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.
I picked pea pods, lettuces, and herbs galore this past weekend. After a week of rain, the sun shined for a day. Finally, I was able to get to Boone Hollow Farm and Deanna Green And Gardens Art greenhouse without fear of rising creeks and rivers. I found an old saying in my book The Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady “June damp and warm does the farmer no harm,” which I feel the local farmers and folks as far as Texas would disagree. Floods waters have ruined acres of crops. May be too late to try another round of crops this growing season.
Valhalla Sunset & Camp Fire
Yesterday was the Midsummer Day in the US, the longest day of the year. A much celebrated day in the Old World and other countries around the world, but especially so amongst farm cultures and country folk. For some it is held on June 23 or 24. There are many rituals, most common is a bonfire. I had not the opportunity to have a bonfire for the summer solstice as we celebrated Father’s Day in Columbia, Missouri with family at a steak house. Does the flame from the grill count? No, I don’t think so. But the company and food was good. And it is not too long until the Minnesota destination of Valhalla on Island Lake. I will be memorized by the flames of many bonfires and the sound of chatter amongst friends.
Life gets stagnant from time to time. Satiety, boredom, ennui sets in. Another time the demands of this person and that project adds up to a multitude of “have to” rather than “want to” chores. So what do you do to get out of that funk, evolve into a better mood for the day or status in your life? You spontaneously take a 24-hour breather, an overnight retreat somewhere neutral. Dean and I did just that. On Saturday into Sunday we drove the Missouri country highways in St. Charles, Warren, Franklin, Washington, St. Francois, Jefferson, and St. Louis Counties. Saturday afternoon we stopped at a local winery. By evening we found a state park to eat and finally lay our heads down.
Sunday morning, another overcast start to the new day. But silence resignated instead of the buzz of street traffic and urban noises. I gathered my sundress, dressed quietly to not wake my sweetheart. Stepped out the back door, leaving just a screen door between me and the quaint hideaway I slept in. I sat in a lawn chair situated on the deck overlooking the slopes of huge trees leading to the river valley. The cardinals and finches sang. Then a hush before the dark cloud rolled over with a hum of pitter-patter on the dense leaves. I heard the raindrops approach before they where atop the trees in front of me. A steady rain, gently watering the earth.
Queen Anne’s lace, orange day lilies, and pink coneflower swayed with the breeze and occasional rain shower. Darker clouds rolled in with sheets of rain coming down as we dined at the state park cafe. We waited out the sudden outburst, and then made it to the jeep for a drive to the motel seated on a high ridge over the Meramec River. “Where do the butterflies go when it rains”, I thought aloud. Butterflies hide when it rains, like they do at night. They hide under the shelter of large leaves or a pile of leaves. Sometimes butterflies go under rocks or structures. But other butterflies just put their head down on the grass or bushes closing their wings tightly. If the rains are heavy, their wings are damaged and they never make another flight. Where do you hide when the weather gets rough?
New Year’s Eve dinner and bottle of wine at Annie Gunn’s in Chesterfield, Missouri shared with my sweetie, Dean was slowly, lusciously savored …
~ Opera Prima Moscato, La Mancha, Spain ~
~ Yukon Gold Potato Pancake with Peppered Pecan Wood Smoked Bacon and House Made Pear Chutney ~
~ Grilled Local Heritage Hog Chop (12 oz.) and Annie Gunn’s Pork Belly with Local Apple Golden Raisin Chutney, Garlicky Brussels Sprouts and Whipped Local Sweet Potatoes ~
~ Angus Reserve Aged Filet Mignon, Northern Plains with Cabernet Cracked Pepper Butter served with Whipped Yukon Gold Potatoes, Farmer Vegetables and Plugra Butter ~
Thank you, my love. With fond vignettes and memories made in 2014, and a welcome to 2015 and the more to come …
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.
All My Children … Isn’t that the name of a daytime drama? If you had not heard yet, there has been daytime and nighttime drama in St. Louis, Missouri area this past 8 days. A community is at unrest due to the fatal shooting of an 18-year black man by a white police officer in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson. Protests turned to riots have lead major destruction in St. Louis County. Upheaval with law enforcement, prosecutors, government officials locally up to federally, and racial activists have made Ferguson known globally. I work for St. Louis County Government housed in the police headquarters building working in the benefits and retirement office. The sounds of security dogs, helicopters circling, and target-shooting bullets are foreign to everyday Clayton, Missouri which is the county seat of St. Louis County. This week I heard it all. And I felt and heard the turmoil of several civil and police employees. I administer the employee assistance services, make sure counselors are there for any one of them … all my children.
