Sunday, May 25, 2014

Turning a House into a Home

We shape our dwellings, and afterwards, our dwellings shape us. 
– Winston Churchill

Do you remember moving into the first house you owned? And the first nights you spent there? Do you remember how exciting it was – to own your own home and to make it just the way you want it? And then to begin creating memories of life in that place? 

Maggie and Nate moved into their new home today – or at least, they began their move. They had some help from Ed, Mary, friend Stuart, Nate's sister and me. And tomorrow, Nate's parents are showing up along with some "heavy-lifter" friends. We moved several car and truck loads and Maggie and I worked on organizing their kitchen. 

Their home is beautiful, an early 20th century home in Germantown. They've got Wiltshire Pantry, one of Louisville's best bakeries just down the street on the left and Seidenfaden's Cafe just down the street on the right, with the Come Back Inn two blocks further down. A bike lane on their street leads them staight downtown, where they both work. 

Maggie and Nate have plans for painting, floor refinishing, backyard gardening and beekeeping, woodworking, remodeling, and lots of porch sitting. Here's to hoping that they love shaping their new home and are, in turn, shaped by it. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

A squirrel ate my table

I kid you not. The rattan square table that has been out on the back porch has slowly been devoured by a crazy, evil squirrel (who also ate my radish tops). I tried to hide the damage with the tie-dyed tablecloth that we brought back from China, but even that couldn't cover all the chomp marks.

I decided that it was time to replace the table, perhaps with one made from less delectable materials. I turned to our neighbor Ben, who has started a business reclaiming and reselling barn wood. I commissioned him to design and build me a new coffee table. I gave him the dimensions for the top, but no other guidance.

He delivered the table today and I couldn't be more pleased. The top is made from the wood of an old tobacco barn that stood a hundred years ago in central Kentucky. The wood was taken from the inside of the barn and is mellowed to a beautiful warm brown, which comes from decades of smoke that was circulated in the barn to dry the tobacco. Ben found the metal legs on eBay. They give the table an industrial, edgy look, which I adore. (I'm also confident that the evil squirrel will not find them very appetizing.)

I asked Ed what he thought we should do with the old eaten-up table. He suggested that we move it down into the woods, in a clearing by the creek. That way, we could use it for picnics – and the squirrels could gather around it for forest feasts. A win-win for all.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Fresh greens and perky pinks

My garden is taking up a lot of my time and thought these days, not to mention a good portion of my daily energy. I've slowly been planting it and, because spring has been so slow in coming, the few seeds that have sprouted look kinda pathetic. Even my dozen tomato and pepper plants look like they could make it, or not. A crazy squirrel keeps jumping into the half bourbon barrel on the porch and munching away at the tops to my radishes, leaving me to pry out the ready produce without the benefit of leaves to grab onto.

On the plus side, my peas and strawberries are looking promising, as are two rows of baby lettuces, a short row of Russian Red Kale, and some of my herbs.

I know there will be days late in the summer when I can't haul all the harvest into the house in a single trip. There will even come a time when I will be leaving baskets of produce at friends' back doors, ringing doorbells and running away so they can't refuse my overflow. But for now, I'm grateful for the few snippets of fresh greens and perky pinks that I can gather in a small bowl.

From today's meager gathering, I made a salad for lunch; saving out a half dozen strawberries for Ed to put over his mid-day bowl of vanilla ice cream. Lunch doesn't get any fresher than 10 minutes from the garden to the plate. I swear it tastes 10 times better than those plastic packages of mixed greens from Kroger and strawberries from California.

I'll take what I can get today, and look forward to a more boutiful harvest in coming weeks.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sherry: The Birthday Girl

It's my sister Sherry's birthday this week. I wanted to post this photo of her. It was in the stack of slides that Cousin Merty gave me back in December. I love this photo. It so captures the little sister that I remember: cute, confident, and a great athlete. Funny, she is the same today.

