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Peace In The Valley

 

Photo Credit: Hannah Blanton of Hannah Elaine Photography

Photo Credit: Hannah Blanton of Hannah Elaine Photography

You may remember the backyard dinner party shoot that took place at the yellow barn a few weeks ago.  In addition to all the amazing vendors that created everything from set design and paper goods, to flower arrangements and cake pops, the makeup artist brought her singer/songwriter husband who also has a flair for mixology.  I’m not much of a cocktail drinker, but Reuben’s peachy concoction was quite tasty, and when I realized that I could pass along a brand new recipe to you guys, I couldn’t resist posting our first, and most likely only, cocktail recipe.  And be sure to check out www.reubenbidez.com and buy his music….think of it as a way to leave a tip.

 

-Peace in the Valley signature cocktail recipe-

1.5 oz Belle Meade Bourbon

.75 oz Lemon

.75 oz Honey

.5 oz Yellow Chartreuse

Shake and finely strain into a coupe

Garnish with 3 thinly sliced peaches***

***Of course, everything always tastes better with really fresh peaches.  For this shoot, we shopped local with peaches from The Peach Truck.  You can find the truck easily in the Nashville, TN area, on their Small Town Peach Tour, or by ordering online.

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2014 Garden Tour

Besides our actual new baby, we sort of have another new baby right now, albeit one that is much much quieter – the garden!  Knowing we’d be having the baby this spring, I was envisioning more of a “3 tomato plants and a pot of basil” type of garden for this year.  Happily, I underestimated and we’ve got a lot more going than I expected.  (Tip:  Low expectations can be so rewarding!)  Both my husband and I really enjoying working out there, so I find it easy to run out there for a quick errand to pull a few weeds or stir the compost.  And, I should also mention that we got off to a great start due to a heroic effort on the part of my parents.  My mom (and dad and husband) spent an entire afternoon out there, and those of you who know her well will probably be amused by that.

Additionally, the previous owners really put a lot of work into their garden and we definitely got a leg up by picking up where they left off.  The dirt is super rich from being heavily composted and “worm juiced” and so forth.  Its all soft and easy to till up.  Plus there are several semi-raised beds which help make things neat and tidy. And there may be an irrigation system that we aren’t sure how to use exactly.  Thanks previous owners!  (We’re not as ridiculous as you thought.)

Anyway, this year we are growing:

  • 5 tomato plants
  • 4 types of peppers
  • A bed of strawberries
  • Two beds of okra
  • About 50 sweet slips
  • Two long rows of lady peas
  • Peppermint, spearmint, and lemon balm
  • Plus the previous owners’ leftovers: cilantro, leeks, onions, garlic, and asparagus

I’ve been meaning to pick up some oregano.  There is talk of planting corn.  And I think that should cover it.

In case you are wondering, “lady peas” are my husband’s favorite and frankly they are about the best type of peas I’ve had.  I’m not a huge fan of peas in general.  However, they are hard to find, even at local farmer’s markets.  But, I believe I found some on a website appropriately titled “rareseeds.com”.  My husband is skeptical that they are the “right” thing, but only time will tell.  The little seedlings are definitely doing good, so we are pleased with our purchase from that aspect.  And I’m kinda looking forward to making some future purchases of weird produce from them – like red okra or purple tomatoes.

Now for the “tour” part:

 

IMG_3168The blueberries are looking good.  Last year we gathers at least two gallons worth.  And this year looks about the same.

IMG_3169It appears to be a good year for produce in general.  I guess the plants appreciated all those polar blasts.  The peach tree has a promising crop (as do the plum, the pears, the apples.)  Fingers crossed!  I wonder if we should be spraying with something?

I should start making plans for jams and jellies.  Mmmm.

IMG_3170Asparagus from the previous owner, now gone to fern.  We harvested about 8 servings worth, of which I ate at least half – so good!  Better than store bought.  Now we wait for another crop in the fall.  I also want to look up whether there’s anything we could do to get MORE asparagus out of these plants.  More is always better in the garden.

IMG_3171Onions in “flower” mode?  I don’t know.

IMG_3172Tomatoes and pepper plants, all in a row.  I took this pic last week and those tomatoes have doubled in size.

IMG_3173Strawberries in the foreground, garlic in the rear.  Leeks on the right.  Still haven’t eaten a leek.  Mom had to identify them, I was clueless. 

