Thursday, February 26, 2015

Spring Promise- Daffodils are Here!

It is miserably cold outside. Like the rest of you, I am bundled in my layers with a steaming cup of hot tea. Just when it seemed the dreary gray of winter might be here for good a sign of hope appeared. Daffodils.

I planted these bulbs years ago- so long ago, I no longer remember when. They border the daylilies which bloom much later- and are right near the summer gardenia bush. Just in front of a small pasture, used only in early summer, and right near my son's parking spot- these little beauties are a bit out of sight unless you are purposely going there.

Today I was walking after chores, trying to get some fresh air, when these sweet little sunny faces seemed to just pop right out at me. Cheerful and bright, they seemed to shout- don't worry, spring is almost here!

I picked a few to brighten my desk. Just as the day started to end a small glimmer of light peeked through the clouds; perfect timing for a picture.

Today I will savor the daffodils and the promise they bring- spring is almost here!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Great Debate- Is Ranch Dressing Healthy?

It is an honest question, and last week it was honestly posed by an intuitive student- is ranch dressing healthy?  Sadly, the answer is- yes and no- or, it depends. Let me explain.

First let's tackle the answer 'yes'.

If we are asking whether dressing that is ranch seasoned is healthy, then, yes it is. Such a dressing is made with a general base of oil and vinegar. A cream is added in the form of buttermilk, sour cream, or yogurt. Finally we add the ranch style seasonings- parsley, garlic, onion, dill, chives and salt/pepper. This dressing itself is naturally lower in fat, sodium, and calories (not to mention chemical additives) than it's shelf companion.

Then let's tackle the likely answer 'no'.

Common ranch dressing found of the store shelves is, in general, not a healthy choice. Let's look at the nutrition label, bearing in mind that a serving is two tablespoons.

Hidden Valley Ranch
- 140 calories
- 14 grams fat
- 260 mg sodium
Kraft Ranch
- 130 calories
- 13 grams fat
- 370 mg sodium
Hidden Valley Ranch Light
- 80 calories
- 7 grams fat
- 290 mg sodium
Kraft Light Ranch
- 80 calories
- 6 grams fat
- 440 mg sodium

Home made ranch made with Greek yogurt and very little salt- this recipe is from Slender Kitchen:
Homemade Ranch Seasoning Mix
Servings: 8
Serving Size: 1 Tbsp
Nutritional Information: under 20 calories

Finally, let us look at the answer 'it depends'.

Is ranch dressing the only way vegetables are going to be consumed? Can you limit yourself to the serving size and/or opt for one that has a bit healthier ingredient list?
Sometimes nutrition is relative to the situation and to the person. A ten year old who has never eaten vegetables, who tries veggies with ranch and likes them will benefit from the ranch dressing- in moderation, of course. Hopefully, the child's tastes will improve with age and/or will adjust to a healthier ranch dressing.

As for myself, I am not a ranch dressing eater- never have been. Two of my children love it, leading me to make home made ranch dressing for several years. I have purchased various brands that use yogurt and less chemical additives- they were fine.

So, you ask, how did I answer the student? Knowing the student and their nutrition profile, my response was to keep an eye on the portion and read the label because there is always room for improvement.

The recipe for Slender Kitchen's home made ranch:
  • 1/2 cup dry buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley, crushed
  • 2 tsp dried dill weed
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried onion flakes
  • 2 tsp dried chives
  • 1/2-1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  1. Mix all of the spices together and store in an airtight container.
  2. To make a quick and easy ranch dressing, mix 3/4 cup non fat Greek yogurt or sour cream and 1 tbsp of homemade ranch seasoning. If you want a thinner dressing, mix in 1/8-1/4 cup skim milk.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Meet the Truffle Chickens


We have a few new arrivals on the farm. They arrived in much warmer weather than this (just saying). Let me introduce you to "the truffles".

All the way from Tomball, Texas, a little band of fluffy misfit cochin banties traveled- arriving at the Scaife Family Farm. These little bundles of fluff and feather now reside in brooder pasture with Lucy the goose and the family of ducks. Unlike our regular flock, they serve no great purpose other than entertainment (and a few tiny novelty eggs).

Miss K visited the new flock; treat in hand (if you look closely you can see the bread crumb in her grasp). Can you read the skepticism in her face? Those are chickens? I am still not sure she believes me.

