Monday, December 31, 2012

Good Riddance 2012!

Normally, I do these end-of-year and end-of-season posts sort of like a tally; the wins on one hand, the losses on the other. Suffice it to say that no one wants to read that jolly list, myself included, and so, I'm going to focus on the things that have me looking forward to 2013 in Boggy Hollow.

We're getting piggies!

Homegrown pork is out-of-this-world delicious, and raising pigs is just about the most complete form of waste-food upcycling that there is. They'll eat our leftovers, excess or sour goat milk, windfall apples, bakery outlet leftovers and imperfect, unsold produce from our local grocery store, and maybe some dumpster-dived restaurant leavings.

Besides the pork for ourselves, I'm looking forward to the stellar manure that these guys and gals will produce that will fire up our compost heap.

We're going to have a garden again

Bill is taking the reins for garden planning and building this year, which has in no way dampened my zeal for browsing every seed catalog that lands in my mailbox, and buying and coveting interesting and old seed varieties like other women covet new pairs of heels. Yeah, I scored a couple packs each of Hungarian Blue Bread Poppy and Slow-Bolt Cilantro seeds. It's probably more than I need, but I figured I'd splurge a little...

Bees!

I bought my Boo a beginning beekeeping kit and a few books on organic beekeeping, and he's pretty fired up about it! We're leaning toward trying top bar hives, at least initially, as they produce more wax than a traditional Langstroth hive, which would be useful to us in soapmaking and candlemaking, among other applications.

According to what we've read, the bees will venture out as far as three miles to gather nectar for their honey. We live in an area that is well known for its blueberry patches and bogs, so the flavor of our honey is likely to reflect that. I don't think I've ever even seen blueberry honey available, so I'm looking very much forward to tasting our first batch. :)

We're also excited to see what impact keeping a hive or two on our property will have on our garden and fruit trees' productivity.

The Grand Opening of our Farmstand 

A lot of kinks are still being worked out with regard to how we'll realize this goal, but I feel pretty confident that we'll find a way to make it happen, hopefully in time to take advantage of the increased traffic that comes our way when the blueberry bogs and Christmas tree farms open for business.

Among our offerings will (hopefully) be goats milk soap, eggs, produce, flowers, handicrafts and honey. If I am able to acquire a cottage food license between now and then, I may also sell jams, jellies and baked goods.

So now you see why I'm not willing to look back, even for a day, at 2012. 2013 holds so much promise for us - I can't wait!

But as for today, it's snowing at a good clip, and I have a half-finished knitting project in my lap. Noses will not be put to the grindstone just yet - this next little piece of Winter will be reserved for dreaming, reading, preparing and resting up for the big Spring that we have planned. :)

Wishing you all a Happy and Fulfilling New Year -

Billy, Michelle, Livy & Scarlet,
and the Critters
xoxo

Farmer Bill and his happy herd





Friday, December 21, 2012

Surviving Winter Break: The Tween Edition

Trying to keep a pair of 9 and 12 year old girls productively occupied and not bickering during a two week break from school is a tall order. Here we are on day three and we're already starting to unravel a little...uhg.

So, here are some things that I have done, and others that I've tentatively planned, all in an effort to keep peace in our wee kingdom.

Baking - We made these frosted pumpkin cookies on the first day home together. They are delicious and not too fussy a recipe, which made baking these with the 9 year old actually enjoyable. Madness!

Crafting - We made suet (actually, lard) cakes for both the wild birds and our chickens.

Chicken scratch, oats, dried fruit, poppy seeds, peanut butter and lard, mixed together and pressed into hollowed out orange peels and set up in the fridge to firm up = birdie delights.

Threaded with a little biodegradable cotton yarn, and hung up high enough that the dog couldn't snatch it up and eat it himself (the lard smells very tasty), our little cakes are ready for the finches and chickadees to enjoy.  This one is hanging in our giant old apple tree.

Distraction - I bought a dvd of their new favorite "old" movie, The Goonies, that I'm holding back for a time when I can't take the I'm borrrrrred's any more. Now I just have to resist the urge to give it to them immediately, lest they burn themselves out on it too quickly.

Distraction #2 - Their Pop is lined up to take them to see The Hobbit this weekend, during which time I'll be at home luxuriating in 3 solid hours of silence. Have I ever been so happy to be raising nerdlings? I doubt it.

That's what we have on deck to get us through the first week. We're hoping for - nay - counting on their Christmas gifts to keep them sufficiently occupied for the second week. 

In the event that they fail (don't do me like that, Santa. You owe me, fat man!), I've got my Costco-sized bottle of Baileys and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones at the ready. ;)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Patchwork Farm Girl

If you had to choose: More years out of your life, or more life out of your years, which would it be?

These are the choices I'm thinking hard on just now.

At this moment, I'm leaning toward adding life to my years. I finally decided that enough was enough - I'm going ahead with the knee replacement. I know it won't bring back the knee of my misspent youth, but I can at least get my rump off of the couch and actively participate in our daily farm life to a greater extent than I do now. How much use and pain relief I'll get from my prosthesis is a mystery. It's a case-by-case thing.

When the pain and swelling get so bad now, that standing long enough to cook my kids breakfast ends up trashing my knee for the day, the idea of a knee replacement seems like a Godsend.

But there's a heck of a lot more to the process than just replacing a broken part and getting on with life. There are a lot of potential complications, firstly, that my prosthesis will expire before I do, necessitating a second fairly involved surgery, and the possible removal of even more pieces of my leg bones.

*Shudder*

Secondly, I have to be extra careful about preventing and quickly treating infection in my body for the rest of my life, lest the infection become blood-borne and travel to my new knee, necessitating surgical intervention to disinfect or possibly replace the parts. What does that mean for me? Antibiotics before every dental visit, seeing my doctor sooner rather than later anytime I suspect that I have a sinus infection, or any other otherwise-small bacterial infection. I'm not a fan of taking antibiotics, so this caveat is no small impediment for me.

Thirdly, my body and my family have already been through the ringer this year. Our car accident in May broke my arm and my thumb, spawned a pair of brain bleeds, gave me a wicked, lingering concussion, erased a good chunk of my memory, and cost me about 20% of my scalp, which took three months to re-grow, even after plastic surgery. Should I really even think about putting my body and my poor, put-upon husband through another round of incapacity?

And lastly, though this is a fix of sorts, my life won't be quite the same anymore. On my list of permanent can'ts are things like running, jumping and jogging, or anything else that could be considered a high-impact activity. Not that those figure greatly into my daily life, but still, when someone tells you that you can't do something, you grieve the loss of that freedom a little. They're also pretty adamant that I avoid falling down on my new knee. Now that could be a problem for me. Gravity and I don't always get along so well. Soon, I'll have to be extra-extra careful not to wipe out in a giant pile of chicken crap or step into a molehill, since apparently, I've not been precisely fastidious in avoiding these pratfalls up until now. I'm glad that someone out there has faith in my ability to pull my shizz together!

