Photo: Great grandparents at their farm in Blandinsville, IL, with five of their six children .. my grandpa was yet a twinkle in grandma's eye. Stable boy and governess also pictured. Hodges farm, circa 1903-4

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Planning For New Year's Day

Another opportunity to gather as a family on New Year's Day.  Hoping to have everyone under one roof .. play board games, go sledding, sit by the fire sipping hot cocoa.  Homemade pizza and salad to grace the dinner table.  Relaxing .. memory making kind of day.  What's planned for your New Year welcome?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cleaning Wool Rugs and Blankets with Snow

This is too cool not to share.  I'm posting this so I can reference this method of cleaning when we get a spell of 20F degree weather.

Granny Miller's method of cleaning wool rugs and blankets with snow

Gardening Is:

Dream away Mrs. Mac!
  1. a learning curve
  2. evolving
  3. fun
  4. rewarding
  5. a late winter project to break up the doldrums by plotting, planning and planting seed starts
  6. good exercise
  7. a good dose of vitamin D
  8. full of fresh air
  9. an endorphin producer
It's early winter and rush of Christmas is over.  Time to start thinking about the garden.  In one month I'll check on my saved seeds and order any new varieties worth trying.  In two months my portable greenhouse will be pulled from the basement, dusted off, grow lights installed and we will have the start to our sixth year of gardening.  Thank goodness for this cycle ... it really pulls me along to get me out of the winter funk.

Are you dreaming about your garden just yet? 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Post Christmas Greetings

Ann and her beau
Jake and Ruby
The Mac family really raised the roof .. er 'ruff/meow' this Christmas.  There were nine of us (people) for Christmas Eve dinner at home followed by a candle light service at our church.  Our guest suite was occupied by our daughter, Elizabeth, and her family .. plus their two dogs.  The newly acquired kitty (that showed up at my back door during a snow storm 12/21) took refuge in the laundry room for two days.

Hold still Miss Kitty
Today is a day of recuperation.  Cleaning.  Getting creative with leftovers. Being thankful.  Purging some of the old to make room for the new.  Staying in jammies til noon.

Nathan and Mr. Mac

sign for new baby's room
The new year holds much promise with the upcoming birth of our newest grandson early April.  

Snow fell Christmas Eve to blanket the area in a winter wonderland.  Christmas Day was mostly sunny. 

What's up in your neck of the woods?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Farm Subsidies

Here's a 'dated' video portraying how food subsidies work.  Last night the news reported that milk could possibly go up to $6.00 a gallon with the pending 'fiscal cliff' in the United States.  That is considered a 'fair' price if there were not government subsidies.  Watch this video to see how subsidies hurt small farms AND line the pockets of the rich.

BTW .. that is the price I pay for local fresh milk.  If we were able to keep more of our tax $ that would free up our food money to pay a fair price to the farmer .. without the middle (meddle) man (Uncle Sam .. and Big Ag).

$6.00 a gallon milk  

New Zealand abolishes farm subsidies 

History of the U.S. Farm Bill

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Potato Peels

I don't know the science behind this .. and I wouldn't substitute the use of burning potato peels instead of cleaning out the wood stove's pipe ... but whenever I burn potato peels, I do notice flakes of creosote on the patio or snow near the back door just adjacent and below the stove pipe.  My friend from Norway said her mom would put potato and carrot peels in her fire and when it came time to have the stove pipe cleaned it was always fairly clean; we shall see when it comes time to clean ours next year.

Here's a link saying to use dried potato peels.  I've used damp .. and even burned dry bean pods with success.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Early December

... and spring like weather.  Our grass is snow free and starting to green up.  So is the area surrounding the garden.  It's just chilly outside .. during the day .. and the night temps are above freezing. Humm .. I'm liking this weather.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pink or Blue

Last night about 40 people arrived ..  half of those were children .. eager to have dinner AND dessert .. the cake .. cut to reveal the gender of our newest addition .. our daughter is expecting in April.

Can you tell by the expression on my grandson, Jake's, face that he was expecting a different outcome?

Yes .. he wanted .... a sister ....

