Posts tagged “louisiana

Summer Hours

Posted on July 9, 2014

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

This blog has had a major case of summer hours for the past two months. It’s partly because of travel, partly because of work and partly because of the usual sweep of family life when school is out of session. Since I last posted, I went to South Florida and (among other things) learned how to cook Greek food, sat in a near-deafening bar in my hometown and watched Miss USA contestants wage karaoke war, and ventured deep into the heart of Texas to discover a treasure trove of European historical manuscripts. I’ve sampled microbrews with my mother in a Northern Virginia RV park (Seriously), bought matching French National Soccer team jerseys with my daughter (oh, la tristesse), and done a fair amount of home improvement projects in this old house, which we moved into a little more than a year ago now.

This list is by means a comprehensive rundown of the past few months. But it does paint a picture, no?

Finally, there is the garden, which is producing plenty of tasty treats. One of the most exciting: Butternut squash, which is pictured above. I tried to grow these in my last garden, but an unexpected frost wiped out all of my plants. This year, I was determined to make sure that didn’t happen. So far…knock wood.

More dispatches to come.

Southern Snow Days

Posted on January 31, 2014

snowday

 

As everyone knows by now, the South had a winter storm that, among other things, dumped a menacing (and I say that in the sarcasm font) 1-3 inches of snow on Atlanta and brought the city to its knees. Children were stranded at school, cars were abandoned on the interstate, commuters were forced to hole up in the aisles of pharmacies and supermarkets because they couldn’t make the soul-punishing commute home. By soul-punishing, I mean it took some people more than 24 hours to do what normally takes about 30 minutes. Much has been written and said this week about that brand of snowmageddon (and the lack of political accountability), so I’m afraid all I have to add is that I still can’t wrap my head around what happened in my old hometown.

My husband was in Atlanta for business, so unfortunately he got caught in the middle of that mess. We were grateful to have him back home yesterday afternoon, so he could enjoy the balmy 50 degree weather and some roast beef po-boys for dinner. Where he had ice and snow and mayhem, we had sleet and cold and dangerously icy streets. School was closed here for three days. Our Yellow Lab Murray didn’t want to be cooped up, but didn’t want to brave the 20-degree weather either. So there was a lot of indoor fetch this week, which was fine because our Murray still hasn’t grown into his meaty boy paws.

Granted, this week’s snow days were not at all like the ones I had when I grew up in the Greater Baltimore area. Those days off involved knee-high snow, epic snowball fights and piping-hot cocoa after hours of outdoor play. This week, the most precipitation I saw was yesterday, when my daughter and her best friend unleashed a blizzard of glitter on my kitchen countertops. Nevertheless, the spirit of snow days — and all days involving inclement weather — remained: You accept the situation and make the most of things until the sun comes out.

So…

The sun came out.

The roads are no longer slick.

Murray only has a little bit of glitter behind his ears now.

School is back in session.

This weekend, the weather should be spring-like, with temperatures in the 70s.

Go figure.

*****

Speaking of making the most of things: I roasted a chicken one night this week and turned the leftovers into a homemade chicken noodle soup, which was perfect for the weather. You’ll need:

* Roasted chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces

* Diced onions and sliced carrots and celery

* Two boxes of chicken stock

* Whatever small pasta noodles you have on hand. I used a mix of elbow macaroni and shells.

* salt and black pepper to taste.

* A few hits of parsley

* Red pepper and celery salt  (optional, but the celery salt really gives it a nice flavor)

Directions: Cook the pasta as directed on the package and drain it. Put the chicken, vegetables and stock together in a pan, before adding about three cups of pasta. Season to taste, then simmer for 30 minutes and serve.

Here is the end result:

chickensoup

Work Bench

Posted on October 30, 2012

worktable

Everyone needs a quiet place to work, whether it’s a comfortable room full of books and just the right music, or this handy work bench that’s tucked away in a shady spot. The bench has a shelf below the tabletop that’s perfect for storing clay pots, assorted bags of dirt and random gardening doo-dads.  The tabletop itself is just the right height for jotting notes in a gardening journal, starting seeds, and scheming next steps for one’s little backyard plot.

Today’s lesson from my neatly arranged square foot oasis: Knowing when to hold ’em, and knowing when to fold ’em. For all the good intentions, for all the elbow grease, for all the pretty pictures you take of this or that plant that seemed to flourish, things go wrong. Sometimes you can fix it with a nip here or a squirt of an organic spray there.  Sometimes you recognize that if you don’t yank that plant right down to its roots and soon, you could be in a lot of trouble. That’s where we are today: root yanking, knowing when we’re licked, quietly accepting that starting fresh is a must, scheming next steps.

Shrimp Caesar Salad

Posted on October 24, 2012

Yesterday, I showed you the Romaine lettuce that was growing in my garden.

Today, I’m going to show you what I did with that lettuce.

I made a Caesar salad with homemade dressing and grilled shrimp. Caesar salads were created by the Italian restaurateur Caesar Cardini who, during a July 4, 1924 rush, wanted to create something great with the dwindling supplies at his San Diego, Calif. eatery. Using whole Romaine leaves, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, pepper and croutons, Cardini tossed the ingredients together tableside to create what has become a staple on many restaurant menus today. Ever since Cardini famously made do with his ingredients-starved kitchen, cooks have put their own twist on his simple masterpiece, adding chicken, seafood and sometimes even steak to the mix.

Because I live in Louisiana, I decided to use grilled shrimp.

So here’s what I did:

1. With my youngster’s help, I picked a bunch of Romaine leaves from my garden. Pretty, no?IMAG07802. Then, I peeled and deveined about a pound of 20-25 count shrimp.IMAG07773. Once that messy work was done, I cracked open this lemon pepper marinade (which officially makes this the “Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee” part of this post).

