I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

little red

We have drama in the henhouse. Bullying, even. And it's all my fault.

When I ordered my last group of chickens for meat, I decided to try a new breed. I'd always gone with the Cornish white rock birds, who love to eat and will get to roaster size some eight weeks after hatching - though we deliberately slow this down by encouraging them to be outside running around and eating grass. It seems to keep them healthier, and I prefer to take ours to market around 10 weeks of age. This new breed was supposed to reach similar weights but take more time to get there.

She knows sitting on me is a safe spot.
Turns out, it was going to take far too long to get there. By the time the group of 70 birds was ready to go, the three of the new breed were all still almost too small to make it worthwhile. The two males went anyway to make two rather small roasters, but the female I decided to keep so that she could live to lay eggs and join the hens. The little red hen moved over to the field coop.

I call her Little Red, but I've been informed by D that her name is Kqabawwie. It's a deliberately confusing, utterly mangled spelling of R's first pronunciation of 'strawberry' when she was a preschooler.

And the other hens, my lovely ladies who purr and run over to see me and take treats from my hands, have been mean to her. Harrassing her so that she hides in a corner. 

When I go over, the hens all run over to see if I've brought them a treat. Once they're milling around, I'll hear the cheep-cheep (she hasn't started clucking yet) from the coop and Red will poke her head around, see me, and run over. It's really quite adorable. 

I know it's part of the pecking order and all, but I feel bad for the little girl. She will fit in, I know, but we go over a few times a day to make sure she gets a chance at food and water. She'll sit on my lap or weave around my feet while I tell the others they really should know better and be nice. They just look at me funny, but maybe it'll sink in.

Monday, 30 September 2013

miscellany: duck breast prosciutto

In a word: yum.

I love prosciutto. So when I happened across a recipe for duck breast prosciutto in a magazine, and - hey! - we had ducks aplenty, I decided it had to be tried. And I am so, so glad I did.

Prosciutto, bought in the store, is pork - the word in Italian, according to google translate, means "ham". Further research (you don't think I make these blogs up, do you? No, they are meticulously researched, often by asking my dog. Titus is a wealth of information. Though in this case he just looked at me and whined for some of what I was making. But I digress) suggests the word refers to the dry curing process of making prosciutto. It's typically ham that is dry-cured, then served raw.

It's ridiculously simple, only requiring two things I often lack: patience, and space in the fridge.
This takes so much salt it's just silly. And it's all thrown out.
Duck breast - I used four halves from this year's eleven ducks - entombed in kosher salt for 24 hours. That's it. Salt and duck. See? I said ridiculously simple.

          Burying the duck in salt.
Aaaand... it's gone.

After its salt bath, the duck was rinsed well, patted dry, then covered in freshly-ground black pepper. 

After salting, rinsed off to dry.

How much? Basically, you cover it with pepper until you think you have enough, and then add some more. Because it's good.

Then each duck breast was wrapped up in cheesecloth, bundled and wrapped again, then trussed with string to hang in the fridge for two weeks. Yes, two weeks of needing space in my fridge for some meat to hang.
Wrapping up into duck breast mummies.
waiting... waiting... waiting...

Thank goodness for the second fridge. True prosciutto often ages for 18 months or more. I'd never make it, waiting so long.

But worth it? Oh yes.

Final product.
Today the meat was cut down, unwrapped, and sliced as thinly as I could. The drying concentrates the flavour of an already tasty meat. The rich red of the meat and creamy white of the skin are a lovely contrast. It is decadent. I repeat: yum.

How to use this loveliness? There are so many ways. My favourite is to just eat the stuff. 

But it's a wonderful appetizer with baguette slices and some cheese. It's delicious cut up, sauteed, and added to pastas or Caesar salad. If it can be very thinly sliced, it is lovely wrapped around blanched asparagus. Or, you could just eat it. Which I did.

