Monday, December 31, 2007

Snow, and more to come

The total as of 11:51 am from Wunderground was 8.5 inches, and the storm is just now winding down.

The forecast for Tuesday? More snow, although the latest NWS forecast is backing away from earlier heavy snowfall predictions. According to the NWS, it has been the snowiest December in Maine in 10 years.

With our fabulous little electric snowblower, it took us just about 2 hours to do a thorough job of shoveling (deck, driveway, path to oil fill pipe, path to Henbogle Coop) and cleaning off the vehicles. Not bad at all. Time for soup.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Popping out of the oven

Amazingly, given the generosity of the Henbogle girls, I had never made popovers until tonight. They were scrumptious!

I served them with a lovely pan seared steak, cooked with some of our shallots, and roasted pole beans from our garden. It was a yummy dinner.

Makes 6

1 cup sifted bread flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 xl eggs
1 cup milk
unsalted butter for brushing the custard cups

Preheat oven to 450°F Warm the eggs and milk to room temperature

Stir flour and salt together a medium bowl. Stir together the eggs and the milk, and add to the flour mixture. Stir the batter until it is smooth. In oven, heat six custard cups until hot (5+ minutes). Remove from oven, brush with the butter, and fill them half full with the batter. Bake the popovers in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375°F, and bake the popovers for 20+/- minutes more, or until they are browned and crisp. I had about a tablespoon of leftover asiago cheese all grated, which I stirred in to the flour mixture -- I could taste a hint of it, I'd try that again.

Welcoming the light

Although I love Christmas, when I give free rein to my inner magpie, at this time of year my energy is always at a low point. The short days, too often cloudy, sap my energy and keep me inside for far too much of the time. It seems like my only moments outside are brief forays to other buildings on campus or to and from the car, and weekends never have enough room in them to spend all the time I want outside.

But last Saturday we celebrated the return of the light here at Henbogle, inviting a few friends over for good company, good food and a Solstice fire. Each guest had a spring of evergreen to throw on the fire if so desired, and after the blaze died down we warmed ourselves with some delicious homemade eggnog, courtesy of the Henbogle girls. We certainly enjoyed ourselves immensely, and I hope our friends did, too.

The promise of lengthening days and a fresh new year are energizing, as is having some time off together here at home. Dan and I have spent quite a bit of time clearing the clutter, weeding the bookshelves, reorganizing our files (aka giant piles of paper) and puttering about. We've both had colds, so the desperately-needed cleaning of the barn hasn't happened, but it will, as a February vacation project looms.

We visit the girls daily for bonus midday treats, (frozen pumpkin, breadcrumbs, leftover green beans, yum!) and took advantage of a warm day to clean out Henbogle Coop and put in fresh bedding (that's Pippi checking things out). A recent winter rainstorm had exposed a few blades of grass which the girls greeted with enthusiasm. The snow dome is working out remarkably well, now that the girls have overcome their fear of the snow.

A big pile of gardening catalogs awaits my attention, and with the promise of snow for the next few days, I am sure to have time to start planning for spring as the light increases. And of course, there are a few birthdays ahead to look forward too as well. Happy new year, everyone!

Henbogle Eggnog

12 eggs, separated
2 cups sugar
2 c gold rum
1 c apricot brandy
3 pints milk
1 pint heavy cream

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until thick. Slowly stir in the rum, apricot brandy, milk and cream. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled and pour into a punch bowl. Beat the egg whites until stiff and and fold gently into the eggnog. Grate fresh nutmeg on top to taste

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It was a strange kind of day today

On the way in to work, listening to a story on NPR's Morning Edition, I heard Harlan Rodberg, a worker at the Winnebago factory in Forest City, MN, say "You can't take booze, sex and weekends away from the American people, they're not gonna sit back and do nothing...." in reference to a question on the economy affecting Winnebago sales.

I then went to a meeting where we talked about whether or not the English faculty would support a community read (by support, I mean, mention it in classes and to colleagues and neighbors, not vote for it or anything requiring a long term commitment.)

I had lunch with my boss and gave him an ass in the form of a Christmas ornament (the Democratic party symbol.) He loved it, or so he said.

Later in the afternoon, in a classroom on campus, written on the blackboard, was the following, "When you see a finger, it means something."

And I spent a good portion of the afternoon discussing strategies to affect policy changes impacting energy usage in residential zoning and building codes.

It was a strange day. What was your day like?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Winter arrived early this year

Here at Henbogle, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. We had our first big snowstorm last week on Monday, December 3. In a classic nor'easter, we received about 10" of snow, followed by a cold snap and wind. Since then, we've received a couple more inches, 2 of them this morning.

The chickens were NOT happy with the change in weather. Monday they refused to exit Henbogle coop. There was much discussion about the weather, lots of squawking and wing flapping, but NO ONE was going outside. (I'm almost positive I heard Iris say "Oh no, I'm not going, you can't make me go outside.")

