Weeknight Cabbage and Chicken Salad

It is too damn hot outside. Seriously. I am not a garden-waterer, especially for veggie gardens and doubly-especially before July. I’m all for building a robust root system. This June has broke me of that, however, and I’ve had to go out every few days to water my plants in this 90+ degree heat.

Needless to say, cold food sounds better right now.

After the birth of my first kid (also during a hot streak), my sister came to stay for a week. She played the perfect aunt and sister, and introduced me to the concept of cold cabbage salads that aren’t cole slaw. It was kind of a revelation.

So, in her honor, a super-easy, short-cuts included Vietnamese-inspired salad, perfect to make ahead and chill. Perfect with a glass of sparkling lemonade (rum optional).

Cabbage Chicken Salad

Serves 4, but easy to double

Time: 15 minutes active, 2 hours inactive

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Ingredients

  • 1 lb of cooked, shredded chicken (perfect if you’ve got roast chicken leftovers, otherwise, I like to poach in hot water until done– about 20-30 minutes)
  • 1 bag of coleslaw
  • 1/2 c to 1 c of mint or cilantro, chopped*
  • 3 green onions, diced (greens only)
  • 1/2 cup of crushed peanuts (to serve)

Dressing:

  • 4 tbsp lime juice, fresh is preferred
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar or mirin
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp sriracha (optional)
  1. Mix first four ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Mix dressing in a separate bowl until sugar has dissolved.
  3. Drizzle dressing over salad and mix well. Let salad cool in the fridge (2 hours is a good goal, but might get a bit wilty over 6).
  4. Mix once more before serving, topping each plate with crushed peanuts.

*I often use cilantro because it’s often easier to find fresh, but I know some people find the flavor soapy. Mint is lovely and more traditional, but consider using less than a cup.

Deserving

I don’t deserve the day I had today. The weather: 70 degrees and sunny. Light breeze. The plans: fun small-town events, gardening, playing with kids, and finishing my grading for the semester, grilling, running around until everyone was exhausted, and then tucking the kids into bed with sweet, cuddly stories. I know I don’t deserve it, but I’ll soak it in.

All this goodness can feel bittersweet. These pink flowers were a gift today from our local greenhouse. We’ve been going there for years and wimg_8296e always get our Christmas tree from them in the winter. Lately, I heard rumors that they were closing after this season. I bought the first plants in my first home just before the birth of my first child there. Now, kids in the stroller, the woman at the counter hands my daughter these pink daisies I was eyeing. “Are they perennials?” I had asked the woman earlier in the visit.

“Annuals. Beautiful ones, though,” she said.

When she tucked them in my daughter’s hands, she rubbed her toddler nose deep into the center of the flowers. When she pulled back, it was pollen-covered like yellow powdered sugar. I planted them in a pot in the backyard after we got home.

And so I know that it’s okay that beautiful things don’t always last as long as we hope they will. I won’t get to enjoy these flowers again next year– no guarantees. This greenhouse, in fact, is closing after this summer. Retirement meets realities of modern agriculture– it just wasn’t sustainable any more. This won’t be my greenhouse again, but I’m enjoying it this season.

Not every day is a good day. We’ve had some hard ones lately, but I’ll take the good when it comes, even when I don’t feel deserving.

 

Favorite Ham Leftover Solutions

My kids and I walked over to a local park yesterday, and my son decided to gather up all of the first-of-the-season dandelions. I forgot the wonder of dandelions as a kid– the joy of every stage of them from a bright yellow flower to the wish-blowing-seed stage. Part of the joy of parenting is getting to experience the wonder again through your kid’s eyes. Confronted with a pile of lopped-off flower heads, we decided to make something of them:

I use this anecdote to introduce the daunting world of ham leftovers. There’s a truism: Eternity is two people and a ham. Not surprisingly, adding two additional smaller mouths doesn’t seem to diminish our ham surplus by much and so I’m trying to get creative with our Easter ham leftover meals. Yes, by the end of a week of ham dinners they can be as ominous as a yellow-head in your lawn, but I swear you can make something good from the situation.

