September 28, 2015

My Last Post... least for this blog.

I recently found out that people I despise (a word I use very sparingly but when used, used deliberately) are monitoring my blog for anything I say that they may possibly use against my husband.  Which is total b*&^#t because the last time I checked, the First Amendment was still the law of the land.

However, because I don't want these people to know ANYTHING about my life, this blog is now tainted and toxic and I am done with it.

My new blog is nearly complete and once it's done and uploaded, my family and friends know where to find me.  And I will make sure you, my gardening-blogosphere buddies, know where to find me as well.

Until then,

September 8, 2015

Working Thru It

It's been a rough couple of months for Harry and me; well, for me anyway.  Harry is so stead-eddy about life that nothing phases him.  But I'm not so lucky.  I wear my heart on my sleeve and feel things waaay to deeply...much to my dismay.  I'm trying hard to change that, but my inner self keeps saying, Ya, good luck with that one Di.

I won't belabor details, but on the first of July this past year, Harry resigned from the company he spent the past 30+ years of his life helping to build.  He disagreed with the governance philosophy of the new board of directors.  As a founding member and major shareholder, he asked them to change some things and clean house; but they refused. So he resigned.

Since then, several members of the board, but not all, have made it their mission to try and destroy Harry.  What they don't understand is they can't destroy Harry because well, he is, after all, Superman.  But in the process of trying to destroy him, they will likely destroy a wonderful company that Harry and so many other good, decent, hard working people helped to build.  And that is what I'm grieving--the loss of a small, but great company that did good work and provided a good living for many people in addition to being a really fun place to work.  And I'm having a difficult time comprehending how some people can be so mean and so indifferent to the consequences of their actions and how those actions adversely affect many good people.  I'm trying to understand how small vendettas and personal agendas trump doing the right thing.  But somehow I just don't get it. This long, arduous process has taken its toll on me.  I'm angry about how they are treating not just my husband, but others, and also so sad for the loss of this once great company.

And I miss my kids.  And my daughters-in-law.  And my grandkids.  And my friends.  Harry has been traveling a lot lately. And that means I spend many hours alone.  I'm not a clinging vine.  I'm OK by myself.  I really am. Much of the time I welcome it.  (Hence my recent canning craze)  But these past couple of weeks have been a real challenge for me.  I have been feeling way out of the loop of my kids and grandkids lives.  My sons do a good job of staying in touch with me, but it's not the same as being part of their daily lives.  That's my reality and it's OK.  But there are periods I go through in my life when I'm not OK with that but I know there's nothing I can do about.  It's no one's fault and I'm not blaming anyone for any thing.  Accepting that which I cannot change is one of my life's greatest challenges.

I'm trying not to sound whiney.  I really am.  I have a wonderful life and I'm grateful for all the good people in it.  I spend a lot of good, fun time with Harry's wonderful family here in Michigan.  They make me feel like one of them and I love them all very much.  And I'm very fortunate in that I can get on a plane anytime I want to go visit my kids and grandkids, within reason of course.  And thank God for Skype :)

So in a nutshell, I simply needed to get these thoughts and feelings OUT of my head and on paper. Somehow that always helps me.  It also puts things in perspective.  And for the people who are attempting to bring Harry down,  I am reminded of what I believe is Universal Law #1:

As You Sow, So Shall You Reap.

August 30, 2015

Natural Work of Art

Take a look at this...

It's a Bald Faced Hornet's nest and I think it is absolutely beautiful!  Although quite dangerous.  Harry and I discovered it hanging in the maple tree in front of our house and at first I thought it was a paper wasp nest.  But when the pest control guy came out to remove it, he told us it was a Bald Faced Hornet's nest and it was a good thing we called him.  Apparently they are very aggressive and up to 700 hornets can live in one nest.  Although I *hated* to have it exterminated, we had no choice.  It was too close to our home.  But I thought it was too pretty not to photograph and share.  It was also huge!  I learned the nests are made by the hornets chewing up strips of wood and mixing it with sticky saliva.  

