Saturday, December 1, 2012

Farm Story 3 The Ahh of Warmth

     Our farm has just completed two weeks with the return of electricity.  Hurricane Sandy made the trip up the coast and then made an incredible sharp left turn into New Jersey. The storm was unique in its size not necessarily in its strength.

     It was strong enough though to knock out so many trees.  Unlike Little House in the Big Woods, we are in an area of Big Houses in the Big Woods.  So many homes tucked into wooded areas were previously safe hoping "the big storm" may never come, but it did. Trees came down like dominoes and their fingerlike branches grasped the power lines as they fell.  For the first time ever, the road was impassable in either direction and remained so in one of the directions for one and one half weeks.

     So most of New Jersey was in darkness as well as without cell phones, land lines, and easily available gas.  Many roads were impassable. Creature comforts? Gone and not to return for two weeks. Discomfort, mental and physical, entered with electrical and technological isolation woven together in the midst of a very populated usually connected area. Silence, darkness, isolation, and cold were all wrapped together.

Cozy warmth from a  wood stove
    Aunt Ethel had always spoken of the wonderful feeling of warmth when she and her husband Walt stepped through the doorway and  into their toasty warm home.  It was a home that was kept warm enough so as to not need that extra layer.  Who of the younger generation should fault this? If an unheated home is not part of one's memory then it's hard to "get it" when someone describes how wonderful it is to open a door to enveloping  heat.  Surely, if a power outage occurred only a relatively small amount of time would pass and all would be right again with the world.
     But then, Ethel grew up on the farm where walking through the farm door didn't automatically mean heat. That cozy warm fire could only happen as a result of some work.  Warmth in the farm house came from a wood burning stove in the kitchen and a caring parent that kept the home fires burning.  Someone had to keep the fire going.  When the children were small that job would be one among many that her mother completed in a day.  She would drag in the branches and chop the pieces for the family stove.  Eventually, this chore could fall to the brothers.  The stove in the front room warmed that room plus provided enough heat to go through a grate in the ceiling leading to the upstairs bedrooms. Everything was comfortable as long as the fire kept burning.
     This storm has brought a true understanding and gratitude for Ethel's  "ahh" of warmth.

Yes, you do like dates, or you will after trying this!
Maple-Date Bars 
1 3/4 cups finely chopped pitted dates (about 12 ounces)
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour (about 4 1/2 ounces)
1 cup regular oats
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray
Combine dates, water, and maple syrup in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil; cook 12 minutes or until most liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently. (Mixture will look like jam.) Stir in rind; cool completely.
Preheat oven to 400°.
Beat sugar and butter at medium speed until smooth.  Combine flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Stir flour mixture into sugar mixture (mixture will be crumbly). Press 2 cups flour mixture into bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking pan coated with cooking spray. Spread date mixture over flour mixture. Sprinkle with remaining flour mixture. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely.

Tip: Wrap these moist bars individually, or place them in a cookie tin between layers of wax or parchment paper.
Adapted from Cooking Light Nov. 2005

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Last Call for Summer

The beginning of the yellow burst.
     Farming, even on our small scale is all about waiting and hoping.  Waiting for the right temperature, or rain, or sun or growth or ripening; hoping that the tiny seeds planted grow when everything is right or close to right, or that some unknown factor doesn't come in a destroy it all. Clearly, don't count your chickens before they hatch is very apt for a farmer and the saying applies to other farm activities.

    As much as anything can be counted on, these flowers are a fairly safe bet. All summer long there is great anticipation for the blooming of these perennial sunflowers.  Mother Nature leaves these flowers for the very last to bloom in a very showy burst of yellow. It occurs in the very last week of summer just as the calendar marks the autumnal equinox and fall officially begins.

     Most of the stalks are easily 10 to 12 feet in height.  Flowering begins with a single sunflower at the top of the stalk and gradually many others open below it until the top 2 to 3 feet are a mass of blooms. Its beauty is measured in days and then they are gone.  Sadness? No, there are many things in nature that to humans seem like unintended consequences, but to Mother Nature is just part of the plan.  The wilting flowers quickly go to seed and become a haven for wrens and chickadees to feast upon the seeds.  What a welcome sight to see these tiny birds flutter in, out, and around these stalks.  Blooming flowers turn to Mother Nature's bird feeders - two pieces in the puzzle of life that just go together naturally.

This snack is easy and positively addicting.

Roosters’ Famous Fire Crackers
 One 15-oz box of saltines – Keebler’s Zesta
Hot red pepper flakes
10 oz Cracker Barrel extra-sharp cheddar, grated

Oven 475
Place a rack in the center of the oven.

1.Spray a jelly-roll pan (has sides)  10x 15 inches with cooking spray.  Place crackers in rows so that the touch each other.
2.Sprinkle with pepper flakes ( 6 to 8 a cracker is about right).  Top evenly with cheese.
3.Quickly place in oven on center rack and close the door.  Leave the heat on for NO MORE than 10 seconds, then turn oven off.
4.Leave in closed oven for at least 2 hours.  The cheese will melt and brown.
 5.Break apart and eat.  Can be stored in an airtight container for several weeks.

