Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Working Lunches filled with Dream Work fueled by Team Work

Broccoli and Asparagus Soup with Juniper Berry Sausage

Our trip to Italy marked the end of play time around these New Hampshire parts for awhile.  We knew that time wouldn't stand still for us back home as we carelessly strolled those cobbled stone streets of Florence...pretending as if everything were relaxed and carefree as we sampled silky gelato, sweet cold vin santo, and velvety salty proscuitto.

Winter in New Hampshire fueled by pots of energy rich soups

On our journey home, life quickly reminded us, with a little icy smack, that a determined winter was to be reckoned with not only back home in New Hampshire, but in Europe as well. As we left the land of soft romantic overlapping Italian hills and brisk temperatures, we returned to the equally beautiful soft romantic overlapping New England hills, but currently layered in feet of downy blankets of white snow and downright frigid below zero temperatures.

Our journey promptly started by getting stranded in the Florence, Italy airport for a day. This was followed by getting stranded in Germany for another day and then night. As we were focused on the incoming blizzard bearing down on Boston, Massachusetts, little did we realize the same conditions were swirling around in Germany.  Due to a blizzard in Munich, all flights were canceled for a day. We enjoyed yet another airport stay and overnight hotel stay in Frankfurt, Germany as winter decided to howl all over Europe.  

A quick bit of hay before heading back to the barn!

After finally arriving days later in Boston, we drove slowly and carefully out of snow caked Boston into the hills and then up into the snow capped mountains of New Hampshire.  

A drive that normally takes a little over an hour...extended over 2 hours as we sipped strong cups of Dunkin Donuts (thank goodness for Dunkin Donuts!) and gripped the steering wheel with eyes wide open and bum warmers on full blast.

Broccoli and Asparagus Soup with Juniper Berry Sausage

But the 4-5 feet of snow that fell in gorgeous fluttering sheets of millions of swirling flakes continued to dazzle and delight us as soon as we opened our eyes the next morning.   

We are determinedly moving through what most locals are calling the coldest and snowiest winter in the Northeast... in decades.  For us, this is what we now know as "normal".

The Wintertime New Hampshire landscape after a night time Blizzard.
Patrick...trying out "roof raking" as we get feet of snow off of the roof

Patrick woke up, bundled up, and then painstakingly carved out a deep path of fluffy snow from the barn to the house so that we could get much needed wood stacked under the porch.  We secured a wobbly bundle onto our makeshift sled and then hauled it up and over a little snowy hill to a dry spot under the kitchen porch.  

Lately, when we drive through the countryside around here, we can't help but notice how perfectly stacked the locals pile up their wood.  Perhaps it is a status symbol to have a meticulously layered pile of wood that looks like a well patterned piece of knitted dark wool.  We are starting to get "wood pile envy".  Perhaps there are professional wood stackers that come to your farm and for a fee...interlace your wood pile just so perfectly and symmetrically so it can impress newbies like us to dream of future stacks of our own award winning wood piles.

The view of the field across from our kitchen window

Try as we might, with our thick and cumbersome mittens, our crooked and wobbly wood pile most certainly won't be winning any awards this year.  We managed to get about two layers of wood stacked and perhaps worthy of an honorable mention award in the "newbie" category.  

However, as the snow swirled in our eyes and visibility around us diminished, the stack became more like a wonky structure that might fit better in a children's zany Dr. Seuss book scenario.

Working Lunches...Planning and Dreaming for a future in New Hampshire

But inbetween weekends learning to ski on Ragged Mountain, braving our back hills learning how to walk incredibly awkwardly through the back woods on snow shoes, and making making mental notes to ourselves to plan better for future stockings of our wood pile...we are hard at work planning out the next potential move for this Kenney family.

4-5 feet of snow fall on New Hampshire over night.  In the morning...a winter wonderland

As the calendar flips a page, we feel the crunch of decision making time that is approaching.  Our lease on this dear old farmhouse will soon be up.  Do we build our dream home?  Do we consider renovating this historical farmhouse? Do we brave the barrage of blizzards and do something difficult at this time of year...like go house hunting? 

