The Miracle of Seeds

160418 Seeds

This morning I finally started some seeds for the garden.  People may be shaking their heads and thinking it’s late but I have to tell you nothing goes into the ground before the first week of June here.  You just never know.  I think I will be building a cold frame in the next week or so to give them a little more growing space and sun and ease the hardening off process.

I love planting seeds, they hold such promise.  I’m always amazed that for a couple of bucks you can get a little packet of seeds when planted and harvested could feed a hundred people.  That’s not to say that every seed I plant will produce to that extent, there are variables but there are also the memories of those years where the harvest was beyond belief.  Those I look forward too with a little trepidation.  One summer I canned enough beans to last until the next harvest eating them every single day.  I was really sick of canning beans.

Into the soil they go, in a few days their heads will be popping out of the soil, a couple of weeks and they’ll need new pots, more sun and more water.  A few months, if all goes well, things will be picked and served for every lunch and dinner.  Such freshness and flavor is something you will never find anywhere else and the personal satisfaction is something that can’t be beat.


How Blessed We Are


As I made my first cup of morning coffee today I considered all that I have to be thankful for.  A Thanksgiving day ritual for so many.

I put a couple of pieces of wood on the coals from last nights fire to take the chill out of the kitchen.  Thought of all of the time and work put into getting that wood in.  Thank you.

I pulled a beautiful, local, 20 pound bird from the refrigerator to bring it up to temperature and considered that it was walking this earth until just a few days ago. Thank you.

I turned on the water and washed my hands in its wonderful warmth.  Such a convenience taken for granted.  Thank you.

I will walk out to the garden and pull up the very last vegetable there this morning.  My rutabagas.  Tiny seeds placed in the earth 5 months ago turned into amazing purple and yellow orbs by earth and water, amazing when you think about it.  Thank you.

Potatoes that were dug two months ago will be peeled and cooked.  Carrots that were pulled and pickled will be chilled will be served.  Thank you.

The big table, made by the hands of a favorite friend will be moved into the middle of the room and set.  Thank you.

Guests will arrive bearing food they have put time into. The conversations and reminiscing will begin along with the laughter that always ensues. Thank you.

Thanksgiving is about the food, family and friends for me.  It’s one of those warm, fuzzy holidays and always has been.  This year looked like it would only be three of us eating a 20 pound turkey but evolved last week into a party of 10.  One of my favorite things to do it to cook for others.  It’s a gift of the heart and hands.

I am a fortunate person.  I live most of my time in an extraordinary place and know it.  I have a loving family and the most amazing husband who works harder than anyone I know to make all of this happen.  The newest member of our tribe was born two weeks ago and he will grow up surrounded by the love of so many.  The shift in generations has occurred and I can take up my mantle as grandma to help him know how blessed he is and how blessed we all are to have what we have.

Gifts of the Garden

150726 Amanda's Wedding

When we first started clearing the property here in Rowe the trees were encroaching on the buildings closest to the house.  The side field had been maintained but the pasture was all but lost.  Our girls were probably in their early teens.

I had been photographing weddings for years before my children were born and they were brought up knowing that the back yard wedding was their only option.  They would look at the backyard here and roll their eyes not being able to see the vision Bill and I had.  I would tell them that someday they would be married here and it would be beautiful.

This past Sunday my oldest married the love of her life in a very intimate ceremony in one of the gardens.  Their being married was something we believed would happen for over 8 years now but being cautious sorts they waited.  Amanda is one who hates to be the center of attention in any situation and they told me about 3 months ago that they were just going to city hall in Boston and getting married there.  The horror.

With much, much cajoling we convinced them to be married here with parents and siblings only.  That was almost too much for them really, the nerves were palpable on Sunday.   For what was to be one of the smallest weddings ever we did everything we could to make it a beautiful occasion and it certainly was.  From Amanda walking down the “aisle” with her father to the tune of her family humming Pachelbel’s Canon to eating al fresco in the field next to the garden it was as perfect a day as it could be for them.  It also allowed all of us to have a very intimate involvement in preparing for those vows to be said.

150716 Aerial view

Bill and I built a rustic arbor out of trees we cut across the field a couple of weeks before the ceremony and set it up at the beginning of a stone path.  It was a little wonky but fit the bill with our “rustic chic” theme. I ordered baby’s breath and lemon leaves from my niece’s flower shop to augment the flowers in my garden and picked some at my sister-in-law’s the day before.  They were a huge help in the quick planning of this.


Draped and decorated.

Arbor Flowers

I tried to put flowers everywhere and took a lot of photographs.  Day lilies are so beautiful and fleeting and I knew once the sun set the flowers would be gone too.  Sort of temporary art.


