baking

COOKIE DAY + THE CHRISTMAS TREE CHOP

 
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There are a few days every year that I look forward to most, Cookie Day and the Christmas Tree Chop among them. Saint Lucia Day is joining the ranks—I can feel it. This blog is becoming a little chronicle of the aforementioned traditions, and like a creature of habit I look forward to documenting and writing about this year's. Annual days like these mark the passage of time yet maintain the patina of well-worn tradition, and I for one need that dichotomy. In a whirling, swirling season (and year!) surely it's essential that we keep a few things constant, slow, and sacred.

Cookie Day has happened every year for 21 years! Certain years there are special guests who throw aprons on and lean into the spirit of frosting and sprinkles (you will walk away with a blue tongue and a stomachache; it's just a fact, people.). Other years there are just 3 or 4 of us. Ever constant are Fran and Cindy, lifelong best friends and Cookie Day Foundresses. We are trending upwards in numbers as a whole gaggle of children join the Cookie Force. All the little ones present this year are Montessori-educated, which showed in their deliberate care in rolling dough and cutting shapes. (It should be noted that they also deliberately snuck so many bites of cookie dough that I was sure they themselves would morph into cut-out cookies. Self-control is tough when there are 200 cookies on the table.) I would be remiss to not mention my grandma's absence. We missed her palpably. Her dear sister, my Great Aunt Posie, joined us and filled the air with the gentle joy the Engle sisters were decidedly known for.
// [Peek 2015 + whoops, I guess I never posted the photos from 2016]

And the Christmas Tree Chop! It's only our fourth year—practically infancy—and I suspect the cost of trees increased at our local tree farm, but it is no less a favorite tradition. Hot chocolate and coffee must accompany, and ten to twenty trees need be deliberated over before settling on The One. Brother Zach always cuts it down, and generally one child cries. It's a little bit chaos, a lotta bit festive. 
// [Peek 2015 + 2016]

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—S

A NICE SPOT FOR A REST

 

Having emerged on the other side of kidding season's busiest week—still standing, if a little wobbly—we decided that our only day off together in weeks would be for one thing only: Rest. We slept until our bodies woke us at the luxurious hour of eight (!); and then parked ourselves, along with our trusty french press, on the couch for the remainder of the morning. A hot water bottle (outfitted in Sam's latest woolen creation: a turtle-neck cover, knit with yarn that she bought from a sweet, elderly sheep herder at the Vermont Grazing and Livestock Conference) made a worthy companion for our sore muscles. A little later, a berry tart from a beloved cookbook provided more comfort yet. 

Even after a particular difficult stretch of work—during which we welcomed more than one hundred kids onto the farm, tended to several goats with health issues, and saw our days routinely stretch well over twelve hours—it is easy to be called to gratitude for all that we have. The work that we have to perform is meaningful to us, and this temporary state of weariness comes with an enduring sense of satisfaction. We are humble witnesses & facilitators of a rush of new life into the world and into our lives, and the challenges that manifest during that process are cause for even greater appreciation of when things do go well. 

This all goes without mentioning how incredible it is that we, as farmers, are even able to enjoy a day of rest together during a busy time. We are oh-so-aware that a consequence of realizing the dream of farming your own land is the death of the day off, as well as any other workplace-related benefits, for that matter. But the skilled hands around us now, together with the people who had the vision & gumption to start a farm-creamery business that employs people like us, make possible each treasured day of rest such as this. That such an occasion takes place alongside a warm fire, with food in the pantry, in a home that we love . . . it calls to mind a blessing that Sam's dad says before nearly every family meal:

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!"


