Monday, March 2, 2015

Bread...

“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight...

[Breadmaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells... there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of
meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”
― M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating: 50th Anniversary Edition



I've posted about making bread before, but it's been a while, and there is something new afoot.
Here is a brief recap. When I was a teen I spent many a happy hour at the elbow of my my then boyfriends patient mother, Barbara Jackman. She taught me how to bake bread. Fragrant white loaves, that she slit with a knife before popping in the oven and wiped tenderly with butter when they came out, all hot and crusty. I never became proficient in the art, but I had a decent foundation and wasn't afraid of the process of coaxing life from yeast and flour, of kneading a sticky mass of dough until it became an elastic ball, willing to take the shape of my hands bidding.

Fast forward many years and I was living in Memphis, Tennessee with my husband and toddler daughter. A grooming customer of mine gave me a loaf of bread she had made, and it was superb. When I complimented her on it, she gifted me with a photocopy of the recipe and a little jar of liquid starter. The starter had to be fed often, and it lived in my refrigerator in an antique crock that had once belonged to my gentle mother-in-love, Vernice. I have had for a long time, and made more bread than I can recall. I've tweaked the recipe a bit, and make delicious, reliable loaves. They are light, rather sweet, with a soft texture and unique flavor imparted by the starter. I've often toyed with the idea of making other types of bread, especially sourdough, but have been stuck in my pleasant rut, cranking out the familiar recipe with happiness. I tuck the dough into pans by the wood stove, and cover them with a clean cloth. They rise slowly there in the cozy warmth.



Recently my daughter became interested in creating sourdough. She researched the process and soon mixed up flour and water in an antique bowl and left it near the stove to catch wild yeast from the air. It took about two weeks, feeding the starter and keeping it warm, before it began to bubble and rise and give off the distinct, tangy aroma of sourdough.



Here are the two starters. The sourdough is on the left, dubbed "Maude." On the right is the liquid starter that has moved with me to several different homes, across country and has been a living part of my existence for a quarter century. I call it "Seymour."



Yesterday we baked sourdough, our third attempt. It came out perfectly. It boasted a firm crust, was slightly chewy and heavy with flavor. We polished it off in no time.

Compared with the bread we buy at the grocery store, all light and sliced in perfect-looking, squishy loaves, good homemade bread is such a treat for the senses. We delight in the process, the feel and scent and flavor. The ceremony of baking is rich in happiness.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March 1...



"Is it spring yet?" Ziva seems to ask. "Is it OK to come downstairs and go outside?" Sadly, no. Despite the weather men promising moderating temperatures, the thermometer on the deck read -10 when I suited up to do animal care this morning. My oldest sister sent me an email last week stating that the cold weather was causing her to lose her will to live. I chuckled when I read that and thought she was being mighty dramatic. But when every morning greets me with sub zero temperatures, I begin to think she is right. I'm losing a bit of my will to live, too. The snow is rather a pain, but it's the days of frigid weather with no let up that is wearing me down. When I let the dogs out and it is that cold, they cannot stay out for more than a few moments. The cold must make their feet ache terribly. They begin to stand on three feet, holding up one, then another. They hunch their spines and hang their heads, and look collectively miserable. Plus, they are so distracted by cold that they forget to take of business. It's maddening. And it seems as if it will never end.



But there are signs of spring coming. The horse is shedding up a storm. The goats are getting wider around the middle, hopefully each of them will deliver a kid or two in early April, and that is just around the corner! The days are longer, too. And the Chickadees are bravely singing their spring-time song. Speaking of which, I have not managed to capture it on film, but on a number of occasions I have witnessed the tiny birds clutching to the tip of the ice-cycles that hang outside the studio windows, and sipping up the drips of water that melt when the sun hits them. It is charming beyond description.


And so I will struggle along in the current pattern as the days move inexorably forward. Bracing myself to face the cold, mustering my flagging will to live, and taking heart by planning what we'll plant in the garden and pouring over the poultry catalogs, deciding which breeds of chicks will come to live in the coop this spring. In my head, spring begins in March. It is traditionally a month filled with happy expectation for me. My birthday is in March, we married in March, and our daughter was born in March. So as I open that lovely, clean, blank calendar page to March 1 I am filled with hope and anticipation for the warmer days that are sure to come.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Again...

It's snowing again. Hard. I have already shoveled paths and cleared off the cars, but my efforts have been obliterated by fat, fluffy flakes, piling up and covering any trace of my existence.



Chanel does not seem to mind. Though I'd happily carry her breakfast to the shed, she greeted me at the gate and dined alfresco.



The goats do not brook with such foolishness. They stay steadfast in the cozy shed, only peeking out for this photo when I called their names. They called back, "Maaa! Maaa!" then returned to their hay.

Yesterday Rachel and I popped into a favorite antique store in Camden. I found this adorable print. It is poster sized, and I well remember seeing these drawings when I was a child, in a cherished book. I am going to find a way to waterproof it and hang it over the grooming tub in my studio. It will make me smile every time I see those bright colors and that naughty spaniel leaping out of the tub!


