...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Animals Anyone?

I've been absent from the blog for a spell here as I took a mid-winter outing to a lovely little cabin on Lake Michigan. (More about the trip in the next post...I have to wait at least one more day to officially post next month's "kitchen pilgrimage" after all.) While there, I began reading a delightful new book on my Kindle called, Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live off the Land, by Kurt Timmermeister.
The book is such a happy read and so appropriate to the blog that I'm "reviewing" it without even getting a free copy from some publisher. (smile)

The book is refreshing in its camaraderie between the novice farmer and the author. He shares blatantly his early ignorance and failures as he shifted careers from being a successful city (Seattle) baker turned full-scale restaurateur to being a cheese-making dairy farmer on an island off the coast of Washington state. His word pictures make a beautiful balance against a heavy lacing of humor and an across-the-dinner-table literary tone.

One thing we've never discussed in our suburban gardening and canning adventures is the topic of animals. I've considered chickens--not an option according to our neighborhood bylaws; bees--my husband spent a whole year trying to drive them out from building a hive in his basement home office, so another no; and angora bunnies to harvest the wool, fibrefarming it's called--still thinking on that one. Overall, though, the choice to raise livestock does not meet with much support in suburban settings. Still, Timmermeister's seasoned advice on the acquisition of those first farm animals--namely goats--is too funny not to share as a excerpt:

The first animals that people generally acquire are not sheep but goats. In my opinion, this is a poor choice. I hear from many people who think they will move out of the city, quit their jobs, buy a few goats and make goat cheese. I try to react with an enthusiasm that matches theirs. They seem to believe that they are the first to come up with the plan to make goat cheese and leave their jobs in the city...

Goats really are beautiful animals, very clean and tidy and full of personality. Goat cheese is especially tasty and reeks of the French countryside. Little rounds of white cheese, often with some ash or a few flower petals or cracked pepper--it's a lovely pastoral daydream. But the reality of keeping goats is much different. They are beautiful and full of personality, but also can be quite pesky. They have an uncanny ability to outwit any fence, gate or confinement. If they just escaped and wandered around with their sweet demeanor it might work, but their wily intelligence leads them right to the best tree or your favorite plant and they nip it down to the ground. Quickly. Effortlessly. Silently. If you are lucky they will stay on your property and only wreak havoc on your favorite trees. If you aren't so lucky, your neighbor's favorite trees will fall victim to your cute goats as well.

I think they plan it out. Spending their afternoons chewing their cuds and looking over their fence, getting a sense of which plants you really care about. Watching you prune and water and fawn over a beautiful specimen that is close to blooming, something that would break your heart if it were eaten...

So fun were his descriptions of adventuring into everything farm--from growing orchards and planting veggies as a cash crop to milking his first cow, Dinah, to inadvertently killing his first two seasons' worth of bees before he could even get them into their hives--that I spent almost as much time daydreaming my own broading farm adventures as I did reading about his--the profoundest testament to a book's value that I can make!

Indeed, his naked admissions of ineptness in the early days of living off the land are far more successful in inviting a reader to take similar initiative than the best written and illustrated how-to book out there...at least to another humble beginner-- like me, for instance!

Hopeful daydreaming!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Garden Pilgrimage...Midwinter Bird Garden

Not many of us venture out on garden pilgrimages this time of year, nor do we visit our friends' gardens when the setting is one of snow-covered tables and chairs. Our garden visits are restricted to a view through a window, maybe behind the gossamer steam rising from a cup of hot cocoa.

But theTaylors' garden is an exception. A mid-winter visit here is a magical event. LeLane's garden, as photographed by her daughter Mona, is a bird lover's paradise.

Interspersed through the photo montage, LeLane's words paint their own picture of the family's home on Kentucky Lake, KY.

I doubt we'll make another garden pilgrimage until spring, but this garden makes for a beautiful winter's day visit.

It is a very nice resort. Probably the best on the lake. It is mostly new due to storms, tornado's and ice storms. The initial resort was here when my folks bought this lot and built a 4 room house in 1957. Our home is old, but has many extensions, as my dad build on 3 garages, and two porches. We turned one into a beautiful sitting room. It is my room, but you are welcome to visit. HA It was a porch where Mona and her grandad spent many hours with the breeze blowing just enjoying each other's company.

