Archive for February, 2012

February 27, 2012

why folding the laundry is so terribly difficult…

because i no longer get started when i am joined by this little guy who wants to help:

he jumps into the basket,

situates himself comfortably,

then burroughs down…


until he falls asleep.

…and he looks so cute and cuddly, that i just don’t have the heart to remove him.

February 24, 2012

land shopping part 1

i don’t remember the first time the idea of a farm hit.  one of the first that comes to mind was when we moved to our first home on a quarter of an acre.  we had such a big yard.  i could have chickens just like martha stewart.  we could have a huge garden.  i could put up our own food.  i could have a clothes line.  we’d live off the land.  how. cool.  but then, the home owners association was formed barring everything from chickens to clothes lines.  we also learned that we didn’t (at that time) really have the tools or skill to garden or landscape a yard of that size.  even if we had,  a septic  had been installed in such a way that the prime area for a large garden really couldn’t be used as such.   we also longed for the charm and character of an older home.

when we moved to our older home, i became a master gardener and refined my gardening skills.  my husband began to get involved with me, and in a few seasons we grew enough to supplement our grocery bill.  our tiny yard was slowly being taken over by our growing garden.  we also became more interested in our food, and loved the concept of a small, self-sustaining operation where the table was supplied with meat, milk, cheese, etc.  provided by livestock lovingly fed and cared for.

we would sit out on the back porch in the evenings and speculate.

what if?

maybe someday we’d have what i liked to call a charlotte’s web farm.  i’ve since learned it is called a hobby farm: a white clapboard house with a red gambrel roof barn housing chickens, goats, sheep, geese, ducks, a pig, and a cow.  add the token barn cat, and a sheep dog – picture perfect.

it was last fall that we decided it was time to  move and we began to wonder:  how realistic was “the place in the country”?  after some research, and scratching out some figures on paper, we were delighted to discover it was within reach.  our first step then  was to decide – how big?

we were so naive.

remembering how overwhelmed i felt when i tried to mow our quarter acre lot i decided that anything over three acres would be way too big.  i had also begun to read up on homesteading and noted that much could be done in a reasonably small area.  however we also wanted a place that felt secluded.  we didn’t really want any neighbors too close by.

we were invited by our realtor to come out and visit a five acre lot to get a feel for size.  we both imagined driving way out into the country, turning off onto a dirt road, and standing in the middle of a wheat field: the wind whipping through our hair, nary a soul to be seen for miles around.  we were shocked to find ourselves instead  in a neighborhood, houses on either side and across the street, the five acres just a very large lot in a nice development.  five may have been much larger than a quarter, but it wasn’t quite large enough to give the secluded feeling we were looking for.  7-10 acres was more like it.

now that we knew what size,  we needed to settle on a location.  since my husband travels frequently with his job, we didn’t want to be any further than half an hour from the airport.  it was suggested we take a look at a small agricultural community about twenty miles east of where we live.  one beautiful fall afternoon we went for a sunday drive and we loved what we saw.

it was small.

it  was quiet.

it was very unassuming.

we had seen an online listing for ten acres and a pond and set out to look for it.  after driving around for nearly two hours we never found it but we did decide that we liked the community and the location.  the gently rolling,  grassy stretches of sparsely populated  land were exactly what we had in mind.

however, in discussing all this with our realtor, it was suggested we look instead at another place about 20 miles north.  this particular area didn’t have the flat, grassy stretches .  it was more rocky and woodsy, but it was beautiful in its own way.   it had a larger town with a wal-mart super center, restaurants, a library, and park with a beautifully flat jogging trail.  in spite of how we felt about the small town we looked at first, we decided we should be practical and settle instead somewhere a bit closer to some amenities.  the fact that it was situated close to a lovely lake was a perk.

one afternoon, i found what i thought would be The Spot.

February 20, 2012

good morning

so i just put my husby on a plane for the week.  normally he comes home on thursday evenings ad we have a long weekend, but recently his client asked that for the next four weeks he stay through friday.  those additional twenty-four hours make for a very long stretch so we squeeze as much as we possibly can out of our weekends.  to us this means scheduling very little except for our customary date night, catching each other up on what happened during the week, and doing some projects together around the house.  since our time together is so limited these days, i don’t do much house work over the weekends, meaning that monday is a major clean-up-and-get-it-all-back-together day.  not exactly fun, especially after an airport run.

i will however, set aside some time this afternoon for more important things such as catching the downton abbey season finale.  speaking of which, i came across this article this morning.

puts my current feelings on housekeeping in a totally different perspective.(highclere castle by the way is the real downton)

February 16, 2012

farmette? or homestead?

last friday we became first time land owners.  we now own ten acres in a very small farming community with a population of less than 1,800.  we’ve spent the past several months dreaming, scheming, scratching out figures, drawing up floor plans, researching,  land shopping, then land shopping again (we had one false start), and finally closing out on a place we absolutely love.

