Friday, December 30, 2011

House Fit for a Queen (Bee)

Look what Maggie got for Christmas! It's a bee house, designed and built by Maggie's friend Doug (dad of Maggie's boyfriend, Nate.) I have a feeling that she is planning to move it over to Foxhollow Farm, where she lives and works. But in the meantime, it is stationed at Farm Dover (in our living room) and I'm loving looking at it. So beautiful...

Under the copper roof is the super (2nd floor)
and the hive body – where the honey frames are – makes up the 1st floor.
The bees come and go from the opening at the bottom. Lucky bees!

I Never Thought It Was Such a Bad Little Tree...

"I never thought it was such a bad little tree.
It's not bad
at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love."
-Linus, from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

When we moved to the country Mary requested that we have a "real" Christmas tree. I decided that it would make sense to buy a tree that we could replant on the farm -- and watch grow in the coming years. But by the time I got around to it, I could only find a smallish tree. I never thought it was such a bad little tree. 

It wasn't bad at all, really. Maybe it just needed a little love.  So we loved it, and planted it, and watered it, and now we'll watch it grow.

Mary and her friend John loving our little tree.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Clearing Trails

Ed and I spent the better part of a recent sunny day clearing a trail that we hope will someday soon circumnavigate our property.

We started at a fallen tree on the far side of the lake and worked our way all the way down to where the creek crosses the back tree line.

Along the way, Ed split some wood for our winter fires.

Armed with chainsaw, clippers, and a weed whipper, we worked our way through a thick and thorny briarpatch.

It was tough, but rewarding work. Here's how it looks so far.

I think it is lovely and can't wait to take a hike down to the creek, with picnic basket in tow.
Hope you will come join me....

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Missing Our Buddy

Our Buddy is far away this Christmas in Germany. We all miss him so much...and I think he is missing us as well. Here are the Christmas greetings that we got from Jack this morning.

Merry Christmas to all.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Profoundness of the Everyday

There are certain dishes that I make only once a year and I make them only at certain times of the year. Osso Buco is one of those dishes. Sometimes I make it at Christmastime, sometimes on a cold January night, and occasionally it shows up on Valentine's Day; but never in the months between March and November.

Tonight, the house is filled with the smells of veal braising with onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, pancetta
and a splash of Madera. Two hours and counting until we sit down for a "fortress-like look of tender shanks floating on a moat of risotto." I didn't make that up, it is paraphrased from a poem by Billy Collins, who, in my opinion, is a master at taking everyday occurrences and somehow making them profound. (He's been called "the most popular poet in America" by the New York Times.) Here's how he describes an Osso Buco meal his wife prepared: 

Osso Buco
I love the sound of the bone against the plate
and the fortress-like look of it
lying before me in a moat of risotto,
the meat soft as the leg of an angel
who has lived a purely airborne existence.
And best of all, the secret marrow,
the invaded privacy of the animal
prized out with a knife and swallowed down
with cold, exhilarating wine.
I am swaying now in the hour after dinner,
a citizen tilted back on his chair,
a creature with a full stomach--
something you don't hear much about in poetry,
that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation.
you know: the driving rain, the boots by the door,
small birds searching for berries in winter.
But tonight, the lion of contentment
has placed a warm heavy paw on my chest,
and I can only close my eyes and listen
to the drums of woe throbbing in the distance
and the sound of my wife's laughter
on the telephone in the next room,
the woman who cooked the savory osso buco,
who pointed to show the butcher the ones she wanted.
She who talks to her faraway friend
while I linger here at the table
with a hot, companionable cup of tea,
feeling like one of the friendly natives,
a reliable guide, maybe even the chief's favorite son.
Somewhere, a man is crawling up a rocky hillside
on bleeding knees and palms, an Irish penitent
carrying the stone of the world in his stomach;
and elsewhere people of all nations stare
at one another across a long, empty table.

But here, the candles give off their warm glow,
the same light that Shakespeare and Izaac Walton wrote by,
the light that lit and shadowed the faces of history.
Only now it plays on the blue plates,
the crumpled napkins, the crossed knife and fork.

