Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Cake Alternative

First, thank you all for your birthday greetings to the MiL yesterday; I'm sure she appreciated your many messages of cheer. Second, I feel I should address the wish many of you expressed for the MiL that she have an awesome birthday cake.

I didn't make her a cake.

I KNOW. RUDE. Especially since she will make me any blessed cake I request for my birthday, including this monster that takes hours to put together.

But before you get all up in arms about my refusal to bake a cake for the MiL, you should know that she doesn't actually eat cake. Not only does she not really like cake all that much (don't ask me to explain this, but I suppose we all have our strange personality quirks), but she also doesn't digest gluten all that well. So. No cake.

I did ask her if she had any requests for a dessert for her birthday dinner last night, but she was all, "Oh, I think ice cream and maple syrup will be fine." Well, yes, it would be fine, because vanilla ice cream and maple syrup is ALWAYS fine, but I suspected she was just trying to save me some work in the kitchen. While I appreciated her effort, I also thought that surely I could find something she would like for dessert.

Also, if I'm to be honest, something that wouldn't involve two hours, meringues, or the folding in of egg whites. Alsoalso, something that didn't involve cream, because we were out.

It is surprisingly difficult to come up with a non-flour dessert that doesn't require cream. But her request for ice cream and maple syrup gave me an idea. So I did a search for maple custard and found this recipe. And actually, ONLY that recipe. It showed up on several different sites, but that was literally the only recipe for maple custard I found.

Well, except for a scary recipe from Betty Crocker or something that involved maple flavoring and other nastiness. But I dismissed that one right out of hand, because why mess around with maple flavoring when you've got two gallons of actual maple syrup?

And that, I suppose, is the reason for a recipe involving ersatz maple: You will not have two gallons of maple syrup unless you tapped trees and spent days evaporating the resulting sap to make your own syrup. And without that glut of maple syrup, you will probably not be using an entire half cup of it to make custard. Maple syrup is expensive, I know. Half a cup is a lot when you're buying a pint of it at the grocery store for eight bucks.

But! Should you happen to have half a cup of maple syrup that you would like to cook with, then all you need are some eggs and milk and you too can have a delicious, non-cake birthday dessert. Because it WAS delicious. You know, for something that wasn't cake.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Back when A. and I were living in our crappy basement apartment in Albany, I went through a brief period of interest in foraging. For wild food in the woods, that is, not, like, dumpster diving. It probably started when I found a copy of Stalking the Wild Asparagus in a used bookstore or something. Or maybe it started when A. found a huge patch of ramps in the state forest where he used to hunt. We dug a bunch up, brought them home, and made ramp and potato soup. It was delicious, and a tradition was born. We've dug ramps every year since.

We also tried fiddlehead ferns, which we found very bitter. And wild oregano grew around that same state forest, so that was useful. But the ramps have remained the only foraged food we always go out to gather.

This year, it occurred to me that I had never tried dandelion greens. Did you know that almost every part of a dandelion is edible? Yup. Even the root. I'm not that hard up for a coffee substitute, so no thanks on the root, but I thought it might be nice to have some greens long before anything in the garden is ready to harvest.

It took awhile to harvest even a modest amount of dandelion greens. Turns out, most of our dandelions, while incredibly numerous, are pretty small. So I had to cut A LOT to get about three cups of uncooked greens. Not that it mattered, as I was just wandering around after Cubby with my scissors and canvas bag. He inspected rocks and tried to eat dirt, I cut dandelion greens. A good time all around.

Now, dandelion greens--like all greens--are really, really dirty. They grow close to the ground and their leaves trap dirt, so they have to be washed at least a couple of times. Also like all other greens, they cook down to nothing. I elected to skip blanching the greens--which a lot of people do to reduce the bitterness--so that we could try their full flavor this first time. So I just sauteed them in olive oil with some garlic until they were wilted, and then I added some balsamic vinegar, salt, and butter.

I ended up with about 3/4 of a cup of greens. They were, um, bitter. IMAGINE THAT. A little too bitter for my tastes, but the MiL* loved them, A. thought they were pretty good, and even Cubby ate some.

I should probably be embarrassed that my toddler will eat things I can't stand. He'll even eat liver. Ew. Then again, he also tries to eat dirt, so he's not exactly a great gourmet.


So, the lessons here: Bitterness isn't always a bad thing, next time I will blanch the greens before sauteeing them, and yes, there will be a next time for dandelion green foraging.

* Today is the MiL's birthday. Feel free to wish her many happy returns of the day in the comments. Or, you know, just wish her a happy birthday if you don't want to be all formal-like.

Let Me Entertain You

I used to like rainy days. It meant a chance to stay inside and either get inside work done or, if I didn't feel like cleaning toilets--and let's face it, I usually don't--to spend a day recovering from whatever strenuous outside activity we have most recently been engaging in.

Then I had a baby.

Actually, more accurately, I should say that then I had baby who became a toddler. And, true to their name, toddlers like to, well, toddle. All the time. Everywhere. And the bigger they get, the farther they can toddle, the more they can explore, and the less satisfied they will be with four limited rooms.

So rainy days are now a challenge. Cubby does not understand why we can't be outside every waking moment, chasing sheep and playing with rocks. He doesn't really get the concepts of "wet" and "cold" that lead to discomfort. He just gets bored.

Frankly, I do too. After several hours of making cow and pig noises for the animals he finds in his little wooden barn and many games of putting the ball in the cup, then dumping it out, then putting the ball in the cup, then dumping it out, then putting the cup on my head, then letting it fall . . . well, I'm ready for Cubby's bedtime.