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Random Blog Thoughts...

Sometimes, when I don't really know what to write about, I grab my camera and take some pictures and go from there.



Today dawned in the positive temperatures. It has been below freezing for several weeks, and below zero more mornings than I care to remember. These temperatures make it hard on the livestock and hard on me when I care for the livestock. Most of all, it causes me to worry, and that is tiring. Seeing the thermometer on the deck register 27 degrees this morning made me do a happy little dance in the new snow. The animals were more upbeat and active too, and at one point the temperature rose to the mid 30's. It was a lovely reprieve, but cold air is moving back in soon. All the the ice cycles on the house dripped and dripped,(if you look to the right, you can SEE a drop caught in mid air!) and many of them came crashing down,shattering like glass with explosive sounds echoing over the silent snow.


The blue sky was a treat to see after many days of gray. The pathway to the studio is icy and those embankments are shoulder high. It is almost impossible to believe that the snow will ever go away; that grass and daffodils and tulips will take its place. I feel happy when I remember that Rachel and I tucked flower bulbs here and there in the fall. It will be such a treat to see things growing and blooming.




Something caught my eye as I was doing chores. Something amiss. This poor, hapless Morning Dove was caught in the feeder post. I gently lifted her out, and though her leg was chafed from the struggle it didn't appear to be broken. While I was carefully examining her she blew out of my grasp in a confetti of feathers, winging over the meadow and vanishing into a stand of pines.



The hens have not laid an egg since November. This afternoon while I was filling up their water bowl and feeder I spied this teeny, tiny egg off in the shavings. It must have slipped right out of a hen on the roost, so little she never noticed it!



Chris brought home a big bag of dried meal worms for the birds. We gave them today for a special treat. The hens were a bit suspicious of them at first, but then dove in and helped themselves to a welcome hi-protein treat. I put a few handfuls into the ducks water bowl. When I checked moments later, every worm had vanished.



The snow in the pasture is deep, deep. The four foot fence is merely a suggestion to the animals at this point. Luckily they are not interested in wading about in the stuff. They have made a small path from the shed to the gate, then to the water bucket. There they have milled about enough to make a small, flat area. I put hay there and it gets them out of the shed for a while. I should have helped them make more paths and open spaces, but I didn't. Next year I will do better.



When we first moved here I saw some foliage at the edge of the meadow move and heard what I thought was a wild turkey call.I was SO excited! I couldn't even see a turkey, but the thought of it being here made me giddy. I thought of that this week, when a flock of 20 very hungry turkeys began to come several times a day to gather the spilled seeds from the wild bird feeder, inches from the house. At first they were very wary, darting away across the yard, or lifting off in heavy flight if they saw me in the window. We bought corn for them, and scattered it on the snow, and a big block of compressed corn and seeds, and put it at the base of the bird feeder. By today they barely moved when I opened the door, and now they run towards me as I broadcast food for them from the little deck. Look how BIG their eyes are! That surprised me. They are willing models for my camera, and I can't get enough of taking their pictures.



And this last, random shot. Sister Deb gifted me with a nice, sturdy coat rack for the studio. It was a bit on the boring side, so I asked an artist friend to trade me some pet grooming in exchange for giving it a facelift. She painted it blue and created morning glory vines climbing up and blooming cheerily during this long winter.

And this closes today's desultory photos and blog thoughts. Photos of my surroundings often inspire me!







Thursday, February 19, 2015

Who needs to be trained..?



I took Ziva for a private training lesson yesterday. It is something I have wanted to do for a long time, and I wish I had done it sooner. Ziva is a very smart dog. She wants to please, but sometimes she and I do not communicate as well I wish we would.
Sumac, the trainer, is gifted at her work. She watched Ziva as she came in, tail tucked, uncertain about what was going on. We chatted while Ziva explored the building, and after a few moments became comfortable and more secure.

Then Sumac got out some treats and began teaching Ziva how to do some things. Sit on a mat. Put her front feet on a box. Find a cookie under an obstacle. Ziva was all wags and happiness. She liked these games. She loved the cookies. She learned fast, eager to please her new best friend. I watched carefully, trying to learn what Sumac was trying to teach me. Wishing I were as smart as my dog.

We are going to work on these things, building a better understanding of how to work together, this dog and I. I know she will do beautifully, and the things we learn will help to keep her brain occupied and happy. I hope I fulfill my part of the effort in a satisfactory manner. My dog deserves that!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Feathered friends...

When we were getting ready to move from Memphis to Maine we looked at what felt like thousands of houses on line. One that I really liked had several nice things about it, but the most enchanting thing for me was that the real estate advertisement boasted that the place was a bird sanctuary. That house didn't work out for us, but I always wondered about those birds. Did the new owners continue to offer them a safe haven?

