Garden hose

It’s time to get the garden in, so naturally I made a beeline for my underwear drawer.

Gardener with Wooden Seedling TrayIt’s the same every year.

Well, okay, not every year.

There were those three or four years when the kids were younger and we lived on the river. A general disregard by my kids for anything that could be construed as a vegetable and the fact that floods don’t pay much attention to fencing, sort of made planting a garden a bad idea.

Not that we didn’t want to… we just didn’t have the time or money for that kind of failure.

This whole garden craze started when my dear husband and I were first married and moved into a house on a street in Cincinnati that easily could have been built in San Francisco. Clearly, the fact that our house was on land that could have been better described as vertical made it the perfect spot to build a raised bed garden.steep streets

Clearly.

With railroad ties and a truck full of dirt, we put in a little garden that held all the foods we would eat over the winter – tomatoes, corn, green peppers, eggplant and Brussels sprouts. And we put in a bed of herbs – basil, oregano, chives, peppermint and dill.

Let’s just say, I THOUGHT growing eggplant would be great, but I was wrong because once you grow them, you have to actually eat them. And I THOUGHT that two Brussels sprouts plants would produce enough buds to adequately feed two people, but I was wrong because it only produces enough Brussels sprouts to contemplate the correct spelling of “Brussels sprouts” on search engines when it becomes clear that bugs are eating more of them than you are.

And herbs? Here’s a tip – unless you really, really, really like the smell of dill, or the flavor of peppermint, don’t ever, EVER plant them directly into the ground because they will take over every available inch of ground they can find, from your garden well into the neighboring football field, if you let them. Even if you don’t let them, they will still do it and mock you for your feeble attempts to control them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the other hand, we had tomatoes and green peppers and corn!

I was so excited to go out and grab food that I had grown. I couldn’t wait to grab the tomatoes straight off the vine and plop a few ears of corn off the plants and into a big pot of boiling water.

But by the time I got around to it, they were gone.

I went outside and our harvest was no longer on the plants waiting for me to pick it. In fact, it was thumping along the back wall in a plastic bag, trailing two kids from our neighborhood who had come into our little backyard for a little vegetable buffet.

I suspect their mom sent them. Seriously, what kid steals vegetables?

Those little set backs didn’t stop us though. Most everywhere we went – from a row house in Newport, Ky., to a three-story mansion in the middle of Cincinnati, and here in our home in Anderson, SC – we planted a garden.

We were like the Johnny Appleseed of green vegetables and overgrown herb beds….

This past year, we had heirloom tomatoes, squash, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, carrots, radishes, basil, oregano, sage, parsley and even a few okra plants.

zukesOur tomatoes were great, as were the squash, but honestly, we just gave up on harvesting them after a while because we got tired of eating them. Do you have any idea how much an average zucchini plant produces? I would estimate it at about 728 bushels based on the number of plastic bags of zucchini I had in my freezer one year when I got the idea that if I harvested them and grated them, I could make something like zucchini bread with them later.

That was a teacher Christmas gift that went over well, I’m sure.

So, instead, we just left them there. The birds ate holes in the tomatoes. The squirrels ate the green peppers. Some other unknown entity ate the lettuce and carrots. After eating our fill, we left the rest for nature to consume. It was just too much work to worry with.

And then, there was the whole watering thing. Also, a lot like work.

We just not the type to water plants. I’m sure that our peace lilies, who have been with us for more than 16 years, tremble in fear every time we get the Christmas decorations out because they know that is the sign they’ll be coming inside, into the desert of our living room, until it gets warm outside. dead lilyOften, between December and February, I will walk by them and say to myself “Jeez, I really should water the plants,” but never actually do. It’s a wonder they haven’t gotten together and grown legs so they could strangle us in our sleep for forcing them through the torture of neglect.

When it came to the garden though, I wasn’t ever going to spend a fortune to end up with another failure. And what’s the point of spending a small fortune on a garden, if your desired result is to get something for almost nothing?

So, we came up with alternatives.

Need mulch? We use old clean cardboard boxes and newspapers.

Want an irrigation system? We poke holes in the bottoms of empty two-liter bottles and bury them in the ground near your most neediest plants to regulate a water supply that lasts for a few days.

Need plant supports? Well, … here’s where the underwear drawer comes in.