So, there it is. The good, the bad, the annoying and the practically-impossible, all laid out just like that. If I had a sincere love of couch surfing and piling evermore crap on my husband's to-do list, I could ride this messed-up knee thing all the way down the line. But I don't. We bought a farm because I wanted to work a farm, not play armchair quarterback to my poor, overburdened hubbin. So in spite of all the downsides, can'ts and possible complications, I feel like my only real move here is to take a chance on this procedure.

The length of time I have here on earth is completely uncertain, as my brush with mortality in the high desert taught me well. I have to be decisive and take the best advantage I can of what lies directly in front me, and that is working this farm, building a family business and experiencing life and exploring the world with my husband and daughters. And the knee I have now won't get me there, so in the end I guess there really isn't much of a choice...

I'm gonna do it.


Monday, December 10, 2012

GGG Holiday Giveaway Winner!


Of the 16 valid entries received, the winner was...



#16! My homegirl, Kristin! Thank you all SO MUCH for stopping by and entering the giveaway. I look forward to holding another again soon.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Goatses with the Mostest

Dairy time is about done for us here. The does have all been dried off, and have very likely already been  re-bred by our escape-artist of a buck, Buckley. So we'll be buying milk until February at least, but not having to milk in the cold and wet makes the trade off quite fair.

On a day like this, when I'm missing my goat milk in my coffee, I come across a post from a fellow farm chick, Matron at Throwback at Trapper Creek. She has a gorgeous Guernsey, Jane, who gives her four gallons of milk per day. I have a mild case of cow envy.

Sure, we'd drown in 4 gallons per day, but the stuff is golden and just...amazing. I could make a whole different assortment of cheeses, and enough butter that I wouldn't have to hit up Costco whenever a baking jag hits. And we could feed the extra to the pigs that we plan to get this Spring. Oh, the things I could do with all that milk...

But.

But, we only have 3 1/2 acres.

A full acre of that land (the bog) is under water 9 months out of the year.

We have well water and a septic system, which means that we basically recycle the same water constantly. I try really hard to maintain balance in those systems by not overwhelming the septic with chemicals, phosphates or tons of cow poo. Goat poop is in "jellybean" form, and can be cleaned up/moved easily, and breaks down slowly. A giant cow pat in the rain will end up running off into our bog, and eventually our septic/well system. Simply put, it would just be too much for our little foothold to handle.

We've already committed to pigs this coming late Winter/early Spring. And their care and "output" will be plenty for this little farm to take on. The reason that we green-lit the pig idea, rather than the cow, was primarily because there is an end date to it. The pigs will be with us for no longer than 9 months, at which point we can evaluate whether the cost/work/impact was worth the trouble.

So, for the foreseeable future, goats will be where our dairy begins and ends. And really, these little gals do a pretty bang-up job of providing us with milk for our coffee, little batches of snowy white butter, some really intense aged parmesan, and the secret ingredient for our lovely homemade soaps.



These are the gals who make it happen. Thanks again, girls.


Friday, December 7, 2012

How to: Paper Snowflakes


Now, I know that making paper snowflakes isn't rocket surgery, but some of us learn better with a visual aid, which is why I'm posting this here How to.

Paper snowflakes in the front windows during the Winter months are a long-standing tradition in my family. My sister and I grew up with a single Mom and a tight budget, so we learned to make our own fun when we could. Mom's office had a ginormous dot-matrix printer that used 15 inch(?) wide green and white striped, accordion-folded reams of paper. For some reason, the printer would always spit out two blank pages after every print job. My Mom's boss gave her the green light to bring the wasted sheets home for us kids to use as coloring paper. I still have some of that pretty epic artwork scratched on those place mat-sized pieces of paper. I could draw ducks like nobody's business back in the day.

Those awkwardly shaped, oddly-striped pieces of waste paper ended up being our first snowflakes too.

Nowadays, the girls and I just rob the printer in my husband's home office blind. But we're doing it in the spirit of the SPREADING JOY, dang it!


Monkeys against a backdrop of snowflakes, Christmas morning.

What you'll need-

*standard printer paper (or re-purposed wrapping paper scraps, sales flyers, etc.)
*scissors
*scotch tape for hanging them


Step 1: Squaring up your paper -


Fold bottom edge of page up to touch a side. You will have made a large triangle. See that extra bit that wasn't folded? Trim that piece off.



Now you have a perfect square!

Step 2: Fold the square in half along the same crease you made when making the initial fold to square it up. It is now folded in half.

Step 3: Fold it in half again. Now it's in 4ths.


Step 4: Fold it in half one last time. It is now folded into 8ths. You should have one side of your triangle which is a single, solid folded edge (side one), a side that has two folded edges (side two) and a side that has all cut ends of the paper (side 3).


Each of the facets of the "flake" need to be treated differently. This is where a small mistake can lead to a giant pile of pretty scraps instead of a gorgeous finished snowflake.

Side One - This is the side of the folded paper that holds things together. If you go to bananas with the scissors, your snowflake will either be very fragile or will fall apart completely. I try not to cut away too much more than 50% of that edge.

Side Two - This side also contains folds that hold things together, but isn't as critical as the connections on side one. I'd probably cut a maximum of 75% of this edge.

Side Three - This edge is all cut ends (what will be the outer edge of the snowflake), so there are no folds to preserve. Go crazy and cut 100% of it if you want.


First cut on side one. I want this snowflake to be kinda-sorta frilly, rather than strictly geometric, so I'm going with bends and curves.


Finished cutting. I cut maybe 30% out of side one, 75% out of side two, and 80% or so of side three (a very subtle dish shape). Now the unveiling begins!


Open slowly! You don't want to tear your lovely creation.


Et viola! A lovely, festive, one-of-a-kind paper snowflake.


This is a great craft for those long, cold days of Winter break at home with the kids. Be creative and have fun!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Coming Out Party for Beth

Our Bethie, a lovely black-laced red Wyandotte hen who we have long suspected of actually being a rooster, made it official today. Beth crowed!

"Beth" surrounded by a portion of his harem

Crowed might be a generous description. If I had to convey the sound in terms that a non-farm-exposed individual could understand, I'd describe it as...the sound of someone gargling mud? If I didn't know it was Bethie, I'd be sure that there was someone out there murdering a set of bagpipes with a sledgehammer.

Beth has been a strapping chickie from the get go, and a notorious food hog/nibbler of exposed digits (he is why flip flops are a no-no in the Chicken Yard), setting himself apart from his slightly more timid peers. His robust physique and assertiveness lead us to suspect she was a fella, but hey - we don't judge. It was up to him to let us know where he stood.

There's plenty of room for all on this little farm. :)

The kiddos want to give him a new name, but so far, nothing. Any suggestions?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

GGG Holiday Giveaway!


Finally! The giveaway I've been promising is here at last!

