I chose to live this life alone over 12 years ago. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life,” one of the proverbs tell us. My heart was sick for too many years with an unhappy relationship. I only imagined what a happy marriage would be like. A come-true dream is a tree of life for me today. Eight years ago this July, Dean and I met on a semi-blind date arranged by his brother and sister-in-law. This tall, dark handsome man captured my eyes. But unlike the other bucks in the herd, Dean captured my heart. So happy I pursued this relationship. With our family backgrounds and life experiences, Dean and I came together like two peas in a pod, and we still are. Our pod is shared with our huge family almost every evening and every weekend. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” is how an African proverb is told.
Dean and I needed to become just “two peas in a pod” again for a few days. We stole away to the Great Smokies, doing the Air B & B thing. Mountains, pines, music, and the visual and culinary arts we surrounded ourselves with. Despite the hot days while on a mountain culture retreat away from our Missouri life, I picked two big plastic bags full of leaf lettuce and a heaping bowl full of arugula and chives from my gardens this week. And those delectable garden peas! I love the pods picked fresh, and peas plucked out one at a time right into my open mouth like a baby bird awaiting mother robin’s wiggly worm catch after a rainy morn. The bountiful earth is feeding me (and my family and friends) goodness this spring. The longer and hotter days tell me the summer equinox is soon. Purple lobelia, wandering jew, and red geraniums are filling my moss baskets and terra-cotta pots. I thank God for watching over my beloved gardens while pursuing what captured my heart 8 years ago!
Each week in April brought about warm days then yielding to colder, rainy days. This week, nothing but rain. Deanna Greens and Garden Art greenhouse/screenhouse protects a prolific bed of greens and herbs from severe weather and wildlife. We gather water from our rain barrel or the creek at Boone Hollow Farms before the water line is turned back on from the winter shut-off. Our garden greens continue to flourish this spring. The arugula actually bolted this week, causing me to pluck those flowering buds by lantern light between the rains this week. It is too early for these delicious organic greens to go to seed!
Lent season and Easter came and went too quickly. Beautiful flower planters and spring baskets of goodies reminded me of the fresh life Easter brings. Prayer at church during my lunch hour does the same. Dean and I were able to have some family over for our first dinner party in the new room addition, a family/dining area and extra bedroom added to our modest 3-bedroom home. The new fireplace mantle brought fresh color to the kitchen.
Dean and I’s two youngest grandchildren have April birthdays. Being a part of our children’s and grandchildren’s lives is important to us. 7-year old Eli had a sick sibling the weekend of his party, so the celebrating takes place early May. And baby Elise turned 1-year old this week! How can that be? Her family from the Netherlands came for the party, and brought her first pair of wooden Dutch shoes. I love Spring, and all the new life it births!
My not-too-old Rival crock pot has been put to use the past 3 weekends. I love this kitchen accessory. In the morning, I put in a roast or roaster with some herbs and beer or wine. This time of year dinner slow cooks all day while I work in the yard or garden beds. And the leftovers are awesome. I can usually get 3 or 4 meals for Dean and I from a 5 – 6 lb chicken roaster or turkey breast. Homemade chicken soup, chunky chicken salad, creamy chicken enchiladas. Beef and pork roasts are so tender slow cooked in the crock … Some meals are simple salads or wraps with goodies such as pecans, walnuts, cranberries, or roasted beets along with leftover slow-cooked meats.
I have my first tender leaves of arugula ready to be picked this week! This early crop was sown on February 20. So after about 50 days we will partake in this fresh peppery salad green for dinner, and probably an omelet for breakfast this Sunday morning. Spring is the time of year where my back, legs, arms, and hands ache from the amount of time in the garden and yard. Methodical movements are made the hours I work/play in the dirt. “Gardening has to be as much about contemplation as it is about tilling and toiling. Mental toiling, perhaps … turning things over, quietly thinking, in a place that gives you a peaceful corner for just a moment or two.” ~ Dominique Browning. The birds and fresh air call me to sit on the porch early morning, but pure exhaustion hits the pillow by 9 even on the weekends.
