Thursday, January 31, 2013

"The Creek Runs On"

It is the last day of January and I am about out of January words.

 R.H. took the camera yesterday, after the storms of the night before, and walked up the creek from the house to the waterfall. This time Katie Belle didn't go with him.

Here is the creek view that our kitchen windows look out on:

Now we're walking towards the first bridge where the creek runs between the picnic shelter and the barn:

We can go under the bridge:

This is where the big black snake "Pappy" lives in the summer:

Now we're about halfway to the next bridge:

See all the slate at the bottom of the creek:

Let's cross the pond bridge:

And glance over to the little spring-fed pond where frogs mate. Come early spring this is where we'll hear the peepers' voices calling from.

These two sycamores weren't here in 1990 when we bought the place:

They help form a deep pool that our granddoggie Schnauzer Maddie loves to swim in when she visits. R.H. will have to get a picture of her the next time she comes home to Tennessee. Her designer hairdo gets ruined in this pool:

Here's the base of the waterfall that we took you to a few days ago:

There's a lot more water coming down now after the rains:

You can spot the beech trees easily. They're the ones that don't shed their yellow leaves until forced off by new ones in the spring:

January is a pretty month to take a creek walk, even if the snows have missed us so far. That being said, I am still reminded of Hal Borland who wrote that "nobody complains that January went too fast."

Amen to that?

"It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale."
Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Soup & Salad Night

Have you ever tried Sparrow Lane Vinegars? They are delicious! We soon used up a bottle of their Cabernet Sauvignon Vinegar in our favorite vinaigrette and could not find more anywhere. We ordered some direct from Sparrow Lane along with several other of their varieties, wondering how well glass bottles of vinegar would ship. They arrived safely due to this superior packaging:

Aren't they pretty all lined up here? (And no, they don't sell the pickled peppers. That's how we recycled the empty cabernet bottle!)

Enclosed with our shipment was a recipe page, and we've made one of their salad recipes three times now. It features their D'Anjou Pear Vinegar that smells heavenly. They call it Summer Salad but we think it should be named Fall & Winter Salad. Here is the recipe:

Sparrow Lane Summer Salad [that we call Fall & Winter Salad]

1 large red apple, sliced thinly
1 large pear, sliced thinly
1 large orange, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup Sparrow Lane Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 tablespoons Sparrow Lane D'Anjou Pear Vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup chopped pecans [I saute them whole and sprinkle with sea salt]
lettuce leaves

In a large bowl, combine sliced fruit [I arrange them on top of the lettuce instead of combining them]. In a small bowl, combine oil, vinegar, and honey; blend well. Pour oil mixture over the fruit, tossing to coat well. Arrange fruit on 6 lettuce lined salad dishes; sprinkle each with a heaping teaspoon of chopped nuts. Serves 6.

Perfect with this salad is Lee Bailey's Carrot and Dill Soup. I double this recipe and freeze half for later. And please use fresh dill in the soup, not dried. It makes all the difference in the world.

Lee Bailey's Carrot and Dill Soup
The combination of carrots and dill is a marriage made in heaven. Add as much dill as you like.

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
6 ounces onion, coarsely chopped
1 3/4 pounds carrots (weight after removing tops)
3/4 pound sweet potato
1/2 pound baking potato
5 cups rich chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Scant 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 generous tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
[I add a pinch of mace also]
Sour cream, creme fraiche, or yogurt 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Melt butter in a medium skillet and saute onion until light golden and just beginning to brown.
Carefully scrub carrots and cut into rings, unpeeled. [I admit that I peeled them.]
Steam until soft.
Meanwhile, place sweet and white potatoes in oven and bake until soft, about 1 hour.
Scrape sauteed onion into a food processor, deglaze pan with a little of the chicken stock and add this to the onion. [I just use a hand blender for this job.] Puree until thoroughly mixed and very fine. 
Pour mixture into a saucepan, then add the dill and chicken stock. 
Simmer over very low heat for about 15 minutes. 
Soup may be thinned with additional stock, milk, or cream.
Correct seasoning, and serve warm with a dollop of sour cream, yogurt, or creme fraiche on top.
Serves  6 to 8.

