Volunteer appreciation month

I love, love, love autumn – it’s definitely my favorite season! This year I would like to celebrate my garden volunteers, those serendipitous, happy random accidents (I’m talking about plants, not my children ;-)) that keep me in veggies and flowers until frost.

volunteer okra plantPictured here are two of this year’s volunteers – okra and cosmos. The cosmos are not a big surprise, they reseed every year and bloom from July to November, attracting monarchs, butterflies, honeybees and bumble bees. The okra though, is unexpected. I’m not sure where the seed came from – I didn’t plant okra in the garden this year – but I noticed it coming up in my pebble/stone/chat patio at the end of July. Sometime I wonder why I even bother to make compost, when so many things seem to grow just fine in this pebble patio.

Other volunteers coming into production are several tomato plants, red mustard, and arugula. With volunteer tomatoes you never know what you will get. Sometimes they are productive, and sometimes they are just not worth keeping around (Hmmm… sort of like some human volunteers I’ve worked with.) I guess I got lucky this year, ’cause it seems all my volunteer tomatoes have done well.

The fall/winter garden is coming along nicely, although I’ve had to replant my lettuce several times (probably too hot and dry when I planted). That’s not a problem, since i have oodles of saved seed from this last June.  Arugula, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, and mustard greens are doing well. I’ve transplanted lots of garlic, and the Lacinato kale should be up in the next day or two. And now i think the temperatures have fallen enough that I can start planting spinach.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

This’n that jam

White roses

Before the torrential rains…

The sun is shining! – yea!!!

There’s no standing water in the yard – wow!

It got above 70 degrees today – awesome!

We are just ending the wettest month EVER in Oklahoma. And it appears we may be in for a much cooler summer than normal – which is better than a much warmer summer. But still…

I finally started my cucumbers and basil in pots indoors because my first two attempts failed from too much water and the cold temperatures. The tomatoes are doing fine – I even picked some ripe ones yesterday – but the peppers and beans are just hanging out, waiting for some sun and warmer days.

Last weekend (Memorial Day) we stayed at home and did home repair and cooking. We needed to stay here so we could take action if the basement flooded (again).  One of the things I cooked up was a small batch of jam, made from various fruits that either needed to be cooked or given to the chickens. I did this last month with some past-their-prime seedless grapes mixed with frozen fresh cranberries. This recipe makes about 3 cups of jam:

  1. 1 slightly shriveled apple, with skin, diced
  2. 1 lemon carcass, minced (zest and juice used for something else)
  3. 1/2 cup pitted sweet cherries (We finally get cherries off our tree, but they’re split from too much water!)
  4. 1/2 to 3/4 cup frozen fresh cranberries
  5. 1 cup white sugar
  6. 1/2 cup grapefruit or orange juice (I found this poor old grapefruit in a corner of the fridge)

Cook all on low heat until most all the cranberries have popped. Cool and store in the refrigerator, or process/can as for jams.

Mixed fruit jam

Served on homemade potato bread

The “trick” to this jam is using cranberries, which have a lot of pectin in them. They also provide a tanginess that might be lacking in less-than-fresh fruit. The grape-cranberry combo I made tastes like a good Concord grape jam. I really love the taste of citrus in this mix, and  although I don’t usually eat a lot of jam or jelly, this is sure good on some homemade bread, or stirred into Greek yogurt!

Leave a comment

Filed under Cook, Garden, Weather

Mom’s day 2015

To celebrate Mother’s Day I am posting! Woo-hoo!Strawberry Tart1

1. Fresh strawberry tarts: It’s May, and every day we have bowls of strawberries to deal with. I made these little tartlets with stuff I had sitting around and they turned out great. This makes about 18 muffin sized tarts.

  • 1.5 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons melter butter

  • 1 package sugar-free strawberry jelloStrawberry Tart3
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 1 8-0unce block of cream cheese

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup fresh strawberries (for glaze)

  •  3 to 4 cups small whole fresh strawberries

  1. Mix the vanilla wafer crumbs, powdered sugar, and melted butter. Press about 1 tablespoon into the bottom of each lined muffin tin. Bake at 350 for 5 minutes.
  2. Dissolve the gelatin in 3/4 cup boiling water. Beat cream cheese until smooth, gradually adding the dissolved gelatin. The mixture will be runny. Set this in the refrigerator while you prepare the whole strawberries.
  3. Put a heaping tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture on top of the crumb crust. You may need to use your spoon to spread it around. Set back into the refrigerator while you make the glaze.
  4. Combine sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and 1 cup strawberries in a small saucepan. Mash the strawberries up, then heat the mixture and cook on medium heat, stirring. Let it come to a boil for 2 minutes.
  5. Place several strawberries in each tart, then spoon the warm glaze over the berries. Refrigerate.
  6. Eat

Strawberry Tart2

I bet these would be good with fresh peaches too.

2. I’ve been experimenting with microwave cooking this year. I know a couple of my children consider this blasphemous (I’m talking to you, Matt and Aric), but I have my reasons:

  1. Our house is not air conditioned. And we live in Oklahoma.
  2. There are only two of us to cook for now.
  3. It is fast.
  4. It is actually more “green” than using our gas stove, since our electricity is renewable (wind generated).

