Isn’t the month of May an incredible month?! Weddings, graduations, farmer’s market openings, country nurseries openings, art festivals, and village spring celebrations at the farms…
My head is spinning with all there is to do and see. Cute announcements and flyers for barn tours with baby chicks and lambs sketched on them are everywhere in our little town. Shop doors are open at places like our little breakfast café, The Foothills, and our sweet coffee shop, Schoodacs, with cheery summer flags fluttering in the cool May breeze welcoming everyone inside.
But, I’m finding it is difficult to tear myself away from the ever growing list of dreamy projects around our farmhouse. Dreamy projects not in reality…but in my active imagination! Much of my time has been spent buried deep within our property. Coming indoors only makes me look longingly at another project that needs attention. There is so much work to do but each small effort seems to have large impacts. We have 6 acres of woodlands, ponds, hills, and overgrown forgotten gardens that all border the fast moving Warner River. Each day, it is kind of like going on an archeological dig.
It’s also like being in a scene of the childhood classic The Secret Garden where Mary Lennox slowly uncovers and nurtures back to glory an ancient garden left forgotten and locked away.
We’ve been told that at some point in the history of this 1828 farmhouse, a master gardener stepped in and created beautiful gardens all around the property. We don’t know who exactly, but as I uncover more and more under the brambles of thorny wild blackberries and pull back the strangling bittersweet vines that were choking the lilac and sumac trees, there are signs of beautiful beds of perennials that are fighting their way through. There are beds bursting with peonies, irises, and lillies with some vinca and lilly of the valley weaving through it all. What a mess…what a beautiful hopeful mess!
Just as little Mary spends hours out in her newfound gardens in the English countryside befriending the birds and animals around her, I seem to have quite the following of little creatures that are curious as to what in the world I am doing buried deep within the forested overgrowth. The house had been uninhabited for 5 years before we arrived so the wildlife around here had full reign.
A red robin, plump with eggs, and seemingly undisturbed by my presence nearby, continues to pluck little pieces of bramble and fly back and forth to her nest. The ruby-throated hummingbirds whiz past my face at such alarming speed that I laugh aloud at their daringness. The squirrels and chipmunks skitter away when I first go outside but soon creep back near me collecting bird seed from under the feeders.
A friend of mine said to leave pieces of oranges all over the hummingbird feeders and that would attract Baltimore Orioles. We saw only one of these amazingly brilliant orange birds last year. It would be wonderful indeed to see more of them.
I did leave orange slices out and…Voila! Pairs of brilliant orange males with their soft sherbet orange females came within a week and have added to the cobalt colored bluejays, petite sunny colored American goldfinches, and brilliant crimson robins.
So at the end of each long day lately comes the need for a dinner that satisfies. To me, this country quiche is the perfect hearty farm meal to come to the table after a full day of working outdoors. I can only imagine the workload if I were caring for cows, goats, chickens, and sheep. My french country quiche is full of everything delicious that surrounds us here in the countryside. Fresh eggs, fresh cheese, country bacon, and local mushrooms…all sourced locally.
This is going to be one of the meals that I prepare for our daughter when she gets home. We’re off soon to fly down to Texas and celebrate our daughter’s college graduation. She loves quiche and this recipe is a good one. I used a springform pan so that I could make a tall quiche filled with a thick center of creamy egg custard.
It is truly amazing that 4 years have flown by and we are here at college graduation time. We’re going to have 3 weeks with her all to ourselves at home and then she will be off to NYC for the summer for a graduate program at Columbia University. At the end of the summer…our baby girl…all grown up now… is headed to Japan for her first job. Thank goodness we used to live there and we can envision what her life will be like…so far away. We are thrilled for her imminent adventures and hope to get over there and share with her a few adventures of our own!
