"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

March 31, 2011

Quiche Lorraine

With all of the eggs we are getting now––about 2 dozen a day––I'm really hard-pressed to keep up with them all (and that's after giving many away, too––I haven't really developed an "egg route" yet).

Today I decided to make quiche Lorraine for supper. It's been many years since I've made quiche, so many that the boys really don't remember ever eating it. As I splurged on some extra Gruyére cheese a few weeks ago at Sam's Club, which I'd bought for our French onion soup, I shredded up the rest and had enough for four quiches. As quiche doesn't freeze well because of its custard base, you'll want to eat it up within a few days. Good thing because I like it cold or slightly warmed even more than I like it just out of the oven! We gobbled one up for dinner and will enjoy the other two over the next few days: for breakfasts and lunches most likely. The fourth one will go to our friend Anna Hurst tomorrow––she is always making pies for us and it's the least I can do!

Here is an easy recipe from my well-worn 1970s edition of The Joy of Cooking. Quiche became popular in the 1970s in America and I'll have to check earlier editions of this cookbook to see if it was included. I first had it, in the early 1970s, at our farm in New Hampshire. A friend of the family, who had replaced my grandmother as French teacher at the local high school after her retirement (and was later my French teacher there), was half-French and spent much of her life in France. Anne Hélene Burkhardt was a delight to know. On our visits from Ohio she would bring us over large pitchers of homemade vichyssoise that we'd enjoy cold, as well as her own version of quiche Lorraine: a delightful combination. There were all of those jokes, and even a book, saying that "real men don't eat quiche." Well, this quiche is basically bacon, eggs and cheese in a pie crust. What could be unmanly about that?

I spent many overnights at their old, rambling summer-style house in Fitzwilliam where her daughter Linda and I would camp out on their large sleeping porch and tell ghost stories after sultry days spent swimming and sailing on Laurel Lake. Their home was a warm combination of old antiques, cozy chic, and even a few framed Renoir pastels over the fireplace. In later years, after I moved back to New Hampshire, Hélene held informal salons at her house where she brought together a variety of people. Her Christmas Eve Réveillons were also classic events and for many years we would drop by there before going to the midnight service at our church several towns away.

So this recipe is in honor of Anne Hélene: for having introduced me to two French culinary classics many years ago (and later French bakery treats); for taking us to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts on class trips and introducing me to the wonders of art history; for always praising my French accent (honed from having French in school since kindergarten)**; and for giving me As in class, even when I probably didn't deserve them:

Quiche Lorraine from The Joy of Cooking
[Makes one 9" quiche ~ oven to 375 degrees]

• 1 pie crust (I used store-bought: a paté brisée would be just the thing, if time)
• 3 eggs
• 2 cups milk or cream (I used a combo of the two)
• 1/4 pound bacon, cut into 1-inch strips and fried
• 1/2 cup of grated Swiss cheese (cheaper than the classic Gruyére, which is a specific regional Swiss cheese)
• 1 Tbsps chopped fresh chives or scallions
• sea salt and fresh-ground pepper
• paprika
• freshly-grated nutmeg (or a few pinches of it)

Pierce pie crust with fork (the thicker the better, which is why store-bought pie crusts aren't necessarily the best). Grill the bacon, tossing and stir-frying in a skillet until almost crisp. Drain on paper towel. Meanwhile, heat milk and/or cream until just scalded (but not boiled). [I added salt and pepper to the milk mixture as it was heating to better infuse it.] Cool hot mixture for just a bit after it scalds. Add slightly beaten eggs to the milk mixture and beat fast and well (so eggs don't cook!). Add nutmeg and chives.

Place bacon and cheese at bottom of pie crust and add beaten egg-milk mixture. Sprinkle top with paprika, if desired, and bake for about 35 minutes or until lightly browned (and knife comes out clean from the custardy middle).

Enjoy warm or cold, but let cool a bit before serving as it won't quite be set. Next time I make this I will sauté some shallots and garlic to add to the mixture as I felt it needed a bit of something from the onion family.

You come back when you're ready!


**One of my favorite memories in French class was in language lab: we would all wear head sets and had to "répétez" the French that we heard. It was very auditory and fun but sometimes I would say other things, too, or goof around. Of course, the teacher could randomly listen in to our pronunciations. 'Madame' would often say, in a sweet, lilting voice, "Caffee?" (as she didn't pronounce her "th" very well), "That's enough now!"

