Getting back to my roots… root vegetables, that is

Printed with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche

“What are you going to write about this week?” asked my husband.

“Root vegetables.” I replied.

With a turned-up nose, he asked, “Root vegetables? In the springtime?”

I’ll admit, at first thought, root vegetables conjured up an image of crisp fall days with a pan of these underground vegetables roasting in the oven.

In reality, we eat root vegetables nearly every day. Some examples of root vegetables are potatoes, yams, beets, turnips, carrots, onions, garlic, horseradish, radishes, and ginger, just to name a few.

Roots have been shown to be some of the most nutrient-rich vegetables grown. Each root vegetable has its own list of health benefits, but they all share one common characteristic – they are grown underground. 

Since they grow underground, they absorb a large amount of nutrients from the soil, and are excellent sources of highly concentrated antioxidants, Vitamins C, B and A as well as iron. Full of fiber and slow-burning carbohydrates to make you feel full, they also help regulate blood sugar levels and aid in keeping our digestive systems in good shape.
When you’re buying root vegetables, keep in mind that you’re looking for the hardest veggies you can find in the bin, without cuts or bruises. If you’re buying beets or any other root that comes with leafy greens, make sure the stems and leaves and firm and healthy. You can cook the greens and stems, too… I like to chop and sauté them with olive oil, garlic and a little onion. Throw in some bacon grease and the flavor is taken to another level, not to mention you have no waste factor.
Store your root vegetables in a cool, dark space. If you store them in the fridge, be sure they’re in a paper or plastic bag in the crisper. Left uncovered, they go bad too soon.

You can easily start your own root vegetable garden from leftover carrot tops, onion roots, and old potatoes with the funky little sprouts growing from them (also called “eyes”), or any other root veggie you have. I take fresh garlic cloves that have passed their peak freshness and start sprouting little green things, and stick them in dirt. Add some water and sunshine, and they’ll start to grow in just a few days.

The garlic will eventually grow a large, round flower that is made up of hundreds of little flowers… you can use those garlicky little blooms in your cooking. After the big flower blooms, gently pull it from the ground to reveal a clove of garlic you grew yourself! Each clove leaves behind a smaller clove that will continue growing for the next season. I stuck some old garlic cloves in a pot just last week, and they’ve already sprouted four inches.

Lucky for us, root vegetables are available year-round, although peak season for many of them is fall through spring. Roasting roots changes the flavor and adds a touch of sweetness to the vegetable.

Lately, I’ve gotten into the habit of chopping up carrots, onions, potatoes and yams, roughly the same size, tossing them with freshly minced garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and roasting them in the biggest pan I can fit in the oven. They are delicious as a side dish with lunch or dinner, served with eggs, or even used in tacos.

The last time I made a big pan of roasted root vegetables, I threw in some beets and radishes from the crisper. I loved the extra flavors added by the beets and radishes. Mr. Johns wasn’t a huge fan – but he also doesn’t love beets and radishes like I do. I’ve also taken to tossing my seasoned chicken pieces on top and roasting the meat and veggies for a delicious one pan meal.

My One Pan Roasted Roots and Chicken

(While there are many recipes out there for root veggies and chicken one-pan dishes, lots of them call for Brussels sprouts. I am the only person at our table that likes the little sprouts, so we omit that. They’re not roots, anyway!)


1 small white onion, chopped

4 Russet potatoes (baking size), unpeeled, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces, thick ends halved lengthwise

6-8 whole radishes

1-2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 beet, cut into 1-inch pieces

Note: Or use any combo of chopped roots you have available – just make sure it’s enough to fill a one-gallon zip-top bag.

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil

6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, or a handful sprigs of fresh thyme

3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, leaves only; split

3½ pounds bone-in, skin on chicken pieces (breasts, drumsticks and thighs)

salt and pepper


Place onion, potatoes, carrots, radishes, beets, whatever roots you chopped up along with 2 tablespoons oil, garlic, 2 teaspoons thyme leaves and 1 teaspoon rosemary in 1-gallon zip-top bag. Press out the air and seal; toss to coat.

Place the chicken, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, remaining 2 teaspoons thyme, remaining 1 teaspoon rosemary, salt and pepper in a separate 1-gallon zip top bag. Press out the air and seal; toss to coat.

Adjust the oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat oven to 475 degrees. Spread vegetables in a single layer in rimmed baking sheet, discarding any excess liquid and arranging Brussels sprouts in center and potatoes and carrots along the outside. Season vegetables with more salt and pepper if desired.

Place chicken skin-side up on top of vegetables, arranging breast pieces in the center and leg and thigh pieces around the perimeter of the sheet. Bake chicken until breasts are 160 degrees and drumsticks and thighs are 175 degrees, for about 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through baking.

Transfer the chicken to a serving platter, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. If you want, return vegetables to oven and continue to bake until lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Toss the vegetables with the chicken “juice” in the pan, and transfer to platter with chicken.

Another note: You can refrigerate the chicken and veggies in the bags up to 24 hours before cooking, just be sure and flip the bag a couple times for even marinating.

Organic farming in the mountains of West Texas is flourishing!

Printed with the permission of The Alpine Avalanche

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of going on a field trip with the Big Bend Photography Club to Sweeney Farm, located deep within the mountains of Sunny Glen in Alpine. We arrived at 7 p.m. when the sun was at its evening best for photographing the many fruits, vegetables, and other farm elements.


Our gracious hosts and organic farmers Dodie and Chris Sweeney gave us tours of their fantastic slice of heaven on West Texas earth. Having moved from Houston to Alpine full-time about three years ago, the Sweeneys have created a remarkable organic farmstead, complete with solar panels, water catchment and windmills.

I’m no stranger to gardening. I know some of the work involved. At our previous home in suburban Boerne, my husband and I turned part of our small backyard into raised beds, using a centuries-old European method called “hugelkultur.” For us, that involved digging holes, burying brush, covering the brush with soil and allowing it to decompose and become boggy, providing nutrient rich and damp soil for gardening. We first grew wheat in our three five-by-eight-foot beds to prepare the soil for future plantings.

Over the course of several years, we successfully grew organic corn, three different types of lettuce, five different peppers, several types of tomatoes, tomatillos, onions, squash, watermelon, broccoli, cauliflower and a kitchen herb garden filled with every herb I would possibly need. None of the beans ever grew, and slugs gobbled up our cabbages. My favorite was the crop of garlic we planted from plants a friend found near the Old No. 9 Railroad tracks in Fredericksburg, that were left by the German settlers riding the trains in the 1800s. Left unattended, the garlic continued to grow for over a century.

Our small gardens took daily nurturing, and were time consuming. The Sweeneys had more large livestock troughs than I could count, filled with lush vines and stalks dripping with vegetables. Fruit trees, berry patches, grapevines and crops in the ground dot the farmstead. Dozens of free-range Jersey Giant chickens that produce fresh organic eggs pecked around the property. They raise Mini-Nubian dairy goats, and pedigreed Maine Coon cats. They plan to breed the Maine Coons to be sold as spayed/neutered barn cats as they are known for their intelligence and rugged gentleness. The 20-year-old cockatoo keeps everyone in line.

While the Sweeneys take their goods to the Alpine Farmers Market and the Marfa Farmers Market, their goal is to open their farm for folks to come pick their own produce. The farmstead they’ve built since they moved to Alpine in 2013 is just wonderful. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Sweeney Farm.

For more information about the organic farm tucked in the mountains, visit and look for them at the Farmers Markets.

Fruit Cobbler

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 stick of butter
2 cups sliced fresh peaches, berries, or pitted cherries

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Melt butter in a 9×9-inch baking dish. While the butter is melting, blend flour, baking powder, sugar, and milk together.

Pour batter in baking dish over the butter. Sprinkle the fruit on top of the batter, and do not stir. Bake for 1 hour or until golden brown.