Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer Morning Luxury

One of my favorite parts about summer.

In the fridge is all the fresh fixings for great eggs for breakfast.

My normal morning routine right now (at least several times a week).

  1. Place Grandma's cast iron skillet on the stove, turn on the heat, and throw in some lard.
  2. While that preheats, open up the fridge and pull out some veggies - onion, pepper, zucchini, garlic, tomoto.
  3. Chop up the veggies and add to the hot skillet (hold the tomato)
  4. Toss the veggies a few times as it heats. In a bowl, beat eggs with a little milk and salt.
  5. Pour in the eggs over the hot vegetables. 
  6. Turn once to cook the opposite side.
  7. Flip onto a plate. Garnish with tomato.
  8. Enjoy!
The whole process almost takes longer to type out then to actually do. Maybe not as fast as pouring a bowl of cold cereal, but this is a breakfast with some staying power. 

What do you eat on summer mornings?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

2011 Dutch Oven Gathering

This past weekend we held our annual Dutch Oven Gathering (otherwise known as DOG). The heat was oppressive and standing over hot coals may have been a sign of insanity. But as always, we enjoyed lots of good food washed down with a healthy dose of laughter!

These dutch ovens are cast iron pots with a lipped lid and legs such as this one. The cowboys and pioneers carried their dutch ovens with them on the trail. Basically anything that that you cook on a stove top or oven can be replicated in a dutch oven.

Ed got into dutch oven cooking several years ago and since then the iron fever has spread to my brothers and several friends. Every summer we invite everyone we know who owns a dutch oven to join us for a cook-off. You can read about 2010 and 2009.

This year nine men participated and 13 pots were in use. It is always fun to see everyone's creativity.

This year, apparently chicken was on the brain as nearly everyone brought chicken! Not that I'm complaining, everything was absolutely wonderful!

Ed's brother brought his Big Green Egg just for demonstration. His sausage-stuffed bacon-wrapped jalapenos  made you sweat on the inside as bad as we were on the outside! But they were awesome.

And so were the cornish hens.

And the stromboli.

And the barbeque chicken.

And the catfish stew, and upside down peach cake, and....

After a meal like that, choosing a favorite to vote for is nearly impossible. This year there was a tie between Kent's chicken cordon bleu with stuffed mushrooms and Vaun's pizza pull apart bread.

Can't wait till next year!

But it would be nice if it wasn't 100 degrees!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Finishing Touch

Whew! We are finally to those little odds and ends jobs on this addition! I know that several of you have mentioned how fast it has went. Funny that it seems like a long time to me! Though I know if we wouldn't have had so much help from friends and family  - we would be working on it till next July!

When "normal" women think of building a new room, they imagine paint colors and furniture arrangements. I visualized the landscape! Guess that tells you I'd rather be outside. Or that I'm rather inept at interior design.

Last fall, I had moved all the perennials from the back of our house, in hopes that we would be able to build this addition this spring. The plants have resided (amongst the weeds) in the vegetable garden.

Over the years, I have tried to have a shade garden with hosta and other perennials under these trees. But the pressure from all those tree roots were too much. The plants always dried up in the summer. So this time, we mulched most of the area under the trees. I saved three smaller areas for planting beds.

This is a case of "do what I say, not do as I do". Perennials should be moved in the spring or fall, not in the middle of a summer drought on the hottest week of the year when the temperatures rise to over 100 degrees. I was over eager and moved perennials into the beds. The perennials are voicing their complaint by wilting every afternoon. The hose is handy and I've been trying to keep them well watered in hopes that they don't completely croak.

The other project this week was to finish the porch posts. Ed made a form for the concrete topper for the porch posts.

He used mortar to attach the concrete topper. I love how finished the porch looks  now.

Ed's spare time through out the week was spent weeding and mulching around trees and various areas around the yard. We haven't mulched for several years, so it badly needed done. Hopefully mowing will be a little easier now.

The yard still isn't ship-shape but it was hugely improved. Just in time for the summer event that we anticipate each year.

