Tuesday: Happenings

Many of our projekts are long-term planning and/or big projekts that come to pass in this ‘slow’ season. They are not big and flashy plans or happenings right now – just the nice even keel of doing.

Like the bread – which I am sure you never tire of hearing about right now. And the sledding, and the trees, and the maple sugaring. It’s the latter we are excited about right now – the weather has indicated (despite rodent predictions, we thought for sure we’d have another week or two to get ready) that the sap is ready to flow. We have 62 taps in and are planning another 10-15 in the next week (unless we get more buckets/spiles, then maybe a little more). The silver maple always seems to run first, and as it is close to the house it becomes my ‘drinking sap’ – a little glass a day keeps the wolves at bay, I think. We like to ‘bubble it’, too – and have some sap soda (excellent in cocktails, too – mmmm, winter cocktails…). It was almost 50 degrees yesterday! Though later in the week we might get a big snowfall – you never know in March.

Agenda – events – happenings:

  •   Again, if you want to come and trial tap some trees, get your practice on or just see how it’s done, come around next weekend (RSVP) and Josh will put the rest of the taps in and trim some trees.
  •   The weekend of the 14th and 15th might be a good time to come around and see us boil sap into syrup. Josh has an updated backyard sugar shack – our method was pretty bare-bones the first year (cinder blocks in a snow bank with a little chimney), then last year Josh laid some rock to stabilize it (it was a 3 pan situation, out in the open in a sea of mud) and this year Josh set a concrete pad with rock around it, built a metal roof on posts, lined the walls with stacked wood for the boil and bought a divided-continuous flow-evaporator pan which allows for finishing at the sugar shack (not in the driveway or the kitchen, which is ‘as we were warned’ pretty horrendous). It’s a nice little set up that I am sure will only refine as we go. But the point is to have it all remain essentially maintainable by one person. We have no goals of becoming mass producers – just homestead and sharing capabilities! Come share!
  •   New baking ideas and flavors – maybe see some Sourdough Sesame or Lavender Crackers soon. Sourdough pastas. Baguettes. Local Beer-flavored pizza dough…suggestions always welcome!

Happy Day!!

Monday Thoughts

“As the Christians have their story of a Fall from a prehistoric Eden, the Hindus have a belief that the world travels through four different ages, or yugas. The age we are currently living in is the Kali yuga: a dark age characterised by degeneration and greed. Avarice and a general disrespect for life define the kali yuga: it is the age when humans have been telling themselves that they are equal to the gods for so long that they begin to believe it and act on it, with catastrophic consequences.

Only when this era is over, Hindu mythology tells us, will sanity begin to prevail again. But in the decline of one age, and one way of seeing, there is always contained the seed of another. If an unexamined yearning to reconnect with the wild world remains with us, then perhaps we will never quite allow ourselves to be tamed. It is a delicious thought that what might save  us, in the end, will not be a new economic arrangement or a new politics or another revolution or a series of wonder technologies, but our own inner wildness, pushed under so hard and for so long that it finally bursts to the surface again, hungry for what it has lost” ~ Paul Kingsnorth

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Recipe: Cheddar Bread Pudding

What to do with leftover bread? This is never a problem for us – we have many lovely uses. We cube and make croutons (just bake with olive oil, s&p, maybe herbs until crispy), we freeze for later for stuffings and bread puddings or even just Pappa al Pomodoro (Tuscan tomato bread soup – fresh tomatoes, garlic, in a parmesan broth, stale bread, fresh basil). One of our favorite recipes is this magickal thing called Majorcan Stew – it’s a vegan dish that blends cabbage and cauliflower and tomato in such a miraculous savory way, and then you slip thick slices of old bread into it half-submerged, drizzle with olive oil and bake until crispy and it is divine…seems strange but true (i’ll have to share that recipe with you at some point).

Today, however, i will share a Rock Bottom Classic – Cheddar Bread Pudding (with optional accouterments, as usual – as you will see my mode of cooking is based on what you have and variants of preference) with Broccoli and/or Sausage (Broccoli and Cheddar are best friends – just ask Josh, he’s got a song about their love affair). It is inspired by an Arrows Restaurant recipe (so sad I never got to go there, but Frasier & Gaier have another spot – you know, if you wanted to take me somewhere for my birthday – ha!) but adjusted for family eating as a main course. Cozy, cheesy, bready goodness.

