Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Just Call Me Mrs. Green Jeans

My wardrobe is quite minimal these days. Since moving to the country nearly seven years ago, I've been continually culling my clothes. No more suits or evening wear; no more pantyhose or high-heeled shoes; no more leather bags or jewelry. I care little for fashion. I'm not interested in being a trendsetter.

Other than our Thursday trips to Louisville and Sunday church, I rarely dress up. In fact, most days you will find me wearing overalls, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a shabby straw hat: the perfect ensemble for working in the garden or tromping through the woods. Nice and roomy; lots of pockets.


I hate to shop – especially for clothes. I order my overalls online, whenever I realize that my current ones are too full of holes and stained beyond redemption. I recently replaced my old brown overalls with a new pair of green ones. They remind me of Mr. Green Jeans.



If you are anywhere near my age, you might remember Mr. Green Jeans as Captain Kangeroo's sidekick. Because I watched the children's show on our mid-1960's black-and-white TV, it never occurred to me that his last name was created based on the color overalls he wore. Years later, I remember being flabbergasted when I saw a rerun of the show and realized that his jeans were green.

My on-line go-to source for overalls has always been Wisconsin-based Duluth Trading Company. I was a little baffled when I heard that Duluth was opening a store in Louisville on historic Whiskey Row. I was also a little curious. So last Thursday afternoon, instead of picking Ed up at his downtown office, he met me a few blocks east on Main Street to check out the new store. 


Sure enough, they carry women's overalls. I'm not sure how much demand there will be among Louisvillians, but I wish the new store the best.


Who knows, perhaps I am becoming a trendsetter. Now wouldn't that be amusing!


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Gardening Without Work – Ha!

At the age of 87 I grow vegetables for two people the year-round, doing all the work myself and freezing the surplus. I tend several flower beds, write a column every week, answer an awful lot of mail, do the housework and cooking–and never do any of these things after 11 o'clock in the morning.
                                                                                    – Ruth Stout, garden expert and lovable eccentric

Ruth Stout is one of my heroes. Before she died in 1980 at the age of 94, she claimed, "I never plow, spade, sow a cover crop, harrow, hoe, cultivate, weed, water or spray." If you follow her method of keeping a thick mulch of straw (and other organic matter) on your garden she swears that you too can garden without work. Sounds good, doesn't it?



I read her delightful book six years ago and I reread it every winter. I can't say that I garden without work, but I do believe that her methods have cut down on the amount of work that my garden requires. Every fall, I put down a layer of cardboard and cover it with a thick blanket of straw.


I get the cardboard from the Shelby County Recycling Center and Ed fetches me six bales of straw at a time from a neighbor on Highway 53. The cardboard and straw keep the weeds (mostly) at bay and break down over time, creating richer soil. 

I had planned to finish putting down the cardboard and straw yesterday. I went to pick up another load of cardboard, but pulled into the recycling center just as mounds of cardboard were being loaded into the large baler for compression. Oh well, another trip; another day.  

I switched plans and decided to do some garden cleanup, harvesting the last of the crops from the garden: fennel and sweet potatoes.


I deadheaded the spent zinnias, saving the seed for next year, and composted the plants. 


The hard frost from Thursday night zapped the nasturtiums, so I combed through the limp leaves and flowers, looking for the large seed pods to dry and save for next year's crop. 


I even weeded my asparagus, pulling up lots of chickweed that will make a nice salad. (We've had dandelion salad a number of times this past week. I figured out that the leaves are not so bitter once the weather gets cooler.)


To beat the frost, I've been working in my herb garden as well. Earlier this week, I harvested much of my lemongrass, freezing some for later use and making lemongrass concentrate (for lemonade) with the rest. 

=

My gardens aren't the only things that need end-of-the-season attention. Maggie was out last weekend getting her bees ready for winter survival. She consolidated some of the boxes and brought up several frames of honey for me to extract. 


