The Shape of Things To Come

Summer isn’t moving by quite as laconically as I’d like.  It’s almost July already and I have barely tackled anything on my summer to – do list.  This can be blamed partially to my own laziness, partially to the landscaping going WAY past deadline, and partially because we’ve thrown another project on the heap (Paul doesn’t need his home office anymore, so I am cleaning it out in preparation to make it my new sewing room!).

Of course there has been plenty of swimming since we opened the pool this week, and since I have to be out with the kids (as the only adult) that has further slowed me down.  I have done A LOT of reading while they’ve been splashing about.

In more exciting news, though, I ordered a darning needle a few months back for my sewing machine, and I managed to get my patchwork quilt from last summer almost done.  All that is left is the binding.

It’s not the neatest or most precise quilt ever crafted, but I did it ALL myself. And it made good use of all the beautiful Heather Ross scraps that I had hanging around.

Okay, so I might have had a little help from someone with 7 toes on each of his massive paws.

I have told myself I will finish the binding once the new sewing room is all set up (I’ve already bought paint – I can’t wait for it to be done!).  My current sewing spot overlooks the back yard, and it can be a bit distracting watching the work going on out there (and soon, livestock grazing!).  My new spot faces the front, but it will have more light, so fair trade.

Soon I will be able to sit in the dining room with my coffee and see my animals.  We are very, very close.

A few days ago the view looked like this:

As of today it looks like this:

That field back there is deceptively huge.  Our main portion of land sits in a little hollow – a fact we didn’t really realize until we started clearing.  It’s odd; we have our own little micro – climate here.  All of my plants bloom later than my neighbors, who are on higher ground around us.

I kind of like being in a little hollow.  I should have called the farm “Magpie Hollow”.

Hmmmmmm.  You never know.

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The Longest Day

The solstice this year also happened to be the hottest day we’ve had yet, nearly 100 degrees, so we celebrated the way you normally celebrate a super hot summer day.

By lazing about.

We tried to stay inside during the hottest portion of the day – it wasn’t just hot, it was thick.  You felt like a hot, wet blanket was hitting you square in the chest as soon as you walked out the door.  We ventured out early to feed and water the chickens (and then every hour or two we had to go out and made sure everyone still had water – especially the 50 meat chicks we have in the brooder).

I stumbled around the garden a little bit, pulling a few things here and there for our dinner in celebration of summer’s official start.  Neve kept stealing out to where the wild blackberry bush has started to fruit, sneaking ripe berries by the handful.

It was also high time to make a blueberry gateau – Paul’s favorite dessert ever.

Once the sun had begun to set the kids began begging for a fire to sit around and play Mad Libs, and maybe roast marshmallows.

I did one slightly better – I made homemade graham crackers from the July 2012 issue of Martha Stewart Living.  The recipe is HERE.

Then after dinner I brought them out to the fire along with some marshmallows and chocolate squares for the first s’mores of the summer.

(I didn’t have square cookie cutters, so I made them round. )

They were gooey, crumbly and messy, but they were good.

We sat out by the fire watching the bats and the fireflies and playing Mad Libs and laughing until after ten when the fire started to die out.  We all went to bed with our books, smelling deliciously of summer and woodsmoke.

Happy summer, everyone.  Let’s enjoy it to the fullest.

 

In The Garden : Zucchini

Happy Father’s Day!  We’re spending our holiday weekend buried under squash.

The garden has gone fairly berserk with zucchini and yellow squash.  Every year I overgrow them and every spring I always forget and do it again.  This year I am making a note in the farm journal to plant LESS summer squash and more potatoes and peppers instead!

So squash.  We had several days of rain last week and I didn’t venture out to the garden at all.  Once the clouds parted and I could get back out there I discovered some monster zucchini growing under the jungle – like leaves.  I don’t like them getting too big – they’re not as flavorful; but they are funny.  Here’s one next to a normal – sized zucchini:

The same day I harvested the squash I also pulled some carrots and peas.  I can’t tell you how excited I am to grow carrots!  They are far more “carrotty” than any store bought variety.

But while the carrots and peas have been coming in at a slower pace the squash has been taking over everything.  I’ve been sneaking it into people’s cars when they are foolhardy enough to stop by.  I’ve grated some of the zucchini and frozen it in ziplocs for baking later.  I have blanched and frozen slices of squash for use in soups later.  And I am still overloaded.  Fortunately we love squash on the grill, and I also have a smashing recipe for zucchini that even the pickiest ones around here love.  It’s adapted very slightly from Cooking Light.

First you roughly chop up about 8 cups of zucchini (I slice it, then quarter the slices).  Along with it, chop up half a medium sized yellow onion, and toss them in a stock pot with about half a cup of vegetable broth.  You can also use chicken stock, but I have a vegetarian in the house, and it doesn’t make much of a difference in the final dish.

