Sundown

Okay, that title isn’t accurate in a literal sense.  It’s mid-morning at Northbrook as I write this.  But metaphorically, I can’t help feeling some closure as we are two days away from the new year starting.  In my world, the year starts in September – back to school, back to life, back to everything.  While I hate to leave the farm behind, I’m also glad to be getting back to it.  Of course we’ll still be up on weekends, but the long wonderful weekends of summer are done for this year, as are week-long stretches of happiness on the farm.

Over the past week we’ve had a wonderful time with our dear friends who travelled huge distances to be with us – and we are so grateful they did.  While they were here the WorkHorse and Don tinkered and got lots of projects done around the farm – while Cathy and I hung out, chatted and even squeaked in a few workouts – culminating in a very exciting pullup session!  I put Cathy’s very capable kitchen hands to work to help with my annual salsa production.  Here’s what it looked like when I was throwing everything into Big Bertha (if you had a pot this big you’d name it too):

and here’s what it looked like when we were done:

This salsa is perfect in our books – it’s great with eggs, meat and of course chips.  I’ll post the recipe at the end if you’d like to make use of it.  It originally came from Cathy – I take no credit for it.

While Don and Cathy were at Northbrook we all ate (and drank) to excess and generally enjoyed each other’s company.  As always, it was a sad goodbye when they pulled away yesterday. 

After they left the Girl and I set out to cheer ourselves up by working on a monkey-themed cake for a niece’s birthday this weekend.  We’ve got banana cupcakes to make today as well.  The WorkHorse and the Boy had other cheering up projects in mind.  Here’s what they got up to:

Yep, that’s a catapult they built.  I’m told a trebuchet attachment is forthcoming.  In the meantime, the Boy is delighted.  When I gave him a rotten tomato from the garden to launch against the shed he whooped with joy and I even felt better about my rotten tomatoes!

Looking back, I have to say it’s been a perfect summer – I can’t remember a warmer, sunnier one, and we were so lucky to enjoy the company of many of our family and friends as well as the beauty of the farm. Now the countdown to the end of summer is on – the house needs to be put back in order, shopping for school lunches needs to happen and the WorkHorse is even squeaking in a painting job before we leave.  All that remains is to enjoy the last few drops of the season.  I think we’re up for it.

 

NORTHBROOK SALSA

 2 lbs minced jalepeño peppers ***wear gloves!

32 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes

12 cups chopped green peppers

8 cups chopped onions

4 cups white vinegar

4 cups cider vinegar

4 cups red peppers

4 cups yellow peppers

17 cloves garlic, minced

8 – 5.5 oz cans tomato paste

8 tbsp sugar

4 tbsp salt

8 tsp paprika

4 tsp oregano

½ cup chopped, fresh coriander

Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring often.  Transfer to jars; process 20 minutes in a water bath.

Yields approximately 61 cups. note: this makes a very runny salsa – we strain it, which reduced the yield but makes for a preferable end result in our books.

 1 large pepper ~ 1 cup

1 large tomato ~ 1 cup

Game changers

It’s a quiet Sunday morning at Northbook, after a very busy few days.  We had my BFF and her kids here last week, which was a wonderful visit.  They departed Friday morning just around the time the winter wood was delivered – four pick-up trucks worth of it.  The WorkHorse was busy stacking it in the summer kitchen while the Girl and I dashed into town to restock our supplies before hosting some neighbours that evening and in anticipation of a visit from our good friends Don and Cathy who arrived yesterday.  To make Friday more interesting, we were having a new fridge delivered.  The existing fridge was a bit on the rickety side and we were after more fridge space.  Now that we know what goes on at Northbrook (entertaining in the summer, batch cooking and hibernating in the winter) we have a good sense of our refrigeration needs!  My brilliant plan was to sweet talk (bribe) the delivery guys into moving the existing fridge into the basement for us. 

