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Staying Sane

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It’s been over a hundred days since we’ve been anywhere. Except for curbside pickups and a few quick trips to grocery stores and markets. Oh, and the hardware store.

Thankfully we have enough space around here and enough to do to keep busy. Plus, my garden. It gives me peace and quiet while dealing with the squash beetles and the weeds. And harvesting asparagus.

I did get my first four yellow cherry tomatoes yesterday. No squash yet, and the cucumbers don’t look great. Lots of asparagus though.

The peppers? Hanging in there but the weather isn’t cooperating either.

I have been cooking quite a bit. Making the most of my Vegetable share. Particularly all the greens. I have been cooking from Toni Tipton-Martin’s book Jubilee, this month’s cookbook club selection.

Collards with cornmeal dumplings. This was a serious undertaking. Many steps. But the result was delicious. Those dumplings were awesome.

Island banana bread. Transports me back to Jamaica. Full of spices, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, with dates and pecans. This cookbook is full of absolutely flavorful trips down Memory Lane for me.

I found lots of new favorites along the journey. Like this broccoli and cauliflower salad with curried dressing. You assemble and dress this salad and let it marinate in the fridge for hours. These are the spices from the deep Caribbean, like we encountered in Trinidad.

I found that cooking from this book allowed me to reminisce about travels from decades past, while staying “safer at home”.

I downloaded the iBook version of the book. No trips to stores for much of what I made here. Thankfully Harris Teeter has curbside pickup and could provide us with many of the needed items. They also waived the pickup fee for senior citizens so kudos to them for their accommodation to us while we are taking care of ourselves.

The Book? It is written by Toni Tipton-Martin and is titled Jubilee, Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking. Paired with my other iBook from the exploration of the South, Deep Run Roots. Together they explore the rich history of Southern cooking through two separate perspectives but with very similar results in many recipes.

Vivian Howard learned how to prepare numerous items by watching Mrs. Mary and Ms. Lillie who cooked in Southern homes for decades. If you get a chance to record and watch Somewhere South or A Chef’s Life on PBS, both of her series delve into recipe origins and the complexities of Southern cooking are revealed.

Are you a collard eater or a turnip greens eater? What are the differences between Creole and Cajun? How did rice and okra and sweet potatoes get into the Southern diet? For me with my interest in cooking, baking and gardening I find that cookbooks with history in them give me a deeper understanding of life in the past.

To summarize from a very long story today, I have been staying sane by “traveling” and learning in the comfort and safety of my kitchen. I have also been supporting local small businesses for ingredients to do so. Not ready for restaurants yet, but farmer’s markets and farm stores have returned to our lives.

Thanks to Jenny’s market drive thru when I need something quick. To Breezy Willow and Mary’s Land Farm stores when I need meat or fish. To the Wheelhouse Market. To TLV and the other farmers at the markets here in HoCo.

I am staying sane by gardening, cooking and baking. What are you doing to stay sane?

Farm Shares

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What a difference a year makes. Last spring we barely had enough members to get our pick up site renewed. Now, Community Supported Agriculture is booming, with twice the number of people at our site. Lancaster Farm Fresh is showing on their web site that some of the shares are sold out. Including meat, chicken and cheese shares.

My monthly meat share provider, Evermore Farm in Westminster, is also slammed. The owner was telling me that they aren’t accepting CSA shares right now because of the demand. They also suspended sales of sides of beef and pork. We are lucky that we have locked in a medium share for the foreseeable future.

Now if I can find a local source for flour that would be nice. I am baking twice a week and can’t find bread flour or yeast. I may end up buying the grinder option for my KitchenAid mixer and grinding the wheat berries and rye berries from our winter CSA pantry share. They are in my basement fridge. I have been experimenting with a mix of whole wheat flour and some soft winter wheat which isn’t the best bread flour but it seems to be working.

Also, did you know there are local restaurants offering meat bundles, produce bundles, and packages to help with the much larger demand for fresh foods? We have replaced restaurant eating with home cooking and the once adequate supplies in the stores are quickly gobbled up. Walker’s Tap to Table up the road from us is offering these. Using JW Treuth for meat.

Jenny’s just opened their farm stand, giving us really close access to fruits, veggies, plants, and more. The farmer’s markets are back, as drive throughs. I think I can minimize my once every ten day visits for curbside pickup from Harris Teeter. Maybe drop back to biweekly. For the staples, like oils and vinegar, spices, and cleaning supplies.

