The “Christmas Trees For Sale” sign in the store front window caught my attention. Fresh pine scent, the friendly “howdy” greeting, footsteps on the squeaky wood-planked floor, and the jingle of the door bells as I enter and close the door into the little gift shop … each liven my senses … bring me to back when. A little pony-tailed blonde-haired girl. Cannot wait for the holiday season, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years. But all the events leading to those wonder-filled holidays. Baking, decorating, crafting, wrapping, and for me living on a tree farm, setting up the pine trees to sell. Always Thanksgiving weekend my Dad and Grandpa brought in a truck and trailer overflowed with fresh cut Christmas trees. Scotch pine, white pine, and spruce trees planted, trimmed, and cared for by Dad, and any family members looking for some extra $$ pitched in. My siblings and I included. We would play hide-n-seek in the pile of cut trees until there were no more to set-up. Snow, ice, or rain, it did not matter. Wholesome fun. We had the time of our lives back when.
A weekend away in Branson, Missouri for early Christmas shopping and a membership inquiry with a vacation club for more of these empty nest long weekends and longer week dream vacations. Dean and I are local shoppers, whether in our home town of St. Charles, Missouri or while on vacation. There is something down-to-earth about brick & mortar and mom & pop shops. Branson has the downtown landing and tourist attractions, but take us where the locals shop, eat, and play, please! Nostalgic Dicks 5 & 10, Main Street Flea Market, the Classy Flea, and the Farmhouse Restaurant … Back when the Nativity was in every shop, home, and city hall. The holidays included real pine rope trimmings with bright red velvet bow wreaths and pine cones. Back when that fresh field-cut Charlie Brown tree was dressed with hand-sewn ornaments, Shiny Brite glass balls, and a collection of heirloom from Germany or England, wherever your family originated from. Back when home-baked breads were served at every meal with a home-jarred fruit preserves, and your favorite sugar cookies piled on a plate or in a large jar for the eating any time. But not too close to your mother’s or grandmother’s home-cooked dinner, “not to spoil your appetite”. The house smelled of a fresh pot of chicken & dumplings. I imagine my father’s Christmases in the 1940’s. Filled with joy to have his father, my Grandpa Earl back home from the war. Grandma Anna doting over the menu preparations. Two or three simply wrapped presents with his name “Marty” on the tags under the tinseled Christmas tree. Back when is close to my heart at this present moment in the guest bedroom of our 1940’s house. My family has been blessed with fond memories and we will make more.
It is a homemade chicken soup day today, as cool April showers water the earth. This spring keeps blowing in drastic changes in the air, with temperatures climbing into the 70’s and then dip down to the 30’s within hours of each other. Storms and tornadoes become a regular springtime threat in Missouri. This year it is flash flood warnings, and now the mighty Mississippi is cresting in some small local rivertowns. One of my favorite comfort foods is homemade chicken soup. During cold and/or rainy weather, nothing beats the aroma in the kitchen and flavor at mealtime.
My homemade chicken soup recipe includes fresh chicken and vegetable stock, herbs, and garlic are key. Organic brings out the flavors. It’s clean, no artifical product to dull the tastes. I roasted a chicken fryer for our Sunday dinner with plans to use the leftovers later. I simply put a fryer in the crockpot, added no-salt lemon pepper, a pinch of kosher salt, fresh thyme, and 32 oz organic vegetable broth. This slow-cooked for 8 hours while working at the spice shoppe. Sometimes I use a different herb mixture such as herbs de provence or an Italian blend. After our Sunday dinner, I diced 2 celery ribs and 2 carrots, minced 2 garlic cloves, and added to the existing stock from the roasted chicken. This time it is chicken-rice soup, so I added a 1/2 cup of brown rice. (If it is chicken-noodle soup, I add rice, gluten-free noodles.) I cooked for about 30 minutes on the stovetop. Then I added more vegetable broth and the leftover chicken chunks. The soup pot is in the fridge for lunches and future dinners. This is what we will have for dinner tonight. Steaming hot soup and a warm French baquette! Ummmmm!
