Whenever we have a family reunion the food table groans under the weight of many amazing and delicious items. When my gramma was alive there was her famous ham. Now her daughter is continuing that tradition. There's also my aunt's wonderful German potato salad and wilted bacon and spinach salad, hot rolls with butter, green beans, creamed peas and cheese, scalloped potatoes, twice baked chicken in a slow cooker, and lots of lemonade or iced tea to wash it all down with. There is a table dedicated exclusively to desserts. There you find row after row of sliced pies and cakes all individually portioned out on their own plates. Doesn't it just make you hungry? It makes me hungry!
One of the most curious and delicious items are what we call the gelatin salads. We all joke about them but we absolutely have to have them.
My two favorites are creamy Lime Gelatin mold and the Carrot Pineapple Gelatin mold. I also really like red gelatin with fruit salad in it. I always eat the gelatin first so it melts in my mouth not on my plate. I finally figured out how Gramma got the dang mold out on to the plate in one piece so I'm going to share that with you. Most of the time we don't bother with the fancy mold. We just put it in a square cake pan and scoop it out with large spoons.
The children love this and it's a way to get them to eat some vegetables or fruit!
Lime Gelatin Salad
1 can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple, drained, save the liquid ( and don't use fresh pineapple. Fresh keeps the gelatin from getting thick for some reason. Ask your chemistry teacher.)
1 package (6 ounces) lime gelatin
2 cups cottage cheese
1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans are really good)
Add enough water to pineapple juice to make 1 3/4 cups liquid. Heat to boiling. Add to gelatin and stir until dissolved. Chill until slightly thickened.
In large bowl, place cottage cheese. Add crushed pineapple then add lime gelatin. Add nuts. Pour into pan or mold and chill until set.
Carrot Pineapple Gelatin Salad
2 packages (3 ounces each) orange gelatin
2 cups boiling water
1 cup ice water
1 can (9 ounces) crushed pineapple with juice
1 teaspoon lemon juice or white vinegar
2 cups grated carrots
1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans are nice)
Empty gelatin packages into small mixing bowl. Stir in boiling water. Stir until gelatin has dissolved. Then stir in ice water crushed pineapple with juice, lemon juice and salt.
Chill in refrigerator until gelatin starts to thicken.
Then gently fold in grated carrots until well mixed. Put mixture in pan or mold. Refrigerate until firm.
Cherry Gelatin With Fruit Cocktail
2 packages (3 ounces each) raspberry gelatin
2 cups boiling water
1 cup ice water
1 can (9 ounces) fruit cocktail
Empty gelatin packages into small mixing bowl. Stir in boiling water. Stir until gelatin has dissolved. Then stir in ice water and chill in refrigerator until gelatin starts to thicken.
Then gently fold in fruit cocktail until well mixed. Put mixture in pan or mold. Refrigerate until firm.
How to Unmold the Gelatin
Make sure the gelatin is completely firm. Dip a small pointed knife in warm water and run the tip of it around top edge of the mold to loosen it, or moisten the tips of your fingers and gently pull the gelatin away from top edge of the mold.
Now dip the mold in warm water. I fill my sink with warm tap water. Don't use hot water. It will melt the gelatin. Dip the mold just to the rim in the warm water for about 10 seconds. Lift it out and maybe shake it a little bit to see if it's loosened. Then carefully invert it on your plate. (Tip: Chilling the plate beforehand will keep the gelatin from melting right away.) If the gelatin doesn't release easily, dip the mold in warm water again but only for a few seconds. I actually had to dip mine for two 10 second periods and it came out real nice.
No jokes, please! Just enjoy!
I wrote a two-part article about how to crochet old-fashioned rag rugs a few months ago. I did my best to show in print how to make something that really is best shown in real life. At least that's the way I think about it. I thought, well, people who are familiar with crocheting won't have a problem, but I worried about all the newbies who might think it was confusing or were just visual people who needed to see it in real life.
I couldn't bring Anna herself into your living room so I thought, "What's the next best thing? I should really make a YouTube video." So I did.
Finally after all this time I have succeeded. I invited my good friend and teacher Anna Dearing to help me make the video. So here it is and I hope this helps you make rag rugs for yourself. The video itself is not all slick and Hollywood. It's just me and Anna (with my husband as videographer and he does a most excellent job as cameraman and editor. Thank you, Marty!)
Yes, it's just me and Anna having a "conversation" about how to crochet old-fashioned rag rugs as the subject.
