And so it begins….

DSCN9408 DSCN9385 DSCN9411 DSCN9409 DSCN9405 DSCN9364Finally, the sun is shining and we’re out working in the garden!

The garlic bulbs we planted last fall are sending up their green shoots, and the leeks and spring onions I left mulched are quickly reviving themselves after an icy slumber. Interestingly, three kale plants down at the end also made it through. These are a nice head start to having fresh greens but I don’t think I should plan on having it happen every year.

Mostly I’m digging out dandelions and pulling small weeds the wind blew in as seed last fall. A few sections are planted: peas, lettuce, carrots, turnips, cabbage, broccoli, leek (seeds for next year and about 50 transplanted for this year), celery, swiss chard, arugula, radishes,parsley and (finally I just did it) planted a bed of asparagus from seed. It’s the three-year plan.

Soon I’ll plant a few more things, do second plantings and (after the last frost) warm weather things like beans, cucumbers, sweet corn etc.

 

We also expanded the lower garden area and Struggling_along fenced it all in (very nicely I might add).

As for the cold frame, this year I’m going to try growing watermelon in there. Hopefully, this will keep them warm enough and will give them a head start. I’ve also noticed a few tiny celery plants have sprouted in there!

And so it begins…we tuck a few tiny seeds in the ground and wait.

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Chickens, Eggs and Breakfast Meats

This little girl just loves animals! Cats, chickens, what have you, her little hands go out and she “calls” them to her, in the chicken’s case a little grain brings them running.

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The boys are excitedly locating nests that the chickens have tucked away here and there. Finding an egg is like finding treasure! If you are lucky, you’ll find one of Sunbeam’s eggs (the only chicken who lays blueish green eggs). Then, you just might have to cook it up immediately (!) lest anyone else eats it first. Supposedly they tastes better.  We’re still in the enjoying stage of having “lots” of eggs. Scrambled, poached, hard boiled…you’d be amazed how many eggs these guys go through, and at how good Noah and Ezra have gotten at cooking eggs!  We even made up a new way to cook an egg in a nest with out bread: make a circle out of sausage and add the egg in the middle.

   

While we’re on the subject of chicken and breakfast meats, if you haven’t tried  bacon wrapped chicken you need to… tonight.  We prefer smaller pieces of chicken which need about a 1/2 of a slice of bacon wrapped around it. Place in an oven safe dish and roast till done. Don’t be afraid to chop up some veggies and cook them up in the rendered bacon fat. Just don’t count on leftovers.

 

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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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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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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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Cold Hardy Veggies

The fall gardens are thriving, but it won’t be too long before the ground freezes. Until then I’m relishing every trip to the garden. Fresh (and free) veggies! I let the chickens into the gardens to help clean them up and give the top layer of soil a stir (to help kill off insects  that over winter there, like flea beetles). They did a surprisingly zealous job, pecking most of the greens down to the stems! It’s a trade-off I’m willing to pay. Still lots of carrots, celeriac, kale, beets and leeks to get in before it’s too late!

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Fall Garden Update

We got our first real frost last night, right on schedule (our average first frost date is 9/13). I was able to start cleaning out the garden this morning; with the huge tomato plants out of the way we can finally walk around a bit. Now I have a ton of green tomatoes!

I took these photos a few weeks ago, in part to help me draw up where I put everything this year. Soon I’ll be tallying just how much I harvested this year and planning out next year’s garden.

 

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Pick Your Own

The start of apple season is here! We have several old apple trees up along the stone wall. They’re in need of a pruning (something I need to look into) but, at least one of them has quite a few apples on it.  The best apples are way up high. If only we could reach them! For now the boys enjoy climbing up and grabbing the not quite so high bounty.

DSCN7622 DSCN7623 DSCN7626 DSCN7632I’ve always loved picking apples. These days I’m a bit more tied to the ground with a baby and all. Ezra become quite the tree climber this year. Noah is a bit more confident and can help Ezra figure out how to get down when he (now rarely) gets stuck. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ishi was up there with them next year!

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In the Kitchen {Herbs}

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use Rosemary sprigs as flavorful skewers

 We’ve been enjoying fresh herbs from the garden, mainly parsley, thyme and basil right now, and drying some to use during the winter. They’re flavorful and it’s much cheaper than purchasing them at the store. When cooking just remember that dried herbs are about 3 times as strong as fresh. During the summer I use fresh herbs and during the winter I use dried; substituting one for the other as needed.

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  Parsley was one of the first things in the ground and it’s still going strong. I grow it in mini rows then I cut it and let it grow back again. This method is super easy and prolific!

