Monday, December 3, 2012

Blackberry Almond Muffins

I am burned out on granola and I am not always the best morning person, so muffins are my plan b for easy quick breakfasts. I used to bake muffins every week and then I realized I was probably overdoing it on the carbs. (Thanks gestational diabetes.) Now muffins are an every and now and then. Pair with some good coffee, scrambled eggs, fruit or cheese and these will keep you feeling full and happy.

*Mix Ahead* I have a container of flours and flaxseed that I have pre-mixed and ready to throw in breads, muffins, pancakes, etc.  It goes like this: 1 Cup all purpose flour, 1 Cup whole wheat flour, 1/3 Cup milled flaxseed. Shake before using.

1 1/2 Cup all-purpose flour
1/4 Cup pre-mixed flour
2/3 Cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1/2 Cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 - 2 Cups fresh blackberries
1/2 Cup sliced almonds

The original recipe is from the tried and true Better Homes and Gardens cook book.  

-I used almond milk because I have it and no one will drink it, so it has to go somewhere, right?And honestly, I didn't measure. I assume it was about 1/2 Cup, add more if your batter is too thick.
-I changed the sugar amount to 2/3 C because blackberries are super tart.
-I tossed in my flour mix, because it's a habit, I can't help myself.
-I ran out of canola oil midway through this recipe and substituted with what I thought was enough butter to fill the liquid requirements.
-I added vanilla and cinnamon because I like the way they smell.
-I tossed in some sliced almonds at the last minute, it was a great decision

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Prepare your muffin pan how you like (with grease or spray or use liners). Mix up the ingredients. I have never followed the directions on the order things should go in what bowl. Just put it together and mix. Spoon the batter into your muffin pan, filling up the cups about 3/4 of the way. Bake for about 18-20 minutes.

Enjoy your mornings!

Monday, November 12, 2012


We are heading into Thanksgiving season. Turkeys, cranberries, yams, stuffing, green beans, deviled eggs, bread, and pies. We don't do fancy dishes at Thanksgiving, just the usual suspects. They aren't loved any less. I do want to get good at these things. I want to be able to know when to make what without having a cheat sheet of when I should put the stuffing in the oven, and when to start the cranberries so everything is hot and ready at the same time. I am not there yet. I will have a cheat sheet again this year.

This time of year is also baking season for me. It's cold and I like to warm up the house with the oven and the crockpot. I have already baked (and eaten) my fair share of desserts for the season so now I am trying to find a bread recipe we can all live with.

I like knowing what is going into my bread and I like to save money, so I bake our bread. Sometimes the recipes that I come across aren't exactly... flavorful. It seems like the past few months my tastes have changed because all of my breads are coming out too salty or too yeasty or too dry. Those aren't adjectives I want to use when I am describing my bread.

I found this recipe for Amish White Bread. It was good. Crazy good.

Ultimately though, I felt kind of guilty about all the sugar and white flour. I made some small adjustments and this is by far the best tasting bread I have had in a really long time.


Daily Bread
 2 Cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C) 
1/3  Cup white sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
1 tspn salt
1/4 tspn cinnamon
3 Tablespoons milled flaxseed
1/3 Cup canola oil
4 Cups all-purpose flour
2 Cups whole wheat flour

The process is the same as with most yeast breads.
Mix together yeast, sugar, salt, cinnamon and water and give it a little stir. Once your mixture gets a bit foamy add the flour and oil. Knead the dough until it has a nice elastic to it. Add more flour if you need to. Cover and let the dough rise in a proof box (microwave with a cup of hot water - don't turn the microwave on). I let mine rise for about 2 hours. After 2 hours I split the dough in half and form it into loaves and set the dough in greased loaf pans. Return the loaf pans to the proof box. Cover and let sit. Most recipes will say let rise another 30 minutes. My dough is never right after 30 minutes, so I let mine rise for about an hour to hour and half. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-35 minutes. If my bread comes out really crunchy, I let it cool then wrap it in foil. It mostly comes out perfectly fine and I just wrap it up in a clean dry kitchen towel.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sweet Potato & Pumpkin Muffins

photo from Breakneck Acres

Leftover pumpkin? Leftover mashed sweet potato? Muffin time! 

I didn't have an exact recipe to follow here, so I just went with the guidelines for apple cheddar muffins and I used spices without measuring, but these are pretty close to what I think the measurements would be. Add a touch more of what you like in the spice department just don't go crazy. I did that one time and ate an apple pie that tasted entirely like cloves and nothing like apples and cinnamon.

