Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hot, hot, hot: Time to wash the rugs!

by June

Seems summer in Maine is not quite so short after all. Usually the temperature pokes into the nineties for a day or so in mid-summer. By the end of August we're feeling the nip of autumn on the breeze. But this year the thermometer seems stuck on HOT.

Yesterday, it was so so SO hot that we had no choice but to wash the rugs.

Washing the rugs is a family tradition shared with us by a dear friend who has been doing it since she was little. It involves trekking to a secret spot in the woods, a breathtaking spot with clear water rushing over polished stone. The water sings and shimmers with sunlight.

There's a little scrubbing...

...a little jumping on stubborn dirt...

a little sunning...

...and a lot of swimming in water as bubbly as champagne.

When we aren't washing the rugs, we're having a festival of tomatoes. Look for us to be back soon with recipes. Oh, how we love the work of summer when it involves tomatoes warm from the sun — and cold, clear, bubbly water too.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Being the grasshopper and the ant

by June

Summer is short in Maine. And it's glorious.

I feel an urgency all season to keep it somehow, which is why preserving the harvest appeals to me so much. It's not just food. It's memories.

Don't get me wrong: I adore snowy nights by the fire. But I love them all the more if we have a nice tomato jam to spread on toast with a melting goat cheese. We taste the jam and remember when the tomatoes were ripe—back when we were swimming and sleeping under the shooting stars and reading in the grass.

It's a tug between the two impulses all summer, of course. To play and sing like Aesop's grasshopper? Or, like the ants, to put away some of the summer bounty for when the snow flies? I wish that I were able to transform the whole season into one long stretch of gardening and swimming and harvesting and hiking and preserving and walking on the beach. But I can't. That's not the life I have. And when I have time to spare, I'm going to choose to play with my daughters. Their childhoods are more fleeting than summer. (Did I mention they turned eleven this summer? Eleven!)

But what I can manage—with Blossom's and Fern's help—is to play a little and preserve a little bit each day. We've learned to measure out our energy, to keep it simple. We don't have the garden or the humanpower  to put away a harvest that will see us through the seasons ahead. No pressure cookers and huge vats of boiling water for us. Our scale is small. But we are able to freeze and pickle and dry and jar enough treats to bring the sparkle of summer to almost every winter meal: blackberries for cobbler and strawberry jam for toast and half-sour pickles for bagel brunch and cherries for pie and chutneys to spike up the heat on an Indian feast.

We're not letting go of summer yet. But we are pickling it while we can.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Make Way for Goats

by June

We've been consciously slowing our lives down for years. It all started when I was ping-ponging coast to coast for work. Living in the city frayed my every edge (and I had a lot of edges back then). Saturday mornings, I'd eagerly seek sustenance at the farmers' market, and I came to realize I wasn't just after the fiddlehead ferns or the apple-blossom branches or the Jersey tomatoes or the pumpkins or the Christmas trees. I longed to participate in the growing season. It wasn't enough to live off the fruits of the land, I wanted the land and the sky and the rain falling down and the plants growing up, up, up.

And here we are years and years later with a home on a piece of land where we grow some of our food and gather eggs from our own chickens and put up pickles for the winter. It feels like the whole world is right here where we live and yet, by necessity, we still do the work of the world-at-large. And there's where the grind comes. I rarely look at the clock, but even as I'm picking the first Sun Golds (hurray!) and stirring the jam or feeding the sourdough starter, I'm beholden to three or four different projects on my computer. And Birch started a new business this year. Even with the homeschooling, the girls have been taking on more and more responsibility in their studies. Sometimes it feels that we spin as fast in our slow lives as we ever did in our quick-quick version.

Always a blur of snuggle and spin
Then the goats came home. Adjectives for Buttercup and Clover that we regularly use include joyful, curious, magical, silly, hungry, voracious, ravenous, ornery, adorable, loyal, loving, snuggable (our coinage), cuddly, playful. Consider also some of the exclamations that have come out of our mouth since the goats arrived:

"Get off the car!"

"Get out of the car!"

"Don't head-butt the cat!"

"Oh, no, not the roses..."

