Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Be pleasant; be reliable

One of the most gratifying parts of our quick trip to the beach was revisiting places that held precious memories of family vacations of yesteryear. Grayton Beach is squeezed between Destin and the Watercolor/Seaside developments. The actual little town is surrounded by the beach on the south side, the beach road (30a) on north and Grayton Beach State Park – with its magnificient dunes – on the east and west.

When we first vacationed there, the roads were gravel and many of the houses were weathered beach shacks with names like The Luv Shack. There was an unofficial petting zoo, one restaurant, one ice cream shop, one vegetarian cafe/bed & breakfast, and not much else – other than beautiful white beaches and huge dunes anchored with sea grass. We loved it.

So, I was a little worried that the Emerald Coast development powers-that-be would have swallowed up our charming Grayton Beach town. It had been at least a dozen years since we last visited. Yes, things had changed, but not as much as I had feared. The roads are now paved. The old shacks are gone, replaced with upscale beach houses, (but not as upscale as down the road in Seaside). The ice cream shop is long gone, as is the petting zoo. But the Red Bar lives on, serving up good food and mean live jazz.

The little vegetarian cafe, The Hibiscus, has changed hands and added some meat options to its menu, but otherwise looked the same. We were pleased to see that Wonder Waffles were still featured on the menu as was a daily frittata. The best part is that the new owner has continued the tradition of posting a daily command on the black board outside the cafe. Each command starts with the verb: Be. We were only there two days, but were commanded to "Be pleasant" and "Be reliable."

I take these commands seriously and challenged myself to try to be more pleasant and reliable. Wonder what today's command is?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Scratch cooking

I've been on a bit of a roll lately trying to create foods at home that I would normally buy ready-made. Things like pimento cheese, egg salad, salsa, tomato sauce, granola, oatcakes, bread, even beer (okay, Maggie gets credit for that one). In every case, I've been pleased with the end product and feel like I am slowly getting processed foods out of my diet. I like knowing what goes into the foods I eat and feed my beloves.

I've recently been making hummus from scratch, using a recipe that Deb Perelman featured on her blog Smitten Kitchen. She caused quite a stir among her readers when she admitted that her secret to ethereally smooth hummus is the fact that she hand peels each of the chickpeas that go into her recipe. I didn't even know that chickpeas had a peel! Peeling chickpeas adds 10 or so minutes to the prep time, but I found the task quite satisfying. If you put a single chickpea between your thumb and next two fingers and squeeze slightly, it just pops out, leaving the skin behind.

I've made her recipe twice, once using dried chickpeas from Rancho Gordo and once using canned ones, each time peeling the chickpeas. Much to my delight, by adding this one step, the resulting hummus really is ethereally smooth – 10 times better than any I've bought ready made.

On a related note, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen is the featured speaker at a Louisville Free Public Library event on March 27th at 7 p.m. Tickets for the event are free, but required. I'm a big fan of Deb's. Her recipes are fabulous, as is her writing and photography. I'll be there.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why We Don't Have Chickens

People often ask me if we have chickens, (or goats, or cows, or horses or dogs) at Farm Dover. We don't. I'm not saying that we will never have them, but, as Ed likes to point out, we just got our children out the door and are not looking for more responsibilities. Maybe someday...

But for now, we come and go as we like. Last Sunday we decided to drive to Grayton Beach and Apalachicola for a few days of beach walks, bird watching, book reading, boat fishing and all the shrimp and oysters we cared to eat. It was easy. We packed a suitcase, jumped in the car, and headed south. And that, my friends, is why we don't have chickens (yet).

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Spring has sprung (could be wishful thinking)

Feels like Farm Dover is coming alive after a long hibernation. I know it is only mid-February, but already the air is starting to smell of springtime and my spirits are rising in anticipation.

Here's a glimpse of things going on inside and outside at Farm Dover.

Birds have returned. Just this week, we've seen dozens of robins, a pair or two of bluebirds, several mockingbirds and killdeers, a downey woodpecker, and perhaps most excitedly, a rare northern harrier hawk. It's just amazing to me how the bird population changes with the seasons. When I go out for my morning walks, the air is filled with bird song at a much higher volume than  even two weeks ago.

love birds
Thousands of starlings are hanging out in the fields

Ed and I have been working outside the past few days, clearing more trash trees, and improving our electric drill skills.

We installed bluebird houses at the front gate and one in the side yard in hopes of attracting bluebirds of happiness to Farm Dover. Maggie and Nate made these nesting boxes for Ed for Father's Day, but we waited to put them up until it was nesting season.

While we had our drill going, we put up the sign that Mary gave me for Christmas, annoucing to the world where my garden is located.

