August 31, 2010

Raspberry Season

Posted in Food, Garden, Recipes tagged , , , , at 8:17 pm by Liliana

Raspberries in Season

Raspberries in Season

Picking raspberries in late August is one of my favorite summer pastimes.

As a child, at the end of my summer vacations, I would walk with my grandparents along quiet country roads, carrying wicker baskets, and pick fruit from thorny raspberry bushes.

When my own children were little, I would take them to a raspberry farm outside our town. Everyone tied a plastic basket around their waist with a rope, and we would fan around the field. The boys mostly ate the berries, threw them at each other and played hide and seek. Very few berries made it to the bottom of their baskets. But Nena, Nicky and I usually worked hard to pick as much fruit as we could. Sometimes we had enough for freezing to eat with pancakes or vanilla ice cream during the winter months. A few times we picked enough to make jam, place it in pretty jars, and give it to friends at Christmas. Usually we had enough for luscious dessert that very evening.

Now, I mostly go picking raspberries with friends. I love the quiet laziness of late summer afternoons, as I stroll through the narrow paths between the bushes. Bees are buzzing everywhere, but there is plenty of fruit for us all, so we mostly ignore each other. I look for berries that will last for a day or two, ripe but not too soft.

The ones that are perfect at this very moment in time – deep red, faultlessly jewel like, delicately sweet – I pick slowly and carefully, bring to my mouth, and I close my eyes. Taste of summer.

Raspberry Jam

I found this delicious raspberry jam recipe at the Atlantic Magazine. It is very simple and requires only two ingredients: fruit and sugar. No pectin.

1. Take three cups of raspberries. Place in large pot and mash. Be sure the pot is much larger than the quantity of berries.

2. At the same time, place a large pot of water on to boil for sterilizing jam jars.

3. Heat the raspberry mash on the stove, stirring all the while. When the mash boils, let it boil for two minutes while stirring.

4. Add two cups of sugar. (If you like it more sweet, then add a total of three cups of sugar, but no more.)

5. Bring to boil again, stirring all the time. Boil for two minutes.

6. Remove from stove and mix with electric hand mixer for four minutes.

7. Pour into sterilized jars and close promptly. Let cool and place in the refrigerator.

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August 3, 2010

The Old Well

Posted in Children, Family, Food, Garden, Serbia tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 8:24 am by Liliana

The Old Well

The Old Well

In the corner of my grandparents’ garden stood an old well. It had been there for a long time, hundreds of years.

During the early part of my childhood, before there was plumbing installed in the village, all the water for cooking, bathing, drinking and animals was fetched from the bucket in that well.

The children knew not to go near it. The well was very deep and dark, and if anyone fell in, they would not survive.

Although there was electricity in my grandfather’s house, in the early 1960’s my grandparents didn’t own a refrigerator. No one in the village did. No one owned any kind of modern day appliance – no electric ranges, no washing machines and certainly no dishwashers. Those came gradually and later, in the late 60’s and 70’s. Before that, people used wooden stoves for cooking and heating, and all the washing was done by hand. The water was pulled from the well.

Because there was no refrigeration, the food had to be eaten quickly. Chickens were prepared by my grandmother the same day that my grandfather slaughtered them. Fruits and vegetables were picked and consumed the same day. We ate what was ripe and in season.

Sometimes, my mother made ice cream and we children helped. I still remember the steps.

My grandfather would bring a bucket of heavy cream, skimmed of the milk that his dairy cows provided that morning. He would place it in the cool of the veranda while we washed berries or pealed fresh peaches, or other fruit from the garden trees.

Our mother would cook the cream with the fruit, stirring and adding a bit of sugar if needed, until the concoction thickened. Then we poured it into porcelain cups, which she placed in the well bucket, and lowered into the coolness of the water so it would solidify.

But no matter how long we waited, and the time seemed awfully long, our ice cream was never the same as the ice cream we bought in the store. It was cold, but never frozen.

It was smooth, creamy, fruity and delicious. Different generations assembled in the cool shade of the veranda, eating ice cream with tea spoons out of those delicate porcelain cups.

“This is not frozen enough to be ice cream,” one of the children complained.

“Maybe not ice, but it is cream,” my grandfather answered. And no matter how many times he said it, we always laughed.

July 27, 2010

Queen Ann’s Lace

Posted in Garden, Holidays, Travel tagged , , at 6:52 am by Liliana

Queen Ann's Lace

Queen Ann's Lace

One of my favorite summer bouquets is a simple assortment of Queen Ann’s Lace wildflowers.

