A Feast for the Senses on an Urban Homestead

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I put the kettle on. I am oddly consoled flipping the switch to turn on the fireplace. The sound of the dryer after nine years naught reverberates softly. I sip tea and watch the moon drift silently away above the rose hued mountain top in the early morning dawn. What shall I do now in my third floor apartment looking over the city blocks and the glorious mountain range? There are no chickens to tend to. No young lambs following on my skirts. No goats in need of milking. No ducks swimming in their icy pond. What shall we do?

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I positively glow at the sight of my kitchen. It is a beautiful, large expanse of creative space waiting for dinner parties and garnishes. For finishing touches of truffle salt and a sip of local Cabernet. It calls for melting butter and the smell of homemade bread. It speaks of decades of cookbooks and articles, of sustenance and my internal need to cook. Nay, create. Cooking is meatloaf every Tuesday. I have never made the same thing twice. I can be the entranced chef I long to be and still be in bed by nine.

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There are community gardens close by. My bicycle and basket yet to be purchased await and I can already feel the breeze against my warmed cheek as the summer sun heats the pavement as I whir past the buildings. Fresh produce overflows my carrier. I am planning a traditional Cherokee garden complete with language. Sacred sunflowers, the three sisters….more. Agaliha. Selu. Watsigu.

What shall we do here in our third floor apartment? Let’s cook. Let’s be chefs and farmers, shall we? Let’s preserve. Let’s not just can corn; let’s make relishes and marmalades and chutneys and more. Let’s create.

What’s that old saying? I think I have quoted it a time or two, Grow Where Planted!

Music Returns to the Homestead

I received something for my birthday today that I have wanted for some time.. music.

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When we downsized to this little homestead I sold the piano, the violin, and the mandolin.  Andy took his electric guitar, his acoustic guitar, his banjo, and the harmonica.  It was terrible.

Now, mind you, I probably would not have set down to play the piano since we moved in, nor would I have had it tuned.  The violin hurt my shoulder, and Doug was never really into the mandolin.  The children moved out and took their music with them leaving our home very quiet indeed.

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I am not a natural musician like my Andy.  He was playing seven instruments and writing songs when he was very young with very few lessons.  I played the piano for twenty years and if any time lapsed at all I wouldn’t be able to play a single song by memory.  At the end of a year of violin lessons I played at the Celtic Festival.  Not very well, but good enough!  The violin and the piano are really loud when one is learning and making mistakes and I am afraid I was too concerned over the neighborhood hearing my screeching and pounding practices.  Oh, my poor husband.  Yes, I did not need any instruments.  Until they were gone.

I took my mother’s guitar to seventh grade to take some guitar lessons.  I took my son’s guitar to college for that semester of lessons.  But then I gave the guitars back.  Maryjane and I have been watching a lot of Sound of Music.  She demands to watch it every day.  It occurred to me that I could play the guitar.  I have ten acres plus hundreds more of listening birds and frogs.  The strings are quieter.  I could have music.  I would learn this time!  I could get a book and it should all come back to me.  I could be the opener for the band I hired to play at the farm after the Homesteading Boot Camp!  I could play at our Pumpkin Festival!

But alas, we are on a tight farm budget.  There is no extra for guitars.

My husband, Doug, has been saving money without my knowing.  And this morning I woke to this beautiful guitar.

Music has returned.

Bocce (a new way to play!)

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Bocce is typically played on a court measuring roughly ninety by thirteen feet.  The one I learned on was much smaller than this but the court really doesn’t matter, it turns out.

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Images of Italian men with grappa playing after dinner fill my mind.  They are portrayed with color and prose in many of the books I read.  I learned from an older Italian man one summer in the mountains.

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I never had a court so I always played out in the yard, where hills and trees and paths made the game more interesting.  At a family reunion one year my grandma played and was a beast at this game.  Through the woods, across a trampoline, my demure grandmother hooped and hollered and was extremely competitive.

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Our new landscape made for a fine new field for us to play on.  The teams are set (and often changed as we go) and each team has their designated balls.  There are four pairs of different balls, two sets are the same color.  We split into two teams.  The first person throws the smaller ball, called the Jack, and he/she goes first.  The object of the game is to get your team balls closest to the jack.  You can knock a closer ball away or simply surround the jack but this is all much easier said than done as a patch of leaves, a rolling hill, or a fence post may divert your professional aim.

