Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015

Happy Christmas everyone. A very wet one here in the Atlanta burbs. Been raining for days and still promising to rain more. Yes, the basement flooded.

Still pretty hampered with the recovery from the surgery last Friday. I thought I would be pretty good by now but that is not happening. Lots of swelling and bruising. A lot of the bruising is fading but the swelling, especially the scrotum, is pretty impressive and causing me to walk funny. We won't talk about sitting down. The only real comfortable place is the bed. Still taking the Percoset plus Advil so the pain is manageable. I'm usually off the pain killers by now but not this time. Both sides are now reinforced so I shouldn't have to do any more hernia surgery thank goodness. It's not fun.

Not letting the disability keep the Christmas dinner from happening. Nice little 6 pound boneless prime rib that I will sear under the broiler (since I can't light off the charcoal grill) and then roast at 250F in the oven until it gets to 135F(Madam likes it medium and I like it rare so this is half way). If it was just me it would be to 125F and nice and rare. I've tried a lot of methods for prime rib and this is far and away the best. The slow cooking cooks it evenly so all the meat is the same color and you don't have that grey ring on the outside with a rare center. Yorkshire pudding cooked in popover pan and pickled beets. There will be a nice salad and a California Cab. There is only the two of us so there will be left overs which means hash could be in the future.

Madam has her big Boxing day lunch tomorrow for all her buddies. There will be 8 or 9 old ladies chirping away and yours truly will locked in the bedroom. Baby sitting Mini Monk's dog Peter tomorrow so it will be Zoey and Pete and me against the powdered horde.

In spite of my counsel Madam is cooking something she has never cooked before. She is insisting on Chicken a la Kiev. I'm not really up to helping here with it so here's hoping for the best. I suggested she at least practice once but it isn't going to happen. I will try and help here assemble them this evening but the breading and cooking will all be her tomorrow. At least the rest of the menu is do ahead and idle.

So anyhow, everybody enjoy their holiday and don't eat or drink too much. I am going to be good since I'm on narcotics and just have a few glasses of wine.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Long Morning

Hernia surgery scheduled for 1245 today so I am fasting. No food or liquid since about 830 last night. Sure miss my morning coffee. Recovery is going to put a bit of a damper on the holiday but it is what it is. This time of year is the best for this kind of stuff. No real work to do in the garden and the yard. I have some trees to trim and remove but they'll wait until later.

I 'll get a walk in with Zoey before I have to head to the surgery center. She just came back in after running off the white tail deer that were hanging out in the back. I don't know how she knows they are out there but she bounds out of bed and can't wait to get out the back door.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Still Around

Yeah, I'm still around just not blogging right now. No excitement in the garden other than cabbage and stuff. Most everything I feel needs a comment goes to Facebook and that's why it is so quiet here.

I'll try and get back to posting some food and cooking stuff. Probably not going to get into any politics until after we see who gets nominated.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The End of Camelot

If I remember correctly I was in the 9th Grade in Wilmington, NC when the news came across the loudspeakers. It was biology class, my favorite, but it and school was cancelled for the rest of the day. November 22, 1963 will always be one of those dates for my generation that will mark great moments in our lives, The moon landing, Challenger and 9/11/01 are others.

It always makes me wonder how different our lives might be today if John Kennedy were to have finished his stint as president. I am pretty sure the world would be a different and better place today. Little did I imagine that someday I would be looking back 50 odd years at this. It is very strange indeed to look back at Camelot in the light of today's presidential politics and frankly kind of embarrassing.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Busy, Busy

Been a bust three or four weeks around here. Two sets of house guests and all the stuff that goes with that. A trip to St. Marys, Ga and Cumberland Island with our friends from the UK that were here. We had a great time with all and lucked out with great weather for our excursion to the coast.

Settling back down to the routine. All this rain has cause some water in the basement, not much but enough to make a mess. I can squeegee most of it out and vacuum the rest but it is a pain. I shouldn't have to mention that there has been basically no gardening for the last month or so. Did I mention that we have had over 10 inches of rain in the last few weeks?

Add to the hassles. We are getting a new refrigerator delivered today. Took advantage of Home Depot's early Black Friday deals and got a new spiffy Samsung French door. If you are close to needing any new appliances you might check out Home Depot as I got a $1,100 off the price for the fridge I got.