Either way, they are here to stay. Awkward and unusual, these little puff balls are my mother's favorite afternoon entertainment. I have to admit, they are kind of growing on me, too.

So, join me in welcoming some new and odd members to the farm flock- the truffle chickens.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Our Favorite Nourishing Chicken Soup

   I can't stress enough the blessing of freezing/canning your own stock; you just can't buy it! Personally, I cook for stock 24 hours..12 with meat/12 with bones and juices; this way all the nourishing goodness is pulled into the broth. Once drained, I freeze broth for future use (freezing some of the meat for emergency meals).
   As far as vegetables..we use what's on hand..soup is flexible and our tastes can vary (not to mention garden availability). Sometimes it has tons of veggies; sometimes only a few..but in abundance. Herbs...if fresh are available, they are preferred, but since I dry my herbs for winter, I use them when I don't have fresh or I don't want to slosh through the mud to get some (smile).


1 whole bird, skinned and washed
8 cups water (or enough to cover bird in pot)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 onion
5 garlic cloves, smashed
2 chilies (fresh or dried)

Place all ingredients in a stock pot (or crock pot) and cover. Simmer 12 hours- low and slow. Remove the bird- take the meat off the bones and refrigerate until needed. Place the bones back in the stock pot and simmer 12 more hours..skimming if needed.
The longer you cook the stock, the richer and more flavorful it is. 
After 24 hours, strain through a fine mesh sieve (or cheese cloth), discarding bones/veggies. 
Either freeze the stock in quart containers or place it in a large pot and make soup.

Broth from above (fresh or thawed)
4 onions, coarsely chopped
8 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 celery stocks, coarsely chopped
2-4 zucchinis, thick sliced
1 small head broccoli, coarsely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 inch of ginger, grated
2-4 tablespoons sea salt
2-4 teaspoons crushed red pepper
small bunch basil, rosemary, sage and oregano
a large bunch of thyme
chicken meat from earlier cooking
fresh parsley (to top at serving)

In a stock pot, simmer all ingredients (except the meat and parsley) until veggies are fork tender. Stir in meat just to warm..adding parsley at serving time. 
This soup freezes well in serving portions or quarts.

   We have been eating this soup for several years now; when recovering from illness, detoxing after heavy meals (or seasonally), and after a nasty migraine. Today, well- I am simply eating to warm myself and hopefully ward off any illness that may be looming in this nasty cold weather!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Little Testing in the Garden

I love a project, and I have to shortage of ideas! The garden is a wonderful avenue for testing ideas since there is an endless supply of projects to be done with new challenges every season. Living in as far south as I do, water has become a big garden issue. Time to test some projects!

After attending what was one of the most irritating classes at a garden convention, a notion kept rolling around my mind. Something seen but not focused upon in a slide show I was only half paying attention to just kept gnawing at me. In my notebook doodles of the slide were a poor representation of the idea coming to fruition. My husband was going to strangle me when he heard about this one.

Contrary to my nature, but in an attempt to compromise, I scaled down my eager plans to only a fraction of the original design. He was skeptical, but complied with my crazy- busting out the tiller and gathering supplies we got the ball rolling.

Tilled soil would be a base as soaker hoses or drip irrigation hosing would be set as a guide. Over the irrigation, wide raised rows would be pulled before being covered with black fabric. Why? When we irrigate the water often evaporates before truly hitting the roots leading to poor plant development or even fruit dropping. To circumvent this, we bury the lines deep in the root's zone all while covering to retain moisture and keep weeds out.

I believe the initial results speak for themselves. The two row test area showed stunning growth, healthy root/plant development, and is 'fruiting' well. Weeds are not present and very few pests have been seen. Watering was simple- just turning the water supply on. Proudly, I strolled my husband out through the rows to see the astounding results and hear how proud he to have yielded to my insanity. That's not quite what happened. Instead, he stood there with a strange look on his face as he reported the error of my thinking: he did all that back breaking work for this trial for me to plant the one vegetable he absolutely disdains: cabbage. Uhg- he got me there.

Needless to say, the irrigated/raised/covered row was wonderful- so much so, I decided to go a bit further. This week I planted 21 blackberry canes in the very same manner (the rows are a little lower). When I showed "Mr. No Cabbage" he was fairly pleased... dreams of blackberry cobbler must be swimming around his head!