Thanks to my meat share, and my vegetable share, I had everything to make a big pot of bean soup today. Because of course the weather isn’t cooperating and it’s cold out. Not grilling weather at all, but stay inside, make bread and soup, and cover the plants at night weather. I hear that Western Maryland had snow flurries last night. Not your typical Mother’s Day weather at all.

So, here’s to the wonderful bean soup.

Ham hock from Evermore. Seared with onions from CSA. Add six cups of water. Simmer a long time. Add pepper, oregano and thyme. Celery, carrots, green cabbage. A large can of white beans with the liquid to make it creamy. This soup spent six hours on the stovetop on low heat. It was awesome with my homemade bread. Who needs to go out? We can enjoy good food at home. Fresh from the farm to table.

Coping

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It’s been three weeks of not going anywhere non-essential.

It’s not fun being “old”.

In two days we were going to go celebrate my ten year anniversary of being retired. Now, we will raise a toast here at the house. We are really glad we have the luxury of staying home, and the privilege of getting things delivered.

I have been working on updating my resources, sadly neglected, on this web page to highlight the small local businesses that we support.

I also realized that maybe writing more will calm the nagging anxiety we can’t shake.

I know we are lucky. Right now, we get our weekly farm share from Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op and our monthly meat share from Evermore Farm.  We have curbside service at Wheelhouse and at Harris Teeter.

Thankfully, my chest freezer in the basement is still full of tomato sauces and roasted tomatoes, blueberries, stocks, soups, grains, flour, nuts and pesto. The freezer up here has a good variety of meat and some frozen vegetables.

The pantry? Beans galore. Condiments. Oil. Vinegar. Spices and herbs. Pastas and lentils. Oats. Rice.

I started making my no-knead bread again.

The simple version. Flour, salt, yeast, water. An 18 hour rise. Google Jim Lahey no-knead bread if you want to try it. We were lucky to find yeast at Harris Teeter. This recipe only uses 1/4 tsp so we can make 8 loaves from one envelope.

The other staple? My simple tuna dish. Tuna, onion, white beans, salt and pepper.

The recipe calls for tuna with olive oil but anything will work. Over greens is our preferred way to eat it.

I am making soups. Omelets. Pasta with sauces. Eat one night. Freeze the other half for later. Minimizing the amount of protein in the dish. Heavy on the greens and grains.

Hanging in there. Praying for friends and relatives on the front lines.

How are you coping?

Milestones

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It’s been fifteen years. Since we packed up the boxes and started moving from the city to the country.

So much has happened. Natural disasters. Family crises. Medical setbacks. Still, I have to say. Leaving Columbia for a kinder gentler life was definitely worth it.

We came here so my husband could have towers for his radio hobby. So I could have a garden.  Things we couldn’t do when constrained by HOA’s.

I really can’t believe we have been here so long.

Some highlights.  Putting up that tower.

It used to be hidden from sight before the trees were toppled by the tornado. Now, it is visible from my kitchen and from the highway behind our neighbors.

The landscape has changed. We are adapting. I am planning a new garden since my yard is clear of tall conifers. I don’t want to give up my community plot because I love it, particularly the deer fence and the large stand of asparagus. Can I maintain two gardens? Time will tell.

I want to put in a large area of onions and I want to plant the most tomatoes I have ever attempted. They will go in the community plot.

Here, where it is most convenient, I want cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, herbs, and flowers.

Hopefully, there will be a couple of the tromboncino vines running through the dirt and producing those large unique squash which make perfect fritters.

I want to fill the freezer again with jars of sauce and roasted tomatoes. With caramelized onions. Zucchini fritters. Roasted peppers. This winter I am missing all those delicacies. That pesky tornado which ruined our summer and appropriated all my time meant I didn’t have my winter reserves.  I miss it.  Not much preserved at all in 2019.

My New Year’s resolution? Get back to those things that made me happy. Gardening. Canning. Birding. Cooking. Baking. Simple pleasures.

my garden haul one day in 2014

I will get there. There are many more milestones I want to make. Here’s to years more in my happy place. The oasis on the edge of the cities but far enough away to still be peaceful and quiet.

This is 2020.

