Connemara Field Trip

Note: the black and whites are photographs of the displays at Connemara National Historic Site. 

Am I the only one who forgets about great places nearby until we want to show house guests the area? I’ve had a little cabin fever this year with all the days when it’s just been too cold to get outside. When I saw that weekend temps would be 65, I declared it a field trip day and laid plans for an outing.  Not to Ireland, but to Flat Rock, North Carolina to visit Connemara. It’s a National Historic Site run by the Park Service: 245 acres of rolling hills, hiking trails, mountain views, champion goats and the Carl and Paula Sandburg home and farm.

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I thought of Connemara and the Sandburgs because my Dad gave me a book to read — an 800 page biography by Penelope Niven, a friend of a friend of my parents. I thought  visiting the Sandburg home would be the perfect thing to do before diving into the tome.

Carl's office.

Carl’s office.

Books, Books, Books!

Books and music, music and books!

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After a pleasant lunch nearby, we ditched the car in the parking lot and walked to the house and farm — in the sunshine — without coats. Hallelujah! Speaking of winter, the Sandburgs tired of Michigan winters and moved south to Flat Rock in 1945. That weather had been especially hard on Mrs. Sandburg, often out in the elements with her champion goats, so she took herself down to the southern appalachians and bought Conemara!  The really neat thing about the house is that it’s pretty much the way they left it after living there for 22 years. The volunteers and skeleton park staff do a great job of keeping it that way.

The family's kitchen.

The family’s kitchen.

Mrs . Sandburg receiving an award. She raised Nubians, Tottenburgs and Saanens and was known for her skill at breeding highest quality, high production milk goats.

Mrs . Sandburg receiving an award. She raised Nubians, Tottenburgs and Saanens and was known for her skill at breeding highest quality, high production milk goats. She started raising goats when she was 53 and continued throughout her life.

Favorite things: the 10,000 or so books that line the walls ; Mrs. Sandburg’s office full of goat-keeping records, trophies and ribbons; the farm and goats; the guitar, piano and loads of music books; the 1940s kitchen and the light in the milk processing shed to name a few…

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Some of the current herd.

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A cap from their goat milk carton.

A cap from the cylindrical goat milk cartons.

The milk processing shed.

The milk processing shed.

The bulletin board in Mrs. Sandburg's office.

The bulletin board in Mrs. Sandburg’s office.

We didn’t get to the 5 miles of hiking trails that day, but look forward to a return visit.  We took the long way home on winding back roads to feast on tender, slow-cooked pork shoulder (the crock pot had done its work while we played) and gingery apple slaw (I’ll post the recipe).  A lovely end to a lovely day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Girls…

Goldfinger (black with gold highlights) the rooster with his charges.

Goldfinger (black with gold highlights) the rooster with his charges.

It was a cold day in December (in many ways) when my friends came to take the chickens away to their farm in the next county. They are good folks, so when I called them at Highgate Farms up in Marshall to ask if they could add my girls to their egg flock, they said yes right away. We all thought it would ease the transition if the hens arrived at their new home while the resident girls were asleep. So down the mountain just after dusk came Melissa and John in their beautiful old bio-diesel Mercedes.

I had already said my tearful goodbyes and tried to remain calm. I collected Mattie, Buffy, Flopsy and Mopsy one by one from the perch where they slept peacefully and deposited them into carrier boxes for the ride to their new home. Collecting Opal, the tree-sleeping Sumatra hen was another story, but with a little help from a ladder they were all in the trunk of the car and heading off into the night. I can’t say thanks to John and Melissa enough times for providing them with a good home. It makes me feel a tiny bit better; but just a tiny bit. IMG_2123

I’ll keep the why part of the story short since it’s all negative and we don’t want to dwell on it. Suffice it to say, we have a neighbor who is not neighborly, the kind you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. And that’s all you’ll hear about that.

Buffy checks out the harvest. She's not a fan of kale or cabbage but love tomatoes and cucumbers.

Buffy checks out the harvest. She’s not a fan of kale or cabbage but love tomatoes and cucumbers.

The sadness I feel has surprised me. Even after a month, I miss my girls and our rituals terribly. I still expect them to be clamoring for their afternoon treats when I open the door. As my sister said, I cried lots of big fat chicken tears! But don’t worry, I haven’t given up chickens for good. We still have the hen palace and all the gear that goes with it. One day we’ll move farther out into the country and have 10 acres or more; a place where people and chickens can have a little freedom!

