Snow!!

The dog, wondering why the chickens won't come out.

The dog, wondering why the chickens won’t come out.

Woo hoo!  Flurries!  I woke up to flurries and a cold wood stove this morning.  The dog is excited, my youngest son is excited, the chickens seem less so.  I opened the hatch on their house this morning, they walked out and stood on the ladder, and then turned around and have been inside ever since.  They seem to have the same feeling toward snow as many other people I know.  When the snow banks are taller than I am, I will join that bandwagon and bitch about shoveling.  I will.  I’m good at it.  But hey, it’s the first snow of the season.  All that dusty, muddy brown is turning to white.  As I type this, my youngest is getting dressed to take the dog out and play.  In fact, the dog just ran past my window at Mach 2.  She’s going so fast I don’t know if she’ll leave prints.

All set up for the Christmas market

All set up for the Christmas market

Yesterday I set up my little jam and cookie wares at a local Christmas craft market.  It was a bit of a reunion for some of us vendors who spend our summer Saturdays at the Upriver Country Market.  The market, which is held in a barn, closed for the season on Thanksgiving weekend, and will re-open next year at the end of June.  Some of us regularly run into each other at other markets and craft sales, but this was the first time the majority of the group was together in about 5-6 weeks.  It was fun, and a lot of wine jellies flew off my table, destined to become Christmas gifts.  Meanwhile, I picked up a few things for those on my Christmas list, like a great little purse from Val, who makes beautiful leather goods, and for me a little Dutch pie from Monic.  I came home with two bottles of wine from the Richibucto River Wine Estate.   But the best part of the day was winning a lovely hand painted bowl from the Williams.  I grabbed a couple of raffle tickets when I wandered over to the coffee booth and so glad I did!   All in all, it was a fun little market.  I’ve got two more to prep for this week, so I’ll be busy getting jam into jars and cookies into the oven.

The bowl I won at the market, handpainted by Maureen Williams.

The bowl I won at the market, hand painted by Maureen Williams.

Today though, my oven is reserved for fruitcake.  I’ve got a couple of people who’ve asked me to make them this year.  And by a couple I mean 25.  I’ve got my Nana’s dark fruitcake recipe, which is amazing!  Nothing like the bricks you buy in the store, that’s for sure.  About ten days ago, I made my fruit and nut mix and put it in a nice, relaxing brandy bath.  It’s been stirred daily and should be sufficiently steeped in booze to bake today.  Then I’ll baste them in brandy while still warm and send them to their new homes.  I will save one for us, though…I wonder if it goes well with the wine I bought?  Guess there is only one way to find out.

Fruit and nuts, relaxing in a brandy bath.

Fruit and nuts, relaxing in a brandy bath.

Birthdays and how babies change your life

Me and my first born when he was 11 months old

Me and my first born when he was 11 months old

 

 

 

 

 

My oldest child turned 18 today. At 5:35am Eastern Standard time. I had just turned 20 and my life was no longer my own. Which was huge. I was going from college party girl to mom in no time flat. My youngest brother had just turned four, so it wasn’t like I had no experience with babies. But to be fully responsible for someone else, that’s the biggest thing in the world. I remember bringing him home and him crying and me almost hysterical because I didn’t know why he was crying. The nurses at the hospital seemed to speak baby and could tell you from the cry what he wanted or needed. I had no clue. Then I gave myself the mental slap across the face and told myself that I was just going to have to figure it out. And I did. As billions of women before me have and billions more will. He grew and grew into a super smart and handsome boy and then into a young man. He’s had to live with some really hard things. He learned much earlier than some that life isn’t fair and that it can change in a heartbeat. He struggles, and he’s trying to find his way. And that’s part of growing up. I watch, and hope and pray that good things are coming for him and that he’ll make them happen for himself. Happy birthday my boy. Thank you for making me a better person and for making me a mom. Best gift I’ve ever gotten.

Here comes the snow

My driveway last December

The weather forecast has been threatening flurries for several days now, and each day I’ve been disappointed.  Now, I won’t be disappointed come March, but the first few flurries to hit the ground always make me smile.  They remind me of warm mittens, hot chocolate, cold flakes hitting my tongue and melting.  Snowmen, snowball fights, and laughter.  Walking down the road to the ice all frozen hard in the gravel pit, where we’d skate, carefully avoiding the rocks sticking up through the ice.  The smell of the air, crisp and clear and fresh.  So all in all, it makes me feel like a kid again.  It makes me smile and remember the joy and discoveries winter would bring each year.  How much snow would we get?  How many hours or days would the power go out for after a big storm?  How far could I snowshoe into the woods without getting scared I was too far in to find my way back?  And as always, lying back in the snow after making a snow angel, looking up into the sky and watching the clouds roll along.  I think as adults, we have forgotten how to enjoy these moments.  How to even allow ourselves to have them.  We are so busy shoveling the driveway, and getting places on icy roads and making sure the house is warm that those small, precious moments are lost to us.  I am always grateful that the first snow brings all of that back to me.  Even if just for a few minutes.  I’ll grumble about bringing in the wood and shoveling out the driveway in January.  And lament all the fall outdoor chores I didn’t get done next week.  But today, I’ll just give myself a few minutes to catch a few flakes on my hand and watch them melt so quickly it’s hard to believe they were even there.  And I’ll remember building forts with my brother and us trudging up the sides of the gravel pit with our crazy carpets, plotting our course down without hitting anything large and sharp.  Then walking ten minutes home to put soggy mittens next to the wood stove and wrapping cold hands around warm mugs, with the skin tingling from the quick transition from cold to hot.

