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.
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.
My cup overflows with green leaves and bursting color-filled blooms. The early morning silhouette shows plump pots, planters, and wagons, crowding the gardens and yards. Whatever vessel the spring plantings went into are now filled with branches reaching for the September sun. The daytime heat has been high this first week of the ninth month, but is to cool down a bit by Labor Day Monday. Yesterday’s evening soak from the garden hose did the green life well. This morning our feathered friends thank me for their filled bird bath while the crickets, grasshoppers, and bug life hum their late summer song.
I stay home with cleaning and cooking this Saturday. Garden fresh green beans, herb-red potato salad, and beef patties on the dinner menu with a dessert pie out so to catch up with some family this evening. The herbs will have to wait at the greenhouse another day. I will sing a tune or two and say a few prayers while vacuuming and cleaning the toilet …
Green swatches with flecks of purple and pink will completely cover this bed. Just need a few more sunny days and rain or well water. Our raised bed is a patchwork garden. One month ago seeds of the early spring greens, chives, and sugar snap and large pod peas went into the cold organic soil situated in this raised bed on the screenhouse side of our greenhouse. The lettuce and spinach are sparse. Either bad seeds, but most likely not enough watering and near freezing mornings a few days in April. We will reseed this week. One end are the early spring lettuces, spinach, and chives sowed in patches rather than rows. Then the 2 rows of peas in the middle. On Sunday I sowed a row of bush beans near the pea patch. At the other end of the raised bed are patches of herbs sowed into the soil; cilantro, a blend of basils, thyme, and marjoram. We selected Olds Seed Company organic vegetable and herb seeds bought at the local country store late winter.
The little pea patch is coming along just fine. This weekend we strung twine along the rows for the pea plants to climb. We have about another month until the date of maturity for both varieties. The delicate blossoms should be appearing soon. This legume can be grown just for the bouquet of flowers and fragance. Nutrients are provided for the soil as well. I cherish the fresh, delicious peas with a pinch of kosher salt and dabble of sweet butter. About as many varieties of peas there are, is about how many sweet sayings, poems, and songs referring to the pea. Babies, children and lovers have been called “sweet pea” for centuries. “Two peas in a pod” is a phrase I say when two people act alike. Mostly, sweet pea is a term of endearment such as from Amos Lee’s song…
Sweet pea, apple of my eye
Don’t know when and I don’t know why
You’re the only reason I keep on coming home.
I just told Father at church last week, I need to be more present moment. My job requires planning weeks and months ahead, and family life the same sometimes. I miss moments in the planning. Nothing like being present moment with a stomach bug. I came to a screeching stop. Not knowing which end to put on the toilet, and then sleeping most of the day and night the next 36 hours. Every waking moment is a “thank you” for life and sleep. I could hear and see the spring rains come down several times, raindrops rolling off the windowsill. The birds sang to their heart’s content. I went from eating nothing to sipping ginger ale to nippling a couple of saltine crackers, and finally today able to keep a piece of toast and a boiled egg down. I have always felt stock made from the bones can cure many ails, so a couple of chicken breasts went into the crockpot with Deanna Greens and Garden Art fresh herbs and Hannahway Farm’s homemade wine. I will be sipping a cup of homemade chicken soup for tonight’s dinner.
This afternoon I managed to put my jeans and a blouse on, and I believe I lost a couple of pounds. Not my idea of a weight loss program, but I will take the reduction any way. The trees and grass are greener. “You gotta take the thunder with the rain”, I tell our Midnight, our 85 lbs labrador/flat coat retriever mix. He is terrified of thunder, but loves the rain and sleet. He snuggled on the bed yesterday as a couple of thunder showers went through. More violent today, storms. This afternoon tornado watches and warnings have been issued. Midnight and I will keep a watch out. I find that relationships are a bit like storms, too. There is a time to play in the rain, and a time to find shelter from it. Gotta take the thunder with the rain.
The winds whirl late in October right into November. Such a reminder that autumn is amidst, and the chilly season will blow right into winter before too long. My heart has been so heavy these days. Not felt like writing. My Grandpa passed away on October 20, one day after his 99th birthday. Grandpa was the oldest of five generations in our family for almost 13 years. My oldest granddaughter will be officially a teenager this month of November. And I part of the “club generation”. Where does the time go? Grandpa Earl donated his body to science. We need to figure out how a ornery cuss like him lived so long. In Grandpa’s latter years, as his body was failing him, yet his mind kept him young. “There is a fountain of youth. It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age,” Sophia Loren once said. I will miss my grandfather’s storytelling and sense of adventure. A simple welder and WWII veteran, Grandpa received a military honor at his memorial service on October 30 with “Taps” played with a single trumpet. Very touching.
The winds whirl with a cold rain this November day. Our labrador-flat coat retriever, Midnight has been Grandpa’s dog, my father’s dog, and now ours. Midnight is playful like Grandpa. Today our 9-year old dog sits in the rain amongst the leaves, probably dreaming of his earlier duck hunting days with Grandpa and Dad. I suppose Grandpa and Dad are catching up on hunting and fishing stories now … I rest in my home this weekend. A homemade veggie-herb soup will be simmering soon … maybe cure what ails me, or at least bring comfort.
My inner farmer tells me that an early frost will be here soon. Beware of the “f word”, Farmer Dave recently warns on his local radio talk show. Only 2 more days and it is offically autumn. Our bush beans have come to the end of their producing. We had some delicious green beans most of the summer months. The final harvest of our herbs will come this next week to 10 days. Last week we harvested buckets of basil, of which I made lemon-Tai pesto and Italian-Genovese pesto. The lemon-Tai pesto will compliment chicken breasts and rice for our Sunday dinner tomorrow. The Italian-Genovese pesto has made a pesto pasta as well as tangy pesto-mayo spread for turkey sandwiches this past week. I had given away basil for others to dabble with in their kitchens. Our summer savory, sage, and marjoram will hang to dry in the garage along side the dill we harvested a month ago. But before the final harvest, I will plant a pot of each herb for the kitchen window to use over the long winter months. Our tropical and house plants will come indoors to their winter home before Jack Frost has a chance to nip their leaves. This frost frenzy comes every year, but comes quickly even after a long summer when cooler air is welcomed. Grower beware.
“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?
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 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!