The Girl and I made it back in time to meet the delivery window, and I set to work putting the house back in order – sheets needed to be washed and changed, floors mopped and bathrooms cleaned.  Plus I needed to get dinner for our neighbours ready.  Fortunately I had decided on BBQ chicken, burgers, corn on the cob, green salad and a few purchased salads – nothing very taxing in the kitchen.  I also made the world’s greatest brownies – both for dessert and to have for our guests this week.  I did know that these would be my complete undoing.  I cannot resist these brownies ever.  I’ve decided to let it all go to hell for the remainder of the summer and hit the gym and the austerity program hard after Labour Day.  I suspect I will regret it but what to do in the face of such chocately goodness?

When the hulking giant delivery guys showed up, the worst happened.  No amount of sweet-talking or bribery could convince them to put the old fridge in the basement.  So, with 3  hours until our guests arrived we had 2 refrigerators sitting in the kitchen.  We had no choice but to take it down there ourselves.  You know what?  Sometimes life throws you an opportunity to remind you why you are married.  It wasn’t easy by any means, but we did move a giant appliance down a narrow flight of stairs without an argument or a raised voice – a truly great accomplishment!  And, with seconds to spare, we did manage dinner for the neighbours and had a nice evening.

 Now, with two fridges, the potential for fall batch cooking and freezing has doubled – what joy!  This is game changer #1 around here.

The second game changer is possibly the most perfect cookbook I could imagine.  My BFF brought it as a gift when she visited the farm.  While I wish she didn’t feel she had to bring a gift, I can’t say I’m sorry she brought this. 

The author, Ian Knauer, writes beautifully about his family’s farm in Pennsylvania, while providing beautiful, simple, honest recipes that make use of just about everything in the garden.  On the day I received it, without a trip to the store,  I made a corn and potato salad for dinner as well as a gorgeous sauteed chard (the secret is in the bacon and garlic!).  We feasted on Knauer’s interpretation of our farm’s harvest.  I can’t wait to make everything in this book – with the possible exception of Groundhog Cacciatore (true story).

The other gamechange for me, anyway  (the WorkHorse and kids have their own) is the arrival, after many months of waiting, of this:

I’d been wanting a day bed for the living room since we moved in, but a good looking day bed isn’t easy to come by.  I’ve been waiting for this one for about a year, but my ship (delivery) finally came in and I’m delighted.  It’s the perfect place to read, knit or nap.  It’s also pretty great for watching a storm from the comfort of the living room.  The Boy and I have been jostling for ownership of this new piece but I’ve still got a few pounds on him so I’m optimistic.

As you may be able to tell, I’m shifting into fall mode – thinking more about reading, cooking and napping and less about gardening.  Maybe it’s the chill in the air, or that we’re down to the last hours of summer vacation.  Also adding to my shifting thoughts is the dying garden – rotting pumpkins that never took or the zucchini plants succumbing to powdery mildew.  While I’ve got some plants – kale, beets and more growing up in the beds, I’m mostly thinking about next year’s garden more than this year’s.  The countdown for next year’s planting is on…only 8 months to go!

How did this happen?

I’m not sure how it came to be August 18th, and a few weeks have gone by without a blog entry.  When I was last here we were just getting used to the kids being away.  Turns out, we did just fine.  When we weren’t whipping our dining room into shape we were eating out in great restaurants and generally relaxing.  We crossed Eigensinn Farm off our bucket list too.  If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a culinary experience like no other.  World-class chef Michael Statlander gave up city life and bought a farm near Collingwood, ON where he grows or raises just about everything he serves to the 12 guests the farm dining room can accomodate per night.  We sat down at 7:00 and got up at 11:00, very full, a little drunk, and extremely satisfied.  It was very expensive and fairly inconvenient and I couldn’t recommend it enough.  While at Eigensinn the WorkHorse and I did spend some time poking around in the farm’s kitchen garden and were pleased to see that their veggies didn’t look unlike ours.  He can cook them a whole lot better though!