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4. Then I poured the marinade on the shrimp and put it in the refrigerator for about a half-hour or so.IMAG07795. At that point, I informed my husband that the shrimp were officially his problem and that he should grill them so I could concentrate on how not to kill us with the semi-raw egg part of this exercise. He followed my directions while I ripped the Romaine into bite size pieces and then boiled an egg for precisely one minute. After that minute, I set aside the egg and got to work building the base of the dressing.

6. The New York Times Cookbook says you should use a wooden salad bowl for this next step, but I did not follow directions. I went rogue and used a ceramic bowl. And into that bowl, I sprinkled salt (to taste), crushed one garlic clove, and then blended it all together with 1 teaspoon of dry mustard, 1 tablespoon of Meyer lemon juice and Tabasco sauce (to taste).

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7. After that, I added 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the above mixture, stirring it rapidly until it was well-incorporated. Then I added the Romaine leaves to the mixture, as well as 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese. I cracked the semi-cooked egg on top of that, tossed the ingredients together, and got this:

IMAG0782

8. I topped the above with grilled shrimp and here’s how it looked:

IMAG0783The salad was crisp and fresh, the dressing was bright and tangy, the shrimp were subtly sweet with a hint of mesquite smoke. Cardini’s recipe may have been driven by a crush of hungry diners, but the result remains one of the delicious little accidents of culinary history.

Morning in the Garden of Good and Evil

Posted on October 2, 2012

I have morning routines that set me up for working through the rest of the day. Generally, I devote an hour to yoga or a walk each day, but I also throw in a bit of gardening for good measure. I started a backyard vegetable garden when I first moved to Louisiana two years ago and it has been the site of just as many glories (tender baby carrots, sweet leeks and sugar peas in Spring) as defeats (the wilt disease that gobbled up my cucumbers and squash this Summer). But I keep at it because a. there’s something wildly therapeutic about weeding (out with the bad so the good can flourish) and b. it’s a way to bring something good and positive into the world.

After my walk this morning, I checked in with my backyard plot, which has begun to sprout fall produce. Here are a couple of highlights:

tomatilloTomatillo: I saw these seeds over the summer and thought I’d try them, largely because they’re supposed to yield purple fruit when they’re ripe. Roasted, they should serve as the base for a good salsa that could include the onions (you can see them poking up in the background in this picture) and cilantro growing in other parts of this box. The authors of Latin Chic also have a great tomatillo salad dressing recipe that was a hit at a baby shower I once catered for a friend in Atlanta. So I have big plans for this crop and hope it continues to flourish.

wintersquashWinter squash: I wish I knew what type of squash this was. I bought a general winter squash seed packet that included butternut squash, acorn squash, and spaghetti squash seeds. But the seeds were all mixed up, so I’m not sure what I planted here or on the other side of my plot. It’ll be a surprise. I like surprises. I’ll either have something that will make a great soup (butternut), something that will be a healthy pasta substitute (spaghetti), or something that will be great roasted on its own (acorn).

okraOkra: This plant is almost tall and sturdy enough for my child to climb. It is also yielding a constant supply of pods that I’ve tossed into gumbos, fried in cornmeal, or packed in my kid’s lunch. The kid will eat raw okra, which is amazing to me, especially because it took me a while to acquire a taste for them. One thing I might try this fall: Pickling okra. Pickled okra make good stirrers in a Bloody Mary, after all.

blackeyedpeaBlack-eyed peas: I’ve tried and failed with a lot of different things in this box over the past two years. But I decided over the summer that as a self-respecting Southern gardener, I needed to plant black-eyed peas. I had no idea this plant would grow the way it did, exploding with yellow and white blooms that yield pods of sweet, fresh peas. In my house they don’t last long, but I’ll be stockpiling some for a black-eyed pea hummus.

Critters

Posted on June 5, 2012

caterpillarone

Yesterday I battled cookies, both cyber and edible. I’ll write about my tangle with meringue later. Today, I’m writing about this little guy, pictured above. I turned my back on my vegetable garden for a day (because I was battling cyber cookies in a seemingly never-ending effort to upload my approved thesis to the university database) only to find that this little bugger had laid waste to one of my parsley plants. Rather than make the beast pay for its transgression, I ran inside, grabbed a plastic container and scissors and made a little home biology experiment for my youngster. After all, we grew and released an army of painted lady butterflies a few summers ago when we lived in Atlanta. Why not see what this little monster becomes too?

caterpillartwo

Once I captured our little friend (and a few bunches of withered parsley), I closed him up, punched little holes in the container’s lid and watched as he climbed up the side like this. That is where he has been since last night, when I Googled “caterpillars in South Louisiana” and discovered that he will not turn into an evil swamp creature that will devour us all, but a beautiful Swallowtail Butterfly.

Photo: brooksvillegardenclub.us

Photo: brooksvillegardenclub.us

Signs of Summer

Posted on May 31, 2012

cucumberbudOne of the really exciting things about having a vegetable garden is that sense of change and renewal you get as one plant runs its seasonal course, only to give way to something new. Although it is hot as the face of the sun here in South Louisiana right now, the backyard box suggests we are merely on the cusp of summer. Creole tomatoes hang from the vines, plump, but not quite ripe for the picking. Early green beans hang like little needles. Serrano chiles? Oh how I wish they’d hurry up and grow so I can make fresh salsa. And, as pictured above, cucumbers are starting to emerge from cascades of yellow blooms. Within a week, I may have more of them than I can rightly handle, but it’s a good problem to have. Cukes are such a refreshing summer staple, and can be used in anything from salads to cold soups like this one from epicurious.com.

What are your favorite signs of summer and why?