Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cold Frame Lessons and Woodstove Status

Let's talk about the good news first, shall we? The good news is, just the other night I had an arugula salad that I picked fresh from my garden in the wintertime. Fabulous! A little lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper -- yumola! Next year I think I will plant all arugula, kale and winter hardy lettuce (which seems to be doing just fine). I will also start my plants sooner. That is the good news. I am not discouraged. The plants are growing and happy and they require very little watering if any.
Now for the lessons .... err, bad news.
First, Eliot Coleman in his book Four Season Harvest recommended not painting the frames simply to avoid maintenance. "Hey!" I said to myself, "I don't mind painting and sanding every year, plus it will preserve the wood longer." The lesson is: Listen to Eliot Coleman. It's not just a matter of yearly maintenance. The temperatures that the wood experiences day to day, night to night is so extreme that in spite of my hard and careful work -- the paint is chipping. Everywhere. Even the glazing -- old and new -- is peeling off. It's a mess. Sad. Maybe an oil, or a stain would be better. Eliot just leaves his -- as is.
Here is my garden at the start of our last snow storm. Wisps of dried asparagus on the left side, broccoli on the far end (that finally called it a day and wilted), leeks and kale scattered throughout. In the foreground is where we planted our garlic. I put the wire fencing up because our dog was stomping through that area to short cut through to the front yard. Leeks are in the foreground, and although they look a little floppy here, they are doing just fine in the cold.
Here were the cold frames after the big storm we had just before Christmas.

Here is my progress as I was gently shoveling off the mounds of snow.

And then, alas, some glass fell into my mueslin greens. I'd put this pane upside down without thinking of the consequences. When the glazing fell off, the window was no longer being held onto the frame. Ordinarily this wouldn't be a big deal because of the wooden lip that the glass sits on. But, I put this frame on upside down. Ugh. I still have yet to fix this problem -- temporarily somehow. I think we may use Plexiglas glued or nailed to the top. For awhile I had cardboard covering the hole. Now I have a big piece of Styrofoam that came in some packaging laying on top and secured with large stones. We are expecting a lot of wind along with 4-8 inches of snow. Isn't this a sad sight?

On a brighter note, our wood stove is churning along nicely. We have our digital thermostats set to 60 degrees. I start the fire in the morning from the embers still burning from the night before (if everything went well) and get the temp up to a happy 68 degrees or even warmer. All from free wood in our back yard. Sometimes if I can't tolerate the morning cold I bring the temp up to 68 degrees with our furnace, then turn it back down and the wood stove just maintains the temp from there.
In any case, our first winter oil bill came and it was $156.13 for 71 gallons. For the same time period last year we used 97.4 gallons and using this year's prices we saved $57.81. I just called the oil guy to see if I could get the stats from my two previous bills (because I forgot to document them) and when he found out who I was he said "Hey! Your name came up the other day!" I told him that I'd bought a wood stove insert and he told the story of how he and his brother had been talking about whether or not to come by and fill up our tank -- wanting to be sure I didn't run out in the middle of winter. They decided that I probably didn't need any because the last time they were by I'd only taken 70 gallons -- he had remembered the exact amount -- and he'd seen smoke coming from the chimney and figured I'd gotten a wood stove. Isn't that funny?! I think you're doing pretty well when even the oil guy takes notice! Exciting!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Day at the Beach

No, we weren't sporting swimming suits with chairs and towels in tow. We were taking a wintertime visit to our favorite New England beach. Isn't it charming?
Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, Ripley's favorite thing to do in all of this world is to throw rocks at the beach. It compliments his love for sports ... and if he can go swimming afterwards, all the better, but certainly not required.

Eyeing his target . . .


And again!
Our lovely beach.

All of the palm trees in Florida couldn't sway me, this is beauty.

Ripley and Victor

And, look what I found. For many years now, maybe 15 years, I've been collecting heart shaped rocks. I've also allowed heart shaped coral into the collection. All of my findings are scattered throughout our home -- here and there. So, of course I was ecstatic to find this red-toned rock sitting in the sand, waiting for me.

I forgot to mention, Victor has two weeks off of work, so we've had a wonderful time lazying around, watching movies (Foreign films: Red, Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring, oh yeah and the Batman Movie The Dark Knight.), and relaxing. Here you see Victor in all of his "I'm on vacation!" splendor, looking a bit like a mountain man.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Day

One Christmas tradition that, my father thinks was started by my late Uncle "Ole' C", an Episcopal Priest, is savoring the moments of Christmas. For as long as I remember, we don't divide all of the presents up by recipient and then rip everything open in 10 minutes time. No, from stockings to gifts under the tree each present is opened one by one, savored, properly thanked and appreciated, and often even opened and played with between gifts. Gifts aren't purchased for volume so the kids have more for ripping, they are carefully chosen, and each year we have bought fewer and fewer. It does make for a long day all together, taking breaks to play with toys, or eat together, but we love it.

Here is Victor opening a gift with nephew Spencer looking on.

