"It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey...
And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here." ~ Wendell Berry

January 31, 2011

Sunday Dinner on the Farm






Sunday afternoon nap on the farm!

It was a balmy and lovely day on the ridge––a comfortable 55 degrees. We finished moving out of the brick house that we were blessed to have sold up the road in the past month (to the people who painted our cottage interior––amazing kismet there). and I literally vacuumed and floor-washed my way out of it while Temple and the boys swept the cellar and garage. Now to focus on the cottage consolidation!

In the afternoon we had a neighbor drop in for a visit, another neighbor invite us for an opossum dinner after we said they could hunt rabbit on our farm (we politely declined as I had a turkey in the oven, but I'm willing to try it one day). We walked into a pasture and watched a newborn calf with its mother who joined the many calves in the field with their mommas. The deer were giddy and playing hide-and-seek in the woods. The chickens got to be outside after a cold, snowy stretch (they hate the snow). We ate a late-ish turkey dinner (with homemade mashed potatoes, gravy, peas, and Stove Top® Stuffing––I confess! I didn't have time to make my homemade standby today). My husband and I watched the last installment of Downton Abbey and are already in withdrawal. I still have to do the dishes and it's 12:30 on Monday morning.

But all is well with the world! Even if we had just a wee, and temporary, taste of spring, we'll take it.

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

January 29, 2011

Wintering

"Who could tire of the long shadows, the long shadows of the trees on snow?" ~ May Sarton

Woman Knitting by Fran├žoise DuParc

Woman Sitting Near Fireplace by Vincent Van Gogh.


Winter is for women...
The woman, still at her knitting,
At the cradle of black Spanish walnut,
Her body a bulb in the cold and too dumb to think. ~ Sylvia Plath, Wintering

I still have our mantel decorated with winter-themed Christmas items, like my snowmen collection....

...and this cozy, well-lit, country cabin...

...and German-made trees and wooden forest people.

This snow girl on skis...
...reminds me of my daughter who works and skis at Mount Snow (and sometimes models for them, too). She loves the winter, as I do, but for different reasons.
I will take my winter mantel down in early March, when I will add the signs and symbols of spring and new life. Though February days will be warmer and lighter and brighter, it is still winter, after all.
You come back when you're ready! 

Catherine

January 26, 2011

The Perfect Egg

"Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken." ~ M.F.K. Fisher

Today my youngest son couldn't wait to show me the eggs he had gathered after school. Two were quite speckly and one of the Araucana eggs was a particular robin's egg blue (usually they are more teal-to-light green). Our hens have started laying again after a prolonged molt in the fall (the 18-month olds) and a slow start to the remaining spring Delawares and Buckeyes who didn't go to the butcher in November. I know that chickens respond to increasing light (who doesn't?) but that they also won't lay when they are molting. I can't really bear to 'retire' any of the laying hens so am glad for another year or so for my first batch.


The 'Speckled Sussex' hens will certainly be granted stays of execution and be cared for the rest of their days. They are nosy little things, and quite friendly and prone to broodiness––a trait that might come in handy now that we have two surprise roosters. I've been amused at how the Speckleds have taken up with the newer hens on the other side of the chicken duplex. They just started roosting with them at night and moved right in without any kerfuffle or fanfare. I didn't try to move them back to the other side because I knew that the chickens seem to sort these things out on their own. They were always rather ostracized by the others and now they seem to have found their spot in the world. Always a good feeling, isn't it? To find your place and sense of order in the grand scheme?

"Oh, God above, if heaven has a taste it must be an egg with butter and salt, and after the egg is there anything in the world lovelier than fresh, warm bread and a mug of sweet golden tea?" ~ Frank McCourt
"I had an excellent repast––the best repast possible––which consisted simply of boiled eggs and bread and butter. It was the quality of these simple ingredients that made the occasion memorable. The eggs were so good that I am ashamed to say how many of them I consumed...It might be said that an egg which has succeeded in being fresh has done all that can reasonably be expected of it." ~ Henry James

I have just finished the novel, The Book of Salt by Monique Truong (a Cupcake pick for August 2010––I'm the slow one in the group!). There are lovely, sensual passages throughout the book describing the culinary delights, and life, of the imagined Vietnamese cook, Binh, in the Paris home of American expats, Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein. Many are egg-based recipes and I will detail more another time.