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This year I tried planting thyme in amongst the carrots while Noah planted some thyme indoors. It’s astounding to compare the two. The outside plants are robust, dark green with large leaves; the indoor plants just don’t look like they’re doing as well. They are small, scraggly and pale. I pick as much fresh thyme as I like whenever I need it during  the summer. When I harvest the carrots I’ll harvest the thyme too and dry it. I use thyme a lot, especially on roasted meats and veggies. I use oregano nearly as often. I have a  container of oregano and two rosemary “trees” indoors too, and while they’re not quite as robust as they would be outside, they’re doing well enough until I can decide where I’m going to transplant the oregano (the rosemary I keep indoors because of our low winter temps). It’s a hard decision because, like mint, oregano has a tendency to spread and the longer it’s there the harder it is to remove.

As for the basil, I only pick a few leaves here and there so it will keep growing strong. Eventually, I’ll make some pesto and I’ll ferment a jar full (at least) as basil takes on a wonderful liquorice flavor when fermented. I also planted some sage and dill this year. It’s not ready for harvesting yet but I look forward to having some on hand for pickling, stuffing into fish, and maybe making up some gravlax!

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Slowly, I’m expanding the list of seasonings I grow instead of purchase. Other than salt and pepper the herbs above are my most used seasonings. I’ve also made onion and garlic powder by dehydrating them and then processing the dried veggies in a blender. The flavor is fantastic! I’d like to get some perennials going (maybe alongside those chives?)  and I wouldn’t mind trying to grow some chamomile (soon!)

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sharing with Fight Back Friday

The First Steps

 I try to use as much as I can from what we are able to produce for ourselves. We produce eggs, some of our meat, goats milk (for a few more days before they are off to a new home) and veggies. The garden just might be the largest source of our food, well, eggs are abundant and full of protein. Either way, the garden is certainly the cheapest, most varied and most convenient way to feed ourselves. I can be assured that our veggies are organically grown, and are clean and fresh.

DSCN6925When you grow your own food you’re part of the cycle. You plant the seeds, care for the plants, harvest the veggies. You know the struggles of pests, droughts or too much rain, and the joy of rain when you need it. You know the importance of beneficial insects (or reptiles, e.g. snakes and toads) who eat those pests and/or pollinate your plants. Food doesn’t just magically appear on the shelves nicely packaged. Real food involves dirt, animals, including insects, blood and guts, sweat and even some tears of frustration and loss. This is the reality of life.  DSCN6922

Perhaps even more importantly, is the link between our food and our freedom. We all need to eat but if we can’t produce anything to eat ourselves we are utterly dependent on those who do produce food and subject to their whims. To quote Gene Logsdon: “[We must] realize the danger of depending absolutely on politically motivated governmental processes for food, clothing and shelter. In the world we must live in from now on to produce our own food is the beginning of independence and to accept that responsibility is the first step toward real freedom.”

So we try. We’re nowhere near producing all of our own food but, we’re taking our first steps- and getting a little steadier on our feet. Our kids are learning that ultimately food sprouts from the earth, that sunshine and rain are equally important and that not all insects are “bad”. By growing our own food we avoid pesticides, GMOs, high fructose corn syrup and overly processed (and packaged) products. Here are a few ideas to get the most out of your garden.

  • Start small – don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Grow what you eat. You’ll know what to make with it and you won’t have to buy it.
  • Leafy greens grow quickly and are packed with vitamins. Plants like lettuce, spinach, and kale can be picked and will grow back repeatedly.
  • Plant more than once. Get two harvests, or more… arugula and radishes grow fast (about 30 days to harvest). This leaves lots  of room for trying again if you lose a planting to misfortune.
  • Thin your seedlings for larger and healthier plants. Some seedlings can be replanted further apart or eat those thinnings. Try beet seedlings in salad or, if the thinnings are older, use the greens as you would spinach or swiss chard. Onion thinnings are similar to chives or green onion tops, try them in a potato salad.
  • Examine what you’re tossing. I’ve always thought radish and carrot tops were suppose to be tossed. Not so! Radish tops can be roasted. Try this carrot top pesto next time you roast carrots.
  • Feed your scraps to your livestock. No livestock? How about a worm bin, or compost it.
  • Remember it all starts with the soil. Healthy soil = healthy plants.
  • Try, try again. Goats eat your plants? Chickens eat your seeds? Garden in too wet or too sunny of an area? And, that’s just in the last two years. A new (fenced!) garden area is paying off. There’s always more to learn- from failures and from successes.

 

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sharing with Fight Back Friday and Fat Tuesday and Farmgirl Friday

 

 

The Gardens

This year we have a small collection of gardens. I tend to refer to them as the Upper Garden, which were 2 former pig pens, and the Large Garden. The Large Garden was a section of field I covered with the goat barn’s contents when I cleaned it out last fall. I covered it with plastic over the winter. Definitely much easier than double-digging!

Here’s section 1 of the Upper Garden as of last week (see this post for an early May view):

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We’ve been enjoying a lot of kale….

DSCN6810and several plantings of radishes out of here. The boys love to pretend they’re rabbits and raid the garden. They like the kale but radishes are the rabbits’ favorite. Thank goodness they grow so fast.

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This section also has broccoli (which I’m in the process of thinning and planting into the Large garden) and peas.

