Tag Archives: Farm life

Garden and Fence Hopping on a Clear Blue January Day

photo-367One of the mildly annoying things about writing for magazines and books is that I can’t really reveal what I’m working on while I’m working on it, as that would, you know, spoil things. And I’ve never really been the spoiling type. My sister was the one who would find all the hidden Christmas presents ahead of time.

But I wanted to talk a little about a piece I’m working on, because today it made me think that sometimes my “job” is hardly work at all. More like fun. Of course my “job” changes constantly, depending on what hat I’m wearing. But during the winter, if I’m lucky I get some writing assignments I can complete before the busy farm season returns. Better still is a writing assignment that requires me to go outside and poke around in our beautiful winter landscape—and to visit with some of my friends and neighbors.

So today I had Martha’s Vineyard Magazine to thank for a lovely morning spent in lovely company. The company was the talented Fae Kontje-Gibbs (below), and the mission was to visit a few Island gardens that Fae will be illustrating for the feature I’m writing on kitchen gardens.

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The idea behind the article is that everyone (who wants one) should have a vegetable garden, no matter how small. No big plot needed. In fact, small is good, tiny is wonderful, and medium is dandy if you can swing it.

greens on steroids To that end, my editor and art director decided to use real-life Island gardens as inspiration for three sample garden designs.

Today was Fae’s birthday, so maybe the karma was just good to begin with. And Fae is certainly one of the most positive-seeking persons I know. Also, it didn’t hurt that we began our morning with a visit to my neighbor and friend cook-gardener-quilter-hen whisperer Katherine Long, who is simply one of my favorite people on the Island.

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When we arrived, she was outside letting her hens graze a bit on fresh grass, and we were immediately drawn into a beautiful circle of chickens, and then into a conversation that spanned everything from the merits of roosters to the study of cell biology. Fae got out her notebook and did some rough sketches of Katherine’s colorful chickens and of her garden—a place where practicality and efficiency combine with charm and whimsy in the most delightful way.

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While we were there, Katherine took us into one of the chicken coops to see two baby chicks, recently hatched out by Silkie hens, who are wonderful mamas and don’t seem concerned that January may not be the best time to hatch chicks.

After leaving Katherine’s, we went on to a larger garden where we gently trespassed into a family’s personal sanctuary (with permission) and then drifted over to the neighbor’s fenceline (without permission) to take a peek at some large animals grazing on the other side. They turned out to be alpacas, and one large chocolate brown fellow (or gal?) came to greet us. While Fae gently spoke to him, I tried to photograph his amazing face. Then suddenly he decided to drop to the ground a do a roly-poly, like Farmer does several times a day. I gasped—I’d never seen an animal that large just decide to lie down, roll over, and scratch his back for fun. (Although I do remember being on a horse in a shallow river when the horse decided to roll over.)

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While Fae finished up some rough sketches of a bird bath, a watering can, a pathway and a hand trowel, I simply stared up at the tree limbs etching the blue sky. Stared and stared. As much as my mind likes to travel to unnecessary worry and forethought, I just couldn’t think of anything wrong with our morning, anything to make me fraught. I just thought about how blue the sky was.

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And that I really should spend more time toddling around. Serious work, you know.

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The Year in Photos: Green Island Farm, 2014

January

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2014′s best moment: Little Barney comes in from the cold

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February

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Paulie’s last stand.

March

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photo-12Egg production picks up big-time in spring.

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Turning over the new veg field in the “back four.”

April

10171130_10203818806489450_6846942003228336987_n DSC_4091Onion and potato planting in the damp new days of spring.

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May

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11 may photo-291 photo-293 photo-294And we’re off! Baby kale, Baby bok choy, radishes–and lots of seedlings.

June

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It’s all happening fast now–berries, basil, carrots, and…plenty of daylight

July

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Blueberries, black raspberries,  yellow pattypans, purple eggplants, sunny sung olds, cheery calendulas–June is color at last.

August

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Tomatoes, of course. And new chickens. And lots of ribbons at the Fair, oh yeah!

September

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Serious harvest time.

October

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October is the best.