Our tomato plants are planted in front of an old trellis that I have had for more than 15 years. Tomato plants don’t generally take to being trained up a trellis and they’re pretty fragile, so tying them up can be problematic. Sometimes, even string can cut into the tender vines and leave you with nothing but a stem that’s beautiful on the bottom, but withered and bare on the top. The Solution? Old panty hose. They have just enough give in them to be supportive for the tomatoes while holding them in place.

tying-tomatoes-pantyhoseWhich means one of my first stops when setting out the garden is to rummage through my underwear drawer to find hose with runs and rips and tears in them. Since no pair seems to last for more than 378 seconds, happily, they aren’t hard to find.

I’ll be out buying plants and seeds this week. And I’ll be going through my underwear drawer.

But I’m pretty sure the kids next door won’t be stealing my tomatoes this year. They have a chicken coop.

Maybe we can trade veggies for eggs.

One more thing to store in old panty hose, I’m sure…

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2015

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Veggie Time

I’m sorry, I have to say it. I really dislike some vegetarians.

I don’t dislike the fact that they are vegetarians – heck, I think everyone has the right to decide what they want to eat. And honestly, if someone would rather eat spinach, cannellini beans and quinoa instead of bacon double cheeseburger, that’s none of my business.

No, the ones I have a problem with are the vegetarians who think that because THEY are vegetarians, you want to be one, or should be one too.

For instance, this afternoon, I picked up a soup cookbook at the library. I have to say I was really excited because a quick look at the back cover included a reference to “pho” one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes.

Beef Pho
Beef Pho

Pho is known for being one of the great Vietnamese street foods, and you won’t see an Anthony Bourdain Vietnam episode without some mention of it. It’s a soy sauce based broth on noodles called bahn pho, with herbs, spices and meat – usually either beef or chicken. It’s just amazing comfort food, give or take the “slurp slurp” noise that sometimes accompanies eating it.

So, I was really excited to get the recipe home and try it our, right? Of course right!

Imagine my surprise then when I open the book to the right page and there, in little words before the recipe, was a disclaimer saying while the original recipe was “redolent with beef” they had made theirs a vegetarian version.

WHAT?!?! I didn’t want a vegetarian version of a meat and noodles soup! I didn’t want faux pho, I want pro pho!

You want me to do what with it?
You want me to do what with it?

And then I realized all of the soups were vegetarian versions with little notes about how, if you gave it as a gift, the recipient could add their own meat later after you left.

Yeah, that’s TOTALLY going to make your friend happy to have to get a gift that makes you work…

It reminded me of a friend a few years ago who was getting married. A guest of one of the invited guests requested that not only did she want a vegetarian dish that the hostess hadn’t planned on providing, but that no meat be served at her table during the reception. I’m not making this up. I was stunned too.

Here’s the thing, if you don’t want to eat meat, that’s cool, just don’t expect me to forego meat with you or for your comfort.

There's plenty of vegetables on there for two...
There’s plenty of vegetables on there for two…

If someone wants to delude themselves into believing that tofu and mung beans taste better than ribs and brisket, that’s fine for them. But please don’t expect me to order a salad and cornbread at the Big Pig BBQ because I’m sitting at a table with vegetarian.

You know; if you can’t take the meat, stay out of the smokehouse.

Some vegetarians I know talk about the poor animals who are murdered for our carnivorous needs and it makes them sad or sick to even see them on a plate.

Or that the animals are poor sweet creatures slaughtered for our benefit.

Uhm, let’s take cows for instance. I’ve worked with cows. A) they stink. B) they poop in their food. And c) they are dumber than rocks.

Not that any of them does anything to deserve being hit in the head with a sledgehammer, cows-in-field2but still … they don’t all look like Bessie on the milk carton or the cute cows you see on Chick-Fil-A billboards. And none of them talk. Honest. They are big, dumb creatures that taste really good roasted over a charcoal pit.

A good steak, medium rare with a nice garlic butter? Awesome. Man, oh man, it doesn’t get any better. Add a baked potato and a good Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon. Heaven in dishware.

I don’t think anyone will ever say that about bean sprouts or edamame. I just can’t picture anyone getting worked up about a carrot raisin salad and a side of fried tofu covered in tomato sauce with a glass of sauvignon blanc.

There’s no point in arguing that one way of eating is better than another. It won’t make enough of a difference to a meat eater to give up sausage, and it won’t make a vegetarian choke down some bacon. People should be able to choose to eat what they want. But no one should assume that others should share in their eating habits, just because they happen to be around them and don’t like the smell of what they might order.

