Sunday, February 14, 2016


Crikey, it was cold yesterday. I did evening chores at 4PM to get the goats fed and settled before the sun went down, as it was already below zero. The funny thing is, when I later checked the goat cam, most of the goats were taking turns chasing each other around the South Paddock. Around and around and around. It went on until after dark.

Perhaps this is why those of us who remember spending our childhoods mostly outdoors all year round don't recall being troubled by cold. Maybe we were just running around constantly? If any of you decide to experiment with this, please report back. I'll be over here, wrapped in a blanket and eating cornmeal pudding.

I baked this yesterday, timed so there'd be something coming out of the oven when I came in from chores. It was a treat. Have you ever made this? There are a lot of recipes out there, and most are very similar. I'm happy with my version, so I'll share it in case anyone would like to try it. You know, after you come in from running around and around for a couple of hours.

Please note: even though it's baked in a skillet, this is not cornbread. This one is a sweet treat that belongs in the "dessert for a group" file as it's best eaten warm from the oven. I rarely make it just for myself, though leftovers can be warmed in a microwave and it's still fairly good.
But right from the oven?
My, my.

2 tablespoons butter
2 cups milk, soured by adding 1 tablespoon vinegar
2 or 3 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white self-rising cornmeal
3/4 cup (or less) brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cream

Preheat oven to 325F for deep Pyrex skillet, 350F for metal.
Heat your skillet in the preheating oven, adding the butter a few minutes before the batter is ready. You want the butter heated but not scorched.

Mix dry ingredients together in a big bowl.
Whisk eggs in a separate bowl, then add the sour milk to the eggs and blend thoroughly. Whisk milk mixture into dry ingredients, making a very thin batter.

When butter is melted, carefully remove skillet from oven (seems obvious, but I always have to remind myself that the handle is HOT) and rotate slowly to cover bottom and lower sides of skillet with butter. Then set skillet down on stovetop or extended oven rack, and gently pour the batter into center of skillet. The melted butter will rise up and engulf the edges of the batter pool. (Don't worry.) Then, pour all the cream into the center. (Trust me.)

Slide this unlikely-looking concoction into oven slowly to prevent sloshing, and bake for 45 minutes or til top is lightly browned.

Serve warm; the center will be a soft, smooth pudding and the bottom and edges will be lightly crisp from the butter. Lovely contrasting textures. Adding a little drizzle of maple syrup is nice, but it would be easy to overdo; this is a sweet, rich dessert.

Let me know if you try it!

Oh, and here's the temperature this morning:

That's -27C.

It's nearly 8AM but I expect the goats will be staying tucked in for a good long while yet. I wonder if they'll start their day with another game of tag?

Have a perfect Sunday, everyone!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

snow and stew

It's snowing again today.
Dara doesn't mind.

"Forget the snow," he says.
"Are there peanuts in your pocket?"

It has snowed for three of the past four days.
Tiny, tiny flakes. For hours and hours and hours.

Azalea catching snowflakes on her tongue.
(Not really.)
(Well, maybe.)

The total accumulation has been less than two feet (so far), but because it has gone on and on, the plowman has come twice. It's an expense, but after decades of not finding anyone reliable to tackle my challenging driveway, I am thrilled to be on this gentleman's list.

Once I asked him if he hates my driveway.
He was nice enough to say, "It isn't the worst one in town.
It is the second-worst."

I genuinely feel so much better knowing that!

There's been some Big Kettle cooking going on here.
I make a big pot of something simple,
freeze a couple of servings right away,
and then stretch the rest out over a few days
by adding something else to the pot each day.
It's a sort of Evolving Stew.

This ended up as red beans, rice, smoked ham, and cheddar.

This began as haddock chowder.
Then it became haddock/corn chowder.
And ended up as haddock/corn/broccoli chowder.
It was really good, every time!

I'm trying to always have something good, ready to eat.
It's the only way I will eat properly when I am tired.
And I really prefer good food to snacking.
But if I don't plan ahead a little bit,
and cook multiple servings of something good,
I'll rummage in the cupboard and eat crackers all day.
Or peanuts. Lots of peanuts.
I've been buying 5-pound bags of unsalted peanuts in the shell.
For the goats.