Broccoli and Asparagus Soup with Juniper Berry Sausage

So we've decided to roll up our sleeves and get to work.  We've ushered into the farmhouse kitchen: designers, architects, contractors, landscapers, painters, contractors...and all manner of people who fit a little piece of a bigger puzzle together for us to analyze, ponder, and imagine this house, that house, and any future house.

And what better way to get everyone's creative energy flowing in this beautiful frozen landscape... but with bowls and bowls of hot soup.

I made sure that as we flip through drawings and prop up design boards...whoever comes into our kitchen is handed  bowls of hot soup.  After all, just getting out to this farmhouse often means a snowy drive over bumpy icy roads.  A hot steaming bowl of broccoli soup studded with juniper berry Italian sausage is just the right deep winter tonic for taking the edge off of a bitterly cold journey.

We're getting closer to decision making time.  We're lining up our [frozen] little ducks in a row...making overlapping plans for the upcoming months...dreaming big of future cozy winters days in a future cozy dream home...flowing with pots of energy rich soups, big crackling fires...and quaint New Hampshire scenery  that is so rich with this country's early American history.

Play time is over, working lunches are on order...

Swirling Snow drifts over the New Hampshire hills

Monday, February 16, 2015

Florence, Italy...one woman's journey

Florence is one of those cities that I have never seen in the height of tourist season.  I have only visited this hauntingly beautiful city in the drizzling rain...with misty mornings making the stone streets wet...creating a shimmering mystique.  

Having just returned from another off season visit, Florence was again quiet, solemn, and filled with ordinary happenings that define local life in between tourist seasons.  It was brooding and rainy with cool temperatures and quiet moments.  I love that. I wouldn't really want to see the city any other way I think.

I made this little video to give me a chance to mark my own memories and stage of life at this point.  The trip was an emotional journey as the last time I was in Florence, life was filled with carpools, children's school schedules, and overlapping activities galore...but my time in Florence then was a rare bit of quiet, reflectiveness, and rejuvenating moments as it was yet again...one woman's journey then...and another sort of journey...now.

I thought I would share my visit to Florence here on "Thyme" with the lovely friends I have made here. 
I have so much more on Italy coming soon including a delightful food tour,Taste Florence, in the city as well as a country stay in Tuscany at the most wonderful family farm Fattoria Poggio Alloro

Please enjoy...

Visit www.rileymadel.blogspot.com for more beautiful food and travel photography.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Girl time, Cozy fires, Warming soups...new memories

Being that we have homeschooled as well as brick and mortar schooled in four different states plus one foreign country...we have formed, enjoyed, and then sadly said goodbye to many friends and families over the years.

Snuggling through winter in New Hampshire

Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and email, the past connections and friendships that we made were able to continue...albeit virtually.  Every now and then, when the stars and moon align and we are able to connect once more with special friends, it is like getting the most wonderfully wrapped gift to open.

Girlfriend visits, Garbure des Pyrenées soup, and candied tomato bruschetta

Homeschoolers are known for forming fast and solid relationships in order to help each other along this type of educational path. As we swim through the hundreds of curriculum options on the market that are tailored not only for each school subject, but then tailored for each grade level, as well as each particular learning style of student, the bonds formed among families become very strong.   

Often, while we trail behind our kids on hiking trails inadvertently fulfilling P.E. requirements...or attend museum tours on the history of the holocaust...as parents and teachers, we are often simultaneously discussing how to maneuver the sometimes complicated homeschooling rules and regulations required by each state, mulling over how to create the best curriculum for college preparedness, and  helping each other figure out how to educate several children...all while trying to get some form of dinner on the table each night.

Happily, since moving to New Hampshire and being only a little over an hour outside of Boston, I have been able to reconnect with dear friends who come in and out of Boston as a hub for travel or work. Because we also homeschooled in New York, we have more connections there too that are soon to be renewed...non virtually!