... but he's getting a brother.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Country Chronicle

' ..... Nobody really knows when winter begins ..... the leaves fall, so the dazzling color is gone .... Practically speaking, our lives change now.  We are done with salads and mousses and molded desserts.  All those sandwich lunches are forgotten.  We want vegetable soup or Welch Rarebit .. and sometimes stuffed mushrooms for supper ....'   as selectively quoted from, Country Chronicle, by Gladys Taber (1974)

My mother gave me a used book this summer by Gladys Taber.  I had never heard of this author but instantly became kindred spirits with her soulful writing of country life.  There are now five used books of hers in my collection.  I savor reading her books for winter nights while soaking away the cares of the day in a bubble bath.  The fact that she describes with great detail every day 'happenings' that most people fail to notice .. and then gives directions for what she's making for dinner that night .. lovely (smile) ... pure simple comfort .. both book and food.

Today our snow is melting slowly .. still covering much of the yard ..but the roof is drip, drip, dripping .. a mild warm up in the 40F's towards week's end .. maybe I can find my garden to plant to garlic.

Has winter arrived early at your home?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Getting Ready For ...

Thanksgiving Day dinner ...

After making my dinner menu, then checking my pantry and freezer, it seems I just need to purchase cranberries, yams and sparkling apple cider.  Everything else is sitting on the shelf in the form of whole ingredients that need to be pulled and put together for a special feast.

But before we celebrate Thanksgiving, there's to be a little 'reveal' party this coming Saturday.  A cake is involved with pink or blue filling .. that won't be known ahead of time by anybody but God and the pastry chef (not even the parents will know).  Our daughter and her husband are expecting a baby in April .. and they only recently made the announcement public.  Today was the anatomy scan and everything looks perfect (hallelujah)!    So ...  this is their clever way of sharing in a bit of joy after such a gut wrenching/heart breaking year with the loss of their 6 month old daughter, Rowan, to a defective heart HLHS (hypo-plastic left heart syndrome).

Come Saturday night .. or Sunday I hope to post a picture of color for you; PINK or BLUE ... what do you think??

Monday, November 12, 2012

Today's Madness ..

... as in the domestic arts:

  • Finish up beef stock for our freezer supply.
  • Start a big pot of chicken stock to have on hand for Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Bake loaves of 7-grain bread.
  • Bake rustic dinner rolls.
  • Bake an apple cake.
  • Bake up a rather large pumpkin for breads and roast its seeds
Today it's snowing outside.  Everything inside looks so colorful compared against the window scenes of black and white.

Last night our wet laundry was hung on a dryer rack in front of the stove, while sugar pie pumpkins were baking in a make shift oven on top.

House cleaning today includes changing the sheets, cleaning the bathrooms and vacuuming the floors.  When hubby asked what I had planned for the day as he went to sleep this morning after working all night, I don't think he gave it much thought when I said 'housework' .... being a full time homemaker is non stop.  I hit the pillow last night at 9:30 to be up by 5:00 this morning.  How in the world did the vision of a homemaker sitting around all day eating bon bons ever transpire?

What's on your domestic to-do list?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Simple Food For Cold Autumn Nights

Minced Beef With Gravy
Serves 3-4

1 pound quality ground beef
1/2 cup diced onion (or 1 tablespoon dehydrated onion)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons flour
approximately 2 - 3 cups homemade (unsalted) beef stock*

In a large well seasoned skillet brown the beef, crumbling well; leave about 2 tablespoons of grease in the pan.  Add the onion and cook for a few minutes .. stirring often.  Add salt and pepper and the flour until all is coated well.  Gradually stir in the stock a cup at a time while mixing to thicken.  Adjust seasonings.  

Serve over mashed potatoes or cooked rice.

*If you don't have beef stock .. you can brown the flour in the pan before adding 1 cup of whole milk and enough additional filtered water to thicken the gravy.

This is basically a 'hamburger helper' style recipe .. without all the artificial ingredients.

German Style Red Cabbage With Apples

Serves 4
2 tblsp butter
3 cups shredded red cabbage
2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar                          
1/2 cup diced tart apple                                        
1/8 to 1/4 cup diced onion
up to to 1 tablespoon cane sugar (to taste)
salt and pepper to taste

Cook cabbage, apples and onion in melted butter in medium size skillet approximately 5 minutes.  Add splash of vinegar, sugar and salt.  Cover and simmer until tender (20-25 minutes).

Each day we eat fresh fruit and veggies to provide enzymes along with a fermented food such as salad dressings made with raw apple cider or red wine vinegar.   Enjoy!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Prop 37 in California -

... so this proposition to require food manufacturers to label their food if it contains Genetically Modified Organisms ended up being outspent by Monsanto to defeat the measure, but now more people are aware of GMO foods and that's a step in the right direction.  I try to avoid them like the plague.  There are still some areas I need to improve.  Yellow mustard is my latest thing to phase out because of the vinegar .. which most likely contains white distilled vinegar made from Round Up ready corn.  Wouldn't it be nice to know and decide if we want to consume such food?  The movie, Genetic Roulette, is a good introduction to GMO foods and the problems they can cause.  Once in a while you can view it for free .. but currently there is a $2.99 donation fee to watch on-line, however, there is a free movie trailer to watch at the website.

