Homestead Tuesday Happenings

We shall be sending out the Harvest Party invites this week – you may now write on your calendar in ink for September 17th. We are intimidated this year but very excited to have this activity back in our lives – because then you will be back in our lives! And that is what all of this is about for us; building community, sharing bounty, giving thanks. There will be live music, lots of lovely food, outdoor games, foraging walks, and garden tours. Bring apples and or jugs for cider, bring yarn or art supplies for field crafting, bring buckets for late berries or foraged goods, bring children and happy dogs, guitars/ukes/tamborines/flugelhorns are welcome.

It helps us, too, see where we can improve and where we can let go. We have so many dreams and it seems so little time and our inclinations are changing. But at the same time we have some renewed vigor for this homestead – stone features, small ponds, tended woodlots. I’ve always wanted to qualify as a Wildlife Sanctuary so we are working towards that. We’ve always wanted to give more foraging walks/medicinal care information and offer space for art (both on the property, and as inspiration) – in the form of workshops and small talks. Being a part of the Good Life Center’s speaking series last year really inspires us to build a stronger community here. I feel like we have to coax our fellow community members out of hiding.

And we are also looking at a possible commercial space as a bookstore and a place for J to bake even more lovely breads. The bookstore would feature only Small Press books, especially those that help build our community and give another space for workshops/talks/subversive cross stitch – whatever! Wish us luck in that endeavor, spaces are limited and we want a good space to entice you!

Onto party preparations – Happy August!

Recipe Thursday: Bread Book – Summer Meat Loaf with Gazpacho and Smashed Potatoes

It’s hard to think of Summer as meat loaf time but in this house both J & D could eat meat loaf anytime. Just the name throws me, we should come up with another name…around here, it’s likely to be an actual name like Freddy or Winston or something. And, if you know J at all it wouldn’t surprise you that he is a Winston expert. If there is a diner or small family restaurant in America (especially named after someone, he loves restaurants that are Aunt-somebody-or-other’s, or Bill’s, or Angelique’s, etc), he will either get the meat loaf or the corned beef hash. It’s not that he’s not adventurous, but he has a need to try everyone’s version – and he likes most.

I’ve always been on the fence about meat in loaves. As a kid, they were pretty uninspiring (the whole ketchup and bacon on the top does not interest me, though I could see how chopped bacon mixed into the loaf could be sexy) and I could take or leave them but I’ve tried to live up to the expectations of my expert meat loaf testers. The kid does not like big chunks of vegetables (which is unfortunate, since my additions are likely to be hidden veggies) in hers, especially onions and she prefers her shaped into a face or some other kooky shape (hearts, snakes, etc). It helps her name each one as their own personality when they are faces – ha!

Ultimately, it is an easy food to alter to anyone’s taste (except maybe vegetarians, which I’m sure Seitan is a functional substitute but one that I am not fluent in) as you can add a liquid binder that suits your fancy (sour cream or yogurt, BBQ sauce, just egg) and any veggies you prefer (though I still stick to onions and mixed bell peppers, I don’t know why you couldn’t sub or add carrots, winter squash, peas, broccoli or cauliflower, greens, etc, though I might stay away from ‘wetter’ veg such as summer squash, eggplant, or tomatoes). I find a mix of meats adds to the flavor but there is no rule on this; I generally prefer a fattier meat mixed with a leaner meat both to cut down on extra fat but also to give enough that it builds flavor. I have made great loafs with venison and pork, beef and turkey, etc. A great use for stale or extra bread or crackers, this week I have a glut of the marvelous Seedy Sourdough Round from Stone Broke Bread so that will be my fiber/mineral filling addition. We also have a lovely bunch of Lemon Cucumbers and a slew of various Cherry and Prairie Fire Tomatoes which make a lovely quick and healthy Gazpacho, and because my people can’t not eat Winston without potatoes, some new potatoes smashed and treated with a little Summer Pesto. The weather has cooled enough, I could consider this for a nice Sunday meal. Enjoy!

Winston, the marvelous meat loaf
Serves 4

  • 2-2.5 lb of ground meat, preferably at least 2 different kinds. Today we will have local ground grass-fed beef and organic pork
  • 2 Large eggs
  • 1-2 cups of bread or cracker meal (to make ‘meal’, toast bread lightly if needed, then whiz up in processor until desired fineness – oats also work great if Gluten-free is desired)
  • 1 cup combined chopped or minced veggies (I will mince 1/4 cup onion so the child won’t balk, and 3/4 diced multi colored bell peppers)
  • 1/2 cup liquid binder, today I will use sour cream because it’s what I have on hand
  • Sea Salt & Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 heaping Tbsp Finely chopped herbs or dry herbs (savory herbs like oregano, marjoram, savory, sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley would all be delicious)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking dish (I’m likely to use a 9×9) with a sheet of parchment paper in the bottom or a spray of coconut/olive/avocado oil to reduce sticking.

