Saturday, December 30, 2006


Snow today, our second snow of the season. On December 14, 2000, the day we closed on the house, we had a terrific snowstorm, with over 16 inches of snow, and that was the second or third storm of the season. We had a lot of snow that year, and a couple of long cold snaps; it felt like the Maine of my youth. I remember shoveling the driveway and wondering where we were going to actually put the snow.

In the intervening years, we've had far less snow. The year before last, we bought a small electric snowblower at the end of the season, and last year we did not even use it once. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. While I like the snow, I'm over the thrill of shoveling my very own driveway.

The chickens don't like the snow. Its funny, they will be out all day in a cold November rain, but they totally freak out over the snow. The first storm we had they completely refused to leave Henbogle Coop, staying inside for 2 straight days, even though we opened the door for them every day. This morning when I brought them some spinach and aging grapes, they were in the Coop, but did come out reluctantly for their treat.

After the first snowstorm, Dan and I assembled a hoop house for the girls, to give them a snow-free place to roam, so today I threw their treat into the hoop house to lure them in. Iris refused to come out into the snow, but Poppy, Marigold, Hyacinth and Zinnia braved the terrifying flakes to scarf up some grapes. They liked their snow dome, because when I checked on them later in the afternoon, the four of them were still there and looked to have spent much of the day there, while Iris fretted alone in the coop. Silly chickens.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Sump Pump Project

We've known for some time now that we were going to have to re-plumb our sump pump, as it was draining directly into our sewer line, which is a no-no.

Sump pumps, for those of you fortunate enough to be ignorant of them, are submersible pumps set into a low spot in a basement to pump out any water that accumulates, say from a quick and rainy thaw in April, or an especially rainy spell. In our old 1880s Cape, we have a dirt floored basement with a combination of granite, fieldstone and brick foundation walls. In especially wet springs, such as the April of 2005, the sump pump ran 24 hours a day for several days. In other springs, it never clicks on.

Anyway, the need to tackle this project was forced upon us by a letter from the water company telling us in no uncertain terms it was time to take action. We decided we might as well do it right and re-dig the sump well and install a plastic basin. Dan found a new sump pump at a tag sale last summer for $5, saving us about $95, so we wanted to set it up in a way that would maximize the new pump's life expectancy.

An unpleasant task to begin with, the unpleasantry is magnified 1000 times by the fact the work had to be done in our icky
basement. I'm sure there are worse basements, maybe in the Addams Family home, but ours is not a nice place. It is populated by maybe 10 million spiders, all excellent web makers, and resembles that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones delves through the cobwebs, except without Indiana Jones, or treasure. Sigh. In addition to the spider webs, there's a creepy overturned antique bathtub along one wall -- what is under that thing? I'm not looking.

Anyway, down we went into the bowels of the house, and created this glorious vision of modern plumbing. Dan re-dug the hole, added a layer of gravel, a plastic basin, more gravel in the basin and in the hole between the basin and the walls. Then some nice level bricks for the pump to sit upon, a check valve (thanks Nick at
the hardware store for that suggestion), and connect the hose. The hose snakes it's way to the window, now replaced with plywood and insulation, through the plywood and outside. We need a bit more hose, but the majority of the work is done, yee hah! Cross that one off the list!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Mac 'n cheese Ali style

I've been hoarding some leftover ham, waiting for the right moment to make some macaroni and cheese with ham. Well, head cold be darned, after an overcast gray day today highlighted by the unpleasant sump-pump project, tonight was the night, and it hit the spot, served with some yummy steamed broccoli. (More about the sump pump project soon, I know you'll be riveted.)

I started with the basic recipe from my favorite old standby, the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, and surprise, surprise, made a few changes.

First, start boiling a big pot of water for the pasta, and pre-heat the oven to 350F. Butter a baking dish and set aside.

Ali's Mac 'n Cheese

4 T butter
4 T flour
2 1/2 c milk, scalded
1 small onion, finely diced
1/2 t smoked Spanish Paprika
1 1/2 c Cabot Hunter's Sharp Cheddar, grated
1/2 c Cabot Habanero Cheddar, grated
1/2 lb cooked macaroni or other curvy pasta such as Barilla Cellentani

When the water comes to the boil, cook the pasta as directed, and set aside in a buttered baking dish. Sautee the onions until soft in 1 T of the butter. Stir in the Spanish paprika and set aside. Over medium heat, melt the remaining butter in a saucepan, then stir in the flour. Stir and cook until well combined. Add the hot milk, a little at a time, stirring well after each addition. When all the milk has been added, bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Add the onions, and allow to boil for 2-3 minutes to cook flour and thicken. Add the grated cheeses, stirring to melt. Stir into the pasta, pop into the oven and bake for 30 minutes until bubbly and just browned on the edges. Enjoy!

I get many of my spices, including the Smoked Spanish Paprika, from Penzey's Spices. (They have a great selection of excellent spices and herbs, and are especially useful for locating rather hard to find items, such as top quality candied ginger.) I added some diced leftover ham, just after the cheeses. Leftover broccoli is also a yummy addition. This makes enough for plenty of leftovers for lunches.

Wintry Gifts

'Tis the season of giving, and we here at Henbogle House have given and received many joyous gifts, and a couple of less than welcome gifts, we each got an all-to-common cold, ICK. Dan came down with his cold on Saturday, and I followed on Christmas Day. Nonetheless, we had a lovely Christmas Day, beginning with a breakfast of Cranberrry-Orange Scones and Individual Cheddar Souffles, with espresso from my shiny new stovetop espresso maker.

