Hitchcock and Rosemary

Rosemary_bushA scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. “This tilling of the soil can become compulsive, you know.” Suzanne Pleshette’s dirt-smudged face and sultry voice sticks in my mind as I wander the aisles of the local garden center, accompanied by a multitude of sparrows chirping in the metal rafters overhead.  Mental headline reads, “Woman Pecked to Death by Sparrows at Local Home Depot.” I smile up at them thinking “Not enough of them for an attack and they don’t look like the angry crows in the movie.” Not yet anyway.

I love shopping for plants. How can you miss the slow joy of wandering through a humid wonderland filled with flats of colors and scents, envisioning the English garden soon to appear in your back yard? How can you hurry through that experience? I see ample evidence of how all around me. The cloyingly sweet perfume of the frantic gardener next to me slaps my nose as she piles her plants onto a wobbly orange flatbed. I move over an aisle to get away from her. She clops past me all red lipstick and ridiculous spiky heels. Rushing her treasures to the check-out.

I take my time to breathe in the surroundings; the smell of fertilizer,wet potting soil, spicy tomato plants. I had made a list of plants I wanted the day before, which I know I will never stick to because plants I have never seen will call me and end up in my cart. I’m what you call an accidental gardener; I accidentally get a plant in the right spot in my garden and it grows. I love to grow things from seed, and currently Alyssum, Zinnias, Dianthus and Cosmos are the tiny seedlings making their presence known in my back berm. It’s cheaper to plant from seed and you get to know the plant foliage as it develops I reason. But today, while my sweet husband is looking at chain saws and weed eaters, he has turned me loose in the garden center to buy bedding plants. Heaven.

I’m practically mowed down by a plant vendor with a sweaty red face pushing a six-tier cart of tender young plants ready to be pushed onto the shelving. ” What the hell are you doing?” she says to the pimply faced worker she spots ahead, who is evidently not moving fast enough for her. “Get that stuff on the tables!” Sigh. I move over another aisle.

I think about my grandfather now, who was a real gardener, he kept greenhouses, widow ladies’ yards and knew plants. He had a true green thumb. I have red Begonias in my cart in his honor, he loved them. The riotous colors of the Moss Roses are for him too. The Spanish Lavender I chose is for my husband, who had never seen that variety until a landscaping company put one in our yard seventeen years ago. Now that I think about it, most of the plants I plant are about other people. Zinnias for my grandmother, the Cosmos, Larkspurs, Moonflowers and Morning glories are for my mother, who loved wildflowers, the Petunias, Dianthus, and Alyssum are for the characters from a book called “The Uninvited”, where a ghostly presence was heralded by floral scents.

I plant for animals too. Salvia and Cardinal vine for the hummingbirds. Sunflowers for the woodpeckers, mockingbirds, chickadees and titmice that populate our Texas yard. The Fountain Grass I choose because our kittens used to love playing hide and seek in the soft mounds of grass, leaping out to roll and tumble down onto our back patio. We no longer have the kittens, but just seeing this grass makes me smile inwardly.

And what new treasure did I find, just for me? A beautiful blue Lobelia. A feathery Yarrow plant and some Mexican Heather. New plants I’ve never planted.

And one old favorite, a Rosemary plant, for remembrance.

CC Image by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

My Favorite Meal

#mwisdmatters

My 4th grade art students always seem to have fewer barriers between their art and their imagination than my 5th and 6th graders. I’m not sure why that is, but is delightful to watch and listen to them as they open up to a project. I revisited an old classic recently when I asked my 4th grade artists to draw their favorite meal.

The set up for the project is a discussion about going on a picnic. Students get to pick their favorite foods to have at the picnic, which must include a main course, sides, drink and dessert. They must also include silverware and a napkin and a tablecloth under the plate.

I have three goals for this project.

  1. They must have their food shown from a bird’s-eye point of view, which involves a demonstration and discussion of how shapes change when they are shown from different perspectives.
  2. They must show a place setting, which involved a discussion and pictures of how you set a table. Social skills in art class. I wonder how many families sit down at a common table for dinner these days, so I hope I filled in a gap for some of my students who have not ever set a table.
  3. They must show a pattern of some kind on the tablecloth, which reinforces the definition of a pattern in art as a repeated shape or color series.

