Thursday, June 24, 2021

Plantpalooza and Pieces of Me

A tiny spider guest adorns this flowering plant, Guess what plant it is!
Gardens and Goodness are abound this time of year!  Everywhere you look, there's plants growing and showing their summer spirit.  Bright greens, medium and dark, vines, brambles, stalks, bushes are all around.  Green is the color of the moment.  Splashes of reds, yellows, oranges, greens, plus speckles, even purples, shine, even on the overcast days.    I've been cultivating, pruning and nurturing my crops and projects, hoping for the best outcome possible.  
Plants big and small, short and tall have gone into beast mode, spilling out of rows, pots, raised beds and hanging vessels, proud 'produce parents' are sharing garden stories already, picking from the readily available deliciousness; a tomato here, some zucchini there, yellow squashes and green beans galore are being bartered and traded, some have made it to the farmer's markets.  I am ecstatic to see my 'veglings' ( (yep, I made that word up)  prosper, it incites a certain fulfilling magic that helps me tap into my inherent roots, though this is not my first rodeo.  
Year after year, I've expanded my repertoire with more diverse and interesting crops.  My Rainbow Chard is doing awesome this time around.  The Japanese Eggplant is growing well.  I planted some heirloom Black Eyed Peas, so far, so good.  The strawberries are doing better than they were before, I had to thin the Moss Baskets, which I show in an older post, their growth was stifled, and the moss, though still a bright gorgeous green, was hogging all the much needed water from the not sprawling vines, good idea, wrong approach.  I even planted some okra this year.  I have never liked okra.  I plan to harvest at it smallest viable size and hope I can see through my own taste buds, why it is so popular.  I did, however, find a good use for the okra pearls, or couscous, once they'd passed the desirable size.  I created a recipe that lowers okra waste since they are so fibrous after they reach more than 3 or 4 inches long, I removed the shell.    I blanched the pearls, then shocked them in cold water, drained and sauteed them in olive oil with a tad of bacon fat, then folded them with  green peas and roasted red peppers, with fresh sage from the garden.  The pearls actually taste like corn, so that part is pretty cool. By now, you may have guessed (unless you already knew) the photo above is baby cucumber, it's so frickin' cute.  Let's hope it stays that way, cute that is...
 Before I go, I wanted to show you what I did with an empty 50 lb. dog food bag.  I turned it inside out and filled it with some good and nutritious soil and planted my potato eyes in it, for ease of harvest when the time comes.  I am somewhat far removed from digging in the hills and rifling through hardened earth, to find the spoils of this multi faceted and wonderful tuber. My hip, back and foot pain inhibits my ability to perform certain tasks optimally at present, but soon  the hip will be replaced and for that I am grateful.  I fractured and dislocated it in  a motor vehicle accident, now it has to be replaced.  I also broke my arm in half just above the elbow, broke 17 of the 23 bones in my foot opposite my left hip, damaged my lower back from being partially ejected from the window before hitting the ground and the impact collapsed a lung.   I've since had reconstructive surgery with a hamstring graft on my right knee and Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery on my right hand, I've got pins, plates and screws on the inside.  All of this, just 19 days after we laid my big brother to rest, at the untimely age of 43 years, in the truck his wife gave to my Dad...Alas, I digress...Oh, I was 9 weeks pregnant at the time of the accident. On my way into emergency surgery, the doctors told me I would probably miscarry in the upcoming days, because of the trauma to my body.  Bronwyn will be 14 years old this August.  She's my baby girl. I believe in Guardian Angels, Prayers and Blessings from above. We are all very much like flowers in a garden, picked at the time to be determined, flowers indeed.
I am proud of this featured method below, because I am able to up cycle an otherwise discard-able item and  utilize it to the fullest.  This method is also great for gardens with limited space, recyclers, homesteaders,  senior gardeners or for those who just want to take an easier route. I have quite a few more ideas for using these bags to share with you in the near future, but this is one of the simplest.  Once the potatoes are ready, I can make an incision or flap in the lower part of the bag  and remove the potatoes with no problem and best of all, no digging!!  I will be posting a picture of the process, later on, down the road.
If you have some spuds that decided they wanted to see ( have 'eyes' on them haha) givem' a dirt nap and save some money on a popular produce item, you can thank me later!
My 'Potato Poncho', made from an empty 50 lb. dog food bag!