We then moved on to an orgy of gift-giving and receiving. Among the many lovely presents I received was a new Canon PowerShot digital camera with telephoto lens! I'm really looking forward to giving that a workout and sharing the results here on Henbogle.

I made Dan's techy-dreams come true with a new iPod Nano and an iHome digital clock radio/iPod player device, which included a remote control. Does it get any better? Now he's in step technology-wise, at least, with his students. Hmmm, I wonder if that's tax deductible?

We each received many other delightful gifts, but I would be remiss not to mention the wonderful friendships we have here in our little town. We shared much of the day with friends Bill & Michelle, enjoying a fabululous dinner of swordfish and roasted vegetables, mmmm. Later we joined friends Karen and Bill for a quick visit.

Another favorite gift that no doubt will be mentioned in the future as I plan and scheme, the book
The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens. This fascinating book is an excellent resource for bread bakers, and also gives informative descriptions of a variety of masonry ovens, and detailed plans for constructing one. I've been making-do with clay tiles in my gas oven, but boy, do I want one of these ovens! Imagine a wood-fired bread and pizza oven in your backyard! I'll be dreaming all winter.....

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Approaching Pizza Perfection

I've been working on my pizza skills for some time, looking for the perfect crust. I tried deep dish dough, cornmeal dough, Alton Brown's dough, you name it, I tried it. Finally, I'm approaching the pizza I've been searching for.

I adapted a recipe from Peter Reinhart's book American Pie, Napoletana Pizza, simplifying the process considerably, and adapting it for my oven. I cook the pizza directly on heavy clay tiles I bought at Home Depot for a fraction of the cost of a pizza stone. I had two tiles cut so the that I have a large surface area on which to bake the pizza or bread. If the tiles get too stained, I heave them and start over. The tile cost me less than $6 total. Here's my version of the recipe.

Nirvana Pizza Dough
4 1/2 c flour
1 3/4 t salt
1 t yeast
2 T olive oil
1 3/4 c water
flour for dusting

Stir together the flour, salt, and yeast. Stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed. Stir or knead with the electric mixer for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should be smooth and sticky.

Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Work into a log, then divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Sprinkle flour over the dough. With dry floured hands, round each piece into a ball, dust with flour and transfer to a plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough, (will keep for up to 3 days.)

Remove dough from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. Dust the counter with flour place the dough on floured breadboard and sprinkle with flour. Flatten disks gently to about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Don't get it too thin or it will be hard to handle later. Sprinkle with flour, cover loosely with plastic and let rest for 2 hours.

At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450F. Generously flour the peel.

Gently stretch the dough out to about 9 inches in diameter, lay it on the peel or pan, making sure there is enough flour to allow the pizza to slide off the peel. Add 3 or 4 toppings, including sauce and cheese.

Slide the pizza onto the stone. Bake about 5 to 8 minutes, until the cheese and crust have browned. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Now the hard part: Cool for 3 to 5 minutes and serve. YUM!

I generally use a simple red sauce of whole Roma tomatoes, chopped, cooked with a little garlic and olive oil. Other favorite toppings include ricotta and spinach, Italian sausage, mozzarella and parmesan, pesto and parmesan.... the options are as unlimited as your imagination.

Although finding the right crust recipe has been difficult, in my experience, the real challenge is getting the pizza onto and off from the peel successfully. Somehow, I always seem to end up with the kitchen windows wide open, fans blowing the smokey air out as the shriek of the smoke detector pierces my skull and smatterings of pizza toppings 'caramelize' on the oven floor. Clearly, I need to build an outdoor Italian brick oven for breadbaking and pizza, don't you think?

The Solstice Fire

Thanks to friends Bill, Michelle and Karen for joining us to light the Solstice fire and sharing the evening with us. Today is gray and rainy, so I'm glad we had the chance to enjoy our fire last night, it is a good antidote to the dreary weather today.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Solstice To All

The wheel turns, a new season begins. Here in Maine, the first day of winter is clear and mild, with temperatures in the upper 30s. What little snow we had is gone, and the grass remains green but thankfully not growing long enough yet to get the mowers out of storage again.

It looks like we won't be having a white Christmas this year, but I'm counting my blessings: lots of time for my fall plantings to settle in, good commuting weather, the chickens are far happier without snow, my aging furnace hasn't had to work too hard, and that of course makes the oil consumption a little less, too.

In honor of the change of seasons, I've added a countdown clock to my blog, counting down the days until spring. Tonight some friends will gather here to light a celebratory fire and enjoy good food, drink and companionship. Life is good, happy Solstice to all!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Dan's mom called the other night, asking about the recipe for Italian Cookies I posted recently. She was looking at her version of the recipe and noticed I had left off the baking soda, yikes! That explains why my cookies tasted rather flat and leaden this year...

I knew something was wrong, but thought it might be the new trans-fat free Crisco. No, it was the lack of leavening. Thanks for catching the error, Mom!

The corrected recipe:


8 c flour
1 1/2 c sugar
4 t baking powder
9 eggs
1 lb of Crisco

Cream the Crisco and sugar. Add eggs, beating after each egg. Stir in the flour, mixing well. Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. Roll out about 1/2” thick. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes, Cool, and frost with Citrus Icing or Royal Icing.

Monday, December 18, 2006

I don't like pea soup

The other day, after many hints from Dan, I made pea soup for the first time. I used a recipe from my new pressure cooker book, Lorna J. Sass's Pressure Perfect, and made it my pressure cooker.

