Tuesday, March 26, 2013


With the beginning of Spring currently bringing only snow, I have had to put all of my warm weather excitement on hold.  I have been passing the time crafting; with the kids mostly, but also on my own when I can manage it.  

We love to get craft books from the library, and last week we got an especially good one.  Lincoln and Audrey have been pouring over it, so much so that I have only caught glimpses of the crafts while Audrey "reads" it to me.  The first inspired project was the flower garden in the 2nd picture above; I drew the flowers, Lincoln cut, and Audrey glued.  We cut down the snow storm in the play room, then hung the garden to welcome Spring.  

The next day we switched to paint.  We intended to draw butterflies, but decided that it would be better just to paint and cut out butterflies from the painted paper later.  That suited my little artists just fine, and now we have yards of beautiful, pastel colored paper to cut and paste.

When the kids are sleeping or otherwise occupied I have managed to slip in a little crafting of my own.  I decided a few months ago that I wanted to make a quilt.  I really had no idea what that meant other than some sewing and pretty fabric, so I consulted Wes's Granny, a quilt-making expert.  She gave me a few priceless tips and even gifted me with a quilt frame, which doubles as a jungle gym when not in use.  (Granny and her daughter, Wes's Aunt Alice, are my crafting Fairy Godmothers.  They have gifted me with enough fabric, yarn, needles, and the like to keep me busy for years.  I couldn't be more grateful to them!)

Right around the time I decided to make a quilt, my sister-in-law mentioned that she could not find a comforter for my niece in her favorite colors - yellow and orange.  That was the spark.  The next thing I knew I was picking out fabrics and Presley's quilt was in the works.  It is nothing too fancy, just squares (and uneven ones at that), but I have had fun and learned so much while working on it.  It will not be my last quilt.  

I have also been knitting.  I love to knit.  Above is the second take on a seed stitch tie for Lincoln.  It is a quick knit, but I am still a novice knitter and not terribly fast.  I plan to have it finished in time for him to wear it on Easter.  After that comes off the needles I am going to start the sweater I promised Lincoln months ago, and then a sweater for me.  Not to mention all the sewing I have planned.  Yes, I have plenty to do while I wait out the weather. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Springing Forward

Happy Spring!!  It is finally here!  I start to anticipate the coming of this day on about January 3rd every year; when winter finally sets in and the holiday buzz has worn off.  I have been so excited for so long that I don't know where to start now that the day is finally here.  There are so many things to do right now that will determine the success of our growing season - seed starting, preparing the garden bed, staking, trellising, pruning...  It is easy to let myself get overwhelmed.  

I have other reasons to be excited, though.  Warm days mean going outside without jackets, shoes, even pants if you are Lincoln or Audrey!  Walks in the woods, playing in the creek, picnics and suppers outside - all good reasons to welcome the warm weather. 

Here are a few favorites from last year:

Despite my being overwhelmed, things are starting to happen around here.  The kiddos and I planted patches of asparagus and strawberries last week, Wes has started working on getting the big garden bed ready to plant, and a wheelbarrow load of finished compost has been put aside to use on seedlings.  We also made a makeshift seed starting area since my cold frame hasn't managed to build itself.  I am actually pretty proud of our idea, and will be even more so if it actually works well.  We took a big plastic storage shelf that was on the porch and moved it out to a sunny spot in the yard, up against a wall for support.  Once I get some seeds planted we will pile them in and cover the whole thing with clear plastic. I also plan to put a thermometer in it so I will know if it needs to be vented.  Now all I need to do is actually plant the seeds...

Friday, March 15, 2013


When my little fella wakes up on Sunday morning he will be four years old.  I can hardly believe it.  I know it's cliche, but it really seems like it was just last week that I was pregnant, and about 5 minutes ago he was my chubby, bald, big headed baby boy.  This little man that he is turning into, though, is more than I could have ever wished for.  He constantly keeps me on my toes, asking me questions that  are sometimes so simple I don't know how to answer them, other times so complex I don't know how to begin.  He is a dancing fool, can climb like a monkey, and can run faster than a cheetah (ask him to show you next time you see him!).  Lincoln is intelligent, curious, funny, creative, clever, strong, and well mannered; he even eats his vegetables.  I could not be more proud to be his mama.

