Sunday, September 9, 2012

Large oak near the Lutheran Church and playground
Looking back over my posts I realize I make it seem too wonderful up here in the North.  Truthfully it is no more or less wonderful than it is down South.  It just depends on your attitude.  But, I have concluded that they have come to appreciate some things that I also appreciate and I make a special note of those things

One of those things is their appreciation of trees up here in the village.  The oak photo shows an impressive huge specimen in a large field next to our favorite playground, all belonging to the Lutheran Church.
Utility wire & pole co-exiting with tree

 The next picture shows how the trees are allowed to grow around the utility lines (phone and electric).  This is something we would never see at home.  Our local electric utility (full disclosure:they pay our pension) hacks trees into unmentionable and unnatural  shapes.  It would often be kinder to cut them down completely, at least visually more humane.

Maples lining the drive

How do they get away with not doing it here?  I also heard a local pastor say that in order to cut a tree between the road and the sidewalks, you had to get a permit and pay a ten dollar per tree fee.  I guess the long and short of it is that people here have demanded that the trees be protected and the local government enforces the wishes of the locals.  Back home I think the utility companies have demanded and the people have not protested, and the government protects the utilities.   In the South it seems that we like to make a protest after the fact and carry on about government intervention, but we aren't too good at thinking about what we ultimately want.  Intentionality is one of our means of protecting ourselves against poor planning. What kind of outcome do you want in the future?  Maybe I am just sensitive to this because I work with plants a lot.  Trees take a long time to grow.  If you mess them up, you aren't going to be able to "fix them" very well.  You can't run down to WalMart and buy a new fifty year old tree on sale next spring, or Lowe's or Home Depot.  It just make sense to be a little more protective and careful with some things.  Trees are renewable, but they aren't easily and comparatively replaceable.
Polly's grave marker
The row of maples lining the drive is in one of the  local cemeteries.  I have found three local cemeteries within easy strolling distance here.  The maples line the road that drives through the center of one of the cemeteries. In a different cemetery, the grave headstone pictured gives the birth date of Polly as April 10, 1776.  I think there were older markers there, but they were difficult to read.  Maybe I will try to make some rubbings to see if I can decipher the dates.  The cemetery with this marker is near the site of Fort Sullivan, a Revolutionary Era fort.

The climate in the North is hard on things; trees, houses and roads.  Maybe because of that, they are just more willing to plan and insist on maintaining things and looking toward the future.  I don't know, but it does give some food for thought.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Sidewalks and Sunflowers

Morning Glory
 The Husband and I have been chasing the Grandkids while the Daughter and Son-in-Law took a much deserved mini-vacation.  Unfortunately the computer here needed to go with them and I am really not up to posting a blog with the droid, just too tedious, and I have a low tedium threshold.  Now they have returned and I will post a few of the photos from the local sidewalks.

The morning glory was climbing up a lamp post.  The flower was exactly that intense blue we call morning glory, although morning glory blossoms can be many different blues, reds, purples, or whites.

The sunflower house was using them as a colorful screen I think.  The house was a tall one and the height of the sunflowers worked pretty well with the building.

Sunflowers in the yard

Sunflower close-up

Geraniums do really well up here and the locals seem to really appreciate the summer long color they provide.  This  red geranium 
by the railing was one of seven or eight used on the spacious columned white porch.  
Geraniums on the  porch

This container on the next block uses a nice mix of colors around the centerpiece geranium.

The flowers up here just do not show the stress that the same flowers do back home in the South.  Here they flourish in the cool moist weather and are beautiful and then frost comes.  One of the neighbors told me the first frost should be in the next couple of weeks.  That knowledge makes their beauty all the more poignant. Staying in touch with those agricultural rhythms should keep us grounded.  Beauty is glorious but it is also fleeting.  We all bow to larger more ancient rhythms and influences whether we wish to acknowledge it or not.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Animal Attraction

Tom Turkey
Today was a gorgeous day, the perfect day here to visit the favorite local attraction of Grandkid #1.  It was also a red letter day for GK #2, today he took off walking under his own recognizance.  He has taken a very few tentative steps,
but this afternoon he decided it was time, and off he went.

