Monday, December 30, 2013

Should old acquaintance be forgot?

I think not. Okay, maybe some of them. But not the old acquaintances that you wish to remember, the friendships you wish to nurture. Those need to be encouraged.

And what better way to encourage them than by planning a road trip to Kentucky to catch up with college friends and celebrate the new year. That's what Christian and Tom did, arriving yesterday to visit with Mary and John. Today, they all came out to Farm Dover, along with John's brother: Stuart, their aunt and uncle: Sherry and Barney, and Stuart's girlfriend: Maya.

We had a true Kentucky brunch, complete with cheese grits, ham biscuits – and derby pie for dessert. Afterwards we hiked the trails around the farm and then had a game or two of porch ping-pong.

It was nice to catch up with these old acquaintances. We hope to see more of them in the new year.

I forgot to take a photo until some of our guests had already left.
Here are the three MICA boys with Ed: John, Tom and Christian. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hope for the new year

Those who know me well, know that I am slow to put up Christmas decorations and quick to take them down.  

Our little Christmas tree already has a new home in our front field, along with trees from Christmases 2011 and 2012. I just swept up the last of the fallen needles from the hardwood floor.

The nativity scene is packed away, each plaster-of-paris figurine wrapped in tissue paper and nestled into a round wooden box. The garland that snaked its way across our mantle is back in the red/green plastic container in the basement, along with our five stockings and the wooden tree that cousin Glenda gave me. Angel Gabriel has ditched his evergreen branch and taken back up his staff and snake, transforming back into St. Patrick. Only two small evergreen trees remain up on the mantle.

The house is quiet now. A pot of bean soup is bubbling away on the stove. Mary is in town with friends. Ed is napping on the couch. I'm in our office with with the stove fire going. I welcome the stillness of this time of year. It is a time to hibernate, a time to enjoy home and hearth, to rest and renew.


I find it a bit hard to believe that we are approaching the end of yet another year. We've been here at Farm Dover nearly three years. The house and land are becoming familiar, but still offer a newness, a freshness, to our lives.

I've learned so much this past year – mostly that there is still so much to learn. I'd like to think I'm a little wiser. I know I am more grateful for every day that Ed and I spend working and playing here at Farm Dover. I know that I am happiest when friends and family come out to enjoy our company, our garden, our trails, our wildlife.

I have great hopes for 2014: for a year of planning, planting, harvesting; a year of watching the kids find their way in this world and make a difference in it; a year of gathering with friends and family over simple meals; a year of making deeper connections with our neighbors; a year of travel to the other side of this world to visit Jack; a year of paying attention to our health and the health of our land; a year of enjoying quiet morning walks and night star gazings....

All these things (and more) are what I am hopeful for. What about you? What is it that you hope for in the new year? May 2014 be a good year for you, and for your beloveds.




Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Most Favorite Gift

We had a very nice Christmas here at Farm Dover (other than missing Jack terribly). We slept fairly late on Christmas morning, making the kids wait on the steps in their pjs for the green light to come downstairs. (Yes, I know these kids are totally grown up, but they humor me on occassion, and I appreciate it.)


We opened our gifts, one by one, ohh-ing and ahh-ing over each one. I loved each of my gifts, but I wanted to show you one of my most favorite ones. It came from daughter Mary. It is a simple block of reclaimed pine wood with an angled slit in it. A dozen instgram photographs taken at Farm Dover fit in the slot and I can change the top most one every day, giving me a revolving view of the farm. 


Here's a look at the some of the photos I can chose to be on top.


I love it. The photos are square, printed on a thick matte stock. Mary ordered my gift from Artifact Uprising, an online company that offers photo books, postcards, wooden boxes and the wood block and prints that I was given. Here's the tag line from Artifact Uprising: 

ARTIFACT UPRISING // inspired by the disappearing beauty of the tangible
/ bettered by a community of inspired 
storytellers
/ driven by the belief everyone has a story 
to tell. Tell On.           


My gift from Mary tells the story of Farm Dover in images, in all its seasons. I'll treasure it always. Thank you, Mary.

Spirit of Christmas Past

I stopped by to visit Cousin Merty a couple of weeks ago. While there, she handed me a box of old slides marked "Carpenter Girls." I was a Carpenter girl, before I became a Galloway girl, so I was curious to get a glimpse of my childhood through kodachrome transparency slides. Holding them up to the light did little to reveal the details I desired, so I borrowed an old-fashioned slide tray and projector from our neighbor, loaded the 20 or so slides in – upside down and backwards – and put on a slide show for Ed and me on our blank bedroom wall.


