Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Just a Chat

    Good afternoon, and how are you? Hot coffee or iced mint tea? Come sit and join me, won't you? In the whirlwind of such busyness I though we would just sit and have a chat. The last several weeks have seen fits of rain and an occasional thunderstorm, though today found us at 82 degrees. Can you believe it? Muggy and uncomfortable mosquito weather..that's what 82 is.

    It seems like month after month I ponder the flurry of days and hope the next month will be calmer; that hasn't happened yet. From Master Gardener classes, to internship..spring kidding and the rush of planting..its seems no end in sight. One activity passes and three more take its place; busy is what we are..plain busy.

     May brings with it the promise of summer; one daughter's birthday and another's graduation. Menus are written, invitations are sent..a few gatherings will happen here on the little homestead. Before the company arrives we hope to have some decluttering done near the barn and the stepping stone porch complete in the herb garden; we'll see about that.

     Quilting has been quite a challenge to work at..so many pressing issues outside. Warmer weather does give me time at middle of day to sit by a fan and work some stitches in. The Janome and I are becoming more familiar with each other churning out baby quilts for summer little ones. My poor hand quilting frame has been a bit neglected..the jungle baby quilt may never get finished.
      In the fury of such busy things we all must take the time to stop and ponder the coming and going of things. After all, my second child will leave the house soon and my youngest is starting to stretch his wings a bit. Part of my busyness is keeping my mind from aching over it. They were tots at my heels now they are teens with wheels. Can you believe I am the mother of a twenty year old?

      A blessing in it all..afternoons alone..just my husband and me. Time to reacquaint and find ourselves again. In the garden, in the barn, even the coop has been a place we chat and work side by side..something we don't often do. He even helped in my last quilt design..how wonderfully strange that was. A cup of coffee on the bench as we share ideas and plans..that has been a true gift in these busy days.

     Time gets away from me..I could truly visit with you all afternoon, but the goats are bellowing to be milked and no doubt Doc will call for me soon as well. It was such a nice little visit, don't you think. Maybe we can do this again sometime. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Eating in the Green: Kick the Bottle

   A dash of sweet with a hint of zing- and herb, an oil and a whisk-like thing. Home made dressings were something I often longed for but just didn't quite get the hang of; it seemed so complicated. Either we had the wrong oil, or lacked the right herbs..it seemed the recipes we found were just so..complicated.
   Well that just wouldn't do. We took matters into our own hands..I mean, I am all for experimentation in teh kitchen! Every well balanced dressing seems to possess some basic components: oil, acid, flavorings and optional creams. A little research, a little review and plenty of tasting, a basic dressing began to from; a flex-recipe- -- the formula for creativity to suite every taste.

Basic Dressing Flex-recipe Formula

to every 1/4 cup of acid (such as a vinegar or a citrus juice) add:
1 Tablespoon of finely chopped herb or a combination of herbs
decide if a cream component is needed: if so add a spoonful (such as a coarse mustard. yogurt or sour cream, even mayo or heavy cream will do)
now finish it off by whisking in 1/2 cup of oil (such as olive, canola, coconut or whatever you like)

   How easy is that? This can be made ahead and stored in the fridge- decorative decanter or mason jar. I often whisk my dressing in the bottom of a large bowl and chop my salad right on top; one good toss and you're ready to eat!

Now- here are a few tips we love:

instead of one acid, combine 2 tablespoons vinegar with 1/4 cup citrus: very tasty
herb based vinaigrette using: parsley, tarragon, and thyme (add to this a minced clove of garlic and some sour cream for a ranch style flavor) dash some Parmesan cheese in..super!
using dijon mustard and 1 small minced onion
balsamic with a minced garlic clove
use the juice and zest of a lemon, lime and orange with olive oil and pepper
lastly: 1/2 cup crushed raspberries with a spoonful of chopped mint

   Tasty, simple and open to exploration: the basic dressing formula..let's go enjoy some greens today!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Oh the Mad and Wonderful Quilting Process!

   We've been looking at quilt design and the various options often found in our quilting, but sometimes even with all the tools and templates available to us we get stumped. Try as we may no design seems to naturally pop out when we look at the top. Quilter's block is a frustrating thing that often leads to shelves of unfinished work..and I hate trying to return to unfinished work, especially if it has me stumped.
    Join me in the sewing room for a look at a quilt stumping me. 