DSCN6849 DSCN6847 The second section of the Upper Gardens has carrots, spinach, bush beans, lettuce, beets, parsley, cucumbers, basil, onions and a few tomatoes. The lettuce, parsley and onions need to be thinned soon. DSCN6796 DSCN6797 DSCN6798 DSCN6799As for the large garden, well, I had to fence and replant it due to the chickens.

DSCN6504The kids and I had a garden party and planted a bunch of starter plants my MIL and a family friend gave us. I’ve seeded a few areas too. In the blue plastic we’ve planted a bunch of pumpkins from my folks.

Singapore’s pen borders the Large garden. She’s good company and her roof is a great hang out spot for little ones.

DSCN6820 DSCN6821 Now we have tomatoes, peppers, celeriac, potatoes, basil, swiss chard, arugula, carrots, bush beans,cauliflower, broccoli, pole beans, melons ( watermelon & ? from the worm compost bin) and a whole mess of pumpkins. A few more things need to go in, like the celery from the cold frame, and of course, the fall plantings.

Everything is growing fast!

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Because We Like To Eat

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After a long winter I’m still feeling a bit spoiled when I gather our daily harvest: a half-gallon of goats milk and almost a dozen eggs. Now I can make a huge (9 eggs!) omelet for the whole family and not think twice about whether or not I’ll have enough eggs for the rest of the week.  Since the snow is gone the chickens are free ranging, upping the vitamin content of their eggs, and finding a good bit of their own food. Plus, they always get a pailful of kitchen scraps. The chickens see us coming and gather ’round for their treats.

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Indoors we have only a few types of seeds started. This is mostly due to the lack of space, or a least space that has decent lighting and is where little kids can’t (inevitably) spill the containers. We did start some sweet peppers (man, do we have some pepper eating fiends around here!) as well as cauliflower, a couple of cucumbers, and some melon.

To maximize our growing season, and space, I made a cold frame out of an old wood box and some windows that came out of the barn.  I filled it with composted bedding and a good inch thick layer of worm castings (plus worms) from our worm bin. We have mostly lettuce in there for now.

DSCN6270Then we have the old pig pens. I like planting in these because they’re well fertilized, fenced off from the goats and No Grass!

DSCN6224 So far we’ve started planting our cold tolerant plants: peas, spinach (or were those sprouting broccoli seeds?), kale and radishes. We’re still 3-4 weeks out from our last frost date so I don’t want to get too carried away.

Here’s hoping the garden will start producing before we’re completely sick and tired of eggs!

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Best Ever Pecan Waffles {GF/SCD}

Have you ever tried to bake up some grain free goodness? Likely you ended up with grain free but not so good results. I know I have. Every new grain free recipe feels like a gamble. How will this recipe turn out? Good? Edible but not quite like the real thing? Or just a huge waste of time and ingredients? This time fear not. These pecan waffles are the best!

DSCN5903I adapted this recipe from Eat Well Feel Well. Eat Well Feel Well is one of my favorite grain free, and Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) complaint, cookbooks. If I’m trying to maximize my chances for tasty grain free results, or make a special meal, this is the cookbook I turn to. These pecan waffles are quite filling. For the best results use a food processor or blender.

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Pecan Waffles

2 cups unsalted raw pecans (use soaked nuts if you can), or pecan meal

4 eggs

1 stick butter- melt 6 Tlbs for the waffles. Use the rest for greasing the waffle iron.

1/4 cup honey

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

Preheat your waffle iron. Warm up your oven (200F) if you want to keep them warm or just serve as they’re ready.

If using whole pecans grind them into a fine meal in the food processor, otherwise place the pecan meal in the food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients. Blend well-till smooth and then run the food processor a bit longer for best results.

Grease your iron. Add 1/4 cup batter and cook until the waffle is golden brown. Keep warm or serve. These waffles cook a little faster than regular waffles so keep an eye on them until you get a feel for how long they take.

Top with honey cinnamon “syrup” and bananas sautéed in butter and a touch of coconut oil. For the syrup combine 1 cup of honey with 1 Tlb cinnamon.

Freeze any leftovers. I think they’re tasty right out of the freezer but you can thaw them and reheat them as well.

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Enjoy!

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sharing with:

real food wednesday, gluten free wednesday, fat tuesday

fightback friday

Play Dough

  Here’s one for the kids.

This play dough recipe is quick, easy, and handles just like the store brought kind. Plus, it doesn’t leave your hands and table covered in salty (or any kind of ) residue like so many homemade recipes for play dough do. A  batch of play dough would make a great sugar-free addition to any spring – or birthday – celebration.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1 Tlb veggie oil
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar

Combine all the ingredients in a pot on your stove top and stir till you have a thick dough. Remove from heat and knead smooth.

Add food coloring of your choice to color, and glitter, if desired.

This recipe can be doubled (or tripled but you might need a bit more muscle to really stir it)

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sharing with KCCO