The Gardens end…

Well, she’s just about gone.  The glorious garden that has given us so much this year is gone.   The only thing left are celery leaves, no actual celery (I have no idea why), just leaves which I’ll harvest and freeze for stocks…works the same, 🙂

The glorious garden that gave us fresh veggies all summer, all that we could eat, is no more.  At one point this summer, I couldn’t eat another cucumber… now, my onion dip is lonely and I’d love a garden cuke, but alas winter is near.

For our first large garden, she was very, very good to us…

Lettuces were eaten fresh and shared with others all summer

Tomatoes were plentiful and made into salsas, pizza sauces, marinara, soups, sauces

Cucumbers gave us canned and refigerator pickles and relish

Radishes were pickled and already eaten 😉

Squash is cured and waiting the the basement for a cold winter dinner

Corn is frozen and canned in soups

Green beans are canned in soups and frozen too

Snap peas, frozen awaiting stir frys

Zucchini, ever so abundant is canned into salsas and frozen for soups

Carrots are frozen for soups and stocks

And hot peppers are fermenting for our first try at hot sauce.

And finally chicken bones from processing this week are bubbling away as stock to be canned for the cold months.

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I cannot complain at all.  The work that we did this spring and summer has more than paid off and has given us a renewed sense of pride in growing food for our family and an excitement for next year.  It was a trial year for us and we have some kinks to work out but we are happy and grateful to say the least.

We have a few things left to do to get ready for winter.  Garlic goes in the ground this weekend, cleaning out the gardens, pig processing in a few weeks and closing up the bees are the major things left to get done before it gets colder.

Then we can start seed and chick researching for next year…maybe finally some fruit trees too!

He’s gone and joined the Army, the 1864 Army that is…

One gloomy day in July, my 9-year-old son joined the 1864 Army.  It took all of 90 seconds and the chance to hold a civil war era rifle and he was gone.

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I know that he is only 9 and that it is not real by any stretch of the imagination, but to him (and to my heart) it was pretty real.  I felt a real excitement for him and a serious sad ping in my heart all at the same time.   Silly huh?

What ever will I do in 9 short years when he is off to conquer the world?!?  Although in his 9-year-old mind…he will be living with us forever.  I think it’s ok if I hold onto that particular thought just a little while longer. ❤

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What a beautiful day and a great experience.

I love homeschooling these little people!  The wonderful experiences that we share, the memories that we make. Not only do they learn, but we do too.  ❤

No more CSA…

For the past 3 or so years, we joined a local, organic CSA from their start up. While we loved it at first, we found through the years that we weren’t able to really save anything for the winter and although we are culinarily adventurous, we had produce in the CSA that we never used. 😦  So we were looking for a better way for us to have enough for the summer AND have plenty to can without having to pay farmers market prices for extras.

We were bouncing around the idea of a greenhouse, which is a big expense and not at all pretty to look at on our small property.  I did not want to commit to an expense like that as I was not really comfortable in my black thumb gardening of the past so I suggested that we do a trial garden instead, to see if I could indeed grow things on a larger scale.  You see, I’ve had gardens in the past, from purchased seedlings, that I’ve basically given up on mid season, every single year.  Things get busy, weeds grow tall, I HATE hornworms and bugs…those types of things, so I was not convinced that I could do this, at all.

We had saved some seeds from the produce that we got at the farmers market to can last fall.  Unfortunately, the kids mixed all of the tomato seeds, so it was sort of a crap shoot what we would have for tomatoes.  What we also didn’t know is that your open pollinated squash second generation saved seeds can produce hybrid mutts of the squash world, which we have quite a few of. They’ll be interesting for sure when we crack them open.  Lessons learned. 😉

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Since putting in the 1 acre pig fencing last year, it left us with the old pig area which was super compacted and really rocky.  We decided to find some way to try and amend the soil while adding more growing medium to the whole area.  We found an organic dairy just up the road who was selling their composted cow manure.  Score!  The pigs had really made the already unworkable land, really unworkable so it was our only real option.  They delivered 2 dump trucks full and we got to spreading.  The kids were right there with us, knee deep in cow poo!  Man, I love those kids!