Anyway, still raining. Here is a picture from the trip to Cumberland. Beautiful country and so glad it is protected.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Traditional French Onion Soup

It's a gray day here in Atlanta and the thought of a proper onion soup will not vacate.
Luckily I have all the ingredients. A lot of recipes for onion soup call for broth
but traditionally it is made with just onions and water. It is a peasant dish after all.
Here is my recipe(Today I am actually only going to make a half recipe). I like  the little
hint of herbs that the thyme brings but it is not traditional that I know of. As always,
do what you like and tastes good to you. I wouldn't make a special trip to the market for
thyme but I have a garden full of it. The key here is to make sure you fully cook down the onions
until they are a rich golden brown. You cannot rush this process with high me.
Go very slowly.

2 tablespoons butter
7 or 8 Yellow or Red onions (7 to 8 pounds), thinly sliced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 or 4 springs fresh thyme (optional)
6 to 12 slices of baguette or any country-style bread
1/3 cup sherry
Red or white wine vinegar (optional)
Red wine (optional)
1/2 to 3/4 pound Gruyère or Emmanthaler cheese, grated ( It is important that you use one of these two cheeses and not some generic "Swiss" me.)

In a large pot, with a capacity of about 7 1/2 quarts...there are a lot of onions to start out with.
An enameled cast-iron pot is ideal. Start the onions and butter over medium heat.
Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt, cover, and cook until the onions have heated through and
begun to steam. At this point we want to lose moisture so uncover, reduce the heat to low, and cook,
stirring occasionally. When the onions have completely cooked down, the water has cooked off, and the onions have turned a rich brown (think maple syrup)(this will take a couple of hours) add 6 cups of water and season with several grinds of pepper and the thyme if you are using it. Raise the heat to high and bring the soup to a simmer,then reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes to give the water time to extract the caramel from the onions. Add the sherry.

Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. If the soup is too sweet, add some vinegar.
If you would like another dimension to the soup add a splash of red wine. (I do)

This is the the onion-to-liquid ratio that I like but it is OK to make it a little more delicate if you prefer by adding an additional cup of water or so.

Sometime while the onions are cooking down you need to place the sliced baguette in a 200F oven and let it dry out completely... 30 to 45 minutes.

When you are ready to serve, preheat the broiler and ladle the soup into bowls, float the dried bread
on top cover generously with the grated cheese. put the boils under the broiler until the cheese is melted and nicely browned. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6

The Bees Will Hate Me

Gardener's dilemma. I had a month before I had to plant my garlic so I planted buckwheat in the two beds. It's a good quick cover crop but I forgot that it bloomed in just a couple of weeks after planting. Now its blooming and the bees are loving it as there is very little other forage available. I need to turn it under and plant the garlic but I hate taking away the flowers the bees are enjoying so much. What to do? 

Friday, October 09, 2015

RIP Chef Paul Prudhomme

Chef Paul Prudhomme dies. He brought Cajun food to the world's attention back in the 1980’s.  He changed the way Americans eat and definitely for the better. I was lucky enough to meet and spend some time with him in 1988 while he was touring and promoting his spice blends. I was also lucky to get his original 1984 cookbook, Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen autographed by both him and his wife. You can be jealous if you want. That book and his later The Prudhomme Family Cookbook are two must have cookbooks if you seriously want to learn about Cajun and Creole food and cooking. The second book is more a collection of traditional Cajun recipes that he collected from his friends and relatives. You might not want to cook from it but it explains the roots of Cajun food very well.
I've got to figure out what recipe I'm going to cook in his honor this weekend.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Fooled Again

Fairly decent day yesterday but a little hot. Today is heavily overcast and forecast to rain. I got good work done in the garden yesterday after the days of rain that kept me out but I only got two hours in this morning before it started to sprinkle. I headed in thinking I was done for the day and changed clothes. I ate lunch and the sprinkles departed. I changed back into my garden clothes and the sprinkles started again. Screw it...I'm in for the day.

This overcast day is calling for chili so that's the plan. Madam will be unhappy but every once in a while I just have to have some chili. My chili has beans and  tomato sauce along with onion, garlic and ground beef. The standard seasonings, chili powder, cumin and chipotle chili. Nothing fancy but very tasty. Today I have a container of fresh salsa that is still sealed but past its sell by date that will wind up in the chili as well.

