Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mystery plants

This year I vowed to only grow things I could eat, but I strayed from that promise a couple weekends ago at the farmers market when I bought four mystery flowers from one of the vendors who didn't seem to be selling much. I knew they were Zinnias, but not whether they were the powdery mildew-resistent kind or what colors they were. Nor even how to take care of them. So into the pots they went... two in the big pot with the remnant lemon thyme that lived through the winter and a tomato plant. One in a new square container. And the fourth in a shallow ceramic dish without drainage. I was happy to find they were all different colors. The first to open a vibrant orange, then a dusty rosey orange with a double layer of petals, then a spunky magenta and finally a dustier pink. They're quite tall,but so far none are drooping. I think I see another flower bud on the bright orange one. Whatever happens next will be an adventure, but I'm hoping for a table bouquet by the end of summer.

And then there's my mum. I couldn't take my eyes off it last year at a big shin-dig over at the Bruce. It was a stunning pale violet mound so dense that I couldn't see the leaves. Well, it declined rather quickly after I set it in my window sill. I reckon I wasn't giving it enough to drink. And then there were a bunch of wooley caterpillars that kept emerging from the plant's depths. So outside it went. But it didn't like that either. Soon it lost all the flowers and a little while after that the leaves dried up. It got cold and I considered throwing it away. Several times. In fact, I was pretty sure I did throw it away. But early this spring, there was the dried out tumble-weed of a plant, in its original thin plastic pot, minus the purple tin foil and gaudy lavendar bow. I took to snapping off the twigs, hoping to come upon a pliable stem. But I was able to crack off the entire plant, save four stubby branches that were too thick to break. I don't know why I didn't throw it away at this point. It seemed entirely lifeless. But either a glimmer of hope, (or more likely), my bad habit of shutting down the part of my brain that acknowledges a lost life form, caused me to leave the sorry pot on the patio.

In early March I noticed a little tuft of dark green coming from the base of the plant. Not exactly out of the four nubs I've left weeks before, but it looked promising. The tuft expanded; weed-like in its determination and amorphic appearance. One morning as I waited for Joe to drive us to work, I noticed several tufts with identical leaves in our front lawn, near where the plant sat on the front step the summer before. It's just a stupid weed that I've been watering!? That afternoon I starting yanking the tender green leaves out of the pot. It wasn't as easy to uproot as I thought. So again, I left the thing alone. The tuft of green, now pruned, came back even bushier than before. In the next few weeks it had replaced all that I'd torn out with smaller leaves and fuller branches and what appeared to be the tiniest of buds. This whole month I've been watering it along with my other plants-- but none of the buds have grown or opened.
Well. This weekend I was still doubting the indentity of this curious creature, when I noticed some of the buds had begun to unfurl tiny, spikey, purple petals.
Yay! The mum is coming back!

Monday, May 28, 2007


Don't laugh, but I think this is the bulk of this year's blueberry harvest. I wasn't sure when they would be ripe... but Sunday the purple-colored poo all over the patio told me the birds thought they were ready to eat. So I picked them all, and Joe moved the bush to the front step so the remaining green berries can ripen in peace.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Audubon State Park

Saturday was a near-perfect day: Joe and I slept in (a little) after a long-- long-- Friday night. Then we packed up a picnic lunch and headed with my folks to the John James Audubon Park in Henderson, Ky. We dined in the shade of Sassafrass and Maple trees on sandwiches, spring mix salad with basamic vinaigrette, blue corn chips, guacamole, farm-stand strawberries and chocolate chip angel food. Bluebirds were nesting across the way and Carolina wrens were chudle-lee-chudleing in the distance.
Before heading out on a hike, we stopped to watch the hummingbird feeders.
The top photo has a male ruby-throat, and this photo shows two females.
After our hike, we enjoyed the AC in the bird observation deck, where I saw a tufted titmouse (he was shy, so his tuft is down), a pileated woodpecker, chickadees, jays and cardinals.
In the museum, they had some interesting animals, like this Eastern Box Turtle eating a grape. And this ultra-adorable frog.

Mennonite Shopping part 2

Friday morning my folks and I headed to Fairview and Elkton. Mom wanted to get sticky buns from Schlabachs Bakery and her multi-grain cereal from the Country Pantry.

I was really surprised by the variety of foods they sold-- from gummy fried eggs, to japanese veggie chips to pickled brussels sprouts to elk meat. I'll be going back soon... I want to find out how this store in the middle of the country got to selling so many foods that are hard to come by outside big cities.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Another nest

On our way to work I'd been noticing this mommy killdeer hanging out in the corner of a gravel lot... soon I noticed she was always there. I convinced Joe that we needed to stop and take a picture to capture her nest-protecting skills in pixels. This is her, standing akimbo, about to launch into a very dramatic wing-flapping performance. Killdeers lead predators and peepers (like myself) away from their eggs, which sit vulnerably on the ground, by pretending to be injured. She had this way of flapping her wings that made it look as if she were on her back. Throughout the performance, she squeaked frantically until two more killdeer appeared on the scene and joined in the action.

I still got to see the nest though :-)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


In the big field where the puma kitty likes to hang out, Joe noticed a big purple flower on the way back from work. I let him take this picture. He managed to capture it without getting stuck by its sharp spines. We have a couple of goldfinches in this area -- I see them on occasion, swooping by with their rhythmic "cheep-cheep-cheep ... cheep-cheep-cheep." Danny Vowell, the New Era's backyard bird expert, says they love to eat thistle seed from a big sock. I've wanted to get such a sock since I heard about it, but maybe I'll have to content myself with the blues for now.

Spring cleaning

Now I know that what I'm about to post will probably not go over really well with a lot of you... and it is only tangentially related to food. But Joe decided to straighten up our back porch this morning -- since my parents are coming tomorrow. In one corner there was a white sheet bundled up... from when I covered my plants during the cold snap -- er two months ago --(See Jennifer, I really don't like to clean!) In addition, there's a giant green tarp that we used to wrap our couch during our move to Kentucky -- uh, 1 1/2 years ago. We didn't want to throw it away, but once those things are unfolded they can be pretty cumbersome and tricky to fold back into a manageable shape.

Well. I put the sheet in the washing machine and as I extracted several pieces of moss from it, I wondered if there had been a little bird fixing to make a nest there. When I came back outside, Joe was moving the green tarp out of the corner to sweep.

Then he started. I turned to look where he was looking. And we saw:

I think the usual reaction for a girl who meets a mouse in an unexpected place is to shriek. And I can almost hear a collective groan from moms and aunts across cyberspace. But I squealed with delight and ran to get my camera. I can't help it, I think he's adorable. And confused. His prolonged pondering made him even more amusing. He could have run along the fence to freedom. The way was wide open. But he seemed to think that we would get him somehow. Then he considred rebuilding the little nest we'd wrecked, gathering the grass and moss in his tiny paws. Then, after attempting to scale the brick wall, getting stuck in a cob web and skittering in several quivering mouse circles, he did the unthinkable.

He ran straight at me.
Over my bare foot.
And into the neighbor's yard. It was the funniest thing ever. And I really wish I was quick enough on the draw to get that mouse-on-foot photo, but I guess I really have a lot to learn as an amateur nature photographer.
Once the mouse was gone we noticed a big black widow spider was hanging next to a huge yellow egg. While Joe bashed its brains out with the broom, I slipped back inside before another creature decided to escape via the Emily Foot Highway.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Spring rolls

My coworker once told me that if I were a food, I'd be a spring roll. After getting over the weirdness of being likened to something edible, I decided it's not a bad food to be... Healthy, fresh, ethnic. Well, today I decided to make some.

The wrappers come dried in a plastic disc and they soften after about a minute or two of soaking in warm water. I filled them with salad shrimp (discovered in the back of the freezer), pan fried tofu strips, julienned cucumber and basil and mint from my container garden.

For a dipping sauce I combined a little splash of fish sauce with a double splash of soy sauce, about 2 Tbs sugar, half a lime, 2 Tbs peanut butter, a tiny bit of sesame oil and a splash of rice vinegar. I nuked it to soften the peanut butter, then stirred til it was smooth.

They came out pretty good...I gobbled the first one down as Joe gobbled down two. BUt the herbs were a little overpowering. I probably had 20 mint and basil burps after eating that little roll. Should have filled them with a nice buffer of rice noodles like they do at the restaurants.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Our backyard just got bluer

On Friday I notices some of the bluberries, which have been green for a month, began to blush. Today I snapped this shot... visions of bluberry muffins dancing on my tongue. Yes. My taste buds have an imagination.
As if one miracle wasn't enough, we've finally got our long-awaited, much sought-after, often anticipated pair of bluebirds at the nest box. Here's the female in action. Sorry my hand was so shaky.

Calico bunnies

Joe and I drove out to Todd County on Saturday morning to explore some Mennonite businesses. I like shopping off U.S. 68/80, where all the venues are marked with makeshift billboards that say things like "Books 3/4 mile ---> 1843" or "Wood furniture, bicycles, flowers." We first went to the Country Barn, a popular garden center with beautiful hanging baskets, trays of seedling herbs and farm produce. We always find this nursery by looking for the Jefferson Davis monument that spikes the horizon behind it. This is the South, remember.

We followed a string of signs and arrows to the house of a Mennonite family that sells books. We purchased a Kentucky Bird book that has kept me entertained for hours this weekend. Then we drove further down 1843 to the furnature/bicycle/flower shop. At first, we couldn't find the shop keepers but just beyond a greenhouse we saw minature horses and cages full of very active speckled creatures. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Cinnamon success

I had a craving for cinnamon rolls... so I made some. Based on an Allrecipes.com recipe.

2 1/2 cups flour
1 pkg yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup sugar (brown probably would have been better)
3/4 tsp salt
1 room temp egg
cinnamon, sugar, butter for filling

Dissolve yeast in water for 10 minutes. Add yeast to sugar, salt, egg and 1 cup flour. stir until blended, then add the rest of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time. Once it's mixed, knead the dough for 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface. Let it rest 10 minutes, covered with a damp towel. Butter an 8 X 8 pan. Roll out the dough into a large rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Rub on the butter. Shake on the cinnamon, and sugar until it is well coated, then roll it up along the longer edge. Cut into 12 pieces... or 13 like me and cram them into the greased pan.

Let them rise 45 minutes, covered, in the oven or another warm draftless place.

Then bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes at 350.

I think I over cooked mine slightly.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

German Potato Salad

Granted, the French have invented a lot of good things-- snails baked in a pool of butter, potatoes deep fried in fat, and stale bread dunked in egg batter and pan fried -- these I like. But the day they invented mayonnaise was not a bright spot in french culinary history. With that in mind, I present a German Potato Salad adapted from All Recipes...

3 lbs red potatoes, cubed
2 cups white vinegar
18 Tbs sugar (sorry, don't know how to convert)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
3 medium onions, chopped
a bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
12 slices bacon, crumbled

I didn't want to heat up the house too much, so I nuked my potatoes in batches.
In a skillet, as used some (not all) the bacon grease to saute my onions and a handful of parsely. Once they were browned, I added the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Once it was bubbling, I added as many potatoes as would fit and let them simmer a little. I removed the potatoes with a slotted spoon and added more until the whole batch had taken a nice hot vinegar bath. Bacon and parsley added last.

Farmers Market

Last night Joe and I worked the night shift at the newspaper... and that included covering the grand opening of Hoptown's new farmers market. Here's Joe in his element.

While he did some interviews, I took pictures of cute things. The little boy, Hank, managed to get jambalaya almost everywhere besides his mouth. He did pick up a piece of sausage from the ground and eat it though :-)

My coworker's grandpa was the guest of honor -- he ran a fruit stand where the market now is for the last 30 something years.

There were only nine vendors there ... nothing compared to Urbana's farmer's market we used to frequent when we were at the U of I. But it's nice (in my humble opinion) that the city is making an effort to revitalize a pretty dreary downtown. After the reporting was done, I bought a strawberry pecan bread and some zinnias... which I plan to plant today.

