The distinct smell of leather met me at the door of Thomas Kepler’s leather workshop this fine Central Pennsylvania morning. In search of a new leather belt and hearing rumors of a leather craftsman plying his trade in the picturesque village of Allensville, I planned my trip and was not disappointed.
Mr. Kepler, a self-taught craftsman, has been honing his craft over the past few years, and, in my assessment, I find him to be an accomplished practitioner of the leather trade with a varied inventory of quality goods.
I had in mind a solid belt for everyday use and soon found one to my liking. I was also impressed with his selection of more refined designs for dress apparel, although I could not find one in my size. This was of no problem to Mr. Kepler. He assured me that a short 15-minute wait would result in just the product I had my eye on.
I was fascinated by this craftsman’s work and the assortment of tools, both old and new, throughout the shop. As Thomas worked, we engaged in a friendly conversation. I soon found that he was born and raised right here in our community and that I was acquainted with his extended family. I discovered that not only does Thomas produce a variety of leather products, he also engages in saddle and tack work.
The belt was soon completed, and our business transacted perhaps a bit too quickly for my liking as I could have lingered a little longer in his shop to observe the finer points of leather craft. But the chore list at Cowhill Cottage is not growing any shorter, and preparation for the coming change of seasons requires my attention.
I invite you to contact the Kepler Leather Company and hope that you find this shop full of leather products as interesting as I have. I believe you will be impressed with the quality and variety of his work. Of course, our support of local artisans is foundational to the development and sustainability of our collected communities throughout this region we call home.
Here is the contact information for Kepler Leather Company:
Pause The past six months have been, without a doubt, a time of pause for each of us. During the early days of the pandemic and subsequent shutdown, I was unsure as to the future of The Peasant Bon Vivant and my plans to grow the business. The demands of my management responsibilities for the Stonefly Café grew. Our very existence at Stonefly was challenged by the sweeping changes experienced by the food service industry. Managing these changes became my primary focus in an effort to assure continued sustainability and, of course, maintain our employees’ very livelihood. This took much of my creative energies. I also contemplated how the post-pandemic world might view in-person culinary workshops and tours and how this view would ultimately impact my plans to offer workshops and tours. During this, I paused from regular blog posts to begin the process of evolving my vision to meet the realities of a new world perspective.
As we all settled in for the long haul during this pause, the natural world continued to go forward as it always has with the seasonal rhythms of life, driving my garden and kitchen activities as if the modern world was not in turmoil all around me. I continued to shop at local and regional businesses that did not have the empty shelves and disgruntled customers of the national chains, and I chatted with neighbors and friends because time was something I had more of.
These chats allowed me to understand how this world-changing event had fundamentally changed many as they realized the importance of relationships within their families, with their friends, and with their community. It provided them with the time and energy to renew their cooking and baking passions at home. It inspired them to plant both food and flower and that both provided joy in their lives. Picnics, bicycle rides, and, oh, so many walks became the daily activities of life. Without realizing it, we all began to experience a simple life well lived.
As our pandemic journey continues, many long to keep this simple existence even as we ease back into what was once considered normal. I believe this pause experience will allow many of us to find that simple, fulfilling lifestyle amid the return of modern life as we refuse to turn our backs on the positive impact it provided.
As I look to the future of The Peasant Bon Vivant, I plan to support this movement of a simple life well lived at a local and regional level.
A local and regional perspective First, I will begin by focusing on local and regional growers, crafters, purveyors, and visionaries of all kinds that subscribe to the fundamental values of a simple life. This local perspective will, I hope, provide a short directory of those individuals and businesses that are fundamental to a life well lived. I will also continue to share with you my garden and kitchen successes and failures, making sure to provide plenty of recipes, and sharing techniques and tips in support of home-cooked seasonal food of unbelievable quality and taste.
Second, I am actively planning culinary tours and workshops that will be available for your enjoyment by the spring of 2021, each with a local and regional perspective, providing opportunities to expand our collective knowledge in food, crafting, gardening, and sustainable skills.
