Connections to nature just fine for retired educators

Published 1:14 pm Monday, July 24, 2023

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Imagine owning a little slice of heaven – one that’s only a step outside your back door. That’s exactly how Julie Cartner feels about the country home she shares with her husband, Danny west of Mocksville.

On any given day, you can find Julie nestled in a chair beside the window enjoying her backyard view – and writing. Her connection with nature and the land, although sometimes distracting, mostly inspires creativity.

Recently, Julie and Danny built additions to their home – an indoor room and outdoor deck with views that overlook the pool and gardens. From there, the couple enjoys the wonders of nature unfolding as butterflies and bees, birds, squirrels, and rabbits peacefully coexist. At their feet, the dog and cat, Lucy and Maisie, are snuggled up together like best friends. Julie makes an observation. “It’s humbling to see. There’s a wonder in the interactions and behaviors of birds and animals.”

My view of fruit and vegetable gardens informs me that someone loves to cook. With 12 varieties of blueberry bushes producing berries – they tell a love story. Not overly fond of blueberries, Danny planted the bushes as a token of his love for Julie who noted, “He was willing to put that extra work in for me.”

Julie enjoys cooking many dishes with fresh berries such as homemade bread, jams, and vinaigrettes along with syrups, smoothies, crumbles, crisps, and cobblers, to name a few. Marinara made from homegrown tomatoes is a sauce that’s slow-roasted in the oven for hours – then canned. The couple enjoys cooking seasonally with greens, beans, potatoes, and other garden-grown veggies. There’s no doubt that sun-ripened vegetables are much tastier when homegrown. Giving Danny credit for his many talents, Julie also honors her husband as the primary gardener, although both take satisfaction from growing their food. “Both Danny and I come from farming families, so growing food is in our blood.”

Cooking was a big part of Julie’s relationship with her mother, Loraine, who learned to cook from her mother-in-law – Julie’s paternal grandmother, Grandma Jessie.  Loraine gifted her daughter with a church cookbook that included many of Grandma Jessie’s recipes. The book gave Julie a greater connection with her dad’s extended family – with recipes of his aunts, uncles, great aunts, and great uncles. While Julie had heard of them throughout childhood, most had passed away before she was born.

Julie and Danny find joy in their respective hobbies. Danny stays busy working on the farm and enjoys knitting, caning chairs, and watching the Atlanta Braves. He’s also involved in good works for the community – Family Promise and the Summer Food Bags Program.

Julie wears lots of hats – as a retired teacher, she enjoys reading and creative writing. Her artistic talents are expressed through painting, needle felting, singing, and teaching dance at the Senior Center. Julie’s also a swimmer. The exercise is her way of starting the day refreshed and renewed – and the pool waters take Julie back to the beaches of her hometown, Orient, N.Y.

From where I’m sitting, there’s a gorgeous view of the blue water and gardens full of colorful flowers. Hummingbirds are loving on lilies while finches flutter around zinnias and sunflowers. Bird feeders keep me entertained as bluebirds guard their babies and cardinals and bluejays compete for a lofty perch.

I know living on a farm can’t be all play – it’s hard work that never ends. But, as a testimony to their happy and peaceful lives in the country, Julie and Danny recently celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary. The couple has successfully raised 5 children and a backyard full of happy critters.

I conclude that the fruits of our labor and good works will have their rewards in paradise. And this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

“Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways. You will eat the fruit of your labor, blessings and prosperity will be yours.” Psalm 128:1-2 (NIV).

EASY CERVICHE

2 pounds of cooked shrimp

1/3 cup fresh lime juice

2 -3 seeded, Roma tomatoes

½ – 1 each, yellow, orange, red, and green peppers

¼ cup chopped red onion, to taste

1-3 chopped jalapeno peppers, to taste

1 seeded cucumber

Cilantro

Salt and pepper, to taste

If cooking raw shrimp, peel and cook gently in butter, garlic, and white wine for about 3 minutes per side or until pink and no longer translucent. Remove from pan, set aside and cool.  When cool, cut each shrimp into 3 or 4 pieces depending on the size of the shrimp. (With true cerviche, you don’t cook the shrimp, you put it in the lime juice and let it process.) Dice tomatoes, all peppers, onion, cucumber, and cilantro and add, to taste. Mix all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl. Let rest in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes up to about 2 hours. Much is subject to taste. I don’t add the cilantro, and I use a minimal amount of red onion and jalapeno, then offer the remainder on the side. Serve with tortilla chips, in a cocktail glass, on a bed of lettuce, or on a tostada shell. Prepare ahead: I do all the cooking and dicing, then combine the ingredients 1 – 2 hours before serving.

