A New Year’s Day MUST

Black-eyed peas have been soaked overnight, organic collard greens washed and ready, and all the other ingredients for New Year’s Day are waiting to be prepped for a hearty soup tonight.

Growing up in the Tidewater area of Virginia, my family ate black-eyed peas and collard greens on a regular basis, but I don’t remember them on New Year’s Day. Did everyone in the South except our family eat collard greens and black-eyed peas the first day of each new year?  Is this a new-ish thing or not? I am a little superstitious so I follow along.

My mother always served black-eyed peas mixed with stewed tomatoes. Collard greens was always served alongside a cruet of vinegar that we splashed atop the hot greens. I can’t remember my mother ever combining the peas and collards as I am doing tonight… although better memories of a sibling might correct me!

New Year 2018

Last year I made the traditional Southern Hoppin’ John over rice. This year we are having soup based on a tasty recipe in the New York Times…. minus the ham hock.

Wealth should be breaking down the door!  And if I feel especially lucky after I dine tonight, I’ll be standing in line for the Powerball on Wednesday that has reached over 440 million buckaroos and growing.

collard greens 2018

Happy, Healthy, and Wealthy New Year wishes for all.

PS: It’s been 10 minutes and I’ve already been corrected by a sibling with a better memory than mine. We did eat both black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Year’s Day. Lucky me!

Prepping for the Holiday

Yes, our flock is back. They wander through our backyards and strut their stuff down the middle of our quiet street. Several neighborhood crabapple trees are an attraction, a bit of spilled birdseed another. The acorn crop was overly abundant this autumn and will keep the birds well-fed until spring.

Tom Turkey

Of course, seeing these big birds reminds us of the holiday on the horizon…. Thanksgiving! Foods and recipe ingredients for our meal have been ordered or bought and the baking will begin this weekend. We will combine family food traditions to make the holiday special for everyone.

For me, that tradition is a special ham. My favorite salty Virginia ham, on the table with the turkey, is mandatory, and it must be an Edwards Virginia Smokehouse country ham. We slice it paper-thin and serve it stacked on buttered southern buttermilk biscuits… and eaten warm. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without this Thanksgiving tradition.

edwardsham-661aedba

Added to desert menu every year are chess pies from a ‘secret’ recipe that has been passed down for many generations in my father’s Appomattox VA family, along with other choices: apple crumb pie, pumpkin custard pie, chocolate balls, buttered caramel and one birthday cake. Lots of sweets! We always eat early enough in the day to guarantee an appetite for delicious leftovers by the time darkness falls. I think a lot of folks do that…

We are looking forward to the week. One granddaughter will arrive from Bennington College by car, however we’ll be racking up the auto miles for airport transportation: once on Sunday, twice on Wednesday, once on Friday, and once the following Sunday. They’re worth every mile and we have much to be thankful for!

*Edwards Virginia Smokehouse photo

Cool Weather

I like Winter, Spring is Nice, Let’s Skip Summer, And do Fall Twice(Rusty Fischer)

Fall is my very favorite season. We have officially transitioned in New Hampshire. There is an invigorating crispness to the air so we’re wearing sweaters now, we sleep under down at night, it’s darker in the morning and in the evening, football is on the tube, leaves are changing, and it’s apple picking time!

Yesterday we spent the afternoon at our outdoor farmers’ market in Exeter, the 2nd largest in the state, where an abundance of fall crops, meats, sweets, meals, crafts and friendly faces greeted us. We didn’t have a shopping list but browsed from booth to booth stocking up on mostly vegetable goods but, oh, how to resist the flowers!

Exeter Farmers' Market 9/29/16

Browsing the booths with fall crops was a little like walking through a rainbow!

Click to see anything up close

That was yesterday. This morning I made the 4-mile drive to Applecrest Farms, New Hampshire’s oldest and largest apple orchard. They grow a variety of goods from peaches, berries, pumpkins and all the summer vegetables. A popular pastime is Pick-Your-Own. We’ve participated and ridden the wagon to the far fields for a variety of fruits.

Here is the ancient sign at Applecrest to help customers make good buying decisions. This week I’m making an apple crisp with cinnamon whipped cream topping so today I was seeking Macs, Courtland, Ida Red for cooking and Honey Crisp for eating.

Applecrest Farm

The Applecrest weekends are filled with autumn activities: music, Pick-Your-Own, hayrides, petting zoo, pie eating contests, fresh pressed cider, and fire roasted corn, sausage, dogs & burgers….. and a bit of clam chowder for me, please. On this Friday morning, they were abuzz setting up and getting ready. Mums..pumpkins…apples galore.