Snow storm picture from the back yard of my last house. This is the Richibucto River, which flows out to the ocean.

Meanwhile, it’s another day of baking and jam making for this weekend’s Christmas farmers market.  A winter staple in our house are chocolate gingerbread men.  The recipe is from the book “The Good Cookie” by Tish Boyle.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough.  It’s fabulous.  Lots of info, lots of different types of cookies, really well written and every recipe I’ve ever made from it has turned out amazingly well.  If you like to bake, this should be on your cookbook shelf.

Chocolate Gingerbread Men

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup nonalkalized cocoa powder, sifted

1 tsp ground ginger

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup softened butter

3/4 cup dark brown sugar (Tish recommends Muscovado)

3/4 cup white sugar

1 large egg

2 tbsp hot water

1 tbsp unsulphured molasses

1 tsp baking soda

1.  In a large bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt.  Set aside.

2.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars at medium speed until light in texture and colour, about 3 minutes.  Beat in egg.

3.  In a small bowl, stir together the hot water, molasses and baking soda, until the baking soda is dissolved.  At low speed, gradually add the baking soda mixture to the butter mixture.  Increase mixer speed to medium and mix until blended.  Then on low speed, add in the flour blend in several additions, until just combined.  Scrape dough onto a work surface, shape in a disk, wrap and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours, max three days.

4.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease two sheets, use parchment paper or I use baking stones (already seasoned!  No more greasing and nothing ever burns! )

5.  Divide the dough into quarters.  Put the rest in the fridge while you work one quarter at a time.  Roll out  on a lightly floured surface until dough is about 1/8 of an inch thick.  Grab your gingerbread man (or woman) cutter and cut out as many little chocolately ginger people as you can and carefully transfer them to your baking sheet.  Bake the cookies for about 8-10 minutes per sheet and let them cool on the sheet for a few minutes before you transfer them to a rack to finish cooling.  Decorate as you will.  Or not.  They are pretty tasty warm from the oven.

Can you tell these were decorated by teenagers? The giant eyes are Hershey’s Kisses.

Chickens and Jam

Chicken and Nugget checking out the yard

Back in the spring, my daughter’s biology class hatched eggs. Quails, ducks and chickens. And one day, while I was literally out in a field interviewing a farmer for a news story, my phone rang. It was her. I thought it was important. (Mommy’s working, call the cell phone if it’s important.) But as I have learned over the years, what consitutes “important or urgent” to me is a bit different to my children. I once took a call from her while at work that had me so exasperated that all my co workers heard from my end was “Really? You’re serious. Okay. Has anyone lost a limb? Been maimed? No? No massive blood loss? Okay, I will call you back to discuss this WHEN I AM NOT BUSY!” Click. It’s not always like that, but there was awhile there where she was very attached and seemed to need to talk to me often. By the time I was standing in the field it was much more reasonable. So, thinking it was important or urgent, I answered. “Mom, I can take my chicken home but I have to know if it’s okay right now because I can take it home today or it goes to the farm. Can I? Please Mom! Can I?” I pawned her off on her father, who was home on his day off, and hung up. And when I came home from work I found a cardboard box with two chicks in it on her dresser.

Chicks getting comfortable

So, here we are. With the aptly named Chicken and Nugget. Turns out Nugget is a hen, Chicken is a rooster. My husband made them a lovely little chicken house, my daughter insisted on painting it red, and then we moved them in. They spent the summer wandering around the yard, while we waited for Nugget to start laying. We waited some more. And we continued to wait. Finally, our wait has been rewarded. An egg a day for the last two weeks! Lovely eggs with pale brown shells. My daughter is a little attached to the eggs and wanted to leave them in the hen house in hopes we would have more little chicks. But with a New Brunswick winter coming on, and let’s be honest, I’ve been waiting for some return on our feed investment, they are washed and in the fridge.
I think we will have more chicks come spring so we can have a flock of layers. My youngest loves to check the roost boxes for eggs. It makes his morning to bring it in. My daughter has yet to eat one, but they were delicious scrambled this morning for breakfast.

