Ice hit the concrete sidewalks and streets last Sunday morning, like many other wintry mornings in Missouri. Looking outside the red twig dogwood glistened. Dean and I waited a bit for temperatures to increase, and then managed to get to church. It is an oxymoron, winter’s warmth. It is what winter does for us. Brings us indoors after weathering the cold, ice, and snow. Much like life. The warmth of home lures us back to comfort and simplicity. “Sitting inside the warm, pleasant kitchen while icy rain beat against the window, I felt the wordless contentment of a horse in a stable or a wren in a birdhouse,” Gretchen Rubin writes. Another author Dominique Browning contemplates, “the banal moments of the day are the most seductive to me. It is in the lighting of a fire on a cold morning, or in the pouring of wine and the pulling up of chairs to read together at the end of an afternoon of errands, that love really exerts its magic.”
I miss a fireplace or wood stove to snuggle to in our little cottage, but have little niches in every room of our 4-room dwelling that seduce me. My favorite room is the kitchen. “So let’s dish out saucy praise for the place of crazy salads, spicy endearments, whispering souffles, sweetmeats, tender loins, and sticky fingers. That whirring, blending, mixed-up, soul-stirring, juice-dripping, hot-hearted room (the kitchen),” Dominique Browning writes in her book Slow Love. Kind of spicy, you say. That is what cooking in the kitchen does for my heart. Another weekend snow has developed this afternoon. Mini cheese-stuffed meatloaves, sweet potatoes, and banana-oat bread will grace our table this evening. Tomorrow I will chop fresh veggies to saute with Italian sausage for Italian stone soup accompanied with fresh-from-the-oven bread sticks. A casserole dish of homemade mac & cheese with a bowl of buttered edamame will be Sunday’s dinner.
I have plenty of library books to peruse and a jigsaw puzzle to piece together for this long weekend of winter warmth. Besides Dean and I have each other to keep the fire going …
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.
“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.” ~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld, French author wrote. This author lived an exquisite lifestyle in his French chateau in the 1600’s. And the one and only saucy “The French Chef” herself, Julia Child was an American chef who brought the French cuisine to the everyday American in the mid to late 1900’s. This “mindful, purposeful eating” is an art almost lost, but has been resurrected once again with the farm-to-table restaurants and crafted foods and spirits in today’s food culture. The term “slow food” was coined in Europe in the 1980’s, and has come to the United States full swing.
Locavorism is encouraged. Niche farmers, gardeners, and chefs bring fresh meats, fruit, vegetables, and herbs to their plates and that of their community. The Bent Pig and Hannahway Farms in Farmington and Chef Jack MacMurray at Chandler Hill Vineyards in Defiance are such people. Farmer’s markets will open this month with their early crops. An American diner such as Ethyl’s in O’Fallon, Missouri has their crafted meats, slowly smoked which fills the neighborhood with a mouth-watering aroma. After work one evening this week I devoured their pork sandwich served with a heaping dollop of coleslaw between the bun and sweet, smoky BBQ pork, Carolina-style. I slowly savored every bite. Local does not always mean the best as my stop at a small cafe for a warm bite before my doctor’s appointment yesterday morning reminded me of that. A “Popeye omelet” described on the menu said bits of bacon with spinach and Swiss cheese. But mine had chunks of bacon fat that resembled the Swiss cheese. Gross! I could not finish it! The smell of bacon turned my stomach tonight when I came home to my daughter preparing a “brinner ” menu for her family. See how long it takes me to get over the bacon phobia. I usually love the leaner slices! Tonight I created an overnight french toast using leftovers: day old raisin bread bargain bought at a local bakery soaked in an egg-milk mixture laced with some of my home brew vanilla extract, and then topped with leftover reduced-fat cream cheese spread and fresh blueberry sauce. Tell you how it turned out on my next post.
So go back to my original quote “to eat intelligently is an art”… it means to eat within a set budget as well as “lean, clean, and green”. It takes some planning and improvisation. My health goal this year was to lose at least 20 lbs. Patronizing those farmer’s markets, growing my own veggies and herbs, and eating more plant foods will help me achieve that goal. Based on this week’s visit to the doctor’s, I have lost. As long as I do not eat too many slices of that french toast, and keep to veggie omelets, I will do accomplish my goal tastefully.
