Monday, July 25, 2011

Random Strangers

Today was one of those days where someone unexpectedly stops by to "see our chickens." Obviously they saw them, but chicken keeping enthusiasts have to see them up close and personal. We welcome them. My husband started the chatting (which he LOVES) about the yard, hens, and coop. Tells the poor soul we live off the land, which we so don't, and really draws them in. It is like a fish story. Gary gets better with the telling. I can't say I blame him. Don't we all have ideas in our head about what we want our yards and property to turn out being? I have to say though. The coop and rabbit area are certainly starting to look like something worth showing off.

Our guest told us the many chicken breeds he has tried while I was wondering what happened to them all. He picked up a tip or two, such as, if your hens don't lay in your nest boxes they aren't very private. Hens like private. His nest boxes were so big his goats curled up in them. There's your sign. Apparently, his last batch of hens roosted up in some sort of tree house and all were lost to a wild animal. Gary also shared with him that clipping wings can be useful. Although on three acres I wouldn't bother. All in all our guest admired our property and on a parting note encouraged us to keep goats. "You have perfect goat property," he said.

Now Berea... what do you think? Can I keep goats. I will get the small ones that are hardly larger then some of my neighbor's dogs. It won't really be a bother will it?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Beat the Heat

It's hot. I know we don't have it as bad as other parts of the country but upper 90's with humidity is quite a jump from the 70's and low 80's that Ohio summers usually have. I secretly love it. Yes, I love the heat. But the kids and Blake? Um... not so much... here are a couple of ways we have been beating the heat.

The beach. It never seems quite as hot there, am I wrong? And with two beaches only a five minute drive from our blue house, we have no excuse.

Books. Inside. Many trips to the local library.

Ice cream. Sure it is messy but that is what summer is for.

Evening walks and bike rides at the dam. It is two miles out and two miles back of concrete. Living in the country, concrete is sort of a treat.

And you can't beat a sunset on the lake. Awesome, as in worthy of awe...

All in all we are really enjoying this weather and what feels like only a handful of nice sunny days we get a year. How about you? What are you doing to make sure summer doesn't pass you by?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My Piano Mantle

I always wanted a mantle. You know, the focal point of the family room where you display pretty and meaningful things. The setup would change according to the seasons and looking at it would make me happy.

Well, while I do have a fireplace, the wood meant to become my beloved mantle remains in the garage. Sigh. But I do have a piano. It is kind of the center of our home, with little hands running over the keys or slightly more experienced musicians teaching younger siblings. So it became my mantle. I decorated it for spring/summer and can't help but smile as I walk past.

Each piece is a found item from around the house. The circle is a paper wreath I made a while back paired with white birch logs. My brother gave me the wood when one of his gardening clients had the beautiful tree taken down. The kids found the abandoned bird nest and it pops up here and there around the house. To me birds and nests symbolize family.

The vase is the complimentary type, cheap waxy glass so I took an afternoon and coiled twine around it. Drops of hot glue keep the roping place every couple rotations. I like to see varied height so I head downstairs and dug through piles of old books to match my colors. This time it was yellows and greens.

I have one colored mason jar in blue green, a perfect spot for a bouquet of wildflower or pretty weeds. The framed sheet music is a song Blake wrote for me for my 20th birthday. The tiny teal pot holds a small mound of moss.

When this sunny season comes to an end, I will turn to my "mantle" to reflect the new weather and again I will scour this place to find items to group with my new color scheme. Maybe blues, or rust colors... I never know until the very afternoon I decide to take this one down.

But I must say this has been one of my favs. Glad I could share it with you.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Q: What's for supper...

A: Vegetables.

I love vegetables. More specifically the ones I just picked in my very own garden, grown from tiny seeds. In the summer, my go-to supper is always stir-fry, basically veggies over rice. I'll place the food on the table and my husband will smile and the kids we immediately begin bargaining. How much do I have to eat to get my dessert? If I eat all my zucchini can I leave the mushrooms? What are these slimy green things? Then there is the baby.

A rice monster.

The best thing about growing your own food is there is always something to eat. Sounds logic, but to really think about it makes me feel thankful, safe and grounded. A quick trip into the garden can round up snacks (snap peas, edemame or kale chips) and ideas for treats even refreshing beverages (ever try lime basil-aid?) Sure beet greens may not make my six year old's top ten favorite foods but he will eat them and his belly will be full and he will grow and play. He will do the same on hot dogs and cheese curls too but something happens when kids eat the food they help plant, tend, harvest and prepare. They experiment. They talk. They learn. A garden is magic.

