Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Heirloom Recipes: The Original Social Network

Last night Mary called me from the Whole Foods in Manhattan. She was having a hard time finding the specific kind of hot sausage that my heirloom recipe for Reunion Pea Casserole calls for. I straighted her out.

Maggie, in Louisville, is also planning to make RPC for New Year's Day and while Jack probably isn't baking one in Shenzhen, China, I bet he is wishing he could dig into a big wedge of the black-eyed pea savory pie that I've been making every New Year's Day for the last 25 years.


That's the beauty of a heirloom recipe. It connects people: parents to children, grandparents to grandchildren, friends to friends. Perhaps these special recipes, mostly handwritten on cards with lots of funny notations, are the original social network. Before Pinterest or Facebook, generous cooks would share their recipes with others via these little cards. I started to think about the beauty of these recipes when my sister Kathy sent us a jam cake this Christmas made from my grandmother's recipe. She has the original handwritten card from Grandmommy's recipe box and was kind enough to retype it and send it to me.

The first Christmas that we were married, Ed's sisters, Gay and Bobbie, put together a family recipe cookbook for me. (I think they thought Ed might starve.) It included recipes handwritten on index cards and arranged in a binder for such essentials as Scalloped Oysters, Olive Nuggets, Salmon Patties, Mimi's Custard, something called Spanish Spaghetti, Tuna Casserole and Coke Salad. Yes, Coke Salad. I treasure this volume.


I cook from scratch almost every day. Most of the time, I don't use a recipe. But I have a dozen or so recipes that have been passed down to me from my grandmother, other relatives, my friends, or gleaned from old cookbooks. These are the recipes that I make on special occasions every year. These are the recipes that my children will remember from their childhood and will surely incorporate into their adult lives and pass on to their children. These are the recipes that will live on long after I've stopped cooking.

I've written about most of these before. Here are the links to:
A new heirloom recipe was sent to me this December. It came from Cousin Glenda, who got it from my mom's friend, Jeane Cullen. It is for her famous fudge sauce. I've never needed the recipe because she would always make a jar for us to enjoy over peppermint ice cream. It's high time I figured out how to make my own. I've made it twice this season, but find it doesn't last long enough to use as a topping; rather, I just grab a spoon and dip into the jar for a little mid-morning snack.

_________________

Jeane Cullen's Hot Fudge Sauce

ingredients
1/3 cup butter
8 squares unsweetened chocolate (I used Baker's)*
8 squares semisweet chocolate (I used Baker's)*
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla

*Jeane's original recipe calls for 2 squares of chocolate, but Baker's recently remolded their products and 1 original square is now equal to 4 squares. Go figure. 

preparation
In a heavy large pan melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Blend in cream, sugar and salt. Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Store in refrigerator. Makes 2-1/3 cups.
___________________

So, my question to you is: What are YOUR heirloom recipes? What recipes are you known for? Won't you please share them with me?



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Art of Puttering

I am at the perfect point in my life to putter. Children off living their own exciting lives, no clients clamoring for last-minute changes to their marketing materials, no dogs to tend to -- just an easy-going husband and days without demands. And so, I putter.

Yes, I get things done. But they are usually not the things on my "to do" list, but rather things that occur to me as I move about the house and garden. I'll notice a grimy spot on the door out to the garage and find a Magic Eraser and, like magic, I've made it disappear. But then I'll walk around finding other spots that need a bit of a scrub. Then, I'll open my spice drawer and see that I've spilt thyme all over the place, and that I have two half bottles of cumin, and that I'm almost out of my favorite Krazy Jane salt. So I'll spend an hour or three typing out spice labels on an old typewriter and alphabetizing my spices. (This is only remarkable in that I'm not known for my organizing skills.)


Or today for example, I noticed that my bottle of mouthwash was simply disgusting and so I funneled the rest of it into a pretty, recycled maple syrup bottle. I kid you not. It was very satisfying.


Puttering doesn't have to be a solitary activity. Sometimes I putter with Ed. We'll go out with the intention of doing one small job and end up hours later trying to remember why we went out in the first place. But, in the meantime, we may well have cut down dozens of invasive honeysuckle bushes, mulched around all the trees up and down the drive, picked up a load of long-ago cut wood, and laid down cardboard in the garden to thwart the weeds. We only stop puttering because it is time for lunch.

In a June 2011 New York Times editorial, puttering is described as "small-scale, stream-of-consciousness problem-solving." That's what I do. I solve one problem and then calmly move on to the next one that presents itself to me.

