Category Archives: friends

Weekending

Russian sage

There’s something restorative about waking up in a gabled room, particularly if that’s not where you usually wake up. On Saturday I woke a little before 7 to rustling woods, sunshine spilling through the small window at my feet, and the smiling brown eyes of my three-year old, who was standing next to the fairly tall bed where I’d spent the night. I grinned back at him. “Let’s eat something,” he said. So I climbed from under the heavy quilt and together we padded down the creaky stairs. I’d stayed up past 1 catching up with an old friend who was moving halfway across the country the next morning, but there was something about that sloped roof – it was the best nearly-six hours of sleep I’d gotten in months.

I made some coffee and poured the boy a bowl of cereal, and together we sat in a comfortable silence on the couch, breezes blowing the lace curtains across our shoulders. If anyone out there has a three-year old you will especially appreciate the sweetness of those quiet moments. He asked the occasional question – “Did you get a good night’s sleep, Mama?” “My footie pajamas are getting kind of small, huh?” – but mainly he stretched out with one foot on my lap and one foot on of the back of the couch and the cereal (no milk) on his belly, munching away.

A little later later the first of the others appeared in the kitchen. She poured herself a cup of coffee and together we three made our way down the back porck steps and across the yard. We paused to let the chickens out before winding on through dewy grass and gnarled apple trees, already heavy with green fruit, to the river. We’d walked the same path the night before, after a day of steady heavy rains, and found the river rushing and brown and clawing at its banks. This morning it was still fast and high, but a bit of pebbly beach was visible, and the water was clear. We sipped our coffee, and talked a bit, of crayfish and road trips and first gardens, and the boy threw sticks and stones into the wild current.

Later it was just me and the boy again. I sighed a little, feeling deeply at peace and missing our old farm. But mainly I rolled up my pants and kicked off my sandals and talked with my boy. I loaded his hands with rocks, and pointed out a slug making its way down a sycamore trunk, and tried skipping a few stones across the rapids. We stayed there an hour at least, nothing wrong in the world, not that morning. I knew it and hugged it to my chest to remember.

Later still, when three people and their luggage and a cheerful Golden Retriever had piled into one car, and we into another, and we had all pulled away from that red house in the woods, I thought about it all – running wild through a May thunderstorm in the middle of the Pacific fifteen years ago, drinking tea and dreaming big in Kyoto and Vancouver and Boston and New York and Portsmouth, that New Year’s Eve when we opened our champagne with a hammer in my parents’ driveway, that balmy May Sunday when she married us under the ash tree in front of 200 friends and family on hay bales, the graduations and jobs and relationships we’ve celebrated, the Big Decisions we’ve mulled over long distance, years too out of touch, years that brought us back together – I thought about it all, just enough to remember my own bigger picture, and I drove.

(joining Amanda at The Habit of Being)

Pullets

apples

Red

Porch

Fridge pickles!

Fridge pickles!

Tara mentioned making fridge pickles from a recipe I posted on our farm blog a couple summers ago, and that got me to thinking it makes sense to migrate some of those recipes over here, to this blog that’s not a food blog.

I blogged for our farm, sporadically but earnestly, for four years, and there’s a lot of history there. I’m still not quite sure what to do with it all – it really doesn’t make sense to continue paying for the site. The land that we farmed is becoming something else. We’re not quite sure what, yet, but our story there is (nearly) over. On the other hand: it’s our story! I’m not sure what I want to do with all those pictures and words.

These pickles are part of that story. When it comes to putting food by, what I am is a master dabbler. Sure, I know a heck of a lot more than I did in my city days. I make jam every once in a while, but I freeze it every time. I am always happier when I can dig into lard I made from the fatback of our own pigs instead of reaching for supermarket butter. I do know how to make bacon and yogurt but I only do it sometimes. I think I am fondest of lacto-fermenting vegetables in small batches – it’s quick and easy and delicious and yay for living foods! But beyond freezing bone broth and freezer-friendly produce, none of this is an integral part of our kitchen year.

It’s not that I lack for excellent organic produce (umm…), and it’s not that I lack for inspiration. My kitchen bookshelves are really something to behold, and there are so many great online resources. There are questions of time, of priorities, of honestly assessing how much you can fit into a day, of choosing between sterilizing jars and snuggling up on the couch for another round of George and Martha. But the real stumbling block, for me? I am a big honking extrovert. I play very well with others and get pretty lonesome standing all alone at the stove. I need a class – and, dare I say, homework. I need to blanch the peaches while a mama friend gets the jars ready and our boys stir in the sugar. I need people.

I actually have a lard rendering date next Tuesday! That makes me smile so much I think I might march on down to the old milk room in the lower barn to see if there are any returned cucumbers from yesterday’s market. Cucumbers fresh off the vine are ideal, of course, but the point here is to make something delicious instead of letting something waste. And these fridge pickles? They do the trick.

