Fall fields behind asparagus in one of our gardens.
Autumn is my husband Neil’s favorite time of year… he is an October baby. The leaves changing into their majestic colors of rust, scarlet and turmeric… that lovely crunching sound they make under foot… the smell of the wood stove burning… home made chicken noodle soup slowly cooking and filling the house with all those wonderful scents of the harvest we have reaped from the summer’s bounty. I love the honking that all of a sudden appears above us as the Canada honkers head south to warmer days. I love the feel of crisp air as it surrounds my face as I take my morning jaunt to the chicken coop… What it boils down to is I just really love my life on our farm. I love the freedom it has given us to be able to raise our own food…to watch our children play pond hockey on the neighbors pond…to hear their laughter ring through the barn as they play cowboys and Indians… to see the night sky lit up… to hear the crickets chirp and the Spring peepers come to life. Although I am all about summer, (I’m an August baby) I love this time of year as well.
Neil and I both brought ‘traditions’ from our homes and now we are enjoying creating new ones with our family. When the word Thanksgiving starts ringing around our home, it seems to evoke this happy, warm, fuzzy kinda feeling… ya know? I am originally from Canada but have made Michigan my home for the last twenty one years with my husband and our six children. I have many happy memories from back home in Ontario and we did many of the same things we do here in America… although there is something different… something more traditional… it’s one of those things that you can’t describe. Anyway, we now have several traditions that we do as a family that I thought would be fun to share here with all of you.
*A few years back Neil got the notion that we should make Cabbage Rolls. Not just a pan for the feast, but several pans to put in the freezer for several feasts. After all we grow cabbages… lots of cabbages, so why not do something fun that will last awhile! So now we make several pans of cabbage rolls to put in the freezer…and a few to give as gifts~ share the bounty! See below for my recipe!
*Our family loves to play games. Especially word games like Scrabble, Boggle and Up Words. Battleship, Othello, Checkers and Chess are all fun games as well. Games allow a family to sit around the table and talk to one another. After all the big dinner clean up is over, some of the men go hunting while others stay and visit. Usually we ladies and children get out the games. If you have several guests, assign teams; you can have several games going on and then a championship game with the final two or four! Write the names of the games on strips of paper, fold and place in a bowl. Then let someone choose a game name and that is the game that will be played last to determine the champion. As they say, a family that plays together stays together.
*My men are hunters. Now that a few of our sons are old enough they get to go hunting with Neil and the others. This is really special for our boys and I love to see them roll in with the bounty and then tell us all about the big moment. These memories are ones that will go on for years.
*Family picture…Why not use this special day to take the families photo. This can become a really special tradition as each year you can all compare how everyone has grown. Take each families photo and then a group shot. Select a location outside if the weather allows and set up a straw bale against a picket or split rail fence, an arbor or against a stone barn hill. Put corn stalks on the post, tie with raffia and place a sunflower head in, add pumpkins and gourds along the bottom and presto you have a really nice back drop for the photo. If you want a more rustic look, take a walk in the woods and find a beautiful Birch tree to stand by; if you want a farm look, pose in front of a piece of old machinery or wooden wagon. The idea’s are endless, just make sure everyone is smiling!
Set up a special shot on a front to take that family photo.
~What does your family love to do together? Think of something that you can all do where communication will be happening; where you can laugh and have fun together. Shut the T.V. off and talk!
~Decorating that special holiday table…
I am all about entertaining and setting a table that will be “oohhed” over. I have spring and summer dishes as well as fall and winter. I like to have things in multiples of three, that way I can easily coordinate if I have to have other tables set up… especially when entertaining outdoors. Here are a few tips that make that already special table a bit more lovely...
*The first thing to adorn your table is of course the table cloth. Well of course you are all saying, but I am not talking the ‘traditional’ table cloth, lets do something spectacular and bring the feeling of an old fashioned Thanksgiving Day home… Top your table with a quilt! Obviously if your have several lengths of tables you will need enough for the whole stretch… don’t be afraid if you have more than one kind, it’s the feel you are trying to achieve, and after all the décor and food are on top of it, no one will notice. Try to make them all generally the same color theme if possible and of course fall’ish in color.
*To create your center piece you will need a large pumpkin in which the top and seeds have been removed. Next, take a square of floral foam and place inside. In the center of the foam place 2-4 stems of cat tail; 2-3 stems of Pampas grass; 2-3 stems of Burning Bush or similar branch. Then building around those add stems of Hydrangea, straw flower, Gomphrena, stems of wheat, fern, and any other ‘wild’ flowers and grasses you have growing right around you. Be as creative as you’d like and use things that are naturally around you. You’ll be amazed when you start looking around your gardens and if you live in the country, the ditches! A rule of thumb is that the flowers/stems should be two times as tall as the base, in this case the pumpkin, in the center. Build around the center stems to create a full look.
*Another beautiful and much simpler way to use a pumpkin for a centerpiece is to simply place a potted Mum in the center of it. You can use smaller pie pumpkins with mini potted mums down along the sides.
Simply set a potted mum inside a pumpkin for a lovely centerpiece.
