Saturday, August 28, 2010


We got back from our vacation in Colorado on Sunday but school started today so I've been run off my feet since we got back. I've got lots and lots of fun stuff to post but I'll have to get it on here this weekend. Below are some pictures I took before we left. I couldn't post them then because it would have ruined the surprise for others who were receiving the cedar chests as gifts.
When Mom and Dad came out in August they brought an amazing gift - a custom built cedar chest that matches ones that were made for my brother and two cousins. They were crafted by a woodworker in Carbondale, CO from black walnut my grandfather harvested from his family farm in Kansas many many years ago. It had been sitting in his shop in Grand Junction, CO for a few decades until my mother and aunts inherited it a couple of years ago.

They also brought out the quilt that's visible on the bed. My grandmother and I pieced it during the last year or so of her life and got it onto the quilting frame. She passed away before it was completed and my mom graciously moved the frame to her house, finished the quilting, and even did the binding before bringing it to me completed. To give perspective to that project, the bed it's on in the photo is king-sized.

The cedar was also in his shop. We also now have a brass plaque to mount in the lid that briefly explains the significance of the chest and gives our names and the year the chest was made. The red and white houndstooth was given to me by an aunt who apparently won it in a "make it with wool" contest when she was still a teenager. I'm hoping to get it together and make an awesome retro coat one of these days.

Getting the new quilt out made me want to show off and document the other quilt I have, the first one my mother, grandmother and I made when I asked her to teach me how to quilt, many years ago.
Grandma finished quilting that one and bound it. She gave it to me for Christmas 2000 with the label above attached. When I was just in Colorado I made myself a similar one documenting the story of the new quilt.

And so I get to show off a few of my most treasured possessions. :)
I'll get busy posting this weekend because we've been very busy and I have the pictures to prove it!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fried Squash Blossoms

We arrived in Colorado last night and today I got the grand garden tour from Mom, including the "mystery vine" that planted itself this spring, took off like crazy (attempting to eat the air conditioner), and has recently been identified as a pumpkin. She's got several nice looking pumpkins and we carefully trimmed back all of the vines that weren't holding fruit already. We'd both heard of eating squash blossoms and today seemed like a good day to try it.

The filling was put together out of what was in her fridge - a couple of slices of pepper jack, crumbled; some cream cheese; basil and parsley from the garden; and garlic powder.
After being dipped in egg and coated in flour, they were fried in olive oil.
They turned out delicious. In this recipe the blossom doesn't seem to add a lot of character to the product but being a cheese delivery system seems like a valid purpose in itself.
We also had the last of her meager corn crop for lunch. They had a hail storm in early summer. It was pretty impressive that the stalks produced anything. They're not much to look at but the flavor is excellent.

Her tomato plants, however, managed to get fairly well protected and went absolutely crazy. I'm very likely making myself sick on delicious cherry tomatoes. I'm so jealous since mine were just turning when we left.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Summer Harvest

It stands to reason that the first zucchini would be ready right as we're getting ready to leave. I'll have to do some quick baking or freezing - or just throw it in my carry-on!

I was surprised to see that the first pods of Bingo beans were totally dry and ready for harvest. They're very orderly - most ripe at the bottom, least ripe at the top. They seem to have come out beautifully and the plants are loaded. I hope we like their flavor. Of course, it would be pretty easy to disguise the flavor in soup anyway. Dry beans are sure an easy way to grow some protein in your garden.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Midsummer Preparations for Winter

So, I'm guessing that I'm not alone as a gardener in finding mid-August a little frustrating. Spring crops have come and gone. Fall/winter crops were planted in late July. The bulk of the harvest isn't ready until the end of August/beginning of September. We've harvested about 4 small eating tomatoes and the plants are heavy with green tomatoes, which are just now getting their first blushes of color. The winter dried bean crops are just slowly ripening and drying out. Squash are still little green tennis balls of potential.

This means I've been having to prepare for winter in other ways. The first being finally getting the sweater I've been trying to make Q for a couple of years done. The yarn was originally bought for a different pattern (and was the second yarn choice/knitting of that pattern). The cardigan that was originally intended had a couple of very thick cables that used way more yarn than I could have imagined and after I was done with the body, I began growing fearful that I'd have to get more of a different dye lot and work it in with what I had left of the original on the sleeves. To top it off, I wasn't happy with how it was turning out so it got quietly put aside in frustration.

Then the knitting gods smiled down at me and sent this book...

Not only are the patterns fantastic but each one is written in six sizes and four gauges. Yes, that's right. It's a miracle. I've never seen a pattern I wouldn't have to size up for my 53" broad-chested husband. In this book I'm not even using the largest size (which is 60"). It's like heaven and the pattern is so eloquently simple that I, the queen of modifying patterns, am following it to a tee.

