October 27, 2010

Cornucopia

We've been thoroughly enjoying cooking with all of our fall harvest. Here's the soup I mentioned in the last post. I used some beautiful kale in this soup, along with newly harvested potatoes, organic Italian sausage, and organic no-nitrate bacon - all from our food coop, all from local sources and Iowa producers. The recipe is at this link.


This little surprise came from our compost bin! We picked it thinking it was not quite ripe, but also thinking that the frost would get it soon. It stayed in the kitchen for about a week, since neither of us was quite brave enough to cut it open and look inside! When we finally did, as you can see, it was perfectly ripe and a vibrant orange. I think a little seed saving is in order here!


We've harvested more beautiful tatsoi...

...and this time I very simply sauteed it with elephant garlic and chopped tomatoes in a little leftover bacon fat. If your hair stood on end when I said that I cooked this in bacon fat, read this article from Food and Wine. You'll learn a little truth about lard, and it also has a good explanation of the evils that lurk within hydrogenated fats. We've really been sold a bill of goods in the past several decades.


And finally, meet our newest neighbors!
Aren't they lovely? The four of them just appeared in our neighbor's pasture on Sunday morning, and they have been so nice to watch.

We're getting ready for a fall party here this coming Sunday, Lord willing and the weather holding. Be back to posting after that!

October 23, 2010

Still Harvesting!

These gorgeous fall vegetables have come to us this week from our food coop! We've had a very warm and fairly dry autumn in Iowa, and the growing season has been nicely prolonged. In case you don't recognize that leafy green in the picture, it's kale. Specifically "Winterbore" kale from The Homestead farm, which is an amazing place that combines farming and caring for those with autism. It's an inspiring read, so I encourage you to click on the link. I plan to make an Italian soup with the kale, and I'll post that recipe in a couple of days.


Another harvest source, recently discovered, is this self-serve vegetable cart which is just a few miles from us. We passed it on the way home from our visit to our daughter, and even though I was on the phone with my mother at the time, I still caught the "fresh eggs" sign and asked my DH to turn around and go back! We've now visited them twice and they're on our radar for sure.

These gorgeous fall tomatoes were on the cart along with some lovely green peppers and pumpkins. The eggs we purchased were small, probably from new layers, but so fresh and good. This cart is operated on the honor system. You pick what you want, add up what you owe, and slide your money into the slot in a collection box. Gotta love it.


Our favorite source for harvest, as always, is our own garden. We still have the most beautiful lettuce and tatsoi greens growing. These two bags in the picture are ready to give to friends tomorrow. DH has also taken a number of bags of greens into his office for giveaway. Nice side benefit!

Some of those tatsoi greens went into a quiche recently. We realized that the flavor of these greens is a nice cross between a spinach and a collard green flavor. I have an asparagus quiche recipe over on the recipe page. I just substituted the greens for the asparagus, and added some chopped sun-dried tomatoes and sliced red onion. This recipe, as with most of the ones I post, is adaptable to just about any combination you can imagine.

Cool weather, comfort food, it's time!

October 19, 2010

The Rest of The Story

We took another trip up to our DD's college this past weekend. Our last Parents Weekend - that happened fast! It was truly the best one ever. Mostly we go to see this choir sing. They're great. Our girl is the one in the upper center of the top pic. Yes, I cut off her mouth in the photo, but there is only so much you can do in a packed performance hall - that's my excuse. We got to see some dear friends from Maine who were on campus for the week and as always that was precious time. We also had the privilege of spending time with our daughter's roomies - fantastic girls who have loads of personality and laugh easily - such a good combination! We also took in a movie and a hockey game while we were there - they were playing against my alma mater - strange coincidence!

Now for the rest of the story of our PA trip. We were only an hour from the town where my husband's mother grew up. Much of her childhood history is unknown to us because she and her siblings were orphaned at a young age. But we do know that she was from Lititz, PA, which is a very charming, beautifully preserved, historic town. On the afternoon of our last day in PA, we took a quick trip over and we were so glad we did.
This town of Lititz was settled by Moravian people, and you can see it in the beautiful architecture all over town. This was home to a very industrious group of folks, manufacturing all sorts of things, and even John Sutter of gold rush fame hailed from Lititz. We had dinner at the historic General Sutter Inn, and our meal included an incredible macaroni and cheese with lobster - ohhhhh!

We took two tours in Lititz, and came home with these lovely goodies!

The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery is one of the well known businesses in Lititz. It's now on the National Historic Registry. The current Sturgis in charge is Tom, which explains why his name is now on the pretzel bag. This has been a strictly family business.
They were the first ones to bake crunchy pretzels as well as soft pretzels, and the crunchy ones were sent in barrels to the soldiers in the Civil War.

We took the factory tour and made pretzels the way they did in the earlier days of the company, and of course we were awarded a goofy certificate for our efforts!

