Spring Has Landed and Chicks are Here!

Spring has landed and it’s hard to miss around here. Despite the weather roller coaster that we’ve been on in Virginia, we are finally back to “normal” spring weather with beautiful sunny days, chilly nights, and colorful blooms taking shape.

There are still a few daffodils ready to open but many of them blossomed early under warm temperatures, only to be swept away during the past two storms and hard freezes.

Blue Grape Hyacinth Blue Grape Hyacinth cover the roots of the ash tree

Thankfully, the grass is starting to fill in all of the patches created from ongoing construction last year, and the peonies are just starting to poke their heads out of the ground. It’s definitely one of my favorite times of year.

Heirloom PeoniesThe Peonies beginning to rise above ground through the periwinkle

The Hatchery

About five weeks ago, we put over two dozen eggs into the incubator, thanks to my friend Dave. Las year, I traded him four guineas pullets for four of his buff Orpington chicks. Unfortunately, we ended up losing all but one to a fox. The late winter weeks were particularly hard as predators, primarily fox and coyote, roamed the area looking for any available food. Our flock seemed to be their all-you-can-eat buffet! Dave was kind enough to save two dozen fertilized eggs for me to try again this season. With better predator guards in place, I’m hopeful for this round.

Eggs in the Incubator

The egg colors were stunning and I couldn’t wait to see what would pop out. There were sure to be a few Orpingtons, some Sex-links of black Australorp, Copper Maran, and Easter Egger. My primary goal this season is to have some hearty layers to keep my kitchen well-stocked all year. Having only bought one dozen store-bought eggs last year, I got spoiled with a steady supply of the very best, richest farm eggs.

New-born Chicks

After just 21 days, we saw our first pip. It didn’t take long before a few had sprung free, running around the incubator like little dinosaurs, bumping into other eggs and each other. We ended up with twelve chicks of different colors and varieties, two requiring a bit of assistance to break out of their shell walls. It’s a very difficult thing knowing when to assist their hatch and when to let Mother Nature know best. There’s no doubt that had we not assisted in the last two cases, they certainly wouldn’t have made it.

Mother Goose

The chickens aren’t the only ones with eggs this year! After much observation and deliberating, we have finally decided that our two geese are indeed a happy couple. Mother Goose now has about 10 eggs in her clutch and we hope they are viable for hatching, assuming she gets broody along the way.

Mother Goose

They are definitely impressive, rich-tasting eggs, each equalling about a half-cup of liquid. I equate their texture and taste more to a chicken egg. One of our favorite recent recipes was from our friend Lolli who placed an over-easy goose egg on top of a bed of corned beef and potato hash. Can you say perfect? Although I have loved baking and cooking with them, I plan to see how she will treat her current clutch considering they are only good layers for a few months out of the year.

As the season progresses, I have a lot of work to do in my garden (I’m really behind this season).  When I’m not working to pay the bills, other moments have been dedicated to sitting by the fire, eating oysters, and enjoying good company. I hope you are able to enjoy the same this spring.

Springtime Fire

The Perfect Snowfall

Although a pleasant surprise this morning, the snow left an eerie blanket of grey across the farm. Each branch and leaf had just enough layered snow to create a sharp contrast in the dim, early morning light. With no enhancements necessary, the photos give a usually hidden glimpse at the wildness of the old trees.  These are my favorite days here.

The old linden tree and swing

The eighteenth-century garden terraces overlooking the spring

 

The sun starts to warm the sky

O Christmas Tree, the Virginia Way

Roaming the woods searching for the perfect Christmas tree is easier said than done. My fourteen year-old black lab, Miss Bit, ran along beside us, keeping a keen eye out for stray rabbits that might require a good chase.

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A quick stop along the way for much-needed pets

Remembering scale is the toughest part of the job; an eighteen-foot tree simply will not fit under a ten-foot ceiling no matter how many twists and turns you attempt – and no matter how perfect it might look in the middle of a field. With a resolved sense of reality, we found the perfect eastern red cedar. My newest toy, a Ryobi battery-powered chainsaw, took care of the job with no problem. I got the tree loaded up on the small trailer and headed for the house.

Christmas Tree

I cut down the tree with my new favorite toy, a Ryobi battery-powered chainsaw that goes anywhere!

With a little trimming, the tree fits perfectly in the living room at about nine feet tall, and there was just enough greenery left to fill the mantles. The wonderful smell of freshly cut evergreen quickly filled the house. Each whiff makes me wonder why we can’t have fresh greenery all year-long.

