Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tomatoes, A Full Moon, And A Peach Tree

Greetings! I know that it has been a long time since my last post, I've been up to my elbows in dirt! That makes it a little hard to type. We have had a wonderful Spring here in the Ozarks. Even though it did seem as if Winter went biting and clawing the whole way. The garden is doing very well. Right now it is in-between phases. We are still harvesting cooler-weather crops such as snow peas and kohlrabi (however these don't have much longer) and the tomatoes, peppers and zucchini have already been planted. I only grow heirloom vegetables, and this year I am trying some varieties that I have not tried before such as Pineapple tomatoes. These are yellow with red marbling, weigh two pounds each, and are said to have a sweet and fruity flavor. Another tomato I'm growing is Black from Tula. This is a rare Russian heirloom that is a dark purplish color and is thought by many tomato aficionados to be the best tasting of all the dark tomatoes. I have also planted Yellow Mortgage Lifter, Amana Orange, Henderson's Crimson Cushion, and Copia. Even though it will be a while before these plants begin to fruit, I can see them sliced on a platter, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with salt and freshly-ground pepper with, perhaps, some small basil leaves strewn over. This vision keeps me weeding.

The moon was full tonight. It rose in a clear sky at eventide accompanied by warm breezes and the song of a Whippoorwill. This is a great time of year in the mountains. The hay fields are busy and as you drive around, the countryside smells of wild honeysuckle and fresh cut hay. Intoxicating. Next week is our wedding anniversary. Each year to mark this occasion we plant a tree. This year we chose a peach tree called Golden Jubilee. Lovely pink blossoms, delicious fruit, and nice Fall color. What more could you ask for in a tree? Nothing (well, my husband asks that it plants itself, so other than that).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Humble Lentil

I was grocery shopping the other day and picked up a bag of lentils. Two fellow shoppers where openly curious about this selection and asked me, "What are you going to do with those?" I said, "Cook them." Then it dawned on me that of course these people figured that the lentils would be cooked. The question was how they would be prepared. So I gave a small talk about the savoriness and diversity of lentils. I would like to share with you some of the great things about the lentils. 

The lentil is a bushy annual plant that belongs to the legume family. It is thought to have originated in the Near East and has been consumed by humans since Neolithic times. Twenty-six percent of a lentil's calories come from protein. They are also high in iron, fiber, vitamin B1, and folate.  Not only are they nutritionally loaded, but they are very appetizing. Lentils can be prepared in so many ways. Try cooking some in chicken broth, then drain and stir into couscous along with minced onion, tomato, cucumber, and salt and pepper for a great summer salad. I also like to simmer lentils in chicken broth, white wine, orange slices, bay leaves, and curry powder. Then stir in green onions and continue to simmer until they are tender. Sometimes I add spinach to this as well. Serve it with rice or couscous.

This is my Lentil and Sweet Potato soup recipe:

Saute a large yellow onion in butter until translucent, then add a cup of diced ham and continue to cook until the ham gets brown on the edges. Add five cups chicken broth ,two cups lentils, and two sweet potatoes peeled and diced. Add nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer until the sweet potatoes and lentils are tender. I never measure anything when I cook so these measurements are more like guidelines, not a scientific formula. Enjoy!

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Joys of Winter

I admit that Winter is not my favorite season. Okay, it isn't even in the top three. However, there are many things about this most inhospitable of seasons which I enjoy. I am always made somewhat melancholy when the vibrant colors of Autumn fade and all the growing things are made brown and gray by the first killing freeze, yet Winter has it's own austere beauty. The landscape is monochromatic. The snow creates a canvas which showcases the stark linear forms of the bare trees and the shadows cast by them. Snow itself is enchantingly beautiful as are frost and ice. The sky on a clear, still Winter night is breathtaking above all things.

In Winter I can't go out and enjoy my morning constitutional around the garden. I can, However, sit at the glass doors overlooking the back deck, coffee cup in hand and watch the amusing antics of the birds at the feeder. Cardinals, Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, Blue Jays, and many others stop by. I've counted almost three score at a time. It is a nice way to start the day.

Winter has it's own culinary delights to offer as well such as creamy potato chowder, savory beef stew, spicy chili, sweet hot cocoa, and warm fruit compotes. These dishes are very satisfying on bitterly cold Winter nights.

Other things I love about Winter: snow days, no ticks, and hot tea. What do you like about Winter?

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like...

Time and money. The two things everyone wishes they had more of this time of year. The lack of time and money causes stress, which can manifest it's self as impatience, indifference, and general Scrooge-like behavior. I am not immune to this phenomenon either. I was driving with my mother yesterday verbally listing all the things which I have not yet accomplished. "I haven't sent out a single Christmas card, wrapped a single present, cleaned the guest rooms, or even finished my shopping!" Whoa is me. Then last night as I was preparing to write Christmas cards (with Christmas music playing on the stereo) I looked over at the tree and thought how beautiful it was. I realized that I needed to slow down and enjoy the moment. I love Christmas. it is my very favorite celebration. I don't want to stress out and miss the loveliness of the season. So I thought about it and put things in their proper perspective. I don't have to meticulously wrap every single present. Some things can get thrown into a gift bag with tissue paper on top. If I can't afford to give everyone all the things I would like to, there is always next year, birthdays, or anniversaries. If I don't have time to make five different kinds of cookies for the cookie jars, two or three will do just as well. Tonight I am going to relax with some hot tea, cozy up to my husband and settle in to watch It's a Wonderful Life. Because it is.

