The Humble Yet Exalted Lentil

Courtesy Wikimedia

It’s practicing for fall out there today. We started the morning with a thunderstorm at 5:45. It poured for a couple of hours, then settled into sprinkles long enough so Oakley and I could do about a 20 minute walk.

If the weather chooses to practice for fall, then I will practice cooking for it. I decided to try a new lentil curry recipe in the slow cooker for dinner tonight. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Among the legumes, lentils are arguably the easiest to cook. No need to soak them; just put them in a pot with water or stock and seasonings as suggested by a recipe or your culinary intuition and you have the beginnings of a meal in less than an hour. The red lentils cook in less than thirty minutes, so be aware of that if you choose them.  Check the liquid levels frequently, though, since they absorb like little sponges.

For a basic soup, sauté an onion and garlic to taste in olive oil in a good sized pot. Add the lentils and stock or water in a 2:1 ratio (i.e. 2 cups liquid to 1 cup lentils). I put in salt at the beginning. Some wait until the end due to concerns about toughness, but I’ve never had that happen.  When the lentils are done, correct for salt if needed, and add in some lemon juice and chopped spinach. The heat from the lentils will cook the spinach quickly.

Some cooks use a ham bone or bacon (precooked) to add flavor. Not my personal jam, but you do you.

Oh, you’re not in the mood for soup? If you soak and grind the lentils, you can make the crepe’s Indian cousin the dosa. Any good Indian website will have a recipe. I’ve not tried making them myself, but the restaurant we go to has them on the lunch buffet fairly frequently, so I will tell you they’re quite yummy.

Thanks to their ease in preparation and versatility, lentils have graced tables since 11,000 BCE. Native to central and western, Asia, they spread via trade routes across Europe and into India.  They can be grown in tough conditions and can return nitrogen to the soil after depletion by two or three seasons of cereal crops such as corn or wheat. They don’t need a lot of water, either, in order to thrive.

Nutritionally, they are quite the little powerhouses. According to the USDA, 100 grams of cooked lentils provide 116 calories, 10 grams of fiber, and lots of B vitamins. The type of fiber may be beneficial in balancing blood sugar levels for people living with diabetes. And they have quite a bit of protein, too.

All that nutrition, versatility, easy to grow, available in almost any grocery store? There is nothing to dislike about lentils.

 

 

 

The Longest Month

 

accomplishment action adventure atmosphere
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I have never been so happy to see a February go the way of the wind as I have been with this one. One ice storm after another; a day of winds at 35 MPH sustained with gusts nearing 60; no real thaw; all but a handful of days were as grey and dreary as a Dickens novel. Usually, the weather modulates in February, but this year all the meteorological events that prohibit outdoors activity trooped through the soybean field one after another.

The usual efforts involving DVDs, music, and decluttering projects to counteract the trapped feeling provided little help. I spent one post-ice storm day rage baking because I didn’t know what else to do with myself. Slick roads prevented any attempts at escape to anywhere a person could go for an outing. For that matter, we couldn’t even get down the blessed driveway due to the layers of snow and ice. The mixed apple-berry crisp turned out well, though. The olive oil and lemon cake landed on the dry side. If I’m going to invest calories and carbs in a cake, it had better be quite moist. This wasn’t and didn’t have much flavor. It was so bad that I wanted to throw it out for the birds. Hubby ate it with strawberry jam. He said it was good that way and that he didn’t want to waste it. Very well. However,  I’ll try a different recipe next time.

I’m going through my cookbooks and trying to think springtime thoughts, but when you have howling winds and daytime highs at least ten degrees below average, it gets tough.

This last Friday was rather warmish, and some signs of spring teased us before the temperatures began yesterday’s slide. Oakley’s been inspecting every inch of the field with me in tow, getting whiffs of scents left by the wildlife trotting through the back yard while posting his own messages. An odd brave blade of grass has turned green, and a few more of its fellows undergo the same transformation on a daily basis.

Eventually, the season will change. We have a cold week ahead of us, and next weekend will be warmer but with precipitation. Will we have a semi-normal spring, or will we go from heating to cooling in a single bound?

I don’t know. We’ll just have to see.

 

 

 

Gross

photo of crocodile in water
Photo by Aldo Picaso on Pexels.com

If we’d stumbled across a gator on our walk this morning, I would not have been the least surprised. Startled as hell, yes, but not surprised. I don’t know what the numbers were, but they must have been decidedly tropical. You know, the ones that make a person wonder why “gross” isn’t a widely used meteorological term.