Last, I have developed three Cow Hill Cottage industries that will allow The Peasant Bon Vivant to have enhanced levels of sustainability through the sale of Antiquarian Books and Curiosities, Museum-Quality Matting and Framing, and the design and production of Handwoven Rugs that continues a long history of rug weaving in the Kishacoquillas Valley, utilizing traditional craftsmanship with modern design to produce a product that is both decorative and utilitarian.
I look forward to sharing this adventure with you and encourage you to continue to visit me here at my blog and to follow me on Instagram:
As the pace of modern life has slowed to a crawl over the past week, my thoughts have turned often to those who are troubled and fearful due to a world that is and will be fundamentally changed. I have found that everyone is concerned for both the health of our fellow man and our economic life and how best to balance these two concerns during these trying times. And I continue to keep our leaders, health care workers, business owners, friends, family, and neighbors in my thoughts and prayers.
I encourage each of you during this time of imposed slow living to spend minimum time with traditional and social media and immerse yourself in positive activities that support self-sufficiency and positive mental health. Cooking, gardening, crafting, housekeeping, reading, spending time with family, walking, and enjoying nature all contribute to a simple life well lived and can form the basis for contentment and happiness in both good and troubled times.
In fact, I believe that within this dark cloud of uncertainty could very well lay the proverbial silver lining. That silver lining would be that we all take this time of pause to reevaluate what is important in our lives and begin to develop a well-lived life that embraces all that is positive in this modern world but is grounded in the simple activities of the past. This means a life lived within a seasonal perspective that is respectful of our natural world, providing each of us a renewed sense of happiness, self-sufficiency, and hope.
I want to share a recipe that is simple to make but is the basis for a wonderful meal that can be enjoyed alone or with family at home. The kitchen staff at Stonefly Café find this to be a very popular dinner feature served with a simple tomato pan sauce. I have changed up the sauce a bit to showcase the smokiness of the bacon and one of my favorite herbs—fresh rosemary.
I hope that you will enjoy this dish as much as I did when I prepared it for my lunch today.
Please feel free to share this post with all your home-bound friends and neighbors, and I look forward to your comments and suggestions.
All the best to you and yours.
Ricotta Dumplings in a Simple Pan Sauce
7 Ounces Ricotta
3 Egg Yolks (may have to kneed in a fourth yolk if you find the dough to be slightly dry)
1 ¼ Cup All-Purpose Flour
Additional Flour for dusting the board and hands
2 Tablespoons of freshly shredded Parmesan Cheese
1 Pinch of both Salt and Black Pepper
A generous sprinkle of freshly grated Nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and mix with your hands until the dough comes away from the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Move the dough to a floured board and kneed until it becomes smooth and supple. Cut the dough into approximately six pieces and roll each into a log shape on the floured board with each log of dough approximately ½ to ¾ inch in diameter. Cut each log with a knife into ½-inch sections. Dust the cut dumplings lightly with flour and layer on a platter until ready to cook. Do not forget to cover the cut dumplings with a damp dish towel or paper towel to assure that the dumplings do not dry out.
When the sauce is prepared, the dumplings should be added to a large pan of boiling salted water one at a time and stirred to assure that they do not clump together. When they float to the surface, allow to cook for a minute or two longer. Then, they can be added to the sauce.
3 Cloves of Fresh Garlic, peeled
1 Small Fresh Chili or a Pinch or Two of Dried Chili Flakes
2 Whole Anchovy Filets in Oil
1 Rasher of Bacon
6 to 8 Fresh Rosemary Leaves
1 6-Ounce can of Tomato Paste
1 28-Ounce can of Crushed Tomato
Parmesan Cheese for Grating
Pinch of both Salt and Black Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Place the garlic, chili, anchovies, salt, pepper, and rosemary with a tablespoon of olive oil in a mortar and pestle and grind into a paste. If you have no mortar and pestle, just finely chop all the ingredients on a board, excluding the olive oil.
In a sauté pan, add olive oil and the rasher of bacon finely chopped and allow to render the fat from the bacon. To this add the paste that you prepared in the mortar and pestle and allow to sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, being careful not to overcook and burn the garlic.
Add to the pan the tomato paste and the crushed tomato and allow to cook for 8 to 10 minutes. At this point, you may allow the sauce to sit off the heat until the dumplings are cooked.
