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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Making the Move to West County

HowChow just finished a series about eating and shopping in Howard County. In it, he asked for some input about the western county, as he wasn’t that familiar with stores and restaurants out here in the rural residential west.

I will be doing a guest post for him about eating and shopping, but this post here on my blog is a stage setting post. It is more about living here and what to expect as different from Columbia/Ellicott City where most of the county residents call home. There is still quite a bit, but slower, building of new homes out here, on at least one acre lots, as well as the 55+ development going on in nearby Waverly Woods. Marriottsville and Woodstock are on the edge of west county, but are mostly served by county water and sewer, due to proximity to the landfill. Head northwest beyond Clarksville and you will find farms, businesses, old residences and new developments spread across the rolling hills.

We moved here seven years ago after thirty years in Columbia. Neither one of us in our entire lives ever lived in a single family home. We wanted land, privacy and no covenants. We got all three, but not without adjustments in our lives. Shopping involves at least 12 miles round trip, so you don’t just run out for one or two items.

It is dark out here. No street lights. Skinny two lane roads with no shoulders. Deer everywhere, so driving at night takes more focus. Going out to restaurants and having a few glasses of wine can easily turn ugly.

This has changed how we shop, how and where we entertain, and where we go.

The first thing you learn is how to deal with power outages on well and septic. A propane grill and fireplace are crucial unless you want to be spending nights with friends that have electricity after storms. A generator helps for things like sump pumps and the freezer. We have a wood stove as well. If we have advance notice, like with Irene, we can fill the tubs with water in order to flush toilets.

A pick up truck is extremely useful out here. We got ours used. There is no yard waste pick up here. Compost it. Grind it. Haul it away yourself. Three acres with mature trees results in humongous amounts of leaves. We have a compost pile, and we haul away huge tree limbs that drop on our property line. We back up to another home so can’t easily dump things on the edge of the meadow. Mulching the gardens, flower beds, groves of trees and shrubs, and pathways requires two tons of mulch.

A snow thrower is another almost necessary purchase. The biggest you can find. We worked with one of the neighbors for four hours to clear 300 ft of driveway that was 16 ft wide after the February 2010 storms. Add to that our driveway off the main one, the parking pads, all the sidewalks and patio, and we cleared almost a quarter acre of asphalt, concrete and gravel.

We also shop less and have more storage for bulk purchases. Costco was the original source for buying large cuts of tenderloin, or roasts, or tuna and packaging for grilling. We spend vast amounts of time outdoors, in the garden, the shed, the yard, or the patio.

We go to Frederick more than Columbia, as it is quicker to drive that 25 miles on the highway than it is to slog through Columbia to Costco. We go to the Frederick Wegman’s using a scenic leisurely drive out Liberty Road, right to the store. We use farm stands and markets to give us fresher foods than the grocery stores do.

We have changed from people who bought take out, or went to the Bridge every week, and spent enough at Giant every month on prepared foods to get gasoline discounts every fill up, to people who cook from scratch, grow our own veggies and buy meat and dairy from the source.

Entertainment has changed. Redbox movie rentals for Friday night date night. Tuesday nights at Bistro Blanc. Crabs at the Crossroads. The snow ball stand at Woodstock on a steamy hot Sunday afternoon. Walks around the west county parks. Pick your own picnics at Larriland. Friday night concerts at Black Ankle in the summer. Two or three nights at the county fair in August.

This is just the beginning of the posts about life here. Details on places to go, shopping, dining, CSAs, farmer’s markets and hidden treasures in future posts.

Eating Locally – Post Op and Vegetarian

This may be one of my stranger Dark Days Meals. It is cooking now, under the direction of my husband who is cooking while I recover from my surgery. This week we were challenged to eat a vegetarian locally sourced meal. Ours will be a combination of items that I can swallow, and that he can prepare. There was a tiny bit of leftover tomato sauce made using Quaker Valley Orchards tomato sauce and local PA mushrooms. He is going to microwave it and serve it over Amish whole wheat pasta that he will make on the stove top.

