Little Green Tomatoes

Tiny Seeds of Goodness


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Remembering Ricky

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I found this delicate little bird’s nest last week, lying in the yard under one of the Willow Oaks.  I say “found”, but it really seemed as though it was placed there for me to see.  Such a tiny little work of art, with a tiny little oak leaf laying perfectly along the bottom, the entire inside lined with Ricky’s fur.

Ricky left more than his fair share of German Shepherd fur strewn about the house and the yard during shedding season.  After he died this summer, I gathered and scattered the fur he left behind on his bed. I dropped some under the Apple Tree, where he loved to pick up apples and eat them.  I scattered some under the Maple Tree, where we laid him in the shade when he couldn’t walk anymore.  I scattered some among the Creeping Phlox, where we would find him laying amongst the lavender flowers, even though I would grumble and scold him for crushing my treasured “purple flowers”. He would turn his ears and look away, as if to say, “Mission accomplished!  You’re here, standing beside me, paying attention to me.  That’s all I ever wanted.”

I held some up in the palm of my hand, at twilight, and let the breeze take it. 

And now, in late October, two weeks after the remains of Hurricane Michael blew through and tossed trees and limbs to the ground, this tiny nest is resting, intact, on the grass, as if it just fluttered down from its perch in the tree.  Carefully and lovingly crafted by a mother and perhaps a father to be a snug, cozy cradle for their little ones.  Did the tears flow when I picked it up and realized what was in it?  Oh yes, they did.  And then I smiled.  Remembering Ricky.  💖

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Colors of Earth – Persistence

On this last day of October, the sun is warm, the sky is clear blue, and the crickets are singing in the shady spots.  Almost overnight, warm tones of burgundy, burnt orange, and gold have begun to show in the tree tops.  But many of the beauties of summer remain steadfast – Colors of Persistence.

Lantana and Blue Chip Buddleia – blooming profusely since May.  A popular source of nectar for pollinators – butterflies, moths, bees, and hummingbirds – always a busy place in summer!  Shade and cover for the little Blue Tailed Skinks and Toads.

Mint, contained in a pot for sanity’s sake, & still flavoring my water, along with a little fresh lemon juice.

The 3 photos along the bottom are part of my “embracing native plants” scheme.  I stopped using any kind of herbicide or pesticide in 2001.  Considered to be weeds by many,  I find them to be beautiful.  I’ve no idea what the tiny purple flowered plant is, but it seems to be co-existing nicely with the Clover – maybe they’re working together to put nitrogen back in to the soil?  Daisy Fleabane, center photo, pops up along the fringes of mown lawn, along the creek buffer, amongst the gone-to-seed asparagus, at the base of the grapevines.  The tiny daisy-like flowers persist from June until the first hard freeze.  Cradling the Cedar logs – Creeping Charlie (Ground Ivy), spreading profusely in the shady spots, where nothing else wants to grow and hold the soil.  Ok, I admit, this one is out of control as soon as you blink your eyes!  But it persists here in the Southeast for much of the winter, holding the soil in place during winter rains, lending a bit of green to the winter landscape, and bursting in to a carpet of lavender flowers in Spring.  I’ve found that it even appears to choke out Poison Ivy.  And, since its tendrils remain on the ground, it doesn’t become a nuisance by climbing up into the shrubs and trees.  I spent many hours, dollars, and more energy than I care to admit waging battle on Ground Ivy in the past – pulling, raking, tilling, boraxing – you name it, I tried it.  I’m much happier now that I choose to see its positive attributes, instead of just the negative ones.  Perhaps there is a lesson in that for all of us, in other areas of life?

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And, here, much loved Impatiens and Licorice are still bursting out of the flower box at the kitchen window!  Greeting me in the morning while the coffee brews, brightening my thoughts while I slog through the pile of dirty dishes, providing an anchor point for the Brown Box Spider’s delicate web, and attracting insects for the Blue Tailed Skinks to  hunt from the window sill.


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Aaahhh – Autumn!

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Autumn mornings: sunshine and crisp air, birds and calmness, year’s end and day’s beginnings.

~ Terri Guillemets 

This morning was a lovely, quintessential autumn morn – cloudless bright blue sky, crisp clear air, warm sunshine, a light breeze rustling the leaves. The only thing missing – autumn leaves – colored leaves.  Most of the trees and shrubs are still clothed in green. At first glance it still looks like summer!