You can guess or wait until later in the week for photos!

In the midst of this sweltering week, it was fun to look back and see how far we've come since March - and hope the snow pics would cool us down!

Just a little above the mudroom window and the steps up to the walk, and we can call the outside completely finished.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Grow, Eat, Enjoy - Garlic

Last week I harvested garlic. I don't know many people who grow garlic, but it is one of my favorite things to grow. It is so easy to grow and store.

And garlic just tastes good!


Garlic is grown from garlic bulbs. The bulbs are separated into individual cloves and planted in September or October in my climate. This gives the garlic a few weeks to root before cold weather hits. Usually they sprout a couple inches. Garlic can be planted in the spring but the bulbs will be smaller.

I bought my first garlic online. I chose a variety that would grow well in my region. After my initial investment (quite minimal) I have not had to purchase any more garlic. Every year I save a few bulbs from my harvest to plant for next year's crop.


In my area, garlic is normally harvested around July 4th. You can dig some earlier and use like an onion. It will taste like mild garlic. But it won't be separated into individual cloves until July. If you wait too long, the cloves will split the bulb. Varieties vary so check yours every week.When you cut open the bulb and can see individual cloves, it is ready to pick.

I thought my garlic wasn't ready this year on the 4th and waited another week. But when I pulled it, I found some of the garlic had started to get a little soft and was infected with onion maggots. Yuck.

The firm heads I dried and hung in our woodshed. But the soft heads I cleaned, threw out the bad cloves, and minced the good. I had a small bucket full of garlic and the job took me all afternoon. I ended up with three pints of minced garlic. If you've never done that much garlic, you will have no idea how much garlic one pint can hold. That is a LOT of garlic. While garlic doesn't burn your eyes like onions, I discovered that with long exposure to garlic, my hands became irritated. They smelled like garlic for an entire week!

The good part is, I should have enough minced garlic for using in spaghetti sauce and other meals for the rest of the winter. All my work was done in one afternoon!

I used an oil preserving method that pours in some vinegar to add acidity and then covered with olive oil. The garlic I preserved that way last year stayed fresh tasting in the fridge all winter. Just adding a spoon full to a pot of soup flavored the whole pot. Wonderful!


I find that though I have only a few recipes that call for garlic. But nearly any recipe that calls for an onion will be enhanced with garlic too. I'm in the habit of adding a little garlic anytime I use onion. We love it! Someday, if I really have a lot of garlic, I'd like to try drying and blending it to make my own garlic powder. There is sometimes when I prefer garlic powder, such as dusting a homemade cracker.

Links to other places I've talked about garlic

Planting garlic and where to buy garlic for planting

Garlic scapes
Preserving Garlic in Oil

Do you grow garlic? How do you use it?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July in my Garden

This is the month when the "To Do" List is longer then the hours of the day.

In July, I am still planting and caring for plants, but the harvest has also begun. A double whammy of garden chores. But the delight in going out with a dishpan and choosing my supper makes it worthwhile. There can hardly be a cheaper, safer, and more delicious food source than a summer garden! Some would disagree with the cheaper part, but seeds are inexpensive. As long as you don't need to amend your soil much or buy sprays, gardening is a cheap way to provide groceries. But even if it wasn't cheaper, I think the flavor would still be worthwhile.

This month we harvest green beans, corn, onions, zucchini, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, raspberries, and garlic. My cabbage and broccoli are so late, we are still harvesting them this month. It may be work but this is the season that gardeners dream about all through the winter!

The choice of what we should eat today among the many choices growing in the garden is a luxury. Of course, when there is also many veggies shouting for your attention to pick them before they go to waste, it feels more like work than luxury. Still, I love the variety!

This is also the season that I find difficult as a blogger. There is so much material to write about. I'm constantly writing posts in my head about what we are growing, eating, learning, and enjoying. But after living it, there is no time left to write about it. I know in the middle of the winter, I'll be looking for topics to post about. But for now I'll write a dozen posts in my head each day, and maybe get one up occasionally. It is why I'm only getting this posted on the 19th of July! Any of you other gardening/homesteading bloggers face this in the summer?

