This past Wednesday was the Jewish holiday of Tu B’shevat. This day is a celebrate for the “Birthday of the Trees,” and is the specific day of the year that Jews celebrate and ideally plant trees. This year it occurred in February, but the date varies depending upon the Jewish Calendar. It so happened that in the same week of the celebration, Fred and I planted 4 new trees of our own in our yard.
I had a conversation with my friend Paige, a garden professional, about my pitiful fruit trees from last year. The fig, blueberry, raspberry plants that I had mail-ordered last year are the saddest examples I’ve ever seen. I asked her where I should get nice blueberries bushes and a good hardy fig tree to transplant into my yard, and she assured me that she could get me good plants and that now was the time to put them in the ground. P:aige brought me the trees on Friday, and this Saturday, Fred and I toiled in the yard, planting 4 beautiful new plants: 2 blueberry bushes, 1 fig tree, and 1 “Snowball” Viburnum bush.
I think my new Brown Turkey Fig Tree is the most lovely specimen ever. Compared with the twig of a fig I had before (thusly named “FigTwig,”) my new tree is magnificent. While planting my new tree, I actually accidentally stepped on the original “FigTwig” that I planted one year ago. It snapped to the ground, and when I pulled up little FigTwig’s broken single branch and compared it with the new plant, he was a pathetic thing not 1/10 the size of the new fig. I love the moss that covered him and how his arms seem to try to wrap up the sun in a loving embrace. He spindly nature offers an air of mystery and seem exotic to me.
The Snowball Viburnum was the largest plant we put it. It’s a lovely big bushy plant with large white “snowball” flowers, which look like the puffy flowers of a hydrangea. This bush is an excellent bush for chickens, as they adore to roost inside the bush on its their long horizontal branches.
The blueberries far exceed the plants I received through the mail-order catalogue. Currently, my blueberries from last year are probably about a8” high at this point. The plants Paige brought me were about 3 ft. and 4 ft. plants. One variety is “Premium,” the other wasn’t labeled. They need to be different types so they will cross pollinate and produce the fruit. We put them on the edge of an existing “natural area” in the yard. It’s my hope we can add bulbs and other shrubs to beautify
these leaf ridden messes natural areas.
And all of these plantings were done amide the sad reality that it appears I have forever lost my engagement ring. I realized I couldn’t find it on Wednesday morning, and we’ve searched everywhere. It’s the most painful loss I think I’ve experienced – and that both humbles and shames me. I can’t really describe how it feels to lose such a sentimental treasure. Fred gave me the diamond ring when he asked me to be his wife, and he tried to wrap up his love for me in it’s token form, and to lose that token and physical reminder hurts the most. Also, realizing we’ve lost it’s tangible worth is difficult. It is humbling and wonderful though to realize that such materialistic things are fleeting; and these are not the things that life is about; we are safe, and well and surrounded by amazing and loving family and friends; a ring is nothing compared to these things. God Willing, we will it, and if not, it’s perfectly okay.
La Chandeleur was yesterday. It’s a French holiday which translates to Candlemas. La Chandeleur has a few names, actually. This day is also known as “Groundhog’s Day” in American & Canada and also marked as both la Fête de la Lumière/Feast of Lights, and La jour des crêpes/Day of Crêpes. It is widely celebrated throughout la francophonie as THE day to eat crêpes. Once, it even marked the official start of the “crêpe season.”
This year, we fêted La Chandeleur at our house and my cousin taught me the tricks. And really, they truly aren’t difficult to make. I had tried when I lived in France, and even at home after, but I never had much success until my cousin showed me how. Turns out, it is very simple. Using stuff you probably already have, you can make fantastic crêpes at home. And one recipe will make about 20, so, like the French, you can keep a stash of crêpe in your house for a day,
or two after this fun holiday.
Even without making crêpes, the history behind La Chandeleur is fascinating. It is always fêted on Feb. 2, a feast day in the Catholic calendar which commemorates the jewish ritual cleansing and purification of the Virgin Mary after having given birth and more importantly also marks the presentation of baby Jesus at the temple/to the world officially. So, this day also is celebrated as the “Fête de la Lumière” or The Feast of Lights, as Chris is the Light of the World. And that is where the crêpe comes in. The humble crêpe. The crêpe is yellow, hot and golden, like the sun, which therein reminds us of how Christ is the Light of the World. So, as this message is very important, it’s important to remember it. And thus the fun thing about the day is it is believed to ensure a lucky year, il faut manger des crêpes / one must eat crêpes!
Really? Truth be told, a lot of French folks don’t recall why they eat crêpe on Feb. 2 each year. Because not only do you eat crêpes (and therefore drink low-alcohol, very drinkable cidre) but it’s also a day of predictions (and sometimes games). La Chandeleur is also in fact the basis for the secular American “Groundhog’s day” which is also a day to make predictions about the coming year.
Historically though, the crêpe season season (as all food was seasonal during these times) would go on until Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday, when just before lent everyone would gobble up their remaining crêpe before fasting. Therein, the source of the tradition of eating pancakes on Fat Tuesday, as crêpes are often referred to as “French pancakes.”)
So, to make the crêpes you just have to call out the big guns: patience and those fingertips. The crêpe batter is the easiest thing in the world (thanks, Alton). The trick is to quickly rotate the pan to cover it evenly (a hole or two will not ruin it), ideally a full shot glass used on a ~10” nonstick surface. Then, wait. Once it begins to curl (you can aid it by nudging the edges with a spatula), slide your spatula under to loosen it and then get in there and just flip it over by holding on with your fingertips.
