Wednesday, November 30, 2011

sharing some blog love

Regina from My Simple Life recently passed along this sweet award to me, and now it's my turn to help showcase a few blogs that are special to me! I think this is a nice grassroots kind of way to spread some blog love.

The word liebster comes from the German words for love, friend, or dearest, and the goal of this award is to spotlight up-and-coming blogs with less than 200 followers. 

This is how it works:
1. Copy and paste the award on your blog
2. Thank the giver by linking back to them
3. Reveal your 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog
4. Hope that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers

Here are my 5 picks for your enjoyment:

The Joy of Farming

Larkspur Funny Farm and Fiber Art Studio

BLD in MT: Living a Simple Life in This Interconnected World

Sky Minded and Ever Growing

Mummy Musings and Mayhem

for the love of fish sauce

This, my dear friends (for those of you unfamiliar with it), is nuoc mam, which is Vietnamese fish sauce. Notice the radiant heavenly light shining upon its goodness in the photos? It is an essential ingredient in many Asian cuisines, and I've come to love it very much. I've been wanting to share some recipes with you, but they require introducing you to The Fish Sauce first. And I must admit, it takes a little getting used to. It has a pungent odor and is certainly an acquired taste (although it's always mixed or cooked with other ingredients in some fashion before eating). You can find this readily in Asian markets and sometimes in the ethnic foods isle of your local grocer. We typically use "three crabs brand." Someday, I will attempt to make my own once I become brave enough to enter the world of fermentation. For now, though, I hope to open your hearts up to trying it in a couple ways I will share with you soon.    

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Some unidentified critter recently dug a few holes in my garlic patch, unearthing some cloves. I'm not sure why. I thought garlic was supposed to keep animals away. I'm wondering if the freshly dug soil, warmed by our brief Indian summer was just too enticing for a burrowing creature nearby. We did recently spot a muskrat in the pond, which runs all along the south side of the garden. And those muskrats just love to burrow all along the bank! No matter though, I had been meaning to spruce up the patch and add another row before more snow blankets the ground, so this gave me a good reason to do it.

Here's my humble garlic patch. I put rocks all around to help mark the area. I have a feeling I will be very happy I did this come spring, when weeds cover nicely planted rows of seed with reckless abandon seemingly overnight.

Our pond runs all through the middle of our property. We use all its nutrient-rich water to irrigate the crops and landscaping during summer, except for the brief time every year when the spring stops flowing and the pond becomes a giant mud pit (otherwise known as the dogs' playground. I'd prefer it if we had pigs rolling around there instead. Someday, yes.)

The chickens also prefer drinking from here, and as soon as the barn door is opened they rush over to the far end where the water is flowing, and have their morning meeting at the watering hole. 

The light reflecting off the layer of ice on the pond was just beautiful this morning. 


My muskrat-hunting party was hard at work, too. Aki regularly hunts (and catches! and eats!) mice. Yes, he eats mice. He sniffs them out, chases them, and pounces on them, too. Sometimes he thinks he's a chicken, other times a cat. 

Do you see those two troublemakers? I spied Aki's mouse-hunting prowess this morning, as he did, in fact, eat a mouse for breakfast.
As I was working, I began to think about how farming for me is really about a constant renewal of hope. A seed is planted, and I hope it becomes all it is meant to be. I hope I do right by it, giving it what it needs to thrive, and in turn I hope it helps me and my family thrive as well. Farming is good for me in this way, as hope isn't easily controlled. And I need to be reminded that once I've done all I can, I should let go of my need for control, and put my trust in nature's wisdom. I suppose this is also true for life. A hope and a prayer, many a time that's what it all comes down to.

Now let's just hope that the nice bed of hay I used as a mulch doesn't attract some other unwanted guest!

Monday, November 28, 2011

some knitted gifts for a winter's baby

One of my sisters-in-law is due to have her first baby in a couple months, and I'm helping host her upcoming shower. Before the flurry of pre-Christmas knitting sweeps me completely away, I wanted to finish a gift set for this sweet winter baby who will be here before we know it. I've had some soft, natural lambswool in my stash for a while, and so that's what I chose for these coordinating handmades.

