Monday, May 22, 2017

Gratitude, Rain, Garden, Sunday dinner

Yesterday I picked a nice bowl of green beans. Some fresh jalapenos, three tomatoes, a giant bowl of arugula, some oregano, basil, sage, cilantro.
I grabbed some stevia leaves. Worked a bit to clean up the broiler and duck home and gave the ducks fresh water in their swimming pool. We had a delicious thunderstorm in the morning, which left the air fresh and moist, perfect for hours working in the yard.

I went over to mom and dad's to care for some things there, and stole some onions and beet greens from daddy's garden.

Sunday afternoon was a delight, putzing in the kitchen. I made a small jar of stevia extract, will let you know how it turns out! And a feast for our dining delight, a dinner on the gazebo, with gentle cool breeze, colorful evening skies and family. My gang is not particularly partial to arugula, but we have a gangbuster crop this year. Some time I plan to make arugula pesto, spent some time developing a recipe. I especially love it cooked in a fresh marinara. Yesterday I catered to younger palates, I sauteed it with beet greens, added cream and three cheeses, some grape tomatoes and basil, and let it cook down into a treat of a dish. Which disappeared. The green beans with Dad's onions disappeared. The pico as a relish alongside the pork roast disappeared as well.

Not much satisfies me more than growing, picking, preparing and eating our own food. And sharing the table with others.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Life is full of ups and downs, or Mid-May Vineyard Report

All goslings and most of the ducks are living full time out at the vineyard. After consulting with a wildlife biologist girlfriend, I built a much more secure nighttime housing situation for the little weeders. The poultry are safe, sound, and shockingly efficient in regards to weed eating.

Perhaps I should come up with a plan to join forces with the local therapists? Their clients could pay a monthly fee to join me out in the vineyard. They wouldn't have to prune or tie or spread compost. Just set up a chair and table in the shade and watch the waddlers work. Those creatures delight me to no end. They nibble away all the broadleaf grasses and weeds, leaving a wildflower meadow in between the rows. Their peeps and chirps and occasional squawks add to the sound of birds and breeze in the vines. Signs of depression and discouragement decrease exponentially when hanging out around the newest enterprise in sustainable, organic winemaking.

That said...A week ago we had a hard freeze hit. My plants here in town are fine. Mile High Vineyard got hit significantly. Cordons loaded with luscious leaves and most amazing display of grape clusters got bitten savagely by the cold snap. Our vines were thriving in two months worth of May temperatures. The temperate winter left them leaping to go and grow. A freeze this time of year is the norm. Which isn't a problem unless we have had so many weeks of 80 plus days. And weeks of 50 plus nights.

So. I have been pruning away the bitterly frozen, crunchy dead leaves and vine growth. It is a bit disheartening. I know it will grow back. Not all the grapes were lost. The realities of agriculture. I guess I would be more upset if I didn't understand the nature of the business. And if I didn't have such happy little helpers working diligently by my side!

We are making a deep litter system for the goose house. I will start applying the compost we made over the winter, a scoop per vine. As soon as the new leaves come out, I plan to make compost tea for a foliar spray. Knowing that the geese are helping not only with weed eradication, but with building the next compost windrow is pretty awesome as well! Once we enter the rainy season, please God!!!, I plan to burn the old vine trimmings and add a deep layer to the compost, just as we did last year.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


The other day I was working in the garden and admiring the pomegranate and rose bush. I noticed bright red splashes of color on the branches of a small tree along the fence. I had wondered why it had never bloomed. I thought it was an althea, also known by the sweet name, Rose of Sharon.

Isn't it funny when you see something unexpected and it doesn't quite register?

I walked up closer to investigate. Scattered in among the bright cardinal jewels were glossy black mulberries! How did I get that one so wrong? Six years here in Alpine and this is the first time the tree fruited!

My kids are delighted because they remember mulberry feasts in days of yore.

Ya just never know...

