Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Little Smackerel

Packing lunches is not my forte, nor is figuring out what I am going to want to eat long, long before I actually feel hungry.  Lately, because of all the darn tylenol I am taking, I don't ever really feel hungry--I feel queasy.  Of course, if I don't eat, it gets worse, so hence, I must try to plan for nibbles even when I feel like ackewyuckyola.

The other day, I was pining for something with peanuts, and chocolate.  Of course, there were no Reese's cups to be found.  But a browse through the internets found me a recipe that served as a great starting point for what turned out to be an excellent cereal bar.  Sweet enough for a treat, and having cereal so it could technically qualify as breakfast, it made me really happy.

Plus, it is imminently packable.

Buenas Mananas bars ala The Chicken Lady

You'll need: six cups of cereal (I used half cornflakes and half rice crispies, although chex would also work for this); one cup of honey; one cup of brown sugar; one cup of peanut butter; 1 1/4 cups of roasted, unsalted peanuts; chocolate chips for melting and drizzling; butter for greasing the pan and waxed paper.

Prep a 9x13 pan by lightly buttering it, lining it with waxed paper or parchment paper, and then lightly buttering over the paper, too.  This mix is seriously sticky and you really do need to add the lubricating goodness of butter!

In a large bowl, combine the cereal and peanuts and mix well to combine.

In a small sauce pan, heat the honey and brown sugar until boiling and boil for one minute.  Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter--I had organic smooth PB and it took just a moment to blend in.  Pour this mixture over the cereal and nuts in the bowl, and stir well until it is completely coated.

Turn cereal mixture  out into the prepared pan, and pat it down lightly yet firmly (try not to smash the cereal too much) to pack it in well.  Allow it to sit and cool for about 10 minutes.  While you are waiting, melt your chocolate chips (I used about one cup) in either the microwave or on top of a double boiler, so that the chocolate is smooth and runny.  Drizzle melted chocolate over the cereal mixture, and allow it to cool and harden.  Once everything has set up, lift the bars out of the pan by way of the paper, and cut into three inch by 1 1/2 inch bars...or you can cut it up however you want to.  I find the bars make for happy packing in my lunch containers.

Try not to eat them all at one go.  These will even live in the fridge or the freezer for a while, if you can hang onto them that long. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Got Kale?

I do.

I am not (as I think I've mentioned before) a huge fan of kale.  It's...okay.  I mean, I'll eat it.  And I grow it.  Because, you know, it is good for you.  It's just not my favorite of the greens.  I am a fan of swiss chard, which unfortunately seems to have been inhaled by rampant weeds.  It's no longer visible in the front garden, so I think that is what happened to it.

Until the hoop house peppers wrap things up and allow me to plant my winter crop of greens in there, I have to make due with a large kale crop.  I've sauteed and frozen several packages so far, but I am thinking about trying this over the weekend:

I wonder if I can get my dogs to eat it?  Now that might help deal with my surplus crop!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Gearing Up!

This weekend, I have plans.

Oh, such plans I have!

I plan to can.  A lot.  I have many pumpkins and Thelma Saunders' Sweet Potato Dumpling squash that need processing.  I have a few bags of gifted cucumbers in the refrigerator.  I hear rumors that all my tomatoes are ripening--all at once (of course).  And I also have zucchini, kale, and onions that need harvesting.

Whew.  It is exhausting just thinking about it!

I've been doing some research on canning pumpkin.  Usually, I've roasted and scooped and frozen the flesh, but freezer space is at a premium right now and I have a host of empty canning jars crying out for filling.  I found this gem on YouTube, and it seems so easy!

But then again, maybe dehydration is the way to go.  I've never tried it, but it could work great--and I have plenty of squash to experiment with.

Heck, I could put all my pumpkins into one jar!  Of course, maybe I could make pumpkin leather?

Okay, yes.  I realize the video above is showing how to make fruit leather with blackberries and apples (can we say, yum?), but I think the same idea would apply to pumpkin leather.  Add a little pumpkin pie spice and honey, and it should be like a dried pie in your lunch box.

Well, maybe.  As I said before, I have many pumpkins this year that had to be harvested early due to a blight of some sort, so this weekend may be a weekend of kitchen experimentation.

That's one of my kind of weekends!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In Case You Don't Want to Make Wine

Personally, this looks okay to me...but I'm going to store up my pea pods to make a batch of Peapod Burgundy '75, just like they did on the Good Life. 

Everyone can use a little under the table wine, right?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Back in the Saddle

So, I started back to work on Monday.

It was painful.

It wasn't all bad, as I got to interact with people and got a little bit done, and the dogs and cats were delighted to see me when I got home.  It made for a change, because lately, they've kind of looked up as a move from one room to another with this kind of meh look on their faces.  I know, being home for six weeks in entirety makes for a very same-o same-o existence.

I'm on a mission to pack lunches this year.  I get really bad about eating gas station food, like, every day.  Every. Stinking. Day.  Uck.  So this year, I bought some back to school gear for myself, like the amazing Lunchbot container.  It's divided, so I can put stuff in either side and they do not touch.  That is very important.  No lunch bits mingling unsupervised.  No goo running into the crunchy things.  Everybody stays on their side of the divider, and nobody gets hurt.

I even found it in pink.

from's PINK!
For my condiments and little snacks, like nuts or chopped fruit, I got some little stainless steel containers that are perfect.  One did leak some ketchup the other day into my pink insulated bag, but overall, they are pretty nice.  They were cheap, too--which is maybe why it leaked. 