Students have a large sheet of paper as their format, 12 x 18 inches, and draw first in pencil, then outline in sharpie and color with crayon. I give them a paper plate to draw around to make sure we don’t have miniature plates.

And oh the stories about what food my students like the best!

And the extras! Ants on the tablecloth. Butterflies flying over the picnic.  Good memories about family. Great fun.

Rainy Day Enchiladas

 

It was chilly and rainy here in Weatherford, Texas yesterday. Not up north chilly, just March in Texas damp and chilly. There is a big difference. My dad used to call this kind of day “liquid sunshine.” I went to the grocery store with comfort food in mind. Over the years I have tried lots of enchilada recipes, but this simple chicken enchilada with a sour cream sauce is my favorite. I thought I’d share.

final.JPGThis recipe has just a few ingredients, is not too hot; although you can spice it up if you want, and a gooey cheese rating of ten on my comfort food scale. Scroll down for the recipe.

Start by boiling the chicken breasts in salted water.

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Cool the chicken down where you can handle it and shred by hand.

shredded-chicken

Start the butter melting in a medium skillet and get your chicken stock ready. I was a little short on my stock so I used one cup of chicken stock and one cup of the water that I boiled the chicken in to get my two cups.

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Brown the flour in the melted butter for a couple of minutes then add the stock. Stir until smooth and slightly thickened.

sour-cream-chilis

Remove from the heat and add green chilies and sour cream. You don’t want the sauce to boil now with the sour cream because it will separate. Keep warm.

filling

 

I used corn tortillas for these enchiladas, but you can use flour tortillas if you prefer. I do not brown the tortillas in butter or dip them in stock before I roll them; these are pretty soft tortillas,

I simply stuff with chicken and cheese and roll gently, then place seam down in a 9 x 13 pan. ( I never have the right amount to fill the pan, I can’t explain it.)rolled

Pour the sour cream sauce over the enchiladas and top with the rest of the Monterey Jack cheese and bake uncovered at 350 for twenty to thirty minutes. Garnish with chopped green onion.

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I had a green salad with these bad boys.salad

My husband likes salsa on the side.

The sun was shining in the dining room at least. Hope you enjoy.

Chicken Enchiladas

1 pound chicken breasts, boiled in salted water and shredded

10-15 corn or flour tortillas

3 tbsps. butter and 3 tbsps. flour

2 cups of chicken broth

4 oz. can chopped green chilies

1 cup of sour cream

3 cups of Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

1 chopped green onion

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13 pan
  2. Mix cooled chicken and 1 cup cheese. Roll up in tortillas and place in pan.
  3. In a sauce pan, melt butter, stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Add broth and whisk until smooth. Heat the sauce over medium heat until thickened and bubbly.
  4. Stir in sour cream and chilies. Do not bring to boil, you don’t want curdled sour cream.
  5. Pour over enchiladas and top with remaining cheese.
  6. Bake 20-30 min. uncovered. Yield: serves 4

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George’s Christmas Ham

a-thing-of-beauty

 

 

My husband George is a great cook. Never scared to try something new, this year he wanted to make his own Christmas ham. Not the pre-cured ham that comes already cooked but the real thing; a fresh ham shank, butt end. He started with a great recipe from Weber’s at http://www.weber.com/weber-nation/blog/pecan-smoked-fresh-ham-with-maple-glaze-on-the-wsm and modified it a little for our tastes. Tender and juicy, the meat has the best characteristics of pulled pork mixed with a not-too-salty ham taste. Definitely a keeper!

 

The Pig
9-10 pound ham shank (not precooked, some people call these “green”, which sounds a little weird) A note of admiration here for our butchers at Brookshire’s Grocery Store in Weatherford, Texas, who talked with George about this little project and held us a ham shank from their Christmas order. He told us they usually only get these in at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We can request one anytime.

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Ham shank and rub.

 

The Rub
½ cup brown sugar, dark
¼ cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons black pepper, ground coarse
2 tsp cayenne pepper, ground (optional)

the-rub

Score the fat cap on the ham shank to allow the rub to soak into the meat. Mix rub ingredients and apply to the meat liberally. He wrapped ours in plastic wrap and refrigerated it for 48 hours. Reserve some rub for application right before you smoke it. Make sure you set the meat out of the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before you put it on the smoker. We used the coarse ground black pepper, but next time will use a smaller grind to keep it out of your teeth.

wrapped-up

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Scored and dry-rubbed ham.