Walking this morning was akin to wrestling with a blanked washed in hot water. Once we were five steps from the car, the beads of sweat formed rivulets that converged into rivers flowing south from my torso.

This was sweat. Not the sexy little trickle nestled in a fitness model’s cleavage. Not the sheen of an athlete. This was stinky, dirty, wait-thirty minutes-until-it-stops-or-you’ll- start-again sweat. My shirt stuck to my back and my hair stuck to my head by the time we completed the half-hour trail. I wondered if moss grew anywhere on my body.

Adding to the hilarity was my daily round of hot flashes, the bane of women in their middle years. (For younger readers and those not of a persuasion to flashes, it can be anything from feeling like you’re going to spontaneously combust for about thirty seconds to long, sweaty affairs that feel like you’re running a fever lasting up to fifteen minutes. Mine are in the former category and for some weird reason I get them in the morning, mostly. A lot of ladies get them at night. Now you know what they’re like. You’re welcome.) And we were inundated with bugs that mistook the herbal repellant for a condiment.

Oakley and I still put in our thirty minutes. He panted, but was otherwise unscathed. I jacked up the air conditioning in the car for our comfort and safety on the way home.  When we came through the door, he drank a half bowl of water and flopped in front of the fan.

I felt the same after a shower and a glass of iced tea. Once again, life became a bearable proposition.

At this writing, we have the first in a series of thunderstorms slated for this afternoon moving through the area. They herald a break in this heat that’s hung around since last Friday.

We welcome it, indeed.

Soup Weather

 

 

Image courtesy Old Design Shop

 

We had the first snow this past Sunday. Huge half-formed flakes escorted by grey rain fell from the sky the better part of the morning.

Most Sundays or Saturdays, Oakley and I walk with a friend, but the cold damp weather vetoed it. I did a short yoga practice and made a pot of refrigerator soup.

No need to immerse appliances in boiling water to make stock. There is no real recipe for it. If you want to be fancy, call it soupe bonne femme, the good wife’s soup. Go through your fridge. The half serving of peas, celery that’s gone limp, half an onion from a salad made a few days ago can go in the pot. You found a couple of carrots that have seen better days? Peel, trim, chop, and introduce them to their colleagues in the pot. Cabbage? Chop it finally and add that. Of course you can add potatoes, pasta, rice, whatever suits your fancy.

For stock, I used a generous tablespoon of bouillon paste and water to cover. I also poured in a can of crushed tomatoes. Salt. Pepper. Garlic, either fresh or powdered.  If you want to make it a whole meal, canned white beans or chickpeas will round it out as will leftover bits of roast meat or chicken if you need to use those up.

Simmer until everything is done. The longer, the better in order to blend the flavors. Serve with some good bread or crackers, perhaps some cheese, and enjoy at a table with an outside view. Accompany with gratitude for being inside and having a full belly, and follow up with fruit for dessert.

Carrots

Image courtesy of Old Design Shop

 

I’m past the saturation point of stories about Harvey. The hurricane. I can always watch the gentle movie with James Stewart, but I am burnt toast from the images from Texas. I donated a little, and will donate more. But today I needed a break. I played in the garden and let the sun and the dirt work their magic.

Today’s lunch consisted of egg salad on whole wheat bread (Hubby) or crisp bread from Ikea (me) with the carrots that I pulled this morning. Oakley had a couple of hardboiled eggs with a scoop of the freeze-dried dog food on the side. He doesn’t like carrots unless they’ve been grated and mixed with other food. Even then, he still manages to pick them out and spit them out on the mat beneath his dish. I don’t have to step in a pile of them or chewed-up peas twice to get the hint.

These weren’t just any carrots, however. These had history behind them. Before the 1600’s, carrots were more likely to be white or purple than orange. I’d bought them from the store where I do my big bi-weekly shopping, but wanted to try growing them. They taste a little more carrot-y. The unexpected visuals of purple and white delighted the eye even if they temporarily confound the mind .

Carrots became predominately orange at that time due to hybridization and selective breeding.  According to The Carrot Museum, the story was that the scientists wanted to honor the House of Orange, the royal family of the Netherlands, and so developed the carrots in the color we know best today. That hasn’t been substantiated, but I still think it’s kind of cool.

Whether it’s true or not, carrots still provide beta-carotene among many other antioxidants (depends on the color) as well as being pretty.