Thursday, 26 September 2013


Ten years 
is a decade 
seems a long time
is a tenth of a century 
is a crawling long time
is gone in a flash and scenes are as scathingly fresh as they were on that day.
how can it be that long since he left us?

No more words today. I can only reiterate.

When in Rome

seems I can't escape
the need to tell you
what it all means
but then I've not quite got it yet

so here we are again
same place, different time
trying to pin it down
and failing gloriously

but isn't Rome about glory?
and don't all roads lead here?
grand avenues, twisting alleys
boulevards on which you simply must be seen

so here we are again
thought we were going away from it
when we were in Rome
things made sense, somehow

I strike out in new directions
running madly anywhere else
but wait, around the corner,
is that Rome up ahead?

so here we are again
and I know you're waiting
as I look down a road
wondering if it leads, finally, out

August 2006

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

a ham story

Once upon a time, I bought a whole ham, bone-in. It cost about $16. So I decided to make a week of it. Because it's the sort of thing I like to do, often for no apparent reason. This is the story of the ham. 
The eponymous ham.
Day 1 
The whole ham would be roasted in all its glory. I cut off the plastic to find cheesecloth around the whole thing. I've never seen that before, but cheesecloth has a sort of small-scale artisan-created sense about it when it's around food (though I could be biased, having just wrapped some duck proscuitto in cheesecloth to cure). So in a completely arbitrary way, finding cheesecloth around the ham was encouraging. But I figured it shouldn't be roasted so I removed the cloth, scored the thick skin, and popped it in the oven. Uh... 375F for a couple of hours? I forget. This isn't a recipe. 
Day 1 meal

 Some maple syrup and brown sugar were added later for two reasons: 

  1. to glaze the ham, and 
  2. maple syrup needs no reason. It's sort of like liquid bacon that way.
This made a dinner for five, a slice of the ham along with small red potatoes (boiled and then sauteed in a bit of duck fat for flavour) and Swiss chard (sauteed with bacon and mushrooms) from the garden. 

And then the once-majestic ham looked like this: 

Not so pretty any more, are you.
Day 2 
Ham on rye, a.k.a. cliché sandwich.
After a chilly night in the fridge, the ham came out to be sliced. Cold slices on dark rye bread with grainy Dijon mustard and some baby greens gleaned from the garden - spinach, chard, and beet greens - served with boiled corn on the cob I picked from the field. 

Corn! When it's picked mere minutes before it's boiled, the sugars in the plant haven't yet converted to starches and OH the sweetness. Yum. Simple but so good.

The ham is disappearing fast. 

Day 3

Due to popular request at supper last night, I sent ham on rye for three work/school lunches.

Pasta took the lead tonight, penne with an alfredo-style sauce (basic white sauce with garlic and Parmesan) and chopped ham warmed up in the sauce. This served four, with leftovers for D to take to work tomorrow. So altogether, five meals this time.

I forgot to take a pic of the meal. DON'T JUDGE ME. Here's the ham after, though.

Day 4 

Two more sandwiches, this time on homemade whole wheat bread, for school lunches. I'm having to get creative now while I slice it, to avoid the bone that runs through it. 
going, going...

This evening - omelets. Bright yellow thanks to eggs from free-range hens who are loving the grass on their pasture these days. With, for a change, ham. We're at the end of this puppy. If the ham was a puppy. Which it's not, to be clear. 

Speaking of the puppy, he has watched the ham decimation with marked interest.
Day 5 
Waste not, want not, and all those proverbs. The ham bone went into a pot of water with onions, a few cloves, peppercorns, and a bay leaf. And there it simmered, leaching the last bits of its flavour to make stock. Onions were cooked in bacon and the stock added, along with potatoes and dried split peas. Cozy soup was a great finish to the week.

Split-pea soup with homemade sourdough bread.

Our meat purchase for the week (30 servings, between suppers and lunches): $16. Not bad.

And puppy was finally happy.

