Monday, August 31, 2015

Foraging for a cup of coffee

Scattered around our fields are tall stalks of beautiful blue flowers. I only see them on my early morning walks, for, by noon, they have closed up. Each blossom only blooms for one day and then it is done. The next morning, new blossoms appear – and then disappear. I never paid too much attention to them until one of our visitors told me my blue "cornflowers" were in fact, chicory.

I perked up at learning this as I wondered if this was the same chicory that can be made into coffee, the kind of coffee served at the famous Café du Monde in New Orleans and at the Fish House/Café Beignet in Louisville's Germantown. We used to go to Café Beignet on Saturday mornings with the kids after shopping at the Bardstown Road Famers' Market. We'd order a dozen sugar-coated beignets and down them with a cup or two of strong chicory coffee.

Sure enough, it is from the roots of these blue flowers that chicory coffee is made. We had to give it a try. We dug up a root, dried it for a couple of days outside, then roasted it in the oven for two hours. The whole house smelled lovely: malty, chocolately, carmelly.

Last night, I grated the roasted root and then added the gratings to our morning coffee brew.

It was a good cup of coffee. It did seem to soften the bitter edge of the our dark roasted coffee. I think next time I will add a higher ratio of chicory: maybe 1/3 chicory to 2/3 coffee.

History has it that Louisianans began to add chicory root to their coffee when Union naval blockades during the Civil war cut off the port of New Orleans, which was the second largest importer of coffee (after New York City).  They never looked back.

Unfortunately,  chicory coffee doesn't contain caffeine. In fact, it is known to make one a bit sleepy. But I like the fact that even if I run out of a bag of Heine Brothers' coffee beans, I don't have to forgo my morning cup of Joe. It is such a tiny thing, but it makes me feel self-reliant, like a true homesteader. I can forage for a cup of coffee.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Getting my Jack-fix in the Land of Castles and Cathedrals

The last time Jack lived in the States for any length of time was in 2007. Since then he has attended university in Montreal, Canada, completed a Fulbright fellowship in Hagan, Germany, and taught history and literature in Shenzhen, China. I was secretly (or maybe not so secretly) hoping he would move somewhere closer after he finished teaching this past year; but alas, he decided to stay for another year. I can't say I blame him. He seems to have a nice life there and wants to continue studying Mandarin.

He is good about FaceTiming us weekly and keeping us filled in on his teaching, friends, sports, music, etc. And he is good about arranging his schedule to travel with us. We've been around Canada, Germany, France, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand with Jack– and now we can add the Czech Republic. 

When we realized that he wouldn't be coming home in August, we asked if we could join him for the last part of his summer travels in Europe. So, after watching Maggie ring the closing NASDAQ bell and briefly catching up with Mary in NYC, we flew to Prague. It's a beautiful city, located on both sides of the Vltava River, with its own castle, astronomical clock, magnificent cathedrals, large public squares and beer gardens. We explored the winding cobblestone streets for three days. I'd go back there in a heartbeat.

Traveling with Jack is always fun.
Dancing House (aka Fred and Ginger), Prague
Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague
Children's folk singers/dancers performing at the gardens of Prague Castle
On the fourth day, we picked up a rental car and set out for the Czech countryside. We headed east toward Moravia, stopping in Kutná Hora for lunch and a tour of St. Barbara Cathedral and Sedlec Ossuary (bone church) before driving to Olomouc, a university town whose students had not yet returned for fall classes. The streets were lovely, but lonely. In the relatively small town, there was a castle and six major churches.

St. Barbara Cathedral, Kutná Hora 
 Sedlec Ossuary, Kutná Hora 
While there, we took a day trip to Šternberk where we toured -- you guessed it -- the castle and cathedral. We did the same in Česky Krumlov. Lots of churches/cathedrals and lots of castles. We offset our castle/church visits with lots of beer and lots of schnitzel.

Vltava River in Česky Krumlov 
Česky Krumlov Castle tower
Marian Plague Column in front of the Church of the Annunciation, Šternberk  
I took a break from my gluten-free diet and drank beer with my boys and ate schnitzel  three meals straight. Hard to find a good salad in the middle of Bohemia! We did, however, find a nice vineyard and some tasty Czech wine.

Alfresco dining at Kampa Park, beside the Charles Bridge, Prague
Visiting vineyards in southern Moravia
Unless you are enamored with bohemian crystal, there is very little to buy in the way of souvenirs. No outstanding art or craft objects caught my eye. I came home with two packets of smoked paprika. That's it. Two packets of spice. I wonder if the years under Communist rule so stifled the Czech people's folk culture and creativity, that it has yet to catch up with its Western European neighbors.