They were fairly easy to grow. They were a little smaller than expected due to inadvertent overcrowding. Next year, I will thin them out, or take tweezers to the seeds. They aren’t much bigger than grains of salt and love to stick to your slightly sweaty fingers.

Even though planting them was a bit challenging, the tops waving in the breeze looked really pretty this summer. The ivory and purple roots added a note of royalty to lunch. More wait in the garden, waving the summer on in the wind.

Harvest Season

Image courtesy of Old Design Shop

I pulled the last of the radishes a couple of days ago, then planted the next crop. Note to self: heed the directions concerning thinning well to avoid overblown tops and mere roots, not rosy round radishes. Maybe using tweezers to place the seeds with a higher degree of accuracy was a little obsessive-compulsive, but these should work better.

If the cherry tomatoes will perform their alchemy and turn from little emeralds to small rubies, that would be great. There are a lot of them, but none of them seem to be ripening with any haste. If all else fails by frost time, green salsa is an option.

We have had a couple rounds of green beans. Steamed. Butter. Lemon. No need to do anything fancier. I’d hoped to have enough to freeze some for the winter, but not to be this year. I’ll have my gardening chops back next year. We’ll do better then.

I had to severely weed the other day. The alleged French mesclun greens bore no resemblance to any salad green I’ve ever seen. I gave them back to the earth and to the critters who eat them.

Carrots still hide underground. They haven’t started peeking above the soil yet. It’s still early. When I was on the wedding frenzy the other day I inadvertently pulled one. It was pretty tasty. This year I planted heirloom carrots that come in purple and white as well as the best known orange. They should liven meals up a little.

Basil has been prolific. I’ll be able to get some more pesto and pasta sauce out of the plants.

The broccoli? I don’t know about that. It put forth some impressive foliage, but doesn’t have anything resembling broccoli yet.

So we wait and see what happens for second harvest.

Monday Musings: the Garden Variety Edition

Been a busy but not unpleasantly so time here in the soybean field. Visitors, walks, and work in the garden have kept me occupied the last couple of weeks.

The cherry tomatoes set blossoms this last week. We wait, not very patiently, for the tiny green bumps to transform into lush red spheres. No need to do much with them. The little balls of sunshine need no special prep. Maybe slice in half before you put them in your salad, but no need to do much else.

Green beans have unfurled themselves. They are ready for picking. Not as many as I’d hoped for, but it’s still early in the harvest. They can easily produce until first frost, usually mid-October around here. Simple is best. I love them stir fried with garlic. Or steamed with olive oil and lemon juice.

Lettuce and basil maintain their lovely leafiness, and will likely keep producing for a while. They look like parasol-balancing ladies at a garden party. Both have enhanced salads and pasta sauces with their presence. I should have enough basil to make and freeze pesto for winter. I use walnuts instead of pine nuts. Easier to find and less expensive.

The radishes bolted. I’ll pull them, then plant another round of seeds in another week or so when it cools off. Note to self: thin them out when they sprout. They had good flavor, but emerged from the soil in odd thin shapes due to crowding. The tiny sprouts enliven salads and sandwiches by their spicy presence. A few on your tuna goes a long way towards elevating it from the mundane.

Carrots are nowhere near ready. They push themselves to the surface when they are.   Root veggies, except for radishes. are usually the last ones to mature, so no surprise there.

Broccoli? This is the first year I tried to grow it. The foliage is impressive, but anything that looks like what I buy at the store hasn’t emerged yet. We wait.

On  a whim, I bought a pack of French mesclun seeds. I don’t know what I unleashed when I sowed them, but what came up looked neither French or mesclun. I’m cleaning that out as it emerges. Note to self: don’t buy seeds on supermarket end caps from growers you’ve never heard of, even if there are references to France of French anything.

Oakley isn’t a big veggie eater. He sits outside with me, or finds grass to nibble. When I finish pulling and watering, I sit on the back step. He sits next to me. I rub his ears with my cleaner hand, and we watch the sun lengthen the rays across the fields together.

 

 

 

Garden Report for 5/31/17

Hubby built the raised bed for the garden last week. It’s 4’x8’x18″ and can accommodate all kinds of root depth.