The flower garden too, is at it's peak. All my favorite perennials seem to bloom in July and August! If I was not so busy in the vegetable garden, I could have a cut flower bouquet in every room!

Some of the garden tasks for this month are rather obvious. Harvest what needs picked. Remove the weeds. Water thirsty plants. Dead head perennial flowers. But in the midst of the busyness, I need to remember the less obvious tasks. One of my goals is to extend our harvest for as long as possible. That means planting now for a fall harvest. With that goal in mind, here are a few tasks for this month in our garden, besides all those obvious ones!

1. Late planting of carrots, beets, lettuce, spinach, kale, and beans.

2. Purchase broccoli plants to set out by end of the month or first of next month.

3. Add compost and lime to soil to prepare plot intended for broccoli.

4. Harvest garlic, setting aside the nicest bulbs for planting in September.

5. Plant buckwheat as a cover crop, when an area of the garden is finished.

Of course, this is for our zone 6 garden. What are your plans for this month? What am I missing?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dirt Flies

We are finally to the point of actually finishing projects! One of the downfalls of working on projects yourself is the slow laborious progress.

This week the final brick was placed. Ed gathered the children around and they shrieked and yelled loud enough to wake the neighborhood.

Ed used some of the leftover mortar to cover the cement blocks under the porch with a random pattern.

Then it was clean up time. The piles of brick, wood and various junk that has been in our yard for the past months was cleaned up. The children have had so much fun playing with all this "stuff". But I'm slightly relieved to have an end to all the mud, sand, and brick dust that has been tracked into our house. Not that my children will ever stay clean in the summer. But at least it won't be right at the door and they will have a few feet to shake off before entering the house.

On Friday, Ed's brother, Terry, helped with landscaping. The ground around the addition and particularly under one of the trees was packed down hard from all the heavy machinery that has been in the yard this spring. According to Terry, our tree expert, the tree was showing signs of stress and needed to get air to it's roots. They rented a big air compressor and used the high powered air to break up the dirt. The dust was amazing!

But the soil by one of the trees was like concrete and no dent was able to be made. We put the soaker hose on it all night. By morning, they were able to break up the hard soil. They then worked in mushroom mulch. By the time they finished, the soil was light and fluffy. I had decided to only have some small planting beds because of the tree root competition, but I was tempted to plant in the whole area after their work. Seemed a shame to cover it with bark. But it was all in an effort to save the tree.

They coiled two soaker hoses in the tree's drip line and covered it with a good layer of playground chips.

The finished result.

Such a relief to have this part of the project finished!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Weekly Baking Day

The last time I shared about a baking day, a reader (I wish I remember who)  shared that she had made baking day a weekly part of her routine. I loved the idea and ever since then, I've had a baking day each week. Some weeks I simply bake bread. Another week I may made granola and three kinds of cookies. But having a deliberate time each week set aside to bake has been a blessing.

I'm not sure why I had not thought of doing it sooner. I like having a specific time each week to do laundry. Whether we've run out of clean socks or not, each Monday and Thursday, I launder ever dirty item in the house. Keeping up with laundry consistently means we always have something clean to wear in the drawers.

Since my goal is to make most of our baked things from scratch, I spend more time baking then most. When I waited to bake until there was no bread for breakfast toast, or no cookies for Ed's lunch - I felt like I spent my life reacting. My time was not utilized in the best way possible.

Benefits of a Baking Day

  1. Since establishing a consistent baking day, we are rarely out of baked goods. I do hide them in the freezer and ration so that we don't just eat them more frequently - especially the sweets.
  2. I'm less stressed when we have spur of the moment guests since I can always pull out a loaf of bread and cookies to add to a quick meal. 
  3. My time baking is maximized since I go from one recipe to the next without stopping to wash the mixing bowls and utensils. 
  4. Electricity is saved since multiple things are baked in the oven together.
  5. Since the baking day is planned, I can check for needed ingredients and those "oops, I'm out of that ingredient" moments are rarer. 
My usual goal is to bake on Wednesday, or occasionally Thursday. I typically begin on Tuesday to build up my sourdough starter if I plan to bake with sourdough.

