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The Waiting Game

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Well, the garden is planted. Just in time for heat to arrive. Daily watering to get the tomatoes going. Now, we wait for six to eight weeks for the first ripened goodies.

I started seeds at home and they were getting rather leggy while I was waiting for the weather to warm up.

I planted three varieties of heirlooms from Monticello. Red fig, purple calabash, and prudens purple. These were the last seeds from a trip to Charlottesville a few years back. All of them from the descendants of three hundred year old stock.

Last year only the purple calabash survived. Crossing my fingers that these healthy looking plants make it.The purple calabash have won ribbons for me in the county fair.

Every day I go up to the garden, I cross my fingers as these heirlooms are far more fragile than the hybrid tomatoes available to grow.

I do mix in some hybrids, like sungold and celebrity and early girl.

This year my theme is tomato sauce. I planted onions, peppers, basil and tomatoes.

A few squash plants, and a handful of okra. Yes, I really like okra especially when I can oven bake them as “okra fries”.

So easy to make. Crunchy. I use garam masala on mine, and dip in ranch dressing.

In the meantime, while waiting for the main event of the summer harvest, we continue to enjoy the asparagus and rhubarb in many ways. The latest?

Rhubarb crisp. A simple recipe from the web. Served with vanilla ice cream.

And people wonder why I don’t eat out much. I have too much fun creating things here and enjoying leisurely meals with a good bottle of wine. While waiting for those tomatoes to produce.

Eleven

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I am sitting here watching the news and thinking about eleven years ago. And not having to get up to go to work on Monday morning. Ever again.

I retired April 1st 2010. A good way to spend April Fool’s Day. I have never regretted retiring as early as I could. Particularly when years like 2020 come along and recalibrate your plans.

I think retiring in the spring is a smart move. My husband retired in January. Dark. Cold. Stuck indoors most of the time. It is hard to transition when you are limited in things to do.

I found my hobbies and interests kept me busy. My garden. Cooking.

I then discovered the Conservancy and volunteering and the last ten years have been filled with activities that keep me busy even during the pandemic.

Last year I spent every other day for six months in the community gardens, tending my own plot, and helping with the food bank.

We have done more than a ton of food each of the past two years. Many of us who are retired use this outlet as our way to give back, while keeping active.

I also volunteer in many ways to support my husband’s hobby. Amateur radio. I cook for Field Days. For the annual “Fowl Fest”. I hope we get to conduct those activities soon, as we miss our friends and the good times we have when we are together. Like our crazy summer emergency preparedness field days. In the heat. Or rain. Or wind. But still, enjoying our hobbies with our friends.

I miss cooking for the radio guys. They are so appreciative of what we make for them. Yeah, we enjoy our meals here, but I have been cooking dinner every night for almost 400 days now. I really want to have those restaurant nights again, and want to cook for friends and family.

I know. This evening I am reminiscing, and also whining a bit about this lost year. Missing friends. Missing family. Missing my 50th reunion, which I hope will someday take place. Missing the gatherings. The sharing.

We just need to hang on a while longer. Beat this virus. So we can enjoy decades more of retirement.

But one good thing about this forced isolation. My husband got back into cooking. making a number of dinners now. Like the clam and fennel chowder I wrote about. And just simple things like pasta.

Here’s to better days. And meals with friends. And dinners at restaurants. And travel. Yeah, I miss travel. We will get there. Won’t we? I have faith. And I want to get out there.

Decadent

So OK, it is just Wednesday. No holiday. No significant life event.

But we live a fairly reclusive life, with no restaurant visits, no day trips, no outdoor activities because of the weather. We have been doing a weekly “cooking as a couple” dinner, which was a New Year’s resolution.

Tonight we cracked open a new cookbook of mine, I Cook in Color. By Asha Gomez.

Clam chowder, made with fennel and leeks.

We are using small, local businesses in our sourcing of ingredients for our cooking. We are supporting the small grocers, liquor stores, farms and a friend who is a wine broker.