Large, medium and small eggs laid by Ruby, Mattie and Baby respectively.

Large, medium and small eggs laid by Ruby, Mattie and Baby respectively.

That dream is down the road a ways, but I’ll keep you posted. It’s good to have something to look forward to while I’m driving to the winter tailgate market to BUY EGGS THAT COME FROM CHICKENS I’VE NEVER EVEN MET!

Thanks for listening to my sad story. I’ll be back soon with a recipe to cheer us all up. This picture should help too!

iPhoto Library

 

 

 

Pancakes with Cranberry Sauce

Yummy pancakes with cranberry topping.

Yummy pancakes with cranberry topping.

I woke up last Sunday feeling all breakfasty. I’m usually a tea and toast kind of girl (maybe a piece of bacon now and then) so this doesn’t happen often. Could it be the cold weather and the nine-foot Christmas tree twinkling away in the living room? My husband, on the other hand, loves a big breakfast; especially when someone makes it for him. He was thrilled to wake to pancakes and the smell of bacon frying!

I had some White Lily self-rising flour I needed to use so I pulled up a recipe from their website. Then inspiration struck. We had a bit of fabulous cranberry sauce left over from Thanksgiving. It’s a great recipe from Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. Simple and quick to make, it has unexpected depth of flavor and looks beautiful on the table. It was a hit on turkey day, even with those loyal to the canned type!

I whipped up the pancakes and topped them with the cranberries. This plate of perfection caused me to flash back to the International House of Pancakes circa 1972 when the orange and blue A-frame restaurants were decorated with flags from around the world. I loved to go there with my friends (our parents still had drop off and pick up duty) and while the other girls ate whipped cream and outrageously colored syrups from sticky pourers on their pancakes, I savored every bite of my thin Swedish pancakes with lingonberry butter; no syrup. My mouth still waters when I think of it. The name has been shortened to IHOP now and the only remnant of the international flair is the Swedish pancakes with lingonberries. I eat there once or twice a year when I crave those very pancakes. And that’s what my buttery pancakes with cranberries reminded me of.

Enjoy these pancakes and consider the cranberry sauce for your Christmas table. It’s good with pancakes, poultry and pork!  Next time you see an IHOP sign, pull in and have the  Swedish pancakes for me. Thanks for the memories, IHOP.

Homemade Pancakes with Cranberry Sauce

Serves 2-3
Meal type Breakfast
Website White Lily Flour
This is an easy, basic pancake recipe I adapted from the White Lily Flour recipe. What makes it special is the cranberry sauce topping from a recipe by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock in Food & Wine magazine.

Ingredients

Pancakes

  • 1 1/4 cup self-rising flour (White, whole-wheat pastry flour or a combination)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3/4 cups milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter

Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 cup port
  • 6 cups fresh cranberrries (1.5 lbs. washed and picked over)
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Note

Makes about 4 1/2 cups.  MAKE AHEAD: The cooked cranberries can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days. The completed Sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for one week. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Directions

Pancakes
Step 1
Combine flour and sugar in a medium bowl.
Step 2
Combine milk, egg and butter in a small bowl. Add all at once to flour mixture, stirring until just blended. Batter will be lumpy.
Step 3
Pour desired amount onto medium hot oiled, griddle. Make a small test pancake first and adjust heat as needed. Cook first side until surface is bubbled and edges are slightly dry. Turn to cook second side until browned.
Step 4
Butter the pancakes and serve with cranberry sauce, syrup or preserves.
Cranberry Sauce
Step 5
In a large skillet, bring the port to a boil over high heat. Add the cranberries and cook, stirring, until they begin to pop, about 5 minutes.
Step 6
Add the sugar, orange zest and salt and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture returns to a simmer, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool before serving.
 Click on Dana’s plate below to see the recipes.

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

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Ceci the cat jumped up on her stool to check out the pumpkin action. I know that my grandmother is turning over in her grave because we let the cat sit on a stool and watch us cook. She (the cat) seems to enjoy it. Grandma would hate it!

Fall is in full swing here. The leaves are off the trees and we start most mornings with a fire.  Our spare fridge is full of enough local onions, garlic and potatoes to last until spring. The onion sets I planted to provide green onions through the winter are up and looking perky. Winter salad mix and arugula are flourishing under hoops covered with frost cloth. The kale is going to town on it’s own since freezing temps don’t bother it a bit. The produce shelves are filled with pumpkins, Brussels sprouts and winter squash. I love fall and the foods that it brings.

