Solstice Shortbread

The best choice for perfecting one’s cookie dunking technique has got to be the Lorna Doone. The modifier “shortbread cookie” would be redundant there, wouldn’t it? Does Lorna make anything but? A short wide-mouth glass of ice-cold milk and a tall tower of those little squares in all their enriched flour and simulated butter-flavored sandiness challenge your ability to pull out before the dreaded premature oversaturation sends all but the wee top left corner between your thumb and forefinger to a milky grave, which is why it’s imperative to have a spoon at the ready for they tend to self-destruct within seconds of their descent.
Cravings for yet another of my favorite processed prepared foods with a shelf life just short of forever – although that box rarely occupied its designated space longer than half a fortnight – needed to be fulfilled with a rich organic substitute.  A preconceived notion manifested itself somewhere along the line to healthier eating habits that homemade Doones would more probably than not result in something more akin to a desert dune; thus, I never attempted.  And then I became enamored with those decorative kiln-fired shortbread molds “impressed” with vining hearts and flowers and old-fashioned country motifs.  But they were a bit pricey and I certainly  didn’t need another gadgety bulk of bakeware, a fragile one at that. That’s not to say I  failed to drop hints around obligatory “they gotta get me a gift” occasions sponsored by Hallmark and the fact that I was a wife and a mother and born on a certain day.
Cruising the web about a year ago for some light reading about the winter solstice, I eventually weaved my way over to one of my favorite sites, KAF, and it was here that I stumbled upon this recipe that I’d stash away until I broke down and bought myself one of those silly little molds.  
And then there’s Mo…
Maureen a/k/a “Mo” came into my life via a CompuServe Forum circa 1992 and has been like the “chicken soup of my soul” ever since.  If I were to compose a novel, it would probably be based on the life story of my father (1916-1975); if a book, that would definitely be  Mo’s life story.  In the meantime, I’ll just have to settle for making her shortbread in the heart-shaped gift she bought me last month. So, a wife, a mother, born on a certain day… and a friend of Mo’s.
Never much cared for the perfume-like taste of ginger, but the raw stuff is so good for you.  I had this bag of candied ginger chunks getting stale in the cupboard, which is another reason I decided on this particular recipe.  I used a little more than half of what the recipe called for.  It was processed into the flour like so, and the flavor in the cookies turned out to be pleasantly subtle.


a handy makeshift rolling pin that “fit the mold”

Next time I’ll press the dough deeper into the mold so the design is more “impressive”

Deviled Ham… please, no spam

If someone were to ask me, “What’s the most utterly disgusting thing you ever ate and actually LIKED?”  I’d pass over the sweet memory of chocolate-crusted insects  my 7th grade science teacher made the entire class eat and would shamelessly admit that “my thing” was a lovely pink mush packaged in a petite round tin, gift-wrapped in crisp white paper with bright red lettering and a mischievous pitchfork-toting, horn-headed devil. This mystical substance slathered between mayonnaised slices of wispy Wonder sans crust, cut two times two into triangles… this canned pet food-like substance… was my adolescent culinary bliss, especially if slammed before bitten into a crumb pile of Amish-made chips… the fancy ones with those lard-filled bubbles.
My affinity for this pastel poo followed me well into the age of “you know better” and well beyond any justifiable excuse for label-reading ignorance.  I wouldn’t dare read the ingredients label.  Why ruin it?  Surely it wouldn’t exactly be a list that was truly “honest in content” anyway, considering a fire-breathing heathen from hell served as its spokes… uh, beast.
It’s been decades since I’ve ripped paper with a can of  Underwood Deviled Ham, a Spamettini of sorts, but if those neatly stacked cans to the left of the tuna catch my eye, the cravings pour in, and I know exactly what I have to do when I get home. I still, to this day, have no idea what I was actually eating back then. The white paper wrapper with its little red devil was quickly wadded into an aerodynamic ball and shot three-point style into the trash; a ritual performed as my nonchalant way to avoid exposing myself to any poison control warnings thereon with instructions to induce vomiting immediately.

