’round the homestead on a Tuesday

New things:

  • Soft Rye Bread, Oatmeal Loaf Breads, and trial Seedy Bread
  • Seeds and trees have been ordered (too many of the first, and not so many of the latter), tons of flowers and ornamentals (selling hanging baskets this year!)
  • Soon to be tree-pruning and maple-sugaring time
  • New floors throughout (mostly) – because all of our floors are soft and a bit scary, if you ask me, and riddled with splinters (we are so tired of splinters)
  • The new ‘Wellness’ line of goods coming in February: Herbal Teas, Bath Soaks, Face Masks – developing goodies is so much fun!

Ongoing things:

  • Pasta-making (for this next batch: Roasted Winter Squash and Thyme Gnocchi, Ricotta Gnudi, Red Beet Farfalle)
  • Bagels, Rolls, Breads, etc and the Secret Pickle Club are selling nicely
  • Classic Kimchi will be refreshed with a new batch soon (and then in late Spring – Forager’s Kimchi again – yay!!)
  • Liberally ‘Vaseline-ing’ the chicken combs to save them from the sudden drop in temperatures (frostbite preventative, and a good spray antibiotic for when they still get small wounds), also finding them more ‘space’ when it snows (using the chicken tractor/covered with tarps when it snows so there is another ‘clean spot’)
  • Homeskooling: Spanish lessons, book reports, cooking & baking (Jamie Oliver is really helping out with this one – the 5 Ingredient book is perfect for the kid!), geography and social studies, plant identification (with hiking and foraging), cat health, and her witchery, plus puzzle making and game-playing (favorites this week are Evolution and Dread Pirate)
  • I’m working with international (and national) artists on a ‘plant’ collaboration projekt

Future things:

  • Mid-Winter celebrations in 2 weeks (much different this year – our favorite ‘Scotch-tasting’ gathering cancelled, our engagements nil though our libations are getting more creative), we will be also be celebrating one year as a full-time homestead!
  • Making proper plans for an outdoor kitchen, resplendent with a Bread Oven!
  • Cleaning out the front porch again to use as a makeshift greenhouse – it is cut off from heat (and insulation and even proper windows) so it will function as a daytime space in another month or so, and then more as a greenhouse in April/May. We have dreams of making it more functional
  • Also, designs of Spring Foraging ‘Woodwalks’; introductory workshops to foraging/plant identification/land management.

Great things! – Stay Cozy.

Muses for a Monday

Ballad of the Moon Moon
By Federico Garcia Lorca

Moon came to the forge
in her petticoat of nard
The boy looks and looks
the boy looks at the Moon
In the turbulent air
Moon lifts up her arms
showing — pure and sexy — 
her beaten-tin breasts
Run Moon run Moon Moon
If the gypsies came
white rings and white necklaces
they would beat from your heart
Boy will you let me dance — 
when the gypsies come
they’ll find you on the anvil
with your little eyes shut
Run Moon run Moon Moon
I hear the horses’ hoofs
Leave me boy! Don’t walk
on my lane of white starch

The horseman came beating
the drum of the plains
The boy at the forge
has his little eyes shut
Through the olive groves
in bronze and in dreams
here the gypsies come
their heads riding high
their eyelids hanging low

How the night heron sings
how it sings in the tree
Moon crosses the sky
with a boy by the hand

At the forge the gypsies
cry and then scream
The wind watches watches
the wind watches the Moon

Gardening As An Act of Resistance – Jess X Snow

Tuesday Happenings

What goes in to all the marvelous things we do around here on the microscale? It’s all in the details. From the carefully planned baking schedule, to the counting (and cleaning a bit, especially in Winter) of eggs, the making of fresh Ricotta cheese, and the new labeling and packing of orders – we take the time to individually consider our lovely patrons. The pandemic has certainly presented some challenges but so far (fingers crossed) it has made us think more about how we can best help you to get healthy, homey food to you and yours.

It’s funny because many folks we know highly recommend or have advice on our growth ‘as a business’ and that’s nice for people to think we are doing something ambitious and worthy enough to share. But for us, any kind of growth needs to be incremental and of our own enjoyment, as well. We’re not looking to be a regular business, per se, but remain in the lower registers of the Cottage industry – that is to say, we really enjoy baking and making goodies for a small community. Not only does it remain ‘doable’ for 2.5 of us, but then we can still consider each and every one of our customers individually. We have grown to the point where we don’t know everyone just yet – some are friends or family of friends but I still like to think that if you are in the Rock Bottom ‘Club’ that when we resume our gatherings, you will be welcome among them.