I spend a good amount of time in the kitchen preparing nutritious food for my family.  If I take the time to soak, sprout, dehydrate organic wheat to grind into flour, you can bet if I make waffles I won't want to top them with sugary sweet artificial syrup containing (Round Up ready high fructose corn syrup).  Our options are to spend close to $30 for a bottle of real organic maple syrup .. or make a lightly sweetened fruit syrup made with very little cane sugar and fresh berries.  Most often, I make the berry syrup and save the maple for special treats.  Are you even aware or concerned about the health risks associated with GMO foods?

Friday, November 09, 2012

This and That

Week in review:

  • Started off with balmy weather ... ending with beautiful first fallen snow.
  • Garden finally put to bed for the winter ~ only regret ... not planting anything this fall with such an extended growing season, no garlic planted (yet) .. there may still be time to get it in the ground ...
  • Made rich (nourishing) beef AND chicken stocks.
  • Baked bread from memory twice this week.
  • Tried a new (old) recipe from a mid century cook book (see below).
  • A trip to Cabellas netted a pair of warm winter boots for Nathan that will give warmth to his toes AND he can put on and take off all by himself.
  • Anniversary (#32) dinner with Mr. Mac ... we're so practical and bought flannel sheets as a present for each other.

Full-O-Flavor Chicken Thighs
1 pound of chicken thighs (I used a mix of thighs and drumsticks).  Roll in 1/2 cup flour; brown in 2 tablespoons butter in a hot skillet.  Remove chicken to a greased casserole.  Heat 1 tablespoon butter in the skillet; blend in 1-1/2 tablespoons flour.  Add gradually 1-1/4 cups milk, 1 teaspoons salt, 1/8 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 teaspoon marjoram .. pepper and a dash of garlic powder.  Whisk together and cook until slightly thickened; pour over chicken and bake uncovered @325F for 50 minutes.

I served this over cooked short-grain brown rice ... but mashed potatoes would be yummy too!

What's up in your neck of the woods?

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Getting A Little Steamy ~ Ma Walton Style

... well ... at least over the wood stove (LOL).

You need to hydrate the indoor air of your home when you heat with wood.  Fancy decorative steaming pots, kettles, etc. are pricey ranging from $50 to $100 dollars new.  And I've been told that you shouldn't use the hot water because such devices are not food safe.

While browsing a thrift store recently, I purchased an oval enameled roasting pan (minus it's lid) for $1.50.  It does a wonderful job of steaming and humidifying our air.  Adding a teaspoon of white vinegar along with water when filling it up keeps mineral deposits from forming on the inside of the pot ... and doesn't in the least give off an odor.

You know, there's got to be 101 uses for wood stove heat:

  1. heating
  2. clothes drying rack placed near stove when weather is too damp to hang outside
  3. toasting bread ~ place a piece of foil on top of stove, lay bread on top to toast
  4. warming up the dinner plates
  5. drying shoes and gloves by setting near the stove
  6. yogurt and buttermilk set up perfectly when placed near the stove
  7. emergency cooking
  8. ambiance light
  9. heating up your coffee
  10. using ash in the garden and compost pile
  11. using the stove top for dehydrating my sprouted wheat when the fire is med-low
  12. hot water for dishes
Care to add to this list?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Post Sandy

While we haven't directly been affected by the monster storm, Sandy, it's amazing and sad to see such devastation along the eastern seaboard and upper mid-west of the U.S.  How can one ever prepare for such an event?   Each family needs to be ready for several days if not weeks of supplies, and even then ... depending on the emergency, it may not be enough.

I see a few 'holes' in our emergency preparedness that will soon be rectified.  Things we've talked about for over a year.

Our home has been designated as the family meeting place for an emergency .. unless there is a forest fire in our path (God forbid) ... so when planning, I have to keep that in mind supply wise.

We recently installed a wood stove for heat.  Our pantry is stocked.  Extra water supply needs to be addressed.  Alternate cooking devices can tide us over for a few weeks.

Our home is wired for a generator .. which we have yet to purchase.  This would be used just to keep our freezers from thawing and a few lights running inside our home .. but only on a short term basis.  When gas runs out and is not available, we'd be using up our canned goods AND lighting our home with oil lamps and candles.

