Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year from the Pantry!

If you follow our antics, and occasional book-reading, over at Cupcake Chronicles you will know I am rather fond of gnomes. Something about their mischievous demeanor, their cute little beards, their wee, pointed hats and clumpy wooden shoes. Or maybe it is because I come from two pronounced family tree branches of elfin people (to which, in my case, was blended with Germanic stoutness). Nevertheless, I thought this a good opportunity to use an antique postcard image of some gnomes bringing in the New Year. [You will also find another variation over at Cupcake Chronicles.]

Our bullmastiff Lucy, pictured here in spring 2008, liked gnomes, too.

Ah, the New Year! Always such possibility and promise--a chance to begin again and renew, or at least to improve upon or update the old, like hitting the "reload current page" button on your Internet server. Sometimes the year takes a bit of getting used to. I don't always set resolutions but in the past few years the Cupcakes have been gathering to write lists of "Goals and Plans" of what we want to do differently, or be doing better. It doesn't hurt to write things down and, being the list maker that I am, in doing that I often surprise myself.

Here are mine (the ones I wish to publish, any way!). For 2009 I want to strive to:
  • do what I can, in my own small way, to make the world--including my family and community--a better place to be
  • spend more time with my children and husband (making things, being outdoors, farming, hiking, recreating)
  • take time each day for spiritual reflection and renewal
  • find a church that fits and a choir to sing in!
  • be a better communicator (this involves more blogs, more hand-written notes and letters, the occasional phone call--yes, I have phone phobia--but also more actual visiting)
  • carve out more time for writing (now that we've settled)
  • spend less time on the computer (or at least more regimented time and less of it)
  • read more (I read a lot but if I read more, I'm into media less)
  • knit more this year
  • keep up daily with the laundry piles, clutter and dust bunnies
  • tackle family archives and last
  • make next Christmas almost entirely handmade or homemade
  • try more recipes and create more dishes with vibrant colors (more recipes with vegetables and fruits...which sounds like the Talking Heads second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food...YES to that, too!)
  • continue to reuse, recycle or adapt things and rely on less consumption of purchased things (produce more of our own food, consume less, buy local as much as possible)
  • walk every day, even if sometimes only down the hill to the mailbox and back
  • maybe learn to play the mandolin (if I can find someone who will teach me)
And last, but not least, I want to reorganize all of my cupboards and closets (and pantries) in the New Year! What better way to start 2009--by taking inventory, dusting off, rearranging, throwing out or giving away. We have been in Kentucky a year now, having left on my husband's 52nd birthday, December 28, and arriving on the 29th just in time for New Year's and dodging all winter storms on our two-day, 16 hour Appalachian wagon train (and after packing up Christmas in record speed). At least we had already settled into the double-wide on two trips in October and November 2007 and the daunting task of packing up the rest of our New Hampshire home waited for a purchase and sale agreement, which we were fortunate to receive in a well-timed way when we returned for the summer. What a year it's been on all levels and realms! 2009 will be more about further settling, regrouping, re-shifting and starting our farm operations: out with the old and in with the new. [My hope is, also, that our nation will start to heal and resettle and refocus itself in ways that are beneficial for all.]

Our dear Lucy on moving day, December 28, 2007 ~ She had never left New Hampshire before and proved to be an excellent long-distance traveler. [Perhaps she is wondering where she is going and if she'll ever come back? Fortunately, we all had one last summer together again, along with our daughter, at our New Hampshire home before selling it in the fall.]

No matter where you go, there you are.

If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.
Lewis Carroll

I have to say, this move has shaken me to the core and rattled my bones, but all in good ways. [Well, not the bronchial pneumonia part which my friend Sue says, on the personal and spiritual level, is like twigs breaking up in a dam, a needed letting-go. That, too, is ultimately a good and healing process.] I never thought at mid-life that I would make such a major move but it has been so good and positive in endless ways. We had to let go and move on, for many reasons. We had both been home for most of our lives, more or less, and it was time to move away. My husband and I have finally grown up and have discovered that, sometimes, leaving home can be more necessary than staying.

If you don't know where you are, you don't know who you are.
Wendell Berry

What more than you have so far learned will you need to know in order to live at home? (I don’t mean “home” as a house for sale.) If you decide, or if you are required by circumstances, to live all your life in one place, what will you need to know about it and about yourself?

from Commencement address by Wendell Berry
Bellarmine University, 2007

I admire writers--like Kentucky native Wendell Berry--who come back to their family homeplace and stake a claim there and then work, tend, and write about their land. [The Cupcakes are reading Berry's novel Jayber Crow in January.] Sometimes you can go home again and sometimes you can't. It's a conflicting, often complicated, proposition. Berry has made a successful career of it--not only as a farmer but as a writer of essays, novels, and poetry. His countless essays on land stewardship, the environment and sustainable living have long been relevant. Now their time has come. [Or has it just come again? Or to fresh and eager ears?]

Louis Bromfield had many beloved boxers, some of whom are in this portrait that hangs at Malabar Farm in Mansfield, Ohio.

In 1938, Louis Bromfield, an established novelist and screenwriter, came home by returning to the rolling hills of Lucas County outside of his hometown of Mansfield, Ohio. There he constructed a new farm by gathering an assortment of old, run-out farmsteads and making them viable again. His writings about farming influenced an entire generation of back-to-the-landers, including my maternal grandparents. They fled Radburn, New Jersey in 1946 after the war and bought a New Hampshire farm where they had a produce and greenhouse business while raising their six children. Jane Brox did it by moving back, for a time, to her family farm in northeastern Massachusetts before tensions drove her away (but she claims she was ready to move on). Place affects who these writers are and their writing reflects their knowledge and kinship with their land.

We are reinventing that notion here in a new land, after leaving our former homeplaces well-tended, in good hands or in conservation easements. Thus, we have done what the pioneers would have done 150 or more years ago: coming to wilderness territory, knowing no one, wanting a new start, making a new claim, tilling up new soil. Perhaps this will be terra firma for our boys, a place for our grown daughter to rest on occasion, and a new family gathering spot for generations. I hope so. Who knew that I could shake up "my familiar" and actually like it?

I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.
Lewis Carroll

If you haven't touched base with the blog recently, I have quite a few recent holiday posts. Just scroll down to read them.

Cheers and many blessings to you all,


Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Cookie Recipes

As promised, in yesterday's blog, I intended to post recipes for two of the cookies I brought to the Christmas cookie bake with some of my Mennonite friends a few weeks ago (the third was just the basic Toll house cookie recipe--from the bag--with red and green M&Ms added instead of chocolate chips). Well, as my eroding mind would have it, I thought these recipes were from my friend Anna's cookbooks that she put together for the **Oberholtzer family a few years ago.

Every recipe I've tried in these cookbooks has been foolproof so I just assumed (and you know what happens when we assume.) This thought wasn't helped by the fact that her second cookbook is sitting on my counter waiting for me to try her recipe for refrigerator rolls that she made for us for Christmas and that we savored with our oyster stew (that I made on Boxing Day). Oh the flavor, oh the soft melting quality of the supple, buttery dough in the mouth, with or without butter! Anna's rolls run neck and neck with my friend Cat's divine sourdough rolls (rumor has it she's putting together a cookbook, too) that she sent over with a vat of chicken and rice soup when I was so sick. [Anna also says that her roll dough makes a great cinnamon roll and I believe her. Before the New Year rings in I will have tried both ways, I can guarantee it.]

So, back to those cookies. Turns out, after much cookbook scouring, that the cookie recipes I used were actually in another great cookbook I found on-line this spring after my Mennonite friend Mary loaned me her copy. [Shown at left next to a quart of peppermint tea she made while we were making sausage and scrapple from our butchered pig last spring. Now, I thought I'd blogged about that, too, but I guess I never did--lots of photos and "how tos," however. Maybe sometime this winter I will blog about butchering day--don't worry, however, there are no graphic photos. I respect the animal as much as I do the Mennonites for their privacy and dignity in photograph-taking.]

Big Valley Amish Cook-Book: A Cookbook from Kishacoquillas Valley
(which is apparently in central Pennsylvania, northwest of Harrisburg) was first published in 1979 with at least two additional printings in the 1980s. You might be able to find one on eBay or another on-line resource as I was able to do. Throughout the book are some poems by an unknown poet including "Grandmother's Pantry and Mine," "A Happy Home Recipe" and "Tis Canning Time" so it is as much fun for these as for the excellent tried and true recipes (which include things like soap, different cheeses, and household hints).

Irene's date-filled cookies cool in front of the window.

Here are the recipes with my notations:

Ginger Crisps [NOTE: these are neither that gingery or crisp! But still good...]
from Lois and Emma Zook
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks) or other shortening
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 level tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 4 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. soda
Mix well, form into rolls and refrigerate overnight (I rolled into four logs of about 1.5" inches in diameter and wrapped in plastic wrap). Cut in slices, sprinkle with sugar (I used red and green sugars) and bake in quick oven. [NOTE: All of our cookies were baked in a wood-fired oven or gas oven and I did not participate in their monitoring while baking. Perhaps one reason they weren't crisp is because they didn't bake long enough, but they were still good. I would say 10 minutes at 350˚ or 375˚ would be a good starting point--I sliced them c. 1/8 inch thick.]

We made 15 varieties of cookies: the red and green ginger crisps are in the foreground and crescent cookies middle ground, right.

Christmas Crescent Cookies
Mrs. Daniel R. Peachey
  • 1 lb butter or margarine (4 sticks)
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 cups chopped nuts (I used pecan meal with great effect and lower cost)
  • 10 Tbsp. sugar
  • 4 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 tsp. water (I have a hunch that *rosewater would also be good)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • confectioner's sugar (for dusting)
Cream butter, sugar and vanilla, add water, salt, flour and nuts. Using portions size of a walnut, roll in crescent-shaped cookies. Bake in slow oven, 350˚. Roll, while still warm, but not just out of the oven, in powdered sugar. [NOTE: these keep well and are excellent with tea!]

** My friend Anna's family cookbooks, Tastes from the Kitchen of The Oberholtzers and More Tastes from the Oberholtzers can be ordered directly from her. They include family recipes of Mennonite and Pennsylvania German cooking at its best, with many modern twists and surprises. If you are interested, please email me at and I will get back to you with the details. [Anna was one of 17 Oberholtzer siblings, many of whom have settled in south-central Kentucky from Missouri.]

* I highly recommend the rosewater sold by our friends at the United Society of Shakers at Sabbathday Lake, Maine. It supports a great cause, is affordable and comes in a lovely bottle. [Also delicious in apple pie or shortbread and you can dab it behind your ears.] Three Shakers continue to live and work at their historic village in New Gloucester, Maine and also sell a variety of dried herbs in tins, as well as other products, on-line. [Their pantries were featured in The Pantry-Its History and Modern Uses.]

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Our First Kentucky Christmas

I know, I know, Christmas is over but I’m a firm believer in the Twelve Days of Christmas and like to stretch things, including belated gift and card sending, right through Epiphany on January 6. Besides, I’m a bit back-blogged so you’ll just have to bear with more merriment and celebration and discussion of the season.

This year I was invited to a Christmas cookie bake with some of my Mennonite friends. Because they spend so little time together, apart from church or community events, they like to have “bakes” instead of swaps so that they can spend a day baking, visiting, eating and singing (I knew immediately it was my kind of day and didn't need to be asked twice). We each brought three kinds of prepared dough and whatever was needed to complete the cookies, a few extra cookie sheets, and containers to put them into. There were five of us with three cookies each and from the 15 varieties we probably had about 800 cookies to divide up between us.

Despite the many varieties there were no two alike. I aimed for ease of preparation and brought a crescent cookie dough, a molasses refrigerator cookie dough and also a Toll house cookie (from the back of the chips package), with red and green M&Ms© added instead of chocolate chips. My friend Anna made a raisin-filled cookie, a fruitcake cookie and one with pistachios in it, while Irene made a sliced rolled date cookie, a peanut butter filled chocolate cookie, and one other kind. Norma and Anna May, Anna’s daughter and daughter-in-law respectfully, made roll out cookies, a filled cookie with chocolate hazelnut spread, and several other drop cookies with different festive bits in them.

This week I will post the crescent and molasses cookie recipes, complete with photographs, that I used from Anna's family cookbook (mainly because everything I've made so far from this cookbook has been delicious and foolproof and because I couldn't find my old stand by recipes--yup, in a unopened moving box somewhere). They are easy and can be chilled in advance. The molasses cookie is a refrigerator cookie that is sliced and that I dusted with red and green sprinkles on them before baking. As pecan meal was more affordable and easier than English or black walnuts, I used that in the crescent cookies with the same effect as any other nut.

At noon we broke for lunch. Irene brought a sausage pizza she had made and Norma had prepared a huge vat of homemade fruit yogurt and a potato soup. Of course, we had loads of cookies to sample throughout the day and try them we did. At one point we even sang Christmas carols and hymns together while working. That was so meaningful to me as I have missed singing in a choir and with a group.

Like the Amish Christmas, an Old Order Mennonite Christmas is very spare. The emphasis is on Christ’s birth and there is no Christmas tree, few gifts, and no décor or frenzy. There is a service on Christmas morning followed by a large noon dinner. Cards are written—many go out to people in communities in all parts of the country—and there is much baking for friends and family. It is the kind of Christmas we strive for in our home but yet can’t quite attain. As I enjoy the décor and the tree and finding and giving the right presents as much as anyone in our house, it is largely because of me that we have so many Christmas trappings. But this year, because of prolonged illness, time and significantly reduced space from our former New England home, we did not go as all out as in past years. Instead, I spent more time baking, writing cards, wrapping up and shipping parcels for family and friends (more so than usual this year as we have moved), and enjoying new friends in Kentucky. It was such a special, different season for us that Eli proclaimed it "the best Christmas ever." My only regret is that her job at a busy ski resort back in New England kept our daughter from joining us here in Kentucky.

On Christmas Eve amidst lashing downpours (the boys and I were hoping for snow but got rain instead), we delivered baskets of food to our Mennonite friends. They included hams, homemade banana bread (when your husband buys you a case of bananas from Sunny Valley Store, you make banana bread!), maple syrup made in our former town of Hancock, New Hampshire (thank you, Bill Eva!), and other goodies. It was my husband’s idea to thank several families for their many kindnesses and great welcome to us this year. For the past few weeks we have had fun thinking of things to make or add to the baskets. Early in the afternoon we loaded up our boys, the baskets and many other loaves of banana bread for friends on our ridge on our return home. [I was also reminded of banana bread--wrapped in foil with red ribbons--that my mother used to make and deliver before Christmas during my Akron, Ohio childhood.] It was the best way to spend the holiday that I can imagine: giving to others and spending time visiting. When we returned home we checked our answering machine. There was a long message from the Martin family. All eleven of them had gathered by their phone to sing “Silent Night” to us. It was heartwarming to hear and perhaps the best gift of all: the gift of a simple, quiet song.

On the Saturday before Christmas we met with friends for a lovely dinner and a nice afternoon of conversation at their ridge top home. Today, also my husband's 53rd birthday, we had a large Sunday dinner at a Mennonite home and sang Christmas hymns and carols after the dishes were done (and with six women bustling about, they were done in no time). As it turns out, Temple was not the only birthday boy in attendance: our hosts, Irene and Ammon were born earlier in December, and are the same age as Temple, and another couple there were born a day apart on December 25 and 26th. Raymond Martin, whose family serenaded us with "Silent Night," also has a Christmas birthday. [And how can I forget my friend, fellow Cupcake, pantry fan and long-time "In the Pantry" blog reader back in New Hampshire who was also born on Christmas day? Peaches, to know you is to love you. She even made her own Bûche de Noël brought to Edie's, our other primary Cupcake and dear friend, for Christmas dinner.]