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If one team has two of the closest balls than they get two points.  If they only get one closest than they get one point.  Make up a number to play to.  We played to six then switched around the teams.  I do not recall the exact rules from that summer twenty years ago but it doesn’t really matter.  The rules come with the game.  The main object is to have fun!

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This game is every bit as fun with two people as it is with eight. We found an old bocce set at a garage sale but they are available at sports stores.  We got one for Doug’s dad at Dick’s Sporting Goods one year.

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Now, get outside and have some fun!

The Entertaining Farmgirl-Christmas Time

I used to be known for my Christmas party.  I had one every year.  Hundreds of dollars spent on food.  Friends from all facets of our life were invited.  Each year I spent so much time in the kitchen, serving, cleaning up, trying to talk to everyone, that I actually didn’t get to spend any time with my friends.  I was more of the roaming, stressed hostess.  The last time we had a party, I hired someone to come do the dishes and help serve.  I had more time to talk to a few friends  before I noticed that all the food was gone and some of the guests were so drunk and obnoxious that they started offending and scaring off the other guests.  We needed to change something.  (Not the friends, I love those goofy guys.)

The only good thing about those parties was my ice breaker.  People talked about it and looked forward to it all year.  I split the guests into groups of unaffiliated couples.  They were given a sheet of paper with all of our animals’ names on it and told to tell what movie each name came from.  Back then we only had eight cats and one or two dogs.  It would be a hoot to do it now with sixteen chickens, two goats, two alpacas, along with eight cats, and two dogs!

We decided to have individual dinners with each group of friends.  I could be more present and really enjoy my friends.  We often go to a restaurant with Monte and Erik to exchange presents and celebrate our friendship and the year.  Toast the year ahead.  We’ll meet Margie and her family tonight at the wine bar.  Rodney, Pat, Kat, Rod, and Mark will come over Christmas night.  Last night we hosted Nancy and her crew.  Farmgirls reunited.  We made it through a treacherous summer of farmer’s markets.  Didn’t kill each other and came out stronger.  I was delighted to have her and her husband, daughter and boyfriend, and Nancy’s nephew who was home on leave from the Marines over for dinner.  My girls were here, the twinkly lights, candle lights, and oil lamp seems to shine brighter and sweeter with friends over.

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Here are some tips for putting together a seamless holiday dinner.  Everything is done in advance.  Don’t choose a day you work or will be running around to host ten people for dinner.

1. Clean the house during the day or the day before.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Candlelight and friends are forgiving.

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2. Set the table hours in advance.  Shoo cats off the table for the rest of the day.

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3. Prepare coffee pot and place after dinner cups on a tray.

4. Choose the menu a good week before and make sure you have the ingredients for it.  Let friends bring things.  They truly don’t mind (after all, their house is staying clean!).  Drinks, or an appetizer, or dessert could be taken care of if you only ask.

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5. Get creative with table settings.  I used an old lace curtain, topped with a round lace tablecloth, topped with a large, vintage doily.  Candles along the table.  Mix matched Christmas china…..let’s stop there.  I know that it is tempting to use Christmas paper plates but it is so much prettier and makes people feel special if you go all out with presentation.  I had everyone wash just their plate and I have considerably less dishes to do this morning.  Or Doug does anyway.  A canning jar acted as a water cup with a wine glass next to it.  Instead of cloth napkins, I threw in a bit of humor with cocktail napkins with funny sayings.  People started laughing immediately upon arrival as soon as they saw them.

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6. Back to the meal.  I always choose something like soup or pasta that can be made and sit in a pot on warm in the oven until ready to serve.  No more cooking while folks are over.  I made goulash last night in a cast iron pot and placed it in the oven.  A jar of sauerkraut, a jar of apple and pear sauces, and Nancy’s crisp salad rounded out the meal.  (It sure is nice having a full root cellar of canned food.  It is like having a grocery store in the basement.)

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7. Open up the wine and have a glass.  ‘Tis the time of year to celebrate!

Let’s see how you fare on the ice breaker.  Reply with your answers.  They are characters from a movie, play, or commercial.