We filled it with some fine organic soil premixed with sand (for drainage) and compost (for nutrients). After we shoveled the beautiful dirt into the bed frame, I tucked the seeds into it. Short and root crops go along the eastern edge. The taller, bushier ones went to the west side. I  watered, watered some more, and hoped for the best. We have tomatoes, some herbs, broccoli, lettuce, green beans, radishes, heirloom carrots, and spinach incubating in their lovely bed. Now we wait.

image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

I hadn’t planted in seven springs. The last garden came into being just after Orion made his journey across the Rainbow Bridge. In the haze of early grief,  I half-heartedly poked holes in the ground, stuck the young plants into them, and watered. And walked away. And still had decent produce, including a zucchini the size of a baseball bat. Really. As I cleaned out the bed that fall, I bumped something buried in the leaves with my foot. There was the zucchini. Hubby and I didn’t know if we should cook with it, bronze it for posterity, or apply for an open carry permit.

I think I made some bread with it, and soup.  Good soup, if I remember correctly.

This year, I wanted, needed to get my hands back into the dirt. I needed to do something, anything to counterbalance the craziness in the world. Working with the cycle of nature keeps me sane, reminds me that all things will pass, eventually, and to have patience as they come to fruition.

Plus as the meme says, I’ll get tomatoes. You can’t beat that.

The Attack of the Perfect Woman

She dwells inside of us all, observing, judging, censuring. She thrives on making us miserable. 

She is the Perfect Woman. You know, that part of your psyche formed by the mean teacher, a critical relative, or exposure to Martha Stewart at a young age. She turns the other parts of your personality against each other, driving you into the chocolate or absenthe. That one.

The bee-yatch reared her head today while I researched an article on climate change for the newsletter. I took a quiz to determine the size of my carbon footprint. The results were not what I expected. I already use cloth bags, group errands together, put in state of the art toilets and lights and 2×6 framing to accommodate extra insulation when we built this house 15 years ago. I shop in bulk, buy locally when possible, eat about 80% vegetarian, and maybe buy clothes once or twice a year. Hubby does an impeccable job of maintaining my car, too. 

But nooo….that wasn’t good enough. According to this quiz, I should be walking more or taking public transportation (neat trick when one lives two miles out of town off a road mistaken for a drag strip and have no access to public transit, except for the mini-bus service geared towards senior and people with disabilities); composting (nice thought, but we get enough critters in the yard without enticement); and buying a lot more locally grown food (nice thought, but there are three confirmed dislikers of kale, one of the few things that can grow in Illinois in winter, and I’ve never been able to find locally grown citrus).

And then the litany of failure in the Perfect Woman’s eyes began. What kind of environmentalist are you? Oh, you preach a good sermon, but see all these counterproductive things that you do?

I took a second look at the scores while she tried to shred my self esteem. Except for the necessity of driving and the lack of gardening, I still ranked above average, even though the website conspired with Perfect Woman to shred my confidence to ribbons. I quietly told her to STFU and took Oakley to the forest preserve. 

 

The Need to Carry On

It finally started thawing here yesterday. We have another round of something slushy late tonight or tomorrow morning, but it should melt quickly. John Denver said it best: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOonHGpHLms

And do you care what’s happening around you? Do your senses know the changes when they come? Can you see yourself reflected in the seasons? Can you understand the need to carry on? 

We’re about two weeks out from the primary for governor here in Illinois. I can’t get excited about any of the candidates on either side. Governor Quinn took over when Rod Blagojevich was impeached. I’ll likely vote Green Party unless something really drastic happens. Otherwise, it’s a question of Coke or Pepsi.

Right now, we desperately need legislators who will take stands on a couple of important environmental issues. One involves a proposed fracking operation downstate. The other involves pit mining near Starved Rock State Park, about forty-five minutes west of me. The only thing that will come of either is pollution and birth defects. In my lifetime, there has been fire where Lake Erie literally caught on fire; Three Mile Island; and this winter, the Elk River poisoning. It pains me that nothing has been learned by this. 

There’s also the need to stand up to Monsanto and how they are poisoning the food supply. The Greens do not accept corporate contributions, which assures me that they are not in the pockets of the people who brought us Roundup. We know personally of several farm families that have been ravaged by cancer or neurological problems that can’t be explained by modern medicine. Enough, already.

In all honesty, yes, I am tired. I fully comprehend and understand the need to carry on. I’ve been fighting this since I was in upper elementary grades. Discreetly, because when one is raised by a parent who makes Ronald Reagan look like Bernie Sanders, that’s what you do. I am hurting from seeing the gains made in environmental protection thrown out in the name of lining a donor’s pockets.

I’ll tell you what. I’m going to have a little nap for the fatigue and lots of chocolate for the soul. And I will see you at the computer later and at the voting booth on March 18 and in November.