7 months old
He wants to be a cowboy when he grows up.
He is the best big brother.
We have been celebrating Prince Week since Monday, and will conclude with a small party at home on Sunday, his actual birthday.  He has requested a choo-choo train carrot cake, and what the Prince wants, the Prince gets.  I plan to make this one, which looks nothing short of amazingly delicious, minus the nuts and raisins.  He is even going to help me make it tomorrow, that sweet little guy of mine.  

As if turning four isn't enough excitement for this weekend, tomorrow Lincoln is going to his first T-ball practice.  It is actually just try-outs for the teams, but it will be his first time on the field and the first time to see his peers.  I fully expect him to be a little nervous and shy about it, but I am so excited for him; I am confident that once he gets over his nerves he will shine.  He is something special.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Weekend

And oh what a weekend it was!  As I sit here on Sunday night I feel like so much was accomplished here on our little farm this weekend.  Notice I use the word "farm," which I have been reluctant to do in the past.  No more, however, because now we have a TRACTOR!  Chickens, a tractor, an orchard, a (soon to be) huge garden, always-pouring-money-in-and-never-profiting... if that doesn't add up to farming I don't know what does!

Big Blue and the bush hog

I should be fair and mention that most of the things accomplished this weekend were almost single handedly accomplished by Wes, the part-time gentleman farmer (he has to work full-time at a real job so we can afford our farming hobby).  Saturday morning we all woke bright and early; Wes headed out first thing to paint our amazing new chicken coop and the chicken tractor.  We then headed to my in-law's to load up our new (to us) tractor, and Wes's dad was kind enough to deliver it along with a bush hog that Wes had found.  

The former home of our flock: the Chicken Tractor.  Now for sale.

Sunday we again woke bright and early, except it wasn't quite as early as we thought thanks to Daylight Savings Time.  I really love getting the extra hour in the evenings, but the first few days of "spring forward" are not so fun - losing the hour in the morning, and evenings taking extra long because the kids aren't tired at bedtime.  Nevertheless, we jumped up and got busy.  We slaughtered two more roosters, this time putting them directly in the freezer for later use.  The flock was at 13 birds with four of them roosters.  The hens were getting attacked frequently, usually by all four at once, and it was not pretty; some roosters had to go for the safety of our layers.  I am happy to report that processing the two birds took about the same amount of time as the one did last time.  I may get good at this yet.  

After Wes had done his part of the rooster job (the killing), he fired up Big Blue and bush hogged several areas that were seriously overgrown.  The kids and I were exhausted, so we went inside for rest time while Farmer Wes moved on to another chore.  I am not sure what because I was inside reading and drinking coffee (that man of mine is a good one!).  After our nice rest we loaded up and went to Tractor Supply Co. and got some 3/4" couplers so the kids and I can make hula hoops!!!  I read this article a few months ago and, knowing that we have several coils of irrigation tubing under the house, I have been itching to make a hoop ever since.  We got a few other things - neem oil for the fruit trees and 2 peach tree saplings (purchased on a whim), but that stuff seems insignificant now that I have mentioned hula hoops.  

The weather could not have been more perfect for us today; all of us were in t-shirts and the kiddos were able to play in the creek.  It was a real reminder that spring is just 10 days away, and that the scales will tip soon and our time will be spent more out than in.  I am so very ready.  

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Recipes: Homemade Tortillas and My Favorite Soup

Cooking is my favorite of all of the household chores.  I love it so much that I think of it as a hobby rather than a chore.  In recent years, since I have become Mama, I have taken my hobby to a new level by making everything I possibly can at home.  I love knowing that a pantry stocked with flours, dried beans and grains, an ample spice rack, and some meat and vegetables can make me just about any meal I want.  There is also the added benefit of knowing exactly what is in my food - no trans fats or artificial flavors are to be found in my kitchen.  Plus, food cooked fresh and from scratch just tastes better.

Tonight for supper I am making my favorite soup.  My mom gave me this recipe last spring and ever since I have been making it and tweaking it, depending on what is in season and in my pantry.  I make it so frequently that when I say we are having soup for supper, everyone knows that this is what they will be getting.

Before you read the recipe, you should know something about my cooking - I rarely measure anything and I take lots of liberties when following a recipe.  I have tried to include some of the substitutions I have made in the past without overwhelming the recipe.  Feel free to make your own substitutions, additions, or eliminations based on what you have, and don't worry too much about exact measurements.  That said, if you follow the recipe below exactly you will end with an amazing pot of soup.  

Vegetable Barley Soup

2 large carrots, scrubbed and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 medium sweet potatoes or 1/2 of a winter squash or 1 summer squash, peeled (not the summer squash) and chopped
1 large onion, diced
1/2 c cooked greens, or approx. 2 c raw (spinach, kale, collards, etc.)
1 c barley or other grain (rice, quinoa, wild rice, millet, etc.)
1 can diced tomatoes, juice included, or 2 large fresh, diced
1 can or approx. 2 c cooked chickpeas or other beans, drained
2 quarts vegetable broth or water 
3-5 cloves garlic, finely diced, or 1 t garlic powder
3 bay leaves
1 t parsley
1 t curry
1 t paprika
1 t worcestershire sauce
1/2 t pepper
1 t salt (this can be omitted or lessened if you are using broth)

Throw everything in a big pot (6-8 quarts) and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Cover and turn to medium-low.  Let it simmer for 90 minutes, stirring whenever you pass through the kitchen.  This will make about 4 quarts of soup; enough for my family of 4 to have supper twice, or one supper and several lunches.  It will keep in the fridge for a week or so, and it freezes well, too.  

I like to make this soup vegetarian in the pot, but my meat-loving kiddos and husband would be disappointed if I served it without a side of sausage.  I cook ground sausage separately and then we add it to the soup once it is in our bowls, keeping the leftovers meat free for my lunch.  

To me, the perfect accompaniment to a steamy bowl of stew is some cheesy bread.  Tonight we will be having grilled cheese, but an equally delicious alternative is a cheese quesadilla, or cheese tortilla as we call it around here.  Here is my recipe for unbelievably easy flour tortillas.

Flour Tortillas

3 c flour (whole wheat, whole wheat pastry, all purpose, or any combination)
1 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1 c hot tap water
3 T oil (olive, coconut, or non-hydrogenated lard - yes, lard - are good choices, but any oil will do)

Mix flour, salt, and baking powder.  Add the water and oil and knead until it all comes together, then form it into a ball-like mass.  Tear off balls about 1.5-2" across (think a ping pong ball).  You should get about 12 balls, give or take a few.  At this point, warm a dry skillet on medium heat.  Take a ball and roll it out on the counter.  Don't use any flour, sticking to the counter will help keep it from sticking to your rolling pin.  When it is as thin as you can manage, peel it off the counter and throw it in the hot pan.  Cook it for a minute or so on each side, rolling out the next while one is in the pan.  Wrap the cooked tortillas in a towel and keep them in a covered pot until you are ready to eat them.  Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge; they will keep for at least a week.  Enjoy!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Country Girl Merit Badge : Rooster for Supper

Charlie the Rooster
Last Sunday, the handsome and fierce rooster pictured above became supper for me and my family.  I won't get into the gory details - there are plenty of youtube videos and websites that can give you that if you are so inclined - but I will say that I have a new found respect for chicken.  

Charlie, who came with his name, was a craigslist rooster I found when Broody Hen first started sitting back in early October.  In my excitement, I didn't think about the fact that Charlie was at that point only 3 months old and too young to breed my hens for fertilized eggs.  In fact, he didn't even cock-a-doodle-doo until early January; he figured out the mating part shortly after that.  Up until then he was a good rooster and I was happy to have him.  I thought that a rooster would help to protect my flock, give us fertilized eggs, and wake us up in the morning like on a proper farm.  I did not consider the negatives - primarily that roosters are often mean and that they can be a danger to young children.  

