Friday, October 31, 2014

Space Jellyfish!

Happy Halloween!

Today, I am spending the day setting up for my annual Halloween Installation.  This year's theme?

Invasion of the Space Jellyfish!!!

I'm attempting to channel the spirit of classic 1950s B-Grade Sci Fi movies, with large plastic "jellyfish" with glowstick eyes, a few spot lights, and some thematic sound effects.  I'll have my usual bonfire, booze and nosh for the grown-ups, and "real" candy bars and bags of chips for the kiddies.  Hopefully, the skies will stay clear and we'll all have a great evening, defending the world from...

Space Jellyfish!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

War Continues

Yeah, so the mice saga continues.

I opened another drawer, and out jumped this:

A rodent creature from the depths of hell.

Well, ok.  I exaggerate a little.  But, dang it, when you open a drawer and this thing leaps up out at you and then shoots at warp speed into the back of the cupboard, you too would scream like the first teenage slut to die in a horror movie.

You know you would.

I know I did.

I've reset the mouse traps and put all delicious things into hard containers or the fridge.  If any little monsterous mouse decides to come out from their secret passageways, I've told Miss Vida the House Cat to seek and destroy.  I've also told her to either eat what she catches or leave it for the dogs, but under no circumstances is she to bring it upstairs to my bed.  That is just unpleasant.

The last one, she left dead in my slipper.  A cold squishy mouse in your shoe is not a nice thing for your bare foot to find in the dark of early morning.

You know you'd scream about that, too.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fiber Bunnies Update

You may remember, if you've read this little blog for a time, that I have two "fiber bunnies" in my Bunny Barn.  Mohair and Cashmere, the producers of large wads of pretty angora rabbit fiber.  Every year, they shed (or devolve into a hopping hair mat) and I gather up their fiber.  And I put that fiber into a bag, and put the bag away to be spun, in theory by me.

I do like them, but they are not really adding much to the Bunny Barn aside from wafting drifts of shed hair and quiet personalities.  They eat quite a lot, and poo (which makes the gardens happy) but they don't really contribute much.  So I'm starting to ponder: what is the future of fiber rabbits on this particular Farmlette?  I certainly don't maintain them the way that devotees of the fiber would.  Half the time, they hop about with dismal little clods hanging off of them.  (Please, don't think I'm abusing them.  I just don't comb them daily, which is what they really need, and hence, they hairball-up like mad.  And then I wrestle with them once a week or so to pull of the worst of the clods, and experience that everyone just loves.)  I have been wondering if perhaps, someone out there might want them for either wooly fiberliicousness or for a furry garden pet, producing piles of poo for a small backyard garden.  I suppose I should put an ad on Craigslist or the swap facebook page I belong to, and gauge interest.  They aren't show quality, by any means, but for someone who wants a couple little fiber animals or a backyard rabbit, they would be a great fit.  I've certainly gone more into the "meat rabbit" end of the rabbit keeping spectrum, and it just doesn't really seem to make sense to keep a fiber animal around just to have a fiber animal around.  With any luck, perhaps I'll find them the perfect home where they will continue to be spoiled and need to do nothing more than produce wads of glorious angora fiber and poo.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Time for Bulbs

With the mild weather, I thought I'd take advantage of the last weeks of growing weather and pop in a few bulbs into the Fairy Garden in the front yard.  It's starting to fill in nicely, and I am looking forward to larger hostas, pulmonaria, and foxgloves with plumes of candy-colored flowers next summer.

To me, the daffodil just sings "fairies" to me.  I already have a lot of Lily of the Valley, which should bloom in late spring, and I have swaths of violets in various purples and magentas which will also be beautiful spring color.  But it seemed like a few cheerful yellow daffodils might be a nice I picked up a couple bags and planted a few clumps of three-to-five bulbs in a grouping around the fairy garden.

Of course, planting the bulbs reminded me that I need to go through the garden with a leaf rake and take off the layer of fallen pine needles.  And once that job is done, I need to pull out the random clumps of grass that appeared in August and September, sneaking in after I had to head back to work with the end of summer.  Naughty grass.  Well, it shouldn't take long to yank it out.  The only remaining thing to do will be to trim back all the herbacious plants once they die back.  The front garden typically survives frost a little longer than the back garden, I think because of the protection from the house and large pines that create a little buffer zone, but soon enough, the temperatures will dip and the ground will freeze, and my little herby plants will be done for this year.  With any luck, they'll survive the winter and return in the spring.  I can already see that the borage had a great time seeding itself around and about.  Won't the bees be delighted with that!  Between the hyssop and the borage, they were happy little pollinators....and with a little luck, the crown vetch will also bloom next summer and boy howdy, it'll be a veritable pollen feast!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Captain Underplants!