In a while, one of us will go up to bed
and the other will follow.
Then we will slip below the surface of the night
into miles of water, drifting down and down
to the dark, soundless bottom
until the weight of dreams pulls us lower still,
below the shale and layered rock,
beneath the strata of hunger and pleasure,
into the broken bones of the earth itself,
into the marrow of the only place we know.
Billy Collins,
The Art of Drowning
So, it is my hope that on this eve before Christmas Eve the lion of contentment will place a heavy paw on our chests and that we will slip into a dreams so deep that they are below the shale and layered rock, beneath the strata of hunger and pleasure, into the broken bones of the earth itself, into the marrow of the only place we know. 

See what I mean: Osso Buco gets pretty profound with Billy Collins.

Osso Buco
Adapted from Comforting Foods

1 lemon, scrubbed
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley

With a vegetable peeler, cut off the lemon zest into thin strips. Cut the strips into thin 3/4-inch-long pieces. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, add the strips of lemon zest, and cook for 2 minutes. Drain well and dry on a paper towel. In a small bowl, toss the lemon zest with the garlic and parsley. Cover and set aside.

Osso Buco:
Four 1 to 1-1/2 pound pieces veal hind shanks, tied around their sides with kitchen string
Kosher salt
Black pepper
All-purpose flour
1 cup olive oil
1 medium-size onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 medium-size carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 medium-size rib celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 ounce pancetta, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon tomato paste
One 28-ounce can peeled whole plum tomatoes with their juices
1 cup Marsala
6 cups chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Season the veal shanks with salt and pepper and dust them generously with all-purpose flour. In a Dutch oven just large enough to hold the veal shanks in a single layer, heat the 1 cup of olive oil over medium heat. add the veal shanks and brown evenly, 4 to 5 minutes per side and on their edges as well. Remove them from the Dutch oven and set aside.

Add the onion, carrot, celery and pancetta to the dutch oven and cook, stirring until the vegetables are just tender and the onion and celery are opaque, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic, parsley, sage and rosemary and cook, stirring, until the herbs release their aroma, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low, add the tomato paste, and cook, stirring slowly for about 3 minutes more. 

Add the canned tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands. Raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until their juices reduce to a think consistency, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the Marsala and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid again has all but evaporated, 7 to 10 minutes more.

Stir in the chicken stock and bring the liquid to a boil. Add the veal shanks to the dutch oven. Cover and put it in the preheated oven. Cook the veal shanks until the meat is very tender, about 2 hours. Remove them from the Dutch oven and, with a large spoon, skim the fat from the surface of the cooking liquid. Cut and remove the veal shanks' strings and place each one on a serving of risotto or polenta. Top with gremolata.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's What Is on the Inside that Counts

Buddy, it's fruitcake weather!
"A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote

Growing up I was subjected to dozens of my mother's momalies – you know those irritating sayings that every mother tells her children over and over in the hopes that they might actually take heed of them. Among my mother's most often repeated:
  • If you want to fight, go join the army.
  • Smile and the whole world smiles with you; frown and you frown alone.
  • Pretty is as pretty does.
  • It's what is on the inside that counts. 
It seems to me that this last one has some merit – especially as it applies to people and fruitcakes, and maybe even to people who are fruitcakes. 

I'm convinced that if you asked 100 people if they like fruitcakes, 99 percent of them would say "no." If you asked them if they have every actually tasted a fruitcake, 99 percent of them would say "no" to that question as well. 

This Christmas season, I challenge you to give fruitcakes a chance. It helps if you can find a homemade one (baked in the fourth quarter of 2011) and if you know what is in it. Here's the ingredient list from the recipe that I've made every year since 1983:

golden raisins
dark raisins
candied cherries
chopped dates
chopped prunes
chopped dried apricots
chopped mixed candied peel
freshly grated lemon rind
freshly grated orange rind
fresh lemon juice
fresh orange juice
green apple, peeled, cored and diced
unsalted butter 
slivered almonds, ground
all-purpose flour
freshly grated nutmeg

If you go down the list, you may find, as I do, that you actually like all the ingredients (except perhaps the bright red cherries that always remind me of Shirley Temple drinks).  A bunch of dried fruit, a jigger of whiskey, a splash of Drambuie, and enough eggs, butter, sugar and flour to barely hold it together: What's not to like?

