Little Green Tomatoes

Tiny Seeds of Goodness


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Winter Green

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Late Winter. One of my favorite times of the year in North Carolina!

Most of the russet Oak leaves have succumbed to wind, snow, and rain – only a very few remain in the tree tops – dancing and twirling as if invisible puppeteers dangle them from strings. The coppery Beech leaves have faded to translucent, the color of pale rose gold.

Daffodils, Pansies, and Camellias are in bloom, each lending color and beauty to the landscape. Flowering Pear and flowering Cherry – always first, and usually too early – are covered in clouds of delicate white and palest pink blossom. Saucer Magnolias – one of my favorites – reduce my vocabulary to single syllable exclamations of “ohhhhh”, “ahhhhh”, and “mmmmm”. Drifts of tiny blue Wild Flowers open to warmth on sunny slopes. Yes, Spring is almost here!

But it is the Winter Green that catches my eye today!  Grey brooding Sky, cold Mist, damp chill to the Air, the smell of woodsmoke – Winter is not finished yet.  There are treasures to behold, for it is now that the tiny ones, the unassuming ones, draw me in to the Woods. It is their turn to shine. Perfectly complimented by the silver-grey of late winter Tree trunk, Tree limb, and damp carpets of Leaves, they go quietly about their work – returning Matter back to Mother Earth and protecting Her, holding Her, with a beautiful blanket of green.

 

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The Moon and I

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There’s something about Her,

Sister Moon.

The Sun is the Sun. But, ooooh, that Moon!

She shifts and moves,

at times assertively sharing her all, at times offering only a sliver of herself.

Changing how she chooses to reflect color, knowing that subdued and subtle are her strong suits.

She has finesse.

She is coooool.

And oh, how beautiful and soft she looks in the early morning Sky,

Looking more like a reflection of Earth Herself.

Oh, if only I was as stunning as Sister Moon!

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Her Personality ~ Gravitating, Irresistible

Mine ~ not so much

Her Purpose ~ Great

Mine ~ small

Her Path ~ Confident, Serene, Knowing

Mine ~ unsure, frustrating, riddled with doubt

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And yet, she allows me to gaze upon her,

wide eyed,

unblinking,

soaking in her soft white light,

folding me in to the circle of shadows, silhouette of Trees, white-silver carpet of Grass, skittering of Leaves,

taking me back in memory……

To soft summer nights at the Lake,

to the first kiss at Water’s edge, Waves lapping and a million silver rhinestones dancing in her Light.

To autumn in farm country,

brassy Moon, slung low, so close,

the sweet smell of Alfalfa, Corn, and evening Soil thick all around.

To winter walks,

cold, quiet,

frosty clouds of Breath,

air sharp in the lungs,

dark shadow of Tree limbs on crystalline Snow,

warm glow of lamps through Jack Frost window.

To the cool of spring evenings,

pausing,

the chorus of Spring Peepers and Tree Frogs

celebrating,

moist, ready Ground,

pinkish-silver of Azalea and Redbud and Iris,

silver-grey of unfurling Leaves,

white stars of Dogwood reflecting back toward her Light.

Of respite, of no-thought, of nothing-but-thoughts.

Of a loving and a knowing so deep, so connected, that no words are necessary.

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No need for sunglasses, sunscreen, or broad-brimmed hat to bathe in her reflected light –

Only a moment, awareness, presence……and courage.

Aaaahhhh, what a sight!

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Sausage, Kale, and Orzo Soup

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In the spirit of my focus on “Souping through January”, here’s a tasty recipe.  This soup is rich with winter vegetables, seasoned sausage, and lovely orzo, all swirling around in a delicious fresh-made poultry broth. The aroma speaks to home and hearth, and there is nothing quite like a warm bowl of delicious soup, crusty artisan bread, and a Belgian beer enjoyed on a chilly January evening.

Sausage, Kale, and Orzo Soup

  • ½ pound ground Sweet Italian Sausage or Chorizo, browned and drained
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled & chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled & minced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • ¼ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground chipotle
  • 1 teaspoon ground celery seed
  • 4 cups homemade poultry stock (see my Use What Ya Got Stock recipe via link)
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • ¾ cup uncooked orzo
  • 4 cups kale, rinsed, coarsely chopped, & drained
  • Fresh squeezed lemon juice, to taste
  • Shredded Parmesan, Asiago, or Romano cheese

Toss carrots, onion, and garlic with the olive oil in a heavy soup pot or dutch oven, and cook, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Some light browning adds flavor, but watch closely so that garlic doesn’t burn. Stir in the browned and drained ground sausage.  Stir in the salt, oregano, basil, crushed red pepper, chipotle, and celery seed. Continue to cook and stir for about a minute. Add the poultry stock, water, and orzo. Turn up the heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low/medium and cook, covered, at a strong simmer until the orzo is tender (about 10 to 12 minutes). Turn off the heat. Stir in the kale. Allow to sit, uncovered, for about 5 minutes.