1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
 2 1/2 tspn baking powder
1/3 C quick cooking oats
2 T brown sugar
1 tspn cinnamon
1 tspn nutmeg
1/2 tspn ginger
1/2 tspn cloves
1/2 C sugar
pinch of salt
1 C mashed sweet potato
1 C pureed pumpkin
1/3 C cooking oil
3/4 C milk
1 egg, beaten

Pre-heat oven 350 degrees Toss dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Mix wet ingredients together in a medium bowl. Combine wet and dry. Line muffin pan with paper cups and fill cups about 1/2 way with batter. Bake for 30-40 minutes.  Makes about 12 muffins

Happy Autumn!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Autumn Garden

 Autumn is busy. It is busy in the garden, it is busy at home, work and school. This season always instills some feeling of newness in me, even though it is a time to start putting things to bed. We are still hauling in buckets of vegetables! This chore never stops being amazing. We should be pulling up potatoes, but the beetles got ours. We should be pulling up beets, but we jumped the gun a little. We should be canning tomatoes and complaining about it, but our 41 tomato plants produced very small fruits. There should be more zucchini, but again... the bugs got to them first. But, you know zucchini it just keeps going and going, so I'm sure we will have one or two more before the season bows out. 

Here is a photo tour of our garden.

transplanted raspberries and hostas

The animals are just being animals.  We have built a chicken tractor in addition to the Taj Mahal of chicken coops because these little ladies like to take flight and see what is going on in the neighbors yard. We are trying to keep a low profile here, but they don't seem to care anything about that. So... they have been sentenced to time out.  Some of the earlier issues we were having, like food waste and noise are still issues. They aren't as loud, thank goodness (one girl went broody for a while and had a fit when we collected eggs). They still waste some food, but we have adapted their food tray so it sits in a holder and their watering cans are changed so frequently that I guess I just don't think about it too much anymore.
We experienced the water balloon egg for a few weeks...That was weird. I started adding about a cup of yogurt to their feed every 3 to 4 days and so far that seems to have stopped the bizarro thin-shelled eggs. It could have just been a phase, I don't know. Either way it's no longer a problem. They are really into treats and being pet on the back right now. Except for one girl who is just a nasty mean little bean. Her fate may be the soup pot if she doesn't chill out and fall into line soon. Punk.

Kenny Rogers is still doing her thing. Yeah...her.  We found out she is a she over the summer when she pulled out chunks of her hair and built a nest in one corner of her house. I thought maybe she was a girl when we got her, but rabbit sex organs are so so tiny it's near impossible to see what is going on down there. She is still hopping around and pooping up a storm.  We are tossing the manure directly into the garden. Bunnies for the WIN!

 tomatoes & kale

Last year we planted about 20 cloves of garlic in the fall as an experiment, we had never grown garlic before. It was such a fantastic pay back that we will always grow garlic now, forever and ever. You plant one little clove in the fall, you get a beautiful bulb of 4 to 10 cloves the next summer. And... and!..You get scapes in the spring. WIN. This year we planted about 60 cloves (all from our bulbs and about 10 from a friends organic farm).

 This is Jacobs Cattle. It's a bean. We are just starting to get this in. The pods turn near white when they are ready, it's like a little reminder of what spring was like. We are hoping to eat some and save some for next year. 

We are saving as many of our seeds as we can. 1. Because I hate re-buying things I had at one time. 2. Because non GMO seeds shouldn't be handled by children (it says so in every book everywhere... but you can feed it to them later? weird) 3. Because many of the plants we grow have come from the Seed Savers Exchange and I don't want to waste the hard work done by anyone.

Right now we are saving green peppers, peas, beans and squash seeds. (I'm still not very good at saving tomato seeds.) Our green beans are mostly from our 2011 bed of Kentucky Wonder Beans. I get a huge kick out of saving the seed and watching it sprout back up from the ground the very next year.  Nature is an amazing ferocious beasts.

 green pepper seeds


Last year we ate a whole meal from the garden maybe 3 or 4 times. This year we eat 3 or 4 whole meals from our backyard per week. The eggs help tremendously of course, but we are also learning to eat what is available and save as much as we can when there is an abundance. We are making and eating about 2 -16 ounce jars of tomato sauce a week right now. I could save some of these back, but the crowd cheers for pizza and lasagna and who wants to argue when the smell of fresh tomato sauce is lingering in the kitchen? I haven't canned or frozen any of our tomatoes, which is kind of a bummer. Maybe next year. 