This humble little box of goodies contains a combination of stuff that I, myself, have made, and foodie delights that I'm crazy in love with.

This box includes-

*1 bar Orange Cream goats milk soap
*1 jar Sweet Orange bath fizz
*3 knit cotton washcloths
*1 adult size pair wool bike helmet earmuffs
*1 jar each of tomatillo salsa, raspberry peach jam and spiced peach jam
*1 Theo chai chocolate bar
*2 whole organic vanilla beans
*1 package smoked sea salt

Approximately $70 worth of stuff. And you never know, I might pop a little something else in there too.  :)

Enter by simply leaving a comment on this post. Make sure that you provide me with a way to contact you in the event that you win.

Please feel free to share this giveaway with others. The more views/followers that these giveaways generate for this lil' ole blog, the more likely I am to do them! I'll accept entries until 12/9/12 at midnight, my time. A random winner will be chosen and announced here on GGG on 12/10/12.

Thanks again for stopping by and Good Luck!


Bazaar Season Breakdown


I learned a lot with last year's bazaar season - affordable, useful objects sell, and spendy-ish, upscale items don't, at least for me. I tried to learn something from that and to focus my time, energy and money on making more of the items that seemed to be in demand last year - washcloths and bike helmet earmuffs, while eliminating the high-end (and high overhead!) apparel items that didn't sell - scarves, mostly.

So this year, I made roughly triple the number of washcloths as last year, 35. We sold all but 7 of them. We sold roughly the same number of bike helmet earmuffs as last year, but, same as last year, the "feminine" colors (pink and purple) didn't move. Lesson learned - people like their noggin warmers in gender-neutral brights and earth tones.

Our Booth at Lincoln Winter Market


I did not offer any jars of jam for sale this year, as I'm not sure that a) With new cottage food laws in place, and me not yet certified, that my selling any sort of prepared foodstuff would be be entirely legal, and b) $3 for a half pint jar might sound like a reasonable price to the buyer, but the maker/sellers breaks even at best.

This was our first year making and selling our soaps and accompanying frou-frou. The soaps, especially the Homegrown Lavender, sold like hotcakes, even at $5 per bar, and with a LOT of competing soapmakers at both bazaars. Ours was the only goat milk soap that I saw for sale though, so between that and what I think of as our handcrafted, cute, genuine factor (imperfectly cut bars, hand wrapped packaging), I think we did pretty darn well and recouped our initial investment in soapmaking supplies and materials.

Our very first batch of soap - Orange Cream

The accompanying products (scrubs, fizzes) weren't super sellers, but the profit margin per sale makes them worth keeping. I'll make a few next year, but focus more on the soaps and washcloths, as they are they main attraction.

Another note with regard to the goats milk soap - we made a few potentially valuable contacts with some fellow crafters and soapmakers who expressed interest in buying/trading for some of our goats milk to include in their products (NOT to consume!). Imagine this goat thing actually paying for itself someday - crazy! Maybe I can use this to justify my longing for alpaca/fiber goat/sheep ownership to the spousal unit? One critter at a time...

These numbers are rough, as I'm admittedly a shoddy record keeper. Just to give you an idea of how a tiny, homegrown hobby can maybe(?), someday(?) grow into a small business...

Last years sales - $185
This years sales - $326.75 (Plus another $50 incoming for custom orders)

So, we doubled our sales from last year to this. With any luck, next year we double this years numbers at least.

We hope to get our farmstand up and running sometime between now and next Summer at the latest. Hopefully the products, business cards and relationships that we made and exchanged at these bazaars will be something of a springboard for our little stand. I think we've discovered a niche, now to expand on that, explore further ventures and make a little money while doing what we love. The future is bright. :)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Knitting Project: Zig Zags Dishcloth

Yep, another dishcloth pattern! I guess they're kinda my thing.

                          

These are so quick and simple to make and people honestly love them. These are my absolute best sellers, year after year.


I recently posted a similar pattern, the Chevrons Dishcloth, based on a stitch that I learned from a knitting encyclopedia. This Zig Zag dishcloth has a more compact design, and the line runs vertically through the piece, rather than horizontally. 

                           

Not that it'll set the world on fire, but I'm proud to say that this stitch pattern is a GGG original. So, enjoy. Happy knitting!

Zig Zags Dishcloth

*Cast on 36
Rows 1 & 2 – K all sts
Row 3 – K2 *K3, P1* to last 2 sts, K2
Row 4 – K2 *P1, K1, P2* to last 2 sts, K2
Row 5 – K2 *K1, P1, K2* to last 2 sts, K2
Row 6 – K2 *P3, K1* to last 2 sts, K2
Row 7 – K2 *P1, K3* to last 2 sts, K2
Row 8 – K2 *P2, K1, P1* to last 2 sts, K2
Row 9 – K2 *K2, P1, K1* to last 2 sts, K2
Row 10 - K2 *K1, P3* to last 2 sts, K2
Repeat rows 3-10 until desired length is reached, less two rows.
Last 2 rows – K all sts.
Bind off loosely.

If you find any errors or have any questions, feel free to drop me a line. If you want to forgo the knitting and buy some finished dishcloths, you can find me on Etsy as Postmodern Milkmaid, or shoot me an email/leave a comment and I'll hook you up! ;)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ina's Shortbread

This is yet another eggless wonder! The hens gave us exactly one egg last week, and I'm pretty sure it was from one of the bantams no less. I was robbed!

I decided to branch out from my tried and true Spiced Pumpkin Scones and further explore the possibilities of baking in an world sin huevos. I needed to make something for the school's bake sale and it had to be a) nut-free (school rule), b) eggless (I shake my fist in your general direction, chickens!), c) foolproof. These parameters whittled down my options considerably. Of the remaining few, I settled on trying shortbread.

I used Ina Garten's shortbread recipe, so I pretty much knew it was gonna rock. As a generously-proportioned woman myself, I am rather suspicious of skinny chefs (I'm looking at you, Giada), and given the choice, will go with the chef who looks like they actually eat. Ergo, Ina=Awesome.

These badboys call for exactly 5 ingredients - (a boatload of) butter, sugar, vanilla, flour and salt. Nice and simple, and most importantly, no eggs!



Was I right or was I right? AWESOME.

I iced them with a butterscotch glaze and sprinkled shredded coconut on a few. They are a cardiologist's nightmare. Completely non-artery-friendly and absolutely divine.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Knitting Project: Chevrons Dishcloth


Our family uses these primarily as dishcloths (and as goat udder-washer-uppers), but there's no reason that you couldn't use these as washcloths too. I use 100% cotton, and try to stick to patterns that are simple enough to memorize (no looking back and forth from the pattern to your work all day), and "nubbly" enough to really get in there when you're using these to scrub the holy heck out of something - be it dishes, your face or...goat parts. ;)

This is a fairly new design for me, but it has been selling well, and with the chevron design craze (search chevron on Pinterest and see for yourself) I thought I'd better capitalize on this good thing while I could. But, it'd be rude to keep such a fun and easy knit to myself, so here you go, the Chevrons Dishcloth.

