LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Annual BLT Party

Here at Red Oak House, we’ve established a tradition, an annual mid-August BLT party with our good friends Bob and Jodi and Larry and Charlotte.  Some years Clay attends if he is in town.

We cook up the bacon from Crow Butte Mercantile and slice up a bunch of our home-grown tomatoes. We were pleased today because, usually, our garden lettuce is not growing at the same time as our tomatoes, however for some reason this year, it is, so our guests also got lettuce freshly picked this morning. (I think it was because Jim planted it where there is quite a lot of shade.) For the toast, we served Bread Poets Maah Daah Hey Trail bread and fresh sourdough.

For a very special dessert, I created my special yellow tomato lime sorbet, using my sister’s ice cream maker. This is very popular and a surprisingly tasty treat. I mean, who would think that yellow tomatoes would work out this way?

The conversation is scintillating, and we have lots of laughs, too. Sadly, the daylilies have waned, but the day dawned nice and cool, so we won’t broil on the back patio, our preferred spot for this party. We’ve had two very nice rain showers in the past two days, and for this, we rejoice.

Earlier this spring, I planted 80 gladiolus bulbs, and a few are now blooming.

In case you were wondering, my German chocolate cake was a big hit with my family last night. It was wonderful to have many of us together on a summer’s night, celebrating another year for my pa. We didn’t opt for 90-plusl candles.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Glen Campbell And Other Musings

When I was a little girl, Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” was a big hit on AM radio. Somehow, because my father had been a lineman in Mississippi in the time period after World War II  I got confused and for a little while and was pretty sure he and Glen Campbell were one and the same person. I eventually got this sorted out and understood the truth, but I’m still rather fond of the song.

Other musings: This photo was a happy reminder for me of a past hike, taken five years ago today. I so love Theodore Roosevelt National Park that I’ll climb the tall bison fence to get into the backcountry. My husband took this photo. My sister, Sarah, joined us for the hike and just as nimbly clambered over that fence.

Garden news is that I planted the hosta seed I’ve been harvesting. We’ll see what happens. A seed can be magic, a miracle in the palm of my hand.

On the way to pick up supplies at the grocery store, I spotted this sign. Good sentiment.

Other tiny seeds have turned this summer to these beauties.

In the kitchen, I’m converting the bounty to yellow tomato lime sorbet and listening to Campbell’s last release as I putter.


Adios, indeed, Mr. Campbell.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — The Rhythms Of Life: Family And Garden

“… all that we behold
Is full of blessings”
—  William Wordsworth

I spent some of the morning with my nonagenarian father, who teaches me each day about dignity and stoicism. When out in public, he almost always wears a hat, and these hats tell about his life.

Garland Crook.
Garland Crook.

I think the fact that he was in the U.S. Army Security Agency reveals much about him and his sense of duty. I remember as a girl when he would often be looking for clues of poachers or other such miscreants who might be in the neighborhood. This made it challenging as a teenager, since in the long run, one couldn’t get away with much. (On one memorable occasion, when I had missed curfew, my parents made me clean out the chicken coop — what a miserable day!) Oh, and the fact that he had a CB radio meant we teenagers were also somewhat monitored.

Each day, my father looks more and more like his mother, Lena Bell, aka Mama Crook, with that square and clenched Ellis jaw. I have that jaw and that way of setting my jaw when I’m having to dig deep for determination. So does my Aunt Fran, one of his sisters.

He has always been a wonderful storyteller and appreciates a good joke. Whenever he sees my husband, he asks about the fishing. His brother tried to convince him once that he’d be a good tournament fisher, and though it wasn’t the path he took in life, I’m sure my uncle was right.

You can read more about my Daddy and his service in the U.S. Army here.

In my garden, the daylilies are waning.

Jim canned the first jars of tomato juice and made more pickles.

I cooked the promised tomatoes stuffed with black rice risotto, along with a slab of baked salmon, taking advantage of the cool weather in which to bake. We ate it on the patio, savoring the last few moments here on the northern Plains to eat outside.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Gratitude, Rachel And Harvest

Sunday morning I was listening to the “Ted Radio Hour” on Prairie Public Radio. The subject of the interview was talking about physics and the universe, and he said, “We should be grateful for what we know and humbled by what we don’t know.”  Amen, say I.