It was the longest week I had worked. On Friday, my husband picked me up from my office building, our usual car-pooling routine. We drove out of St. Louis County homeward bound. Home sweet home. We decided to stop in for a beer and a bite to eat. Old Town St. Peters American Legion Hall, our destination. Americana at its best. Long-hairs and farmers celebrate in unison the weekend with a beer in one hand and a fried chicken wing in the other. All I could hear was happy conversation and laughter. Beer mugs clanging like cymbals. Music. Songs of joy. The most comforting sounds I heard all week. And despite it all, the Ferguson Farmers’ Market continued on Saturday and parishioners congregated and prayed in their churches on Sunday. Foundational truths do not change. Food and faith still remain the foundation of what man and woman needs. With today’s sermon I was reminded of the Biblical story of the Cannaanite woman that others would have ignored, but Jesus paid attention to this mother’s persistant request for her daughter. With faith I pray … Oh God hear my cry for all my children, youngest to the oldest, black, white, simple-minded, disabled, rich, poor. But if not for the grace of God, any one of us are unworthy. But God You give us each the gift of Jesus Christ. Accept and receive His forgiveness, so that you in turn can show the same towards others. So be it.
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?
I sat in our small SUV waiting on Dean to come out with a bagful of groceries needed for the next day or two’s menu. A late Saturday evening after the comical “Always Patsy Cline” play at the Westport Playhouse, I caught 10 minutes of shut-eye with the cool night air blowing away the heat of the day. I awoke to a noise in the local grocery store parking lot, and saw in the corner of my eye a quick movement. I turned, and there stood a deer! Misplaced or in starled my presence, we froze for a second or two. Co-existence? Suddenly, off across the parking lot and into the neighboring field he ran. Strangest encounter for a late night Saturday.
Well that deer sighting didn’t stop there. On following Sunday afternoon we arrived home from the church picnic, tidying up the house before taking a nap, and Dean hollers, ” I just saw a deer run down the street”. I ask Dean which direction was the critter headed, and he pointed west. I go out the front door to investigate, and there was the deer grazing in the neighbor’s front yard, 3 doors down and across the street. I don’t believe we have ever encountered a deer on our street the whole 28 years I have lived there. When I was a child, we would see a deer or two at my childhood home and tree farm about 2 miles from where I live now. A much more rural area 40 years ago. But not on our street, and our neighborhood in a city of this size, over 50,000 people! I am not sure if this was the same deer I saw the night before, only 1 mile away from Dean and I’s home. But co-existence came again for another 30 seconds before the deer saw me staring at him. He ran off once again.
Monday morning’s traffic report: “A herd of deer are causing traffic jams in St. Peters…”. I have not seen a deer in St. Peters since. I suppose the authorities took care of matters … I enjoyed the deer while they were amongst us. But then, maybe that is what has been chewing on my daisy and mum plants? I have been blaming the rabbits and squirrels. Cannot we co-exist? I know it is not easy, but I continue to dream.
Dean and I delivered a trailer load mixture of compost and top soil to our greenhouse site at Boone Hollow Farm a few days ago. I inquired from a local farmer who I know from my childhood as this farmer uses sustainable practices at his top soil farm less than a mile from our home. Last weekend herb seeds were sown, and in less than a week we have garden cress seedlings sprouted. This warm, humid air has made the ideal conditions for my herbal bed. From what I read garden cress is very prolific. I seeded many culinary herbs such as parsley, sage, thyme, basil, chives, marjoram, dill. Garden cress is one herb I have not used in my dishes before, though I inherited a packet of seeds somewhere in my farmy networking. I do not discard gifts no matter how small or big, so I will come up with some uses for garden cress. I understand it makes flavorful tangy sprouts for salads and sandwiches. In England it is added to egg & mayo tea sandwiches. Sounds like a country tea party with my green garden tea plates & tea cups in a couple of weeks at the greenhouse.
I have found photos of such darling herb gardens these past few weeks. We have a retailer’s greeting card holder we bought for $5 from the local library moving sale. I want to repurpose it to a herb garden, particularly for my daughter who lives in an apartment with a balcony. Vertical gardens are trendy now, and very practical for urban dwellers. I will work with this idea later this summer into autumn. We went semi-traditional, a 12 x 6-foot bed raised 6-inches from the floor of our greenhouse on the screenhouse side. There is some protection from the sunrays with the black cover now. I need this for skin protection. I have battled basal cell cancer 2 years ago. The semi-indoor herbal bed will be protected somewhat from weeds as we have a landscape fabric under the gravel floor. We cleared most of the gravel before shoveling the compost-top soil mixture in the bed. We will see what happens in regards to pests and bugs. We found a 3-foot snake skin in our greenhouse last week. Critters can still get inside. Let’s hope Chuck, the groundhog who lives under the barn down the hill stays out! As well as his skunk, mole, and rat friends!
How do you grow your herbs? Containers? Raised beds? Vertical beds? Are your herbs for culinary or ornamental purposes?