Saturday, July 27, 2013


I've been watching (and in some cases, rewatching) documentaries this week, between spurts of BBC mystery series and '80s movies.  One of my favorite films to contemplate looks at the amount of wasted food in the US, called Dive! 

It makes me wish I lived in an area next door to a Trader Joes or Whole Foods market...

Friday, July 26, 2013

Take Three

Third time's the charm, right?

I have high hopes that this incarnation of the Little Free Library will last.  After all, I didn't build it, my friend Paul the carpenter did. 

I think it turned out terribly cute.  So nice and colorful, with a little tin roof and a locally milled shelf inside.  Once the post is set with some concrete, it will be ready to fill with my carefully curated selection of sustainable & simple living books. 

I just love sharing knowledge!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cherries in July

I do love cherries.  I splurged on a ten pound box of tart cherries a couple days ago, and I've been busy drying and freezing them--and eating them out of hand.  They came defrosted, pitted and ready to process, which is perfect and saves me a little time.  With my "extra" time, I've been daydreaming about what I could make with them.  Oh, so many wonderful options...but I do love a simple, rustic tart. 

This example, found down the YouHole, is charming and calls for jarred marachino cherries.  I bet, however, it would work with a cup of those delightful tart cherries I've acquired.  A slow simmer with a bit of sugar, and they would make a decadent pie filling (or, tart filling, in this case!)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Improving By Degrees

Life here on the Farmlette is pretty quiet these days. 

I've graduated to sitting in the living room, my foot propped up on a layer of foam pads--very much coveted by Miss Vida, who seized her chance this morning and clawed them up but good--with forays into the kitchen.  I know some people would be so happy to have a break from cooking, but I miss it.  I'm not sure how I'll get coordinated enough to really cook my usual meals, as balancing on one crutch is not conductive to moving pots of water or soup or whatever around the room.  But, this morning I made bacon and last night, I sauteed kale to put up in the freezer.  And this morning, I've been prepping berries for the freezer.  So, I am feeling like I am getting my cooking mojo back.

We'll see how well I fare when it comes to making an entire dinner.

It is really strange to not do chores around the place, too.  Yes, they are tedious, but I like visiting with my little creatures and seeing how they are doing.  The new kits are back outside full time, now that the weather has cooled off and they no longer overheat in the middle of the day.  The gardens, as seen from the windows, are growing like gangbusters--weeds, weeds, everywhere!

So, as you can see, I am fast approaching the stage of "not quite healed but rapidly becoming bored".  Hopefully, as my mobility increases, my adventures will resume once again.  Until then, I'll just admire my pretty pink cast.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Friday, July 19, 2013

Luck with Cukes?

I never have much luck with cucumbers.  Either they grow into monsters that only the chickens enjoy, or they produce tiny hard ones sparsely, or they grow well but are too bitter to eat.  Sigh.  It's right up there with my sad inability to grow radishes.  As I've been laid up and unable to actually be in the garden, I've spent a little time watching videos done by successful cucumber gardeners to hopefully gain a few tips.

I do love P. Allen Smith--but, he's in the south.  You can grow anything in the south.  Not so much up here...any northern gardeners out there with cucumber tips to share?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Strawberry Dreams

The season is nearly over here, but still...I dream of delicious treats such as this.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pantry Stuff: Broth

Whenever I roast a chicken or a turkey, I hang onto the leftover bones.  Usually, I'll stuff them into a freezer-quality ziploc baggies and plonk it into the freezer until I've gathered a couple birds' worth.  And then, it is into the cold storage along with the bits and ends of vegetables and the odd juiced lemon until I feel like pulling it all out, plonking it into a large stockpot and covering the whole shebang with water.  A long, slow simmer later, and I have some of the best rich stock anywhere.  It is marvelous for all sorts of dishes, from homemade soups and stews to baked rice casseroles.

It is possible to pressure can broth (I haven't yet tried it) or freeze it in canning jars.  My preferred method is to portion out 2 to 4 cup amounts and pour it into quart-sized freezer baggies, laying them flat to freeze and then they stack oh-so-nicely on top of each other.