Cheddar Bread Pudding

6-8 servings

2 cups heavy cream (and 1/2 cup milk for more moistening if needed)
4 Large eggs
1 1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar Cheese
2 Tbsp melted butter (plus 2 Tbsp cut into 4 chunks for topping casserole, and a little for preparing dish)
6 cups 1/2″ cubes of bread (leftover bread works best)
1 small head of broccoli (about 1/2lb), chopped small, blanched and drained
1 Tbsp fresh herb (rosemary, thyme, sage), minced
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper (or to taste, some cheeses/butter/sausage are saltier than others)
1/2 lb ground sausage, precook in saute pan, drain juices (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9×9 baking dish.

In a Large bowl whisk together eggs, cream, and 1 1/4 cup of grated cheddar cheese, nutmeg, salt & pepper, herb, melted butter until combined. Stir in bread and let soak for 10 min (it wants to be wet but not soaked/breaking down, if too dry add a little milk 1/4 cup at a time to get a good wet but not sloppy consistency – another way to tell is if the bread looks moist but there is just a little liquid – 1 Tbsp or so-  in bottom of bowl).

Mix in sausage if using, and broccoli, stir to combine. Add to prepared baking dish and scatter 1/4 cup grated cheddar over top, then dot with remaining butter.

Bake for 30 min until golden brown on top and a knife inserted comes out clean (keep in mind, melted cheese might fool you). Let cool for 5-10 min before serving. Should be soft and gooey inside but cooked through nicely with crunchy bits on top. Mmmmmm…

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Duendesday

Yes, you heard it right! It’s Duendesday! What does that mean – well, a couple of things. See, here at the house, it means that Duende is in charge of meals but hopefully it will mean more as she gets a hold of the possibilities. Maybe she will decide what projekts we tackle that day or events, etc. And it will also mean that she will take over the blog on those days, too (ha!). I think right now it means that as we ease her into that role, I will blog about her and her marvelousness…

In case you don’t know – Duende is a 9 yr old ‘mischievous imp’ (that’s what her name means, or a spanish wood sprite, a ‘Puck’, a leprechaun or lutine or nisse of sorts). She is homeschooled (freeschooled – specifically, which means no curricula and based on the Steineresque 7-yr-cycle). She is hilariously funny and engaging. She has a keen interest in inventing (both on her own and as a lover of Tinker/Kiwi crates, snap circuits, building kits), dancing, fashion-designing (even for pets), and has a sophisticated drawing style. She loves horseback-riding, sledding, riding her bike, picking apples (not so much blackberries), playing in her ‘algae pond’ in the creek, making jewelry (mostly crowns; we’re all kings and queens, thank you Pamela Zagarenski), writing comic books (like Squigtor the Courageous!), and baking.

Today, she is joining Josh for the bread delivery. She’s made a ‘samples stand’ that reminds me of Lucy’s (from Peanuts) psychiatry booth – The Doctor Is In, 5cents. She also worked all night on sandwich boards (for the table, for everyone’s body including the dog) and a concessions/ hawkers box. She’s too funny.

And speaking of vending – if you happen to be by the house, make sure you ‘vend’ in her automatic braided rope vending machine (she sits in the back of a cardboard box while you put coins in a slot, use tokens to slip into a pocket to determine length of braid, push a cut out button for color, she lowers a string-tied drawbridge from inside to give you the braid). Hilarious!

Happy Duendesday!

Happenings: February/March

What’s Happening? What a weird word – I can’t help it, how did it come to be (to hap)?:

happen (v.)

late 14c., happenen, “to come to pass, occur, come about, be the case,” literally “occur by hap, have the (good or bad) fortune (to do, be, etc.);” extension (with verb-formative -n) of the more common hap (v.). Old English used gelimpangesceon, and Middle English also had befall. In Middle English fel it hap meant “it happened.” Related: Happenedhappening. Phrase happens to be as an assertive way to say “is” is from 1707.
And not to be confused with What’s Happening!! with Rerun and Rog and Dwayne…(man, I loved that show as a kid – both Josh and I did – ha! There were way too many sitcom’s when we were kids).

All that to say – what is happening around the Rock Bottom Homestead?