But the birds know.  Gone are the Hummingbirds and the Wood Thrush – they have moved to their winter homes.  The bright yellow Gold Finches have donned their winter plumage.  The Blue Jays, Robins, and Eastern Bluebirds are flocking together.  This morning I counted six Blue Jays in and under the Willow Oaks, feasting on the tiny acorns.  There was a bustle of activity on the lawn, the edge of road, and the neighbor’s front lawn, as a good-sized flock of Robins and Bluebirds landed and fanned out – visiting the water saucers, looking for tasty morsels on the ground, and picking the tiny seeds out of the chickweed that I haven’t pulled out of the flower beds.

I’ve been an admirer of the feathered ones for as long as I can remember.  I am continuously amazed by them.  There is always something new to learn from observing them, listening to them, and just being aware of them.

This year, even though we have a small stream running through our property and a large pond down the road a ways, I decided to put out some water saucers for the birds and the critters.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the number and diversity of visitors!  Cardinals, Robins, Gold Finches, Purple Martins, Sparrows, Bluebirds…. butterflies…..beautiful Blue Mud Daubers….even a Rabbit standing on her tiptoes!

Who would have thought that such a simple offering would draw such a crowd?

 


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Pasta Inspiration

I was inspired yesterday.  Inspired to prepare and consume wholesome, simple, delicious food! After watching the first episode of Samin Nosrat’s Netflix series, Salt Fat Acid Heat , I rummaged through my frig and pantry to see if I had the necessary ingredients for one of my favorite pasta dishes.

Although not the incredible aged Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy that Samin featured on her show, I had shredded Parmesan in a plastic pouch from the grocery store.  High class all the way, baby!! Although not fresh handmade pasta – also featured on the show, I had a box of average, run of the mill fettuccine in my pantry. I did have a nice fresh bottle of Italian Carapelli Oro Verde EVOO. And a can of California ripe olives. The stars were aligned!  The pasta prep could begin!

I have been making this dish for eons.  Well, since the early ‘90s actually, which, most days, seems like eons ago.  I used to follow the recipe to a T. Now I am lazy and tend to avoid / combine a couple of the steps.  Main reason – I absolutely abhor peeling and seeding tomatoes, and will do just about anything to avoid that task.  Besides, I like the skins and the seeds – they add flavor and texture.  So, for correctness sake, I’ve included the recipe in its original form.  If you choose to make the dish, you can make the call on how you want to handle the tomatoes.  I do not peel nor seed my tomatoes, I simple cut them into large chunks and cook them along with the peppers and garlic.  I will tell you that I have used fresh heirloom tomatoes, cherry/grape tomatoes, even canned tomatoes, and have been pleased with each.  Yesterday I used a package of Wild Wonders Gourmet Medley , and I love the variety of colors and flavors they brought to the dish.

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Pasta with Broccoli and Tomatoes

  • 1 lb fresh broccoli
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes
  • 1 large sweet red paper, cut into chunks
  • ½ lb spaghetti, fettuccini, or penne pasta
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 can ripe olives, pitted and sliced
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Cut broccoli into small florets with about an inch of stem. Peel the remaining stems and dice into small pieces.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add salt and submerge tomatoes for about 10-20 seconds. Remove. Peel and seed tomatoes; cut in to large pieces.

Add broccoli to boiling water and cook 3-4 minutes, until just tender.  Remove and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking and to retain the bright green color.  Drain and set aside.  (Note: in my current lazy state, I eliminate this step and simply drop the broccoli in to cook with the pasta about 5 minutes before the pasta will be al dente).

Add a few drops of olive oil to the boiling water, drop in the pasta, and stir.

While pasta is cooking, warm olive oil in a skillet with garlic and red pepper flakes.  When hot, add tomatoes and sweet red pepper chunks.  Cook for several minutes over low to medium heat.

When pasta is just about done, return the broccoli to the water to warm, then pour pasta and broccoli into a colander.  Transfer to a large warm serving bowl. Add the tomato mixture, black olives, parsley, black pepper and toss.

Serve with plenty of freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese and crusty Italian bread.

Generously serves 2 to 3 hungry folks. Cibo delizioso!!


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As I See It

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When you arise in the morning,

give thanks for the morning light,

for your life and strength.

Give thanks for your food

and the joy of living.

If you see no reason for giving thanks,

the fault lies in yourself.

 ~ Tecumseh

Earth Prayers from Around the World

 

Stymied, waylaid, paralyzed, sad, disappointed, angry, hopeless, helpless.  Dismayed.

