Sunday, May 18, 2014

Radishes. Who knew?

I'm beginning to suspect there are a lot of foods we've all been brainwashed to dislike ~ without ever even bothering to try them!  Radishes, for instance.  Thankfully, my ol' pop liked radishes, growing them and eating them, so I learned from him to appreciate a crisp, tangy radish on my salad.  As a crop, there is nothing more fun to grow.  They sprout from seed in a mere three days (sometimes sooner!), grow sturdily and faster than their weeds, and harvest with ease, producing a pretty, red globed root.

I did RUE that heirloom variety I got from Baker Creek, but now I'm thankful for that too-hot-to-eat  radish because it has forced me to look outside the radish as a garnish rose (not that I've made a radish rose since I was 16 or so.)

My first try was to roast them, following a recipe that promised to take away the bitterness, making the pretty, red root taste just like a potato.  No go!  The radish top soup I made was very good, even scoring a hit with my husband, but it doesn't use the root.   I then braised the roots with a bit of sugar.  The braised radishes were yummy with no hint of bitterness, but I'm not a big fan of a sugared vegetable with my meal.

Next I found an easy recipe for pickling.  This one was attractive because I had all the ingredients on hand, garlic cloves, whole black peppercorns, white vinegar, kosher salt and sugar.  I found a plastic lid to fit a glass jar from my stash and assembled the ingredients, tossed in my clean, fresh-picked radishes, tucked them in the refrigerator and gave them a shake a few times over the next three days.

The vinegar bleaches the radish, and the radish skin's pigment stains the vinegar, so the solution is red, and the radishes turn pink throughout.  It's strikingly pretty!  I ate one last night with my fresh, chopped tomato, and it was terrific!  The radish provided crunch and a tang of vinegar.  There's no hint of the bitterness.   Add a dash of olive oil for instant salad dressing.
This is one radish recipe I definitely chalk up into the success column.  I will make more of these as long as the radishes keep coming, and I look forward to trying variations on the theme.  Red wine vinegar, perhaps?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Whites, I Love 'Em

Roses are blooming in yellow, burgundy red, pink and a red that's crazy red.  That last one was my mom's.  Peonies are just turning pink.  Chives are pink to lavender. I have an orange and a red honeysuckle already long in bloom and, of course, the irises in yellow, purple, violet, orange, and my favorite, the white.

There's a lot of shade at Rivergarth, and I soon learned that dark colored flowers like purple or saturated reds don't show well here.  I learned, too, that whites are positively luminous.  In the evening, they glow.  So it's here that I really fell in love with whites, although gardenia and I did conduct a love affair as far back as the early 80s.  There's something about the subtlety of white that tugs at the heart.  I can't resist. 

Below are some of the whites presently blooming for me.  Some are sublime, some shy, some humble, some outrageous!

I include lamb's ear because its soft, silver foliage acts as a pseudo-white at Rivergarth.  I have it paired with a dark yew tree, although the 'ears spread everywhere.  I let them stay when they're not in the way.  Otherwise, it's the compost heap for these gentle invaders.

Not all white iris are the same.  These are the three I have.  The one at the bottom was the earliest and is done blooming.  The beard is white, which I consider a bonus, but it retains the slightest taint of lavender in the petals.  The top two are in full bloom.  The first one, obviously, has the orange beard, and the style arms are elongated, which looks like it has three, thin, additional petals.  The second one is almost yellow, but what a yellow!  So delicate!
This is the honeysuckle bush sold in wildlife bundles.  The birds like the red berries, but they're no good as people food.  These spread everywhere, and I am continually weeding them out because they will grow 20 feet high and an as yet undetermined amount in width if left unchecked.  My red and orange honeysuckle vines are already blooming, as I mentioned, and the whites are nearly to open.  When that happens, the air swirls thick with heady fragrance.
White clover is mildly successful here.  I am always encouraging it to spread, but it is fickle, and I haven't figured out exactly whether it wants to be left alone or pampered.  The bees go gaga over it naturally.
This year's first pea blossom.  Pitter-pat. That's my heart skipping a beat.  I'm in love!
Last, another chapter to the lemon blog I've threatened to write.  This is a plant I got at Atwood's about a month ago.  We went back for chicken feed last week, and those same lemon plants were at death's door.  I wanted to adopt them all and take them home, but have settled for the one I already had.  And look what it is doing for me, blooming!  I hope a bee will find it!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Kansas Darlings!