I had also picked some “weeds” along the power line and in the back forty.  Queen Anne’s Lace and Joe Pye Weed. Places were set with sprigs of herbs that smelled heavenly – pineapple sage, rosemary, lavender, thistle.


A garden riot of flowers on the table.


Lemon Raspberry cake made with garden fruit.  Molly Cantor made a cake stand just for the occasion.

Weddings are monumental occasions in people’s lives.  They represent a new chapter for those getting married but also for the parents of the bride and groom.  It doesn’t matter how long your child has been out of the house or how old they are when they marry.  As monumental as this ceremony is it’s just a fleeting moment.  In the span of a few hours my world shifted a little, in a wonderful, beautiful way.  I did what I could to make it a beautiful memory in a place where more memories will be made.


Everything is now gone but the undecorated arbor and the flowers from the day.  They are taking their time in wilting away, a little gift in a way.  A reminder of an occasion but also of how much beauty is constantly around me that can be pulled together and shared.






GoofsI didn’t really realize the implications when Buddy died.  I wasn’t thinking of being dogless.

My daughter has been “borrowing” Sophie to help her get through the loss of Buddy.  I understand this and wholeheartedly support it.  She slept with Buddy for 14 years, she needs something breathing next to her at night.  I’ve been there.

Chester is truly Bill’s dog.  He does everything and goes everywhere with him.  He spent the last week in Rowe with me but I know he missed being with Bill (except maybe for the one night he got to sleep on the bed with Cait while she was visiting).  He seemed to smile about that for days.

I realized yesterday that my life with dogs centers around food and being outdoors.  I was baking all day and doing it with Julia Child’s style – in other words I was making a HUGE mess.  Normally when things end up on the floor the dogs are there to pick it up.  I’m thinking I may not even realize how much of a mess I make because the dogs are cleaning up after me.  This may sound disgusting but I know anyone reading this who has a dog knows exactly what I’m talking about.

The other thing is they love to be outdoors.  Every single time I open a door to the outside world they are out.  There’s something to be said about not having to go out when the temperatures are below zero but there is also something about being forced to breathe fresh air regardless of the chill.  They also show me how wonderful winter can be.  They love the snow – LOVE it.  I forget how much they love it each year until the first snow when their total delight and enthusiasm is hard to miss.  The thing is they never get sick of it, no matter how long the winter is.

We can all learn lessons about loving our circumstances by hanging out with our dogs.  They are happy and content with just being as long as they are with their people.  Definitely something to aspire to.




Even though the garden is nowhere near what it should be right now I have spent the majority of the day putting up what has been taken out of it.  I had a large basket of tomatoes ripen on the counter that I wanted taken care of before the fruit flies were out of control.  I picked more to ripen this morning but have a feeling piccalilli is in my future (not that I mind, I haven’t made it in a few years).

I canned what few green beans I have harvested this year.  The yellows should be coming in mid-week.  They’re a month behind – mind you I had to plant them 3 times this year due to cold weather.  You can’t always go by the calendar when it comes to gardening.

I also dug some potatoes and it would appear that this will be one of my best years ever for those.

With the spoils of the garden waiting on the counter I decided to make a five mile meal.  Shepherd’s Pie made with fresh dug potatoes, newly pulled onions, fresh corn, newly cured garlic and beef grown in Heath by our good friend Russell. Now I know Shepherd’s Pie is sometimes considered a lowly meal but is a favorite of some of my family members and making it with ingredients this fresh takes it to heights never achieved with corn coming out of a can.  It’s five miles to the corn stand, hence the name.

I also made backyard sauce and canned that as well.  Everything grown here – even the herbs.  Heaven.

There’s something about the feeling you get knowing you have grown everything you are eating.  There’s a sense of pride and a feeling of security that grows a little each year.  I can also send food home with family and friends and know they’ll eat and enjoy not only something good, healthy and local but also made with love.





The Volunteers

140808 Mulch pile pumpkin (1)

I have a large mulch pile where I throw a lot of stuff over the course of the seasons.  I usually turn it over a number of times throughout the year with the tractor.  This year there were recognizable plants growing in the spring so I just left it.

There are now potatoes in blossom and the biggest squash plant I have ever grown.  I think it is actually a long pie pumpkin.  There were blossoms in profusion (and still are) earlier in the summer but no fruit.  Yesterday I took a closer look and there it was.  Looks like a giant zucchini but will ripen off of the vine to a wonderful, orange, thick skinned pumpkin.  An excellent keeper and awesome pie pumpkin.

