June 30, 2010

Special Food Gifts

This past Sunday, we made a visit after church to some friends with a brand new baby, and then we had some family over for a Sunday evening supper. In both situations, we ended up receiving wonderful gifts of food!

My aunt and uncle brought us a number of things from their garden. This is kohlrabi, a strange looking, but wonderful tasting little veggie. I'm debating between a slaw, and a scalloped recipe for these little gems. If what I read on the internet is correct, the name of this vegetable comes from two German words - kohl, meaning cabbage, and rabi, meaning turnip. It was wildly popular in Europe for many years before it showed up in the U.S., and I dare say there are still a majority of people here who still have no clue what it is!

They also brought us a nice load of green beans - oh, the pleasure!! Aren't they perfect?

The first thing we did with them was make Szechuan green beans with pork. They were so, so good. Here's a link to a recipe that I used as a base. I added ginger to the list of seasonings and put it all in with the ground pork before cooking it. It made for nice, crispy bits that flavored the green beans in a great way! Pictured with the green beans is the other food gift we got last Sunday. Be ready to be jealous! These are egg rolls that were made by the new baby's grandmother, who is visiting from Hong Kong. She fixed some for us while we were getting to know the new baby, and then sent us home with a batch to cook up here! There is no way to say it eloquently enough, but trust me when I say that this lovely woman can make an egg roll! Half were regular flavor and half were curry flavored - a treat we will not soon forget!

And last, but not least, my aunt and uncle also picked some berries from their garden for us- blueberries, raspberries, and black raspberries. The very essence of summer time. They couldn't have been any sweeter or more delicious!

Our intent this past weekend was to show hospitality, and boy did we get rewarded in kind. Not that it was our goal to be rewarded, but sometimes it just works out that way and how sweet it is!

June 24, 2010

Fresh Herbs all Around

I find myself out cutting fresh herbs from the deck nearly every day. So many summer recipes call for fresh herbs and we've been enjoying them! Above is a bundle of oregano and basil, tied with kitchen twine - food safe in other words.

Last Sunday I placed this bundle in a crock-pot full of spaghetti sauce and let the string end fall outside the lid. That way I could retrieve the whole thing easily and avoid slimy, overcooked piceces of herbs swimming in our sauce.

Recently I used fresh oregano and rosemary to flavor this leg of lamb. The lamb came from our new food club, IFC, and it was truly beautiful meat. It was just as tender as it could be and we made Indian lamb kabob out of some of it and sliced it thin for Greek sandwiches as well. We'll definitely order more.

This was a simple use for rosemary - a potato dish called "smooshed potatoes" in which the roasted flavor of the rosemary was excellent. I think it needs to be chopped up in very small bits in order to be palatable. Nobody likes a twig in their food! BTW, I didn't make these exactly like the recipe link above, but it's close and you can make your own changes.

And then there's just the pleasure of having fresh parsley for garnish whenever you need it! These bacon wrapped scallops we made for Father's Day were gorgeous on their own, but the parsley sure was a nice contrast.

I wish I was better at keeping the herbs alive indoors. Anyone have suggestions? I've attempted bringing them into the kitchen in the fall, but the most I've managed was keeping a little bit of sage alive long enough to go under the turkey skin at Thanksgiving! Oh, and one more question for you - what is up with cilantro??? We use it in so many things but it never grows well for me for an extended time - drives me nuts! Share your herb knowledge with me please!

June 21, 2010

Happy Summer!

It was a beautiful first day of summer here. Especially once the routine morning thunderstorm was done! This butterfly was not phased in the least as I took it's photo. It carefully delved into each tiny bloom on this butterfly bush stem.

This evening some neighbors came over to try to catch some of our ever growing bass in the pond. The reflection in the pond was so nice to watch. You can see the fishers above the reflection of the tree. What a perfect summer evening activity.


June 18, 2010

Summer Favorites

Fresh flower bouquets from our garden are a simple little joy for me. We have been blessed in most of our homes over the years to have flowers to cut and bring inside. I grabbed these lovely things in time to avoid their destruction in this morning's storm. No tornado warnings as of yet, but it got dark in a big hurry. I'm hanging out in our basement with the cat - thrilling!

Fruit in season is another summer favorite of ours. We were thrilled to find a big box of organic raspberries at our local Costco, and I made this light dessert called a Clafouti - it's a little like a custard cake, but really more custard than cake, and it's a French dish. The whole thing has only 1/3 C of sugar, so you can really taste the raspberries. It's good warm or cold - and let's be honest, it's good plain, but of course very good with ice cream or whipped cream - depends on your mood and how hard you worked the day you make it!

We love to grill in the summer like most people. This week we enjoyed some no-nitrate, all-beef brats that we purchased from the Iowa Food Cooperative. DH made some of his very good hot dog and hamburger buns. Aren't they lovely?!