My mom was REALLY SOMETHING!  No wonder my dad went gaga over her.  Mom's in the middle of the first pic, the one with Bennie scrawled across her back!  Scandalous!  I've enlarged the following photos so the print can be read.  The newspaper is the Bull Shoals Gazette, Flippin, Ark,., May, 1950.  Mom was only 19.  She wouldn't turn 20 until November.


In less scandalous news, Mom posed with other winners of an art award in 1948.  Somewhere in all my boxes, there are several similar awards for her art.  This picture is from The Wichita Beacon, Thursday, May 13, 1948.

Note:  Should anyone want the additional pic of Lova, let me know, and I can email it.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Gathering on a Rainy Morning

Last night's rain made many of the irises droop, so I cut some more for the kitchen.  Before they made it to the vases, I thought the shadows while the flowers were still in the pail looked pretty enough to picture.

 Those in full sun and not too crowded withstood the rain quite nicely, like these salmon orange ones, one of my favorites.
I put them with a bicolor iris of orange and violet in a cobalt blue vase.  Crazy!

There were lambs' quarters galore around the firepit for the chicks, so I picked them a big bucket full.  The babies LOVE fresh greens!  Then I picked some greens for us in the kitchen.  Fresh buttercrunch lettuce and baby beet tops in the salad spinner below.

Also in the greens aisle of my rainy grocery store were the young Swiss chard.  Rain-drenched, first pick of this planting, they could not be more perfect or more tender.  Not a lot, just enough to sauté and place beside brown rice and an egg (one of which was waiting for me this morning.  More when the hens get busy!)
Inside, I have to brag about my lemon project.    Lemons are a blog unto themselves, but the abbreviated version is that I got another seed to germinate (first pic below).  It doesn't look like much, but it is the third!  The germination miracle happens on the dining table, then the wee seedlings are moved to my window nursery to sunbathe (second pic) until they are tough enough to go outside on the porch.  After proving they can handle conditions on the front porch, they go out to the garden, and here are my first two lemon babies from seed (third pic below).  So excited!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Plastic-free Bread?

I'm on a quest to do just that, keep my kitchen supplied with bread that doesn't require plastics for me to make.  The recipe must be easy enough for me to not mind making it every week by hand (without a bread machine) and easy because baking is not my forte.

A good while back, I did actually reduce the amount of plastic packaging we purchase along with our bread by switching to frozen dough, which comes packed five loaves to a bag.  Better than a bag with every loaf of ready-to-eat.  This was a vast improvement.  The fresh-baked bread is delicious, and it's convenient to keep a big store of it in the freezer.*  I keep and re-use the plastic, dough bags, but there are only so many of these I need.  Like the plastic, shopping bags (we no longer acquire), they tend to pile up.  It's time for a new boycott, the first R of the four R`s, refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle, in that order of priority.

To that end, I'm trying recipes as I have time and motivation to do so.  The latest is from a languishing blog, Home Baked, called Buttermilk Bread.  In case that blog disappears, I'll write out the recipe here:

Buttermilk Bread
Makes 2 large loaves

2 cups lukewarm water
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. melted butter

Mix the water, buttermilk, yeast, salt and sugar in a 5-quart bowl or lidded food storage container.  Add the flour and stir until all the flour is incorporated.  (I use a large silicone spatula, but a wooden spoon works fine, too.)

Cover the bowl or container (not airtight) and let rest at room temperature for about 2 hours.At this point, you can use the dough immediately or keep it covered (still not airtight) in the refrigerator to use over the next 7 days.  Sprinkle the dough with a little flour and scoop out half.  Dust the piece of dough with a little more flour and quickly and gently shape it into a ball.  Stretch the ball into an oval and place in a greased 9x4x3 non-stick loaf pan.  The pan should be a little more than half full.

