Thursday, May 31, 2012

I made this! Pasta Carbonara

The Pioneer Woman can be credited for another success - Pasta Carbonara.

I love this dish.  One of my favorite food memories was dining at Panzano Restaurant and Lounge in downtown  Denver.  I was traveling for work and we had an evening when dinner was on our own.  We found this great place that according to their website "offers the best in contemporary Northern Italian cuisine with a focus on sustainable, local, seasonal and organic ingredients."  The food was delicious and the atmosphere was great.  I left counting pasta carbonara as one of my favorite Italian dishes.

Yet, I had never tried to make it until last night.

The Pioneer Woman posted the recipe on her blog and I had all but a couple of the ingredients on hand.  A quick stop at the store on the way home had us ready to give the recipe a try.

The result...delicious!  I will definitely make it again!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Garden update

 We are enjoying a much needed rain this evening.  My flowers and garden plants needed the relief, though my husband has been helping them along with some water on a regular basis.

We got on the ball this year and put out some of our decorations.  The entrance to the garden has one of my favorite old chairs that I bought for $1 at a yard sale, a painted sign from Wal-Mart clearance and a rooster from Target, also on clearance.  The insect hooks on the fence are from one of my favorite home decor stores and were super affordable.

I really love the feeling of this entry way before you are in the larger portion of the garden.  The walkway has some limestone rocks and walk-on-me plants like miniature thyme (and a few weeds, too, but who's counting).

On a mission for spray paint for a project, I stumbled on some of the healthiest and best cared for plants of the season.  A local hardware store had some excellent varieties and all were in great condition.  I picked up a few things to round out some planters and to add to the garden.
 I also found this beauty - boxwood basil.  This might not be a new variety, but it is new to me.  I love the dainty leaves and can't wait to try it with the star of our garden - tomatoes!
 We have a few baby tomatoes on the vine.  My family standard of garden success, passed down for generations, is to have the first ripe tomato by July 4.  Will we make it?
The lantana (sunrise rose improved variety) is one of my new favorite container plants.  We installed some of these in the concrete planters near the garage and I am loving how they look with some Mexican heather and sanvitalia (million suns variety).

All of these beauties will look refreshed tomorrow after this wonderful rain.  Happy day!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Plant geek: hollyhocks

The flowers continue to bloom in truly spectacular fashion this spring.

My husband and I took a really long walk yesterday.  This seems to be a tendency - we take off for a walk that turns out to be a much longer distance than we intended.  You might remember my post - When a walk becomes a hike.  This time, we thought our route was around six total miles and it turned out to be eight!

Despite the extra distance, the time was very enjoyable.  We had the chance to talk, enjoy the mild weather, and to enjoy nature.  I discovered an old limestone house that my husband swears I always knew was there.  We saw an old pickup rusting in a fence row that neither of us had seen before.  We both got the daylights scared out of us when a wild turkey flew up out of a ditch near us.  I also saw that a neighbor has hollyhocks blooming and that got me thinking.

We have hollyhocks on the south side of our garage.  I never walk on that side of the garage unless I am weeding this particular flower bed or we are working on a project and that is the shortest path to the garage for forgotten supplies.  What if our hollyhocks were blooming and I was missing the show?

Well...they are blooming!

I found this variety in a mail order seed catalog and loved the dramatic deep purple/black blossoms.  These plants have continued to go to seed and migrate around the flower bed.  I really love them, and so do the bees.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Remembering when

My mom has been saving a section of the newspaper from my home county.  Arlo Bell writes the I Remember When article that brings news stories back to print from across the years.  Some of the stories are sad, others informational, and others laugh out loud funny.

Here are a few of my favorites...

May 9, 1912
A rowdy drunk was knocked down Wednesday, when he was ejected from the Dumas billiard hall, in Osage City.  He rushed back in, drew a .38 caliber revolver, and was about to shoot the proprietor, when the proprietor's brother knocked him out with a billiard cue.  The gunman was arrested, but escaped from his guard that night.

The jail keeper, at Lyndon, left the jail in charge of the sheriff's son last week.  When the boy went to dinner, two prisoners used a broom and a piece of wire to get the keys off the desk and unlock their cell.  They hid in the attic and had a good laugh when he returned and found them gone.  The jailer was not amused and the two are on a diet of bread and water.

The Women's Christian Temperance Union gave a mechanical social at Burlingame.  The ladies demonstrated their ability as carpenters and the men made buttonholes and sewed on buttons.

April 27, 1932
In connection with national clean up week, any child in Osage City may attend the Saturday matinee at the Dickinson Theatre for 10 tin cans or bottles.

A Burlingame man was fined $100 and sentenced to 30 days in jail last week for being caught with 48 bottles of home brew.

