Morning Rounds 2

The Spring garden is producing! The lettuces, kale, collards, spinach, peas, spring onions (aka scallions), radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, garlic, and herbs are experiencing unfettered growth.

Farmers grow food to eat, but I have to believe the majority of them are nourishers at heart who enjoy watching things grow. They are people who appreciate the miracle that happens every time you place a seed in the ground, water it, watch it sprout, grow leaves, and bear fruit. They can appreciate that within every seed there is the capacity for dormant energy to awaken and grow a root that pushes through dirt to seek water and a stem that pushes upward to gather sunshine for continued growth through photosynthesis.

Picking up where Morning Rounds 1 left off in April …

The Lower Garden

Typically, only the perimeter of this garden is planted in the spring. I usually leave the interior raised beds open and available for summer crops.

Two words about raised beds — build them! The beds are almost maintenance free. The soil does not need to be tilled because there is no compaction from being walked on. They also offer excellent drainage and are easy to weed.

Influenced by my recent trip to India where I saw daikon radishes in almost every village, I decided to grow a trial crop in four of the raised beds. You can see them in the photo above. There will be more about that later. A side benefit of growing this crop is how well the radish’s long roots break up the soil. They do the work of a tiller.

The Sugar Snap Peas planted on February 20th have started producing. Like wild! The plants were nearly four feet tall before the first flowers appeared. Now they are loaded with blossoms and peas.

Butter Crunch Lettuce has been growing well at the foot of the pea plants.

Yesterday, I harvested the entire row of lettuce and donated it to The Nashville Food Project. I will plant a summer crop of string beans in its place. This is Booth Jewett, the Food Donations Coordinator at TNFP weighing the donated lettuce. TNFP weighs and logs all food recovered from the community. Email Booth (booth@thenashvillefoodproject.org) if you have an abundance of any food products you would like to donate.

The Champanel and Concord Grapes budded last week. The tightly grouped green balls (aka ovaries, if I must say it–my kids hate when I do)

spread out and flower for only one to two days. During that short time, the flowers self-pollinate. Self-pollination happens when each flower has both male and female parts. They only need a little wind and gravity to bring the two parts together to set the fruit. Tomatoes are pollinated the same way.

One morning, I found little silvery balls of dew around the edges of a grape leaf. That will make you smile.

As I mentioned earlier, inspired by my visit to India, I planted White Icicle radishes on March 13th and harvested them on May 4th.

The bright white radishes were pretty and tasty.

With thoughts of my visit to the Langar Hall of a Sikh temple in Delhi, where I joined volunteers to prep white radishes for lunch, I donated the harvest to TNFP. Little do those volunteers in India know they planted a seed within me that sprouted an idea.

On the left side of this garden, I grew dwarf Sugar Daddy Peas. I planted cool-weather-loving Hakurei Turnips and Sensation Spinach in front of the peas. As the peas grow taller, they will shade the turnips and spinach extending their growing season by a few weeks.

The Back Garden

The back garden gives me more joy than any other spot in my yard. It was built and designed by Jeremy Lekich, owner of Nashville Foodscapes. It is a lush and peaceful place.

My favorite part is the “blackberry fence” Jeremy installed around the garden. He used four-foot high “rabbit” fencing to keep the chickens out. The blackberries are planted outside the fence.

This cluster of blackberry flowers shows each of the stages of flower development: a closed flower bud, an open flower, and a flower that has been pollinated and is now growing a blackberry. Blackberries do require bees for pollination.

The large kale plants in this kale patch wintered over (uncovered!) from the fall. The smaller plants were started by seeds planted on March 10th.

We’ve been picking from the bed of spring onions, shown below, since May first. I planted an entire raised bed of onions this year because I never wanted to run out. I use them almost daily in salads and in cooking.

I planted lettuce seeds on March 10th, but those seeds never germinated. I think the ground was still too cold and wet. When I realized they were not going to germinate, I bought and planted a variety of lettuce plants. Later, in mid-April, I planted new lettuce seeds so I could have a succession of lettuce leaves to harvest. Those seeds germinated and can be seen growing between the larger plants.

I planted garlic cloves from heads of garlic I had in the kitchen. They have grown beautifully and should be ready for harvest next month. Interspersed with the garlic are self-seeded indigo plants from a crop I grew last summer.  Once I pull the garlic in June, I’ll let the indigo plants continue to grow throughout the summer. I’m dreaming about indigo dyes.

