Monday, June 27, 2016

Three Sets Of Twins

June Bug's twins - Oberon and Cobweb

Mustardseed curled up under my hat!

Firefly's twins - Puck and Peaseblossom

On Sunday we came out and found that Cricket also had kidded.  We weren't sure exactly when she was due, because we saw her bred twice, so it was a surprise....and also another surprise because she had twins!  That makes nine baby goats in all this year - three sets of twins and three single babies.

The oldest kids - Mab and Titania - are old enough to be very frisky and tear around.  The other newer babies will join in for awhile, and then curl up for a nap.  Mab was in a tree yesterday.  It's a live oak with rough bark that she can find footholds in.  We tried to get a picture, but when she saw us she jumped down and raced away, pronking.  They are so spastic at her age.  They bounce around and then stop, as if they were surprised at what they have just done.

This week is full to the brim of milking twice a day, so I will probably not be writing here much.  I will try to post another French recipe later this week.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Puddles Of Goats

There are now five baby goats!  That means baby goats sleeping together and playing together in puddles all over the place.  Twilight Sparkle and June Bug had their babies, and June Bug had twins again.  Sparky's baby is huge....I had thought she might have twins, but it was just one large kid.  She's a smaller goat, and I was worried about her.

May and April's kids are old enough to be rambunctious and playful.  It's interesting to see how the different mothers are with their kids.  Just like people, they have different styles of mothering - sometimes very loving, and sometimes kind of heartbreaking.

May is a really good mama - after her baby was born she stood away from the herd, not going out to graze, but guarding her baby and making sure it was clean and letting it nurse.  April is the sort of mother who cares more about her stomach.  She abandons the baby to go graze, and doesn't care if it is crying and trying to find her.  It's big enough to follow her around now, but it gets tired after awhile and curls up to sleep.  April just leaves it, and keeps eating.

Two evenings in a row she left the baby somewhere in the back field and then freaked out later when she couldn't remember where it was.  She was bleating hysterically (while she was still eating) and we all had to go out and find it - it was quite difficult to's amazing how old dried-out cow pies look like a sleeping baby goat from a distance.

Another funny thing - April and May's babies are almost identical.  They are all being born around the summer solstice, so this year we are choosing names from Shakespearean fairies, specifically A Midsummer Night's Dream. Mab (April's baby) and Titania (May's baby) have only a few very slight differences in appearance.  Titania has slightly more white hairs on her forehead, and a tiny white splotch on her belly.  She is slightly larger than Mab, but otherwise they look the same.  Even the mamas were getting confused!

It's so fun to have so many babies at once.  More to come - Cricket and Firefly have not kidded yet.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Beyond Words

The summer rains have begun, the regular drenching each evening that turns the pastures into emerald green swards of luscious grass.  It's been so many months since I have really been rained on, I had almost forgotten the warm-but-wet-to-the skin feeling.

I was stuck in a good, drenching rain over the weekend, one of those storms that keeps you on your toes and lets you know you're alive.  I was walking up between the black cherry trees to the third line, looking for Matilda and Geranium, uncertain as to where they had been moved the evening before.

The green of the grass was unreal in the weird light of sunset and storm.  Lightening flashed around me, and for a few seconds I reflected on the sad spiritual uncertainty of a culture who has decided that god is merely a distant creator, something to seek and perhaps not find, as the ancient voice of Thor rolled and pealed and shook around the sky.  A blinding flash that came from everywhere at once, followed closely by a horrible crack that seemed to split the sky apart, a not-so-distant explosion, and I found I was huddled on the ground, soaking wet, and the thunder rolled around and around like a loud celestial ball game.  You can't help but think of the gods in that kind of a situation.

And suddenly ahead of me I saw the cows through a rain-hung plum thicket, all in a ruminating group of sleek chestnut browns.  Their calmness was relief, I could smell the warm, milky smell of their bodies.  Without a sound, Matilda and Geranium rose in turn, and walked along the fence line beside me until we reached the corner.  Silently I unrolled the electric fence, and they filed out, Matilda hurrying Geranium along, barging in front when she got the chance.  Sampson tried to come along, and I stamped at him.  One firm, strong stamp in the wet grass.  He lowered his horns and backed away.