It smelled good cooking, but the minute I opened the lid, the memories of my first job as a kitchen helper at the Chapel Valley Boarding Home came flooding back. I clearly remembered scrubbing the big aluminum pots used to cook the pea soup --not one of the more pleasant tasks of my life. The pea soup clung to the pot like it was soldered on. Compounding the issue was the fact that pea soup was not a favorite with many of the residents.

Dan promised me my soup was good, but I didn't enjoy even one bite. The memories were too pervasive. Pea soup is off my list for life.

Crunch of the gods

This weekend, in addition to seeing to my hens' comfort by constructing them a hoop house for the winter, I made two Christmas treats to share with friends, Almond Toffee, and Spicy Ginger Cookies. Both are fantastic, and not terribly difficult.

Almond Toffee
2 1/2 c whole almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped

1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar

2 T light corn syrup
1/2 t sea salt
1 t vanilla
8 oz. Ghiradelli semisweet chocolate chips

Special equipment: candy or digital thermometer

Finely chop 1/2 cup of the almonds and reserve.

Lightly oil a 15” x 10” jelly roll pan (I used non-stick foil).

In a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan combine butter, corn syrup and sugar. Bring mixture to a boil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally as sugar dissolves. Boil, stirring occasionally, until thermometer registers 300°F, or until the mixture is the color of dark peanut butter. Quickly stir in almonds and immediately pour mixture into baking pan. With a spatula quickly spread toffee in an even layer.

Let mixture stand 1 minute (it will still be very hot) and sprinkle evenly with chocolate chips. Let chips melt and with spatula spread chocolate evenly over toffee. Quickly sprinkle reserved finely chopped almonds evenly over
chocolate. Allow to cool, then chill toffee until chocolate is firm, at least 2 hours, and up to 2 weeks, covering tightly after 2 hours. Break toffee into bite-size pieces and keep chilled to prevent chocolate from melting.

Makes about 2 1/2 pounds.

WOW, was this good!! We took some to friends Karen and Bill last night and it rapidly disappeared. I was a bit trepidatious after hearing toffee horror stories --rock hard burnt sugar permanently bonded to the pan, or greasy, soft candy mush oozing out of the box, but I used a low heat setting and was all prepared in advance, and it went really well. I plan to try making it with tempered chocolate next time to avoid the need to keep it chilled.

Photos of the remains and more on the ginger cookies later, time to head to work.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hen Crossing

This photo, taken by staff photographer Andy Molloy appeared in the Friday, December 15 Kennebec Journal, with the caption below.

Winthrop police officer Peter Cloutier directs traffic on Thursday afternoon around a flock of chickens waiting to cross the road at the intersection of Routes 133 and 41. A feathered flock of approximately 700 flew the coop from a DeCoster Egg Farms truck around 1 p.m., according to Winthrop Police Department Sgt. Dan Cook. Workers from the town and DeCoster rounded up the miscreant birds and put them back on the truck. Fowl play is not suspected, Cook said.

I hope they enjoyed their brief moment of freedom. I feel bad for them, knowing the life of a DeCoster hen can't be much to crow about, especially when compared to the pampered lives of the Henbogle girls. As an example, today Dan and I fenced in the remainder of the back yard, to give the girls access to some still green grass and some new area to roam and explore. The girls loved it!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What cost economic growth?

Driving to work yesterday listening to Maine Public Radio, I heard an opinion piece on Marketplace that really wound me up. David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter and policy wonk with the American Enterprise Institute made the argument that "economic populism," (i.e. government intervening in the market to ensure that big business treats America workers fairly and ensures prosperity and minimal living standards for all) is a recipe for economic slowdown.

Frum argued that even the slightest decrease in economic growth, say from 3 to 2.5 percent annually over the next 5 years, would be disastrous, causing the U.S. to slip dangerously from its front runner position in world economies.

Ok, the gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world will close, but why is that so terrible? The economies of many other developed nations lag far behind ours, but these nations still prosper. Britons and Canadians enjoy good quality health care, education, a high standard of living. The countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark are known worldwide for their far-sighted views of maternity leave and childcare. Dare I suggest that if in this country our economic resources were fewer, we might use them more carefully?

Reaching back through the cobwebs of time to my freshman economics class in college, I must have learned the benefits of being the economic front runner, but from my current perspective, I see that unchecked economic growth is not lifting up our nation as a whole, but is creating a widening income gap between the rich and poor, and driving the former middle class into the working poor.

The average workers' wages have not kept up with inflation, and yet Forbes magazine reported that the 400 richest Americans increased their wealth by 10 percent last year, while the minimum wage still keeps our low-skill workers living in poverty.

I think it's time to take a new look at economic populism, which perhaps should be re-defined as taking care of our neighbors, to make sure we all enjoy a standard of living that allows us housing, health care, child care, access to a quality education, and nutritious food on our tables.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Cookies + Frosting = Procrastination

Several of my student workers came over today for a holiday cookie decorating party and dinner.

Exams begin Wednesday, and this offered them a great opportunity to load up on sugar and caffeine, have a well balanced healthy meal, prepare snacks for exam week, and have some fun. At least I think they did!
Hard at work.

Look at these fabulous designs --move over, Martha!

Note the location of the dog....

Clockwise from the left back are Mariah, Elisa, Zach, Celia and Elise.

A Tale of Two Cookies

Saturday I made 2 more batches of cookies, a vanilla sugar cookie made with cream cheese, which was supposed to make it easier to roll out, and a batch of gingerbread cookies. Both are new recipes I am testing.