My strawberry plants have decided, since the box elder tree fell, that they now would like to live, thank you very much.  Sadly, I have plans for where they have been and needed to move them.  After moving a dozen to one of the back garden raised beds, I still had some plants hanging out.  It was either smother them, dig them up and toss them, or dig them up and plant them somewhere.

Yesterday, while cleaning up in the back garden, I had a brainwave.  Why not put those spare strawberry plants in the perennial fruit & veg corner, underneath the espalier pear tree?  All that seems to want to grow under there is creeping nastiness (like ground mint, quack grass, and some rampant flowery thing with tentacles of doom).  So if I plant something that creeps, fills in nicely and provides me with fruit I want, wouldn't that be better?

A quick dig and replant later, and I now have happy strawberry plants under my happy little pear tree.  They should mix nicely with the expanding patch of Good King Henry (a spinach-like perennial herb), jerusalem artichokes, Egyptian Walking onions, and horseradish.  For a little insight on why underplanting with strawberries might be a good idea for your garden, watch this video:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hee Haw!

Do you remember this show?  Man, I LOVED Hee Haw!  I'm working on details for my Birthday Bash coming up in January, and I think I'm going to encourage silliness and jokes, corny of course, a la the show.  People popping up in a cornfield to tell some terrible joke that still makes you laugh...imagine how funny it'll be after they have a beer or two!

Folk music, good friends, good, I can hardly wait to turn 40!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sweet Treats

Thanks to a generous friend with a lot of apples, my chickens and rabbits have been enjoying the "wormy" ones.  They adore them!  Every afternoon, I toss a few into the chicken run and they shriek and race after them like tiny pterodactyls flying in for the kill.  And then, the eerie sound of peck-peck-peckity-peck-peck starts up like rapid fire pops.  It doesn't take them long to devour it, core and all....

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Just when all is going happily along with putting food up for the season, the freezer died.

Yep, kaput. 

Luckily, I had a nearly cleaned out freezer in the house fridge and things had not entirely defrosted, so I was able to save the majority of the fruit and vegetables.  Some things had sadly defrosted, so it was quick decision time.  I drained the sopping cherries and put them in the dehydrator.  The remaining bag of frozen tomatoes I cooked down, ran through the sieve, and popped into the dehydrator as well to dry down into tomato powder.  And a few things, sadly, had warmed too much and went to the chickens: bacon jam, apple butter, lime pulp, frozen soup...well, they were happy.

And then more scariness.  The dang OTHER freezer, chock full of meat, decided to go on the fritz.  It warmed up to 25 degrees, and wouldn't turn on, until I called friends in a panic.  And then, of course, it clicked on and decided to run.  Augh.  Tentatively, all seems to be doing well with it, although it sounds a little odd.  Keep your fingers crossed that things stay cold and frozen in there.  I may have the freezer repair guy come out and take a look at it, should it still sound funny on Monday.

How much longer is Mercury in retrograde, anyway?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Holiday Plans

I just love this picture of my two dogs, taken last Christmas.

But perhaps, too soon?

I know.  It's not even Halloween yet.  But, to be honest, I've started thinking about the holidays.  Part of it is, I make a lot of presents, so I've got to start that early.  Otherwise, things get a little stressful.  Another part of it is, I rather like having a holiday break--one of my perks of my day job.  And it's been a bit of stressful fall thus far, but that's ok.  It makes the breaks something to anticipate.

Along the present making lines, I've been working on making wool dryer balls.  I'm thinking of packing them in little boxes, with a tiny bottle of essential oil.  And I have a stash of crafts I've made, that I recently rediscovered.  I love finds like that.  So far, I've found a couple of china cup bird feeders, and chalkboard pots, and gardeners hand scrub, and even a rather fun peanut feeder made from a slinky.  I may just pull some stuff out of the stash for myself...

I've also got a few knitting projects on tap, as always.  I was going to knit a whole bunch of hats, but I kind of lost my mojo for that particular idea.  I'll likely knit a couple, but not a whole slew.  Last year, I knitted so many presents, it was wonderful but wow, a lot of work.  I'm thinking a bit fewer knitting projects this holiday is a good present for myself.

But the wool dryer balls, those are easy peasy.  I simply made balls of wool yarn, popped them in old socks, and ran them through the hot water and a hot dryer three or four times.  And then I wound up with these lovely felted balls, perfect for tossing in with a load of laundry and taking away static naturally.  It's a great use for some very pretty but rather scratchy Nantucket wool I was gifted!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Plants, Indoors.