Our Texas mini vacation included a jeep, cowboy boots, cowboy hats, cattle, big houses, a larger family, and a huge menu of local dishes. More on the Texas tea as promised … Dean & I made time for an early afternoon tea on Friday. We found a tea place in the northern suburb area of Dallas/Forth Worth inside an antique mall. The weather was a mild 70 degrees, warmer than it had been in St. Louis. I was hot after touring the Fort Worth stockyards and happen upon a livestock auction. A cup of hot tea wouldn’t do, though iced tea was served at this establishment with raspberry as the flavor of the day. Simplicitea had all the charm of a small tea house, minus an excellent glass of iced tea. Not homemade, as I did not experience plump flavorful berries in the taste or texture. Disappointed there. Though where their iced tea falls short, their quiche of the day, bacon asparagus and an elegant dessert, orange dream cake ranked high with us! The quiche had a smokey flavor with crisp asparagus tips. And the cake burst with citrus! There were actual bits of orange in the cake, whipping cream between and atop the cake layers, and swirls of orange zest garnished the delicious dessert.
Yes, the quote from “Texas Tea (Part One)” post is a rather bold statement, yet mostly true. The people of Texas love to brag, “the bigger the better”. And Texans love to eat! Therefore, they believe “Texas does not, like any other region, simply have indigenous dishes. It proclaims them…” Many are foodies, and not just foodies, but locavores. They savor local foods and are proud of their creations.
Two of the three dinners we had this vacation weekend included some type of corn dish. At the BBQ on Friday night, a cold corn salad was served as a side dish to beef brisket, pulled pork, and sausage. Other sides accompanied, but the corn salad scored #1! I did not see any green at this meal, other than the green chilis in a dip. Beer, wine, and spirits flowed endlessly amongst the family in the home of one of Dean’s cousins. On Saturday the 80th birthday party for Dean’s aunt was held at her youngest son’s well-decorated home. Hors d’oeuvres were catered as the main entree. Thinly sliced roast beef wrapping a blanched asparagus tip & red sweet bell pepper strip was my favorite followed by another fruity cake, strawberry. Flecks of berries dazzled the birthday girl and 100+ guests. Very luscious! And then there is Babes in downtown Arlington, a famous fried chicken eatery with all the fine fixins including a warm corn dish. Sunday’s dinner was mounds of crispy chicken with creamy mashed potatoes, milk gravy, bacon-smothered fava beans, and herb biscuits with sorghum and honey … no dessert necessary! The ambiance took us away from urban Texas, back 80 years in a small, simple town with a porch light and swing. I am sharing a photo of the warm Grandma’s Corn dish from Babes found on their website. Let me know if you find a recipe that mimics this dish. I, too will do likewise.
Changes! Isn’t that a song? It is as the saying goes “here to stay!” This week my friend Molly from EarthDance Farms shared a few words about change in her newsletter. Farming wallows in change. Our greenhouse plans definitely have! Here is a link to that EarthDance Farm publication: http://hosted.verticalresponse.com/463715/e828cdbee3/1696501412/351023b5d5/. We can chose to embrace change or fight against it, and I chose to embrace it. The autumn winds, modified greenhouse designs, the death of my father, and the holidays are followed with new housing arrangements for Dean & I. The desire for a different life brought my oldest daughter and her family to our household. We are sharing our modest 3-bedroom home with 2 more adults, 3 young children, and another black lab. My father’s lab “Midnight” who we adopted on Christmas Day loves all the companionship! An adjustment for my hubby and I, young children near our feet and squeals galore. It makes for creative date nights out for us previous “empty nesters”. Rachel and Mick have a plan, to save for their own 4-walls in the countryside where their chickens and lambs will meander nearby, and a garden big enough to feed themselves and Mick’s catering clients. Mick creates these fabulous meals which are on the healthy side now. I think his mother-in-law had some influence there! Shhh! Roasted two-beet salad with goat cheese crumbles … fresh, handmade pork tamales, and that leftover pork came from his New Year’s pig roast, all on our home kitchen’s menu! Yummy! Herbs used from Deanna Greens and Garden Art, and more to come this upcoming growing season. A new opportunity is just around the corner for my son-in-law chef. And faith plays a part in change. When we expect, it happens. God is not always in the door we open, but in the hallway as my artistic son, Ben mentioned on his FB page this week. And there is an opportunity waiting for my son as well. God embraces us wherever we are. What changes are you encountering right now? And what changes are you waiting for? Apply faith and good works. Remember the movie “Fields of Dreams”? Build it, and they will come!
This is everyday life on a Missouri farm for three of my grandchildren, Ella, Hannah, and Eli … their Daddy captured a quiet moment at the chicken coop, shelter for the egg-laying hens.