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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Dolmas: Grape Leaf Wraps

While Waiting for the Grapes Recipe (Dolmas)

        When growing our own grapes there was a harsh reality this little tree-hugger had to come to terms with; healthy grapes means less leaves. Bringing myself to pull off all the enormous, sprawling leaves and whimsically reaching, but fruitless, vines took a leap of faith. I couldn’t believe this much waste could have even been a practice of the ancients, till I remembered an authentic Greek restaurant called the Greek Islands that we once went to in Indy back before we had our own kids. They had a belly dancer and everything! The dish I ordered was Dolmas, which looked like a Greek style lettuce wrap, off the menu. So I put my Chef Hubby to work making Dolmas with our grape leaves for the family. The results were even better than I remembered, as food from our own garden always seems to be. (Am I wrong? ha)

Turns out you can even purchase preserved grape leaves if you don't have grape vines of your own. This may be a new skill to learn on down the road.

12- 4 to 5 inch wide grape leaves
4  cups water
1 cup salt
1 cup white rice
1 ¾  cup water
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter
½ cup golden raisins
1 lb ground beef or lamb
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup diced onions
2 thinly sliced garlic cloves
½ tsp red pepper flakes
¼ cup chopped fresh dill weed
Finely crumbled feta cheese
Black pepper
Approximate time: 35 minutes

Pick grape leaves with no insect damage, no chemical spray, 4-5 inches wide in late Spring, sometime in May or June. Avoid fuzzy thick leaves. Wash in cold water and drain thoroughly.

Blanch the leaves in a brine of 4 cups water with 1 cup salt. Bring brine to boil. Drop leaves 12 at a time into boiling brine. Bring brine back to boil and remove leaves immediately and immerse in ice cold water. This will set the color in the leaf better. Dry off leaves and store in olive oil.

Make stuffing mixture. Start 1 cup of rice, 1 ¾ cup water, 1 tsp salt, and 2 Tbs butter cooking in rice cooker. Meanwhile cover ½ cup golden raisins in hot water and soak. Brown 1 lb ground beef or ground lamb seasoned with salt and pepper and 1 tsp cinnamon, ½ cup diced onions, 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves, and ½ tsp red pepper flakes. Drain ground meat and set aside. When rice is cooked add meat mixture, ¼ cup chopped fresh dill weed and raisins with juice in rice. Mix well.

Lay out grape leaf and put 1/3 to ½ cup rice mixture and finely crumbled feta cheese in center of leaf. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Wrap up like an eggroll or burrito. Put on plate and garnish with a salad of mixed olives, med size crumble feta cheese, slices of pepperoncini peppers, diced tomato, diced cucumber, diced red onion with a dressing of salt, pepper, olive oil, ½ tsp chopped dill weed and red wine vinegar or lemon juice.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The fruit of the vine

Reflections on last fall's harvest

also posted on Survivalists In Suburbia
Written by Amber Stewart

The Fruit of the Vine

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful." John 15:1-2

I have always wanted to grow grape vines. Not because I am particularly found of grapes but because this discipline is so often mentioned in scripture in both the old and new testaments. I wanted to understand these many metaphors better, to understand the maker and lover of my soul better.

In the early years of our little family, I must have pictured God, the gardener, as this quite spirit drifting lightly through the flowers like a breeze. He tenderly whispered to the fruit and vegetables to grow and they gladly obeyed. He shooed away the pests and they simply found other unprotected gardens to feast on. O.k, so maybe I wasn't that naive but that was the kind of gardener I wanted to be.  I thought the plants and the weeds and the critters and I could all live happily together with little more than a sprinkler for them and an ice tea for me. HA!

I now see God differently than before but I love the image of my heavenly Father as the gardener  even more. This is what I have learned from growing my own grapes. 

Growing Grape Vines takes WORK. 
Not back breaking dangerous work but it takes constant diligence and watchfulness.  Every evening we had to go out (I, with my bucket of soapy water, my husband with his bare hands, ew!) and remove every beetle, larva and egg.  Even though they only ate the leaves most of the times they would bring birds to our grapes which we knew were waiting just as eagerly for the fruit to ripen as we were. We would also inspect each bunch of grapes to remove the ones that were turning brown so it would not spread. The endearing thing about this was we soon knew each cluster of grapes well. We could see daily and weekly changes that the average on looker probably would not have noticed. It is good to know that our father protects us and knows us that intimately. 

Growing Grapes is selective
The hardest thing for me as a gardener has always been pruning. I wanted to give every limb, leaf and weed a chance to prove their worth. My mother used to tell me pruning was just giving the plant a hair cut.That might be part of the problem. I can probably count on one hand how many times I was happy with a hair cut I have received. Even at the end of a successful year though I find myself wishing I had pruned back my vines a little more. 

In pruning the vines we direct more of the nutrients in the soil to the fruit. Those branches that reach for trellises where there are none only add weight to the ones that are clinging to the trellis. They don't produce fruit but they were covered in leaves which only steals energy from those branches doing all the work. 

I can't tell you how many times God has taking people out of my life that were only stealing my energy and weighing my down. I wanted so badly for them to be fruitful but were heading in the wrong direction, refusing to go where the gardener had provided the support for them. Sadly, to protect the other branches, they had to be separated from the vine.   

Growing Grapes is humbling
It addition to pruning the branches that are not producing, we had to thin the leaves pretty heavily. Grapes love air and sunlight. The giant leaves hide the grapes in shadows that cause them to rot. So even these healthy branches that faithfully abide in the vine have to give up their beautiful canopy of leaves to give light to the fruit.  This was hard for me because vines without leaves are not nearly as lush and photogenic. (Luckily, our daughter's turtle loves grape leaves for her bedding so it helped me knowing they were going to good use, hehe). 

But isn't this hard for all of us? When we do good and produce sweet fruit for God don't we want to stand in front of it for all to recognize what we did? Instead, we need to just let the light shine on the good deed to bring glory the Gardener. 

Growing Grapes is dependent on the Vine
Finally, I learned that if you accidentally remove a vine that has little grape buds on them they will not produce fruit no matter how healthy they look. They may stay green longer than any cut flower ever dreamed of but those little buds will not make sweet globes of goodness no matter the condition. Believe me, I tried. Now I have not tried grafting a branch into the vine but I hope to next year, just to see what it takes to do it. This is a metaphor Jesus uses to explain how we are adopted into the family of God and made heirs of His treasures. But one thing is certain the branches are not much without the life of the vine and the care of the gardener. 

These are all things I understand a little better now from growing grapes. I also know now how much I love fresh grapes and grape jelly. I never liked it much from the store because it was so full of sugar. Our homemade jelly is so much more complex and interesting with it's natural sweetness and delicate twang of wine and a real appreciation of the attention that went into each bundle of deep purple jewels. 

I hope this is how God someday sees the fruit I produce by clinging to the vine and bending to His care.   

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