The pattern gets lost a little on variegated yarns, as you can see from my crummy cell phone picture. I'd recommend solids for this pattern.

*Needles: size 7 straight needles (I use a 24" circular needle, so I can smoosh my work into the middle of it when I set it down, as to not drop stitches off the needles. It works!)

*Yarn: 1 ball Kitchen Cotton, such as Sugar 'n Cream or Coolspun Cotton

Cast on 36 sts

Rows 1 & 2 - Knit all sts
Row 3 - K2, *P1, K3* to last 2 sts, K2
Row 4 - K2, *K1, P5, K1, P1* to last 2 sts, K2
Row 5-  K2, *K2, P1, K1* to last 2 sts, K2
Row 6-  K2, *P2, K1, P1, K1, P3* to last 2 sts, K2
Repeat rows 3-6 until piece reaches desired length, minus 2 rows.
Last 2 rows - Knit all sts
Loosely bind off all sts.

You can eliminate the first two and last two rows of knit sts, as well as the k2 at the beginning and end of each row if you do not want a selvedge edge. I think it makes the cloth look more finished though. ;)

That's it! Happy knitting!!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I haven't forgotten...

...that I promised you all a sweet giveaway. I'm presently in the throes of Bazaar/Thanksgiving prep and half out of my head stressing over details. You guys are on my mind, though half-buried beneath a giant to-do list, you're still there. ;)

I'm doing a food-nerd favorite things/homemade goodies themed basket, so unless I sell clean out of them between this weekend and next, you can count on some soap, scrub and washcloths in there.

I won't tease you anymore. Just hang in there with me, friends. I'll get my booty in gear....eventually.

Chelle

Monday, November 19, 2012

Recipe: Spiced Pumpkin Scones (eggless)


What to do when autumn-induced baking fever hits at the same time as your hens go on strike?

Well, I could...
a) Break down and buy eggs (pish-posh! As if!),
b) Google "eggless baking" and get a lot of questionable-looking vegan muffin recipes, or
c) Throw caution to the wind and try a recipe that calls for eggs, but without the eggs.

Don't mind me, I'm just living on the razor's edge over here. ;)

I came across a Spiced Pumpkin Scone recipe that looked promising. The original recipe only called for a single egg anyway, and I'd recently seen an article that suggested that a whole mess of fairly common kitchen ingredients that could stand in for an egg in baked goods - applesauce, mashed banana, flax seed meal, whole milk yogurt, etc. So, I gave it a whirl. The result - delicious! The recipe that I used compares these pumpkin scones to those available at Starbucks. And they do taste a lot like Starbie's scones, but are actually lighter-textured and appreciably less dense than the original.


Soft, flaky, spiced and very lightly sweet - Autumn comfort in a pastry.


Spiced Pumpkin Scones
Recipe via SweetPeasKitchen.com, with my fudges noted.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup and 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves*
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger*
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (about half of a roasted, small Sugar Pie pumpkin)
3 tablespoons half-and-half**
1 large egg**

*Save yourself the trouble and substitute pumpkin pie spice instead, if you have it.
**I substituted 1/3 c. plain whole yogurt for the egg and half & half

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with fit the paddle attachment, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Add the butter and toss with a fork to coat with the flour mixture. Mix on medium-low speed until the texture resembles coarse cornmeal, with the butter pieces no larger than small peas.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, half-and-half and egg (or yogurt). Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and form the dough into a ball. Pat out dough onto a lightly floured surface and form into a 1-inch thick rectangle about 4 inches by 12 inches. Use a large knife to slice the dough making three equal portions. Cut each of the portions in an X pattern (four pieces) so you end up with 12 triangular slices of dough. Place on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 14-16 minutes*, or until light brown. Place on wire rack to cool.

*Mine needed 20 minutes to bake through.

I'm still fiddling with a few maple/brown sugar icing recipes to drizzle on these scones. I want big flavor in an icing that dries to have a nice crunch when you bite into it, but so far, I'm not thrilled with what I've been able to come up with. Guess I'll have to make more scones...

By the way - I also added about 1/4 cup of dried sour cherries to a batch - fantastic. I plan to try some with dried cranberries and/or maybe a teensy bit of finely diced candied ginger (that stuff packs a PUNCH), just to see which tweaks, if any, bring a little something extra to an already really good, really wholesome scone. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Countdown to Bazaar Season 2012

Less than a week to go before bazaar #1, the Lincoln Winter Market. And so, I'm running around in a tizzy, trimming and wrapping soaps, tucking and tagging knits and trying to plan my table layout. These bazaars are a lot of fun, but man, are they a lot of leg work too!

Tonight's job - wrapping the Orange Cream soap.


It is slightly labor-intensive, having to wrap each bar in parchment, band them with card stock, make a label for the front of the bar (big props to Tehlia for making me the gorgeous fluffy-butt hen stamp!), affixing a hand-written ingredient list and tying the whole bundle up with string. No wonder I only got 8 wrapped before I called it a night.

Tomorrow, lots more soap wrapping and sugar scrub mixing and packaging. If this stuff doesn't sell, we'll have a lifetime supply of soap & exfoliants. We'll be the cleanest, smoothest farmers EVER. ;)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Our Girl Goes Home

Tomorrow, Cici goes home with her forever family, a wonderful couple from British Columbia. Yep, our Great White pup is headed for the Great White North.

Bringing Celeste home, just off the transport from Texas.

We met Cici's new family yesterday, and they are amazing people. She's going to be an only dog in a home with woods to walk in, and visiting grandkids who will lavish love on her. Her new Mama sees charity work in Cici's future, as a visiting therapy dog for local hospitals. Honestly, she will have the kind of life that no one could have expected for her, based on where and how she started life. It's maybe a little bit like watching your daughter leave home to marry a wonderful man. You know that she's on promising, amazing new path, but you are still a little sad to see her break away from your fold, your emotions oscillating between pride, joy and gut-wrenching pain, each in their turn. That's my baby right there.

Cici was born on a ranch in East Texas, and along with 36 other dogs, was surrendered to a kill shelter by the ranch owner. She was rescued by a network of compassionate, tireless individuals within the SPIN (Saving Pyrs In Need) and the Great Pyrenees Rescue Society organizations. She was significantly underweight, and had had very little direct interaction with humans, and was therefore untrained and totally inexperienced with the concepts of love, trust and security. The vets who saw her upon intake at the shelter estimated that she would reach a maximum of 60 pounds, full grown. Her undersized adult weight will be a life-long reminder of the insufficient nourishment she received in her infancy.

Her previous experiences in life had taught her that food was a scarce and extremely valuable commodity, and so she would eat until she was full, but continue to guard her food bowl, even going so far as to sleep by her dish, lest Rex (or us humans) try to take her food. It was heartbreaking to see.

