Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Butter Making

I've been fascinated with butter making since I was a kid.

My Uncle Jackie and Aunt Gwen had a farm in the Florida panhandle where they grew cotton, peanuts and sugar cane. Each summer we would make the long journey and spend a week on the farm. They were mostly self sufficient as was the case of many farmers back then. They had a Jersey cow for milk, cream and butter, a hog that was butchered in the fall and a garden that provided fresh vegetables. Other items were purchased at the market or obtained by trade with other farmers.

Despite the fact that Gwen was severly crippled by a virulent form of arthritis, she did all the normal chores of a farm wife including cooking a huge midday meal for all the farm hands. The table would literally groan under the weight of the fried chicken, fresh green beans, mashed potatoes smothered in milk gravy. There was always a large batch of fresh butter for the mountains of hot biscuits.

Her kitchen was her workplace and I remember with fondness her Daisy butter churn. These were tabletop models and Aunt Gwen would sit at the table watching Jackie in the field, churning her butter. These churns have become desirable collectibles and I'm constantly on the lookout for one on Ebay or estate sales. No luck yet. The prices are pretty sky high.


The butter we're going to make today is a little different than Aunt Gwen's. She would have used fresh cream skimmed off the top of a large container of milk that had been standing for at least 12 hours. This type of butter has a stronger flavor and you would need to have a local dairy farmer or farmer's market that sells fresh milk or cream. Today we're going to use heavy whipping cream and an electric mixer. There are other methods and we'll talk about that later.

When working with any type of cream I always put both the bowl and the beaters in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.


We're going to be using two pints of heavy whipping cream. You'll need to look for a brand that is not ultrapasteurized. Also check the label to make sure that other things haven't been added, such as carageenan. This contains only cream.


Pour the cream into the chilled bowl and start whipping at a high speed. It only takes a minute or two and the mixture will become very creamy.


The next stage is soft peak and in about a minute or two you will have reached the stiff peak stage. From here the mixture will quickly seize up and start to get chunky.


Keep beating. Some magic is about to happen. All of a sudden the chunky mixture will begin to turn a pale shade of yellow. I'm sure there's all kinds of scientific explanations as to how this happens, but let's just say it's magic.


Keep beating. Don't get discouraged. It will take about 10-15 minutes from the time you started. The action of the beating is encouraging the flat globules in the cream to join together. All of a sudden BAM....they decide to form a bond and separate themselves from the buttermilk. You'll see little droplets of moisture forming and then a quantity of buttermilk will appear. You're going to need to pour it off or it will be flying all over your kitchen!


Continue to beat the butter until there doesn't seem to be anymore moisture being released.


Now you're going to rinse the butter in very cold water. Knead the butter, this will coax any remaining buttermilk out because it will cause your butter to sour.


From 2 pints of buttermilk I got 1 cup of buttermilk and 1 cup of beautiful butter.


At this point you can add some salt or other ingredients. I cut the batch in half, put some in a jar for daily use and I mixed the other half with fresh herbs. Plop the herb butter onto a sheet of waxed paper, roll the paper over and roll between your hands so that it's round. Twist the ends and put into the freezer. This can be sliced at served.



This is such a fun project to do with your children. Another method is to put some cream into a Tupperware container with a marble and allow the kids to shake, shake, shake until it becomes butter.

The Engineers Who Cook have a great explanation of all the processes. You can find it here.

Please let me know if you try this recipe. I'd like to know how it turned out.

Tomorrow we're going to look at what I'll call, fashion varia...this and that.

Towanda Lives!

There's a phrase that I often use when women are lamenting the fact that they're turning fifty or when they're having a meltdown or a mini-meltdown.

"At 50 the madwoman in the attic breaks loose, stomps down the stairs and sets fire to the house. She won't be imprisoned any longer." - Erica Jong

This quote speaks to that moment when you brain just snaps. It's when your child asks you if you got the grass stains out of the field hockey uniform, or when your husband forgets to tell you that he's invited 12 co-workers for dinner on Saturday night.

It's the Towanda moment from Fried Green Tomatoes. It's the epiphany, the tipping point.

You feel as if hot lava is rising in your soul, not realizing that there is hot lava rising. Did you forget about menopause?

You turn and look and everyone instantly shakes with fear at the crazy sparkle in your eyes.

