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...