Sunday, September 30, 2007

Contest Winner

Country in the burbs wins the wallpaper border! All the comments were so relevant, and so right on, that I couldn't pick by the merits of the comment. So I printed the comments, cut up the paper, folded them up, put them in a bowl, and had DH draw one out.

Thanks everyone for participating. My own secret to apple pie? DH says it is the lard in the crust, I say it is the vanilla, cinnamon, butter and nutmeg in the filling. And I have to agree with those who say it is the care and the love with which it is made that makes it go over the top!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Contest: Apple pie border!

We have had a string of several weeks of near-perfect weather here - crisp, warm, sunny, dry days, and cooler evenings. The apples are going to be ripe soon and I am looking forward to a weekend trip to our farm to collect bushels and bushels of apples.

I am feeling generous, and to celebrate the beginning of apple pie season, I am hosting a contest, the prize being two strips of wallpaper border, totalling 10 yards, in Chesapeake pattern FAM24501B. I had originally ordered it for my kitchen but since I have a very "busy" kitchen with 6 spice racks and lots of canisters, we finally elected NOT to put it up. It is still in the original package.

What do you think is the most important ingredient in apple pie? You might identify the variety of apples used, the special way you make the crust, or the proportion of spices, or anything else that makes your pie "special".
I will select from the comments attached to this post to award the winner on September 30.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

End of the garden chicken soup

One day a few summers ago, I went outside to tell DH that dinner was ready, and that he should wash the grease and oil off his hands from playing in the garage and come in to dinner. He wasn't there! The neighbor lady's mother-in-law was standing outside, and I started chatting with her. She said "He'll come home when he gets hungry," and sure enough, he did! Since then it has been a standing joke at our house.

Today he's working on another neighbor's truck. I hope he gets hungry soon, as the chicken soup has been cooking in the crock pot and it smells really, really good.

End of the garden chicken soup

1 quart chicken stock
1 chicken breast, cubed
1 onion, diced, or 1/3 cup sliced green onions
1/2 to 1 tomato, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
2 carrots, scraped and chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped fine
1 small red pepper, chopped fine
1/2 zucchini, chopped into small pieces
1/2 tsp garlic granules or 1 clove garlic, smashed
pinch saffron threads (may substitute 1/2 tsp. turmeric)
1 cup cooked noodles (may substitute rice)
Salt and pepper to taste

put all ingredients except cooked noodles in crock pot - on high for 4 hours or low for 6-8 hours. 1/2 hour before serving (if your husband is home, and you know where he is!) add the noodles and stir.

If you have green beans or peas or potatoes, they all make a good addition to this soup.

Serve with homemade bread or sandwiches on sourdough.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Back to School

Tina from asked the question, "what do you like most about the fall season?" so I answered, fall is a time for new beginnings. The mental picture that symbolizes this for me is the rosy-cheeked little children waiting for the school bus, carrying lunch pails and wearing new hand-knit sweaters, under the green and gold leaves on the trees. Or something like that. Wouldn't you know that by leaving that comment, I jinxed myself? I had to wait for four different school buses to pick up children on my way to work yesterday!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Nothing gold can stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
- Robert Frost

For some reason Robert Frost's poem has been echoing through my mind today. A couple of people at work are moving on to more exciting career opportunities, and a few have decided to take the ERO. So my workplace will not be the same, even if I decide to stay. The poem really captures that cosmic truth - nothing ever stays the same, or as some less eloquent souls have put it, "when you stop growing, you die."

If this is such a universal truth, how come people are so resistant to change, and cling to the known and experienced so tightly?

Sunday, September 16, 2007


I've been in a state of confusion for the last few days. My company has offered me (and 12,000 other people) an early retirement offer.

Taking the offer would mean more time to garden, to go to the farmer's market, to knit, to make knitting patterns, to take the Master Gardener's program, to learn more about apple orchards, possibly to raise the Angora goats and rabbits and chickens that have always been lurking back in the back of my mind.....

But it would definitely mean a significantly reduced income. They've offered a lot of choices, from taking payouts of my pension fund immediately, to deferring it until age 65. If I took it immediately, it would probably run out way before my Social Security kicks in, if it ever does.

I really hadn't planned on retiring before age 55 at the earliest. So this has really thrown me a loop. So tantalizing!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Farm Subsidies

I just visited the Environmental Working Group farm subsidy database (linking from the NO NAIS link, below right, and clicking my way through various links). Out of curiosity, I clicked Ohio, to see which farmers got the highest subsidies from 1995-2005. I was a little surprised to see a local farm family high on the list. They received over $4 million in subsidies over the 10-year period.

I pulled up a map to see where their farm is, exactly. That gave me QUITE a shock, as it is just around the corner, less than a mile away, from the farm where my grandmother grew up.
For all I know they are currently farming that acreage!