Oh yes, let’s do fall twice!

 

Soup does a body GOOD!

After running errands trying to beat one of our recent snowstorms, I was greeted at home by rich aromas wafting from the kitchen. mister gardener, who does practically all the cooking in this household, was making his mother’s chicken noodle soup. That means starting with a nutritious stock from scratch using an organic whole chicken from our farmers’ market and his mother’s homemade egg noodles.

He was removing the chicken bones and vegetables from the stock pot when I poked my head around the corner. It had been simmering for an hour and a half with an assortment of vegetables and herbs and smelled heavenly. The dough had been rolled out and drying on a side table.

As a toddler, he remembers climbing up on the kitchen stool up to watch and ‘help’ his mother roll out the dough and cut the noodles. He uses her recipe and her methods to this day… rolling out the dough, letting it dry, dusting the dough with flour, rolling it, and cutting the noodles.

Sliced carrots, sliced celery are added to the stock and it all simmers away until the vegetables are just tender. The reserved cut-up raw chicken is added and, finally, the delicious noodles are tossed in for the last 5 minutes. A little salt and fresh ground pepper to taste and some chopped fresh parsley just before serving, and dinner’s ready. (I’d like to think the parsley is my small contribution since I am tending it in my lovely winter herb garden!)

Dinner is served….

Chicken Noodle SoupChicken Stock: mister gardener makes his stock mostly with chicken bones. He reserves the raw breast and thigh meat, and partially cooks the bones and a few extra chicken parts, sans skin and fat, in water until the fatty foam forms on the surface. He tosses that water and starts a fresh pot of water with the same bones and simmers the stock for 1/ 1/2 to 2 hours with cut up carrots, onions, celery, garlic head, fresh thyme, and parsley. He strains the stock through a colander and he’s ready to make his soup!

Gardening in January

New Hampshire winters arrive early and by the time January rolls around we are yearning for green. So earlier this month we made an attempt to create a bay window herb garden in the kitchen even though we must deal with the low light winter sun and temperature fluctuations next to the window.

Selecting an attractive planter was my job. No plastic planter on my windowsill! I wanted metal and I found the ideal trough at Terrain, one of my favorite online stores. The dark zinc metal tough is 36″ long, 5″ wide, and 4″ high and fits perfectly in the bay window.

Habit & Form Troughmister gardener was in charge of buying and planting herbs. We now have chives, basil, oregano, and sage growing in the kitchen and being used in cooking. Because they aren’t getting the needed 6 hours of sunlight, we supplement with a grow light.  So far, so good.

We are now satisfying our need to dig and tend a garden and mister gardener is having fun with our herbs elsewhere in the kitchen.

carrot soup

Carrot soup garnished with fresh chives from the new kitchen garden

Quick Carrot Ginger Soup

2 T. butter
7 large carrots
1 large onion
1 t. minced ginger
2 c. vegetable stock
2 c. water
1 t. orange zest
salt and white pepper
chopped chives for garnish

Melt butter in a large pot. Add carrots, onions and salt and stir until softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add chicken stock, water, ginger and orange zest. Bring to a simmer, cover until the carrots thoroughly soften, about 20 minutes. Remove the orange zest and discard.  Add the soup to a blender in very small batches holding the lid down and purée until completely smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped chives.

Adapted from Simply Recipes

A Perfect Winter Salad

Since mister gardener is of German heritage and does almost all the cooking in this house, he routinely prepares meals with cabbage… just like he had growing up. The only time I ate cabbage growing up was a bit of coleslaw on pork barbeque sandwiches. It took me a while, but I’ve learned to like and appreciate the numerous ways it is presented at dinner. Besides, cabbage is good for you!

Last night’s Winter Salad, a salad that may be familiar to many, was terrific. This sweet and tangy salad that he adapted from a recipe his mother served, had the flavor of my favorite Waldorf Salad.

Winter SaladApple-Cabbage Winter Salad

3 cups finely shredded green cabbage
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup raisins, plumped with hot water, then drained
1 large Gala or Fuji apple, cored and chopped
1/2 cup of toasted sliced almonds

Dressing:
1/2 cup Hellmann’s Light Mayonnaise
1/4 cup white sugar
2-3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
pinch of sea salt

Combine the shredded cabbage, apples, onions, and raisins. Whisk the dressing until sugar dissolves and pour over the salad mixture. Toss and serve on a bed of spring greens. Top with the toasted sliced almonds.