The mug cake recipe was a big hit when I visited the grandkids in Nashville. Everyone can add their own mix-ins, and you don’t have any leftovers: 3 Tbsp cake mix, 2 Tbsp water, 1 minute in the microwave.

This week I found several recipes for mac and cheese in a mug. They are all pretty much the same, but I add one ingredient that most do not: a teaspoon of cornstarch, which makes it extra creamy. This recipe makes one serving, and keeps you from over-indulging. Use a large mug to avoid the liquids boiling over.

1. Cook for approximately 2 minutes on high.

  • 1/3 cup dry macaroni
  • 1/3 cup water

2. Add to mug, stir, and cook another 2 to 3 minutes.

  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 tsp cornstarch

3. Stir into mug until cheese melts. Eat.

  • 1/3 cup shredded cheese
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1  tsp butter (optional, I don’t do this)





1 Comment

Filed under Cook

Savory lentil and rice pancakes – oothappams

DSC_0329Also oothapams, uthappams, uthapams, uttappa, or a dozen other spellings…

  • Daughter of the bread-like idli, and half-sister to a dosa, which is more crepe-like.
  • Gluten free – not important to me, but about half of the world is demanding this.
  • Vegan – ibid
  • Naturally fermented – not exactly sure how this happens, but it’s cool!
  • Versatile – you can make idli, dosas, and oothappams all from the same batter.

WARNING: This is not a spur-of-the-moment recipe. You don’t just whip up some oothappams in 30 minutes.

DSC_0331So Mike was organizing the pantry a couple of weeks ago.

Mike: Do you know you have two unopened bags of something called urad gota? What is this stuff? A grain, or a legume?
Me: I think it’s white lentils.
Mike: It doesn’t look like lentils.
Me: See here, it says matpe beans?
Mike: OK, whatever. Are you going to do anything with them, or should I feed them to the chickens?

Well thank Tim Berners-Lee for the Internet, you can find anything if you can read, are persistent, and have one or two keywords to search. (Does anyone really use an analog cookbook anymore?) White lentils – which are actually black lentils with the outer layer removed – can be cooked like regular lentils, but they are often used to make bread type foods. Probably because they are white and look more appetizing? IDK, just a hypothesis.

Here are the recipes I referenced (I never follow a recipe exactly):

Yesterday morning I soaked 1 cup of urad gota/matpe bean/white lentils, and 2 cups of white rice separately in water. I didn’t have basmati rice, so I just used a combination of short-grained and jasmine rice. (You may notice that I used a 1:2 ratio of lentils to rice, and most other recipes call for a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio.) Then last night I ground them up in my blender to a smooth batter, mixed them together, added 1 tsp salt, covered the bowl with plastic wrap and left it on the counter. (This morning I -oops!- quickly put the bowl into a much larger bowl because the fermentation had the batter about to overflow.)

For lunch today I minced some green chili, green onion, garlic, and shredded a carrot. Mixed these with some of the batter (which was too thick and fluffy, so I watered it down a bit), and fried little pancakes in a non-stick skillet with a tsp of oil. I used my little bitty egg pan, so they were really easy to flip over, and came out perfectly round. I ate them with some tomato jam mixed with cranberry chutney.

My Garden and other stuff

This spring was busy – my day job, teaching adjunct at UCO, developing material for a grant, a new granddaughter in Nashville, and Matt & Erin’s wedding shindig in Georgia. And through it all, of course, keeping up with the garden.

We had an abnormally cold winter here, which was good for reducing the insects that overwinter, but not so good for our fig trees. The little one died back to the ground. The large one is coming back strong from the base, and strangely enough, about 10′ up on several branches. So far the early summer has been mild – even chilly some mornings – which is giving the tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and cucumbers some time to get established before the heat kicks in. We will start eating our earliest peaches this week, and once again it seems that we have almost no insect damage. I have to think it’s because we feed and water the birds (mostly sparrows and wrens) all winter.

Every year the garden changes – something doesn’t do well while another plant flourishes. In my flower beds this will be the year of verbena bonariensi and threadleaf coreopsis. These newcomers reseeded like crazy, and I’m not complaining. The gaura in the front reseeded, and somehow found its way into the backyard. Of course the corn poppies and larkspur have already finished their glorious explosion, and I’ve been pulling the orange cosmos out by the handfuls to give away (they are deceptively sturdy).

On the food front, I’ve been cooking with gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), making not-quite-authentic “Korean inspired” stews. I really want to make jajangmyeon, but I’ll have to visit a Korean market in Moore to find the right kind of black bean paste.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cook, Garden

“Healthy” chocolate chip cookies

The only cookies my mother ever made were oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, from The Joy of Cooking.  These have also been my standby cookie throughout the years. Several years ago my youngest son made them for me, using whole wheat flour.  I think maybe he added a bunch of other stuff too, like sunflower seeds, coconut, and cashews. But anyway, I really like the substitution of whole wheat flour for white flour. The batter does come out a bit dryer, so depending upon the size of your eggs you may need to add a tablespoon of milk. The recipe below is a slightly modified version of the JOC Oatmeal Raisin drop cookie.