I have found myself feeling all of the above at many times over the last several months –

 for Us, Now

for Earth and All of Her Inhabitants, Now

for the Future

for the Young, the Old, the Middle Aged

for Those who have worked tirelessly for close to a century to try and repair the damage that was and is being done

for those of Us who have the choice to make better decisions, but who choose not to

for Those who don’t have choices

for Those who don’t have the opportunity to learn

for the Innocents whose wisdom and voices are ignored

I was quite taken by the beauty of the Monsoon Sunrise that my friend Sharon was lucky to witness and photograph.  She graciously shared it with me.  I kept going back to her text message – looking at the photo again and again.  It was speaking to me.

Initially, I intended to focus this blog on Goodness – as I see It. I had no intention of giving space to the opposite.

I do hold the belief, however, that Light is defined, to some extent, by Darkness.  Likewise, with Right & Wrong, Love & Hate, Kindness & Aggression, Peace & War, and…………Good & Evil. Reasoning then, that acknowledging the Dark allows the Light to shine even brighter; that witnessing Wrong may move Us to take action for Right.

So, going forward, I’ll be giving some space in this blog to the opposite of Goodness – as I see It and feel It – as background and contrast to Goodness.  It is my hope and my belief that this will allow the seeds of Goodness to germinate profusely, create great and strong networks of root structures, grown en masse, and thus create an inhospitable environment for Evil, or whatever you wish to call the opposite of Good.

And, so it is that my dear friend’s photo of this unusual and beautiful sunrise has been softly speaking to me.  I hope it speaks to you too.

There are always two voices sounding in our ears – the voice of fear and the voice of confidence.  One is the clamor of the senses, the other is the whispering of the higher self. 

~ Charles B. Newcomb


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October Beans (in September)

My Grandma called them “Shellie Beans”. The farm stand at Smith Farms calls them “October Beans”.  The North Carolina Folklife Institute says that these beans, also called “fall beans” or “speckled beans”, are an assortment of old heirloom shell beans that ripen between the end of summer and first frost.  Whatever you choose to call them, these are some Beautiful Beans!

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While the Great Depression of the 1930’s was a time of hardship and suffering, my mother would tell me of how blessed her family was at that time. She was continually thankful that she grew up in a farm family.  Although times were tough and they had little else, they had their land, their home, and they were able to grow and produce their own food. She had fond memories of the simple meals that sustained her large family during those lean years.  She continued to prepare her favorites, even in times of plenty, throughout her adult life.

One of those beloved stand-by meals was soup beans and cornbread. I vividly recall coming home to the mouth-watering aroma of a pot of soup beans simmering on the stove and cornbread, fresh baked, and straight out of the oven.

Over the years, I’ve tinkered around with Mom’s basic recipe, changing it up a little bit, adding some ingredients.  Mostly I eyeball and adjust quantities to taste, but this time I recorded my measurements.  So, here’s my version.

Delicious! Simple! Beautiful Beans! 

  • 4 cups beans, removed from pods, rinsed in cold water & drained
  • 6 cups cold water
  • 4 slices thick cut uncured bacon
  • 1 teaspoon bacon drippings
  • 1 large Vidalia onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Better Than Bouillon chicken soup base
  • ¼ cup organic raw sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ cup to 1 cup ketchup, depending on your taste

Place rinsed and drained beans in a large soup pot with 6 cups cold water.  Bring to a full boil.  Reduce heat to medium, boil for about 5 minutes, mostly covered (leave lid a bit askew to prevent boiling over).

Cut the bacon into chunks and fry until crisp.  Remove from pan and drain, reserving 1 teaspoon of the bacon drippings.

To the pot of boiling beans, add the bacon, bacon drippings, onion, garlic, chicken soup base, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and ½ cup ketchup.  Stir well, and return to a full boil.  Once boiling, reduce heat to low, and cook, covered, until beans are to desired tenderness – about 2 hours.

You may need to add a cup or two of additional water as the soup cooks, depending on the amount of broth you prefer.  If you add additional water, you can add additional ketchup as well.

Serve steaming hot with fresh baked cornbread or sweet corn tomalito (sweet cornbread pudding).

Any kind of dried beans can be used in this dish as well.  Great Northerns, Pintos, Field Peas – all are very good.  If you’re using dried beans, you will need to rinse, sort, and soak overnight, according to the instructions on the bag, prior to preparing this recipe.  Or, you can use the Quick Soak method if you’re short on time.