Buckeye Bars

It’s been eons since I’ve whipped together this sweet for my children. Just hearing my daughter talk about making it for her children gave me a hankering for this super chocolate-peanut butter treat. It’s such an easy recipe with just 5 ingredients and no cooking! Is there anything better than the blend of peanut butter and chocolate?

Buckeye Bars

1 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups peanut butter (creamy or crunchy) + 3 tablespoons
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Melt butter by microwave and add to graham cracker crumbs and powdered sugar. Stir until smooth.

Buckeye BarsAdd peanut butter (I love crunchy!) and mix well.

Buckeye BarsPress evenly into a 9 x 13 casserole dish. (Optional: Line the pan with parchment paper for ease of removal) Melt chocolate chips and 3 tablespoons of peanut butter in the microwave. Stir until smooth.  Pour over peanut butter in casserole, covering all of the peanut butter mixture. Refrigerate for an hour. Cut into small squares. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Take out 10 minutes before serving.

Buckeye Bars

Late Summer Temptations…

Today, under cloudless blue skies, temperatures in the mid-70’s, we mingled with the crowds at our Exeter’s Farmers’ Market. All mister gardener needed were cucumbers for tonight’s Greek Salad and I was in the market for eggplant after seeing Diary of a Tomato’s Roasted Ratatouille, but it didn’t end there. Late season fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors were plentiful and tempting. We tried to meander and simply ‘oooo and ahhhh’ but it was the samples that won us over. After tasting a tidbit here and there, the temptation was too much. We came home with three bags full.

Here are some of the temptations that we could not resist today.

I’m not his mother, but…

…when mister gardener offered to treat me to an early Mother’s Day lunch today, I was all for it. On Mother’s Day tomorrow, we dine with family so on this breezy and wet Saturday, we made our way into town to sample yet another local restaurant.

Blue Moon Evolution has been recommended to us since we moved to New Hampshire over a year ago. The restaurant has a fine reputation for serving fresh, organic, and local foods with superior service. Once a small natural foods market and café, the evolution into a restaurant in 2010 seemed only natural.

The restaurant has garnered numerous awards since opening and is designated a certified local restaurant, one of only four New Hampshire restaurants to receive the award for living the local food movement using local and organic as much as possible. We’re also learning more about the speaker series and classes offered to educate the community about food supply and healthy living.

We were greeted and seated in a cozy table for two adorned with crab apple blossoms, freshly picked.

IMG_3675And on the windowsill were a variety of small rocks and pebbles that tempted us to design our own miniature cairns.

IMG_3677When we saw that the restaurant had won the 2013 New Hampshire Magazine readership poll for best soups, we decided the hot soup and half Nantucket Sandwich would be the perfect choice on this cool spring day.

Mr. Gardener ordered the Cream of Broccoli and Asparagus and I thought the Roasted Pepper and Tomato Purée sounded delicious. Both soups were divine.

IMG_3690Our server explained that the restaurant is transformed into a fine-dining atmosphere for the evening meal complete with white tablecloths, fresh flowers and candlelight. On the menu are local meats and seafood with local brews at the bar. You can bet we’ll be back for that!

Yes, Virginia. They grow veggies in NH…

The first tender, sweet spinach was ready for harvest today so we enjoyed a delicious salad from the garden for lunch. Grilled Salmon and Spinach Salad. If this meal looks good to you, mister gardener’s recipe follows.

Simple Grilled Salmon and Spinach Salad

Mix together in a small bowl: ½ cup olive oil, 1 lemon, squeezed, ¼ cup white wine vinegar, 2 garlic cloves, pressed, 1 T. honey,1 T. basil, chopped, and 1 T. oregano, salt, pepper.

Place 2 small salmon fillets in a small resealable bag. Add ¼ cup of the dressing/marinade, coating salmon well, then reserve the rest of the dressing. Refrigerate salmon for 15 minutes.

Add clean, washed spinach to 2 plates. Top with grape tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, red onion, and crumbled feta cheese.

Discard marinade from salmon. Grill salmon over medium heat until it flakes easily, 5 to 7 minutes.

Place salmon atop spinach leaves on plates. Drizzle with reserved dressing.

____________

We were tickled and proud to harvest a few cups of spinach from our tiny garden, greatly reduced in size from our Virginia garden. It was later today that we were somewhat humbled by another garden. Across the street, our neighbor called to mister gardener to climb up to his hillside garden for some red leaf lettuce. Holy Moly!  mister gardener’s jaw dropped when he saw the dozens of healthy lettuce varieties, other veggies galore, including somewhere close to 60 tomato plants, all grown from seed in a friend’s greenhouse. No more bragging about our spinach… but it was delicious!

