A Year of Picnics


The Essential Book of Homesteading
















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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Wish You Were Here

Imagine we’re listening to Pink Floyd. Alright, now imagine that we’re eating the brats pictured above (from a N.C. butcher, made of pastured pork, picked up at the local Candler Feed & Seed), that have been braised in Elderflower Cider, and cradled in a toasted bun with sauerkraut, mustard, Vermont cheddar cheese, and kissed on top with celery seeds. Absent the music, that’s what my lunch consisted of today, lovingly whipped up by Glenn while we busily went about getting the house ready for our Eggstravaganza tomorrow.

Wish you were here, friends. It was so good, I’d loved to have shared it with you.

Here’s hoping you’re having fun, whatever you’re up to this evening!

What I’m Digging

Happy Friday, friends! I just read that it’s been a colder March for many southern U.S. cities than it was in January. That certainly feels the case here. Whew, man. It’s been chilly. I think we’re slated for a warmer weekend, though, and it couldn’t come any sooner! I’m seriously starting to get spring fever.

In other news, here’s a smattering of this and that’s that caught my attention this week:
*Ryan and I met when I was 14 and he was 15. We wrote each other letters for over a year (I still have them!). And now he’s serenading a loaf of bread in London’s Royal Albert Hall. What a trip life is!
*Love these little farmer Easter baskets and these flower seed pockets!
*The fattier the milk, the slimmer the child.
*Oh, yeah. I totally can fall into this, unfortunately.
*Been enjoying getting to know the Barefoot Crofter.
*Keri muses about spring.
*Now here’s a tribute album I can get behind!
*Time to sift the compost.
*Saw these at Amanda‘s. Love them!
*Ordered these for Huxley’s Easter basket. PVC-free and from iplay, an Asheville-based business.
*Nursing a bit of a crush on these (in black).
*Small measure reader Kelly is trying to launch a small-batch preserves business. Please check out her Kickstarter!

We’re hosting a massive Eggstavaganza (yes, I said it) here on Sunday, to be photographed for “Handmade Gatherings” (my book from Roost Books due out Spring 2014). Around 30 adults and just about as many kiddos should be coming over for eggy foods, egg crafts, egg games, egg hunts, and overall egg enthusiasm. If the 50% likelihood of rain swings towards the less likely side of things, we’ll be in good shape. Otherwise, we’ll all get quite cozy with one another indoors and under our covered porch!

Wherever you go this weekend, whatever  you do, and whomever you do it with, may it be grand!

*I always post a photo of Huxley here each Friday because, truly, he’s what his Papa and I dig the most! 

Recent Acquisitions

Everyone has their own shopper’s paradise. For an ex-boyfriend, it was the vinyl section of Amoeba Records in San Francisco. For my sisters, it just might be the Frye boots section at Discount Shoes, which they plunder whenever they visit. For Glenn and I, though, it’s the bookstore at the Screen Door.

Whenever we stop by, we sort of mentally prep ourselves that we won’t be leaving empty handed. The selection of cooking, baking, gardening, children’s, and decorating books on offer there is seriously stellar, and amazingly affordable. During a visit this Monday, I met Gail, the buyer for the store. Turns out the bookstore is part of Common Ground, a wholesale book distributor. They have show rooms in Atlanta and New York. All of the books on sale at the Screen Door come from those show rooms, and are marked down considerably from their retail cost. That translates to books that are, say, $35 retail costing $20 or less there. Oh. Yes.

We went looking for some gifts for friends, as well as some books to fill out Huxley’s Easter basket (which I am SO excited about this year-it’s the first one we’ve made for him, and we’re having a ball filling it up!). We left with a stack, for our friends, Huxley, and ourselves. Yes, it happens. BUT, it’s a good thing, really. We’re patronizing a wonderful local business and expanding our literary horizons in the process! Three of the books above were part of our cache, while the last was a recent gift from my editor at Roost. Here’s what’s what:

People’s Pops. Yes, I’m excited about popsicles in what is turning out to be a very chilly March. And why? Because friends, hope springs eternal. It will (eventually) warm up again, and I intend to be ready, popsicle in hand, to greet the heat. This book, created by the Brooklyn-based business of the same name, is full of natural, delicious recipes. Can’t wait to pack the freezer full of frosty relief!

The Essential Herbal For Natural Health. This little gem of a book was sent to me by my editor at Roost, Jennifer Urban-Brown (LOVE her!). I am perpetually adding to our home apothecary, and Holly Bellebuono’s book is looking more and more like it will become my go-to herbal book of choice for creating tinctures, teas, salves, and more.

Free-Range Chicken Gardens. Not only is this book by Jessi Bloom gorgeous to look at, it’s rife with wonderful information for creating gardens your chickens will benefit from. Profiles of people and their chicken gardens fill the book, too, and I always love some anecdotal, first-person advocacy!

Handmade Houses. Some day, when time and fortune collide, we really, really, REALLY want to build a house from scratch. It’ll likely be made of wood and stone, full of organic, curving lines, and blend into the forest here completely. Until that day, Richard Olsen’s stunningly beautiful book showcasing the hand built homes of others will suffice. There is so much inspiration to be gleaned from this book!

What about you? What’re you reading these early spring days?

The Sweet Life

IMG_9074 IMG_8943IMG_8767IMG_8768IMG_8769IMG_8774IMG_8775IMG_8777IMG_8778IMG_8959IMG_8969IMG_8996IMG_8997IMG_8995IMG_9011IMG_9008IMG_9009IMG_9007IMG_9032IMG_9042IMG_9796IMG_9815IMG_9818IMG_9825IMG_9839Images, top to bottom: The Chesterfield Inn, the view from the Inn’s pond, a sugar shack, evaporator steam, stoking the fire, fuel for the flames, sugaring buckets, Arnold Coombs shows us how it’s done, Jen Yu tapping a tree, gallon upon gallon of the sweet stuff, checking for color (which determines grade), Joy Wilson considering a maple, tubing (the method preferred by large-scale operations), bottles at the ready, maple goodness, jars for purveyors to select from, maple tins, maple candy molds, cocktail hour with New England nibbles (including venison sausage!), a maple-inspired meal at the Chesterfield Inn, and take-away gifts courtesy of Coombs Family Farms.

The older I get, the more I find myself wanting to stand behind my food. Which is to say, peek over its metaphorical “shoulder”, poke my head behind its curtain, and learn exactly how it’s made/grown/processed. I’ve done this with eggs, and honey, and butter, and pickles, with jam, and yogurt, and ice cream, and chocolate (it’s rather handy having friends that own both an all-natural, organic chocolate shop and a chocolate factory). A few weeks ago, I turned my compass north and got to stand behind maple syrup, officially.

We three Englishes hopped on two flights, rented a car, and then braved the (One-way! Everywhere! Busy!) streets of Boston to rendezvous with the rest of our group at The Butcher Shoppe. It was there that we had the pleasure of meeting Sharon Kitchens (the group’s coordinator and all-around Girl Friday), Matt Armendariz, Joy Wilson, Rebecca Crump, Jen Yu, and Ellen Daehnick. At a tall, long, wooden table inside the restaurant, we enjoyed antipasti spreads (including Prosciutto, Mortadella, Sopressata, Rosette de Lyon, Finocchiono, Petit Jésus), pâtés and terrines (Duck Liver Mousse, Gamebird en Croûte, Pâté de Campagne, Rillettes du Jour), and housemade sausages. A variety of Cheeses, a beet salad, hummus, pickled vegetables, marinated olives, Marcona almonds, breads, mustards, and honey rounded out the meal and greatly filled our bellies.

We then caravanned over a 2-hour, snow-filled trip to New Hampshire, arriving at the Chesterfield Inn right around 11 p.m.. Huxley slept the entire way, which was the best gift he could’ve ever given us! The next morning, after a delicious, robust, homemade meal in the Inn’s lovely private dining room, my boys headed to look for fun things to do in Brattleboro, VT while the blogging crew headed to a sugarhouse in Guilford, VT run by a Ted, a cousin of Arnold Coombs. Arnold is the director of sales and marketing at Bascom Family Farm and served as our tour guide (He’s also a 7th generation tapper! Pretty cool, right?).

Here we saw an evaporator in full action, sampled “sugar on snow” (reduced maple syrup over fresh snow, balanced with a sour dill pickle spear!), enjoyed maple syrup donuts, learned how to hand-drill a hole and tap a maple syrup tree, and otherwise reveled in the setting and scenery and newly acquired maple knowledge. Arnold and his business partner Bruce Bascom (another 7th generation tapper!) are on the forefront of sustainable, organic practices in maple tapping and production. This fantastic interview answers a great deal of questions about what constitutes “organic” when it comes to maple syrup, and why it matters.

We then stopped into Brattleboro to tour a small maple candy factory. As a long-time baker, and sometime confectioner, my mind was blown that such incredible sweetness can be born of just one ingredient. Nothing whatsoever is added to maple candy. It’s pure %100 maple and nothing else.

