I happy am, if well with you.

packed up and gone

. . when each of you shall in your nest
Among your young ones take your rest,
In chirping languages oft them tell
You had a Dame that lov’d you well,
That did what could be done for young
And nurst you up till you were strong
And ‘fore she once would let you fly
She shew’d you joy and misery,
Taught what was good, and what was ill,
What would save life, and what would kill.
Thus gone, amongst you I may live,
And dead, yet speak and counsel give.
Farewell, my birds, farewell, adieu,
I happy am, if well with you.

Excerpted from “In Reference to her Children, 23 June 1659”

By Anne Bradstreet

Time travel souvenir

I was never here, but I have pictures.

Your mother would know, your mother would know.

Occasionally I use this blog to keep track of information that passes through my hands, and this house. Much as I’d like to sometimes, I can’t keep everything – I can’t even keep track of everything.

My brother would like a few family pictures for his son’s room and I’m sending him this photo of our great-grandparent’s house in central Connecticut when it was newly built. I have several copies of the photo, but this one has details written in my mother’s small, lefty handwriting on the back:

House was Dark Aqua on top with a gray bottom and cream trim, built around 1900 by Louis Harrison Barnard on the “V” corner of Bloomfield and Tunxis Avenues in Bloomfield, Ct., across the street from his “Wintonbury Farm”.

Raymond Barnard married Martha Louise Miller, and they moved into the house in 1938 after Louis died. They had previously lived in the “little house” across the street with their four children (including my mother, Phillip’s grandmother).

Hope Phillip likes the photo!

Ching!

I had a post ready to go tonight about mulching strawberry plants with re-purposed slate shingles. It’s a great idea but it’s going to have to wait because I just came across pictures of my father’s dog, Ching.

Winner!

Ching won a blue ribbon at the pet show in 1938. My father would have been 12 years old. I don’t think I could have picked the breed but on the bottom left of this piece of newsprint there’s a note, “Dwight’s Chow”, in my mother’s printing. There are also photos of Ching on the hood of my father’s car (probably four years later, when Dwight could drive?), and another of him with his bowl of kibble.

Ching on topCould the car geeks help me out here? My grandfather ran Burnham’s Garage in Bloomfield, CT. for many years, and all the boys had cars. Click on the photo to enlarge and tell me, is that a Buick? Very classy, especially with the canine hood ornament.

No fair!That’s a happy dog. Kind of a weird photo, but a happy dog.

A boy and his dog, with apologies to Harlan Ellison.

 

How-to

This photo shows Hellen Anzonetta Parcels Miller, my 3 x Great Grandmother, demonstrating the proper use of a hand auger to Great Uncle Reuben on a milk crate.

I have a great many studio portraits of family members, but this is a rare snapshot. It is printed on thin photo paper and has turned almost black with age; scanning and Photoshop brought the image closer to the original.

Rueben was born 14 January 1893 and appears to be about age 7 – 9. Hellen died 31 January, 1910 so I estimate the date of this photo @ 1900. The clothes are wonderful: Rueben’s flowing shirt and boy cap, and his Grandma’s flowered dress and capable hands. I have no idea who took the photo, but I’m grateful for their grasp of new technology for this slice of life.

Peach pie

Ripe summer peaches need a strong pie crust. Even with the advantage of tapioca and an egg white finish, peaches right off the tree are too juicy to be contained in a thin, dry pastry that might be perfectly suitable for winter apples. Someday I’ll have an outdoor wood-fired oven  and then during the long, slow cool-down of a bread fire I’m going to dry some peaches and make pie with the soft, withered fruit. I bet that will be outstanding.

For the crust: put 4 C white flour, 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp baking powder in a food processor and pulse a few times. Add 1 C cold unsalted butter (two sticks) cut into 1/2″ pieces, pulse just until there aren’t any large chunks. Mix 1/2 C very cold water with 2 tsp of good quality cider vinegar and add to the processor bowl by tablespoonfuls as you pulse. You want the pastry to just begin clumping together, but not be totally wet.

Dump the contents of the bowl out onto a large piece of wax paper. The dough will be crumbly and not entirely cohesive. Push it together using the ends of the sheet of wax paper. Cut the lump of crust in half with a bowl scraper or a large knife, pile one half on top of the other and squish them gently together. As you do this a few times the crumbs at the edge will gradually be incorporated and the crust will have lovely layers, like danish pastry. Cut the lump almost in  half once more (you want one piece slightly larger to be the bottom crust, the top will use less), wrap each piece in some waxed paper, put both pieces into a plastic bag and refrigerate for half an hour, or overnight.The vinegar and baking powder make a very soft, resilient crust that rolls out beautifully and doesn’t crack or develop holes where the fruit pokes up.

Now go pick some peaches.

