Even after all these years, there is an indescribable feeling that comes over me when I harvest something from my kitchen garden. Maybe if you took enormous scoops of joy, passion, pride, excitement, exuberance, hunger, & delight, and then tossed them all together in a bushel basket you might come close. But only close. For you really must rub your fingers across the smooth, almost unreal surface of this sweet bell pepper. And bury your face in the scent of basil. And be blinded by the jewel-like colors of high summer. Only then can you truly begin to feel it. The thrill of the garden. The simplicity of absolute bliss.
It is also difficult for me to describe just how rewarding it is to hear from so many of you who have been inspired by Farmgirl Fare and In My Kitchen Garden to get your hands dirty and grow something edible--whether that meant tearing up half your backyard and filling it with vegetables or simply sprinkling a few lettuce seeds in a windowbox. Thank you for letting me know. May your gardens and your enthusiasm continue to flourish. And may you always find your bliss.
Click here to read my previous post about the Cat Cabin.
Attention Cat Lovers! This is Weekend Cat blogging #64! Head over to Masak-Masak in Malaysia where Boo has all the links to this week's kitties. For more fun cat photos, catch the traveling Carnival Of The Cats each Sunday night. And the weekly Friday Ark boards everything from cats to caterpillars. Allergic to fur? Weekend Herb Blogging is for you--don't miss the roundup every Monday.
Click here if you haven't read my post about the big cats who really need our help. Please spread the word.
Attention Dog Lovers! This is Weekend Dog Blogging #49! To see fun dog photos & discover yummy new food blogs, visit Sweetnicks each Sunday night for the roundup. Pining for more puppy pics? The Friday Ark boards everything from dogs to frogs. If you prefer plants to pets, don't miss the always tasty & informative Weekend Herb Blogging roundup every Monday. Catch it this week at Kalyn's Kitchen.
If you haven't met this handsome 10-year-old before, click here to read his story--and to learn the proper way to hug a sheep. By the way, after all these years Big Chip still demands a hug every time he sees me. And who's going to say no to that face? This is one sweet fellow, but he's serious when it comes to getting hugged.
In the past 48 hours, not only have I been unable to come up with an interesting little story to go along with this new recipe, or figure out a nice way to photograph it, I can't even think of a decent name for it.
If I call one more creation 'Susan's Super Simple Summer Something,' people are going to start thinking there's something wrong with me.
And the other day I did start thinking something was wrong with me. I kinda sorta almost started getting tired of eating tomatoes. At first this didn't seem possible. After all those months of patiently yearning—not to mention all that sheep manure fertilizer I hauled up to the garden—had my child-like thrill over that first ripe tomato already given way to the glutton's nonchalance?
Then I realized that I've already been enjoying ripe tomatoes from the garden for six weeks now. Six weeks of pretty much getting all of my 5 to 9 daily servings of fruit and vegetables from tomatoes. And then I didn't feel so bad anymore.
But I still had a problem. Everywhere I turned in the kitchen I saw ripe tomatoes in desperate need of being dealt with. And while the rest of the world apparently gathers up all of their imperfect, overripe, questionable looking tomatoes and roasts them—and while I love the deep flavor of roasted tomatoes—turning on the oven for 8 straight hours in August to cook up anything is never gonna happen in my kitchen.
So I threw them in the blender instead.
And I created yet another super simple summer recipe. That I can't come up with a name for.
Fortunately (while I was slurping it up with a spoon)* I did manage to come up with several ways to use this sublime stuff.
The most obvious is to pour it over pretty much any kind of salad you feel like tossing together (including my Colors Of Summer Salad). Or you could drizzle it over a platter of sliced tomatoes and mozzarella that you've garnished with fresh basil sprigs. I think it would be fantastic in a chilled pasta salad.
If you happen to feel like turning on the oven for a much more reasonable one hour, you could whip up some homemade pita breads, stuff them with fresh baby spinach and other veggies and perhaps a few chunks of cheese, pour on a little dressing, and eat your salad as a sandwich. Or you could have warm pitas filled with some nice cooked Italian sausage, slices of roasted red pepper, a few chopped tomatoes, and topped with a splash of dressing.