I spent the morning making fruitcakes, a holiday tradition. Can I serve you a slice?
Here's the second part of your assignment: Find a copy of Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory." Slice a piece of fruitcake, brew a cup of tea, settle into a comfy chair and read (or reread) this holiday masterpiece about seven-year-old Buddy, his eccentric and elderly cousin, and their Christmas ritual – baking of fruitcakes – that so symbolizes their special love for each other. 

Another holiday tradition for me.


Queen’s Own Highlanders Fruitcake
I’ve been making this recipe for 30 years. Jack often helps. We enjoy it a Christmastime and always make an extra cake for brother-in-law George. The recipe first appear in Gourmet magazine in the early 1980s.

2-1/4 cups golden raisins
2-1/4 cups dark raisins
1/2 cup chopped candied cherries
1/2 cup chopped dates
2 tablespoons chopped prunes
2 tablespoons chopped dried apricots
1/3 cup chopped mixed candied peel
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange rind
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 small green apple, peeled, cored and diced
1/4 cup whiskey
2 tablespoons Drambuie
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup slivered almonds, ground
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl combine well the golden and dark raisins, the cherries, the dates, the prunes, the apricots, the mixed peel, the lemon and orange rinds, the lemon and orange juices, the apple, the whiskey, and 1 tablespoon of the Drambuie and let the mixture macerate, covered with plastic wrap, in a cool place, stirring well every 24 hour, for 1 week.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer cream together the butter and the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy and beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the almonds and add the fruit mixture, stirring until the mixture is combined well. Into a bowl sift together the flour, the nutmeg, the cinnamon, and the salt and stir the flour mixture into the fruit mixture.

Line the bottom and side of a 9-inch round cake pan, 2 inches deep, with a double thickness of wax paper and butter (or spray) the wax paper. Pour the batter into the pan, smoothing the top and pressing the fruit into the edges of the pan, and bake the cake for 2 hours and 30 minutes to 2 hours and 45 minutes, or until a tester comes out clan. Pour the remaining 1 tablespoon of Drambuie over the cake and let it cool. Invert the cake onto a plate and peel off the wax paper gently and wrap in foil and store in a tin.

The cake will keep for up to one month (although George claims it keeps for months -- if you add a bit more whiskey ever now and then!)

makes 1 cake.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Baking Memories

I was alone in the kitchen today baking an early batch of holiday cheesestraws. I wanted to get a tin of them mailed off to Jack in Germany -- a bit of love packed in a brown box full of other Christmas greetings.  But I wasn't really alone. I was with Grandmommy in her Cannons Lane kitchen; I was in our kitchen on Rainbow Drive with Maggie, Jack and Mary -- ages 6, 8 and 10; I was with Maggie in her Lathrop Street apartment in Madison, WI.

This time of year always brings a flood of cheesestraw-baking memories back to me. I like the memories as much as I like the spicy-cheddary nibbles. Grandmommy started the tradition. Seems to me she used to make them with her friend Amelia, and then one year Amelia wasn't there anymore and I was recruited to help her.

It was a two-day process. Two full days. On day one, we would grind our own blend of sharp and mild cheddar cheese. We'd mount a grater contraption to the kitchen countertop and I'd feed blocks of cheese into a funnel while Grandmommy cranked. When her arm would tire, we would switch jobs. We'd add two sticks of Fleishmann's margarine to each bowl of 4 cups of cheese and top each bowl with Saran Wrap and place it on the floor of Grandmommy's kitchen, near the hot air vents so that it would warm up overnight. The next morning, no matter how early I'd show up, Grandmommy would be up and hard at work cranking out sheet after sheet of squiggly dough. She had special cookie presses, special baking sheets, even a special spatula to slide the hot finished product onto foil paper. Once they were cool, we'd carefully pack up the mountain of cheesestraws into Christmas tins. When all that was left were the crumbs, Grandmommy would fill a tupperware of the "crumbs" as her cache.

The year before she moved from her home to the Episcopal Church Nursing Home, she packed up all her cheesestraw equipment and brought it over to our kitchen on Rainbow Drive. She was there to pass on to me not only a canvas bag full of assorted graters and cookie presses, but the mantle of being the one to continue the tradition. I suggested that we use Kraft bags of already shredded cheese and perhaps even real "butter." She wouldn't have any of it. "Don't mess with what you know works," she admonished me. That was our last time together baking.

