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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Herbes de Provence

OK, I know I promised pickles today, but I'm using a new recipe that requires a 24 hour soak in a brine in the ' tomorrow you will see pickles!
Today was a pretty busy day, so I sort of skimped on the whole breakfast and lunch thing. A couple of cups of Joe and I'm ready to go, right? Hot, black, dark roast coffee chugged and I'm good for a couple of hours.Well, maybe 3 cups...
 I think I made sense when I spoke at Masses today...although, I'm pretty sure the people at the Spanish Mass were looking at me with sympathy instead of enthusiasm. Oh well, I gave it my best! As usual...
Anyhow, I decided that I deserved a delicious, home cooked dinner, since I will be rather busy the rest of this week and next weekend. I'll be working some late nights and I'll be on retreat next weekend, so dinner will be either leftovers or something from the freezer. Sorry, Kevin. I'll cook next Sunday night after I get home from the Catechist Retreat :)
I was browsing the internet for inspiration and I saw something that had 'herbes de provence' as an ingredient. I thought about a gift my brother and his wife (Gene & Carla) brought me home from France in 1993 after their was a grinder for 'herbes de provence' full of the delicious herbal blend. I remember how excited I was because I wanted to use something in my cooking from France...anyhow, I saved the grinder, even though the 'herbes' were long gone, so today, when I saw the recipe, I actually dug it out!
So, I perused the recipe for 'herbes de provence' and discovered that I had everything except savory. OK, who grows savory? Not me...anyhow, I added a little more sage and thyme and voila! Herbes de Provence!
Very important- use all dried herbs...not fresh. 
3 tablespoons oregano leaves (from my garden!)
3 tablespoons thyme leaves (from my garden!)
1 teaspoon basil leaves (from my garden!)
2 teaspoons rubbed sage (from my garden!)
2 tablespoons lavender flowers (from my garden!)
1 teaspoon rosemary (from my garden!)
2 crushed bay leaves
mix together and store in a cool, dry your spice jar drawer or cabinet.

The recipe was for a roast chicken with roasted potatoes and sauteed haricot verts. Well, I was not about to go to the store for a whole chicken, so I made something different...sorta.
I also picked up some Inca Purple Potatoes at Mountain Valley Gardens on Friday- they apparently are growing really well here in the Basin and will be added to the rest of the potato crop by local farmers. Mountain Valley had very good prices on a lot of produce, so I grabbed the purples and some locally grown red potatoes, as well as some enormous peaches.
The purple potatoes are really nice- I peeled one and it is really a dark purple...
So I took a couple of chicken tenders, chopped them into chunks and tossed them with a little EVOO and a few grinds of the herbes de Provence. Then, I chopped a couple of cloves of garlic and added it to a medium heat cast iron skillet with some canola oil and let them cook for a minute- then I added the chicken and let it brown. I tossed the chicken and added the potatoes, a couple more grinds of the herbes de Provence and a handful of frozen artichoke hearts. I tossed this all around until everything was fragrant and starting to brown up nicely, then added a pinch of kosher salt and 1 cup of sauvignon blanc. I was drinking a dry white sauvignon blanc, so why not add it? I added a pat of butter and put it in a 400 degree oven to finish.

While it was in the oven, I tossed the Sungold and Sweet One Million cherry tomatoes I picked yesterday with a small Diva cucumber with a little salt, and I tossed the handful of green beans from the garden in some boiling water for oh, about 3 minutes, and drained them.

You can see how the Inca Purple potatoes retained their deep purple color. Dinner was delicious!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Today's Haul

This weekend, Kevin is down in the OC to stand as Godfather (and a proxy "Godmother" for me!) for our nephew, Sean-Luc, who will be baptized on Sunday. Last night, he hung out with some of my family down at a campsite in Doheney Beach. Lucky guy!
In the meantime, I'm home taking care of the dogs, chickens and other household things that need to get done.
Yesterday's weather was awful. The skies were thick with smoke from a nearby fire, it was over 95 degrees and it was very humid. Thunderstorms were predicted, but none materialized. Although, we did have a pretty good downpour very early this morning. All three rain barrels are now full. Good news for me, because they were down to the last couple of gallons.
Today, I woke up to some bright sunshine and clear, smoke-free skies. I guess the rain washed it all away. I hope it stays that way, because although it's going to be cooler over then next few days (high 80s) I still don't like the smoke.
So I cut the grass in the backyard this morning for the first time. It was pretty easy, once I got the hang of the Neuton electric mower. Kevin had already set the height on the thing, so I just had to put the battery and the key in correctly and off I went. I did a pretty good job! Well, at least, I thought I did...the nice thing about the electric mower is that it is very quiet. I had to push the chickens out of the way as I was cutting the grass. They weren't startled at all.
Next, I collected eggs. I got one from each hen today. Foggy didn't lay one yesterday, but she was the first one this morning to make up for it! I can tell when she or Moa don't lay because Foggy lays pure white eggs and Moa lays pastel green eggs.
Then, I picked today's produce, which you can see below-
I've been getting a nice handful of 'Sweet One Million' and 'Sungold' cherry tomatoes for the past few days. The 'Martino' Romas are finally starting to ripen nicely, and I'm also getting a good handful of green beans each day. I got a couple of nice sized zucchini and straight neck yellow squash, and to top it off, a few more pickling cucumbers. I think I have enough now to make one quart jar of pickles, so that will be a project for tomorrow!
The other reason I stayed home is that I am going to speak at all Masses this weekend to make an appeal for teachers for Religious Education. I'm going to tell the story of Sister Janie, who was a postulant for the Presentation Sisters and the youth minister at St. Irenaeus in Cypress, CA when I was in 7 & 8 grade. (Coincidentally, that is where Sean-Luc will start Kindergarten in September) Sister Janie (among others) really influenced me to stay active in Youth Ministry, so I'm hoping that by telling a positive story about myself, others will want to work with children to teach them about their faith. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer Salt

