Peaches & Cream

We all love peaches & cream! It’s the perfect complexion. It’s a life without problems. It’s an easy dessert. If you don’t love one of those, you’re unusual. Most of us want something in our lives to be peachy.

I can’t necessarily make your life peachy, but I can fill a biscuit with peach butter. Actually, that’s probably not true because I’m eating the peaches as quickly as they arrive. It’s peach season and the fruit is too good to chop, mash, cook, or pickle.

I’ve been placing a freshly sliced peach atop arugula from the garden. When I add a few walnuts and some goat cheese, I have an amazingly flavorful salad! The arugula from my garden is so peppery it brings a slight burn to the sides of my tongue. The peach adds a perfect balance of sweet and tart and the goat cheese delivers a delightful creaminess. A light splash of vinaigrette dressing might take this up a notch, but I seldom bother.

Like pears, I prefer peaches ripe enough for the juice to stream down my chin. If I’m using them in salad, I peel them. This is just a personal preference. You can leave the peel on both peaches and pears.

Anyway, back to the peach butter. If I ever get enough peaches and enough time on my hands to coincide, I’m going to try a recipe I found on a page ripped from The Progressive Farmer magazine and left to yellow in my cousin’s kitchen. It looks like it’s from the 1950s.

There are only two ingredients – peaches and sugar. The approximate ratio is 3 cups of ripe peach pulp to 2 cups of sugar boiled together until it’s thick and smooth. After that you place the hot mixture in sterilized hot jars and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

I already have some jars on hand and this sounds simple enough. Not just simple, it sounds so yummy my mouth is watering. Of course that could be because I just picked up a peach in my kitchen to snap a photo and the smell wafted past my nose.

Do I think I’ll improve the peaches by making peach butter? No! I don’t think you can improve on a perfectly ripe, fresh peach.

But it sure will make my biscuit better!

Update: I made a batch of peach butter. I used 3 cups of peach pulp (8 peaches) and 3/4 cup sugar. Using 2 cups of sugar would have been waaaay to much for my taste.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Progressive_Farmer

How Does Your Garden Grow?

How does your garden grow? My dad loved to alter the nursery rhyme “Mary, Mary, quite contrary…. “ I’m sure you remember it:
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

Dad’s version began “Cheri, Cheri, quite contrary.” Hearing him say that phrase is ingrained in my mind. That doesn’t mean I’ve spent a lot of time gardening, but it may or may not mean I’ve spent a lot of time being contrary. This year that is shifting. Herbs on the back porch are not enough. I just dug up brand new sod to plant a vegetable garden.

arugula
Arugula from my garden.

In early March, I sat on my neighbor’s porch drinking rosé and describing new landscaping plans for my back yard. Two weeks later, we’d been ordered to stay home and I quickly realized many links in the food chain are weak. What if they break? I grew up on a farm helping my grandmother dig potatoes and my great aunts shell peas. My next thought was, I need to plant a garden and get some chickens.

I immediately ordered an electric hand tiller, hoe, shovel, some rabbit wire, fence poles, and a variety of seeds. Panic buying had just begun and already seeds were scarce. If I had done my normal amount of planning, everything would have been gone. I stuck to basics defined by availability and kept the garden to dimensions that would fit within one roll of rabbit wire.

garden_prep

By the time everything arrived and I had the soil prepped, it was early May. Farmers’ markets were opening with vegetables ready to sell. I hadn’t started the seeds in pots. I hadn’t yet planted anything. It felt like I was months behind. I just kept telling myself it would be okay. We have a long growing season in the South. The timing will be fine.

A month later, I have beautiful arugula ready to eat! In a couple of days I’ll begin harvesting lettuce. And soon I’ll have cherry tomatoes, summer squash, and zucchini to add to my salad. Eventually, there will be carrots and green beans to harvest. Some days, I wish I’d planted more. Some days my back is tired from weeding and I’m glad I kept it small.