It was a little weird. I had never seen any of these slides before. There were slides of my parents as 20-somethings in a fancy convertible, ones from my 1st birthday (1958), from Christmases (1960 and '61), Easter (1961) and one of my next-younger sister in 1963. Many of the slides were dirty and out of focus. I took a handful of the best ones to a photo lab in Louisville and they scanned them and put them on a disk.  I gave prints to two of my sisters for Christmas. (Sorry Julie, you were not yet born.)

Here's a look at two of the slides from Christmases Past.


This slide cracks me up. Older sister Kathy is turning baby sister Sherry's head so she is looking at the camera. We are sitting in antique desks that Santa brought us. (Don't ask me how he got them down the chimney!) Kathy and I are in matching dresses (as always) and you can see Kathy's black patent leather Mary Jane shoes. We got a new pair every Easter from Byck's, on 4th Street in downtown Louisville. Santa also brought us each a Raggedy Ann doll, which I still own.


I think this photo is from the next year (1961). Sister Kathy and I are looking quite serious and quite fashionable in matching pink robes. But what are those things on our feet? They look like an early version of Swifters -- we could just slide around the hardwood floors and dust as we go. That's an easel that Santa brought for me, the little artist.

I loved discovering these old photos. They made me realize that my Mom and Dad put as much thought and effort into making our Christmases special as Ed and I put into Christmas for our three. It was a wonderful gift that my cousin gave to me. Thank you Merty and may 2014 be happy for you.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Cheeseburgers

Mary has been lobbying hard for cheeseburgers for our Christmas Eve dinner. I'm sorry, but I just couldn't go there. Seems like Christmas Eve's menu should be more special than cheeseburgers. But, she doesn't give up easily. To satisfy her, I offered to cook cheeseburgers for her friends on the Eve before Christmas Eve. So tonight, Mary and five friends showed up at Farm Dover for dinner. It was great fun and the cheeseburgers were a big hit.




In addition to the cheeseburgers, I served homemade peppermint ice cream with hot fudge sauce for dessert.
_______________________

Peppermint Ice Cream
adapted from Sprouted Kitchen



ingredients

5 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candies

preparation

Set a large glass bowl above a pot of simmering water, not letting the bottom of the bowl touch the water line. Add the egg yolks and sugar into the bowl and stir occasionally until the sugar has mostly dissolved the the yellow has paled in color. About 5 minutes. Set the bowl aside.

Mix 1/4 cup of the milk with the cornstarch and set aside to dissolve. Empty the water from the pot, put the remaining milk and cream in the pot over medium heat and warm until bubbles form on the outer edges. Slowly add the warm cream to the yolks, stirring as you add. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and the peppermint extract.

Chill the mixture in the fridge for at least an hour, preferably closer to three.

Put the mixture in an ice cream maker and churn according to instructions. In the last minute, add the peppermint candies. Take a bite, if its not quite minty enough for you, add another splash of extract. Transfer the mixture to a container for the freezer, and freeze for at least a few hours to firm up.

Top with hot fudge sauce. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Meatless Mondays

I know it's Tuesday, but we are pretending like it is Monday around here. We try to go meatless on Mondays, but sometimes it happens on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.... (There is actually an international campaign that encourages people to not eat meat on Mondays to improve their health and the health of the planet.)

Tonight I made shakshuka. It's a dish of Tunisian origin that involves cooking eggs softly in a hot skillet of spicy tomato sauce – think ratatouille meets huevos rancheros. It's perfect for breakfast, or for dinner on a cold winter's night.


I first read about shakshuka on Smitten Kitchen a couple of years ago and have been regularly making it ever since. Tonight, I added an extra can of diced tomatoes (3 cans total) and then, before cooking the eggs, I scooped out enough of the spicy sauce to freeze for an easy dinner another night. You can make it as spicy (or mild) as you like. I used two Anaheim chiles and one jalapeno. I think next time, I'll use one more jalapeno, for a bit of added kick. It takes a few minutes to chop up the ingredients but it is a one-pan meal – all cooked in my trusty cast iron skillet.


It is finished with a sprinkling of feta cheese and parsley. I serve it up with whole wheat pita bread for sopping up the sauce.


