summer’s end 2014

It was a good summer. The best summer in a long time because I was at the trailer in the country working from home for most of it and my daughters were close. There is nothing better than to be around your family and your dogs. Being in the country allows a slower pace that is that is good for observation. In the city you miss things because you have to move at a certain pace or you will be the one blocking foot traffic. You can’t look up at the sky for too long or you could step in dog shit. In the country your eye and your mind have the freedom to wander.

hayfieldrev

This summer I saw how the deep green of the mid-summer vegetation changed. Now everything has a yellowish cast to it. The fields are lime green from the goldenrod in bloom. There are tiny flowers blooming making splotches that look like pink smoke. Over anxious maples that are turning red and russet colored bushes signal the wan of summer and the start of autumn. Everywhere you smell the sweet smell of the last of the hay being cut. The nights are heavy with the song of black crickets.

Here are some things that I learned this summer:

I enjoy seeing livestock when I look out the window.

I like to doze off to sleep and wake in the morning to the sound of softly tinkling goat bells.

I write more when I’m alone

Water boils faster on the mountain

Jersey cow milk makes the best butter

We went through a lot of sugar due to the hummingbird feeder, the brewing of Kombucha and the canning of peaches

It sure is nice to have lights on in more than one room (first full summer with solar powered electricity)

There are more women farmers than I imagined

If you leave your hair loose when you walk in the woods, deer fly get caught in it and it’s easy to kill them that way

Blue jays have a beautiful way of swooping down when they fly and they really love wild blueberries

In the country you experience sudden unexpected fragrances depending on the direction of the wind and which plants it is blowing through at the time

Hummingbirds chitter

Cowbella Farm's Jersey cows and a woman farmer

Cowbella Farm’s Jersey cows and a woman farmer

redChairs

Lolo, a Toy Fox Terrier sun bathing

Lolo, a Toy Fox Terrier sun bathing

First sighting of Fall

First sighting of Fall

the honor system vegetable stand

In New York City you must be ever vigilant for thieves. You’d better chain up your bike just so and don’t even think about slinging your handbag over a chair in a restaurant.

I am enjoying letting my guard down in the country where you don’t even have to lock your car in the shopping center parking lot. There are many vegetable stands that still use the old fashioned “honor system”. The stands are unmanned and the produce is set out with pricing on hand-written signs. Sometimes they don’t even have the pricing, they expect you to leave what is fair. There is a metal cash box for you to leave the payment in.

I get my corn from a dairy farm where they set out piles of just picked sweet corn and the metal cash box on a wooden wagon in the driveway. I like to buy vegetables and eggs from my friends and neighbors Martha and Richard’s stand. When you chop their kale, it smells as strong as wheat grass juice and your fingers are stained green. Martha says that sometimes she thinks the cash is a bit low when she goes to pick it up, but then the next day there is more money than expected. It is because the day before someone didn’t have small bills. That’s the honor system.

the roadside sign

the roadside sign

the mountaintop garden

the mountaintop garden

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the honor system vegetable stand

the honor system vegetable stand

can – can

I suddenly got the urge to start canning while spending the summer in the country. The most food preserving I’d ever done was to freeze some herbs. We live in a metropolis where you can buy produce from all over the world anytime you want. Its not in the culture to think about “putting things by” to get you through the winter. But living in such close proximity to farms and eating their bounty all summer has put me in another frame of mind. It’s a different story when you slice a zucchini and it is so fresh that you can see it sweat little beads of plant juice and down the road you see beef cattle eating grass in sunny pastures. Oona said “Mom, think about how much better your tomato sauce would be if you made it with farm tomatoes and basil from your garden”. I thought about cooking comfort foods in the deep winter. I thought about opening a mason jar of August tomatoes and how its essence would return me to this summer and how the smell of hay and rainstorms and the sound of goat bells would come back to me on a cold dark night.

I thought about Frank’s penchant for eating slimy canned peaches as a midnight snack and that made me think about canning some more. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead he spooned out fragrant slices of summer peaches packed by my hand when he was sitting at his computer late at night? It would be love in a dish.

Our dear friends Beth and her daughter Nipu invited me and Oona to go peach picking at Fix Brothers Farm in Hudson, New York. The peach orchard was at the top of a mountain with spectacular views of the Hudson Valley and the day was hot and sunny. It smelled good and I didn’t want to leave. The danger in those “you pick ems” scenarios is that it is so much fun and you pick so fast that you pick too much and you get sticker shock when they weigh your bag (this happens when you are picking with kids and you don’t want to spoil their fun). Unlike the time we went apple picking when the girls were younger, this time we paced ourselves. We picked only what we could reasonably pay for and preserve and enjoyed the day on peach mountain. We set our peaches on the kitchen table to fully ripen and the trailer was redolent of peaches for days.

