Double Deep-Fried Hot Dog on a Bun

(Shown here, my herb shop next to the garden, with a light dusting of snow today).

I think the observance of the New Year holiday is more emotional and psychological than it is real. It's a bit like paying a religious person to forgive you for all the errors you made in the last 12 months, so that you can simply start all over again with a clean slate and make the same errors of judgment again. Granted, it is an observable date, something you can point to on the calendar and say, "That's the day I quit smoking" or, "I swore I'd cut my soft drink spending in half, beginning there..." But the date's also loaded with minefields. Intentions are good on the first day of the year, less so after the second piece of candy the day after. But if for nothing else, setting aside one day of the year to start anew, make promises, allow ourselves some forgiveness for being slackers, is in the end, a good thing.

You may already know that this New Year's Eve holds something special. This year when we celebrate the death of 2009 and the birth of a new calendar year, we'll have not just a full moon on New Year's Eve - something that doesn't happen that often, but a blue moon, as well. If you go to bed early and miss seeing this full, blue moon on New Year's Eve, you will have to wait another 29 (or was it 27) years to see another. And no, the name blue moon doesn't relate to its color, it will likely be its regular moon-color. Read the link to see why it's a blue moon. Additionally, this Saturday will be a palindrome date --- 01022010.  (A palindrome is a number, word, or something that can be read the same forwards or backwards).

The seed catalogs keep arriving daily and piling up in my office, beckoning me to STOP and read them. I'm just not ready to leap into the pile to ferret out the exciting new plants I want to grow in the coming year. With last year's record millions of new, first time gardeners, seed companies have pulled out all the stops to offer us even more tempting selections. Jeremiath Gettle, who with his wife, Emilee, owns Baker Creek Seed, said they have expanded from 900 varieties of vegetables and herbs last year, to just over 1,100 this season! And our friends, Rose Marie and Keane McGee, owners of Nichols Garden Nursery, have lots of new and tempting additions this year, as well, including offering seed for the Achocha plant I've been crowing about this year in earlier postings on this blog. If you want to grow some, they are the only source I know, and theirs comes from the strain I was given by my friend in Bhutan.

In Indiagarden, you can see they are growing all the things we in the cold Midwest only imagine from our seed catalogs at this time of year. And in Puerto Rico, see the plants this San Juan, Puerto Rican gardener is growing. If we can't garden this time of year, we can experience and appreciate other people's gardens through their blogs.

Our friends in Hawai'i, Bill and Betty Daily, sent this link for some New Year's day food suggestions from the CopyKat Recipes page. The bottom one, lovingly titled, "White Trash Sushi" consists of ham rolled around a dill pickle, then wrapped in an egg roll wrapper, sealed and deep fried. The reviews say it is really good. As Americans, we firmly believe that anything is good, provided it is deep-fried! (That's why weight-loss programs are such money makers for their creators).

Immediately I went off the creative deep end and began to imagine next year's winner for deep-fried State Fair food. (You'll remember that last year the winners were, deep-fried Coca Cola, and deep fried M and M candies; this year, deep-fried butter took the prize). The vendors at all the state fairs across the country compete each year to see what weird new food can be deep fried for people gullible enough to try it).

So I'm thinking, if you took a hot dog, put it in a bun, added relish, mustard, pickles, onions, dipped it in batter and deep fried it, THEN, dip it again in more batter and roll that in chopped onions and deep fried it again. That should win. It combines state fair food - the always America hot dog - with all the traditional condiments, it fulfills the category of ordinary/unusual food that is deep-fried, and no one else is doing it. Now there is a perfectly good reason to swear off deep fried food for the whole New Year. (And for those of you who are reading this from countries that have more civilized food, it's just fine to deem American food as just plain silly; often times, IT IS!).

Steven Litchford, on his ManDish blog, posted this recipe for using up the refrigerator left-overs from Christmas dinner. Check out his Warm Maple, Ham and Apple leftover casserole, which I am certain is better than a double-deep fried hot dog on a bun.

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope this finds you looking forward to a new year ahead. Whether your New Year comes at the end of December, or it comes later, I wish you the very best in the coming year.