I got to thinking about puttering after reading this post today by one of my favorite authors: Anne Lamott. She says: "I pulled on some baggy pants, in case I accidentally ate a few more cookies than might be ideal. THEN, and only then, I got up, and went to the kitchen, where I put the coffee on, and did the sacrament of putter while it brewed." The sacrament of putter. I like that. Yes, I think there is something almost religious about the art of puttering. Something meditative. Something calming and centering.

In my old life (pre-Farm Dover) I was constantly multitasking, constantly beating myself up for not getting enough done in a day, constantly behind on every work project, every home project, every child project. My whole life seemed a mess of "I'm-behind" projects.

When I putter, I never multi-task. I just do what I want for as long as I want and then move on to the next thing that captures my attention. And yes, I do realize that this is a luxury afforded me at this particular time in my life.  And I'm grateful for it. But I have to tell you, I'm getting really good at it.

_______________

I'm writing this in our study, with a fire going. Ed is in the main living room watching a UL football game, but just stopped in to see what I was up to (and bring me a piece of chocolate and refill my wine glass). "I'm writing a blog on puttering," I tell him. "The most important thing is to keep your head still," he tells me. 



Sunday, December 28, 2014

Up. Down. In the Ground.

The thing about a live Christmas tree is that it can't be brought indoors until right before Christmas and it must be taken back outdoors soon after Christmas. Otherwise, it will come out of its dormancy and get confused when it is forced back into cold weather. At least, that's what I've been told....

So on Christmas Eve, we brought our little tree (with its huge burlapped ball) inside. Mary and I decorated it with lights and decided we liked it that way. We only added a favorite bird ornament and some recent ones that friend Jane sent, and called it a victory.


Today, we took off the lights, loaded the tree into the back of the Polaris, and planted it to the right of our drive entrance, alongside our trees from 2011, 2012, and 2013. My plan is to plant all our Christmas trees in one spot and then I can just count the trees to remember how long we've lived out here. Pretty clever, huh?

While Ed dug the hole, I snapped pictures of the previous years' trees.

Here's our 2011 tree. It looks ridiculous because it was attacked by a deer. 

This is 2012's. It is our biggest one.
Too big, in fact. It took three people to move it outside for planting. 

Here is 2013's. A perfectly nice little tree.
And lastly, here's our tree from this year.


While we were out planting, we also put a tiny tree in the ground, just outside our study window. It was a gift from my sister, Kathy. I love to think that someday it may become a towering evergreen.


We came back in and I took down the stockings (with care), cleared our mantle, tossed the magnolia leaves from the table centerpiece, and took a final load of empty boxes out to the recycling.

I did leave up our manger scene, our angel Gabriel, and Madonna & Child painting. Being that it is only December 28th, I figured the Magi have not yet arrived in Bethlehem, so it seemed premature to pack them away.


But other than this little vignette, Christmas 2014 is now history at Farm Dover. I'm ready for the new year. Bring it on!





Friday, December 26, 2014

We went walking...

Fact: 21 of the last 26 days have been cloudy or rainy. Fact: today the sun was out, and so were we.

Mary flies back to her life in the big city tomorrow morning, but for today, she was a country girl out for a walk around Farm Dover with her mom and dad.


Ed, Mary and I struck out for a walk this morning. We checked on Maggie's beehives, headed down to the abandoned wicker table and followed the stream to the property line, climbed up the hill and made our way through some brambles to the trail on the other side of the pond. We circled round the upper field and then cut through the secret path Ed cut for me this fall. We crossed the pond at the limestone waterfall and followed the trail around to the front field, then cut across the drive to the hackberry tree. There we paused for a father/daughter photo.


From there, we showed Mary the new apple trees that we planted since she moved away. We jumped the creek and headed to top field and then took the path over to our neighbor Bobby's farm before jumping the creek back over to our trail. A red tail hawk swooped down low across the field and a pair of cardinals flittered from branch to branch of a locust tree.

We followed the path on the far side of our fields, cut through the walnut tree field and showed Mary our recent attempt at creating a Christmas Tree Lane. We then took the trail to the right and walked the property line between our farm and Bobby's, finishing at our front gate, where we paused for a mother/daughter photo.


We then turned toward home and made out way up the drive.


These are the times I treasure. Walking. Talking. Listening. Looking. Connecting.

Come back soon, Mary. We miss you already.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

And the darkness turns to light

I spent the afternoon making a final batch of cheese straws and once the last ones were out of the oven, I pulled on my hiking boots for a walk around our fields. It wasn't until I was out in the late afternoon sun that I realized that today marks the winter solstice, with the sun having risen at Farm Dover at 7:56 this morning and setting just a few minutes ago at 5:27.