...and his lovely wife

I've been reading Connie Schultz's book about her campaign adventures with her husband, Sherrod Brown. I felt a kinship with Connie. Like her, I was a divorced single mother for many years, who remarried in her mid-forties to the love of her life. I'm a member of the United Church of Christ. She's close to my age. She's a feminist who believes that women ought to have choices, even a choice to stay at home. So am I. I'm a Democrat, and I voted for Senator Brown. We're both Ohioans.

There are a few differences between us, though. I will never be a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist. I will never be a politician's wife, although I sympathize with the anonymity she discovered once they hit the campaign trail.

I found her book very enlightening, entertaining, and touching. Stories about her mother and father and how they shaped her life were sprinkled throughout the book, and she talked about the values they helped develop and that she shares with Senator Brown.

I took exception to one paragraph in the book, though. She was discussing her childhood in Ashtabula, Ohio. She said "Small towns seem to grow two kinds of kids: those who can't imagine leaving, and those who can't imagine staying. I was the latter...It was the land of limitations to me, the place where the big dreams of childhood were crushed under the weight of grow-up life. As in most small towns, many of the kids in my high school were afraid to leave. I was afraid not to. "

Ms. Shultz missed a third kind of kid - kids like me. Kids like Dorothy Gale, who dreamed of travelling over the rainbow, and actually did it. They went to Oz, had a lot of adventures, and made new friends along the way. The whole time though, they knew: There's no place like home. That's what happened to me - I've lived in Manhattan, I've lived in Spain, I've lived in Detroit. I was successful in those places, and made lots of friends. One thing I learned, people are pretty much the same all over, and it's the people you meet and the people you seek out that make a big difference in your life. But there's no place like home. Home is where my family is, and home is where my traditions are.

(It might help to sing a few bars now of Buffy St. Marie's I'm gonna be a country girl again...)

I've wandered in the hearts of men looking for the sign
But here I might learn happiness, I might learn peace of mind
The one who taught my lessons was the soft winds through the pine
And I'm gonna be a country girl again

Oh yes I'm gonna be a country girl again
With an old brown dog and a big front porch
And rabbits in a pen
I tell you, all the lights on Broadway
Don't amount to an acre of green,
And I'm gonna be a country girl again

I know people like Ms. Schultz - most of my friends from high school are now all over the globe. They're scattered to Kentucky, Maine, Texas, California, Venezuela, and Japan. I have a close relative in Florida who took off for Puerto Rico while in her twenties and won't come back, even though it might be to her advantage. My own sister has travelled from Texas to California to Detroit to Pennsylvania to New Mexico. At least she's come back to Ohio, albeit it's Columbus.

I also know people like the other ones she described - those who never left home, maybe because of fear. I remember one friend from an even smaller town telling me - "at least you got out. I'll never get out." She was referring to the fact that I had moved 7 miles away! I can't imagine what she thought was trapping her in her small town. Money? The rents aren't all that different. Family? I don't know all the circumstances, but I can't imagine that her family was keeping her from moving to the next town.

I have lamented the "brain drain" out of this part of Ohio for a long time - since I realized my friends weren't coming back. There aren't enough career-enhancing jobs here to keep our best and brightest here. Even now, when we look for potential employees at work, we have to advertise in Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo and further afield to get candidates. The available qualified people have left town. The ones who are working here are afraid to take big risky career moves, just because of the lack of other opportunities here. We have great quality of life here, and the cost of living is one of the lowest in the US. We have no traffic jams, and we're just a smidge over an hour away from cultural opportunities in Columbus and Cleveland. (I spent an hour and a half commuting every single day when I lived in Manhattan...) So it's mostly the career opportunities.

So, Sherrod, I hope you are working on improving the employment opportunities here in North Central Ohio for our best and brightest kids! I hope you are working on improving the education of those kids so they can succeed here when we do get those jobs back. I know you're working on it - I googled this quote from the American Chronicle:

Even Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said that in his state, which struggles with high unemployment, business owners have told him "they just could not find the engineers or computer scientists they needed to run their business." Of course their answer appears to be: "Just put a Want Ad in the New Delhi Times"and we'll get plenty of response."

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Slow rise

My peach leaf starter is not bubbling. I suspected it might not, since both the leaves and the potatoes were "sterilized" by heating before fermentation was to begin.

I went ahead and used the starter in a loaf of bread, but with a cup of the starter, I included commercial yeast. I used a cup of warm water, about 3 cups of flour, about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the yeast, and a teaspoon of salt. I'll probably get the taste, anyway! I started the bread last night. I punched it down this morning, and again when I got home from work. I put it in the pan, and let it rise a final time. Sprayed it with some "shine", sprinkled on some sesame seeds, put it into the oven at 400, for 1/2 hour. I just took it out of the oven. I wish I could somehow share the heavenly peachy aroma with you!
I ordered some books on bread from Barnes and Noble last night. One is supposed to have recipes for homemade starter using peach leaves. It will be interesting to see the difference.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Farm Sustainability Checklist

I found the Vermont Agriculture newsletter Agriview from 2004 while searching for something else. I was about to dismiss it as "not pertinent to Ohio" when I spied this checklist - definitely relevant and still timely:

Farm Sustainability Checklist
(From Scout Proft, Someday Farm, Dorset)

As the year winds down it’s worth another look at the sustainability management list on
this farm; modify it to fit your own situation as you look to next year and beyond.