Opening gifts for Spencer this year entailed trying to cram the entire box in his mouth -- of course. Tanya was happiest when he was opening one of our gifts wrapped with homemade gift bags made of fabric! (More on that later in another post!)

Reese, Rosalie, Spencer and Ripley

How cute is this?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Festivities

Sorry to have been away from you all for so long ... there is so much to catch up with.
For now, I will let you enjoy the pictures of our Christmas Eve Festivities
at Dave and Sue's house. Here is the infamous "kids table".
l-r: Ripley, Orion, Rosalie, Elliana, A.J., Reese and Dylan

I could dedicate an entire blog to my niece Rosalie.
Seriously, isn't she fabulous?
A little pre-Christmas opening chaos.

Tanya (our resident actress) and Scott did a reading along with gestures, expressions and a little movement of the play The Gift of the Magi.

Tanya: as Della
Scott: as Jim

My nephew Spencer, suited as Santa.

Victor, reclining and twinkling.

Gramp contemplating chess with Benjamin at our house, two nights before Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ripley's Montessori School

On Friday, Ripley's Montessori School had a "Holiday" Celebration. The best part of the whole event was that parents were allowed to go into the classrooms and "work" along side their children. Every time I go to his school I'm amazed and inspired by the clever tools they use to teach the students. Of course, when I arrived, Ripley was busily working away on this puzzle -- which we have at home! He can do the entire thing without help and knows a lot of the states by name.

This is such a clever idea. It's thick clay inside a wooden box. Kids hammer "nails" - or golf tees - into the clay.

The infamous Tower Cubes and Brown Stairs. This is another child's work, but I took a picture of it because it's Ripley's favorite. For days on end when I asked him what he did at school he told me that he worked with the Tower Cubes and the Brown Stairs, to the point where it became a joke between us. "You worked with them again?!" I'd exclaim. "No, I'm just teasing you." Ripley would say.

I loved this work. The little basket of items (basket #6) coordinate with these wooden sandpaper letter cards (kept in slot #6). Each item is put next to the letter the word begins with. So, as you can see kaleidoscope, kangaroo and koala are placed at the top of the letter K. Jet, jack-o-lantern, jeep and jack-in-the-box are placed at the top of the letter J. Isn't that fabulous?! It would be so simple to make these projects at home. (Incidentally, sandpaper letters are used as a work. The children practice tracing the letters with the texture underneath their fingers.)

Here is their snack area. Only two children can be in the snack area "snacking". To indicate the they are taking their turn, they put on a little bell necklace that hangs around one of the two chairs at the small snack table. They are responsible for pouring their own juice or milk, and often times have to count out how many pretzels or crackers they can have. The chalk board will read for example "4 Pretzels" along with 4 individually drawn pretzels along side. Isn't that fabulous? Teaching them Independence, gross motor skills and counting all at the same time!

This is a small little thing that I saw just as we were getting ready to leave. I took a picture of it because I thought it was so clever and adorable. All of the various "works" sit simply and organized on shelves that are eye level for the children. Here is a miniature Christmas Tree and a basket that is full of little decorations. Cute?! Is it not?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Winter Wonderland

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The story of a quest for the perfect chocolate cupcake!

Chocolate and Yellow Cake Recipes, For Kristi.

When my parents lived out on Cape Cod in Osterville several years ago we, "the kids" and "the grandchild" (Benjamin), would load up our cars and go there for the weekend, because with traffic, it was a far trip to travel for the afternoon. Awaiting us was always a box of four of the most gorgeous jumbo chocolate cupcakes with white frosting you've ever seen, that Mom had bought at Fancy's. They were so enormous that we were content to lop off a quarter of one for a decadent snack. When Mom didn't have time to get them, or --tragedy -- they were out, she would apologize first thing after our arrival.
So of course, I said to myself -- "We can make these!" And thus began our quest. I tried several recipes for both the cake and the frosting. Although the original frosting was boiled (my mother was gutsy enough to ask the owner -- "Soooooo . . . how do you make that frosting of yours, hmmm?" with a twinkle in her eye. ), we are all very happy with the final result of the following recipe.
This recipe is also the standard recipe I use for Birthday Cakes -- When trying to find some pictures of my cakes I came to realize that when you are presenting a cake and singing "Happy Birthday" it can make for some very unfortunate photos . . .
See what I mean? It's a cake plie move! You can't see this cake well (somewhere I have a close-up) but it's frosted to look like a baseball -- for my little sportsman, Ripley.

How about this gem? I think I'm in the middle of singing "Tooooo" or "Yooouuuu".
I'm not sure, but it's pretty frightening.

This one just makes me laugh.

The Recipe - Chocolate Cake

Butter and lightly flour two 9 inch round cake pans -- or get your cupcake pans ready!
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  • 4 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/2 lb butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 eggs

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl or pot over simmering water; stir in the vanilla. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the chocolate mixture, the milk, and the eggs and beat until smooth. Spread in the pan and bake for about 30-35 minutes (large "Texas" cupcakes take 20 minutes). Cool in the pans for 5 minutes before turning out onto racks. **Don't overcook, err on the side of underdone, rather than over done.**


  • 1 C butter
  • 1 t almond extract
  • 1/2 t vanilla extract
  • 1 box confectioners sugar
  • 1 dash salt
  • 1/4 C milk

Yumola! As the owner of Fancy's said when my mom was pumping him for information, the quality of the ingredients are extremely important. As the old saying goes: Garbage in, Garbage out.

