Turkey Tracks: Mid-July

Turkey Tracks:  July 16, 2010

I’m not sure where the past month has gone.  We are in full summer in Camden, Maine, so we are outdoors a lot.  And, the grandchildren came in early July (almost 7, 5 1/2, almost 4 and almost 3), so we are preoccupied with spending time with them.  They arrived just as our first strawberry patch ever was closing down, and they picked out the rest over the next few days.

Our strawberries are “Sparkles.”  John had some years back announced that he didn’t like strawberries and wasn’t eating any more.  Home grown, heritage strawberries turned him around, and he couldn’t get enough of them.  These berries bear no resemblance to commercial strawberries that are the size of golf balls and are sour and which are coated with up to 8 or 9 heinous chemical mixtures.  Sparkles fill your mouth with the taste of warm sunshine and sweetness.  I was able to freeze a fair amount of them, and we have been making ice cream with them.  If you have a food processor, it’s dead easy.

Food Processor Ice Cream:

Put several cups of real heavy cream (if you can’t get it, don’t waste your time or waistline eating the pasteurized stuff as it has no vitamins or enzymes in it, only empty calories) or plain yogurt or keifer (hopefully made from real milk) into the bowl of a food processor.  Add something sweet to taste–honey or maple syrup.  If you use stevia, make sure you aren’t using one with rice maltodextrin as that stuff is bad for you and nasty tasting–it’s a fake chemical food.  Add at least 1 Tablespoon of Arrowroot (buy it in bulk; it’s way cheaper)–it’s what makes the mixture smooth.  Turn on the processor, pour in at least 3-4 cups FROZEN fruit, and voila!  Lovely, soft ice cream.  If you have leftovers, add a Tablespoon of some liquor to keep it soft.  We never have leftovers…

Raspberries are coming in now, and mine are going to produce enough for all of us to eat and share.  We’ll probably go to a local organic farm to pick raspberries to freeze for winter.  There’s a pie I want to try as well, from one of Ruth Reichl’s memoirs.  (If you have not read the three memoirs and love food and cooking, you may want to read them:  Tender At The Bone, Comfort Me With Apples,  and Garlic and Sapphires.)  

Blueberries are around the corner.  I’ve ordered 15 pounds of organic berries to freeze for winter smoothies and cobblers.  Commercial blueberries, even the heralded small “wild” berries of Maine, which are by far the tastiest, are sprayed with an array of chemicals–some of which get into the local water and kill the fish and amphibians.  Some kill birds, bees, butterflies, etc.  If they kill those living things, they can kill you!  Or, make you really sick.  In fact, blueberries made the Environmental Working Group’s list of foods to avoid this year at position No. 5.

Here’s what the garden looks like now, with Bowen (almost 7) in front:

The plant on the right with yellow blooms is Beedy Parker Kale.  That’s garlic on the left, with celery and radish in front.  The potatoes are coming up well to the right of Bowen’s shoulder.  We’ve picked peas until we’re tired of them.  Beans are coming on strong.   That’s a yellow squash up front.  And, we’ve got broccoli to cut in the middle of the garden.

Here’s the dreaded zucchini, with lush tomatoes in front of the day lilies and raspberries fringing the yard:

 

 We have 14 winter squash and pumpkin hills in the meadow and Brussel Sprouts, cabbage, and more broccoli along the driveway. 

The chicken report is a bit different.  Our broody hen has given up trying to sit on eggs, though I suspect one of the Wheatens is starting to get the urge.  Here’s a picture of the chicks Rose Thomas incubated in June:

These chicks are Americana/Wheaten and Maran.  None of the Marans made it. 

Here’s a picture of the six Guinea hens she also incubated:

Guinea hens take 26 days to hatch.  Chickens take 21.  So, Rose was quite proud of these babies.  She also had a hen sitting on eggs in the middle of the chicken pasture.  That hen will stay there 26 days, with the male close by.  Guineas lay eggs communally, but only one hen will sit the eggs.  I wonder if something like that goes on with chickens as our broody hen gathered all the eggs underneath herself out of our two boxes, and the other hens seemed to be cooperating. 

I started over 20 eggs timed to hatch July 14th.  One caught me by surprise on the 12th and tried to hatch in the egg turner with the humidity too low.  It didn’t make it out of the shell.  One hatched.  The rest are dormant.  We will open them later today to see what the story is.  Were they unfertilized?  Did something go wrong? 

