Saturday, December 31, 2005

Planning a Garden

Gardening is one of my favorite pastimes. However, other than a few herbs on my window sills, and my amaryllis collection which are weeks away from blooming, I'm not growing much in December. I consider January 1st the beginnning of gardening season. Although the last frost may be over four months away, and it's snowing as I write this, I'm starting to plan. In the dead of winter all things are possible when spring comes. I'll mulch more. I'll keep ahead of the weeds. I'll pick every last green bean. I'll stake early. I'll expand the garden and on and on. Oh the possibilities, a new year, a new garden, a new beginning.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Rock Hypocrite

This post has nothing to do with my usual my topic of growing or cooking food, unless someone has a good recipe for stone soup.
Today at Roundrock Journal , pablo was discussing in his post how difficult it was to part with his round rocks. I suggested that he take a picture of his rocks and give away the rocks, but keep the photo. Well, as I walked around my house today, I noticed I had rocks on the table in the living room. There were rocks on my bureau in my bedroom. There were rocks in the garden and even a rock in the car. But alas there were no photos of rocks, so I guess I'm a rock hypocrite. So today I took a picture of the rocks that are in my living room. They are rocks from a cobble beach in Scituate, Massachusetts, USA where I spent my childhood summers. The ocean has worn them smooth. The beach there had rocks as far as the eye could see. Rocks made up the front, back and side yards of the house. I don't just mean that there were rocks in the yard. I mean that the entire yard was rocks. If Scituate weren't over an hours drive, I would have gone today and taken some photos.
When guests would come to visit us, they would take home rocks. This baffled me as a child, but now I understand it. The rocks actually are interesting. Each seems unique. Rocks are so permanent, so enduring.
My grandmother's house that we summered in was destroyed by the ocean and wind in the blizzard of 1978, but the rocks and my summer memories remain.
So pablo, "Rock On" and keep your rocks. However, so as not to be a total hypocrite, now that I have a photo, I'd be happy to send you the rocks in the above picture. They're not round like yours, but they are interesting. If pablo doesn't want them they are up for grabs.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Purple Cauliflower

I'm off to the dentist today for a possible root canal, so no blogging tonight, but I'll leave you with a photo of an interesting veggie. I took this in Florence,Italy before a friend turned it into part of our dinner. I thought it tasted like regular cauliflower, but it was so much more photogenic.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Chicken Moving Day

My shopping list for yesterday had three items, chardonnay, welded wire and pine shavings. What type of day does that suggest? The wine was for the dinner I wrote about yesterday the last two were for chicken moving day, which was also yesterday.

Like most moving days it never goes totally smoothly. Having dinner guests might sound like a lot to do on chicken moving day. Having guests is part of the plan though, because it’s not just the chickens that move. Their coop gets moved also. It weighs around 200 lbs and the guests are necessary to help move the coop.

The chickens are moved to their winter home, a short distance away into our garage/barn. Chickens can take very cold weather. It’s already been down to 8F degrees here. They have excellent insulation and the temperature inside a chicken coop is often a lot warmer than outside just due to the heat that they throw off. What they don’t like however is cold drafts. They need some ventilation, but the little coop that I built has way too much ventilation. I’d never built a structure before and there are some things I’d do differently next time. The doors are not tight at all and I fear that during a nor’easter, I’d come out and find snow-encrusted chickens. So their coop goes into the gararge/barn. This keeps them a few degrees warmer, especially on a sunny day and reduces wind and drafts to almost zero. There is electricity if I want to light the coop and I’m a lot more comfortable tending them when I’m not standing in the wind or up to my knees in snow. Inside the garage/barn I create a welded wire run by their coop so that when there’s too much snow on the ground they have an exercise area outside of the coop. There is a little chicken door from the garage to the outside for them to go out on good days and it all seems to work well for the hens and me.

The day did not go as planned. I had planned on buying the wine the day before, but the liquor store was closed Monday for holiday when I went for it, so it got added to Tuesday’s list. All went well getting the wine and welded wire fencing but when I went to the Agway for the shavings, they were out. I had not considered this possibility. They claimed there was a shortage because we were sending lots of logs to China??? I needed to drive to another shop much farther away for the shavings. I had already cleaned out the deep litter from the coop to lighten it for the move and if the second store was out of shavings I was going to be out of luck and on to plan C. They had the shavings and I was now an hour behind. Of course it also took me far longer to move the chickens to a pen in the garage/barn in preparation for the big move. I thought I could herd them, but some needed catching. I hate catching chickens. I usually end up scratched. Finally I could go start dinner for the guests who were soon to arrive. Dinner was good and we had fun. One of us said when we were all done and relaxing around the table. I guess we have to move the coop. I pictured the chickens waiting in welded wire enclosure in the garage/barn waiting for their coop and replied, Yep.

