...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.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I'm an Expert!

 ...or so the local library's teen zone calls me in their display case.
Actually, my point today is that you really don't have to be an expert to make a positive difference.  Just about a year ago, I stopped by the library's teen zone to inquire about starting a knitting club.  I told the librarian about the Knit-a-Square African charity and its dedication to outfitting orphanages with blankets and hats; told her how simple participation would be and plans for the knitting club were born.
 Now, a year later, we have our 50 squares we committed to make and are just about ready to ship them overseas, but first we wanted to show the community what their teens have been learning and doing. 
The thing is, I'm no expert; although I do have some skills with knitting needles, skills enough to help the teens learn to make the squares required for this project.  And, we had a couple of other adults come alongside with similar skills to help teach the beginners.  In all, I'd bet 15 or 20 people now know basic knitting who didn't know it before this last year.   
So, when you're considering ways to "give back" to your community and to the larger world--as has been a theme I've run with the last several weeks here--keep this one thing in mind:  You don't have to be the best at something to make a go of it. 
You don't have to be the expert to everyone
It may be enough to be the expert to someone
You just might know enough to make a pretty large difference after all!

Happy teaching!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sabbath Rest: Seeing the Small Things Well

 My neighbor and I have a tradition--one entering its second summer season.  I've mentioned it before, but it bears telling again, like an old lady's best story.  We have a bouquet trade going on.  When our flowers begin to bloom in the spring, we each fill a vase and give it to the other. 
 Here is the vase that she gave to me this week...

and the one that I gave to her.

Obviously, we could each have simply gathered our own cut flowers, but we would lose the gift of other-ward intentionality and lose its deep soul benefit, too. 

Thus, "I think I'd like a vase of flowers on the table," becomes "Her in-laws are coming.  A vase of fresh flowers would be good for her right now." In this way, having a vase of flowers becomes an act of receiving rather than an act of gathering. Giving a vase of flowers becomes pure grace, for it costs nothing and invites a return in kind. 

They are small things, but they are the stuff of a blooming soul.

Do not disdain the small.  The whole of life--even the hard--is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole.  These are new language lessons, and I live them out.  There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things.  It is this:  to give thanks in this one small thing.  The moments will add up.

I, too, had read it often, the oft-quoted verse:  'And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Ephesians 5:20).  And I, too, would nod and say straight-faced, 'I'm thankful for everything.'  But in this counting gifts, to one thousand, more, I discover that slapping  a sloppy brush of thanksgiving over everything in my life leaves me deeply thankful for very few things in life.  A lifetime of sermons on 'thanks in all things' and the shelves sagging with books on these things and I testify: life-changing gratitude does not fasten to a life unless nailed through with one very specific nail at a time.  Little nails and a steady hammer can rebuild a life..."
--1000 Gifts, Ann VosKamp

Friday, May 25, 2012

Creative Giving

 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. Luke 6:38 

What do you have to give?  You may have more than you realize.  One of the joys of the hobby-skills I've honed over the years is that they can be shared, and thus can be a source of giving in themselves.  For quite some time now, I've shared my crochet hobby with the homeless teens at the drop-in center where I volunteer.   
 But this week, I expanded this particular style of gift-giving into a new realm.  This week, instead of me going to the big old house that is their center of operations, some of the girls and their case managers took a field trip up to see me--to the berry farm I patronize.
 Whether they knew nothing about berry-picking and learned it in the moment...
 ...or had been berry picking as a child, taken by a grandmother, the outing was memorable.
 If one didn't quite have the skills for finding the best berries--hidden and tucked under the leaves, then another came alongside and helped fill the little green quart boxes...
 ...until everyone's berry box was filled.  Then we went back to my house for banana bread and a session of jam-making.  Again, grandma-related comments floated over the bubbling pan of jam in the works.
In the end, each girl left with a quart of fresh berries and a jar of her own jam--not the typical fare for a young gal who often has to receive her food from the lot of packaged dried goods at the local mission.  Here she had the opportunity to put her hands to the work on a beautiful breezy day in a sunny field of strawberries.  Here she had the opportunity to remember special days with her grandmother instead of remembering the stranger she was afraid of on the street the night before.  Here she got to make a sweet treat that she could take home to her toddler-baby and see his delight as he ate it, spread all sticky-red on his slice of bread.

