Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Notes From The Country - Bloom Where You Are Planted

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and, taste as sweet! All my roses are in bloom. I love old fashioned roses, the aromas, the petals, the soft colors

and for the 3 weeks or so that most of them shine here, I make the most of them. They amaze me - their complex beauty, their journey from bud to full bloom. Their fragrance at different stages. Little miracles.

They all have such vastly different characteristics if you look closely.

I often pick just one of each every few days and put them in miniature vases or bowls. So lovely, and useful. They make me happy. I make rose petal vinegars, flavored sugar or honey, freeze them in ice cubes, or  make jam.

This year I came across a monastery rose petal jam recipe. I had to try it because so many of my roses have a history hearkening back to those monastery days with monks tending the herbs, flowers, and vegetables, and putting them all to use in food, jam, and wine! This link provides some good instruction on the process. It was fun to make because you massage the rose petals with sugar until it becomes a paste and the smell is intoxicating. (Aside from exacerbating my current, severe grass allergies. But it was totally worth it!)

Every time you take a taste it's like being transported to a rose garden on a hot summer day - complete with stone walls, pergolas, gently cascading fountains, butterflies and big, lazy bumblebees, harp music playing gently in the background, and there are the monks tending the basil and lavender, and the knights are practicing their sword fighting skills by the hedgerow....What?? I don't know what your rose gardens look like but mine are positively medieval...

Rose petal jam ingredients: Apothecary roses, Alba Maxima roses, Loiuse Odier roses, La Reine Victoria roses, William Baffin roses, Belle de Crecy roses, Madame Hardy roses, sugar, water, lemon, patience and time.

My Apothecary rose notes from last year -June 2013

Speaking of monks and such, I made one of my favorite breads last week. This is Straun bread. It hails from this cookbook, called Brother Juniper's Bread Book. It contains cooked brown rice, rolled oats, cornmeal, and wheat bran among other things and you can substitute different grains you may have on hand. It's light and flavorful and I could happily eat it everyday. Chef  Peter Reinhart is quite the authority on bread baking, and, he joined a Christian order as a brother when he was 24. His thoughts on spirituality, knowledge and understanding, and bread making are very interesting. You can read his thoughts here in this interview. Who knew that baking bread could be so profound!

The best thing to go with homemade bread is homemade jam, and, since my rhubarb was ready, I had to go with Strawberry Rhubarb jam. (Alas, not my strawberries)

I used the recipe from this book that graces my cookbook shelves. I love Jessie's story and her blog. She's totally Rurally Screwed - in a good way. The jam recipe from this book has far less sugar than a typical jam recipe, and no store bought pectin. I used less rhubarb than the recipe called for - about a third less, and I pulsed my strawberries and rhubarb in the food processor first because I do not like big chunks of fruit in my jam. Because of the longer cooking time (without the pectin addition), and much less sugar, this jam has a more intense fruit taste instead of a sweet, sugary taste. In other words, delicious! If you like strawberries. And rhubarb. Which I do.

I also made elder flower lemonade because the elder flowers are in their prime, and I happened upon a recipe while browsing. What?? Don't you Google elder flower recipes?  Honestly, after making elder flower cordial last summer and the lemonade this, I realize I am not an elder flower fan.To me it tastes too weedy - and not in a good way. That's just me. By all means go harvest all your elder flowers, shake the bugs out, follow one of the recipes for wine, syrup, cordial or lemonade on the Internet and go for it. 

All the above goodness I made in one day. Why? Well, this. The pastures are blooming. The breeze is blowing. And I'm hiding indoors with the filtered, moist air of the swamp cooler. I never had allergies growing up in The City, however, over time here I developed pasture grass and corn pollen allergies (so said the allergist). Oddly enough, I live in the country surrounded by pastures and corn fields. Yeah. The thing is we've been gone for the worst part of my allergy season over the past few years in my dream heaven know as South Beach, Miami. Circumstances prevented our June trip this year and I am once again feeling the full brunt of my surroundings. I try to go outside only twice a day right now. Feed the animals, collect eggs, water plants, pick a few weeds, listen to the birds, and pick roses and other flowering things. Then I run back inside, rinse out the sinuses and eyes, change clothes and try to recover. My day full of jam making and such was a lovely, indulgent way to celebrate the beginning of summer indoors. You know, "bloom where you are planted", "find the joy in the present" and all that...  