All you folks up the coast from me, say Norfolk and to the North better hunker down because is looks Joaquin is going to roll in over the weekend. It's a Cat 3 right now  but it could gain a little strength if it stays over water a little longer. Stay safe and Goddess' sake pay attention.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Rainy Saturday

Still mushy today. Not really raining hard but misty and drizzle seem to be our deal for the day. Looking ahead I got two batches of bread started yesterday. Sourdough whole wheat and dough for Parisian baguettes so I have baking to do today to keep me busy. Keeping the fingers crossed that the weather allows us to see the eclipse of the Blood Moon tomorrow. I've also got the new Jodi Taylor book ready to go so I'm set for the day.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Since today is the first day of Fall in our hemisphere and the Pagan/Wiccan holiday of Mabon. One important aspect of Mabon is that of balance where we have an equal amount of day and night. Here is a Mabon prayer on balance that seems appropriate for the day.

Equal hours of light and darkness
we celebrate the balance of Mabon,
and ask the gods to bless us.
For all that is bad, there is good.
For that which is despair, there is hope.
For the moments of pain, there are moments of love.
For all that falls, there is the chance to rise again.
May we find balance in our lives
as we find it in our hearts.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Baguette Challenge

Gardening done for the day and now I'm on to perfecting the homemade baguette. I am so tired of being disappointed in the so-called baguettes they have in the stores that I am determined to make real Parisian style baguettes myself. 

I've sorta kinda almost made them before but cheated with a pan and I didn't follow the traditional two day process for fermenting the dough.I just made some dough, shaped it and baked it.  No crackly to the crust and no deep fermented flavor not to mention the tight crumb. I'm following all the rules and traditions for these loaves. I even went out bought me a couche (linen sheet) to raise them in.

 I started my dough yesterday and now I am in the process of shaping the bread. The traditional method calls for letting the dough rest for 30 minutes between each step so that's where I am. Two more shapings and one more rest and then the final proofing and baking. We shall see.

I'm using a trick of mixing a tiny bit of whole wheat flour that has been sifted to remove most of the bran with my all purpose to try and duplicate the French flour. King Arthur does sell a "French" flour blend but I'd like to be able to do it with all purpose. 

I'll post a picture if they turn out stellar.  The recipe makes four loaves but I am only doing two today so I'll have another go tomorrow. That's the nice thing about a cold fermented dough is that you have a few days to work with. I should have a two or three more day window to get it done.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Going With The FIre

Too wet to do anything but weed in the garden today but I did get a lot of that done today. Staying ahead of the weeds without chemicals is really getting to be a PITA. I did try to use an organic weed killer made from orange oil and it knocks the weeds back but doesn't seem to kill them. Long story short I've decided that fire is the answer and I've just ordered a 400,000 BTU "Red Dragon" burner. Reviews are pretty positive so I'm giving it a try. A whole day on my hands and knees was a big incentive. Going to have to figure out how to haul a 20 pound around the garden but I think I can rig something with my hand truck. Amazon should have it to me in a couple of days and we'll see if fire is the answer. I refuse to go back to Round-up or the generic versions now available so this had better be the answer. I'm also think walking around and flaming things might be  fun.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Nice Birthday

Nice birthday yesterday. Number 66 but who's counting? Indulged myself with bacon and cream cheese on homemade sourdough toast for breakfast and then a BLT for lunch. I splurged a while back and bought 3 pounds of Benton's bacon which many consider to be the best. It is very good but Madam doesn't like it because it is very smokey. Dinner was a nice rib eye and frites. I pan fried the steak is some of the bacon grease from breakfast and that was tasty. I splurged on a nice Bordeaux as well. St. Emillion Chateau St. Louis. Very nice.

Got a lot of work done in the garden. Purple top turnips in as well as bok choy and more peas. I also got two beds turned and planted with buckwheat for a cover crop and it will be ready to turn over in about a month and a half.

All in all a good day. Looks like rain most of the day today so gardening may be minimal. We'll see. Right now a little dog is looking at me and wanting to know why it's already 830a and still no walk.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Labor Day

Happy Labor Day. As is usual I'm going to be in the garden. I finally got my mowing done yesterday. I started on Saturday but broke the mower belt. That precipitated a trip to the Home Depot which said they had six of the 48" belts in stock. They didn't but fortunately the Lowe's across the street did. You have to remove the mowing deck to change the belt and while it was off I decided to change the blades to the high lift ones that came with the grass catcher. It is not a hard job but it is time consuming and I didn't finish until Sunday morning. So I got the maintenance tasks done and I can go back to the hobby. I have to replant spinach today as I got ZERO germination from the Martha Stewart seed. I have Botanical Interests to try now and we'll see.

I put my pork shoulder in the crock pot this morning instead of firing up the grill or smoker. I just don't have the bandwidth to tend a fire all day long and properly seasoned the roast will come out just fine. It won't be all smoky but otherwise will be very tasty. I am probably violating some secret rule about BBQ on Labor Day but whatever.