the desire we’ve had for some time was to have a place where we could have a large garden, a few fruit trees, and some small livestock; a place that would basically become self-sustaining.  i use the word “self-sustaining” loosely because to some self-sustaining means that one crafts one’s bricks from the dirt in one’s yard – then uses said bricks to build one’s house.  that isn’t at all what i mean.  i mean self-sustaining in the sense that one simply grows and produces the majority of one’s own food but still unashamedly uses the grocery store from time to time  for staples.

last year when asked about our plans for an acreage i described it as “ a sort of homestead” .  i said “sort of” because our scenario doesn’t really fit that of the typical homestead: about 2-5 acres with a garden and some small livestock.  at the same time i couldn’t really say we were planning a  farm because your average farm consists of several hundred acres and a series of out buildings.  i later picked up the term “farmette”.  not only did it describe our situation to a “t” , but  i loved the sound of the word.  wiki describes a farmette as “a small residential farm run by an owner who earns income from a source other than the farm. “  farmettes typically are no more than fifty acres,  and contain a garden and some small livestock.

our farmette will feature ten acres and a pond, a small simple “starter home”, a single outbuilding to serve as a shop and garage, a honkin’ big garden,  and some small livestock.  for the sake of not getting too overwhelmed, we’ve divided our plan into three phases.  phase one: the actual purchase of the land already being completed.

the second part of our plan is to now build  our home. we’re starting out small and temporary (most likely).   i see this as the modern day equivalent to the sod houses and log cabins of our pioneer ancestors.   i’ve found that in starting out on the land  it is common to use a travel trailer, a mobile home, or in some cases even a yurt as a temporary residence while the permanent home is being built.  but my husband and i are not good at roughing it.  we hate camping.  we must have heat.  we must have running water.  so we’ve decided instead to build a small barn,  influenced by the traditional red barns seen in a children’s story book; and fit it out as a cottage.  it will be very, very simple but i still plan to give it some style.  my decor has evolved over the years, starting out very colefax and fowler, to  williamsburg colonial, now to modernish vintage country chic (is there such a thing?).  my hope is that when we open the front door to our  new home for the first time our reaction will be “this is gorgeous! let’s just stay here!” instead of “omg.  what on earth have we done!?”  once we have the home built we’ll put our current little house on the market, and move.  we’ll do a lot of landscaping (i’m thinking native perennials) and put in a kitchen garden similar in size to what we have now.  then we’ll purchase three chickens.

phase three will be to establish a very large garden, large enough to provide the majority of our produce with enough left over to freeze and can.  we have also toyed with the idea of growing enough to someday enter the farmer’s market arena as a small business.  the garden phase  will also include some apple trees and blackberry bushes.  then, we’ll  purchase a few more chickens.

if i’ve learned anything since we’ve started acting on our  plan, it is that things never go according to the plan.  so i’m trying to keep it all loose and just go with the flow.  should however, things actually go as planned, they may look a little something like this:

~ increase the chicken flock to provide adequate eggs and meat

~ add some ducks and turkeys to the mix; maybe geese if they will be nice

~look into the possibility of taking on small ruminants (dairy goats and sheep)

~ train the sheep to graze picturesquely on the front lawn.  ::sigh:: ok maybe not.

~mmmmmaaybe…raise a pig or two so we can have bacon with the eggs

~plant millions of daffodils on the slope below the pond

~toy with the idea of a dairy cow

~contemplate bee keeping

~dig out the pond a little deeper and see what it would take to stock it

and finally:

~build a new-to-look-old-white clapboard farmhouse depending on how much we like our barn cottage and whether or not we decide we need or even want anything more than that.

i know we’ll be crazy busy.  i know it will be a lot of work.  i know it will be a tremendous challenge, but it is a challenge we welcome and we can’t wait to get started.

as for timing?  i really don’t know.  we plan to start as soon as we can but i’m sure we’ll encounter some snags and delays along the way.   again, i plan to just try and go with the flow and in the words of tim gunn “make it work” regardless of what happens.