"Everybody outta the pool", you hollar. At this point you grab your handbag and run to the nearest Curves to sign up for their special offer. And then you head over to Starbucks for a Pumpkin Latte. The teenager barista fears for his life as he tries to explain that Pumpkin Latte is only a seasonal offering.

"OK, well give me anything with chocolate."

Sometime later you return home and your family is standing around like deer in the headlights.

Their eyes dart back and forth and someone whispers, "What happened to mom?"

She got possessed. She got religion. She got into the voodoo juju juice.

No. That's not it. It's very simple really. Mom turned fifty and the madwoman was let loose!

NOTE: One of my favorite bloggers, Vee has opened her apron. Check it out. I'm really honored because she has awarded me a "Bodacious Blogger" award. Once again I'm feeling like the dad in The Christmas Story. Thanks Vee.

Tomorrow we're going to try to make butter. I use the word "try" because lately things are quite going the way I planned. (Look in the archives for the very ugly pound cake).

Monday, January 28, 2008

Road Trip - A Convocation of Eagles

We spare no expense or energy here at the farmer's wife, to bring you exciting and authentic midwest adventures. If you're going to live in a cold climate you'll need to find ways to have fun outdoors.

Today we'll head down to the little town of Utica, Illinois, which is on the banks of the Illinois River. It's about and hour and 15 minutes south of here. The drive might be a little boring because Illinois corn country is flat. You can see from horizon to horizon, and the roads run straight as an arrow.

Along the way we're going to pass some interesting sights. Here's the wind farm in Paw Paw. These windmills are gigantic. The large barns and gigantic grain elevators are dwarfed by these machines. They take advantage of the constant wind. If you're even in this area get off the interstate and drive along the farm roads. You can stop and stand under these giants. They make a low whooshing sound as they turn.


We'll also pass the final resting place for tons of farm equipment, rusting under the trees. This is near Troy Grove which was the birthplace of Wild Bill Hickock. There's a memorial to him in the center of the tiny town.


The eagle watch is being held at Starved Rock State Park which lies on the banks of the Illinois River. The Illinois feeds into the Mississippi and at this time of year eagles populate areas along the river.

Here's a fact I bet you didn't know. At this time of year Illinois is home to that largest population of eagles outside of Alaska. Who would have thought? It's a good fact to keep in mind the next time one of your children has to do a report for school.

The eagles congregate near the dams. Most of the river is frozen during winter, but the spillover from the dam creates a small area of open water and this is where the eagles hunt for fish. There were thousands of all types of birds sharing this space. If you look at the photo of the frozen river you'll see a large flock of Canada Geese.


It was a very sunny and warm day for this time of year. The eagles took the opportunity to sun themselves and watch the crowds watching them! Most of the birds were perched in trees on an island in the middle of the river. How many eagles can you count? We spotted at least 18 and another 10 on a small inlet on the banks of the river.


It was a nice warm day, in the 30's, perfect weather for spending time outdoors in nature. Here's another group of eagle watchers across the inlet from us.


The flat Illinois prairie drops dramatically into the river valley. A fort once stood on the cliffs overlooking the river.

Here's a magnificant bird sunning himself.


An eagle's nest is an awesome piece of architecture. Forget twigs and mud, these nests are built from the stuff of trees. A six foot adult male could easily lie down in the nest. This is simply a temporary three month stop on their migration north and they do not build nests or lay eggs in this area.

If you're in the vicinity of northern Illinois, the eagles arrive sometime in December. Eagle watching will be good through January into the middle of February. There are great spots along the Mississippi from the Quad cities north to Thomson, Illlinois. This would be a fantastic adventure for your children.


I would have thought that the correct collective noun would be a "soar of eagles", but in fact it's a convocation! Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to visit, I appreciate it.

NOTE: The recipe contest is over and the entries have been submitted to my friend, the pastry chef. She will be getting back to me in the middle of the week. Stay tuned.

ALSO......Our adventure for February will involve warmer temperatures. Dig in your closet and pull out all your resort wear. Make an appointment with the tanning salon and work on a base tan. The farmer and I are going to take you along on an adventure to St. Croix! If you've been to St. Croix, please give us a heads up on what not to miss on the island.