In a large mixing bowl, combine meats – mixing together thoroughly. Add 1 egg to start, the liquid binder, and the vegetables – mix thoroughly. Add herbs and a tsp of Sea Salt & Pepper each. Then add the bread meal and mix until just combined (do not overmix once you put in the bread meal, this will make the loaf tough). If the mix still looks too dry and is hard to combine, add another egg and again, mix until just combined. The whole thing should come together as one big lump; if still too dry, add a bit more liquid binder, if too wet, add a bit more bread meal (start with Tbsp of either and work up Tbsp by Tbsp).

Turn out into baking dish and shape to your liking. The shape should be an even thickness so that it cooks appropriately (I can tell you, faces are hard because as the meat cooks, the features dissolve as it contracts – ha!).

Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or until the center is 155 degrees. When temperature reaches this, pull from oven and let rest 10-15 minutes. Slice to serve.

Rock Bottom Summer Gazpacho
Serves 4

  • 4-5 (fist-sized) Cucumbers (we have round lemon cukes), cut in half or quarters and seeded (the chickens love the seeds), zucchini or summer squash works great, too
  • 2 cups chopped heirloom Tomatoes (if cherry, I cut in half – choosing to seed tomatoes is up to you, if you do you could also set some aside in a jar to ferment and save seeds for next year)
  • 1/4 cup chopped or torn fresh Basil (of any preferred flavor, we have Lemon Basil this year which is great)
  • Olive Oil
  • White Wine Vinegar or a White Balsamic
  • Sea Salt & Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste

In a food processor or blender with a good blade, add seeded cucumbers or summer squash, halved or chopped tomatoes, and basil with a good glug of olive oil and vinegar and process until desired consistency (we like ours not chunky but not super smooth), add more olive oil or vinegar to change flavor/consistency. Add Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste. Refrigerate for at least 30 min. Serve in easy to swig-soup glasses or small bowls.

New Potatoes Smashed with Pesto

  • 2 lbs golf-ball sized New Potatoes (a mix of red and yellow and/or blue is nice but any work nicely), boiled for 20 min in a pot of water 1″ above potatoes with 1 tsp sea salt until just tender, drained and cooled to handle
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt & Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 cup Pesto of choice (right now I have a homemade classic Pesto of Basil/Parmesan/toasted Pine Nuts/Lemon Juice/S&P whizzed up and ready)

While potatoes are cooling a bit, prepare a sheet pan with a bit of olive oil or parchment paper and then a glug of olive oil. Place potatoes on sheet pan and smash with fork or potato smasher until about 1/2″ thick. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and sprinkle Sea & Salt & Black Pepper over them evenly (if not using Pesto afterwards, add a shake of garlic and/or onion powder to potatoes for extra goodness).

If you are going to cook these with Winston, the meat loaf, add the sheet pan to another rack in the oven at about 50 minutes into cooking (or 10-15 min before meat loaf is done cooking. When meat loaf comes to temperature and is removed, turn up the oven temperature to 425 degrees and finish baking potatoes until desired crispiness (if not cooking with meat loaf, preheat oven to 350 degrees, cook for 10-15 min, and then change oven temp to 425 to finish) or about 10-15 minutes more.

It is at this point, when the potatoes are done cooking, you could sprinkle on some parmesan cheese and let melt or toss with the Pesto and Serve. I could just eat these and be the happiest camper ever.

Happy Day!