Somedays I dream about buying the abandoned property across the street and turning it into a commercial kitchen/farm shop/community space for crafts and coffee (and tea! and wine!) but I’m not sure if we can make that happen. Somedays I can’t even figure out how to manage what we have – ha! let alone add to it. I think it is good to have amazing grand dreams, then big but maybe possible dreams, then things we actually figure out how to do. It’s always good to have a little reach.

Today I am a little under-the-weather. I’ve a pot of Red Clover, Calendula, and Chamomile Tea next to me (from my dried stores), a blanket, a sweater, a cat and a dog on me in front of the woodstove making me cozy, Joshua making it all happen (taking care of me, getting the goods together), my child rubbing my neck like a mini goddess, and my community out there waiting for their Tuesday delivery (the house smells like fresh bread). It’s likely (after working for a bit, then probably a nap) I will still be in this spot when my people return from their Portland trip.

May your Tuesday be doable (and hopefully very pleasant or at least cozy).

Recipe Thursday: Homemade Pierogis

There was a time in our life when Mrs. T’s Pierogis were a regular staple. Granted, it was when we lived in Boston for a few years – and we were miserable. We lived essentially at Cleveland Circle/Chestnut Hill Reservation at the juncture of Brighton, Allston, and Brookline. We worked at Coolidge Corners (yes, in the kooky clock building), together as professional testing proctors. There weren’t a lot of reasons we were miserable – we met some amazing people that we will know as friends for life (Spencer, Vanessa, Eric, Ben, Marcos & Denise – my dears, I miss you all so much), and had a couple of friends already there (Fisch & Will, Boo & Sayo, & Matty, the former pairs seemingly long lost but we love you bunches, and the latter came to Maine, as well – thank goodness you are here), some family lived near, and our jobs were fine. Not stimulating but fine. We saw shows all the time which was good, we ate and drank in fancy restaurants (or at least fancy to us), we walked around the reservoir, we made art and music in our tiny but lovely apartment.

We also ate and drank way too much (or at least, too much junk food) and though we walked to work, and hiked our groceries back in the granny-cart (uphill), we got fat and frustrated. There was nowhere for us to really grow – the people that weren’t our friends tended to be really rude, and the library was too far away though we do miss some of our favorite haunts (the crepe place below our office, the Brookline Booksmith, Boca Grande, the Thai Noodle place around the corner from us, the fancy pub halfway between home and work, the Pho place in Allston that had a second home in Cambridge, that great little spot for Margaritas on the backside of the Harvard Book Store, Trident Bookstore on Newbury – along with the Fluevog shoe store and Newbury Comics, the Allston Super 88 Asian grocery and the antiques building across from it – these were our regular jaunts around town besides shows at the Middle East/Paradise/Great Scott, etc).

But our favorite activities tended to be things like watching the rainbow of green/brown/purple snails come out in our neighborhood on rock walls and ledges, spying the swans and geese at the reservoir park, punctuated by watching the T (commuter rail) catch on fire one night (the windows melting right onto the tracks), and a few cars that would inevitably miss the carriage road median ending up stuck right on top of it, or the 20-man brawl erupting from the college boy apartment right below us (did I mention we were smack in between Boston University and Boston College?).

All that to say, we were relieved to find an escape route to Portland, Maine for a few years and then farther to our little outpost here at Rock Bottom. We’re happy to grow and support community foods and not eat boxes of frozen foods (when we weren’t galivanting around Boston-town). It’s honestly been years since I have had pierogi (or boxed chicken, for that matter – ahem) but we decided they sounded super exciting and delicious and homey these country snowy days. Jump in, they are easier than you think and oh, so satisfying.

