Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Turn on that oven and bake!

With the drop in temperature the interest in cooking has been renewed with verve. Building on the fact that I had a dairy extravaganza last week, precipitated by an over accumulation of cream in the freezer.   I made two pounds of butter which also yielded about 2 quarts of buttermilk and some creme fresh.  I also made yogurt and yogurt cheese.  Next came two buttermilk apple crumb cakes and last night a bodacious buttermilk spoon bread.  Spoon bread is an interesting cross between cornbread and polenta or mush.  Last night I added fresh corn, pasilla chiles, and chopped green onions, the resulting dish was hearty, creamy, sweet, (though I added no sugar) and quite satisfying. Recipe below.

I was surprised in the garden yesterday to see the sweet potatoes blooming.  A pretty flower, like a morning glory, which is in the same plant family.  There has been a battle of sorts going on for the past couple of months between the sweet potatoes which always grow rampant and run over everything around them and the Long Island Cheese squash.

Sweet potatoes are one of the happiest crops in our climate.  There is a reason North Carolina is the largest producer of sweet potatoes in the country raising close to 40% of all the sweet potatoes grown in the US, they grow VERY happily here.  Lately, eating the greens seems to be the rage, everyone is talking about it, and the way they grow, its worth trying.  So last night we did.  Just the tender tips and youngest leaves, washed and sauteed like spinach in olive oil with a little garlic, S&P, they were quite tasty.  I've heard they are also super nutritious.  Researching a bit I see its recommended that they are blanched in boiling water for a couple of minutes before stir-frying them, but we did not do that and they were still good.
The Long Island Cheese squashes huge pizza sized leaves rambled down through the sweet potato patch and even up into the pepper cages. They have traveled easily 40 feet down the row and back again.
One squash hangs down between a couple of pepper plants, another is over in the asparagus patch.  I had tried this squash once before but unsuccessfully.  They are a type of butternut but not as dense or sweet, the flesh is slightly more stringy, a little like a spaghetti squash, light and good flavored. This year we put the seeds in the ground and just got out of the way!  The result; four good sized squashes from two plants. I think pound for pound the sweet potatoes will win out but everyone seems to have come to an amicable sharing of space.
This one here is the biggest and best. 12.5 Pounds 
I can just see Cinderella riding off to the ball in this dude

So for the spoon bread, here's the recipe which is a doubling of the original from the Joy of Cooking, plus my embellishments, always embellishing...

Buttermilk Spoon Bread 6-8 servings
Pour 3 cups boiling water over 2 cups yellow cornmeal, mix well and let cool
beat together 2 eggs, 2 T melted butter, 2 cups buttermilk, 2 t baking soda and 1.5 t salt
Scrape the kernels from two ears of corn (or open a can or use frozen, about 1 cup of kernels)
Roast, skin, seed and chop 2 pasilla, poblano or other mild green chiles
Chop a cup of green onions
Mix it all together and pour into a buttered dish to bake at 350 for about an hour or until set.
I used a deeper corning ware dish , if you used a flatter baking dish, like a 9x12 it will probably bake faster and be drier.  I think sprinkling some grated cheese over top, cheddar or jack or a combo would be a good addition too.

Monday, September 10, 2012

This Morning

Mondays are my super official day off.  Not that I'm working much at all lately, or getting much else accomplished because of a little back trouble of late.  But still.  I've been repeating a mantra since my return from vacation "Commune with the world outside, nature, the garden, and write about it".  And so, after my morning pages and coffee and cake and David got off to work, I headed out, down past the pond to the creek again.  Today was cool, I had on pants and socks and shoes. 

Patiently following a low slow thunking yielded a pileated woodpecker, his crest so brilliant, like a flame bursting out of the top of his head.  And a black and white warbler, first one since spring, busily eating bugs.  I'm reminded that when birding in the fall, it's not so much about sound and song as movement, the warbler was making not a peep, it was the chatter of some other bird that drew my eye up to where he fed.
This funny flower is blooming in profusion where the power cut meets the pond.  I've yet to ID it, but it's taller than me and on close examination I see the flowers have only 2 or 3 petals.  At first I thought they had lost some but I see that no, this is how they grow.  Anyone know what this might be?