And here are the posts:
How to Make an Old-Fashioned Rag Rug
How to Make an Old-Fashioned Rag Rug: Part 2
My granny's garden had plenty of wonderful vegetables. She had tomatoes, okra, cabbage, sweet corn, green beans, squash (winter and summer) and bell pepper, among other things. One thing she did not have were Japanese bell and Thai hot peppers. This summer I thought I'd break out of the mold and try something new. The weather here is hot as you've already heard. Certain things lend themselves and others don't. One thing my granny knew was planning one's garden to include things that would do well in the weather at any given season. Cool season crops got planted early and hot weather crops got planted later. So since it is hot here I thought I'd try something suited very well to hot weather.
I started sets of Japanese green bell peppers, Shisito peppers (which are a mild pepper with a little bit of bite) and hot Thai peppers (Prik Faa) inside, and when the collards were done and the sets were big, I stirred the ground and planted. They didn't take off at first. They just sat there forlornly getting used to their new home and then all of a sudden they took off like rockets. All seemed to be going very well.
I didn't know it at the time but I was in for a battle royale with, you guessed it, tomato hornworms! I wandered out one day to find much of the foliage gone (I wrote about this in my post, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). I should have kept count but I think that after a number of weeks I had picked off at one time or another about 25 hornworms. I don't use pesticide so hand picking it is! My chickens love me and that's a good thing. I think I got the last one a while back because I have seen nary a one for over a week now. I'm still keeping my eyes peeled though because from tiny horn worms do gigantic hornworms grow!
This worm is the progeny of the sphinx moth and a wonder in its own right.
In the meantime, my peppers have grown huge and they are bearing copious amounts of fruit.
You'll notice the sunshade I have over my crops. The sun is very intense here and will absolutely sunburn my plants unless they're protected.
I'm not sure what I'll do with the Thai so if anybody has some suggestions I'd like to hear it!
My favorite way to eat the Shisito peppers is to simply saute them in a pan with a little olive oil and sprinkle them with kosher salt.
I toss the sweet bell peppers with sugar, salt, pepper and olive oil and roast them in a slow oven. Then I put them in a salad with peaches, cumin and cayenne. (I wrote about my Greek Peach and Pepper Salad in another post.)
Any way you slice it peppers are a great summer treat!
Now I'm off for the coast for a short respite from the heat and dryness. I'll be back next week for another installment of the Guinea Chronicles (you can find Part 1 here). It's almost time to release them from their habitat pen.
I was trimming agave plants a couple days ago. If any of you have trimmed agave plants you know you have to wear gloves and long pants and sleeves and take great care. In Nature's infinite wisdom, she gave the agave plant a way to defend itself by giving it spines along each side of the leaf and a tip that is like a hypodermic needle. Only worse. It's not tiny and slim. It's wide and honkin' and nasty, nasty, nasty. By the way if you ever have to trim agave I have a word to the wise. Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT use a chainsaw. The other thing Ma Nature gave the agave is noxious sap that if sprayed on you by the action of a chainsaw you will likely get a dermatitis in the worst way. So you're now warned.
Back to my story ...
So I lost concentration and got careless and jabbed my knee on one of those needles I just mentioned and now I'm on antibiotics and can't bend my knee without it hurting like a son of a gun. Makes you want to plant agave, right? Probably not and I would not blame you. I never will plant it on purpose but since it's already here I have to deal with it. So if you already have agave please at least go around and cut off those hypodermic needles on the tips. Save some poor soul, maybe you, from bodily injury.
And you thought this post was about Peach Cobbler. Well, it is. It is about Peach Cobbler because cobbler is one of my favorite comfort foods and I need comfort right about now.
Cobbler is one of the easiest desserts to make. You just need some fresh fruit in season and a crust to go on top. I make everything from scratch, but if you're of a mind you can used canned fruit and a store-bought crust. Today I'm making it the way Gramma would have, and she might have had access to her own canned fruit, but she sure didn't have store-bought crust. So there ya go.
Gramma's Peach Cobbler
1 3/4 pounds ripe peaches pitted and sliced. I peel mine, too, but that's up to you. (If you don't have peaches, you can use any juicy fruit like raspberries or blackberries equaling 6 cups)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch or 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 to 6 tablespoons chilled butter or lard
3/4 cup milk
Melted butter to brush on top
Sugar and cinnamon to sprinkle on top
Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter baking dish of about 2-quart capacity and 2 inches deep; set aside.
Combine filling ingredients. Spread evenly in baking dish.
Prepare crust by combining flour, baking powder and salt in bowl. Using pastry blender, cut in the butter until it's roughly pea size. Make a hole in center and pour in milk. Stir until dough comes away from sides of bowl.
Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead gently about 8 to 10 times. Roll out with lightly floured rolling pin.
You can cut it into shapes or lattice or just put the whole layer of dough over the fruit.
Poke holes in dough if in one layer. Brush top with melted butter and sprinkle a little sugar mixed with cinnamon over top.
Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until top is golden brown and the juice has thickened. I love heavy cream poured over the still warm cobbler or use vanilla ice cream.
