Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter Poem

Softly it falls upon branches
Softly it covers my roof
Floating, dancing, falling,
Striking ground, tree, blades of grass
Quiet muffler of noisy streets
I listen
I listen
As it dances down past the streetlights,
The tall trees, past my foot
Dancing downward,
I listen for it’s sound to strike the chords of air
Announcing it’s landing
It’s resting on the branch
Upon the blade, upon the ground
Upon my face
Softly falls the snow this winter’s whisper
Without voice, a beautiful mute,
Voiceless singer
peaceful blanket of white
I listen, listen
For the sound of snow

Copyright © 2010 by Patty Hicks

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

One Man's Junk and Creative Treasures

It always amazes me to see the ideas people come up with in re-purposing junk for their homes and gardens.  It has really got me to looking at all the stuff around here with a different perspective which the gets me itchy to create things.  Most of the stuff that follows me home will eventually go to someone else some day but not this owl.  He was so brassy and gaudy when he was given to my husband I almost sent him to the scrap heap.  I'm glad I resisted that temptation and besides, being fans of "Clash of the Titans" he fits in real well around here now that he has weathered a bit.
Bubo the owl's cousin
Stuff is the way many of us live today...boxes and piles of stored stuff, rooms with doors shut full of stuff, garages full of stuff, rented store rooms packed to the top with STUFF!  Stuff collected, once used, even once adored and now out of sight and mind.  It is time to chip away at the pile, to take stock, to clear out the clutter and see what is next for all of it; will it go away or be blessed with a creative makeover to live a second life as something brand new.
Mailbox planter at my gate
If I had to explain what it means to see with a different perspective I guess it would be that I just ignore what the item used to be and take into account its form and the material its made of and start from scratch asking what it could become.  The possibilities are pretty amazing once you start looking at things this way.  How can it be torn apart to make something else out of?  Can it be repainted or stripped and left to rust?  What might it hold or hold up?  Can it be integrated with something else that is laying around to produce something we could actually use or maybe make it into an art piece?  So many options so little time.
A future planter
Sometimes re-purposing is as simple as placing a rusty old metal piece in a space that needs filling, where its form can be enjoyed for its sculptural value.  This jug almost got tossed out in a neighbors junk until I fell in love with it.

Ceramic stuff that I would never even think of putting in my home I love putting in the garden. (We can get away with a lot in our gardens.) This man in the moon is a good example.  My golden hops grows up around him every year and the colors play so happily together.  He has made it through several winter freezes so it will more than likely be someone hitting him that will bring him to his end.  That will be sad day for sure.
Sometimes I have no idea what the heck it is but I can see what it will look like in a certain setting.  Such was the case of this metal piece that hangs on my back fence...and it fit perfectly too!  I love when that happens.
Fences make great walls to decorate.
Other times its like the time I found an old hanging captured glass light that is too ugly to use as a lamp any more.  It was sort of ugly, dark amber blown glass, very Gothic, very depressing looking but I loved it for some reason.  It sat on my back deck for a whole year before I realized what it was I really loved about the darn thing.  I was about to give it away to a friend and suddenly it hit me..duh, break the glass.  In no time I had had freed my metal globe from its bondage as a hanging lamp.  It was quite a steal too at $1.00 at a local rummage sale.  Now I needed an application for it in the garden.
For less than $4 and some welding
It seems that timing is so important in things coming together sometimes as about that same time I found one of those inexpensive painted steel patio torch holders at a deep discount at a local store.  SCORE!   That meant for less than $4.00 came up with a great globe trellis for annual vines.  Inspiration met opportunity and poof!  A trellis is born. Granted knowing someone who can weld doesn't hurt either.  My husband does my welding and I would love to learn how but have resisted for fear of it causing me to horde more metal than I do already. 
Copper torcher turned on its head...Wa la!  Sculpture!
You just never know what you will find to fit a need in the garden.  Metal screens can make a real statement and help to keep plants from flopping over on smaller neighbors.
Wall art finds new life as a functional screen
They also make good barriers to keep cats out of the raised beds...a fence of sorts.
Aluminum railing works as a fancy fence piece

