Category Archives: Munchies

Learning something new

I’ve got a busy day ahead of me. It’s my turn to work in the nursery at church. When I get home, we’re heading out on Route 66 to have lunch and then talk to somebody for a Route 66 Pulse story.

Assuming the interview doesn’t take the entire afternoon, Ron is going to show me how to build a fire in our woodstove when we get home. I am very excited about this, because it means I finally get to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: Learn to cook on a woodstove.

My first project is going to be something very simple: Vegetable soup. L-A-Z-Y vegetable soup: A jar of canned tomatoes, half a bag of frozen vegetables, and some garlic from our garden. The goal for today is simply to warm up the soup without burning it.

Our stove is just designed for heating — it’s not one of those fancy-schmancy Irish cookstoves you get for a zillion dollars from the Lehman’s Non-Electric Catalog. It’s a compact little woodstove my parents gave us in exchange for our freezer, which we weren’t really using any more. But my mom used to make soup for us all the time on our old Earth Stove, so I know I can feed us this winter, even if most of our meals just involve some kind of soup.

I have a LOT of soup recipes, so we’ll be in good shape. 🙂

I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, here are some links I found that have information about cooking with wood:
Sunset article
Mother Earth News article
Impractical but nostalgic article about somebody’s grandma
Bit of navel-gazing from Gardenweb, with practical tips sprinkled in

We’ll see whether any of this does me any good when the temperature drops down to 35 tonight. If this project goes well, I’m installing more shelves in my living-room-closet-turned-pantry and doing more gardening and canning next summer. The idea of living closer to the land right here in Red Fork makes me happy. I just hope I haven’t gotten so attached to my modern conveniences that I can’t bring myself to do it.



I saw a huge dove fly from my neighbor’s yard to a wire above my garden this evening. It was absolutely beautiful.

I also enjoyed a wonderful treat today: I pulled a ripe tomato out of the garden and ate it without even bothering to rinse it off. It was warm and juicy and tasted like summer.

I’ve got to get out there tomorrow afternoon and thin those vines and feed them some seaweed tea and worm castings and see if I can’t revive them a bit. They’re looking pretty ragged and getting pretty unproductive, but I think if I baby them a little, they’ll have time to recover and produce a little more fruit before the end of summer.

I logged 3.85 miles on the treadmill at the gym yesterday. I have an 8.5-mile run first thing in the morning, so I need to get to bed. I am NOT looking forward to getting up and jogging, but at least we’re starting early, and it’s not supposed to get hot until well after we finish. I hope that forecast is right. Maybe if we get done before 9, I can coax Ron into taking me to Ollie’s for breakfast. Their buffet is nice for refueling after a long run.


Cucumber salsa

The main reason I garden is so I can make fresh salsa. Unfortunately, despite the fact that we planted 32 tomato vines this year, we have yet to bring in a big enough harvest to make a batch of salsa enormous enough to justify breaking out the canner.

We do, however, have a surplus of cucumbers, thanks in large part to the volunteer vine that came up in the middle of the garden. I’ve never seen a more productive vine than this volunteer, which is some kind of multipurpose variety that’s smallish and black-spined like a pickler, but firm enough to hold its own as a slicer.

Ron loves tomatoes and hates cucumbers, so I’ve built up quite a surplus, despite regular trips to visit friends, a grocery bag full of cucumbers in hand.

This afternoon, I took care of that surplus. I love cold cucumber soup. I love gazpacho. And while I had the food processor out, I decided to try something.

Home-grown tomatoes are infinitely more flavorful than the store-bought kind, and I have, in a pinch, made a respectable batch of salsa with tomatoes from the grocery store. I got to thinking about it, and I decided that if I could make decent salsa out of grocery-store tomatoes (which have less flavor than the average cucumber anyway, and roughly the same texture), I could probably substitute cucumbers for half the homegrown tomatoes in my salsa recipe and come up with something worth eating. I was right — the substitution worked fine.

When I’m talking about salsa, I use the term “recipe” loosely. But this is basically the way you make it:

Boatload of tomatoes
About half a boatload of tomatillos, if you have them
About half a boatload of sweet peppers (bell, banana, Nardello, poblano, whatever)
About one-tenth boatload of onion — preferably yellow, but anything will work
Bunch of cilantro
As much garlic as you want
Whatever hot peppers you’ve got on hand
Lime juice
Ground cumin
Chili powder
Cucumbers, if you have some you need to use up

Chunk up all your vegetables with a big ol’ chef’s knife. If the onion and garlic seem hot, saute them lightly in olive oil to knock off the edge.

