Morning Rounds in the Garden, April

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 now no reason to till, 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 it with blueberry bushes and 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 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 in late June, 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 in 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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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Mom’s Monkey Bread, circa 1970

I wasn’t planning on writing another post before Christmas, but I have a hard time saying No to a recipe request from one of my brothers especially when they bring up food memories that involve our mother. My brother Sam wrote on FaceBook, “Judy, Mom always used to make those sticky buns using a cake mold with the centerpiece cut out. They were very popular.”

I really had to think back to remember how Mom and I made “Monkey Bread” in the Seventies. Remembering brought me back to a very nice place in our small childhood kitchen with the bay window over the kitchen sink in Bay View, Massachusetts. I was happy for the sweet memory and also for the challenge. Sam, here is my first attempt at making Monkey Bread, forty years later.

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I struggled to find the right pan in which to cook this bread. An angel food cake pan with a non-removable bottom (“a cake mold with the centerpiece cut out”) or even a bundt pan would have worked, but sadly I couldn’t find either. Instead, I used a Les Creuset pot. It did the job. Do not use a tube pan with a removable bottom as the butter will leak out and make a mess in the oven and could burn your skin if the scalding hot butter were to drip on you.

It was nice to see that grocery stores still sell these five-pound packages of frozen bread dough all these years later. As a kid, I used to use them to make pizza dough. Be sure to take out two loaves about thirty minutes before you plan to make the recipe to allow time for them to thaw. No need to let them rise first.

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Ingredients:

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2 loaves (2 pounds) frozen bread dough, thawed
1½ sticks (¾ cup) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ cup chopped walnuts or raisins (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350º
Grease a deep 9 or 10-inch cooking container.

Mix together sugars and cinnamon.
Melt butter in a pan until just melted. Stir in vanilla. Remove from heat.
Cut loaves into pieces as shown in the photo below.
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Drop individual pieces of unfrozen dough into the butter and stir so each piece is evenly coated with butter.

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Take each piece of dough and individually roll it in the sugar mixture.

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Place coated pieces in the greased baking pan. Let rest for about 5 minutes. It does need to rise in the pan.

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Bake for about 45 minutes. The dough will rise as it cooks. The top layer of dough will turn golden brown and be firm to touch when it is ready. If you don’t cook the bread long enough, the balls will be doughy even though the bread looks done.

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Let cool for no more than five minutes and then flip onto a serving plate.

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Frosting:

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1 package cream cheese, softened
¼ cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons milk
1½ confectioner’s sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt

Mix ingredients together until well blended. Thin with more milk if desired.

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Serve bread with the cream cheese frosting on the side for spreading, or drizzled on top as shown in this gorgeous photo sent to me on Christmas morning by my Aunt Rachelle.

Merry Christmas to Rachelle and to all my brothers!

Thanks for reading and sharing my blog recipes. You can follow me @judyschickens on Instagram and Pinterest. I always appreciate when readers sign up to become a follower of the blog. Happy Holidays!

These are some of the recipes we’ll be making over the holiday weekend. Having the recipes online has turned out to be a real bonus in terms of assigning cooking chores and grocery shopping:-)

Appetizers:
Cranberry and Hot Pepper Jelly Brie Bites
“Croatian Cheese” a Flavorful and Exotic Appetizer Made with Feta and Goat Cheese
Roasted Tamari Almonds

Sides:
Auntie Martha’s Spicy Spinach (aka Spinach Madeleine)
Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower

Brunch:
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
The Biscuit King
Sorghum, Oats, and Cranberry Granola
The Navel Mary Way: How to Peel an Orange
Fruit and Nut Bread

Desserts:
Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Lily’s Red Velvet Cake

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Lemony Grilled Chicken Breasts

When I wake up in the morning a little panic-stricken thinking about what I’m going to prepare for a large crowd coming in for a holiday weekend, I approach the menu by considering my entrée options first. My go-to’s are grilled Premio Sweet Italian Sausage from Costco, Brooks’s Marinated Pork Tenderloin, and marinated chicken breasts.

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Next, I consider my sides, which I prepare depending on what is in season. Often, though, I delegate the sides to guests. The beauty of this approach is you get to try other people’s specialties, and that is always a fun and tasty option. Desserts are my favorite food to cook, and for a large crowd, I like to make a hotel-sized pan of the ever crowd-pleasing Pumpkin Bread Pudding only made with seasonal fruit instead of pumpkin, and either Italian Sesame Seed Cookies

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or Ricotta and Lemon Cookies.

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I was never a fan of grilled chicken breasts until I saw my friend from Tiverton, R.I., Sheila, a master at feeding huge crowds, carry Ziploc bags full of pounded-flat marinated chicken breasts out to the grill. By pounding the breasts flat Sheila could ensure the chicken would cook quickly and evenly throughout. I’ve been pounding chicken breasts ever since.

Ingredients:

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Whole chicken breasts (for these photos, I made 24 breasts equalling 8 pounds)
@JudysChickens Everyday Salad Dressing
1-3 lemons, sliced thinly (depends on how much chicken you are preparing)
10 stems of thyme, rough chopped
a couple shakes of white balsamic vinegar, if you have it.

Instructions:

Rinse chicken breasts and trim fat.

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Pat dry with paper towels.

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Place each chicken breast in a thick bag and pound flat with the smooth side of a meat mallet.

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Marinate pounded breasts in @JudysChickens Salad Dressing along with lots of sliced lemons and sprigs of thyme. You could add a little white balsamic vinegar and Grey Poupon for even more flavor, if desired.

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Seal the container, refrigerate, and allow to marinate for one or two days.
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Grill for no longer than ten minutes.

Favorite Flavor-Enhancers: The Acids!

My mother always kept a bottle each of white and red balsamic vinegar in the fridge. She especially loved the white. Add a few shakes of white to the marinade for an extra burst of flavor.
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Other Foods That Are Good To Serve At A Cookout
Sliced Beet Salad
String Bean Salad
Amazingly Delicious Sautéed Carrots
Marlin’s Black-Eyed Pea Salad
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
“Croatian Cheese” a Flavorful and Exotic Appetizer Made with Feta and Goat Cheese
The Classic Pimiento Cheese Sandwich

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Don’t miss a recipe! Become a follower and have every post delivered to your Inbox.

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.