The rain fell around us.  No words, only the tearing of grass as the cows grazed along the way, but we all knew what was meant.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Patisserie

We have had the best summer crafty project going lately - in the summer I always like to have something fun to work on that we didn't get time for during the rest of the year.  Summer here is like the deep winter of other climes.  The weather and bugs make you want to lethargically hang out inside.  It's taken me so many years of living here to discover this.  The weather is just too nice in the spring, winter and fall to sit inside with crafts.

Rose and I had this brilliant idea back in May - and since then we have been working to make a tiny, needle-felted patisserie.  It's been so fun to think of different pastries and cakes to try.

None of us have much experience yet with needle felting.  We had a kit from ages ago that no one could quite figure out from written instructions.  I finally found some videos on youtube that helped a lot.  We started with simple cookie shapes, and moved on to gingerbread men, pain-au-chocolat, and cupcakes with cherries on top.

Not only are they delicious-looking and cute, but I am thinking they will be fun to work with when we review money for third grade in the fall.

I've also found that interesting my children in arts and crafts must be done in a certain way.  It wouldn't work if I had gotten all the wool, foam, and needles out and announced, "We are all going to sit down and do needle felting now!"  I can get out all kinds of great art supplies that way, and everyone ignores them and finds something better to do.

Instead I got it all out very quietly, while they were busy fighting over something in their room.  When they sent out a delegation for appeal and accusation, I was just sitting at the table quietly, working on a cookie.

"It's all his fault, Mirin did blah-blah-blah, he's such a horrible person."

and, "Rosie is so mean, she did blah-blah-blah," faded as they watched me as I quietly poked the cookie shape with the felting needle.

"Yes?" I said, not looking up.

"What are you doing?" became the question, and Clothilde crawled into my lap making further progress impossible.  Then, suddenly, everyone wanted a felting needle, and I had to give up my piece of foam.  The creativity blossomed and everyone was curious and wanted to try.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


  {These French recipies are from a French cookbook called La Cuisine:  Guide Practique de la Ménagère by Chef R. Blondeau.  This book was passed down to me from my great-grandmother, who was from Alsace, a North-eastern region on the Rhine river plain in France.  It was published in 1930 as a guide for cooks hired to cook for a family.

 I am translating the recipes from French, testing them out with home-grown or raised food, and re-writing them in a modern format, with notes about what worked for me in the kitchen} 

*     *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

My dad almost always made crepes on Saturday mornings when I was a kid.  We ate them rolled up with butter and granulated sugar.  When I was older and had moved away, I tried calling him for the recipe, but it was one of those, "a little of this, some of that, and I'm not sure exactly how much have to know what it looks like."

In general, I do not like to start the day with something sweet, but I made an exception because of the abundant cream from the summer pastures and all of our late-blooming blueberries in the orchard.  Someone told me that the local farmer's market is all out of blueberries at this point.  I think most of the commercial operations plant primarily early blueberries....which had a difficult spring this year with a hard frost after they were blooming.  We got none from the early blueberries, but the late blueberries, so reliable and sweet are so full of berries!

 There isn't really a satisfactory translation for blueberry in French.  There isn't a word (that I know of) for "berry."  All the good little fruits have their own names: la fraise, la framboise, la mure.  If there was a word for berry, you could try sticking bleu on the end of it, but there isn't.  Myrtille is the best the language can offer, and when I tried them, they are different than Florida blueberries.  I think they are really huckleberries.

Crepes are very thin pancakes, consisting of mostly flour, egg and milk.  I have seen ridiculous, teflon-coated "crepe-makers," and some people seem to be under the impression that you can only make crepes with a special crepe-maker.  This is untrue, and a result of product marketing.  Crepes are perfectly make-able in a good-old-fashioned cast-iron frying pan (seasoned, of course).