Bumble-

Windsor Wizzer-

Snuggles Sheer Khan-

Ichabod Crane-

Zuzu’s Petals

Frankie and Louie (from a commercial)-

Clara Belle-

Mr. Boogedy Boo (Boo boo)-

Eliza Doolittle-

The Cozy Farmhouse

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This time of year we are anxiously trying to finish all of our farm chores before winter sets in.  Yesterday we pulled up corn stalks that may as well have been aspen trees.  The tomato plants had grown roots equally as long and did not want to budge either.  We are both a little sore today!  I planted 115 cloves of garlic and 60 bulbs of daffodils and tulips.  We cleared the dead pumpkin vines and will mow the lawn, add compost to overwinter on the beds, and then cover them with straw.  Then we will repeat in the side garden with all the raised beds.  All before we head out on vacation next Friday!

This time of year is our New Year’s.  The season ending.  Food stored away, markets and shows on their final countdown (5), and holidays around the corner.  I have nearly caught up on housework that I was behind on all summer.  Despite the beds that need to be tended, we are slowing down.  We can sleep in a little.  I like to rise with the sun, not beat it by an hour!  We put the chickens up earlier and settle into our chairs at night earlier as the dusk creates a sense of lateness and stillness.  The oil lamps and candles are lit earlier which signals our bodies to slow down and relax.

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Winter is coming and the house feels snug and warm.  We’ll be spending more time here so creating a house that is filled with comfort is my goal as a farm housewife.  I love the feel of a reading nook, a writing corner, a place that positively calls you over to snuggle into the warm blanket provided, with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book.

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I dislike overhead lighting and prefer twinkly lights, candles, and oil lamps.  This creates such a sweet ambience. It makes the space feel enchanted, magical.  Warm fleece, furry, or quilted blankets are thrown across every chair and in the corners of the couch.  There is always a cat within reach to cuddle.  Candles and piles of books cover the coffee table with just room for a cup of strong coffee.  Oil lamps can be moved from side table to side table to create more light for reading.

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Paper and pens, or art supplies could be put out to inspire creativity, magazines laid out for seasonal reading, cookbooks, and library books within easy reach.

Our house is small and with the addition of the furniture from our closed shop, it may appear to be overcrowded, but it is actually just lovely.  Lots of seating provides easy entertaining, comfy places for friends to sit with a glass of wine and hors d’oeurvres strewn across the table.  Laughter fills the candle lit air.

We’ll be celebrating the stillness of winter from our dreaming…writing…drinking…entertaining…relaxing…book reading cozy farmhouse nook.

The Entertaining Farmgirl’s Summer Party

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Ever the Entertaining Farmgirl I must host shin digs.  It is my inner Martha Stewart.  Our summer party is my favorite.  Our friends are like dear family to us and to have everyone together is a blessing and a cause for celebration.  We can stretch out when we have the party outdoors instead of crammed in the old farmhouse in the winter for dinner parties.

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The weather started blustery, and rainy.  Small chips of hail hit us from the side as we tried to figure out how to fit twenty people in the living room if the weather did not let up.  An hour later, the temperature was perfect, the air fresh, and the sweetest party weather ensued.

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We set up our farmers market tents in case the rain joined us later.  The table was decorated simply with Santa Fe blankets and oil lamps.  Twinkly lights strung across the yard (I thought ahead last year after Christmas) made the scene enchanting.

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Our friend, Rodney, has a great system for music and karaoke and we are lucky enough to use his expertise and sound system for events at the farm.  Joyous singing, from serious and astounding vocal performances (like Dave’s rendition of New York, New York.  He was this close to making it on X Factor, the television show.), to the group performance and rousing remake of Bohemian Rhapsody.

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The goats were a big hit and they did their best to show their most fantastic antics.  Our little friend, Lucy, sure enjoyed the animals.

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We set up the party after having our booth all day at the street fair.  After three long days of farmers markets.  The house was not spotless.  We premade baked salmon with tropical barbeque sauce (fire ban here) and served it cold.  I set a pot of baked beans to cook itself in the crock pot early that morning (2 cups of pinto beans, 5 cups of water, 1/2 bottle of barbeque sauce, a couple good shakes of liquid smoke, a dollop of Worcestershire, five swirls of molasses, and at the end a few teaspoons of salt.)  In bean fashion, they weren’t quite done, but no one complained.  Everyone brought a summery dish.  Deviled eggs, bean salad, chips, fresh garden salad, pasta salad….the spread was mouthwatering.  Friends don’t mind making it a pot luck.  If almost everyone brings something, you will have enough food.  Lots of wine and beer were enjoyed plus a little spiked lemonade courtesy of Pat and Rodney.

