Friday, March 30, 2012

sowing our (garden) oats

Goodness, how did April sneak up like that? This coming week is a big one for planting! The remaining tomatoes and peppers will be started indoors, and some of the cool weather crops can be sown outside. I'll do this in a trickle-like fashion, as is my slow-but-steady way these days. For the next couple months, I'll gladly shun any and all social obligations in favor of spending quality time with my dirt. I'll hover like a fretting mother over my new seedlings, and check the weather reports more often than the weatherman can change them.


I'm a couple weeks late getting these little oat seeds in the ground, but I'm not too worried - we've been having a bit of a warm, dry spell, and as far as I know oats prefer to have a little wet, cold snap for starting. The nights are still very cold, and we'll likely see more cooler days (snow, even) in the next couple months. This weekend we'll till some compost into a 100 square foot area, and plant our little oat patch.

The oats are part of our experiment with a garden for the chickens, which I hope will provide a large part of our flock's food supply at the end of the year when their pasture is covered in snow. It's also our first time growing grains, and I'm really excited about that!


I'm having the chickens accompany me in the garden area these days, and they're doing a fine job helping me get the soil prepared.


Are you planting, growing, or harvesting right now too, friends?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

a look around

Let's have a jaunt, shall we?

Early flowers are blooming

Tree buds abound

 Dogs are swimming

Ducks are courting (and I'm hoping to see some ducklings in the pond again this year!)

Chickens are scratching new earth

One chicken is out (yep, that one)

 Goats have a spring in their step

 Farmer baby is happy, and my planting is just a wee bit behind (I'm easily distracted)

-------------------

P.S. I have the wonderful privilege of guest posting today on Kate's beautiful blog, longest acres. Hope to see you there!

P.P.S. I'm very honored to be mentioned on Rhonda's wonderful simple living blog this weekend! A warm welcome to everyone stopping by from Down---to---Earth.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

blueberry muffins and a side of reminiscence

I visited my sister-in-law and her sweet new baby boy recently. Oh, I remember those first weeks of new motherhood like they were yesterday! All those feelings of foggy bliss, pure love, overwhelming raw emotion - wrapped up in one little package. We talked about how being a mama is the hardest thing we've ever done. I saw her lovingly fret over her baby - Is he too cold? Did he nurse long enough? Why does he hate diaper changes so much? - and I saw myself not so long ago. Time is an unusually fast teacher when you're a parent. But then just as you begin to feel a bit more comfortable and think you've got some things figured out, everything changes! The learning curve is steep, to be sure.

When you're a new mommy, consumed so completely by caring for someone else, sometimes what you need most is food that can be eaten with one hand. I remember that part well, too (probably because I live it some days still!) And so I brought with me some muffins, hoping they would come in handy as a late night (one-handed) snack.


Blueberry Muffins
~makes a dozen, adapted from How to Cook Everything

Ingredients: 
2 Cups flour (all-purpose or 1/2 white, 1/2 wheat)
1/2 Cup sugar 
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
3 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 Cup milk
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon lemon or orange zest
1 Cup blueberries (fresh, frozen, or dried - soak dried blueberries in water for 5 minutes, then drain before using)


Method:

1. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.

2. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter, milk, and egg.

3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and combine by folding the batter. Don't over-mix. The batter will be lumpy.

4. Fold in the zest and blueberries. 

4. Generously butter your muffin tin, and spoon in the batter. Each compartment should be about 2/3 full.

5. Bake in a 400 degree F oven for about 25 minutes.  Let cool for 5 minutes before removing muffins from the tin. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

meet Tiny


I don't think I've properly introduced Tiny, our (rather huge) red Wyandotte, 3-ish year old rooster. We acquired Tiny when Diane, whom we bought our very first pullets from, contacted us about adopting him, as he had been thoroughly roughed up by one of her other roosters, and was in a bit of a sad state. She found the poor guy laying in the driveway, feet sticking straight up in the air, upon her return home one day. I readily and thankfully accepted her offer, as we needed a really good rooster to look after the hens. And Tiny is just that - truly, a good rooster - with all the wonderful qualities of a stellar protector.