We’ve been eating radishes for about a month now. I will harvest what remains of those plants this week so the beet seeds I planted in the same row and at the same time as the radishes will get more sun.

I only planted a small crop of potatoes this year; just enough to be able to show the children who visit my garden where potatoes come from.

I love my herb garden! Growing in it are lots of rosemary, oregano, and thyme; all herbs I use in my recipes for Chicken Cacciatore, Chicken Marbella, and Lemony Grilled Chicken. Also growing are sage, parsley, chives, cilantro and a fun perennial plant to watch called Egyptian Walking Onions.

I have a few rhubarb plants in the garden. They are perennials, and I’m hoping to establish a small bed of them.

The Chickens

The chickens continue to lay their eggs and delight us with their antics. They are the ultimate composters eating almost everything we throw in the compost pile.

Here they are eating radish and kale tops.

 

Herb Porch Pots

This is my third year to plant herb porch pots on my front porch. I always plant them using hardy herbs in late February.

My 20-month-old grandson and I have lots of rituals we partake in when he comes to visit. My favorite is to pinch a leaf off of one of the herbs, rub it between my fingers, and let him smell it. Sometimes, he tastes it, too. Yet, another reason to grow your own food!

That’s it for this version of Morning Rounds!

Related Posts
Morning Rounds 1
Eulogy for a Chicken
WWMD? A Bucket of Spring Veggies as a Centerpiece
Herb Porch Pots!
How to Make Grape Jelly (and grow the grapes)
Family Dirt
Cooking 35,000 Meals a Day in a Sikh Kitchen in Delhi (India, Part 1)

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

A New Take on Chicken Marbella

For many new brides in the Eighties, like me, recipes from The Silver Palate Cookbook were among the most exotic we had ever prepared.

Chicken Marbella, a lovely chicken entrée that marinated all day long with oregano, bay leaves, capers, olives, and prunes was one of the most memorable and exotic of all. It could feed a crowd, be made ahead of time, be served hot, warm, or cold, and looked beautiful arranged on a platter, all of which made it an excellent dish for get-together meals.

With all this high praise, it may seem blasphemous to write that I have tweaked the recipe. Times have changed in thirty-five years. People are more keen on decreasing their sugar intake, so I’ve omitted the cupful of brown sugar. There are more options for buying various cuts of chicken now, bones in or out, so I buy chicken thighs instead of quartering fryers. There’s less time for food prep and shortcuts are often championed, so I marinate the meat for four hours instead of twenty-four. This marinade is so savory, I braise the chicken in it in a Dutch oven, instead of roasting the meat in a shallow baking pan. Yes, I’ve messed with the recipe, but hopefully, I’ve simplified the process so families might start enjoying this amazing dinner entrée more often instead of saving it for company.

Yield: 8-10 chicken thighs

The Marinade

In this recipe, the marinade ingredients are the stars. In fact, once lined up for a photo I had the urge to say, Ingredients, take a bow as if they were part of an orchestra. And thank you to cookbook authors, Julee Rosso and Shelia Lukins, who were revolutionary when it came to bringing unusual flavors together.

Ingredients
I head of garlic, cloves smashed, peeled and then chopped
6-7 fragrant bay leaves (buy new ones if they don’t smell woodsy)
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup dried oregano (¾ cup, if using fresh)
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup capers, drained (3½ ounces)
1¼ cups dried prunes  (7-8 ounces). Could add apricots or dates, instead.
½ cup green olives, drained (about 3½ ounces)
1 cup white wine
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
4-5 pounds chicken thighs, bone-in or boneless, visible fat removed

Prepping Garlic Cloves
An easy way to prep garlic cloves is to put them in a bag, smash them with a meat mallet, and remove the skins. Rough chop afterward.

 

Instructions
Add all of the ingredients into the pot in which you will be cooking the chicken. I use a Dutch oven such as Les Creuset.

Add chicken, stir until all of the chicken pieces are well-coated with marinade. Cover and put in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours to marinate. The chicken can marinate for up to 30 hours. Toss ingredients occasionally. About an hour before you plan to cook, take the pot out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350º.