After our weekend of wonderful eating, the second week of our kid-free vacation passed quickly.  I finished painting the jam cupboard and we moved it in to the dining room along with that pig painting we had our eyes on.  I’ve got a little sewing project to do and we’re waiting on our mason jar light fixture, and then the dining room will be good to go.  It’s quickly going from my least favourite room in the house to my most favourite.  I’ll post pictures when it’s done. 

At the end of it all, we collected the babies from the woods.  Both the boy and the girl not only survived, but flourished at camp.  They canoed, kayacked, swam, played dodgeball, logrolled, caught frogs, made leather bookmarks, ate copious amounts of tuckshop junk food and generally had a fantastic time.  Both were noticably taller and just a little more self-assured when returned to us.

Back at Northbrook, things have been growing and changing too.

The potatoes are out of the garden, which has cleared up space to plant more things.  Same with the onions.  I’ve been tucking in rows of kale, lettuce, spinach, arugula, beets and radishes – for one last bit of garden goodness before the cold comes.  (The mornings are already feeling cool, and I haven’t been out on the front porch with my tea as much as I was earlier in the season.)

The tomatoes are completely out of control.  Many of those that are becoming ripe have damage of some kind or another,but we’re eating what we can. I’ve also become a champion of plucking off GIANT horned caterpillars and stomping on them – it’s amazing what they can do to the plants!  Today at the farmer’s market in Lindsay I asked a farmer about my less-than-perfect tomatoes. Here’s what he said: “For every tomato you see here, I’ve thrown out three.  That’s the nature of tomatoes.  Plant a lot more than you need.  And keep asking questions”.  I was very reassured.  We were even more pleased with our efforts tonight when we ate homemade (by me, but mostly the girl) potato gnocchi with fresh tomato sauce from the garden.  The potatoes, tomatoes and basil were all grown just a few feet from where they were consumed – bliss. 

We haven’t had too many tomatoes that are ready to eat yet, but those we’ve had have been wonderful.  Only two of three of the cherry tomatoes have even made it into the house – they’re perfect for snacking on out in the garden. I expect we’ll be eating a lot of tomatoes in the coming weeks. 

We’ve also been eating cucumbers with nearly every meal, which is delightful.  The cucumbers, both pickling and regular, have been a great crop and we’ll definitely be doing them again.  We’ve been making lots of refrigerator pickles.  We had thought we’d be canning lots of pickles but we haven’t found a recipe we like more than a refrigerator pickle recipe we’ve been using – it’s sweet and sour and completely perfect.  Besides, at the rate we are plowing through them, there won’t be any need for pickles that last more than 2 months.  The pickling cucumbers are slowing down now, but that’s okay, because so is the dill.  All good things, right?

I had to take out all of the lovely (but bug-ridden) nasturtiums and replace them with awful marigolds.  It’s my theory that insects are as horrified by marigolds as I am which is why they are successful at repelling bugs.  In any case, there were big gaps in the garden and we needed a bit of colour, so I’ll live with it.

We’ve had a good bit of zucchini, although our plants have been struggling with powdery mildew, which is affecting the yields.  I noticed in on the cucumber plants as well.  I’ll be out applying baking soda spray again this weekend.  The girl and I did whip up a batch of Anne Lindsay’s delicious and light lemon zucchini muffins for yesterday’s visit from the Fairy Grandmother.  We’ll be making those again.  And, because there is always too much zucchini, I made a late dinner for me and the WorkHorse last night which included the Barefoot Contessa’s Zucchini with Parmesan – delicious.

The pumpkins are also struggling, despite the show of all of those leaves and flowers.  We had one sizeable pumpkin growing but we found it rotting this weekend.  Who knew pumpkins would be so tough?

One of the most exciting developments with the Obsession is that the WorkHorse, without really knowing it, has fallen prey to the gardening bug.  He’ll never admit it and I don’t think he’ll be planning what to plant and where for next year’s garden, but I do see him out in the garden peering at the plants, pulling weeds and generally acting like a gardener.  This is making me quite happy.  We’re planning to add the L-shaped exterior beds this fall so that they are ready to go in the spring.  I’ve learned so much this year that I can hardly wait to get started next year!  Today I bought a whole pile of garlic at the farmers’ market that I’ll put into the ground at Thanksgiving.  I can’t wait.