I should apologize to my organs and systems for introducing them to the toxic fluff, especially considering I’ve known my way around a kitchen from a fairly young age. But knowing your way around a kitchen and “how to prepare food” can actually be hazardous to your health and fringe on fruitlessness if what you’re actually doing is experimenting with a chemistry set of ingredients from an industrialized/pharma-driven food nation.  Try to stumble upon food truths every day. It’s right at our fingertips. We’re not a bunch of imbecilic fools who don’t know the difference between corporate and unadulterated real food, but it does seem to me sometimes that this natural instinct way of eating has been “modified” right out of us through corporate commercial brainwashings.   [end tangent].

I certainly haven’t sacrificed fulfilling my cravings for this mystically savory pink stuff, although it hasn’t always been easy to meet the challenge of socking away enough leftovers from those too-few ham dinners we had on chosen holidays during the year to pulverize into a more civilized spread fit for human consumption.  But now that we raise our own sweet pigs in an organic and free-frolicking environment on our property, ham dinners have become a bit more commonplace around here. Lest  my appreciation threaten to wane for ham stuffed hard-boiled eggs, tea sandwiches, or gloppity spoonfuls directly from the mixing bowl, I only make it a few times a year… AND if I want the whole damn ham to grind out my guiltless pleasures, I’ll just bake or simmer a whole butt, reserve a few choice slices for breakfast, and cleave the rest up ‘cuz  the devil made me do it.
It’s as easy as whipping up a bowl of tuna salad, really, but I tend to go purist with mine in that only a processor will attain that authentic fine texture.  There’s no sin in liking it chunky style, of course, and hand chopping with a sharp knife will do the trick if you’re lacking in the whirly blade appliance department.  According to the blogger over at Pork, Knife and Spoon, “deviled” foods got their name from the “hot seasonings” worked into them. The only seasoning I use is a little freshly-ground black or pink peppercorns; the devil coming through in the horseradishy goodness of my favorite mustard:  Silver Springs Beer & Brat.  Plain yellow or any good-quality mustard will do, and there are certainly tons of specialty mustards to choose from these days.   
I once spent an unwarranted amount of cash on a wee jar of Maille whole grain Dijon because it was a key ingredient in the dressing Ruth Chris used on their chopped salad that I was so determined to replicate at home because… well, that luscious round mini tower of produce cost an unwarranted amount of cash and pipedreams of visits to Ruthie’s house meant navigating beyond the boundaries of our modest “financial neighborhood.”  The attempt to dupe the dressing was a major fail (it was that weird mustard, I swear); a labor- and ingredient-intensive salad “tossed.”  Haven’t made a second attempt to mimic Ms. Chris, yet, but I have managed to find other useful tasks for the gadgety mini tower mold Greg custom crafted for me out of PVC after nodding without eye-rolling (at least until he got out to his shop) through my overly-descriptive attempt to explain exactly what I needed and why.  
Having the good fortune of  the best life can offer in the meat department (our own backyard to basement storage freezer), I want to use the best quality, preferably organic, mix ingredients. We’ve always got a cupboard full of home-grown pickles jarred up, but I just love those jalapeno-stuffed or “World’s Largest” olives on the shelves at Trader Joe’s, so I use them instead of pickles sometimes.  A relish works if you like yours on the sweeter side.   

Deviled Ham (oneflewover farm style):

  • Fill bottom of processor bowl with chunks of lean ham.  A wee bit of soft fat is good.
  • Top with three or four “spaced out” generous clouds of homemade or best-quality mayo and one or two spurtles of your favorite mustard. Whirl with two or three quick pulses, then add in large chunks of pickle (or olives); large so they don’t totally dissipate into microscopic flecks.
  • Another two or three quick pulses, then scrape down sides and up from bottom. Repeat short, quick pulse button pushing and thorough scrapings until blended uniformly to the texture you prefer, making any necessary ingredient additions along the way to get your desired result.
  • Enjoy with hard-boiled eggs, downy soft white or crusty seeded rye (Triscuit’s rye crackers are great for scooping),  or drop like a centerpiece atop your favorite salad greens.

