Friday, October 26, 2007

There Shall Be Showers of Leaves

Literally. It looks like I live on the set of Legend. The Hobbits are going wild in the flurries that are cascading down with each gust. Dog has grabbed the broom and is sweeping off the deck. Bug has appropriated the rake and is plowing through the yard. This all has the effect of trying to empty the ocean with a tea cup, but they mean well and are having fun. Plus they are outside. With cold weather coming, it gets harder and harder to pry them outside and so I encourage them to get as much outside time as they can before it gets really cold. Who am I kidding? I encourage them to get as much outside time as they can. Period. I wax lyrical about going out to be Christopher Robin and explore doing nothing. They don't always buy it. They're getting much too canny as they get older. Darn. Looks like I'm going to have to develop new strategies. So it is nice when there are exciting things that pull them out into the yard to enthrall their energy and attention, like finding newts in logs. And falling leaves.

Falling leaves mean it is time for the wardrobe flip. That foray into the recesses of the attic for boxes of seasonal clothing and marathons of trying on clothing to see what fits or what is ready to be passed on to another home. This is the twitchy time of year when winter clothes are too warm and summer clothes are too cool, so you have to have a little of both to get by. Meanwhile, there are piles of clothes that need a home in one place or another. After twelve season flips, you'd think I'd have this down into an efficient routine, but it ain't happening. I'm sure Fly Lady has a cure for all of this, but I've never been able to get past those daily emails to find out. I am, however, making a concerted effort to put my shoes on in the morning, even if I'm not going anywhere. There. That's enough of a baby step for now, eh?

With damp and chilly weather settling in for the week and we're not going anywhere, I've decided to take some time off. A stack of trashy novels piled up next to my bed along with a container of sunflower seeds, my current marginally tolerated snack. And a cup of coffee...decaf, natch. I snuggle down under flannel sheets and, being the coldest creature in the house, a ton of crocheted comforters. More cooler weather, more comfort food...warm and warming things that remind me of home and childhood. There's probably not a recipe that means all of that to me more than garlic chicken. It was a quintessential dish of my childhood, one that my grandmother taught my mom and she, in turn, taught me. Luckily, it's a Hobbit favorite.

Garlic Chicken

1 whole chicken, quartered or 8-9 chicken pieces
2 T lard or olive oil
1 T sugar
1/2 vidalia onion, rough chopped
1-4 heads of garlic, minced
2-3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. red pepper
2 cups bone broth or 1 tsp. salt and 2 cups water

Optional Spices:

1/4 t. dried rosemary
1/4 t. dried sage
1 t. dried sweet basil
1 t. dried thyme
1/8 t. allspice
1/8 t. coriander

My mother tells me that my grandmother started every recipe by browning the meat in carmelized sugar and oil. So dump oil or lard in cast iron dutch oven and heat sugar until brown and bubbling, just to the point of smoking. Add meat pieces and allow to brown on each side, turning for even browning. Slice onion and allow onions to saute while the meat finishes browning. Add bone broth or salt and water, pepper, and minced garlic. Measure out optional spices into a coffee filter and staple closed, making an herbal sachet. Toss in and allow to soak in the liquid in the pot. After liquid comes to a boil, lower to a simmer and allow to cook for 45 min - 1 hour or until meat is done.

Serve over hot rice.

Yep. More leaves coming down. The turkeys are parading through the yard. They're supposed to be shy creatures, but apparently someone has failed to inform my particular flock, since my yard isn't exactly a quiet place. They dodge the Hobbits, who are building piles of leaves to leap into. Bug buries himself under a particularly large stack and Dog, the straight man, comes to enlist my "help" in finding him. I make loud mouth noises about needing to mow up all of these leaves before it rains and head for the lawn mower. Bug, ever the sucker, jumps up and nervously demands to know if I was serious. Then they dash off down the hill to run and tumble into another pile. Next week, there will be a soggy blanket for me to peel up from the surface of the yard and compost. But today the leaves keep falling.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Not 'Til You Eat Your Vegetables

Here's my dirty secret. I don't care for vegetables. Yeah, yeah, I know I garden and all of that, but I just like certain vegetables, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and broccoli. Guess that's one of the reasons that vegetarianism never pulled very strongly at me. They are beautiful on the vine or in profusion at a farmer's market, but once I get them home, there's this whole disconnect. Okay. Now what do I do with them?

So I'm planning next year's garden and my New Year's Goals early. Both of them have to do with eating a wider variety of vegetables. For the past several years, I've been focused on getting the Hobbits healed up and we're well on our way. Some of the masses of medical information that I sifted through indicated that higher portions of protein are necessary in cases of compromised gut integrity and so that has been my biggest focus. But these days they are catching up to themselves and Bug and Princess have even pulled ahead, so I'm looking to balance things out and include more vegetables in our diet.