Everyone have a safe holiday.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Summer is Back

I got run out of the garden early this afternoon by the heat and humidity just as yesterday. I got in just before a real frog strangler went through and it looks a bit like we might get another today. The forecast is for a rainy weekend as well. The fall garden is coming along fairly well. We had a few nice day where I could spend the bulk of the day out there so progress is being made. Lettuce, cabbage, broccoli and peas are all transplanted and the direct seeded beets and arugula are peeking out. For some reason not one spinach plant has appeared out of the whole packet I planted so I guess I'll have to replant. I won't use Martha Stewart seed from Home Depot again. The local nursery carries Botanical Interests and I've had good luck with their seed.

Just to make sure I have stuff to keep me busy I got a batch of whole wheat sourdough started this morning and it is doing a slow ferment in the fridge. I decided that I will extend the process out for a third day and see if the extra time fermenting adds more flavor. I'll take it out of the fridge in the morning and let it come to room temp and then shape the loaves.

I also took a Boston Butt out of the freezer that I got sale last month so I can do the obligatory BBQ for the holiday weekend. I won't drag out the smoker for just one roast and I'll do the Weber half grill drill. Not ideal but good enough.

Everyone half a safe Labor Day weekend and get all your summer stuff out of the way.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Catching up and Bread

I've been bad about not posting but I have been putting some stuff over on Facebook. Any how, the garden is winding down for the summer and I am spending most of my time cleaning up and getting ready for the fall garden. Our friends from the UK are coming the last of October and Wendy has already warned me that she is expecting some 'produce' from the garden so I's better be getting on with it. As usual I'll be putting in garlic that will grow slowly over the winter and which I harvest the end of June. Bumper crop of 4 different varieties this year and all of it is better than what you get the in store. Most of the store garlic is California white which is reliable to grow but not nearly as flavorful as some of the lesser known ones.

I'm back to baking regularly with a new twist. I'm grinding my own flour from hard red wheat and it is amazing how much better bread I am producing. Store bought flours have oxidized and lost a lot of flavor and worse nutrition by the time they get to your store shelf. It is extremely easy and I have the grinding attachment for the KitchenAid which cost me a hundred dollars but I already feel I have my money's worth as I also use it to grind corn for cornmeal and grits.

Here is my current recipe for a simple whole wheat sourdough.

600 grams whole wheat ground finely (see note)
400 grams of 100% sour dough started refreshed (see note)
375 grams water(preferably spring or at least filtered)
20 grams of kosher salt
1 tsp rapid rise yeast
3 TBSp honey

Mix everything except the salt in the bowl of your stand mixer or in a big bowl and mix until the flour is fully moistened. Let it stand covered for at least 30 minuted to allow the whole wheat to absorb the water. Add the salt and knead with the mixer or by hand until you have a good pliable dough it is nice and smooth. Put it in a lightly oil bowl and cover letting it rise until double. Turn it out and divide into to two or three balls. I do two. Form into balls for a boule or a loaf shape for a batard or even put it into a standard loaf pan(s). Let it rise again until double and then bake at 425F for 25 minutes. At the beginning of baking a throw a cup of ice cubes into the bottom of the oven to steam the loaves for the first bit of cooking. This insures you get the maximum oven spring from the dough.

I grind my own wheat but you can use a good whole wheat flour like that from King Arthur or Arrowhead. You won't have the flavor or nutrition but it will still be good.
If you don't maintain a sour dough starter, shame on you, but you can make a poolish of 200 grams of all purpose flour(again preferably King Arthur) and 200 grams of water  and the yeast from the recipe. Mix this all together the night before and let it stand covered on the counter overnight. Add this instead of the 400 grams of starter. This will have all the yeast you need so you don't need to add more.

Holy Flying Monkeys Dorothy

I just realized that I have posted here in over a month. Such a bad blogger. I'd use the excuse of being busy in the garden but that would be a lie and you would know it if you were a friend on Facebook. I guess posting there kind of feeds my need to run my mouth online. Thanks for reminding me Steve that I am a miserable excuse for a blogger. I'll try and do a little bit better. Now that the clown show is getting underway for the election I'll have some incentive.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Bees and Cucumbers

Too hot to really work in the garden today but the early morning was OK for a little macro photography.
Here is a little nature for you. First there are bees we hope and then there are cucumbers. It's a great system we are trying to destroy.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Milkweed Success

I planted milkweed last year as was very disappointed. I actually though it had died. This spring it came back with a vengeance and I have a very nice stand. The variety is Virginia Silk if my memory serves me and it is just now blooming. The bees are having a go at it. Still haven't seen a Monarch but I have my fingers crossed.