Red leaf lettuce for dinner tomorrow.

There’s more to say about our extraordinary neighbors. Later…..

Eat Local and Eat Well…

Folks around here take eating local sustainably produced food seriously and we’re learning more about this daily. Last weekend we took part in a Seafood Dinner hosted by three groups that joined forces to benefit Granite State Fish and Seacoast Local.

Together, the University of New Hampshire Hospitality Management School, Granite State Fish, and Seacoast Local produced a gourmet dinner with a menu straight from the sea. Proceeds benefited Granite State Fish, a group that seeks to bring fishermen, the community, and consumers of seafood together, while encouraging sustainability and ecological responsibility. Proceeds also benefited Seacoast Local, an organization that educates local residents about the benefits of buying local and increasing community involvement in our area. The university’s Hospitality Management students organized the dinner, traveled to the docks to select fresh shrimp, oysters and fish, and helped cook and serve the dinner.

From oysters on the half, to vodka cured cod, winter squash soup with poached lobster, and the creative centerpiece on each table filled with edible pickled vegetables, we enjoyed every course down to the rich French press coffee that followed the gourmet meal. How divine.

Sprinkled throughout the room were invited area celebrity chefs, local fishermen, and UNH fishery researchers. At our table was Erik Chapman, Fisheries Program Coordinator at the University of New Hampshire. Erik engaged us by explaining the problems the local fishermen face, challenges in protecting the marine ecosystem, and hopes for developing local markets for local seafood harvest. We felt a bit of a kinship with Erik as he earned his Ph.D. in oceanography from Old Dominion University, almost in our Virginia backyard. (He said one indelible memory of Virginia is the glorious crape myrtle tree that blooms for over 3 months!)

Area restaurants take seriously Seacoast Local‘s urging to buy local. Signs like this are commonly seen on tables, menus, easels, or windows, listing the area farms where their sustainably produced foods are purchased. Organizations like Seacoast Local, Granite State Fish, Seacoast Eat Local, and others have done a good job in getting the message out there.

I’m getting used to seeing signs showing the area farms where restaurants purchase their foods, but occasionally we see window signs that make us do a double take.  I don’t think you’d never see something like this in Virginia restaurant window but this one made me smile, then go in for a meal of pancakes with Maine blueberries and local maple syrup!

Harsh Winter? Help the Birds…

The winter months can be a difficult time for birds when the weather is extremely cold and icy or the ground is snow-covered and food is scarce.  Yes, life can be tough for birds with insects gone, water frozen, and shelter difficult to find. This is a good time to supplement nature’s food supply with high calorie foods to help our feathered friends.  Oil sunflower seeds provide the best all around food source for the vast majority of birds. The outer shell is thinner than the striped sunflower shell and the kernel inside is larger than the striped-sunflower seed kernel. Another option is the shelled sunflower kernels, a favorite of numbers of birds. Suet is one of the best high calorie winter foods to tempt a number of birds from woodpeckers to chickadees. And finally, in one feeder, I cater to our three species of nuthatches, titmice, the woodpeckers, Carolina wrens, bluebirds and the occasional brown creeper that prefer this high protein mix.

Eastern bluebird (S. sialis)

We hang several large capacity tubular feeders suspended from high branches, provide a platform feeder, two domed bluebird feeders, a suet feeder and supply a sprinkling of feed over the ground for juncos, doves, finches, sparrows, pine siskins. Water is furnished by using a heating element for the pond that provides a hole in the ice.

According to Audubon, studies show that it’s a myth that feeding birds makes them dependent on feeders. It’s believed that perhaps only a quarter of a bird’s diet comes from feeders except in the harshest of weather conditions. The notion that feeding birds keeps them from migrating has also been debunked. According to Audubon, bird migration is triggered by changes in the length of the day, not the availability of food. Any bird that lingers past migration is either ill, injured or lacks the ability to migrate.

But feeding birds with seeds is only part of the picture. Improving landscape habitat is the most important part of inviting birds to your garden. Garden with berries in mind, evergreens for shelter from the winter weather, and a variety of nesting sites for spring and summer. Feeding the birds is a delightful and entertaining activity, bringing them up close and personal, enriching our lives and teaching us about more about the lives of these amazing garden friends.

Enjoy the photos in this post taken by our son who is home from college for the holiday.

Carolina chickadee (P. carolinensis) cracks open a sunflower seed

 

Dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) is a ground feeder

 

Female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

 

White-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)

 

Male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

 

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester