Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hyperfocused on Butternut Squash

Ed is such a good sport. I plan most of our meals and he never complains about what I fix. This week I may have pushed him over the edge. You see, I've been hyperfocused on butternut squash. It's about the only thing coming out of my garden these days.

This weekend, we've had butternut squash soup, caramelized butternut squash wedges with sage hazelnut pesto (twice), roasted squash seeds,  and butternut squash pie.

I can't give you an exact recipe for the soup as I made it up as I went along. It went something like this: peel, cube and then roast butternut squash. Saute 1 diced onion, 2 diced garlic cloves, a handful of fresh sage. Add two bay leaves, one cinnamon stick, and one can of lite coconut milk; then add the roasted squash and a bit of vegetable broth. Cook until vegetables are soft. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves and then puree with an imersion blender. Add salt and red pepper flakes to taste. Serve with a dollop of yogurt and some roasted squash seeds. Made this way, it is vegetarian; and if you leave off the yogurt, it is vegan. 

Here is the recipe for the butternut squash pie. It is adapted slightly from this one on Food52. Best of all (for me), it is gluten free! Good enough to be a contender for our Thanksgiving table. 


Buttermilk Squash Pie

  • 2 pounds (1 kilogram) butternut squash (one fairly large one)
  • 1 pint (500 milliliters) coconut milk
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) light brown sugar (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) melted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) almond meal (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch salt
  • handfuls sliced almonds
  • powdered sugar, for decoration

Peel the squash (with a vegetable peeler) and remove the seeds. Chop into inch-sized cubes. Place in a saucepan with the coconut milk. Simmer about 25 to 30 minutes or until soft. Drain and leave squash in a colander or sieve to drain/evaporate as much as possible until cool Then transfer to a bowl and mash or purée the squash.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs together with sugar, butter, almond meal, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and pinch of salt. Stir through the cooled squash to combine well.

Pour the mixture into a greased 9-inch (23 centimeter) pie dish. Smooth over the top to sprinkle with the sliced almonds.

Bake at 350º F for 45 minutes or until golden on top and set. The sides will shrink away slightly. When cool, dust generously with powdered sugar and serve.    


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Royalty flutters by

When we planted our fields in native grasses and wildflowers, we included in the mix a large scoop of common milkweed seed. Milkweed: it’s that plant with the fluffy seeds that escape from pods and float through the air this time of year. As a child, I confused it with a dandelion seed head and would always try to catch it and make a wish. I thought it was magical.

Turns out, it is magical. It’s the only plant that Monarchs eat when they are in the caterpillar stage and the only one on which they lay their eggs. Unfortunately, it’s been rapidly disappearing from meadows, rural fence rows, and sides of roadways, thanks to Roundup® and urban sprawl. Studies estimate that the plant decreased 21 percent in the U.S. between 1995 and 2013.  

And because it is disappearing, so are Monarch butterflies. Remember chasing monarchs as a child? Remember, how they were everywhere? In my memory, they were the most common of all the butterflies. But, despite our best efforts to plant the food they love, we’ve only seen a few on our farm this year. Every time I see one, I whip out my camera to capture it, but it always manages to fly off before I can press the camera icon, find my subject, and snap. It’s a gone girl. 

I’ve also taken to inspecting the leaves of milkweed, hoping to find some tiny eggs or a host of caterpillars munching happily through the green leaves. Haven’t had much luck there either. Seems the milkweed contains a poison that the caterpillars have adapted to – but it stays in their bodies, making them poisonous to any predators.

My awareness of the plight of these beautiful creatures was heightened upon reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, whose plot hinges on an invasion of monarch butterflies in a small Tennessee Appalachian town.

It wasn’t until we visited the 270-acre Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens at Boothbay that I got a close up look at what I’ve been seeking all summer. There, among the beautiful flowers and plethora of milkweed, were hundreds of monarch butterflies, as well as plenty of yellow-and-black-stripped caterpillars, eating hungrily on the milkweed leaves.

And best of all, I got to see the lime green chrysalis, decorated with metallic gold dots, that hung from the wood siding of the various structures around the gardens.

I couldn’t take enough photos, Ed finally walking ahead of me back to our parked car as I called out: “Wait! Just one more. Just one more.”

So, to be perfectly transparent: Yes, I took all of these photos, but all were taken at the Botanical Gardens on our recent trip. None were captured at Farm Dover.

But even now, in mid-October, we occasionally see a lone monarch or two fluttering around the goldenrod and daisies in our fields. I wonder how much longer they will stick around before striking out on their up-to-3000-mile migration to Mexico. I hope the ones that make it, spread the word that there is plenty of milkweed at Farm Dover and invite their friends and family to come back to Kentucky next summer.

What fun it would be to have that most royal of all butterflies fluttering by!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why I blog (500 posts and counting)

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at,
 what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.
– Joan Didion

On September 21, 2010 I wrote my first blog post, and today, I’m writing my 500th. That’s a lot of posts – and for those readers who have been with me on this four-year+ journey, that’s a lot of reading, a lot of loyalty. I thank you for it.

I began writing my blog so that our three grown, out-of-town children would feel connected to the new life that Ed and I were embarking on. After all, we were leaving the only home they remembered, downsizing our belongings, while upsizing our spirits of adventure. We were leaving behind our urban lifestyle – turning in our dress clothes for overalls, my high heels and Ed’s wingtips for muck boots, and our minivan for a pickup truck. I wanted Maggie, Jack and Mary to follow along on our adventure, embrace our new home, and feel welcomed there.

To our friends back in Louisville and around the world, I have always felt that writing my posts is a bit like writing postcards: A way to say hello and that we are alive and well.

After the first year or so I realized that writing about our new life was something I needed to do, that it helped me understand the decisions Ed and I were making, and by telling our story to someone else – to you – it helped me better understand it.

My blog is brought to you from the geeks at blogspot and occasionally I check in to see how many people are reading my site and from what country they are checking it.  Today, for example 136 people have viewed my site. Thanks to Jack, I have readers in Canada, Germany and China. Somehow, I’ve picked up readers in the United Kingdom, France, Russia and Australia. Most people find me through facebook, but some find me by search words. The most popular being mirror over the bed – which I’m pretty sure is kind of kinky.

Whether or not anyone regularly reads my blog, I will, for the time being, keep writing these posts. It has become much more for my own creative expression, my own desire, my own gift to myself – that keeps me at it. I’ve come to realize that I’m documenting a piece of my personal history – a piece that is important for me to remember. Perhaps I will suffer as my mother suffered and won’t remember how wonderful my life was in 2010 or 2014, or perhaps my lovely life will come crashing down and I’ll have a need to remind myself that my life was truly shining for far more than one brief moment.

I’m not sure how long I will continue to blog. Perhaps I’ll find some other creative outlet: I’ll take up drawing, or yoga, or making Santa Clauses from old pantyhose.  But until I do, you’ll find me here sharing a photo of a weird insect or a beautiful sunrise, recording our travels, providing a recipe to a daughter living far away, experimenting with my garden, celebrating our joys and acknowledging our sorrows, taking long walks in every season, and, in every way, enjoying our life here on Farm Dover.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sea Salt for Sale by the Sea Shore

One of the things we love about car travel with no set agenda is that we can take last-minute detours to obscure destinations. We do it often.

Last month as we were making our way up the coast of Maine, I discovered on my i-pad via tripadvisor that a sea salt company in a nearby town offered tours. We had actually already passed the necessary left-hand turn before I figured out that it might make a good stop. So Ed very patiently turned around on the far edge of Machias, Maine and headed back a mile or two, made a right-hand turn, and two miles later, we pulled into the drive of The Maine Sea Salt Company.

Steve Cook, the owner, met us just inside the front door and sent us out back with one of the workers to take a look at the salt solar "green" houses. Here's what I learned about how the salt harvesting process works:

Sea water is pumped from a nearby bay into large tanker trucks and then unloaded into solar "green" houses. In the first house, any impurities in the water settle out and the sea water is reduced through evaporation by 50 percent. In the next green house, this method is repeated, the water filtered, and reduced by 70 percent. In the third house, the pool of remaining water evaporates, leaving behind pure sea salt. The work is seasonal; it is only hot enough in the summer to cause the water to evaporate.

In the final green house, salt is raked into piles and then scooped into bins to further drain. Next it is ground, which releases more moisture from the crystals. Linen towels are placed between layers of salt to remove any remaining moisture. It is then sifted to separate various crystal sizes.

Natural flavors (lemon, garlic, pepper, or herbs) are added to the seasoned salts and the smoked ones are placed in smokers with apple wood or hickory until they take on a dark color and a smokey flavor.

The salt is unrefined, unprocessed, solar evaporated, and hand-harvested. No drying agents are added.

In the tiny front office, I bought packaged salt for friends and family back home.
And I couldn't resist buying a ceramic "salt pig" to keep by our stove.
The Maine Sea Salt Company has been around since 1998, when Steve and his wife first began selling 1.1 oz. portions for cooking lobsters. Steve went around to the local fish markets and grocery stores hawking packages of sea salt. It quickly caught on.

An original packet of salt still hangs in the front office. 
The salt is now sold throughout the United States to health food stores, specialty food shops and high-end restaurants.

We left the the Maine Sea Salt Company loaded down with salt products and headed to Raye's Mustard Mill Museum. But that's a story for another day...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Polishing Silver

Last week my Dad turned 84 and to celebrate we gathered for brunch at Wild Eggs in Middletown. It was just the five of us: Dad, my three sisters and me.

Afterwards we went back to Dad's house and down into his basement where my mom's silver flatware was spread out on the pool table. Dad wanted us to have it and so we figured out how to split it up among the four sisters.

I ended up with my maternal grandmother's silver. Now, rest assured, amassing flatware is not on my list of things I'm interested in doing. In fact, I've not used my own silver forks and spoons since moving out to the farm. They are just too fancy for our simple life out here.

But I was delighted to take home a wooden box full of Grandmommy's flatware. I'm not sure what I want to do with it. Use it everyday?, or just for special occasions? Put it away with my own silver? Store it for one of my children to someday (hopefully) want?

The box sat on our kitchen counter all week. The silver had not been used in years and was dark with tarnish. It seemed disrespectful not to at least clean it up. So today, I polished it. I polished each fork, spoon, and knife. I polished each iced tea spoon and each cocktail fork. And with each piece, I thought about Grandmommy. I thought about how her hands had held and polished each piece. I thought about how she must have planned elaborate parties that started with shrimp cocktails (yes, I have her shrimp cocktail bowls somewhere in my basement). I thought about how she had hand washed each piece, drying it, and placing it in the right slot in the red velvet lined box. I was mindful of her and her legacy as I worked my way through the box.

I watched as each piece transformed from near black to gleaming silver. I admired the hand engraved initials on each piece. I discovered some featured her initials: MER, and some had her mother's: LMB. A few pieces were not engraved at all. Did she obtain those later and just never bothered (or couldn't afford) to have them engraved? Why did she have so many spoons and so few forks and knives? What did she use for serving pieces? I was lost in the past.

The pieces are now back in their box, gleaming. Ready for someone, someday, to unpack them and use them. I do hope they serve shrimp cocktails...

Friday, October 3, 2014

My Garden is a Mess

Being gone for a month didn't help my garden, which wasn't looking all that great before we left. I need to get out there and yank up all the dried up tomato vines, faded okra plants, overgrown kale, weeds and more weeds.

In the good news column: most of my butternut squash was ready to harvest. In fact, Maggie hauled up a bucket full when she was out here checking on things and I filled up another bucket full earlier this week. A few still lie scattered among the sweet potato vines, stems still green and needing another week or two.

In honor of the harvest – and to take advantage of an overabundance of sage in my garden and the maple syrup that we brought back from Quebec – I roasted a butternut squash and topped it with a sage pesto. My version was loosely based on this one from Food52. (I used almonds instead of hazelnuts, and feta instead of ricotta salata.) It's a keeper.