For next several years, Maggie, Jack and Mary would pitch in. They come through the kitchen and help me press out one or two sheets of squiggles and then they would be off to sports, or homework, or whatever else consumed their lives those days. If I was lucky, they would deliver them to neighbors and their favorite teachers.

When Maggie was senior in college she asked me to come to Madison and bake cheesestraws with her. The plan was for me to fly to Chicago, take the Badger Bus to Madison, bake with her the next day, hang out while she delivered cheesestraws to her crew teammates and took her last final and then drive home with her for Christmas break. As we baked, the snow started to fall. It snowed and snowed and snowed: 18-inches of fresh, fluffy, beautiful snow. For the first time in the University of Wisconsin's history, school was called off. Heading south to Kentucky wasn't even an option. So we shoveled Maggie's sidewalk, took a city bus downtown to a movie (we were the only ones in the theatre), did a little Christmas shopping on Regent Street and just hunkered down until life returned to normal. Don't tell Maggie, but it was a very special time for me.

This year the cheesestraw tradition continues. Mary has already requested a day in the kitchen baking cheesestraws for her friends. She comes home on Saturday, so one day that next week, we'll haul out the presses, the cookie sheets and the special spatula. Maybe Maggie will come join us. Grandmommy would be so pleased.


Mary Rinehart's Christmas Cheesestraws

This recipe fills about 6 medium tins (5"x7") 

2 stick of Fleishmann’s unsalted margarine (226 gr) -- left at room temperature until it is soft
2 cups of finely grated sharp cheddar cheese - room temperature (8 oz package)
2 cups of finely grated mild cheddar cheese - room temperature (8 oz package)
3-1/2 cups sifted Swans Down Cake Flour (14.5 oz)
1 level teaspoon cayenne pepper (or slightly more if you want them spicy!)
3-1/2 teaspoons salt

Preheat over to 350 degrees (convection)
Combine margarine and cheeses in standing mixer. (I use the coated flat beater attachment.)
Sift flour together with salt and cayenne pepper.
Add flour mixture to cheese mixture and mix well.
Form into “large bullets” and put mixture into cookie press fitted with a star attachment. If dough seems cold or stiff, put it in the microwave for 15 seconds.
Crank out onto light colored cookie sheets in “snakey” pattern.
Bake for 13 minutes, or until just slightly brown. If not using a convection oven, switch cookie sheets half way through baking.
Once cooled, slide straws off onto foil paper and let cool completely before packaging in tins.

Give only to those you really love.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Early on a Frosty Morn

Ed was up and out early this morning. I, on the other hand, was snuggled in bed much later than usual. When I finally got up, I turned on the fire in the study and seriously contemplated not going out for my morning walk/jog down the drive. It was so cold out, so warm in.

I'm glad I decided to go. Look what I would have missed had I stayed cocooned inside...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

One Good Thing About All the Rain

Just in case you have not been following the saga of our lake, I'll fill you in.

Our lake was dug this time last year and slowly filled up. It looked beautiful in the early spring, but by early summer the water was inching its way down, flowing out on the far side of the dam into the creek. We had heard stories from almost everyone who had a lake about problems they encountered: some solvable, some not.

We worried about the catfish, bass, sunfish and bullfrogs that we had stocked in the pond. The water got down to just a foot or two before help arrived in the form of a bulldozer and a knowledgeable lake guy. He worked on repairing the dam, which he believed was the source of our sorrows. As he tucked our check for the work into his front shirt pocket and backed his bulldozer-loaded truck rig out of the field, he leaned out the window and said he "thought he had fixed it." We wouldn't know until the lake had filled back up and the water stayed where it was supposed to stay (inside the lake). So we waited, and waited and waited. With each rain, the lake rose by an inch or two.

But with all the rain we have had in the last week or so, it started filling up faster and faster. Every morning I'd look out and see that it was fuller and fuller.

It's back to being beautiful again. Keep your fingers crossed that it stays filled in.

And now, you are filled in.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Taking Grandmommy's China Out for a Spin

In some ways every generation balances the pleasure of traditions, legacies, roots,
with the equally American appeal of a fresh start.
I wonder how much stuff, and stories, our children can carry with them to their own table
and still have room for the new.
- Ellen Goodman

Like (retired) columnist Ellen Goodman, this Thanksgiving we are taking my grandmother's china out for a spin. Yesterday as I held the stepstool steady, Mary pulled Grandmommy's "M" china down from the top shelf of our pantry where it was carefully stacked last March when we moved to the country.

