Sunday, July 21, 2013

From the Garden to the Table

by Kathy Freeze, Guest Blogger

My husband and I have been gardening for a few years, but as we age, the ability to crawl around on  our knees and keep it weeded and keep pests from taking more than their share has become quite challenging.

So this year we decided to try “raised bed gardening”. With the plants just below waist height, the weeding and harvesting of the zucchini, green beans and cucumbers has proven to be less work this year! It is not only easier to see the vegetables on the plants, but you can have a more focused watering plan that does not waste as much water as if you were watering a larger garden area.

Zucchini is one of those vegetables that will grow prolifically in your garden and in the last couple of weeks, it has really started producing. I’m trying to find many different recipes in which I can use it.

This is my typical daily bounty from just three plants. I’m beginning to understand why they wrote in the local newspaper, “this is the time of year when it is unsafe to leave your car unlocked as someone will fill it with their excess zucchini”.

Since my husband and I cut out a lot of the simple carbs in our diet, we have found many uses for lots of vegetables, but zucchini has been one of the more flexible. For the meal I had planned, I was going to add it to a tasty spaghetti sauce. During the summer I prefer using my own fresh-grown herbs as well. So, I picked the thyme, oregano and basil from my containers that I keep on my deck.

After combining my fresh herbs with onions, garlic, tomato sauce, hamburger and Italian sausage, I allowed it to cook down for an hour. I then added 4 sliced zucchini.

And cheese, of course. The cheese helps bind the ingredients together into a nice casserole-style dish.

After stirring the cheese thoroughly into the mix, I poured the mix into my favorite glass casserole dish that my father-in-law gave me a few years ago. I have no idea how old it is, but it is so easy to clean after cooking a cheesy, saucy dish that I use it frequently.

The final dish looks so pretty, and Bob confirmed that it was very tasty by eating half of it. Now I need to start on my other recipes as my refrigerator is filling up with more zucchini!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Phlox and Banana Cake

Today is Sword's birthday. She is fourteen. It is hard to believe. The years have gone by so fast.

We celebrated two days ago, because it was a Wednesday, and Lawrence was available to stay with Bow. We had a sleepover at Orchard House with Sword's best friend. There was swimming  and mall crawling, as well as just hanging out.

And there was cake and ice cream. The cake looked like this:

It was one of those store bought cakes, but of the simplest and most elegant design. On the inside it was white cake, and the frosting was mostly white vanilla, too. It was a little sweet to my taste, but just right for the birthday girl and her friend. They really enjoyed it. And to go with the cake there was chocolate ice cream.

So that was the 17th. Now Lawrence is on his vacation trip to California, and we are at home all day and spend our evenings at Orchard House. On the 30th, Lanie Frick will speak about the development of her artistic process at a special evening event at Orchard House. And then on August 1st our new tenant takes possession of the property.

Yesterday was a quiet day, and I made an interesting floral discovery on my property. I finally found some phlox. I had seen those flowers a few days earlier, but they looked like this because they had not opened yet.

I did not know what they were when I saw them like that. But yesterday, the petals started to open, and I finally made the first tentative connection. This could be phlox!

When the petals have not yet opened, they look a little like a spade sticking out.

But they present a completely different face once they unfold.

 Finally, when they are all bunched up together, the many little flowers seem to form one big one.

I was so happy to discover that I really did have phlox growing on my property. One Facebook friend told me it was called "smooth phlox" and is a Missouri native.

Why is this so important to me? Well, when Sword was only four years old, I wrote a poem for her that started like this:

When Sword goes for walks
In the fields full of phlox
She is always concerned
 That she might meet a fox.
At the time, I had yet to see a Missouri fox wandering around on its own, nor had I spotted any phlox on my property. Now I can say that I've done both -- so my poem is thoroughly accurate and involves Missouri native wildlife and wildflowers.

Of course, at fourteen, Sword is not the right age for that poem anymore. But if you have a four year old, you might want to pick up a copy.

Today, Sword slept late, and I prepared a banana cake for breakfast. I was inspired by Julia Hanna's recipe for banana-strawberry bread, only  I didn't have any strawberries, and I did it the easy way, instead of from scratch.

I have observed that a plain pound cake mix, when you add other ingredients to it, can make almost any cake you can imagine. So I mashed up four overripe bananas and added them to the pound cake mix, in all other respects following the directions on the box, which called for 3/4 cup of milk and two whole eggs.

The cake turned out like this:

After we all had our fill this morning, Sword, Bow and I, the cake looked like this:

It's not a birthday cake, but it's always nice to have some kind of cake on a birthday, even if it's not for a party.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Zucchini in the Salad

I have been spending a lot of time at Orchard House every chance I get. I am trying to prepare the property for either a sale or a rental, and it looks as if we may have found a good tenant. Meanwhile, as I spend time there, I notice all the beautiful flowers.

Some of the flowers are the result of meticulous and effective landscaping by the owners who preceded me. Although nobody is tending them, the flowers come out every year, each at its appointed time and station. Some were placed there by design.

Others are wild and spring up unbidden in the woods.

First I spot them as a flash of color from afar.

Then I come in closer for a better look.

If you look very closely at some flowers, you can actually see the pollen spilling out.