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The conversation was great, the sunset was breathtaking, the music was hoppin, the food and drink were refreshing, and the summer party was a great way to take a breather from all the work required in the summer and enjoy the season.  Get some folks together for an impromptu pot luck.  Enjoy summer!

Farmgirl Cocktail

Everywhere I look, people are presently changing jobs, or moving (or trying to), ending relationships, or having babies, or other really big life changes.  It’s like the earth shifted some and our realities and plans with it!  What everyone seems to have in common though is that we are all working really hard and pinching pennies!  I am exhausted just thinking about all of the farmer’s markets, shows, last few months of running the shop, preserving enough food to get us through the winter, saving enough money to get us through the winter, and keeping up with regular farmgirl chores.  I could use a cocktail.  But I can’t be running around to wine bars with my friends anymore.  Time to settle in.  Invite some folks over and sit on the back deck and take a break!  And pull out my friend Rodney’s easy margarita recipe.
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Rodney’s Excellent Easy Margarita

1 tube of limeade frozen concentrate

Stick in fridge until it is about half thawed then pour contents into blender.

Fill tube twice with water and pour in, once with tequila and pour in then fill tube 1/3 with triple sec.  Blend, serve, mmmm……

(Now mind you, Rodney makes these a tad stronger but this is my variation so that I do not get too tipsy.  Not pretty.)

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Combine plain goat cheese with chopped green chilies and serve with crackers or chips.  Chop up tomatoes, cilantro, onion, and garlic for easy salsa.  Take one container of sour cream and add tons of garlic powder, onion powder, nutritional yeast, taco seasoning, anything really, and blend well for a fantastic easy dip.  Fresh fruit or grilled corn are easy accompaniments.  Enjoy your summer and friends!

Spring Entertaining (farmgirl style)

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Springtime entertaining.  Nice enough to start up the grill but still a mite chilly to eat outdoors.  So, set the table with spring colors and liveliness!  Mix matched china dishes in spring flavor, a bird cage with aspen wrapped candles, a pretty rose tablecloth underneath the lady bug vinyl cloth.  Candles scattered across the table.  Cloth napkins, mix matched silverware.  We started the meal (and finished it) with Mimosas.  I had a bottle of Champaign from my wine club and a jug of orange juice.  The bright taste was perfect with the food.

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The grill master went out to start the BBQ.  The charcoal briquettes were from last fall so they were less than effective.  Doug threw on some pieces of cedar, pine needles, and lit the thing on fire.  The smell was mountain-like, camp fires, the sweet smell of cedar permeating the air.  When it was hot, he added the briquettes.  He had prepared the most lovely piece of salmon.  He had slathered it in my homemade barbecue sauce which is kind of on the sweet side, adding his own touches of soy sauce, Worcestershire, and honey.  He placed it on the grill after wrapping them in foil, checking it regularly.  Eventually Nancy went to check on it and the flames lapping the sides of the food prompted us to bring it in.  It was perfect, sweet, succulent.

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Nancy, Faleena, and Steve joined us for a spring dinner.  They brought a little chick feeder filled with pastel colored M&Ms.  Such a clever hostess gift!  I would like to say I had a few, but all of our children were there as well.  The candy went pretty fast!

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I made two foil packets (I used Martha Wrap (as in Martha Stewart).  If you haven’t seen this marvel look for it at the store.  It is lined with parchment.  Inside parchment paper, outside foil, no aluminum in one’s food!)  I filled them with fingerling potatoes, half a bottle of Guinness (to Doug’s horror), sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary, garlic.  sprinkled it with salt and pepper and wrapped up the whole thing and placed it on the grill.  (Note: the potatoes take an hour on the grill, plan accordingly!)  These are what we call Beer Potatoes and they are delicious!

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I snapped the ends off of a bunch of asparagus and lined them up on a cookie sheet.  A drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of sea salt is all it takes.  At the last minute they go into a 450 degree oven for 5 minutes.