When Harry took it down a couple of days later, we really got a close look at it and saw just how big and beautiful it really was.

Nothing like nature to produce something so pretty.  At least I think so.  

August 23, 2015

More Goodies From My Kitchen

Yes, I've been at it again this week.  I can't help it.  Although I've only been canning and preserving for three seasons, it is in my blood to stay.  And I love it.  I'm always pouring over my canning/preserving/jam making books looking for something new, different and exciting to do with the bounty of produce Michigan produces every summer.  Here's a peak at what I did this week:

I made some pretty interesting preserves/jams this week, such as Tomato and Caramelized Onion Conserve; Blueberry Mojito Jam, Roasted Pepper Relish; Zucchini and Pepper Jam with Spices; Blueberry Conserve with Pecans; Mexican Pickled Pintos, Corn and Peppers; and 13 additional pints of various types of tomato sauce.  I counted 44 jars of goodies to add to my pantry. 

I also spent a wonderful afternoon with these lovely ladies (my husband's great nieces) making homemade ricotta ravioli.

As you can see, it was another productive and very fun week in my Michigan kitchen.
Next week... it's Peaches!

August 8, 2015

The Start of Canning Season

I love this time of year; not only because of the fun we have spending time with family and on the lake, but also because it's high season for summer produce.  The canning season, at least for me, has begun :)

My kitchen was buzzing with activity this past week.  Always a happy time for me.  This past week I made six different types of jams/preserves and my first batch of tomato sauce.  That's about 30+jars of jams and seven pints of tomato sauce to stash in my pantry.  Not bad for an early start to the season.

So,  let's see...(from right to left) I made Plum/Orange/Cardamom Preserves, Onion Jam with Thyme and Maple Syrup, Cherry/Port Preserves, Brandied Apricot Preserves with Lemon, Honeyed Apricot Jam with Jalapeños, Spicy Dill Relish and Farm Stand Tomato Sauce.  Not bad for a week's work, eh? :) 

It's always amazing to me how you start with six pounds of candy sweet onions (which looks like an enormous amount!) and with a little butter, extra virgin olive oil and a little time (about an hour)... end up with a gorgeous pile of caramelized goodness.  And to this I added about 1/2 cup maple syrup, a couple of tablespoons of fresh thyme, a tablespoon of excellent balsamic vinegar, put in 1/2 pint jars, and processed in a water bath for 10 minutes and voila, you have onion jam with thyme and maple syrup.  So easy and SO yummy!  It's a great base for so many dishes throughout the year.

Last week at the Farmer's Market, the plums were just beginning to make an appearance so I bought four pounds of these beautiful little jewels.  I found a great recipe in one of my favorite jamming books, Les Confitures by Christine Farber, and made the Plum with Oranges and Cardamom Preserves.  So delicious!

And next came the tomatoes (and they are just beginning to come in).  I made this Farm Stand Tomato Sauce (in my crockpot no less!) with onions, tomato paste, bay leaves, red wine, tapioca as a thickener and cooked it for 8-9 hours.  It turned out SO good and it made seven pints...way more than I expected the recipe to yield.  And it is delicious!  I think I've found my go-to tomato sauce recipe for this season.  

And the last thing I made this week was Spicy Dill Relish.  This is my 3rd year of making this relish and it is one of my absolute all time favorites.  I use it all year long to make a dressing for egg salad or chicken salad; I use it to make a killer homemade tartar sauce and it spices up just about any dressing/sauce that needs a little umph or crunch.

So as you can see, I had a very productive week in my Michigan kitchen.  And I look forward to many more weeks like this as the season marches on.

I've said it before and I'll say it again...I love Michigan and I am so very  happy when I am here.

Our Trip to Argentina

Oh what a fantastic time we had!!  It was wonderful to see our kids, and beautiful grandchildren.  We had not seen any of them since they left Texas at the end of February and it was great to actually lay eyeballs on all of them.

They are doing great and are experiencing the time of their lives.

