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Chaos and loss on Smyth Family Farm this week

Chaos and loss on Smyth Family Farm this week

Happy Saturday everyone. It’s been a rough week at Smyth Family Farm. I cut the palm of my hand while juicing oranges last night and spent an hour and a half in the emergency room getting stitches. The worst part of the week was waking up to feathers everywhere on Thursday morning. Four of my chickens were eaten by a neighborhood bobcat when the door to the coop didn’t automatically close.

I’ve been feeling extra sad and guilty for not checking the camera on Wednesday evening before bed. My husband would usually do a quick check on his phone so see if they had all gone to bed. It’s been freezing cold here at night, so I never imagined them not wanting to be inside the coop. It wasn’t a normal evening, because both of my son’s came over for a family dinner. They are my everything.

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Me and Burtha
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Babe. My Mother’s chicken

I know in my heart that I gave those chickens the best life they could ever have while they lived. I had them delivered to me from Mc Murray Hatchery in Iowa a year and four months ago. I ordered them while my Mother in law Nilda was still with us, and they came a few days before she died. It was cathartic to have baby chicks to care for and manage while grieving. I had many of my family name them. We had Burtha, who Michelle named. Dolly was named by my niece Laura. They were the first visitors after we got them. Caramel Corn was named by my great niece Tamara who is only 6 years old. Babe was named by my Mother Diane who loved going for a ride one day in the car to visit her. My Mother has had a cancer called multiple myeloma for the past 9 years and suffers from anxiety. Babe always comforted her and brought her joy. 

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Silly Dolly. The only white chicken I had.

All of these four chickens are GONE. I can’t believe it. They have given me a purpose and a reason to get up in the morning while going through Covid times. Many months of isolation were met with laughs and cuddles when I was not able to see my friends or relatives. I’m crying while I write this, but I know it’s best to feel my emotions and express myself as I feel fit. I’m pretty much a mess right now. 

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My cuddles with Caramel Corn

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My bandaged hand from my accident last night
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My injured hand with three stitches

As for the other four chickens that are still with me, they are wandering and scavenging the entire back yard as I speak. Bee Bee was named by my son Andrew. And it’s so cute because the girl I nannied for Billie, had a nickname “Bee Bee”. Billie and her sister Sammie have been here to visit the farm and the chickens last year while wearing masks and social distance. I had to give up my job with them because of Covid.

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Sammie and Billie having story time after visiting the chickens

We also still have Mary Kate, who was named by Ken, my husband. He wanted the two Red Star breed sisters to be named twins:Mary Kate and Ashley. Soon enough, Ashley was forgotten because Tamara wanted to name her Caramel Corn. Caramel Corn was one of my favorites. She loved cuddling with me every morning and evening. She trusted me the most. And I always had two brown eggs every morning religiously from this breed.

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Arthur and Babe.Sisters of the Ancona breed

Arthur was named first by my niece Keri who saw a post on my Instagram feed. Poor Arthur was sickly and smaller then the rest of the baby chicks. I would feed her by making a split pea puree to squirt down her throat. I didn’t want to lose her. Then my sister in law Nancy came to meet the chicks and said I didn’t have to force food down her throat. It was okay that Arthur was a little smaller. Nancy has worked at the local Alexander Junior Lindsay Museum which houses injured birds and wildlife in Pleasant Hill California. I would take my kids there when they were young to learn more about turtles, owls, mountain lions, foxes, ravens, snakes and more. We even rented bunnies and guinea pigs for a week at a time from there. 

It’s hilarious that Keri named Arthur a boy’s name. She didn’t know they were girls. But that’s what makes her extra special. And Keri is a special niece since she and her sister Jamie grew up in my neighborhood. We would spend time with them more than the other family, even though most of our family from both sides live fairly close by.

My older sister Susan named Mabel, who is also one of the sweetest and coolest chickens. Mabel has another name. My sweet niece Josie who is only six named her Violet when visiting the farm one day. Josie loved collecting the feathers and eggs from my girls when she would visit. It’s crazy because we haven’t seen much of anybody during the pandemic. It’s been so different from the way we lived our life before Covid. Has it been this way for you? Josie goes to school, so we haven’t felt comfortable having her here even though my husband and I have both been vaccinated and boosted. 

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Here is the art my niece Josie made while visiting the farm in December 2020.

