A sprout, green shoots of hope appeared in the garden bed today. My chives have surfaced from its winter hibernation. It had been 10 weeks when we left the Deanna Greens greenhouse in Defiance, just before Thanksgiving. By lantern light we harvested all the herbs and greens we had left that evening. There had not been need to get to the farm since snow has been close to null, no need to check on the 3-season structure. Dean, Midnight, and I observed signs of where an animal had laid on the other side of the bed. Our labrador sniffed the area thoroughly “who has been sleeping in my bed?!”
This mild sunny afternoon in early February called my name to the countryside. Perusing our 3-season structure, and then for a long walk around Boone Hollow Farm with Dean and Midnight. Midnight lead the way up the hill, passed the farm neighbor’s sprouting garlic field we help plant in November. Then a stroll along the cedar ridge, down another neighbor’s gravel driveway, back near our greenhouse, then over to the barn, and circling the brush piles before our return to the greenhouse. Our landlord must have set the one brush pile on fire as there were a few lasting embers and a small trail of smoke surrounded by ashes. Present moment, mindful observations of nature. The walk and fresh air revived my soul after this weary week.
Hope is like those February sprouts of chives and garlic. Perennial faith believes a flourishing crop and bountiful harvest in the not too far future. Lasting embers will once again ablaze a fire to light up the darkness and give warm comfort. The ashes of cancer lie on the ground while my daughter lights the world with her strength, faith, and love.
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.
July brought about Dean and I’s 4th wedding anniversary, and then the first wedding of three family weddings planned for this year. Many family memory-making moments with more to come with the changing seasons. There is a change in the air every year in late July or early August, which tells me autumn is soon to come. Monday evening while watering at the greenhouse I felt that change. Silly to be writing about autumn in July, but growers always watch the weather and plan ahead. What’s the Farmers’ Almanac all about? This last day of July is another unusually mild day as St. Louis stayed below 90 and the humidity is low. And I am loving it! Walks during my office breaks bring refreshment to my soul and clearing of the brain from work stuff. Last year at this time we had the sizzling days of summer, up into triple digits several days in a row. You know, those kind of days where you can fry an egg on the sidewalk. Not this summer, thus far anyway.
But we need rain. My green friends love rain water versus faucet water. Thank God, we have access to faucet water at Boone Hollow Farm where our greenhouse plants live. Otherwise, Dean and I would be hauling it in. Our herb bed built this spring is situated on the screenhouse side of our outbuilding and has been a productive home. Plans to build another bed on the greenhouse side this autumn is underway. I want to make it a cold frame to see if we can grow some vegetables through the winter. The plants will have double protection from the cold weather with the plastic liner of the greenhouse and then a storm door atop their bed. I love green experiments. My biology experiments in high school and college were fun and scary at the same time. Now there are possible delicious, nutrient-dense dinners involved here. So what veggies winter well in Missouri? I am to find out. I remember garlic and spinach from my EarthDance Farms days as an apprentice 3 years ago. And turnips grew in the fields at the Bates Family Farm in Franklin County to attract the deer during many deer seasons. Wonder what the Farmers’ Almanac is saying for this upcoming winter? Planning ahead …
“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 first day of May, May Day was met with the chilly wind and overcast sky in Missouri. Don’t you picture children and women dancing around the maypole of ribbons with flowers on their heads and in baskets? Whatever happen to the old tradition of leaving a May basket of goodies and flowers on your neighbors’ doorstep? The good ole’ days! We could use such gestures to return. Maybe a tradition for me to keep alive. Next year I will gift someone with a May basket. Shhh! It’s suppose to be a secret! It may be you! This celebration has many variations, with the original celebration dating before Christ. Pagan in nature, with Christian influences along the way. The German origins of May Day supposely came when St. Walburga brought Christianity to Germany, and it is referred to as “Mai Day”. The old world picturesque town of Hermann, Missouri still has a MaiFest celebration every year.
May Day was also a day to celebrate for the laborers, as most seeding was completed by May 1. This year of 2014, farmers and gardeners are challenged by this date. Farmer Dave on the 550 AM radio program said this morning that only 45% of the United States corn crop is in the ground already. This cold air lingering around does not help matters, and for others the drenching rains keep the farmers from completing their seeding. A group of farmers gathered for the first Thursday farmers’ market of this season in Clayton, Missouri this afternoon. I am excited to have them just down the street a 1/2 block from the building I work in. I will patronize them every Thursday after I finish my day at the office. Tonight I baked some fresh organic kale sprinkled wth olive oil and kosher salt. My recipe is on the What A Dish page of this WordPress blog. While at the farmers’ market, I picked up some ramps, a wild variety in the allium family. Some refer them to “wild garlic” or “wild leek”. These are an Appalachian delicacy that have made their way into upscale restaurants more recent years. My ex-husband’s family was from West Virginia, where ramps were skillet fried with potatoes and eggs. The house smells like ramps for days afterwards. Veggie season is in! This locavore is so excited!
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!
Freshly picked, organically grown asparagus and bok choy are my highlight purchases at the weekend farmers’ market. This evening I will put together an asparagus quiche for our breakfasts and lunches this week. And I will stir-fry the bok choy in sesame oil with garlic, and then toss with a bed of rice noodles for our gluten-free, low-fat tasty dinner on Tuesday. I cannot wait! Dean and I again are provoked to stay on this path of healthy eating with local foods, minimizing pre-packaged foods.
Last week we attended the St. Louis luncheon and celebrity appearance of Michael Pollan, author of many food relationship books. In the company of other locavores, foodies, and activists the menu included locally grown produce, raised pork, and freshly baked dessert. His newest book, Cooked came with the ticket price, and Mr. Pollan made himself available afterwards for his signing. Other books Michael Pollan has written are Second Nature, A Place Of My Own, The Botany Of Desire, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense Of Food, and Food Rules. These books range from gardening to food processes to food policies to food politics. I have already read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and now have in hand Cooked and A Place Of My Own, which a bit different of Mr. Pollan’s other writings. The latter is about the need for space, minimal but your own. I am anxious to get this one read. I have reserved from the local library the author’s first book Second Nature , which promises to be another excellent read. It is his personal relationship with the earth story. His famous film Food, Inc tells all in regards to food processing. I recommend this eye-opening documentary.
All this leads to Deanna Greens And Garden Art once again. What are we growing in our greenhouse? With the long winter and unheated greenhouse, we finally were able to sow some herbs a couple of weeks ago. Repellant flowers last week. Edible flowers this week. All organic methods. And this is just the beginnings … so much more to accomplish with this quest to good health.
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!