Saturday, December 31, 2016

Rambling with Jack

Most days I go for a ramble around Farm Dover. Ed normally chooses to hold down the fort (i.e., read or work crossword puzzles) while I take my hike.

I pull on a jacket, bright orange sock hat and boots, grab my camera, and take off in search of who knows what. I know it when I see it, and will make an excited and full report back to Ed upon my return.

For the past two weeks I've had a partner to go with me most days. Jack was home for the holidays from his studies in Berlin and, except for a couple of cold and windy days, was a willing participant in my ramblings. Jack brings fresh eyes to my walks; he points out trees that I've failed to notice, abandoned bird nests, a tangle of poison ivy vines that are reminiscent of Medusa's hair, a bald eagle! gliding over our neighbor's barn, a flock of sand hill cranes circling our other neighbor's pond.

He lends me his hand as we jump across the creek, or make our way along the slippery bank. He is happy to pause while I take a photo or stop to tie my boot lace. He offers to carry the mail back in the string bag.

Along the way, we make our inspections: looking for deer rubbings on tender trees, mole hills that crisscross our paths, animal tracks in the path edges, cloud formations, invasive multi flora roses, woodpeckers high in the trees, nuthatches pecking their way up trunks, cardinals and sparrows hopping among the tall grasses and dead flower heads, galls and fungus on trees. He is a good observer, a knowledgeable outdoor enthusiast, and a pleasant conversationalist.

He leaves tomorrow morning. I'm going to miss walking with him.

Godspeed, Jack. Hope 2017 is good to you. Come back soon.

Your mama loves you.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Potato-Pumpkin Patch Planning

One of my favorite Christmas gifts wasn't even an official gift. It was a Tupperwave packed full of roasted pumpkin and a Baggie full of seeds from said pumpkin, given to me on Christmas Day by sister Kathy. She had roasted the last of her pumpkins and shared the innards with me.

This wasn't any regular pumpkin. It was grown in her side garden from one of two seeds that she was given at a Garden Club of America meeting. The two seeds were direct descendants from a squash, introduced from Jamaica, that Thomas Jefferson grew at Monticello in the late 1700s: the Cucurbita moschata, commonly known as an Upper Ground Sweet Potato Squash. The word pumpkin doesn't even appear in its name, which comes from the fact that the taste of the flesh closely resembles that of a sweet potato. This suits me fine as I'm not overly fond of the taste of pumpkin, but love sweet potatoes. (Jefferson simply referred to it as a Potato Pumpkin.)

I'm saving the seed from this pumpkin in hopes of growing some Upper Ground Sweet Potato Squash in my pumpkin patch at Farm Dover in 2017, and sharing the seeds with any friends who have a large enough space in which to grow them. The vines are known to go crazy, spreading far and wide over the garden. The plant produces an abundance of medium-to-large bell shaped, tan-skinned fruit with moist orange flesh. Each fruit can weigh up to 20 pounds when ripe.

The Potato Pumpkin. Photo from

Every seed holds a connection to the past and to the future. I love the thought of growing a replica of the fruit that was grown in the gardens of the third President of the United States and I equally like the thought that if I'm careful about growing and saving seeds, I can help ensure the survival of this heirloom squash.

So while the seeds are on my counter drying for a week or two before being stored, I portioned out most of the roasted squash into my crockpot, added a bit of brown sugar and some pumpkin-pie spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and cloves) and turned the knob to low and let the mixture simmer away for most of the day.  Like magic, it turned itself into pumpkin butter that I'll use for spreading on my morning toast, adding to steel-cut oatmeal or for making pumpkin pies.

The remaining cups of roasted squash got turned into a creamy, dreamy pumpkin soup for lunch today.

I'm intrigued by the thought of saving seeds from my garden this coming year. I don't think it is all that hard and there are lots of reasons to try it. Here's 40 of them. My only other effort on this front has been to save some seeds from my nasturtiums, which I recently wrote about.

Nasturtiums seeds saved from my 2016 garden.
I'll let you know how my experiments in seed saving go and happily share the saved seeds. After all, Kathy only planted two and ended up with a yard full of pumpkins. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Light Victorious

This morning at 5:44 here at Farm Dover, the sun momentarily stood still. For it was at this predawn instant that the sun was directly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn. One moment later, it amazingly reversed its direction. The Winter Solstice, that time when the sun reaches its southern-most position, had come and gone for another year. Once again, the light is victorious; the time of increasing darkness has passed.

This phenomenon happened while I was fast asleep. It would be another two hours before the sun peeked above the horizon and dimly shone through the fog and into our bedroom window, waking me from my long winter's nap. The sun rose just to the east of the cottage at 7:56 this morning and will set tonight over the driveway's end at 5:27, marking the day a full 5 hours and 20 minutes shorter than on the Summer Solstice.

I shouldn't complain. Our day will be 15 minutes longer than Mary's in Brooklyn and nearly 2 hours longer than in Jack's Berlin. If we lived in Reykjavik, Iceland, our hours of sunlight would measure only a bit more than 4.

It's funny. I never paid much attention to the hours and minutes of sunlight or darkness when we lived in town. But out here, it is such a part of our lives. To a large extent, it governs when we wake up and when we sleep, when we do our chores and take our walks, when I wipe the dust from the bookshelves and when Ed builds the fire.

The darkness commands a hunkering down: a braising of warming stews, a cracking of whole nuts, another log on the fire, a good book to sink into. Conversely, the gaining light signals a time of rebirth: concocting spring tonics, perusing seed catalogs, planning the spring garden, ordering tree seedlings, cleaning and sharpening tools, and seeking out the first hyacinths, daffodils, and ramps.

I wouldn't want a world where there were always long days and short nights. I treasure my hibernation time, but eagerly look forward to the return of the light. Bring it on!

Yesterday's late sunrise
Yesterday's early sunset

Wishing you and your beloveds the light and warmth of a brightly burning hearth, on this, the longest night of the year. May you welcome the returning light in your life with joy and anticipation.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Comfort & Joy

Last night I made a new recipe that took me by surprise. Not only was it stunning on the plate, it featured an amazing complement of flavors. I offer it up here to remind me to try it again and to encourage you to tackle it on a day that you have some time to spend in the kitchen. It is not hard, but has lots of steps.

While it did take the better part of an afternoon, it was a joyful time in the kitchen. Outside was chilling, but a fire was crackling away in the fireplace; Ed and Jack were sort of keeping me company as they watched NFL football and I wasn't feeling compelled to do anything but putter around the kitchen and dirty up an assortment of pots and pans.

The recipe is called "Four Cheese Vertical Roll Lasagna + Butternut Squash, Sausage and Kale." I call it: "Comfort on a Plate." I found the recipe here. And you really should click on it just to see the beautiful photos. Of course, I wasn't planning to blog about the recipe, so I only took one photo, midway through the process.

The fun part was spreading the ricotta/mozzarella cheese mixture on cooked noodles, adding the colorful squash, kale and sausage and then rolling them up into ruffly-looking spirals. The recipe calls for making the cheese sauce in a Vitamix blender, but I don't have one. Instead, I just melted the cheeses into cream in a heavy pan on my stove top.

I need to warn you. This is an over-the-top rich dish. Perfect for a winter birthday celebration, holiday dinner, or other special occasion. I had planned to serve two or three of the spirals on each plate, but I actually think one (or maybe two) is plenty for all but the biggest eaters (i.e. Jack). A green salad with pomegranate arils and avocado helped balance the richness. We uncorked a bottle of pinot noir, completing our Sunday dinner.

Joy in the kitchen; comfort on the plate.

from: The Kitchen McCabe


Makes: 12 Lasagna Rolls (serves six)

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
¼ cup+ Water
1 small Butternut Squash, cut into small cubes
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
½ bunch Kale (I used Tuscan, but curly would be great too), cut into bite sized pieces
1 pound Italian Sausage, cooked and crumbled
16 ounces Mozzarella Cheese, shredded
16 ounces Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese
Fresh Ground Pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste
12 Lasagna Noodles, cooked (I cook them 75% of the way so that they are still firm but can continue cooking the rest of the way once they are stuffed and baking in the sauce).

4 ounces Butter(salted)
¼ cup Fresh Sage Leaves (20 leaves or so)
1 cup Heavy Cream, room temperature
1 cup Half & Half, room temperature
4 ounces Fontina Cheese, shredded
1¼ cup Parmesan Cheese, shredded
¼ teaspoon Ground Pepper
¼ teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1 teaspoon Sea Salt


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a baking dish (I used 2 round dishes, but a 9x13 should work).
2. Place the olive oil and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium/high heat. Add the cubed butternut squash to the pan and cover. Cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally and re-covering. Add more water, if it all evaporated before squash is tender. When Squash is tender, remove the lid and add the garlic and kale. Saute for minutes, or until kale is wilted.
3. Remove from heat and toss in the cooked sausage. Season mixture to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
4. Place the shredded mozzarella and ricotta in a mixing bowl and mix together. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Lay the cooked lasagna noodles out on a clean work surface. Divide the cheese mixture evenly between the noodles and press the filling evenly down each noodle.
6. Divide the sausage/squash mixture between the noodles and spread the filling out amongst each noodle.
7. Roll each noodle up into a pinwheel and place, spiral side up, in the prepared baking pan.
9. Place the butter in a saute pan and heat over medium/high heat. Butter will melt - once the butter begins to foam, add the sage leaves. Continue to cook the butter and sage, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter gives off a nutty aroma and turns golden brown. Remove from heat. Scoop the sage leaves and 2 tablespoons of the butter into a little bowl and set aside.
10. Pour the remaining butter into a Vitamix blender container.
11. Add the cream, half and half, fontina, 1 cup of parmesan(reserve the other ¼ cup), pepper, nutmeg and salt to the blender and fit the lid on top.
12. Place the blender on it's base and turn it on to variable 1. Slowly turn the dial up to variable 10 and let run for 5 minutes, or until steam escapes the vent. Turn off the blender and carefully remove the lid.
13. Pour the sauce over the top of the lasagna rolls.
14. Sprinkle the reserved parmesan over the top of the sauce.
15. Place the baking dish in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted.
16. Remove from the oven and drizzle the top of the pasta with the reserved sage leaves and brown butter.
17. Enjoy!


My notes: The next time I make this, I am going to add one egg to the mozzarella/ricotta mixture, making it a bit easier to spread. I'm also planning to use whole milk for the half-and-half portion, and am going to use only 2 oz of butter (rather than 4) for the sage/brown butter.

But I am definitely going to make it again. It's a keeper!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Beware of the Honey Imposters!

This year was not a good honey year here at Farm Dover. We harvested a few bottles, but left the rest in the hives for the bees to consume this winter.  They will need more than 100 pounds of it to survive the cold months.

I noticed that the two remaining bottles from this summer's harvest had crystallized a bit, which is perfectly natural. To return them to their clear state, I simply placed them in a pan of hot water and left them there until the water cooled.

I'm not sure what we will do once we go through these two bottles. Buying honey at a supermarket is just not an option for us. Food Safety News reports that more than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores isn't exactly what the bees produce. It's fake, impure or adulterated. It has added glucose, dextrose, molasses, sugar syrup, flour, corn syrup or other similar products. It may also be tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals. Yuck!

It is almost impossible to tell if the honey you are buying is the real thing. Here's a link to a chart that shows ways you can try to distinguish real from fake honey -- but all require you to open the bottle for testing which is probably not a good idea while you are standing in the baking aisle. Your best solution is to purchase it from a trusted local beekeeper. Don't be fooled by honey imposters.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Living with a blank canvas

After Thanksgiving, I cleared everything off the mantle, dining table, the shelf behind the table, and the coffee table. I moved my pottery collection temporarily to a corner of the kitchen. I'm living with a blank canvas (by default, Ed is too). Not forever – in fact, just for 10 days or so. I needed a break from "stuff," the chance to move around in a clean, uncluttered environment.

It looks terribly bare. But that's okay. There is something calming about it. It affords me a sense of clarity, quietness, and peace.

I can stand back and think about what I want to place back in the space. I can be selective. I can choose belongings that I haven't tried putting together before. My old stuff can look new.

In my previous life as a graphic designer, I would often subtract elements one by one from a crowded page. The elements that were left, surrounded by lots of white space, were somehow stronger. I think the same is true for interior design. Instead of white space, it is called negative space – and in those spaces I often find positive energy.

I read somewhere that introverts thrive in negative spaces – in fact they need them. I know that is true for me. In rooms with too much fullness – too much going on – I get overwhelmed. The same is true for overly stimulating stores or restaurants.

If you think my experiment sounds weird, I challenge you to try it on a small scale. Clear a table, or a shelf. Live with it for an afternoon. Embrace the negative space. Then, when you are ready, be mindful about what you put back. See if you don't feel the positive energy from the exercise. Let me know.

Wishing you clarity. quietness. peace.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Not my thing

I love to make a good mess; I hate to clean one up. Worse, for me, than cleaning up one mess is cleaning our entire house. Not only do I not like it, I'm terrible at it. It's just not my thing.

When the kids were little and our days were jam-packed, we had a wonderful housekeeper who would come every other week and make the house sparkle. When we moved to the country, our housekeeper moved on to a full-time job. I've never been able to find a suitable replacement for her, and so I struggle to keep the dust bunnies at bay and the house looking respectable.

In October, after an especially frustrating day of cleaning, I sent daughter Mary a string of texts with "Tips for Housecleaning." They said things like:
1. Try not to break things.
2. Do not trip over the vacuum cord.
3. Don't get blood on the couch pillows from the cut you got from tripping over the vacuum cord.

You get the idea. Cleaning is just not high on my skill set. So I wasn't really surprised when, on Tuesday, I was cleaning the upstairs bath and knocked over a top-heavy aloe plant. Dirt went flying and, much to my dismay, three large leaves split from the central stalk. I swept up the soil and headed downstairs to compost the leaves. But then I didn't. Instead, I put them in our shower.

Next time I was showering, I ran my fingers down both sides of one of the leaves and extracted a mound of pure aloe vera which I then slathered on my legs before shaving them. The next leaf, I slit open and rubbed on my freshly shampooed hair, left it there for a few minutes, and then rinsed. Next, I added a bit of the gel to some baking soda and scrubbed my face. And the last dab I used to smooth down my wild eyebrows.

So, I'm sorry I knocked over the plant but I'm pleased with my recycling efforts to reuse the leaves. Turns out, there are many more uses for aloe vera. Here's how beauty experts use the gooey stuff to get gorgeous.