Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Little Bit of Summer Bliss

Last fall we went foraging for elderberries when we made our first batch of wine.  It is coming along nicely and we are excited to bottle it this coming fall.  In the last couple of weeks the elderberry bushes have been full of flowers.  We decided to scope out locations of the plants now, because the flowers really make them stand out.  This way when we head out this fall, we should be able to find them more readily.  Since we were out anyway, we took a large brown paper bag and filled it with elderflowers.  I have heard so much discussion about how elderflower cordial is amazing, and since I'm in the cordial making kind of mood, we did just that. 

This was a great task to get the whole family involved with.  Since the stems are mildly toxic, we needed to remove all of the flowers.  This process was surprisingly easy and we found they brushed off quite well.

What we ended up with was just over eight cups of elderflowers.  We began by making a simple syrup in a stockpot of 5 cups of sugar and 3 quarts of water.  We cooked it until all of the sugar was completely dissolved.  While that was happening we transfered the flowers into a small crock and combined the grated the zest of one lemon and juice of three.  We were winging it on this recipe due to the volume of flowers and several of the recipes we found all had different techniques.

What is different about making this cordial as compared to the fruit cordials that I have been pumping out, is that instead of  cooking, macerating, and then straining the fruit into beautiful cordials, this one steeps like a tea.  Once that simple syrup was completed we poured it over the flowers and citrus, covered the crock and let it steep for three days. 

At the end of that time, we strained it and transferred it into quart jars that are now in the fridge and ready to use.  It was a little sweet for our taste so we added some of our acid blend (that we had on hand for wine making) to it.  This could also have been accomplished by adding more lemon juice.  We included these cute little jars in this weeks farm bags. 

One thing that I am loving about this cordial is that a little goes a long way, therefore allowing the amount we made to last longer.  I have found with the fruit cordials, I use more of them to get the desired taste/effect.  With the elderflower, we use 2 (me) to 4 (B) Tbsp. to 8 oz of liquid.  So seltzer water for soda.  I'm looking forward to trying it as part of a martini, maybe this evening.  This refreshing cordial tastes like elderflowers smell and that is a little bit of summer bliss.

Second Farm Bag of the Season

With our now drought conditions, we are very thankful that we have had some abundant early season harvests.  I would say that one of our flaws in any given year is staying on top of watering.  Partly, in most years, due to the fact that we always seem to have intermittant rain that doesn't require us to do a lot of watering.  This year with no real rain to speak of we have been taught to be very dilligent in our hydration of parched plants and grounds.  It has truly made an extrodinary difference.  Hopefully our early season luck will spill over into the more traditional bumper crops, and that this year will be productive in ripe tomatoes for canning and eating.  After last years 150 + pounds of green tomatoes and the touch of tennis elbow that came from grinding them all for relish, I think I'd like to do overkill on sauce and salsa!  For your enjoyment, and my tracking purposes, here is farm bag number two's newsletter.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Simplicity and Technology

Most of the time I find myself running from project to project, task to task.  I enjoy being busy and have never been wholly comfortable with being idle.  It has been very few times that I have taken a few minutes of hammock time.  Primarily because of the above statement, but also due to the fact that peak hammock season is also accompanied by clouds of mosquitos that just seem to love me!  I can be thankful for the what is now approaching drought conditions, even though it means burning bans and extra attentive care to the garden and animals.  Why?  Even with the extra work and concern, there are almost no mosquitos which has done it's part in affording me this simple luxury. 

As I spent a little quality hammock time last weekend it struck me as funny how trying to live a simpler life can also be so tightly accompanied by the ease or unease (depending on how you see it) of technology.  Whether it be something as simple as reading a book and taking a photo (of said book on a device) or trying to share our experience through this blog, technology seems to go hand in hand with allowing it to happen.  I don't think that I would have seen this gorgeous reflection of the giant maple tree in a paperback.  I enjoy how technology and simplicity can work together to give a fuller experience, an outlet to reflect upon, capture and utilize those simple things to their fullest. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Skill and Imagination

Beginning with being enchanted by  Legolas, then moving on to Katniss and Merida, these are some of the archers that the kids have loved over many years.  This year, they began archery for 4H.  The last month has been quite an education on stance, eye dominance, sights, finger tabs, arm guards, draw length, bow tension and the list goes on. 