November

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December

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photo-308 photo-305photo-307And to all a good night. Cheers to 2015!

Missionaries of Joy, Peace on the Farm

Xmas card 2014PicMonkey CollagebChristmas came early for me this year. I got the best gift I could have asked for—a visit from my Mom and Dad last weekend. Since they live in Delaware and I live on an island in Massachusetts, we don’t get to see each other all that often.

But next week, these two, Pauletta (aka Perky) and Bob, will mark their 60th wedding anniversary. So the trip north was an early celebration. Though we dragged them all over the place and they enjoyed meeting our friends, I think Mom had the most fun playing board games with Libby back here in our cozy living room. (I believe the cute photo of Perky and Bob below was taken in 1956 during a trip to Hong Kong while my Dad was a Navy officer stationed in the Philippines.)

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Among other things, we also got 200 more chickens last week. I got to help Roy clean the coops in advance of their arrival. Yay. My least favorite farm job without a doubt.

While our friends from Burr Farm were unloading the chickens (actually 16-week-old pullets), another friend, artist Heather Goff, was visiting the farm studying our older hens, looking for inspiration for one of her daily sketches. (She produces a stunning sketch every day, which I look forward to seeing on Face Book every night. You can see them all here.) I love this one.

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Now Roy and I are scurrying around finishing up deadlines. I had five quinoa recipes to turn into Vegetarian Times today. Summer recipes, testing in December. 

We finally got the Christmas tree inside this morning. We bought it last Saturday at Morning Glory Farm while Mom and Dad were here, but it has been sitting outside patiently waiting to go on duty. Barney the kitty, having already knocked one of my Nativity angels to the ground and decapitated her, has been running around the house in circles since the tree came in. (Farmer is just rolling his eyes and wearing his strap-on reindeer antlers like a good sport.) Can’t wait to see how the decorating goes. Tinsel should be popular.

Christmas Eve we will have dinner at our friend Judy’s house. Beef tenderloin. I will bring a potato gratin and Brussels sprouts. Chocolate cake for dessert. Simple, peaceful, lovely.

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We will madly finish wrapping Libby Joy Riley’s Christmas presents, which all seem to be in very large boxes this year. (Yes, Libby’s middle name is Joy.)

Then we are planning a trip to Boston after Christmas to see The Nutcracker.

The days will soon be longer. I’m glad. The darkness bothers me, I have to admit. But one of my favorite psalms (to paraphrase) reminds me that darkness may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning.

DSC_1798And as Pope Francis said this past Sunday, we should all be “missionaries of joy,” as it is the best gift we can give our friends and family during the holidays. Christmas is joy, he said. Maybe some days we have to practice being joyful if it isn’t exactly coming naturally. But really there is joy all around us. We just have to grab a little and pass it on.

Roy, Libby, Farmer, Barney and I wish you a holiday season filled with much (sharing of) joy and peace.

 

 

The Swirl of Winter and A Cookie for a Cold Day

photo-261It feels a bit swirly here in my world. I know swirly isn’t really a word (or at least not the right word), but often I need to merge two or three words to find something that sounds like what it is. Swish, whoosh, whorl, curl, squirrel. I’m looking for a word that says I’m feeling a little squirmy and wind-blown and short of breath. Partly because every time I walk out the door, the wind, the relentless wind, is cranking up again. Sending leaves scampering and tearing a thousand tiny branches from the trees. It’s getting dark so early, too, and even on the sunnier days, the skies seem to be the color of stone and riddled with buckshot clouds. Ominous, in a not very subtle way. In the short window of daylight, there’s not nearly the time we need to clean the fields, mulch the beds, gather tools strewn near and far. And those are not even things at the top of the list. How did it get to be December?

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Time is not slowing down the way I thought it would come winter. (Ha! Yet another reminder that I am not in control.) I clear my desk of one thing and four more piles show up. I go into the kitchen to test a recipe and come out with four more things I want or need to cook. There are cookbooks and magazines piled everywhere. And books I’ve been meaning to read. Farm paperwork to do.