She was absolute sweetness personality-wise since day one, but the trust and training were much slower in coming. Pyr's are incredibly intelligent dogs, and so the bulk of Cici's "training" actually came from following Rex's example. We also used positive reinforcement ("atta girls" and bribery via treats)  to teach her very basic concepts like sit.

She's been with us for about 6 weeks, and has grown tremendously, emotionally and physically. She's gained a good 5 pounds, started growing a new, healthy winter coat, and works and plays in lock-step with Rex; barking at bicyclists, deer and the UPS man, checking in on the welfare of the chickens and goats, and competing for the prime, pre-warmed-by-Mama's-butt, spot on the couch. She feels like this is her place too now.

And it has been. She and Rex have been a great team. Joggers smile and say hi to the pair of sproingy, giant white fluff balls each time they pass. People ask us about the breed all the time now, Great Pyrenees being a fairly uncommon and heretofore relatively unknown breed in Western Washington. The resurgence of urban homesteading and hobby farming has made the Livestock Guardian Dog a relevant consideration for families and individuals who want to raise their own food and food animals in cities and towns where raccoons, rats and coyotes, among others, have adapted to our urban sprawl and set up shop quite efficiently, gobbling up backyard chickens and bunnies like drive-thru hamburgers. These pups earn their keep, keeping the predators at bay, while respecting your livestock and totally running away with your heart. To me, they are dream dogs, the perfect breed.

So I guess I'm a sort of Pyr evangelist. Which is one of the things that I must remind myself of every time I think about Cici moving on. She might be the first Pyr that a lot of folks meet, in her neck of the Canadian woods. Her finding her forever home means that we will have room in our home for another dog who might otherwise be euthanized due to shelter overcrowding. This is the best possible outcome for everyone involved, especially for Cici. That doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt.

Safe travels, Cici-beans. You've made your Mama so proud. 

My pair o'Pyrs. Who says dogs can't smile? :)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Woohoo!

We made it! Three years and 25,000 pageviews later, this little blog is still kickin'.

As promised, there will be a celebratory giveaway! Right now I'm still building my basket of goodies. I want to load it up with my favorite food-nerd, locally made and generally-nifty stuff, but I have to do so on a budget, so I'm pecking away at it.

I will make a big, honkin' deal out of it when I finally do post the giveaway though, so stick around. :)

Thanks again for reading, guys & gals. It means more to me than you know.

Chelle


Monday, November 5, 2012

Recipe: Easy, Homemade Biscuits & Dumplings


My basic biscuit and dumpling recipe are one in the same. These are just so easy to whip up, and are made using wholesome, real ingredients that I guarantee you already have at your house. A batch makes 24 small biscuits and the ingredients only cost around fifty cents! Beat that, Pillsbury! ;)


Chelle's Biscuit & Dumpling Mix

*2 cups all-purpose flour
*4 tsps baking powder
*1 tsp salt
*4 tbsps butter (cold)
*1 cup milk

Whisk dry ingredients together well. Cut cold butter into pea-sized pieces, and mix (but don't smash! You want lumps in your mix!) into dry ingredients. Add milk and mix until just incorporated.

If using as dumplings, drop by spoonfuls into simmering soup. Simmer with the lid on for 5 minutes, then 5 more minutes with the lid off or until the dumplings are cooked through, and mostly dry on top. Sprinkle with paprika, if you are so inclined. Serve.

If making drop biscuits, drop by heaping tablespoons onto a well greased or non-stick cookie sheet (I actually use a 24-cup mini muffin pan for my biscuits most of the time). Bake @ 425 for about 10-15 minutes. Biscuits need to be cooked hot, but don't stray too far - they can burn pretty quickly!

Variations-

*Replace some or all of the butter with lard or rendered bacon fat
*Add 1/2 - 1 cup of parmesan cheese or grated cheddar cheese
*Use seasoned or garlic salt in place of the regular salt
*Add a few fresh or dried herbs - chives, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, etc.
*Use buttermilk instead

Red Lobster-style Biscuits-

Follow main recipe as listed above with the following changes/additions -

*Add 1 cup shredded cheddar to the mix
*Replace regular salt with garlic salt
*When fresh out of the oven, brush biscuits with a generous amount of melted butter, then dust with a little garlic powder or garlic salt.

Enjoy!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Knitting Project: Viking Hat (Unisex)

Just finished this, and I'm about to start another. Pattern forthcoming!

Kids' unisex Viking hat. By Postmodern Milkmaid, available at the
 Lincoln Winter Market, November 24th. ;)

The Mixed Blessings of Fall on a Farm


Brought to you in the form of a list, because, well, that seems to be all I'm capable of today.

Goats:

Our two does in milk are "drying off".

Yay!-

* No more milking in the cold & dark!

Boo!-

* No more milk until Spring.

* The girls will soon be coming back into heat, and so goat "interludes" must be arranged, which involves staring at goat lady-parts daily. Jealous, are you?

* The goaties will soon be on a all hay/grain diet, as the pasture grasses and plants die back. Translation - $$$.

Chickens:

With the decrease in light and the chickens starting their molt, we're getting only one egg every other day now.

Yay! -

* I got nothin'.

Boo! -

* The chickens actually eat a little more than normal at this time of year, with less forage available and higher caloric needs to generate additional body heat and grow new feathers. It's all work and no omelettes over here!

Garden/Trees/Plants:

The weather is quite wet, everything is about done fruiting and the deciduous trees are dropping their leaves like crazy.

Yay! -

* I can be done processing apples for a while! 200 pounds of fruit is a lot of fruit. Now I can focus on canning it up.

* We had a good harvest from our orchard, and managed to forage a good bit as well.

* No more watering necessary!

* The chanterelles and other edible 'shrooms should be popping up soon.

Boo! -

* We are going to have to rake up literally tons of wet leaves from our orchard trees and the big-leaf maples on the south side of our property. Hooboy!

Daily Life:

Daylight savings time ending, plus La Nina/El Nino, and good ol' Western Washington geography means at least 5 more months of daily prevailing conditions tending toward being either wet, grey or wetandgrey.

Yay! -

* I'm fully justified in sitting on my duff by the wood stove, knitting like a woman possessed.

* I like soup.

* I get to drink coffee 24/7 (more than I already do)

* Pumpkin flavored everything is available everywhere.

Boo! -

* Our farm's bottomland is going to be mud soup for the next 6 months.

* Seasonal Affective Disorder on top of Post-Concussion Syndrome. Oy.




Saturday, November 3, 2012

Homemade Carpet Shampoo

Having light colored carpets in a farmhouse is giant pain. I've accepted that my carpet is somewhat of a lost cause as far as it ever being truly clean and free of stains, and really, I'm ok with that. But, in spite of the fact that I've made peace with the sorry state of my carpet, I still like to give it a shampoo now and then, just to liberate some of the yuckier muck that has collected down deep. Our foster dog, sweet Cici, sort of accelerated my cleaning schedule by having a couple of "whoopsies" during her first few days here.