Now the best yellow cake and chocolate frosting I ever made was random. It actually came off the bottom of the label that came with my fancy new cake pans several years ago. No foolin'. The chocolate frosting in particular is no-fail and phenomenal.

Classic Yellow Cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8" round cake pans.

  • 3 1/2 C flour
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 1 3/4 C milk, room temp.
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 2 C sugar
  • 4 eggs, room temp.

Mix dry ingredients together, set aside. Mix milk and vanilla together, set aside. Beat butter until smooth. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce mixer speed to low, add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk mixture and beginning and ending with the flour. Beat each addition until just incorporated, occasionally stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Spoon batter into pans and cook 25 to 30 minutes.

Chocolate Frosting:

  • 8 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped (better quality the chocolate, better the frosting).
  • 1 1/3 C unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 3 cups confectioners sugar

Melt chocolate in a double boiler set over simmering water. Let cool to room temperature. With a mixer, beat the butter until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the confectioners' sugar and beat until smooth, creamy and slightly fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl to evenly distribute the chocolate. Yum. Yum. Yum.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008


At some point during dinner last night, Victor started teasing Benjamin and me. You see, Victor and Ripley are two guys made out of the same mold. They know how to chill. And chill. And chill. Benjamin and I can do a half hour of chillin' before we start to go bonkers and invent for ourselves a project. Midway through chicken soup last night, Benjamin says that he'd like to make blankets and pillows to sell in his classroom for their "Pay Pals". I should mention that this weekend, I taught Benjamin how to use my sewing machine -- which he thought was fabulous! The funny thing is, Benjamin was asking this after he'd finished his homework, we were sitting down to dinner, AND it was 7:15pm at night! He looked at me with those excited "PROJECT" eyes and knew I was in.
What are Pay Pals you ask? Good question. I didn't know either. Basically, you earn points by doing your homework. After you reach a certain number of points, you earn a Pay Pal, which is a Beanie Baby. Then the children proceed to make things to sell to their classmates' Pay Pals. Money (popsicle sticks) is earned by doing homework. So, basically, we hurriedly made blankets and pillows for little beanie babies to earn a handful of popsicle sticks. Truly, I think it's a fabulous concept. And it seems the kids are really into it. Benjamin at one point explained to me that everyone "plays" with their Pay Pal during snack time. Benjamin said "EVERYTHING happens at snack." What a riot.
I had some old fleece hanging around that I can't for the life of me dig up in my mind what I'd purchased for. On sale in the remnants section probably. Well, it came in handy. We made a pattern out of an old roll of paper towel hiding in my craft room. Benjamin pinned the paper towel pattern to the fleece and cut out three blankets with pinking sheers.

We cut out three rectangles for the pillows. Benjamin gave a whole hearted try sewing the pillows up on the machine, but the material was extremely stretchy and I finally had to come to his rescue.

Benjamin was in charge of stuffing the pillows and stitching up the last side by hand.

We had the opportunity to talk about the importance of presentation when marketing anything. So we bundled each pillow and blanket together with a piece of unused yarn I had hanging around.

Aren't they adorable? I'm not sure who had more fun, Benjamin or me. Joy.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wonderful Weekend

To me, this weekend was perfection. We were all together, working outside all bundled up in 20 degree weather, interspersed with great food. We started out our day with pancakes -- a recipe given to me by my Aunt Janie and one Victor and I have recently decided (after much tasting) is the best there is. Then we went outdoors to tackle my wood inventory. Our wood burning stove insert is new to us, so we weren't busily squirreling away wood all summer and fall. It was past time to get busy.
Thankfully, in our back woods there are countless -- who knows how many years worth -- standing dead and fallen trees that are all ready "seasoned". Victor cut and chopped and the kids and I carried and stacked. Mid-day, we had an outdoor hot chocolate break with marshmallows. For lunch we took a break and had chicken soup and corn bread that I had stashed away in the freezer. We went back at it after lunch and worked until the sun was low on the horizon. I made egg rolls and fried rice with eggs and beef from a nearby farm, and sweet peppers, cayenne peppers, broccoli and carrots from our garden. How wonderful. We ate our feast while watching A Christmas Story.

On Sunday, after church, the boys were back outside.

Benjamin was very excited to learn how to split wood.

Last count was six logs that he'd split by himself -- and proud!

Benjamin and Ripley take a "play" break from work -- which left to their own devices outside usually includes mud, dirt and water. (Notice Benjamin's knees -- yep, that's my boy.)

Our progress.
Isn't my Siberian Kale gorgeous in the sunlight?

Here is my Arugula, making progress and looking cozy in the closed cold frame.

Mesclun Mix Greens churning away and getting big.