You think beef smells bad? Get a whiff of tamarind paste or falafel soaking once in a while.

Stinks worse than the damn cows, if you ask me.

But then again, if you’re a vegetarian sitting next to me, I’m not going to assume you will eat up a big bowl of beef stew just because I’m next to you either.

 

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2015

Dear women’s magazines, I give up

Okay, women’s magazines, you win.

can't I give up.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to stop reading you, I’m just not going to succumb to your particular brand of torture anymore.

I’ve read women’s magazines since I was a little girl. I drooled over recipes and wondered what it would be like, as a teenager, to have the freedom to make “Pan-seared Duck with orange confit and a bed of microgreens.”

I’ll admit it, I’ve been a foodie since I was knee high to a Kitchen Aid, but now… I just don’t think I can take this anymore.

You’ve all just gone over the top.

Like any good foodie mom, I read your “How to make a gourmet dinner for your family in less than 30 minutes” and I want to be able to do that.

Making a dinner for my family that would please the palate of Gordon Ramsey in half an hour using only 15 simple ingredients? So doable, I thought.

Gone are the days of salmon patties with buttered egg noodles and corn. Tomorrow, it’s Korean beef lettuce wraps with soba noodles and edamame. I can do this!, I thought.

But now, you’re just being silly. Now, you’re putting in your magazines things no kid who isn’t starving or on a forced diet would eat.

It’s just that, recently, reality has hit me.

I don’t care what your cooks do in your kitchen, no matter how hard I try, there’s no way I’m making a three course dinner for four in less than an hour. I know, I know, you’ve got all those timing things outlined in your directions, but honestly, how you do all that chopping when you’ve got to help with homework and clean the house is beyond me.

And another thing, do you think you could start printing recipes that use ingredients I might actually have in my kitchen?

One recently included mashed parsnips.mashed-parsnips

Parsnips?

Really?

Who the hell buys parnsips on a regular basis?

I’d like to make gourmet meals, really I would.

But I think if I were to serve pomegranate, watercress and roasted macadamia nut salad my guys would look at me like I had stepped off of the pages of Bourgious Kitchen and straight into the world of la-la land.

And as much as I’d like to make a panko and peanut crusted chicken breast with orzo and a side of pan roasted broccolini, I’ve only got stove top stuffing mix, a can of cream of mushroom soup and some french-style green beans in my pantry.

I can’t go out spending $40 on one dish that my family will say “Eh. It was okay” to, when I’ve got another 13 dishes to make and only $300 to spend, over the next two weeks – and that includes money for pizza night!

A quick look at some of my cookbooks proves my point. In the Betty Crocker Family Dinners in a Hurry cookbook, circa 1969 (yes, I’m well aware that some of my cookbooks are just as old as I am – almost), there’s a recipe for Broiled Round Steak with Mustard Butter and Herbed Tomatoes that lists 8 ingredients for the main and side combined – and that’s INCLUDING the round steak! – that takes less than 20 minutes to make and serves 6.

In Southern Living’s May 2014 edition, the recipe for Flank Steak and Cucumber Salad lists 16 ingredients, including Asian chili paste (“such as Huy Fong” it says) and English cucumbers (in my head, I swear I was thinking “I say, are you a regular cucumber, or do you come from across the pond, dear chap?”).

Sixteen ingredients. For a salad. That takes nearly an hour to prepare. And serves 4.

Are you kidding me?

When the boys were younger, I was an industrious chef.

witches fingersI’d make Halloween dinners that looked like witches’ fingers with ghostly shaped mashed potatoes. I made weekday dinners of tuna melts that looked like little boats with American cheese slice sails. I made decorated cupcakes for school birthday parties.

(Just a note – when you make cupcakes in ice cream cones decorated to look like.. well, ice cream cones… uhm, there’s no way you can ever get over the look in your kids’ school friends’ faces when they realize it’s not, in reality, ice cream.)

But today, … uhm… not so much.

Tonight when I went into the kitchen, I had no idea what I was making until I found a freezer bag of the poultry variety, a box of long grain and wild rice mix, some potato chips, shredded cheese and a can of mushroom soup.

Thank God, for cream of mushroom soup.

