Thursday, September 27, 2012

Swingin' Salsa

The garden produce was in much better shape than the plants.  Outer leaves and flowers were all hit, fruit and inner still good.  Not sure what that will mean for the future, but picked the ripe tomatoes, eggplant and peppers and will hope the rest ripens and thrives. 

At the risk of sounding like a cooking blog, I'm going to post two variations of carrot salsa.  A little different twist on fresh garden produce.
Tomato-Carrot Salsa
  • 1 pound     Carrots - shredded or grated (according to how you want it to look and the chew       factor)
  • 1                Onion - diced small
  • 1 Cup        Cilantro, chopped (optional)
  • 1-4 Cloves  Garlic - minced
  • 2 Cup        Tomatoes - diced
  • 1/2 Cup      Fresh lime juice
  •                   Kosher salt - to taste
  •                   Cumin - to taste
Mix together and refrigerate 1-12 hours. 
Spicy Chile-Carrot Salsa 
To the above add:
  • 1              Fresh Poblano chile, seeded and minced
  • 2              Fresh jalapeno chilies, seeded and minced
  • 1 can       Chipotle chile, seeded and minced
  •                 Adobo sauce 

Mix in peppers.  Start adding adobo sauce one teaspoon at a time; add more for more heat.  It will get hotter as it sits.  Adjust seasonings when it comes out of the refrigerator.

Both versions can have:  Shredded zucchini, fresh corn, pineapple, or papaya. 

Salsa recipes are developed because people have something extra in their garden or refrigerator.  It's the perfect dish for odds and ends.  And, it's perfect for this time in the harvest season.

Serve with corn chips, slices of cocktail bread or as a side for meat. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Apologies Offered

This is the morning sunrise as I was standing in 32 degree temperatures -
obviously had a case of the shakes and shivers.
It's been five days since I posted because I've been whimpering in a corner of the kitchen.  No matter what the cat says, I've not been sucking my thumb. 

Why the drama??

32 degrees was predicted.  We spent over an hour rigging up covers for my garden, taking all the flower pots inside, and covering the new mums.  It didn't get that cold.  The weather person (do they call it that or weather woman??? I want to be correct here.)  said our freezing weather was over and it would only get to 50 the next night.  With happy abandon, we removed all the garden covering.

In comes almost two days of a lovely five year old and a lovely two month old.  They keep us busy - really busy.  Too busy to listen to the weather.  And we're old.  At 10:30 pm the next night, I kinda hear the weatherman say, "I hope you covered your plants because it's going to freeze."  What?  No!  How could it freeze!  Plus, we simply couldn't cover the garden in the dark. 

End of story:  All my tomato and pepper plants got hit - bad.  Hence the whimpering.  It had been a slow to ripen kind of summer for tomatoes.  The drought, the full moons, the invasion of the body snatchers.  (I made that up but suffice it to say it's been a tough year gardening.)  I'd only put up two batches of tomatoes canned and another bunch in the freezer waiting to be canned.  No nearly enough for our crazy winter tomato needs. 

Today, I need to go out and pick all the tomatoes off the dying plants and get them preserved. Green tomatoes do make good sauce, they just aren't as juicy or as sweet.  Tends to be a bit tart unless there is a good mix of ripe ones and a hefty amount of sugar.  I guess I could pickle them but no one (and I mean no one) in this family would touch a pickled green tomato.  I could fry them but about one meal and that novelty would have run it's course.  Forgive me, I'm whining again.

And you know the really odd thing - not one other plant in the entire yard got nipped - not even the herbs.  Is there an evil garden monster hiding under the leaves in the form of a tomato horn worm?  Did the evil feral tom cat spend the night blowing his cold breath on the plants because I now have him blocked from coming in the cat door?  Did those creepy stink bugs flap their wings until they created a cold zone on the garden?  Surely ("Don't call me Shirley!") there is a logical if not mystical reason.  Sorry, I'm whining again.

Enabuy ygusbr drzy - sorry need to take the thumb out of my mouth before I talk:  Enjoy your day.  


Saturday, September 22, 2012


Happy first day of autumn!
Today has all the beauty we Midwesterners love in a fall day.  The sky is that shade of blue that only comes in the autumn.  There's a pretty hefty wind pushing in from Canada bringing a predicted 32 degree night.  If it happens, it will be a new early freeze record. 
Our plans for later today (besides enjoying Gracie while her parents are busy elsewhere) is cover the garden and as many flowers as possible. After tonight, it's suppose to get mild and back into the 70's for several weeks.  I do hope I don't loose tomatoes - they are just beginning to ripen.
Gracie is bringing a pumpkin she picked on her school trip to Tanner's Orchard yesterday.  The plan is to paint a face. 
Our church cookout has been cancelled because of the wind/temps so we'll have plenty of mac and cheese and cake to consume!  Need to share that with the kids because no one our age needs that many carbs!
Have an exciting and fun filled first day of autumn!     
While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.
Genesis 8:22
They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.’
Jeremiah 5:24
You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter. – Psalm 74:17
“Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.”
Great is Thy Faithfulness, composed by Thomas Chisholm

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Preservation Highway

Yesterday's veggie soup
Gardens, farmers’ markets, and road side stands have beautiful produce this year.  While some gardens floundered, others had bumper crops.  If you’re the gardener with nothing to show for your efforts, never fear, others are offering everything you need to preserve enough to sustain your family through the winter.