Put the garlic, hot peppers, and cilantro in your food processor and whirl ’em at high speed until they’re minced very finely. The mixture will be stuck all over the sides when you finish. Add enough lime juice to sort of loosen it up, add your onion, and process again. Add your sweet peppers, tomatillos, and cucumbers, if you’re using them. Process again.

You’ll end up with a slightly chunky, light green froth. Dump it into a big bowl and add enough cumin to knock down the froth a little bit. Toss your tomatoes into the food processor and process until they’re whatever texture you like.

Stir the tomatoes into the pepper and onion mixture. The whole mess will look pale. Add enough chili powder to make your salsa respectably red. If it doesn’t taste right, add more of whatever seems to be missing. There’s no big secret to it; you just have to dink around with it until it tastes the way you want it.

Chill as long as you can stand to wait and serve with tortilla chips. If your grocery store carries those ultra-thin Tia Rosa chips, get some — they’re killer.

If you have a lot of salsa, you can put it up in pint jars (leave about an inch of headspace) and process in a boiling-water bath for 30 minutes. As canning goes, salsa is pretty idiot-proof, but read this article if you’ve never done it before. Call your mama if you still aren’t sure how to do it. If she doesn’t know, call the extension service.

Oh, and here’s a free tip: If you use habanero peppers, they can overpower all the other flavors quickly. To prevent that, pierce each pepper to keep it from blowing up, throw it in a dish of water with a chopped-up carrot, and nuke it until the carrot is soft. The carrot will draw a lot of the heat out of the pepper, leaving behind the flavor. Habaneros have a lovely, delicate flavor, but you have to draw out some of the capsaicin to get to it.

Happy canning!


Little blessings

Here are a few little things I am thankful for today:

Two more hyacinths blooming in the pond.

Zillions of zinnias blooming behind the fence.


Fresh produce from the garden … and good friends to share it with.

Great colleagues who worked their butts off and went out of their way to make my job easier all week.

Peanut butter milkshakes at the Happy Burger.

Cooler temperatures — the high is only supposed to be 88 tomorrow, with a low in the 60s. That flat 6:30 a.m. run should be a piece of cake after the hot, hilly miles I logged yesterday.

Hope your day was full of little blessings, too.


Marathoning again

I signed on to do Fleet Feet’s fall marathon training program again. This morning was our first run — an easy six-mile out-and-back along the river trail. (Well, as easy as six miles can be when it’s 82 degrees out at 6:30 a.m., with a heat index of 87.) Part of the group is training for Chicago, and the rest of us are training for the Route 66 Marathon, which will be here in Tulsa in November.

I saw a couple of enormous herons standing in the shallows as we ran alongside the river. Gorgeous creatures.

Some things never change. I started the run by jogging alongside my coach, Paul, who is a real sweetheart. Paul started the run by telling me I was going too fast. It’s hilarious to think I could be running “too fast,” but I get with a group and my pace sort of picks up on its own.

We passed my friend Fred from church on our way out. Fred is the sort of person who would be worth his weight in gold on a long run, because I have never seen him without a smile on his face — the kind of smile that makes everybody around him smile, too.

I’m smiling at the thought of going back to bed for another hour before I get up and drag Ron out for breakfast. I’m thinking oatmeal at the Blue Dome Diner, over on the old alignment of Route 66 downtown. They have great oatmeal — not mushy or pasty, but just barely moist, with raisins and nuts and brown sugar in it. I’m still trying to figure out the proportions so I can make my oatmeal come out like that at home.

Hope you’re starting your weekend with pretty sunshine, friendly smiles, and a just-exactly-right breakfast, too.


Ask the Hippie, Vol. 1, Issue 4

Blog reader Larry asks: You mention growing salad all year around with bricks and plastic. I am curious about this as I would like to do the same if possible. I live on Vancouver Island where winter temperatures rarely go below 20 F. Are your conditions similar?

Answer: Larry, the best gardening advice in the whole world comes from your neck of the woods. The city of Vancouver, B.C., has an incredible urban agriculture program which, among other things, supports a wonderful Web site called City Farmer. City Farmer taught me everything I know about vermicomposting. I signed up for City Farmer’s Podcasts and learned to make a handy dog waste composter that is still going strong and still hasn’t filled up after more than six months of constant use. My interest in cold frames and other season extenders came out of some old Mother Earth News magazine articles from the ’70s and something I read on City Farmer about six years ago.

The folks at City Farmer could give you spot-on advice about any aspect of gardening you can think of, but in the meantime, here’s how I built my brick-and-plastic cold frame, which grew several nice crops of spinach for us when we lived in southern Illinois (just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis), where nighttime temperatures dip down into the teens and low 20s quite often in the winter, and where single-digit evenings are not unheard of.

