Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Seeing Out the Old Year

It's hard to believe, but today is the last day of 2013.  My, what a year it has been!  Between the usual adventures around the Farmlette, and a surgery over the summer, and new chickens and new rabbits and all sorts of growing things come and gone and put up in jar after jar in the organized pantry....whew!

Tonight I'll be indulging in my usual tradtion:  a quiet evening dinner with friends (weather permitting) followed by reading a good book well into the night.  And then, around midnight, I'll write down my wishes for the coming year and head outside to set them alight and release them into the cosmos.  The dogs will snuffle around in the snow and cold night, and then we'll head indoors to bank the fire and go to bed.  It's a quiet tradition, and one I enjoy immensely.

What will I wish for?  Well, telling would make them not come true, wouldn't it?  So I'll keep my wishes to myself, and if they happen, I'll be sure to reveal them here...one adventure at a time!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Hearty Winter Fare

I love this PBS series, and the accompanying blog (www.kitchenvignettes.blogspot.com) with its gorgeous photography and luscious recipes.  This little video shows a deceptively simple and incredibly delicious meat pie--I made it for my Christmas Eve supper, and it was wonderful.  Delicious, hearty, and flavored with unusual spices...I may need to make another one, as it is the perfect cold weather meat pie for dinner.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Great Ideas

In addition to organizing seeds and such this week, I've been indulging in a little garden-reading.  It's funny how I collect these books, and then they live on my book shelves for a time until I have a few minutes to read them...Luckily, when I do get a chance to read them, I find a whole wealth of useful information.

Take, for example, this book.  Geared to urban gardens, it nevertheless has great ideas for those of us with small backyards who want to make use of every square inch of available growing space.  Already I've gotten ideas for DIY self-watering containers that will actually work to grow food, tricks and tools to lengthen the growing season, and some ideas on growing things in partnership to encourage pest- and disease-resistance naturally.  Even if you have lots of room to grow your garden in, these hints can be great when applied to, say, the kitchen garden or small herb bed that you've always wanted but haven't had time to carve out of the larger space.

Check out your local library to see if they carry a copy of this resource, or go to Chelsea Green Publishers (www.chelseagreen.com) to order your own!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Time is Approaching

Ah, remember this from last year?  In a few weeks, my seed starting station will be looking like this once again.  I can hardly wait, all thatt green-ness, happy growing things, the smell of damp dirt, getting a light tan from the lights...that's right, it may be the depths of winter but it is nearly time to start some seeds for the spring garden.  In fact, it is time to start some onions (they take quite a long time to grow) and perhaps some other long-day plants.

I have another week off from work (one of the benefits of working on school year schedules), so I plan to organize my seeds, arrange the time table for planting/seed starting, and figure out what supplies I need for this year's garden.  I definitely need some more peat pellets--I'm going for the 500 count box this time, so that I will have enough for a couple of years (I hope!)--and perhaps some little pots to plant into, as the seedlings grow and need more root space.  I suppose a foray into the car hut is in order, to rummage around in there and see what I have.  I know I have some little plastic pots somewhere, it's just a matter of finding them again.

I'm also going to be continuing the organizing of the Seed Library.  I have several hundred seed packs, all sorted roughly but now needing a finer sort and a bit of tidying up.  And then there's preparing for the Seed Swaps coming up in a couple weeks' time--I need to figure out what I have to trade, and what I am "shopping" for if I get lucky and find a fellow gardener with seeds to swap.

And of course, there's my seed order to figure out.  So many seed catalogs, so many options...and so little space to plant them all in!  But never fear, I have a plan for that dilemma as well.  Sort of.  Maybe.  It's in the works.  It involves some basic construction skills, which are not my strong suit, but I'm thinking I can pull it off.


Friday, December 27, 2013

A Little Reading Material

I have such wonderful friends who know me so well.  Take, for example, this gift I received over the holidays: a DVD of Mother Earth News magazine issues from 1972 through 2012.  Holy macaroni.  I am so excited to delve into it over this break!  I doubt I'll get too far (maybe I'll hit 1975?) before I have to head back to the work world, but I'm going to have a great time curled up with a pot of tea and issue after issue of one of my favorite publications to page through.

Note: If you wanted to get your own copy, head over to www.motherearthnews.com and buy one with your Christmas money! 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Peace on the Farmlette

It was a snowy Christmas day here on the Farmlette.

Hints of color peeked through the snowflakes...

But the garden was definitely sleeping, dreaming of spring.

Even the hoop house was covered in a layer of white.

Inside the Bunny Barn, all was well--holiday treats abounded!

"What, it's Christmas?  Pass me another apple, then!"

Icicles dripped and grew all day.

The Little Coop seems smaller and smaller, the more the snow falls.

Share, Little Ladies!  It's a big apple, after all.

"Arrook-arooo!  Merry Christmas to you!"

Snow kitties, leaping through the drifts!

"Meowy Christmas...where's my treat?"

Even the Big Ladies forgot their angst over winter to enjoy some treats.

After all, Christmas doesn't last forever...you gotta grab a big bite of it while you can!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

If you live in a city, you may already be watching this.  But, if you are like me and live in the Middle of Nowhere, you have to search this out.  I usually put it on a  loop in the background this morning, while I go around making alcoholic coffee and eggs, gifting all the animals indoor and out their various Christmas Day treats, and making the few happy greeting phone calls to friends and family before settling in with my new Christmas books and a blanket (and eventually, taking a Christmas nap).