I borrowed my sister's carpet shampooer, but needed cleaner. You can buy a bottle of the cleaner that they sell for use with Rug Doctors wherever they rent the shampooers, but that stuff is spendy, and I prefer gentle, non-toxic cleaning alternatives anyway, so I decided to skip the store and see if I could make a comparable, effective, and non-scary alternative. This is the recipe that I cobbled together from several that I came across.

*1 quart hot tap water (not boiling!)
*1/4 cup hydrogen peroxide*
*1 tablespoon white vinegar

That's it! Other recipes suggested maybe adding some dish soap or essential oils to the mix, but I think that soap and oil on/in your carpet leaves a bit of sticky residue behind that can actually make your carpets more likely to grab and hold on to dirt and gunk.

A sample of my results-

A puppy accident that we did not find immediately. It was there long enough to dry completely, but still came up nicely with just a few passes of the shampooer and no pre-treatment.

I took the "after" shot immediately after cleaning, so I expect that the carpet will lighten up further upon drying completely. So far, I'm really pleased with the results.

*A word of caution with regard to the use of hydrogen peroxide - it has the potential to have a bleaching effect if used directly, in too large an amount or on deeply colored fibers that aren't terribly colorfast. Obviously, I'm not worried about my carpet getting too white (that's never gonna happen!), but if you are, test the cleaner on a small, hidden area first, and/or reduce the amount of peroxide in your solution.




Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Naked Bird Blues

The hennies and roos have undertaken their annual molt in earnest, and man are they looking ROUGH these days.


One sad-looking Polish hennie, our Gracie-girl,  mid-molt.

Beyond the sorry look of them, chickens in molt are also non-layers. It has been over a week since we've had an egg from them. My Fall weather-induced baking binge will have to wait until the gals are feeling more forthcoming, because the idea of buying eggs has become downright, well...


... inconceivable!

And the irony of feeling thusly about the lack of a good egg is not lost on me.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Homegrown Lavender Soap

Bill and I made our second batch of soap yesterday, we're calling it Homegrown Lavender.

The soap is still caustic, so I can't poke and prod it like I'd like to, but I can smell it and take its picture, so viola.

It looks like most of the poppy seeds have floated to the top, so there'll be a scrubby side and a non-scrubby side to this soap. Interesting...

As you can see, the color is not perfect. We chose to use all-natural scents and tints in our soaps, so they tend not to be the technicolor explosion that synthetically colored soaps are. I'd rather err on the side of boring at this point. Trying to imagine myself standing behind a product made with laboratory-designed scents and colors makes me squirm. Our beautiful goat milk deserves better than that!

As much as I'm not crazy in love with this color, I have to concede that it has improved drastically overnight. When we first poured it into the mold (a fancy term for a cardboard box lined with visqueen), it was the brownish-grey of elderly oatmeal.



Six more weeks until it's ready to use and sell. We'll be right down to the wire as far as selling this at our bazaars. I'm going to buy some pH strips at the homebrew store so that I can make doubly sure that this is completely saponified and 100% safe and gentle before offering it for sale. And while I'm at the homebrew store I might pick up a little citric acid, so I can give these homemade bath bombs a go too. They use a lot of the same ingredients that we already have on hand for soap making, and I think they'd be a neat complimentary product to offer alongside the soap and knitted washcloths and scrubbies.

It's a little weird that my Postmodern Milkmaid ventures have taken a toiletry-esque turn, after having been pretty much all about apparel last year. Hopefully, using the lessons learned from last year's sales, and the unique resources that are available to us through our little farm (goat milk, homegrown botanicals) we'll get a little leg up this year, and set ourselves apart from some of the other makers and crafters.

Six weeks until we know for sure if any of this worked, let alone whether or not people find it appealing. That niggling little worry should be great for my insomnia!

Back to knitting my face off in the meantime. ;)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Can-o-rama, the Second Act

My homegirls and I started an informal monthly food preservation-fest last Fall that we dubbed The Bitchin' Kitchen Collective. I think we met maybe three times last year, before scheduling conflicts, Holidays and general chaos tore our little gathering asunder.

I'm bringing sexy jammin' back.

Yesterday, my girl Kristin and I had a little fiesta de salsa. The 25 pounds of free tomatillos that I was able to get via Craigslist were our launching point. She and I both hunted around for a good salsa verde recipe that could be made with the hot water bath canning method, and settled on this one, with just a few minor tweaks. Our bounty of tomatillos meant that we had enough veg to make eleven batches worth of salsa. Dios mio! Times like these are when it is especially handy to have a hubby who is into home brewing and willing to share his giant brewpot and propane burner with you. I also owe my guy some serious props for being willing to shuttle jars back and forth from the kitchen to the water bath canner bubbling away on the covered porch because a) it was raining, and b) he had to bob and weave past two very excited and curious Great Pyrenees both ways. Canning is not for sissies!

Our efforts yielded 10 pints and 36 half pints of salsa, over the course of a 7 hour-long, mellow Sunday spent with one of my bestest girls, drinking wine and shooting the breeze. Life is pretty darn good. :)


Next up - more jam and jelly and probably a little wine as well, made with apples, pears, rose hips, hawthorn, rowan berries, and whatever else we might forage or stumble upon.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Weekend Loometh

Maybe loometh is too dark a word? The weekend... cometh aggressively(eth)? Let's just say we're packing a whole bunch of homesteady-type activities into the next 48 hours.

On Saturday - We're trying our first batch of homemade goats milk soap. I'm still on the hunt for the perfect recipe. I'm leaning toward something creamsicle-ish with sweet orange oil and vanilla beans. We'll see if chemistry is my friend!

Also on Saturday, we'll be planting a few trees and medicinal perennials - Beaked Hazel (nut), Echinacea, Yarrow and a few others. I scored big at a closeout sale on water-wise plants. Not that a shortage of water has ever been a problem here (this is Boggy Hollow), but plants that don't mind a little accidental neglect on my part will most definitely do better in the long run.

Lastly, we plan to list 3 or 4 of our goats for sale this weekend, which could translate to the unparallelled joy that is wrangling disgruntled goats during an epic downpour. Yay?

Sunday, it's salsa-jam 2012. My girl Kristin and I scored 25 pounds of free, perfectly ripe tomatillos via craigslist, so we're going to devote the day to making enough salsa verde to feed a small army.

Free tomatillos. Thanks, Kathy!

Spending the day chopping, stirring and jarring up salsa may not sound like hard work, but after 8 or 10 hours of salsa fest, me and my good friend, giant jug o' red wine, would beg to differ.