The Glaze:
½ cup honey
2 teaspoons black pepper, ground
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup maple syrup (not imitation flavored)

Mix ingredients and bring to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Reduce by half. Be sure to watch this carefully because it can boil over really easily. I won’t tell you how I know that. Glaze the ham every two hours. He used a foil pan underneath to catch the fat drippings. Makes clean-up easier.a-thing-of-beauty

 

 

 

 

The Wood:
8-10 pc apple wood chunks (presoaked in water)
apple wood-infused charcoal

The original recipe called for pecan wood, which is a little strong for our tastes, so we used apple wood instead. After he set the smoker bed with charcoal, he also needed three additional chimney starter’s full of charcoal to maintain the desired heat for the six-hour smoking time.

We have a big off-set smoker so the temperature that Weber wanted, 250 degrees, is a little tough to maintain for six hours. He cooked the ham shank six hours between 200 and 220 degrees on the smoker and finished it in the oven covered with foil at 250 degrees for at least two hours. We use an instant-read thermometer to make sure the meat is at an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees.

Happy eating!

Swiss Cheese and Sausage Quiche

 

 

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I honestly can’t remember the first time I had quiche. I know my mom never made it; my Air Force Senior Master Sargent father did not take to such food, but being a child of the 60’s; which means a time before eggs and cream became a bad thing, I must have had it at restaurant. I was hooked.

Definitely not a diet meal, but in cold weather, a big puffy sausage, egg and cheese pie really hits the spot. I have a green salad on the side to make myself believe I am eating something healthy. This quiche is also good cold the next day.

Homemade pork sausage is a snap to make and doesn’t have those nasty little gristly bits that the store-bought breakfast sausages have in them. I must give credit here to Bobby Flay, who I watched make this sausage on the Food Network and then tweaked the spices to fit my palate. I use pre-made pie crust for my quiche, because I have never learned the art of a good pie crust. Gives me something to work for.

Hope you enjoy.

First, the sausage.

Homemade Pork Sausage

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 tablespoon (at least) rubbed sage
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika

Mix spices and ground pork together. Split meat mixture in half. Sauté half the sausage until brown, breaking it up into small pieces. Drain on paper towels. Make four patties with the remainder and save for breakfast sausages.

crumbled-sausage
Sausage for quiche.

 

breakfast-sausage
Breakfast sausage for the next day.

For the quiche.

Custard

  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup white wine (or you can skip this and use more milk or cream)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • Pinch of Cayenne Pepper

Beat eggs and add milk, cream, wine, salt, flour and cayenne. Mix well.

creambeaten-eggs-and-cream

 

Assembly

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  • Place one store- bought pie crust (or make your own) in a deep dish pie plate.
  • Place browned sausage in crust.
  • Chop 8 oz. of Swiss cheese and place on top of sausage.

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Pour custard on top of filling and bake at 375 degrees for 60 minutes or until puffy and lightly browned.

 

Acorns

squirrel-1444350_1920I’ve been watching the oak trees on my farm drop a prolific crop of acorns this year. So many acorns in fact that I began to wonder if my trees were alright. Sources I’ve read say that despite the old farmer’s warning, a heavy acorn drop does not mean we will have a hard winter, it just means we had the right weather conditions for a heavy flower set on the oak trees this past spring.

So we have a bounty of acorns. My bay quarter horse Jo-Jo loved to eat acorns in the fall, but he could not stop himself from contentedly crunching them until he’d end up getting a colicky belly ache. Not good. Our resident squirrels (we don’t have many squirrels because of our healthy population of hawks and coyotes) stand in bewildered amazement at the abundance of acorns under our red oak in the back. At the rate they are burying them we should have our own red oak forest come spring.

Acorns plunk down into our waterfall pond like heavy raindrops and also into our coffee if we sit out by the waterfall on the weekends. Navigating our patios are rather like walking on a bag of marbles, no matter how many times you sweep the crackling, rolling carpet up.

But in retrospect, the bother balances with the good when I think of how many animals use the acorns as a food source. Between the deer, quail, squirrels, foxes, small little night rodents and the birds, a bumper crop of acorns means food for their winter. So the table is set for you guys at my farm. Bring your friends, we have plenty of acorns to go around.

Image CCO Public Domain Pixaby