Now- what project can I rope him into next?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Sometimes He Just Gets Me

Shopping is not my forte; or my husbands. We absolutely would rather weed the garden than shop- especially during the holidays. Anyone getting this? Not only do we not shop, but - honey, we do not shop together. Last December found us outside our right minds, shopping together, in stores we never visit with each other.. like World Market.
He was rushing me to get the last of our shopping done before our get-together's got underway when I decided to bite the bullet and drag him through World Market for a few items I had in mind and couldn't find anywhere else. I had it in my head he would most likely sit in the car, circling the parking lot like he had at the last 'female-type store' we hit. He didn't. With a groan, we went in.
I am all for going to what you need and getting out the door, but he has a much more advanced condition known as 'get it and run." Meandering in a way that drives him to the nine degree of crazy found me gazing longingly at a whole section of beautiful mortar and pestles. I would surely be a real herbalist if I had a whole mess of mortar and pestles in my herbal kitchen. My mind drifted through barefoot fantasies of picking and snipping herbs; drying bunches all over the house; blending this and that in a mortar just the right size. Until he disrupted my daydream with 'are we done?'- uhg. He did offer to buy me one- but, one- how do you choose one? I declined. We left.
Much to my surprise every one of those mortar and pestles showed up in my kitchen the morning after Christmas. He had stayed later than the farm boy for their trip to the lease to sneak them onto the counter and leave me a note. Why? Because, every once in a while he just gets me.
It took me a less than a year to complete two herbal certifications, find a mentor, and start getting real about natural practices. Long before that one of our daughters built an herbal garden, which I took over after she moved to college- furthering my desire to study and practice. He was my constant reminder to study, test recipes, use them, and continue. The guy has tolerated my ramblings about what I learn and the shock that often comes from reading about modern medicine. Sometimes, he just gets me.    
There in my kitchen I stood speechless- not easy to do. I later learned he went and found that market place after his gym and before work the day after our outing. Hiding them, he had not wanted to give them in front of everyone, but save them- he knew what it would mean to me and that we wouldn't want this moment lost in the jumble. He knew how long it had been since one of us just 'got it' and did something totally irrational and out of character. He knew I would get it, too.
Every time those mortars catch my gaze I am reminded of that moment alone with them in the kitchen, when I remembered what drew me to him all those years ago, what keeps me grounded to him all these years later, and what gets us through everything life has handed us. Despite it all, I get him... and sometimes he gets me, too.  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Quilty Finish for January- Just in Time

Okay. I know it seems a bit silly to celebrate something so small. This table topper quilt technically only took a few weeks to complete- but with my work schedule that is a miracle! Two color triangle squares set the blocks 'on point' giving the appearance of tumbling blocks. Some of you may remember this pattern was done in the exact same colors a few years ago, however, this one is much smaller and has different borders, backing and stitching. It is called, "Gazing Through my Window". It is a quilt for my mother.

For some time now my mother has been quite ill, spending plenty of time resting. Her home here with me is set so that from any place she rests there is a window view of different parts of the farm. Sitting with her one afternoon I realized that the position she often rests in lets her gaze through a tree top canopy at the blue sky. Quietly there my mind was drawn to the remnants of my previous quilt and the beauty of a blue sky with puffs of white where stark brown branches interrupt and hint at where beautiful leaves should be.

Sritching and scratching in my notebook, the design table filled with bits of this and pieces of that until the machine was called into action as snippettes of thread and tidbits of fabric magically came together in the form of this little quilt. The small size was important, as her home is dressed in small tables and little couches- perfect homes for little quilts.

The quilting stitches were the final puzzle I struggled to find. She loves flowers, but the are not in season and were not seen through the window. Farm motifs were out of place and leaves just didn't work for me. After days of doodling and moaning over the whole mess (I nearly gave up and said it would have to wait) when finally it hit me.. dogwood. She has always loved the dogwood. Looped petals along the blocks gave a gentle impression of breeze while lending the 'memory of leaves' that struck me as I gazed through her window.

It all came together at the very last minute. I was literally stitching the binding hours before our gathering- the pains of being too concerned with representation of the idea. Tucked in a gift bag, I was itching for her to see it.. of course, she loved it.. but the story has not been told.

So here, today, I share the imagery, the imaginary (the fretting) and the facts behind her quilt.. given with the intention of brightening dark days and bringing to mind all the wonder that can be found by simply "Gazing Through (her) Window".

Happy Birthday, Mom.