I confess that while my pantry is stuffed with wonderful cookbooks full of pie recipes, including handwritten ones from family members, the only recipe I use for fruit pie is the one on the back of the Minute tapioca box. It works every time, adds nothing objectionable to the basic fruit and pastry, and is incredibly easy – what more could one ask? I’m also fond of the idiosyncrasies. The box lists instructions for apple (sliced), blueberry, cherry, peach (sliced), and strawberry rhubarb. Did someone, somewhere, put whole apples or peaches in a pie?

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Separate an egg and pour the white into a small dish or a coffee mug.

Following the instructions for peach pie, add 1/4 C tapioca, 3/4 C sugar and 1 Tbs lemon juice to 4 C of (sliced) peaches. Mix gently and let stand for 15 minutes while you roll out the crust. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a dishtowel because fruit flies will arrive out of nowhere to have some of this stuff.

Retrieve the dough from the fridge. If it’s very hard, give it a minute to soften slightly. Roll it out fit it to the pie plate, being careful not to stretch the dough. Cut the excess off the edge with a pair of kitchen shears, and make a pie tail with the “leavings” that you wish you could mail to the Boy who is at university. Sadly, it doesn’t travel well.

If your peaches are really juicy, pour about 1/4 C of liquid off before you dump the fruit into the bottom crust. Dot with a Tbs of butter cut into small pieces. Brush egg white on the edges of the bottom crust and gently lay the top crust over it. Again, try not to tug or pull on the dough. Trim the edges close to the pie plate again with shears. Press all around the pie with a sharp-tined fork to seal. Cut a few holes in the top crust and brush all over with egg white. Sprinkle a tsp of sugar over the top for a slightly crunchier crust.

Bake the pie at 400 F for about 50 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and fruit juice is bubbling in the vents. If the pie tail is small you may have to take it out at 45 minutes.

Eat pie.

Cumulative gardening

This is a view of the south side of the garden circa 1994. We built the house in ’93 and by June of 94 I had portioned out the land that we cleared to put in a well into garden space. My four-year-old son and I built the little compost bin out of scrap pieces of boarding boards from the house construction, and that’s the same wheelbarrow I used this afternoon, albeit a brighter blue back then. Those are our neighbor’s geese running into the woods that we took down in 2010.

I took this photo earlier today trying to find a like vantage point but not quite getting there because now there’s a cherry tree in the way. I’ve accumulated some plant life over the years but the path is almost in the same place it was twenty years ago. It won’t be there in 2013 – I plan to do that part of the garden over into keyhole beds using Hugelkultur.

 

Sauce Pontchartrain

“Pontchartrain” is a wonderful seafood sauce, to be eaten either on its own in a big wide bowl with plenty of Tabasco or over something else, as long as there is plenty of Tabasco. I’ve had Pontchartrain over broiled catfish, on sourdough toast, over rice, grits, and on one memorable occasion, instead of Hollandaise on poached eggs. I decided to make a batch and post the recipe, but as often happens when I’m eating something delicious, I didn’t take a picture. Instead, here’s a photo of Pontchartrain herself.

The pictures on the left are from the last big flood, in 2005. The Mississippi should crest tonight just below that record high in Memphis. The upper photos in “real color” detail sediment and drift and that thin tan line that looks like a scratch on the photo is the Causeway, the worlds longest bridge at 38 miles and change.

To be honest, this dish isn’t the most picturesque recipe to come out of NOLA. That honor would go to blackened snapper, maybe, or quince paste with beignets.  Pontchartrain sauce is a poor man’s dish, with lots of finely chopped mushrooms and green peppers to fill out the seafood and an overall “lumpy” white appearance. Now that I think about it many of the dishes I loved and learned to make in Louisiana have that look: smothered hare (pale green and lumpy, in its herb sauce), duck’s blood gumbo (you can picture that without help, right?), cheese biscuits (lumpy yellow). All equally delicious, without being particularly photogenic.

Sauce Pontchartrain

3/4 cup green onion or leeks, 1 cup mushrooms, and 1 cup green pepper, chopped fine (I actually whir them briefly, separately, in the food processor. Be careful not to puree.) 2 cloves of garlic, smashed
5 tablespoons butter, in 1 tablespoon pieces and 4 tablespoons flour
1/2 to 1 cup vegetable stock or broth, depending on how much seafood you’re adding, and 1 cup Chardonnay
salt, black pepper, cayenne, and tarragon to taste

2 cups (or more) seafood. It’s easier to throw the dish together if all the fish and shellfish are pre-cooked, but it’s also possible to add raw shrimp and other delicates while the sauce simmers.

Cook the onions, green pepper, mushrooms and garlic in the butter, adding in that order, until the vegetables are soft and “reduced”. Add 3 Tbs flour and stir until the roux thickens, about 2 minutes tops. Add the Chardonnay and stock, blend over a very low heat.  Taste before adding the spices because you may not need to add salt.