Tuesday, ditto. Again on Wednesday they refused to exit. Dan had shoveled an area around the coop, and a nice path from the coop to the snow dome, just a few feet away, but no dice, they were having none of it. Finally, on Thursday, I reached in and grabbed Sophie, then Iris, then Poppy, then Pippi, and deposited them one at a time in the snowdome. With a nice roost, snow free ground (and a dust bath!), straw, some oyster shell, and plenty of scratch, the dome is a big treat for them -- but they had to traverse the scary snow-covered path to get there. It might as well have been the Continental Divide.

Once I put a few of them outside, and gave them some treats, the rest of the girls followed, and now they head out to the 'dome every day as soon as we open the coop in the morning. Silly chickens.

Why are there no photos of the snow-covered snow dome and the girls? I've misplaced the cord to my camera, and cannot download them until I find it. Grrr.

Too late now, but for next year....

Check out these herb wreaths from McFadden Farm in California, made from organically grown culinary herbs!

Not local, but very cool and useful. Unfortunately, the Maine climate and bay laurel are not compatible.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Counting down the days...

until Spring. I added a countdown timer, over there, just above the "About Me" section.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ack! Fedco orders are due tomorrow!

Where does the time go! The deadline for discount orders from Fedco is due tomorrow. Orders placed by this date receive a 10% discount of orders of $200 or more, 15% for $400+.

Last year, my pal Karen and I placed a joint order and managed to meet the $200 needed for the discount. I don't know what Karen is planning, I need to call her tonight and see if she wants to place a joint order.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Sod killing cardboard

As I have posted about before, I am a big fan of using cardboard to kill the sod and suppress weeds when developing new garden beds or planting shrubs. We've successfully used that strategy with the blueberry hedge, the holly hedge and the grape arbor bed.

As we are over run with weeds like creeping bellflower, plantain, creeping charlie and more here at Henbogle, we are continuing that strategy as we work our way along the boundaries of the property, removing invasives and planting shrub borders.

Next spring, we'll be working on the east border beyond the freestanding deck, by the neighbors swing set. We have a ancient, gorgeous flowering crab along the west boundary, and now are concentrating on understory shrubs and plants, probably hostas and ferns as it is pretty shady there. Our bottle tree is featured there as well, capturing any evil spirits that venture our way.

The first step in creating the shrub border: kill off the existing plants, a mix of orange daylillies, mildew-ridden phlox, creeping purple bellflower and other assorted weedy growth. In the past few years I've planted a few black- and red chokeberries in there, and on the far side of the crab a serviceberry or two. My next step is to smother everything else and give the shrubs a year or two without competing weeds, and then we'll be able to fill in with the shade-loving perennials.

Over the last few weekends, we cut back all the plants, spread our chopped leaves, then laying down thick layers of brown cardboard over the leaves. Over the winter the cardboard will begin to break down, and in the spring we'll cover it with mulch of some sort, and try and be patient. And of course, we have to weight the cardboard down so it doesn't blow away.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A moveable coop

In addition to all the chores listed below, today we moved Henbogle coop closer to the house. When we built the chicken coop, we imagined our backyard biddies would be relocated every winter, much closer to the house, to make it easier to care for them, heat the water, etc. We added small wheels and had fantasies of blithely trundling the coop hither and yon throughout the seasons, giving the girls fresh grass and a change of scenery.

Well, were we in for a change of tune. Our cadillac of coops weighs a ton. In future, we will be be sure to remember that coop housing doesn't require the same standards as home construction. Those puny little wheels did allow us to get it to the designated location, but it was a challenge. Still, we thought in the fall we'd move it closer, but didn't take into account a soggy fall, with the ground too wet to haul a chicken coop across it. So it stayed at the end of the vegetable garden, until today.

From our old dead lawnmower, Dan salvaged some larger wheels, and this morning attached them, and a 2x4 for a handle, and we moved the coop about 20 feelt closer to the house. Not that much closer, but every little bit counts (in the photos, the coop used to be just behind the back fence post of the vegetable garden). Once we had it in position, we put it up on blocks, and removed the 2x4 handle. She's good to go for the winter.

In addition to the coop we also put away all the deck furniture, brought out our old wooden sleds and skis as Christmas decor, put the riding lawn mower away for the winter, and weighted down our cardboard with branches. More on that later.

Winter preparations, just in time

Saturday we had a cold and very windy day, brr. In light of predictions for a big nor'easter on Monday, we bustled about putting clear plastic over the draftiest windows, and I roasted yet another turkey because I am craving some turkey sandwiches and a pot of turkey soup . Turkey with cranberry sauce, and hot open-faced turkey sandwiches with gravy now await.