I think I will sign off for now. It has been quite a week. And it’s not over. All I can do is heal from my hand injury and enjoy the chickens I have left. My eyes are swollen from all the crying. I can remember when I had to give Scooby Doobie Doo my rooster away to a farm in Auburn, I cried and cried. It’s like that. Only one other time did I cry so much that my eyes were swollen. It was when my friend Sherri and her son Danny moved away back to Florida. I cried and cried. She was my neighbor and a true friend. I was sad to see her leave, but she left an abusive relationship after our Avon 3 Day walk over 20 years ago. I was happy she left this guy and lived closer to her family where she was needed.  I was inspired to go back to college and get my Bachelors Degree after the Avon walk. We walked 60 miles in three days and raised money for breast cancer. It was a challenging experience, but I am grateful for the time I had with Sherri, and Heidi who also walked.

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Scooby Doo at the new farm in Auburn. I cried all the way to Auburn, but know he is in good hands

As for the other four chickens that are still with me, they are wandering and scavenging the entire back yard as I speak. Bee Bee was named by my son Andrew. And it’s so cute because the girl I nannied for Billie, had a nickname “Bee Bee”. Billie and her sister Sammie have been here to visit the farm and the chickens last year while wearing masks and at a social distance. I had to give up my job with them because of Covid.

We also still have Mary Kate, who was named by Ken, my husband. He wanted the two Red Star breed sisters to be named twins:Mary Kate and Ashley. Soon enough, Ashley was forgotten because Tamara wanted to name her Caramel Corn. Caramel Corn was one of my favorites. She loved cuddling with me every morning and evening. She trusted me the most. And I always had two brown eggs every morning religiously from this breed.

Arthur was named first by my niece Keri who saw a post on my Instagram feed. Poor Arthur was sickly and smaller then the rest of the baby chicks. I would feed her by making a split pea puree to squirt down her throat. I didn’t want to lose her. Then my sister in law Nancy came to meet the chicks and said I didn’t have to force food down her throat. She told me that it was okay that Arthur was a little smaller. Nancy has worked at the local Alexander Junior Lindsay Museum which houses injured birds and wildlife in Pleasant Hill California. I would take my kids there when they were young to learn more about turtles, owls, mountain lions, foxes, ravens, snakes and more. We even rented bunnies and guinea pigs for a week at a time from there. 

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My sweet Nice Marie

What’s extra special about his week has been the wave of love and support from my family and friends. My son Andrew brought me flowers and chocolate yesterday. It was right after I cut my hand, so we had to run to Kaiser, but I was surprised he did this for me. So thoughtful. My other son Curtis called and left me a message. When I called him back he was super sweet and caring. I felt all the love. And in the morning, my niece Marie surprised me with my favorite donuts from Johnny’s in Lafayette. OMG, I was floored. Marie has the biggest heart and empathy. She is a gift to this family.

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Lucky girl getting flowers and chocolate to cheer me up

If you want to learn more, follow me on Instagram or this blog. I will share my trip to Petaluma with my friend Kathi on the next blog.

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Me and Josie my niece
 

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Get a Taste of the Arts During Covid and a French Macaron Recipe

Get a Taste of the Arts During Covid and a French Macaron Recipe

It’s been almost a year since my neighbor Caroline came over to teach me how to make French Macarons. Caroline is a student and dancer at Loyola Marymount University in Southern California. She is quite an artsy person and I love her parents. She was on her summer break when she and I met to have baking lessons in my kitchen. I taught her how to make apricot jam and in return she taught me how to make macarons.

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Here’s Caroline showing off her macaron’s on the sil pat

I feel badly for all the college kids that have to return home because of Covid 19. It’s such a bummer how our lives have changed since March 2020 when California went on lock down. My kids have since graduated and moved on, but I can’t imagine how hard it is to not get the “college experience” of being on campus with your friends.

I have also been affected by this virus. I’m not allowed to visit my 83 year old father who lives in a skilled nursing facility in Yountville. He has COPD a lung disorder, diabetes and many other preexisting conditions that would make him vulnerable if he got the virus. I fell badly that he is alone without his family. We can drop off goodies and they will bring them to him. We can Face Time him and talk on the phone, but it isn’t the same as a personal visit. He has a good attitude about it all and is hanging in there.

 I haven’t been able to have outings with my mother who is also immunocompromised. We can talk over the phone also and visit at a distance from her front porch, but it is difficult. She has her husband Tom to keep her company and they are very happy.