Here is an omelette recipe within the text, in its most basic and beautiful form:
"Six eggs beaten with a generous pinch of salt until the mixture is thick with air, until the color lightens to the bare yellow of chamomile centers. Two large soupspoons of butter, the first melted in the pan until it sizzles, a harmonic of anticipation. The second is tucked under the puffy skin that has formed in less than a minute, if the heat is just right. A simple dish that reveals the master, exposes the novice."
One of my favorite breakfasts is to fry one of our eggs, in a bit of butter, and serve it on a piece of whole wheat toast. Sausage on the side is also quite nice. And a mug of sweet golden tea.

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

January 23, 2011

Three-bowl sponge cake

I renamed this recipe 'three-bowl sponge cake'––the author is not kidding, it takes three bowls!
My husband loves sponge cake and hates angel food cake, even after I told him that sponge cake is essentially angel food cake with the yolks left in––go figure! [Now if it were devil's food vs. angel food cake this reality might make more sense.] I haven't made sponge cake since we lived in New Hampshire. This is because my assortment of handwritten, oft used recipes is in some as yet unopened box. My regular 'go to' sponge cake recipes were written in the hand a New England farmwife, now deceased, that my husband had tapped for her wisdom on the subject (this, I must note, was before I came on the scene, even though I never made sponge cake until we were married). Elizabeth Weston wrote out her several versions of sponge cake, including one made with hot milk. I have made each of them.

This week Temple asked me to make him a sponge cake, oh, pretty please with sugar on top, and I happily obliged––even though I'm trying not to bake as much in the New Year. Besides, a good wallop in the head deserves a good sponge cake (and he is a bit cracked in the head, but just fine now––thank you for your thoughts!).

Pillowy, beaten egg whites are the key to a good sponge cake. Of course I think of William Wordsworth:
'I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills...'

Still in boxes are my many cookbooks, minus about one hundred that I have on shelves. Normally I would consult several sources for different takes on recipes. Of course, you can do this on-line, too, but then you are really asking for it. Googling on 'sponge cake recipes' is about as ubiquitous a task as Googling on 'John Smith.' Then again, try to explain to my husband, or anyone, why I still have hundreds of cookbooks (and counting), plus, um, boxes of magazine recipe clippings, when the internet guarantees just about any recipe in the world––most in multiple versions. If you are a crazy foodie, like me, you will understand this very modern muddle.

Properly made sponge cake is light, has heft, and looks like a clean yellow sponge with its many pores––perfect for soaking up whatever you put on top. Not too sweet, not dry, but not overly moist, either. 

In my quest for sponge cake, and determined to turn real pages, I consulted a cookbook I don't use enough. It's rather like The Joy of Cooking for the farmwife (and yes, I did first check the tried and true Farm Journal's Country Cooking by Nell Nichols, but no luck). A few years after we were married, I bought The Blue Ribbon Country Cookbook, written by Diane Roupe and published by Clarkson Potter (1998). I was impressed by its offerings and immense size (a whopping four pounds!) and yeah, I was lured by its cover featuring a perfect cherry pie. (I'm a sucker for cherry pie.)
Egg whites and a thick frothy yolk mixture await folding together. It's also great to use your own eggs––and my hens are laying more frequently now with the increasing daylight.

I was not disappointed by Roupe's sponge cake recipe. It follows, below, borrowed directly from the controversial Google Books out of shear and utter laziness (hey, even The Pantry is on Google books now, so I figure they owe me one). [So, yes, it is a scan of the actual page, via a nifty cut and paste thing I learned from my friend Edie––I can include the method in comments if you are interested.] I made no changes to this recipe at all, unless you count that I used regular sugar instead of superfine. Just make sure to use three bowls, beat everything according to the required minutes, fold gently to combine the two egg mixtures, and, above all, use an angel food pan! [Mine was in storage––but I just found it this weekend––and I managed with a bundt pan and a small cake pan: you need a large angel food cake pan as this recipe makes a lot of batter.]




Ribbon the egg yolk mixture over the beaten egg whites into your third bowl. The bright yellow color comes from the quality of the yolks from our free-range chickens.

