Sunday, December 28, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Chris and I were enjoying our Christmas morning coffee in front of the fire when he commented,

"It would really be nice to be doing this in front of the tree."

"Well, go ahead!" I say.

"But I don’t want to go outside. It's too cold." he whined.

I guess I have to blame this exchange on my fit of the Bah Humbugs! I just didn't feel like putting up the tree this year.

Part of the problem comes from the sheer unwieldiness of the 12 foot artificial tree with deluxe light package we purchased several years ago.

"Just join the two sections together and plug in to any standard wall outlet.
So easy a child could do it!" the box claimed.

Well, I'm here to tell you it's like wrestling with a sea monster. A creature with long prickly fingers that can hook the glasses off your face, poke sensitive spots - VERY sensitive spots - and consume a third of the floor area in the living room.

At one point, attempting to adjust the base so the tree wasn't leaning so precariously over to one side, Chris belly crawled under the lower branches and completely disappeared. Eventually the tree was standing straight, but next time I'm going to tie a rope on him to make sure I get him back.

Add to that, Chris needs a body harness and winch to place the angel on the top of the tree. It's an effort on a par with Mary Martin flying across the stage as Peter Pan, only without the green tights. A ladder does not work because even though we place it as close as possible to the base of the tree, you're 20 feet from the top branch once at the top of the ladder. And no matter how c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y he places the angel, she flops to one side like a drunken wench who's been at the spiked eggnog for too long.

Coupling the lights between sections is a Gordian knot with the added bonus of threatening to electrocute one of us. Two seconds after we unpacked the box the first time, the little color coded sticky things for matching which socket goes to which plug all fell off. So we grunt and huff as we reach into the bowels of the branches, I holding a socket, he holding a plug, trying to meet up, as it were, so to speak. "...little more left - no, no, YOUR left! Ow! Sweet mother of God, I think I've lost an eye! ABORT, ABORT, ABORT!"

All this before we even unpack the first ornament.

So, no tree this year. Deal with it. But I did scatter poinsettias all around and that brightened things up considerably.

Some of the family and friends joined us Christmas evening for dinner. We started by the fire in the living room with pate and camembert cheese topped with Cranberry Drizzle. I made prime rib this year - two roasts in fact since the end cut is so popular. That worked out well. Amy's cheesy potatoes was the perfect partner for the roast. Homemade ice cream, Pear Tarte Tatin and Nantucket Cranberry Cake finished up menu.

It was a great Christmas!

Cranberry Drizzle

Combine 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar and 3 cups cranberry juice in a saucepan. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes until tmixture is reduced to 1 1/3 cupes.

In a bowl toss together 1/2 cup cranberries and 2 tablespoons sugar; add to juice mixture.

simmer 5 minutes more or until cranberries begin to pop. Remove from heat. Cool.

Refrigerate up to 2 weeks.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Winter Flavors

When we went to the races way back last October, I was asked to bring a dish along. Since I had some pears on my counter,

that got me thinking about a recipe for roasted pears I had recently seen that seemed interesting. Well, of course, I could not remember where I had seen idea, so I cast about on my favorite food internet sites for inspiration. Several hours later and now so ravenously hungry I was wondering if I could fool myself into thinking the cat food was really expensive pate - I mean, a little parsley sprinkled on the top and some ritz crackers...mmmmmm...who could resist? Thinking better of THAT plan, I headed to the kitchen, clutching several pages of recipes for roasted pears.

Eventually I ended up with the salad pictured above - roasted pears, pancetta and toasted walnuts with blue cheese over arugula dressed with lemon vinaigrette. Well received and versatile as either a salad or addition to a beef flank sandwich. I also want to work on a roasted pear chutney, which I think would be fabulous with pork, but that is for another day.

Roasted Pear Salad with Pancetta and Blue Cheese

serves 6

3 bosc pears, halved and cored, sliced into wedges (4 or 5 per half)
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 t. kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
12 slices of pancetta
2 to 3 ounces blue cheese (I used bleu d'auvergne)
1/2 cup walnuts

Pre-heat oven to 375

Spread the pancetta slices on a sheet pan and bake in oven until crispy. Watch as slices can go from done to burned in a second. Better to take out a little early.

Toss the pear slices with the evoo, salt and pepper. Spread on a sheet pan. Roast in oven for 15 to 20 minutes, just until edges are starting to caramelize.

Place the walnuts in a dry saute pan (do not use non-stick) just large enough to hold in one layer. Toast over medium high heat, tossing frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes.

Dress the arugula with Lemon Vinaigrette (recipe below). Arrange pancetta on top, then pears, blue cheese and walnuts.

Everything can be prepared ahead of time and assembled just before serving.