I have a bad habit, too, of worrying about the future, especially on dark, cold, windy days. Like everyone else on the planet, I go from feeling like I’m absolutely going in the right direction to wondering what in the world I’m doing. I especially like to have self-debates about the merits of writing cookbooks as part of one’s income plan. Yesterday evening I found out that Fresh From the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories was chosen to be on NPR’s list of great reads for 2014. An honor and a total surprise. I let myself be very excited about it, just because you have to do that to be good to yourself. What does it mean? Will it help sell more copies? Who knows!

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But I know it is good to be back in the kitchen cooking now. And I see, looking back at some of my recent Instagram photos, that apparently swirly things are not all bad in my world. (I’m coming to the end of my second 100 days straight of farm photos on Instagram.) I take a lot of comfort in the concentricity of say, a sweet potato-parmesan-goat cheese galette I made for Thanksgiving (top photo). (And, believe it or not, concentricity is a real word). Or the curly life lines of a freshly sawn tree trunk.

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Or the uber-familiar circle of a favorite cookie. Like the giant molasses crinkles I made today, just because. Because December means cookies to me. Lots of cookies. (Cookies are the antidotes to grey days, don’t you know?) And because these giant molasses cookies are a recipe from Fresh From the Farm, part of a bigger pear dessert. (This is where I am supposed to remind you that cookbooks make great holiday gifts… And that cookbook authors will be eternally grateful to you for your purchases…) And because the cookies remind me of my best friend Eliza, to whom I wish I lived closer. And of my mom, who is coming to visit (with my Dad, of course) next week. It will be their 60th wedding anniversary this month.

I bet they wonder where 60 years went. Me, I look at the shiny splotchy warm patina of my metal tart pans and baking sheets in these photos, and I wonder where 20, even 30 years went. I’ve had these things that long. Clearly my memory bank is swirling around a lot these days, too, circling back.

Tonight we’re celebrating Roy’s birthday. With freshly caught bay scallops a friend dropped off for us. And a simple vanilla cake I made this afternoon. And cookies, of course. Here’s the recipe.

DSCN0858Big Molasses Crinkle Cookies

This is a softer, chewier version of a childhood favorite. It’s also a bit bigger (as in diameter), since I roll the dough into fairly large balls. They bake out at between 3 and 4 inches across. The dough needs to be chilled for 45 minutes to an hour, but it can also be chilled overnight if you like. The cookies freeze well, too.

Makes 16 four-inch cookies

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2 1/4 cups (10 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Table salt

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup dark brown sugar

6 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 large egg

1/4 cup unsulphured molasses

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

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In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter, brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, and a pinch of salt. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about a minute. Stop the motor and scrape the sides down. Add the egg and beat on medium speed until combined. With the motor running, slowly add the molasses and the vegetable oil and beat on medium-low speed until well combined. Stop the motor and scrape the sides down. With the motor running on low, spoon in the dry ingredients gradually and mix until just combined (you’ll still see some flour). Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a silicone spatula to finish gently mixing the last bits of flour into the dough.

Chill the dough in the refrigerator for an hour or so.

Heat the oven to 375° F degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Put the remaining 4 tablespoons granulated sugar in a shallow bowl. Put a small bowl of water out. Roll the dough into big balls that are about 1 1/2-inches (or a smidge bigger) in diameter. Dip each ball in the sugar and roll around to coat. Put each on the baking sheet. Sprinkle each dough ball with a little water. Repeat, spacing dough balls 4 to 5 inches apart on the baking sheets. (You’ll get 4 to 5 cookies on a sheet pan.)

Bake until the cookies are set around the edges, slightly puffed (they will collapse as they cool), and crackled on the top, 11 to 13 minutes, rotating the baking sheets to opposite racks halfway through cooking. (Smaller cookies will cook in about 10 minutes.) Cool on the baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough, putting new parchment on the baking sheets.

