Sunday, July 29, 2007

Real Food

Ukrop's just opened here and we, quite foolishly, went on the day it opened. It was over flowing with people and was quite difficult to get around and see what they had to offer. We tried our best, as we really were trying to get some grocery shopping done as opposed to just being there to browse, to get through the aisles without being in someone else's way. Then we came upon an aisle that was deserted, not a soul on it: it was the baking aisles. This struck us as funny and gave us a laugh (as well as a chance to take a breath and check our grocery list off some). But something else struck us in that moment: nobody really cooks anymore.
It was something I had never really noticed before. I've never been one to understand it when people claim that they "can't cook." That is something that is just completely foreign to me and incomprehensible. But, people don't do it so much anymore, at least not from scratch. And even less often do we sit down and really appreciate the food that we're eating, the (if any) trouble that might have gone into getting the ingredients and preparing the dish.
This really came home to me the other week when I was learning to make a new dish. I have been blessed with a recipe being passed along to me from the best cook I know. It is her crab cake recipe. Normally here I would share it, but I've been sworn to secrecy and so I shall keep. Anyway, we set out to buy the crab meat and were shocked by the price: $27 for a pound!! We bought it anyway and when I told my friend of our initial sticker shock she replied to me "That is why making them for someone is an act of love." And I get that now, it really is. And when we ate a couple of them that night, we savored every bite. We noticed the way the lumps of crab meat were still in the cakes and how delicious it was. We noticed how "real" they tasted.
I had never thought of food tasting "real" or not until these last couple years when we really began cooking things from scratch. We now refuse to use mixes when making pancakes and waffles (even organic mixes) as it is so simple to make without ~ as a side effect we no longer can tolerate the taste of the mixes. Same goes for spaghetti sauce: we made our own last year for the first time, from heirloom tomatoes that we grew organically in our back yard and then canned as sauce. There was no going back to the jar stuff after we ate our first pasta dish with the sauce! We now make not only these things but also butter, ice cream, all of our breads, jellies, and so on.
Another thing we've noticed is the taste difference between "farm fresh" and store bought. I had never really paid that much attention to that until last summer when I was making some Strawberry Lemonade (with Vodka of course) for one of our parties. Everyone loved it and I ended up stuck at the blender for most all of the party because it was getting drank just as fast as I could make it! Everyone kept going on and on (and they still do) about how wonderful it was and asking if they could get the recipe. Honestly, I was quite embarrased by this. Not because I am humble or anything like that, but because it was so simple, I felt like I was cheating making it. Here is the recipe:

Strawberry Lemonade

Fresh Strawberries (if you can freeze them first all the better)
Lemonade mix (like Country Time or something)
Sugar (if desired, not really necessary)

~ Put a couple cups (2-3 probably) of strawberries in the blender. Fill with ice. Fill half full with vodka (if you're making non-alcoholic just use all water, but why would you want to? hee hee). Fill the rest of the way with water. Pour in enough lemonade mix for about 2 quarts (though 1 is ok, this comes down to personal preference). Add a tablespoon or so of sugar if you'd like, again this is personal preference. Blend till smooth.
*Obviously, hopefully at least, when I say "fill" I don't mean all the way to the top of the blender. Use common sense, if you don't, don't whine at me for the mess you will have to clean up.

