Wednesday, May 30, 2012

An Eye for Detail

While I was constantly looking for ways to capture the big concepts of our trip...

...Mary's eye was trained on the details.

Milchkaffee, the perfect way to start the day in Germany.

A box of assorted macaroons – a birthday treat.

A lazy Sunday afternoon at a cafe in Munich.

Peonies at the market in Munich

White asparagus, celebrated for a short time in May at every restaurant in Germany.

Repetto shoes on display at a small shop around the corner from our Paris hotel.

Cherries at the market.

Portrait of her parents, at Chateau les Aulnois in Pierry pres Epernay 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sibling Travel

As you may recall, I took a trip with my three sisters in January. It was the first time we had traveled together in many, many years.  We had all been busy with our own lives – raising children, working, home making -- and just hadn't had (or made) the time to be together for a week. It was great fun and a chance to get reacquainted with the grown-up versions of each other.

So, I was particularly pleased when Ed suggested that we ask his sister Gay to come along with us on our European adventure. She said she was up for it and immediately applied for her passport. I think she had a great time -- she certainly was a good sport, walking miles each day and stopping ever so often for a beer (or, in her case, an Apfelschorle, half apple juice/half carbonated water). You will have to ask her what she really thought of the trip. I know we enjoyed having her along.

 Siblings Gay and Ed, with Notre Dame in the background.
Siblings Mary and Jack, at the same location.

Ed and Gay under the beech trees near Epinay, France. That's Mary climbing in the tree above.

Brother and Sister, pausing for some refreshments in Munster, Germany

Sister and Brother, taking a break on the city hall steps in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Jack and Mary in Bamberg, Germany

Monday, May 28, 2012

Why Travel?

I know I promised you a recap of our trip. And it will come. I just can't seem to tackle the "wholeness" of it. So many places, so many good times, so much catching up with Jack and German friends....Maybe I'll break it up and tackle it by subject. Stay tuned...

But today, I want to tell you about Mary's 21st birthday dinner in Paris. We had made a reservation at L’Ambassade d’Auvergne – a restaurant in the Marais neighborhood where we were staying – so it was only about a 10-minute walk from our hotel. Jack joined us for the weekend, making it even more special. Mary's Aunt Gay (Ed's sister) was with us as well.

I could tell you how we toasted Mary with her first (legal) cocktail, a house-special aperitif.

Or, I could tell you how we chose this restaurant because Ed and I had dined there 15 years ago and still remember the Pommes Aligot, cheesy mashed potatoes that the staff whips up tableside.

Pommes Aligot

Or, I could tell you how the entire room broke into a funny french rendition of "Happy Birthday" when Mary's pear tart was delivered with a single candle in it.

A lovely 21-year-old!

But what I really want to tell you is about the lentil salad that Mary ordered as her first course. I haven't stopped thinking about it. It came in a big bowl and she was served two perfect oval scoops. Then our waitress offered the rest of the table a taste, before leaving the bowl on the table.

This lentil salad captures the essence of why I travel: food. Our travels inspire me to try to recreate the dishes that I fall in love with as we we make our way from city to village to countryside. The special dishes and meals also allow me to remember – and relive – our travels.

So yesterday, when I realized that I had some lentils in my pantry I knew I had to try my hand at re-engineering the lentil salad of L'Ambassade d'Auvergne. I cooked the lentils for about 30 minutes, drained them, and gave them a splash of red wine vinegar. Then I sauteed some prosciutto (bacon would work as well), adding a small onion, a carrot (the first from my garden), and a stalk of celery. To a quarter cup of olive oil, I added a heaping teaspoon of french mustard, some salt and pepper – stirring that into lentil mixture.

Earlier in the day, I had harvested my first crop of beets and had cooked up a mess of beet greens. My final dish included a bed of sauteed beet greens, a topping of lentil salad and a sprinkle of feta cheese.

Beets from my garden, first harvest.

Here's my real test of how close I came to the original. If I close my eyes and take a bite, can I transport my mind back to that special night in Paris? Oui, je peux!

And that's why I travel. What about you?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Makes Me Smile

We are just back from 15 days in France and Germany, visiting with Jack and celebrating Mary's 21st birthday.  I'll fill you in as soon as we get our suitcases unpacked, laundry going, the 18-inch grass cut, the garden weeded...

My breakfast egg at the Hotel Hornburg Garni in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stop. Look. Listen.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that Ed and I have been doing some birdwatching on Farm Dover. Four times this week we have gone out on expeditions -- three times early in the morning and once just before sundown. For me, these have been eye-opening experiences.

It's just amazing what I see when I sit very still and really look. I always knew that lots of birds made their home on Farm Dover, but I assumed they were all robins, or crows, or cardinals or an occasional blue jay. But this week, I've been amazed at the number of species that either nest here or just stop in on their way to some other destination. And I've been amazed at how truly beautiful they are.

On Friday, we saw an indigo bunting, which is as striking in its blueness as a cardinal is in its redness. The small sparrow-like bird is almost iridescent as it flies through the air.

And then on Friday afternoon, we hear a "wich-i-ty, wich-i-ty, wich-i-ty" and follow the sound to glance a common yellowthroat. This little masked warbler likes dense, brushy areas and hedgerows, making it hard to spot. But spot one, we did. I see him first, silently pointing him out to Ed. We each have a pair of binoculars and seek him out; he is perched on a twig in our middle field. "Look," I whisper, "it has a yellow throat and breast." Ed notes that it also dark mask around its eye and an olive green back and tail. It isn't until we get back home that we consult our field guides to figure out what kind of bird he is.