The handy dandy greentainer, as found on

And I got a couple of those neato dorito BNTO containers to fit inside my mason jars.

(I also use a mason jar with one of those handy BPA free plastic Ball lids to haul some water in.  I am so on trend it is scary.)

I know, I am treading into dangerous kitschy trendy areas here, but there is something about getting "stuff" that helps to make a tedious task easier.  At the end of a long day, I don't really want to make a lunch for the next work day.  I just want to forget I have to go to work.  Again.  But, I also get really, really tired of eating pretzels and cheese sticks from the Kwik Trip.  It is not as Wayne's World-Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure cool as it once was to hit the convenience store for nosh.  So, I have the gear and now I feel the need to justify having purchased it:  so, I make lunch.  I've been reading cookbooks for entertainment for weeks now--there are a shocking number of recipes involving Jello out there--and I've compiled a list of things to make on the weekends/evenings that are packable and/or freezable to then be used for lunch.  So far, it's been mini meatloaves with gerkins.  Today's lunch?  Brocolli salad, cheese, pretzels, and kiwi.  All in tidy little containers that would make a character on Portlandia proud.

No gas station involved.  Not bad for Day #2 of a new work year.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


This year's dry summer didn't stop my potato patch from making a healthy crop of teeny to medium sized potatoes.  My favorite variety, German Butterball, was particularly prolific in producing lots of quarter to golf ball sized goodies.  I love these teeny potatoes, but they go bad so quickly.  And as I have about five pounds of them, that's a bit of a stressor.

Enter my amazing pressure canner!

Oh yes, you can can potatoes!  Be sure to follow the directions that come with your canner, but it couldn't be easier.  Simply clean & parboil the potatoes, and load into prepared jars leaving one inch of headspace.  Fill the jars with a teaspoon of kosher salt and boiling water, pop on your lids, tighten the bands, and load 'er up.  As I was using quart sized jars, a quick 40 minutes at eleven pounds of pressure and tah dah: I have five quarts of potatoes, ready for anything this winter throws at me.

Short, simple and sweet.  It doesn't get much easier than that.

It leaves plenty of time for a nice little nap.

The Winners are Annnounced!

Thank you to everyone who commented and entered the seed pack giveaway.  It was such fun reading through all your stories--seriously, there are some wonderfully ambitious gardeners out there!

Without further ado, the ten lucky readers who will be receiving seed packets are:


Congratulations!  Watch for an email soon with information on how to claim your prize.

Back in the Kitchen

It's been a while, but today I am finally back to canning!  Sure, I've frozen and dried a bunch of things, but summer just isn't complete until I break out the canning jars and whip up a batch of something good.  It makes me so happy to add back to my pantry and see all those glowing jars of bounty smiling at me.

This morning started with lots of chopping: jalapeño peppers and red onion from the garden and hoop house, peaches from the Farmers Market, and lemon and lime--juice and zest--all tumbled into a fragrant pot.  Add some sugar and a bit of pectin, and there you have it: Peach Jalapeño Jam!  I think it will be great on top of roast pork or chicken, maybe even a nice piece of fish.  Of course, served up with a mild creamy chèvre and crackers would be a fine way to use it, too, or spread as a layer in a turkey sandwich.  Yum!

Peach Jalapeño Jam

You'll need: roughly six cups of peeled & chopped peaches; one lime; one lemon: about one cup of minced red onion (I had one medium and two small from a walk in the garden); five or six small jalapeño peppers, minced (I like it hot & leave the seeds in but you can scrape them out if you prefer); three cups raw sugar; one package powdered pectin (I buy mine in bulk, called All Natural Dutch Jell, and use a mounded 1/3 cup's worth)

Place the peaches, peppers, and onions in the pot.  Juice the lemon and add to the pot.  Zest the lime, adding it to the pot, and then juice the lime into the pot.  Add sugar and give everything a good stir.

Start heating the pot, on medium-low heat.  Stir occasionally and bring to a boil.  Maintain a slow rolling boil for 15-20 minutes, until peaches have softened and broken down.  I help this along by using my potato masher to break up the fruit chunks.  If you like a more smooth jam, put the peaches into a food processor before adding them to the pot.  I prefer this jam to be fairly chunky, though.

When mixture is uniformly cooked, add the pectin.  Bring pot to a fast rolling boil (you may need to increase the heat a little) and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.  Top with hot lids and tighten bands.  Process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes.  I got about four pints of lovely, fragrant, sweet-savory jam.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bionic Woman

It has been a long few weeks here on the Farmlette, but things are finally perking up.  This past Wednesday, I got cleared to be fitted with an aircast and was told to start walking...slowly.

And yes, I am slow.  As in turtles can pass me and do several laps back around.

It is incredible how much muscle mass you lose in a few short weeks.  My right calf is shrunken, it looks no bigger around than an eight year old's wiry forearm.  It is impressive how much will power it takes to haul my sorry carcass around!  But I persevere and do move, moseying around the yard and practicing driving and visiting my Ladies in their coops.

It is absolutely glorious to be back outside.  My garden is mad tangle, but everything is still growing and producing in the green depths.  My friends come visiting and help harvest potatoes and more, and still help with the routines of daily chores. (It is impossible to haul water with crutches, in case you were wondering.  Gathering eggs is a real challenge, too.)

But each day I get a little stronger, can go a little further, and it hurts a little less to make muscles and joints and tendons work again.  With any luck, in a few more days I will put aside one crutch and be able to take care of my little homestead a bit more independently.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What Have I Done? and a Give-Away!