Tomorrow we will take a look at Towanda moments.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Way-Back Machine

Time: Spring 1984
Place: Our little home - Bartlett, Illinois



There they are in all their cuteness - the farmer's kids. It's Easter Sunday and this scene represents many hours of hard work. First we had to shop for those awesome outfits. That morning everyone had to rise early. They had to be bathed, fed, dressed, hair spiffed. In the meantime the farmer and I had to also get ready.

My son is looking snappy in his double breasted jacket and khakis. A white shirt, clip-on tie and dress shoes round out the look. Daughter is looking like a pixie in her blue calico dress with white ruffly smock. Look at those super white patent leather shoes and clean socks. WOW, what a couple of cutie pies.

But if I stopped here you wouldn't get the whole picture and it wouldn't be an accurate representation of how childhood played out in our household. The day-to-day business of living was not all spit and polish, regardless of the fact that the farmer was once a drill instructor in the Army. Think about that for a moment. How would you like to be the D.I.'s kid? Besides, I find the photo somewhat boring, lacking a certain something.

So to present another view of their childhood I offer you this photo:


There, that's more like it. All I can think when I look at this is....bad mommy! Just so you don't miss anything I'll review the photo in detail. You will notice that I believed in independence from a young age. The children were allowed to dress themselves if they so desired. It's apparent that on this morning they so desired. My daughter has chosen one of her brother's polo shirts and matched it up with a hand-me-down skirt from her cousin that is too big and was packed away for the future. It seems the future has arrived. Nice ruffled socks but what's up with those shoes? Filthy!! Oh yeah, those were the shoes that I'd tossed in the garbage the week before, but since they were her favorites, she dug them out for this occasion.

You will also notice that for a mid-morning snack she has chosen an entire bag of potato chips. She probably washed it all down with a quart of red Kool Aid.

My son is more refined, the artist in the family. He's done well with the daily wardrobe choice. The shirt and overalls coordinate nicely with the socks, but what's this.....his shoes are on the wrong feet!! Just for the effect he's sticking out his tongue. Nice.

I certainly wouldn't want you to get the wrong idea of me as a mom. I was devoted to my children and I've always been a creative genius where they're concerned. Look at the fabulous play things I fashioned for them -


You'll notice the bare feet. And look, my son has decided to wear his dad's Jack Daniels tee shirt.

Bad, bad mommy.

I love my young adult children dearly, but I would give a king's ransom to go back and spend just one day with these little ones.

MORAL TO THIS STORY: Moms - cut yourself some slack. The little girl above now has a degree in interior design and working on her master's in construction management. The little boy sticking out his tongue is earning a nursing degree and working in a home for severly disabled young adults. The happiness and well being of your children as adults does not depend on whether their shoes are on the right feet!

I'm posting this late on Saturday night because the farmer and I are going eagle watching tomorrow. Come back on Monday, hopefully I'll have some great pics to show you!

Once Cherished ..... Cherished Again

Everything is nine miles from here. That's my mantra, "I live nine miles from everything." We like it that way, but I do try to save up my errands and choose a day of the week to run them all. There are two choices if food shopping is on the list, the Italian market is 9 miles to the north and the generic big box store is 9 miles to the south. The post office is south, so if mail is included in the agenda, that dictates my route.

No matter which route I choose, there's something interesting that I can include in my day. To the south, there's an antique store, a darling old house to the brim with treasures. To the north, there's a fabulous Goodwill store standing in the middle of lots and lots of McMansions.....translation: really quality stuff.

This trip involved the post office so I head south. I hit the grocery store for a few items, then I mail off an apron and handbag and then turn left and pull into the parking lot of the antique store.

Antiques stores in the midwest have a charm all their own. There's lots of everyday household goods because this area has always been about homes and farms. The ladies who own Amazing Grace have created three floors of nooks and crannies where you could easily fill an afternoon. The items were once cherished, and will be cherished again.

Unfortunately, it was bitterly cold and I didn't dare attempt to cross the frozen highway to capture of photo of the lovely old home, perhaps in the spring I'll do that. The interior is delightful with pocket doors and sturdy woodwork. This is a small alcove in a dormer on the second floor. If this was my home I would tuck a daybed under those unusual windows.


Old cupboards are filled to the brim with lovely old dinnerware and I found
Raggedy Andy hiding in a closet.