Our house in Illinois came with a cute but poorly designed brick patio that trapped water and funneled it right into the basement. We got tired of having a wet basement, so we dug up all the bricks and took them to the garden, where I used them to define the beds and keep the mulch where it belonged. (We use a modified version of the Square Foot Gardening concept, which involves laying out the garden in 4×4 squares instead of rows.)

When winter rolled around, I had some plants I wasn’t quite ready to part with, so I stacked another layer of bricks onto one of the beds, stretched some Frost King plastic over the top, and used a few more bricks to weigh down the plastic and keep it from blowing away.

That’s all there was to it — just a four-foot-by-four-foot square of the garden, surrounded by a double layer of bricks, with clear plastic over the top to protect the plants from frost damage.

The plants just kept going all winter, so I just kept harvesting spinach and lettuce and reseeding as necessary. We had some nice salads using the spinach and lettuce and a grow-your-own-mushrooms kit that Ron bought me for Christmas. (I’ll include the salad recipe at the bottom of this post.)

I think the brick beds worked better than a regular cold frame because the bricks were dense and fairly dark, so they absorbed heat all day. Then they radiated the heat out at night, and the plastic trapped some of it in there with the plants, keeping them warm enough that they could continue to grow throughout the winter.

The nice part was that it was made out of leftovers from other projects and really didn’t cost us anything except a little elbow grease.

This is our winter salad recipe:

Spinach, lettuce, or both (whatever you have in your garden)
Fresh sliced mushrooms
Can of black olives, drained
Package of crumbled bleu cheese
Olive or walnut oil
Balsamic vinegar
Coarse sea salt if you have some

Toss the first three ingredients, top with bleu cheese, drizzle with oil and vinegar, and sprinkle with salt to taste. I always make this in the winter, when produce is scarce and good produce is even more scarce.

If you’ve never had freshly harvested mushrooms, you really ought to do yourself a favor and buy a mushroom kit from Mushroom Adventures. They’re a little pricey, but they’re so much fun, and you can’t believe how wonderful really fresh mushrooms taste. They’re nothing like the ones you get in the supermarket.


Ring of Fire


Ring of Fire is finally blooming. I love these sunflowers. They’re about as gorgeous as anything I’ve ever grown … and SO easy. If I had to pick another career, I think I would be a sunflower farmer. I just love them.


I don’t know what variety this one is. Looks like Ice Queen, except I don’t recall planting that kind this year. Maybe I tossed a mixture out there and then forgot about it. Pretty, anyway.

This blog has finally lived up to its original purpose. I started it as a means of keeping some biological data on my yard. I got an e-mail from my mom today, asking whether I thought sunflowers would have time to come up and bloom in time for my sister’s wedding if she planted some around her gazebo now. A quick keyword search of the ol’ blog, and — voila! — I was able to confirm that we had blooms two months from our planting date. And you all thought I was just running my mouth across cyberspace for no reason. 😉

Our beans are producing like you can’t believe. We pulled about half a pound of snaps off the Trail of Tears plants. The Jacob’s Cattle beans are coming along nicely — big pods swollen with beans. They’re pretty things: big white seeds with dark splotches like a Holstein cow. We’ll let them dry and then cook them in the Crock-Pot with some of that good salt-cured slab bacon from the Totem Pole Trading Post on Route 66 in Rolla, Mo.

I didn’t harvest this year’s soybeans fast enough to use them for edamame, but they’re drying fast. I’ll let them dry and plant them next year. Might clear that patch after harvest and plant spinach there. If I can put my hands on some bricks, I’ll make a nice raised bed/cold frame thing like we had in Belleville. I once grew my own salad all winter using a cold frame made of old bricks with Frost-King plastic stretched over the top. The bricks absorbed heat from the sun all day and kept the plants warm enough to survive at night.

Here is something I have learned about gardening: The best tomatoes are the ugliest. We have grown four or five different purple tomato varieties over the years. They are always bigger, juicier, more productive, and more flavorful than the red ones. Ugly as sin — the best-tasting ones look like a giant bruise, all sick brownish-purple with green streaks around the shoulders — but they taste absolutely heavenly.

Hope your Sunday afternoon is beautiful and delicious. 🙂


Cuppycakes, sunsets, and Route 66

We spent yesterday driving from Tulsa to Tucumcari, where we stayed at the beautiful Blue Swallow Motel on historic Route 66.

We got up this morning and headed on into Albuquerque. Rather than ramble forever about our adventures, I'll just post some pictures of the highlights here:

Bee on thistle

I like this closeup I got of a honeybee working on this gorgeous flower — some kind of thistle, I presume — in Glenrio.