Here's to a rainy, drainy, productive weekend!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Waste


I've always been a frugal creature; not one to waste unnecessarily, and a bit of a pack rat when it comes to anything I perceive as potentially having a little life left in it. It's a blessing and a curse, really, in terms of the oddments and "junk" that I stockpile save. It is a relatively small percentage of the time that I end up doing anything with those spare buttons that come with my husband's work shirts, as he usually manages to wear the shirts out well before the buttons can go missing, but, even still, I can't just throw them away. I just... can't.

So I'm the first to admit that there can be too much of a good thing in terms of saving stuff. The HUGE exception to that rule in my book is food. There is always a body - be it human, chicken, ruminant, insect or microbe - that could use up that food's energy to a productive end and, in many cases, also produce a useful by-product (eggs, milk, compost, penicillin) besides. Therefore it pains me when I see any food irretrievably wasted.

To clarify exactly what I mean by irretrievably wasted, I'd define it like this - Useful potential energy that is irresponsibly cast off in such a way that renders it permanently unavailable for use by another living thing. Humans are the only ones who make waste like this.

If your family doesn't finish their dinner, saving the leftovers, composting them or sharing the food with critters would all be viable non-waste alternatives for taking advantage of the potential energy that is the raison d'etre, the very definition of food, and therefore a reasonable use of the food's energetic potential. Really, just about anything besides entombing it in non-biodegradable packaging and burying it 50 feet deep under thousands of tons of other trash, making it totally impossible to ever degrade, would be a reasonable use of the food energy. It's actually pretty easy to do.

Even so, it isn't unheard of to read tales of gross mismanagement of perfectly edible produce, as detailed in this story about an "unauthorized" public garden that was needlessly destroyed days before being harvested. As if that weren't tragedy enough, the ruined crops were then taken to a landfill and disposed of. I mean... why?

Irretrievable waste is hands-down the most complete waste of food, but there are others, though much less egregious, that still get under my skin. 

A major frustration that I'm experiencing a lot lately has to do with unharvested fruit trees. Washington state is known the world over for it's amazing apples. They grow almost effortlessly here, which is no doubt part of the reason that they are nearly as ubiquitous in our neighborhoods, parks and woodlands as the Douglas Fir is. But maybe having affordable, world-class apples available at the supermarket year-round has caused us to overlook the miracle of free food growing in our own front yards?

In Autumn, you can't help but notice all of the beautiful apples, pears, walnuts and hazelnuts hanging heavy in the trees, begging to be picked. And yet a vast majority of the time, the fruit will be left to drop and rot, perfect fodder for squirrels, yellow jackets and hungry deer, but seen as somehow less than their shiny supermarket counterparts, and therefore unfit and unworthy of human consumption. Have we lost our minds?

Yet another article (I've been reading a lot...) discusses just how much food we Americans waste on account of our acquired snobbiness and our reckless there's always more where that came from attitude. To illustrate just how insanely, ridiculously picky we've become as food shoppers, the article offers this bit of advice to producers and retailers for taking better advantage of "imperfect" produce -


Companies should look for alternatives in their supply chain, such as making so-called baby carrots out of carrots too bent to be sold whole at the retail level.

*Shakes Head* This is for real. People are going without and we're splitting hairs over carrot presentability. Phase two of my emotional reaction to this article (after weeping interspersed with multiple face-palms) was anger. I'm pissed, and that makes me loud, especially when it comes to things I feel passionately about. Taking care of people is one of those things.

I am only one person, but I am 100% responsible for choosing the food eaten by 4 people, 2 dogs, 20 chickens, 9 goats, 2 bunnies, 2 parakeets and one sassy turtle, therefore, my resolve to use food responsibly and with thanks has an impact that should not be, and indeed, is not taken lightly. I can participate in the system that keeps these problems going, or I can refuse, and take care of my family and farm on terms that both my head and my heart can live with.

Therefore, I resolve to grow, buy and use food even more responsibly than I have. I will buy less, grow and forage more, preserve more and use the food we do buy, find and grow as fully as can be done, and with all the respect it deserves.

Please join me.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Puppy Love

Our sleeping beauty, sweet Celeste

Growing up, we had quite the assortment of dogs come into our lives through the years. Our family opened our home and hearts to everything from a Bull Mastiff (a lumbering, gentle, ox named Red), a goofy, deceptively fierce-looking Doberman (Rip), a sassy, self-possessed Lhasa Apso (Yoohoo), a Terrier/Shi-tzu mix (Mikey) to a very unprissy toy Poodle, Gee-Gee. All were rescued.

So I grew up with no leanings toward a particular breed or type of dog. I also didn't grow up with the notion that many people seem to have, wherein "getting a dog" means that you get a brand new, unnamed, history-free puppy. All of our dogs came with names, quirks and histories, for better or worse.

So it wasn't really a surprise that last year, when we decided that our farm & family were ready to add a dog to our ever-expanding brood, that we immediately looked into adopting. I did my due diligence in researching dog breeds that were a good fit for life on a farm - protective yet gentle. My research lead me to a class of dogs that, up until that point, I'd never heard of, Livestock Guardian Dogs, (LGD's). 

The general disposition of an LGD hit exactly the right notes in terms of what sort of dog we were seeking, a defender or critters and kids alike, sweet-tempered and smart. How I landed on the Great Pyrenees specifically, I don't remember, but boy am I glad I did. :)

In addition to adopting our boy, Rex, (a Great Pyrenees mix) last December, this past weekend we took in our first foster dog, Celeste, also a Great Pyrenees. She and Rexy fell in like peas and carrots! She didn't have much in the way of attention or socialization in her previous life, but she is all sweetness, and as Pyrs are known to do, is learning a lot from Rex's example. It has been impossible not to fall in love with this little girl.

That being said, we do not have any plans to adopt Celeste ourselves. We'll miss her terribly when she finally moves on to her forever home, but, for now, we've decided that keeping our home open to fostering one (or eventually, multiple) pups in need is a higher priority than adopting a dog outright. Rex is a very accommodating boy, and a really good Alpha for our fosters to learn from, but he has first claim on our time and resources, and we don't want to overwhelm him or take any time or attention away from him. So far, it hasn't been an issue - he's loved having a playmate again! - but we're vigilant about making sure that he remains secure in his place as the big cheese around here. 

These past couple days have really affirmed that fostering is for us. Celeste has given us, especially Rex, so much companionship and love already. Being able to share our lives with these amazing critters is one of the greatest gifts of this farm life we've embarked upon.

If you're interested in learning more about LGDs, Great Pyrenees dogs or pet foster and adoption in general, I've included a few links that might help sell you on the idea, but be warned - once you open your heart to a pet in need, you kinda-sorta become addicted to being surrounded by fluffy little lovebugs all day.

