Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Harbinger of spring? Already?

We celebrate gratitude and thankfulness during these winter holidays and there really is so much for which to be thankful. But have you ever felt that strange rustling scurry in your stomach? A fullness in your chest that speaks of something not yet fulfilled. Something waiting to be done. An insistent whisper in your ear that your whole self requires, actually needs something. The feeling is akin to the craving for cheeseburgers I felt when I was heavy with child, but on a larger, more diluted scale.

I've yet to figure out exactly what my body is telling me I need to do, but there are certain things that sing to the demands. Things that seem to harmonize with the whisper and turn it into a pleasant, aching hum. I recently interviewed an incredible woman--Kristin Kimball. Her and her husband run Essex Farm near Lake Champlain in New York state, and she recently released her first book, The Dirty Life. Hers is a story of transformation from city girl to farmer (a title she has certainly earned and would never wear lightly), and it has been trial by mud, horse, plow and blood. Kristin is a writer by trade and by nature so her prose is beautifully detailed, and she delves just as deeply and intimately into the hardships as well as the joys of becoming a farmer. Her words made my belly flutter with equal parts yearning and terror.

I don't know what it is about the work of growing food for at lest self-sufficiency, and at most, for others, that I envy.

But I can barely keep up with my 50 square feet of garden in my postage stamp backyard! I break out in stress sweats just anticipating paying our household bills (all of which we're usually able to make without an issue). And this fall past I managed to let an entire bushel basket of gorgeous peppers rot on my kitchen floor. Hardly farmer material.

Maybe it is the dead of winter coming on that has kindled the urgent need to dig, to struggle, to throw myself into a physically exhausting enterprise.

Maybe I've been doing just a little too much sitting what with the writing and editing work. Whatever it is, it is driving me. Now if only it will last through this year's gardening season, we'll be in good shape!

Friday, December 3, 2010

November triangle

One year we had a little slip of paper in our photo album between the shots of Halloween costumes and Christmas trees that read, "What happened to November?" Yes, we had managed to lose all the pictures we had taken for an entire month (and we had digital cameras, too). Looks like November is still our very own Bermuda triangle. But we're still here. And we've had a lovely month!

Building rocket ships...

Hanging around with good friends...

Being thankful (with our Tree of Gratitude)...

...and getting ready to battle the holiday crowds...

How about you?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rhythm and Ritual

There is a necessary rhythm to the day when you work from home. A general frame on which you rely to keep from going completely insane. And the rhythm is usually grounded in ritual. Waking, eating, playing, working, house-working, baking, inside time, outside time, naptime, craft time. All these things have a place within the day and if you get the balance right you really can do most of them well. But when the balance is off...well, let's just say there are days when I swear if I look in the mirror I'll see Medusa staring back at me with snake-hair standing on end, lips parted in a horrified scream and eyes wild like a cornered animal.

Yes. That's the look. I've been avoiding mirrors for a good couple of months now.

The trouble is, I have no idea what has thrown my rhythm into such disarray. Everything is difficult, everything is a fight, everything takes so much more time and effort than it should. And here I sit feeling as if nothing is being done well. Boo-hoo. I do wonder if the planets are doing some weird dance up in the dark beyond causing my aura to spin westward. Um, yeah. Or maybe it is just the winds of change kicking up dust. When you feel like you're banging your head against a wall, take a step back and look for the door.

Unlike Alice, I'm trying to take my very good advice. So I'm baking bread again--a ritual that ground to a halt when we hit 90-degrees-F in May (just a taste of the neverending summer this year).

The little bear and I are going on a daily learning adventure (he correctly identified two wild and edible plants on our last walk).

And my dear husband is renovating our third bedroom into a proper office space (as it had been taken over by the cats and was pretty much a useless space depite the desk, computer and bookshelves contained within).

Yes, I do think autumn has brought more than just the scent of leaves and crackling fires on the breeze. It is anticipation. Something is coming.....

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Vampire Weekend

Happy Birthday my little blue-eyed monster....