You’ll want to boil it, covered, on medium heat until the squash softens up.  Then remove it from heat and mash it slightly.  Drain any excess liquid.

While the squash is cooking make 2 cups of rice.  Combine the cooked squash and rice in a large bowl and add a cup of sour cream, about a cup and a half of shredded cheddar (we like cheese around here!), a quarter cup of grated parmesan cheese, a quarter cup of breadcrumbs, 2 eggs, salt & pepper.  Mix it all up and spread it into an oiled or sprayed casserole dish.

Bake for about 30 minutes at 350.  You can also broil it at the end to get the top nice and crisp.

Super easy, super yummy, and it uses up a good amount of zucchini.  And if you don’t have any, come over and get some!

 

Making Day

First, an update on the monster spider / shed disaster.

Paul cleaned out the shed for me today after continual failure to find and dispatch said monster spider.  I went in after he had thoroughly removed all the old bedding and done an inspection for creepy crawlies.  I brought a broom in because I wanted to clean out the dusty cobwebs from the corners to discourage anyone from returning.

Mr. Monster Spider was waiting for me on the floor.  Paul got him this time.

The shed is ready for chickens.

Hallelujah!

Today, then, was “cleaning day”, at least outside.

Earlier this week, though, I had a lovely “making day” in the kitchen.

My Weck jars had come in the mail so I was ready to make some Brandied Cherry Jam.  We were almost out of bread, so I needed to make a loaf of Pain de Mie.  I had bought some fresh burgers from Whole Foods and I wanted to make some buns to serve them on. AND my good friend, Marie Grace had convinced me I needed at long last to try making yogurt.

I managed to accomplish it all in one spectacularly grueling day.  I’d like to pace things out more in the future, but the results were so worth it!

The jam was the same that I made last year after cherry – picking : a lovely simple cherry jam with some brandy added at the end to balance out some of the sweetness.  I used 6 lbs. that I had waiting in the freezer for just this purpose.

As always, I wish I had more.  Six pounds made only  three of these lovely 1/2L jars plus a pint for my friends Keith and Jessie, who are avowed cherry jam fans.

While the jam was going I was also heating milk for yogurt and letting two types of bread dough rise.

For sandwich bread I use a Pullman Loaf pan, or Pain de Mie pan, depending on who you ask.  I use the recipe from King Arthur Flour, and it’s been a favorite here.  I make a loaf probably every two days.  We also enjoy the Cinnamon version, which probably is to blame for putting a few pounds back on me that I had recently lost.

Anyway, pain de mie has a lovely, dense crumb that is perfect for slicing for toast or sandwiches, and very easy to make provided you have the pan ( a stand mixer doesn’t hurt, either).

(

See? Irresistible!!!

SO while the pain de mie was resting I was also working on those burger buns.  These have hands down been one of the biggest hits ever to  come out of my kitchen.  They are the PERFECT burger bun, bar none.  And again, super easy.  The recipe comes (of course) from Smitten Kitchen and the name says it all: “Light Brioche Burger Buns”.

I can promise you will not be sorry if you make them.

Finally, the yogurt.

I always wanted to make yogurt at home, but for some reason I didn’t think I could make any I’d like without lots of special equipment.  I figured it’d be fussy and time consuming without a yogurt – maker, and I prefer Greek – Style, which is much thicker.

Then my friend Marie posted THIS about making yogurt in a crock pot (or even without one!).  I cheated and ordered a greek yogurt strainer from Amazon, but otherwise the only thing I bought to get going was some local organic, grass-fed milk and a container of yogurt.

The yogurt came out perfect!  At first it had some liquid floating around it (that would be whey, which you can save and use for baking!), but after a night sitting in the strainer it was the thickest, creamiest, most delicious yogurt I have EVER had.

It is so good, even Paul is obsessed with it.  Now we’re talking about it all the time.  “Hey do you think THIS will be good on top of the yogurt?  What if we add THAT to it? IT doesn’t matter if this jam’s a bit strong, it’ll be great with the yogurt!”

I’ve made two batches now, and I’ve been putting it in these lovely little single – serving sized Weck jars.  We’ve been topping them with the cherry jam, as well as some strawberries we had macerated for shortcake.  I’ve even been known to eat a whole jar totally plain and whine for more.

“Making Day” may have been exhausting, but now I know I can make yogurt whenever I want, and our cherries have been wonderfully preserved.

The bread is an almost every day occurrence, but the burgers?  Out of this world.

The Heebie-Jeebies

I have a problem.