We also got a close up look at the old ovens that were once used - really beautiful. Our guide told us that it took at least two days to get the pretzels crunchy and even longer when it was humid. In an effort to control the quality of their pretzels and to avoid preservatives, they have maintained their original decision to keep their distribution local, so unfortunately we can only order them online. They really are unique in flavor, and worth taking the trouble to order.

Another company well known in these parts is the Wilbur Chocolate Company, which had the wisdom to flood their chocolate scent outside into the streets surrounding them, therefore making it impossible to pass them by! They were celebrating 125 years in business.

There was also a museum in this building and this room was full of chocolate molds and candy making equipment. Notice the HUGE chocolate Santa mold hanging on the wall! One of the things we purchased here was a book written about the history of Lititz, and one of the fudge makers at Wilbur was the author. Our cashier told us to head back there and get her to sign the book, so my husband did that and was able to chat with her a little about the orphanage as well. Nice benefit!

These little candies are called Wilbur Buds, and they have been well known in this part of the country for many years, and yes they are in competition with Hershey's Kisses! There is some dispute about who came up with the shape first. You can see here that there is a charming swirled design on the bottom, which spells out the name Wilbur. Regardless of who invented this shape first, my opinion is that these are a world apart from Hershey's Kisses - these are very rich and have the flavor of the best hot chocolate you've ever had. These pictured here are their dark chocolate, and they get my vote hands down! These too are available to order from them, or several other old fashioned catalogs as well. I'll be hoping for them in my Christmas stocking - hint, hint!

As with most trips, we always try to visit at least one of Guy Fieris Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. On our way home, we hit pay dirt in Cleveland when we had lunch at Lucky's Cafe!
This is a lovely hippie joint that serves local and organic foods whenever possible, plus they make nearly everything from scratch!

They also have an outdoor area for eating, which is among their own raised-bed vegetable garden used for their menu. It was a gorgeous day and we thoroughly enjoyed everything from our honey sweetened lattes, to our totally homemade Reuben sandwich. Can you imagine? - homemade rye bread, home cured corned beef, homemade sauerkraut, homemade dressing - I could just about drool thinking of it! We saw the episode on TV some time ago and what a treat to get to go there!

So, the rest of the story is that even though the PA trip was a long and challenging one, as always, we were blessed by many things along the way - not the least of which was the smile on the face and the tear in the eye of a 95-year-old man as we bid him goodbye. We left him happy, by God's grace, and will always be grateful for all of these experiences.

October 14, 2010

Uncle John's Story

We took a somewhat urgent trip to PA last week. My husband has recently been court appointed as personal and legal guardian of his 95-year-old uncle. John was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic back in the early 1950's. He lived in PA at the time, then John's family had him committed to an institution in CA, and basically never looked back. We found papers in his files that revealed that he had attempted to sue the FBI for his "unlawful kidnapping from PA". It doesn't take much imagination to picture what that whole scene must have been like. My husband was a senior in high school before he ever knew that John existed. There were a few relatives in touch with him over the years, but for the most part, John was a ghost. In August of this year, John was found in his PA public housing apartment, suffering from heat exhaustion. He had no air conditioning, and apparently no one who was looking in on him.

John told authorities that he had no family - who can blame him for that. He was about to be declared mentally incapacitated and become the ward of a stranger, who is literally in the business of becoming guardian to people who have no one else. By God's grace, the lawyer presenting the case to the court, found the name of John's sister and contacted her children. Emails were then passed on to other family members until it reached us. No one else before us was either able or willing to take on guardianship. Maybe our sadness over what happened to John and the fact that we had neglected to be in touch with him for a number of years made us decide that we wanted to do this for him. The legal actions already in motion came to a halt, and those in charge were all very pleased that a family member was coming forward to oversee John's needs. They surely must also have wondered what kind of jerks we all were to have let things come to this point.

We decided to drive out and get things taken care of in person - meet with the business manager of the nursing home where he now resides to get mountains of paperwork started, meet with his social worker and nurse to get and give some information, meet with the housing authorities to try and get a handle on the status of his apartment and belongings, go to the SS office to get his checks forwarded to the account we set up for him, forward his mail, and finally we intended to clean out his apartment and deal with his belongings, including taking some personal items and clothing to him.