Fold gently, being careful not to overstir.
Two pans in lieu of one big one!
We like our sponge cake heaped with fresh or thawed berries, that we freeze in summer, and whipped cream (Stonyfield's Oikos 'caramel' yogurt works in a pinch, too!)––the best version of 'shortcake'!

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

January 19, 2011

'Help me, dear readers, you're my only hope!' she said, plaintively.

If anyone can tell me, in basic English, how to stretch my blog header ACROSS the entire top of my blog (or to remake my header in anything BUT PhotoShop, which I do not have), then I will happily sign and send along a copy of my book, The Pantry––Its History and Modern Uses.

The first person who sends me information I can use and follow, WINS! Just email me at info@CatherinePond.com –– hurry, quick, before I hurl my computer into the muddy mire that surrounds me! [And I mean that both figuratively and literally. If I put up a photo of my current office, you would run screaming from this blog. Forever.]

And that would be me, figuratively, in the (unsourced) illustration. I'm about to head off to the kitchen to do the dishes from dinner. Then I'm going to fold the towels from the dryer while I watch Oprah in Australia (just to see Russell Crowe––OK, and to watch a lot of people get overly hysterical). And so we can all shower in the morning with clean, dry, towels that don't smell like they've been on the floor of a locker room for three weeks. I do have my standards!

Then I might sneak a few chocolates from the box that our Shaker friend in Maine, Sister Frances Carr, sent to our youngest son. But that would be vaguely evil and inconsiderate. Then again, what's just one bon bon from the gift box (that belongs to my son)? Now I'm talking like a true addict. Or that wicked Eve in the Garden. Yeah, that would be me, horribly painful womb and all.

Then I'm going to bed. It's only 12:48am. The night is young! (Or should that be, the morning has just begun?) I've learned that I have to go with the mania when I have it. Tossing and turning fitfully when there are other things to be doing, or writing, has never really worked for me. But long periods of cave-bear sleep work for me, too. It's all about moderation.

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

January 18, 2011

For husbands head-butted by cows when an ice pack is not enough...

 
No animals, or children, were harmed in the taking of this picture.
At first when my husband said he wanted to raise grass-fed cattle (with the occasional bag of grain), I thought, well, this will be easy. You get a bunch of cows, you let them out on your newly-fenced pastures, you bring a few bulls in from time to time, you watch their cute young frolic and grow, and then you load them up when it comes time to do the deed. (Yes, I'm an animal-loving carnivore hypocrite.)

Not so, of course. Then again, what have I ever known about livestock? I raise about fifty chickens at a time. That's my speed: notional hens with no names and a few errant roosters to liven things up. My husband, call him Temple, has had extensive experience on dairy farms but he hasn't raised beef cattle, either. So far, so good on that front.

Except that we need to change what I termed recently, 'the grain delivery system.' Cows who hear the truck or JCB coming think, oh, it's time for that sweet stuff in the trough. Let the bellowing begin! My husband, alone, was graining them on Friday the old-fashioned way. By dumping bags into the troughs. Problem is that the green grass is gone and summer hay bales must get a bit tiresome by January. Those cows wanted that grain!

And so, in their excitement, one of them whopped Temple on the face, giving him a bad headache, a black eye and blurry vision, and tossing his glasses into near oblivion (they were able to find and repair them). This happened at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. At the start of a holiday weekend. You trying getting someone to go to the E.R., even when the doctors on the phone advise it, that you've managed to catch in their offices at 4:45.

He saw our eye doctor yesterday who ordered a CT-scan today. We'll know if there is major head damage by Friday. In the meantime, I said that he needed to be optimistic: 'Maybe you have a brain tumor and they'll see it now where you might not have known about it before!' He wasn't amused.

Neither was he excited to learn that Martha Stewart's French Bulldog head-butted her over the weekend, sending her to the hospital for nine stitches. [Thanks, Rosemary, for that news update!] It's like the time I fell off a headstrong horse while riding around a ring, and landed right on the wood fence: I had more bruises and stitches than Evel Knievel who jumped, unsuccessfully, over the Snake River Canyon the very same weekend in 1974. I thought that was strangely cool.