Fresh Herb Butters and Succotash for the sufferin’

Sometimes a simple word will snag on my brain as it rolls off my tongue and I’ll subliminally ponder where in the world that ubiquitous word originated anyway, and how ironic it is that it sounds so perfectly right for exactly what it is. Nowadays, the etymology of just about anything, whether confirmed fact or suspicious wive’s tale, is but a quickie search and Wiki walk away. 

September is like the pentultimate checkpoint before the final curtain call on the plentitude of the “backyard-fresh” and locally-grown produce we enjoy all summer.  Dozens of just-picked, quick-blanched and sharp-sheared ears of corn from Reed’s Farm, as well as our own modest  corn crop, have already been hustled into air-tight bags for chilly weather comfort foods… think airy fluffs of custard casseroles, souffles and spoonbreads.

So, with this pensive thought of pending seasonal changes, I ventured out early Saturday morning to tend to errands I’d put off forever if it weren’t for the fact that my favorite cool weather business attire jackets were due for a dry cleaning and my swimming pool damaged hair was overdue a good chopping. Whenever I do manage to drag myself “out there,” I usually make it a mission to cram as many “necessary things” as can possibly be squeezed into that venture… motivation often coming from unnecessary things accumulating in corners and tote bags… some migrating closer and closer to the doorway as gentle reminders that it’s time to make a public appearance.
Heading home with a half dozen errands checked off the list, a few solid drops in the AmVets used clothing bin and no “confrontational episodes” encountered, my sense of accomplishment evolved into shameless thoughts of deserved rewards, which led to a glimmering hope that Reed’s, which is right on route, still had some corn and maybe something else of seasonal interest… besides apples.  I knew a basket of blushing ripe peaches was wishful thinking, but I’m not ready for apples just yet. Oh, joyous reward, there were limas!  Corn, too, they said for about 7 to 10 more days; thus, I knew this was to be my last “husky” haul ’til July 2013.   
With little regard and nary a care as to what else might round out our Sunday dinner plates, I was squarely making succotash!  I really didn’t need to store up any more corn, so I figured I’d  try some Pinterest experiments on “alternative ways to cook corn” with a few ears while hulling limas and finally getting around to whisking together fresh herb butters to freeze before a mean October frost delivered its buzz-killing blow to the herbs gone wild party in the half barrels outside the kitchen door…and then, of course, there’s that experimental corn that so graciously made itself available for the obligatory herbed butter taste test, volunteering without protest to lie still for repeated merciless slatherings…  now well-decorated kernels, a medal of honor is served.     

To make herbed butters:

Gather an assortment of sprigs of organically-grown herbs and/or edible flowers, chop or snip into bits and incorporate well into cold unsalted butter of the finest quality.  Spread smoothly into tin molds, jar lids, any cutesy vessel on hand, or log roll with parchment if you want to make cookie-cutter slices later.  Keep it simple or get creative with combos or a multitude of additions such as citrus zest (lime/cilantro, lemon/tarragon), boldly colorful juices such as carrot or beet (so as to use a bare minimum of liquid), garlic, crushed nuts or seeds (try hemp or chia), flowers such as nasturtium, viola, borage, or those bolting above the herbs or veggies.

West Side Story

Freddie assessing west side of barn
The “big barn out back,” nearly the size of our “little house up front,” was in such a state of neglect that a couple of our friends actually suggested we just tear it down.  Freddie  included.  (More on our BFFreddie later.)  NO WAY was I going to witness the sacrifice of this character and NO WAY could we afford building a replacement from the ground up.  This was going to be our garage and the Harley workshop/hangout; divided in purpose with the back half where the built-in tack room and feed storage bins were to remain “on task” for farm-related things and animal housing when needed. Sliding stall doors from the front half (which was partially gutted to accommodate our tractors and implements) are going to be roughly restored and definitely repurposed in the house… eventually.

As luck would have it, a friend of Debi’s (more on my beloved  sister-in-law later) had recently been laid off and was looking for a temp position that involved long days of laboring, heavy lifting, underbrush clearing, dismantling, rebuilding, painting and occasional authentic Costa Rican meal preparation for ten bucks an hour and a place to shower up and catch some winks afterwards.  Enter our open arms, Lenier, and let’s make ourselves a barn.

“The West Side (of the barn) Story”

After clearing away a few year’s worth of leaves, brush and the “dumped debris” beneath, the foundation was shored up and the hopelessly rotted facade removed.  We rented one of those huge demolition dumpsters as there was also tons of trash and scrap left behind and/or dumped both inside and outside the barn by a prior owner who was in the roofing and siding business.  The west side of the barn (as seen in the first photo above) was in the poorest condition, so that was tackled first.

The process may have been as painful as a root canal at times, but here you can begin to see the fruits of their labor after a couple of the window sockets were filled with double dutch doors. 

“the happy ending”

I’m a Farm Wife… and I hate GMOs.

modern homesteading, one step at a time.

gmo corn

I’m a Farm Wife. And I Hate GMOs.

I’m a farm wife – of a grain farmer. A GMO grain farmer. There’s been a lot of heated debates about GMOs lately, as there should be, and it seems like I hear the same things repeated over and over in our agricultural community. If you’re against GMOs, you’re against farmers. If you’re against GMOs, you must be some yuppie woman from the city who drops her children off at their charter school, hits up her organic market, and goes back to her 7th floor flat to practice her internet activism against GMOs. If you are that mom, no offense, and the movement can certainly use you, provided that you really do your research and don’t quote things from NaturalNews without first making sure they are entirely unbiased and true. 🙂

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who loves agriculture…

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A decade ago, when the term “blogging” was “another new one,” it initially struck me as just another outlet for those with a refined sense of self-importance, or the “dear diary” types, or folks who simply don’t get out often (which lead some to talk to themselves… in the font of their choice, often with images).
Through the years in the more recent past, I’ve come to truly appreciate the presence, at my Googled command, of so many talented, educated, highly-experienced, witty, and quite “selfless” folks I so ignorantly and dismissively categorized above who obviously enjoy putting themselves “out there” to share with any willing takers their thoughts, ideas, emotions and intellect.  I’ve “taken” full advantage.  No question goes unanswered, no pipe dream uninspired, no meanings undefined, no opinions unstated.
There are so many visually-appealing, thoughtfully-designed and professionally-presented blogs out there that I certainly feel pretty insecure and a bit silly about starting one of my own.  But the inspiration to go for it anyway is fueled by the common thread that seems to bind all those whose blogs I’ve stumbled upon accidentally, perused briefly or whiled away unproductive hours on: PASSION.  We’re all passionate about something, and I think it’s pretty awesome when self-described socially reclusive types such as myself are able to experience the kinship of others with like passions from the comfort of a swiveling chair in a house we don’t care to leave very often.
As per one of the definitions of a blog that I found, “a personal diary, a daily pulpit, a collaborative space, a political soapbox, a breaking-news outlet, a collection of links, your own private thoughts, memos to the world,” I know this blog won’t be a daily undertaking, and obviously not very private (but by default in that I may well be the only one here).  If you happened upon my blog by sheer circumstance, I hope you’ll find something worthy of your time, however fleeting it may be.

In March of 2008, my husband Greg and I purchased a 10-acre property situated on a wooded lot on a dead-end avenue squarely centered between the Atlantic City Racetrack and Atlantic City Airport.  The cedar-sided bungalow built in 1971 sits at the end of a rather long lane (driveway, I suppose) and was complemented by a big old barn, a multi-room stable, a henhouse, a lean-to shelter, a horse stable, a gazebo and three koi ponds… all in a sinful state of neglect and disrepair with a bit of vandalism and dumping to boot. I’m “passionate” about its piecemeal restoration and the quality of life doing so has afforded us. 


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