~ fin ~

Monday, 16 September 2013

daring cooks, september

Summer on the farm is wonderful but also tends to take me waaaaay off track of other things I do. I don't want to heat up our little kitchen any more than is necessary, and cooking is often a quick grab of things from the garden. While this is a blessing that we are so grateful for, it unfortunately meant I missed a couple of challenges, but I was able to get back on track this month and make something I've wanted to make for a while: gnocchi.
Todd, who is The Daring Kitchen’s AWESOME webmaster and an amazing cook, is our September Daring Cooks’ host! Todd challenged us to make light and fluffy potato Gnocchi and encouraged us to flavor the lil pillows of goodness and go wild with a sauce to top them with!
We planted potatoes for the first time this year, and had harvested over a hundred pounds of Russet baking potatoes that were sitting in the cellar. I brought up a few, scrubbed and baked them, and then left them to cool. Perhaps for too long, because when I tried to put them through the ricer I'd bought for the purpose (though, granted, it'd been on my want list for the kitchen for a while), the handle bent while feeding a very few potatoes through the little holes. Time to improvise.

I didn't want to use a masher, preferring to try to keep them a nice light texture, but with my poor ricer looking all askew and sad, the only other option was:  a pastry blender. I hoped that the thinner blades would mean the potatoes didn't clump up as much. And, as it turned out, it wasn't ideal but the dough came together very nicely - just the potatoes, egg, flour, and salt and pepper.

Rolling out the dough reminded me of the kids making snakes with clay when they were younger. The snakes were rolled out, then cut in sections and squished a bit with a fork to make dents to grab the sauce. Into boiling water they went, and they sat on the bottom for a bit before floating to the top, where I scooped them out after a minute. 

And - we liked it! Served with a simple tomato sauce using some fresh basil from the garden, they had a nice texture and flavour. Pesto next time, maybe? Frost is coming and I need to harvest the basil. With a recipe this easy, I'll be making gnocchi again. 

After I get a new ricer.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

serendipity is sour but tasty

- noun. - The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.

The farm has been busy, birds (136 in all, right now) growing and laying eggs and all that sort of thing. The summer has been such a contrast to last year's drought, and the garden with almost no help from me is lush and productive. Which includes the weeds, but that's part of the job.

Yesterday on going out with the girls for a couple of errands, I glanced at a shrub-tree thing that grows at the front edge of one of our fields. We pass it almost every time we head out. I've never paid it much attention, really, but yesterday a flash of red on it caught my eye. I hit the brakes, backed up, and stared at it. 

Crabapples. It was absolutely covered. How did I miss this, all this time? All these years? Beautiful little red apples all over the until-now-ignored tree. I decided to come out later and harvest them. 

So this morning, puppy and I headed out to the road and I started picking. And picking. And picking. And straddling the electric fence line that keeps the cows in. That I managed to not get zapped was no small feat, but I am covered in scratches from the branches as I weasled my way in to reach all I could.

I picked them by the handful. By the double-handful. They were perfectly ripe, and have a perfect flavour - tart but tasty. 

As I picked I thought about how lovely it is that so much can happen without any of my intervention (interference?). Sometimes, I think I just get in the way. And this little tree did its work, likely helped by the local bees, and gave us a bounty that we had no part in making. Some of life's simple blessings are these unlooked-for surprises. 

I bet the cows knew all about it all along and didn't tell me, wanting to keep the secret to themselves.

A half hour sufficed to fill the washtub with all the apples I could reach. 

I had plans for today. But serendipity sometimes means tossing all that, being thankful for the discovery, picking the apples you find, and making some jelly.

Friday, 9 August 2013

miscellany: beef tongue

Yes, really. 

Soooo... yeah. Here goes.
I love classic literature and it seems that without fail, when the genteel folk had a picnic or cold lunch (oops, luncheon), one of the items on the list is cold tongue, or jellied tongue, or tongue sandwiches. Which sounded weird. I've never eaten, let alone cooked, one.
This is pretty much my face throughout.

This will go down as the first time I've spent a cooking exercise at least mildly repulsed by what I was working with. My general reaction throughout is summed up as, "ew". So eloquent.