The ginger cookies were a bit fussy to make, requiring a saucepan to heat the brown sugar, molasses and spices together, but are very good, and the dough is very easy to work with, although I was initially concerned with would be sticky. The only change I might make is to add 1/2 teaspoon of ground white pepper, or up the ginger a bit, but they are pretty good as is!

The sugar cookies I am less pleased with, partially no doubt because plain sugar cookies are my least favorite kind of cookie, but the dough was much fussier to work with, requring chilling before rolling out, then again before baking the cut cookies. And then they require more care in baking, too. For all that work and fussing, they don't wow, they are a very plain tasting cookie --perhaps better for frosting, but we'll see.

Gingerbread Cookies

2/3 cup molasses
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 T ground ginger
1 T ground cinnamon
1 t ground allspice
1 t ground cloves
2 t baking soda
1 c unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 3/4 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 t salt

Bring molasses, brown sugar, and spices to a boil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, and remove from heat. Stir in baking soda (mixture will foam up), then stir in butter 3 pieces at a time, letting each addition melt before adding next, until all butter is melted. Add egg and stir until combined, then stir in 3 3/4 cups flour and salt.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead, dusting with as much of remaining 1/4 cup flour as needed to prevent sticking, until soft and easy to handle, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Halve dough, then wrap 1 half in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature.

Roll out remaining dough into a 14-inch round (1/8 inch thick) on a lightly floured surface. Cut out cookies and transfer to baking sheets.

Bake cookies until edges are slightly darker, 10 to 12 minutes total (watch carefully toward end of baking; cookies can burn easily).

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Sugar Cookies with Cream Cheese

2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
3/4 c sugar
1/4 t salt
2 sticks unsalted butter cut into tablespoon-sized pieces, at room temperature
2 t vanilla
2 t cream cheese, at room temperature

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees

Mix flour, sugar, and salt in mixer on low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. With mixer running on low, add butter 1 piece at a time; continue to mix until mixture looks crumbly. Add vanilla and cream cheese and mix on low until dough just begins to form large clumps.

Turn dough onto floured board; knead dough by hand; divide in half, form 2 disks, wrap each in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out dough to about 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut out cookies and transfer to baking sheets.

Chill dough on cookie sheets for about 10 mkinutes, then bake cookies until edges are slightly darker, about 10 minutes

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Fussy, and too thin. I'm going back to my favorite Citrus Sugar cookies next year.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Cookie Madness begins

I've invited my student workers over for a holiday cookie decorating party Sunday afternoon. Tonight I made up a batch of Dan's favorite cookie, Italian cookies, so-called because as a kid, his family was good friends with an Italian family, the Barbarossas. This is Mrs. Barbarossa’s recipe for Christmas Cookies. It makes a HUGE batch….


8 c flour
1 1/2 c sugar
4 t baking powder
9 eggs
1 lb of Crisco

Cream the Crisco and sugar. Add eggs, beating after each egg. Stir in the flour and baking soda, mixing well. Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. Roll out about 1/2” thick. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes, Cool, and frost with Citrus Icing or Royal Icing.


This recipe makes about three cups of icing.

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup milk
6 to 8 cups powdered sugar

Assorted food colorings (the gel colorings work best)

Combine lemon juice and milk in large bowl. Whisk in 5 cups powdered sugar. Gradually whisk in enough remaining sugar by 1/2 cupfuls to form icing stiff enough to pipe (mixture will resemble stirred sour cream).

Divide remaining icing into zip-loc sandwich bags, one bag for each desired color; mix food coloring by drops into each bag, tinting icing to desired shade. Carefully knead bag to mix. To decorate, cut a tiny bit off the corner of the bag, and squeeze frosting through.

As I'm making the cookies tomorrow, I made the Italian Cookie dough tonight, as it needs to chill thoroughly for best cookie cutting. This year, made with our own Henbogle eggs, the dough is much more yellow than it has been in the past... I wonder what the cookies will look like when baked?


We had our first real snow of the season overnight, enough for the town's crack road crews to be out sanding, and for Dan's district to call for a 2-hour delayed start to school.

Thus far we've got about 2 inches, with more predicted throughout the day. The National Weather Service is calling for 3-6 inches overall. It is beginning to look and feel more like winter!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Eminent Mainers

I had a driveway moment the other night, listening to Arthur Douglas Stover being interviewed on Maine Public Radio, talking about his new book.

Eminent Mainers: Succinct Biographies of Thousands of Amazing Mainers, Mostly Dead, and a Few People from Away Who Have Done Something Useful Within the State of Maine came out last month and sounds like a great read.

It was published by
Tilbury House and no doubt it will be available at local booksellers. You can listen to the story on Maine Public Radio

Tweaking the delicious, no-knead bread

The NY Times updated the story on the no-knead bread today, tweaking the recipe a bit, and offering the weight equivalents for bakers who use weight versus volume measure.

I made a batch early on, and have made several since then, and it has turned out perfectly every time. I'm planning on a batch this weekend with some Maine grown and milled flour I bought recently. Details later.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

105 days 'till Spring

We may have had our first snow of the season yesterday, but with seed and plant catalogues arriving daily, I'm already counting the days until spring. The Sturdy Farmer Girls met tonight and placed our group FEDCO order, due by Friday, December 8 to qualify for the discount. Orders will be ready for pickup on Friday, April 27.