Global Warmer

I'm pretty sure all those folks who refuse to believe global warming is happening, are not gardeners. My belief is, if you have a connection to plants, soil, seasons - a garden - then you can't help but notice the way the climate has changed. I'll grant, maybe there's an outside chance, that some of the changes can be attributed to a cycle, a thousand years of this or that, heating up or cooling down. The earth's been through that before, but even if that's so, it's serious and we have some input as humans. There's too much evidence to be ignored and it may not be too late to fix it. I believe in cause and effect. If you burn down the rain forest, kill the animals and trees, suck all the oil out of the earth and turn it into smog, burn up billions of tires a year, and pollute everything in sight, there will be a result. I've gardened in this exact same spot for the past 30 years and I've seen some rather significant changes.

When I started gardening here, May 1, 1979, there were no nine-banded armadillos in my garden. There were none closer than half a state away in Arkansas, to the south. (I live right on the line that divides Missouri from Arkansas, in the Ozarks mountains). In 1991, I saw my first armadillo in my yard and even though the Missouri Department of  Conservation said it wasn't possible, it was, and soon people were seeing armadillos digging up their yards and gardens all over the Ozarks. Since that time, armadillos have moved northward the entire length of the state of Missouri, and are now seen in Des Moines, Iowa, several hundred miles away, according to friends there). Global warming, or just adventurous armadillos?

When I first arrived here, figs were impossible to grow. Now I grow two varieties quite successfully, along with muscadines, which also shouldn't be growing here. And this year there were reports of fire ants being discovered in the Bootheel of Missouri. Those nasty little ants' bites are hard on livestock and humans. We've long had bans on nursery stock being shipped into our state from other places which have fire ants, requiring that the soil of the plants be treated first. Evidently the little pests hid in hay and now that the climate is warmer, they're on the heels of the armadillos and are pioneering new settlements northward into an area they've not been seen before.

In all my years of tromping the woods and forests of the Ozarks I have never once seen mistletoe growing. In my knowledge, the nearest sightings of this hemiparasitic plant (that means it attaches itself to a tree branch and lives there, partially dependent on the tree, but not totally, for its survival) was about an hour's drive to the south. But lo and behold, right there in a couple of oak trees about 4 miles from my farm, there's a little colony of mistletoe alive and thriving.

You'll remember that mistletoe is poison (unlike poinettias, the other plant associated with Christmas, which aren't poison). At least the European variety is poison, although I don't know anyone who's actually eaten any of our dozen or so varieties of American mistletoe. Phoradendron flavescens. It has traditionally been used for medicinal purposes under controlled conditions. Birds eat the berries, especially cedar waxwings and cardinals, and that's the way the plant spreads, through bird droppings, dropped on high tree branches. (The name, mistletoe, apparently springs from two Anglo-Saxon words, "mistel" for dung, and "tan" for branch; "mistletan" is Old English for mistletoe). In California, the Extension Service puts out bulletins showing how to eradicate mistletoe from the landscape, while the state of Oklahoma declared it the official flower.

Tradition holds that when a man and woman find themselves accidentally under a sprig of mistletoe, hung in the house at Christmas, they must kiss. The tradition comes from Celtic rituals and Norse mythology. In Gaul, the Druids considered it a sacred plant. Mistletoe is also said to be a sexual symbol, because of the consistency and color of the berry juice as well as the belief that it is an aphrodisiac, the “soul” of the oak from which it grows. Sp here is mistletoe, almost in my backyard. Global warming, or adventurous plants/insects/mammals, you be the judge. The United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Denmark is a beginning in the right direction, but rather timid in its outcome so far. The problems are great, the decisions should be, as well.

Our Friday Night Dinner Group had its annual Christmas gift exchange last night. All of us, 11 in all, are like minded, similar in age, and many in the group either have no other family, or are estranged or distant from them. So we are all our own adopted family and this ritual of silly gifts and a dinner in someone's house, is always looked forward to by us all. The holiday season for many people who are older, is a time of everything from melancholy to downright depression and our little party is meant to bolster all of our spirits. Our night out is our single celebration for the season. We eat and laugh and open presents, some bought, some from last year's gifts, some homemade, then we eat some more.

I was responsible for the appetizers before the main course. I took an assortment of fresh vegetables and dips. Here's the dip I made, from my book, Great Dips, Using Herbs:

Beach Party Shrimp Dip (it works just as well for the holidays)

2 cups cooked, shelled shrimp, finely chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 green onions, diced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, or 1 small, hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 tablespoon dill pickle, chopped fine
1 tablespoon Dijon or good, brown prepared mustarrd
2 teaspoons, or more, horseradish
2 tablespoons catsup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce.