Every year there are volunteers in my garden. This year there were potato plants which I expect since I don’t always get all of the potatoes when I dig them.  There are also a couple of tomatoes and sunflowers. It always amazes me that something grows, I till the plot multiple times before it’s planted each year.

It’s the mulch pile stuff that always fascinates me.  Things that are rotten and intentionally cast off grow and bloom into something more spectacular than is ever grown in the garden.  Maybe next year I’ll just toss my seeds over the bank and hope for the best, it certainly is working this year.

140808 Mulch pile pumpkin (2)


140611 Blackberries

I walk the perimeter of the back forty a couple of times a day with the dogs.  It’s far enough away from any distractions to make the walk enjoyable for me as well as them.  One of our dogs, now elderly, is hard of hearing with bad eyesight and tends to wander in the road.  There are usually only a handful of cars that pass the house on any given day but this way I don’t have to worry and he can spend quality time sniffing whatever dogs with dementia sniff.

I’m constantly amazed at the things that grow back there.  Blackberries in abundance.  I never really get to harvest many of them because there are also birds in abundance – fruit is a big food source for them and I take whatever is leftover.

140611 Blueberries

Blueberries are everywhere around the edges of the mowing.  There is one large bush in the open that I net every year and it gives me a good supply of berries to freeze.  There is nothing like those wild blueberries in muffins on a cold, snowy morning in January I have to tell you.  There are bushes all over but this particular bush I reserve for myself.  It sometimes seems as if the birds are waiting when I go down to pick them thinking they’ll just help themselves while I pick.  It’s a quiet interlude I look forward to every summer just to spend time in birdsong.

140611 Pears (1)

Then there is the pear tree.  The lone survivor of a number of plantings on a long ago Father’s Day.  This tree has come into its own in the past few years.  It’s spectacular in bloom and there have been years where I thought all of the branches would break under the weight of the fruit.  This, of all the “free” food that surrounds me, stresses me the most.  There is SO much of it. Pears are picky about when they are harvested and ripened and the frost freeze cycle of the end of season can mess you up in the timing of it all.  Did I mention there is SO much of it?  The past few years there have been enough pears to fill the bucket of the tractor three times over.  That’s a LOT of pears folks.  I can them, I eat them, I give a lot away.  I even used them as place markers on my Thanksgiving table with over 40 guests.  There is not enough creativity in the world to deal with this kind of harvest.  Hmmmm, pear cider . . .

Being surrounded by the bounty of nature (and perhaps the forethought of many now gone) is really a wonderful thing.  In the past couple of years that is how I’ve begun to think about the food I grow.  There is always the huge vegetable garden but I planted asparagus last year knowing full well that I would not be eating any of it until the third year.  The glory in it is the bed can be good for over thirty years.  It’s nice to know that someone will be eating that lovely vegetable in 2040 because I planted it.  To me THAT is food security even if it’s only for three weeks out of the year.

Food Friday – Brownies

One of my absolute favorite things to do is cook for other people – especially baking goodies.  There are times when nothing will do but chocolate.  There is comfort in it, there are lifetime memories associated with it, chocolate is love.

I was asked to bring “brownies or something” to Paul’s celebration of life tomorrow.  I immediately knew the recipe I would use.  For years I had a reputation with my family members (especially my children) that I was the master of disaster when it came to baking brownies.  As the girls got older they would bake brownies often using a mix.  They had no trouble at all.  Me, well let’s just say if it comes out of a box I am completely incompetent.  I would burn them, or they were so undercooked they would be inedible.  I think it was because I followed the directions, messed up and then over compensated on the next try.  Amanda had it down, knocked off a couple of minutes for the particular pan she was using and they always came out perfect.

I took this as a challenge in the back of my mind, one day I would conquer my relationship with brownies.   I read this recipe years ago in Yankee Magazine and it completely changed my outlook on brownies.  It’s called Julie’s Brownies and really is the best recipe ever – deep chocolate, sugar crust, brownie perfection. The only caveat is it makes a HUGE batch.

Brownies (1)

The recipe starts off with 8 ounces of unsweetened chocolate and 3 sticks of butter set on low heat to melt together.  I once made the mistake of using semisweet and although it was a near disaster there were many people who liked their cloying sweetness.  (I wasn’t kidding about my problem with brownies).

Brownies (2)

While the chocolate/butter is melting butter your pan and sprinkle it with sugar.  I just dump a mound in the middle of the pan and shake it around until the pan is coated, then dump the excess in the sink.

Brownies (3)

This has such a wonderful smell while it’s heating through.  Once melted let it cool to room temperature.