We love Italian wines. Todd Ruby Wines is a wine brokerage owned by an amateur radio friend. He brings in awesome wines like this Greco di Tufo. Procured for us by The Wine Bin in Ellicott City. Perfect with the rich clam chowder.

As for the soup ingredients, Some of them came from Boarman’s. Our local grocery store. Littleneck Clams. Clam juice. Canned clams. Leeks. Fennel. Yukon Gold potatoes. Diced pancetta, which was a substitute for the smoked clams in the recipe.

We made our own seafood stock yesterday from leftover lobster claw shells. Used my CSA veggies in the stock.

The finishing touch, flour mixed with half and half, used CSA flour from a mill in Amish country PA.

How did we make it? Chopped leek, fennel and potato. Sautéed in butter. Added three cups of seafood stock. A bottle of clam juice and a can of baby clams. Browned pancetta. A pound of littlenecks.

Finished with a thickener of 1/3 cup of flour and a pint of half and half.

We have enough left for another night’s dinner. We only used half the clams from the bag. They were Chesapeake Bay clams from Virginia, harvested Monday, bought on Tuesday and cooked today.

This expansion of our cooking hobby is what is keeping us sane. While enjoying the fruits of our labor. Wonder what we will tackle on Valentine’s Day?

Dawn

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Of a new year, 2021, which we hope will be far better than last year.

Sunrise in the east, now that we don’t have massive evergreens blocking the view.

We have spent far more time enjoying the peace and quiet out here and doing some new, fun things while staying safe at home.

Like my husband getting into cooking.

He made cioppino using Ina Garten’s recipe from her Cook Like A Pro cookbook.

Including making his own seafood stock.

I was impressed with the flavor but he needs to “up” his food photography skills.

We can’t see the depth of shrimp, scallops, mussels and cod in the bowl. Make no mistake.This was one amazingly satisfying meal. Fun to do while we hang out here at the house.

We decided that once a week we will tackle something new with him cooking.

We will patiently wait for our turn to get vaccinated, so we can get back into a normal life. In the meantime, photography, bird watching, amateur radio and cooking will keep us occupied.

Here’s to a better year, a new dawning.

Turkey Day

The end of a quiet holiday weekend. Watching the Packers. After spending time cleaning up the cars for winter. Certainly not an exciting or sexy way to spend Thanksgiving.

I did do a turkey, but only a half one. Thanks to Triadelphia LakeView Farm and Jenny’s Market.

Not a particularly small turkey, at 10.9 pounds for the half. This was fairly easy to do. Dry brine overnight with salt, orange zest, sugar and lemon juice.

Roasted first at 400° for 20 minutes, then finished at 325° for two more hours.

We had the wing and part of the breast for dinner. I then made soup from the drumstick and the bones to have Friday night. Turkey noodle soup. Yesterday I made the breast meat with a covering of buttered cheesecloth to give us another meal.

Today we were turkeyed out so I made a rump roast. Slow cooked in the oven with veggies.

This was a small business Thanksgiving meal. Local vendors.

Time to start working on our small business Christmas. Poinsettias from Greenway Farms. Greenery from Triadelphia LakeView.

We can get through this year by continuing to be careful, and by supporting our small local farms and businesses. We are thankful for them being here for us.

Celebrations

So today my husband turned seventy. Yep, seventy!

Old enough to be labeled on social media as Boomers. Questioning our computer skills, even though he spent twenty five years running the computer lab at APL, making sure all those Masters’ candidates didn’t fry the hardware while doing their lab projects.

We used to program data collection systems in machine language for the Navy, so yeah, we can program our iPhones.

Now, I made a simple extravagant dinner at home. A combination of local and favorite items. Lobster and cake from Harris Teeter. Filet mignon from Boarman’s. Bubbly from The Wine Bin. A beautiful super Tuscan given to him five years ago by an old friend.

The hits of the evening were the lobster and the Tignanello.

This dinner was simple to make. Steam the lobster. Fry the steaks. Open the wines. Make a salad.

Enjoy a leisurely dinner and watch a good movie.

Happy 70th to my best friend, my hubby.

