31 August 2013

28 August 2013

Whistle Pig and Chickens

I think we might just have the next big Disney movie idea.  The story of a groundhog and the rooster that loves him. 

At Cookbook Of The Day, we featured  The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook by Tracey Medeiros and picked a recipe for New York Strip Steaks with WhistlePig Whiskey Demi-glace Sauce.  

We thought of our own whistle pig.  Here he is sashaying with the chickens.   Not the best picture as he is rather camera shy.  Fine, it is not the camera he is afraid of but my gun, as I have tried on more than one occasion to do him in.   Still, he bears no animosity and visits most days, staying close to his burrow and out of range of my gun and my camera.

They really do whistle.  In the late evening, he will stand up on his hind legs and give us a whistle.


24 August 2013

Farmhouse Revival

We have been spending a lot of time looking at Steve Gross and Susan Daley's Farmhouse Revival.  We are suckers for old farmhouses.  The old farmhouse is not a subject that lacks beautiful coffee table books.  Many of those books feature houses that look like farm houses on the outside, but resemble Manhattan apartments on the inside.  Not Manhattan, Kansas, either.   Farmhouse Revival looks at farmhouses that are actual farms.  Each one looks like there might just be people living inside, not some minimalist decorator. 

Of course, our favorite farmhouse room here is the kitchen.   Here, there is a sense of mismatched rustic. 

A fifties throwback with a scuffed Hoosier cabinet and a vintage Chambers stove.   It all seems surprisingly modern.

This is a favorite.  We are happy to see kitchens that eschew neat and tidy inline cabinets in favor of actual furniture.  There is a lovely Dutch door on the side and this kitchen features something else we adore in a house -- a second kitchen!

23 August 2013

A Wake For Elmore Leonard

We had terrible weather last night.  Thunder that sounded like a plane crashed on the front porch.  Today the sky is overcast and dreary.  It is too wet to paint, my goal for the day.  The cloudy weather is messing with the satellite and I have watched my Apple spinning paint wheel for hours as it tries to decide what to do.   So I have decided to hold a wake for Elmore Leonard.

I am going home, it is a Friday afternoon in August.   I am going to put on Season 2 of Justified with the luminous and deadly Mags Bennett.  The produces of Justified originally conceived of the deadly Mags as the patriarch of the Bennett clan, but with the aid of Margo Martindale, they soon saw the error of their ways. 

While I do not posses any Apple Pie moonshine I do have some Calvados.  And some vodka... And a big bag of Trader Joe’s Beurre Meunière popcorn.  Cue the banjo.

On this lonely road
tryin' to make it home...

22 August 2013

Rabbit Rabbit Radio

 Cormac McCarthy had been publishing books for years before he had a best seller.   He would write a book and the publisher would print 5000 copies.  It would sell about 1000 and the rest were remaindered or worst, pulped.   When he did get famous, droves of people came up to him and swore they had been reading him for years.  McCarthy did the math and soon realized this was not true.  If all of those people had been reading and buying his work, he would have been on the best seller list from the start. 

Every couple of years I run into Matthias Bossi at a wedding or a really great party.  I always tell him I love his music and I love Carla Kihlstedt's music.  I tell him I listened to Tin Hat back when they were a trio.  He smiles, but I can't help but think he is doing that Cormac McCarthy math.

Well, today, the New York Times ran an article about Matthias and Carla and their subscription radio service, Rabbit Rabbit Radio.  Check it out.

Really, Matthias, Still You Lay Dreaming is one of my faves.

19 August 2013

Walled Kitchen Gardens

I have been thinking of walled kitchen gardens recently after reading about the Barley Wood Walled Garden, home to the The Ethicurean, whose new cookbook is the best of the best this year.  Walled kitchen gardens run the gamut from the largess of the nobility, to the practicality of the Yankee farmer. 

 My favorite book on walled gardens is The Kitchen Garden of Heligan.  Almost lost, the gardens underwent a transformation and were completely restored. Tom Petherick supervised the reclaiming of the garden, televised by the BBC.  Since it's restoration it has been one of England's most popular garden destinations.

