Friday, January 31, 2014

What's Cooking This Bleak Midwinter?

Today marks the end of January 2014. It leaves us with memories of the coldest month we've ever had here at Farm Dover, multiple mornings of sub 0 temperatures and days on end of snow covered fields. I've been waiting three years for just such a month – a month filled with daily walks through crunchy snow, wood fires almost round the clock, Breaking Bad seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix, night skies dark and clear – mad with stars, and cravings for food that nourish our bodies and comfort our souls.

You would think that this is the bleakest time for eating local foods, but I reserve that title for March, when our freezer and pantry are bare of last season's harvest and the asparagus hasn't yet poked up in the garden.

Here's a look at what simmered on the stove, braised in the oven, and rolled around on our kitchen counter this month. Starting with breakfast...

Usually, we alternate between steel cut oats and homemade granola. But last weekend, we treated a houseful of friends and family to Snug Hollow's Very Crisp Oatmeal and Corn Pancakes (see recipe below) drizzled with real maple syrup handcarried from Quebec by friend John. These are not your everyday pancakes, but ones that elevate any morning to a special day.

Our lunches most often feature mugs of hot soup, either made fresh that morning or defrosted from the stock in our basement freezer. Back in the summer I froze bags of fresh corn, which make a base for an easy corn chowder. Three kinds of chili are on the rotation, as well as roasted tomato soup, spicy bean soup, sweet potato soup and creamy mushroom soup.

Afternoon snacks on winter weekends usually feature Whirley Pop Popcorn. Ed's secret is popping the corn in a teaspoon of coconut oil. When we were last in Madison, WI, we bought bags of different kinds of popcorn at the farmers market and so can choose from among four varieties.

I also experimented with making my own chai tea, a lovely winter afternoon treat.

For dinners, we are eating our way through our freezer full of meat. We started the month with Reunion Pea Casserole and  will end it tonight with chicken braised in milk with sage and lemon peel (sounds not so good, but it is!). I substitued coconut milk for cow's milk, with good result. Rivercrest Farm (Goshen, KY) chickens never tasted so good.

In between, I found one lone, but large, beef shank in the freezer and braised it into Osso Buco for five. My goal is to start the spring with an empty freezer, ready to receive the 2014 harvest.

Just last week, we ate the last of our Yukon Gold potatoes that had hung in a french shopping sack from a nail in the basement. We are still eating our way through pounds and pounds of sweet potatoes, and appreciating their longevity, sweetness, and versatility.

I've roasted them and loaded them, pureed them into soup, baked them into muffins, and smashed them into piles of fluffy orangeness.

Speaking of orangeness, Ed picked a bushel of oranges, grapefruits and meyer lemons while he was fishing at The Juniper Club in Astor, Florida. I've been working my way through them with almost nightly citrus and kale salads. Between them and boxes full of tiny tangerines, our Vitamin C levels should be sky high.

Dessert is either a tangerine, a crisp from last summer's (frozen) blackberries , or a square of Cellar Door dark chocolate almond bark.

So don't go feeling sorry for us stranded out on the farm. As usual, we are eating high on the hog and loving it out here. And, if the weatherman is to be believed, another snow storm is headed our way for next week. Bring it on!

Very Crisp Oatmeal and Corn Pancakes
This recipes comes to us from Sister Kathy. It originally was published by Snug Hollow as a recipe for waffles, but we figured out it made delicious pancake batter. I've adapted it slightly.

1-1/4 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (I used gluten-free all-purpose flour)
1/2 cup cornmeal
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder (one less than the original recipe calls for)
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream (1/2 cup less than the original recipe calls for)
1-1/2 cups whole milk (1/2 cup more than the original recipe calls for)
6 tablespoons melted butter
Garnish: maple syrup, yogurt, and fresh fruit

Preheat cast iron skillet (or pancake grill) to medium. In a large bowl, combine oats, flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir in eggs, cream, milk, and butter. Let stand for 2 minutes. Pour batter into skillet, making small-ish pancakes. Flip when bubbly. Keep in warm oven while you make the rest of the pancakes. Serve with maple syrup, yogurt, and fresh fruit on the side, if desired.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Aloha! from Farm Dover

Friend Karen came out yesterday bearing a pineapple plant for my birthday gift. It already has a tiny pineapple sprouting from its crown. Never did I think I would be raising pineapples at Farm Dover. Thank you Karen.