March 29, 2011

More Mayhem!

The deer in winter in our front yard: they have come and gone at will but mostly stay near us.
This was the directive I was given yesterday by a reader and friend in one of the comments here: that this blog is not living up to its moniker of providing any farm mayhem! Well, she's right. Truth is, there is a lot of mayhem around here. However, being as visual as I tend to be on my blogs, it often happens so quickly that I don't have time to photograph the excitement. Yesterday, for example.

Emmet on his throne chair on the porch.
A neighbor called, just up the hill from us at the end of our lane: "Your deer is in my yard and it's being chased by a dog!" So off Temple and Eli went in the Honda Pilot. I decided to pile in the other car a few minutes after they left, in case they needed backup––and concerned there might be a shoot-out with the neighbors because their dogs have chased our cattle and killed and eaten some of our calves. Of course, I forgot the camera as I was trying to figure out the best way to cover up the Sunday morning pajamas I had on. [I learned, quickly, that a skirt and cape work wonders.] As I was driving up the lane on the hill by the farm, there was Temple, driving quite slowly, with his hand waving me back. And, sure enough, there was Gertie galloping full speed behind him, the pink bandana tied loosely around her neck a giveaway. I stopped the car, she passed me without noticing, and there was our dog John close behind her. It was a sight and a laugh. Two of our critters barreling down our quiet country lane behind the car: one a deer, one a dog. Not a sight you see everyday.

Gertie, all puffy, in her winter coat. [No, she's not talking––she's chewing her cud.]

Temple had tried to wrangle Gertie into the car but she wouldn't have it (and the deer seem to enjoy the car on those occasions where we've had to fetch them). Instead, as soon as he started to drive away, she followed, so they slowed up to keep an eye on her. John kept behind her down to our driveway but she kept going, on a complete tear into the neighbor's woods, after seeing the cattle in the field. Then John went after her. I'm sure he was with her all night as we didn't see him until the morning. I can't blame him because I say to him every day, "Johnny! Go find the babies!" He knows just what I mean and I know he misses them, too. They often cuddle up together on the hillside or play in the fields and woods by the house.

Gertie and John having a visit on a recent winter's day.
Gertie, one of three deer we have raised and saved from injury in a hay field, jumped out of the pasture around our house several weeks ago when we moved our 100+ cattle so that our pastures could start to grow. Gertie does not like the cattle, even though, and she's apparently forgotten this, she got used to them last fall. Emmet, now almost a yearling, likes Gertie very much and so, at the first opportunity he had, he jumped out, too, after a day spent frantically bleating for her.

John and Emmet, a few minutes after his visit with Gertie.
We've heard about many Gertie and Emmet sightings with neighbors in recent weeks. Despite a few comings and goings here, they seem to find each other and also visit our neighbors or come back to the knob field and try to get in the gate (how they can jump out but not back in is beyond me). For a few days they visited our neighbors just to the north and we figured they were in the small strip of woods between our fence and their house. I know calling them is futile, but I do it any way. I know that most of the time, because deer only keep to about 400 acres of territory, that they hear me. Turns out, deer don't come when they are called unless they feel like it. They are extremely smart. They are wild animals after all.

We miss their presence around the house and it is totally voluntary. Gertie was even away for three months last summer, after jumping ship when the first cattle arrived. But she came back and stayed with us until three weeks ago. We know that they can survive in the wild, and have. Gertie was even seen with another buck last summer and several does (and females usually travel in families of related does).

Gertie, with some of the chickens, cautiously eyeing the cattle last fall.

We're not anti-hunting but we'd be hard pressed to eat venison again. We're also very much in love with these remarkable beings. I'll write more about them on occasion. I know this is an illegal practice but they are not tied, caged or kept here: they easily sail over the fences when they want to (and we have many acres around the house). At the time they were found, two fauns in the middle of our 50 acre knob pasture last May during the first hay cutting and another the year before, we simply could not stand to have them killed by haying equipment. It is our own act of civil disobedience: you can legally hunt a deer and kill it but you can not rescue it from harm's way? Our farm is large enough, as is the neighbors, that they are safe for now––that is, until the fall when the next hunting season begins. [They have bandanas on only so the neighbors know who they are and will not shoot them––also, they are thin enough to rip off in any tussle with a tree branch.]

