Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Toad is a Toad unless it's a Toad-in-a-Hole

Since I've been dreaming about my new gardens, orchard, and seeds in general, it has made me miss someone that last year I went out of my way to avoid. I have to give background in order for this to mean anything to you.
Last Christmas a man came to the door selling firewood. We bought some and a couple weeks later he showed up again. He was very country and talkative which drew us right in. His stories were so crazy that after he left we laughed about them for days. David drove by his house about a week before Christmas and was stunned at the poverty. His trailer was from the 60s if not earlier. The cars were very rickety. Live poultry was everywhere. But yet, what really stood out was the neatness of it all. Everything had a place. The lawn was cut, flowers were planted, the cars were clean. David's heart went out to him.
David wanted to do something for him, but knew that if Glen found out the monetary gift was from him, he would not accept it. So he concocted a plan. He went down to the florist and had her deliver a gift and an envelope with strict instructions to not divulge our name no matter how hard Glen pressed her. She followed through perfectly.
A couple days later Glen came over and talked with David. He told him what happened to him. David played dumb. We never heard what he did with the money.
Long story short, after Christmas Glen asked if we had any work for him because his previous employer had gone out of business (tree cutting). David had some odd jobs around the barn and house. Glen performed all tasks very well. David being the softie, wanted to give him more to do so he put him on the road with the guys to help out. Disaster.
Glen had no social skills: spoke about inappropriate subjects, drove the guys crazy with his turkey and horse tales, and smelled to the high heavens because of his aversion to deodorant. One of the guys had all he could bear and went to Wal-Mart, bought a deodorant on his own dime, and showed Glen how to use it. Bottom line with this, he could not go out with the guys anymore.
David kept him busy around the barn. And, really, he was more comfortable with this work. mY problem with him and I really went out of my way to avoid him besides the stench that came off of him because of his non-deodorant ways, he would ask me a gardening question and basically talk nonstop. He was so good at this, that it was difficult to break away because he was fully aware of what he was doing. He avoided eye contact and therefore, did not receive the "signals" ie yawning, stepping away, etc... all the things we do to break away from a talker. When we went to the new office, along came Glen. He kept the back areas neat as a pin, and when that was in order, he went back to the house and kept the gardens tidy. Everything seemed to be working just fine. He really had evolved into a handy man.
We bought new property in October. Glen went along with David to see what needed to be cleaned up around the old house and barn. That is when the trouble started.
The neighbor came over and chatted with David, Glen became jealous. Glen cursed the neighbor, and lied to him about our intentions for the property. David talked with him explaining it was not his place to make up things in order to chase off the neighbor. It really became uncomfortable.
The fall storms caused a tree to fall across our driveway. Glen cleaned everything up. I wondered where the large trunk had gone. I looked in the field behind the house and saw what I thought was it. It looked kind of small, but I figured it was because of the distance. David, on the other hand, drove down to it and checked it out. I remember him saying that he thought that tree was bigger. Apparently it bugged him for a while because right after Thanksgiving, he confronted Glen about the tree trunk. That is when David's suspicions were validated. Glen was lying to him.
This fueled David who now full throttle started piecing everything together. He drove to the saw mill and asked the owner if a log had shown up. Yes, Glen had brought a large maple log down and had asked him to hold on to it. Word must have gotten back to Glen who did not show up for work for an entire week. The next week, he rolled in as if all was fine in the world. David asked him to step in his office where he asked him again about the log. Glen continued to play dumb. Several other lies had come to light and David asked him about those. Again, Glen played dumb. David was angry at this point. He told Glen to stop insulting him with lies; furthermore, he was not going to give him any work for a couple of weeks. A couple of weeks to think about his lies and how they impact others would be a good thing. He told him to come back after two weeks and 'fess up. If he could own up to his lies, then he could work again. Glen never came back.
David and I refer to the whole year of Glen as a social experiment that went wrong. But did it? A toad is a toad just as much as a rose by any other name is still a rose.
And still, we miss the toad, especially when we see handyman projects looming in the near future.
So the only good toad is a Toad-in-a-Hole. Growing up, I invented this breakfast dish for my brother and sister. My sister named it Sunshine Eggs because the egg reminded her of the sun. Later, I discovered, to my disappointment, that the English invented it long ago and named it Toad-in-a-Hole because the egg looked like a toad's bottom as it jumps in a hole, in this case, a toast hole. To this day, we love Sunshine Eggs or whatever you want to call it. I'm sure when Nephew Ben gets old enough, he too will eat Sunshine Eggs.

