Monthly Archives: July 2012

First Things

 My First Tomato – Summer 2012

Leafing through taste memories, collard greens is my first tast memory and food love.   I remember with extreme clarity sitting on my grandmother’s lap eating them, and she saying to me, “Girl, you gonna eat so many greens, you’re gonna turn green”.  I don’t remember if I could even talk yet then, it was so long ago.  Maybe I couldn’t talk because my mouth was full of greens.  Those old days also represent for me all of the beautiful women of my childhood, and coming up time.  A lot about those ways of life is gone, or going.   Can we bring some of it back?

Like Sunday dinner.  In my Mom’s childhood, it meant a nice home-cooked chicken dinner.  A table-cloth with good china and glassware were standard.  She says serving a chicken was expensive then (in the days before mass chicken farming), so it was a big deal to have a chicken on the table.  Well, even I don’t cook a Sunday meal every Sunday, but I do try, because of the example she set.  Her Sunday dinners for my brothers and me were done before noon.  I’ve got a long way to go still to becoming a queen; getting up past 9 a.m. on Sunday, there’s no way any dinner will be ready by noon! 

Speaking of queens, my Mom is truly a cooking queen.   Some of her dishes are legendary.  You should see the look of  reverence on the faces of  those eating her meals.  You know, when the room goes quiet, and everyone sort of slows down and pays extra attention to every bite.  Her best meal:  Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and of course, collard greens.  But she also made things like asian fried rice, tamales, and of all things, stuffed grape leaves.   But most of her dishes are comforting, simple creations.   Let’s bring Sunday dinner back next week, the first Sunday in August.  This still being a really hot summer, let’s start with something to not strain ourselves, like this Late Summer Chicken Stew:

Note:  This recipe’s main flavor profile is thyme.  By all means use a different herb if you desire, like rosemary.   This recipe makes plenty (10 pieces of chicken), so look forward to leftovers on Monday or having the ability to feed drop-in Sunday visitors.

 

Late Summer Chicken Stew

5 lb. chicken thighs

Seasoning mix:  Combine in a small bowl 2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. pepper, 1/2 tsp. each: garlic powder, onion powder, and ground thyme

2 Tbs. olive oil

2 medium onions, sliced in 1/2″ slices

1 clove garlic, minced

1 bunch fresh thyme:  tie 1/2 of the bunch (about 5 or 6 sprigs) with kitchen string or use a sprig of the thyme; reserve other half of bunch

2-1/2 Cups beef broth (reduced or no sodium variety)

1 large yellow squash, diced

1 small zucchini, diced

6 oz. petite carrots, whole; (or 2 small carrots, sliced)

2 Tbs. flour

1.  Wash and thoroughly dry the chicken.  Reserve 1 tsp. of the seasoning mix, and sprinkle remainder over both sides of the chicken.  Let the chicken rest about 15 minutes.  Place chicken in broiler-proof pan and broil over flame until nicely browned.  Watch carefully to not char it.  Remove and set the chicken aside. 

2. Warm a large skillet (mine is 12″ round), now add the olive oil and then warm it over a medium heat.  You should hear a sizzle when you add the onion slices.  Cook until onions are soft and dark golden brown on both sides, about 12 minutes.  Add the garlic and thyme and cook about 2 minutes.  Add the broth and bring to a  boil.  Add the browned chicken, cover and reduce heat to a nice simmer and cook until chicken is done, about 30 minutes. 

3. Uncover the skillet and remove the chicken, set aside.  Now make a paste with the flour, using some of the hot broth from the skillet (about 1/3 Cup),  and pour this back into the broth, stirring.  Add the vegetables and cook until the broth has thickened and the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.  Halfway through, taste the broth for seasoning.  If necessary, add more of the reserved fresh thyme and seasoning mix.  Return chicken to the skillet, and warm through.  Now serve.

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Garden Thrills

Meet Thriller

It never fails! Though we’re called  human beings, I’m feeling more being than human, and connected to creation, when I’m working in my garden.  Time doesn’t exist in this space.  I walk outside and hours pass before I notice.  After returning inside I’m all new penny bright and shiny, feeling refreshed and part of something big.  If you were to tour my garden, though, you’d see that it’s really quite small.  Just big enough for one person to handle comfortably, separated into distinct parts.

The first part as you begin your tour is through Morning Glories Archway.  To the left and around the corner, there’s Petunia Pot Place on the left and Pansy Park, on the right, followed quickly by Happy Hostas.  To the right of Morning Glories Archway are more Morning Glories, trained this time on three black trellises, and finally there’s the potted “Thriller” .

“Thriller” is my favorite part, because it’s the part that got me started this year.  For the past two years, I’d let the garden go.  Looking one day this past April at my neglected perennial ferns, it seemed the perfect spot to place a large pot given to me by a friend, maybe a year ago.  After planting the pot, I just got gardening fever and kept moving on.  Across from my “Thriller” pot is my tomato and herb patch.  It’s hard to believe how little the tomato plants were, and now this space is a riot of unruly branches.  I just hope to get lots and lots of tomatoes.

In years past, the tomatoes have brought me stockpots of homemade marinara, and the basil has brought me pesto.  Oh, I almost forgot to mention the lettuce spot, immediately across from “Thriller”.  There I’ve got 9 little heads of lettuce, which continually give me salads all summer long.  Though “heads” is not an accurate term here, for my lettuces have no heads; they are loose-leaved, and not tightly packed like a “head” of cabbage.  The same goes for collard greens, and spring greens.

In the world of grasses, a “collar” is the term that refers to the structural part of the plant that is connective tissue, capable of growth.  Though it’s said that the word “collard”, as in “collard” greens, is a bastard child of the term colewort, which means “cabbage plant”.  I like to think that the word collard derived from “collar”, like grass’s collar, (and maybe it’s “collared”) because the lower leaves of collard greens can be harvested, leaving the growing bud and young leaves to produce more leaves, just like the grass plant.  I know– I digress.

Back to lettuce and herbs.  Well, anyone’s got the space and time for a little pot of lettuce, and an herb.  Try basil.   You can’t fail, and either of these grows very quickly.  You can still harvest some of your own before summer’s over if you start soon.  I recently read an article about the secret to the world’s best selling scent, Chanel No. 5.  The author said the perfume was formulated in part from the smell of wet soil.  Can you dig it?  I can, and do everyday!

Here’s one of my favorite super quick salad dressings.  Just mix olive oil, balsamic vinegar and honey to taste in a jar.  Add salt and pepper and garlic powder.  Stir or shake well.  I usually just mix this right over lettuce leaves and toss with my fingers.  But to get you started, I measured this out for you;  this makes about ¼ Cup, enough for 1 large salad or 2 medium salads, 2-3 servings:

Balsamic Salad Dressing

 

3 Tbs. olive oil

1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

2 tsp. honey

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

1/8 tsp. garlic powder

Combine ingredients in container.  Mix well and serve.

 


Refreshing Memories

 sink

What’s “hotter than July”? July, 2012 so far. But in a few months from now, those of us who’ll be experiencing a cold winter will be wondering where all the fuss about the heat has gone, and we’ll be wishing also to have some of it back. Such is time. Because time is so fleeting, I’m thinking right now, just how do we put our imprint upon it? I’m also consciously recognizing the precious in the present. How so?

Well, a few days ago, I turned on the water tap of my bathroom sink, which happens to be a two-faucet type, one for hot, and one for cold. Then out of nowhere, I was transported through time and memory to the sink in one of my Great-Auntie’s home. Her sink was much different from mine, but still it had dual faucets. I was in her home and saw her hands at the sink. My Great-Auntie has long since passed, but in that hazy moment of recollection, I’d been immediately struck with an overwhelming feeling of just how precious that time was–spending summers with her, as a girl. Memories of her kitchen, her small backyard garden, and her wise ways all came flooding back. She had lived a simple, but rich life in her Detroit home so many years ago. I understand now, in a way I’d never considered before, just how much she enjoyed living her everyday life and sharing a part of herself. That experience especially impressed upon me how precious today is, even when nothing “special” is happening, because this is life, moment by moment, never to come again.

In her herb garden and kitchen she was a queen, reigning over many dishes of a huge repertoire of tasty creations. She reined over life. I’m still just a spice-using cooking princess, everyday earning my dues along the way to one day becoming a queen.

Yes, THESE remaining ordinary summer days are a perfect time to slow down, chill out, and do something small, but lasting for yourself and others, too. It only takes a little time to transform ordinary moments into extraordinary memories.  Cheers!

Strawberry-Basil Lemonade

Ingredients:

8 med-large basil leaves, torn into pieces
1 tbsp sugar, or sugar substitute to taste
2-inch piece lemon twist (cut lemon’s peel, leaving on or trimming away white pith)
1 tsp honey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 medium strawberries, one chopped; the other two mashed well

Instructions:

1.  Combine the first 3 ingredients in a 1 pint container with lid, and muddle everything together with a spoon, or muddler. Add 1 cup of cold water.  Screw on top and shake–or if you have no top to container, just stir well.
2. Now add honey, lemon juice, and strawberries and shake or stir well.
3. Finally, add ice, about 3/4 cup, and shake or stir again. Let sit a few minutes to allow flavors to meld, and ice to melt a bit. Pour into glasses straining away excess ice, if desired, and enjoy.  Makes 2 servings.


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Spice w life is mostly about thoughts relating to food specifically and life generally.  As variety is the spice of life, so talk here encompasses a variety of topics.