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Doing the Stroll

dairy-farmwalking-to-barnThe way to the barn was a well-worn, rutted path, uphill and scenic, past acres of pasture on a Illinois Centennial Farm, now in its 5th generation of dairy farmers. As we trudged up the path, we noticed most of the herd in the distance, congregating companionably under a brilliant sky. We headed toward one of the farm buildings. This was our third stop on the McHenry County Farm Stroll.

I first heard about this free event from a University of Illinois Master Gardener publication, which caught my attention. This year, 12 private farms would be opened to the public. The properties included orchard, vineyards, dairy farms, hobby farms, and the Loyola University Retreat and Farm campus.

Tom and I marked our calendars and bookmarked the event, intrigued by all the options available, familiar with the rolling hills and farmland in McHenry County, and knowing the wide and well-informed network of the University of Illinois Extension Services and Master Gardeners, as well as the McHenry County Farm Bureau.

We knew we would not be able to see all 12 farms, so, selected 4 that we were most interested in,  mapped out a route and off we went for a Sunday stroll.

This dairy farm was our 4th stop and different from the others. We soon found ourselves observing the cows and their bairn eating in the barn, followed by a very informative mini-lecture on hay and straw, how hay is harvested and stored, the often “iffy” reliance on erratic weather in the midwest. Our docent in the hay stall was from the Farm Bureau and she was a gifted and knowledgeable speaker who had all ages of visitors engaged in her subject matter.

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One of the farmers also walked us through a typical day of milking the cows with insight into small dairy farms versus large conglomerates, how he knows the names of all of his cows, and reminding us to check out his Guernsey cows and a calf just born who were just outside the barn.

I did take a few photos of the newborn Guernsey, which did not show well. It was not yet 24 hours old, curled into a brown ball of body and big eyes. If it had some spots I would have thought it was a fawn. Mom, however, was close by, keeping her eyes on the intruders passing by.

 

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So it was on this enlightening leg of our Farm Stroll, that we wandered back down the path, rutted with decades of use. Onward we went, headed toward our car. We stopped as we departed to thank the volunteers stationed there who asked how our visit was – and we were given a choice of carton of milk.

White or chocolate?

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We chose wisely.

 

 

 

Goosebumps

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It is, officially, Autumn; and so begins the long, slow goodbye . . .

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 . . . as the days shorten and the shadows grow longer, the leaves begin their free fall and many of us in a northerly climate begin to turn our thoughts inward as we relish the harvest of the cold crops, the gourds and pumpkins, especially the pumpkins.

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img_0650Illinois is the top producer of pumpkins. Last year was a sad year for pumpkins here in the Prairie State, but, this year – ah, this year looks to be a a good one for those glorious orbs that are traditionally orange, but, appearing in other colors and shapes as well.

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We stopped at a local farm stand, The Farm, where I often visit for fresh, local vegetables as well as the flowers they grow and sell. The zinnias have been particularly spectacular this year, and this bouquet caught my eye, but, it was organic tomatoes and pickles that I was after this day. I’ll be back soon for a bouquet – and I think I will try one of these pumpkins. Goosebumps. Their unique bumps are rather wart-like and the color and name are intriguing. I’m sure one will lighten up our little corner of earth here along the Cutoff.

Avgolemeno

Meanwhile, grate the rind from the lemon into a bowl. Squeeze the naked lemon and add the juice to the rind”.  Ruth Reichl.

“My Kitchen Year”, page 97

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In between a long morning event and an early evening obligation that meant Tom and I each being on our own for dinner, I had a sudden craving for Avgolemono (Greek Lemon Soup). I had just dropped some mail off at the post office when the craving hit; that urge that is felt for something sweet or something cold or, well, for something comforting and reminiscent of one’s own history. The fact that I had taken a few moments that afternoon to indulge in a few pages of Ruth Reichl’s memoir/cookbook, “My Kitchen Year” may have been the ticket to this urge. It was the passage in which she describes snow falling her feelings after the sudden end of Gourmet Magazine, then notices a lemon on the counter – and begins making Greek Lemon Soup!

With about 30 minutes “to kill” and the realization that a small, local. La Grange restaurant, The Grapevine, was just a few blocks away, I parked the car and walked over to the restaurant, stepped up to the counter and ordered one bowl of Avgolemono soup!

The Grapevine’s Avgolemono is as close to my grandmother’s soup as I have ever eaten. It tastes like lemon, and chicken, and rice and it brings me back into her nourishing embrace. While I make, rather well, many of my Yia Yia’s meals, this soup is one I do not make, so, I appreciate having a good source  nearby.