~ Another base to consider is a cabbage right out of your own garden. This photograph is of a centerpiece that was created from one of our farms cabbages for a Farm to Table Dinner event that was held at our Farmers Market in Downtown Farmington.
It doesn’t have to be just coleslaw!
~Other items to consider using for the centerpiece are: Bird Houses, vases, terra cotta or clay pots- to decide on a container think about what your theme and colors are!
*Place Bittersweet down the center of the table; Place your newly created center piece on top of bitter sweet in center; place leaves, dried sunflower heads, acorns, pine cones and decorative mini gourds on top along the length of the table alternating items.
*Place pint size blue mason jars with pumpkin pie, cinnamon or other ‘fall’ scented tea light candles in the bottom of the jar. Place them about every 18” down the center, placing them between items. Light about ½ hour before guest are to arrive.
*I have several sets of dishes and I enjoy alternating colors and patterns of plates. It adds a charming look to a fall table.
*Place Cards are an elegant and special addition to any table. It shows your guests that you took time and thought about them and where their place at your special table would be. Use stickers and die cuts to create special tags. Here is an example of a really easy and inexpensive place card. Have a mini gourd at each place setting and lean the card up against it.
Easy to make, but spectacular to see!
*Linen napkins are a must for special days like Thanksgiving… Instead of just placing them neatly under the flatware, try rolling and tying with jute or raffia. Then place them across the plate, add a live mum blossom in each to make it even lovelier!
*Have an Appetizer and Desert table set up to match your main table. Again use a quilt for the table cloth; add different levels to the table by covering boxes or plastic containers with matching linen napkins, doilies or other small linens. Then place your plates and bowls on top. Stand back and admire.
…. There are so many ideas that I would never have time to touch on here, but like I always say: use your imagination and what you have around you in nature! You will be amazed at the simply beauty and the pleasure it brings when you participate with nature and bring it into your home!
Cooking is nothing strange in our home and as you get to know me here at Dragonflies you will read a lot about food and cooking… right from the planting and raising down to the harvesting and butchering of it. Food is a part of all of our lives and I believe we should enjoy it to the fullest! Neil is an excellent cook… he isn’t afraid to try a new recipe and experiment with changing it up to be his own. Our daughter and son’s are in the mix of it all as well… right down to our five year old Evan~ he is thrilled because he can flip his own pancake! We are a family that love’s to cook. The boys will come in and the sounds of, “oooohhhhh, what’s that?” is such a happy sound to this busy mom’s ears. I thought it would be special to include some of our families favorite fix'ns that we make to go along with our home raised and butchered turkey… enjoy friends!
Here is our son Kyle watering this Thanksgiving’s turkeys!
*All recipes are taken from my cookbook, “For Lovingly Seasoned Eats and Treats”. For Lots more yummy recipes you can order my cookbook at my farms web site: www.thegardengatefarm.com
My Families Cabbage Rolls
(This recipe is not in my cook book, but you can find my Cabbage Roll Casserole recipe. That’s what I make when I feel lazy!
1 large head cabbage- about 6-8 pounds
1 ½ pound ground beef, raw
2 cups raw white rice
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
3 quarts tomato juice
Salt & Pepper
2 bay leaves
½ tsp. salt
Real Pumpkin Pie, pg. 304
1- 9” deep dish unbaked pie crust
1 cup pumpkin
1 egg yolk
2/3 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 ½ Tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ cup milk
1 egg white, stiffly beaten
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a blender, combine all ingredients, except egg white, and blend until smooth and creamy.
3. Pour into pie crust; add stiffly beaten egg white, folding in very carefully with spatula into pie. Small lumps are fine.
4. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes; lower to 350 degrees and bake for 35 to 45 minutes.
Test for doneness with a toothpick to check center for dryness.
I use actual pumpkin that I can, so if you like a stronger flavor, this is a great recipe!
Cranberry Mousse, pg. 64
1- 6 oz. pkg. strawberry flavored gelatin
1 cup boiling water
1- 16 oz. can whole berry cranberry sauce
1- 20 oz. can crushed pineapple, undrained, juice separated and reserved
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon peel
2 cups sour cream
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional) - but so good with!
Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Add pineapple juice to gelatin. Stir in cranberries, lemon juice and lemon peel. Chill until thickened but not totally set- about 1-2 hours. Fold in sour cream, pineapple and nuts. Chill until set.
Serves about 15 to 20 people.
Vegetable Dressing, pg. 197
1# loaf, day old bread
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup diced, cooked potatoes
1 cup diced, cooked carrots
1 cup dice, uncooked celery
½ cup fresh parsley
¼ tsp. pepper
1 tsp. salt
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cup milk
Break bread into cubes and mix with butter. Add mild to eggs. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Pour into a well greased 2 quart baking dish or stuff in bird, any excess putting around the base of bird. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 ½ hours if in baking dish or until bird is fully cooked. If in bowl, stir several times while baking.
I hope this has inspired you to dream of new traditions for your family, decorating that special table and of course jotting down the menu… If you are like me your mind is whirling with ideas and inspiration…
If you were inspired, please let me know and send me some of your favorite traditions…
To see more about my life and farm go to:
Our farms website: www.thegardengatefarm.com