Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Field Trip: Wandering Kentucky's Back Roads

Because today was International Women's Day/Women's Strike and because it was a spectacular day outside, I chose not to work – and Ed's backed me 100% and suggested that we take a field trip. Nothing we like better than driving around the back roads of Kentucky, taking in the beautiful countryside, and laughing at the all-too-true stereotypes of our fair state.


We left mid-morning with the vague idea of driving to Owenton for lunch, stopping on the way to explore the Wildlife Management Area along the Kentucky River. We headed north to Eminence and then on to Port Royal, home to our favorite writer: Wendall Berry. We whizzed past the Port Royal Baptist Church catching sight of an old cemetery behind the church. We looked at each other and said at the same time: "Let's go back."

So back, we did go.


On our way out of the cemetery I glanced next door at an old abandoned house. A tattered curtain blowing in the breeze caught my eye – and broke my heart.


We followed the old road along the Kentucky River stopping at the Boone Wildlife Management Area, where we hiked a muddy trail up to the dam that created a 15-acre lake. Looked like some good fishing -- and so we promised to come back another day with our gear.


From there, we headed to downtown, Gratz, a mostly forgotten town that in the mid-1800s was one of the most prosperous ones in the area due to the business of portaging goods around an unnavigable part of the river. Today, it is a sad place, even Charlie's Old Time Shoe Repair was closed.


We were getting hungry, so we pressed on toward Owenton, but not without stopping every few minutes for me to jump out of the car and take photos of whatever caught my fancy, mostly structures that had gone to rack and ruin or were on their way there. Ed was an exceedingly good sport.


Downtown Owenton, population 1327, sits atop a ridge about a half hour north of Frankfort. Owenton was founded in 1822 but its growth in the late 19th century was limited because a railroad was never built to it. Today, it supports one downtown coffee/sandwich shop: Bird Dogs Coffee. So that is where we stopped for lunch. Soup and sandwich were fine; the brownie was excellent!


After lunch, we continued our travels, with more stops for photos along the way.


We ended up in Carrollton, an old town on the Ohio and Kentucky Rivers. We crossed the Kentucky River bridge and headed home, with one more stop at Starview Nursery in Henry County to pick up some extra strawberry plants to fill in some bare spots in my raised bed. 


Seven hours after we left home, we pulled back into the drive. We had basically made a 125-mile circle through Shelby, Henry, Owen and Carroll counties. Glad we spend our day wandering roads we knew and ones we had never travelled before. It was a good day.

Monday, March 6, 2017

On Little Joys

I just got in from a long and slow walk around the place. The drizzle from earlier in the day had let up so I set out to see if any of the double daffodils tucked into edges of the trails had bloomed – and also to see if I could spot a woodcock. Both Ed and I have recently seen this funny, well-camouflaged bird with a long pointy bill on separate occasions down by the creek near the ramp bank. I was hoping to find her nesting spot.

I saw neither blooming daffodils nor any sign of the woodcock, but I did come upon other little joys.



Bowled heads of Lenten Roses growing under the hydrangea bushes at the side of the cottage.
Peonies unfurling
Red-bellied woodpecker scrounging for suet seed

It's easy to miss these joys. I have to be on the lookout and recognize them for the sparks of delight that they bring to my life. Often they are inconspicuous or fleeting. They require that I be quiet, intentional, aware; when I am, the payback comes. Pure joy.

________________

Sometimes a little joy comes to me in my kitchen. One came on Sunday. It may not seem to be any big deal to you, but for me, it was a source of great happiness: I learned how to successful boil an egg. Yep, you heard me right. Let me explain.

We get the most amazing eggs from our neighbor Vivian (and sometimes from friend Jackie). These eggs make the standard grocery store ones pale in comparison -- literally. The shells are beautiful shades of blue, green, brown and white; the yokes are as orange as last night's sunset. And I know they are fresh -- which is part of the problem. Every time I try to peel one of these super fresh eggs, I end up with a mangled mess. I won't even attempt deviled eggs (or as Ed calls them: dressed eggs).