Our thoughts are moving into winter already. We are shifting our routines earlier with the sun setting before the kids go to sleep. This means one of us is usually putting the chickens to bed with a baby on our hip or a toddler screaming at our feet while we flick one last Japanese Beetle off the beans. 

We are dreaming up cold frames and cold season crops. We hope to get more kale & spinach in the ground soon before the frost comes barging in like it owns the place. This season isn't over but I definitely feel it coming to a close. There is a lot of relief and a lot of resignation. It was a hot, dry, buggy season. We didn't battle weeds like we usually do but we fought pests constantly. I am looking forward to fires on cool nights and soups simmering in the crock pot. Hope your garden is feeding you well!

Our Autumn Garden plantings: Garlic, Kale, Spinach, Lettuce, Peas, Carrots

Our Garden Chore List: Mulch leaves & cover beds that aren't planted, Build Cold Frames, Plant cold season veggies in cold frames, Add a light bulb to chicken coop for heat, Empty compost bins and work into mulched beds, Research indoor starter plant set-ups

Our Reading List: 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Scratching around in the dirt

August is harvest month for gardeners! We are getting our fair share for sure, but it is definitely eye-opening to see how much we can actually bring in and how much we need to feed everyone given the space/knowledge/resources we have.

I made a real grocery trip this week. I haven't done that in months. To be completely honest, it feels so bittersweet. I have so much more peace when it comes to a meal time because there is enough food stocked up in the pantry and refrigerator to actually put something together that resembles a meal instead of a plate full of snacks from all of the food groups. On the other hand, it was weird just picking up cheese in a brightly lit deli case and not getting it from a cooler stashed behind a 3 foot table.

Carrots have been the prize winning crop for us this year. We haven't bought carrots since... March, maybe? It's been a long long time. They just keep coming! We have chopped, steamed, pureed, stir-fried, or roasted these beauties in at least one meal every day.

The cooler days have us back outside playing in the dirt again. We are all really enjoying the lower temperatures. All of us...the people, the poultry and the plants. The naughty-flighty-moody, yet curious and totally quirky, hens are each laying about an egg a day, giving us anywhere from 24-28 eggs a week.

We have beets! This was totally an experiment. I had a pack of Burpee's Golden Beets from Seed Savers sitting in my seed box and an empty row between beans and potatoes. The entire plant is edible, which means greens in a stir fry and beets in a salad. I love using ALL of the plant up.

The tomatoes are still rolling in, thank goodness. See these two jars of tomato sauce? 23 roma tomatoes. 23.  We are pulling anywhere from 10-15 red tomatoes every night or every other night. We consume them just as quickly as we pull them, so nothing has been canned yet. I froze a couple of jars of salsa and these two jars are sitting in the refrigerator awaiting their fate in a spinach lasagna that is planned for this weekend. 

We visited the Randolph Fair this morning. It was so... magical. I don't know how the importance of the county fair got lost on me over the years, but it is so important. Teaching kids how to care and raise animals should be a required class in every school, in my opinion. I wish I knew half of what older generations know naturally about raising livestock.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sustaining the High Cost of Sustainable Food

You might think this video is ridiculous. It is. But... I have been both the waitress answering to such inquisitive people and to some extent the diners who are super over-the-top. I know I don't ask those questions when I go out to eat, but I also know I am thinking at least some of those same annoying questions. I could easily find myself in a Portlandia episode on more than one occasion throughout the day, but really that isn't who I am. I come from a long line of poor people. Most of us do.  We don't buy meat we can't afford, we just buy less. I consider it a flat out luxury to be able to buy food that fits our environmental, health, and social standards.


