Thursday, September 29, 2011

Made From Scratch Heaven!

I stumbled on this site when I was looking for corn syrup alternatives in recipes and they have a lot of "DIY " recipes. I am totally stoked! I can't wait to give a few of them a try. The site is called The Kitchn. Here's the link:

And here's an article called "To Bake or Not to Bake".

Have fun!


I am totally appalled that tomato season completely passed me by and I didn't even notice. I didn't hear anything about it, I was just clueless. Maybe it was because my own tomatoes were sad failures. I really have no idea I could be so out there that I could forget about tomatoes. And now, I am frantic about what to do!

For the past 2 years I've canned my own salsa. I don't even want to go back to the store-bought! I might throw a tantrum if I'm forced to. Home canned salsa is so amazing. It's so flavorful and delicious, even more so knowing that I canned it myself. (Even if I didn't add as much salt as I was supposed to and every time we opened a jar we had to add a teaspoon of salt. haha!)

Seriously, we're down to ONE jar. In my family, that is just not acceptable. My husband can go through an entire quart jar all by himself in one sitting. No joke.

But wait! I just realized... I have 2 cases of canned organic diced tomatoes... I know I didn't pick the tomatoes myself, I didn't meet the plant they were picked from, but they're already peeled and and diced for me... Yes! Redemption! My jalapenos did very well this year and all I need are some peppers and onions and I am set! Woo! That's makin' do, folks! Yesirree! I can breathe again knowing that we'll have a stock of salsa to last us another year. And hopefully I won't forget about the tomatoes next year.

P.S. Here's my salsa recipe.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mother Earth News Fair 2011

We got back late Saturday night from this year's Mother Earth News Fair in PA. We left our kids with some friends, which was a very good decision. Everyone was much happier all around that way! This was actually kind of an early anniversary trip for my hubby and me. We were married in December, but it's hard to go anywhere if you don't like skiing. (I do want to go snow shoeing this year though...) We had a great time at the fair. (And it sure helped to bring our own lunch. Lines were crazy...) If you're curious, advance tickets to the fair were only $15. That's pretty darn reasonable!

I just have to say that the fair was fabulous! There were a lot of great improvements over last year's fair. For one, the book store section was 6 times the size it was before, in the center of the room, and they sent 25% off coupons with our tickets! Hooray for coupons! I got some awesome books. I even read one I got already called Maple Sugar: From Sap to Syrup - The History, Lore, and How-To Behind This Sweet Treat. The book was awesome! (I really just love Storey Publishing. Their books rock.)

Okay, enough gushing. Here are the workshops I attended:

1. Chick Days: First steps to a backyard flock - Jenna Woginrich

2. A Year in the Life of a Micro Farm - Andy McCallister (how awesome that he put his power point online!! - click on the title of the workshop for his power point link)

3. Food Sovereignty: Get Big Ag and the goverment out of your kitchen - Robin Mather
If you're tired of the government telling you what you can and can't eat, if you're angered by Big Ag's refusal to label GMO foods, a food sovereignty initiative may be the solution. Learn how tiny Sedgewick, Maine, passed the country's first food sovereignty laws, and get the nuts-and-bolts materials to do the same.
Robin's Blog

4. The Backyard Rabbitry: Rabbits for Meat - Jenna Woginrich

5. Working Companions: Dogs for small farms and homesteads - Heather Houlahan

6. Why Homegrown and Handmade - Deborah Niemann

7. Keynote Speech: Taking the First Steps to Sustainability - Jenna Woginrich (got my books of hers autographed and got a free unproofed copy of her new book "Barnheart" due out in December! Woohoo! Thanks, Jenna!)

My husband went to other workshops talking about bio-diesel, passive-solar homes, and other geeky technical stuff like that. It was great to divide and conquer!

I took notes at all of the workshops and I'm planning on typing them up. So, if you're interested, just let me know and I can e-mail you the notes.

Books I got: Maple Sugar: From Sap to Syrup, Chick Days, Homegrown and Handmade (I just found out that this book isn't even released yet! Huh!), How to Grow and Preserve Your Own Food (a Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series booklet with a compilation of articles on one similar topic), Guide to Backyard Bees and Honey (Grit Country Skills Series), and my husband got a booklet on straw bale building specifications for builders. We just might have a straw bale structure in our distant future... :-)

The fair was so fun. I can't wait to go again next year! (Sorry no pictures! I was rushing around looking at stuff and forgot I was lugging around my camera. Sheesh.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Days End Horse Rescue

Whoa, it's been awhile! Sorry about that.

I was able to arrange it to have a babysitter come and watch the kids once a week so that I could get out of the house. (It's nice not to go crazy!) And I wanted to spend the time either volunteering for the park where I'm on the museum committee, at a horse rescue farm, or sitting in a coffee shop working on my writing. (I'm in a writers group! Yay!)

I've passed Days End Horse Rescue farm on the way to pick fruit at Larriland Farms many times. Outside their main fence they've had a sign saying they needed volunteers, so I signed up! I'll probably go there twice a month to work. I look at it as a chance to learn in a realistic setting what it takes to care for large animals (horses in this case) and to gain some valuable experience at a working farm for when we have our own small farm some day. I figure the price of a babysitter every week is like paying for an inexpensive hands-on course in horse care and farm chores. Awesome!