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Me and my mom on her wedding day 7 years ago

We haven’t had any large family gatherings and that is unusual for us. We have seen our son’s who live nearby and neighbors when we walk in the evenings, but that’s about it. We are only going out for groceries and essentials to keep our exposure to a minimum.

A few of our family members have enjoyed a dinner or two at a distance in our backyard, but even that makes us a little uncomfortable.

Before the Corona Virus, I would go to my gym and exercise and write my blog. It was my happy place, but I’ve decided not to rejoin and find ways to exercise on my own. I’ve missed my hiking on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings with my friends. I can hike, but prefer to go with only one other person, usually my husband.

 I’ve spent my days keeping abreast of the news (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Late night shows, You Tube, the SF Chronicle) and talking to friends. I listen to podcasts like Macrovoices.com, The Sourdough Podcast, Rise Up, Unlocking Us By Brene Brown, Oprah Super Soul Conversations, The Southern Fork, and Hidden Brain. I have two books I’m listening to on Audible. I’m definitely informed and up to date on the latest shenanigans of President Trump. I’ve even started reading “Why Are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria,” by Beverly Daniel Tatum PhD.  Our family started a book club to raise awareness about racism since George Floyd’s outrageous death by a police officer. And don’t forget Netflix.

 

I’ve spent most of my days gardening and growing vegetables in five raised planting beds. This is the first time I grew most of the plants from seed. It has been fun picking zucchini, tomatoes, beans, peas, peppers, and cucumbers. The pumpkins are cute and getting bigger and more orange every day. 

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ravioli’s made with semolina flour, parsley, Parmesan ricotta and spinach

 I’ve been making pasta from scratch, finding ways to fill raviolis and lasagna and serve them to my husband. I’ve learned how to make sourdough bread and brioche with my own sour dough starter, experimenting with rye, buckwheat, kamut, quinoa, beans, and millet. I learned how to make a starter with cherry pits and also one with organic red grapes. I now know how to properly score the loaves by following lots of bakers on Instagram and You Tube. It is so much fun and tasty too.

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Brioche rolls sprinkled with sesame seeds and poppy seeds

I’m cooking more since my husband is working from home. I had to cancel my cleaning people since I didn’t want to bring the virus into my home. Now I’m cleaning more than I ever have, even the dusty floor under the bed yesterday. Yuck!

One of my latest endeavors, was growing poppies. Fancy ones. I grew varieties like “Fruit Punch” Papaver, a raspberry Breadseed papaver somniferum, “CupCake”, “Swansdown” and a Papaver Atlanticum called “Flore Pleno”. I’ve let the pods dry and carefully collected the seeds so I can grow them again next year. They are beautiful and extra special additions to my garden.

Dahlia’s were my latest obsession last year and I bought more tubers a few months ago from the Dahlia Society. The first one has bloomed and I’m quite excited. Here is a blog from my day at #Filoli Gardens.

 I dusted off the sewing machine too and started making masks for the family. I was hoping to try a new pattern today, but got involved in writing my blog instead. There is always tomorrow to start sewing more masks.

 So after almost one year, I’ve finally posted the recipe of these amazing macarons. I hope you will try them too. I don’t have the filling recipes up here yet, but I hope to get to that by next week. Thank you Caroline for the great recipe and the fun time.

 Thanks for stopping by my blog. I’m grateful for my family and friends who follow me and read my posts. Hoping all of you stay safe and healthy and we can get back to our happy places whether it be a college campus or the gym. 

Hope I’ve inspired you to try something new in your kitchen or garden. Make ART.

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 French Macarons

Ingredients:

150g Confectioners Sugar

150g Almond Flour

150g Granulated Sugar

150g Egg Whites

38g water (for sugar syrup)

55g liquefied Egg Whites (Eggs that have been in the fridge for a week outside of shell  (for sugar syrup)

1.5 teaspoon Vanilla or whatever flavoring you like

Candy thermometer

Pastry bag and medium size plain tip

Sheet pans

Parchment Paper or Silicone mats

Directions:

Using a Cuisinart Food Processor, combine Almond Flour and Confectioners Sugar pulsing until combined. If you don’t have a food processor you may sift almond flour and sugar together a few times until there are no more lumps in the mixture.

In a separate large clean bowl, pour 55g of egg whites to the flour and sugar mixture and stir with a spatula until it forms a paste. Set aside after covering with plastic wrap.

Sugar syrup:

Put the 38 grams of water and granulated sugar in a small saucepan on medium heat. Use a pastry brush to keep the sides of the pot clean by brushing the sides with a small amount of water. Bring to a boil and cook syrup until 116C/ or 240 degrees F using a candy thermometer.

