Family, Home and Cooking, Seasonal

Thankful for Thanksgiving

I used to HATE Thanksgiving. Yep, that’s right. If the Grinch hated Christmas, I would’ve been stealing cornucopias instead of decorated trees in Whoville. It’s still not my favorite holiday, and I have many reasons why that is that I won’t get into this go around.

One of my key complaints is that Thanksgiving is stressful for many people because of its proximity to Christmas. In addition, it is another obligation to travel when it’s already off to grandmother’s house we go in December. It’s just a lot to put on people in a short amount of time. I’d be happier if Thanksgiving were, say – in June! But the idea of pumpkin pie in summer feels a bit odd.

Another critical reason for my early aversion to the holiday stemmed from its excess. It was always too much food for not enough people. My mother would be exhausted when dinner was ready, and – to me – it was an over-the-top and unnecessary amount of work. She wasn’t cooking for dozens of people, just a handful.

Don’t even get me started on the fact that we have a turkey AND a ham every year. It’s too much food, but she loves cooking for us, and I would never rain on her parade. Plus, it is all delicious!

I’m not writing this to bah humbug all over the fun of Thanksgiving though. On the contrary, as I’ve grown, I’ve come to appreciate the heart of it. It’s about family, sure (which was part of the issue that made me dislike it, if I’m being honest). It’s more than an excuse to gather. As stated above, that is also part of Christmas, and the countries that don’t have a Thanksgiving holiday manage to annoy each other just fine.

No, we’re fortunate enough to have food to share – that is a blessing! So many people in our world don’t have enough food. The fact that I can cook a meal with my family and have electricity, hot water, and a roof over my head reminds me to be thankful. If we approach Thanksgiving ethically (and economically), we can also use it as an opportunity to support local farmers by purchasing farm-raised meats and vegetables. We can let it spur us into volunteering at the Arkansas Food Bank or a local homeless shelter. It creates a time of giving, which should exist year-round, but when the weather turns cold, we need each other to keep warm. Thanksgiving is a bounty celebration- a day to share with those around us.

Plus, if you freeze the leftovers, they can last the rest of the year – thanks, mom. . . Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Home and Cooking, Seasonal

Getting Your Garden Ready for Fall

I wasn’t fortunate enough this year to get a garden in for Summer, but Arkansas is a great place for preparing a Fall garden! There are lots of crops you can plant now to have a delicious selection before winter!

Starting in August, you can sow your seeds of leaf lettuce, mustard greens, Swiss chard, kohlrabi, kale, collards, and spinach. Make sure you don’t plant them in direct sun, however, as heat will wilt the seedlings before they have a chance to establish. Plant your pea seeds now, as well, and make sure they have something to climb on for the vines to grow.

Finish starting seeds inside for fall crops like Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, and Cauliflower. You’ll want to plant these a little later once the heat dies down. Because our area is warmer, we can easily plant a fall crop of potatoes. Try to get them in by the second week of September.

If you did manage to get a summer garden in, harvest vegetables such as beans, peas, squash, cucumbers, and okra regularly to prolong production and enjoy peak freshness into autumn. Continue your regular weeding efforts. Every weed that produces seeds means more trouble next year. Cut down any weeds before they can produce seeds and spread those seeds throughout your yard. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

When September rolls around pumpkins are ripening and when they start show color can be harvested as the color will continue to develop afterward. Just be careful not to damage the surface of the fruit as it will invite mold and bacteria.

It’s finally time for houseplants to come indoors again after their summer vacay because the nights and mornings will begin to get cooler. However, the cooler weather means you can continue planting spinach, lettuce, radishes, arugula, Asian greens, kale, and collards if you haven’t already. Some crops such as parsnips, peas, Brussels sprouts, and kale have enhanced flavor after a frost.

If you’re not feeling a fall garden this is the perfect time to start preparing your soil for next year’s Spring crops! Add fertilizer or manure to your field or plant a cover crop that can be tilled into the soil. Wood ashes contain phosphorous, potassium, and calcium. They can be placed on vegetable gardens and flower beds as a top dressing that will feed into the soil all winter. What a great use for your leftover bonfires!

Home and Cooking, Seasonal

Natural Pest Control

With the changing season, many of us have begun gardens. Growing your food produces fresh, healthy fruits and veggies to fuel your body, and gardening gives you a good workout!

One of the issues I face is pest control, and using harmful pesticides is not an option for me. Because of this, I’ve researched alternative ways to repel pests and better the health of my plants overall. One of the fascinating things I’ve learned about is plant compatibility.

Certain plants help with soil nutrition when grown near each other. Clover, rye, and oats, for example, can be used as cover crops, fixing helpful things like nitrogen in the soil promoting plant growth. They also smother weeds keeping down the growth of these competitor plants. Many plants can help repel pests, attract vital pollinators, and increase growth. Some combos include:

Lettuce and calendula. Calendula attracts slugs, so they feed on them and not the lettuce.

Tomato and basil. Not just a great combo on pizza, basil repels insects, improves growth, and enhances the flavor of tomatoes.

Cucumbers and radishes. Radishes help deter cucumber beetles, acting as a trap crop for flea beetles and other insects.

These are just some of the many combinations in the gardening world! Companion planting is a great way to get the best bang for your buck this summer and increase your garden’s output.