Just a note about the pictures with this post. These are pictures of our Christmas tree. I am still learning about photographing Christmas trees, so these are not some of my best shots. They are not meant for wallpaper. I just wanted to share these with you. I have also included some pictures of our fireplace mantel. Have the merriest of Christmases!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas Tree O Christmas Tree

There are two types of people in this world: those who put up real Christmas trees and those who put up artificial Christmas trees. I am the type of person who puts up a real Christmas tree. Growing up we always had a real Christmas tree. However, I think that even if I didn't grow up with real Christmas trees that I would still be putting up a real tree every year. The allure of a fresh, vibrant evergreen festooned with Christmas bobbles is hard to resist. Not so with a fake tree. They have no heart, no song. A fake tree never stood beneath the stars, never sheltered birds from a storm, and never danced in the wind. There is no comparison between pulling plastic sticks out of a box and bringing a fragrant, lush tree in the front door. I love Christmas trees. They smell heavenly of sap and wild things and they bring a dramatic note of festivity to a home.

When I tell people how I feel about the real-verses-fake issue, the pro-fakes always note how messy a real tree is. They say that it drops needles all over the place. Yes it does, but that's okay. Life is messy sometimes. The second point made by pro-fakes is that by purchasing a a real tree that I am committing a major environmental sin. They think that by "killing" a tree my carbon footprint gets 2 sizes bigger. The truth is that purchasing a real Christmas tree is actually better for the environment than using a fake one. Christmas trees are a renewable resource. When a tree is cut down on a tree farm, another one is planted to replace it. Also, they don't require as much energy to manufacture, and they are biodegradable.  I know that buying a tree every year is more expensive, but to me it is so worth it.

This weekend Ryan and I are going to go cut down our tree. We go to a local place that has many acres and scour the entire lot trying to find just the right one. It's always freezing, but it's so much fun! When we get home we'll spend the day trimming the tree, eating pumpkin pie and drinking hot chocolate. What could be better?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sweet Potato or Yam?

Is it a sweet potato or a yam? It can be a confusing question. Many times these terms are used interchangeably. However they are the roots of different plants. Here's a summary of the differences and why we get them confused.

Yam is the common name for some species in the genus Dioscorea, a family of perennial herbaceous vines which are grown in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific Islands. These plants produce starchy tubers that can be cooked and eaten, much as a sweet potato can. Yams can grow several feet long and weigh over 100 lbs. Because they are so big, they are often cut up and sold in chunks. They have a rough skin which can be brown or pink in color. The flesh of the yam ranges in color from white or yellow to purple or pink.

Sweet potatoes belong to the Convolvulaceae family. There are over a thousand species belonging to this family and only one, batatas, is a crop plant which we eat. These plants are native to the tropical regions of South America where they were domesticated 5000 years ago. These plants are herbaceous, perennial vines with heart-shaped leaves. In the U.S. North Carolina is the leading state in sweet potato production.

As you can see sweet potatoes and yams are completely different. So why are the two names synonymous for U.S. shoppers? Well, here is what happened. In the U.S. firmer varieties of sweet potatoes were grown before the softer varieties. In the 1930's when farmers started producing the softer sweet potatoes, they needed to differentiate between the two. African slaves had already been calling the soft sweet potatoes "yams" because they resembled the yams they were used to eating in Africa. Thus, soft sweet potatoes were referred to as yams to distinguish them from the firm varieties. Yams are available in the U.S. at international markets and stores servicing Caribbean and Asian communities, however most the time when U.S. consumers purchase "yams" they are buying sweet potatoes.

Regardless of what you call them, they are delectable. Sweet potatoes are a highly nutritious, versatile vegetable. You can use them to make sweet confections like sweet potato pie, and candied sweet potatoes, or you can create savory dishes such as sweet potato and lintel soup, mashed sweet potatoes, or sweet potato chips. I would like to share one of my favorite sweet potato recipes. This recipe is easy, different, and everyone seems to like it.

Sweet Potatoes De Provence

Cut up two sweet potatoes into small chunks and place in a large bowl. Pour about three or four tablespoons of olive oil over the sweet potato pieces. Then, sprinkle about two or three tablespoons of herbs de Provence and salt and pepper (to taste) over the potatoes. Pour onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 450 degrees until soft and browned on the edges, about thirty five minutes.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A True Feast

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It's not just the scent of bay leaves simmering in chicken broth, the rich velvety pumpkin pie with whipped heavy cream, or the gathering of friends and family. It's the decadence of the day.  At Thanksgiving people go all out. There is no holding back. Potatoes three different ways? Yes! A turkey and a ham? Sure! Four desserts? Of course. Thanksgiving is a time to break out Great Grandmother's gravy boat, launder your linen napkins, and polish the flatware. People will journey great distances to congregate on this feast day. Plates will be filled, thanks will be given, and wine will flow. 

I also like Thanksgiving because I enjoy cooking, and no other holiday allows you to showcase your culinary prowess like this greatest of feast days. I usually start cooking about three days in advance. One year I decided that I wanted to have caramelized onions as a side dish. I peeled and sliced nine pounds of onions. Yes, this was a painful endeavor. By the time I was done I couldn't even begin cooking them. I couldn't keep my eyes open! So now, if I want to have caramelized onions, I slice a little at a time and store them in plastic bags until I have enough. Then I cook them all together. You can also make cranberry sauce, prep vegetables, and make pies a couple days in advance. I'd love to hear what tips and tricks you have to help with crunch time in the kitchen on Thanksgiving. Just click on comments to share. Happy cooking!