PS poultry operation doing well. I moved the first batch of goslings out to the vineyard yesterday. The vineyard is well fenced,
hopefully a good first layer of defense. I constructed a mini tractor for their evening bedroom, covered with heavy hardware cloth. I hope they slept okay. I hope the structure was secure. I woke up several times worried about them. I guess three am is a bit too early to call in to the vineyard owners? The goslings make me laugh as they walk around, happily eating the weeds and grass. They enjoy splashing in their water, chattering away to one another as they waddle to and fro.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Once a Farmer...

As I ready for bed this evening, I hear the sound of chirpy, purry little voices in the greenhouse, right outside my kitchen window.

I have 20 geese, toulouse and french toulouse, 9 pekin ducks and 24 cornish cross chicks brooding away. They each have their little zone, with feed, shavings, water and warmth. The past two days I have herded the week old geese out to the yard, put them in behind my grapevines that grow outside the bakery window. Grass and weeds were about 8 or 9 inches tall. After a day of munching, the grass was down about 75%!!! And the goslings were purring in contentment, doing what they like to do best.

I bought the goslings to aid me in vineyard management. They love to eat grass. The vineyard I tend has plenty of grass and we choose to avoid chemicals. I am delighted beyond words as I see the adorable creatures go to town on grass eating.

It is a harsh, or perhaps I should say, a wonderful reality that these geese will eventually, at least most of them, become a sustainably, humanely raised source of protein for a family. I give them lots of space in their greenhouse bedroom. I gently and lovingly direct them to their weed eating day school, preparing them for vineyard work. All the weeds and grass I pull from the garden go to them for afternoon snacks. I will work to make them a home at the vineyard that will hopefully protect them from hungry predators. Well. Yes, I guess I am a predator.

I gratefully eat meat. Thankful, as I know that when I go without meat for awhile, I get so hungry. I have tried vegetarian lifestyle for a time, and it is quite hard. I gain weight. I am hungry all the time. When I eat small amounts of meat on a regular basis, I feel less ravenous.

What to do?

I have chosen to raise at least a portion of our meat. Letting these creatures, even in a suburban setting, live a life that is humane, with peace, good food and room to roam. Iknow there is a cost to the meat on my plate.

I like knowing that the vineyard will feed geese and ducks that will feed us. I like knowing that our meat will involve very little extra fuel, compared to feedlot beef or factory chicken. I like knowing that the grapes will be free of residues from gas weedeaters and poisonous herbicides and pesticides.

It feels right to me, anyway.

And having the farm thing going, here in the middle of our small town, feels like a gift.

Who would've thunk it? I was so sad when we left the farm. I thought that all that learning was going to go to waste when we moved to town.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday, not exactly like other Maundy Thursdays in our past, but still quite relevant...

Maggie came home today.

She arrived an hour or so before bakery opened to customers. Tired girl, wishing for a nap after a super long drive, we hugged her hello and suggested she head to bed. I could barely stop to say hello, we were in the throes of bakery prep. The final loaves of italian were kneaded and formed and scored, thrown into the super hot oven with giant splashes of water to create a steam bath. I pureed the vegetarian stock and white bean soup with sage leaves and cream. Counted out the swiss chard pies. Stirred a buttery raspberry glaze for the spelt pound cakes.

Maggie put up her hair and joined Theo, Rose and I in the maelstrom that is bakery day.

I loved how she couldn't resist!

She glazed and topped the adorable poundcakes with raspberries. She bagged and stirred. Theo washed dishes and she and Rose jarred up soup and sourdough starter for waffle mixes. Nora did whatever I asked.

I put on a clean apron, grabbed the cream cheese, a stick of butter, a couple of organic oranges, some honey, and threw them all into the mixer.

Today I launched a new cake.

Sometimes I feel like a machine. I crank out all the favorite breads, never can bake enough, and end up exhausted, done in, content, grateful, but hungry to create.

Last night I scrounged and patched together one recipe and another, finally coming up with something that fit our operation.
A honey rye cake, made with orange juice, coconut oil, freshly milled rye flour, this and that. As soon as I licked the bowl I thought I might have a winner.

After it came out of the oven, I knew it.

We sold pretty much everything. We worked together hard, we worked together well. After the customers were gone and dishes cleaned up, I put out some pizza dough and the girls cooked it up. Some of their friends came over and after the pizza, they found some strawberries and needed to nosh a bit more. Maggie pulled out the leftover cream cheese frosting and we dipped in our strawberries.

