Friday, August 21, 2015

Summer Review

Well, it's nearly over so it's about time to check the Summer Projects list and see how I did.  Let's take a look, shall we?

Summer 2015 Project List
·        Dig wildflower garden area and re-seed
·        Clean Bunny Barn and finish summer bean planting
·        Rework Big Coop run, add stumps and wild bird netting.
·        Paint Big Coop.
·        Get Little Coop ready for meat chicks.
·        Replace south fence panel on Little Coop run.
·        Plant ground cover roses on Berry Hill banks.
·        Finish hugelkulture beds and plant blueberries (before they die)
·        Re-cover the Tent Shed.
·        Make new planting bed on west wall side of house.
·        Research fermentation & improve technique.
·        Knit hats for the gang at Sean’s Allotment.
·        Work on another 3D knit project.

  Well, all in all, not too shabby.  A few things didn't get done--and sadly, the blueberries did die--and a few things could still be accomplished before winter befalls us.  But the main important things did get accomplished, even if I was limping about the joint for the most part.

It's amazing how one appendage can affect so many plans! 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Summer Squash for Wintertime

Ah, the annual summer squash glut.  This particular lovely harvest is by way of a friend, as my squash has sadly succumbed to invasion by the dreaded stink bug and poor pollination.  But any way you look at it, gifted or homegrown, summer squash is a delightful problem.  I've eaten loads in various incarnations, but there comes a point where it won't keep any longer.  In the past, I'd shredded and frozen it...and consigned it to a sad slow death by freezer burn.

So this year, I decided: I was going to slice it up thinly using my vintage, $1 deal mandolin, and dry it.
After a few hours in the dehydrator (set up on the porch to keep from heating up the house too much), I should have a batch of dried summer squash that can be added to wintertime soups and stews, or rehydrated by a soak in hot water and made into a summery gratin come January, when "fresh" zucchini costs an arm and a leg, and is anything but local.  I think some people even season it and eat them as chips...well, in a pinch, I suppose they would work for that.  But for me, I'm looking forward to adding them to winter soup.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Garden TV

I know I've mentioned The Horticultural Channel before, but I must mention it again: I love this channel!  If you haven't checked them out, there are hours and hours of excellent videos, which will introduce you not only to helpful gardening techniques but also to a cast of delightful gardeners who quickly become endearing.  If you've been looking for a new show to watch, you can't go far wrong with The Hort Channel.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Corn Season

Ah, mid-August.  It's the peak/possibly the downward slide toward the end of the local sweet corn season.  I've had some fabulous corn over the past week, after purchasing a dozen ears from family farmers who grow it on the banks of the Mississippi River in Wabasha, MN. (They make the trek to our local farmers market.)  It's sweet, and crisp, and just fantastic.  I made some terrific corn salsa, and roasted?  Delicious!
But I'm most excited about a harvest that is just starting to be ready.  This summer, I grew miniature popcorn, a variety called Tom Thumb, in giant decorative tubs along with rampant nasturtiums.  After growing all season, they've set tiny ears that are dried down and nearly ready to try popping.  A couple more weeks, and they should be ready.  I've got another type of popcorn growing in the community garden, a variety called Pennsylvania Dutch Buttered Popcorn, which has just started drying down.  And then there's my somewhat pathetic looking crop of Painted Mountain flour corn.  It's drying down, but fell over in a storm and I don't know what is actually going to come out of that bed.  It may become rabbit feed, instead of future tortillas.  Still, it's been a good summer for corn, no matter the variety!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Of Tomatoes and Apples

A week ago, I scored a great deal on 26 pounds of Roma tomatoes from my favorite Hmong family at the local farmers market.  Of course, many of them weren't ripe yet, but that didn't deter me.  There's a simple little trick to speed up the ripening process: get yourself an apple.

