Thursday, December 30, 2010

Marauding Mice

It is a really good thing that these mice showed up to eat the rest of the Christmas cookies and save us from ourselves.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A White Christmas, Surprise Party and Then Some

My brother Jonny, back in the day

I've not been posting because there was a plot afoot.  We were traveling to Columbia, Missouri- the place of my birth- to pay a surprise visit to my brother Jon on his 60th birthday.  David and I drove out with my brother Alex and his wife Betsy and my brother Chris flew in to join the party.

Without a doubt Jon was surprised!  What fun for the five of us to walk into a friends winter solstice party, where Jon was hanging out in the kitchen drinking a beer, and render him almost speechless.  We spent most of the day on Wednesday cooking a birthday dinner that included a smoked turkey and brussels sprouts raised by Alex and Betsy, leeks, potatoes and salad raised by Jon and Candy. 

To break up the cooking we took a walk around Jon and Candy's land.  They have an amazing ravine in their backyard, complete with bluffs and caves. Typical of the area, limestone predominates the landscape. 

An ice flow in one of the washes.

Several recipes and cooks were called into action to recreate the famous black bottom pie that our mother had made for many years as Jon's favorite and always requested birthday dessert.  The original recipe has been lost so there was a bit of discussion about which way to go, we settled on a traditional crust for one and a chocolate cookie crust for the second with same fillings for each.   We also all agreed to use the maximum amount of chocolate recommended, 6 ounces per pie, and voted for whipped cream folded into the middle custard layer instead of whipped egg whites.  As we say in our family, we were able to choke it down.
Jonny with his birthday pies

In fact, I knew I was truly on holiday when Jon, and I still in my pj's, had pie with our coffee on Thursday morning, December 23rd, his actual birthday.

The sad news was he had to go to work on his birthday.  So here he is, dapper in his green ensemble, ready to head off to the clinic.
Turns out the main reason his crew wanted him to work on his birthday was that they too had been hatching a plot.  We stopped by his office later to see that they had gone all out in decorating the place with multiple "over the hillville" props.  Alex and David try out the hearing aid and cane.

"Tease me about my age and I'll hit you with my cane"

Friday morning we woke up to about 6 inches of snow so we had to go out and play.
It was an action packed week filled with good times, great food and family all together.  We drove home in one fell swoop on Christmas day in an effort to beat the snow, somewhat successfully.  The same storm that brought 6 inches to Missouri was pounding theVirginia's about the time we got there on Christmas day at dark and we had to drive through the snow for several harrowing hours over the mountains.  Fortunately we came through to the other side of the storm right about the time we had to hit the back roads and were able to get Alex and Betsy back to the farm and then drove on reaching our house by 11 PM before the worst of the weather hit central NC. Phew!  When we woke up the next morning to 4 inches of snow here and still coming down, I was sure gald to be home in my own bed and not stuck on the highway or somewhere in a cheap motel.

So glad we went, so glad to be back home.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I find myself at loose ends.  Since I'm in the garden business, work slows to almost nothing at this time of year.  The cold weather is a drag.  I keep thinking, if I lived in a place where I expected it to be this cold for this long I would just deal with it, I would be ready for it, I would go on along with my life like nothing was strange.  But it's not supposed to be this cold here and so I take it personally.  Being stuck inside is messing with my routine, I want to be outside working on chores.  Even being a bit more comfortable inside the house would be nice.  About the only place I'm happy lately is either standing right next to the woodstove, under a blanket on the couch or in the bed.  Not a good situation for getting much accomplished.

But maybe I'll snap out of it and get moving again on something, anything.  The days will start getting longer again next week so that should help.  In the meantime, I'm doing things like making yogurt.  It's really easy and so delicious and cheaper than buying it for sure.  Of course having amazing, delicious fresh jersey milk helps the situation considerably. 

I make 2 pints at a time. First I heat four cups of skimmed milk to 185 degrees.  This is just before it boils, keep an eye on it, it will boil over quick and make a giant mess if you don't watch out!  Take it off the stove and let it cool back down to between 115 and 118.  It does help to have a thermometer.

I use pint canning jars and put a tablespoon of yogurt in each jar.  I strain the 115 degree milk into the jars, because it forms a skin after cooling. Put the tops on and place the jars into a small playmate cooler.  I fill the cooler with the hottest tap water- again - should be around 115-118 degrees which my tap water happens to be, up to just below the tops of the jars. 