You may have dollars to give, and God knows they appreciate those dollars.  But if you have a day to give--a day like this one--it blesses you back, gives into your bosom and runs over.  I can promise you that!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Modern Technology Hits the Garden Patch

 Who is that man braving the spray as he wades out of the garden patch...
 ...and then turns to study his work?  That's Mr. Suburban Settler.  This morning, he installed a simple little irrigation system to my garden, one that was inexpensive and easy to use.
The reason I might need this efficiency, you ask? I applied to for a job at the above pictured tea parlor; and while the work there will be fun should I be hired, I'll nevertheless have less time to be "pokey" about my morning garden chores.
 So now, one quick turn of a faucet handle, and this wonder begins to happen.
Ah, the joys of modern science!

Bonus blog linkhttp://www.lowes.com/SearchCatalogDisplay?Ntt=irrigation+kits&storeId=10151&N=0&langId=-1&catalogId=10051&rpp=24

and for more garden watering novelties:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Broccoli Salad 2012

Some people use a calendar to mark the shift from late spring to early summer. 
Me, I mark it with the first blooms on the snow peas, the first usable "stalk" of broccoli, and opening day at the farmer's market--all of which just happened this week! 

Two of the four broccoli plants were ready to have their primary central head harvested, so I thumbed through my recipe book for my favorite broccoli salad recipe.   
 The one I like has a basic bulk material of broccoli, onions, bacon crumbles and shredded cheddar, but I added sliced radishes, raisins and sunflower seeds just because I had them.  For the dressing, the recipe called for 3 T of mayo, 2 T of white vinegar, and 1 T of sugar, but I added some fresh dill--again, just because I had it.  The resulting salad brought back great memories of last year's broccoli crop. What a difference "fresh" broccoli make in the crispness category!  And this one is a salad that keeps well in the refrigerator for several days so no need to wolf it down the first day you make it each time.
Just in case you're trying broccoli as a new crop in your garden, here's a good resource for knowing when the broccoli is "ripe" for the cutting:
Bonus blog linkhttp://www.gardeningknowhow.com/vegetable/harvest-broccoli.htm

Happy salad-making!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Strawberries Incorporated

Now that fresh strawberries are coming in by the bushel, it's time to break out those recipes that use the extra strawberry jam from last year or that last leftover bag of frozen strawberries. One such recipe that uses both the old and the new is this recipe for strawberry bread by Janine Highley of Buck Creek Strawberry Farm.  (I got it in the free handout you see pictured compliments of the berry farm I patronize.)

1/2 C butter softened
3/4 C sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp lemon extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 C sifted flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 C strawberry jam
1/4 C dairy sour cream
1/2 C chopped pecans or walnuts (I left out the nuts)

Recipe calls for creaming the butter, sugar, vanilla, lemon and eggs.  Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking powder and salt.  Stir together jam and sour cream.  Alternately add the flour mixture and the jam mixture to the creamed batter.  Spread in well-greased loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees.
While the bread was in the oven, the boys and I took a walk, skipping rocks along the river and enjoying the fabulous view.

And when it was finished, I mixed up some strawberry butter using crushed berries, a little confectioner's sugar and butter.  This afternoon snack was quite a treat!

Happy baking day!

Garden Pilgrimage: Strawberry Fields

Does it seem like a whole year ago that we made strawberry jam on here?  Well, it was.  And before that, we shared a baked strawberry pie.  So what to do with our strawberry honoring post this year?  Let's make a garden pilgrimage of it!  Right now is a heavy traffic time at the berry patch as everything from preschooler field trips video sessions to migrant workers' getting special delivery Pizza Hut lunches--these and more can be found milling about here.  Remember, when you support these u-pick farms and roadside markets, you are stimulating your own local economy, a benefit above and beyond all the good that the fresh and nutritious produce does your body!

Strawberries are one of those fruits that is quite nutritious.  They have high levels of vitamin C and are a great source for vitamin A, iron and a variety of other minerals--especially if you fresh pick the berries yourself!  So how do you decide what constitutes a good berry?  Ripe berries are full red, have a bright luster and firm flesh.  To pick them, grasp the stem, twist it a bit and then pull sharply, snapping the stem off about 1/2 inch above the berry.  Remember medium berries taste better than large ones, and small sweet ones make the best tasting jams! 
Make sure you plan for quick storage after picking though.  Berries only store a day or two in the refrigerator.  Don't wash them or remove caps before storage; wash them right before use. 