Let the dough rest for 40 minutes (or 1 hour and 40 minutes for refrigerated dough).  Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Dust the loaf with flour, and slash the top with the tip of a sharp knife.  Brush the top with melted butter.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown.  Remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.  Keeps well in a sealed plastic bag for about 3 days.

When I made it, I had my oven set on convection bake, and I still had to add 5 minutes to get the same golden brown that was in the blog's picture.  This was also with only one loaf in the oven because I halved the recipe.  With two loaves in there, it might need more time.  At the point of refrigeration in the above recipe is the stage when I think I can throw the bread dough in the freezer to replicate the convenience I currently enjoy.

Of course, it's not enough to be easy and delicious.  It has to reduce my use of plastic, and if the basic ingredients are purchased in a bunch of plastic containers, then I might be worse off than I was.  So here's the plastic count based on what is currently available to me.

2 cups lukewarm water
0 units of plastic.

 1 cup buttermilk

Dairy has become an issue since my grocery no longer carries milk in the fold-top paper cartons.   I don't normally buy buttermilk because it might go to waste.  I make it, now, with whatever milk product I have on hand and a little vinegar.  The milk, whatever form, still comes with the plastic cap and a plastic ring.  The vinegar, too, though in a glass bottle, has a plastic cap and ring.  The vinegar's saving grace is that it will be used for many, many loaves, so many that the plastic contribution to my bread is negligible.  2 units of plastic.

 1 1/2 Tbsp. active dry yeast
I buy yeast in a glass jar with a metal screw cap.  0 units of plastic.

 1 Tbsp. Kosher salt

My salt comes in a paper box with a metal spout.  0 units of plastic.

 1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar

Sugar comes packaged in paper.  0 units of plastic.

 6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Flour also comes packaged in paper.  0 units of plastic.

 1 Tbsp. melted butter

I buy butter in sticks individually wrapped in paper, packaged in a paper box.  0 units of plastic.

My plastic unit total comes to 2, the cap and ring from the dairy, unavoidable at this point.  I can rationalize this amount by claiming that the dairy is purchased for other purposes and that I'm only borrowing, but it's just as possible that I might buy milk only to make the bread.  Assuming I purchase milk solely for the bread, I can buy as large a unit of milk as one gallon.  That much makes 32 loaves, but that's more than I would probably bake before the milk spoils.  More realistically, I imagine myself making about 10 loaves.  Before, I had 2 plastic units, the bag and the bag clip, for every 5 loaves.  Now I have 2 plastic units for every 10 loaves, half the plastic.  Is it worth the effort of mixing my own dough bread?  Only if my husband will eat it with as much pleasure as he eats the fresh-baked bread I'm currently buying as a frozen dough.

Of course, a better solution** is to find a bread that is both delicious and dairy-free.  I looked online for dairy-free alternatives, but the list doesn't look promising.  The bread has to be versatile, delicious true, but sliceable and the right flavor for a sandwich or as toast.

Pending a new idea, this is my new bread.   Below is a pic of the first loaf fresh from the oven.  After it cooled, we sliced it and declared it superb in every way for our needs.  In flavor, it was far, far better than the store-bought dough.  It even had a better structure for slicing.  Importantly for me, it's extremely easy to make.  This will, at least, allow me to test how the process of mixing dough in batches and freezing works for me.
*Freezing is low on my list of desirable methods of food preservation.  It requires a lot of energy no matter how you calculate it, and it's HIGHLY unreliable.  One, sustained power outage, and all your hard work and ingredients consumed are lost.  Another reason this particular bread recipe is appealing is that it is simple enough to whip up individually every few days, eliminating the freezer stage should that fail us for any reason.
**Another alternative is to use powdered milk.  I can buy that in paper boxes with metal spouts.  It's  another direction I fully intend to try.