I haven't yet managed to winnow my apple tree list down from 12 +/- varieties, so I passed on ordering any fruit trees, contenting myself with blueberries, some conifers for screening, and ornamental shrubs. The order:
2 Bluecrop Blueberries
2 Elliott Blueberries
2 Earliblue Blueberries
1 Jersey Blueberry
1 Lonicera x brownii (native hybrid) Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle
1 Buddleia x weyeriana Honeycomb Butterfly Bush
1 Morden Sunrise rose
3 Japanese Painted Fern
3 Cascade Hops
5 Thija occidentalis
American Arborvitae
5 Tsuga canadensis Hemlock

Still on my FEDCO list (I have until March for undiscounted orders): Apple, peach, and apricot trees.

Other shrubs on the list: a Spice bush (Lindera benzoin) a Carolina Allspice (calycanthus floridus), a dwarf fothergilla (fothergilla gardenii), and a BlueMist Spirea, (Caryopteris x clandonensis). I'm sure I'll think of more....

Be sure to check out the Days 'till spring counter just below my profile!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Festivus Tree

Thanksgiving is the butter holiday, Christmas is the ornament holiday. I really love the holidays... lots of good food, parties, time with friends, days off from work, and at Christmas, presents and ornaments. What could be better?

Christmas, though, is when my inner magpie comes into her own. If it's shiny, sparkly, or better yet, shiny and sparkly, I love it. I've always been this way -- even as a kid I spotted the rock with mica in it from yards away, and brought it home. I distinctly remember decorating the Christmas tree, unwrapping all the old ornaments and exclaiming gleefully over the ever-growing selection of favorites. Every year my collection of Christmas ornaments grows, some I purchase for myself (shocking I know) and many are gifts, and I have started Dan off on his own collection.

Yesterday, Dan and I went shopping, first to a couple of church fairs, then stopping at
Skillins Greenhouses and Now Your Cooking and Reny's in Bath. Dan wanted to stop at Skillins, and as we entered, he shooed me off and headed into the gift department. I wandered over to a decorated Christmas tree near the checkout register, and then I recalled the recent sales flyer, which featured a kayak ornament. Enlisting the help of a clerk, I located the ornament and quickly purchased it, hiding it away from Dan. I then wandered off, oogling the goodies, and eventually saw Dan, heading to the cash register, hiding something from me. I wandered over to him, thinking as I did, that he came from that decorated tree area, hmmm..... I said "What did you get?"

"Its a secret he said," smiling, and then I knew. "Show me," I said, and sure enough, in his hand sat the same ornament I had just purchased. We are still laughing about that today.

The ornament collection has grown to the point that it won't fit on one tree, at least not a tree that will fit in our house. And I'm not one for theme trees --nope, I want to hang every ornament, after all, I only get to see and enjoy them for a few weeks a year. To facilitate my need for ornament hanging space, we've added a Festivus tree on the dining room table, a funky lime green metallic-glitter pre-lit tree. Covered with my precious sparkly, shiny ornaments, I think it will be glorious!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Suburban Dog

Fisher, our bone-headed Golden Retriever, was skunked again Wednesday night, fortunately with only a light shower of scent. Yes, you may recall that he was skunked fairly recently this past summer, too. I guess we are lucky because Dan had JUST come in from the backyard after putting the chickens to bed, so he must have narrowly missed crossing paths with Pepe le Pew.

I've finally realized what the problem is --he is a happy & goofy suburban dog, and I grew up with smart and savvy country dogs, and expected Fisher to be the same. Recalling the dogs of my youth, (Blackie, Frisky, Rascal Caesar, Julius), I can only recall 2 skunking episodes. Blackie was skunked once, I believe when she came upon a skunk IN the barn, and Rascal was skunked once in the backyard, but never again. Those dogs were mostly allowed to roam the property unrestrained, and came inside only at night.

I guess a suburbabn dog like Fisher just lacks the collective wisdon of country dogs when it comes to skunks, and blind instinct (must chase skunk!) will triumph over reason every time. SIGH.

Fortunately, we ALWAYS have on hand the ingredients for the magic skunk potion, so Dan was able to initiate an aroma-reduction exercise. Needless to say, we'll be replenishing our supply of hydrogen peroxide this weekend.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Paradise Pie

Just a brief follow-up to the divine Pumpkin-Pecan Pie post: It tastes even better the next day, as does the Whiskey Butter Sauce. How perfect is that? A dessert that really is better made ahead!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Sum Is Greater Than Its Parts

The Pumpkin-Pecan Pie with Whiskey Butter Sauce, from Epicurious, was a Thanksgiving Day hit. It richly deserves every single 4-fork rating it has received. I'm not crazy about Pumpkin Pie, nor about Pecan Pie, but this pie was fabulous --succulent, light, flavorful, warm with spices and pecan, yet not cloying. The Whiskey Butter Sauce lent a sophisticated air, a definite step up even from freshly whipped cream. I think it would be equally delicious with rum.

Of course, as per usual, we didn't follow the recipe exactly, instead following some of the advice from Epicurious readers and doubling the amount of pumpkin. The bottle of what I thought was Karo syrup in the pantry turned out to be rice wine vinegar, so we used maple syrup instead with great success. Given the results I see no need to try the corn syrup when the maple was so splendid. The eggs from the Henbogle girls are never small, so we used two extra large eggs. We also used whipping cream rather than heavy cream in both the pie and the whiskey sauce, as that was what I had on hand. The result was divine.

The recipe that follows includes the changes Holly and I made.