Click on each item listed below for the link to the pattern I used. I did tweak them just a bit, but the overall concept is the same. If you are new to knitting, or just want some easy, quick baby things to knit up, these items fit the bill perfectly. No fancy stitches, no circular or double-pointed needles. Just the relaxing back and forth of knit and purl.

What are you knitting these days?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

a roasted turkey

This is just a little follow-up post to brining. Here's what to do with your turkey after it's done soaking up that delicious brine! As with most of my recipes, there's a lot of room for flexibility to suit your taste or what you have on hand. You can certainly add more aromatics such as lemon or apple slices if you'd like, or omit ingredients you don't care for--except the butter--I don't recommend leaving that out in this case ;) If, say, you don't have fresh herbs available, don't sweat it; it's okay to go without.  

4 ounces (1/2 cup) room temperature butter
2-3 Tablespoons poultry seasoning
salt and pepper
1-2 carrots, cut into large chunks
1-2 celery stalks, cut into large chunks
1/2 of an onion, cut into large chunks
3-4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 sprig each of fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme

1. After your turkey is done brining, rinse it and pat dry

2. Sprinkle salt and pepper all over the turkey

3. Combine the butter with the poultry seasoning and rub this all over the turkey, including under the skin on the breast 

4. Add the rest of the ingredients to the cavity of the bird

5. Roast the turkey for 30 minutes at 500 degrees F
~note: this gives you a nice crispy skin, while locking the juices inside 
6. Turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees F, and cover the breast with foil to prevent over-browning

7. Cook until a thermometer inserted in the deepest part of the breast reads about 163-165 degrees F, then remove the turkey from the oven and cover with foil or a big lid.
~note: I never let the temperature go past 165, because the meat becomes too dry. It typically takes me 2 1/2 to 3 hours to cook a 15-20 pound turkey. (This includes the 30 minutes at a higher temperature in the beginning)
8. Let the turkey "rest" and "carry-over cook" for 20 minutes or so before carving

How did everyone's holiday turn out? I'd love to hear! And if you tried any of the recipes I shared, please do let me know how they worked for you.

a brined turkey

I'm filing this one away until next year, but our turkey turned out so wonderfully well, I couldn't wait until then to share this recipe and technique with you. When my siblings and I were kids, we used to beg my mom for a turkey dinner again come Christmas, and many times we got our wish. Two turkey dinners just a month apart was (and still is) such a luxury. Not to mention the days of leftover bounty. So, in case your family is still begging for more, here's something to try before next Thanksgiving. And now the pressure to deliver the perfect turkey is off, which I find is a perfectly freeing time to try something a little different.

I've found that brining not only makes for more tender and subtly flavored meat, it also helps the turkey roast up quicker. This means your dark meat gets cooked through without drying out the breast. An added bonus is the flavorful and already salted drippings that make for an excellent, richly colored gravy.

Brining a Turkey
~for a 15-20 pound bird
~brine your turkey 24-48 hours in advance

3 Gallons cold water
2 Cups kosher salt
1 Cup sugar
1 handful juniper berries
1 handful peppercorns (black or mixed variety)
1 handful cloves or whole star anise
1 garlic head, cut in half (just leave the skin on)
2 bay leaves
a few sprigs each of fresh: rosemary, sage, and thyme

1. Bring the water to a boil
~note: I use an extra large stockpot for this task. You could also try cooking the brine in batches, or perhaps try using half the water and then adding a bunch of ice into the cooler afterwards (see below).

2. Add everything else, and give it a good stir

3. Remove from heat after salt and sugar has dissolved. Place brine in the refrigerator or a cold area for a few hours until cooled down

4. Place the turkey in a cooler (or any other large container you can dream up--I like to use a cooler because the drainage plug makes it easy to dispose of the brine later) and add the brine. If the brine doesn't completely cover your turkey, flip the turkey over once at the halfway point.
~note: I keep the cooler in a cold area, either in my mudroom or outside in the snow, and also add some ice if I think the turkey's not at "refrigerator temperature."