Lemon Vinaigrette

1 garlic clove

big pinch kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 T. dijon mustard (plain or grainy)

zest from 1/2 of a lemon

2 T. fresh lemon juice (never bottled!)

4 T. evoo

Shred the garlic on the tines of a dinner fork in the bottom of a mixing bowl. Add the salt, pepper, mustard, zest and lemon juice and stir to combine. Whisk in the evoo until dressing is emulsified.

You can also place all the ingredients in a lidded container and shake hard to combine.

Taste dressing and adjust seasoning, adding more evoo if you prefer.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Day at the Races

I have lived in New Jersey for much of my life, but I had never attended the steeplechase races at Far Hills until this year. This annual event is well known in the NYC area and was a favorite of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Remember the pictures of Carolyn on her pony Macaroni? If you click here, you will find an article in the NJ Star Ledger (don't miss the comments…jeez, get a grip people). I even got a picture of the horse head ice sculpture mentioned in the article…talk about rubbing elbows with the “greats.”

If you ask me, this ice sculpture is a bit more interesting…it’s a “Shots Luge” You stick you mouth at the bottom of one of the trenches and they put a shot of vodka or tequila down the trench. Are we a great country, or what?!!

At the same spot, a display of pumpkin art caught our attention. Here are couple of my favs…

(No pumpkins were harmed by the making of these models…or should I say “hack jobs?”)

Decorations were rampant - er, I mean, there were many, many lovely, tasteful displays of gracious magnitudeness. We, on the other hand, preferred a more simple approach... Here I give you Mary Pat with our tail gate decoration...Tail...Gate....get it?

To say a bit of drinking goes on would be an understatement. One tailgater had five - count ‘em - five kegs of beer. Of course, we did our share…not saying we didn’t, but five kegs???? Here’s a victory pic of Mary Pat after she accidentally fired the cork from the champagne bottle - missing Chris and Michael by a hair - for a direct hit on a race goer strolling past our site. Thank goodness the woman’s down vest averted a bloody, bone crushing injury. "Oops, sorry…my bad - are you all right, dee-ah?"

I have only recently met Mary Pat, but so far she was two for two on the day. I am sure she and I are going to become verrrrry close friends. She is definitely my kind of gal!

Fox seem to be a favorite decoration…

All in all, it was a beautiful October day spent with good friends, lots of food and fine wine. Can’t ask for more!

L to R Christine and Doug, Chris, Michael, Mary Pat, Steve, Katy and Lisa (Ignor the fornicating fox on the left in the picture - they got into the sherry.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

August Happenings...

Just kidding...I know it's October!

Actually August was a blur of working on the cottage, as was September and a bit of this month. Just to give you an idea of all we have accomplished, I offer a few before and after pics below.

We also took care of the wet basement problem by installing a French drain along the back of the house. It was quite the project, but we think we have finally fixed the problem.
The discovery of three springs along the back wall of the house explained a lot of it. Even more water ran into the trench before the excavator dug the outlet trench. The outlet pipe now runs with a constant stream of water 24/7; most of which was in the basement before.

Chris finally dragged me home on the 9th. The fall colors were just getting to their peak, but much needs attention here at home.

Old living room...

Ta daaaa! Not too shabby for mostly garage sale finds, bargain bin buys and a bit of home DIY projects (more on those later).

The old driveway and garage entrance...

New screen door on garage, new drive and in the background, fence and garden shed through the arbor.

We added a deck to the front to replace the old sidewalk and patio.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Maine Musings

We’ve been here three weeks and it has been a blur of work. Luckily, the weather has been a little off, so we are not feeling too abused, i.e., having to work inside the house when the gulls are all calling us to come out and play. But today is a picture perfect - 72 and a soft breeze off the ocean. It’s heaven!!

A few numbers for your amusement:

22 trips to Home Depot, mostly for paint
18 trips to Lowes
12 trips to the grocery store, liquor store, drug store (lots of Advil!)
10 trips to Owls Head Market for take out lunch
8 to the post office for arriving packages and boxes
6 to Walmart
4 trips to the transfer station for recycling and garbage - no home pick up here.
3 Amy’s of Cushing, Maine pies down the hatch
2 trips to the town dump We have a town dump! That is soooooo 1950‘s!
1 set of houseguests
0 lobster dinners - how can this be???? Too exhausted to go out!

Everything is in a state of Almost Done. The living room, one bedroom and the bathroom are almost there; the two other bedrooms are not started yet. I will get one done by Tuesday night for the next house guest - I hope! We chip away at it every day and we would not be this far if not for Craig and Melitta and Helen and Howard. Good friends who jumped in to paint, spackle, polish, clean, line shelves, advise, comfort, feed us (and help us drink) and generally make our lives so much easier. The house would be no where near this ready without their generous and willing help. We are blessed!

And if that was not enough, Craig added a beautiful stone chimney cap for us…getting rid of an ugly metal vent. We have amazing friends.

I have just spent an hour watching a young osprey hunt for his fish supper. Hanging over the narrow channel between our end of the land and Ash Island, he made several dive bombs into the water to come up empty. Around he would circle, ruffling his feathers in flight to fling off the water, to hover above the waves, watching, watching…

A small sign for Organic Vegetables caught my eye yesterday on my way home from some errand or another. I turned down the gravel lane and around the first curve found a beautiful white Maine farm house with a small stand by the road. The owner/gardener came out and we started chatting. I am very curious about gardening here in Maine…when can I plant, what survives the winter well and what doesn’t, where does she find compost, mulch, etc. Lovely, willowy Catherine shared all her secrets and I came home with beautiful salad greens, haricot vert beans, basil, gorgeous beets and the last jar of her 3 Red Berries Jam. She is so pleased with it, she is saving the rest of her supply for Christmas gifts. Yes, it really is that good…and I wish I was a friend!

The full moon was breathtaking the other night. A perfect naval orange glowing in the night sky.


Monday, July 14, 2008


Melitta and I were sitting on the deck, drinks in hand…


“I know.” I said

“Oh, Barbara”

“I know”


“I know!”

“Wait until Chris sees this!” she said


“This is just…oh…Barbara!”

“I knowwwwww!!!!!!”

This conversation went on like this for most of our first cocktail and a good part of the next. The reason for it is quite simple…

Chris and I are the proud owners of a cottage in Maine!!


In Owls Head!

True story: last September in Dijon, France, we all rubbed the belly of a small statue of an owl for good luck. The owl is the symbol of Dijon and this little figure on the side of the church has been rubbed for luck for over 500 years.

I guess it works! I am a doubter no more of old French legends.


A cottage! In Maine! On the water!!!

I have been dying to blog about this but I am just superstitious enough I wanted to wait until it was a done deal. The closing was last Friday. We have been looking for a small place for five years. We have missed out on two other properties - one by a day and one by a couple of hours. So, once burned, twice shy, as they say. We put in a bid almost within minutes of the house being listed. As several people said over the weekend, we missed on the earlier purchases because THIS is where we are supposed to be!

Melitta came with me for the weekend as Chris could not get away. Over the weekend, we hit a mess of garage sales and scored some major furniture deals. It took three trips on Saturday to haul all the loot. Next we checked out paint colors and decided on a palette for the interior. That led to some power shopping for kitchen towels and other appropriately colored accessories followed by a stop at the (one) local furniture store to finish out living room seating needs. At the end of each day, we would relax on the balcony of our hotel room before dining at one or another favored restaurant. Melitta's company made the whole weekend so much more fun. Besides, I needed someone to keep pinching me just so I could be sure I was not dreaming.

I can show you these pictures, but until you are sitting there watching the sun and clouds play across the water…

Looking at hundreds of gently bobbing lobster trap buoys, their gaudy colors reflecting in the sunlight one moment and blending seamlessly into the soft silvery gray water’s surface the next…

Hearing only gull’s cries and the soft lapping of the waves on the beach…

Smiling companionably when far off someone laughs as they prepare to relax for the evening…

Taking in a deep breath of pine trees and salty, sea damp air…almost tasting it…

Contentedly tracking the progress of a wind jammer or a day sailer weaving in and out of the islands or a lobster boat chugging for home port, wondering if the trip brought a successful haul that day…

Until that moment, you just cannot imagine how truly perfect is this little cottage on Mussel Ridge Channel on the Maine coast. These pictures and my words just cannot bring it to life, do it justice, make you understand.

Here are a few pictures. Just a cute little one story, 1955 ranch with the original knotty pine kitchen. But the view, the place, the feeling…there are no words! But now when I say “We have a cottage in Maine,” I have a greater appreciation of the emotional words of Karen Blixen: “I had a farm in Africa…”

Is this kitchen not adorable? These pictures are from the realtor's listing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

June Happenings

I know, I know…it’s July. I meant to get this onto the blog in June…Really I did.

Sooooo, June was a quiet month here for us. And we enjoyed the heck out of it. Taking the time to read and even sneak in a nap every now and then.

I made a quick trip to Maine early in the month, but I can’t reveal the reason just yet. Stay tuned for a surprise. Don’t ya just love a tease? I stayed at the Hartstone Inn in Camden. Michael and Mary Jo have a beautiful inn which you can see on their website here. Michael added these charming, rustic kitchen garden beds this year at the back of the inn. I had a few questions on their construction and Michael answered them in his blog here. Just scroll down to the May 12th entry.