Ed has on his end-of-season list to clean and sharpen our tools and to clean out the blue-bird boxes, so they will be ready for spring nesting. He also wants to move the owl house as it hasn't attracted an owl family in its current location. 

The list goes on. There is always more to do than energy/time to do it. I was talking to son-in-law Nate yesterday about some details on the guest cottage renovation that he is doing for us. I thanked him for all his work, to which he responded: "It's really not work; I enjoy doing it." Perhaps that is the secret for gardening without work: I just need to reframe it as time spent doing something I enjoy. 


Monday, October 23, 2017

Stranger Things

Before we left for Spain, I cleared out one of my raised gardens – except for some zinnias in the back of the bed and some nasturtiums that were overflowing in the front. But the center of the bed was completely bare, ready for some new strawberry plants. 

When I came back, some very strange things had overtaken the bed. These things were plants that looked a bit like tomato vines. On each plant hung dozens of even stranger fruit, small berries surrounded with papery husks. Once popped out of the husk, the yellow fruit tasted both sweet and tart, a bit like a pineapple, with the faintest taste of a cherry tomato.  

I knew immediately what had engulfed my garden. A few years ago Maggie had brought me three tiny ground cherry plants (Physalis pruinosa) from Madison, Wisconsin. Other than those original plants, I've never again planted them. But every summer a few volunteers pop up, which I usually pull out of the garden, thinking they are weeds. Some years there are a few; some years they are many. 

I was travelling when they appeared in early September and without me to pluck them, they took off like crazy – creating a tangly mess of about a dozen plants, each about three feet tall and equally as wide. The fruits are ready to harvest when they fall to the ground – earning them their ground cherry name. (They are also known as cape gooseberries or husk tomato.) They are in the same genus as tomatillos – hence the similar papery husk – and the same family as tomatoes. 

Over the course of the month, hundreds fell. I put a few on my cereal, popped some into my mouth, topped salads with some, and the rest I turned into a chutney to serve with chicken or pork or to pour over cream cheese or a hard, sharp cheese, such as Manchego. Delicious.

I've still got a bucket full to husk tonight. Maybe I'll try a ground cherry pie...

l
 ________________________

Ground Cherry Chutney
Adapted slightly from Edible Paradise

Makes 5 cups

ingredients

6 cups ground cherries, husked and rinsed
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups onion, chopped
1 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon coriander
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1/4 teaspoon teaspoon ground cloves
1-2 teaspoon(s) red pepper flakes, depending on how much heat you like
1 teaspoon salt (or more, to taste)

preparation

In a heavy sauce pan, combine sugar and water, and slowly bring to a boil, stirring. Add vinegar, onions, pepper, raisins, coriander seed, mustard seed, ground cloves and red pepper flakes. Cook until onions and peppers are soft. Add ground cherries, bring mixture  to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until most of the cherries have burst and mixture has thickened.

Remove from heat. Allow to cool and store in a glass jars in the refrigerator. Or, pour chutney into sterilized jars, top with lids and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Sauerkraut. I will not eat it. I will not.

As a child, I was never was a picky eater. Never. Except if it involved yellow mustard, root beer, or sauerkraut. Especially if it involved sauerkraut. On the days that the Lyndon Elementary cafeteria ladies served sauerkraut, I would walk the halls holding my nose, or go to Principal Lowe's office complaining of a stomachache and needing to go home. Fortunately, my mom never served sauerkraut. Until the night that she did...

I was six or seven. We sat down for dinner at 5:05, like we did every evening. And there on my paper plate, next to a hotdog, was a small mound of gray, stinky sauerkraut. I don't know if came from  a can, or one of those slimey bags from near the meat counter at the Lyndon Key Market. All I knew is that I was not going to eat it. 


My dad, who was (still is) the sweetest guy, must have had a hard day and decided that this was the night he was going to show me who was the boss. But, here's the thing: he wasn't the boss of me, and I wasn't going to eat it. He quietly said that I would need to sit there until I ate it. I told him, I would rather die. 

