Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hanging On

The last few years have been a cucumber struggle for us.  Our cucumbers have gotten some sort of boring grub that causes the plants to collapse as soon as they start to fruit.  We rotate beds every year, but to no avail.  Since we love to crock ferment our own pickles, this has been a real drag.

An up side to our late winter/spring....it seems that maybe we bypassed this bugs life cycle!  We planted two sections of cucumbers, each with different trellis systems.  Our hope was that at least one section would make it through this year.  So far, so good!  We are just starting to get baby cucs and the crock full of brine is filling nicely.  Soon we hope to have farm bags brimming over with them.

Last night I was craving some freshness, and though our tomatoes are quite a ways out yet, I broke down and bought some at the store to make a variation of a Greek salad with yogurt dressing.  I completely made the dressing up and only hope that I can reproduce it!  Simple summer flavors that make your taste buds sing!

Greek Summer Salad
Dice up a bunch of cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and a handful of kalamata olives and throw them in a big bowl.  In a separate bowl whisk together (these are approximations, because I was just throwing things in to taste)  1 C plain Greek yogurt,  1/8 C chive flower vinegar, splash of red wine vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, 1 clove garlic (minced), 1/4 C chopped dill, salt and pepper to taste ( I also threw in a dash of Penzy's mural of flavor seasoning).  Toss the veggies in the dressing and viola, Greek summer salad.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Summer or Fall?

Our summers are far too short in a regular season.  After the tremendous heat 10 days ago and perfect weather for fair week, the last two days have plunged us into brisk fall temperatures that make me wonder if it really is just the end of July.

As we set about work around the farm today, I realized, this sneak peak has left me both excited and longing for my favorite season to come.  The time when golden light and the crispness in the air make everything hold such promise.

We were energized to get the tough outdoor work done.  Our little homestead is going to be the venue for a wedding at the end of September and operation primp the farm is underway.   We installed  a new well head cover to replace the one that was blown over and shattered during a storm last winter.  We also transplanted a number of hostas and mulched the entire front below the wrap around porch that we cleared late last fall.

I am more motivated than ever to stay on top of the canning.  We made another nine pints of jelly today; a red currant raspberry mix.  Huge thanks to julochka who turned me on to this book.  It is now one of my preservation bibles as we finally are consistently getting all of our jams and jellies to set perfectly as a result of its wisdom.

As to fair, the kids came home with a stack of ribbons.  They did great in archery, photography and vegetables.  The bunnies had a bit of a tough time this week and did not place as well as hoped, but showing this year was a great learning experience for the kids.  All in all a great week!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Raspberrypolooza & Globe Envy

The last few days have been the start of berry harvest.  Our 50 foot row of raspberries is broadening its reach far beyond the bed and beginning to ripen at an overwhelming rate.  We picked 7--7 oz containers worth today and have hardly made a dent in what is there. The future ripening looks to be staggering!

A few things that I have learned about fresh picked raspberries.  They are not as delicate as you think, that is unless you kneed them into a dough.  I posted here about the perfect way to freeze raspberries, I urge you to do it!  The last batch I thawed was a month ago, and they defrost beautifully. Not at all the mush that I expected, perfectly whole specimens that held their firmness.  Today I froze much of our harvest to brighten a dark winter evening.  No worries, I used a cup and a half of them in some baking as well.  

I must say that I have been both jealous and inspired by watching photos of my sister-in-law's trip overseas this last week.  She is now spending some quality time in England and her pictures from the Globe last night made me literally swoon.  Sigh..  So what was I craving this morning? Scones....raspberry ones.  I found a recipe of Martha's, that was perfect.  They are a hit with the whole family, and are feeding my soul.  As an aside, I finished reading The Bookman's Tale last night and it was lovely.  I also was transported to the Globe in the days of Shakespeare, so the timing was perfect. Ayne, read this one :)

So what next for raspberries?? Oh and the blackberries and boysenberries to follow?
Infused vodkas
Infused balsamic vinegars
And lots and lots of snacking

Martha's Fast Raspberry Scones. (Oh my, wouldn't these be good with some cardamom!?)

2 1/2 C flour
1/4 C sugar
1Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 C butter (unsalted, cold & cut in pieces)
3/4 C buttermilk
1 lg egg yolk
1 1/2 C fresh raspberries

Pre-heat oven to 400.   Combine dry ingredients in food processor and pulse.  Add cold butter and pulse until crumbly.  Beat buttermilk and egg yolk together and slowly add pulsing into try mixture.  Once mixture combines into a dough our out onto a floured surface.  Sprinkle raspberries on top and knead three times (I found this a messy task).  Shape into a rectangle about 1 inch thick and then cut into wedges.  Place wedges on a cookie sheet lined in parchment paper, sprinkle the wedges with granulated sugar and bake for 15-20 minutes.  Then transfer to a cookie sheet and cool completely.  Enjoy!