So what do lent, love, eagles, and presidents have in common? They share this 4-day weekend in February! And Dean and I shared these 4 days with my five grandchildren. The kids took turns with video games, movies, building with Lego blocks, and cooking in the kitchen. I prepared cheese tortellini with a garlicky white sauce for our first Lenten Friday dinner this season. Our parish hosted a 3-hour mini retreat on prayer Saturday morning. A much needed spiritual renewal for me. Saturday evening Hannah and I made chicken and dumplings which filled everyone’s belly and we had an extra portion for the “Souper Sunday” mission trip fundraiser. Overnight french toast and maple sausage welcomed our Sunday with Ella’s assistance. Church-bound this snowy, sleety Valentine’s Day. We are warmed by God’s love. Then gifts of hand-made palm crosses, sweetheart candies, flowers, and Italian cuisine fill this day of love. Red and white sauces, heart-shaped pasta, meatballs, cheesy baked bread, and pizza. The star chefs are my granddaughters, Hannah, Libby, and Ella.
On President’s Day Libby led her cousins in making chocolate pancakes. The Lincoln Museum is a bit far for us, so in the afternoon we took a drive north of our hometown to the Mississippi River scouting for bald eagles. We saw a bald eagle perched in a tall bare tree across the mighty river, as well as gulls and a blue heron. We meandered down the country highway to the Our Lady Of The Rivers shrine in Portage des Sioux. A few more eagles were seen high in the trees along the way. This warmer afternoon had the ice and snow melting to a slush. Perfect for snow balls! Not sure who threw the first one, but it became a free-for-all for a good 20 minutes under the Blessed Mary’s statue. Libby wondered what Mary must have thought. I think Mother Mary rather enjoyed seeing us all having fun this winter afternoon! A few wet shoes and stinging fingers, we warmed up with hot chocolate and marshmallows when we got home. A wonderful weekend to share with the younger generation.
As a personal chef by nature I wonder if I should name my summer time culinary creations a nosh, dish, bowl, or plate. I improvise when I cook in my kitchen. With the ingredients in hand from the garden or farmer’s market, they make way for creativity. A casual menu on a whim. This summer my herbs climb with the summer humidity. My chicken risotto served in individual bowls one weekend was laced with a leafy green herb Dean brought home from the greenhouse. It had a spicy bite to it unknown to be parsley as I had thought it might be by its look. When returning to the greenhouse mid-week for watering, I discovered on the garden sign it was watercress added to Sunday’s risotto bowl. I had never grown or cooked with this newly discovered herb before, and it paired deliciously with the farm fresh eggs for egg salad on dollar rolls last night. I hear it is the new kale in the farm-to-table culinary world. Just 1 cup of chopped water cress is power-packed with potassium and vitamins A & C. There are only 4 calories in 1 cup of chopped watercress. Calorie breakdown: 8% fat, 42% carbs, 50% protein. Oh, the flavors burst, so it goes a long way!
Fresh sprigs of dill were snipped into the red potato-celery salad. This week a spare bottle of local summer ale went into the crockpot with the turkey breast sprinkled with lemon pepper from the Olde Town Spice Shoppe, slow-cooked for 10 hours. Succulent! Accompanied with farm fresh, roasted yellow beets, red potatoes, and carrots in a bowl! The leftover turkey breast had filled a casserole dish of enchiladas another night. When I cook, I cook for 2 or 3 meals, using one dish to accent another. Rarely does food go to waste in my home. That stock left from the turkey breast is put into the freezer and will make another risotto another rainy night. Tonight it is small plates of Three-Cheese Italian Herb-Veggie Foccocia and Italian Breaded Chicken Tenderloins. What nosh, dish, bowl, or plate are you making tonight with your garden fresh ingredients?
The enticing aroma of homemade soup filled my kitchen and home on several occasions those chilly days of winter, with Chicken Noodle-Vegetable and Italian Stone Soup the most frequent two. A big pot of soup goes a long way with just Dean and I, and always plenty if we have company for lunch or dinner. Spring finally arrived this month of April, but yesterday the air turned cold as the day progressed with more rain. With the cold dampness, soup was in order for dinner. Soup du jour was Roasted Red Potato and Cauliflower with Leeks & Garlic. A warm pot of all organic, plant-based ingredients even the stock. Yes, a vegetarian recipe. And organic tastes better. It is what I had in the kitchen. Accompanied was toasted ham & cheddar on fresh rye bread I picked up at a St. Louis local Bosnian bakery. Please feel free to try my soup recipe placed on the What A Dish Recipes page found on this WordPress blog. Bon appetit!