We have had a recent spate of rattlesnake bites. First the chocolate lab, then our little "red" dog and then the cat. We were not sure the cat had been bitten. The vet said when a cat is bitten it is fatal and this was on good authority. Our vet has been practicing in this area for almost 50 years. He has even concocted what he calls his snake "cocktail" of antihistamines, antibiotics and steroids. Yet the cat had a suspiciously swelled up face so we took no chances. The good news is that all critters came through just fine.
However, that left us uneasy thinking about what more snakes might be lurking. What exacerbates the snake problem is the explosion of ground squirrels this year. They're a favorite food of rattlesnakes. We had thought of guinea fowl before but had decided not to. Now we took up the idea again with renewed vigor. We had heard that guinea fowl kill snakes. At the very least, they make a lot of racket when they see one so they would serve as early warning. Before the recent spate of bites I was not sold because I didn't want to lose any of our gopher, bull, garter or king snakes. These snakes are very beneficial. Also guineas are carnivores and prefer insects, which was a plus and a minus. I wouldn't mind them devouring each and every hornworm they come across and leave my peppers alone, but if they laid a finger on my lovely praying mantises or froggies I would not be a happy camper. Also, we were told guineas were quite noisy. Yes, we were quite the fence sitters until the rattlesnakes started to take over.
As an aside, we had thought about how to get rid of the squirrels in other ways. Shooting wasn't practical. As soon as you shoot at one they all go to ground so you know that shooting is a long war of attrition. They are quite prolific so you might lose in the long run with this slow method. Also with a .22 you need to have an unimpeded line of fire behind the squirrel so as not to hit anything in the background should you miss. Encouraging coyotes is out for the obvious reasons. Poison is out as we have free-ranging animals that we would not want accidentally poisoned. We decided to trap as many as we could and relocate them to the farthest reaches of the ranch where they might have new territory and a fighting chance against predators. We just did not want them in our vicinity. So in addition to that we decided to get the guineas.
We got a flock of 10. We did not and do not know what we got. Guineas are notoriously hard to sex. We were told that the males have wattles but the females seem to have them, too. Yet we were not getting them for eggs so it didn't really matter.
One good thing about them is they are beautiful. I love their gray and striped plumage. I'm not sure I love their voices, but fortunately the pen we have them in – to get them used to being here – is far from our house near the barns. In my opinion, guineas would not be good for the urban farmer who only has a small lot and neighbors who might not enjoy their constant chatter and occasional cacophony.
I've been told that if they free range they are almost 100-percent free of disease. They are hardy birds that tolerate heat but not cold. So they would be especially good for homesteads in the west, southwest, northwest and south. Guineas are originally from Africa so you can see that the environment where they came from makes them suitable for the warmer clime.
Hardy in hot weather
Disease free if allowed to free range
Good snake deterrent
Like insects and protein sources
Not fond of vegetable plants
Not hardy in cold weather
Hard to know what sex you are getting
Might kill beneficial snakes and will eat ALL insects including beneficial ones
Guinea fowl are unique and beautiful and, in the right setting at the right home, these birds are wonderful and entertaining. I will update you on our little flock as time goes by. Right now they are happy in the large dog run under the trees and, while they were not sure about the hornworms at first, once one of them had a taste they all rushed in and fought over the morsels like all birds do. I think this might be the start of a beautiful friendship, Louie.
I water my garden every day. I have to. There's no rain coming from the sky to help me out here. So I'm happy to say I have a robust crop of two kinds of Japanese peppers: PIM green bell pepper and Shisito. I have also Thai hot chilis coming in.
Unfortunately, I also have a robust crop of tomato hornworms. For some reason the worms are ignoring the tomatoes and going gangbusters on my pepper plants. The very day I was taking off for a weeklong vacation to see my sister in Colorado I noticed that something was eating the leaves. Upon investigation I was shocked and annoyed to find at least seven of these Godzilla-like behemoths munching placidly away. Oh, you buggers!
So there I was picking off these monsters in between breaks to pack. It was: What's more important? Packing or picking hornworms? I absolutely knew I could not leave the hornworms for a week to do their business. I would not be coming back to any pepper plants if I did. So, truthfully, it was picking hornworms that was more important. As I picked worms I thought, "Hmm, well, I can do without this in Colorado ... I can do without that ... Whatever I forget I can get there or borrow from my sister." All you gardeners know what I mean. When it comes to protecting defenseless vegetables from marauding insects, there's only one course of action and that is ... action! No procrastination allowed! So what if your plane leaves in two hours? You've got to pick the hornworms!
Reader, I made it. I made it to the plane but not without a modicum of anxiety. It was worth it to know that my pepper plants would thrive. I'd do it again any day.