The dinner was unpleasant for all. Eventually, my sisters were excused to go play kickball down at The Big Tree. My mom disappeared, leaving only my dad and me, at an impasse. Dad washed the dishes and then swept the floor. I sat there, arms folded, refusing to look at him. How could he be so mean? Didn't he know that I would die if I even tried a bite? 

When it became evident that I was not to be persuaded, Dad saved me – and he saved himself. He went to the kitchen door and whistled for our family dog, Carpie – who came bolting into the kitchen, sniffing the floor for any stray scrapes. Just as Dad turned his back; I scooped up the gross sauerkraut and quickly offered it under the table to the dog. Dad turned back around and came over to give me a hug – so pleased his little girl had eaten her sauerkraut.

_______________
Fast forward 55 years. 

Ed dog-ears a page from the Kentucky Living magazine, published by the electric co-op. It's a recipe for sauerkraut. I don't tell him of my childhood trauma. I study the list of ingredients -- all of which I like.

At the grocery, I pick up a cabbage and some radishes. I have fennel and caraway seeds, an apple and sea salt in my pantry. I make sauerkraut. I wait a week and take a small taste to see if it has fermented. It's sour alright, and bright and crunchy. Say! I like sauerkraut. I do! And I would eat it in in the rain. And in the dark. And on a train. And in a car. And in a tree. It is so good, so good, you see!

Jereme's Basic Kraut

ingredients
1/2 head green or red cabbage
1 firm apple
2-3 small to medium daikon radishes
1-1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1-1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1 to 2 Tbsp sea salt, or any natural salt with no preservatives or anticaking agents.

preparation
Chop everything as finely as possible or run through a food processor. Pack just a bit into a wide-mouth jar, tamping down hard with your hands or spoon to pack tightly. After every inch or so, sprinkle the layer with a little salt. Pack within 2 inches of top.



When finished, place a weight on top of the chopped vegetables – if you're using a wide-mouth jar, fill a smaller jar with water and set on top. Keep the contents submerged in the liquid that exudes from vegetables. Set the jar in the sink for several hours. The liquid will likely overflow the jar.



Set out of direct sunlight, open but covered with a towel to keep fruit flies and other creatures out of it, for one to two weeks, then taste. Allow it to ferment longer if you want a stronger flavor. Once it has reached the taste you like, put a lid on and refrigerate the mixture. Makes 1 quart.



If sealed well, mixture will keep for six months.





Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Medicine Woman in Training

With all the comings and goings that Ed and I have been up to, I'm often asked about how I keep up with my gardens. Not very well is the most truthful answer. The exception is my herb garden, which we just planned and planted last spring. Other than when the bunnies make off with some newly planted herbs, it has been such a joy and surprise for me.


The garden, just off our back porch, seems to thrive on my ignoring it. Every time I come back from one of our trips, I'm amazed at how it has flourished without me. Just as we returned from Spain, my pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) exploded into show-stopping fiery-red blooms; a magnet for hummingbirds and butterflies. And the flowers really do smell like fresh pineapple.


The tiny lemongrass that I planted in the garden's far corner in the spring, has turned into an amazon of a plant. I've been plucking stems and seeping them in a simple syrup to make a light – and very refreshing – lemonade. 


I cut fresh herbs for most every meal: a shred of basil leaves for our sliced tomatoes, a stem or two of rosemary for our roasted potatoes, a sprig of mint for our iced teas, a showering of thyme leaves over sautéed zucchini, a tiny bouquet of lavender blossoms for our guest bath, a handful of sorrel for pesto, and on and on. 


This week, I've shifted into high gear to enjoy and preserve as much of the bounty as possible. I bottled up some pretty vinegars to give as holiday gifts. 


And turned some lavender and lemon balm into natural, non-toxic spray cleaners.


I've cut bundles of herbs for drying.


They are hanging in our back hallway and I can smell their essential oils every time I pass by.


I oven-dried some thyme as its stems were too short to tie into a bundle.