Shortly before serving add the seafood to the mix. I generally use cooked leftovers and anything goes: lobster, shrimp, crabmeat, or flaked whitefish, or any combination. Serve as is with beer and crusty bread, or ladle over hot white rice, thick slices of toast, eggs, fish filets, or crumbled milk crackers. Hand around bottles of Hiracha and convince your guests that all the vegetables you need for healthy living are in the sauce.

And all best wishes to those living along the Mother River tonight.

 

Winter honey

Bee colonies die over the course of the Maine winter for all kinds of reasons. The most common is starvation. We have a short summer of very long days and the bees are well, busy, from April when the maples throw their nearly invisible flowers through early November and the last of the goldenrod. Some summers we have a drought in August that kills off any chance at an autumn honeycrop, and that’s what happened in 2010. I encourage goldenrod in my garden and have even planted a few hybrid varieties to lengthen the season, and I grow Japanese buckwheat and autumn blooming clematis, but sometimes it’s just not enough.

Some winters a colony doesn’t make it through for other reasons. My autopsy of “Stripey” found a medium number of dead bees and a lot of honey so- not starved. I couldn’t find the queen but that’s not unusual in a dead hive. There were some pupae and larvae in evidence but not nearly enough. The colony may have been weakened by a late season swarm that I missed, or the queen may have been old. In any case, it was time to clean house. Mice and red squirrels will nest in a hive that has honey comb and no bees to defend it and they make a terrible mess of the equipment.

I opened the hive, lifted out the frames and scraped the comb into a 10 gallon food bucket with a petcock in the bottom. I cut the comb up into chunks with the flat end of my hive tool and let it sit overnight in front of the Rinnai heater. There was no evidence of disease in the hive, so I wrapped the scrapped frames in plastic and put them in the freezer. I’ll feed them to the new colonies that will be arriving in early May. This afternoon I drained the honey out of the bucket into jars through a strainer. It was much slower work today than it was last July, when the summer heat made the honey flow like water. This batch is very dark, with flavors of buckwheat, goldenrod and asters.

I filled 8 pint jars and had enough left over for honey cake. Honey cake!

For the Cake

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced orange or lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon ( or 1/2 teaspoon for a more pronounced cinnamon flavor) and 1/4 tsp cardamon
  • 1/2 cup matzoh cake meal and 1/2 cup all – purpose flour
  • (I add 1/2 tsp baking powder. The addition of leavening to the recipe, at this time of year, means this isn’t traditional! My apologies to Julia, who gave me this recipe.)
  • 1 and 1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts or almonds or walnuts, or a combination. Black walnuts are very nice.

For the Syrup

  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 8″ square pan.

Using a wire whisk, beat the granulated and brown sugars with the oil and eggs until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. (If you’re a little impatient and don’t get them quite to the “pale yellow” stage it’s OK – you’re using baking powder!) Stir in the remaining batter ingredients. Turn the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is light brown and set. Cool for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the syrup ingredients together in a small bowl. A whisk is helpful for blending the honey and OJ.

Pour the syrup over the cooled cake, poking holes in the cake with a fork, to permit the syrup to penetrate. Allow it to stand for 2 to 4 hours to absorb the syrup. Refrigerate so that while it is absorbing the liquid, it is also firming up.  Serve small pieces on splayed muffin liners. It’s also very nice served with sliced strawberries and drizzled with more honey.

Boxty

Spring is in the cold, damp air, the temperature hovers around the freezing mark, it’s light until 6:30 pm, the moss is bright green under the snow – time for boxty.

I had always thought of boxty as Irish latkes – and then I went to Yonkers and had actual crispy, delicious latkes made of dry grated potato, matzoh meal and sea salt. Boxty, on the other hand, always start with mashed potatoes. Most people add a grated raw potato but I never learned that method – mine are just mashed potatoes with a leeks, little flour, baking powder, salt, buttermilk and perhaps an egg if the mashers are very dry. Somewhere, an Irishwoman is wailing about me using baking powder. Or buttermilk. Or something – I’ve read recipes for boxty and included bacon, whiskey, corn meal, and parsley and they’re all right for somebody, just not for me.

First, go out to the raised beds and get some leeks. The snow has melted off enough to dig the knife down and get to the pristine white roots. Leave the upper leaves on the bed for compost.

Boil two or three potatoes. I don’t have any of ours left in the cellar, but Hannafords had some nice Maine Corollas. Mash the potatoes and add 1 C flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp sea salt, 1/2 C chopped leeks (raw). Mix that up and add enough buttermilk to make it “cohesive” – add an egg if it looks too dry.  Put a little canola oil in a frying pan, add 1 Tbs butter and fry the potato mixture until browned – about 3 minutes on a side.

Serve with applesauce, sour cream, and salad.

Boxty on the griddle,
And Boxty on the pan;
The wee one in the middle
Is for Mary Ann.
Boxty on the griddle,
boxty on the pan,
If you can’t bake boxty
sure you’ll never get a man.
Boxty on the griddle,
Boxty on the pan,
If you don’t eat boxty,
You’ll never get a man.