On Christmas Day we spoke to our daughter, my mother (who had just gotten her power back the day before after that fierce New Hampshire ice storm of two weeks ago), and many family members around the country. We lounged in our pajamas. We had a large breakfast of scrambled eggs, French toast, sausage and fruit, and mid-afternoon, after the roast was in, I prepared some hot artichoke dip and a shrimp platter with homemade red sauce (so much better that way and quick to make). At 6:30 we sat down to our traditional Christmas roast beef dinner, including the loftiest Yorkshire pudding I've ever made (for the recipe, see this former blog entry), roast potatoes, gravy and creamed spinach. It was a quiet, relaxing, peaceful day. I browsed through several new cookbooks (a person can never have too many, is my motto, and more on these later in the week) while Temple relaxed and the boys built and played with new Lego creations. All was calm, all was bright. [And what is it about Christmas that creates such peaceful sibling harmony?]

We were surprised that we could not find one of countless small local Baptist churches with a Christmas Eve or Christmas morning service! (We live on a ridge with three churches and many more within a square mile of us.) These are churches that have Wednesday evening services (but not if it falls on Christmas Eve, apparently) and two services on Sundays so I assumed that we would find a Christmas Eve service at least. No doubt this was fueled by visions of "The Homecoming" with the Waltons dancing in my head--remember the country church that John-Boy comes across when out on a winter road searching for his father on Christmas Eve? As I hail from the Episcopal liturgical tradition I am used to a lot of splash during Christmas and Easter week so expected to find at least a service to visit on Christmas Eve. We did not want to drive too far but I'm sure these services are out there further afield in more populated areas. We are still looking for a good church "fit" for our family and have enjoyed visiting different ones in the region.

But despite our church-less Christmas this year, we have felt very blessed and welcome during our first Kentucky Christmas--perhaps with even more spirit and community than we might have found in a church. Della T. Lutes, who wrote the best-selling memoir **The Country Kitchen [Little, Brown & Co.: 1937] in the midst of the Great Depression and who I quoted a few times in The Pantry--Its History and Modern Uses, wrote in her chapter 'A Simple Christmas' that in her childhood it "was not the occasion for the orgy of spending and sophisticated entertainment that it now is...Christmas was lifted, in our home, only a few degrees above the plane of any other simple holiday." After detailing the food at their feast--including goose and a Christmas pudding--and various neighbor guests and family members, she ends her book with a description of doing the chores on Christmas night with her father:

The light from the kitchen streams out,-- a lovely light, -- soft, ambient, and golden like a heavenly road to peace and safety. Here in the barn there is security. Storms cannot enter. Nothing can harm us here, for my father is in charge. The animals trust him. I trust him. Back there in the kitchen is safety, too. Warmth, and light, and food -- and Mother.

Does it get much better than that? I don't believe so.

**I highly recommend The Country Kitchen (reprinted or the original is available in second-hand bookstores) and its follow up, Home Grown, as much for the domestic and sentimental regaling as for the recipes peppered throughout these books. Della T. Lutes (1872-1942) also wrote a few other domestic-related books, some novels and was editor of two prominent women's magazines--American Motherhood and Today's Housewife--in the earlier part of the 20th century. After one magazine went bankrupt during the Great Depression, she contributed food and design articles as a freelance food writer to numerous national publications. The Country Kitchen was first published in serial form in the Atlantic Monthly and was well-received as a memoir about food and simpler living. Today the Horton Congregational Church in Lutes' hometown of Horton, Michigan hosts an annual Della T. Lutes Cook-off, inspired by this quote:

"If somebody could think up a contest so that all the housewives in the country would begin to vie with each other in the making of apple pie, it would not matter who was President or whether we lived by the Alphabet or the Roman numerals. For then the American Home would be restored, and the Home would rule the country."
from A Book of Menus with Recipes, Della Thompson Lutes, 1936

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I Wonder as I Wander

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor
on'ry people like you and like I...
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God's heaven a star's light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God's angels in
heav'n for to sing,
He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King.

Appalachian Folk Carol

For the tune, click here.

Have a blessed Christmas and holiday season ~

More soon from the ridge.


PS The drawing is by our eldest son from December 2006. The animal tableaux was set up by our younger son in this year's village scene for our first Kentucky Christmas.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lucy at Whitcomb House

Photograph © Gross + Daley for Old-House Interiors (1997)

My friend Sue sent me this image today. It is of our bullmastiff Lucy, just over a year old, taken at our former home in Hancock, New Hampshire. She didn't pose but was just sunning herself in the front parlor of our old house in the warm light of an October morning. I remember she followed Sue and Steve around as they were shooting for an article on the house that I wrote for Old-House Interiors. They always brought along their dog Mabel, a Norwegian Elkhound and almost 15, who became a good friend to Lucy. [Susan Daley and Steve Gross shot the house in October 1997 that appeared, along with Lucy, in the Fall 1998 issue of the magazine. Their blog talks more about their latest book, Time Wearing Out Memory.]

Lucy also appeared in an oil portrait painted by Numael Pulido, a modern realist painter from Hancock. He loved Lucy for her personality and painterly qualities and posed her along with our boys when they were a bit younger (about five years ago). [His wife, Shirley Pulido, is also an artist in murals and pastels and they are both represented by Vose Galleries in Boston, Massachusetts.]

I should also point out that the portrait on the wall behind Lucy in the photograph, above, is of my father-in-law, Thomas Pond, who died in 2001. It was also painted by Numael Pulido (in 1996), and he first met Tom when he used to go for long walks around town with his straw hat and cane. For a long time Tom's portrait hung in the parlor but before he died we put the portrait in the dining room overlooking our dinner table. He often liked to read on his old leather chair in the library where, in the evenings, he would drape his lap with a blanket. Lucy would come in and lie down, right at his feet, on top of any spare bit of warm blanket. He loved his time with Lucy and they had a special bond.

As I see the image of this painting of our boys and Lucy for the first time in months, I remember other things, too. (The portrait hung in our Hancock home for the past five years and was crated and put into storage when we moved this summer.) I realize that the little chair, in the Renaissance style, was at one time in my Ohio bedroom and something I salvaged a long time ago from my mother's barn. It was likely a chair from my father's Ohio childhood. The hat on the chair was knit by my mother just before Eli was born, when we took knitting lessons together, and the car that Eli is playing with was a childhood toy that had belonged to my father-in-law. They were used as artist's props but to me have much greater meaning and symbolism. It is odd, upon reflection, that the artist chose to have Lucy leashed. She sat perfectly well for the initial sketches and photographs to get the poses but I believe the artist wanted Henry to hold something and Lucy's leash seemed apt. I now have her leash and collar in a small bag in a drawer, the very same that Henry is holding in their portrait.

Lucy Mariah Whitcomb Pond • December 2007 • Hancock, NH (a year ago)

Thank you all for your lovely comments and emails as they are comforting. Normally I would not write something so personal in my blog but I wanted to write a tribute to a great dog and friend and found myself needing to reach out about her. Since her passing on December 3 (see my December 4 blog entry) I have found that writing and reminiscing has been very helpful to me. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lucy • August 26, 1996 - December 3, 2008

How can I write this now? Because I must. Writing and remembering can be like a painful solace when nothing, or no one else, can help. As I write this, the same flock of starlings is back swirling around the top of the ridge. I noticed them at this time yesterday, around 3pm, before I left to get our boys at school and when, we would realize later, Lucy likely went in the woods to die. There are thousands of them and the beat of their wings is like rising laughter and applause. The sun, also, is shining again after a gray drizzly night and morning. After our search before the cold, dark rain set in, and so much worry and fear of the inevitable, Temple found Lucy in the woods this morning, not far from the edge of the field where she was last seen sunning herself.

Lucy in her new home, by the fireplace in Kentucky • January 2008

Lucy was my friend and silent companion. She was a beloved member of the family who never complained. She was a large and lovable bullmastiff who would nuzzle bunnies and let our boys clamor all over her as toddlers, never nipping or bothered once. About the time our son Henry was born, and while she was recovering from her hysterectomy (ghastly thing, we realized later), my father sent four small stuffed TeleTubbies as a baby gift for Henry. When we came home from an outing, we found that Lucy had taken each one and made a small nest of them in the living room. She never chewed them, as young dogs will do with stuffed animals, but had brought each gently by the neck to a small bed she had made in the middle of the carpet. Hormones are a powerful thing. She would have made a fine mother and we somewhat regretted our decision to change that (except for that roaming unfixed lab on Main Street who wouldn't leave her alone).

I’m convinced, if necessary, that Lucy would have defended any family member to the finish but she was never presented with the opportunity. The bullmastiff, a cross between the English bull dog and mastiff breeds, was bred to patrol the perimeters of English estates to keep watch for poachers. If they came upon one, they would knock them over and hold them by the neck until their master came and called them off. Think of the bullmastiff as a stealth bomber in the animal kingdom: they are gifted at watching and sneaking up on you unawares. In many ways, Lucy was more mastiff than bull dog with her large leonine stature and longer jaw. But she was as gentle as a kitten.

Lucy in the grass behind our Kentucky home • Spring 2008

Twelve years ago, just before Thanksgiving, my husband, then 8-year old daughter Addie and I brought four-month old Lucy home with us. I had just learned of this majestic breed when seeing a person in town walking her dog down the road. It was faun-colored with a black, slightly smashed-in, wrinkly face. There was great beauty in this juxtaposition of features. I stopped the car to ask: “What kind of dog is that?” I had always wanted a bull dog but had read that their popularity had bred in things like bad hips and respiratory problems.

A bullmastiff seemed the next best thing. Thanks to the wonders of a recently installed dial-up Internet I was able to research the bullmastiff breed a bit more: devoted, not prone to barking (important in a small village), loving, large, great with children, relaxed (think major "Type B" dog personality). We soon found a woman within driving distance who had a pick-of-the-litter bullmastiff that she had decided not to keep. Overwhelmed with another child of her own, Lucy’s mother and several other dogs, the breeder realized one more pup was too much. Within two weeks we had Lucy.

On that rainy weekend we drove up to meet Lucy, not sure yet that we would be bringing her home. When the door opened, there she was in the front entry as if waiting for us. She looked at us with her deep brown eyes, quietly taking us in as she always would in her lifetime. Then she scampered off under a box. The house was in chaos: Lucy and her mother and siblings were getting into a box of cereal in the kitchen and ripping it to shreds, there was a baby crying, the usual family scene with several large dogs running around. Lucy was only four months old and yet had an older, wiser serenity about her amidst the clamor. At one point I remember her sitting apart from the cereal box onslaught--just watching it. While she had been well cared for, it was easy to see that we would be doing her a favor, and ourselves, by bringing her into our home. On the hour ride home, she crawled into my lap, fell asleep and stayed there. I was in love.

About a year ago, Lucy started to lose weight but only recently had it become more pronounced. As I look back at pictures of her from the past year, I see how rapidly her stature continued to diminish. We brought her to Kentucky last December and she adjusted beautifully. As long as she knew where I was, she would stay close to home on the porch or back field or inside. In the spring, she still had energy for walks and we took several around our farm. She did not patrol the borders like she did of our one acre in Hancock—often straying over property lines to visit a neighbor or the library. Her homing device was never good and we frequently had to go pick her up, just a street away.

On one occasion when she was young she ran off for the night after the annual fireworks display which boomed over the village from the lake. Since then she had also been terrified of thunder and any loud noises. Last April on the ridge we had a terrific spring thunderstorm that came up very quickly. We were not home, she was outside and off she went. The storm brought in a spring cold front: it was raw and rained for the entire weekend. When were just ready to give up looking a neighbor on the ridge, whom we'd happened to meet on the road the day before, drove in the driveway with Lucy. Here was this aging, frail dog who had walked four miles down the road from fear and was found curled up sleeping in a pasture, wet and cold. The neighbor said it was lucky that the sheep farmer next door had not seen and shot her. We were grateful we had met the neighbor just the day before to tell him about Lucy or he might never have noticed her. I was so thankful and knew that God had given us some more time with this magnificent dog.

The last picture taken of Lucy (by Addie) • July 2008, in the myrtle

We had another eight months with Lucy. It was a precious gift. We brought her back to New Hampshire for one last time (for all of us) in our old home for the summer. It was her second, long cross-country trip in less than six months and she was an excellent traveler. Back in New Hampshire she stayed mostly on the porch or in the kitchen, enjoying long drinks from the frog pond or the cool shelter of the myrtle bed where she loved to hide out and watch us, thinking we didn't see her. A few times when my husband was away, she slept on my bed upstairs, especially during summer thunderstorms. She clearly remembered her old house. She may have visited our neighbor Andy, on occasion, or made a "deposit" or two behind the town library next door (something she had done with alarming regularity the following year) but mostly she kept close to home. Several robin families even nested and raised their babies on our porches and were never as bothered by her presence as they were by ours. On return to Kentucky on August 1st, this time for good, we celebrated Lucy's twelfth birthday later that month. I knew that this, also, was a gift for a breed of dog that often doesn’t live past eight. Lucy has always defied the odds.

Yesterday was the first day I was out of the house in weeks. Having been sick myself, Lucy and I have recently curled up together in the den, she on her bed by the fireplace, me in the cushy old chair. Yesterday I got lunch for a crew of people helping take down an old barn. I even dropped the casserole dish, which landed right side up, and was able to still stick in the oven (I have never dropped food in the kitchen before and seemed unusually rattled). I had Lucy help me clean up what flew out of the dish, thinking she might enjoy the bits of turkey and noodles (we rarely gave her table food). How was I to know it would be her last supper?

Lucy and the children • Hancock, New Hampshire • Christmas 2003

After lunch I went in my office. Lucy came in, as she often did throughout the day, around 1:30pm to check on me. “Do you want to go out, Lucy?” Usually she will come up to my desk where I will pat her and nuzzle her face. But she just looked at me with those eyes and turned around and walked out again, as if she wanted me to follow her (I am sorry now that I did not). Given the chronology of who saw her last and when, I don't even know how she got out of the house again because I checked with our aunt and she had not let her out. We figure it may have been one of the workers coming in to use the bathroom but I'll never be certain. It's the kind of thing I do when I'm wondering "why?" and "how?" and "when?" Useless thinking, really.

At 3pm my husband came home. I was planning to get our boys from school, my first time in weeks, but he had come back to offer and was holding off on bulldozing the old leaning tobacco barn over until they were home. (How I wish now I had let him get them as I may have been able to be with Lucy or found her sooner.) I looked at Lucy’s bed on the porch and didn’t see her so I asked Temple if he had. “She’s sunning herself on the hill.” He went back to preparations for the barn demo.

As I went to the car, determined to get out of the house for the first time in a while without coughing, I was overwhelmed by the sound and clamor and darting of easily a thousand starlings flying about overhead and in the trees. Usually when I go to the car, or come home again, Lucy is right there to greet me. Not yesterday and I didn't think to say goodbye to her as I often did, reassuring her that I'll be home again soon. When I came home at 4pm, and she was not waiting on the lawn, I sensed something amiss but figured she was now in the house so I just waited in the car for the boys to change. At 4:45 after the barn was raised and I came home ahead of everyone else. That is when I noticed Lucy was gone. We looked around until an early winter dark. Calling was futile as she had gone deaf--but we did it anyway.