I know cows aren't supposed to eat corn, yet most of this country's beef is stuffed with it. I know cows gain weight faster/go to slaughter faster if they stuff themselves with carbohydrates rather than greens.  I know that shoving all of our cows into a feedlot to get them fatter quicker has horrible effects on the livestock, on the Earth, and on our own bodies. I also know that our buying choices are powerful... and are mandated by what is actually in our bank accounts. I can't shake my head at the guy in front of me with styrofoam packages of ground beef because I don't know how much money he brings home and how much he pays for rent, and frankly it's none of my business. I am not in a place in my life where I can pay $6 a pound for the 'perfect' beef... but my conscience will not let me get away with paying $1.99 a pound for feedlot cattle either. I think we are somewhere in the middle.   
We buy our meat from Duma's. You can read about their practices right on their website. Right now our buying pattern has been about 3 pounds of each: chicken, ground beef, pork chops, pork sausage, and beef round steak. The total comes up to  $48.15 This comes out to be about 12 meals or 3 times a week with meat. We eat a lot of beans. We eat a lot of vegetables. I am so torn about the sustainability of fish right now that I can't even really think about it because it makes my brain cry.
 If I really thought about it all, from the standards of organic certification, to the gas drilling beneath our soil, to the chemicals in the water we dump on our carrots I would likely starve to death. The saying "high cost of low price" has been shouted from the rooftops. We have been been relentlessly reminded of the effects of our choices. The saying that goes through my mind and brings me a little bit of peace comes from my mother-in-law.          
We do our best within our means.   
 This to me, is the core of sustainability. I want to save the world, I do. I want to do all the right things that will turn this doomed ship away from the iceberg... but I cannot become an unsustainable system myself. I don't know the long-term effects of multiple systems built on debt, but I can only imagine that it is a monumental disaster. So we make our best choices with our paycheck and we cross our fingers that some day we can raise our own meat and forget about these decisions altogether.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

August Kitchen

We have been putting our kitchen skills to use this summer. Things we have never made before are turning out so amazing we eat them up before a picture can be snapped (fried green tomatoes).  And some old things we are finally learning how to make taste good. (johnnycakes)

Our canning has been limited to raspberries, blueberries and cherries. We didn't get a single of our own raspberry or blueberry this year so all of our fruit came from nearby farms. (Damn birds) We have stocked up a portion of the freezer with salsa, green beans, peaches and basil pesto. I am still waiting to get enough tomatoes at once to can whole tomatoes and hopefully a few jars of ketchup.

I see us forming new habits in our cooking, eating, buying, and obsessing. For starters, we are fat hoarders now. You heard me. We save all the fat from everything we cook that leaves fat in the pan. We use it over and over. I know that sounds gross, it isn't. It's amazing.

We eat what we pull in from the garden and if we run out then we will hit up the farm down the road.  But, mostly what I'm seeing is when we've eaten up the beans for the week we just stop eating beans and move onto whatever else is in the basket we haul up from the backyard.

We are buying way less. I mean way less. Our freezer is pretty well stocked with cows and pigs that used to live down the road. I am so conscience of how much meat we consume that I am always 'forgetting' to thaw something out, so we have to eat beans again. We are eating either beef or pork about 5 times a week now, that includes all meals... not just dinner.  I still haven't found a meat chicken supply that is local and in our budget, so we eat a lot of (free) eggs!

I am trying not to obsessively say in my head 'I can make that - don't buy it' because really the list of what I can make is growing (yay!) but my allotted time to make those things isn't (boo!).  Honestly, though when I reach the point in my life where I have all the time to make all of the things, I won't have all the people to feed on a daily basis and that is just too sad to think about.

fried eggs
rosemary pork with peach chutney and sweet corn
pesto, parmesan and roma grilled pizza

peach pie

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Long time coming, long time gone

"A garden is a way to plant your own insurance, a way to depend on yourself for dinner even if you're cash-broke and the car's out of gas."
--Jenna Woginrich, Barnheart

This quote is from a book I'm reading, one my wife ordered and devoured on the first leg of a recent road trip then demanded I read. It's a memoir about a woman who wants a farm and has to take baby steps toward her goal, while what she really longs for a one great leap toward personal satisfaction.

As for me, I want to stay crouched--we've taken a few big leaps in our life and the landings are never graceful and always hurt, but a big jump can remind you you're still alive. But we're taking baby steps because our legs aren't ready to get us from here to there just yet. Baby steps aren't nearly as satisfying, but hauling an armful of red romas from the garden does feel good, as does opening the coop to see four eggs instead of the three you've become accustomed to seeing. Whispy beans and vines full of blossoms are better than last week's crispy, draught-dying leaves. The acorn squash as long as my infant's pinky is better than the limp, arrested zucchini I pulled off a few days ago. And we have plenty of carrots. Doing something is always better than doing nothing.

Here's another passage from Barnheart, though, that just nails the sense of longing that accompanies big dreams too stubborn to fit into a person's outstretched arms:

I think that, in the long run, it's best to chase a dream over hill and dale, wrestle it to the ground and haul it back to your pasture (that passage is about wanting some sheep, so the metaphor works). ([Spolier alert: She gets some sheep.]) Waiting sucks, but I'm not sure that getting something too easily would be all that much better. And, hey, we can make our own marinara now. Baby steps...