Easy recipes:
Strawberry butter--mash the berries and mix with butter and confectioner's sugar to taste.
Quick dessert for large berries--slice whole fresh berries in half, leaving the stem on.  Spread fruit-flavored cream cheese between the two halves and press the berry halves back together.

Happy picking!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Small Victories

A conversation today prompted my pondering as I gardened, drawing me to take my heavy thoughts out to turn over in my mind even as my hands turned over the dirt.  The conversation was like a nervous fist looking for help in unclenching, relaxing, allowing.  And my own heart is heavy, because so many people in my circle are bearing heavy burdens.  My heart aches for even a tiny moment of victory...for someone, somewhere.  I went into the garden heavy with these things, and there  I planted some onions.
Onions are bulbs, and unlike other smaller seeds they require a deeper planting.  I once heard an old wives' tale that the larger the seed, the deeper it needs to be planted.  Onions need a Hole.

As I dug those holes for planting onions, I came across a few busy earthworms--those great friends of garden soil. They aren't particularly happy with my soil.  It is full of pebbles and rocks, and they must work hard to churn a path around them.  This is a noble, admirable effort on the part of the worm, but his greater claim to fame has nothing to do with his efforts to churn the soil. In some circumstances--not every circumstance and not every worm--but in some if he is cut in two, both parts of him continue to live as separate and unique worms. 
This is an amazing thing!  A small victory, yes. But enough to count in today's reckoning. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sabbath Rest: On Choosing...

A rose by any other name...flowers are--of all God's creation--most often used in noble symbolism.  It is their greatest dignity.
My family just gave me some for Mother's Day; and today, when I rose early I spied them in the dawn light as the coffee pot offered up its first heady scent of morning brew.
I took a cup and read a bit. George Eliot's words: It will never rain roses.  When we want to have more roses we must plant more trees.
And I read David Kundtz's words reflecting on Eliot's quote in the context of taking a life pause for the sake of life determination:  As Eliot says, if you want roses, plant trees.  What doing nothing can do is help you know what you really want--is it roses, or gladiolas, or redwoods, or none of those?--so that you don't end up with a beautiful garden of what you don't want.
And I thought, "Yes, yes!"

But then...I read a bit of Ann Voskamp, and I remembered (with the aching sweetness she stirs so well) that even with a pause and even with a plan, even with well-chosen seeds, truth is...things can spring from the soil that are still things you don't want. 
I remembered that in the end, it also matters how you put it all on display.  There are so many ways to see a vase of flowers:

A true thing even of the same vase of flowers when differently displayed, under different exposures of light and in nooks of varying dignity...
I dreamed once of preparing a vase of flowers in a sun-filled green kitchen.  This dream involved making a choice--which is the heart of all this anyway.  I could chose a magnificent cut-crystal vase for this spray of bright and varied flowers that were given into my care; but if I made that choice, then I chose a vase that was chained to its place on the kitchen counter.  Soon the flowers in this vase would die for lack of water as it could not reach a spigot anywhere.  On the other hand, I could choose a simple vase that was un-anchored and could move about freely.  This I could easily fill with water, and the flowers would retain their essential beauty for much longer. 
I thought:  the beauty of the crystal vase would be marred by a bouquet of dead blooms.  Better to leave it empty.  The beauty of the humble vase would be enhanced if it nestled such an array, this fountain of shape and color I held trembling in my hand.
I went with the simple vase and prioritized what it nurtured, even as I respected the essential beauty of the other vase.
To this day, it stands as a dream of happy memory and hopeful future.

To all the mothers who choose well...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Creating Space

 ...is a nice idea.  But more often than not, the reality is more that of sharing space.  It was on my mind as I put my show-stopper iris in a milk bottle vase with its demure little companion blooms. 
 It was all the more on my mind as I planned how to arrange my next round of garden plants.  Today I made a visit to a local family farm nursery and returned home with a bag of new seedlings:  Roma tomatoes, green peppers, crookneck and acorn squash and zucchini, at least four plants per type.  Some get a wide berth because past experience has taught me much abut the fabled mustard seed's growth potential.  Some get positioned near other, already well-grown plants because I know that by the time these new plants need serious room to spread out, those nearby plants--like lettuce and radishes--will be giving way to the heat of summer.