Keep the cookies well wrapped in plastic inside of a zip-top bag in the freezer or well wrapped at room temperature for a day or two. To warm cookies, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a 350°F oven for 2 to 4 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching the Seasons Change And a Little Girl Grow Up

photo-189The cold is coming. It hasn’t reached us yet, but the rain ahead of it knocked the maple leaves to the ground en masse last night. I don’t mind the chill so much as the moving away from this week’s sweet foggy mornings. The gauzy curtains of mist were comforting and protective, setting up a make-believe border of quiet and stillness around the farm, letting me wander from one lazy farm chore to the other without compulsion, as if time were suspended.

photo-217It is all about the landscape now, this slow march to winter. I can’t take my eyes off the shifting shapes and colors and textures that nature randomly yet gracefully offers up on a daily, hourly, almost minute-by-minute basis.

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My good camera is still broken, but that hasn’t stopped me from exploiting the phone camera. Fuzzy images or not, they must be taken. I have to grab some of these moments. Especially the ones where a little girl (who’s not so little any more) wanders into the frame.

photo-187A good farm chore to do together: Removing tomato clips from the trellis while listening to music on the iPhone. First song up, of all things, Gabriel’s Oboe (the beautiful theme from the movie The Mission). Don’t worry, lest you think this is a bit morose for a 12-year-old, Taylor Swift was up next on the playlist. And a little basketball practice. (Next sport for Libby this winter.) More fun tossing those little clips into the bucket from a distance, don’t you know.

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Watching Libby grow up is like observing nature. There are so many subtle shifts that you don’t notice if you’re not paying close attention. And then one day a season has passed and a whole new one is right there, undeniably. It is stunning and heart-achy at the same time. Why can’t time stand still? I never used to think that—I was always projecting into the future, looking for something to come. Now, not so much. What is right here, right now is the best.

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Something About October

DSC_2544What is it about October? Darn if I don’t get all gushy and grateful this time of year.

It may be just that we are finally slowly, slowly, slowly but surely winding down from summer’s hectic pace. (Whew, I am relieved). There’s time to stretch a bit, ponder a lot. Time to appreciate the magic of warm days, bright blue skies, falling leaves, and cool, crisp nights.

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Yes. That’s it. It’s not just the loosening up of our schedules, but the perspective it gives me on why I love this quirky life of mine. Whether I’m puttering around the farm or spending a delicious hour away from the farm with Roy and Libby at our favorite beach, I now have the brain space to realize this: I am very fortunate to spend so much time outdoors. It’s something I longed for unknowingly when I worked all day in an office.

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To work outside is a gift of grace, I now understand. And to be outside in October is to enjoy the world at its best.

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Here are some things I love about October, both on-farm and off. I bet you have yours, too.

The light and the shadows.

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The color orange, of course.

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Having the beach nearly all to ourselves.

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Well, almost all to ourselves…

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Things in the garden get all tangled up together, beautifully.

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Like these cosmos and beans

DSC_2820And the vegetables themselves are hurtling towards the last harvest hurrah, going big before going away.
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Greens love the cool nights.

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Some flowers, like my favorite bright red pineapple sage blossoms, don’t even arrive until October. Others are spent and withered, yet still some of the most interesting things on the October horizon.

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Farmer loves October, too. It’s been a busy summer. He needs to relax.

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October is gold and blue, warm and cool, soft and crisp. Did I mention it’s my favorite month?

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How Much Water Does a Small Farm Need? A lot!

DSC_0185Just when I thought things were going to calm down a bit around here, a whole posse of trucks shows up in the driveway. First it was the electrician and his assistant. They’re here to update the wiring in this old farm house. This is actually a very big deal (maybe we’ll have an outlet in the bathroom!), but I didn’t realize that the work was going to start, er, this week. Already the house is even messier than it usually is with a dog, a cat, no closets, no storage space, etc. Bits of wires and plastic and plaster are everywhere.

Next, I look out and see two very large trucks with very large gizmos on them pull into the lower field. The well guys are here! This is perhaps an even bigger deal.

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All this traffic is on top of the farm stand traffic, which quieted down after the Labor Day exodus of thousands of people from Martha’s Vineyard for maybe one whole day before picking up again. Good for business, which I have to keep reminding myself, we are in. (Business was awesome in August, if exhausting.) I am trying to test and photograph a feature for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine this week, plus put up some tomato sauce and pickles, and do my regular farm chores of harvesting, seeding for fall, and watering—so the chaos is distracting.