So. good.

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Shakshuka [Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce]
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Serves 4

1/4 cup olive oil
5 Anaheim chiles or 3 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped (I was nervous and only used 2 Anaheims and 1 jalapeno)
1 small yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed then sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
   (I added an extra 14 oz. can, and then froze a portion)
Kosher salt, to taste
4 eggs
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Warm pitas, for serving


Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add chiles and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft, about 2 more minutes.
Put tomatoes and their liquid into a medium bowl and crush with your hands. Add crushed tomatoes and their liquid to skillet along with 1/2 cup water, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Season sauce with salt.

Crack eggs over sauce so that eggs are evenly distributed across sauce’s surface. Cover skillet and cook until yolks are just set, about 5 minutes. Using a spoon, baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk. Sprinkle shakshuka with feta and parsley and serve with pitas, for dipping.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Santa's Workshop

It's cold and gray outside, but warm and busy inside today. Both Maggie and Mary are home for the afternoon. Maggie brought her 3-year-old friend Gracie with her today so that Gracie's parents could do some focused Christmas shopping.

The girls have been making cheesestraws all afternoon and I've been making some tags for bottles of homemade cognac vanilla and packing up the finished cheesestraws. No better way to spend the day.






Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Traditions

As a child, and then a teenager, Christmas Eve always included my dad reading "The Christmas Story" – not the one where Ralphie wants an official Red Ryder BB rifle – but the one from Luke in the Bible. You know, the one that begins: And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

I know the main character in this story is baby Jesus. But the one I think most about is Mary. She was the one who was great (fancy word for serverely pregnant) with child and not entirely sure just how that happened. She was the one who had to travel all the way from Galilee to Bethlehem on the back of a donkey and then give birth in a dirty, smelly stable and lay her newborn son in manger with scratchy straw, surrounded by lowing (fancy word for mooing) cows. She was the one who wrapped him in swaddling clothes (which I think is just a fancy word for rags).

When she probably didn't feel like having visitors, shepherds showed up with their flocks and then a bunch of strange-looking men barged in on camels. A multitude of angels decended with some advice about Peace on Earth that wasn't all that practical. But here's the thing that always strikes me: despite all these awkward conditions and weird visitors, Mary takes it all in. She treasures all these things, pondering them in her heart. I love that sentence. I love that she didn't turn these things over and over in her head, she simply reflected on them in her heart.

I think about Mary pondering all these things as I unpack our 1940s nativity scene, with its chipped chalkware figurines. I place the baby Jesus in the loft (so he stays hidden until Christmas) and arrange the single cow, the lone sheep, the two angels, one shepherd, three wise men, Joseph, and finally Mary into the wooden stable.


Ed and I found this manger scene about 20 years ago in a run-down antique store in Owensboro. I had been looking for one for years, but most were too expensive or too ornate for my taste. And then I saw these chipped and cracked figurines, cast from plaster of Paris, thought of as "poor man's porcelain," and I knew I had to have them. I think they cost $8 total. No camels included, no donkey, only one shepherd. The back of Mary's head is cracked, exposing her wire frame. In all its inperfection, it was perfect.

...

Fast forward through the years and our own family traditions took hold. Instead of the Bible, our family adopted Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas as its Christmas Eve go to. You know, the one that begins:

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot
But the Grinch who lived just North of Whoville did not!

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.

But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.


This tradition began when the children were little and we gathered with The Wunderlin family. After dinner, the five children would pile on the couch surrounding Karen who would read the main rhyming narrative. Then one of the children (changed each year) taking on the part of Cindy-Lou Who, who was no more than two, would ask:

Santy Claus, why, 
why are you taking our Christmas tree? Why? 

Well, you know the rest of the story. Despite stealing their presents, their ribbons, their wrappings, the Grinch wasn't able to keep Christmas from coming.

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!"

He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.

Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!

And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say
That the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!

His small heart grew three sizes that day. I love that sentence. 

Has it happened to you yet this season? Has your heart grown three sizes? You have to watch for it. It comes at unexpected times, often when you are feeling rather Grinch-like. It might be when you watch your favorite holiday movie, when you finally decide to put up a little tree, or shop for a family so that they might have a little cheer and a warm winter coat. 

It can happen whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Soltice, or just some bit of good news. 

I'm pretty sure it is what happened to Mary in that cold stable two millennium ago. She might have been having a Grinch-like moment when her infant child was crying and hungry, when strangers kept showing up at inopportune times, when she was wondering if she would ever fit back into her favorite robe, when the cows wouldn't quit lowing and the sheep wouldn't keep bleeting. She took all these things in and pondered them in her heart – and by doing so, I'm pretty sure her heart grew three sizes that night. 

So this is my wish for you this holiday season: May you take it all in. May you treasure it. May you ponder it in your heart. And may your heart grow three sizes... 






Friday, December 6, 2013

Birthday Boy

When your children are little they sit on your lap; when they’re big they sit on your heart.
– Susan Engel, New York Times

My boy turns 25 on Monday. I can't say my "baby" boy or even my "little" boy. He stands 6'6" and is a very handsome young man. Jack will spend his birthday in China, hopefully celebrating this weekend with friends and teaching English to his high-schoolers on Monday. I think of him often, but seems like this week, he has been constantly on my mind sitting on my heart.

I pulled out our Red Plate Journal this morning to read about some of his previous birthdays. I wish I had entries for all 24 of them, but we didn't start the journal until his 11th birthday. The last entry was in 2006 for his 18th. For three years after that, he was away at University in Canada. Once the kids left home, we fell off our efforts to capture these special memories. I'm so sorry we did.

In case you don't know about our Red Plate dinners, let me explain. In December of 1999, our neighbors – the Bakers – brought us a red dinner plate and a journal with a note explaining "whenever someone in your family does something worthy of note, or something in which to take pride, his or her dinner is served on the Red Plate." The event, the date and any comments were to be recorded in the journal so that we would have a permanent record of special moments in the life of our family.

At the time, we had a Polaroid camera, so we would glue a photo of the honored recipient into the journal, on the same page as the entry. Our journal documents everything from birthdays to Father's Day celebrations, to sports and academic awards, drivers' licenses, graduations, to Mary being a good sport about both breaking her arm and getting braces all in one week.

So, in honor of Jack's upcoming birthday, here are the entries from Jack's 11th through 18th birthdays...(Please don't feel like you have to read this entire post. I just got started with these entries and couldn't stop. I suspect they are only meaningful to me -- and maybe to Ed.)

December 9, 1999
Jack is the first one to use The Red Plate. On his birthday, he requested fondue. His gifts included a rod/reel, fondue pot, cookbook, and bow & arrow.  The Wunderlins sent down Tiramisu dessert, his favorite.



December 9, 2000
Jack played in a basketball tournament today and did GREAT. His choice for dinner on The Red Plate was steak, potatoes, salad and cheesecake. His presents included a set of Powerbilt irons, a chef's hat and apron, a Beatles book and a cookie press.



December 9, 2001
Jack spent his actual 13th birthday in New York City with Mom and Dad. While there, we went to SoHo, Chinatown, took the Staten Island Ferry, saw "Music Man" on Broadway, went to museums, and ate, and ate, and ate.



December 9, 2002
One happy boy...spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. A keyboard for his birthday. We love him so much...



December 7, 2003
We celebrated Jack's 15th birthday tonight as he has Madrigal practice on Tuesday night. His Red Plate dinner included strip steak with béarnaise sauce, potatoes, salad and cherry pie a la mode. He has to wait for Tuesday for his gifts...



December 9, 2004
Our Buddy turned 16 today. He is going with Dad tomorrow to take his permit test – and then watch out! For his birthday, he got "Dodge ball" from the Wunderlins, a White Castle gift certificate from the Davises, cookies from Patrice, keys from Maggie and Mary and clothes (mostly) from Mom and Dad. We love you Buddy – and are very proud of you.



Dec. 10, 2005
Jack spent his birthday in Burgin, KY, playing basketball. LCS won! So it was the next night before we could celebrate Jack's 17th birthday. He requested Osso Buco for dinner. Oliver Cox came to his party. Oliver is 4 and is the little boy that Mary loves to babysit. (His mom used to babysit for Maggie, Jack and Mary). Jack's gifts were a NASCAR jacket and shirt, White Castle underwear and a ukulele.



Dec. 9, 2006
Jack took some time out from basketball, Madrigal practice, school work and college applications to celebrate his 18th birthday. And what a celebration it was: french onion soup, beef wellington and homemade coconut cake – followed by lots of presents: cowboy boots, a bike, books, music and a big package from Dean & Deluca's from the Davis family. Happy Birthday Buddy. We love you.