Nugget outdid herself one morning.

Meanwhile, I’m back to jam making. I’ve had some orders for jam baskets for the Christmas season, and the blueberry lemon jam is pretty popular. There are so many wild blueberries around here that it’s not hard to pick a good stash for the winter. This morning, I took some out of the freezer and got my jars ready to go. As I type this, the jam is at the simmer stage, while I wait for my hot water bath to get hot enough to sterilize my jars.

Blueberry lemon jam in the making

Blueberry Lemon Jam

6 cups of fresh or frozen blueberries
3 1/2 cups of sugar
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon, plus a 1/4 cup of lemon juice

Combine ingredients in a pot, simmer for a half hour or so, until you reach the stage where some dropped on a frozen plate will “wrinkle” when you touch it with your finger. Pour into hot, sterilized jars and leave a quarter inch head space. Cover with sterilized lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for ten minutes. Makes about 5-6 250 ml jars.

Baskets wrapped and ready to go.

Is it winter already?

Well, I think it’s safe to say that summer got away from me.  I started doing one farmers market on Saturdays for fun, but that Imagequickly became one on Sunday as well.  Add in a very busy few months doing political media relations, and kiss any “free” time goodbye.  I ended up being that person with a smartphone attached to her hand, which has never happened before.  So many of my carefully laid gardening plans went awry because of it.  Ahhh, another learning experience!  But I did get a lot of things done.  And some new experiences.  Like pickled scapes.  

ImageThese lovely little fellows were given to me by a local farmer, otherwise known as The Pumpkin Lady.  If you’ve never seen them before, they are the green shoot from garlic, kind of like a green onion.  I ended up making several pints of pickles scapes, and they were a hit at the market.

ImageThey joined things like strawberry margarita jam, cranberry orange marmalade, chipotle ketchup and cranberry mustard on my shelves.  I also steeped some in some white balsamic vinegar, which was amazing.  It smelled so good, and looked pretty in the little jars I put it in.  

Another one of my new adventures was beekeeping.  I’m really new to it and have a lot to learn, but my friend Brett, who brought me the hive, was terrific in helping me out.

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Because it’s the first year for the hive, we wanted to leave the bees lots of honey to help them get through the winter.  So after we inspected the hive and made sure the queen was well and laying her eggs, we took out one frame for honey collection and left the rest.

ImageBut without any equipment, like an extractor, how to get the honey off the frame?  Eventually, we suspended the frame over a foil pan to catch it as it dripped out after uncapping the wax with a hot serrated knife.

ImageIt took awhile, but eventually we got as much honey as we could from the frame and then put the frame outside on top of the hive to allow the bees to clean off the rest.  One frame gave us three beautiful pints of honey.  Really, the best agricultural bang for your buck and your time.  I’m looking at making a top bar hive over the winter and trying to establish a new colony using natural (no chemicals or antibiotic) techniques next spring.  And looking forward to a lot more honey next summer.

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So much more to do and plan for.  Today looks like a great day to fill the woodbox, wash some floors, make some yogurt and have a hot supper waiting for my husband and the kids.  Maybe make some cheddar cheese scones for supper?  

 

 

 

Revolutionary things

Homemade yogurt

Sometimes, I come across something so simple, but so good, it changes the way I think or do things.  I become an infomercial type convert, telling everyone I know about this new amazing thing I’ve found.  One of the latest ones is making my own yogurt.  I’ve done it before.  It was fussy, I used a yogurt maker with the little jars.  It was more annoying than worth my while, I thought, plus it was yet another thing clogging up my kitchen.  Which, trust me, is full of almost every kitchen tool known to man.  So I gave up yogurt making, and bought it at the grocery store for years.  Until I stumbled on a blog post. The lovely Alana of Eating From the Ground Up, wrote a great post about yogurt making.  You use…. get this….your crockpot!!  Voila!!! Yogurt! (yes, this does make me excited.  This is where the infomercial type announcer comes in.)  Minimal fuss, less expense, more taste.  How could you go wrong?  Here’s a link to her post:  http://www.eatingfromthegroundup.com/2012/05/crock-pot-greek-yogurt/.  I love her blog. She feels like a kindred spirit in food and frugal.  So basically, it goes like this:  take out your crockpot, put 8 cups of milk in it, turn it on high, walk away (See, liking this already, right?)  Come back awhile later and check the temperature of your milk.  When it hits 185, which takes about two hours with mine, turn off the crockpot and walk away.  (I know!!!  Isn’t this great?)  Come back awhile later, and when the temperature of your milk drops to 110, turn it off and add 1/2 cup of plain yogurt.  If it’s your first batch, you’ll need to buy some at the grocery store.  I like the Astro Balkan style plain, so that’s what I used.  Now, I just save a half a cup from each batch for the next one.  Now, here is the part that makes your friends look at you funny when they pop over during yogurt making.  Unplug the crockpot and wrap it up in a warm blanket.  Leave it on the counter for 6 hours.  I use a fuzzy pink blanket that belongs to my daughter so I get a lot of questions like “what the hell is that?” when people come over.  My oldest son thought that I was employing an ingenious way to protect baked goods from his midnight snack runs and took pictures of it while he unwrapped it, thinking I would know how the blanket was originally wrapped and “catch” him.  He was mighty disappointed to discover yogurt, which he doesn’t like.

