Sunday, July 31, 2011

It's a Good Look, Don't You Think?

The banged up red Ford van is gone.  It was the van with redneck jumping-bass decal on the rear window, the one that Paul put on as a joke years ago and we liked it so well, we kept it. It was a little harder to see it go than we'd realized. I know that a lot of you really liked that van, and I have to admit, it had been a good car for us -- getting us (numerous times) to and from Canada, Florida, Wisconsin, Maryland and lots of points in-between. It carried memories of Juniper, camping, fishing, college moving in and out.  It had that special family smell that seems to permeate any car we get.  But for once we traded in a car while it was still running.

Anyway, I don't think we'll miss it.  Look what we have in its place: the perfect farm truck!

Mary heading to town in our new (used) Ford Ranger.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Not Very Convincing

Crows are supposedly very smart birds. I'm not sure that we will outsmart them with our new scarecrow. But it is worth a try...

Molly and Katie came to spend the night last night and brought a gift of a scarecrow with them. Quick as a bunny, Molly put it together this morning. We went upstairs and raided our old-clothes closet, finding a green checked dress that belonged to Maggie a long time ago. A straw hat completed the outfit.

What do you think? If you were a crow, would you be scared?, or would you want to join the party in the garden?

Monday, July 25, 2011


Green zucchini, red tomato, yellow squash, pink potato, green zucchini, red tomato...

That's the pattern I was following on Friday morning as I was putting together the couscous/vegetable tian that I was taking to dinner at Lynn and Walt's. Mary was talking with me and would occasionally remind me that I had messed up the pattern by putting a pink potato after the green zucchini instead of after the yellow squash.

For me, cooking is often as much about the colors and shapes of the ingredients as it is about the flavor.

My version of Vegetable Tian, before baking.
Includes zucchini, tomatos, corn and thyme from my garden.
The tian is a summer standby for me. The vary act of chopping vegetables is as calming and satisfying to me as watching golf on TV is to Ed. The dish has evolved over the years, starting out as a recipe from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris cookbook. A couple of years ago, at Mary's request, I added a layer of Israeli couscous between the sweet onions on the bottom and the vegetables on the top. Even though the recipe calls for Gruyere cheese, I use whatever I have in the frige. This time it was some local sharp cheddar from Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese. I also added a sprinkling of peaches-and-cream corn, just off the shuck and just out of my garden.

Good friends, good dinner.

Vegetable Tian
(loosely adapted from Barefoot in Paris

Good olive oil
2 large sweet onions, cut in half and sliced
1.5 cups Israel Coucous (large pearl)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound medium round potatoes, unpeeled
3/4 pound zucchini
3/4 pound summer squash
1-1/4 pound medium tomatoes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus extra springs
2 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook the onions over medium-low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Spread the onion mixture on bottom of a 9x13 baking dish, lightly brushed with olive oil.  Bring pot of salted water to boil and cook couscous for 15 minutes. Drain. Arrange a layer of the cooked couscous on top of the onions.

Slice the potatoes, zucchini, squash, and tomatoes in 1/4-inch-thick slices. Layer them alternately in the dish on top of the onions, fitting them tightly, making only one layer. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme leaves, and thyme springs and drizzle with 1 more tablespoon of olive oil. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Uncover the dish, remove the thyme springs, sprinkle the cheese on top, and cook for another 30 minutes, or until browned. Serve warm.

serves 6

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cock A Doodle Doo

The first question that people ask when they hear that we've moved to a farm is: Do you have any chickens yet? Raising chickens is definitely on my list of things I want to do; I just haven't mustered the energy to tackle it yet.

But as of this morning, there is a big rooster greeting visitors at our front door. Ed and I found him while running errands in Shelbyville and bought him, tucked him in the van and brought him home. Yes, it was an impulse buy, but he makes me smile everytime I look at him. And he is lot easier to take care of than a bunch of cackling hens!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One Thing Leads to the Next

It all started when I headed out to the garden to check on the puny cucumber plant that I had bought late in the season at the Shelbyville Farmer market. Just in the past couple of weeks, it has taken over one corner of my corn patch and is growing prolifically. Lifting up one of its many tendrilled vines, I found not one, but six! ready-to-harvest cukes. 

A bar of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, an onion and one drop of green food coloring later, I had mixed up a batch of Benedictine Cheese.  I could just hear my grandmother telling me that the pale green cucumber spread was developed by Miss Jennie Benedict sometime around the turn of the century. The way Grandmommy would talk about her, it made me think they were friends or at least acquaintances who would meet ocassionally for tea. 

