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Author Archives: AnnieRie

Bits and Bobs

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Small things. Not enough to write an entire piece on one topic. A rambling about wine and tomatoes.

Maybe I’ll use this as a means of getting into writing again. I seemed to be losing the knack of sitting down and writing for hours. But, it’s a beginning, so here goes.

It’s Virginia Wine Month. Which coincides with the leaf peeping we always chase across the two states. VA and MD. The Appalachians host scores of wineries north and south of us.

We recently headed down to do our semi-annual visit to Linden. For a preview of the crush and a comparative tasting.

The red grapes were still on the vines when we were there, but early this past week they all were quickly harvested before Ian could dump rain to ruin them.

Here at home, I pulled the last of the Brandywines off my one remaining tomato plant.

Hopefully they will fully ripen in the window. Leaving them on the vines with three days of rain would make them split and rot.

My makeshift ripening station in the south facing corner of the family room.

This summer the Brandywine plant in a pot off the back deck gave me the most tomatoes.

It was a frustrating summer, where the temperatures soared in July and the plants dropped their blossoms. The recovery time in August and September didn’t make up for the losses. I won’t be having much tomato sauce in the freezer for this winter.

Hopping back to wine. We recently did a comparison between two of our favorite local wines.

RdV and Linden. Ten years old. Both heavily Merlot. Both absolutely stunning. The more we delve into the differences in styles, and in the ability to age, we come to this conclusion. Good Virginia wines age very well. They don’t have the fruit forward punch of California wines, or the austere depth of Bordeaux. They have a balance which allows them to age gracefully.

Both of these wines have years to go before they fade. They both were bright, no browning edges. The RdV was a tad richer in the finish.

We kept one or two bottles of our favorite wines for many years. Just crossing our fingers that we would open them before it was too late.

This was a real treat. On a lovely evening in late August we opened our last remaining 20th Century VA wine, a 1999 Linden Hardscrabble.

Amazing. So soft, yet no off tastes or odors. It took about 30 minutes to open up. It is 23 years old, and would last at least 5 or more years. No fading of color yet. Yes, we can make awesome wine on the East Coast.

Available at a fraction of the price of Bordeaux.

On our last visit, when talking to Jim Law, the owner of Linden, he told us about the Italian varietals he has planted to see how they do. The temperatures are steadily creeping higher and the future in Virginia may be to try varieties from warmer climates. Adapting to the environment.

This roundabout way to bring me back to tomatoes.

This Brandywine was not planted in full sun. Not like the plants up at my community plot, which did poorly in the heat this summer.

This one plant gave me 30 tomatoes, even with the loss of some blossoms in July. I need to find plants that can handle the heat. And change how I plant them. You know, I need to adapt.

Happy VA Wine Month! Go visit a winery. Raise a glass to our local growers who battle the weather to make us great wines.

Down on the Farm

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I grew up a city girl. I have no idea why I became a country lover. Most of my relatives for the past few generations lived in and around Baltimore.

We made the big move out here 17 1/2 years ago, and I can honestly say I want to live out my life surrounded by trees, fields and streams.

What happened to trigger this posting? Just a simple random comment at a mini-reunion luncheon. earlier this month. A few comments there, actually, made me think about sitting down to write more often. It seems my classmates do read the ramblings of mine and enjoy them.

The interesting comment was about my life in the country, down on the farm, so to speak. We don’t consider our property a real farm. No animals. No crops. But we are surrounded by rural residences with chickens and horses. We once had goats a few homes down. We may be getting some cattle close by soon.

We love it here. Now, peace and quiet has been restored. The commuters are gone, finally. The new road behind us is done. It is now safe to cross the street to get our mail. The garbage truck and the recycling truck workers have a much easier job without the long line of impatient commuters threatening them from behind because of their delays.

Our roads are narrow and can be dangerous, but still so scenic.

The wildlife abundant. Last night my husband counted 14 deer in the field grazing on whatever the seasonal weeds are. We now have a resident fox who is marking his territory on all the sidewalks, the driveway and the edge of the patio. Thankfully we relocated the groundhogs last year.

The bunnies still live under our low deck, and the crows have moved on (hopefully) because we did manage to get rid of the grubs in the mulch.

We have a new view out of our bedroom window when we wake.

Our neighbors built a new barn.

Life is lived at a slower pace in our little corner of the country. My gardening takes up much of my time and The rewards are trickling in.

The first tomatoes. Including the green one that fell while I was fastening a vine to the cage. The hot peppers. Okra. Swiss chard.

The flowers from two places I planted them.

Here’s to life in the slow lane. Enjoying the herbs from my garden, and the goodies from my CSA. Cantaloupe and snap pea salad, with ricotta salata and mint.

Pizza

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Why am I writing about pizza?

Probably because this amazingly good pizza from our local carryout triggered memories. Of really good New York Style pizza from my husband’s home town in PA.

Pizza not found in our area, except in a few small local places.

I started digging into pizza history. Trying to remember when pizza became common here in central MD. I don’t remember pizza as a child. Not in my predominantly German American neighborhood. In the 50s.

Pizza Hut was established here when I was in college. The only pizza place I could find in some researching was Ledo. In College Park. Opened in 1955.

We didn’t have frozen pizzas in every grocery store. We cooked traditional simple foods from scratch. Western Europe mostly.

Maybe we had slices of greasy cheese pizza “downy ocean”. You have to be from Baltimore to understand. On the boardwalk in Ocean City.

When I met my husband and he took me up to his home in Northeastern PA we ordered really classic thin crust NY style pizza from Armondos. He lived in a small town, with quite a few garment factories owned by Italian families based in NY. There was a real presence of Italian foods and traditions in his town. Like incredible thin crust pizza.

I have tried, and mostly failed to duplicate it. I finally found a packaged thin crust dough, since my feeble attempts to make my own haven’t produced good pizza.

This stuff works.

I use it with toppings from the fridge. Cheeses. Oven roasted tomatoes. Asparagus from my garden. Scallions. Herbs. Thin sliced ham.

The only way to make this better would be a pizza oven to get to those really high temperatures to make the crust crisper.

But, not to be a one trick pony, we have dabbled in making Sicilian style rectangular thick crust.

I do love the air fryer/oven for making pizza. It has elevated my pizza making.

Find yourself a favored style. Experiment. Use weird toppings. You just can’t go wrong with pizza for dinner.

Anniversaries

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Every time I look at my phone today, the date jumps out. It was 72 years ago today that my parents got married.

It looked like a lovely May day. Not rainy and cold, the way it is today.

My parents were married 52 years, before we lost my dad. I remember their 50th vividly. I went with them to Alaska, the last state to visit by my dad. They didn’t want to go alone so a friend of mine and me booked a cabin on their ship and went with them. Our better halves were in the midst of major work projects so were OK with staying home.

I love this picture.

My dad and I in Ketchikan.

They really enjoyed this trip, and my biggest regret was canceling the trip for us to get to Hawaii the next year. 9/11 got in the way. My dad had been in Hawaii during WWII, but it was the only state left for my mom to visit.

We rescheduled the trip for 2003 but my dad passed away before we got to go there.

These things make me remember. Life is precious. Don’t procrastinate. Do those wild crazy things before you run out of time.

Twelve

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Another year. Another anniversary of retirement.

We still live in the same place. We aren’t looking to move. We really want to “age in place” and are taking steps to make our house even more comfortable for us old folk.

I am happy these days being a homebody, since we spent so much time on business travel when we worked. I also am not enamored of living in close quarters like we would be if we moved to a retirement community.

What are we doing differently than when we first retired? Anything? We are having more outdoor work being done by contractors.

We have been retired twelve years. Are we bored? Certainly not. Could we stay here if we want a single level home? Definitely.

Coming up? A summer of renovation. New second story windows to make the house much more energy efficient.

A newly configured laundry room, and maybe the master closet. Still not ready to tackle the master bath or the kitchen.

I decided to cut back on the garden plantings since we will be dealing with contractors all summer, but I still plan to have tomatoes, onions and herbs. Most of my plot will be planted for food bank harvest.