About a week ago, a friend on Facebook sent me a link to a small heirloom seed company that was offering boxes of their surplus 2012 seeds to community gardens and the like.  I jumped on it, and an email and a couple phone calls later, I had one of those boxes winging its way to me.

Facebook.  Not just for pictures of your cats, apparently.

So today, while peeling yet more peaches from the half bushel box I got last weekend, I heard a ruckus on the porch:  cats came flying away from the outer door, something WHAPPED onto the concrete floor, and the door banged..and then started flapping in the afternoon breeze because it hadn't latched properly.

Fed Ex delivers, people.  Sheesh.

So I hauled myself out through the tricky screen door from the kitchen onto the porch, getting stuck twice in the process--crutches are not convenient for getting through screen doors, in case you were wondering--and hopped my way to relatch the outer door before it blew completely open and let a cat or two out into the wilderness.

In the middle of the floor was a massive box.  My first thought was, what the heck is this?

My second thought: oh lord.  Those must be my seeds!

Try, 700 or so packages of heirloom seeds.  My third thought: What have I done??

My fourth thought: I'm gonna need a bigger drawer to house the seed bank in. 

Can you believe the generosity?  I am so excited--this is going to be a great contribution for the Community Garden, Seed Swap and the Seed Bank projects I coordinate!  Irish Eyes Garden Seeds, thank you very very much!

To share the wealth, I'm offering ten readers the chance to win a dozen packets from my insane collection.  Leave a comment telling me your name, email to contact you at, and why you'd like some free seeds to add to your gardening endeavors.  Entries will be accepted until 6 PM, this Saturday, August 24, 2013.  Good luck, and I can't wait to read about what you'll use the seeds for!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

And a Little Stinger Hat, Too.

Isn't it ridiculously cute?

I am so happy I had just enough extra yarn whip this little gem up.  It is really simple and works up super fast (I made this in under two hours, and I am not a super fast knitter!)

Use the leftover yarn from the Little Bee Baby Cozy; in my case, I had Swish Worsted in honey, cornmeal, allspice, lava heather.  You'll need US size 4 DPNs, stitch markers, small crochet hook, and a yarn needle.

Cast on 60 stitches with dark brown yarn.  Place marker to indicate beginning of the row, knit in the round for seven rounds.  Change to orange-spice yarn and knit two rounds.  Then, follow the next row pattern:

1 round Brown
1 round Orange
6 rounds light yellow
1 round Brown
2 rounds Orange
6 rounds honey yellow
1 rounds Brown

Next row:  Continue working in brown, placing a marker every 12 stitches.

Begin decrease rows, where first row is worked knitting to two stitches before marker, knit two together.  Second row is worked knitting all stitches in the round.  Work the following stripe pattern:

3 rows light yellow
1 row Orange
All remaining rows are worked in honey yellow yarn.  When only seven stitches remain, cut yarn and using the yarn needle, run yarn through stitches and pull tight to close end.  Tie of yarn and weave in ends.

To make the antenna, cast 6 stitches on the DPN.  Work as flat knitting (not in the round).

Row 1:  Knit two, knit front and back next two stitches, knit two. (8 stitches)
Row 2: Knit all stitches.
Row 3: Knit three stitches, knit front and back next two stitches, knit three. (10 stitches).
Row 4-6: Knit all stitches.
Row 7: Knit three, knit two together, knit two together, knit three. (8 stitches)
Row 8: knit all stitches.
Row 9: Knit two, knit two together, knit two together, knit two. (6 stitches)
Row 10: Bind off.

Break yarn, leaving eight inches for finishing.  Poke into center of the round form to make a dent, and fill with small amount of yarn scraps for stuffing.  Using eight inch tail, sew the opening closed (it will be shaped like a banana).  Catch end of the banana and pull yarn tight to draw both ends together, making a roughly circular shape.  Tie of yarn and weave end into work and trim remaining.

Work  a six inch length of brown yarn in single crochet, three times.  Braid these lengths together, tying knots at both ends.  Using the yarn needle or crochet hook, pull the braid through the hat from the inside to equal points on either side of the top of the hat.  Using the yarn ends of the braid, sew them through the brown puff-balls at either end of the braid strip.  Weave in ends and trim.

This makes a pretty cute gift when paired with the Little Bee Baby Cozy!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Meet the Little Bee Cozy!

As promised, here is the finished work in progress: the Little Bee baby cozy.  These are also known as sleep sacks  or cuddlers, but being a fan of all things cozy (mug cozies, travel mug cozies, egg cozies...I love me a cozy), I like to think of these as a "baby cozy".

Just put your baby in it and keep 'er warm, folks.

I also promised the pattern, in case you were wanting to make a Little Bee cozy of your very own.  We all have a little bee in our lives, at some point or another, and what better way to welcome the new addition to any hive than with this?

The Little Bee Baby Cozy

You'll need:  US size 7 needles, 16 inch circular and DPNs; 220 yards of worsted weight honey-colored yarn; 110 yards each of dark brown or black, light yellow, and orange-spice colored worsted weight yarn; stitch markers; yarn needle.

All yarns for this product were purchased at, from the Swish worsted line: two skeins of honey, one each of cornmeal, allspice, and lava heather.

Cast on 86 stitches of the honey colored yarn (MC) onto circular needles and join to work in the round, placing marker to note beginning of the round.  Cast off the first stitch to close gap (85 stitches) and work all stitches in knit around.  Continue to work in knit around until work measures three inches from cast on edge.