If you look around closely, you can find almost anything. Here's a pair of wooden shoes, tucked inside a wooden box in the basement.


One of my favorites - beautiful things for a dressing table. Yesterday we visited my boudoir, but I'm saving the dressing table for another day.


I seriously think I need to go back for that mirrored tray.

This store has lots of vintage linens,


and aprons!


Some things bring back good memories. My mother had a set like this, but all the words (flour, sugar, coffee) were in German.


Here's another alcove filled with vintage baby items. So sweet.


When I go back for the mirrored tray I'm probably going to take this home also.


English ironstone, it's a good thing!

These ladies do a superb job of display. As a shopper I always want to see things arranged as they would be used in the home. Here's a fabulous setting featuring Kings Crown glassware. My grandmother had a set that she used with her Pink Willow dinnerware. Oh, the memories!


The iconic symbol of the American midwest would have to be the Hoosier cupboard.


I've always wanted one, especially with the flour bin and sifter on the left hand side.

Thanks so much for going along on this peek at wonderful antique store. Perhaps one of the items has brought back a good memory for you. I hope so.

Very soon that mirrored tray and ironstone platter will be cherished again.

Don't forget - we're traveling tomorrow. It's the Way Back Machine!

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Boudoir

Yesterday I tossed out the word boudoir in my teaser line. Instantly it occurred to me that I didn't know how to spell it and I didn't really know the meaning. Vaguely I knew it referred to a bedroom but after checking my Big Kahuna dictionary it seems that it refers to a ladies bedroom or dressing area. So the term boudoir isn't accurate because a man shares this space with me.

When we were first married the farmer brought two things with him:

1. A healthy appetite for living.
2. His really, really ugly bachelor bedroom set.

It was a hulking affair with multiple layers of trim upon trim, making it impossible to dust. Since there were many more important things to spend our money on, such as raising two children, we deferred getting something new.

Fourteen years ago when we moved into our current house we sent the old bedroom set packing. It was purchased by a used furniture dealer who was thrilled with it's Mediterranean overtones. At this point I acquired my grandmother birds eye maple set which included a dresser with mirror and a lovely dressing table. I purchased a matching low boy dresser and mirror at an estate sale. I was disappointed because it all looked a little tired and out of scale in our larger bedroom space.

After my daughter graduated high school she entered interior design school. You know how it is when people launch into new a field of study, a class or two and suddenly they're experts in the field. Such was the case with the farmer's daughter. She marched in one evening and announced that our bedroom was a feng shui disaster of epic proportions!

"Look at all those mirrors," she exclaimed. "You have three, count them three mirrors, all facing the bed."

"OK.....?" I said quizzically.

"It's like when you point a mirror at the sun. All those mirrors are combining and focusing all the energy on you and dad as you sleep!"

This all sounded very ominous and she assured me that it was only through luck that the farmer and I hadn't divorced or inflicted bodily harm on each other.

But it got worse. There was a bookcase. Feng Shui evil lurking in the corner on my side of the bed. I slept on my right side which meant that I slept facing the bookcase. At this prospect my daughter almost fainted. All the power and information from the books were bombarding me throughout the night. Perhaps this could explain why I didn't feel refreshed in the morning. Who would have thought.

I felt a sense of urgency to correct the situation before swords or butcher knives were drawn. At the advice of my daughter-the-expert I cruised through local furniture stores every day on my lunch hour.

During all the birds eye maple years the room was filled with quilts, blue and white china pieces and skads of perfume bottle and mirrors, those dangerous mirrors. I'd looked longingly at beautiful and stately rice carved four posted beds but the farmer nixed that idea. They were too fussy and too big for him. I continuted my search and found a set I would have never considered in a hundred years. It was dark wood with clean lines, a style I would call "metro modern". The scale was right but wait, we're neither metro nor modern. Never mind, I loved it and so did the farmer. Besides our tastes were leaning towards building a retirement home that reflected a warm, organic contemporary style. And so it came home to live with us.

I have 10,000 artsy photographs on my computer, you'd think I could frame at least one to hang over the bed.


The room is far from finished. The windows scream for "treatment".


I've gotten as far as buying the fabric.

The bookcase has been banished to a corner where it won't cause problems.