So it starts with, yup. A tongue. A big, greyish-pink, flabby tongue that the farmer we buy our beef from tells me is worth more per pound in Europe than the rest of the cuts of beef. Interesting. Oddly enough, she included the tongue for no extra charge with the rest of the large order of beef I was picking up. Hmm, wonder why?


While I taste it, can it taste me?

IT HAS TASTE BUDS. I can't get past the tongue-ish-ness of this thing. I had read to scrub it and then soak it for a few hours, changing the cold water frequently. The whole time I scrubbed, feeling the rough taste buds, I thought... you guessed it. Ew. 

It did not help matters that while it soaked, the cows who spend the summer here got out. While they stood looking at me before they got shooed back into the pasture, one put out her tongue and then STUCK IT UP HER NOSE. Yup, cleaned her nose with it. Did I mention ew?

The onions look good. 
After soaking, it went into the pot with fresh water, peppercorns, bay leaves, and onion, to simmer gently for several hours. It can't be cooked fast as it would basically end up like a tire. So it simmered away, smelling pretty good actually, but still looking like several kinds of nasty.

Titus: "NOM NOM NOM!"
Once it finished, I was supposed to peel off the outer layer. Oh, good, I thought, that will take off the taste buds and it will be less like what it is. But just removing the outer layer of the whitish tongue left me with... a greyish-brown tongue. Ugh. 

At least Titus was enjoying the process, and loved every little bit he got.

I'm still not convinced.

But, I'm happy to report, once I cut down through the next layer, it looked more like a pork tenderloin (wishful thinking? Perhaps). Hooray! A piece of meat I've dealt with. Into the fridge it went to chill.

Today for lunch: cold tongue sandwiches. Thinly sliced tongue on dark rye bread with yellow and grainy dijon mustard. And...

But... yeah, it tasted pretty good!

It was pretty good, actually. It tastes like, well, beef. The texture is the oddest thing about it (once you're past the IT'S A TONGUE thing. Which I am not past yet, for the record) as it tastes like roast beef but is much, much more tender than any cold roast beef I've ever had.

It's still kind of weird.

Friday, 2 August 2013

help wanted, sort of

There is no end of things to do here. Literally. Our dream for this place is so easily expressed: "bring the farm back to life", yet there is so much in there that changes, and adapts, then changes some more, only to find that there's more to do.

Regular maintenance eats up a great deal of time. Housework? I try to keep up with that in summer, but outside is constantly clamouring for attention. The hens. The ducks. The garden. The meat birds. Oh, and the cows just escaped. And was that a fox we just saw? Check the hens again. Why isn't the tractor working? Top up the chicks' water. The roof is blowing off the back of that barn we never use. The ducks need more pool water. The beans are ready to harvest and the potatoes need hilling.

I saw a quote about farming that it wasn't a matter of what you had to do that was your priority, it was what you had to do NOW versus what could wait until tomorrow. The tyranny of the immediate calls. I can plan to do things, which pretty much guarantees that something will change and throw the schedule to the wind. During all of this, D works. Full-time and (some weeks) then some. Much that needs doing can't be addressed as quickly as we'd like.

So, I decided, we need a handyman. "We need to hire someone who could do all those maintenance and fixup things around here," I suggested to D as he and I worked to build the mobile chicken coop for the pasture.

"That'd be great, except we can't pay anyone."

"I know. Which is why we'd need to hire someone certifiable: they would work for room and board, that's all."

"But there's no place for them to live."

"In the chicken coop."

"The chicken coop? Yeah," he said with a laugh, "I don't see that going over too well."

"Ah, but it's all in the spin."

"The spin?"

"Yup. Here's how the ad goes: 

Wanted, handyman to work on farm. 
Gourmet meals provided. 
Accommodation in separate dwelling 
to be shared with 30 single females."

I figure we shall be deluged with applications.