Part of my meal will be heated applesauce from Quaker Valley. I have been eating some of it each night since coming home from the hospital.

Quaker Valley Orchards are 60 miles north of us. We get their fruits and veggies and sauces at the Silver Spring Year Round Farmer’s Market.

Descriptions from their website:
Applesauce – Our applesauce is homemade with our fresh apples peeled and cooked with our own cider and a touch of cinnamon, no sugar is ever added or needed! Our apple blends have our small fruit added that was frozen in season.

Tomato Sauce – All our tomato sauce sold at market is made on the farm in our kitchen with our own tomatoes. I make it in small batches and preserve it using a pressure canner. We enjoy it all winter long.

My husband will also be eating a large spinach salad that he will put together using CSA spinach, radishes and Firefly Farms Chevre, drizzled with Catoctin Mountain Orchards Blackberry Splash Vinaigrette.

He is slow cooking sweet potatoes with honey and butter and cinnamon in the oven, cooked at 170 degrees until they almost fall apart and caramelize. I can handle that as well. Swallowing is a wee bit difficult still, but I get better each day.

Obviously, I am not up and cooking, nor will I be taking pictures. I do have raw pics of the spinach and sweet potatoes and radishes from our Zahradka Farm delivery on the 17th of February. Still able to put together tasty meals using local items.

My husband will probably open a Linden claret and have a glass, while I get to enjoy Howard County well water and ice. 😉

A Special Award for a Local VA Winery

We received an email yesterday that I just have to share. Glen Manor Vineyards in Front Royal, VA won the VA Governor’s Cup for their 2009 Hodder Hill Meritage. I have written about Glen Manor wines here on the blog as they are some of our favorites, including those made from Glen Manor’s grapes while Jeff White grew for Linden.

We have earlier vintages of Hodder Hill in our cellar, tucked away in boxes waiting for them to mature. This wine is made from four of the five traditional Bordeaux varietals. Only Malbec is missing from the blend.

We have been drinking these wines since 1998 when Jeff’s first single vineyard designation appeared on a Linden label. We recently had a 1999 with dinner. Just like all of Linden’s reds, it was still big, beautifully balanced and still a bit tannic.

A visit in early January to Glen Manor resulted in our stocking up on
their Sauvignon Blancs while assuming we would get some Hodder Hill in April at their barrel tasting. Now, it may be difficult as he indicated he will have to ration us to four bottles. It seems the phone is ringing off the hook since he won this award.

The Virginia Governor’s Cup was revamped this year, making it a very stiff competition, with two levels of judging. The twelve top wines, designated the Governor’s Case, will be featured in marketing and at official state events. Winning this first place finish is indeed an honor for Jeff. Over 400 wines were entered, many of them from very respectable long standing vineyards, and some from “upstarts”.

I mean, how often can you say you beat The Donald? Yes, Glen Manor beat out the Trump aka Kluge blanc de blanc sparkling wine. Here is the link to the press release.

Virginia is so far ahead of MD in promoting local wines. For years we have found the agriculture and forestry office in their government to aggressively promote their wines, all the while MD has been putting road blocks in front of potential MD winemakers.

Now there is some support for MD’s boutique wineries, with legislation passed favorable to the industry, but they will have a hard time competing with VA.

For those of us who love local wines, any progress is a good thing. With Black Ankle getting national press last year, and Glen Manor rising to the top of a booming industry in VA, this region may finally get the respect they deserve. The hills all along the Appalachian Mountains are a perfect place to grow Vinifera. No need to buy foreign wines. Uncork a bottle of something locally grown and produced.

And enjoy the view.

Winter CSA Week Nine

Halfway done. This will be a review of what I have gotten so far and what I think about doing a winter CSA. We don’t have pics of the basket since I was in the hospital and my husband picked up the stuff from the porch and put it away. I had made choices based on knowing what he could do after my coming home this week, and being limited in food choices.

We did get eggs and all Angus beef franks, so my husband has a few things he can make this week. Scrambled eggs one night maybe, and chili dogs another evening, as I have leftover venison chili in the freezer.