But getting head-butted and near-blinded by a large bovine is not cool. You just have to keep things in perspective, hope for the best, while realizing that farming is among the most dangerous, and risky, of professions. In the immortal words of Roseanne Roseannadanna, who probably didn't know much about cattle, either, 'If it's not one thing, it's another.' And that goes for a farm with large headstrong beasties on it.

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

January 13, 2011

'The Submerged Truth'

Meryl Streep as the isolated and brooding farmwife Francesca in The Bridges of Madison County

I have always been a daydreamer, observer and prone to brooding and I'm learning to not feel so guilty about it, either. I saw this quote today from writer Joyce Carol Oates and realized that it affirms the kind of 'work' that most writers and artists do. In order to create, you have to think about your creation. Or what you are planning to create or, in my case, write about.
'I have always spent most of my time staring out the window, noting what is there, daydreaming or brooding. Most of the so-called imaginative life is encompassed by these three activities...entire mornings can slip by, in a blissful daze of preoccupation.'
––Joyce Carol Oates
I have many books in my head––not word for word, but scene to scene or chapter scenarios and outlines. Most of my ideas come to me like an unseen breeze across the ridge and, if I don't capture them on paper or for a span of time in my mind, then they are gone again.
'Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.'
––Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own
Image by Russell Lee, 1938, Corbis® Images.
Much of the 'three activities' of 'the so-called imaginative life' are accomplished while sitting alone, or resting, or, when I'm especially blessed, while doing something strange like organizing a shelf. I can be thinking about the items I'm putting away, or finding a place to put something, and then it comes to me. An idea or a thought that I must write down. I've learned to carry a notepad with me wherever I go––even if it is a small notepad in my apron pocket.

Emily Dickinson did the very same thing. One of my first blog posts at In the Pantry mentioned the discovery of her way of jotting things down on slips of paper in her kitchen, while she was kneading bread or doing another domestic task. I do the same thing. Her cousin Louisa remembered:
'I know that Emily Dickinson wrote most emphatic things in the pantry, so cool and quiet, while she skimmed the milk; because I sat on the footstool behind the door, in delight, as she read them to me.'
––as quoted in Woman's Journal, 1904
Sometimes it is a mere task or domestic chore that drives the creative spark. Other times it is when we allow the quiet or the moment to become more introspective. I have written amazing things upon waking or just as I fall off to sleep––I tell myself, I will remember. But I don't. So I need to count on the waking dream state to capture those sparks and ignite them into something that flickers and burns and takes hold. A good crackling fire of creation.

Marjorie Main as the cook in one of my favorite movies (and a total weepfest), Meet Me In St. Louis [thank you to HookedOnHouses.Net for the image]

In readying the cottage, setting up pantries and cupboards and my new office, I am having many flickers. It is exciting this settling in and the readying for new creation. I feel like an expectant mother preparing her nursery. I have rarely been so giddy!

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

January 11, 2011

Laundry is What Happens When You Are Busy Doing Other Things...


...that is, in an ideal world. I could live in my laundry room, or any clean, well-ordered light-filled space (pantry, anyone?) with a worktable, if you let me. But I don't because I can't. I have to do other things like cook, clean, write, tend chickens, daydream, read, get on the computer.

This morning I was told by our youngest son, promptly at 7am because they did not have an expected snow day when the rest of the state seemed to have one (so he was already a bit upset), that if I didn't do laundry by tomorrow morning he and his brother would not be going to school. Later on, my husband echoed the same. He is on his way to get them now on this cold, blustery, semi-snowy day.

The images in this post were among those not selected by my editor for an upcoming laundry-related article. No Arm & Hammer® detergent was harmed in the making of this picture.

You see, I won't let anyone else do the laundry. They don't sort the colors out. Stuff gets shrunk or not cleaned properly (eg. whites in hot water is not a concept I can teach). Things aren't folded while hot from the dryer so I don't have to iron them later. (I like ironing, too, but have managed to avoid it for three years: yes, I have a few laundry baskets full of linens that require it.)

Yes, I collect laundry items, and some I actually use. And no, my laundry room is not always styled and neat as it was for a recent magazine shoot!