For the past eight months, I've only used our simple Fiesta-ware and my plain stainless cutlery. Our wedding china, Grandmommy's "M" china, Ed's mother's white-with-gold-rim china, all seem too froufrou for our country lifestyle. But not today. Thanksgiving is a day for bowing to tradition – for being grateful for those around us and for remembering those whose lives have shaped us. So out comes Grandmommy's china and Ed's mother's silver goblets.

We'll sit down to a very traditional dinner of turkey, three kinds of dressing, cranberries, mashed turnips and potatoes, chipotle whipped sweet potatoes, green beans and two kinds of pies. We'll thank God for our many blessings. We'll raise a toast to those around the table, to Jack in Germany, and to those who have gone before.  And then we'll dig in!


If she were still alive, my grandmother, Mary B. Rinehart, would be 104 tomorrow.
She was born on November 25, 1907 and died shortly after her 91st birthday in 1998.
I still miss her – every day.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

It felt like Christmas morning as I opened a heavy box that was delivered to our front door yesterday. Inside were 13 packages of Rancho Gordon beans. Now, these are not your average dried beans, they are glorious, old-fashioned and heirloom beans and they hail from Napa, California. They are to beans what Bentleys are to cars and I treat myself to an order once a year.

Not only are they amazingly delicious, they have names to match their colors or shapes.
Names like: Christmas Limas, Eye of the Goat, Snowcap, Jacob's Cattle, Black Calypso, Yellow Eye, and Cranberry.

I'll head to the Bardstown Road Farmers' Market and pick up some ham hocks for our freezer. Then when the weather outside turns frightful, Ed will build us a fire that is so delightful. And since we've no place to go, I'll whip up some amazing cassoulet, bean soup, homemade hummus, and baked beans. So let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Keeping the Vampires Away

You can never have enough garlic. With enough garlic, you can eat The New York Times.
– Morley Safer

I'm very serious about wanting to have a more productive garden in 2012 and realized that if that is to happen, I need to do some work on it in 2011. I just figured out that if I want garlic next year, I needed to get it in the ground, lickety-split.

I broke apart two garlic heads and selected the best looking cloves.

I tucked the cloves in the raised garden bed, pointy side up and covered them with about an inch of soil.
Tomorrow I'll add a layer of straw to keep them nice and warm
In the spring (if all goes as planned), I'll harvest the garlic scapes. Then, come summer, I'll harvest my own Farm Dover-grown garlic heads. Vampires beware! You are not welcome here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Right Tool Makes the Job Much Easier

I never knew that planting daffodil bulbs could be so easy!
(Okay, last year was easier, but that's because Jack did it for me.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Winging It Through Germany and France, Part II

Here's a look at the highlights and lowlights of our trip...
Note: Ed's comments are in italic.

Best moment(s) of the entire trip
Okay, this is where my "mom" persona takes over. It was really great to see Jack and see where he teaches, where he lives, meet his roommates, see him play basketball, meet up with him in Cologne, Trier, and Dusseldorf. Now, even though I have no idea what he is up to, I can imagine him walking to his school, catching the train, spending time with Felix and Melanie, or with the Wolff family. It helps alot.

It was great fun to be with Jack even if he did accuse me of messing with his German with my terrible accent.

Jack spent a couple of days with us
as we made our way up from Trier to the Moselle River Valley.

Best food
The German breakfasts are hard to beat. I couldn't much longer keep up the pace of starting the day with such a large offering, but it sure was enticing while it lasted.

The breakfast at Hotel Haus Lipmann in the tiny town of Beilstein was so fantastic, we extended our stay for one more day.
We enjoyed a little sekt in the morning.
The bubbly German wine came with breakfast.

Most memorable dining experience
Our Fodor's France book listed Chez Yvonne in Strasbourg as a one $ (inexpensive) recommended place to eat.

What they call inexpensive is a little confusing to me, given what it cost in euros. The trip taught me a lot about what it is to be an addict.  I became addicted to ATM's.  Like any addict, I kept needing more and more and more to get the rush (all those wonderful colorful euro just for knowing a four digit code).  Now I'm cold turkey with only my credit card bills to remind of those highs.

