Sea-Salted Sorghum Pecan Popcorn Balls

Since my husband was knee-high to a grasshopper, sorghum popcorn balls have ushered in fall.  Some call sorghum popcorn balls “old fashioned,” but here in the Appalachias, we call it standard Halloween fare.

Sea-Salted Sorghum Pecan Popcorn Balls

For generations, Kentucky farmers have been producing nutrient rich and naturally gluten free crops of sorghum and pressing it into a thick, versatile syrup that’s makes an ideal base for an amazing popcorn ball. Stacked up against their corn-syrup counterparts, the sorghum popcorn balls shine in complexity, clarity and superiority of flavor.

When you toss in a little sea salt and some pecans, the flavor-factor pops right off the popcorn charts… which is what we do each year.   I hope that Sea-Salted Sorghum Pecan Popcorn Balls will be a favorite recipe at your house.

Farm To Table: Greek Cooking Lessons from Norfolk Hellenic Women’s Club

Cooking Club Instructor, Nikki Webb, preparing grilled pita bread

Cooking Club Instructor, Nikki Webb, preparing grilled pita bread

Roasted chicken from a smoky grill infused with aromatic herbs and a sweet trace of cinnamon and honey greet you upon entering the AHEPA House. Guests gravitate towards the rows of steaming dishes and Greek women buzzing around the prep tables, chopping fresh vegetables, buttering filo and crumbling Feta. The choreography in the kitchen is as mesmerizing as the aromas.

Each year, during the Norfolk Greek Festival, the ladies of the Hellenic Women’s Club gather to share their devotion to preserve culinary traditions in “Cooking with the Greeks,” a make, bake and taste class featuring classic Greek recipes. The class is a popular attraction during the annual celebration held under one of Hampton Roads’ biggest tents on the grounds of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Norfolk, Virginia.

Helen Emmons, Cooking Class Co-Chairman and manager of Mike’s Pizza (Norfolk), said the group is very passionate about cooking, all of the women want to hold onto traditions and help others discover the joy of Greek cuisine. Hosting the class is a way for them to connect with the community and rediscover their own passions in the kitchen, though having cooks from various Greek regions is not always harmonious.

Helen Emmons, Cooking Club Co-Chairman

Helen Emmons, Cooking Club Co-Chairman

“Greek cooking is very regional,” said Emmons. “We often argue about the correct way to make a dish!”

The diversities are clear in the Hellenic Woman’s Club’s “Come Cook With Us*” cookbook where you’ll find multiple variations of common recipes including three versions of Souvlaki, a shish kebab style meat dish featured in the class.

The in-class version, Chicken Souvlaki, may not be correctly prepared by every region’s standards, but the tender morsels marinated for two days in a brine of olive oil, garlic, oregano, red wine vinegar and lemon juice were certainly delightfully Greek to the students.

“Good, quality extra-virgin olive oil is a crucial component of Greek cooking,” said Emmons. “And of course, we think olive oil from Greece is the best choice!”

One dish that was slightly “Americanized” for the class was the salad, which contained plenty of greens. The instructors explained that it’s difficult to find lettuce in Greece, so a traditional Greek Salad would be primarily tomatoes with maybe a little bit of greens tossed in. Most importantly, they agreed, a good Greek Salad must have quality Feta cheese and olives.

Spanakopita, Greek rice, stewed green beans and Chicken Souvlaki

Spanakopita, Greek rice, stewed green beans and Chicken Souvlaki

The preparation of Spanakopita, a Greek-style spinach pie, offered the class valuable insights on handling the paper-thin filo pastry. Instructors informed the class that the pastry may often be labeled “Strudel Pastry” at the grocery store and is most commonly found in the frozen section. When working with filo, a lightly damp towel should be kept over the unused sheets to keep them from drying out. Each layer of filo is ideally buttered as you are putting the layer in, not ahead of time.