I also ordered and received:
large yellow onions
sweet potatoes
oranges from FL
frozen fajita peppers
frozen broccoli and cauliflower

He can stir fry the veggies for a meal later this week.

What I Like About a Winter CSA
This one delivers to your porch. You go on line and order six or ten items. They change weekly to some extent but not always. There are repeats obviously due to the limited amount of winter veggies available. They have flash frozen items that they offer regularly. The eggs are great; different colors and sizes. Big yellow yolks. The meat is really good, but I had hoped for more varieties. Still nine weeks to go. We shall see what we get. But, the half of a free range turkey at Christmas was awesome.

Difficulties of a Winter CSA
You have to like potatoes and carrots and winter greens. Weather can be a factor for delivery, but at least this year not much bad weather to affect deliveries. Not much variety in the veggies, and some of it looks pretty gnarly. It tastes great though. It just doesn’t always look wonderful. I know that is a problem with many. They want picture perfect veggies, and organic farm produce isn’t.

Will we do it again? Probably. We like the convenience of fresh food delivered to our home. The family farm in Essex is being run well by George and Libby. It is small and personal, so you know where your food comes from. Zahradka Farm is a great source for Howard Countians to find local foods delivered to them.

Where else would you get a “Christmas Tree” to serve at your Christmas dinner?


It’s been a few days since I posted and I am bored of doing mostly nothing, so I will be trying out some picture less posting while relying solely on the iPad.

Major surgery will do that to you. After two days at HCGH, being taken care of quite well, I might add, I am home driving my husband crazy with requests. Anterior spinal disk fusion is not simple, nor something from which you bounce back quickly.

Three months ago, I had no idea I needed this done. That’s why I am glad we retired when we did. I had almost two years doing what I wanted before life got in the way of having fun. But, a late Novembeer trip to the emergency room with symptoms of a heart attack changed all that. It wasn’t a heart attack. It mimicked one, though, and subsequent diagnosis showed degenerative disk disease affecting my back, neck, arms and causing numbness and pain. Not what you want daily in your life.

Friday they did surgery. I get to wear a hard collar for weeks, followed by a combination of hard and soft collars, and can’t lift anything greater than five pounds. No driving for at least a month. My family and friends are all pitching in to help me with things I need to have done.

It will impact my having a garden this year, and we won’t be getting those chickens just yet. Still, I am lucky it was found before the collapsing disks constricted spinal fluid. The garden will be smaller, and more low maintenance. My husband intends to make some raised beds that I can easily reach. We will be going more to Larriland’s and Baugher’s for u pick fruits and veggies.

I may have to change the tag line on my blog for a while to Life in the slowest lane, but that’s better than life in the pain lane.

Starting Seeds and Dreaming of Summer

I went through my seed packets today to prioritize what will go where in the garden this year. Last year was the second year I started heirloom tomatoes from seed. They did OK, but the rain made them not ribbon worthy at the Fair. My herbs did better getting me a ribbon. This year I want to do some heirloom herbs as well as the tomatoes. The Howard County Fair heirloom tomato category has grown like crazy. the first year I entered there were six entries. The second year, there were ten. This past year there were 29 entries. Competition is fierce, and you need more exotic heirlooms to get a ribbon. I have one ribbon for tomatoes from a previous year.

My herbs last year were stevia, lemon basil and sage.

Putting out the garden is always interesting. The deer fence seems to do well except that little bunnies can squeeze through it. The black material to cut down on weeds worked well in the tomato sections, but I can’t use it where I put in rows of lettuces or chard. The tomatoes really did better because that material kept the soil warmer.

I had the heirloom tomatoes in with some cucumbers and they did well there. This year I will be planting peppers and chard in that section, and a few zucchini. Rotating the plants in each of the three fenced sections and adding compost every year has kept our soil in pretty decent shape. We had it tested last year and it came back with no requirements to add anything. We are lucky that our yard was once a horse pasture, all that manure must have really broken down that clay that seems to prevail every where else we lived around here.

I do herbs all over the place including in pots on the patio. The mint as usual was out of control.