While most of my herbs I'm using for culinary endeavors, I am interested in branching out to uncover the medicinal uses for herbs. I want to brew up my own potions, bitters, elixirs and syrups. I want to mix up salves, tinctures, decoctions and poultices. I want to learn to use herbs for healing. I want to become an herbalist. Who knows? Maybe I'll become a modern-day medicine woman. Stay tuned...







Saturday, October 7, 2017

Wanderings: Madrid, Cordoba and Seville

I mentioned in my last post that Ed and I traveled for a few days in southern Spain before we met the kids at the farmhouse, and for a few days afterwards. Here's my report from our wanderings through Madrid, Cordoba and Seville.


Madrid



Hurricane Irma, in her rage, delayed our flight out of Atlanta by 24 hours. No big deal as we got the notice before we ever left Farm Dover to drive to the Louisville airport. What it did mean is that as soon as we landed in Madrid from the overnight flight, we had to hustle over to the meeting point for a food tour of Madrid. (We have concluded that a food tour of a new city is the best way to learn our way around and figure out where we want to go for future meals. This one proved no exception.) Joy, from Devour Madrid, led our group of seven to eight different venues, starting with churros and chocolate, moving on to sweet red vermouth and tapas at the El Mercado de San Miguel, then bull-tail bundles with red wine, followed by a local stew, Iberian ham tasting, and on and on.

El Mercado de San Miguel
Three hours into the tour Ed and I were almost comatose from lack of sleep and an overload of food and drink. We apologized to our tour guide and staggered back to our hotel for a siesta.

Refreshed from our nap, we headed out toward El Corte Ingles, Spain's largest department store, seeking a pair of Parsol sunglasses like the ones Ed loved from the 70's. Found them! To celebrate, we headed up to the store's rooftop bar for a beer and to watch darkness fall over the city. Eventually, we made our way over to Calle Colon seeking out the century-old Bodega La Ardosa for a glass of vermouth and some tapas. We stood at the crowded bar eating and drinking, pretending to be real Spaniards.


We spent the next day exploring Madrid and lunching at the La Ideal, Madrid's best calamari sandwich shop. We split a sandwich, which is served with potato salad; ordered two beers, which came with a dish of green olives. Perfect lunch.

The Prado, the main Spanish national art museum, offers free admittance every evening from 6:00 to 8:00. We headed over (after our siesta) only to find a line of several hundred people, each of whom needed to be screened for bombs or other weapons of destruction. We eventually made our way in and headed for the Goya paintings. Not my favorite, but the museum space is beautiful. Downstairs, we found more Goyas, this time of his "black" paintings – dark and moody, but done in a looser style that I much preferred.

At the Prado

From there we walked across town to the La Latina neighborhood seeking out Cava Lucas, a wine bar/tapas place we had discovered on a previous visit to Madrid. I had been dreaming of the baked calamari with black squid ink mousse that we had ordered last time; we ordered it again. It was a good as I remembered.


Córdoba


The next morning, we took the fast train out of Madrid for Córdoba, arriving in time to visit the Mosque-Cathedral, an incredible (and enormous) example of Moorish architecture. 


Mosque turned Cathedra

Back at our hotel, Hospes Palacio del Bailio, Ed opted for a siesta, while I took up the hotel's offer for a Roman Bath, which I wasn't exactly sure what I was getting myself into. Turns out, it was beautiful underground room with three pools: one with hot water, one with cold water, and one with just right water. That night for dinner, we took the advice of the hotel receptionist and walked over to a local tavern and allowed the bartender to bring us his favorite tapas. All were delicious, especially the fried eggplant, with honey and feta.




The next morning, we toured the The Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Castle of Christian Monarchs), the very place where Christopher Columbus received his marching orders in 1492 from Isabella and Ferdinand. After strolling through the magnificent gardens, we checked out of our hotel, picked up a rental car and headed to the farmhouse to meet our kids.



Fast-forward one week...