February 14, 2012

hazelnut linzer hearts

when i was fifteen i got my first job.  it wasn’t a real job in the sense that i was paid for it, but it felt real to me.  i was a volunteer in the day surgery ward of a hospital.  i guess one would call it the equivalent of a candy striper.  my uniform was not a pretty pink and white  but was instead a royal blue pinafore with a “volunteen” name badge.  i worked once a week, all day, stripping beds and wheeling discharged patients to their car.  day surgery wasn’t much of a happenin’ place and i frequently had a lot of time on my hands.  one afternoon, reading through an old magazine while waiting for something to do, i came across a recipe for some beautifully photographed linzer hearts.  i wasn’t an experienced enough baker to know that this was a very traditional  cookie, but in feeling grown up, i decided i wanted to start my own recipe collection and i would start with these hearts.  i copied it out onto a paper towel of all things,  apparently the only thing available to me at the time.  i still have it, and it has a place amongst the holiday recipes in my recipe box.  the original calls for ground almonds but i had ground hazelnuts on hand and decided to use them instead.  they were wonderful.  i found my ground hazelnuts at whole foods: they were a bob’s red mill product. these pretty cookies do take some time but they are well worth the effort.

happy valentines day!

linzer hearts

1 1/2 c flour

1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t ground cinnamon

1/8 t ground cloves

1/2 c butter (unsalted please!) at room temperature

1/2 c packed dark brown sugar

1/4 c granulated sugar

1 large egg

1/2 c ground hazelnuts

1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam; melted (if  you cannot find seedless raspberry jam, pour the jam through a strainer after it is melted.  this sounds like a big deal but it really isn’t a lot of trouble).

2/3 c semi-sweet chocolate chips melted, for decoration

powdered sugar for dusting

mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and cloves.  set aside.

in a large bowl, beat butter and sugars with electric mixer until fluffy.  beat in egg, fold in hazelnuts.  gradually stir in flour mixture until blended.  divide dough in half.  shape into flattened rounds, wrap, and refrigerate for one hour or until firm enough to roll out.

heat oven to 350 and have ungreased cookie sheets ready.

on a lightly floured surface, roll half the dough at a time to 1/8″ thickness.  cut out hearts with a 3″ heart shape cookie cutter.  place half the hearts 1″ apart on cookie sheet.  cut a 2″ heart from the center of remaining hearts.  place heart frames on cookie sheet.

re-roll scraps.

bake 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned.  immediately remove to racks to cool completely.  dip the heart tips or rounded edge of the heart frames in melted chocolate.  cool on wax paper until chocolate is firm.  using wax paper to cover chocolate, dust frames with powdered sugar if desired.

brush one side of the whole hearts with the raspberry jam.  top with decorated frame to form a “sandwich”.  serve immediately.

makes 20 cookies

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February 13, 2012

if you are going to be home alone on valentines day…

…like i am; fix yourself something yummy (i’m making lasagna for one) and sit up in front of the telly with something fun.

i would recommend one of the following, in no particular order of importance.  not what one would expect for valentine’s day but if you are home alone do you really want to be watching something romantic without your significant other?

*black books – hilarious.  a british comedy series that is quintessential british comedy.   a bit over the top at times, but it offers completely a different side of tamsin greig if you enjoyed her in emma and the diary of anne frank.

*land girls – if you are liking downton abbey you might enjoy this as well.  also a british series, this chronicles the experiences of four girls during world war II as they join britain’s land army.  i will admit the acting is a bit surfacy and some scenarios and characters are difficult to believe; it was however, entertaining enough that i watched all five episodes in just two evenings.  unfortunately netflix only offers the first season.

*lillie – the life of lillie langtry featuring franceca annis when she was a pretty young thing.  alright she is still pretty; just maybe not quite as young.  this is one of those stuffy british dramas from the ‘70s but the content is fascinating (who knew one could make a living just by being beautiful and showing up at parties?) and the costumes are breathtaking.

*the natural history of the chicken – quirky, off the wall, but fun.  i don’t recall there actually being much said about the history of the chicken, as the title suggests;  but there were quite a few entertaining stories about how we as humans interact with chickens.

*the bituminous coal queens of pennsylvania – a “slice of life” documentary about a small town beauty pageant.  if you enjoy christopher guest you will get a kick out of this.


February 13, 2012

new experiences

this morning i am preparing to call someone about hay.

this is a new experience for me.  i have never discussed hay with anyone in all my life.

until we closed on our property last friday, i didn’t even know it grew hay. it does however, and while we were passing the paperwork back and forth to sign, the seller’s broker presented a small slip of paper containing only a first name, and phone number, and told me  that this fella lived about five miles south of us  (or was it north?).

he is the hay man, apparently, and has been cutting the  hay on our acreage for some time now. the seller and her broker assumed i knew all about hay, how it was mowed, when it was mowed,  how cutters of hay deal in their services and product.  i just nodded dumbly.  “yes, of course, the hay.  we were wondering about that…”

so this morning i am going to give him a call.  i was informed that this call needed to be made soon because at some point something will need to be done with the hay, some sort of spraying schedule or something like that, which has this organic gardener somewhat alarmed; but for the present, i’m letting it go.  i’ve more important things to worry about, such as the orientation of the window above my kitchen sink.

marco and i went out yesterday to evaluate the lay of the land and try to decide how things should be situated.  i spent a good deal of time standing where i hope the sink will go, looking at the view, and deciding if this is exactly where i want to gaze while scrubbing pans.

while surveying the barbed wire fence, i grabbed a switch of something wondering if perhaps this was the hay.   i decided to use it while shopping for paint chips and thought how it would be lovely to tell folks, “yes i had the dining room paint tinted to match the color of our hay”,  as if i was born and bred on hay making.

for all i know it may just be some sort of weed.  i hope the hay man is kind and patient enough to give me the education i am going to need.

