Prairie View

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Asparagus and Other Things

After the potluck (carry-in) dinner after church today, a handful of people asked about how to make the marinated asparagus dish I had brought.  Only Sarah wrote it down, so I decided to write it here, to help out all those others whose brains are probably as unlikely to retain the precise amounts of the ingredients as mine would be.  I think the recipe might have come originally from a Taste of Home magazine.  I never subscribed to it, so it must have been a passed-along one.

Marinated Asparagus

50 spears asparagus, medium thickness
8 oz. Italian dressing (I like Zesty Italian.)
1/3 cup vinegar (I use raw apple cider vinegar.)
1 teaspoon tarragon (dried leaf herb)
1 teaspoon garlic salt (Mine has dried parsley mixed in.)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Blanch the asparagus by immersing it in boiling water and allowing it to come to a rolling boil again.  Remove from heat and cool it.  Meanwhile, combine the Italian dressing and vinegar.  In a separate small bowl, combine the tarragon, garlic salt, and pepper.  Drain the asparagus spears and arrange a single layer in the bottom of a rectangular dish.  Sprinkle some of the dry spices over the asparagus spears.  About 1/4 t. per layer comes out about right for me.  When all the asparagus has been added, pour the dressing over the spears.  Leave on the counter at room temperature several hours or overnight.  Refrigerate.


Even when it's efficiently packed, I find that this amount of dressing does not completely cover the asparagus.  If it's in an airtight container the container can be flipped partway through the marinating process.  Alternatively (this is what I do), the amount of marinade can be increased.  After the first batch, I save the "old" marinade and use it to top off the new batch, adding enough to cover all the spears, and making sure to flip it several times early on to distribute the fresh flavor throughout.  The leftover marinade could also be used to flavor tossed salads.

The original recipe suggested serving the spears on a lettuce leaf.  I've never done so, but someone might like this option.

In a Korean grocery store, I found the perfect container for marinating asparagus.  Think of it as a small deep glass rectangular baking dish with  a very tight-fitting plastic lid that has flaps that snap firmly into place on the outside of the dish on all sides.  I've seen similar ones made of plastic.  Mine is completely leak-proof, and it's just the right size for one batch of marinated asparagus.  It actually holds more than one batch, but not quite two.


Conversation about this asparagus recipe today prompted lots of information about other ways of preparing asparagus.  My mom usually served creamed asparagus, probably because that was the only way to stretch the supply to make enough for everyone at the table to have a serving.  Only when it was very plentiful did she fry the asparagus rounds in butter, sprinkling flour and salt into the pan and on top of the asparagus in the pan.  I liked the fried asparagus best.

I learned from Hiromi to stir-fry it in toasted-sesame-seed oil and season it with soy sauce.  Today Twila told me she loves it stir-fired in bacon drippings.  I heard that Jo makes a really good roasted asparagus.  I don't know what the exact ingredients are, but presumably it's brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with some spices.  I tried something similar on the grill with the fattest spears recently.

Last weekend I prepared a big kettle full of creamed asparagus for a DLM family gathering.  Hiromi liked it when I cooked some for him earlier and Lois suggested that when I offered to bring asparagus in some form.  For this big amount, I went looking for a recipe.  To my surprise, the recipes I found online contained hard-boiled eggs and were intended for serving over toast.  That gave me another idea for how to use an abundance of asparagus.


My row of purple asparagus consistently produces the thickest spears in the patch.  I don't know why the difference.

I'm always pleased to find thick asparagus stalks, but I learned once when I was selling asparagus at the farmer's market that some people who are uninformed about growing asparagus assume that the fat stalks are over-mature and tough.  No. Tall means tough-at-the-bottom.  Short and fat is just fine--tender all the way down.

I've also noted that any asparagus that is cooked promptly after harvesting is far more likely to be tender all the way to the bottom than is the case after it's been in the refrigerator for a few days.  We always snap our asparagus when we harvest it, rather than cut it, assuming that it breaks above the point where the stalk has toughened.  It does leave stubs in the garden, especially if harvest is delayed a little too long, but it doesn't take much trimming after we've brought it indoors.


A number of years ago when we lived at the farm we planted several rows of Atlas asparagus, after I learned that it was more heat-tolerant than most asparagus, and very productive.  I was never able to locate that variety later, except in seed form from a wholesale seed producer.  One thousand seeds could be purchased for about $700.00.

