Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fall's Last Bouquet

Yesterday, I cut the last flower bouquet of the year.  A hard frost was forecast, so I gathered up a few of the last blooms... yellow and red roses, a cluster of 12 Apostle lilies, black and blue salvia, and obediant plant.  I can't help myself from gathering the colorful leaves every evening on my walk with the pups.  The little pumpkins and gourds came from Bobbie Thomas.  Not only does she create beautiful pots; she's also a wonderful organic gardener and chicken wrangler to boot.  When our girls aren't laying to keep up with demand, and when we could use some vegi's to fill in the gaps of our garden, I pay her a visit.  Everything I've ever gotten is gorgeous and healthy.  It's grand having such talented neighbors.

It's not been long ago that I printed out a recipe for Apple Carrot cake.  I made it this week, and it's a keeper.  The recipe I printed doesn't have any identifying features on it, so I can't give them credit.  But I will share it here, so you can enjoy it too.  I left out the ginger (J is allergic), and used my handheld mixer, which worked fine.I almost never make frosting, but I had 4 oz of cream cheese that needed using, and maple syrup and salt are enjoyed by both J & I, so I figured why not?  I used much less sugar... probably a total of 1 cup, so what I made was quite a bit less than the recipe. Even so, I only used 1/2 of what I made and refrigerated  froze the rest.  This amount was perfect for our tastes.

Apple Carrot Cake

1/2 stick salted butter at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour, white, whole wheat, or a mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 large (or 4 small) carrots, peeled and grated (to yield 1 1/2 cups)
2 medium apples, cored and grated  (or 1 cup applesauce)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9" square pan, then line it with two sheets of parchment, lengthwise and widthwise, each strip extending a few inches above the pan's rim, to act as handles. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until creamy, 4-5 minutes.  Scrape sides, add yogurt and beat until just combined.  Add grated carrots and apples, and mix on low until just combined.  With a rubber spatula, scrape sides and bottom of bowl, and fold batter, bottom to top, several times to combine, and keep apples and carrots from congregating only at the top.  Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake about 60 minutes, until a knife emerges clean from the center of the cake.  Remove to a rack, and cool 10 minutes, then use parchment handles to remove cake from pan. Set on a rack to cool completely, several hours, before topping with maple cream cheese frosting, below.

Salted Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

6 ounces cream cheese, at room temp
4 ounces salted butter (1/2 cup). at room temp
1/2 cup maple syrup (Grade B is recommended)
2-3 pounds powdered sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter until creamy, 1 minute. Gradually add powdered sugar 1/2 pound at a time, alternating with splashes of syrup.  After the first round of sugar, scrape the sides and add salt, and continue adding sugar and syrup, beating a minute between additions, and scraping sides occasionally.  Once all the maple syrup has been added, taste for flavor and texture.  Add more maple syrup or salt as needed.  Frosting will keep, refrigerated and covered, several days, or can be frozen up to 1 month.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fall Cleaning and Color, and a New Chicken Coop

The first piece of fall cleaning has begun on the homestead, with window washing.  I've done it in stages, fitting it in between other things.  It's a bit interesting, as almost all are salvaged double pane windows.  They looked good when they were first installed during construction of the house, but in the years before actually moving in, many of them began leaking, causing haze and splotches in places between the panes. At that point, it was more important to have a warm & dry home to live in, and get out of the horrible, leaky 60's era trailer I'd been living in.  Someday, maybe they'll be changed out.  In the meantime, I'm grateful to have windows, and a home that makes me happy.

Blessedly, the main double window I look out was a new one, a high-quality one some friends had left over from their construction and sold to us at half price.  It's the one above the kitchen sink.  Not only do I spent a fair amount of time there, but it also looks out on the path that comes from the driveway, and the shop across the way.  I'm down to washing the last window.  It requires the big extension ladder to reach, which is the only reason it's not already done.  Joseph moved the ladder there for me just before he had to leave this afternoon, and I thought it best to wait until someone else was around, before climbing up a tall ladder leaning against the house, out here in the woods.

Not much was abundant in this years garden, but there were lots of beans.  We shelled a good amount of lima beans and crowder peas fresh, which I froze.  Right about the time of our Norfolk trip, we lost the race, and we now have oodles of dried beans to shell. There are a large pile of beans on a towel on the great room floor, awaiting shelling, and many more still on the vine.  I've been known to take them with me when I'm shop sitting, and shell them between customers.  If they see what I'm up to, they're sometimes intrigued.  These days, it's not all that common a task to many folks.  I have had one customer who gardened get very excited about the lima beans, which have been handed down for generations in Joseph's family.  I sent her home with a handful to plant.

There is still a surprising amount of color and blooms.  I'm enjoying it while I can.  The first night in the 30's is forecast for the weekend.  I figure the first frost can't be too far behind.  Houseplants will need to be brought indoors this weekend.

We finished phase 1 of the chicken coop last weekend.  We've got plans to collect rainwater, and install an automatic watering system.  We may even rig up a solar-powered door opener and closer at some point.  We intend to give them a much larger yard, with areas we close off and rotate them through, so there are always fresh greens for them to eat.  We do like free-ranging them in the evenings, but there are spells when the predators wreak havoc on our flock, and we'd like to be able to keep them safe and eating well.

They spent their first night in the new coop on Saturday.  I think they're happy.