Thursday, December 31, 2015

On the lookout for the unexpected

On my wanderings around Farm Dover, I am constantly on the lookout for the unexpected. On these short and gray days of December, it might be a white-tailed buck leaping with amazing grace across the barbed-wire boundary fence, or multiple pairs of stylish cardinals whistling with gusto from bare black branches. Maybe it's the green garlic poking through the straw mulch in the big garden, or a few honey bees squeezing in and out of the small winter entrance to their hive. 
Today, on the last day of 2015, I found some Lenten roses, blooming at least two months early. They come from plants growing under the hydrangeas that line the sides of the cottage. Even without leaves on the hydrangea bushes, these hellibore blooms can be hard to see as they tend to hang their heads downward, rather that seeking the light above. 

I picked a few blossoms to share with you. 

Here's to 2016. Be on the lookout. May you be charmed by the unexpected.

Monday, December 28, 2015

My Pantry

I read cookbooks the way others read novels. Nothing I like better than to curl up with a new cookbook and begin reading on page 1 and keep at it until the last page.

My friend Jane sent me Alice Water's new book, My Pantry, and yesterday as it poured down rain all day, I poured through the pages. The book was written with the help of Alice's daughter, Fanny Singer, and includes dozens of Fanny's lovely ink illustrations. The book is organized by category, beginning with spice mixtures and condiments and ending with sweet preserves. It includes essays and recipes for pantry staples that many people would not think to make – but ones that can turn a simple meal into something special.

Many of the items in Ms. Walters' pantry can also be found in mine. And, after reading this book, I plan to add a number of new ingredients, so I can cook like Alice! I'm so inspired I might even make Alice's apple peel cider vinegar, or almond milk, or homemade corn tortillas. She also makes a convincing argument for making your own ricotta, chevre, and yogurt. Gives me something to shoot for in 2016...


My pantry and spice drawer are much more robust than they were when I lived in the city. In my prior life, it was all to easy to just swing by Burger's, Doll's Market or Lotsa Pasta and pick up the odd ingredient or two that I was missing. Not so these days. It is at least 10 miles to the nearest Kroger and I find that if I stock my pantry well, harvest a big garden, and fill our basement freezer with frozen soups and meats, I can go a long time between grocery runs.


Apple Peel Cider Vinegar
Reprinted from "My Pantry," by Alice Waters with Fanny Singer. 

Rather than throwing away the scraps after you make a pie or tart, freeze them, and when you have enough, make this mellow, fruity vinegar.

2 quarts apple cores and peels
2 quarts water
1/3 cup sugar

Put the apple cores and peels in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Dissolve the sugar in the water and pour over the cores and peels. Cover with a plate and weight down with something heavy to keep the solids submerged. Cover the entire bowl with cheesecloth or a kitchen towel and leave on the counter out of direct sunlight for 7 days.

Strain the cores and peels from the liquid and discard the solids. Put the liquid in jars or bottles and secure a piece of cheesecloth over the opening with a rubber band to allow airflow. Allow to age at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 6 to 8 weeks, until the desired flavor is achieved. A "mother" will begin to develop after about 2 weeks.

I'm assuming that after the aging period, you can cork the jars and place them in your pantry. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Knowing the dark

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
– Wendell Berry
from “To Know the Dark”

At nearly midnight tomorrow the winter solstice will occur at Farm Dover. By the time it arrives, it will have been dark for nearly six and a half hours. And it will be nearly eight more hours before the sun rises above our little cottage. It is the longest night.

In his poem, I suspect Wendell Berry may have been referring to the darkness that lurks within our souls, but I challenge you to embrace the physical dark, to know the dark – as it too blooms and sings. Bundle up. Go willingly into the dark. Surrender to it. Look up. The stars are brightly shining. A full moon will rise on Christmas Day. Listen. Around here, coyotes yelp. Turkeys gobble from their tree-top roosts. And an owl will let its presence be known by the soft flap of its wings.

There is a beauty in the darkness that we never imagined.


Yuletide blessings to you and your clan. May there be light in your life and much joy on your journey in the coming year. Rest assured that warmth, sunlight and longer days are somewhere up the trail.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say

For the past week or so, it has seemed more appropriate to wish you a Mele Kalikimaka than a Merry Christmas. While palm trees are not swaying at Farm Dover, the temperatures do feel more like Hawaii than Kentucky. Rather than hunkering down for bowls of warm soup and mugs of hot chocolate, Ed and I have been out in the fields in our shirt sleeves planting seven new paw paw trees, two buckeyes, a wild plum, two persimmon trees, a blue spruce, and dozens and dozens of daffodil bulbs.

We took advantage of the warm weather yesterday to buy not one, but two, balled Christmas trees. We planted one in the side field and the other, we'll haul up to our front porch and decorate with some simple white lights. It will stay there until Christmas Eve when we will move it inside for a day or two. Mary and I will decorate it (or not) on Christmas Eve. Last year, we decided that it looked just fine with the white lights and no ornaments.