This morning the weather service has forecasted even more snow all day on Monday, with accumulations of 2-4 inches Sunday night, and 8-12 more inches on Monday. Today, we need to finish as many more outdoor chores as we can. I started by filling all the birdfeeders this morning, but there's a lot more--
repair the broken barn window
put the lawn mower and riding mowers away
finish putting cardboard down under the flowering crab tree
pick up the cardboard that blew around the yard yesterday
get some more straw for the chickens
and do a final patrol to put overlooked items away, etc

Yikes! time to get moving!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Locavore logic

Eating locally can be a challenge and it can also be more expensive. It isn't for everyone, and it is important to me to respect other's circumstances and choices. But Dan and I are choosing to buy locally when we can, because we like our neighbors and I'd rather support them than some California mega-farm. (That said, however, I'm not giving up exotic spices, olive oil, or citrus fruit, etc.)

Kim at Yankee Food over in NH recently had a great post about eating locally. She really articulates many of my feelings about eating locally. What it all comes down to, however, is this: I'd rather give my food dollars to my neighbors, and in so doing, support them and their farms, and thus preserving the Maine I know and love.

Backyard gardeners rock

There was an interesting article in the NY Times today about the role of European backyard gardeners in protecting genetic diversity. Long live the backyard gardener! We're saving humanity from supermarket tomatoes, one garden at a time.

Monday, November 26, 2007

What was lost is now found: Double Chocolate Pound Cake

I was beginning to panic --my chocolate pound cake recipe had gone astray. It was based on one of my mother's recipes, but I'd made several changes to it, tweaking it here and there to better accommodate my taste and including new techniques I've learned along the way. It would take me many tries to recreate my changes, even if I could find the cake recipe again.

And then Holly called and said she'd found a pad of paper. She laughed, saying she knew it was mine because it contained many lists. She didn't realize the cake recipe was in the middle of the lists. I was so very glad to lay my hands on this recipe again!

Double Chocolate Pound Cake
1 ¾ c flour
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 ½ sticks butter, divided
1 ¾ c light brown sugar
1 T vanilla
5 eggs
¾ c cocoa
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
¾ boiling water
1 c sour cream

Pre-heat oven to 350ยบ F Grease bundt pan with a mix of 1 T each of melted butter and baking cocoa, blended into a paste. Heat ¾ c water to a boil. Add cocoa and stir together. Add ½ stick of butter and chocolate and stir until melted. Allow to cool slightly, then stir in sour cream. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour baking soda and salt. Beat 1 stick butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about four minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and chocolate mixture alternately. Bake until just pulling away from the pan, about 60 minutes.

This is a very adaptable cake. For Holly's wedding, I used organic dark chocolate with orange, added the zest of a large, organic orange, and made an orange sauce from the juice of the orange to use as a glaze. It was a terrific combination of chocolate and orange. I had hoped to make candied orange peel for a garnish, but ran out of time. This summer for Dan's and Michelle's silver birthday celebration, I flavored the cake with cherry liquer and made a cherry glaze for the top. I am so glad Holly found the recipe!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A tale of two turkeys

We had a marvelous visit to Dan's parent's in NY over the Thanksgiving holiday, with time to cook, to chat, for me to get a crochet refresher from Mom, and do a few chores for Mom and Dad, too.

We drove over on Tuesday, departing just as the snow started here in Maine -- fortunately just a dusting but enough to make me wish I'd purchased new windshield wipers before the trip. Traffic was not terrible, but busy enough on the Mass Pike to make me really glad we were driving over

Instead of driving west with a zillion other crazy Mass drivers, on Wednesday we did a few chores and in the afternoon, I made pie --pumpkin, pumpkin pecan, and apple. It went pretty quickly as I had made the dough ahead of time -- which also made the dough a little easier to work with, I think. Whatever the reason, these pies turned out pretty well, the bottom crust was crisp and they were beautifully flaky and tender.

We did have a pie tragedy. A piping hot pumpkin pie was knocked off the counter, did a mid-air flip and landed right-side up on the floor, but with much of the filling jolted out of the crust onto the floor. Fortunately, the pie plate did not break, but chaos ensued as we scurried to get the hot pie filling off the floor before the dog ate the filling, or the hot plate burned the linoleum. It was heartbreaking, (all those Henbogle eggs gone to waste!) but no one was hurt, we got to a sample the filling and crust without guilt, (see the before sampling photo, below left) and we have a new anecdote for the family stories archive. Perfect!

There was plenty of pumpkin puree left, and I had enough dough left for another crust, so I whipped together another pumpkin pie. I am just glad it wasn't the pumpkin pecan pie that crashed, as that would have been one sticky mess!