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Once we got it piled into mounds, we planted what little seedlings survived (which was not a lot despite my loving hands and pro grow lights)…which left me feeling a little defeated.  My first foray into starting seedlings indoors left me with stalled growth at best and nothing growing at worst.  Any who..the little ones went into the ground and I replanted the failed ones from seed.

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After weeks of weeding and watering we began to see life!  That was the most exciting part!  I put these seeds into the ground, watered them and they GREW!  Crazy huh?!?  I knew how it all worked and had planted many times, but this year, something clicked.  It was as if someone had set off a button in my head that allowed me to really appreciate what was happening.  I spent lots of time in the garden, weeding, picking bugs off the plants (grow your own damn plants bugs!) and watering.  I talked to the plants, I actually thanked them all daily for the bounty that they provided us to sustain us now and through the winter.  It worked!

To date, we’ve canned over 200 jars of different sauces, relishes, ketchup, pickles and salsas.  I’ve frozen quarts and quarts of green beans, zucchini, carrots, corn and pea pods.  And stored away in the cellar are 50+ squash, yes even the hybrid mutts.

Moral of the story, the experimental season in the garden has been a success and I don’t think we’ll be needing a greenhouse after all.  We have a way to go and are constantly learning, there will be some tweaking for sure but I believe that the words for this season are grateful and thankful. ❤

There really is something so rewarding about growing your own food once you see it as a privilege and not a chore. ❤

Seriously, if I can do it….anyone can!

How was your gardening season?

How 25 fuzzy butts turned into 35…

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Just a few short weeks ago, we got our 25 new chickies in the mail….well it was supposed to be 25, but 27 fuzzy butts showed up. 🙂  Yay for extras!

Man, did we have issues getting chicks this year.  First off, we’ve never ordered this early.  We started looking in February, after the Valentines day massacre (that’s what we’re calling it anyway) when we went to close the girls up for the night and found one of them pecked to death. 😦  So sad, we had no idea what happened at first.  We thought something had gotten into the coop, but there is just no way for that to happen so we deduced that it must have been one of the other hens that did it.  That and she had blood all over her beak…that was the obvious clue. 😉

So we decided that rather than chance another going rogue, we made an appointment to send them away to freezer camp.  That left us chicken less…for the first time in 5 years!!  It was odd not tending to them daily.  Then the littles arrived and I was back on chicken mamma duty.  I figured that we’d get them free ranging by 8 weeks or so, but I neglected to do the math.  You see, the chickens as yummy, friendly and egg filled as they are here for tick control.  They love to eat ticks!  That is the whole reason that we have them.  I am deathly afraid of ticks.  They are creepy and carry disease.  YUCK!  We don’t want to use chemicals on the lawn so that the kids don’t get Lyme disease, only to end up poisoning them, that seems like a bad plan.  So enter the chickens.  Although they free range year round, I like to get them out as soon as the snow starts receding so they can get a jump on the bugs.  But, as I said earlier…my calendar and my math skills did not sync up this year so we had not birds to eat the bugs early on.

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About 3 weeks old

Anywho…Our first day outside this year and I see a tick crawling on the tiny blonde hairs leading to my baby’s angelic face.  Cue the freak out!!  AGGHHHHH!!!!

There is no way that I could wait the 4 weeks until the little ones could get out to eat the bugs so the search was on.  Within 2 days we had found 8 organic laying hens and within a week they were re-homed to our little farm and eating all of the bugs that their little hearts desired, as well as tearing up my flower beds.  A small price to pay for peace of mind.

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The “older”gals

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Meeting each other for the first time.

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First day in the sun!

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Escape artists…they popped right through the fence!

I love these birds.  They are funny little creatures to watch and interact with and just having them roaming around feels like home.

So…Welcome all 35 fuzzy gals!  We’re glad to have you!

Salted Caramel….

So seriously…

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YOU.MUST.MAKE.THIS.NOW

I have made this salted caramel over and over again and it is amazing!  I have tried others and compared to this recipe…they taste blah.

Be warned though….