• set personal goals: family time, something to pass on, commitment to educating others.
• set economic goals: what we can live on, what we can do without, how much we can save.
• develop a variety of products and a plan to generate income throughout the year.
• identify “what ifs?” and plan how to shift gears with little economic loss.
• develop many markets: sell to as many different kinds of people, close to home as possible.
• develop unique products:“our own”, easily grown, dear to our hearts, not part of a fad.
• pace the projects: balance tedious and interesting work, schedule off hours and vacations.
• have realistic outside commitments: to boards, fairs, trade shows, tours, presentations, etc.
• allow quality time: set limits to work so you can be available to your partner and children

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The starter is started

I stripped the peach tree of some of its leaves this morning, and made the starter according to the recipe I posted the other day. As advertised, the color of the infusion was not appetizing, but it had the most lovely almond aroma. If my kitchen gets hot and steamy, it might be bubbling in 24 hours...
OK, it has been 24 hours, and I don't see any evidence at all of bubbling or any yeast-like activity. But it was a little cool last night, so I'll give it another six hours.

What? You still can?

After church this morning we stopped at the nursing home to visit my Grandma. Grandma will be 97 this year and she has Alzheimer's. She recently had a bout of pneumonia and gave us a scare, she was moved from nursing home to hospital to another hospital and back to the nursing home. As a result of all the moves and probably due to medication changes, she is quite a bit shaken up. She didn't recognize me this morning, but I think her eyesight is failing too.

I gave her a brief rundown on what I've been doing besides working - and she said "What? You still can?" and shook her head. I reminded her of the times I worked with my mother and her to can tomatoes and pickles and pickled beets and pears and apples and freeze corn, and she smiled. I think she does remember those times too.

She said "You've got to change along with the times, I guess." That's a profound statement, coming from her. She was born before women had the right to vote, and before the automobile was commonplace. It was a huge life change for her to move from her large home and garden into assisted living, and from there to the nursing home. She has accepted each step with grace, never complaining, but only praising the people who take care of her now.

So, why do I can? There's lots of practical reasons, such as knowing that the food I am eating was raised without chemicals and didn't travel far from its origin. I'm not too sure about how environmentally sound the practice of home canning is - while the jars are re-used and don't go to a landfill, heating up the water takes a lot of energy. Since I usually only do one canner-ful at a time, I am guessing that a more production-oriented process would probably be more energy efficient. It does take a lot of time. But on the other hand, when I have food in the pantry, I don't spend my time shopping, or travelling to the store, either. It's very satisfying to see all those full jars lined up on the shelf, knowing that even if we have a snowstorm or a power outage, we're not going to starve. And, designing the labels for the jars gives me a mild ego trip, when I see the pleasing graphics and the quotations I add to every label.

But the real reason I continue to can is probably my mother and my grandmother. When I have that big blue granite-ware kettle on the stove, I am transported back to my mother's kitchen. I realized this after a conversation with DH yesterday - a mutual friend of ours is fixing up his late father's old van. There isn't a real reason to do it - the parts are expensive, it's not a collector car, and his mother isn't driving much any more and has another, newer car anyway. I told DH that our friend must miss his father, and working on the car reminds him of his dad. He said, "Is that why I work on my uncle's old tractor?" And of course it is. He misses his uncle. Same with canning. It reminds me of my mother, and my grandmother, and brings me close to them.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Peach tree leaf sourdough starter

Thanks to Rebecca, who saw my plea to the reference librarian and forwarded the article. I am flummoxed, because all it says was that there would be an argument between those old "sourdough" cowboys who insist that yeast is needed for the starter, and those who would insist that peach tree leaves be used.

I am going to have to find that other cookbook with the instructions for the peach-tree-leaf sourdough. The more I thought about it, the more I remember that it was a library book and not one of my own cookbooks which mentioned it. I think it was a recipe book that concentrated on breads.

Canning tomatoes

I complain "I've got all these tomatoes to can" and DH reminds me "you don't HAVE to do this, you know", "Yes, I do", "No, you really, really don't".

It reminds me of a conversation I had 20 years ago with a former supervisor who had moved here from Detroit. She found our town a little provincial. In an effort to find some friends and make professional acquaintances here, she joined the local Business and Professional Women's Club. She was frustrated. She mentioned to me that all the ladies there did was complain about how now that they were working, they didn't have enough time to get all their canning done. She said, "Oh, my gosh! Buy your canned vegetables at the grocery store!" I told her then that she was missing the point - that I also canned MY vegetables from MY garden! She just shook her head. She didn't get it. She probably still buys her vegetables.

I have been canning for 2 days. I put up 7 quarts of tomatoes, and made 6 quarts of tomato sauce. There are more tomatoes in the garden. Lots more. I have to go pick...

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