Of all the culinary treats prepared, Kataifi was a crowd favorite. The classroom grew quiet, students were riveted as the instructor demonstrated how to press Kataifi pastry into the pan and layer it with a sweet nut mixture. The silence in the room was quickly broken, though, when samples of Kataifi arrived at the tables. “Oohs” and “ahhs” permeated the room with each flavorful bite of this delectable dessert.

Complementing the feast was a bottle of Moschofilero Erasmios (Kotrotsos Winery,) a dry robust white wine made from the Moschofilero grapes primarily grown in the Peloponnese region of Greece. Moschofilero Erasmios is commonly paired with fish or fruits and compliments Greek desserts quite well. Take good note of this tip: Judging from the clean plates and empty bottles at each table, the Moschofilero Erasmios wine was an equal crowd-pleaser to the Greek cuisine!

Lines outside the food tents, where Norfolk Greek Festival foods are in high demand.

Lines outside the food tents, where Norfolk Greek Festival foods are in high demand.

“We were a little surprised by how well our classes have been received by the community,” said Emmons. “I think we need more access in Norfolk for farm to table initiatives and bringing cooking back into the kitchen.”

As long as the community shows interest, Emmons said the Norfolk Hellenic Women’s Club will continue to share their traditions, tricks and love of Greek cuisine at the festival each year. As evidenced by the full classroom and crazy-long lines at the outdoor food tents, there’s no shortage of interest in Greek foods. We should expect to see “Cooking with the Greeks” return next year.

 

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The Norfolk Greek Festival, is Tidewater’s oldest and largest ethnic festival. Hosted annually in May, it features traditional Greek cuisine, arts, crafts, entertainment and tours of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Find more information at http://norfolkgreekfestival.com

The Norfolk Hellenic Women’s Club is one of the oldest organizations in the area, recently celebrating its 100th anniversary.
*”Come Cook With Us: A Thesaurus of Greek Cooking” is available for purchase regionally through the Norfolk Hellenic Women’s Club.

 

Baby Chick Basics

Sobaby chicks you think you want baby chicks.  So cute, so cuddly, so soft and adorable. The irresistible lure of baby chicks is difficult to resist!

The number one thing you need to keep in mind is those soft little cuddlies grow up to be big, beautiful chickens who need lots of breathing space and attentive care.  If you are ready to add a new brood to your family, baby chicks are relatively easy to take care of when you have the proper equipment and know-how.

Before you impulsively purchase your chicks, it’s helpful to know what’s involved in their care. First and foremost, baby chicks need a safe, warm, dry, and clean environment to thrive in.

What should I buy?

If you want eggs, then you do not want to purchase a mixed run. If you want females, you need to purchase “pullets,” which is the term for a female baby chick.

If you want fertilized eggs (to raise more chicks) you will need a rooster. Be careful about getting too many roosters, they tend to get very territorial and will attack each other. Some recommend that you only have one rooster, but depending on the breed, you may be okay with several. I have 3 Rhode Island Red roosters living in harmony for two years now.

As for breeds of chickens, do your research. There are too many breeds to cover in this blog post. Start locally, ask others what they are raising or ask the feed store what chickens fair well in your environment.

Where will they live?

Rubbermaid storage containers (the large totes) work well, as do large fish tanks (emptied of water first, of course!) or a large cardboard box (makes for easy disposals when cleaning, but you will need a few on hand to change out.)

Old blankets or towels (without frays) will make good liners. Some people (including me) use wood chips for bedding (which can be purchased at your local store.)

The container can be kept in the house or outside, as long as it is in a safe and secure location, away from drafts, predators, and so on.

If you have house pets, it’s a little iffy how cats will react to their new friends and dogs generally will just sniff at the new crew, then leave them alone. Do a test run with your house pet by keeping the chicks in a location you can keep a watchful eye on constantly until you feel confident that the house pet has accepted their new roommates.

baby chickHow will they stay warm?

A 100 watt light bulb will do the trick (use a clamp style lamp to attach to one side of the container.) Reptile cage lamps work well, too.

The chicks will let you know if they are too warm or too cold by either clustering under the direct light of the heat lamp (they are too cold) or by clustering as far away from the heat source as possible (they are too warm.) Adjust the position, height, or bulb strength of your lamp accordingly to ensure a consistent temperature and environment for the chicks.

How do they eat?

Baby chicks are very hungry and they grow like the Dickens! (pardon the silly half-pun.) General retail stores (like Walmart) or farm specialties stores (like Tractor Supply) typically care basic chicken supplies such as waterers and feeders. Purchase them. They are well-designed and it’s hard to find a better substitute.

Freshen water regularly and keep the waterer full.

Baby chicks should be fed baby chick food generally for the first two months. Keep the feeder full, baby chicks do not need to be on a restricted diet, be sure to let them eat as much as they desire. After two-to-three months, a grower food (typically 17% protein) is recommended for the next two-to-three months.

How clean is clean?

Here’s where we need to talk about poop, yep, I said it… it’s not a pretty topic, but it’s an important one.

The only way baby chicks stay clean is with your help. This means you’ll need to change the bedding often (which is where wood chips are sometimes easier to use than towels, etc.) How often? Depends on how many chicks you have, could be daily, could be weekly. Rule of thumb, if it looks dirty or it’s starting to smell in the least little bit, change the bedding.

chicksShould the kids/I play with them?

Yes! By all means yes, pet them gently, hold them gently in your hands, talk to them, and spend as much time staring at them as they grow as you would like to. Just be sure to wash your hands after handling.

Chicks that get a lot of love are more likely to be friendly adult chickens who will be responsive to you and less likely to roam away from their home.

What’s next?

While this bit of basic knowledge will get you started on your baby chick raising journey, it’s important to have a more comprehensive guide to take you through the entire decision-making process and beyond.  Check your local library for books on raising chickens and stay tuned for our upcoming guide (publication spring 2015!)

 

Italian Garbanzo Bean Sun Dried Tomato Soup Recipe

Italian Sun Dried Tomato SoupI’m constantly seeking ideas for a hearty, warm meal with rich satisfying flavors.  Italian Garbanzo Bean Sun Dried Tomato Soup is simply all that and a burst of sunshine, brightening both my table and taste buds.

The key ingredient, Bella Sun Lucci Sun Dried Tomatoes is what gives this dish it’s extraordinary flavor and depth of character.  The hardest part is not eating all of the tomatoes from the jar before they make it to the soup!

Easy to prep and cook, you’ll have this rich meal on the table in no time.  It’s excellent on first try, but the next day, once the flavors had more time to mingle, the soup is even better on re-heat.

The original recipe provided to me by Bella Sun Luci is listed below.  While testing, I made a few modifications to suit my personal preference. I used only one can of garbanzo beans, added an additional clove of garlic, and omitted the onion and spinach (primarily because I didn’t have any spinach on hand.)  I also added a few chopped tomatoes as I had a Roma that needed to be use.  Still achieved amazing results and will be making this soup a regular addition to our menu.

Kokedama String Gardens

Kokedama

Kokedama” is a rapidly rising search term that promises continued growth as more and more gardeners flock to find out about the gardening trend of the year. Perhaps it’s the creativity in which a gardener shapes the plant into a sculptural object or the eco-friendly nature of this container-free planting technique that keeps garden-lovers buzzing with excitement. Whatever the initial attraction, Kokedama is a innovative, cost effective way to decorate your home or outdoor garden.

An artistic plant hanging technique, Kodedama is a Japanese word that simply translates into “moss ball.” Initially popular in Japan, then spread across Euro-Asia, it’s now hopped across the pond and firmly taken root in the US. Professional landscapers, artists and gardeners are adopting the techniques to create upscale, artistic plant designs as popularity increases. Cheap, beautiful and effective for every space, the process requires very little material and just a dash of ingenuity to perfect.

Erin Kinsey, a Kodedama expert at Artisan Moss says in addition to live Kokedama string gardens, gardeners can create Kodedama from dried or preserved plants.

“Dried and preserved Kokedama are my favorite since they are totally care free,” says Kinsey. “Living Kokedama require a little more effort than caring for a regular style house plant as they tend to dry out faster and need to drip-dry in the sink before hanging again.”

Kinsey uses materials like circular florist foam, sphagnum moss, thin fishing line or embroidery thread to help form shapes for dried Kokedama creations, some of which may be viewed at the Artisan Moss Etsy Shop:https://www.etsy.com/shop/ArtisanMoss

The basic process for constructing a no-care preserved Kokedama plant involves:

  • Creating and securing a center shape using a spongy material such as moss
  • Covering the center with an attractive outer moss layer and securing it in place
  • Securing a long string to the center for hanging the Kokedama creation
  • Adding dried foliage cuttings by inserting the ends into the top of the moss ball shape

“Essentially the process is the same for wrapping moss and tying string for dried or living Kokedama,” says Kinsey. “The difference is the living plant’s roots hold your inner core, you won’t need to create one.”

For living Kokedama, Kinsey suggests beginners use succulents or drought tolerant ferns like Birds Nest Fern or Ming Fern. These will be the easiest plants to care for, yielding a bountiful Kodedama string garden.

As new methods continue to be introduced, the Kodedama craze will likely continue, attracting garden lovers with an eye for natural art and a love of recycling.

Create a Kokedama String Herb Garden for Your Kitchen

Kokedama StringA lovely addition to any kitchen herb garden, Kokedama may look complex but is actually accomplished in a few simple steps.  The only materials you need are scissors, a medium-size bowl, string, soil, moss and whatever you wish to plant.

Jute twine, the same you use to string trellises to support tomato plants, works very well for this D.I.Y. project.  You can purchase live moss for planting, but I prefer to collect it from our forest.  Just give it a little shake and inspection to make sure no critters are clinging and it’s ready to use (plus it’s free material, always a plus!) 

Herbs are ideal plants for Kokedama, but houseplants and ornamental grasses are well suited, too.  The plant, ideally, should be in early stage growth, so if you are dealing with herbs start them well ahead of planting or purchase a few transplants from your local greenhouse.

Step 1:  Cut two 4-foot long lengths of twine.  Lay the center of the twine in the medium bowl so the that the ends of the twine are hanging over the edges of the bowl and the center of each length of twine is overlapped in an X-shape.

Kokedama DirtStep 2:   Wet potting soil until fully moistened.  Remove herb transplant from it’s container and shake excess soil from roots.  Using wet potting soil, begin to form a ball shape with soil around the roots of the herb plant.  (as pictured.)

Step 3:  Wrap a layer of moss around the soil ball that you have formed.  Pat in place so that moss begins to stick to the wet soil.  Place moss ball in bowl atop twine.  Herb plant should be facing upward.

Step 4:  Begin tying off string around the moss ball by first crossing a layer of twine on the upper sides of the ball.

Step 5:  When the sides and top of the balls of moss are secured with twine, remove the plant from the bowl.  Continue tying twine around the ball of moss until all sides are secured.  Follow the curves of the ball of moss as you loop and tie the twine to keep the ball shape.  Don’t worry if your twine ties look “pretty” at this point or if you have more ties than you think you should have.  As the plant grows, the twine will begin to disappear into the moss and it won’t matter!

Kokedama Tie 2Step 6:  Once ball is fully secured, pull the remaining lengths of twine together and loop off to create a hanger.  If you’d rather just have the Kokedama string plant rest on a counter top, simply cut the remaining lengths of twine off.

If you find that you do not have enough moss to cover the ball or if it slides during the tie-off process, just add a little more moss to the open space and secure with twine.

Cut and tend to your herbs as you normally would, enjoying the natural beauty of the Kokedama container.

To water, submerge the moss ball in water for 10 minutes, being mindful to only submerge the moss container and not the plant.  Remove the moss ball from the water and gently squeeze it to drain excess water or allow it to drip-dry over a water container.  Plants will typically need to be watered twice weekly.  Judge by your plant, though.  If it looks dry or droopy, water.  If not, let it go a little longer between watering.

From my experience, Kokedama container plants tend to thrive in a South-facing window, but feel free to experiment to find the best locations for your green beauties!