He excels at finding the tastiest bits for the hens to eat, and lets them eat first always. He stands tall in the field, watching over the girls and sounding his warning crow when danger lurks near. He waits patiently outside the barn door until the last hen is safely inside for the night. He even lost a few tail feathers fending off goodness-knows-what one evening when we were a few minutes late in locking up the coop. And, of course, Tiny knows how to fancy dance and strut his stuff, ensuring proper fertilization of as many eggs as is rooster-ly possible, I dare say.


And, my, how Tiny's crows make the baby smile! Even when she was in the womb, I felt her react to his vocalizations. His transition to our home was a delightful one in this way. Although his original owner said she knew him to be very quiet, once he was here, with all confidence restored and a job to do, he crowed readily! And that made us all happy. His comb may look a tad mangled from his past life, but he's still regal (if not even a bit humble) in spirit and in deed, this rooster of ours.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

almost Oma's marshmallow cake

Friends, with Spring's arrival and all the ensuing spring cleaning and garden preparations, you are going to need sustenance for the long days ahead. And so, you really must have some...


Chocolate. Marshmallow. Cake.

Need I say more?

Almost Oma's Marshmallow Cake
note: If anyone in your household needs, say, some incentive for helping you with the cleaning and weeding, I've found this cake works remarkably well as a bribe for hard labor.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour, organic unbleached
1/3 Cup cocoa powder 
1/3 teaspoon salt
2 Cups sugar
1 Cup vegetable shortening (alternatively, lard or butter)
4 eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces (or 1 small bag) mini marshmallows

For the frosting:
1 Cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 Cup cocoa powder
2 Cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 Cup evaporated milk


Method:

1. Combine the flour, cocoa powder, and salt together.

2. In a separate bowl, cream the sugar and shortening. Add the eggs and vanilla extract, and beat together until well-combined.

3. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together.

4. Spread the mixture onto a greased 9"x13" pan.

5. Bake at 300 degrees F for 35 minutes.

6. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes, then sprinkle the marshmallows evenly over the top.

7. Return cake to the oven and cook for 5 more minutes. Meanwhile, mix all the frosting ingredients together.  

8. Remove cake and let cool for at least 5 minutes before applying the frosting.         

9. Chill the completed cake in a cool room or the refrigerator for a couple hours before enjoying. I cut ours into squares, and keep them in the refrigerator. If they last that long, they're even better the next day, thoroughly chilled!


Happy Spring! 

Monday, March 19, 2012

update-edly


Oh, we're entering the busy season 'round here!

*The potatoes weren't chitting quite fast enough for me, so they've been moved from the very cold mud room into the toasty main living area.

*Trays full of seeds are about to take over all possible south-facing window space!

*No potted ginger or sweet potatoes are poking up from the soil yet. Patience.

*The vanilla extract still has a knock-your-socks-off strong alcohol taste, so I'm continuing to let it brew.

*Handles and labels have been added to my canisters.

*Spring cleaning of the house has begun in earnest. (Although it always seems that to do a massive cleaning requires first making a massive mess).

*For the past couple days, we've awoken to the sound of a woodpecker attempting to make a hole on the side of our house.

*An impulsive stop at the local nursery yesterday found us bringing home some two-for-one berry bushes. (How clever of them to build a nursery on the same road we have to take home from church!)

*We're making plans and assessing the horribly overgrown space that will be this year's garden. Soon, the chickens will be enlisted to help us clean up and fertilize.

*I have a couple more recipes to share with you this week, too!

Friday, March 16, 2012

free-form, from scratch quiche



I used to be very intimidated by attempting pastry of any kind. I think I may have been told once and perhaps read somewhere twice, that it was a difficult task, best left to expert bakers (of which I most certainly am not). And in those days, I actually believed it! What lies! Do you know how I know they were lies? Because of the shocking fact that this was my first ever, all the way from scratch quiche, and it came.out.perfectly. And I don't even have a proper quiche pan, mind you! Flaky, buttery, crispy on the outside, but still with a bit of a bite pastry crust. Oh yes, it is possible to achieve, even for a novice like me.