Fix Brothers Orchard in Hudson, NY

Fix Brothers Orchard in Hudson, NY

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I bought a canning kit by Ball that had the canner and all of the handy accessories I would need. I found a book on canning at the library but the author wrote so extensively about the dangers of bacteria and food poisioning that I returned the book and instead bought the Ball book on canning. It was in a magazine format and more optimistic and user friendly for the beginning canner. A chef I know told me that many people are put off by canning because they fear killing their families. I think of course the warnings must be made, but probably a lot of that is lawyers talking. I canned in a small kitchen in our off-grid trailer with no running water and my friend Martha who is a canning fiend, proclaimed my vacuum seals as good to go.

Here are full instructions on how to can food

I processed the peaches according to the instructions in the Ball Book. The peaches were packed raw and instead of a plain simple sugar syrup or water, I canned them in a basil syrup. Here is the recipe with the adaptation of the basil syrup.

2 to 3 pound peaches per quart
lemon juice (or powdered citric acid which is vitamin C)
Basil infused simple syrup

Make the basil simple syrup by boiling 5 1/2 cups of water and adding a fistful of fresh basil leaves. Turn off the water and steep the leaves for about 20 minutes. Remove the basil leaves, re-heat the water and dissolve 2 1/2 cups of sugar in the basil water and keep it hot. This was enough syrup for 10 quarts of peaches.

Peel the peaches and toss the slices in lemon juice (or something that has a lot of vitamin C) to prevent their discoloration.Pack peaches into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Ladle hot basil syrup over the peaches leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two piece caps. Process quarts for 30 minutes in a boiling water canner.

I also made a plum jam from plums harvested by Paulina and Nico, local farmers who sell produce at their roadside stand.

The plum jam was easy and filled the kitchen with a marvelous scent. You do not have to peel the plums, only chop them up. I used the recipe for Dawson Plum Jam from the Ball Book. I don’t know what kind of plums we had, all I know is that they were dark red inside and beautiful. I added lavender from my herb garden to this. I do not normally like flowery food, but this combination was a good idea. Here is my adaptation of the plum jam recipe to include the lavender.

5 cups coarsely chopped plums (about 2 pounds)
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
a few springs of fresh lavender

Combine the plums, sugar, lavender sprigs and water in a large pot. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. I removed the lavender sprigs after about 15 minutes of boiling. Cook rapidly and stir constantly as the water will cook down and the plums will thicken. You don’t want the plums to stick and burn. Once it is thick and jammy, remove from heat. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water canner.

There will be scones with lavender plum jam for brunch this winter.

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a country flea market

I love yard sales and country flea markets. The possibility of finding treasure and a good deal is irresistible. In the northern Catskills, yard sales seem to be an art form. Towns even hold community-wide yard sales that are like rural block parties with live music and the volunteer firemen barbecuing chickens on Main Street.

Every Sunday there is a Flea Market in the Town of Broome in Schoharie County. I am spoiled by this flea market. I don’t ever bother to go to any of the flea markets in New York City because I consider them to be overpriced and yuppified. The country flea market has a great mix of stuff. Real antiques and tools, handmade garden ornaments and old lace, garlic and tomatoes from someone’s garden. I find good stuff here.

Some of my favorite treasures found here are:

- A bright yellow garden hose for the day we have running water
– A garden tool that is shaped like a hoe but has spikes that is perfect for mixing compost into flower beds
– Old cast iron skillets that are smooth as glass inside so that you can fry an egg in it without sticking.
– Hand embroidered cotton pillowcases and linen dishtowels from the 50’s.
– A hand forged meat cleaver

schoharieCountyFleaMarketWS

BlackSmithSignFleaMarket

FrillyGlasswareFleaMarketRollingStoneAlbumFleaMarket

OldtoolsFleaMarket

PiesFleaMarket

rsz_butterickpatternfleamarket copy

MatchboxCaseFleaMarket

heather ridge farm – good food, good friends

I met Carol in April of 2011. It was the start of the college search for Oona in the spring of her junior year of High School. We had scheduled time for an interview for a summer internship at Heather Ridge Farm where animals are lovingly raised on pastures and they operate the Bees Knees Cafe which serves “fiercely local” and delicious food. A tall woman with beautiful curly hair cut in a pert bob and a wide smile welcomed us at the door of the old farmhouse that serves as the café and farm store. All the while smiling, she sat Oona down at one of the tables in the Bees Knees Café for her interview while I made myself scarce in the farm store. After the interview Carol invited us to visit the barn where the spring lambing season was underway. Farmer John (why are there so many farmers named John?) showed us around the maternity ward where we saw a newly born lamb still wet from birth.