I suppose that I am such a perfectionist  that things don't get done unless they are done right. And most of the time, as a wife and mother, that would be me to do it. Yes, I could teach them and they would manage, and some day they'll have to do, but the reality is that I actually enjoy doing the laundry––when I allow myself the pleasure. I know: there is a weird anti-Puritanical madness at work here. Believe me, I know. I also like ironing and organizing cupboards…when I allow myself the pleasure.
'Ideally, one would live as if one were going to die the next day. I mean, if you were going to die the next day it would be well worth sitting and watching the sun set, or rise. It might not be worth doing a huge laundry.'
––May Sarton, interview, The Paris Review 

I won't deny it: it's hard for me to multi-task other things while doing the laundry. I don't know why this is. I have a very nice mudroom/laundry room in the doublewide and soon will have a nice big sunlit laundry room/workspace in the cottage across the street. I love to launder, and fold, and smooth, and bring the piles into the bedrooms. It's just the doing it that can be the problem. Or the putting away.

Some of my favorite memories of single life in Boston––when I was paying $366.66 a month for my third of a fifth-floor walkup on Joy Street on Beacon Hill––was my weekly ritual of doing laundry. I would get up, quite early, and be at the laundromat a few blocks away around 6am. Once the laundry was in, the morning sun streaming across the rooftops into the great glass windows of the quiet laundromat, I would pop into the adjacent corner store and get a big cup of coffee and a muffin. My laundry would be done by 8am, I would head back to my apartment to get ready for work, and walk up and over the hill, past the State House, and be at my desk easily by 9am. [In the colder, winter months, I generally brought my laundry home to our farm in New Hampshire. Later, when I unpacked my duffle bag in my apartment, the clothes smelled of clean air and woodsmoke from the farmhouse. They smelled of home.]

So, now that I'm doing laundry for five, my new strategy with motivation in such matters is to blast dance music, really loud, and move and dance while I'm doing it. Sometimes laundry requires a more peaceful approach: classical music or the lulling sounds of NPR newscasters and commentary. Or, I'll throw in some loads, after everyone is in bed, while watching television that I've recorded.

Kitties on friend Anna's washing machine, located on her back porch. 
I am going now. To my laundry room. I may be out of there by midnight. I will also have to make dinner. But, come Hell or layers of farm mud, clean clothes well-sorted and folded we will have.

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine






NOTE: I feel compelled to share that, if you don't already know it, May Sarton was a poet and writer who did not have to worry about anyone's laundry but her own. But I love her anyway. Here is a blog I wrote about her over at In the Pantry on January 1, 2010, as it happens: 'A New Year's Renascence' [I highly recommend any of her journals: they are luminous.]

January 8, 2011

Spinning My Cocoon

'Wintertime on the Farm' (1850) by George Henry Durrie.

I could not recollect this Robert Frost poem and read it, again, many moons later (as I have his entire collected words in one volume), with new meaning last night. This is exactly why I love winter so and have come to embrace it as a verb and a noun that just seems to become me for a third of each year (but, like Persephone, I will emerge again, gladly and willingly, in the spring).
The Cocoon
As far as I can see this autumn haze
That spreading in the evening air both way,
Makes the new moon look anything but new,
And pours the elm-tree meadow full of blue,
Is all the smoke from one poor house alone
With but one chimney it can call its own;
So close it will not light an early light,
Keeping its life so close and out of sign
No one for hours has set a foot outdoors
So much as to take care of evening chores.
The inmates may be lonely women-folk.
I want to tell them that with all this smoke
They prudently are spinning their cocoon
And anchoring it to an earth and moon
From which no winter gale can hope to blow it,––
Spinning their own cocoon did they but know it.
––Robert Frost

My husband and boys are out feeding cattle, doing farm chores. And I, wintering in on a ridge in Kentucky, spinning my cocoon.

