Thursday, January 31, 2013

January: A month of walks, captured

I spent New Year's Day in my PJs, but on January 2, I pulled on my walking shoes and took off walking around Farm Dover. I walked every day. I took my iPhone with me and snapped a photo each day, posting them to Instagram. I thought I'd share my January photos with you. Note: The last three photos were taken off the farm.

barn up the hill.
walking with Maggie.
left behind.
fifty shades.
empty nesters.

orange bow.
red flag.
morning pickup.
far side.
stormy skies.
woodland creature.
scary playground.
bluebird home.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Eat your greens and your rutabagas too

Back in the fall, Maggie announced that she had signed up for a winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share from Pavel, a growing partner at Fox Hollow Farm. What this meant for me was that every Friday for the past four months, Maggie has shown up at home with a box full of beautiful produce -- including some items that I had never before cooked.

Just part of one week's CSA haul.
The timing was perfect. By October, my summer/fall garden was about spent. I was still harvesting a few handfuls of sorrel, some spinach and chard, but I had definately gotten used to having an abundance of fresh, local produce. With the CSA, our refrigerator and kitchen counters have overflowed with greens, radishes, potatos, squash, cabbage, turnips, beets, lettuces, carrots and rutabagas. The quality is amazing and the selections constantly challenge me to look for new ways to prepare these beautiful vegetable.

Just last night I realized that in three days' time I would get a fresh load so I'd better come up with a way to use what I already had. Ed has become a pretty good sport about the occasional meatless dinner. So out came all the vegetables, a baking sheet, a bit of olive oil, my sharpest knife, some Jane's Krazy Mixed-up Salt and a couple of herbs. I set the oven for 450 degrees, cut up the vegetables, and slid the baking sheet full of vegetables into the oven for roasting.

Thirty minutes later, dinner was on the table. And leftovers will go atop a salad for lunch today.


If you haven't participated in a CSA before, I encourage you to do so. Here's generally how it works:
A farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Interested consumers purchase a share, and in  return, receive a box of seasonal produce each week throughout the designated farming season. (Some CSA include eggs and meat.) It's great for the farmer as it allows him to market his product early in the year, before his 16-hour days in the field begin. In most cases, it allows the farmer to receive payment early in the season, which helps with cash flow, and it allows him to get to know the people who eat the food they grow.

Shareholders get to eat ultra-fresh food, get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking, and develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food. It's a great way to get kids (or grownups!)  to try new vegetables.

My winter CSA is coming to an end with this week's delivery. I'll miss it. If you live near Louisville/Prospect/LaGrange and want to give a CSA a try, I highly recommend Pavel's. You will need to make a trip out to Fox Hollow Farm to pick it up -- but that's a fun field trip anyway. His shares sell out quickly, but if you are interested in the Spring/Summer one, you can check it out here.

May you fall in love with rutabagas...

Monday, January 28, 2013

Making Pimento Cheese

I'm afraid I've officially turned into an old lady. I made some Pimento Cheese today. I think of it as an old-lady-food. I suspect this is because my grandmother was the only person I knew who made it. She always kept a 4-oz glass jar of sliced pimentos in her pantry and could whip up a portion of the southern-speciality cheese for an impromptu lunch. She'd spread it on white bread, cut off the crust, and cut the sandwich into four neat triangles.

Years later, I started buying the Doll's Market version of the spread that came with a small container of some kind of raspberry jam. The combination was genius. But alas, Doll's Market closed, leaving me with few options for really good pimento cheese.

I decided to make some of my own. How hard can it be? I looked in a dozen regional cookbooks from my collection and not a one of them had a recipe. Thank goodness for Google. It turned up a dozen recipes for me to compare. Seems like the biggest difference was that some used mayonnaise as a binding and some used cream cheese.  I chose cream cheese.

Maggie had canned some sweet peppers from the summer garden and I had yet to find a use for them until today.  I can't swear that they are pimentos, but I do know they are red and have a sweet flavor, much like pimentos.

I diced them up and added them to brick of cream cheese. To that I added a teaspoon of my secret ingredient: Hot Pepper Butter from Wild Carrot Farm, which is located just a mile from Farm Dover. We bought a case (yes, it is that good) from our neighbor, but I know he also sells it at the Bardstown Road Farmers' Market.

Grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese went in next and then a bit of salt and pepper.