Oh, by the way, Miami here we come!!!!!  Let's celebrate!  I made this cocktail at the end of my jam making day, with Vodka (only the best please), a dash of homemade bitters from last summer, and a smidgen of rose petal paste before cooking it into jam, shaken until icy cold - with little rosy ice crystals floating on top. It was quite refreshing with a hint of knightly sweetness. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Notes From the Country - Country Roads, Comfort Food, and, of course, Aprons

 There were some new faces on our road this past week. This is the time of year calves are weaned and on their own and being curious, baby hawks have found their wings (and their voices - which they use to screech with all day long), baby skunks are exploring their surroundings with their parents (outside our front door), foxes are out in force "grocery shopping" for their young (at my chicken house), and horses and alpacas seem to think the grass is always greener in someone else's
pasture (or the front yard)

This is one of neighbor's horses on the outside of her fence. She was on the road munching on the grass by the ditch one evening when we went for a walk.

When you live in the country things like this periodically happen. Over the years we've helped round up various horses, cows, dogs, even a cat during really windy weather, and we've had neighbors show up at our door with our dog ("Missing a Corgi?) or a phone call saying they've seen our alpacas wandering up the road. It happens.

No matter the time they've been out, they're always excited to get back home and their pasture mates are always excited to have them back. This was the pre-excitement face saying, "Hurry up and get her back in here"

Do you realize just how many feathers there are on a chicken? Ok, I haven't actually counted, but let me tell you there are so, so many. I wouldn't have showed you this picture if my chicken had actually succumbed to the fox. Fortunately,  years of living here have honed my hearing instincts to recognize those routine animal noises and those out of the ordinary. A chicken squawking wildly after the sun sets is not in the realm of ordinary. I've learned to run very fast when I hear sounds like this and so when I heard this sound last week I was out of my bedroom, down the stairs, and out the back door in record time.

As I ran outside I saw white feathers blanketing green grass, my chicken down by the pasture fence, and a fox right beside.  The fox actually hesitated as if to decide how much of a threat I was. As I started yelling - not in a pretty way - he took off and I was left with an injured chicken in shock. (Mouth hanging open, not moving, panicked look in her eye - ok I made up that last part) After much spritzing of antibiotic/antibacterial spray to the open wound, and holding, petting, and comforting with soothing words (It calms them!), she is healing and has forgotten the whole episode. 

And all these feathers were just from under her wing! Moving along,

I have been craving green drinks lately. Fresh, fresh, fresh. I love how these fruits and vegetables...

 turn into this (with the help of a good juicer). Fresh, organic, healthy fruits and vegetables for us, and the leftovers for the chickens! There are so many recipes out there for green drinks, but honestly I just add some of this and some of that, a little veg and a little sweet fruit and it ends up really delicious!

 I usually reserve this type of food for the winter months, but there was a cool day recently, and I had ground beef and potatoes, and discovered my new favorite food blog so Shepherds Pie it was!

The potato crust was blended with roasted garlic, uh huh, and the filling had all kinds of goodness in it. The recipe actually called for Guinness beer, which I did not happen to have (I only have Guinness in the house on St Patrick's Day), however, a good bottle of red wine? Well, yes!
 This was the best Shepherds Pie! So full of flavor with a great consistency, topped with the garlic mashed potatoes, and cheese. I am definitely going to make this one again. Here's the link. Jonathan is so funny and comes up with deliciously different takes on recipes. And his photos are gorgeous.  I've made a few of his other recipes. Blt sliders. Again I changed his recipe a bit. I made a fresh herb mayo because I didn't have avocado, but orange marmalade to top it off? Amazing! And grilled chicken Caesar salad. (Not just grilled chicken but grilled lettuce and homemade grilled croutons!) So refreshing and unique. 

Finishing up my new apron shorties. Simple, easy, when you just want a bit of coverage, for endless uses! This is the Up Cycled Shortie. Coffee bean bag in this case.

The Whimsy Shortie. Collecting eggs? Gardening? Or just having a bit of fun in the kitchen.

Coming to my shop - well - sometime soon!

ps. Will have options for guys and girls!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Notes From The Country - May Showers brings some changes, new discoveries, and a lot of water

It was a week of flooring installation but more than three of packing things in boxes and stashing them in other parts of the house and moving furniture into the garage (with the help of very nice neighbors), but we finally did it. Out with the old carpet.

And in with new wide plank pine flooring. I've always loved wide plank flooring and I think it fits our rustic country style, early American decor and dirt road living. Now when the cats throw up I can just wipe it away...

The flow of the main floor feels so different without the carpet to floor borders between rooms. Although there is a good deal more echo echo echo.

