Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Sweetness of Life

Have I ever told you the story about how we came up with the name for our garden? It was on a day (several years ago) that things were not going particularly well. As a matter of fact, that whole year was not going very well. As I sat in my garden wondering what I could possibly do about any of it, a little voice in my head said,  "enjoy the sweetness of life". Of course, it was a reminder to "see" the important things in life, instead of the lousy. It was one of those moments when you realize life is about moments  - and I wanted mine to revolve around the beauty of the everyday. The time I spend in my garden is about living this life -. Come on, lets go see the garden!  
Spring came early this year. As it warms up we  harvest the last of our winter greens and make room for our tomatoes, peppers and other warm weather vegetables. The lettuce are starting to bolt, so the sooner we harvest the better!
Luckily, the nasturtium made it through the winter, it's always nice to add a little zest to a salad. 
I like to wash my lettuce outside, it's more fun than standing at the kitchen sink. After harvesting and sorting, I rinse the lettuce and let it sit in a bucket of water for a half hour or so. It takes some of the bitter taste away. (especially when you are harvesting older lettuce)
A little help is always appreciated! 
 In another corner of the garden, my daughter Nikki sorts through the long, slender branches from the fruit tree pruning and saves the best ones for plant supports and other creative endeavors.
This year we used them for tomato supports. Hopefully, they will be strong enough to hold up under the weight of the tomatoes!
I like the way it adds some texture to the garden!
In this bed are Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Black Cherry, Indigo Rose, and Snow White tomatoes. The Snow White tomato was planted from seed by a fellow gardener. We bartered for some tangerines. It was a good trade!
While I have you here in the garden, I wanted to let you know that the Arcadia Edible Garden Tour is scheduled for May 10th. The ticket site is NOT up yet, but I will be the first to let you know when it is! Until then,
                                                       wishing you a very sweet spring!          

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Valencia Orange Marmalade

It's time to make Marmalade!
Valencia Oranges are sweet oranges primarily grown for processing and juice production. The longer you leave the oranges on the trees the sweeter they become. We leave our oranges on the trees until it's time to juice or make marmalade, and now is the time!

My daughter, Aaryn and I are busy cooking up a glorious batch of Valencia Orange Marmalade right now! Our Marmalade, Orange Blossom Honey, Caitie's Natural Orange Granola and fresh orange juice will be available Sunday at the Anthropologie Pop-Up Market, from 11 to 2! Fashion Square Mall location.
We'd love to see you there!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sweet as Citrus Candy

 It is citrus season in the Valley of the Sun again. Our neighborhood citrus trees are loaded! In my neighborhood, most of our citrus trees are Valencia Orange. A few blocks away the streets are lined with Rio Blanco grapefruit. There are a few lemon and tangerine trees sprinkled here and there too (all planted many, many years ago). So, it only makes sense to do a little bartering with the neighbors if you want to enjoy the full bounty of the assorted citrus.
A couple of bags of my bartered grapefruit went to a dear neighbor. She called me the other day with a nice surprise! "Come by and take a look at what I'm doing with that grapefruit you gave me!"

She had pulled out her old cookbook, compiled years ago and found the recipe for, "Granny's Candied Orange Peel." 
 Sugaring citrus fruit peelings is a wonderful way to use every part of your citrus. Oranges, lemons and grapefruit will work. The end result is a chewy burst of  sour/sweet flavor!
Here's the recipe.
First, peel and remove section membranes or pith (white material) from citrus and discard. Cut into 1/4 inch strips. Measure the peel. Bring to boil sugar equal to the volume of peel and half the quantity of water. ( I think granny was smarter that me, because I had to think about that for just a moment!)

Add peel to sugar syrup and simmer to 230 degrees or until the peel is translucent and moist. Remove with a slotted spoon and spread on platter to cool. Roll in a bowl of granulated sugar before they are too dry.
 You could dip them in chocolate!
Or use them as a garnish, or in fruit cake, or just when you need a bit of sweetness!
Looks good huh? I like the ones rolled in sugar. Kind of crunchy on the outside and sweet on the inside. Perfect for a gift of delectable, citrusy sweetness, just like Granny used to make!
Special thanks to Patricia for sharing her kitchen and wisdom with me!

Here's an excellent post if you need more details on making candied citrus peels!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

An Afternoon at the Arizona National Livestock Show!

Last weekend we ventured out into the wild and woolly world of the Arizona National Livestock Show. If you love animals, and food and want to get a little taste of the old west history and culture this is a nice place to spend the day!
Started in 1948, the National Livestock show brings breeders and exhibitors from all over the west to show their livestock. That includes, sheep, swine, goat, poultry, and cattle. 
We didn't make it to all of the events, but we were able to visit the lamb judging competition. Below, is a Hampshire sheep raised for meat. Many of the sheep breeds shown are raised for their wool. It was almost like going to an old beauty salon. Everything from puffy, to curly to long and stringy. All were really beautiful in their own way! (we don't want to make anyone feel bad)
I'm not sure if these are Alpacas or Llamas, I only know that my grandson was very intrigued. We all loved their big brown eyes.

A 4-H member on her way to the show her sheep.
These sheep were huge, some weighing up to 350 lbs.
Next, we were off to the Li'l Buckaroo Rodeo. We chose to watch, and that was just fine with grandson!

The real reason we attended the livestock show was the Chuck Wagon Cook Off! My love of Dutch Oven cooking goes back to a time when my parents and grandparents would gather for family cook outs in the beautiful Arizona deserts. My great grandfather was a cattle rancher in Superior Arizona and cooked many meals out on the trail. Back then, if you didn't know how to cook with cast iron you were not a real cowboy! There is nothing like a good meal around a camp fire! 
Dutch Oven cooking begins with a big fire. While the wood is burning down to coals, set up your camp kitchen and begin to peel potatoes, cut onions and chop up your beef. It really was an all day event to prepare this meal. These people were experts and made it look easy to cook this way. But, I can tell you that it takes lots of practice and many burnt to a crisp cobblers to get it right!
You've got to chop a lot of wood,
and peel your fruit for a cobbler (or you can open a can of peaches too). Make sure you tell a few jokes about the effect that beans have on a cowboy... something about your whistling backside...
Whistle a little as you roll the dough.
Spread your coals under and over the pots. It creates an outdoor oven.
Camp life.

Listening in on some of the old stories.

There is a fine art to regulating the coals. Not too hot and not too many. Spread em' out a little.
For ten dollars you get to mozy around the camp wagons and choose where you'd like to eat. Read the menus and chat with the cooks and that will help you make the right choice! Get in line and stay put, dinner is served at noon. This peach cobbler is almost ready!
Each camp wagon team had a slightly different menu. Although, it had to include beef, potatoes, beans, rolls or biscuits, and a cobbler.
My oh my, it was really good! The best rolls I've ever tasted!
A simply lovely day out and about on a beautiful winter day in Phoenix, Arizona!
In my opinion, this little event is one of the best kept secrets in the Valley. Thank you to all of the friendly Chuck Wagon Cooks, and all of the members of the Arizona National Livestock Show! We will be back year!                                                                                                                                 
                                                           Happy New Year!