Start mixing the egg whites in a clean bowl of a mixer with a whip attachment when sugar syrup is almost ready at 115C or 235degrees F. Simultaneously, whip eggs on medium high until the eggs are frothy. Pour sugar syrup in the mixer slowly incorporating the sugar into the eggs. Keep mixing until the meringue is white and fluffy and can hold a stiff peak about 6 minutes. Add the vanilla and any food coloring you might like. Continue to whip meringue for another 4 to 5 minutes until it has cooled to 50C and is thick and glossy.

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Meringue ready to mix into almond flour and confectioners sugar for our macarons

Mix a scoop of the meringue and fold into the almond flour/confectioners mixture. Little by little being careful not to deflate the egg whites, folding together with a large wire whisk or spatula. Keep folding meringue into dry ingredients until it gets to the ribbon stage where the batter falls off the whisk into the bowl like a ribbon. 

Scoop the batter into the pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip. You will have to fill it a few times.

Get out a flat sheet pan.Place the parchment paper on top. Draw small 3cm to 3.5cm circles (1 inch diameter) onto your parchment paper about 2-3 cm apart with a pencil or use a sil pat silicone baking mat. Place a tiny amount of batter onto the sheet pan on the corners under the parchment paper to keep the paper from moving while baking. Tap the tray onto your counter to get out any tiny air bubbles. Leave tray stand on the counter for at least 30 to 60 minutes to harden the shells and form a skin on the cookie.

Preheat oven to 160C or 320 degrees F. Bake macarons for 12 minutes in the center of the oven one tray at a time, turning the sheet pan around half way during the bake. Cool completely.

Finish the macarons by filling with your favorite curd, chocolate ganache, or Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting or Italian Buttercream.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

 

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Passion fruit Macarons

 

 

 

 

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What You Need to Know about dining and shopping in Walnut Creek (Italian Recipes too!)

What You Need to Know about dining and shopping in Walnut Creek (Italian Recipes too!)

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Was fortunate enough to spend the day with my dear friend Denise last week to celebrate her birthday. Denise and I met over 15 years ago in a meditation class at St Isidore’s. She is a woman of many talents, yet I love her for her intimacy with God and the Church. Denise is a go getter always involved with the latest philanthropy project. What I love about her is that she is somewhat of a spiritual advisor, helping me get through tough times. I have my faith, but it is nice to have a friend to lend an ear and offer guidance when I need it. I adore her and her husband Don and son Brian and thoroughly enjoy our lunches together.

Neiman Marcus Restaurant is where we decided to meet to celebrate her special day. It’s fun to walk around the store and oogle over their displays. It’s almost Easter so there are exhibits of Godiva’s chocolate eggs and stuffed bunnies everywhere which totally gets you in the mood to shop. The children’s section looks perfectly adorable showing little stuffed zebras and miniature pianos something for every child.

Denise and I arrived at about the same time and greeted each other before having a seat in the cafe’. She was smart to have the ($10 per car) valet park her car so she didn’t have to walk far. I like to get a walk in any chance I can and was able to find the only free 3 hour parking garage with a parking place available. Score!

Neiman’s offers a hot cup of consume when you are seated which was a nice touch. We also were treated to hot popovers with strawberry butter. They weren’t served hot and the butter wouldn’t melt, so our gracious waitress brought us new ones straight from the oven. I was hoping to order their crab salad, but was disappointed to learn they didn’t offer that dish anymore. Instead I had the sauteed salmon filet served w a ginger scallion brown rice w edamame, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, broccolini in a shoyu-chile vinaigrette. It was cooked perfectly, hearty, colorful and delicious. Denise went for their cabbage soup since she wasn’t very hungry and we were able to take a photo of it after they so consciously wiped the bowl for us. I had mentioned my friend was celebrating a birthday, so expected them to bring out something. Instead they proceeded to make us feel like we needed to order a dessert (which we did). Denise was excited to try their warm chocolate chip cookies. After all that, our waitress also brought out a complimentary banana cake with whipped cream. But we were charged $5.50 for the cookies! It was a little sneaky of them to go about a birthday dessert this way if you ask me, but we were dining at Neiman Marcus and they are known for their high prices. We each had a glass of wine because of the occasion and loved having a quiet lunch together. Over all, we had very nice service, the food and wine was good but a little pricey, the total meal was $70.91 not including tip. The important part about the day was that Denise enjoyed herself and I believe we achieved that. It truly is a one of a kind dining experience and I will go back for special occasions.