All you need to do is put the unripe tomatoes into a paper bag with an apple, and then roll down the top to close it.  Let the tomatoes sit in there, percolating in the ethylene gases released by the apple, and within a few days, they'll be ripe and ready for using in whatever recipe you want to attempt.  They do lack that sun-kissed flavor you get from tomatoes that ripen in the garden, but if you're wanting to make a ton of crushed tomatoes, they'll do the trick perfectly.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Garden Friends

The sunflower border is in full bloom, with multiple heads of gorgeous yellow and bronze sunshine flowers.  They are very popular with the bees, and have even attracted some honey bees--a rare sight in my garden this year.  I've got lots of mason bees and bumblebees and pollinator flies, but honey bees?  Very rare, sadly.  I was happy to catch this little girl enjoying the sunflower bloom this morning, she seemed so pleased to have this enormous flower head all to herself!
In addition to the insect and hidden animal life in the garden, I occasionally spot some larger friends.  Beezle likes to lounge in the shade of the sunflower border, until the day gets too hot and then he retires to the depths of the cornfield where the sun never reaches.  He's a funny old cat.  He is leery of strangers, and usually hides if anyone comes to visit.  He hates being indoors, even on the porch, and is happiest left to his own devices in the outdoors.  He's a cat's cat, I think, an enigma onto himself.
And then there is Jeffrey, a decidedly people friendly cat.  Him I usually find in the greenhouse or hoop house, napping in the heat, unless it's a warm day in which he'll tuck himself into the depths of the undergrowth in the garden.  This morning, he was happily curled into the far reaches of the cosmos hedge, and wouldn't come out for a head rub.  All I got was a soft meeew of hello, because he was too sleepy content to be bothered with any more excessive greeting.  I'm sure later he'll come calling through the open window, to see if he can convince me that he really, really does need a snack or a cuddle, or both.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Little More Liquor...

Finding myself with a few spare tomatoes after prepping for a batch of simple salsa, I did what any enterprising cook would do:  I started a batch of infused vodka.  This batch of tomato-with-half-a-jalapeno will make for excellent Bloody Mary cocktails come the that is something to look forward to!

Making infused vodka (or other liquors) is incredibly easy.  Simply put your desired flavor ingredients into a quart jar, top with vodka, and pop on a lid.  Place into a cool, dark location and give it a shake every now and then.  I typically let it infuse for two months before straining and rebottling.  I also sometimes add a dose of simple syrup at that time, if I want a sweet cocktail base (mostly, that's for fruity drinks best served over ice with an umbrella in the glass...)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Glorious Glories!

A few years ago, I planted morning glories by the mailbox at the edge of the road.  Every year since, they've come back, all on their own, surviving the winter's plowing and salt, and general icky run off that comes off the pavement.  They are cheerful survivors, and each summer attempt to completely cover the mailbox.  This is a variety called 'President Tyler', and it is very much loved by the bees!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Everything in it's Place...

Summer harvests are in full swing.  It's such a delight to eat fresh from the garden, and have enough to put some by for winter.
Beans and corn and peas and pickles, all of it tucked neatly away in the pantry.
There is nothing prettier than rows of shiny jars, filled with delicious things.  Of course, it's a challenge keeping things organized, so you can actually find what you're looking for.
It's amazing what you relocate after a little tidy-up.  I found several quart jars of homemade grape juice, plus some goodies like nutella, peanut butter and chocolate chips that I had squirreled away.
It always impresses me how much can be stored in one teeny closet.  Hopefully, I can get creative and make a little more space--tomato season is upon us!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

August Blooms

One of my favorite flowers of late summer has arrived!  After growing to be a good 6 to 7 feet tall, they have opened up into beautiful bright blooms...I just love sunflowers.  Each year I grow different varieties.  This year, I planted two Russian varieties, Rostov and Mongolian Giant, in the front flower beds.  I keep them pretty close together, so they don't grow to be super tall, but they help support each other and don't fall over in the wind as much if they are planted closer together and stay shorter.  I figure seven feet is plenty tall enough!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Onions and Garlic, too.

My onions had started to become prey to voracious slugs, so I pulled them the other day.  They'll dry happily for a couple of weeks (more or less) in my rigged up rack on the porch.  It smells very pungent out there right now--not a bad smell, but quite onion-y!
The garlic finally dried down the majority of the way, and now just needs storage in a cool, dark space.  My pantry closet will be perfect, and the garlic should keep for a long time.  I plan to use some of it for next year's crop, but it can wait in the pantry until October.  That will give me plenty of time to decide which cloves look the best for seed stock.  Right now, they all look pretty good!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


It always seems to take forever, but finally the day arrives: the first of the homegrown tomatoes are ripe!  This variety is called Julia Child, a nice medium sized round fruit that smell heavenly.  Based on the state of the plants, it looks like Gardeners Delight and Orange Banana may not be far behind.  I am so happy, because that means putting up jars of bruchetta topping and salsa may not be far behind.  Ooh, and let's not forget dried tomatoes.  Those are my favorite for pizzas and pasta...gosh.  I sure hope those tomatoes don't take long to ripen, I can hardly wait!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Homemade Chili Starter

Some evenings, after a long day of work, it's so nice to have canned soups waiting in the pantry.  Homemade ones, of course, with far less sugar and no weird additives like the store-bought stuff.  Part of my less busy days of summer I spend restocking the pantry for the rest of the year, and making soups to can is a change from making jams and jellies.