We found these weird gourds growing like kudzu all over the side of the road in Glenrio. I wasn't sure what they were, but I've never heard of a toxic curcurbit, so after I cut this one open with Ron's pocketknife, I licked the blade just to see what it would taste like. Auuuuugggggh! You can't believe how bitter that thing was! Bleah! Yecch! Ptui! I changed my mind about swiping some seeds to plant in my garden after that….


We wandered into the old cafe in Glenrio, where I got this shot through the window. I thought about having Ron sit down so I could take his picture, but I wasn't entirely sure whether any critters were living inside that old diner booth, and I didn't really want to find out….

Odeon at dusk

The Odeon, a historic movie theater in Tucumcari, is a couple of blocks off Route 66. I love that marquee. I was trying to get the sunset behind it, but the buildings were blocking the light. Still a nice shot, though, I think.

Bob on the phone

This picture may look like an ordinary picture of a man talking on the phone, but it is really proof that hell has frozen over and the Cubs' World Series victory is imminent. Why? Because the man in question is Bob Waldmire, hippie, artist, and Route 66 advocate extraordinaire, and the phone in question is of the cellular variety. You'd have to know Bob to fully appreciate this image, but suffice it to say that Bob, who lives in a VW Microbus most of the year and basically inspired the character Fillmore in the movie Cars, is not exactly a technophile. 😉


We ran into a lot of old friends — and made a few new ones — at the Blue Swallow. Here's a shot of our merry band, taken by a fellow traveler who was very patient about photographing all of us with about umpteen different cameras handed to him by various people.


There is a restaurant in Albuquerque called Cake Fetish. They sell nothing but cupcakes. Ron and I got into town early enough to try 'em out today. That's our order above. The big cupcakes are peanut butter something-or-other (on the left) and "Half Baked," which is a regular vanilla cupcake with chocolate chips all through it and a blob of chocolate-chip cookie dough baked into the center. The little cupcakes are Inside-Out German Chocolate (if you get the big one, the caramel and coconut frosting part is on the inside) and Hot Chocolate (a chocolate cupcake with chocolate ganache and chocolate buttercream frosting on top, sprinkled with a little bit of hot pepper … because, y'know, in the Land of Enchantment, there is nothing so great that it cannot be improved with the addition of a little chile pepper … not even a chocolate cuppycake).

And last but not least … here are two views of a vicarious Tucumcari sunset for Brad and Vicki, who are probably learning more than they ever wanted to know about Route 66 thanks to their friendship with a certain Red Fork road warrior:


Check Ron's blog for more pictures and reports from the road.



I bought a box of Froot Loops tonight in hopes of scoring a Cars toy — hopefully a Sheriff, or perhaps a Sally — but the people at the factory forgot to put a toy in there. It was a giant box, too. All those Froot Loops for nothing. And they didn’t have any boxes of Frosted Flakes with Cars toys in them, which was what I really wanted.

Poop. 😦

At least the frogs are singing tonight, and Bombalurina came to visit just as we got home from the grocery store, so the evening wasn’t a total loss. But still … no toy in my Froot Loops? What a disappointment.


Froot Loops

Froot Loops

I haven’t eaten breakfast on a regular basis since the Reagan administration, but Kellogg’s is doing a Cars tie-in, so of course I had to go out last night and buy a box of cereal so I could get my proof of purchase to send in (along with $2.99 shipping and handling) to get my personalized Fillmore the VW Microbus license plate.

I have always been partial to Lucky Charms. I don’t like them with milk (the marshmallows get all soggy and slimy and disgusting), but I like them dry. Dry Lucky Charms marshmallows are vaguely reminiscent of that freeze-dried ice cream we used to eat in science class when we were studying astronauts.

Unfortunately, Lucky Charms are a General Mills product … so I figured I would have to settle for Frosted Flakes or perhaps plain old Froot Loops instead.

You can imagine my utter delight when I discovered that Kellogg’s is now manufacturing Froot Loops with tiny Lucky Charms-style marshmallows in it. And these aren’t just any marshmallows — these are miniature depictions of Toucan Sam, along with various types of fruit, all rendered in pastel-colored freeze-dried marshmallow gunk.

They’ve also added some new colors. Back in my day, we only had three flavors of Froot Loops, not six. Adding cool tones to the mix seems like gilding the lily, but maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, I have now divided most of the box into Ziploc bags and am planning to take it to work to eat as a convenient snack during the day.

And remember: I’m running a marathon Sunday, so sugar-coated cereal can be considered diet food this week — I’m carbo-loading. 😉

If they’ll just hurry up and start selling those boxes of cereal that have the little sheriff’s car toys in them, I’ll be a happy camper.

who has a sudden and inexplicable craving for Flintstones vitamins … but not the yucky orange ones