"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

June 27, 2012

The Perfect Day: Take It Slow

It's so very hard to slow down in our world, even though we live here in south-central Kentucky, a place decidedly more rural, and more laid-back, than any place we have lived before. There is definitely a Southern work ethic, a more relaxed way of living, even when there is work to be done. People don't freak out or fret as much. You don't see a lot of road rage. There is a basic sense of respect and the pace is unhurried. We've also enjoyed more porch-sitting and random visiting.

We have taken the past few days after two busy haying times, tending to many baby cows and their mothers––and a voracious bout of needed house cleaning––to host and visit with two of our dear friends, Chris and Jo, from England. They visited us here four years ago when we had just moved and each time we see them, we just pick up all over again. Even though it seems that they haven't aged at all, or that no time has passed, you realize it has when you start talking about children (they left their teens at home for the first time), life events, and the odd insight. Chris and Temple worked on the same dairy farm in New Hampshire many years ago and we have visited back and forth ever since.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” 
~ from Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Our friends Melvin and Anna, asked us all over for a buggy ride on their spring wagon. We've hardly seen them in recent months because they have been traveling all over the country for weddings, funerals and ordinations (the Old Order Mennonites and Amish know how to turn it out for any thing and for their families, no matter how far the distance: it's amazing, really, considering that few orders allow car ownership and definitely not plane travel). So it's been great to reconnect with them, too, and, after four years of friendship, I'd never had a buggy ride with them, either.

The day was perfect: a huge high pressure system from the north brought in pleasant summer temperatures, intense blue skies, and cooling breezes, just for the day. It was a real fall-like treat before the hot blast that is supposed to hit us this weekend (104!). The best part was driving along at a much slower pace than a car, in the open air, talking along the way and where we could really watch the landscape. Everything just slowed right down. One of the books I've often revisited in recent years is In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honoré. This book encourages the same thing (and yes, I read it slowly and savor each word).

Slow read. Slow food. Slow pace. Slow lane. You have to slow it down once in a while. Otherwise, life just passes us by and we get swept up by too much detail and minutiae. So try to take it slow: just for one day, one hour, one moment.

We returned from our ride at the end of the afternoon and spent time talking in Anna's kitchen and under the trees. The only noises were the breeze and the birds and the murmur of voices. No video games, no television, no telephones, no computers. When we returned home again we had a lovely impromptu Mexican meal on the patio, active boys, quiet porch sitting, more laughter.

As my great-grandmother often advised her nine children, "Take the ruthlessness to rest!" Stay put, be serene, try to be content in the moment and with the task. It's really the best cure for what ails.

You come back when you're ready!


There's absolutely no reason for being rushed along with the crowd. Everybody should be free to go very slow...what you want, what you're hanging around in the world for, is for something to occur to you.” 
~ Robert Frost

June 15, 2012

Gooseberry Jam

I've always wanted to make gooseberry jam because I love fresh gooseberries––especially lightly sugared, and folded, in fool-fashion, with homemade vanilla custard sauce and a bit of whipped cream. The pie isn't bad, either. Maybe I'm just losing my sweet tooth, but I have to say that while the results were as promised, the flavor of the jam is more like cranberry sauce (which isn't a bad thing, either, as I'm already imagining slathering the jam on pork or turkey this fall and winter). However, it's quite different than the flavor of a fresh gooseberry which is more a combination of rhubarb and a blueberry. I also used a combination of red (more ripened) and green berries and perhaps next time I shall try to use all green.

This year I bought several quarts of gooseberries from one of our local Casey County farmers. Bobbett Jascor is a garlic farmer and also raises many other unusual fruits that aren't easily found in the markets: gooseberries, currants and even a grape-sized kiwi. Having made the jam, I can understand why Bobbett just makes jelly (which she compared to cranberry sauce, too). [I should also add here that the reason I did not pick gooseberries from our own bush––for more on this wonderful fruit see "Gooseberries!" from my In the Pantry archives––is that my chickens beat me to it! Yes, they have quite a reach from the ground! And, yes, they knew when they were just perfect for eating. Glad they enjoyed them.]

These little buggers (the berries, not the hens, although there are moments) come complete with stems and tiny little hairy beards, both of which have to be removed before using (unlike blueberries where you just have to remove the invariable stems and leaves that get in the mix). Gooseberries are also a thorny (as in long and thorny) berry so I was more than happy to pay $2 a pint to have them picked for me, even if I had to do the cleaning.