Since it's top-down, we tried it on Q after I separated off the sleeves and finished the raglan increases. It fit him perfectly from what we could tell. I've got another 6" of body to knit and then we'll try it on again for length before I do the sleeves. Finally, Q will have a me-knit sweater to wear this winter.

I've also been reading like mad this summer, partially preparing for teaching 8th grade...

and partially reading to pretend that I'm a farmer.

If, in your schooling, Johnny Tremain and Across Five Aprils never made it onto your reading list, they are must reads. They're wonderfully written and will be required of my students this year. Mayflower is also an amazing story about the first Puritan settlers and made me see them in a whole new light. I just started Undaunted Courage (about Lewis and Clark) and so far it's good. We'll see.

As for the farm books, Gene Logsdon is a new folk hero around here. He's witty and wry, very practical, a total rebel, and has been doing the kind of things we want to do for several decades. His blog is a good time as well, if whole books are more than what you're willing to take on regarding these subjects.

Here's Digit before he noticed me paying any attention to him...
and after. He's such a show-off.
We're leaving to visit Colorado in a couple of days and the cats are enjoying my early packing attempts. I don't think he realizes how uncomfortable the overhead bin would be for several hours, even for someone as limber as he is.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010

First 8th Grade Chalk Drawing

I've never had my beginning of school chalkboard drawing done this early. I usually put it off until the last couple of days before school. Maybe the last days of vacation won't feel as hectic as they usually do?

Canned Suncrest Peaches

Around here, the first canning peaches ready are the Suncrests and, since we're going to be out of town for the end of August, I needed to get a quick start this year on Quentin's winter supply.

I made 14 quarts of canned peaches plus a crisp out of 2 boxes ($18.99/box) of peaches. It was the longest, most torturous canning I have ever done. The peaches were quite a bit less ripe than I had thought so they didn't skin well, even after blanching, and their "freestones" were not quite free yet. At least I got a lot of practice paring...? Sometimes bright sides are a little tricky to find. It seemed absurd that only two canner loads ate up 6 hours of my time.

I'm just over a third of the way to my goal of 40 quarts for this season. Rather than going to Detering's and buying them by the box next time I'm going to go to Bush Fern View and pick them myself. That way I'll have more control over their ripeness and if it's difficult it will be my own fault. :)

Unrelated but still lovely, Q and I had an omelet for lunch that consisted of Little Miss' first 5 eggs (produced in five days!).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lane County Fair 2010

Today was the opening day for the Fair. I love the fair! Q was especially excited to go this year because he wanted to look at the chickens. He also has a weakness for ducks so we always enjoy visiting those and he is a photography fan. There is also always a litter of piglets and some baby bunnies. My favorite parts are also the Grange exhibits and the produce, textiles, and food preservation entries.

I entered items in the Textiles and Food Preservation departments for the first time. After all the stories I heard growing up about my Mom and her sisters participating in 4-H and entering things in the fair as children, I felt like I was joining a family tradition.

Of the 4 Textile entries and 7 Food Preservation entries, I placed with everything except my dried oregano (I won't crunch up the leaves next year - apparently good for actually using it, bad for winning with it) and the canned plums. I think I could do better in the Dill Pickles (stuff more dill into the jar) and dried cherries (preserve with a honey dip instead of citric) but $30 in premiums is a nice bonus along with the fun of the ribbons (even if the competition is sometimes a little scant).

I'm sure I'll have an eye to next year's entries as we use our canned goods through the winter and as I knit and sew for us. I think that Q will have to forgo one of his jars of peaches in the name of the fair. :)

Toy Turtle knit for baby Cullan (1st out of about 5)

Baby Cardigan knit for baby Cullan
(entered under the knits - original design category, 1st out of 2)

Linen shirt sewn for Q (2nd out of 2)
Cog Mitts knit for Q (3rd out of 5)

Cherry Pie Filling (1st out of 3)

Tomato Sauce (2nd out of 5)

Pickled Beets (3rd out of 4)

Dried Cherries (3rd out of ?)

Dill Pickles (4th out of 6)

Good News

Q made his first sale at his Etsy shop today! I told him he needs to quickly get something else listed. So proud of him!!!

We harvested 5 oz of edamame pods from the Misono Green plants that have had no leaves for a week or so. I don't know why they turned out so motley but even though they're small they still made a nice addition to our dinner.

We've also had 3 eggs in 3 days from Little Miss.

And, perhaps the biggest news, the people who are selling it accepted our offer on 10 acres just south of Eugene today. We've still got a whole lot more checking and double checking before the deal actually closes but it's pretty exciting. Step one on the path to the family farm!