Two years ago, I planted a Delphinium elatum ‘Green Twist’ in one of the garden beds at the back of the house. Apparently it is VERY happy as this is a bouquet from this 6’ giant perennial. Actually, it is half of the flowers on the plant. Impressive! Just after I cut this bouquet, we had a flood of rain and the rest of the blooms broke their stalks from the weight of the water.

The Sergeantsville Farmers Market has started up again. Here's a shot of just part of it.

The first week I bought summer squash, baby lettuces, garlic scapes, radishes AND I found a resource for organic pork and chickens and fresh eggs from Blue Jingler Farm. Blue jingler is a type of native stone found along the banks of the Delaware River separating NJ and Pennsylvania. It rings like a bell when you strike it was a hammer, hence its name. The owners, Jack and Cheryl live a couple of miles from us. Pig rules in our house so I’ve ordered a half for the fall. The chickens are pasture raised in large, open shelters and the eggs are head and shoulders above store bought. Chickens, by nature, are omnivores. That is what lends richness and flavor to their eggs and why organic store bought eggs, which are usually the product of a vegetarian diet for the hens, are not as tasty. Also, a recent study from Tufts University found eggs from flocks allowed to forage were up to 1/3 lower in cholesterol naturally. Cool!

They were screaming hot and Chris LOVED them…the radishes, that is. I just served them up straight from their refrigerator hot tub - cold tub? - with a pile of kosher salt. Thankfully, the salt takes a bit of the bite out of them. I also found a tasty and addictive recipe for radish spread here. A mouthful of summer…

The vendor selling the garlic scapes gave me a recipe for garlic scape "pesto." He offered it as a sauce for meats or egg dishes. I used it over grilled squid with some pasta. Make this as thick or runny as desired for the application. I added ladels of pasta water to the pan when I was tossing everything together until I liked the consistency.

1 package of garlic scapes (about half a gallon size bag or 3 dozen scapes)
2 cloves garlic
handful of parsley leaves
handful of fresh basil leaves
2 t. kosher salt or to taste

whiz above in food processor to a reasonable mince. While motor running, add

half to 1 cup evoo

until consistency is what you like.


You can see the bags of scapes in this picture...

Wendy’s mum and dad - “P” and “G” to their grandkids…no, I don‘t know why - have been visiting from England. We just call them Graham and Gwen. I must find out from Wendy how it comes to pass her father can deliver a most stirring grace before dinner - in LATIN! I felt really blessed! I volunteered to make the dessert for Katy when she and Michael had us all over for dinner. I decided on a fresh raspberry and blackberry tart with pastry cream and butter crust. The golden raspberries were a boon from the store and heavenly sweet. I just wish they had been organic, but that’s not going to happen at the local supermarket.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I’ve been thinking about names lately, nick and otherwise.

They say your porn name is a combo of your first pet and the first street you lived on…so I’m Beautiful Bonnie Hill or Dopey Lake Moraine (my mother could not make up her mind what to call the stupid cat and, apparently, neither could the locals about what to call the road where we lived) or Corky County Road Three. Corky was our Newfoundland dog. You decide. Sigh…I can’t even catch a porn name break.

I like my given name…Barbara. There aren’t too many in my general age group, which is nice. It has reasonable diminutives…Barb (not my fav), Barbie, Babs (don’t EVEN go there though my friend Marne always calls me that) or Bobbie. I’ve even met the person I was named after, which, if you’re not named after a family member, not everyone can say.

What I am looking for is an uber cool nickname. Something with panache. Descriptive in a “good” way. Unique. And I have found it…Twinkie. I hear you all snorting out there! I’m serious! Really.

I can thank my friend Linda for this newfound obsession. In casual conversation she mentioned her friend, Twinkie. STOP the conversation. Whoa Nelly. Back up the truck. Twinkie? “Yeah, Twinkie.” Wow. I could hear *The Hills Are Alive from the Sound of Music* swelling in the background. I made her say it again. “Twinkie” Now I was hearing Maria from West Side Story rolling through my brain. Linda rolled her eyes and gave me her patented “You are SUCH an idiot.” look.

I don’t know how Twinkie got her name - from a favorite childhood snack? If so, I’d be Ring Ding or Ho Ho (behave yourself) (and is that the daughter of a … never mind). But no matter where the name comes from…it is a name you can stand up out loud with…it is cool to the power of ten.

I did have a pet name as a child, several, in fact. Sometimes my dad called me Icky. I think he came up with that from the “special” look on my face when I was filling my diaper with a *big* one. The one that stuck was Tinker Bell. How lame is that? Close to Twinkie, you say, but not close enough for me. You know how I know? Try this sentence out loud…”Don’t *make* me call Twinkie.” Or how about “She went all Twinkie on him.” Now try those with Tinker Bell. See what I mean?

