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A December to Remember

And not always in a good way.  Maybe turning 65 tomorrow is a good thing. Time will tell. Hopefully the dozens of phone calls trying to sell me Medigap policies will cease.

As for why I wasn’t enamored with this month? So many things failed, or had to be replaced. I felt the checkbook and credit cards were always out.

The one that hurt the most? Having to take down a beautiful spruce tree.

I loved that tree. Standing as tall as our house. Weathering storms.

It survived snowmageddon, and ice storms. But needlecast did it in. We couldn’t save it, and last week it was felled. A hole in my yard and my heart.

It was just one of those things this month. Add to it a failed heat pump. Struts and shocks on the SUV. And, today! A dead washing machine. Anyone know where the nearest Laundromat is?

I shouldn’t complain. We are lucky that we have small local vendors who take good care of things for us. Landers’ Appliances will come to assess the 13 year old washer to see if it is salvageable. If it isn’t, Bray and Scarff will be replacing it.

BA Auto Care (formerly known as British American) did an awesome job as usual on our 14 year old car.

Advance Arboriculture surgically removed the tree, leaving nothing but mulch in our front yard.

Environmental Systems Associates (ESA) replaced our failing heat pump with a new energy efficient unit.

What did you get for Christmas? I got a bunch of invoices for all this work.

As for tomorrow, we aren’t going anywhere for my birthday. It’s just too cold and miserable out, so we will hunker down, pan sear a few filets, and open a bottle of old red wine. I should send my hubby up to Dandelion Bistro to pick up a nice chocolate dessert to savor with the leftover wine, after dinner.

I must be getting old. I prefer an evening by the fireplace, watching old movies, instead of going out to celebrate.

Baking

German Baking. Classic German Baking.

Most of my family is of German descent. I grew up with German influenced cooking and baking on both sides of the family. For me, the discovery of Luisa Weiss’s book, Classic German Baking, was a special treat for the holidays.

I opted to download the eBook when I found a great deal for it. I am glad I did it. I have already made two cookies for the holidays, and have dozens of treats bookmarked for the future.

Luissa’s Pfeffernüsse is far beyond those dry things you buy in the store.

I had to hide the container that I want to use for my Christmas gifts so my husband wouldn’t eat them all. I have to make more of these. I love them. Not really sweet, but just right. The secret to good German baking is finding ingredients. Like Baker’s Ammonia.

Thanks to Amazon Prime and “OliveNation” I had what I needed to make these cookies. For those of us really old, this is smelling salts. Seriously. But, it works to make the cookies vastly different from other non-traditional recipes.

I also made Vanillakipferl. The authentic version of almond crescents.

I went with the use of almond meal, and I also made my own vanilla sugar, by blitzing a vanilla bean, pod and all, in the sugar, and letting it mellow for a few days before using.

Fragile. Fresh from baking, and dredged in confectioner’s sugar mixed with vanilla sugar, these melt-in-our-mouth morsels are a memory of cookies my mom used to make. My paternal grandmother was born in Austria. These cookies are something special to me, as I pay tribute to my heritage.

Next year? I will work in advance to try Lebkuchen, which need time in advance to “age”, and who knows. Maybe I will spring for those Springerle molds.

I also have my eye on a cookie that reminds me of Berger’s cookies. That would be really bad for my waistline.

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Yes, it’s that time of year again. Here in the #hocomd world, Maple Lawn farm’s turkeys are nearing the end of their solar panel shielded sun bathing.

We are so lucky to be able to get fresh turkeys, for a fraction of the cost of some of the options out there. Many places have heritage birds for 5-9 dollars a pound. Here, we can get fresh turkey for $2.29 a pound, $2.30 to pick it up right at the farm. With its own reusable bag.

You have many options around here to get their turkeys. Boarmans. Roots. David’s. MOM’s. Whole Foods. And, I hear, maybe at Harris Teeter, but that isn’t confirmed. For the full experience, at least once, you should pick up at the farm. For the craziest experience, do it on Tuesday or Wednesday. Lines out the door, but it does move fast. I go on Monday, so I can let the turkey stay in the fridge one day, then brine it for 24 hours. This year, I may try something different for cooking it. There will be a follow up if this method works.