I put a piece of cardboard and a towel in the top of the cooler, to help hold the heat, close the lid and wrap the whole thing in a bath towel.  About mid way through the process, 4 hours,  I remove some of the water and add more hot water back in, and wrap it all back up, just to be sure it stays at a constant warm 115-118.  In eight hours, voila - yogurt.  After that, I just put the jars in the fridge.  The jersey milk is so sweet I don't even need to add much to it, though a bit of maple syrup and vanilla are nice, or honey, or fresh fruit, or a dollop of good jam like raspberry pictured here. It's not as thick or smooth as store bought yogurt, but it's tastier. 

For starter yogurt get a good plain yogurt with live cultures, I freeze it in ice cube trays- an ice cube is just about a tablespoon, and keep it in the freezer in a plastic bag.  Just let the cubes thaw out before you use them.  You can use yogurt from your previous batch as long as it lasts, I've read it will eventually get thinner but haven't experienced that yet.  If you have a source of good milk I recommend you try making your own yogurt, good luck.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Brief Thaw

It  warmed up enough this weekend for the snow that had lingered in patches for the past week to finally melt away.  With the warmth came rain that fell gently all day today.  In the late afternoon the rain stopped and the sun peeked out, so we threw on our coats and hats and headed out for some air and exercise before the light vanished.

There was that golden light that strikes just the tops of the trees facing west as the sun drops below the cloud bank and shines warm against the eastern horizon.  Down along the creek the blue sky and orange trees were reflected in the clear water flowing below, all the moss and fern were lit a special electric leprecaun green, and by the time we circumnavigated the land the last of the pink was gone from the clouds, the sun had set and only dark branches stood out stark in the twilight.

The sky had opened up, almost all the clouds had blown away, and high above was the nearly half moon kept company by Jupiter.  The wind was picking up and the temperature was falling rapidly, bringing in the next cold snap that will settle on us over the next three days. 

Glad we got the doorside wood racked filled back up yesterday in anticipation of those chilly days to come.  Also glad not to be in Missouri where brother Jon had single digits last night or Minnesota where niece Jess got 2 feet of snow yesterday!  Thinking of you all in your colder realms!  Keep toasty any way you can.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Some Thoughts on the Season

I've been pondering the whole holiday madness as I had to go out to look for a present for a friend whose birthday is Dec 14th.  The Christmas music is blaring in the mall and people are already starting to hustle and scurry to buy those gifts that say merry, merry.

Since I'm a Pantheist not a Christian I don't celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense and I stopped buying gifts to give years ago so it gets harder each year to get excited about Dec 25th.  If you've read this blog long you know I am more connected to the Solstice, December 21st when we celebrate the longest night and the beginning of the return to the light.  This year there will be a full moon and an eclipse of that full moon occuring on the morning of the Solstice which seems fairly cosmic indeed.

Just now reading the holiday calendar from Triangle Yoga where I've been taking classes lately, they had this poem which I thought was of good sentiment and inclusive too:

Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jew,
May joy and peace expand in you,
And light the world so all can see,
The simple truth which sets us free,
The song the angels sing above,
That we are One,
And One is love.

We are one. Hard to believe when you look around the world at all the greed, war and hatred that is inflicted daily, but I do believe its true and if everyone would consider that harm they do to others is harming themselves too, maybe some of it would cease.  In the meanwhile, I'll just wish that all the holiday good wishes and warm fuzzies that folks are extending during this time will stretch across more of the year and be recognized as a good way to be all the time.  That people will allow those feelings and thoughts to become a regular part of their lives, not just something we put on for a few weeks each December in the name of Jesus Christ. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Scenes From a Frigid Afternoon

I was getting a bit of cabin fever after lunch so despite the thermometer refusing to rise above 35 degrees, off I went to see what I might find in the world besides rosy cheeks and chilly thighs.

First was a holly tree near the pond decorated with berries and snow.

Then the swirl of ice patterns across the surface of the water.

Further along I revisited this tree of oyster mushrooms that we discovered a couple of days ago and documented the waterfall of caps cascading down the trunk.  This is the largest outgrowth of oysters I think I've ever seen.

Last but not least I was taken by this fringe of christmas fern hanging along the edge of a stream bank.

I was glad I braved the cold.  At the top of the hill I stopped and leaned against a big tree to feel the sun on my face and catch my breath.  I recited to myself the Gayatri:

You who are the source of all power
Whose rays illuminate the earth
Illuminate also my heart
So that it too may do your work 

Then I walked back to the house. 