Mike and Katie have a wonderful travel blog where they have been documenting their journey and Katie wrote another beautiful post, this one on our visit to see them.  Since she is an infinitely better photographer than I, I decided to just post a link to their blog post on our visit.  Katie did a fabulous job documenting our trip.  I hope you enjoy reading it.

May 22, 2015

Off to Argentina!

Many of you know my son Mike, his wife Katie and their three little boys (yes, three little boys!) are traveling South America on a 7-month, 7-country journey.  They left Houston in February, spent eight or nine weeks traveling around Ecuador, a week or so in Peru, a couple of weeks in Chilé and are now in Mendoza, Argentina.

Harry and I leave on Saturday to meet up with them and spend 8 days traveling Argentina with them.  We are SO excited!! Not only to see our kids, but to visit and experience a part of the world we have never seen.  It should be an amazing trip.

If anyone wants to follow Mike and Katie's incredible journey,  check out their beautiful blog:

You can be sure I'll write and post pictures on our trip when we return.   In the meantime, Bon Voyage!

May 20, 2015

Chuck Roast Braised with Rhubarb, Apples and Honey

How's that for a recipe title? :)

I've been eyeing this recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, All About Braising, by Molly Stevens for a long time.  But she emphasizes to try and make this in the early spring (April and May) when fresh local rhubarb is at its peak.  So when Harry and I went to the market last weekend, I was seeking out fresh rhubarb and was pretty sure I'd be able to find it and indeed I did!  I'm making this dish with the gorgeous chuck roast I bought at the farmer's market from Buckham Farms, a local farm here in Schoolcraft.

It's not a difficult recipe; braising is really a very easy technique, but there are a few steps to it.  Let's just say it's not a quick weeknight dinner.

12-36 hours in advance, make the spice rub:
Spice Rub
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon allspice berries (I didn't have any of these so I left them out)
1 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1 4-5 # chuck roast or beef brisket
1 pound fresh rhubarb

Make the spice rub:  Combine the first three ingredients in a small dry skillet over medium heat and heat, shaking the pan frequently until the spices are fragrant and lightly toasted, 1-2 minutes.  Let cool for a minute and grind the spices to a coarse powder in a spice grinder or small mortar and pestle.  Add the salt and grind to combine.

Wipe down the meat with paper towels and rub the spice mixture over both sides of the meat.  Lay the roast on a rimmed baking sheet, cover loosely and refrigerate for 12-36 hours.

The Aromatics and Braising Liquid
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or bacon drippings
1 medium onion, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1/3 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
1 cup beef, veal or chicken stock (and maybe a little water)
2 strips orange zest, removed with a vegetable peeler, each about 3 inches x 3/4 inch
2 leafy sage sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoons honey, more if needed at the end

Brown the meat: Heat the broiler on high. Slide the meat under the broiler so meat is about 4-5 inches from heat.  Broil, rotating as necessary, until the surface is beautifully browned and crusty, but not charred, 2-5 minutes.  Watch carefully as the meat can brown very quickly.  Turn the meat over and brown till crisp on both sides.  Remove and set aside.  Lower oven temperature to 300.

Trim the Rhubarb:  Trim both ends of the stalks of rhubarb, making sure to remove all traces of any leaves as rhubarb leaves are toxic.  With a vegetable peeler, strip away the stringy outer layer from the rhubarb.  Chop into 1/2 inch pieces.  You should have 4 cups.  I, however, did not.  So I improvised as I often do.  I had a beautiful Honeycrisp apple in the fridge that I peeled and added to the rhubarb mixture.  That made it nearly 4 cups.  

The aromatics:  In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil or drippings over medium high meat.  Add the onion and sauté until softened and beginning to color, 5-7 minutes.  Season with salt & pepper, add the ginger and raisins and sauté for another minute, until the ginger releases its fragrance.

The braising liquid:  Add the wine, bring to a boil, and boil until reduced by about three quarters, 5 minutes.  Add the stock, 2 cups of the rhubarb, the orange zest, herb springs, bay leaf and 1 tablespoon honey.  Bring the liquid to a boil and boil for a few minutes, stirring once or twice, to dissolve the honey and meld the flavors.  Lower the meat into the pot.  The liquid should come about 1/2 up the sides of the meat.  If it does not, add a little water or chicken stock.

