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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.

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!

Crabby

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It’s been decades since we last steamed blue crabs. Last weekend we finally had the opportunity to put half a bushel in the pot and have our own personal crab feast.

I grew up looking forward to those rare celebrations of the “beautiful swimmers” as our Bay blue crabs are called. Simply prepared. Steamed in either vinegar or beer. Covered in Old Bay Seasoning.

Put the newspaper on the table, grab a mallet and a knife and get down to business. We have been enjoying the eastern shore crab houses the past few years. Not making the mess in the kitchen steaming them ourselves.

Now we have a neighbor who crabs every week and sells what he catches. We bought half a bushel of mixed size “sooks”, which are mature female crabs.

Cost us less than a pound of lump crabmeat costs these days. We ate a few dozen right from the pot, and then started picking crab meat to make soup and crab cakes,

The crab cakes were worth the time to pick all that backfin.

I made these in my cast iron skillet using browned butter to get them nice, crispy and dark.

We have until the end of the month to get more if we want to do this again. It’s been far too long and besides the little mess in the kitchen, they aren’t that hard to do.

Makes me remember growing up in crab country.

Cooking Up a Storm

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I don’t know about you but we can’t believe the thunderstorms we have been experiencing this summer. Major rainfall amounts and lots of wind damage with it. Flooded areas in our yard, even with all the improvements we made to handle it. Yeah, a 4.68 inch per hour rain rate will overwhelm your drains. Add to that, we had high winds which took down telephone poles on our main road. We ended up with a 27 hour long power outage. The longest outage in our 16 1/2 years here.

We had to deal with no sump pump while it rained, and then hours where we were finding coolers and ice to protect our frozen foods. We think that it is now time to do the generator purchase. We lost a little bit of food, and had quite a bit that was starting to defrost.

So, we cooked it all up.

From top to bottom. Bacon. London broil. Beef sausage. Shrimp. We ate for a week from these proteins. A steak salad. A beef ragû. Shrimp scampi. BLTs for lunch.

Of course, if we add to this the abundance from my garden, you could see how this could be overwhelming.

Tomatoes, peppers and okra. More than enough to keep me busy in the kitchen.

Dog Days

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You learn something new every day. I never knew what dog days of summer meant. I thought it had something to do with dogs. Not astronomy.

We are officially in the dog days, since the Dog Star Sirius has done its annual rising in alignment with the Sun. The ancient Greeks thought that the hottest time of year was caused by the Sun and the brightest star (Sirius) focusing their heat on the Earth.

Well, we are certainly getting our share of hot days. Another warm week ahead. This is the time in summer when I don’t want to cook much. Lots of salads and easy meals.

The tomatoes are starting to ripen, which means I will be heating up the kitchen making sauces and roasting cherry tomatoes to put away for the winter.

I made a trip To Sprouts Market yesterday to pick up simple items to continue this pattern in meal prep. Lots of cheeses, olive mix, some prosciutto and nuts/seeds.

Some of my latest successes.

An updated fennel and orange salad, with the addition of blueberries and almonds, and on a bed of leaf lettuce.

A Greek salad using a massive heirloom pineapple tomato, from my CSA. My large tomatoes are just beginning to ripen.

Tonight though, I put together one of my absolute favorites. Peach, tomato and burrata salad.

Tomatoes and basil from my garden. CSA peaches. Burrata bought at Sprouts. Olive oil from The Breadery in Oella.

This is a restaurant quality salad. At a fraction of the cost. Worth splurging on the burrata.

I also made a simple gazpacho today which is resting in the fridge. It will be dinner tomorrow, with a side dish of prosciutto wrapped cantaloupe. Some crusty bread. A local rosé wine.

I can handle the dog days.

The Waiting Game

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Well, the garden is planted. Just in time for heat to arrive. Daily watering to get the tomatoes going. Now, we wait for six to eight weeks for the first ripened goodies.

I started seeds at home and they were getting rather leggy while I was waiting for the weather to warm up.

I planted three varieties of heirlooms from Monticello. Red fig, purple calabash, and prudens purple. These were the last seeds from a trip to Charlottesville a few years back. All of them from the descendants of three hundred year old stock.

Last year only the purple calabash survived. Crossing my fingers that these healthy looking plants make it.The purple calabash have won ribbons for me in the county fair.

Every day I go up to the garden, I cross my fingers as these heirlooms are far more fragile than the hybrid tomatoes available to grow.

I do mix in some hybrids, like sungold and celebrity and early girl.

This year my theme is tomato sauce. I planted onions, peppers, basil and tomatoes.

A few squash plants, and a handful of okra. Yes, I really like okra especially when I can oven bake them as “okra fries”.

So easy to make. Crunchy. I use garam masala on mine, and dip in ranch dressing.

In the meantime, while waiting for the main event of the summer harvest, we continue to enjoy the asparagus and rhubarb in many ways. The latest?

Rhubarb crisp. A simple recipe from the web. Served with vanilla ice cream.

And people wonder why I don’t eat out much. I have too much fun creating things here and enjoying leisurely meals with a good bottle of wine. While waiting for those tomatoes to produce.