Saturday, December 22, 2012

Collard Wraps with Egg Salad (Cooking from the Winter Garden)

This recipe is for the low carb -- gluten free crowd (at least I'm guessing it's low carb and gluten free)

On Friday we celebrated the end of the Mayan Long Count Calendar along with the Winter Solstice with a picnic potluck with about 20 homeschool teens and their families at one of the picnic areas of the Wolf River Greenbelt Park (a greenbelt with a hiking and biking path that runs along the Wolf River from Germantown west almost to midtown Memphis).   Fortunately the 40-50 mph winds of Thursday had died down to a mere 10-20 mph by Friday, and the brilliant sunshine mitigated the cold of the day, which never got above 45 or so degrees.

I made Egg Salad Wraps, using collard leaves as the wraps.  A friend called them "southern dolmas" (dolmas being middle eastern stuffed grape leaves -- and a Turkish woman that was there said that they sometimes use collard leaves instead of grape leaves to make dolmas -- though not filled with egg salad).  The collard greens, chives and parsley were all picked fresh from my winter garden (during the high winds and rapidly dropping freezing temps of the preceding day!).  The eggs were from the store, because alas my chickies are not laying more than 6 or so eggs a week during this solstice season.

They were a definite hit and easy to make.  From what I have gleaned on the internet, you can pre-prepare the collard leaves and keep them for several days in the fridge, ready to use for individual wraps any time you want.


Of course you can use any egg salad recipe, but this is the one I used:

8-12 eggs, hard boiled
1/2 to 3/4 cup mayo (or however much you want)
1/4 grated carrot (I like this, because it gives a little crunch)
3 T chopped green onions (I used chives from my garden, or you could use a mild onion)
3 T chopped fresh parsley
3T chopped fresh cilantro (although I didn't use this because I didn't have any)
1 T dijon mustard
1 1/2 t curry powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper


Wash and dry your collard leaves.  Cut out the big middle stem on up in the leaf, but don't cut the leaf in half yet -- leave the two halves attached.  Now, some folks simply take all the leaves prepared in this way and let them soak an hour or two or overnight in warmish water with lemon juice or vinegar to soften the leaves so they will fold easier.  Other folks lightly steam the leaves (like just a few seconds).  I tried both methods and found I liked working with the lightly steamed leaves better.

Take your prepared leave, and cut out the rest of the middle stem, cutting the leaf in half.  Overlap the two halves in front of you, place some of your filling on it and then proceed to tuck and roll just like you do a tortilla or grape leaf or any other wrap.

On my "southern egg salad dolmas", I think a little dollop of chutney or some other "relish" (chow chow?  picalilli?  cranberry sauce?) would have elevated this to a sublime meal or party dish.

I may start keeping some prepared collards handy in the fridge to make into quick wraps on a regular basis -- it's a fun way to increase your leafy greens consumption and collards are incredibly good for you and so easy to grow in the fall and winter!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Winter Veggie Garden

Nothing like a garden post a few days before Christmas!  But then, fresh home-grown veggies from one's very own veggie patch on the Christmas table is something sublime -- especially if you don't live in Florida or California, but plain old Zone 7 -- 7B to be exact.

Those blue clips are for holding the row cover (seen folded against the window) in place when temps are below freezing

Lately I have been hearing two questions asked A LOT:   "Can I have a veggie garden to pick fresh veggies from in the winter?"  And also, "Can I grow veggies in pots, because I don't have space for a veggie patch in the yard" or "because the only sun I have is on my deck or near the sidewalk".

Of course, the answer to both those questions here in Zone 7B is YES!  You CAN pick veggies fresh from your garden EVEN IN THE WINTER, and you can grow fresh veggies to nourish yourself and your family IN POTS -- just like flowers!

A pot of "stir fry mix"

Here in Chickadee Garden I have food plants growing both in pots and in the vegetable garden soil itself.  Because of shortened days, veggies that produce leaves to eat are the most productive -- even more productive than in the summer because those leafy veggies do not like our scorching summer temperatures and prefer cooler days and nights.

Some examples that grow quite well in my garden are:  Swiss Chard, Lettuce (I prefer loose leaf varieties over head lettuce, because they keep on producing after you harvest leaves, so you can get several harvests from each plant), Kale, Collards, Mustard, Turnips, Beets, and Sorrel.

Swiss chard grown from seed sown directly in the pot in mid September

One doesn't even need to cover these crops if the temperature isn't going very much below freezing.  For a cover, I have some yardage of "garden quilt", which lets in moisture and light.  But I also use old shower curtain liners and cheap vinyl tablecloths over some of my pots to protect the plants from low temperatures.

Kale in its SECOND year! growing in a repurposed recycling bin

Kale can even freeze solid in quite low temperatures, but can be harvested and eaten like normal after it thaws.

Kale and collards, and some late carrots in the open garden

In addition, Broccoli will do quite well, and late sown Carrots will winter in the ground and then bulk up in the very early spring.


I have a number of herbs that do very well in the winter garden with minimal or no protection from freezing temperatures:  Parsley, Rosemary, Chives, Fennel and Oregano can be harvested through out the winter.  I keep them in the open herb garden, as well as have duplicate plants in pots that I group near our back door, making it easy to harvest in cold and wet winter weather and easy to throw a covering on if we have some days and nights of extreme cold.

Rosemary and chives, and parsley growing to the left in my cinder block raised bed

I even picked fresh tomatoes a week ago from a Roma Tomato plant that I had growing in a pot.  I had moved it several weeks ago to a spot against the south facing side of the house where it received maximum sun and warmth from the bricks of the house.  One key to continuing to maintain production from sun loving summer veggies, like tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants,  as well as an advantage of them being in pots, is to be able to move them to a warmer micro-climate in one's yard.  Pots grouped together are also easier to cover up when the temperature dips, and if they are close to your door it isn't such a chore.

Below you can see some of the veggies I grow through the winter in various locations in my yard.

collards and chard, planted early October

Pak Choi in a pot

lettuce and pak choi in a salad table (6 inch depth)

lettuce from seed planted mid Sept in bag of top soil laid on sod between sidewalk and street
With some planning in the late summer/early fall and protection from freezing temperatures, we are able to have something fresh from the garden every day through the winter.

Sharing with Country Garden Showcase and Farmgirl Friday

Monday, December 17, 2012

Cooking from the Winter Garden: Roasted Root Vegetables

I found a pork roast in the depths of the freezer that I wanted to fix on Sunday, however it didn't thaw in time.  I knew I would be home most of Monday afternoon so that is what I fixed for dinner tonight.

That, and Roasted Root Vegetables with Herbs.  I have some carrots from my garden, supplemented with some baby carrots and small red potatoes from the grocery.  I rolled them in some olive oil and then pondered the seasonings.  Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper of course.  Crushed dried sage -- and some fennel?  Fennel fronds, not the seeds.  I went out to the garden to see if I could find any fennel still growing -- we have been unseasonably warm -- and bingo!  I found some growing, self seeded, in a pot by the back door where I have a Fairy Queen Rose planted.  A bit tricky reaching into the thorny stems of the rose to liberate some fennel fronds, but success!

Salt, pepper, sage, and chopped fresh fennel leaves to season the root veggies as they roast, and also to rub on the pork roast -- into a 325 oven for 1 hr 40 min.

It was so good.

Thoughts on Reading Moby Dick

This morning Cree and I finished reading Moby Dick.  That is one book I had never read in high school or college or attempted with my other children -- it seemed such a heavy and dark tome, and whaling seemed a bit -- dull.

But what an amazing book -- and, like so many 19th century books, made for reading out loud and savouring and sharing as you go along.  It took us almost 2 months to read, at a steady but leisurely pace -- so I feel like we, like the Pequod, have been on an epic journey.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Spinach", Mushroom and Chicken Quesadilla

After spending a good bit of the afternoon whining and complaining to anyone who would listen about how tired I am of cooking Every.Single.Night especially when I'm not in the mood and not feeling inspired, I managed to throw together an easy and really good dinner of quesadillas, using a few orphan mushrooms from the fridge, chicken in the freezer, and a mix of chard, kale, and collard greens from the winter veggie garden (the "spinach" part).

Sautee thinly sliced chicken with some Mexican herbs and spices (I used a fajita mix from Penzey's), along with a chopped onion, some garlic, some chopped fresh mushrooms -- when the chicken is close to cooked through, throw in a couple of cups of coarsely chopped greens (I de-stemmed the chard, kale and collards) and cook until wilted.  Put about 2 tablespoons of cheese on half a tortilla, then some of the chicken/mushroom/greens mixture, then another 2 tablespoons of cheese (the cheese melts and kind of glues the filling in so it doesn't spill out when you turn the quesadilla), fold over and heat in a pan (maybe coated with a bit of oil -- my pan doesn't need any oil though) for about 3 minutes then flip over and heat the other side.  I could do 3 at a time in my pan.

This would have been even easier and quicker if I had some already cooked chicken.  It also would have been good with just the cheese, onions, mushrooms and greens.

Our high today was in the low 40's I think (it got down to upper 20's last night), so it feels really good to be able to go out to the garden and harvest fresh veggies!  Ok, actually it would feel a whole lot better to go out and harvest if it was 72 degrees, but it is winter time after all.  Only about 7 or 8 more weeks until the first of the daffodils bloom!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Roasted Broccoli Mediterranean Style

The picture does not do it justice -- tonight we had baked stuffed peppers, delicious and easy with some leftover rice, some cooked ground beef and oats (I add oats to most ground beef recipes so as to use less meat and up the nutritional value), onion, garlic, cheese and herbs from the garden -- fresh (rosemary) and dried (oregano and basil), and a squeeze of good ole ketchup on top.  But the star was really the roasted Mediterranean style broccoli.

I cut up broccoli and put it in a bowl to mix with some grape tomatoes, some mini-peppers that were about at the end of their run, some red onion, a tablespoon of olive oil and a bit of coarse salt and garlic.  This all got dumped on a baking pan and put in a 450 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, I grated some fresh lemon peel into the bowl along with a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice.  When the veggies came out of the oven I dumped them in, gave it a good mix and put it in the serving bowl.  The nice thing about this dish is that it's really best kind of warm but not hot -- so you can get this done and then fiddle with the rest of the meal.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Andrea Carlson - Christmas Card

I hope this links up properly.  Andrea is an old friend, who lives in Pennsylvania now.  She homeschooled some of her 4 children for a time, and knit with us in the park for years on end while the children played, She is a wonderful artist and musician and is going to embark on a European tour this coming year.  She wrote and recorded this Christmas song, so I hope you'll give her a listen and check out her website .  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

yummy Mango Sauce

This was so easy and really elevated tonight's dinner of leftovers and throw-togethers.

Mango Sauce:  puree half a mango with 1/4 cup lime juice (I actually used some lime juice, orange juice, and pineapple juice totaling 1/4 cup because I had smidgins of each in the fridge), a little over 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a jalapeƱo pepper if you want some kick (without seeds and rib if you don't want so much of a kick).  I whizzed all of this in my food processor.

Here you see it drizzled on some sliced up leftover chicken on a bed of leftover rice cooked with pine nuts and dried blueberries; a stir fry of broccoli, pak choy, and collards all from the garden; mashed leftover sweet potatoes from the garden; and chunked up avocado (39 cents each at Aldi's this past week!).  My my it was good -- it gave a tropical lift to the dinner.

December Afternoon

A strangely warm, but a Decembrishly dark and rainy afternoon -- perfect for a cup of chai in a winter themed mug and listening to Sting's "If on a Winter's Night" CD while looking at gardening books.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

December Calendar Challenge

I can't believe it!  Already to December and I participated in Kate Crane's 366 Calendar Challenge each and every month.  At the beginning of each month (or fairly close to the beginning) I created a calendar spread for that month, and then filled in each day with a snippet from that day's activities, characteristics, or musings, and linked up Kate's Calendar Challenge posts.  This was the first time I had ever participated in anything like this and at times it has been challenging both to keep up, and to come up with ideas for the spreads and to actually create them.  But I did and I'm "right proud", as my in-laws would say.

Here is November, all filled in.

The days are sections of the branches, in lineal order but not divided into weeks, with extra sections doodled in.

And here is December -- made from recycled Christmas cards, wrap, and junk mail with kind of an Advent Calendar look.

And it's a good thing it's December, because I'm at the end of that sketchbook!  Now I'll need to do a cover.  Be sure to click on the link to Kate Crane's blog, The Kathryn Wheel, to see all the other great entries to the challenge.