  • Well, tomorrow is first bread delivery day! Bread, with maybe some pizza dough, and amazing sourdough crackers. What does this entail for us? A ridiculous amount of dough being worked today to sit for its long proof so it gets all super yummy for tomorrow’s bake. It also entailed a good amount of new equipment – a proofing refrigerator, rattan baskets with linen liners, beeswax covers, 50lb bags of flour in new wheelie containers, a new fancy lame (to score the bread), a new bread stone (Josh managed to break the old one in a practice bake), bread bags, dough bags, and a few other random paraphernalia. He still needs an apron and a new scale but other than a continuous replenishment of flour – he’s good to go! I’ve been privy to many a practice bake and this guy does not look like he’s practicing any longer – he’s got the moves and the dough is divine (his sore shoulders and rough hands prove he’s working hard! ha!). Leftover bread has been made into bread crumbs, croutons, and saved for (mostly savory) bread puddings and soups.
  • I have been visiting the local Swap Shop (though we can’t help but call it a shack, it’s a garage at our Transfer Station for goods that might be useful for someone else). My recent treasures are old punchbowls to be used as cloches in the garden and baskets for egg, herb, and other vegetation collecting. It’s a touch-and-go kind of place. Sometimes we find great treasure, like a giant roaster (it’s like a crockpot but big and metal and for roasting – I do whole turkeys in it!) or a dehydrator, or chairs and table, or board games (or duplicate board game pieces!), or books – many books, and glassware. Josh thinks I’m a hoarder because I take all kinds of vintage glassware and sewing machines (we currently have 4, and 2 small tabletop ironing boards) but I have a fantasy I’m going to open up some kind of fancy junk/book shop (I haven’t even started collecting stock, just trying out treasures I admire).
  • So – on the calendar are the pruning and 1st tapping days: February 29 and March 1st. Join if you like, come and help if you want some hands-on pruning someone else’s old apple trees and new fruit trees, or want to see some old-skool tapping (not wooden spiles old-skool, but still a backyard version of metal spiles and buckets). Josh is only tapping 10% right now as a starter to see how the flow is – but let us know if you are coming and there will be hot coffee and a pot of something for lunch!

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Monday Thoughts

It snowed. It snowed all yesterday and never emptied the sky, although the clouds looked so low and heavy they might drop all at once with a thud. The light is diffuse and hueless, like the light on paper inside a pewter bowl. The snow looks light and the sky dark, but in fact the sky is lighter than the snow. Obviously the thing illuminated cannot be lighter than its illuminator. The classical demonstration of this point involves simply laying a mirror flat on the snow so that it reflects in its surface the sky, and comparing by sight this value to that of the snow. This is all very well, even conclusive, but the illusion persists. The dark is overhead and the light at my feet; I’m walking upside-down in the sky.   ~ Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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Wild Child Farm, Pittston, ME

 

Officially Officialness

We’ve been busy around making things sort of officially official – branding ourselves, as they say (shudder). Remember, this is a bare-bones operation, no fancy stuff here. Logo, new address for this blog (now rockbottomhomestead.farm), stamps, bags and a bread delivery next week! We’ve upgraded supplies for breadbaking and are considering sourdough pizza dough and flatbreads for options. Homemade Pasta plus a variety of bready bits like hamburger buns, biscuits, and Duende is very excited to offer cupcakes! Ha – somehow we’ve stumbled into being a bakery though that is just a ‘new’ affair to add to our repertoire.

Very soon it will be tree pruning time (the peaches, pears, and plums all need to be ‘topped’), the old apples shaped – cutting off the dead wood. The grapes and hydrangea cut way back. High on Josh’s list is cutting scions this year for grafting. And then – it’s maple sugaring time! We’re amping up our game this year. Last year we tapped about 20-25 taps, and this year we’ll likely be able to do 50-75. We made enough for us to last about 6 months (we did give and sell a few pints) – it sounds crazy to go through that much syrup but we use it for coffee, in baking and cooking. It gets used as our primary source of sweetener. When we don’t have that we use local raw honey (we really love Tom’s Honey – you can find them at the Portland Farmer’s Market). We are considering bees of our own but not quite yet. They would be great for better apple pollination so it’s another step we’re almost ready for.

In between pruning and sugaring – it’s seedling time! Again, last year, Josh made some great shelving with adjustable lights and heat pads so that we can make our seedlings happy and strong. I’ve yet to successfully get strong enough onions from seed (they end up working as companion babies in the garden but never really get to be actual onions, I end up throwing all their little starts into my pickles by the end of summer). We keep renovating all the rooms, however, and so I am running out of spare rooms to put the seedling shelves (the porch would be great but is really only 2 season, Winter not being one of them, and we’re not plastic encasing people). I think this year we will try and house them in the unfinished laundry room. I thought when we moved out here I’d be a beet and squash farmer. I could see myself out there nerding out on hand-pollinating my squash blossoms. The first year we put our garden way up on the hill where it was hard to water (dragging a giant apple cart full of buckets of water was not the best) and though everyone told me it wouldn’t happen – I got weird mutated hybrid cucumbers (a cross between pickling and round lemon) that tasted fine but were not pretty to look at (I should have practiced my hand-pollination on those). My beets never came up, and my squash had the worst case of cucurbit and squash bug infestation EVER! All the books and the blogs and the stories tell you NOT to spend $400 on seeds when you first start homesteading but I will officially say – I don’t regret it. I made A LOT of mistakes and I learned a lot. Sad to say my romantic dreams had to change – but I still love the success of my potatoes and corn, herbs, tomatoes and garlic, green beans and dry beans, and finally carrots (that last one took forever for success). I still have terrible luck getting peas in on time (always coincides with school travel and I miss my window), and the cabbage moth decimates my cruciferous and brassica every year. My other nightshades – peppers and eggplant perform ok but not as great as I’d like and I swear I just can’t grow spinach. I am a little too successful at radishes but it’s mostly because I use them as companion planting and let them go to seed (the early pods are great to pickle but then the radish itself isn’t really edible, I had a 3lb one last year- all woody and split and ginormous), but the bees really love the blossoms (I’ll go off more on companion planting as we get closer – it’s a preoccupation of mine). All this talk of seedlings, I might have to go add to my FedCo and Baker Creek order…

Duende is excited to be growing a batch of catnip for both her and the cat (I wonder if that will make him more amenable to her dressing him up in handmade clothes – she will tell you all about her Cat Clothing Design business, if you like!).

I think there is just enough time in this Winter to crochet a new batch of dishcloths, a new french press cozy, potholders, handwarmers, and finish another rug.

Happy Wishful Spring Thinking!

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Rock Bottom Recipe: Winter Fish Pie

The cold crisp days desire a lot of one-pot hearty meals. And we supply. To be honest, I was hoping to be a little snowed-in this season because I have a lot of reading and writing to do (between my own PhD dissertation, tutoring, teaching assistance, and as a recent art agent, I somehow have inherited a lot of sitting/writing work) so preparing a complex meal just isn’t in my schedule.

Nor Josh’s – for someone who has recently made the transition from office job to homesteading, he’s not considered downtime. He’s been renovating the house as he can (first the ‘dining’ room, now he’s dismantling our sad little ‘laundry room’ which is also a second bathroom, yes – right next door to the first, and desires to be a storage space for fermenting supplies/equipment and possibly a darkroom), I think the 2 season front porch is next – which desires to be 4 season as a mudroom and grow room for the seedlings (at least until I get a greenhouse). As you might have seen, he’s also been baking a lot – A LOT! Beautiful sourdough boule’s everywhere! We had to upgrade his supplies this week – rattan bread proofing baskets with liners, bulk flour, and various bread-nerdy tools (lame, scrapers, couche, beeswax covers, linen towels – he needs an apron next). Please feel free to volunteer yourself as an official taste-tester, I could use some help!

So, this week we found ourselves hungering for something simple but rich and hearty: Fish Pie it is. As with all our recipes, this is easily adaptable to tastes and sizes. Enjoy!

Colcannon Fish Pie

1 lb. firm white fish (we used haddock, but cod, pollock, halibut, etc would work), cut into 4-5″ pieces
1 6oz tin of Bar Harbor Wild Herring Fillets (w/ cracked pepper, or any smoked fish), drained
1 Md onion, diced (I was out so did without, but it’s a nice addition in general)
1 Tbsp diced garlic
2 Lg carrots, split into long quarters and chopped (I could see 1.5 cup frozen peas being an option, too, or a good handful of chopped parsley added with the bechamel sauce)
1 Lg celery stalk, split in long half and chopped (to be honest, I didn’t have any so I added a tsp and a half of celery seed to carrots and garlic while cooking)
2 lbs. baking potatoes, chopped in 2″ cubes
1/2 head green cabbage (about 1 lb), chopped
2 bay leaves
glug of olive oil
approx 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, maybe a little more for bechamel or topping the pie
3 cups Milk
salt & pepper
1/2 cup flour (or chickpea flour for GF option)
SERVES 6-8

Short version: This is pretty much a 3 step process before baking but not as crazy as it sounds. Essentially you will take your potatoes and make mashed potatoes out of them (adding in the cabbage when you boil the potatoes, mashing them all together with butter and milk, s&p) – this makes a great meal if you have leftover mashed potatoes or colcannon (if the former, just blanch or steam the cabbage and add to mashed potatoes, if your leftover colcannon has cheese in it, which ours sometimes does, all the better). Then you cook the veggies/ add the milk and bay, then the fish cook til firm – set aside – adding a bit of fish milk to the mashed tatas, make the bechamel with the rest of the fish milk, 1/4 c butter and flour, add the veggies/fish into the sauce, top with the potatoes in a greased baking dish, add pats of butter, s&p, and bake for 25 min. at 400 degrees.

