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 we 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.
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
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!)
Preheat oven to 375 and spray the bottom of a large casserole dish or 9X13 pan with cooking spray.
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.
Once mixture is smooth, add cheese, garlic powder, and pepper and keep at a low temperature.
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.
Alternate potatoes, ham, and sauce until all three layers have been put down, and top with additional cheese.
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
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)
Combine ingredients in a crock pot and cook for 8 (if pre-soaked the split peas) -10 (if didn’t presoak) hours on low.
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
2 cups flour (I use a 50/50 split of whole wheat and all-purpose)
3/4 cup of shredded cheese (cheddar, fontina– any mild cheese is a good choice for this)
Preheat waffle iron and preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, butter, and egg.
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.
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.
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 Martianlast 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.
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….
I have quite a few kitchen gadgets, but there’s something that I’ve always wanted and never had need to buy… until now:
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.
I have a wandering (and wondering?) (and wonderful) toddler. The above picture was taken on a recent outing to the park, where, luckily, he has little trouble to get into if he scurries a bit out of reach. More troubling is when he gets loose at the gym while I’m trying to wrangle his sister into the car seat, and he runs into the gym where some boys are trying to play a game of basketball. Or most frighteningly of all, when he took his little hand out of mine in the parking lot and started to run towards the car. We had a big talk after that one. The truth about all of these runnings is that he knows he’s not supposed to run too far ahead of us. He looks back at us and gives us a devilish smile as if to say, “Come and get me!” It makes it hard to get mad at the situation for too long.
In our back yard, his favorite game is to go to the only place I tell him to keep out of: my garden. Just like Peter Rabbit. Once he shimmies down the back stairs, he’s off and running to the edge of my garden, which wouldn’t matter except that I mulch the entire bed with grass clippings and he’s likely to roll around in it if not watched… His dad does the vacuuming and doesn’t appreciate these escapades. Soon, he’ll be old enough to help me dig and pick, but this summer is all about damage control. I can’t wait until he understands how his food comes from these plants.
One plant currently overgrown in our garden is the dill, which is so fragrant that if the wind blows you can catch a whiff from the other side of the lawn. Dill belongs in potato salad, in my opinion, and so we’ve been chowing down on this recipe all summer. Don’t leave out the relish! It makes it something special.
Amazing Dill and Relish Potato Salad
3 large yellow potatoes, cubed and peeled (though I didn’t peel this time)
2 ribs celery, chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
2 heaping tablespoons sweet pickle relish, with liquid
1/2 cup Miracle Whip (mine was the low-fat, olive oil version)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh dill (or more, to taste)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon pepper
Salt (to taste)
Boil cubed potatoes until they are tender, about ten minutes. Transfer to a colander and rinse with cold water. In a large bowl add celery, onion, eggs, and cooled potatoes.
In a separate bowl, mix dressing ingredients. Add dressing to base, and let potato salad chill for at least 2 hours. Salt to taste before serving.
I have to brag about something: I currently have amazing biceps . Shock and awe, sleeveless-shirt worthy biceps. I’ll even give my secret to these biceps away for free. Free! Today only! Special offer may be void in Alaska or Hawaii.