Have the sauce simmering in the sauté pan, and when the dumplings have cooked, transfer the dumplings to the saucepan with a slotted spoon allowing some cooking water to be transferred to the sauce as well. Toss the dumplings in the sauce to coat, and if the sauce is a bit thick, just thin with a few spoons of dumpling cooking water.
Plate the dumplings and sauce and sprinkle fresh parmesan cheese over the top to your taste.
Garnish with a fresh spring of rosemary.
Yields two servings.
When combined with a fresh salad, crusty bread and butter, good cheese, fresh fruit, and wine of your choosing, the perfect dinner or lunch is at hand.
In a simple life well lived, the pursuit of art and craft within one’s life is an important element of peace and happiness. And the long dark evenings of late winter lend themselves to this pursuit. Working with your hands to make something beautiful and useful for your home can be extremely satisfying.
At Cow Hill Cottage, I weave rugs. I have been weaving traditional rag rugs for about five years. I find the weaving process to be both creative in design and color as well as technical in the loom’s setup, treading, and maintenance.
I began my weaving journey with a visit to a woman rug weaver who is a member of the plain community here in the Big Valley of Central Pennsylvania. She gave me some basic insight into the weaving process and direction as to where to find a suitable loom, including in the want ads in local and national plain community publications. Within a few weeks, I answered an ad, and the loom I have today was found just a few miles from my home.
The loom is a Weavers Delight, four-harness, semi-automatic fly shuttle loom that was built in January 1945 by the Newcome Loom Company of Davenport, Iowa, and was shipped to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to be used by the Society for the Blind. At some point in the 1960s, the loom was sold to a member of the plain community in Belleville, Pennsylvania. Over the years, it was used by various members of the Amish and Mennonite communities and now resides in my weaving studio working as well as it did in 1945. I researched the history of the loom based on a single serial number stamped on the wood frame, and with it, I contacted a woman who maintains the records for the Newcome Loom Company. She also maintains a small manufacturing operation that her husband had run that makes replacement parts for the loom.
The semi-automatic portion of the loom allows the weaver to change the harnesses and throw the shuttle from side to side using the beater bar. This allows for slightly enhanced levels of production over traditional hand-weaving techniques. Many weavers used this slight improvement in production in their home-based rug-weaving business. They wove rugs of their own creation or allowed members of the community to provide their rag strips that the weaver then made into practical, long-wearing throw rugs for the home, charging for the weaving on an hourly basis.
Community members often prepared the rag strips at what is known here in Central Pennsylvania as a frolic or work party. Friends and neighbors would gather to help cut strips of cloth from worn household linens and clothing and sew them into long strips. The long strips of cloth would be sorted by color and texture, assuring an attractive rug, and wound into softball or larger sized balls of rags that can often, even today, be found at country auctions and antique shops. Also, these balls of rug rags are often mentioned in the historical record of bridal dowries, indicating their importance to the foundation of a household. The weaver would use these mismatched bundles of rags to weave what is known as the Hit & Miss pattern that allowed the weaver to vary the different cloth strips within the same rug resulting in a multicolored and pleasing-to-the-eye result.
For my rag rugs, I use new cotton fabric, as the old-time process of cutting, sewing, and sorting the various linens and clothing costs more in time than the cost of new material. I cut the cloth into strips of various widths as required by my designs.
What inspires me to continue with this age-old craft is the almost unlimited results that weaving allows for when it comes to colors and patterns. Also, the actual weaving process is very meditative and allows one to become almost lost within the process. I find that when I make an item that is both practical and an artistic expression, it adds joy to daily life.
Often, when I say I weave and make rugs, many are surprised by my involvement as a man. But traditions show that weaving was a meaningful way for the head of a household to make a living. Although women could spin fiber into thread, only men could use the loom, and this convention was enforced through the use of laws and the powerful influence of the guilds that flourished in the old country. Within my community, a strong history of male weavers exists, and only within the past 30 years or so has rug weaving been taken up by women. Even today, when I speak with local weavers or families that have a rug-weaving tradition, they often talk of fathers and grandfathers who did the weaving, with the women of the family producing the cloth strips that supplied the rug-making endeavors. Although I do not subscribe to limiting the craft of weaving to men, I am proud of my involvement and the revival of a male perspective within the craft.
