Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Of Plans and Projects

Spring is a time of plans and projects.
- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Yes, plans and projects are in full swing at Farm Dover, even though it is clearly not yet spring around here. In fact, it is still freezing cold and more snow is predicted for tomorrow with highs only in the 20s.

Our recent projects include cleaning up fallen trees and branches, a result of the long-lasting ice storm. Fortunately, no big trees were downed and the willows and river birches have finally uprighted themselves. We did lose a number of large branches and the tops to several cedar trees. The wild cherry trees and water maples seemed to take the brunt of the beating. Our woods look scarred, with the fresh wounds of fallen branches. The wounds will heal; the fallen branches will eventually compost on the forest floor; and new seedlings will emerge. But in the meantime,  Ed and I have been out with our chainsaw and clippers, cleaning up the worst of the messes.

As for plans, I've got big ones for our 2014 garden. I've spent hours combing through seed catalogs and organizing my left-over seeds from last year. One of the dwarf apple trees in our orchard did not make it and so I've been dreaming of replacing it. Perhaps a pear? or maybe a plum? or apricot? It's just so hard to decide....

Any day now, we are expecting delivery of our seedling order from Kentucky's Division of Forestry. We've ordered 10 each of sassafrases, sycamores, shagbark hickories, persimmons, Kentucky coffeetrees, eastern redbuds, blackgum and wild plums. Sure, they are only seedlings, but we have high hopes of populating the farm with these tiny native species and watching them grow into full-sized trees.

So our plans are in place; more projects are lined up. Now all we need is for spring to show up.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Until Death Do Us Part

My sister, Sherry Carpenter Leavell, delivered this eulogy at my mom's memorial service this morning. It was not so much a eulogy as it was a tribute to my father, Jack Carpenter. I thought you, my readers, might like to read it. I wish you could have heard it. I was so proud of my sister, and of the others that spoke/sang/read at the memorial service: sister Kathy Carpenter Brooks and nieces Callie Brooks Picardo, Amy Leavell Cooper, and Belle Ensor. 

Memories of a Marriage

Over 60 years ago, on June 19, 1953, at the youthful age of 20 and 22, my parents Jack and Diane were married. My Dad on that hot June day, home on a weekend leave from serving in the army at Fort Knox, said the following words: “I, Jack, take you Diane, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death do us part.”

It is with much admiration that their four daughters, 11 grandchildren, and many other family members and wonderful friends, have witnessed this couple as they so beautifully kept their wedding vows in sickness and in health, till death has caused them to be apart for a time.

Over 12 years ago, my Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. The first few years, my parents, who were affectionately called by so many of us, Gramme and Honey, were able to continue their routine of wintering in Destin, Florida, hosting our large family for Christmas night, eating dinner out most nights, Daddy playing lots of golf, and Mom happily entertaining herself at home. Slowly over the past handful of years as Mom's memory loss escalated, their lives began to change and narrow.

Almost four years ago, my Dad had a hip replacement and was in the hospital for a few days and then went to Oaklawn for rehab. Mom was so distraught without Honey that her confusion greatly increased and made it impossible and unsafe for her to remain at home, even with us taking turns staying with her. We moved her to The Episcopal Church Home for her to settle in and begin a life apart from Honey. In our minds, it was time and we thought Dad would enjoy the freedom with less responsibility.

Not so. Honey recovered from his hip surgery and missed her so much that on Mother's Day of 2010, he checked her out of the home and was determined he could care for Mom all by himself. He cooked for her, he cleaned the house, he took care of their large yard, he bathed her, dressed her and tended to her every need. I am convinced that the reason Mom lived as long as she did is because she was so well loved and cared for by Dad.

In God's Word, John 15:13 tells us, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." That is a sacrificial love, an unconditional selfless love and that is what we have all been so beautifully privileged to witness these past 12 years. What is the secret to their love? You may be asking yourself if you were put in a similar situation, could you go the distance and love until death do us part? I believe the answer is found in Ecclesiastes 4:12, a cord of three strand is not easily broken. In this case, there is the husband, the wife and the Lord is the third strand.

My Mom and Dad love one another and they also love Jesus. Daddy kneels by his bed every night and prays long prayers. Mom use to laugh because on occasion she says Daddy would be so worn out that he would fall asleep kneeling on the hardwood floors beside their bed. I believe it was the Lord who gave my Dad the perseverance, the patience and the tenderness that Mom's disease has required all these years.

It was a true love story and one that has changed me. I am proud of my Dad for the care and love he gave to our Mom. There was no greater legacy or gift he could have given to us girls than to care for our Mom in this way. So thank you Dad. I pray you will be abundantly blessed all your days and we look forward to making new memories with you. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hurry Up Springtime

Spring needs to get a move on around here. Our wood pile has gone from this:

To this:

Of course, we have multiple woodpiles scattered in our woods, but there is still so much snow we can't get out in the truck or Polaris to load the logs up and bring them in.

So, hurry up Springtime!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Leave Something Behind

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.”

“It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

excerpt from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

My mom died today. The most important thing to her was her husband (my Dad) of nearly 61 years, her four daughters and 11 grandchildren. We are what she leaves behind. Her spirit will dwell within each of us.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


This long-lasting snow cover has not kept me from my daily walks on the farm trails. It has kept me occupied with trying to identify the animal tracks that I see all over the farm.

Based on what I see, you would think that our farm was overrun with bunnies – hundreds and hundreds of cottontail bunnies prints. Their tracks are everywhere: crisscrossing the trails, turning into the woods, resting for warmth near the house foundation.

Often side by side with bunny tracks are cayote footprints...

I've found white-trailed deer hoof prints...

Little brown bird claw prints...

Raccoon paw prints...

and strangest of all, snake belly tracks?...

As I walk and take note of these prints, I wonder about the critters that create them. What are they up to? Are they alone? Or traveling with a mate/offspring? Are they searching for something to eat? Or just warming up in the sun? Do they wonder the same things when they see this print?...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

February 2014 vs February 2013

What a difference between now and this time last year...

February 11, 2014
February 11, 2013

Monday, February 10, 2014

Keeping It Simple

I love to be invited to friends' homes for dinner and see what they serve for appetizers – and I'm almost always impressed. Smoked salmon with dill, lemon, and capers artfully arranged on a tray; smoked pulled pork quesadillas with homemade salsa; fresh baked pretzels with mustard; pitchers of hand-crafted Manhattan cocktails or mojitos with sprigs of mint and sugar cane stirrers. You get the picture. The most impressive thing is that the host and/or hostess make it look so easy. I think the secret is that they are by nature just more organized than I. 

I'm pretty good at coming up with the actual meal: a salad served family style, a one-dish main course, a simple dessert. But appetizers just throw me for a loop. I just can't get the house pulled together, my hair brushed, both earrings on, the table set, the food cooked and a fancy appetizer awaiting all before our guests arrive. So, I've mostly given up. 

Instead, I have found that if I put out something simple, something fun, the evening gets off to a good start. Ideally it can be enjoyed without forks, or plates. 

My favorite trick is to ask Ed to pop up a double batch of popcorn in his whirly pop. I spinkle it with sea salt, put it in my largest wooden bowl, and sit it in the middle of the coffee table. Always a hit. 

I've been known to buy a bag of those fancy Terra sweet potato chips and slide them in the oven for 5 minutes and serve them. Olives are good. Marcona almonds work well. So does a big bowl of unshelled nuts with multiple nutcrackers. 

I am trying to expand my appetizer repertoire. This weekend, I made these honey sesame almonds. And this afternoon, I'm experimenting with spicy, crunchy garbanzo beans.

Here's my recipe: You just rinse a can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), peel them if you are in the mood to, drizzle a little olive oil over them, sprinkle them with a combination of spices (I used chili powder, cumin, salt, harrissa, garam massala, and smoked paprika.) Spread them out on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and slide them into a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes or so. Give them a shake every 10 minutes or so.

They are out of the oven now and I'm popping them into my mouth one at a time. I can't stop. I think Ed is napping in the other room and if he doesn't wake up soon, he won't be able to be a taste tester for me. Next time, I'm using two cans!

What's your favorite appetizer? Leave a comment and tell me about it. Nothing fancy, please!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Anticipating Spring with Swedish Creams

Like in so many parts of the country, winter is hanging on hard. Seems like Farm Dover has been covered in a blanket of snow and ice for weeks. It has been beautiful, but I'm ready for some signs of spring. I'm beginning to feel like this little tree, needing a bit of warmth and sun to straighten up and grow right.

I've still been walking the trails every day, just watching out for crashing ice-covered branches.

We talked Ed's niece Natalee, her husband Russ, and their two children: Eliza and Sam into coming out to the farm for an early dinner last night. Maggie and Mary came too. I served braised lamb shanks with white beans, a perfect dish for a cold afternoon. But for dessert, I couldn't resist creating ramekins filled with Swedish cream and topped with berries. Every spoonful screamed spring! So, if you too are tired of winter and need to whip up some springtime at your house, give them a try. So easy. So good.

Swedish Creams 

Adapted from the Louisville Junior League’s Cordonbluegrass cookbook. I added a dab of Farm Dover blackberry sauce to the top of each ramekin before topping with berries. Also, I didn't unmold them, just served them in individual ramekins. 

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
2-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
2 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 quart berries

Dissolve gelatin in water. Heat cream, but do not boil. Add gelatin and sugar, stirring until dissolved. Cool. Mix in sour cream and vanilla and pour into individual molds. Chill 3 hours or until set. Unmold and top with berries.

8 people 

Friday, February 7, 2014

In the Red Zone

Everything I know about propane I have learned from Hank Hill of King of the Hill animated sitcom fame. Hank sells propane and propane accessories at the fictional Strickland Propane. Hank believes that selling propane through honesty and hard work is what life is all about.

We have a 250-gallon propane tank buried beside the cottage that fuels our stove/oven, our fireplace starter and our propane stove in the study. Oh, and it also fuels our generator. We chose to use propane as it is considered a clean, nontoxic fuel that doesn't contamine aquaifers or soil. At least that is what we were told. We are not alone, more than 12.6 million households use it – many of them in rural locations.

We have only had to have our tank refilled once or twice since we moved here three years ago. We've been watching the guage on tank dip lower and lower, while the price of propane inches higher and higher, up from $2.45 a gallon at the end of December to $3.85 as of last Monday. We were waiting to see if the price would come down before ordering a tankload.

Last Tuesday night an ice storm took down power lines and caused us to lose electricity. Not to worry, we have a partial house generator that automatically kicks on and fuels our refrigerator and freezer, allows us to keep a few lights on in our living area, and fuels the pump on for our geothermal heat/cooling system. But the generator eats up lots of propane.

Fortunately, we regained power a few hours later, but a check of our meter revealed that we were down in the "red zone," with only about 18 percent left of propane in our tank. I called today and was told that our local propane company was swamped, but they would be by the first week in March to refill our tank. We should have enough to last until them, assuming we don't lose electricity again. We've got our fingers crossed. Where is Hank Hill when I need him most?

Monday, February 3, 2014

View Up the Hill

...And They Are Off!

People all over the world know my hometown, Louisville, as home of the Kentucky Derby. What fewer people know is that on the day before the Derby, the Kentucky Oaks takes place at Churchill Downs. It's a race for three-year-old Thoroughbred fillies. The Oaks is considered more of a local event, leaving the Derby for out-of-towners and movie stars. You can still wear a wide-brimmed hat, still drink a mint julep, still bet on a day-full of races, and even party in the in-field. It is all just a bit tamer, a bit saner.

While Churchill Downs is the official sponsor of the Kentucky Oaks, they are happening at Farm Dover as well. You see, my friend Lynn brought me a handful of acorns from a Garden Club of America meeting. I stored them in little plastic bags of potting soil in the back of our refrigerator all winter. Today, I planted them in 4-inch pots and placed my bets that they will grow into true winners of some mighty oaks: Chinkapin, English, Northern Red, and Swamp White.

And so, these Kentucky Oaks are off!

Mustard Making

Two years ago Ed and I travelled to Germany to visit our son Jack who was teaching there for the year. After visiting him in the small town of Hagan, we headed down to the Alsace region of France, then crossed the Rhine and followed the Moselle River Valley northward.

One of the things we did on that trip was tour the Historische Senfmuehle (translate: Historic Mustard Mill) in Cochem, a quaint German town on the Moselle River. At the mill, we tasted a number of mustards and then bought as many jars as I could convince Ed that we could carry back in our luggage for friends back home. (I recall he was not all that happy about it.) I remember thinking that making mustard wouldn't be all that hard, if you could get the right ingredients. But that thought flew right out of my head as we moved on down the river.

Fast forward two-and-a-half years...For my birthday last month, Maggie gave me a mustard making kit. Thank you Maggie.

And this snowy day seemed ideal for making mustard. I unpacked the kit and then assembled the two missing ingredients: white wine vinegar and white wine.

I combined a bit of water, a couple of tablespoons of wine, the mustard flour and the mustard seed. I let that combination stand for 10 minutes before drizzling in the vinegar and adding the sugar and spices. I'm supposed to refrigerate the finished product for at least a week to allow the flavors to develop. Well, that was easy.

So easy that I then looked up some more recipes for mustard and discovered that none of them were very complicated and I could learn to make sweet mustard, hot mustard, whole-grain mustard, et cetera, et cetera.

So stay tuned. I can see that I could easily get carried away. Your next birthday or holiday gift may well be a crock of Farm Dover mustard and a fat link of salami!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Who Scared Whom?

Ed and I spent the better part of the morning walking the farm's trails, stopping to inspect our seedling trees and tying new orange ribbons on their branches. For the first time in weeks, we were dressed in only jeans and sweatshirts – and still we were hot when out in the open fields.

I offered to show Ed my secret crossing point of the creek that flows between our neighbor's pond and ours. Just as we got to the creek's bank, we woke a sleeping/sunnying snake and he stuck his red tongue out at us, warning us to get away. I'm not sure who scared whom more. 

Just a harmless garter snake, but I was pretty sure he was a poisionous copperhead!