Now the story takes another uglier turn. We should have guessed that a surprise was in store for us when the housing agent showed us to the door and then made a beeline back to her office, turning and saying over her shoulder - "Good luck". Hmm? My husband had to shove the door open because in the 3x3 entryway, was a mountain of mail that had been pushed through the mail slot. The first thought was simply that it had accumulated while he'd been hospitalized, but then the rest of the apartment comes into view, and you see the shocking truth that John had become a hoarder. It would not be an exaggeration to say that all the mail he has received since moving in there 6 years ago, is all still there. Piles, upon piles, upon piles of mail fill his first floor. There are other collections as well, like plastic bags, but mostly it's mail...and a complete infestation of roaches - big ones, little ones, living and dead. It's hard to imagine the last time there was any cleaning done. Miraculously there was no smell - and I think I really do mean miraculously, or in other words by the grace of God, or we would not have been able to go in at all. After taking it all in, it appears that when John was moved into this two-story apartment at age 89, his belongings were moved in for him and placed mostly in the front room - boxes of books, empty shelves, six large file cabinets, three metal lockers, and a large stack of his own oil paintings, which were still packaged up and leaning against a wall. Apparently John either couldn't or wouldn't unpack and settle in to this new place. John had lived in his previous apartment since 1973, and that is where we last visited him. Our daughter was 3 at the time and she even has memory of his cozy little set-up there. He was a fine host and had gone to his local health food store for nuts and fruits and other healthy snacks for our visit. We may never understand the reasons for moving an 89-year-old man from that apartment to a two-story home, with his bathroom and bedroom on the second floor. Had any of us been in touch with him, maybe we could have read between the lines of his incoherent rambling letters, and figured out what was going on?? But then the next question is would we have done something about it? I'm not trying to drive home that his family are horrible people - not at all. I am trying to drive home that we are all guilty of living in our own self-absorbed little worlds and easily casting off responsibility for one another. Not really my problem - right?

Donning gloves and masks, we went back to the apartment the next day to retrieve banking records and any other papers that could help us comply with court orders and the requirements of the nursing home. We were able to retrieve a few personal belongings, and sort through enough mail to be satisfied that we had the most current information. My husband discovered in one of the file cabinets, that John had saved all of our correspondence with him in a folder with our name. Included were Valentines that our daughter had made for him in her elementary years - the red construction paper and purple crayon type of Valentine, the kind that make you shed a tear no matter where you uncover them, but particularly when you find them carefully filed away in the possessions of a lonely, isolated, 95-year-old uncle.

In the end, because of the horrible condition of his apartment and everything in it, we needed to buy him an entirely new wardrobe, from socks to winter coat. He had nothing with him at the nursing home outside of a belt, and he was wearing a hospital gown. We were able to take two of his paintings to him to be hung in his room, and we gave him a bright blanket for his bed and a bulletin board to hang pictures and cards that WILL be coming to him from here on out. Now that we're back home, my husband has been diligently filing paperwork, faxing forms, and basically jumping through countless hoops so that we can properly look after John's affairs. It does not feel like a burden in any way though, it is a privilege to help him. We've already gotten one phone call from the nursing home to let us know that he scraped up his knee in an attempt to move himself around in his room. It is strangely comforting to know that John now has my husband to take these phone calls, and will now be less invisible in the world.

Uncle John's story as told here is what we know from our trip, what we've been told in the past, and what we've experienced in our contact with him. There are likely other versions and other facts that we don't know. Over the years, John has certainly had family that cared about him even though it may have been from a distance, but mostly we entrusted John's care to "the system", which failed him. Even in "the system" there are people who care about John, but as we can see all over this country, "the system" is not capable of replacing the care and love we are commanded to have for one another.
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it:
Love your neighbor as yourself.'


October 3, 2010

Applesauce to Apple Butter

My DH truly loves apple butter, so how can I say no to his request that we make this seasonal favorite?! I can make it less tedious though, by using the crock-pot and if you haven't tried it, I hope you will. If you have one of those cookbooks that comes with a crock-pot, you will likely find a recipe in your book. If not, here is a link to a site that gives some good basic instructions.

I started with 2 quarts of applesauce that I made the day before and added some apple cider, since my crock-pot recipe indicated a wetter applesauce as a base. The proportions suggested were these:

for each pint of applesauce, add 1 C of sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon,
1/2 tsp. allspice, and 1/2 tsp. ground cloves

I was a little reluctant to add so much sugar and added only 3/4 of what was called for. After letting it cook for a while, I tasted it and realized that it did need the rest of the sugar. I also used part brown sugar and part white sugar. There's a lot of variation in the seasoning too, so you'll have to decide what you like. After a long cooking process - 8 hours on high - the spices for us were just right.


One of the tips I picked up was to place a splatter shield over the crock-pot once you reach the point of leaving the lid off in order to concentrate the apple butter. Saved a lot of sticky clean-up!


And here's the final reward of all the cooking and stirring! In addition to these 7 half-pints, we also had another small bowl of apple butter that we "tested" with dinner that night! Instead of processing the apple butter in the water bath canner, I decided to use my new favorite freezer jars. Much easier, but we'll have to see how the consistency compares once we thaw one out. And I have to admit that I do love the traditional look of those cute glass jars... My mother always told me I was born in the wrong century!

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