I encourage each of you to explore and find a creative endeavor that is of interest to you. Not only will it bring joy and happiness to your life, but it will also help to preserve the traditional arts and crafts that the modern world has pushed to the very limits of extinction. These age-old skills cannot be left to die out but require our attention to bring them back to our shared experience.
I look forward to hearing stories about your artistic pursuits and encourage your comments below.
a great group of people! I cannot say enough about the enthusiasm and curiosity
of those who accompanied me on the first culinary day trip to the Lancaster
Central Market and the Historic Village of Lititz. The time we spent
interacting with the many purveyors, farmers, and producers of local and
handcrafted products was just the perfect way to spend a day.
group was blessed with the passion of the Master Distiller at Stoll and Wolfe Distillery as he spun
the tale of how he and his company searched out and saved an heirloom red rye
from extinction. He used it to make the first batch of whiskey in more than 50
years distilled from this specific grain. The Market Manager at Lancaster Central Market enlightened
us to the challenges and joys she experiences in running the oldest continuously
operational Market House in the country. The owners of Olio, an independent importer
of Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegars, exuded sheer joy as we participated in a
tasting of their unbelievable line of products.
the capstone of our day was the dedication and friendship the owners of The Savory Gourmet expressed to
us as they hosted our After Hours tasting on the sales floor of their small specialty
food store that they had transformed into an elegant but rustic restaurant. We enjoyed
course after course of specialty meats, cheeses, and gourmet delights, each
paired with the wonderful wines of Seven Mountains Wine Cellars.
As we sat at a communal table, I could not but think what an experience this
day has brought to my guests and me and how these experiences contribute to a simple
life well lived.
those of you who missed out on this trip, fear not. I am planning to schedule
more in the future, along with additional forays to the Strip District in
Pittsburgh and a multiday wine-tasting excursion to the Finger Lake Wine Region
of New York State that is tentatively scheduled for fall of 2020. I hope to
have an official schedule posted here by the first of the New Year, so please keep
an eye out for this information.
the first fire of the season crackles in my Cow Hill Cottage hearth, I contentedly
pour myself a second cup of tea purchased from the specialty tea shop in Lititz
Village and contemplate the many experiences to come as my guests and I explore
the backroads and byways of this great country and the inspirational people we’ll
meet along the way.
P.S. A special thanks to Ann Thompson for many of the photo’s you see here. And please enjoy additional photo’s below.
This summer, we’ve explored the satisfaction of simple but elegant cooking,
preserving our seasonal bounty, and enjoying better quality, local-sourced food
at a lesser cost. But there’s more: A life well lived is also a return to the
lost art of simply creating. Before mass production, when living close to the earth
was a given, people created out of necessity. Need a rug? Make one. Want food
through the winter? Preserve it. But along with the work came a feeling of
pride. I made this. I grew this. I canned this. And I’m happy I can share what
I made with you. A good meal. A gift of canned goods.
sense of community became essential, too. You grew that? I’ve grown this. Let’s
get together to trade or barter or make a double batch. The Peasant Bon Vivant
tours and workshops are helping to nurture this community by providing
fellowship with friends or simply a fun day out or educational event in.
this blog, we hope you’ve tried new things, created what you’ve never created
before, harvested new foods from your garden, bought fewer processed foods, and
tried new recipes, and that you will want to meet like-minded friends. Friends
who, like you, want more of a life well lived.
let’s continue. Now that the eating-fresh season is over, how can we enjoy
fresh, more nutritious flavors throughout the winter?
You may have noted my reference to the winter garden in prior blogs and social
media posts, and many have inquired about this seemingly unrealistic concept.