We have a boat dock and a pontoon that we tie to the dock every summer. The geese are beautiful and the yard is full of them. We have plum trees that bear much fruit around the 4th of July.

Mom planted cedars all along the fence to keep the neighbors from seeing. Those cedars are old, but still beautiful. Many bird feeders both winter and summer. Although they would eat us out of house and home, I don't always feed them all year. We have plenty of neighbors to help feed them in the summer.

If we step out our roadside door, we can see across Kentucky Lake. Our lake side is Buckhorn Bay. There is a boat ramp over there also. It is just one beautiful place. Next to us on the other side of the fence are cabins that they rent each summer and a big two story lodge.

Our house is old, but very comfortable. My folks loved it here. They retired and moved here in 1980. Dad passed away in 1991, and Mom stayed until she was really too old to live alone. We were both retired so we moved here with her in 2000.

At the time we moved here, we didn't know how much we would love the water, birds, and atmosphere. It is as close to heaven as you can get without being there.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sabbath Rest: By the Book(shelf)

Are you well-settled, my Gardening Friend, into winter: that season of wide expanses for reading and reflecting. Do you carve out larger chunks of time for growing on the inside during this quieter season for your garden?

One of the "new" things I'm doing on that front is reviewing books that specifically reach the heart of this blog--the personal, spiritual touch point of gardening. This first year of the blog has been about answering this question: does gardening express the unique design God imprinted on my soul? With that as the driving force for this first year and as we approach another spring's activity, I thought this book would be a good first review.

Mark Batterson's book, Soul Print, helps a reader define those things that clarify his or her soul print, a thing he claims is as unique as a fingerprint. His model in the book is the Biblical King David, and he looks at how David's days of shepherding began the arches, loops and whorls of a soul print that would eventually encompass giant-slaying and kingdom-leading.

Though the pastor of a large urban congregation in Washington, D.C., Batterson nevertheless writes in a style that employs the humor and turn-about word play typical of a gifted country preacher--making his style a good match for the suburbanite who has a nostalgic heart for rural pursuits.

"The reason we get frustrated is because we think big without thinking long..."

"Too often we allow our circumstances to get between God and us. Holy confidence puts God between us and our circumstances..."

That turn of phrase gives the reader pause as a sentence here or there rises above the others to trigger a deep internal "Hmmmm..." He or she might even open the mental file where Facebook status updates are kept to add a new entry. Batterson begins by exploring the lighter side in taking inventory of personal uniqueness, although he forewarns that "...one key to discovering your soulprint is identifying those disadvantages via careful, and sometimes painful, self-inventory."

Going deeper into the book, however, the reader finds fewer of the tasty little phrases scattered around like Easter candy. In their place, a call to a deeper worship rises; a vision takes shape--one that marks our soulprints as the most unique feature in our worship. Batterson reminds that when a congregation sings the hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, that one song becomes as many "different" songs as there are congregants because each has experienced God's faithfulness uniquely. Each makes it his own song. Thus swells the reader's desire to look long at his or her soul print, seeing the obvious with new wonder, "This is my soul. Mine and mine alone."

After that fresh longing to explore our Divinely-designed identity is established, Batterson's words hit the climax of purpose in his book:

"The way you see yourself is determined by what you base your identity on. And you have lots of choices..."

The last few chapters challenge the reader with the more arduous task of identifying good and bad identity-forming choices. "Too often we underestimate our sinfulness, thereby underestimating God's righteousness. And when we downplay sin, we downplay the grace of God." That country preacher style, direct and unembellished, rises again.

Still, he lightens our hearts as he closes the book, reminding us to joyfully anticipate that moment after this life ends, when God calls us by our new name for the first time. "That name will make your entire life make sense...because God will reveal who you really are. That new name will capture the true essence of who you are, and it will encompass all that you will become in eternity. Your soulprint will finally be given its true name."

Footprints in snow may melt in a day, but soulprints last for all eternity. Batterson serves well as God's apostle with this message.

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Meanwhile, Back with the Seed Catalog...