5. After 24-48 hours, remove turkey from the brine, rinse, and pat dry before roasting

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Today I'm brining the turkey for tomorrow's feast. Years ago when I first did this, I read about the process and just kind of made things up as I went. I scribbled down a few notes, but not many details. That year the whole family declared the turkey the most delicious we've ever had! The past couple years, I attempted to follow a definite recipe, but never quite got the same results. So, I'm going back to my old way (documenting the preparations more carefully this time around) and hoping to replicate that first year. I'll let you know how it goes, and with any luck, I'll have a wonderful recipe to share with you here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

homemade cranberry sauce

I tried growing a cranberry bush for a few years, but nothing ever came of it. I suppose that's because Colorado isn't really known for its bogs or sandy soil! Maybe some day we'll figure out a way to grow them, but even so, we do still enjoy cranberries around this time of year. Here is our absolute favorite (and very easy) way to cook up cranberries during the holidays:
1 pound whole fresh (or frozen) cranberries, stems removed
1 Cup sugar, plus more according to taste
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1 whole orange for the zest and the juice
water as needed

1. In a skillet on medium heat, cook the cranberries and sugar for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the berries start "popping" and releasing some of their juices
2. Add the cinnamon sticks, orange zest, and orange juice and turn the heat down to medium-low
3. Continue simmering, adding water as needed to get a sauce of your desired consistency. If you use frozen cranberries, they often release enough water, but with fresh ones, water usually needs to be added.
4. Taste and add more sugar if the sauce is too tart. Don't be afraid of the sugar--you might have to add another 1/2 cup if your cranberries are really tart.


Monday, November 21, 2011

more kitchen love: a space for baking and serving

Organizing...what a chore! Oh, who am I kidding? I looooove to organize. I went all out crazy in the kitchen after my successful dishwasher-turned-storage-space project. With the baby sleeping peacefully in the sling, I pulled out the contents of every cabinet, arranging and rearranging until everything was as right as it could be.

Baking is something I do regularly now, and I realized that having a distinct area for this task is important. So, I turned one of the countertop corners into a little baking center.

The glass jars contain my current most-used ingredients (except for flour, which I keep refrigerated): rice, rolled oats, and sugar.

Here you can also see my basket filled with utensils for ease in setting the table nearby. Small mason jars hold each grouping of utensils.

There's my sweet little porcelain cow brought back by a friend all the way from France.

And here is my favorite big, beautiful, blue handmade pottery bowl (also gifted by a friend). It's a great multi-tasker in my kitchen, used for serving, mixing, and bread-rising.

This new baking area is located to the left of the sink, above where the dishwasher used to be. To the right of the sink, near the stove, I have a cabinet that now holds all my serving dishes.

Everything looks so neat and tidy now, but in a short time, dishes will be piled in the sink, the counter dusted with flour, and dogs scrounging around for crumbs fallen on the floor. And that's how I'll know everything is just as it should be.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

homemade poultry seasoning

I spent some time yesterday processing herbs that came out of my kitchen garden bed this summer--separating the leaves from the stems, putting dry ones in jars, and trimming the still living potted ones.

My hands smelled wonderfully fragrant the whole day.

With the American Thanksgiving coming up, I thought I would share my very easy recipe for homemade poultry seasoning:

~combine equal parts (for example, 1 teaspoon each) of dried, finely chopped/crushed:
marjoram or oregano

optional additions: 
1/4 part salt (celery salt if you have it)
1/8 part black pepper
a pinch freshly ground nutmeg

Store in a sealed jar

That's it! This recipe is very flexible, so feel free to play around with it. Sometimes I add a little extra sage since I usually have plenty, and oftentimes use regular salt because I rarely have celery salt lying around. You can leave out the pepper if you don't like it, etc. 

I like to mix this seasoning with some butter and rub this on the turkey before roasting, as well as use some in the stuffing. You can also make this with all fresh herbs, just be aware that they tend to burn easier during roasting. Whichever way you make it, I guarantee it's much better than last year's store-bought version you may still have lurking in your pantry ;)

Friday, November 18, 2011

{this moment} baby's big ta-da!

Joining Soulemama for: "{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

organizing my kitchen

For most people, spring is the time for annual cleaning and decluttering. Not so for me--spring is outdoor planting time, and this very season we're in right now often finds me reinventing spaces in our home. This process typically involves lots of reading and researching and inspiration gathering, followed by a wish list of things I think I need to have to make my life complete, along with plans to paint and possibly tear down a wall. After all that silliness passes, and I realize how much better, more practical, and necessary it is to simply work with what I already have, I get down to business.

Perhaps this extra time indoors lately is what possessed me to reorganize the entire kitchen just a week before needing it back in functioning order for the very big family Thanksgiving we'll be hosting this year. Hrmn.

Unfortunately, simply measuring and drawing a plan out on paper isn't quite sufficient for me. I have to see it. In action. This gets messy. For the project I'm sharing with you today, it involved me hunting down nearly every basket in the house to find the right ones for kitchen storage. (Never mind where the contents of these annexed baskets went. I'll just deal with that later).

It also involved the not-so-simple task of removing this dishwasher. It's been broken since we moved in, and so never gets used as anything but a glorified dish drying rack. I got to thinking how it sure is taking up a lot of nice storage space,  and seeing as we wash up by hand anyway, I've no intention of replacing it. So, I set about trying to make this space more usable for me.

My cookbooks used to be lined up on the counter, which worked okay, except I would occasionally bump them the wrong way, spilling the entire stack off the other side of the counter and onto the floor. They definitely needed a more proper home, and I figured a shelf under the counter here makes a lot of sense.

I might try building a shelf to fit this space if I like the changes I've made, but for now, this bookcase turned sideways works fine.

The little brown crate holds the manuals for the few kitchen appliances I have.

There's also room to store my kitchen towels here, as well as the frequently used knitted dish sponges and washcloths. I really like having these so close to the sink, which is where I use them the most. 

I took this curtain from the mudroom window. I like it better here, and our neighbors aren't really close enough to peek in at night anyway.

It has a lovely sunflower pattern. 

Ah, yes. I think I like this much better.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


just a few snapshots of what we're working on today...

cleaning and fixing




problem solving

 Wishing you a day full of possibilities, too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

homemade flour tortillas

I have this old Mexican cookbook which is where I first learned to make fresh tortillas. I've tweaked the recipe just a bit over the years, but the sentiment remains the same--There's something about these rolled-out-by-hand, thicker-than-average tortillas that transports my mind to another place and time. I can almost imagine being in a small Mexican village at the shared kitchen in the center of town, working my tortillas on a piece of stone or wood, surrounded by an old ruin with only 3 stone walls and an horno in which to cook them. We don't get to travel much, and I'm not sure a place like that even exists, but oh, it's fun to dream and let my cooking take me the places I want to go.

~makes 20 medium-sized tortillas
note:  You can store the extra cooked tortillas in the refrigerator, or store them uncooked in the freezer, then defrost and cook them up as needed. If freezing them, add extra flour between each tortilla in the stack to prevent them from sticking together.  

4 Cups all-purpose flour (unbleached white)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 Cup lard or vegetable shortening
1 1/2 Cups warm water

1. Mix the flour, salt, and baking powder
2. Add the lard and water, and mix
3. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and smooth. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour. If it's too flaky, add more water, a little at a time.
4.  Divide dough into 20 balls and flatten them all out with the palm of your hand
5. Using a rolling pin, shape the balls into thin circles
6. Heat a skillet, grill, stone, or any cooking surface to a medium-high temperature (400 degrees F)
7. Cook the tortillas for 30-45 seconds per side, using a towel to flatten any bubbles that form
8. Stack them up under a towel and serve warm

You can see my tortillas are not perfectly round, which is just fine by me.

I can never resist eating one fresh off the skillet; warm, soft, and just as it is.

When I can, Sundays or Mondays usually find me baking items for the week to come, such as breads and these tortillas. They are so versatile, but in my kitchen they usually end up as part of fajitas or breakfast burritos. Occasionally, when I make a curry dish, I'll even fry these tortillas up in some butter as a substitute for naan bread.

If you've never tried making tortillas from scratch, I hope you give it a go and enjoy the results. Maybe our spirits will meet somehow in that old shared kitchen.
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