Food for the soul was even better than the pot-luck.

Food for the soul was even better than the pot-luck.

Y’all bear with me tonight. This isn’t a food post.

Well, it kinda is, because I certainly ate my share of it this weekend, between snacky stuff at a bridal shower, catfish at one of the best catfish restaurants in the MidSouth, and pot-luck dinner at my home church today. As is obvious above, I did not come home hungry. I may not eat the rest of the week, in fact.

But mostly, this weekend was about friends, family, and being connected.

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Strawberry shortcake with creme fraiche on top. Kill me now.

Strawberry shortcake with creme fraiche on top. Kill me now.

This time of year, the strawberry shortcake is just canonical. And there are as many ways to make it as there are cooks who do.

When I was growing up, we generally tended toward the sponge-cake-you-bought-at-the-grocery style of shortcake. You know, the ones with a hollowed-out top you put the berries in.  My former mother-in-law made a killer angel food cake, and was a devotee of using that as a base for berries. More traditional shortcake makers use a sugar-cookie-type cake, or a pie crust dusted with sugar and baked in flat wafers or strips, or something along the order of a sweetened biscuit.

You can even take a page from the esteemed Bulldog Drive In in Bald Knob, and put your strawberries over soft-serve ice cream, with shortbread wafers, whipped topping and peanuts.

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Strawberries!

May 10, 2016

Strawberry jam. Thirty half-pints' worth, waiting for biscuits.

Strawberry jam. Thirty half-pints’ worth, waiting for biscuits.

I do love a strawberry.  I love a strawberry shortcake, strawberries and creme fraiche, strawberries in yogurt, strawberry pie, strawberry cake, strawberries with sour cream and brown sugar.

And it’s strawberry season here in Arkansas, and strawberries are having an exceptional year. Big, sweet, plentiful.

So today I made strawberry jam.

Friend Kate was visiting, and she’s awfully fond of strawberry jam. We’d talked about making some last year, and just didn’t do it (and berries weren’t too good last year, anyway). We determined we wouldn’t let this year’s season get away.

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Garden update

May 9, 2016

I’m beginning to be of the opinion new gardeners are about as silly as new grandparents. That is to say, I’m inordinately proud of my tiny little plots, and excited about the progress they’re showing.

Today’s big news:

Where there are blossoms, tiny tomatoes can't be far behind!

Where there are blossoms, tiny tomatoes can’t be far behind!

Tomato blossoms! Much earlier than I expected. Must find some aluminum pie tins and tie to the cages to keep the birds away. Will turn Jack, the Yorkie granddog, out into the back yard and let him keep the squirrels and rabbits at bay. He thinks he’s a Rottweiler anyway, so he can work out some of his aggression and earn his keep.

They're tiny, but they're there! The promise of beans to come.

They’re tiny, but they’re there! The promise of beans to come.

And Kentucky Wonders! A few are still to come through the dirt, but at least it looks like I’ll get a decent stand. I know my Daddy is proud. I suspect, if these bear worth a flip this year, I’ll plant one whole patch in them next spring. I may perhaps need another plot tilled up for more tomatoes and/or something else. These will need to be thinned, but I’m waiting until after today’s expected rain and to let things dry out again.

Looks like a bumper crop of squashes in the making.

Looks like a bumper crop of squashes in the making.

Yellow squash and zucchini are thriving.  I’ve thinned them once,  but may need to thin them again. Looks like we’ll have plenty of squashes this summer. I’m going to try my hand at frying zucchini blossoms, too.

Cucumbers need a helping hand keeping the bugs away.

Cucumbers need a helping hand keeping the bugs away.

Cucumbers aren’t doing as well. Some critter is nibbling leaves. Must figure out what kind of insecticide I can use that will chase away the pesky little things.

Wish I had room to plant a few rows of corn, and some peas. Yes, I think I sense another garden plot in the making for next year. English peas. Please.

I will keep you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em posted as progress at Keyboard Plantation continues. Y’all be ready to come help when it’s time to can tomatoes.