Next round:  *Knit 14, knit into front and back of next stitch.*  Continue until the end of the row, increasing by five stitches total (90 stitches).  Knit around next row.

Here's where you need to begin the Little Bee Chart by Sandra Jager.  You will need to purchase this from her ravelry store; follow this link right here to make your purchase and download it.  You will make a total of nine repeats of the chart.  I found it helpful to place markers to indicate each of the chart repeats; my brain works better this way, but however you like to handle working chart repeats, please use your preferred method!  It is a really fun and simple chart to follow.

After completing the chart, continue to knit in MC for five rows.  Then begin the faux-honeycomb stitch described below.  You'll do a total of two and a half repetitions of the faux-honeycomb stitch, you can do more if you wanted a really long cozy.  Of course, you will need more yardage of your MC yarn to do this!

Faux-Honeycomb Stitch:

Row 1: knit two, slip two as if to knit, knit 6. *Slip two, knit 6.  Repeat from * to end of row.
Row 2-8: repeat Row 1.
Row 9: Knit across all stitches.
Row 10 & 11: Repeat row 8.
Row 12: *Knit 6, slip two as if to knit.  Repeat from * to end of row.
Row 13-17: Repeat row 11.
Row 18: Knit across all stitches.
Row 19 & 20: Repeat row 18.

Repeat these 20 rows once more, and then Rows 1-11 once.  Next round, *knit 15, place marker.  Repeat from * to end of row.

Now you will begin your bottom decreases, to close up the cozy.  This is pretty simple, and involves two rows repeated until you have ten stitches remaining.  You will need to switch to DPNs to accommodate the gradually reducing number of stitches.

Decrease row 1:  Knit two stitches together, knit to two stitches before marker, knit two together.  Repeat across row.
Decrease row 2: Knit all stitches.

When you have ten stitches remaining, break MC yarn and using yarn needle, thread through the remaining stitches and pull tight to close end.  Tie of yarn and weave in ends,  Block lightly to preserve the faux-honeycomb texture.  Be sure to weave in any ends and fasten down any long floats of yarn at the colorwork band.  Your finished Little Bee Baby Cozy will be just about 14 inches long when completed as measured from the cast on edge.  Blocking also helps with rolled top of the cozy.

I found that I had just enough yarn left over to whip up a teeny matching hat:

Stay tuned for this cute pattern to come tomorrow!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Breakfast, Anyone?

All I need is a resident house boy to whip up this deliciousness and come bearing it to my bedside, with a hot cup of dark, delicious coffee...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Work in Progress

I have been knitting lots and lots the past several weeks.  There's not much else I can do, being all casted up and all.  But it has been time well spent, cranking out holiday gifts and playing with new techniques.

One technique I have been wanting to master is fair isle or intarsia.  Some people seem to consider them two different techniques, but other sources use them interchangably.  For me, I think of fair isle as a more detailed pattern, with a border and other colorwork in addition to a main theme.  Intarsia speaks to me more as a detailed theme, with no border work or frills.  I don't claim to be an expert on the difference, it's just how I am labeling them in my own mind!  The overall idea is the same--using different colors of yarns worked into the main body of your knitting piece.  It is a little tricky, trying to wrangle all these lines of colored yarn that want to make a giant tangle and weaving in the floats so you don't wind up with a mess on the inside of your work.  After a handful of projects, I think I've figured out the basics and now, I can focus on "perfection".

I am definitely NOT perfect.  So maybe, I'll work toward "passable".

In any case, I've been bold with my current work in progress, or WIP as the knitting lingo goes.  I couldn't find a pattern that met all the things I wanted to include, so I've been writing one as I go.  Talk about bravery!  I've just figured out the technique, and here I go, writing a pattern. 

Yes, I may be nuts.  But as the current work is actually turning out like my vision, I think I may be on to something pretty nifty.

I started with a pattern by Sandra Jager, called the Little Bee Chart.  It is pretty darn cute, and an easy ten-stitch repeat.

How cute is that, right?  Check out this bee, close up:

For the body of my project, I wanted a stitch that hinted at honeycomb, but nothing too textured.  Just a taste of comb, really.  So I plunged into the depths of stitch options, and decided that if I did everything that was labeled "purl" in a "knit" instead, I might just get what I wanted:  honeycomb texture.
I think once it is blocked, it will have the effect that I was after.  It's a little lumpy looking in this photo, but in person, it is headed in the direction that I am wanting it to go in.
It's about half-way done, and I am pretty pleased with how it is turning out.  Once my WIP is finished, I'll post both "tah-dah I'm done!" pictures, and the pattern--plus, I'll reveal what this mysterious UFO (that's "unfinished object" for the knitting crowd) actually is intended for!

Stay tuned.  Bzzz bzzz....

Friday, August 16, 2013

Can't Wait for Tomato Season

My vines are loaded, but it has been too cool for ripening.  I am living in a state of suspense, because I can't wait to make this tart.

Come on, ripe tomatoes!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Locally Made

My garden is a little haven for happy pollinators.  Not only do I plant a wide variety of things, and allow many to go to seed (and hence, provide flowers), but I also leave little spaces of wildness.  Some people would say, Hah.  You just neglect to weed!, and they would be right.  I don't see why we need to go all crazy with clearing out the weeds--after a point, they don't hurt anything that I want to have grow, and they actually help the garden retain moisture and often shade out my more heat-hating vegetables so they don't shrivel and die when the hot summer sun wants to bake them into submission.  More than anything, though, those weeds provide spaces for the happy insects to hang out.  Little cabanas for the pollinators and beneficial insects, if you will.  I have a colony of mason bees that returns every summer, and hosts of honeybees and bumblebees fly in from all directions.  It is a busy, busy place, my little garden!