Christmas Tree

For the past three years of holiday seasons, we have been under renovation and I simply couldn’t muster the holiday spirit. The energy and motivation required were hidden amongst the daily reminders of a wrecked house. There was no room for holiday cheer.

This year is different. Many projects were checked off the list, and our spare time, although still limited, has been partly spent doing things we enjoy. After much baking, broiling, and roasting in the new kitchen, I have spent many evenings and mornings resting by the lit Christmas tree.

Christmas

The dining room lit and decorated for the season

Christmas Oysters

Christmas dinner of fresh Mobjack Bay oysters roasted with Iberico ham and Pecorino 

Although we aren’t rushing the season, we are already looking toward our next projects. First will be to complete the cosmetic work on the upstairs guest bathroom so that we can host overnight and weekend guests more frequently. We hope that you will all come and join us for a night in 2017.

Peace to all this holiday season!

Fall Harvest with Melissa Clark

Final Harvest

Like much of the world, we have been plunged into darkness and cold for the next few months of winter. The harvest is over and our final haul consisted of a few remaining ears of blue clarage corn, a sugar pie pumpkin, and a lone spaghetti squash.

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All were delicious and fun to cook with the squash being dressed in a spicy alfredo sauce, the pumpkin becoming a spiced trifle with nutmeg cream at Thanksgiving, and the corn going to the birds. We do our best not to waste anything around here.

Parsnips, a collaboration with Melissa Clark

The very final crop was a half row of turga parsnips. I was so proud of these and they were the very easiest crop of the season – just plant and forget them until the first couple of frosts roll through. They get even sweeter with those first few icy nights.

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A few years ago, a dear friend of mine in New York got me hooked on Melissa Clark from the New York Times. Her recipes are classically perfect and incorporate a variety of my favorite vegetables. She shows up in our meals at least once each week. Last week, her recipe for Pasta with Parsnips and Bacon showed up in my inbox. I couldn’t help but think that Ms. Clark was spying on me.

With all the ingredients at hand, I roasted the parsnips, filling the house with the most amazing fragrance. Combining them with the leeks, bacon, pasta, parmesan, and cream was the perfect marriage. I highly recommend trying it out for yourself and there’s a video with Melissa Clark on the recipe link above that walks you through the steps.

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It was a triumphant end to the harvest season, and the beginning of a time to regroup and collect one’s wits before spring. I hope everyone has a chance to read, be inspired, and find a few recipes or projects that bring you joy.

The Only Walnut Pesto Recipe You’ll Ever Need

Pesto di Noce, walnut pesto, is one of my favorite versions of this beautiful Italian sauce. I first found a recipe for it in a Saveur article, “Glorious Pesto,” but I lost the cut out after I made it and subsequently fell in love. A couple of years ago, I stumbled across the recipe reprinted online.

I’ve been making it this way ever since, and the abundance of end-of-summer genovese basil was a perfect excuse to pull it out of the file. I’ve included the recipe below so you can try it yourself.

Basil

Ten basil plants pulled from my late-summer garden

In my case, I had about ten large basil plants that needed to be used, so I made about the same number of batches. Once you have picked the leaves and washed them well to remove any lingering dirt, don’t be afraid to pack them into your measuring cup.

Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor and process until finely chopped. One other tip is to use high quality cheese. The aged pecorino adds a welcomed bite to the other flavors. One modification that I made to the original recipe is to use a bit of tomato paste in place of sun-dried tomatoes. I don’t think that the little bit of acidity imbalances the sauce at all.
Walnut Pesto

 The messier the workspace, the better it tastes!

Once you have made your pesto, be sure to use it within a few days. I chose to freeze mine in half-pint jars for use during winter. There’s nothing better than the reminder of summer on a cold night. Mangia!

Walnut Pesto

Ten batches of walnut pesto to get me through winter

Recipe: Pesto di Noce

Ingredients 

12 cups packed basil
12 cup olive oil
13 cup toasted walnuts
14 cup finely grated pecorino
14 cup finely grated parmesan
1⁄4 teaspoon tomato paste, optional (I like to use Amore brand)
2 cloves garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions

Process basil, oil, walnuts, pecorino, parmesan, tomatoes, and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped; season with salt and pepper. Makes 1 1⁄2 cups.

Adapted from Saveur, July 28, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

Sitting at my desk on Sunday morning, a little nervous each time another major gust came along, I heard the crack. With knowing resolve, I got up and headed to the window to see which of the trees it could have been. Was it another part of the pine? The Elm? One of the ash trees? It didn’t take but a second to see the second large branch of the old pine tree snaking across the side yard and over the driveway. It had taken out a few privets and a small ash tree in the process but thankfully it stayed away from the house and the Elm this time.