Anyway, this was the day to visit the local barnyard.  An enterprising local has made a petting zoo complete with pony rides and free kitten adoptions.  There are pigs, goats, cows, horses, a dog, kittens, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, chicks, ducks, geese, an alpaca, a peacock, and an emu.

Children under two are free, all others are five dollars each, and a plastic bag of dried corn to feed the animals costs three dollars.  There is a nice playground and picnic area, and snacks for sale; just drinks and chips I think. 

The owner was drawing out plans for a zip line that he was
preparing to construct.  He also told me about several other
Domestic Ducks
improvement plans.  I asked him if this was his idea, and he said
yes, that it was his plan so that he could stay at home and work.
My granddaughter thinks it is a brilliant idea.  I enjoyed it a lot too.

Next time we will take a picnic, and spend lots more time.  There is  an abundance of space to run off excess energy and plenty to see and do.  It was an inspiring enterprise and the gentleman also used it as a place to promote some of his ideas, with lots of funny sayings posted, his political candidate promoted, and a Statue of Liberty in the center of his pond.  I always admire someone who can advance their own solutions and views and make a living too.

The animals appeared to be very well cared for and gentle.  The area was cleaner than a normal barnyard and much more spacious than the typical zoo, so I guess I was pretty impressed.  Lots of grandparents and grandkids and moms making the most of the last week before school starts up here.

Sand Box with Diggers
I would linger and write more but the daughter needs some help getting the baby to bed.  Tomorrow is the second day of preschool for GK  #1.  It was a good, good day, but everyone is tired out now, so off to bed.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bright Green Olives

Olives, pepper and cheese
Kroger's olive bar is one of the places where I am pretty willing to ignore my locally-grown convictions and throw down some money.  I love olives, especially ones in oil instead of brine and I have discovered the best olive ever.  I have been avoiding the Kroger Store in favor of a cheaper alternative but this week I went to get some olives and there is a new one.  I didn't pay that much attention to the label, I think it said something about Sicilian.  Anyway, this olive is bright green, it is the one on the right side of the saucer in the photo.  They are AWESOME.  They are crunchier and tastier and even prettier.  It will be a while before I will even bother with the other ones, these were so good.  I hope the store doesn't suddenly decide to stop carrying them.  All you olive lovers in my area, go out and buy some so that they keep supplying them, please.

Purple Hull Pea Vines
I usually buy fresh mozzarella cheese and slice it and marinate it myself.  Especially if I have fresh basil, but I bought some of theirs for a different flavor, and it was good.  But I wish I had bought the whole pound of Sicilian green olives, then I might have some left, but naaah, probably not.  I consumed them muy rapido.

I will be out of town for a bit and will miss my purple hull pea harvest.  This is a sad thing, but one of the neighbors said she will come and pick them and freeze some for me.  I will be very sad if I miss them all.

Sneak turtle after compost additions
There are cucumbers again, and still lots and lots of okra.  There are a few melons left.  The co-gardener didn't get a video camera, but he did buy a fancy light and patrols the garden a couple of times a night, but still no sign of the
melon thief.

The phone or Google+ finally downloaded the picture of the sneaky turtle sampling the discards headed to the compost (see previous post).  You can see the last of the old cucumbers going out.  The new cucumbers are just starting, I've had two or three so far.  Good timing, although it took a couple of tries to get the cukes going.  Lots of basil left and I have some lettuce coming up finally.  Now if the tomatoes will just get going, I will have something to go with my bright green olives.

It has been a rough garden summer, but I am thankful for the chance to have such delicious food.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Oil Change, Sweet Potato, Bearnaise

Sweet potato vines, Bearnaise, steak

It has been a quiet weekend, with several trips up and down the mountain on the Ruckus to the garden. I finally got around to changing the oil in my new used Ruckus. I had to borrow the Co-Gardeners 17 mm socket and finally his biceps to get the drain plug out, but eventually got the job done. Wow, so far You Tube has been my guide for Honda care. Let me just thank all you gifted video mechanics out there. You make the world a better place for many of us, blessings on you!