A long time ago, back when I was young and adventurous, I was invited by my friend Vincent to come along with him to visit a friend who was farm-sitting for her parents in extremely rural French mountains....I think it was in Limans.  We took a late train, and waited for a long, uncertain time for Auralie to pick us up, and then the long drive on tiny roads perched way up high over rivers and gorges and such in the dark.

In the morning, we could see the green meadows, a pair of horses, a coop of young laying hens, and a flock of sheep.  The house was old, and in the middle of being repaired.  There were wood stoves everywhere in odd places, and I almost got stuck climbing a massive, ancient oak in the backyard, where generations of children had played.

We spent much of the weekend playing what might be called music....Auralie on accordion, Vincent learning guitar, and I on zils....which no one liked much, but I wanted to participate.  It's almost like playing spoons, they are annoying.  We talked about having a street band in the style of the Commedia Dell'arte, and old-fashioned entertainment.  In the middle of the night Auralie and Vincent decided to make crepes.

We went outside to look for eggs in the barn, and I was absolutely struck by the  stars....I had never seen them so bright and unobscured.  Even in the rural American countryside, there's always a SuperWalmart in the distance that clouds the sky with light pollution.  Here, the sky was black and seemed to go on forever, and the constellations stood out bold and clear on their celestial journey.

I had the enlightening realization that the lame little star maps I had to memorize for Earth Space Science in 9th grade were bogus....and I had always wondered how they got four distant stars to look like a swam.  The unobscured constellations have shadings and depth from tiny, far-away stars that make them look like real pictures leaning down out of the sky, almost near enough to touch, looking down at you from a different world.

We never found an egg, and so we made egg-less crepes.  They weren't the best, but they were still perfectly good, and Auralie showed me the trick of using a slice of potato at the end of a fork to butter the pan evenly.  At the end, you can eat it as it is cooked from spreading butter so many times.  We ate them with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice.


 Pour into a bowl 250 grams of flour; make a trough in the middle, mix the flour with a quarter of a litre of milk, a coffeespoon of salt, two whole eggs, a small glass of eau-de-vie.

Mix everything well, let it rest.

Your batter must be liquid enough.

In a pan, melt a hazelnut-sized bit of butter (or lard); when it is good and hot, pour in a spoonful of batter so it covers the bottom.

Brown the crepe on both sides, tipping the pan constantly until the crepes don't stick.

Serve very hot, with fine salt or powdered sugar.

Crepes (a modern version)

2 cups flour
about 1 cup milk (you can add more to get a thin consistency of batter)

2 whole eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt

A splash of eau-d-vie

Butter, or lard, for frying

1.  Put the flour into a bowl and make a trough in the middle.

2.  Pour in the milk, eau-de-vie, and crack in the eggs.  Mix everything up very well, and let the batter rest a few minutes.

3.  Meanwhile, heat a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet.  When it is good and hot, put in a little dab of butter and swirl it around with a spoon.  If you'd like to try Auralie's trick with the potato, take a small slice of potato and stick it on to the end of a fork for this job.

4.  After you pour in the first spoonful of batter, tip the pan in a circular motion so that the edge of the batter spreads out to be thin around the edges.

5.  Let the crepe cook until the edges look dry and are starting to brown.  Flip the crepe over with a spatula and brown the other side for a moment.

6.  Remove crepe from pan, butter the pan again, and pour in another spoonful, etc.  Always add more butter between crepes (it keeps them from sticking).

Notes:  Warning - the first crepe is almost always ugly, so don't give up.  

Crepes can be sweet or savory, and there are lots of ways to serve them, whether stuffed and rolled up, or on the side.  Lemon and sugar is common, but you could also add creme fraiche, ricotta, berries, ice cream, etc.  For savory ideas, I have seen recipes with vegetables like asperagus, or peppers, or meaty stew-like preparations.  The blueberry filling I made was only blueberries and a few spoonfuls of honey cooked down.

If you are wondering what eau-de-vie is, it is very strong distilled alcohol with a pleasing flavor.  You can use rum, or brandy, or even vanilla extract.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Born Before A Storm

Last Friday I noticed April bleating now and then while I was milking Matilda.  This isn't unusual - often the goats will stand around and bleat piteously at me in hopes that I will realize how sad and deprived they are and move the entire container of milking ration over for them to gobble up.  But April is quiet and shy.  She didn't sound upset or urgent.  I studied her for awhile, noticing the spacing between bleats.

"I think April is in labor," I told Ethan, when Matilda was milked out and had been hauled out of the milking area.  When I let them out to their hay, they all ran over, even April.  Dusk was falling, and my hopes of being there for the birth were falling as well.  If she was kidding, it was certainly going to be awhile yet.

The next day we went out early.  We had wanted to arrive even earlier than we did, but it had been pouring all day and we kept hoping for a break in the clouds.  It was a true summer storm, with buckets of water coming down, and lightening and thunder cracking around the sky.  And sure enough, there was a baby goat huddled under a pine tree in the pasture.

I ran up to check on them, but our presence disturbed April.  She is not very friendly, and Ethan scares her.  She began bleating in distress and trying to get the kid to follow, but it was so little and new, and quite comfortable under the tree, so we left them.  Ethan and I got the little tarp shelter in the weaning paddock close by more comfortable with fresh dry hay and a new tarp. I kicked the rest of the goats out to graze the back pasture, and I lured April and the baby over with a treat.

The kid (which is a girl - a little doeling!) snuggled happily down into the fresh, dry hay, but April was restless.  She didn't like being separated from the rest of the herd.  Her constant walking along the fence and bleating was making the baby worried.  So in the driving rain I called them all back and watched nervously as they crowded in, and the new kid wobbled between pairs of legs, nibbled at David's belly, and got kicked trying to nurse on Twilight Sparkle.

Soon they all settled down under the shelter, the baby in the middle of everything.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Plenty From The Garden

The season has turned, from being one where we watch the tiny flowers and fruits and wonder just when they will be ready to harvest, to where I have to make several trips out of the garden with armloads of vegetables.

There is a considerable shift on our table, as well.  Late spring meals tend to be eggy, and on the meat-and-potatoes side...all the green stuff in the garden having bolted or turned bitter.  Now almost everything we eat comes from the garden.  It's not just a salad - it's green beans, squash, cucumber and tomato salad, fried green tomatoes, Malabar spinach, AND collard greens - in the same meal.  You can't save it for later, because there will be too much.  As Ethan said one year, in the midst of plenty, "Lazy Lips Sink Ships."  I will certainly be pickling next week.

I have tried again and again to plant things early or in succession to fill in the gaps in late summer or late spring, but only a few things really thrive at those in-between seasons.  Late frosts, or heat and bugs make it difficult, so I always turn to pickling (brining rather than heat-canning)  to preserve the harvest.  Besides, after several months of a mostly vegetable diet, meat and potatoes sounds great.  And after a few weeks of that, something fresh from the garden is most welcome.

We are still in the delightful part of the season, where everyone is glad to have the new vegetables we haven't had since this time last year.  Soon, however, things like, "I can't stand to see one more cucumber," or "I hate green beans," might be heard.  And by then the eggplants, the peppers, and the pumpkins will be ready.  There's always something to look forward to, as long as you think ahead and get things planted.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


 {These French recipies are from a French cookbook called La Cuisine:  Guide Practique de la Ménagère by Chef R. Blondeau.  This book was passed down to me from my great-grandmother, who was from Alsace, a North-eastern region on the Rhine river plain in France.  It was published in 1930 as a guide for cooks hired to cook for a family.

 I am translating the recipes from French, testing them out with home-grown or raised food, and re-writing them in a modern format, with notes about what worked for me in the kitchen} 

*     *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

R. Blondeau details three ways that beans are prepared:  as green beans before the seeds develop (haricots verts), or after the seeds develop as shelly beans (haricots ecosses, or husked beans), or as dry beans.  Snap beans (called le mange-tout) are tender enough to be eaten whole, seeds and husks.

I had two kinds of beans planted this year - a French snap bean, and a Roma bean.  Unfortunately our huge buck, David, who is quite a jumper as we have discovered, made his way over the fence and into the garden and grazed down more than half the snap beans, and about a quarter of the Romas.  Alas, such is gardening, especially if you have goats.  The Romas were already loaded with beans, and would have been such a loss, I can only be glad they were not as tasty, or most likely he didn't get around to it before he was removed in disgrace.  So I have Roma beans for the haricots verts.

In the case of this recipe, the beans are pre-cooked, and then added to the rest of the ingredients.  There is a specific recipe given for pre-cooking:


Choose the finest, in that they are not fiberous, break both ends and cook them in salted boiling water without covering.  Remove them when they don't resist the pressure of a finger.

Cooking time:  thirty minutes.

I am always curious about the "Lyonnaise" recipes.  Lyon is a very historic city, and my great-grandfather was from Genas, France, very close by.  He died quite young, from lung complications of being gassed in the trenches of WWI during his youth.  (his grandfather, I believe, won a war medal under Napoleon).  He was a train engine mechanic when my grandmother was a little girl.

Strangely, every time I've tried to go to Lyon, I have always gotten stuck in the train station overnight.  The trains get cancelled, or the one I'm on is late, and I miss a connection and have to wait there for nine hours.  The youth hostel is far from the station and closes early, and the hotels are all very expensive.  I've spent so many early, sleepless hours there, waiting, that I can still remember exact details of that train station, down to the panini cart at the front doors.  I have never been stuck in any other train station for so long, and I have never stayed in Lyon except at the train station!  It's very uncanny now that it's happened three times in my life.  I'm almost afraid to go back.

HARICOTS VERTS A LA LYONNAISE (direct translation)

In a pan, brown diced onions, with a pat of butter the size of an egg, salt pepper, and add your cooked green beans.  Fry everything together, sprinkle with chopped parsley, pour over one spoonful of vinegar while the pan is still hot.

Lyonnaise-style Green Beans (a modern version)

1 medium onion (I used two smaller ones)

A pat of butter the size of an egg

1-2 lbs of green beans, ends snapped off and pre-cooked as above in salted, boiling water

Salt and pepper

Chopped parsley

1 Tablespoon vinegar

1.  Melt the butter in a pot large enough to hold the green beans, and brown the onion.  Season with salt and pepper, and add the pre-cooked green beans.

2.  Fry for a few minutes, stirring, until the green beans are heated through.  Turn off the heat, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and pour over the spoonful of vinegar.  Mix well and serve.

Notes:  I really liked the tangy flavor of this recipe.  The kind of vinegar is not specified - I used Balsamic vinegar, as that was what I had on hand, but apple cider vinegar would also be good.  I would recommend a vinegar that has something of it's own flavor to add, rather than just distilled white.  The warmth of the pan brings out any fruity flavors.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Hard Work And Expectations

This weekend was filled with hard work as we harvested a pig for the first pig class this year.  Everything went very well, and we invited extra friends out, so it was like a party.  The tadpoles were very popular with all the children.  Clothilde walked around the edge of the trough so much that it made a vortex in the middle and sucked all the tadpoles into it, and for quite awhile after she got out they were swimming unhappily in a big spiral in the center.  The next day we made five kinds of sausage, brined ham, pâté, scrapple, headcheese, black sausage and pork cuts.