I wish I had a movie of us moving the coop. It’s heavy and requires four people to lift and move and all stay coordinated with each other. It also requires that no one laugh. That is the hardest part. Every year we forget that it requires taking the clothes line down. We remember when we tangle it up on the line. This year it was dark by the time we moved it. I forgot that the bottom of it had buried welded wire that glued it to the ground until we had lifted it a little but couldn’t lift it up further. The strongest person must get into position by walking trrough the chicken run. This was the son-in-law to be. It was muddy in the run. I was praying he didn’t slip. He didn’t but I’m sure when he went home he took off his shoes before going in. All in all, it was a great day.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Smoked Paprika

A friend of mine, Pat, gave me a new ingredient to try the other day. A blogging opportunity, she called it. It was smoked paprika. I'm always up for trying new things and decided to use it tonight for dinner guests. The guests were my two daughters and future son-in-law si I figured experimentation was fine. With a freezer full of chickens from the 175 chickens that Farmer Judy and I raised last summer, I knew I'd use it in a chicken dish. Pat had been very helpful and also sent me links to recipes for the smoked paprika. The recipe I decided to make was 'Chicken Breasts with Paprika Cream Sauce'. I used the breasts, thighs and drumsticks instead of just breasts because I happened to have a whole chicken defrosted. The sauce with the smoked paprika was very good. You could definitely tell that the peppers for the paprika had been smoked. The only thing that I might change in the recipe is to just cook the chicken and then make the sauce at the end. It would be easier and I think I would like to sauce each serving individually. My daughters and I decided that the recipe as well as the new (to me) ingredient, smoked paprika are keepers.

If you live in the Boston area, Pat thinks she got the paprika at Wasik's cheese shop in Wellesley, MA. Its also called pimentón de la vera.

All the pictures I took before we ate dinner came out badly. We ran out of sauce and I whipped up a little more for the leftovers that Andrea took home. In this picture of the leftovers, the chicken is way oversauced but it does give you an idea of the beautiful color of the sauce.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Carnivore Delight

The whole family gathered at brother and sister-in-law's house for Christmas dinner. My camera batteries gave out before I could take a picture of the table and all the food, but here is the main course being cut in the kitchen. It's whole tenderloins roasted and cut into thick steaks. It's our family's favorite special Christmas holiday main course. As you can see, there are only two ingredients. The bacon is really just for basting, but is fun to pick at while waiting for everything to be assembled. Finding a good butcher, and a banker to write you a loan are two other key ingredients.

I also took a picture from their deck. It shows the salt marsh by the North River in Norwell, Massachusetts, USA. Everything was covered in snow for Thanksgiving in November, but you can see that the snow has melted this week here. What's unusual here, as well as at my house, is that under the snow the grass is still green. This is very strange for Christmas in New England. I can only guess it's because we got early snow before too much bitter cold killed the grass.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

and to all

a good night.
Peace and good wishes to you all.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Winter Comfort Food

I've been wanting to make latkes all week. Today I finally made them. They seem to me to be the perfect food for the cold dark days of December. Potato pancakes are not traditional in my family. I have no recipe handed down from my grandmother. I'm not sure if my grandmother who came from Sicily ever even ate latkes. So I used the recipe from
Beyond Salmon . It's her mothers recipe. He mother is from Russia. My three trips to Russia have convinced me that Russian women are excellent cooks. I ended up grated the potatoes by hand instead of getting out the food processor. After they were all done. I compared them to the photo on Beyond Salmon. Mine tasted good, but why did they look different? On re-reading her recipe I discovered that it called for the potatoes to be grated fine, not course as I had done. I guess that means I get to try again. Yum, yum. Oh, I did also make one intentional change to the recipe. I added parsley. My grandmother's influence perhaps?