I typically hot water bath can all my produce.  Others may pressurize, freeze, ferment or dehydrate.  It’s about your favorite method and what works well with specific ingredients.

Here are a few simple suggestions for canning:

Pack as many different vitamins and minerals into everything you preserve by adding extra ingredients.  Example:  Most any vegetable can be added to tomato sauces. 

Making a basic tomato sauce allows you to use it for more recipes than specific ones such as those with hot peppers or anything in the cabbage family.

Basket of peaches
Most fruit preservation recipes call for heavy sweet syrup.  It’s not necessary to use that much sweetener.  Less is healthier and works better in most recipes.

Some herb flavors don’t hold up to preservation.  A rule of thumb, if the leaves are tender/soft the flavor won’t stand up to heat.  Basil, parsley, celery herb and chives are a few.  If the leaves are tough, they tend to hold the flavor.  A few are rosemary, thyme, and sage.  Add a larger quantity of the tender and go easy on the tougher varieties.

Squashes can be preserved alone.  Winter squash can be baked, pureed and added to tomato sauce.  Summer squash can be chopped, without peeling, and added to most any soup mixture.  Pumpkin is another squash that can be preserved or combined into other mixtures.

Onions are rich in antioxidants and can be added to most vegetable mixtures.  If your family doesn’t like onions, cook, puree and no one will be the wiser.

Garlic is a bit tricky when preserving.  With the exception of pickling, I don’t usually put it in preserved foods.  It can pretty much ruin the taste of the recipe if it becomes so strong it becomes bitter.

There are choices for making vegetable stock.  Step one is use every vegetable you have in your garden or find at markets and stores; cook until tender.   (A)  Can or freeze it this way.   (B)  Puree then preserve.  (C) Or, you can take the extra step of straining out the vegetable chunks after cooking and preserve only the broth.  Each has its benefits and uses.
Old photo of my set up for canning tomatoes
Adding meat to vegetable preservation requires pressurizing to kill bacteria. 

I mentioned the cabbage family of vegetables earlier.  I caution you to preserve these by themselves instead of adding to other soups or mixes.  In tomato soup or juice, it tends to become the dominate flavor – not bad if that’s what you want.  Some of these are cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.  They all freeze, can, and pickle well.

I’ve never dehydrated vegetables but if you have a dehydrating unit (homemade or bought) or a convection oven, you can accomplish some pretty interesting recipes. 

The point is to use fresh produce to insure the best flavor, the most nutrients, and the least exposure to harmful pathogens.  Plus, have it all winter.  Water bath and pressurized preserved produce will still be good even if you lose your power for an extended period. 

For the inexperienced, I recommend Ball’s Blue Book of canning or offer to help an experienced cook for a few sessions of hands on training.  Supplies may be bought new and most every estate sale will feature a good supply of jars, rims, and cookers.  Caution, every cooker and jar must be in perfect shape or preservation won’t be accomplished.  Nothing is sadder than to go to all that work and have it fail.  Worse yet is the possibility of food poisoning.

Want to have some real fun?  Do like they did in grandma’s era – get a group of family and friends together for a day of preserving your garden produce.  Everyone brings their food, bags, jars, etc. and each person does a task.  Stay to clean up the mess if you ever want to be invited back!!!  At the end of the day, everyone takes home a share and it was a great time to catch up with the lives and events of those close to you.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Nature's Creations

During the Stark County Fall Festival drive, we found Ryan Werkheiser's wagon set up in Wyoming Illinois.  Ryan is a new entrepreneur at Nature's Creations featuring annuals, perennials and succulents.  This fall he has a bumper crop of specialty pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn, broom corn and corn stalks. 

OK, nothing special about the fall offerings EXCEPT they are unusual, beautiful, healthy and priced very reasonably.  Plus, you get the chance to help a neighborhood kid get started in business. 

The only problem I had was not buying every single variety of every single thing!

Ryan is open Wednesdays during the fall season (9-19 through 10-24) 10 AM to 6 PM.  He'll be at Jordbruksdagarna in Bishop Hill Sept. 29 & 30.  Knoxville Illinois Fairgrounds on the Spoon River Scenic Drive Oct. 6 & 7, 13 & 14.  Oct. 20 at the Galva Craft Show in the G.H.S. building. 