In an emergency, following the evacuation mandates given by authorities is a must.  Have cash available and a bag ready to grab that contains extra clothes, emergency food, water, etc.  Don't rely on the government to rescue you should  you disobey such orders.

What's your best advice for emergency preparedness?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Green, Ripening, Ripe

We have staging boxes of tomatoes in the cool basement.  They are sorted by color every few days to make quick work when it's time to process a batch.  Later today I'll can more ketchup.   Since the majority of our tomatoes were picked green, this has given a little bit of lee-way on getting them all canned.

Our two rather small apple trees (McIntosh and Haralson) produced seventy-five pounds of organic worm free apples.  The McIntosh were easy pickings for the birds ... and I wasn't vigilant about protecting the crop as I should have been.  Haralsons are a much harder apple and didn't suffer as much damage.

 Three blemish free boxes have been wrapped and stored in the cool of the basement for later use.   The rest have been divided: un-pecked and slightly pecked (by the birds).  At least one more batch of applesauce .. and I'll call it a day.  The peels are fermenting in a crock and will hopefully turn into raw apple cider vinegar.

The gardens are still hanging on.   Onions, garlic and tomatoes pulled.  Still need to harvest carrots, potatoes, summer squash, celery root, pumpkins, cabbage and our second round of raspberries from the ever bearing plants.  Strawberries have rebounded and provide enough for a yogurt topping every few days.  I've only watered the garden once in the past several weeks.  The plants are hanging on with early morning dew and deep roots.

I'm so enjoying the late warmth of summer!  What's being 'put up' from your summer garden?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Summer Is A Busy

time, PERIOD.

The weather was a bit iffy last week and all of our tomatoes were picked as night time temps produced a few frosty mornings.  Ninety-seven percent of our crop was still green.  They are in boxes stored in the cool basement ... and are ripening up nicely.  From our 12'x4' raised bed we harvested 120 pounds of assorted heirlooms planted from seeds saved from last year's harvest; that's free tomatoes!

Speaking of seeds, please take the time to watch this movie, Genetic Roulette, while it's available for free through September 22.  If you are still on the fence about the dangers of GMO crops, this will help push you over the edge.  If you live in California, be sure to get out and vote in the coming election on Prop 37, making it the law to have food labels state if it's made with GMO's.  You can bet that a very HIGH percentage of grocery store items and processed foods contain them.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Oh Shucks

This has been a busy few weeks.  Summer is in full swing with vacationing AND gardening.  The calendar may say September, but I'm not in any hurry for the season to change; it took too long for summer to arrive.

Last weekend we drove to Sandpoint, Idaho with the family and stayed at a dude ranch.  There was some cooking involved as we had cabins with kitchens and shared meals.  This cut down on the expense and was actually fun to cook together and eat our meals outside on a picnic table.

Yesterday my pop and I drove to the local farm to pick 70 ears of corn to store away for winter.

shucked corn waiting to get blanched and frozen
 I think he was transported back to his farm boy days as we traversed through the corn field with our satchels.
Pop .... still a mid west farm boy at heart

The corn was shucked, blanched with some left on the cob and some cut to leave more room in the freezer.  Last year I canned corn and still have enough left to last through this winter.
shucks drying in the shed for winter tamales

There's no denying that autumn is just around the bend; our mornings are crisp ... and the day's are slow to heat.  The gardens are winding down.  Apples are filling out and limbs need propping up.  Raspberries are starting to put on a second crop ... tomatoes are turning red (FINALLY).  Lettuce is bolting, onion tops are flopping over.  And .. I've noticed the hummers have gone with the last of the summer breeze.

Soon ducks will fill the sky with their honking ... then I'll be happy for a rest from gardening and farm girl work.

How is your summer or winter winding down?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Oh Deer!

These two thieves were spied around my garden today.  Last week I mindlessly forgot to put back the deer fence after picking green beans with my grandson, Jacob.  I'm sure this pretty pair had their bellies filled with the juicy green leaves.  
Bambi with ever watchful mama nearby

Friday the moose were on patrol on the old logging road that runs through our property ... right behind one of our gardens.  They were too quick to snap their picture.
Mama stretches out for a snooze

Now that summer is winding down, and 'food' is drying up, the forest critters are visiting our yard more often.  I see that my newly planted grapevine will need to be moved or better protected.  It's an expensive venture to garden in the woods.  Without proper backyard fencing, the animals seem to graze here and there.  Our veggie gardens have some protection with fencing immediately around them, which will have to do as we live in a an area heavily populated with wild creatures.  
Mama deer is extremely relaxed with head resting on ground

I'm sure this mama deer and her fawn have a place they bed down in our yard as I've seen soft impressions under a little low growing fir tree.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Hot Summer Days Are Perfect Weather For ...

making fruit leather.
raspberry, spicy peach, peach fruit leather

If you have an abundance of fruit and need a way to preserve it without heating up the kitchen, you could make a tasty treat for your storage pantry.