I also cruise the seasonal clearance tables at local department stores and find a lot of fodder for projects there sometimes.  These wire cats used to be the homeliest looking things, dull black with gold splattered on them and beady little eyes...very sad.  So sad looking that no one bought them...and lucky for me.
The original eyes were beady little things
When they came on clearance I snapped up as many as I could find.  I had this idea that they just needed a little dolling up...and I was right.  A little paint, glass eyes and they became a huge hit.  I had plenty for my garden, enough to give some as gifts and some to sell which made a tidy profit.
Happy cats for the garden
The little bees that dress my fence posts were actually Christmas tree ornaments I bought on clearance.  When I saw them I was drawn to their design but almost immediately saw them as the perfect adornment for my fence posts proving once again its all in how you look at something.  If I like it but not how its being used I just think of how I can use it.  Simple as that.  Our fence is going to be replaced in the near future so I am going to have to think of another life for these little guys.  Maybe I can make tree jewelry out of them...a little paint, some wired on beads.  I kind of like that idea.
Little bees adorn the fence posts
Planters are very fun to make from re-purposed items.  I saw something today where someone took an old metal file cabinet, removed the drawers, stood it up on end, painted it and and made a minimalist planter out of it.  GENIUS!  Now why didn't I think of that?  To look at it you would have never known.  It seems every year its a new planter idea for me.  This year it was a $10 basket from the thrift store and a metal stand from a yard sale.
I knew exactly what I would do with the basket the moment I saw it.
A friend of mine used to work for a plumbing supply store gave me this cobalt blue bidet, made in Italy which was very expensive originally.  Since she had two of them and saw that I liked the color a lot she gifted me with one for my garden.  How could I refuse? I saw so much possibility and the base was cobalt blue after all. I tried a number of different plants in the darn thing and then found Sedum 'Ogon' looks gorgeous with that cobalt blue.  It just so happened about that time I purchased the elf head and feet and it is one of the most talked about things in the garden these days.  Yes I know I's porcelain and a toilet but this one works as whimsy is a big part of re-purposing stuff and the holes for the plumbing don't show.  You have to be very careful to avoid tacky when using porcelain items.  I guess I just got lucky.

George the garden troll in his spa tub
Copyright © 2010 by Patty Hicks

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Apple Cranberry Pie, Oh my!

It is always wonderful when I find a new recipe and better still when after it is made I discover it is a "keeper".
This pie definitely fits that category and is not only tasty but a new twist on an old favorite and a really pretty pie too.

2 cups of fresh cranberries
 This time of year I am crazy for cranberries and I want to put them in everything.  They are one of those fleeting fresh fruits that are here one day and gone tomorrow, save the odd frozen package one may find after Thanksgiving.  So these berries were the hook that caught my attention in this recipe.   What pushed me over the edge into foodie nervana was that it did not use any cinnamon and  instead used fresh ginger and grated nutmeg. (swoon)  Of course as luck would have it, I didn't have all the ingredients needed to make the original recipe.  As is my habit in such circumstances and in this case was my necessity, I had to let my pantry be my inspiration.
Fresh orange zest is best

Chop fine

 The original recipe called for lemon ingredient I did not have but what I did have were oranges and in a moment of foodie inspired madness thought about one of my other favorite holiday foods that has....apples, cranberries and orange zest...yep, fresh cranberry relish.  I love when one dish inspires a new dish. I cut away about 3/4 of the orange's zest with a zesting tool (the zest is the orange part of the skin) and chopped it to fine bits with a sharp knife.
Nutmeg grater and nut with candied ginger which cuts easily with a chef's knife

Dice very fine
The other ingredient I did not have was fresh ginger...but I had candied ginger which is much easier to dice which is what the original recipe called for so I was happy.  Thankfully I had the other ingredients so jumped right in with childlike abandon once I knew I had reasonable substitutes that would work.

I used a refrigerated crust from my local grocer which I baked at home but it was no substitute for my mother's recipe is much better.  One does what she must when time and energy are running thin and there is no sin in using a good store bought crust in a pinch.
Piled high is a must

Pinch sides and cut slits in the top

Bake on a rake and baking sheet that have been preheated

Beautiful final product
A cheery slice with ice cream
I used Braeburns...note to time use drier apples or more flour

OH-MY PIE  (aka Apple Cranberry Pie)
Oven temp 425 degrees/reduce to 350 (see recipe below for more details)
Baking time 60 minutes

6 cups apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
2 tablespoons fresh orange zest
1 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg (this is worth it folks believe is awesome stuff)
2 tablespoons finely diced candied ginger
*Mix all of the above ingredients together in a large bowl until fruit is well coated
1 tablespoon butter cut up into little chunks

Unbaked dough, enough for a double crust, halved and rolled out and kept cool
1 egg, beat with 1 tablespoon water
Coarse sugar (turbinado or Crystal sugars work best and are prettiest)