This Sunday was set before us with no real plans but hang around the house. The impending winter storm has kept us inside all day. We went to church last night, with sleety rain hitting our windshield enroute home. Warnings throughout last evening and today told us significant snowfall was to follow. I made a warm breakfast of French toast with a loaf of oat bread, veggie omelettes, and Canadian bacon. Hot tea and coffee throughout the day warded off the thoughts of the cold. I even pulled out some spring decorations for the fireplace mantle to replace the wintery decor. Homemade chicken veggie-noodle soup for dinner while the berry crisp baked in the oven. We forgot the whipping cream, so Dean walked to the corner store for some. Five years ago that would have been me with a welcome walk for 2 blocks there and 2 blocks back. I loved walking in the snow. Dean came back just as the timer went off with vanilla bean ice cream, no whipping cream at the store. I mentioned the wintery sky and beautiful snowfall to my hubby. He reminded me that the subzero wind chill temps would be too dangerous for me. I write …
Tinge pink sky aglow
The quiet hush of snowfall
Soft crunch tonight’s steps
March 2, 2014
More bloodwork has been ordered, hopefully with results in another week. The root cause of my allergy to the cold is being checked now. It has gone on for over 5 years with no real answer other than “your body changed”. The allergist/immunologist who originally diagnosed me is concerned about how bad it has been for me this winter. Is it the severity of the winter which has made the swelling so bad? Or the medical condition worsening? The antihistamine I take everyday now seems to combat some of the symptoms. I resort to the anti-inflammatory when the arthritis is real bad.
I remember the scriptures … “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14. The Great Physician knows, my holistic healer. Thank You, my God. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Our dill is daintily charming, and so fragrant. Yesterday evening we harvest our 1st crop, and will put in a 2nd crop after the 4th of July holiday. Wild sunflowers and sprigs of dill fill a green vase today. Our chef son-in-law will use this 1st crop of dill to make pickles with his homegrown cucumbers. Maybe a jar or two of Hannahway Farm sun pickles are on our way?! The patriarch spice shoppe owner says in Europe dill is used in just about every dish. I love it with my baked fish and potato salad dishes. The 3rd crop of dill will go in early autumn, with plans to take as show-n-tell farm products to the City of St. Charles preschool classrooms Farmer Dean and I visit in November. Our 1st crop of basil screams pesto! Served with veggies, chicken, bread, and pasta, I cannot wait!
This week’s other farm chores include straightening and cleaning the screenhouse, putting extra pots and trays together in somewhat orderly fashion, and throwing broken items in the recycle pile. One recycled dresser is filled with “tea room” stuff, as well as a recycled tile-top table put aside for our meal and snack times. Another recycled dresser holds pots of blooming geraniums. We are making space in the screenhouse in case we need to move our plants to this cooler side of the greenhouse structure. Last year at this time the heat wave and drought was well underway in Missouri. The extreme heat required us to water two times a day, early morning and early evening. Our plants were housed under the shelter of shade trees in our yard while the greenhouse reconstruction plans were being modified until autumn when the heat subsided. The lack of rain has not been an issue this spring and early summer, thank you God! The growing gourd plants will go into the ground this weekend.
Growers, what are you harvesting now? What are you putting in for an autumn crop?
I am counting down the days now to our summer escape to my favorite northern destination in Minnesota. 62 days to be exact. Island Lake between Detroit Lakes and Park Rapids at Valhalla Resort is the place to be. The steady lapping of the water across the sandy shoreline, I long to hear. And the loons with their young calling out to the others, echos in the morning air. The swift tide brings gemmy and shell treasures along the shoreline with mossy driftwood after an afternoon storm. Just the quiet of a summer evening is what I desire. Simple. No city lights, just the northern stars and shining moon to guide my walk along the gravel road to the campfire sparks awaiting for more friends to join.
During those days of rest, a book or two will be at hand to read. Poetry felt. More words to spill onto my journal, eventually onto this blog. Last summer was the genesis of another writing genre, a literary affair with history and romance. Dean and I’s first. Another new adventure for us, probably a several year project with military and history research with 1st and 2nd hand accounts from the Minnesotan locals. Nature walks and shady naps under the birch trees abade.
Of course, the other escape is the garden. Someone’s other than mine, where I do not have to work in it, just be. All the senses awakened. Planted purple lobelia, pink impatiens, and contrasting green native ferns glisten with dewdrops of the crisp mornings. Vignettes of wrought-iron and wooden creations, the ambiance of charm. Fragrant organic tea and delicious strawberry bread shared with my friend while sparrows chirp and chipmunks scurry. I cannot wait to be at Valhalla once again.
Other destinations are on the horizon, I see a place for Dean and I to call “our own”. “Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times its sent away,” poet Sarah Kay writes. “Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So … get on your way,” Dr. Suess encourages us. See where this life leads us …
Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth
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!