There was one thing I also did differently from the last time I made potato pancakes. I used my electric frying pan. It has a thermostat and I think it keeps the temperature of the oil more constant and makes the frying go easier.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Sharing the Harvest

Below, a squirrel has helped himself to the Halloween pumpkin on my doorstep. Although I didn't grow it for the squirrel, I don't mind sharing a little of my harvest.
Below, is a different pumpkin , a gift from a friend's garden. It decorated my office at work and then was on it's way home to become pumpkin soup for me. I had too many things to carry in that day and left it by the driveway to get later. Later there was frost. Later it snowed. Later a squirrel started eating it. I decided it would not meet the fate of the pumpkin above and today, very much later, it finally made it into the house. It was frozen and nibbled and not fit for soup.
So I cut it in half, scooped out the seeds, filled it with warm water and brought it out to the chickens. They appreciated the warm water on a cold day. Then they discovered it was an edible water bowl. All the better. Finally I salted and roasted the seeds, just for me.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Early to Bed

This time of year, by five o'clock, it's very dark here at latitude:42. By then the chickens have been asleep up on their roosts for a while. Of course they woke up when I came to take their picture and give them a treat in return. It's very simple for them, wake up when the sun comes up, sleep when the sun goes down.
I wonder what time the chickens roost in December in Hammerfest, Norway, latitude:70 ?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Top Dog

Look carefully. There are two dogs in this photo. You can click on the photo to enlarge it.
What happens when there is only one chair that dogs are allowed on in the house and it's a two dog household? The dog who gets the chair first, gets to keep it. Cocoa who is the dog on the bottom usually wins and because she's old just parks herself in the chair all day. Sometimes Kahlil (top dog in the photo) gets it first, but Cocoa has a way to trick him into giving it up. She goes to the back door and whines to go out. I get up, and open the door. Kahlil hears the door open and comes running to go out also. As soon as Kahlil is out the door, Cocoa runs back to the sunroom to get the chair. She never really wanted to go outside. She just wanted to get Kahlil off of the chair.
In the picture though, Kahlil had decided that the old rule about the first one getting the chair is going to be changed. He's over 70lbs., but Cocoa will not budge. If you look closely though you can see that his butt is on one arm of the chair and his foot is on the other arm so his full weight is not on Cocoa.
Every time I see Cocoa trick Kahlil off of the chair, I'm amazed at her thought process. Is she actually planning to get him off the chair or did she just get conditioned that whining at the back door will get me the chair.

For more weekend dog blogging head over to Sweetnicks at later on tonight.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Two Minute Soup

Lots of holiday parties and lots of sweets at work had me wanting something light for lunch today. To make this soup I cooked some spinach in chicken broth for two minutes and then drizzled a little olive oil on top. It was a perfect simple light lunch for someone whose been eating too much holiday food lately.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bathing Without Water

I took this picture last month before there was snow on the ground. These two chickens are taking a dust bath. It 's really fun to watch them do this. I've also seen sparrows doing the same thing during a dry period in summer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Chase

Just what is my dog, Khalil chasing here?I'll post the answer tomorrow if you don't guess it. Remember you can click on the picture to enlarge it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Blogging for a Job

Would you hire this kid if she had a Masters in Finance degree?

Well in a few weeks she will. Do we have a child genius here? Not quite, this is a picture of our youngest daughter Andrea taken almost 20 years ago helping me in the garden. She also has an undergraduate degree in International Studies. To request a copy of her resume just email her at andrea9 at (replace the word 'at' with @). She'e especially interested in microfinance and is currently located in Cambridge MA, USA. Just tell her that blogger Mom sent you.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Don't Throw That Chicken Skin Away

