Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas Tree Lane

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Not really, but maybe come December 2025, it will. Ed and I are in the process of planting 40 conifer trees on both sides of one of our trails. We are creating our own Christmas Tree Lane. For now, all it looks like is a Charlie Brown version of our dream lane.

It all started on our fall trip up the east coast. After a long hike in the Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, we found ourselves on a path leading back to our car. The path was lined with evergreens – all different kinds – tall ones, short ones, fat ones, skinny ones. It was like walking in an enchanted forest, but not a scary one – rather a beautiful, magical one. It smelled of Christmas, the real thing. It was eerily quiet to walk on pine needles, the only sounds were chirps from small sparrows. The sun shone between the branches, many of which were laden with pine cones.

I told Ed I wanted one of these enchanted paths at Farm Dover. And, because my every wish is his command, we ordered some seedling trees from Pikes Peak Nurseries in Pennsylvania, and this week, they were delivered right to our front door.

Before our post-Thanksgiving feast yesterday and then again this afternoon, we planted trees. I would march off seven paces and place either a Norway Spruce, an Eastern White Pine, a Canadian Hemlock or a White Spruce at the appropriate spot along the trail. Ed would dig the hole and then I'd kneel down to place the bare roots in the hole and fill it in with the dirt. I'd hold its branches up while Ed carefully stomped around the little trees, compacting the dirt, making sure the tree was stranding straight, or almost straight. Then we would move on down seven paces to the next site for a tree.

We've still got a dozen or so more trees to plant and we are hoping to get out tomorrow afternoon before the weather turns bad. Then we'll sit back and wait for them to grow into a beautiful lane – just like the magical one we found ourselves on in New Brunswick.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Out of the oven; into the mail

Farm Dover fruitcake has a long way to travel this year. From Shelbyville, KY to Shenzhen, China is just over 8000 miles. Good thing this holiday treat for Jack is soaked in Drambuie and Whiskey.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Looking for Stories (Through a Camera's Lens)

Last month I did something scary, something way out of my comfort zone. I had my picture taken. I hate to have my picture taken. But I did it.

My very talented friend Elizabeth (Liz) Ferguson, who recently moved from Anchorage, KY to Selbyville, DE, was in town for a week and set up a portrait studio at Owl Creek Country Club. My glamorous youngest sister Julie talked me into having my portrait made. She assured me it could be used for my obituary (hmmm...sounds a bit morbid, but someday my family might be glad that they don't have to chose from a stack of terrible photos of me).

So, I showed up. I wore a simple black dress and brought along a bunch of scarves and also the jacket that Jack had custom tailored for me in China.

Liz immediately put me at ease. Julie was there to cheer me on. And, believe it or not, it was really a fun experience.

Liz told me exactly how to extend my spine, angle my head, pose my hands. She had a great trick for eliminating a double chin -- but for the life of me, I can't remember it, something about raising my chin and then moving it back. I'll see if I can't get her to describe it to me again. Priceless.

Liz has a real gift for photographing women. She prefers "women of a certain age" – women with depth, women who've lived, women with mileage. She claims she is not looking for cute faces or young bodies. Instead, she is looking for stories. Stories told in expression and stories told in posture; stories that are made over decades of being real. (Liz's words, not mine.)

So, in an effort to inspire my other girlfriends to treat themselves to a professional portrait, I'm going to show you the final results. Note: this is very hard for me.

Note: Just heard back from Liz. Here are her instructions for avoiding the dreaded double chin:
Chin out and down. And if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not doing it right!

Early Snowfall

Woke up to a snowy landscape this morning. I can't remember an earlier snowfall, but evidently there was one in 1966 and again in 1989. Pulled on my boots and walked out to the driveway's end to put our Netflix disk in the mailbox for pickup.

Snow was still falling, a cow off in the distance was lowing. Little brown birds were hopping around from the snow-topped wildflowers to the tall grasses. The light was soft; the sky neutral.

 I love Farm Dover in every season, but with a blanket of snow, it looks particularly lovely.

And, the best part is, we don't have anywhere to go today except right by our fireside....

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Musings on Mushrooms

All mushrooms are edible;
but some only once.
- Croatian proverb

I love the idea of foraging for wild food on Farm Dover. I've gotten pretty confident about identifying plants that I know are edible. It's fun to pick our dinner of dandelion leaves, four-leaf clovers, violets, chickweed, ramps, wild garlic, black walnuts, elderberries and blackberries. Just this week, Ed and I unearthed some burdock root that I'm roasting for our dinner tonight. 

What I'm not confident about is identifying mushrooms, figuring out if they are toxic or not. Not to worry, I'll stick to grocery-store mushrooms for any cooking that happens in my kitchen.

Nevertheless, I'm fascinated by fungi. Here's a look at some that I found while hiking on our recent Maine/Canada trip. Aren't they lovely?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hungry Girl Learns to Love Fruitcake and Coconut

A day of skiing 35 years ago left me starving and willing to eat anything put before me. It happened to be fruitcake, something I had avoided my whole life. I took one bite and then basically scarfted down the entire cake. It tasted wonderful. That winter, I learned how to bake my own fruitcake and have been doing so every Christmas season since.

On our recent trip up the east coast I learned to love coconut. Once again, it happened because I was so very hungry. Ed and I had stopped at a bakery just outside of Acadia National Park in far northern Maine. (Ed doesn't like to go anywhere without a stash of scones and cookies.) As I had come to expect, there was nothing that I could eat (i.e., gluten-free) except for coconut macaroons. Ed bought one, fully intending to enjoy it as he knows I don't like coconut.

Fast forward a few hours. We had hiked, set up our tent, and worked up an appetite. It was late afternoon, time for a little snack. Ed pulled his macaroon out of the white paper sack and broke off a piece for me to try. I took one bite and fell in love with it. While he looked the other way, I ate the other 3/4 of the lone macaroon. For the rest of the trip, I thought about that macaroon and how delicious it was – big, fluffy, moist, sweet, and slightly crunchy on the outside.

Since we returned from our trip, I've been on a quest to recreate that lovely macaroon. I think I've nailed it. I've made three batches this week. One for my Dad's Open House. One for cousin Tom. And one for me.

I've slightly adapted a recipe from Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten. (My adaptations are noted in italic.) I've added the zest of one lemon to cut the sweetness a bit. I use my 2.25" ice-cream scoop to form the half balls, which makes them quite large. With that size scoop, this recipe only makes 12 macaroons. I'm planning to purchase a slightly smaller scoop.


Coconut Macaroons

14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 lemon zest, finely grated
2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Combine the coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Whip the egg whites and salt on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until they make medium-firm peaks. Carefully fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.

Refrigerate the mixture for at least 30 minutes (up to overnight).  

Drop the batter onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper using an ice cream scoop.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. If you would like the coconut on the outside to be a bit more toasted, you can switch your oven to broil for one minute. Watch closely!

Cool and serve. These are best served the day they are baked, but I have frozen them and they hold up well.

My dad moved into a new apartment two weeks ago.
On Tuesday afternoon, we hosted an Open House for his friends to come see his new digs.
The coconut macaroons were a big hit.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Offering You the Humble Ground Cherry

It's been almost two weeks since I last posted. No, I haven't been out of town. Yes, I've been a bit busier than usual (helping my Dad move and dismantle the home that he and my mom shared for a very long time). But those are not the reasons why I haven't written.

And it isn't that life hasn't been good; it has. We've had the first fire in the fireplace, which I always find comforting. We've caught up with an old friend over a bowl of black bean soup. We've planted some more trees along the drive. And have on tap this weekend to clean up the garden and lay down cardboard and straw for decomposition over the winter.

But none of these things registered with me as blog worthy. I just haven't been struck by that lightening bolt of inspiration that makes me want to pull up a new window and excitingly begin to tell you about something going on around Farm Dover. If I'm not excited to tell you about it, it probably means that you won't find it particularly interesting to read about.

I was looking for something big. I haven't found it. Instead, today I offer you something small. I offer you the humble ground cherry.

Maggie gave me my first ground cherry plant and every year "volunteers" reseed in my garden. I've tried to get them to grow in our "bad" field, since I read somewhere that they do well in poor soil. No luck yet.

They get their name from the fact that they drop their fruit to the ground when it is ripe. They are also sometimes called Cape Gooseberries or Husk Cherries. They are, in fact, related to the tomato and the tomatillo and are part of the nightshade family.

They are the last thing to come out of my garden this year. Just yesterday I pulled them up by the roots and put the plants with their papery hanging fruit onto the ping-pong table to dry.

I've been harvesting them a handful at a time for the last couple of months. I put them into salads and then watch carefully as my eaters taste them and try to figure out what in the world they are.They are tart. But sometimes when fully ripe, almost sweet – a cross between a strawberry/pineapple and a tomato.

In O Pioneers!, Willa Cather’s Mrs. Bergson “made a yellow jam of the insipid ground cherries that grew on the prairie, flavoring it with lemon peel.” I don't know why she called them insipid. I find them anything but.

Perhaps, like Mrs. Bergson, I'll make some jam.