Merry Christmas, one and all!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


By now, the kids are probably unbearably excited for tomorrow morning and Santa's arrival and all sorts of wonderful things that will happen.  The kid in each of us is excited, right, so who can blame them?  Here on the Farmlette, even the animals know that something magical is in the air.  Perhaps they may finally get to see what is in their lumpy, bumpy stockings hanging off the stairs...or maybe I will finally let them knock over the tree, as they have been pining to do!

I don't know about tree knocking, but hopefully they will all settle down and let me enjoy one final version of A Christmas Carol. 

Movie #24:  A Muppets' Christmas Carol

One more sleep until Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013


And for a lesser known (and lesser well liked) cousin to White Christmas, we have yet another classic film to squeeze into our holiday film line-up.

Movie #23:  Holiday Inn

Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.  What's not to love?  Well, quite a bit, actually...the music and dancing are about all this little gem have to offer.  But it is sweet and silly and just the thing for a long winter's evening.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Time is running right along, and soon, the big day of Christmas will be upon us.  Hopefully, you've laid in a supply of cocoa, cookies and other delights to hunker down and enjoy the time with friends and family.  I'll be settling in this evening with another favorite holiday movie of mine.

Movie #22:  White Christmas

When I lived in Anchorage, the small brew pub-movie theatre started showing this film one day during the month of December.  My friend Mindy and I would go, get a couple beers and a good pizza, and sit enthralled in all the charm of this silly holiday classic.  Oh, I do miss that tradition (and Miss Mins) very much!

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Now, what would a holiday be without something from the Muppets in the movie watching line-up?

Movie #21:  Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas

I just love it:  Muppets, little furry creatures, and jug band music.  Yeehaw!

Friday, December 20, 2013


By now, we've started having a little too much eggnog and, for those of us singletons, we're starting to get a little tired of the endless romantic gift commercials.  So I can really relate to trials and tribulations of romance, in all its forms.

Movie #20: Love Actually

Thursday, December 19, 2013


After that martian movie monstrosity, I think we all need a little lighthearted silliness, right?

Movie #19:  Fred Claus

I do love the final snow globe scene, with all the happy Christmas joy...yeah, I'm a sap.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Now, what holiday would be complete without a little sci-fi, bad B-Movie madness?

Oh yes, it's time this one got the acknowledgement it deserves.

Movie #18:  Santa Conquers the Martians

Oh, it's so terrible.  Really, it's awful.  You can't tear yourself away from watching it...even though you really, really want to.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


In each of us, there is a little child who remembers the magic of believing in Christmas, and Santa, and all that wondering of what if, just maybe, he really IS real? Perhaps that's why I like this movie so much.

Movie #17: The Polar Express

Of course, I do wish I would be gifted a golden ticket to ride the rails...sometimes.  Mostly, I'm happy to be home with my cocoa and snoring dogs.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Don't forget to watch this lovely film before it's too late!

Movie #16:  Mixed Nuts

Yeah, it's not the clip.  This film is just that good.  I mean, the holidays can get pretty surreal sometimes, right?  So heck, why not capture it in a little gem like this movie?

If nothing else, it'll give you some good laughter therapy.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

10 More Days!

Oh, the holiday season is fast coming to a close, so it must be time to watch another favorite from my childhood.

Movie #15: Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Of everyone in the film, I like the penguin best.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Another Classic to Watch

Now, I have already shared two of my favorite versions of A Christmas Carol.  But this one, well, if you haven't seen it in all its' classic 1951 glory, you have truly missed seeing something fine and wonderful.

Movie #14: A Christmas Carol, starring Alistair Simm

Isn't he lovely?  Such joy at his redemption--and trust me, his mean Mr. Scrooge is equally fantastic!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Getting Obscure

So, this next film may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I do get a silly little kick watching it.

Movie #13:  The Christmas List

Yeah, I know.  It's super cheesy with extra cheese on top.  I can't seem to help it--cheesy holiday movies make me happy.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Only 13 More Days!

Which means, it is finally time to watch this particular gem of a holiday film!

Movie #12: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Yay, Rudolph! I just love the old stop motion films, they make me feel so nostalgic...I remember watching them on the big TV shaped like a table with push buttons and dials and foil on the rabbit ear antenna.

Man, I'm old.  I think if anyone under the age of 25 read that, they must think I'm an old granny.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Don't Get Scrooged

Oh, how I love Bill Murray.  Really.  I love him.  Ever since What About Bob...anyhoo, because of my love affair with The Billster, I simply must watch this particular take on the classic Dickens tale, oh, at least once a week during the holidays.

Movie #11:  Scrooged

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Touch of Halloween

Now, I am not a huge Tim Burton fan, but this little feature makes its way into my holiday rotation with fair frequency.  (I even played it once as part of a Halloween installation!)

Movie #10:  The Nightmare Before Christmas

Oh, poor misguided Jack.  Good thing Santa saves the day in the end!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Happiness is a Warm Puppy, Charlie Brown.

Or perhaps, a small, sad little Christmas twig?

Movie #9:  A Charlie Brown Christmas

I love this little film, from beginning to end.  It wouldn't be Christmas without watching it, at least once!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ghost Tales

There are so many versions of this story in film and stage, but this is one of the best, I believe.

Movie #8: A Christmas Carol, starring Patrick Stewart

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Holidays Are...Odd?

Sometimes, family is a blessing.  Sometimes, family is a curse.  Sometimes, family is just...strange.

Movie #7:  National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Friday, December 6, 2013

Miracles and Movies

Now, some critics say this one long commercial for Macy's.  And yes, they would be right.  But, isn't it a lovely dream that perhaps, someday, retailers of giant proportions might be seized by the holiday spirit and find a little Christmas charity in their hearts?

Until then, this tale of a funny old man who takes New York solely by his charm will keep the holiday season a little brighter for me.