Lucy photographed surveying her domain a day before she went missing in an April 2008 thunderstorm. I had an ominous feeling when I took this photo, but thankfully she was found a few days later.

I drove on the ridge when all that time I should have known that she was close by. There had been no thunder to scare her and she has been so deaf the starlings likely didn’t even bother her. We left all of the outside lights on, feeling otherwise helpless, and I had a fitful sleep hearing the cold hard rain coming down. I checked the ridge again this morning. And we looked closer to the house again, too, and I asked my husband to check the woods and ravine behind the house. He came back a few minutes later. She was not far behind our home, just inside the woods near where she often sat and slept and watched her domain. She was not a woods girl unless accompanied and she had gone off to die. As I write this I am relieved to know what happened, but it doesn’t make the pain any less. I needed to see her and so we both went back to the woods together. There had been no struggle. She is now under shelter, where I have visited her again, and we will bury her tomorrow near where we hope to build one day, on a piece of Kentucky land that has become our home.

Lucy and her frog pond (with our boys and their cousins) • June 2007 As a toddler, our son Henry fell in the pond and Lucy went right in there with him, despite her not liking to swim or get wet.

Lucy never complained, she never cried, she barked only a handful of times when someone came into the yard that she didn’t know, and then only rarely. She always had a soft wet nudge for people that she liked and remembered. She was devoted and dutiful and loving and truly a most precious being on this earth. She has been with me through the most interesting, and often most difficult, quarter of my life so far. She was a watcher: she’d sit and wait and observe. But Christmas Day and being near the kids out playing in the yard brought out the shear joy in her. She'd get right into the thick of things as much for the fun of it as the watchful protection of the children. When I went to visit a neighbor or to the store across the street, Lucy would sit and wait, like a sentinel, in the front yard of our house.

I treated her like another daughter, really, and my own daughter, especially, bonded with her as I did. (Yes, we even had a voice for her and talked "Lucy" freely. And Addie nicknamed her "Snarf" when, as a puppy, she inhaled all of her food noisily from her dish and made, well, a snarfing noise. We also had many other names and expressions as people crazy about their dogs will do.) Addie said to me, "Mom, Lucy was a real presence in our lives...and she was never needy." She is now living in a house with a dog that whines and carries on and wants attention all the time. Lucy didn't make demands and yet she took all of us on in a way that now seems so unfair. This, I suppose, is the ultimate unconditional love of a dog for her family.

Selfishly, I hadn't taken her to a vet for her annual check-up, partly because of our move, but also because I did not want to hear what they had to say. Approaching twelve, I knew our time was limited with a large breed dog like Lucy who once weighed, at her prime, 130 pounds. This past year, especially in recent months, I knew she was at least comfortable and slept most of the time and yet I was aware that her rapidly diminishing physique was not a good sign of how she was doing. Because she never complained, she may have been in more pain that I realized.

Lucy in her favorite hillside spot in Kentucky • Spring 2008

I wish she could be here forever with us but I know that nothing is permanent. God gave us a heart to feel and to love and right now mine is breaking. I so want to hear the jingle of her collar or see her peer around the corner of my office door like she always did, and as she did when I saw her for the last time yesterday afternoon, or just curled up near my feet away from winter weather. I will ache when I look out of my office window every day and not see her on the rise of the field, like a lioness on the Serengeti. I will miss her soft, warm ears and distinctive smell.

I almost wonder if she wasn't hanging on, despite her suffering, through this transitional year to make sure we were all OK. There is something reassuring about the presence of a loved pet: they are just there, nearby, dependent but so giving to us. Despite our human frailties, they are loyal and true and fill the house with a certain spirit. What a part of our lives our pets become and yet they ask so little of us in return! I have read many near death encounters where people dying are greeted by beloved pets. I believe they go ahead to prepare a path and a place for us, with a waiting fire and a cozy dwelling place.

When I called our daughter today, whom I miss even more with Lucy's loss, she reminded me of the time when Lucy was a young puppy and came inside from an afternoon of playing with her in the snow. Lucy immediately went missing and we all searched the entire house looking for her. We soon found her in the kitchen where she had crawled up into a little basket of hats and mittens and gone to sleep. I pray that her passing was as warm and peaceful before the cold night rains came. I am only sorry I wasn't more diligent in finding her so that I might have been with her. Yet I know that instinct makes animals want to flee from their familiar when they are in pain or trying to die. I have to know, in my heart, that her spirit soared off with those starlings on a warm December afternoon on a ridge in Kentucky. I do know, with every part of me, that I was so very blessed to have had this majestic being in our lives on earth.

Tomorrow we will bury her on our new farm just across the road. We have picked a spot near where we will eventually build our house, by an old sturdy apple tree that, just yesterday morning, I made sure would be saved before the old barn was taken down. We are planning a small orchard around that one heirloom tree and eventually a kitchen garden, and hen yard, beside that. I hope Lucy will like it there where she can survey the fields and buildings and keep a watchful eye on all of us, where she will help prepare a place for us. When I walked up to the farm with my husband to look at the spot towards dusk, the same swarm that I had seen earlier of several thousand starlings gathered up in a chorus of noise and stirring of wings. From the top of the knob behind our double-wide, they flew down and settled on the lower fields and trees around us, as if in benediction.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Holy Sauerkraut Balls, Batman!

