Sunday, October 24, 2010

Just Another Day at the Shack...

The Nelson Institute's Doris Duke Conservation Fellows organized a day at Aldo Leopold's Shack near Baraboo, WI. It was an opportunity to explore the grounds of the shack and the new Legacy Center with a guided tour. We also intended on volunteering for collecting seeds of prairie grasses to aid in the Leopold Legacy Foundation's efforts to install more prairie species at the Legacy Center. Our volunteer work was deterred by the day's steady rain. Instead of working, we were able to take an in depth and unique look at the entire at the Legacy center and the shack!

Overall, 17 people volunteered to come out to help and learn more about Leopold's legacy. We started by cramming into the small shack, which was used as a chicken coop prior to Leopold purchasing the farm, to hear stories about the family, their first experiences on the farm, and the family's continuing efforts to promote the 'Land Ethic'.

The tour guide led us around the site showing us photos of the Leopold farm during the early 1900s. The guide also showed several photos of the family hanging out on the farm, planting trees, or building things around the shack itself. I learned many things about the site which I had not known about such as the owners of the property before he bought it and the way in which he acquired the property. Here she explains what happened to the old farm house that stood here before the government foreclosed on the property due to back taxes. Apparently, Leopold bought the farm as a 'vacation spot' for only $8.00 an acre!

Our guide even took the opportunity to show us important sites which were referenced in the book. She took the opportunity to read her favorite passages about the sites and talk about the continuing influence that Leopold has today on the modern conservation movement.

For those who admire Leopold's work, standing among the pines he planted nearly 70 years ago is a religious experience.

Visiting the Legacy Center is also a wonderful experience. The building complex is LEED Platinum and was built from pines and hardwood harvested on the farm or the adjacent land. The complex utilizes several innovative building techniques which utilize solar power for electricity. The site also uses geothermal for all of its HVAC! The computers in the architecture monitor the usage of the building and its effectiveness toward employing all of these green materials and building practices to achieving the goals of being self-sustaining.

The rafters in many of the buildings were constructed of trees that were trimmed out of the Leopold farm to thin the tree canopy. This meant that the whole forest could be more healthy and the larger, healthier trees could have more growing room. We were told that the beams were not squared off because this limited the strength of the wood.

We had the unique chance to see the basement of the Legacy Center. The basement houses all of the technology which makes the building so advanced. It felt like we were walking into a science lab!

These tubes of water are used to circulate water through the vertical geothermal field. Water can be directed to flow a specific direction to heat or cool the building. Also, a horizontal geothermal field provided all of the air circulation in the building. This system uses only natural air circulation to move air into and out of the building.

Here the tour guide shows us the monitors where the staff keeps tabs on the solar panels. These computers track the usage and output of the panels. An inverter also converts the power from DC to AC so it can be used by standard devices and put back onto the grid. Other monitoring systems can tell the staff which power outlets are used the most and where they can be losing efficiency. The building can also adjust its HVAC by occupancy using CO2 monitors to determine how many people are in the building and each specific room. Talk about a smart building!

Here I am standing behind the Legacy Center next to the rain garden which catches the roof runoff of all the buildings. Also behind me is the prairie in which the geothermal field sits. You can see the solar panels on top of the main building.

We end the day a bit more knowledgeable about Leopold's legacy and the practices modern day conservationists employ today. I am very appreciative of the Nelson Institute for sponsoring and the Doris Duke Conservation Fellows for organizing such an event. They provided us all lunch and a copy of Leopold's A Sand County Almanac.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Squashy Dinner

On Monday Brad and I went all fall for our dinner. Brad hadn't ever had butternut squash, so I told him to get one while he was at the Dane Co. Farmer's market, and he brought it with him here to Lexington. We followed this recipe from My Kitchen Addiction. We didn't take the time to puree the soup in a blender though, cause that gets messy, so we just simmered it until we thought everything was soft enough to mash. We had plenty of beta carotene this evening.

Brad brought me these great fall colored flowers!