The Marans are proving hard to hatch…  But, the one chick we have, named Orphan Annie, seems to be thriving.  Rose thinks her Maran, who recently hatched a brood, might take her.  But, she is rapidly becoming a pet…

So, everything is growing well:  veggies, fruits, chickens, and grandchildren.

Turkey Tracks: Book Club, Lane Cake

April 9, 2010

Book Club, Lane Cake

Yesterday our Book Club met to discuss A. S. Byatt’s THE CHILDREN’S BOOK–a dense, amazing, informative, complicated, wonderful novel.  In may ways, this novel is as much history as it is fiction.  Set in Britain, Germany, and France, but primarily in Britain, in the years before World War I erupts, the novel explores so many themes we got dizzy trying to identify all of them.  Certainly class conflict, art, artisans, theater, puppets, philosophical and political groups, gender issues, connections to nature and the loss thereof, the power of national groups when war looms, the power of geography to form culture, the production of fairy tales in this era by many authors, and on and on. 

Byatt sees this period as a Silver Age that degenerates into a Lead Age with the war and its aftermath.  The Golden Age preceding the Silver Age has already passed.  It’s clear that she sees that the fermentation of politics and culture change drastically with the war.  All the energy, especially the energy of young people across Europe, pours into nationalism.  The result is that cultural changes that could have taken place in lieu of war don’t.  It’s not so much that the slate is wiped clean, but that all the energy for change is dissipated for those who survive the war. 

In this way, the characters in the novel are not unlike the puppet theaters Byatt reproduces throughout the novel.  We perform inside scripts created by forces that drive us, and while mankind created those forces, we have lost touch with how they do drive us.   Plus, we have lost touch with nature, which is a primary ingredient of the Golden Age.  Thus, the descent into an Age of Lead begins.  And, I think, Byatt is saying that, by extension, that is how we have arrived where we are now, where more than ever before, the hidden scripts of economics drives us, where we are detached from nature, and where we are at a crossroads where life will change drastically in some direction. 

The Lane Cake

My grandmother used to bake two cakes around the winter holidays:  a Lane Cake and a Japanese Fruit Cake.  The Lane Cake was always my favorite.  It was a minimum of three layers, filled with a raisin, coconut, pecan, wine or whiskey filling, and iced with a cooked white icing. 

I’ve never been a good cake baker.   Maybe I avoided them since they are exacting, and I’m more of a handful of this and a pinch of that kind of cook.  And, since my 30’s, I’ve struggled with weight issues, so baking didn’t seem a good idea.   Anyway, baking some of Julia Child’s cakes this winter made me see they are full of eggs and butter and not a lot of sugar.  Making those cakes gave me a bit of courage.  So, I thought to try the Lane Cake recipe of my grandmother’s, especially since I have all the fresh eggs now from the chickens.  I figured I could bake it for the Book Club meeting since it is way too special to have for everyday use.

You must start it three days ahead, as it needs to season with the filling.  It called for “pastry” flour, which I had my doubts about.  I think that term might not have translated across time and space.  But, against my better judgment, I used it anyway.  The layers rose amazingly tall.  It may be ok, I thought.  The filling was tedious, but easy, and tasted divine.  I filled the cake and left it to sit for three days.  On the day of the book club, I iced it, and that went fine as well.

But, the cake layers were not light and wonderful, but heavy and coarse.  So, next time, I’ll use cake flour.  I’m sure it will be quite wonderful then. 

I researched the recipe, which is very old.  Here’s some history from a web site on food history:  http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcakes.html#lane

            “The Lane cake, one of Alabama’s more famous culinary specialties, was created by Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Barbour County. It is a type of white sponge cake made with egg whites and consists of four layers that are filled with a mixture of the egg yolks, butter, sugar, raisins, and whiskey. The cake is frosted with a boiled, fluffy white confection of water, sugar, and whipped egg whites. The cake is typically served in the South at birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and other special occasions. The recipe was first printed in Lane’s cookbook Some Good Things to Eat, which she self-published in 1898. According to chef and culinary scholar Neil Ravenna, Lane first brought her cake recipe to public attention at a county fair in Columbus, Georgia, when she entered her cake in a baking competition there and took first prize. She originally named the cake the Prize cake, but an acquaintance convinced her to lend her own name to the dessert.”