One of the sadnesses of my life is that I have developed a bee sting allergy, due to an unfortunate summer of rampant ground bee infestation.  I have an epipen I cart around with me when I do lots of gardening when everything is in bloom--not that I expect to get stung, but you never know when you might accidentally brush against a busy bee and frighten them into biting.  It makes me most sad, though, that I can never have a hive of bees of my own.  Oh, and I do so love honey!

I solve this dilemma by buying up copious amounts of locally grown honey during the summer season.  Last summer, I stockpiled jars and jars of the stuff.  Now, in August, I am down to my last two pint jars.  Yikes!  Good thing there are still a few weeks of the local Farmer's Market left.  I love going and buying my honey from the part-time bee keepers, who sell their liquid gold in recycled jelly and spaghetti sauce jars.  I've found honey of all different shades, my favorite being the darkest of the dark, nearly amber-brown of local basswood honey.  It is rich, and flavor-deep, perfect for baking...or stirring into a cup of warm tea.  Besides, buying my honey locally helps me to support the efforts of the beekeepers, who are struggling to maintain the health of their colonies in the wake of pesticide poisoning and related die-offs.  Poor bees.  It is worth paying the few extra dollars to local folks for their quality, I get to resupply my stash!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


For the first time, I attempted growing fennel in the garden.  I am pretty new to the fennel bandwagon--I discovered I liked it this past summer when the local co-op had it on sale, and I bought one to try out a really great carrot-fennel soup recipe.  Fennel smells like very strong black licorice, and raw, yes, it tastes like it.  But when it is cooked, you get the perfect hint of freshness and slight anise that sings.  If you've ever had traditional Italian cooking, you'll have had dried fennel seeds in some dish or other--they give a nice "pop" of freshness to the tastebuds.

It's a statuesque plant, with its fat bulb squatting on top of the dirt and feather fronds of leaves reaching toward the sky.  It proved to be fairly easy to grow, as well.  I started the seeds indoors in March in little peat pots, and once it finally warmed up enough, I plonked them into a spare bit of the back garden and mulched them with rabbit poo. 

Everything does better with a side of rabbit poo.

Now, in early August, the plants were easily three feet tall with wide, gorgeous bases, ripe for harvesting.  A good friend wandered out and pulled the largest of them (it sounds like there are a couple of smaller ones that were shaded out by their competitive brothers) this morning.  Waiting for me in the kitchen are five fairly giant fennel bulbs--oh, the wealth!  I opted to share the feathery leaves with the Ladies in the Coops--they had a great feast this morning on the Clearings from the Refrigerator--as I know I will have yet more leaves I can dehydrate and save in my herb stash.

But what to do with all this fennel?

First, I plan to cook up a dish of fennel, baked with cream and Parmesan.  I found it on Allrecipes (follow the link here) and it looks quite good and simple.  I think it will be a great side for a dinner of roasted chicken with tomatoes and olives.

Second, I plan to slice the remaining bulbs thinly.  They will then be blanched, packed into freezer bags, and be tucked into the freezer for enjoying when winter comes.  It will be perfect for casseroles, or soups, or stews, anything that needs a little kick of something different.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Another BBC Garden Show

I know.  I have far too much time on my hands these days.  Regular television is boring me, so I have fallen down the YouHole again and discovered another program.  Basically, it is all about gardens, explained in the "why" versus solely the "how".

The host is entertaining, and quite funny in a dry British way.  Ah, BBC.  Where would I be without you?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Homegrown on a Pie

A pizza pie, that is.

I love eating from the garden.  Sometimes, though, what is ready to eat lends itself to some challenges with making a meal.  Recently, for example, a friend's foray into the garden brought in a couple of peppers (jalepeno, poblano, and alma paprika), a handful of late peas, and a giant fennel bulb.  I could figure out what to make with the peas and peppers, but I must admit:  the fennel stumped me a little bit.

Stumped me, that is, until I remembered a delicious pizza I had this past spring in Wabasha, Minnesota.  It combined a delicious crust with an odd mix of toppings: fennel seeds, dried figs sliced thinly, and prosciutto ham.

They called it "Fennel, The Pig and The Fig".

It was amazing.  So, with my fennel bulb, I set out to make my own homemade version.  First, I started with my go-to dough recipe (you can find it here) and patted it into a 12 inch cast iron skillet.  I made my own garlic butter sauce by smashing softened butter with a tiny bit of salt, ground pepper, and garlic powder, and spread this generously over the dough. Then, I julienned the fennel into little thin matchsticks.  I figured this would let them cook easily as the pizza baked, and would make them bite-sized tidbits instead of big chunks.  A handful of dried figs from the pantry came next, also sliced thin, and then the last of the double smoked bacon (easily crisped up in the oven--the only way to make bacon!) stood in for the fancy thin Italian ham.  A good cup or so of hand-shredded mozzarella covered everything to perfection.  A light dusting of freshly ground nutmeg and into the oven it went, to bubble and brown at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes.

The end result was so good, I couldn't wait long enough to snap a picture of it.  Slightly licorish in flavor, with the heady richness of bacon combining with the sweet chewy flavor of the dried figs...oh, sheer heaven.