Have you had a chance to secure and peruse a seed catalog yet? I've been licking my thumb until it's pruny,dog-earing pages, and writing lists as those dreams of becoming more and more a "real" farmer swell.
So far, I've organized my shopping list into categories under the following labels:

Have to get (as in necessities for growth in the coming season)
Want to get (but don't need and might not be able to afford)
Seriously?? (fun and sometimes quirky but not at all necessary to my gardening needs)

Examples of each are as follows:
I have to get $75 worth of stuff for free shipping
Want to get a raspberry lemonade color mix for my zinnia patch
Seriously?? the worm factory 360

I have to get a bean tower for pole beans
Want to get sea weed organic growth activator
Seriously?? a "moisture songbird" that sings when plants need watering

I have to get "productive, super disease resistant" tomato hybrid this year
Want to get an electronic soil tester
Seriously?? a leather belt sheath for my gardening knife (to go with the garden-hero cape I plan to get, too)

I have to get a new seed starter supply kit
Want to get tunnel covers for plant rows
Seriously?? a digital sunlight meter

I have to get backyard composter (although my husband thinks of this more as a want to get)
Want to get drain spout rain barrel with spigot for easy irrigation
Seriously?? an $800 snap-together green house

I have to get new gardening trowels and pruners
Want to get 101 Things to Do with Zucchini cookbook
Seriously?? leaf shredder (my lawnmower works just fine for this)

The beauty of the garden catalog? Others might flip my list exactly upside down. Vive la difference--garden to garden!

Happy sorting!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sabbath Rest: Listening to the Body

Our bodies have much to tell us if we would only figure out how to listen. In fact, often times God speaks to us through our bodies. Most times, my body is the first to know if we are overcommitted, stressed, uneasy or joyful, and when we need to attend to something that is causing us pain or disease.

Paying attention to what we are experiencing in our body can open up windows of insight that might not otherwise be opened...A flow of energy into us, or its draining away from us, can be felt in our body if we are in touch with it. Remember God's assurances that the ability to choose life and follow God was not to be found in some faraway place. 'No, the word [of God] is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe' (Deuteronomy 30:14)...

I have learned to pay attention to my energy levels in response to different activities. If I experience a particular activity as being inordinately draining, I begin to consider very carefully how much of myself God wants me to give to that. On the other hand, if I feel particularly energized by a certain person or activity, I can pay attention to how God may be leading me to incorporate more of that into my life. Paying attention to what gives our body and our spirit a sense of life or drains life from us can help us stay connected with God's guiding presence.

When I first read those words by Ruth Haley Barton in her book, Sacred Rhythms, I felt a deep resonance, as I try to sort through the over-arching plans for next spring's gardening endeavors. Like the body, the soil of the garden can be drained, and the fruit of the crop you grow will tell you when that soil needs a rest. My little plot seems to be telling me it is in need of a rest. At the same time, the drop-in center for homeless teens where I volunteer has expressed an interest in my beginning a small garden on their property this year. Is it time to 'go public' with this hobby in a larger way than just a public blog chronicle and an occasional gift of canned pickle relish to a neighbor?

For now, I still run shivering out the back door to throw a bucket of ash, a bowl of used coffee grounds, a carton of crushed egg shells across the bare soil. For now, I look at my gardening catalogs and consider my crop rotation plans. But I also stand alongside my kitty in the late dawn on a Sunday morning gazing at the spitting snow, and I wonder things. I wonder things like: do I just let it produce volunteer crops this summer? Do I only grow in containers as I force the soil to rest? Do I put my gardening attention fully to the work at the mission and grow nothing here at home, or do I intentionally grow those things that are "good" for the soil and avoid the crops that are classified as heavy feeders, uprooting them if they come up volunteer?
I think about these things, and--don't laugh--but it feels to me as if the answer, symbolically speaking, is larger than just my own little life and its gardening ventures. At the same time, it feels like I am on the brink of living--and therefore learning--something important about myself in the decision I make and the lesson I take from what this next season gives me. Like my kitty I look across the landscape of my backyard, but I also see that reflection in the glass. I know that I must first see myself super-imposed on the landscape that spreads before me. I must pay attention to my own energy toward what I see sprawling there. It reminds me, even as does Ms. Barton, to look just as deeply within as I do without.
Happy introspection!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Kitchen Pilgrimage to Charlottesville, Virginia

