The Cherry Tree, Bewildered Birds and a Recipe

The cherry tree is in the center of my backyard. The blossoms in April bring hope and the joy of springtime.

The tree draws the robins who march around it possessively and perch on its branches. When it produces red cherries, I pause in wonder, reminded to give thanks for God’s creation, the work of this tree to produce fruit. 

Cherries

The tree has also been a source of frustration. It has had years of little fruit due to a late cold snap, a couple years of brown rot when all the cherries became moldy (and I had to learn how to clean and prune the tree). When the tree has produced good fruit, the birds got there first.

This year the tree looked to have abundant fruit. My husband and I netted some of the branches. It is tricky to net a large tree. We managed to cover several branches on one side of the tree. On the other side of the tree I tied a large, plastic owl to a branch, tied a number of CDs to branches throughout the tree (they spin and cast reflections), tied bells and chimes to other branches.

We were out of town when the cherries began to have an appeal for the birds. My neighbor said there was a great ruckus. She wondered if the birds had devoured the cherries. 

To my delight the birds were leaving the cherries to ripen. After that first day they didn’t come near the tree. I thought that birds might go for the upper branches that I left free of any devices. But they didn’t. They waited until I had finished picking the lower branches and took down all my devices. 

Nine quarts of cherries are pitted and frozen. We will have cherry pies and cherry crisp in the fall and winter. On Sunday I added cherries to pannukakku [Finnish oven pancake]. I have adapted a family recipe to make it gluten and dairy free. Here is my recipe:

4 Tbsp. butter ( ½ stick)

22 cherries pitted and cut in half

1 Tbsp. arrowroot powder

1 Tbsp brown sugar

4 eggs

½ cup sugar

2/3 cup brown rice flour

¼ tsp. salt

2 cups almond milk

Preheat the oven at 400 degrees. Place the butter in a 9”x13” baking dish and place in the oven to melt—and take out when completely melted. Combine the arrowroot powder and brown sugar in a small bowl. Add the cherries and mix. In another bowl, beat the eggs and add the sugar. Beat well. Add the flour and salt, and beat well. Stir in the cherries. Add the almond milk and mix well. Pour batter into the hot baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, until edges of pancake are beginning to brown. Serve hot.

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Linking this post to Anita’s Inspire Me Monday, Sue’s image-in-ing and Tuesdays with a Twist.

Experiments in Planting and Cooking

The Lord has blessed the earth with an amazing array of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Each produces seed according to its kind. I am thankful!

I have begun to start a few tomato plants indoors, and I am looking forward to their fruit. I was happy to see that seed saved from currant tomatoes several years ago has sprouted.

In the past year I have been paying more attention to making flavorful meals. We have not gone out to eat since last year’s lockdown. A couple of times we have ordered a meal and picked it up curbside. At home I am experimenting with new recipes—and enjoying it.

On Saturdays I sometimes catch a couple of cooking shows. I picked up some tips from Lydia’s Kitchen. I watched how she made chicken parmesan (only she didn’t use parmesan cheese). After flattening boneless and skinless chicken thighs with a wooden tool, she dredged them in flour and then dipped them in beaten egg. Final dip was in breadcrumbs. She fried the chicken thighs in olive oil (both sides) and placed them in a baking dish. She added fresh tomato slices on the chicken, followed by pieces of fontina cheese. The chicken was place in a 350° oven and baked for about 40 minutes. I made this recipe as I remembered it. There might have been additional tomato sauce. I was content with the tomato slices, and we savored the chicken.

Another show I enjoy is New Scan Cooking. The chef takes the viewer on a tour of northern Norway, sometimes cooking on an outdoor grill. He shared his favorite coffee recipe and of course I took notice. What do you think of adding an egg yolk to coffee? I haven’t tried it yet, but will sometime. Here is the recipe. 

I am sharing this post with the Five Minute Friday writing community and the Hearth and Soul Link Party .

Quercetin: A Flavonoid in Onions

Onions are a staple in my kitchen. If I am frying a portion of salmon. I like to have sauteed onions in the pan. Onions add flavor to almost every kind of meat. I place onions in the cavity of a chicken or a turkey before roasting. I have a nice recipe for a skillet cornbread with onions.

The Bible mentions onions also. The children of Israel recalled the food they had enjoyed in Egypt and missed as they traveled through the wilderness.