Those who know me know that I don't like to decorate the house for Christmas. Don't ask me why, but it seems to me that red and green bows and garlands just look junky. I like them in other people's homes. Just not mine.

But in an effort to be more festive and try harder with my decorations, I moved the big wooden bear down from the mantle and replaced him with a wooden swan and a stoneware crock sprouting some bare branches. I cut some cedar branches with berries and tucked them under the goose. I stood back and looked at my creation and it made me slightly claustrophobic. I tossed the branches into the compost. To my way of thinking, the mantle looked better without them. Maybe I'm turning into a minimalist.

This morning, I unpacked our 1940's-era manger, with its chipped chalkware figurines. Despite its imperfections, I find it perfect.

I'm still looking for the perfect spot for my other favorite nativity. This one I inherited from my mother. She loved Christmas and always went all out with her decor. I don't know where she got this little piece of pottery. Growing up I don't remember seeing it. It appears to have been fashioned by a child. There is Joseph, leading the way. Mary on a donkey, holding Baby Jesus in her arms. After their child was born in a lowly stable in Bethelehem, the family returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. "And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him."

"...That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."


    Mele Kalikimaka
    Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say
    On a bright Hawaiian Christmas day
    That's the island greeting that we send to you
    From the land where palm trees sway
    Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright
    The sun to shine by day and all the stars at night
    Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii's way
    To say Merry Christmas to you
    Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say
    On a bright Hawaiian Christmas day
    That's the island greeting that we send to you
    From the land where palm trees sway
    Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright
    The sun to shine by day and all the stars at night
    Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii's way
    To say Merry Christmas to you...

                                                      – Bing Crosby

Monday, December 7, 2015


I've been doing a lot of wandering around the farm this past week. The mornings have been frosty, foggy, and sometimes a bit damp. I may procrastinate a bit getting going. My fuzzy robe is, well, fuzzy. And Ed is good about bringing me my latest morning concoction: ginger and mint tea.

But as soon as I pull on my boots and walk out the door, I'm glad. There is always something interesting to see as I make my way down the beehive trail, take the woods' path, circle around the pond, cross the creek at the waterfall, move down the line between our farm and our neighbor's, cut across the drive to the hackberry trailhead, leap across the creek to the upper field, circle back to turkey nest trail, cut through the walnut grove, follow Christmas Tree Lane back to the drive, and head to our front gate, where I always touch the red flag on the mail box before turning around and heading back home.

Not much color to be found. The fields are a hundred shades of muted browns; the early morning skies painted in a palette of soft grays.

But rounding the corner of the front field, something bright caught my eye: a lone December dandelion. Made me smile.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Attaching memories

My cousin Merty died last February. A few months before she died, she asked me to take home one of her beloved Christmas cacti. I wanted to warn her that I wasn't trustworthy. I didn't have a green thumb. I couldn't guarantee that her plant would outlive her.

But instead, I thanked her and placed the green plant in my bathroom in the hopes that it would get good light and moisture, and that if I saw it every day, I might remember to water it.

Much to my delight, it bloomed last December and, as if on cue, has bloomed again this week. Every time I look at it, I think fondly of Merty.


This morning, I trimmed the spent blossoms off the sedum plant out by our birdbath. One by one, I cut the long pale stems topped with brown dried blossoms. And with each cut, I thought about my beloved Grandmommy. You see, my start for this plant came from Mary Rinehart's garden on Cannons Lane. It has followed me from Natchez Lane to Rainbow Drive, to Calumet, to Dover Road.

I remember sitting in Grandmommy's driveway a half century ago with my sisters carefully smashing the top layer of a leaf from this succulent. If I rubbed it just right with my thumb and index finger, the top cellophane-like layer would separate from the fleshy center. I could then blow it up like a little balloon. Great fun for an 8-year-old (or even a 58-year-old!). I taught Maggie, Jack and Mary how to do it as well.

But back to this morning...once I cut all the stems to near ground level, I discovered the most beautiful baby sedums. I got such a kick out of seeing them huddled into the very center of the plant, tightly packed, just waiting for spring.


Not all my plant gifts are attached to memories of those departed. I've got spice bushes in the backyard from Paul and Jackie, a magnolia tree from Sherry, irises from Lynn and Vivian, peonies from Gay, tulip trees from Sandy, ramps from Maggie, an orchard of fruit trees given to us by friends, lily of the valley and wood poppies from Holly, and a monster fern from Kathleen.

But perhaps my favorite is the houseplant that Mary left in my care when she moved to Brooklyn. It's a big floppy-leafed Fiddleleaf Fig tree. It seems to like its home in our study and is growing by leaps and bounds. It's a little bit like having a puppy around. Every time it sprouts a new set of leaves, I text Mary a picture. Every time I see it, or give it a drink of water, I think of Mary, off on her big adventure in NYC. I can't guarantee I won't kill it, but I'm trying very hard not to.