So, I thought I would explain in a little more detail this very simple but
productive process and the types and varieties of plants I grow.
have only recently discovered the potential of winter gardening and have been using
these techniques over the past three years with varying degrees of success. My initial
exposure and education came about through the works of Eliot Coleman, a
Maine-based market gardener, and his two books Four-Season Harvest and The
Winter Harvest Handbook. For those of you wishing to explore this subject
in depth, I would recommend both.
begin, cultivating and harvesting crops throughout winter has a long and
established history in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe, with its zenith
reached during the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
During this time, market gardeners throughout Paris produced the lion’s share
of the fresh produce required by the city by cultivating small one- to two-acre
ingenious urban farmers used many innovative techniques to maintain the food
needs of Paris. They developed and refined many winter garden techniques that
allowed for the provision of fresh, seasonal, and sustainable vegetables and
salad greens throughout the entire year.
exploration of European winter gardens, both large and small, provided the
foundation for his own four-season market gardening success, which he shares
through his market garden farm located near the Maine coast and in his writing and
appearances at many garden and farming symposiums and conferences.
I began my exploration of this subject, I believed, wrongly, that the success of
the winter garden was based on technology that would provide the climate of
summer to my winter-based plantings. The actual method, though, is based on three
specific areas. The first is the use of plant varieties that are cool- and cold-weather
tolerant. Second, winter gardening is more about winter harvest than winter
growth with the actual growth occurring throughout late summer and fall. Third,
using late-season plantings to accelerate early-spring growth for an early-spring
harvest. An additional concept is planting in succession to assure the continuous
availability of product throughout fall, winter, and late spring.
the gardens at Cow Hill Cottage, I focus on plantings that will provide to me salad
greens throughout late fall and winter, and late-season plantings in support of
early-spring production as well. This year, I have planted beds of lettuce and
salad mix that I will cut and allow to regrow for a second harvest later in the
season. Also, I have planted a few Asian greens called Bok Choy and Pac (or
Pak) Choi, as well as small carrots, leeks, and various herbs, including
cilantro, parsley, and winter thyme. I will be savoring these throughout the
winter and early spring. I have also successfully grown a few greens that the
average American gardener might not recognize but are traditional within the
European garden culture. These include Mache (or Corn Salad, which is the
ultimate cold-weather salad green) and Dandelion, a very common so-called weed
known to many of us in Pennsylvania. Many forage the wild Dandelion greens
every spring in support of our traditional spring tonic meal of greens, sweet and sour
dressing, boiled and browned potatoes, and fried country ham.
The cold frame is the basis of winter gardening. One can consider, also, low and high tunnels along with the root cellar storage area. Because of space limitations, my endeavors are constrained to the cold frame, where I’m still able to produce a substantial and adequate harvest.
cold frame is a basic bottomless box constructed, in my case, from rough-cut
two-by-ten hemlock lumber. In the past, I have used the same hemlock to fashion
my lids or lights, but this year I have invested in new covers constructed from
PVC “lumber” that can be milled. This product provides a strong, lightweight,
and long-lasting component that is the key to the success of the winter garden
other two requirements of cold frame gardening are watering appropriately and venting
the cold frames when needed.
in cold frames need moderate watering. The moderate temperatures of late fall
and early spring drive increased water consumption requiring two to three watering
per week. During the colder months of November through early March, water
requirements are very small or nonexistent, with a light watering needed perhaps
every four weeks or so.
frames need to be vented when sun and outdoor temperatures begin to overheat
the interiors of the frames. One can manually prop open each lid with a short
pole during the warmest portion of the day and then close the lids each evening.
I have opted to invest in automatic openers for each cover that are temperature-activated
and use no electricity.
year, I also intend to produce bedding plants in the cold frames to support next
spring’s plantings to include cabbage and Brussel sprouts, although tomatoes, peppers,
and eggplants continue to require indoor seed-starting techniques.
winter gardening has brought a new level of activity to my gardening endeavors and
a much-appreciated harvest of fresh greens and vegetables to my table during
the long, dark days of winter. I also find in winter gardening the satisfying life-well-lived
activity of producing fresh food throughout the winter months.
am happy to announce that I will be offering my first Culinary Adventure with
the exploration of the Lancaster Central Market and Historic Lititz Village on
Tuesday, October 8, 2019.
participants will join me as we spend the day exploring and tasting the many
culinary delights that Lancaster County has to offer, including the Historic
Central Market of Lancaster City and the many shops and culinary purveyors of
have planned for much tasting of both food and beverages throughout the day. We’ll
enjoy a tour and lunch at a historic distillery, a private tasting at an olive
oil and balsamic vinegar shop, and the charms of an English tea emporium. Also,
we will tour a well-preserved 1793-era historic Lititz home as well as have plenty
of time to visit the many purveyors and specialty shops that both the Central
Market and Lititz Village have to offer.
day will end with a private after-hours specialty food tasting provided by the enthusiastic
owners of a local gourmet specialty food store with wine provided by Seven
Mountains Wine Cellars.