February 10, 2012

the start of a new chapter

marco’s and my new year’s gift to each other; a bit belated due to one false start but arriving just in time for valentine’s day:

as of 11:00 am this morning, she’s ours.

all ours.

all ten acres and the pond.

>cue theme from little house on the prairie<

we’re gonna homestead folks (although i prefer to say we’re going to build a “farmette”).

come this summer or thereabouts, should all go well and  go as planned, a small farm town in ok. will increase its population from 1,788 to 1,790.

surprised?  so are we.

thought we were settled into our little house never, ever to move again? so did we.

struggling to see us as bona fide country folk? ummm….think a little harder..we do have a garden and i’ve been yakking on and on about chickens and such for the past several years.

there is a story behind it all and one that will eventually be told;  a method to my madness as well as a vision for this beautiful spot we plan to call home,  but for now let me just say…

we’re absolutely ecstatic.

February 6, 2012

mexican layered dip

mexican layered dip is my way of celebrating the superbowl.  however, we don’t really celebrate the superbowl because we don’t own a tv and therefore can’t really watch it.  in the event that we are invited to watch with someone else, i take a book or cross stitch and set it down just long enough to watch the commercials.  for me, the superbowl is an excuse to make party food.  so last night, i made a batch of this amazing dip, made a mess of homemade baked corndogs, and we propped up on the couch and watched inspector poirot on the laptop. happy superbowl sunday to us.

mexican layered dip

1 16 oz can of refried beans

1 1/2 cups of medium salsa, preferable chipotle if you can get it; if not add 1 minced chipotle chili to the salsa

1 t chili powder

1 t cumin

3/4 t dried oregano

3/4 c sour cream

1/2 c mayonnaise

1/4 c finely chopped purple onion

1/3 c chopped fresh cilantro

1 t onion powder

1 small red bell pepper seeded and chopped

1 c grated sharp cheddar cheese or pepper jack

1 fresh jalapeno chile, seeded and sliced into rounds.  if  you can stand the heat, don’t bother to seed them.

combine the refried beans, 1/4 cup of the salsa, the chile powder, cumin, and oregano in a medium bowl.  spread evenly over the bottom of a 9″ round ceramic casserole dish.

combine the sour cream, mayonnaise, red onion, cilantro, and onion powder in a small bowl.  spread over the top of the beans.

combine the bell pepper, the remaining salsa and gently spread over the sour cream mixture.  top with the cheese and jalapeno.  refrigerate for 1 hour.  for best results make a day ahead.   serve with blue and yellow corn tortilla chips.

~adapted from the bride and groom first and forever cookbook (which everyone must have in my opinion) by mary corpening barber and sara corpening whiteford

February 3, 2012

why i need a greenhouse

i love the scene in the remains of the day where emma thompson  is sitting (if i recall correctly)in a green house of sorts mending a needlepoint cushion.  or something.  the important thing is that she is sitting in this beautiful  glass conservatory and sewing.  that is one reason why i need a greenhouse.  so i can sit peacefully amongst the plants and sew.

another reason why i need one is this:

this is a plumeria.

it was given to my be a fellow gardening friend.

i knew nothing of plumeria plants when she gave it to me.  in fact, i naively thought that after it had been given to me in january, it would grow and bloom by the following april, so that i could surprise my birthday-twin-friend who grew up in hawaii, with a plumeria plant of her own; started from mine.

i will pause here and allow the other experienced plumeria growers reading this post (if there are any) to clean up the coffee they just spewed across their keyboard and recover from their uproarious laughter.

ahem. anyway.

i need a greenhouse because when the cooler weather arrives, i need to bring this plant inside.

and i don’t know where to put it. i started out by putting it in the bathroom until i could figure out a better place.

but it doesn’t like the bathroom, so it drops leaves in the sink like this:

which i ignored for a time.  but then i noticed this:

and upon further observation i saw this:

and this:

and i had to spend the entire afternoon with a cotton ball and rubbing alcohol getting rid of the little buggars.

now, i know that a green house would not have eliminated aphids and that other winged creature i cannot identify (pest identification has never been my strong point); but it would have prevented the mess in the bathroom,which believe it or not took great effort, and it would give me some other place to store this plant, other than where it is now.

i moved it to the den.

where it sits.

aphid free.

but shedding leaves all the same.