The only book directly facing the bed is a leather bound copy of Plato's Republic. Now we wake up each morning feel renewed and incredibly smart. Just the other day the farmer turned to me and said, "The spangled heavens should be used as a pattern and with a view to that higher knowledge; their beauty is like the beauty of figures or pictures excellenty wrought by the hand of Daedalus."

Yeah, I'll move that book.


Ikea's affordable river rocks find a new home in a jar.


I found this at Target. It was intended for the buffet table but it's being used to keep all of the farmer's stuff from scratching the wood.


There's still a minor mirror problem but it's been reduced by two thirds so perhaps we'll only slap each other in the morning instead of drawing knives!

Stay tuned tomorrow when we'll talk about something. Can you tell I'm not thinking ahead. I'm simply going to blame it on bad feng shui.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Get Thee to a Bookstore

You go to the bookstore, I'll just stay inside, look at the beautiful ice patterns on the windows and work on my cabin fever.


So what's going on in your little corner of the world? It was 30 below zero last night and the day dawned to blindingly bright sunshine which has warmed everything up quite nicely. It's now a balmy 15 below. And that's not taking the wind chill into account. Have I mentioned that northern Illinois is a tremendously windy place? The wind is as much of the landscape as trees or cornfields. If the wind drops to deadly calm we get very nervous. It usually means something bad is going to happen.

Yesterday Vee had some interesting things to say. Her son made a comment about the speed in which a house can feel like home. That's something I'd like to explore further sometime in the future. She also talked about changing perspective. Over the years the idea of perspective becomes a much clearer concept. At this point I've viewed life from many different perspectives, always changing. Child, teenager, young adult, young married......well, you get the idea. Each change in perspective brings with it the experience and tiny bits of wisdom from the stage before.

I remember as a 20 year old my perspective on life was that the older I got the easier things would be. That hasn't proven to be true. I examined why that might be and found that even though my experience and skills in dealing with life's problems grew through the years, the complexity and gravity of new challenges were growing at an even greater rate.

So why the bookstore you ask? All the blogging sisters seem to be having great successes in the publishing world.Betz White has a new book and it looks lovely. Pam Garrison is featured in Somerset and the ever-elegant Corey is in Victoria. Ladies, please! You could make a girl feel positively inadequate.

Also out on the magazine stand is the newest edition of Hallmark. I really like this publication and the March 2008 edition has an article written by our own Alicia, from Posie Gets Cozy. You read Posie, don't you? If you don't you should start today.

You can't miss the magazine because there's lots of hot pink on the cover.


I think it's human nature to want to peek into people's lives. It's not a voyeuristic thing at all, but a natural curiousity about how people live and work. The article is entitled, "My Mended Life", and Alicia talks in depth about her accident and how her life would evolve. Here's Alicia and Andy. He's looks so cute untangling that yarn. If I could only get the farmer to help out in the studio.


What a great smile. She looks like she'd be such a good friend. In fact, she is a good friend to us every day as she shares her challenges, triumphs and blueberry pancakes.

Clover the dog gets face time too. Jake Johnson's photos are great.


I encourage you to read her story and think about how it might apply to you.

I've been writing on the internet for about 8 years, on forums and several blog incarnations. There's one thing I've learned. No matter how I write my story, from what perspective or what I intend my message to be, the ultimate decision is up to the reader. They will decide what the message is for them. And that's a very exciting thought.

Alicia suffered a painful physical trauma but many of us have challenges that are not obvious at first glance. Perhaps we've had a difficult and unhappy childhood, or insecurities that hold us back. Alicia is a good example of how we can use those challenges to make better lives for ourselves.

Thanks Alicia, I appreciate the message and the beautiful way you deliver it.

Tomorrow we'll take a peek into my boudoir!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Rest of the Story

Yesterday I posted a story about baking a buttermilk pound cake from scratch. What you didn't realize is that the story was actually a comedy or a tragedy, depending upon your point of view.

The tale was heavily edited. By me. On purpose. With a fat red pencil and a permanent black marker. Why, you ask? Because the story didn't have a happy ending and I wanted to bring you back today so that we could learn some lessons.

First of all, here's the cake as it came (or in this case) didn't come out of the cake mold.