I have so much to be grateful for in my life. This weekend, I was especially grateful in my North Dakota life for a place like Elks Camp Grassick and the programs that allow my daughter, Rachel, to attend summer camp, on the shores of Lake Isabel. She has attended Technocamp, facilitated by the Anne Carlson Center of Jamestown, N.D., many times, but it has been some years since she was able to attend as she had “aged out.”

We were delighted to hear that it would again be a place she could go to enrich her life and make new friends. I first heard about Camp Grassick from a fellow parent of a special needs child when I was picking Chelsea up from the International Music Camp.

Our twin daughters had rather a rough start to life, born three months prematurely and each at just a little over 2 pounds. They received good medical care in Bismarck and are tenacious souls, and we were surrounded by the love and support of family and community. Somehow we got through the worst of the years of medical crisis, but Rachel lives with developmental delays and cerebral palsy.  She has a smile that lights up a room and takes great joy in many facets of her life.

Back to Camp Grassick. Jim and I drove out to pick up Rachel on Saturday, and he said it makes him so happy to go there. I asked Dan, the director, how many years he has been doing this, and he said 44! Now that is real dedication. Thank you to everyone in the Elks who support this special place and the lives that are enriched there.

Camp Grassick is just south of the tidy village of Dawson, N.D.

Rachel was filled with stories of riding the pontoon, catching fish and earning this award at the banquet. She spent the afternoon playing the board game Sorry! with me and her Aunt Beckie.

Rachel lives in a minimally supported living arrangement apartment in Dickinson, N.D.

One of her staff came to Bismarck to eat supper with us and take her back. She has to get back to her job at Able Inc. on Monday! She is one very busy young lady and so lucky to be able to live as independently as possible, thanks to the programs that make this possible.

Other things I have to be grateful for:

  • We got some rain this week.
  • The gardens are beautiful and our harvest bountiful.
  • I turn on my faucet and clean Missouri River water comes out.
  • We eat BLTs just about every day this time of year.
  • The hot weather has abated.
  • We get to see my elderly parents frequently, and they are very interesting people.
  • I can buy Washington peaches from Royce’s Market on the Strip in Mandan, N.D.
  • The goldfinches come to my backyard feeder.

I’m grateful that we have the best dog ever, a springer spaniel.

Oh, and Jim and I both got to take a swing through the Capitol grounds to take in the annual arts and crafts fest. Time for some kettle corn! We live in a wonderful city in North Dakota.

Harvest continues here, stocking the freezers and shelves with vegetables.Today was “putting up” corn day. The Mandan Graner corn, we learned on social media, was ready to be bought at the Cenex station. We’ve agreed that this corn is so good we don’t need to waste space in our garden (plus the squirrels raid it).

Jim’s job was to get there and buy eight dozen ears of this wonderful sweet corn, and then he sat on the patio, on this nice cool day, and shucked it.

My job was to cut it off the cob — we froze a dozen ears whole — in the Southern manner that my Alabama Aunt Fran has taught me, for Southern creamed corn. I followed her handwritten instructions, and while I stood for hours in the kitchen carefully scraping the cobs, I thought about all of the years my Mama Crook put up corn in her sunny Mississippi kitchen. In her later years, Mama Crook lived in a mobile home on Aunt Fran’s property, near to Memphis, Tenn.

Fran had a huge corn patch, and she’d come home from her job, drive her mower and trailer down to the patch and load it up with cobs. Mama Crook would see her coming from her window, and she’d come out and say, “Get me the sharp knife,” and they’d go to work. A sharp knife is as essential to this process as was the original seed and sunshine that grew this yellow delicacy.

My mother gave us this ‘Ball Blue Book, a Guide to Home Canning, Freezing & Dehydration,’ and it gets heavy use this time of year.

This is all hard and messy work, but it is made more pleasant by thinking about these memories I have of my kin doing the same thing I’m doing, for many decades. And then there is all that delicious creamed corn we will cook up all winter when we make soul food!

The last task for today was to make tomato and herb phyllo pizza. Tomorrow’s menu will be risotto stuffed tomatoes. Oh, and Jim will make his first batch of tomato juice to go with his dill pickles in Bloody Marys.

Yup, we are foodies.

Twenty-two bags and a spoon I’ve had all of my adult years.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 24

Three-quarter of an inch of rain in a wondrous thunderstorm this morning (Wednesday) started the day off right here at Red Oak House. For the second day in a row, it will be cool enough for us to leave the windows open all day.