Tonight's featured supper was steak with Bearnaise sauce, baked potato, fresh corn on the cob, and sweet potato vine tips. I have eaten the sautéed tips of the sweet potato vines before, but tonight I decided to try them as if they were leafy asparagus. Since I knew I was making the Bearnaise sauce, it seemed like a good time to fix other things that could benefit from the sauce. I chose to boil them and only used about the last six to eight inches of new growth. The purple color of the new growth boiled out.

New purple growth of sweet potato vine
They are pretty bland and the stems toughen after about three or four inches, but they aren't bad, especially with Bearnaise sauce. In my opinion, most anything is pretty good with Bearnaise! This sauce had an additional snipped up fresh branch of tarragon from our garden French Tarragon. If you remember I bought two from the Farmer's Market (see previous blog post). I planted one and held one in reserve. The planted one flourished but the other one eventually expired when I finally got around to planting it in the garden next to one of the figs.

If you have ever seriously worked at growing sweet potatoes, then you know how easy they are to grow. They make take a while but eventually you will have vigorous, green vines all over the place. After searching around on line a while I finally found some figures about sweet potato vine nutritional value. They have lots of protein and contain all the essential amino acids. The leaves also have Vitamin A and quite a few other useful things in varying amounts. It turns out that chicks can be fed dried sweet potato vines instead of their regular feed and will do as well as all but the most intensively fed broiler houses chicks. Good for your backyard/free range types of chickens. There is even a recipe for making sweet potato soap. I will need to look into that one.

I think George Washington Carver did some work with sweet potatoes too, not just peanuts. That might be fun to look into too. Anyway, I am full and have a new appreciation for one of my garden plants. In the second grade, my teacher, Mrs. Applegate, had a sweet potato growing in a vase. I was fascinated with the green lush vines and loved it when it was my turn to add water to the container. Now I start my own plants from a parent potato, and grow and harvest them. I don't think I have ever had a total failure with sweet potatoes. They are tough customers. Growing up, we oiled the skins and put them in the oven until they were soft. Then we split them and added butter. It is still my favorite way to eat them. If you watch, sooner or later they will go on sale for around thirty or forty cents a pound, sometime in the winter. They store really well in a box somewhere, where it isn't too hot or cold. Lots of really healthy, tasty eating on the cheap. One more way to trim the grocery bill in these expensive times.
New growth on older pruned tomato vines

I have also tried something else I have read about but never attempted. I pruned a couple of my big tomato plants that had gotten really straggly and beaten down by the weather. I cut them back to the lushest of the new growth and stuck cages around them. They are sturdy and have blooms and look good. We will see how they do compared to the ones left to recover as is, and the new plants I put out. They new plants are growing, but don't look like they will catch up to the pruned ones, but we will see.

Trying new things, why is it so hard? If God's mercies are new every morning, why are we so reluctant to try new things?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Preservatives and Seed Savers

When I was at the Farmer's Market a while back I bought some peppers. When I made my purchase, the grower threw in a free selection of all the other types of peppers she grew. One was a small red chili cayenne type. When I used it I really liked the combination of hot, spicy, and a little fruity. I wished that I had grown some of those this year.

Seed Savers Pepper Seed Packets
When I went on an outing in the Capitol City, my friend and I shopped at one the fancy organic stores there. I looked at their seed rack and found these two types. The freebie peppers the grower gave me were much smaller than these, but I hope they will have a similar flavor. These seeds are from Seed Savers Exchange. This organization has been around a while and was formed to protect the diversity of foods and naturally grown products by promoting, saving, and selling open pollinated and heirloom seeds. They are an organization you can join, it doesn't cost much for a membership, and that money is used to preserve and grow the seed stock. If you haven't read up on their mission, it is interesting and they have done a great job of raising awareness of the need to protect our seed diversity.

These packets have a paragraph on the back that tells the history of the particular type. One came from South America and the other from Italy via Canada then to Troy, New York. Peppers are pretty interesting. There are LOTS of different kinds and they look different and are used for many different dishes. I will save these seeds for next year, probably not enough time for this year, but I wish there was. Peppers seem to grow really slowly in our garden for some reason.