The animals have been traumatized for over a month now. The cats do not like disruption in their lives. Apparently we don't either. We had some grand ideas and switched furniture about in different rooms and attempted to de-clutter. We lived with it for a week and I couldn't take it any more. Everything went back to it's original position and the furniture we were going to give away is going to come back in as well. Sometimes change is best done in baby steps.

I love this picture of her getting ready before the big day. The remnants of childhood merging with the grown up she is becoming.

No this adorably cute little guy is not mine! But he is new to the family. My youngest, who volunteers at the humane society fell in love with him and my oldest happened to be in the market for a cat now that she is on her own in her own apartment

So Ollie came to visit for the weekend. He'd only been in his new home for a week before having to make a car ride up here to a big house with other cats so he was a bit grumpy. But we kept them separated for the most part and by the third day he was curiously exploring his home away from home.

The weather has been volatile - with snow on Mother's Day, then turning hot soon after. We've also had a good amount of rain lately. I love late spring and summer skies. They are so vibrant and three dimensional and volatile.

The afternoons have seen a good deal of thunderstorms and some hail the past two weeks. You can always see right where it is raining.

Which has been wonderful for the pastures, lawns, flowers, and, unfortunately the weeds which have been winning out.
Although at present lilacs, eggs (the ones from the chickens not the ones that grow in the ground ), and chamomile on the back patio are fairly prolific now as well.

Numerous clumps of purple and blue iris'

And our big snowball viburnum shrub by the road. 
Can't even avoid snowballs here in June!

We've also spent some time out and about town in between storms. The weather has  been conducive to long, leisurely walks, patio dining and trying fresh, new places. Although when the sky looks like this you better make sure there is somewhere close to take cover.

Here for example! We are getting an influx of cider houses in town. There's some room left in between numerous local breweries, and burgeoning distilleries. We do have a good many apple growers on the Western slope of Colorado and people are finding new uses for them for sure. I have to say I'm discovering I'm not a huge fan of cider. It just tastes too light and - unfinished to me. I would rather drink beer or a glass of white or sparkling wine or if I'm in a juice kind of mood, some good, fresh apple juice. But that's me.  The place above, Compass Cider,  is fairly new in town, and it has a nice feel with walk in walk out open sides so you feel like you're almost dining outside. That seems to be the new thing here and I kind of like it. In the summertime of course. We had a flight of ciders - mostly Colorado local. Some were quite nice and refreshing, others just too bland or sour or too herby (coriander) for my taste. It was nice to try though.

It seems our public pianos are getting makeovers this spring. The past two weekends artists were in Old Town Square repainting. I'm sensing an historical theme. This one depicts sugar beet crops, which have always been a significant part of the agricultural history in this area, and the most recent one looked like some antique log cabins which we have at our library museum which were some of the original homestead cabins here in Fort Collins.

We also branched out to two new restaurants recently (we must be feeling bold with all the change going on).
The Blind Pig was a Sunday Brunch choice. The owners were originally from Texas and spent time in New Orleans. The menu definitely reflects this. I had to try this heavy duty feast of pulled pork over breakfast potatoes topped with over medium eggs and a sausage gravy over all. Uh huh. Of course I ate about a quarter of it, but it was so delicious and satisfying (especially with beer) in a I-need-a-nap-I'm-going-into-a-food-coma kind of way.

We also finally made our way one afternoon after a long walk to the new Blue Agave Grill - my new favorite restaurant!! Oh my, the food here was so deliciously unique and complex, light yet so flavorful. Even the chips and salsa were outstanding. I had coconut shrimp with grilled pineapple, an arugula salad, surrounded by an adobe sauce. Every bite was heavenly.
 Because the main courses were so good we had to try dessert. A stuffed sopapilla with strawberry sauce and ice cream. I need to go back here. Soon.

Our walks lately have also included river paths - those we could get to. We ran into this van

And this jolly fellow from Denver taking pictures of the Poudre River. While not quite like last year so far

The lower paths are entirely submerged

Although the picture above is from last year, and the picture on the right is from yesterday. Hmm.

But with 150 percent snow pack this past winter, sudden very hot temps and a good deal of rain, well, it just turns into so. much. water.

It's hard to realize, even when standing close, how powerful and violent and deadly this much flowing water can be.

It was surreal seeing this goose manage to swim sideways to shore while at the same time a 14 year old boy and his uncle up near the canyon tragically did not make it to shore.

Hopefully the rains will calm and the temperatures will even out a bit giving the rivers' flows around here a chance to catch up. 

Sometimes I just need to pause and take a breath and be grateful than even in the seeming constant changes and sometimes turmoil in life there is beauty to be found in transition and peaceful moments to be embraced.