I know I cannot purloin someone else’s nickname. I think it even states in the Nickname Official Rule Manual (NORM) you cannot make up your own. It’s supposed to be a naturally occurring event. Like when you did the half gainer off the church steps and you have been called Grace ever since. Or Stinky for someone with the last name Butts (thanks, Jeff). My friend Bob told me he and his buddies called each other by their mother’s names. That’s cool.

But Twinkie…now THAT‘S a nickname you can put on a name tag with pride!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Big Brown

We gathered up the usual suspects to watch the Belmont Stakes last Saturday. I was so excited, just sure Big Brown would be our first Triple Crown winner in three decades. Fortunately his loss did not dampen the party for too long!

I wanted a simple meal, so I decided on oven fried chicken and herby potato salad. The market had fresh, wild caught Mahi Mahi, so I bought a nice slab of that and oven roasted it per my friend Catherine’s recipe - topped with equal parts (about a tablespoon of each) soy, coarse Dijon mustard and honey. All could be made earlier in the day and served at room temperature. What could be easier?

While we waited for the race, I thought a buffet of savory dishes would be interesting. Except for three dishes, which I held in the warming drawer, everything was room temp. Here’s the line up -

Warm dishes:

Oven roasted mushrooms with a sage and parsley gremolata. The sage was a flavorful variation on using just parsley. I have become a real fan of this easy topping for just about any dish. Vary the herbs and amount of garlic to suit and it adds a nice “chef-ly” finishing touch.

A medley of red and yellow peppers strips tossed with olive oil, shallots and garlic, dabbed with tomato paste, sprinkled with parsley and roasted in the oven.

Spicey shrimp - lots of garlic and butter and red pepper flakes with a touch
of oil.

Room temp dishes:

Brie and Manchega cheeses, oil cured olives, green piquant olives and homemade crackers.

Proscuitto wrapped strawberries with balsamic vinegar for dipping.

Parmesan crisps - I always get comments on these little snacks. People are surprised by them and think the recipe must be complicated. Not so! Just pile grated parmesan cheese on a cookie sheet lightly coated with oil or cooking spray. About quarter size piles. Throw in a touch of cayenne if you are feeling daring. Bake at 375 for 8 to 12 minutes - depends on your oven until light tan. Watch like a hawk at the end as they can go too far in a flash. Move to a rack to cool right away. They store very well in a plastic container.

Tuscan white bean dip with slices of fennel - the light anise flavor of the fennel complimented the garlicky bean dip perfectly. Unique as well as low calorie, instead of crackers.

Dessert was a heavenly chocolate bread pudding brought by one of the guests.

I have been thinking about making my own crackers and have been gathering recipes for a while. I was inspired to attempt this after paying $4.50 for a miniscule package of flaxseed crackers at the Camden Farmers Market last summer. Cheapness - though I like to think of it as thriftiness from the Scottish part of my parentage - has got to be the Dowager Aunt of invention in my humble opinion! This was my first attempt and I was quite pleased with the result. These get better each day, by the way, so making them ahead is fine. I rolled them by hand but they came out a bit thick. Still good, but I think thinner would be better. Thus, I had the perfect excuse to order a pasta roller for my Kitchen Aid mixer, once again living up to my middle name: Iwantitall. I topped each cracker with a sprinkle of fleur de sel and that was a marriage made in heaven! The cracker was a real showcase for this special salt and the salt elevated the cracker‘s taste.

The recipe I used came from one of my favorite blogs, 101 Cookbooks. Heidi Swanson has a wonderful way with words, photos and finding choice recipes. Here is the LINK to the recipe. I only had all purpose flour on hand, so that’s what I used, but I sure intend to try it with semolina.

Next up is a garlic parmesan flaxseed cracker recipe. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Way back when dirt was still young, I planted my first garden bed here at the farm. This was an endeavor doomed from the beginning. Why you ask? Well, I’ll tell you…I knew, er, dirt about gardening. Off I prance out of the house one Saturday morning in my happy little gardener outfit, complete with hat. Trowel in hand, I savage the lawn where I want to site the new bed.

Okay, Plan B, ask Chris to get a shovel and “just go turn the sod over and dig down a little bit.” Polite society will not allow me to print his reply to that idea here.

Plan C, hire a rototiller. Now we’re talking. Power equipment. What’s the funny sound Tim Allen makes on Tool Time? Anyway, I had a couple of inches plowed up, thinking that would make a good bed. I went out and bought a billion plants - you know - one of this and one of that and stuck it all in the ground. Or more accurately, tucked each one between the sod lumps.