Hopefully one or both of them will come back to us before then.

You come back when you're ready!


March 27, 2011

"I guess that this must be the place..."

When the world is going to hell in a hand basket, there is always home. I realize that home has changed for me in the past few years as it has changed for each of my immediate family of origin. We are dispersed across the lower-48, and from each other, scattered to the winds of change and our own winter of discontent. The homes we now make are the ones of our choosing with our own families. This is the way that it is and the way that it shall be. There is no returning. So be it, I say. But I can't help but envy what home might represent for others as I rediscover it here for ourselves, in this place we are making from scratch, with some other history, but also our own new sense of rootedness.

Here in Kentucky and throughout much of Appalachia there are many abandoned homeplaces that are still honored and revered, even as they fall into the earth. I have written about this phenomenon several times [as well as here and here and again, here!] at In the Pantry. [And I just found my essay "Homeplaces" on Google books, as it appeared in the 2008 issue of Early Homes. If it doesn't appear, you can scroll down to the end and read it: last page of text before two ads.] I will likely continue to muse about them here on my new blog and in future writings––as the idea of "homeplace" captivates me. Also the sense of belonging, of family who stay near each other on their ridges or in their towns or who come back to each other, to their own terra firma. You can't really replace that feeling of togetherness, of kinfolk. Even when the old homeplaces fall into the ground or get overgrown by vines and the creep of nature, the offspring of those who were raised in these places, their families, usually abide.

For the fortunate, home is a sacred place, for others it might be a hell or completely destroyed in an act of nature or fire or selling off. I realize, while the location of our homeplace has changed in recent years, that it's really about the people you are with or the home that you carry in your heart. I'm not a natural nomad by any stretch but I do know now that home is within us, or in our memories, or in the places where we are able to return. I often dream of various places where I have lived and they are all homeplaces, of sorts: one has even been a museum for more than fifty years and is now the repository of "home" for part of my family. I can revisit them in mind at any time. I can see the rooms as they were. These are just shells and husks of existence, but such important cocoons and feathered nests to who we are and to who we might become.

Here is an excerpt from Home Economics, a book of essays by Wendell Berry. He, too, waxes on about the specific reasons why Amish (and also from our experience, Old Order Mennonite) farms survive on. It is that bonding to the earth and most of all, to family and community, and to the old ways of doing things. His poetry often speaks of home and place and rootedness. As a farmer who writes, how could it not?

A Standing Ground
However just and anxious I have been
I will stop and step back
from the crowd of those who may agree
with what I say, and be apart.
There is no earthly promise of life or peace
but where the roots branch and weave
their patient silent passages in the dark;
uprooted, I have been furious without aim.
I am not bound for any public place,
but for ground of my own
where I have planted vines and orchard trees,
and in the heat of the day climbed up
into the healing shadow of the woods.
Better than any argument is to rise at dawn
and pick dew-wet berries in a cup.
~ Wendell Berry 
Perhaps this is why so many people are returning to the land or wanting to be on a farm: for their romantic leadings as well as the practical. A collective getting back to basics, to each other. I know it was the impulse that drove my grandparents to leave their post-war New Jersey suburbs in 1946 for a farm in New Hampshire, what brought my mother back to that same homeplace from Ohio after her divorce. What led my husband and myself to want to keep that farm in the family, despite our best, and ultimately misunderstood, efforts to do so. It is what ultimately brought us to Kentucky. Perhaps, in the end, this is what was meant to be all along.

And that, my friends, is the end of my sermon for today.

You come back when you're ready!


March 25, 2011

Grace Notes

Clothesline and daffodils • Casey County, KY • Spring 2011
To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us - and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.

~ Thomas Merton

After the storm • March 2011

March 17, 2011

"Written in March"

The cock is crowing,
the stream is flowing,
The small birds twitter,

The lake doth glitter
The green field sleeps in the sun;

The oldest and youngest 
Are at work with the strongest;

The cattle are grazing,
Their heads never raising;
There are forty feeding like one!

Like an army defeated
The snow hath retreated,
And now doth fare ill
On the top of the bare hill;

The plowboy is whooping––anon-anon:

There's joy in the mountains;
There's life in the fountains;

Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing;

The rain is over and gone!

