Monday, July 22, 2013

The Raggedy Garden Smorgasbord

  Smorgasbord.. " a widely varied collection or assortment." From the Swedish, where I have roots. You are invited to the Raggedy Garden Kitchen Smorgasbord. Here there is always coffee. ALWAYS coffee. The kind of coffee that perks away in an old Corningware coffee pot. White, with a blue bouquet. You have to be on the ball, with this pot. Else it perks up a storm and boils over. All over the stove. Huge mess. You would think I would have it all under control after all these years, but no..I still manage to not pay attention and make a mess, at times. Sigh. Perked coffee is very hot. (Because its boiling!) So keep that in mind if you drink coffee here. Every one is always burning their tongue. All coffee is good. At least,lush that I am, I have not ever had any that I could not drink. But perked coffee is especially good. It has drip coffee and K-Cups beat by a mile. Or you can have tea. It does not take long to heat up some water. And a little smackrel of something to go with the coffee. Iron Horse cowboy insists on that. He will try to shame you into having food, if nothing else works, like presentation, or shouting, or force feedng. Midnight to two o'clock in the morning coffee calls for eggs and toast, by the by!

There is usually bread rising  here. A big bowl, covered with a damp tea towel. It is how my grandmother taught me, all those years ago. We sure had fun, her and I, in the kichen. She spoke mostly Finnish, I spoke none, but we baked. Bread is so versatile, you can use any flavor of flour, or sweetening, or liquid  that you want. The basic sweet roll dough she taught me, works for any sweet breads. The most fun was doughnuts. She would cut them out with the cover from the (percolator) coffee pot. Now, there were some doughnuts! No spindley little store bought kind! These were raised, and you had to open your mouth wide to take a bite. Soft and sugary and warm. When we were done baking we would clean up the kitchen, sit down with coffee for her and hot chocolate for me, and sample our wares. Then and only then, would we share them with the others.

     So, wooden spoons and other wooden ware? Do you have some? I use mine all the time. If its something quick, a good sturdy wooden spoon works just as well as getting out the mixer. I always use a wooden spoon to mix yeast dough. And when it gets too stiff, then I go in with my hands. That way I can feel when its the right amount of flour, and I know when its smooth and elastic, and I can wash and butter the bowl, turn the dough in it and cover it with the tea towel to rise. For years I made eight loaves of bread every day, and later I did alot of bread baking for the local resturant, so I speak from experience,

    Maple. Thats an integral part of the Raggedy Garden kitchen. We make it, every spring. Sweet golden amber, sweet maple fragrance, sweet maple taste on the tongue. It's hard work. It takes a family, and alot of hours and cold and tramping through snowbanks, and the good weary feeling when you fall into bed and asleep before your head hits the pillow. And, Oh! the pancakes and waffles and french toast taste so fine. A lot of other things, too. Like brussels sprouts, and potato salad  and meats of all kinds. True North American product. Thank you Lord, for giving us sweet maple.

Awww. Sweet Potato. I like it baked, with butter and sour cream, and salt and pepper. Yup. In the microwave it bakes up in a couple minutes. ( Maple goes good on sweet potato, too, if you want sweetness.) Another way is to scrub them, slice them up as french fries, roll them in olive oil, sprinkle them with sea salt, bake them at 375 for about 20 minutes. When I was in North Carolina, I had them at  Southern Sisters with a dipping sauce of sour cream mixed with brown sugar. To die for!

Sea salt. Smokehouse pepper. I recommend you head for the nearest grocery and find some Smokehouse pepper. You can find sea salt every where now. It's the "in" thing. It really does enhance any thing you sprinkle it on. Like caramels, chocolate. Why? Why does it make stuff taste so good? I don't know. But that pepper, it has ambience. Smokey, mild,  the grains are big enough to see. I don't like pepper that looks like dust. I'm addicted. I put it on everything.

Blue berry jam. Nothing can compare to jam made from wild blueberries. They are tiny. Its hot and muggy and buggy when you have to pick them. It takes a long time to fill you bucket,, especailly if you try not to get any sticks and leaves and bugs. But its worth it. Oh, yes. It's hot while you are scalding jars, and boiling fruit and stirring the pot. But it is so worth it. So, so worth it. You will beleive it when you take a bite of that piece of toast, all warm and melty with butter and blueberry jam.

          Quaint old cook books. I just love them. Just imagine directions for a picnic like this! I have new ones, too. I read cookbooks all the time, loving words, and dreaming over pictures. A kitchen would not be a true kitchen with out a few well used cook books. The kind with stains on the pages and notes in the margins, and pages torn out. A smorgasbord of recipes and memories . A smorgasbord of loving and living.  Come again!