Salad suppers are a warm weather favorite of ours too, and having an abundance of garden lettuce has led to making lots of homemade dressings. I have a mini food processor that's perfect for whirring up dressings that have some onion, or shallots, or another solid ingredient. My ancient dressing cruet, (the one everyone used to get for free with a packet of Wishbone dressing), works great for dressings that just need to be shaken together. In this picture there's a Dijon dressing, a wonderful French dressing that has far less sugar and oil than a typical French, and an Asian vinaigrette for a Chinese chicken salad - mmmmm...

And now a clunky transition to some other favorites, who are celebrated in the summer on Father's Day! I thank God for the wonderful fathers that I know, and these guys are at the top of the list!
First is my husband, who grew from this sharp young man into one of the best fathers ever! He seems to have mastered the perfect combination of spoiling our daughter, and instilling strong values and ethics in her. He is a godly father each and every day.

And these two fine looking little boys, my brothers, turned into A+ fathers themselves. They are such good men and I wish we were able to see one another more often.

I have no picture of my brother-in-law as a youngster, but he too is a fine man, and a wonderful stand-up kind of father. He has been a great blessing to my sister and her girls, and I thank him heartily for that!

And finally, this part of my Father's Day ode is impossible to write without choking up a bit this year. This is my dad, holding me on his lap about 50 years ago. (I love his checked tie and argyle socks - and he still has high standards when it comes to the way he dresses!) You would be hard pressed to find any man who was more dedicated to raising his 4 children to be good men and women - and the results are not too darn bad if I don't say so myself! Without going into the details, I can say that this man recently gave us all quite a scare. Many prayers, and many tears later, we are thanking God for his ongoing recovery. I loved you as this happy toddler, and I love you now Dad. Happy Father's Day!

June 13, 2010

We're Abloom!

This weekend we worked hard on getting our front landscaping up to snuff. It had gotten out of control with weeds and we've had lots of rain recently, with more on the way. We also got some planters potted up for the porch. The bigger pot is the one that holds the "magic" mum that hibernates in this planter every winter, sitting in our garage with no water, and springs back to life every year! I planted a number of things around it to fill in until the mum blooms later in the summer. I'm going to follow my uncle's advice this year and keep it pinched back all summer to get a less leggy plant and hopefully more blooms.

The table near the front door was full of pansy plants, but they tend to get a little worn out looking, so we replaced them with a number of very pretty begonias like this one. My hope is that they will enjoy the shady spot and keep blooming for the summer.

Some of my favorites are back and thriving like this apricot rose. It's a fragrant rose, and one that the deer didn't snack on. Maybe that's the key????

Our Shasta Daisy is three feet in diameter this year. We planted it two summers ago. Makes you love a perennial garden for sure!

And our hydrangea bush, which has struggled for two years, is back, healthy, and bluer than ever. I find it so amazing the way that your entire frame of mind can be transformed by a little time in a blooming garden.

"Die when I may, I want it said by those who knew me best that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow."
Abraham Lincoln

June 10, 2010

Kitchen Catch-up, and a Naughty Baby

I have a hodge-podge of pictures and kitchen topics to share, so I'm going to lump them all together here. First I wanted to show you one of the loaves of whole wheat bread we've been baking. We've gotten into a regular routine of making 3 batches of the dry ingredients and then adding the wet ingredients when we're ready to bake. Now when I read the labels on the commercial bread, I just can't put it in my cart. We use the recipe and method from this great food storage site. The two videos that this gal did are very helpful. They bill this as bread that is just as soft and chewy as the store-bought type, and they're right!

I also want to share something that was given to me quite some time ago by my Arizona aunt. This is a recipe for homemade creamed soup mix. Here's the link to the recipe on the Iowa Farmer Today website.
You can make this mix and keep it in your fridge, then measure out what you need when a recipe calls for a can of creamed soup. I used chicken broth instead of water in this instance, and you could add all sorts of things like celery seed, mushrooms, etc. to make it the way you like. It's very versatile and oh, so very healthy in comparison.

This is what it looks like after mixing in the broth and beginning to heat it.

It thickens nicely, but don't expect it to be the solid mass that comes from a can.

I used this in an asparagus and ham casserole and we were really happy with the outcome.

Here's a look at the lettuce that we didn't plant! It's still coming on strong and we've been thoroughly enjoying it.

I had the great privilege of visiting with my grandmother this week. I baked some coconut jumble cookies and packaged them up for Grandma and her very sweet roommate Mary. I also took my laptop along to show them pictures of recent events. It turned out to be a very good way to show photos to a couple of elderly gals.

We continue to cook great recipes from "Cook This, Not That". I made the Herb Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables. It gave me a good reason to use our thriving herb collection.
The herb and lemon mixture was placed under the skin as well, and really permeated the meat beautifully. The chickens were purchased from the Iowa Food Cooperative. We joined after watching Food, Inc. We had a healthy source for beef and wanted to buy healthy chicken, pork and lamb. DH did a simple Google search and found them! You should look around your area for a similar coop - it's worth the effort.

And now for the naughty baby matter! I caught this precious little newborn munching on our peach tree this week, and I suspect it may be the one that came up into our front perennial bed and chomped the rose blooms right off the bushes! So tiny (this tree is only 4 feet high) and yet so destructive - ahhh!

June 7, 2010

Let's Get Political

Tomorrow in Iowa is an important primary election for the Republican candidate for governor of our state. It's important for so many reasons. I'm sure I don't need to talk about the mess that's going on in this country. What we do need to talk about is how we can all get off our rumps and take part in bringing it back to the God-ordained state of beauty it once was. Of course it's never been a perfect nation, but there was certainly a time when the standards by which it was governed were far more admirable than they are right now.

We believe that the way back involves prayer first (that's true for any situation), and then supporting and electing people into office who see the vision of our Founding Fathers, and stand for the same godly values that these men possessed. We also believe that you need to go and listen to these candidates if at all possible. We recently had a chance to attend a breakfast meeting in our tiny town, at which we heard the candidate for governor that we support, and we also heard one of the candidates for house representative that we thought we were going to support. Once he started talking and NOT answering the direct questions being asked of him, we knew we had gone down the wrong track. On paper, he looked like the right choice. In person. he was the same old, same old, slippery spokesman, and that does not cut it anymore!! We were also fortunate to meet one of his fellow running mates before we left, and she was most impressive.

The candidate we support for governor is Bob Vander Plaats. His platform best represents our political beliefs and even our Christian values. We don't believe these two things should be mutually exclusive!! We've never even thought about having a political sign in our front yard, but times have changed and even a little more action by each of us is a start.

We recently learned that there are people all over the world watching little old Iowa politics, and gauging what will happen next in our country, based on what happens here. Wow. Our prayer is that they will see a state that stands for something bigger than the Constitutionally perverse corruption that currently rules the day. Our prayer is that they will see what happens in Iowa tomorrow, and know that America is coming back. We sang, and listened to, a lot of great hymns in church on Sunday, and this lyric sums it all up, no matter how the primary goes.

"This is my Father's world.
O let me ne'er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet."
M.D. Babcock

June 1, 2010

Home Again, Home Again

Ahhhhh...nice to be home again, but a downer too, as I'm sure you can understand! It's back to the laundry, the weeds, and dealing with the animals who invaded in our absence. Notably the Starlings, which are making nests all over the house, and deer getting into our front bed and eating the roses right off my beautifully blooming bushes! Oh well, it can't cancel out the joys of our trip in any way!

To catch up a little, we had a few more adventures before we finished our trip. The first one was in Grand Junction, CO at this Western store.
We'd been looking for a hat for DH on this trip and had no luck until just before we were headed to Denver. We tried one last place and hit the jackpot! This store is owned by Derby, and he's been in the hat business for nearly 40 years.

He can re-shape and custom fit any hat in the store, and we had the pleasure of watching him at his craft. You can see the original look of the hat through the steam. This helped him stretch the hat to alter the shape and size.

In this picture he's beginning to shape the top to look like my husband's requested style. You may also be able to tell from this photo that Derby likes to tell stories! He's a guy who definitely loves what he does.

This was the last step in which he cut off 1/2 inch from the brim - by hand no less. By the time he was done, he had taken the entire hat apart, including the linings and band, then reassembled them perfectly.

The finished product is a real work of art!

Our next "adventure" was courtesy of this crazy little child of ours. She got herself to the airport and flew into Denver to surprise us! She had her own adventure making all the plans and navigating the airport. Her surrogate dads, otherwise known as profs at the college, gave her plenty of tips about getting in and out of Omaha since they were all in on the surprise - very dear people obviously! She flew out before we left Colorado and made her way to our house from Omaha, where she greeted us with a great spaghetti meal she cooked for us! What an amazing treat to have her with us for the celebration!

Our time with our Colorado family was ever so sweet. In Denver we were joined by a number of family members at the Blue Bonnet restaurant where my husband and I first met. The food was good and we felt so blessed to be surrounded by all these people we love so much.

This is the best of the shots I took of my family at the restaurant, which isn't saying much! I cut off my sister-in-law, and didn't get my husband or brother in the shot at all. And it wasn't the effect of the fabulous margaritas they serve here, for you can see in the front of the photo that mine is still full - and I only had one! Our meal was really good and being on the patio was perfect for the youngest little man in the family. Plenty of room to "stretch his legs"!

The last stop on our trip was in Ft. Collins, where we spent more precious time with family. Sitting on the beautiful deck with them and enjoying the gorgeous view of the Rocky Mountains, gave us peace in more ways than one. Our family always blesses us in a special way, and this time it included some especially nice meals cooked for us, lovely cards and gifts, and pampering, right down to a picnic lunch for the long road back to Iowa. We both agreed that there couldn't have been a more perfect way to celebrate 25 years of marriage. God has blessed us so richly. We give thanks and praise to Him for all that we have.