Yesterday was a rainy day. Today is so far sunny. Today will be an easier day.

Thank God for sunshine and spring.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Little Shepherd Boy

An evening out with the flock, with the head shepherd and his faithful dog in attendance . . .

And the apprentice shepherd keeping an alert eye in case the head shepherd needs assistance.

Uh oh! Wayward sheep! Not to worry--the apprentice shepherd is on the job.

Move along there, girls. Step away from the truck.

And back on the grass. A job well done.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Too Crazy Even for Me

Now look. You all know I love tomatoes. That has been well-documented. I plant the seeds and I always end up with too many seedlings. This means I always end up planting too many plants, which means I end up with FAR too many tomatoes to harvest every day, which means I spend at least two months every summer canning every single day without a break.

You see how this works, right? Too many seeds means too many plants means too many tomatoes means too much damn work in the kitchen means levels of insanity that result in the inappropriate use of Tom Petty songs as tomato anthems.

So did you see the inevitable outcome when I publicly admitted I planted too many tomato seeds a week ago?

Sure, I may have made some noise about old seeds and less germination, but we all knew that wasn't going to happen, right? We all knew that every last one of those damn seeds would germinate and I would end up with 100 tomato plants in training, right?

Well, maybe you knew that, but truthfully, I did not see 100 germinated seeds in my future. I mean, it didn't look like that many seeds when I sprinkled them in their little pots. But as of this morning, I have exactly 100 germinated seeds. I only need 12 plants to actually put in the ground come May (I always buy 12 plants of paste varieties from a nursery, for a total of 24 plants).

So, as of this moment, I could have almost a 90% death rate between now and May and still be JUST FINE when it comes time for planting. That is . . . crazy. Like, levels of Tomato Crazy heretofore unreached even by me.

So if you know me in real life and need some tomato plants? I AM YOUR WOMAN. Also, I may end up selling these on the side of the road. If I can't bring myself to just euthanize some of these tiny plants so that I don't have to transplant and find pots and space for a hundred tomato seedlings. That would be the smart and easy thing to do. But since I am, quite obviously, not just crazy but totally TOMATO INSANE, maybe I should just give in to the insanity and become a one-woman, inadvertent tomato nursery.

This may be the year A. has me committed to a treatment center for garden-related disorders.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Easy Like Sunday Morning . . . at Blackrock

Which is to say, not easy at all. Because at Blackrock, Sunday is FAR from being a day of rest. Pretty much the opposite, in fact. Like yesterday, for example.

If I were to tell you that we were going to spread hay on an acre of land by hand, you'd probably be all, "Quit with that crazy talk! No one would do that!"

And you'd be right. No one but A., that is.

See, where the sheep had been given hay bales this winter in the paddock had become a packed layer of wasted hay mixed with sheep shit and urine (yes, sheep soil right where they're eating---one of the many unattractive things about them). It was suffocating the grass underneath and needed to be moved. Also, that paddock has taken some abuse from the sheep over the past few years and the grass was getting pretty poor. We have limited grazing for the sheep; we need all the grass we can get.

So A. decided the best option would be to move the hay from its current packed-down location and spread it all over the paddock, thereby fertilizing the whole field AND (we hope) re-seeding the grass from the seeds left in the hay.

Good plan theoretically. The execution of this plan, however? Brutal.

As A. mentioned, this is the sort of job for which the manure spreader was invented. And a tractor, I added. We, of course, have neither of these two handy machines. What we have? A pitchfork, a rake, and a wheelbarrow.

That's right. We spread a ton of hay (possibly literally--there was a LOT of hay) on an acre of land with a pitchfork. It was pure craziness.

That tiny speck down there is A. That whole field got covered with hay. You see the craziness.

A. did most of it. My contribution was raking out the big clumps he dumped off the wheelbarrow. When I wasn't Cubby-wrangling. Actually, also sometimes while I was Cubby-wrangling.

Mia took a couple of wrangling shifts, as you can see.

Plus, it turns out that (CLEAN, thankyouverymuch) hay is pretty fun. Fun if you're not spreading it over an acre of grass, that is.

After the paddock was all covered and the hay was all spread out somewhat, A. ran over it all with the riding mower, thereby chopping it up so the grass won't be buried underneath it.

Now we just keep the sheep out of there and cross our fingers that the grass grows. And take some ibuprofen, because OW.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Okay, FINE--Back to the Sheep

But only because I have to give you the current (and FINALLY final) lamb count.

We've been waiting and waiting on Millie the Merino to have her lamb. The last lamb was born a couple of weeks ago, and we've all been staring at Millie since, willing her to drop her lamb and be done with it already.

I was sure she would have it while A. was gone and there would be problems and I would end up having to be an ovine midwife with Cubby as my not-very-useful assistant. Instead we just ended up chasing the sheep hither and yon. That was definitely not a fun leisure activity for me, but is not as bad as having to corner a crazed, pregnant ewe and pull a lamb out of her by myself.

I can't even think of that scenario without hyperventilating.

When A. got home on Friday night, Millie was still very much pregnant. First thing Saturday morning, he went out to check the flock and found two--two!--brand-new lambs wobbling around Millie, who was no doubt exceedingly relieved to finally not be pregnant anymore.

Millie is the first of our Merino ewes to have twins, and she seems to be a very good mother. So all due props to Millie, and now the current and final lamb count: Ten--six girls and four boys. And no ewes left to deliver, THANK GOD.