Friday, December 30, 2011

{this moment}


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, December 29, 2011

there is much good in the world


There still exist neighborhoods where lost purses are returned, long, snowy driveways are secretly plowed, and neighbors leave homemade Christmas gifts on each others' gates. I live in one such place, and for that I am ever so grateful. Times are tough these days, and we often hear about how it's bringing out the worst in our society. But, quietly, in everyday communities, people are once again looking out for each other, showing humanity at its very best. Have you noticed it, too?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

tending to the chickens

This morning, I made the effort to take care of the lovely chickens, who are still giving us a few eggs every day despite lack of light, lots of snow, and below-freezing temperatures. Their pasture has been completely covered over with ice and snow for at least a couple weeks now (today's clouds and 40 mile per hour wind gusts certainly aren't helping the matter), so they've spent a lot of time in their barn these days. Time to fluff up their nest!


I added a new layer of pine shavings to the barn floor to freshen things up a bit. This will also help a little with warming the barn, as the layers beneath continue to decompose and give off heat. I bet it feels nice on their little chicken feet, too, like sinking into a new fluffy rug.


The nest boxes got filled with new hay.


I also put a hay on the ground in their outdoor run, which gets them scratching around and exercising outdoors.


And for a little post-Christmas treat, they indulged in my nephew's hardened gingerbread house, which he kindly gifted to them when he visited recently.


Which was promptly followed by a big healthy salad. (Because that balances it out, right?)


Tonight, when they're all tucked in, I'll give them the spa treatment: I've started putting petroleum jelly on their combs (going to try homemade non-petroleum jelly once this jar is finished up) since some of them appear to have a bit of frostbite. I've read mixed reviews as to whether this makes any difference, and I'm really not sure myself. Any tips you care to share are greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

hazelnut butter cookies


We're enjoying the last of the Christmas cookies, which reminded me that I wanted to share another butter cookie recipe with you. Maybe you'll tuck this one away for the next holiday, or make them now for one last special treat!

The ingredients for this cookie are identical to the almond crescent cookies except for the use of hazelnuts instead of almonds.


~Makes about 40 cookies

Ingredients:
2 Cups all-purpose flour, organic white unbleached
1/3 Cup sugar
3/4 Cup hazelnuts, ground finely, plus 40 whole hazelnuts for topping
1/2 of a whole vanilla bean, cut lengthwise and the seeds scraped out
1 Cup butter, chilled
4 ounces sweetened baking chocolate, melted for dipping


Method:
1. Mix together flour, sugar, hazelnuts, and vanilla bean seeds 

2. Cut in the butter, but don't worry about mixing it too thoroughly

3. Turn the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead until a dough ball is formed and the butter is incorporated. The dough will be soft and break apart easily.

4. Divide the dough into fourths and form each fourth into a log. Divide each log into 10 equal portions

5. Shape each of those portions into a disc by hand. (I roll the dough into a ball and then flatten it, cupping my hands around the edges to form a disc. I've found this to be easier than using a cookie cutter because the dough is so soft)

6. Press a whole hazelnut into the center of each cookie. (You'll notice in my pictures that I used chopped hazelnut pieces, but I really prefer whole ones when I can find them)

7. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes at 325 degrees F. The bottoms should be slightly browned, and the cookie will still be quite soft when you remove them from the oven to cool

8. Cool on a wire rack while you slowly melt the chocolate in a saucepan

9. Dip the bottom of each cookie in the chocolate, placing them chocolate-side facing up on a plate. Put in the refrigerator to cool

10. Remove from refrigerator when chocolate is hardened, and enjoy!

Monday, December 26, 2011

the best laid plans

I'm a planner. And by that I mean I really, really like to have a plan for everything. So it should come as no surprise that I had a well-thought-out, wonderfully elaborate plan for my sweet baby's first meal. I would wait for just the right time, when she could fit better in her little high chair, could pick things up with her thumb and forefinger, and maybe have a couple teeth in. Most of my books say these are the indicators of a baby's readiness for solid food (you may have gathered at this point that I'm also a reader). I would buy her a handcrafted wooden bowl and spoon for her first taste. I would source a local farm for a fresh organic sweet potato. I would purée that potato and mix it with my breastmilk. Then, when everything was prepared just so, I'd have her daddy help her take that first bite, my camera at the ready to capture this most precious first moment. That was The Plan. A good plan, yes?

Then today came. My family was here for our Christmas Eve dinner which ended up happening this day after Christmas because we were completely snowed in until now. (I guess the weather had different plans). I had the baby on my lap, enjoying our meal and family. So intently she watched me eating, grabbing at my plate and fork as she tends to do these days. I paused for a moment, watching her, really paying attention with my full self. And that's when it happened. I didn't even think much about it, really. I simply scooped up a bit of mashed potato from my plate onto my finger, and just as I was going to offer it to the baby, she leaned her head forward, mouth wide open, aiming straight for that little dollop. No spoon, no specially prepared food. Just my finger and some mashed potatoes. Definitely not in the plan. The weather changed, the circumstances changed. Change, change, change, all messing up my plans. My plans! This is the lesson my baby has been teaching me ever since her birth (which, just for the record, veered completely away from the plan) - the lesson of letting go, changing plans, and embracing the moments as they come. I'm learning, sweet one. Please keep teaching me.