Blend it all up. I taste-tested it on a cracker but am planning to use it for our lunchtime grilled cheese sandwiches.


Debbie's Pimento Cheese

My favorite way to serve this Southern Classic is mounded on a Carr's Whole Wheat Cracker with a dab of wild blackberry jam on top. Yum!

1 8 oz block of Tillamook Sharp Cheddar Cheese, grated coarsely
1 8-oz brick of Philadelphia Original Cream Cheese
1 7-oz jar of diced pimento peppers, drained
2 T homemade pepper butter 
salt and black pepper, to taste

Combine ingredients. Blend briefly by hand or with a mixer on low. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fresh squeezed

I heard a story on NPR this week about commercial orange juice. According to the report, after the oranges are squeezed, the juice is stored in million-gallon holding tanks and the oxygen is removed, which allows the liquid to keep for up to a year without spoiling. It also makes the juice completely flavorless so the industry uses "flavor packs" to re-flavor the juice.

This story has been weighing on my mind. It makes the 100% freshly squeezed juice from Kroger seem not very fresh to me.

I don't usually keep commercial orange juice in my refrigerator because I don't think it is really all that healthy. But Jack likes it, especially the kind with lots of pulp in it.

Since Jack was visiting today, I decided to make my own fresh squeezed juice. Last week, Ed had brought home from his fishing trip a huge sack of oranges and grapefruits that he had picked on the Juniper Club property. I pulled out the glass juicer that was my grandmother's, sliced a handful of oranges in half and started rotating the half-rounds against the glass mound in the center of the juicer. I then fished out any seeds and poured the juice into a canning jar.

I'll send it home with Jack. So tomorrow morning he can wake up to truly fresh-squeezed sunshine.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A beautiful sight

I spent a couple of hours this weekend reorganizing my pantry. After nearly two years, it had become a bit of a chaotic mess and just needed some TLC to bring it back to order. Definitely some good feng shui going on in there now.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Homecomings and homegoings

The last 24 hours have been filled with homecomings and homegoings – and celebrations in between.

It all started yesterday afternoon when Ed came home from a week fishing at the Juniper Club, near Ocala. He came in with all his gear, a bag full of fresh-picked oranges and grapefruits, hugs all around, and some good fishing stories.

Maggie was next, arriving with two bags full of groceries, all the necessary ingredients for osso bucco.

Then Jack showed up with his accordian and a cooler full of crushed ice, the foundation for the evening's featured cocktail.

Next through the door was nephew Scott.

Each homecoming appreciated. We were gathering to celebrate my birthday (and Scott's too). While Mary made a brownie pudding, Maggie got busy making a lime syrup for Gov't Mules, a recreated cocktail from Woodberry Kitchen, our favoriate restaurant in Baltimore.

A Gov't Mule, served in a copper cup,
just like at Woodberry Kitchen

Maggie also got the evening's entree, osso bucco, into the oven for braising. Meanwhile, Jack entertained us with his voice and accordian.

Mary's friend, John, joined the party just in time for dessert.

Nothing I like better than to have all my beloveds home, sharing a meal. I didn't even mind turning a year older.

This morning, everyone scattered. Mary and John left just after breakfast to drive back to Baltimore to start their last semesters of college; Jack stayed for church, but then headed back to town; and Maggie is leaving shortly for an event in town.

They come. They go. My heart hurts – and a tear or two falls – every time they leave. I know they must go. They have things to do,  places to go, people to see. I just hope they know that their momma loves having them home.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Such a Daydreamer

My grade-school teachers were always noting on my report card: Debbie is such a daydreamer. As if there was something wrong with that! While daydreaming may not be the most productive way to spend my waking hours, it does help give creative definition to my hopes and wishes, especially when it comes to life on Farm Dover. Plus, it is great fun.

Take our pond for example. Those of you who have been following this blog, or who have been out to visit, know full well that our pond has had its ups and downs. We built it; we stocked it; we fixed its leaks (twice) and we waited patiently for it to fill back up (twice). With this week's rains, it finally is full again – and, I must say, it is beautiful.

Anytime I think about our lake, I shift into my daydreamer mode. In my reverie, I imagine two kayaks and a canoe tied up on the north bank. I picture schools of happy fish swimming around and willingly being caught, knowing they will be released. I picture myself standing on the dock's edge and then belly-flopping onto a float, drifting around on a summer afternoon, cloudwatching.