Pineapple is the universal symbol for hospitality.
Makes me love my new pineapple plant even more...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Celebration Continues...

My birthday was last week and Ed and I celebrated with dinner at Husk in Charleston. Then tonight, Maggie, Nate, Mary and John came out for a Vietnamese dinner at Farm Dover. We made chicken pho and coconut tapioca pudding, both recipes from Smitten Kitchen

Another year older. Fine by me. 
A pre-dinner hike in the snow.
Table set: mixing bowls stand in for large soup bowls
Dessert was gluten-free, grain-free and dairy free. But it was full of deliciousness.

Big blue sky

Friday, January 24, 2014

Too Late for Me...

One of the blogs that I read is called Clementine Daily, a lifestyle blog that seems directed at 20-somethings, celebrating "the beauty of today’s multi-faceted, modern woman" – a bit on the "lite" side – but nevertheless, I sometimes find it entertaining.

Earlier this week, they featured a post called: 10 Questions to Ask Your Mother. The questions are designed to help you cherish and nourish your relationship with your mother. Here is a sampling of the questions:
  1. How would your childhood friends describe you?
  2. What was the hardest thing about being a mother? The most rewarding?
  3. What question would you ask your mother?
This conversation assumes you have a mother (still living), who is willing (and able) to provide answers to these pressing questions.

I do have a mother (whom I love very much), but she is not able to have this conversation with me. You see, my mother has Alzheimer's Disease, and has suffered with it for more than a dozen years. Until this week, my dad cared for her at home. But then she forgot how to stand, how to walk, how to eat – and it became too much for him to care for her. So, as of Monday, she now lives at The Episcopal Church Home. Our time with her is not long. Yesterday, I met with Hosparus to talk about end-of-life care for my mom. It is all very sad.

My mom's 81st birthday is today. Here's a photo from last year's birthday celebration.

There are some questions I would love to ask my mom. But, even before her dementia set in, I'm not sure I would have gotten very satisfactory answers to my questions. I picture sitting down with a cup of coffee to talk with her, except I hate coffee, she would say. Maybe we would go out to lunch, but I don't do lunch, she would counter if ever I asked her. Perhaps a glass of wine? No. A beer? No. A nice dinner? No.

I imagine asking Mom about her past, to which she would reply: I don't live in the past and don't wish to discuss it. My mother was never the easiest person to get to know or even to get along with. She sees her world in black and white, no room for any gray. Hard for a daughter who thinks in 50 shades of gray. But even as obstinate as she could be, she was a wonderful mom to me. I never doubted her love and concern; her efforts to be my biggest cheerleader; her generous heart and her creative spirit.

Mom will die soon, leaving no brothers or sisters, but one very special husband of nearly 61 years and four loving daughters. It is too late for me to ask her any questions, other than, "would you like a sip of water?"

But maybe it is not too late.... Maybe I can sit on the side of her bed, holding her small hands, and ask away: 10 questions, 100 questions, all my questions. Perhaps she will hear me, maybe even formulate answers in her mind, and communicate them by telepathy.

Or maybe, just maybe, by holding her close and asking my questions, our relationship will be nourished. She will get what she needs from me, and I from her.

Perhaps it is not too late....

Lone Coyote

In our backyard, this morning.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Just Ask

In general, I don't like to ask for help. It sometimes feels like a weakness, an inability to figure something out on my own, an imposition. But, in general, I think I'm wrong about this, and I'm trying to convince myself that it is okay to ask.

I also think, in general, that people like to be asked for help and like to render aid if they can.

Ed and I are just back from separate and then joint vacations. He dropped me off at a friend's condo in Amelia Beach and then headed to The Juniper Club for a few days at the fishing camp. He returned at the end of the week and together we went up to Charleston, SC, stopping in Asheville, NC, on our way home. Our trip was made immeasurably better just by asking for some help.

It started with dinner in Atlanta with our friend Jeananne and her boyfriend, Mike. I had sent an email to friend Robin, asking for suggestions for a place for dinner. She forwarded it on to her daughter Katie, who is a recent graduate of Emory University in Atlanta. Within minutes, Katie wrote back, offering up half a dozen suggestions for places to eat, one of which was JCT Kitchen. It was a winner, a perfect place to catch up with Jeananne and get to know Mike. Plus the truffle oil french fries were quite memorable.