Finally, the idea of sharing space presented itself in a little story I read recently in a Zig Ziglar book called Conversations with My Dog.  It's right at the outset of the book, on page one.  Now that the seedlings are planted and some garden soil is scattered in for good measure, I'm ready to sit down, have a glass of tea and enjoy the story again:

A number of years ago, my older brother...had a dog named Old Bullet.  He was a wonderful old dog of mixed heritage, questionable morals, and a penchant for disappearing a day or two at a time.  Nevertheless, deep down he had a heart of gold and was loyal to my brother and his family.  In his own way he had strong core values, was sensitive, and was a delight to have around.   It wasn't until he was in the declining years of his life that I realized Old Bullet was quite a philosopher and carried on some rather extended conversations with my brother.  I was privileged to be in on one of them and heard Old Bullet uttering some words of pain and disappointment.

It seemed that a stray cat had wandered into the yard and my brother had taken her in, fed her, and made her feel welcome.  Old Bullet was out for a walk when the newcomer arrived and was somewhat upset when he returned to discover the new addition.  He immediately recognized that he was considerably larger than the cat, and being the gentleman he was he didn't take out his anger and frustration on her but instead went directly to the person who could do something about it.  With a mournful face and sadness in his voice, Old Bullet said to my brother, "I can't believe you've done this!  I've been a faithful dog, a good companion to you and your family.  I've protected your interests and run off some big rats and squirrels, not to mention stray dogs that were up to no good.  I've never had o go to the vet for anything; I've eaten very little, and most of that was scraps.  And yet you take in a complete stranger.  Did you really think I would not be upset about this?  After all, I've been here several years, and I never once considered going to someone else's place except maybe for a short visit to one of my lady friends, and yet you take in this other animal--a cat at that!  I know it's your place and you don't have to explain, but in light of our relationship I would feel better if you did."

My brother, because of his pastoral background and experience in dealing with disgruntled church members who could be quite cantankerous, had a ready explanation for Old Bullet.  He said, "First of all, let me remind you that when I took you in years ago you were skin and bones and weren't much good for anything except eating and sleeping.  Yet I never complained or expected much from you except your loyalty and an occasional tail-wagging expression of appreciation.  It's true you've been a loyal and good companion, and I believe I've been more than fair with you.  I've never raised my hand in anger against you; I've never spoken harshly to you except on one occasion when you chased a car and I was afraid you'd get hurt.  Not only that, Old Bullet, but to be candid, you have lost a step or two these last couple of years, I even thought I detected signs of loneliness in your countenance during those times when you were lying on the front porch watching traffic pass without so much as lifting your head.  I thought it might be nice for you to have a companion.  Actually, this little cat is no threat to you.  You'll always be first in my heart and you and I still have some god years together, so let's make our little friend welcome.  Who knows...you might develop a relationship that will give you much joy and delight.  I can tell you this--she'll take the heat off you in the rat-catching department because she can go into smaller places than you can."
With that, Old Bullet was contented and the case was closed.

Happy space-making!

Monday, May 7, 2012

When the Garden Becomes Ambitious

So why is my crochet bin of cotton dishcloth yarn on the kitchen counter today?
Because cotton thread is good for a multitude of uses!
Today it is my primary tool in herb-drying.

And, I'm herb drying because my dill is coming back volunteer this year in such volume that it could even choke out the palm-tree-like Brussels sprouts growing alongside it.  I pulled this much today as if it were a weed, and I still have at least as much more to pull, just to give the Brussels sprouts breathing room.
My naturopath friend, upon hearing me cry for dill recipes, said:  "Recipes?  Who needs recipes!  Dill goes with EVERYTHING, except maybe dessert."
But just in case you want to be discriminating about what to do with dill or other herbs that you might not be able to "use up"  while they're still fresh.  Here are a few links, one for drying and a few others my Love to Cook Sister sent me!