The Front Porch Is......

The front porch is....
so much more than a place to sit out and have dinner. 
:: it is a place for lively conversation
:: to take in the sunrise or sunset

:: to sort and de-stem the days harvest
:: to kick your feet up and read a book
:: to play

:: to observe the sights and sounds of the farm
:: to capture some of the best light

:: to proudly display your latest creations
:: to watch and enjoy a thunderstorm

but most of all, the front porch is....
a place for family and friends to live, love, eat, laugh, enjoy, and make amazing memories.

How was your weekend??

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Strange Garden Year Indeed

note to self, must find a way to capture the whole garden in one shot!

The garden is thriving, but it is funny how in-tuned you become to the ebb and flow, and how the variances from year to year can be glaring.  We knew we were going to be six to eight weeks late this year with the incredibly long cool wing (yes, that is what I am now calling our late winter/early spring). This week we have begun to harvest our first few geode squash, and despite the sweltering heat, the sugar snap peas are still thriving. 

To everything it's season and to every season a purpose.  Hmmm.  I think each of our little garden delicacies have decided that they will mature by type, and not all in harmony.  They want their own moment in the sun.  As we watch the baby veggies beginning to take shape, I am realizing that this year instead of everything at once in a nice succession, we may have things one at a time.  Then, once they have started and continue (hopefully) to yield for the remainder of the season, we will have multiple varieties at once. 

I do not mind savoring each new, fresh, lovely taste one at a time.  It gets me in mode for preservation, to put up the bounty to sustain us through the dark days of winter.  For farm bags, I think that at least with how we are beginning, we may need to adjust to providing these individual tastes to savor on their own, and expand those flavors as the garden allows.

Regardless of what the season brings, we will enjoy every reward that we receive, and I am sure learn a ton of new ways to preserve them.  How is your garden coming in this strange garden year?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Don't Forget to Look Up

It was an incredibly busy weekend here on the homestead, and just when I thought that the time was  flying by so fast that I might forget to breathe, nature put a little surprise in front of me, just out of reach.  It is amazing what can happen if you dedicate a moment to simply look around and take in your surroundings.  It slows you back down, and you might get a little treat for your trouble.  A word of advice....when you take this time, don't forget to look up!   Happy Monday!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Farm Frenzy

This weekend was all about plants and animals around the homestead.  The garden is thriving in our warm and muggy weather and the bees are pollinating like crazy.  I love walking through the garden and knowing that the bees doing their business are ours (or very likely so).  Even though the mosquitoes seem to be getting thicker by the hour we can not resist spending our time outdoors.

Our new little barn kitten Hickory (Cory for short) is adjusting wonderfully to her large kennel safe haven on the porch.  We named her after grandpa hickory out in the wooded area where we found her.  She is socializing beautifully and full of energy.  She is getting lots of love and play time and slowly exploring while always going back to home base to rest or if she gets spooked.  I am also happy to report she has litter box duties down pat!

We were so glad that we enticed her out when we did because Saturday night mama raccoon ushered all four of her kits out of the tree and scurried them off into the woods.  It seemed a little early for them to be out, but then fifteen or twenty minutes later Sid and I heard a large crash and the porch jumped.   A large branch from the hammock tree (where the raccoons had taken up residence) had just come down out of the blue.  I think maybe mama sensed pending danger and evacuated the household.  We have not seen her or the kits since.

Since both of the hives swarmed at the beginning of the summer, we have given them a little time to make a new queen.  After inspecting the hives on Friday, to our disappointment, neither hive had any new brood, so we knew that we had to get them new queens or give up on them.  We hate to give up on anything so we drove about an hour South yesterday to visit a gentlemen who has been beekeeping since the early 1970's and breeds queens.  After a tour of his hives and some advice, we left with two lovely queens who seemed to be immediately welcomed into their new homes.  Not thirty seconds after introducing the queen box to one of the hives, there were bees feeding her!

This is the time of year to buy herb plants because the season is in full swing and the garden centers are already trying to make room for fall mums.  That means that everything is on clearance and perfect when you are wanting to buy any volume of them.  We planted 18 lavender plants in one of the large raised garden beds.  I wanted a permanent place for a big stand of gorgeous purple and I recently found out that lavender is a great deer repellant.  Though I love that we have mama and fawn living in the back of the property, they have begun to take a bit of a toll on parts of the garden, so we will see if this acts as a gentle deterrent.