The thing about pierogi is that you have such a great variety of good Winter stuffings to make. Classic mashed potato and caramelized onion/garlic/shallots, or potato and cheese: cheddar/jack/parmesan, or change up the potato adding sweet potato or roasted rutabaga/turnip/parsnip/carrot to the mix, savory herbs are a good match, bits of bacon/pork/sausage/turkey/chicken – ground or shredded, add some spinach or broccoli to the potato mix, or even apple or cabbage to give good texture and flavor. You could even mash or rice roasted cauliflower instead of potato. You could get wild and add mango chutney or green chili to the root mash. I think the key is too not make your filling too wet since you are wrapping it in a lovely pasta moon. Then boil, bake, and fry if desired. Serve with sour cream, red beet relish, horseradish, or even salsa depending on your lovely filling of choice or alongside classics like Polish Kielbasa and sautéed cabbage. Enjoy!

Pierogies for the People
Serves 6

For the dough:
4 cups All-purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 cup Whole Milk
2 Eggs lightly beaten
1/4 cup Sour Cream

For the filling:
5 large Russet Potatoes peeled and quartered (or other roots, or a mix)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 Tbsp Butter, for Potato mash
1/2 – 1 cup Whole Milk, depending on desired creaminess of potatoes
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar Cheese
3 Tbsp Butter, for onions
3 large Vidalia Onions diced
1 Tbsp dried herb (Rosemary, Sage, or Thyme)

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, blend together the flour and salt on low speed.
Whisk together the milk, egg and sour cream. Slowly add the milk mixture to the flour in a steady stream.
Continue to blend the flour mixture together until a shaggy dough forms and the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 1 hour.
This pierogi dough recipe is soft….the stand mixer makes it come together so quickly but you can totally do this by hand if you don’t have a stand mixer.

Add the potatoes to a pot and fill with water to just cover the potatoes. Stir in the salt and bring the potatoes to a boil.
Turn the heat to low and continue cooking the potatoes until fork tender, approximately 20 minutes.
While the potatoes are cooking, melt the butter for onions in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add the onions to the pan. Cook until caramelized and golden brown, approximately 20 minutes.
Drain the potatoes and transfer to a large bowl.
Add the onions, milk, butter, cheese, and herb to the potatoes. Mash using a potato masher until well blended.
Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

To assemble pierogis: Knead rested dough lightly (but not too much), roll out to about 1/8″ thickness and cut into 3″ rounds (find a glass or storage bowl to use as cutter for evenness). Scoop 1-2 tbsp scoops of filling and put in center of round. Fold over edges and crimp with fork into hand-pie half moons. Set aside on lightly floured surface until ready to cook (or freeze, see Note below)

To cook your Homemade Potato Pierogi, you have a few options. Put pierogi into a pot of salted boiling water and cook until they float to the top, and then one minute more. Or you can simply pan fry your potato pierogis in a skillet with more caramelized onions (and Red and Green Bell Peppers) and lots of butter. The onion butter is a great sauce for your potato pierogi! OR you can do both….boil then pan fry for crispiness, if desired.

Note: You can also freeze them after assembling but before cooking – put them on a cookie sheet with parchment paper in a single layer and freeze overnight, then put into freezer bags. Do not thaw to cook – either boil as normal or put into skillet with a bit of water to soften and saute in olive oil or butter.

Duendesday: Hard Work

Snow can be hard work – for us (well, for Josh) it includes shoveling the drive, the walk, the car, and to and around the chicken coop. When Josh is feeling good and ambitious he shovels a path up to the top of our little hill, and then begins shoveling and shaping sled runs. He’s been known to build 3 or 4; a couple of racing tracks, one through the grape arbor (which has a significant rock step in it, great for a little ‘air’ when sledding), and sometimes one long touring one on the other side of the apple tree and through ‘la petite jardin’. Then we invite folks up, make a vat of Chili and Hot Toddies and sled our faces off (alright, I generally try once a year and realize that I’m no longer a fan of sledding but I love to watch, visit, take pictures, drink the Hot Toddies). He hasn’t jumped in that far yet this year but there has been a little sledding.

Duende loves the outside in Winter (all Summer long if she’s not in the water, wants it to be Winter) – there are icicles to collect, Igloos to build, Snowmen to create, and snowy places to discover. She likes to go the creek and check out the changes, track bunnies and squirrels and deer in the snow. But it’s likely her favorite thing is just eating snow – you can find her face down in a fresh pile or bringing it in by the bowlful, sometimes dressing it with lemon or apple cider and eating it like ice cream. This week she worked so hard on her Igloo she forgot to eat, so she came in and inhaled an everything-bagel-tuna-fish-salad-sandwich!