So, I went there last Tuesday and went through a one-on-one orientation with this nice young woman named Jill. She showed me around the farm, explained where they get their rescued horses from (abused and neglected) and how they bring them back to health. All the horses are graded at a certain level of behavior so that beginner volunteers don't wind up working with a Level Red horse who is dangerous and highly unpredictable.

My first day I helped muck out a stall (Yay! I've been looking forward to that. Well, hey, I didn't grow up on a farm so mucking is like a novelty!) and accidentally left the horse's stall door open when I left to dump off the old sawdust from his stall. Doh! Luckily, he was occupied with his food and didn't make a break for it and an employee saw it in time and closed the door. Won't make that mistake again! I also helped move around some donations from another farm into the feed barn and filled up a wheel barrow with fresh sawdust for the stall. And I learned to "catch" and lead a horse as well as how to read a horse's body language. Luckily they gave me a nice, docile horse who was a sweetie and only a tiny stubborn. After only a few hours I was beat! It really showed me how much of a wimp I am - something I'm hoping volunteering at this place will cure. I really have never been around big animals like this much, and it was pretty intimidating! I'm used to cats and gerbils, people! So, obviously, I've got a lot to learn.

And man, it was muddy! I'm gonna have to get me some muck boots...

Oh, and the 2011 Mother Earth News Fair is coming up this weekend! Woohoooo! And I'm very excited that Jenna from Cold Antler Farm is going to be there to speak and hold a couple of workshops. I am really stoked about her meat rabbit workshop. I'll let you know what I learn!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Respect the Land

Have you ever noticed that some houses look like a big eye sore, no matter how beautiful the house itself, just because it doesn't fit with the land around it?

I've noticed that there is a difference between working with the land and forcing the land to submit to your use. Usually, the first option always turns out well. The second option not so well.

For instance, take this example: Down by Annapolis, Marland there are these gorgeous Cape Cod homes along the river. The problem is that there is serious cliff erosion. It's just dirt. And you can see how pieces of the dirt cliff just keeps falling into the water. It's natural erosion. The problem is that the house is inching closer and closer to the edge of the river even though it's standing still. I guess people don't expect the land to change. Funny enough, one of the houses that is closest to the edge of the cliff is for sale. No thank you! Eventually, those houses will end up in the river. It's a sad, sad thing and not much can be done, unfortunately.

During a geology class in college out in Utah, we took a field trip up to the side of the mountain to see a house slowly being squashed flat because of a slow land creep. There was nothing to do to stop it. Oh, and it was on an earthquake fault. And guess what? The house was for sale! It's important to do your geological research before you buy a house. Because legally, the homeowner or land developer don't have to tell you if your house is on a fault line or if there is a slow land slide at work 10 feet from the property line!

These two examples are cases of not working with the land, but trying to force it to act for you. Usually the land wins. It's older and smarter and does its thing not really caring what you did to the top of it. And sometimes men's interference makes things worse. (Like digging out the toe of a hill to build houses which can lead to a landslide!)

Now, I'm not expecting that if I live in the woods that I'll build a log cabin to camouflage into the trees. But I just love how some homes, especially ones older than 150 years seem to flow with the land, working with its curves and dips. Not bulldozing out the imperfections, but cherishing them for their unique aesthetic.

Take this 18th century building in Ellicott City, Maryland for example:

Notice how the stone foundation of this building is built around this honkin' piece of rock. And look at the brick sidewalk! That beautiful, ancient stone wasn't forced to make way for the sidewalk - that brick, man-made sidewalk bowed and made way for the older, more mature geological feature. Now, that's called respect!

I'll have to take more pictures of other parts of this city that illustrate this point beautifully. More to come!

Busy, Busy, Busy

After the panicked peach pitting party (don't you love alliterations?!), I've gotten the canning bug again. Thank goodness! The peak of the season is in full swing and will soon be waning.

And I've been a busy little bee. I was doing the buying for my produce co-op and the produce company had a great deal on local pickling cucumbers. So, I got together with 2 other ladies from church and we bought 2 bushels. Yes. 2 BUSHELS. That was really silly. I guess I really had no idea how BIG a bushel was! Haha! So, we had a ton of cucumbers. And cucumbers are delicate little things and must not be bumped about, be chilled (dry) and then canned right away. Something we learned: water + cucumbers = slime.

So I had my first ever canning bee yesterday. The three of us got together and from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm we canned as much as we could, which wasn't much with one electric stove. I came home and canned the rest of my pickles. I've got spears and chips, and today I'm planning on using the rest of my cukes for relish.

Let me tell you something. There is just something about seeing home-canned pickles in a jar that makes me so ticklishly happy. Maybe it's because they're not neon green. Maybe it's because with all the garlic and dill floating in the brine they look so fancy gourmet and upscale. Maybe it's because when you twirl the jar back and forth the spears look like octopus legs and the dill looks like seaweed and the garlic looks like little white fishes...

Don't believe me?!?


Little white fish garlics swimming around the octopus legs.
Seriously, I am not crazy. Just imaginative!

A beautiful demure green, don't you think? 

I added peppercorns to a few. :-) How many neon green jars have those?

Beautiful pickles. 

My pickle-loving son sure is happy!

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