Our Maryland Farmhouse

real food recipes, heirloom gardening and farmhouse adventures


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Snow, Part 2!

Around 5:30AM the farmhouse vibrated slightly as a dumptruck, shod with a plow, rumbled past.  I peeked out the window…

A couple of minutes ago, as Katie took the dog out for her morning business, she snapped some pictures:

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5 inches already (as measured on the walk, which I’d cleared of snow after the first 8 inches fell on Sunday), and the Winter Storm Warning doesn’t expire for a few more hours.  Big fluffy flakes are still falling at a prodigious rate.  At least the snow figures I built yesterday seem happy.

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Frozen, Falling, Fluffy Flakes

At some point going down the temperature continuum between 33 and 31 degrees, the water molecule does an amazing thing.  It transforms from a thirst-quenching, plant-growing, wonder liquid into a road-slickening, tree-branch bending, school-closing solid.  Without getting too deep into the chemistry of it all, this is what happened here at our farmhouse Sunday.  Water crystalized, fell from the sky, and landed on us.

It landed on Plymouths:

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It landed on Fords:

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It landed on pickup trucks…

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Volvos…

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…and a Nash!

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The snow began falling at 9:30 Sunday morning.  Wife and I were heading out the door to a baby shower an hour west- right in the direction the storm was coming from.  A few lonely flakes fluttered innocently from the gray sky.  The weatherman had proclaimed “one to two inches” were to be expected.  When we returned from the pre-baby party around 3 that afternoon, our faithful four-wheel-drive was crunching through better than 7 inches of it.  

And then, as if a 300% under-forecast of snow weren’t enough, the temperature waaaaay up in the stratosphere (or wherever it is that snow gets formed) rose above that magical water/ice point, but the temperature down here in farmhouse land stayed below freezing.  For those of you with at least a rudimentary understanding of meteorology, this means we got ice pellets, on top of the snow.

Sadie sure didn’t seem to mind, though.

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The snowy, icy mess persisted into Monday morning.  Fortunately, everything I had to do for work I was able to accomplish from the leather chair downstairs from where I woke up this morning.  I don’t mind driving in snow…but ice?  

The temperature here finally crawled up into the mid 30’s this afternoon, so after finishing work I went out and constructed scale models of our little family in the available frozen medium:

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The weatherman opened up his mis-predicting yap again tonight and predicted “up to five inches” of more snow tomorrow.  Will we actually get 15 inches?  Will fire rain down from above?  Locusts?  Frogs?  

As long as we don’t get any more freaking ice.


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Pretzel Burgers!

We’ve had a lot of projects in the works here at our old Maryland farmhouse; unfortunately none of them are finished yet, so we haven’t deemed anything blog-worthy in a few weeks.  I suppose we might just as well write about works-in-process- the threat of embarrassment on the Internets is a powerful impetus to completion, so I hear.  

But for tonight…well, it’s Saturday night, we’ve had a looooooong week, and we just wanted something tasty for dinner.  So, while I was out working on the car, Katie experimented with a recipe for pretzelled bread.  The results were very edible.  Apparently the trick to pretzelling lies in the boiling of the dough in water and baking soda, and some brown sugar in the dough.  

Whatever magic had to happen for the pretzelled bread to come into existence, it was worth it.  Two of the buns disappeared before dinner officially happened (spicy mustard was on-hand in the fridge, which accented the buns nicely) and a few others became homes for some grass-fed beef burgers, topped with Katie’s famous zucchini pickles, some BBQ sauce, raw milk cheddar, and avocado.  I fried up some salty sweet potato coins in olive oil, which came out pretty satisfying, too.  

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Happy Saturday night!


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Gutter Compost

According to what some of our neighbors have told us, they’ve seen the Wife and I outside working on the house more in the 2-1/2 months since we moved in than they saw the previous two owners in total.  And while we have plans to upgrade and improve the property, a lot of what we’ve been up to so far is simply correcting years worth of deferred maintenance.

