Little Green Tomatoes

Tiny Seeds of Goodness


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A Bevy of Butterflies!

 

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This time of year, when the sun comes up in the morning it’s like the “OPEN” sign at the local diner just got switched on. The butterflies begin to flutter in to the flower beds, and it’s a feast for the eyes of this beholder.  Such lovely company to have while I’m going about my early morning watering.

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Amazingly, I only planted 4 packages of Zinnia seeds and 4 packages of Cosmos seeds!  Some packets were 3 to 5 years old, so I’m sure the germination rate was reduced.  Some of the Lantana from last year returned, and it appears that some new plants sprung up from the Lantana self seeding.  So, with very little expense & effort, these small patches of flowers are providing a good amount of food for butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and goldfinches.  And a tremendous amount of enjoyment for the humans who are amazed by all of the busy, buzzing, humming, fluttering life surrounding us!

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The Light Changed Today

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The light changed today.

The morning air was cool and moist.

The birdsong was noticeably more quiet than usual – only the soulful call of the mourning doves on the wire and the soft chirping of female cardinals roosting in the big azaleas and privets.  And then, the beautiful melody of a wood thrush came echoing through the trees, just beyond the creek.

A low-slung mist hung heavy over the tasseled corn in the field across the road.

As the morning sky began to lighten and the first rays of the sunrise began to twinkle through the trees, the word “burnished” came in to my mind.

Dewdrops caught on the remnants of last night’s spider webs sparkled like iridescent glass in those first rays of sunlight.

I just stood there, drinking in the sights, the sounds, the feel of that first hint of Autumn – letting it seep into me.

We have plenty of hot sticky summer days to get through before Autumn truly arrives.  But change is in the air and in the light.


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Cast Iron Cooking – Chicken Enchilada Pie

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This is a delicious, simple dinner pie that can easily be cooked on a propane, charcoal, or wood burning grill, or in a conventional oven. Leftovers taste just as good warmed up the next day!

It’s a hot July day here in North Carolina, and I like the fact that I can keep the heat out of my kitchen by using a rotisserie chicken from the grocer’s deli & baking this dinner pie outdoors in our propane grill!

Chicken Enchilada Pie 

  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup (10 ½ oz.)
  • 8 oz. sour cream
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock or chicken broth
  • 1 envelope reduced sodium taco seasoning mix (1 oz.)
  • 14 oz. frozen or canned corn (drained)
  • 14 oz. canned black beans, drained & rinsed (optional)
  • 6 cups shredded cooked chicken (rotisserie chicken from the grocer’s deli works great)
  • 1 cup (8 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup (8 oz.) shredded pepper jack or Italian blend cheese (your preference)
  • 2 refrigerated pie crusts, brought to room temperature
  1. Bring the refrigerated pie crusts to room temperature, per the instructions on the manufacturer’s packaging.
  2. Lightly grease a 10.5-inch cast iron skillet with Crisco or a small amount of canola oil. Set aside.  If you will be baking the pie in a conventional oven, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  3. Dice the onion. Mince the garlic. Shred the chicken and set aside.
  4. Prepare the pie filling on the stovetop. In a separate large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp of canola oil and sauté the onion over medium heat until tender. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in cream of chicken soup, sour cream, chicken stock or broth, taco seasoning, corn, black beans, and shredded chicken. Remove from heat.
  5. Unroll and press one room-temperature pie crust into the bottom and sides of the greased cast iron skillet. Spread one half of the pie filling onto the crust. Sprinkle ½ cup of each of the shredded cheeses on top of the filling.  Unroll and place the #2 pie crust on top of the mixture.  Layer on the remaining filling, and sprinkle with the remaining shredded cheeses.
  6. Bake at 400 – 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 35 – 45 minutes, or until pie crust edge is golden brown and cheese is bubbly and lightly browned on top.
  7. Remove from heat and let cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

Note: When I bake in our propane grill, I place the cast iron skillet on top of a pizza baking stone that is made specifically for grilling. The stone absorbs & diffuses the direct heat from the grill flames, preventing the contents of the skillet from scorching on the bottom, while giving an even heat to the cast iron.

Serve with a side salad of baby greens, slivered radish & slivered sweet onion, drizzled with a light citrusy vinaigrette for a deliciously simple summer evening meal.  My favorite beverage to bring it all together? A fresh-mixed margarita on the rocks!

Makes 6 to 8 servings.  Approximately 1.5 hours to prepare – 30 minutes to prep, about an hour cooking & cooling time.


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Giving. Giving Up. Surrender.

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Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.