Long version:
* Boil potatoes and cabbage until tender. Drain, reserving a little liquid just in case/for later and mash with 3 Tbsp butter, s & p. Set aside. (This is your colcannon)
*In a deep pan, add a glug of olive oil, mirepoix (carrot, onion, celery), garlic – saute until fragrant. Add white fish but move veggies around to be on top of fish as much as possible, can layer thinner pieces of fish on top if necessary. Add milk, bay leaves, s&p. Bring to simmer, let simmer 2 min. then cover and remove from heat (fish will continue to cook in the hot milk for a few minutes).
* Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9×13 baking dish and using a slotted spoon or draining utensil, move the veggies and fish to the baking dish, adding the smoked fish – mix gently to even out across the bottom of the dish. Add a little fish milk to colcannon and set the rest aside in a large measuring cup or bowl.
* Heat 1/4 cup butter on Med-High, melt and add flour, whisking vigorously. Cook for 2 min then add fish milk 1/2 cup at a time, continuing to whisk and adding milk 1/2 cup at a time until you end up with a creamy sauce that will pour nicely but isn’t too thin. If too thick add a little potato water or more milk if needed. Add on top of veggies/fish in dish, mix in gently.
* Dollop colcannon on top of bechamel mix, spreading carefully to cover. Add a few pats of butter to the top. Bake 25 min or until the top is starting to golden and the sauce is bubbling up a bit. Serve with buttered bread if you like (very gratuitous but delicious).
* Makes great leftovers – reheat in oven with foil. If refrigerating ceramic or glass baking dish, let come to room temperature before baking. Stay Cozy!

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Imbolc

What a good time to celebrate – smack in the real depths of winter, where here in New England many call the ‘winter season’ November through March (though we all know well and good it can snow in October and April, too!). But February 2nd is the technical midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox.

I have always been especially connected to Imbolc, even before we celebrated the ‘seasonals’. My ancestors knew I was a woman and a witch. I was born and served out my childhood in Pennsylvania where Groundhog Day is centered (years ago doing some research I vaguely remember some other areas with other large rodents to foretell the weather – Badgers maybe in Staten Island?) and it has always been my favorite holiday. C’mon, a furry-faced little critter deciding our fate?!! I’m sold. Except for Punxatawney Phil, no one is really exploited or neglected or has a history of annihilation, so that makes it a pretty solid celebratory day to me (and really, for a groundhog, I bet Phil’s got it pretty cozy).

We prefer to celebrate our mid-winter with a little Scotch tasting party. We started around 2012 and we’ve only missed one or two, I think, since. It’s a lovely gathering, mostly people who like or are intrigued by Scotch (which many also happen to be close friends – great minds and all), some fancy foods (sometimes I try and steer for traditional Scottish or hearty fare and sometimes not, depends on if I find that something is supposed to be tasty with Scotch!) and a relaxed atmosphere. Josh likes to talk about Scotch so he introduces each with a little info where we can all get a glimpse of different regions and years and other taste factors. Everybody brings a bottle to try and we generally all learn something new.

This year we decorated the windows with magickal alder branches (the goddess tree with deep affinity to the faerie folk and properties to help overcome obstacles) and twinkly lights, made a vat of Chicken Pate and Pickles, Josh’s yummy Sourdough loaves, Scotch eggs and Fermented Mustard, Colcannon (or a version of Clapshot), Roast Pumpkin Mash with Sage, Cranberry Beans with Cider Syrup, Molasses Spice Cake, Apple Crisp, and guests brought delicious hummus and veggies, sexy cheeses, and a Chocolate Zucchini Bundt cake – AMAZING!! It was a nice spread, great conversation, and many many Scotch’s. What a way to survive the Winter! Thank you all so much! It is a holiday that is, in all its kookiness, close to our hearts – Happy Mid Winter!