Time passed, the sun rose and sat, the seasons changed. The garden bed was mostly grass with a few struggling plants valiantly waving their little heads in the wind. “Help me…please don’t let me die here like this….” I hear voices often. But maybe I shouldn’t mention that…

Every time I looked at the Lolly bed, I felt like a failure. (Didn’t I mention I *name* all my garden beds? No? Well, I do!) I named it Lolly because I wanted to design a garden to honor my friend with the strong colors she so favors. Warm yellows, clear blues and pops of red. Never mind I planted apricot, white and pink. Never mind I planted Centaurea montana, also know as Bachelor Button, also known as the kudzu vine of the north, the most invasive, persistent, can’t kill it with Agent Orange flower…ever. Sigh.

Time to channel Scarlett O’Hara and swear as God made little green apples to never, ever plant bad garden again! So I studied, subscribed to a dozen garden magazines, scoured the internet, went on every garden tour possible, stalked garden owners and watched gardening programs on HGTV until I was in a coma. Still couldn’t design a garden bed to save my life.

But then…wait for it…I discovered…nope, I STILL got nothing. Can’t do it. But I wouldn’t run up to this and leave you hanging! So, here in pictures is the new Lolly garden bed. Freshly designed and planted by yours truly.

Bed prepared for replanting.

New plants set in place this week.

And voila…!


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Notes for May...

Hanging on our front porch off the family room, is an array of bird feeders. I love to watch the visitors and there is a wide array to enjoy. Among others, downy, red-bellied and flicker woodpeckers, blue jays, all manner of sparrows, cardinals, phoebes, chickadees, nuthatches and titmice, wrens - Carolina on its annual migration and house - the “official” signal of spring around here for me. The thistle sock is always covered with goldfinches playing King of the Mountain. I credit all this activity at the feeder to using the woodpecker seed blocks manufactured by Birdola. You can find them on the internet. Great product.

When we first moved to the farm, the land had been completely cleared around the house, or maybe had never been planted in the first place. Anyway, the folks we bought from had added a few trees and bushes, but not much. There were no birds to be seen! I found this amazing, but I learned that they won't come unless you provide enough cover. Well, I sure hammered that nail!

Last year I spied a ruby-crowned kinglet on the sedum for a few minutes, then he was gone not to be seen again. An entire flock of cedar waxwings hung out for days until every berry was gone off the Amalachier trees shading the porch. And I almost drove the car into our neighbors peach orchard when a pileated woodpecker flew across the road in front of me. Pileateds are crow sized black birds with pointed red head tufts like a cardinal. They are extremely shy and rarely seen, even by avid birders. I was freekin' squeaking with delight at my good fortune.
Back in the 80’s, I started marking my bird book every time I saw something new. I note the date and where I made the sighting. It’s fun to look over the earlier notes. This week, an indigo bunting stopped by for a couple of days and gave me a new entry for my life list.

Here we have Dillon laying underneath the shelf feeder - he’s trying to look up the girl birdies’ skirts. Actually, the birds pay no attention to him. They even hop around him picking up seeds. He does draw the line when they *drop* seeds on him, however. We have our standards, you know.
Remember the Nantucket Cranberry Pie (cake) I made last Christmas? If you don’t, the recipe is here. Well, my rhubarb stand was ready for harvest for the first time ever, so I thought I would try the recipe with that, instead of cranberries. I am happy to report, it was delish. Give it a try! You won’t be sorry. Just the right amount of tart. Don’t try to skimp on the sugar, either.
It has been a very strange spring weather wise. Very cool, so much so plants are all confused about when they are supposed to bloom. For example: the forsythia is in bloom now along with the apples and other ornamental trees, including the redbuds. Normally the redbuds pop first in early April, then the forsythia followed by the ornamentals. The wild ornamentals - I call them bird planted - are incredibly heavy with blooms, while the cultivated hardly had any blooms at all.

The wren was very late this year…April 30th. I mark my garden perpetual calendar every year and he is usually very punctual…mid-April. Did you know the male makes SEVERAL nests and then invites the prospective bride to select the abode of her choice? Don’t you love that? Somebody should isolate that gene…I know just where I would like that inserted in the human genome along with a lemming like urge to go to Tiffanys. The wren sings his little guts out every morning while I am settling into the new day with my coffee and sudoku puzzle.
We’re dusting off our hippy gear for a NJ Conservation Foundation event this Saturday. Barnstock! as in *Woodstock* - should be interesting. Peace, Man!
OK, you vegetarians out there, close your eyes for this next piece. I made veal stock over the weekend. Man oh man, the house smelled incredible and NO, I DON’T FEEL GUILTY, so cross me off the Christmas list or something, if it will make you feel better. It’s all tucked away in the freezer. Just waiting. I have plans for it for a special dinner coming up, but that’s a tale for another day…
Just to make it up to you, I leave you with a look at the farm waking up from winter.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

France - Part 3 A Church on Acid

Anyone who has been to France knows the French are into churches. In Paris, Notre Dame is only the beginning. St. Chapelle is not to be missed - if you are lucky enough to be there during the annual 22 minutes when the guards are NOT on strike. We finally made it for the first time in eight visits to Paris- and at least 16 attempts. It was built by Louis IX in the 1240's to house relics from the Holy Land believed to be the Crown of Thorns and part of the True Cross. Its stained glass windows, which essentially surround the entire upper floor, make it feel as if you are in a tiny jewel box. The steps of the Basilique du Sacre Coeur afford a stunning view of the city. St. Surplice, made famous in Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code, is a worthy destination on the Left Bank.