Makes 4 – 6 servings.

Sweet Corn Tomalito 

  • 5 tablespoons salted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup masa harina
  • ½ cup organic raw sugar
  • 2 cups whole kernel corn – fresh, frozen (thawed), or canned
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt

Fill bottom pan of a double boiler with water and bring to a boil.  If you don’t have a double boiler, you can use a large soup pot or Dutch oven and a glass baking dish to accomplish the same thing.  See my post on The Great Cobbler Experiment for more information.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the softened butter, masa harina, and sugar until light and fluffy.  In a food processer or a blender, blend 1 cup of the corn with the milk and cornmeal until smooth. Add to the masa mixture and stir. Add the remaining cup of corn, baking powder, and sea salt.  Combine well and stir until batter is smooth.

Pour batter into top pan of double boiler.  Cover tightly, either with the double boiler lid, or aluminum foil.  Lower heat and steam over simmering water for about 50 to 60 minutes, or until firm. Check water occasionally and add more if needed, to prevent bottom pan from boiling dry.

Serve warm, on a warmed plate or small side dish, by the scoopful.  A small dollop of sour cream on top is tasty as well!

Makes 6 – 8 servings.

 


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Solo

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At night make me one with the darkness

In the morning make me one with the light

 ~ Wendell Berry

 We have been blessed with a respite from heat and humidity.  For this girl with Celtic & Germanic blood coursing through her veins, that means I can drink in the joys of summer without wilting!

Windows have been opened! Soft summer breezes and birdsong have drifted into the house! Sun porch has become inhabitable again! And the night time chorus has been a welcome replacement for the drone of the air conditioner.

One of my guilty pleasures (which, thankfully, I rarely feel guilty about anymore) is an afternoon nap.  And today was a perfect day for one.  As I drifted back in to the space between sleep and wakefulness, too comfortable and relaxed to get up – warm summer breeze floating in through the windows – cicada chorus lazily moving like “the wave” from tree to tree – my mind began to tinker with the meetings I have had in the last 18 hours.  These were impromptu meetings – not scheduled – I reckon.  More correctly, they might be considered to be encounters or observances, not meetings in the true sense of the word.  Each brief, and in each case, I did not offer up any meaningful contribution.

And yet, tinkering with the collective experience, laying there sprawled out on the sofa in the sun porch, they seemed more like meetings.  In each case, I felt connected to the other party, to the encounter itself.  I did not feel like a casual observer only looking on from the outside.

Those thoughts seemed to drift on the breeze and to swirl around other thoughts I’ve been tossing around this week.  In particular, a conversation I was blessed to have a few days ago.  During which, the other person, an accomplished author, offered that the true reason she writes is not for reasons some would expect, but for a purely selfish reason.  She feels the most connected when she is writing.  Even though a solitary exercise, she feels the most connected to everything when she puts pen to paper.

I get it.  I totally get it.  And for me, I have been increasingly aware that I seem to feel the most connected during encounters with the natural world – those unscheduled meetings where I don’t have to speak or form a meaningful analysis – all I need to do is just be.

And, be, is exactly what I did at about 9:00 last night, when out with one of the dogs, patiently waiting for that perfect blade of grass to be located before the necessary business could be done.  The moon was up, and she was lovely.  I believe the bright golden/orange planet near to the moon is now Mars (?), and I was admiring both of them.  A little movement or glimmer in the periphery, down closer to where I was standing, caught my eye.  But when I moved my gaze to that location I didn’t see anything.  And then, about 8 inches from my right hand, a brief, faint glow.  As I squinted to see if it was a firefly – unusual for this late in summer in North Carolina – he moved in closer, about 6 inches from my nose, so I could get a better look! Hovering, I was presented with another faint bit of glow.  A little “ah!” and a smile, and he disappeared into the darkness.  I looked all about and didn’t see any other blinking beacons.

A little firefly – flying solo in the dark of a late August night.  I wonder, was he holding out for that “perfect gal”, or was he just enjoying his solitude and the beautiful evening and sharing what little faint “glow” he still had to share?

And so it was with the other meetings.

~ Sitting in the dark, enjoying a sip of water before bedtime, listening to a solo Katydid amongst a choir of crickets.  Waiting for a response from another delicate green soul? Needing to find a mate before languishing in the cooler nights to come? Or just thinking that the choir of crickets could use a bit of diversity?

~ Lying awake, hearing a barred owl on the gutter in the wee hours of the morning.  Calling for his mate?  Or just preferring a little soft music with his gutter water?