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

January 7, 2011

Garden Dreaming Deep

Among my collections are old vintage seed packages and catalogues. Their art is breathtaking as is much of the art and photography in contemporary seed catalogues. They know how to entice!
This isn't a very original post and I promise it won't be a long one, either. [Ha, 'Famous last words!' she says after rereading this!] I just had to gush about seed catalogues! My first batch arrived, quite early this season I thought, on Christmas Eve. Perhaps the growers know that gardeners want product for which to use Christmas cash after the holidays? I don't know, really, except that they got stashed in a pile in my office to wait for a snowy January day like this one. I just know that I like to read seed catalogues like all gardeners do.
'In February I had pored, enchanted, over the seed catalogues and their glossy photographs, dreaming of the still nonexistent garden. My idea was to combine vegetables and picking flowers in a plot just behind the house. Sitting at the kitchen table in a snowstorm I had joyously imagined Chinese peas (eaten pod and all), zucchini, cucumber, every kind of lettuce. I went wild on flowers––cosmos, zinnia, marigolds, elegant salpiglossis, annual phlox, delphinium, bachelor's-buttons––with a total disregard of how all of this was to be fitted into one small patch. After all, one has to be allowed some extravagance in February. By April all those little packages of hope were stowed away in a big tin breadbox, in case a mouse decided on nasturtium (delicious!) as an aperitif before going on to candle ends, soap, and any crumbs I might have left lying about.'
––May Sarton, Plant Dreaming Deep

I do not have the green thumb of my mother or grandparents before her. Each of my aunts and uncles were blessed with a green thumb, too. My friends Rosemary and Edie also have glorious gardens. Mine seem to do better in small manageable beds and pots. Like my friend Joberta Wells, who just wrote about seed catalogues in her blog, we find it easier now to just drive down to the Mennonite produce auction and various stands where we pick up fresh local produce––for about six months of the year. Besides, it is so affordable to do so that it is just cheaper than to grow it ourselves! But where is the fun in that? And, a gal can dream, can't she? Now that I am getting more rooted here, I'm starting to want to establish more gardens of permanence across the road at the farm: beds around the cottage and a 'small-ish' kitchen garden. Maybe a great big rambling heirloom pumpkin patch, too. [The nice thing about bumper produce is that I'm blessed with friends, pigs and chickens to give it to. Not that my friends are pigs or chickens.]
'Snowbound, I can at last concentrate on writing. But when the day's stint is done I pore over seed catalogues and the brochures of nurserymen, and dream of next year's garden. So, at least in my imagination, the garden is very much alive all the time . . . as with any other grand passion.'
 ––May Sarton, Plant Dreaming Deep
This image is lovely in theory, but...
One day I do want a small little greenhouse to raise my more unusual flower varieties, however. In the meantime, I am thrilled to have found two Amish greenhouses up near Crab Orchard, Kentucky that seem to carry the more unusual herbs and flowers that I like. I will also start some from seed in my windows (nasturtium, for example: one of the easiest to start). In early May I will stuff my selections in large pots and window boxes and strew my porches with all manner of flowers, herbs and climbing things. I promised my husband that if my 'small-ish' kitchen garden doesn't get weeded on a regular basis this summer, or at least roto-tilled, then I will just stick to container gardening––or the prowess of Mennonites. I can't really blame him for not wanting to help: he's seen too many good intentions gone unplanted or unweeded. Besides, he will be haying most of the summer. I just want some beds to 'putter' in: putter, putter, putter. My favorite occupation.

I visited Baker Creek Seeds in Mansfield, Missouri in May 2009: they have a great thing going there with saving heirloom seeds and passing them along. Their seed packets are also stunning.

I get so many seed catalogues now and I don't mind that my address is sold to other companies because I like the diversity and variety of offerings. I've been a Select Seeds gal for almost as long as the small company has been in existence. They, too, focus on unusual heirloom varieties, but mostly flowers. My friend, Priscilla Hutt Williams, back in New England, turned me on to this Connecticut company when she planted and tended the most beautiful cottage-style kitchen garden at an historic museum house where I worked over fourteen years ago. Perennial Pleasures, up in Hardwick, Vermont, was another discovery early in our marriage. Their perennials were among the hardiest and longest lived in our garden. I even dug up some of their 'Golden Globe,' that I'd planted early in our marriage, to bring with us to Kentucky. [It was traditionally planted by outhouses in New England.] Back in New England, around mid-May, I enjoyed making runs to Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont with my friends Rosemary and Edie, to stock up on all manner of plants and starts for the season.