I always feel better knowing that the longest night is behind us and we can look forward to lengthening days. There is something uplifting about that amazing fact.

Today, our daylight was 9 hours and 30 minutes, which is 5 hours and 19 minutes shorter than on the June Solstice. I never paid much attention to the soltices when we lived in town, but out here I feel more connected with the natural world; more intune with the seasons. Perhaps I'm really turning into a farmer...




Tuesday, December 9, 2014

It's Christmas time in the city


City sidewalks | Busy sidewalks | Dressed in holiday style
In the air there's a feeling of Christmas
– from Silver Bells by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.


We are just back from Christmas time in the city – New York City, that is. You may remember that Mary moved to Brooklyn in September and we had yet to visit her. So very (very) early on Friday morning, Ed and I flew to NYC, along with Maggie and Nate. 

This trip was so different from others we have taken to NYC. For one thing, we stayed in an airbnb apartment in Williamsburg, a neighborhood in Brooklyn which has a much different vibe than midtown Manhattan. For another, it was fun to have Mary show us around – to explore Brooklyn, Chinatown, Chelsea, Little Italy, and Lower Manhattan. And it was especially lovely to have Maggie and Nate with us. The only thing that could have made the weekend better was if Jack could have magically appeared from half way across the globe. We did connect up with Matthew, one of Jack's old roommates from McGill, meeting him and his parents for dinner on Sunday night. We also shared a meal with Katie Beth, Mary's good friend from high school days who has helped Mary in so many ways get settled. 

Other than a quick walk up to Rockefeller Center to see the tree and skaters, we avoided midtown, spending time instead browsing the aisles at The Strand Bookstore, checking out the vendors at the Holiday Market at Union Square, the Brooklyn Winter Flea + Holiday Market, the Chelsea Market, the Bedford Cheese Shop and the Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory, pausing at the 9/11 Memorial Plaza, walking in the rain across the Brooklyn Bridge, taking the East River Ferry from Brooklyn over to lower Manhattan and, of most importance to Galloways: eating. 


Holiday Market @ Union Square
Bedford Cheese Shop
Spoonbill & Sugartown Bookstore in Williamsburg
9/11 Memorial Fountains
Brooklyn Bridge
So that I don't forget the many great places we dined, here's a look at our favorites.

La Nonna Pizzeria237 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn. Our first night in town and we hadn't done our homework to figure out where we wanted to eat dinner. We remembered seeing a tiny pizzeria just down the street. Maggie called to see if we could get a table. We could, and were told we could also BYOB, so we stopped at the wine shop for a bottle of Chianti before walking the block from our apartment to the tiny restaurant. We ordered a large thin-crusted pizza and a small gluten-free crusted one for me. Both were delicious. Mary took home the leftovers for lunch this week. 

BeeHive Oven, 182 South 2nd St, Brooklyn. The next morning, we headed out of our apartment the opposite direction on Bedford and turned on 2nd St. We were headed for brunch at the BeeHive Oven touted as having the best biscuits in NYC. Run by a couple of Texans, they went out of their way to make us feel welcomed and feed us with care and craft. 

Vinegar Hill House, 72 Hudson Avenue, Brooklyn. The epitome of cozy, with seats for only about 40, I had made a reservation for Saturday night after Mary sent me a link as a possible good spot to eat. It was wonderful. Katie Beth joined us and we all were so happy to be together in this warm, tiny, beautiful restaurant.  We each had a different entree along with sides of corn bread with hot honey, parsnips, and brussels sprouts. I'm going back, for sure.

Sevilla, 62 Charles Street, West Village.  Matthew (Jack's college roommate and staff writer for the New York Observer) and his parents, Lewis and Doreen, picked this restaurant for us. We met them there. Doreen, who grew up in New York City, had been coming to Sevilla since she was a young girl. Paella was ordered all around. It was one of those quintessential New York experiences. Plus, it was fun to catch up with Matthew and, after all these years, to meet his parents. 

Ferrara Bakery & Cafe, 195 Grand Street, Little Italy. Sunday afternoon found us exploring around Chinatown and Little Italy in the rain. We stopped in Ferrara's for a coffee and dessert. (Okay, Mary had a glass of sparkling Prosecco with her cannoli.) Founded in 1892, it offers cannoli, gelati and other pastries. What a gem of a place. 

Some more notes for future visits...