Nowadays they are looking kinda worse for the wear, so I suspect their season may be ending.

IMG_3174This is our wild forest of cilantro.  I’m hoping to harvest some seed (coriander) off these puppies, in order to eat it, and also in order to plant more cilantro in an actual pot or bed, and not just out in the middle of everything.

IMG_3175(It appears that something is on/in my camera lens.)

These are the little sweet potato slips, growing like crazy.  They know they’re in Mississippi where the best sweet potatoes come from, I guess.

IMG_3176Peas in the front, okra in the rear.  The okra ain’t looking too hot. August thinks its the shade, I wonder about the quality of the seeds we bought.  We are thinking about putting a few more seeds out.  However, okra is a heavy producer.  Theoretically I still think we’ll have more okra than we know what to do with.

So friends, come visit us later this summer.  I will cook you stuff straight from the garden and it will be fabulous.

 

“A” for Asparagus

The other day, my parents were passing through town and we popped over to see my boss’ garden.  There’s lettuce galore right now along with other leafy greens and the beginnings of other things, but what I was particularly enamored with was her asparagus bed.  It wasn’t but just a few years ago that I hated asparagus, and now I can proudly say that I’ve eaten it 3 times this week and just writing about it makes me crave some more (and I just had it like an hour ago.)  I bent low to admire these little asparaguses (asparagi?) popping out of the ground while mom picked lettuce and Dad and Kelly discussed the trials of getting a good crop of tomatoes.

My friend Erin will attest to the fact that cooking asparagus in the Bordeaux kitchen has often been synonymous with setting off every smoke alarm in the house.  No matter what we tried, it seemed that it never cooked super well (either too tough or too burned) and we’d have to open all the windows and fan the smoke away from the detector.  Then one day, quite out of laziness, I hit upon the perfect way to cook it.  I’d bought some fish from Whole Foods that needed to be cooked for 20 minutes at 400 degrees in the oven, and since I didn’t want either the main dish or the side dish to get cold while the other cooked, I decided to just throw it all in there at the same time and crossed my fingers.   The result was delicious and I’ll never cook it another way again.  So if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to make an impressive and healthy side dish, I bring you this “recipe” if you can call it that.

 

Ingredients:

*1 bunch of asparagus

*about 3 teaspoons of olive oil

*ground sea salt

*ground pepper mixture

Directions:

1. preheat oven to 400 degrees

2. Rinse off asparagus

3. Cut about half an inch off the bottom of the stalks and throw the tiny pieces away (the end with out the fluffy part.)

4. lay all the asparagus out on a cookie sheet….the kind with a lip (otherwise it’ll all roll off and that would be a pain.)

5. lightly brush the asparagus with the olive oil using a pastry brush (silicone or bristles…either is fine) until there is a light coating of oil over all the stalks.  (This is the key step.  Just a thin coat.  Brush, don’t pour.)

6. sprinkle salt and pepper to taste over all stalks.

7. bake in the oven at 400 for 20 minutes.

8. enjoy!

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Wins and Losses

You win some, you lose some. Here is an update from the Johnson household the last few days.

First, obviously bringing home baby Davis is a big one in the ‘Win’ Category. We did successfully name the child before leaving the hospital – Davis Charles Dale Johnson. (I’ll have to explain the name sometime soon!) Davis is a good sleeper, although he’s better at it in the day than during the night lately. He’s a cuddly little chunk, and I am perfectly content to sit with him sleeping on my shoulder all day long. He has one dimple and he flashes his sweet smile a lot. Sure, I know they aren’t “real” smiles but who cares?? 🙂

 
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On the other hand, I forgot that baby delivery actually does require some recuperation time. So although Davis is sleeping a lot and I theoretically have a lot of free time, I’m pretty much couch-bound. That’s maddening, because there is plenty to do. On the other hand, I guess my condition is pretty conducive to typing out long rambly blog posts.

Here’s a fun tale. Friday morning I went to fill up my giant thermos (must stay hydrated) at the fridge and the found the dispenser wasn’t working. Opening the freezer, it was noticeably too warm in there, and some items had already begun to thaw out. PANIC! Ransom had just returned from his grandparents, I was a little low on sleep and high on hormones, and now, the freezer full of food that I’d managed to put aside for post-baby meals was THAWING. This fridge was our one Mississippi craigslist purchase, a standard-grade 7-year-old Kenmore. So began deliberation about whether to try to fix it ourselves, call a repair man, or just buy a new one. My newborn-addled brain was no use. Meanwhile the food was THAWING. We found basically the exact same refrigerator for $800 at the nearest Lowe’s so we opted for replacement. My parents headed off to Lowe’s to pick it up for us. August and Ransom carted the whole contents of the old refrigerator over to his mom’s house. Then a couple of hours later, while everyone was still out of the house except for me and the babe, the darn thing cut right back on.

Clearly something was frozen up and now it had thawed out. I heard the compressor fire back up and the water dispenser started flowing again. Agh.. Now that fridge resides in our garage, colder than ever, while we figure out what to do with it. Sell it ‘as is’ on craigslist? So all this is a big ‘LOSE’. I mean, I’m glad the old fridge is gone. It had a squirrely ice maker and always made weird noises. Surely it was only a matter of time till it really broke down for good. But I could’ve done without the random $800 expenditure this week.

After all, this is the week taxes are due, speaking of losing.

Enough negativity. Here’s another one for the ‘win’ column. The day I went into labor, my parents and husband spent the whole day working in our garden – weeding, tilling, planting. It all looks fabulous, about 50 times better than what I was planning for our 2014 gardening effort. So far we have tomatoes, a variety of pepper plants, strawberries, several herbs, and at least three plants that came back from last year: leeks, asparagus, and cilantro. Who has ever eaten a leek? Not me, but I intend to get on that soon. There are also two more beds that need to be planted. I think my excitement over all the progress in the garden was what finally sent me into labor, and the rest is history. I’d love to be out there weeding right now, instead of gazing longingly from the couch.

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And yet, guess what the forecasted low temperature is for tonight? 29 measly degrees. The supposed frost date for our area is April 10th. So I guess we’ll try our hand at frost protection tonight. The actual time below freezing is just a few hours, and the garden can be fairly easily protected. But was about all the buds on our poor fruit trees? I can’t think of a way to protect them, so I guess we’ll just see what happens. I

 

**Update: the forecast is now 34! Fingers crossed!! We may just make it through with minimal damage. August is out covering stuff now.

Paleo Whole30 Italian Dressing

Well, after a couple of life and death posts this week, I think its high time we return to our usual blog fare.  (Also PS, no baby yet.) So here is one where I try to out-Paleo Bethany and her Paleo pot roast recipe.

Disclaimer: You should know that my household is absolutely not paleo or anything resembling paleo these days.  I bought a large size bottle of chocolate ice cream syrup last weekend, feeling very strongly that Baby Johnson #2 shouldn’t be born into a household without that staple.  But, when I saw her recipe calling for a packet of italian dressing mix, I thought it might be nice to try to paleo-ify that choice a little bit, you know, in the spirit of legalism.

Actually I’ve had good luck making spice mixes – taco seasoning, fajita seasoning – as well as several different vinaigrette type salad dressings.  They are so easy to whip up and we get more variety this way, compared to using store-bought bottles. If you have a well-stocked spice rack, you probably already have what you need.  And making this stuff from scratch, you can be {more} assured that there aren’t any weird fillers or preservatives or MSG that you don’t know about.  More importantly, you may be able to avoid a trip to the grocery store in a pinch, which is honestly a bigger motivator in my case than the clean eating stuff.

So, here is how I made up some paleo-friendly italian dressing mix.  This recipe is even Whole30 friendly (that 30-day cleanse thing I did for 25 days last year).  The actual Italian dressing from it is also approved on both diets.

italian_dressing

Ingredients

  • 1-2 tablespoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried celery flakes

Before you proclaim me a genius, I should point out that I adapted this recipe from this Allrecipes version. By “adapted” I basically mean, “I left out the sugar”.

1 tablespoon of salt is plenty for if you are using this to cook with.  For the dressing, I’d start with 1 and increase to your taste.  2 tablespoons was a little too salty for us.

Use about 2 tablespoons of the mix to be equivalent to one store-bought packet – that’s what I put in the roast and still had plenty left to make salad dressing with.  I did it last week, worked out great.

If you are missing one or two of the minor ingredients (eg. celery flakes), I say go for it anyway.  These kinds of recipes are forgiving.

To make salad dressing, just combine the following ingredients in a container with a lid and shake well:

  • 2 tablespoons of the above mix
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

PS. I think the dressing would be awesome with a little honey mixed in but I didn’t try it.

