Tuesday, February 28, 2012

From seeds to plants to questions

My cauliflower and broccoli sprouted within a week after I planted them in pots, claiming their place as my first green babies of the gardening season and putting a joyous song in my heart. Spring is coming!

Just as I was rejoicing in the start of the gardening season, I received an e-mail from a friend that caused me to wonder about the seeds I’ll plant next. I ordered this year from three different companies. Two of those choices I made intentionally because I value them as respected sources. A third company I ordered from because I had a money-saving coupon.

Then I clicked onto my friend’s link to an Inspiration Green post about avoiding Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds. I've read about some of Monsanto's practices previously and didn't feel good about them. Did I unwittingly buy some of them? And does it matter?

I am no expert on this topic so I leave you to read further and decide where it is best to purchase your seeds. I prefer to avoid genetically-modified foods so I’ll be doing some research to find out more about the source of my seeds. I’ll also make a note about who to avoid ordering from in the future.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to digging my hands into more potting soil to plant my next batch of seeds.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The season of simple meals begins

I don’t always cook simply. I like the challenge of a recipe that has a long list of ingredients and instructions that go on for more than a page. I enjoy trying new spices, learning cooking techniques and testing out pieces of equipment.

I’m thinking about all of that as I begin the season of Lent today. As a life-long Catholic, I’ve grown accustomed to the 40 days before Easter as a time for prayer, works of charity and fasting as I prepare myself for the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s a time when we follow the example of Jesus who went into the desert to pray and fast for 40 days. I find it to be a restorative time to rid myself of items and activities that have more of a tendency to squelch my soul rather than nourishing it.

It’s not uncommon for my non-Catholic friends to ask, “What are you giving up this year?” They’ve heard the stories of 40 days without chocolate, coffee, wine, whatever someone might choose.

One practice I like to implement during Lent involves less “giving up” and more preparing to be in communion with my brothers and sisters around the world. Each year, Catholic Relief Services publishes a few simple, meatless recipes from across the globe as part of their Operation Rice Bowl program. I’ve discovered some winning recipes in the past so I look forward to trying this year’s suggestions, which come from Madagascar, India, El Salvador, Zambia and Vietnam.

There’s no guarantee I won’t indulge in a divine chocolate dessert at some point, but my hope is that in preparing these dishes I will come to better appreciate the food that grows in the United States and how I can prepare it simply. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to sip coconut milk in West Africa, eat lunch prepared over an open fire in India, enjoy freshly made corn tortillas in Central America and taste the widely varying versions of pizza that are available around the world. Seeing the families I met put such diligent work into each simple meal reminds me of what luxuries I have to cook with. But during the next 40 days, I’ll be striving for simplicity.

Do you have a simple recipe to share? Feel free to post them as comments and watch the blog during the upcoming weeks for simple recipe ideas. In the meantime, may the blessings of this Lenten season be upon you.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pawpaw goes political . . . sort of

Those of you who have been following my blog know that I fell in love with Kentucky’s native fruit—the pawpaw—this past year. The luscious pulp of this sweet fruit can be used in so many ways for any course of a meal. It’s also a nutritional powerhouse.

So when Dr. Kirk Pomper of Kentucky State University (home of insightful pawpaw research and experimentation) asked me to share some news about the pawpaw, I said, “Of course.” This time around, he’s encouraging people to contact Representative Derrick Graham to support a resolution that would call for the papaw to be named Kentucky’s State Native Fruit Tree. The resolution cites its historic, economic and environmental value and legacy to the Commonwealth. If you want to support this effort, call 1-800-372-7181 to leave your message.

And mark your calendar now. Pawpaws will begin ripening in late August or September.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Nature’s Thyme Annual Tea renews memories and introduces herbal healing

This year I accepted the challenge to decorate one of the tables for our herb club’s annual tea. In previous years I’ve attended the tea and greatly enjoyed the beautifully prepared tables as well as the scrumptious, bite-sized treats that creatively use herbs. I enlisted my friend Joan, who I know has a good eye for beauty, to help prepare the table. Together, we assembled something my grandmother would be proud of.
I bring up Grandma because we used her china on our table. When she died many years ago, Dad and Uncle Jim told Jan (my one female cousin from that side of the family) and me to decide which set of Grandma’s dishes we would each like to have. It was an easy decision. Jan wanted the stoneware; I wanted the china. Maybe they seemed to fit each of us best. It was only later that my great aunt told me I had made the right decision. It was when Grandma was feeling blue because Dad (when he was still that skinny bachelor without a thought of children) had left for the Air Force that she went out and bought the set. It seemed only right that it ended up in my home.