You could use it to liven up deviled eggs or egg salad or even chicken salad. Make it thick and use it as a dip for slices of crunchy sweet peppers, carrot sticks, or hunks of raw cauliflower. I think you get the idea.
I just can't believe that with all the cute critters and crazy goings-on around here I wasn't able to come up with a better excuse for my lack of creativity in the naming department than the stupid heat. Maybe there really is something wrong with me.
Oh well. At least I'm still eating my tomatoes.
Susan's Seven Second Tomato Glut Solution
One 16-ounce carton sour cream or yogurt (or a combination) Several vine-ripened tomatoes, preferably heirloom & organic Your favorite basil pesto (you'll find my recipe here)
Spoon the sour cream into a blender. Toss in as many halved or quartered tomatoes as you like, cutting away any questionable looking spots if you're dealing with overripe or imperfect bounty. The more tomatoes, the thinner the dressing; meaty, plum tomatoes will give you a thicker end result than regular "salad" or "slicing" tomatoes.
Add a few large spoonfuls of pesto. Whirl it all up in the blender, then turn it off and take a little taste. Add more tomatoes and/or pesto if desired. Sprinkle in some salt if needed. Whirl once more and enjoy however you like.
—Use thick Greek yogurt or yogurt cheese in place of some or all of the sour cream or yogurt if you want a thicker, dip-like consistency.
September 2007 update: This recipe inspired the High Kicking Tomato Dressing I put on my Mexican Jumping Bean Slaw, which also makes great vegetarian tacos.
* I know, I know, I tend to do that a lot. In fact, I've consumed quite a number of meals standing in the kitchen, wielding a large spoon. Just the other night I had pesto for dinner. Not pesto pasta, not pesto pizza, just pesto. Straight out of the food processor. It was really quite tasty.
It's not my fault, though. I inherited an incredibly vigorous taste-testing gene from my mother. You should see us with a bowl of cookie batter.
Who already emailed me late last night with all the details of her early birthday celebration dinner at a beautiful Northern California inn. The description ended with these words: "Then for dessert one order of Chocolate Lava Cake. We should make it when I come. Google the name and check out the first couple of recipes."
My mother is coming to visit next month. I expect the meal-by-meal request list for all her favorite farm foods to arrive any day. But now it looks as though there will be something new on our menu as well. I have never made (or even tasted) a Chocolate Lava Cake. Does anyone have a favorite recipe for Chocolate Lava Cake they would care to share? No one wants to disappoint their mother.
When I stepped out the front door this morning, I had a sudden urge to detour around to the garden before heading down to the barn. The morning light was beautiful, and I thought I might find a photo. Okay, busted. I was mainly going to see if anything in the garden had been ravaged during the night. I only gave the garden a cursory glance, though, because my attention was drawn to something much more interesting.
I have seen these beautiful Luna moths before, but never two at once--and never intertwined. They are large, with wings that span four inches across. They stayed like that for several minutes while I stared, fascinated. Four hours later, they were still there. I lightly tickled each one with a blade of grass, just enough to see if they were alive--yes. I suppose they may have been busy making more moths (I know nothing of moth mating habits). I do know that pressed together, holding tightly to each other's little legs, it was quite a romantic scene--and a glorious morning surprise.
I am thrilled the photos I took came out. Click here if you would like to see the rest of them.
The Destructive Duo (aka Cary & The Nanny Bear) Have Been Temporarily Kicked Out Of The Kitchen Garden (You don't want to know.)
On the other hand, I happened to be standing at the kitchen window today when the wild turkeys came out for a stroll in the hayfield just beyond the garden. I spotted two mama hens with at least 11 baby turkeys in tow (they've gotten much bigger!)**--and as far as I could tell, not a single one of them was digging up or munching down anything of mine at all. It was really quite peaceful.
**My apologies for the confusion. I haven't posted a turkey photo--but not for lack of trying. It's just very difficult to get close enough to them. That link above takes you to the post where I previously wrote about seeing these baby turkeys.