There, now can you see why I was embarrased? There is NOTHING special or noteworthy about this recipe. But then it hit me, there IS something special and noteworthy about this recipe! The secret, the big secret to getting this to taste REALLY good is: use strawberries that are fresh from the farm! Not the ones you can buy in the grocery store, no ~ go pick them yourself or buy them directly from the farmer! The first time we made this I was using strawberries that my grandfather had gotten off a friend's farm on the way back from the beach. We ran out and had to go to the store to get more strawberries, and the results weren't as good. And no, this wasn't because I was drunk & making them wrong, it was the strawberries, you can really tell the difference. I'm almost afraid to know how much better this drink would taste if I used real lemons to make the lemonade ~ I probably would be aghast at the thought of using the cheapy mix!! (Ok, truth be told, I already am aghast!)
Most food isn't meant to be available year-round. There are reasons there is "winter squash" and "summer squash." There are reasons that fruits only happen at certain times of the year while vegetables happen at other times. When you can use fresh food, from the farm, in season you notice these things. Then, when you take the time to cook your food from scratch, to make it with love, you'll notice it even more. Heaven forbid you take the time to sit down at a table with your family and eat it all and talk about your day!
Real food, real cooking, is something so special. Yes, we eat to live, but with real, good, fresh food that is cooked from scrath and made with love, well I live to eat! It is something that can carry you away, make your problems disappear, make things seem much better, and make you feel much more in love. This isn't the same as eating from stress, this is the joy and deliciousness of food and meals making you spin. Even typing this and thinking about it all my head is spinning, my mouth is watering, and I am swooning.
Show someone you love them, even if it is just yourself, and make something from scratch. Even better, go to your local Farmer's Market and pick out your ingredients there. Even better than that, grow it yourself. Appreciate the food as it grows. Imagine the dishes you will make. Imagine how they will taste. Feel the fruits and veggies, and even meat (you can get that from local farmers too!) and know what they are like when they are raw and healthy and fresh. Then as you prepare something from scratch, notice the aromas coming out. Notice the texture and colors and sounds of things as they change while they cook.
Finally, as you eat it: see if you can taste the herbs, the different veggies or fruits. See if you can notice how much more wonderful it tastes. No wonder cooking is such an aphrodisiac! Love really is the best ingredient! Real Food = Love!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Is it Fall?

I'm having to wonder if Fall is already here, though by no means am I complaining. The weather has been quite cool lately and I've been able to wear the most staple part of my wardrobe: jeans. I love my jeans and am happy to live in them. The past few days I've been wearing my jeans with the bottoms rolled up, like I had them when we were at the beach and it was cool at night. I love the cool, the fall & winter & snow. It makes me want to curl up under warm, snuggly blankets & drink hot cocoa. I love being able to wear jeans, and I imagine myself wearing luxurious sweaters (soft, sumptuous cashmere, or thick fisherman's wool) & looking fabulous. Of course, in these fantasies I'm also hanging out in the bar/lounge area of a 5-star ski resort, being pampered to my heart's content. And I'm looking fabulous & gorgeous.
Jeans rolled up & toes done bright red

It's been raining a lot too, which has been wonderful. I love the rain, it always makes everything look so pretty and clean. I get really excited when I am able to have laundry on the line in the rain. Sometimes I even rush out there to hang it before a storm, or will leave it out there even if it is already dry, just to let it get hit by the rain. The smell that rain leaves on clothes is so intoxciating. Poor little Tristan has an awful diaper rash right now and has been having to be kept "lubed up" with creams, meaning he's been having to wear disposable diapers. I've taken this oppurtunity to leave some of his cloth diapers out on the line, letting the get a little "extra freshening" out in the rain.

Tristan's diapers on the line, still wet from all the rain

A surprise bee balm bush, blooming beautifully

Some basil, growing on the deck

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Relections on the beauty of the "Imperfect"

Our garden, a wild green jungle ~ with a border of colorful marigolds beginning to bloom

Justin pressure washing the patio

Shannon sitting on his "Old Mc'Donald Tractor" on the still wet, pressure-washed deck