With the arrival of fall weather, I decided to try and save my many pots of herbs.  This winter, they will be residing in style under full-spectrum lighting (one warm bulb + one cool bulb = full spectrum on a budget), warm and cosy.

I am very fond of using fresh herbs, both in cooking and "fresh" tea.  There is nothing better in the depths of February than a mug of lemon tea brewed from lemon verbena and lemon balm leaves.  I also have ginger mint and peppermint in pots.  There's Thai basil, parsley, sage and rosemary, plus my teeny Bay tree.  With luck, they will all survive the winter and head back outside come spring to grow outdoors for another season.

Having the lights set up in the living room has a fringe benefit--not only do the plants thrive, but I get the additional bright light added to my winter days.  I'm not severely affected by the lack of light in the winter months, but I do find it helps me feel a bit less like a grumpy bear on the darkest days.  Plus, I get fresh parsley!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

You Can Never Have Too Much Ketchup

One of my favorite condiments to make is tomato ketchup.  I don't slather it on everything, but the homemade stuff tastes so much better than any of the commercial brands I've tried (even the fancy pants organic ones) that I can't help but use it up.  Not only is it great for dabbing on burgers or dipping fries into, it's also great to add to other things to make Thousand Island Dressing or fancy dipping sauces for homemade chicken fingers, fish cakes, or fried up shrimp.

Not that I would ever eat those things, oh no, not me.  I do eat the occasional fried stuff, but mostly, it's ketchup on burgers or in other stuff (like my favorite hamburger soup) for me.

Basically, I follow the recipe in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving for ingredients and processing time, but what actually goes into my homemade ketchup varies a bit.  I start with homegrown tomatoes, which were frozen whole, then boiled down in a bit of water and cranked through my food mill to remove the skins and seeds.  I put all that watery pulpy liquid into my crockpot, add 3 to 4 cups of cider vinegar (it depends on how much pulp I wind up with), add about a cup of sugar and a tablespoon or two of salt, and then comes the spices.  This last batch, I used my mortar & pestle and ground up onions and garlic that I had dehydrated earlier in the year, and then added the powder to the crock pot.  I use a vintage large tea ball to hold my spices of choice: a broken-up cinnamon stick, three whole allspice berries, four whole cloves, and a large whole star anise.  That gets plonked into the crock pot, and then they simmer down on low-to-warm for hours and hours and hours.

This last batch took 42 hours to cook down.  It was very watery, but smells and tastes incredibly fresh and robust now that it has thickened up to the perfect consistency.

Once everything is ready, I heat up my sterilized jars, pop on a lid, and process the finished ketchup for 15 minutes in a hot water bath.  I usually put my ketchup in half-pint jars, as I tend to use ketchup slowly and if I put it in a bigger jar, sometimes it goes moldy on me before I can finish it up.

If you have a stash of homegrown tomatoes, I recommend using some to make your own ketchup.  It's worth the effort, trust me!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


This past weekend, I finally watched Tiny: A Story About Living Small, a documentary film about one man and his journey building his small house on a trailer. I'm so glad that I did.  Of course, now I want to build one...I already live in a small house, but the idea of having a smaller, tiny house on wheels wakes up my inner little girl who never had a "real" dollhouse.  The concept of having a small house that could be packed up and moved away is so cool to me.  Having a small space to either go and read in, take a nap in, or put up weekend guests THAT would be delightful as well.  They are extremely charming as well, with a whole lot of craftsman charm and miniature porches and sleeping lofts and reading lights fueled by solar panels.

Yeah.  I think, someday, I'm building one of them for myself.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Two Days...

In two days, I'm starting a 100 Mile Local Food Challenge.  For ten days, I've committed to eating only what is produced within 100 miles of my home.  I can include ten exotics (coffee, thankfully, is on my list) but other than that, it's all local all the time, baby.

I've done a bit of homework for the past month or so to prepare for this challenge.  Namely, I tracked down a source for flour, so I don't need to use that as one of my exotics.  And I have, of course, been stashing food per usual over the summer months so I have a lot of homegrown canned goods and frozen veg in the freezer.  I've been hunting down recipes, too, for things like homemade pasta, bagels, different breads and things to do with eggs (I have lots of eggs).  I also have some barter connections, for things like apples, and a good idea of what to eat that is in season, and therefore should be easy to find.  I'm planning on hitting the local co-ops for things like local milk, winter greens (arugula, I'm looking at you, kid), and maybe some yummy yogurt.