Esther 7

King James Version (KJV)
So the king and Haman came to banquet with Esther the queen.
And the king said again unto Esther on the second day at the banquet of wine, What is thy petition, queen Esther? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom.
Then Esther the queen answered and said, If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request:
For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail the king's damage.
Then the king Ahasuerus answered and said unto Esther the queen, Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so?

And Esther said, The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen.
And the king arising from the banquet of wine in his wrath went into the palace garden: and Haman stood up to make request for his life to Esther the queen; for he saw that there was evil determined against him by the king.
Then the king returned out of the palace garden into the place of the banquet of wine; and Haman was fallen upon the bed whereon Esther was. Then said the king, Will he force the queen also before me in the house? As the word went out of king's mouth, they covered Haman's face.
And Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. Then the king said, Hang him thereon.
10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king's wrath pacified.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Weekend Herbal Gardening: Mints

     Herbal gardens are a wonderful source of beauty and production on the family homestead. Many fragrant and flavorful benefits can be found among the roots and shoots, petals and leaves. My family started their first herbal garden during a study of pioneer living. The classic wagon wheel and ladder layout were set off to the side of our home and filled with basic culinary and medicinal herbs. Today, the herbal garden encompasses the entire front of our home filling a large garden plot with flavor, focus, nourishment and beauty.
     When it comes starting an herbal garden the first one I would suggest is mint. Efficient, economical and down right easy to grow, mints are fail proof and completely useful. One tiny start will spread and expand into a large and lovely bush full of fragrance. Placed at the start of my herbal bed, the deep green leaves lend their refreshing aroma encouraging fingers to softly brush over them. Many a dear friend has left our home with a fresh bouquet to use and start for their own. 
      Bushy and bountiful, the uses for this hearty herb seem endless. Placed in water, gently bruising the leaves releases their essence giving abundant flavor. I add leaves to salads, smoothies and vinaigrette for a wonderful flavor boost. Run through a processor with a measure of sugar, mint shares its refreshing taste in baked goods and beverages. In vinegar the leaves become a base for cleaning solutions..steeped in witch hazel, mint makes for a cooling facial toner or antiseptic cleanser.

   In our herbal garden several varieties of mint are taking root and growing wild; chocolate mint, orange mint, apple mint, spearmint even a new strawberry mint. Each one holding the strong invigorating mint properties with subtle hinds of fruity zest. The apple mint, with it's fruity peppermint scent, is absolutely wonderful when added to fruits and teas.
   As a migraine sufferer, mint is vital to my daily medicine chest. Not only is this herb a source of vitamin A, C and B12, it stimulates the mood and senses increasing blood flow and relieving tension while supplying the body with essential minerals..manganese, copper, iron, potassium, and calcium. If grown indoors, or simply placed in bouquets in the home, mint freshens and cleanses the air. 

 Cooling Mint "Tea"

one handful mint, stalks and leaves
handful of stevia leaves, optional
one quart water

Rinse the herbs gently. Place the water and herbs in a large bowl. Using you hands crush, tear and bruise the leaves; the water will start to color a green hue. Give it a taste- for more mint taste crush the leave more, for less add water. When finished, strain the 'tea' and enjoy. 
This can be added to any beverage for a minty flavor: lemonade, green tea, fruit teas.

   Mint is one of the most harvested herbs here in our garden. Daily infusions of mint 'tea' are consumed with a hint of honey. This delightful drink cools and refreshes..especially after a morning of garden chores!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

One Down and Why

    Finding time to quilt during the rush of spring is quite a challenge, yet I managed to complete the quilting on Block Baby Blue today. This time of year most of my quilting is done in small spurts either right after breakfast or right after dinner. With the added push of Master Gardener training, finding time at the frame was even harder.
    This small quilt holds the wave and wonder of wonderful blues, just right for a precocious baby boy. Inspired by my own boy's love of tumbling blocks, the squares are set on end and surrounded by the sawtooth triangles. Machine quilted for strength and durability, this little quilt can be washed again and again as baby demands.
     Why? Okay, as this quilt has been shared through it's journey the question has come about why machine quilt it, you are a hand quilter? True, I am a hand quilter who much prefers the look, feel, and process of hand quilting over machine work. When I design or make a quilt for someone specific I try to keep that person's lifestyle and interests in mind throughout the process. To me, knowing her as I do, it didn't seem right or fair to give gift that didn't fit her needs or lifestyle.
      Hand quilting is a fading art. Our society of convenience and hurried activity rarely has time to hand wash and air dry. Most of my quilt work is done by hand, but with more and more clients requesting machine work it seems if I want to meed demand I have to be able to supply. Does it sadden me? Yes. For that very reason I still spend countless hours at the frame hand quilting quilts.
      Hopefully this weekend will find me binding and finishing Block Baby Blue and moving on to a few friendship quilts I have planned...that is, if I can stay out of the garden and barn long enough!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Join Us Welcoming...