With many coastal areas devastated after hurricane Matthew, we were thankful that the storm brought little more than a day of rain and some hefty winds. Unfortunately, a full day of sustained winds with gusts over forty miles per hour was just enough to take out the second part of the tree that had already been compromised.

Pine Tree

The old pine tree’s second major limb snaked across the lawn and driveway

Pine Tree

Now homebound, with no way out and no choice about it, we grabbed the right tools and began to tackle this monster. If nothing else, there had to be a path through before the impending Monday morning work hour. Somehow, “massive tree across my driveway with no way out” sounds a bit too much like, “dog ate my homework!”
Pine Tree Cleanup

Chris clearing the small limbs from the area. The firewood should last for a few outdoor fires!

Several hours later with a twenty-four inch chainsaw, a log splitter, and ample amounts of gasoline, the driveway was clear enough for a car. The rest of the fallen limb could be handled over the next week. Of course, the big next task is planning for the final core of the tree since it is the largest and most unpredictable of the three. Hopefully we will have enough time to plan for this one!

Big Projects Completed as Autumn Arrives

The weather is tempering and the leaves are already falling from the trees. My apologies to all of you that despise the shortening of the days, but autumn is upon us, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Although it means no more of the best tomato sandwiches on the planet, I will do my best to fill the void with bonfires, dark beer, pie pumpkins, and dining al fresco. With out-of-town guests visiting, Saturday was a perfect morning for a full waffle breakfast at the picnic table under the old Ash tree. Bonfire

With the desire to be outside more comes the desire to finalize some of the outdoor spaces. After so much inside work over the last year, it’s nice to close the loop on some of the big projects and enjoy the small amounts of our newfound spare time.

Basement Stairs of Death

One project that was imperative to complete was the redesign of the narrow staircase leading into the new basement kitchen, installed sometime in the 1950s. Besides the fact that it was a serious safety hazard with slick, worn bricks, too-tall risers, and very narrow treads, the drain-line that it encompassed to move storm water away from the foundation was faulty and continuously backed up into the basement during a heavy rain. The basement flooded several times, even after the new cabinets were installed. No doubt this had to be a priority!

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The old staircase of dangerous, damaged bricks and a faulty drain

The start to the project was simple: carefully tear out the old, damaged bricks and cracked concrete pad and then find the best masons in the area to lay new ones. Away we went with the removal and excavation of the old drain line. It was a mess once we discovered that the exterior drain was actually diverting back into the house’s main pluming lines – a big recipe for disaster. That was quickly capped and a new design was implemented to direct the water through PVC down the hill. This would reduce any risk of interior flooding.

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Phil and Chris look on as removal of the old concrete pad begins

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Mr. Phil completed the first phase of the work and was a real inspiration to watch. He did all of the work himself with only a small excavator and hand tools, his intuition and experience guiding him each step of the way. Thankfully his experience with historic masonry meant that he was very conscious of the existing brick foundation, chimney, and intersections of old and new brick.

Rebuilt Stairs

Once the modified drain was installed, the new bricks could be laid. It was one early morning that I heard the loudest truck coming up the driveway carrying two pallets of the most beautiful handmade bricks. It is incredible how much they look like the original bricks in the foundation.

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Beautiful handmade bricks to match the existing historic fabric of the house’s foundation

The best masons in the area, the father and son team of Hamp and Hampton, laid the bricks using old pattern styles and mixed mortar according to historic standards. Having worked on so many of the area’s oldest homes, their knowledge of historic building techniques was invaluable during the project. Not to mention they are two of the best storytellers. There were plenty of times at the end of a long week that I would look forward to sitting and chatting with them as they worked.

img_9788The new drain is laid and the brick side walls become a reality
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The bricks are laid with care, waiting for mortar, while the new door takes its place

As much as I enjoyed the company of everyone working on the new entry, I was ready to have exterior access to the basement again. Carrying groceries upstairs and then downstairs had become a bit cumbersome after more than a month. Finally the finishing touches were installed including the new door and accent lighting to highlight the beautiful masonry work.

img_0278-3Smokey guarding the new basement stoop

Now we have a well-functioning basement entrance that is both safe and carries the water away from the foundation of the house – just in time to enjoy the outdoors more. My next project is a small kitchen garden just to the right of the stairs with herbs and flowers for cutting. Stay tuned!