Milk turned into yogurt after the six hour sit

Now at this point, I like to pour mine into a large sieve lined with cheesecloth and sit it on top of a large bowl.

Yogurt straining

Then I put it in the fridge overnight and wake up to thick, tangy Greek style yogurt.  How’s this for fabulous?

Delicious, thick, homemade Greek yogurt.

Super fabulous.  In fact, revolutionary.  It has revolutionized my yogurt eating.  I realize this may seem like a rather grandiose statement, but it’s true.  Then, guess what?  Great yogurt by product!!  Whey!

Whey after the yogurt has been strained overnight.

I use the whey when making bread.   I’ve got a couple of mason jars in the fridge full of whey, then on a cooler day I’ll bake 6 or 8 loaves of bread using the whey instead of water in my bread dough.  It truly is the little things in life…

Sometimes small revolutionary things pop up in the garden.  Like the first crop of radishes.  My Nana says everyone should grow radishes because they always come and give you a sense of accomplishment.  They come no matter what.  So when the whatever it is that keeps nibbling the tops off my carrots makes me crazy and I’m waging war on the slugs, these little spicy red gems make me feel like I’m doing something right.

Radishes, picked minutes before.

I love revolutionary things, no matter how big or small.  It’s important to try and take them where ever you find them.  And even more important to be grateful for them.

Another week…..

I just came in from an hour of weeding in the garden.  Strangely, I find weeding addictive.  Feel free to throw things at me, I know it sounds bizarre.  When I was a kid and was sent out to weed the garden, I couldn’t wait to be finished and hated every second of it.  Maybe I get carried away now because as an adult I don’t get to spend a lot of time by myself doing something that my brain doesn’t need to think about.  Does that make sense?  I always feel like I’ve got so many balls in the air, I’m constantly thinking about what needs to be done and what I am doing (which is usually several things at a time.)  When I’m weeding, I’m just pulling stuff up and pulling more stuff up.  My brain is quiet, I’m quiet.  At night, I need to read, even just for a few minutes, in order to shut off the constant ticker tape in my head.  It’s like a few pages of someone else’s story helps me forget my own long enough to pass out.  No more grocery lists, to do lists, family schedules, ect.  Just me and that stupid blade of grass in the middle of my beets.  Weird, but I stand by my assertion that weeding can be therapeutic.

One of the many things I got to do this week was spend a day in the city with my husband and youngest son.  We went to the movies, out for dinner, and I did errands.  On the way home, we stopped at my brother’s house for a quick visit.  He was in the barn working on a trailer, my little nephew enjoying his sandbox.  My brother has alpacas.  They are such lovely animals, I like checking in with them when we visit.  And this time, there was a new baby!  This little boy (name pending) was only three days old.

The new baby boy in the field

But he’s not the only new baby at the farm.  This little guy is three weeks old.

Another new baby boy

He’s a little camera shy, I guess.  But hanging out with these guys is also one of those things that brings me a few minutes of quiet and a feeling of peaceful contentedness.  Kind of like weeding, minus the sore back at the end.

Week number two at the farmers market was good.  I had a much bigger booth this week, which was terrific.  Thanks to the couple who normally occupy it but offered it to me this week since they wouldn’t be there.  They have permanent shelving in their stall for the gift baskets they do.  And it was terrific for my display.

The big seller this week was strawberry margarita jam.  It’s amazing how excited people get when you tell them there is tequila in a jam.  Really.  Everyone who sampled it bought a jar.  That was a pretty good track record, I thought.  I have two jars left of the two batches I made.  So I’ll be off to the strawberry u-pick this week in order to do up a few more batches.  It’s probably the last week for strawberries, so I’m going to make it count.  Another item gaining in popularity is the lemon poppy-seed mini loaves.

Lemon poppy-seed mini loaves, still hot from the oven.

I put the lemon zest in the loaves, and then juiced the lemons to make the lemon syrup.  I basted these little babies for about an hour while I was making the strawberry margarita jam.  First I used a skewer to poke holes in them, then basted, then flipped them over, then basted.  Then flipped them back and basted.  And basted again.  They were well soaked with lemon syrup by the time the jam cooled.  There is one loaf left.  I think it would be great with a cup of tea right about now.  While I recuperate from all that weeding.