'As I write, snow is falling outside my Maine window, and indoors all around me half a hundred garden catalogues are in bloom.' 
––Katherine S. White, 'A Romp in the Catalogues'


For a truly delightful garden-in-winter experience, read the collected essays of Katharine S. White, especially her essay, 'A Romp in the Catalogues.' Assembled posthumously by her husband, E.B. White, Onward and Upward in the Garden is a fine way to spend a winter's day dreaming about the gardens of summer. She and her husband, E.B. White, were writers for The New Yorker and had a farm in Brooklin, Maine. [His children's book, Charlotte's Web, is one of my all-time favorite books, and his collected essays are fine examples for any writer, as are Katharine's.]

Well, I'm off for my own catalogue 'romp' while my husband and boys watch a movie on this snowy evening. I'll report more as the months unfold.

I hope that you will, also.

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

January 6, 2011

Lobstah Rolls!

One of the hardest things about moving from New England has been that we can't get seafood right off the boat (or hours from it). Gone are the days when we could buy lobster, on sale, at our local grocery stores for $6 and under a pound. Or bop off to the coast of Maine for a shore dinner and be home by dark. When we could get lobster affordably, especially on sale, we always treated ourselves to a big lobster feed, followed by lobster rolls the next day. Imagine, this is an ocean crustacean, once so plentiful, that the Pilgrims used to use it for fertilizer!

Our boys at Warren's Lobster House, in Kittery, Maine, in July 2008, chowing down on steamer clams.

We were introduced to Lexington Seafood last fall before my birthday and are delighted by their offerings. The owner gets fresh seafood flown in––even Irish salmon––and we know we can get what we're craving when we cave to the crave. He also smokes his own salmon and let me tell you: the best we've ever tried! So it is probably a good thing that the shop is about two hours away or it would be too tempting on a regular basis. It probably goes without saying that fresh seafood sold in the middle of the country is not as affordable as when you live nearer the source!

Last week, for New Year's Day, we celebrated with oyster bisque (frozen leftovers from Christmas Eve) and lobster rolls. I cheated and bought a 2 lb. package of de-shelled and cooked lobster meat from the freezer at the seafood shop but it was worth it (and it was the holidays––we've been very good all fall eating from the farm freezers and pantries). After all, we can't grow seafood on our farm!

We've been going to Warren's since the 1960s when we'd go each summer with my parents on our visits from Ohio to my grandparents' farm. It hasn't changed at all, except for the prices. [In 1976, a large live lobster dinner––quite a feast (we liked that you got BOTH French fries and onion rings)––was only $13.50!]

We still have some salmon, large ocean scallops, and alligator meat (the boys wanted to try it) in our freezer from our pre-Christmas seafood run. Today, being Twelfth Night, the Feast of Epiphany, we will celebrate with some salmon––and maybe a King's Cake if I don't fritter the day away doing other stuff (trying very hard not to bake for a while, although I have wanted to make a Kentucky Jam Cake forever). We've already decided that this will be an annual holiday tradition for us: seafood run to Lexington!

• Cooked, chilled lobster meat, loosely chopped into bite-sized morsels (you may use frozen, but thaw and drain first: you can also substitute langostino, which is readily available frozen)
• Hellman's® Mayonnaise (or Best® Foods)––the only allowable substitute would be homemade! If you insist on using anything else, make sure it isn't a salad dressing that has added sugar––it will ruin the flavor and the lobster is sweet enough. Trust me!
• Fresh ground pepper & sea salt
• New England-style hot dog buns
• Butter for slathering sides of buns before grilling
• Parsley, chopped, for garnish

Add mayo quite sparingly to lobster meat––your eye will be the judge. You don't need much and you want the lobster to rule the flavor. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt (only a bit) and a few grates from the pepper grinder. Toss gently. Chill or serve immediately, preferably on grilled New England-style hot dog buns! (We have found these at our local Walmart after looking all over the place––the kind with the exposed bread on both sides: lightly buttered and lightly grilled until light brown on both sides.)

You can take the girl out of New England, but...
Optional additions: Minced celery is great for some crunch, as is just a bit of minced shallot. I also like to add a few tablespoons chopped parsley to the lobster salad, maybe a wee squirt of fresh lemon juice. Above all, you don't want to overwhelm the succulence of the lobster. Lobster roll purists will tell you that it's all about the minimalism.

Enjoy! Now to think of what to do with that frozen gator meat––any suggestions?

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine