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

Duendesday: an artful life

{life with a curious and crazy 12 yr old}

Creativity abound, this little peach wakes up with new worlds on her mind. She’s always making new outfits, new dance moves, new jokes and car games. Yesterday she helped out by saving rain-soaked Scarlet Bee Balm from the driveway, bringing in a huge basket of stalks that I processed into Iced Herbal Tea from the petals and dried the leaves for (hot) tea – because she loves making ‘fancy drinks’ (mostly including lemonade variations). In the afternoons she finds herself at the top of the hill sketching mountains and pine trees or trying out natural ink (made from grass or ground stone) or drawing on different surfaces (like paper towels or canvas or homemade paper). In the evenings she unloads her travel easel (recently acquired and filled) and paints, upping her ‘portrait of a sitting lady’ game or draws new characters. At late eveing quiet time in her room she builds disco’s for her Barbies out of blocks and Lincoln Logs – making them new clothes and furniture. The other day she sat on the front porch and whittled some magic wands (I think for the cat). Books she’s been ripping through for ‘skool’ have been on Greta Thunberg speeches, Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate DiCamillo), Coraline (Neil Gaiman), Danny the Champion of the World (Roald Dahl), and of course Captain Underpants. I have been lamenting the lack of cookies in the house so she perked up and made a delicious batch of Chocolate Chip the other day. And we are trying out a new co-operative game (it’s fun – Forbidden Island, a low commitment co-op game) despite her competitive nature (she was a little disappointed that no one won our first game – but it only works if we all win). This week is the Pittston Fair (Maine’s Friendliest Fair!) and next weekend both the Maine Grains Bread Fair (in Skowhegan) and Colby Community Day (at Colby College in Waterville) where locals are treated to local yummy ice cream, arty activities (like printing from Pickwick Press and other student sponsored bits) and to tour the excellent art museum (looking forward to the current exhibition of Andrew Wyeth drawings and the newly acquired photo collection, classic favorites like Maya Lin, Romare Beardon, Betye Saar, David Driskell, and various Alex Katz), and then the midsummer holiday. A busy but fruitful couple of weeks coming up!

May all your days be as creatively diverse as this Duende!

Tuesday on this Rock

What is going on at this homestead lately? We are lucky enough to have water (though technically in a drought, last nights rain thoroughly soaked everything, but we’re not matching anything like ‘parts of the Sahara’ or on fire) and the ability to grow plants and the wonderful access to clean water and even cooling air (I do love our heat pumps that dehumidify and refrigerate our air). Because this baking day is hot!!! Yesterday when the man made crackers the kitchen was a swamp (which would make him Swamp Thing, which I think he’s very much ok with…).

Everything is soaked though – heavy with water, crushed stems and dripping flowers – with the temperature rise today and tomorrow it is likely to be a jungle again out there. We just got a hold on the weeding process (I should have been a Lambsquarters farmer) but I’m sure we will be under its power again this week. But flowers in the flower garden are coming up (Poppies, Cosmos, Zinnia, Nigella, Flamingo Celosia, Calendula, Sunflower) and shoots of others (Snapdragons, Gilia, Gomphrena, Foxglove, Strawflower, Salvia, Scabiosa, Bachelor Buttons, Balloonflower, Bells of Ireland, Malva Zebrina) but no response from some (Echinacea, Salpiglossis, Gazania and other African and Paper Daisy, or alas, my Stocks and Blue Flax); I will take the successes and leave the duds. Taking notes, adjusting beds (hmmm, that echinacea bed now looks like a good Kale bed!).

We’re exploding in pumpkins, hot peppers, peas, lemon cukes, and little greening tomatoes while the blooms are profuse on the green (and purple and yellow wax and dry) beans, ground cherry, and melons. The asian greens (choy sum, tatsoi, purple bok choy, mizuna, and Chinese Star Napa) are looking amazing (and are delicious) as are the eggplants, carrots, and fennel. The chard is sparse but growing amidst some onions, the few transplanted leftover potatoes in the garden look great, and the corn looks better than expected (of course, the top half where I have thinned and weeded looks so much bigger than the part I haven’t gotten to yet – ha!). Both our barleys (purple and black) did not do great but we will at least have enough to reseed next year. Soon I will pull the peas (after I dry the shell peas) and put in some Purple Podded Pole Beans on the large trellis for the Fall (the other pole beans – True Red Cranberry which is a stunning dry bean, Cowpea, and Succotash are coming up nicely).

We’ve been working on a new herb bed project (which is proving to be quite a task, we cut down an ancient and sprawling Forsythia and a Honeysuckle only to find a little apple tree and an almost flowering Yucca – I love eating Yucca flowers…) and need to do something about the grape trellis we removed (we cut back the grapes but they are already thick with vines and leaves again, but now with no support – like when we moved in!).

But today while my beautiful Tulips deliver bread goods, I must be at the dissertation desk writing about aesthetic commitment and ontological ecologies. Then off to the Augusta Mill Park Farmer’s Market we go (where we look like veggie groupies because we hang out a bit while D sees her friend who works there…), falafel for dinner (with our delicious flatbreads) and game night with a new game (Forbidden Island!).

Let the Tuesday rumpus commence!

Monday’s (new) 24th poet laureate Muse

Late Summer after a Panic Attack

~ Ada Limón

I can’t undress from the pressure of leaves,
the lobed edges leaning toward the window
like an unwanted male gaze on the backside,
(they wish to bless and bless and hush).
What if I want to go devil instead? Bow
down to the madness that makes me. Drone
of the neighbor’s mowing, a red mailbox flag
erected, a dog bark from three houses over,
and this is what a day is. Beetle on the wainscoting,
dead branch breaking, but not breaking, stones
from the sea next to stones from the river,
unanswered messages like ghosts in the throat,
a siren whining high toward town repeating
that the emergency is not here, repeating
that this loud silence is only where you live.