A close-up of the bricks being pressure-washed

Today has been a productive one so far, at least for Justin. He's been busy pressure-washing our deck, and then moved on to the bricks on the patio he, his brother, and our neighbor, Rob, built this past spring. The deck looks fantastic and is ready for staining. The bricks are still wet, so I can't yet tell what was accomplished with them, but I am eager to see. Most of the bricks in our patio were taken from the old Water Plant here in town, when it was torn down. Justin and his brother drove out and loaded the back of our car up with them. The rest were given to us by Rob, and are from an old chimney that was once part of their house ~ making them over 100 years old.
Justin had spent a day tilling the garden this past spring, and then tilled the area we were going to turn into the patio. The next day (I think) the guys got to work. What I love the most about this patio is that it resonates of the past and with history. The ground was never perfectly leveled off, there isn't cement or even a layer of sand under the bricks. In this picture you can see where water is pooling because the bricks sit unevenly on top of the land. It is so natural and wonderful and historic. I love it. It calms me when I can sit and stare at it and appreciate the imperfections.
That must be why I love this house too. Our house is over 100 years old, as I've said before. It was made by hand, not machines. There are very few 100% straight or even surfaces. The walls, floors, and even doorways all seem to lean or bend or be crooked. Just slightly, you won't notice any of these things unless someone points them out to you or you're really paying attention. But they're there. Sometimes these things bug the daylights out of me: when I'm trying to hang a picture and realize that one side will jut out further than the other, for example. Or the time when I noticed the doorway leading into the kitchen was crooked and all I could think of was the movie 'Beetlejuice.' For someone who can be quite OCD, and especially for someone whose OCD-ness tends to come out with having things "even," this house can really drive me up the wall if I let it. But, most times, I don't. I take comfort in it. I take comfort in how long it has lasted. How we don't have AC and we don't really need it (& I'm a fall/winter gal who hates the heat!). How fresh air is abundant here because we keep the windows open all the time. There is no carpeting, just the original hardwood floors, well mostly.
The inside of our house is a mess too. I'd like to say "oh, excuse the mess, it isn't normally like this," but it is. I'd like to say it is because we have two young kids and two big dogs ~ and that certainly does play a part, but life happens. When it was just Justin and I, alone in the apartment, things stayed neater and cleaner. But now, life is everywhere. There are always things to do. We'd rather spend our time living and doing than cleaning and caring so much about things that aren't really that important in the grand scheme of things. Don't get me wrong, our house is clean, there aren't mice to be found or horrible, mysterious smells of food lost behind (or under) couches or beds. But, there are tufts of dog hair (in our defense: no sooner can you clean them up & even brush out the dog, than they will reappear), and there are things piled here and there. Minimalists by nature we are not.
But there is something comfortable to it. It's messy, yes, but its home-y. I don't think there is anyone who comes to our house who feels unwelcome and afraid to relax and have a good time. I think even Miss Manners might be able to have a laugh, even if her eyebrows were raised dissapprovingly.
Life isn't about being composed and perfect & passing a white glove test. It's about laughing and doing and delighting in the uniqueness of everything. It's about seeing and realizing the beauty of the moment, and then being able to live in that moment. That's the secret to true joy and happiness. Laughing, loving, and living.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Hokie Festival

Justin & Shannon at the Hokie "Pep Rally" held at the Hotel Roanoke right before the 2006 season got started. This was both boy's first time at a official Hokie gathering (even if Tristan was barely a month old!

The HOKIES flags and a good Orange Effect during the 2006 season

Today we went up to Chateau Morrisette with the boys for their Hokie Festival ~ the unveiling of this year's Hokie Wine labels. The boys don't get to go to the games with us, so this was a nice chance for them to be around lots of other Hokies. Shannon was really cute & kept calling it the "Hokie Vegetable" ~ he was also really excited about seeing Hokie Bird. We didn't know if Hokie Bird would be there or not, but as soon as we got there we saw him walking around, right near us. He stopped and waved at us ~ and of course, Shannon got shy and covered his eyes! Tristan was really intruiged though and stared wide-eyed. Hokie Bird covered his eyes back at Shannon, then waved some more to us as we walked off to explore. The rest of our time there Shannon kept wanting to see Hokie Bird again, go figure!
Anyway, it was a really nice day: gorgeous weather, great wine, fantastic bluegrass music, and, much to our delight, with our tickets came wine glasses with Chateau Morrisette's logo on one side and the VT on the other!
We got up there right when it was starting, at noon. This turned out to be quite wise (lucky) on our parts. We were able to get in and get tastings before the lines hit. And boy did they ever get long! We ended up only staying an hour. The boys began to get restless and the lines were getting too long, we knew it would just get too crowded for us.
So that was pretty much our day. We ran a few errands as well, but that was the highlight. It was really nice. We really like including the boys in on as many Hokie activities as we can, especially since they don't get to go to games yet. I don't have a picture from today to post (we, of course, forgot to bring our camera) so the ones I've put up are other Hokie photos we've taken.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Virgin Post

The Blue Nymph

This is the first posting for this blog, so I figure it should be an introduction of sorts. What do I want from this blog? Why am I creating it? This is a way for me to, as so many others have done & do daily, document our life here at the Blue Nymph. This is our first house, a house that once belonged to my great-grandmother. We're now here, trying to raise our children.
We're trying to live as simply as we can ~ this is aided much by the fact that we're pretty broke. We are trying to homestead as much as we can, though living in the "city" can make that a bit of a challenge. We plan to homeschool the boys ~ though having a toddler and a baby at the same time give a whole new meaning to the word "challenge."
So, this is my way of documenting all of these goals, and sharing them with others. From our beginnings as novices to homesteading & homeschooling, to hopefully accomplished veterans at both.
Please feel free to leave comments, to share thoughts & experiences. So many more people out there are so much more knowledgeable than us on these topics, we'd love to hear from you!