  • SAMSUNG1 3/4 (1.75) cups whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, or 1/2 c butter & 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2  teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3  cups rolled whole oats
  1. Mix/sift the first four dry ingredients in a bowl.
  2. In another bowl cream the butter/shortening, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
  3. Add the dry ingredients into the creamed ingredients,
  4. then add the chocolate chip and pecans.
  5. If you have been using a mixer, at this point you may want to stop and add the oatmeal by hand. If the mixture is too dry and crumbly and will not hold together when you make a small ball, then add a tablespoon or two of milk.
  6. Form the batter into small balls and place on a greased cookie sheet. At Christmas I like to press a candied cherry (halved) onto the top.
  7. Bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes, or until the edged of the cookies start to brown.

My grandmother used to make a Christmas cookie that was similar, but instead of chocolate chips it had pecans, chopped candied cherries – both red and green – and chopped dates. It was like a fruitcake cookie, with only the “good stuff.”

So are these cookies healthy? Well, dark chocolate is an antioxidant, as are pecans, which are rich in vitamin E and reduce LDL cholesterol. Whole wheat flour has health benefits over white flour, and you probably already know how good oatmeal is for you.

1 Comment

Filed under Cook

Keeping up with putting up

We’re just about at then end of our “What do we do with all these green tomatoes?” phase. The answer, this year, is green sauce. I’m not going to waste my time trying to coax them into ripening, which never works anyway.  Here is my basic recipe, which is great as a dip, salsa, or an enchilada sauce.

  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 large clove minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 6 – 8 cups chopped green tomatoes
  • 1 – 2 cups diced green chili, poblano, jalapeno, serrano etc…
    • leave the seeds in if you want to experience numb lips for several hours after eating
    • be careful not to touch your face while working with the peppers!
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1/2 to 1 cup chopped cilantro (stems also)

Saute the garlic and onions briefly in the olive oil. Add tomatoes, peppers, cumin, salt, and water, and then simmer, covered, till tomatoes are soft. Puree in a blender or food processor, adding the lime juice and cilantro. Let cool and pour into labelled ziplock freezer bags (I recommend the pint size), and freeze flat. I made some stacked beef enchiladas with this green sauce yesterday. I like making stacked enchiladas because you don’t have to fry the tortillas in oil to soften them up for rolling. I know lots of recipes have you fry the tortillas even for stacked enchiladas, but I just oil my baking dish lightly, and then put a spoonful of sauce on the bottom – sort of like making lasagna.

We’re got our first really hard freeze last week (weather.com said 19 F, but I’m pretty sure we were about 10 warmer) so

windowsill basil

I’m going to see if I can keep this basil alive this winter.

the plastic is on the hoop houses and all our houseplants are inside.There is a good stand of arugula going, and I found broccoli and cabbage starts last month and planted those. Leeks are flourishing, pak choi is unstoppable, and there are a few turnips, radishes, and chard. We need to be vigilant for about two week on our nightly “slug patrol” to make sure we get some lettuce to come up and survive.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cook, Garden

Peachy dilemma

So our last peach tree is ready for harvesting, and we’re trying to figure out what to do with them. They aren’t as tasty as they’ve been in the past, and they don’t live up to their huge, juicy, intensely flavored predecessors  this year. Why not?

I guess we should have thinned these out...

I guess we should have thinned these out…

I think that the main factor is that the tree is way too overloaded. We tend to let nature do the thinning –  windstorms, hailstorms, microbursts, squirrels, etc. But this summer none of those weather events happened, and there are very few squirrels in the neighborhood (maybe because Mississippi Kites have taken up residence?). Somehow this tree held on to every fruit up until the bitter end.

Also, we’ve had a somewhat cooler than normal spring and summer. All the fruit and veggies are about two to three weeks behind schedule. I’m not complaining about this at all, by-the-way!

Anyway, here we have scads of mediocre peaches on our hands. (Mediocre is a relative term. Compared to grocery store peaches these are just fine.) This morning I cut one up and sprinkled it generously with sugar – which we usually avoid – then waited a few minutes. Ahhh… that did the trick. They will do just fine in peach leather, peach gelee, spiced peach butter, and canned in a rum syrup. And of course I can always make more peach chutney and peach salsa.

Oh, and the same as last year, we’ve had virtually no insect damage on our peaches this year. Yeah for sparrows at the bird feeders!

You knew there was a reason you'd been hoarding those bottle caps!

You knew there was a reason you’d been hoarding those bottle caps!

Last weekend was our 35th wedding anniversary (Good grief, we must be getting old!), and we stayed at Pecan Valley Inn B&B near Davis, Oklahoma. What an awesome job Janet Charalampous has done with restoring this historic mansion!

Hmmm, this cart looks familiar...

Hmmm, this cart looks familiar…

On the drive down and  back we stopped at antique stores in Purcell, Paul’s Valley,  Davis, and Duncan. We bought a few “treasures” but mostly marveled at how much of this stuff we already have. We visited the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center which was fun, and something I’d love to do with our granddaughter some day.

1 Comment

Filed under Garden, Travel, Uncategorized