Homestead Tuesdays

We are somehow too humid and yet in drought. Things are rotting on the vine and inviting a plethora of hungry bugs to come and consume them. Last week the tomatoes looked incredible – they were lush, I had thinned their branches and cleaned any yellowing leaves…this week they are covered in finger sized hornworms, splitting, and the leaves are brown spotted. Last week, the squash/pumpkins looked amazing – great green leaves with tons of blooms and ripening fruit: this week it looks like I will have to pull them all, if they don’t have powdery mildew they are covered in grey squash bugs, or have gouges chewed out of the fruit. Last week we had bean plants aplenty, this week, they are not getting enough water and the beans, if at all, are misshapen and curled. The ground cherry look afflicted with something, and the flower beds are buried in crab grass and lambsquarters. The apples that did fruit are badly pollinated and now the many of the trees have tent caterpillar nests. But it still feels that we have a better garden than previous years (definitely better than last year). The dry beans are still growing beautifully. Despite the hornworms, we are getting tons of tomatoes, fennel, cucumbers – the napa looks to be heading nicely (again, despite the grasshoppers), I see growing carrots and a few eggplant blooms. Most of this damage is from lack of rain – all the liquid just hovers above the ground, molding all of the young plants but not making it into the soil.

Generally at this time of the year I am also trying to forage much tea-making supplies. However, that is also problematic with the powdery mildew as it effects the red clover, self-heal, the black eyed susans, the echinacea, the bee balm and the lack of water decimates the apples, the elderberry, the mallows, and the mullein. I managed to forage a small batch of Wild Bergamot, Boneset, Self-Heal, and Cleavers before the mildew really set in but I missed the echinacea, mullein, and St. John’s wort window. If I aggressively cut back the bee balm and mow the red clover and self-heal, I might be able to get another growth before Fall. I manage to get just enough Calendula out of the garden to save for salves and things. I’m still hoping to gather enough plantain and jewelweed to make into an anti-itch cream as the black and deer fly never really disappeared this year (as they generally do) so they grace us with their presence with the mosquito and the ridiculous number of spiders in and out of the house.

The nettle died in the pots before we could find a corner to stash them in, the dog destroyed the milkweed/butterfly flowers bed, and the lemon balm decided to never come up. I didn’t nearly get enough raspberry leaf this year for tea (I prefer to get new leaves, before fruiting if possible for the best medicinal energy) and the bed for the chamomile was not weeded long enough for the chamomile to come up. The herb garden never materialized. But again, it could be worse. I suppose.

This humidity also affects the bread – it gets overproofed easily and confused when we try and manipulate its consistency through time and temperature. It bakes different, too – not always behaving in the manner one expected. But they are still lovely breads – they are little living foods so they have differences and moods. Just like us. And the weather, apparently.

Here’s to the art of failure – it’s certainly a process.

Tuesday Happenings

Is it bad I’ve been avoiding the gardens? In my defense, allergies are kicking my butt, my child is teething and losing her last tooth, and the weather has been either oppressive or torrential. I am not complaining about the rain (here – poor Kentucky is another story, my heart goes out to my Appalachians) but it is making weeding difficult. It rains a ton and then sun = an impenetrable wall of bolted lambsquarters and crabgrass. Though, deep in the thicket are a slew of pumpkins, beans, lemon cukes, Prairie Fire and various cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, fennel and flowers. The eggplant plants look amazing but have had little blooms (which means little to no fruits!), the corn is well, maybe some of it is knee-high now, and the Asian greens are either bolting or super flush. Tomatillos and ground cherry are growing nicely, as are the dry bean beds (marfax, cowpea, black bean, and True Red Cranberry vines which I love to grow).

But these weeds!! I designed these nice little companion beds that I can no longer even see! (How does one convince their child to weed without bribery or force?) Oh, Mr. Coleman – my cultivation has been neglected, my heed to your words is suffering. I just need a couple of back-breaking mornings to get a hold on it. We talk a lot about how to mitigate this struggle but most of it involves opportunities we don’t have right now – we could wood chip the paths and mulch the beds better (we aren’t the kind of folk to integrate plastic into our gardens though a hoophouse is a possible consideration…but again, I struggle with the plastic of it) and, of course, once I finish my dissertation I will have more time for the gardens again. But, alas, this year will continue to be a struggle.

Though, hopefully by the time of the Harvest Party – all will be done (enough) and look marvelous for a week or so (ha!). It’s all about the fantasy aesthetic. Until then, tiny increments. Meanwhile, we are looking at a commercial space tomorrow (fingers crossed) so that we can be a little more solid in a couple directions. Let’s see how it all plays out.

This past weekend for our holiday (Happy Mid-Summer!), we went to the Colby College Art Museum Community Day (to check out the Andrew Wyeth drawings, the amazing new photography collection, and some old favorites – though the new Alex Katz exhibit doesn’t open until 8/16) and the Maine Grain Alliance Bread Fair (where J just spent the previous days at the corresponding Kneading Conference where he learned good stuffs). It was a lovely day had by all! We have no more public events scheduled so we will work toward our own – the Harvest Party, Family Camping, and a couple of beach days!

Enjoy yourself (it’s later than you think)!

A Musing for a Lughnasadh Monday

Each and All

Little thinks, in the field, yon red-cloaked clown,
Of thee from the hill-top looking down;
The heifer that lows in the upland farm,
Far-heard, lows not thine ear to charm;
The sexton, tolling his bell at noon,
Deems not that great Napoleon
Stops his horse, and lists with delight,
Whilst his files sweep round yon Alpine height;
Nor knowest thou what argument
Thy life to thy neighbor’s creed has lent.
All are needed by each one;
Nothing is fair or good alone.
I thought the sparrow’s note from heaven,
Singing at dawn on the alder bough;
I brought him home, in his nest, at even;
He sings the song, but it pleases not now,
For I did not bring home the river and sky; —
He sang to my ear, — they sang to my eye.
The delicate shells lay on the shore;
The bubbles of the latest wave
Fresh pearls to their enamel gave;
And the bellowing of the savage sea
Greeted their safe escape to me.
I wiped away the weeds and foam,
I fetched my sea-born treasures home;
But the poor, unsightly, noisome things
Had left their beauty on the shore,
With the sun, and the sand, and the wild uproar.
The lover watched his graceful maid,
As ‘mid the virgin train she stayed,
Nor knew her beauty’s best attire
Was woven still by the snow-white choir.
At last she came to his hermitage,
Like the bird from the woodlands to the cage; —
The gay enchantment was undone,
A gentle wife, but fairy none.
Then I said, “I covet truth;
Beauty is unripe childhood’s cheat;
I leave it behind with the games of youth:” —
As I spoke, beneath my feet
The ground-pine curled its pretty wreath,
Running over the club-moss burrs;
I inhaled the violet’s breath;
Around me stood the oaks and firs;
Pine-cones and acorns lay on the ground;
Over me soared the eternal sky,
Full of light and of deity;
Again I saw, again I heard,
The rolling river, the morning bird; —
Beauty through my senses stole;
I yielded myself to the perfect whole.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Recipe Thursday: Bread Book – French Toast Crisp Casserole

So, Josh is off today and tomorrow for day long workshops on bread making, grain growing, oven building, etc goodness at the Maine Grain Alliance Kneading Conference which culminates on Saturday in a little Bread Fair. We’ve been going to the fair pretty much since we’ve been up here (before Josh started really baking) but during the pandemic they held the Kneading Conference online and he went to that the last 2 years. This will be the first in person conference for him and he’s already meeting bread celebrities!

The fair is cute – it’s at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds which are pretty big but the Bread Fair is not, there is a big wood fired pizza oven and a couple of food trucks (delicious but expensive for struggling folk like us), a couple of kid activities (like pasta making, pizza making, etc), an Old Timey Band in the gazebo, and vendors. We go and pick up our favorite Casco Bay Creamery butter flavors (Truffle, Salted Caramel – though I am hoping to snag some Blue Cheese or even Truffle Blue Cheese this year!) and say hi to a former work colleague turned Butter Queen!, we shop the bread books and Gryffon Ridge spices, buy up some odd Maine Grains (I love the Ancient Grains cereal blend and Spelt flour), get a Blueberry Lemonade and ooh and ahh over handmade adorable mother/daughter matching aprons (ha!), and the amazing wooden bowl and spoon people, and the dreamiest – the basket lady. Oh, her baskets are truly gorgeous functional artworks – I wish I could afford one but I just drool and marvel over them. Who knows what it will look like this year (we shall find out Sat morn!) but it’s a nice feeling to support grain culture in Maine.

With all that said, and with bread on our minds, and with a loaf of Stone Broke Bread‘s Cinnamon Raisin hanging around, my dreamy thoughts went to French Toast. I generally love all French Toast (if it is well soaked, does anyone like it when the egg just coats the outside?) and have had some stunning renditions – like when J made it for my birthday one year and put peanut butter between the layers (you got your peanut butter in my french toast! mmmm) but I have to say, with the raisins? Yes (though if you are out of this lovely Special, a cup of chopped fruit works, too – frozen or fresh apples or blueberries, chopped dates, etc) . Of course, if you have other bread, it is likely to be delicious, too – sourdough, honey oat, rye, white, whole wheat, the braed (the only fresh picture I have right now)- all delicious in this or as regular French Toast. Feel free to ignore the casserole idea and just soak your sliced bread (even better if it’s a little stale or slightly toasted) in the egg/cream mix and cook in a cast iron (best but not ‘necessary’) with a healthy dose of butter/ghee/or plant butter but I find the crust breaks down nicely in a full casserole fashion and who can argue with Crisp Topping?! Invite some brunch friends, add a dollop of homemade Maple Whipped Cream or yogurt, make a nice pot of coffee and enjoy!