Pumpkin-Pecan Pie

Pumpkin Filling
2 c cooked pumpkin purée
1/4 c firmly packed light brown sugar
2 T sugar
1 extra-large egg, beaten until frothy
1 T heavy cream
1 T unsalted butter, softened
1 T vanilla extract
1/4 t salt

1/4 t cinnamon
Pinch of allspice
Pinch of nutmeg

Pecan Syrup

1/2 c sugar
3/4 c maple syrup
2 extra-large eggs
1 1/2 T unsalted butter, melted
2 t vanilla
1 pinch salt
1 pinch cinnamon
3/4 c pecan pieces

Whiskey Butter Sauce
4 T unsalted butter
1/3 c sugar
1 extra-large egg
1/2 T very hot water
1/4 c heavy cream
1/4 c bourbon whiskey

Pumpkin Filling
Combine all the ingredients thoroughly in a medium bowl; set aside.

Pecan Syrup
Combine all the ingredients thoroughly in a medium bowl; set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Using my Butter Pie Crust recipe, prepare a 9 inch pie plate with an uncooked crust.

Spoon the Pumpkin Filling into the pan, spreading evenly to distribute. Gently pour the Pecan Syrup on top. Bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Cool and serve with Whiskey Butter Sauce.

Whiskey Butter Sauce
Melt the butter in the top of a double boiler set over gently simmering water. Beat the sugar and egg in a small bowl until blended. Stir the egg mixture into the butter. Add the hot water and stir until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 7 minutes. Remove from the double boiler and let cool to room temperature. Stir in the cream and whiskey. Tastes better when made 24 hours in advance of serving.

Happy Thanksgiving One and All

8:15 and the cooking palette is clear, ready for the days' cooking projects to begin. Holly and I have already been out to collect the eggs and are ready to start on our 14 lb. turkey.

We'll be making Roast Turkey with Sausage Cranberry-Apple Stuffing. The turkey is rubbed with butter and seasoned with salt and pepper before going in the oven. Extra stuffing goes into my fabulous yellow Pyrex refrigerator dish, a gift from Dan's mom.

Turkey in the oven, we move on to Dinner Rolls. Lacking a biscuit cutter, Holly makes do with a wine glass.

Uh oh! The turkey is done early!! Even allowing 40 minutes for the turkey to rest, it is still way early. We spring into overdrive.

Amazingly, things come together. Dave mashes the potatoes, Dan steams the carrots, Holly and I work on the pies, I make the gravy.

The gravy turns out to be some of the best I've ever made. Was it the homemade stock, or the generous splash of tawny port at the end? Dinner is served buffet style, and we dine at the kitchen table overlooking the back yard.

Later, we'll have some pie. Pecan Pumpkin Pie with Whiskey Butter Sauce, and Deep Dish Apple Pie with Cheddar Cheese Crust.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Feasting Begins

Holly and Dave arrived this afternoon for the holiday. It is great to see them both, they haven't been up to Maine in a while. We celebrated their arrival with a spicy Mexican meal, Chile Cheddar Pumpkins Souffles and Smoky Tortilla Soup with Shrimp.

Everything was YUMMY, but spicy....seems although I halved the recipes, I forgot to halve the cheese and the chipotle peppers. Don't worry, the recipes below are correct!

Chile Cheddar Pumpkins Souffles

2 cups pumpkin puree
3 eggs, separated
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 oz. Cabot Habenero Cheddar Cheese, shredded
1/8 t baking soda
2 t flour
finely pulverized breadcrumbs

Butter 6 individual souffle dishes or custard cups. Coat the bottom and sides with bread crumbs.

Mix the pumpkin, egg yolks, flour, salt and soda together. Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Stir about 1/3 of the egg whites into the pumkin mix to lighten, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites.

Divide batter among the souffle dishes. Bake at 350˚F for 15 minutes or until firm and lightly browned on the top.

Smoky Tortilla Soup with Shrimp

2 T olive oil
1 c finely diced onion
1 c finely diced carrot
1/2 c finely chopped celery
3 clove garlic, minced
1/4 t oregano
1/2 t cumin
7 c chicken broth
2 15 oz. cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 c canned crushed tomatoes with added puree
2 t minced canned chipotle chiles

1 lb uncooked small shrimp
1/4 c minced fresh cilantro

Lime wedges
Avocado wedges

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic, cumin, and oregano. Sauté until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 10 minutes. Add chicken broth, pinto beans, crushed tomatoes and chipotle chilies; bring to simmer. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add shrimp and cook until opaque in center, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Stir in chopped fresh cilantro. Serve soup, garnishing with avocado. Pass lime wedges and tortilla chips separately.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Grow Your Own Thanksgiving

In an earlier post, I listed the proposed menu for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Wow, I had a giant brain cramp when I wrote that, forgetting that I had been saving treats from our garden, namely carrots & delicata squash, for the holiday. We'll also include some of the veggies we froze, swiss chard and green beans, to round out things, and will scratch the Roasted Squash with Chile Vinaigrette, we'll try that recipe later with some locally grown squash.

As much of this meal as I can will be made from homegrown or local produce, and cooked from scratch. I'm not alone in jumping on the eat local bandwagon. "Locavore" groups are springing up all over, and I think it is great, and maybe it will work to our advantage, encouraging local producers to diversify winter produce offerings, and encouraging retailers to seek out locally grown produce.

It is no real challenge in the summer to buy local -- farmer's markets, farm stands and CSAs abound. Neighbors sneak extra tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini onto your porch when you aren't at home. But come the first frost, and all that local goodness vanishes. Oh sure, CSAs can provide a seemingly endless stream of potatoes, beets, kale, carrots, onions, turnip, and rutabaga (and what IS the difference between turnip and rutabaga anyway?), but I find the parade of root vegetables uninspiring and worse yet, overwhelming for just 2 people. Clearly the answer is to get to work on my year-round greens production a la Eliot Coleman. It's just a matter of time --or the lack therof.