Ready to eat Just out of the oven, before slicing

ready to go into the oven with a few extras on top
Rolled and tied

Looking at the picture of pollo ripieno from the Central market in Florence reminded me of something I hadn't cooked in a while. Stuffed chicken breasts are really easy and look so nice when sliced on the plate. Most recipes that I see for stuffed chicken breast start with boneless chicken breasts. Starting with whole, unboned, unskined breast is much better for two reasons. It turns out better and it cost less. Don't worry if you have never boned a chicken breast before. It's really easy and this recipe is very forgiving.
1. First remove the skin in one piece. This shouldn't be hard with a sharp knife. The skin, along with some cotton string is what holds the whole thing together. It will provide basting as well as more flavor. If you can't get it off in one piece, don't worry.
2. Try to remove the breasts from the bone in one piece if possible. If not, don't worry. Then slice the whole breast across so you get thinner pieces. Again if it falls apart remain calm.
3. Lay the skin down on your worksurface. If it broke in two overlap it a little.
4. Next lay the chicken pieces on top in one thin layer.
5. Add seasoned breadcrumbs that have been moistened with a little milk or egg or butter as the next thin layer.
6. The next layer can be anything you want. I like spinach which has been steamed or nuked because it tastes good and looks colorful. Ring out the juice before putting in spinach. Ham is nice. A little cheese would work and for something really colorful I've used roasted red peppers and spinach. Capers are nice. You get the idea. It's not a recipe. It's a concept. On this particular one I used spinach, fontina cheese and seasoned bread crumbs on top of the chicken.
7. Now you are ready to roll it up and tie it. This is where the skin on the bottom comes in really handy. It really helps hold it all together.
8. Now put a little butter or olive oil in a pan and brown the roll. This is to get the skin nice and brown. I actually forgot this step which is why my finished product had rubber looking skin.
9. If you want you can optionally add something to add more flavor. In this case I added prosciutto and a sprig of rosemary on top of it.
10. Put it in the oven at 350F or your favorite temperature until a thermometer reads whatever temperature you eat chicken at.
11. Take it out. Let it rest a bit and then slice with a sharp knife and serve with juices left over from the browning and roasting. I grabbed a dull knife and wrecked mine a little when slicing.

For this recipe I used the whole breast I cut from a 3 lb chicken. It was not very big but made 6 small slices and would serve two people. There's also no reason that you can not use dark meat. Using the skin means that the meat doesn't have to be one continuous piece. Although the less pieces of meat the easier it is to roll up.

So surf around for some actual recipes, but my suggestion is modify them to use regular breasts that you bone yourself so you can get the skin for better flavor and easier rolling

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Weekend Dog Blogging, Weekend Chicken Blogging

Here's one of our dogs , Cocoa. She can usually be found someplace warm. Here she's resting by the fire. For more weekend dog blogging later, head over to Sweetnicks Sunday night at

And now... Some weekend chicken blogging. The breed of chickens in this picture are called Cornish Crosses. With all the snow around here, that green pasture sure looks nice.

Friday, December 09, 2005

More Food from Italy

The first picture is today's reality here. The rest of the pictures are more of the virtual (or should I call it victual) vacation I'm taking today to the central market in Florence, Italy. Don't forget you can click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Virtual Vacation

Today it's been snowing in the midwest and tomorrow it will be snowing in New England. It's time for a get-away, a virtual vacation to Italy. I took the four pictures below at the central market in Florence (Firenze), Italy two years ago. It is a fantastic market, my favorite so far in the world. See if you can tell what's for sale here. Remember you can click on the photos to see a larger image.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Simple Supper

I enjoy eating food that I grow or that is grown by people whom I know. Food that is grown in a sustainable and healthy way just fits with my way of thinking. I enjoy cooking food for others and telling them the story of the food they are eating.

One daughter dropped by for supper last night. Of course I wanted to serve her something I grew. Chicken is my old standby because I have a freezer full of last summer’s chickens that Judy and I raised, but I knew she had eaten chicken at lunch. I decided to make lamb chops. The lamb chops are from my friend Judy’s farm. I remembered her telling me last summer of moving her lambs from pasture to pasture after they had eaten all the grass where they were, and about their antics, and about one ewe who had triplets. Judy puts a lot of time and effort into her lambs. It shows.

The potatoes were from my garden. They are my favorite variety, Yukon Gold. I remember the day I drove to my garden this summer to dig potatoes in August. I was all prepared to have new potatoes for supper that night, but discovered I’d forgotten a digging fork, so I dug a bucketful with a hand trowel. I must have looked real silly to anyone who saw me.

Although I do have green beans from my garden in the freezer, I usually save frozen beans for soups so I served store-bought green beans.

The chops were salted, peppered and broiled. The potatoes were mashed with virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and savory, and the beans were steamed and then sautéed in a little olive oil with some red onion. It was just a simple supper for a cold New England night. Nothing was from a recipe. Everything was already on hand. Sometimes it’s fun to follow recipes. Sometimes it’s fun to just cook with what you have.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Head Hen

Just a quick post today before running off to work. I've been having so much trouble with Blogger blogs lately that I'm not sure I'll be able to post in the evenings anymore.

This is the head hen around here. She's at the top of the pecking order and watches over the othe hens as well as letting them know she's boss. She's a Welsummer and is supposed to lay very dark eggs. More on her eggs later.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Tail Tale

A Tail Tale

My friend Olivia sent me these photos of her cat. One day the cat came in looking like she had just missed being coyote food. Strangely, she didn’t act like anything was wrong. My friends resisted the urge to just nip off what was left of the end of her tail and brought her to the vet who tended to her and also shed some light on the mystery. She explained that they often see this type of injury this time of year. The reason is that when it starts to get cold, cats will sometime look for a warm place. That warm place may be under the hood of a car. If the car gets started while the cat is under the hood and the cat doesn’t get out in time injuries can happen.

If you’re interested in dogs as well as cats gs you can head over to Weekend Dog Blogging tonight at

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Mystery Bird

For all you folks from my book group waiting to hear about your dinner, don’t worry you’ll get your 15 seconds of blog fame eventually. Today I have bird mystery though. At least it’s a mystery to me. I took this picture yesterday on my walk around Fresh Pond in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My guess is it’s some kind of bittern or heron. Bitterns I’ve seen always looked hunched up and this fellow looks hunched. After looking through Peterson’s field guide I’m not sure what it is. The black at the bottom of the bird is confusing me. I’m thinking maybe a cold hunched up great blue heron, but this bird just looks different from the great blues I’ve seen while kayaking on rivers during the summer. Any ideas? I know the picture isn’t great. I wish my camera had more zoom power. You can click on the picture to get a larger image.

Today Fresh Pond is a reservoir of drinking water for the city of Cambridge Massachusetts, but over 100 years ago it provided ice that was shipped as far away as India. The ice cutting industry was one of the major business enterprises in 18th and 19th century Boston. At the center of this huge industry was successful entrepreneur, Frederick Tudor, better known as the "Ice King”. The invention of refrigeration eventually put an end to it all. If your library has the book ‘Ice King: Frederic Tudor and His Circle’, it’s worth checking out to read about a very successful entrepreneur and a once major industry that is virtually non-existent today.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Have Ham, Will Travel

-This is the only known picture of the ham. It looked so much more mouth watering, when it was scored, studded with cloves and roasted for 6 hours.-

Farmer Judy’s remark a few days ago about going out to the wet fields to feed her pigs reminded me of the best ham I’ve ever had. It was from one of Farmer Judy’s pigs pictured below. From what I’ve learned, most pigs get butchered at about 200 lbs or so. Those two sows pictured below are way bigger than that. The larger one was around ¼ ton. I knew these pigs as Spot and Shirt. Those were great names because it’s easy to tell which was which. They were so big because Farmer Judy had gotten them late in the season and then wintered them over in her barn. She swore she’d never winter over pigs in the barn again. I went with Judy to the butcher to pick up the meat and then we took the hams and bacon up to a smoke house in Barre, Vermont near Montpelier to have them cured. Later I took the smallest of the four hams home. It weighed about 35 lbs, one big ham.

Have you heard the joke about the definition of infinity? Infinity is one ham and two people. In this case for my husband, two grown kids and myself, this ham could have been infinity for four people. It was such a nice looking ham than I did not want to cut it up to freeze in pieces. Nick’s two sisters were at their summer places across the street from each other near Cape Cod. So, I called them and said we’d be down with a ham big enough to feed everyone. We packed up the ham, and went visiting. Of course no one had ever seen such a large ham and they were shocked that I’d actually known the pig. I cooked it for over 6 hours. My sister-in-law’s house smelled great. There were 17 peopled for dinner that day and there was LOTS of leftover ham. It was the best ham I’d ever eaten. I froze the leftovers, and made a ton of pea soup to freeze. All winter long I thought of that ham whenever I had some of the pea soup. I know the ham tasted great because it was pasture raised, but I think it even tasted better to me because I’d driven over half the state of Vermont and from one end of Massachusetts to the other with that ham. I’d bonded with it.

I did help Farmer Judy shovel out her barn that spring and saw her point about not ever wintering over pigs in a barn again ;)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Best Damn Ham

Sorry, too tired to blog tonight, but tune in tomorrow to hear about the best ham we've ever eaten.