Inspiration for the cake and recipe from Amanda over at I Am Baker.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Elves -v- Gnomes

"What is the difference between an elf and a gnome anyway," I questioned.

"Mommy, gnomes have tall pointy hats and elves have short pointy hats."


"If you see an elf, you should run for it."

"Why is that, honey?"

"Because if you can catch him and put him in a fish tank (without water) and put in a little TV and a chair, that's good luck, you know."

"Oh. That's good to know. I'll be sure to remember that."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sir Brussel Sprout

Sir Brussel Sprout bids you welcome to his humble yet tasty kingdom...

The winds have changed and we're well into fall. Finally. This did seem like the year of endless summer. Fine title for a catchy tune, but apple cider runs in my veins and crisp campfire nights in my heart. And it's time to put the garden to sleep.

We, obviousy, planted waaaay too many peppers this year as we have two full-to-the-brim bushel baskets of anchos, green bells, black bells, Italian longs, and habaneros. This after eating them fairly constantly throughout the season.

And our UGO (unidentified growing object) squash has not only survived year two, but thrived. A vining beauty appeared quite suddenly out of the compost pile last year and charmed us with its luciously sweet and buttery flesh. Since we were unable to determine it's lineage (other than the obvious fact it hales from hearty stock) we saved the seeds. We'll be planting it in our garden every year.

Now if only I could find Sir Brussel Sprout. I'm sure I left him around here somewhere...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Old Fashioned Fun, part 2

Let me first admit something that may or may not make you gasp. I don't really like amusement parks. They're incredibly expensive and loud and full of flashing and buzzing and...simply put, they are overstimulating and overrated. That's not to say I don't love riding amusement rides, but if I had a couple hudred dollars to spend, going to the amusement park wouldn't even make the top 50.

Enter Knobels. Snuggled into the Pennsylvania forest deep in farm country, this historic amusement park began as probably one of the first agritourism farms in the world. At the turn of the 20th century owner Henry Knobel ran "tally-ho" hayrides taking visitors around his farm by horse. When he offered the the opportunity to water, feed and brush the horses that pulled the wagons, the eager tourists lined up and shelled out a whoping $0.25 each for the "honor." Smart man.

A little hokey, and little pokey and a lot wonderful, Knobels is my kind of amusement park. Admission is free and you can either buy ticket booklets or a wristband for the rides. We spent less all day than we would have spent on just admission at most parks and all of us had a ball.



Flying some more...

Getting our feet massaged...

Etc. etc. etc....

The best parts were the unexpected treasures. Like the puppet show that appeared like magic in a stone tower we passed three or four times thinking it was simply decorative. Or the working smithy where burley fellows with bald heads and long beards sweated and clanged making name-plate horseshoes for the kids. What a strange and wonderful day.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Old Fashioned Fun, part 1

A month of old fashioned fun has kept me from the blog-o-sphere. Totally worth it. In early August we took in the Goschenhoppen Festival. A celebration of Pennsylvania Dutch (aka German) life in the 18th and 19th centuries--the preservation of folk culture and skills nearly lost to our "modern" society.

Things like how to slaughter and butcher a hog...

How to create a lucious breakfast treat out of bits and pieces. Yes, I mean scrapple...

Saurkraut making...

Firing a musket...

Thatching a roof with nothing but straw (no rope, no nails, and certainly no glue!)...

The jug of apple cider vinegar from my last post, mother and all, was on display as well. New vinegar made from the old. A suitable metaphor for the entire Festival where trades and recipes are passed from one volunteer generation to the next.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Oh, mother!

Take a guess at the contents of this jar and win your very own pair of homemade woolen mittens to keep you cozy this winter. The first commenter to get it right wins! (P.S. To win, make sure there is a way for me to contact you by email whether you leave it in your comment or have some method of contact on your blog.)

Comments Closed! The lovely woolen mittens will be going to the closest answer as no one got it completely right. The mystery liquid is mother of apple cider vinegar! And the winner is...

David n Kara who said:
"looks like an old jar of apple cider"

Friday, August 13, 2010


How many times have you avoided making a dish because it had a bad rep for being difficult? Or because you didn't have the recommended equipment? You just might be missing out on gastronomic heaven. One of my most favorite foods of all time is the infamously temperamental cheese souffle (which, by the way, is incredibly easy to make) so I should know better than to dismiss a recipe outright. Nevertheless, last year was the first time I've ever made pesto from scratch. Why I thought it required chef-status to make, I don't know. Such simplicity, such deliciousness!

So we planted six, yes six, basil plants this year with big plans. Big Basil-y, Garlic-y, Nutty, Cheese-y Pesto Plans. No, no, I don't own a food processor. Never have. And earlier this year I shattered the glass pitcher of our blender. No, no, we haven't replaced it yet. And, oh yes, our basil plants have all thrived.

Trust the internet, the cookbooks or the television and you'd think making pesto without either of these supposed requisite items impossible. So what's a girl to do? Take a page from an Italian grandmother's cookbook: Get out some hand-powered kitchen tools and elbow grease. It's vintage pesto!

The results? I added a side of pan-roasted Brussels sprouts (in bacon grease of course) and the 4-year-old declared, "Mommy, you make a mean dinner." Sounds like success to me.

Vintage Pesto
No special requirements for this recipe, just a sturdy cutting board and sharp knife. A hand-crank nut grinder comes in handy to kick-start the nuts, but you don't need it. Because the ingredients haven't been emulsified by power blades, the texture and taste are more distinct, brighter, and richer. Totally worth the little bit of extra time it takes to do it by hand.

3 cloves garlic
3 loose cups basil leaves (just the leaves)
1/8 cup roasted almonds (or walnuts or pine nuts)
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or Parmesan)
3-4 tablespoons olive oil

Finely chop the garlic. Take the basil in batches and finely chop in with the garlic. Add the roasted almonds and finely chop to combine. Chop in the grated cheese and press the mixture into a small bowl. Cover with the olive oil. Stir to thoroughly combine just before use.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Amongst the 'toes

We've found all sorts of things in the garden since we've moved into our house. Shards of this, pieces of that, small toy cars and marbles . But what should be staring up at me from the depths of the potato patch this afternoon?

One might expect a three-inch person when they pull out a mandrake root, but a potato? I've heard of potatoes producing a rare seed or two, but children? And why do you suppose this strange little fellow is frowing? I guess this will remain one of the mysteries of the soil. Another mystery of the soil....mushrooms.

Springing from what appears to be naught and disappearing just as quickly.

I once read an article that hypothesized Mother Nature might just be a giant mushroom with mycelia reaching into every cell of every living thing. There are mushroom that stretch thousands of acres--one in Washington and one in Oregon have already been discovered. Or listen to mycologist Paul Stamets sometime. What is it about science that as it gets more detailed and complex begins to look like magic?

Whether science, magic or both, mushrooms make a great excuse for taking a walk through the woods with my favorite little man.

And as much as he enjoyed spotting mushrooms, it was the salamanders that enthralled him.

Final count: Seventeen mushrooms, seven salamanders, one tired little boy and one incredibly contented mama.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

After the rain

Monday may have been the first time this summer that the rain actually managed to break through the humidity. After months of temperatures in the 90's and 100's, we entered a blissful week of mild 70's. You could almost hear the garden sighing. And I know I heard the little bear sighing. Well, more like giggling.

We discovered this little guy sipping droplets from our maple tree. Hopefully he wasn't nibbling on the bark between sips. Anyone know what kind of caterpillar this might be?

I don't know what it is about trees after the rain, but they always take on an otherworldly aura. It is when they are damp and smell of the wild forest that I swear they just might move at any moment. Lifting up their white soil-smeared roots and wandering peacefully around the yard.

Just the right kind of moment for a spontaneous batch of Elf Soup. Recipe courtesy of the little bear. First you stir the broth...

Then you add some oregano...

Then you dump in some olive oil. Just a little.

The end.