Over the Summer {Garden 2015}

The last time I posted about the garden seeds were just sprouting! We’ve had a full summer and a few frosts since. Only the hardy greens are left; the end of the season always revives my appreciation of having fresh veggies right outside the door. With the coolers temps here stews and braises are a welcome way to use those veggies too!

 

Quick ‘n Easy

We’ve been working on a few small projects. First, I experimented with a quick no sew pillow cover. Basically, you wrap the pillow rather like you would a present and seal the edge along the back with liquid stitch. I wasn’t sure how it would hold but, after a week of hard abuse by the kids it’s still holding up. Success!

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The kids, especially Ezra, are big into patterns right now. When I happened to dig out the ol’ klutz loom and loops they dove in experimenting with making chains, necklaces for their friends, and, of course, hot pads for us to use while camping.

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 DSCN9546Another recent quick project was a poncho for Noah. Since it’s made of fleece it doesn’t need to be sewn. We measured his arm span and cut out a square (in this case 37.5 by 37.5), then fold it in half (so it looks like a triangle) and cut out a half circle about 5 inches wide in the middle (we traced an upside-down bowl). He didn’t want frilly edges so that was it- done!

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Looks like it’s about time to make dandelion jelly! Visit this previous post to see how- Foraging Blossom Jelly.

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And just because….

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Last Round

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Syrup season is over; truthfully, it never really got going. Just not the right kind of winter for it. Nevertheless, we didn’t do too bad considering the small-scale snowshoe out and haul it back by hand method we’re using here. It’ll be at least a few months before we’ll have to consider buying some store brought syrup to grace the kid’s pancakes.

These photos are from the last two rounds of hauling back sap. The snow has finally melted, well, except for those stubborn patches by the tree line. The soil is warming up; we planted a few cool weather crops: lettuce, sugar snap peas, kale, arugula, broccoli, a few turnips. Not too much, just a little of each to get some fresh veggies started. 

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What We’re Making

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We’re ready for Spring!

 If the weather starts warming up soon Miss Molly might even get to wear her poncho this Spring. I’ve finished the main body; just the trim and the hood to go! The cold is lingering this year, making me wonder if we might end up with a bit of a maple syrup shortage. The sap hasn’t been flowing and it’s getting rather late in the season.

DSCN8988Ezra finished his barn last week and we also made him a little stuffed bear. He saw a bear he liked, made out of a glove, so using ol’ google I found an image showing where to divide the glove to make all the parts of an animal. Looking for it now I found this page, where it is broken down into a tutorial, apparently it is from a book: Happy Gloves. It’s pretty simple. It is for a chipmunk but, sans the tail, makes a pretty decent bear too.

 

Ishmael is big into pirates right now, here he is in his “get up”. It’s hard to make out but he even drew himself a scar across his cheek (and that box be his treasure, of course).

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Using the Past to Plan the Future

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A bit too much snow still…..

I have finally added up last year’s garden totals. Spring is officially here- not that it looks or feels like Spring- and it’s time to start planning next year’s garden in earnest. Last year was the first time I kept track of the weight of (almost) everything that came out of the garden. As you may recall, we had to replant the garden last year because we lost some things (like the majority of the potatoes) to, mainly, the chickens. This year, all the fences are in place (and we have no goats) so hopefully losses will be kept to a minimum! Nonetheless, we didn’t do too bad and a few things did phenomenally. Still, I hope to plant more of most of the following things this year.

*to keep it simple I’ll just add a * to signify that at least a pound of this item was not weighed before we ate or gave away it – not counting snacking in the garden.

Radish- 1.5lb

Kale- 13lb*

Lettuce- 7.5lb

Spinach/Swiss Chard – 3.5lb*

Beet- thinnings only -1.25lb

Peas (sugar snap)- 2.25lb

Peas (shell peas in pod)- 6.87lb

Parsley- 1.68lb*

Basil- .5lb+

Onion- thinnings only- 1.25lb

Red Onions- 6

Pac Choy- 10oz*

Carrots-30lbs

Beets- 7 bunches

Broccoli- 1lb 10oz*

Arugula- 9oz*

Thyme- lots

Turnip- 5lb

Green Beans- 3lb

Patty Pan Squash-2lb

Cucumber- 5-6

Tomatoes- 2- 5 gal. pails

Potatoes- milk crate sized box full

Pumpkins- 50+

Celeriac- 4 large & 2- gal ziplock bags of small ones

Cauliflower- 7 heads

Cabbage- 3 or 4 medium heads

It would be interesting to figure out how much it would actually cost to buy all that!

Changes for next year:

Cucumbers just didn’t have enough time so starting some indoors this year, along with cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, if I can find the room for them.

Do an earlier 2nd planting of broccoli, green beans, peas, and pac choy.

Carrots got us through half the year so double on those. More potatoes, onions and winter squash. Fall turnips, pac choy.

Try growing sweet potatoes. Finally get asparagus crowns, maybe raspberry canes?