I was walking from the barn up to the house after tucking in the sheep, looking at the ground as I walked, lost in my thoughts of this photo and what I should say about it. Something about how I never know what I'm going to find when I step outside each morning, as I saw this little critter two mornings in a row, happily scampering about in the llama pen adjacent to the barnyard.
The second time was when we (me, Cary, Bear, and Robin) all went in for the close-up photo. I want to say this is a baby skunk, as I have seen much bigger ones, but I don't know for sure. Perhaps it is simply a smaller variety. It immediately took notice of us and started hopping around, its tail pointing straight up, but it didn't spray. It really is cute.
So there I was, face to the ground, carefully watching where I was walking (the terrain is uneven, plus we have snakes), my mind on the little skunk, when something over by the creekbed caught my eye. I looked up to see two spotted fawns bouncing right toward me. They seemed airborne--I think I saw maybe three hooves total actually touch the ground. Their gangly legs moved in all directions at once, their speed surprising. I fumbled for my camera but Bear spotted them before I could get it out. In a whirl of tan and white they were gone. I stood there blinking, wondering if I had actually seen them at all.
And then I realized that I never know what I'm going to find when I step outside--not just in the morning, but any time of day.
And Another New Bird Nest Is Added To My Collection
I found this one laying on the ground near the giant cedar tree in front of the house. It was probably knocked down during one of the back to back storms in July (since we haven't had any storms--or even any rainfall to speak of--since then). It just took me a while to find it. It's one of the smaller types, less than three inches across and similar to several I already have. But as I mentioned before, each bird nest is a unique work of art.
I saw two little puffs of wool lining the inside right away, but a closer inspection revealed several delicate hairs along the inside as well. I pulled one out, and although it resembled human hair, it definitely wasn't mine or Joe's. (I do have one bird nest that has a piece of my long hair woven throughout it--what a magical find that was.) And then I realized it was half white and half dark. Nobody I know has hair like that. Except maybe. . .A quick tummy rub, and the mystery was solved--they were Lucky Buddy Bear belly hairs! There is certainly no shortage of nesting material on this farm. Click here if you'd like to see another recently found nest and read a little bit about my collection.
Well, almost everybody. About half of the sheep absolutely love tomatoes. These are the ones who will greedily slurp up bucketfuls of juice and seeds and skins leftover from canning or freezing and then gaze up at you with a big, wet, drippy red smile. The other half of the flock can't figure out what the big deal is.
Now while Cary has sampled (and acquired a taste for) practically everything else in the garden, she has yet to bite into one of the many ripe tomatoes weighing down the vines. And since I don't know if she's a tomato liker or disliker, I'm certainly not going to find out by giving her one. The day Cary decides she likes tomatoes is the last day she enjoys her garden privileges (and they already aren't nearly as lax as they used to be).
A year of Daily Photos ago: New Cat In The Cat Cabin (This is the photo that made me realize what I was seeing on my computer screen was not the same thing everyone else was. If you're curious, see the comments section in the post, and then click here to find out what I discovered.)
Sometimes it's good to be alone in the kitchen. That way, when you pull a pie like this out of the oven and are standing there staring at it while it cools on the counter, mouth watering, stomach rumbling, fingers twitching, you don't have to worry about losing control and getting your hand slapped because you can't resist it.
You can simply tear off a piece of that warm, golden crust and pop it into your mouth and nobody will ever know, because pieces of crust break off pies all the time.
Of course if you end up nibbling off five or six inches around the edge, you're going to have to come up with a good explanation as to why it is missing. Pets can be quite handy for this.
If the pie is just for you, then you'll be forced to face the fact that you just gobbled up the very best part off a large portion of your pie.
I took this photo a while ago, immediately fell in love with it, decided it was too dark, and relegated it to my personal file. I came across it yesterday and fell in love with it all over again. When I first started this blog, I found myself hesitating over certain photos, wondering if they were good enough to post. I also found that the ones in question usually ended up being quite popular. So I promised myself I would always listen to my heart, go with my first impulse, and the heck with everything else. But once in a while I forget about that promise. So here, finally, is this photo--because I love it. And that is that.