Adapted from BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher  Her books are just fun to read.

Sadness X 2

Job Openings
  One brave rooster needed to protect, defend, and supervise flock.
  One good mouser required, no prior training necessary.
   Room and board provided.
   Human friendly a plus, but not required.

        Maggie's distress in the upper area of our farm brought the realization that something was very amiss among the chickens.  She bolted frantically through the partially opened gate on a quest.  Unfortunately, it was too late. Sadly a fox found a way through our fence and killed our brave rooster.

      The rooster with no name was bold and proudly watched over the flock. It was a job he inherited from the  last fox raid months ago.  He stepped right up and took it very seriously. If ever a chicken could be a curmudgeon, it was he.  Any human who even gave the hint of being menacing, based on his opinion, needed to be prepared for an attack with his spurs.  Hens that might need aid from the younger newer roosters were saved by No Name. And so it was that he died defending his flock, no match for a fox.

      Sadly,  Angel, who spent yesterday as close to humans as possible must have known the end was near.  She was "the one more cat that we didn't need," but she found a job for herself and a so she stayed and became loved. Angel's body was so slight of frame, but neither a mouse nor a  chipmunk could best her in a battle. Her legacy is found in the only two kittens that survived.  Little Man has become the garage kitty and would stay permanently snuggled in your arms if you let him.  His sister, Muffin, has found a home with our aunt and has really landed in a good place.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yin Yang Moment(s)

    There are two paths through the field to the geese and chickens.  One is more roundabout with less high grass and the one usually taken.    The other more direct route follows the fence line, but the grass is high and usually wet with morning dew.

   What draws someone break from a habit?  Is there some unconscious pull that draws one to do the unusual?
   Usually the roundabout trip draws one's eyes to the sky, trees, flowers and the cats when they follow. It lends itself to a fairly dreamy trip that the mind can wander along. The fence line route is a more intense let's get the job done walk.  It is necessary to look down to avoid overgrown clumps of dewy wet grass and lest one steps in a big old pile of horse droppings.

    The hour was late and the inner clocks of the animals were ticking as they waited impatiently for room service. The fence line route was the choice.  Suddenly an ordinary trip to the chickens became both fearsome and fascinating - a huge snapping turtle.

Something wicked?
     The first thought was, "Something wicked this way comes." (Shakespeare. Macbeth)  The fears of this creature latching on to a finger or any body part and refusing to let go were forefront in thoughts.  Truly a case of opposing forces - fear and fascination.  Then came the hey wait a minute  realization that, after all, it is a turtle on land and will not spring up as a snake or other wild furry four footed animal might; it is a good time to get up close (within reason) and personal.

"All creatures great and small. . .
The Lord God made the all"
(Mrs) Cecil F. Alexander, 1848
     A snapping turtle is positively prehistoric looking.  It has a mean looking beak with a hiss to match and triangular points on the back of its shell.  And, it is fairly huge as wild turtles go.
     Now it is said that every pond has its snapping turtle, but in forty years not a one was seen here. The absence lent one to be complacent and think that yes, putting your fingers or toe in the pond would not lead to a crunch down on bone and skin because a snapping turtle's space had been invaded. Time to rethink that idea.
    Touch? Don't touch?  How about a hand over the top to show the size? Wiser thoughts prevailed. Just place the five gallon bucket alongside. The only interference was to carefully turn this determined creature, both great and small, around to head back to the streams in the woods and hopefully not find a hole in the fence that would lead to the pond.
    One can only hope.  Note to self - be cautious about what could be below the water's surface. Warn the geese to be careful with their toes!

A recipe to use those summer tomatoes before they are gone.  
                  Linguine with Tomatoes, Basil, and Brie
 5 large ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/2" pieces
 1 lb Brie, rind removed, torn into small irregular pieces
 1 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    several pinches of crushed red pepper
 ½ tsp salt
 ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
 1 ½ lbs linguine.
Step one needs to set at room temperature for 2 hours.
1. Combine the first 8 ingredients in a serving bowl large enough to hold
the cooked pasta and sauce. Stir gently to combine.  

2. Cook linguine in salted water until al dente. Drain. Add to
the tomato mixture. Toss gently. Serve immediately.

Adapted from Silver Palate Cookbook


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Farm Story 2 - Hop, Skip, and a Jump

     September brings thoughts of school and school bus rides. For a first grader on our street, all it takes is a hop, skip, and a jump onto the bus and then off to school.

     Today our road is a busy county road and the hazards walking this road are such that a mom would not choose to walk it with a child and never allow one to walk it alone.  School buses must pick up young children at their driveway on the same side of the road as their house is located.  They don't have to cross the street to get on the bus.

     In 1925, Ethel was a six-year-old first grade student.  She and her brothers, James and Robert, would depart each day for a one room school on a school bus that picked them up at their house.  However, the trip home at the end of the day was, without explanation, different.  It was a reverse of the morning route with a slight catch.

