Kitchen Garden

Winter Cooking

Taco supper on March 8, 2023.

We accumulate empty canning jars as a result of winter cooking. As the integration between our garden and kitchen continues, I’m learning which things we will use and which not so much. I’m also comparing various ways to preserve vegetables. It has been a good winter of meals.

Canned and frozen tomatoes, garlic, vegetable broth, frozen kale, apple sauce, apple butter, and dried herbs are most used. There is plenty of each to make it to next season.

The flavor of what we ate improved. We recognize when the flavor of a dish is sub-optimal. There is a long way to go, yet growing awareness of flavor will be good for our life and diet.

Making vegetable soup uses the largest variety and amount of preserved vegetables. Soup is based on a mirepoix of carrot, celery and onion with a few bay leaves. I start each batch with a quart of canned tomato juice or vegetable broth. This is where the stems of leafy green vegetables get used, along with their leaves. Barley thickens the soup and lentils add protein. If there are root vegetables, especially potatoes, they get peeled and diced, and go in. I preserved parsley in ice cubes and a couple of those go in. Whatever is available goes in. Soup makes many a winter meal.

My project to make hot sauce by using up old jars of preserved hot and dried peppers has been a roaring success. The flavor is better than anything store bought. After extracting the sauce, I blended and froze the pulp in a muffin tin. That has become a useful ingredient in fried rice and other spicy dishes. Home made hot sauce is superior in flavor. There is enough of it to last until the next pepper harvest.

We make a lot of taco filling. Our vegan, non-spicy version has bell pepper, onion, garlic, black beans, leafy green vegetables and tomato sauce. When I’m cooking for myself, I use guajillo or hatch chili pepper sauce instead of tomato, and lots of red pepper flakes. We buy our tortillas raw from the wholesale club. We like them because they have simple ingredients and no additives. The addition of white miso and Mexican oregano elevates the dish.

I use garlic in everything and there is plenty left from the July harvest. Home grown garlic proved to be the best.

We began to use apple sauce more quickly because we put it in vegan cornbread. After opening a quart jar, the rest gets eaten. Apple butter remains aplenty. Going forward, I don’t need to make so much of either when our trees have a bumper crop of apples. A dozen jars of apple butter serves through winter and gifting to next year’s harvest. Maybe two dozen pints of sauce, and a dozen quarts. The rest can go to sweet cider and apple cider vinegar.

We miss fresh vegetables in winter, yet we get by with flavorful meals. As a cook I am learning to adapt to the availability of vegetables.

Kitchen Garden

No Cookbook for Us

Primary cookbooks on Jan. 20, 2023.

During the coronavirus pandemic I began cooking most of the dinners in our home. There were challenges, yet after leaving paid outside work on April 28, 2020, I adapted. My repertory is not huge, yet with a substantial kitchen garden, there are always good ingredients on hand for meals.

Regular readers may recall my recent posts about cookbooks. To what extent do we rely on other people’s recipes and techniques? Once one gets practice, not much.

I posted on Facebook about baking bread:

I’m getting off store-bought bread, maybe permanently: baking my own. It’s been a thing to practice and develop a recipe I like. I found mixing the water, yeast and sugar in a separate container to let them proof, then pouring it into a bowl on top of the flour and salt produced bread with a nice crumb. Am working on oven temperature, yet I start it on 400 degrees for ten minutes or so, then lower to 375 degrees to finish.

What are your tips for bread-making?

Paul Deaton Facebook page, Jan. 19, 2023.

In a day I got 26 comments in which people shared how they make bread. There were ingredients, and recipes, and much personal information about process. Importantly, I learned how bread fits into my friends’ lives. These kinds of posts are the best part of being on Facebook.

Part of my interest in bread making is the process of waking up, washing my hands, and having the dough rising in the oven by 3:30 – 4 a.m. I enjoy kneading dough very much, so I wouldn’t consider a bread machine or other process that did not include kneading. Instead of personal grooming, or putting on makeup to be ready for my day, I knead dough as a way of waking up into a world where much work is required. Bread making is part of a process of crafting a livable life going forward. When I’m finished re-inventing my bread making I won’t need a cookbook very often, if at all.

I cooked meals with my maternal grandmother many times. She never once used a cookbook. From a young age, she worked as a cook in private homes, and in restaurants. She also cooked for her five children, and when she had one, her husband. She learned how to incorporate a kitchen garden into her menus, and later, ingredients available at the Walgreens within walking distance of her apartment. That’s something I aspire to.

Grandmother made lemon chicken for me when I returned from military service on leave. The kitchen in her one-room apartment was minimal and she used an electric frying pan rather than a stove. I enjoyed talking with her as she prepared our meal. These meals are among my fondest memories.

After supper, I asked her to write down the recipe for lemon chicken so I could prepare it. The funny part was she forgot to include lemon as an ingredient on the written recipe. No cookbook for her.

You can’t take it with you, so my cookbook collection will be reduced in number to a few to pass on to our progeny. I donated more than 200 to the local library book sale and to Goodwill. I have a couple hundred more to deal with. At some point this cookbook collecting got away from me.

I hope to get to the point where I can say, “No cookbook for me.”

Kitchen Garden

Straying from Recipes

Go-to Summer Meal – Sliced tomato, toasted whole grain bread, basil pesto , salt and pepper.

We make about two dozen regular meals based on what is available from a well-stocked pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. In season, we adjust meals to include fresh vegetables from the garden. Cooking has become ingredient-driven in our kitchen garden. If we have an ingredient on hand, it is likely to go into a meal. That is different from the way Mother put food on the table when I lived at her home.

I do seek new recipes. If one comes along requiring a special ingredient we don’t stock, it is usually discarded as I move on to one that fits into our food universe. Seldom do we adopt new recipes without modification to accommodate our outlook about cooking process and vegetarian cuisine. Our meals are pretty basic and that is a good thing.

For example, I don’t follow a recipe for making bread. Water, all purpose flour, yeast, sugar, and salt can make a decent loaf. I start by measuring hot water from the tap into a bowl. I measure a teaspoon or so of dried active yeast and a scant teaspoon of sugar, whisk, and let sit for the yeast to activate. Then I add the flour with a pinch of salt, and knead it into a ball for the first rising. After it doubles in size, I turn it out on the counter and knead a few minutes. I form it into a loaf and put the bread pan into a warm oven for the second rising. Once doubled in size, I take the pans out, turn the heat to 375 degrees, and bake for 30-35 minutes. The result is almost always good.

There isn’t a bread recipe, yet maybe there is. The picture I have of myself while making bread is of interaction with ingredients rather than following a recipe.

Beginning after World War II, changes in the availability of processed food and the rise of community cookbooks reflected a new era of home cooking. Review some of the recipes in these cookbooks and find reference to gelatin, shortening, instant pudding, boxed cake mixes, sweetened condensed milk, and other processed foods. Ingredient measurements for a recipe assumed a certain sized bag of frozen vegetables or can of beans before a time of larger purchases from wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club. In part, this is due to the rise of larger grocery stores with diverse supply chains. In part, it is due to a growing population influenced by television advertising and national brands. As we are coming to recognize, it is part of a movement toward consolidation of the food production industry into a small number of large, integrated companies. We had 15.5 ounce cans of beans because that is what the manufacturer made and was available at the local grocer. It is easier to use canned beans than preparing dried beans, so we did. Having read dozens of community cookbooks, I found recipes in them were often quite similar to one another.

The advent of short-form video about cooking may be influencing how we cook. I viewed hundreds of cooking videos on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. What I found is while some of the ingredients changed, common threads run through a majority of them. The substance of food preparation was similar and came from a relatively small list of ingredients. Additionally, a video presentation was not a “recipe” but more the idea of a recipe. I wrote about this in September. I believe our cuisine is poorer for dealing with ideas rather than the taste and economics of actual dishes on our plates.

There is a dynamic between a new recipe, our habitual cuisine and our pantry. Because of my experience as a cook, I am more likely to take the idea of a recipe and use it to make a meal than I am to use a recipe as a starting point for grocery shopping and process control. Making three meals a day is not that complicated, nor does it take a large variety of recipes.

It is normal to adjust recipes. A well-known recipe is for Toll House cookies printed on the Nestle brand of semi-sweet chocolate chips. When I made this recipe, I added a tablespoon of flour to the cookie dough to produce a firmer cookie. Cooks everywhere make such minor adjustments to recipes.

The key transformation as a cook is to stray from recipes completely. To become like that bread-making cook I described and visualize what the dish will look like using techniques needed to create the dish. They say we shouldn’t stray too far from the reservation. Straying from recipes may be the best way to cook.


Holiday Retreat – Day 2


On day two of my five-day retreat I feel the first day was a success.

Dinner was tacos using leftover filling with some added hot sauce. I made the sauce using older hot pepper sauces and salsas in the refrigerator and pantry. I also found a jar of “hot vinegar” to add. The pot simmered all day until it reduced in volume by a third. Next I strained out the larger solids and blended them into a paste to store and use separately. The main hot sauce has excellent flavor and displaces any need to buy commercial products well into gardening season. Thumbs way up!

I made a loaf of bread yesterday and it turned out dense. I added too many extras like bulgur wheat, oat bran, and mystery flour, and the yeast wouldn’t rise. I started over this morning with straight all purpose flour and the King Arthur Flour basic recipe. We’ll see how this goes, fingers crossed. If I’m successful, I’ll have a better starting point for using up all the flour-like things in our pantry.

A modest investment in an electric snow blower proved to be wise. I’m of an age where I shouldn’t be out shoveling snow in extreme cold. The electric snow blower is easy and fast. There hasn’t been a lot of snow during this blizzard so I blew the driveway only once. Limited snow is forecast today yet the wind will be continuous, creating drifts. I may go outdoors to shovel the front steps when ambient temperatures get to one degree around 3 p.m. We’ll see.

Organizing was important on day one. I checked the website for used book donations at the public library, and they are pickier than they have been. They recommend books published within the last ten years. Whoever wrote that standard doesn’t understand books. I divided the current culled books into two piles, one for the library used book sale and one to be donated to Goodwill which doesn’t have any criteria on their website. Another hundred books will go out the door once the blizzard relents.

The dining room table is cleared so I brought up my files on medical stuff. They accumulated over the years and I plan to go through them before my spouse returns. Getting that done during these days would be nice.

Overnight we dropped to minus ten degrees. I set the thermostat on 60 and got out the third wool blanket for the bed. My nose was a little cold yet every thing else stayed warm.

I called a friend and we talked about an hour. We have been working on politics together for a long time. I reflected on my favorite political events. Here is a short list of memories revisited:

  • Stuffing envelopes for the 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson campaign in Davenport.
  • George McGovern rally at Old Capitol in Iowa City before the 1972 general election.
  • Standing for Ted Kennedy during the 1980 presidential caucus in Davenport.
  • Crossing a street in Des Moines when a van load of apparent preachers, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whizzed by in 1984.
  • Taking our child into the polling booth with me to vote for Bill Clinton.
  • Our family attending the 2004 Iowa caucus and standing for John Kerry.
  • Meeting Barack Obama at the Tom Harkin 2006 Steak Fry near Indianola.
  • Dave Loebsack’s 2006 campaign.
  • Being precinct secretary at the 2008 Iowa caucuses.
  • Seemingly endless Hillary Clinton events in 2016, including getting a selfie with her.
  • Elizabeth Warren event in Tipton, Iowa in April 2020.
  • Leading the 2020 precinct caucus and the ensuing reporting snafu..

All these memories are important. I expect to work each of them and more into my autobiography. In addition to politics, there are multiple thematic subjects to include and I haven’t decided how to approach them. This retreat is providing some ideas.

Today is about holiday baking. Bread, an applesauce cake, and at least one batch of cookies are in the works. I donned a stocking cap from the merch store of the Twitch stream I follow and am styling multiple layers this morning. It appears the worst of this blizzard’s cold weather is behind us. The new process of working in the kitchen before arriving at my workspace continues to deliver results. By 10 a.m., I got a lot done.


Holiday Retreat – Day 1

After Snowfall

I decided to make a five day retreat, beginning today, at home. I’m not exactly sure what that means in 2022, yet with our child in Chicago, and my spouse in Des Moines, it’s just me here in Big Grove. It is telling the first thing I did when alone was to create structure.

When I went on a retreat in high school, a bunch of us boys crowded into one of the Saint Ambrose College dormitories for an overnight. The key takeaway had little to do with religion. A couple of classmates filched whisky and dandelion wine from their parents’ liquor cabinet and brought it. While I didn’t drink any, the main point of the weekend was doing what our parents wouldn’t let us. Priests supervised us, but, you know, post Vatican II.

A few things are determined the next few days. For one, I’m changing my morning schedule. Instead of making coffee and heading to my writing desk immediately after waking, I plan to work in the kitchen. With only me in the house, I can make as much noise as I like, when I like, without worrying about disturbing someone. I can turn the radio volume up.

After kitchen work will be reading, the usual minimum of 25 pages per day. The book I’m reading is good, so likely more than that. During the snow storm, clearing the driveway will be important. It’s easier if I blow it a couple of inches at a time, multiple times a day, instead of waiting for it all to accumulate. All these activities are intended to restart old habits, develop new ones, and provide fresh perspective. After “morning chores” the day begins. After today’s regimen I got a lot accomplished by 9 a.m.

While bunkered in during the blizzard I’ll pay more attention to food preparation. There are plenty of provisions and an open book on how much hot pepper I can use in cooking. No fancy dishes, just personal favorites on the spicy side made with butter, eggs and other dairy products.

Dinner was simple when I returned from the road last night: a veggie burger made into a cheeseburger with a bagel for a bun, potato chips, and dill pickles on the side. It served.

Soon, maybe tonight, I will make stuffed bell peppers. Saturday, Christmas eve, will be chili and cornbread. After that, I haven’t decided. Some sort of festive, holiday fare, no doubt.

The reason I need a retreat is to get organized for 2023. The big stuff: writing, gardening, home repair, and cooking are all necessary components. To take a step back and review where I find myself is an important part of setting appropriate goals for the coming year.

I’ll definitely write about the experience daily. I hope some readers will follow along.



Sorting Cookbooks

This photo represents about half my cookbook collection. None of these made the first cut represented by what is visible on bookshelves in my writing room. What the heck am I doing?

Going through them is not the same as sorting them. As I make and look through each pile, I have thoughts about how to use them. The categories are beginning to appear.

Mostly vegetarian

There about three dozen books devoted to vegetarianism or with mostly vegetarian recipes. I categorize myself as mostly ovo-lacto vegetarian and my spouse is vegan, so these are of particular interest. There are also books with instructions for how to prepare almost any vegetable imaginable. The best of these will be keepers and the others will be sold, donated or given away.

Culinary reference books

By this I mean books related to cooking yet are not comprised mostly of recipes. For example, Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential is in this stack. So is Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor by Hervé This. Some of these will go into my main library as reading material. A few may go on the cookbook shelf to be built for the dining room.

Souvenirs and memorabilia

When I was in Texas, I bought a souvenir cookbook with recipes from Texans. When I was in Georgia, I got a similar volume written by Georgians. There is a book about cooking potatoes presented as a gift. I’m not sure how many of these memories remain important. Once I have a pile, I’ll have to go through them and decide.

Books of yearning

Some books, by their title or cover or introduction beg to be examined more closely. Eating Cuban by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs is one of them. The Greens Cook Book by Deborah Madison is another. I yearn to spend an afternoon with books like these to dream about culinary invention.

Community cookbooks by geography

The City of Solon near where I live makes a cottage industry of community cookbooks. There is one for the one-room school house and one for the PTA, along with several others. A new one gets published regularly. Our home cuisine is so different from these recipes, I’m not sure of their relevance to our kitchen garden. The most interesting cookbook is titled The Solon PTA Cook Book with “Favorite Bohemian and American recipes.” The advertisements all have two and three digit telephone numbers which were phased out by 1920. No one currently living would have submitted a recipe, so that opens it up for use in my writing. On the back page of the cookbook, readers are admonished, “Aw shucks Mom. Put that cook book away and bring the family up to Lowell’s Cafe for a delicious steak, chicken or fish dinner.” Lowell’s Cafe is now part of history.

Community cookbooks by broader geography

Community cookbooks that were published outside Iowa can be first to go. It seems unlikely I will write about Mont Clair, New Jersey, for example. The question is where do I draw the line? A community cookbook from Ely or Mechanicsville might be keep-able. Most of the ones I have from Cedar Rapids and Iowa City are likely not. If I was a part of a community that wrote a cookbook, like the American Trucking Association maintenance council, I may look through it before disposition.

Appliance cookbooks

When we buy major appliances like refrigerators, ranges, and countertop appliances there is often a cookbook inside it. I have a stack of these. I don’t plan to keep any of them. Too much to read in too little time.

We have company coming over the weekend, so whatever I get done needs finishing by tomorrow. As I go through them all, the last thing I feel like is cooking something. Good thing there are leftovers in the refrigerator.

Kitchen Garden

Do We Need Cookbooks?

Not for recipes on how to prepare your pet dog or cat. It comes from the PET milk company.

Clearing space to put large format signs and maps piled on top of boxes of cookbooks was a start. I had the project of reducing the number of my cookbooks in mind for a while. It began with a question. How many cookbooks does a home cook need? Not as many as I currently have.

The end result will be a shelving unit in the dining area with the consolidated collection nearer to the kitchen. The goal is to review hundreds of cookbooks one last time, reduce them to as few as 20, and sell the rest at a garage sale, donate them to the library, or give them away. The project forces me to think about what cookbooks mean in my kitchen garden.

According to author Nichole Burke, “The kitchen garden is a small-scale version of the vegetable garden that enables you to experience the magic of growing and enjoying some of your own homegrown herbs, greens, and vegetables, but that gives you the convenience of requiring just a few minutes or hours of your time each week.”

My idea of a kitchen garden is different. I seek to incorporate what goes on in the kitchen more closely with the garden so they become one coherent whole. I began a couple of years ago and each season the two entities are closer to integration. As a result, more of what our household eats comes from the garden.

My garden is larger than what Burke suggests. In addition to patches gleaned for daily meals as she suggests, there are rows designed to grow and preserve vegetables for winter. Examples are peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onions and broccoli. Cookbooks are useful as a way to help determine which vegetables should be grown in larger quantities for preservation and storage.

The Inspired Vegetarian by Louise Pickford is a themed cookbook. The theme is eating vegetarian meals and it is designed to provide examples of a variety of vegetarian dishes for adoption in a home kitchen. It seems unlikely I would follow her recipes exactly, yet when she presents the idea of a vegetable cassoulet, for example, I know what that is and can take it as a starting point to create a version that fits into the world view and produce of my kitchen garden. The recipes may encourage me to grow different vegetables so I can prepare dishes we like.

Big decisions are easy. I’ll keep Joy of Cooking, Julia Child and company’s The Art of French Cooking, and Larousse Traditional French Cooking. There will be one or two “American” cookbooks even if there is not really an American cuisine outside fast food. The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion is essential, along with one or two other baking references. These alone would be enough for endless meals.

When on long-term work assignments in South Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Texas I spend idle hours watching Food Network. I expect to keep volumes by Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Rick Bayless and Giada Di Laurentiis. Also in the mix will be Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet), Ming Tsai, Martin Yan and José Andrés. Celebrity chef cookbooks have accessible recipes. I expect them to be a third of the final collection.

Another section of retained cookbooks will be those created by a community of which I was a part. My collection includes cookbooks from the hospital where I was born, the church where I was baptized, and other coherent groups to which I belonged as I proceeded through life. I read The Iowa Writers’ Workshop Cookbook edited by Connie Brothers over the weekend. It is an example of why certain communities shouldn’t produce a cookbook. I mean, some of the recipes seemed like outrageous inside jokes. I did enjoy seeking out authors with whom I interacted or saw at events in Iowa City in the cookbook. Most of the workshop mainstays provided recipes a person could actually use.

Another main use of cookbooks is in my writing. I intend to write about a trip I took to New Orleans. I read Lucy Hanley’s book New Orleans: Cookin’ in the Big Easy, which provides simple recipes of classic New Orleans dishes along with a list of local restaurants. The recipes and images evoked memories in a way that will be useful to my writing. While I spent only a few days there in 1981, the cookbook helps me remember. The same holds true for other regional or city-specific cookbooks.

With the rise of internet search engines, one questions whether cookbooks are needed at all. When I’m looking for ways to use radicchio, for example, it is easier to do an internet search than pore through a number of general purpose cookbooks searching for recipes. At the same time, there is something about having a book.

For now, I’ll be keeping some cookbooks.

Kitchen Garden

Cook’s Journey

Soup Ingredients

After dinner I put a two-pound bag of Great Northern beans in a pot to soak. The next morning, I drained and rinsed them, and covered with water to soak some more. At noon there was one more rinse, then I covered the beans with canned vegetable broth and turned on the heat.

In a separate pan I placed one large, chopped onion, the rest of the fresh celery from the garden plus three stalks from the store, and five thinly sliced medium carrots. Adding six bay leaves and some salt, I covered the mixture with more vegetable broth and turned on the heat.

Once both pots were boiling, I turned the temperature down to simmer. When the beans were cooked through, I strained the mirepoix mixture, reserved the liquid, and added the cooked vegetables to the beans. The soup simmered until dinner time. It was delicious.

There is no recipe for this bean soup. The ingredients are timeless. The process harks back to the oldest times. Times when how to cook was embedded in oral tradition and mass-produced cook books and the internet did not exist.

I made this soup many times. This time it was an epiphany representing the direction ahead for my kitchen garden.

Kitchen Garden

TikTok Cooking

Pasta with cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, garlic, basil, extra virgin olive oil, red chili flakes, salt and pepper inspired by social media posts on TikTok.

Between order by mail book clubs, online retailers, book stores, yard sales, and thrift stores, I acquired hundreds of cookbooks. With the rise of the internet I don’t need any of them.

The attraction of browsing hundreds of cookbooks may serve some writing project, but it is not how we live now. It’s not how we cook. What matters more is producing local food, with fresh and local ingredients as an expression of character and personality, rather than that of the scion of a family kitchen disconnected from here and now.

Cookbooks Galore by Paul Deaton, Aug. 5, 2013.

The brilliance of the TikTok cooking method is it reduces common dishes to a couple of minutes of video, freeing creative energy as we work in the kitchen. The recipe that produced the dish in the photo was not really a recipe but a technique of using available ingredients in the height of gardening season. The proof is TikTok pasta met expectations as a dish: in its flavors, as a way to use excess produce, and in its ease of preparation.

When my end of days arrives, I can’t take any cookbooks with me. With TikTok cooking, no worries. I can recycle my cookbooks now to others who might use them.

God’s in his heaven— All’s right with the world!

Kitchen Garden

Greens Day

New cherry tomato support system.

When I left the house, I planned to weed the onion patch. I didn’t make it there. Instead, I harvested four tubs of greens, replanted under the row cover, and set up the new tomato support system for cherry tomatoes.

I grow indeterminate cherry tomatoes, which means the vines grow and grow until they get much higher than the four foot cages and begin to snake around the garden. I ran out of cages this year so I tried something different, a post and lattice method of supporting tomatoes. I like it because there is less hardware. It should make it easier to manage the vines. Time will tell if the new method is successful. If it works, I may use it for all the tomatoes and phase out the cages.

Spring greens, before insects arrive in large numbers, are the best. Saturday I started a batch of vegetable broth to which I added kohlrabi greens, collards, four kinds of kale, wilted spinach, Fordhook chard, and mustard. It produced a flavorful broth which I’ll water bath can in quart jars this morning. In addition, I made vegetable soup, using the best of the greens.

I harvested cilantro, dill, chives and basil. Each of these herbs has a specific use in the kitchen. One of my experiments was to grow chervil, which is classic French cooking as part of the fines herbes that includes tarragon, chives and parsley in addition to chervil. Next year I must grow tarragon. I’m developing applications for chervil and would appreciate comments about how readers use it.

I grow cilantro for a couple of main purposes, mostly to use fresh on tacos. If I have it, it will go into any Mexican-style dish. It’s the tacos.

I don’t know if the weeds are too far gone in the onion patch. When the sun rises, I plan to give it another go. Here’s hoping I don’t get distracted again.