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!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My life is so varied; always has been. Lately, I've been splitting my time between school (Kutztown University), work (where I teach), home, farm, and occasional short road trips.  I don't get many chances for those, unfortunately.

Kutztown provides lots of inspiration for teaching.  They have a student exhibit of recycled works on display right now...coincidentally, exactly when I'm teaching that unit in school.  I'm enjoying their over-the-top solutions:

Plastic Goblet Light Fixture

Old Sock Milk Jugs (polymerized)

Plastic Cutlery Pterodactyl
 Of course, nearly every day includes both teaching and the farm.  While I choose not to blog about my classroom because of professional considerations, the farm is fair game, and infinitely interesting.

We've been battling pinkeye this last week.  My poor little doe Faith went out to be bred, and may have carried it home with her.  While she's unaffected, 4 of our older does came down with the affliction, and had to be separated from the herd.  I've been giving injections, applying ointment, and hand milking those girls all week.  Poor things!  Our two senior citizens, Dolly and Jazzy have been hit the hardest. There is improvement, though.  And we've finished the course of antibiotics, so only time will tell.

These girls weren't affected. Neither were their appetites!

 I take a walk in the woods on days that are challenging at work; I need these solitary times to decompress.  They feed my soul.  On one such occasion, I found this gooey, frostbitten mass that must have been some sort of mushroom.  The fallen tree had several of them; I'll research them and get back to you.  This has been my mycology moon.
An Interesting Fungus
*UPDATE: An Old "Orange Jelly"
 Turkey tails, the ubiquitous little fungi that devour our fallen wood, are everywhere.  Apparently, they're prized by certain cultures for their curative properties.  Who knew?  I'll be trying some turkey tail tea this winter.
Turkey Tails
 Piggy tails are a different story entirely.

It's Rough Being a Pig
 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.

Meanwhile, back in the goat pen, our calf  Pumpkin is having an identity crisis.

Pumpkin, Behind the Goats
Hide and Seek

Am I a Goat? 

I'm so Confused!!!!!
 He does kick his heels up and rip around the corral.  The goats don't quite know what to make of him, but they treat him kindly. Baby Huey.

Then there's home.  When I'm not reading, grading, or writing, I still love my kitchen, especially now that Peter has finished the new counter and back splash.  I'm bringing in the last herbs.  Hobie helped with the peppermint.

Is that Cat Nip?
 Today will be spent at home, or taking a much needed walk in the park, depending on my mood and timing.  We all need a little unstructured time, and I'm so happy to have some today!  Photos to follow!