All you need is flavorful perfectly ripe fruit.

If the fruit has thick skin, peel it first.  Then chop and place in a pan.  Using a stick blender, puree.  Taste to see if it needs any sweetener.  You can use a little honey or cane sugar.  Barely heat to preserve the enzymes (keep it under 100F).

I added a little cinnamon and cloves to one batch of peach.

If using berries with lots of seeds, pass the puree through a sieve using the back of a spoon.

fruit puree ready, spread thin and it's ready for the shed
Have your cookie sheets lined with lightly oiled parchment paper.  Pour the puree and tilt the pan to help spread the mixture.

Put the pans in a nice warm garden shed (without funky garden chemicals) and leave for a day or two until dry to the touch and a bit leathery feeling.  You could also dry it in the oven on the lowest setting for a few hours.

If you use apples, I think they will need a little more cooking time to turn into a puree.

When leather is very dry, you can roll it up in the parchment paper, or remove and cut with a pizza wheel into strips.  Store loosely in a jar or parchment rolled inside a zip lock bag.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Thrifty Bird Bath

For the past few years I've been looking at and pricing bird baths and haven't wanted to part ways with as much money as most cost ($50-$100) for sturdy concrete ones.  This saucer bird bath was an inexpensive solution to keeping more of my money in my pocketbook.  The top is a plant saucer I picked up at a local nursery.  It's made from glazed pottery and cost about $11.  I had a tree stump in the backyard and added a cut log to give height to the saucer.  It's easy to clean out with the surface being glazed ... and a hand pump hose bib at the back side of our property nearby.  The birds enjoy splashing and drinking and it's fun to watch their antics.  Storing it away for winter is very easy as I only have to put the saucer in the garden shed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Subsistence Meals

This is how I cook.  I take a look in the garden and see what's ready for the day.  Pick it .. bring it inside .. and fashion it into dinner.  Last night I made Garden Potage or 'stoup' (Rachel Ray's term for thinner than stew and thicker than soup:).  Pulling homemade beef stock from the pantry for the base and adding a little left over rice from a two nights ago, dicing a left over hamburger patty into mince, adding green beans, diced sorrel, diced red potato, onions and fresh herbs.  Served over steamed garden cabbage.  Side salad of thinly sliced cucumber splashed with apple cider vinegar, honey and dill, a glass of fresh farm milk and pan toast.  Hubby paid a nice complement and then commented how he would never complain again about being finicky over the food he's served (He is reading a book about a WWII pilot and I think it must go into detail how people were starving during the war).  No recipe from a book and we probably won't have the same exact thing twice.  I figure it cost 35 cents a serving (for the milk and ingredients used for making the bread).  Three people fed a delicious and nutritious meal for $1.05.  We rarely have leftovers and if we do, you can bet they get re-purposed into another delicious meal.

The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.
Calvin Trillin

Thursday, August 09, 2012

My Garden Is For The Birds

There is a pretty amazing cycle going on in the garden.  It's probably been going on for a long time, but I'm just more in turn with it now. Each morning the birds arrive just around dawn to 'clean' up the beds and plants from bugs and slugs.  Mama and daddy quail arrive with their brood and slip through the wire fence.  Dad sits atop a fence post as lookout while mom ushers the babies in and around the 'breakfast table.'  Then they scurry over to the in ground garden for their dust baths and have a treat eating the raspberries that have fallen to the ground.  Next comes the robins and spotted towhees that eat much bigger bugs.

  The hummingbirds sip nectar from the scarlet runner beans, pollinating them.  When I water, they like to dance in the mist and fly pretty close to say thank you.  My dill is frequented by lady bugs that have kept away the aphids.

 Dragonflies and butterflies are plentiful.  Of course, there are bees and wasps that do most of the heavy pollinating, and from the looks of the tomatoes, have been quite busy.  The 'dance' in the garden is wonderful to watch.

"No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden."-- Thomas Jefferson