Now:   Beautiful day outside, everything washed beautiful and clean from yesterday's rain, and I've got pumpkins and gourds to set out. 

As I was taking pictures, they started combining corn in the fields around the house.  A sure sign of fall even if there wasn't a pumpkins within the state.      

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fall Colors

If you live in areas of the country where it gets cold in the winter, one of the benefits is beautiful fall colors.  We look forward to it as if it was our right for having to wear boots and wool coats all winter.   

Face it, if you had to suffer through this past hot, drought infested, did I mention hot, summer, then fall is the reward we have cherished in our minds.  The memory is of the clear beautiful blue sky and packing up the car for a day of driving through the beautiful country side. 

It's a time for the county scenic drives when every small town has vendors selling pumpkins, gourds, apples and other produce.  We see bales of straw, shocks of corn stalks,  and various scarecrows.  Most of us plan to eat our way through these villages with kettle corn, candied apples, cider and other treats. 

The big question is:  Will the trees turn beautiful or simply drop their leaves after the drought? 

It seems the process of why leaves turn is pretty much scientific and easy to understand.  What no one has quantified is exactly what will we have THIS year.  The horticultural folks do their best to give a best guess, but, it just a best guess.  Can you believe I used best three times in one sentence???

Burning Bush
I've noticed the maples on our property are turning but as soon as a leaf turns, it drops off the tree.  Our walnuts are generally the first to loose their leaves and this year they are still holding tight.  The willow (generally it turns golden in the fall) has been dropping green leaves pretty study for weeks.  The Linden is almost bare.

It's possible they are all dying but I think this is live trees doing an odd fall because of the drought.  Certainly appears to be a sign of environmental stress.  Yes, this is my best guess.

On another note, my gardening friend, Kathy, thinks nut bearing trees put on more as a way of insuring their offspring will continue even if the old tree dies from the drought.

Another person says the trees are turning fast.  In other words, they are pretty one day and then they are bare.  If you want to do the fall drive, it might be best to do it when you see the pretty trees rather than wait until you have a moment.  Most states have web sites with a running tab on when and where to see the best fall colors each year. 
  • Many have a "foliage hot line". 
    • Illinois:  800-226-6632
    • Iowa:  515-233-4110
Pumpkin field
Now:  To plan this week end's Stark County Fall Festival (billed on their web site as "rural delights!")
  • Fudge in West Jersey
  • Chicken Dinner or pork chops in Toulon
  • Cookies in Wyoming
  • Fall decorations at Stahl's in Lafayette
  • Roll momma into the car for trip home...



Thursday, September 6, 2012

Doin's On

From James W. Riley book of poems

Sometimes when I use old country grammar it gives me my dose of James Whitcomb Riley for the day.  Being of that generation where we read, memorized and could quote local poets, I grew up with Mr. Riley.  Much like this area’s children grew up with Carl Sandburg.

Kids fight memorization and truthfully it’s not my best talent.  I think I learned it because it was repeated so many times it simply lodged in my memory bank; never to be erased.  Should I subside to elderly dementia, I’m sure the last reasonable sentence from my mouth will be, “When the frost is on the pumpkin and the fodders in the shock….”

I never think of fall without this poem running through my mind.  From there my internal Riley goes to visions of every farm yard looking like Tanner’s Orchard and every child romping through corn fields tied with shocks of corn stalks. 

Old postcard
I doubt most children would even realize there was a time when man cut the corn stalks, removed the corn by hand, and tied up the shocks in the fields.  Today, a corn shock is merely an advertising gimmick or a lamp post decoration.

One of my treasures is an old sepia photo of my dad on a wagon pulled by horses.  He was piling sheaves of wheat.  When he passed, we included a sheaf of wheat in his coffin.  It was a tribute to an old farmer who knew what it was to work the land by hand and by horse. 

I think many gardeners who still want to get the hands dirty have that need to stay in touch with how our past generations tilled the land.  On one hand we may use the latest and greatest machinery and on the other hand we will be on our hands and knees touching the soil.  It’s a connection of sorts.

Perennial mums
Work long enough in the garden and you’ll have a scratch or a callous from the effort.  Something my dad had from a lifetime of hard work. 

I went back to Indiana this summer and visited some of my farm family.  I was pulled back into my past as surely as if I’d been on a WD in high gear. 

One big family just happened to be in the middle of putting up sweet corn.  Everybody had a job and there was all the good natured kidding, talk of who was doing what, everyone laboring hard and everyone taking home plenty of corn for the freezer.  Later we walked through their new shed and looked at their machinery; all so different than fifty plus years ago. 