That's a quarter next to Godzilla the horn worm. Sorry the picture is so bad. I had to go pack.
So I got back home and all my frantic work went for something, and I have really nice peppers but, of course, the worms are back again. I picked off seven more the last few days. I'd like to know how do they get so big so fast? I figure some winged insect (butterfly? moth?) comes along and lays eggs and then they hatch and then there should be baby worms but, NO, I see nary a one until I see the Godzilla hanging off a stripped stem. No matter. I know what I have to do. I pick them and give the hapless things to the chickens who are happy to see me coming with the juicy morsels. Hey, it's the circle of life, right? If you're going to eat my vegetables it's only right and fair that someone else eats you, right? I feel no remorse. Jai Shri Hare. Go on to your next incarnation.
This morning I saw this beauty. I love you, praying mantis! I love you and the little frogs that live in my garden. I am so happy to see you all. Live long and prosper! I'll get the hornworms and you can have everything else. Teamwork. So nice.
I took a break from blogging because I was on a road trip to Kansas with my sister for a couple weeks. Everyone joked, "Is this going to be a re-do of Thelma and Louise?" I said, "No, unless it is the version in which Thelma and Louise live and they take another road trip 30 years later. In our fictitious version we've left our rotten husbands years ago and no sleazy bar crawler will look at us much less a Brad Pitt look-alike at a roadside motel. If we went in to rob a convenience store the proprietor would laugh himself silly. No, this isn't Thelma and Louise. Let's call it Toni and Lucille."
When my sister and I made plans for me to visit her in Colorado, I immediately thought, "Road Trip!" and stated emphatically that I wanted to take a few days to see the Flint Hills, Dodge City and wind up in Topeka to meet the staff at Capper's Farmer. So that's exactly what we did. I can say most sincerely that the staff at Capper's is a jolly bunch. My sister and I enjoyed talking and lunching with them. Thank you, Capper's!
Then we hit the road. The last time I was in Kansas was when I was 10. We were headed to Los Angeles from Iowa to visit my mom's sister. All I remember is peering out the window of the tiny travel trailer in the early dawn and being flabbergasted by the sight of .... nothing! The horizon was flat as the proverbial pancake. Featureless, amazing, thrilling. This time I found that my 10-year-old remembrance was woefully incomplete.
Not only is Kansas beautiful, it is varied in terrain. The east is rolling hills, wooded for the most part. The middle is covered by the Flint Hills, north and south, and gorgeous. It is only the west that is flat. Even then, if you look close, you see lots of interesting detail especially in the Tall Grass Prairie.
We start our road trip in Colorado with a detour but in no time at all we see the "Welcome to Kansas" road sign. Our first stop is Hays. This is one of the beautiful limestone homes they have there. I love the spreading elm tree in the yard.
Among the early residents in Hays were groups of English settlers, some of whom built the first church in the town, the Presbyterian Church that now houses the Ellis County Historical Society's museum. I love this beautiful church with its amazing windows in the waning light. Most of the stone work in Hays was by Germans who came to Kansas by way of Volga, Russia.
(Half of) Buffalo Bill (his upper half) stands firm in downtown Hays, Kansas.
Would any of you fence builders care to guess what happens when the wood rails rot? How are they replaced when the posts are stone?
On the next leg we see more evidence of expert masonry in Alma, Kansas.
I'd live here.
Or here ...
They have great cheese in Alma , too.
After Alma, we're back on the road to the Tall Grass Prairie Monument.
Along the way we stop at a marker that explains all the stone fences. In 1867, the pioneers didn't have easy access to barbed wire. But they had stone ... and a lot of time ... and patience ... and permission.
This is a section of one that goes on for miles.
Welcome to the Tall Grass Prairie.
This barn is on the property of the National Tall Grass Prairie Monument. Pretty impressive. When I think of all the work that went into it I think, where's the Ben-Gay?
The largest hand dug well in the world is in Greensburg, Kansas. It is a marvel of engineering and was completed in 1888 as the town's original water supply. It's 109 feet deep and 32 feet in diameter.
In Dodge City we miss The Annual Cattle Drive through downtown. On the outskirts of town we see the feedlot where the cattle probably came from.
Near Oakley, Kansas, Taos Pueblo Indians came looking for relief from the oppression by the Spanish.
In Oakley we get up to some high jinks at the gigantic sculpture of Buffalo Bill chasing down his quarry. I'm making like the Road Runner. Meep Meep!
The marksman and horseman in me can't help but critique the sculpture. No way would he have been shooting from horseback with the heavy Colt-Paterson Model 1839 shotgun.
I think I make a pretty good-looking Buffalo Bill, don't you?
My sister and I had a grand time in Kansas. There was so much else to see and we were limited for time. We can't wait to go back and pick up where we left off.