A couple of weeks ago on NPR's Sunday morning cooking show, Christopher Kimmel explained how to steam eggs and end up with easy-to-peel hard-boiled eggs. I decided to give it a try.

I figured out how many eggs I wanted to hard-boil. 
I added 1/2 inch of water to the bottom of my vegetable steamer pot
 and brought it to boil. 
I placed the eggs in the bottom of the steamer pan and put the lid on,
setting my timer for 11 minutes, as I like them medium firm.
Once the timer went off, I moved the eggs into a bowl of ice-cold water.
A few minutes later, I perfectly peeled them. 
I had one for breakfast, sprinkled with homemade sumac. 
I can't tell you how much joy this brought me. I'm headed down to my neighbor's house tomorrow to get another dozen (or two) eggs and I'm planning all sorts of recipes that will show off my new found skill of how to hard-boil and peel a perfect egg. Pure joy!


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Kentucky Cassoulet*

"Cassoulet, that best of bean feasts, is everyday fare for a peasant but ambrosia for a gastronome, though its ideal consumer is a 300-pound blocking back who has been splitting firewood nonstop for the last twelve hours on a subzero day in Manitoba."
-- Julia Child


Mary was home this weekend for a brief visit and because it had finally turned (relatively) cold out, I decided to make a cassoulet* in her honor.


In these days of real and fake news, I feel compelled to put an asterisk by the name of the rustic stew of beans and meats that I served on Saturday night. Mine is far from the classic french dish first served in 1355 during the siege of Castelnaudary in the Hundred Years War. Legend has it that the besieged townspeople gathered their remaining food to create a big stew cooked in a cauldron to nourish and bolster their defenders. The meal was so fortifying that the soldiers handily banished the invaders, saving their city from occupation.

There does not seem to be a clear consensus on what goes into an authentic French cassoulet, but just know that it requires a labor of love, a diligent search for unusual ingredients, and a large block of concerted time in the kitchen. I can remember reading an essay in the now defunct Gourmet magazine that gave instructions for making one that spread the steps out over multiple days. From cooking the pork rind, to confitting the duck legs, to soaking the white beans, it made me realize that I probably wasn't up to the task.

Last week's New York Times included an authentic cassoulet recipe
as one of ten classic dishes for the modern cook to master. 

So I contented myself with ordering cassoulet anytime I found it on a menu. I've ordered it in Paris, in Montreal, and even at the Holly Hill Inn in Midway, Kentucky. Each time, I revel in the velvety beans, the chucks of meat and, my favorite part: the bread crumbs that form a crusty top.

One of the best cassoulets that I've ever tasted was served five years ago at a small dinner party hosted by former Louisvillians Mary and Jim Oppel at their home in the Dordogne, in southwest France. I was seated next to Jim and was going on and on about the cassoulet. I wanted to know how he made it, how long it took, what meats it features. Finally, he confessed that it wasn't an authentic cassoulet, but rather one that he made from a recipe in a 1968 cookbook, published in Louisville, KY by Farmington, a historic house located not far from our home in Louisville. Of all things, it used canned beans, leftover chicken thighs and country sausage. It could be put together in part of an afternoon with ingredients that could be found at our local Kroger. It was. delicious.


I happened to have my grandmother's copy of The Farmington Cookbook and sure enough, there on page 235, I found the recipe for the faux cassoulet. I've been making it ever since.



________________________

Of course you know by now that I am notorious for not following a recipe, and so here is my adaptation.

Kentucky Cassoulet

serves 8

Ingredients

4 oz. diced pancetta
1 pound hot Italian sausage
6 boneless chicken thighs

Note: you could substitute pork chops/tenderloin,
bacon, dark meat turkey or duck breast. 