Homemade Chicken Stock

You'll need the bones from a couple of roasted chickens; pieces of carrot, onion, celery and other vegetables or halves of lemon; water to cover; a large stockpot.

Place the bones in the stock pot, along with the vegetables and cover with water.  Pop on the lid, and bring to a boil over medium heat.

Lower the heat and simmer on low for a couple of hours until the stock is rich and delicious.  Allow to cool, pour off the liquid and strain the fat.  Scoop out into freezer bags, lay flat and freeze for later.  Be sure to date the baggies so you know when they were made and try to use them within 6 months.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Back and Napping

I am back and somewhat returned to the Land of the Conscious.  Naps are my friends and I visit them often, but the awake times between are stretching longer and its not so bad to have my foot down from its elevated position for short periods of time.  I am still sadly immobilized and stumped by the stairs.  However, I plan to conquer them this week so I can once again let the dogs out to wee on my own.  It would also be nice to sit on my couch again.

But, I can take showers by myself (an exhausting process, but it is lovely to be clean) and it is a joy to find out how many lovely friends I have.  Plus, the zucchini is coming in like gangbusters.  Yippee!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Brief Hiatus

I'm taking a couple days off from the blog.  I know, it is so terribly sad, but there's a good reason:  this morning, I'll be taking a long delicious nap while my foot & ankle surgeon splices my craptastic foot back into working operation.  With any luck, I'll wake up from my nap and immediately progress to the giddy relief of excellent pain medication ("oooh, preety sparklee liiiiights...zzzzsnfurflgrmmm....") 

Once my drug-induced fog clears, I'll be back with a picture of my schnazzy cast and trendy crutches.  I plan to pimp out my knee scooter, too.

I'm thinking...streamers...and a honka horn.

See you in a couple of days, kids!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pantry Stuff: Beans

I cannot say enough good things about beans.

They come in all sorts of colors and patterns.  They are super easy to grow, particularly the ones you allow to dry to maturity on the vine.  They store pretty much forever, kept in a tight lidded jar, and even longer if you put that tight-lidded jar in the freezer.  They are one of the most productive things in the garden, each seed making dozens and dozens more.

They are also quite delicious.

When the weather is hot, beans are my go-to protein choice.  Being both protein-rich and full of fiber, they are a great solution to keep me going in the garden, without needing to make the kitchen hot by roasting a chicken or something.  All I need to do is pop the lid off a can of pressure cooked beans (see how I make my own canned beans here), and then I can make all sorts of good, cool things to pull out of the fridge and snarf up between bouts of weeding.  I try to keep a good dozen jars or so on hand, of various types including King of the Early, anazazi, pea, garbanzo, black and pinto beans.  The great thing about canning your own beans is that you can try so many different kinds, and each adds something wonderful to even the simplest of dishes.

Wonderful, bean-alicious things such as....

Corn and Black Bean Salad, a super simple concoction of diced sweet bell pepper, frozen organic sweet corn nibblets and black beans, dressed with the juice of one lime whisked together with a slosh of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, ground cumin and fresh cilantro.

Homemade Hummus, whirled to perfection with garbanzo beans, tahini, plenty of garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of salt.  This makes a perfect topping to falafel-filled pitas or served up with bagel chips, fresh cut up vegetables, and dark kalamata olives.

Bean and Bacon Quesadillas, a great way to use up leftover bacon from Sunday's breakfast.  Layer beans (possibly my own version of Mexican-style black beans) with bits of bacon and a good melty cheese of your choice, inside a folded-over flour tortilla and toast on a (preferably cast iron) griddle.  For extra bean-y fun, serve up with corn & bean salsa and a dab of sour cream or plain yogurt.