Brownies (4)

Now I know not everyone likes walnuts in their brownies (or anywhere for that matter) so I chop about 3/4 of a cup to be sprinkled on half of the pan, this way everyone is happy.  I buy walnuts and pecans in bulk, use a vacu-sealer and freeze a cup and a half per bag.  I always have nuts for that impromptu baking session.  That nut grinder?  If you don’t have one get one, they are awesome and go right into the dishwasher.

Brownies (5)

Half a dozen eggs go into the stand mixer.

Brownies (6)

Along with 3 1/2 cups of sugar.  You read right, 3 1/2.  I measure carefully knowing this is another potential hazard for me – losing count.

Brownies (7)

Once the eggs and sugar are mixed you add the vanilla.  I made this for Christmas presents a couple of years ago – it is amazing.  There’s another disaster story that goes along with this.  One time I was making these brownies, grabbed the orange extract and put in the two teaspoons – aarrgh.  Those were an epic fail.

Brownies (8)

The chocolate/butter is added, then the flour and mixed until just combined.

Brownies (9)

Then poured into that nice sugar coated pan.  This is a 12 x 17 jelly roll pan.  That’s a lot of brownies my friends.

Brownies (10)

Before they go into the oven I sprinkle on the nuts.  These look delicious and smell heavenly while baking.

Brownies (11)

And here they are out of the oven, perfect. Once cooled I will cut them into squares and arrange them in a basket to be delivered to the church tomorrow.  Some of the people I love the most will be there and even though they probably won’t  give a thought to who made the brownies I will know how much love was put into them.



A New Way with Cauliflower

Buffalo CauliflowerCauliflower is an amazing vegetable, it takes on the flavor of pretty much anything you cook it with.  You can cook it soft and mash like potatoes, rice it, eat it just with butter.  I read a recipe last week on Leite’s Culinaria for Buffalo Cauliflower and knew I had to make it.

There is nothing simpler than this recipe, really.  I had a large head of cauliflower so it took closer to 50 minutes to roast and probably continued to cook a little as it cooled. It was that delightful crisp tender texture when I cut it into pieces.  I used 1 cup of Frank’s RedHot Sauce and skipped the Sriracha (because that’s what I had).  I also had some blue cheese dressing so this was truly the lazy man’s way.

Instead of wings on Superbowl Sunday I had cauliflower and didn’t miss the chicken at all.


Today in the News

140117 (3)Yup, it’s cold.  It’s January folks, and to the best of my knowledge it’s cold and snowy in January – at least where I come from.  We have had some wintry weather for the past couple of weeks but if you watch the news you would think this was apocalyptic.  You would think that no one had ever dealt with frozen pipes and huge heating bills.  DEAR GOD and what about all those potholes!  The leading story I heard on the news this morning was that Justin Bieber was arrested overnight for DUI and drag racing a Lamborghini. Seriously?

I have friends in Thailand that keep me up to date on their current fight to overthrow their corrupt government.  They share information so I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of what is going on.  The only news source that I have heard even a few seconds of news about this is Al Jazeera America.

Did you know that there are deadly protests going on in Ukraine? There’s a severe drought going on out west that will probably cause food prices to soar in the next few weeks (although the good news in that was people are starting to become more aware of eating organics). How about the fact that tar sands oil started flowing through that pipeline yesterday?  Hmmm, now the terrorist threats to the Sochi Olympics are getting a little traction but are we hearing anything about the discontinuation of unemployment benefits for hundreds of thousands of people?  That happened a couple of weeks ago. Watch the markets take off when the new unemployment numbers come out showing that we are at the lowest unemployment rate in years.  You know why?  They only count the people who are collecting.  Yup, you won’t hear about that.

The news has become nothing but a distraction.  It tells us nothing. It’s gossip at best, fear mongering at its worst.  It amazes me that people buy into it.  Predict a snowstorm that never materializes and business drops off to nothing (unless you own a grocery store).  I may be showing my age but when I was going to school the six years that I rode on a bus (an hour trip one way) through the hilltowns of the Berkshires we had school cancelled very few days.  I do remember taking a couple of very scary rides.

What I see happening is the news is causing so many people to live their lives in fear. They stay in their homes and worry about the killer that’s going to break into their house.  They stock up on bread and milk at the hint of a storm.  I’m all for being prepared but the last thing I will be doing is spending a crazy hour shopping for things I should already have in my kitchen.

I will continue to get my news from sources other than the main stream media and I will look at the weather maps available and make my own forecasts.  I could do with a lot less hype in my life.  For me it builds my anxiety level and I’d like to keep my blood pressure down.  I think I’ll go take walk in the bracing cold in a quiet field with my dogs.