We oohed. We aahed. We licked fingers. We said, omg, this is so good. The girls lauded me and praised me and ate more and basically made me feel like a rock star.

We envisioned a future storefront bakery, an adorable space, big glass windows, Mom's artwork decorating the walls. Breads,
omelets, soups, and Orangey Spicey Little Honey Rye cake on the menu, with a pot of that cream cheesey taste of heaven on hand for people who need a little something.

I felt so much joy and love in that tired moment with my girls. Such a sensuous moment. The taste, the texture, the sound of laughter, the flour covered surfaces and sound of the oven in the background.

Truly could not think of a single other thing I would need to make me happy right now.

Oh, and for the record, I had better write down the recipe off the batter stained back of an envelope, in case I should wish to replicate it someday.

Orangey Spicey, Little Honey Cake (Girls tell me I should not add rye to the name because people think they don't like rye, and if they just taste and see, they will love the cake for sure and slowly get over their aversion and prejudicial bent regarding rye, that humble and lovely grain...)

4 c freshly milled rye flour
3 tsp alum. free baking pdr
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt i use redmonds real
1 1/2 -2 TBS cinnamon
1 tbsp powdered ginger (I think to really gild the lily I should mince fresh ginger to add to the dried, maybe a knob the size of a thumb?)
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 c sucanat
1 c organic coconut oil (the refined is okay, butter good also, but extra virgin, with the smell of coconut is worth the expense)
1 c honey, raw, if you can get it
2-3 eggs depending on size
3 tsp vanilla
2 tsp orange extract
1 c freshly juiced oj if you have oranges in season, or good juice from the store. but fresh, with some pulp super good
1/2 c yogurt
1/2 c milk
zest of two oranges

Mix the dry, mix the wet. Beat the wet ingredients until beautifully creamy, gently stir in the dry. To tell you the truth, I add the dry ingredients minus the flour, beat it all well, and then add the flour. Hate to use two bowls, I do enough dishes.

Grease and flour pans, or use muffin tin liners. With this recipe I made six mini bundt cakes, a tin of cup cakes, and a pretty mold pan for our family.

350 until the middle is just set.

Most Amazing Cream Cheese Spread Ever (AKA orangey cream cheesey goodness)

16oz good cream cheese
1 stick butter
juice of half an orange
1/2 tsp orange extract
zest of 1 orange
1/4 c sucanat
1/4 c honey or to taste (the cake is sweet, we don't make this very sweet, but it is fairly easy to taste and test as you go, adjusting. Better to add bit by bit. )
Beat and beat and beat until completely and beautifully whipped. This makes plenty for cakes and leftover to stash in a pint jar in the fridge for late night snacks. Using strawberries. Or fingers. Above cake, baked into layers, frosted with this spread, topped with lovely, edible, in season flowers, might just be one of the best things ever.

I grated nutmeg and more orange zest over our little frosted cakes and they looked so pretty. More importantly, they tasted great. And while not exactly low cal, they were filled with real food. Eggs from the free range chickens, wonderful yogurt, good fats for the brain, and not a single chemical or weird additive in sight.

This recipe is not double tested, could include typos, might not work with your oven. But if you know how to bake a cake, I bet you could make it work. If you wish, you could halve the sweetener, add applesauce to take the place of some of the fat. It is def. not low carb. PLenty of room for improv...

After being a bit bored with my baking, it was fun to whip up a keeper that brought sighs of delight to my daughters. Love my job. Love my kids. Pretty grateful.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A record, or Yes, I believe in the all manner of flavors.

Yesterday a friend dropped off two large bunches of asparagus crowns. Jersey Giants.

I tried asparagus last year but neglected to water the crowns sufficiently. They died.

I dug a couple of trenches this morning. Amended the soil. Watered the new crowns in. Promised to be more faithful.
As I tended the other garden beds, harvested some fertilizer (aka chicken manure), watered the new fig tree and the blackberry vines that survived, I wistfully caressed the raspberry canes I planted last year. A friend gave them to me. A variety that thrives well here in our town. I placed them in a shady area of the yard, acid soil, and then neglected to water them all winter long.

