Monday, December 30, 2013

Lasagna, Chai and a Bright, Shiny New Year

I trust you are having a merry holiday season, friends.  Though mine has been a bit more hectic than I had planned, due to some welcome but unexpected work, Christmas Day itself was delightful.  My Mom, who is a fantastic Italian cook, made her lasagna with all the trimmings for 18 of us... antipasto, bread, salad, tiramisu plus several cookies her Mom used to make.  I definitely ate too much that day, but as I didn't have time to do any holiday baking this year, I've been eating pretty healthily otherwise.

I'd noticed recently that all our pumpkins and some of the spaghetti squash in the pantry were in need of attention.  I baked the spaghetti squash, and froze what we didn't eat last night. Today, I've been canning the last of the pumpkin.  I was blessed with so many wonderful presents over the holidays. One of my favorites has been a milk frother that my dear sister gave me.  That  latte above was my first use of the frother.  Since then, I've made chai, and have really been enjoying it with a lovely froth of milk. I made this recipe, which has been good, but I wouldn't mind a bit more robust taste.  Today, I added a few extra cardamom seeds, a bit of allspice, plus a little more of the other spices.  I bought the spices at Whole Foods, and could not find any loose tea. I've seen it at other Whole Foods, but none was to be found that day, so I improvised and opened up teabags of their organic black tea. I'll be trying a stronger tea as soon as I find some.  I used a rolling pin the first time I made the recipe, which was a bit messy, with some of the spices flying out of the baking sheet.  Today, I used my suribachi and pestle to crush the spices, and that worked better for me.  We've got a bright, shiny New Year before us. Let's make it a good one!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays

May your holidays be filled with joy, time shared with loved ones, good things to eat and time to reflect.  Happy Holidays, friends!

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Little Flower that Didn't and a Natural Sore Throat Spray

This is the little flower that didn't make it to the recent show with me.  It was after I took the photo that I was playing with the display for the flowers, when they crashed and burned.  The green dish broke into many pieces.  The poinsettia portion survived with a few added marks of character.  So.... ummm, that was not the display method to use.

I think many of us can identify an area of our bodies that is generally the first to tell us when we're overdoing and needing nurturing.  For me, that area has always been my throat.  For years, I struggled with sore throats at the drop of a hat.  A tea tree-based lozenge was the first thing I found that helped, but at some point I created a throat spray that works wonders for me.  I use a small, amber glass spray bottle.  I save good, little spray bottles for just such a purpose.  My current one began as a frankincense hydrosol bottle.  Just clean the bottle well before using it for its new purpose.  This recipe may be something you' like to include as part of your natural medicine chest.  The ingredients are things I keep on hand.  If you don't have all the ingredients, try it first with what you do have, and see if it works for you.

Natural Sore Throat Spray

2 tablespoons colloidal silver
4 drops red thyme essential oil
2 drops clove essential oil
2 drops tea tree oil

Combine in an amber glass bottle using a funnel.  Fill your spray bottle, and spray the back of your throat 2 or 3 times as needed.  I will tell you it's not the best tasting remedy.  I think the tea tree oil imparts a strong taste.  You may choose to leave it out.  In my earliest versions, I also added a few drops of spilanthes tincture for a numbing effect, but I ran out at some point, and found it still works fine.  I typically double, triple or even quadruple this recipe, to make sure I've got plenty made up.  It's easy to throw the spray bottle in my bag and take it with me on days I feel like I may need it.

There are different qualities of essential oils out there.  I'd recommend researching the manner in which yours were obtained.  Some methods use harsh chemicals to extract the oils, and of course you don't want to be putting that into your body.  You may want to ask your local natural grocery store staff about the brands they carry.

Some recent happy things:

- I love Jenna's writing in general, but this post...   coldantlerfarm: We're Not From Around Here

- The documentary-  I Am

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Autumn Visitors & Canning Vegetable Broth

There have been recent visits of does and birds to the homestead.  The deer come to our pond, which causes quite a ruckus with the pups.  They usually see them before us, and let us know they'd really like to be outside.  These pics were taken through the front door, with jumping pups at my feet.