Garden Progress

As you can see from the photo we are making progress. Things are growing and we are beginning to get some produce....peas, arugula, lettuce, radishes and baby carrots. Finally, the crunch is over and I can just maintain. Still want to build three more beds so I won't be constrained as I am now. I have to wait until the peas finish before I can put in the butternut squash and I would like to plant another bed or two of corn. So far so good.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sourdough Whole Wheat

Having a down day today. Its overcast and there are occasional sprinkles so it is good day to take a break from the garden. Everything is planted and growing for now and I finished mulching all the tomatoes, peppers and squash yesterday. Today I am experimenting with making whole wheat sourdough bread and grinding my own wheat. It already smells different during fermentation than dough made with my usual King Arthur whole wheat so it will interesting to taste the difference. It is going to be a little coarser for sure since the grain mill for the Kitchen Aid doesn't grind as fine as commercial flour. I bought 5 pounds each of hard read whole wheat berries, hard white and soft white. The hard red is the first trial.

This is my standard recipe for sourdough whole wheat I'm just using self ground whole wheat instead of storebought.

My standard recipe is as follows:

500 grams whole wheat flour 
100 grams bread flour
400 grams sourdough starter refreshed (I use a 100% hydration starter)
350 grams water
3 tblsp honey
18 Grams kosher salt 1.5 tsp yeast 

I usually make two boules and bake at 425F for 25 minutes in a steamed oven.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Just Not Right

Everyone one on the Boston jury was pro-capital punishment so it is not surprising that Tsarnaev got the death penalty.  It was not going to come out any other way.

I guess I never will understand how any rational person can think that killing someone you have in custody makes any moral  or logical sense. Put in its simplest form it is just revenge and not much beyond cold blooded murder. We make a big deal about our legal rituals and all that claptrap but when you get down to the nitty gritty we are still pretty primitive.

As I have said many times here, I don't believe in capitol punishment under any circumstances. Not for this young man or for anyone else. There is not a valid argument for why more death is the right thing to do.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Missed Spring

Struggling here with the early summer weather. We here in the Atlanta area basically went from Winter to Summer overnight. We got no Spring. It's been running into the upper 80's with no real sign it's go to let up. We are supposed to get some much needed rain later in the week which will cause the high to only reach 80 or so which is something I guess.

Working hard in the garden in spite of the heat. Ran out of raised beds with more needing to be planted so I built and filled another yesterday and will do another today. I have room to do three or four more before I start getting into areas that get too much shade for most of the year. I'll have twenty 4'x12' beds when I finish today and that is getting to the point of being too much for an old man to handle all by himself. We'll see.

Not much else going on around here other than gardening right now. Walk Miss Zoey in the mornings and then garden until 4 or so. I've got one more treatment tomorrow for my leg veins and then all the "very close" veins will be collapsed and not so visible and painful.  The doctor will only do one small section at a time so I've been going once a week for what seems like forever. Not too bad except for the fact that you have to wear support stockings for a period after each treatment which means I've been wearing them for a couple of months and boy are they a PITA. They don't make working in the garden in the heat anymore fun either.

Time to get Zoey up and on the walk and then tackle the cinder blocks for another bed. Need someplace to plant butternut squash. I'll probably wait until I harvest the green peas, fava beans and other early stuff before I plant anymore. More beans, pickling cukes and corn need somewhere to go. I have one bed of corn planted (Hopi Blue) but I also have some Bloody Butcher heirloom corn that I would like to try.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Simple Enough Reason to Support Hillary

No I am not going to unreservedly support Hillary but if she turns out to be the nominee then I will support her. I won't agree with her on everything but when you consider the current GOP alternatives she is the Goddess of all that is good.

Jonathan Chait offers five reasons why Hillary Clinton will win the presidency in 2016. But in the end, his sixth reason may be the only one that matters:
The argument for Clinton in 2016 is that she is the candidate of the only major American political party not run by lunatics.
via Digby

Monday, April 06, 2015

Simple Tomato Sauce from Marcella Hazan

While she is known for a lot of great Italian recipes, Marcella Hazan may be best known
for the simplest tomato sauce in the world. Don't be frightened by its simplicity, it is
very, very good and all a really good plate of pasta needs.

