Friday, July 31, 2009

Wish You Were Here!

I had a wonderful two days at the beach. As you can see, these ladies are having a great time, too. Who can beat dozing off in the sun with your buddies beside you and the wind in your hair? We stayed at the Bath Avenue House (, where Jim, the co-owner and breakfast chef extraordinaire provided us with tasteful settings and equally tasteful breakfasts each day. You will never face mid-morning hungry if you stay at his establishment! The house itself, a 130 year old charming building just three blocks from the beach, is a quiet haven in a sweetly nostalgic town. Most of the properties have been polished to perfection in the last few decades, and the town is a Victorian visual delight. It was listed in the National Register of Historical Places in 1976, and the New Jersey State Register of Historical Places in 1977. See the official website for more details: Ocean Grove holds a few surprises as well; the Methodist tent village in the center of town and the nearby Irish pub/sushi bar are the first two that come to mind. Nearby Asbury Park, just a short walk away, is rising from the ashes of its storied past with many fascinating hints of former lives residing in the architecture. Bring a camera. This is a town with a history , just waiting for you to uncover it. It's not just about Bruce Springsteen. What do I love best about the beach? Why do I return, year after year? It's not the sun; I'm fair-skinned and sensitive. It's not the boardwalk "culture"; I'm over the bar scene and arcades don't do much for me personally though I do love to watch other people have fun. I'm not much of a shopper, though my curiosity is always whetted by the pretty trinkets in the local shops. Antiques are fun, but can be found closer to home. It's something primal. The timeless power of the waves that I feel in my own heart, the sunrises that move me to tears, the luxury of a few hours or days of no responsibility. Where else can you read a book in one or two sittings, enjoy a few glasses of wine with new friends on a Victorian porch, or nap with your toes in the sand in broad daylight, if you dare embrace the sun? It's the rhythm of the waves, and the slower pace of my days; the deeper breaths, the peace of privacy and the intensity of nature's passion that take me to the beach. I can do without everything else, though the local seafood and wine are welcome additions. More about that another time; today, I'll bask in the memory of yesterday's sand-anchored sunrise as I wait for the sun to set here in rainy Pennsylvania. And for another year if necessary, I'll remember that the ancient ocean is always there...alive and waiting.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Quest for Lissette

A few years ago, Peter and I accompanied out friend John (thank you John; we miss you!) to Belize. We hopped, skipped and jumped our way to Long Caye, Glover’s Reef Atoll; specifically, Off the Wall Dive Center, AKA HEAVEN!!!!!, home of Jim and Kendra Schofield, where we spent the week living in sweet little palapas enjoying rum and fruit-juice drinks, naps and beach-combing between snorkeling and scuba adventures. No, there was no resort in the fake, upscale luxury-vacation mode; Off the Wall is also mostly Off the Grid, refreshingly natural and private, remote and tropical. There is no air strip. It takes two hours by boat to reach the island, and it’s worth every minute riding the waves with captain Junior at the wheel to arrive there. It perches on the lip of the atoll, where you can swim or boat out a few hundred yards, then peer over the edge into what seems to be a bottomless pit of tropical blue water. On the way, you’ll see every amazing tropical fish and sea creature you can imagine if you wait long enough. Check out Kendra’s pictures on their site: to see some of the critters that you can see! While we were there, we were treated to the local cuisine, thanks to Jim and Kendra’s cook, Annette. She was an awesome cook, and each meal featured fresh and wholesome foods she prepared in the little outdoor kitchen onsite. At the table was an ever-present tray of sauces for the less hearty palates among us (Belizeans like it hot!), and on that tray was a bottle of Lissette’s Secret Sauce. The Holy Grail. IT IS SO GOOD! A blend of sweet, tart, hot, and fruit, it has a savory goodness I can only approximate in my own kitchen. I have searched the web for a United States distributor (shipping doubles the price per bottle), and I was thrilled to find an outlet in Vineyard Haven, MA : . Unfortunately, they are simply a hub; the product still ships from Belize! Somebody out there, in the USA!!!! Deal in Lissette’s Secret Sauce! It’s the best! But if your pocket is deep and you want something wonderful, contact the estate of the address above. And go to Off the Wall, and buy some duty free on the way home. Send me a bottle.

It was the best week of my life. Annette's cooking and Lissette's Secret Sauce only made it tastier. And no, I won’t share my approximation of the recipe based upon the ingredients. Buy some for yourself. Create a market. This stuff is GOOD!

By the way, the other taste I developed while in Belize was for One-Barrel Rum. I'll leave it to you to find your own. Good luck!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hot Glass

This is how I look when I'm "in the zone". I have to tell you, the camera flash came as a complete surprise to me even though I asked Aubrey, Kathy's granddaughter (a budding bead-maker!) to take it! I was right there in the hot glass and forgot all about my request. I was describing "the zone" to El, a writer friend of mine recently, in reference to writing, and she observed that it is true for all art. Art takes us somewhere immediate and powerful. It's a beautiful thing. Her blog, Synthetic Culture, is posted at the right. I've been giving some impromptu lampworking lessons at the farm. One of my very favorite things to do is to recycle pretty bottle glass into even prettier beads. That's what I'm doing here, with a slice of brown glass. Later, I add them to jewelry I make, now as a fundraiser for the farm. I had some success with the horsehair bracelets (another kind of recycling altogether.) I'll post a picture of them soon. Next week, on Tuesday and Wednesday, I'll be offline for awhile, as I'll be dipping my toes in the Atlantic to make sure it's still there. I make the pilgrimage to the Jersey Shore once a year, just to check up on it. This year, El will be my partner in crime while Peter holds down the fort.

On Sundays, I Cook.

Lunch Today: Tomato Confit Flatbreads with Toasted Mozzarella This concoction, made from home-grown vegetables and herbs, fresh artisanal mozzarella and your own sourdough flatbreads is a healthy and hearty quick-fix summer lip-smacker. This recipe takes a little background. If you currently make your own flatbreads from sourdough starter, and if you make your own mozzarella, you’re set. Otherwise, you’ll need to obtain these ingredients, preferably at your local farmers’ market. The next step is to make your tomato confit. Don’t be scared! It’s really easy and SOOOOO worth the effort! Here’s the link to the recipe (thank you, Emeril!): Ok, so your ingredients are assembled. Brush your flatbreads with the juice left over from marinating your tomatoes. Place a sparse layer of the tomato confit on the flatbreads, and cover with a sparse layer of fresh mozzarella. Broil until brown and melted. Garnish with chopped scallion tops. Eat. Enjoy. ............................................................................................. There's always a pot of soup on Sundays, now with my own fresh veggies! Come have a bowl!
Do you have a talent that can help others? Exercise your natural talent in an environment that needs it. Don’t ask for money; rely upon divine karma to help you along when and if you need it. If your talent is in the kitchen, cook. There are people who are hungry. If your talent is teaching children, volunteer at a shelter. Read to those who can’t. Help them with their taxes. Drive for those who can't. It makes a difference. It really IS in giving that we receive. You’ll see.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

In the Soaps: Yours Truly!

Artisanal Goat's Milk Soap
by Sandy and Stephanie
I'm a star. Well, the back of my head is; OK, they most likely deleted it, but I was taped briefly during my thwarted mission to pick up soap making supplies today.
First, the back-story; Stephanie S. and I have been making goat's milk soap. We need each other, because she has the technical savvy and I have the chutzpah to pour and mix lye. It's a soap-making match made in heaven! We enjoy each other's company, and bring out the creative best in each other (including the snappy pot-lucks we throw together for lunch afterward!) It's great fun, and we're using 1/3 of the proceeds to help support Flint Hill Farm, where my little goat-girl (Faith) lives with her merry band of does. They're a non-profit, so anyone interested in sampling their wares can also take a tax deduction! See the link at the right...please!
Stephanie and her handsome hubby are away this week, most likely hiking and geocaching between brew-pubs. A perfect vacation! Meanwhile, if fell upon me to replenish our supplies of oils while she was gone. The store, which has great prices and a great selection, is about 40 minutes from my home, though it's closer to the farm, so when I was done milking this morning, I went there, muddy and sweaty, but clutching cash in my hot little hands. To no avail, as it turns out.
As I entered the store, I encountered several rows of rapturous patrons watching a demonstration by a well-spoken, poised matron, who seemed to be making something from wax. I don't know; It looked like church to me, so I froze. I stopped dead in my tracks like a rabbit in the high beams, but still was scolded by a camera-wielding young woman who pointed at the OTHER camera that was pointing at the back of my head. I quickly ascertained that no palm oil or coconut oil would be forthcoming, and was escorted out the side door.
So there's my sad story. No soap today! But I WAS famous for a it's all good.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Thank you, Macy!

OK...I couldn't wait.
Beads by yours truly. Tail hair by Macy of Flint Hill Farm.

Urban Gardening

View from my back door
First, the good news: Miss Faith, the ever-suffering, gorgeous goat, has rallied and is back to her persistently bleating self. She has taken to searching my pockets for licorice, which tells me she is certainly on the mend. She is ravenous and has decided to take her shots without complaint. She actually asks for the pro-biotic; we’re calling it her “yogurt”. One more day of the meds, and she should be as good as new. YAY! I’ve been thinking about herbs today, as I have home-garden work to do between rainfalls. Pennsylvania has inexplicably become semi-tropical this year. I hear it’s the result of El Nino; whatever the reason, my gardens are both great green jungles. While my larger garden and my goat are on Flint Hill Farm, my home is in Allentown. I can mow my lawn in 30 seconds, which is why I grow my big plants at the farm. And although my neighbors are wonderful, I doubt the city would allow a goat. Silly city. Just think of the gas we'd save mowing lawns! I had the pleasure of meeting Adelma Grenier Simmons in the mid-80’s. She was a leading figure in herbal history and usage until her death in 1997. She was also the founder of Caprilands Herb Farm in Coventry, CT. In the earlier part of her life, Ms. Simmons attempted to raise goats on the rocky property, which proved to be less-than-profitable. Her next venture, gardening, had the same results, so she began to explore herbs which thrived on the rocky soil. Hence the name of the farm: “Caprilands”, from the Latin root “Capri”, meaning goat. I met Ms. Simmons at “Gardenfest”, a summer festival put together by Rodale, way back when. I was pleased to be able to purchase a few of her booklets at the time, which I cherish. You can find a picture of her at the herb farm’s website: Another book that I truly enjoy is this oldie but goodie: Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, I actually have two copies of this gem. The later, updated copy is helpful, but I prefer the older version simply because I find it both quaint and highly informative. The author, who truly knew his subject matter, wrote in a charming old-English style that adds a certain traditional flavor to the work. The book is chock-full of herb lore and practical applications.
On tonight's menu: Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup (my daughter, Megan LeVance's recipe), and Corn and Squash Simmered in Coconut Milk with Thai Basil, from Local Flavors, by Deborah Madison ( I'm also roasting some dandelion root I harvested at the farm in the rain the other day; it makes a great diuretic tea. The flavor has chocolate overtones. Yum! A must have for those of us who occasionally overindulge.
Tomorrow (or later tonight): horsehair bracelets with hand-worked, recycled glass beads. WooHoo!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Two Lives

There are some days that never seem to settle in. I have vivid dreams. I always have had them. I sometimes remember them intact, but often just remember portions of them. In my dreams, I don’t remember my waking life, so why should I expect it to work the other way around? This morning, when Peter woke me as he was getting dressed for work, I was deep in my dream life and wanted to stay there. It involved travel, a beach town, an auditorium full of people, and a difficult extrication of my summer “stuff” from the group that filled it. Some young guy that I was helping with his daily commute took it upon himself to move my truck as I was loading my EXTENSIVE vinyl record collection back on it (I don’t have a record collection in my waking life), and I was angry. I wanted to finish the job, but I never did. I woke up to another rainy Pennsylvania day, with no plans until milking time this evening. Not a bad deal, as it turns out. I had a world of vegetables to deal with, and I think I did well with them. After I unloaded a bag full on my neighbor, I concocted this recipe. You tell me! Does dinner look good? Apart from the flour used in the crust, every bit of this meal is either home grown or locally procured, down to the fertile eggs, bacon, cheese and whole, raw milk in the quiche. The recipe follows; I’ll call it Organic Garden Garbage Quiche. It ROCKS! Rachel Ray, et al: give me credit if you use it! The side is simply 1/4 head of cabbage sautéed in the juice from the tomatoes with two cobs of fresh corn kernels. Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and a little chopped habanera (use your own judgment on the heat!) Ingredients (as local and organic as possible): 1/2 cup Pesto 1/3 pound Bacon Pie Dough 1 large or two small tomatoes ½ medium zucchini Onion greens from three onions (or two bunches of scallions) 2 eggs 1 cup whole milk Whatever shredded cheese you have on hand. Or an Italian mix, approx. ¾ cup. Salt and pepper (most of the seasoning will be in the pesto.) Instructions: Sauté bacon until crispy. Remove from pan and drain on a towel. Reserve fat. Chop tomatoes and onion greens. Add tomatoes (with skin intact, thank you!) to the fat and sauté until just tender. Strain tomatoes and place in a bowl. Reserve the liquid they produced, and set aside for the side dish. Add chopped onion greens, sliced zucchini and pesto to the bowl with the drained tomatoes. Mix well. Taste, then adjust with salt and pepper. Set aside. Beat two eggs into a cup of whole milk. Roll out your crust (I make mine, and freeze them ahead, but store-bought is fine, or any recipe you like) and lay it in a pie pan. Add vegetable mixture to the pan. Put the shredded cheese on top of the vegetables, then pour the egg mixture the cheese. Don’t fill the pan to the top unless you LIKE burnt custard in your oven. Bake at 350 degrees until brown and firm. Remove from oven and let set for at least 30 minutes, preferably more.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Farmer, Artist, Indian Chief

Hannibal Goatster
When did I become a farmer? The last time I defined myself, the most appropriate term was artist.
I had an interesting conversation with Kathy (Fields, owner of Flint Hill, cheese maker extraordinaire) yesterday. We were discussing the habits that people adopt which prevent them from adapting to change. She's reading something by someone who describes these ideas in psychological terms. I'm reading The Book of Secrets by Deepak Chopra, who discusses it this way:
"Everything I am experiencing reflects myself: Therefore I don't have to try and escape. There is nowhere to escape to, and as long as I see myself as the creator of my reality, I wouldn't want to escape even if i could. My life is part of every other life: My connection to all living things makes it impossible that I have enemies. I feel no need to oppose, resist, conquer, or destroy. I have no need to control anyone or anything: I can affect change by transforming the only thing I ever had control of in the first place, which is myself."
Pretty smart guy.
So, this season, I'm a farmer. A decade ago, I was a kayaker. The one before that, I was an artist. Rich man, poor man, beggar man,, lawyer, Indian chief. We are the sum of our experiences. Right now, I feel grounded.
I have a little prayer/mantra that I wrote a few years ago, that focuses on balance and centering, and coming "home". I think it may have brought me the positive energy to be in this space, now.
If you'd like to see more of my Plainfield Farmers' Fair photos, you can find them in my facebook album here: Be advised, there are some PG13 piggy pictures included!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On a More Tasteful Note...

It looks like a ratatouille night! Life is good; I didn't expect to make such a haul from my garden today. Summer vegetables sauteed with a little local sausage will make a maaa-velous dinner. While I was waiting for the vet, I did a little walk-about and harvested an armload of dandelion (I roast the roots to make tea) and a pretty yarrow bouquet, as well. Faith had her checkup and will be fine with a little help from her friends (thanks, Dr. Reagan!). I'll be heading back over to the farm for an impromptu lamp working lesson for Kathy's granddaughter Aubrey and Rebecca before I milk tonight. I'm currently milking 15 does; Faith is done for the season. I love them all (even when they're mischievous!).

Summertime, and the living is...queasy

Today is an auspicious day. It's the first time I'll be calling a vet to see Faith, my pretty nubian, and I'm pretty nervous about the whole thing. Faith, as you can see, is gorgeous. She's a registered nubian doe, 2 years old, and the current non-human love of my life. She follows me like a dog, and calls me "maaaaam" in that distinctive nubian voice. And right now, she has her second case of the (ahem) trots this season.
A great way to begin a blog, you might be thinking. I'm thinking it, too. But, since I'm essentially talking to myself right now, as this is my first entry and as-yet unpublished, I'm being honest and sharing my thoughts.
I've been researching goat health, and know the usual list of suspects regarding ruminant health, and have decided that I need to pin down the particular culprit that's making my pretty girl feel bad, so I'm going to shell out the cash and hope for the best. There has been a rash of this sort of trouble everywhere this season, due to the wet spring (I'm told). Wish us luck!
While I'm there, I'll likely visit my garden, and I happen to know there's a nice cauliflower and a few heirloom squash with my name on them, so it'll be a veggie good dinner tonight.
I board Faith at a lovely farm in Coopersburg, called Flint Hill Farm. It's an Agricultural Education Center, a non-profit dedicated to "Feeding the Spirit, Educating the Mind, (and)Preserving the Community". You can see everything they (we) do at I keep my larger garden there as well, though I still have a rather ambitious container garden thriving here in my little urban homestead. I'll talk about all of them, as the summer progresses. I hope you'll share your expertise with me, as well!