VICTORY GARDENS AND QUARANTINE KITCHENS: Seeing the positive and feeling in control

“Victory Gardens showcase patriotism in its truest sense, with each of us taking personal responsibility for doing our individual part to create a healthy, fair and affordable food system.”
-Rose Hayden-Smith

Victory Garden: Our family garden

As I sit at my computer to type this for a column I write for a local magazine, I am sure that I join many of you with thoughts whirling with wonderment at the challenging times we are facing. While it is early April, by the time you read my words it will be May. That brings me a huge sense of relief – perhaps our lives will be somewhat back to normal by May? Though, what does that mean anymore? While I admit that I am growing tired of the phrase, “The new normal” – doing things differently than we did before may be a reality that we are facing. Also, because I try to be a glass half full sort of person, maybe adapting and changing some aspects of our lives is not necessarily a bad thing.

When I think back to a few months ago I never imagined that “Zoom Meetings” and “Google Meet-Ups” would become the way I learn how to communicate with my high school students, fellow educators, and administrators. I could not fathom  “Shelter in Place Orders” or the bickering I would witness on social media over Essential vs. Non-essential workers. Yet, here we are. 

As a teacher, a writer, and a blogger I repeat constantly how one of my guiding philosophies is that our writing is a time capsule. As uncomfortable as it is at times, we are experiencing history and whatever medium we choose to document the Covid-19 pandemic will become a primary source for future generations.

My husband, as a police officer, is one of those Essential Workers and I have to give him credit for being full of grace under pressure. Whenever he detects that I may be feeling anxiety over a situation, or feeling stressed out he reminds me to put things into focus. He is known to ask me, “Is the house on fire? Is it an arterial bleed? Then things are going to be okay.” When I hear his voice of reason it always makes me giggle a little and realize that I need to calm down and not panic. Needless to say, I relied on him often in the past couple of months.

One of the things that has helped me stay centered during a time of confusion and uncertainty is to rely on the things that bring me joy. This means nourishing my family with healthy foods and leaning on nature (even when it dumps two feet of snow on us like it did yesterday). However, there is a sense of satisfaction knowing that the weather is temporary. Our days are already much longer and soon they will bring warmer weather.

Over the past couple of months I have read several blog posts and comments from friends on social media stating that they have enjoyed a slower paced life and being able to sit down as a family to enjoy a home cooked meal together. Perhaps that will be something positive that many families will take away from these trying times and continue to practice?

My step-son Lukas and Apollo making peanut butter cookies.

Home cooked meals are one of the cornerstones of my husband and my marriage. Not only do we delight in making dinner in our own kitchen, but we pride ourselves in raising much of the food ourselves. Having a little extra time at home has brought even more cooking into the mix. Not only did my husband and step son make banana bread and homemade peanut butter cookies, but they also tapped and boiled down maple syrup from our own trees.

In addition to cooking, we started our Victory Garden. Those familiar with history know that during WWII families were encouraged to grow their own fruit and vegetables to help supplement the food rations to aid the war effort, but also to boost the morale of the citizens. Now as you may know from reading my columns, gardening is not something new to the Waldos. However, I dare say that I approached it this year with renewed gusto and vigor. With our family trying to take fewer trips to the grocers, having a backyard full of fresh greens, herbs, and vegetables is even more appealing. So I thought I would share some tips that I have for how to start your own seeds in your own home.

If you have a small home, with limited space, as long as you have a sunny windowsill – you can get seeds to sprout. I find that our windows with eastern exposure and morning sunlight do the best.

While you can purchase fancy seed trays and pots, I make sure to save all of our large yogurt/cottage cheese containers for tomato seeds. Since I like those seedlings to get quite large before transplanting them into the ground, the larger containers allow the roots to grow. A tip from my mom for tomato seedlings is to allow a fan to circulate a couple weeks before getting them into the ground and plant them deeply. The fan allows them to strengthen and become more resilient to the elements outside.

Another great tip if you love to recycle is to keep the large clamshells that you purchase greens in. You can fill them with garden soil and they make the best mini-greenhouses.