In France, they also have cute sayings for La Chandeleur that rhyme. These rhymes draw a clear reference to the secular American holiday of Groundhog’s day.
They are also fun to say. Try them out:
Rosée à la Chandeleur, hiver à sa dernière heure / Dew on Candlemas, winter at its final hour
À la Chandeleur, l’hiver cesse ou reprend vigueur / On Candlemas, winter ends or strengthens
À la Chandeleur, le jour croît de deux heures / On Candlemas, the day grows by two hours
Chandeleur couverte, quarante jours de perte / Candlemas covered (in snow), forty days lost
I’m in love with my mulch. F. and I harvested our compost recently, and I was astonished at how well it turned out. From the outside of the bin, it seemed to be stratified and not decomposing into a happy wormy compost-dreamland. But, as the Lord does amaze, my mulch astonished me.
North Carolina has been enjoying a very temperate fall. These past few December days have seen highs into the 70s. We benefited by the nice temperatures and pulled out all the contents of the compost bin on to large tarp, tossed it around, and covered it up with the sides of the tarp and let it cure for two weeks. Finally, we brought the finished product out to mulch our front garden bed.
So dark. So moist. So dreamy. It’s amazing that 6 months of coffee grounds, paper towels, chicken shavings and miscellaneous vegetables peels would result in a finely aerated topsoil. I am already looking forward to Spring.
Buying chicken stock at the grocery store can be expensive. Sold in many forms, as a concentrated paste or in cubes or cans. It’s an oft called for ingredient that both takes a chunk out of your dollar and causes a lot of waste in the environment if you prefer liquid broth which comes with wasteful cans or cartons. My method is an environmentally friendly way of creating your own chicken stock from items you obtain naturally in your kitchen.
If you cook, you may frequently have left over bones from roasting meats. I suggest that you look upon these bones with purpose. They can help form the basis for many future meals! They will provide great flavor and save you money, too. If you roast a chicken every month and use the carcass for making stock, you will always have free stock (unless you make soup everyday). It also makes the house smell lovely.
Just add your bones in your biggest pot and add some halved onions (even leave the peels on them!) maybe throw in a carrot or some celery and toss it all in the pot, and fill the pot up with water. Add 1 tsp per quart of salt, a couple bay leaves, and about 8 peppercorns. Let the pot simmer for a few hours. Drain, and allow to cool for a couple hours before transferring into Tupperware and into the freezer.
You’ll be set with free chicken broth in your freezer ready to defrost in the microwave and add to your dish. You can even freeze the broth in muffin tins or ice cube trays for miniature portions when you just need so much. Do you make your chicken stock at home, yet?
I grew up in North Carolina and feel blessed to call it my home now. The land is forested and beautiful. Our year is marked by four distinct seasons. And our summers are hot and humid with a great growing season. Tobacco, soy beans, squash, tomatoes, and peanuts all thrive. And the humble peanut is one of my favorite fresh ingredients.
In North Carolina, and other places through the south raw green peanuts are harvested and oiled by the bushel in salted water for hours. Their skins get soft and brown, and your fingers slip easy into them to uncase the soft nuts. I have always been given my boiled peanuts, by my grandmother who would always freeze them in Ziploc bags after their initial boiling. To reheat, you just boil the frozen peanuts for 1o minutes.
The recipe I was following for Chicken Peanut Chow Mein called for dry roasted peanuts. I didn’t have any in my pantry. Nor did I have (a preference to use) the oyster sauce and sesame oils listed. In both cases I substituted what I had in my pantry and prefered, and I rather liked my version very much. I daresay it’s even better with it’s North Carolina peanuts. They were like soft salty gems among the hardy chicken, slick noodles and crunchy vegetables. Best of all, it’s thrown together in 30 minutes if you have everything on hand.
North Carolina Asian Peanut Noodles
- 1 frozen bag of boiled North Carolina peanuts
- 1 cup carrots, matchsticks
- 1 cup sugar snap peas
- 6 oz chow mein noodles
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 3/4 cup chicken broth
- 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 tsp anchovies paste
- 1/2 tbs balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 can mushrooms sliced
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
- 1 cup green onion chopped
- Boil frozen boiled peanuts in water for 10 minutes.Then, shell the peanuts and set aside.
- Meanwhile, slice the chicken thighs thinly. Then, sauté them with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce until the meat is nicely colored and completely cooked.
- Remove the chicken, and to the drippings add the ginger and mushrooms and sauté them. In a cup, add the vinegar, anchovy paste, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sugar and broth. Add the sauce to the pan and bring to a boil. Add the peanuts and cooked chicken and keep on low while the noodles boil.
- In boiling water, add the noodles, carrots and snow peas. Bring back to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Drain.
- Put the noodles back in the pot and add the sauce. Toss to coat. Add the scallions on top and serve.
A luscious jumble. A delicious mélange. Eton Mess is a scrumptious English dessert of cream, crushed meringues and fruit, typically macerated strawberries. Pillows of cream envelop the both crisp and gooey meringues and the fruit brings a pleasant tartness to cut the sweet concoction. And as meringues are easily frozen and easily used from the ice box, I often have them on hand. Made up as Eton Mess, it’s the perfect spontaneous sweet for summer simply with some fruit and cream.
Eton Mess, serves two
- Two large meringue shells, crushed into
- 1/2 cup cream, beaten till whipped with
- 1/2 cup fruit, crushed and macerated in
- 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar