Thursday, May 29, 2008

Spudtacular Sight

I took a brave step this spring and planted potatoes. I have never grown potatoes before, so I read all I could find on the subject. I would not recommend doing this, as I became more confused with each piece of information I read.
Dig deep, don't dig deep, trench, don't trench, raised bed, no raised bed, slope, no slope. Dirt? Straw? Oh my goodness! It was all just a bit much.
So, I reached for my copy of Country Wisdom and Know-How, that had sat by my bed for months, and turned to the "Growing Potatoes" section. What was recommended here seemed pretty straight-forward. Turn the garden soil deeply. Do not compact it by walking on it. Determine your rows and place a seed potato evenly spaced across the entire bed. Cover with 18" of straw, water and wait. Okay, done.
I did not hold much hope for this little potato bed of mine, as my thumb has been a rather pallid shade of green the past few years.
My son, our two intrepid missionaries (who never fail to offer their assistance for any service project) and I had dug deeply, turning the hard clay and adding amendments such as peat moss, organic garden soil and cow manure. The result was a lovely, soft mixture of soil the color of the burned sugar on the bottom of my oven. (But that's another story.) The rest was up to Mother Nature to help my little potatoes to pull through.
Well, pull she did! Take a peek for yourself. See those lovely deep green plants poking through the straw? Those are potato plants!! I squealed with delight when I saw them. Because where there are plants, there will be potatoes.

Is that not a beautiful sight to behold? The tops have now been covered with a new layer of straw, so that sunlight does not get down and turn the forming potatoes green. That is probably the hardest part of growing them this way, trying to keep the potatoes in the dark.

But I am hopeful that these sturdy little plants will produce pounds of sweet Purple Viking and Yukon Gold potatoes. My family will be delighted. Especially my meat and potatoes- loving husband.

I don't think there is anything mroe satisfying than placing a seed (or seed potato) in the ground and having it grow and produce food for your family. It is an absolute miracle.

The remainder of our garden is doing as well as the potato patch. By the end of summer, I hope to have been able to feed my family, share vegetables with my parents, along with some elderly members of our church and put some up for the winter.

That's a lot to expect from a small plot of land but I have faith that it will come through. Just like those little potato plants poking through the straw.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Not What She Wanted to Hear

Husband- "Hey, dear. What are we cooking on Monday?"
Me- "Chicken."
Somehow, I don't think Pearl was amused.

Friday, May 23, 2008

What I Made for Lunch Today.

I think I will be making up for lost time for a while here. One of the things that I worked on whilst I was away was cheesemaking. Not hard cheeses, but lovely, soft farmer cheese. Mmmmm.
If you have not had this tasty delight, you are really missing out.
This morning I decided to make an herbed cheese. So, I snipped a bit of tarragon, chopped some garlic and a-whey I went. :)
Here is the recipe. You will amaze your families and friends by making your own cheese. Don't be intimidated, this is super, super simple.
Herbed Farmer Cheese
1 gallon whole milk (organic if possible)
1 T salt
2 T chopped tarragon
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/4-1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Line a large colander with 4 layers of cheesecloth and place over a large bowl.
In a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, pour in milk and add salt. Insert a candy thermometer on the side of the pot. Heat milk/salt mixture to 150 degrees on thermometer. Add tarragon, garlic and pepper.
Cook over medium heat until the milk is almost boiling, approximately 100 degrees Centigrade or 200 degrees Farenheit on the thermometer.
As soon as small bubbles appear along the edge of the pan, just before boiling, add lemon juice. If the milk does not curdle, heat it a bit more. You will be able to see the small, fine curds forming.
Pour your curdled milk/cheese into the colander and allow to drain. (It will take a bit of time. Be patient.)
If the whey is yellow, you have successfully removed all of the milk solids. If it is still white, you can repeat the process and add a bit more lemon juice. You will want to get every bit of cheese you can!
Once the cheese has drained, remove it to a small, covered dish and refrigerate. Serve with crackers and just a small tidge of pride at making something really cool!
Yeild: About 2 1/2 cups of soft, finely grained cheese.
Crackers, anyone?

I'm Back.

Did you miss me? I just took a little blog vacation. Not from reading them, though. I know what all of you have been up to. But me? Well, I've just hung back a little bit, taken a deep breath and sorted out a few things. Good things.
This month of May has been simply wonderful. I was chosen as the Farmgirl of the Month, by my friend Tina, over at the Farmgirl Connection. How sweet was that? And because I was the FOTM, I received some wonderful wishes through the forum and treats in my mailbox.
Thank you, Tina, Pam, Bertha, Autumn, Maryjane, MaryJane, Meg, Nancy Jo, Rebekka. My goodness, I am so grateful.
I have sipped sweet herbal teas, washed my dishes with hand-crocheted dish cloths, snuggled with a Georgia Bullfrog-ette and a stuffed pear that smeels divine, tucked up a beautifully embroidered pillow in a tiny chair, listened quietly to the liquid voice of John Denver, planted seeds and placed tiny treasures in my craft room, where I can be surrounded by the love and friendship that radiates from them.

Who would not love a sweetly embroidered clothespin bag that came full of vintage trim and organic chocolate? I know I do! This came from MaryJane and Meg. My, they know me well. :)

Adding to the delight of mail love, Colleen, sent me a little care package of her own. It was full of scrapbooking supplies, and books. Oh, my! The books! Still Life with Chickens (how appropriate for this new chicken mom), A Perfect Day, Small and Simple Things by Marjorie Pay Hinckley- the most sweet, adorable woman who ever lived (other than Colleen).
I am ever amazed at the kindness and generosity of the women that I have "met" in Bloglandia.

Women with gentle voices, generous hearts, kind souls, and smart minds. They are like this flower, that grew in my back garden. Soft, full, delightful, beautiful with a heavenly scent. A joy to the eye and the heart.
Their friendship is sweet and delicious, satisfying and nourishing. A bit like the Pioneer Woman's apricot breakfast bars. (Only I made mine with homemade strawberry jam.)

The miracle of friendship that comes from women that I have never met is an amazing thing. Beyond treats in the mail, it is the knowledge that someone, somewhere is thinking about you, caring about you and wanting things to be well for you that lifts your heart, quiets your doubts and opens your eyes to the fact that there are many, many good people in this world. And I have the pleasure to be in their company on this incredible connector know as the Internet.

I will leave you with a few words by Sister Hinckley, who sums up how I feel quite succinctly:

"Who knows but that something wonderful may happen today. Have faith that it will. After all, every morning is a chance at a new day!"

Wonderful things have happened because of wonderful people like you. What a lovely thing that is.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

Wishing you a day of rest, a day of sweetness and a day full of hugs!
(Photo by Freddy Franzella)

Happy Mother's Day, everyone!

I'll be sharing my day with my sweet husband. It's his birthday! That's okay by me, because my birthday comes right around Father's Day. Our children think it is part of an evil plot on our part. Who? Us? We would never do that.

Would we?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Jam Session

Yesterday afternoon, I took a trip to the strawberry farm a few miles down the road from my house. I purchased three buckets of luscious fruit, colored the deepest red with perky green caps.
This morning found me in the kitchen preparing to make strawberry jam, one of my favorite things to do in the springtime. A trip under the house yielded enough quart jars for my needs.
Every jam making session starts the same way- a sinkfull of hot, soapy water so that I will have sparkling clean jars; a clean counter top; a pot of hot water for lids and rings and the canner on the boil for processing; the big enamel pot ready for mashing fruit and the Dutch oven waiting on the stove to cook the jam; a colander for washing the fruit and my little paring knife laid out ready to lop off the tops of the berries.
I love the process of jam-making. Preparing the fruit for cooking, measuring out the sugar, watching for the boil, readying the jars and ladling the hot jam into them. A rhythm develops quickly and the entire morning becomes a dance of swirls and dips.

I have used this spoon to stir my jam for many, many years. It was a gift from my friend, Cilla. She found it in a kitchen shop in Ipswich, England, not far from her parent's house. I love this spoon. It has a little peg that prevents it from falling into large pots, and is flat on the bottom so as to gather the jam up from the bottom in a quick sweep. Don't you think I need a nice wooden ladle to go with my spoon?

After spooning off the foam, I ladled the jam into the jars using this jelly funnel. I found it at an estate sale. It is made of porcelain and is the lovliest creamy white color. I can only imagine how many gallons of jam or jelly were poured through its opening. I hope it is happy with me using it now.

(I don't know about you, but I think the foam is the best part of jam-making! I always make toast, spread it with Irish butter and spoon on the foamy bits. A little treat for the cook!)

I succeeded in making six quarts of ruby-colored jam, plus two half-pints for gifts. I am always a bit impatient when it comes to letting it set, so I made sure to put some in the refrigerator in a bowl so I can have some tonight.
I believe that I can sum up my morning's work in one word- Bliss. Strawberry bliss.
Okay, that's two words.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

My Kentucky Derby Hat Swap Hat

I know this is supposed to be posted tomorrow, but I won't be home.
This is the hat I made for Terisa, from Running With Scissors. Talk about intimidation. Have you seen her blog? Beautiful. And the clothes that she designed? Just amazing. And I had to make a hat for her!
The base of the hat is made from paper maché. It's a bit stiff, but still wearable. For about a minute. :)
The crown is partially covered with silk hydrangea blooms, and some of them are accented with sparkly centers. Just for the bling effect.

On the side are two silk peony blossoms and a tiny nest with a sweet little bird perched inside of it. Corkscrewed paper twists (which were easy to make ) accent the side view.

The base of the crown is trimmed with a hand-ruffled ecru twill tape. I think it gives it a nice feminine touch.

Around the brim is hemp twine executed in a blanket stitch. If you look closely you can see the staples used to keep the layers together. Don't look closely.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with the result. I like the softness of the colors and the contrast between the glossy paper and the flowers. The real test will be if Terisa likes it!!

I surely hope so.

My Farmhouse Kitchen

Those three words conjure up pictures of baskets filled with warm, fluffy biscuits spread with homemade jam and fresh eggs ; shelves filled with sparkly glass jars filled with fruits and vegetables grown outside in the kitchen garden; jams and jellies glistening with jewel-like colors so rich they are fit for royalty; crocks filled with the tools-of-the-trade, worn with use yet still relied-upon to do their appointed jobs; a well-scrubbed kitchen table, spread with snowy linens and a pitcher of wild flowers; a sink full of frothy bubbles, warm water and the breakfast dishes; a wooden floor, polished to perfection, gleaming in the sunlight.
Are any of these things found in my own kitchen? Somewhat, yes. But they never quite fit the picture that is in my head.
I love my kitchen, I really do. Wide, open shelves hold my dishes, glassware and mixing bowls, along with the everyday staples of flour, sugar, rice and salt. Everything is there at my fingertips, making cooking a snap.
Across the kitchen, along the long common wall between the living room and dining room areas is a large pantry cabinet, complete with a screen door. Built by my husband and me, it holds cans and bottles and jars of food. Things have a tendency to get lost in there sometimes but for the most part, it is well-organized, with neat rows and stacks of provender.
While I do have wood floors in my kitchen, as well as the rest of the house, it is neither polished nor gleaming. Instead, it is marked with the wear and tear of everyday family life. Scratches from the dogs and furniture being shifted about, make it look a bit shabby, but I love it nonetheless.
My floors get a weekly washing with Dr. Bronner's Eucalyptus Castile Soap. The scent is clean and energizing. During the summer months, it will be washed twice a week, as the dogs and family are spending more time outside and consequently bringing more of it in with them. In between, I sweep. I do own a vacuum cleaner, but I like the rythmn of sweeping and the homeliness of it. Plus, it is good exercise.
Once things are clean, I can get to the business of cooking. It is something I take great delight in doing, and I think I do it well.
Stews, soups, casseroles, breads, cookies, cakes and pies are churned out for a family that is sometimes not as appreciative as I would like them to be. Of my three children, two are picky eaters, and their father makes the scales tip out of balance in their favor. (Hmmm, perhaps that explains the lush padding that I have accumulated!) Against better judgement, I still try to entice them with savories and sweets, and probably will until I draw my last breath.
The only thing missing from my farmhouse kitchen is a screen door, solid wood and painted white, with a spring that slaps it against the door frame with a resounding "Crack!". That would truly complete my happy little picture.
Funny thing is, I have screen doors under my house, bought at yard sales for a song, and I have nowhere to put them! The French doors in the back of the kitchen-dining area won't accomodate them. But you can trust me when I say, that I will find a way to put them to good use. In fact, one of them now serves as the entry to the chicken yard!
All-in-all, I think that a farmhouse kitchen is more of an attitude than appearance. My little suburban kitchen is as much of one as a kitchen in a true farmhouse, surrounded by fields of wheat or corn, cows and chickens. It has become that way because of what occurs within its walls- hearty meals cooked with love, canning fruits and veg to carry us through winter, jams and jellies made to give us a taste of summer all through the year, pies and cakes made for bake sales and contests as well as a hungry family.
If that is not truly the case, then I have a sign hanging in my kitchen that declares it to be such.
I've covered all the bases.