Home and Cooking, Seasonal

Enjoy Spring with Some Tasty Floral Jellies

April showers bring May flowers, and it is finally time for all the blooms! Everywhere you look are peonies, lavender, wisteria – and the air is so fragrant you can almost taste their sweetness. But did you know we can capture a bit of that floral essence? By first making a tea from the petals of certain flowers, you can create colorful jellies and syrups with unique floral flavors. That means the taste of Spring all year! Some species of flowers should be avoided, such as toxic lilies. However, the list of flowers and fragrant leaves that are often used for making jelly are numerous and include the following:
  • Dandelion
  • Wisteria
  • Wild Violet
  • Lavendar
  • Nasturtium
  • Bee Balm
  • Johnny Jump Up
  • Clover
  • Hibiscus
    • Daylily
    • Peony
    • Lilac
    • Lemon Balm
    • Elderflower
    • Rose
    • Marigold
    • Chrysanthemum
    • Honeysuckle
    Teas from these flowers contain antioxidants, and those same benefits exist in the jelly. There are also ways to process your jellies and jams using less sugar making them a healthier alternative to store bought jellies. Plus, you can’t get much fresher than flowers from your own backyard!

    Making the tea:
    1. To begin, rinse your flowers and make sure they’re clear of dirt or insects. Remove any stems and leaves.
    2. Measure 1:1 cups of water to however many cups of flowers. Bring that water to between 203-212 degrees Fahrenheit
    3. Remove water from heat and then add flowers. Let the pot cool to room temperature then cover it and put it in your refrigerator fo 24 hrs.

    Making the jelly:

    1. Disinfect jars and lid by boiling them in a canning pot or using your dishwasher to clean them (remember to have the heat setting turned on).
    2. Strain the flowers from the tea and add in 2 tbsp of lemon juice per 4 cups of liquid.  
    3. Bring your tea to a boil, then add one package of pectin (per 4 cups of liquid). Let this cook for 1-2 minute. You may use no sugar needed pectin to have more versatility with your sugar levels or sugar-free options.
    4. Add 1:1 ratio of sugar to your tea, then cook this for an additional 1-2 minutes.
    5. Take your clean jars and fill them with the liquid leaving at least 1/4 in of space at the top of the jar before adding the lid.
    6. Place jars in the canning pot for a 10-minute bath, then after removing them, let the jars sit undisturbed for 24 hrs. to create a nice seal. Any can that does not seal (the top lid does not “pop” and invert) needs to be refrigerated.

    Now you have delicious Springtime jelly to enjoy all year long! I have personally made jellies from clover, daylilies, and wisteria. I think clover is my favorite because it tastes like honey. Daylily jelly is also very good, and I found that it tastes a lot like plum jam.

    Home and Cooking

    Pizza Stones for Home Baking

    Is there anything more delicious than fresh out of the oven pizzas? Sure there are tons of pizza shops out there to choose from, but there is nothing quite like the taste of homemade pizzas. The reason we often choose restaurants over home baking is because it’s hard to replicate the crisp crust in your oven at home. That’s where pizza stones come in! Using pizza stones allows you to get the crunchy exterior crust, with the soft bready center that usually can’t be achieved with homemade pizzas.

    There are actually several kinds of pizza stones available for purchase. It’s important to consider the types of pizzas you’d like to make, this will help you decide which pizza stones are right for you.

    Ceramic Pizza Stones

    Ceramic is a great beginner’s pizza stone. They’re easy to care for and only require simple cleaning methods to maintain them. They’re usually pretty affordable as well and readily available at most department stores. These stones are also lightweight. The downside to ceramic is it does crack easily.

    Cordierite Pizza Stones

    These types of pizza stones are often used because they distribute heat evenly lessening the likelihood your pizzas will burn. Though these pizza stones fall under the ceramic category they’re more durable. Its ability to handle extreme temperatures means it’s less likely to break. Cordierite is also lead-free and non-absorbent. 

    Clay Pizza Stones

    If you want a crispy texture you really can’t beat a classic clay pizza stone. This type of stone gives you the same quality crust as a brick over pizza. Because of this it’s the most popular type of pizza stone out there. A con to a clay stone is that it takes a long time to preheat and is difficult to clean. Because clay can be brittle it has to be treated gently or it could break. 

    Cast Iron Pizza Stones

    Cast iron is often a staple in the kitchen, but how does it do as a pizza stone? Its ability to heat quickly and its flexibility as a griddle or grill make cast iron pizza stone very popular. What’s more you won’t have to worry about cracking or breaking a cast iron stone! The downside is that cast iron doesn’t heat as high as clay or ceramic, which can affect the crispness of your pizzas. 

    Steel Pizza Stones

    Finally we have steel pizza stones. A fairly new addition to the pizza stone family, steel has a bad reputation for burning. This is because it heats so quickly you actually don’t have to cook your pizza at the higher temperatures required with other stones. Steel is also durable like cast iron – though it does tend to be heavier and more expensive.

    Before Buying Your Pizza Stone Consider This

    • Your Oven Size

    Pizza stones come in a variety of sizes, 14-16 inches being the largest. Make sure you

    pick a stone that fits your oven. 

    • Electric Or Gas Oven?

    You may need more space in a gas oven to make air circulation easier.

    • How Do Your Dough Cooked?

    A thicker stone is going to absorb more heat and more moisture. Thinner stones are better if you don’t want the crust as crispy, but they also tend to break more easily. It’ll benefit you to learn why a thick pizza stone makes a better pizza.

    To learn about more types of pizza stones take a look here: 15 Best Pizza Stones of 2020