Monday, 24 June 2013

big new things

By way of update, the farm continues to amaze, inspire, and exhaust us. This year's plans involved one thing that is really many things: expansion.

For years we have lived here and done our thing, but it was time to add more. Egg orders were beyond what we could fill, and our first experimental year of selling meat hens behind the farm gate had been a success. We loved the fresh garden produce but wanted more that we could put up for the winter.


Last fall we purchased a tiller. I love this thing. We have now cleared out a 50' by 30' garden in a field that had been unused. The tilling was hard work but worth it as we gained a place to grow the 'big' stuff - potatoes, corn, pumpkins, and squash, all of which tended to overrun our smaller box garden. I added beets, parsnip, and turnip to the repertoire, and have been excited to see the rows growing.

This week thirty new laying hens arrive. More birds means the current coop couldn't house both the meat birds and the layers. Last winter I was mulling (as I often do) and hit upon the solution. The old log building will house the hens in the winter and meat birds in the summer. A new mobile coop on the same field as the new garden has become the hens' summer home. I'm not sure they feel as elegant as they should with this.

So the amazing D and I (okay, mostly him) designed and built what's basically an 8'x10' shed on skids. The hens will be pasture raised, contained for their protection in a portable electric fence and moved onto new grass occasionally to help rejuvenate the field. I'm learning about stuff I'd have thought mundane, and last night I was excited to find five different kinds of grass in the field and was considering how to best amend the soil and promote new growth and wondering whether this was a farmer, a hippie, or both talking in my mind.

I'm happy that this place can not only nurture us, but our friends and people we haven't yet met with a peaceful place and wholesome food.

I'm glad I get to share it with the most important people in the world: my family and friends.

I'm thankful for the beauty of creation as I am awed by it and its Creator. I've hummed the old hymn, 'When Morning Gilds the Skies' often as I step out into the dewy grass as the sun comes up.

I'm exhausted, but pleased with how it's going. If you were to look at our calendar, you'd think we're not at all busy. But each day unfolds and presents more things that need doing than can possibly done, so I prioritize what can't wait, what I'm able to do, and what will have to be pushed to tomorrow's list. For example: housework is waaaaay down the list. As anyone who visits my house these days can tell. The demands of outside loom, and dusting just isn't in the cards.

But, it's good. I love this life.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

daring cooks, may

Time to wrap stuff up and bake it! Okay, it was a little more involved than that. And yummy, too.
Our lovely Monkey Queen of Don’t Make Me Call My Flying Monkeys, was our May Daring Cooks’ hostess and she challenged us to dive into the world of en Croute! We were encouraged to make Beef Wellington, Stuffed Mushroom en Croute and to bring our kids into the challenge by encouraging them to create their own en Croute recipes!
This month got away from me so I didn't try variations as I had hoped to do (the portobello mushrooms with brie looked especially amazing); however I did get a beef Wellington done to try out the technique.

Wellington starts with a cut of meat that, while very tender, isn't the most flavour-packed. So, you add flavour to it before encasing it in a nice little package of puff pastry. Mine didn't go quite as planned, but still tasted good. Let's just say I wasn't getting points for presentation this time.

Duxelles, take two.
Extra taste came in the form of duxelles. This word just looks good. And it's mushrooms, chopped very fine, then cooked and cooked and cooked in oil and butter until it's concentrated deliciousness. For my first attempt at this the stove was too hot, and they got more crispy than intended. Back to the chopping block, and the second batch turned out just fine. The challenge then was not simply eating them as they were.

Crepes in progress
I didn't have the pate that is supposed to be mixed with the duxelles, which was a shame as I think it'd  be a great addition. But, I did make crepes! The beef for the Wellington is seared on each side, and the meat is left rare. The duxelles are spread on, but all the moisture would make the puff pastry soggy and so a crepe is wrapped around it to act as a sort of moisture barrier. 
Wellington, Assemble! (I really have been watching Avengers too much with my kids)Once all the individual parts were done, it was time to lay it all on the thawed puff pastry. Except... I hadn't thawed enough to make individual Wellingtons. So we did a sort of group Wellington. All the meat and duxelles wrapped in overlapping crepes, and then one big sheet of puff pastry around the lot.