My garden is looking just lovely this time of year. I'm harvesting a couple of zucchini and yellow squash every day. the Swiss Chard and Tuscan Kale are growing like mad and I finally have picked enough green beans to serve for dinner tonight! The cherry tomatoes are just starting to ripen. I am looking forward to leaving a salt shaker in the garden for snacking!
This is the second year in a row we have used the "Topsy Turvy" for tomato plants. There is one small tomato on a very stunted plant, so this is probably the last year for tomatoes in that thing! The basil, however, loves the "Topsy Turvy". I harvested quite a bit on Saturday and made a delicious pesto. I was able to freeze some of the pesto for later use in pasta and soup...I love a dollop stirred into soupe au pistou in the fall. Yes, you've had soupe au pistou's a vegetable soup made with a little pasta and beans. I've been making this version for years. The Complete Vegetarian Cuisine by Rose Elliot
Anyhow, I also had about 2 cups of basil leaves and stems left after making pesto, so I used a brand-new-to-me recipe from this month's Food Network Magazine and made some Basil Salt.
It's pretty simple.
Take 1/2 cup of packed basil leaves and pulse in a food processor with 1/2 cup of Kosher salt.
Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and place in a 225 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Stir frequently until it's completely dry.
Cool. Place back in the food processor and pulse until it is a very fine texture.
As you can see in the first photo, I really did follow the directions, but I couldn't bring myself to make all of the salt into dust. I do like a little texture when adding salt for color and flavor!
We tried the more coarse salt on some fresh tomato slices last night and all I can say is, "Oh, my!" It really brought out the delicious flavor of the tomato. I can see that this will get a lot of use in our house! I'm thinking about Pizza Margarita....

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Improvise, Adapt and Overcome

I'm sure many of you have come to know how much my husband, Kevin and I love Clint Eastwood movies. I've posted several times about one of our very favorites, "Heartbreak Ridge". Clint very famously said, "Improvise, Adapt, Overcome" as Gunny Highway, and this quote is also the unofficial motto of the United States Marines. These are qualities of a good leader- someone who can think on their feet and use what is at hand to get the job done. I modestly think that I try to follow these principles- at work, and when cooking. After that long, roundabout explanation, I wanted to share with you a delicious cocktail that I am enjoying as I write...a Watermelon Mojito.
Today was the Sacred Heart Church Picnic at gorgeous Moore Park. The park overlooks Upper Klamath Lake, and has a cathedral of beautiful enormous pine trees in the picnic area. It also has a huge grassy area, so it's the perfect place for a Church picnic for 250+ people to attend Mass, eat and have fun with children!
The weather was also wonderful...but it was HOT this afternoon. After trotting all over the place, taking pictures, talking to everyone, handing out registration forms for Religious Education Classes (which start on September 9) I was sweating up a storm.
I checked in with my husband, Kevin, who was a volunteer cook with the other Knights of Columbus, to let him know I was heading home to my lovely air-conditioned living room. He sarcastically said something like, "You better have a cold watermelon mojito waiting for me with extra rum when I get home." We had purchased one of those cute little watermelons earlier in the week, and never got around to eating it, so we had briefly discussed making watermelon mojitos a couple of days ago.
Not one to back down from a challenge, I replied that he would have to hope I was kind enough to save some for him when he got home later in the day, which of course, drew a couple of laughs.
I drove home and exhausted, walked into a hotbox from hell. I had forgotten to turn on the air! Argh!
Anyhow, after I got the air on, watered the garden and played with the dogs and the chickens, I got busy making mojitos.
I found this great recipe from Sunnny Anderson of Food Network that seemed simple and tasty.  Here it is if you would like to see the actual recipe: Sunny Anderson's Watermelon Mojito 
Unfortunately, I didn't have most of the ingredients.
No agave syrup? No problem! I made some simple syrup. (We used all of the lovely lavender simple syrup a few days ago)
No limes or real lime juice? No problem! We had some Rose's lime juice left from the last batch of cocktails we created.
No mint? No worries...parsley will be just fine.
Not sure how much watermelon you have that is cut up? Deal with it- just chunk it all up and dump it in the blender. You can always add more or less rum.

No clear rum? That's OK, Captain Morgan Spiced Rum will probably be just fine.
Blend it all up, strain it, and pour over ice. It's cold, and pretty tasty.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lavender Love

I've been growing lavender for the past 4 years in my herb garden. I just love the colorful pops of purple growing through the parsley this time of year! I also dug some up and planted it in some pots around the yard just to insert a little color in all the green expanse of the dogwood and lawn.
I had quite a few questions on what to do with lavender during the garden tour last weekend, so I thought I'd share a couple of ideas with you. Many people grow lavender in Klamath Falls because it is one of the very few things that the deer won't eat...and chickens don't care for it, either!
So, I cut all the purple stems I could find, and gently rinsed them. Then, I laid them out on a clean kitchen towel and placed them in trays in a sunny location. I dry herbs in the house because it gets chilly and moist outside at night here in the summer.
When the stems are completely dry (at least a week) I gently remove the purple flower heads.
At this point, you can store them in clean jars for later use.
One of my favorite ways to use dried lavender is as a natural dryer cloth! Take a couple of tablespoons of the dried flowers, place them in a small, clean cotton or muslin bag and tie the top tightly. Toss it in with your clothes in the dryer. It's a natural softener and it gives the clothes a fresh light scent!

I also make lavender sugar for sweet iced tea. Take 2 tablespoons of dried lavender flowers and wrap in cheesecloth or another of those little cotton bags. Bury it in a canister of sugar and close tightly. After two weeks, remove the bag of lavender and you will have a lightly scented sugar. Well, that's one method, but I'm too impatient for that! Shoot, two weeks is half the summer! What I REALLY do is take 1 teaspoon of lavender flowers and toss it in a food processor with 1 cup of sugar. I process it for at least a minute to make a very fine sugar that is loaded with lavender flavor! Keep in a tightly closed bin or in a plastic baggie. Yes, you will have some little floating pieces of lavender in your tea, but it's worth it!

My latest recipe came from a friend who posted an intriguing cocktail on Facebook using lavender- a lavender/blueberry mojito. I decided that I could use the lavender simple syrup in lots of ways, so I made a jar!

First, I added one cup of sugar to one cup of water in a heavy bottom pan. Bring it to a boil and add 1 cup of lavender flowers...and stems, if you have saved them. Stems have a lot of flavor, too!
Let it boil for at least 5 minutes, until all the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear.
Turn off the heat and let it cool slightly. Don't chill it or it will be impossible to strain!
Strain and continue to let it cool.

Pour into a clean mason jar and store in the refrigerator. It will keep for a week...if it lasts that long :)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Klamath Sustainable Community Garden Tour

I was excited to read in the paper a couple of weeks ago that the Klamath Sustainable Community was actively looking for people who would like to be on the Garden Tour this year. I've never felt as if our garden looked "good enough" for a tour in the past. Although we do still have many garden projects, I thought I'd give it a try this year.
Dwight Long, the coordinator, came over for an inspection and approved our yard. They are not just looking for beautiful landscaping, but ideas for a sustainable community.
The tour was yesterday.
We just completed a drip system for the vegetable garden/chicken garden, and it has been working beautifully. It's a very efficient system, so added to the rainbarrels we are hoping to reduce our water usage in the summer.

The people were very impressed with our use of space for growing vegetables and herbs. They loved the cages for the string beans and tomatoes! It didn't hurt that everything is producing like gangbusters right now! About half the corn stalks have a couple of ears, the tomato plants are bursting with tons of beautiful green tomatoes, and the Swiss Chard and Tuscan Kale, well you can see from the photo that they are giving us lots of delicious greens! 

Of course, the girls all added their own special flair...

And Kevin worked his gardening magic to make the front of the house the envy of the neighborhood!
Everyone was delighted with the lavender sugar I made for the iced tea, and the homemade zucchini chocolate muffins were also a big hit! I had a little display of things you can do with the bounty from the garden, as well as posters all around the yard pointing out the sustainable practices we use- from mulching the grass clippings, to our two composting barrels ( one is for only 'hot' chicken litter) to rain barrels and raising chickens for eggs.
It was a really fun afternoon, in spite of the hot and humid day.
Later that evening, we had a huge thunderstorm and enough rain to fill all 3 nearly empty rainbarrels. We had a lot of fun sitting on the porch, watching the light show and cooling down after such a muggy afternoon...but some of our neighbors were not so fortunate...
Our neighbor's 30' maple tree bit the dust in the incredible winds! And there are still parts of Klamath County without power.