     In the early days, our area was divided into villages.  Union Village was located at the intersection of Hillcrest Road and Mountain Avenue.  It was at the intersection of these two roads that six-year-old Ethel and her brothers, James and Robert would be let off the bus to take the long walk home.  No one was waiting in a nice cool car on hot days nor a warm car on cold days. Actually, there was no car.

     The final leg of the trip home was a one mile walk up a dirt road that gradually increased in steepness.  A mere 2 minutes by car today, but on foot - it was 24 minutes to be exact if one kept up a steady pace.  At four minutes the children would reach a brook and then continue up the steeper part of the hill that was wooded on both sides. It would take another 17 minutes until Emerson Lane was reached.  At this point there would be the summer cottages inhabited during the warm weather by a Jewish community of vacationers who wanted to escape the city heat.  The final minutes would lead to the driveway entrance and home.

     Were there any perils along the way on this dirt road?  One time the three children walked the road and were stopped by a talkative gentleman.  As the man struck up a conversation with them, Ethel was positioned behind her two brothers.  As good brothers do, they protectively hid their little sister. She fondly  remembers her brothers' effort to this day.   Fortunately, it was the local doctor who knew the children.

    In spite of the idea that children were much better behaved in days gone by, sometimes discipline was needed and it could be meted out to the whole group.  What happens when everyone in the school needs discipline and must stay after school?  All, that is, except for the first graders.  The older students stayed behind and the first graders were put on the bus as usual.  Ethel rode the bus home, was dropped off at the bus stop, and started the long walk up the road all alone.  Imagine the relief she must have felt when her farm driveway came into view.
     Upon finally reaching the house and safety, there was no one home!  Her mother had taken Robert to the dentist that day and had not yet returned.
The Safety of Home - View is from south of the farm.  

    There at the house, Ethel waited all by herself.  As Ethel tells the story she remembers that hearing her brother James's voice at Emerson Lane was "the best sound in the world."
     Most likely there was an enthusiastic first grader's hop, skip, and a jump in excitement and relief as well - no longer all alone.
(These entries will not be ordered chronologically, but by conversations about pictures and events as remembered.)

Family recipe

                          Fresh Carrots Au Gratin
2 cups fresh carrots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup onion, minced
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 Tbs parsley, chopped
1/2 cup Italian Bread crumbs
3 Tbs butter, melted

1. Simmer carrots and onions in water seasoned with salt and pepper until tender, drain.
2. Melt butter; stir in flour.  Add milk gradually, stirring constantly.
Cook until thickened, stirring occasionally.
3. Remove from heat.  Stir in cheese and parsley.  Add carrots; mix well.
4. Pour into greased 1-quart casserole.
5. Combine crumbs with melted butter; sprinkle over casserole.
6. Bake at 375 about 20 minutes.

My tip: Double sauce; add extra carrots and onions.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Just One Cat Step Away from . . .

Of course

"Anyone who had a heart would surely take me
In her arms and always love me why won’t you?
Anyone who had a heart would love me too" Burt Bacharach



     Kittens.  Our farm has kittens because someone sent Angel (see February 2011 "Meet Angel") over the fence one dark and stormy night.  She didn't go away, wouldn't go away, and would just appear out of nowhere.  Angel is tiny boned and very frail and not all that special to look at.  Let's just say that she wins one over with her personality.  She wormed her way into the heart of this farm and found a job for herself - a job being the criterion for staying.  She became the garage kitty; yes she persisted at the door until she was let into the garage.  This was good for our farm because we apparently had mice that hid all the mouse poison pellets letting it appear that surely a whole colony had been dispatched.  But no, they just took poison and stored it elsewhere to live happily on in the garage.  That was until Angel came along.

     Angel was on the fast track to be spayed, but had a wheeze or congestion that would come and go and might endanger the success of the operation.  Medication would be tough as she would let someone pet her back, but never trusted humans enough to rest comfortably snuggled in arms. Since she spent nights in the garage it might have been possible to keep her away from other cats.  But sometimes she'd show up and sometimes not.  She had several litters of kittens (1 or 2 in each), but they never survived.  The spaying decision was on hold. However, along came two kittens that survived.  Muffin was cuddly and easily found a home, but  the other, "Wild Man," was extremely skittish.  He became cat number 5 and took over the garage duty.  He also decided people weren't so bad so he became Little Man.

     The discovery of  yet another kitten (that died) brought the thought to mind that had it lived, a new home would need to be found for yet another cat - not an easy task. Now, the hard choice about Angel was really not a choice.  The best chance for her is to be spayed and hope for the best. No more kittens.  This farm is not in need of a cat lady.

     The discovery of the last kitten also brought about the realization that if a home were not found, it would be cat 6.    Suddenly, it became apparent how easily one can end up with too many cats.

     Angel will be taken to the vet so this close call can't happen again.  Note to self - keep in mind just how close the one cat step away from becoming the local "cat lady" was.