I've baked this cake many times during the two years I've owned this pan and this is the first time the cake has refused to release from the pan. There was no magical forest of buttermilk cake and snowy powdered sugar, there was just a spectacular failure.

The true story is worthy of a sitcom episode. Since the writers are on strike they have plenty of time to troll the internet for future story ideas and I expect a call anytime soon for the rights to the tale.

I'm sure I've mentioned the fact that my beautiful and hefty Kitchen Aid mixer decided to go on strike just before the holidays. That meant that I had to break out some vintage equipment for the job. Yes, it's a Brady Bunch harvest gold handheld Sunbeam mixer. I think it was a wedding gift.


It still works and besides I can't get rid of it because it matches this:


With strains of the 70's Show theme song playing in the background I begin beating the butter and sugar. About the time I'm adding flour to the mixture the Sunbeam begins to chatter loudly....and then quits. I frantically eject the beaters thinking that perhaps they were loose. I push the beaters back in and fiddle with the speed button. The Sunbeam springs back to life emitting a slight odor of burning rubber. I press on, thankful I don't have to bust out the really low tech device.


With the batter at the right consistency I spread the mixture into the very well sprayed pan and pop it in the oven and return to my studio to finish some aprons. Some time later I return to check on the cake's progress. The oven is OFF. I kid you not, the oven was OFF! I paid extra for this stove to get a feature called "Sunday Mode" which means if you forget to turn your oven off it shuts down automatically after a certain amount of time, two hours I think. This was under an hour. I have no explanation.

At this point I have no idea how long the oven has been shut down or how long the cake still needs to bake. I turn the oven back on and monitor the progress with a cake tester. At some point it seems done.

Ten minutes later the battle begins in earnest. I flip the heavy pan onto a crystal cake plate and slowly lift one of the edges....nothing. I tuck a sharp knife along the edge, loosening the cake from the side of the pan. Nothing. I become a little more aggressive with the edge cutting technique. Nothing.

As I'm pounding the pan down on the cake plate it occurs to me that this could have disastrous consequences and I switch to a sturdy ironstone plate. Pan and plate are bouncing wildly on the countertop as my temper rises. During one of it's acrobatic jumps it flies across the counter and cracks the coffee carafe.


A frantic call to a friend who's a chemical engineer reveals that in most probability the loss of heat during the baking cycle has created the problem. The cake molecules were dancing wildly in the heat, too busy to glom onto the side of the pan. But remove the heat and all bets are off.

I decide at this point to just go for it, cutting and slamming until the cake mess descends from it's $30 designer tomb.

At this point there's a decision to be made. I could certainly bake another cake, the pristine, gorgeous variety that I fashioned in your mind's eye yesterday. But something occurred to me. This is real life. This stuff happens. And what if this happened hours before your dinner guests were arriving? One thing my old friend and supreme hostess Annie always told me, be prepared!

Annie was a wonderful mentor who banished my fear of giving a dinner party. Preparation and problem solving were everything in her eyes. And so.....a challenge was born.


It's hours before your dinner party for eight people. The table is set and prep work is done. You've taken the morning to work on your dessert, buttermilk pound cake to be served with brandy and freshly whipped cream. It comes out of the pan a total disaster, delicious but unpresentable.

Using only the items available in your pantry or fridge, design a dessert to wow your guests, turning disaster into triumph. In addition whatever ingredients you possess I will allow you to use two ingredient in my fridge for your creation - 2 pints of heavy whipping cream and 1 jar of raspberry preserves. I've pulled out some individual size glass dishes for serving purposes.


And a retro coffee pot to make coffee for the guests, since the cake pan took out the glass carafe.

You will have till midnight on Saturday to design a dessert. The challenge will be judged by my friend who trained as a pastry chef. The winner will receive one of my retro-inspired half aprons. I will concoct your recipe and photograph for all to see.

CLARIFICATION: You are to use the above pictured ugly but delicious pound cake as one of the ingredients for your dessert recipe. Cube it, blend it, whatever you decide to do. Then combine it with other ingredients to make a nice presentation.

E-mail your recipe to me at: Abscissa63@aol.com

Good luck to all of you. Now get cracking!

P.S. I promise to bake the perfect cake sometime in the future.

Tomorrow we'll have a little bit more about lessons and a peek at a fellow bloggers' magazine spread.