Food Preparation

On Sunday, it is not unusual for me to start the day in the kitchen making breakfast and then never quite leave. I did that last Sunday morning and it tends to make my week a bit smoother when it comes to meal planning. It all started with making waffles, which is always a good start to anything. :)

The first order of business after breakfast was getting the chicken stock I had made a couple of days previously out of the fridge. It's always got to cool before anything else is done to it so the fat can solidify at the top so stock-making is always a slightly extended process. After taking one look in the freezer, I decided to can stock for the first time. :) It does require pressure canning but is super easy to can if you're familiar with the pressure canner. It took me a little extra time this morning because I put the pressure canner through a practice run (nothing in it but water) since this was its first use of the season.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation's recipe made me laugh though. After boiling chicken for only 30 or 45 minutes all it seems like you would have is vaguely flavored water, not stock - what's the point of preserving that? I simmer my stock for about 8-10 hours and up to 24 (as per Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions), using bones so I don't have to worry about wasting the meat. Bones from roasted chickens, by the way, impart amazing flavor to stock.

The canning seems to have been very successful, with all the jars appearing to (and sounding like) they sealed within the first hour. Ah, the beautiful "ping" of jar lids!

There was still a quart of syrup in the fridge from apricot drying that was basically a simple sugar/honey syrup heavily infused with apricots. After all of the apricots had been soaked in the solution before drying, I strained it to produce a clear, very tasty, syrup but it was too runny to be useful for much. Mom left 2 t. of Pomona Universal Pectin on the table and the activating calcium water in the fridge when she left, remnants of the sugar free jam trials, so I boiled up the syrup (with a couple teaspoons of calcium water) and stirred in the pectin. By evening, it had stiffened up beautifully into a runny jelly/very thick syrup. Looks like we'll be needing to make waffles again in the very near future. Here it is as a topping on ice cream. Yum!

I finally remembered to take a picture of the breakfast cookies that we are so in love with around here. I made a double batch so I could have them for lunches this week too and still have enough for breakfast. As always, I added about 1/2 c. of flour per batch, replaced the applesauce with apricot puree, and used almonds and dried cherries instead of walnuts and raisins.

We also cooked a nice 2-lb beef roast for Q to have in lunches this week and for us to have as beef au jus one night. Monday's dinner was toasted hoagie rolls layered with roast beef and provolone put under the broiler just long enough to melt the cheese. We had a little bit of au jus leftover in the freezer from when the parents were here.

Oh how I love the deep satisfaction of knowing that the kitchen and pantry are stuffed with time-saving good things to eat!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


After learning to do Japanese stab binding with the class this year the handwork teacher (also a parent in the class) and I decided it would be really neat to step it up next year and do hardcover binding using signatures so the books could open up flat and have flexible spines. The woman who worked with us at school, the super talented Annah James agreed to host a class over the summer and I spent two 2 1/2 hour sessions last week learning this new technique. I gave the book I made to Q and we're probably going to add a leather strap to close it. I'm very happy with how it turned out and have a lot of ideas of what I want to do when I make another one.

I didn't really mean to make a book quite this thick. Next time I want to add a more elaborate stitch pattern on the binding too.

The signatures (groups of paper all folded together) mostly white and cream with a few sheets of black, gold, red, and silver interspersed. Q sometimes uses a white art pencil for sketching and it will look really good on the other colors.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Our First Egg

Well, we've confirmed that the new chicken is already laying! It is way up there on the cool things list to look in the nest box and find an egg. It kind of feels fake, like Easter or something. ;)

Garden Progress

The corn's been tasseling for about a week but now...

...we're finally seeing the beginnings of ears and some silk to maybe get pollinated.I still fear that we're going to get a lousy corn harvest though.

The black-eyed peas are covered in funny, tiny baby beans. In the photo below, all of the dark tipped "sticks" that are at the tops of stems but don't have any leaves are little bean pods.

I'm finally seeing one or two baby squash and below is a zucchini that's just getting started.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Premature Chicken Harvest

I was out taking the picture above and others of the yard this afternoon when I noticed that there was blood on Vivian's leg. (You can see it a little in the picture - she's the buff one.) Upon closer examination, we determined that the cat that had been stalking around had gotten a lucky shot under a crack at one end of the tractor and she'd been pretty badly injured. She'd lost a lot of her upper leg muscle and, even if she miraculously recovered, would never use that leg again. We made the difficult decision to put her down.

Later in the afternoon, Q made a makeshift killing cone from an old jug of windshield wiper fluid and performed his first duty as the family butcher. I'm so grateful that he feels like he can do that. She was such a tiny body but we felt like it was only proper to make the killing not be completely senseless by getting some practice and a little food from it. We hadn't practiced our butchering skills since we first learned them last Thanksgiving when we helped our poultry farmer kill and dress the dozen or so turkeys she'd raised for the holiday.