To go with this soup and salad supper we had tasty chewy Labriola Pretzel Slider Buns.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Walk To Our Waterfall

A creek runs through Valley View, fed by a waterfall at the rear of our property. Don't imagine it as Niagara Falls for it is only about 20 feet high, but it is a hidden treasure that we love. The waterfall is a place our children, grandchildren, and dogs love to hike to. Zack is shown above as a boy with our beloved corgi Tex and beloved mixed breed Abbie. Tex may have had short legs but his strong little back legs took him even to the top of our ridges to keep up with his boys. Climbing the slick rock of the waterfall was only a minor challenge to him.

Yesterday was a sunny day here so R.H. hiked back to the waterfall with Katie Belle. Would you like to come along? The waterfall is worth the hike.

A large beech tree grows close to the waterfall...

...its fingers spreading along the ground to offer a mossy seat for a tired hiker to recline against...

...while watching water trickle over the waterfall and listening to it burble along to the creek... Katie Belle sniffs good clean mud...

...and explores...

...and then comes back to say, "Let's get a move on."

There are hills to climb....

...and woods to explore...

....ancient artifacts to discover.

At the top of one ridge are the Twin Towers, shown by Defee a few years ago...

...a rock fortress discovered by our sons and used for years by our grandsons Luke, Drake, Alex and Caleb, again shown here by Defee when he and Wallace hiked the boundaries.

He snapped Wallace looking down over the rooftops of Valley View...

But back in the valley, Katie Belle says, "Time to go home, Dad."

We hope you have enjoyed a walk through Valley View to the waterfall...

...Katie Belle enjoyed having you along. And at this time of year you didn't even get a tick bite or chigger bite. Think of that, you lucky thing, you!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Life, Plated

I turned from rinsing dishes to see Giada plate her finished meal on television. With tongs she placed three perfectly browned scallops, just so. Then something green and a small mound of something else. I can't remember what the two side dishes were, only that I stood there staring until I realized I'd left water running in the sink. I turned back to my dishes, wondering why Giada's perfectly arranged plate was affecting me so, because it was.

I finished cleaning up the kitchen, thinking back to a movie my sister Teresa and I saw years before. The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton's book by the same name, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, and Michelle Pfeiffer. The movie had so enthralled me that walking out into the harsh sunlight on the concrete pavement after the movie ended, to the blare of horns, actually hurt. I flinched. We didn't even talk for quite a while, both wanting to hold onto the movie's magic.

The film presented a way of life that was so exquisite and so quiet. People spoke softly and moved elegantly. No electronic noises disturbed the rooms. You heard a floor creak, the page of a book being turned, the crackle of the parlor fire. We were supposed to leave the movie, I assume, pondering the age old question of duty versus passion, family love versus grand love. Which to honor?

Instead, I left the movie with pictures in my mind of the food served at table for family meals and society banquets. When the movie came out on VHS (where the movie lost much of its beauty), I bought it and would freeze-frame it on the plates on the table, the meticulously composed plates at the van der Luyden's exclusive dinner. I didn't dwell on these mind pictures because of any latent talent of being a food stylist. I have zero talent for "plating" food, but I have always like to see it done well and believe that it is vital to a satisfying meal.

I grew up with meals served family style, put in bowls and on platters on the table and passed around once the blessing had been asked. Even though we were a family of modest means, Daddy did take us out to eat a few times a year at nice restaurants with starched white table linen and flowers in the center of the tables, and the food always looked so much more appetizing brought to our table already plated, although such a term was not used then.

When we went to the North Carolina mountains on vacation, or through them to visit family, Daddy would take us to a special restaurant in a log cabin high up in the Smoky Mountains where food was served family style, large bowls and platters set on the table. My father loved this place, but I looked suspiciously at the large bowls. It was just food--globbed together, no design to it at all. Nothing about it to pique the appetite of a finicky eater.