Movie #6:  Miracle on 34th Street

Thursday, December 5, 2013

21 Days and Counting

Movie #5:  Little Women

Now, technically, this is not a Christmas movie.  But the idea of family coming together to celebrate life's joys is central to Little Women, and Christmas is essential as part of that celebration.  I love watching this movie, particularly on a snowy December day surrounded by cats and knitting something useful, like Marmee always is.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

One for the Kiddies

Movie #4:  Dr. Suess' The Grinch

This is one of my most favorite holiday "kid" films, ever.

Whoo hoo!  Carve that rare roast beast.  Christmas is coming!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Day 23: A Classic

I'm not sure how anyone could not like this film.  Well, perhaps if they have a heart of stone like Mr. Potter?

Movie #3:  It's A Wonderful Life

I think I'm going to track down my copy of Tom Sawyer and give it a read over this holiday season, for Clarence's sake.

Monday, December 2, 2013

24 Days Left

And what is on your list this year?  If it's anything like poor Ralphie's request, you may be in for disappointment.

Movie #2:  A Christmas Story

So, funny story about this film.  The year it came out, my family packed into the old truck with topper on the back and drove from New Hampshire (where we lived) to Orlando, Florida to spend Christmas at Disney World.  The weather was terrible, cold and miserable, and after a day of hauling four kids around DW, my parents wanted nothing more than for us to be quiet, be in bed, and then fall asleep early themselves.  My older brother Bill and I, being "mature" tweens, would wait until we heard our parents start snoring and our younger brothers fell asleep, and then we'd sneak out onto the balcony off our hotel room.  It looked out across the dank back parking lot, a seedy fence, and into a deserted drive-in movie theater.  Because it was so cold, there were hardly any cars there--so all the retro speakers were playing tinnily into the night.  We'd catch both showings of A Christmas Story, every night for a week.  By the end of it, we could quote entire sections of dialogue to each other and laugh like maniacs (my parents had no idea what we were talking about).  Of course, now my mom likely knows how naughty we were, but it was the best part of that whole vacation for me, those moments out on the freezing balcony wrapped in a polyester hotel blanket with my big brother.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Twenty Five Days?

Oh yes, the Christmas season is upon us!  I try to have fun with it, which includes a nightly ritual of watching a silly/sappy/ridiculously fun holiday movie.

And so, here's the Chicken Lady's 25 Days of Holiday Films! (Fanfare, please.)

Movie #1:  ELF

Oh, how I love this movie.  One year, I watched it every. single. day.  It brings me such joy...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

That Old Holiday Glow

This has been such a lovely, lovely day!  And at the end of it, I have a glowing Christmas tree in my living room.

Now, it is time for some peppermint cocoa with whipped cream on top, I think!

Let the Festivities Commence!

It's the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and that means it's time for the tree to appear in this house!

Later this morning, I'm picking up my friends Gretchen and Mike, and we are heading over to another friend's tree lot.  Suzanne and her husband Terry have a lovely selection of Christmas trees that they cut and have waiting near the door of their shop (where you can find lovely things like pottery, yarn, and original artwork).  I've cleared a space in the living room, and hopefully I can find a skinny green beastie that will squeeze into it.

I'm thinking this year, its going to be simple simple simple. White LED mini-lights, popcorn and cranberry strands, some homespun fabric garlands, and that's it.  I have a large collection of ornaments, but they are all stored in an inconvenient spot, and I just can't muster the enthusiasm to drag them out from behind the other stuff caging them to their "safe place".  Besides, some years (particularly ones falling in stressful work years) I just crave simplicity.  So, white lights and popcorn strands it will be, lovely enough for me to gaze upon while I sip my peppermint hot cocoa and relax to classic Christmas tunes.

Stay tuned for a picture in tomorrow's post!

Friday, November 29, 2013

To Shop or Not

So, are you out shopping today, or not?

Now, I readily admit that yes, I have gone to many a Black Friday sale.  There are times when what I really want to get someone goes wildly on discount early in the morning, and out I go with the other insane people.  I admit that yes, I do get a little exhilarated standing outside in the dark and cold, drinking a coffee and waiting for the doors to open and the madness begin.

But this year, I'm consciously not doing it.  Not only do I not need to buy anything on sale today for anyone (including myself), but this year, the images of crazed, greedy grabbing up of things is...well, terrifying.  The images coming from the crowds outside the big box stores, all fighting for a cheap TV, are too similar to images of people fighting for food and medical supplies in other countries, worlds away from ours.  And it makes you think, doesn't it, about, well, how many TVs do we really need?  And why are we all blindly throwing money at these sales, anyway?  Looking back at holidays, I don't really remember the stuff I got.  I remember other things, like watching a movie with my parents and brothers, or spending the holiday goofing around with friends who became family, when we all lived so far away from "home".  I get so much more pleasure giving someone a present that I made, that I know they will love, or finding them something purchased that will be exactly what they want or need--not just bought because it was on a decent sale and I had to get them something "gifty".

So today, I'm going to be home, in my pajamas for as long as possible, drinking Bailey's laced coffee and contemplating knitting patterns.  Somehow, I don't think I'll run the risk of being trampled or carjacked in the parking lot for those things.  Lucky for me, knitting gear is not quite so hot as the latest X-Box system or iPhone.  Ha!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope your day is lovely, filled with happy memories and loved ones.

And, a turkey that doesn't run away from you.  Bjork, bjork, bjork!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

'Twas the Eve of Thanksgiving...

And in this house, the turkey is roasting!