I did find my first asparagus of the season which will go onto a flatbread tonight with some leftover Easter lamb.

I actually cut these below the soil line to get them out of the ground before our Sunday night frost warning. Gives them that white asparagus stalk.

Besides that, the cooking bug is still alive and kicking. Lots of experimentation using old magazines and a few new downloaded cookbooks.

Yes, that’s a nine year old Virginia Chardonnay, the last one from the cellar. Absolutely exquisite, served with another version of the clams and pasta dishes we’ve made this winter.

Here’s to many more seafood experiments this spring and summer. Can’t wait for crab season to get here.

Retirement. Doesn’t get much better.

Dinner’s a Winner

Some days it just amazes me that I can whip up something and put it out there to “rave reviews”. Well, at least from my husband.

The simplest pork chops, pan seared, quick finished in the cast iron pan.

Mango salsa, because we have an excess of mangos from our CSA.

They were green when we got them a week ago but now they are ripe and ready to use.

Air fried sweet potato fries. We get these monster sweet potatoes in our CSA box. Like these.

One potato. Sliced, parboiled and finished in the air fryer while I cook the pork chops. Avocado oil and garam masala. Served with a drizzle of Carolina style mustard dressing.

A simple salad on the side. One of those 30 minute meals (ah yes, who can forget Rachel Ray).

The star of the meal? Those fries. I am so happy I got that smart oven.

Bundookies

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Lithuanian Meatballs.

Why am I writing about Lithuanian meatballs? Because a deli in my husband’s hometown had them in their freezer. Along with kielbasa.

We took a trip to “Shen-do”, Shenandoah PA, where my husband was born and grew up. It’s been at least 4 years since we took that three hour drive and all because of kielbasa.

According to my husband Kowalonek’s makes the best kielbo. The absolute best. Fresh kielbasa, heavy with garlic and coarsely ground. I have bought kielbasa many places in MD and southern PA but they don’t measure up to his favorite.

This is a local staple, and one that draws people from out of state to buy their fresh and their smoked versions. Lots of non-PA license tags in the parking lot. Take a number. We were #21 and they were serving #11 when we visited two weeks ago. People were spending quite a bit to stock up. Like over $100 of mostly $5.99/lb rings of kielbasa. Coolers in their truck bed. This is serious Polish sausage love.

We also saw they have a competitor. A Lithuanian deli just down the road off Main St. That’s where we found bundookies, and brought them home. Along with fresh and smoked kielbasa from both places.

Kowalonek’s has the best fresh kielbasa and Lucky’s has the best smoked version.

We did a smoked kielbasa throw down one night, and declared the really smoky, dense Lucky’s kielbasa the winner. Those rings of kielbasa turned into five dinners

Lucky’s is owned by a Lithuanian family. My mother-in-law was Lithuanian and we know she made us bundookies but just called them pork meatballs. They are an interesting blend, using saltines as the binder. You mix them all up, sear them in a pan and finish them in the oven.

I got the recipe from a “coal cracker” website. Doctored it a little, as I didn’t have evaporated milk. The recipe calls for allspice, which most definitely gives it a different profile than our Italian inspired versions of meatballs, The amazing coal cracker blog from Lori has the full recipe.

I will be making these often. Defrosting some ground pork to make them again this weekend.

Memories in a pan.

Snowdazed

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You know what? These constant snow alerts are getting old. Would it snow Thursday? How about tomorrow? Not looking like it right now thankfully. We got lucky this week.

It seems to be shaping up as one of those winters.

Snow on the ground and icy spots in the driveway. Not fun as we age.

We didn’t get the latest expected snow but we certainly are getting the cold. We have the faucet in the upstairs hall bathroom dripping since that is our weak spot when it comes to pipes getting cold enough to freeze. We updated the insulation everywhere we could access, just to prevent any reoccurrence of our minor flooding catastrophe that we had in January 2014.

Sometimes I feel like we are just living in anticipation of the next unplanned challenge. Every bathroom has a couple gallon jugs of water snuggled by the toilet for use in power outages. Burlap stretched between rebar is protecting the evergreens from wind damage. The newest trees have been treated with deer repellent.

