Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Silly Old Bear

If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient.
It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.
– A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh (all quotes)

If you are lucky, and if you've had a rather charmed childhood, you may still have in your possession your favorite stuffed animal.

I've got Pooh, and he's got me. He came into my life at age two, sent as a present by an extravagant great uncle who lived in Manhattan and had taken to holiday shopping at FAO Schwarz for his young Louisville relations.

“I'm not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” 

Most of Pooh's friends from the Hundred-Acre Woods found their way under our Christmas tree in 1959: Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, Roo and Rabbit. There is a slight recollection of Eyore, but no lasting record of him, and Owl seems to never have been sent.

Wherever I went, Pooh went with me, as evidenced by his stained skin, his often re-attached button eyes and his need for an entirely new red t-shirt made by Grandmommy.

"It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words
but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?” 

I was fond of the other animals and played with them some, but it was Pooh that I claimed as my own, stubbornly unwilling to share with my sisters. He has followed me to every home and eventually became beloved of Maggie, Jack and Mary.

I lost track of Piglet, Tigger and the rest of the gang. That is until this past weekend when sister Kathy and husband George came to Farm Dover for a hike and an early supper. She came bearing a large box from William Sonoma, surely a coveted culinary birthday gift. Once the ribbon had been cut and the box opened, out bounced Tigger, followed by Piglet, Rabbit, and Kanga. Roo was found hiding among the tissue paper.

“Just because an animal is large, it doesn't mean he doesn't want kindness;
however big Tigger seems to be, remember that he wants as much kindness as Roo.”
Hello, Rabbit,' he said, 'is that you?'
'Let's pretend it isn't,' said Rabbit, 'and see what happens.” 
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart,
it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” 
“It is hard to be brave, when you're only a Very Small Animal.” 

They have been reunited with Pooh and are all set for continued adventures in the Forty-Acre Woods of Farm Dover.

“You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you.
You have to go to them sometimes.” 
“We'll be Friends Forever, won't we, Pooh?' asked Piglet.
Even longer,' Pooh answered.” 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Jonas: you disappoint

Jonas tiptoed through Farm Dover yesterday, kicking up lots of snowflakes, but laying down few new ones. My walk this morning revealed only about an inch-and-a-half of new snow.

Meanwhile in Brooklyn, Mary sent me a photo of Jonas' work in the Northeast: he deposited snow INSIDE Mary's (shut) window, piling up around her jade plant. Last I heard, she was building a snowman on her window sill.

Just for the record, I took some photos while out wandering this morning. I find them a bit prosaic, but decided to post them anyway, so we can look back on Snowzilla 2016 and remember that it didn't amount to a hill of beans.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Up on my soapbox

“The earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. 
We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations.” 

Yesterday I was down in the dumps but today I'm up on my soapbox. Remember I told you how concerned I was about the amount of plastic that comes and goes out of our house? Well, I'm taking steps to reduce it, starting with our laundry detergent. Hear me out.

When we moved out to Farm Dover, we bought a high-efficiency, front-loading washing machine. I started buying liquid Tide detergent in those ubiquitous orange plastic containers. Whenever I saw it on sale, I'd load up my cart with three or four bottles. Once they were empty, we would recycle them, even though I knew that most plastics are not recyclable in the same way that glass and metal are. (They are typically turned into only one other product, which must be landfilled at the end of its life.)

After only one day of clean up in our farm dump, I was disgusted by all the plastic bottles that would take a least half millennium to decompose. Think about it: if a crewman on the Nina, Pinta or Santa Maria had pitched a Tide detergent bottle overboard, it would just now be reaching decomposition.

I did some research and figured out I could make my own laundry detergent by combining borax (that comes in a cardboard box) and washing soda (also in a cardboard box) and one bar of Dr. Bonner's pure-castille soap.