It must be the German blood in my heritage but sauerkraut is one of those foods I've always enjoyed and occasionally will crave (as well as apple butter, thanks to my father who enjoyed slathering it on slices of fresh bread and butter or stirred into his cottage cheese). OK, so it's not one of the most attractive foods on a plate by itself but it is delicious if you like pickled, fermented shreds of cabbage that look like a pile of stringy worms. And it is also good with sausage, apples, pork, beets -- even as an ingredient in its own right.

As a child in Ohio, my parents would get frozen sauerkraut balls from Bisson's Market if they were entertaining or at the holidays. Most people wince and make faces when they hear of such a thing but most of us who hail from northeastern Ohio would take a sauerkraut ball over French fries any day of the week (and if fried in the right stuff, they are actually a vegetarian option, if you omit the diced ham found in some recipes, and also substitute something for eggs if you're a vegan).

On a trip to Akron last spring, I actually stopped at West Point Market for a little portable nosh before my six hour drive back to Kentucky. Among the food I got was a little box of sauerkraut balls from their counters of fabulous prepared foods. Yes, they are even delicious at room temperature but perhaps best, slightly warmed, with a bit of red sauce on the side. [Here is an interesting thread/discussion about sauerkraut balls at]

I've also loved Reuben sandwiches since my teen years, another food with apparent Midwestern origins (from Omaha, Nebraska). My mother's friend Twila Baker, who lived in Akron when we did, gave her a great recipe for them. As I don't have it, I improvised last week. Before Thanksgiving I got some half-decent sliced rye bread, a jar of sauerkraut, sliced Swiss cheese and lots of lean-ish corned beef from the deli, and a good quality Thousand Island dressing (or you can use Russian dressing--frankly, I can't tell the difference between them and am not sure which is the proper condiment for a Reuben). Thousand Island is one of those dressings I remember my mother making before a cookout: a bit of mayo, a bit of relish, a bit of ketchup, perhaps some chopped egg. I don't even know if she used a recipe.

All I know is when I was a kid, I couldn't stand it and I think it had something to do with watching the ingredients being mixed together and the resulting color. [On second read, and the addition of the food history origins of both dressings, I believe it was actually Russian dressing that my mother was making. I have just emailed her about this as clearly it is crucial information. Meanwhile, Mrs. Baker has just emailed me to confirm that yes, it was Russian dressing used in her Reubens. Also, Linda Stradley at What's Cooking America, lists the Reuben first hailing from New York City in 1914 although several later Omaha references are also mentioned. Reuben wars!] Speaking of Reubens and recipes, Reuben Casserole anyone? (from And check out those "Planetary Frankfurters"~ Yum! [Note: these images were illustrated by Lou Peters for a series of Good Housekeeping cookbooks. You probably have a few in your own kitchen. I am indebted to Ward Jenkins and his fabulous detail-oriented blog, The Ward-o-Matic, for "borrowing" them.]

But to make a good Reuben, all you do is pile up the ingredients (the more corned beef the better) and grill on both sides, turning carefully, and cooking slowly so as not to burn. I don't know how the restaurants do it but that seems to be what works for us. If you want to gild the lily, serve extra dressing on the side, along with good potato chips and dill pickle spears.

Last week I was actually eating sauerkraut out of the jar, post my pneumonia (mild) diagnosis. I couldn't understand why so I looked it up. Apparently it is loaded with natural healing properties for respiratory and stomach ailments. Germans often give it to their children several times a week. Naturally I turned to the Sauerkraut website (which makes Frank's Sauerkraut, pictured above) for more recipes that I'd like to try. (Chocolate sauerkraut cake, anyone? Like chocolate cakes made with zucchini or beets, I imagine it adds moistness but also a bit of zing.) As Frank was the nickname of my great-grandfather, of German descent, as well as a good family friend (hi Frankman!), I rather like the brand, if not how the can looks on the pantry shelf.

Here is a blog, Down to Earth from Australia, that details how to make your own sauerkraut (thanks for that, Teresa!). I'm sure there are other instructions on-line, too, like here at Mother Earth News. Now I know why I've always wanted one of those huge stoneware crocks, still made in Ohio and available at places like Lehman's in Kidron, Ohio. [Mmm, I am seeing a road trip to Ohio's Amish country, Holmes County, sometime this spring--imagine paying shipping on a large stoneware crock? I actually remember when most hardware stores sold these crocks in all sizes as a matter of course.] And now I finally have good reason to grow and try a lot of cabbages next summer in the garden. I'll detail my procedure next fall. I'm convinced I can convert my family to the wonders of this succulent fermented food, even if I have to sneak it into their cake!

[Program Note: I will be interviewed about my book and all things pantry for the "My Beautiful Home" radio show on WAKR 1590 AM, in Akron, Ohio on Saturday, December 6 (10-11am). Andy January, of January Paint & Wallpaper, and Catherine DeLong host this program. Be sure to tune in if you are in the greater Akron listening area!]