The homestead is just alive with plants and animals (us included) and they all have a symbiotic relationship; ebbing and flowing with one another in a controlled sort of farm frenzy.

If you want to see all of the homestead happenings over the weekend check this out.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Kismet, Karma & Kittens

When we were at the Alisal last week, there were two little barn kittens that found their way to my parents cabin and into Sidney's lap.

While we were eating our supper on the porch on the fourth, I began to hear a high pitched mew and told Sid that she should go investigate it.  There began hours upon hours of operation gain kitten's trust. 

In the last two days she spends hours at a time covered in an insect repellant smothered sweatshirt feeding, coaxing, and enjoying silent companionship with a baby no more than 6-8 weeks of age who is living in the wooded area around the homestead.

Her patience is simply amazing.  The hours spent seem to be paying off and strides are being made.

Maybe it is karma or some kitten kismet, that our possible new barn kitty looks so much like the ones that befriended Sid while we were on vacation.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Elderflowers Have Arrived

We were happy to see when we returned home that we had not missed the elderflowers.   In fact, they are just beginning and I think the blooms will peak over the weekend.  We spent about an hour today driving back roads and foraging and came back with 3 full pecks of them (3 of the above buckets)!

They are a little laborious to pick apart, but with eighty degrees and a soft breeze on the porch, it was just about perfect.

The simple syrup is being made, and these beautiful babies are headed in to steep.  We are using our recipe from last year, but winging it a bit because of the volume.  I am going to be researching some other uses and we will further take advantage of the bumper crop hitting the area over the weekend.    Happy Friday!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Is it July or May?

A garden post is not atypical this time of year.  So, what's for dinner?  Last night we had a stir fry of sugar snap peas, garlic scapes and baby arugula.  What is crazy unusual is that these are all items that we ate out of the garden the beginning of May last year. 

 Even our service-berry tree is just now fruiting.  The sweet fruit is abundant this year and only a few fat robins stealing it.  Curious, we typically have flocks of cedar waxwings dining on the tree, but not a one to be found this year.  I wonder if it is just too late in their migration, hopefully nothing has happened to them.  The late winter and cool spring/summer so far has everything running behind, yet looking extremely happy for the stage it is in, and quite delicious regardless.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Old Friend

Last week we went back to The Alisal.  From the time I was six years old until I was around 25, we went every year on family vacation.  Beginning with my nuclear family, then adding Brian, we honeymooned there, and it was where I announced that I was pregnant with Charles.  So Sidney had been there once, when she was about 10 months old.  This time we were able to introduce our now tween kids to a wonderful tradition.  The only thing missing was my bro and his family, but that will soon be remedied!

When B and I bought our little farm, our first feeling driving in was the same as the one we got when we were driving down the lane at the Alisal.  Our little oasis; it was an integral selling point leading us on our now six year journey into homesteading while carrying our other house.  Maybe it was my ability to immerse myself in Little House books as a youngster, then Louis L'Amour as a tween or maybe it was growing up around this truly beautiful spot where the soul of the old west still lingered, but my connection to the land has always been strong and may have originated here.

We had just arrived, and were walking across the bridge to give the kids a tour, and as I looked across, I saw the above shot.  As I said yesterday, my camera was an appendage the entire trip.  I quickly snapped this shot in the first 5 minutes on the ranch.  It set a tone for the week; slow down, take notice, and appreciate what is happening right in front of you.

A trip like this is equal parts reminiscence and rediscovery (as most things are when you see them through your kids eyes).  I think a tear actually came to my eye when Cowboy Dick lead Charles into the corral before the breakfast ride, and then he engaged Sidney in conversation about her brand earrings (the Alisal is a working cattle ranch).  Dick was the first one to lead me in when I got to ride at age 6.  Though there are still some around from the day, they are precious few, and none living more iconic to the Alisal, than this cowboy.

Old friends can be more than just a cherished person.  They can be an idea, a place, a memory, or something that you have a deep connection with that simply makes you smile. 

This post is inspired by the July 1st prompt from NaBloPoMo "Write about the last time you connected with a friend."
NaBloPoMo July 2013

Monday, July 1, 2013

Just a Little to the Left

After being gone and almost completely unplugged for an entire eleven days I found that I carried my big (non-iphone) camera with me the entire time.  We are settling back in this week to catch up both on the homestead and at work and I feel refreshed and refocused.  As I begin to sift through the masses of photos, a game plan is beginning to fall into place.  We have a new energy that will propel us forward into the busy farm season and allow us to take on new challenges, as always with more than a little bit of teamwork.


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