The first great challenge was getting our heads around the little tidbit that my leftie (Charles) is right eye dominant and shoots right handed and my right handed one (Sidney) is left eye dominant and shoots left handed.  Talk about switching things up!  The shoots, twice weekly for the last three weeks, have been to develop an average of four shoots, leading up to their fair shoot for a ribbon.   Since the weather has been incredibly hot here, the last two weeks have meant shooting in 90 degree heat.

Last night in a gorgeous (and it appears short lived) 70 degree temperature, they had their final fair shoot and both bested their averages gaining them blue ribbons!  The fair isn't until the last week in July, but the shooting sports compete outside of fair and have their results and photos posted in the 4H barn.  

The experience has been wonderful.  I suspect that we will become regular members of the bowmen and participate in many future events.  This sport is a great combination of developing skills while living in imagination.  What is better than that?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sourdough Starts and Finishes

Two weeks ago I began to make a sourdough starter from scratch.  It was a little bit of maintenance to get it done, but as it turns out, well worth the trouble.  Now I hope to have a starter to keep indefinitely that will age nicely and feed us well.

 The most important things that I took away from the recipe that I followed were, use a scale to measure, and even if you forget a feeding you can get back on track.  It is a very natural and simple recipe beginning with 4 oz of whole wheat flour and 4 oz of purified water.

 Mix it up and let it sit.  Having no clue what to expect from this process, that first day I was convinced that I was doing it wrong because it seemed way too thick.  I finally said what the heck and just let it sit..turns out that was a good choice.

The second day I removed 1/2 of the dough and discarded.  Then added 4 oz of unbleached flour and 4 oz of purified water.  Beginning on day three is when you start twice daily 'feedings'.  Pull out 1/2 cup of starter (discard the rest) and add back to that 1/2 cup 4 oz and 4 oz. as above.  The dough will begin to relax and show some active bubbling as the natural yeasts develop and get happy.

For me at about day six (and there were two days in there where I missed one of the feedings), an amazing sourdough aroma began to rise from the starter when I uncovered it to feed it.

Yesterday I decided it was time to try it out.  I made a sourdough jam cake that I had found online.  As I was researching recipes I noticed that most recipes require 1 cup of starter.  First I stirred up the starter, and then measured out one cup.  Guess what was left??  1/2 cup that I fed like normal.  Go figure!

So what happened?  Well it was the best cake that I think I have ever put in my mouth.  It was full of complex sourdough flavor and now I am chomping at the bit to start some bread.  This website was a fantastic resource and also has great information on how to maintain your starter for the long term, whether you use it daily or weekly.

This recipe is a variation on the Sourdough Jam Cake that I found online.

2 Sticks Butter, at room temperature
3/4 C. Brown Sugar
3 Eggs
1 C. Starter
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/4 tsp. Ginger
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1 3/4 C. Flour
1 1/2 C. Jam (I used rhubarb compote)

 Mix together the butter and sugar until well combined.  Add in the eggs and mix until well combined.  Pour your starter on top.  Add the cinnamon, ginger salt and baking soda over the top.
Add your flour over the top, and then finally top with your jam.  Using a rubber spatula slowly fold all of your ingredients together, working from the bottom of the bowl to the top. You don't want to over mix things, but you want to make sure it is all combined.  Pour into a grease bundt cake pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 30 minutes or so in the pan, and then invert onto a cake plate to cool the rest of the way.

1 C. Powdered Sugar
1/2 tsp. Vanilla (I used our homemade vanilla)
5 tsp. Milk

Mix on high until desired thickness to glaze the cooled cake.  I added the zest from a whole lemon and it made for a pleasing amount of acidity in the glaze and complimented the rhubarb.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Upon Midsummer

The changing of the seasons,
this inevitable turning of the tide is important to me. 
Maybe because our seasons here are so sharp,  so beautiful, so changing,
or because of how attuned we need to be to watch the ebb and flow of the earth
while growing our own food.  Though the solstice does not have to align with heat, this year, for us anyway, it does.  When I came home last night from a meeting it was still 85 degrees at 9 pm.  This awakened fleeting dream-like memories in the back of my mind of long summer's eves when we lived in Las Vegas and relished how soothing 100 degree heat could be at midnight.   Upon midsummer, a humid heat like this leads to late nights with fireflies, and lazy dreams.  Some that you remember, some that just leave you with their essence. 