Hormel "No Preservative" Sandwich Meats
I was reading up on the seeds while I was eating my breakfast. I had a Muenster-Pepper Omelet with fresh tomatoes and my own sausage creation. Lately I have been reading and seeing a lot of info on the negative effects of preservatives, especially in meats. It seems to be linked into the inflammatory response that is somehow linked to arthritis and Alzheimer's among other things (Please note, I am not a doctor or a licensed anything). Anyway, the bottom line is that I really don't like the taste of preservatives in meat. I am reasonably careful with my food, and have never had any food poisoning incidents so I am choosing to explore the preservative-free meat products that are starting to appear in stores. Hormel has packaged sandwich meats in a little brown box that I like, I think one of the other lunch meat companies has a line too. I have even been finding preservative-free bacon. And then, the Do It Yourself bug bit and I decided to make my own breakfast sausage when I couldn't find my favorite brand.

DIY Breakfast Sausage Patties
I found some very lean pork, used an on-line recipe from Alton Brown.  Next I added my own garden sage, rosemary, marjoram and onions and some other spices and patted it out. It was very lean, so for tasty fun I added some chapped bacon in the next batch. I think I will add olive oil to the next to strike a better balance between tasty and healthy. I really like my own sausage, it is a premium product and will get better as I tweak the recipe my way.

It strikes me that both of these topics have a lot to do with intentionality and deliberation. Our sermon this week was about honoring one another. I think they are all connected. Deliberation lets us slow down and single out what characteristics or traits we value. Can be type and taste of a pepper, ingredients and recipes for sausage or praiseworthy actions of others. Intentionality means we have decided to do something with that information, let it have some kind of effect. In the business and leadership world it is called strategy or execution. We take information and let it inform and guide our responses. It does a lot of things that I haven't thought through yet, but it does help make an interesting breakfast and garden.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Break in the Drought and Cantaloupe Thieves

New cucumber plants
We have appreciated the rain. The garden is growing super quickly with the extra water and the cooler temperatures. We have some corn on the way, purple hull peas, okra and peppers. There are new cucumber plants with little cukes and some odds and ends of other things. We also have melons, but we are in a race to see how many we will get before the varmints eat them all.

Unripe cantaloupe
Banana peppers
When the cantaloupes are about one or two days away from picking they begin to send off fragrant fruit smells. Before we pick the fully ripe fruit, something comes along and eats it. I am guessing it is a raccoon, possum, squirrel or rabbit, or maybe several of these. They don't come every night and they only eat the ripest ones. They don't get all of them, but they have gotten several of them. We have yet to see what it is; very frustrating. They are either climbing over or under the fence. They may even be hiding out in the garden. It happens at night, which makes me think it isn't squirrels. They haven't eaten the corn, and I think raccoons would do that. Oh well we will keep trying to figure it out and take some kind of corrective action.

In the not so sneaky department, I caught a box turtle sneaking up on my compost makings. I sat the peelings outside to deter the fruit flies and when I opened the door to leave this morning, I caught the turtle checking out the container.  It surprised both of us. I can handle sneaky at that speed. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Boutiques and Botanicals

Display in Serendipity
Had a few extra minutes in town this week and visited a new shop in our old downtown area. This shop was a super fun mix of furniture, clothing, accessories and other cool things. The prices were reasonable and I am very tempted by a nice spacious purse I saw there, hmmm.......
Anyway, it was a pleasant change. The previous shop was ultra trendy and rather ridiculously expensive. The stuff was super cool, but I usually felt like I was being sized up and found wanting in one way and another. The owner of Serendipity, Tomisa, was certainly a friendly breath of fresh air.

Maybe the chip on my shoulder toward the previous shop, was that in my previous life I made sales calls there and they even advertised with my company. If you want to know how people really behave, go call on a business owner as an advertising rep. Probably accounts for part of my push against materialism. Anyway, rant aside, I love the new shop and will visit often on my way to the new coffee shop or my drugstore.
Seed pods, 6-8 inches, Kentucky Coffee

In totally unrelated news, outside the library this week, I found a Kentucky Coffee Tree. Wikipedia says they are naturally occurring and rare here in the “midwest”. I am sure this was planted by the University, in fact I think I remember identifying it with my dendrology professor Dr. Tucker.

