Sunday, April 27, 2014

Addressing it.. Let's Get Something Started

      Did you know that many twenty-something's are missing basic cooking skills? Many thirty-something's do not feel confident with basic cooking. The basic ins and outs of my job give me opportunity to hear the hearts of many homes revealing a startling truth- we have lost the art of cooking.
     Once upon a time, mothers were to be found in the kitchen; families were found gathered around the table. The introduction to TV dinners, prepackaged and fast food has left us lacking in both skill and desire. We live in a world of instant. Things happen on demand, are ready on demand, and we have come to demand it- much to our detriment.
     How do we turn the trend, and do we want to? The answer varies. Many long for the romantic notion of cooking a Martha meal, setting around a perfectly set table, and gazing at their beautiful guests/family. This false reality sabotages simple progress, leaving people feeling less than qualified and quite discouraged. What we need is basics.
     Basic skills are the first step- and basic skills vary according to where you are starting from. For some, basic skills may be purchasing from the grocery instead of from the restaurant. Others may be ready to start with whole, raw ingredients. Then, there may be some who simply need the ability to engage the family in getting it together and gathering at the table.
     You may see a slight change in my postings for the next bit as I look to address the concerns of new friends, drawing them from the place of fear into the area of confidence. The goal is to take what I have been hearing and be a mentor, a friend, a stand in mother -if you will- by inviting you into my kitchen to get comfortable with the environment. We may journey to the market, stroll through the garden, or just view the ads- taking small steps from where we are to where we could be.
     Due to the gravity of the content, posts may be every day or every other- but trust me, I am not giving up.. just getting it together. Let's do this together and see if we can build some home skills and healthy values. Grab your apron, note pad, Ipad, or whatever gets you going and meet me in the kitchen! 

Friday, April 25, 2014

And Two More...

     The worst pregnant doe ever delivered her dose of double trouble to the homestead today- and, of course, she waited until I left for work to get things going. Farm boy had his hands full tending a fretful mother and her two new bucklings; both having a terrible time getting the hang of nursing. Tonight both are full (with plenty of help from us guiding them along), mama has been milked to relieve her terribly swollen udder, and farm boy and I are headed off to bed ourselves. Babies are popping out all over the place this week!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

New Arrivals- Oh the Joy!

Nothing revives the soul at the end of a long day like watching the new arrivals flutter and dart around the brooder pen. A dozen geese and ten kaki Campbell ducks arrived this afternoon. Moments into their arrival they were already quite busy muddying up the water fountains and annihilating the feed trays.
It has been several years since we attempted water foul here on our homestead- they tend to fly away and never be seen again. Their presence was go greatly missed, we decided to give it another go. With chicks arriving quite often these days, our presence at the post office has become quite a familiar sight. The farm boy was teased a bit when he mentioned my name- oh, the chicken lady- they giggled. He took it well and, of course, passed it on to me.
Tonight the brooder box is on, water fresh, feed full, greenery and wood all about the run- little water babies are tucked in for bed. I can hardly wait until morning comes- who doesn't love watching these littles play?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Warmer days bring....

     Warmer days find me spending extra moments in the garden, searching each plant, seedling, and sprout. Today the stroll between the rows brought a basket of berries to the kitchen. Despite the chickens and my farm boy, a full quart of beautiful fresh berries are waiting.. just waiting for one of us to munch them, jam them, or top a cake with them.. stir them in yogurt or whir them in a smoothie. All this berry abundance brings me to return to last spring's post on berry jam. After all, no respectable home stead can thrive without their very own jam recipes, right?

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.
     In case you are wondering, our most recent berry jam was strawberry vanilla; distinctly reminiscent of church services where my little ones were given vanilla crème savers to enjoy as they sat quietly through the services. Stay tuned, we are testing a few recipes from a new book recently purchased!

Monday, April 21, 2014


     Events these past several days drive me to the need for distractions; activities to pull my mind, body, and soul from dark and haunting places. The need to distract brought me to experiment with strip piecing- something I have never done before. While I admit, reading the lengthy directions for the strip method drove me to a catatonic state, eventually the blurred lines came together formulating a plan.
     Earthy tones spatter the blocks of a seriously simple quilt design- and simple.. I need right now. As the pieces come together, my mind is drawn to another recent place of distraction- my garden. Warmer days cause me to pull away the brown leafy winter cover; the dark colors of the quilt. There in, the beauty of new life is found popping up; the muddled blocks. Along the path, crocus blooms where roses are starting to bud; leafy greens and pretty blues. White snow drops are long gone, but the berry bush blooms burst stately against the rest of the landscape; white blocks scattered about.
     With the small quilt top complete, I ponder the quilting needed- a scattered wildflower, maybe, to remind me of sweet little wildflower weeds that dot my garden rows (many of which I left in place just because their perseverance). Sitting here tonight, I gaze at it realizing it was something I needed and something I have been missing; creative outlet. Among the work, the worry, the tears and the grief I seem to have lost my wonder.. my outlook of amazement... my creative chaos... and I miss it.
       In years to come may I look back at this small bit of fabric and recall the strife, the struggle, and the deep darkness in my soul that brought me to this fabric at this time in this way- may it cause me to smile. God has brought me to it. He will bring me through it. He has pointed me in a right direction and is leading me as I go. Thank God for distractions!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

We Say Goodbye

     It has been a long, trying week and weekend. Without much warning, and without obvious reason our dear Hadassah has passed on. Low activity and an upset tummy are all we have to go on; she was alert and responsive seeming only to be rather slow moving. We awoke Sunday morning to realize she was gone- looking only as if she had gone to sleep.
     Good dogs are hard to come by; she was a good dog and a great blessing. Herding, catching, protecting and befriending, Hadassah will be terribly missed and equally hard to replace.

Goodbye, Hadassah Rose. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

We Salute...

The #4H Military Partnerships Grant supports over 50,000 military 4-H youth on installations and communities worldwide. Today, we #PurpleUp and celebrate those youth and military children everywhere.  

Thank you for your sacrifice. 

My family is a family of veterans. Today we proudly wear purple to salute and support military children and their families.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Bounty of Spring

   I spent as much time as physically possible in the garden this weekend; so many chores needed done. The appearance of well rounded cabbage heads brought to mind my grandmother's old crock which we filled to the brim every year.

   Down in the garden Grandma has a knife in hand and large buckets to fill; spring cabbage is ready for harvest. Pulling back the large outer leaves, she cuts the large firm heads. My job is to load them into the buckets as she chops them but the fresh spring air and warm sparkling sunshine keep distracting me.
   Back in the big farm kitchen the cabbage heads are washed before the hard cores are cut out. One by one the cabbages are shredded into fine pieces and sprinkled with plenty of fine salt. Worked and wrenched the salty shreds fill bowl after bowl all around the room. Time for the big brown crock to make it's way to the garage....we're making sauerkraut.
   In the coolness of the garage, Grandma fills the large crock with the salty wet cabbage shredded the day before..the wooden 'plate' is set in it's place to weight the cabbage under it's juices. It takes forever for cabbage to become kraut! Yet, as we daily 'churn the kraut' our minds wander to the various things she will make with this tasty treat: kraut and hot dogs, even my favorite sauerkraut pizza!
   Day after day we wait for the kraut to be just right..then packing and canning and setting on the scary basement shelves.

     In my own very southern kitchen, kraut is made in much smaller quantities; I am the only one who eats it. It seems no matter what, when I start the process it always brings my heart back home.

Friday, April 11, 2014

I Love It When

I love it when:
I am on my knees
elbow to elbow with a mess of kids
exploring the wonders of fresh poured soil;
I am shoulder to shoulder
seeing the light in a student's eyes
because I trust them with the skillet;
I am side swiped
in a isle
at a store
recognized by one of my kids;
I am seeing the soul
that still remains
in a difficult child.
I love it when
at the end of the day
my mind recalls
all the little things
and I realize
they are very big things.
My job is tough;
the students are tougher;
the system is tough;
but determination,
and hope still exist.
We just have to be willing
to find it.
I love it when some one asks me why I do what I do.

I'd Rather Be...