Salad mix is thriving under frost cloth. It's time to thin it!

Salad mix is thriving under frost cloth.

One pound of onion sets cost $1 at the old hardware store in Marshall. Those green onions will be delicious all winter.

One pound of onion sets cost $1 at the old hardware store in Marshall. Those green onions will be delicious all winter.

Russian kale is beautiful year round. Those little dots on the leaf are snow! It started while I was writing this post.

Russian kale is beautiful year round. Those little dots on the leaf are snow! It started while I was writing this post.

The mustard greens in my spring salad mix went to seed when the weather got hot. One of the seeds jumped the raised bed border and this cold-loving volunteer came up.

The mustard greens in my spring salad mix went to seed when the weather got hot. One of the seeds jumped the raised bed border and this cold-loving volunteer came up. We are set for greens this winter!

I didn’t grow pumpkins this year, but wanted to get a head start on Thanksgiving pie-making by preparing the puree now. I brought home a bunch of the Sugar Pie variety of pumpkins; perfect little pumpkins with great flavor for pies, cakes, breads or just eating roasted or pureed. They weigh 2-4 pounds, produce three to four cups of puree and are cute as a button. Of course you can get pumpkin puree in a can, but puree is an easy thing to make from scratch and is truly worth the small amount of effort required. You’ll want to eat the stuff with a spoon! I gave my husband a taste of the puree and he said it might need a little more sugar. It was so rich and flavorful that he thought I had already dolled it up for pie filling!

Roasted pumpkins ready to be scooped and pureed. You can see where I pricked with a fork to check for doneness.

Roasted pumpkins ready to be scooped and pureed. You can see where I pricked with a fork to check for doneness. Aren”t they gorgeous?

 

That caramelized edge is like candy.

That caramelized edge is like candy and the cook gets first dibs.

The flesh easily pulls away from the shell.

The flesh easily pulls away from the shell.

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In the food processor.

Roasted Pumpkin Puree:  Preheat oven to 400F. Rinse and dry the pumpkin. Beware: pumpkins are slippery devils when wet, so dry before you attack with a sharp object! Using a sturdy knife or cleaver, cut off the stem and cut the pumpkin in half vertically. Scoop out the seeds and fibers and feed to your chickens or toast the seeds for a tasty snack. Put a piece of parchment paper in a rimmed baking dish or cookie sheet and oil the parchment with olive or vegetable oil. Place the pumpkin halves, cut side down, on the parchment. Bake for 30 minutes and check for doneness. A fork will go right through the skin and pulp when they’re ready. I usually let then go a few more minutes so that the flavor concentrates and the flesh starts to pull away from the skin.

Remove from the oven and scoop out the pumpkin flesh. You can let the pumpkin cool first if you’d like. The cook gets to consume as many of the caramelized brown edges as she wants to! Puree the flesh in a food processor or run through a food mill until smooth. It’s now ready to serve as a side at dinner or to bake into all kind of goodies. The puree will keep for days in the fridge and freezes beautifully. I freeze it in jars, leaving an inch or two of airspace at the top for expansion. You can use your favorite freezer container or a resealable freezer bag. The bags can be frozen flat on a cookie sheet and then stacked for compact storage.

Now that wasn’t too hard, was it? You just won’t believe how good this stuff is!  Some of this batch of puree went into Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Icing. I made it for my pumpkin-loving niece and it was a hit with the whole family at Sunday dinner. The last sliver tasted pretty good breakfast too.

Happy fall to you. Now run out and get yourself a pumpkin!

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Nestled in the freezer until pie-making time. The stale bread is for my favorite Italian soup. I'll share it soon.

Nestled in the freezer until pie-making time. The stale bread is for my favorite Italian soup. I’ll share it soon.

 

Falling feathers and Failing Hens

It’s been a eggy summer. Is eggy a word? Even if it’s not, I’m going to use it. It seems perfect for describing life with eight or nine hens who laid daily all summer.  Luckily we, and our friends and family, love free-range eggs. We’ve eaten popovers, deviled eggs, spoon bread, egg bread, egg salad, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, omelette suppers, eggs on tortillas, French vinaigrette with an egg yolk in it and just about any other eggy thing you can think of. Why, you might ask, do we need so many chickens when we don’t sell eggs?  There are several reasons: laying falls off in fall and winter, laying drops as hens age and, sadly, chickens don’t last forever.

 

Eggs on tortillas with salty-lemonyyogurt and capers (inspired by Heidi Swanson at www.101cookbooks.com).

Eggs cooked on tortillas with salty-lemony yogurt and fried capers (from Heidi Swanson ). A great lunch or light dinner.

Not so much in their first year, but in the fall of a hen’s second year, it molts. Feathers fall out like crazy and the hen will look absolutely pitiful. It’s easy to think you’ve got a sick chicken on your hands, but that’s not the case. They just don’t look good with big naked pink spots! Mattie is our oldest hen at 18 months. I hate to say anything negative about the sweet girl but she’s been looking rough. Bald patches on her underside and back, thinning tail feathers, etc. I even stole her from the perch one night and weighed her to make sure she was okay. This involves putting the sleeping chicken into a shopping bag with handles, hanging said bag from my husband’s portable fishing scale and returning the bird to the perch before it wakes up and freaks out. It’s even more amusing when you learn that I do this late at night in my pajamas, a sweatshirt, an LL Bean cap with headlights built into it and rubber gardening clogs. It’s not a glamorous life. Her weight was fine. She’d just lost so many feathers that she looked very small. Her laying has fallen from daily to five eggs a week since she’s using her protein sources to make feathers. We see the new pin feathers now so I’m reassured that she’ll return to her former gorgeousness soon.

Mattie in the garden, pre-molt.

Mattie in the garden, pre-molt. i won”t humiliate her by sharing a photo where she has bald spots!

Three of our other girls, all less than a year old so not molting very much, are still laying daily. As the days shorten, this will change. The amount of daylight directs how often hens lay. It’s been our experience that every other day in winter is the norm. You can put artificial lights in the coop to keep the eggs coming, but we like the natural method and think the girls deserve some time off in winter for good behavior. When the days lengthen in the spring, things will pick up again. In most cases, egg laying reduces each year after a hen’s first big molt, so Mattie might not be a 7-egg-a-week girl any more even in summer. I’ll have to report back on that. And then there’s Opal, our 1/2 Sumatra hen who lays her eggs in the woods where we can never find them. Her mom did the same thing.

I think I mentioned that chickens don’t last forever. Free-range birds love the lifestyle and lay eggs that are healthier for us, but they are exposed to danger every day. It’s sad but true and we’ve experienced lots of loss this summer. Ruby, one of our older girls, took to sleeping in a tree with our two Sumatra chickens. They’re the ones that don’t like to be cooped up. We tried every kind of bribe but couldn’t get her to bed down in the coop. The Sumatra’s are black and invisible at night but Ruby was gold with some white feathers so you could easily spot her on all but the darkest nights. Sure enough, she was plucked from a branch during the night never to be seen again. We suspect an owl carried her off since there was no sign of a struggle. We lost two hens to a dog. Two others died of natural causes and finally to end the sad part of this post, Goldfinger, our sexy rooster, had to go back to the farm where we bought him. He was an excellent rooster, but crowed often, all day long, at a high decibel level. The farm was glad to have him back since he was a pure-bred and good for breeding. We miss each of them and their sweet, quirky ways.

Goldfinger (black with gold highlights) the rooster with his charges.

Goldfinger (black with gold highlights) the rooster with his charges.

While we still had noisy Goldfinger (GF), he performed a most heroic deed. We were outside at dusk and GF started going nuts; squawking frantically and herding the hens to a safe corner of the back patio up against the house. He then ran into the edge of the woods shrieking and returned with the last hen, herding her rapidly to the others. Roosters are great protectors so we’d seen this behavior before when dogs entered the yard or hawks flew to0 low for comfort (chicken comfort), but this time we couldn’t see any kind of predator. GF continued to raise a ruckus and finally we strolled away. As we looked back, a big black bear ran out of the woods and crossed the yard to another patch of woods — right where the chickens would have been! Guess GF smelled that bear a mile away! We miss that rooster and will always remember how he saved our girls.

The current flock consists of Opal,  the 1/2 Sumatra who safely sleeps in a tree; molting Mattie, a black and white Barred Rock; Buffy the beautiful golden Buff Orpington and Flopsy and Beatrix who are Golden Comets. They are co-existing happily in the garden and wood edge enjoying all the wonderful seeds that fall brings. As a flock they lay three to four eggs a day and are darn proud of it! They each announce when they lay by chattering and cawing loudly as they exit the coop. Those sounds are music to my ears!IMG_3475

 

Peach Crisp and Signs of Fall

The sunflower heads were so heavy with seed this summer they couldn't stay upright. Now they're dried out and ready to become chicken treats!