Vegetable harvest has begun in earnest and Jim has frozen many bags already.

Last night, we had what we call “nothing from the store supper.” The first new potatoes, beans, broccoli and walleye. Who needs a restaurant?

As you can see from the plate above, we’ve begun to eat our heirloom tomatoes. These are bloody butchers. The jungle promises much more tomato bliss to come.

Other blooming plants make our garden a real oasis of tranquility in the midst of a bustling city.

On a different note, this song I’ve been listening to on Jackson Browne Solo Acoustic is running through my head:


Everybody I talk to is ready to leave

With the light of the morning

They’ve seen the end coming down

Long enough to believe

That they’ve heard their last warning

Standing alone

Each has his own ticket in his hand

And as the evening descends

I sit thinking ’bout Everyman

Seems like I’ve always been

Looking for some other place

To get it together

Where with a few of my friends

I could give up the race

And maybe find something better

But all my fine dreams

Well thought out schemes

To gain the motherland

Have all eventually come down

To waiting for Everyman

Waiting here for Everyman

Make it on your own if you think you can

If you see somewhere to go I understand

Waiting here for Everyman

Don’t ask me if he’ll show, baby I don’t know

In different lighting, Wide Wide World daylily, shows off different hues so why not one more photo? It’s my blog after all.

Time for Manhattans in the shade of the front patio.  Cheers!

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Chicken With Tomatoes

Undoubtedly, many gardeners who grow tomatoes have more than they can handle — unless they do some canning.

Even those who put up whole tomatoes, tomato juice, salsa or the like might have their hands full if they were overzealous and plotted too many plants, especially this summer in which there have been ideal growing conditions for those who have kept blight at bay.

So, with that in mind, here’s a recipe that will lessen the burden. It comes from The New York Times’s archives and is authored by the 60 Minute Gourmet himself, the late Pierre Franey.

I was a big fan of Franey’s column while serving as the food copy editor and later food editor at the Grand Forks Herald in the 1990s. Franey, along with the Times’ Craig Claiborne, served up some tasty dishes that eventually found their way to my dining room table. The recipes were easy, quick and inexpensive, all very important to me at the time.

The only improvisation I’ve made to the latest edition of this dish is to substitute pheasant breasts for chicken breasts.

Now, if I could find about a dozen more good tomato recipes. Readers?

Chicken With Tomatoes
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 2¼ pounds
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon or 2 teaspoon dried
8 ripe plum tomatoes cut into small cubes (or one 28-ounce can of tomatoes, drained and chopped)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup drained capers
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil and butter in a heavy-bottom skillet. Add the chicken breasts and saute over medium-high heat, turning the pieces often until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
Add the shallots and garlic around the chicken. Cook briefly; add the tarragon, tomatoes, vinegar, capers, wine and tomato paste. Stir to dissolve the brown particles adhering to the bottom of the skillet.
Blend well; bring to a boil; cover and simmer for 9 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

DARREL KOEHLER: The Prairie Gardener — Tomatoes And Blight

Despite the prediction this summer would be hot and dry, the opposite was the case, which didn’t bode well for some gardeners who raise tomatoes.

Early summer rains coupled with damp, cloudy weather conditions severely damaged this season’s crop. If your tomatoes were in a dry spot with lots of sunshine, you probably fared better.

According to the Minnesota Extension Service, the most common problem was blight. There are several types of blight, with septoria being the most common.

Septoria causes small, dark spots on leaves. Then, the leaves turn yellow and fall off. It usually starts at the bottom of the plant and works its way upward.

Wet and humid conditions like the kind we’ve been experiencing this summer hasten blight’s development. While you can’t deal with Mother Nature in terms of weather conditions, you can avoid overhead watering.

This disease usually does not cause damage to the fruit, but if the plant loses too many leaves, it can’t supply food to its many tomatoes.

So, we end up with two situations. If conditions have been good, you will end up with a good to bumper crop. If you have a bad blight year, you may have fewer or no tomatoes.

Besides septoria, gardeners also have had to deal with fewer cases of late or early blight. They cause larger spots to develop on leaf steams and fruit.

Protective fungicides containing Daconil can help to control blight. It must be applied at the first sign of the disease — or it will be too late.