No matter how quietly I approach the pond, the turtles kerplunk into the water before I can spot them, they must feel the vibration of me walking.  I never know what might be hanging out on the water, herons, ducks, otters or beavers, but not today, just the mud turtles, splashing back into the brown water where they wait for me to walk on by.

Again I saw the deer, same spot, today only two, they ran across the creek this time then stood, white tails flicking, watching me watch them.  They were silhouetted in the sunlight, I could see the whiskers on their chins, the light passing through their tall black edged ears.  Eventually they snorted, stomped and zig-zagged away into the forest. 

At this sparkly place, where the creek is particularly chatty, right where I had been wading just yesterday afternoon, a barred owl flew silently up and out of the creek.  I tried to follow- see where he landed, crept along the path and scared him up two mores times, flying further into the tree tops, I never could spot him with my binoculars but know that if I had, he would have been staring right back at me, waiting for my next move.

I've been reading Annie Dillard.  Had never been able to get into Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for some reason.  The wild tangents perhaps, she can go on a tangent.  But I'm giving it another try and its working for me this time, even though I have to press on through some sections.  But there are moments of brilliance throughout- guess that's why she got the Pulitzer huh?  For example: "Night is rising in the valley; the creek has been extinguished for an hour, and now only the naked tips of trees fire tapers into the sky like trails of sparks."

I want to spend the next 3 seasons being the Pilgrim at Morgan Creek.  Let's just see if I can make it happen, maybe you'll come along for the ride?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Down at the Creek

We've had 6.5 inches of rain since last Monday, including a true gully washing frog strangler on Thursday afternoon when we got 3.5 inches in about an hour.  The result is that the creeks are up and flowing again. Our little wash has moving water for the first time since late spring.  Down at Morgan Creek today I could see the swept clean banks where the water had been up several feet after the downpour last Thursday.
Evidence of the big water in our little creek, flotsam on the left and right bank swept clean.

Heading down the hill today I startled 3 deer, they jumped and ran then stopped when I stopped.  We had a stand off for quite a while, they not moving, me not moving, looking right at each other but I think they couldn't see me, just knew something was up.  I had the thought that if I'd had a bow or rifle I could have had some venison about then.  I finally got tired of standing still and once I took a step, the deer furthest back in the group stomped and huffed and they were off like a shot and out of sight.

The flowing clear water beckoned and I went wading.  Stood for a long while feeling the air on my face and chill water on my feet and legs.  Light dappled all around me and danced on the water. 

A downy woodpecker tapped on a branch over the creek, titmice squabbled in the tree tops, a barred owl hooted in the distance.  
Before the flood earlier this week I snapped this picture of a cardinal flower. There were lots of them blooming, growing in the creek bed on sand bars, surrounded by the invasive microstegia.  All now flattened, their red petals washed away in the torrent, their roots hang on to hopefully bloom another year.

The weather today was a balm, after all that rain and a hot humid week, we woke to a cool dry day.  The windows are open again for the first time in a while and the sound of frogs is coming in the screens, we'll sleep good tonight and need to pull a blanket up around us come early morning.  Autumn is on the way and I am ready.

Friday, September 7, 2012

In the Bean Patch

You know I'm a beanaholic.  Since we were away for most of August, I timed the second planting of beans for mid-July with hopes they would be fruiting now, when we returned.  Bingo.

This patch includes a jumble of zinnias, falling into the paths but they give such cheer its worth climbing around them to get to the beans.  Grey-speckled cow peas in the foreground, an heirloom variety new to me that I'm hopeful about.  Haricot verts next- Taverna- reliable and a heavy producer of small, tender, sweet beans.  On the trellis at the back is Vortex, a new pole bean I'm trying, they are very long yet string-less and tender.  I think they would be the perfect bean for dilly beans with their long-straight habit making them easy to pack and pretty in jars.
Furthest out on the trellis, another heirloom bean, Garden of Eden, long, flat yet tender, cooks in 3 minutes!.  either side of the trellis I also planted lima beans, they are a bit shaded by everything else but coming along.
Bean flowers promising many more to come 
  While picking I almost grabbed this guy who was prowling around in the leaves looking a lot like a bean.

The end products; Vortex on left, Garden of Eden in center, haricot vert-Taverna on right.  And flowers to brighten the table.  Think there will be beans on the menu tonight- possibly with some home grown red potatoes and chanterelles picked in the woods this humid warm week.