Pollen is a feast for insects. Eating alone at Orchard House, as it was my day off, I spread out my own  feast.

Lunch consisted of a peach, some cherry tomatoes, blackberries and fried chicken.

With it, I had club soda in a can. The food was good and better out in the open than it would have been inside.

The blackberries were fresh picked from the Orchard House grounds.

Later in the day I went to visit musician and piano and voice teacher Jill Dabney. She is helping me with the music for the Debt Collector. Before I left, she gave me some zucchini from her garden. This pretty much determined what sort of salad Bow and I would have with our supper.

First I sliced the zucchini. Then I added tomatoes, sugar snap peas and cauliflower.

Then I generously sprinkled on sesame seed oil.

When the salad was ready, I presented it to Bow.

Bow enjoyed the salad, though the zucchini was not necessarily his favorite vegetable of the bunch.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Making Banana-Strawberry Bread

by Julia Hanna, Guest Blogger

Banana-strawberry bread is essentially taking a classic banana bread recipe, and just adding a few unexpected ingredients for flair.  Also, since some people are allergic to nuts, I thought this recipe might be useful for people who want to be cautious when baking.  I love bananas and strawberries, so this bread has a nice flavor combination.  Just omit the strawberries and add nuts if you prefer a more traditional banana bread.  The great thing about banana bread is you can tweak the ingredients with some leeway, and still have a very nice loaf to enjoy with coffee or tea.


* 6 ripe bananas
* 3 diced strawberries
*½ cup of butter or vegetable oil (this time I used butter)
*½ cup of sugar
*1 teaspoon baking soda
*½ teaspoon of cinnamon
* 2 cups of flour
*½ teaspoon of salt (I omit the salt)
* two eggs
* a bit of crushed mint (optional)


Step 1:

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit so it will be ready to go after making the banana bread mixture.

Step 2:

Mash all of the bananas with a fork or a potato masher until these form a puree.  A food processor can also be used to make this process more efficient.

Step 3:

Dice-up three strawberries and mix these into the bananas.

Step 4:

Mix the cinnamon into the mashed fruit.

Step 5: 

Add softened  butter or oil to the bananas-strawberries and mix this in thoroughly.  I used butter for the last batch of banana bread, and I have to admit it gave it a very rich taste.  

Step 6:

Slowly mix in the flour.  For instance, I mixed in 1/3 cup at a time so it would be fully incorporated, and not too lumpy.  However, try not to over mix the batter because leaving a few lumps ensures the bread is moist rather than tough after baking.

Step 7: 

Mix the baking soda into the dough.  Do not forget this step because your bread will not rise without it!

Step 8: 

Add the sugar and mix it into the batter.

Step 9:

Crack open and mix two eggs into the banana bread dough.

Step 10:

Add a bit of crushed mint and incorporate it into the dough, if desired.

Step 11:

Pour the banana bread batter into an oiled baking dish, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour, or until a tooth pick comes out clean.  Ovens can vary, so monitor the pumpkin bread as it is baking.  

Step 12:

Let the banana bread fully cool before slicing it because if will hold up better this way.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

First Blackberries of the Season

The first blackberries of the season are starting to ripen. You can find them along the fence line, growing among an assortment of wildflowers.

Those that are not yet ripe are white, pink or red. But there are others that are fully black and ripe for the picking.

Growing next to the barbed wire fence, the blackberries also have their own barbs or thorns to protect them.

They grow hidden among other foliage.

Wood sage and poison ivy surround them.

Other animals also covet the blackberries as they ripen. Listen to the birds sing about them.

Last night, I picked the first blackberries of the season. I washed them and presented them to Bow this morning on an heirloom glass plate that I inherited from my grandmother.

The blackberries were all black, but some were more luscious than others.

I thought they looked splendid on the glass plate.

A small residue of water from washing the blackberries remained on the plate. I presented them to Bow.

Apparently, some blackberries are better than others. Bow chose the pick of the crop, then left me the rest. Notice, though, how gentle he was with my grandmother's plate!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Lemon Pudding Cake

Sometimes you just don't happen to have all the ingredients on hand to make what the product was intended to make. That's what happened to me on Tuesday. I wanted to make a simple dessert to go with our meal, and I had this lemon Jello mix that called for adding sugar, two egg yolks and water. I had the sugar and the water, but no eggs. Our chickens were all killed by the dogs on Thanksgiving Day. That was so traumatic that we decided not to get any new chickens, and at the same time, I keep forgetting to buy eggs, because I had grown used to always having more than enough eggs on hand.

I started to ask myself what the eggs were needed for, and I figured it was fat. I did have some sour cream on hand, which I thought might contain a lot of fat, although it turned out to have been the reduced fat kind which I got by accident. So I ended up adding the sugar as directed, but substituting milk for the water, sour cream for the eggs and then I added a cup of flour and baked the pudding in glass pan. Here's what I got:

The surface of the cake was kind of shiny and porous, and there were bits of the sour cream that made sort of curd like appearance at the top.

The cake tasted a little like a lemon cheesecake. On the slice that Bow got, the sour cream curd had shaped itself to look a little like a heart.

Other members of the household were not nearly as impressed, but Bow enjoyed the cake and later asked for more.

There is nothing more gratifying than someone who enjoys the food set down before him!