The easy way is to put everything into a food processor and pulse for 3 or 4 times, but you can also chop and dice everything by hand then combine them. Refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight. Serve with fresh vegetables or chips.

Regardless of who you are or where you live, I hope you find peace and happiness. This may not be a holiday season in your country, or it may, either way, consider this, from my little collection of quotes, mine and other people's:

It doesn’t cost anything to love others. Do it freely, love is never wasted, even when it appears it is....Jim Long


Oh My Beautiful Jalapeno

The very long and welcome pepper season in the garden is gone and I had to buy a jalapeno at WallyWorld (you may gasp, there aren't many choices for fresh produce nearby). But when I unpacked the groceries last night, there was NO jalapeno to be found anywhere. I looked through the recycling bin of plastic bags. I looked in the 'fridge. In the pepper bin on the counter. There just was not a fresh jalapeno anywhere. Breakfast burrito would be bland, bland, bland. Today, in a hurried walk through the cold, between the house and my office, there it was in the driveway, flat, lately run over by a car wheel, my beautiful jalapeno! Pepper withdraw sets in quickly.

I'm addicted to hot peppers, I admit it. That's why I grew so many varieties this summer. The morning's breakfast just isn't the same without some heat. I rescued this one from the driveway, smashed as it is, and will cook it tomorrow. Gee, I miss summer already.

As we drove through Birmingham a couple of days ago, home of Southern Living magazine and the Grumpy Gardener, we drove by Grumpy's little castle to see what he was up to. As I suspected, the jolly old elf was in high holiday style. He complains about the holidays - Grumpiness is, after all, his middle name - but I figured deep down, he's just a pushover for carols and lollipops and all the hoopla of Christmas. There he was, dressed in his finest red outfit, a fresh-picked amaryllis in hand, about to drag his Christmas tree into his castle. (If you want Grumpy's tips on how to choose a Christmas tree then check this out: How to choose a Christmas tree).

If you have never checked Grumpy's blog, then you don't know about his myth-busting story about poinsettias. As I have long suspected, they're not poison, at all. I've claimed it for years, but now we have it in the expert's own words. Check out this Poinsettias aren't poison!.

One of the things that gives me great pleasure, are you, the followers of this blog. I've visited most of your blogs and websites and I must say, I'm honored at the talented people who stop by here to see what I'm up to. And your blogs lead me to other blogs, and I learn what's new and important and fun. Some of you have fantastic food blogs with great recipes. Some of you "do" art. Lots of gardeners, folks from around the globe and good friends and neighbors. Thank you for checking in from time to time! I'm truly honored.

If you're looking for a great Sparkling Gingershap Cookie recipe, here's the link to Man Food, Steven Litchford's food blog. Now, if I can figure out a way to make stevia sparkle like sugar crystals...

And a question...do any of you Southerners happen to know these berries? As we drove through northern Mississippi and Alabama there were lots of trees in the swampy areas with what looked like flowers. Upon closer inspection, I found they're a 2-lobed, white berry. The berries arrangements on the trees made them look flower-like. I'd like to know the name of the tree if you recognize the white winter berries.

There's still a little life in the garden, even this time of year. Even with 17 degrees F. tonight, the cilantro will survive a bit longer. Tomorrow, the fresh cilantro will be introduced to a smashed, run over jalapeno and some eggs and sausage... Happy gardening and thanks for stopping for a visit.


Cabbages for as Far as the Eyes Can See

It's supposed to be warm in Florida. Two days ago, in south FL, it was 90 degrees. Tonight, in Panama City, 40 degrees. I know, if you live in the cold, frigid north, that sounds warm. Not if you thought it would be warm down here. Even the local Floridians are complaining loudly that this is not Florida weather.

The past 3 nights we've stayed in motels that promised they had high speed internet. Each night it either didn't exist, or it would be on for 3 minutes then off for 5, not long enough to post to FaceBook or here. And so I've not been able to keep up with postings the past 2 days.

After a day at the best thrift shop in Florida, the Women's Center in Sarasota, we headed down to the town of Imokolee to the rare plant nursery I'd visited last January. We  picked up some black pepper plants, one variety from Thailand, a Piper nigrum, that's a bush pepper. The other variety, also a Piper nigrum, is from Guatamala and is the typical vine. Black pepper, if you aren't familiar with it, is a modest vine that grows up the trunks of trees. The berries grow in clusters along a stem and are harvested when ripe. Pepper berries become peppercorns when they're dried. And since pepper plants quit blooming and producing when the temperature drops below 40 degrees, I just went to the car and brought the pepper plants inside for the night.