2 cups tomatoes, with their juices (I use home canned but  a 28-ounce can of San Marzano whole
peeled tomatoes is great as well.)
5 tablespoons butter (don't skimp here, use the best butter you can find. I use Kerry Gold.)
1 onion, peeled and cut in half ( I prefer a sweet onion like Vidalia or Walla Walla but a red onion does just fine.)
Salt (Kosher or sea salt)

Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter and the onion halves in a saucepan. Add a
pinch or two of salt.

Don't be tempted to add anything else until you try it just like this. No pepper, basil, garlic or oregano. Nothing.

Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes.
Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with a spoon. Taste and add salt as needed.
Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta. This recipe makes enough sauce
for a pound of pasta.

Note: I've made this sauce with a couple peeled and halved shallots as well.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Happy Easter and Passover

I know you have probably stopped checking for anything new here. I don't blame you but I do promise to try and do better. This time of year is for getting the garden in and little else. I've been working hard and it is starting to pay off. Spinach and carrots went in yesterday and radishes and beets the day before. I'm trying to get two beds ready a day but I have failed in that goal so far. The excuse yesterday was that I had to mow the yard.

With everything else I am having some work done on my legs which eats a day a week and sometimes more for recovery. The "very close veins" as my grandmother used to call them were beginning to bother me so I am having all of the surface veins in both legs eliminated. I thought it was going to be with laser but there is a new treatment that uses a chemical and is less painful with faster recovery. So any way, the doctor only does one area a week so it took a month to do the right leg and we started on the left this week. Not too painful but there is some tenderness for a few weeks. The worst is having to wear support stockings for 30 days after the work. What a pain.

So if you celebrate the day then happy, happy. If you don't just enjoy the spring. It will be another gorgeous day here in the Atlanta burbs and after Miss Zoey has her walk we will be back in the garden.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Homemade Cheddar Cheese Crackers

Homemade Cheddar Cheese Crackers

I am a cracker person. I love crackers and I especially like cheese crackers. The problem
is I am also trying to eat well and almost all of the crackers on the store shelves are made
with weird stuff and unnecessary chemicals. It is a problem when it is so easy to reach
for the box of Cheezits.  However, you can make your own cheese crackers and it really
isn't too hard and it is just a few ingredients.

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese ( I like extra sharp but shred your own, don't buy the
pre-shredded) I sometimes add a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan to kick them up.
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt.
6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter

That is really all you need for plain cheddar cheese crackers. If you want a little more zing
try a pinch or two of cayenne, cracked black pepper, dried herbs or even granulated
garlic. Experiment with adding sesame seeds and other things to get some flavors you


Preheat oven to 400 F.
Place the first 3 ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times to combine.
Add the butter and pulse until a ball forms. Take the dough out of the food processor and
form a big ball.  The dough generally comes out fine, but you may need to add a little bit
of water (just a few drops) if your dough is not well formed.

Roll out dough on a floured surface or on top of Parchment Paper.  Don’t roll too thin
because the crackers break easily.  Cut in squares with a knife or a pizza cutter.
Bake for about 13-15 minutes until golden brown. I use parchment paper to make things
easier or a Sil-Pat works as well.

If they last this long, they will keep covered for a week or so.

Ostara Is Upon Us

Ok, here we are just a week away from Ostara also known as the beginning of Spring and it is time to plant some of the warm weather seeds like tomatoes and eggplant. All the pepper, leek, shallot and onion plants are up and going. It is also time to get your flower seeds going. Marigolds. zinnas, and nasturtium to attract pollinators and discourage pests. I'm going to try and get all my different peas in the ground this weekend as well. I'm a little late as I was waiting for my inoculant to show up. Insuring the legumes like peas have the proper bacteria they need to fix nitrogen from the air makes a big difference in yield. Everybody get planting.

I'm running a little slow as I am having some laser surgery on my legs and it makes them a little tender, not to mention that I have to wear compression stockings which limit my flexibility a bit. The old "very close vein" thing. Getting old sucks but the other option isn't too great either.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Spring Really Is Coming

In spite of the record cold over the last week, Spring really is coming. Here we are at the last week in February and it is time to get the slow growing garden plants going. Peppers are the big thing for me since around here I target the last week of April to get the peppers and tomatoes in the ground. Pepper seeds planted this week will, with luck, be ready to go into the garden when the soil temperatures warm. Slow to germinate and slow to get going you really need them started in the next few days.

My shallots and leeks are just peeking through the soil. I started them a couple of weeks ago and they have been in the greenhouse keeping nice and warm with a grow mat underneath. They don't mind cool but need some warmth to germinate.

I won't start tomatoes for another couple of weeks as they germinate quickly and grow much faster. If I start them too early they will be too leggy before the ground is warm enough. If the ground is too cold the tomato plants will just sit there and do nothing until the ground warms.

Time to think about companion plants for the garden as well. The right plants in the garden will go a long way in helping you with pests. They also have the added bonus of bringing some color.
You can't beat Marigolds as companions with just about any garden plant. They repel beetles, nematodes, and even some animal pests. I plant them everywhere I have a square foot of space. They typically stay small and compact and they also attract bees and butterflies. Zinnas are good too but they can get pretty tall.

Other good companion plant can act as trap plants, luring insects to themselves instead of your precious vegetables. Nasturtiums, for example, are so favored by aphids that the devastating insects will flock to them instead of other plants.

Carrots, dill, parsley, and parsnip attract garden heroes — praying mantises, ladybugs, and spiders — that munch on insect pests. I always have plenty of dill, basil and parsley planted in the garden. Besides their value as pest prevention they are a must for cooking. The parsley will even overwinter in many parts of the country.

Don't forget about what I call "quickie veges": Lettuce, radishes, and other quick-growing plants sown between hills of melons or winter squash will mature and be harvested long before these vines need more leg room.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Just Your Basic Tomato Soup

It's cold and there are snow flurries. I'm feeling it in my bones and I need some comfort. Not many things make me happier than a nice bowl of soup and there are few soups better than a plain old tomato soup. Nothing fancy...just tomatoes, onions and broth. That's what's coming down for dinner tonight along with some homemade sourdough with toasted Le Gruyere.


2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
3 cups low-salt chicken broth ( I prefer Swanson)
1 quart of home canned plum tomatoes or 1 28-oz. can whole peeled plum tomatoes, puréed (include the juice) try to find San Marzano tomatoes from Italy as they are as close as you'll find to home canned.
1-1/2 tsp. sugar
3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp of dried thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a nonreactive 5- to 6-quart pan, heat the oil and butter over medium-low heat until the butter melts. Add the onion  and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned, about 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the flour to the onion and garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. This will get the raw taste out of the flour.

Add the broth, tomatoes, sugar, thyme, and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat while stirring the mixture to make sure that the flour is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes.

Discard the thyme sprig. If you like it "chunky" its ready to go. If you like it smooth then use an immersion blender or  purée in two or three batches in a blender or food processor. If you used a blender or processor then return the soup to the pot and adjust the salt and pepper. Reheat if necessary.

Croutons, goat cheese, or parmesan  all make great garnishes. There is also nothing wrong with sprinkling a few Fritos on top either.

No need to mention grilled cheese sandwiches.

Coltrane on the recorder

I can't even fathom how long it must have taken to get this right.

Maybe Steve Bates can tell us.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Happy Candlemas, Imbolc, Brigid's Day and Ground Hog Day.

Happy Candlemas, Imbolc, Brigid's Day and Ground Hog Day. The ancients have celebrated the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox since forever. It notes the first signs of spring and a celebration of the ancient belief in the transformation of the Goddess from the old Crone of Winter into the Maiden of Spring. Later the Christians took the holiday as Candlemas and celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the temple. It is the day candles are purified for the church. It is also Brigid's Day. Brigid is the Goddess of poetry, healing, smithcraft, and midwifery and is celebrated with candles as well. Whatever your flavor enjoy the day. As the old saying goes.....

If Candlemas is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year;
If Candlemas brings snow and rain, old winter shall not come again.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Wind Wimp

I should be in the garden but I'm a wimp. I just got back from taking Zoey for a walk and the wind beat me up. It's not really that cold (45F) but the wind is a steady 20 mph or so with gusts of probably 30 or more. I dislike it immensely. My task for the day in the garden was to continue putting wood chips in the paths between the beds. This necessitates laying newspaper down first which is impossible with any wind. There...I've justified staying in and reading and drinking tea.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Johnny Cakes

Updated below: Johnny cakes or Journey cakes as they were originally called are a quick and easy way to add some novelty and good taste to a meal. That's especially true for a nice winter meal of beans, chili or vegetable soup. They are super easy. All you need is some corn meal, salt, milk, butter and a griddle or big fry pan. Actually, you don't even need the fry pan as another name for them is "hoe cakes" as you can use the back of your hoe to cook them over an open fire whilst working in the field,

The following basic recipe will make about 16 cakes but you can easily double or triple it for making a bunch and since there is no leavening you can make the batter a day or two in advance and likewise keep extra for a couple days.