     Today was a day in the office; the place I'd rather not be. Confined by the beige walls, tucked away from natural light and beauty.. the office is, well, confining. Meetings and paperwork have their place and I respect their need, however, there is a place I'd rather be.
      I'd rather be tip toeing through a garden filled with bloom and wonder.. gazing at the sunlight as it filters through the canopy... absorbing color, beauty  and sound... breathing in fragrance and life. The moment I arrive at home, my feet can't help but make their way to one of the three gardens we keep. The victory garden hold a greenhouse filled with beautiful greens of variant colors: dark and light green with hues of blue, shiny green with deep red veining, and green so pale it almost seems white. Outside of it there lies fruit bushes just leafing out, winter greens gone to seed with tiny flowers white and yellow. Fresh spring peas filling out among their vines near young lettuce and kale just about ready to harvest. Wild chickweed creeps ever closer from the tree line needing a hearty trim to keep it at bay.
       In the larger garden by the well, old fashion tea roses peeked open today offering a hint of dainty color. Pears, apples, strawberries and blueberries hide among the foliage near the jujube and the black berry canes. Here new tomato sets hide among mustards gone to seed, and pepper starts play peek-a-boo between the winter onions. I spotted squash starts and pole beans peeking through the leaf mulch- I'm amazed the chickens haven't pecked them to death. Wait till they see the melons start to vine.
          My final stop is the herb garden; close to the house for easy strolling. There fresh green seems to burst from ever inch. Fragrance and beauty are sprouting and flourishing just enough to give mystery to newly added toad homes and a stray white goose figure. These will hopefully be joined by more hidden secrets as we consider a story book garden for the soon-to-arrive grand baby. I ponder what time we may spend together here, seeking a buzzing bee or a flitting butterfly.. maybe even spying a lizard to two.
             Just as my soul starts to relax, replacing the chaos with calm, the barnyard calls with duties to fill; still not as hectic as my day. One last breath of apple mint before I head that way. I tuck a sprig in my pocket where I can call upon it later when I need a soothing reminder of the peace and joy all found in my garden.. always the place I'd rather be.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Hard Lesson

    Weekly in-garden activities are the highlight of my week. Who wouldn't love 40 students squealing with delight over strawberries and ladybugs, tomato blooms and radish sprouts? My weekly garden adventures are usually full of wonder and excitement, but this week held a different lesson.

Read the rest here 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

March in the Garden

  The homestead garden comes alive during the month of March. Planting frenzy takes hold as we try to set our rows for summer harvest. An empty greenhouse is a testament to the hours of work already completed. Joy comes from ending every day with soil under my nails and the earthy scent of compost on my clothes.
   Tender spring greens are abundant for harvest: beet, kale, lettuce and spinach. Daily doses of vitamin packed leaves strengthen us for the work ahead. Broccoli and cabbage plants are thriving after some compost side dressings, while second plantings of greens peek through the soil nearby.

   Transplants have been hardened off and now make their place row by row in the garden: tomato, pepper, and herb. Each are now nestled deep and stretching their roots in soft nutritious soil. They stay under row covers in case of a hearty storm or a chill night. Even so, fresh growth comes quickly during the sunny days.
   Seeds are eager to get going in the warm earth; corn, squash, beans and melons...okra, too. As the month progresses succession planting of large crops hit the rows every two weeks. As the seeds go in, soaker hoses make their place under row covers keeping things comfy for sprouting. Every seed brings with it the hope of a harvest to come.
   Sore muscles remind us just how deep a commitment we have to this task. Growing isn't easy, but it is so very worth it. What a blessing to sip a glass of tea on a garden bench as the birds sing from the tree tops and the seeds sprout beneath the soil.
   What's your March garden hold?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Kicking the Bottle

   Today found me harvesting a bowl overflowing with fresh garden greens: mustard, buttercrunch, baby kale and chard- even a little red sails. As I lay out the elements of a perfect salad it seemed the standard bottle dressing just wouldn't do. After all, I grew this from seed.. tended it through ice storms, and harvested it after a rather wrenching day of work. This baby needed something worthy!
   A dash of sweet with a hint of zing- and herb, an oil and a whisk-like thing. Home made dressings use to baffle me. It took me a few months of trial and error; several skeptical looks from my wary taste testers, and a flat refusal from a husband before the mystery of the home made dressing finally found it's place in my kitchen.
    The mystery lies in a very delicate balance of some basic components: oil, acid, flavor and optional creams. If one overpowers the other, adjustments can be made to amend the error.. but who has time for that.. or the energy for that. After all, some days I have been in the kitchen with hundreds of children- who wants to play around with a contrary dressing experiment.
     A little research, a little review and plenty of tasting, a basic dressing formula began to from; a flex-recipe- -- an avenue for creativity to suite every taste.. and my wacky schedule.

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, my personal go-to: a mason jar. On those off the wall days when the bottle is empty, I'll whisk my dressing right in the bottom of that large salad bowl and plop my salad elements right on top; one good toss and you're ready to eat!

But how do we use it? Here are a few combos 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! *unless you are my husband and Parm cheese makes you think dirty socks :(
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
and please note.. hot pepper flakes make everything taste better- even dressing!

   Tasty, simple and open to exploration: our basic dressing formula. Please excuse me while I go polish off the last of those well dressed greens!