Everyone else's raspberry canes have been leafed out for a couple weeks. Mine were dry and dead as could be. I began to water them a couple of weeks ago, hope is the last to die. I felt remorse, regret and disappointment in myself.

Imagine my delight this morning when I noticed tiny little specks of green, brand new baby leaves!

They are alive!!!

Yesterday I stuck some eggplants into their new home. Daddy and Mom came over to get a bucket of our special homegrown fertilizer. We walked the garden, as is our custom. Jalapenos have blossoms. Two of the six tomato plants have babies, almost the size of a ping pong ball, pale green and firm. Japanese pickling cucumbers have sprouted out third and fourth leaves. The first green beans, provider, are bushy and near blooming. The pole beans are poking their heads out of the ground in the front.
Arugula must not be appealing to the little birds in our neighborhood, I have a terrific stand coming on. As for the tatsoi,
spinach and chard, well. Planted more yesterday, hope the little birds have other things to tempt them this go around. Cilantro, marigolds, zinnias, oh my, they are coming up everywhere. So are the leeks. Pomegranates have lovely blooms making my mouth water for special summertime drinks to go with the baby limes that are bursting forth on the lime tree, happy to be back outside.

Last night Nora and I took Mom and Dad out to dinner to celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary. They have defied the odds.
On many levels. They told us all sorts of stories, we laughed, we ate delicious food, we smiled, we remembered. I count myself blessed on many levels. All levels, really. I remember when Philip and I married, he was 33, I was 25. When things got hard, we reminded ourselves how much we wished to pass on to our kids the legacy my parents and grandparents passed on to me.
We would have passed our 25th past December, only made it to 18th when he died.

I have grieved innumerable things since he died. But last night I realized that my kids get to witness this legacy of long life love as we share stories, memories, as they see the way my parents love each other even now. Not perfectly, as in conflict, trouble free, but perfectly secure and sound. I am grateful. Their move to Alpine makes this so much more possible. I pray that they will know friendships and love, whatever flavor, that will stick around, and when things seem dead, they won't be too quick to give up. There just might be green leaves about to sprout if they just get a few nice long drinks of water...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Gentle Reminders

After a long day taking care of boring accounting and quarterly sales tax for the bakery, I prepared our family dinner. After we finished up, Nora began to tackle the dishes and asked if I were going to go out for my evening walk.

I paused, it was eight pm, I wanted to crawl into bed and read a book.

She gently suggested that if I were to stay home, it would be very easy to get out of the habit of evening fresh air and exercise.


I agreed and headed out the door.

The cooler evening air and gentle breeze greeted me kindly. The pink, rosy wash over the mountains soothed my spirit. The sound of the peepers in the draw on the edge of the golf course made me think of the farm. The sound of baseball bats and kids at practice and the sight of couples walking their dogs made me grateful to be a part of a community.

I breathed in. I breathed out. I felt the cool air as it came into my nose. I smelled all sorts of living smells as the wildflowers are popping out here and there. The sight of a bounding deer made me feel alive. As I neared the end of my two mile circuit I saw the giant moon ascend over Hancock Hill. She was so lovely, I gasped. I had forgotten!

How lucky I am to have these kids who make my world better.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Wind

Occasionally wind blows in and likes our town so much she decides to stick around for a day or two.

I realize she is an important guest. Yes, I do not take her cooling breezes and gifts of weather change for granted.

But geez. How temperamental. She moans, she howls, she pounds my windows and slams my doors.

She blows off a few roofs, knocks down a fence or two, and basically has this way of seeing all sorts of our vulnerable spots. Not just seeing them, to take us aside, discreetly let us know where we might need to focus a bit of work. No. It is as if she takes some delight in exposing those tasks we need to work on, saying, you have procrastinated long enough, gal. Get to it! Fix that roof! Fix that fence! Don't leave pots laying around!

Noisy, brash. Leaving behind a cloud of dust hanging in the air, as we pause and notice the silence and begin to untangle our hair from her stay.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Resilience, Please? Keep Moving Forward, finding moments of delight everyday, feelings don't define me.....