No longer such a finicky eater, there is still something in me that is drawn to a beautifully plated meal. But there was something more to the near trance I went into watching Giada place three scallops just so on her plate. i believe it was more a desire to have life plated, perfectly plated. And baby, life is just not like that. It isn't served by gloved footmen and butlers, or in pretty serving bowls. Life often just gets thrown at us.

Have you ever been to that restaurant on the Alabama coast where the hot rolls are thrown at the customers, much to the amusement of small children and most men? Yuck! Yet I don't see much chance of forcing life to be served to me "plated." If I want a serving of life, and naturally I do, I guess I'm just going to have to become more adept at sticking my hand up in the air to catch a hot roll as it is thrown at me.

A hot roll, anyone?

"Like Stars in Vast Space"

"To see me going drably about my business is not to see me at all--

the flame I keep burning within.

It is the same with you.

Like stars in vast space, each in its own orbit,

 we are millions of light-years apart.

We look at each other through dim telescopes,

weigh each other in confused logarithms, 

test each other in cold spectra--

and I burning hot with my own heat, and you with yours."

David Grayson in Great Possessions

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Window-Look

To find an old Beverley Nichols book is to find a treasure to be savored. My latest find is his 1933 A Thatched Roof, his story of the 1540 cottage in the English countryside named Always. I am never sure if the houses in Nichols' books are built of real stone and slate, or made up of whole cloth, but I could happily move into the rooms of his house and settle down as cosily as do his cats named One and Four.

After Nichols has all of the cottage walls whitewashed, he takes a favorite piece of his Bristol blue glass to London and together he and the Bristol blue glass choose fabrics, furniture and china.

"Do you like these curtains, oh blue Bristol glass," I would say.
And always I received an immediate answer.
You would be surprised at the number of curtains it did not like."
Beverley Nichols A Thatched Roof

Doesn't this piece of Bristol blue glass look pretty in the window of the blog, Random Distractions? Please drop in and visit Maureen at Random Distractions. Here is another picture showing more of her blue glass collection.

Wouldn't you love to have that deep windowsill? Explore Random Distractions where Maureen blogs about the books she is reading and the music she loves, the children's aprons she makes for her grandchildren, her knitting projects, and their excursions around Devon. And absolutely do not miss the gorgeous Harvest Loaf she baked on September 27, 2012's post. I love being an armchair visitor to her blog and I'm sure Beverley Nichols would like peering out her window.

Windows were the first board I created on Pinterest, before I ever decided to try to blog. I have a thing for windows. So did Mr. Nichols. Also from A Thatched Roof, he writes:

"To me, all windows are magic casements. Whether they are bright or dim, whether they give onto green lawns or blink at barren bricks, or are shaded or sparkling, the life I see through them has a sweeter pattern. There is something terrifying about the wide spaces which the eye enfolds in the open air; and there are times in a man's life when he must always be darting his head from this side to that, watching from the corner of his eye to assure himself that the Enemy is not creeping towards him from the dim distance. But when he looks at life through a window he is safe."

Nichols goes on to point out that one can "frame" the view one wants through a window. "With a tilt of the head, a cloud is banished, a green branch dances into view, the church steeple lifts its gray finger in the foreground."

I do this when standing in front of our windows. By looking one way I avoid seeing the big red dump truck parked over to one side. We rarely use this in construction jobs anymore as it is easier to have dumpsters delivered and picked up when filled. So the truck sits there in my view unless I look the other way. 

On the south side of the house sits the huge propane gas tank that wild ferns mostly hide, except in winter. I don't like looking out at that either, but, as with the dump truck, it is sometimes a necessity. The gas logs and heaters it fuels come in handy when the electric power goes off in the winter.

Through another window I look up to the root cellar built into the hillside. We know that one time, back in the 1930s, there was a tiny house built upon the roof of the root cellar because two handsome cousins in their 80s dropped by a few years ago to tell us they stayed with their grandmother here during the summers, and their bedroom was a tiny house on top of the root cellar. Think of that! Now I avoid that window until we save the money the stone mason has quoted us to restore it.

Have you accomplished what is our goal? That of having something pretty to look at outside every single window? Or do you tilt your head to avoid something ugly?

And I wonder, what do you take shopping with you to choose curtains the way Beverley Nichols took his favorite piece of Bristol blue glass? This old woven throw is what I took with me when we moved here to Valley View.

Monday, January 14, 2013

"A Plot for Weeds"

I opened Dag Hammarskjold's Markings this morning, a Goodwill find, purchased because I remembered that my father admired him and because W. H. Auden wrote the foreword. Hammarskjold, Secretary-General of the United Nations for two terms in the 1950s, and a handsome Scandinavian, pulls no punches in this book. He writes:

"You cannot play with the animal in you without becoming wholly animal, play with falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth, play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn't reserve a plot for weeds."

Them's powerful words! And what a title for a book or movie--A Plot for Weeds. I don't know about you, my friend, but R.H. and I do not set out on purpose to grow a fine crop of weeds, although if you could see our front garden by late July each year, you might think we had bought many packets of seed labeled "Various Weeds," and sowed them liberally. No, weeds may run rampant here due to neglect but we didn't set out to cultivate them. It is the nature of weeds to proliferate when your back is turned.

Now you know that I could easily write a parallel lecture here to myself and you about the "weeds" we let into our life--from television, movies, life itself, purely from neglect or apathy--soon sending out roots until the perennial beds of our lives are savaged beyond repair. I'm not going to because we already know that, don't we? And I need a bit of cheer here in Tennessee where our few days in the 70s said "bye-bye" today, and it's dark, cold, sleeting and the first mention of the dreaded black ice has been mentioned on the local news for tonight.

Although Hammarskjold is not always a cheerful chap in his book, I stumbled across some mighty pretty picture words he wrote that make me think this man might not be as intimidating as I thought:

"A line, a shade, a color--their fiery expressiveness.
The language of flowers, mountains, shores, human bodies:
the interplay of light and shade in a look,
the aching beauty of a neckline,
the grail of the white crocus on the alpine meadow in the morning sunshine--
words in a transcendental language of the season."

I sigh. Ah, he gets it. He's not only brilliant and discerning, he is a man of sensitivity and tenderness, too.  Obviously he has seen and remembered and can visualize not only nature's infinite beauty but "the aching beauty of a neckline." Have you ever read a more innately pure yet more sensual description of what a woman's d├ęcolletage can be when it's done right? I'm glad that Secretary-General Hammarskjold included this line. It helps me like him more, this man who doesn't suffer fools gladly. 

What does this last have to do with weeds? Maybe not a thing, but one does have to keep the weeds pulled from around the lilies in the garden in order to appreciate their lines, their color, their aching beauty. Weeds. Does anyone actually like weeding? Scout's honor?

It's a jungle out there!

Friday, January 11, 2013

"Who Ate My Cookies?"

(R.H.) "Who ate my cookies?"

(Dewena) "I didn't eat your cookies."

(R.H.) "Well, I know I had two left."

(Dewena) "It wasn't me."

(R.H.) "Why don't we make some of your grandmother's cookies?"

(Dewena) "I'm paying bills, but I'll get you the recipe."

(R.H.) "Hey, we can blog about it!"

(Dewena) "Okay, I'll take the pictures, but you're still making the cookies."

(R.H.) "Have you ever heard the story of the Little Red Hen?"

(Dewena) "Yes, but I'm the one who knows where the recipe is."

Grandma's Cookies

1) Cream together 1 cup Crisco All Vegetable Shortening with 2 cups sugar in mixer.

2) Beat in 2 large eggs.

3) Stir in 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract.

4) In separate bowl stir together 3 cups flour with 2 teaspoons baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt.

5) Stir flour mixture into creamed mixture and mix well.

6) Stir in 1 cup coconut.

7) Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheet, dip fork into milk and crisscross cookie, mashing down.

8) Bake at 350 degrees F. for 13-15 minutes.

"Empty?! You took all the cookies!"

"They were trying to get out of the jar...Cookies get claustrophobia too, you know!"

Charles M. Schulz