"Don't chase the chickens!"

"Goat in the house!"

"Oh, no, not the bok choi!"

"Two goats in the house!"

"Don't drink out of the toilet!"

You get the picture? Wild.

Those two cinnamon streaks ahead of the girls? The goats.

Fast as they are, the goats have finally, finally, finally taught us about slowing down.  I've always loved that Gandhi quote about being the change you want to see in the world. Getting the goats has made us become the change we professed to want in our lives. The goats made us truly become slow.

This summer, learning to tend goats has led us to trim back our expectations of ourselves. Fern and Blossom looked forward to turning eleven so they could take the Red Cross babysitting course and become official for the work they love. Instead, they're babysitting goats. They are also reading for hours and picking blackberries and baking and playing in the river while the goats scamper along the rocky ledges.

It is the best summer we've ever had, slow and full: a growing season.

We're linking up with other families who are all striving for the good life with Simple Lives Thursday. Prepare to be inspired.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Savoring the harvest: Fresh corn pudding

by June

All year we wait for the fresh corn. There is no stronger argument for eating locally than corn. Cooked within hours of coming off the stalk, corn is pure snappy sweetness. Birch and I are happy to eat it straight off the cob (just cooked for three or four minutes in boiling water). We've also been known to soak it unhusked in water for the afternoon, then toss it onto the grill or into the pizza oven. The smoke seems almost caramelized; we can't help thinking it's a scent that must have wafted across this land for centuries. Whichever way it's cooked, corn on the cob is a summer-only treat not just for us but for the chickens too: Leftover corn kernels cling to the cobs, and the whole flock flaps and squawks to get at the goodies.

Our girls favor a corn pudding that preserves the sweet crispness of the corn but surrounds it in what Fern calls "wobbly creaminess." What a wobbly creaminess it is, and warming too. On a misty day, with maybe a smattering of rain, this pudding makes us feel cozy in the house, even as it reminds us that summer is here. And the corn will never be sweeter.

Fresh Corn Pudding

2 cups fresh corn, sheered off the cob
2 cups milk, scalded
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 eggs
1 small onion, chopped (optional)
salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste

Beat the eggs. Slowly beat in the milk and melted butter. Add the corn, onion, and seasonings. Set dish in a pan of hot water and cook in a 325 degree oven for about an hour. The pudding should be set so that a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. (Cooking time will vary by the juiciness of the corn.)

We're adding our corniness to the general corniness this week of Summer Fest 2010, a blogging extravaganza about seasonal bounty and how to enjoy it best. We hope you'll share your favorite corn recipes and tips in our comments and everywhere you see the Summer Fest badge.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Savoring the harvest: Variations on cucumber raita

by June

When the cicadas are singing high summer, nothing goes better with the heat than cucumbers. Heat-to-beat and cucumbers make me think of the cooling role cucumbers play in Indian cuisine.

One of our favorite fast summer foods is a Madhur Jaffrey raita made by lightly whipping two cups of Greek-style yogurt, then mixing in a diced cucumber and a diced tomato. The spices are simple too: salt, black pepper, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and a half-teaspoon of roasted cumin seeds.

It struck me one day that we could marry that raita with our go-to cold cucumber soup.

Cucumber Raita Soup
2 cups peeled, seeded, chopped cucumbers
1/2 cup chilled vegetable stock or chicken broth
1 tablespoon lemon juice
half a small onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
a handful of fresh dill or a teaspoon of dried
pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon (or more to taste) roasted cumin seeds, ground
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup sour cream
mint leaves, optional
halved cherry tomatoes for garnish, optional

In a blender, combine one cup of the cucumbers with the stock, lemon juice, onion, and spices. Blend until smooth. Pulse in the yogurt and sour cream. Stir in the remaining cucumber. Cover and chill until very cold. Serve in chilled cups or bowls and garnish with the tomato halves and the mint.

(If you're like us, you may just want to go ahead and double the recipe. Or triple it.)

The soup tastes extra wonderful if you go jump in the river while it chills. It is best enjoyed barefoot on the porch as the cicadas serenade the summer evening.