*You will NOT wait until it has cooled down to taste it.   The smell will be so captivating that you will eat it right out of the pot and burn your tongue so, if you must taste anything of the remainder of the day…do so before you make this caramel

*Even though your tongue will feel like you’ve directly licked the sun at high noon, you will continue to sneak bites.  It won’t matter, you can’t feel anything on your tongue anyway.

*You will not be satisfied with the little bites here and there as it cools from molten lava, so just grab a shot glass…you will and up drinking some caramel.  I did. 😉

What to do with it now??

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If there is any left once it cools down you can drizzle it on anything!  Ice cream, baked goods, jar it and give it away…you are sure to make new BFF’s this way.

One of my newest ways to use salted caramel is to make caramel popcorn with it.  I said it….HOMEMADE salted caramel popcorn!

Want more yum??  Take your favorite kettle potato chips and drizzle this amazing caramel and then some homemade hot fudge on them.  Let them set up and turn on Netflix.  Plop yourself  on the couch and munch the evening away!

Put some in your coffee…OMG!

Before I get ahead of myself….let’s get the recipe for the caramel going.

Ingredients that you will need:

* Willpower to not eat it all in one setting

2 cups organic sugar

1.5 sticks of room temp organic butter cubed

1 cup organic heavy cream

1.5 Tbl seat salt, pink Himalayan salt or the like.

Digital thermometer…very important!

Method of Prep:

Have all of your ingredients ready and next to the stove…once the sugar melts, it goes fast, so be ready

In a large sauce pan (the caramel will bubble in a few reps so make sure your pot is big…3 qts or so) put the sugar in over med-high heat.

Whisk the sugar as it melts.  It will clump and begin to brown.  Keep on a whisking until all of the sugar melts, then stop.

Place your thermometer into the sugar.  It will continue to darken as it bubbles away.  It will look a dark amber color. BE CAREFUL…it can go from perfect to burnt in no time…so watch carefully.  It will be worth the fuss…trust me!

Once your thermometer reaches 350 degrees, put all of the butter in and whisk quickly.  This is the first time it will bubble up angrily…so be careful.  Whisk until the butter is melted.  Turn off the heat.

Take the pan off the stove and add the cream….this is the second bubbling, so be careful.  Whisk until incorporated then add the salt.

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Deny the feeling to dive into the pot…you will want to, but let it cool.  Meh….who am I kidding…you will get a spoon, everyone does.  I’ve made this recipe probably 15 times and I dip into the lava every time.  It’s a ritual now. 😉

Let it cool for a while and if there is any left, place it into a jar and store in the fridge.  Please reheat in a pan on low heat.  Don’t let the microwave destroy this nectar.

That’s it!

Let me know how you’ve used this recipe!  I’d love to know!

 Oh..I’d also like to know that I am not the only one to dive in and scald my tongue…let me know when you’ve joined the scalded tongue club. 😉

What to do with that fresh ham steak??

Last year when we butchered our first batch of pigs, we kept the ham fresh because the butcher used nitrates in curing and that is something that we don’t want in our food so we decided that we’d cure it ourselves.

It was a BIG ham and we’d never done anything like that before.  Long story short, because it was so big, the cure didn’t penetrate through the whole thing and only the outer 3 inches tasted like ham, the rest like a delicious pork roast.  No harm, no foul…it was still delicious.  Just not “ham” as we know it.

Fast forward to this year with a new butcher (still nitrate curing) and fresh ham steaks vs. a whole ham.  2 of the ham steaks I threw in the crock pot with apples and onions and they were good, but drier then I’d like.  This week I pulled out the last 2 steaks and decided to try curing them, again.

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Cured ham steak

For 2 steaks about 3/4 inch thick

In a large shallow baking dish for the brine:

1.5 qt of water

1/3 cup organic brown sugar

1/3 cup organic maple syrup

1/2 cup sea salt

1/2 teaspoon organic vanilla

Mix it all up until the sugar and salt are dissolved.  Put in the ham steaks in and made sure that they stayed submerged (you can weight it down with a plate if you need to).

Place it in the fridge for about 24 hours.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees

After 24 hours, rinse the brine of well.  Dry off the ham steaks very well.  Pan sear the steaks in a frying pan with some butter or even better bacon fat!!! Mmmmm..