My garden: snap peas, snow peas, peas, peppers,
zucchini, beet greens, onion greens and kale

The market: yellow squash (dollar basket) and carrots

Rice: organic brown rice (bulk)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Good News Bad News

Good News:

We have lovely garden this year. Lots of new things...

Grapes trellised and producing teeny tiny grapes for the first time ever.

I think they enjoy being off the ground and not getting beat up by the lawnmower and little feet.

New raised boxes that enabled us to start more perennials and get the early cold crops in the ground before the big garden was plowed. We added 4- 4X8 beds (peas, greens, and 2 strawberries), 1 - 4X24 bed (asparagus and garlic) and a super long 2X32 bed for our blueberries to our herb and strawberry beds from two years ago. The backyard is really taking shape. A big change from the clay slip and slide it used to be.

This is my greens bed: kale, spinach and arugula.
No wimpy lettuce here, all hearty greens!

And a new north-south orientation of four foot rows for the garden.

This was taken about 10 days ago. There has been more waterfall and more growth.
I'm always amazed what rain and sunshine can do for a garden!
And here it is yesterday... amazing, huh?

Bad News:

This self-proclaimed farm now only has one lone chicken. Sadly we lost all but one of our chickens to a wild animal. Each spring we reinforce our coop to withstand nature, be it weather or predators. It is inevitable that each season we will at some point lose the battle (and a few of our flock) but we have always won the war. Last week I was not awoken by my annoying rooster and that sent a wave of panic through me. At my coop door this is what I found.

No feathers, no struggle. So sad. The chicken yard is fenced and gated and the coop itself was locked tight for the night with all my little ones falsely safe inside. The animal jumped (?) the fence and tore open the vent to get to my sleeping flock. Only "Puppy" is left.

She was always more of a pet than livestock, following us around the yard. She survived because she refuses to roost in the coop at night but instead (and much to my frustration) prefers to stay on my front porch. A devastating set back. It is difficult any time an animal under your care perishes in a way you never intended and I don't believe I will ever get used to it. I am hoping to purchase a new batch of chicks since the weather is still nice to brood them out in the coop. This way by next spring, I will have a new fresh group of laying hens. A small flock of chickens in imperative if I want to call my place a farm. We are even tossing around the idea of raising a couple of turkeys (separately of course) specifically for our Thanksgiving table. Anyone out there raised these large birds before? It would be new to me so any advice will be welcomed. Thanks!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Gluten Free White Cake

I don't do cakes. I never have. In my mind, cakes and cupcakes are always a total disappointment. The presentation lures me in, with its fancy frosting and picture perfect display but it's just that, a facade, like an empty promise. The actual taste always lets me down. It's either way too sweet and dense or so dry you wish you could rewind and choose the brownie instead. And it goes that if I won't eat it I surely will not bake it. Well, I broke that rule this past holiday weekend. Seriously, you can not avoid cakes for the fourth. Apparently the most respectable way to show your patriotic spirit is with a red white and blue cake. What really wore me down was the presentation. I wanted to be the one to show up to the party carrying a cake worth envying. So there I was in the kitchen hours before a big party attempting my very first gluten free cake. How did it turn out?

Gorgeous and tasty if I do say so myself. I don't even like cake and ate two slices. The crumb was excellent and the taste was perfectly delicate without too much sweet. The key to seeing this one disappear is not telling all the guests how much butter you used because that will shake the faint at heart. Cakes aren't as scary as I thought so maybe I will become a fan yet.