The sunflower heads were so heavy with seed this summer they couldn’t stay upright. Now they’re dried out and ready to become chicken treats!

We had a wet summer this year with much less sun than usual. The 60 inches of rain that had fallen by the end of August was too much for some of our flowers and vegetables. Others flourished in the cool moist air. We had a bumper crop of rabbits and wild turkeys and the bears who wandered through our yard looked awfully fat and happy.

All PostsIMG_2978Some folks complained about the lack of heat, but I didn’t miss it. The last three summers were unusually hot and dry so so a gentler summer was overdue. It’s reminded me of childhood visits to the mountains. We’d drive up from Raleigh in the un-air-conditioned heat of summer, the kind of heat that shimmered on the streets and sidewalks and made your legs stick to the car seat, into the cool highland air. Wearing sweaters and sweatshirts was a treat. It was magical visiting Mount Mitchell back in the 60s when there was snow on the ground in July and we shivered in our shorts and sweatshirts! I’m happy to have weather that takes me back to those days.

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Fall sedum and asters.

Fall started sneaking in at the end of August. September has brought lovely sleeping weather with most nights in the 50s. Our family gathered around a bonfire Saturday night under a clear starry sky and sweaters and even a down throw made their way to the circle. Sedum and asters are in full bloom and the hens are joyfully feasting on dried sunflower heads. Turn up your volume for the full effect of the hen video. There’s a bumper crop  of local apples and we’re still getting peaches from South Carolina.What an excellent overlap!  I’m thinking about another batch of peach preserves since the peaches aren’t long for this world. My sister and I had a great time making our first batch ever  earlier this summer.

Peaches and apples are both ripe right now!

Peaches and apples are both ripe right now!

But in the short-term, there are six large, ripe peaches lined up on the screened porch railing so a crisp is in order. I’ve worked at a friends bakery for the last month to learn more about baking, especially yeast breads. In addition to batards, boules and focaccia, we made pies and granola. The granola makes a perfect topping for fruit crisp. I don’t use a strict recipe, just peel and slice the peaches, toss them with cinnamon, nutmeg, almond extract (optional but really good),  a bit of lemon zest and juice, a pinch of salt and a scant handful of flour to help it all thicken. Toss to evenly coat the peaches. I use my hands, but a spoon works too. Taste to see whether you need to add salt or sugar and let it sit for half an hour or so to develop the juices. While that’s going on, make the crisp topping. Combine a few handfuls of granola or oats with a couple of tablespoons of softened butter, a few tablespoons of brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix thoroughly with your hands or a fork and taste. If it’s really dry, add a tablespoon of butter or a splash of olive oil and mix again. It should taste good!

Pour the juicy peach mixture into a Pyrex rectangular or square baker or a pie pan (or two if you have lots of peaches). Crumble the topping over the peaches and bake at 375 for about forty-five minutes. Make sure it’s good and bubbly when you pull it from the oven. Serve within an hour or two if you like it crispy. It’s good plain or with a dollop of yogurt, whipped cream or ice cream. The neat thing about a crisp is that it’s hard to mess up. You can make a thick layer of fruit and a thin layer of topping or vice versa. You can make it really sweet or not too. Just don’t forget the pinches of salt.  They really liven things up. You can substitute berries or apples for the peaches if that’s what you have. I make crisps with lots oats/granola because I can’t get enough of that crispy topping. It won’t be crispy the next day unless you re-crisp it in a low oven, but it’s a great breakfast anyway!

Sliced freestone peaches.

Sliced freestone peaches.

Granola, butter and brown sugar topping.

Granola, butter and brown sugar topping.

Peach crisp with greek yogurt on top.

Peach crisp with greek yogurt.

Update from the hen-house: I know you’re dying to make a peach crisp this very minute, s0 I’ll make it quick! Paul installed a solar-powered, Pullet-shut Automatic Chicken Door on the coop that will open at dawn and close after dark when the girls have put themselves to bed. It even gives a second chance to any stragglers by reopening for a minute. I know it’s slothful, but not heading out to the coop at 7 a.m. on a 15-degree morning sounds pretty good. Mostly it makes things a lot easier when we travel and have chicken sitters. Although the hens were a little agitated during the construction, they calmed down once their house was back in order. I don’t think they’ll even notice the special door, but the humans love it!

I’ll still go out to say goodnight to them. I like to think they’d miss me if I didn’t.