~ by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

SPRING has arrived on Hickory Nut Ridge!

You come back when you're ready!


March 7, 2011

The Hellebores are in bloom again!

I can't write this post without thinking about Katherine Hepburn's immortal words, "The calla lilies are in bloom again!" Our hellebores caught me by surprise in our first winter here. I'd never seen them before and one day I went out to the freezer on the back porch and there were white and purple papery petals coming up in a small patch of green next to the porch. Also known as "Lenten roses" for the period of time in which they bloom, they are a long-lasting, shade-loving flower that emerges in late winter here in Kentucky and will bloom for most of March. Quite extraordinary!
"The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day, and now I place them here in memory of something that has died...Have you gathered here to mourn, or are you here to bring me comfort?...I've learned something about love that I never knew before. That I never knew before. You speak of love when it's too late. Help should come to people when they need it. Why are we always so helpful to each other when it's no longer any use?...This is my home. This is where I belong. Love was in this house once, and for me it will always be here, nowhere else...One should always listen closely when people say goodbye because sometimes they're, they're really saying farewell."  ~ Stage Door, 1937

In the past few weeks, I've thought a lot about Lent––it is quite late this year with Easter being on April 24. Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday, is tomorrow and Ash Wednesday will be on March 9. I want to do some necessary restructuring in many realms, including domestic as well as spiritual. I also want to give up some things, especially food-related ones, for the first time in my life. I was raised Presbyterian and confirmed as an Episcopalian and in all of these years I've never taken the 40 days of Lent very seriously. This year I feel the need to do so and to extend that into my immediate family as its matriarch-in-training. I'll keep you informed of the journey. It's also about time: taking things day by day and trying to slow it down. I find it is flying past me and I need to try and grab it. I think this might be somewhat perimenopausal and that I'm really staring at my 50th year in its plump and squishy double-chinned face. I'm learning to go with these necessary revisions––and plans for revisions.

In the meantime, "the hellebores are in bloom again!" And in our "Isn't it ironic?" department, I just discovered that I've written about hellebores before, with the same photo, in fact, over at my other blog, In the Pantry. You can read that entry here. It was even written last year on this exact day, Monday, March 8 (well, almost, but same DAY and a day away from the same date). Talk about time fleeting but sometimes staying exactly the same.

You come back when you're ready!


March 2, 2011

March Came in Like a Lamb

The chickens are laying prodigiously again.
But February 28th was wild and tornadic! Imagine sending your children off to school in a cloud of brownish murk and wind and severe weather? I did tell my husband to turn back, if necessary. As it turns out, the next county, where our children attend school, was under a tornado warning at the time! Yesterday was fair and beautiful, the calm day after the storm, and today dawned clear, cool and sunny.

In the meantime, I have seen full-blooming croci in Somerset (near asphalt so they have an extra bit of warmth) and daffodils are popping up in our yard with their small encased blooms-to-come. There are even tinges of green grass around the farm!

March and April are going to be fun, busy months around the farm and off the ridge. I will certainly keep blogging, even if for a few moments or in photos.

I need to get out and do some garden projects before it gets too hot––and it will. It is such a gift to have several months of beautiful spring weather here to do what needs to be done before the heat overtakes us (and when you only really want to get outside to garden in the early morning or early evening).

And I'm really itching for greenhouse season to begin. Last season I made a few new discoveries near Crab Orchard, Kentucky that I can't wait to check out––by the time I arrived, in mid-April, much of their inventory was gone but I could tell that they offered the kinds of plants I often seek out.

Meanwhile, the cottage is coming along inside and I will post photos when we're finished. We have many baby calves on the ridge and the birds seem to be back and looking to nest.

Mother Earth is waking up and losing her winter crankies! And this Persephone is emerging, too. So will March go out like a lion or a lamb? Only spring will tell. [My friend Teresa mentioned on Facebook the other day that Kentucky folklore––as also mentioned by the writer Janice Holt Giles––says that "thunder in February means frost in May." My friend Anna confirmed this!]

And did I tell you that we had roast lamb dinner on Sunday (which also happened to be my mother's 72nd birthday, so we fêted her from afar)? And then lamb leftovers on Monday. Divine.

You come back when you're ready!