4 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cans of great northern or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups chicken stock, hot
2 teaspoons beef concentrate
1/2 cup wine vinegar
28 oz. canned tomatoes (diced)
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon basil
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
several dashes of Tabasco or other hot sauce
2 cups of dry bread crumbs or panko crumbs
1/4 cup olive oil
chopped parsley

preparation

In a dutch over or other heavy pan, cook pancetta and remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Then cook sausage and remove to a bowl with slotted spoon. In remaining grease, cook chicken thighs and remove to a bowl with slotted spoon. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of grease and add onions to the pan, saute until they are soft and golden brown. Add garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and seasonings and cook until almost dry.

In a buttered casserole dish (9"x13") put a layer of beans, then sausage, chicken, and pancetta, then tomatoes, ending with another layer of beans. Mix beef concentrate with a little of the hot chicken stock, add vinegar and and pour over the casserole. Add chicken stock to barely come up to the top layer. Cover thickly with crumbs, drizzle with olive oil, and bake at 325, uncovered, until liquid is absorbed, but cassoulet is still moist, about an hour. Bread crumbs should be golden brown. Sprinkle with additional parsley before serving.

Note: sometimes I make two smaller dishes and freeze one. I do not put the bread crumbs on the frozen one until I am ready to bake it. 



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Flummoxed

The weather this week has me bewildered, bemused and flummoxed as temperatures have inched their way up to nearly 80 degrees. It's only February and yesterday Ed and I worked outside most of the day in T-shirts.

In some ways, I welcome this unseasonably warm weather. It's great for planting the 90 tree seedlings* that were delivered to our doorstep last Thursday and I've ventured to plant some peas, spinach and beets in my raised garden and some Easter-egg radishes in one of the porch barrels.

The red-winged black birds and killdeer have returned. When I stepped outside this morning just before sun up, I could have sworn it was mid-April. The dawn chorus of birdsong confirmed that the young male birds are back and their fancy has turned to thoughts of love.

As in past years, I'm itchy for spring – constantly on the lookout for early signs. The first daffodils, Lenten rose, and swollen tree buds. I brought some wild pear branches inside for forcing and sure enough, the tiny white flowers are unfurling right before my eyes.



But wait, I haven't experienced a good snow this year and there is nothing I like more than several inches of the white stuff. I want to walk the trails and be amazed by all the animal tracks. I want to make a white-bean cassoulet and sit close to an all-day fire, reading Upstream, Selected Essays by Mary Oliver. I want the heavy snow to pack down the native grasses in our fields so that new growth this spring won't be camouflaged by last year's spent seed heads. I'm not ready to give up on winter.


I suppose a good snow could still come. The 10-day forecast has only one night dipping below freezing, so that takes us into early March. If it comes at all, surely it will fall one night and melt away the next day. That would suit me fine. I could get a quick fix.

Mother Nature, bring it on.

______________

Note to self: Seedling trees were ordered from the Kentucky Division of Forestry and included 10 each of: Persimmon, Pawpaw, Sassafras, Wild Plum, Baldcypress, Kentucky Coffeetree and Cherrybark Oak, Water Oak, and Overcup Oak. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Pura Vida

Ed and I are just back from a getaway to Costa Rica where we soaked up the incredible beauty of this rugged, rainforested country. Everywhere we went we were greeted with two words: Pura Vida, which simply translates to Pure Life, but which has far greater meaning to the Ticos in this Central American paradise.

The natives use it as both a greeting or a farewell, as an answer expressing that things are going well, as a way of giving thanks, or showing appreciation. The saying goes beyond its simple translation and has become a way of life that evokes a spirit that is carefree, laid back and optimistic. On more than one occasion, we were advised that life is short; so we need to start living it "pura-vida style."
______________


______________

I hope this optimistic mindset extends for us far beyond the 12 days that we traveled. Pura Vida!




______________

To help me remember the details of our trip -- and perhaps to encourage you to plan one of your own -- here is a list of where we stayed and a few of the things we did.