Making the pies the day ahead made cooking the actual dinner go pretty smoothly, even with the disadvantage of being in a different kitchen and using an unfamiliar smooth-top electric stove. It is crucial to plan backwards from the time dinner will be served, and make as much ahead as possible. I like roasted vegetables, so I usually try and make as much in the oven as possible, which also leaves the burners free for gravy and mashed potatoes, etc. Things were a bit tight in Mom's oven (note the oven rack mark across the turkey breast on the above photo), but I managed by cooking the squash ahead of time and reheating while the turkey rested. Of course, kitchen staff makes life easier, too.

Dan was a big help, doing dishes, washing the turkey and prepping the squash. He even julienned the carrots for me. I was trying to make life easy for Dan's mom, but needed her help with a few things, readying the potatoes and especially with finding the various dishes needed to cook everything.

I only swore twice, once when I turned off the wrong burner, causing the gravy to boil over, burning on the stove, and again during the emergency response that followed, when the roux for the gravy hit the floor, arghh. I'm getting better at producing these dinners, but by this point, with dinner mere moments away, I was on the edge.

Lucky for me, Dan's sister Jean was on hand to help out, she made a flour-water paste to thicken the gravy, and with that, dinner was served.
Of course, this means that I was so wigged out I forgot to take the group photo I had planned, but we all enjoyed dinner and good company, and that is, after all, what it is all about.

Capping off the holiday was a flying visit to my friend Mrs. Holly to see her and get a taste of a second Thanksgiving feast. We had my favorite, little turkey sandwiches made on Holly's fabulous homemade dinner rolls. Holly is still enjoying her newlywed status, and we got to ooh and ah over photos and wedding gifts. The visit was far too short, but I hope we'll see her again soon for a visit here at Henbogle. Maybe for a solstice celebration? I can hope....

Monday, November 19, 2007

Turkey Time

In addition to getting all the fall chores done, we are getting ready for a visit to NY with Dan's family over Thanksgiving. It will be a real harvest meal, featuring our carrots, potatoes, pumpkins, herbs and some locally grown squash and onions from Carlson's Farm just across the river.

I'm going to be doing much of the cooking, and have been busily preparing here at home, making turkey stock and roasting pumpkins for the pies. I used two medium sized "Winter Luxury" pumpkins, (seeds from FEDCO) roasting them in a 425 degree oven until very tender. I'm curious about whether they live up to the catalog hype.

I'm planning on an apple pie, a pumpkin pie, and for Dan, a reprise of the Pumpkin Pecan Pie from last year. In addition to dessert, roast turkey, sausage apple stuffing, roasted squash, baked stuffed Brussells sprouts, and more. I'm looking forward to dinner already!

Hen Dome v.2

Whew, it has been busy here at Henbogle, and I've been a blog slacker. I need to get back in the groove of an almost daily post. I don't know where the time goes, but I sure don't feel like there's enough to go around.

This weekend was cold but clear after a particularly rainy week --perfect weather to try and finish up some outdoor chores and the pressing fall chores, like storm windows and preparing the hen dome for the winter.

The hen dome is basically our simple, portable hoop house set up in the chicken yard for the hens to use during the winter. It gives them a covered place to hang out that is free of snow and out of the rain. We set one up last year and it worked great until the big April snow storm
collapsed it and tore the plastic.

We made some modifications this year, making the sides more vertical and banking the sides with straw bales to (we hope) prevent the plastic from blowing out in the wind, and maybe even providing a little insulation for the chooks.

Naturally, we had a team of hengineers consulting on every aspect of construction.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Create a cookbook

I'm so excited I just have to write about this (and no, I'm not getting a kickback from the company). There's a new website, Tastebook,which provides a template for self-publishing a cookbook!

I long ago promised a friend a cookbook as a wedding gift, and did give her a crude pile of pages from the laser printer, but have yet to get the book formatted to go to Kinkos for printing.

Now, I don't have to. It is so easy to upload recipes, that I'm halfway finished (54 recipes) uploading all my recipes from my book. In addition to uploading your own, you can import favorites from Epicurious as well.

Finally, no more frantic shuffling through the clutter to find a recipe drafted on the back of an envelope. They will all be neatly bound in an organized manner. Now if I could just find the recipe for the chocolate pound cake....

Sunday, November 04, 2007

More wedding photos

Gold lame socks for the bride -- to match the gold lame sneakers!

Sarah, Holly and Mom

Holly and Pop

Holly and I

Mom & Pop escort Holly

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Congratulations Holly & Dave!

A lovely bride with Mom & Pop, Esther & Bill

A done deal!

Dancing with Pop

A little bridal exultation

Cutting the delicious chocolate orange wedding cake, (Dave's flavorite) made with love by me and the hens. I made sure to keep a chunk for freezing to share on their first anniversary.

There was a lot of hairspray involved in that hairdo.

The stage crew rejoices, our friends are wedded.