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Next Generation

I had everything I needed growing up.

I hope my children say the same when they are our age.

Our priorities, from the job we have to the business's we support, are with our children in mind. I can only imagine what their thoughts are as they buzz from one very important project to the next, but I hope there is a moment when they look around and see how beautiful this world is.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Notes from our ground

Our soil is undergoing therapy this week.

We decided on raised beds when planning our garden. It seemed like a pretty sensible thing to do at the time... that is until we peaked into our compost bin we had labored over, added to, turned around at the appropriate time and saw that um... there wasn't much in there.

Soil is expensive to buy so we thought hey, lets see what happens if we throw all of our dead dry leaves in the beds, cover them in buckets and buckets of used coffee grounds, a very thin layer of our own compost and fill the rest with free composted horse manure. It worked.... kind of.

We have Blossom-End-Rot on our tomatoes. 
Signs: Bottom of tomatoes are turning black
Problem: Too much nitrogen, inconsistent watering
Solution: Add Calcium

We have squash bugs, striped cucumber beetle and possibly the Colorado potato beetles.
Signs: Yellowing leaves, low yields
Problem: The bugs are laying eggs and eating our leaves which means the plant can not produce enough chlorophyll to feed itself and so the fruit yield is very low - if we get anything at all. Our cucumbers, zucchini's and beans have really taken a hit.
Solution: Kill the bugs! We have picked them off, sprayed them off, flicked them off, smashed them and finally sprayed with spinosad. This is the first time we have ever used anything on our garden at all, and honestly I'm still not totally comfortable with it. We will see how it works and how I feel about it in a few weeks. We also sprinkled wood ash around.

We have bunnies, birds and squirrels. 

Problem: They are eating all of our berries. I do mean ALL.
Solution: We have tried all of the usual things. At best we kept the birds away for a short while and invited the bugs, beetles and ants in.  Our best solution to saving the blackberries, which is all we have left, is to pick them before they are completely ripe and let them ripen in a bowl on the kitchen table. The flavor suffers, but at least there is something to nibble on.

Signs: We have empty beds
Problem: Our kale, lettuce and broccoli seedlings aren't looking so great.
Solution: I have no idea.  My seedlings always grow super tall and thin and then fall over. They were started on our enclosed back porch, which is like a little greenhouse. They have plenty of heat and light and I think I am watering them correctly, but something is off because I keep having the same issues with seedlings.

Problem: Flying, Feed & Water Waste, Noise, Eggs

Solution: We had to clip the flight feathers on the four hens because they were hopping right over the fences like they weren't even there.
They are pretty quiet animals until they are upset about something, like their food is spilled or they are out of water because they knocked it over for the third time that day. We have plans to hang the feeder and waterer this week. I am a little concerned that their tantrums will upset a neighbor. That would be really bad. We are consistently getting 3 eggs per day right now. Which should be enough to feed our family, but we are rationing the eggs.  They are still pullet size and will probably remain on the small side for a while. I'm starting to wonder if we should have 5-6 hens instead of just 4.

I don't think we are alone in our struggling garden this year.  Today I cut out squash vine borer's at mother-in-laws house and it felt completely gratifying to smash those little punks. Her tomatoes are taller than me and some are already turning red.... her soil is beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

The great news of this year trial garden is that we have only bought carrots once this season. The rest we are just pulling as we need. We harvested our potatoes as small new potatoes because all of the leaves were turning brown and falling over (beetles). The 21 garlic bulbs are drying on the back porch. I've pickled a few cucumbers and we've devoured the zucchini that we did get before the bugs. We bought peas once, and we have consistently been eating peas every week since May. We just started a second planting. We ate all of our broccoli's in the course of about 2 weeks. I need to plant a lot more next year. A bunny ate our cauliflower. I need to learn how to hunt?
We have re-tilled and added more of our own compost to a few beds and  planted some oats and peas in a bed that was just a rock hard soil mess and we transplanted the green peppers and onions.

 Despite all the bugs, drought, and soil problems we are still eating well. I have never been more grateful for organic farmers in my life.

My 7 year old chose this recipe and made this dinner herself. Broiled Shrimp Parmesan over angel hair spaghetti with a Spinach-Mushroom Salad.