Charlie first challenged me just a week or two after finding his voice.  After letting everyone out of the coop in the morning I was walking back to the house and felt a big thump against my calf.  I stopped and turned around to see Charlie standing about 4 feet away.  I thought about it for a second, and deciding that it had to be him since no meteorites were nearby, I kicked him.  In hindsight I realize that maybe that wasn't the best thing to do, especially according to this guy.  At the moment, though, I felt that I had been challenged and that I needed to show him that I am the head rooster.  In my defense, there are articles and message boards all over the internet encouraging this ''head rooster" idea.  Obviously I have read them all.  

Charlie didn't get the hint the first time, and a few days later he did it again.  Once again I attempted a kick, but this time he knew the game and dodged my foot.  A stick made the contact that my foot couldn't manage.  I didn't have any problems for a few weeks and I hoped that was the end of it, but of course it wasn't.  

One day the kids and I were headed outside to play; Lincoln was the first one down the steps while Audrey and I were still on the porch getting shoes on.  Then it happened... Charlie attacked Lincoln.  He had his feathers all fluffed out and he was standing nearly as tall as Lincoln squawking and looking mean ("he looks like a lion!!" Lincoln said).  Lincoln hadn't done anything to Charlie to challenge him, at least in Lincoln's eyes, and he was of course crying and scared.  I ran down and chased Charlie around the house throwing sticks and yelling and crowing at him.  I was pretty much acting like a mad woman, and had I caught him we would have likely had him for supper that night.  

Finally I calmed down and got Lincoln settled (he was not hurt, just scared).  I was pretty certain that Charlie had sealed his fate, but I had some doubts.  Lincoln likes to chase the chickens and can sometimes be a little intimidating to the poor birds.  I couldn't help but wonder if he had done something that caused Charlie to attack.  A few days later Charlie erased my doubt and any chance of his survival by attacking Audrey.  She ran down the stairs, ignoring me when I told her to wait, and headed under the porch to the power-wheels jeep.  She fell down when she was running and then I heard her start screaming and crying, and I heard Charlie.  I ran down and scooped her up (she wasn't hurt, either) and, following that guy's advice, I just stood there and tried to calm myself.  He settled down in a few seconds and we both walked away.  After that I knew without a doubt what we were having for supper the next weekend.  

Last Saturday Wes killed him and I cleaned him.  I didn't time it, but I am guessing it took me 30-45 minutes to do the whole business, not including clean-up.  I am sure a serious chicken farmer would scoff at that, but it was only my second time and the first doesn't really count (that story is crazy and involves a baseball bat, a dull knife, scissors, and 3 stunned hens... I'll save it for another time).  My original plan was to skin him, thus avoiding the whole messy plucking deal, but when I tried to pull the skin back I got a handful of feathers so I commenced plucking.  After it was all done he looked pretty much like a supermarket chicken, just not as supple; I'm not sure if this was because he was a tough old rooster (8 months old compared to the typical 2 months for most meat birds) or because it took me so long to clean him that rigor mortis had set in...

Me butchering the bird.  I blurred Charlie, so as to not offend anyone ;)

I put him in a brine till Sunday morning, then into the crockpot for the day with some potatoes, onions, and carrots.  Sunday evening we ate him, or at least tried to.  He actually tasted really good, but the problem for us all (except Audrey, who ate with abandon) was that it was Charlie.  Don't get me wrong, none of us are on the verge of vegetarianism, but with every bite I could picture Charlie roaming in the yard and it slightly tainted the enjoyment of my otherwise tasty meal.  

I have no guilt for killing him; he was mean and was not suitable for our flock, and not worth the trouble of craigslisting him off to the likely cock-fighters that would want him.  I think the lesson from this first (really second) chicken slaughter is respect for what we eat.  Despite the concern I feel when I see or read things about animal cruelty or conditions in factory farms, I admit that it rarely crosses my mind when I am eating a chicken leg, and when it does I am not distressed by it.  Charlie, however, invoked a stir of some emotion, I like to think it was thankfulness, with every bite.  We have 3 or 4 roosters from our Broody Hen hatch that we plan to eat and we are now excited at the prospect.  I am happy to think that these roosters, like Charlie, will have lived a good life with lots of sunshine, bugs to eat, and hens to mount.  We have also learned the important lesson that so many before us have learned and warned us of: don't name what you plan to eat.