Friday, February 28, 2014

Opportunity Cost

On July 26, 2007 we closed on our dream.  A little homestead was ours and the vision that we had for it vast and full of excitement.  We were no stranger to the housing market, at that time being the fifth property that we had purchased in our life together.  We had planned for, saved, and even expected to carry our other house for up to 18 months.  Then 2008 happened.  After a great deal of turmoil and hardship, a huge flood, sparsely found then dicey tenants, and six years, seven months and two days of trying to sell our 'lake house', today we closed escrow.

Always making the best of it, we focused our energy and did what we could but had to put so much of developing our dream on hold, and now a little light.  After B's accident last year we were forced to take a hard look at our life and what was important and we decided that we needed to remove this stress from our life.  Bitter sweet, though it is, as we took a substantial loss in addition to the loss associated with carrying the property for so long.  In hindsight, would we have changed anything?  I do not think so.  The value of this homesteading experience for our family will ultimately be worth the opportunity cost that was in place to obtain it.  I think it only fitting that it has taken us so long to make headway with a name for our property, maybe we simply were not free to, until today.

Random 5 Friday

1.  For the last five years we have made and donated soup for our towns Empty Bowls event.  This year the health department is requiring that all Indy soups be made in a commercial kitchen.  Aside from all of our ingredients and spices, we have to bring all of our pots, pans, cookie sheets, knives etc.  The bags are packed and we will head off to make a parsnip and white bean soup later this morning...all garden fare from last season.

2.  Everyone seems to be very ready for the weekend this week, myself included.

3.  We have an old orchard on our property.  Well, what once was an orchard.  There are five large trees remaining, and though overgrown and dying, still produce very flavorful apples.  B harvested from last years new growth and has stored the samples.  We will be grafting them later this spring and hope to propagate the orchard this year.

4.   It is hard to believe that tomorrow is March first.  The start to the year has just flown.  We are approaching more records for the winter.  Earlier this week we were at 86 consecutive days of snow cover of 1" or greater, only another 20 days or so to break a previous record. With the masses of snow still on the ground that should not be too hard to do.  Regardless, thoughts turn toward spring and we are starting our onions in doors tomorrow!

5.  We should have some big news later today, but I learned early on that nothing is done until the last signature dry.  More to come.

Won't you join in?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Arrow Of Light

After five years of cub scouting, yesterday was the day our boys advanced.  I think most striking at this Blue and Gold banquet was the confidence the boys showed throughout.  They were clearly the big men of the pack and cheered skits and other dens awards in their own fashion.

As you can see, they all chose the caffeinated soda when given the opportunity!  We are not typically a soda family, but what a treat for him on his day :)

The beginning of the arrow of light ceremony and the story of Akela.

His Arrow of light award.

Next came his advancement.

And then I had another realization.  How quickly they went from being the big kids to looking quite small again.  All of that confidence they have developed should serve them well as they move forward into new waters.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Battle of the Buds

As more deep cold approaches, I take comfort in the signs of spring that are popping up everywhere, even if they are drizzled in ice.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Random 5 Friday

1.  We have tried for years to come up with the right name for our homestead.  We are now looking to some Celtic names for inspiration.  What do you think of Aisling Acres (Aisling =dream or vision)?

2.  We were thrilled to see our bees out and about for a few hours on Wednesday.  I am so glad they had the opportunity, since it appears that our temps are headed back down to the basement.

3.  I am going to try these muffins this weekend.  How can they be bad!?

4.  We got all of our seeds for the garden sorted this week, ordered some new ones, and have our plan for seed starts mapped out.  Now we will just wait and see what Mother Nature has in store for us...which at the moment that I am writing this is a 50 mph wind.

5. I recently finished Life after Life and have now been reading Monuments Men.   I have been digging being thrust into the WWII era and seeing it from such vastly different experiences.

Please join us!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Don't Eat Yellow Snow

Yesterday was the day we had been waiting for for over a week.  It was going to be warm enough that we could crack open the hives and take a peak.  We went out during lunch to begin to assess the situation.  To our excitement as we neared the hives, after trudging through knee deep snow, there was tons of activity.  Our two main hives seem to have maintained astonishingly large numbers through the winter.  Sadly our two smaller hives never became large enough to sustain themselves in the dramatic temperatures that we have had. 