But first things first…college graduation ceremonies. I’ve dreamed of this day for so long. When you homeschool your children, there is such a tapestry of interwoven emotions that accompany their education. There is a sense of fear, pride, wonder, and …did I say fear?? Yes, for me, there was always fear that we were making some huge life long mistake in choosing a homeschooling lifestyle. It was a rigorous daily schedule that required balance and loads of maturity (I’m not saying I possessed this…it just requires it). People ask if our kids are different as a result of homeschooling. Yes, our kids are different. They have a different perspective on the world that is unique and not mainstream. We wondered if that would present issues for them in society but so far the issues they experience are positive. Seeing the first of our children fly through college and come out on the other end so successfully put so many of my academic fears to rest…
So I was out and about on some of my favorite country meanderings recently. I was set to visit Work Song Farm in Hopkinton to chat with them for an article for New Hampshire Magazine (more on that fun project in July…). I saw that the quaint picturesque Beech Hill Farm was right across the road. I couldn’t resist pulling in to see all of the baby spring animals. I discovered this farm last spring when I took my cousin’s 3 adorable girls, Maria, Camille, and Lila there. They stayed for hours talking to the baby goats, pigs, chicks, and rabbits. The farm has a fun country ice cream parlor where they serve up local New Hampshire ice cream. Much to my delight, when I strolled around the farm early in the morning, a new round of baby animals were just born and I had fun watching them toddle around.
I tasted a delightful find at the farmer’s markets lately. It was a goat cheese with a center of vegetable ash. Also, I brought home a little jar of truffle honey from the Tuscan Market in Salem, New Hampshire. Unfortunately, I cannot remember, nor can I now find, who sold me that triangle of goat cheese with the vegetable ash that I brought home. It was at the Concord winter’s market about a month ago. I was attracted to this woman at a tiny table in the corner of the market. Her wavy white hair was striking against her soft blue eyes. Something made me want to go over to her and get to know her. She seemed a bit shy and out of her element amid the hustle and bustle of the market. She had some cheese samples lined up as well as some photos of her cheese cave on her farm dug into the side of a hill. In her soft spoken voice she told me all about her technique for goat cheese making.
Her presence was so soft and quiet. Interestingly, her cheese reflected her personality. The flavor of her goat cheese was gentle overall but rich with subtle flavors. She asked me if I would like to visit her goat cheese farm someday and see how she makes her cheese. I eagerly said yes. We chatted awhile longer and then I left with her cheese wrapped up and set deep inside in my market basket. At home, we cut the wedge into slices and drizzled some of the truffle honey from the Tuscan Market over slices of her cheese. It was a match made in heaven. Truffle honey and goat cheese goes on my all time personal favorites list. I wish I could remember her name or the name of her farm! We take it for granted that we can just go home and search on the internet for anything and everything. I’ll be at the Concord summer farmer’s market soon and I’m going to search each corner and see if I see her sitting quietly in front of her cheese samples.
I’ve tried searching for her on the internet but to no avail. It was like she was a quiet ethereal spirit amid the tumultuous hubbub of the market who had carved out a little calm corner for herself. If you wanted to know about her cheese she was glad to share her knowledge but otherwise she seemed to prefer being outside of the market scene and in the quiet life of the countryside much more so than at a lively bustling market.
Well I’ve certainly been inside too long already. I’m looking longingly at all my projects out there in the garden. My neighbor walked up the road and brought me some succulents that I planted in the garden. They look so lovely now. I am trying to coax along a climbing trumpet honeysuckle vine to hang off of the back porch. I’ve planted a garden bed for cut flowers…ranunculus, gladiolas, dahlias, cosmos, windsongs, canterbury bells, and poppies. I honestly have no clue if they will grow and bloom…but fingers crossed.
The vegetable garden has some changes this year too. I have planted several varieties of tomatoes, beans, carrots, peas, shallots, lettuces, and broccoli. No zucchini this year as they require too much space and attention. I was lugging in zucchini last summer the size of my arm! No pumpkins this year as they took over the back barn garden and I lost control there too.
Oh, and let’s keep fingers crossed for the six peach trees out in the orchard. Last year, there were only 8 peaches that produced on only one of the trees. In a few months, we’ll know…dreaming of peach pie, peach cobbler, peach salsa, peach chutney, canned peaches…
Oh, not to forget! A few things I thought I’d share that I came across over the week:
Mentions in this post:
- **Read all of the instructions because this quiche does need time in the oven as well as chill time in the refrigerator.