Of course, an assay of this nature means--for me--a systematic pillaging of our library's resources of recipe books for appealing dishes. The problem with most recipe books I've found, especially vegetable ones, is a heavy reliance on ingredients of which most are off the menu for us. But I'm stalking this one dish at a time. Baby steps, you know.

With an abundance of leaves littering the ground and cooler weather creeping up, I'm starting to really believe that summer is over. Spending ten hours de-leafing the yard has a tendency to drive that point home. Especially when you wake up the next morning and the yard looks as if you did nothing the previous day but swan on the couch with the latest Victorian thriller and eat Endangered Species chocolate. Next time, I think that's what I'll do and just tell everyone that I de-leafed the yard. No one will know the difference, right? Anyway... These days, I'm feeling like warm comfort food, so when our latest co-op delivery brought us grass-fed stew meat on sale, I splurged and then decorated the meal with as many vegetables as I dared.

Autumnal Beef Stew

2 lbs. stew beef, cubed
3 large carrots
3 large parsnips
2 yams
2 potatoes
6 tomatoes
1 zucchini
1/2 vidalia onion, sliced
1 tsp. dried sweet basil
1 tsp. dried thyme
4-6 dried sage leaves
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. Real Salt
2 cups bone broth
1 tablespoon lard or olive oil
1 tsp. sugar

Bias slice carrots and parsnips. Cube yams and potatoes. Slice tops off of tomatoes and drain out liquid and seeds--I find a helpful prod from a finger does this nicely. Rough chop tomatoes and zucchini and run through food processor until liquefied. Measure herbs into a coffee filter and staple closed. Heat oil and add sugar, allowing to caramelize to smoking point. Brown meat and onions in oil, adding broth and vegetable juice when sufficiently browned. Bring to a simmer boil and toss in herbal sachet, sprinkling in salt to taste, and allow to simmer for half hour. Add remaining vegetables and simmer for 30 minutes or until fork tender. If there isn't enough liquid, add more broth with vegetable juice until sufficiently liquid. Serve alone or over pasta.

Everyone in the family, Hobbits included, downed this delight with dispatch. Tool Guy waxed long and appreciative. The parsnips added a delicate sweetness to the whole dish and no one wanted to waste a drop. It was a gratifying foray into expanding our palates. Confidence bolstered, I'm now meditating on eggplant, brussel sprouts, cauliflower...all the possibilities. In just a couple short months, it will be time for seed shopping and before you know it, sprouting season will be upon us. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure that winter will be enough time for me to get many little space...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Okay, I have to get this off my chest. Again. It bears repeating, so I'm repeating it: Corn is evil. Some people believe that gluten is evil, but they are mistaken. Nope. Corn is evil. Don't believe me? Read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I'm not talking about the juicy cob, bursting with yellow goodness that gets roasted or boiled and served up on a platter. I'm talking about the agricultural monster commodity. And since there are countless tons of corn annually that need to be used for something, it is getting dumped into the food supply and beyond in distorted and frankencorned ways, but never completely forgetting its "corn-ness." Like the corn-based packing peanuts. I'm sure that the person who invented these probably was heralded as an ecologically brilliant thinker, since they dissolve in water and are biodegradeable. But it does make the experience of opening up that package in the mail very much like opening up a pipe bomb. You never know what is might be shredded magazines or it might be corn. Tag. You're it. It's almost worth investing in a hazmat suit.

What really fashes me is how hard some manufacturers work to avoid frankly telling the consumer that there's corn in their product. So it's rather refreshing to see some actually advertising this information on their package. Again, from an earth-friendly standpoint, biodegradeable bags make sense. Still, I can't help but think that it would be more ecological and earth-friendly to break the addiction to mono-cropping that we have trapped ourselves into and not grow more corn than is physically impossible for us to consume, thereby forcing us to resort to finding ways to unload the obscene surplus of one vegetable that isn't even a vegetable anymore. Like carpeting. Carpeting...I ask you!

I know that George Washington Carver pioneered industrial applications for agricultural crops and there are a host of reasons for admiring the man. He's a fantastic role model. But some days, I feel like I've got this love/hate thing for him. Indirectly, I have him to thank for all of the corn "gotcha's" from envelope adhesive to water bottles. Corn even lurks in such seemingly benign and "natural" places as honey, since many beekeepers are addicted to high fructose corn syrup as supplemental food for their bees. And do we really need to have corn in our laundry detergent?