Had trouble with flea beetles last year so planning on planting some mustard as a decoy crop.

 

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Birds, and a few of Ezra’s Projects

As you can see the older boys are exploring birds. I never knew you could create Lego birds but, as you can see, you can! Etty bitty pieces, of all colors, are being collected for bills, crests, wings, bodies, tails etc., from these pieces Noah and Ezra build their birds. They take care to be accurate in their portrayals paying special attention to what color the crests are in comparison to the body and wings. We have quite the range of species represented: a cardinal, a pigeon, a crow, a duck, a penguin, just to name a few. They have made a few other types of animals too, like the dog, also pictured, but birds are where it’s at right now. You can even snip them on to branches!

Ezra has been getting into carving. I got him started on a few bars of soap but he’s moved onto wood. You can see the start to a few of his skewers (next to the crochet hook I made). I was lucky enough to be gifted one and it works great to check baked goods coming out of the oven. He’s currently working on a wooden duck and a barn. Up next, campfire sticks?!

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Praise the Lard

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Actually this is suet, but I love how pumped Ezra is about cutting up fat and rendering it. He is quite the helper in the kitchen these days. In fact, he is known for making the best scrambled eggs; just ask and he’ll whip you up a batch! He’s pretty good at pancakes too.

We also rendered lard when we butchered the pig. Lard and suet are wonderful healthy fats and make the best roasted veggies (they don’t get soggy like they can in oil). Plus, I feel we must be as respectful as possible when butchering an animal, to me that means using as much of the animal as possible. While there are a few edible parts I have not yet tried we do keep the majority of the organs, the bones (for bone broth), the fat and, of course, the muscle. That doesn’t leave much behind!

 

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The key to rendering: low and slow.

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The Cuteness Factor

I often share a new project each week, and I have started on a new project but, as it’s a gift, it will have to stay a secret for now. Instead, here is Molly wearing her On-the-goveralls.  Yes, these were suppose to be sized 0-6 months (turns out more like 12 months). One of the down sides of making clothes for your little ones to grow into is that it can be hard to catch them in the right size. They grow so quickly and soon those too big outfits have become too small! Not this time!

Here’s the upside: cuteness x 10!

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Yep, worth it!

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Molly’s Poncho Continues

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It’s more purple than it looks here.

 This is just one of those projects that stretches on and on. Four months, it’s been! I was thinking I’d be done in a month but life has been full of activity; it’s hard to knit when your hands are full. I’m onto the back now. Once the front and back are the same length I’ll pick up stitches around the edge and add-on a trim and then the hood is picked up and knit around the neckline. Add a few buttons under the arms and…voilà, it’ll be done.
I do like the visual effect of the pattern. It’s a 24 row repeat and now that I’m “in the pattern” it’s easy enough to figure out where I am and which row I’m on. This is actually speeding things up a bit since I don’t have to spend 5 minutes just figuring out where I am when all I have is 5 minutes. Good thing I started it with spring in mind!

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Crafting with Kids

Kids love to make stuff.

Provide some materials, heck let them find their own materials, and all sorts of creations will appear. The creative process is a personal one so I try to leave what they create and how up to them. We have basic craft supplies on hand with occasional special material (for as long as they last). Simple materials have the potential to become anything. Take paper for an example:  sketch or paint on it;  fold a sheet of paper into a plane, a sun catcher, origami figures; cut them into snowflakes, paper doll chains; coat strips into paper mache. Sculp with clay, scented play dough or why not fondant for a change of pace?!  Whittle away at a piece of wood or nail them together. There are tons of materials I didn’t even mention too!

Kids crafts are simple so that they are within their abilities while providing a chance at mastery, an opportunity to be in control and have fun. No wonder art is often used in therapy! Join them creating something yourself. Model the attention to detail and dedication to your own project. A mess is practically unavoidable, but it’s a good sign folks are doing things! Honor their efforts even if the results aren’t quite a “masterpiece” (or even recognizable). Ask questions about what they made and why they choose to do what they did. Finally, put their (and your) work on display for others to see and be inspired by.

Here are some recent creations:

Winter Holidays = Cookies

It’s that time of year! Winter is well and truly here; winter solstice and Christmas are just around the corner. Our outdoor projects have been traded for some much-needed indoor renovations. So we’re shifting things here and there, patching walls and ceilings and generally making a huge mess. That’s right, a week ’till Christmas and we’re tearing the house apart. Not to worry though, this is just a classic example of “it gets worse before it gets better”, and we are beyond ready to be rid of these old pepto bismol pink walls!

But, as we all know, the holidays are not about whether or not your walls are pink, or if your house is spotless in time for guests, the holidays are about being together with those we love. So while we are chipping away at the piles of stuff (in hopes of fitting a tree in here somewhere) we’re also making time to bake cookies (and eat them with friends), play in the snow, craft ornaments, read, and just spend time together.

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DSCN8453The tree is by Ezra and the I is by Ishmael, of course!

