Winter in Normandie -- It snowed!  ...

Many of you are aware of my personal campaign for snow.  Who doesn't love a little bit of snow?  I know some of you have had more than your share--my parents are in the Boston area and I think they feel that they have had plenty enough.  But for us, it is still so special and novel.  We haven't had snow in our area of Normandie for two winters.  I remember distinctly because we found Rabbit Hill in January of 2013 and got to see it blanketed in a light amount of snow on one of our first visits with our agent... of course it was love at first sight.  Maybe seeing the snowy images in this letter-- you will understand why.  This farm was meant for a little dusting of white now and then.

The snow lasted for just less than a day--but the spirit it left in our hearts remains.

Read on for a well overdue recipe ... duck confit is a regular dish in our home.  It might sound Frenchy-fancy but truly it requires very basic cooking skills and once you have tasted it--you will be a duck 'convert' if you don't already love it.

A few bits and pieces of news below too.. I have been blessed to have a little extra time to focus on 'les enfants'  by taking a brief break from the shop and currently they are on winter break.  All of France takes two weeks off in February for what is intended to be a ski vacation (or a tropical one for the well to do...) But for us it means cozying up inside and waiting for those first signs of spring... and taking advantage of the sunny days and putting our minds on plans for the farm.

Bon Fevrier mes amis!

Duck Confit

Although I realize that not everyone has access to fresh duck, I  believe it is becoming more and more common.  You can use any parts for this recipe; breast with the bone, legs and thighs but classically it calls for duck legs which are the 'drum stick' and thigh part still attached.  Plan on one leg per person but it keeps very well and I always make much more than what would be eaten in one sitting.

4-6 whole duck legs
6-8 garlic cloves
Herbes de Provence
Fresh sprigs of rosemary and thyme
Green peppercorns and/or dry juniper berries

8 cups of duck fat
Olive Oil

The important part of this recipe is planning ahead and salting and prepping the duck up to 3 days before.  I normally do 24 hours in advance as I know that we do not need the 'preserving' aspect that the salting provides.  Rinse the duck parts in cold water, pat dry and put in a large mixing bowl.  Salt the duck thoroughly on all sides-- I use about 3 tbs. Rabbit Hill Sel de Mer aux Herbes in the bowl and toss the duck parts and then add fresh rosemary, the whole garlic cloves (lightly smashed to release the flavor) and about 2 tbs. of Herbes de Provence and a few turns of fresh cracked pepper.  Cover with parchment paper and then foil (do not let the foil touch the salt of you will have a little reactive problem).... and all of this goes into the fridge for 24 hours to 3 days.

After the duck has 'rested' in the herbes and salt-- you have the option to rinse it and pat it dry before the next step... sometimes I do and other times I don't.  It is a 'to taste' thing and sometimes the rich saltiness is part of the experience.  Historically this 'salt preserving' step allowed the duck to be kept for months and months in the fat safely.

Take the duck parts and place them in a slow cooker.  If your duck fat is solid and cold-- it helps to warm it in the jar in a double boiler until it is liquid, but as you can see you can also spread it over the duck.  You want to cover it completely (as in the photo) and you can make up for a duck fat deficit with a little oilve oil.  Just make sure that none of the parts are sticking up and 'dry'.  Add fresh sprigs of rosemary, thyme and whole green peppercorns if you have them... and a few dried juniper berries if you want to be very traditional.

Set the slow cooker on low and cook for 5 hours.  The meat should pull from the bone but not completely fall off. 

The next part of this recipe varies depending on how you want to serve it.  The easiest is to pull the duck from the bones and serve on a delicious puree of root veggies or sweet potatoes.  One step past that is to remove the whole legs from the fat, lightly 'dry them' with a paper towel, put them on an oven tray and place them under your oven broiler for 2-3 minutes to crisp the skin.  In that case I would serve with roasted potatoes or 'frite'....

See!?  Not complicated at all!  The duck fat is a must and can be found in up-scale grocery stores and even on-line.  Bon Appétit!

Comforting Tapioca Pudding

Do you have a childhood memory of Tapioca Pudding?  I remember my grandmother making it and I also remember my sister being particularly fond of it.  I love it so much in the winter--the creamy texture and the warmth of the cinnamon and vanilla.  My children love it and making it for them fills my heart because there is nothing better than cooking for the people you love.

I am using goat's milk in this recipe -- mais bien sur!  But you can use regular whole milk, and it even works okay with milk subs like rice or almond milk with a slight variance in the texture and creaminess.

1/2 cup small pearl tapioca
3 1/2 cups goat milk or whole regular milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs
1/2 cup organic sugar
1 vanilla bean (or 2 tsp liquid vanilla)

Depending on what type of tapioca you have, check the basic instructions on the box for either instant or slow cooking varieties. Some require to be soaked prior to using--the this first step depends on your tapioca pearls.

Start by adding the pearls and milk to a heavy bottomed sauce pot and carefully bring to a boil.  Once the boil starts, turn down the heat and gradually add the sugar.  Split and scrap out the vanilla pod and add to the milk mixture (you will remove the pods later but want maximum flavor).