Ruby

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The 40th Anniversary. According to Hallmark, it is Ruby. You know, incentive to buy cards and other things from that Hallmark store.

August 9th 1980. In 95+ degree heat. We got married.

We thought that we would be going away to celebrate but Covid-19 ruined those plans.

As our celebration, like we do for minor events where I cook and we open old wines, we decided to commemorate that Ruby theme by opening an old Port. From the year we were married.

Yeah, it’s no longer ruby red but it was really incredible. We bought these Ports from Wells Liquors in Baltimore. They were from the closed Brentwood Inn. We figured they would obviously survive for anniversaries far beyond what a bottle of wine could do.

I served the Port with a few lovely dark chocolate salted caramels from Sweet Cascades. We picked them up at the Wine Bin.

I made simple pan fried tenderloin filets. Bought at Boarman’s. Seared to perfection. Opened a Beringer reserve cabernet. Buttered fingerlings. Sliced heirloom tomatoes. Nothing difficult to make.

It’s been an adventure. Forty years together. These days far more time together since we don’t get out much. Not the way we intended to spend retirement but thankfully having a larger hone and a big yard we can get some alone time when we need it.

Let’s hope better times are coming. So we can go out and celebrate my husband’s 70th birthday later this year.

Staying Sane

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It’s been over a hundred days since we’ve been anywhere. Except for curbside pickups and a few quick trips to grocery stores and markets. Oh, and the hardware store.

Thankfully we have enough space around here and enough to do to keep busy. Plus, my garden. It gives me peace and quiet while dealing with the squash beetles and the weeds. And harvesting asparagus.

I did get my first four yellow cherry tomatoes yesterday. No squash yet, and the cucumbers don’t look great. Lots of asparagus though.

The peppers? Hanging in there but the weather isn’t cooperating either.

I have been cooking quite a bit. Making the most of my Vegetable share. Particularly all the greens. I have been cooking from Toni Tipton-Martin’s book Jubilee, this month’s cookbook club selection.

Collards with cornmeal dumplings. This was a serious undertaking. Many steps. But the result was delicious. Those dumplings were awesome.

Island banana bread. Transports me back to Jamaica. Full of spices, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, with dates and pecans. This cookbook is full of absolutely flavorful trips down Memory Lane for me.

I found lots of new favorites along the journey. Like this broccoli and cauliflower salad with curried dressing. You assemble and dress this salad and let it marinate in the fridge for hours. These are the spices from the deep Caribbean, like we encountered in Trinidad.

I found that cooking from this book allowed me to reminisce about travels from decades past, while staying “safer at home”.

I downloaded the iBook version of the book. No trips to stores for much of what I made here. Thankfully Harris Teeter has curbside pickup and could provide us with many of the needed items. They also waived the pickup fee for senior citizens so kudos to them for their accommodation to us while we are taking care of ourselves.

The Book? It is written by Toni Tipton-Martin and is titled Jubilee, Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking. Paired with my other iBook from the exploration of the South, Deep Run Roots. Together they explore the rich history of Southern cooking through two separate perspectives but with very similar results in many recipes.

Vivian Howard learned how to prepare numerous items by watching Mrs. Mary and Ms. Lillie who cooked in Southern homes for decades. If you get a chance to record and watch Somewhere South or A Chef’s Life on PBS, both of her series delve into recipe origins and the complexities of Southern cooking are revealed.

Are you a collard eater or a turnip greens eater? What are the differences between Creole and Cajun? How did rice and okra and sweet potatoes get into the Southern diet? For me with my interest in cooking, baking and gardening I find that cookbooks with history in them give me a deeper understanding of life in the past.

To summarize from a very long story today, I have been staying sane by “traveling” and learning in the comfort and safety of my kitchen. I have also been supporting local small businesses for ingredients to do so. Not ready for restaurants yet, but farmer’s markets and farm stores have returned to our lives.

Thanks to Jenny’s market drive thru when I need something quick. To Breezy Willow and Mary’s Land Farm stores when I need meat or fish. To the Wheelhouse Market. To TLV and the other farmers at the markets here in HoCo.