While last month's Kitchen Pilgrimage took us west to a suburban Texas kitchen, this month's takes us east nearly as far to a kitchen in Charlottesville, Virginia. My husband's best friend for 40 years, John has a kitchen well worth the visit. I asked him to set the stage for our imaginary visit before we read about what he's cooking. Here's what he had to say:
My kitchen is in a near century-old farmhouse in downtown Charlottesville, Va. It is a practical place with long counters designed for the experimental cook who is prone to have two to three projects underway at a time. My window looks onto a shaded lawn and small houses across the street that were farmland barely 60 years ago when horses and cars shared narrow streets. Out the backdoor is a view of Jefferson's Monticello and its gardens, where slaves worked in half-story kitchens amid the hydrangeas and other plants that are common to the mountains here in the Blue Ridge.

NORTH WOODS BEAN SOUP (pictured above)
This is a rare soup for all season, but one that is perfect for bone-chilling days. Moms love it because it is loaded with protein and iron. And it can all be done in a single large sauce pan. Here’s what you need:
- Cooking spray
- 1 cup baby carrots, halved
- 1 cup chopped onion (white, preferred)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 7 ounces turkey kielbasa, halved lengthwise and cut into half-inch pieces
- 4 cups chicken broth (low-sodium recommended)
- Half teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- Half teaspoon black pepper
- Two cans (15.8 ounces) Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed in cool water
- 1 (6 ounce) bag of fresh baby spinach leaves

1. Prep all ingredients separately.
2. Heart large saucepan coated with cooking spray, over medium-high heat. Add carrots, onion, carrots and kielbasa and then sauté for three minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium and cook for five minutes.
3. Add broth, Italian seasoning, black pepper and Great Northern beans. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes.
4. Place two cups of soup in a food processor or blender, process until smooth. Return the pureed to the pan. Simmer an additional five minutes. Adding the puree adds body and enhances flavor.
5. Remove soup from heat. Add spinach, stirring until it wilts.
6. Begin serving immediately. This recipe will yield five servings of 1.5 cups each.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

To Be, or Not To Be...on My Recipebook Shelf

Winter: a good time to curl up beside a toasty fire and study gardening books and catalogs; but also a good time to peruse new potentials for the cookbook shelf. A word of advice though: run the books by the whole family before giving them space in your permanent recipe file. This task can be entertainingly accomplished through an in-home read-aloud thanks to your local library.

Case in point: I checked out a recipe book that looked like a perfect match for us. Not only was the word "farm" in its title, but its author was pictured on the cover, leaning on a shovel and wearing that satisfied gardener's look of endorphic joy. While this collection of recipes did explore culinary options with squash and cabbage, rhubarb and rutabagas, it also called for some rather exotic ingredients.

"Support local farmers using these recipes? Maybe when we live in Northern Italy."

This type of initial spousal feedback is invaluable as you determine a cookbook's appropriateness for your book shelf.

Some of those exotic ingredients (to the Midwestern backyard gardener, that is) I could explain to my family. Quinoa, for example, is a grain. I knew this in theory from gardening books I've studied. I even tried to grow it one year, bu couldn't find anyone local selling seeds.

Then there were those things I didn't recognize at all, like gramolata. When I mentioned that one to the family, I got this for feedback: "You mean that stuff's real? I thought it was just made-up on that farmlife video game you play."

I read further down the recipe. "Oh...why that's just minced parsley, garlic and lemon zest. That's not so unusual. But what's this osso bucco you're supposed to sprinkle it on?" I lamented my ignorance. (Now, thanks to Wikipedia, I know that this would indeed represent a typical farmhouse dish should I ever live in 19th century Milan.)

Recipe-testing Hubby reassured me my ignorance was not so unique. "I dare you to go ask the lady at the grocery store about it, you know the one with the gray bouffant hairdo? Ask her to point you toward what you need for osso bucco because you have some gramolata you want to sprinkle on it. I bet she won't have a clue either!" So supportive! But I still wonder if my own ignorance is not common to society. Maybe if we ate more veal, or served dinner to more diplomats and statesmen...