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Bussin' Bussin' Banana Bread


Ready for a banana bread recipe that is out of this world delicious, then look no more!   This is loaded with some fantastic and good for you ingredients that fill you with all the right stuff and just in time for picnicking, backpacking, camping, cooking out, tailgating, entertaining, relaxing, visiting, gifting, snacking, easy breakfasts or just because!  

I used Cocavo Oil w/ Turmeric and Lemon Zest, full of antioxidants, with the addition of essential vitamins,minerals and healthy fats, along with some roasted Walnut oil to complement the walnut pieces scattered throughout, bringing in some antioxidant richness, fiber, plant sourced Omega 3's, blood pressure and blood sugar lowering properties, plus cancer and heart disease defense, anti-inflammatory properties, enhancing gut health and so much more. 

  Organic Oat flour is also used in my recipe.  Oat flour is filled with fiber, both soluble and insoluble and helps reduce your risk of cardiovascular episodes and coronary heart disease.  There's lots more substantial and relevant ingredients, but I won't bore you with the details, let's get to it, you will be replacing your old go-to Banana Bread recipe in no time, with a bread of this new age of delicious and inspired ingredients, because this one is BUSSIN' BUSSIN'! 


1 1/2 c. unbleached AP flour, spooned into measuring cup
1 c. Organic Oat flour
2 tbsp. Organic Coconut Spice Granola, Red Mill
1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. double acting baking powder
1 1/2 c. very ripe bananas, frozen, then thawed and mashed
1 cup Walnut halves, roughly broken into smaller pieces
2 c. pure cane and brown sugar blend
2 tsp. Pumpkin Spice blend
1 tsp. Kosher salt or to taste
1 c. evaporated milk 
2 tbsp. heavy cream 
2/3 c. Cocavo Oil w/ Turmeric and Lemon Zest
2 tbsp. Roasted Walnut Oil
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 tsp. Caramel flavoring
Preheat oven to 350*F.  Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  Combine wet ingredients in a larger bowl.
Gradually add dry mix into wet ingredients, stirring just until each round is moist. 
After mixing, let batter rest for 15 minutes.
Use a rubber spatula to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl, making sure it's well incorporated.
Divide evenly among nonstick sprayed pans, filling about 1/2 inch from the top.
Bake until golden and toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 35 minutes for individual sized loaf pans, closer to 1 hour for regular sized loaf pans, depending on oven.

For an even more wholesome Bussin' Banana Bread, substitute Oat Milk for the evaporated milk, use an egg substitute and 3/4 c. maple syrup in place of the sugar blend.

Bussin' Bussin' Banana Bread; great any time of day, travels well and is great for gifting!

Happy Juneteenth Everyone!

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Harlem Shrimp

All I can say is that this spice blend is as rich in culture and flavor, as the neighborhood it's named after.  Harlem Garlic Pepper seasoning by BADIA, is one of  my new favorite spice blends.  The flavors of garlic and pepper and prominent, while dehydrated veggies and other spices play a perfect part.  The kiss of sweetness, balances out the salt even more.  
I love this blend because salt is not the first, second, third or fourth ingredient.  As a matter of fact, each serving contains only 60 mg of sodium, that's 60% than a serving of Kosher salt!  You can get the beauty of the spices; garlic, onion, pepper and  bell peppers, without blowing your sodium intake for the day!  
I sprinkled some on popcorn for an awesome snack and also some salt and vinegar chips to test it out.  Lots of flavor and possibilities led me to the creation of this recipe.
I sprinkled some de-shelled, de-veined and prepped Wild Caught Red Argentine Shrimp 21/25 ct. with the Harlem blend and allowed it to hang out while I made the wet batter.  
I used 1 part seasoned flour and one half part buttermilk pancake mix, along with some evaporated milk and a little water, to achieve the consistency I needed.  I didn't want them to be batter heavy and greasy tasting, so I thinned the batter just so it could drain off and set up in the hot oil. 
 Once the shrimp had been fried and drained well on paper towels,
 I plated them and added a bit more Harlem Garlic Pepper to seal the deal.  
I made a dipping sauce from 4 parts ketchup and 2 parts horseradish, with a hit of Blazin' Hot Ranch, mixing well.  It was phenomenal.  The "Father of Harlem" Philip Payton Jr. would be proud. 