Seville


Upon waving goodbye to the kids, we drove to Seville, where we spent the next three days, wandering the streets at leisure, eating churros and tapas to our heart's content. 



We toured the Seville Cathedral, the world's largest Gothic church; and the Royal Alcazar, with its beautiful gardens. 




Our hotel, Becquer, was just a couple of blocks from the bridge crossing the Guadaira River and we explored the farside Triana neighborhood, looking at art along the riverside, checking out the spices at the mercado, and alfresco dining at the slightly out-of-the-way Puratasca, where once again, we asked the waitress to bring us her favorites.


We spent one final night in Madrid, before flying home the next day. After a quick lunch at the counter of Hontanares, our favorite coffee shop, Ed visited the El Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, taking in its 1600 paintings, while I did a bit of shopping in the Salamanca District. That night, we wandered the streets hoping to find a good place for our farewell dinner. We did! Somehow we stumbled upon the unpretentious and absolutely delicious Los Porfiados on the Calle Buenavista and had one of the best meals of our trip. Sea bass on pea puree for me; beef cheeks for Ed, plus great starters, dessert, wine and after-dinner drinks. A great way to end a great trip. 



_____________

We are now back at Farm Dover and enjoying our gardens, meadows and woods as they change with the season. At this point, we have no travel plans for coming months. I'm sure once we have had a chance to fully recover from our jet lag, tend to our end-of-the-season gardens, and catch up with friends and family, we will once again get the urge to go exploring. I'll keep you posted...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Family Vacation

As promised, I wanted to capture the highlights of our Spain trip. Ed and I traveled for three days before and four days after our week with the kids at the Andalusian farmhouse. I'm featuring the week we spent together as a family in this post. More later on our travels pre- and post-farmhouse. 

The directions to our rented farmhouse in Spain read, in part: Keep going up a steep hill, past the goat farms. I just knew I was going to like the house...

Sure enough, we had to wait for a large herd of goats to clear the road before we could continue up the ridiculously steep hill (tricky to do when you are driving a manual transmission rental car).


The kids were already making themselves at home at the farmhouse when we arrived. Maggie, Nate and Mary had flown into the southern port city of Málaga earlier in the day, had rendezvoused with Jack and his friend Kasia, rented a car, and driven the hour or so north on winding roads to the farmhouse. The house was located about 15 minutes from the small village of Villanueva de la Concepción and 30 minutes from the larger town of Antequera.


The house was perfect for us. It had been lovingly restored by the current owners Alan and Nancy and featured plenty of bedrooms with ensuite baths, a charming and well-equipped kitchen, a large and comfortable living room, and a beautiful terrace overlooking a swimming pool and olive orchard with a distant view of the Andalusian countryside. We spent most of our time at the house outside on the terrace. The rain in Spain never fell; we had beautiful blue-skied days for our entire trip.

Our general plan was to visit nearby towns or attractions during the days and come back to the house for evening tapas. One evening, our hosts came over to cook us an authentic paella, in celebration of Ed's birthday.


Over the course of the week, we explored the towns of Antequera, Córdoba, Málaga, Granada and Ronda. One day, Maggie and Nate took off mountain biking while the rest of us hiked El Torcal Nature Reserve at sunup.


Here are some photos of our week...

Climbed to the top of the bell tower of Alcazar in Antequera
View of Antequera against The Lover's Rock mountain 
Mary at The Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba
Maggie and Nate at The Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba
In Málaga, Kasia having her first ever root beer
Museo Picasso in Málaga
A walk on the beach in Málaga; toe dipping into the Mediterranean
 Touring the Alahambra in Granada 
After the tour: Alahambra in Granada


Mountain bikers
Early morning hikers. El Torcal
Up with the goats. El Torcal
Ed focusing on Mary and Jack. El Torcal
Such nice light for photos. El Torcal
Three redheads in Ronda
At Ronda with my baby girl
And my sweetheart
The week flew by; but the memories will last forever.