“I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was.”
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

Sunday, June 17, 2012

First Farm Bags of 2012

We are thrilled that our first farm bags of the season were ready to head out the door this morning!  It was really exciting to get them ready.  We found that we have better dialed in our process from last year and the gathering and separating went much more smoothly and quickly.  Each year's experience helps us to make adjustments and I suspect that no matter how good we get at it, we will always be tweaking it here or there.  I have also been working on the newsletter and this is what I have come up with so far.  We are emailing the newsletters the morning that the bags are ready.  It saves on paper, and also whets peoples appetites for what is coming.  I may expand it further as the season progresses, or do special editions to include seasonal kid crafts and canning advice.  Here's to a successful farm bag year!

Silent Sunday ~ Happy Father's Day!!

painted, peppered sunlight

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Birdhouse

Five years ago, just after we moved into the farm, we were on a long summer car trip and came across an Amish family selling things on the roadside.  We picked up this lovely birdhouse.  The years have weathered it, but I still love it's little acorn shape.  It is a popular place and each year we have a new family that takes up residence in the house.  Some years the families are more successful than others.   I noticed a few weeks ago that a wren pair were busy cleaning it out, and I hoped that we'd have a healthy batch of babies.  The other morning I caught a glimpse of a new little life as I walked past the kitchen door.

Fortunately, my camera was at arms reach and I was able to grab a couple of quick shots.  Welcome little one!

Aww, look it's breakfast time!

Uh Oh, I think I've been spotted.

Oops, and now I'm being yelled at.

I suspect the little one will be fully fledged soon, maybe another avian family will yet adopt the birdhouse again this year.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Best (easiest). Brownies. Ever.

I tend to make things from scratch, I think something instilled in me from my Gram.  I mean, why buy, when you can bake??  But not everything has to be as laborious as the sourdough starter that I am currently feeding twice daily.  As good as filling your house with the smell of fresh baking, is the kind of baking that comes from a simple, fast recipe that yields the best product and all without breaking out and needing to clean my Kitchenaide!!  I got this recipe years ago from a friend and it is a go to staple in my kitchen, in fact we've made them twice this week! (sharing of course)

Ultimate Double Chocolate Brownies

3/4 C. Baking Cocoa
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
2/3 C. Melted Butter (divided)
1/2 C. Boiling Water
2 C. Sugar
2 Eggs
1 1/3 C. Flour
1 tsp. Vanilla (use your homemade stuff, another easy money saving recipe!)
1/4 t. Salt
1/2 C. Pecans (coarsely chopped, and if you want)
2 C. Chocolate Chips

In a large bowl, combine cocoa & soda; blend in 1/3 C melted butter.  Add boiling water; stir until blended.  Stir in sugar, eggs and remaining butter.  Add flour, vanilla and salt.  Stir in pecans and chocolate chips.  Pour into a greased 9x13 pan.  Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes or until sides begin to pull away from the pan.  Cool & Enjoy!!

Thursday, June 14, 2012


After an unusually dry winter and spring, we seem to be continuing into summer. The last time I mowed clouds of dust rose behind. Everywhere the grass is browning. It isn't turning the lovely golden brown that the hills around Santa Ynez turn during the summer. No, everything just looks and feels parched. We have hoses stretched across the yard in two directions so that we can hand water the garden and berry beds daily, but the perennial beds smattered around the property suffer the same fate as the masses of lawn and fields. In ground sprinklers for the lawn in this part of the world are rare. Thankfully, a taste of rain tends to bring it all right back, but I do wonder if this continues all summer what damage will be done. I remember a few years ago, when visiting, my Father-In-Law voiced his surprise that with so much farmland cultivated, there were very few irrigation systems around. Much of what is in our area are dry land crops, if this weather continues it will be interesting to see how harvests are effected. We are not considered in a drought at this point, and there is some rain in the forecast for next week, but the last several forecasts that showed rain for us ended up quenching North of us. It isn't all bad by any means...being this dry means very few Mosquitos, and that is never bad!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Homemade Hooch

The last couple of days have been all things fermented.  We did our final racking of the 9 gallons of wine we put down last fall.  The remnants of the wild grape wine made a fine sangria, and the little taste of the elderberry/rhubarb did not disappoint.  I cannot wait until this fall!

Last year I made homemade vanilla extract, which has a rather large vodka component.  This year in the spirit of the cordials that I have learned to love, I found a recipe on pinterest for  rhubarb gin. 

Well 'tis the season, rhubarb season that is.  So the rhubarb gin is steeping.  Such a simple recipe and process, I cannot wait to taste the rewards in just about a month!  By the way, I have a new favorite word....macerat.. the act of allowing the rhubarb, in its natural form, to just steep in it's juices with sugar...and get oh so happy!