Would you want to look at this sweet, trusting face and say,
"I'm sorry, Betula. I ate all the peanuts."

Do you think you could? Really?
While he's standing patiently in the falling snow?

Let's look at that face one more time.


Time to make another kettle of stew!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

saturday snaps

Yesterday we got our first serious snow of the season.
About 8" of light but sticky snow.

Small plants seem to get a disproportionate load of snow.

Maybe it's character-building?

The youngest goats have seen a lifetimes-worth of ice already,
but this was their first "real" snow...

and it did not slow them down one bit.

While all the goats were tied for their breakfast buckets,
I took a few minutes to enjoy the west view from the barn.
The tree in the center of the image
is a magnificent red oak, Quercus rubra.

I hope you are having a lovely weekend wherever you are!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

washing the rice

Edward Espe Brown, perhaps best known as the author of the Tassajara Bread Book, once asked his Zen teacher for advice on how to approach his new role as head cook. Roshi said something like:

"When you're washing the rice, wash the rice; when you're cutting the carrots, cut the carrots; when you're stirring the soup, stir the soup."

I heard Brown relate this story in a film some years ago, and I've drawn upon it countless times since. In recent weeks, I've brought it to mind daily. Many times daily. Usually aloud.

"When I'm carrying the water bucket...when I'm shifting this hay bale...when I'm folding this laundry...when I'm filling the woodbox..."

There hasn't been much actual washing of rice. There has been stirring of soup. And there has been a lot of frozen food and toast and - Decadence Alert! - grapefruit purchased already segmented.

"When I'm walking with Piper..."

"When I'm sawing this board...

"When I'm breathing through this pain and trying to sleep..."

I have accomplished very little that wasn't strictly necessary in January, but the stuff that was truly necessary has been done. And that's got to be enough.
It is enough.

I want to say a heartfelt "thank you" to everyone who left a comment on my most recent post, or who sent me an email, or a message on ravelry. Every word meant a lot to me. My silence since has not meant a lack of appreciation. I hope you know that. I believe you know that. Thank you.

Today's post feels somewhat scattered, but I'm going to go ahead and put it up. My recent communication attempts have been rusty and clunky, and challenged by even the 140-character limit of twitter. This post is probably the closest I've come to coherence in a while.

Wait...can coherence be scattered?

See what I mean? 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Kitty Rex

On 29 November 2014, I met Kitty Rex at the Pat Brody Shelter for Cats.

Kitty Rex had been brought to the shelter when his previous staff, an older woman, had passed away. His background information was scant: 15-17 years old, one home, always an indoor cat. He was given a vet check and kept in the quarantine area for one month, before joining one of the groups in the adoption rooms.

The cats at the Pat Brody Shelter are not in crates; they share large rooms filled with things to climb on, things to get inside of, cozy sleeping spots, windows with an interesting view, and cat-sized doors leading to large, safely enclosed decks which are also designed with cat entertainment and comfort in mind. Visiting the shelter and spending time with the cats both in the big rooms and outside on the decks is a pleasant experience.

One of the lovely outdoor areas

When I visited, Kitty Rex had been in one of the group rooms for just a short time; I think it was only a few days. He was very thin and quiet; not opposed to attention but not seeking it. Whatever his previous life had been like, his world had been turned upside down in recent weeks. He was extremely fortunate to have landed with the wonderful, caring Pat Brody Shelter volunteers, but it had nevertheless been change upon change for a very mature cat. He came home with me that day, in a borrowed carrier and with his own luggage: a package of his favorite treats, a personal handmade blanket and a fat catnip snake provided by his friends at the shelter.

Kitty Rex unpacked his catnip snake right away

When we met, Kitty Rex had a different name, provided by the person who had brought him to the shelter. Maybe it had been his name for 15 years, but if so, he apparently decided to take this opportunity to make a change. From the moment he arrived, he ignored that name totally but would respond brightly to a simple "kitty," as in, "Where's that Kitty?" when I came back in from outdoors.