Inside lately, she’s decided she wants to enter the recent ‘science fair’ (of our living room) and made a diorama exploring the amazing facets of a cat’s eye – she peeled a grape and inserted a ‘lens’ that she made to talk about their night vision and gave us some ‘rock facts’ (see Over the Garden Wall) that cat’s and Birch bark share similar DNA. She’s hilarious – I will spend some time today making a first place ribbon to put on her science fair projekt, regardless of the rock facts (she does have a few books about cat health and care, so we will reread those, as well). She’s also been making cookie cutters (from her Solstice gift from Daddy) – she made a pair of kitties, and Daddy’s head (those will be some big cookies!). And then tortured our real cat by dressing him in baby onesies – oh, poor Squiggy.

Her imagination is certainly a well that never runs dry (and isn’t her new haircut supercute?!).

Tuesday on the Homestead

The Secret Pickle Club is off to a good start – lovely selections going out into the world, along with various Kimchi, froot butters and jams, rainbow eggs, and country Sourdough Boules, Braeds (a sweeter braided bread with a pretzely salted crust), Bagels, and the newest addition to the bread family – Sandwich Rolls (I voted for Rollson Rolls, after his last name but got nixed-ha!). I’ve been making some Roasted Winter Squash and Thyme Gnocchi on the sly, along with our now Classic Gnudi in preparation for next month’s pasta week. And we’ve been trying to dial in a special sweet surprise for you that is not yet behaving.

And that’s the thing – along with all of our lovely successes, there are bound to be some failures. FAIL! It happens – sometimes it happens with the things we make all the time; there is little control with living food. The temperatures don’t hit quite right and the bread doesn’t proof as nicely as it should, or it doesn’t absorb the right amount of water during baking and has a bit of a blow-out, or the bagels don’t rise as much (or sometimes too much! – FAIL!). Last week we tried another local milk option that we had better access to, but it didn’t make the same fat Ricotta curds that we like – FAIL! We cooked a batch of Cranberry Froot Butter but didn’t feel it had the butteriness we prefer/instead getting more of a skin to it – FAIL! Apple Jelly just would not set – FAIL! And we just can’t manage to get the Whey Caramel to make harder candy caramels; we’ve done a few batches, set them up to cool only to have them either separate or never get hard enough despite the temperature we’re cooking them to and the organic sugar we add (and Josh used to work in confectionary, we have a pretty solid idea of what we are doing…)- FAIL!

This doesn’t just stay in the kitchen either. We thought it would be savvy to put the chicken litter and food in Large plastic garbage bins out by the coop so that they would be dry and protected and where we need them but squirrels decided to chew through the thick plastic lids to get into them – FAIL! And that damn birthday fish tank present with its killing of many fish, and now overrun with algae despite the filter, the moss balls, (and soon snails and maybe a new filter), the algae brush, and the Betta that we have in there has had ‘swim bladder’ twice now (we should have got the child a Karaoke machine, or a skateboard, or just about anything else) – FAIL!

All of this just to say that sometimes these scenarios look so lovely from the outside (and they are) and it seems that we live some dreamy life of peaceful cottage food-making/growing/sharing (and we do) but they also have their trials and their, shall we say ‘idiosyncrasies’. All of our mistakes show us new ways of doing things and teach us better ways to make decisions. Most of these ‘failures’ also allow us to take a deep breath and have a good laugh, or a step back to reassess and notice where best our energies are put forth.

We, at Rock Bottom, hope that your setbacks are as rewarding. Happy New Year!

Musings for Monday

  • Because of the myths surrounding the plant, many people have kept their distance from the common milkweed. This is sad because it is one of our best tasting, easiest to harvest, and most abundant edible wild plants. This wonderful weed should be a lesson to us all. What other treasures have we been ignoring, though they abound beside us?
  • Sweet flag sums up all the best reasons to forage. It is a gift to the world, a plant of a thousand uses, an awe-rendering reminder of the simple miracle of life that surrounds us. And shrugged off, forbidden, almost forgotten by the modern world, as if the only potent chemical force allowed is that made in a factory. Known for millennia, cherished by many, held sacred with good reason: a friend to all people.
  • To the forager, trout lily is not just a woodland decoration; it is also a delicacy. It is something to be not only observed and marveled at, but also experienced. I find it comforting to know that if I were ever forced by circumstances to live deep in the woods and away from modern groceries, I would have to live on things as delicious as trout lily bulbs.