These can all be made ahead of time then placed on the grill or oven in appropriate time leaving plenty of time to drink Mimosas.  A quick salad adds to the meal.  Sparkling sodas for the kids in wine glasses.

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We finished the meal with a delicious light cake topped with strawberries and fresh whipped cream that Nancy had made.  A pot of french roast.

Cooking shouldn’t be such an intense science.  Look at what herbs you have, what spices.  What is in the root cellar, what is in the freezer?  Check for doneness.  Your nose is the best timer.  Most of all, enjoy your company, your friends, the conversation, the laughs, the Mimosas!

Ma and Pa’s Mountain Music Spectacular!

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“Oh play me that mountain music….like Grandma and Grandpa used to play…” I love that song.  Alabama can sure put a hop in your step!  I am sure their fiddle player started playing fiddle before the age of thirty-eight!  But it is never too late to pick up an instrument.  “I have zero musical talent,” I hear from other people.  No excuse!  Musical abilities are variable but everyone has the music in them and can play instruments.  I have been taking violin…ahem…fiddle lessons for seven months now.  It is so much fun.  My teacher is a saint.  Perhaps he wears ear plugs.  My first few months sounded like the stereotypical small child practicing.  Screech, screech, screech, screech went the bow on the strings.  Dancing not, tripping yes.  My turning point was in September when I begged for Christmas music.  Neil is trying to teach me proper Celtic fiddle, but you know, once we pass August all my thoughts are on Christmas!  Jingle Bells was the song that made me “get it”.  Still screechy but producing genuine sound, I bowed through several Christmas tunes.   The sound of the music soothing to me so long as no one was home.  Oddly enough, I can play in big crowds, or by myself, not with just a few people meandering about listening to me practice.

We are enchanted by good music.  Doug and I quizzed the children growing up, not on algebraic expressions or spelling words, but on “who sang it?”  “What play is this from?”  The kids shocked people in grocery stores shouting out Elvis, or Beach Boys, Dean Martin, Def Leopard when asked, “Who sings it?”  They were especially schooled in Frank Sinatra, Harry Connick Jr., and Doris Day.  Doug had them recognizing Chicago, Bob Dylan, and Earth Wind and Fire.

Andrew picked up his first instrument in grade school, the French horn.  Not sure why he chose it, but he learned to read basic music, did a few performances, and enjoyed it.  Then his mind turned to something else, a guitar.  Doug and I found a music shop that had set up at the mall just for Christmas and Christmas morning Andrew received his wish, a pink guitar.  Yes, our son wanted a pink guitar.  Secure early on, that was his favorite color!  He played and played and taught himself how to master the guitar.  Then he wanted a banjo.  He taught himself the banjo and would walk around the neighborhood playing for public works employees and park goers.  He was about fifteen at the time.  Pirate earring, dreadlocks, a desire to open a coffee and cigar bar in St. Thomas and homeschooled.  That child had all day to wander the neighborhood bringing smiles to everyone’s faces.  He taught himself how to play seven instruments.

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I am not so lucky!  I started playing the piano at eight years old.  My mother was my teacher and a great one at that.  I took piano in high school.  I took it in college.  Do you think I could sit down and play you a song?  Heck no.  Use it or lose it and my memorization skills seem to be lacking these days!  Doug has to work at it too.  To his utmost dismay, when he got his mandolin for Christmas, I think he half expected to be like Andrew and just start playing!  After three lessons he gave it up for a while.  I love the sound of the tremolo the mandolin makes.  The music from the mandolin, advanced or not, brings me such great happiness.  Doug has been inspired by my fiddle lessons and has recently picked up the mandolin again.  Perhaps we will go on the road.  A Ma and Pa Spectacular!  Or we’ll just play in our living room for brave friends.  We could charge admission.

