Thursday, March 24, 2011

Orange Ya Glad It’s Spring?!

“Salmon ya glad it’s spring” and “grapefruit ya glad it’s spring” just don’t have the same fun play on words that “orange ya glad it’s spring” denotes.

With the riotous cacophony of pink and lavender and white and yellow bursting forth as the vernal equinox as we know it, one of this Farmer’s favorite colors, a salmon/orange/coral/coppery tinged hue, is underscored in the spring landscape but still there in its slightest and even its boldest forms as well. From native azaleas, such as the Florida Flame, to pansies, snaps, tulips, and such, this fun color complements so many shades, hues, and tints on the spring stage.

Take my garden for example, Liberty ‘Bronze’ snaps are just starting to show color as the ‘Antique Shades’ and ‘Citrus Mix’ pansies are waxing. New fiddleheads of the autumn fern, the buds and early flowers of the coral ‘Knock Out’ rose, and the salmon-rust variegation in huechera leaves all play the tone-on-tone game quite beautifully. 

Often when making arrangements, I gather my stems, buds, and branches and allow them to condition, or take up water before arranging. A creamware dish served as my conditioning oasis before arranging in a silver rose bowl. Arrangers note: if you don’t have a silver rose bowl, find one! I have a small collection that I’ve inherited, stolen, borrowed, and found; and these little to medium sized containers make for excellent arrangement holders! They have a slotted top that gives support to buds and blooms and roses make wonderful mounds in them, but I use them for everything floral and cherish them so… I’ve even found them at antique and estate sales for next to nothing! A classic Southern staple for “doing flowers” as we say down here. I digress but with some progress I hope…

Arranging these darling buds in a rose bowl or leaving them in a dish floating and facing upward is just pleasing and delightful. The assortment of shades in my favorite color makes me smile that much more. I’m certainly glad it’s spring… orange you?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sink-side Splendor

The kitchen sink – epicenter of the kitchen and the house. We wash, prepare, cook, and serve from this spot, spending many an hour at this oasis. I love to keep little mementoes of my garden forays at the sink, reminding me of what’s blooming just outside my door. Making arrangements for my house at the sink gives me leftover blossoms, buds, and leaves to stick in my cache of containers awaiting a fresh floral look. And since the sink is such a personal, and well used piece of the home, my collection of “specials” is a close hand reminder of dear ones.

Mema’s silver tray, Aunt Irene’s mother-of-pearl salt and pepper shakers, a bud vase I stole from Mimi, a sprinkling of blue and white, a favorite Mason’s ware platter and a various and a sundry assortment of soaps stand guard as stylish and nostalgic items. The seasons change but my assortment doesn’t too much. These items are neutral enough – silver, Depression glass, transferware or blue and white – to withstand the changing times and uphold the blooms of the current season. Red berries at Christmas, greens in the winter, spring buds and summer herbs, and autumnal hued leaves all find their place at my sink-side sanctuary.

Spring has sprung in Dixie and, as it always does, the season burst forth at a full gallop from the earliest camellias and such to the bulbs and blossoms of azaleas, spireas, and hydrangeas to come. Right now, some of my favorite camellias are maxed out with blooms and I cannot resist having a few looking up at me as I make tea or wash dishes. The end of the Narcissus explosion is waning but a few are left, along with the tiny grape hyacinths. This rare blue color in the horticulture world pairs so well with the vibrant chartreuse of huechera leaves and creeping Jenny coming to life in the garden. Blue and white vases are so neutral for arrangements thus are often my choice to host the blooms of the current season.

Cherry, forsythia, camellias, huechera, and grape hyacinths make up the mélange of a larger arrangement, now gracing my buffet a deux corps in the sunroom. The light hits the stamen of the camellias just right, giving their corral pink hue a salmon glow throughout the day.  That one bunch of grape hyacinths makes the bouquet to me, and the combo of colors and textures pleases the eye and nose as long as this arrangement lasts.

Welcome spring! Come into our lives with aspiration, inspiration, and revitalization. Capture the essence of the season, the darling buds of, well March now, and spruce up your sink-side décor. From this Farmer’s kitchen sink and garden, happy, happy spring!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Visiting an Old Post

From the archives....