I have 50 meat chicks arriving next week (possibly Monday) and I need to clean out the goat shed to use as a brooder.

There’s a ton of hay and pine shavings and goat and chicken poop in there.  Also a dog crate.

These things are not a problem.  I did a lot of work over the winter breaking up the really packed – down and hardened portions of it.  Now it just needs shoveling out and some shop vac work to make it habitable again.

I have today, Friday, and the weekend to get it done.

No problem, right?  I might even white – wash the inside walls.

I waited until the hot portion of the day had passed, went out with my shovel and began to work.

Until.

That thing is fully the size of my hand.

Paul took these pictures after I ran screaming out of there.  Then he tried to kill it, whereupon it got away and disappeared.

You understand I can’t go back in there now, right?

No seriously.  I know you think I am being funny or dramatic for blog’s sake, but no.  I really can’t go back in there now.

You see the problem?

50 chickens?

No place to go?

Useless goat shed?

You think Paul will let me burn it down and build another?

I didn’t think so either.

Temporary Turtle

A few days ago Paul borrowed the neighbor’s lawn mower because ours had broken and the grass was getting obscenely high.  It took him awhile to take care of all of it, but thankfully he was going slower than normal because trudging through the high grass, oblivious to the dangerous mower coming at him was this guy:

A little Eastern Box Turtle.

I was out at the store at the time, so when Neve said she was going to clean out the old aquarium to make a home for her new “pet”, Paul saw no reason to argue. He still had half a lawn to mow.

When I got home I explained to the kids that although they are very cute and friendly, these little guys don’t make great pets.  They don’t live as long in captivity, and since he was used to being in the wild, he’d be happier staying there.  I told them about the turtle my brother had as a kid that starved itself to death.  They didn’t want this little guy to be unhappy.

They did enjoy the few hours they had with Mr. Turtle before he was set loose in my garden.  We haven’t seen him since; he’s probably continued on his way to wherever it was he was going when we found him.

He was awfully cute, though!

 

The Cat Who Came to Stay

Our neighbor (who we love) has a few outdoor cats that occasionally we will see wandering around our property, checking things out.  Although I am completely opposed to the concept of “outdoor cats” (they don”t live as long, they get into fights, get hit by cars, eaten by predators, pick up diseases, annoy your neighbors by pooping on their herb garden or terrorizing their chickens or transmitting toxoplasmosis to pregnant sheep) I have never been bothered by these cats.

These ones don’t poop on my herbs.

Or pee on our car tires, or scratch up the paint job and make Paul crazy.

They also have never, ever once shown any interest in the chickens.  Even when those birds were free – ranging everywhere.  In fact, Miss Gaga used to escape her pen, wander over to the neighbors’ house, and eat the cats’ food off the back porch.  Sometimes that hen would scare the cats off and hog it all to herself.   The neighbor thought it was hilarious, and started giving her treats.  I made sure to give them eggs for their trouble.

But I digress.

Lately there’s a new dog living next door.  A very excitable young rescue terrier who thinks it is the best thing ever to chase cats.  Usually up the trees.  Sometimes over to our yard.  Where one kitty has decided to stay for good.

We noticed this little tabby with a gravelly meow hanging out on our back deck for a few days in a row and figured she was too scared of the dog to go home, so we fed her.

And then again the next day.

And again after that.

When Paul wanted me to put her in the garage one colder night so she’d be warm I knew we had ourselves a  cat.

She’s what we like to call “aggressively friendly”; you can’t stand or sit near her without a major purr – fest and some loving – up.

Naturally the kids were smitten.

One day we finally got a chance to talk to our neighbor about it and she told us miss kitty’s name: “Furball”, and that she is a pretty old mama cat.   She was sad that Furball had flown the coop in search of calmer waters but grateful we were looking out for her.  Maddie said she looked more like “Nermal” from “Garfield” than a “Furball”, and Paul began calling her “Furble”.

It stuck.

Then, one day Furble left us half of a frog by the back door, and that was that.  She had officially adopted us.

Since then we’ve gotten at least one mole, a baby snake (which she ate most of in front of us), several lizards, and most recently, a baby bunny. (Again, not everyone is going to appreciate it if your outdoor cat leaves half-eaten carcasses on the doorstep. Keep them safe inside!)

Furble spends most of her time laying in the sun on our back deck, or sitting by our back door, begging for food.  In nasty weather we try to entice her into the garage, but we can’t let her in the house.  Our resident house cats would never forgive us.  Also, we don’t know what sorts of weird cat viruses Furble could be carrying from always being outside, so we always wash our hands after petting her so we don’t transmit anything to our indoor kitties.

But, she’s a great little cat and I hope we can do our part to make her old age comfortable.  She’s certainly made herself a part of the family!