Archive for July, 2009

Random Summer Snapshots

Let’s go on a visual tour of the last month’s highlights, shall we?

Broccoli harvest!  It almost got away on us, with one head exuberantly bursting into flower while we weren’t looking.  And we’re trying not to look very often, as each stolen, guilty glance reveals the plethora of weeds fornicating with abandon, growing their population exponentially with each day of our continued neglect.  Shameful, all around, with no regard for population control.

Has anyone else noticed how the last few loaves of the Artisan 5 Minute Bread are much runnier than those of a fresh batch?  The dough inevitable sticks to my bread peel as I’m tring to heave it onto the hot baking stone in the oven, yet no amount of corn meal on the peel works to prevent this struggle.  No matter – it’s still delicious and far more conversational than the loaves that look like they manifested from the pages of the cookbook.  I’ve yet to see anyone post a photo of their homemade loaf that was not cookbook-photo-shoot-worthy, so here goes.  I call this one “Whale,” from my “Sea Life” series.  It was debuted at Dinner last night and was received with much fanfare and spreadable goat cheese.  The adjacent exhibit,  “Vegetable Beef Soup,” helped the Artist portray the cogency of “Whale” that she sought.

After an extended dry period, the rain returned, irrigating the green outdoors in more ways than one.  The scene above quickly escalated to include one Lucy pug being covered in the wet, soupy mixture.

We discovered that a bucket full of rain-saturated sidewalk chalk makes the most beautiful “painty” pictures.

I almost forgot – swimming lessons!  Started and completed in July, she gained so much more than simple water skills.  Standing in line, waiting her turn, and not sqirting her neighbor with the floaty toy, namely.  Things I hadn’t thought to teach her at home.

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Peach Fuzz

There is something that I’ve been working very hard to remember,  a new mantra:

“All in due time.”

It’s the reminder I give myself when I feel guilt or regret or a Should-Have taking hold.  There are so, so many things we’d like to do here on the Acres, so many things we’d like to try.  Last summer, our first here, taught me that they can’t nor need not happen right away – we intend to be here for a very long time.  It’s a lesson in prioritization, in cultivating patience, (that most elusive of virtues!) and in cultivating grace.  Last summer taught us that setting out to garden all three fenced-in garden plots was far too much to bite off in the first mouthful, given that we were still steadily climbing the new Chicken Learning Curve.

I had hoped to can peaches last year.  Had hoped then regrettably let the intention fall through the cracks of Life.  This year, though, I was greeted by a stack of peach cases shouting their Hello as I entered the food coop where we buy our groceries.  “What’s that?” I ask.  “On sale?  Yes.  I think I shall.”  So not one, but two cases (36 lbs) of peaches found our way home that day.  Though I didn’t check, it’s likely we won the Peach Award, to join our Cabbage Award on the mantel of fame.  Rock hard, they sat atop the washer and drier for a week or two, (probably closer to two) while they ripened.  And precisely 4 days after they were at their peak ripeness, I found a fat sliver of time to process them into Food for the Winter.  Better late than never, right?

I was in good company, as I often am, up until the Hot Stove with All the Burners Lit portion of the exercise commenced.  The kitchen was enveloped in the heady aroma of ripe, about-to-burst peach essence.  I like to think that a little of that essence will remain a part of the fragrant bouquet that is The Kitchen, greeting us as we return home from an extended time away.

And on Sunday we celebrated The Peaches, parading them in all their amber glory atop a waffle float.

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Plein air eating

Plein air, for you non-french speaking, non-artists…

There’s not been much creativity in the kitchen of late.   The bread baking continues, aided by our unusually cool summer.  (As an aside, how has your own bread baking gone?  Many of you mentioned running out to buy the book.  Well?  Love it?  Not so much?  Leave a comment and let me know!)

In an unusual burst of culinary prowess, I donned my apron and whipped up a special picnic supper to enjoy at a nearby concert in the park.