This trip will allow you to explore the rich culinary culture of this historic area of Pennsylvania and is an opportunity to stock your pantry with tasty delights in anticipation of the upcoming holiday season.
The tour will leave Reedsville, PA, at 7:00 a.m., with an anticipated return time of 9:30 p.m. that evening. The price of $150.00 per person includes transportation, all tours and tastings, lunch, and the after-hours dinner event.
Payment options include credit cards, cash, and checks with payment in full expected at the time of reservation.
will provide ice chests to allow you to stock up on perishable market finds,
and the van will allow plenty of room to store your nonperishable treasures as
I am looking forward to joining you in this culinary adventure and invite you to RSVP to my phone at 717-250-8334 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today, I spent some time talking with Loren Kauffman, a neighbor who has recently introduced a new business to our community. The Reedsville Creamery has been a dream of Loren’s for some time, and over the past year or so, he and his family have completed the legwork required to begin pasteurizing and processing whole milk products at his family farm. You can buy white, chocolate, and strawberry flavors from local retailers, markets, and grocery stores throughout Central Pennsylvania as well as right on the farm at the farm store.
raw milk comes from his father’s herd of cattle located approximately 50 feet
from the creamery’s processing facility resulting in a quality and freshness
that is hard to reproduce by other suppliers. His micro-processing facility
bottles approximately 300 gallons of milk per day in old-fashioned returnable
and sustainable glass pint, quart, and half gallon bottles.
creamery’s milk is pasteurized, but is not homogenized, resulting in a heavy
layer of cream that floats in the neck of each bottle, providing a blast from
the past for those of a certain maturity and a great new experience for the
less experienced. This layer of cream can be used for cooking, baking, or as the
perfect coffee creamer. For those of you who are not interested in using the
cream on its own, a simple shake of the bottle before each pour will result in
a superior product that I would wager is better than any milk you have ever tasted.
shared with me that the federal regulatory process to assure quality and purity
of product is stringent, requiring a daily, weekly, and quarterly inspection
process. He finds the regulatory aspect to be less intimidating than his early
expectations. In fact, he believes the process, as well as the advice that the inspection
personnel have provided throughout the development and start-up period, has been
very valuable and has assisted Loren with providing an enhanced product to his
customers and one that he is very proud of.
The Reedsville Creamery has plans for growth and product expansion to include ice cream, 2% milk, skim milk, and heavy cream. My favorite part of Loren’s expansion dream is to take his distribution into other regional communities using a nontraditional approach to business growth that will focus on the development of micro-processing facilities within each region, thus maintaining a local perspective and the use of local raw milk.
I have begun to use Reedsville Creamery milk not only at Cow Hill Cottage but also at Stonefly Café http://stoneflycafe.com. My staff appreciates the high quality of the product, and I am inspired by Loren’s dream of quality local dairy products that have previously been unavailable to me even though I live within a farming community with a rich history of dairy farming.
hope that with Reedsville Creamery’s and other local food purveyor’s success, others
will follow, and a diverse and robust local food community will develop in
support of a simple life well lived.
Did you know?
Whole milk has only 3.5% milk fat, making it 96.5% fat-free.
A cow produces an average of 6.3 gallons of milk daily, which is 2, 300 gallons each year, and 350,000 glasses of milk in a lifetime.
The greatest amount of milk produced in one year was 59,298 pounds by a Holstein cow named Robthom Sue Paddy.
Welcome! I am the Peasant Bon Vivant, and I invite you to join me in my search for a simple life well lived. The name Peasant Bon Vivant reflects this simple philosophy, as Bon Vivant means someone who lives life well and peasants have historically led a simple, self-sufficient life close to the earth.