I do miss the smells – I know if you’re not a farm kid that may seem crazy.  We had cattle and hogs when I was growing up.  Hogs I don’t miss.  Cattle I do.  I can call up the smells of the barn this very moment especially hay and the warm smell of cattle.  OK – farmers YOU know what I mean!!!

Farm kids spent many hours in all places of the farmstead.  Climbing in the haymow and hanging over the feeders to watch the new baby pigs or calves was part of the life.  Sitting in the tool shed messing with “stuff” while dad worked on something.  Feeding and brushing my 4-H calf. 

Off the web
And another personal favorite was picking anything that vaguely resembled a flower.  My mom had more “unusual” floral arrangements than most; accepted graciously and promptly put in a juice glass.

I suppose the one memory that could have been family lore was when I found a nest of mice in the pile of bricks behind the coal shed.  One was dead and I thought it was so soft I decided to keep it for awhile.  Next day while visiting relatives, I pulled it out of my pocket to proudly show others.  I think that was when my big city mother started having serious doubts about the thrill of raising a farm girl.

Pickin' corn by our house
Enough of memory lane; I’ll put Mr. Riley away – at least until they start pickin’ corn in our neck of the woods.            

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bond, James Bond

My boys
One of my boys, and you shall remain nameless because you both deny being involved, dropped off a stray kitten at our house.    

Stray domestic animals are dropped in the country, sad to say, all the time.  Apparently, there's a hobo marker on our mailbox that says "sucker"!  When we had large hunting dogs that ran free, we were seldom aware of the wondering feline traffic.

Our neighbors, transplants from a large urban area, didn't understand the little hobo paw print on their mailbox.  They definitely didn't understand if you once (just once) feed a stray, it adopts you forever.  Or that the first fed stray puts another little paw print on your mailbox post that says "Serious sucker!".  They now have a cast of many they feed and let reside in their shed.

We also have a wandering neighborhood Tom cat - doesn't everyone?  He's almost tame but with the weariness of a cat that's been "shoo ed" away by various harsh methods, he's not about to get close enough to get hurt.  In an area of the country where coyotes run every night, he's one tough wise cat.  To show for his way of life, he has half a tail and one ear that flops flat.  He's big, he's gray and white, has yellow eyes, and calculates.  He understood how a kitty door works, where we keep the food/water for our inside cat and will sneak inside, clean out the bowl and leave as quietly and quickly as possible.  If we catch him, he'll look over his shoulder and casually walk away with cat dignity.

We've had two resident cats.  "J" is our oldest and we got her and her brother to control the rodents when we first moved to the country .  Her brother, Boots, disappeared and we like to think it wasn't coyotes although he had no fear and that's a dangerous attitude for a farm cat.  "J" is weary to the nth degree.  She is a package of instinct and has survived, hunted and been queen of the outside.

Bitsey showed up as a tiny kitten and I rescued her literally from the mouth of one of the hunting dogs.  She lacks instinct but is full of intelligence and personality.  Hence an inside cat.

If you're an animal lover and have lived long enough, pets come and go.  It evolves like friends.  And like friends, they have definite personalities.  It's always a bit of a cowboy ritual when a new animal arrives.  They circle, the smell, they hiss or growl and they size each other up.  Someone comes out as dominate.  If not, they continue the above ritual until they drive their owners crazy.

Bond, James Bond
Back to the new addition.  This dirty, flea infested and utterly clueless little ball of fur has adopted my husband.  He's a dog man and this little kitten has become a member of their team:  Dog, man, and kitten.  First off the kitten is desperately in love with affection - his purr is like a Mack truck in high gear.  Second, he refuses to understand that everyone remotely in his path isn't there for the express purpose of touching him.  And that leads to Man and Dog.  It took exactly one day of touching both of them every chance he got, to wrap them securely around his little paw.

It took another day of his climbing up my back every time I bent down to weed where he would start purring as if I'd invited him to a play day.  He'd jump out to play with my gloved hands and make a game of most every task I'd try to undertake.  Seriously, God must have known if he didn't make kittens so darn cute, there would be way too many strays.  

My husband walks the path to the shed, followed by the dog, who is then followed by the kitten.  What the dog does, the kitten does.  On a chilly morning, they both emerged from the dog house after a night cuddled. 

Me & my shadow
New kitten will be a garage/outside resident with the dog.  Although both are never shy about coming inside given the slightest invitation.  Yes, I knew we had lost the game of pretending we weren't going to keep it when it was officially named  Bond, James Bond for it's gold eyes.  Such a long name he still responds to the ever popular "Kitty kitty kitty". 

Bond has been to the vet, been bathed, been fumigated, has his own water and feed bowls and bed.  Yeah, there's a paw print on our mailbox post for sure!