Several boys at Lyndon, ages 12 to 17, took a keg of beer to Salt Creek Sunday and got beastly drunk.

An enraged woman at Carbondale has threatened to prosecute any saloonkeeper selling liquor to her husband.

Two 10-year-old boys broke into a store and a doctor's office in Osage City Sunday.  They took some merchandise, but were soon arrested by the city marshal, who recovered most of the stolen goods.  They both received a first-class flogging from their parents.

My mom and I love talking about the language used.  Phrases like, "beastly drunk" and "first-class flogging"
are not common in our everyday language now.  I was surprised to find two references to gypsies - both in 1932.  I was not aware that gypsies were a part of our county's history.  Other aspects of our history like failed banks, war bonds, and rationing are mentioned.  One cannot ignore that fact that we are in a place where agriculture is part of nearly everything we do.  Notes about water rights, farm accidents, and cattle rustling remind me that since the beginning of our communities, people have been connected to production agriculture.  My heart was warmed when reading a note about the community garden in 1932.  All of these short notes create a window into the past.

I am really glad that my mom shares this bit of history with me and I am happy that Arlo Bell takes the time to bring the news back to life.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cooking adventures

This past weekend was one of my first opportunities to spend time in the kitchen.  On Friday night, I made The Pioneer Woman's restaurant style salsa (yum!).  Early on Saturday, I made a minestrone soup in the crockpot (super easy!) and triple chocolate chunk cookies (my husband told me that I can't make these too frequently - very good!).

Mom joined us for lunch on Mother's Day and we had roast chicken, asparagus and mashed potatoes.  I tried out my roast chicken recipe on my mom and I think it was a hit.  For dessert, we had strawberry fool (something I have wanted to try for a long time).

Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookie Bars

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
3 oz dark chocolate bar, broken into pieces
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter and brown sugar. Beat on medium speed with the paddle attachment until it’s uniformly brown and grainy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well on medium speed to combine (about 1 minute).
Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. With the stand mixer running on low, add a little at a time to the butter mixture until just incorporated. Add all the chocolate and mix briefly to combine.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread out into one even layer as best you can — don’t worry if it doesn’t quite reach end to end though. The batter will spread while cooking.
Bake for 23-27 minutes, until golden. Let cool for 20 minutes before cutting into 12 bars.

Strawberry Fool

1 pint strawberries
1/2 c orange juice
1/2 c sugar, or to taste
1 c heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 T powdered sugar

Hull and wash strawberries.  Chop into small pieces.  Toss strawberries with the orange juice and sugar. Set aside until the strawberries begin to make a juice in the marinade.

Place half the strawberries and all the juice in a blender and puree.  Put the puree in the refrigerator.

Whip the cream with an electric blender.  Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and cream until stiff peaks form.  Remove the strawberry puree from the refrigerator and fold into the whipped cream.

Place a small amount of the whipped cream mixture in bottom of the serving glasses.  Add a layer of the slice strawberries.  Top with a final layer of the whipped cream mixture.  Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve (up to two hours).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Saints in residence

We visited family in Colorado over spring break and during our time there, we spent an afternoon browsing an antique store a few blocks from where we were staying.  There were so many things that were interesting and we had a great time roaming around.

At nearly the last booth, my husband and I were both intrigued by a number of things this vendor had on display.  Two items, high on a shelf at the back of the booth, captured my attention - two statues that appeared to be hand carved saints.  I loved the simple, yet stately look of these folk art pieces.

I have this test that I use when I see something I like and think I might buy it.  I have to leave the item and walk around.  If I keep thinking about it, then I know it was more than a passing whim and I go back and pick it up.  

Well, these two made the cut.  I considered buying just one, but could not bear the thought of separating the pair.  I am glad that we brought both home with us.  They are now our saints in residence.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Love this!

My good friend had been telling me that my Christmas gift was in process.  We are both busy professionals, so we always laughed about when she might be able to finish her project.  I know I have a legion of unfinished projects in my house and could relate to having something in process.

Well, she did finish my gift and it is fabulous!  This lovely bag was handmade by her and she could not have done a better job. I love the size and the fabric.  This bag has been in use everyday since she gave it to me.

I love it!  And, I especially love that she used her sewing talents to make something really special and practical and beautiful.

I have awesome, talented friends!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Plant geek: irises

Beth Botts in Organic Gardening magazine highlighted heritage irises in the April/May 2012 issue.  She reported that in Greek mythology, Iris was the goddess of the rainbow and she carried messages from the earth to the sky.

I held onto this factoid about one of my favorite flowers because I am a true plant geek.  I am fully aware that few people would find spring flowers and Greek goddesses interesting, yet I proudly waive my plant geek flag.