At the end of the trip we detoured into Germany to spend two nights  with our good friend Tilman and four of his six wonderful children. Guess what? They live in a castle with a beautiful church attached. Tilman and his family were warm and welcoming hosts. That's one castle/church that I could return to time and time again.

Hiking to lunch with friends
Boys being boys
It was fun being with Jack. He is a competent and laid back traveller. He picks up language easily and is happy to order meals for me, carry my suitcase up steep staircases, and offer his sweater when I am cold. He was a great front-seat navigator for Ed and always had a good playlist teed up for our road trips. I forget how much I miss his whistling.

Exploring Omolouc
Nine days is just not enough time for me to get my Jack-fix. But it is all I get right now. And it is certainly better than not seeing him at all. I'm thankful for our time with him and look forward to another reunion, hopefully sooner than later.

Early morning walk through the gardens of the Česky Krumlov Castle 
Jack: wishing you safe travels and a year full of wonderful adventures and all things good and kind. 

Jack, I'll be thinking of you every single day. xxx

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Honor of the Invitation

If we are friends on Facebook, you may have had your fill of seeing photos of our time in New York City cheering as Maggie and her Inscope Medical team rang the bell to close the trading day of the NASDAQ stock exchange on August 17. That evening we hopped on a plane to the Czech Republic (more on that later) and just got home late Thursday night, so I haven't had a chance to post about the NASDAQ event. One of the things I enjoy most about blogging is creating a record of family milestones -- and this one just seemed too important to skip. So bear with me (or quit reading) while I recall the magic of this moment.

A bit of background: Two years ago Maggie decided to pursue her MBA at the University of Louisville Business School through its entrepreneurial program. As part of the program she joined up with three other students to create a potential business -- one that they could use to learn how to create business plans. Not only did her team create a plan, they created a strong and viable one. One of her team members, Mary Nan Mallory, is an ER doctor who had a vision for inventing a much-improved laryngoscope (medical device used for intubations). That vision has evolved into the OneScope, a wireless-enabled, multi-purpose, disposable laryngoscope. The idea, combined with the plan, and a spot-on presentation won the team a number of national and international business plan competitions, including the 2015 University of Texas Global Venture Labs Investment Competition. One of their prizes was the opportunity to ring the NASDAQ closing bell.

Maggie and her team: Will Coburn, Mary Nan Mallory, Adam Casson © 2015, The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.
And that's how we ended up at the NASDAQ headquarters cheering our hearts out for Maggie and her team. As directed, we showed up 43rd and Broadway at 3:15 p.m., were ushered through security, and taken up to the broadcast studio. Just prior to the closing ceremony, a professional photographer captured the whole group and then smaller combinations.

The team and its fans. © 2015, The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.
Our friend Karen flew up for support, as did Nate. Four U of L professors made the trip as did Maggie's teammates and a contingent of their supporters. Some interested investors took the time to join in the celebration and our daughter, Mary, took off work to be there. (She created the brand for Inscope, so it was exciting to see her logo design featured prominently on the studio backdrop.)

Proud Mama, Papa and Sister. © 2015, The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.
Maggie with Karen, one of Maggie's best supporters. © 2015, The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.
Maggie and Nate. © 2015, The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.
At 3:45, the video cameras rolled. It was LIVE from Marketsite! The Executive Vice President of NASDAQ made a few remarks, followed by comments and an introduction from two representatives of Texas Venture Labs, and then Maggie, as Inscope Medical, LLC's CEO, delivered a short speech (aka Oscar acceptance remarks), and rang the closing bell. The whole entourage erupted into a long and enthusiastic cheer.

After the official ceremony was over, we congregated outside on Times Square to view images on the NASDAQ Marketsite multi-story screen. And from there we went around the block to the Muse Hotel for a celebratory reception, hosted by the Texas Venture Labs.

That's my girl up there on Times Square!  © 2015, The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.
I don't know what it was like for Maggie or her teammates; but for me, it felt surreal. The excitement. The professionalism. The spotlight.  The honor of the invitation to be part of it. It was all incredible.

When I think of the lives that each of our children are living -- Maggie and her start-up venture, Jack as a history and literature teacher in Shenzhen, China, and Mary as a graphic designer in NYC -- my heart swells. Seems like Maggie, Jack and Mary have each crammed more into their 20-something years than I have in my almost-60. Their confidence, their breadth and depth of knowledge, their desire to venture into unknown territories and engage with newly made friends and contacts, their independence and worldliness -- all astound me. It is satisfying on so many levels for me to watch them make their ways in life. I'm so proud of them and wish them each continued success and happiness.

And keep those invitations coming...

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Attitude Adjustment

I was up and out early this morning for a walk along our trails. Ed had cut the trails yesterday and so they looked nice and neat. But here's the thing about walking the trails first thing in the morning: Hundreds (maybe thousands) of spiders have spent the previous night carefully crafting beautiful webs to lure their prey into. Their intricate artistry is astounding. When the rising sun hits the dew-soaked silk strands they seem to be electrified.

When you are the first one up and out, you run into a lot of spiders' webs. I'm sure the spiders work hard to create these works of art and I'm sure I mess up a lot of them. I have always found it irritating to be batting thin strands of silk off my face. Evidently, I'm not alone. Ellen Degeneres did one of her memorable monologues on this very subject. The good news is that Ellen claims that every time you walk straight into a spider's web you are bound to meet a new friend that day.

I also recently read that warblers use spider silk in the construction of their nests. The lightweight material is strong and flexible and allows the nest to mold to the adult bird during incubation (preventing heat loss) and then to stretch to accommodate the growing baby birds. Because it is sticky, it also helps bind the nest to the branch to which it is attached.

So rather than get irritated by all the cobwebs, I decided to think of all the good things that come from them – meeting new friends and helping birds build stronger nests – among them. Suddenly, they didn't seen nearly as irritating. (I did the same kind of attitude adjustment with dandelions: I began to think of them a pretty yellow springtime flowers that the bees love, rather than unsightly weeds.)

Perhaps it was easy to change my attitude as it was a spectacularly beautiful morning. Here are some pics from my iphone taken on my walk today.

Pearl Crescent Butterfly: perfectly preserved mid-flight in the thinnest spider's web
The swirl of an oak tree leader
Poke berries
Chestnut seed pods
Queen Anne's Lace
Partridge Peas
Common Milk Thistle
Evening Primrose. See the fly on the top bloom?
Usually by mid-August, our fields are brown and very few wild flowers are still in bloom. Not this year! With the steady rains, everything is still vibrant green and the flowers are resplendent. Would love to meet an old or new friend for one of my morning webwalks. Won't you come along?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Caution: Honey Bees at Work

Maggie came out to Farm Dover last weekend to check on her bees. All three hives are doing well this summer as the bees have stayed healthy and have plenty of flowers to collect nectar and pollen from. She thinks we will be able to harvest another load of honey in the next month or so and still leave plenty in the hive to tide the bees over the winter. I couldn't wait another month; I begged her pull one frame from one of her three hives so we could harvest the honey. She obliged.

From the one frame we were able to fill four 8 oz. jars of the new honey. Look how different it is in color from the honey we gathered in the late spring! (The new honey is on the left). Little did I realize that the color and sweetness of the honey is determined by the type of flower(s) the bees obtain nectar from.

In the spring, just about the only thing in bloom around here are our black locust trees. Honey from locust trees is referred to as Acacia and is a light and clear. It has a mild, delicate floral taste. It tends to not crystallize, staying in a liquid state for a long period of time due to its high concentration of fructose. It has a low sucrose content, making it the best choice for diabetics. Acacia honey is known to help cleanse the liver, regulate the intestine and reduce inflammation of the respiratory system. How's that for a hard-working food source!

The honey that we harvested this past weekend is considered a wildflower honey as it was made from the nectar of flowers that have been blooming in our fields all summer: Queen Anne's lace, sunflowers, ironweed, cone flower and coreopsis. It definitely has a stronger flavor than the Acacia honey.

I'm guessing that the honey we harvest in September will be much darker and stronger. I planted about 1/4 of my big garden in buckwheat which the bees are loving. I planted it last month and within a couple of days, tiny green plants poked up. Within a week they were 8" tall and beginning to flower. Now they are about a foot tall and sport tiny white blooms.

 In the morning, as I head to the garden, I can hear the bees buzzing happily in the buckwheat.

Buckwheat honey is dark, full-bodied and rich in iron. It is chock full of antioxidant compounds. It is often used to produce mead, which may have to be my next project...

Of course, our fall honey won't be 100% buckwheat as our fields will continue to bloom with a mix of wildflowers, especially golden rod for the next month or so.

Here's a quick explanation of how honey is made by the bees: The older worker bees (all female) are free range, flying all over Farm Dover (and neighboring farms), gathering nectar before heading back to their hive. Each bee will visit hundreds of flowers, drinking the nectar and storing it her honey stomach. The bee then heads back to the hive and regurgitates the nectar for a hive bee who then ingests the sugary offering and further breaks down the sugar before regurgitating it into a cell of the honeycomb. Then all the hive bees beat their wings like crazy to evaporate the water content. Once they are happy with the honey's consistency, the hive bees cap the beeswax cell, sealing the honey into the honeycomb for later consumption (or to share with their landlords!).

A single worker bee produces only 1/2th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. But working together, thousands of worker bees can produce over 200 pounds of honey within a year. Each of our three hives have between 60,000 and 80,000 bees. We will make sure to leave enough honey for the bees, and if it warms up in the early spring before the locust trees bloom, we'll set out bee tea (sugar water) for them to drink for nourishment. After all, we want our bees to be happy – and productive.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Knack, Knack?

What's yours? Everyone's got at least one.

You know what I'm talking about: what's your special talent that makes life just a little more fun? What do you have a knack for? I'm not talking about a learned skills that may have taken you the Gladwellian 10,000 hours to perfect. I'm not talking about your college major, or what you do professionally or even as a hobby. I'm thinking it may not be something that makes you money or brings you acclaim. It probably comes intuitively to you.

"She has a knack for figuring out what is wrong with broken toasters."
"He has such a knack for always knowing just what to say."
"She has a knack for picking perfect paint colors."

I'm interested in knowing your knack: your God-given talent with a sprinkling of fairy dust. I'll get us started. I've got two. One you already know about: I can find four-leaf clovers, big bouquets of them. See, how silly is that? Of course it will not make me any money or even bring me any acclaim, unless you are a seven-year-old and in awe of such talent. But it does bring me joy every time I reach down to pluck one up.

My second knack is my ability to read a recipe and know instinctively if it will work, or, if not, how to tweak it so that it does. I glance at a number of cooking blogs, but there are only a few that I read on a regular basis. Usually the writers of those blogs are 1) good writers/story tellers 2) good photographers and 3) cook like I like to cook.

On Monday night, I read this post by Shauna James Ahern's of Gluten-free Girl and the Chef. At the end of her heart-breaking post about her tough summer, she shared a recipe for peach-tomato-watermelon salad with basil-lemon-tahini dressing. I read it and thought it sounded a bit odd. I've seen some recipes that include both tomatoes and watermelon and they have never done much for me. I've never had the urge to combine the two flavors. But this recipe also had peaches and jicama in it – and is topped with a lemony tahini dressing. The recipe caught my eye and I began to imagine what it might taste like.

I happen to have a bucket full of tomatoes straight out of my garden, peaches from Mulberry Orchard, and a watermelon that came from Kroger. I also had some basil growing in my garden, a bag of lemons, and some tahini on my pantry shelf (which I keep around for making Smitten Kitchen's Ethereally Smooth Hummus).

I did not have a jicama, but missing one ingredient has never stopped me from trying a recipe. I just substituted some carrots from my garden, cut into matchsticks for a bit of crunch.

I made it and then I tasted it. Then I ate most of the entire bowl – sharing only a spoonful or two with Ed.  It was amazing – like nothing I've ever tasted before. Something about the watermelon-tomato-peach fruit, combined with the creamy, nutty and earthy flavor of the tahini, was sheer brilliance. I made it again last night (without the carrots) and today I bought a jicama so that I can make it again on Friday. (I have a bad habit of finding a recipe I like and then making it non-stop until everyone screams for me to stop.)

I hope you will try this recipe. It requires no cooking. Just some chopping up and blending of the dressing. It is as pretty as it is tasty. Trust me. I've got a knack for it.

peach-tomato salad with basil-lemon-tahini dressing
3 ripe peaches, cored and thinly sliced
3 large ripe tomatoes, cut into equal chunks
2 cups watermelon, cubed
1 half medium jicama, peeled and cut into matchsticks
2 ounces feta (or more if you love feta), cut into small cubes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Note: the measurements on this recipe are only approximations. When you make the dressing in the blender, keep tasting it and adding — a little more lemon, a little more olive oil — until it tastes right to you.
2/3 cup tahini
juice of three lemons
zest of one lemon
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup olive oil
Pull out your blender. (The Chef has taught me that making dressings in a blender makes them much, much better than stirring them with a fork!) Throw in the tahini, lemon juice, lemon zest, balsamic vinegar, and salt. Pulse in the blender until all the ingredients have become one. Taste. Add more of anything you feel it needs.
Slowly, through the top of the blender — ideally, you have a lid with a hole in it for this purpose — add the olive oil in a drizzle. Continue to add it until the dressing reaches the consistency you desire. If you leave it a little thick, this makes an excellent dip. If you keep adding oil, you will have a silky-smooth dressing in a few moments. Even when it has reached the consistency you wish, let the blender run for awhile, which will allow the oil to truly blend with the rest of the ingredients.
Makes two cups of dressing, which should keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks.
1/2 cup fresh basil
Make the salad. Combine the peaches, tomatoes, watermelon, and jicama. Season with salt.
Finish the dressing. Combine the lemon-tahini dressing with the fresh basil in a blender. Blend until the dressing is bright green.
Drizzle the dressing over the salad. Toss. Add the feta. Serve.
Feeds 4.