The group then popped into the imminently delightful Brattleboro Food Coop for lunchables, and made our way north, on an hour’s jaunt up to Alstead, New Hampshire. Here we met Bruce (whose steel-trap memory for dates, places, and names was truly remarkable) and toured their state-of-the-art production and storage facilities. Bottles destined for domestic and international clients were stacked high, while energy-reducing technologies were on witness in each area of the facility. We also stopped into the Bascom Family Farm sugaring equipment store. Everything from antique taps and storage vessels to evaporators, bottles, labels, cookbooks (we were each permitted to pick one-I’m pumped about my selection), candy molds, and so much more was on hand for the sugaring community.

After a brief sojourn to L.A. Burdick‘s flagship store (so, so good-I treated myself to their St. Patrick’s Day sampler, filled with whiskey-YES!), we made our way back to the Inn. Cocktail hour included delectables from some of New England’s finest food purveyors, alongside maple-riddled cocktails. Later, in the private dining room, we gathered together for a maple-inspired meal, including: green salad, Maple Walnut Bread & Savory Muffins, Grilled Salmon with Maple Sugar Dry Spice Rub & Cinnamon Maple Butter, and, for dessert, Maple Creme Brûlée with Walpole Creamery Vanilla Ice Cream in a Chocolate Cup with Chocolate Maple Sauce. I die, folks. I die.

My maple sugaring foray was remarkably informative. Did you know sugar shacks are called that (and not “syrup shacks”) because, up until the 1900’s, all sap was rendered into sugar? It wasn’t until preservation methods enabling syrup to be stored without going bad were developed that sap could be turned into syrup, too. I also learned that larger producers use plastic tubing and vacuums to (gently) extract sap from the trees. Romantic though the image of horse-drawn sleighs gliding along freshly fallen snow, gathering sap bucket-by-bucket may be, such collection methods are intensely laborious. Tubing allows the lion’s share of work for those in the sugaring business to happen later, once the sap is collected downhill, and rendered into sap.

Knowing what I now know about maple syrup and how it’s produced, I’ll never look at the glorious amber fluid quite the same. It’s liquid gold, it really is. So many hands are involved in getting it from the tree to your table. So much sun and snow and sap, in every drop. I’m thankful beyond measure to have been invited to learn about its production, and will count my lucky stars each time I twist off the cap on a bottle and pour it (judiciously, these days!) over pancakes or tuck a bit into a batch of scones.

What about you? Do you cook or bake with maple syrup? Tap your own trees? Have a maple tale to tell? I’d love to hear it. The sweet life, it’s a good one!


*Want to see and read more? Jen’s got a great post up about the trip. 

**Just so you know: My air fare, lodging, meals, and activities were covered by Coombs Family Farm with no expectation on my end. All of the images and words you just viewed are my own. 

No Place Like It

IMG_9941 IMG_9890 IMG_9924 IMG_9909 Images top to bottom: Maude (left) and Harold eyeing some unsuspecting bird, Friday night eats (scallops with fennel, pecans, peppadew peppers, olives, currants, and grapefruit segments), cousins and tractors, strawberry shortcake (on an almond meal & lemon zest cake-gluten-free and crazy delicious!). 

As I type this, the tiniest bits of snow are blowing sideways in sheets. Belle & Sebastian is playing in the living room. I’m nursing a cup of cardamom-laced coffee and nibbling a bowl full of cinnamon-riddled steel cut oats. Glenn and I are chatting about the odd biases we’ve noticed against home chefs versus trained restaurant cooks. Huxley is playing up in his room, searching for a teddy bear gifted to him during our stay in New Hampshire.

The weekend was a good one. Saturday was filled with family and food, while yesterday moved at a slower pace. I took the time to just be with my little guy, turning away from the computer and enjoying his company, snuggling, cuddling, reading, playing, and wondering at who he is becoming. A funny, creative love bug is what!

Walking out to the chicken coop this morning, I took in the forest, still barren but with buds visible on branches everywhere. I noticed the garden, and the arugula that over-wintered along with the collards and the newly emerging tips on the sorrel and rhubarb plants. I saw our little home, perched on its knob, smoke rising from the wood stove, firewood stacked high in several wood cradles, the raised flower bed with alliums peeking out, the forsythia and daffodils infusing the scene with a shock of color. Of course, I noticed the “flaws”, too. But, mostly, I heaved a sigh of gratitude that I get to call this place home. No place like it.

Here’s hoping the week ahead is filled with health, happiness, and harmony for you and yours.