I love celebrating autumn! At Boone Hollow today Dean and I gave a helping hand to our farming neighbors with planting a field of garlic, over 2,000 cloves. Can you imagine 2,000 bulbs of garlic next June? With this extended autumn season, I picked an abundance of arugula, lettuce, and herbs to share as I am still using what I picked mid-week. We finished this lovely Halloween Eve with a wiener and marshmallow roast with our farming friends. Ghouls and goblins have
visited the house. Halloween is creepy, but the Presidential Election is scarier! Gratitude for the right to vote instead of dread is what I pray for. I am reminding myself this as I write, to practice thankfulness today and everyday… not just reserved for Thanksgiving Day.
The “F” bomb will be coming to our neck of the woods soon enough. I am starting to think about improvisations to ensure a daily diet of greens. My palette has grown accustom to fresh organic arugula and lettuce since May. I think a fresh pot of microgreens seeded every 3 or 4 weeks throughout the colder months will do it. I have the ceramic tile floor in the kitchen to put my pot(s) with the patio door to provide light. My herbs feed me nutrients also. Smaller terracotta pots of herbs will be seated in the kitchen window. The 480 square-foot room addition extending the kitchen into a family room and a small guest bedroom will give a new place for my green friends. There is always a place for green life in my home. How about yours? Where do your green friends stay in your home?
I use my abundant, pungent arugula in my salads as well as egg, pasta, and rice dishes these days. A little goes a long way, so most of my culinary creations as of late include my fresh grown arugula. One important aspect to the culinary arts is that improvisation goes a long way. It is easier to substitute ingredients with cooking versus baking. I find arugula can be used in place of spinach in most dishes and salads. There is a taste difference with these 2 greens, but cooking properties similar. Arugula like spinach is a great source of vitamin A and C as well as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Arugula grows much like spinach, spring and autumn sowing here in Missouri.
I love creamed spinach! The best I ever had is crafted by the executive chef Gerard Germain. I learned much from the culinary experts while working at Dierbergs School of Cooking. Chef Gerard dazzles his students’ appetites with Italian and French cuisines. A first generation French immigrant applies his old world culinary magic in the kitchen of a fine Italian establishment in St. Louis called Tony’s. The next best thing is spinach in a white sauce over pasta. So here is my attempt to a lighter version of Pasta alla Fiorentina … Pasta Arugula (or the Italians say rucola), but my recipe is American-style. I lessen the butter and use a little olive oil as a base for the slurry as well as use whole milk instead of cream or half & half. Of course, arugula goes in the recipe instead of spinach. Noted for the recipe this evening, I cooked too much whole-grain pasta for the amount of white sauce I made, and did not add enough arugula. Fresh arugula shrinks considerably while sauteed. Tonight I served the Pasta Arugula with locally-made chicken Italian sausage and crusty bread. I sipped a glass of lavender sparkling water, and Dean downed a domestic beer this rainy summer evening.
“We have learned that more of the ‘earth-earthiness’ would solve our social problems, remove many isms from our vocabulary, and purify our art. And so we often wish those who interpret life for us by pen or brush would buy a trowel and pack of seeds.” Ruth R. Blodgett.
The week-long sunshine and humidity boosted garden growth. Clean, crisp leaves of arugula and leaf lettuce will make a big bowl of salad for the family crowd this week. My sister is in town from Minnesota, cause for celebration.
Sweat beaded my neckline, and then down my back and chest as I harvest the garden greens. Already 88 at 10 am. Soon salty droplets dribble onto my lips. The greens are almost sweet before the extreme afternoon temps turn them bitter. Are not we all?
The herbs thrive in the summer heat, with plenty of water. More chives need cutting. Snipette of tender dill and cilantro came ready in a couple of days. Next week I will be freezing my surplus herbs for the winter meals. The pea blossoms produced 1-inch pea pods in a matter of a week. Plant scraps are added to the compost. Earthy goodness. Primal to my taste buds. Organic gardening..