Sunshine Eggs aka Toad-in-a-Hole
Serves: 1

softened butter
1 slice of bread
1 egg

Heat a medium skillet over medium high heat. Spread softened butter over both sides of the bread slice. Place slice in skillet. With a 2" biscuit cutter, cut a hole from the middle of the bread.
Lay the bread circle to the side of the bread and let it toast in the skillet. Break the egg into the hole. Cook on one side for 3 minutes. Flip and cook until egg yolk is cooked through to your liking. Slide onto a plate and put the toasted bread circle slightly askew on the egg. You have one sunshine egg.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Country Ham Thank-you

After church on Sunday, the preacher's wife, a dear friend, like a mother actually, asked me to walk over to her house. She asked her granddaughter to open the garage and get the same thing for me that another lady had received. Sounded a little cryptic, but Sam knew what she meant. She returned a few minutes later, with a country ham. "Here's a little something to thank you for the good time New Years Eve". She handed me a boneless trimmed uncooked country ham. Penn's brand, yum. She explained how to cook it, actually bake it. Simply put the whole ham in a pan, add a little orange juice and bake at 350 until the internal temperature is 160 degrees. Slice and fry up in a skillet. How easy. She went on to explain that all the work had been done on this ham, about a 6 pounder, if I had to guess. Work would have been cutting off the skin, trimming back the excess fat layer, and working around the bone. I had read that there are other steps like soaking, and scrubbing the outer skin which sounded tiresome. All was eliminated with this trimmed boneless country ham. My previous lunch idea vanished as I held the ham. I thanked her and walked to my car dreaming of buttermilk biscuits, applesauce which I had made the day before, and slices of country ham.
When I got home I promptly got out my tattered Martha White cookbook and turned to my favorite buttermilk biscuit recipe while contemplating the country ham. I didn't really want to cook the whole thing. My husband suggested slicing it on my electric slicer and portioning the slices then vacuum sealing the portions and freezing. Sounded like a plan. A plan I would tackle after I had my biscuits and country ham for lunch.
I sliced off 6 1/4" thick slices; my husband hovering over my left shoulder like a hungry hound.
A skillet went on the stove and some apple cider was poured in. I turned the stove to medium heat and added the slices. I gently cooked them (fancy cooks would call it braising) with the lid on for about 20 minutes. I should tell you right here I've never cooked an uncooked country ham before so I was following instinct on this one. The apple cider was just something I thought would be tasty after hearing Sharon's recipe with orange juice. After the slices had turned the pale pink of cooked country ham, I removed them to a plate, turned the heat to medium high and reduced the cider to a syrupy consistency. Then, I turned each slice in the salty sweet glaze and topped the hot biscuits with a couple slices. David topped his ham with cheese. I topped mine with applesauce. A heavenly lunch indeed.
We both decided that a country ham thank-you was mighty fine.
I think the above description should get you through the ham recipe with no problems.
The applesauce was made from Arkansas Black apples which I had purchased from a nearby orchard. Funny, when I bit into an apple the first of November, it nearly took out a tooth. The apples were so hard I couldn't even push one onto my apple peeler. I let the two pecks-worth sit in the bottom of my double door refrigerator for a couple months and something wonderful happened, they softened up. The applesauce from those Arkansas Blacks is almost mousse-like, fabulous to eat. I might also add, Arkansas Blacks are beautiful to behold. The skin is burgundy to blackish red. In my dream orchard that I wrote about yesterday, Arkansas Black apples would have a place of prominence in my large orchard.
For the applesauce I simply peeled one peck of apples, then quartered them. I put the unseeded quarters into a 7 quart pot, added about 2 cups of water, turned them to medium heat, covered with a lid and let them simmer away for about 30 minutes. Surprisingly, that is all the time they needed to cook down. I then ran them through my food mill using the coarse plate which held back all the seeds. I poured the sauce back into the pot. Brown sugar, about 2 cups, 2 tsp of ground cinnamon, and 2 tsp of ground coriander was also added. I reheated the applesauce to incorporate the sugar and spices, and then put in freezer-safe containers and tucked them in among the other goodies such as peaches and cherries.
The biscuit recipe is from the Martha White Southern Sampler cookbook. I used butter-flavored shortening for the first time and the biscuits were golden brown and buttery tasting. In the south we don't turn up our noses to shortening. It's indispensible for many classics of southern cuisine. Paula has her butter, I now have my butter-flavored shortening. I used a 3" cookie cutter to cut out the biscuits; the biscuits were sandwich-size and they were more conducive to holding the long slices of cider-glazed country ham.

Buttermilk Sandwich Biscuits
Makes: 8 sandwich biscuits with a few little baby biscuits from the scraps
3/4 cup butter-flavored shortening
4 cups sifted self-rising flour (I use White Lily brand)
1-2/3 cups buttermilk
melted butter
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Grease a large baking sheet with low sides (I use a silpat and then I don't have to grease) Blend the shortening into the flour using two dinner knives or a pastry blender, leaving large pea-sized pieces of shortening. Add buttermilk and stir with a serving fork only until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured board. Lightly flour the top of the dough and pat out (use your fingertips) into a square; fold in half; pat out again to a 1/2" thickness. A light hand makes a light biscuit.
Cut into 3" rounds with a floured cutter. Use a metal spatula to help transfer the biscuits to the prepared sheet.
Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown. Brush the tops with melted butter.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dreaming about Seeds, Dirt, and Gardens

The Christmas tree is nestled in its' box until next year. The hundreds of glass-blown birds that decorated the tree are sleeping in their paper-lined boxes until they come out next December. All stocking are carefully folded and put away. So what's a gal to do in January in the heart of Kentucky?
Easy! Pull out the seed catalogs that she has carefully been stacking since their arrival mid-December. Even though I snuck a peek during the holidays in a couple of my favorites, the tradition is to stack them up and not look until January. So, now it's time to dream about seeds, dirt, and gardens.
We finalized house plans around Thanksgiving. We finished interviewing builders days before Christmas. Last week, we made our final decision on the builder of choice. He is a great person (stay tuned to whether that assessment changes as the months go by!) with a creative mind. My test of the final two builder choices was this: I made a change to the second floor and didn't tell them until last weeks meeting. Builder A (who wasn't picked) stared at me and said, "whatever you want". I asked how the change would affect cost, roofline, room dimensions, and he could not off the cuff give me an answer. I pressed him with "what if I have other design changes/ideas during this process?" To which he replied, "Hey, if you got the money, I'll do whatever you want." I went on, "Even if it doesn't make design sense?" At that point, he realized that he had said too much. I thought that he said exactly what was on his mind and I didn't like it.
Builder B answered all my questions. I shot the design sense question at him. He said, he would no matter what point out anything that seemed flawed, or unsensible. Exactly, what I wanted to hear, someone who would evaluate my creative brainstorms. He got the job. Oh, the change that I wanted? A sleeping porch off the the upstairs guest bedroom, and it is going to be worked in with minimal cost. Yay.
So, house stuff is on my mind. But, honestly, I have over a hundred acres of dirt at my disposal, and I am dreaming BIG. I had thought of putting in tobacco, about an acre, because the property was formerly a tobacco farm. I researched tobacco, the work involved, the cost as well, and really I just don't want to get into that. You decide: One acre of tobacco equals 7,400 hundred plants with fertilizer needs, pesticide control, workers (no way that one person could maintain an acre by herself), several big steps during the season of topping, cutting, curing, and grading. Steps that generations of tobacco growers have passed down through their families. I am not so arrogant to think that I could figure this out in a season. So, an acre produces about 2,000 pounds of tobacco at 1.75 per pound which is $3,500 dollars. Now, take away fertilizer costs, pest control, worker payments and what do you get? Not much for an acre of hard work. I'm sure that it works out if you plant several acres, but for me, it's just not worth it. I think I will plant a few plants as an homage to the farm's former crop. So then on to sorghum.
I am still thinking of planting an acre of sorghum. I have no $$ in mind for this at all. I have heard through the years that it is labor intensive, and costly, but on the other hand, the birds love the seed heads, the deer would love the stalks, and I think it would look pretty. It has a lot more to offer than tobacco. My husband on the other hand, thinks it is a bad idea. I'll consider it more before making a final decision.
Last year my big success, and it was funny how many people loved looking at the tidy rows of onions and leeks, were allium crops. This weekend Anthony Bourdain was in Spain at an onion farm, my husband dreamed of us planting acres and acres of onions and having an onion festival or party like Anthony's friends in Spain. See how contagious this seed dreaming can be?
Then, yesterday I opened a catalog on orchard trees. I think a small apple orchard would be nice. Of course, dreaming allows one to plant many orchards, and a vineyard, and let's not forget the raspberry, currant, and strawberry patches. Oh, some native plantings of pawpaw, and persimmon would be nice too. Oh, how I love to dream about seeds, dirt and gardens...