Dill is one of the easier ones.  You can simply tie it up with that cotton thread or string and hang it in an airy place to dry.  When the leaves are crumbly dry, take it down, crumble the leaves and keep them in an airtight container in a dark place until you need to use it.  Or, send bags of it out to a plethora of friends, as I'll be doing.
Happy adapting!
Needful Blog Link
Bonus Blog Link:
More Obscure Bonus Blog Link: http://www.turkeycountrymagazine.com/12JF/MembersOnly/cooknook.html

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sabath Rest: On Really Seeing Flowers

Nobody sees a flower, really--it's so small--we haven't time, and to see takes time...
--Georgia O'Keeffe

Recently, several of my friends have unintentionally but quite thoroughly remined me to allow space in my heart and mind and day to appreciate the gifts of life that I often take for granted. 
Recently, I came across a prayer that plays its melody in the same key.
I speak so freely of the bounties of nature in this blog.
Today, I pledge to go deeper into that gratitude that  I might make a better gift of my prayer walk:

We thank you for your creation,
for its beauty,
its variety,
its magnitude,
and its order.
We pray for all prisoners
whose surroundings blot out  the changing seasons,
prevent them from hearing bird songs,
seeing trees and flowers or
enjoying the sunshine of a bright spring day.
Touch their hearts with what they can experience
and reveal your glory to them, we pray.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord
--from The Lion Book of Family Prayers

Mature gratitude comes bearing a counter weight: an empathy for the heartache of others' needs;
its expression requires everything we have.
It's like forgiveness that way.

Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.  --Mark Twain

May we be ever eager to shed the fragrance of gratitude and forgiveness.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

You're Good to Grow...

Nearly all flowers are lovely and bring a smile to the face of their beholder, but some are especially suited to the vegetable garden. Yesterday, when I visited the deep freeze to grab a jar of frozen tomato sauce and some salsa, I impulsively grabbed the last baggie of rose petal potpourri just for fun.

I mixed it with an interesting batch of dried wild sage that I bought at a spring festival, and the wonderful aroma of it turned my mind to my flower seed stock.  Another winter will come, and I'll be wanting the smell of flowers in my hair as I walk into it, even if it is just the scent of potpourri  lodging in my locks as the forced air heat blows it around.
So today, I looked through my flower seed packets and realized I bought far too many seeds this spring.  I will have to poke them in holes in the yard much like you cram the last few necessities in a suitcase!  But nasturtiums--see them there near the front?  Now this is a flower I'll make intentional space for in the vegetable garden.  And here's why:
Bonus blog linkhttp://igrowveg.com/2010/07/5-reasons-why-you-should-grow-nasturtiums-near-vegetables/

The bonus blog link today is not so much bonus as vital today.

Happy blossoming!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Best Laid Plans...

 Sometimes it's about how we react in the garden.
 Last year's dill reseeded itself with enthusiasm.  I will be thinning it--sorry dill, some of you will never know what it is like to have a head, freezing it and using it generously in this year's canning of garlic dill green tomatoes.  The frothy little leaves serve better in that recipe than do the big heads. They prefer to float lazily in the pickle jars anyway.

Sometimes it' about how we plan. 
Today I thumbed through my seed file (i.e. bigger basket of similarly stashed seed packets) to gather the ones that visit the garden.  This may be one of the last rounds of "spring crop" plantings.  The next basket out will have beans and squash and cucumbers.

But sometimes...or rather, every time...
...it's about what we can't do at all.
That ragged little row of garlic above was planted by my youngest son a few weeks ago.  I can't wait until he comes home from school today so that I can show it to him, and here's why.  Some years ago when he was just 6 or 7, his class painted tiny flower pots and set flower seeds to growing in them for Mother's Day.  But, his pot got caught up in a tussle, and his was the only one that didn't produce a seedling with the hopes of a someday blossom. His teacher pulled me aside and whispered her fears of the hopelessness to me, so when he brought the pretty pot with the bare dirt home and presented it, I quickly and secretly planted seeds.  Later, I showed him his "late bloomer."  Was it sin or grace that I eased his sadness this way?  I don't know.  But this I do know:  while it wasn't one of life's great tragedies, it did somehow imprint on the child that if his hand put the seed to the soil, growth was delayed at best and more likely hopeless. 

This garlic growing happily green, albeit a little crooked between other ranks of its kind--one planted last fall , another planted just today--might teach him something new. 
Something big and mysterious and important:
It's not so much about us.

We can do our part to cooperate, offer the best conditions, plan for growth in its optimal season, run interference against the dangers of birds and bugs and tussles; but at its sub-soil level, growth pays no attention to us.  The magic will or won't happen.  The seed-cover will or won't burst open.
We can send out the invitation, but we can't make that little plant come to the party. 
And, once we come to understand this uncontrollable truth, joy and gratitude are the prevailing aroma over any garden where life buys into the growing plan!

Happy expecting!