They had two main activities yesterday as you can see from this photo, one was cleaning house.  They began to discard the dead bees from the hive.

The other, and arguably more important activity was getting out to poop!  Poor things.  It has been too consistently cold for them to get out and relieve themselves.  If you notice in the photos above, the snow is littered with little amber spots.  This my friends is bee poop.  You could sense their exuberance at the relief!

As we were checking each hive, they were all around us saying hi and it was as good a boost as the warm 42 degrees to our attitudes.

It appears that there is still some honey left for them to eat, but we also have ordered some fondant to supplement their feeding through the rest of the winter.  I ran to the store in the afternoon to pick up some pine shavings to replace what was in the quilt.  After B got home from work it was just twilight and we ran out to get that task done.  I wish that I had my camera with me, of course in my haste to get out before we lost the light, I forgot it in the house.  I can assure you it was a sight to see.  Aside from the little dots littering the snow for 50 feet around, a three foot circumference around the hive was completely saturated with amber.  I was going to try to catch it this morning, but the freezing rain started about 4 am and by the time it was light enough, snowball sized snowflakes were falling.  The sight around the hives gave completely new meaning to the old phrase 'don't eat yellow snow!'

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Nudge

As suddenly as our 7 inches of snow fell on Monday the temperatures rose to 40 degrees yesterday with hopes of the same for today.  We haven't seen temperatures like these since late fall. Then, it felt crisp and cool and had the promise of holidays, hot apple cider, and enjoying the indoors.  In contrast, after what is proving to be one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record and certainly since we moved here 13 years ago, we are more than ready to spend more time outside.  It was a joy simply walking up our long winding drive with the trash cans in tow.  Funny the simple pleasures; the black top shining through for the first time in months, walking outside with only a light sweater.  I found myself breathing deeper, relaxing and basking in the sun.   Though it seems the thaw will only be about two days before we are plunged back into sloppy winter storm conditions followed again by cold temperatures, it reminds me of how truly lucky we are to be able to experience the seasons with all of their ups and downs.  They only make us that more appreciative.  This thaw comes at a perfect time giving me that boost, a little reminder of the blooms ahead, and nudges me gently forward through the final months of winter.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pantry Chili

When we moved our large pine hutch into the kitchen so that we could have a pantry, I decided to try my best to keep it stocked, buying some things in bulk, so that I could throw together a meal without having to run to the store.  As I did not feel much like shopping on Saturday, I perused my pantry and freezer.  I wanted to make chili, but I had no kidney beans.  What I did have were black beans and hominy, we were on a big pozoli kick last fall.  I puttered around pinterest (say that three times fast) to get a few ideas, then just threw together a pantry chili with what I had.  I must say, this will now be our go recipe to when it comes to chili.  There is something about hominy's satisfying texture in a chili that really makes this special.  It has never been an ingredient that I have used much, but I certainly will think of it more often now.  This dish can easily be vegetarian, but I did add some beef that I had in the freezer to ours.

Black Bean and Hominy Chili

1 lb. Beef Chop Suey (I like the small little bites of this versus stew meat)
1 Onion, diced
2 Cloves Garlic, diced
1-28 oz Can Chopped Tomatoes
2-15 oz Cans Black Beans, drained
2- 15 oz Cans Hominy, drained
2 Tbsp. Tomato Paste
1/4 C BBQ Sauce
1 oz. Cocoa Powder
1 tsp. Oregano
1 tsp. Cumin
1 Tbsp. Chili Powder
2 Tbsp. Ancho Chili Powder
Red Wine, for deg-lasing
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 C. Chopped Cilantro (we didn't put this in, but as I am typing, I think this would be a wonderful fresh addition).