Kitchen Garden Recipe Alert! Yesterday I posted a new recipe on InMyKitchenGarden.com. It's called Colors Of Summer Salad, and it proves once again that Less Fuss, More Flavor is definitely the way to go--especially in this heat. What? You didn't know about my kitchen garden blog? Where do you think most of the food from this one ran off to? And it's not just for gardeners either. You can read about everything from why I love my sun hat to how to make it rain. Check the sidebar over there for links to more of my original kitchen garden recipes.
Several readers have asked me to tell you more about the Cat Cabin, so I will. I don't know a whole lot about it, but a quick phone call to the grandson of the previous owners of our farm (who also happens to be the Donkey Peddling Cowboy) confirmed my suspicions as to its original purpose. He said he didn't know for sure, but it was most likely used as a smokehouse or for storing corn.
"I never saw Grandma smoke any meats or anything in it, but that's what she always called it--The Smokehouse."
At one time there were 40 families living down in this little valley. There was a large sawmill and even a school. Part of our house (which is over 100 years old) was the general store, so it would make perfect sense to have a smokehouse next to it. All of the houses except ours are long gone--most were destroyed by flood. The Cat Cabin is just a few steps from the house so it, too, has survived. But as you can see, I wasn't kidding before when I said it was literally sinking into the ground.
So there's the story of the Cat Cabin. If I find out anything more about it, I'll let you know. I also have a few more photos of it that I hope to get around to posting, including a close-up of one of the corners. The construction is truly amazing. As for my investigative phone call to the cowboy grandson--well, the subject of donkeys also came up, but that part of the conversation will have to wait for another time.
I was looking through some of her early baby photos, and I can't believe how much she has changed. She's even a totally different color. (To Tree and anyone else who wondered if I'd sheared Cary because she looked lighter--no, the sun is bleaching her wool. Plus sometimes the camera makes her appear even lighter if the sun is hitting her--like on her back in this photo.)
At age three months, Cary is happy and healthy and doing just fine. She is 23 inches high, 35 inches from the tip of her nose to the base of her tail, and weighs 45 pounds (some of you were very close with your guesses!). We still spend much of the day together, as she has not been fully assimilated back into the flock yet (though she mingles with them in the afternoon and sleeps in the barn with them every night).
We have fallen into a comfortable daily routine which begins each morning when I greet her in the barn with a bottle of milk replacer, and she sucks it down in about two seconds flat. Then we push Dan outside, count the sheep, and set everyone free so they can graze in the fields. I prepare Dan and Leopold's treats while Cary nibbles on some oats. Then I feed Dan, and Cary runs over and starts inhaling his food (you'd think she would have learned her lesson). Fortunately Dan can be a very patient donkey. We take care of any barn chores that need doing (replenishing minerals and salt, filling water troughs), and then we follow Dan as he heads out to the front field in search of the flock.
If all is well, after a little while Cary and The Nanny Bear and I walk up to the house, where I work in the garden, Cary works on eating it, and The Nanny Bear keeps an eye on both of us. Breaks from the heat are taken indoors. These days Cary usually prefers to lounge on the living room floor with my dirty long-sleeved gardening shirt that is hanging on a chair draped over her head. (Lambs recognize their mothers by smell, not sight. Or, as Joe put it, "Honey, she loves your stink.") If it is very hot, she will join me in my air-conditioned little office and either quietly stand by my side chewing her cud or curl up at my feet while I sit at the computer--just as she's done from the start.
Every day with Cary continues to be a precious adventure. She keeps very busy growing up and learning new things.
Back when she was just three weeks old, she attempted to take her first drink of water--and then she tried to eat the bucket.
Joe Giving Cary Lunch On June 7th
And while she still loves her bottles of milk replacer more than anything else in the world (well, except me--I think). . .
She now sips water like a perfect little lady.
Thanks for all of your wonderful words of support over the past three months. I had no idea my tiny "bum" lamb would become this popular. I'm just thrilled that Cary has so many dear friends and fans around the world. I'm looking forward to sharing more of our lives together with you over the coming months (and hopefully years!).