We also picked up a miracle fruit plant, something I've been wanting to get for quite awhile (and which I wrote about here last January). The fruit is amazing in that it switches your taste buds from sweet to sour, or the reverse. If you eat a lemon, then taste miracle fruit and it's so sweet you can hardly stand it. Or, eat a bit of sugar, then eat a miracle fruit berry and it's incredibly sour. And it happens instantaneously.

We stopped at the Seminole Casino in Imokolee for about an hour, eating dinner and gambling away ten dollars. From there we drove up to West Palm Beach where I've given lectures before at the West Palm Herb Society festivals. The Mounts Botanical Garden is an admirable collection of rare fruits and herbs, along with a good sampling of Florida native trees and shrubs. It's part of the Univ. of FL University Extension system.

One of the things I found interesting at the botanical garden is the hedge that surrounds the herb garden. Can you guess what it is? I walked past it 3 times before I noticed what the plants are. Imagine, if you will, a hedge 16 ft. tall, of allspice! You may recall the photo in a posting here a couple of months ago, of the 1 gallon allspice plants I have on our sun porch. Well, this is what fully mature allspice trees look like, trimmed into a hedge. Allspice berries come from this, the same spice you likely have in your spice cabinet. And the leaves are used in cooking, as well.

I took this photo of a mature cinnamon tree, as well. In places like Sri Lanka and India, where a lot of cinnamon is grown, it's trimmed back each year. When the new, sturdy sprouts grow back and are big enough, the bark is split and peeled off and dried, and that's the source of stick cinnamon. My cinnamon plants are still about 12 inches tall so I won't be harvesting my own cinnamon any time soon.

And if you wonder where your cabbage comes from (besides the grocery store) there are hundreds of acres of cabbage in this part of the state. It's cabbage harvest time now, and we've seen lots of trucks loaded to the top and over, with fresh-cut cabbages. We even had to dodge a huge head of cabbage in the middle of the intersection!

Heading homeward to a frozen garden. Stay warm!


Road Trip!

After weeks of basking in warm fall-like temperatures, the weather turned loose and froze the garden and then snowed on it. It had to happen eventually. We'd been planning a trip south for several weeks and the timing was good. We both packed a few token summery things, hardly able to visualize warm weather again and headed south.

The big first stop was the Unclaimed Baggage store in Scottsboro, AL. If you ever wonder what happens to unclaimed or completely lost luggage, well, this is where a lot of it ends up. These folks have been in business for 20 or 30 years and the place is jam-packed with goodies and not so goodies. Occasionally they'll find real gold. Once it was a suitcase of Egyptian artifacts. Just a few weeks ago they found a huge emerald. We saw mink coats, Rolex watches, cameras--- hundreds of cameras and lots more.

What'd we buy? Luggage, of course, they have lots. Josh bought a carrying case for his navigator, I bought a bag of nail trimmers, tweezers and scissors. Ever wondered where those 3 inch long scissors they took away at the airport security? They end up in the Unclaimed Baggage store. I bought a baggie full for $2.09!

Today we made it to Sarasota, one of the goals of the trip (after Unclaimed Baggage). The Women's Center Consignment & Thrift Shop is probably one of the best thrift shops anywhere short of the famous Salvation Army Store in Washington, DC. We spent about 4 hours there. Seems like lots of people from Chicago, New York City and everywhere else, retire around Sarasota. Then they grow older and want to get rid of their collections. Oriental rugs, great buys for antique ones, antique furniture, jewelry, sculpture (no, not the concrete kind, but real collectible art), paintings, marble fireplace fronts and mantles. It's an amazing place to visit. Unfortunately it doesn't have a garden.

Lunch was local salad with actual, vine ripened tomatoes (remember those, from summer?) Josh was munching away on a steak salad. Notice we're sitting under umbrellas, in 80 degree weather? I may just stay, I can hardly bring myself to think of heading back to freezing weather. I'm certain if there was a reasonable way, I'd spend the winters somewhere warm and grow my own winter tomatoes!

More details later. We're going garden hunting tomorrow but may hit another few salvage and thrift stores along the way. Happy gardening!

Oh, I couldn't pass up this sign, it was just too funny not to add to my collection. You have to look close at the sign on the door to see why it's funny. Bad humor, I know, but there it was, driving down the road with that sign on it.

I wish you could be here, enjoying the 80 degree weather and ripe tomatoes, too!