Happy Birthday Sherry. May you have a ball on the 23rd. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Empty Nester. I bet she misses them.

Remember when I introduced you to the newest residents of Farm Dover?

Well, they grew up.

And they learned to fly.

And then they left the nest.

Poor Mama Robin. I bet she misses them...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Dreams of dipping into a honey pot

Before this weekend, everything I knew about honeybees in trees I learned from Winnie-the-Pooh. I think the same was true for Maggie. In fact, she recently sent me this link to a Russian version of Winnie-the-Pooh that is definitely cute and worth watching.

But this weekend changed everything. Maggie came out on Saturday to help me plant my vegetable garden, but announced upon her arrival that she had responded to a request on the Kentuckiana Beekeepers Association website to remove a beehive from a tree that was recently cut down in Shelby County. She had agreed to meet the tree removal guy at 1:30 at the site. He was coming with his chainsaw; Maggie was coming with a truckload of beekeeping equipment, her able assistant (Ed) and her mom (the documenting photographer). Just before heading out, she watched a YouTube video that explained what she was about to get herself into.

Here is a series of photos that show what she and Ed undertook. I was impressed with their calm manner, their methodical extraction, and their willingness to try something so potentially dangerous and tricky.

Here's what we saw when we first got there: just a bunch of honeybees on the outside of a large maple tree trunk coming and going out of a small slit in the trunk.

William, the tree guy, starting chainsawing around the slit, while wearing Ed's bee hat and gloves.

Maggie worked alongside him, applying smoke to the bees, which makes them VERY sleepy.

Section by section, William cut an opening into the hive.

Maggie used a crow bar to pry each section off the trunk.

Each section was filled with hundreds of honeybees and bits of comb and honey.

Here's what the trunk looked like once William was done with the chainsawing. The hive was about five feet long and filled with thousands of honeybees.

William went off to work on some other trees and Ed took over as Maggie's assistant. With a knife, they cut large sections of comb out of the hive and placed them in frames, securing them with string and then placing them into one of Maggie's bee boxes.

Section by section, they made their way through the hive, always on the lookout for the Queen Bee (which is only a bit longer than a regular bee – not the easiest thing to spot).

They finished up an hour or so later, just before a big rainstorm hit.

We left the bee box near the tree and went home for a few hours. We were hopeful that the Queen had made it into the box and her loyal subjects would come into the box to be with her. But because these bees had never lived in a box and were not entirely happy to have their home chainsawed up, we weren't entirely sure that the experiment would work.

At dusk, Maggie, Mary and I went back to the site and loaded the bee box into the back of the truck. (Bees come "inside" once it gets dark – and we didn't want to leave any of them flying around looking for their home.) The bee box is now back at Farm Dover, along with Maggie's other hives. I can't say they are totally happy yet. This morning when I checked on them, they were flying all around the box in a rather agitated state. Ed is mowing later this afternoon and I warned him stay clear until they settled down.

Maggie, Ed and I each managed to get stung once – but just once. I think that a single sting is pretty good considering that thousands of mad bees were swarming around the tree trunk. Maggie is the only one who really paid the price; the entire right side of her face was swollen from the sting.

Like Winnie-the-Pooh, I'm looking forward to dipping into a honey pot once these wild bees adapt to their new home and start producing combs full of golden honey.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The nicest weekend

I had the nicest Mother's Day weekend. Maggie came out yesterday to help with my garden, but we cut our time short to go capture a wild bee hive that was found in a cut-down maple tree (more later). Mary came out late on Saturday afternoon. Both girls were around for a cheese burger dinner. This morning, Jack sent me a song that he wrote and sang for me. I tried to link it here, but haven't figured out yet how to add an i-tunes link. Here's the first verse.  You get the idea...

Mama, happy mother's day. 
I hate to be away. 
But I'm thinking just of you 
and the way that you look 
and the things that you cook.

Today, Mary's boyfriend John came out to help us put a fence up around my big garden, and Maggie and Nate came out to check on her bees. All stayed for another Mother's Day dinner. It was so nice to sit around the table with them.

They just left. Mary back to Lexington. John, Maggie and Nate back to Louisville. Maggie leaves for China on Tuesday morning. She will get to visit with Jack for a couple of days before meeting up with U of L business school students and teachers for a tour of Korea and and China. The day she gets back, she and Nate are moving into a beautiful new home in the Highlands.

They all lead such exciting lives. I'm just glad they come to spend some time with Ed and me at Farm Dover. It was a very happy mother's day.

My days of being hands-on with parenting my kids is long gone. But, it is fun to look back and remember when... I do love them dearly.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Learning to cook from my children

It's funny. As I mom, I spent years teaching my children how to navigate around a kitchen, how to poach an egg, how to set a table, how to bake a cheesecake, how to throw dinner together from whatever is in the refrigerator or in the garden. Today, they are all excellent cooks and I find myself learning from them.

Mary was home this weekend and offered to bake a pie that is often served on the first Saturday in May in Kentucky. I can't call it a Derby Pie as that name is trademarked, but if you are from Kentucky, you know what pie I'm talking about. It's nutty, chocolately, and bourbony. It is excellent served warm with some whipped cream and even better served cold the next day for breakfast.

We've been making this pie around our home for years. The recipe originally came from Alice Stravolemos, the mother of Evelyn, my best friend growing up.

Mary set to making the pie as I puttered around the kitchen pulling the rest of dinner together. She said she didn't need to see the recipe as she had it memorized. She casually mentioned that she had tweaked the recipe a bit: adding a pinch of salt, an extra quarter cup of chocolate morsels – often using a combination of both bittersweet and semi-sweet morsels – reducing the sugar a bit and finally switching the oven to broil for one minute at the end so that pie is nicely browned on top without over-cooking the insides. She also admitted adding a splash of bourbon to the whipped cream for an added boozy flavor.

I was impressed. It was the best D_ _ _ _ Pie I had ever tasted. So good, that I replicated her recipe today when Ed's cousins: Darla, Marilyn and Carolyn came for lunch. We all scrapped our dessert plates clean.

So here's the recipe, tweaked by Mary Galloway.


Alice Stravolemos' Kentucky D____ Pie

1 unbaked pie shell
2 eggs
1 stick of butter, melted and cooled (113 g)
1/2 cup flour (64 g) I used 1/4 cup almond flour and 1/4 cup sorghum flour for a gluten-free version
1 cup sugar minus 2 Tablespoons (175 g)
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans (120 g)
1-1/4 cup chocolate chips – combination of semi-sweet and bitter-sweet (210g)
1 jigger of bourbon (45 ml)

Beat eggs. Add cooled melted butter. Mix in sugar and flour. Add vanilla. Blend in nuts and chocolate chips. Add bourbon. Bake 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees. Broil for 1 minute to brown the top. Watch carefully as it burns easily. Serve warm with bourbon-laced whipped cream or vanilla ice cream,  or cold, straight from the refrigerator.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Sometimes cooking is its own reward

Comfort food is what someone cooks for you. Comfort cooking is what you do for yourself.   
– Regina Schrambling

If you've been reading this blog for a bit, you know that I love good writing and I love good food – and most of all – I love good writing about food. 

I recently ran across this essay. It captured much of what I love about cooking. It was originally published in The New York Times. I wondered as I read it if some tragedy had come into the author's life. I wanted to share it with you and that is when I realized that it was written in September of 2001, just a week after 911. That explained it all. 

I remember feeling the same way and wanting comfort. The weekend after the 911 attacks, we loaded up our van and headed out of town with a group of our best friends and all our children. We set up tents deep in the woods. We camped. We hiked. We cooked simple comfort food around the campfire. We sang songs late into the night. We grieved together.   

I thought you might like to read this essay and see if it speaks to you as it spoke to me. As the author wrote: The food is not really the thing. It's the making of it that gets you through a bad time.