Consider opening your home to a rescued pet. Be each other's miracle. :)



Petfinder

General foster dog FAQ's (courtesy of the Seattle Animal Shelter)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Case for Foraging

Harvested on a 90-minute walk in the woods with my 9 year-old:



Organically grown* Bosc Pears - $5.98/pound (8 pounds, 8 ounces = $50.83)

Organically grown* crab apples - $1.00/pound (10 ounces = about 63cents)

Organically grown* mystery apples - $1.00/pound (4 pounds, 12 ounces = $4.75)
{In season, in Washington state, apples can get pretty cheap, but this would still be a very hard to find price for organics.}

Organically grown* rose hips - $3.00/4 ounces (4 ounces = $3.00)

Organically grown*/Wild rowan (ash) berries - $4.00/pound (8 ounces = $2.00)

Organically grown*/Wild hawthorn berries/haws - $5.50/pound (4 ounces = $1.38)

Market value of fruit harvested today** = $62.59

Washington state minimum wage as of 9/29/12 = $9.04/hour

Amount of hours (before taxes) needed to work at minimum wage to earn $62.59 = 6.9 hours

*This assumes that since these are in the middle of the woods, that they are organic/unsprayed. Unless, of course, Montsanto has Round-Up ninja lumberjacks on it's payroll, which is certainly possible.

**Prices per pound are based on the most conservative prices I was able to find per item per pound on the interwebs.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Use it or Lose it - Homegrown Pears


Walnuts and pears, you plant for your heirs.

Have you heard this expression before? Apparently, it is an old English adage that eludes to the decades-long wait you could expect between planting and harvesting fruits from a pear or walnut tree. Although advances in grafting techniques and selective breeding have nearly done away with this agonizing wait, in generations past, you might reasonably expect to wait up to 20 years for your first harvest, which made planting a slow-growing fruit tree an act of implicit optimism.

Whoever planted our pear and apple trees, however long ago, thank you. They've brought us, our critters and assorted visiting wildlife much delight and sustenance.

I don't know what we did right, in fact, I don't know if we had anything to do with it at all, but this year, our little orchard really outdid itself. For the first time since we've lived here, the pear tree had an honest-to-goodness crop, about 20 pounds of fruit.

Twenty pounds may not seem like all that much, and in farming terms, it really isn't. But, keep in mind that all twenty highly-perishable pounds come ripe at the same time, and you find yourself with a 5 day window, give or take, in which to use up your bounty or lose it to the compost heap.

I hemmed and hawed for a few days before starting in on my pears in earnest, and just last night, finally used the last of them up. Here's how I used them-

Pear Fruit Leather (I did not add any sugar, as it was totally unnecessary, and I used my little dehydrator instead of my oven. Otherwise, my process was the same.)


Pear Upside-Down Cake
(adapted from Nectarine Upside-Down Cake by Full Circle)
My modifications are noted by *

-10 tbsps unsalted butter, room temperature
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-4 cups pears, peeled and halved, with stem and blossom ends trimmed off, and cores removed*
-1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour**
-1 1/2 tsps baking powder
-1/2 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp sea salt
-3/4 cup granulated sugar
-2 eggs
-1 tsp vanilla extract***
-1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place 4 tablespoons of butter in a cake pan or oven-proof casserole dish, and melt in oven. When melted, sprinkle brown sugar evenly over top. Arrange pears in one even layer in bottom of pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a separate bowl, beat remaining 6 tablespoons butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well combined.  Add eggs, one at a time, followed by extract. Begin adding flour mixture in small amounts, alternating with additions of the plain yogurt. Mix well between each addition. The result should be a very thick, pasty batter.

Pour over pears and level with a spatula. Bake until cake is dark golden brown, and passes the toothpick test, about 60 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, then run a knife gently around the sides before carefully inverting the pan onto a serving plate. Delicious while still warm or served cooled the next day. :)

*I use a melon baller for this
**I used half all-purpose flour and half cake flour, because I like the lightness and silkiness that cake flour brings.
***I used pure almond extract instead. Pears & Almonds=Peas & Carrots ;)

Pear Upside-Down Cake, fresh from the oven

Besides making leather and cake, we also ate some pears fresh and gave some away. I'd wanted to hold back a few to make Martha Stewart's Pear Frangipane Tart, but had neither almonds nor rum to hand, so it'll have to wait for another day, or another year, depending on whether or not I somehow come into some more pears before next Fall.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

We are here.


When our family moved to our little farm just two years ago, we had a laundry list of things that we'd hoped to accomplish. We wanted to own livestock beyond backyard chickens, we wanted an epic kitchen garden, a towering orchard, and honestly, just to simplify our lives, clear away the clutter and return our focus to the tasks and pastimes that nourish us, emotionally and physically.

We moved forward in our progression toward "real" farm life - we built a herd of happy dairy goats, expanded our flock of laying hens, and harvested as much produce from our own land as our clumsy attempts at gardening would allow. But our true benchmark for success, our pie-in-the-sky daydream was to raise and harvest enough to feed ourselves - well.

It seemed like a pretty far-fetched idea, considering where we started and the road blocks that we've come up against, but somewhere along the way, by trickle and drop, we made it here.

This shocking arrival of providence dawned on me last week as I was sitting down to dinner. We had a pork roast, raised by my husband's Aunt & Uncle, our Greek salad was made from tomatoes and cucumbers grown by my friends Lisa and Jen, respectively, and we drank our fresh juiced blackberry-apple cider. When it occurred to me that this food was all produced by people we know and love, an immense feeling of lightness and happiness flooded over me. We didn't get here alone, but, we are here.

:)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

This is our little wood pile, cut from a massive chunk of an apple tree that fell during this past Winter's ice storms.



As much of a bummer as it was to lose such a large piece of our biggest apple tree, I can't help but smile when I see this log's little heart, and know that it was in there the whole time, and it was only on account of losing that limb to the ice storm that we were ever able to see it.

Even during the rough patches, life is good. :)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Knitting Pattern: Climbing Vines Dishcloth

I've been knitting like a fiend lately, stockpiling inventory for my bazaars and farm stand, as well as for Christmas gifts. This is a little dishcloth pattern that I improvised, which I call Climbing Vines, as it reminds me of the fields of tall and narrow hops vines that we passed on our drive through Eastern Washington. It is a breeze to knit up, and the finished cloth looks pretty sharp, if I do say so myself!




What you'll need:

*Cotton, linen or hemp yarn, about 60-70 yards (I use Sugar & Cream kitchen cotton most often, because the price point keeps my costs reasonable.)
*Pair of size 8 straight needles, or a single size 8 circular needle.
*Scissors & Crochet hook for finishing

Cast on 36 stitches

Rows 1-3: Knit
Row 4: Knit 3, *P1, K3* to last 4 sts, K4
Row 5: Knit 2, P across to last 2 sts, K2
Row 6: Knit 4, *P1, K3* to last 3 sts, K3
Row 7: Repeat row 5
Repeat rows 4-7 until piece measures your desired length, minus 3 rows.
Last 3 rows: Starting on wrong side, knit all sts.
Bind off loosely and tuck in ends.

Finito! :)