There was a very large flock of birds that migrated through; blackbirds or starlings, I'm not sure which.  They made quite a loud noise as they passed through.


In late summer, we were offered
 a refrigerator/freezer, and promptly began filling it up with all sorts of garden goodness, sale items, etc.  A few days ago, Joseph realized it wasn't working properly, so we had a grand time trying to fit all that was in it in other places.  There were 3 large bags of vegetable scraps for stock that were not going to fit anywhere, so I put them in a large pot on the woodstove Sunday afternoon. When I got home last night, I strained it and cooked it down, then canned it.  Every batch of stock tastes different, but I'm thinking these 4 pints are the best so far.  I save the best vegetable scraps for stock... carrot and celery ends and leaves, mushroom stem ends, summer squash ends and winter squash/pumpkin skin with some flesh, tomato cores, bits of onion, garlic and herbs.  Some of the things I've learned along the way are not to use too many herbs or onion, as it creates a strong taste I don't care for.  One year I saved the tomato skins and bits from all the summer canning, and this made a sour stock, so I only put small bits of tomato in now.  Those tomato skins and less desirable vegi scraps make fine compost.  I've learned that an all-vegetable stock is properly called broth.

Canning Vegetable Broth/Stock

Put all your vegetable scraps in a large stockpot, and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, and simmer for 8-24 hours. Keep an eye on broth and add water if needed. Strain, and continue to simmer with no lid if not concentrated enough.  Add salt to taste if desired.
I won't get into the basics of pressure canning, but as broth is a low-acid food, it must be canned in a pressure canner.  Canning broth in a  water bath canner is unsafe.
When broth tastes to your liking, fill hot jars with hot broth, leaving 1 inch head space.  Process pints 30 minutes, quarts 35 minutes at 10 lbs of pressure.  If you live in a high altitude, you'll need to follow these instructions.

I've not had much time at home for several days, but found one Happy to share:

An interesting book with papers and clues  "S" by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

The days seem so short already, it's hard to believe we have over two weeks of fall left.  In just a few more days, I'll be joining 39 other artists at Handmade Holiday.  If I don't see you there, I'll see you on the other side.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Season's Bounty and Talking Bellies

'Tis the season of chestnuts, collards, rutabagas, brussels sprouts, mandarins, clementines, pomegranates and pumpkin pie.  I shelled the last of the beans during lulls in shop-sitting last week, and there's a pot simmering on the woodstove.  I do so enjoy eating seasonally!  There are fresh tastes on the horizon all the time.

One of the many things I'm thankful for is you, dear readers.  Wishing you a most bountiful Thanksgiving!

There will be some laughs in my family during the holidays due to talking bellies
Tiny homes in Washington, DC

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Last of the Old Coop & Celebration Time in Seagrove

This photo was snapped shortly before the chicken coop came down.  The right side was the original chicken coop.  It had been partially dismantled, and was being used for storing the mowers and tiller.

This is Pickles in the mower shed, about the same time.

Here's the last of the chicken coop, as it went up in flames.  The area where the coop and run had been is now planted in garlic.  I noticed over the weekend that several garlic sprouts are poking up through the ground.  Joseph has set up the rainwater collection and automatic waterer in the new chicken area, and has dug several post holes for the larger yard.  I'm doing lots of things, but he's pretty much been on his own with that project recently.

This will shortly be taking up several of my days, both behind the scenes and at the event itself.  It's a big deal in these parts, and I'm always honored to be a part of it.

Some happy-making things:
Hopeful news- (on the Posie Gets Cozy blog)-   Spooltown
Yum- nut butter chocolate
A great idea- Little free libraries

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Glorious Fall Colors

The leaves have been tumbling down the past few days, and the colors are fading.  I've really been enjoying them, and thought I'd share a few recent views around the homestead.

St. Clements soap is on the drying rack. It's one of my seasonal bars, a citrus and spice blend.  I need to make a few more "flavors" within the next week, readying my supply for Handmade Holiday, which is in just over four weeks.

Some recent things that made me happy-

Marianne Williamson announcing her run for Congress
This November desktop calendar
This article about reading, literacy and libraries, linked from down-to-earth blog

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.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Pose, Do You Suppose?

It's been a bit of a whirlwind here, and it's about to get even busier.   Last weekend, Joseph and I headed to Norfolk to meet my Dad and his wife, and tour the USS Wisconsin.  This was the ship my Dad was on during the Korean War.  It was pretty special to see it with him. He'd not seen it in almost 60 years, and as you can tell, was pretty happy to be there.  He was aboard the ship the only time it was bombed, but was working below in the engine room, and thankfully didn't know it had happened. It made a 4 foot hole in one of the upper decks, and injured three men, but didn't stop this massive ship.

This friendly green snake was outside the shop last week.

What do you think?  Was this hen was posing for me?  :o)

I finished all the welding and metalwork for my glass garden flowers over the weekend, in preparation for next weekend's Fall Festival.  Soap is almost all wrapped... whew!  Joseph and I have taken on part-time jobs.  We're actually doing a job-share.  He's working the largest number of hours, with me backing him up as needed. Of course, as soon as he was committed, custom orders and other work began rolling in for both of us.  I'll begin training this week.  We'll give it a whirl and see how it goes.  I'll visit here as often as I'm able.  Be well, and enjoy your days, my friends!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Beans, Pawpaws and More Beans

Though I told myself I had canned the last of them, I did can another round of green beans yesterday.  While watching a movie the other night, Joseph and I shelled a mixture of beans from the garden.  I cooked some for dinner, then canned the rest in pint jars to add to soups this winter.  I wish their lovely colors stayed with them through the cooking, but here's how they looked after being canned.  Not as pretty, but they'll still be good eating.

I did make the pawpaw pudding recipe, and we liked it.  It does have a fairly intense pawpaw flavor, but that works for me in small doses.  I think I may try cutting the 2c of pawpaw down a bit, and see how that turns out.  The very same recipe happens to be in a pawpaw article in Our State magazine this month. Either the article, or a link it had, told of peeling the pawpaws, then mashing them in a bowl, and removing seeds.  I did try that method.  It may save a small bit of time, makes a finer pulp due to the mashing, and probably has a little less waste of pulp.  It's still a messy job, though.  I thought I'd mention that some folks find the fragrance of ripe pawpaws to be unpleasant.  I find it to be a nice tropical fragrance, and my Mom feels the same.  However, if they become overripe, it can take on a rather cloying scent.  There is a very small window of opportunity between ripe and overripe.  Once they have fragrance, and are barely soft, that's the time to eat them.  A day or two later, they'll begin turning brown.

I'm excited about an upcoming road trip J & I are taking with my Dad and his lovely wife.  I do love a good adventure!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Life Between the Posts

I wanted to share a little bit more about pawpaws today.  The flesh is generally a bright orange, though some fruits have a paler, more yellow color.  They have many large seeds, covered in a casing which is also edible.

I've not found an easy way to work with the fruits.  It's just one of those messy jobs.  I peel them first, then cut away the flesh as close as I can to the seeds, as in the photo below.  The casing which surrounds the seeds is tougher than the flesh, and pretty slippery.  Sometimes I take the time to collect it along with the remaining flesh; other times not.  It depends how much time I have to devote to the task.  Today I've got my eye on a pawpaw pudding recipe, similar to a persimmon pudding.  If it ends up being a keeper, I'll be sure to share it.

Some time earlier this year, I took a class in stamping.  It was a simple, kind of elementary school version of making a stamp.  It was a great way to get my feet wet, and let me know I wanted to do more.  Last week, I created a stamp using the tutorials here.  As far as I can tell, she never did get around to posting Part 3, but with the photos in Part 2, you can pretty much figure it out.  The one mistake I made, which she does not mention, is the need to create the stamp in the inverse of what you want to stamp.  That's a sneak peek of my stamp below, along with the first stamp I made.  That stamp puts the heart on the left side of the image, which you can likely picture when you turn it over.  That was not what I was after, so I created a mirror image of what I did want.

It's been six months since I've made any new garden flowers.  I had put together several combinations of plates, but only got around to beginning them yesterday.

This time, I decided to create a few with winter themes. As you can see, they're not put together yet.

I'm loving this sweet snowman. It was Joseph's idea to use a button instead of a cabinet knob.  Love it!

As it turned out, I broke two plates during the drilling process yesterday. It happens.  Sometimes you can figure out a reason, and try something different the next time. Sometimes you can't.  Do you see the amber and copper collection in the photo below?  That was the flower I was most excited about making.  Deviled egg plates can be hard to come by, especially in colored glass.  They're typically the most expensive plates I buy for garden flowers.  The amber plate was one that cracked. It didn't break all the way across, but I'd be scared that with the first really cold days, it would finish the crack and break. So, I won't be selling that one.

Not long ago, I was asked if I would make a flower using someone's sentimental plate.  I pondered it, but it's one thing to break a plate I've purchased, another thing entirely to break someone's treasured piece.  Everything about it made me nervous, and the main reason I create things is to have fun, so I turned the job down.  I was sorry to disappoint, but sometimes you've just got to listen to that small voice inside, you know?  I know this post is a bit of a ramble here and there, but that's my life between the posts.  Have a great week, friends!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Festivals and Frogs, Peace and Pawpaws

I hope you've been enjoying these late summer days.  The days have been full, with soapmaking, harvesting, and preserving.  Throw in some workdays, some homestead projects, and a few custom orders, and maybe you'll forgive me for not stopping by lately.  My Mom spied the peace banner, and got it for me... love!

Black and Blue salvia


I recently saw a preview for an interesting film, Dive!.  It's not something I have a burning desire to do, and am rather squeamish about the thought of that food, but I admire the folks who are gleaning from the waste stream.  I had the idea that our society had gotten somewhat better about our enormous amount of waste, but it appears we have a long way to go.


Pawpaw season is upon us.  I could stand to expand our pawpaw repertoire, and have been looking at recipes.  They're great in smoothies and fruit salads, and the pulp freezes well.  This weekend, I saw some local pawpaws for sale for the first time ever.  They are typically not seen in the marketplace, because they don't travel well.  They bruise easily, and the bruised area can take on a bitter taste. Otherwise, they have a lovely tropical fragrance and flavor.

12 Apostles lily

While harvesting okra at dusk last night, I had a little tree frog keeping me company.  The light was too dim to get a nice picture.  I'm taking part in a large festival in a few weeks, my largest show ever.  There are 10 batches of soap curing. Today I'll be making my Sirius dog shampoo bar, and I believe that will be the last batch.  There will be lots of soap wrapping going on soon!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Shades of Blue and Purple


Due to a bit of an injury here on the homestead, our plans to spend the day with friends at the lake fell through. So, we did the next best thing, and spent time enjoying our pond.  While we sat and relaxed, we readied a large basket of purple "green" beans for canning, and shelled a small basket of mixed beans.

This is a round of beans I canned a couple of days ago.  Our wet summer has meant there's been less canning to do, which has meant more time for other things.  I've been in major soapmaking mode, filling orders and getting ready for a show in October.  As the soap cures a minimum of three weeks before wrapping, and the wrapping itself takes a good bit of time, I have to always be thinking ahead.  

There's a touch of fall in the air.  Blooming now are Black-eyed Susans and obedient plant, and beautyberries have turned purple. 

I spied an unusual looking mushroom near the woodpile today, and learned it is a Lactarius indigo.

 The color is what caught my eye, as it has a definite blue tinge to it.

We learned it is edible, but did not cook it.  Even knowing the experts deem it safe, the color just didn't seem quite right for a foodstuff.  I am enjoying all the blue and purple shades of late summer, though.