My top three favorite ham meals with quick recipes:

Scalloped Potatoes with Ham

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 to 3 lbs potatoes, peeled and sliced thin (I like to use a mandolin– it’s worth the investment!)
  • 1 cup of diced ham
  • 4 tbsp salted butter
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar, with additional cheese for topping if desired.
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp of garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp of pepper (white if you have it!)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 and spray the bottom of a large casserole dish or 9X13 pan with cooking spray.
  2. Melt butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Lower temperature, and add flour, mixing until mixture turns golden (don’t burn!). Then, add milk slowly, mixing constantly.
  3. Once mixture is smooth, add cheese, garlic powder, and pepper and keep at a low temperature.
  4. Line the bottom of the casserole dish with a third of the sliced potatoes, topping with a third of the ham. Finish the layer with a third of the cheese sauce.
  5. Alternate potatoes, ham, and sauce until all three layers have been put down, and top with additional cheese.
  6. Bake, covered with foil, for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for an additional 15 minutes, or until potatoes break apart easily with a fork and the casserole is bubbly.

Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb of dried green split peas
  • 1 ham bone with meat, additional ham as desired
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1/2 tsp of dried thyme leaves
  • 1/4 tsp of pepper
  • 4 cups of veggie broth
  • fresh lemon (if desired)
  1. Combine ingredients in a crock pot and cook for 8 (if pre-soaked the split peas) -10  (if didn’t presoak) hours on low.
  2. Before serving, remove the hambone to a cutting board and cut remaining useful meat, stirring it back into the soup. If desired, squeeze fresh lemon over soup and stir in (adds a nice, citrusy freshness).

Savory Waffles, adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour (I use a 50/50 split of whole wheat and all-purpose)
  • 1 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
  • 1 3/4 cups of buttermilk (or make your own)
  • 4 tbsp melted, cooled unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup finely diced ham
  • 3/4 cup of shredded cheese (cheddar, fontina– any mild cheese is a good choice for this)
  1. Preheat waffle iron and preheat oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, butter, and egg.
  3. Combine wet and dry ingredients gently– just like most recipes involving baking powder, you don’t want to overmix. You might see a few lumps remaining, but that’s normal. Fold in the ham and cheese until incorporated.
  4. Spray the waffle iron with cooking spray, the add the correct amount of batter for your particular waffle iron. Cook until golden brown, and place on a baking sheet in oven until all waffles are prepared.

I can vouch for each one of these recipes, and the savory waffles are an special favorite in our household!

Happy ham season– sometimes eternity can be just the right amount of time to enjoy something good.

Plant Potatoes on Good Friday

There’s an old wives tale that the gardening season officially begins on Good Friday, that this day, set from the church calendar, is the day to plant potatoes. Tomorrow is absolutely booked up– and scheduled to be rainy– so I started a day early.

Potatoes are odd plants, and last year was the first time I tried them in my garden. I admit that the experiment was spurred by my reading of The Martian last year. I dare you to read 200 plus pages about tubers in space and not come away with a respect for the plant. I have a few favorite potato recipes that you must check out, if you doubt my love (here and here).

Yesterday I cut old potatoes with one or two eyes per segment and let them sit. This morning, I dug trenches and put them a distance apart. You need the space because, like prairie dogs, potatoes burrow underground. One of the joys of potatoes is discovering them, finger deep, as you root around the base of the plant. My father told me you can “steal” potatoes as the season goes on– taking baby potatoes early in the season for the tenderest and sweetest and letting some mature to tide you through the fall. If you’ve never planted potatoes before, I highly recommend it.

The peat pellets and my pretty potential peppers- A spring tongue twister

I return to gardening every year for more than the harvest. Gardening is an education in itself. I can feel the accumulation of my successes and failures like tree rings, and it seems foolish not to keep experimenting year after year. Potatoes were my experiment last year, and this year it is seed starting. I bought one of the domed kits from the hardware store and started a few of my veggies from seed. I’m trying peppers, bush cucumbers, and basil this way, so we will see if anything comes from it. Any tips from you who have done this?

This year will be the first season that my son, aged four, can really participate in the gardening process. He helped me pick out the seeds from the seed store (TURNIPS, he exclaimed with glee, as if he actually ate them). My daughter, aged two, is at the reckless but fascinated stage. Both of them enjoyed our annual trip to the farm supply store to gaze at the chicks. God help me if that isn’t my experiment next year….

 

My daughter and the chicks

 

What have you planted so far?

Honey

I have quite a few kitchen gadgets, but there’s something that I’ve always wanted and never had need to buy… until now:

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I’ve always been a squeeze-bear honey chick until last weekend. We went to a fundraiser and bid on a quart (!) of honey from a local farm. As it happens, the apiarist sat at our table and we got to hear the story of how this honey came to be. This honey came from a swarm that he caught one afternoon, completely by chance. We’ve got a local honey connection now, and you bet I’m not going back to the bears. Needless to say, it’s pretty awkward to get honey out of a quart mason jar, so we invested in this beauty, perfectly labelled little container.

It makes me feel incredibly adult.

Living in Iowa means little joys like this, running into someone who taps Maple trees or keeps bees or chickens. Butchered hogs? I know a guy. Fresh sweet corn? Take all you can carry. Don’t even start on pumpkins. Acres of them. On days when I miss city life (concerts-book readings-movie theaters with more than one screen-trivia nights-Thai food), it’s nice to look at my honey pot. It’s pretty full as it is.

This little jar is extra sweet right now, because my son (almost four) just started getting into Winnie the Pooh. He tucks his body into mine, oversized book in hand, and wants to read all about the honey tree and Pooh getting stuck in Rabbit’s house. The days go so fast that sometimes it’s nice to have something to hold onto– a child’s hand, a spoonful of honey, a warm mug of tea or honey toast.

No recipe this time, just sending you sticky-fingered good wishes from rural America.

 

via Daily Prompt: Label

A Winter Update

I don’t usually post during the non-growing season, but I thought I would update with a question and a quick recipe—

Question first: How in the world do you take care of succulents?

I’m become a succulent mom very suddenly (it was a Christmas gift) and I think I’m doing it all wrong. Advice on soil mixture? Care and watering suggestions?

So now that you’ve earned your keep, a quick recipe to tide you over (and the perfect potluck recipe for football fun):

Julia’s Orzo Salad

I should note that my name is not Julia. Julia is the person who perfected the amazing additions to this salad, and who is bugged– constantly– to bring this to gatherings. Much love and adoration to Julia, for this and many other reasons!

Ingredients:

  • 1 (16 oz) box of orzo pasta
  • 1/2 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets
  • 1 cup of red pepper, diced
  • 4 oz crumbled feta
  • 4 oz of pepperoni, diced
  • 1- 2.4 oz can of sliced black olives, drained and rinsed
  • 1 packet of ranch dressing mix
  • 4 T of red wine vinegar
  • 3 T of olive oil
  • 2 T of white sugar (1 T if using splenda)
  • 1 tsp of dried basil leaves
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Pardon the blurry picture. I was too eager to eat this to take a better one!

Instructions:

  1. Make orzo according to box instructions.* During last minute of cooking time, add broccoli florets to boiling water. Drain broccoli and orzo in a colander and rinse with cold water.
  2. In a small bowl or lidded jar, mix last five ingredients.
  3. Put orzo and broccoli in a large mixing bowl and combine with remaining ingredients, mixing well with vinaigrette.
  4. Let salad rest in refrigerator for at least one hour. Can be made a day ahead. If it seems dry, rewet with 1 tsp of each red wine vinegar and olive oil.

*Orzo expands like crazy, so make sure you cook it in a large pot with plenty of water.

French-Kissing Onion Soup

It’s been a rough summer, mainly due to Japanese beetles. Japanese beetles on my raspberries. Japanese beetles eating my baby apple tree. Japanese beetles in my sleep.

You know one thing Japanese beetles don’t like? Onions.

Continue reading French-Kissing Onion Soup

Red and Blue Crumble Pie

I admit it, okay? No need to give me the third degree. I stole it, and I would do it again. I stole the strawberry from the strawberry plant at the greenhouse, the tiny, red one that was almost too ripe. I did it because I couldn’t stand to see it go to waste.

It’s that lovely season where the weather isn’t roasting just yet, berries are cheap, and I’m in a baking mood. All of these factors collide into a mixed berry pie of blueberries and strawberries, just in time for your summer savoring.

Red and Blue Crumble Pie

Ingredients:

Filling:

  • 2 1/2 cups of sliced fresh strawberries
  • 2 1/2 cups of fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 2 tbsp of tapioca
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup of white sugar
  • 1 premade pie-crust (or make your own)

Topping:

  • 2/3 cup of all-purpose flour (or a mixture of 1/3 cup oats, 1/3 cup flour)
  • 1/3 cup of butter, slightly chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar

 Directions:


  1. Preheat oven to 375°. In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients and let macerate for 15 minutes.
  2. In a smaller bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, and brown sugar and stir well. Cut in the butter until it forms small chunks.
  3. After fifteen minutes, pour the filling into the prepared pie crust and cover with topping. Put pie pan on a rimmed baking sheet (for easier clean up, cover with foil).
  4. Bake in the oven for approximately 50 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!

 

Weeds, weeds, and more weeds

The old cliche “kids grow like weeds” only gets more true the more kids I have and the bigger my garden gets. My kids now grow out of clothing every few months and are both old enough to alternatively shove and hug each other. Kids, thus, are cute, at least in the non-shoving moments.

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Weeds. Are. Not. Cute.

A few hints to newbie gardeners for eradicating — or better yet, preventing– weeds (chemical free) in the garden.

  1. Grass clippings (or shredded newspaper). After a good lawn mowing, spread the clippings around your already planted garden plot. Like the more expensive options below, the clippings will form a layer which heats the ground beneath it (to kill seedlings) and also gives less space for weeds to grow than open ground. I love grass clippings because they add extra nutrients to the soil, as well!

Unfortunately, my husband let some of the grass go to seed and so the most recent spread of mulch caused a little lawn to appear in my garden… so….

2. Landscaper’s cloth. Held in by metal landscaping staples (or biodegradable staples), this cloth works even more fully to provide the heat because of its reflective black surface. It’s not pretty, but it does the job. I cut “x”s in the material to make room for my plants which I WANT to be there and picked most of the weeds and grass before I laid it down.

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My tomatoes, kohlrabi, and peppers surrounded by grass seeds and weeds.
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Landscaper’s cloth before it’s fully tacked down… still, much better!

A caveat here: unless you use the biodegradable staples, you’ll have to dig around for the metal later in the season when you clean up the garden. For me, the little bit of effort on the back end is worth the time saved on this side.

3. Burlap. Another option, which my sister-in-law uses is burlap material between her plant rows. On many websites you can purchase old coffee bags and cut them into sizes useful to you in the garden. Unlike the artificial-looking black landscaping cloth, burlap softens in color to a natural-looking gray as the season progresses and works quite well to reduce weed growth.

There are many chemicals out there– we’re lucky to live in an age of agricultural wonder– but one of the pleasures of growing my own food is the simplicity of the process. Just like I like food with simple ingredients I can pronounce, I like that take on gardening, too.

A general garden update:

Perennials: Asparagus, Chives, Dill (just barely), Raspberries (but no flowers yet)

Annual Vegetables: sugar snap peas, “seed” potatoes, onion sets, green beans (one row, with another to follow next week), two blocks of sweet corn (with one more to follow next week), zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, banana and sweet peppers

 

Chives plus World’s Best Potatoes

The garden is coming up, and one item in particular is ready and has been for weeks: chives. If you grow chives, you know that they grow as heartily as dandelions and they are reliably ready early in the season. Chives are a great addition if you’re looking for a perennial, since they’re edible and they make pretty purple flowers (which my three year old likes to gather into onion-y bouquets). Chives can be good additions to garden salads, but I like them especially as a finisher to my favorite potato dish. This recipe, adapted from America’s Test Kitchen, gives you soft potatoes with a crunchy, buttery shell. They take a bit of babysitting (especially near the end), but the payoff is worth it. I like to serve these alongside a roast chicken, since so many ingredients (lemon, thyme) overlap.

 

  World’s Best Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs small red potatoes (similarly sized, if possible)
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into single tbsp
  • 3 peeled garlic cloves
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh chives
  1. Scrub potatoes and halve them, but do not peel or pierce them. Place the potatoes facedown in a single layer, covering the bottom of a 12-inch nonstick skillet. The potatoes should fit snugly along the bottom. Add water, butter segments, garlic, thyme sprigs, and salt and bring to a simmer over medium/high heat. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes (or until potatoes are just tender).
  2. After fifteen minutes have elapsed, remove the cover and take out the sprigs of thyme and cloves of garlic. Discard the thyme, but keep the garlic and allow to cool. Mash garlic and combine with lemon juice and pepper. Set mixture aside.
  3. Increase the heat on the potatoes to medium/high once more and, with lid still off, simmer until the water has evaporated– about fifteen minutes. The butter will start to sizzle (you’ll smell and hear it, at this point).
  4. At this point, babysit your potatoes very closely, moving them gently to allow the cut sides to remain down but not stick to any one spot in the pan. The goal is to get spotty, browned cut sides (about 5 minutes). If you aren’t vigiliant, the best parts may stick to the pan.
  5. Once browned, remove the potatoes from pan and toss with garlic/lemon mixture. Add chives just before serving, and enjoy!
    While this recipe claims to serve 4-6, my husband and I routinely polish it off with just a little help from our two kiddos. A recipe simple enough for weeknight dinner, but tasty enough to impress a dinner guest or two (if you’re generous enough to share).