BLUEBERRY SCONES

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup granulated sugar

2 ½ tsp. baking powder

1 ½ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. salt

½ cup butter, frozen

1 egg

½ cup half-and-half or heavy cream 1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups blueberries

Coarsely ground sugar

Extra cream and flour

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt, and mix with a whisk. Grate the frozen butter, then add to the dry mixture using a pastry blender or 2 forks. In a bowl, whisk egg, cream, and vanilla extract. Drizzle the wet ingredients over the flour mixture and gently fold in the blueberries. Mix together until everything is moistened. The dough will be very tacky. If too tacky, add flour. If too dry, add cream. Pour the contents of the bowl onto a floured surface. With floured hands form the ingredients into a ball. Press into an 8-inch disc. Cut into 8 or 16 wedges. Place wedges on parchment paper or silicone baking mat on a cookie sheet. If possible, separate wedges by 2- inches. Brush scones with cream, then sprinkle with coarse sugar. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20 – 25 minutes, until scones are golden brown on edges and lightly brown on top. Remove from oven and enjoy.

FETA SPINACH DIP

1 pkg. thawed, drained, frozen chopped spinach

1 cup sour cream

½ cup mayonnaise

4 oz. crumbled feta cheese

¼ cup pitted, sliced kalamata olives

¼ cup drained, chopped roasted red peppers

Mix all ingredients. Cover. Refrigerate several hours. Serve with assorted cut-up vegetables, pita wedges, and/or chips.

PEACH KUCHEN DELIGHT

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

1 cup sugar

½ cup cold, salted butter

8 fresh peach halves

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 egg yolks

1 cup whipping cream

Mix flour, salt, and 2 Tbsp. sugar with wire whisk. Cut in butter. Press in bottom and sides of 9-inch square pan. Place peaches cut side down and sprinkle with cinnamon mixed with the remainder of the sugar. Bake in a preheated 200-degree oven for 15 minutes. Whisk egg yolks with cream and pour over the peaches. Bake for 30 additional minutes.

PECAN SANDIES COOKIE DESSERT

1 stick melted, salted butter

1 pkg crushed pecan sandies cookies

8 oz. softened cream cheese

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 large box butterscotch pudding

2 ½ cups whole milk

2 cups Cool Whip

Butterscotch chips

Reserved cookie crumbs

In a 9 x 13 baking dish, melt butter. Crush cookies and reserve ½ cup of crumbs and set aside. Combine butter and remaining cookie crumbs. Evenly press mixture into bottom of dish. Allow to cool. In a mixer bowl, combine cream cheese and confectioners sugar and mix well. Evenly spread cream cheese mixture over cookie layer. Chill for 1 hour. In a bowl, combine pudding mix with milk. Mix well and pour over cream cheese layer. Chill. Spread 2 cups Cool Whip on top. Sprinkle top with butterscotch chips and remaining cookie crumbs. Cover and chill.

SHRIMP DIP

16 oz. softened cream cheese

2 pkg. dry ranch dressing

1 bottle chili sauce

¼ – ½ cup ketchup

1-3 Tbsp. horseradish, to taste

1 lb. cut-up fresh/frozen shrimp

1 diced onion

1 diced red, yellow, orange, or green peppers   

2-3 diced Roma tomatoes

½ cup pitted, sliced black olives

Shredded sharp cheddar/Colby jack cheese

In a bowl, beat cream cheese and ranch dressing mix together and spread on bottom of 9 x 13 dish with sides. In another bowl, combine chili sauce, ketchup, and horseradish. Evenly spread chili sauce mixture over the cream cheese. Evenly spread shrimp over chili layer. Dice the onion, bell peppers, tomatoes, and olives and evenly layer on top. Cover and refrigerate for several hours. Sprinkle shredded cheddar or colby jack cheese on top. Serve with tortilla chips

BLUEBERRY CRUMBLE

4 cups fresh blueberries

4 Tbsp. sugar

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

Topping

¾ cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup old-fashioned oats   

½ cup sugar

½ cup light brown sugar

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

¼ cup slivered/chopped almonds

¼ cup cold butter, cut into small pieces

In a bowl, combine the blueberries, sugar, flour, and salt. Mix well and pour into a shallow 8 x 12 baking dish. For the topping, in a bowl, combine flour, oats, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and almonds. Using hands or a pastry blender, work the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles the consistency of crumbs. Sprinkle topping over blueberry mixture. Bake in a preheated 375–degree oven for 40-45 minutes or until berries are bubbling around edges. Serve hot plain or with vanilla ice cream.