Before leaving for Italy last week, I had the most welcoming message. My wonderful friend Shelley, from our Kansas City homeschooling days, would be in Boston for a weekend.  She asked if while in Boston, could she come up to the Nehemiah farm and have a little country visit in New Hampshire?  

"Yes!  Indeed!" I replied without hesitation.

I was enormously thrilled and anticipated our girl time together.  The time we both lived in Kansas City was such a pivotal point in our homeschooling journey.  Shelley offered such continuously sound advice that I often looked to her for guidance and role modeling as I struggled to make the right decisions about how to proceed with schooling our own children.

At times, we had our kids in Jr. college courses, high school courses, and online courses...all at the same time.  Our various patchwork of educational curriculums was constantly evaluated with one another and then re-evaluated some more!

In Kansas City, Shelley and I both had 2 children, the same ages, all four with different learning styles, all about to round that corner from middle school to high school.  

As every parent knows, transitioning from middle school to high school is tough, no matter how your children are schooling.  I'm convinced these years are meant to be tough so that when it's time to  leave the nest, as parents and children, you are all ready to scoot them out along their way.

Leaving Kansas City to move to Texas was a tough decision for all of us.  Our support group in KC was a strong one and Shelley was a friend with whom I formed a quick and easy friendship.

What I loved about this friendship with Shelley was her sound and intelligent ideas about the  education of her kids.  Her reasoning involved a more holistic approach than I was able to manage.  I fretted over the testing and box checking of whether I was on track or off track with my kids and then what others would think of our progress. She, on the other hand,  could see the "bigger picture" of how to manage expectations of her children by society while letting her children find their own wings, in their own due course.

She continuously demonstrated to me the need for us to value the uniqueness of each child as opposed to fretting over whether or not they are falling in step with every other child the same age.

As the years of homeschooling continued into high school, but now from two different states, I found that Shelley and I became a strong support network for each other.  

My daughter juggled an academic schedule that had to be balanced with a rigorous ballet training curriculum.  Shelley's daughter rose to national status in horse back riding competitions and had to also manage a high school curriculum.  As parents, we were able to fully support each other's efforts knowing that we each shared a stressful journey with our children.

I've certainly realized over the years, that when a friend comes along who takes you as you are, doesn't try to compete with you or your children, and truly hopes for the best for your family...you dearly hang on to that friend, whether it be virtually or in person.

So we chatted about the details of her arrival.  There would be planes, buses and cars involved to get her here.  Shelley would journey up and over the hills of New Hampshire and have a short respite at this little farm.

I wanted to make an easy, healthy but warm and cozy meal for her so that we could tuck ourselves in at the kitchen table, eat good food, and enjoy a good long chat for hours.

Baked Goat Cheese and Caramelized Tomato Bruschetta

I had this recipe for a soup called Garbure des Pyrénées, in my file waiting for a frigid weekend to indulge in a strong hot brothy soup full of vegetables, beans, and potatoes...all flavored with a couple of slowly simmered ham hocks.  

Shelley arrived only a day before the first big blizzard was to batter the east coast with feet of swirling snow.  I put blizzard preparedness on the back burner and we indulged in  large bowls of hot soup, warm crusty bruschetta with bubbling goat cheese topped with caramelized tomatoes. 

Eventually, we moved to comfy couches and curled up to spend more time laughing and talking about the futures of our children and where they might all be in a few years. We shook our heads in disbelief that our years as homeschooling parents were closing and wondered what we would be doing in a few years!

We marveled at the fact that we actually undertook homeschooling our kids in the first place!  We whole-heartedly agreed that, more than likely, we would probably NEVER be able to undertake this challenge all over again!

I simmered some apple cider until nice and bubbly hot and poured it into mugs.  Shelley helped me roll and then bake some little rugelach pastries that we filled with jam, toasted nuts, and cinnamon sugar. 

I didn't want our visit together to end.  Shelley is an amazing person who I learn from each and every time we reach out to one another.  Not only did she do an amazing job schooling two incredible kids, but she maintained her career as a lawyer all the while.

