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One of my favorite times of the day during these summer months is what I refer to as Dinner Pickin’ Time. It’s usually a bit past the hottest point in the day but I still don my sunhat. Sometimes I bring out a bowl and other times an apron is all you need for some salad fixings. Without fail I nearly always have a partner in picking.

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We’ve been slowly moving into more harvesting and less planting and waiting. The garlic was pulled a couple of weeks ago and I’m realizing I will have to pace myself so that we have enough for seed this fall. Also, plant more garlic.

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Salads have been plentiful which is just how we like it. A bit of greens, some onion or chives, and whatever bits and bobs I can find at Dinner Pickin’ Time usually make their way in.

IMG_7821These little radish pods have been a fun new garden item. The radish plant is grown for the pods instead of the roots. If you let them get big enough they have a very mild radish flavor and the fresh bite of a snap pea. I think we’ll be doing these again. But again, I must pace myself as Stewart wants to save seed.

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Most days now we’re picking cowpeas and the most exciting of all – blackberries! We have a few bushes producing this year which equates to roughly a handful of berries per day which are carefully rationed to each member of the family. Of course, there has been lots of talk of needing to plant ten times as many blackberries next year. IMG_7883

This was one of our favorite suppers recently. A plate of homemade and gifted ferments, a pot of homegrown green beans with a gifted squash thrown in, a (completely store-bought, organic) roasted chicken, and salad made of homegrown lettuce and gifted tomatoes.

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Those gifted squash and tomatoes have been accompanied by plenty of tomatoes and zucchini from generous neighbors. We eat so many vegetables when they are fresh and available like this that having more than we can handle seems nearly impossible.

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The giant zucchinis, however, were more than I could contend with (read: shove down the family’s gullets). So, we had zucchini for breakfast in the form of these zucchini oat flour pancakes.

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Besides the gallon of fermented cucumber and zucchini pickles, I also threw a bunch of the green beasts into the dehydrator for soups and stews. Fermentation and dehydration are certainly my favorite forms of food preservation… that is besides just eating up the harvest as it comes.

Stewart and I have often talked of planting and planning in a way that feeds us year round with a little to tuck away for later. This mitigates against the huge glut of produce that must be preserved all at once as well as the other problem we have more often faced which is a complete lack of fresh food.

It seems every year we get a little closer to that goal which is still quite far away. And every year we realize that there is no such thing as growing too much.

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Growing up with two brothers, I remember the astonishing amount of food they could consume as teenagers. They were active and busy and could eat an entire loaf of bread made into pb&js… and that was just in between meals. (Not that us girls are slouches in that department; I just never packed sandwich fixings for 15 next to my algebra book and gym shoes is all.) Now I’m raising boys of my own. They are active and busy and at eight and six they often eat more than I do at a meal.

I can easily spend my entire day in the kitchen – cooking, preserving, baking, and pretty much never catching up on those dishes. Crazy as it sounds, I don’t mind it at all, especially when I’m surrounded by windows and have the room to make a mess as I do now. But sometimes I know I need a little bit of leeway in my day. If I know I’m going to be working on some freelance projects or we’ve got some garden produce that needs preserving, I try to make a huge pot of something. After the initial meal, I tuck it away into the solar freezer and pull it out over the next couple of days, adding salads or remaking the spice profile to liven it up a bit.

Cassoulet – a traditional French dish combining various meats, beans, and vegetables – is a great concept that I’ve taken liberties with for this recipe. It’s a great way to use up whatever cuts of meat you might have around by combining them with inexpensive legumes and flavorful garden herbs and fresh vegetables, like this uncured garlic brought to me fresh from the soil by our younger son.

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I cook a lot of meals like this, these days – just a whole bunch of protein, a little starch, and whatever garden veg we’ve got laying around. Lately we’ve had more mustard and chard greens than anything else so that finds its way in and it’s a one pot meal. The cow peas are now producing and the summer squash is almost there, so our meals are just starting to shift to using more of those vegetables as a main dish and various greens and things I find here and there become the salad.

But I’ve veered off course a bit… or maybe not. If I’m to put much time into the gardens, in addition to the majority of the work done by Stewart and the boys, a pot like this comes in handy. And since I like my hands covered in soil rather than dish water, I make something along these lines about once a week.

And did I mention it’s pretty inexpensive?

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Chicken & Lentil Cassoulet

Ingredients

  • 6 oz sausage – any flavorful and fatty bulk or cased will work
  • 2 lb chicken pieces (bone-in, skin-on)
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 8 carrots, chopped
  • 1 lb lentils
  • 6 cups broth or water
  • 1 15 oz can tomatoes
  • 1 head garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  •  2 Tablespoons sea salt, plus more to taste (less if broth is salted)
  • fresh parsley, for finishing

Directions

  1. In a Dutch oven over medium heat, brown the sausage until at least a portion of the fat has rendered. Transfer the sausages to a plate and add chicken pieces to the pot, skin side down. Cook the chicken for 4-6 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Transfer chicken pieces to plate and add onions and carrots to pot. Brown vegetables for several minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Once the vegetables have begun to soften and caramelize, add the lentils, broth, tomatoes, chopped garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Season with salt. Stir in the sausage and lay the chicken pieces atop the other ingredients. Cover, bring to a simmer, and then turn heat to low.
  3. Simmer cassoulet for 30-45 minutes or until lentils and vegetables are tender and chicken is cooked through. Plate and season as needed with salt and chopped fresh parsley. Sprinkle over good quality vinegar and serve over rice, if desired, with a fresh salad or fermented vegetable.