Johnny or Journey or Hoe cakes

1/4 cup butter (if you use salted butter cut back a wee bit on the salt)
1/4 cup whole milk
1 cup plain cornmeal ( I like yellow but white
is fine just make sure it is NOT self rising)
1 1/2 Tsp salt
3/4 cup boiling water

In a small pan (or in the microwave) heat the butter and milk until the butter melts and set aside.
In a medium bowl mix together the cornmeal, salt. stir in the water, mixing well then add the milk/butter.
Using a quarter cup measure cook the cakes on a medium hot griddle or fry pan(or hoe). If the pan is the right temperature it should take about 3 minutes until the edges start to brown. Flip and cook on the other side about a minute more. These are best served hot.

You can fancy these up with some tasty additions to the batter. Try some green onion or chopped hot pepper. Minced shallots or garlic is nice. Use your imagination. A little sorghum, molasses or honey isn't a bad idea either.

Update: I should have mentioned that you want a batter that will flow a bit like pancake batter. If it is too thick add a little more boiling water (this is especially true if the batter sits for a while). Too thin add a little more cornmeal.  If you have to spread the batter out manually on the pan then you need to thin it a bit.

I should also note that I add a tablespoon of Bob's Red Mill Polenta to the mixture to create a little more texture.
one more thing...I only got 12 cakes out of this recipe last night. That's enough for the two of us but you should probably go for the full batch if there are more than two.

Image from Country

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Easy French Onion Soup

It is forecast for more rain this afternoon and I am in the mood for onion soup. Here is
the recipe I use. You'll see a lot of recipes for all beef broth but I think that hides some of
the onion flavor so I like to cut it with some chicken broth. The key is to fully caramelize
the onions...they should be rich and dark before we move to the broth part. Sometimes it
helps to add a bit of white sugar to the onions which will encourage the caramelization.

It is believed that the original onions soups were made with just onions and water and it
was only the caramelized onions that brought flavor. Meat based stocks were a luxury for
the peasants. You can, of course, use water and or a vegetable stock here but I really like
the recipe below. Since there are only two of us I typically only make a half recipe so I
don't have to deal with left overs. I should mention that the only really safe bowls or
crocks for the broiler are stoneware or something like Pyrex. Regular old dishes might
crack. I have a special set of onion soup crocks that work great. Just be careful.


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 pounds thinly sliced sweet or red onions (about 6 medium onions)
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine (I use vermouth)
4 cups  low-sodium beef broth
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
8 to 10 sprigs fresh thyme stripped or 1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Half a good baguette slice into 3/4 inch slices on the angle buttered lightly
3 cups grated Le Gruyere cheese


In a large heavy-bottom pot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the sliced onions, salt,
and pepper and continue to cook on low heat, stirring occasionally until the onions
become a deep golden brown and very soft, about 30 to 45 minutes and depending on the
moisture in the onions even longer. Be patient this is where all the flavor comes from.
Add the flour and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. If you are using dried thyme add it now along
with the white wine and scrape up any fond on the bottom of the pan and simmer for 5
minutes. Add the beef stock and  chicken stock, fresh thyme, and bring to a simmer.
Cook for an additional 30 minutes.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Preheat the oven 400F and toast the lightly buttered bread slices. 10 or 15 minutes
should do just want them lightly browned but nice and crisp.

Ladle the soup into 4 to 6 oven-safe crocks or bowls. Top with the toast and a handful of
grated Le Gruyere. Arrange the crocks or bowls on a half sheet pan as they will be easier
to handle.

Place the crocks or bowls under the broiler for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the cheese is
melted and begins to brown.

This recipe makes four generous servings or 6 starter servings

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Seed Day

Ok, madam is away for the day, so after taking Zoey out for our walk it is seed catalog day. All the catalogs spread on the kitchen table and then from arugula to watermelon we look at each catalogs offerings and select the varieties we want to try. I always lean toward Seed Savers Exchangeand heirloom and next Botanical Interests followed by Territorial Seeds, Park, Burpee, Jung and then all the smaller ones like Humble Seed ,Sustainable Seed Company, and all the rest. I'll make my lists for each company and then order them on the web. Still haven't decided if I am going to try corn this year but just to be only the safe side I'll order seed. For sure this year is Bloody Butcher and Hopi Blue and another yellow sweet corn of some variety. All the rest is up in air.