Further afield, there’s Chartres, Mont St. Michele and the cathedral at Rheims. The chapel at Omaha Beach in Normandy, sitting in the American Cemetary will bring a lump to your throat. Almost every chateau will have a private chapel. Finding a church to look at in France is easier than falling off a log. Every town, village and wide spot in the road has an ancient catholic church. And that is not saying anything about ruins, abbeys and holy sites.

Every evening on the barge, as we gathered for our cocktails on the deck, we would listen to the church bells calling the faithful to evening mass. It was quite the charming backdrop to our end of the day libations if not a bit of a contradiction to the start of our evenings of booze, food, wine and general merriment.

So by the time we arrived in Celon, we had seen *plenty* of churches. Touring yet another one was not high on our list of destinations. Kathy Missen, the proprietress of our bed and breakfast, Le Canard au Parapluie Rouge, was very clever in convincing us to go see the church in Le Menoux across the Creuse River.

“Well, it has an, um, *interesting* interior.”

“You mean like it has unusual stained glass windows?”


“An early baptismal font?”

“No, not exactly.”

“Oh, a mural by some Godly ancient French painter or, even better, by an Impressionist painter!” Now I’m getting excited. I LOVE impressionist work.

“Well, yes, that’s it…sort of.”

So off we set. We find our destination but are not too impressed. Like its brethren all over the countryside, it looks like just another dusty, quiet church.

But then we ventured inside…

HOLY SH...cow! I mean, Oh My G...Goodness. Well! Sorta leaves you breathless, doesn’t it? (You didn’t think I was going to curse, did you? C’mon, I writing about churches here…CATHOLIC churches. And right under the picture of Jesus - jeez.)

Boy! What I wouldn’t give to have been present at the opening. Do you suppose they really KNEW what the artist was going to do? And let him? I’ll bet they had a fifty gallon drum of smelling salts right there in the vestibule.

Of course, the artist’s signature sort of gives you a clue. *Paging Dr. Leary. Timothy Leary, please* Gotta love the 60’s.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Idiot Games

We settled into our site in Williamsburg late in the morning; we were visiting Jeff and Julie for the weekend. We had an uneventful trip up from Florida over the past couple of days. Weather and road conditions were all fine. Chris was off running errands and I was doing a little work on the computer.

It was such an ordinary afternoon, this. Who could have guessed what was about to happen…

I just had a moment of such immense stupidity, it defies measure. It deserves the Stupidest of the Stupidest Award. The Gene Pool Would Be Better Without You Award. So stupid I’m embarrassed to tell it….but when has embarrassment ever stopped me before?

It want something like this…

I reached for the iPod remote control in my usual graceful way and somehow knocked over a picture, which knocked over another picture, which knocked over a tray leaning against the window which

........i ..n....... s.. ..l.. o.. w ..........m ..o.. t.. i.. o...n

knocked over the big, tall, cool glass of water I had just poured for myself onto the table. The table with my digital camera, my pocket book, my cell phone, calendar, address book AND MY COMPUTER.

The only thing the water missed was the dog - only because he was on the other side of the room.

I would like to say after the initial shock, I calmly rescued the contents of the table top and swiftly wiped up the spill. NOT.

What ensued was me channeling Lucille Ball - with her hair on fire. Or a three Stooges vignette. It could even be called, if I do say so myself, a Basil Fawlty moment. If there had been two of me I would have slammed into myself.

“Grab a towel, you idiot!!” my Mind screamed.

NO I thought

Pick up the computer NO the camera oh God, the phone NO the books - they’re paper!

“A TOWEL, A TOWEL.” Mind keeps screaming. over.and.over.

I’m not sure if this conversation when on in my head or out loud, but I heard something that sounded like a cat howling in the distance.

The argument between me and my Mind continued for a few more seconds until Reason chimed in with a compromise. The carpet will act like a towel.

RIGHT … throw it all on the floor. Since the dog was now hopping around enjoying the new game, all 85 pounds of him, scrap that plan. Maybe I should have grabbed the dog, I could have used his curly butt to sop up the mess.

Finally, I just gathered it all up and took it to the little, tiny, itsy bitsy dish towel at the kitchen sink.

I think all is ok…at least I’m typing this on the computer and it seems to be working. Water has stopped running out of the phone and the camera has stopped making that funny gurgling noise when I turn it on.