Well, time for planning post-holiday (although my Pine Tree Garden Seeds catalog has already arrived to tempt me), I've got to ready the homestead for guests and feasting. Check back for updates on the lovely and lovingly prepared local foods.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Beautiful Bread

Now that we've put the garden to bed, its time to crank up the oven, and one of my favorite things to bake is bread. I saw a recipe recently in the New York Times that intrigued me: No Knead Bread. (Any by the way, the Times has had some really interesting pre-Thanksgiving holiday articles. See the Heaven in A Pie Pan article.)

Don't get me wrong, I don't mind kneading bread, or making it, especially in my big KitchenAid mixer. What appealed to me about this recipe was the baking method. The bread is baked in a pre-heated cast iron or enamel pan, which was supposed to create a wonderful crust. I had to try it.

I didn't actually follow the recipe --those who know me well won't find that surprising. No, I wanted to use a sourdough starter I have going, so I boldly plunged right in and adapted, using my recipe and the article's baking method. My recipe:

2 c warm water
1 t yeast (scant)
1 t barley malt powder

Stir the above together, and let sit until the yeast is creamy looking. Add

1 c starter
2 t salt

Stir together, then add

2 c stone ground whole weat flour
3 c bread flour

Mix then knead in the mixer. The dough should be sticky enough to cling to the bottom of the bowl, yet pull away from the sides. Knead for 8-10 minutes, then put into an oiled bowl to rise until doubled.

Punch down dough, knead and shape into a tight ball. Let rise in a bowl lined with a well-floured towel, until doubled, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 450˚F, preheating a 6-8 quart cast iron or enamel casserole dish at the same time. No grease or oil is necessary in the pan.

When dough is ready to bake, carefully remove casserole dish from the oven. Gently turn dough into the pan; it will deflate a bit but don't worry. Cover the casserole and return immediately to the oven, bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake for an additional 15-30 minutes until browned and pulling away from the sides of the pan. Mine needed only 15 minutes.

Remove from casserole and cool, then dig in. It is delicious! The crust is crisp and chewey, not too thick, just right and with a real brick oven taste, with a perfect crumb. MMMMM.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hello.... anybody home?

Apparently I'm well on my way to the deep south, as my road is well paved with good intentions, but still it has been far to long since I posted to Henbogle. Well, I'm still here, just feeling challenged by the intricate balancing act of job, home, garden, and other life. Whew, where does the time go?

Much of my sense of discontent I attribute to the short, dark days of late fall and winter. It is still light out when I drive off to work, but it is dark when I arrive home, and soon will be dark when I leave in the morning. Today I arrived home in the dark and gingerly felt my way back to Henbogle Coop to check on the girls and batten down the coop door for the night and say hello and goodnight. With all the rain we've been having lately --nearly 5 inches this week-- the entire back yard is soggy and muddy. Although they don't seem to mind the rain, I feel bad for the girls. I am sure they are missing the lovely grass and good eats of the summer.

Fortunately for us humans, the holidays are looming, and I'm enjoying planning for Thanksgiving and our holiday cookie baking extravaganza, when my student workers will join Dan and I for lunch and an afternoon of holiday cookie decorating.

My friend Holly and her partner Dave will be joining Dan and I for Thanksgiving dinner. I'm finalizing the menu now. Holly has promised to make a visit to
Trader Joe's for me, to stock up on the yummy treats they offer that can't be found in my area. On the menu: Turkey with Cornbread and Apple Stuffing, Roasted Squash with Chile Viniagrette, Butter Browned Brussells Sprouts, another green vegetable as yet to be determined, and of course, a pie or two, mince? pumpkin? apple? The New York Times had an interesting story today on pie crusts. I'm still sold on my butter version, but it was interesting reading. While I'm sure I'm not going to be ordering rendered duckfat for my piecrust, the menu may change yet between now and a week from today.

Yikes, a week from today? I'd better get motivated.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Blustery Day

We had the maple tree cabled just in time. For the second weekend in a row, we had rain and strong gusty winds, with a power outage lasting several hours. All over town there's evidence of downed limbs and trees, but our beloved maple is still intact.

Today's outage on our street was caused by an old maple tree on the next street over. The tree lost a big limb, which came down atop the power lines and knocked down a pole. I was in the middle of making a caramelized pear tart. I had finished cooking the pear filling, but had yet to make the crust, and then bake the tart. I was making it to take to dinner with our friends Karen and Bill.

My gas range still performs fine without electricity, but the oven has an electronic temperature control and ignition, so no baking without electricity. With the power out, I left the tart to cool and internally rubbed my hands gleefully in the realization I might as well read, as the vacuum cleaner was not working either. I puttered about and never did settle in to read before the power came back on, a few minutes after 4 o'clock. I was able to make a crust and bake the tart, which came out of the oven just 15 minutes before we were supposed to leave for Karen's house.

We made a quick stop on the way to buy some lottery tickets for them; we were already lucky to be invited to dinner, where Karen was making her famous pressed sandwiches, so we decided we should pass on the luck.

The sandwiches were, as always, fabulous (ham and bacon with honey mustard, red onion, portabello mushrooms, muenster and avocado spread, wow), and we enjoyed a good evening of cards and laughter as the wind howled and the rain drummed on the roof.


This fabulous dessert makes the end of summer and the arrival of pear season more bearable. It is easy, delicious and looks exceptionally glamorous.