There's always refried beans, excellent with any meal, or warm beans on toast, possibly topped by a nice egg and some salsa.  Eggs and beans go fabulously together, and make a delicious omelet with a nice green salad picked fresh from the garden.  Or, added to cooked brown rice and assorted other yummy items, you can whirl them into a paste and make your own veggie burgers to cook up on the grill.  Beans are very versatile, and sadly overlooked by so many people.  I say, celebrate the bean!  Viva la bean!

If you have access to a pressure canner, I highly encourage you to make a few cans of your own prepared beans to store in your pantry.  If the thought of using a pressure canner gives you the willies (eeeeek!) at least go and stock up on a few cans of organic beans to keep in your pantry.  They are just the thing to pull out when the weather is warm.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Fly Control

It's that time of summer, where the number of flies hanging around the Farmlette explodes.  Between the warm temperatures, high humidity, and my penchant for mulching everything in rotted down poo, they are very happy little insects.

I find it extremely horrific to walk outside, and realize: The yard is humming.  Not with bees, with the sound of flies.  It's like some bad horror film.

So I stopped in at the farm store while I was running around town, doing essential things like getting a manicure, and perused their aisle of all things fly control.  It was impressive.  There were about 20 different kinds of nasty pesticides that you could "safely spray around animals", then in smaller print "not to be used around animals intended for food".  (I didn't bring any of that particular crap home.)  Instead, I went for the bag o' stinkiness.  Inside is something that smells like rancid butter-meets-roadkill, that combines with water to make an irresistable slurry, attractive to all kinds of poo-eating flies.  If the number of flies that came and hung around me while baiting the traps were any indication of how attractive the stink is, the Farmlette should see a definite reduction in flying creatures soon.  I have bags hung inside and outside the Big Coop, and one in the run of the Little Coop.  I also have a bucket version that is squatting in the overgrown herb garden, where a lot of flies seem to be hanging out lately.  I don't know why they are there, maybe something is dead under the rampant mint, but they seemed to really  like the stench of the liquid bait the bucket used. 

May they all go in and die a happy drunken drowning death.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Learning to Like Kale

I am not a fan of kale.  I much prefer swiss chard, but unfortunately, it isn't ready to pick while the kale is monsterous and demanding to be used.  And, I have a lot of it so I might as well suck it up and learn to like it.  It's not that I hate it, exactly (I reserve that adjective for slimy okra).  It just...doesn't make my tastebuds go all aflutter with joy.

But, as I've mentioned, I have a lot of it, so I must eat it.  Oh, I have shared quite a bit with the chickens and the rabbits, but there is still plenty for me.  Sigh.

I know some people can stomach it raw, in salads or "massaged" into submission, but please.  This stuff is chewy and tough, once it reaches mature size, and it needs/demands to be cooked.  So I've come up with a concoction that I (dare I say it) actually like, that works for both breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Basic Kale Fry-Up

You'll need a small bunch of kale, four or five healthy sized leaves, washed and sliced thinly; one potato, cut into thin slices; 1/2 onion, sliced thinly; fat of your choice (I use home-rendered lard); two fresh eggs; salt and pepper.

In a medium cast iron frying pan, melt fat over medium heat until it reaches the sizzling point.  Toss in potato slices, turn to coat with fat, cover and reduce heat to low-ish.  Allow to cook for four minutes, then flip the slices, and recover.  Cook for another 5-7 minutes, until the potatoes are soft.

Add the onion, turning the potatoes at the same time so everything browns nicely.  I cover between food additions, which helps speed the cooking along a bit.  After the onion has cooked for a minute or two, add the kale and cover again.  Allow the kale to wilt, then turn it into the potato-onion mix.