 

Ahhhhhh, yes. Farmers' market season has begun. Hallelujah!

Ahhhhhh, yes. Farmers’ market season has begun. Hallelujah!

Besides Mothers’ Day and stunningly gorgeous weather, this past weekend was noteworthy for being the first Farmers’ Market of the season.

It brought both delight and complete disappointment.

I was thrilled to see that there was an exceptionally large variety of produce available for this early in the season. I got tomatoes, both ripe and green; zucchini; cucumbers; green beans (I have NEVER seen green beans this early in the season; the Amish couple started seedlings indoors, and then planted them in a hoop house for an early start); the best radishes I think I ever ate; and snow peas.

I was crushed to find no asparagus. (What you see in the photo is from the grocery, because, by God, I was going to HAVE asparagus, no matter if the grocery store stuff is a pale imitation of the fresh local thing.) In fact, my Whitton Farm vendor wasn’t even at the market. Memphis Guinea Pig, who goes to the Memphis market, said they were there (generally, she goes to Memphis and he comes to J’boro), but had no asparagus there, either.

I would have been hacked if he got asparagus and I did not, I can tell you.

Part of this bounty has already gone into spring pickles, which I mentioned yesterday. To reiterate, slice up all kinds of fresh veggies; I used the cucumbers and radishes, along with some carrots and cauliflower I already had. Make a brine of a cup of cider vinegar, a half cup of water, three-quarters of a cup of sugar or Stevia (I used Stevia, which has the added benefit of dissolving much easier, thus not requiring you to heat it), a quarter teaspoon of white pepper, a quarter teaspoon of dry mustard, a half-teaspoon of celery seed. Pour that over the veggies (I had a quart-plus size Gladware container, the one labeled “large deep-dish” or some such, and it was overfilled) and stash them in the fridge.

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Ahhhhhh, yes. Farmers' market season has begun. Hallelujah!

Ahhhhhh, yes. Farmers’ market season has begun. Hallelujah!

It’s a day to spend in the kitchen. Just because I can.

By the time the clock struck noon today, I’d made a quart of yogurt (well, it’s still incubating, but I had it started), a pound and a half of ricotta cheese, some tuna-and-tortellini salad with the leftover cheese tortellini from last night, some tuna noodle salad with the traditional mayonnaise dressing for Child A, and I had the dough rising for a big batch of rolls. Plus I’d been to the first Farmers Market of the season, and to the grocery.

I feel plumb virtuous.

Also on today’s agenda is to cook some beans for baked beans (they’re soaking now); make a marinated vegetable salad with carrots, cauliflower and cucumber; make another salad with asparagus, green peas and hearts of palm; bake the rolls, some as slider buns to go with country ham, as it is Derby Day and one just ought to; some as rolls for dinner tomorrow, some as po-boy buns for the freezer; and make some potato salad for lunch tomorrow. The pork loin is already sous vided (and if that’s not a verb it ought to be), and the plan is to get everything else ready so I don’t have much to do on Mothers Day except enjoy the 2/3 of my children who’ll be here.

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A "what's-on-hand" dinner.

A “what’s-on-hand” dinner.

Today’s dinner brought to you by the freezer and pantry.

That was the case for maybe 80 percent of the meals when I was growing up, but much less so today, thanks to Kroger being barely more than a mile down the street and a proliferation of all manner of places to eat within, almost, rock-throwing distance.

But yesterday, I had a taste for chicken and dressing, and fortuitously, I had a dish of same in the freezer, left over from the recent Chicken Challenge. (You may recall that I had the last of my leftover chicken, and made broth. I also had a half-a-pan of leftover cornbread in the freezer. Voila, chicken and dressing.) While I was out in the storage room getting that out of the freezer, I decided it’d go well with squash casserole, so I grabbed a bag of yellow crookneck squash I’d blanched and frozen last summer. I figured I needed a green thing, so I added a jar of green beans I’d canned last summer to my batch of what I was carrying in.

And that was dinner.

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