When I lived in an apartment, I could not have done this. When I had a yard filled with sweet gum trees, it would have taken too long and been too expensive to get started. But even with those obstacles, I managed to get my hands dirty growing herbs and peppers. There’s something healing about the smell and feel of fresh soil. I only wear gloves if fences or stickers are involved. Otherwise, I prefer my bare hands in the soil.

fenced garden

Thirty years ago, I grew my first herbs in small clay pots placed in a little red wagon my kids had outgrown. I would move the wagon around as needed to get optimum sun. I loved watching them grow. I loved the smells. I loved having them available for cooking. And they gave me an opportunity to play in the dirt. I’ve had herbs on my back porch most summers ever since.

How does YOUR garden grow?

It’s not too late to plant some herbs in pots if you’d like to give it a try. If you’re staying home during the pandemic, you can order seed starting kits online and have clay pots and potting soil delivered along with a Walmart grocery order…maybe. Shortages and delays in shipping still exist so a starter kit will let you get seedlings started while you locate and obtain the supplies you need to transplant them into pots.

I like to start seeds outdoors so that I don’t have to transition them to outdoor temperatures and light later. My plants start out accustomed to heat and humidity. If you want to grow your herbs indoors, it will be more appropriate to start indoors. Or if you plant when it’s cold outside, you can slowly transition the starter pots with increasing amounts of heat and light before you begin to transplant.

Most years, I plant basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, and mint. Sometimes I add oregano, dill, parsley, cilantro, or chives to the mix. This year, the selection is a bit different due to availability. A starter kit may not allow you flexibility to substitute, but a variety of kits are available to mix and match. All of the herbs listed above will thrive in a pot as will tarragon, lavender, and lemon balm.

herbs

What you’ll need for seeds or plants

While I’m selecting plants, I purchase some potting soil. Miracle-Gro® offers a whole line of soils for containers. If you’re not confident you’ll water consistently, choose a mix that helps control moisture.

Specialty soils are pricey. If budget is a concern, there are other options. Last year, I chose a sandy inexpensive soil in 40 lb bags from the hardware store. The bags ran about $4 each. I used it for all of my plants including a large rubber tree, ivy, and a couple of pineapples. It’s hard to judge whether the cheaper soil affected growth rate, but everything was alive and well through the fall and early winter.

Of course you need something to put that soil in. I get the best results from clay pots with a drain hole in the bottom, but I use whatever I have handy. Herbs grow quickly so it’s okay to transplant seedlings directly into a fairly large planter.

To plant, I place a few small rocks in the bottom of each container to keep soil from blocking the drain. I partially fill a pot with potting soil, set the herbs in the pot then finish filling the container with soil pressing lightly around the seedlings to secure them.

For the next few days, I water diligently. Then I go to a somewhat haphazard watering schedule keeping an eye out for drooping or yellow leaves to let me know if I’m on track. When the leaves droop, I water. If the leaves turn yellow, I stop watering for a few days. You can also test the soil with your finger to determine whether it’s dry or moist.

Where to grow

My back porch leads directly into my kitchen so it’s a great place for pots of herbs. Much of it gets direct afternoon sun, but there are partially shaded spots where I put plants that can’t tolerate direct sun.

When you purchase seeds, the package will tell you the ideal conditions for your plant. If you purchase plants, they typically have an insert in the pot telling you how much sun and water are best for that particular species. If either of these is missing such information, it is readily available online.

A sunny spot doesn’t have to be outside. It could be in front of a window or patio door. You’ll just want to avoid placing pots too near heat and air vents. To protect your floor, counter, or furniture use a saucer underneath to catch draining water. Inside herbs add a wonderful aroma to any room.

If you don’t have space near a window, look for a nook or cranny in which you can place a grow light. Non-functioning fireplaces make a fantastic growing space. The built-in china cabinets sometimes found in old houses can be adapted as well. Your eyes and imagination will most likely lead to the perfect spot.

There’s no denying this is a stressful time. Connecting to the earth and watching the wonder of natural growth lifts my spirits. Smelling appetizing aromas pleases my senses. Whether a garden grows in the ground in the back yard or pots on the porch, cultivating and maintaining it is a healthy and welcome pastime.

I am happy with how my garden grows. I still haven’t bought any chickens.

https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/herb-garden/5068.html

https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/gardening-under-lights/5080.html

https://www.hgtv.com/outdoors/gardens/garden-styles-and-types/types-of-grow-lights-for-indoor-plants

https://geturbanleaf.com/shop/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

It’s a Good Day for Chicken Soup!