Eat Wild. ~ Samuel Thayer

Recipe Thursday: Rock Bottom Mac & Cheese

Oh, the cold breezes sweep in, the rain last night has already crusted over into ice and there’s apparently snow on the way (such is Winter life in Maine). It’s grey and the trees are bare, hints of greenery still pretend they have a chance – hopefully they are storing up as much as they can into their sleepy roots in hopes of a cozy hibernation. If it weren’t for a good solid freeze here we wouldn’t have all the things we love, like lilacs, and apples, maple syrup, lupines, coneflowers, milkweed and then all their attractors and supplements. Our seas would be affected, too, and our smelts, Maine shrimp, and even the ever popular lobster would move on to more appropriate watery pastures -it’s a dead giveaway that I am from away since I prefer the Chesapeake Blue Crab to lobster any day.

Don’t get me wrong, I like lobster but it’s not the end-all-be-all that some make it to be, it’s a nice treat every now and again. And from away – like that is a bad thing – if there weren’t people to move around this beautiful planet, how could we inject continuity of the species, or new industry and *gasp* new ideas, let alone mix up the gene pool a bit. Where I am from, we call the same folk flatlanders, which is pretty much what some New Englanders would call us, even though I’m from the mid-Appalachians and the culture is the same as here in Maine, and Josh is from Vermont – go figure. There is no sense to paper borders to me, no sense at all. It’s a shame to blame a fear of change on people instead of the proper and improper use of direct democracy (to which New England holds dear).

Anyway – comfort food is in order when the cold winds blow. And no time better than this damn year (2020 may be over but as another ‘paper border’, we still have sensitive situations that will continue) to find some comfort. With that said, this is not a fancy Macaroni and Cheese dish – but it is a cheesy cozy lowbrow one. It is also not our lovely friend Sophia’s awesome Smack n Cheese which has some sort of magickal faerie dust in it and she uses Cavatappi pasta (corkscrew shaped – to which I just spent 20 minutes on the interwebs trying to find the name for -ha!) which is really quite brilliant because they capture and hold the cheesey goodness that much better.

This has lots of preference options – add veggies like broccoli or cauliflower (parboiled) or herbs (like sage, thyme, or rosemary), bacon, sausage or shredded chicken, and the cheese you like best – cheddar, jack, American (and you can even tailor spices to enhance your cheese, like nutmeg for cheddar, green chili or some ancho with the jack, etc). You can even just make the noodles and roux and eat straight away like an ooey-gooey warm bowl of love or bake into a full casserole. And if you want to make it into a super fancy dish, I won’t judge you if you put lobster in it.

Rock Bottom Mac & Cheese
Serves 4

1 pound dry pasta of choice (I do Elbows but I’m not adverse to mini shells or Orecchiette or Fusilli), cooked per package instructions, al dente
3 Tbsp Butter plus 2 Tbsp to top a casserole if desired
1/4-1/3 cup All-purpose Flour
3 cups Milk
1-2 cups Shredded Cheese (up to you how much cheese you like!)
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 cup Breadcrumbs (optional)

Make a Roux: [If making a full casserole, preheat oven to 350 degrees]. In a heavy bottom Medium pot, melt 3 Tbsp Butter on Medium heat. When melted add 1/4 cup AP Flour and stir until clumpy and dry. Add Milk 1/2 cup at a time, whisk until becomes uniform. Continue adding Milk 1/2 cup at a time until consistency is thick (you are making a thick gravy). Add shredded Cheese a handful at a time, stirring into sauce until thick and still creamy.

Then add cooked pasta: warm together for a few minutes if you are eating immediately or stir in any additions (like spices, herbs, meats, veg), Salt & Pepper to taste, and pour into ovenproof casserole dish (I use a 9×13). Liberally sprinkle on Breadcrumbs, and cut remaining Butter into pats, placing randomly over crumbs.

Bake at 350 degrees, for 20-30 minutes until Breadcrumbs are golden brown (if you are using a clear casserole dish you may also see the pasta and cheese getting golden). Then be gentle with yourself because it is so tempting to eat straight away but it is super hot!! Enjoy ;).