It was a joy to share it today. As we nibbled we also learned more about using herbs to heal from Mary Ray, an herbal therapist from Bardstown, Kentucky. She shared stories about herbs that she had seen heal, such as the comfrey that helped mend her bone and repair ligaments after she fell on ice. She also talked about plaintain, which detoxifies, and cider vinegar that reduces swelling. Her presentation reminded me to pick up my book on herbal healing and read more of it.

Listening to the wonders of herbal medicine is also prompting me to re-think which herbs I grow. Each year I try to add a new plant or two; maybe this year I’ll go beyond that. If I dig up some of the lawn to expand the garden, I don’t think my husband will mind; that just means less grass to mow.

I’ve already sent in my vegetable seed order but after today’s tea, I’m ready to think about expanding my herb garden with a few additions this year. Marjoram, Greek Oregano and Comfrey are definitely on the list but if I add more before spring arrives, I won’t be surprised. The next time I use Grandma's china for a tea, I'll have more herbs to draw from as I prepare the menu.

Friday, February 3, 2012

At request . . . two more recipes

Earlier in the week when I shared a vegetarian menu with friends, they asked for the recipes so I want to honor that request. I love putting together a vegetarian meal with the challenge of getting in the protein and full range of nutrition. Here’s what I did when my nonmeat-eating friend came to visit.

Nutty Sweet Potato Soup
Green Salad
Swiss Cheese and Onion Quiche
Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Rolls

A few notes: We now have locally-grown hydroponic lettuce available. That’s a first that I’ve found so I mixed it with the beautiful lettuce I’ve been nurturing with the help of my grow light.

Quiche has been a long-time favorite of mine. You’ll find many quiche recipes but the simplest way to make it is to remember the three eggs to two cups of cream (or milk) combination. Par-bake the crust, sprinkle on it whatever cheese, vegetables and meats you want to fill the quiche with and pour over the combo mixed with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and nutmeg. It won’t fail you.

Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Rolls
1 TBSP yeast
¼ c warm water
1 1/2 tsp sugar
2 C buttermilk
3 tsp canola or other vegetable oil
1/1/2 tsp salt
1/1/2 tsp baking soda
2 C unbleached white flour
2 C whole wheat flour
Warm buttermilk, oil and salt to approximately 110 degrees. (If you’re new to working with yeast, test with thermometer then feel with your finger to learn what the temperature should feel like. You’ll like not need a thermometer after you learn.) While warming, combine yeast, water and sugar in small bowl.

Pour buttermilk mixture into large bowl. Add almost all of the flours and baking soda. Beat vigorously until very well mixed. Add more flour until dough is relatively firm. Turn onto lightly floured surface, knead a few strokes then cover with a bowl (glass works especially well) for 15 minutes.

Uncover and knead 5 minutes or so until smooth and elastic. Spray two muffin tins to prepare for 24 rolls. Roll piece of dough into walnut size and put two pieces in each tin.

Cover with a damp towel and place in warm place to double for 45 minutes or so. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake risen rolls for 15 – 20 minutes until gold brown.

Although Cole slaw wasn’t included in that meal, I shared it with a friend the next day at lunch. It was a vinegar slaw I made from the fresh, spring cabbage then froze. Here’s that recipe, too.

Mom’s Winter Slaw
3 lbs. shredded cabbage
2 chopped onions
2 chopped green peppers
2 chopped red peppers
1 TBSP salt
1 C vinegar
1 C Water
2 C sugar
2 tsp. celery seed
2 tsp. mustard seed

Mix first four ingredients in large bowl. Combine remaining ingredients in large pot and bring to boil. Pour over cabbage mixture. Cool and fill freezer bags.
I like to use small bags so I have lunch-sized servings.