Throw that together with sauteed onions, pimentos and frozen peas, and viola! Casserole surprise!

Still took an hour though. And that’s not counting the time spent pondering what the hell am I supposed to make tonight.

But it was affordable. I would say I probably spent $7-$10 on the whole meal, and that’s including the meat substance – whatever it was.

And they ate it! They actually ate it and said “Not bad, Mom.”

Running to the store to buy the ingredients of the aforementioned flank steak and I would have easily gone through $40, and that’s not including Huy Fong (whatever the hell that is, and depending entirely on whether my small town Southern grocery store would have actually had anything remotely resembling it).mom in store

It’s just too much.

If I’m honest, I just don’t have the time for that crap. Heck, I don’t even know where I would find pomegranates in my hometown.

I’m all about good cooking and living with nice things, but enough is enough. I’m not ever going to host a party where my friends are going to turn up their noses at my cornbread salad, or homemade guacamole. I like all your stuff, but, damn, it’s just too over the top anymore. Can’t you just print normal recipes?

I want my family to be happy, but not at the cost of spending beyond my means. And I’m not alone. Making a gourmet dinner for my family at the cost of their college funds? Not likely.

You all go ahead and make your spinach infused fish fillets with cous cous and sauteed Italian eggplant.

I’ll be the one making fried chicken in my cast-iron skillet and smiling when my kids actually eat it.

Course, that does cut down on the money I save in eating leftovers though…

 

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2014

Culture shift

So, when you move to the Upstate of South Carolina, one of the first things you learn is that the Confederacy was born and died right next door in Abbeville County.

Jefferson Davis signed the Articles of the Confederacy during a meeting at the Burt-Starke House in the city of Abbeville, county seat of Abbeville County. Five years later, when the War of Northern Aggression (seriously, that’s what some call it STILL) came to a close, Confederate troops ran through Anderson with the Confederate gold, and stopped at the Burt-Starke Mansion to let Davis sign the treaty that ended the Civil War.

The other thing you learn pretty quickly is that there is a big Black population here. When I lived in Cincinnati, it was shocking how few African-Americans were in the area. That area had about a 5 and 10 percent black population, but here it’s closer to 35 percent, if not higher in some areas.

So, I’d been here for about 6 months, and my newest friend was the public information officer for the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office. She invites me out to “choir Practice” on a Wednesday night – which is so named because it’s Karaoke night at the Islander, which she gets to go to while her step mom takes her son to church. So, my friend is recently divorced and was there at choir practice with her then loser boyfriend Steve. And Steve, because I’m a reporter and I’m new, starts telling me all about the area. And since he has lived here forever, he just won’t quit. And I’m looking over to my friend to have her help me, but she’s off singing (if you can call it that) karaoke to “You give love a bad name” which seems appropriate for her ex, but seems to be a bad sign for the relationship if it’s about Steve.

Anyway, I’m trying to pay attention to Steve, which is hard because he’s really boring, when he says “Has anyone told you about the Black Panthers in Abbeville?”

Immediately, my ears pricked up. Having covered Klan rallies in Oxford, Ohio and going through riots in Cincinnati, and almost covering the Klan in Brookville, Indiana, I was immediately interested.

“Oh, yeah,” he says. “They’re all over the place. I’ve seen a bunch of them in Abbeville.”

Now, I had just gotten finished writing a story about this guy that ended up stealing about $3k made during an event that was supposed to go to charity. And my editor was constantly telling me to “go out there and rake some muck.” And I’m thinking “Holy crap! Militant black activists in the cradle and grave of the Confederacy? What the heck?! This is going to be a great story!!!”

So I start pumping Steve for more info and I’m asking him where these black panthers are and what they do and what everyone thinks about them. They live in Abbeville, he says, and everyone pretty much ignores them because what else are you going to do, you don’t see them much, so it’s not like you can shoot them.

To say I was a little shocked at that sentence is an understatement.

And then he says “Oh, yeah, I see them all the time on my way to and from work driving down the Abbeville Highway.”

I was looking at him like a deer hit by a bus and I ask, “Well, how can you tell they’re black panthers?”

And without batting an eye he says “Oh, that’s easy – you can tell cause of their long tails. Otherwise, they’d just be bob cats….”

My chin almost hit my beer glass my jaw fell open so much.

Yup…. Welcome to the rural South, Miss Uppity Northern Reporter…

© Liz Carey 2014