After the major rainstorm a few weeks back (which kindly deposited over a half-foot of di-hydrogen oxide onto our land) we noticed some undesired water flow around the house.  Water had ponded in the driveway, dumped over the sides of gutters, and found ways into the basement.  I had to bring in a second dehumidifier to the cellar for backup.  I didn’t even need to climb up onto the roof to see what some of the problems were.

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Gutters typically have an opening, you see, and this opening needs to be pointed in the opposite direction as the water coming off of the roof is going.  But in this case, the gutter opening is facing at a 90 degree angle.  Not so useful.

Once on the ladder, I noted another problem:

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Rather than being used for carrying watershed from the roof safely away from the house and foundation, the gutters were instead being utilized for some sort of composting experiment.  While this experiment appeared to be surprisingly successful, it was doing no favors for the water control.

Gutter cleaning is a fairly straightforward affair.  You get out the biggest ladder you own, don a set of rubber gloves, ascend the ladder, and sludge out the gunk using your gloved mitts.  After approximately 15 seconds, the rubber gloves will catch on a gutter nail, or a pine cone, or a piece of old gutter screen, tear and be worthless.  At this point, you can either don a new pair of gloves (which, if you continue on this way, will blow through a 100 box of gloves in about 30 minutes) or suck it up and continue to dredge out the gutters.

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A word on gutter screen.  This word is: useless.  All gutter screen does is allow twigs, leaves, dead chipmunks, bird poop, and other fun things to lay on top of your gutters until they biodegrade to the point that their particles are smaller than the screen openings, at which point they sluice through the gutter screen and compost in the gutter.  And then you can’t clean the gutter without removing them.  Our farmhouse had gutter screens installed by some surely well-intentioned previous owner.  I removed them.

After cleaning all the gutters, and re-fixing various dropping and dislodged portions to the roof with new gutter clips, I rinsed them out with a good blast from the garden house.  This does two things- it cleans out all the little crap you couldn’t get with your torn-rubber-gloved hands, and it tests the water flow and let’s you make sure the gutters are in fact doing what they should be.  It also lets you spot leaks and cracks, which can be sealed with Gutter Caulk.

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I like my gutters clean and well hung.

Finally, while you’re up on your roof and ladder, be sure to take a second and take in the view and remember why you’re spending your Sunday afternoon elbow-deep in rotting biomass, instead of watching spandex-clad grown men fight for a funny-looking leather bladder full of air.

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A Cheesy, Pizza-Filled Friday

The past couple of days it has rained like nobody’s business here at Our Maryland Farmhouse.  The driveway has become a moat and the dehumidifier in the basement called for backup.  It was cold, dark, and depressing outside- the perfect weather to stay at home on a Friday night with a pizza, some adultish beverages and a movie.  Katie had just started whipping up a batch of her awesome pizza crust when she looked at me and nearly cried, “We don’t have any cheeeeese!”

Well, this is the farm, and while we didn’t have any cheese, we did have a gallon of good Amish milk in the General Electric.  So I decided to whip up a batch of mozzarella.  “But, Mike, that’s not possible!”, you might well exclaim.  “Cheese takes a long time to make, and then you have to age it!”  Well, sure if you’re going for a 3 year Cheddar or a smoked Brie, yeah, you’d be right.  But anyone can whip up a slab of good, honest, humble mozzarella in the same amount of time it takes for pizza dough to rise.

First, you need good milk.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be raw, organic, pasture-raised, fair trade milk milked by a left-handed Shaman during a waxing moon, but it definitely cannot be ultra pasteurized.  Ultra, or high temperature, pasteurization, kills off the bacteria the cheese needs to form.  “Ick, Mike…bacteria?”  Yup.  Bacteria.  You need ’em.  At least if you want to make cheese (or beer, or other really great things…but I’m getting off topic here).

So, you’ve got your low-temperature pasteurized or raw milk.  You’ll need about a gallon to get a pound of cheese.  Scale up or down depending on how much cheese you want.  You’ll also need:

  • 1-1/2 tsp citric acid
  • 1/4 tsp rennet
  • bottled water (non-chlorinated)
  • Salt

We keep rennet and powdered citric acid in the fridge just for cheese making.  You can order them online these days.  Dilute the citric acid in 1/4c of the bottled water.  Dilute the rennet in 1/8c of the water.  Heat the milk to about 55 degrees F (yup, you’ll need a-one a dem fancy-pants cooking thermometers for this- you’re doing Chemistry!) while stirring in the citric acid/ water solution.  Continue heating to about 90 F, then remove from heat and stir in the rennet solution.  Stir thoroughly, cover, and let sit for about 5 minutes.