I have also begun my first homemade sourdough starter, but that fermented diddy will be for it's own post once I get further into the process...and process it is!  I'm looking forward to our pending homemade hooch.  There is after all, more to come.   What do you think a good chunk of that honey is going towards in the fall???  Why mead, another little venture into homemade hooch.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

summer is...

warm slow days
lazy moments
and long conversations
catching fireflies

running in sprinklers
picking wildflowers
ghost stories and bonfires
ice cream cones

good books
sounds of laughter
eating warm berries, right off of the vine
sitting on the porch

may your summer be filled with days where you can recapture your childhood, see the magic of summer in your kid's eyes, and where everything is easy, relaxed and in lower case.

Friday, June 8, 2012

What a Week!

This has been a week of beginnings and endings.  Happiness, hard work, nostalgia and giving back.

Charles had his first bout with Poison Ivy which of course my allergy boy reacted to badly, yet never complained and worked his butt off at club soccer tryouts Monday and Tuesday, even though the heat and sweat had only to exacerbate the itching.  His only concern brought to B was...."Since I'm on steroids, can I not try out for soccer?  Aren't steroids in sports bad??"  It has been a week full of Charlieisms!  When we were playing a little basketball earlier in the week he asked me "so, what do you want to talk about?"  I said, "I don't know what do you want to talk about?"  to which he responded: "Gravity is odd."  I asked him "why?"  he said "because I want to float and this way, on the ground is just so boring!"  Oh what little boys think about!

Wednesday I hosted our local Chapter's Dining For Women.  If you have not heard of this amazing group, please look into it.  It is perfect for all of us who are constantly volunteering locally and looking for some small way to make a larger difference on a more worldwide scale.  It was a lovely evening of education, discussion and friendship.  You can also like our page on facebook. :)

Though today is the last day of school, my little girl graduated fifth grade yesterday afternoon.  It's hard to believe that she is already heading off to middle school!  She received a few special recognitions in the ceremony, being a finalist in the lighthouse contest, chosen most artistic for her classroom, and excelling through high achievement on the NUMATS testing.  I'm afraid that smiles weren't completely in her wheelhouse.  She wasn't at all unhappy, but is not liking her new braces smile....even though the uppers are clear and you can't see them, apparently she can and that's enough!

The last day of school and first weekend of summer brings with it; teachers gifts, which this year is a half dozen perfect multicolored eggs laid yesterday, a plant-able thank you card, and a gift card to iTunes.  It also brings our ice-cream sundaes for dinner tradition this evening and this year a weekend of 90 degrees and unusually tough humidity is to descend upon us tomorrow.  It will be perfect weather for a New Orleans style dinner club.  We chose Justin Wilson as the chef for tomorrow night's festivities.  B and I were feeling nostalgic for his easy Cajun style that we watched regularly on PBS back in the day...I gaaaruuntee!  (does anyone else remember this gem??)

I leave you with this shot taken yesterday.  The garden is coming nicely and we're deeply watering it to prepare for the heat.  The late evening sunlight hit this little forest of beets and it looked like a fairly land.  I will imagine myself to this place this weekend when I am looking for a cool haven.  Happy weekend!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Seasonal Breakfast

152:366 Strawberry Crumble

This, the last week of school has been filled with breakfast treats and later than normal bed times (I'm sure the extended hours of light are contributing to the latter).  We have done Belgian waffles, cereal with luscious whole milk (which now accompanies almost everything and even has my son who doesn't like milk drinking it.  Check out my post here to see how this all came about), and this morning strawberry crumble.  The strawberries are booming and I found last night that we are going to have to be careful to make time to harvest every day, even if it's a small one, or we will be overrun!  I found a cool article yesterday on the kitchn and used one of the variations.

Strawberry Crumble

Big bowl of strawberries (I didn't measure, just used what I had)
Slice the strawberries and toss with 1 Tbs. cornstarch, 1 Tbs. lemon juice and 1/4 C sugar (you can use more, but our strawberries are so amazingly sweet, they really don't need much!  Empty combined ingredients into a 9" pie pan.

Love the Pastry Cutter

Crumble Topping:  1 C Flour, 1/2 C Brown Sugar, 1/2 C Oatmeal, 1 tsp. Baking Powder, 1 tsp. Cinnamon, and 8 Tbsp softened butter.  Cut the ingredients all together with a pastry cutter, my new very favorite kitchen tool!  Sprinkle on top of strawberry mixture and place into a 375 degree oven for 30-35 minutes or until bubbly and browning on top.

Crumble out of oven

Enjoy a very seasonal, yet decadent breakfast!


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