A little walk around Walnut Creek was what came next as we proceeded to The Red Box a local women’s and men’s clothing store. Denise has been working with Mojde Esfandiari the owner for their upcoming spring fashion show and luncheon. This event is raising money for the Danville Women’s Club to help kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford college get scholarships. It promises to be a wonderful event and I am planning on going. Modje’s clothes are one of a kind, unique collection of apparel, shoes and handbags many of them European. I wanted one of everything and will definitely go back to try on a few things. It’s nice to know that people like Modje with her clothing line and Denise with her time, are giving back to the community in these charming ways.

 

 

One more highlight of the week was entertaining our great nieces Terra 51/2 and Tamra 3 yrs old. Their mommy Tammy and husband Tim are due to have the baby any day, so my husband and I were happy to lend a helping hand for the afternoon. The girls loved being read to, enjoyed running around at the park and snacking on our picnic on a ideal day like last Sunday. Luckily, the weather was warm and we were able to walk to a nearby park. Of course our home is full of love when we get to care for our nieces and nephews kids. How fortunate Ken and I are to have large extended families living nearby.

 

I will leave you with a nice meal you can make for your own family. Our great aunt Nita and uncle Ted in Point Arena taught me how to prepare polenta many years ago and it has become a staple weeknight meal. They are unfortunately not with us anymore, but their recipe lives on.Here’s a blog from our time spent with them a few years back.

Italian Meatballs, Marinara and Cheesy Polenta

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Meatball ingredients:

 

1 ½ lbs 90/10% fat Ground Beef

6 large cremini mushrooms sliced

1 red or yellow bell pepper chopped

½ white onion chopped

3 cloves minced roasted garlic or fresh

½ C Marsala

1 t herb de Provence

½ t ground bay leaf

1 t Kosher salt

1 t ground pepper

1 t ground parsley

½ C parmesan cheese

¾ C dry toasted bread crumbs (I used toasted leftover biscuits)

½ C Milk

½ C Ketchup

½ C BBQ sauce (I used Korean)

1 egg whisked

Directions:

Saute’ onions, pepper, garlic until soft about 7 minutes. Add Marsala wine and reduce until evaporated. Cool.

In a large bowl, fold  raw ground beef, cooled veggies and remaining ingredients until mixed well. Scoop onto a sheet pan lined with foil. Bake in a preheated 400 degree convection oven uncovered for about 25 minutes until browned.

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Marinara Sauce

 

Ingredients:

 

1 large 28 oz Can Whole Tomatoes (Puree in blender)

1 14 oz can tomato sauce

3 T tomato paste

2 T Olive oil

1 small onion chopped

½ C chopped fresh basil/ or 1 t dried

3/4  C red wine

1 T sugar

3 garlic cloves sauteed in oil for 2 minutes

1 t salt

½ t pepper

¼ t crushed red pepper

 

Directions:

Saute onions, garlic in med size frying pan in oil. Place remaining ingredients including onions and garlic (except for wine) in a blender and puree until mixed. Pour contents into a  large pot and cook for 10 minutes. Add wine and reduce for another 10-15 minutes. You will be adding meat balls to this pot, so make sure there is plenty of room.

When meatballs are cooked, add them to marinara sauce and cook for another 15 minutes on the stove on medium heat.

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Prepare Polenta:

Ingredients:

4 C chicken or vegetable broth

1 C water

1 ½ C Cornmeal

½ C parmesan cheese shredded

½ C fontina cheese shredded

1 t kosher salt

½ t black pepper

2 T butter

1 T Olive Oil

¼ C heavy cream or milk

 

In a large pot heat chicken broth, water, salt and pepper over med high heat until it comes to a boil. Turn heat down to medium and slowly add cornmeal to the boiling liquid while stirring constantly. Cook for about 10 minutes then add cream, oil, butter and shredded cheeses.

 

To serve, scoop out a hefty portion of polenta into a large round pasta bowl. Ladle over a good portion of marinara sauce and 4 to 5 meatballs per serving depending on how hungry you are. Sprinkle with parsley or additional cheese.

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Enjoy! If you liked this recipe please leave a comment below and follow my blog for more interesting stories and family recipes. You’ll be glad you did. I hope I’ve inspired some of you to try these recipes and spoil the ones you love.  

 

 

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