My lovely friends of LTD Farm once again outdid themselves raising a fine flock of turkeys, and I was lucky enough to get a fairly giant one for myself.  This fifteen-pound beauty will not only provide me with acres of roast turkey and broth for days to come, but it's also traveling with me to my lovely friends Nicole & Tony's house tomorrow to be an addition to the holiday meal.

Oh, turkey.  How I love thee.  As long as you aren't a sad, mass produced thing that never saw the Great Outdoors, that is.  I only eat turkey once a year, and only a turkey that was grown and raised by my friendly neighborhood farmers.  I figure its worth the average $60 price tag to get a high quality creature on my table, one that had a whole summer to frolic in the sunshine and weedy pastures.

To that end, my deluxe bird gets the Royal Treatment: an all-over, under-skin massage with a mixture of softened organic butter, homemade apple butter, and cranberry mustard, followed by an on-the-skin massage of a secret mixture of herbs and spices in a vehicle of melted butter.  Then, the thoroughly relaxed bird is stuffed with herbs, sliced lemon, and garlic cloves, stoppered in with a giant apple.  Gently placed in a roasting pan, the bird is left to slow roast at 300 degrees all day, in a simmering lake of chicken broth and apple cider--basted every thirty minutes until the meat literally falls off the bone.  (I usually remove the legs when they are done a bit earlier than the breast, so the meat stays on the leg--the cavemen eaters really like to gnaw away at them.)

Oh, turkey.  If you must die to become my dinner, I hope your spirit is happy with the treatment you are getting today.  If karma comes back around and I, too, live a life of a pastured turkey, I hope someone gives me the same treatment at the end of my feathered days.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A (Minor) Road Trip!

It may just be for a work-related meeting, but I am rather excited to hit the road today and visit a place I've never been to before: lovely Duluth, Minnesota.

Well, I realize it isn't exactly, like, San Francisco or New York, New York, but I do love checking out a new place.  I'm hoping that the weather cooperates and I get to see the sights, between the long drive there, my meeting, and back again.  I hear that the lift bridge is pretty impressive, and I always love looking at the great Lake Superior.  It reminds me a little of the ocean, even though it doesn't smell right or behave correctly (no seaweed or tides).  A great stretch of blue water, as far as the eye can see, spreading away from the shore...I forget, sometimes, how much I miss the ocean.

With any luck, I'll have enough time to find a local yarn or book shop and do a little window shopping in addition to fast sight seeing!

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Comforts of Chowder

Ahh, the glorious Lake Trout.  A simply enormous fish, they are one of my more favorite locally-found fishes.  I particularly love them smoked, caught fresh from the icy waters of Lake Superior and flavored by smoky hardwoods.  One of my favorite local butcher shops carries them in quantity, along with smoked whitefish, walleye, and ciscos (which look a bit like super-sized sardines).  There is just something about the colder weather that makes me long for the rich taste of smoked fish, and so it's the perfect time to make a pot of my favorite Smoked Trout & Corn Chowder.

Smoked Trout & Corn Chowder

You'll need: one pound of smoked trout, skin and bones removed, flaked; two cups frozen corn nibblets; one large potato, peeled and finely diced; one medium onion, finely minced; two stalks celery, finely diced; 2 teaspoons dried thyme; salt and pepper to taste; two tablespoons butter; one cup half and half; two cups chicken broth plus two cups water; half-cup shredded smoked gouda cheese.

To start things off, heat butter and add onion, potato, and celery.  Saute for five minutes over medium-low heat, until onion is translucent.  Add broth and water, heat to a boil and then reduce to low heat an simmer for 20 minutes.

At the end of the first simmer, add the corn nibblets and stir.  I like to add the thyme now as well, plus a little salt and pepper to start seasoning.  Cover pot and simmer again for five minutes.  Next, add the flaked fish and shredded cheese.  Stir until cheese melts.  Add the half and half, heat through, and season with salt and pepper as needed.

I love to make a batch of simple, homemade biscuits (made with lard, of course!) to go with it.  My recent favorite flavor combination is dill-cheddar biscuits with this smoky, rich chowder.  Absolutely wonderful!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Midnight Frolics

A recent night of light snow helped to solve a little mystery that has been going on lately here on the Farmlette.  Every afternoon, during chores, I put out some crunchy kitty kibble for the boys outside.  They get fed by a little homemade bench made out of a re-purposed twin headboard, right next to the house.  And every morning, when I go out to do morning chores, the food bowls are waaaaay far away from their feeding station.  As in, nearly in the street far away--and I'm pretty sure that the cats are pushing them over there.  It's nearly 15 feet!  Nothing was every destroyed, just moved and emptied with a disturbing thoroughness.  The chickens weren't bothered at all, and the cats seemed fine--just hungry for breakfast.  (Trust me, they are not starving!)

So when the snow fell, I was a little startled by the amount of traffic my front yard receives.  There were cat prints everywhere, not surprising but some of them came directly from the neighbors' in the back yard.  I've had my suspicions that a fat, orange and white feline visitor has been coming and noshing.  But then I found a whole slew of these, emerging from the cornfield across the street and angling in the general direction of the forest behind the school.