Camellias, click HERE.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Easy as 1-2-3… 4! Pineapple Upside Down Cake

If man could only have one pan, it would probably have to be an iron skillet. You can fry, bake, sear and roast with these workhorses of the kitchen. Baking, as in cornbread, is most often thought of when using these pans for non-frying purposes, but there is a class of cakes that take the cake when it comes to iron skillet cooking, and the Pineapple Upside Down Cake is one of them.  


I actually made this cake for Mama and Mimi’s birthday. They share the same birthday and don’t always want the same cake for their special day, but, this one is a great neutral for our family – everyone likes it! Mimi makes hers in an iron skillet as did Mema, her mother. This is one of those desserts with one arm reaching back to the “Ol’ South” via an iron skillet and another broadly stepping into the mid-twentieth century with the Baby Boomers and the craze for canned fruit! It seems that by the 1980’s and 90’s fresh fruit was hard to come by in Suburbia, USA, but thankfully those days are waning and fresh, seasonal produce is here to stay!

Yet, one canned fruit this Farmer relies heavily on is canned pineapple. It tastes great, bakes marvelously, and is consistently good throughout the year. I’ve tried this recipe with freshly cored pineapple (I can’t core it prettily, so I rely on the grocer) but there is still some toughness that the fresh pineapple retains. The canned has marinated in juice for a while so it must be good! Plus, it is in perfect rings which makes a lovely presentation. As for the cherries, fresh or canned work just fine… if you like a bar cherry, go with canned. If you like a fresh one, then go with those… comes down to personal preference my dears, personal preference.

As to how this cake is easy as 1-2-3-4 comes from the cake itself. An old standby in the cake world, the 1-2-3-4 Cake derives its name from the amounts in its ingredients list. If you memorize this cake or have it on hand, you’ll always have a super cake to bake for your friends and family. This cake is cake at is simplest and its best. I don’t know how to describe it other than as a cake; that’s what it is! If you are boxed cake mix kind of folks, then it’s somewhat akin to a yellow cake mix; and, since this cake is so deliciously neutral, it is the perfect candidate for Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

The next trick to the trade that makes this Farmer’s Pineapple Upside Down Cake so yummy is the “frying” of the pineapple. Get your griddle hot, your butter melted and place the rings in the pan. A generous sprinkling of brown sugar and a cherry in the center of each ring makes the pineapple brown and crisp up a bit, thus creating a crunchy, tangy, ab fab layer to the top of your cake. The molasses in the brown sugar (that’s what makes it brown, ps) and the sugar caramelize…need I go on?

Once the pineapple has browned and is showing some golden goodness, remove it from the heat and pour your batter over the “fried” pineapple and bake at 350 until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean – about 20-25 minutes. Allow the cake to cool for about 10 minutes and then skillfully flip your upside down cake right side up! Slice and enjoy! A scoop of vanilla bean ice cream never hurts! Easy as 1-2-3-4 from this Farmer’s kitchen to yours!

Pineapple Upside Down Cake and 1-2-3-4 Cake
1 can of cored pineapple rings, about 8 rings
8 cherries
½ a cup of light brown sugar
½ a stick of butter

  • Melt butter in an iron skillet on medium low heat and “fry” pineapple in butter. Sprinkle pineapple with brown sugar. Add a cherry to the center of each pineapple ring. Lightly lift pineapple to check for browning and remove from heat once edges are browned and sugar dissolved…about 5 minutes max.
1 cup of whole milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2 sticks of unsalted butter
2 cups of sugar
3 cups of sifted cake flour (Swan’s  Down) *** NOTE: the back of the Swan’s Down box has this recipe!
3 teaspoons of baking powder
4 eggs
½ teaspoon of salt

  • Preheat oven to 350. Butter and lightly flour three 9”layer cake pans. Sift cake flour then lightly spoon 3 cups of cake flour into measuring cup.
  • Cream butter in a large bowl. Gradually add sugar, creaming until light and fluffy.
  • Sift the already sifted cake flour with baking powder and salt. Add eggs one at a time to creamed mixture, beating well after each addition.
  • Add flour mixture alternately with milk and vanilla, blending after each addition until smooth. Don’t overbeat, for this makes a dry cake. Pour into prepared cake pans. For the Pineapple Upside Down Cake, pour batter into iron skillet on top of pineapple and sugar mixture to just about halfway up the skillet. Bake remaining cake in separate pans or make additional Pineapple Upside Down Cakes!
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans or skillet for 10 minutes and then remove cakes.
  • Flip the cake from the iron skillet onto a cake plate or wax paper. Serve warm with ice cream! Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mimi’s Chicken Chow Mein – Ashiya, Japan to the A and P