Typically a walled garden ranged from about and acre to 15 acres, but occasionally they were much more elaborate.  The walled garden at The Chateau de Villandry may not be as well known as Versailles, but the garden may be its rival.

From the extravagant to sublime.  Helen and Scott Nearing's Forest Farm  in Harborside, Maine was a labor of love for the two writers who nurtured the garden until their deaths.  Forest Farm has outlived the Nearings but their spirit lingers in this lovely walled garden.

16 August 2013

Ball Of Confusion

I am not a linear thinker.

I started out to write about a book of first meetings that forms a daisy chain of gossipy stories.  I ended up on a daisy chain of books that lead to a darker story.  So let us jump right in.

Craig Brown wrote Hello Goodbye Hello about famous people meeting each other for the first time.  The book didn't get the greatest reviews, probably because Brown wrote an author's note which states:
'"To lend a pattern to a book that revolves around chance... I have described each of the 101 meetings in exactly 1,001 words...the acknowledgements, preface quotes, note to the U. S. edition, book description, author's biography, and list of my other books each consist of 101 words, as does this note."
There is such a thing as being too clever!  The introduction to the U.S. edition explains who a few British politicians might be, as we Yanks might never have heard of them. It also explains who several actors are.   Frankly if you are reading a gossipy book about Marilyn Monroe meeting Khrushchev or how Groucho Marx met T. S Eliot you will probably know who Terrance Stamp and George Lazenby are.  I am sure that by the time most reviewers got to the actual book, they were a bit over it.

The book begins and end with Adolf Hitler.  Thankfully, Brown did not point this out to the reader in 101 word note.  Hitler meets John Scott-Ellis.  Not an auspicious start.  Really, Brown thought we wouldn't know the painter, Walter Sickert, but who fuck is John Scott-Ellis? (British  peerage, of course)  I digress...

So, Hitler meets Ellis, then Ellis meets Rudyard Kipling.  Kipling meets Mark Twain.  Twain meets Helen Keller.  Keller meets Martha Graham.  Graham meets Madonna and we are just to page 15!   314 pages later, The Duchess of Windsor meets Hitler.  Snarky trick aside, open this book to any page of the daisy chain and you will find a delightful story about a first meeting.  OK, fine, a lot of them are downright bitchy, but that's what makes it fun.

Most of P. Allen Smith's 600 Acre Farm
Speaking of bitchy... over at Cookbook of the Day we wrote about P.Allen Smith's cookbook Seasonal Recipes From The Garden.  Smith presides over an immaculate little estate comprising  nearly 600 acres.   While we see Smith pointing out plants and driving the tractor, we never see the people who actually do garden.  The people who plant and pull weeds and shovel manure while Smith explores Monticello.   We see the same thing with Martha Stewart who throws a special Christmas party for the 45 people who keep her 100+ acre estate looking immaculate while she is in jail or in the Hampton's.

In my stack of books with Seasonal Recipes From The Garden is Radley Balko's book Rise Of The Warrior Cop.  After  9/11 police forces were offered lots of  money and equipment to make America safe.  Soon every little town from Albuquerque to Winooski wanted or got a SWAT team to serve and protect.   What happens when police forces get all this SWAT gear?  Well, they use it.  Andy of Mayberry begins to "Stop and Frisk" for your own good.  I must say I wasn't terribly interested in Balko's book past my general concern that we act first and question later until this week when I read an article of his.
Balko wrote an article for the Huffinton Post about the Garden of Eden Farm in Arlington, Texas.  The Garden of Eden Farm was raided by a SWAT team.  They held the owner at gunpoint for half and hour and waited another 90 minutes before any sort of warrant appeared.  The entire siege of the Garden of Eden lasted 10 hours.  The police seized 15 okra plants among others, including blackberries and tomatillos.   One of the farm residents was arrested for traffic violations.  No one was arrested for drugs and no drugs were found on the premises. Why did the SWAT team think the Garden was not Eden?

The Corner of My Garden, Pre-Weed-Eater.
Neighbors complained that the garden was unsightly and reported they might be growing marijuana.  The farm did have some problems. The grass that was too tall.   Bushes were growing too close to the street.  (I thought they like Bushes in Texas?) A couch and piano were in  the yard.  Chopped wood was not properly stacked.  And most damning,  a piece of siding that was missing from the side of the house.   Save for the piano, this is my house!   Unlike Mr. P and Miss Martha, I do not have 40 people keeping thing in tip top condition.  It is me and a high-school senior with a weed eater.  Twice this year I have had to mow the garden as the weeds were so high.  This is not an excuse for storm troopers confiscating my okra!

Television gives us the illusion that one man with PBS show can maintain a small 600 acre garden.  But gardening is hard work and one six foot plot with or without marijuana, is enough to overwork the average person.  Regardless of what you see on the television, gardens are messy with or without a piano.

Garden are not as messy as Congress, who is more than willing to appropriate millions of dollars of your tax money so your local police station will be ready for terrorists or zombies or illegal aliens from Mexico or Mars, yet they won't pass a Farm Bill with Food Stamps for poor children.   Perhaps it would have been a better use of 10 hours time if the SWAT team had simply weeded the Garden of Eden and stacked the wood! 

Can you imagine what it like to find armed men in tactical gear holding you at gunpoint while their buddies pull up your okra.   This year my okra is so bad, I wouldn't mind someone pulling it up, I could use the help.

And now we find ourselves back with John Scott-Ellis.   His family had more than one farm on more than one continent and he never pulled a weed.  In 1931, at age 18, he visited Berlin and bought himself a Fiat.   He wasn't the best driver and Adolph Hitler was preoccupied when he failed to notice the Fiat.  So John Scott-Ellis meets Hitler by running him over.   Hitler is shaken but unscathed.  But what if the outcome had been different?

I am going home to ponder the eccentricities of the universe, to drink wine, and to mow; lest I be reported to the authorities.

15 August 2013

Charcoal Biscuits

 There was a lot of interest in our charcoal biscuits, from yesterday's post.

Activated charcoal has been a food additive since the 19th century.  It's original use was as a medicinal aid for stomach disorders.   A bit of charcoal powder was taken with water.  As one might guess, this was not terribly palatable and the powder was later added to biscuits or cookies  Think of them as big, black Prilosec cookies.   Even now, activated charcoal is used as a poison control when one's stomach is pumped.  What a lovely image for preparing crackers.

The biscuits or cookies as we call them, were quite popular in England and are thougtht to have originated with John Longman Bragg. A professional baker, J.L. Bragg, added the popular, but messy charcoal powder to cookies and a new industry was born.  The cookies took off and soon they found their way to Harrod's and other fine grocery stores.  In addition, they were sold at chemist shops and advertised in such august publications as the British Medical Journal.

 The biscuits fell out of favor in recent years and for a short time J.L. Bragg discontinued them, causing such an uproar that they were quickly re-introduced with fancy packaging.  Today J.L Bragg is the only United Kingdom company licensed to make medicinal charcoal products but don't let that stop you from venturing out.

In 1910, C.L. Russell's book on confectionery included the following recipe.

Charcoal  Biscuits

8 lbs. of flour
1½ lbs. of butter
1¼ lbs. of sugar
¾ lbs. of charcoal
½ pint of eggs
Milk as required

Rub the butter very finely into the flour, make a bay, add sugar and eggs, and whip up by the fingers to a thick cream, draw in the flour, into which you have previously mixed the charcoal, and make to a nice biscuit dough. Roll out fairly thin, cut out to any desired shape, wash with water, and bake in a good sound oven, taking care to see that they are thoroughly well done. 

In order to make charcoal crackers you need the charcoal which is easily available online.  Now would be a good time to tell you the downside of cooking with charcoal as an ingredient.   If you want to know what it is like, I suggest you don your favorite white shirt and venture out to the grill.    Dive down into your bag of charcoal as if there is a $20 gold piece at the bottom of the bag. When you don't find it and the dust makes you sneeze, be sure and cover your mouth.  Then swat at the mosquito on your arm.  then scratch your ear.  Now take a look in the mirror and imagine your counters and mixer and sink and floor all dusted in black.  

Every time I have ordered charcoal it has come nicely measured in a paper bag.   It is much easier to work with in a glass container.  The transfer of from the bag to the glass, is well, just take my word for it and do it OUTSIDE.  Make sure that you counters are clear and uncluttered as you want to touch as few thing as possible.  I find that it is best to go ahead and lay down some plastic wrap on your work area.   Plastic wrap is also important in making the crackers.  One can mix the dough, then form it into logs, freeze and slice or one can roll out the dough and cut it.  The best way to roll it is between two sheets of plastic wrap.  It is really no more messy than making a red velvet cake and turning everything crimson.  But it is messy so be forewarned.

The cracker recipe is beyond easy.

Charcoal Crackers

1 stick butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup activated charcoal powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 water as needed

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a stand mixer, cream the butter until fluffy.  Add the flour, charcoal, and salt.  Mix until a crumbly.  Add water and mix till dough comes together.  

Dump the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap.  Form into a log, wrapping it in the plastic wrap.  Freeze for at least 30 minutes.  Remove the log and slice the dough into thin rounds.   Place the rounds on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat.  Dock the crackers with a fork and bake for 20 minutes.  

As an alternative, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Roll the dough between sheets of plastic wrap and cup with cookie cutter.   If you want flat, uniform crackers, try this. After you have placed the cookies on the lined cookie sheet, top them with a second sheet of parchment or another Silpat.  Weigh them down with an identical cookie sheet and bake.  The weight of the second cookie sheet keeps them flat.

Not the best picture, but you can see the cracker on the left was sliced and docked.   The one on the right was cut and baked weighted down.  It is simply a matter of how you want them to look.

The charcoal gives the crackers a bit of grittiness.  There is no strong taste, which makes them a nice compliment to cheese.  I especially like them with a soft blue like Cambozola.

 One of my favorite dishes for charcoal is simple cornbread.  Adding a tablespoon or so of charcoal creates a black cornbread.   I cut out rounds of the cornbread and use it to top a plain potato soup or chicken hash.  The contrast of color is striking.  

Don't forget Fido.  Charcoal is a great additive for homemade dog biscuits.   

So go forth and be adventurous.

14 August 2013

Since Noah Never Showed Up...

Some of us were not the least bit distracted by the flood.  Trick felt the best way to deal with it (or any disaster, big or small) is to curl up in soft spot, cover your eyes and drift into dreamland.

I kept looking at the yard/pond.  So I headed into the kitchen.

First, threw together some cider dough and baked a nice boule.

 I found some artisanal cheese in the fridge, but only had saltines, so I threw together some charcoal crackers.

Next, I made 4 jars of Plum Amagnac  jam.  Warm plum  jam, warm cider bread. Not bad.

Then I made meatballs in a thick red wine sauce. 

By 9:30 after washing a ton of dishes, I was ready to curl up in a soft spot, put my hand over my eyes and drift into dreamland.

13 August 2013

Paging Noah

After 30 days with only 2 dry days, the rain finally caught up with us.  Doe Run feeds Sandy's Run, which feeds McElroy creek which feeds Middle Island Creek.  Middle Island Creek is the longest creek in America, just a few yard short of being a river.  This morning it was a lake having risen 9 feet over night.

The bridge is out there... Somewhere.

Lakefront property.

Yesterday, we finally got the mower back.  Nathan came and cleared all the banks.   The problem is not really the water coming down the run, the problem is there is no place for the water to go once it hits the creek.  The water finally begins to flow back toward us.  It has already started to flow back toward the run and should be down by noon.

12 August 2013

Puttin' Up

After returning from several days of travel, the rain subsided and ventured into the garden.  As one might expect, it was in a bit of disarray, but the squash were producing nicely.  However, in my absence, there were several rather large squash that needed to be dealt with immediately.  Yesterday, I cooked and froze 6 quarts of squash.  Four packages of yellow and two of zucchini.   It through the seedy bits to the chickens.  I noticed that on one section of cut squash I rested the tops of several others and as I walked out to the chickens, I thought it looked rather funny, so I took a picture.

As you may remember, I recently made a batch of Blueberry-Lavender Butter.  Here is the finished batch sitting on the stove.

The next week, I found some odd fruit in the DC grocery.  (Well a bit odd for West Virginia.  I do hate reading those blogs where the author says things like, my mother has a Meyer lemon tree in her yard so she sent me a zillion boxes, or my neighbor's fig tree was groaning so I  canned 400 jars of preserves.  OK, I am jealous, I admit it, but I digress...)

I bought two quinces and two small boxes of kumquats as I do love  kumquats.  I have planted a dozen quince trees over the years and not a one of them survived, so no quince laded trees at Lucindaville.  A house guest left a bag of cherries in the fridge that needed to be dealt with.  Let the small batch canning commence.   I made several small jars of quince preserves, some kumquat marmalade with a shot of orange liqueur, a few jars of cherries pickled with star anise joined the last two jars of blueberry butter that didn't get eaten or given away.

On Friday afternoon, I bought 4 gorgeous white peaches.  By Saturday morning, one of the peaches was already beginning to get mushy.  I quickly peeled and sliced the peaches, doused them with lemon, and covered them in sugar and set them in the fridge. On Sunday, after cooking the squash, I made some peach preserves with ginger.  You might remember my recent post on these Home Made tops.

Last year I wrote about making a Lilac Jam and how I liked to think of it as jamelly.   Traditionally, jelly is clarified till pristinely clear, but I like it with a bit of the "stuff" in it and less Jello-like.  Well, I feel the same way about preserves,  I looked at several recipes for peach preserves and they all called for a mashing of the fruit.   I didn't want my lovely white peaches obliterated, I wanted them to be recognizable in the jar and not encased in Jello.  I wanted the peaches floating in a thick, ginger syrup, not suspended like a fly in amber.

Ginger- Peach Preserves or Whatever

4 large white peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced (peel them by dropping them in a pan of boiling water for a few seconds)
1 heaping tablespoon soft diced ginger ( I think this ginger from King Arthur Flour is an absolute kitchen essential)
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons pectin powder

In a large container with a top,  add the peach slices and sprinkle with lemon juice, immediately.  Add the ginger.  Cover the peaches and ginger with the sugar.   Tap the container on the counter to distribute the sugar.  Cover and place in the refrigerator.   The sugared peaches can sit in the refrigerator a couple of days, until you are ready to make the preserves. (The sugar will congregate at the bottom of the container, which is not a bad thing, but I often invert the container a time or two to keep the sugar distributed.)

Remove the container from the refrigerator and place the contents in a preserving pan, using a spatula to get all the mixture out of the container and into the pan.   Bring mixture to a boil and cook about 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat.   Sprinkle the pectin over the fruit mixture and stir to incorporate.  Return mixture to a boil.

Place in prepared canning jars and process.

These ginger-peach preserves are slightly runny with actual peach slices and not a stiff, mashed pulp.   So maybe they are syrup preserves,  peaches in ginger syrup, or sliced peach preserves.  Hey, they don't care what you call them as long as you call them when you make biscuits.   And rest assured, they are Home Made.

01 August 2013

The Walking Dead Wants You ...

...or Save Me First, I'm a Farmer.  This is what happens when you combine a Victory Garden with the Zombie Apocalypse.  You get the Zombie Apocalypse Farmers Corps.   Not to be confuse with "corpse."

Don't laugh, spoilers say this season The Walking Dead will feature raised beds and chickens.

When Kathy Voth and Leah Ashley Esser were looking for a way to make gardening fun, they thought of Zombie Victory Gardens.  We defeated Hitler, we can defeat the Governor!    Frankly, if we are depending on my garden this year to save us, we are royally screwed, but it's the thought that counts. 

So, if you think the zombies are coming, join the ZAF Corps. and "Quick!  Plant something."

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