Notice the four paws, pacing close together, and the drag line of a tail...not a fluffy tail, as it is smooth instead of feathered lines that would suggest a wide, furred tail.  This little creature is who has been moving my bowls around!  There's five toes to each print, with one toe slightly offset, almost like a thumb.  After some discussion with friends who know animals, and little internet research, I believe the mysterious nibbler is...
courtesy of www.deviantart.com
Oh yikes.  These little guys are notorious for wanting to devour chickens.  I think I'll be spending some time today reinforcing the chicken coops and hen yards.  So far, he's only been interested in the delicious kitty kibble...and I'm sure he's been in the yard before, hunting mice and other things...but still, I don't want him to eat my Ladies!  I may also investigate the option to borrow a Hav-a-Heart trap, and see if I can't catch this little guy during one of his visits.  I'd like to say I'll rehome him...but that would just mean passing another predator on to someone else's farm.  Sigh.  I really don't mind sharing my yard with all sorts of wild things--I mean, heck, as you can see by the first picture, I have a nightly deer visitation, the neighborhood rabbits frolic in the gardens, AND I have a groundhog hibernating under the car hut.  It's just, well, the ones that can and may devour my chickens are really not so welcome.

While the discovery of who is visiting is not so welcome, it was still pretty cool to see all the nightly visitors to my front yard!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Home Fires

It's a cold weekend here in Wisconsin, one in which you truly recognize that winter has arrived.  Between doing outside chores, I'll be inside keeping warm with a steadily burning fire in my trusty woodstove.

It was a huge financial investment to get it installed--I needed a chimney installed, as well as a new woodstove--but it was the best $3000 I have ever spent.  Not only do I have a crazy efficient stove made by Canadians (it's an Enerzone model), but I now have a supply of heat that is independent of electricity or fossil fuels.  I just need to either purchase or barter for wood, and that is a commodity which can be found in bulk around here and isn't a problem to locate.  Heck, if I wasn't so limpy, I'm fairly sure someone with a woodlot would let me wander in on foot and gather some storm-blown trees that are just laying around, languishing amongst the fungi.

One of the best things about my little stove is that it heats up my entire house.  Now, I do have a very small house--my cottage is maybe 900 square feet, 400 of which are an unheated upstairs loft--but it is such a pleasure to wander from room to room in blissful warmth.  The other wonderful thing about my stove is that, after loading it up with a few large chunks of good solid maple or oak, I can close the damper nearly all the way and it will burn slowly all night long.  When I get up in the morning, all I need to do is open the damper, stir up the coals, and pop in a nice dry piece of birch.  Et voila, within moments I have a cheery blaze going once again.  My memories of childhood woodstoves was that come morning, they were out, colder than a icicle on Christmas morning, and needed the whole works to get going once again.  Oh, those long moments shivering and shuddering until the stove caught enough to give a teeny bit of feral warmth to the room...brr.

Hopefully your weekend is filled with warm and cozy moments, preferably next to a nice blazing fire.  It definitely makes a winter day a little brighter!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Wind Speaks

J.E.Millais, Blow Blow Thou Winter Wind (1892)

November is a month of wind.  Teasing winds, tickling in from the south and bringing a faint memory of summer's warmth.  Restless winds, moving in from the west and telling portents of weather yet to come.  Howling winds, roaring out of the north plains of Canada with a taste of bitter winter on its tongue.

I don't mind a windy night, when I can be buttoned up in my snug little cottage with a snoring dog at my feet and the fire simmering away in the stove.  The animals outside, chickens, rabbits, and wayward cats, have their cozy places to settle in for the night, deep in thickets of straw and hay.  The trees talk back to the wind as it passes by, adding their moans and sighs to the sounds of the winter evening.  Even the stars seemed tossed in the skies, restlessly twinkling above the cold earth.

The garden is done for this season, the ground hard and frozen.  All the leaves have fallen off the box elders, apple trees, and lonely plum.  The grass is still deceptively green in places, but it's dry now, no longer soft with rain water.  Everything is asleep, waiting expectantly for a hush of snowfall to usher in the slow time of the year.

Me, my snoring dogs, and the wind, all together making a last symphony in the overture that is fall.  Winter is coming, and the Farmlette is all at peace, even with the restless, moving tosses of the wind.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hock, Anyone?

courtesy of www.askthemeatman.com
With a half-a-pig on its way in a couple months, I'm busy cleaning out the freezer of the last of Trevor the Pig.  After eating all the pork chops and shoulder steaks and bratwurst links, I was left with just a fresh hock in a freezer sealed bag.

I can't say as I ever had a pork hock before.  So....um...what does one do with a pork hock, anyway?

(This is why it was the last part of the pig in my freezer.)

After talking with friend who I swear knows how to cook everything, and looking online, I decided that a slow braising followed by rich, barley-enhanced simmer into a soup was in order.  It sure smelled great while it was cooking, and the final product?  Fantastic.

Rich Pork Hock Soup for Fall

You'll need: one fresh pork hock; one bottle of good beer; a little oil/fat of your choice; four carrots, diced; three stalks of celery, diced; two potatoes, peeled and diced; one quart of diced, canned tomatoes; 1/2 cup of medium barley; water, about four cups; salt and pepper to taste.

To get things started, heat a little fat in a dutch oven.  Brown the hock, and then pour in the beer.  Pop on the lid and place dutch oven in the oven at 350 degrees.  Allow meat to simmer for about an hour or so, until it is deeply browned and tender.

Remove the dutch oven from the oven, and put on the stove.  Add carrots, celery, potatoes, tomatoes and barley.  Cover with water and season with salt and pepper, replace the lid, and simmer for a couple of hours.  Remove the pork hock, meat and bones, and shred the meat with a fork.  Add the meat back into the soup pot, and heat through.  Serve with crusty bread or biscuits, and prepare yourself for deliciousness.

So, now you know what to do with a pork hock. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pork, Apples, and 'Kraut: A Perfect Combination

If you are looking for a fall supper that is full of comforting flavors, you can't go wrong with this simple concoction.  I made this the other evening, when it was dark and wet and chill.  It reached culinary perfection, and was warming and filling...just plain good, as simple peasant food should be.  It's a great use for an inexpensive cut of meat, too.  I think people overlook the shoulder steak in favor for the ubiquitous pork chop, and boy, are they missing out.

This dish is simple to make, and finishes in the oven, so it is great to get started and then go on and do other chores while you are waiting for dinner to be done.  You'll need a pork shoulder steak per person, unless you want to share (the steaks are usually pretty big), and be sure to leave the bone in--it adds a lot of flavor during the cooking process, and helps the steak cook evenly.  Start off by heating a little lard or oil/fat of your choice in a cast iron pan, and then add your steak to brown on both sides.  I like to salt and pepper the meat during this stage, but you can decide if you want to season or not.  Once the steak is browned, remove it from the pan and set aside on a plate for a minute. 

Now, you want to add your applesauce and sauerkraut to the pan.  I usually use a pint jar of each, so there's equal amounts of both in the sauce, but if you like applesauce more, or 'kraut more, you can add more of whichever proportion you prefer.  Stir them together, and then place the steak into the pan.  Cover with a piece of foil and pop into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.  Then, remove the foil and return the pan to the oven for 5-8 minutes longer, until steak is cooked through and sauce has thickened to your liking. 

Serve steak either topped by the applesauce-sauerkraut mixture, or with the mix on the side.  I like this with a nice slice of hearty bread and a glass of ginger ale (or a dark beer, if its handy).  This kind of peasant food can make you feel all kinds of warm and hearty, ready to settle in for a comfortable evening by the fire with a book in hand and a snoring dog at your feet.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Year-Round Gardening?

The idea of growing fresh vegetables year-round in my garden is fascinating to me.  I don't know how it would work, exactly, but I just have a feeling that I should be able to grow something, if I could just figure out how to do it. 

To that end, I've added another book to my official winter reading list that seems like it would be helpful in puzzling out this mystery.

Written by someone who lives in the mountains of Utah, where it snows (a lot) and gets pretty cold, it details his use of hot beds and cold frames...things I've thought about doing, but haven't really implemented yet. Perhaps this book will inspire me to work out a plan for next winter's growing season.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Musings

Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, it is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy
 that we can scarcely mark their progress. -- Charles Dickens

I don't quite have this view out my window this morning, but it won't be much longer, I think.  Fall is coming to a close all around me, sliding into the dark of winter.  Time to pull out those projects and pleasures that can only be found on a fire-lit evening with a cup of hot tea and a good book.  Winter can be a challenging season for so many, but I really appreciate the time it offers me to slow down and prepare for the rigors of warmer weather.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Putting the Figs to Bed

It's been several weeks since my fig trees looked like this: green leaves and little happy fruits.  I did actually get a small crop off the Violetta de Bordeaux.  They didn't ripen on the tree, but they are getting ripe in a paper sandwich bag on the counter.  I'm hoping that they will be edible.

Meanwhile, it's gotten cold and all the leaves have fallen away.  Now, they are naked little sticks in great big pots.  One of my jobs this weekend is to wrap their pots with some handy chicken wire and make a frame to stuff with straw.  I'm hoping that it will keep my fledgling trees at a consistent temperature over the winter on the porch.  The porch isn't heated, but it stays about 15 degrees warmer than the great outdoors.  This should be okay for the figs, I think, and if it gets horribly cold for a night or three, I can always drag them into the kitchen for the night and spare them the worst of it.  Figs are suprisingly hardy with cold weather--well, relatively, anyway.  They certainly couldn't take the snow and sub-zero temperatures we get around here in February, but they do like a nice long chilling off spell down to 20 degrees or so.  I think they will get that on the porch, particularly if they are snugged in a straw layer...and possibly wrapped in an old quilt.  I suppose I will find out if they survive come spring, when new leaves start to appear. (Or not.)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Winter Reading

Lest you think all I do is watch YouTube all winter, I thought I would share some of the books on my reading list for this season.  I've become very intrigued by the kitchen gardens of Great Britain and France lately, and came across some books that seem like interesting reads.
Part history, part diary, all wonderful.

The title says it all.  French gardening.  Oo la la!

Looks like it is full of photos and drawings--always inspiring.
These three have made it to my official "to-me-from-me" list.  Every Christmas season, I buy myself a little box filled with books, which I wrap and place under my tree.  On Christmas Day, I open my box, brew some coffee, light a warm fire, and curl up in my pajamas for hours and hours and hours of reading...it's a great way to spend a long winter vacation week, I tell you. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Yet More Winter Watching

Yes, I know.  You must be thinking by now that all I do in winter is watch endless loops of YouTube gardening shows.

You'd be right.

And so, here is another one that I've recently discovered and quite like.  I get a kick out of the Yorkshire accent--sometimes, it feels like a very foreign language to my Midwestern ears.

Of course, this particular video reminds me of just how much of my own winter digging I need to get on with.  Too bad you can't work in the garden in the dark, I could get a lot more done!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Easy-Peazy Lemon-Squeezy

Today, I'm going to share my go-to, super simple roast chicken recipe.  There's a few options for how to roast this, and they are all simple.  How about that awesomeness?!?

You'll need: one whole chicken, about 4 pounds (defrosted, or at least partially thawed for roasting option #3); one whole lemon; 3-5 cloves of good quality garlic; salt and pepper.

Prep your roasting option! If you opt for Roasting Option #1: The Oven, preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Prep a cast iron pan large enough to hold your whole chicken in situ with a small snake of tin foil made into a rough circle. (Your happy chicken will sit on this foil ring during the cooking process.)

For Roasting Option #2: The Stand-Alone Electric Roasting Pan, do a similar prep to option #1, minus the cast iron pan.

For Roasting Option #3: The Crockpot, preheat your crockpot on high for about 15 minutes and make a foil snake, as well.  I have an oval style crockpot, large enough for a whole chicken to fit into, but if you have an older, smaller style, this option will likely not work for you. Sorry about that, but hey, maybe its time to ask for Santa to bring you a new crockpot!

While you are prepping whichever roasting method you've decided on, let's deal with our chicken.  Start by removing the wrappings around your chicken, such as a plastic bag.  I don't rinse my bird, because it splashes bacteria around the kitchen sink area, but I do pat it dry with a handy paper towel to dry the skin a bit.  Set your bird aside for a moment, and let's prep the cavity stuffers: the garlic and the lemon.

With a sharp knife, cut several slits lengthwise into your scrubbed lemon--I encourage you to find an organic lemon for this, because you are putting the whole thing inside your lovely chicken.  While we're on that track, an organic chicken and organic garlic would also be lovely, if you can find/afford them.  Moving on to the garlic, lightly smash each of your cloves to open them up.  You don't need to peel them, just smush them a little bit.  Take your garlic cloves and lemon, and put them into the chicken cavity.  Place your chicken in the cast iron pan/roaster/crockpot on top of the foil circle, and lightly salt and pepper the skin.

Now, we start cooking!  If you are doing option #1 or #2, you will roast your chicken at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.  At the end of that time, you need to reduce the heat to 325 degrees and continue roasting the chicken for about two hours (really!) or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh area reads 180 degrees.  This low and slow roast makes a very tender, succulent bird with a delightful crisp, golden skin.  (Drool...)

If you are using option #3, you need to plan to roast your bird on high for one hour.  After that time, reduce the heat to low and cook for 8-10 hours.  This is my plan for during the work week, when I know I'm going to have a really long work day and having dinner mostly done when I get home is necessary to my mental survival.  I have a programmable crockpot, so I can set it to do this whole high/low cycle--it will even keep things warm for me on an ultra low temperature until I get to it...or get home.  You won't wind up with a crispy skin in the crockpot, but you will have oodles of tender, delicious and fragrantly-herbed chicken to devour.

When done roasting, remove the bird from the oven/roaster/crockpot and cover with foil.  Allow to rest for 20-30 minutes, as this keeps the juices in the meat and cools it enough for easy carving.  Remove the lemon and garlic from the cavity if you want--I actually leave them in, because I will pick the meat off the bones and put it in the fridge for later meals, and then I pop the carcass into a pot with whatever vegetable ends I've squirrelled away in the freezer and some water, and whip up a small batch of chicken broth.  The lemon and garlic really add some lovely flavor to that, I tell you!

This easy roast chicken, while time consuming, is perfect for fix-it-and-forget-it cooking on the weekend, or during the week if you opt to use your crockpot.  Anyway you cook it, it is delicious.  For sides, may I suggest a nice green salad and, perhaps, these simple parsley'd potatoes?  Yum.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A New Show!

I love traveling down the YouTube path, and discovering a new show to watch.  This latest program is one that seems quite charming, and shares a gardening perspective from a part of the world that has always intrigued me:  Norway.  Imagine, gardening in a climate that is cold and the winters are long and the daylight hours are short and sweet for much of the year.

Sigh...aren't those woods lovely?  It makes me think of that Robert Frost poem...anyway, I'm excited to find a new international gardening show to watch during my own, long, dark, wintry evenings!

Monday, November 11, 2013


I have a very shameful habit.

I buy bananas, and then, I let them go black.

Sigh.  It doesn't seem to matter if I buy the smallest bunch I can find, they always manage to go black and squishy before I can eat them for breakfast.

I guess I should really eat breakfast more often.  Or stop buying bananas.

In any case, I am about done with banana nut muffins, banana bread, banana nut pancakes, and feeding banana to my worms in the compost bin.  It was time for a new banana-something recipe.  Thank goodness for banana cake.

Now, banana cake is usually an involved process, with lots of bananas and coconut and an acre of butter and sugar and cream cheese.  Quite delightful, really.  But I was searching for a hide-the-shame-of-more-black-bananas-quickly type of a cake recipe.  Miraculously, one appeared in my Facebook feed one afternoon.  I had everything on hand, even more miraculous, and found time the other morning to bake it up.

Simple Banana Cake (adapted from this recipe from Food in Jars)

You will need: 6 Tablespoons of butter, softened; 1/3 cup maple syrup; 2 eggs; 1 cup mashed banana; 1 cup oat flour*; 1/2 cup all purpose flour; 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda; 1/2 tsp. each of baking powder and salt; 1 teaspoon  ground cinnamon; 1/4 teaspoon each of ground ginger and allspice; 1/3 cup golden raisins.

In your mixer, cream butter and maple syrup together.  Add the eggs and banana, beating well.  In a separate bowl, combine the flours, soda, powder, salt and spices. *I did not have oat flour, and while I attempted to make some by whirling rolled oats in my food processor, they refused to become flour-like.  I'm not sure how people are successful at this--so I had oat chunky bits and all purpose flour.  Hey, it worked.

With the mixer running, add the dry ingredients in three stages blending completely each time.  Fold in the raisins and pour into an 8x8 cake pan or (as I did) into a 9 inch cast iron pan.  Bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.  Cool and serve--it's pretty darn good!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fresh vs. Frozen?

Now, you know I do a lot of my own canning and dehydrating and freezing of vegetables that I grow, right?  But occasionally, I do shop for things I don't or can't grow--I mean, bananas?  They don't grow in northwestern Wisconsin.  Citrus doesn't either, unless you are blessed with a heated and supplementally lit greenhouse.  (I am not so blessed.)  So for some things, I go shopping.  Of course, I try to find the organic option and eat seasonally, but sometimes, you just want something to eat and don't want to spend time analyzing what is the best option.  I have always vaguely wondered about fresh vegetables versus frozen vegetables...and so, it was great to find this neat little video on YouTube.
Pretty neat, right?  So now, when I buy a couple bags of organic frozen sweet corn nibblets, I can be happy in the knowledge that it was picked at the peak of freshness and there's all kinds of locked-in vitamins in there.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Simple and Effective

Some inventions are just ridiculously effective for how simple they are.  Take, for example, this handy gadget.

courtesy of www.plowhearth.com

A teeny corner fan, attached in a door frame, to move warm air from one part of the house to the next.  I picked it up in the middle of summer one year, when it was on clearance at the local farmer department store for under $10.  I do love useful bargains, don't you?

In my little house, converted from an small barn, the walls are very thick and the doorways are very narrow.  Heat doesn't easily travel from the wood stove by the back door to the kitchen, and the kitchen can get very cold.  When the winter gets very bitter, I have been known to turn on the one lonely electric heat strip in the room, but I'd really rather not have it on all the time.  It is a huge energy suck, that heat strip.  By using a little low wattage fan instead, I can move the warm air into the chilly kitchen and help the house stay pleasantly warm.  And when you are starting from an ambient temperature of 56 degrees as I did this evening, it's awfully nice to get the rooms warm in an efficient manner.

I have a second little corner fan still in it's box, and I'm debating installing it in the door frame that leads to the crafty/guest room...and eventually, from there, into the bathroom.  My only dilemma is that directly off that door frame is the stairs leading up to the loft.  I don't want all the heat to flow up there, simply because I'm not up there much so it seems silly to heat it, and also because I prefer to sleep in the cool.  Enough heat from the wood stove seems to make it up there to keep it from being too cold when I sleep at night.  The big part of the heating issue is the bathroom--it gets really really cold in there.  I do have a supplemental oil-filled radiator plugged in which helps keep the room warm on a low setting, but it would be nice to not have to rely on that.  Well, I suppose I need to do some more pondering on the merits of the second corner fan.  For now, the one in the corner leading to the kitchen is really helpful and works great, just as advertised.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rabbitry Update

Remember a few days ago when I promised new pictures of the additions to the rabbitry?  Here they are, finally. 

This is Hercules, a lovely boy in all ways.

And this is the fair Desdemona, who likes to paint herself with pee...yuck.
I have no idea why Des started the whole pee-as-paint thing, but she seems pretty happy with it.  She's a funny little thing, I'm hoping she works out for breeding--if not, well, there's always the other option.  In any case, the remaining three young bucks are growing nicely.  If they don't go off to other rabbitries, they'll make nice additions to the freezer.  Overall, the rabbits are doing great and are really enjoying the colder weather--finally, those fur coats come in handy!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Meet the Little Ladies

The weather finally cooperated the other day, and I was able to get some pictures of Dickens and his flock of Little Ladies.

Miss Rosa Bud, who is devoted to Dickens & can be found near him, always.

Polly Toodle, a bit of an independent kind of girl.

Caddy Jellyby tends to linger in the nest box, late in the afternoons.

And finally, the lovely Dolly Varden.
Now, Dolly Varden is a bit precocious.  She was the first to show interest in the attentions of Mr. Dickens, the first to lay an egg, and now, the first to become ferociously broody.  Hence, the puffed up menacing look I'm receiving in this photograph (she was actually growling at me!)  She refuses to not be broody, so I've given her two eggs to sit on.  Who knows if they will hatch or not, but she seems a bit happier now to be able to do her chosen job.  Just like her namesake, she is all about the childcare.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cold Weather, Warm Meals

No, it didn't snow last night.  But, with the weather and seasons being what they are, it won't be long again until my birdhouses on the back fence are wearing a mantle of white.  That means, it's time to break out the soup and chili recipes again!

One of my favorite chili recipes takes two days to prepare, but it is well worth the time.  It's not exactly effortful--both days are spent using the crockpot, and the most active part of the whole process is picking the meat off the bones.  Without further ado, here's my recipe for....

Green Rabbit Chili (yes, really.)

You'll need: one rabbit, dressed for the pot, about 3 pounds maximum; one bottle of good beer; large can of green enchilada sauce; two small cans of salsa verde; one can of diced green chiles; one large can of white hominy; one teaspoon each of cayenne pepper, cumin, coriander; one-and-a-half teaspoons kosher salt; two teaspoons minced, dried garlic; a couple of dried jalapeno slices or similar hot pepper (I grew these in the garden, and dehydrated them).

Start the process by placing the rabbit into the crockpot, and pouring over the bottle of beer.  Cook all day on low heat, until the meat is done and very tender.  Remove from crockpot, and chill in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, pick all the meat from the bones, shred using two forks, and return to the crockpot.  Add all the seasonings and mix well.  Add the green enchilada sauce and salsa verde, hominy, and diced green chiles.  (Note:  I grew a ton of tomatillos one year, and made vast amounts of salsa verde and enchilada sauce--so much better than store-bought!)  Stir well, and add enough water until it is a loose soup consistency, around 3 or 4 cups.  Cover and cook on low all day, until the flavors have combined and the chili is nice and hot.  Serve with cornbread or biscuits of your choice.

When I'm asked to bring chili to an event, this is my go-to chili recipe.  Not only is it delicious, and uniquely green, but it gives people the opportunity to try rabbit meat in an approachable way.  It always gets rave reviews, even from people who don't usually eat any meat!