After graduating from Alabama Polytechnic Institute (a.k.a. Auburn) and marrying my grandmother, my grandfather joined the Air Force. Starting their married lives in Ashiya, Japan, on the southern island of Kyushu, Mimi and Granddaddy were much akin to many newlyweds.  

They were setting up house, planning a family, learning to cook, so on and so forth, yet, being in post World War II Japan influenced these Southern newlyweds more than they would ever realize. One of those influences was in the kitchen, where Mimi began her culinary prowess in the land of bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and soy sauce. This was the 1950’s and upon return to the South, those Japanese and other Asian sways may still be found in her cooking today.  

“Where we were in Japan, Southern Japan, we were on the same latitude lines as home, so the seasons, produce, and flora were much of the same as home… azaleas, camellias, etc. all grew and bloomed there.”  Mimi said. Besides that, many Southerners eat many things over rice i.e. Creole, red beans, gumbo, and stews, so that part of the cuisine was a tête-à-tête between the two cultures for sure. Mimi had actually found her love of Asian cuisine in a tiny Chinese restaurant in Greensboro, North Carolina while attending Greensboro College. A Chinese soup served at this restaurant was called Chicken Chow Mein. Upon arrival in Japan, she discovered a version of the soup there, and lucky for us she did!

Harkening back to the fun they had in Japan, Mimi began making her version of Chicken Chow Mein for my mother and her siblings while they were growing up. “I needed a dish that was easy, inexpensive, and delicious but could feed a lot of people… I shopped in the Asian section of the A and P, and with a little memory and imagination, I concocted my version of Chicken Chow Mein…with a little help from recipes on the cans, too.”

This dish a la Mimi is one of my favorites, for it is so simple to make, absolutely tasty, and can be stored in the freezer with ease for another time. It is seasonally neutral, and we eat it throughout the year. It is perfect on a gray winter day and just fine on a summer evening. When I’m ill, I of course want a bowl of Mimi’s Chicken Chow Mein to ward off my ailments as any good chicken soup should do. 

With any dish, the “debris,” as a dear friend in Montgomery calls it, or condiments, sides and garnish, just make the dish that much better. Chow Mein noodles, a bed of fluffy white rice, and an additional dash of soy sauce are just perfect with Mimi’s Japanese swayed soup. The crunch of the noodles and crispy veggies along with the smooth texture and depth of the broth and soy sauce are all just lovely together. A secret is not to overcook the celery and onion, keeping them a bit crisp still. This plays off the rice and chicken for a melody of textures as well as flavors. All in all, this is a home run in our family and I hope it can be for yours. 

Douzo meshiagare or “enjoy your meal” in Japanese. From this Farmer’s Mimi to you, try some of her Chicken Chow Mein for a meal that is sure to please.

Mimi’s Chicken Chow Mein

  • 2 cups of cooked, chopped chicken (boil two chicken breasts on medium heat in a quart of chicken broth with bone in, some rib meat and fat). Leftover chicken or a rotisserie chicken can be used as well. Remove from broth and retain broth for further cooking.
  • 2 cups of largely chopped celery
  • 2 cups of largely chopped onion
  • Cook celery and onions in chicken broth until slightly tender.
  • Add 1 can of drained bean sprouts
  • Add 1 can of drained, sliced water chestnuts
  • Add 1 can of drained bamboo shoots
  • Add the chopped chicken to broth and vegetables and stir.
  • Fill a lidded quart jar with water and 1/3 cup of self rising flour. Shake until flour has dissolved in the water and add to the chicken and vegetables. Season as desired.
  • Bring the chicken, vegetables, and added flour and water to a boil until it begins to thicken. Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Serve over rice and garnish with Chow Mein noodles and additional soy for flavor. Enjoy!
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