- Quiche Filling:
- 2 large Spanish onions, thinly sliced
- canola oil as needed
- 1 3-2-1 savory pie dough (see recipe below)
- 1 pound slab bacon cut into ¼-inch lardons*
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup cream
- 6 eggs
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- nutmeg to taste (about 5 gratings)
- ½ cup grated Compté or Emanthaller cheese
- The recipe below is for a classical quiche Lorraine, which designates a bacon and onion garnish, my favorite quiche.
- 12 ounces flour
- 8 ounces butter (or lard, shortening or any combination thereof), cut into small pieces, cold or even frozen
- 2 to 4 ounce ice water (quantity depends on the fat — whole butter has water in it so you only need a couple ounces; shortening and lard do not contain water)
- three-finger pinch of salt (about ½ teaspoon)
- Combine flour and fat in a mixing bowl and rub the fat between your fingers until you have small beads of fat and plenty of pea-sized chunks (if you're making a bigger batch, this can be done in a standing mixer with a paddle attachment — but remember not to paddle too much after you add the water, just enough so that it comes together. Add the ice water gradually and a good pinch of salt, and mix gently, just until combined — if you work the dough too hard it will become tough. Shape into two equal discs and refrigerate for 15 minutes or until ready to roll.
- The dough can be used raw with other ingredients as with an apple pie. But often you'll need to bake the shell first, as for a quiche or when cooking a liquid batter. This is called blind baking.
- To blind bake a crust, you need to fill the shell with something heavy to prevent the crust from buckling up. Pie weights are made specifically for this, but a layer of aluminum foil and a pound of dried beans reserved for just this purpose does the job well. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Weight the bottom of your shell with pie weights or beans and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove the weights or beans and continue baking until the crust is golden brown and cooked through, another 15 minutes or so.
- Quiche Filling:
- Sauté the mushrooms over medium heat in a few tablespoons of canola oil. Set them aside when they're finished.
- Preheat your oven to 350˚F degrees. Roll out the dough to a thickness of about ¼ inch. Place a 2-x-9-inch ring mold or a 9-inch cake pan on a baking sheet (line baking sheet with parchment if you're using a ring mold; if you're using a cake pan, line its bottom with parchment). Lightly oil the inside of your ring mold. Lay the dough into the mold — there should be plenty of dough overhanging the edges to help it maintain its shape.
- Reserve a small piece of dough to fill any cracks that might open in the dough as it bakes. Line the dough with parchment or foil and fill it with dried beans or pie weights so that the crust bakes flat. After a half hour, remove the weights and parchment or foil. Gently patch any cracks that may have formed with the reserved dough, and continue baking until the bottom of the crust is golden and cooked, about 15 more minutes. Remove it from the oven and patch any cracks that may have opened; this is especially important if you're using a ring mold, or the batter will leak out. The shell should be anywhere between cold and warm when you add the batter, not piping hot from the oven.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 325˚F degrees.
- Sauté the bacon gently until it's cooked as you like it. Drain the bacon and combine it with the mushrooms.
- In a six- or eight-cup liquid measure, combine the milk, cream, eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg and, using a hand blender, blend until frothy. This can be done in a standing blender as well (though depending on the size of your blender, you may need to divide the quantities in half). Or you could even mix the batter in a large bowl using a whisk (beat the eggs first, then add the rest of the ingredients. The idea will be to add the ingredients in two layers, using the froth to help keep the ingredients suspended.
- Layer half of the mushroom-bacon mixture into the shell. Pour half the frothy custard over the mixture. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Layer with the remaining mushroom-bacon mixture. Refroth the batter and pour the rest into the shell. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. You may want to put the tray with the quiche shell into the oven and pour the remaining batter into it there so that you can get every bit of batter into the shell. You can even let it overflow to make sure it's up to the very top. Bake in the 325˚F degree oven for about an hour and a half, or until the center is just set (it may take as long as two hours, but don't overcook it. There should still be some jiggle in the center).
- Allow the quiche to cool, then refrigerate it until it's completely chilled, eight hours or up to three days.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the top of the crust off along the rim. Slide the knife along the edge of the ring mold or cake pan to remove the quiche.
- Slice and serve cold, or, to serve hot, slice and reheat for ten minutes in a 375 degree oven on lightly oiled parchment or foil.
- * Lardons are batons of bacon and can be as thick as ½-inch square. Smaller lardons are best here, but a pound of thick-cut bacon sliced into strips is also acceptable.