Gluten Free White Cake

  • 1 cup milk, room temp
  • 3/4 cup egg whites, room temp
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract (I used amaretto flavored organic syrup)
  • 2 cups rice flour minus 2 tablespoons
  • 1/4 cup tapioca flour/starch plus two tablespoons
  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
  • Preheat oven to 350*. Grease and flour two 9 inch round cake pans.
  • In a small bowl, combine milk, whites and flavoring. Mix until blended.
  • In a large bowl combine flours, sugar, powder, salt and xanthan gum with an electric mixer. Add butter and mix at low speed until it is no longer powdery, but looks like crumbs. Add milk mixture and beat until combined, scrape sides down once and beat again.
  • Pour batter into pans and bake for 22-25 minutes. Test with a toothpick at 22 minutes and adjust your time accordingly. The toothpick should come out clean.
  • Let the cakes cool slightly so the cake comes away from the sides of the pan, about 3-5 minutes. Invert cakes onto a plate then again onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before frosting.
inspired by classic white layer cake recipe from the best recipe by cook's illustrated

This pretty cake was frosted with two sticks of butter and about a pound of powdered sugar. Whoa! Don't see that very often in this kitchen. Funny thing is that the original cake and frosting recipe this is adapted from called for over one pound of butter. That is one of the awesome things about cooking gluten free. You can use way less butter! Who knew? Well, I guess I did and now so do you!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Backyard Lighting

Is camping out in your own backyard still camping? I hope so. Crossing that one off my "things to do this summer with the kids" list was really important to me. To make it more magical, I really wanted our tents to be encircled with lights strung onto high posts. It sounded great in my head until I had to actually dig eight 2ft deep holes for the posts. Did I mention that while gathering supplies for this project it had also started to rain? Not a light refreshing shower but sideways. I also decided that digging holes in my yard seemed quite permanent and just something else annoying to try to mow around. Since my greatest non-employable talent is making something out of nothing, I needed a plan B.

Buckets and a shovel.

I had an equally creative and equally soggy friend steady a post in a five gallon bucket while I shoveled in mud from the back of the garden. When the bucket was half full, I compacted the soil and then continued to fill to the top. The post didn't wiggle and would surely support a string of lights high above our tents. Success.

Now, is it the prettiest thing I have ever seen? No, not by day...

but by night...

it is magical. Just the touch I wanted to add to our backyard camping night. And the best part is it was free, using only what I had at home. It is a cinch to mow around, just drag the bucket a couple inches, mow and put it back. It could be as elaborate or simple as you'd like. The tents have come down but the lights stay up, always ready for a impromptu bonfire... a little wine... a little music... good times...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hopp'n Busy & Tired of Cleaning

Well I am pleased to announce that we have five plump baby bunnies bouncing around in the nest box. Queen E has done a fabulous job as a mommy and she loves when I go back to visit her babies because she get a treat of some sort of fresh veggies! Here is to a step forward for our little livestock community.

Over the 4th of July weekend, Gary succeeded in moving the old flock into the new coop with the new flock. It involved rearranging feeders, waterers, nest boxes and perches. It isn't hundred percent done, but what around here ever is? A new window will go into the old coop along with a divider that will allow the chickens to navigate to their nest boxes and nothing more. The remainder of the building will be dedicated to a rabbit run, inside boxes for the rabbits to get out of the wind (the rabbit hutches are on the back outside wall of the old coop), and storage.

The garden continues to stump me. Weeds carpet the ground of the new garden. I can't pull enough without ten more popping up in it's place. There are small triumphs but it isn't the gorgeous, green, garden that I imagined. Oh well, if we get some food from it then we are moving in the right direction. We have already decided that it is far to shady of a spot and we'll be moving it. Yup. You heard me. We are moving it this fall. I am groaning internally. My real hope lies in my green house and raised beds. Hopefully I can extend my season long enough to get some decent food for preserving. The onions, peas, and potatoes were shot. My father is enjoying his first cucumbers and mine are barely a foot tall. What can you do but keep adding compost and hopefully soon rabbit manure and see some drastic changes?

Prior to Friday I had a fairly clean house. The kitchen table was paper and clutter free. Dishes kept up on. Floor swept. Laundry mostly done. Then Friday I decided it was imperative to rearrange furniture. It actually was imperative to rearrange. The bookcases in our living room were to heavy for our newly rejoisted and leveled floors. We have created a rather large dip and Gary will some how need to dig out the crawl space before winter and jack up the floor to add another support. It is disappointing that it happened but it is only one spot so hopefully we can fix it easily. The move has put the house into a cluttered chaos and some much needed sorting, filing, and rearranging is slowly and painfully getting done. Perhaps afterwards I will be able to get my much needed pantry reorganization done. I think Gary will sigh with relief as well as I will.

I will post pictures and perhaps a video tour of the house/yard. Hopefully we can inspire someone else out there that you really can do a lot with nothing. Let me know what you would like to see more of.

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