Ladle in to bowls, top with the shredded cheese and fresh squeezed lemon juice, to taste. A thick slice of warm, crusty artisan bread is a nice accompaniment! And if you have a favorite Belgian style beer, it will pair nicely. Enjoy!

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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To Juice or To Soup? That is the Question!

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I’ve been contemplating embarking upon a juice fast.  I understand that there are many health benefits associated with juicing. But honestly, I am more of a soup girl. Homemade soup. Made-from-scratch soup. I find the textures, shapes, and colors of soup ingredients appealing. This time of year, a bowl or mug of warm soup just makes me happy.  And then there’s that awesome aroma of a pot of soup simmering on the stove.  Mmmmm. Need I say more?

I’m scrapping the juicing, and going for souping!

As part of my continuing efforts to further reduce the amount of processed and containerized foods in my diet, not to mention the sodium contained in both, I decided to try my hand at homemade stock.  Again.  I’ve made a few batches over the years, but never stuck with it, mostly because of time constraints and the fact that good stock needs to simmer for several hours on the stove top.  Back around Thanksgiving, with a turkey carcass looking pitiful in the roasting pan, I wondered if I could use my large slow-cooker to make some stock.  I googled “stock in slow cooker”, or something like that, and guess what?  Many, many other people have had the slow cooker idea long before it floated into my mind! Go figure.

I read through a bunch of recipes on-line and perused the stock information in my Joy of Cooking cookbook.  And then I decided that even if I hadn’t invented the idea of making stock in a slow cooker, that didn’t mean I couldn’t invent my own recipe!  Sometimes I just get in the mood to not play by the rules, and I guess I was in one of those moods, because I decided to name my recipe “Use What Ya Got Stock”.  I did (use what I had on hand), and the turkey stock was delicious.  I’ve made two batches of chicken stock since (using what I had on hand), and both times it was equally delicious. Using my own stock has taken my soup game to the next level.  I highly recommend it.  Here’s a basic list of ingredients I’ve used, and the process that worked well for me. Try it – I think you might  like it!

“Use What Ya Got Stock” – Slow Cooker Recipe 

  • 1 cooked turkey or chicken carcass – bones, skin, & cartilage with most of the meat removed (deli-rotisserie chicken carcass works nicely). Cooked down drippings and bits from the roasting pan can be used as well, unless they are super greasy.
  • Raw aromatic vegetables, cut in to large chunks. Remove peel or skin.  I usually have carrots, celery, onion, and garlic on hand, and I use all of them.  I use 1 onion, 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, 3 carrots, and 3 ribs of celery.  Adjust amounts according to the size of your slow cooker crock.
  • Fresh rosemary – 3 to 5 sprigs.
  • Bay leaves – 5 to 7 leaves.
  • Whole black peppercorns – about 10.
  • Dried tarragon – about a teaspoon.
  • Chili powder – about a teaspoon.
  • Cayenne pepper – about a half teaspoon.
  • Kosher or Sea Salt – about a teaspoon.
  • I had small amounts of some herb mixes that were past their prime in my spice cabinet, so I tossed what was left of them in to the crock as well.
  • Filtered water

Place the poultry bones, skin, etc. in the slow cooker crock. Distribute the vegetables, herbs, and spices in and around the poultry parts. Add filtered water to cover all ingredients and fill the slow cooker crock to about an inch from the top.  Place the lid on the cooker, and cook on high for 1 to 2 hours, then reduce temp to low and cook overnight – about 8 to 10 hours in total.

When done cooking, remove bones and what is left of the vegetables & undissolved herbs with a large slotted spoon and allow to drain in a colander placed over a large bowl or soup pot. After the liquid is finished draining from the colander, remove and discard the solid contents of the colander.  Add the remaining liquid stock from the slow cooker to the liquid in the bowl or soup pot, and allow to cool for about 30 minutes.