Our visit was short, interrupted by an impending blizzard...but oh so sweet.  I relished having someone I enjoy so much see where we have landed in New Hampshire for the time being.  A crackling fire, bowls of tart sorbet with warm rugelach, and snuggling into warm comfy chairs for hours of girl time chatting are some of life's greatest pleasures I think.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Southern girl on skis...all heed the warning

When a southern girl from the deep humid south straps on snow skis for the first time...it's bound to be interesting, right?  

Indeed, right indeed.

We were invited to go skiing with our friends who, without exaggeration, are nothing short of expert skiers.  Expert. Skiers.  After arriving at the ski resort and surveying the crowd there, I honestly think Riley and I were the only newbies on the slopes that day.  

Most everyone looked like they qualified for the expert category leaving Riley and I as candidates for the bunny slope. As we awkwardly struggled to get our mammoth ski boots clamped on to the long skinny skis, little tots as young as 3 and 4 years old whizzed past us completely carefree.

The gorgeous drive up to Ragged Mountain through New Hampshire countryside

It was only a few days before the huge blizzard was to descend on the New England states of the east coast U.S.  Yes, that meant us.  We've traded in hurricane panic for blizzard preparedness. This news of impending feet of snow didn't phase hardy New Hampshire-ites.  They, instead, dreamed of the fresh mounds of snow that would be gifted to them from the blizzard gods at every ski resort in the state.

In December, we arrived in New Hampshire during what the locals touted as the most frigid temperatures they've experienced in decades.  

Now, it seemed we weren't to miss out this developing Blizzard Apocalypse of the decade.  Baptism by fire...but, in our case...snow!

We had no idea that there exists a most enchanting, adorable, cozy ski resort that is only 25 minutes north of the farm that we are leasing for the winter.

Our newly discovered ski resort is called Ragged Mountain.  Not only is it handsomely striking with its huge red barn, converted into a ski lodge, silhouetted against the pristine white slopes, but the drive up and over mountains delights the traveler with bucolic farms on one side and cozy New England salt box homes on the other.

We had never even seen skis or ski boots in person, up close.  EVER. We rightly anticipated that this was going to be a steep learning curve (no pun intended).  Once we were strapped into all of the equipment, feeling completely awkward and clumsy, just trying to move in a forward direction to meet our ski instructor was a grandiose and complicated effort.  Do we swish the skis?  Do we try to walk with these gangly sticks?  Thank goodness for the hand held sticks...I mean poles...

Two hours later...well into the ski lessons...I think every muscle in the thigh and buttocks area had been exercised.  

My mind, at that point, drifted over to the "après ski" treats that might be included at the end of this workout.  For two hours, we cartoonishly made our way down the "bunny slope" for beginners...we rode the "magic carpet" up and down the tiny (or frightening as someone like I might describe it) hill. I tried to remember what our friends had mentioned earlier in the day.  "Let's meet up for drinks and nibbles in the ski lodge...".  Those words were beginning to sound more and more enticing as we moved from the "V" stop maneuver to the "S" shape curve maneuver.

Ragged Mountain Ski Resort in New Hampshire

Hours earlier, I was focused on just trying to stand upright as those "après-ski" plans were being discussed. I did remember our friends mentioning something about all meeting up in the lodge after skiing...where there was a beautiful huge fireplace...hot soups...cold beers...

"Is this lesson over with yet?"

After another hour of grueling concentration, thigh muscles burning, several wipeouts headlong into the frigid snow, I couldn't help casting evil glances in one moment and longing glances in the next moment at the whiz kids who were flying over the snow ramps. Most are dressed in adorable brightly colored matching hats,boots, skis, and goggles.

The Waffle hut!  The Waffle Hut!  Yet to be experienced.

After several hours, Riley and I were finally getting the hang of it.  At least we were melting into the juvenile crowd on the bunny slopes a tad more.  In all fairness, Riley was much more sure of himself on the skis that me.

A delicious scent kept wafting over to us. Through my thick scarf wrapped awkwardly around my face, I could smell something that smelled like...waffles?!

Preparations underway for the BLIZZARD...nuts, berries, cheeses, juniper berry sausage...white wine...

Ragged Mountain Ski Resort has a little hut out on the slopes turning out hot waffles for hungry skiers.  Hot, delicious, fresh waffles!  Forget "après ski" nibbles, one could stop between ski lift runs and have a freshly made waffle.  

We didn't make it to the waffle hut.  Our ski instructor kept us dedicated to the slopes all afternoon...but we made a mental note to check out this ski slope offering the next time...

Delicious hot soups in the ski lodge...

And there would be a next time.  Only next weekend, Riley and I forgot just how sore our muscles had been.  Our pride was suffering being in such newbie status, so we headed back out for lesson #2 to see if we could make our way up that learning curve.  

The impending blizzard was 2 days away from pummeling the east coast of the U.S. It was big news at this point locally and nationally.  I was beginning to receive texts and emails from worried family members.  Patrick was away for the month in Italy so it looked like Riley and I would be protecting the Nehemiah Ordway farm from...what?  We weren't too sure what this blizzard had in store.

My mother-in-law, partly joking but partly serious, suggested we tie a rope from the car to the front door so we can get out in case of emergency.  I laughed (albeit a bit nervously) as we noted passages from those adventurous early American stories in the beloved novel  Little House on the Prairie.  But I did glance around in the barn to see what supplies were on hand in there.  

Patrick kept checking in on us from Florence. We busily hauled wood from the barn and stacked them into neat piles under the porch of the house.  That way we could just open the back door and reach for wood without having to trek from the house to the barn and be swirled away by the BLIZZARD!

With much hard work...we made it to the "après ski"lodge
 complete with roaring fire and hot drinks.  

Because the weathermen predicted we would probably have a power outage for 2 days, we bought flashlights, candles, filled tubs with water, located more snow shovels and made sure we had several days of kindling on hand.

I bought sausages, fruit, nuts, cheeses, etc.  I figured if we were going to brave our first blizzard in the northeast, it might as well be with delicious nibbles at our finger tips in front of a continuously fed fireplace...right?

The drive up and over beautiful scenery to Ragged Mountain

So, a few days before the big blizzard of the decade swept in, we thought we would get on the slopes one more time. Since we ended up the first lesson more vertical than horizontal, we could only move in one direction, right?  Up?

Blizzard supplies

"Up" was the opportune description of our destination that second time on the slopes.  Our ski instructor let us play around on the bunny slopes and the magic carpet a few more times.  Only a few more times...

He then promptly announced that it was time to get on the ski lift, ride it up to the top of the mountain (which I couldn't even see from the bottom) and then... what??

...come flying down like these super hero children whooshing by on our right and left?  

I seriously started to line up what choices might be on offer of hot soups in the cozy, warm...safe...ski lodge after this ordeal.  Just focus on the "après" part of this lesson, I kept telling myself...

Maybe it was time to sample the whoopie pies that I saw nestled in with the baskets of freshly baked goods...a hot chocolate to sip on perhaps...or perhaps move straight to a savory cheese platter with chilled white wine while settled in and relaxed next to the gorgeous open fire place built right into the center of the lodge.  Here comes the ski lift...this is going to get interesting fast...

So many people in New Hampshire are dedicated to feeding the birds

I have only seen ski lifts on T.V.  I had never experienced or even given much thought to the operation of a ski lift.  We hobbled like penguins up to the ski lift line with the rest of the skiers.  I eyed the heavy iron contraptions that were swinging around, bonking skiiers in the knees so they will promptly sit down. Then, they are whisked into the air with one tiny iron bar to hold every one in.

Oh, dear...as we try to time it just right so we sit on the lift and not in the snow bank, I keep focusing on what kind of soup I am going to try today?  Clam chowder?  Chili?  Tomato?  