All weekend we were expecting April to give birth, but the days passed by with her only looking more and more extremely pregnant.  I had relied on Ethan to do the math for calculating the due date (a doe carries her kids 150 days, just about exactly), and I didn't write down when they were bred.  He had it down as June 10th.  This morning I looked back at the blog, counted it out, and discovered there are at least two weeks to go before kidding.  Disappointing, but then there's the possibility of July 1st kids, which would continue the strange pattern of birth times we have going on -

May was born on May 1st, her doeling June Bug was born on June 1st, June Bug's kid, April was born on April 1st (we called her twin Neroneus - a joke if you know the history), and now there's a possibility for a little Julia or Julius.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Tadpoles

We are expecting goat babies to be born any day now, but in the meantime, there have been thousands of unanticipated babies that appeared last week.

Last Friday we had friends out to the farm.  The weather was so sticky and hot, we filled up a huge galvanized water trough for the kids to splash and swim in.  It holds a lot of water, so we usually don't dump it out.  We keep using it for several days, until the water gets muddy or the mosquito larvae take over.

The next day, Ethan noticed what at first looked like mosquito eggs all over the surface.  He looked closer, and realized they were frog eggs, and the mama frog was still in the trough.  We think she is a Barking Tree Frog (and hoping she is not a Cuban tree frog - we are going to try to get a better ID). 

By the next day, the eggs had sunk down to the bottom.  The day after that, the eggs hatched.  Teeny, tiny little tadpoles were wriggling their little tails at the bottom.

Yesterday, just a week after the eggs were laid, the tadpoles had tripled in size. There appear to be thousands of them, and they have already attracted a number of carnivorous aquatic insects.  Two water striders, three water scorpions, and several whirly-gig beetles have joined them.  The water scorpions look so creepy, like underwater praying mantids. We noticed that when they come up for air they breath through a snorkle-appendage on their bottoms.  The tadpoles seem impervious to their sinister appearance, and trustingly nibble at their knee joints.

We had so much fun watching the little things yesterday evening.  I thought tadpoles could breath underwater, but they were coming up to the surface to breath periodically.  You could see their little mouths gulping, and sometimes they would leave a little air bubble behind as they sank down again.  The larger ones were see-through near their tails, clear enough to see their organs.  If you put your hands in and are very still (Clothilde tried, but couldn't accomplish this), they come over and nibble on your fingers.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Small Task

The coriander in the garden has all gone to seed.  Some years I will be so busy with things, I leave it to moulder and keel back over into the earth.  This year I noticed it, drying beside the calendula, and pulled some of the stalks.  It was difficult to pick the seeds off the dried seed heads without scattering all of them, requiring some of my precious time in the evening, when we return home, hungry, the children rambunctious, the cat yeowling and underfoot.

The milk must be strained and put away, the bulk tank and milking pail thoroughly washed, the eggs put up, and dinner isn't cooked.  But I knew if I delayed it, the seeds would be all over the floor in the morning, so I sat down to this careful, quiet task while the soup bubbled on the stove and my children sat around me.  Rose helped, but even with careful picking they scattered across the table from being jostled by so many hands.  Clothilde crawled into my lap, scattering more. 

"What is this?" Rose asks, our fingers busy.  She puts a few round seeds in her mouth.  "It tastes like Christmas."

I also taste a few seeds, enjoying their earthy, pungent flavor.  "Sugar plums," I remember.  "It's one of the spices in the sugar plums we make."

In the end they fill a pint jar with seeds - for the kitchen and for planting again.  It would be easy just to buy coriander seeds, but then the money is made from Ethan's time away from us, working for someone else.  And there is the unseen cost of something being grown somewhere far away, processed and delivered.  If you think of it that way, really is a small task to harvest what is freely offered.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


{These French recipies are from a French cookbook called La Cuisine:  Guide Practique de la Ménagère by Chef R. Blondeau.  This book was passed down to me from my great-grandmother, who was from Alsace, a North-eastern region on the Rhine river plain in France.  It was published in 1930 as a guide for cooks hired to cook for a family.

 I am translating the recipes from French, testing them out with home-grown or raised food, and re-writing them in a modern format, with notes about what worked for me in the kitchen} 

*     *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

This is the last recipe featuring potatoes for the year - for our garden, at least, the season is over, and all the potatoes dug and eaten.  The provisions have shifted to fresher, lighter, greener offerings - green beans, tomatoes, summer squash - and so the recipe testing here must vary accordingly.