After all the vegetables are tender, remove to a plate and cover to keep warm.  Scrape any leftover bits out of the hot pan, and return to heat.  Add a little more fat if needed, and when ready, crack in the fresh eggs.  Cook them however you like them (I adore over-easy eggs!).  When done, lay your eggs on top of the potato-kale-onion fry-up and season with salt and pepper to your desiring.  You can add whatever you like, by way of condiments or other vegetables.  I've had great success making this dish with the (single) early zucchini from the garden.  Anyway you make it, it's a good way to make kale enjoyable to eat.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Another Garden Show

When I'm not over-dosing on 80s movies, I'll be catching episodes of BBC gardening programming on YouTube.  In addition to my perennial favorites of Hugh Fernsley-Wittingsall and Alys Fowler, there's a new personality to meet.  Quirky and adorable, I've caught the first episode and like her already.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Summer Movies

In addition to running around doing errands, visiting doctors, and gardening like a madwoman, I'm focusing on the essentials for when I am fairly immobile in about a week.

1.  Buy sharpie markers for cast decoration.
2. Pimp out the crutches.  I'm thinking, yarn bombing.  Or maybe decorative duct tape.
3.  Lay in a supply of yarn & books (done and done).
4.  Hit Trader Joe's for cheap booze and frozen Indian meals (also done.  I have so much wine chilling in the fridge, it is kinda frightening and exciting, all at the same time.)

My last preparation for assuming the position on the sofa, foot on pillow and remote in hand?  Adding some classic summer movies to Ye Olde Netflix Queue.  So far, I've added these:

Item #1:  Heathers.  Because everyone likes a little murder to get through high school.

Item #2: Young Sherlock Holmes.  I love the campy storyline, particularly the scene when poor Watson gets attacked by cakes.
Item #3: 9 to 5.  Because, really, what's unbelievable about sweet Dolly Parton being a hardworking New York kinda gal?
Item #4: Muriel's Wedding.  ABBA!!!
Item #5: Mermaids.  I heart Cher.  Plus, she's got great taste in costumes in this movie.

I'm hoping my little jaunt down movie-memory lane will take the sting out of not being able to weed in the garden.  My tomatoes may grow into a jungle, but I'll rock 80s trivia.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Thoughts on Food

Most folks reading this little blog likely share some of the same beliefs that I have.  You can never have too large a garden.  A chicken is man's best friend, really they are, dogs are just more pushy and cute-like.  Planting a fruit tree is investing in the future, likely far more secure than investing in some CD or other at the bank.

But as it is summer, the peak season of all things food and fresh, I'm hoping that my readers are at least considering the idea of preserving some of the readily available bounty.  I've met so many people who sigh and grumble and admit that, yes, well, they really do want to put up jam-ketchup-frozen-green-beans-something, but oh dear it is so much work.  Or they recall the time that they went out and picked a ton of berries-beans-tomatoes and were really really going to start canning-freezing-drying, and then they never did, and so everything rotted and got tossed into the garbage anyway, after making the fridge stink for a couple of weeks.

So listen.  Here's the deal.  I've been there.  Really, I have.  Before I became this insane food preserving nut-ball living on a quarter-acre Farmlette with raucous hens, I would go to the farmers market with grand ideas and no knowledge, and little time or supplies to actually do the amazing culinary thing I had envisioned.

But somewhere down the line, after reading my fiftieth copy of Mother Earth News or some article or other about the evils of preservatives, I got committed to actually doing the work.  And it is indeed work.  Canning is a hot, tedious job and it is mostly done when the weather is the hottest and you're already slaving in the garden all morning/evening and the last thing you want to do is make a batch of pressure-canned green beans before crawling into bed.  It is hard work.  And that, of course, is why it is so satisfying and necessary.  We've become a culture of convenience food-like substances served at every meal, and collectively we've become fat, lazy and stupid because of it.  Making food should be work.  It always has been work, for cryin' out loud, the work that sustained nations of people all over this poor, abused little planet of ours for centuries.  Why on earth should I be so arrogant to assume that, for me, it doesn't have to be work?

I'm not saying that everyone should be out there in canning jars and peeled tomatoes up to their eyebrows.  But, if you're reading this, you have perhaps been thinking that you can do a little more, from the ground up, to ensure that you have food on hand that you know the provenance of.  So, go ahead.  Stop by the farmers market or the corner veg stand.  Buy a giant bag of berries or vat of green beans, and spend the evening prepping them for the freezer. (It's a great thing to do while watching an episode or two of Victorian Farm.)  Pick up a copy of a canning guide book, or better yet: go to your local library and meet a whole new community of people.  Just get started, instead of worrying about what you're not doing and how awful the food/climate/government situation is.  Starting is the hardest part.