Thursday, June 10, 2021

Creek Gourmet: Sauteed Garlic- Lemon-Thyme Butter Crayfish

It's that time of year again and I can't wait.  My sister Bonnie and her husband J.R, who are both avid 'outdoorsmen' gift me with small bounties of local Virginia crayfish, caught fresh from the creek near their hunting cabin, deep down in a hollow, the same place we found our first Morels.  They have been a bit scarce over the past two years, hauls so small, they leave them, in hopes of a larger haul in the near future.  On a gorgeous day maybe two weeks ago, before the rains finally made it to our region, we got together and helped her with some watering of the expansive garden plot down at the cabin,  full of rich, red soil.  After toting fresh water from the creek in 5 gallon buckets, I went back to enjoy the natural beauty of the landscape and the man made pond, where we helped to feed the newly restored and restocked fish, juxtaposed to the cabin site.   

As I walked along the winding creek, I paid close attention to the deeper sections and noticed movement from small fishes and ultimately langoustine looking critters, scuttling amongst the mud and pebble laden bottom, plus around and under mossy rocks.  I even observed a crayfish noshing on another crayfish, apparently that is not uncommon with these guys, creek cannibals indeed!  They bait the traps with protein, usually a good sturdy chicken leg, raw preferably, because it has staying power and isn't easily conquered by the hungry brood, and they seem to like it very much!    The traps remain submerged until a decent haul is amassed.  Sometimes, they may eat the bait and scurry away, given enough time between trap checks.   The crayfish remain alive all the way up until the time to cook them arrives, being transported in a bucket with fresh creek water.

With the hardest part being done, the fun and most delicious part is just around the corner.  I give these "mud bugs" or "crawfish", as they are known by in the lower lying states, namely Louisiana, a good time in a sink pool, for around 2 to 2 1/2 hours, refreshing the water many times over.  I swish and slosh them a bit with a rubber spatula.  I plan to use a scrubby brush on their little hands and bodies for the next time around, as I have observed on every Mukbang video featuring seafood, for good measure.  Next, I transfer them to a large strainer or colander, shaking it constantly and running more cool water over them for the final rinse. 

The crayfish are ever moving and you will have to shake them down relentlessly.   I then chop copious amounts of fresh garlic, parsley and sprigs of thyme from my herb garden.  Then, I melt some  salted butter and a couple turns of the pan of good Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a large saute pan and infuse it with garlic and thyme flavor, at a just warm temperature.  After about 5 minutes.  I turn the heat up to medium high and add the crayfish.  I shake and toss until all the crayfish are a brilliant bright red, about 5 minutes, dressing with the parsley, fresh lemon and cracked pepper, then transfer to a large platter, pouring the pan juices over.  

We eat them with our good, clean hands and lots of paper towels.  We lick our fingers too.   Man, I can't wait.

Beautiful and Tranquil Virginia Landscape

There were small, medium and large alike.  I noticed one of the traps nearby, but it had yet to be baited. 

Virginia Crayfish, looking for food.

My sister Bonnie, watering their garden.

Virginia Crayfish hanging out in the sink

Sauteed Virginia Crayfish in Garlic Lemon Thyme Butter

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Strawberry's Conspicuous Doppelganger : "Snake Berries"

Potentilla indica or "Snake Berries", a colloquial term from my childhood
When I was a kid, we would spend hours upon hours during the summer months and after school when permissible; playing, running, bike riding , climbing trees and exploring the world around us.  We always had plenty to eat without even going inside, thanks to the many fruit trees, bushes, vines and gardens, that were a part of all of our family's properties. 
 We always knew where to find the best peaches, apples, grapes, cherries, blackberries, currants, wild cherries, huckleberries, wild blueberries, pears, figs, persimmons and also strawberries, even the delicious honey suckles, that provided its tiny portion of goodness, coating the little stem that we pulled from the  middle.   Admittedly, I never liked the persimmon as a kid, it gave me 'lock jaw', as we called it, probably because I didn't try it in its proper ripened stage.  We knew our way around the gardens, so that gave us access to the juicy and plentiful tomatoes and cucumbers, we would eat straight from the vine, but of course, someone had to run inside and get some salt.   We even knew where to find fresh water in the springs down behind and around our houses, in the vast, wooded lands.  

The strawberries we ate usually came from farms and patches nearby, but not in our community.  We did however, have a surplus of the strawberry looking berries above.  Our parents and older siblings told us not to eat these because they were  "snake berries".  Whether they were for snakes or not is up for debate I guess, but they did always seem to have these little spit or foam like matter on them, which for us, was a good enough reason to leave them be.  