Recovery

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It’s been four months since the tornado. I have serious respect for those who soldier through natural disasters and put their lives back together.

We spend many hours dealing with the clean up, the restoration and the insurance claims. We finally finished the tree removal. Five days of a full crew, removing over a hundred trees.

The Cutting Edge did all our tree work. Highly recommended. Between them and Absolute Landscaping we have almost cleared it all. Absolute now begins the repair work.

Two small locally owned companies. Howard County at its best.

We have half an acre being cleaned up and reseeded. Days of milling and scraping, adding top soil and lime, and then putting in a hardy grass to prevent erosion. We were covered in invasive plants, which we are trying to eradicate.

Things look pretty bad at times, but we do have faith.

Some of this land will hopefully end up with trees from a grant to reforest with native nut bearing deciduous trees. We are included in a proposal by Howard  Ecoworks to use native trees to increase the forest canopy in the county.

Until then we are just stabilizing the area because we had major erosion in July when those three inches of rain ripped through our area.

Beyond the current work load around here, I did still make time to try something new with some native grapes. Muscadines. We had two quarts of them from our farm share.

I turned to Vivian Howard again for a recipe. Deep Run Roots.

Grape Hull Preserves.

Things are always better when you can add food making to your day. It’s my release valve. My escape from noise and dust.

Hopefully one day we will finish and can return to our hobbies, and our peace and quiet.

Fourteen Years

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Time flies when you’re having fun. This week it’s been 14 years of living here. I actually find that hard to believe. Nine of those years I have been retired.  Looking back I wonder where the time went and what did we do during those years.

I was a city girl. Now, I just can’t imagine living someplace not surrounded by nature. I don’t miss the smog, the congestion, the hurried pace, the light and the noise. I really like the peace and quiet, and the darkness. Sitting on the porch on balmy evenings watching the sun set. Getting up early and watching the animals at the feeders and the bird bath. Battling the squirrels as they try to destroy my feeders. Moving the occasional snake.

unknown 101

The first time I saw the sun turn the trees to “fire” I was hooked.

We have been lucky out here. The chance to put up the radio towers for my husband’s hobby. The garden, for about eight years. Then I did have to move to the community space which keeps me involved with others in a social gardening setting. And giving me protection from the deer who tried constantly to defeat my fencing in the yard. I still put certain things in the small enclosed space in my yard, like potatoes, garlic and herbs.

I have become a homebody. Not wanting to leave for extended periods of time. Letting the passport lapse for the near term.

While decluttering, I found a box of old government papers that included many travel forms. I estimate I spent years of my career on the road. Easily five years, maybe more. I don’t miss it at all. We still take overnight or weekend trips but being cramped in an airplane isn’t my idea of a fun time. Give me a B&B in the country and good restaurants and I am happy.

The outdoors and the weather drive our activities these days. There’s garden season. And the prime time amateur radio season. Let’s not forget mowing season. We fill our days with activities and projects, and keep relatively fit taking care of things.

I also don’t think I would have gotten into cooking and baking if we lived in an urban environment. Certainly the way we eat has been influenced by the farms and family businesses in our area.

Fourteen years have flown by. We are happy we took the plunge and moved out here, and look forward to many more years in our peaceful place.

A Quiet Christmas

As I noted last month with our 40th Thanksgiving, this is also the 40th time we have celebrated Christmas together. Now, retired, and free of the shopping angst of the season, we are enjoying the peace this year. No big commitments. Just a few cookies baked. A completely different approach in decorating. We are spending today at home, after a Christmas Eve dinner with some of our longtime friends.

This year, I did the massive grouping of poinsettias again. I also decided to pull out my favorite decorations from my mom and my MIL. They grace the stairs in the foyer, along with a ribbon wrap, a wreath and tiny white lights. Flowers in the kitchen and dining room. A few candles. That’s it. No tree. No outdoor lights. I have embraced the concept of minimalizing. No stress.

I had a good time a few weeks back, when I answered a request from an old friend to help them decorate their new place. I was happy to see some of my old decorations getting a new lease on life and get used, instead of being stored away. Large wreaths. Folksy hanging items. Ribbons. Wrappings. All those things that we no longer use.

Soon, I will head off to pan fry a couple flat iron steaks. Roast some root veggies. Try out my latest fermentation goodies. I pickled beets last week, and spicy rutabaga relish. Using the last CSA veggies.