Literally, the calm before the storm (...or Blizzard)

Before I knew it, we were floating smoothly up Ragged Mountain on the ski lift.  As we got our bearings, the 360 degree view around us was breathtaking.  Skiers were flying down below like bits of brightly colored confetti fluttering to the bottom.  A beautiful bank of clouds hugged the top of the mountains and created a halo effect that was so soft and pretty.  Multiple mountains could be seen in the distance overlapping one another dressed in different hues of whites to lavenders.

Forget the après ski soup options for the moment...this beautiful panorama was certainly worth the built up hype I imagined being plucked up by the chair lift and then swooping up the side of the mountain.

The relaxed experience of floating in the air, wrapped by beautiful vistas, snuggled into the ski lift would last approximately... 3 minutes.

And then...I think the entire mountain was alerted to the fact that a 40-ish old woman had just head planted into the snow bank at the top of the mountain while being unceremoniously flopped out of the lift with quite the loud clap of the iron bar making unlucky contact with a determined jaw bone.  Yes, that's right..WHACK!

Apple Spice and Raspberry Spice muffins for the big Blizzard

Apparently the timing of getting oneself off the ski lift and down the steep slope to get out of the way of the next group of ski lift arrivals...is a skill that would need much more practice on my part... than the ordinary newbie.

My attention diverted from the serene vistas surrounding us as soon as I saw that end to the lift ride coming up.  Trying to manage my unwieldy skis, awkward poles, and fear of being "dumped" out of the chair...I stood up too soon.

Apparently, I knocked into the bar that was lifted up over us as I flailed around for my footing, causing it to lurch back down, smacking me square in the jaw, knocking my head to the metal chair lift and plopping me onto the top of Ragged Mountain.

I laid in the snow hoping that no one noticed my incident. Perhaps all those pro-adolescent skiers would just leap over my prone body with hardly a moment's concern.  However, I was pretty sure that rings of cartoonish butterflies were fluttering in a circle over my head...alerting everyone to my existence and predicament.  

I lifted my head up to survey the damage.  My jaw throbbed from the impact and I could taste a little blood in my mouth.  One sweet woman began packing snow on my jaw.

Blurrily, I saw a cartoonish scene of medics flying over the hills.  They were loaded down with huge red first aid backpacks.  I don't know why, but I thought the entire arrival of the medic cavalry was so comical.  Medics on skis were flying in from several directions looking like they were having WAY too much fun while descending upon the "incident".  Injury on the bunny slope...go, go, go!!

In horror, I realized that my spill had forced the ski lift to come to a screeching halt.  No pre-adolescent pros were flying over me after all.  They were dangling their skis in the air waiting for me to heave my battered self out of the way.

Everything turned out fine in the end.  Fortunately, I was not going to get a terrifying ride strapped to a huge orange sled that takes injured people down the mountain.I had to recite my address, rub my aching chin, and brush the snow off.I had a new (rather small) battle scar.  I shook all the snow off.  I was treated to several pep talks about getting right back on that ski lift and successfully whisking off of it at the top.  "No thank you," I politely declined.  Then, the entire entourage  skied down the slope watching my progress as I tried deftly to do those "s" curves just right. I resumed all thoughts of soup choices as soon as I could get these darn ski boots off my feet.

At the bottom, I promptly announced the day over and done!  Skis unclamped, boots stowed away, finger tips starting to warm up again, we headed wearily to the lodge where the ground was stable and the food is hot and delicious. 

My choice was steaming hot tomato soup.  While glaring up at the monstrous ski lift,I sipped the delicious soup slowly in front of the crackling lodge fire place, simultaneously cursing the fact that I would probably now build up a ginormous fear of that beastly contraption.  

My hot bowl of soup would be topped off with a dessert of New Hampshire favorite...the whoopie pie with cream filling. Later that evening,  a steaming hot bath was in order and all thoughts of the slopes were abandoned as we  safely tucked ourselves away in our little safe farm.

Safe for the moment, however!  Time to turn our efforts to preparing for this so-called BLIZZARD of the decade.

The beauty that is the aftermath of the blizzard