*Place bottom crust into pie pan and press into sides
*Fill pie pan with the fruit sure to use it all as it will shrink down during baking
*Dot top of fruit with the butter.  (you may double the butter if you want to)
*Take the dough for the top of the pie and place it on top of the pie without stretching it. (this is sort of tricky as the pie pan is really piled high with fruit.)  It may help to fold the dough in half or even quarters so you can get it centered more easily
*Next fold the top crust over the edge of the bottom crust and pinching it a bit to seal.
* To flute the edges just use your thumb and forefinger of one hand to press the dough inward as you push toward them outward with the forefinger on your other hand.
*The pie will need to breath so cut some slits in the top (an A for apple is always fun) and then brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with the coarse sugar.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Bake pie for 15 minutes at this temperature then REDUCE the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 45 to 50 minutes.

Copyright © 2010 by Patty Hicks

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.

Simply Roasted Tomato Sauce

It has been a couple weeks since our final tomato harvest and the fruit I had set out in boxes is nearly all ripe.  Time to roast what is ripe for sauce, which in my mind is the only way to make sauce by the way.  It is so easy and honestly, there is just something magical that happens to the flavor of tomatoes when they are roasted.  This year it was Roma and San Marzano plum tomatoes that I grew in part to see which tasted better and to be honest, the San Marzanos really were better than the Romas.  A good thing to know is that plum tomatoes are the best ones for sauce because they are a dryer tomato and also don't have as many seeds as slicers or salad types.  I have made sauce out of a little purple grape tomato which had amazing flavor but have lost track of.  It may be the tomato of legend for me, the one that got away...but I digress.

Final harvest is in and ready for ripening
Everyone agrees that nothing tastes quite like fresh home grown tomatoes.  In my opinion there is nothing like the taste of sauce made from them either.  It has all the tomato goodness it needs to shine in any dish as the star performer or add those rich harmony notes of flavor to stews and soups.  Roasting brings forward the sugars and mellows the acidic overtones a bit and brings out a depth of flavor that those of us who make sauce love.  When they are left to caramelize the flavor deepens even more.  So here is the process I use for roasting tomatoes.  It's pared down and easy.  You can dress it up or keep it plain, either way you will have wonderful product that you can pop into the freezer for those cold winter soups, pastas, pizza or meat sauces.
San Marzano and Roma Tomatoes from my garden ready for roasting
The tomatoes get washed and cut in half and layered on a jellyroll pan which I had spray with oil to help reduce the roasted goodness from sticking to the bottom. I don't bother with seeding or peeling them.  I pile them high in the pan because they do shrink down quite a bit.  I used to only do one layer and they never cooked as well as piling them up does.

The oven is set at 350 degrees and it will take at least an hour to roast a batch and a bit longer if I want them to caramelize.
After 30 minutes I check them. They are soft and wilting along the edges and steaming.
Smashing and turning and more smashing

Next I grab the potato masher or a large spoon and mash them down into the liquid. The pan is pretty full so I don't recommend trying to take it out of the oven and risk spilling it all over one's self so I do it right on the oven rack and just carefully turn the pan to reach all corners. This helps to keep the tomatoes roasting more evenly releasing the liquid inside them.
Sweet sauce of my dreams being born

Lots of steam rising from the pan now.
As you can see in the picture there is a lot more steam rising up from them after they get smashed than when I first checked them.  This helps to better reduce that excess liquid which will make the sauce nice and thick.  I will check them again in 30 minutes until they are as thick as I want them to be and to avoid them browning too much.
Water reduced now to caramelize a bit
 By the way this is a great way to make paste too.
Caramelizing on top of tomatoes is done
 The the roasting is complete in about an hour and I take the pan out and let it cool to near room temperature and then slip the yummy sauce into freezer containers.
Yum Yum Yummy!

This sauce is thick enough for ziploc bags so it will take up a lot less space in the freezer and will thaw faster too because of it being flattened instead of in a block.  That is always a consideration, space and thawing.  Remember to add that to your notes for when you go to roast your own tomatoes. 
Labeled, dated and air removed, ready for freezing

So there you have it...the tastiest tomato sauce in just over an hour from start to finish.  To make into spaghetti sauce just saute a medium onion in olive oil, add a splash of red wine and 2 cloves crushed garlic along with some browned Italian sausage in the same pan.  Add the tomato sauce to the pan and finish with chopped fresh basil and cook on medium low for a few minutes to blend the flavors.  If you want smooth sauce you can blend in the food processor or blender.  We like ours more rustic and its really quite pretty that way too.  Garnish with shredded Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Copyright © 2010 by Patty Hicks

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.