The tomatoes did come in well. This is a big rainbow, the largest heirloom I grew. It would not have won a ribbon at the fair though because that wasn’t large enough for the largest tomato competition.

This year I am starting microgreens from seed that I am now getting ready to transplant into a small “cold frame”, really just a container with a cover. They will be moved outside soon. The heirloom garlic chives and swiss chard seeds will go out sometime next month.

The greens are looking good, getting crowded and I started moving them to bigger pots last week. Growing veggies and herbs is one of those simple pleasures that make me glad to live here.

I just hope our little furry friends stay out of my gardens.

Eating Locally – Bison and Polenta

Week 13, three months into the challenge to eat at least once a week with locally sourced items. All of the main ingredients for dinner came from less than 150 miles of our house. A few exceptions, spices and oils/vinegar, as noted when I started this personal challenge.

This week I challenged myself to cook items new to me for cooking, but not new from experience in restaurants. Bison, from Gunpowder Bison, and bought at the Silver Spring Year Round Farmer’s Market. Short Ribs, slow cooked in the oven. Served over soft creamy polenta and with honey glazed carrots.

The bison was first rubbed with “RubJoeMeat” coffee based dry rub bought last year at one of the local home shows. It is not local, obviously, but perfect for bison. Then, I placed it in an olive oil rubbed shallow pan, added red wine, balsamic vinegar, sliced white onion, and spread some McCutcheon’s tomato preserves over the top. Salt, pepper and cayenne. Baked at 225 degrees for three hours.

The polenta was made using Burnt Cabins roasted cornmeal. Nothing but water, cornmeal, salt, pepper and unsalted butter. Also, I steamed carrots then glazed them with honey.

Here are the supporting ingredients that went into the meal.

This was a really tasty meal. The polenta set up beautifully with an earthy quality: using roasted cornmeal created this heartier version of a soft polenta. The bison is lean, but using the wine and vinegar kept it from being dry or tough. The tomato preserves are awesome. Just tomatoes, sugar, and citric acid. Slightly sweet but still tart like tomatoes. This stuff is also great on toast for breakfast. The McCutcheon Family has been in the butters, preserves, jams and jelly business in Frederick for 74 years. We can find their jars of goodness all over the area.

As for the wine to stand up to this meal, we chose the 1998 Linden Hardscrabble. A fourteen year old Virginia red wine. Still with oodles of fruit and still tannic. Not brown around the edges. This wine is a killer wine and it proves that Jim Law has truly mastered the art of making big wines right here in our backyard. If you are a fan of Black Ankle and have tasted their big Crumbling Rock or Slate wines, they are babies compared to Linden. Sarah O’Brien is pushing Black Ankle in the direction that Jim Law took Linden. These are very concentrated wines. It will be interesting to see if Black Ankle can get to the level of Linden as their vines mature.

I have added Jim’s notes from his web page below the picture for those who want to know more about this lovely wine, that almost but not quite upstaged my bison and polenta.

Linden Vineyards Cellar Notes:

Aromas: Cocoa and dried herbs, especially rosemary.

Palate: Flavors of dark cherry, cloves and black pepper with firm, yet fine grained tannins.

Food Pairings: Red meats, rich cheeses, and dishes with olives or garlic.

Vineyard: Estate (100% Hardscrabble Vineyard), on Blue Ridge at 1,300 to 1,400 ft. with an eastern to southern slope. Deep, well-drained mineral soils give cherry character, deep color, and good structure. Vine ages from 8 to 14 years.

Vintage: 1998 was an unusually hot and dry year. A severe hail storm on June 15 reduced average yields to just 1.5 tons/acre (about 22 hectoliters per hectare). Harvest was September 22 through October 7.

Winemaking: A blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot and 3% Merlot. Grapes were destemmed and lightly crushed and fermented warm in small open bins. The cap was punched down by hand two times a day. The wine was pressed off just prior to dryness and put immediately in primarily one and two year old Virginia oak barrels. The wine was bottled after 21 months of oak ageing. 332 cases produced.