My memory took me back to the many times I would be sitting in Grandmommy's tiny kitchen keeping her company; she would be grating cucumbers and mixing up the cheese, spreading it on white bread and then carefully cutting it with one of her many cookie cutters into stars, or circles or diamonds, before arranging them on a pretty tray – all for my benefit, for no special occasion. It was just how she did things.

The whole making-Benedictine-Cheese-in-my-kitchen thing, thinking of Grandmommy-in-her-kitchen thing, caused me to go up to our loft and search through Grandmommy’s old cookbooks. Sure enough, I found a well-worn version of The Blue Ribbon Cook Book by Jennie C. Benedict.  

I took it to bed that night and spent an hour reading it cover to cover. (Yes, I read cookbooks like other people read bestsellers.) The yellow-tinged, cooking-spotted pages were a blast to read. First of all, the cook book had its own index system, where pages were short cut for one of 15 different sections: Bread, Soups, Fish, Meats, Poultry and Game, etc. 

In the back of the book there was a whole section entitled: Simple Dishes for the Sick, followed by Dainty Menus for Convalescent Patients. The first recipe in this section is called Toast Water. And here it is (exactly as written). 
Toast three slices of stale bread to a dark brown,
but do not burn. Put into a pitcher,
pour over them one quart boiling water. Cover closely
and let stand on ice until cold. Strain.
If desired, wine and sugar may be added.

(Note: If you weren’t sick before you drank this, I bet you are now.)

The back section is pages of ads (paid, I suppose) for products that Miss Benedict recommends. They include everything from Calumet Baking Powder to Taylor Trunk Company, to the Fifth Avenue Fish Market. 
Can you read this copy?
I'm wondering how much times have really changed?

Now, here’s the weird part. Nowhere in the book does she provide a recipe for Benedictine Cheese. The copy that I have is actually a 4th edition one, published in 1922. It wasn’t until the 5th edition, published just three years ago (2008, University Press of Kentucky), that the recipe was included.

A few days later, I was trolling around on the Internet looking for the actual recipe for Benedictine Cheese and discovered all kinds of interesting things about Jennie Benedict.

One: She was born in Louisville, KY in 1860 and trained with the famous Fannie Farmer at the Boston Cooking School. She returned to Louisville and opened her catering business in 1893, working from a small kitchen in her back yard. Seven years later, she moved to a larger kitchen in downtown Louisville and later opened her own restaurant: Benedict’s. 
Two: She was an accomplished businesswoman, becoming the first woman on the Louisville Board of Trade. She also helped organize the Louisville Businesswoman’s Club in 1897. She is credited with serving the first school lunches in Louisville: chicken salad sandwiches that were sold from a handcart. 

Three: In 1925, she retired to her home “Dream Acre,” on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River and there, she wrote her autobiography: The Road to Dream Acre. The book is out of print, but I’m determined to find a copy. 

I like this woman. I like that she was an astute business woman and a wonderful cook. I like that her work defined early 20th century middle-class cooking in Kentucky. And I like that 100 years later, I’m still using her recipe for Benedictine Cheese. 

And so from garden, to cooking, to old cookbook reading, to research: that's how one thing leads to the next.

Here the version of Benedictine that I use. 

Benedictine spread

8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
Juice from one grated medium cucumber
Juice from one small grated onion
1 teaspoon salt
a few grains of cayenne pepper
1 drop green food coloring

To get the juice, peel and grate a cucumber, then wrap in a clean dish towel and squeeze juice into a dish. Discard pulp. Do the same for the onion. The cucumber juice together with the onion juice should measure 1/3 cup. Blend all ingredients. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Meow. Meow.

I was tidying up the back porch this morning and reached down to pick up the canvas grill cover that had been lying in the corner all week. Much to my dismay, a mouse was inside. Even though it didn’t scare me (much) I ran inside to get my brave son to deal with it.

When Jack peeked inside he found one mad mamma mouse, a nest, and 15 brand new baby mice. He gently carried the cover down to the tree line and freed them into the woods. 

One of 15 baby mice born inside our grill cover.

No big deal, right? No harm done, right? That’s what you are thinking. But, you haven't spent the last week trying to unravel what went wrong with our van. Why were the shock plug cables cut? And who would have done such a thing? Why was the ABS light coming on? Why wouldn’t the speedometer work?

Turns out, a little mouse family – like the one Jack carried away this morning – had taken up residence under our van hood and munched on various (but important) cables and wires. Little did we know that people in the country put mouse deterrent canisters in their cars, trucks and tractors to keep such critters at bay. We are learning our lessons, but mostly the hard way and, in this case, threatening to make us as poor as church mice.

So, maybe we do need a barn cat (even though we don’t have a barn yet). If we put a bell on its collar, perhaps the songbirds can be forewarned of an imminent pounce – but the same is probably true for the mice….