Ciabatta-style fresh bread is a cinch to make with the artisan bread dough and makes the most perfect picnic sandwich, I think.  To complement the sandwiches, I found that I just happened to have (for real) some parboiled new potatoes and four hard boiled eggs.  Potato salad!  As I flipped through my cookbooks, looking for a recipe most like Grandma’s, two things occurred to me.  1.  I should have just called her for hers.  But I quickly surmised that her response would have been a bit of surprise mixed with “well, I just throw everything together” and I was looking for a wee more precision.  2.  Homemade potato salad is one of those dishes that everyone (at least in these parts) grew up learning by rote as each picnic or family get-together presented an opportunity to hone the skills.  Because no meal is complete without some form of the potato (!), a potato salad was summer’s solution.  How differently we’ve learned to cook in this generation, I reflected while reading through the recipe, peeling the eggs, chopping the celery.  Instead of turning to the recipes that we grew up making, or calling Mom for a refresher, Andrew and I instead turn to our cookbooks, magazines, web searches, and cooking shows for inspiration.  While we’re no longer limited to the traditional family fare, we’ve lost most of the essential know-how for these simple staples that used to make up the everyday.  Grandma marvels, wide-eyed when I whip up a complicated meal with a unspellable french name, or when I can answer her question of how to prepare swiss chard, or when I automatically mince garlic, and lots of it, for every dish I make.  But there’s that same wide-eyed reaction to my question of “how do I roast this chicken, again” as I do it so infrequently that I have had to ask her several times, periodically.  For Grandma, who has prepared a chicken dinner every Sunday for the last eleventeen years, me not knowing how to do it was akin to not being able to tie my shoes. Who doesn’t know how to roast a chicken these days?  Turns out most of us under a certain age haven’t the slightest clue.  It’s a big part of what Martha’s empire was founded on, this disconnect of homemaking know-how that used to be so entrenched in the daily grind that it was taken for granted.  I digress.

So rather than calling Grandma for the recipe, I found my own, and decided to go ahead and make my own mayonnaise (another unspellable french word?) while I was at it.  Have you ever tried this?  Oh, it’s so easy, especially with a food processor, blender, or ginormous forearms for whisking.  And the flavor?  Nothing like anything you could buy.  So delicious.

Lest you think we’re absolute food purists, here’s proof to the contrary.  This summer, roasted marshmallows (and raw ones, snitched from the bag while grown-up eyes are turned) make up a significant portion of our plein air diet.

We seem to be faring quite well on this diet.

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This is July.

I’ve mentioned the importance of the water to our Summer selves.  But we’re finding lots of ways to drink in the season.

A nest of newly-hatched robins, found up north at Grandma and Grandpa’s cottage.  Momma and Daddy Robin decided to build this nest on a utility meter along the side of the cottage, making it sooooooooo hard for this 3 1/2 year old to heed our “DO NOT TOUCH” directives.

St. John’s Wort, found here on the Acres!  I’ve been trying to buy some to plant for months and reached a dead-end after being told it grows wild, like a weed.  (We use St. John’s Wort oil in homemade salves to help heal our wounds with a quickness.)  Having only seen pictures of the flower in books, I had no idea what the whole plant looked like and doubted I’d run across it, or recognize it if I did.  And Then!  On a little nature walk one day, I found it RIGHT THERE!  Together, Isadora and I cut the blooming tops off, enough to stuff a pint jar, then added olive oil, filling to the top, and placed the sealed jar on our picnic table to soak in the sun and release its goodness into the oil.   I explained to Isadora that the oil should turn red after sucking the medicine (hypericin) from the flowers, and not a day has passed in which she’s not checked to see if it’s turned red.  Still a budding little herbalist, that girl.

This may or may not be the jawbone of the raccoon that ravaged our chicken coop.  It was brought to my attention by Lucy, the would-be hound dog.

The box reads, “Please remove this box to reveal the truly attractive inner box for in-store display.” Such language!  We’re reminded that the most simple things are the best for play.  Especially when you have something to put in it.

We like to think of these little “experiences” Lucy has as payback for the regular shenanigans she pulls, namely jumping onto the kitchen table and eating off our plates when we’ve our backs turned for a millisecond.  As long as she’s not being hurt, we step aside and let the Karma Police sentence her to Isadora’s whims.  We may even find some satisfaction in the justice being served.  (insert evil cackle here)

And Dress-Up.  No snapshot of this point in time would be accurate without some representation of her most favorite play.  This year, the ruby red slippers Grandma picked up, in all her wisdom, were fully embraced and worn everywhere.  Add a sparkly new purse to house your collection of dice, pebbles, and stray coins, and you’re ready to go.

In short, our days are filled to the brim with Summer.

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Like the body, Summer is 65% water.

We are in the thick of summer.

Swimming, boating, camping, picnicking, marshmallow roasting, visiting…all are the hallmarks of summer.  Really, though, it’s about the water.

First, second, third dips into the refreshing coolness.

Leaving our mark along its shores.

Surrendering to its rhythmic ebb and flow.

The challenge is to soak up as much as possible, while the season allows.  To drink it through every pore, celebrating.

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Black-cap raspberries abound on these acres, available to little hands.  A caveat to the “wait until it turns red before picking” rule, these raspberries are not ripe until their redness turns dark  – the color of blackberries.  Of course, the rule that supersedes all picking:  get the approval of a grown-up to make sure berries are safe to pick and eat.

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Vinny stands alone and other Poultry News

If you would have asked us about our guineas a month ago, we would have described them with a bucket-full of adjectives tinged with irritation.  Loud.  (we even called them The Louds, inspired by this children’s book)  Skittish.  Foolish.  Stupid.  As for their tick-eating abilities, the real reason we invited them to shack up here, we had a vague suspicion that they were helping, but jeered at the claim that 90% of their diet was comprised of bugs.  Because they ate a lot of feed.

And if you’ve picked up on my use of the past tense in describing The Louds, you’re rather astute.  Because plural is no longer needed when referring to the guineas; now there’s only one.  And not because the other nine are in our freezer.

We’ve been robbed.  By raccoons.  And we caught them red-handed.  In case you, like so many we’ve told the story to, thought raccoons to be harmless or vegetarian or at the very least, no threat to poultry, I offer this tale as a public service announcement.

I was deep in the throes of the Twilight* series one night, reading frantically, enjoying the fresh breeze from the open windows.  A banging noise outside briefly penetrated the Vampire haze of my awareness and I recognized the chatter of raccoons.  No doubt they were getting into the garbage cans again.  A few more times the noise persisted, until I thought I heard a chicken cluck.  At that point, I jumped out of bed, put my ear to the window, and soon heard a commotion in the chicken coop.  I yelled for Andrew, fast asleep, to wake up and raced down the stairs and out to the coop as fast as I could to head off as much damage as possible.  Once in the coop, the beam of my flashlight swept the perimeter, assessing the damage.  And there, in the chicken-size doorway, was the tell-tale bandit’s mask of a raccoon.  Busted.  I soon discovered two guineas lying injured on the floor of the coop and that several more birds, chickens included, were missing entirely.  We quickly learned that the block of wood we used to haphazardly secure the door shut was easily pushed aside by the string of neighborhood raccoons, lined up for their free chicken dinner.  Without our knowing it, the coop had turned into something of a soup kitchen.

You may or may not know that this is a bitter deja vu.  Last year too, we donated many from our flock of chicks to the rural raccoon population.  How easy it is to be lulled into a false sense of security and let the guard down.  We had gotten lazy and overconfident.  Again.

So now we have only one guinea remaining.  He has been dubbed Vinny, now that he is identifiable and able to be picked out of a lineup.  He’s taken to hanging out by our front and back doors, never venturing very far.  That bucket-full of adjectives reserved for describing the guineas – it’s been emptied and refilled with endearing exclamations for Vinny, frequent, neighborly greetings, and lots of sympathy.  Does he feel all alone?  It breaks my heart.  Just yesterday I noticed him trying to put some romantic moves on a hen.  Is interspecies dating feasible?  Allowed?  Perhaps Vinny should take out a personal ad or give eHarmony a try.

Brownie, named by Isadora before she had a solid grasp on her colors, is a survivor of that night.  Somehow she was bitten in the head and lived to tell the tale.  That hit a little too close for comfort; Brownie is the absolute favorite of Daddio, the apple of his eye.  In the ranking of his female sweethearts, Brownie sometimes (jokingly) ranks above me and Isadora, so you can understand how it was necessary for me to call in with daily updates on her healing progress.  She appears to be just fine and healed up.

And where was Chuck Norris in all of this?  Isn’t the rooster reputed to be the appointed one to face off the intruder and sacrifice himself, if necessary, to protect his flock??  Or at least to defend the honor of his lady, as Brownie clearly is?  “Where were you, Chuck Norris?” I ask, part disappointed in his apparent cowardice and part relieved that he was unharmed.  What are those spurs for, if not to head off would-be assassins?  Where is the chivalry?

Despite this, or perhaps because of it all, Penny has stopped roosting in the now safer, fortified walls of the coop.  She has a roost someplace we’ve not been able to find yet, out in the open.  While that makes her completely vulnerable to all of the furry and winged predators of the night, she’s somehow managed to survive a few weeks on this program.  Our last sighting was 2 days ago yesterday, so she’s made it for some time now.  I’ve been scratching my head, concocting theories of why she might be doing this.  Does she have a nest somewhere that she’s sitting on?  Is she afraid to succumb to the vulnerability she’s witnessed in the coop?  Is she living at a nearby coop and just visiting us occasionally?  We usually only see her in the early mornings.  I hope she comes to her senses soon.  By this I mean the very, very limited senses our chickens seem to have.  Or not have, as the case may be.

* It’s mostly with self-conscious guilty pleasure I admit to my obsession with Twilight.  While I’m normally much more of a book snob, it turns out I’m a sucker for a good love story peppered with vampires. Normal daily life was suspended until the series was complete.  And now, with no more tales of Bella and Edward to read, I wander lost and hopeless in the world of literature, ruined.

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