The glow of the woodstove is that much more dear when you've been out in the chill air.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

And Then...

It snowed all afternoon and into the evening and this was the scene when we woke up this morning.  A nice layer of heavy snow hanging on everything.  The silvery light through the trees was magical and every single branch had a layer of white icing running its length.  The birds were busy and David saw a small hawk, we think a Merlin, though it was a fleeting glance, we have had them here before.  A little while later we spotted a red-tail eating a small bird or rodent for its breakfast in a tree out beyond the garden shed.  Puffy tufts at the top of the pine trees were all golden against a brilliant blue sky.

I'm just in from leading a kids hike out at Triangle Land Conservancy's Johnston Mill Nature Preserve.  6 hardy parents and 9 kids ventured forth, even though the temperature never climbed above 40 today.  We had a fine time strolling the trails, looking for signs of wildlife and the kids throwing lots of snowballs.  A big time was had by all and I was very happy to return to the warm house and a cup of hot tea.

The cold weather is slated to continue right on through the week with a low of 19 predicted for Wednesday night- Brrrrrr.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


The scene out my window right now
Like I said the other day, we are not having normal weather for central North Carolina at all.  In the 30 years I've lived here I don't ever remember it snowing in early December and even snow in late December is quite unusual.  I doubt it will stick, but the temperature has dropped to 38 from 42 since it started.  The light in David's studio window looks so warm doesn't it?  I hope he is, I know he's got his little woodstove burning away.

The oyster stew was a big hit last night- so yummy I'm going to share the recipe right now.

Start with a half pint of oysters, strain the oysters and catch the juice,  check the oysters for any bits of shell. Then:

  • 1 T butter
  • 1 leek, sliced and washed (I slice and soak in water to make sure to get all the dirt out, then lift into strainer to drain)
  • 1 stalk celery sliced thin
  • 2 large shitake mushrooms sliced (you could use white or cremini mushrooms here)
  • 1-2 large oyster mushrooms sliced (same as above but don't recommend portobello)
Saute above in the butter in a saucepan with some salt and pepper
when the veggies are soft add:
  • 2t of flour and stir for a minute
  • liquid from half a pint of oysters
  • 1 cup cream (could use milk but then would need more flour I think)
Simmer for 5-10 minutes, adjust seasoning with a pinch of white and cayenne peppers, more salt as needed
  • half pint of oysters
  • 1T each chopped fresh parsley and dill
Cook just till oysters begin to firm 2-3 minutes.  Serve in warm bowls with toasted bread or crackers.
Makes 2 servings.

As I've been writing the snow is actually sticking and piling up a bit, it's still coming down very hard....

Friday, December 3, 2010

Orchids and Oysters

We've been waiting I don't know how many years for this orchid to bloom.  I've been threatening to toss it on the compost heap every season when it refused to put up a scape.  But I didn't, (because the orchids really are David's project, not mine) and finally, here it is.  Check out the little drops of nectar at the tips of the lower petals. This photo makes it look like some kind of bat coming in for a landing.  And probably wherever it grows naturally there are bats or something else that zip right into that magenta landing strip to drink some nectar and in turn pollinate the flower.  There are in fact, three scapes in bloom on this one plant as I write! 
I also offer this brilliant yellow calendula that by some amazing powers or fortitude has managed to survive several nights below freezing and generate these astonishing flowers.  It reminds me of some story about a weed that grows up in the crack of an urban sidewalk and blooms against all odds.  Maybe its the color that gets me so- it just says July, not December.

And the weather here now is saying January or February, not December.  Once again we face some of the strangest weather I've ever seen.  We have highs in the 40's and nights in the 20's forecast for the next 7 days, this is not normal for December in North Carolina, not normal at all. 

The good news is that the sun continues to shine and there is a very large stack of fire wood ready for burning, some of which is just outside the door.

Tonight we'll be enjoying oysters from our last delivery of the season from our community supported fishery Core Sound Seafood.  Last night we fried some and had them with slaw made with cabbage, carrot, red bell pepper and fennel; they were sublime.  Tonight I'm planning a soup.  I was just out in the garden bundled up and sporting a headlamp to harvest a leek, some dill and parsley, I'll add those and some mushrooms to some fresh cream from the dairy and I think we'll be very happy indeed.  So I bid you adieu and head for the kitchen and the warm deliciousness that awaits.