Fortunately, we have just begun our long stretch of farm vacation – more than two weeks of Northbrook living.  I’ve been here for 48 hours, happily in sweatpants and a pony tail, and this is how I intend to remain.  We’ve got guests coming for much of our time here, so there will be lots of cooking, eating, swimming, roasting marshmallows and more.  And when all of that is done, back to school and real life.  But let’s not think about that yet, shall we?

Getting things done

It’s been five days since we left our babies in the woods and while I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable with it, I’m getting more used to it.  And while I’d love to know how they’re doing, I’m enjoying the freedom from parenting and meal production.  Last night, for instance, the WorkHorse and I sat on the front porch for our farm-weekend tradition of cocktails and nibblies before dinner.  In the end, we just ate cheese and crackers and wine for dinner…glorious freedom, no guilt!

The other perk to having the kids away is plowing through the to-do list.  Now that the farm has been painted, I’m turning my attention to adding some decoration to the farm house.  We’ve had virtually nothing on the walls for a year, save for a painting by my father-in-law and the kids’ art here and there.  It’s time to make some changes and to make the place ours.

This week we had a chance to visit an artist whose work we’d seen in our local ice cream shop, of all places.  Her name is Julia McNeely and we fell in love with her farm animal paintings – they are bold and graphic and have just the right amount of modern to make it not too country, you know?  Here’s the rooster painting we picked up for the dining room (my poor photography doesn’t begin to do it justice).  We’re planning on a beautiful pig to go with it down the road.

Also for the dining room I’m obsessing about light fixtures.  We’ve got this ‘ye olde timey’ gas lantern thing up, which came with the house.  The WorkHorse likes it but it makes me want to die inside a little.  I’m afraid I’ve had to exercise a design veto on that one.  I’ve been yearning for mason jar chandelier like this:

Exeter 16-Jar Pendant, Galvanized Metal finish

The trouble is, we’ve got an original plaster medallion in the center of the ceiling which is messing with my plans.  I’ve found a company on etsy that makes great mason jar light fixtures and I’m hoping I can work something out with them.

The other long-overdue project for the dining room is to repaint an old jam cupboard that was a gift from the fairy grandmother.  It’s beautiful, but it’s also orange and green at the moment.  Early attempts at stripping it have indicated that it’ll be best to repaint.  Today’s kid-free project is going to be getting more of the paint off so it’ll be ready to paint next weekend.  It’s very hot and sticky, so the idea of spending the day in the shed, fully clothed to avoid being burned by the paint remover isn’t this farm girl’s idea of a good time.  But, it’s been sitting in that shed for a year, and it’s time.  Besides, it’ll be nice to get rid of the pile of junk that’s been sitting in the corner of the dining room for a year, waiting to go into the cupboard.

To motivate myself further, I’ll post the before picture:

Wish me luck on that one!

The other farm-related ‘getting things done’ project is fixing up an old window frame.  I’ve been looking for a great window frame to turn into a mirror for the upstairs hallway.  This involves yelling ‘slow down!’ every time we drive by an antiques store or garage sale while driving near the farm.  And there’s the pretty frame I missed out on at the Amish auction.  Last Sunday, after dropping the kidlets at camp, we finally had the chance to actually stop and poke around at an antiques store we often drive past.  We dug through piles of window and door frames and found a pretty but seriously beaten up frame.  It’s very tall – almost door sized, with rounded top that is oddly – hinged on.  The best part?  It was $40.  I dragged it into a local glass and mirror shop who will be fixing it and installing mirrors in the panes.  I think it’s going to be very cool, and cheap to boot!  I’ll show it to you when it’s done.

For now, though – it’s off to the shed and the jam cupboard…