Friday, December 23, 2011

tea cake cookies


The white powder dusting on these cookies seemed to mirror the blizzard outside today! This is another favorite cookie found in the tins of family members who I bake for every year as my Oma used to do. I've seen many versions of this cookie, along with just as many different names for it. I keep it pretty simple and basic, though, following my own family's tradition as best I can.


~makes about 70 cookies

Ingredients:
1 Cup room temperature butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 Tablespoons powdered sugar, plus about 1/3 Cup for coating
2 Cups all purpose flour, organic unbleached
1 Cup ground walnuts


Method:
(Adorable baby helper recommended, but not required)

1. In a large bowl, mix butter and vanilla extract until smooth 

2. In a separate bowl, combine 6 Tablespoons powdered sugar and flour. Stir this into the butter

3. Mix in walnuts

4. Combine dough with hands until well-mixed

5. Pinch off pieces of the dough and roll into small bite-sized balls. Place on cookie sheet

6. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes

7. Cool slightly and coat generously in powdered sugar

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

5 little nieces


I have 5 sweet little nieces and so decided to knit up 5 cute little bunnies--one for each of them--just in time for Christmas. I almost didn't make it, but honestly, I'd much rather spend my time knitting furiously at home than shopping (and fretting) around the mall! While selecting yarn from my stash to make these stuffed toys, I thought about the personalities of my 5 nieces, each of them unique and different, and tried to pick a yarn suitable for them, or that I thought they would like.


My niece who visits most often has played with the baby's bunnies every time she comes, commenting how much she loves them. Isn't that sweet? How could I not make her one! And in so doing, I anticipated the other sweet girls enjoying them as much as she does. So, 5 knitted bunnies were born. Here they are all in a row:


We have:
An all-white one for the girl named after a beautiful flower
A lavender one for the queen of purple
One with all possible shades of pink for the over-the-top pink-loving girl
A very colorful one for the curious baby
A red and white one for the girl wearing Christmas colors each time I see her these days


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

gathering up and drawing in


The days of family gatherings and drawing in closer together have arrived here at the farm. And with it, I've also finally found the fullness of the holiday spirit, which for some reason was eluding me a bit this year. But I found it, bit by bit, as I began baking cookies, knitting gifts, and cooking for family parties. It wasn't necessarily in all the making or baking itself that the feeling came, but in the fact that I was trying to be of service to the ones I love; To offer them a piece of myself; To be generous, first and foremost, with my time. I kept searching inside myself, longing for that contented feeling to arrive and waiting far too long for it, when all I really needed to do was turn my gaze outward. What I discovered was that I didn't need to feel a certain way in order to act that way. It was, in fact, when I started acting more generous that I began to feel the spirit of this season of giving.


This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately--how often do we allow ourselves to passively await something to come upon us--a feeling, a blessing, an opportunity--instead of actively working toward it? And how often do our fears of not obtaining something we're searching for prevent us from carrying on? I had just about given up on capturing the magic that usually seems so abundant this time of year, until I decided to let go of my desire to feel a certain way and replace it with simply being that way. And so this is what I've been working toward in my heart; gathering myself up, trying to tend to the needs of those around me, and drawing them ever closer in. How about you? Have you had to lose yourself to find your spirit, too?

Monday, December 19, 2011

company

We've had a lot of company here over the last couple weeks. People, even (sometimes especially) our families, tend to be a little taken aback by our lifestyle when they first visit, or when they return after having been away for awhile. Our work and the flow of our days is very much centered around the farm animals, and this becomes increasingly so as more seasons pass.

When they first drive up, visitors see the goats and think, "Why do they want to burden themselves with these smelly animals?" But then they catch a glimpse of their warm, furry faces and see their stubby legs running as fast as possible to greet them at the gate. They see how friendly they are; how eagerly welcoming, and they can't help but feel joy around the goats.


"Chickens?!" they say, "Why would you want those dirty birds around?" But then, those chickens' beautiful eggs are shared with them, and they begin to soften up. And we take them to the chicken barn, and all those sweet ones come running toward the visitors with outstrettched wings, welcoming the new people and looking for something tasty they might have brought to share. And the rooster crows charmingly. Then, a shift happens, and the visitors become very interested, wondering "How many eggs did we get today?" and exclaiming, "Don't throw that scrap of bread away, we'll bring it to the chickens!"


Then, there are the dogs, who are often greeted with fear over their size. Perhaps aware of this, Schatzie lays down, slowly inching closer and closer to anyone with a bit of food, and in doing so he also inches his way into their hearts. Aki is more direct, preferring persistent licks on the hand and rubbing against a visitor's legs, then promptly rolling over to ask for a belly rub. And the visitors go from being terribly uncomfortable around our big dogs to sneaking them treats from the kitchen and uttering phrases such as, "He likes me." They see the dogs waiting by the door or window for their return, and excitedly greeting them as if they never left the pack. And hearts melt when this happens. The visitors become proud, saying, "Ah, this dog knows me. He missed me, too!"