My Saturday was filled with caring for green life, as so many Saturdays and Sundays in the spring time. Dean and I made an early run to the greenhouse as summer like weather was forecasted for the day. Dean mowed the grass while I attended to weeds and watering. Our peas, lettuce, spinach, arugula, parsley, and dill are sprouting. The chive plants are in full bloom. I cut a bundle, and dropped some off to Jack Mac, executive chef and friend at Chandler Hill Vineyards. He told me how to use the blooms in my cooking this week. For this weekend I put together a red potato salad snipping my chives and young voluntary dill sprigs into the bowl.
As tradition goes green plants and May flowers fill my Mother’s Day weekend. This year is no exception. Maybe it is tradition from my childhood. My mother still enjoys a potted tomato plant and another pot of summer favorites like petunias or geranium. This Mother’s Day I sit on the porch bench surrounded with early morning mist, song birds, and quietness from the world’s busyness. Midnight, our Labrador joins. He, too relishes the weekly early Sunday morning date with nature. My pots of perennials and annuals complete my sensual needs this morn.
“Herbs deserve to be used much more liberally,” quoting food writer and chef, Yotam Ottolenghi. I keep telling my friends, family, and co-workers the marvelous benefits of herbs. Bursting flavor and full of nutrition! I recently found this guide, the ANDI guide which rates foods based on nutrient density. My ravings on herbs are justified according to ANDI. ANDI stands for “Aggregate Nutrient Density Index,” a scoring system that rates foods on a scale from 1 to 1000 based on nutrient content. ANDI scores are calculated by evaluating an extensive range of micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidant capacities.
Here is a list of basic herbs and their scores to illustrate this concept.
Herbs/ ANDI Score
Bay Leaves/ 271
Basil rated the highest of all the herbs! Such an easy herb to grow in terra cotta pots in the kitchen window sill or in a sunny garden spot. Our bed of herbs in the screenhouse of our greenhouse include a few varieties of basil. Genovese, lemon, and Tai to name three. In the heat of the summer, it is prolific! Basil nutrients rate up there with arugula, leaf lettuce, and radishes. It’s about 50% the value of superfoods kale and garden cress, but 4 or 5 times more than soybeans or pinto beans. The Italian and Mediterranean cultures include basil in many of their recipes as well as Thai and Mexican cultures. Where I live and work in the St. Louis, Missouri region, there is an Italian restaurant or pizzeria on every corner of the block and in between. We love our pasta and pizza! My home kitchen has the flavors of Italy with my own fresh homegrown basil. Cost pennies to grow. Last night I made homemade pizza with a cup of fresh Genovese basil leaves cut into strips and atop tomato sauce, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, garlic and black olives. Sometimes its a veggie pizza, with chunky tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach, arugula, black olives, etc. You know, the plumposity of veggies in a single slice of pizza pie! Then there’s pesto! It’s flavor tastes how the word sounds when you say it. PEST-O! More flavors to discover in this nutrient dense herb … sweet, lemon, Tai, spicy, lime, Genovese, cinnamon, anise. Cannot wait to make some lemon scones with the lemon basil this weekend. What herb has captured your taste buds?
The winter time blues will not beat me. I live and dream of my garden with tonight’s menu: Crunchy Kale Chips, Baked Sweet Potato, Crushed Peppercorn Medley-Crusted Beef, and a glass of Mencia Roble, a red wine made from the Mencia grape grown in Spain. A home-cooked dinner this blustery night. The kale recipe can be found on my What A Dish Recipe page. Kale is a vegetable I never tried until working with EarthDance Farms as an apprentice in 2011. Nothing beats the bursting flavors of organic kale, except maybe arugula. The power-packed veggies I ate this evening were grown by someone else, though organically. My readings this week include a blog written by a Kentucky woman who gardens year-round. Much of her garden survived the subzero temperatures earlier this month. She used a plastic liner and low tunnel fabric to protect her plants. Several varieties of kale, arugula, and mustard greens beautifully survived the arctic air. I am growing three heirloom tomato plants in my semi-heated garage this winter. They are still producing delicious fruit. This week’s Purple Cherokee tomato will be sliced for tomorrow’s lunch accommodating my beef patty sandwich. This is not quite like the gardener in Kentucky, though a start. Locally grown greens … I am so inspired to expand my growing season here in St. Charles County, Missouri. So what are you growing this winter? How do you beat the winter? Please share your story.