In San Jose (the capital city)
Hotel Presidente
Walking Tour, including the Central Market and Lunch

In Monteverde, Puntarenas (in the cloud forest)
Hotel Belmar
Monteverde Cloud Forest Hike at Curi Cancha Reserve 
Night Hike at Curi Cancha Reserve


In Arenal (near the Volcano area)
Heliconia Nature Lodge
Safari Float by Raft
La Fortuna Waterfall
Arenal Hanging Bridges
Arenal Vocano Hike

In Manuel Antonio (on Pacific Ocean)
Gaia Hotel and Reserve
Manuel Antonio National Park Guided Hike
Gaia's Private Nature Reserve


Rather than rent a car, we contracted with Costa Rica Drivers for all our transportation between locations.



Thursday, January 26, 2017

What's New Pussyhat?

More than 2.6 million people from all over the world marched in solidarity last Saturday. I was only one. Mary and Ed made three, a dozen friends from Louisville brought the number up to 15, added to the other 500,000+ in Washington, D.C. plus 2.1 million marchers who took part in 673 marches in all 50 states and 32 countries. That's 2.6 million strong – sending an powerful message of resistance to any curtailment of rights for women and minorities. Can you hear us now?

Photo from democracynow.org
What a day it was. Full of energy, kindnesses, and peaceful activism. For the first time since the election, I sensed hope spreading from every corner and every face into every heart.

We took the Amtrak train from Baltimore's Penn Station into D.C.'s Union Station. Both stations were a sea of pussyhats: pink, knit, many handmade, the perfect comeback to Trump's red caps.

Emerging from the D.C. station we were immediately swept into an orderly flow of arrivals, all headed toward Independence Avenue; the Capitol building emerging to our left, draped in U.S. flags. At the sidewalk edges, vendors hawked bottled water, pretzels, and pink hats. Many marchers carried signs which provided entertainment all day long. My favorite?

SO BAD, EVEN INTROVERTS ARE HERE. 



Portraits of my heroes.

Mary and friend Julie. #whyImarch
Ed with his nasty women

I couldn't have asked for a better big birthday weekend. I was still smiling when we got back home on Monday. Then I made the mistake of turning on the news: the dismantling of Affordable Care Act, attacks on the media, alternative facts, no release of tax returns, an investigation into imaginary voter fraud, nepotism, the 1900-mile-long wall, immigration enforcement, moving of U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, defunding of sanctuary cities, EPA gag orders, the restarting of the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipelines. The list goes on...

But guess what? We'll be right there, resisting all the craziness. You will be hearing us now and every day for the next four years, every time human rights are being violated. We are 2.6 million strong, and growing by the moment. No disputing those figures!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Today's post brought to you by: Nyah

This past weekend, we played host to Cousin Johathan's family, who had travelled to Louisville for a party at Cousin Glenda's house: a combined celebration of Jonathan and Becky's marriage, a welcome to the newly blended family, and a shower for the baby girl joining them this spring. While Glenda got ready for the party, we got to enjoy spending the morning here at Farm Dover with Nathan, Julia, Nyah and Pacey and parents, Jonathan and Becky.

Nathan and Julia felt right at home as they visit us every summer as part of their "Grandma Camp." (Click here for photos from 20132014, 2015, 2016.) They were anxious to show their new brother and sister around: the upstairs pool table, the porch ping-pong table, the cottage, garden and trails. Even though it was a rainy morning, they cheerfully went for a slushy hike through the woods and around the pond.

Nyah, age 8, mentioned that she likes to write and wanted someday to write a blog. I offered to turn over my blog to her as a guest writer and she took me up on her offer.

We had a blast, but don't take my word for it. Here's what Nyah had to say:

My first experience of Farm Dover was awesome!  There were so many fun things to do there like cooking, hiking, playing pool, and much more.  Even though it was raining, that did not stop Debbie and Ed from making the trip the best time ever!  Talking and the Talent Show are just the right things to entertain everyone at the wonderful Farm Dover."   


From left to right: Nathan, Nyah, Julia, and Pacey

Thank you Nyah for writing this post. Ed and I hope you and your siblings visit us again -- perhaps the sun will be shining next time. Much love...