Mary downloaded the HopStop app to my i-phone. Simply by keying in my current location and where I wanted to go, I could get step-by-step directions to anywhere in NYC. If I chose the subway/rail option, it provided details on which line to take, directions to the closest stop, time of the next train, and walking directions to my destination once I got off the train. What a lifesaver for someone as directionally-challenged as me!

More than once this weekend, we turned to Mary to order us an UBER ride. I can see why she likes it. She can request an urber taxi just by keying in her location and where she wants to go. She can then track where her requested ride is on its route and she pays directly from her phone. No worrying about cab fare or calculating a tip. 

Airbnb. It may not be for everyone, but I really like staying in a real person's apartment rather than a hotel. We've had great luck in Paris, Santa Fe and now Brooklyn. Our 2 BR apartment this week was located on a main street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The front door and entraceway were a bit sketchy, but once inside the apartment it was just right for us. I'm not sure I'd stay in this exact apartment again as the street noise was loud, but I'd definately find one in another neighborhood that I'd like to explore in NYC. Maybe Greenwich Village or Chelsea next time. 


The dining area of our airbnb apartment
The living area.
They even had a turntable and stack of old (but good) albums.

So thank you Mary for a great Christmas time in the city. Can't wait to get you home in 12 days for Christmas time in the country. We miss you.








Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The littlest things make me happy

Early last spring my cousin Mert gave me a Christmas Cactus. I had never had one before, and to be perfectly honest, I'm not the best person to entrust with a houseplant. But I thanked her for it and set it on the sunny tile ledge behind my bath tub. Sometimes when I took a bath, I'd splash a little water on it, but mostly I left it alone.

About a month ago, I noticed that some little pinky-red buds were beginning to appear at the ends of its flat leaves. It looked like this:


Pretty exciting.

Here's what it looks like today:



Very exciting. I get an inordinate amount of happiness from this little flowering plant.

There may be something to this boost in my happiness. Research suggests that having plants around you is a good thing for your health. I heard part of a NPR Diane Rehm interview this week with Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, known as the “mother of mindfulness.” Langer's  research focuses on the many benefits of purposefully paying attention.

In the interview, Langer recounted one of her mindfulness experiments that involved giving houseplants to nursing home residents. Half the recipients (control group) were told that the staff would tend to their plants; the other half were told that they needed to decide where to place the plant in their room, as well as when and how much to water it. (The intent was to make the nursing home residents more mindful, to help them engage with the world and live their lives more fully.) At the end of the 18-month experiment, the group in charge of their plants was more cheerful, active and alert. And, they were healthier. In fact, if I remember correctly, mortality of the control group was almost twice the mortality of the engaged group.

So, if you are feeling stressed or unhappy, get a plant. You might just feel better – maybe even live longer. And find yourself smiling more, especially if your plant blooms.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Rainy Monday Night: Tortilla Espanola (Spanish Omelette)

It was too rainy to stop at the grocery and we had finally eaten our way through our post-thanksgiving leftovers. A 6 p.m. look around my kitchen turned up a handful of Yukon Gold potatoes, two onions, a half dozen eggs and a bunch of parsley that had seen better days. That's all I needed for a delicious – a very delicious – Meatless Monday dinner.

__________________

Oven Baked Tortilla EspaƱola – Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine

ingredients
2 pounds potatoes (Yukon Gold. preferred) – sliced in 1/4 inch rounds
2 large onions, thinly sliced
6 large eggs
1/4 cup Extra Virgin  Olive Oil
A handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Salt & Pepper

procedure
Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Add 1 t. salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 7 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Lay potatoes out on a kitchen towel or paper towels to dry. Pat dry.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat 2 T of the oil in a 12 inch oven-proof skillet and cook the onions over medium heat until brown (10-15 minutes.) Remove from heat.

Crack the eggs in a large bowl and beat until pale yellow in color. Gently stir in potatoes, onions, and parsley and season generously with salt and pepper.

Heat the remaining 2 T oil in the same skillet that was used to cook the onions. Pour in the egg mixture and cook (undisturbed) for about 2 minutes, or until the bottom of the tortilla is set.

Transfer the tortilla to the oven and cook for 20 minutes, or until eggs are set, and and potatoes are tender. Turn oven to broil to allow the top to brown a bit. Remove from oven and cool for five minutes.

To remove the tortilla from the pan, run a knife around the edge and invert on to a plate. Cut into wedges and serve.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas Tree Lane

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Not really, but maybe come December 2025, it will. Ed and I are in the process of planting 40 conifer trees on both sides of one of our trails. We are creating our own Christmas Tree Lane. For now, all it looks like is a Charlie Brown version of our dream lane.