Friday, May 11, 2007


I already knew several reasons my cilantro wasn't doing well... For one, I grew it from seed in my house and it got very gangly from lack of light. Then I transferred it outside and it had a bit of culture shock with a week of full sun which turned into a week of no sun and nighttime frosts. Half its little leaves were face-down in the dirt and the rest had to learn to be strong and stretch toward the sun.

But if those weren't enough obstacles, this morning I discovered several other reasons my cilantro isn't doing well. Can you spot the three critters in this photo?
And if you're as crazy as me... you can watch my inchworm video:

I like the part where the ant knocks him off his course.

Shirley's sandwich

Joe and I ate dinner at the Martin's last night. Shirley made her special sandwiches, adapted from something she learned from Rachel Ray.
She used:
Ciabatta bread, toasted and sliced
chicken breasts with salt, pepper and Mrs. Dash
pan fried green tomatoes (cooked in the chicken juices)
pepper jack cheese

These have to be squished a little before they can fit into my mouth, but the jaw workout is worth it :-) I think it is my new favorite sandwich!

Wontons revisited

One more Wonton recipe:
1 lb 7 percent fat ground turkey
15 white mushrooms, chopped
1 cup frozen cauliflower, thawed and chopped
1/4 sweet onion, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp garlic salt
about 1/3 to 1/2 bottle garlic teriaki marinade.

Saute veggies, sprinkled with salt and pepper, until most of the moisture is evaporated.

Mix veggies with ground turkey, garlic salt and teriaki.

Fold a small spoonful into wonton wrappers, and seal edge with water.
Boil until they look done. 5-10 minutes.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Kentucky Coconut baked chicken

I had a brainstorm in the shower this morning... I had some coconut because I made some skillet granola. Also, I had trimmed those giganto chicken breasts from the chicken marsala down to a more manageable size, leaving me with probably a pound of chicken. I've also been going crazy with that Kentucky Sweet Rub I bought from Joe Wilson. Gathered all those ingredients together with one of the persian limes rolling around in my crisper... and I made Tropi-tucky chicken nuggets. I served them with corn and zucchini and big chunks of watermelon.

To make:
Cut chicken breast into bite-sized pieces
In a bowl, stir up enough shredded coconut, flour, and seasoning (mine is a barbecue rub of garlic, onion, sugar, cinnamon, pepper, salt and some mystery spices) to coat your chicken.

Spray a cookie sheet with no-stick spray. Dredge your chicken in the coconut mixture, then place on cookie sheet. Give it a spritz or two of oil then bake at 400 degrees until the coconut starts to darken, then flip and cook a minute or so until it looks done. Squeeze lime juice over the top.

It was a singular triumph for me because Joe said it didn't need any condiments.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

cookies and chicken marsala

I made some cookies last Friday night. They turned out a little differently than planned, because I accidentally used baking powder rather than soda. But I kind of like the way they didn't spread. And they were soft. For my recipe, see an old post.

Matt liked them.

Thursday night I finally made chicken marsala, per my cousin Rich's recipe. There was a whole bunch of very bad-smelling steam as the alcohol cooked off. This was disconcerting, because I usually smell and savor the aromas of my meals while I cook them, in anticipation of the taste. Also, the chicken breasts I bought were gargantuan. I don't even want to know what kind of hormones that had to feed that clucker to get it so big. I thought there were four breasts in the package, but there were only 2.
So even though I complained that the meal was too ugly to photograph and that my sauce didn't thicken as it was supposed to... it actually tasted very good. So mission accomplished.

Chicken Marsala
1 bottle marsala wine
2 chicken breasts
3/4 pound mushrooms, halved
olive oil for frying
2 Tbs butter at room temp

Rich recommended washing the chicken with salt to "micro scrub" away the germs. So I did that. I wash my mushrooms because there's all kinds of peat stuck to them, and I don't want to eat peat. If you don't believe in washing mushrooms, as I know some don't, then that's your business :-)

Heat oil in a large pan on medium high heat. When it's hot, add mushrooms and chicken breasts. Brown the chicken lightly, flip and repeat. Then add the wine, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring once in a while. Or if you're me, stir constantly because you don't have a non-stick pan big enough to hold all that. When the wine turns a little sludgey and bubbles, add another 1/2 cup. Repeat process until wine is gone.