It’s a good day for chicken soup! It’s raining outside and I have a cold…or something. I don’t feel horrible, but I don’t feel good. At first my sinuses hurt, then my throat got scratchy, and now I’m getting a cough, but certainly not the worst I’ve ever had. I really just want to go to sleep.
Soup
Sometimes it’s really hard to know when to give in, go to bed and rest, and when to push on. I was able to work out this morning. That didn’t seem to increase my cough or leave me feeling drained. I knocked out some work and went to the post office. It was when I got back that I began to feel draggy and my cough increased.

I’ve been chugging orange juice and it seems like the perfect time to add some chicken soup! Of course I don’t really feel like a lengthy cooking session.

Luckily, I keep organic chicken stock and rice in the pantry and I always have baby carrots in the fridge. Today, I also have celery. It may not look quite the same as my favorite recipe, but I can have some warm, tasty soup ready in a matter of minutes.

Here’s my simple soup making plan:
32 oz box Imagine Low Sodium Free Range Chicken Broth
3/4 cup water
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp Italian Herbs paste
Pinch of black pepper
12 – 15 baby carrots, sliced into thin rounds
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
2/3 cup quick-cooking Texmati rice

Pour chicken broth and water into a large saucepan. Add salt, garlic powder, herb paste, and pepper, then stir. Bring to a boil. Add carrots, celery, and rice to broth and stir. Cover and turn heat to low. Allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Serve hot.

If I had a leftover chicken breast or a roasted chicken from the grocery store, I’d tear it into small pieces and add it to the broth along with the rice. This isn’t the first time I’ve fixed chicken soup in a pinch. Sometimes I add a little turmeric or substitute curry powder for the Italian spices. Sometimes I throw in fresh rosemary and sage in place of the herb paste or top things off with arugula or green peas. Of course there are a million options. Since I’m feeling under the weather, the point is to use what’s handy and keep it simple.

I’m planning to pair the soup with a piece of homemade gluten-free bread from the freezer and a cup of hot herbal tea…followed by a nap.

I should be back to normal in no time. I won’t be reaching for the meds unless some complication develops. After all, this is Get Smart About Antibiotics Week – when the CDC reminds us that we overuse and misuse antibiotics which, by the way, are not helpful for colds and flu in the first place.

So if you’re feeling just a bit under the weather, won’t you join me for a cup of comforting chicken soup?


http://www.hhnmag.com/articles/6720-hospitals-around-the-world-unite-to-battle-antibiotic-overuse

The Benefits of Cooking – Part 1: The Food

One of my kids recently asked why we’re called Cooking2Thrive rather than Eating2Thrive? Given how much all of us like to eat, it’s a valid question. Not only that, but say the word cook and lots of folks want to run for the hills ’cause it sounds time consuming and difficult so why would we want that in our name?

Since the question has been posed, I’m going to answer it with a series I’ll call The Benefits of Cooking.

So here goes – The Benefits of Cooking – Part 1

The Food

I like to focus on rewards, and one of the rewards of cooking is having great tasting food to eat. When I say cooking, I am referring to the act of preparing food using basic ingredients like meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, rice, polenta, honey, herbs, spices, milk, cheese, and yogurt. If you grew up eating home-cooked meals, your mouth may start watering just thinking about Sunday dinner. It’s hard to argue that food made from fresh ingredients does not taste better than food that has been processed to stay consistent in appearance through weeks or months of transportation and shelf-life.

I grew up helping my grandmother in the garden. Every time I see a pale, hard, overly trucked tomato in the grocery store, I cringe as my memory plays the contrasting picture of a soft, dark red, full flavored tomato just plucked from the vine. You know, the kind that sends juice running down your chin when you take a bite! It’s the sort of memory that has many of us attempting to grow tomatoes on the porch when we don’t have a yard. I still miss my grandmother’s tomato juice canned in glass and sitting on a shelf in the basement. That tomato juice started with those vine-ripened tomatoes and ended up as a critical ingredient in my grandmother’s chili or sometimes disappeared as I gulped it thick and sweet from a glass when it was chilled.