The first weekend we moved into this house, I bought a bird feeder and was delighted when Goldfinches arrived within moments of installing it, little shards of sunlight twittering through the air and dining happily just outside my kitchen window. It seemed an auspicious omen.

Fast forward 11 years and it occurs to me now that we have created a bit of a sanctuary right here at FairWinds.



I put a feeder just outside the window of my grooming studio. I cannot find the words to express the pleasure I get from watching the birds while I groom. They are mere inches from my nose. In this frigid weather we've been having the birds have been staying close to the feeders, and emptying them at an astonishing rate. I don't care. I fill the feeders happily and thrill at the whirl of feathers all around me. From the tiny Chickadees to the delicious looking turkeys...



... they keep me lovely company during the day.


Yesterday, while perched on my favorite seat in the house, something caught my eye outside the living room window. The tree branches are dotted with white snow, and I thought I saw some snow move. And there was a dark mass under it. I looked closer and lo and behold... a Bald Eagle was perched at the edge of the meadow. I think it was hoping a chicken would appear, but the hens were staying put in their cozy coop.



The Eagle stayed a while, surveying our property from a sturdy branch. And then some crows began to hassle it. It lifted off and flapped into the icy sky.



I rather like living in a bird sanctuary.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Kindness of strangers...

Today didn't really go as planned. I had thought to spend the day writing. Then my daughter asked me to join her in running an errand. She suggested we could have lunch at a favorite spot and check out a fun antique store nearby. It was an offer I couldn't refuse. My only stipulation was I needed to be home by 3 to groom a wonderful little cat.

So off we went, listening to pretty music and chatting happily. We got her errand taken care of, and even popped into Marden's, a fun store that often has great bargains. I stocked up on beautiful gift wrapping paper for .50 cents a roll! Then off to the favorite restaurant. Sadly, it was closed. As was the nearby antique store. Mildly dejected, we went to another favorite spot and dined on delicious ribs. But we had to hurry to get back in time for my appointment.

When we got to our road, there were large areas where wind had pushed snow deeply into the road. Rachel drove carefully, but when a truck pulling an over-sized trailer passed us, swerving a bit in our lane, the deep snow grabbed her tires and pushed her neatly into a snow bank. No damage was done but we were stuck fast. And it was only moments before I was to meet my customer.

I climbed out of the car, and no sooner did my feet meet the ground when a car stopped. An older man asked, "Need any help?" I asked if there were any way he could turn around and take me to my house, just a mile away. "Ayuh," he nodded. I hopped right in. I introduced myself. "I know who you are. I live right up the road. You wave to me all the time." I asked him where he had been off to when he so kindly stopped, "Down to the Mic Mac to get a cuppa coffee." "I'd be more than happy to make you a cup for your troubles," I told him. He smiled gently. "I mostly go to talk to my friends." Then he told me he had shingles blow off his roof in the last storm. "I'm not supposed to get up on the roof. I have two metal hips and one metal knee. I'm a bit older than you, you know. How old do you think I am?" Well, that is the sort of question that is often loaded, and really, I had no idea. He was clearly somewhere older than 60, but I had no idea how much older. He was robust and fit looking, obviously very capable. "68?" I guessed. He chuckled. "I've been married 70 years." I thought quick, "Well then, you must have gotten married when you were 10 and now you are 80." "I'll be 90 next month," he said. And really, he didn't look 90 by any stretch. I told him so. He looked pleased.

I arrived home just in time to groom one of my favorite cats. Meanwhile, Rachel and her little stuck car waited for AAA to come pull her out. While she waited, in the icy cold wind, no less than 15 or 20 different people stopped to offer her assistance. Women in small cars offered to let her use a phone. Young men with pick up trucks offered to give her a tow. Vehicle after vehicle stopped to make sure she was okay. When the tow truck finally arrived and pulled her free, he then insisted on following her home, "The road is bad between here and there, and I want to make sure you are safe."

No sooner did she arrive home safely, when the phone rang. It was my sweet husband. He was supposed to have the day off today, but was called into work for a few hours, which ended up being most of the day. "Honey, I have a problem," he said. "I stopped my car because something was stuck in the wheel well, and locked myself out. And honey, it's really COLD." He was a good 45 minutes away from home. Rachel and I jumped in my truck and drove as fast as we could to get him. I knew he was wearing dress shoes and casual work clothes and a light jacket. I felt sick to my stomach as I drove, white knuckled, to get him. The thought of him shivering by the side of the road make me feel quite ill. The temperatures were in the single digits and as I said, the wind was fierce. Rachel arranged for a locksmith to meet us. While Chris waited in the fading light, in the terrible cold, a man had stopped to let him use his phone to call me. A woman stopped and gave him a pair of gloves, and then some acquaintances who were passing by stopped and let him sit in the warmth of their car until I arrived.

Today didn't really go as planned, but looking back at it we are all feeling very blessed by the kindness of all those strangers.