After she was killed and had been bled, Q scalded the body and pulled out most of the feathers. I don't think the water was still quite hot enough or it wasn't left in there quite long enough because a lot of them didn't come out very well. We cooled the body in an ice bath and brought it inside where I removed the feet and skin and eviscerated it. I discarded the portion of the leg that had been badly injured and didn't save the wings because they were basically nothing but skin and feathers. After the turkeys, such a small body was difficult to maneuver and get everything easily but thankfully everything is the same on both species so it was only scale that changed.
Here's what was left, ready to cook. It's sitting in a 6 cup storage container so it's clear how small it really was. Scary to think that if we'd been raising Cornish cross meat birds this chicken would have been a respectable 3 or 4 pounds by six weeks of age instead of a tiny little thing. I popped it in some boiling water just long enough to cook the meat. I stripped about a cup of meat from the carcass and then froze the bones for the next time I get enough to make stock. Unfortunately, I'd just made stock a few days ago and had canned it this morning (blog post to follow soon) so this rather small package (the bones easily fit in a sandwich bag) will have to be stored for quite a while.

In one of those strange twists of fate, right as we had been coming to the conclusion that Vivian needed to be spared any more pain, a guy pulled up and started talking to us about our tractor, wanting to know if we'd built it, etc. We got to talking and we asked him if he knew anybody who sold layers so we could get a second bird so Lily wouldn't be all alone. He immediately called up a friend who lives about 1/2 mile south of us and she had an extra layer who she was willing to part with. She didn't even ask for payment so we took her a jar of apple butter and a plant of basil as thank you gifts and came back with a new chicken. I don't know if we'll ever see Tom (guy who stopped) or Shelby (woman with the chicken) again but we're grateful to both of them.

We completely moved the tractor to a new location where we'd removed all the bark mulch so it was sitting on very hard, level ground and have now placed boards at either end that are weighted down with rocks to completely eradicate even a small crack. Q thinks that perhaps the cat got his lucky shot because the chickens couldn't see that he was there through the solid end of the tractor.

The new chicken, who as alternately been called Little Miss Bold as Brass, Little Miss Bossy, Chickenzilla and "the monster" today, earned her sobriquets by immediately picking shamelessly on little Lily when we put them together. We let a little of it happen at first thinking they needed to establish pecking order but she was just being a bully and had Lily cowering and pushing her head as far as it would go into the corner to try to escape.

They were separated, Lily being put in a crate, while we went down to the chicken store and got some wire mesh and an additional feeder and waterer. Q worked some magic on the tractor and separated it into two spaces for a while until they get more used to each other and Little Miss quits being so aggressive. A very small silver lining is that the new chicken is a couple months older than Lily and is right at the age to start laying. We may be getting eggs sooner than we thought.

Well, we've gotten over one dark little milestone on our path toward greater self-sufficiency.
Little Miss

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Seeing Blue

Mom and Dad left yesterday morning. Their car carried 49 pints of blackberry jam, about a dozen pints of sugar-free blackberry jam, 15 jars of blueberry pie filling, and 11 jars of blackberry pie filling for Mom's sale in November. They also took back other preserved stuff for their own consumption - apricot puree, pickles, apple butter, and dried apricots and cherries.

You may wonder how many blackberries and blueberries such riches require. We picked 30 pounds of blueberries last Saturday. Over the course of their time here we picked about 80 quarts of blackberries. That's a lot of picking and a lot of processing!

Before we made the pie fillings, which was a new thing, we had to do lots of testing to make sure they would work as an easy to make crisp. Just add butter to the topping mix, put everything in a casserole and bake. Testing was delicious.

We ended up using these recipes for the blackberry and blueberry fillings and the topping from an absolutely delicious apricot crisp recipe. I love this topping - I can't imagine not having almonds in my crisp now! We made a gluten free version that was just as good as the original by substituting 1/4 c potato starch and 1/4 c rice flour for the 1/2 c of flour.

Yesterday after they left I managed to get together a double batch of lasagna - one for us and one for the freezer. This is the first time I've used our own oregano, basil and onion along with the home canned marinara. It again strengthened my resolve to start making mozzarella and ricotta. Of course then I'd just decide that we'd have to make our own pasta too...where would it end? ;)

And I just had to post today's dinner since it's one of my favorites and this is the first time we've made it this season. We've only gotten two little tomatoes out of the garden so far so they had to be purchased from a farmer but the basil is ours.
And, for the record, today I planted the fall/winter garden - brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, carrots, parsnips, red onions, garlic, peas, lettuce, and spinach. I've had varied success with winter plantings so far. We'll see how this one goes.