tomatoes

The juiciness of a strawberry, the brightness of a sugar snap pea, the crispness of a golden delicious apple with tender skin – all are better when ripened before picking and prepared fresh. As a child, some of my favorite dishes were corn-on-the-cob, fried okra, baked sweet potatoes, green rice, and beef & noodles. Oh, and don’t forget the lemon meringue pie. I requested it for every birthday. My sister preferred cherry pie made with bing cherries from a tree in the yard. One year my mother discovered a fresh peach pie recipe. We bought local peaches in season, peeled them, sliced them, and placed them in a sweetened gelatin atop her flaky piecrust. Topped with whipped cream, this cold pie showcased the uncooked peaches perfectly.

These days I’m quite fond of boneless skinless chicken thighs seasoned with jerk spices, seared in coconut oil, and baked in a cast iron skillet with a little chicken broth, curried pork chops and polenta, mashed butternut squash, roasted cauliflower with a hint of crushed red pepper, steamed sugar snap peas, and my own version of my grandmother’s chili. Since cooking is the easiest way to consume my favorites often, I’m happy to spend some time in the kitchen.

Not only does freshly prepared food taste better, it makes it easier to avoid flavor enhancing chemicals, high sodium content, preservatives, and excess sugars. Even if you’re a great label reader, when you purchase processed food products, you may be consuming chemicals that are not required to be listed or specified on the label. Obviously, most of these won’t kill you on the spot or people would be dropping like flies, so there’s no need to be alarmist and say never ever buy prepared convenience foods from the store or eat what a friend is serving at a party, but it is naive to believe that these chemicals do not alter your body chemistry or affect your brain’s response to food.

And it may not take a large amount of an additive to change how you feel. A study cited in the April 2010 “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise” reported that runners who rinsed their mouths with a carbohydrate solution right before and every 15 minutes during an hour-long treadmill session ran faster and further than those who rinsed with a placebo. The brain senses incoming energy “which may lower the perceived effort,” says Ian Rollo, PH.D. one of the study’s authors.1 Since it appears that a little dab will do it, here in a nation with increasing amounts of chronic disease, more studies of the potential negative effects of chemicals in our diet on long-term health are direly needed. In the meantime, it is up to you to decide how much risk you’re willing to take.

Cooking from fresh ingredients is also the easiest way to avoid allergens, gluten, and lactose or limit sodium, sugar, and starchy carbs. Of course, just because you cook the food doesn’t mean these items will magically be absent, but it does mean you have control over what’s included and it can eliminate the effort of reading and rereading labels.

If the word cooking scares you, remember that many fresh ingredients require little or no enhancement. Zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, lettuce, arugula, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, onion, bell peppers, avocados, radishes, and snow peas for instance can be eaten with just a tiny sprinkle of salt or nothing at all. Fruit may only require peeling.

Even if you purchase water-packed tuna or smoked brisket from a BBQ restaurant and only “cook” a salad to go with it, you can add a tremendous amount of fresh flavor and nutrients to your diet. If that leads you to explore new combinations of flavors and preparations, then you’ll have captured the essence of being a cook. A little curiosity, a bit of practice, and a willingness to sometimes throw the whole thing in the trash are where most great cooks start.

And we all have near disasters or major failures along the way. Most of us burn ourselves, catch a dishtowel on fire, cover the floor in flour, burn cookies, leave out the baking powder, or put too much salt in something from time to time. Often it is from those failures that we learn the most.

I’m going to let this conclude Part 1. As you can see, the benefits of cooking include: Great tasting food and easy elimination of chemicals, allergens, inflammatory foods and lots of label reading. But wait, there’s more! Next up: The Benefits of Cooking – Part 2: The Fun. If you think I’ve forgotten about baking, think again. This is a series, remember, we’ll get to that in a bit.

You’ll find the rest of the series right here at Cooking2Thrive. Look forward to having you back!

Sincerely,
Cheri

1 Rollo, Ian, Matthew Cole, Richard Miller, and Clyde Williams. “Influence of Mouth Rinsing a Carbohydrate Solution on 1-h Running Performance.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: April 2010 – Volume 42 – Issue 4 – Pp 798-804. American College of Sports Medicine, Apr. 2010. Web. 26 Apr. 2012..