Friday, July 8, 2011

Please Come for Dinner: Harvest July 8


Cucumbers, zucchini  and Sun Gold tomatoes

Rainbow chard

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Heat's On -- but Not in My Kitchen

I need to back up a week or so and tell you about a cooking class that I took with Maggie at Fox Hollow Farm just before we left for our Canada trip. I had won a free class at Fox Hollow’s summer kickoff event and Maggie offered to take the class with me. (Patrice will vouch for me: if you accordion fold your raffle ticket, you are sure to win every time!)

I arrived just as Maggie was getting off work. Five other women had signed up for the class. They all seemed to know each other. Jennifer, one of Maggie’s co-workers was also there to help with the prep. The class lasted from 6:00 to 8:30, but was 2-1/2 hours of sheer fun, plus we got to devour the delicious results.

Sherry Hurley, owner of Farm to Fork Catering, was the instructor. She cooks at Fox Hollow’s commercial kitchen on a regular basis and was knowledgeable and excited to be working with produce straight from the farm's garden.  She handed out printed copies of seven recipes and sure enough, she worked her way through all of them. (Disclaimer: she had already made the Carrot Ginger Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting that served as our dessert.)

I was especially glad that she included recipes for collard greens, beets, chard and turnips as I’m hoping all will come from my garden. Sherry teaches two classes each month: the 2nd Wednesday of each month she focuses on Fox Hollow grass fed beef and the last Tuesday of each month is based on what’s growing in the garden. In addition, Jamie Shafer is teaching a class on canning and preserving this Saturday, July 9.  I’m planning to take more classes. I hope you will join me.


Just around one corner of Joe Lake is Jump Rock. It is legendary as the place where the bravest of the brave Taylor Statten campers jump from its high perches.

Knowing how much I avoid scary heights, I couldn’t really picture Maggie, Jack or Mary actually taking the plunge.

On July 4, we had taken two canoes out for a not-so-short paddle and a not-so-easy portage over to visit Camp Wapomeo (the camp that Maggie and Mary went to for years) and Camp Ahmek (Jack’s camp). On the way back, Jack announced that he wanted to climb to the topmost rock and jump off. I didn’t know if he would do it. Mary, not wanting to be shown up, said she’d take the plunge too.

Up the cliff face they scampered. Ed and I paddled out so we could watch.

Off went Jack. Forty feet straight down into the cold clear waters. SMACK. Then nothing. Then one black, sized-15 flip-flop floated to the surface. Then nothing. I held my breath.  And then, Jack popped up.

Off went Mary. Down, down, down. SMACK. Up she popped, with a big smile on her face. One bruised hand and one very sore bottom to remember  – and, of course, the photo to prove it actually happened.

Independence Day: Back to Arowhon Pines

Since we had traveled so far to pick up Jack, it seemed a shame to turn right around and head home, so a trip to Algonquin Park, Ontario, was in order. And, since we couldn’t fit camping gear and Jack’s stuff in the Subaru, we determined that we would forgo a canoe/camping trip and just spend a couple of nights at our favorite resort: Arowhon Pines.

Mary had not been there since her last year at camp but little had changed in six years. In fact, little has changed since 1987, the summer we first visited with three-month-old Maggie in tow. The gravel road leading up to the place is still long and windy; the knotty pine cabins as old-fashioned as ever in their d├ęcor; the air – cool and clean, the lake peaceful, the sound of the loon eerie, and the food, as always, spectacular. 

Canada Day: Headed to Montreal

With Mary’s U of L summer literature class over and Jack conceding that it was time to come home, we packed the car and headed north to Montreal. We have grown fond of the French-speaking city in the four years that Jack has called it home and looked forward to returning to some of our favorite places and exploring new ones. 

With no keyboard or guitar at hand,
Jack has taken up the harmonica.

Dad and daughter watching boats in Montreal's harbor.

Taking a break.

For Jack, I suspect it was a bittersweet time. He professed to wanting to come home to the farm, but that meant saying goodbye (at least for now) to the friends he had collected in his time there.

In his honor, we hosted a dinner at Edwardo’s, a neighborhood Italian restaurant on Duluth Street – BYOB. We stopped at the SAQ and picked up some red wine, two bottles of white and a bottle of rose. (Once we met the crowd, Ed slipped out for more red wine.) A selection of antipasto, wine, baskets of warm bread, wine, plates piled high with pasta, more wine, and a dozen recent McGill graduates (or almost graduates) combined to make for a most enjoyable and memorable evening.  

We left the group to continue their festivities at a nearby park and Jack promised to be up and ready when we called the next morning. On the way back to our hotel, Mary, Ed and I stopped to soak up the music and atmosphere of the  Montreal Jazz Fest, catching a concert by Susie Arioli – a nice way to end our last evening in Montreal.