Place the cooled stock in the refrigerator – in glass container(s) – do not use metal containers, cover, and leave overnight.  The next day, the fat will have risen to the top and solidified, and can be skimmed off with a spoon and discarded.  The stock itself may be gelatinous (jelly like), and this is due to the collagen that has been extracted from the cooked bones. Collagen is not fat, and is a big part of what makes homemade stock so healthy and delicious. Pour or spoon the stock in to storage containers for refrigerating or freezing.

I store stock in 16 oz mason jars with plastic screw top lids in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks.  I’ll typically use 32 oz (4 cups) of stock in most of my soups, so I’ve been keeping two mason jars to refrigerate for use in the short term.  Any left-over amount of stock is placed in freezer safe containers for use at a later date.


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Little Bits of Goodness – December 9

Pull up close by the fire my friends,

I’ll pour ye a cup o’ cider!

We’ll talk and we’ll laugh, we’ll toast, my friends,

Wassail – Waes Hael – Be Well, Good Health!

And Blessings to the Trees!

Wassail!  Lift ye cup o’ cider!

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Wassail , from Old English waes hael, is a beverage made of fruit juices, most commonly apple juice or cider, and spices, slowly heated and served warm.  The Old English waes hael means “be healthy”.  The ancient tradition of “wassailing” included singing, toasting, and drinking the beverage – to the health of the villagers and to the health of the apple trees, blessing the trees in the hopes of bountiful harvests to come.  I like the idea of acknowledging and showing appreciation for the bounty that Gaia provides! For without that bounty, where would we be?

Holiday Wassail

  • 48 ounces apple juice
  • 48 ounces cranberry juice
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon whole cloves
  • ¾ cup brown sugar

Place cloves in a mesh tea basket.  Add apple and cranberry juice to a large saucepan. Dissolve brown sugar in the juices.  Simmer until hot over low heat with cinnamon sticks and clove basket. If you need to keep the wassail warm for an extended perior of time, transfer to pre-warmed slow cooker, low setting.

Serve in glass mugs and garnish with a fresh cinnamon stick & orange wheel.

Wassail can be stored in refrigerator for up to one week. Remove and discard cinnamon sticks and cloves prior to storing in refrigerator.

P.S. The house will smell like heaven!  This is a great beverage to serve for a holiday open house – your guests will be greeted with the delicious yuletide aroma upon arrival!


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Little Bits of Goodness – December 7

Be kind whenever possible

It is always possible

– Dalai Lama –

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 Don’t forget you-know-who when you’re doing your holiday baking! Woof!

Peanut Butter Pup Cookies

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup oatmeal, plain, uncooked
  • ½ cup powdered buttermilk
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup natural peanut butter – with oil well incorporated (be careful NOT to use peanut butter that’s sweetened with xylitol – xylitol is toxic to dogs)
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup water

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add peanut butter, honey, and eggs. Beat on low until well combined. Gradually add water, beating until dough holds together.

Place dough on large sheet of parchment paper & cover with a second large sheet of parchment paper.  Using a rolling pin, roll out until dough is about ½ thick.  Slide parchment with dough on to a large cookie sheet and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.

Remove dough from refrigerator, remove top parchment.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a bone shaped cookie cutter (or any fun shape(s) of your choice), cut out cookies and place on a  parchment-lined baking sheet.  You can also use a cap from a soda or water bottle to make small rounds. Gather up extra dough pieces and roll out again or roll into small balls and flatten with your thumb. Use up all that luscious dough!

Bake 1 hour. Cool on rack.  Recipe makes about 20 bone-shaped cookies, 3” long.

Cheese Please Doggie Snacks 

  • 1 cup oatmeal, plain, uncooked
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ cups hot chicken broth, low sodium or no-salt
  • ½ cup powdered buttermilk
  • 1 cup (4 oz.) grated cheddar cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup wheat germ
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour

Combine oatmeal, oil, and water (or hot broth) in a large mixing bowl.  Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in powdered buttermilk, grated cheese, salt & egg. Add cornmeal and wheat germ. Mix well.  Add flour, about a half a cup at a time, incorporating well each time. After all the flour is incorporated, knead 3 to 4 minutes to make a very stiff dough.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Roll out dough to about ½ inch thickness. Using a bone shaped cookie cutter (or any other shape(s) of your choice), cut out snacks, placing on lightly greased cookie sheet. You can also use a cap from a soda or water bottle to make small rounds. Gather up extra dough pieces and roll out again or roll into small balls and flatten with your thumb. Use up all that luscious dough!

Bake for 1 hour at 300 degrees. Turn off heat and leave the snacks in the oven for 1 hour or longer.  Recipe makes about 2 pounds of snacks.


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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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