As I said in the original post on our farm blog, these are a great beginner pickle for the curious-but-intimidated, but they’re also a really tasty way to work through a glut of cucumbers when you don’t have the time or the inclination to can. They are always good.

chooks in the cukes

Fridge Pickles
adapted from Donalyn Ketchum

Crunchy, garlicky, and just sour enough, we can’t stop reaching for these. Pour a simple brine of water, vinegar, and salt over cucumbers, garlic, and herbs. Leave the jars alone for a few days … and voila! Pickles! They aren’t canned, so they need to be stored in the fridge. They’ll keep at least a couple months in there – if they last that long. Makes 6 pints or 3 quarts.

For the brine:
2 quarts water
1 cup white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup canning or pickling salt (kosher salt is also fine, but may result in cloudier pickle brine)

For the pickles:
Cucumbers, enough to fit snugly into your jars, washed well and sliced into spears
Garlic, 1-2 cloves per pint jar or 2-3 cloves per quart jar, smashed and peeled
Herbs (dill is classic; we also love thyme), 1-2 sprigs per pint jar or 2-4 sprigs per quart jar, rinsed well

Clean your jars thoroughly with soap and water. They do not need to be sterilized.

Combine all brine ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally to be sure the salt dissolves completely. While the mixture is coming to a boil, prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Place a smashed garlic clove or two in the bottom of each jar. Add the sprigs of your chosen herb.

Fill the jar the rest of the way with cucumber spears. Really cram them in there – otherwise some spears will float above the brine when you add it, and this can lead to premature spoilage.

Add another smashed garlic clove to each jar – wedge it down between some cucumber spears so it won’t float when you add the brine.

Pour the simmering brine over the vegetables, being sure they are completely submerged. If your brine isn’t simmering, bring it back to a simmer before pouring it over the vegetables.

Put a lid on each jar.

Leave at room temperature for 2-3 days (less time when the weather is very hot, more when it’s cold) and then, if you can stand it, put them in the fridge for an additional 1-2 weeks.

We usually break into the first jar right away but give the rest of the jars the additional slow fridge fermentation before eating them.

Summer reads

booooooks

When Sylvia of Artsy Ants posted her summer reading list a few days ago, my heart went into full-on carnival mode. Or maybe county fair mode? I’m talking lights, bells, cotton candy, Whac-A-Mole, carousel horses and giant Holsteins, demolition derbies and dripping ice cream cones on hot summer nights with nowhere else to be. I guess what I’m saying is I felt happy. Things have been Oh So Serious around here. Happy sure is nice.

Like Sylvia, I used to devour books. I was the girl who had to have a book with her in the car if we were going anywhere further than the stop sign at the head of our street. When I was 12 I could think of no greater misery than making the two mile trek to the grocery store while my book sat at home on the kitchen counter. When I was 12 I could not tell my grandma how to get to said grocery store, TRUE STORY, because I didn’t make that kitchen-counter mistake often.

These days, though, I’m still figuring it out. Five books by the end of the summer sounds pretty ambitious, really. But I just finished The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, by Jennifer Worth, and I guess I’m feeling a little cocky. I loved it, so much. It made me think about motherhood, and also about the family support work I did in Pittsburgh and Peru and New York City before coming to farming. And it was just a wonderful read. Being lost in a book is such a profound pleasure. I want more!

So here we go, in no particular order:

Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns. I actually started this one a couple months ago, but set it aside when I found The Midwife at the library. I can’t wait to get back to 14-year old Will Tweedy and his take on a family scandal in a small town in 1906 Georgia.

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, by Kim John Payne, M. Ed., with Lisa M. Ross. I was reluctant at first to put a parenting book on the list. I’ve been trying pretty hard recently not to read parenting advice (exceptions made for books and articles with a Buddhist or mindfulness slant). There’s just too much of it. And while plenty of it is compelling, I’ve grown weary of all these voices who seem to think they know best. I’m ready to quiet the din. But this one has been perpetually on deck for the last couple of years, and I’d like to give it a go.

A Circle of Quiet, by Madeleine L’Engle. I do love me a memoir. And I do love me some Madeleine L’Engle. This is the first book in a 4-part series.

Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970, by Richard Brautigan. I picked this book up a few years ago mainly because of a Brautigan quote my friend Wesley had on her (former) blog: “Sometimes life is merely a matter of coffee and whatever intimacy a cup of coffee affords.” I really think it might have been that quote that first made me sure Wesley was someone I needed in my life. (I was spot-on, by the way. She’s wonderful. My life is so much better for knowing her. Let’s talk more another day about the good stuff that happens when people we meet online come into our real lives.)

Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume 1), by Julia Child. No, I’m not going all Julie and Julia on y’all! But I would like to know (at least some of) my (many) cookbooks better. There are so many I could pick from, but Julia seems maybe the best place to begin. She has never led me astray. And for all my confidence in the kitchen, I’m often struck by how many French basics I don’t know. I aim to try five new-to-me recipes from this book this summer.

I’ve stacked the odds at least somewhat in my favor, in that I already own all these titles, but this is a 100% guilt-free list. If I don’t make it through all five books, or if I get distracted by some other wonderful volume – so it goes.

What about y’all? Did you finish anything good recently? What are you reading now? What’s on your library hold list or bedside table?

A great many fine things

Last weekend I took the train into New York City all by my blessed lonesome. I did a great many fine things while I was there, one of which was buying a pound of triple-crème Irish Tipperary brie from East Village Cheese, just two blocks from my old apartment. Tonight I’m eating it alone in my cozy new house while a rabid lion of a wind rattles our eaves, whips through the branches of evergreens whose names I don’t yet know, and keens across the icy fields and marshland all around me. I took the cheese out of the fridge an hour ago and it hasn’t really come all the way up to room temperature yet, but I’m standing at the counter anyway, shaving from either side of it with an old paring knife. I’m eating it with a glorious slop of roasted grapes, scooped straight from the roasting pan with my fingers. I wish I could still drink wine, because it’s the kind of mood I’m in tonight. But I haven’t been able to since before I got pregnant, four years ago; now even a drop brings on a raging headache. So I’m drinking bourbon instead – a maple sour, made with maple from trees tapped five miles away!

(Maple sours changed my life, true story: I have known and loved a great many whiskey drinkers but I never could get on board until this winter. That’s when I started drinking these and now I’m all why-would-anyone-ever-drink-anything-ever-but-bourbon-ever??) 

My son is asleep, coughing and fitful, his tiny body still duking it out with a bullheaded cold that has plagued our whole family for close to a month. For an hour before he finally nodded off he lay curled in my arms on the recliner in the living room, his cheeks flushed and his eyes fluttering wearily as he coughed. I wish he were well. My husband is back at our old farm for the second time in the two scant weeks since our move, doggedly tending to all the outside cleanup that there just wasn’t time for before we left. I wish he were here.

Still, the night is not without its sweetness. I’m eating this cheese and thinking of the hot lunches we had every weekday at my old office in my New York City days (another true story). I was part of a volunteer corps and so none of us had much money at all, but we all chipped in two or three bucks every day and ate beyond our means, if eating beyond your means means warm food filling your belly, a table loud with the laughter and shouts of anywhere from three to twelve people, the reliable warble of the coffee maker as the lunch hour drew to a close every day. There was lots of spaghetti, lots of lentils, lots of roasted potatoes, lots of on-sale cheese, lots of Maxwell House. Sometimes I think I was never so well fed.

Of course I am married to a farmer now, and we eat beyond our meager means too, if eating beyond your means means eating dead ripe seconds Cherokee Purples and Brandywines with homemade (by him) mayo on homemade (by me) bread every lunch for weeks, gilding the lily sometimes with homecured bacon, or a fistful of fresh basil, washing it down with a gulp of fresh Jersey milk.

So this snow won’t melt. And the coughing won’t stop. And the truck won’t start. But I watch wild geese soar over my house every afternoon. And I can hear the creek from our back deck. And you should see my bookshelves. And one of my oldest friends came last night with coffee and porters and music, and stayed until late this afternoon. While the boy napped we slurped potato leek soup and talked of summer music, and new apartments, and work, and the lonely wonder of parenthood. Also I’m sleeping again.

And these grapes! Maybe if you make them your mind too will begin to slow and steady. I think they might be magic like that.

Slow Roasted Grapes

I think this method comes from All About Roasting, by Molly Stevens. It certainly has her stamp of sweet simple genius. I don’t have the book, though; I first ate these at my parents’ table in North Carolina sometime last year as part of a perfect ploughman’s lunch along with cheese, pickles, cold roast chicken, and sesame crackers. Sometimes I think if I could only eat one meal ever, over and over again for the rest of my life, it would be a ploughman’s lunch.

I’d never thought to roast grapes before but now that I know, I won’t ever stop. They are just, gosh, perfect. Jammy and forward and every good thing. Some of them caramelize a bit and you really might moan when you get one of those. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

You should really try these with cheese, and they’re excellent with roasted meats. But I imagine they’d also be good on oatmeal, or stirred into yogurt, or on top of ice cream, or maybe with a bit of whipped cream and pound cake, with some strong coffee to cut the sweetness.

1 pound seedless grapes
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter

Preheat the oven to 250°F/120°C. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the grapes with the olive oil or butter, spread on the baking sheet, and bake for two to two and half hours.