Okay, there are some bio-friendly detergents out there. Alas, I am not one of those altruists who impale their budgets on the spike of alternative green products for their own sakes. Nuh-unh. Gotta be cheap for me. As a side note, I am working on re-indoctrinating myself with the principle that it isn't that alternative products are so expensive, though they do seem so. It is that they do not carry the government subsidy that corn-based products enjoy and so have a harder time competing against that financial offset.

Still, cheap is good. Dirt cheap is even better. Which is why I was doing the Snoopy Dance when I came across a recipe for home made laundry soap. Crystal is my kind of woman. Those pictures of her farm capture what I want my acreage to look like someday.

Laundry Soap by Crystal Miller

1/3 bar Fels Naptha or Zote
½ cup washing soda (not baking soda)
½ cup borax powder

You will also need a small bucket, about 2 gallon size

Grate the soap and put it in a sauce pan. Add 6 cups water and heat it until the soap melts. Add the washing soda and the borax and stir until it is dissolved. Remove from heat. Pour 4 cups hot water into the bucket. Now add your soap mixture and stir. Now add 1 gallon plus 6 cups of water and stir. Let the soap sit for about 24 hours and it will gel. You use ½ cup per load.

I've been following Crystal's recipe for six months now and I'm still on the original boxes of powder. That puts my investment so far at less than $10 for laundry for at least six months. This is washing clothes for five people--well, six if you factor in Tool Guy changing clothes between going from his day job to his tool job, plus a Princess still in night time cloth diapers.

I recently had a chuckle over a conversation I had with a telemarketer about laundry detergent. Despite the fact that we're on the No Call List, Boyfriend called me up to sell me some whizz-bang laundry detergent that would rock my world. Did you know that there are telemarketers out there who still ask to speak to "the lady of the house?" At any rate, I informed him that I make my own. Silent pause. I guess that answer wasn't on his "if/then" flow chart of Q&A's, since he then launched into a non-sequitur riposte of what a great savings it would be for me. Huh. I informed him that a penny a load was the price to beat and if he couldn't sell it to me that cheap, we had nothing more to say to each other. Haven't heard from him since.

I'm bummed. Can you tell?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Thanksgiving Comes in October for Us

Okay...uncle. I'll admit it. It's Fall. Every morning, there is a fresh layer of leaves carpeting the lawn, my garden is slowing down and it's getting downright nippy from time to time. The deer have lost their foxy coat and are turning gray. The squirrels are pillaging the trees for nuts; each tree has a pile of hulls littering the ground beneath. And the torrent of food from my garden winds down to a trickle. It's been a fruitful summer.

The other major hallmark of Fall in our house is the annual pear harvest. A neighbor of my parents, who live down South, has pear trees growing in her yard and what is food for us is a burden for her, since she has no use for them. Every October, my father harvests these pears by the boxful. Boxes of them. Hundreds of pounds of them. Every October, my parents trek up to our house with these boxes and boxes of pears. Every October, we spend a week in the kitchen, cutting, slicing, pureeing, spicing, processing, and canning. This year, the Hobbits were particularly excited about helping out with the processing. Everyone was armed with a knife and a cutting board. It's a family affair. The Hobbits sat down with my parents and plowed through two hundred pounds, non-stop, while I processed in the kitchen, non-stop. Dog is ten years old and is starting to produce adult-like labor, but even Princess didn't give up her end until the job was done. In fact, she was decidedly crestfallen when the last pear was chopped up and her part was complete. Between the garden and the pears, my basement is bursting at the seams. See how much we have to be thankful for?

The pear butter recipe is really simple, just a lot of work when you're talking two hundred pounds of pears.

Pear Butter

14 cups of pear puree
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 teaspoons vanilla

Whirl through food processor and freeze or can as desired.

Dear Mrs. Baccus,

What can I say? Words fail me to describe your generosity in sharing such delicious pears, year after year, so faithfully. These have become such a staple in our household. Preserving these pears each fall has become a tradition in our house that we all look forward to. The pear butter recipe is a well-worn and spotted page in my recipe book. Each fall I imagine all of the possibilities. Some of them get juiced, some of them are sliced and dehydrated, but most end up in rows of jars that will sweeten our winter.

You would think that over these years the kids would tire of eating pear butter muffins, but with each batch, still Bug runs through the house, excitedly announcing when a fresh batch has come out of the oven. Then there is a corresponding thunder of feet as everyone lines up to get a steaming handful. I wish I could bottle up that enthusiasm and send it for you to enjoy. It smells like muffins fresh out of the oven. And that enthusiasm is just as fresh each time.

Thank you.