Friday, July 5, 2013

From the Herb Garden

     Herbs have so many variables. They are beautiful to look at. They add flavor. They have healing  and cosmetic uses. They are steeped in legend. They are fragrant. When dusk smudges the sky, and the first prickles of starshine appear, when I have finished sweating over the dish sink, then I go out into the cool of the evening. Not really very cool, but much cooler than in the kitchen. Sitting on the granite stoop I let the quietness wash over me. The night wind whispers. First I hear it whispering to the pines and hemlocks. High up, tossing the tips of the trees.  "Mini-wawa" said the  Gitchee Gummie pine trees. I have heard them, there by the lapping of the water. "Mini-wawa" they murmur to the night wind. Here they speak of silk and satin. Barely hearable swish of silk, bearly hearable swash of satin. The wind dips down into the aspen tree, shake, shake, "taffeta, taffeta", the large leaves whisper back. Like a taffeta party skirt. Like a dance in the dark. Swooping lower, my face is cooled and kissed with the night wind. It carries the sweet fragrance of newly cut hay, of the swampy place up the lane, of the heat of a dying day.
      The air is heavy. The fog swirls in on the wind. Thats when I can catch the scent of the herbs. In the heavy humid evening air. The dill, the mint, the thyme, the lavendar. The pineapple sage, the fresh clean parsley, the apple scented chamomile. It all hangs there, flavoring the dark, calling in the moths, gathering strength for the morrow.
        Parsley. Who can get along with out parsley? Fresh green color, fresh green scent. You can chew it - it freshens the breath. You can use it for garnish. You can cook it in anything. You can use it as filler for bouquets.It is rich in vitamins, minerals and chloropyll. You can have it year around. Just dig some up in the fall, and it will thrive on a sunny window sill.
        Thyme. Thyme will just thrive and grow, any where. You can grow between rocks, if you have that in mind. When it floweres, bees love it. So if that scares you, snip it when it starts to bloom. Thyme dries easily, for winter use.Thyme is the herb of courage, bravery and strength. It is an ancient herb. It is one of the herbs still used by pharmacuticals to this day. Thyme honey is much admired. 
      Dill. Lovely, feathery, dilly smelling dill. Fresh sprigs for cooking -fish- snipped on potatos and eggs. Wait till the flowers become seed heads. Then dry them for pickles. Once I accidently used them in bread instead of caraway seeds. It was amazingly fragrant and tasty.The name dill actually comes from the Norse. It means "lull". Supposedly has sleep inducing properties. The ancients beleived it was an absolute charm against witches and evil. The wind blows it around. Once you grow some, you will find it popping up all over the lawn. And that is fine! It's best to be safe from evil witches!
       Chives. Sturdy, chive-y, can't kill it if you try chives. WIth its onion like tops and purple flowers, it's a joy to behold. And use. I mean, what can't you use chives with? Eggs, potaos of all kinds, pastas, salads, meats. Freshly chopped on top of anything, it just adds panache! Meriweather Lewis wrote of finding them (he called them shives ) along the Columbia River, and early explorers found great patches of them growing near the Beaufort Sea.
       Chamomile. sweet fragile looking, tiny daisied flowers. Yet it stands for patience and strength in adversity. Everyone knows that a cup of chamomile tea is good for what ever might ail you. Like naughty Peter Rabbit, who had to take some and go to bed, while his sisters had berries! During the Revolutionary War it was refered to as the Rebel flower, because, " it flourishes the
 more, the more it is trampled upon. Chamomile dries nicely, keeping its scent, and also will self seed. It was used as a strewing herb, back in the days when you needed to strew fragrant herbs on your dirt floors. 
        The lemony herbs. Lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon thyme, lemon scented geraniums. All, of course, used for fragrance and tea. Neccessary if you make potpouri. Verbena will grow into a huge shrub in warm climates. I have to take mine in for the winter and it makes a nice green houseplant. Balms were believed to make the heart merry. So drink your tea! Every morning. And have a good day.
         Lady's Mantle. Named for the Virgin Marys cape. A fast growing, filling up space herb. The yellow - green flowers dry well. The dew collects in the cup of the leaves. They say, if you gather those dew drops, and wash you face, you will be beautiful. Well.. the dew feels cool and silky on my skin. And a girl can always use a little help!

             Italian herbs. Easy to grow. Easy to use. Basil, oregano, marjoram, savory. Pesto. Tomatos. Sauces.  Oregano and marjoram are basically the same thing. Oregano is loved by the fairies, in case you want some of them in your garden. Savory is for beans. It was first planted by the Satyrs!
             Lavendar. Mostly used for its sweet smell, but it can be used in cooking. Lavendar Lemonade is a drink fit for a king. A good king, not a bad one!. It gives a delicate flavor to cakes and cookies.
             Mint. Now here is a hardy one. It will take over your growing area. Which is okay, if it spills out into the grass. Just mow it and walk about in it, and enjoy mint. There are many different kinds of mints, from chocolate, to orange. Better to plant in a contained space, if you don't want it to spread. It will give you delightful minty flavor to any thing you wish.

         Here is Hearts Ease. Also callled Johnny Jump Ups, for the way they will jump up all over the lawn. Sweet, lovely things. Gauranteed to make happy thoughts. It is bad luck to EVER destroy one of these. Best not risk it. Let them grow where they will. They are completely edible. Look beautiful on frosted cakes, in salads and make a lovely purple jelly. If you are sorrowing over some thing, find some Hearts Ease at a friends house. Dig it up and go plant it . Your heart sorrow will be eased. I know. I tried it!
                                                       Buttermilk Chives Dressing
                                            1 cup real buttermilk
                                             1/4 cup mayonaise
                                            2 Teaspoons Dijon mustard
                                            2 Teaspoons prepared horseradish
                                            2 Tablespoons chopped fresh chives
                                             1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
                                            1/4 Teaspoon garlic powder
                                            1/4 Teaspoon coarse salt
                                            1/2 Teaspoon pepper
                    Whisk together buttermilk, mayo, mustard and horseradish until smooth. Gently stir in chives, parsley, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Let it rest in the refrigerater for about twelve hours.
                      I usually have buttermilk around, because the iron horse cowboy likes to have a nice cold glass now and then. ( It's the old scandinavian coming out.) Also, I used horseradish mustard instead of horseradish and dijon, because, along with buttermilk, goes sandwiches with horseradish mustard!
                     This made wonderful potato salad, by the way. It looks real fresh and pretty with the bright green snippets of herbs.