Cook for 45 minutes for boneless chicken or an hour for bone-in. About halfway through the cooking time, open the oven and stir the chicken. Remove pot from oven and let rest until time to serve.

I was all set to post my recipe with the modifications when … my husband said the only thing that could make this recipe better would be to use boneless thighs. Arghh! Seasoned cooks know how much flavor bones bring to a broth. I didn’t know if I could go that far in changing the recipe. I was reticent but curious, so I made two versions for dinner one night; one with boneless thighs and one with bone-in.  I invited family over for dinner and had them try both versions.

The verdict was tied until early the next morning when I received this vote from my friend, Corabel Shofner who was already on the road for a book tour of her fabulous YA (young adult) novel, Almost Paradise.

Bone-in won!

P.S. It was fun to tell the Millennials at the dinner table how popular the Silver Palate store in NYC was in the Seventies and Eighties as well as how popular the cookbooks were for my generation.

P.P.S. This is a fabulous novel for kids and adults. Lots of life lessons from the ever quick and witty, Corabel Shofner.

Related Posts: Other Fabulous Dinner Entrées
Yummy Shepherd’s Pie
Judy’s Mom’s Meatloaf
Easy Roasted Salmon with Olive Oil and Garlic Pepper
Brooks’s Pork Tenderloin with the Most Amazing Marinade
Pot Roast with Herbs and Root Vegetables
Rachelle’s Italian Sausage, Onions, and Peppers

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Morning Rounds 1

My favorite time of day is when dawn breaks. It doesn’t matter the season or the place, the beginning of a new day holds the promise of a cup of coffee, a new way of looking at the natural world depending on the morning light, and during the growing season, an opportunity to inspect my vegetable plants for new growth.

This morning, I thought I’d take you on a walkabout of the different garden beds in my backyard.

The Lower Garden

In the spring, planted within a wine bottle necklace (that creates a border between planting spaces and garden paths) are cold-hardy vegetables like peas, lettuces, spinach, radishes, chard, turnips, grapevines along the back fence.

There are six raised beds that are reserved for this Italian cook’s favorite vegetables: tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and zucchini. These plants will go in the ground in mid-April or early May depending on when the ground warms up.

The raised beds were built by Nashville Foodscapes last spring. They have made a huge difference in the amount of time I spend on garden maintenance because 1) the soil in the beds no longer gets compacted from being walked on and thus there is no reason to till it, and 2) the thick woodchip pathways keep the weeds down to a minimum.

The Back Garden 

This garden has six raised beds in the interior. It is enclosed by a four-foot “rabbit” fence that is laced with blackberry branches on three sides and two espaliered pear trees on the tall side.

There are six raised beds. Four beds are planted with herbs and spring crops, and two are not yet planted. I have left them open to plant commercial crops such as cotton, tobacco, peanuts, sorghum, indigo, and rice. I plant these for the children who come by to visit the chickens.

Here are photos of what is growing in the four beds this morning.

Herbs and Garlic
 

Spring Onions

Beets, Radishes, and Carrots
 

Salad Greens and Kale

Rain Garden
This is where water run-off from an underground 12-inch drainage pipe empties. I’ve planted blueberry bushes around along with native flowers to attract bees. You can see the crabapple trees in the background.

Berry Garden
This bed was created to help control water run-off. Growing in it are cherry bushes, currants, raspberries, and an apricot tree.

Fruit Trees
On the southern wall of our house, we have a large fig tree. It is watered by the condensate that drips from an air-conditioner. Around the perimeter of the backyard, we have a muscadine vine, a plum tree, four apple trees, one mulberry tree, and two crabapple trees.

Three years ago the two crabapple trees had apple limbs grafted on to them by a technique known as bark-grafting. We know which limbs are the apple grafts because they haven’t leafed out yet. Apple trees are about a month behind crabapple trees.

Chicken Coop
We’ve been keeping six chickens in our backyard coop for six years. We do it for the eggs and for the simple joy of watching the chickens strut around our fenced-in backyard.

 

Herb Porch Pots
For the last three years, I’ve been planting two planters on my front porch with herbs and edible flowers. I do it because they are beautiful to look at and because they are convenient to snip from when cooking. I plant them every February. When they start to look scraggly, I transplant the plants to the herb garden.