We found this classic winstub after wandering down a picturesque little street in the Old Town and popped in to see about a reservation. We made one for one hour later and then headed out for a beer in the church square. When we returned, the staff seated us in an intimate alcove surrounded on three sides with red-checked curtains. It could have been a bit kitschy, but instead it was quite charming. We split a smoked salmon appetizer and I ordered choucroute while Ed chose a white fish -- both dishes were served with a pile of sauerkraut, which we were not yet tired of. The website describes Chez Yvonne as "a magical and very charming house in which each 'stub' (room) exhales its own intimacy, bringing out a feeling of warmth and well-being." We concur.

The meal ended with a glass of schnapps with coffee.  I even remember part of the walk back to the hotel -- the getting lost part. Try reading a small print city map in the dark after a long haul at dinner with Alsatian wine. 

Being charmed at the charming Chez Yvonne.
Worst food
Without a doubt: Delta Airlines. Don't get me started.

Nicest hotel experience
We treated ourselves to a 4-star hotel in Cologne located just next to the Cathedral. In return, the Excelsior Hotel Ernst treated us royally from the moment we pulled up and the valet greeted us.

The staff was professional; the room huge; the bathrobe fluffy
and the slippers a nice touch.
Worst hotel experience 
For 16 days, Ed and I were inseparable. We did everything together, side by side, never more than an arm's length from each other. Until one morning, he  awoke early and decided to go down to the hotel lobby to read and catch up on the news on my ipad. "Take your time," he said as the hotel door closed behind him. Into the tiny shower cubicle I popped, pulling the glass door tightly shut. Once showered, I pushed on the door, but it wouldn't budge. I pushed harder. No luck. I lowered myself down to the tile floor and tried opening the door by pushing on it with both feet. I was sure that if I pushed any harder, the glass would shatter. So, I just sat there, in a yoga pose, and tried to breathe deeply, knowing that eventually Ed would come back to the room to check on my whereabouts. And, eventually, he did, and freed me from my captivity.

I couldn't figure out what was keeping her.  I was thinking that maybe I misunderstood our plan.  When I got back to the room, she was so pathetic sitting in the shower cubicle I completely forgot about getting the camera and thereby missed the best picture of the trip.

Most scenic town
Every village along the Route du Vin (the Alsace Wine Road) is strikingly charming: the vineyards that run right up to the village edge, the half-timbered medieval houses, the belltowers, the chateau ruins, the degustations (offering free wine tastings). Because we spent several days driving along the route and detouring up into the Vosges mountains and back down, all the villages began to look the same and all had names impossible to pronounce: Ribeauville, Riquewirh, Blienschwiller, Gueberschwihr... We decided our favorite village was the slightly-less-touristy: Kaysersberg. It was there that we found a winery tucked back into a steep vineyard, run by a young man, a  third-generation vintner, who sold us a couple of bottles of Alsacian wine, both white and red, as well as a sparkling bottle of Crement.
A stork's nest sits atop a bell tower in one of the many villages we visited along the Wine Route.
Window boxes of flowers were on every house in every village.

Best exercise
It's a tossup. We rented bikes one afternoon and rode many, many kilometers through the Mosel Valley. I hadn't been on a bike in many, many years and I wasn't sure I was going to make it back to the ferry.

They say you never forget how, but that's not exactly right.  I wish I hadn't run into that sideview mirror trying to get going. Anyway, it didn't fall all the way off. 

Getting off our bikes for the ferry ride home
was a very welcomed idea.

On our way back to Dusseldorf, we stopped at the 12th century Burg Eltz Castle, nestled in the hills above the Moselle River, but built down in a deep valley. We parked our car and started on the route down. Shortly, we saw a man breathing very heavily walking back toward the parking lot. Wimp, we thought. Wrong, we found out. The way down is long and steep. The way back seemed even longer and steeper. But it was worth it, the castle (along with the armoury and treasury) are really something to see.

Berg Eltz was built in the 12c way down in a valley.

Getting around
We rented an Audi A6 with a GPS. So another woman got to tell Ed how to get from town A to town B. In a nice English accent, she would politely say, "Recalculating. Please make a U-turn."