I recycled Maggie's 5-gallon beer-making pail for the job. I filled it with 4.5 gallons of warm water and dissolved 1 cup each of the borax and washing soda. Then I grated the bar of soap and "cooked" it in 1/2 gallon of simmering water until all the soap gratings had dissolved. I added that to the pail, gave it a good stir and now I'm all set with enough detergent to run 80 loads of wash. An added bonus: the total cost is just a fraction of what I would have spent on Tide.

I tested it out on a load of dirty kitchen towels and my big fuzzy robe. I am pleased with the result. The suds were low (a good thing), the laundry came out clean (a good thing) and, because the bar of soap was lavender scented, it smelled mild and pleasant (another good thing).

I'm so inspired, I'm thinking of tackling cleaning products and shampoo/conditioner next. But, for the time being, I'll climb off my soapbox. I'll got some laundry to do.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Down in the dump(s)

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been down in the dump(s). No, I've not been discouraged, depressed or even sad. Rather, I've been literally down in the dumps: the dumps of Farm Dover. And Ed's been with me.

You see, we are cleaning up an old farm dump that we've known about, but chosen to ignore – until now. Farm Dover was once part of a much larger farm that supported a number of families. And, as was custom at the time, the inhabitants hauled their trash to a remote part of the farm and dumped it. Year after year, layer after layer, they deposited their empty glass bottles and plastic jugs, their worn-out clothes, their broken implements, appliances, toys and tires. In the summer, you would have to know exactly where the dump is to find it. Vines cover the evidence. But in the winter, it lies bare, exposing the ugly reality.

Now, layer by layer, we are attempting to clean it up, hauling the remnants in our pickup truck to the Shelby County Solid Waste and Recycling Center. We are separating the glass, the plastic, the aluminum, the metal, for recycling. The rest we will heave into the large garbage disposal bins, paying $.03 per pound for the privilege, where it will make its way to yet another landfill.

We've barely made a dent. So this may take us some time. But it seems the right thing to do.

Truth be told, it does get me a bit down in the dumps just thinking about it. It takes time, lots of time, for garbage to decompose. For example:
  • Glass Bottle: 1 million years
  • Plastic Beverage Bottle: 450 years
  • Disposable Diapers: 450 years
  • Aluminum Can: 80-200 years
  • Leather: 50 years
  • Plastic Bag: 10-20 years
  • Foamed Plastic Cup: 50 years
  • Cigarette Butt: 1-5 years
  • Wool Sock: 1-5 years
  • Newspaper: 6 weeks
  • Paper Towel: 2-4 weeks
The average American produces more than four pounds of trash and recyclables per day, about 1,500 pounds per year. The very process of cleaning up this dump has me all in a dither about the number of Tide detergent bottles our tiny household goes through, the number of plastic arugula, kale and berry boxes we purchase every time we go to Kroger, even the plastic pots that the trees we plant arrive in. Yes, we recycle all that we can, but it's got me to thinking. And to acting. More later.... 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Yikes! I'm turning into a tomboy

My next birthday is barreling down on me. I actually hoped by this stage of my life, I would have somehow morphed into a beautiful, sophisticated woman (think Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco or maybe Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham). I'd wear my hair in a sleek bun, fasten bejeweled pins to my designer suits, wear sensible – but still stylish heels, and a pretty shade of lipstick. Perhaps a dab of expensive perfume behind my ears. I would be, you know, mature. And lovely.

Instead, I fear that I'm turning into a tomboy.

A fun day for me includes getting really sweaty and dirty, exploring the woods, capturing bugs, standing in the middle of my garden eating just-picked okra, cherry tomatoes, or peas. It might include wading in the creek, cutting trails through the woods, tossing grasshoppers into the pond to see if fish will rise, or foraging for wild greens and berries. Maybe it includes lying on the ground to cloud watch, tracking rabbit prints in the snow, or climbing trees to check on baby birds. It might include concocting strange drinks from flower blossoms, producing candles from beeswax and lard, or making a green salad entirely from four-leaf clovers. It almost always involves getting into some kind of mischief.

My hair is short and tucked behind my ears. My nails are ragged, without polish, and usually confirm that I forgot to wear gloves while working in the garden.

On a good day, I might take an outdoor shower and apply sunscreen to my face, perhaps some chap stick to my lips, maybe a dab of Deet® behind my ears. My outfit of choice is striped overalls and a long-sleeve tee shirt. I prefer cotton camisoles to Wonderbras. My shoes are old lace-up work boots -- or, if I'm being fancy, my Dansko clogs.

I often feel like my childhood literary heroes: Pippi Longstockings, Jo March, Scout Finch, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Peppermint Patti – all rolled into one. I'm almost 59, going on 10.

I'm sure that I'm not the kind of woman Ed bargained for when we married 30 years ago. But he's pretty much stuck with me now – and most days, he's right at my side, getting into mischief with me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Bringing light to Farm Dover

My sisters and cousins were coming for lunch today. But based on an alarming weather forecast, we decided to postpone it until next week. Snow was on its way.

I had the whole day stretching out in front of me. Too cold and snowy to work outside. Time for a project...

I had beeswax from Maggie's hives in my pantry. I had recently rendered lard in my freezer. And I had some left-over spice tins. So, like a pioneer of olden days, I made candles.

It was simple: I melted twice as much beeswax as lard and poured it into a tin with a wick. Let it harden for 30 minutes. Done.

I now have five clean-burning, sweet-smelling, all-natural candles that will bring light to Farm Dover on these early dark nights.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The exception

Almost without exception I am happy to be out walking on our farm. Even when it is damp or cold out, once I leave our front doorstep, my world opens up and I joyfully walk along noticing the always-changing details of the landscape. My walks ground me in a way that nothing else does.

This morning, I wanted to stay in our warm bed. I wanted to sip strong dark coffee until noon. I wanted to get lost in the novel that I started last night. But I convinced myself that I should get up and check out the first bit of snow that blew in on an east wind last night. I convinced myself that this morning would be the same as all the others: delightful once I got on my way.

Wrong. Even though the thermometer read 23 degrees, it felt like 10. Actually, it felt like -10, with a  bitter wind hitting my face. I ducked into the woods and walked faster. Still fiercely cold. My 99 cent knit gloves didn't begin to keep my hands warm. I pulled the hood of my puffy coat up over my hat, still the wind came whistling through.

I stopped a couple of times to snap a photo on my phone and convince myself that this was fun. Wrong. It was just damn cold.

After a quick tour through the woods, I headed home. Ed greeted me with a mug of hot coffee. Without exception, I was happy to be back in our warm farmhouse.

Friday, January 8, 2016

And it's lovely rice pudding for dinner again!

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She's crying with all her might and main,
And she won't eat her dinner – rice pudding again –
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
– from Rice Pudding, When We Were Very Young, by A.A. Milne

Yes, we are having lovely rice pudding for dinner (actually for dessert), but it's not like we have it again and again. If fact, I can't remember ever making it before. But every time I think of rice pudding, I can't help but think of poor Mary Jane, who evidently doesn't like it very much and can't seem to clearly communicate her great dislike. So, she simply throws a fit. (Hmmm...sounds like someone I used to know.)

The book this poem first appeared in was one of my mother's favorites, then one of mine, and now one of Maggie's, Jack's and Mary's. 

To left-over cold white rice, my mother used to add multiple tablespoons of white sugar and 2% milk and serve it to my sisters and me for breakfast, all the while reciting the poem about poor Mary Jane. 

I thought again of rice pudding this week when I ventured to make homemade almond milk by simply soaking a cup of organic, raw almonds overnight in water, draining them, then adding the wet and soaked almonds to my blender along with 3-1/2 cups of water and hitting the puree button for one minute or two. 

I thought the almond milk would make a nice creamy base for rice pudding. And then I remembered Laurie Colwin's essay on rice pudding where she advises adding lemon peel as the pudding cooks. So I did. And it was lovely, and I wouldn't mind having it again and again. 


Rice Pudding

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s crying with all her might and main,
And she won’t eat her dinner—rice pudding again—
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
I’ve promised her dolls and a daisy-chain,
And a book about animals—all in vain—
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s perfectly well, and she hasn’t a pain;
But, look at her, now she’s beginning again!
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
I’ve promised her sweets and a ride in the train,
And I’ve begged her to stop for a bit and explain—
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s perfectly well, and she hasn’t a pain,
And it’s lovely rice pudding for dinner again!—
What is the matter with Mary Jane?


    Here's an adaptation of Laurie Colwin's rice pudding. She calls for baking the pudding; I just cooked it on the stovetop, much like risotto, adding 1/2 cups of (almond) milk as the rice absorbed the previous 1/2 cup, using a total of 4 cups for 1/2 cup of rice.  Mine was creamier. I also added 1 teaspoon of vanilla once the rice was fully cooked. 

Lemon Rice Pudding

Adapted from Laurie Colwin & Jane Grigson. Makes 4 servings of 1/2-cup.
1 medium lemon, preferably Meyer lemon
1/4 cup jasmine rice
2 tablespoons sugar 
Pinch of salt
1 cup 2% milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Preheat the oven to 250°F. Peel the lemon with a vegetable peeler, being careful not to take any of the white pith away with the rind. Cut the peel into fine strips. Mix the peel with the rice, sugar, and salt in a 9-inch pie dish. Stir in the milk and cream.
Bake uncovered for about 2 hours, stirring every 30 to 45 minutes. As the milk reduces, it will form a thin layer on top of the pudding; simply break this up and stir it in.
Final baking time will depend on your oven, the pie dish, and how thick you prefer your rice pudding. When ready, the rice will be completely cooked and tender but the pudding will still be soupy and thin. As it cools, however, it will firm up considerably.
Eat hot, warm, or cold.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Making something out of nearly nothing

If you looked at my garden on this cold January day, all you would see is some blown-around cardboard and lots of straw. I've been steadily working to get plain cardboard down and straw piled on top in my on-going experiment to contain the weeds in my garden.

If you bothered to move back some straw in the far back corner, you would see the tops of green garlic poking through the earth. I planted 80 some-odd hard-neck bulbs back in November and with the mild weather of late, the young garlic has come up. Technically, it won't be ready for harvest until mid-spring, with the scapes coming along in June, and the final harvest of garlic bulbs in August.

But it is Sunday night and we have barely left the farm in over a week. Not much in the refrigerator. Earlier today, I unfroze a single halibut filet that I found in the downstairs freezer and I've been thinking about what I might do to it to turn it into dinner.

I was looking through my Sunday Suppers at Lucques cookbook this afternoon and happened upon a recipe for wild striped bass with farro, black rice, green garlic and tangerine. The photo was stunning, with its white fish, black rice, green garlic, creamy farro and bright citrus. In the book, Suzanne Goin, Los Angles chef and author, showcases meals from her restaurant's Sunday night, set-menu dinners. She organizes the book by season and this particular recipe is found under Spring. 

It is not spring. It is winter. But I remembered the garlic sprouts in my garden and so I set out to harvest some. While snooping around, I found the last little bits of thyme, a handful of parsley, some sprigs of mint and some baby spinach -- none of which had suffered from frost. Oh, and I found one small carrot still hiding out in one of the porch barrels. I was all set.

Once back inside, I looked in my pantry for some Chinese black rice. Came up empty, but did find part of a cup of wild rice, and it was black. I didn't find any farro, but did find some millet.

So, I'm planning to substitute halibut for wild striped bass, millet for farro, wild rice for black rice, spinach for pea shoots, orange zest for tangerine zest, and I'll throw in the carrot for some added color, but other than that, I'll follow Ms. Goin's recipe to the T.

And that's how I'm planning to make something out of nearly nothing. Bon app├ętit!