SO, do ignorance and inaccessibility spell the death knell for this cookbook at my house? Probably, but a few of the recipes will make it into the personal file of singular recipes, and some give a distinctive tweak to recipes already stored in my memory file. The book as a whole, however, would be impractical for a family such as mine. In fact, the whole flirtation with these recipes helped me hone a list of points to remember when considering a potential relationship with a new cookbook:

1. I don't grind fresh nutmeg.

2. The liberal use of parentheticals is a plus as in: polenta (coarse corn meal.)

3. A recipe has to be really good for me to take the time and trouble to do something like pit 1 1/2 pounds of ripe cherries or scour the city for fresh figs.

4. I've never braised a squid in my life, and particularly not according to any particular recipe ethnicity. (Just what exactly makes it Spanish-styled, anyway?)

5. If I go to the trouble of digging the ice cream maker out of storage, I'm probably going to succumb to making rich, home-churned ice cream rather than restraining it to a concoction of red grapefruit sorbet.

6. Some recipes are exotic enough I might be able to get away with them once, but that would surely be the end of it...take for instance, something that calls for candied kumquats. Hubby's response to my query on this recipe's potential: "I don't know. I've never had kumquats, so I don't know why I hate them yet."

7. If I'm going to knead dough for 10 minutes, I'm making bread. Period. I'm not risking all that wrist-inflaming labor on a sweet potato ravioli that could very well wind up as, at best, the dog's evening meal.

8. Hubby's reaction to my offer to cook asparagus flan: horrified eyes above a tongue hanging out while the sound "Blaah-aah-aah" rises from deep in his throat.

9. When I read the words "non-reactive container" my first thoughts run toward nuclear radiation threats.

10. Sometimes the pictures don't help. Take, for instance, the one of artichokes stuffed with the carefully crafted, home-made breadcrumbs of day-old French bread. "Looks like you dropped it in wet sand, tried to brush it off, and when that didn't work you stuck a slice of lemon on top and just served it anyway."

11. I'll most likely skip saving a recipe if typing its name requires multiple symbols not available on a standard word processing program.

12. Speaking of recipe names, if a guest should ask what I'm serving, I'd like to be able to get the answer out in one breath, and preferably not have to restate it "in English."

13. When I asked Hubby whether I should try making us the homemade mayonnaise, he gave me a speculative, "would I die for this" look before giving me a determined, "No."

14. Everything I know about rampion I learned as a child reading the story of Rapunzel. I have no idea how to get it for a recipe. Would regular radishes work? (See comment #2.)

15. If the final product looks like a Quonset hut, my intention had better be to create a playground for imaginative play with little green army men rather than haute cuisine, because the little green army men are what I'm going to find on my table soon after serving it.

16. And finally...Almond flour?

Don't take my jesting as too poor a review. I'm certain this book is absolutely right when it self-proclaims its "elegant, and simply marvelous" offerings. But in the astute words of recipe-assessing Hubby:

"If I've learned one thing from this experience, it is this: I have a pedestrian palate." And winter is the best time to run such an inventory.

Happy evaluating!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sabbath Rest: a Mini-Jubliee

One of the gifts of winter, and the New Year's placement there: that it is a season for receiving rather than a season for causing, which makes it an easy time to visit the "gallery" of nature while receiving the following words given to God's people many centuries ago:

For the land you are about to enter and occupy is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, where you planted your seed and dug out irrigation ditches with your foot as in a vegetable garden. It is a land of hills and valleys with plenty of rain-a land that the Lord your God cares for. He watches over it day after day throughout the year! Duet. 11:10-12

Take a day, take a season, to see again that despite all your efforts putting your hands to the soil even with great success, nevertheless, this world holds a beauty that requires no effort from you and is not of your making! Let it be a part of your rest and a source of peace.

And this [shall be] a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat [this] year such as groweth of itself; and the second year that which springeth of the same: and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof. Isaiah 37:30

This concept of recognizing our limited participation in the cycle of life was built into the ancient Hebrew lifestyle, but we must be more intentional about it in our work-worship culture. This is one of the greatest dignities of winter to the spiritual gardener. May you walk in the fullest of its blessings!

Happy Sabbath.