And people wonder why I drink.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

And the Winner Is....

Nope...not me…ppppssssssssshhhhhhhhhhfffffffffffffffffffffff (sound of deflation).

I had my “You like me. You really, really like me!” speech all ready and everything.

The bottom line is (dramatic pause here) (drum roll please) it’s the rabbits fault. A stupid, little, miserable #*&%@!f*g concrete garden bunny. And the fact that I placed it IN the arrangement, instead of OUTSIDE of the arrangement. Which I could have easily done, if I had even ONE brain cell working. Now that I have that off my chest, I feel better.

Let me quote the judge’s comments. I think I have that around here somewhere. I’m sure I haven’t burned it yet or flushed it down the toilet or ripped it into a million little pieces. Oh yeah, here it is…

”charming interpretation, however, it is a scene. It is the placement of the components that make it a scene.”

Translation…the bunny must die.

Anyway, here is a picture of my entry with the stupid, little, miserable bunny ruining it.

A couple of close ups of the “flower” in the hat.

My idea was to recreate an amaryllis type flower mixing in the theme of the show (Spring Magic). So I thought magician top hat and pulling a rabbit out of the hat. Hence, the stupid, little, miserable bunny IN the arrangement. AAAAaaaarrrrrrrrggggggggghhhhhh!

Everything sits on a bed of moss. The little stalks at the front of the arrangement are asparagus stalks (in front of the *%&# bunny). The “bulb” is an acorn squash; at the top of the bulb/base of the flower stalk are Brussel sprout leaves; the stalk is from a schleffera plant; two Chinese Palm leaves also grow from the bulb; large green flower leaves at the base of the hat are sea grape foliage, the base of the flower is a black felt top hat and the flower in the hat is more sea grape foliage (which is red when it is young).

Winner or no, I owe gratitude and love to Jenny for her encouragement, advice and support and to Bonnie (who took second place) for her perspective and for letting me cry all over her shoulder. And big, kissy congratulations to my friend Pat for winning first place. Her arrangement was to far left and Bonnie's on the far right in yesterday's post picture showing our three entries.

I had a great time!!


Friday, March 14, 2008

Morning Sickness

It’s nine o’clock and I am sitting here trying to decide whether to cry or throw up. Not a good way to start your day. Is it a case of the flu that is going around or maybe even what the title is hinting at…NOT. No, it’s floralshowentryjudgephobia.

My former friend, Jenny B., who lives next door to us in sunny, happy, no-worries, we’re all here to relax Florida, talked me into entering her garden club flower show. WHAT WAS I THINKING!?

I don’t do competition. I gave up several careers because THEY INVOLVED COMPETITION on some level.

Okay, I've decided. I wanna puke. Crying is not going to cover it.

I mean to tell you, I'm an obsessive freak. I was constructing flowers at TWO O'FREAKING CLOCK this morning. How sick is that?

So Chris just came in from walking Remy. “How’s it look?”
I dunno. I wanna puke.
Well, did you at least finish it?
Yeah, I wanna puke. Keep the aisle open to the bathroom.
What do you think of it?
I dunno. I really wanna puke.

Now for the horrible, cruel, awful part of all this. I can’t go back into the show until 1:00. I won’t know anything until 1:00. That is FOUR HOURS from now. Who are these people? Sadistic floral &%^&$#$s. I mean, is this their idea of fun? Torturing innocent flower arranging dweebs, like me?

So I guess you have to wait for the results in a later blog. I wanna puke.

Here is a look at three of the four entries in the category.

I’m taking names too!

The St. Lucie West Garden Club
“Spring Magic”
A Standard Flower Show
Outdoor Resorts of Port St. Lucie
1:00 to 5:00 today
Free Entry

Today is the 101st anniversary of my mother’s birth. Happy Birthday Mom. I hope you are surrounded by love and peace.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Daily Grind...

Remy wants to have his say about life in the coach...

It's another beautiful morning here,

so poppa peep and I head out for our walk...

This is our street.

I like it a lot because there are hardly any other dogs on it. It's good to be king of the block! I really hate those little dogs...I mean they all think they are tough stuff. Always staring and yapping at me, as IF... Mom peep calls them "two bites." I'm not sure what she means exactly, but she thinks it's a funny thing to say.

Sometimes we go all around the park. This year we have new territory to explore. There are a bunch of new pads in a new part of the park. I like this because there is hardly anyone there and there are lots of new smells to check out. Here's what the new part looks like.

Other times, we go "outside" IF dad peep *remembers* to bring the little white card that opens the gate to get back into the park. If he forgets, we have to wait for a car to make the gate work. But it is lots of fun because I can get off the leash and chase the ball at this big field.
That's it for now. Time to get my treats. Yum!