Stone Broke Bread’s Cinnamon Raisin French Toast Crisp Casserole
Serves 8

3 Tablespoon Butter (1 Tbsp to prepare 9×13″ baking dish or a tall-sided 12-inch ovenproof skillet, butter and set aside), (2 Tbsp to dollop on before baking if not using Topping, see below – if unsalted add 1/2 tsp Kosher Salt to dollops before baking)
1 loaf Cinnamon Raisin bread, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 large farm fresh Eggs
3 cups Whole Milk (or a mix of heavy/whipping cream or 1/2 & 1/2 and milk, or even milk alternative with a tsp of Tapioca flour whisked in)
1/2 cup Rum (we used Sailor Jerry’s spiced rum—if you’re concerned about the alcohol, feel free to reduce, replacing with another liquid like milk)
1 cup lightly packed Brown Sugar (though we use Cane Sugar and a tsp of Molasses)
1 tablespoon pure Vanilla extract
(if not using Cinnamon Raisin bread): 1 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground Nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or Sea Salt

Optional Crisp Topping: (make fresh the next day, after the casserole has soaked)
8 Tbsp Butter (if unsalted, add a little more salt)
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1 cup Whole Oats
1/2 cup Flour (AP, Whole Wheat, Spelt, Almond, Oat, etc – whatever suits your fancy, I generally use Almond to up the varied protein content)
1/4 cup Brown Sugar (or 2 1/2 Tbsp Cane Sugar + 1/2 Tbsp Molasses)

  • In the buttered baking dish scatter the cubed bread across the bottom.
  • In a big bowl, whisk the eggs to combine, then whisk in the heavy cream, milk, rum, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt until smooth. Pour the mixture over the bread, really pressing down on the bread to help the custard soak in. Add a little more milk if necessary – there should be a bit extra in the bottom for the soak.
  • Cover with foil or lid and refrigerate for at least 6 to 12 hours.
  • Heat the oven to 350°F. Take the casserole out of the fridge, stir to see the soak (add a little milk if looking dry but everyone in the pool should look saturated but not soggy), replace cover and let it sit at room temp for 30 minutes.
  • Remove lid or foil and top with a couple of (salted) Tbsp of butter or the optional Crisp Topping (take all crumble ingredients and using a pastry cutter or your cooled clean fingers to mix until small pea sized crumbles come together, disperse across top of casserole evenly, alternatively some folks grate the butter then just stir together).
  • Bake until the topping is golden and the bread cubes peeking out of the top are crusty and toasty, 50 to 55 minutes (internal temp at least 150 degrees). Let sit 10 minutes, then cut into squares and serve warm with maple syrup!

Duendesday: and she was…

{life with a curious and crazy 12 yr old}

A stimulating week to be sure – the Pittston Fair, a blueberry picking/swimming outing, Felix’s Birthday (he’s the now 8 yr old dog), homemade sushi night…it’s a whirlwind around here (ha!). And Ms. D has been up for the challenge. She is tired (I think she is teething again, 12 yr old molars – who remembers these? I sure don’t) but has been having a really lovely time. New friends, old friends, friend-family, family time – it’s all good. Tonight it’s homemade pizza and games (we’re excited by the PSB from the Farmer’s Market yesterday to go on the pizza!), playing records, voodou/balance board challenges and maybe a berry pie (to go with the berries she must go out and pick today – lots of fat raspberries in the garden, black raspberries around the yard, high bush blueberries in the back = dreamy pie). We have to do some gardening and foraging today anyway (a break in the heat is welcome), so it will be a lovely reward. This weekend is both the Skowhegan (Maine Grains) Bread Fair and the Colby College Art Museum Community Day (both traditions for us) and then the Midsummer holiday. Lots of school changes are happening this Fall for the peach so she is in no hurry for Summer to be even half over – oh, the anticipation of change, so equally scary and curious. Curiouser and curiouser.

Monday’s Muse

Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon’s sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be:
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits; I’ll be gone:
Our queen and all our elves come here anon.
~ ‘Fairy’, from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream