Monday, April 29, 2013

Thankful for Our Daily Gifts!

Life can be so wonderful when you take the time to look at the simple things that come your way each day.  As you can tell by now, we both enjoy cooking, gardening, family, friends and the little critters all around us.  As we have been spending a bit more time recently working in the yard, we cannot help but marvel at the glorious creations we observe. We know that it all had to have come about by a great designer.  Here are a few things that the designer allowed us to enjoy today, and that we are so thankful for...

What you see here was dinner last night. 

Mamie said that her misbehaving hormoanies (you will get this if you have seen Big Fat Greek Wedding) must have been needing some protein, as she was craving a steak, and she only rarely eats it.  So steak it was.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dinner For the Soul

Some people jump out of planes; others put faux wings on their backs and jump off of a cliff, others try to hike up an enormous mountain in the dead of winter and try not to get caught in an avalanche- (we could list a million things that people do for a momentary thrill) however, here at Sweet Pickles Farm, we believe in being very careful with our gift of life, but still we love the delicious feeling of living life to the full.  For us, the awakening of spring, with delicate green heads of plants planted a few years ago, almost forgotten, but with a strong will to live and prosper, emerging from the soil and being applauded by the ones who planted them, and then promptly experienced brain fog and could not for the life of them remember what they were.  They seem to love us nonetheless, and delight us with their presence each spring; perhaps this is one reason we were impelled to begin a blog- our memories are not the sharpest tools in the shed these days.  (Which reminds us we have some maintenance to do on our garden implements--but that is a digression). 

Funny how a garden can bring up memories- just as a smell, (such as created when a tomato leaf is brushed against), a sight, (corn always reminds us of our kids chasing each other through the corn stalks towering about their heads), or a sound (a tiller motor always means spring is here) can transport one back to a moment far back in time, but deep inside the mind and heart.  It really is a special experience for anyone willing to savor the moments.

Poppy and Mamie have so many great memories with their children.  We were fortunate on a limited budget to be able to go to New York and visit Bethel, also the top of the World Trade center shortly before it was no more... and to visit many towns such as Eureka Springs,  Arkansas; Coffeyville,  Kansas; where the Dalton brothers robbed the bank and kissed life goodbye, and  Mansfield, Missouri; where we visited the last home of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband, Almonzo.  Lovely memories of whale-watching and eating lobster with butter and lemon in Maine, and of course, the frivolous but lovely memories at Disney World, Florida.  (Oh, and how we had to force our son onto the rides that he ultimately loved!)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Chicken Cassoulet on a Rainy Day

Today was a rainy spring day. 

This is the type of day where comfort food makes you glad to be at home, puttering around the place. Poppy and Mamie finally made the Chicken Cassoulet recipe that is such a simple dish,  yet a favorite around Sweet Pickles Farm. Before we made the meal, we did plant a few pots and hanging baskets between rain showers.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

An Easy Evening

Just a glimpse of spring...

We are still alive, hehe!  As usual, we have had a busy week.  Friday was a long work day, then we had plans to attend a convention out-of-town on the weekend, so we had to kennel our fur-babies.  Then we went to stay with our friend whom we mentioned in a previous post that had just lost her husband.  She is 93 years young, and it was so much fun to be with her.  Her friend, (85 years young) joined us, and we had such a good time!  She fed us well, and was such good company-being the hoot that she is.  She has requested that we come back soon and have a slumber party, where we will watch old movies and eat some junk.  That sounds like a great plan to us!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Creme Caramel

 We mentioned in our last post that we were going to make some Creme Caramel. We tried it and feel that it is worthy of a post. This was a little different for us because we quite often make Creme Brulee. We give credit to this recipe to Joanne Chang at

Classic Creme Caramel:

2 cups heavy cream 
1 cup milk (we only had skim, so we added 1/2 & 1/2)
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 tsp. vanilla extract 
1 cup sugar 
3 egg yolks 
2 eggs 
Pinch salt 
For the caramel: 
1/2 cup sugar 
For the custard:
Heat the oven to 325°F. Heat the cream and milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat until scalded (you'll see small bubbles on the sides of the pan). Split the vanilla bean in half, if using, and scrape the seeds into the cream. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, slowly whisk 1/2 cup of the sugar into the egg yolks and eggs. Slowly whisk the hot cream/milk into the sugar/yolk mixture. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a pitcher or measuring cup. Stir in the salt and vanilla extract, if using.
For the caramel:
Arrange six 6-oz. ramekins in a baking dish with deep sides and set aside. Put remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a clean saucepan. Carefully add just enough water to dissolve the sugar, and set the pot over high heat.
After a few minutes, the mixture will come to a furious boil; several minutes later, as more water evaporates, it will boil more viscously, and finally it will start to color. Swirl the pan around to even out the caramelization. Once the sugar has started to caramelize, watch it carefully. It takes just seconds for caramel to go from great to burnt.  (We burned our first batch; the next time, we picked it up off the burner before it was quite brown enough, and the residual heat from the pan was enough to finish the browning.  Lesson learned!)
When the caramel is an even dark brown, carefully pour it into the ramekins. Caramel at this stage is over 300°F, so be extremely careful when handling it. Divide it evenly so that each ramekin is covered with a thin layer of dark brown caramel.
To bake:
Pour the custard into the caramel-lined ramekins, fill the baking dish with water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins and cover the dish with foil. Bake until just set, 25 to 50 minutes. Remember to start checking early; baking time will depend on the thickness and depth of your ramekins and baking dish. Carefully remove the baking dish from the oven and let the ramekins cool in the water bath. Remove, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.
 Run a thin knife around the edge of the custard and invert onto a dessert plate, scraping any caramel from the ramekin onto the custard.

So here is our run at this dessert:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Flower Bed Makeovers.

  Yesterday we went to see a dear friend whose husband went to sleep after 94 years of life.  They were married for over 70 years.  Poppy was very close to him and lost a friend he could confide in.  Mamie is a lot like his wife, and so they have an unspoken closeness that they understand without having to use words to explain.  Yes, there may be years in age difference, but Mamie and Poppy have learned that age does not matter when it comes to making good friends.  We enjoyed spending some time with our friend, and have already planned to go back again.

  We  scheduled some time the next day to work around the yard after our morning routine.

  We started in the back so we could eat on the back deck later in the evening and enjoy the fresh, clean look.  One of the things we do to prep the beds is to add a layer of compost and then cover it with some mulch.  Of course, we remove any weeds that we can and trim up the bushes for this year's growth.  Then we mulch, but as of yet we haven't got the mulch for the beds. But the work begins.  While working here are some of the flowers we are enjoying.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Baked Camembert Cheese with Thyme and Wine"

Today Poppy had to go to work which required some traveling.  At 5:15 A.M. this obnoxious noise started- was it a low flying plane? the dishwasher motor going haywire? no, maybe it was the fire alarm?...Oh, hold on, it was the alarm clock!  Poppy is so ambitious... but really 5:15 A.M.? And it is raining...UGH!  So, he reaches over and destroys the noise maker and pretends to sleep for thirty more minutes. Needless to say, the day begins.

After the normal routines Poppy is off to work. Mamie is busy getting her chores done and she comes back to find this...

"Please, don't make me get up"

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Swiss Chard Tart!!!

As we have mentioned, we have discovered that we love Swiss Chard.  After our trip to see our beautiful Grandson, (here you see Pickles trying to figure out what this little creature was- the look on her face explains it all!)

it was time for us to get into the kitchen and make some comfort food. Mamie found a recipe for a tart that sounded like it would be just the ticket. First she made tart pastry and placed it, rustic style, into a 9 inch springform pan, and baked till golden. 

Out to the garden, (oh how we missed our little veggie patch while out-of-town!) to get some of the swiss chard.

It is quite satisfying to walk out and snip some beautiful veggies that you yourself have planted from seed, nurtured and coddled, all the while realizing a great designer put it there for you to work with and enjoy...

What a beautiful color of red and green!

We washed the swiss chard and then the chopping began! Of course, we did have to first turn on some music and pour a good glass of red wine... Below is a recipe we credit to Laura Calder. In the directions we will add some of the things we like to appease our particular palates. 

Now we are ready to go to work...chop...chop...sip...chop

Here are the chard stems ready to go. Don't the leaves look so healthy? 
You've got to love it; so fresh and wholesome-well, at least we do!



See our notes 


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. 

Heat the oil in a saute pan and fry the shallots until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Remove to a plate. In the same pan, fry the bacon until the fat has rendered and the lardons are crispy. Remove to the plate with the shallots. Divide the chard leaves from the ribs: chop the ribs quite small and shred the leaves. First, fry the ribs in the bacon fat until tender. (Cook's Note: You may want to cover the pan for a few minutes to speed up the process.) Add the chard leaves to the pan, cover, and wilt, about 3 minutes.  (NOTE:) We have found a splash of white wine at this point really adds to this dish.  If there is quite a bit of juice after cooking, just remove the chard with a slotted spoon, then sop up juice with a piece of crusty bread as a starter-mmmmmm!

Beat the eggs together with the creme fraiche (we made our own with sour cream and heavy cream mixed together), and season with salt, and pepper. 

In a large bowl, toss the shallots, bacon, chard stems and leaves, cheese, raisins, and pine nuts, to combine evenly. Taste, and season. Fill the tart shell with the vegetable mixture, and pour over the cream mixture. Bake until the tart has set, about 30 minutes. Remove the tart from the oven, and cool. Serve at room temperature.

Shallots are sauteing and soon we will add the garlic. At this moment the aromas let you know you have made the right choice. Smells soooo gooood. :~)

Now we saute the swiss-chard stems in the bacon drippings.

 Next the greens are cooked.

 After it is all cooked mix it all together. We did add the raisins to this; we chopped ours roughly (we thought it added an extra bit of sweetness that was perfect for this dish).  At this point you could have eaten this right out of the pan, or as a side dish.  This is where you need to try not to eat all before you finish your recipe.  But you do need to get a good sampling to make sure you don't need more seasoning... we had to try ours a few times (Poppy must be really critical tonight because he had to keep trying it- at least that was his excuse)!

Now for the cream mixture.

Then pour it into the crust. Ours turned out a little rough around the edges, but that just added to the charm of the dish.

Nice and rustic! Just the way we like it.

"Try it you'll like it" !
We can just imagine sitting at a long rustic table in some European countryside with our loved ones...sipping on a glass of vino and enjoying this tart!  But even on the deck of Sweet Pickles Farm is a treat...
It looks as if we will be having a bumper crop of chard very soon.  We are trying out different ways to use this versatile and healthy vegetable, and we will be posting them along the way. :)
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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Automatic Feeder

You are traveling along, hubs  or honey at the wheel, and it all seems so everyday: cars pass, children in vehicles sticking out their tongues.  (We just traveled 2500 miles to see our grandson, and the nuts you meet on the road) (oh my!We just dated ourselves!  So reminded us of  "That touch of Mink")!  Oh, that person that just cut you off trying not to catch your eye...we did stop at an antique mall; Pickles found herself face-to-face with a moose... 

But then finally after miles and miles we found ourselves at home.  Hopefully, that is a wonderful proposition for you too.

We do not think we have it all figured out.  Life can make you feel like it is all you can do but breathe in, breathe out.  But, we find it a marvelous, hugs- and- kisses feeling to be at home together, dancing around the kitchen with two dogs at our heels, listening to the likes of Nat King Cole and Dean Martin, and the new sounds of Adele and Missy Higgins.  We also love Paolo Conte (It's Wonderful) while we are cooking- swiss chard, shallots, garlic; chopping and swiveling around, wooden spoon in hands, stirring into the olive oil, just until tender; mmmm, smells so delicious!  Funny how you can be so exhausted and yet so ready to get into the kitchen to chop and stir...

We are aging ourselves, but we love the movie "That Touch of Mink", with Cary Grant and Doris Day.  So many cliches, but it still resonates with the fact that we all just want a steady relationship with a mate that we can trust.

We try not to find ourselves at the automatic food dispenser....although some days we feel that would be a gift!

That Touch of Mink movie clip
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Monday, April 8, 2013

Fresh Kitchen for Spring

We moved into our home 1 week before Hurricane Katrina. It is hard to believe that has been almost 8 years ago, since life has seemed to be a whirlwind (no pun intended).  Both of our kids married; one only days after the storm.  And that one just made us grandparents.  We have been trying to learn how to live a somewhat different life with no kids at home. We do have two little dogs, lots of chickens, two outdoor cats, gardens, hobbies, and that does not even include the most important things such as our spiritual life and it's activities, family, and friends.  Busy, busy, to say the least!  Lately, we have taken a dual breath, and have started to look around our home and realize that some of the finishes are now needing some attention after 8 years. So this spring we decided to refresh the kitchen/dining area. We decided to repaint the trim and add a fresh coat of paint on the walls.

 At first, we were just going to paint everything the same color as before. We really have enjoyed the warm, buttery yellow walls.  But then at the last minute, we decided to try a different color. You know, live a little.  Nowadays, many of the decorating pictures that you may see feature photos of rooms that are mostly white or monochromatic in nature. Yes, they are beautiful and interesting to look at. But Mamie and Poppy love the warmth of color, wood and textures, akin to cuddling under a cozy, vintage patchwork quilt. To us it is inviting and warm to be surrounded by those things. Mamie says she likes leather and lace; elegance and age. Anyway, we will show you some before and after shots of what we decided to do in our kitchen.
Here are some before shots...

Nothing wrong with the color; we have really enjoyed the warmth that the yellow walls have provided.  But it was getting dingy and needed a face lift; we decided to kick up our heels and try something all together different... 

 Here are some pictures of the kitchen with the spring tweaks.

It is amazing how something like a change in paint color can make such a difference in the feel of a room.  This new hue has made the room feel just a bit more refined, yet has kept the rustic simplicity that allows our "old stuff" to still feel at home.  One day we will post about some of our favorite finds, such as the antique counter pie safe and the hanging scale, along with some tins and other "stuff" that remind us of places we have been and that still bring a smile to our faces.  Our kitchen truly is the heart of our home, where people and animals alike prefer to hang out with us.  One of our friends once commented that a lot of good dishes and a lot of love have come from this kitchen.  That truly makes our heart feel wonderful, and we look forward to many more opportunities to share our home and kitchen in the future.
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Sunday, April 7, 2013

French Pickles and the Baguette

We have been in Florida at our daughter and son-in-law's with our Grandson. While here, we have kept busy cooking and learning what it means to be Mamie and Poppy. Because of being gone for a time, we left Stella with a friend who has a dog kennel. She is so good to Stella that she lets her sleep on her bed and hang out with her. But Pickles traveled with us because Mamie is lost without her little Pickles nearby.

One day while hanging out around their place, we had a baguette that didn't get used, and it hardened to the point of a petrified stick.  Pickles caught a glimpse of it, and begged Poppy for a piece.

Pickles thinks she has scored the snack of a life-time. Off she goes under the coffee table to see if she can destroy the baguette before anyone realizes that it is missing. This has been a great diversion because she keeps looking for Stella and wonders about the familiarity of her home and farm. She has truly been confused as to where she is and when we will we go home. Poppy and Mamie have been very proud of her. She truly has been on her best behavior.

Once Pickles knew that the baguette was all hers, she took it seriously....

Poppy wisely decided to break off a more manageable piece for her to handle. But there are three (yes, THREE!) cats that live there, and Pickles felt the need to make sure that they would not try to hone in on HER baguette...
So at first she tried to hide it in a corner ...

But then she thought better of it since it was all out in the open exposed to all sorts of prying eyes....

Then she thought it would be better hidden behind the door of the bedroom...

But no, you could still spot it pretty easily.

How about here on the bed, between the pillows?

Well, since Auntie Faith is napping here, she had better keep her eye on it!

We'll be home soon to post more adventures of Pickles and the farm. Can't wait to check on our garden and cook a meal from the familiarity of our beloved kitchen. So stay tuned....

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