Typically I use the recipes in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (as I did to make this batch of chili starter), but I also like the basic recipes in So Easy to Preserve, a publication of the Extension Service in Georgia.  One of my favorite recipes is beef with peppers and onions, a simple mixture of lightly seasoned beef with peppers and onions canned in beef stock.  Using the formulas in So Easy to Preserve, it's a simple matter of calculating the appropriate pressure and time to process.  I don't add any thickeners, those come later when I reheat the stew for dinner.

There are hosts of recipes on the internet for homemade soups that can be processed and canned for later meals, but be sure to cross check them.  Be cautious of any that claim you can add flour, or pasta, or simply water bath them.  The flour and pasta will become straight mush, and you can't water bath a soup because it isn't acidic enough to be processed that way safely.  If you can't pressure can, then freezing is an excellent option.  But, speaking from experience, nothing beats a good home-canned soup, stew or chili!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Knitting Projects

 I've been working away on some knitting projects this summer, to get a head start on holiday gifting.  So far, I've made a version of this:
photo by beth whipkey,
The Rosie Cowl, by Beth Whipkey, is sweet and simple and a relatively quick knit.  It reminds me of something Little Red Riding Hood might wear to visit Grandma...

I've also made a version of the Wren Wolf Cowl by Heidi May, also findable on  It's super simple, and really fun.  Here's me, modeling it:
Fun, right?  Here's the cat's reaction:
"uh..I think you need to back off those pain pills."
Next up, this sweet little hat called Black Forest, by Caitlin ffrench:
perfect for adventures, photo from
Not only is it a cute pattern, but I'm making it with one of my favorite yarns, a blend of mohair and silk.  Ooh, it is nice to work with!

After that, well, I've got a good half-dozen more projects lined up, including some illusion knitting.  I am fascinated with this process.  Rows of knitting and you wind up with a fools the eye, 3D "picture" at the end.  I'm planning to tackle the Green Man and a couple of Celtic knots...but all in good time.  Anyway, check out this video below and maybe you'll be inspired to give illusion knitting a try, too.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Outside Digs

It's been four days since the teenage meat chicks moved outside, and they are loving life in the Little Coop.  They've weathered two storms in fine style, and are having a great time frolicking about in their new space.  They are growing like weeds--somehow, I think I got sent Cornish Cross chicks in my frying pan special, instead of the slower growing White Rocks or Leghorns that were advertised.  I don't mind too much, really, but I may need to move my butcher date up a bit sooner!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Peach Season

Earlier this past week, I talked a friend into stopping by the farmers market and picking up a box of peaches for me.  I don't do peaches every year, as they are a lot of work and a half-bushel box means you get a ton of peaches, but this year, is a peach year.
So for the past couple of mornings, while it is still relatively cool, my kitchen has become an assembly line of sorts.  Each peach needs to be washed, then the bottom marked with a shallow "X" cut.  A brief swim in a boiling water bath, followed by a dip in ice water helps the skin to slide right off.
Once the skins are off, it's a matter of slicing or dicing and placing the peaches into a bowl of lemon water.  I made a batch of honeyed peaches, using a lightly sweet syrup made from local honey and water.  Sixteen pints later and I think I'm good on peaches for the next year or so.  All that peeling and slicing leaves quite the bowl full of debris: skin, pits and bits of peach flesh not fit for canning as is.
What to do with all that extra bits?  Well, I opted to put it in a sauce pan and add water, simmering to make a deeply pink and fragrant juice.  I added a few whole spices to the mix: cinnamon stick, star anise, whole allspice.  Then it was into a jelly bag to strain slowly overnight, and today (after adding sugar and pectin) I made seven half-pints of beautiful rosy Spiced Peach Pit Jelly.  My whole house smells like peaches--it's heavenly!