This weekend I also picked up my favorite other seasonal items, like the pumpkin ice cream from Baugher’s.

I can’t emphasize how amazing this farm is. They have a bakery, if you want pies for the holidays. They make their own ice cream. They make apple butter, peach butter, all sort of jellies and jams. You can pick your own fruit in summer and fall, and their fruit market is open year round. Worth the trip to Westminster. I go every month after picking up my meat CSA at Evermore Farm. Yesterday I got pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin cookies and a peck of gala apples. On Small Business Saturday, you could knock off quite a bit of your Christmas shopping there, and have lunch at the restaurant. Order the tuna melt, and the CMP sundae. And, a side of apple fritters. Heaven.

So, now you have the turkey. You can get the pie and the ice cream, and maybe some cider, at Baugher’s. Next post, in a few days, the wines and the special items.

Those pumpkin cookies are calling my name. They won’t last until Thanksgiving.

Sure Signs of Spring

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When spring is truly here, in Central Maryland, there are those annual rituals in which I participate. You know the ones I mean. The annual visit to Brighton Dam to assess the azalea gardens.

The search for those first wild asparagus to forage. Or the first fat bundles at the newly opening farmer’s markets. Or, in my case these days, the first asparagus from my garden plot.

The dogwoods blooming everywhere you look. The progression of springtime blossoms here goes pretty much in this order. The forsythia, the daffodils, the tulips and the cherry blossoms, the azaleas, the dogwoods and the rhododendron. Mixed into these, it’s somewhat random that the other bushes and trees flower and then leaf out.

We are only a month away from the first strawberry picking.

Jenny’s Market should be opening next week. Then, I won’t have to drive far to get some fruit, particularly citrus which I always need for cooking.

Grilling season is about to commence in earnest. Not just the occasional good day to uncover the grill, but the long stretches of time when every night is perfect to eat al fresco. Not yet buggy season, or high humidity to interfere with the enjoyment of the outdoors.

I noticed this year. My asparagus came in three weeks earlier than last year. The azaleas are already peaking out at Brighton Dam. Weeks before they normally do.

The weeds are early, too. And prolific, due to our relatively mild winter. No long hard freezes that would kill them off. I will be battling the bittersweet much earlier, as it threatens to invade my flower beds.

Next week, my spring/summer CSA starts. The farmer’s markets aren’t far behind it. Can’t wait to visit the new one in Clarksville Commons or my favorite one down at the Wine Bin in Old Town EC.

This coming weekend is supposed to be lovely. Check out the azaleas if you get a chance.

A Betty Crocker Christmas

Remember these?

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My first recipes. Back in 1975 when I moved to Columbia. I found the box up in the attic inside a moving carton, along with my husband’s recipe cards. His were McCall’s and bought when he first moved to Columbia in 1977 (he learned to cook from them, in his new townhouse before I met him).

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That budget casserole up in my cards? Made an appearance many nights for my two roommates and me. Just 1/2 pound of ground beef and one egg. Really cheap eats. Back when we couldn’t afford anything fancier.

I decided to pull out the cookie cards and make some of them for Christmas. Along with an old favorite. This one.

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Which was on the menu tonight.

As for the cookies, check these out.

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Shortbread. Crescents. Caramel-nut bars.

I still have spice cookies and toffee to make tomorrow, but this is a trip back in time. And, no, I didn’t succumb and use Crisco, even when the recipes called for it.

Any old memories being resurrected for your holiday?

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I may be tempted to make that fudge too.

Strawberry Social

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Yesterday I attended the annual volunteer appreciation party up at the historic farmhouse on the Howard County Conservancy grounds. I have been volunteering since 2010 and have made it to most of the annual Sunday afternoon appreciation parties.

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The farmhouse is only open for viewing a few times a year. If you wander around outside though, you can find the viewing portal that will show you under the siding original logs.