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DSCN8410On the topic of cookies, if you’re looking for a gluten/grain/nut/ egg/dairy free (AIP Compliant, Autoimmune Protocol) cookies you have to try these Jam-filled Thumbprint Cookies from Delicious Obsessions. I tried a couple other AIP cookie recipes with such dismal results I almost gave up on the idea of cookies. These are a mixture of coconut butter, shredded coconut and coconut flour which give the cookies a great crumbly cookie texture. You can make your own coconut butter by running shredded coconut through the food processor until it resembles a nut butter. It will be runny and a tad grainy immediately after processing but it will set up, like store brought coconut butter, with a little time. These cookies work best with warm stir-able coconut butter so freshly made coconut butter is perfect.

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DSCN8445For everyone else, we made these to use with the cookie cutters. Everyone says they’re good and it’s a great recipe for kids because the dough is easy to handle and doesn’t fall apart easily. We also made these thumbprint cookies this year. They have no nuts so my kids prefer them to the traditional nut rolled thumbprint cookies. I find we make a handful of the same kinds of cookies every year plus one or two new kinds for fun. Cookies are essential for the holidays – and we’re fresh out!

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A Quick Knit and Bacon Experiment

Sometimes a quick knitting project is needed. Something you can finish in a day, maybe two. Molly needed another winter hat so it all worked out quite well. Molly is at the stage where hats are a fun game. I put the hat on her head, she swipes it off and waves it about. Sometimes she tries to put it on herself. Don’t think of helping her cause then she’ll pull it back off and it starts all over.

I had some leftover yarn from this BSJ and a pattern for a cute hat. I lost the pattern though (!), so I just made it up as I went along, ending up with an elvish hat. The older brothers just love all things elf related so they’re excited about the prospect of Molly outgrowing said hat and having their stuffies get to wear it. In fact, Molly’s hat went for a round of trying on and has disappeared. SO, no cute photos of Molly “in” her hat.

As not to leave you photo less I’ll share with you a recent experiment in our bacon curing. Normally I cure our sides or bacon in the fridge with just maple syrup, brown sugar and salt. No nitrates.  I think I’ve done several posts on how I make it previously if you look under recipes. It’s good but, not like store bacon. I thought it was possibly the nitrate factor. Celery is a natural source of nitrates and I had plenty of celery in the garden. I made one half with added juiced celery and one without.

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With (below)

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We cooked up a couple of slices of each. They were tasty and pretty close in flavor. Although, we both thought that maybe, the one with celery was better; a little deeper in flavor. We would have cooked up a bit more for comparison’s sake but Sasquatch, that little puppy Megan had last year, snatch up the side of bacon and devoured it. So we’ll be trying that again and keeping a better eye on the dogs.

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Smothered Pork {In the Kitchen}

 As you may have surmised, from all the semi-recent pig photos, we love pigs and like to raise our own pork. Since we butcher the pigs ourselves we get the WHOLE hog. There’s a lot of meat there, especially in the form of hams.  My preferred way to deal with all that ham is to cut some of the ham up into ham steaks.

DSCN8344So, what to do with all those ham steaks? We like them best prepared like smothered pork chops (except I often substitute ham steaks for the pork chops, those we like best breaded with parmesan and sage).
Smothered pork is simple to make. Basically, cover your pork with sliced onions, add a touch of herbs and surround with broth to add moisture and flavor while baking. It sounds too simple to be true but the resulting meal is tender, flavorful and there’s gravy!

The Recipe In Detail

  • 4 pork chops or equivalent in ham steaks
  • 4 slices bacon, optional but recommended
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups broth
  • salt and pepper

Using a stove top/oven proof pan, large enough to hold the ham slices (or pork chops) in one layer, brown the pork slices. Feel free to cook a couple of slices of bacon first, reserving bacon to crumble and serve on top of the finished dish and use the rendered fat to brown the pork on both sides.

Add enough sliced onions to cover the pork and saute till they start to brown (remove pork from the pan if there’s not enough room, when you return them to the pan place the onions on top of the pork).

Add a sprinkle of thyme, perhaps a bay leaf, salt and pepper. Add enough broth to cover the pork and onions (we’ll cook this down later to make a delicious gravy). Cover and bake till fork tender, add liquid if the broth dries up during this time. This is the most important step. If you don’t cook the pork long enough to be fork tender, and it can take a while, then you won’t get tender, delicious, eat it with just a fork results.

Now, uncover and allow the broth to condense. The onions and meat will develop a deep golden color. Make sure you will have enough liquids to make a gravy, add broth if needed.

Make the gravy. Transfer broth/pan juices to a stove top saucepan and thicken to make a gravy. I use arrowroot powder but cornstarch or flour is commonly used.

Serve with gravy and crumbled bacon on top. I often serve with mashed potatoes (with some of that gravy on top) and veggies.  Since the oven is on anyways, I like to braise pot of collar greens in chicken broth for my vegetable. Peas are common too.

Adding apples in along with the onions is also super delicious. Here’s a photo of that:

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