Brown beef in large stock pot.  Once browned, toss in onions and garlic and cook until just softened.   Then add all spices and cocoa powder coating the meat and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Deg-lase pan with 1/2-1  C of red wine, scraping all of the brown bits from the bottom.  Finally add all of your canned goods, BBQ Sauce and tomato paste.  Stir and simmer for 30 minutes.  We always server our chili with a handful of crushed tortilla chips in the bottom of the bowl. This chili is exceptionally decadent if you add a slug of coconut milk on top, as you would sour cream. 

As we are expecting heavy snow all afternoon in our area, you may want to add a few things to your shopping basket this morning,  it sounds like the perfect day for chili!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Random 5 Friday

1.  I know that I have been posting a lot of sunrises, but sheesh, the colors have been so awe inspiring and such a treat in contrast to all of the snow.

2.  I am really getting the hang of this bread making thing.  The batch that I made this week rose like crazy and ended up perfectly light and airy on the inside.

3.  My new lens was waiting for me when we got home from our little weekend away.  I did upgrade it to a 18-70mm to bridge the gap between my 18-55mm one and my Christmas 70-300mm telephoto.  I found it used on eBay and it is perfect!  Now I can save my pennies for a fixed focus lens.

4.  Kids say the darnedest things.  In response to our swim and ski weekend here are a couple of beauts.   Sidney:  "When I think vacation, I don't really consider it being around a bunch of other's just more for me to tolerate."   Charles:  "I am so excited to go on a ski lift!  That is on my bucket list."

5.  We are headed towards the upper 30's and low 40's going into next week.....break out the summer gear! ;-)

Please join us in Random 5 Friday

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Buying Into The Local Food Movement

Last night I went to one of two events that I have been very excited about attending.  Our town, like many, was very hard hit by the 'great recession' and still is reflecting double digit unemployment.  You might think that the focus on local healthy food sources would have petered out in this environment.  However, what has happened is that a number of organizations have made their missions to invest in and revitalize our community.  I am honored to be part of one of them and was excited to hear in more detail the vast strides that others are making. 

There were several very dynamic speakers discussing what we can do within our communities to support local business, educate our citizens, promote more small farmers, and create a sustainable food system that will drive a healthier population.  You know, just a few easy things. 

I think that a concept that was most encouraging was that of slow money.  Beth Gehred from Slow Money Wisconsin was one of our speakers and highlighted how it is difficult for smaller enterprises, no matter how desirable or needed,  to get off of the ground and start moving forward.  Slow money matches individual investors with those needing financing.  Sixty years ago, small town and local shoppes were the way of the world.  People invested in their communities, not large corporate conglomerates that had little vested interest in the population.  Co-operatives were one vehicle to accomplish this feeling of ownership.  If you went into your local grocer, coffee shop, restaurant, you knew the owner. 

The local food movement is no fad, it is something that continues to gain steam and it is our mission to make our community a showcase of this.  Not only is creating a healthy food system and educated population the right thing to do, it will create jobs and drive our small town economy forward.  I was so impressed by all of the information flying last night.  This was a first step of many in getting all of these groups together, very informally, but it highlighted to me how important it is for all of us to come together and support one another, and not duplicate each others efforts.  As I expressed this to B, he said something that in my mind perfectly fit the situation...."there needs to be someone to organize the community organizers."  Yep, that is it.  But what a good problem to have.  There are so many who are ready willing and able to invest their time, effort, and passion in our community.

We are already small business owners and I left last night ready to grow our little farm to be one of those local farmers.  I also left with the feeling that it is time to dig in further and make this happen.  As Robert Beezat of SEED said, the next 60 years of food in this country is going to look vastly different that the last 60 years.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

An Olympic Style Weekend

What better way to spend the weekend than teaching the kids new things followed by an amazing Tastebuds event??  Though I only had my iphone for our trip, when we drove up at home, my replacement lens was waiting on the porch, perfect timing for capturing food and friends.