Bacterial spot and bacterial speck have also struck tomato plants this summer. Small dark spots form on the fruit and leaves. Unlike the fungal diseases, fungicides will not control bacterial diseases.

In the case of heavy rain, tomatoes may crack. There is no remedy for this.

Here are some tips on how to deal with blight that you can file away for next season.

  • Mulch around plants early to delay onset of the disease. However, once disease is spotted, don’t bother to continue mulching.
  • Space plants a good distance apart, allowing good air circulation.
  • Staking tomato plants or encasing them with cages also helps. Purchase heavy-duty tomato cages as they will have to deal with lots of weight.
  • Don’t allow tomatoes to sit on the ground, since they will be prone to rot as well as attack from slugs.
  • Clear away plants in the fall.
  • When purchasing tomato seedlings, check to see if they are blight resistant.

Good luck!



CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — BLT Time

Home-grown tomatoes are nothing like those that can be purchased in grocery stores or supermarkets. That might be an understatement.

In fact, in the opinion of many gardeners, there probably isn’t any food better than the first tomato of summer.

I just sampled my first of the season — with just a dab of salt — from our garden today. It lived up to all of my expectations. And it won’t be the only tomato I eat today.

Tonight for supper, we’re having BLT sandwiches. For those of you who are unfamiliar — and I don’t think there are too many of you — that stands for bacon, lettuce and tomato.

Besides the home-grown tomatoes for the sandwiches, we’ll also have some lettuce from our garden — and perhaps a leaf of kale — some Cloverdale bacon that I picked up at our neighborhood Hugo’s supermarket and some nice toasted slices of freshly baked bread from Dakota Harvest Bakery in Grand Forks.

After the tomatoes, bacon is the most important part of a BLT. My preference over the past few years has been locally smoked bacon from pork we’ve purchased from a couple of my friends.

But if I’d seen an online promo from Burgers’ Smokehouse in California, Mo., a week or two earlier, our first BLTs this year might have featured their bacon, which was been voted “Best Dry Cured Bacon” at the Annual Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival 2014 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Burgers’ says its dry cured bacon is cured using a decades-old recipe using salt, brown sugar and black pepper. The bacon is then slow smoked using a natural wood. The award-winning supplier sells through its retail shop, grocery stores, restaurants, direct mail — 3 million catalogs are mailed out annually — and over the Internet at (Besides bacon, Burgers’ also sells naturally cured hams, sausage, ribs and much more.)

That bacon sounds pretty good, but not good enough to put off my first BLT for a couple of days!

Basic BLT
½ pound bacon (approximately 12 slices)
8 slices white bread
8 leaves iceberg lettuce, fresh
8 slices of ripened home-grown tomatoes
8 tables spoons mayonnaise or Miracle Whip)
8 slices kale (optional)
Cook bacon until crispy. Place on paper towels. Toast the bread and spread 1 tablespoon of mayo or Miracle Whip on each slice. Add 1 slice of lettuce to 4 pieces of the toast. Add 2 slices tomato on top of lettuce. Arrange 3 slices of bacon evenly on top of tomato. (Break bacon slices in half to to fit, if needed.) Add 1 slice of lettuce on top of bacon. Put the remaining 4 pieces of toast (with mayo or Miracle Whip) on top.
Yield: Serves 4.
Note: I also like to butter the toast before adding Miracle Whip, my preference.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Eggplant and Zucchini Gratin

The summer of 2015 is going to be one to remember for gardeners and grillers alike. Abundant rain and sunshine have resulted in bumper crops for a lot of people in the Northland, many of whom are fond of cooking outdoors.

While many associate grilling mainly with meat, there’s a growing number of food aficionados who know that the veggies are mighty tasty when prepared on the grill, too.

Two of my favorite vegetables to grill are eggplant and zucchini, both of which I am growing in my garden and will be ripe for the picking soon.

A friend, Jack Stoltman, recently passed on a tip about grilling the two. He said when grilling zucchini or eggplant, sprinkle kosher salt over the slices and allow them to sit before cooking. He said this will draw out impurities and result in better flavors.

Here’s a grilling recipe that I tried a few years ago that contains zucchini and eggplant as well as tomatoes. This colorful gratin recipe was adapted from one that comes from “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home” by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin (Knopf).

If you give it a try, I’m sure it will be something else to remember about the summer of 2015!