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Our house was always filled with music.  Emily played the violin and the ukulele.  Shyanne, not interested in instruments, had her own instrument, her voice.  She sings like an angel.  At ten years old she was belting out tunes most adults couldn’t touch in karaoke bars across the city.  All three kids could sing so wonderfully.  We would take them to bars, yes, to let them sing.  Doug said it was homeschooling.  Music and Social Problems.  It was a great time.  I miss it.  This transition time has been rough on me as a mom.  I did not expect the kids to grow up.  My teen mommy stays with her boyfriend most of the time because he is allergic to cats and nine of them (who love him and want to sit on his face) are a bit much.  They want to get married.  Shyanne, who is 99.9% of the time with her boyfriend, working, or at school will be eighteen this year.  Andrew, ever present at dinner each night, will probably tire of his mom and dad soon enough.  He is saving up to get out of town and move back to Denver.  The music seemed to me to be dying.  I have been crying up a storm trying to get used to it.  I know nothing other than being a mom.  Since I was eighteen years old, my whole world has been my children and I do not know who I am as a person anymore.  So, the new stage in our life is this:  Who is Doug and Katie?  Who are we if we are not parents of small children?  How do you fill an empty house?

Well, to start with, we are going to fill it with mountain music.  Fiddles, and guitars, voices raised in song, friends that want to play as well.  Mandolins and tambourines.  Life is short, fill it with music!  (And for heaven’s sake, go buy an instrument and start playing!)

Farmgirl Dinner Party (with homemade pasta)

I am looking forward to more alfresco meals.  To show you pictures of meals taken next to the lilac bushes in bloom, with votives in canning jars, and flowers gracing the table but until then, we are still indoors!  It is cozy indoors and the cold is certainly keeping us in.  Nothing warms the soul quite like laughter, wine, and friends around the table.

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The china shown was Doug’s Great-grandma’s.  Probably over a hundred years old.  I ought to be seeing what it is worth instead of setting the table with it but isn’t that the point of nice things, to use them?  If they break, then they are but a memory but a better testament to their use than placed in the attic.  Great Grandma would be pleased that we are using her china and it would be interesting to see what she had to say if she were at the table today.

Before guests arrive I always light every candle in the house and every oil lamp.  No overhead lighting.  Sure, it’s dim, but luxuriously calming and beautiful.  A bit of jazz or classical music will be put on and guests will arrive to an open bottle of wine and instant serenity.  I will have out and ready a plate of cheese and crackers and an assortment of olives.  I particularly like the ones stuffed with garlic! I don’t wait too long to serve dinner, maybe only twenty minutes but a snack and a drink calm the senses and make one feel welcome.

I raided the root cellar for ingredients for this meal. It takes awhile but it is very easy to prepare.  You could just stop at the pasta and add homemade sauce instead of the squash/apple one that I made up.  But if you have produce or veggies in the freezer or root cellar that need using up, this is a great recipe, both savory and sweet in each bite.

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Homemade Pasta

First make the pasta so that it can sit in the fridge for an hour or so.

1 cup of wheat flour and 1 cup of white flour

5 eggs

1 T of olive oil

1/2 t salt

Combine all ingredients making a nice dough.  Wrap and place in fridge.

When you are ready for it, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch and use a pizza cutter to slice into 1/4 inch x 5 inch pieces

Boil for about 6 minutes.

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Sweet and Savory Squash and Apple Pasta Sauce

2 1/2 cups of peeled, diced butternut squash

2 small apples, diced

4 T of pesto (I had walnut and basil pesto in the freezer but you could whip some up in the food processor. Just throw in a cup of basil, 1/4 cup of walnuts, and enough olive oil drizzled in to make a chunky paste)

1 1/2 cups of diced mushrooms (mine were frozen)

3 T of mushroom and sage infused olive oil or regular olive oil (there are stores that only sell olive oils. I get mine at the Olive Tap)

Saute squash and mushrooms in olive oil covered for 8 minutes

Add apples, pesto, plus 1 T maple syrup, 2 t of sage or 4 leaves chopped, 1 T porcini oil and simmer on low for 15 minutes.

Add 3/4 t salt, 1/2 t each pepper and garlic powder, 1 t onion powder, and a pinch of cayenne

Blend well and drizzle with maple syrup and salt to taste.  Pour over pasta

Pasta Topper

Spread 2 cups of walnuts on cookie sheet

Drizzle with olive oil, ancho or cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, sugar, and salt and bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

Also serve with shredded cheese.  I used Drunken Goat wine infused cheese.

Wine

A California grown Cabernet Sauvignon will stand up to this meal.  It’s richness and earthy complexity will shine with the sweet and savory sauce and thick, hearty noodles.

Enjoy your dinner party!  A good board game is always a fun way to end the evening.  See you around the Scrabble board!