B and I always love to watch the Olympics, and the kids have been only luke warm to the idea.  This weekend, as timing turned out, was a perfect start for the winter Olympics in our household.  We took a short trip to a local ski area and water park for a little family time.   Please understand, we live in Wisconsin, so the vertical feet at this ski area was 290 feet.  It was perfect though for teaching the kids and allowing mom to get her ski legs back.  B is a cracker jack skier.  I have skied half a dozen times, each separated by many years, so I always approach it more cautiously.  Charles it seems is much like his dad.  Once his lesson was complete, he headed to the lift with B and parallel skied all the way down, first time, no falling.  "It's fast and feels dangerous, what more could a boy ask for?"  Sid, a bit more like her mom, approached it more carefully but loved it and even has the story of spectacularly taking out her mom from behind on one of her runs!  ouch! ;)  Now, both kids are drawn to watching the downhill events on the Olympics having gained a new appreciation and interest.

After a lovely two nights, we headed home to prepare for our Tastebuds dinner group, this month's theme was Russian. We have found it remarkable that over the last five years there have been very few dishes that did not meet expectation, and I have wondered if that  great fortune has somewhat been the result of the method; cooking food with friends.  I do not know if it was the glow coming off of a great weekend, or again just the perfect timing, but the Russian meal took all of us by surprise.  It was amazing! 

One of the best parts of this group is how fluidly we work together.  Each couple may come with dishes that they are responsible for, but everyone dives in and helps wherever needed.  This is a seamless shuffle, where we just fall into place and work side by side.  Not pictured, are the Moscow Mules, that quenched our thirst throughout.  We did not do an appetizer, rather served all of the food at once so that we could experience how it would work together.  So drum roll please......Our line up was:

 Borscht (Beet Stew)

Pkhali (Spinach Walnut Salad)

Pickled Tomatoes & Peppers

Rye Piroshki (Rye bread stuffed with cheese and caramelized onions)

Syrniki (Farmers Cheese Pancakes)
 Shashlik (Lamb Kebob with Tomato-Prune Sauce)

Apple Sharlotka

We were amazed at how beautifully the blend of flavors complimented the meal.  It was another Tastebuds event hit out of the park.  There will definitely be repeat offenders on this meal!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Snow Igloo

B and Charles have spent the last few weeks making an igloo in the snow.  Last weekend they finished it.  Once they had hollowed the whole thing out, they added a couple of skylights using sledding disks.

When the excavation was complete, and since snow is every couple of days here this winter, B used a piece of cardboard and made a form around the opening and then used the snow blower to direct snow over it to fill it in and make a proper igloo opening.

Once this process was complete, B bedded down the floor inside with straw, and made an area for a small fire pit inside.  I hope to take more pictures of the inside soon, but this happened to my camera due to some exuberant boys playing in the wrong area. 

So, I'll post more pictures once we get that situation fixed.  To give you an idea of the scale of the thing, Charles is on top and B is inside excavating here.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Adventures in Breadmaking

I was so excited last weekend when the River Cottage Bread book arrived.  I read it cover to cover and among other things committed myself to regular bread making, and learning metric measurements.  Good grief, all of my favorite recipes need to be converted! 

On one of the kids two cold days from school this week, I began a sourdough starter and made my first batch of the basic bread recipe.  Though I am well equipped with my beloved Kitchenaid, I felt that we should experience learning what the textures feel like when hand mixing.  I love that Charles is always all over anything new and messy in the kitchen, so while Sid was out with a friend, he pipped up to help with the bread.

Those first two loaves did not stand a chance and were gone by yesterday.  So first thing this morning, I started another batch, but this time using a generous scoop of my incredibly happy sourdough starter.  It is a couple days before I should be using it, but it already has a wonderful aroma and takes so well to its daily feedings.  The book suggested a rye starter as a favorite, so that is what I am doing.

This lovely dough rises beautifully.  I have been letting it ferment it for about an hour, tamping it down and then letting it go another hour before shaping into loaves and letting prove.

I have ventured once before into bread making, but never used a pizza peel.  I just resisted spending the money on one.  Well just to illustrate how serious I am, I did go out and buy one earlier this week.  Now after using it for two rounds of bread, I have no idea why I was so resistant before, it has already saved me from burns and frustration.  Money well spent!

Since it is Super Bowl Sunday, in honor of the day, and since not a single Monday night football went by without them in my childhood home, BLT's are what's for dinner, on homemade sourdough bread.


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