~ Standing in the yard, again patiently waiting for dog business to be conducted, watching a red shouldered hawk wheeling and calling in the clear blue morning sky.  Staking out territory?  Or just enjoying the view and the wind rushing through her feathers?

~ Reaching for a clean coffee mug, watching a lone hummingbird sampling the nectar from the dewy lantana – red, orange, pink, yellow.  Hmmmm……which one is best?  Checking out the impatiens in the flower box and not finding much that interested her.  Pausing, hovering, eyeballing me as I watched from the other side of the kitchen window.  Sizing me up for battle?  Or thinking to herself, “wow, I’m glad I look better than that first thing in the morning!”?


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The Great Cobbler Experiment

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So, it is cobbler season, and my oven is currently not functional! Sadness. It over heated some time back and I haven’t moved forward with getting a repair service to come and look at it. My “spidey senses”, intuition, or just plain procrastination have been telling me “wait a little while – don’t get in a rush to fix it”. So I haven’t. But if nothing else has malfunctioned with the range by October – Apple Crisp and Pumpkin Crunch season – you can bet I will be calling the repair guy!

With our collection of about every other piece of cooking equipment known to man (and woman), we have not been going hungry, trust me. About the only thing I haven’t been able to make so far is home-made pizzas.  The “complaint department” has officially stopped taking any further complaints on that issue.

Being that I am frugal, a “DIY-er”, and always aspiring to be more self-sufficient, I decided that there has to be more than one way to make the fruit cobblers I love.  Thus, the decision to experiment was made.  I should add that I inherited all of the above from parents who grew up during the Great Depression in Midwest farm country. Grandparents who always grew, prepared, and shared all sorts of deliciousness may have also contributed to a few of my inherited traits.

First experiment: Peach cobbler.  Cooked on very low heat, stovetop, in heavy enameled cast iron dutch oven. As feared, the cobbler dough on the bottom scorched. The un-burned upper layers were scooped out, consumed, and very tasty.  More ooey & gooey than a baked cobbler, but I happen to like ooey & gooey.

Second experiment: Peach cobbler.  Steamed in DIY double boiler.  As luck would have it, my Pyrex pie plate nestled perfectly on to the rim of my stainless steel soup pot.  And the lid for the soup pot fit perfectly atop the pie plate! Cobbler was steamed for approximately 1 hr. & 15 min. over gently boiling water.  The beginning level of the boiling water was just below the bottom of the pie plate.

Note to self – use less butter than recipe calls out for a baked cobbler! No burning experienced with this method, and my taste tests received an “mmmmm…..yummy” rating. Again, more ooey & gooey than a baked cobbler. Maybe somewhat more of a consistency of an old-fashioned fruit pudding? I packed this experiment up and sent it along to the office with my husband.  His co-workers gave it a thumbs up and the pie plate came back scraped clean.

Third experiment: Blueberry cobbler. Steamed in same DIY double boiler.  Reduced butter by ½ the amount called out in recipe.  It’s ooey and it’s gooey – and I’m not sharing this one!!

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Here is my favorite cobbler recipe. So simple and so delicious! I use an air-bake cake pan when I bake in the oven, to prevent any scorching of the bottom crust or fruit sugars.

Fresh Fruit Cobbler

  • 1 tablespoon + 6 tablespoons salted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 cups fresh fruit of your choice (my favorites are blackberry, peach, or blueberry)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease an 8” x 8” pan with 1 tablespoon of butter.  In a separate bowl, combine the egg, flour, and 1-1/4 cups of sugar until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ¼ cup of the flour mixture to the bottom of the pan.  Pour in the fruit and sprinkle the lemon juice on top. Spread the remaining flour mixture evenly over the fruit. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter and drizzle evenly over flour mixture. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar on top.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.  Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Serve in individual dessert dishes and top with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (optional).

Yield: 6 – 8 servings.

 


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Tigers & Turtles & Toadstools – Oh My!

“The Summer hath its joys…” ~ Robert Campion

Loads of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies this time of year! 

Spicebush Swallowtail & Black Swallowtails are here too!

Toadstools – the fungus among us – wild mushrooms.  Whatever you want to call them, there are LOTS of them popping up everywhere! 

Seems to be an abundance of turtles out and about as well.  Kind of unusual for this time of year.  Heavy rains in recent weeks may be a factor.  This guy or gal decided to rest for a couple of hours in the shade right outside our patio door.