~  Martin Luther ~

An old friend gave a sigh of surrender and gave up Thursday afternoon – on the eve of Summer Solstice.  Gravity, a deep wound, and a hollowing heart proved to be more than she could bear.  She laid herself down in a swirling storm of wind and torrential rain.

Our neighbor often tells the story of how the tree leaned over, many years ago, in a severe storm.  The man who had planted and cared for her enlisted the help of the neighbor’s husband.  Together, they lifted her up and placed her roots back in to the earth.  We would have done the same for her.  However, that is not an option this time.

We will miss her…….

The pollinators will miss the profusion of food her blossoms offered up each Spring.  The sparrows and the nuthatches and the tufted titmice will miss the protection of her densely interwoven branches.  A whole host of wildlife, and our family dogs, will miss her imperfect, pocked, and wormy apples. The dogwood, the pecans, the crape myrtle, and the holly – her neighbors for 40-some years – will no doubt miss her presence.

I will miss her for all of the above and more……

But I will never forget the night, in late summer, about 5 or 6 years ago, looking out of the bedroom window and seeing a group of white-tailed deer, silhouetted against the silvery moonlit grass, dining upon her apples.  I don’t know what it was that awakened me that night, and compelled me to rise and look out of the window.  Maybe it was her, saying “Look!  I have something to show you! Please don’t gather up my fallen apples and put them in the trash.  For I have worked hard to produce them, and they are a bountiful feast for the deer and the opossum and the squirrel and the coyote.” I never raked up and disposed of a single fallen apple after that night.

Nor will I forget the sight of Ricky, a rescued German Shepherd Dog whom we had recently adopted, thoroughly enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures – snacking.  I smile when I remember the sight of that sweet old arthritic German Shepherd – with worn down teeth – quietly sashaying through the dappled shade of the pecan tree, making his way to the apple tree, browsing through the fallen apples, selecting the perfect one, trotting back up into the shady front yard, and lying down to enjoy his selection – core, seeds, stem and all.  A heartwarming simple pleasure for a sweet gentle boy who, a year earlier, had been left to starve by cruel stupid people who left him chained to the mobile home they had been evicted from – out in the middle of nowhere – without food or water.

And there is this…..

Thursday morning, hours before the storm arrived, I stood in the shade of the apple tree’s branches, somewhat reluctantly obliging our youngest dog while he rolled around and tossed and played with two small green apples he found lying in the grass.  As I stood there, the words “Tell my story” presented themselves very clearly to me.  And I thought “Yes, I should………I will.” Standing in that same spot on Friday morning, next to her snapped and broken trunk, I felt sad – my heart was heavy – and I felt like I too gave up, gave in, surrendered a little bit.  I gave in to some things that have been weighing heavy on my mind and in my heart.  And I gave up trying to figure it all out – fix it – see the positive – find the best solution.  I reached out and rested my hand on her fine cool bark and told her, “We will miss you.  And I surrendered a little bit today too.”

A little over a year ago, during a writing retreat, I wrote about my friend and our connection.  I’ll locate that notebook and post  the story here….soon.  For, it seems, now is the time to tell the story of The Apple Tree and Me.

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Can of Surprises

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I used to be afraid of the bumble bee.

Now I am afraid for the bumble bee. 

~ Nib Loblolly ~ 

I love rusty metal and galvanized tin.  There is a fair amount of both in our landscaping and on our property. (There is a dear husband of a certain dear friend of mine who may wince and shake his head if his wife reveals that I have announced my love of such metals on the world wide web. But that’s ok – he and I can agree on other “loves”, such as animals, pets, my friend, etc. 😊)

My admiration of galvanized and oxidized can be seen in my unconventional choices in garden containers. For example, I have a galvanized metal trash can that I’ve re-purposed into a large planting container.  Normally I plant some purple fountain grass and a couple of other heat-tolerant annuals in it.  But not this year. Other forces have been at work!  It has become my Can of Surprises.

First surprise: Early in April, an industrious pair of Carolina Wrens built a lovely little camouflaged nest amongst the dried foliage of last year’s fountain grass.  I was in “hands-off and observe-only” mode for several weeks while eggs were kept warm, chicks were hatched and fed, and then finally graduated to the great big world outside of the nest in the can.  Wow.  Graduation Day was nerve-wracking, as 5 little wrens came popping out of that tiny nest and scattered into bushes, onto windowsills, and into other flower pots.  Mom & Dad Wren were a  bit beside themselves, and so were our two dogs!

