Friday, December 31, 2010

Remote Posting

Hello, my friends!  I'm taking the evening off to cook our traditional New Year's Eve dinner, but I hear Faith did a little writing over at Faith's Funny Farm.  Why don't you go on over and check it out?  There are lots of pictures there from Lights in the Woods, including lots of Faith's good friends.  Have a safe New Year's Eve, and I'll catch you on the flip side!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Urgently Nesting

I'm in denial. Denial that in just a few days I'll be back at it, racing out of the house in the pre-dawn dark, hoping my socks match, drying my frozen hair in the truck's blower (set on high), hoping I have time to stop for a bagel on my way to room 601, where I'll meet up with 20 young people who feel pretty much the same way I do.  We'll wake up together over morning announcements, wipe the sleep from our eyes, and shake off our dreams while we adjust to the harsh reality of early morning academia. And we'll make the best of it; it'll grow on us again, and we'll share some laughs while we start on our new year together.  But right now, all I'm thinking of is home.

Home.  Where the heart is, where the comfortable mess waits for a creative touch, where the projects wait for some love and attention, and where the plants have languished during my recent manic fall semester.  Where my freezer is brimming with foods I've lovingly saved there, just waiting for a culinary muse to overtake me...which she did, last night after my second glass of holiday reisling.  What to do?  Mushrooms, of course.

Heaven in a Pot
Morels, chantarelles, oyster mushrooms, chicken mushrooms, giant puffballs and shiitakes all found their way into my pot; most were frozen over the late summer months.  The morels and chantarelles were dehydrated, purchased at the Amish grocery store in Fleetwood, and are decidedly local.  The whole mess was rehydrated if necessary, sauteed, seasoned lightly, and married with a single cube of last spring's chopped garlic scapes, from my stash in the freezer. A pasta dough was made and patiently rolled out with my hand cranked pasta maker, and the final results (wild mushroom ravioli) found their into my freezer before I stumbled off to bed. The elves came and did the dishes for me. 

We Will Love Them Sometime Soon
The same elf that cleaned up after my chaotic kitchen event slept late this morning, while I continued on my nesting mission.  I've just finished a good book, The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball, and it has made me hyper-aware of the beauty of worn, homey objects that are useful and well loved (namely, everything we own).  She waxes poetic about setting seeds in soil, about calves and kittens, and still manages to keep it real.  In that "school of harsh reality" mood, I decided to tackle the project that has been looming large in my mind: the "Elephant in the Room", aka the "Plants I Neglected All Fall in the Sun Room."

I'm not a negligent plant keeper, most times.  I've raised my own food, orchids, herbs; I've been said to have a green thumb.  That thumb has apparently been somewhere less productive (in terms of plant life) for the last few months.  Of course, I did get an "A" on the course I was taking, and wrote two pretty decent research papers using APA style (for the first time).  Tell that to my dead herbs...they're compost now. The wages of academic war: herbal collateral damage.

I performed triage on the table of withered herbs and flowers, setting the goners out on the deck for the birds to pick at, and trimming the wounded down to manageable sizes.  The orchids fared better than the Christmas cacti, believe it or not; one optimistic little trooper had even sprouted a blossom spike.  Anything with a glimmer of hope got a nice soaking shower and a haircut before being returned to the sun room table they call home. I think we'll call it "the infirmary" for the time being.
The Infirmary
Four out of five African Violets survived as well, spunky little troopers that they are.  I carefully snuck a good watering under their drooping velvet leaves and set them up high, where they like it, above our multicultural cat chachka collection.

Gris-Gris, Supervising
The rest of the room got a good cleaning, too.  We (Peter was awake by then) topped off the event by filling the bird feeders and settling in with Hobie and Gris-Gris for a little passive bird-watching.
I am determined to soak up every moment of home time I can, between social events and fundraisers.  Tonight's Lights in the Woods will bring a welcome end to the long, cold evenings of people, hot-dogs, and blown fuses, and a return to the tranquility I yearn for on the farm when I volunteer there.  And tomorrow, after I visit David and Bonnie in Niantic, and get the goats fed and watered, I'll come home to my comfortable, freshly cleaned and nurtured sun room, and enjoy my last two days of winter vacation.  Cleaning this:
The Studio
Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Peasant Food

There's nothing better than a simple meal.  I've been lusting after this one lately, so here it is: Cabbage and Noodles, Pennsylvania Style.  Why Pennsylvania style, you may ask? Because not one ingredient was grown or produced any more than 20 miles from my doorstep, that's why.  And, boy, is it yummy.

Cabbage and Noodles
You start with a good handful of fresh, local bacon, harvested from a pig you had the pleasure to feed at one time or another.  Brown that in a thick Dutch oven, then remove the bacon to a plate.  Add a half of a local sweet onion (from an Amish stand, or your own, if you have them), and saute the onion until it's just translucent.  In the mean time, you should be boiling some wide egg noodles (Amish or home made with local eggs) on the back burner.  When they're done, drain and add a pat of good creamery butter to the pot to keep them from sticking.  Set aside.

By now, your kitchen will be smelling so good that the late sleepers will wander downstairs to see what's cooking.  That's when you pull a fast one on them and add a half of a chopped savoy cabbage (your own or the farm stand's) that's been hiding in your vegetable crisper for the last few weeks.  Saute that with the onions until the cabbage is tender, then add the noodles and crumbled bacon.  Salt and pepper to taste, and you're home.

There's nothing better than a simple, local meal in the winter. Except, maybe, the smell of that bacon cooking when you're hungry.  Heaven.

Catching my Breath

With the majority of the holiday hoo-ha behind me, I feel I can finally settle myself by the computer long enough to catch up.  Christmas is full of lessons for me; I learn every year.

One thing I re-learned this year is the importance of making time for family and friends, despite a deep need for solitude.  It's expected, necessary; those planned moments seal our affection for each other, join our widely-spread tribe for a shared meal or cocktail, and maintain the emotional ties that are so vital to our feelings of wholeness as a community of like minded friends.  Though we were fighting off a nagging cold that had us both exhausted, and were committed to help with several nights of Lights in the Woods at the farm (our winter fundraiser), Peter and I managed to spend time with many of our dearest friends during the last week.  Those we haven't seen are either traveling, or too remote to visit on our tight budget.
The Drafts at Lights in the Woods, Flint Hill Farm
Speaking of tight budgets, I'm amazed at the sense of abundance I've been feeling, despite the lower flow of cash.  My freezer and pantry have yielded up a bounty of wholesome meals, thanks to this year's gardening, foraging, and gifts of farm fresh meat and home made concoctions from like minded friends.  Our Solstice locavore dinner, held with Stephanie and Mike and hosted at their larger, tidier home, was a testament to the fecundity of our Pennsylvania farmlands, with a wealth of locavore pot-luck goodies provided by the 20-something guests.  It was a refreshing blend of old friends and new ones, all mingling warmly and hailing the holidays on the longest night of the year; a celebration of readiness. Solstice brings an instinctual hunkering down, a nesting urge, one we painfully ignore in our contemporary artificially lighted lifestyle.  Instead of yielding to the increased desire to eat comfort food, sleep deeply, and semi-hibernate, our industrial culture has sold us a bill of goods that requires us to plod on...with a sour winter temper resulting from our neglected subconscious desires.  Of course, bills must be paid, cows must be milked, children must be taught; but I propose we embrace our desire to simply sleep and be comforted by a warm fire and a hot meal occasionally, and remember that life is actually a rather simple and beautiful thing, with waxing and waning rhythms, like the moon and the seasons.  Why fight it?  Our Solstice dinner was, for me, a symbolic reminder of that idea.

Christmas came, and with it the family gatherings and meals, made a bit more difficult this year by our distance from my daughter.  The core of the celebration has shifted, as it should have, to the home she's made with her fiance and the five children they share, and we older folks are adjusting to the new dynamic.  I'm finding the transition rather beautiful; seeing my daughter blossom into her full adult power is an awesome experience.  She fills me with a quiet pride.  She's strong and beautiful, with a steadiness grown of experience.  She loves calmly and deeply. She couldn't give me a better gift. 

Megan, During Warmer Days
Our drive was long that day, with a trip south to pick up her grandmother, then the longer trip north to see her.  I spent the second leg of the trip, from Granny's apartment in Phoenixville to Megan's house in Forty-Fort, PA (near Wilkes-Barre), stuffed into the coffin-sized extended cab of my little truck like cord wood.  It was good for a laugh, and not nearly as bad as it sounds.  We had the space decked out with a large couch pillow and a sleeping bag, so it was comfortable enough, even if I did have to make the trip with one arm wedged over my head.  I'm beginning to appreciate the potential story-making qualities in difficult situations these days, even as they're occurring.  The inherently amusing silver lining. 

The house was a riot of people, most of them small; there were cats and dogs and new in-laws and food and drinks; too much activity to worry about social amenities.  It was a crazily busy few hours of chaotic merry-making, with kids coming and going, adults sneaking outside for brief moments of quiet and cool air, and much gifting and picture-taking.  It was exhausting fun, and we left with Megan's car, complete with my two grandsons, instead of the truck; they needed a ride to their father's house in Hellertown, which became our next stop in the Christmas-day marathon.

Trevor and Hobie
Love transcends physical discomfort.  It makes you agree to do things that are hard, and like it.  Christmas was one of those days, for all of us, and it was beautiful.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Let's Talk

I'm deep in the throes of a research paper, and haven't surfaced for days.  Here's what I'm thinking about:

          “Let's offer what we have, Let's (sic) not tolerate any barrier against our influence. Let's not erect any fence around any other influence. We know what we have to offer. We don't know what others have to give us. Some of it is certain to be good. Let's trade thoughts, methods and people.

The challenge is worthy of American energy. We might even succeed a little sooner, a little betters (sic), than we should expect. We might suffer set-backs, but we should never give up trying. Thus, and thus only, we shall win the last war, on the last battle ground, for the brotherhood of man.” Pierre Bourdelle (my father-in-law).

What a brilliant man he was.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Faith's Funny Farm

Our outspoken princess Faith has decided that she needs a blog of her own.  You can read all about her latest adventures here:

In the meantime, here's a picture of the goats (mostly!) to keep you warm at night.

Someone's Different...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend Highlights

Gratuitous Snow on Thanksgiving Morning
On Thanksgiving morning, it snowed just enough to make it pretty outside; what a nice touch for a relaxed holiday weekend!  As you know from my previous blog, we decided on a non-traditional meal this year.  We went with paella, which was lovely, and shared our evening with our good friend El.  We've shared many holidays over the last 20 years.

A Toast to Good Friends
 The weekend was spent doing various chores and cleaning up, and today (Monday) was spent with the grand kids, who arrived last night a few hours before bedtime. There's just something wonderful about little boys.
They do things like this...
And this...
And this.  And it's all great, and really funny.
Then you take them somewhere else (like the farm), and they do more stuff.

They're Crazy!
And cute...

And frisky.
 And they grow up way too fast, just like their mother did. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Trade

Thanksgiving is over, and the bounty has been shared; just this evening, Kathy graciously gave us a bag of home raised, humanely nurtured pork for our freezer.  I'm so grateful.  I never expected such a treat.

Now, these were some happy pigs.  Apart from the West-Side cow incident a week or so ago (I still have to laugh at that; I'm a little twisted), those pigs had it good.  Here's the recap (Nov. 14th blog):

"Last weekend, my friend El and I visited the farm together so she could see our newborn calf. One of the volunteers had forgotten to shut the gate between the cow field and the pig run, and chaos ensued. I have never seen cows band together like a street gang and attack before; usually they just mill around, benignly grazing and mooing. These cows were pissed! They attacked those poor pigs enmasse. You've never seen fat pink buttocks running away more frantically. I'm ashamed to say that I can't stop laughing about the visual memories it brings up: think "West Side Story" (the Jets and the Sharks). Those poor piggies! Thankfully, the vet and his assistant were on site, checking out the goats, and between the 4 of us, we were able to break up the rumble. The piggies had to take a long nap that afternoon."

And although I've been hearing endless conversations about being vegetarian vs. being a carnivore (omnivore), and I understand both the philosophical and environmental implications, I am, without doubt, an omnivore.  I do hold myself to ethical standards when buying my food, however. These pigs had a good life, as do the chickens whose eggs we eat, and the goats and cows whose milk we drink.

So, in order to make room for the ham, sausage and pork shoulder, we had to go spelunking in the freezer.  I know how much we'll want the greens this winter, so they were off limits.  I decided to pull out two quarts of cantaloupe sorbet, a bag of tomato something-or-other which I'll make into a stew, and a quart bag of black elderberries.  Elderberries!!!! We picked them and froze them this summer!

Flu season is coming, so I sent Peter off to the liquor store for some 100 proof vodka to make a tincture.  It can't be easier...50% berries, 50% alcohol, let rest for 2-3 weeks, then sip as needed; as preventative medicine, the suggested dose is a tablespoonful in the morning and evening.  Strain out the berries unless your bowels are bound up (then eat a'll do the job).  And elderberries are good!  If you're more interested in sweet things, elderberry syrup has the same healing properties.  You can find many recipes for it on the web.

So, Miss Kathy can expect some elderberry tincture and some cantaloupe sorbet for her generosity.  And we'll be eating a local ham for Christmas.  Farm life is good, even here in the city.  We're blessed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thrifty Thanksgiving...and Not So Much

About a month ago, I found this smoker at the local thrift store.  Brand new.  Never used. $14.  We had been talking about smoking cheese, and I thought we might be able to figure something out; cheese smoking is a cold, indirect process, obviously, and this little beauty is essentially a charcoal grill with a basin inside and a cover to hold the smoke.  In other words, it's HOT.  Not cold.  So it sat unused on the back porch.  Until today.

Now, we hadn't planned to have a traditional Thanksgiving.  My daughter moved farther away, and my mother doesn't care much about the holiday (she's German; it isn't HER holiday.  Besides, she never cooked the meal.  It just isn't her thing).  The only person who was nearby and who wanted a communal meal was our friend El.  And she doesn't like turkey, so we decided upon paella.  More about that later.

Here's the clincher: our new neighbors gave us their extra turkey.  It's a small one, about 12 pounds.  It was already thawed, so we couldn't just toss it in the freezer.  What to do with an extra turkey?  And a useless smoker? Experiment!!!!!

I found a website that made the process look easy, and proceeded.  The first step was to soak the wood chips; we had a few hickory chunks, and a bag of mesquite chips.  I also had some basil stems and a bundle of herbs I burn occasionally like incense.  Everything went into a pot and got a good soaking while we sprayed the inside of the smoker with cooking oil, then lit the charcoal.

The pieces got put back together (the wood chips go on the hot coals, and the soaking liquid goes in the bowl over the coals, then the bird goes on the grill on top).

And then it smokes.  For a long time.  Smells heavenly. free turkey is smoking in my almost-free smoker, and will eventually wind up in my free-zer.  Life's good.  And by the way, did I mention that it gratuitously snowed this morning?  Just to look pretty? I'll update with the finished turkey pictures and the paella report later.

Finished bird: three bags of smoked turkey for the freezer, minus legs and wings for tomorrow's dinner.  Oh My.

And here's our Thanksgiving dinner...I'll elucidate tomorrow.  Right now, I need a nap.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Turn, Turn, Turn

Happy Sunday; we enjoyed one of our final convertible mornings today, as we left the Emmaus Farmers' Market.  The sun was bright, and the fall colors were stunning:

Fractal Vegetables
I couldn't help shooting a few pictures of the wonderful fresh foods I'll be missing soon.

From technicolor roots to deep green leaves, my body felt stronger just looking at them!  Some will surely go into our Thanksgiving meal, though we're not having a traditional one this year.
Those Greens...
Oh, Those Greens!
 There is light at the end of the (high) tunnel, though.  Kathy's greenhouse is up, and I have a book: The Winter Harvest Handbook, by Eliot Coleman.  If I can get someone to do some rototilling, we might just have some greens in January and February.  We'll see.

 In the mean time, Peter and I had some greens for lunch at the local Vietnamese place; the real reason I took this picture was because I was fascinated by the little altar inside the counter behind him.  There was an incense pot in front of three little Buddha-like figures.  I thought it might be rude to openly walk up to it and photograph it, but I'm intrigued, nonetheless.  We had spring rolls, chicken pad Thai, and hot and sour soup. Yum.

Then a short ride in the country: A hidden park on the hills behind Emmaus.