Quiche Crust
~makes enough for one regular-sized quiche pan, or 2 oddly-shaped, small rectangular, non-quiche pans. Based on a similar pie crust recipe in Family Meals. 

Ingredients:
1 1/4 Cups all-purpose flour, organic and unbleached
3/4 teaspoon salt
10 Tablespoons (which is 5 ounces) chilled butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
4 or more Tablespoons ice water


Method:

1. In a wide or large bowl, mix together the flour and salt, then scatter the butter cubes over the top.

2. Cut in the butter with a pastry scraper or a couple knives, until the butter pieces look like small pebbles.

3. Add the vinegar, then gradually add the ice water while stirring with a fork. Add enough water so that the dough begins to form, but is still pretty crumbly, but moist. It should be just moist enough so that it stays together when you press it together with your hands. 
note: For this particular batch, I'm certain I added well over 4 Tablespoons, but yours will depend on your environment, so just keep adding water, a little at a time, until you can hold the dough lighty together.

4. Transfer the dough to a floured board and press it together with your hands to form a thick disk. Feel free to add a tad more water if the dough is still too crumbly. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.

5. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to form a 12 inch circle, or to the shape of your pan. For mine, I cut the disk in half and rolled each half out into roughly the shape of a rectangle.

6. Dust the rolling pin with flour, and roll the pastry around the pin. Then unroll it onto your pan. Gently, but firmly, press it to form around the shape of your pan. I just made sure to leave enough over the edge of my dish to allow for a little shrinkage while cooking. You can feel free to trim your edges if desired.

7. Line the crust with aluminum foil and fill with uncooked rice to act as a weight.

8. Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes, remove the aluminum foil weight, and continue baking for another 5 minutes. What you're doing here is pre-baking the crust.


(Optional step #9. Place the dish with your pastry crust in the refrigerator while you nurse your baby to sleep for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and pull pastry crust out of the refrigerator while you prepare the filling. Hear baby fussing, and go to check on her, convincing her with a little more nursing that she really ought to have a nap today. Worry about leaving the oven on and quiche crust sitting out on the counter for a now indefinite amount of time. Sneak away after 10 minutes from the once again sleeping baby, and finish up. Why am I telling you this? So you can see that even with all this mucking about, it still turned out beautifully. See, not so hard. But you may skip all this nonsense and proceed to step 10).         

10. Now, onto the filling, which can really be whatever you want it to be! For this particular quiche, I sautéed the following in a bit of butter:

-A large handful of spinach, roughly chopped
-1/2 of a medium-sized onion, finely chopped
-8 or so mushrooms, sliced
-A very small jar of pimentos I found at the back of the refrigerator, drained

11. Spread your filling evenly over the bottom of your pre-baked crust.

12. Whisk together 3-4 eggs, 1 1/2 Cups milk or cream, a little salt and pepper, and a little freshly grated nutmeg, and pour this over the filling, until it almost reaches the top of your pan.

13. Top with a generous amount of shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

14. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes.


Now, who would like to please come by and help us eat all this quiche? ;)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

abundant eggs

We were fortunate to never be in want of eggs all winter, as the hens continued to lay. But the promise of spring, and this short stint of gorgeously mild weather (don't get too envious - it's about to go downhill in a few days), has us swimming in not just enough eggs, but a sheer abundance of them! And I have been enjoying it so! For abundant eggs also mean abundant mayo and egg salad and egg with pork, and quiches (even if they're baked in not-a-quiche-dish dishes).


It's comforting to feel so rich in such a deceptively simple thing. Did anyone ever tell you that you don't need money to feel this wealthy? All you really need are a few good eggs.

Monday, March 12, 2012

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