Surprise #2 & #3: While the wren family was occupying the can, some little wisps of green began to peek up and grow in the spot that the asparagus fern had occupied last summer. Yep, it was asparagus fern alright.  Hmmmm……I thought asparagus fern was an annual in any zone that receives below-freezing temps in winter? Then, another seedling began to grow quickly and bigley! As the stalk grew and grew, I guessed that it might have been sowed by one of our furry or feathered friends.  Yep! It’s the sunflower in the photo above – now with an inch-plus diameter stalk and eleven flowers! Most likely sprouted from a stray black oil sunflower seed that was carried off from the bird/squirrel feeders.  The bees and the goldfinches are loving it!

Surprise #4: Another volunteer seedling has appeared.  Alongside one of the morning glory seeds I poked down into the soil at the base of the sunflower stalk. After a couple of weeks of watering it, I see that it is a pokeweed plant.  No doubt from a seed deposited by a feathered friend.  The battle of the dark purple poke berries is not one I want to fight.  So, alas, it has to go.  I think the bright coral geranium our neighbor gave me will look nice in its place.

I’ll be keeping my eye on my Can of Surprises – as the morning glories twine their way up the teepee I made for them – who knows what other mysteries may unfold?

My Can of Surprises feels like another gentle nudge from Nature. 

A “look what we can do” statement. 

An invitation to open up to new ways of planting and co-existing and experiencing the miraculous wonder of life and the natural world. 

Acres and acres of land and expensive plantings not required.

All of this within the confines of a simple metal garbage can filled with potting mix. 

If you want to be inspired and forever-changed in regards to one particular miracle – the life of a bee – please feel free to listen to Colette O’Neill, co-creator of The Bealtaine Cottage Project in the west of Ireland, as she so eloquently relays a very important message.

 

 


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Radishes!

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On a whim, in late April, I sowed half a packet of six-year-old radish seeds.  Only a couple of short rows in a raised trough style planter. The packet had been languishing in a basket in the basement, along with many other packets of old seed……seeds purchased with good intentions of getting serious about establishing a viable kitchen garden, but for a variety of reasons never quite getting it accomplished.

I was surprised when many tiny green sprouts began to emerge from the soil! Not only did they grow quickly, but they grew thickly! Expecting a poor germination rate, due to the age of the seed, I had sowed more densely than recommended on the seed packet.  Then, seeing their desire to GROW! – once released from their long slumber and feeling the warm soil between their toes – I just couldn’t bring myself to pluck and thin those tiny green bits of life, as was recommended on the seed packet.  So…….I’ve been enjoying small harvests of small mild radishes for about 30 days now.  (I have since learned that the young seedlings can be enjoyed  – roots, sprouts, and leaves – in salads or as a bit of peppery crunch minced on top of crème cheese crostini.  I’ll be plucking and thinning my autumn sowing in hopes of harvesting more fully developed ruby red radishes.  And, likewise, delighting in experimenting with ways to enjoy the taste and nutritional benefits of the “pluckings”!)

Having been raised up in a family of raw radish eaters, there was never the need to explore other ways to prepare them.  My taste and tolerance for raw radish has diminished and so I’ve been experimenting with some new ways to enjoy their peppery goodness.  Two of my favorites so far:

Pan Roasted Radishes and New Red Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • Radishes, tops and tails removed, halved lengthwise
  • New red potatoes, skins on, halved or quartered
  • Fresh thyme sprigs
  • Garlic – 1 or 2 cloves, smashed, skin removed
  • Butter
  • Kosher salt
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Toss radishes and potatoes in a lightly oiled, pre-heated cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes.  Lower heat to medium-low, continue to cook for about 6 – 10 minutes, until radishes and potatoes are just slightly charred & fork-tender, stirring or tumbling occasionally. Add butter, fresh thyme sprigs, and smashed garlic – all to your taste.  Increase heat to medium-high again, stirring often, allowing garlic to slightly toast.  Remove garlic and thyme stems, season with salt, and serve.

Sauteed Cabbage, Radish & Sausage with Gorgonzola

Ingredients:

  • Savoy cabbage, ½ medium sized head, chopped
  • Radishes, medium sized bunch, tops & tails removed, halved lengthwise
  • Cooked sausage, 1 or 2 links, sliced (Andouille, Bratwurst, Smoked Sausage, Kielbasa – any type of flavorful sausage that you prefer)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea Salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Gorgonzola cheese – crumbled

Generously coat bottom of skillet with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add cabbage, radish, and sausage slices. Saute, stirring or tossing frequently, until cabbage and radishes are tender.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, stir, remove from heat. Top individual servings with crumbled Gorgonzola and serve warm. Delicious as a left-over meal or side dish – warm or cold.  Reserve and refrigerate extra gorgonzola in a separate container from the other ingredients.  Add gorgonzola to left-overs just before serving/eating for best flavor and texture.

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