Before you know it, you'll be the neighbor with the goats walking around on leashes for their daily after-milking constitutional.

Just kidding.  Maybe you'll just get chickens.

In the next few weeks, I'll be including some posts on what I put up, how the food storage plan works around here, and why I have so much food squirreled away for one person.  You may wind up thinking I am crazy, but hey, that's okay.  We're all a little nuts in our own special ways.  I just get a nice supply jam and frozen chickens from my version of madness.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Independence Day!

Here's hoping everyone is blessed by a good day, spent celebrating the freedoms and traditions we cherish, wherever that might be.  I'm planning to do a bit of gardening, followed by dinner with friends.  We'll be grilling up a batch of my favorite Blue Cheese Bison burgers!  And what holiday would be complete without the Muppets?

Have a great holiday, everyone!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


My world-weary coon hound Phoebe does not like her picture taken.  I swear, her aversion makes me think that in a past life, she was pursued mercilessly by the Paparazzi.  Most of my photos that I attempt to take of her wind up looking like this:

Or this:

Or even better, like this:

It's like Salvador Dali met a dalmation in a dark alley.  What a mess.

At the end of an attempted photo session, she'll usually give me a long suffering look and heave a sigh, and allow one passable shot with a pained expression:

"Please.  Make it stop."

You would think I was ordering her to line up for a bath or something.  Sheesh.

Max, on the other hand, cannot wait to have his turn.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Feeling at Home

I do believe that my pigeons have decided that their new place is "home".  Since this photo, a second egg has arrived--and in 18 days, I bet there will be two little chicks!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sweet Cream

I am a big fan of flavored coffee creamers.  Amaretto, Creme Brulle, Irish Cream--you name it, and I'll stick it in my cuppa joe.  Unfortunately, the commercial creamers that I adore are "non-dairy".

Ummm...that's a little creepy.  I mean, it looks like cream, it pours like cream.  What is it, exactly?

Reading the label is not helpful.  I don't know what 99% of that crap is, nor can I pronounce it, and it sure doesn't sound like it came from anything in nature.

So for a few months now, I've been taking my coffee with a dollop of organic whole milk and a spoon of organic sugar.  Not bad, but not "flavor-filled" either.

Then the Oracle spoke and lo and behold, one of my friends on Facebook posted a link to a recipe for homemade flavored coffee creamer.

Cue angelic choir.
Being the intrepid internet-recipe-tryer-outer that I am (side note: make BLT Dip for your next party--seriously good), I had to give it a whirl.  And as any day is a good day to try out coffee creamer, I whipped up a batch while my coffee was brewing in the ol' French Press.

Homemade Flavored Coffee Creamer

For the base,  you'll need one pint of heavy cream or half-and-half, one small can of sweetened condensed milk, and the flavoring of your choice.  I used three teaspoons of vanilla extract and 1/2 tablespoon of ground cinnamon.  You can add coconut extract, chocolate sauce, almond extract, allspice--whatever flavors make you happy and you want to add to coffee, go for it.

Whisk together the cream and condensed milk.  When combined, add your flavoring and whisk to incorporate.  Pour into a jar or whatever container you'd like to store your creamer in, and pop into the fridge.  This will expire whenever the cream you've used is set to expire--it's not indefinitely good like the faux stuff.

My verdict:  It is good, very flavorful in a more natural way, has a nice consistency AND makes for a snazzy cup of coffee.  It is a little on the sweet side, like all flavored creamers seem to be, so I recommend going lightly with adding it to your coffee.  Also, this is NOT reduced calorie, so if that makes you nervous...well, sorry, but some things are worth it.  I say, drop the diet fad and enjoy your coffee, dang it.