Compost Corner
Every morning, I empty the compost bucket from the previous day’s kitchen scraps into the compost heap behind the white fence. There is a mulberry tree planted by the of the compost to hide the chickens from the hawks who circle overhead. The chickens spend a good deal of their day in the compost pile.

You can follow the progress of these gardens on Instagram @judyschickens.

Related Gardening Posts
Spring Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden
Family Dirt
Herb Porch Pots!
Eulogy for a Chicken
WWMD? A Bucket of Spring Veggies as a Centerpiece
How to Make Crab Apple Jelly (and grow the crab apples)
How to Make Grape Jelly (and grow the grapes)

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Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Old-Timey Vanilla Bunny Cake

My mother made this cake for us in the Sixties, I made it for my kids in the Nineties, and now I am making it for my grandson. This cake spans generations.

I love the simplicity of the ingredients in this vanilla cake. These are ingredients most of us have on hand in the kitchen which makes this a good last-minute vanilla cake. Of course, you could always use a cake mix.

A Recipe for Basic Vanilla Cake

Ingredients

2¼ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1½ cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into half-inch slices, at room temperature
4 large eggs
½ cup milk (whole or 2%)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350º.
Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.

Mix the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder together in a mixing bowl for about 30 seconds on slow speed.

Add the slices of butter, slowly. Mix the dry ingredients and butter until they look crumbly, like small pea-sized lumps. Turn the mixer off.

In another bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, and vanilla with a fork until very well blended. It is always best to have these cold ingredients come to room temperature, but I have made this cake last minute, with cool ingredients, and it has worked.

Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix together for about one minute on slow speed. Turn mixer off and use a spatula to scrape up ingredients from the bottom of the mixing bowl.

Mix batter on medium speed for about one minute until the batter looks smooth, creamy, and fluffy.

Pour batter into two greased and floured cake pans. Bake for about 25 minutes on the middle oven rack. When done, the cakes should be golden in color and a knife poked into the center of the cake should come out clean.

Remove cake pans from the oven. Let cool on a rack for ten minutes. To easily release the cakes from their pans, use a knife to loosen the edges of the cakes from the perimeter of the pans first and then flip the cake pans onto a rack. The cakes must be completely cooled before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients

DSC_0124

1  8-ounce bar cream cheese, softened
½ cup  (1 stick) butter, softened
1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3¾ cups (1 pound box) confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tablespoons whole milk

Instructions

Beat butter and cream cheese together in a mixing bowl on medium-high speed until smooth.

frosting Red velvet cake

Add sugar and beat until fluffy.

frosting Red velvet cake

Add vanilla and beat 30 seconds more. Add milk to fluff up the frosting.

frosting Red velvet cake
To Assemble Bunny Cake
Cut one cake as shown.
Arrange cakes as shown below. I placed strips of parchment paper under the edges of the cake pieces to keep the tray clean as I frosted the cakes.
My husband got into decorating the cake. I had to pull him off the job when he talked about applying eyebrows!
Here it is!

Meanwhile, a few miles away at my Goddaughter Leigh’s house, my dear friend, Becky, was busy making an Easter Bunny Cake for her three-week-old granddaughter!

The Barton/Meadors family made this beautiful one!

My friend Janet Davies sent me this version. This method of icing it sounds outrageously good! I cut each layer in half horizontally and ice it all with a mixture of 12 oz. frozen coconut, 1 lb powdered sugar and 1 cup sour cream.  It’s very runny and soaks into the cake.  I add dry flaked coconut on top. I like it because it’s not very sweet.  The sour cream gives is a tangy touch.  I also poke holes in the cake with a toothpick to make sure it soaks in well.  Sometimes I take the crusty part off the top of the cake to make sure the runny icing gets into the cake.

If you are celebrating Easter, Happy Easter!

Related Posts for Easter Day

Fun to do with Children:
To Dye For: Making Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs
How to Tell If an Egg Is Fresh or Hard-Boiled
Test Your Sense of Smell with Jellybeans

Brunch:
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Quiche Lorraine with Bacon and Kale
Mom’s Monkey Bread, circa 1970
Fruit and Nut Bread
The Biscuit King

Sides:
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
Amazingly Delicious Sautéed Carrots

Desserts:
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Italian Sesame Seed Cookies

If you enjoyed this post, please become a subscriber! Be sure to confirm the subscription on the follow-up letter sent to your email address.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.