Beat the eggs in a separate small bowl and temper with a tbs. of hot milk being careful not to curdle (scramble your eggs).  Tempering is adding a very small amount of hot liquid to the eggs while whisking so that you warm them--- and then once tempered you can add the eggs to the milk mixture.  Simmer while stirring occasionally until the pudding thickens and the pearls become soft.

Pour or spoon into individuals jars or bowls.  I love using my 'recycled' glass yogurt jars.  Top with fresh ground cinnamon and nutmeg if you wish.  Chill or serve warm -- and enjoy!
Rabbit Hill Winter 2015

Surviving the 'tween months' ...

Although January is sometimes the month of new resolutions and needed rest after the holidays, because we have two birthdays and another the first week of February -- the first part of the year goes quickly... until now. 

The wait for spring has commenced.  If you can balance the anticipation of warmer weather and gardening projects and spring cleaning with the angst of the 'long-winter' feel-- you are off to a good start for these 'tween' months that end winter and begin spring.

Every winter seems long -- truly.  When was the last time any of us said, "Wow!  Winter really went fast!"...  More commonly we are tired of being cold, the skies being grey and the early evenings being so dim.

I will be the first to admit--even having lived in places like cold New England and the grey Pacific Northwest -- this cold, wet and windy portion of the year in Normandie does get to me.  My creativity seems confined and I get frustrated about not being able to get as much done as I feel I should. I forget that this is a resting time for growth -- just like the seeds and bulbs and plants that are resting it out, gaining strength and waiting for their moment.

I went for a walk with the girlie on an unexpected 'balmy' and clear day this week.  (Hey it was 40F and sunny-- we'll take what we can get!)  We wandered parts of the property that we haven't been to since late summer; the cider barn, the creek bed ... and we found 'des perce-neiges' or snow drops in bloom and the green tips of daffodils peeking up.

Later that day I stood in my kitchen and saw the sun streaming in (indicating that I should plan to wash the windows... and floors soon.)  But LIGHT at 5pm -- lights up the soul.

Winter is quite responsible for making spring so spectacular ... and  'les printemps' is coming mes amis.... just at the right time.

News on the farm ...

"Every day is a lesson" ... has been my mantra over the past few weeks (months?) on the farm.  I have shared the efforts to balance the chickens and roosters so that we have a happy farmstead and maximum eggs (which is about 8 per day at the moment but we hope for more in the warmer weather as we now have 18 hens)..... we have also had the amazing experience of seeing Gracie give birth to the little buckling, Zeke.... we have added the 'chevrette' Olive who will be a new milk producer on Rabbit Hill when she matures... this is all over the course of a month. 

On the flip side of these joys -- Gracie has been ill for quite some time.  We believe that she has pneumonia and possibly had it when we brought her to the farm.  We think the pregnancy with Zeke (which we were not expecting) took a toll on her body and her breathing problems and coughing and extreme weight loss has progressed despite antibiotics, steroids and several rounds of worming (under the suspicion of lung worm) but she seems to get neither better or worse.  We have recently launched into all kinds of natural interventions--especially after the farm vet said there was nothing else to do for her.

{ I have to mention that I have had expert long distance advice from Lylah at The Simple Farm and 'Rocky' at Country Road Ranch who have offered so much hope and ideas and have been a blessing to me.}

In the meantime-- we needed to give her a break from being milked (and feeding Zeke and Olive) --so both of those two kids needed to be weaned onto bottles.  Sounds cute and fun--but I am telling you it is not easy!  First, at two and three weeks they need to be fed every few hours and they don't instantly take to it.  Secondly--they want 'mama'... not a bottle.  So our task last weekend was building a partition in the goat room of the barn that would separate the mamas from the babies and yet still have them in close enough proximity to still feel like a family and not be totally stressed out.  Goats love to climb-- they love a challenge... and keeping Zeke separated from Gracie was quite the task.  Finally after three adjustments to the 'barrier' we have managed to keep him on his side of the goat room.  And after a week of bottle introduction we can finally say that both kids have finally taken to it.  Le sigh..... thankful.

Now we are focusing on 'drying off' Phoebe so that her body can prepare for birthing her kid--which is in about a month we think.  So no more milk from either of the girls until that happens and Grace returns to good health... and we pray that she does.

Blessed with this farm life caring for God's creatures ... every day is a lesson.

Shop News:

Just a reminder --The next on-line shop opening will be March 1st!

If you are new to the shop .... The shop is open for the first two days of every month featuring French vintage items, linens, decor accents and French Lifestyle Essentials; tableware, housewares and items found in the French home.

Hope to see you in March!

MERCI! Thanks for taking time to read 'Notes from Rabbit Hill' ...

I am always interested in what you are up to, if you have a recipe you would like to see here, or have questions or comments about life at Rabbit Hill.  I have set up a 'Guest Book' on the site -- so pop over and say 'bonjour!'  Find the Guest Book here!
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