Kentucky Coffee Seeds
They look a little like an ash tree, but with big pods. The pods have smooth seeds that Wiki says are easy to grow. It also said that early settlers optimistically thought the beans might be a substitute for coffee. It is classified as somewhat toxic (what does that mean?), so I don't think I will give it a try. However it is almost time for sumac berries, and I think I will make some sumac lemonade this year. Co-gardener of Minimalist Intentions blog made some and it was pretty good. Maybe the wildlife have eaten them all. I need to check.

So, looking back, Serendipity lived up to it's potential, and Kentucky Coffee, not so much. Hope I can learn to be who I am with everyone and not treat someone differently for ANY reason. Good goal, not so easy.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Migas My Way

Onions, peppers & tortilla browning
This morning I had my version of migas for breakfast. Migas is the word for crumbs in Spanish according to Wikipedia and probably refers to the use of crumbled or chopped tortillas. I think I first discovered the recipe in a Mennonite Cookbook called “Extending the Table”. This is a collection of recipes compiled by the Mennonite Central Committee and features very homey typical national dishes from around the world. Many of the recipes were submitted by their Mennonite members serving as missionaries.

My version of migas was pretty humble but tasty. I used corn tortillas, snipped up with my kitchen scissors, crisped in a little butter with onions and peppers. I added my scrambled egg mixture and used up some leftover fresh mozzarella and basil. It was great. The Pioneer Woman has a version of migas that looks delish and beautiful and has a pretty entertaining description too. My only claim to fame is that I knew about the recipe long before she did.

Finished breakfast- Migas
My daughter introduced me to Ree, of The Pioneer Woman fame. Since we haven't had a television in about twelve years there are a lot of things I don't know about. And since I am still not too sure how to use Pinterest there are a whole lot of interesting things that I am way behind the curve on. So I guess Ree gets the splash for migas and I just get a blog entry. Anyway, she is fun and the dishes all look tremendous.

The base of corn tortilla and eggs couldn't be simpler. But it is one of those synergistic things, the combo of those two, outshines the separate ingredients. For a simple breakfast, you can't beat it. When my Mom was ill, I fixed this for her breakfast many, many times. Her staple foods were migas, butterscotch or banana pudding cups, and Ensure. I fixed it so often that, although I really like migas, it was a long time before I could enjoy it.

I like dishes like this where I can use up the odds and ends of vegetables and other foods. In the winter I make a clean out the refrigerator soup that varies with the leftover assortment. I guess we could call it the casserole philosophy. Cook your noodles and add whatever, top and heat. That is where the profit- margin and savings is located, in those plastic containers of leftovers.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Pole Barns and Airstreams

The Neighbor's 80's Airstream
So it is time for a word about The Neighbors. We have four properties adjoining our new property. One belongs to the original Co-Gardener, two are homes that were there before we bought our property. The other belongs to the new Neighbors. These are two folks we are very excited to have nearby, or soon to be nearby. We have known both of them for several years and are delighted that they are going to build their own home.

Their plan is similar to ours. Do-it-yourself and make it efficient. Their plan is different, because they are designing it themselves. His day job is as a musician, degreed in engineering, with significant touring breaks and random work to help cash flow. She has a seminary degree and is still thinking about the path her vocations might take.

Poles for the Pole Barn
As an interim dwelling, the couple has purchased an Airstream Trailer. They intend to live here while they build and as they tour and travel. They shopped extensively to find a good deal and to find something that would retain its value. They have chronicled some of their journey if you want to follow along on the Moore Homestead blog link on this page. Moore's Homestead

Currently they are raising a pole barn building. This will serve as a storage area and eventual studio space. He labored over the plans for several days working out the glitches and tweaking it to meet his criteria. They will probably have their home construction finished long before ours.

Neighbor's Scale Plans
We are currently considering a greenhouse purchase. Elegant Astronaut (link to blog this page) gave me a gift certificate to her favorite masseuse. Charlene, the masseuse, happens to know someone who needs to sell their three greenhouse structures, and by one of those strange quirks they are only a mile or two from our new property as the crow flies.
Rafters Up

  One of the structures is a gothic frame with heater, thermostats and fans. The other two are disassembled hoop houses. We have plans for a geodesic/aquaponic/hydropinc greenhouse, but we have pressing needs for a greenhouse space sooner than we can build our custom dome structure.
It is all matter of cash flow at this point.