Let this be a reminder that playing with your food (and food combinations) can be remarkably wonderful.  Have fun inventing your own pizza versions with whatever comes out of your garden!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ooh La La, Cafe!

There is just something about starting the day with a cup of dark, rich coffee.  The pale steam, the gentle clink of the spoon stirring in the milk and raw sugar crystals, that whiff of caramel-like goodness.  Ahhh....

While I try to do much of my shopping on a local scale, coffee is the one indulgence that I order from afar.  It comes to me from the far away flights of New Orleans, and it is worth every mile.

courtesy of

A dark roasted blend of excellent coffee and roasted, ground chicory, a cup or two of this makes any morning brighter.  If you haven't tried coffee with chicory, you must try it some time.  It has a slightly floral taste which blends beautifully with the depth of the coffee.  It also serves to make the coffee slightly less caffeinated, but as I drink the darkest roast possible the effects are negligible.

"Coffee--the favorite drink of the civilized world."--Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Mmm...Pot Pie!

I love pie.  Berry, coconut, pumpkin, chocolate or lemon: I love them all.  But while a sweet pie is a delicious dessert, one of my favorite dinners is a homemade pot pie.

Usually, I feel the need for a pot pie when I have leftovers in the fridge.  Maybe I roasted a chicken, or braised a rabbit, or made a roast of beef or bison.  When you are a household of one, making any of those things pretty much ensures that whatever you roasted up, you're going to be eating that for days.  Now, I like a cold meat sandwich as much as the next person.  And a home grown salad topped with the meat of the hour is a delicious lunch, to be sure.  But, it takes on a whole new life when the leftover roast is combined with whatever vegetables I have on hand, stewed into a lake of gravy goodness, and poured into a pie crust.

Oh my.  Hand me a fork and call me happy!

Pot pies are as easy as can be, and can even be cooled and frozen for later--if you absolutely can't face another meal of whatever roast you've got on hand.  (I've been there--can we say "turkey"?)  Here's my method, which is definitely up to whatever modifications you might care to make.

Start with a good double crust recipe!  I make my own pie crusts from my home-rendered lard, flour, a dash of salt, and a little cold water, all whizzed in the food processor until it comes together.  Everybody seems to have their own recipe for pie crust, so do whichever one you like.  You could even go all cheaty and buy those refrigerated rollup crusts that are ready in a jiffy.  I did that for years until I got confident in my own crust making abilities.  (It is all about the lard.  Trust me.)  Any crust you choose, it generally needs to be chilled for a little while before rolling it out, so I say, start with the crust and then prep the filling.

Now, about that filling:  As I mentioned previously, I use whatever vegetables and leftover roast that I have on hand.  My latest pot pie, pictured in this post, used up two smallish zucchini, several carrots, a handful of new potatoes, a handful of kale, and two onions pulled from the garden.  I had quite a lot of leftover rabbit from a previous dinner, so I picked the meat of the bones, and shredded it a bit.  All of the vegetables were chopped into small bite sized pieces.  I combined all of this into a pot, added a cup or so of water, some salt and pepper, a blob of dijon mustard, and a sprinkle of Italian Herb seasoning blend.  After bringing it to a boil, I lowered the heat and let it simmer for a couple of hours to stew together.

Roll out that dough.  By now, the dough has chilled nicely, so roll it out and place the bottom crust in your pie plate.  Sprinkle a little flour into the crust (I use a tablespoon or two), and ladle the stewed meat in.  I do this in layers, adding a couple pats of butter and a little more flour (and a grind or two of pepper) between layers of stew.  Top with a little flour, pepper, and butter, and then cover with the top crust.  Fold and crimp the edges to keep your gravy inside of the pie, and cut a couple slits in the top to let the steam escape.  Now comes the baking wait:  350 degrees for about 50 minutes, don't forget to cover the edge of the crust with foil or a pie crust guard to keep it from burning.

When the pie is done, let it cool for 15 to 20 minutes, to allow the gravy to thicken and cool a little bit.  It's hard to wait, but it pays off--and the deliciousness is even greater for having waited for gratification!

Friday, August 9, 2013


I watched this film the other day.  Initially, I was intrigued because I happen to live in an area where there were once many "back-to-the-landers", otherwise known as hippies, who searched for a simpler life living sustainably off the land.  There are still quite a few living here; I have to say, I've really enjoyed meeting some of them.  They are all incredibly interesting people--and have some terrific entertaining stories to share!

Anyway, back to the documentary:  I liked it.  I was a little disappointed in the lack of depth (I like to hear more about the individual's stories, not just a glossed over summary) but I did like the different perspectives presented by the folks in the film.  They've each done different things in their lives, with some staying back on the land and others going back to life in the "city", but each seemed to have the same core belief in being part of something bigger than the individual.

The Gathering Of Fairies looked like a hoot, too.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ellusive Illusion

I have been having such fun tackling an illusion knitting project.  It is just the right combination of simple stitches (just knits and purls, nothing fancy) and complex combinations of them to keep me interested in the process.

I heard about illusion knitting at a Knotty Knitters gathering some time ago, and finally checked out the work of Steven Plummer and his website, Wooley Thoughts.  It gave me a giggle to read the description of the process of developing these patterns:

"In 2009 we suddenly took an interest in illusion knitting. It was very different from the mathematical work that can be found on the main part of the Woolly Thoughts site. As we searched the Internet we became more and more confused by the different descriptions and decided there had to be a better way so we looked at the technique with a mathematical, logical approach. Since then we have gone on to develop our own method of charting and, by doing so, we can now create far more complex designs than anything we had seen before.
Our method of charting can be used for anything from the simplest picture or lettering through to very complex illusions such as Mona Lisa or Girl with a Pearl Earring."

 I have never contemplated combining the idea of simplicity with a "mathematical, logical approach".  Obviously, Mr. Plummer's brain works far differently than mine!  That is a good thing, as I get to enjoy the fruits of his labor and just get a fun pattern to work on.  I mean, really.  Check these examples out:

Munch's The Scream

Nefertiti, in yarn.

Goodness.  Amazing, aren't they?  It must have taken ages to work out the formula for the correct sequence of stitches to make the definition and shading "pop".  Of course, as you work it, and look directly at it, all you see is a series of stripes.  It's only as you move the work, or move past it, that you see the image appear.

Whooo oooo...mind blowing, ain't it?  My little project is much smaller than these afghan-sized pieces, of course, but it has been so fascinating to work through the process.  My plan is to block thoroughly, and have it framed for a Christmas gift.  (Hence, I shall not be showing any examples of my own work here--spoiler alert!)  It isn't a knitting technique for the faint of heart, as you really are working on a leap of faith that it will, in fact, work out.  I can't wait to see the look on the recipient's face when it is unveiled!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Knitting Resources

While I am laid up with my bum foot, I've been getting a lot of holiday gift knitting done.

It's been fairly marvelous.  Hats, scarves, baby vests, a shawl--all of it, cranked out on my clicking needles to the tune of Masterpiece Mystery episodes of the intrepid Miss Marple.  (She's a knitter too, in case you didn't know.)

Having access to some helpful things has made my knitting project life sooooo much easier.  For example, I don't know where I would be without this:

TARDIS gauge can be found on

I have a vase filled with bamboo needles, many having the sizing information worn off from years of use.  This handy dandy gadget makes it possible for me to round up the correct sized needles in a flash.  Love. It.

Of course, to figure out which needles I will be needing, first I need to find the perfect pattern to launch into.  That's when I go to this website:

Ravelry  is a wonderful website for knitters and crocheters, filled with thousands and thousands of delectable patterns.  Need a new scarf?  Check it out.  You'll find hundreds.  Want to try making themed socks?  They've got everything from fruit to monkeys to spaceships and fairies.  It's my first stop when I feel peckish for a new tantalizing project to undertake.  And many of the patterns are free, which is always nice.  Those that aren't can be purchased through their website via Paypal or by credit card--secure, easy and you support your favorite designers.  I've visited Ravelry for years and have always been delighted.

Once I track down that new pattern and can't wait to get started, I check out my rampant stash of yarn--hopefully, I find what I need.  But if not, all is not lost because I can surf on over to this shop:

Simply a fabulous yarn retailer, Knit Picks has all kinds of yarns to choose from.  I am in lust with their merino blends, particularly the Swish line.  Oh, merino.  How I love thee.  Warm, squishy, soft and non-itchy, you are truly the wool of kings.  Because the pricing is so reasonable (and there are sales and free shipping on orders over $50), I don't feel quite so guilty buying more yarn.  

It is, after all, for a dedicated project that simply must be knitted up.

I do of course have local yarn shops that I haunt, and delight in supporting, but as I can't drive currently, it is so handy to have a reliable source for patterns, yarn and all sorts of other needful things that I can access through the interwebs.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Wild Things

It is high summer here, a time when the cats decide that they are more closely related to lions and tigers (ligers?) than domesticated creatures.

Beezle has taken to disappearing into the cornfield across the street for days on end, as long as those days are sunny and mild.  Once the weather turns damp, he is back and happy to come indoors.  The downside is that he is a flea-magnet; good thing there is a product called Frontline available, or he'd be condemned to the life of a house cat.  Being indoors full time sends him around the bend, though.  He starts having issues with his tail.  Apparently, it mocks him and must be killed.

He really does try to kill it.  Claws, howls of rage, biting, drawning blood. 

Talk about going a little crazy from cabin fever.

Jeffrey had a bit of an adventure as well.  About a month ago, he moved to a friend's farm as he was terribly unhappy about life on the porch.  He had taken to very naughty habits, peeing and pooing everywhere in retribution.  (really, he was doing this because he was mad--I had the vet check him and everything, and it was purely behavior)  He desperately wanted to be outdoors, but every opportunity he had, he made a bee-line for the neighbors who loathe cats, and did unspeakable things in their gardens.  Hence, he was stuck on the porch until the opportunity to move to the farm presented itself.  All seemed well, and I figured he was happy in his new wild kitty life.

Last Thursday, guess who showed up by the back gate.

Oh yes, just like the prodigal son, Jeffrey returned.  Skinny, littered with ticks, hungry and thrilled to be home.  He seemed content to eat some kibble, get some pets (after a dose of Frontline) and retire to his cozy chair on the porch.

By Saturday, he had already pooed on the floor. 


So now I am faced with the dilemma of having a cat that sees my place as home & hearth, but whose behavior is not acceptable.  Who wants their porch to reek?  Sheesh.  Its not like I don't have four giant, clean litter boxes to choose from.  I would love to chuck him outside, but there's the whole neighborhood coming at me with torches and pitchforks due to an unruly cat that I don't want to deal with.

And who ever said cats were domesticated?  They are purely wild things, particularly this summer.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Simple Life

I can't wait to watch this film.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

When Life Gives You Zucchini...