And still,  I have more peaches.  I'm thinking of making a slow cooked batch of Brandied Peach Butter, which if I cook it overnight should be perfect for both canning and adding to my morning porridge.  If any peaches are left over after that, I may just bake something with them...peach crumble, anyone?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Mid-July Jelly

One of my favorite daily "chores" is to wander around the yard and see what fresh fruits and veg are ready for picking.  Some days, it's a glut of squash and cucumbers.  Other days, it's fresh chard, kale and lettuces.  But my happiest days are right now, when currants, raspberries and gooseberries are ripening daily.  While many don't make it into the house, devoured by the handful as Head Gardener perks, those that do make it in get transformed into something to be enjoyed in colder months.  Sometimes it's jam, chunky and seedy and deliciously simple.  But other times, I like to do the slow process of making homemade jelly.

Jelly is, actually, very simple to make.  It just takes time, because you need to first process the fruit, then allow it to drip through a jelly bag overnight.  The slow drip-drip-drip from the jelly bag is soothing, a promise of delights to come.  The next day, the actual jelly making begins.  After measuring the juice, and measuring out an equal amount of sugar, it's onto the stove to come to a rolling boil.  A packet or two of liquid pectin followed by a hard boil for one minute, ladle into clean sterilized jars and process for the allotted time, and there you have it: beautiful clear jelly to stock the pantry and give as gifts.

Generally, I start with four cups of juice (you can add a cup or two of water as needed to make this amount) with an equal amount of sugar.  The above jelly, made from black and red raspberries and my first crop of delicious gooseberries, measured 2 1/2 cups after dripping all night so I added enough to make up the difference to reach my four-cup measurement.  I put the juice and sugar into a large saucepan and bring to a boil.  Usually, I add two pouches of liquid pectin (I use Certo brand as my mainstay) and then bring it up to a very hard boil for one minute, stirring constantly.  Don't stop stirring, and don't let it boil over!  It is very hot, and will burn both you and whatever it it stinks like heck if it gets on the burner.  Jelly notoriously gets a foam on top, but its easy to remove if you let the jelly cool for a minute and then use a metal spoon to scoop the foam off the surface of the jelly.  Ladle into the hot jars, and process for fifteen minutes in a hot water bath canner.

Four cups of juice will yield about six half-pints of jelly, more than enough to enjoy and give away as presents.  I don't make huge batches of jelly, because who can eat that much?  I much prefer my daily wanders through the garden, and making small batches of delicious, jewel toned goodness.  Plus, you can call it anything you want: Mid-July Jelly?  Yes, please.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Beauty of Wild Flowers

Each summer, I try to add some gratuitous beauty to the garden by way of wild flowers.  The bees and hover flies and butterflies adore them, which makes the rest of the garden very happy as well.  And I love how they look, little dots of cheerful color happily growing in wild abandon.  When fall comes, I mow them down with the weed whipper and give the area a good raking.  Generally I need to reseed in the spring after the last frost passes, but some flowers do a wonderful job of seeding themselves.  I have patches of blanket flower, yarrow and bachelors buttons that come back, year after year, delightful surprises for both me and the bees.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Simple Summer Pickle

The garden is really starting to produce an abundance of goodness, more than I can enjoy fresh.  It's time to start making pickles.  I have more than enough cucumber pickles in the cupboard, so I'm working on various forms of fermented pickle to be kept in the fridge.  This version has napa cabbage, swiss chard, onion, zuchinni, summer squash and red pepper flakes in it.  After it sits out for three days and does its happy bubbling thing, it'll go in the least, until it's eaten.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

More Garden? Oh Yes.

Big projects a-foot!  Well, sort of.  A couple days before the hardware was removed from my foot (now propped comfortably on a footstool), I had the help of my 13 year old helper to dig over and prep a new garden bed on the west side of the house.  It's a tricky location, getting shade until about 1030 AM and then roasting the rest of the day in the sunshine.  Plus, the wall is concrete so it gets a lot of reflected heat as well.  Great in the wintertime, but not so hot in the heat of summer.  An additional factor is that it is west-facing, so it bears the brunt of cold winter winds and hammering storms that roll in from that direction.

Hence, a hardy mix of plants.  It looks sparse for now, but each of the plants that are in there will grow to be 4-5 feet in diameter so they needed lots of spacing.  While they are tiny, it looks a tad ridiculous...but plant them closer together, and eventually, they choke out and die a sad, miserable, and likely disease-riddled death.  Not something I want to happen, so hence the sparse looking planting.  I think I'll add some spring and autumn flowering bulbs, but that will have to wait until next year/this fall, I think.

So what's in the garden for now?  Well, I had a spare Coral Drift groundcover rose, so I placed that on the sunniest, hottest corner.  I think it will fill in beautifully.  I planted two Victoria rhubarb plants, and two Strawberry Sundae peegee hydrangeas.  Both these plants are very cold hardy, and will be beautiful.  The rhubarb will also be delicious when I can start picking it in a couple of years, and it will have gorgeous red stems.  My current rhubarb plant is not doing well, sadly, and seems to be on its way out.  I think the crown got frozen and damaged, but with these two replacements I should be awash in rhubarb soon enough.
WHile I was working in the backyard, I decided to lay down a thick sheet of black plastic to kill off some grass, in preparation for a new garden bed.  (I decided to extend my current wildish herb area, too, but that's not pictured under it's thick tarp covering.)  By leaving this area to sit under plastic for the rest of the summer, through fall and winter, it will be "dead" by spring and ready to dig over or be made into a no-dig garden bed.  I haven't decided which, but I'm excited to add another garden area.  No idea what I will put in it, but it won't be lawn and I'm one step closer to only having grass paths to mow!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Oh, Lord. I Love Brioche.

Rich, filled with eggs and butter and all things good, brioche is hard to beat.  Until now, I've been buying it (when I can find it) and invariably been disappointed.  Either it's greasy, or too sweet, or simply blah, and it's really, really expensive.

Imagine my joy when I found this recipe at the King Arthur Flour website.  So delicious...and so easy.  The hardest part is waiting overnight to play with the dough.  But it's worth it, because you wind up with light, fluffy yet rich buns perfect for burgers, or for eating with butter and jam.  (I like it with my homemade strawberry jam, so yummy!)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Roasted Cauli

My beautifully purple Graffiti cauliflower is producing a bountiful crop, which is so exciting.  The cabbage moths have left it alone, for reasons I don't really know but it makes me so happy.

Of course, now my only difficulty is figuring out ways to eat it.

One of my favorite ways is roasting it.  Simply separate the head into individual florets, and toss into a cast iron pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and plenty of sliced garlic.  Pop into a 400 degree oven and allow to roast for about 20 minutes, stirring a couple times to make sure the garlic doesn't stick and burn.  When it's done, the edges will be lightly browned and slightly crispy, the garlic will have gone nut brown-crisp, and the whole thing will be completely delicious.  Yum.

Incidentally, the leftovers make a fabulous hummus-type spread/dip concoction whizzed with a little more oil or water to loosen it up. Yum times deux.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Wonderful Gratin

Ah, the humble gratin. 

I've been making all sorts of variations on this theme, using the early summer produce that's emerging from the garden.  Chard gratin, kale gratin, and in the above case, fennel gratin.

What's a gratin?

Well, it's kind of a French dish (pronounced GRAH-tahn) in this case involving fresh vegetables, a bit of half-and-half (or cream, if you have it), a little bit of shredded cheese, and a topping of buttered, seasoned bread crumbs.  All this is layered into a buttered casserole dish, and then baked at 400 degrees until it is browned, crisp and bubbly.

It's a great side dish, although I have been known to make a small dish and eat it all for dinner.  It's vegetables, right?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Great Garlic Harvest of 2015

You never know, in the late days of October, just how the garlic will fare through the cold months of winter and wet of spring.  After the scapes have been harvested, and the leaves start dying back, you finally reach the day when it's time.  The day to harvest has come and you can pull the garlic bulbs.

That day was past Friday.  The leaves had turned yellow and died back about 50%, which is my signal that the garlic is ready to be pulled.  It didn't take too long to lift it all, as it was growing in a block in a four foot-by-four foot raised bed.  While I was out there in the sunshine, pulling the white bulbs out of the rich dark earth, my neighbor came by to ask about my corn.  He was convinced it was failing, that it was sweet corn that was turning purple and dying, and was rather surprised when I told him it was an heirloom dwarf variety of flour corn.  Turns out, he really likes garlic but has never tried growing it, so I gave him a couple heads to let dry for a couple of days and then use in whatever his wife will allow him to cook.  I may make a convert of him yet...

In any case, my harvest is spread out and drying down on the porch.  I rigged up a simple frame of furring strips and plastic saw-horse supports (with an additional spare chair on the end) and draped the garlic over the boards.  After they dry down for a few days, I think I'll trim off the stalks and store the bulbs in a basket.  I had fun braiding them last year, but this year's crop has such sturdy, stiff stalks I don't think they'll permit that level of bending.  I don't mind--I have lots of baskets to choose from.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Independence Day!

I hope you have a great day, celebrating the symbolic holiday of the birth of the United States of America--ah, the Fourth of July!  Barbeques, swimming pools, and sparklers everywhere the eye can see.

If you choose to use fireworks, please do so responsibly.  And, speaking for all combat veterans, traumatized dogs and small children everywhere, please don't fire them all night long, close to others' homes, or aim them at structures or people.  It's supposed to be a fun holiday, not a night of terror.  My poor hound Phoebe will be suffering through this weekend, hiding under chairs and popping doggie valium.  I'm usually reduced to swearing and yelling impotently through the bedroom walls toward the neighbors' around about midnight, when I'm well tired of (a) dealing with doggie hysteria and (b) sick of my usually quiet village sounding like it's transformed in Beirut.

Ahem.  Well, enjoy those roasted hot dogs and corn cobs, folks.  I'm planning to do so as well...and here's hoping the fireworks are done before 11 PM.  (A girl can hope, can't she?)

Friday, July 3, 2015

You Gotta Love a Funky Hat...

I've been working on a few knitting projects that are taking a while, so as a quick project to break the tedium I worked up a very fast knit.  This pattern is called The Better Bucket, and is available as a free pattern on  I made it up out of a cotton-wool blend (80% cotton) which is quite lovely--and quite the bright pink color!  It's a nice floppy bucket-style hat, perfect for puttering in the garden or sunning at the beach.  I think I may add a large funky button for decoration.  I mean, a bright pink hat just cries out for a funky button, don't you think?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Clearing the Freezer

It's nearly time to buy in some fresh fruit from the local farmers market, but first, I need to make room in the freezer.  Its surprising how much I can tuck away in there...and then completely forget about.  I am ashamed to say I found a giant bag of frozen blueberries...from three years ago.  Ugh.  Don't eat them, people.  Toss! Toss!

But I did have a good supply of fruit from last summer, so I've been working through making a variety of preserves.  So far, I've made Honey Spiced Blueberry Jam, Blueberry Lime Jam, and "normal" Blueberry Jam.  I've also made a batch of Cranberry Ketchup, which smells really delicious.  I think after it settles and mellows for a couple weeks, it will be a fantastic sweet-tart savory sauce perfect for summer barbeque toppings.
I've found a few strawberries tucked away, just enough for a batch of Strawberry Lime Jam and a homemade galette that smells of summertime.  After that, I just need to figure out what to do with the currants and black raspberries I have stashed in there.  And then, all the fruit in my garden can ripen and/or appear at the farmers market, and find a home in my freezer.  This year, I'm thinking I need to get some peaches for sure.  I think, however, I'll give the box of blueberries a miss.  If I do get some, it'll only be a few pounds-worth and I'll not hide them in the back of the freezer again!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Fun with Yogurt

I was recently gifted an older yogurt maker by a good friend, and I finally decided to give it a try.  It's surprisingly easy to make your own yogurt.  All you need is milk, and some leftover yogurt to add to it.
All you need to do is measure out your milk (I used about half of a half-gallon of milk per 5 jar batch), and heat it to the boiling point.  Then, you let it cool down and add the yogurt, whisking it in well.
Fill the jars and pop on the lids, and place in the yogurt maker for about four hours.  The yogurt will thicken up to the consistency of thick cream, and then you chill it (it'll thicken more as it cools).  And there you have it, easy homemade yogurt.  While I don't have my own dairy animal yet, I can buy a quart or so of organic, local milk and make fresh yogurt whenever I need some.  Plus, you can strain the yogurt overnight through cheesecloth and make a delicious, tangy homemade cream cheese.  Now THAT I am looking forward to trying.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


I think of this small window as my "sprouting window".  I put my jars and glasses of various cuttings into it, to root in water.  Most recently, I've added some extra big suckers from the Gardeners' Delight and Orange Banana tomatoes.  I read somewhere that you can root these cuttings, and then plant them to grow additional (and later cropping) tomatoes.  I have a little bit of room, and a few extra five gallon buckets, and I'm thinking that if this works, I can grow some more tomatoes in either the hoop house or pop-up greenhouse.  I don't know how much of a crop I will get before the cold weather arrives in the fall, but as I would only have composted these, it's kind of a fun project to try.  Hopefully, they root quickly because its rather a jungle over there in the window!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pea Blossom Time

My purple-podded peas and Champion of England peas are setting lots of blooms (and lots of pods), finally.  It always seems to take such a long time for them to get to this point...but shortly, I'll be slathered with fresh peas for dinner.  And lunch...and assorted snacks.  I think I'm going to have lots of peas.  That's a good thing, as I love a fresh pea, straight out of the pod.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Hen Run Re-do

The run is ready for the chicks, whenever they decide to venture out and explore.  On the south side of the Big Coop, I've used deer netting which is a very fine plastic mesh.  But under the canopy of the remaining box elder tree, I've strung twine across in a zig-zag pattern.  Onto those strings, I've tied colorful tie-dye jersey cloth strips (which lend it a very festive gyspy-sideshow kind of air) which dangle and sway in the breeze.  It's enough movement to keep creatures from above, out, and creatures down below, in.  It gives the sensation that there is a "roof" above, so why bother trying to fly up and out, or down and in?

The run gets much more sunlight in the afternoons than it used to, so I'm going to add a couple solid "table" type structures, to add shade bits and provide areas that will stay fairly dry and perhaps can become sand beds for dust bathing.  I also need to roll a stump or two in there, to add elements of fun--plus, they can get rolled over from time to time and behold, there shall be bugs!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Who's Who

Now that the Silver Penciled Rock chicks are six weeks old, it's getting easy to tell them apart.  Not only to the cockerels have much fiestier temperments than the young pullets, but their coloring is distinctive.
This is a pullet.  You can see the classic black-and-grey pencil feathers, typical of the breed.  It's similar to the Barred Rock pattern, but more distinctive (which is hard to see in this photo--they are always moving around!)
And this, while blurry, is the cockerel coloration.  You can see it's much more black overall, with the start of a silver "saddle" in the center of the back.  Really, it's very pale silver, not white.  I can't wait to see it grow in, it's going to be so impressive!

I've done a count, and I have five pullets (yay!) and seven cockerels (oh geez...)  I think I've decided which cockerel gets to stay with the ladies; out of the seven, six have varying degrees of aggressive behaviors, including two which seem to delight in biting me when I go in.  The seventh one is absolutely sweet, very gentle, stands off to the side and observes before going in for a nosh.  I don't think he's ever bitten me, so that's a serious point in his favor.  I have time yet to decide, but right now the odds are in his favor.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Trying Out from Pinterest

Ah, Pinterest.  Such a source of inspiration, but do those pinned recipes really work?

I decided to give this peasant bread recipe a try.  It's billed as "the best no-knead bread you'll ever try", so how could I not give it a go?  It's certainly easy to mix together, involving water, sugar, yeast, flour, and salt.  Basically, you proof the yeast, add it to the flour mixture, and leave it to rise for about an hour.  Then, you poke it down, split it in half, and turn it out into heavily buttered pyrex dishes.  Leave it to rise for 20-30 minutes, and then bake.  It's got a nice golden crust, and smells like butter.

I just love things that smell like butter.
Even the bottom crust is golden and crisp (and buttery).

I don't know as its the "best" bread I've ever had, but it certainly is easy to make.  And, unlike some ideas you can find on Pinterest, this particular recipe works very very well.  If you love fresh baked bread, this is definitely a recipe to try as it gives you that glorious fresh tasting loaf in a flash (under three hours start to finish!) and it is so simple to pull together.

I used my favorite Great River Organic Milling all-purpose whole wheat flour, but I think you could experiment with a variety of flours and have a loaf turn out pleasingly.  The author of the linked page has a few suggestions, including a gluten free option if that is a concern, and they all sound pretty good.  I will definitely be giving this bread recipe another try in the future.