It all started on our fall trip up the east coast. After a long hike in the Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, we found ourselves on a path leading back to our car. The path was lined with evergreens – all different kinds – tall ones, short ones, fat ones, skinny ones. It was like walking in an enchanted forest, but not a scary one – rather a beautiful, magical one. It smelled of Christmas, the real thing. It was eerily quiet to walk on pine needles, the only sounds were chirps from small sparrows. The sun shone between the branches, many of which were laden with pine cones.

I told Ed I wanted one of these enchanted paths at Farm Dover. And, because my every wish is his command, we ordered some seedling trees from Pikes Peak Nurseries in Pennsylvania, and this week, they were delivered right to our front door.


Before our post-Thanksgiving feast yesterday and then again this afternoon, we planted trees. I would march off seven paces and place either a Norway Spruce, an Eastern White Pine, a Canadian Hemlock or a White Spruce at the appropriate spot along the trail. Ed would dig the hole and then I'd kneel down to place the bare roots in the hole and fill it in with the dirt. I'd hold its branches up while Ed carefully stomped around the little trees, compacting the dirt, making sure the tree was stranding straight, or almost straight. Then we would move on down seven paces to the next site for a tree.


We've still got a dozen or so more trees to plant and we are hoping to get out tomorrow afternoon before the weather turns bad. Then we'll sit back and wait for them to grow into a beautiful lane – just like the magical one we found ourselves on in New Brunswick.







Monday, November 24, 2014

Out of the oven; into the mail

Farm Dover fruitcake has a long way to travel this year. From Shelbyville, KY to Shenzhen, China is just over 8000 miles. Good thing this holiday treat for Jack is soaked in Drambuie and Whiskey.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Looking for Stories (Through a Camera's Lens)

Last month I did something scary, something way out of my comfort zone. I had my picture taken. I hate to have my picture taken. But I did it.

My very talented friend Elizabeth (Liz) Ferguson, who recently moved from Anchorage, KY to Selbyville, DE, was in town for a week and set up a portrait studio at Owl Creek Country Club. My glamorous youngest sister Julie talked me into having my portrait made. She assured me it could be used for my obituary (hmmm...sounds a bit morbid, but someday my family might be glad that they don't have to chose from a stack of terrible photos of me).

So, I showed up. I wore a simple black dress and brought along a bunch of scarves and also the jacket that Jack had custom tailored for me in China.

Liz immediately put me at ease. Julie was there to cheer me on. And, believe it or not, it was really a fun experience.

Liz told me exactly how to extend my spine, angle my head, pose my hands. She had a great trick for eliminating a double chin -- but for the life of me, I can't remember it, something about raising my chin and then moving it back. I'll see if I can't get her to describe it to me again. Priceless.

Liz has a real gift for photographing women. She prefers "women of a certain age" – women with depth, women who've lived, women with mileage. She claims she is not looking for cute faces or young bodies. Instead, she is looking for stories. Stories told in expression and stories told in posture; stories that are made over decades of being real. (Liz's words, not mine.)

So, in an effort to inspire my other girlfriends to treat themselves to a professional portrait, I'm going to show you the final results. Note: this is very hard for me.




Note: Just heard back from Liz. Here are her instructions for avoiding the dreaded double chin:
Chin out and down. And if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not doing it right!



Early Snowfall

Woke up to a snowy landscape this morning. I can't remember an earlier snowfall, but evidently there was one in 1966 and again in 1989. Pulled on my boots and walked out to the driveway's end to put our Netflix disk in the mailbox for pickup.

Snow was still falling, a cow off in the distance was lowing. Little brown birds were hopping around from the snow-topped wildflowers to the tall grasses. The light was soft; the sky neutral.

 I love Farm Dover in every season, but with a blanket of snow, it looks particularly lovely.


And, the best part is, we don't have anywhere to go today except right by our fireside....

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Musings on Mushrooms

All mushrooms are edible;
but some only once.
- Croatian proverb

I love the idea of foraging for wild food on Farm Dover. I've gotten pretty confident about identifying plants that I know are edible. It's fun to pick our dinner of dandelion leaves, four-leaf clovers, violets, chickweed, ramps, wild garlic, black walnuts, elderberries and blackberries. Just this week, Ed and I unearthed some burdock root that I'm roasting for our dinner tonight. 

What I'm not confident about is identifying mushrooms, figuring out if they are toxic or not. Not to worry, I'll stick to grocery-store mushrooms for any cooking that happens in my kitchen.

Nevertheless, I'm fascinated by fungi. Here's a look at some that I found while hiking on our recent Maine/Canada trip. Aren't they lovely?