I envision that Ed has cut me a walking path around the entire lake and that every day for the rest of my life, I'll take it. I plan in great detail the picnics, bonfires and marshmellow roasts that we'll hold on the far bank, each guest sitting on a tree stump placed around the firepit, telling ghost stories and gazing at the night sky.

I revel in the birds that will make their homes around our lake, or just stop in for a visit or meal: herons, kingfishers, ducks, geese and maybe even a pair of snow-white swans. I picture the willow trees that we planted on the banks softly swaying and the sycamore and cypress trees growing up to the sky.

When I come back to reality, I know that this current "fix" may not hold; the lake may again drain out on the far side of the dam. In actual fact, we may be faced with trying another solution, or just reworking the whole hole into a wetland area. But for as long as it is full, I'll happily live in my daydream world of future days spent loving our lake.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Facing my Fears

Maggie brought home two heirloom Musque de Provence pumpkins last week. They were beautiful -- a burnished golden color, looking almost as if they were carved out of wood. They sat on the kitchen counter for several days and I just assumed I'd leave them there as decoration for weeks, or until they rotted.

You see, I'm afraid of pumpkins – not the jack-o-lantern kind that are carved to be scary – but regular old pumpkins.  Perhaps afraid is the wrong word; maybe intimidated is more like it.

When I make a pumpkin pie, I reach for a can of Libby's® pumpkin pie filling. I've cooked acorn, butternut and spaghetti squash, but the idea of cooking a pumpkin seemed so much harder, so much scarier.

I promised a neighbor who is going through some hard times that I'd bring over a pot of soup for an easy dinner for them. So, I was thinking all afternoon about what kind of soup I'd make. I didn't really want to go to the grocery for ingredients, so I needed to make a soup from the fixings in my refrigerator or pantry -- or from those sitting out right in front of me on the counter. I glared at those beautiful pumpkins and with one stab of my kitchen knife, I claimed one of them as the main ingredient in my soup pot.

The insides were a deep orange color and I quickly removed the seeds and strings. I cut off a large hunk and tried to peel it with my vegetable peeler. It was hard. The piece kept slipping out of hand and flying into the sink. I told myself that I could figure this out. So I hauled out a large oven pan, filled it with a 1/2 inch of water and placed the two halves (plus the one hunk) face down in the water and slipped the whole thing into a hot oven.

Once roasted, it was a cinch to scoop out the flesh. I added it to some onions that I had sauteed in the soup pot, along with some garlic and fresh ginger. In went a few cups of vegetable stock and then I brought the whole shebang to a low boil. In the end, I added some freshly ground nutmeg and a bit of cinnamon. I pureed the soup so that it was creamy smooth and then served it with a dollop of greek yogurt and some toasted pumpkin seeds.

The soup was delicious. The pumpkin is now history – my fears reduced to a silky smooth bowl of comfort and joy.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Twice warmed

Chop your own firewood and it will warm you twice.

– African proverb

Ed and I have worked in our woods all year, cutting down osage orange trees with their arched and tangled web of thorns. I can only describe these invasive trees as living barbed wire, always out with a vengence to snag me -- even through layers of clothes. We drag the thorned branches into a bush pile and then cut the trunks and bigger branches into lengths that fit our fireplace. The bigger logs Ed splits with a maul and axe.  

We have a number of stacks of someday-firewood scattered in our woods. They need a season or two before they will burn hot and clean. 

Keeping a fire going most days in our fireplace takes a lot of wood – more wood than we have scattered around Farm Dover. So, that's where Kenneth comes in. Kenneth has a greenhouse operation that he heats with wood. We pass it on our way to and from Simpsonville and are amazed that his pile of split wood continually grows bigger and bigger, tumbling out almost to the road. 

We stopped by Kenneth's today to see if we could buy some wood from him. I'm guessing Kenneth is well into his 80s and just this year he started using a wood splitter. Always before, he did it by hand/axe. He claims it keeps him young and spry. I believe it. 

He helped us load a rick into the back of our truck. I think he loaded it faster than Ed and me combined. Then we headed back to Farm Dover to restack it out by the garage, before going back for a second load. 

Even though we didn't chop this firewood, it has already warmed us. We had quite a workout just tossing the wood into our truck and then restacking it at home. And tonight, we'll be warmed again as we sit by a crackling and popping fire. Good logs for sure, working double duty.