Only as of late, as in last week, did I actually take the time to do some self educating and see what I could find out about these strawberry impostors.  Our back yard has a plethora of them growing near its edges and along the ground in places throughout.  The berries look beautiful and unique, with the seeds literally on the outside of each 'berry', like a tiny red porcupine, its tiny quills, sticking out.  The berries aren't tasty to the palate either.  They are bitter and dry, as per accounts in my readings.  Unlike a 'true' strawberry, which has white flowers and sometimes pinkish, 'snake berry' flowers are yellow.  They also have seeds that protrude outward of its fruit, as opposed to being embedded into the fruit, as with a Fragaria virginiana or genuine strawberry.  

Its scientific name is Duchesnea indica from the Genus Potentilla indica, from the Rosaceae Family.   They were originally introduced to this country as a decorative or ornamental vine for walls and trellises, by way of India.  The vine quickly became a nuisance because of its rampant nature and soon after, became classified as a weed.  



Friday, June 4, 2021

Father's Day Fare: Smoky Brisket


With Father's Day fast approaching, give the dinner menu gift that keeps them coming back for more, a huge slab of smokey, tender and delicious beef brisket.  Veggies are good too, though you aren't likely to hear him say 'Man, that broccoli I had on Father's Day was just fantastic'!.  Yes, broccoli is good and great for you, but not really a memory maker like a mother lode of sandwiches, wraps, salads and plates piled high with some succulent beef with all the fixins'.  Everyone wins. Add your favorite barbecue sauce and it's a meal fit for Kings.
I started this mammoth brisket (14 1/2 lbs.) with a dry rub.  I let the brisket hang out for 1 hour, then overnight in the fridge and for about 2 hours at room temperature, before putting it in my smoker.  I used some Cherry wood chips, moistened, in an aluminum pan over charcoal and smoked the protein uncovered at a fairly low temperature (about 220*F) for around 9 hours, transferred it to a long pan, then covered it tightly with heavy duty foil and finished it in a 325* degree oven for another 6 hours. (This can be done overnight, so don't worry about too much commitment) Maintenance is low and the reward is at the apex of a stereo-typically "Man's Meal" for his or their special day.   Everyone will be pleased, especially the host or hostess, because you are free from meal planning for another two to three days.  The brisket freezes well, making a rainy day in the near future, shine bright like a diamond, in all its smoke forward glory.  
My family loves it when I prepare a nice brisket, and having a large one ensures everyone can get their fill. The oohs and ahhs really make me proud and the looks of satisfaction on their faces, makes the time put in well worth it.  I  get to make these a couple of times of year, and they never disappoint!  The pan jus is an added bonus, simply add some low sodium stock before covering and placing in the oven, ensuring a very moist and satisfying outcome.  
Visible smoke ring on Brisket

Brisket after removing foil and resting for 1 hour

For even more Brisket deliciousness, try my Smoky Brisket Mayonnaise!! You can access the recipe by scanning the code below!!

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Screams and Sprouts; Ginger Scallops/ Pea, Carrot, Dill Sprouts/Sage Flowers/Mulberry Gastrique

Illustration of Scallops and Sprouts Salad w/Mulberry Gastrique

I wanted to discover the delicate side of my growing garden and I had a wonderful learning experience in sprouts.  I am at the thinning phase for some, so I thought it would be fruitful to see what I could develop with some of the freshest springtime ingredients available, literally in my own yard.  The birds hadn't eaten all of the Mulberries from our tree just yet and I was able to procure a full cup, from which I made the Gastrique.
 I reduced the berries and honey with a little water down to about 3 tablespoons, then added the aged balsamic, reducing again to about 2 tablespoons.  I used a good aged balsamic and wildflower honey.  Fresh ginger, lemon, organic extra virgin olive oil and Irish butter also make an appearance.  I used slices of ginger to scent the olive oil before searing the scallops.  I added the Irish butter after flipping the scallops and getting the caramelization on the tops.  I made a simple vinaigrette using the organic olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon, sage flowers, cracked pepper and Fleur de Sel. I garnished with microgreens from my homegrown Brassicas.
 The recipe turned out wonderfully, though the stencil of the pea shoots could have been better.  I wanted to share the above photo of how my mind sees recipe ideas and ingredients before becoming a finished product. Grab some sprouts from your garden and have at it, it's a most rewarding experience.  Micorgreens can have upwards of 40 times the nutrients of regularly grown greens, bigger isn't always better!