What’s a Volunteer Naturalist?

And, why do I love to be one? The Howard County Conservancy put out their call for volunteers to receive training to lead elementary and middle/secondary field trip hikes on the conservancy property.

The training is in March. Four days, three hours each. Thursdays or Tuesdays, depending on which programs you are interesting in leading. There are about 40-50 registered volunteers currently, but the Conservancy keeps expanding their offerings and any interested people are welcome to come and be trained.

Two years ago, 3000 students participated in the field trips. Last year it was 5000 visits. Some schools come fall and spring, while others pick one program yearly.

The grounds are lovely and spending a few hours at least three times a semester is an easy commitment. Some of us volunteer at least once a week. I have been known to sign up for as many kindergarten and first grade trips as possible. New volunteers also shadow us until they feel ready to lead on their own.

I love the program and the spring is my favorite. The kindergartners come in the spring to do “I Spy Nature”. We take them around to see the animals and to smell and touch the herbs and flowers, and they have a great introduction to nature. Including the resident owl, Ranger.

What are you waiting for? Come out and enjoy the sights and sounds on the farm and watch children become enthralled with bugs and chickens and goats and birds. It is truly a wonderful opportunity to give time and get so much in return. Call 410-465-8877 if you want to know more.


Why I Love Boarman’s

Living in West HoCo, I have come to realize that it is the family businesses that make it so special. Boarman’s is one of my favorite places to shop in Howard County.

Where else do they grab all your bags and take them to your car and make sure they are securely stored? Where else do they take special orders for things like osso bucco or crown roasts, for the exact amount you need? And, their bacon and sausages. They are so good. Plus, ask HowChow about their crabcakes! Yum! Put those crabcakes on portabellas and place on the grill. Summer can’t come fast enough.

Friday I needed to go to Columbia for a doctor’s appointment. It took longer than usual for whatever reasons and I needed to run to the store before returning home. Do I venture into the 5 pm crowds at Safeway or Giant, or do I run up the road to Boarman’s?

I needed deli, milk, bread and fruit. Boarman’s certainly delivers. Canela sourdough rolls to serve with soup, made in Baltimore. Smoked turkey for less than Giant charges, and I am getting Dietz and Watson. Homemade sausage. Two in one pack, four in another, all freezer wrapped. This is what a butcher did for us years ago.

Sam Adams $6.99 a six pack. Boarman’s sells beer and wine and liquor for good prices. They have a liquor license because they have been a general store in Howard County since the 1950’s. They have been in Maryland since 1933, and before that their family had a grocery in DC. They live in HoCo. George Boarman is there all the time and will ask how things are, and what do you want to see in the store.

They have their branded coffee made for them by Orinoco.

I got my bread, milk, deli and fruit. I also picked up some sausage.

For the past two nights, I have been crock pot cooking so I would have soups for the week.

Last night it was beef soup with Boarman’s beef ribs, and tonight it was sausage and kale Tuscan bean soup with their hot Italian sausage. Two nice dinners, plus lots for the freezer and fridge. During the week it is easy to throw them in a pan and heat up.

Beef soup

Tuscan bean soup

My CSA makes it easy to have fresh veggies and Boarman’s delivers on all other levels.


Rushing Spring, and Counting Birds

I changed my background and header in anticipation of the hopefully soon arrival of spring. At the moment, the daffodils and tulips are pushing their way through the mulch and it won’t be too many weeks before they bloom.

There are tiny little signs of growth on the weeping cherry. I hope we don’t get a hard frost that will take away the beauty of my favorite season. The reason we don’t move south. I love spring and fall in Maryland.

Right now, though, it is the Great Backyard Bird Count weekend. I am checking out my feeders and seeing if anything new shows up. I did get the massive cedar waxwing visit last week, but so far today they have not shown up at the wild crab apple trees.

There are 12 of them in this picture, although I had to zoom in quite a bit to find all of them. They were really enjoying the berries,

and the water on the driveway

I know it is spring though once the hummingbirds return, and the juncos leave. It can’t get here soon enough.