Here is my cake:

And, here is a recipe I think will work:

Cake:

Preheat oven to 375

8 egg whites, stiffly beaten; 1 cup of butter (two sticks); 2 cups sugar; 1 cup sweet milk; 3 1/2 cups CAKE FLOUR; 2 teaspoons baking powder; pinch of salt for egg whites; 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Sift flour and baking powder 4 or 5 times.  The more the flour is sifted, the lighter the cake.  Cream butter and sugar together until foamy.  (Sift sugar for a lighter cake.)  Add flour and milk alternately to butter/sugar mixture.  Begin and end with adding flour.  Add vanilla.  Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.  Bake in four 8-inch cake pans that have been greased with butter and floured.  Or, three larger cake pans.  Bake at 375 for 30 to 35 minutes.  Keep a sharp eye, as doneness depends upon the size of the pans.  Allow cake to sit in pans for a few minutes, then turn them out onto wire racks to THOROUGHLY COOL.

Filling:

8 egg yolks; 2 cups sugar; 1/2 cup butter (1 stick); 1 cup raisins chopped; 1 cup fresh coconut or good quality freeze dried; 1 cup chopped pecans (soak these first in salted water and dry in the oven or a dehydrator to remove the phytates); pinch salt, 1 cup brandy or 3/4 cup wine or 1/2 cup whiskey; 1 teaspoon vanilla.  (I added grated lemon peel and that was nice–1 or 2 tsps.)

Beat egg yolks until lemon colored.  Add sugar, salt, and continue beating until mixture is light.  Melt butter in top of a double boiler and add egg-sugar mixture; stir constantly until thickens (up to 20 minutes).  Add other ingredients.  Let cool, spread between cake layers.  Let cake sit for up to 3 days before icing.

White Icing:

4 egg whites, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/4 cup water, 1 tsp. cream of tartar, pinch of salt, 1 tsp. vanilla.

Put everything BUT the vanilla into a double boiler and cook for about 5 minutes, beating with a hand electric mixer.  Remove from heat when mixture forms good peaks and is shiny.  Add vanilla.  Continue beating until spreading consistency is good. 

Make it for a special event and ENJOY!!!!

 

Turkey Tracks: Duck Eggs

April 7, 2010

Duck Eggs

One of the seasonal pleasures in Maine is the appearance of duck eggs in our local markets in the spring.  My friend Rose has a spectacular black Muscovy male duck.    Rose and her husband Peter made a little retention pond for their ducks by diverting some of a local stream, gave them a dog-house sized house, and fenced in the area. 

Two years ago a sudden fall freeze froze the pond during the night.  The ducks were not locked into their house since they could escape predators by going into the pond.  A predator killed the female, and the male fought all night long.   When Rose and Peter found him the next morning, his wing was injured, and he was, understandably, very upset. 

He spent that winter in the chicken house, which was not at all to his liking.  Peter took pity on him from time to time and filled a basin with water so he could bathe.   But, in the spring, one of Rose’s many friends found a white female for him, and they raised a lot of babies that year.  I want to say 12 to 14.  I’ll have to ask Rose to jog my memory, but I was getting eggs from Rose one day just after the female duck first brought her babies out into the world. 

This spring, there are two females, and Rose has generously shared some of their eggs with John and me.  A duck egg is larger than a chicken egg, and it has a very tough shell to crack.   The insides are much thicker than a chicken egg, much more viscous.

Rose says duck eggs make the most heavenly pasta.  I used our eggs for cheese omelets, which are large and very fluffy.  These days I hardly ever go shopping for special recipes.  Rather, I take what I have and make something out of it.

Duck Egg Omelets

For each omelet, crack open one duck egg and scramble it with a fork.

Add some whole raw milk, real salt (celtic sea salt or local grey colored damp salt), pepper, and whatever herbs or leftover greens you might have on hand.  I was growing some onion sets in a Mason jar on my kitchen window sill (thanks to Colin Beaven’s web site–No Impact Man–http://noimpactman.typepad.com), so I snipped some of those into the egg mixture.  (It was too early to have herbs outside my kitchen door.)

Melt some good butter (made from raw cream if you can get it) into an omelet pan, and when it has stopped foaming, pour in the egg mixture.  Lower heat.  Lift the edges and let the raw egg run under the mixture.  When the omelet is mostly set, add a handful of grated, raw milk cheddar cheese and fold the omelet in half.  Let it sit in the pan on low heat until the cheese melts.

Enjoy!!