—M

A CAKE FOR FEBRUARY

 

On the sofa, feet up, coffee in hand, we ruminated over What Feels Good and What Needs Fixin' in life. Subject matter ranging from our marriage to our year off social media, from gratitude to whether or not we're drinking enough water (decidedly no). We figured out that we are equal but opposite when it comes to rising and resting. He needs coaxing out of bed with head scratches and hot coffee in order to wake up, and I need coaxing with conversation and activity to stay awake past 8:30. The thought was uttered that maybe a proper date would be a good idea, since neither of us could remember when the last one was, except that it was well before Winter hit in November. He taught me a bit about music, and I gave a casual lesson on European versus American buttercream frosting. The day before, I baked a coffee almond cake and dressed it up with the silkiest buttercream frosting I have ever tasted (learned from Butter: A Rich History). It was consumed in great company. We even managed a piece for the next day's breakfast. So it goes with my valentine. I will go so far as to call it our Best Ever Valentine's Day.

February's cake* is a good'n, and it comes from Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. My mother-in-law gifted me this cookbook for Christmas and I haven't stopped baking from it. Every recipe is incredibly straight-forward and prizes simple, whole ingredients. It does not shy away from sugar or butter or whole milk, but neither do I. Being that I only own four cookbooks, Fika is my companion for simple desserts and savory breakfast recipes. I think I've stained every page. This cake, hasselnötskaka med kaffe (hazelnut coffee cake in Swedish), is not especially sweet and has a wonderful texture from the ground nuts. I used almonds because I could not find hazelnuts at the grocery store and because I love almonds. Otherwise, I baked the cake exactly as described and really, really liked it.

I found the recipe available here if you want to try it! I surely think it's a worthy treat to feed your loved ones.

*Psst. I began my Cake-A-Month goal in 2017. Here's January's cake!


—S

COMFORT | RECIPE: GARLIC HUMMUS + EVERYDAY BREAD

 

The times are a'changing; and when change comes, it comes in heaps. Last Monday, five inches of snow fell, blanketing Northeast Ohio. Come the weekend, it was 65 and sunny—ripe for a weekend visit to Columbus and soaking up precious time with family and our favorite places (think multiple french presses from your favorite coffee shop, a large pizza eaten on a bench outside, crisp beers in the middle of the afternoon). For the next two weeks, we will be relishing in the comfort of living the same life we've been living for the past year. There will be packing and farewells, and a nominal amount of planning; but mostly we will be enjoying the days ahead. When those two weeks are up, we will be headed for Vermont to work at Consider Bardwell Farm. Then to Greece. Then we reenter the unknown. No jobs, no housing, no regional location determined. Together we'll go, and together we'll fare. 

Speaking of fare. We've been eating copious amounts of bread and hummus. Say what you will about gluten; we don't subscribe. There is no comfort quite like that provided by fresh-baked bread. Mark wrote a guide to our everyday bread recipe, viewable on the Lehman's Hardware blog.

This bread is the lifeblood of our kitchen, and it pairs well with literally everything. Most recently, we have been slathering it with homemade garlic hummus, a signal of all the change to come: the warm months, leave from Ohio, and a return to the Mediterranean diet. For now, though, we will be enjoying it in the comfort of our first home together. A note on the hummus: it's made with a  food processor. We just added one to our kitchen—a most exciting event. We were previously using a brass meat tenderizer to smash the chickpeas. The product was by no means smooth, but it did the job and works well if you do not have the luxury of a food processor, as we didn't for many years.

GARLIC HUMMUS
adapted ever so slightly from My Name Is Yeh

steps
— Cover chickpeas with water and soak for 12 hours, or overnight.
— Once chickpeas are soaked, drain and cover with 2 inches of water in a sauce pot.
— Add baking soda, cover and simmer until fork tender (which was about 30 minutes for us).
— Drain chickpeas and transfer to a food processor. 
— Add tahini, olive oil, salt, cloves of garlic, and lemon. Blend until smooth and buttery soft. Sometimes we add just a little bit of the strained chickpea water to help with consistency.
— Garnish with several glugs of olive oil and oregano, or any herbs that suit your fancy. At this point there's no harm that can be done.
 

ingredients
3/4 c. dried chickpeas
6 T. tahini
7 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 pinches of salt
2 pinches baking soda
4 cloves garlic
juice of 1/2 lemon
 


—M&S