Deglazing the pan:  Pour off and discard the fat from the pan used to brown the meat and remove any dried, burnt looking spices.  Set the pan over one or two burners turned to medium high.  When the pan is hot, add 1/4 cup water, bring to boil, and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to dislodge and dissolve the cooked on juices from the meat.  When the bottom of the pan is clean and the liquid is simmering, pour it into the pot with meat.

The braise:  Cover the pot with parchment paper, set the lid in place and slide the pan into the lower third of the oven to braise.  After 10-15 minutes, check it to see that the liquid isn't simmering too fiercely.  If it is, lower the oven temperature about 10-15 degrees.  Then continue to braise at a gentle simmer for about 30 minutes.  Then turn the roast with tongs.

Braise for another 1 1/2 hours, then turn the roast again and add the remaining two cups of rhubarb and apples in this case.

 Continue braising for another hour or so until the meat is fork tender, a total of 3 to 3 1/2 hours.

I've cooked many braises over the years and my experience is that a braise ALWAYS tastes better a day or two later.  Always.  So I put this one in the fridge overnight and the next afternoon, I pulled it out and this is what it looked like:

It looks like a lot of fat but it's really not.  I just remove most of the fat and save it to use in sautéing vegetables, to fry eggs, as a base for soups and basically anything you would cook in bacon grease.  I then shred the meat, removing big pieces of fat, gristle and bone.  The bones I save and freeze to make beef stock. 

And this is what you've got left.  I slowly heat it over low heat and serve it over anything from mashed potatoes, polenta, or roasted sweet potatoes (which is how I served it for dinner).  

I can't tell you how yummy this dish was!  Harry loved it and made me promise to make it again.  It's a promise that will be easy for me to keep :-)

Chuck Roast Braised with Rhubarb, Apples and Honey 
served with roasted local asparagus
Buon Apetito!

May 17, 2015

New Roses

When Harry and I built out lovely retirement home here in Michigan three years ago, we spent a lot of time and money planning and laying out the landscaping of the property.  Most of what we planted has done very well, surviving the winters and coming back in the spring.  Except my Knockout Roses.  They have not done well at all.  Out of the 10 bushes we planted three years ago, two have come back fairly well; four have sort of come back, but look pretty anemic; and we completely lost four.

I decided it was time to replace the ones that had died and hopefully rehab the ones that had not.  So that was my project yesterday.   It was an absolutely gorgeous, but chilly, spring afternoon.  A great day to be outside!

Last week I made a trip to one of the nicest greenhouses here in Portage and bought four beautiful "Scentimental" Floribunda Rose bushes, Rosa Wekplapep.  And they smell divinie!  Like roses should smell :-)

First thing I did was remove the dead bushes.  This was pretty dicey because as you know, roses are covered with thorns!

But I was able to remove the dead bushes relatively easily, although with two of them I had to dig pretty deep to remove all the roots.  Then for each new rose bush, I dug a hole twice the size of the container and a little deeper.  I then put about an inch of composted cow manure in each hole to provide nutrients for the new roses.

Since most roses are grafted, I planted the graft about an inch below the soil.  Digging a larger hole will give the roots space to grow and help establish the plant.

Of course, Miss Laci was very interested in what I was doing!

 Next I turned my attention to pruning and cleaning up the Knockout rose bushes that had survived.  This was an exercise in patience and careful pruning.  Dead, thorny rose branches are not to be taken lightly.

Once I was done, the Knockout bushes looked great!  Or at least I think that maybe they'll have a chance to grow this summer and maybe survive the winter.  Hopefully. . .  :-)

It was a fun day for me.  I love our home here in Michigan but I really miss my garden.  Today I got to play in the dirt and that always makes me happy!  I even had an Eastern Kingbird visit me while I was working.  And that was icing on the cake of this wonderful day.