    Welcome, Zaida..newest member of our little herd. An Alpine/Nubian cross, Zaida has joined us to bring milk and measure to the stalls. Towering head and shoulders above the other members of the barn yard, she is making her place here.
     While her size and breed were what we had in mind, she has arrived with some challenges. It seems, while she loves our company and will follow on my heels as I stroll the pasture, she is much less pleasant on the milk stand..and has dropped productions since her arrival. Prone to bawling and fussy eating, she and I  have been at odds with each other.
      All is not lost..I am not one to give up on a challenge. Though displeased with the situation of her purchase, we have decided to work with what we have and be all the wiser for it. Today was a better day as far as her manners were concerned..even her eating picked up some. Visiting the stalls at sunset, she stood on the fence rubbing her head on my hand sharing nibbly kisses on my cheek. Maybe. just maybe, she is settling.
     Either way, we welcome our newest challenge and blessing.."Zaida Gray".

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Spring Berries and Flex-Recipes


   Spring berries have arrived! The sides of our herbal garden are teaming with wild thorny vines sporting plump juicy goodness. Over the past several days we harvested a cup here and a cup there..hardly enough not to just swirl into some yogurt and devour (we did do some of that:). Having enough berries for a favored recipe can be quite a challenge..I love berry fresh berry pies and jams..but there's not always enough to go around. After many seasons of berry experimentation, the farm boy and I have good news and great recipes to share!

    Let's address pie. I love pie..cold, fresh whipped cream melting down a slice..yum. Okay, my berries tend to come in about a cupful at a time; no where near enough for a traditional pie. To work this one, we need a flex-recipe to help us adjust to what we have available. I like to work with home made pie crust, but you can surely use whatever crust you like. We have tried biscuit dough, pie dough, and crepes for this.

Fresh Fruit Pie Flex-Recipe

for each 1 cup of fresh fruit you need:
1 golf ball size amount of pie crust
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/4 teaspoon lemon, if desired
For large fruit, such as peaches or even figs chop them into bite size pieces after washing, then toss with the sugar and lemon juice. Roll pie crust thin and somewhat round--it's okay if we're off shape a bit. Lightly grease a baking sheet before transferring the crust to the center of it. Mound the fruit/sugar mixture right in the center of the crust leaving a inch or so edge. Gently fold the edge of the pie crust over the top leaving a nice center for the juices to bubble and vent from while baking. You can brush a beaten egg over the crust edges and sprinkle with a little more sugar, if desired.
Bake pie at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. The crust should be lightly browning a bit while the fruit will be tender and bubbly. 

    Now it's time to jam! We drizzle home made jam into yogurt, on top of granola,,waffles, toast..add a spoonful to iced tea. It's a treasure here in this kitchen. Traditional jam recipes need several cups of berries and a ton of sugar- not to mention the pectin. Am I the only one who goes to make jam and doesn't have pectin? Well. our seasons of experimenting left us with a flexible jam recipe just right for small batch harvesting..and no pectin required.

Fresh Fruit Jam Flex-recipe

For every 2 cups of fresh fruit:
½ apple, chopped and peeled
1 ½ cups sugar

If you are using berries, mash them in a heavy bottom sauce pan. Other fruits should be peeled and chopped into bite size pieces before placing in the pan. Add the chopped apple and sugar. Cook fruit over medium low heat until the sugar dissolves; stir frequently. Simmer and stir approximately twenty minutes. Test jam by dropping a spoonful onto a chilled plate; if it gels the jam is ready for jars. This jam freezes well and is excellent when processed in a water bath canner for seven minutes.

Want to add a little whimsy? Try adding fresh chopped herbs such as rosemary or mint..a vanilla bean, or even chopped citrus peel. Our last batch had cardamon..and we plan to try anise. Jump outside the box and test some nontraditional flavor.
Note. to help seedy fruits such as berries, run the jam through a mill or fine strainer.

   Whether the harvest is great or small, whether spring berries or fall figs, there is no reason not to enjoy them in our favorite treasured treats. All we need is a little flexibility to work with what we have and enjoy them as they come in. If you would rather wait and use a full recipe, simply freeze your fruits as they are harvested. It's time to grab a basket, pick some berries and make something wonderful!