While we have a small window to enjoy certain things, we are never completely impoverished - there is always something provided for our table, and with the hot, humid weather and summer rains having settled in, these lighter vegetables are welcome.

Other recipes I have read with potatoes layered with cheese and baked also call for cream, or butter, or some sort of creamy-eggy mixture poured over.  My father-in-law makes an excellent version, with shallots.  So I was all ready with cream skimmed from the milk, fresh butter, and of course WAY too many eggs on hand so close to the summer solstice, and was all thrown off by the lack of cream, or butter, or even eggs in this recipe. In fact, the only liquid added is half a cup of wine.

Needless to say, I was disappointed, and had to find another use for an extra dozen eggs (chocolate custard instead.  The children are not complaining).

However, it baked up to be beautiful, all crispy with melted Gruyère, and the wine gave it a particular good flavor.  It did not stick to the pan, as I had feared with no involvement of butter, and I have half a memory of eating this same thing when I was visiting my aunt in Nice two decades ago.  It made me long for five-franc pieces, the narrow streets of Vieille Ville, and stumbling on the uncomfortable stone beaches of the Cote d'Azur.

In regards to the cheese - there are cheeses that are made in the US (usually from Wisconsin) that are labelled as "Gruyère," and they are cheaper than the imported Gruyère.  I used real Gruyère from Switzerland to be authentic.

Cheese from other places might be made in the same style as real Gruyère, but the breed of cows, the forages they eat, the season, and their milk production all are what makes Gruyère the kind of cheese it is - not just what temperature the milk is heated to, or when the rennet is added.  Having tasted the subtle, or sometimes distinct differences in the flavor of our butter at different seasons, and according to the seasonal diet of the cows, I can say for certain that it really does make a difference.  I have read that the flavor of what a cow is eating shows up in the milk in merely hours, and a diet of a complex meadow of wild flowers will always taste better (for the cows, and for us), than a diet of dry hay, milled corn, soy, and alfalfa.

POMMES DE TERRE AU FROMAGE (direct translation)

In a hollow, oven-proof dish, pour half a cup of white wine, add salt and pepper; and on top, add a layer of raw potatoes, washed, peeled, cut into rounds, then a layer of grated Gruyère cheese, salt and pepper; then a layer of potatoes, a layer of cheese seasoned the same way, and so on.  End with a layer of cheese.
Put your dish in the oven and cook for an hour.

Potatoes With Cheese (a modern version)

About 2-3 lbs of good-sized potatoes that will make nice, even slices
1/2 cup white wine

Gruyère cheese (I used about 5 ounces)

An abundance of salt and pepper

1.  Wash and peel the potatoes.  Cut into thin, round slices and set aside.  Grate the cheese (I used a fine grater, because it melts more evenly that way), and pre-heat the oven to 350 F.

2.  Pour the wine into a baking dish.  Add a layer of potato slices, overlapping slightly for a pleasing effect.  On top of the potatoes, sprinkle a layer of grated cheese.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3.  Add another layer of potatoes, then the cheese, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Continue until you have used all your potatoes, or are nearing the end of your cheese supply (hopefully they will come out even - you can always be extra generous with the last layer of cheese, or overlap the potatoes more to fit in more slices).  Finish with a layer of cheese, salt and pepper.

4.  Put the dish in to bake for an hour, but I would check on it after about 45 minutes, as the baking time can vary depending on how thick of potato layers you used, or how thinly they were sliced.

Notes:  I used the new potatoes from the garden and didn't peel them because the peels were so thin anyway.    

Monday, June 6, 2016

Fourth Dance Recital

Rose finished her fourth year of ballet over the weekend with the end-of-year dance recital.  She loved it and danced beautifully.

About a month ago, there was Parent Observation Day in her dance class, and my mom, my mother-in-law, Clothilde, Mirin and I all sat in to watch (along with a few other parents).  The girls did their pointing exercises, and warm-ups, and then tried to show off their dance routine.

Mirin and I ended up in an unfortunate suppressed laughing fit watching the girls mill around the room, pretend to be football players, run the wrong way, and generally flop around while the teacher reminded them to point their feet and smile.  Mirin almost fell off of his chair when they had gone through the routine for the third time, and the teacher said, "Very good, girls, that was better!"

"If that's better," he managed to choke out in a whisper, "what was it like before?"

We both tried so hard not to laugh, as laughing at a little girls' dance class is one of those things....but it was like the biggus dickus scene from Monty Python.  Something about trying at all costs to NOT laugh, and it didn't even look like a dance in most parts.

"They need Viola Swamp," Mirin proclaimed, in between suppressed fits of laughter, while the little girls were jumping in circles, making faces and doing funny arm motions, and ignoring the teacher and the music.

Rose was rightfully annoyed at us for "cackling" during her class (we actually didn't cackle - that was an exaggeration).

Shortly after that, her dance teacher went on "vacation", and they got a very strict substitute teacher that whipped the class into shape (I think they were a tough group of little girls to work with - very distracted and giggly).  So they got "The Swamp" after all, and the dance was beautiful at the recital.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Something new at last

I love the way vegetables sneak up on you.  When you first plant the seeds, the harvest seems so vague and far away.  The little plants start out so small, and for a long time it seems they will never get any bigger.  Then suddenly there they are - all ready to pick, hiding away in the leaves.  It's sort of how children grow up, too - it seems they will be little forever, and then suddenly they are taller than you.

At last we have something other than collard greens and blueberries (not complaining about the blueberries).  Tomatillos for salsa, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, summer squash.  The Roma beans were especially sneaky.  I kept looking at them from a distance, wondering when they would have any beans.  It wasn't until I weeded around the bed that I realized they were covered in beans that desperately needed picked.


The garden is still under construction.  There are still several weedy paths to mulch, the Dudley Farm corn and the millet need planted, and I still have so many cassava stalks I could plant.  Now that the summer rains have begun, it will be harder to work in the garden in the evenings, so it might never be done.

I usually plan an enormous garden - one that will overwhelm us with vegetables that must be passed along to friends and family.  This year of course I did the same - on paper - but when it came to building it, I realized some compromises would have to be made.  We are just too busy this season.  So I planted just enough.  And in some cases the just enough has turned out to be hardly any at all.  And yet it will still feed us, if we make thriftiness a virtue.

What I mean by that is to make the most of things.  Not just with perspective, but literally make the most of things.  It means noticing and appreciating things we would normally ignore, like the wild callaloo in the garden, or the cassava and sweet potato greens.  We had a year like this last year, too.  While we were travelling, a good part of the garden died from neglect.  We had to be content with what we had....and once I got over the disappointment of not having a huge, beautiful, productive garden, I realized it was still enough.   (Almost a radical idea in a culture of consumerism and over-consumption).  I ended up happy that the garden worked out the way it did, because it forced me to be creative and to try new things that turned out to be really good.

So even though it isn't quite the garden of my dreams, I have confidence that it will provide, not only the bare minimum, but really, truly cover the table.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Some tears were shed this week as we harvested the onions to make space for the Dudley farm corn, which will hopefully be planted this weekend.  These onions are strong, and I unthinkingly rubbed one of my eyes after pulling several armfuls.

We got a lot of each kind - red, white and yellow, and they are drying under the barn.  We've never had onions get to this stage yet - usually we eat them all or last year they rotted because I planted them between other things, and it was a choice between watering the onions and having them rot, or letting the rest of the spring vegetables wither up and die.  Ah...the lessons from gardening!

Last fall we were very ambitious with the onions, because homegrown onions are just so good!  I put them up in their own spot that hasn't been irrigated at all, and we've lost very few.  I don't know how long they will keep, but if they keep well, this will be onions for quite awhile.