I am a little concerned about increased food costs, what with purchasing a different milk and whatnot than I usually do, but mostly, I think I'm going to be eating what I've stocked away.  I don't eat out much, so packing lunches for work won't be any more an issue than it is any other week.  And as far as I know, no one is throwing a party or planning a girls' night out, but if that did happen, I'm opting to join in on the social eating joyousness and say to heck with the local food issue for an evening.  Like any other food mantra, being a local food purist could become very off-putting to other folks, and I certainly don't want to be one of those people

Mostly, I'm excited to try this.  The larger group that is participating across the nation during this month of October are exploring issues ranging from lack of local foods to food justice to improved health/weight loss from eating "healthier" local options to converting their neighbors to the joys of local food.  For myself, I'm curious to see if, within ten days, is it possible to avoid all foods not produced within 100 miles.  I'm thinking it will be, which is as good a hypothesis to work from as any. 

Time shall tell, right?  I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Bread Rhapsody

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” – James Beard

I am not afraid of bread.
I do not fear bread as the root of all evil.
Bread is the stuff of life, not the food of lies.
Bread does not make one sluggish, fat, or prone to muffin tops.
Bread is freakin' good, man, and you should eat it.

Good bread, that is, should be eaten as often as you can find it.  Balance it with some protein, vegetables and fruit, and you have yourself one heck of a powerhouse in your belly.  A good slice of bread with some cheese and an apple makes for a terrific mid-day lunch, on which you can power through reports, gardening, or pretty much anything else your afternoon might throw at you.

I am in love with the flour I bought last weekend.  It wouldn't be too much to say that it is life changing, although life affirming might be more apt.  You can taste that this flour, it's alive, like drinking shrub or eating fermented pickles tastes alive.  It's chewy, and nutty, dense and rich, almost unbelievably good.  I've made several loaves of bread a la the Bread in Five method.  They were wonderful.  I made a batch of bagels, my first ever attempt, and they far surpass anything you can find in the grocery store.  I would say that they are even better than the area bagel companies that everyone raves about.  (Granted, I think it is impossible to find a good bagel in the Upper Midwest, but then again, I did live in New York for a bit where bagels are the stuff of life...)  I'm glad I got 25 pound bags of the flours, because I can't stop baking with it.  I even used the All Purpose whole wheat flour in my favorite pie recipe (Cranberry Nut Pie, sooooo gooooooood) and while I admit, I love this pie nearly obscenely, it made it even. better.  I didn't think that was even possible...

Don't fear bread.
If you must fear anything about bread, fear the crap that lines the grocery aisle.
Fear the conventionally grown wheat that is sprayed with glyphosate and then harvested, processed, and made into conventional flours.
But don't fear bread.  
Bread is your friend.  You should eat some.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

There's an App for That

As you may have noticed from reading this blog over time, I have a definite love for all things Mother Earth News.  I'm still enjoying reading the back issues on the DVD I received last Christmas, and I have dreams of attending another MEN Fair in the near future...if only I can convince them to hold one in Minneapolis, that would be awesome.

In any case, I recently discovered that they have a free app, working on both iPad type devices and Android devices, with basic and advanced canning techniques and recipes.  It is, from first swipe, very easy to use, and seems to contain the same basic information contained in the Ball series of canning resources. There's even information on how to can meat, seafood, and other food items that need to be pressure canned.

Since you can't beat free, and sometimes, it's nice to have a resource that can provide quick links to vital canning safety information at the tap of a fingertip, it's not a bad app to have on your smartphone of choice.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Grape Juice Made Simple

You may remember that a few weeks ago, I picked up a half-bushel box of Concord grapes.  After making a whopping 14 pints of grape jelly, I still had more I made 12 quarts of grape juice.  Instead of investing in a steam juicer (which would be nice to have someday, but not now...), I opted for a really simple way to make grape juice.

Into each sterilized quart jar, I placed about a cup of washed and stemmed grapes.  Then I put in two large spoonfuls of sugar--you can use less or more, but I recommend tasting a grape first to decide how sweet you want it.  You could also use honey instead of the sugar, but I decided on sugar since it was there on the counter looking at me.  I added about a tablespoon of lemon juice into each jar as well, and then topped it with boiling water, leaving one inch of headspace.  After putting on a lid and tightening the bands, I processed the quarts in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.

After letting the juice jars sit for a couple weeks, this is what I have:
Jars of delicious, refreshing, not-too-sweet grape juice.  It is really really good, as well as being really really easy to make.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Use for Lint

While this may look like so many fuzzy hairballs in a tube, it's actually something rather helpful.  Over the past several months, I've collected empty toilet paper rolls and clods of dryer lint.  Once I had enough, I stuffed the lint into the tubes, added the melted wax of three candle stubs to each, and tah-dah.

You have yourself some dandy, raging-inferno-inducing, homemade firestarters.

They work really well, and provide a steady hot flame for long enough to start a nice toasty fire.  It's also a nice way to use up lint and TP rolls, somethings that are kinda hard to find a use for, in general.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Flour Storage

When you acquire large bags of flour, it can be a challenge deciding how to best store it to keep it fresh and bug- and critter-free.  If you are blessed with a large basement or temperature-regulated unused room or garage, you can round up some clean, new garbage cans and plonk your bags in there, and they should keep nicely for a year or so.  If you want to go all fancy and seal things, you can do that too...but if you don't have space for garbage cans for storing stuff in nor do you have the budget for large, bulky sealable storage units, you go low tech and low budget (as I do).

Basically, I started with freezer bags with the zipper seals and filled each gallon size bag with approximately eight cups of flour.
Then, you round up a bunch of those holiday popcorn tins, either free or found at a thrift store (mine cost 50 cents each from the Barn in New Richmond, WI).
Then, simply pack the tins with the plastic bags of flour.  You may need to squeeze out more air from each bag, but several should fit in there.
I found that I could fit three bags in each of the smaller tins, but the larger tins could hold four or five bags.  Then, it's simply a matter of stacking the tins in the cool, dark pantry to store until I need the flour, one bag at a time.  Fifty pounds of flour tucked away in five reused holiday tins.  I call that a bargain.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Traveling the Great River Road

It started off a bit foggy, a little drizzle, and in spots there was even some snow, but it was a great day for a little road trip.  I picked up my friend Gretchen (you can see her feet peeking out underneath the truck) and off we headed, following the Great River Road to Alma, WI and then hiking up over the ridge to find a really lovely valley, home to Great River Organic Milling.

Imagine: a flour mill, producing organic stone ground flours, a mere 83 miles from my home!  Why have I not discovered this until now?

Well, I wasn't looking, but still.  Who knew?!?

Anyway, it was a very happy discovery.  Not only did I get to email back and forth with some very nice people who work there, but I got to go on a road trip and get some lovely flour, too. I was even allowed a brief tour of the mill.
The smaller of two storage rooms, each bag holds 2000 pounds of grain.

This room is where the grinding happens...well, it's above the stones anyway.

The newer warehouse, very large and full of lovely organic grain!
A long drive back and a good lunch at the Creamery in Nelson, WI (home of my favorite Ham & Brie on Baguette sandwich) later, I was left delivering bags of flour and grain to friends who had ordered in our group order, and with two lovely bags of spelt and all-purpose flour to call my own.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

October Chill

It's the first weekend in October, but it feels more like the last weekend of November.  Last night, the wind started blowing in from the northwest corner of the world, bringing with it falling temperatures and gusty rain.  Luckily, I have a good stash of dry firewood started--a warm fire in the evening hours keeps the house comfortable (and makes the resident house cat very pleased with herself, curled as close to the hearth as she can be).  If I turn on the oven to bake a loaf of bread or roast a fat chicken, the house stays cozy far into the next day.  And if that isn't an inducement to cook a little more often, I don't know what is!

Today, I'm heading south to Fountain City to visit a local organic flour mill to pick up a load of flours and grains.  I'm rather excited about this--I love a good adventure, plus I'm keen on trying out some locally stone-ground flours.  Tomorrow, I'll post some pictures.  Hopefully, the foggy start will give way to a beautiful fall day!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Bit of Vinegar

After making an insanely good batch of chunky applesauce, laden with brown sugar and cinnamon, I was left with a giant pile of apple cores and peelings.  I love my apple-peeler-corer-slicer, by the way.  One of the best kitchen gizmos I have ever invested in, hands down, no argument.  But, after you work through a bucket of apples, you have a bunch of sticky things to deal with.

Usually, I chuck them in to the chickens, but they were gluttons already with a bunch of weeds and pears tossed in by my neighbors.  So this time, I decided to try an experiment: I'm going to make my own vinegar.

I go through so much vinegar in a year, between canning, cooking and cleaning, that it is an appealing (heh heh, a-peeling) idea to make my own out of stuff I'd usually compost or feed to the hens. If it works, I will be one happy Chicken Lady.  If it doesn't, well, it goes on the compost heap anyway.  No big loss, and I am liking the idea of an experiment happening in my dark cupboard.  Stay tuned for updates.