These fragile, transparent, soft swirls of white seed were aptly named – they look remarkably like delicate, graceful Victorian lace.

I love to walk in the little wood not far from my house and pick handfuls of Queen Ann’s lace. I know that they won’t last long. But when I bring a bouquet home, and place it in a simple white pitcher, my room is transformed.

I feel like I have taken a brief time-travel holiday into a simpler, less demanding age.

July 15, 2010

Michigan Wildflowers

Posted in Garden tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 6:47 am by Liliana

Walking through a filed, looking at wild flowers and remembering their names, picking a bouquet to take home with me, gives me a sense that all is well with the world. Nothing we create can be more beautiful than these creations of nature.

Here are a few kinds of wildflowers that grow in my part of Michigan in the summertime:

beach pea

beach pea

pink lady slipper

pink lady slipper

black-eye susan

black-eye susan

star flower

star flower

blue iris

blue iris

trillium

trillium

columbine

columbine

coreopsis

coreopsis

daisies

daisies

day lily

day lily

everlasting pea

everlasting pea

fireweed

fireweed

flox

flox

forget me not

forget me not

marsh marigold

marsh marigold

July 7, 2010

CSA Box of Treasures

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Family, Food, Garden, Health, Home, Recipes tagged , , , , , , at 6:46 am by Liliana

CSA produce

CSA produce

Every Wednesday morning, someone from my family makes sure to stop at the farmer’s market and pick up our CSA box of treasures.

What is CSA?
CSA or Community Supported Agriculture, is a program that allows small farmers to market their own local, seasonal produce directly to their immediate community.  I joined the membership of our particular farm last winter, and paid for the entire season by last May.

Now, from early June through the middle of October, all we need to do is show up and pick up a box of fresh, organic produce. Every week is a surprise, and we are never sure what will be for dinner. All produce had been picked the day before and is at the peak of its ripeness and nutritional value.

We have been eating all kinds of greens and a number of plants we hadn’t tried before. But everyone agrees that the experiment has been a huge success so far. We all gather around the box and marvel at the beauty, color, flavor and fragrance of various vegetables, herbs and flowers.

This is what we found in our treasure box today:

  • Genovese basil – an herb with sweet, spicy, shiny, green leaves perfect for flavoring salads, soups and stews; making pesto or freezing for winter.
  • Fava beans – resemble large lima beans with a tart, pungent flavor; can be cooked or eaten raw in salads.
  • Green beans – Maxibel French Fillet are very slender green beans with firm texture and delicate flavor; we usually eat them steamed, sautéed, stir-fried, or in a delicious green bean soup.
  • Beets & greens – Red Ace beets are round, smooth, deep red roots with sweet flavor and red-veined green leaves. Chioggia greens are an Italian variety with green leaves and pink-striped stems; root has cherry red, candy-striped color and a sweet flavor. Both are delicious steamed in salads, soups or stews.
  • Broccoli – deep emerald green, tiny buds that are clustered on top of stout, edible stems.  Delicious steamed with a bit of salt, olive oil and fresh lemon juice.
  • Napa cabbage – crinkly, thick, cream-colored leaves with celadon tips.  Unlike the strong-flavored waxy leaves on round cabbage heads, these are thin, crisp, and delicately mild.  Use raw, sauté, bake, or braise; common in stir-fries or soups.
  • Italian dandelion greens – bright red stem with a jagged, dark green leaf. Not a true dandelion, but rather a chicory with darker green and slightly larger leaves with a tangy, slightly bitter taste. Refreshing as a salad green or cooked as a vegetable.
  • Fresh garlic – a bulb of several papery white cloves. Can be eaten minced raw in salad dressings, sautéed and added to stir-fries, meats, vegetables. As garlic butter (1/2 cup of softened butter mashed with four minced cloves of garlic). Also, try roasting garlic by cutting off tops of garlic bulbs, so cloves are exposed, brushing with olive oil and baking for 1 hour at 350 degrees; squeeze garlic out of skins and spread on good, crusty bread.
  • Lettuce – Red/Green Leaf, Romaine, and Oak.
  • Green onions or scallions – young shoots of bulb onions with long green stalks and milder taste than large bulb onions.
  • Summer squash –  intense yellow color, straight neck squash with buttery flavor and firm texture.  Delicious sautéed, roasted, in stir fries or soups.

What a glorious bounty! Call around for your own local CSA farm information.

This directory might help you get started: www.localharvest.org

June 8, 2010

Garden Work

Posted in Children, Cleaning, Family, Food, Garden, Home, Weather at 6:54 am by Liliana

My father working

My father working

My family and friends rallied together last Saturday. Our overgrown garden needed to be weeded, pruned and readied for the big graduation party at the end of June. Mulch had to be spread and flowers planted, dried tree branches cut, grass mowed, vegetable garden brought to life.

My father (77 years old) and stepmother (we all call her Nana) are visiting from Florida and they were up early. Equipped with old clothes and borrowed shoes, they were ready to battle. My sister made coffee and a huge breakfast (bagels, eggs, fruit, toast, meat, etc.)

The day was perfect for working outside, overcast, and not too hot. Nana and Nicole got the job of weeding the brick patio, one of the hardest jobs there. My father (with a bit of help from Sam and Mike) was pruning the dried branches, tackling the largest overgrowth and moving the old wood pile. The boys could hardly keep up with their grandfather.

Joe worked on pruning and removing the prickliest weeds, Branka was designing the side garden, digging, spreading mulch. Ann helped with everything, Nancy and Andrew got really dirty carrying bags of mulch and spreading it around. Jeff was the general supplier, running to the store to get us anything we needed, grocery shopping, helping with the cooking. I planted flowers in containers.

All day long, Mike’s girlfriend Karen cooked for us all. She made beef brisket (Texas style,) polenta, grilled fresh corn (rubbed with lime and feta cheese for flavor,) and an exotic mixed slaw. For dessert, she made blackberry squares.

By four in the afternoon, we were all sore and exhausted, and despite vigorous scrubbing, some of us had very dirty fingernails. The garden looked so much better, though, no one seemed to mind. People took showers and came down to dinner. Fourteen people sat around my sister’s dining table, and as the sky darkened, we ate the most delicious food imaginable. I ate slowly, savoring every bite. The sweet taste of corn gave away to tangy touch of lime.  The crunchiness of slaw complimented the smooth creaminess of polenta. And then the dessert – blackberries melting into brown sugar!

I hardly noticed the deluge outside.

June 3, 2010

The Secret Garden

Posted in Children, Family, Garden, Home tagged , , , , , at 6:50 am by Liliana

weeds and more weeds

Weeds and more weeds

Most of my readers know how bustling and hectic my household has been this spring.

My sister and her family have moved in. My niece has just graduated from high school, and my daughter and nephew are graduating from college in June. My oldest son is preparing to move to the East Coast to study international law. Grandparents are visiting from Florida. I have a full time job. A lot is going on.

We are organizing a large celebration for all three graduates at the end of June. The invitations have been designed and sent. The idea is to have the event outside, in our garden. We will place a number of tables and chairs under trees, cover them with white tablecloths and place little containers of wild flowers on each table. We hope for a perfect, sunny day, although I can’t imagine why. It has been raining non-stop almost every day the entire spring. Not a little bit of rain, but torrential monsoon-like downpours that bring to mind climates much more tropical than Michigan.  As a result, our garden is overgrown in weeds.

I started painting the outdoor furniture a month ago. We have an old, pealing arbor on the patio, and I have decided to spruce it up with dark, hunter-green paint. I plan to paint the two benches and the metal garden furniture the same color so everything looks fresh and elegant. I have scraped off the old paint and applied the primer. That is as far as I got. The furniture has been sitting in the middle of the weed-ridden patio for weeks now. Even when I have a few minutes to paint, it doesn’t matter. The wood is either already wet, or it is raining. The ladder has been patiently waiting next to the arbor.

Well, we only have a few weekends left and a lot to do. The furniture needs to be painted. Every inch of the garden is covered in lush, tall, healthy weeds. They need to be pulled out and replaced with flowers. We have a patch of vegetable garden that has no vegetables. The weeds there are impassable. I have no idea what can be done in that corner. Vines are crawling up the side of the house. We need to pull them out and mulch the shrubbery. The stubborn areas between the patio bricks need to be weeded. And then, the flowerpots are waiting for new tenants.

We can do this. Right?

May 26, 2010

Fresh Herbs

Posted in Food, Garden, Health, Recipes tagged at 7:03 am by Liliana

Lavender

Plant an assortment of herbs in your garden this spring. They are aromatic, delicious, nutritious and environmentally sustainable in most temperate regions.

A selection of herbs to plant:

  • Basil – has a strong, pungent, sweet flavor. It is a wonderful addition to many recipes, especially pastas, Italian sauces and tomato dishes. Basil is a good source of vitamin A, and can act as an anti-inflammatory agent.
  • Parsley – used to flavor and garnish a wide variety of dishes, such as soups, salads, stews, and infinite others. Parsley is rich in vitamin C and has carcinogen neutralizing capabilities.
  • Sage – a peppery herb, excellent for seasoning meats, roasts, etc. is a beautiful resident of any garden.  It is a member of the mint family. Sage is believed to boost brain functions and enhance memory.
  • Rosemary – native to the Mediterranean region this fragrant herb is used to flavor meats, stews, roasts, etc. High in iron, calcium and Vitamin B6. In Ancient Greece, young scholars placed rosemary sprigs in their hair when studying, as it was believed to aid memory.
  • Thyme – a light flavor that blends well and does not overpower other herbs and spices . Widely used in countries from the Caribbean to the Middle East in flavoring meats, soups and stews, it is also a good source of iron.
  • Dill – subtly aromatic leaves used to flavor foods such as fish, soups, and pickles (where the dill flower is sometimes used). In Serbia we use it to make glorious white sauces, and best potato salads. Native to Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, and Western Africa, dill adds a tangy, refreshing flavor to any dish.
  • Oregano – tastes range from spicy to sweet to pungent. Its delightful flavor is famous in Italian and Greek dishes.  Oregano is also an effective anti-bacterial.
  • Peppermint – a refreshing addition to summertime meals, its flavors produce a cooling sensation.  It is excellent for making tea, and soothes stomach problems.
  • Lavender – adds a lightly sweet flavor to food, but most people grow it for its singular aroma and the beauty it adds to any garden. Lavender oil is excellent for healing burns, wounds, and insect bites and is used to produce balms, salves, lotions, and perfumes.

My dream is pull out all the grass from the front lawn of my cottage and plant nothing but lavender.

May 21, 2010

Spring Onions

Posted in Family, Food, Garden, Home tagged , , , , , , at 6:55 am by Liliana

Onion Seedlings

Onion Seedlings

Our house looks the same from the outside, but on the inside it is filling up with inhabitants.

My niece, Nicky, has been with us for a few weeks now, and Branka and Joe finally moved in a few days ago. They kept delaying moving in, always finding one excuse or another. For Branka especially, it was a difficult step. She and Joe have painted, fixed and polished their own house to perfection, and now it will be rented out to strangers. Branka’s flowers are blooming in every corner of their extensive yard, overflowing in containers and surrounding the old trees. And then, there is the plot for the vegetable garden.

Every spring, my sister has planted a bountiful vegetable garden: onions, peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, cucumbers and all kinds of other treasures. At dinner time, she would run out and see what was ready for picking. One never knew what surprises her salad would contain.

But this spring the vegetable plot was bare and the rich soil sat idle. I know it hurt my sister to see that wasted sunny spot, just waiting for life.

Last week, Branka told me that she had gone to the farmer’s market and bought some onion seedlings. I was surprised. But she had found a solution to her garden dilemma. She planted those onion seedlings for her new tenants. She started her garden. And then, she was ready to hand her house over to the new occupants and move in with us.

May 14, 2010

Organic or Conventional?

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Food, Garden, Health tagged , , , , , , at 7:07 am by Liliana

The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen

Most health experts and nutritionists advise us to purchase organic foods whenever possible. This is a good guide of which foods have the most pesticides, and which are not as contaminated.

The Dirty Dozen
Pesticide levels in these foods are so high that even by washing and peeling carefully, there is no way to avoid ingesting  high dosage of chemicals. If you buy organic varieties of just this group of foods, the estimate is that you can reduce your total pesticide exposure by 80%.

Fruits:

  • Apples
  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries

Vegetables:

  • Bell pepper
  • Celery
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach

Thin-skinned fruits and vegetables are usually more susceptible to pesticides, because it is easier for the chemicals to penetrate the flesh. Apples, because of the crevices at the top and bottom of the fruit, are especially susceptible.  Spinach and celery are very porous, leaving pesticides trapped in the small openings of their skin. Peppers, on the other hand, have thick skins; but because pesticide residue clings to the surface even when scrubbed, they are also highly contaminated.

The Clean Fifteen
Even when grown conventionally, these fruits and vegetables usually have lower levels of pesticide contamination. When you go shopping, these are the good items to compromise with.

Fruits:

  • Avocados
  • Pineapple
  • Mangos
  • Kiwis
  • Papaya
  • Watermelons
  • Grapefruit

Vegetables:

  • Onions
  • Sweet corn
  • Asparagus
  • Peas
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes

Most of these foods have protective skins, husks, or pods. Broccoli and cabbage are cold weather crops grown when pests are not as prevalent. Fruits grown on trees often require fewer pesticides because they are high above the ground and less susceptible to insects.

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