Eggplant and Zucchini Gratin
½ cup or more olive oil, divided
1 large or 2 medium eggplants, about 1¼ pounds
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 medium zucchini, about 1 pound
3 or 4 ripe tomatoes, about 1 pound
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
½ cup or so fresh bread crumbs (not too finely ground)
⅓ cup or so freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Smear a large, shallow-rimmed jelly roll pan generously with ⅓ cup of the olive oil. Trim the ends of the eggplant and slice it on the diagonal into ovals ½-inch thick.
One at a time, place the slices on the sheet; press to coat lightly with oil and turn them over. Arrange the slices, oiled side up, in a single layer and sprinkle them with ½ teaspoon each of herbes de Provence and salt.
Grill for about 15 minutes, until the eggplant slices are soft and somewhat shriveled; allow to cool briefly.
Meanwhile, trim the ends of the zucchini and cut them lengthwise into slices no more than ¼-inch thick. Core the tomatoes and cut into slices ¼-inch thick. Spread out the slices and sprinkle them lightly with ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
To assemble the gratin: Coat a gratin or shallow 8-by-11-inch cake pan with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and sprinkle a teaspoon of the herbes de Provence all over the bottom. Place one or two eggplant slices, lengthwise, against one of the narrow sides of the dish. Arrange a long slice or two of zucchini in front of the eggplant, then place two or three tomato slices in front of the zucchini. Repeat the procedure to fill the pan with alternating rows of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Arrange each new row of slices so the colorful top edges of the previous row are still visible.
In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, ¼ teaspoon black pepper and remaining herbes de Provence. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, then toss and rub it in with your fingers to coat the crumbs but keep them loose. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the vegetables and drizzle the rest of the oil over all.
Place the pan on the grill and cook for 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft, the juices are bubbling and the top is a deep golden brown. Serve hot, directly from the pan.
Cook’s note: After the vegetables are assembled and topped with the crumbs, the gratin can be covered lightly and stored in the refrigerator for several hours. Drizzle on the last olive oil just before grilling.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 203 calories, 68 percent of calories from fat, 15 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 14 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 420 milligrams sodium, 3 milligrams cholesterol, 4 grams fiber.

DARREL KOEHLER: The Prairie Gardener — Growing Tomatoes

Nothing says summer better than tomatoes. Those orbs of summer are what get us through the cold and snow of a long Minnesota winter.

Growing tomatoes is not difficult. You can either begin with started plants from a nursery or you can grow you own using milk cartons, peat pots or other kinds of containers and, of course, a sunny window.

Your first task will be deciding what kind of tomato you want to grow. There are determinate plant varieties, also called bush tomatoes, which only get so big and stop growing. All the fruit ripens at once, making them perfect for home canning.

Nondeterminate tomato varieties just keep on growing until a frost kills them. They offer tomatoes for the entire season. Some of the better-known hybrid types include Beefmaster, Better Boy, Early Girl and Celebrity. Heirloom tomatoes varieties include Brandywine, a perennial favorite. Heirloom tomatoes are more difficult to raise than hybrids.

Tomatoes require lots of sun, water and room to spread out. Tomato cages or racks help keep the plants better contained. Don’t crowd the plants as you want air to circulate in your tomato patch.

If you don’t have a garden space, don’t fret. You can still have home-grown tomatoes. You can grow the patio varieties. They bear fruit early and will continue through the season. To ensue better production, give them a shot of plant food about midseason.

Tomatoes are prone to many diseases, so when selecting plants, check the label. You will find initials on the tag indicating if the plants are resistant to verticillium and fusarium wilt, nematodes and other maladies.

Tomato diseases stay in the soil, so it is best to rotate your patch from year to year. Remove yellowing leaves during the summer as well as plants and decayed fruits in the fall. Don’t leave any dead tomato plants in your garden over winter.

Watering is the key to good tomato crops. Water every few days during the heat of summer. Water early in the day and keep the water confined to the root area. This will also prevent diseases. It will also help prevent blossom-end rot. This malady results in black or moldy spots on the bottom of the fruit.

Good air circulation is also very important. If plants get too bushy, you may have to prune them.

When planting tomatoes, bury the stalk deep, first removing leaves. I also wrap a piece of newspaper around the base to keep cutworms away.

You can protect the new plants from wind with milk cartons, coffee cans or even shingles.