A big flock of little birds ate my swiss chard seedlings.

The chives are blooming purple pompoms. The sage is exploding in purple bouquets. The rogue larkspur shoots out delicate, purple butterflies. They saw the wisteria and grew jealous. She sat back to take a break from center stage to give her companions a chance to shine.

The oak leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear, at least I think so. I planted a little patch of silver queen corn. Watered it in.

Theo and the kids helped me move giant playmobil world out of the greenhouse. We are preparing the nursery for babies. Cornish cross chicks, that will provide chicken dinners for my family. Pekin ducks to provide bug eating services and future protein sources for the family, and toulous goslings for vineyard weed eating.

When I showed Theo the broken down fence, and cried, she rolled up her sleeves, confident that the two of us could tackle the problem and win.

The big posts that were set decades ago into concrete have thoroughly rotted. The fence first fell a month ago, and kids propped it up with boards until a moment came.

Yesterday was the moment.

Necessity is a catalyst for resiliency. Not enough finances to replace rotten fence, we managed the best way possible. The two of us shoved, pushed and heaved the section into a lovely upright position. I scrounged for wire and we wired the fence up to three big swing posts. I grimaced at our rogue, feminine approach to home maintenance, thinking of the many men who might laugh at our efforts. I defied anyone to criticize our methods. I grimaced, until I saw how sturdily the fence stood. How inexpensive and thorough the repair.

We laughed and clapped hands at our ingenious manner of trouble shooting. And moved on toward more pressing tasks.

Then I spent a good bit of the afternoon sad, weepy and miserable, wishing to return to farm life, hard as it was, wishing to return to cheesemaking and dinner parties and peepers. Knowing there is no going back, only forward, I changed clothes, went to St. James Episcopal for a Taize service. First time in church in months. I volunteered my mom to play the piano for the contemplative chants. Candles were lit. We sung. We listened to readings, from scripture, from Rumi, from an ancient Buddhist teacher, another piece attributed to a Ute leader. We sat in silence. I breathed.

I don't have the wish to return to church full time at this point in my life. Which is a more personal story than I care to share right now. But the Taize service was a gift to me. Sharing music with my mom, giving her some insight into contemplative prayer and chanting was a gift.

Monday, March 20, 2017

We Keep Changing Things Up

As many of you know, St Patrick's Day is a pretty huge family ritual day for our family. The Irish roots run deep and it seemed like a way we could touch our heritage.

And no, not by drinking green beer under a leprechaun poster! Years ago I found a lovely picture book about St. Patrick written and illustrated by one of our favs, Tomie de Paolo. Back in the early homeschooling days, we cut out potatoes into stamps with three leaf clovers and celtic cross. We made a green and gold tablecloth out of an old white sheet. Said tablecloth is still in existence, but we forgot to use it this year. Every year we would invite stacks of little friends over for a big tea party, with cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, fruit, of course loads of homemade soda bread and jam, the special porcelain tea cups, followed by family dinner of corned beef and cabbage. Every year we would read aloud the story of St. Patrick, one of our heroes, and be grateful for his life.

One year we even took our feast and table cloth with us to Big Bend National Park, all the way from Ft. Worth, our home at the time, and celebrated in the Chisos Mountains, savoring our hot tea in the cool spring mountain air.

The past few years we have had kids go different directions and to tell the truth, it always felt a bit painful as we tried to reinvent this tradition.

This year, I was busy at work when I realized I forgot to buy corned beef. Never mind. We had soda bread. We took it and a bunch of fresh brussels sprouts to mom and dad's place. No tablecloth...But we sauteed cabbage with onions and bacon, probably more irish than corned beef anyway! Rose went to the garden with Dad and they picked a huge bowl of kale which I sauteed with garlic and olive oil. A bunch of buttery leaf lettuce and ruby red radishes for salad. We sat at the table, thankful, plates filled with nutritious, beautiful green stuff, grown and prepared with love.

What more could we wish for?

Seemed pretty awesome to me. But for goodness sake! Next year, please help me remember to carry over the tablecloth!!! And for Daddy and Thomas's sake, we had better cook some potatoes!