Once you are ready to move the seedlings outside, you can move them to a bed outside, or utilize a container garden. For years before I had the land that I do now, I grew gorgeous tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets. Herbs grow great in containers, as well as peppers, and you can even buy or make trellises and grow peas, beans, and cucumbers in large pots or buckets. 

As far as seeds go, we like to purchase our seeds in bulk because they are more cost effective. As long as they are stored in a cool, dry place (a jar works great) they will keep for up to five years (or more). 

In addition to planting our Victory Garden, one of the things that I have been trying to do to stretch our grocery trips is to make multiple meals out of one main ingredient. Therefore, I have been sharing on my social media accounts tips to help others do the same thing. Since we raise our own pork and chicken, I made the recommendation for others to purchase a whole ham or whole chicken. For example, a ham can be made into sandwiches, ham and scalloped potatoes, and you can toss the bone into your pressure cooker (or on the stovetop) and make bone broth that can then become a pot of Ham and Cheesy Potato and Broccoli Soup. A pork loin can be slow cooked in the crockpot with potatoes and carrots for a delicious roast. The extra meat can be seasoned for tacos and the juices from the roast can be thickened with flour and butter with sausage added for breakfast biscuits and gravy.

The same can be done for a chicken. Our Easter dinner was a chicken roasted in our pressure cooker. I reserved the drippings and thickened for gravy and then reserved the carcass for homemade bone broth. The bone broth can be put in jars and frozen(with about an inch of head room so the jars do not crack) or can be used right away as the liquid to cook flavorful rice or make a pot of chicken soup.

Do you make your own Bone Broth? If not, here is my basic recipe that I believe is a staple in any kitchen, but especially a Victory Garden or Quarantine Kitchen.


*One chicken carcass (I take all, or most of the meat off. You can also use chicken thighs or legs if you have them. Of course this method works with turkey as well).
*4-5 cups of water
*One onion halved (I leave the peels on)
*Few carrots (leave the tops on if you are using whole carrots)
*A few celery ribs (I use the tops that often get discarded)
*A few cloves of garlic or minced garlic (if you use whole – no need to peel)
*3 Tablespoons of vinegar (it helps draw out the healthy minerals the bones)
*Salt and Pepper 

Pressure cook for 45 minutes. If using a stove top or crockpot method you can simmer for several hours (the longer the better).

This is just a basic recipe, and you can change the flavor profile by adding other herbs and seasonings. You can add rosemary, thyme, ginger, parsely, cilantro, lemon, and even hot peppers. 

As I write this I am not certain what is in store for the future. However, I want to wish you the best and hope you are safe and healthy. Please feel free to reach out to my Facebook page or comment here if you have any gardening, canning, or cooking questions. I am not an absolute expert, but I have learned a lot of tips and tricks over the last several years.

The most important thing to remember in a time of uncertainty is that we are in this together. Check in on each other and let us continue to make our communities a safe place to live. Make sure to do something that brings you joy.

If you have never gardened before, I guarantee you will not regret picking up this healthy hobby. Whether you try to put up enough vegetables for the entire winter like my family does, or simply grow a little kitchen herb garden, there is something incredibly satisfying about growing your own food. If you ask me, nothing tastes as fine as a fresh, juicy garden tomato still warm from the sun. May is the perfect time to start your Victory Garden. Get growing!

Old Fashioned Sweet Pickled Beets

There is no love sincerer than the love of food. -George Bernard Shaw

On the eve of Valentine’s Day I wanted to offer you up a romantic recipe. Last year I made a luscious beet soup that my husband John did not find delicious. However, his reaction was memorable and I still laugh thinking about it. Needless to say, I will not be making him soup this year. I am still deciding on an entree, but I know that I will definitely make a leafy green salad with pickled beets, feta cheese, raspberries, walnuts, and a homemade lemon dill dressing.

The summer of 2019 will go down in my memory bank as the year of broccoli and beets. While my tomatoes took their sweet time to ripen, our freezer quickly filled with broccoli and I celebrated in growing the most gorgeous and lavish beets that I have ever laid eyes on.