You make lots of zucchini dishes!

courtesy of

This summer, I am enjoying the harvest of Costata Romanesco zucchini.  It is a wonderful variety, slightly nutty in flavor with a lovely texture, with beautiful deep green striped ridged skin.  It holds up in flavor and texture, even when the fruits get fairly large.  Although, I do toss the giant boat-sized ones into the ladies of the Big Coop--I think they like zucchini almost as much as I do!

Of course, I did go a little overboard this year.  I started my zucchini from seed, and managed to have five healthy plants.  And then I did the unthinkable.

I planted all five.

I know, I know.  What was I thinking?  I blame it on late spring madness.  So now, in summer, I have oodles of zucchini.  Stir fried, raw with dip, in soup, you name it, I've done it.  I have it grated and frozen for mid-winter, when I shall be pining for it.  And still I have more and more...

One of my more favorite ways to eat it is my version of homemade Zucchini Parmesan, kind of like a layered lasangna but with squash, instead of noodles.  I quite literally had a dream one night, and created this delicious recipe in it.  It's test run was met with rave reviews, so I think it is a keeper.

The Chicken Lady's Zucchini Parmesan

You'll need: a couple medium sized zucchini, sliced very thinly; one pound of ground meat of your choice (I used bison, as I have quite a lot in the freezer); one pint of tomato sauce; one onion, chopped finely; two cloves of garlic, minced; dried Italian Herbs seasoning blend, to taste; salt and pepper, to taste; 1/2 cup or so of shredded mozzarella cheese; 1/4 cup or so of grated or slivered Parmesan cheese.

Slice the zucchini thinly, and place into a colander.  Salt and allow to drain for several hours, to remove some of the liquid from the squash.  Then rinse and pat dry.

Brown the meat and add the onion and garlic, cooking slowly until the vegetables are tender.  Add the Italian seasoning mix, I usually put in about a teaspoon or so, and season with salt and pepper.  Stir well to combine spices and set aside to cool slightly.  In a casserole dish, put a little tomato sauce down in the bottom and top with a layer of zucchini.  Top this layer with a layer of browned meat mixture, then a little mozarella cheese.  Continue layering until done, ending with mozarella cheese.

Cover and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes or until it smells "done".  Remove cover, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and bake about 10 minutes longer until browned and bubbly.  Remove from oven and allow to cool 15 minutes before slicing and serving with fresh bread and a green salad.  It will be a little runny, as the zucchini will continue to release water during the cooking process, but it is a fabulous sauce to mop up with a slice of delicious fresh bread!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Out of the Loop

Slowly, very slowly, my ankle and foot are healing up.  According to the doctor, it looks like everything is doing well and "looks great".  So, I am gamely hopping about the place on one leg and crutches, and enjoying visits from friends who pop in and help with things.  Everything from garden harvesting, to fetching groceries from the store, and animal chores requires help from someone else.  I'm not used to needing so much help, so it feels very odd to not do for myself, but overall, it isn't so bad to ask and be the recipient of so much kindness.  I am very lucky to live in this community!

But one thing has been bugging me.

Every summer, I've seen the raising of meat chickens through to the end of harvest day.  I've caught them as gently as possible, popped them into a crate, and driven them carefully in the early morning hours to the processing facility.  Once there, I've bid them a grateful good-bye and ensured that their end will be as quick and stress-free as possible.

Every time a batch of rabbits reaches harvest age and weight, its been my decision to butcher them.  Its been me who reaches in and carefully lifts them out of their cage.  Its been me who places them in the holding container and holds them steady and calm while carefully aiming my air rifle at the 'quick kill' spot.  It has always been my hands that care for them after death and prepare them for storage in the deep freeze.

Its not a cycle that is for everybody, and I am sure someone reading this post is horrified at the thought of killing creatures that I've cared for from infancy.  But it is the cycle that works on this little Farmlette, and its one that has been developed and perfected over the years.  It works for me, and it works for my animals.

This summer, it is different.  I can't drive, so I couldn't transport my chickens on processing day.  I had to trust someone else to round them up, catch them, and see them off to the harvesting process.  I can't stand reliably, or really get in or out of my house.  So, I can't go out to the rabbits and butcher the current ready batch myself.  I need to hire good friends to come and do the job for me.  I am certain they will do a fine, humane job of harvesting them, but it feels so strange to not do any of this.  I feel so disconnected, rather than relieved to have it be someone else's job.

It's not to say that I face "harvest day" with a sense of glee.  Its always a solemn kind of day, full of appreciation for all that my animals have given to me: companionship, entertainment, composted manure, and now, finally, food.  I hadn't realized how much seeing the cycle of life to its final end meant to me until now, when I'm not able to be an active participant in it.  It has left me feeling at a bit of a loss, off balance (no pun intended)...disconcerted, if you will.  What is most surprising to me is the depth of my feelings on the matter.  I hadn't expected it, not really.  I thought, once I had made the decision to give up this ending process to someone, I would be okay with it.  Funnily enough, I am really not okay.  Not okay at all, really.

I don't know if other people have felt this sensation of disconnection, or if it is just me.  It is hard to put into words what I am feeling, and a few years ago, I don't know if I would have even felt this way.   Maybe I would have?  Then again, I was new to this lifestyle, so maybe not.  I guess it really speaks to just how well my way of living works for me, down to the serious soul level of emotional well being.  When I can't be part of the growing, the living and dying cycle, of being a resident of my little world, I just don't feel quite like myself.

I miss it terribly.  As much as I am looking forward to standing with both feet on the ground, I think I am looking forward to getting back into the cycle of the Farmlette even more.