Things began to make sense when I realized that the roots I had bought were probably produced by someone who had been desperate for that variety, and sprang for the only way they could get it, hoping to recoup their costs by selling extra roots.  In the process they provided a welcome service to people like me.

The growers were a market family from eastern Kansas.  I learned to know them at a meeting in the KC area after I had read about them in a cut-flower growing book and bought the asparagus from them.

Unfortunately, Atlas' heat tolerance is not matched by its cold tolerance, so I'm not sure it's the best variety for Kansas--a place where weather extremes are normal.  Last year I think Gurney's offered Atlas, and I suspect it's the best option available for areas south of Kansas.

The varieties coming out of the New Jersey breeding program are very popular.  Of all those, Jersey Knight is the most heat tolerant, while still maintaining its cold-tolerance also.  Most of them are all-male varieties, which minimizes the problem of older plantings becoming over-crowded with self-sown seedlings.  The hybrids are reportedly 3-4 times as productive as the old Mary Washington variety I was familiar with as a child.

After the asparagus harvest season is over (when the stalks revert to sizes smaller than a pencil), cutting over the bed one more time, and then piling on barnyard fertilizer is a good idea.  In our area mulch is a good form of weed control and moisture preservation.  Asparagus needs about 1/2 inch of water per week.  Robust growth of the ferns during the summer insures an abundance of harvestable stalks the following spring.


Sometime I might try an idea that I saw in a magazine.  In this growing system, the asparagus harvest season occurs during the fall. Starting in early spring , the ferns are allowed to grow all summer long.  About six weeks before the expected first frost, all the ferns are cut down, and whatever regrows can be harvested.  The next spring follows the same sequence.


The hops vine that I planted last summer is enthusiastically climbing the trellis Hiromi helped me construct on a structure that Grant and Clare erected while they lived here.  I suppose hearing that I'm growing a hops vine might elicit snickers from some who know that most people do this for the purpose of brewing beer.  Me?  No.  Jack, the master gardener who gave me the plant, said it's an attractive vine, and I believed him.  He was right.  The end.


David Wagler has come here to live with the family of his daughter, Rhoda Yutzy.  Another daughter, Rachel, also lives here with her family.  Gideon, the 7th and 8th grade school teacher at Pilgrim is David's grandson.  Granddaughter Jessica is one of my students.  I'm proud of her for teaching her grandfather to use a computer.  He's done a lot of typing, but that is physically more difficult for him than it used to be.  Technology (and a willing granddaughter) to the rescue!

David (95) is the founder of Pathway Publications.  He has been a prolific writer most of his life and is well-known in Amish circles.

Having him here makes me miss my dad.  He would have loved having David live close by.  They were friends, with many similar interests.  I remember David and his wife having stayed overnight with  my parents once when they were visiting Kansas--for a funeral, perhaps.  It was long before they had children and grandchildren living here.  Both widowed, with time on their hands--this would have been a lovely time for dad and David to reconnect.


Kansas is having very strange weather this week.  Here in the middle, we're just fine.  We've had a little over an inch of rain, some wind, and temperatures flirting with the freezing mark several times recently.  Western Kansas, on the other hand, is paralyzed by a blizzard, and far eastern Kansas has had copious amounts of rain.  In the blizzard area, many towns are without power.  In the rainy area, flooding is significant.  The southeast corner of the state where my brother Ronald lives is on the very western edge of what is a major flooding crisis in Missouri and elsewhere.

Shane's family drove to Colorado for a Choice Books weekend retreat.  Today, they were halted in Laramie, CO on their way home, with driving through Western Kansas apparently impossible.  Shane says everything is closed from Oklahoma to Nebraska.

Here, the wheat is headed out.  In Western Kansas the wheat is reportedly in the "boot" stage, in which the head is still encased in the stem.  The heavy, wet snow flattened most of the stalks, with tufts poking through here and there in one picture that I saw.  I can't imagine  that much of a wheat crop prospect remains.  This, after some hard freezes there earlier.


Farmers in Kansas are hoping that the state legislature approves the growing of hemp in the state.  Right now, it's outlawed, along with the other cannabis cousin, marijuana.  Kansas was once a major producer of hemp.

Hemp fiber is a component of many familiar products like rope, paper, and fabric.  Most of what is used in the US is imported from Canada.