Then we circle up to the upper field, above the lake. And there we find another yellow bird. Come to find out, this one is a yellow-breasted chat. A beautiful bird.

I know this "sport" of birdwatching can be quite competitive. But for me it is more like meditation: Being still. Being observant. Listening. Looking. It's a chance for me to see our farm in a different way at different times of day -- in different light. As we move around the perimeter of our property, we stop and look not only for birds, but for their nests. We look at specific trees, wildflowers, the fields of winter wheat, the creek, the beehives, the sky and its clouds. It's an exercise in stopping to look, to listen, and to really see.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Attention: Science Nerds!

One day last fall as I was traipsing through the fields with Ed I spotted some sort of weird cocoon attached to a twig. I snapped the twig off and brought it home to our back porch where I placed it in a small vase. A few weeks later, I found another one and added it to my collection.

Friends would ask me what it was and I would say, "I have no idea. But maybe I'll find out when spring comes." Today, I found out. I noticed that something was happening with the cocoons -- both of them. They looked fuzzy, or maybe hairy. Upon closer inspection, I found hundreds of little bitty praying mantises had hatched.

As it turns out, this event was very fortunate for my garden. Come to find out that praying mantises have a voracious carnivorous appetite, eating almost any insect of a size they can overcome. They wait in quiet camouflage for hours at a time and when an insect comes wandering by, they jump out and attack.

Each of my two egg cases hatched about 200 tiny nymphs. When hatching, the young crawl from between tiny flaps in the cases and hang fom silken threads. After drying out, they disperse within an hour or two, leaving no evidence of their appearance. So, it was just my lucky morning that I noticed something was happening.
According to my online research: Once hatched, praying mantises begin feeding on small insects, such as aphids. Later on, they'll continue advancing up to larger and larger prey. By summer's end, praying mantises can reach several inches in length. In the fall, females produce more eggs, deposited in a frothy secretion that hardens to protect the eggs from predators and severe winter climates. Egg cases are attached to twigs, leaves, fences, etc. Several egg cases may be laid before cold winter finally sets in. This new generation of praying mantis will hatch when warm weather returns, to repeat the process.

There is an actual market for these egg cases. Organic gardeners use praying mathises as a form of biological pest control. I installed one of the egg cases in the center of my tomato plants; the other I left up by the house. The egg cases sell for about $6 each. I think I'll switch from looking for four-leaf clovers to mantis egg cases.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Hope is a Thing with Feathers...

Ed greeted me this morning with a cup of coffee and an invitation to go out with him for some early-morning birdwatching. Your blog post today is brought to you by Ed, along with our "Life List" for Farm Dover. 

It was the bird that got me interested in bird watching ten years or so ago.  We were on an overnight to Shakertown for Mary’s May birthday with some of her friends. We stayed in an old stone house in a field, a walk from the village. 

A stream ran through the yard and watered a small hedge. For some reason I had binoculars when I noticed a flash of neon orange in the hedge. It was a northern oriole – a most spectacular bird and a joy to watch. 

I’ve only seen one other – until Sunday when I was delighted to spot a pair of orchard orioles in one of our fields. I hope it’s a nesting pair.

That puts an exclamation point on the list of birds we’ve seen on Farm Dover so far. I’m not much of a hand at bird identifying, so I hope there are more to spot.

Female Orchard Oriole

Male Orchard Oriole
 Life List for Farm Dover
Red-Wing Blackbird
Brown Thrasher
Turkey Vulture
Wild Turkey
Meadow Lark
Red Tail Hawk
Northern Harrier
Gold Finch
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Blue Jay
Great Blue Heron
Louisiana Water Thrush
Eastern Kingbird
Mourning Dove
Yellow Warbler
Song Sparrow
House Finch
Indigo Bunting
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Breasted Chat
Baltimore/Northern Oriole
Barn Swallow
Tree Swallow
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Red Head Woodpecker
Red Bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
Belted Kingfisher
Loggerhead Shrike
Northern Harrier
Wood Thrush
Rock Dove (Pigeon)
Eastern Towhee
Palm Warbler
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Tufted Titmous
Sandhill Crane
Eastern Wood Pewee
Summer Tanager
Blue-winged Warbler
Green Heron
Blue Gray Gnatcatcher
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Greater Yellowlegs
Common Nighthawk
Eastern Screech-Owl
Bald Eagle
Golden-crown Kinglet
Redhead Duck
Black Vulture
Cedar Waxwing
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Prothonotary Warbler
Black-and-White Warbler
Canada Warbler
Great Horned Owl
Broad-winged Hawk
Common Egret
Cape May Warbler
and, of course, Orchard Oriole

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

So Sweet!

The first full harvest of Farm Dover Honey. Thanks Maggie!
Nothing like fresh, local honey. We've been waiting and waiting for Maggie's Farm Dover bees to signal that they have enough to share. Here's how we are planning to enjoy it:

• Ed likes it on his steel-cut oatmeal for breakfast. He also recommends it on a peanut butter sandwich.
• I like it stirred into some Greek yogurt.
• It is lovely whisked into a vinaigrette for a green salad garnished with fresh berries.
• Serves as a main ingredient in my homemade granola.
• And perhaps my favorite: drizzled over Humboldt Fog, an elegant, soft goat cheese.

Humboldt Fog,
named for the local ocean fog which rolls in from Humboldt Bay, California

So sweet!