RHUBARB PIE

2 cups chopped rhubarb

2 cups sugar

2 rounded Tbsp. flour

2 egg yolks (save whites for meringue)

Mix all together and put in unbaked pie shell. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 35 – 40 minutes or until mixture boils. Remove from oven and cover with meringue. Be sure to seal to edges. Return to oven to brown the meringue.

AVOCADO SALAD

½-1 each, red, green yellow, orange bell peppers

¼ red onion, or more to taste

3-4 seeded Roma tomatoes

One seeded cucumber

One zucchini/yellow squash

1 can Green Giant Steam Crisp sweet niblet corn

1 can drained, rinsed, Hanover black beans

1 small bunch cilantro

1-3 jalapeno peppers, to taste

Avocado halves

Dice peppers, onion, tomatoes, cucumber, and squash. Combine all in a bowl and mix. I keep the cilantro separate as it is not loved by all, and I use minimal onions and jalapenos with the extra in separate bowls for the same reason. Cut avocadoes in half and remove pits. Generously fill avocado halves with mixture and serve. Note – due to varying sizes of vegetables, I try to balance all the ingredients, so I may or may not use all of any of the ingredients.

PEACH DUMPLINGS

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp.  salt

½ cup shortening

1 egg yolk

3 Tbsp. water

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp. sugar

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

6 peach halves

¾ cup sugar

2/3 cup water or juice (of choice)

In a bowl, mix flour and salt, and cut in shortening. In another bowl, blend yolk, water, and lemon juice. Mix lightly into flour mixture with fork. Roll out and cut into six 6” squares. Mix sugar and cinnamon. Put one peach half into each square of pastry. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Seal dough and place in greased 7x12x2 pan. In saucepan, mix sugar and water or juice and heat to boiling. Pour over dumplings. Bake in a preheated 425-degree oven for 40 minutes or until browned.

RATATOUILLE

1 chopped zucchini

1 chopped green bell pepper

1 chopped onion

2 chopped fresh basil leaves

Chopped fresh oregano

2 chopped cloves garlic

2-3 chopped Roma tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Cut up zucchini, bell pepper, onion, basil, oregano, and garlic, and stir fry for 3- 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and stir fry for 1 – 2 additional minutes. Season according to taste. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Serve.

LEMON FIZZ   

2 sprigs mint leaves, no stem

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. sugar

1½ cups club soda

2/3 cup lemon sorbet

Combine mint leaves, lemon juice, sugar, and ½ cup soda in blender. Blend until mint leaves are minced. Divide into 2 tall glasses. Add 1/3 cup sorbet to each. Top with ½ cup each club soda. Serves 2.

CHICKEN SALAD

Extra virgin olive oil

4 Tbsp. teriyaki sauce

Freshly ground black pepper

4 cooked, diced, large boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

1 diced apple

2 cups halved grapes

1 diced pear

2 stalks diced celery

4 diced hard-boiled eggs

½ cup premium mayonnaise

½ cup Greek or Fage plain yogurt

Coat large skillet with olive oil. Add teriyaki sauce and ground black pepper. Cook meat until done – when all pink is gone. Cool completely. Mix all ingredients with chicken, then add mayonnaise or yogurt. If salad is too dry, add more mayonnaise and/or yogurt. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve on lettuce beds, on bread, or with crackers and cut-up vegetables

BROCCOLI SALAD

2 stalks broccoli, cut into florets

3 quartered, sliced, hard-boiled eggs

1 can sliced water chestnuts

½ – ¾ cup premium mayonnaise

In a bowl, combine florets of broccoli, hard-boiled eggs, sliced water chestnuts, and mayonnaise. Refrigerate overnight