The butternut squash soup simmering away

Meanwhile, we separated the butternut squash seeds from the pulp and coated them with a little olive oil and put them on 300 degrees for about 10 minutes. Then we sprinkled them with some course salt. They are sooo good! and smell and taste almost like popcorn.

This soup is really filling, and healthy too! (If you want you can garnish this soup with some fresh herbs and parmesean cheese!)

Over the years, I have come to appreciate homemade pies more and more. I have actually begun to attempt a few renditions. The following pie is straight from the can of pumpkin at the Co-Op in Lexington... I strongly recommend this store or any Co-Op if you haven't been to one! Anyway, growing up, none of my family were huge fans of pumpkin (except for my mothers dad). This means that no one ever bothered to cook the real thing and most were store bought! With that being said, we decided to attempt this recipe as a primer for the real thing around Halloween...

While the soup was cooking I made a pie crust from scratch and Brad made up some pumpkin pie filling. This recipe off the can uses condensed milk, which was different than I've had before. The pie was really good and is so much better than what you buy ready made! I really like the graphics on the can too, and I really like my skeleton oven mitt I got when I was at Madison!

Homemade pumpkin pie (the canned pumpkin puree isn't homemade, but that'll come soon)

I should note that we used the dough recipe from the Apple Pie recipe posted a few days before this one. We halved the recipe to account for not having the pie crust top and still had some left over. We added a decorative pumpkin and leave to the top. If you do the decoration, add it to the top about half way through the baking process. If the pie isn't firm enough, the dough will just sink!

Being the pumpkin pie buff, I had to add some whipped cream for garnish. Albeit, I actually cut back on what I usually put on the pie.


Signs of fall are beginning to appear in Kentucky (even though these few days have been quite warm!) I made this wreath to hang on the door for some festive decor

Monday, October 4, 2010

Potato Leek Soup and some Good Will

I came back to Lexington this weekend to visit Katrina and brought with me some fresh farmer's market vegetables from the Dane County Farmer's Market in Madison, WII.  Talk about your interstate vegetables!  I had made some potato leek soup earlier in the month and wanted to try it again with a little twist.  It is a fairly simple recipe... I can't stress that enough.  Katrina and I teamed up in the kitchen to make this fast so we could watch a movie and enjoy a beer or two.  I strongly recommend pairing this with the Flying Dog Raging Bitch IPA or the Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale.  

It's been a long time since I've had some potato soup, but I was amazed at how few ingredients are in this soup and how flavorful it is too. My mom came and had some with us and really thought it was good too. The weather here in Kentucky has really changed these pass couple of days, from sunny and pretty warm to cloudy, a little rainy, and quite cold compared to all the heat we just had! This is a good soup to bring in the fall season. I imagine I'll be making this again. We watched the movie Good Will Hunting which Brad really liked and I hadn't seen before. 

Potato Leek Soup
1 lb Leeks, thinly sliced
3 lbs Red Potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 Tsp. Olive Oil
1/2 Tsp. Salt
1/4 Tsp. Ground Black Pepper
2 Cups Vegetable Broth
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream

Heat the Olive Oil in a medium frying pan.  Add the Leeks and cook until they start to brown slightly.  Add the Leeks, Potatoes, Salt, Black Pepper, Vegetable Broth, and Cream to a large pot.  Add enough water to the mixture to cover the ingredients.  

The peelers I got when I was in Madison a few weeks ago made peeling the potatoes (and apples for the pie) super easy!

Bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cover.  Cook for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork.  Take a potato masher and mash the ingredients until it has reached a creamy consistency.  You can serve with some corn bread and sprinkle with your favorite fresh herbs. 

Brad in the final stage mashing everything up to make the soup
My vintage enamel pot (a find of the Sturgis Antique Mall) is perfect for making this soup!

Unfortunately, at this point in the process we were too hungry to remember to take a picture of our finished product all garnished and ready to serve.  You will just have to take our word that this dish was as visually pleasing as it was tasty!