I found a small table, poured a glass of water, settled myself and soon detected the unique aroma of toasted sesame seed. A basket of warmed Greek bread was set before me, followed by a steaming bowl of my favorite soup. I stirred it slowly, in part to cool it off, in part to see the pieces of chicken and rice floating in the lemony broth, and in part to appreciate the enticing dance of steam spiraling upward. I added a few dashes of pepper and stirred it in, recalling the time my sister went to add pepper to her lemon soup, unaware that the lid was not secure, dumping most of the pepper into her soup. Yia Yia was upset, for she had filled the shaker and had not secured it well rendering the bowl of soup was no longer edible. Things like that mattered in our house. Food was not to be wasted.

Odd, sometimes, is it not, what memories come to us over a bowl of steaming soup?

Equally interesting how words on a page can stir our emotions and lead us to do something unplanned, like ordering a bowl of soup.img_0548

“I stood for the longest time simply staring down at the bright yellow ball, reveling in the color, allowing the oil to perfume my fingers. Then, almost unconsciously, I began grating the zest, concentrating on the scent, stopping every few seconds to inhale the aroma.” page 96

I took my time eating my soup, enjoying the bread, savoring the flavors and textures, before heading out to my next engagement, and I thought of the words that wended their way into my thoughts and looked forward to reading more of Ruth Reichl’s book, filled with the “136 recipes that saved”  her life in the year after Gourmet Magazine ceased.

Have words on a page ever led you to making or eating a favorite dish? or a new one?

Have you read “My Kitchen Year” or any of Ruth Reichl’s other books?

Were you a fan of Gourmet Magazine?

 

Voyageurs

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Just after the reverberations of musket fire and the resounding boom and hazy smoke of a cannon’s call,  shouts came, proclaiming

 “the voyageurs are coming“.

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This was once the clarion call heard up and down rivers, lakes, and waterways from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains and down to the Gulf of Mexico. It signaled the approach of canoes bearing goods from the French-Canadians. Goods to be traded with native Americans and with the settlers along the water routes. This water bound trade route opened the way for exploration that followed.

These voyageurs, as they were called, paddled up to 70 miles a day; powerful men singing songs that kept them rowing and set a cadence to match the pull of oars in the water.

Alouette, gentille alouette,
Alouette, je te plumerai.

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This weekend, we witnessed a reenactment of voyageurs disembarking on the banks of the Des Plaines River and we saw settlers and traders welcoming them as they came ashore. They were greeted and asked for their “papers”, which seemed to have fallen overboard. No problem, for there was liquor to proffer instead.

 A River Thru History – The Des Plaines Valley Rendezvous is an interesting and historical reenactment of the early trading and lifestyles in the Des Plaines Valley during the 1830’s. The rivers and rowers were the rapid transit systems of their time and predated the City of Chicago.

We have been meaning to go to the Rendezvous for several years and decided that it was time to make it happen. Busses shuttled visitors from an expansive free parking area to Columbia Woods, a Forest Preserve in Cook County, not far from our life here on the Cutoff. The Woods follow the river and are a scenic spot for fishing, canoeing, and birding – except on the second weekend in September, when it becomes an encampment for blacksmiths and tanners, weavers and potters, local historians and history buffs – and modern-day voyageurs of time.

As we disembarked from our 21st century means of transportation, we saw an expanse of 17th century tents, tools, wares and costumes. Campfires held that welcoming allure of being outdoors (or pretending to be in the wilderness) and we strolled around seeing what was to be seen.

img_0385img_0386img_0419img_0446img_0421img_0426It was fun to watch children attempting to make toothpicks and a potter turning her wheel, the milking of goats and the blessing of landing on soil by a priest. It was especially fun to hear our names called out in greeting as a relative who we haven’t seen in a decade recognized us. I love when these chance meetings occur, don’t you?

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Voyageurs.

We are all voyageurs, are we not?  So goes life here on the Cutoff.

img_9997Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? 

Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

I no longer remember whose post it was that first introduced me to Mary Oliver, but, I am forever grateful for it and the moment when I first experienced her words; words so well woven that they continue to ring the clarion call to nature and life for me.

It was the quote above that captured my attention, probably six or so years ago. I am still trying to form an answer. Perhaps, for me, what I plan to do is what I have always done; searching for meaning and purpose in my wanderings through the pathways of life.