In the evening, I lay out all the recipes that I plan/hope to make. I often add an extra recipe just in case the day goes better than planned - though with children, I rarely make it through the whole list before stopping for the day. This is also when I double check that I have the ingredients needed. If I marked down the ingredients I used up last week, I am usually in good shape for another baking day. Sometimes I go ahead and grind my wheat to give a head start in the morning.

In the morning, I typically start my sourdough recipes first, that way they have time to sit and rise while I work on other things. If I don't have too many interruptions, I'm usually washing up dishes by lunch time. Sometimes I let each child help me with one recipe. That way each one gets a chance yet I'm not overwhelmed by too many cooks stirring the pot! I'll have to change the routine when school begins again, but for now, I'm loving a weekly baking day.

The pictures in this post are all from this week's baking day when I made whole wheat sourdough bread, chocolate zucchini bread, chocolate chip zucchini bread, soft pretzels, and sourdough bagels.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Question - Tortilla Press

Imusa VICTORIA-85008 Victoria Cast Iron Tortilla Press, 8-Inch

For some time I've been wishing for a tortilla press.  I've been making my own tortillas for a while now and am hoping a press would help speed the process.

Do any of you use a tortilla press? What kind do you recommend? I am looking at this tortilla press, but would love to have input from you!

Monday, July 11, 2011


The end of the home addition project is so close! Of course, there is many little things to be done yet, but the major construction is almost finished.

On Monday, Ed took advantage of the holiday to  put in a full day of mason work. He worked on the wall around the mud room and is nearly finished.

But time and energy ran out before the last few brick were finished. He figured he has one more evening of bricking and hoped to finish this week. But the rest of the week was too busy and no more work was done on  it.

On the weekend, we traveled to NC to visit Ed's sister Jean and family. It was a good/hard visit. Good to see the family again, lots of fun playing with cousins, but  hard to watch them cope with Jason's death. It was certainly what I needed to stop complaining about the wild animals eating our chickens. Sometimes you have to walk with another to put your own life in proper perspective.

Friday, July 8, 2011

It is a Rough World

It is not a good week on the homestead.

Last Friday, we had a flock of laying hens, a beloved rooster, a pen full of meat birds, eight week old future hens, and a hen setting on eggs.

A week later, we have basically nothing left. The meat birds are in the freezer, thankfully. The hens that have survived the predator attack are at my parent's farm. Everything else is dead.

I've dreamed for years of hatching our own chicks. It was one of the main reasons I chose to get some heritage breed chickens. But last year, though a few attempted, none of the hens successfully hatched. When we got new layers last year, I saved my two favorite heritage hens even though they were not laying well.

This spring, the speckled sussex hen began setting. I didn't even know if her eggs were fertile. But yesterday the four eggs began to hatch.

We watched them all day and last evening, two chicks hatched. But when we found them, one was dead and the hen pecked at the other chick. Was the hen rejecting her own chicks? Hopes of the hen caring for her chicks were dashed. We would get out the brooder lamp.

We brought the live chick inside and the children enjoyed playing with it.

Soon another chick hatched. He was still partly attached to his shell and wet.

The last egg was partly cracked so we brought it in under the brooder light and were able to watch it hatch.

What fun! I think I enjoyed it as much as the children. It was amazing to see it emerge from the shell and then turn fluffy. Three chicks wasn't many but I was excited about building a new flock, especially since they were the descendents of our favorite rooster.

The chicks were chirpy and active last night, but this morning they were all dead. Were they too warm? Or too cold? Or are we just doomed to kill things this week?

I know others have much bigger problems than I. But it doesn't take away the disappointment.


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