When they are browned on both sides, place the pan (make sure it is oven safe) in the oven for about 20 minutes.  Depending on the thickness of the steaks, it may take longer or less time to cook.  Make sure your pork is 145 degrees in the thickest part.

Pull out of the oven and let rest for a few minutes…then eat!! Yummy!!

I served this with sliced potatoes roasted in bacon fat and sea salt and steamed cauliflower finished in the oven.

It felt like a frontier meal to me (minus the cauliflower of course). 😉

The kids gobbled it up and the hubs was in awe of the impromptu ham experiment.

All in all a great meal and the leftovers of ham and potatoes made an excellent breakfast skillet the next morning. 🙂

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Cured Ham Steak

The Dinner Party….

Our son hosted his first dinner party this past week!

He’s 7. 🙂

This child has been groomed to be a foodie.  He was never given the option to eat or not eat.  His only option was try it once, if you really don’t like it, then you don’t have to eat it.  To this very day he eats everything, except mushrooms

Lately his favorite show to watch is the Pioneer Woman!  He loves to watch her cook and his favorite episode is “Ranching in the mist”.  He has watched this particular episode so many times that he knows the recipes and the wording by heart.  The last time he watched this episode, he asked again if I could make the pop pulled pork.  Well, we don’t really drink soda , so cooking with it is out of the question for me, so I’ve said  no in the past to that recipe.

That same week we were all struck with the flu…boooo!  The hubs came back from the store with a natural soda called Dr. Better, because sometimes you just need something carbonated and it tasted just like Dr. Pepper!!  Light bulb!!  When everyone was feeling better and Ree Drummond was again on the screen, he asked again and this time I said sure!

He did the entire meal by himself!  I put everything in the oven and made the dough (which was Gluten free) but he did the rest from chopping onions to peeling and slicing the apples for the pie.

The hubs took the little one away for a few hours so we could have some space alone to work, and work he did!  He started at 11:30 am and finished when dinner was served.

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Cutting Onions

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Seasoning the pork shoulder

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Adding a little Dr. Better

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Slicing apples for the flat apple pie

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Cutting the cabbage for slaw

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Mixing up the slaw

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Making the potato au gratin (yes, he diced all of the potatoes) 🙂

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The finished pop pulled pork!

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Dinner is served!!

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Making caramel for the pie

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Pie is done!

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My guy! Sorry for the bad picture. 

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The whole meal was delicious!  The gluten free dough was so good!  You could never tell that there was no wheat in it at all.  The caramel was not my favorite recipe…it was a quick caramel and it lacked the depth that I love in caramel, but I wanted to stay true to the Pioneer woman evening, so we made all of her recipes.  I would certainly make them all again, with the addition of this salted caramel. 😉

I loved the feeling of pride that I saw on my little guys face when everyone was eating HIS dinner!  He was exhausted when bedtime rolled around and I think a little bit more appreciative of the meals that we eat…knowing a little bit better what actually goes into them.

He is already planning his next party with meatballs, pasta and cake.  I love that he loves being in the kitchen and I love even more the time that we get to spend together cooking.

Spring is not here yet….

I’m not sure that I have EVER wanted spring more than I do this year.

I am not quite sure if it is because we just finished reading The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder or if I actually feel like this has been the longest winter EVER!

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Either way I am desperately craving warmth and sunshine even though the low tonight is supposed to -9 degrees….I am trying to be positive as the over 4 feet of packed snow in the yard dwindles slowly.  On the warmer days, every inch it melts is one inch closer to seeing grass.  It usually seems to happen over night anyway.

One way to “feel” spring before it happens around here is to order our chicks and piggies for the year!  We have done that already! 26 day old chicks will be here next week (some for meat and some to keep for eggs) and 3 piggies in a few short months!

The newest additions to the farm this year….. Drum-roll please….

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30,000 Honey Bees!

Yes…we (actually the hubs) is taking on the chore of bees…which is good because although I am not scared of bees and really appreciate all that they do for us, they creep me out…they are in the buggy category after all.  I am getting better with that part of farming, although not fast enough in my opinion!

Next is a dairy cow…Oh, how I long for a dairy cow!!

Someday….*sigh*