The volunteers get together to celebrate the end of another busy season. All of the field trips are done. There are the monthly programs still, and of course, summer camp. Still, the crazy field trip schedule has wrapped up. Some weeks, there were field trips every day. Some days, more than one. Without the dedicated volunteers this would not be possible.

The social is simple and fun. Strawberries from Baugher’s Orchards and Farms in Westminster. Vanilla ice cream from Hoffman’s. Lemonade and iced water. Time to mingle and relax. Followed by a short series of presentations including the big reveal of the volunteer of the year.

Some highlights this year. Gwen Morrison, honored for volunteering at 50, yes, FIFTY field trips. Sometimes twice a day. Our requested commitment is a minimum of three in fall and three in spring. The naturalists usually can do more than that, but think about the commitment in hours (2-3 hours for every trip) to be there for dozens of trips. Way to go, Gwen. We worked together this year on BioBlitz at Belmont, one of my favorite activities.

This year’s winner of the Carol Filipczak Volunteer of the Year award was Bob Grossman. Bob is one of those faces seen over and over at all sorts of programs and field trips. He definitely deserved being recognized for everything he does.

There were other fun awards too. Like Rookie of the Year. Guys With Trucks (you have to go ask about that one, I love it). Parking Kings. Jump In. And more I can’t recall right now.

The dedicated drop in gardeners were recognized. For their willingness to wait out rain, over and over and over again, in May. Just when you need to get the gardens in shape, Mother Nature kept sending showers and storms on them.

One other special award to staff this year. Tabby Fique, the land manager, who was the education manager when I started volunteering was honored with one of Alice Webb’s paintings, of the farmhouse, for her 10+ years on staff. To most of the visitors, Tabby is the owl whisperer.

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She was Ranger’s original handler when he came to the Conservancy in 2010. Many people who come to Wine in the Garden were greeted by Tabby and Ranger.

Congrats to all the volunteers who were recognized this year and in years past. I can’t emphasize enough how much rewarding and fun this non profit is, for the volunteers and staff. A great place to work, to help, to visit and to support.

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Thanks for another fun year. Now, we’ve got to get in gear for the arrival of the Fiddlers next week, and hopefully there will be fireflies.

Oh, I almost forgot. We all got little packs of milkweed seeds to sow, wherever we can find a spot that may be a good habitat for the monarch butterflies. And, anyone new got their magnet for their car, to show our volunteer pride.

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Hoppy Easter

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As the Easter Egg hunts, and egg rolling events accumulate this weekend, we have yet to establish if there really was an egg laying hare, aka “Oschter Haws” as the Germans called it. You have to admit, for those of us scientifically inclined, it is mind boggling to contemplate bunnies laying eggs.

I did dye eggs this year. Kept some older ones around, to be used for display purposes, so I cheated and used the Paas dyes.

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Brown eggs are always interesting to dye. And, the slightly speckled eggs come out very nice. I should have done the natural thing and made dyes from our red cabbage, or from the turmeric in my spice cabinet, but with all the painting and sanding and hammering this week, I was surviving in a corner of my kitchen.

They are done, more or less. Just some carpentry and plumbing to finish. I even got my grandmother’s china back into her cabinet in the dining room. Just in time to make the bone in ham from the CSA last week.

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Traditions for the holidays? Do you have them? Are they ecofriendly and healthy, or are some of them bad for you but you do them anyway. One of ours is the ceremonial Peeps. Has to be just one small box. The other one, Rhebs Candy.

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Who hasn’t been in that long line to pick up candy, up off Wilkens Avenue by St. Agnes Hospital. When we were young, my Dad brought the candy home from their stall in Lexington Market, which closed down in 2008. You can get the candies ordered online now and have them sent to you, but going into the store, smelling the chocolate, and picking out your own assortment was a real treat.

Well, I need to stop reminiscing and get a few things done for Easter. While putting the rooms back in order, hanging pictures and curtains, and finishing up from the six weeks spent making half the house look great.