Great dip

                             Onion-Bacon Dip 5*
1 large leek
6 bacon slices
1 large sweet onion, minced
1(8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
½ tsp salt
 1. Thinly slice leek, discard dark green end.
 2. Cook until crisp; remove and drain on paper towels, reserving 1 Tbsp.
drippings in skillet. Crumble bacon.
3. Sauté onion and leek in hot drippings 15 minutes or until tender and
4. Stir together onion mixture, bacon, cream cheese, sour cream, and salt.
Cover and chill 1 hour.
 Adapted, origin unknown.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Deed Is Done

     Finally, the sheep made it to the top of the priority list. The little woolly bears have been relieved of their coats.  Shearing sheep is a project that could be hired out to someone, but that would take away the challenge of being self-sufficient.
     This job should have been done in April or May. What took so long?  Aside from the fact that many higher priority projects kept getting bumped to the top of the list, several obstacles had to be overcome physically and mentally.  First, the electric shears needed  new combs and blades after being dropped last year.  One would think that this would be as easy as match the name of the shears with a catalog description, but one would be wrong.  Finally, after a few tries, a company named Premier 1 was able to easily identify what was needed and they could be ordered from them.  Problem 1 solved.
     Next, get out the book and class notes and study the positions and shearing strokes needed to effectively shear these sheep.  For those who think a sheep is a sheep take a closer look.  Southdown Babydoll sheep are woolly from the tip of their nose, down the legs to the toes (hooves, but it doesn't rhyme).  Many larger sheep have clean faces and not much wool down far on the legs. Studying done, ready to take the test.

     Finally, keep a positive attitude when working with an electric tool and place the comb and blade on the shears by reading directions that were no larger than 1/16 inch. Locate the bevel on the comb and bring the blade back from the beval 1/16 to 1/32 of an inch no  more, no less. Then simply turn it over and tighten the screws. Find the two holes for lubricating oil and remember to oil every ten minutes or so during shearing.  Do it this year because clearly those words were missed last year.

     All that was needed were willing sheep and the right frame of mind to picture success.  "You'll like this, really you will."  - Well, no, not one did, but they gave up against pure determination to get them sheared. Only two hours each, and two days to get the sheep in shape.

     When all was said and done with the new haircuts, it can only be said that, well, the sheep looked and acted  sheepish.  In the human world their haircut would be equivalent to the old days when a mom would put a bowl over her son's head to evenly cut his hair. But the job is done - until next year.

An tasty and easy dish for all the zucchini ripening now.

Zucchini Pie
 3 cups grated zucchini                            /4 cup vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped                            4 Tbsp grated Parmesan
1 cup all-purpose flour                            2 tsp chopped fresh basil
1 cup grated provolone cheese                 1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs, beaten                                      1 tsp salt
 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper oven 350
Combine all the ingredientsl, reserving 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan.
Spray a 10-round glass or metal pie dish with cooking spray.  Spoon in zucchini mixture. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden brown. Sprinkle with 1 T Parmesan. Cool 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.
Adapted from Real Simple

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Farm Story 1 - The Greatest Generation

     A Story That Needs to Be Told

     Walking around our farm, one can't help but imagine what it would have been like 100 years ago.  What were the hopes and dreams of Mary and George Nelson Burnett?  Life as a farmer was hard.  Did they even have time to dream?  One realization comes to mind about this couple, my husband's grandparents, living and working on their farm.  Think about this. These farmers, and many more just like them, were the ones responsible for raising those that Tom Brokaw wrote so compellingly as our nation's greatest generation.  There is no dispute that the greatest generation of Americans sacrificed much to defend against international terror.  But lets take a step back. Who raised this brave generation of which the likes we may never see again in such large numbers?  Living on this farm and seeking its history has provided some clues.

     Each week we have dinner with Aunt Ethel, the sister of my husband's mother.  Since our farm is where she born and raised, our conversation would turn to different aspects of growing up on the farm. Herein lies the answer to the question.

A face of courage and kindness

     What is the story?  Ethel's mother, Mary Wesley Burnett, is a profile of courage. She was a young wife and mother of four children when tragedy struck.  Her husband left to work on a neighboring farm driving a team of horses and met his untimely death.  Unfortunately, a repaired set of reins gave way and he fell.  The real meaning of alone is when you suddenly have the burden of feeding and clothing four children, one who was only weeks old at the time and the oldest just five and a half. How do you run a farm by yourself with four small children? And, do it before the era of government assistance.  At this time neighbors were few and far between, and hitching up your horse and wagon was the way to go unless something was in walking distance.  Forget about a     grocery store.

Mary and her four children
     Where do you begin?  There wasn't electricity or running water, and heat came from a coal/wood burning stove. A modern family wouldn't have a clue how to provide for themselves under these conditions.  Inquiring as to how her mother ever managed, Ethel replied that her mother's response was that she said had no choice in the matter, there were four children to take care of (as well as crops and animals) and they were all depending on her.  And so she did courageously accept the responsibility without any outside help; crumbling under pressure was not an option.

    It was she and the many others of her era that raised the greatest generation through courageous example in the face of life's quite difficult hardships. No whining, no complaining that life is not fair; accept the cards as they are dealt and play them.  Only the likes of this generation could have raised "the greatest generation." This is where the story begins. More farm stories to follow as they come about through conversations.

A family recipe for today.

Aunt Ethel's Beef Supreme Casserole

1 Tbsp shortening                                                           2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb. ground chop meat ( can use ground turkey)             1 c. sour cream
1  16 oz. can tomatoes                                                   1  5 oz. pkg. medium noodles, cooked, drained
1   8 oz. can tomato sauce                                              6 green scallions, chopped
2 Tbsp. salt                                                                    1 cup grated Mozzarella
2 Tbsp sugar

     Melt shortening in pan.  Add meat, breaking it into chunks.  Cook until brown.  Drain off fat.
     Stir in tomatoes, sauce, salt, sugar, and garlic.
     Simmer 5 - 10 minutes.
     Mix sour cream, cooked noodles, and scallions.
     Pour small amount of meat sauce into greased 3 qt. casserole, then half of the noodle mixture, topped with half of the grated cheese.
     Repeat layers, topping with meat sauce.
     Bake at 350 for 35 minutes.
     Can be prepared ahead of time and frozen.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Wistful Thinking

     What could be better that a quick trip to the NY farm for blackberries?   Besides finding blackberries, there would be the familiar farm with so many memories of weekends spent just one step up from camping.  Not having been there in quite some time, it would be a trip into the past.
     Anticipation built during the long ride up the driveway.  The ruts were there, so was the overgrowth of trees and bushes. Uh, oh, a freshly painted house came into view. But, where were those familiar scenes that would envelope the dreamer with memories of long ago?  Gone! Gone was the weedy entanglement of tall grass and weeds and thorn apple bushes that stretched around the outskirts of the house lawn.  In their place was a neatly mowed lawn.  It did look nice, but the familiar feeling was not there.The rock by the front door that was a secure spot for a snake ( that our daughter loved to catch and the snake was probably happy when she left) was covered over by a deck!  The woody spot that our son loved to stoke the fire to heat water for the house was now surrounded by grass.  It should have been encircled with weeds and leaves and fallen twigs.
     Standing and looking around at the contrast between what is and remembering how it used to be created such a rush of thoughts. Were those days that are now gone forever appreciated enough? Back into the mind came the holiday weekends that the kids thought were just the best time for never-ending adventures.  Hikes through the woods, ATC riding, berry picking and the thorn scratches that came with it, and campfire evenings roasting marshmallows in the darkness were all part of the fun.
 NJ farm, capture the memory

     What happens when a journey, to a place that promises to bring back memories, only finds that someone else's improvements have knocked them for a loop?  Maybe the shock of the difference brought about the realization that  most happenings are not forever, and it is important to stop, look around, and make a memory of the good things that surround.  Forever can only be found in memories.

     By the way, Mother Nature, being willful as she is, started and ended her blackberry season this year before the actual season should have begun in the last week in August.  No blackberries.

An easy recipe using summer vegetables.
   4 small zucchini, diced
   2 tsp kosher salt
   2 Tbs olive oil
   1 medium onion, chopped
   1 clove garlic, minced
   4 ears corn, kernels sliced off
   2 plum tomatoes, diced
   ½ cup shredded mozzarella or feta
 1. Place diced zucchini in a colander set over a bowl.  Sprinkle with salt;
toss and let stand 20 minutes.(draws out excess moisture)
 2. Pat zucchini dry.
 3. Heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic; saute 3 to 5 minutes until soft. Do not brown.
 4. Add zucchini and corn kernels.  Saute 6 to 7 minutes, until almost tender.
 5. Add diced tomato; saute 2 to 3 minutes until softened and zucchini is
tender.  Remove from heat and stir in cheese if desired.
 Tip: Leftovers are good with scrambled egg and a dash of hot sauce.
 Adapted from Woman's Day

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sounds and Scents - Fall's Coming

Fall Freedom

     No, a calendar is not necessary to determine that fall is on the way. The beginning of fall can be heard and smelled. Believe it.  Sometime at the end of July and beginning of August the sound of a multitude of crickets (maybe not, maybe some other insect) starts with solos and continues until there is a chorus.  The sound is only for those who have to or want to be up at the crack of dawn or maybe on a cloudy, overcast day. The cricket sound seems to blend in the background just as a musical instrument in an orchestra can be heard, but the mind blends it as part of the whole and not just a single instrument. A familiar sound, it marks nature on the move and the realization to take the time to enjoy every last bit of summer before it goes away.
     The start of fall also has its own smells.  The dryness of summer creates a premature browning of some of the grasses. A hot August sun is able to lift these scents into the air and remind us of shortening days to come.  It is not the scent of dying grass and leaves, but the pungent scent that reminds of a change that is occurring.
     Summer's end and turn to fall is much like putting on your favorite glad rags and finding that cozy, secure, and familiar feeling. It's once again the passage of time through the seasons.

An end of summer recipe for today.

               Sweet Onion, Tomato, and Corn Salad with Basil  
1 Tbs chopped fresh basil
2 Tbs white balsamic vinegar
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ cup basil leaves
2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
½ cup thinly sliced Vidalia or sweet onion
1 cup fresh white corn kernels (about 3 ears)

Combine first 4 ingredients in a bowl; stir well, and set aside.
Combine basil and remaining ingredients. Drizzle vinegar
mixture over and toss gently.
Adapted from Cooking Light, JUNE 1997

Friday, August 3, 2012

Farm Fragrance - Just Not What You Expect

Sweet, sweet flower vines

     Farm fragrances can be many things - many of which you would assume and then those maybe not expected.  The best fragrance in spring is the wild honeysuckle growing up and over the fence. The casual stroll around the farm during the day would take you near a white unassuming flower whose tangle of vines weave in and out of the fence. 

     Easily ignored in daylight, but at night, under the cover of darkness, when the senses of sight and sound are less likely to be bombarded, a stroll through the darkness brings a waft of air with the smell of a sweet, sweet scent.  It stops one for the moment just to inhale deeply and then the connection is made.  It's the honeysuckle.  There really aren't any words to do it justice.  July brings forth a second blooming of the honeysuckle, and although it is not as profuse as the first blooming, it still creates a magic scent in the nighttime air.   Eventually it will bring down the fence; it shouldn't be allowed to grow there. But the honeysuckle fragrance makes it worth the chance of ruining a fence.
Tempting isn't it?

     Nothing on a farm smells quite like a loft of newly cut and baled hay.  It's earthy and fresh from the growing field.  A fragrance that is almost enough to bring out the child personality to imagine the adventure created by climbing the bales in the nearly dark loft.  If only to be ten again. Climb where you know you probably shouldn't, but simply can't resist. Climb when just delivered because it would be too soon for spiders or their webs to crisscross your a face unexpectedly.  Climb on the hay that seems to feel soft, but leaves prickly welts from the cut ends that stick out of the bales. And of course, there would be the thrill of  potential danger that a slip of a foot or a bale of hay could send the unsuspecting down into a horse stall below. An injury would surely bring sympathy for this transgression, but should everything be OK except for some bumps and bruises - well one could only imagine the result for playing on this forbidden site. Most likely, only an adult could see this through to the possible end and back away from the tempting bales. Darn.

Peaches are in season.  This recipe adapted from could be described as WWC ( well worth the calories) as opposed to NWC ( not worth the calories). WWC once a year. 

   Southern Peach Cobbler
8 fresh peaches, skin removed, sliced thin
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp cornstarch
1 cup flour
1/4 cup white sugar 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbs unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup boiling water
3 Tbs white sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

   oven  425
1. Combine peaches, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon
cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Toss to coat evenly, and pour
into a 2 quart baking dish. Bake  10 minutes.
2. Combine flour, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, baking powder,
and salt. Blend in butter with a pastry blender, until mixture resembles
coarse meal. Stir in water until just combined.
3. Drop spoonfuls of topping over cooked peaches. Sprinkle cobbler with the
sugar and cinnamon mixture. Bake until topping is golden, about 30 minutes.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Caution: Aggressive When Threatened

Hard to see isn't it?  
     How did this happen so quickly, or how had this gone unnoticed so long?  Easily missed by the inattentive and walked by many times on the way to the fowl, this paper creation draws and repulses.

     The white-faced or baldfaced hornets have found what they must consider the perfect building lot.  Location, location, location.  Near a field with flowers and a pond with water, what more could a hornet ask for? Maybe to be left alone by the humans.

 One entering the nest. 
     The design of the nest can't help but draw attention.  Waves of paper ridges create the outside walls that draw the viewer cautiously close.  Hornets are not exactly friendly and are very aggressive when threatened or think that they are threatened.  Who can read the mind of a hornet?  How close is too close? It is said that one hornet is the guard hornet, so it would be foolish to touch the papery creation.  Tempting it is, but necessary to resist the desire to feel the paper or tap it to hear if there is a hollow sound. A foolhardy choice that would be. It is best to keep your distance.  However, the intriguing design can draw one in for closer inspection.  Not for too long though.  It is a game of chance.  How close can one be and still not be considered aggressive?  With the likelihood that there are between 400 and 700 inside it's not worth finding out.

Easy and especially good to avoid cooking on a hot day.               
                          Sweet-and-Spicy Chicken
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Coarse salt and ground pepper
4 chicken leg quarters (2 1/2 pounds total) (used chicken breasts sliced horizontally, removed skin)
1 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch wedges (root end left intact)
3 garlic cloves, minced
3-inch piece peeled fresh ginger, sliced into rounds
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes
½ cup raisins

1. Combine cumin, cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and
1/2 teaspoon pepper in zip lock bag; add chicken and toss to coat. Heat
oil over medium-high. Cook chicken, skin side down, until golden, about 4
minutes; turn and cook 2 minutes.

2. In slow cooker, place onion, garlic, and ginger. Add
chicken, skin side up, then top with tomatoes and their liquid and raisins.
Cover and cook on high until chicken is tender, 3 1/2 hours.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Oh Maggie, the Wayward Farm Dog

Believe now? There isn't a duck in duct tape!
Wisdom - Don't speak too soon. Just when the words come out, "She's beginning to lose her puppy behavior,"
 a relapse occurs.

Yes, the doors were slightly cracked, no she doesn't push through open doors, but hey a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.  Out she went and at the first feel of freedom and a whiff of wild creatures in the air, she was off.  Where you ask?  First to the neighbor's yard and woodline.  Well, smells are so much better there and the deeper one goes, the better it gets.

It was summer's second hot, really, really hot day. Never mind that this was not a planned outing.  Had it been there wouldn't have been a mad chase over hill and dale barefooted.  Yes, barefooted and with a foolish thought that she could be coaxed into coming back and caught.  About half way through the woods there was no sign of her stopping and little chance for her wanting to stop.

A neighbor through the woods yelled her direction and that she was following a deer.  Now halfway in and barefooted - does it really matter to your feet if you go the second half over rocks twigs and broken glass to the other side or retrace your steps and go back out the first half?  Same distance. Split second decision - just keep going.

Still in pursuit, although she was out of sight, the second half was the only choice and chance to find this dog.  Remember she was still really becoming much better. What a shame to lose her now and having wasted all the frustration of puppyhood. Upon reaching the road and my rescue ride, along with a pair of shoes, there was still the chance that she would show up on one of the streets.  No luck.  Now a walk back calling futilely through the woods was in order, but this time with shoes. Thoughts of Plan B for finding a lost dog were filling my brain. The sound of jingling license tags brought a glimmer of hope. There she was! Spied back in neighbor's yard, she almost came close enough to be caught, but then had second thoughts.  This owner is well-trained; follows me everywhere was the look in Maggie's eye. Off running again.  Luckily, a man  studying his temporarily disabled vehicle was just ahead of Maggie.  The look in his eye was sheer trepidation watching a lady, huffing and puffing, chase a large yellow dog out of the woods and headed his way. In spite of it all, he responded cautiously when asked to call my dog. Call my dog. He appeared not to have been a very brave man, but he reluctantly called the dog and then grabbed her collar when directed.  At last, no more running.
Teeth marks? Muck, not duck boots!

Is there hope that she will become a good farm dog?  Let's just say the verdict is still out, but certainly hope so.  Her penchant for feathery creatures remains. She has caught a wayward chicken or two and gummed them quite a bit before being stopped, no harm done.  And that noisy bantam rooster that didn't quite understand her game? He lost a few feathers, but lives to continue that crazy barnyard racket which probably put him in trouble in the first place.

Another day, another chance - she still has a good heart  (also good teeth, good claws, good determination)

Fun food for the 4th!  (adapted from Cooking Light) 
Red, White, and Blue Potato Salad
(cut potatoes to similar size if necessary)
2       cups fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise (about 10 ounces)  
2 cups small red potatoes, quartered (about 10 ounces)
2 cups small blue potatoes, halved lengthwise (about 10 ounces) (Cooked separately as they might bleed their color)
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
3 hard-cooked large eggs, finely chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
Place fingerling and red potatoes in a saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 15 minutes or until tender.
Drain and allow to cool slightly.
Repeat with blue potatoes.  Simmer 10 minutes or until tender.
 Add blue potatoes, onion, parsley, dill, chives, and eggs to bowl; toss gently.
Combine vinegar and remaining ingredients. Pour over potato mixture; toss gently to combine. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.
Tip – if not serving right away, add blue potatoes just before serving.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Home Again

a long, lost friend
    "Sometimes this old farm feels like a long, lost friend.  Ain't it good to be back home again."  John Denver

     There are so many kinds of friends in the real world and cyber world. Can a plant be your friend? Possibly, it just feels like a friend.
     Being away from the farm on a brief trip to New Orleans, it was hard to predict what changes might occur. The plants and animals would keep with their routine - either growing or eating, in some cases, maybe both.  
      But, upon return, the first day lily bloom had appeared. The flower of a day lily, as the name implies, lasts only one day.  Here it was joyfully balancing on a slender stem extending its greeting. My long, lost friend had come back.  It is nature's miracle that a plant can lie dormant all winter and then at the right  moment in time, reappear.
     It doesn't matter how many years go by, a thankful appreciation goes to all the flowers that reappear each year to brighten the farm.

Here is a easy and reliable slow cooker recipe for those hot summer days.

                               ANGEL CHICKEN
 6  skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, about 1 1/2 lbs.
 ¼ cup butter
 1 oz pkg. Italian salad dressing mix
 1 oz can condensed golden mushroom soup
 ½ cup dry white wine
 1/2 of an 8 oz. tub of cream cheese with chives and onion
                        Hot cooked angel-hair pasta or wild rice
                        Snipped fresh chives, optional

  1. Place chicken in crock pot.  
  2. Melt butter in saucepan; stir in the Italian seasoning mix. Then the golden mushroom soup, white wine and cream cheese until combined. Pour over the chicken.
      3. Cover and cook on low heat setting for 4-5 hours.
      4. Serve chicken and sauce over hot cooked pasta or rice.
Sprinkle with chives, if desired.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Keeping Warm 101 - Farm Style

 Have a friend keep a watchful eye.
     The cold, the chill, it's still here. Yes, the cold and yes it's May and never mind that for two weeks in March it was deceptively summertime warm.  Well past April 1 there was a thin skin of ice in the ponding water - and now more tricks from Mother Nature. At least there are ways to get yourself warm, farm style that is. 

1. Dig hollow in dirt 2. Find friend
to keep watch 3. Cover nose.
     Curling up works real well.  Tuck everything in and under and plunk yourself down in the warmth of the sun's rays.  It's enough to make you want a cat nap. The best way is to lie as low as reasonably possible.  Dig out a hollow if you can.  Get out of the wind.

Keep your nose warm!

 Look to the animals for the secret to Keeping Warm 101, Farm Style.  The animals know how to warm up when the sun shines so brightly, but it is still really, really too cold for April and May.  The secret? The answer lies with the nose.  Yep, that's it, the nose.  If you keep your nose warm the rest of you will feel warmer as well.

 Here is a refreshing lemony summertime dessert to use with all the fresh berries ripening now.

               Lemon Semifreddo with Summer Berries 5*
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
1 ¾ cups heavy whipping cream
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
7 large egg yolks
½ cup fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs  plus 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel    
¼ tsp salt
4 cups  mixed fresh berries (such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and quartered

1. Line 9x5x3-inch metal loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving generous

2. Sprinkle almonds evenly over bottom of pan. Beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. Refrigerate while making custard.

3. Whisk 1 1/4 cups sugar, egg yolks, lemon juice, lemon peel, and salt in a metal bowl to blend.

4. Set bowl over simmering water and whisk constantly until yolk mixture is thick and fluffy and instant-read thermometer inserted into mixture registers 170°F, about 4 minutes. Remove bowl from over simmering water. Using electric mixer, beat mixture until cool, thick, and doubled in volume, about 6 minutes. Fold in chilled whipped cream.

5. Transfer mixture to prepared loaf pan and smooth top. Tap loaf pan lightly on work
surface to remove air pockets. Fold plastic wrap overhang over top to cover.
Freeze until firm, at least 8 hours or overnight.
*Semifreddo can be made 3 days ahead. Keep frozen.

6. Gently mix all berries and  remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in large bowl.  Berries can be made 3 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

7. Uncover semifreddo and invert onto platter.

6. Dip knife into hot water; cut semifreddo crosswise into
1-inch-thick slices. Transfer to plates; spoon berries alongside and serve.

 Adapted from Bon Appétit, June 2008


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Finding Keba's Country

Some days no one can find

     Here today, gone tomorrow? Where have we been?  Lost in cyberspace, locked inside a computer.  Aren't there just some days that one would want to just open up the computer and find what you're looking for?
     Keba's country still exists with farm adventures.  Blogger moved to Google Chrome and left this farm stuck in cyberspace and trying crazy attempts to figure out how to get back on and post.
     Computer changes seem to just be another bump in the road for twenty-somethings or thirty-somethings.  When you are not even close to those ages, it can be an exercise in developing patience.  
     Hoping to find the right button, answer a question the right way to get what is wanted can be just frustrating. But, now we're here to blog and hopefully here again.
    In case it is days before Keba's country can find its way back again to post, this chocolate cookie recipe adapted from BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher satisfies any chocolate craving.  The book is well worth buying especially if you like to read about recipes as well as bake them.              
                         Chocolate Crinkle Cookies   
1 ¾ cup  plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 1/3 cups semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 ¾ cups sugar, divided
1/3 cup canola oil
2  Tbs light corn syrup
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup  confectioners' sugar

 oven  325°F
   1. Beat together well flour, baking powder, and salt.  
   2. Melt chocolate in the microwave on 50% for 1 minute, stir, and microwave
for 15 seconds more and stir.
   3. In the mixer, beat 2 1/2 cups sugar, oil, and corn syrup together to blend. Beat in eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla, and on low, then beat in melted chocolate. Add flour mixture and
beat in on low.
   4. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Take out about 1/4 of the dough at a time to shape. Roll the dough into
1-1/2 to 2-inch balls. Pour 1/4 cup granular sugar into one bowl and the confectioners' sugar in another bowl. Roll each cookie dough ball very lightly in plain sugar first and then very heavily in confectioners' sugar.  
   5. Use parchment paper and arrange cookies 2 inches apart. For crisp cookies, bake 12 to 14 minutes
 (Rolling cookies in sugar first keeps the confectioners’ sugar on surface of cookie.)