We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic. Numbers 11:5

What is the nutritional value of an onion? According to my Nutrition Almanac cooked, mature onions are a source of minerals (calcium, phosphorus, potassium) and a little vitamin A and C.

They also contain a flavonoid, quercetin, that has been discussed in relation to covid-19.

Molly Knudsen, MS, RDN wrote an article titled, What Makes Onions So Healthy? It’s Quercetin. Click here to read about the health benefits of onions and quercetin.

I have read that quercetin assists the absorption of zinc into cells, assisting the immune system to fight off viral infections. 

An article on web MD lists six foods that contain quercetin. I was happy to see apples and blueberries on the list.

Although the practice of medicine offers many treatments for disease, I believe my role as wife and mother is to encourage diet and nutrition that supports the immune system. God has designed our body with an intricate immune system and has given us resources in fruits and vegetables. 

My husband and I are in the age bracket more susceptible to covid-19. We are taking vitamin supplements in addition to having a healthy diet. 

A large percentage of people in the United States have an inadequate level of vitamin D. A few years ago, my doctor noticed that my vitamin D level was low (insufficiency) and prescribed a supplement. Since then, I have continued to take a vitamin D supplement. 

A blood level of 30 to 100 ng/mL is considered sufficient. Greater than 100 ng/mL is toxic. Over the past three years I have been able to bring my blood level up to 49 ng/mL and have noticed improved health of my mouth/gums. I have less bleeding gums and improved dental appointments.

Some studies have shown that people with a good blood level of vitamin D are more likely to recover from a covid-19 infection. 

Sharing this post with Tuesdays with a Twist , Hearth and Soul link party and Inside Me Monday with Anita .

Herbs in My Bay Window

During the summer I have a bounty of fresh herbs. Sage, chives, oregano, mint, lavender and lemon balm are perennials in my yard. Sometimes thyme survives the winter and it comes back for a second or third season. Each summer I plant dill and basil.

I am fortunate to have a southern facing bay window. Some herbs continue to thrive in pots on the window ledge. The Italian basil has flowered and produced seeds.

Italian Basil

In another post I wrote about the different types of basil with links to recipes.

Lavender is also flowering indoors.

Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs.

In the featured picture at the top of this post, you can see that it has flowered in my window. When I make broth I add rosemary, thyme and parsley along with other ingredients. The broth is a healthy base for soups. In another post I provided directions for making broth–and for freezing or canning it. Find the post by clicking here .

This weekend I made a batch of broth. I canned some and used some to make a delicious pea soup.

Do you have a favorite herb? Or a favorite nutritious recipe for this winter?

I’m sharing this post with Sue’s Wordless Wednesday, The Hearth and Soul and Inspire Me Monday.

3 Kinds of Basil for Soups and Salads

One of the many blessings from a home garden is having fresh herbs readily available. This year I have three kinds of basil.

I planted sweet basil from seeds.

I purchased a bush basil plant at a farmer’s market.

My neighbor gave me a lettuce basil plant.

Basil is nice with any tomato dish. Diced cucumbers and tomatoes with basil is a quick and easy salad. Tear the fresh basil leaves into pieces and add to the cucumbers and tomatoes with salt to taste.

Basil is also nice in soups. I found a couple of good recipes online.

Creamy zucchini soup

Creamy pea and basil soup

Sharing this post with You’re the Star, Sue’s Wordless Wednesday and Tuesdays with a Twist

A Meal to Spark Memories

My mother’s birthday was last month. We celebrated her 98 years. She is cared for in a nursing home in Michigan. She has significant memory loss and is wheelchair bound.

She recognizes family as familiar people and is happy to see us. Sometimes she reverts to the language of her childhood, Finnish. I can only catch the drift of what she is saying.

When she was a child her mother made pasties—meat, potatoes and rutabaga wrapped in pastry. It was a typical meal for miners. My mother’s father worked in the copper mines.

This Upper Michigan specialty was passed on to us. Mom made pasties for our family. We had summer vacations in Upper Michigan and visited relatives there. On a sunny day we would take a picnic basket full of warm pasties, some soda or juice and a thermos of coffee for a picnic lunch at a park along the shore of Lake Superior.