Neighbors are an important part of community life. They are a constant and good reminder to be ethical in all that you do. They can be your best friends (or your worst enemies if things don't go well). I am looking forward to long and good relationships with all our neighbors.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Black Widow, Black Mission, Black Coffee

Espresso maker

The big presentation is over and I am taking an easy day before I start to catch up on everything else.  Burnout is more of an issue in my life these days.  Not exactly sure why that is.  Perhaps it has to do with being able to focus more intently for longer periods of time.  So after a project, I need some reboot time.  Or maybe it is just that I am older and tired, or maybe both.  Another one of those many things that I don't know.  But I do know, too much study makes me really unable to get on with things.  A break is good!

I consider blogging more of a relaxing activity, but trying to post regularly takes some effort.  That is why caffeine can be my friend.  For a one shot approach, I use the Krups garage sale espresso maker.
Repainted metal kitchen tray cart

This coffee maker was part of a thirty dollar deal that I purchased from a sale a couple of miles from my house.  The Husband and I pulled out a stack of stuff- an old maple dresser, a couple of metal kitchen carts, two step stools, a gate, and many other items.

I repainted one of the carts and use it as a plant stand/end table.  My daughter is using the dresser in my grandson's room.  I use both of the step stools and we use the gate on the garden.  And of course the Krups, when I want one cup not a whole pot.  I find that you get some great deals if you are willing to buy a pile at once.  Of course loading and dragging home said pile was not as fun, but the dresser for the grandson was easily worth the price and the rest was essentially free.

Fall mustard greens
The garden continues.  The orchard is struggling. A strong wind broke one of the plum trees in half.  The blackberries are doing great.  My Black Mission figs are fruiting and are yummmmy!  It is hard to get new seed up for the fall crops (lettuce, radish, etc.) because it is just so hot and dry.

I had to kill a large Black Widow Spider in the garden today.   It had made its home in a concrete block and I saw it the other day and was going to let it live.  But, it started building its web onto one of the figs and I am not willing to shell out a large deductible for the ER if I can easily avoid it.

Whenever you water here in the hot summer time, Black Widows are attracted to the area.  They especially seek some type of crevice where they can hide and nest.  I try to give predators as much of a chance as I think I can.  I know enough ecology to know that natural systems need natural predators and spiders aren't vegetarians.

Black Mission figs and spider's web

I have heard we have a bear nearby.  I have been watching, thinking I might see it, but so far no dice.  I will keep looking.  Hope it doesn't mistake me and the Ruckus for some sort of tasty venison option.  Seriously, seeing one would make me a little nervous, but I am sure it wouldn't try to do me any harm.   I know I am in much greater danger from all the deer hanging out along the back roads and the neighborhood dogs that view me as some kind of track and field event when I am on the Ruckus.

Well, the dog days of summer will be over soon, and that is okay with me.  I have enjoyed most of it, but it is time to move on to new things.  I am glad that each day and each season has its "new mercies".

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Office Space 2

Library meeting rooms
This week has been taken up with preparing a presentation for next week. I have a Business Partner and we are looking forward to our first paying gig. She has a degree that pairs up well with mine and a great personal work ethic, so we are creating seminars in our respective specialities and dreaming big dreams. For hours of intense prep work we meet up at the local university's library. This serves as our centrally located meeting place; Internet available, great parking, clean, convenient, air conditioning ( a lot cooler than my 81F degree house.

They are a little strict about bringing in snacks and cell phones, but for free, it is a pretty good deal. There are plenty of coffee spots and eateries nearby. We have our pick of reference books and journals. They also have a shelf that is labelled “New” and there are all kinds of great new publications in my field that all cost about $30 each at Amazon.
Cushy second-floor reading area

We have only begun to scratch the surface of the resources available at this office space. On the second floor, there are little rooms that are never all filled and we can practice our presentations aloud to our hearts content. There are lounging areas where you can sit and read comfortably, or even doze if you are hardcore.

This strategy works well. It gets me out of my house, lets me be my introverted self in a cubicle or corner alone and gives me the freedom to hang out, plan, and practice with the Business Partner. The place is huge and the second and third floors are basically empty except for a few offices. Can you repeat after me, “Yes, thank you!”.

