Thursday, July 17, 2014

Homemade Chicken Nuggets and Breaded Mozarella Sticks! Yes, You Can!

Just what is in a chicken nugget? A lot more than chicken that’s for sure. Recently I made the colossal mistake of taking a child with me to the grocery store. Somehow I allowed myself to be talked into not only a box of frozen chicken nuggets, but another of frozen mozzarella sticks. When we arrived home with our loot, both boxes were gone within the hour and two of my children were asking, “Why can’t you buy these all the time?” They were not happy with my lengthy answer that included reciting the ingredients list on the side of the nugget box.

Contrary to popular local lore, I am not the meanest mom in the world. I did feel a twinge of guilt when I looked into their sad faces. Not enough guilt to land those nuggets in my shopping cart again, but enough guilt to launch a search for a recipe for homemade chicken nuggets that actually tasted like the nuggets of their affection but was also good for them. This inspired me to search further and find a recipe for mozzarella sticks (The greasy, breaded kind my kids order at restaurants and fill up on before their meal arrives, not the plain kind that come in those wrappers that require reading glasses and non-guitar-playing fingernails to open.).

I located two excellent recipes on the website Weelicious and with a few modifications I’m happy with the version I whipped up last night to the delight of my diners! The coolest part is that I was able to make triple batches and freeze the extra nuggets and cheesesticks for future meals that the kids can fix themselves.

Want to know how I did it? Here you go –

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Under Seige from Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles are killing me. Well, actually, they’re not killing me, but they are killing many lives that I hold dear. 

The cherry tree that survived the attack of rust two years ago that killed the other cherry trees is covered in skeletalized leaves. The nectarine tree is covered in beetles boring into the fruit and causing them to shrivel and ooze juice. The grapes are putting up a valiant fight, growing new shiney lime green leaves to replace the ones destroyed by the beetles only to lose those new leaves within days. 

Even the asparagus is covered in the nasty creatures. I’ve never seen them go after asparagus before and if they kill mine I just may hang up my shovel and go buy a condominium. What is there to do?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What Is Our Tipping Point?

What does it take to make us believe? This is a question I ponder on many levels, in many areas of my life. What makes us believe something we read or see or hear? Why are we skeptical of one statement and not another? Is it a gut thing? Or a heart thing? I think maybe it’s a trust thing.

I need to trust the source from which the information comes. I don’t trust Fox News, pretty much any politician, the check-out clerk at Wal-Mart, or the passionate volunteer on the phone. I don’t trust the crazy right-wing driven blogs or the looney-tunes left-wing e-newsletter. In fact, most times I don’t trust information I’m given until I’ve poked and prodded and tested it myself.

We have an electric fence in our horse pasture. I tell all the kids who visit that it will shock them, but there are always those who must find out first hand.I remember touching fences myself when I was a child. I’d lay a long piece of grass to the wire and listen close. I’d hear that little zzzzpt and know that, yup, it’s hot.

Eight years ago, when my youngest child developed an autoimmune disorder seemingly out of the blue, my world shifted. My heart cracked wide open and my beliefs about what was safe and good and healthy all became suspect. Life seemed more fragile. Almost overnight I saw the world and our food supply in a completely new way. I didn’t trust anything that came in a package or out a drive-thru window. My motivation grew out of a desperation and pain that was all new to me. I would do anything to heal my child. I entertained all manner of wacko experts and obscure studies and stifled my skeptical soul. But sometimes the information I gathered made sense.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Gardening is For Risk Takers

Gardening has made me more of a risk-taker. Don’t laugh; I’m serious. When I moved into my first home after college, I immediately set off for the local hardware store and bought a flat of impatiens. I planted them in a neat row outside my little house trailer (again, serious). Having grown up in the woods, I knew these particular flowers would grow in the shade provided by the maple tree that sheltered my home. I spaced them exactly as the tag instructed and smiled all summer every time I came home and saw the happy pattern of pink- purple – orange – pink – purple – orange. For the next few years I planted more impatiens and when I moved to a sunnier locale, I planted petunias. I walked past the complicated perennials in their big pots with their big price tags. I didn’t have the budget for that – and what if I killed them as I had every house plant I’d ever offered shelter to? As a gardener, I played it safe.

When my husband and I bought our first house it came with a long gardening history. A huge established perennial bed loaded with coreopsis, iris, dame’s rocket, lily of the valley, coneflowers, and peonies filled the foundation of the old carriage house just outside my kitchen door.  A 60 foot long asparagus bed and tidily contained raspberry patch grew along the edges of the property, along with gooseberries (?) and justaberries (???), strawberries, black raspberries, rhubarb, blackberries, and seven fruit trees! My gardening education took a steep curve upward. Sadly, I must report in the first year alone we killed the peach tree, tilled under the weed-infested strawberries, and could only stare in confusion at the gooseberries and justaberries – what do you do with those?
Our Carriage House Foundation Garden (circa 1996)

My greatest gardening goal was simply not to kill anything else. And we did get better. I learned to freeze and can almost everything we grew.  I even planted more perennials and started an overly ambitious vegetable garden which mostly fed the deer and rabbits. And then I got pregnant and handed my garden over to the weeds and my husband.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

(Almost) Screen Free Vacation

We’re taking a vacation next week! It will be a whole week with no animals to feed, no gardens to worry over, no grass to mow, no screens to dull our minds! Or mostly no screens.

When I was a kid we spent two weeks at the beach every summer. I loved those weeks. We rose with the sun, surf-fished endlessly, played in the water, and lay on the sand reading. We always arrived at the shore with a stack of books we’d selected the week before when Mom took us to the Bookateria, a local used book store that let you trade in old paperbacks for credit. We each got to fill a grocery bag full of books for our vacation. I loved the possibilities of those books and the long days and quiet evenings spent turning the pages. Some nights we played Hearts, Parcheesi, Risk, or Rack-O. We basked in our parents’ undivided attention. On afternoons when the sun burned too hot for the beach, we’d tramp across the dunes to Newman’s Shell Shop and spend hours studying the shells sold by the pound and savoring the air conditioning before picking out that year’s hermit crabs.  Some nights we’d hunt ghost crabs and study the stars. Other nights Dad would build a bonfire on the beach and we’d fish through the tide change. We’d come home from vacation just in time to start back to school with our coolers full of fish, our skin bronzed, and our books crackling from the sand still left between the pages.

The one thing that was never a part of our beach vacations was a television. Amazingly, every cottage we rented was without one! After I grew up, my mom confessed that each summer when we pulled in to our rented cottage, Dad would demand that we all help him untie the car top carrier and stow the beach chairs and buckets under the house while Mom would hurry in, locate the TV, unplug it and hide it in the Master bedroom closet where it would stay for the duration of the vacation. Pretty clever, my parents.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Teepee is Ready to Go!

The teepee is up! I know you were not aware of my Native American roots, but that’s only because I have none. The teepee is for my beans. It’s always the most impressive feature in my garden, causing people to ooo and awe over my gardening prowess. But really, it’s no big deal. You can build one, too.

The teepee costs nothing and can be assembled in a half hour or less, depending on your available resources. All you need is a few sticks – three long, three medium – and a bunch of twine. Baling twine, which is littered in most every nook and crevice of my barn, works best. After this winter, sticks are everywhere. If you haven’t got a pile in the back of your yard, stop by a park, woods, etc., and grab a few off the ground. I promise no one will mind. If you’re local and need sticks – c’mon over. We picked up fifteen pick-up truck loads of fallen branches after this winter’s ice storm. (You can grab some free baling twine while you’re here.)
Once you have your sticks and twine assembled, choose a relatively level spot that gets plenty of sun.