I'm hoping Jack will send a report of his 25th birthday celebration, and maybe a photo. If he does, I'll paste into our journal. Maybe it is time to find the Red Plate that is packed away somewhere in the basement and resurrect Red Plate dinners and their journal entries.










Friday, November 29, 2013

Still Thinking About Food

"There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat." 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I know that Thanksgiving happened yesterday. It's over. I get it. But I'm still consolidating left-overs, making turkey-noodle soup, and stowing Grandmommy's china back on the top shelf of the pantry to wait patiently for use in another 364 days.

We had all had enough TV for the day – football games that seemed to go on and on, reruns of Duck Dynasty, and silly local news that featured shoppers on the go since yesterday. We turned it off and enjoyed the silence. I made myself a cup of tea and picked up a beautiful book that Maggie gave me last Christmas: 40 Years of Chez Panisse, the Power of Gathering, written by Alice Waters and Friends. (For those of you who don't keep up with the superstars of the food world, Chez Panisse is a restaurant in Berkeley, CA, founded by Alice Waters in 1971 and known for using local, organic food. It's been named the best restaurant in America.)


Organized by decade, the book chronicals the evolution of the small restaurant through its rise and acclaim and features photographs, invitations, menus and recollections by public figures and cooks who have been inspired by or mentored at the restaurant. It was a great way to spend an hour or three.

The last spread in the book featured an afterword by Michael Pollan who recalled ordering a bowl of fruit for dessert the first time he dined at Chez Panisse. "What arrived at the table was a small, unpolished bowl of hammered copper set atop a round, hammered copper base, and in that bowl rested two perfect peaches wreathed in a scatter of equally perfect raspberries." He goes on to explain that "the wonder of it was that the kitchen had somehow arranged for those peaches and raspberries to land on our table not a moment sooner or later than that narrow interlude of perfection."


Reading this got me to thinking about our breakfast this morning and also about a pawpaw that I experienced a couple of months ago.

After the excesses of yesterday, I wanted something fresh and simple for breakfast. I had used two bright orange Hachiya persimmons in a centerpiece yesterday and they were becoming perfectly soft and ripe. 


I cut them up and added the fruit to some greek yogurt, drizzled on some honey and sprinkled the tiniest bit of sea salt on top. So perfect to eat at that exact moment.


Like eating strawberries in May, or blackberries in July, persimmons are meant for November. I've not had many persimmons in my life, but plan to going forward. Our orchard has two persimmon trees that I am anxiously awaiting their bearing of fruit. I think they are a different type than the one I had for breakfast. They are called fuyu persimmons and are squat, like a tomato – supposedly not as astringent as the Hachiya ones.

Eating fruit when it is perfectly in season really does make a difference. In late September, Ed and I stopped by an orchard near Owenton, KY to buy some apples. The chalk board in back of the bushel baskets of apples listed pawpaws for sale. Having never had a pawpaw, I was excited to try one. Unfortunately, only one was left. I took it, but was disappointed at how it looked: all brown and squishy, like an overripe banana. I brought it home and put in the refrigerator, afraid to leave it out on the counter overnight. In the morning, I cut it in two, fished out five large seeds and scooped out a bite. It was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted: sweet, a cross between an banana and a mango, custardlike. Being the nice person that I am, I presented Ed with the other half.

Pawpaws are native trees in this area, often growing in patches as understory trees. We have searched our entire farm, but have yet to find any pawpaw trees growing in our woods. We have planted three pawpaws seedlings, along with the five seeds that I saved from our one brown, squishy specimen.  We will just have to wait for them to produce pawpaws. The wait might be long, but it will be so worth it. Just like the song says, we'll head down to the pawpaw patch and pick up pawpaws and put 'em in a basket.

Then we'll eat them when they are perfectly ripe.












Thursday, November 28, 2013

Grateful, continued

For this morning's sunrise...


For good kitchen help...


For Maggie and Nate coming home and spending the night (and fixing breakfast this morning)...


For Grandmommy's china and Mimi silver goblets...


For just a bit of healthy kale salad to counterbalance three kinds of dressing, two kinds of potatoes, and multiple desserts...


For the MacLean boys napping on the couch and Ed watching football...


While Mary and I took at post-feast walk...


And then coming home to a Skype call with Jack in China...

For all these things and a million more, I am grateful.