Tag Archives: country living

Thick Kale Soup with Smoked Sausage

Thick Kale Soup served with crusty multi-grain bread. Great any time of year.

We often think of soup as being a cold weather food but actually soup is great any time of year.  You can just go “shopping” in your fridge or garden and come up with a variety of tasty and healthy options.  After my recent post of my Corn Chowder recipe, I had a request for the Kale soup recipe.  So here goes.

This soup has been a family favorite for years and we’re likely to make it any time of year.  It is often a little thicker than soup (stewp?) but it is hardy any way you make it.

Ingredients:

·         3 tablespoons olive oil ·         1 large bunch of kale, deveined, chopped
·         1 pound smoked sausage, cut up ·         2 quarts chicken broth
·         1 large onion, chopped ·         2 cans white beans (northern, cannelloni )
·         4-8 cloves of garlic,diced ·         Cracked pepper
·         4 large potatoes, cubed ·         Salt to taste

 

Heat the olive oil in a 6 – 8 quart soup pot.  Add the chopped smoked sausage.  You can use any kind of smoked sausage – regular, light, turkey, or even Polish kielbasa. Stir and brown.

Add the chopped onion and stir until clear.  Add the minced garlic.  Keep stirring so they don’t burn.

Kale soup – Step 1. Brown the cut up sausage, add the onions and garlic.

Meanwhile, wash and strip the tough veins out of the kale.  Rough chop and add to the mixture, stirring until wilted.  Add the chicken broth and cover. Bring to simmer.

Step 2. Add the chopped kale and wilt in pan.

Wash and dice the potatoes.  Sometimes I leave the peel on just for added texture. Add to the pot after it comes to a slow boil.  Cover and bring back to simmer.

Step 3. Add the chicken broth, bring to simmer. Add the cubed potatoes and cover. Cook for 20 minutes.

When the potatoes are cooked (about 15-20 minutes), use an old fashioned potato masher and rough mash them in the pot.  This just helps the soup to thicken.

Then add the two cans of beans (drained).  Frankly, I just use whatever white beans I have available.  I’ve even added butter beans and it works fine.

Add the cracked pepper to taste.  You probably won’t need any salt as the sausage is pretty salty, but suit yourself.

Serve with crusty bread for a filling lunch or dinner.

Corn chowder

Sweet corn, bi-color. Peaches and cream variety.

It’s that time of year for those of us who grow gardens.  The produce is coming in and we have to scurry like squirrels to put it all away.  Fresh green beans and new potatoes.  Juicy sliced tomatoes or sweet cherry tomatoes popping in your mouth.  With the vagaries of the weather this summer – buckets of rain in June and the beginnings of a drought now – I feel lucky to be able to pluck anything at all from the garden.  But we always say that.  Some years it’s too many zucchinis.  This year, none.  I even had to replant the green beans. We can never quite predict what the bounty will be.

With all of these fresh veggies, we’re making soups -vegetable, minestrone, and fresh tomato.  Sometimes Thick Kale soup with smoked sausage. But this morning I picked the first batch of sweet corn.  I think this variety is peaches and cream and it’s so so good.  We’ll put most in the freezer but I made a triple batch of one of our favorite soups, Corn Chowder. I thought I’d share this family favorite recipe with you.  You can use canned corn but fresh is better.

Ingredients

·         ½ pound bacon cut up fine ·         2 cups milk
·         1 small onion, cut fine ·         3 tablespoons cornstarch
·         1 – 2 potatoes, cubed ·         1 ½ teaspoons salt
·         1 cup water or chicken broth (or both) ·         ¼ teaspoon fresh grated black pepper
·         1 ½ cups corn cut fresh off the cob (or canned) ·         Couple of dashes of garlic powder

In a large soup pot (6 -8 quarts or larger if you increase the recipe), saute bacon until soft and half cooked.  Drain the fat. Add chopped onion and stir. Cook until soft.  Add cubed potatoes and stir.  Partially cook (about 5 minutes).  Add water or broth, corn, spices and bring to low boil. Stir in milk.  Bring back to simmer.  Make a slurry of the cornstarch (mix it with a little water), then slowly pour in while stirring.  This will thicken the soup.  Simmer until potatoes are done, adding additional milk or broth to thin. Serves 6 -8.

That’s pretty much it.  You will want to double or triple this recipe because it is sooooo good.  Serve with fresh hearty bread or cornbread.

Mangia!

Summer garden

Giant tomato, Park Whopper My husband ate the entire tomato for lunch. Yummmm.

 

You haven’t heard me bragging about the garden this summer because, well, in a word, it’s been awful.  We usually plant a big garden (25 x 40) and a small spring garden which holds spring crops, such as, lettuce, spinach, kale, peas, etc.

Tomatoes ready for canning.

Everything was looking good before we went out west last month on vacation.  Although we enjoyed wonderful weather on our trip, apparently the Midwest received buckets of rain the entire time.  We returned to a garden full of weeds, at least, that which was not drowned.  I could watch them grow on the deer cam.

Multi-stemmed sunflowers just came out this week. They’re already being eyed by the goldfinches.

Red sunflower being strangled with a morning glory. The bees are loving this.

Then with a couple of weeks of extreme heat, there were some crops that we just gave up on.  The peas blew past, the kale, lettuce and spinach bolted.  The beans, corn, and squash in the big garden looked anemic.

New bean crop. The red line gives you an indication of location.

This past month we have spent hoeing and weeding, feeding and trimming.  Some things we’ve just given up on.  I planted new beans a couple of weeks ago and they’re up now, doing nicely.  The sweet corn has recovered but we’re trying to keep the varmints out of it until we can pick it.  The raccoons have already cleaned out the apple trees and devastated my seckle pear.

Swallowtail on some volunteer flowers.

Butterfly and zinnias

A bouquet of zinnias just for me. I love cut flowers in the garden.

The sunflowers are out, the butterflies are loving the zinnias, and we’ll still probably end up with way too many tomatoes.

Anyway, that’s life in the country.

Do plants move?

This is a follow-up to my post last Wednesday about some spring flowers.  As you can see, more flowers are blooming.

Red Trillium. This lovely wildflower just popped up next to my studio this year. This is the first time in three decades that we have seen this plant here and have no idea how it got there.

Today I had a surprise. As I was doing some mushroom hunting – right next to the house is the best place actually – I discovered this beautiful red trillium.  This is the first time that I’ve ever seen this trillium in this place.  Yes, up in the big woods which is half mile away, but never close to the house.

So my question is this, how did the flower get here?  Were the roots in the ground for decades?  Did some animal move it there?  Sometimes it’s easy to see how plants move from one place to another. (I’ll rant about the Russian Olives that the DNR planted over at the lake which is two miles away and which are now establishing themselves here, but that’s a story for another day.)

From one little patch of flowers, these delicate Virginia Bluebells have now established themselves all over. And I plan to move them into the woods very soon. They die back after blooming to totally disappear until next year.

Here are the Virginia bluebells.  When we moved here, there was only one small patch in front of the house, over fifty yards away. Now they spring up in the most unusual places.  This patch is behind the dog house.  However, they’re so beautiful with their pinky turning to sky blue flowers.  And they totally disappear after blooming until next year.

Columbine is a beautiful, delicate flower which self-propagates through prolific seed production.

These columbine are very prolific.  I planted one plant fifteen years ago.  They have now established in many areas.  Their seed pods practically explode but I really don’t mind these flowers as they are so pretty and delicate.

These beautiful old-stock lilacs were here when we arrived. They were probably shared from someone else’s garden, as we have since shared them with others. That is how old plants moved.

Finally, this is a beautiful old lilac.  I have a few bushes around the yard but have often dug up starts to replant elsewhere.  Today, I noticed one that I had my son plant along the road ten years ago is now blooming next to the mailbox. My son has some starts from the same bush at his home.

Not in bloom now is some golden sedum which has popped up in the most unusual places.  Or the jungle of forsythia bushes which are now also planted along the road. They’ll get a hard pruning when they finish blooming.

So, how do plants move?  Well, obviously humans have some influence, and birds dropping seeds.  But otherwise, I’d like to believe that it’s magic, maybe faeries or garden elves who are just having fun with us.  Hey, it could be true.

Spring has finally arrived

I haven’t always had luck with tulips. They’re like candy to the deer. I planted these last fall right next to my studio. Mikey the dog will keep the critters at bay.

Spring has finally arrived in this part of Southern Indiana.  It’s so beautiful that it takes my breath away.  Remember that crayon you used to have in your box called Spring Green?  Well, it’s all over the place now. At this old homestead (over 130 years), there are many established flowers and trees.  Plus we’ve added many more in the three decades that we’ve lived here.

So I thought you’d just enjoy a walk in the country.  Some of these flowers and trees are already on the wain while others have yet to bloom, the redbuds and dogwoods are just coming out now.  Maybe another post about them later.

An in and out day with the scudding clouds chasing the sunshine. I love the spring greens.

Little pansies are so cheerful. These came from an early foray to the local garden center about a week ago. I couldn’t help myself.

A cheerful crab apple next to the garden. This is a start from the original which was a Mother’s Day present to me many years ago.

More tulips basking in the sunshine.

A friendly little toady emerging from the leftover leaves. He looks a little ragged. I expect he’d like a nice breakfast of some juicy bugs.

The east fields, still soggy from the night’s rain. More clouds and sun shadows.

Bluebells and narcissus. These have become naturalized in several spots of the yard and I have more plans to move some starts elsewhere this spring.

I love violets. They come in so many variations but these deep purple ones seem to be dominant.

Mixed Bouquet

Mixed Bouquet, original painting, 20 x 16, impressionistic style, Kit Miracle

Spring is finally ready to pop here in Southern Indiana.  The early daffodils and crocuses are out in force.  The tulips are up but not yet blooming.  I’m not sure if the narcissus will make it after the deep freeze  a week ago but the forsythias are ready to pop.

Meanwhile I’m still in the mood to paint flowers which finds me scouring my old photos.  This painting was based on a small bouquet of mixed zinnias from my garden.  I think the greens are sprigs of coriander with added bits of phlox and sweet peas.

Painting flowers is much more challenging than most people realize.  Some artists are so talented in painting every pistol and stamen but that is not my style. I prefer to capture the feel of the flower.  This is called impressionism.

As you can see if you view the detail photos, brush strokes are a mix of bold and soft.  It takes some practice to achieve this effect but all I can advise is to keep at it.  Or, wipe it off or paint over any less than desirable areas.

Mixed Bouquet, detail 1. Another closeup of the flowers. Loosely painted in impressionistic style.

Mixed Bouquet, detail 2. Notice the loose strokes and variegated painting.

Mixed Bouquet, original painting, Kit Miracle

This painting can be viewed on my Etsy shop here.

When you take a flower into your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else.  Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower.  I want them to see it, whether they want to or not. 

      Georgia O’Keeffe

Afternoon Shadows – another painting beyond the photograph

Afternoon Shadows, acrylic, original painting, 14 x 18, contemporary impressionism, Kit Miracle

I thought I’d post another painting created from a photograph for my class. This photo was taken of our patio and arbor with the fire pit on sunny autumn afternoon.  I like outdoor scenes with a human element.  This will often include at least some kind of man-made item whether a building, fence post, road or path.  In this case, the setting gives the feeling of comfort and ease.  The chairs, the smoke from the fire, the dappled sun and shade all contribute to the atmosphere.  The turtle sandbox adds a touch of whimsy.

When using a photo as inspiration for a painting, it’s important to remember that it is a tool and a road map.  Take inspiration but don’t be afraid to change things.

Afternoon Shadows, detail 1. Click and enlarge the photos to see the brush strokes. Notice the background tree is just painted with a few strokes. And the smoke is just a glaze on top of the background. See the indication of the sun and shadows on the chair.

In this painting, I was trying to capture the feel of the afternoon sun. The smoke and fire indicates that there could be a chill in the air with a slight breeze.  The location and setting are inviting; it looks as if someone has just left the area.

Afternoon Shadows, detail 2. Zoom in on the vines and leaves to see just how loosely they were painted. The sandbox turtle adds a note of whimsy.

My style is not photo-realist but contemporary impressionist which works well for conveying the feeling of this scene.  The chairs beckon the viewer to sit in the sun or warm themselves by the fire.  Will a child come walking into the area to play in the sandbox? I love paintings that tell a story.

Afternoon shadows, detail 3. Zoom in on the posts and the background trees to see the brushstrokes.

As you can see by the detail images, I use loose strokes to indicate the branches and leaves.  From a distance, the painting appears to be much more detailed than it actually is.  It takes some practice and confidence to make just the right stroke to indicate a branch.  Or, if you make a mistake, just scrape it off and try again.

Afternoon Shadows, original photo. If you compare this photo to the painting, you can see areas that I have emphasized, changed or deemphasized.

Normally I would have painted a scene like this in plein air but I was busy that afternoon and only had time to capture the view with my camera.  That is one of the benefits of using photographs as inspiration.

Afternoon Shadows for sale

Peace is the beauty of life.  It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.  Menachem Begin

Spring cleanup

These cheery yellow crocuses are the first to bloom this year. They get extra warmth and shelter near this rock wall.

After what seems like weeks of rain, wind and generally yucky weather (yes, that is an actual meteorological description in the Midwest), we finally had a beautiful sunny and relatively warm day with temps in the 50s.  I couldn’t wait to get outside for a bit.  This is the time of year to clean up all the winter debris.  I know I raked those flower beds so where did all these leaves come from?

This is just a small portion of the area still covered by the chestnut seed hulls. I raked four wheelbarrow loads today and have as much again to rake tomorrow. They didn’t decompose much over the winter.

A big mess in the yard was our last chestnut which we cut down a week ago.  We had already cut down two companions previously.  The Chinese chestnut is a beautifully shaped tree with an umbrella-shaped top, large leaves, beautiful grayish bark and, of course, lots of chestnuts.  These trees were very prolific.  This would not normally be a problem as we have plenty of room – ninety acres, remember – and we have loads of other nut-bearing trees.  Oaks, walnuts, hickory, plus fruit trees.

Chestnut seed hulls remind me of spiny sea urchins. They are very painful to handle or step on. I only use leather gloves to work with them.

However, chestnuts have a seed hull which is very prickly, like a spiny sea urchin.  You can only handle them with leather gloves and they are very painful to step on.  They are also very prolific. When we cut down the first two chestnuts, we thought that we wouldn’t get any more seed pods without the pollinators.  That was a mistaken idea.  As you can see by the debris on the ground, there was still plenty to clean up.

I spent a couple of hours raking and gathered four wheelbarrow loads of hulls.  There is still as much again to do tomorrow.  What I couldn’t rake will eventually decompose but it will probably be a few years before anyone can go barefoot in that part of the yard.

Chestnut woodpile. All of this wood came from one tree.

Chestnut wood is beautiful with a grayish-green color and kind of stripey. It is also very dense and heavy.

It was a beautiful day.  The first crocuses were finally brave enough to pop out.  I even spotted a few spring beauties in bloom.  In about a month, they will carpet the lawn so it looks like snow.

One of my favorite wildflowers and early harbinger of spring. Spring beauties have a delicate pink stripe which can’t be seen in this photo. I’ll try for another shot later.

I sure was ready for lunch and a rest.  And our dog Mikey was ready, too.  Keeping me company and following me around was hard work.

You are like a chestnut burr, prickly outside, but silky-soft within, and a sweet kernel, if one can only get at it.  Love will make you show your heart someday, and then the rough burr will fall off.

Louisa May Alcott

Beeches – Painting Beyond the Photo

Beech Trees in Winter, snow scene, original painting, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle

Photographs are a wonderful tool for artists and have been used for well over a century.  I’m teaching a class on painting from photographs and wanted to create a demonstration of how a photo can best be used.

I would guess that most artists who paint in a realistic manner use photos at least some of the time.  I know that I have boxes of photos from years past when film was developed.  Now, with digital cameras and phones, we have thousands of images available to us.  Digital photos are also easy to use on a computer and crop or change as needed. I use an old laptop in my studio for this purpose.

For some reason, some artists seem to be ashamed of using photos but I consider them just another tool. I always paint still lifes from real life but might take some photos of flower bouquets to save for future reference.  And I love plein air painting so most of my landscapes are painted from life.  However, I take plenty travel photos for later use.  I also participate in life drawing studios which is great for building hand/eye coordination, but many figure paintings are from photos.  And it goes without saying that I only paint from my own photos; never from commercial or other pictures which could violate copyright laws.

Beeches, original photo. It was too wide for the format I planned to use so I cropped it to a more pleasing composition.

We haven’t had much snow here yet this winter but we had a couple of inches a few weeks ago.  I took the dog for a walk in the woods and the snow made the beeches really stand out.  Beech trees are native to this part of the country but we don’t have many on our property.  They make pretty good firewood and were chopped down long ago (before our time).  However, we’ve noticed a resurgence of beech trees since we moved here over thirty years ago.  They hold their leaves over the winter so the orangey color contrasts nicely with the snow.

Beeches cropped photo.

As you can,  my original photo was wider than the format I chose (16 x 20) so I cropped it to a more interesting composition.  I divided my canvas into thirds each way (nine squares) and drew directly on canvas with a brush loaded with a darkish color.  The canvas had been primed in red.

I usually start with the darks and then add the midtones and then the lights, starting at the top of the canvas.  As I was painting, I realized that the painting was a bit drab with the overcast sky and muted shadows.  Although the beech trees gave it some color, I want to put more oomph into it.

Therefore, I decided to make it a sunny day and added some sunlight streaking in from the right, with a brighter sky and some clouds behind the distant trees.  This defined the path through the woods much better.  I added some sunlight on a few of the trees to bring them out more.  Ah, it’s great to be an artist and to change the world to suit myself!

Beech Trees in Winter, detail 1. This is the road through the woods. I probably made the snow look deeper. And I’ve learned over time that white will often look brighter with a little yellow thrown in than just plain white. It certainly catches that sunlit feel.

Beech Trees in Winter, detail 2

Beech Trees in Winter, detail 3, notice the clouds in the blue sky behind the distant trees

The point here gets back to what I said at the beginning of the post.  A photograph is a tool.  It’s the artist’s job to use what we can, to add more or to change whatever we want.  I certainly think the sunlit painting has much more appeal than the original photo.  What do you think?

Baby it’s cold outside. Let’s make soup!

Homemade beef vegetable soup and homemade bread slathered with butter. Perfect meal for a chilly day.

A nasty weather front barreled down on us yesterday.  Rain for several hours.  Then a drastic drop in temperatures, the winds picked up and came at us from the northeast, and all that rain turned to ice and snow.  What to do?

Let’s make soup!

It should be no great secret that in this house with two cooks, we make a lot of soup.  It was my turn today and I decided to make a hearty beef vegetable soup.  There is a big difference between soups and stews.  Stews are thicker with larger pieces and fewer vegetable varieties.  Minestrone soup is a whole different thing; usually two kinds of meats, different vegetables, and cooked in a different manner.

Today’s beef vegetable soup started with a shopping trip to the freezer,  We plant a large garden and put up a quantity of vegetables.  This trip netted diced tomatoes, green beans, ground beef and homemade beef broth.

Shopping basket from the freezer. Ground beef, homemade beef broth, diced tomatoes, green beans.

Homemade vegetable soup can have many varieties and even mine are not exactly the same each time.; it depends upon what I have on hand. I usually chop the vegetables pretty small so they are similar in size and will cook the same.  I used a six quart pot but we often use a very large soup pot, 10 -12 quarts. This is what I put in today’s special.

  • Ground beef, 1 ½ pounds
  • Chopped onion
  • Chopped carrots (five)
  • Beef broth
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Green beans
  • A couple handfuls each of quinoa, lentils, and orzo pasta. I would have used alphabet pasta but was out.  Any kind of tiny pasta or even broken spaghetti or noodles will work.
  • Corn, one can
  • Potatoes, three
  • Finely chopped kale (I was out of cabbage)
  • Spices and seasonings – salt, coarse ground pepper, garlic powder, beef cubes

Step 1:  Brown the beef in a couple of tablespoons of oil, breaking it up as you go.  Then drain any fat off.

Step 1:  Add the chopped onions and carrots.  Carrots take a long time to cook so they get added near the beginning.  Stir until softened.

Step two. (Step one is just browning the beef in a couple of tablespoons of oil. Drain any fat off after the beef is cooked.) Carrots and onions are added at the beginning as they take longer to cook.

Step 3:  Add the beef broth and beef cubes.  Add diced tomatoes, bring to simmer.

Step 4:  Add a few handfuls of lentils, quinoa, and tiny pasta.  Don’t use larger beans unless they’re canned or pre-cooked.  They won’t cook in time and no one likes crunchy beans.

Step 5:  Simmer and stir.

Step 6:  Add green beans and corn.  Cabbage or in this case, kale.  Bring back to simmer.

Step three. After the diced tomatoes and handsful of dried goods (lentils, quinoa, tiny pasta) have come to a boil and simmered, then add the chopped green beans, corn and finally the potatoes. Let it all simmer until done.

Step 7:  Add chopped potatoes and then let simmer until all the vegetables are done.

Serve with some homemade bread.  Yummm!

Beef vegetable soup, final. It is thick but not thickened like stew. Very hearty!

This freezes well but I don’t think we’ll have much left over.  And I’ll have to keep my husband from giving it all away as he is apt to do. He’s a very generous person.

We’re hunkered down and holding our own against the storm.

What’s on your menu these days?