When it baked, though, the golden-brown flaky crust looked nice and they tasted great! I'd like to try it again with salmon fillet, or the mushrooms. So many possibilities.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

daring cooks, april

This month I got to (sort of) re-enact the bit from Julie & Julia where the exasperated Julie says, "I have to bone a duck. Can you even conceive of boning a duck?" Our Daring Kitchen challenge: bone a chicken and make a chicken ballotine. But I used a duck too for good measure. Not all at once, though this is likely the process by which we get that strange culinary extravaganza, 'turducken'.
For the April Daring Cooks Challenge, Lisa from Parsley, Sageand Sweet has challenged us to debone a whole chicken, using this video by Jacques Pepin as our guide; then stuff it, tie it and roast it, to create a Chicken Ballotine.
For this challenge technique took center stage. I have Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking  and looked through the chapter recipe for pâté de canard en croute, trying to figure out how it's done. Thank goodness for video, is all I can say. While her written instructions are thorough and accurate, it's not likely one I would attempt without seeing it done.

I watched the video a couple of times and then, with helpful assistants to start and stop and rewind and start and rewind and stop and start and rewind and... (you get the picture) and take pics thanks to my chicken-covered hands, I was ready to go. 

Over the course of the month I made this three times, twice with chicken and once with duck. The first chicken took me over half an hour (with the video), but by the third time I had it down to 15 minutes and was feeling very happy with this new technique. 

Take One: Chicken Ballotine with Spinach/Mushroom Stuffing

Ready to start! A 6-pound chicken raised here on the farm and a sharp knife. All good.

Wing tips cut off, and a cut down the backbone starts the process. 

Looks vaguely like Alien erupting from a victim, but much less homicidal. Having cut the shoulder joints, the meat was pulled off the central carcass. This was repeated all around, then the hip joints severed to remove all of the meat from the bones.

Ta-dah! It looks just like his. In about three times the time it took him, but hey, I'm new at this. The bones were then removed from the legs and the whole thing was like a chicken puppet. The only bones left in the puppet were the little nubs of bone at the very bottom of the drumsticks.

Chicken laid out flat with stuffing. Chopped spinach and sauteed mushrooms and shallots with panko bread crumbs. A layer of swiss cheese over the top, and it was ready to roll up.

Rolling it all into a nice neat package.

Trussed (note: I am not good at tying half-hitch knots. It was an exercise in trial and error. So if we go camping, don't ask me to tie one unless you plan to wait. And wait.) Ready to roast. rubbed butter into the top of it and roasted it at 400F for about an hour and twenty minutes. 

Looks good, and smelled amazing.

And, sliced. I was so happy with how this turned out. Delicious, juicy, and easy to carve at the table. And it looked good! Roast chicken is one of my favourite meals, but to have it with company is always a little daunting as I am an entirely inept chicken carver and so the lovely roasted poultry coming out of the oven doesn't look nearly as nice when it comes to table. 

A ballotine, however, is a tidy package, a cylinder ready to slice and give everyone meat and stuffing. I have a feeling this will become my go-to for company - so easy to serve!

This was a huge hit with the entire family, and even tasted good cold the next day! I can see why ballontine is often a picnic food.

Take Two: Duck Ballotine with Rice Stuffing

The beauty of learning to do this was, it works for any poultry. The duck seemed to have more sinews and such, but otherwise the anatomy is pretty simliar and all went well. White rice with some sweet chili sauce made for a simple stuffing.

Reasy to roast, the skin pricked all over to let the yummy duck fat escape. No butter needed here, the duck has plenty of its own. Pricking the skin keeps the roast from being greasy.

Carved. Again, meat and stuffing easily served. My kitchen will be seeing more of this. Hmm, turkey? Thanksgiving dinner may never be the same.