The local meteorologists have a thankless job in the midAtlantic. Water to the east. Mountains to the west. Lots of hills and elevation changes that create uncertainties. Yesterday was a bust for those predictions with schools closing when they didn’t have to close.

When we moved out here 17 years ago, we moved 10 miles north but 250 feet higher in elevation. Temps are 2-4° colder than those in our old neighborhood. We get more snow, more ice and some serious wind.

This is also my time to use the oven and stove often in the kitchen. Keeps it warmer in there. This winter I am breaking in a new appliance and learning while experimenting.

I resisted following the trendy items like juicers, instapots, etc. But I finally caved and got an air fryer/smart oven. Threw away our old toaster.

I am having fun with it. Frying with very little oil. Proofing my dough for my bread baking. Making flatbreads and pizzas. And this summer I intend to use the dehydrator instead of my regular oven to process the cherry tomatoes from my garden.

Some recent uses.

A supreme flatbread with salami, ground beef and homemade tomato sauce on a quick rise dough.

White chocolate macadamia nut cookies from dough frozen before Christmas. I have several small containers with enough to make 6-8 cookies in each. The oven is a perfect size to make small batches.

I air fried button mushrooms stuffed with crab for dinner last night. Tonight I am experimenting with parsnips. Air frying them with Indian spiced seasoned salt.

I enjoy trying new things. Keeps us from getting bored during our cold dreary winters. I do have one small complaint. It takes much longer to make toast in this oven. It is perfectly toasted though, but five to six minutes is an eternity when you want breakfast.

Winter in Maryland. Completely unpredictable. We can embrace it, endure it or leave it. We aren’t going anywhere.

Just hurry up springtime!

Christmas Past

It’s been a very quiet Christmas. We changed plans of visiting friends this afternoon, and we weren’t going to travel anywhere for a while. So, the Packers and Browns have to entertain us.

I have been digging around in the old photo albums and decided to digitize many of them. Today is a perfect chance to share a few of those. And to remember.

I have also been spending time rummaging around on Ancestry and adding pictures from our boxes in the attic.

I think this one below was from my second Christmas.

At my mom’s parents. We lived with them while my granddad was ill but this picture was a year before that. I was the first grandchild.

I am still cataloging the boxes with my husband’s early pictures but found one of him and his younger sister.

I can tell you some of those train garden houses under their tree are in my attic 60 years later.

We spent most Christmases in PA with my mother in law, but still had family get togethers at my parents when we returned home to exchange presents. I remember years of the tree being in the basement rec room. And us swapping gifts with everyone down there.

My mom loved to get us lots of little things to open. Christmas really was a big deal for her, and we reaped the rewards of her shopping for us. We moved it all up into the living room as they got older and our families grew.

My kitchen has many items she bought us. She brought things home from trips and outlet visits for most of the year and had them wrapped months in advance.

I miss my mom. Christmas just isn’t the same.

And I miss my dad. I found this picture from Christmas sometime in the 1980’s when they still had Jake, their husky.

This was typical Jake pouting and pretending that he wasn’t being talked to. He was the sweetest, gentlest dog who let us live with him in his kingdom for 14 years. But he could be so stubborn and would let us know his feelings with his distinctive husky vocalizing.

Yeah, the holidays are tougher when you get older and lose family and friends. I feel for those going through this as their first Christmas after losing a loved one.

We all just need to hang in there and hope for a better 2022. So that our Christmas futures can all be brighter.

Water Works

December has been a real pain in the butt when it comes to water. A leaking faucet. A pinhole leak in the pipes above the hot water heater. Coliforms in our water supply. The hits just keep on coming.

It all started here.

A pinhole leak which signifies a low pH. We need a water treatment system. Unfortunately those tests revealed bacteria, which prompted us to do a well shocking.

Chlorine put in the well. To kill the bacteria. The chlorine is still in the system after two days. When will it clear?

Who knows? But it is definitely interfering with my cookie baking. And the dishwasher is full. And I need to do laundry.

Our Christmas presents this year? A new faucet. A new water heater. And later this month. A water treatment system. Gee, isn’t that romantic?

I do like my faucet though.