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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.

Gingerbread

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Do you sometimes crave those simple desserts from your childhood? Like real gingerbread. Not the cookies, but the cakey moist flavorful version, made from scratch.

For me, a few minutes spent sifting through my old recipe cards yielded this oldy but goody.

From the McCalls Recipe Box, which was my husband’s. I had the Betty Crocker box. I was cleaning out some stuff in the bookcase back in the bonus room over our garage I was trying to decide whether it was time to let go of the recipe cards. But they were how I learned, and so did my husband, to cook.

I was looking for comfort food, and gingerbread certainly fits the bill. I made a few adjustments. I went a little heavy on the spices. I used Grandma’s molasses, which I believe is dark molasses. I used the last of the self rising flour from one of my curbside pickups, where it was a substitute when flour was scarce. That meant no baking soda. I used a 10 by 15 pan so my gingerbread wasn’t the same height as the recipe showed.

Still, it is a wonderful trip back to the days of homemade goodies baked by my mom.

I really enjoyed doing this. I will have to dig through the cards and find something else to evoke those memories. Baking from scratch. Nothing from a box even comes close.

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?

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.

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?

Cabin Fever

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So, y’all tired of ice and snow, mostly ice, yet?

I am. Not loving the weather or the way it bothers my “aging” bones. Time to find some interesting things to do while waiting for spring to get here.

This is a two-fer week at the Howard County Conservancy. Thursday night a fascinating slide slow from Ned Tillman. Ned’s hikes and lectures all over the county are always well attended, and this week he is bringing new material about the world under the soil.

Saturday, a winter “hike”, but it will be an indoors Second Saturday program. Frog calls, and bird ID, in the warmth of the Gudelsky center where the wall of windows allows you to search for, and identify birds. Getting prepared to do the backyard bird count the following weekend. Which you could then do from the comfort of your own home.

Even in the snow.

If the weather does cooperate, you could also head out this Saturday to Mardi Gras on Main Street in Old Town Ellicott City. A family friendly Mardi Gras. With a scavenger hunt throughout old town, and the free Boogaloo at the Bin, with live music all afternoon and evening. There will be libations and food for sale. Gumbo, anyone? Maybe a beignet?

I did manage to get out last week and enjoy some of the wintertime activities around here. Even one of my favorite things. Cooking and eating locally. Over at Clarksville Caterers for a Slow Food chapter event with Chef Ryan Wiest.

Focusing on fresh winter vegetables, which the attendees peeled, cut, and roasted to go with short ribs made by the local chapter board members. I enjoy our quarterly events, featuring local foods and local people.

Anything else that would tempt you to brave the wintery winds and cold?