Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Magic of Herbs

I have enjoyed all of the River Cottage Handbooks that I own.  Each written on history, experience, and thoughts about the given topic.  I found myself quite enamoured with No. 10: Herbs.  How can you not be taken with a book whose opening paragraph is: "Herbs are beautiful, life-enhancing, seductive things.  Whether you see them primarily as plants or as ingredients, they are enticing.  I find it hard to believe that anyone could look at a lavender bush nodding in the sunshine or sniff a torn bay leaf and not experience, at the very lease, a flicker of pleasure."

Maybe it is just us, but as we walk around nightly in our garden, or our yard, we constantly brush up against the greenery, pinch a plant between our fingers and sniff to identify it.  Wild lemon balm, lambs quarter, catnip.  After reading this book I am more enchanted than ever with herbs.  As vital in cooking as salt and stimulating multiple senses, herbs can fix a state of mind.  When harvesting lavender a few weeks ago, my whole home smelled of the woody floral beauty that was drying.  I began to utilize it in recipes and found a whole new appreciation for it.   I ran out immediately to Milaegers to fill in our herb plantings and bought up multiple varieties of sage, and I am currently on the hunt for a bay tree that I can overwinter indoors.

This evening as I snapped the flower head off of a dill plant for a cucumber salad, I smelled the intoxicating aroma on my hands.  The oils released into the air and linger.  Smell is such an important sense that can immediately calm a mood or send you to a different place.  Herbs are magic, and I am only just beginning to realize how to use each individual to it's fullest.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Growing Fast

The last seven weeks has just flown!   Mr. Emerson has tripled in size and personality.  His herding instinct is strong.  He is incredibly smart, wily, and is growing so lanky that he can be quite clumsy.

Training is coming along well, though at times frustrating, after all he is a puppy.  However, his responses are much more consistent and rapid.

Best of all, Xander has come around and fully engages with him.  Sometimes to his chagrin, starting something and wanting to be done far before the energetic newcomer.  We are just thankful he's still around to be annoyed.

Monday, July 28, 2014

That Light

Last night as I went out to put the animals down and take a last leisurely walk around the garden I was struck by that light.  The light typically symbolic to me of the coming fall.  It is hard to believe that it feels like we are approaching that time of year already.  Maybe it was how long and hard our winter was, or how cool the summer has been, or the fact that school starts in a mere 3 weeks or maybe that our handful of warm days end abruptly in crisp air.

It is dark much earlier and the last hour or so of light is golden and coming from a much lower angle. Can you see the glitter-like shimmer in the tree on the left?  That was no camera trick, simply how the light looked last night.  I am not complaining in the least.  I would not mind the next four months consisting of these beautiful evenings after days that sun kiss the garden leading toward a long harvest.

Weekend Projects, Better Known as Cans of Worms

Have you ever started a project, quite out of the blue, spent half of the day on it and then it is just not quite right?  That was how my Saturday morning went.  B was working, so I decided to attempt re-organization of our entry.  I bought an additional piece of furniture (since returned), moved/hid our device charging area, and thoroughly cleaned everything only to be unsatisfied with the result.

Once B got home we made a couple of more adjustments and he suggested one of those big bench hall trees.  After looking at the furniture already in our room, I could not picture another large piece.  Then he suggested hanging a giant hall tree on the wall.  Better yet, let's make one from old scrap material in the barn!

What we are left with is a cool old weathered door, gently cleaned, varnished and affixed with several large hooks that were in various areas of the barn.  B even fashioned a way to securely attach it to the wall staying true to the picture rail that is already there, and it is sturdy enough that he could hang from the door and it will not budge (not just a figure of speech, he hung from the door).

Moral of the story; a little moving of furniture, creativity, $35 and a lot of elbow grease and we have a cool piece that makes the whole room feel like brand new.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Choc Tox

No one is immune, even our family.  All it takes is an 85 degree house (the ac is out) with a tired child who fell asleep before eating their handful of tasty dark chocolate chips.  Fast forward 7 hours and we were left with one desperately sick farm poodle.

We are very fortunate that B is so gifted at his profession.  Even with his gifts, the severe reaction this sassy farm poodle had was the worst that he had seen in his 20 year career.

Severe vomiting, tremors, rapid heart rate, increase then decrease in body temperature and difficulty maintaining blood pressure were the symptoms varying in severity that over the course of yesterday left us questioning at times if he was going to recover.  It appears that our tough farm poodle has made it through the worst.  Though a bit of recovery is ahead for him, we are so happy that he and his big farm poodle ego are still with us.   Moral of the story;  Choc Tox (chocolate toxicity) is no joke, even very small amounts especially in a smaller dog can be devastating and each patient may react differently to the volume ingested.  Please excuse me, I'm headed to hug a poodle.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Our Daughters

Our daughters.  Smart, creative, imaginative, old souls.  For months they have dreamt about getting their attire in place and spending their summer weekends at the Renaissance Faire.

Though, the season passes may be in next years reality, hopefully we will get another chance this summer, and this weekend was one to remember.  Spending a beautiful day; half of it getting the perfect peasant chic dialed in.

So proud of my girl, getting into perfect Ren Faire character as she yelled "Lady Rebecca" through the store to be fitted with her bodice. (very against type I assure you, yet the glee in her face when she broke free to do it was priceless)!

Then to top off the glow of the day at the faire, an overnight with her kindred spirit.  Followed by a day planning for a photo shoot.

Look what lovely young wenches ladies, our daughters are turning out to be.

These photos were taken by my good friend Nicole.  An amazing job capturing the beautiful spirit of our daughters.  xo

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Stretching Wings

This springs fowl on the property are growing quickly and are forever entertaining.  One duck in particular quacks like Donald Duck and when he gets mad, it almost sounds like he is scolding us.  I am trying to catch it on video, it is quite comical!  As we are in the middle of a sudden downpour, I am reminded of the fact that ducks love the rain and run out of their shaded areas to raise their bills to the water that falls.

The chickens and ducks have all been housed together since they were babies a mere eight short weeks ago. They live harmoniously together and have all decided to refuse our best efforts to lock them in at night.  As you can see they are finding places to roost wherever they want.

We chose all of our meat birds in particular because they were aggressive foragers.   The barred rock especially embrace this quality and have taken it to the next level, roosting together in an apple tree.   It makes us a little nervous, this choice of theirs to stay out at nights, perching where they like.  Thankfully we invested in the electric poultry fence to keep the predators out, with any luck it will continue to be an effective deterrent.  At some point you just have to let them stretch their wings.

Early Morning Rewards

A cup of coffee on the porch this brisk morning before farm chores was rewarded with this sight.  A lovely start to the day!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Summer Foraging

It is finally that time.  We have been waiting eagerly for the elderflowers to bloom, and as we were driving around last week, we knew that the weekend would be our prime opportunity.  I cannot remember a year when the elderflowers were so prolific.  I am not sure if they are just boasting that they survived our frigid winter or if the county simply has not gotten to mowing them down yet, regardless, it led to quite a bounty!

Elderflowers make our favorite cordial and Charlie especially has been asking after it since mid-March.  We drove the county roads and walked some railroad tracks and easily collected nine grocery sacks full of perfect flower heads.  After hours of separating them from their stems, the result was a five gallon crock full of flowers that are going to spend the next several days steeping in a simple syrup/acid mixture and becoming cordial.

We were just in a foraging kind of mood yesterday and we decided to hike back into the heavily wooded part of our property to the black raspberry bramble that was just starting a couple of years ago.  I am happy to say, that it has turned into a very large bramble that we traipsed through collecting four pounds of ripe berries.

Last winter while we were surviving the 'polar vortex', I came across an article about berry shrubs.  Then a couple of weeks ago I was reminded about them when julochka posted that she had just made some.  These fresh drink mixes were used primarily prior to refrigeration as a way to preserve an abundance of fruits and were drank as a precursor to soda.  The concoction is fresh fruit, sugar and vinegar.  There are several recipes out there, but we went for it a bit on our own.  We took quart mason jars and filled them to just below the shoulder with berries, then dissolved  2 cups of sugar in 2 cups of vinegar.  We did one cup apple cider vinegar, and one cup of our homemade red wine vinegar.  Poured the mixture over the berries to fill the jars, where they will sit for a week or so before use.

The four pounds of black raspberries yielded four quarts of shrub.  We did an additional quart using our first gooseberries of the season.  I can't wait to take a taste, I have a feeling that there will be many more shrubs made as the garden progresses!

Speaking of the 'polar vortex'  I hope this possibility does not affect our tomatoes ripening!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Getting the Hang Of It!

I have not been able to write as regularly here as I would like.  We have been amazingly busy implementing new strategies at work, and then took a quick weekend trip for a family gathering over the Fourth holiday.

We have been very fortunate this year.  Our garden is flourishing above and beyond years' past and today we put out our third farm bag of the season!  Last year our first bag came out the middle of July!  I love to be able to look back year to year at photos.  The above photo is our garden as of July 15th last year.  The top photo was our garden this afternoon.

Most of the individual pictures and details of the farm bags along with recipe ideas are being shared over on our Aisling SmallHolding facebook page, but to summarize:  our farm bags in the early part of this season have consisted of lots of salad greens, green onions, kohlrabi, bok choi, green garlic, garlic scapes, radishes, beets, dill, thyme, lavender, sugar snap peas, and a few baby carrots.  Our tomato plants have already set tons of tomatoes, some are just beginning to blush with color.  We harvested our first few eggplant this week, the chickpeas look to be getting close, and it seems we will have a bumper crop of raspberries.  It is so rewarding to walk through this years plot and just breathe.  We seem to be getting the hang of this thing!


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