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.