It is no secret that spring flowers in general are a favorite of mine.  The irises have been blooming like crazy as of late and while I haven't have much time to photograph them, I have been sneaking quick walks through the yard to catch them when they are at their best.

We were so excited when a new variety finally bloomed for us.  Thought you would enjoy seeing these beauties!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Another thought for Mother's Day...

Happy Mother's Day!

A couple of years ago, poet Billy Collins who was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001-2003, visited our campus.  I remembered a poem he read about mothers and thought it was made a fitting post for Mother's Day.

Happy Mother's Day to my mom!  I will never be able to repay you for all you have done for me.

The Lanyard by Billy Collins

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past–
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breast,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift–not the archaic truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
that two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fuchsia - who knew?

 Who knew I could fall in love with a plant that I have always known, but apparently never really considered?

Over the past week, I stopped at different garden centers to pick up a few plants each night after work.  This strategy was a new approach.  Usually, we go to town on a weekend and purchase a whole truck full of plants, drive home and then plant for hours on end.  Our old mode of operation usually meant we ended up with rash buying decisions, too many of one thing and not enough of another, and sunburns.

We thought that by buying a few plants each night, we might better plan for what we needed, save some money by buying just what we needed, and be a little more sane when it was all said and done.

The first night I stopped, I fell in love with these lovely plants with pink blossoms.  The few that had actually bloomed revealed this awesome purple center.  I thought this - when put with a spike for some height and some bright yellow zinnas for some contrast - would be beautiful in the large planters near our front door.
 The fuchsia will drape really nicely over the side of the pot.  And, I just can't get enough of these show stopping blooms.

I am still blown away that I have known about fuchsia for years, but never really paid attention.
Once everything begins to settle in and really take off, I think this might be a new favorite combination of plants.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Magic beans and horticultural therapy for all ages

I have been reflecting on a great piece called Magic Beans on  Rebecca Altman tells a story about her household with a toddler in melt-down at dinner time.  She shares that it all turns around with a trip to the garden to pick some pole beans that her son had planted with his grandfather.

She marvels at how the simple act of harvesting, preparing and eating beans fresh from the garden made things "all better."  The article is loaded with links to books and articles touting the benefits of involving young people, urban and rural alike, in the production of food.  The connection between improving their emotional well-being, encouraging healthy food choices, and developing knowledge about food and how it is produced equals huge dividends for the overall health of our nation.

I am really interested in helping people know more about food and in helping people who are isolated from rural America - animals, plants, and open spaces - to have access to this environment.  There continues to be a huge gap between those who produce our food and those who only consume our food.  This gap leads to misunderstandings and false information that feeds an "us against them" perspective.  In reality, we all want a safe, healthy and abundant food supply.

Altman's article hit home for me and my upbringing.  My parents have always been huge gardeners and my mom is an expert at preserving food through canning.  Many of my childhood memories involve working together around plants and animals, cooking and home keeping, and outdoor activities.  While reading the article, I found myself feeling thankful for an upbringing that involved being engaged in growing our own food from my earliest days.  There is a fabulous picture of me in a diaper, just at the age where I learned to walk, covered in dirt, and standing atop a huge pile of potatoes.  I couldn't look happier.

This is the beginning of garden season when the seeds we have planted are starting to produce delicious radishes, arugula, and leaf lettuce.  We are about a month away from tomatoes and I can't wait!  My most peaceful moments are when my husband and I are working together in the garden or planting flowers (like we did tonight after work).  Pulling weeds and getting my hands dirty is the best therapy after a long day.

This connection to the earth, our food, and my upbringing draws me back to my family - my roots.  I am so thankful for them and the foundation they gave me.

Photo from a farmer's market in Chicago in 2010.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Celebrating smart and talented women

I am really so very lucky to be influenced by smart and talented women - both past and present.

Last Friday was a really special day.  A former student leader who I worked with as an undergraduate was back in town for a wedding.  She had asked if we could connect over lunch and she also shared that she had just received a fellowship for which I had helped write a recommendation letter.  What a great reason to get together and celebrate!

Time with Jessie was simply a delight.  She continues to be intelligent, vibrant, and so full of life.  She is at the beginning of her work on her Ph.D. and has been conducting exceptional work on E. coli.  Did I mention that she is smart?!

We had a great talk about food safety and security, recent happenings around these issues in the news, and our growing need to educate consumers about our food supply.  The conversation was smart and honest.

The time with Jessie left me feeling really lucky to be able to work with so many women who are in the process of launching their careers.  It is an honor to play a small part in their successes and decision making.  These interactions are a rewarding and humbling experience and I hope that I continue to have the chance to influence women leaders as others have done for me.