So for her birthday we had a pasty lunch. I brought pasties that I had made at home. My sister and our husbands were able to set a table in the activity room at the nursing home. Mom was more alert and talkative than she has been lately. It was a lovely day.

Here is my recipe for pasties:

Pastry:

3 C. flour

½ tsp. salt

2/3 C. shortening

1 egg yolk,  reserve the egg white

½ C + 2 Tblsp. cold water

1 Tblsp. cider vinegar

     Combine flour and salt.  Cut in the shortening until it appears as coarse crumbs.

Mix the egg yolk, water and vinegar.  Gradually add this to the flour mixture, stirring with a fork.  Add the water slowly and stop when all is moistened. Mix just until it holds together.  If needed added additional water a tablespoon at a time.

     Divide the dough into six portions and roll out each portion to a 9” circle.

Filling:

1 lb. round steak, diced or coarsely ground

1 C. rutabaga, chopped

½ C. finely chopped onion

4 large potatoes, peeled and diced

1+ ½ tsp. salt

   Place a generous cup of filling on half of each dough circle.  Fold the other half of dough over the filling and crimp the edges.  Place the pasties on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Whisk the reserved egg white until it is a little bubbly; then brush the pasties with the egg white.  Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.  Serve hot.

NOTE: Optional additions to the filling include chopped carrots, shredded kale, garlic, herbs.

This post is shared with the Five Minute Friday writing community. Today’s prompt is: TABLE

Making and Canning Healthy Broth

Whenever I cook a naturally raised chicken or turkey I want to make the best use of it. After the turkey (or chicken) has been carved and served I save the bones to make broth.

The procedure is simple. I put the bones, a few vegetables (a carrot, an onion, a couple stalks of celery), slices of lemon, garlic cloves and fresh herbs (parsley, rosemary and thyme) into a large crockpot. The lemon provides acid that will leach calcium from the bones.

Then I add water to cover. It is important the crockpot lid does NOT have a vent, because the broth is going to cooks for 20 to 24 hours. All the ingredients contribute to a mineral rich broth.

Throughout the day the crockpot is set at high, and then overnight at low. 

Around 24 hours I turn the crockpot off and ladle the broth through a strainer. The bones, vegetables, lemon and herbs are discarded. The broth goes into a large pot  and is allowed to cool down. If there is fat in the broth, I place the broth in the refrigerator for several hours and skim the fat off the top before beginning the canning process.

NOTE: If you don’t want to can the broth, you can freeze it. Pour the broth into a canning jar, leaving head space. (The broth expands a little when it freezes.) Place it in the refrigerator to chill, and then place it in the freezer.  

Berries and applesauce can be preserved with water bath canning, but broth requires pressure cooker canning.  A couple years ago I wrote about my first experience with the pressure cooker.

I read the farm journal cookbook’s information on canning broth. I read the pressure cooker user’s manual from beginning to end twice. I read the directions for using the pressure cooker to can. I washed the canning jars in the dishwasher and the canning lids by hand in soapy water.

Then I placed the lids with their rings in hot water (that had recently boiled). While preparing the lids and jars, I reheated the broth on the stove top. Then I filled the pint size canning jars with hot broth leaving one inch of headspace. I put the lids on and tightened the bands and then did a quarter turn to loosen the band a little.

I placed a wire rack at the bottom of the pressure cooker to keep the canning jars from touching the bottom of the pot and put 2 + ½ inches of boiling water in the pressure cooker. Then I put my 3 jars on the rack—the water was just under 3 inches deep with the jars on the rack. 

Following the directions that came with the pressure cooker I put the lid on and set it to pressure-cooking, making sure that pressure lock button was set. I turned the burner on high under the pressure cooker. When the button on the lid of the cooker indicated that the pot had achieved pressure I began to time the process. The broth needed to be processed for 75 minutes with 10 pounds of pressure. (The Fagor pressure cooker reaches 15 pounds of pressure.) 

I stayed in the kitchen the whole time. Occasionally the pot began to hiss with lots of extra steam escaping and I adjusted the burner a little, feeling a little anxious. I like to see what is happening, but the only thing I could see was steam escaping from the safety valve. Were my jars breaking? Were the lids allowing extra air to escape and no liquid? I had to just wait and see.