4 large firm-ripe Bosc pears (2 lb total) *
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pastry dough

Peel and halve pears, then core (a spoon or melon baller works well for this). Heat butter in a 9- to 10-inch well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then stir in sugar (sugar will not be dissolved). Arrange pears, cut sides up, in skillet with wide parts at rim of skillet. Sprinkle pears with cinnamon and cook, undisturbed, until sugar turns a deep golden caramel. (This can take as little as 10 minutes or as much as 25, depending on pears, skillets, and stove.) Cool pears completely in skillet. (This part can be done early in the day.)

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 12-inch round and trim to a 9 1/2- to 10 1/2-inch round. Arrange pastry over caramelized pears, tucking edge around pears inside rim of skillet. Bake tart until pastry is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on rack 5 minutes.

Invert a rimmed serving plate (slightly larger than skillet) over skillet and, using pot holders to hold skillet and plate tightly together, invert tart onto plate. Serve tart warm or at room temperature.

*You can also substitute with tart apples, such as Pippins or Granny Smiths
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
11 medium-size Pippin apples (about 4 3/4 pounds), peeled, quartered, cored
Place the apples on their sides, as close together as possible. Follow the directions for the pear dish.


Butter really does make the best pie crusts. The secret is keeping the dough cold and working it as little as possible.

Makes one 8” – 10” double crust pie.

2 1/2 c flour
1 t sugar
1/2 t salt
1 c (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, grated
1/4 – 1/2 c ice water (fill a cup with water & add a few ice cubes; the colder the water the better)

Grate butter into food processor bowl. Add flour, sugar, and salt; blend in processor, using on/off turns, until coarse meal forms. 1/4 c water. Using on/off turns, blend just until moist clumps form, adding more water by 1/2 tablespoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; divide in half and flatten into 2 disks. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate at least 1 hour. If you can, chill the piecrust after rolling out and before baking.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Finally, A Plan

I'm a native Mainer, and have lived most of my life in Maine, outside of my college years. What's more, I have lived in several distinct regions of the state --Western Maine, Moosehead, Aroostook County, Central Maine, and now in the Mid-Coast area. The minute I left Maine, I began to miss it, and only after leaving did I really realize what a wonderful place it is, and how lucky I had been to grow up here. The Maine I love, however, is changing, and not every change is for the better.

In the last 15 years, well over 800,000 acres (think Rhode Island) have been converted from farm or forest land to housing or other development. Fields I remember from my youth are growing houses instead of corn, and ugly strip malls are mushrooming up to provide take out pizza and gasoline sales to the owners of the houses. We Mainers are an independent, hardworking and resolute lot, but this is enough to take the wind out of us. We are independent; therefore, if someone decides to sell their farm to a developer, well, that's their right.

But. All those new homeowners, all wanting more school buses to transport the kids to school, and better roads, then snowplowing, and trash service, and so on. All those services cost more in taxes, and well, all those houses built last year are spoiling what all the folks who built houses here the year before came here for, from New Jersey and Massachusetts and points south.

Last Friday, I went to the GrowSmart Maine Summit to hear about some new ideas for Maine's future. GrowSmart Maine has a plan to address these issues and more. Working with the Brookings Institute, GrowSmart Maine commissioned a study and (more importantly) a follow-up plan: Charting Maine's Future: An Action Plan for Promoting Sustainable Prosperity and Quality Places. The report looked at Maine's population, economy and development patterns and came up with strategies for economic development, government /tax streamlining, and planned development that just might help Maine keep our economy growing, yet prevent us from doing so and looking like Newark at the end.

I read the report, I listened to the speakers, I looked around this weekend, and I have thought about the changes I'm seeing in Maine, and the changes I want to see. I am convinced. I think the plan is a sound one, and I am on board. We need to control our growth and make sure we keep Maine the way we love it. We need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

I urge all Mainers to check out the report. It is available for free online as a PDF file, or you can order it for $10. Friends and neighbors can borrow my copy.
Even if you don't agree in the end with all the recommendations, I suspect you'll find some enlightening information about the way Maine is growing and changing. Let me know what you think.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Magnificent Maple

I've written before about our lovely backyard Sugar Maple. I suspect the tree is as old as the house (1881) or close to it. I spreads across the center of the backyard, shading the large deck and providing lots of leaves to gather and compost for leaf mold. It is one of the features about the house and lot Dan and I both fell in love with when we first saw the house.

It is a typical old Maine Sugar Maple, with several trunks growing close together. It had received little pruning early in its life, but nonetheless, is a gorgeous shade-giving, loved part of our back yard. We had reluctantly decided to remove one center trunk of the tree which was dead and rotting. Although I loved the habitat it provided for the woodpeckers, we were afraid the rot would spread and damage the rest of the tree.

Yesterday, our local tree guru came and pruned some dead limbs and cabled our beloved maple
. Jon McKenney and the crew of McKenney Tree arrived early in the morning, and promptly got to work. I took a few photos, which due to the size of the tree and my need to stay at a safe distance, don't show much.

I had to leave for work, but upon my return home, I was pleased to see, the tree looks great. If anything, removing the dead trunk gave the tree a more graceful shape, and the c
able supporting the two main trunks is barely visible now with few remaining leaves; in the summer it will be all but invisible.

Although chipping the branches was an option, we elected to keep the wood, we'll use it in our woodstove in the barn and think grateful thoughts of the tree. The trimmed wood was neatly piled to one side, and there were hardly any gouges in the lawn from falling limbs. I was really
impressed with McKenney and his crew. I hope the cabling helps our beloved tree thrive for many more years.