On a recent pleasant, clear and less humid evening, I had an itch to be out and about in nature. Not quite dusk, I knew it would soon be, so needed to move with some purpose and plan, which led me to Lake Katherine and the mile or so walk around the lake.

Isn’t it funny how a place can sometimes beckon us?

I am glad I answered the call.

My reward was a time to reflect after a busy day and time to clear my head of details and worry. As I walked, I could feel the beat of my heart and the echo of my steps. A gaggle of local geese held a conference and two small children crept close to a pair of black ducks. Runners slipped past me and young lovers toward me as the sun slowly swallowed the shore and a lone Great Blue Heron waited patiently in the reeds for his next bite.

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Mary Oliver’s birthday is today.

While I am still not clear as to what is my plan, I am clear that I will continue my brief but meaningful wanderings in nature as my steps creep all the closer to my own setting sun.

So it was on another day’s walk-about that I came upon a field of gold. I thought I could hear the “goldenrod whispering goodbye” as I marveled at its bright, yellow color; a mass of madness in nature’s closing performances as one season sets into another. Here’s to Mary Oliver and to each of our own wild and precious lives.

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Song for Autumn by Mary Oliver

In the deep fall
don’t you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
warm caves, begin to think

of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

From “New and Selected Poems Volume Two”

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Vase

IMG_6512 An  inventive and fun challenge entered my life this past spring.

It was Greek Easter. Jennifer and Jason had invited us, along with several other family members, to their home for what turned out to be a most delectable feast along with companionable conversation, laughter, and all that comes with the gathering of kin.

Ever since the Elmhurst Garden Club’s annual luncheon/90th anniversary celebration in April, I was itching to attempt the floral decoration shown in the top photo. It was an abundant spray of tulips and carnations set in a bowl of pink Easter eggs. Teri’s arrangement was spectacular. With Greek (Eastern Orthodox) Easter being observed quite late this past spring, I had a window of opportunity to do my own experimenting with the typical red Easter egg dye symbolic of Greek Easter.

So . . .

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. . . I pulled out a smaller vase, the one that I had, in fact, made my own centerpiece for the April luncheon, with a plan to bring it to Jennifer and Jason’s. Lilies and tulips, roses and other spring blooms were nestled into the red eggs and a swirl of grass from the grocer’s florist. The deep red eggs bled into a soft pink as they sat in the water, which enhanced the allure of the bouquet.

As we were leaving, I told Jennifer to keep the vase. It was, to be honest, a $3 purchase from a local grocery store that had already proved its worth in holding flowers. Some time ago, I heard (or read) a suggestion that when bringing flowers as a hostess gift it is considerate to bring it in a vase. The last thing a host or hostess needs when guests are arriving and food preparation is underway, is to search for a suitable vase. I have found it to be a twice appreciated gesture, the flowers and the container, and does not need to be in Waterford crystal. A Mason jar or thrift store find serves the purpose and saves the host a hurried look for a container.

So . . .

. . . on Mother’s Day, Tom assembled a brunch at our house. Jennifer came in with her edible contribution

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and this lovely bouquet!

She thought it would be a fun tradition to pass the vase back and forth, from time-to-time, no pressure, just fun – and I wholeheartedly agreed, but, only after I admired her first attempt at flower arranging. Can you just imagine, dear readers, how brightly I glowed at Jennifer’s attention to detail and nod to my interest in flowers?

Thus began a new tradition; this floral adventure between mother and daughter and the traveling vase.

So . . .

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. . . about an hour before leaving on Labor Day for J & J’s house for lunch, I remembered the traveling vase and decided to see what I could find in the  fading gardens here on the Cutoff.

Zinnias and lemon geranium were clipped from the pots on the deck and nestled into floating lemon grass and a spray of Joe Pye Weed that was past its bloom. These came from the now fading Prairie garden. The Joe Pye Weed made a very useful floral “frog”. Green and purple basil, oregano, Rosemary, and Turkey Grass (Big Bluestem) for height, all managed, as well, to follow me inside and into the traveling vase.

Off we went for a lovely lunch – and so goes the continuing adventure of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Vase.

The Bee is Not Afraid of Me

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The Bee is Not Afraid of Me  

by  Emily Dickinson

The bee is not afraid of me,

I know the butterfly;
The pretty people in the woods
Receive me cordially.

The brooks laugh louder when I come,
The breezes madder play.
Wherefore, mine eyes, thy silver mists?
Wherefore, O summer’s day?

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Juliet Batten

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