Slowly, but surely, hearts begin to open up to us. Sometimes it comes from a place of humor or gentle poking-fun or even from a misconception that was proven false. But our animals all have a way of endearing themselves to visitors. Truly, they work their way into the hearts of our loved ones, allowing us all to breathe a deep sigh of acceptance.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

fried rice for a crowd

We have a BIG extended family, and when there's a gathering, lots of food needs to be made to accommodate such a large crowd (with plenty left over for everyone to take home, too!). This weekend was my sister-in-law's baby shower, which gave me the perfect opportunity to share with you one of the dishes I almost always make for family parties.

Fried rice is great for such occasions because it's relatively inexpensive to make, easy to make a lot of, and looks pretty too. I know this may sound odd, but I don't actually measure out the ingredients when I cook, most especially when I'm cooking large batches of food. When I write out recipes for you here, I do take the time to measure so I can appropriately document it, but then off I go the next time I cook that dish, without a measuring cup or spoon in sight!

There's much flexibility in this recipe for you to experiment and make something that appeals to your taste buds. The basic concept is to have rice fried with fresh vegetables and meat or egg if desired, and seasoned with something salty (soy sauce or fish sauce). Truly, precise measuring is not all that important in this case.         

Freshly made cha lua from the Asian market

Ingredients: 
1 Cup each finely diced:
     green onion    
     carrot
     green beans
     cha lua, which is a Vietnamese ham/sausage

8 Cups cooked white rice
2-3 Eggs
Fish Sauce to taste
Black pepper to taste
Peanut oil for frying


Method: 
 ~note: this cooks up quickly and requires that you stir throughout the cooking process 

1. On high heat, coat the bottom of a wok or deep skillet with a very generous amount of peanut oil

2. Add cooked rice, stirring often to coat in oil. Cook, stirring, for a couple minutes

3. Add fish sauce and a little more oil if needed

4. Add vegetables and cha lua, stirring well and continuing to cook just another minute or so

5. Add black pepper. I usually go a bit heavy with it.

6. Taste. Add more fish sauce and/or pepper if it's bland. (I typically add a little, mix it up, taste, and repeat until I feel it's right).

7. Move everything to the side of the pan as much as possible, making a space to fry the eggs. Add a little more oil, crack the eggs into the oil, and scramble them up in that little spot until they're cooked, about 1 minute or so. Then, combine the eggs with the rest of the rice mixture, and remove from heat.

8. Can be eaten hot or at room temperature. If you eat it straightaway, you'll notice the vegetables are fresh tasting and still slightly crisp. If you wait, they'll soften a bit. Either way tastes good to me!

Friday, December 16, 2011

{this moment}


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, December 15, 2011

almond crescent cookies


Well, I couldn't tell you all about my wonderful Oma without sharing some cookie recipes, now could I? These are my version of Vanillekipferl. They fill the whole house with the scents of vanilla and almond, and are usually the first Christmas cookie I make. Even though the recipe is simple and the cooking time short, I like how making this cookie helps me slow down during this very busy season. Each piece of dough is shaped into a crescent by hand, and there's really no rushing that process.


~makes about 40 cookies

Ingredients:    
 2 Cups all-purpose flour, organic white unbleached
1/3 Cup sugar
3/4 Cup almonds, ground finely
1/2 of a whole vanilla bean, cut lengthwise and the seeds scraped out
1 Cup butter, chilled
4 ounces sweetened baking chocolate, melted for dipping


Method: 
1. Mix together flour, sugar, almonds, and vanilla bean seeds 

2. Cut in the butter, but don't worry about mixing it too thoroughly

3. Turn the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead until a dough ball is formed and the butter is incorporated. The dough will be soft and break apart easily.

4. Divide the dough into fourths and form each fourth into a log. Cut the log into 1/2 inch pieces for the individual cookies

5. Shape each cookie into a crescent. I do this by forming the dough around the tip of my thumb

6. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes at 325 degrees F. The bottoms should be slightly browned, and the cookie will still be quite soft when you remove them from the oven to cool

7. Cool on a wire rack while you slowly melt the chocolate in a saucepan

8. Dip the tips of each cookie in the chocolate and place in the refrigerator to cool

note: Just so you don't get unnecessarily frustrated, these cookies are very delicate. In fact, they're sometimes downright flaky (in both senses of that word!) until they've fully cooled. So, you will very likely break some. I see this as a positive thing, as these end up being our taste tester cookies! You can chill the dough in the refrigerator for up to 30 minutes before cooking, which helps a little with the breakage. Just realize you might have to cook them a bit longer in this case. The best thing to do, though, is wait a couple minutes before transferring them from the cookie sheet to the cooling rack after removing them from the oven.

Casualties! Ah well, more for me ;)

Traditionally, vanillekipferl are dusted in powdered sugar, but my oma always dipped them in chocolate so that's how I do it.

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