Remove from heat, and put chicken and shrooms on a platter. Put the sauce back on until it just begins to boil, take off heat and add butter. Let it melt and the sauce is supposed to thicken. (mine didn't because I probably did something wrong along the way.) Even if it doesn't thicken, it will taste good because it has butter in it. Pour sauce over the chicken and enjoy!
Thanks Rich for the recipe!

berry update

Having my blueberry bush and strawberry stow-aways stay in our living room for a week during the cold snap seems to have paid off. I think... but dare not be certain... I might actually have some blueberries this year.

Right now they're still in the greenberry stage. But I intend to do whatever it takes to get them on to the delicious blue phase of their brief lives. Even if that means picking off and squishing aphids by hand. (Four down so far.) Or keeping track of them each day to make sure no greedy bug or bird has stolen a premature prize.

Now, what should I make with my roughly 87 blueberries whenever they come to fruition? Pancakes? Trifle? Muffins? 5 bowls of cereal?

Something fishy on the cheap

I made catfish nuggets... Kroger had a big package of random catfish pieces for $1.50. Thinking back to living food-stamp-cheap, I couldn't pass up a deal.

I rolled them in Italian style bread crumbs (leftover from when Joe made his mom's meatballs). I dumped some cayenne pepper and garlic salt into the mix too. I sprayed the pan with olive oil (found extra-virgin spray for 2 dollars at Big Lots!) Then gave a couple squirts to the fish nuggets. Popped it in the oven at 400 until they looked done.

Joe's column

Runners come in all forms, as seen Saturday
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — My ego wasn’t deflated by losing to my little brother. Jack “B. Nimble” Parrino finished Nashville’s Country Music Half-Marathon in 1 hour, 45 minutes and 28 seconds. I came across the line at 1:55:14. Jack walked part of his race. Big brother was running the whole time. But defeat in sibling rivalry is easily dealt with.
“I can still bench more than you, punk.” A change of subject and I’m good again. What really knocked my wind out was the stampede of runners who bounded past me on the 13.1-mile course.
First, there was the elderly gentleman:
“Scuse me, fella, comin through.”
Then the guy on his cell phone:
“Hold on a sec, honey, I’ve got to get past this dead spot here.”
The teenager in braces:
“Like OK, Mr. So-and-So. This is like the fast lane.”
The woman old enough to be my mother:
“You need to change your underwear, don’t you?”
One dude dug my sense of fashion:
“Hey bro, love the T-shirt. How do you like mine?”
I looked down at the number 2659 pinned to my T-shirt.
It should have been 2,867 for all the runners who finished ahead of me. So many people passed me along the way I began to make a study of them. Footracers come in an amazing range of body types. Sure, there were plenty of prototypes with gangly limbs and bony cheeks. But there was also the jiggly-thighed, multi-chinned anti-type.
One runner was so pudgy that I momentarily believed the course had taken a detour through funhouse mirrors. That butterball passed me too.
I didn’t see any sumo wrestlers but they might have caught me too if the race was 15 miles.
Two brutes with linebackers’ shoulders nearly sandwiched me on their way by. Their hurry was understandable given the curvaceous brunettes who jogged past a minute earlier.
Some bodies were hard to make out because of a costume. One girl ran the entire 13.1 miles dressed like a giant pita chip. A valiant effort saved me from losing to her.
There is one other runner I remember passing. At 8 miles, I spotted a towering figure lumbering slowly down the middle of the street.
As I pulled up alongside and glanced up at him, I realized I was shoulder to Shoulder with football great Eddie George.
Eddie, the former Ohio State University and Tennessee Titans running back, tuned me out until I shouted “Go Buckeyes.”
He flashed a quick smile and turned his attention back to the road. I smiled too and trotted ahead, resisting the urge to strike a Heisman pose.

JOE PARRINO is a staff writer for the Kentucky New Era. He can be reached by telephone at 887-3239 or by e-mail at jparrino@kentuckynewera.com.