In anticipation of a robust garden, we had a mountain of the blackest compost delivered this morning. Hoping to talk to Jack into coming over to help us spread it over our garden and around our fruit trees.

I purchased a barn-wood table from a friend who is moving out of town and found the perfect home for it under the big hackberry tree at the bend in the road. Daydreaming of some picnics.

I'm still walking every morning up and down all the trails. Maggie went with me on Sunday morning and a nice neighbor dog joined us. He followed us home and took up residence on our front porch.

I told him to sit and stay so I could slip inside. He took me literally, and when I looked outside, there he still was.

And there he stayed for eight hours, even though I kept telling him to "go home."

As dark came on, Maggie and I put back on our walking shoes and offered to walk him home. He didn't seem all that happy to leave and we were sad to see him go. I hope he comes back another day.

The big news inside the house is that the 1000-piece puzzle from Christmas is finally finished. The puzzle featured one of folk artist Will Moses' paintings. It included lots of white pieces making it a particularly hard one – but Maggie kept at it.

And in the kitchen, I was busy making granola and packaging it  up in Weck® canning jars for my special Valentines.

Wishing you a happy valentine's day and an early spring.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Eiffel Tower of Farm Dover

Scientists at Cornell University have determined that the Eiffel Tower is one of the five most photographed landmarks in the world. That doesn't surprise me. On my computer alone, I have more than 20 photos that feature the iron lattice tower, the cultural icon of France.

There is just something about the entrance arch to the 1889 World's Fair that makes millions of visitors want to snap a photo, as if to prove that they have visited one of the most visited places in the world.

I think of the hackberry tree at the bend in our drive as the Eiffel Tower of Farm Dover. Seems like I can't stop snapping photos of it. Ed and I have cleared the scrub trees and weeds from its base, so it stands taller and mightier than any other tree in the line along the drive.

As I scanned the hundreds of photos that I have taken of the farm, it shows up time and time again. In all seasons; at all times of the day.

The details capture my imagination as much as the whole tree.

Hackberry trees aren't valued for much on the market. But it is valued by birds and bees (and me). It is one of the best food and shelter plants for wildlife. Its berries remain on its branches throughout the winter months. Quail, pheasants, woodpeckers, and cedar waxwings feed on its fruit. Bees like it to; pollinating it in the spring.

I'm not sure why I'm so attracted to this tree. I think it is partly because it reminds me of a tree that was illustrated in a book that I loved as a child: A Friend is Someone Who Likes You, by Joan Walsh Anglund. The tiny book was given to me by my Uncle Bud – and I treasured all his gifts. I couldn't find my copy today; I think Mary took it off to college – as she likes it as much as I do.

I can't remember the exact text, but it went something like:

A friend is someone who likes you. 
It can be a boy...
It can be a girl...
or a cat...or a dog...
or even a white mouse. 
...A tree can be a different kind of friend.
It doesn't talk to you, but you know it likes you,
because it gives you apples, or pears, or cherries,
or sometimes a place to swing. 

photo by Jeanne1974 from flickr®

So I think of this tree as my friend. This weekend, we placed a rough hewn table at its base. I can imagine stringing little white lights on the trees lowest limbs and hosting a spring picnic under this tree – under the arms of my friend, the hackberry tree.

Monday, February 4, 2013


I pass the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church (1863 A.D.) every time I head down Todd's Point Road. I find it striking in its simplicity. Today, I pulled into the drive to snap this photo. Don't know what the orange berry bush is, but it caught my eye. I think I'll call it grace.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Oatcakes: Better than storebought

I made some oatcakes this morning. They were quite satisfying – both to make and to eat. Before today, I had never even heard of oatcakes, until I read this post by Molly Wizenberg of Orangette.

Oatcakes, as it turns out, aren't really cakes. In fact, they are a slightly sweet cracker, hailing from Scotland. Like most things Scottish, they are straightforward, sturdy and good to have around. I made them today in hopes of serving them with my second batch of pimento cheese. Turns out, using them for a foundation for pimento cheese is a waste of a perfectly good homemade cracker. The cheese overwhelms the oatcake – better to go back to a store-bought cracker – and save the oatcakes for serving plain or dressed up with a smear of honey, perhaps a bit of brie cheese. They are perfect when you want a little something to snack on in the afternoon, maybe with a cup of tea. They remind me a bit of Carr's whole wheat crackers, which always taste to me like grown-up graham crackers.

I'm getting a kick out of making things from scratch that most other people buy readymade. I like knowing what goes into the things that go into my mouth. Better than store bought, that's what I'm aiming for.