Heather Ridge Farm and the Bee's Knee's Cafe

Heather Ridge Farm and the Bee’s Knee’s Cafe

Carol and John feed us with both the food they grow and their friendship. They give us advice about things that city folk don’t know about such as goat fencing. When Hurricane Irene devastated the area in August of 2011 and the roads off the mountain were washed away and the town was flooded, we ate their beef and chicken. They serve seasonal food, everything has its time and place. The following spring, again in April, I stopped by after driving up from the city on a Saturday afternoon for lunch. It was a week after the funeral of my only brother and I’d driven up to the trailer by myself just to get away and dig in the dirt. Carol served me up a bowl of Nettle soup. I’d never seen anything like it. It was an intense green and creamy, thick and very hot. On a small plate was a slice of homemade Irish bread smeared with the yellowest butter I’d ever seen. It was a grey day and I looked out of the farmhouse window to the view of the mountains shrouded in mist. The green soup warmed me to my toes. Its warmth was as soothing as a mother’s fingertips on your brow. The green soup was spring itself.

Morning farm chores, feeding the pigs

Morning farm chores, farm intern feeding the pigs

farm solar power

farm solar power

Devon beef cattle

Devon beef cattle

The Bees Knees Cafe's Chef Rob with his file cabinet smoker

The Bees Knees Cafe’s Chef Rob with his file cabinet smoker

the county fair

County fairs and summer go together. Lemonade and funnel cakes. Cotton candy and roller coasters. Here are some photos of our visit to the Sunshine Fair in Schoharie County in New York.

Sunshine Fair

Sunshine Fair

In the show ring - the dairy goats

In the show ring – the dairy goats

SunshineFairSchoharieCounty2

An old grain thrasher from the late 1800's on display

An old grain thrasher from the late 1800’s on display

The cow beauty parlor

The cow beauty parlor

New York State's Agriculture Commissioner, Schoharie County's own Richard Ball

New York State’s Agriculture Commissioner, Schoharie County’s own Richard Ball

A pretty Brown Swiss cow

A pretty Brown Swiss cow

the trailer

A 1976 Marlette mobile home, compact and apartment like, it sits on 20 acres of piney woods and meadow.

photo shot with the Hipstamatic app - Yuri 61 lens and Rasputin film

photos shot with the Hipstamatic app – Yuri 61 lens and Rasputin film

The previous owners brought the trailer in and used it as a hunting cabin. They tinkered with it and added things like the front porch, which is built of pieces of scrap wood, metal and cinderblock. The porch is wide enough to feel like a New York City stoop. All similarity ends there because the porch is draped with leafy Sweet Autumn Clematis vines and we have a visiting porcupine that likes to gnaw on the steps. The beds of Hosta that ring the trailer are in bloom now and buzzing with bees and hummingbirds. The tiny hummingbirds stick their heads inside the lilac colored flowers so deep that half their bodies disappear.

marletteTailer2

We have no running water so we pump from a well that is outfitted with an old-fashioned hand pump. The water bucket system flushes the toilet that is connected to a primitive septic system. The sinks and bathtub are connected to a grey water system where the water is flushed out to the back meadow. Only biodegradable soaps are used. Pumping water for the buckets is really good for your core and your triceps.

Bucket power

Bucket power

I’ve become really good at dishwashing without running water. Everyone, even guests are trained to remember which is their water glass and to be conservative about creating dishwashing volume. We grill a lot and make one-skillet meals. I use sturdy Bagasse dinner plates that are made from sugarcane waste and go straight into the compost bin. Marinating meats takes place inside zip lock bags.

The back meadow has a nice view of the woods. In June I like to sit on a lipstick red Adirondack chair and watch the light show that is fireflies. In August, we are lulled to sleep by the song of black crickets. Moss grows like a carpet in the shady parts of the back meadow and red squirrels chitter like monkeys in the pine trees.

adirondackChairs

We have been here for six weeks. This is the first time we are spending all summer here. I’m getting spoiled by the smell of the mountain air and the feel of grass under my feet. The dogs run free without collars on and chew meaty bones on the grass, their heads greasy with marrow. For the first time, I have seen the cornfields growing up from little green tufts in rows of dirt to what I see now where the stalks are over my head and topped with a cornflower.

cornfield