Delicate Pink Leaves

Winter is Approaching
 The sun was obscured by November clouds as we made our way home.  We'll spend the day quietly feathering our little nest; baking, reading, writing.  The dark months give is time to ponder, and prepare ourselves for a new year ahead. We slow down, tuck in, and dream.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Building a Participatory Culture

Though I don't discuss it often, I do have a professional life; yesterday was one of those "peak" days, so I thought I'd share it with you. I attended the annual Art Education Conference at Kutztown University.  I used to attend them regularly until I became active in PAEA, and had to choose between the one-day Kutztown conference and the three day Pennsylvania Art Education Conference, which was held at various sites throughout the state.  I opted for the latter because of the variety and travel.  There was a time when I loved getting away from home; that change speaks to my improved relationship and life circumstances. 

Kutztown held an experiment on Friday.  Building Participatory Culture is just that: an experiment.


We began with a fascinating talk by David Darts of NYU; the focus of his presentation was the effects of participatory media on our society as a whole.  By participatory media, I mean web based programs that allow interaction, like Wikipedia, blogs, social networking, etc. Using the aptly named "copyleft" approach allows a dynamic process of growth and regeneration of ideas, very different from the "entertain me" ethos of previous generations.  I particularly appreciated that Dr. Darts showed me that culture still does exist and is growing rapidly; it's just changing forms, as art and culture will do. Being ensconced in my own history and pedagogy, I couldn't see it.  Though my classes have lead me to a hint of those changes via postmodern pedagogical theories, the electronic media connection makes incredible sense in a hands-on way.

And we did do some hands-on learning,though not with electronic media; well, one group did.  I'll return to that later.  Each group of 20 or so was facilitated by a team of educators provided by Kutztown University.  They led the group in brainstorming, discussing, and shaping the experience, though they did not dictate the process.  It was a good model for higher education, and, to some extent, an interesting approach for some K-12 processes, though there was debate about the practicality of this method on younger children whose social skills and studio experiences had yet to be developed. 

A sculpture / installation / experience was to be created, using simple materials provided by the university. We had about 2 hours to work together, which was also interesting, given that there was little group instruction or formal communication.  Ours appropriately resembled a tornado when it was finished; from the flurry of activity in the many directions we took, I felt that was just about right.  But it was good activity, and people took on the roles that were needed.  There were thinkers, and shapers, movers, organizers, and observers.  We fell into our natural places somehow.  I can't say it was entirely comfortable; I experienced moments of angst and annoyance when things I had been working on were changed.  I experienced great waves of excitement and energy. I can only imagine an adolescent experiencing these things, and wonder if they would have the skills to examine those emotions, and stay stable.  Good lessons, all. The end result was satisfying.

A Creative Maelstrom
Some of the other groups' pieces follow:

This Piece Used Traditional Materials And Electronic Media.

This Piece Used Pants as a Metaphor.  They Used a Looping Recording to Illustrate their Point.

An Entire Habitat.  Cool.
Heather's Group Made a Facebook Page...a Truly Participatory Experience!!/pages/Paper-or-Plastic-KU/167192539978364
 I found the experience entirely stimulating and satisfying, and left with a glimpse of the future.  I'm happy to say that art and culture are thriving; art isn't dead, it's just gone viral, and it looks a lot different than it did a decade ago, which is as it should be. Blog on!

Of course, I still enjoyed the rustle of leaves and the blue sky in between them as I left the campus.  It's all good; fuel for the creative fire.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


In a sudden surge of domesticity this afternoon, I decided to make some homemade pasta.  I've been craving parsley lately, and had (coincidentally) stumbled across a recipe for parsley noodles in this month's Herb Companion (vol. 23, no.2, Ogden publications).  All I can say is YUM.

I started with the recipe for Chicken and Parsley Noodle Soup on page 39.  I always try to keep a few chicken thighs in the freezer, and was able to find 4 thighs right away. I boiled them still frozen to make my broth while I harvested and cleaned my last remaining kale.

Everything had to go on hold while I went to my GYN for an ultrasound.  The good news is: I apparently don't have cancer.  Just another case I had let you in on the drama.  I'll still be around for awhile. And my shy right ovary made an appearance in the pictures today.  Don't ask.  I'm fine.

Anyway...when I returned, I finished the soup.  I substituted parsnips for carrots (I'm carrotless), and kale for spinach, but otherwise, I was right on.  The directions for the parsley noodles was easy to follow as well.  And may I say this:  FIND AND SAVE THIS RECIPE!!!!!  This is the best chicken noodle soup I've ever eaten.  My husband and close friend Kathy concur.

Of course, I had to stockpile more of those noodles while the parsley was available, so I whipped up a batch and tweaked it a bit.  I added a generous pinch of my dried shiitake powder, and doubled the parsley.  I cut the first two slabs into wide noodles and set them to dry, then made wild mushroom ravioli out of the last two slabs.  Here's the evidence:

Ravioli and Noodles
For the ravioli: make the parsley noodles according to the recipe, with a generous pinch of shiitake powder in the mix.  On the side, saute (in butter) a small handful of chicken of the woods mushrooms and a fair handful of oyster mushrooms with 1/2 minced onion and a handful of parsley. Add a large pinch of dried thyme.  Salt and pepper to taste. Spin in a food processor and chill before making the ravioli. 

I'm going to freeze mine.  I'll report back when I cook them. 

Life's good. I'm glad I'll be able to participate for awhile longer.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Local is Natural

I made dinner tonight.  No big deal. It eventually occurred to me that I have absorbed the locavore aesthetic so completely that it's second nature.

Local Dinner

 .Well, there it is, unplanned and unadulterated.  Local chipped beef, foraged mushrooms, onions and brussel sprouts from the Amish markets, pasta from the same.  Butter too; the only thing that might possibly be "outworldly" is the salt.

It sits well on my gut.  Are we better acclimated to foods grown where we are grown?  Doesn't that make sense?  Hmmm?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Stuffed Cabbage...In My Upgraded Kitchen!

Let me just say this: I love to cook.  I thank my old friend Bonnie for my early adventures cooking, and my delight in exploration.  Mom wasn't a very happy cook.  She'll admit that herself.  But I was, and am, and I can only remember Bonnie as an early influence.  She served me cloud ear soup when I came home from the hospital with my baby daughter, back in 1978.  How cool is that?

We also filled her Chevy convertible to the top with apples in the fall of 1977, and canned and preserved them in a bazillion ways before my daughter was born in March; applesauce was one of her very first foods.  Chinatown (in Philadelphia) was a common shopping excursion. Good times.

Yesterday, I took a vacation from my many obligations, and cooked.  It felt great.  Savoy cabbage was my star; I made stuffed cabbage rolls, using local beef and home canned tomato sauce.  Yum.

That's local, humanely raised beef.  Happy cows.
 I used a pound of the beef, with a half of an onion, chopped, two ice-cubes of frozen garlic scapes (thawed), an egg, and 2 pieces of sourdough bread, crumbled into the mix.  I added a handful of Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.

Local, humanely raised Savoy cabbage...and my NEW TILE COUNTER.  Oh are mine.
  I blanched the outer leaves of the cabbage, and cut out the thick middle vein.  1/2 leaf was enough for a roll, as the leaves were BIG!  All I did was wrap a handful of the meat mix in the blanched leaf, secure it with a toothpick, and set it aside.  To bake them up, I opened a quart of homemade tomato sauce, and poured a bit into a baking pan, then laid the rolls on top.  I covered them with more sauce, and seasoned it with salt and pepper, then sprinkled them with more Parmesan.  I don't have a finished picture.  They were too good.  We ate them.

But this is where the magic happens.  Oh yes...this kitchen is mine.  Quaint, isn't it?  That metal cabinet under the sink is my nemesis.  But I'll get it right someday. I'm fauxing my faux techniques.  It's a nightmare.  But quirky.  I like quirky.

It's not big, but it's home! 

Peter finished the tile counter and the back splash for my birthday.  I think it looks sort of masculine.  I'm OK with that.  I like the pretty colors.
Bock Beer signs and Parisian clock...that's us!
 We're transitioning from a 1950's country motif to an "I don't know when but I like it" motif.  Better Homes and Gardens can kiss my...grits.

Pretty tiles
I love my new back splash.  Good bye, stained walls!  Hello, rainbow!  Welcome into my kitchen!