Simply put: GPS saved our marriage.
Craziest sight
The naked cowboy serenaded us as we sat at a cafe in Cologne.
The Naked Cowboy: No further explanation needed.

Best shopping
For high-end shopping, there is no finer place than the Konigsallee in Dusseldorf. This glamorous boulevard is home to shops of all the top designers, and to exclusive jewellers, perfume, porcelain and antiques shops that offer the most luxuriously goods imaginable. Needless to say, other than a bit of window shopping, this didn't really do it for me.

I had more fun in the markets of Trier where I spied woven market baskets with long leather handles. I bought two -- one for each of my girls. Our other "find" was a topferie (pottery shop) along the roadside that follows the Moselle River. We saw the simple rustic sign and pulled in. The old man who answered the bell spoke zero English but nevertheless managed to sell us a beautiful vase that his wife had made.  And then there was the Mustard Museum in Cochem....I managed to limit my purchases to three heavy jars.

Real heavy.

Nice to bring back such a beautiful souvenir.

Toughest language challenge
Ed's French is very good.
Just good enough to dig myself a grand trou.
He took French in high school and college. He reads (tries to) French novels if they're real simple. He listens to French language tapes driving back and forth from home to work. His French language skills served him (us) very well the whole time we were in France -- except when we stopped at a laundromat (laverie automatique) to do a load of wash. Figuring out how to load the machine and select the proper temperature, acquire laundry detergent, and pay correctly was just beyond his grasp. Fortunately two French woman took over, loudly arguing between themselves about what needed to be done to help this poor American man get his clothes washed properly. I just stood by and watched.

4 euros to run a load of wash? 

Benefit of getting old -- you don't care if you wear the same pair of pants all week.  It doesn't compensate for ear hair but still ...

Final Thoughts
We were gone for 16 days, our longest vacation to date. It was great to be gone and great to come back home to Farm Dover.

 A look out of our hotel window
in Obernai, France

There's no place like home...

Monday, November 7, 2011


Maggie harvested one frame full of honey from one of her hives.
The bees will feast on the remaining honey over the winter. Lucky bees!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Winging It Through Germany and France, Part I

Planning our recent trip to Germany and France was a bit of a challenge. With limited internet access from the farm and limited knowledge of the region we were targeting, we finally decided that we would just book our flights into Dusseldorf, reserve hotels for only a couple of nights along the way and then wing it. That's right, wing it. Our plan was to stop at the tourist information bureau at whatever town we arrived in and figure out what comes next, based on our rather loose itinerary. I must say our non-planning added an element of intrigue to the trip.

Our general plan was to rent a car at the Dusseldorf airport, drive over to see Jack, spend a couple of days in Cologne and then head down the Alsace region of France to Strasbourg and points south. The second half of the trip had us crossing the Rhine to Trier, Germany and then following the Moselle River Valley back up to Kolbenz before angling back to Dusseldorf for a last visit with Jack. The actual trip turned out better than I had expected. The weather, the food, the wine, the landscapes, the company – all delightful.

And I don't want to forget any of it, not the pumpkin soup in Trier, the soaring cathedral in Cologne, the geranium-filled flower boxes on every medieval house along the Alsatian Wine Road, the thrill of again watching Jack play basketball, our bike ride through the Moselle Valley, our dinner with Laura Wolff's family (see photo below). None of it. Not one single moment. One of the best things about traveling is the fun of reliving the experience. But sometimes I can't even remember what day it is, much less what how delightful a mid-afternoon coffee and kuchen can be.

So...not so much for your pleasure, but more as an aid to my memory, I'm putting down the highlights (and lowlights) and asking Ed to chime in (see italics). Then on a cold February day, I can remember back to the afternoon spent at the chocolate museum in Cologne or the Paffgen beer garden where waiters in long blue aprons brought glasses of slightly hoppy Kolsch beer, keeping track of the number of glasses we consumed with tick marks in pencil on our round coaster.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Posing in Trier, Germany. Jack came down for the weekend to meet us.
High Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Mary in Cologne, Germany.
An afternoon bike ride along the Moselle River
Grapes. Everywhere.
Down to the edge of towns, up the steepest banks.
Laura Wolffe (far right) spent last year in Louisville, as an au pair.
Her family lives less than an hour away from Jack and has shown him great hospitality.