I am staying sane by gardening, cooking and baking. What are you doing to stay sane?

Farm Shares

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What a difference a year makes. Last spring we barely had enough members to get our pick up site renewed. Now, Community Supported Agriculture is booming, with twice the number of people at our site. Lancaster Farm Fresh is showing on their web site that some of the shares are sold out. Including meat, chicken and cheese shares.

My monthly meat share provider, Evermore Farm in Westminster, is also slammed. The owner was telling me that they aren’t accepting CSA shares right now because of the demand. They also suspended sales of sides of beef and pork. We are lucky that we have locked in a medium share for the foreseeable future.

Now if I can find a local source for flour that would be nice. I am baking twice a week and can’t find bread flour or yeast. I may end up buying the grinder option for my KitchenAid mixer and grinding the wheat berries and rye berries from our winter CSA pantry share. They are in my basement fridge. I have been experimenting with a mix of whole wheat flour and some soft winter wheat which isn’t the best bread flour but it seems to be working.

Also, did you know there are local restaurants offering meat bundles, produce bundles, and packages to help with the much larger demand for fresh foods? We have replaced restaurant eating with home cooking and the once adequate supplies in the stores are quickly gobbled up. Walker’s Tap to Table up the road from us is offering these. Using JW Treuth for meat.

Jenny’s just opened their farm stand, giving us really close access to fruits, veggies, plants, and more. The farmer’s markets are back, as drive throughs. I think I can minimize my once every ten day visits for curbside pickup from Harris Teeter. Maybe drop back to biweekly. For the staples, like oils and vinegar, spices, and cleaning supplies.

Thanks to my meat share, and my vegetable share, I had everything to make a big pot of bean soup today. Because of course the weather isn’t cooperating and it’s cold out. Not grilling weather at all, but stay inside, make bread and soup, and cover the plants at night weather. I hear that Western Maryland had snow flurries last night. Not your typical Mother’s Day weather at all.

So, here’s to the wonderful bean soup.

Ham hock from Evermore. Seared with onions from CSA. Add six cups of water. Simmer a long time. Add pepper, oregano and thyme. Celery, carrots, green cabbage. A large can of white beans with the liquid to make it creamy. This soup spent six hours on the stovetop on low heat. It was awesome with my homemade bread. Who needs to go out? We can enjoy good food at home. Fresh from the farm to table.

Coping

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It’s been three weeks of not going anywhere non-essential.

It’s not fun being “old”.

In two days we were going to go celebrate my ten year anniversary of being retired. Now, we will raise a toast here at the house. We are really glad we have the luxury of staying home, and the privilege of getting things delivered.

I have been working on updating my resources, sadly neglected, on this web page to highlight the small local businesses that we support.

I also realized that maybe writing more will calm the nagging anxiety we can’t shake.

I know we are lucky. Right now, we get our weekly farm share from Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op and our monthly meat share from Evermore Farm.  We have curbside service at Wheelhouse and at Harris Teeter.

Thankfully, my chest freezer in the basement is still full of tomato sauces and roasted tomatoes, blueberries, stocks, soups, grains, flour, nuts and pesto. The freezer up here has a good variety of meat and some frozen vegetables.

The pantry? Beans galore. Condiments. Oil. Vinegar. Spices and herbs. Pastas and lentils. Oats. Rice.

I started making my no-knead bread again.

The simple version. Flour, salt, yeast, water. An 18 hour rise. Google Jim Lahey no-knead bread if you want to try it. We were lucky to find yeast at Harris Teeter. This recipe only uses 1/4 tsp so we can make 8 loaves from one envelope.

The other staple? My simple tuna dish. Tuna, onion, white beans, salt and pepper.

The recipe calls for tuna with olive oil but anything will work. Over greens is our preferred way to eat it.

I am making soups. Omelets. Pasta with sauces. Eat one night. Freeze the other half for later. Minimizing the amount of protein in the dish. Heavy on the greens and grains.

Hanging in there. Praying for friends and relatives on the front lines.

How are you coping?