This time of year makes me smile for no reason. Hints of the upcoming holidays are evident everywhere you look. Some natural like the brilliant colors decorating the yard, some contrived like the artificial trees already blinking “buy me” in the department stores. Pumpkin flavored creamers, malts, ice cream and pies are showing up in seasonal displays, and my robe is once again hanging on the hook in the closet. It’s the best of the holidays for me because they’re still all ahead of us on the calendar waiting patiently for their number to come up.
The thermometer on the patio is showing 83. I have a pork loin ready to be grilled and macaroni and cheese bubbling in the crockpot. A friend called me earlier and asked me if I wanted some of the lamb they’d recently slaughtered on their ranch in Bodega Bay. Lamb is my meat of choice, but I prefer to distance myself from any association with big brown lamby eyes, curly fuzzy exterior, and wagging tail, convincing myself my lamb chops are something a butcher whipped up with his high school chemistry set rather than a creature once affectionately known as Veronica. Probably I would not make an excellent farmer’s wife. Undoubtedly we would be overrun with calves, lambs, and piglets and all be vegetarians.
I have written blogs before with regard to my working on a cattle ranch in Manitoba in 1999. It was an experience I’ll never forget leaving me with a new respect for those who work a farm every day, and a deep affection for those of the bovine persuasion. There is little time for rest on a farm such as I worked. Alfalfa, hay and corn were grown in the rich soil as well as other crops used both for revenue and feed. Depending on the day, crops were either being tilled, seeded, fertilized, sprayed, harvested, or dug under. Cattle need to be fed, inoculated, branded, relocated from field to field, and watered. All that grass has to go somewhere once digested and when it does someone has to shovel it up. All this plus being at the mercy of the weather and the economy, many farms dangle by a thread from the banker’s jacket and linger one bad crop away from disaster. Lines form easily around the eyes and mouths on the weathered faces of the men and women in the fields from squinting into the sun to survey their land, worry or just plain exhaustion. Expensive farm equipment constantly seems to need repair or replacement, and fences either need mending or new ones put up. Observing them it appeared a labor of love. More than a full-time job, a way of life.
As a youngster I spent time on several working farms, one being my uncle’s dairy farm and the other fruit orchards in Annapolis Valley owned by friends of the family. Sitting high atop a ladder wearing my grandmother’s apron I was allowed to pick the ripe apples from the top of the tree. Lap full, I would climb down to deposit them in barrels waiting on the ground. Once the picking was done and the apples loaded in the trunk of my grandfather’s Buick, we would gather in the warm kitchen of the farmhouse on the property. Adults would catch up on news since their last meeting while the children would play on the floor on the braided rug or outside weather permitting. In their house as in ours, the kitchen was the hub around which the rest of the house revolved. A long table sat at the center of the room with chairs placed all around it to accommodate the seven children living there. Being an only child there was always a touch of envy when visiting the farm, as siblings were something I never had and even at that young age I could identify the strong bond forged between them. Closing my eyes I can picture the long clotheslines to the back of the house, pants, shirts, towels and sheets waving back and forth in the afternoon breeze. To the left of the house was a huge barn where livestock and farm equipment were stored. Most times during our visits there would be a litter of kittens to look over or a squealing piglet or two to cuddle until they squirmed to be let down. It was not a rich life, if you defined rich in one sense as having wealth or great possessions, or wealthy but definitely rich if you were define it as abounding, a countryside rich in beauty; a design rich with colors.
On the drive home the fragrance of the fruit stored in the trunk would permeate the interior of the car, still triggering a visceral memory for me to this day when I get a strong whiff of apple. In my grandmother’s busy kitchen apples would be pared, sliced and sugared. Gammy would work her magic nimbly mixing flour, butter, salt and water together then rolling the dough expertly out on a floured board for pies. Applesauce, apple butter, and extra filling for pies to be made later along with puffy turnovers were “put up” and stored in the pantry for future use. Being a junior foodie it was a time of year I most enjoyed.
This mac and cheese was handed down to me by my mother. I’ve always shied away from macaroni and cheese in the crockpot and recipes using soup but in the end it was creamy and worth a second helping. The pics are trees from my yard wearing all its fall finery at the moment as well as discarding thousands of leaves for me to rake up it didn’t deem worthy of display. Have a great Sunday!
Four Cheese Crockpot Mac n Cheese
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. butter
2 1/4 cups of cooked elbow macaroni (I used large)
1 can Cheddar cheese soup, undiluted
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup cubed butter
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/3 cup chunky salsa, drained
1 cup (4 oz.) Cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup (4 oz.) Provolone cheese, grated
1 cup (4 oz.) Fontina cheese grated
1/4 cup chunky salsa, drained
1 cup Mexican blend cheese, grated
Spray bottom of 2-3 quart crockpot. Cook macaroni according to package directions, drain well, and place in bottom of sprayed crockpot. Mix in 1/3 cup of chunky salsa.
In small skillet melt 1 Tbsp. butter over med-low heat. Add onion and cook 5-6 mins. until translucent. Remove from heat.
In large saucepan combine cooked onions, soup, milk, sour cream, butter and seasonings. Cook and stir over low heat until butter is melted and sauce is smooth.
Cook on low for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Transfer macaroni and cheese into sprayed 2 quart baking dish. Spread 1/4 cup chunky salsa over top. Sprinkle with 1 cup Mexican blend cheese. Cover tightly with tin foil and bake for 25 mins.