And he may have been an indoor cat for his entire previous life, but I doubt it. Or maybe he was ready for a change there, too. Despite all that deep snow last winter, Kitty Rex would often make it clear that he would like to have a little look outside, from the back doorstep.

But just in case Kitty Rex would prefer to be an indoor cat, when the porch project was underway last December I asked the carpenter to make slightly wider-than-usual windowsills.
"How wide?" he asked.

This wide.

Although I would have been perfectly content if Kitty Rex had decided to spend all his days snoozing and relaxing, he chose to adopt a "work hard/nap hard" approach to life. And it was on one of his earliest visits to the barnyard that Kitty Rex revealed his name.

I was working in the barn paddock when all the goats suddenly froze, staring at one point near the house. I looked up quickly, expecting to see a moose, a fox, a coyote....

What I saw was a little orange cat, walking along, paying no attention to the goats whatsoever. My goats have seen cats before, without this "Predator Alert! It's a Lion!" response. It was very surprising. I said, "My word, Kitty, you seem to be the new King who rules Goat World! You must be Kitty Rex!"

Kitty Rex began to accompany me on morning and evening chores, every day. He directed the garden preparation in Spring and the planting and weeding in Summer. He supervised every one of my carpentry projects and the recent installation of the new hay feeders. And he always, always kept the daily barn chores from becoming tedious. This is a big job, this chore-tedium-prevention, and it takes a big character to do it.

Although he usually stayed in the house unless I was outside, Kitty Rex had his own little door providing access during daylight hours to the fenced area (there's a reason my perimeter fence has always been 6 feet high and 2x4" mesh). I would occasionally catch a flash of golden-red through a window, and know that Kitty Rex had decided to enjoy a bit of fresh air. I'd sometimes see him stretching up to sharpen his claws on a tree trunk or heading purposefully for a certain spot near a pile of stones where a mouse or chipmunk might recklessly appear.

Soon afterward I would hear the sound of the cat door opening as Kitty Rex returned, for a snack and a beverage and perhaps a nap. He selected napping and observation spots in every room, and sometimes accepted my efforts to make them more comfortable. Because although he gained a little weight over time, Kitty Rex was still an older kitty with very little padding.

But even if he was sound asleep when I headed outside for my usual routines, it was very rare - I'm not sure it ever happened - that Kitty Rex did not appear while I was in the paddocks or barns.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter - rain or shine - anytime I was out doing chores I could look up from the wheelbarrow or the water buckets and say, "Where's Kitty Rex?" and in a moment see those fox ears rise up from amongst the summer ferns, or spot a silhouette quietly observing from a nearby vantage point as the moon rose on a Winter evening. And when chores were done, I would say, "Shall we go in?" And sometimes in wet or cold weather Kitty Rex would allow me to pick him up and warm his cold feet in my hand on the way to the house, but mostly he would become impatient with even this brief coddling, and would insist on being back on the ground - or the snow, or the ice - leading the way.


In November and December, after a sudden series of visits to veterinarians and specialists, we began a daily program of at-home medication which made possible a comfortable and active life for several weeks.

And on 6 January 2016, a gentle, caring veterinarian eased Kitty Rex's passing while I held that orange head in my hands, and thanked Kitty Rex for choosing to share every day of chores, every day of working in the gardens. Every day of a perfect year.

I have taken hundreds of photographs of Kitty Rex, but I always felt that he was a self-contained and private creature, very interested in the photographic process, but not at all interested in being the photographic subject. I rarely felt that one of my images represented the true Kitty Rex. I believe this may be my most successful portrait:


Since Wednesday, I have pondered whether it would feel right to share these images and write about Kitty Rex. Here's why, this morning, I decided to do it:

If even one of my readers is ever thinking about adopting a cat or cats - and if Kitty Rex had made a friend at the shelter I absolutely would have adopted them both together - I would like to gently suggest that you consider not just the kittens and youngsters, but also the older cats. They may have a shorter time to share your world, but what a world of joy they can bring in the time they share.

Fare you well, Kitty Rex.