As they say, the third time’s the charm, and this statement definitely applies to my beets this year. Two summers ago I could not get my beets to germinate in the ground and last summer rabbits devoured them as soon as the greens started to show forth. Thankfully, I am a stubborn woman and I did not surrender. Thus, I had a bounty of this lovely root vegetable to pickle and roast. 

My beautiful beets.
Earthy Beets

Beets do grow wonderfully in the climate of the Upper Peninsula. They love cool weather, so you can plant them late and harvest them up until the first frost. My mom taught me to harvest them when they are no larger than a tennis ball. Since they are a late crop you should still be able to find some locally at the farmers market and most supermarkets carry them in the produce section.

While beets are an acquired taste, many people who do not enjoy beets as a side vegetables seem to like them pickled. Many people that I have talked to reminisce fondly about a grandmother who was known for her pickled beets.

Thriving in the garden.

This fall was my first time pickling beets and it was much easier than I imagined. Working with beets can be messy work and I was delighted to see how easily the skin slid off after boiling them and immersing in cold water. An added benefit is the fragrant aroma of spices that fills your house. Pickling beets is a perfect activity for a crisp autumn afternoon, or on a cold winter’s day. Most grocers carry bunches of beets in the produce section year round.

OLD FASHIONED PICKLED BEETS
(The brine recipe rendered 3 quarts and 4 pints)

*2 cups of water
*2 cups of apple cider vinegar
*2 ½ cups of sugar
*1 teaspoon whole cloves
*1 teaspoon whole allspice
*1 stick of cinnamon
*12 large beets
*Canning jars and lids

Remove the greens from the beets. Since they contain a lot of nutrients I wash the greens and freeze for green smoothies. The greens are also wonderful tossed into soup or sauteed with garlic and olive oil and served as a side.

Beet greens for smoothies.

Cut the ends off the beets and boil until tender. Do not under cook the beets. When they are finished cooking immerse in an ice bath and the skins will slide right off.

While your beets are cooking you can prepare the brine. Allow the brine to come to a boil and keep it hot.

Slice the beets and pack into your clean canning jars. Pour the hot brine over the beets and leave a ½ inch of head room. Add your canning lids and rings. Since the brine is hot, the jars should seal without the help of a water bath. 

You can also make pickled beets without canning them. Simply follow the above directions and do not seal the jars. You can put them in the refrigerator. Wait a couple weeks for the brine to infuse the beets and they will keep for a couple of months. While pickled beets are a fantastic ingredient in a leafy salad, they also make a wonderful appetizer for gatherings. My mom always puts together a lovely festive tray with dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, pickled cauliflower, and these lovely beets. They also are a great hostess gift. One of my favorite ways to enjoy this delectable pickled vegetable is on a piece of toasted baguette with a smear of goat cheese that is infused with rosemary and a few crunchy walnuts.

If you do not already grow your own, you will want to add a row of beets to your garden next summer. Spring is fast approaching and it is the perfect time to browse seed catalogs, plan, and dream. If it is not possible to grow your own, make sure you frequent the farmer’s market to enjoy some locally grown beets. These pickled beets will help you savor summer all year long.

YEAR ROUND SUMMER SIMPLICITY – LATE NIGHT ZESTY BROCCOLI

“It was such a pleasure to sink one’s hands into the warm earth, to feel at one’s fingertips the possibilities of the new season.”
― Kate Morton

My ten-year-old stepson Lukas is the King of Questions. Not simple questions either. If you spend any time with young children you know exactly what I am talking about. Luke’s questions often border on the bizarre with a hint of gruesome thrown in. 

“So, Amy,” he inquires, “Would you rather swim with a shark or with an alligator?” “Would you rather be hunted by an invisible alien queen or a carnivorous dinosaur?” “Would you rather be trapped in a car without gas during a blizzard or in the path of tornado?” 

Therefore, I am always relieved when he asks me an easy question such as, “What vegetable would you choose if you could only eat one for the rest of your life?” Of course, when my response to him was that I would have a difficult time deciding between tomatoes and broccoli — he remembered our discussion last year that tomatoes were technically a fruit. So my answer had to undeniably be broccoli. 

