I didn't expect to embrace small town living. Born and raised in a suburb of L.A. county, I thought small town living meant tossing slop to pigs in a galaxy far far away from a mall. But, like Robert Frost, my mom secretly believed that people in small towns, particularly those that raised animals or crops, were of a higher moral caliber than city folk. She tried to create a small town feeling for her big city offspring. Hoping that at least one of her urban children would be inspired to become a humble potato farmer someday, we lived in a home with a backyard barn filled with horses, sheep, and chickens. Up the slope from the barn, we had a fruit orchard and vegetable garden, and we kids had the dreaded responsibility of picking and canning, feeding and watering, cleaning and weeding. I think we were the only kids in L.A. that had to come home from school to gather the eggs, feed the horses, or pick berries for the evening pie.
I'm not sure if her plan worked, because we always had one foot in both worlds. Next to the barn in the backyard, we also had a swimming pool, trampoline, and basketball court, and up the road was the ubiquitious mall. We enjoyed all the pleasures of California living, but with all the chores of Green Acres. Our school mates thought our house was better than Disneyland...and the petting zoo.
Five years ago, The Quiet Man and I moved our family from New York to a small town in the west. Part of the appeal was the chance to live across the street from my parents, who had finally left the city. The idea of raising children in small town America was enticing too. I don't know if it will have any effect on their moral character or not, but at least they'll know what it's like to grow a tomato, throw rocks in the creek any day of the week, have a rooster (we have one in our backyard that has adopted us) and march in a local parade. And ironically, at this point in my life, one of the big selling points for small town life was no nearby gigantic mall.
This last weekend was our little town's fall weekend festival, including a parade, live entertainment, fireworks, pancake breakfast, and an early morning 5K. The Quiet Man and I ran up and down Main Street to the race start line, ran the race, and then ran home so we could have the kids ready for the wee parade that started about 200 yards from our front door. See my Sailor-girl on this singing float with her vocal group? Now she's throwing candy and bossing her brother to pick it up faster. Reluctantly, with light saber perched on his chair, he rushes into the street to grab it. He'll get the hang of it later, to the tune of two bulging cargo pockets crammed with sweets.
Along the parade route, and just 1/4 mile from our house, is a small vegetable and fruit market, open from May till November. With such fabulous local produce within walking distance, it's tempting to skip gardening all together. With pumpkins and watermelons jockeying for position, you know that Fall has newly arrived. Summer fruits are trading spaces with hard winter squash.And there is Quiet Man. Quietly hiding behind this display of peaches and tomatoes, chard and peppers. I didn't expect to embrace small town life, but with charm and quiet, it has really grown on me. And with farm-fresh dinner inspiration just 1/4 mile up the road, I doubt we'll ever be able to move. We bought some juicy peaches after our run, tossed them in the slow cooker with chicken and condiments, and were able to enjoy the rest of the pleasures of a small town festival and still come home to a warm and comforting dinner with my little sister and her family as guests. The sweet peachy chicken juices are particularly delicious spooned over the savory walnut rice, with caramelized onions and green beans on the side.
Wherever you live, wherever you are at this moment, I hope you take the time to enjoy and appreciate what this very moment has to offer. City slicker or country bumpkin, the world is so full of a number of things.
Money Saving Tips:
Be sure to buy loads of chicken when on sale. Fresh or frozen peaches work equally well here. Canned peaches can be substituted, but add them only for the last hour or they'll be too mushy. For the rice, you can use a chicken bouillon cube or substitute water and 1 teaspoon salt. Walnuts can be traded for pecans, almonds, or cashews.Slow Cooker Peach Marmalade Chicken
Estimated Cost: $5.50
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb. chicken, boneless, skinless
2 tablespoons flour
2 peaches, peeled and sliced or about 1 and 1/2 cup frozen peach slices
1/2 cup orange marmalade or peach preserves
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
Pour olive oil into crock pot. Sprinkle chicken with flour and salt and pepper to taste. Combine remaining ingredients in crock pot. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours. Serve with rice pilaf and green beans.
Walnut Rice Pilaf and Green Beans
Estimated Cost: $4.50
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, 1/2 sliced, the other 1/2 diced
1 and 1/4 cup long grain rice
2 and 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
6 ounces fresh green beans
In a medium saucepan, heat butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add diced onion and rice; saute for about 6 minutes or until onion is beginning to brown and rice is translucent. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 18 minutes. Stir in walnuts. Meanwhile, heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil in medium saucepan. Add onion and saute until browned, about 6 minutes. Add green beans and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until green beans are tender, about 6 minutes. Remove lid and cook until water evaporates. Season to taste with salt and pepper.Coming at the First Light of Tuesday:
Tuesdays with Dorie:
Caramel Peanut Topped Brownie Cake