When the 75 minutes was complete the pressure cooker needed to cool down on its own. The directions warned me not to open the cool down vent, not to try opening the lid. It took a full half hour for the pot to cool down and the pressure button indicate that the pot was no longer under steam pressure. With a little trepidation I opened the pot and saw that I had successfully processed my jars of broth.

Since then I have become comfortable with the process. I am able to insert the steps of this process into the day as I accomplish other things. The benefit is having a broth that is healthy—I know what is in it. I can to add it to soups, to chili, and use as the liquid for preparing rice.

Sharing this post with Inspire Me Monday and Tuesdays with a Twist

The Best Blueberry Pie

Blueberries are appearing in the grocery store. They are from the southern states–it will still be a while before the Michigan berries are ripe. Even though they are not from Michigan the blueberries are lovely, and so I made a family favorite pie.

Pastry:

1 cup flour

1/8 tsp. salt

1/3 cup butter (5 +1/3 Tblsp.)

1 Tblsp. + 1 tsp. vinegar

Cold water

Mix flour and salt. (I sometimes will use 1/4 cup rice flour and 3/4 cup unbleached white flour to reduce the amount of gluten.) Cut in the butter until mixture is crumbly. Mix vinegar in 1/2 cup of cold water. Add water with vinegar a tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork. You want the dough to just hold together. Roll out and line a 9″pie dish. Preheat oven to 375°.

Filling

4 + 1/2 cups blueberries

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup + 1 teaspoon minute tapioca

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 cup honey

Mix the blueberries, sugar, tapioca and lemon juice. Pour into pastry lined pie dish. Drizzle the honey over the berries. Then prepare topping.

Topping:

¾ cup flour

1/8 tsp. salt

¼ cup brown sugar

5 + 1/2 Tablespoons butter

Mix flour, salt and brown sugar. (Rice flour works well in this topping.) Cut in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle this over the pie. Bake at 375° for 50 to 60 minutes, or until topping is lightly browned and berries are beginning to bubble.

Blueberry Pie

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Practice Makes the Perfect Pie Crust

Meals and special desserts are a part of family life. In our home we enjoy pies, especially fruit pies. I have practiced and tweaked my recipe for pie crust until I was satisfied. The shortening in pie crust should be 1/3 the amount of flour. (I don’t remember where I learned that.) 

So when I am making a two crust pie I add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to 1 + 1/2 cup of flour. Then I cut in 1/2 cup of butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. A little bit of vinegar acts as a conditioner to the pastry dough, so I add a tablespoon of vinegar to 1/2 cup of cold water. As I add the water slowly to the flour, I am mixing it in with a fork. It is important to add just enough water—might not need the full 1/2 cup— mix only enough to have the dough hold together.

Then roll out half the dough on a lightly floured board to line the pie plate. Roll out the remainder for the upper crust. My mother would always fold the this top piece in half twice (so it resembles a triangle) and then make decorative cuts in the dough before laying it in place. And so I do too.

Once the pie is ready for the oven I brush the surface of pie crust with a few drops of water and sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar over it.

You can find a recipe for the best blueberry pie here.

The prompt for the Five Minute Friday writing community is: PRACTICE

Spring is Here : Looking Forward to Flowers and Herbs!

It is the first day of Spring and I am looking forward to the appearance of flowers and herbs. The snowdrops are up, and the robins have returned. The hyacinths are beginning to poke through the thawing soil.

Before long the violets will be blooming. I plan to gather these delicate flowers from an area of the yard that has not been sprayed with any chemicals to make candied violets. See a recipe here.

Every year I add another herb to my gardens. Herbs are a source of vitamins and minerals that support health. Rosemary, thyme and sage all grow easily. Here is a recipe for potatoes with rosemary and thyme.

I have planted some stinging nettle seeds in a container. I hope to plant them in a corner of the yard that has little traffic. The leaves of this plant sting—similar to stinging ants. The young leaves must be harvested carefully (gloves). When the leaves are boiled they lose their sting. The benefit of this herb is the rich mineral content. Nettle tea is sold in health food stores. I first noticed a recipe for nettle soup in a Swedish cook book. Here is an on-line recipe for nettle soup.

In a time period when many worry about infectious disease, it is a good idea to think about ways to improve the nutritional support of our immune system. Herbs are a source of vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. At one time I thought the purpose of herbs was flavor, but now I know they enrich our food.

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