All of the other sheep have been rounded up and are headed for the barn, but Cary has discovered a tasty patch of grass and refuses to budge. The Nanny Bear doesn't mind, though. He patiently keeps his ears to the wind, his eyes on his charge, and that trademark grin on his face. Cary is safe with him on the watch. Besides, he knows she'll be done nibbling soon--then they'll catch up to the flock in no time.
Lucky Buddy Bear is half English Shepherd and half Australian Shepherd. He loves his sheep! Click here for more about him.
Attention Dog Lovers! This is Weekend Dog Blogging #46! To see fun dog photos and discover yummy new food blogs, visit Sweetnicks each Sunday night for the roundup. If you prefer plants to pets, don't miss the always informative Weekend Herb Blogging roundup every Monday.
Okay, I haven't figured out how to make a video of Cary with my camera yet, but I did muster up the courage to turn the little dial from its permanent setting on AUTO to a new shooting mode--Fast Shutter: "For shooting fast moving objects." So while I don't have a mini movie of this priceless donkey moment (do you love that big white underbelly or what?), I did get several more action shots. Click here to see them. This photo is actually the last one I took--right before (and this has never ever happened) the memory card announced that it was full!
(If you're wondering about that ratty blue halter, click here.)
For several years, when I lived quite another life in northern California, I bought and sold and amassed collections of all manner of 1920s-1950s stuff. (The selling was a direct result of too much amassing.) I no doubt trekked dozens of miles at antique malls and outdoor flea markets, searching for everything from colorful pottery and catalin jewelry to lucite purses and Art Deco chrome.
Now I collectrocks and bird nests. (Though I still have many of my earlier finds. Most are safely tucked away in boxes, but certain items have escaped confinement and are haphazardly scattered around the The Shack. There are, for instance, five 1930s bakelite radios staring down at me from a shelf above my computer. Below the shelf, four fluffy kittens from the same era are forever cavorting around a fishbowl in a small, rectangular print. A brightly flowered curtain from the 1940s covers an unused door in my office.)
But I digress. Anyway, yesterday I put the sheep in a large Donkey Daycare Grazing Pen for a while. There are two enormous sycamore trees in this pen, and below them are piles of large branches that broke off during the recent storms. During their midday rest period, the sheep happily nestled in the shade amongst the debris. While I was carefully picking my way through it to check on everyone, I found this glorious nest laying on the ground--no doubt knocked out of the sky along with all of the branches.
I probably have at least two dozen bird nests by now. Most of them are startingly different from one another, but even the ones that were obviously crafted by the same species of bird are each unique creations. I don't think there will ever be a time when I am not in awe of a bird nest. I become mesmerized and find myself staring at them, trying to figure out how in the world I could even come close to constructing something so precise and perfect using nothing but my mouth.
Most of my bird nests are between three and four inches wide, but this new one measures six inches across. It is somewhat similar in size and shape to this nest I found last year. While I have yet to find the time to research what types of birds built each of my nests, I know exactly what kind of bird built this one--a very smart one! This has got to be the warmest, woolliest bird nest in the world. Click here if you would like to see the underside and a close-up of the construction detail.
I think this is a good time to mention that I only collect bird nests that are obviously no longer being used. Most of them are found on the ground. I do have a couple of nests that still contained teeny tiny, unbroken eggs when I discovered them, but even these had obviously been abandoned. Someday I will get around to photographing more of my collection (and some other day we will build a proper case in which to display them all). Each of these nests is truly a work of art. And as you can see, I easily get carried away talking about them.
Looking back each day at the photo I posted a year ago has been very interesting. I don't look ahead, preferring the daily surprise instead. This means (as you may have noticed) that sometimes I find myself posting new photos that are amazingly similar to ones I posted right around the same time last year. The surprise lilies are a case in point.
But rather than feeling embarrassed by these inadvertent repetitions, I am taking comfort in the fact that although it often feels as if everything is always changing, there are some things around the farm that do remain the same year after year. And fortunately many of them are things of quietbeauty (orcuteness).
Once again I am behind, behind, behind on all things blog related. I have questions to answer, pictures to post, and several summer recipes I'd like to share--hopefully soon. Thanks, as always, for your patience--and for taking the time to send me comments and emails. Your feedback is so important (and often incredibly entertaining)!