 

Spring Chickens

I know we’ve had a lot of chicken posts recently, but I needed to add one more.   For those of you who have been tracking with the Saga of Sylvia the Sick Chicken, I have sad news….Sylvia went to that big chicken coop in the sky last Wednesday.  She’d rallied there for a little bit…and then just started getting, well, slower.  She’d stop in the middle of the yard to nap.  She stopped eating.  She wasn’t really pooping (sorry, but she wasn’t).  She stopped getting excited about seeing us.  And she barely weighed anything.  So Wednesday morning I decided to spend some quality time with her.  I wrapped her up in a towel and put her on my lap while I got some work done on my computer.  She napped most of the day.  She didn’t seem in pain, just content to sleep on my lap.

That afternoon I had to run to a meeting and about 10 minutes after I left Keith sent me a text message: “I think Sylvia just died.” it read.  Then, about 15 seconds later, “Yep.  She’s definitely dead.  She just laid over on her side and went to sleep.”  We were sad to see our girl go, but happy she went in peace.  If you’re wanting to reminisce her short life (like I did) then you can check out this video from last August when she laid her first egg.

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Sylvia snuggled up on my lap napping. She passed away about 30 minutes after this photo was taken.

 

Yesterday was nice weather and Spring seems to have finally sprung, well sort of…so Keith and I decided that it would be a good time to do a “Spring cleaning” in the coop and de-winterize all the little cold weather tweaks that we’d made.  You might remember that we added a heat lamp and a made a few other temporary changes.  So Sunday we shoveled out the pine shavings from the coop floor, removed the heated waterer, heat lamp and indoor roost, rehung the outdoor roosts and gave everything a good cleaning.  The girls seemed really happy with their tidy home and hopped around the backyard eating as many earthworms as they could find.

Although I’m super thankful that we brought Beverly Clucky home to replace our first chicken casualty, Gertude, (who had a brain tumor,) we’re not rushing into getting a new girl this time.  I know it’s Spring and all the co-ops are starting to put out all those cute little chicks and it’s so tempting to bring home a new little critter.  Please, before you do….read all about my experience adding a new girl to the flock.  It’s not all fun and games and cute little feathered friends.  It’s a slow and painstaking process, one that for us worked out well despite my doing everything wrong, but one that I’m not sure I’m up for repeating anytime soon.  So for now, we’re going to hang on to our three amigas and be thankful that everyone else is healthy and happy for the time being.

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L to R: Louisa, Jane and Beverly Clucky. Our little flock of remaining hens.

Paleo Pepper Pot Roast

I’ve actually been making this dish since before I even know what Paelo was.  In fact, it was the first “grown up” dish that I learned how to cook.  It’s a crock-pot recipe so that’s not exactly saying a whole lot, but it was a big deal to me to say that I could cook something.  It was also the first dinner I ever cooked for Keith, way back before we were even officially dating….and it’s been a staple for us since.

So as I was looking for a simple yet tasty dinner to put together for tonight, I remembered we hadn’t had this particular recipe in a while.  And then I realized that it was totally in line with the Paleo diet, so I immediately headed out to the grocery store.  And I thought you guys might like it too…it’s got a little bit of a kick.  So here ya go.  Pot roast anyone?

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Paleo Pepper Pot Roast

Ingredients
  1. 1 chuck roast (mine was about 2 pounds.)
  2. 1 jar peperoncini peppers
  3. celery – chopped
  4. diced or sliced white onion
  5. carrots -chopped into 1 inch chunks, or, 1 package baby carrots
  6. one packet Kroger brand (or comparable)  “Salad Magic Zesty Italian” salad dressing mix (**note….this is just a seasoning packet to make your own salad dressing….not actual liquid salad dressing.)
Instructions
  1. Put half the carrots, celery, onion and jar of peperoncini peppers into a crock pot.
  2. Pour half the salad dressing mix packet mix on top of the veggies and pour in half the pepper juice.
  3. Add the chuck roast, then add the rest of veggies on top along with the rest of the seasoning packet and pepper juice.
  4. Turn crock pot on low setting and cook for 8 hours.
  5. Serve and enjoy!

*Note:  Although it renders the recipe “non-paleo” it’s also really yummy to cook red new potatoes in with the roast.

 

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