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Watering, in fact, is probably the most important thing we do all day–and why the new well is so badly needed. We could neglect everything else but that and the farm would still soldier forward. But no watering, no chickens, no eggs–and no crops (or very little).

The chickens drink an enormous amount of water—the barrels and troughs we’ve set up in the chicken yards have to be filled every day. A laying hen won’t lay if she doesn’t have enough water. (Good thing we don’t have cows—each can drink 20 to 30 gallons of water a day.)

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It hasn’t rained here in any appreciable way in weeks, so to say it is dry is an understatement. Every time a car comes down the driveway, a cloud of dust enshrouds it. A lot of the grass looks like the photo above. And we can tell when we go to pick blackberries now that the vines are really stressed (below), and a lot of the berries shriveled up. Also, it’s been hotter so far in September than it was in August.

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So our cobbled together system of hoses, sprinklers, drip hoses and irrigation tape has to be activated, area by area, every day.

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In some areas, like a seasonal seed-starting set-up, or a newly planted apple tree, we have no choice but to hand-water with the hose.

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Basil thrives in the hoop house, but only if it is watered absolutely every day.

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Without the drip hose, this new round of arugula wouldn’t be so perky.

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Between turning everything on and off, checking, hand-watering, hooking and unhooking, topping-off, etc., it takes a while.

Plus everything is being run off of our house well. We thought Roy’s efforts at installing a new well in the lower field this spring were going to work, but a couple pieces of equipment failed, and ultimately our landlord offered to hire the guys with the big equipment to come dig the well. It just took until the end of the summer for it to get going.

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When the well is complete, we will have a separate water source for all the chicken areas and the lower field of crops, as well as the duck pen and the fruit trees, and we will also be able to install a few more permanent watering fixtures that will make some of the daily chores go more quickly.

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So I am certainly not going to complain (to whom, anyway?) about this happening right now.

In the meantime, I’m in awe of the plants that seem to thrive even without the best attention to their watering, like these amazing Joker sunflowers.

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And as for the chaos inside the house? Well fortunately, I have two doors on my little office here and both are shut. Barney and Farmer are hiding out in here with me for now (the noise scares them a bit). The afternoon sea breeze has kicked up and is gently pulsing across the room thanks to opposing windows. And in another hour or so, the sun will be far enough down behind the trees for us to go out and finish those farm chores. Maybe we’ll even go berry-picking tonight. Farmer says yes, please.

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100 Veggie Photos in 100 Days—Done! Now 100 More, Fresh from the Farm

photo-104You might remember a few months back that I told you about a little challenge I set up for myself—to take a photo of a different veggie (or fruit or herb) on Green Island Farm every day for 100 days straight and to post it on Instagram. That was May 20—Day 1.

Well, Thursday, August 28 was Day 100, and I made it! I managed to post at least a different variety every day, and it was a kick doing it. For Thursday’s post (the “finale”), I did something a little different and arranged a bunch of things for the photo (above). It was kind of hokey—I spelled out “100” (sort of) with an eggplant and two sunflowers, and then filled in with assorted other veggies, herbs, and fruits. As usual, it was the end of the day and I was rushed, so I was pretty much winging it. Halfway through, it occurred to me that I should’ve tried to get 100 things in the picture! I went out and picked a few more random edibles—a fennel flower, an asparagus frond, a pea shoot—but it was too late to redo at that point. After I took the photo, I counted, and I had managed to get 67 different items in–not bad. The best thing about the photo was the cheery color.

I thought it would be fun to show you, in retrospect, the photos in the #100Veggies100Days that were the most popular on Instagram and Facebook. (Keep in mind that “popular” means among my dear friends and very small group of social media peeps!). Not surprisingly, many of the favorite photos were tomatoes, but I think my own personal favorite is the little pumpkin, because of the light and the wispy vine. (See photos below.)

And I also wanted to let you know that it is not too late to follow along. Egged on by a few friends, I decided to keep going for another 100 days, only with a slight shift from strictly veggies and garden edibles to a broader look at the farm–#100DaysFreshFromTheFarm. (Yes, I conveniently co-opted my cookbook title for the hashtag! And by the way, I’m also now writing a regular “Fresh from the Farm” column for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine. You can read the latest one on beefsteak tomatoes here.)  So sign up for Instagram or “like” my FaceBook business page, Susie Middleton Cooks, if you’d like to travel through fall on a small farm.

And here’s that look back:

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San Marzano tomatoes, most “liked” photo of all!.

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Purple baby bok choy.

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Chive Blossom (this was Day 1!).

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Sunrise Bee, one of the Artisan series tomatoes.

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Red Gold potatoes.

photo-105Jimmy Nardello heirloom sweet pepper.

photo-102 Little volunteer pumpkin.

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Black raspberries at the bottom of a cardboard pint box.

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Orient Charm eggplant in good company.

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See you on Instagram!

P.S. The latest photos show up every day on the home page of sixburnersue.com, too.

 

Making Memories at the Fair

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Every August you nice people put up with me writing about the Fair—my excitement, and my ensuing exhaustion. This year, well, you’re in luck. It was such a busy week with so many late nights and really early mornings getting everything harvested and the farm stand set up, that I missed posting entirely last week and now can hardly put a sentence together.

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I will say just this one thing, and then leave it to all the pictures of the ridiculous food we ate, the ribbons we won, and the animals we admired. That thing is this: The theme of the Fair this year was Making Memories at the Fair, and I realized today that this is exactly what Roy, Libby, (Farmer) and I have been doing since we moved into the farm house in 2010 and started crossing the street every day, several times a day, for four days in a row, the third week in August.

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The Fair has become our only break from the farm in the high season—a mini vacation just across the street, and one in which we relish doing nearly the same exact thing (with slight variations) every year. I have the photos to prove it, of course, and I hope they will be fun for Libby to look at some day. For me, looking at the last few years of them now, the most startling thing is watching this little girl grow up so fast.

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So I’ll start with our healthy food choices:

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Famous Fair fries. Famous Fair Veggie Tempura.

Next, the animals.

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Libby still wants to be a Vet.

Okay, there were rides and games and stuffed animals, too.

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And not necessarily best of all, but certainly wonderful: Eleven ribbons for us this year! (That’s a record, I think.) Six blue, four red, and one white. First place for yellow onions, plum tomatoes, carrots, blackberries, large brown eggs and pullet eggs. Second place for red cherry tomatoes, zinnias, cosmos, and Junior brown eggs. Third place for yellow cherry tomatoes.

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Roy hung up the ribbons back at the farm stand. They’ll stay there for a while, then head off to the place where the rest of the memories live. But this year, Libby took home a Fair poster to hang in her newly redecorated room. Next Tuesday she starts an exciting adventure at a brand new school. Things change and grow, I know. But memories (maybe lightly polished or gently rearranged) remain.

 

Little Blue Boxes

DSC_7303There might have been a time when I was more interested in something that came in a different kind of little blue box. But these days, I am obsessed with berry boxes. You know, those little blue cardboard farmstand classics. They come in half-pint, pint, and quart sizes. (We order them online by the case, but our customers are also really great about bringing them back to us.)

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Pretty much everything about the little boxes appeals to me: The bracing aqua blue color (until they fade to a calm, pleasing celadon); the square shape, the smart design. And their functionality, of course. They contain things after all. And I’m all about containment. And arranging stuff. (I know this says something about my personality.)

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But maybe even better than the box itself is the promise of what it will offer. It’s always going to be something freshly picked, freshly plucked, freshly dug. Guaranteed I am going to love what’s in it.

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And as much as I love spring on the farm, the little blue boxes don’t come out until summer, when the absolute best stuff is being harvested. So when we first retrieve the boxes from storage, I get all giddy with anticipation. Here we go!

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Of course then I can’t stop photographing the little blue boxes—with just about everything in them. We keep a stack in the processing shed, so we use them to carry orphan veggies into the house, or to pick a quick few berries for breakfast. Or simply to hold rubberbands for flower bunches!

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When we pack them away for the winter, it’s a sad day. Fortunately, that’s a long way off.

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