Pie is good, too! This is also how I make
our rhubarb pies, more or less.
From RecipeCurio.com
So there I was last week, two days before leaving for a conference, sitting on the porch picking the beards and stems off of about 8 quarts of gooseberries! Needless to say, it was more labor intensive than I'd planned. Bobbett just makes jelly and throws everything in: I could do the same with my steam juicer next year (as I plan to do with elderberry heads in a few more weeks). But I've always been more of a jam kind of gal: I like the thickness, the flavor, the way it glops on a crumpet or slice of bread.

After that preamble, would I make this again? Probably, but not any time soon. After all, next year is another year and, as we dig into the freezer or open a jar, I will have long forgotten the time spent plucking each little stubborn stem and pinching off each little beard. And for a jam that is more like cranberry sauce, which takes about 1/10th the time from cleaning the berries to jamming them, well, I might think twice.

This is a recipe from my old standby, The Joy of Cooking, and is fairly standard for jam: 1 cup fruit to 1 cup sugar.

Gooseberry Jam

• 4 cups gooseberries (de-bearded and stemmed, lightly rinsed)
• 4 cups sugar
• 1 packet pectin (or 2 apples finely diced)

1. Mix berries and sugar (and pectin or apples).
2. Stir well on low heat until bubbly.
3. Follow directions on pectin package OR, if using apples, cook until jam "sets" on a plate.
4. Put into cleaned, sterilized glass jars and can.

NOTE: I doubled the recipe, almost, with 7 cups of berries, a scant 7 cups of sugar, 1 package of pectin, and 2 diced green apples. I ended up cooking it until set. It made 7 half-pints.

You can also freeze gooseberries as you might any other berry. Lightly wash and drain (unless you know they aren't sprayed), put onto clean, dry cookie sheets (with sides) and freeze flat. Then, when solid, you can put them right into a freezer bag or other container as the fruit has frozen individually.

You come back when you're ready!


June 14, 2012

Down on the Creek

It's not every day that a child will say, "Let's go down on the creek today." And so, after a bit of puttering about and some errands and making sure my article got to my editor after two days of no satellite internet (ergh), that's exactly what we did. Just Eli and me. 

Our youngest child has an affinity for rocks (and coins and, well, many things). His laser vision pinpoints the smallest of rocks or just for what he is looking––for a while it was geodes and now he's moved on to others. He can spend hours sorting a collection, organizing a shelf, washing and categorizing his Legos. Truly a young man after my own heart! As a younger boy he enjoyed organizing cupboards or arranging things at the holidays. He is very tactile and an inventory specialist. It will be fun to see what he will do when he grows up: Architect? Geologist? U.S. Mint? A poet-farmer like Wendell Berry? We know he will be Eli and for now he doesn't have to worry about anything else. He is still all boy.

This summer we are trying to be more in the moment when we are not busy doing farm chores. We are embracing spontaneity. Like today when I was hungry at 2:30pm and discovered that no one else had grabbed a sandwich, and suggested we all pile in the car and go get lunch in Nancy at our favorite Mom&Pop place. So we did. [I should note here that I often joke with my husband, "I married you for life, but not for lunch." It's really true: except when either of us takes the other out for lunch. Or when I feel like making it. Don't worry: no one is deprived in our house.]

After our late lunch we took a detour home to see where some new friends live (and who just had a baby) and that led to driving down roads we've never been on and then past some friends who happened to be outside and so we stopped by and had a delightful visit. Three hours after we left we were home. And I remembered Eli's plaintive request: "Let's go down on the creek today."

And so we did.

Just Eli and me. 

It was magical, quiet, and time sort of stood still for forty minutes. I realized that I need to take more one-on-one time with everyone in my family––each of my children and with my husband, too. Even myself. In a few weeks Henry and I will be heading to New England to pick up our daughter who is returning to be with us in Kentucky for a time. He and I will spend some time in New Hampshire together while Addie packs and says her goodbyes in Vermont where she has worked for the past four years. I've never taken a road trip with one of the boys before and look forward to our adventures––and then to having all of the kids home together again. It just feels right.

I like this shape of rock and seek them out.

NOTE: The spider has been enlarged from how he appeared on the rock, but I would say that paw print is about life-sized. I'm thinking a raccoon but not certain.
Thanks to a reader, I've discovered this is a Belted Kingfisher.
Here is more information about them in Kentucky. And I need a better zoom lens!

You come back when you're ready! 

Remember that it's not the destination, but the journey.