m a little afraid to try either one. Yet, when I summon my courage, I’ll cut more rhubarb and try them both.

In the meantime, I’m going to freeze the remaining rhubarb in the refrigerator (cut into piece, freeze on a tray then bag) so I can make Mom her pie the next time I see her.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Canned and frozen vegetables combine for good flavors

We harvested our first rhubarb this weekend. I made pie, which was delicious, but I plan to experiment with some savory rhubarb dishes as well. In the meantime, here's what else we've been eating . . .

I still have a few vegetables in the freezer and more on the shelves, so I’ve been trying to use more of them recently to accompany our meals. It’s fun to create new combinations of flavors and see which we like the best. Here are two that worked well for us.

Brown Garden Gumbo
1 quart jar canned green beans
1 quart jar canned tomatoes
½ bag frozen okra
Salt, pepper and red pepper

Cook together until the okra is cooked. Season to your taste.

Brown Garden Peas and Carrots
1 onion
1 pint jar carrots
1 bag frozen snow peas
Salt, pepper, garlic powder

Slice onion thinly. Carmelize by cooking slowing with a little salt in olive oil for 20 minutes or so. Add carrots and peas. Season with salt, pepper and garlic or garlic powder to taste.

Friday, April 16, 2010

School gardens offer inspiration

This week I’ve been working on an article about school gardens and my visits to the schools have inspired me. About 15 years ago when I did some similar articles, I primarily found native gardens designed to attract birds or butterflies. Certainly, native gardens are a wonderful teaching tool and they restore natural habitat to our environment with plants that require less care and water than others.

Since then, many schools have expanded their gardening efforts to also include composting of cafeteria waste, collecting water in rain barrels, recycling and growing vegetables. Their efforts not only teach the students about science and where that food from the grocery comes from, it also provides a way for them to connect with one another, nature and God while doing something that is sustainable for the long term. What a powerful combination!

Most of these schools take the organic approach to gardening, which I’ve also been studying a little further this week as some of my plants come up and I wait to plant more seed. I’m trying a combination of bone meal (three parts), blood meal (two parts) and kelp meal (one part) that is a recommended mixture that should have the balance most gardens need. I found the bone meal and blood meal locally, but had to order the kelp meal online.

I also stopped by a greenhouse this week that carries Neptune’s Harvest fish fertilizer. (When I asked for fish fertilizer, the clerk thought I wanted to fertilize fish in an aquarium.) It’s a good all-around fertilizer. I use it on my plants once they’ve established themselves nicely.

The warm weather has been tempting me to plant more, but I know the cold could yet return. I’m still holding out until May to plant most of what I have yet to do. And in the meantime, I’ll keep watering my sprouting plants and remembering the joy of a third-grade student who shouted to his classmates when he uncovered a wiggling red worm in the soil.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Developing a taste for tomatoes

I’ve moved most of my seedlings outside to be nourished by this unusually warm sunshine that we’re having in April. They stand happily, toughening up and growing before it’s time to put them in the ground. I’m always especially happy to see the tomato plants growing slowly into their promise of strong stems that lead to abundant fruits.

I used to hate tomatoes—couldn’t stand the texture of a fresh tomato in my mouth. I ate catsup, spaghetti sauce and a number of other foods made from cooked tomatoes. But most of my friends knew I wouldn’t put into my mouth even a cherry tomato topping a green salad.

Then I went through nutritional counseling with a holistic nurse while I underwent treatment for breast cancer. She advised me to eat tomatoes daily so I could absorb that all-important lycopene that is a powerful antioxidant. The good news she gave me was that tomatoes develop more lycopene when they are cooked, so the sauces I already liked would give me what I needed. But because of her encouragement, I also made a new attempt at eating fresh tomatoes. Here’s what I discovered.

While I was recovering from cancer, Jim and I took a trip to Ireland and Italy to celebrate. On our first day in Italy, we stopped at an outdoor café near the Vatican. Jim ordered tomato salad, fresh tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and basil on top. Because I love cheese, I decided to try one. Much to my surprise, I actually liked it! Perhaps the cheese disguised the slimy texture of the tomato but I think it also had to do with the fact that this tomato was sweet, not acidic.

So when I came home, I went on a mission to find a sweet Italian tomato to grow in my garden. Then I searched for the ideal sauce tomato. Here’s what I’ve come up with that I grow every year.

Constaluto Genovese—a sweet, slicing tomato that pairs beautifully with cheese or anything else.

San Marzano—a paste tomato that always grows a little larger in my garden than the typical Romas.

Cherokee Purple—an heirloom tomato that grows into a pretty color. I primarily use these for cooking but Jim likes them fresh on his sandwiches.

Oxheart—another heirloom that my friend Angela introduced me to a few years ago. They get really large and, again, they’re pretty.

There is something to be said for being tempted to eat something because of its beauty.

I don’t find these tomato plants to be available locally which is why I order seed and grow them myself. Give one of them a try this year. I hope this year’s babies will keep maturing so we can look forward to plenty of ripe fruits once again.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Poverty is relative

It seems that poverty has been the theme of the week in my life. I led a discussion on poverty at a staff meeting on Tuesday night. The next day Jim and I finished our taxes and, as two self-employed people, we’ve paid plenty to the government. When Jim looked at our net income and compared it to the poverty level stated in an article related to the new health care reform law, he looked up from his newspaper and asked, “Do you realize we live at poverty level?”

Maybe we do, on paper. Maybe we don’t take extravagant vacations or buy new appliances the minute the old one breaks, but poverty is relative. And when I consider all the gifts the earth gives us, I don’t feel impoverished at all.

The spring flowers are beginning to welcome us everywhere. The crocuses and snow drops have disappeared, replaced by daffodils and hyacinths (I so love that smell!). My cabbage and broccoli plants are standing proudly in the garden and the potato hills look like two snakes stretched long across the garden.

The green garlic tops are growing and I’m excited to know I should have a good harvest this year. It takes garlic two years to establish large, clustered cloves so remember that when you plant and harvest. Thanks to a gardener friend who had extra garlic to plant, I now have a second garlic bed so can alternate harvests between the two of them. My next project will be to learn to make garlic braids that I can give to friends as gifts.

This afternoon I’ll plant onions and more greens and peas. I’m trying to straggle the planting of some of the spring crops so they don’t all come in at once. Then I’ll come inside to enjoy another bowl of vegetable soup with homemade honey-wheat bread. Does that sound like poverty to you? To me, it feels like a life blessed with gifts I could never have bought for myself.

Yet, there are people who do not have food today all over the world. I was just at the local hardware store where an elderly man was buying seed to grow collards. One seed pack cost 1.99 so it's the only seed he bought; it was all he could afford.

As I dig this afternoon and feel the cool dirt against my fingers, I will pray for those who truly do live in poverty. I will also pray for those of us who can help meet that need, that we will respond when God nudges us to share.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How secure is your food supply?

I’ve never been a survivalist. I don’t stockpile water. Didn’t buy a generator when the year 2000 approached. Yet, during the past couple of years I have been asking, how secure is my food supply?

That’s one of the questions the Bluegrass Food Security Summit raised on Friday in Lexington. It’s not something most people consider. We typically walk into the grocery store, buy what we want and go home.

As the economic downturn has continued to hit families, I think more folks have considered their food security. More than once my husband has mentioned it’s one of the reasons he likes looking at our shelf of canned garden vegetables. And I will have to say I derive a sense of security from that, also.

We’ve all heard the stories of tainted food imported from overseas and even from our own country. It’s possible that food grown in your own community could also be tainted, but it’s less likely. Locally grown food is generally grown in smaller quantities and gets to your table much more quickly. It also doesn’t go through a processing plant like pre-packaged food does.

Besides the health problems that can threaten food security, there’s also the ability to transport food. If a natural disaster or war disrupts our transportation system, then we’re in danger of being cut off from our food supply if it’s not local. If our transportation system causes so much environmental damage that we have to limit its activity, we’re also looking at a disruption.

I’m not an apocalyptic thinker. I am, however, a faith-motivated person who believes I am called to be a good steward of the earth and a responsible member of the world family. These are the things that most strongly pull me to consider food security issues. There are more than 49 million people in the United States who are living in households that the United States Department of Agriculture considers to be “food insecure.” If we take a deep look into our food systems, I believe we can create locally sustainable food sources that will greatly diminish that number while it builds stronger communities and healthier individuals.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to go plant the potatoes.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tortillas and cheese enliven frozen vegetables

I am beginning to see the end of some of my frozen vegetable supply. I think I used my last package of frozen greens this week when I made a burrito bake casserole based on a more protein heavy recipe I found years ago. This is something anyone can easily make to suit their own tastes.

For my version, I laid out the whole wheat tortillas and topped them with unthawed greens and corn, plus a few carrots we had canned. Then I added a mixture of our canned salsa and tomato puree plus the remains of our roasted chicken and some black beans that I whipped with sautéed onions and sour cream. For more bite, add jalapenos or your other favorite peppers. You can also add sour cream and cheese inside or anything else you think you would like.

Next, I folded them like burritos and put them in a casserole dish then covered with salsa and topped with cheese. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

Alternately, you can prepare tortilla dishes like an Italian lasagna, alternating layers of tortillas with cheese, meat, vegetables and sauce. Of course, you can also make it meatless.

Either way is a relatively quick meal if the meat is leftover and the vegetables have been preserved, and therefore softened, and don’t need to be cooked. Use your creativity and see what you can come up with to tickle your taste buds.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Food and Faith: Farmers' markets draw communities together

This past summer our farmers' market started up again after a hiatus of a few years. Until then, I visited farmer’s markets in other towns nearby from time-to-time looking for the locally grown products I didn’t have in my own garden. What a joy to walk among the booths and see the variety of colors and textures that nourish us. And to be able to talk with the people who grew it gave me more confidence that it was raised with love and care so would treat my body.
So when our farmers' market resurrected last year, I volunteered to coordinate a table there for the Garrard County Arts Council. I organized artists to participate in selling their art. I sold my own books a few times and also distributed information about our newly formed arts council. That gave me an opportunity to meet Tom the Honey Man, Lamb Farmer Larry, Virgil of the Gourds and a number of other local people who I had never met before. Yes, I had lived in this community since 1991, but hadn’t talked with any of these folks.

The farmers' market helped me build new ties in my community, strengthening my feeling of belonging in this small town. Community, I believe, is an important part of my faith life. While working on my book, Yes, I Am Catholic, a priest who I interviewed, Bishop William Houck, made a lasting impression on me when he said, “Jesus didn’t call us to follow him as rugged individualists, just me and Jesus. He called all of us to follow him as a community of people who care about one another and who together care about bringing Jesus and his message, his goodness, his forgiveness, his justice, and his service to other people.”

Sharing our gardening and cooking talents, we well as our love or and care for the earth, is one way of doing that.

I look forward to the opening of this year’s farmers' market where I can reconnect with those new friends who I saw only a handful of times throughout the winter. Together, the effort we make to create a better world is much more powerful than any one of us who slogs on alone.

For more information about this Friday’s Bluegrass Food Security Summit, go to http://www.sustainlex.org/.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Guest Column: Inspired by Company by Rachel Correll, St. Asaph Farm

From time-to-time, I’ll publish guest columns on this blog. Today, meet Rachel Correll, from whom I’ve been buying chickens for a couple of years. In fact, we just ate our last one from the freezer this week and are looking forward to the spring crop!

We have freezers full of our delicious meat but at 5 pm when I usually start thinking about dinner I wish I had thought about it the night before and had something thawing out in the fridge. I was craving a spicy chicken dish for a few days and needed some motivation to fix it. Our friends, the Bensons of Rolling Fork Farm, were coming for dinner. I still had some of their peas frozen in my freezer and two sweet potatoes remained from their farm as well...I started thinking. I had my own carrots and colorful peppers frozen, canned tomatoes, I had some parts and pieces of our chicken left and homemade broth—this was going to be good. I just needed to buy a few items and we had one rockin' Moroccan Chicken Stew!

Begin with . . .
Olive oil and butter
Salt
Pastured Chicken - I had frozen legs and wings and then I cut up a whole chicken and used all the pieces (except the neck and back and wingtips which I throw in a pot of water with my vegetable scraps and call it stock!)

First, remove the chicken skin - just for recipes that are more like a stew since the skin gets mushy and in my opinion does not add to the dish!

Rinse the chicken with cold water and pat dry with paper towels, sprinkle with salt.

Then, in a smoking hot skillet (I use my large Le Creuset since you can just continue to throw ingredients in and put the whole thing in the oven) add some olive oil and butter until it is hot and melted.

Place your chicken in the hot skillet and let it sear the outside well, a few minutes on each side will give a nice, crusty look to the outer parts of meat.

Turn and cook for 2-3 minutes on the other side(s) and remove from pan to continue cooking the remaining chicken.

When all of your chicken is done - you will need the rest of your ingredients -
Chopped onions -2
Ginger
Garlic
Red, yellow, green peppers - sliced to desired size
Can of tomatoes
Carrots - cut into 1 inch rounds
Sweet potatoes - cubed
Potatoes - cubed
Chicken stock
Cumin
Coriander
Tumeric
Cinnamon
Salt
Pepper
Spicy red pepper (Indian is what we have on hand)

Sautee onions, grated ginger and garlic in juice left in pan (add butter or oil if needed).

Add the peppers, cook until soft. Add a can or two of tomatoes. Then add your spices; I do not measure, just a spoon of each of these will do - except the spicy pepper, go easy on it, maybe 1/4 teaspoon. Cook this down for a few minutes.

Add your chicken stock, a few cups, and then toss in the rest of your vegetables. Bring to a boil and add the chicken pieces. Here it is. Cover it up, let it cook on your stove top for about an hour or more (the longer the better) or toss the whole thing into your oven at 325 degrees for a couple of hours. You may wait to add your root vegetables since they can get mushy. Taste test frequently once you know the chicken is cooked through and spice it up to your liking.

Serve this over basmati rice cooked with peas—a seriously rockin' dinner for your family and company, too.

Rachel McKinley Correll and her family own, operate and reside at St. Asaph Farm in Stanford, Kentucky. It all started four summers ago in a little house in town, with a newborn and 200 baby chicks in the laundry room. Our family, farm and home have grown - two kids, thousands of chickens, and plenty of turkeys, pigs and cows! We grow pastured, naturally raised meat and eggs - no hormones or antibiotics - just healthy and delicious food for our family and yours.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Getting started in the garden

After a weekend of hours outside in the yard, my muscles screamed in relief at being exercised once again in the garden. Yes, the digging and bending and squatting reintroduced those muscles to their typical spring soreness, but it’s a welcome ache.

In order to eat from the garden all year long, it’s necessary to either garden yourself or find a reliable local food source in your community. This is the time in Kentucky when the weather typically allows us to begin stepping outside to get started on this year’s planting adventures.

So what is it gardeners should be doing in March? I learn a little something new every year, from articles I read as well as fellow gardeners who are always happy to share what they know. Here are a few tasks to consider:

1) Decide what you want to plant. If you’re new to gardening, start small and purchase plants that are easier to begin from started plants (cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, etc.) and buy seeds for what can easily begin in your own soil (corn, squash, lettuce, greens, etc.).

2) Think about the best places to plant in your yard. Where do you get the most sunlight during the growing months? Remember that the sun shifts throughout the seasons so the sunny spots you see in your yard now might not be so at the same times and for the same length in two months. Also, trees will be recovering their leaves, which will provide a shade you likely don’t see in your yard now.

3) Make a garden plan on paper. It will help you decide how much you can put into your space. Keep in mind that tall crops, like corn, can shade some vegetables around them. Crops that vine, like cucumbers and pumpkins, will travel around your garden. And, because that cauliflower plant is small when you buy it doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Allow space for plant growth.

4) If you do decide to start seedlings yourself, put them in a very sunny, warm window in the house, keep the soil moist and cover with a plastic top or plastic wrap to promote the heat and humidity that encourages sprouting.

5) Prepare your soil. If the soil is heavy and clay-like, you’ll want to add compost to improve it. Your local Extension office should be able to test the soil for you if you have questions about its acidity.

6) Get a hoe, shovel and pruning sheers to use throughout the season.

7) If you already have fruit bushes or trees in your space, as well as flower bushes, March is the time to prune.

I’m hoping we can get our onions and potatoes to plant within the week. That would be an even stronger sign to me that spring really is on its way!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The intersection of food and faith

Although there are many reasons why I began growing and preserving so much of our food, security was not one of them. I came into this arena primarily for health reasons. Yet early on, my friend Jeannie would come to our house during growing season and declare that if there were a crisis in the world, she knew where to come to be well-fed.

I’m thinking about this aspect of what we do more as I prepare to speak on a panel at the Bluegrass Food Security Summit, March 18 and 19. I’ll be serving on a panel that is considering the intersection of faith and food. One friend told me last week that those two things aren’t items she had every connected before. For me, however, they’ve been integrally intertwined since my childhood. I believe that a bit of God lives in each of us so it’s my responsibility to take care of this “home” for God. I also believe that I am called to be a servant, to imitate Jesus in the love he showed for his fellow humans. I have but one body with which to carry out that mission, so taking care of it is of major importance.

Faith and food, however, come together in more aspects than only how the food nourishes our individual bodies. Thinking of this intersection brings to mind community, care for creation, the needs of our brothers and sisters around the world. I’ll be exploring some of those aspects as I prepare for the conference. If you’re in central Kentucky, I encourage you to check out the summit and join this conversation about our food and our future.

Monday, March 1, 2010

West African Sweet Potato Stew

One of the things I love about having a kitchen filled with last year’s vegetables is that I have the ingredients I need for many dishes without a trip to the grocery store. That was the case yesterday when I tried a recipe a customer of my husband’s sent home with him. While he was working on renovations in her home she was cooking soup and making a copy of the recipe for me. It turns out to be a good one.

Kathleen sent over a recipe for West African Sweet Potato Stew. I can always use another way to utilize those nutritious sweet potatoes, so I immediately scanned the ingredient list and was surprised at the variety of vegetables it uses – cabbage, green beans, tomatoes, tomato juice and onions. I had everything I needed from our garden except the onions. I slightly adapted the recipe to use fresh sweet potatoes instead of canned, so I had to cook it a little longer to be sure they were soft all the way through.

Add to that a little ginger and red pepper flakes plus half-a-cup of peanut butter and you have a rich, vitamin-packed stew. I ate it as a soup yesterday but I have a feeling that after that red pepper has had time in the refrigerator to further infuse throughout the soup, I might need to eat it over rice to cut the spice. It will definitely warm me up on another gray winter day.