Doesn’t everyone have spicy, Korean style pickled vegetables with Christmas dinner?

I am in the process of making a list of things I want to do in 2019, including writing more than I did this year. I may actually get another one or two posts written this month.

In the meantime  —

Lucky Seven?

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Yeah, this site is seven years old. In 2011, I registered the domain and started writing. I obviously don’t write as much as I did when I began.

It was fall. Lovely weather. I wrote mostly about my farm share, and my hobbies which included my volunteer work at the Howard County Conservancy.

I have to admit it was really about documenting the farm share to assist people (like me) who wanted to see what you got when you signed up for Community Supported Agriculture.

Pictures of vegetables.

Like those from my Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA. Which I also joined in 2011. And which is still a weekly part of my life. Those Tuesday pickups at Candace’s house, year round. 48 weeks of the year, with just a few weeks off over the holidays.

I haven’t documented them these days. I decided it was far too repetitive. But they still inspire my cooking, like this week when we got freshly grown ginger roots. Not dried. Young and fragrant. Making me want to make stir fry.

As for the Conservancy connection, I have changed what I do. Not as much volunteer naturalist, but still on the program committee, and still the community garden co-manager. I use my love of cooking to support our programs. Scones for the Mother’s Day tea. Vegetarian options to feed the volunteers at our Holiday crafts fair. Soups for pot luck meals.

I tell stories on paper. Why do I mention this? To advertise the upcoming storytelling event on November 9th.  At the Mt. Pleasant site of the Conservancy. Co-sponsored by CA and Rec and Parks.

Some good friends will be telling their stories. It reminds me that I should pay more attention to this site and keep my stories alive.

After all, sharing our stories keeps us connected.

The Buck Stops Here

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Literally.

Six point?

Down by our old garden. Actually for a while he was in it.

There are also two young fawns with him on this visit. The next time we saw him he had two does, and four fawns following him around.

He isn’t shy either, as he came within four or five feet of our deck.

He has been here most days. Some days he comes all the way up past the house, but he mostly stays down in the meadow.

Many more deer around the property this summer. They have to be dislocated from all the road construction down on Rte 32, and they are venturing into the properties north and west of there. Major amounts of trees have come down, and the woods are shrinking.

For us, we have less hunters in the area, as the farms are disappearing and the tree stands taken down. We will reach a critical point again soon, as the fields become barren and the winter sets in.  We can tell when they are desperate. They start eating the pine trees.

Safe to Eat?

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OK, raise your hands if all this talk of salmonella and E-Coli is ticking you off.

What is it with the inability to keep food sources safe?

We are in the middle of our transition from winter to spring CSA, and have had to buy produce at the store. No farmer’s markets in the area yet. Other than Silver Spring, but we were busy last weekend and ended up buying romaine at the store. Which we had to throw away now that the CDC can’t pinpoint the source of the E-Coli.

And people wonder why we buy most of our food from our farmer friends. We know where it was grown. We can actually meet the people who grow our food.

We have eggs from our meat and egg share from Evermore Farm. Yes, we pay more for farm fresh eggs but at least our farmers seem to be able to monitor their products and we aren’t looking for tiny labels to see if what we have is part of that millions of eggs recall on the East Coast of the US.

As for the romaine. Annoying to throw out packages of organic romaine because we don’t know where it originated. I can’t wait until May 1st when the spring CSA begins. And, for mid May when our local farmer’s markets begin. Love Dove has awesome greens, right out of the fields. I hope they will be at Clarksville on Saturdays, but if they aren’t, we can also get good organic vegetables from Earth First. Earth First is right down the road from us, and so is Triadelphia Lake View Farm. Both farms sell at our markets.

For local CSAs, besides my Lancaster Farm Fresh which is adding a second pick up in Dorsey Search, there are at least four other major sources of food right out of the ground.

Gorman Farm. Breezy Willow Farm. Wheeler Farm. Triadelphia Lake View Farm.

No excuses to buy older, less fresh, possibly suspect produce.

As for eggs, again, lots of local sources. Copper Penny. Breezy Willow. Evermore Farm. To name a few.

When I switched from industrially processed foods to locally grown, I found the difference in freshness to be incredible. Thankfully, this also means I have a face to associate with my food. People who eat that same food so they have a vested interest in keeping it safe.

Join me in supporting local farms and producers?