Salad and cheese dip & chips
Another thing that continues to work well is the salad after gardening luncheon (see previous salad post). Today I added home-made cheese dip. I made my salsa and I love it. It might be a little vinegary and sweet for some, but I really like it. I made a cream sauce, added cheddar cheese and then added a ton of cumin and a generous amount of salsa and served up with tortilla chips. Wow, it was that good. I wouldn't kid you about something like that.

So many of the joys and satisfactions of life are the result of the blessings available and the intentionality to make the effort to enjoy them. You are worth it, life is worth it. Bon Appetit!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Cheapso Eatsos

Red Beans on Corn Tortilla
After a quick visit to the Pope County Farmer's Market to round out my salsa making supplies it was time to eat lunch.  Yesterday I soaked half a bag of red beans and last night I cooked them.  I am talking about small red beans, not red kidney beans.  They taste completely different, and the kidney beans are probably my least favourite, so make sure you use the right one. 

Thanks go out to my friends Carolyn and Byron T. who introduced me to Cajun food and red beans.  That's where I got first hand instruction in the art of roux making.  Prior to that I thought that pintos or great northern beans were the go to bean for most cooking occasions.  I love them all, but I have a fond spot for the small red bean.

So lunch was a corn tortilla covered in beans with some cheese melted on top.  After heating, this layer was covered with sour cream, sliced peppers- hot and mild, onion, tomato and cilantro.  Just about perfect if I do say so myself.  The crazy thing is that it is so cheap, delicious and versatile.  It is completely customizable; it can be gluten-free, dairy free, meat free... you pick. It probably costs less than a quarter to make one, depending on how much stuff you have to buy and how fancy you make it.  If you need to cut the grocery bill here is a good bet.  Most of the ingredients don't spoil quickly either, you don't have to eat everything at once (unless you just want to).  South of the border eating is good stuff and we have lots of yummy options around.

Banana tree with flower and fruits
A more exotic item I saw this week was a banana tree in bloom with small bananas.  This is at a salon in town and is the first I have seen  fruiting outdoors in my town.  We have to dig up and store banana plants over the winter here in zone seven so not that many people give them a serious try.  One of the auto mechanics in town has a huge lemon tree in a stock tub that he rolls out for the summer and back into the garage for the winter.  It produces lots of lemons and seems to enjoy the CO and other gases from the garage.

To mix a metaphor, a thing of beauty is outside the box.  We all need to challenge some limitations by thinking outside the box, what do I want to try to do that I don't see around town  very often?  We also need to appreciate the wholesome, simple spectacular, that thing we can make, improve and add too.  The wise and well-lived life has room for both.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hondas and a BLT

2011 Honda Ruckus
Blogging is having to take a back seat.  Not only has life been busy but I have discovered a new passion.  I have purchased a used 2011 Honda Ruckus.

In high school I dated a guy who had a motorcycle and we rode around on it a lot.  I liked it, but he never offered to let me learn and I never thought to ask.  My cousin had a motorcycle and rode me around on it and let me try to drive it.  I promptly  crashed into a pile of rusty stacked tomato cages and spent the day after that catching up on my tetanus and antibiotic shots for the  blood poisoning streaks that were radiating up my ankle and into my foot and putting antibiotic cream on my muffler burn.  Fast forward thirty-five years.

The Co-gardener took me and another friend (Steve, father of the Frankenmato, see previous blogs) to a large, grassy field and let us practice riding his smallish motorcycle.  I was terrible at it but I did it and it remains one of my favourite accomplishments (after grad school and grandchildren) of my 50's so far.  So I have been tooling up and down dirt roads and pastures gaining confidence.  I would like to take advantage of that ninety MPG if possible but mostly I think it will be used for going back and forth to the garden from our house.   

The garden also picked up speed with the rain and short break in hot temperatures.  I am almost caught up with my tomato canning. 
I will try to finish up with salsa.

I have decided to create a new summer ritual. 
I will call it the BLT extravaganza.  Pile lots of bacon on bread or a roll, add condiment of choice and lettuce and top with an incredibly ripe tomato and consume while holding a dish towel under your chin.  Bocadillo rolls work well, they seem to do a good job of holding mayo and mustard and soaking up the excess tomato juice.

