“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,” author Gretchen Rubin wrote. I can so relate. And of course while in the kitchen I cooked and baked this long weekend. Some for Dean and I, and some for others needing an extra dose of love. “The people who give you their food, give you their heart,” Latino civil rights leader, Cesar Chavez once shared. “Cooking has nothing to do with the ingredients, but everything to do with love,” author Dominique Browning commented. I make-do with the ingredients in my well-stocked kitchen, but I beg to differ with Dominique that the right ingredients can make foods taste better. Muir Glen’s organic tomato sauce is the best for a rich red sauce contrasted with a from-scratch white sauce for spinach cannelloni. I happen to pick up a couple of cans last week. Of course, everything is done with love when it comes to cooking, even the acquiring of ingredients. That’s where my organic gardening comes in. Slow cooking, fresh, from-scratch and homemade reigns. “Through cooking, touching, feeling, preparing, and savoring good, real food made from real ingredients, I get to fully inhibit my kitchen; heal my body; connect with friends, family, the Earth, and the larger community where I live,” quoting Mark Hyman, MD. I had a fun weekend in my warm kitchen!
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 “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.
This time of year the work day is eased into analyzing aggregate reports, research on other wellness programs, event planning, and networking for the year. I like the slower pace which last about 4 – 6 weeks in December into January. It is when I finally have the employee wellness events booked on the calendar. Yes, forecasting at least 9 months ahead. It is much like a teacher and his/hers curriculum planning during the summer for the next school year. It will be another busy year at St. Louis County, the busyness starting next week with several meetings and a health fair.
Much the same as with the farmer, his/hers planning for the spring and autumn crops is done during the frigid cold months. My father was a tree farmer, and the winter was filled with book work and ordering of a new stock of plant liners. My siblings and I would plant 100’s of plant saplings through the spring; lots of hoeing, weeding, and watering in the summer; and autumn a few more plantings and prepping the pines for the holiday harvest.
I cannot say Deanna Greens And Garden Art has quite the planning of a full-time farmer. The greenhouse is a hobby of Dean and I’s while we work full-time. Our part-time organic herb and vegetable growing is fragrantly and deliciously rewarding while the beautiful geranium blossoms are pleasing to the eyes. During Dean and I’s Nashville mini-vacation in December, we toured the Belle Meade Plantation. Each room in the historic house was festively decorated with period Christmas ware, with the kitchen set in the 20’s. The kitchen is my favorite room. And there set a terra cotta pot of red geraniums in the windowsill, again another favorite of mine. A vintage flower.
The subzero wind chill has me hibernating today. I wanted snow, but not this frigid cold stuff. God forgives my absence in church, and He knows my severe allergy to the cold. Early morn I went outdoors in my pjs, robe, socks, and slippers to let our Labrador into the fenced yard, not realizing just how cold it had gotten over night. It dropped 30 degrees in less than 12 hours. My joints have been screaming about it since 7:00am. The daily antihistamine did not take much of an edge off the symptoms, so I took an extra dosage this afternoon. Drinking lots of hot herbal tea while I watch cooking and gardening shows, write, and read …
Life did not bring me silken gowns,
Nor jewels for my hair,
Nor signs of gabled foreign towns
In distant countries fair,
But I can glimpse, beyond my pane, a green and friendly hill,
And red geraniums aflame upon my window sill.
The brambled cares of everyday,
The tiny humdrum things,
May bind my feet when they would stray,
But still my heart has wings
While red geraniums are bloomed against my window glass,
And low above my green-sweet hill the gypsy wind-clouds pass.
And if my dreamings ne’er come true,
The brightest and the best,
But leave me lone my journey through,
I’ll set my heart at rest,
And thank God for home-sweet things, a green and friendly hill,
And red geraniums aflame upon my window sill.
by Martha Haskell Clark
Ahhh, a breath of the evening’s fresh air. No stars or moon to be seen as clouds blanketed their light. The silence of the countryside, silence from urban noises was calming this dark evening. Crickets replaced the buzzing traffic and voices of people. It was just Dean and I and our labrador, Midnight at Boone Hollow Farm . The pink and orange sunset came and went by the time we pulled up next to the greenhouse. I harvested the last of our basil and cilantro by the lantern light. Next weekend I will transplant our organic chives, thyme, and sage plants into terra cotta pots for the kitchen. My indoor herb garden will flavor many a soups and casseroles this autumn and winter.
Sometimes the silence of nature is like that blanket of clouds. The audible or written word is insignificant. The silence speaks on its own. Mindful of the surroundings, green and bug life, my heartbeat, my breath. Autumn is here. I am at peace. Golden indeed. And mighty indeed. I thank You God that the same spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead dwells in me. I can accomplish the tasks which You have called me to do one day at a time.
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?
Of course you have heard of the saying “April showers bring May flowers”. I always added to the end of that saying “and May flowers bring June bugs.” Well, I have refined that saying to “April showers bring May flowers and May flowers bring June critters.” Missouri’s humid summer is here to stay for at least the next 3 months. The warmer season attracts the bugs as well as other critters to our plants. My two potted daisy plants were coming along finely near the front porch, watching each day for a week anticipating a blossom to open any day. Dean and I came home from work one evening this week with the two daisy plants knawled down to the roots! The neighborhood rabbits or squirrels must have had a mighty fine lunch of daisy leaves. There was plenty of other green vegetation to eat! The critters tossed the one lone daisy stem with a blossom to the water splash block setting under the front porch gutter. These furry critters must not like the daisy blossom, but I do. Not to eat, but I admire their simple beauty. I snatched the blossom and set it in water to co-exist with some airplane plant shoots. A repurposed medicine bottle found at the Chandler Hill Vineyard grounds while marketing last year now makes a lovely vase. The daisy blossom graces our kitchen and opened this last day of May. Lovely!