At this point the pot will be full of curds and whey, just like Little Miss Muffet on her tuffet.  Break up the curd (the hard, thick stuff) while stirring it in the whey (the watery stuff) and heat to about 110 F.  Now, dump the mess into a collander, but put another pot under the collander to collect the whey.  Put that whey back on the stove, mix in 1/4c of salt and bring up to about 180F.  Take the curds in your (clean) hands and clump them into a ball (or two, or three…depending on how much milk you used).  Find a spoon and dunk the wads of curds into the hot whey until they get nice and slimy and shiny.

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Then scoop it out and press it with a spoon (it’ll be HOT!) to squeeze out more whey (that you can then dump back into the pot).  Repeat until you’ve gotten out as much of the whey as practical.  You should end up with a pot full of salty whey and a glob of something that actually looks like cheese.

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Hey guess what?  You made mozzarella there, mister!  Now roll it up and slice it thin and have your loving spouse decorate the top of her basil-and-kale pesto, zucchini, and tomato pizza pie.

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Bake until the “Motz” gets a nice dark brown crustiness on top of it, remove from the oven, let sit for about 10 or 15 minutes (so the pizza stone- you did use a good stone, didn’t you?- can fully cook the crust and so the top can cool a bit and not burn your mouth), sprinkle with your favorite toppings (I love pickled hot cherry peppers and Parmigiana cheese), and consume in conjunction with your movie of choice.

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Next, put on the Friday night Big Band show on 88.1FM and type a blog post while you listen to some of the best music ever made.  Now _that’s_ a Friday night.


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Gaining Traction

Katie’s been the impetus behind this whole blog idea; I started one many years ago to document our adventures in 24 Hours of LeMons (Yes, LeMons, that is not a typo, but a play on words) racing, but it hasn’t been terribly active lately.  And up till now, she’s done all the work on this blog too.  So I thought I’d contribute something today.

While she’s been busy swooning over white farmhouse sinks and putting nightshades into glass jars, I’ve been out getting multiple cases of poison ivy and pulling muscles I can’t name and didn’t know existed.  You see, when you become the owner of an old farm, you get not only some land and (hopefully) a house to live in, but you also often get…other buildings.

Big, ugly run ins:

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Ramshackle sheds:

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Rickety garages:

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Leaning corn cribs:

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More run-ins:

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And what appears to be an old cinder-block barn, that was at some point converted to additional living space:

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Of course, none of these buildings has had any work done to them since the last century, and all were filled, to varying degrees, with trash, rotted firewood, old Red Bull cans, scrap metal, auto parts, lumber, shoddily-built shelving, cardboard, trees (yes, living, growing trees), *cough* evidence *cough* of animal and rodent dwelling, and much, much more.  I cleaned out so much trash, it filled the bed of this truck:

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4 times just going to the dump with it all.  And for the organic materials (wood, paper, etc) I started a bonfire one Friday afternoon and fed it all weekend with combustible crap I dragged out of the buildings. Is there some unwritten law that says, if you’re a farmer, and you have lots of sheds, it’s your responsibility to fill them with as much rubbish and debris as possible? I think that there must be.  

And did I mention the poison ivy?  Apparently it grows very, very well around here, and even with my usual precautions (long sleeved pants and shirt, leather gloves, hat, dust mask, leather boots) I still managed to come down with a rip-roaring case of P/I our very first weekend here.  It was so bad that the following Monday I was escorted by my caring wife to the local ER where they doped me with all manner of anti- allergy drugs which, thankfully, worked.  Just this past weekend I came down with _more_ poison while clearing out some weed trees and other yard trash, but luckily an abundance of showering and soap kept it pretty well contained.  Man.  Leaves of three, leave that #*!$ be.