From there, it was on to Amelia Island. Friend Patrice could not come at the last minute, so I was on my own. But, in typical Patrice fashion, she sent along a four-page typed list of things to do/places to go. I spent a very nice three days walking the beach, shopping in historic downtown Fernandina Beach, and eating the freshest shrimp and seafood.

On Thursday night Ed returned to Amelia Island. The next morning, we went out with Capt. Scott on a 1/2-day in-shore fishing trip.

Once docked, we asked about a place for lunch, and he directed us to T-Rays, a converted gas station and local hangout.

After filling up on fried grouper and grits, we headed to Charleston. Two weeks before, I had sent an email to friends Karen and Merrell, asking for their advice about how to best spend three days in that southern coastal town. And daughter Mary, offered up a list of her favorite places for breakfast, lunch, dinner, treats, and places to shop. Armed with all of their recommendations, Ed and I had a terrific time.

Karen and Merrell suggested that we start our stay with a walking tour, led by Tommy Dew. We debated about whether this would be a worthwhile use of our time/money, but ended up deciding to go. Glad we did. Tommy Dew was an excellent guide, walking (and talking) from the market, through the old walled city, pass hundreds of historic homes and churches, all the way to the Battery. He was full of interesting facts and stories, making the town's history come alive.

We followed Mary's restaurant recommendations (echoed often by Karen/Merrell) and had breakfast at Hominy Grill, dinner at The Grocery, coffee on Sunday morning at Black Tap Coffee, my birthday dinner at Husk, and grabbed coffee and sandwiches on the way out of town at The Mixson Market.

In between some fabulous meals, we attended church at the magnificent First (Scots) Presbyterian Church (founded in 1731), took the ferry out to Fort Sumter and shopped at The Heirloom Book Co.

On our way home, we stopped in Asheville, NC, and, again based on a recommendation from daughter Mary, we dined at Rhubarb. It was an amazing meal, a wonderful end to our trip.

I asked for help. And I was given an abundance. Thank you Robin, Katie, Patrice, Capt. Scott, Karen, Merrell and Mary. You made our trip so much better than if I hadn't asked.

Hope I can return the favor.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


I've not been at home this week, which has set me to thinking about home – and what it means to me, and how I think about it, and how I work to create it for my family and myself.

Growing up, my mother was in a homemakers' club (which my dad teasingly referred to as homewreckers' club). They met once a month. It was run through the state's extension service. I don't really know what went on there. I think they had a program that featured a home craft or a lecture of some sort, perhaps some service component. I think for my mom, it was mostly a time to get together with other like-minded women friends -- much like my book clubs are for me.

My mother definately considered herself a homemaker, having never worked outside the home. I guess that's what I am now too -- a homemaker, and proud of it. I suppose I considered myself a homemaker in my life before Farm Dover, although I did often feel split right in two -- trying to keep up my business and provide a welcoming home for my kids and husband.

But these days, I think much more about home and what it means. I think about how to create an environment that is comfortable and workable for Ed and me. It sometimes means figuring out how to make others feel welcome at Farm Dover – be they kids returning home, or friends venturing out for a day or night in the country.

I think about Jack too -- so far away in China. I miss him terribly. I wonder if he misses me as much, and if he misses "home." It was Robert Frost who observed home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. That's true, I'm sure. But home is also a state of mind: a place of unconditional love; a place where you feel at peace. At least that is what I feel and what I hope that Jack feels – and his sisters too. Oliver Wendell Homes claims: Where we love is home. Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. I like that. I also like that Winston Churchhill once said: We shape our dwellings, and afterwards, our dwellings shape us.

When we built our home three years ago that was certainly what was foremost in my mind. I wanted to create a space that would shape the people we would become. I wanted a home that would bond with and become inseparable from the land. I wanted a place of gratitude that turns what we have into enough, and more. A place of hospitality, where all would feel welcomed. A place filled with souvenirs of lives well lived. A place that enriches our lives at every turn.

All this is what Farm Dover had become for me. And not just the part where you walk in the purple front door -- but the entire 38-acres: the guest cottage, the garden, the bee hives, the pond, the upper and lower fields, the gravel drive, the entranceway. Every inch of every acre, every room and every time when we gather – it is place turned into a home.

And there's no place quite like it.

I love vegetables, especially chocolate.

I read the above sentence today and laughed out loud. I have nothing to add to it. It is perfect as is. (Found it in a profile of Food52 columnist Marian Bull.)

Monday, January 6, 2014

What's on Your Radar?

Do you ever notice how you can stumble upon something new to you and then it shows up time and time again? Everywhere you look, it is there: Making headlines. On the news. Buried in the book you are reading. In conversation with friends.

I find it remarkable – or sometimes just amusing – how such things pop up on my radar. These things aren't totally random [they usually have something to do with things that are going on in my life] but everywhere I turn, there they are. Coming at me from all directions. Currently, my radar topics include: pawpaws, China, gluten-free, spurtles, and star anise. Today, I want to write about star anise, in the hopes that I can transfer it over to your radar.

Seems like half the recipes I read recently called for star anise – and, of course, I had none. I wasn't even sure what it was. It showed up in this winter fruit salad recipe, in this chicken thighs recipe, these roasted pears, this baked hot chocolate, this pho soup, and this chickpea recipe. Turns out, it is a seed pod from an evergreen tree that grows in China (see, happened again: China one of my radar topics).

It is an anise-like spice. I've never been a big fan of fennel/anise/black licorice, but in small quantities, it can be nice. I like the taste especially when I take a sip of sambuca, an after-dinner drink that Ed likes to order in Italian restaurants. It comes as a shot with three coffee beans, said to represent health, happiness and properity. Surprise, surprise: sambuca is flavored with essential oil obtained from none other than star anise.

I looked for star anise at Kroger in the spice section, with no luck. Found some at Whole Foods and, since it was on my radar, I bought it. It was a good thing as today as we were hunkered down by the fire as the winds raged outside and the thermometer didn't move above 0 degrees, I made this french lentil soup from Smitten Kitchen and this spicy chai tea from Witchin' in the Kitchen.  Both called for star anise and both were warming and tasty.

Star anise: put it on your radar. It's a good one. And let me know what's on yours.

spicy chai tea
from witchin in the kitchen

2 t whole cardamom
2 t whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole stars of anise
1 t whole black peppercorns
1 3-inch slice fresh ginger, peeled
4 black tea bags
2 cups milk (or substitute soy or almond milk)
2 cups water
1 to 3 T sweetener of choice (I used honey)

Combine all spices and tie them in a cheesecloth. Using a rolling pin or other heavy utensil, lightly pound the spices to crush them slightly. Place milk, water, ginger and spices in the cheesecloth in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Bring water back to a boil, turn off, and add black tea. Let steep for 5 minutes, then strain. Add sweetener of choice and stir to dissolve. Serve warm, or chill over ice.

You can prepare a big batch of chai and store in the fridge until ready to use.

Makes 4 cups.

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

High today: 0. I think I'll spend it sitting by the fire.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Saturday Outing

In anticipation of some very cold weather and our resulting desire to hole up here at Farm Dover, Ed and I ventured out yesterday, meeting Mary and friends – John, Stuart and Maya – in downtown Shelbyville for sandwiches at McKinley's Bread Shop & Deli and a walk-thru of one of Main Street's antique shops.

There are a number of antique stores on Shelbyville's Main Street, all packed with reasonably priced treasures from by-gone times. (And of course, Washington Street – just one street over – is home to the beautiful Wakefield-Scearce Galleries, selling exquisite British antiques and silver.)

Yesterday, we spent a leisurely hour wandering around the eastern-most shop, simply called: Antique Mall. There was something for everyone.

Ed found two toys that he liked: a model airplane and a broad ax.

Mary and I were both looking for a crock or tin pail in which to store our cooking utensils.

Mary also was eyeing these shoe molds.

And I was on the lookout to add to my wooden utensil collection, or maybe some new (old) napkins.

We found a hand-painted sign that would work nicely in our cottage.

And I spotted a large grindstone that would be beautiful in Maggie's bee garden.

Mary was also on the lookout for a small book case and I'm always considering starting a jug collection to display on our mantle. Ed was taken with this wooden house replica.

In the end, we left (mostly) empty-handed, committed to thinking about what we might purchase another time, on another outing. But what fun we had....