A gathering of farmers who wished to promote the hemp growing option took place just around the corner to the west of our home last week.  The Kansas House passed the proposal by a very wide margin, but the Senate president does not seem inclined to let it come up for a vote during this session--which means it could not be approved before next year.

I have hoped to see this happen for at least 20 years.  It needs a minimal amount of water, thus being ideally suited for growth in unirrigated fields in climates like ours.    Law enforcement is not eager to see the growth of hemp legalized, primarily because marijuana and hemp look so very much alike.  Hemp can not be used for hallucinogenic purposes though.


I've advocated growing both hops and hemp in one blog post.  I probably ought to be slapping my own hands for that.  I won't though.  Within the parameters I've specified, I'm prepared to defend them both, if necessary.


On Monday when I headed out to go to school, I met Clare and Wyatt coming up the sidewalk.  They were bringing the dog, Buck, over to stay while the whole family trundled to the northwestern states in the semi.

"Do you have a badger?" Clare asked, gesturing toward a massive pile of dirt beside a hole dug under the foundation of the house right where it joins our small front porch.

I looked down at the mess.  "That wasn't there last night," I said.

"Oh.  It's an armadillo," she said, stepping back a bit to look into the hole.  "I can see it."  I could too when I stood where she was.    "I wish I had my gun," she said.

"Hiromi has a gun.  Won't that work?"

"If it's not strong enough, it can ricochet off the shell," she said.  I believed her, after the stories I heard last weekend from my brothers about being able to see sparks if shots bounce off the shell in the dark  (Wesley didn't believe it when I said that at school though).

I went to tell Hiromi, and then had to leave.  After I got home, I heard the rest of the story.

The armadillo had dug itself into the hole head first, and so its posterior parts were facing the opening.  Hiromi didn't think that looked like a good way to get in a kill shot, so he took some clever measures to get it to turn around.

With a garden hose, he flooded the hole, and, sure enough, the armadillo raised its head and turned around.  Hiromi did the deadly deed and left the dead armadillo in the hole and went to work himself.  That night he started preparing to take the carcass out back, when he had a better idea:  Bury that animal right where it was by filling in the hole with the dirt the beast had dug out.  So that's what he did.  I hope we don't regret that.


Years ago, Marian let me dig up some Oriental Poppies from her yard to transplant here.  Last week the first of them bloomed, and many more will likely bloom this week.  They're so "Marian," (undemanding and sturdy, but blazing with silky beauty in this fleeting bloom season) and I love this reminder of my dear friend.


The Flowering Quince bush that we planted several decades ago bloomed for the first time  last year, unless it bloomed while we lived elsewhere.  All along, it seemed to have done little more than survive.  By this year it increased markedly in size and we're hoping for a bigger flower show this year than we've ever seen.


Last weekend Keith Miller was ordained as our new deacon.  His and Miriam's six children range in age from about 3 to about 15.  Keith is the nephew of our retiring deacon, LaVerne Miller.


Last week I attended a homeschooling event in Partridge.  It was organized by Dalena Wallace, who is a homeschooling mother attending at Plainview.

This event reminded me of how many good times we had with other wonderful homeschooling families in years gone by.  One of the young moms I visited with was a child in the Jung family that we used to interact with.

A state representative from this area, Joe Seiwert, was there and spoke.  I was a bit incredulous that he had never heard of or considered the possibility that homeschoolers  might not all be in favor of school vouchers because of compliance regulations that would presumably be part of the voucher package.  One person in the audience suggested to him that something like a tax credit might be more acceptable.  I'm not holding my breath in hopes that some acceptable option will develop.

I did gain some respect for Seiwert because of his experience with private (Catholic) schooling--his own and his children's.  More than that, however, I respect him for having opened his home as a foster parent to at least eight children.  He and his wife also had three children born to them.

One of the Teaching Parents Association's board members who spoke is the mother of six adopted children.  Her family lives in Wichita.  She was at one time an avowed non-homeschooler--until she realized that her oldest daughter's needs were unlikely to be met otherwise.

Homeschooling is not magic and the people involved are not perfect, but I find it incredibly beautiful to see so many parents who pour as much into their children's lives daily as is required of homeschooling parents.  Children in such families are more blessed than they have any idea.


Arlene's mother is having serious medical problems right now, and has been hospitalized.  Arlene is Loyal Miller's wife.  Her mother lives in Pennsylvania.  Arlene's parents were here just last weekend when Loyal was in the lot for our deacon ordination.


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