For years broccoli has been a favorite. One of my college memories is of a Chinese take-out restaurant near the campus of Marquette University that my roommate Kat and I were known to frequent. Being frugal college students, and since the portions were large, we would share an entree. She would choose either Beef and Broccoli or Chicken and Broccoli. She would eat the meat and I would eat the broccoli. It was a perfect system and part of the reason that we lived together during all four years of our undergraduate studies. 

When I met my husband John, I was happy to discover that he shared my affinity for broccoli. Frozen broccoli became a staple in our grocery cart and it was one of the first vegetables that we planned for our garden. Since we have a hoop house, we are lucky enough to grow enough broccoli in the summer to last the entire year. We start our seeds in March, plant them mid-April, and for the past couple of years are able to start harvesting by the 4th of July. 

I can usually cut several heads of broccoli off of a plant before it starts going to seed. At that point I pull the plant and another takes it place. Therefore, once the seedlings go in the ground, I make sure to start another tray of seeds for backup. Most summers we are able to grow at least three individual crops of broccoli. 

I love when the seeds start to sprout!

To preserve I blanch the broccoli for three to four minutes (until bright green) in boiling water and immerse instantly into ice water. I then squeeze out any excess moisture and lay the broccoli out on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for approximately 10 minutes. I then vacuum seal the broccoli in plastic bags which keeps it fresh all year long in the freezer. I find that freezing the broccoli, as well as squeezing out the moisture, makes sure that the vacuum bags seal properly without pulling the moisture into the sealing machine. 

I eagerly await the 2020 growing season.

Once we started growing our own broccoli, it would be hard to go back to store bought. The flavor of fresh out of the garden, or even garden fresh out of the freezer, is dramatically different. We use broccoli in pressure cooked meals, in green salads, as a simple side dressed with real butter and a splash of lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt, or even as a late night snack (our favorite especially in the summer). Truth be told, I am known to sneak out to the hoop house in my nightclothes to cut fresh broccoli, a few beans, and peas (if they are still growing) and whip up a batch with the seasoning mix I am sharing with you today. 

I think that meals and snacks should be fresh and simple, especially in the summer when our chore list is a mile long and we do not want to heat up the kitchen. Though this winter we’ve been turning to vegetables often as snacks to balance out winter’s comfort foods. After all, spring break is around the corner and we have a special bucket list trip planned.

LATE NIGHT ZESTY BROCCOLI

*1 head of fresh broccoli or one large frozen package (cut fresh into florets)

*Juice and zest of a lemon (you can use concentrate if in a pinch, fresh is always best)

*1 Tablespoon of soy sauce

*2 teaspoons of chili paste or to taste (found in the Asian food section. It can be spicy, so use an amount to suit your taste)

*teaspoon of olive oil or butter

*Optional – teaspoon of minced garlic. (Some chili paste already comes with garlic. However, you can always add some for good measure.)

Prepare the broccoli with your favorite method. When I use fresh I use the blanching method and with frozen I cook in the microwave for 3-5 minutes (depending on the amount I use). In a bowl add the lemon juice and zest, soy sauce, chili paste, garlic, and butter (the hot broccoli will melt the butter) or olive oil. Toss and serve warm. 

This sauce perks up other vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, green beans, or cauliflower. It makes a nice dressing for a cold salad and works well drizzle on vegetables before roasting. While most people may imagine a late night snack in the summer to be a creamy bowl of ice cream. Trust me on the broccoli. It if you also want something sweet then finish it up with a cool piece of watermelon, or in the winter, a juicy tangerine. It is a summer treat that you can enjoy year round. It is pleasing for the taste buds and the waist-line alike.

February is the perfect time to start planning your garden. I know that the seed catalogs have started to arrive at our house and the stores are starting to get the garden centers ready. Homegrown broccoli is a life-changing taste – you will be thankful all year long that you took the extra effort to grow your own.

Broccoli = Summer Year Round