Life can have the rituals and it can have some new stuff too.  It makes things a lot tastier and more exciting.  If you see someone who looks like me top-ending it at forty MPH on the highway, please drive carefully and pass cautiously.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sauce City

Sauce just starting and almost ready

Gradually, I am working my way through the tomatoey abundance. This wasn't the best year, but it wasn't the worst year by any means. I am busily canning up tomatoes, and tomato juice, and tomato sauce/spaghetti sauce.

This year produced some of the biggest tomatoes ever (see previous post about Big Rainbow and Salads). I have had lots of nice uniform ripe tomatoes with very little sickness. Some of them scorched in the sun after the grasshoppers and blister beetles ate too much of the foliage away, but that has been it for problems. Not too many hornworms, no blossom end rot, and no blight; a good year.

Grasshopper gnawed tomatoes
I have started bringing the tomatoes to the house to ripen after they start to turn pink. I got tired of finding grasshoppers gnawing on them. Don't know why I never caught on to this before.

Balsamic Vinegar
I have discovered the joy of balsamic vinegar in my spaghetti sauce. For years I have tried to match my childhood memories of the spaghetti sauce from “The Villa Restaurant” in Little Rock. I looked at lots of recipes and couldn't figure out what was missing. Now balsamic may not be their additive, but it matches the taste I remember and I love it.

Finished canned sauce
Another aberration of mine is refusal to peel the tomatoes. I figure it makes the difference between whether I get to can the stuff or not. If I have to peel all those tomatoes, probably not. The peel is healthy, we can eat it. If no one else likes it, too bad, I do, and will eat it myself.

 Right now there are several pots simmering away on the stove. When the water is boiling I will fill my jars and put them in to process. The Ball Canning Guide (you can find it in Wmart next to the canning supplies) gives a really clear how-to if you want to try it and are unsure. Better yet, ask someone you know who cans to let you help so you can see how it is done. That community thing. 

 Canning tomatoes isn't scary or dangerous and is very satisfying. Once you get canning jars it is pretty cost effective. It is easy to find free or cheap jars; ask around, lots of people get rid of them. Canning will heat up your kitchen and it does take up some space. But, when you are done you have beautiful, glowing jewel-like jars of tomatoes on your shelves. Just another step in doing it for ourselves.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Heat Lovers in Zone Seven

White Queen caladiums and begonias
Has the sun scorched your flowerbed or garden?  Are your spring flowers gone and you need a color pick-me-up? Here are some flowers that love the heat and it is HOT here in our Zone Seven plantings.

I have mentioned caladiums and begonias several times before in previous blogs, but it bears repeating.  These are go-to shade loving plants for hot weather.  You provide the water and the fertilizer and they will provide the blooms.

Lantana is a reliable bloom that will flower until frost.  It comes in shades of white, purple, orange, yellow and pink.  Butterflies adore it. What's not to love?  If you are lucky and have a protected spot here it will come back next year from its perennial roots.

Moss Rose
 Moss rose is rather old fashioned, but you can't beat the heat loving properties and the colourful flowers.  Portulaca grandiflora has the full flowers and the smaller leaf.  Others portulacas have different leaves and may have single flowers but they all love the heat and can flourish in a dry spot and flower.  The flowers may be pink, orange, white, red or any tint or combination.

My final choice for a heat loving flowers is Gazania.  Thanks goes out to my friend Rachel of New Digs landscaping for encouraging me to give these a try.  They have proven to be trustworthy perennial workhorses at my gardening day job, with their bright white, orange, and yellow blooms!  The clumps are getting large and will soon be ready to divide.

 I am reminded just how important it is to get feedback and share information.  We get feedback from others and it gives us an idea for a new solution.  Rachel told me that she had great success with Gazanias and even though I wasn't sure they were worth it, I found some marked down and I decided to give them a try. Now two years in, I am delighted at the results.

Just another reminder.  We can share our experience and learn.  That is a great part of community.  It is a safe place to get some feedback that is different; outside your own experience.  The results can be beneficial and beautiful.