Monday, July 29, 2013

Each Peach, Pear, Plum

 Thank goodness I have helpers. This weekend has been all about the fruit harvest here on Dogwood Lane. For the first time in about five years our stunted little trees have produced fruit, a lot of fruit! Each year the trees blossom and even set fruit and each year a late frost comes along and kills everything. But not this year, this year no late frost to ruin the tiny fruit or destroy the blossoms. This year we have peaches and plums a plenty and of course they all come ripe at the same time. 

Shadow providing quality control. We harvested two five gallon buckets of plums from one tree.
 That means I'll be spending all my time in the kitchen over the next several days turning peaches and plums into jams, and pie fillings, chutneys and BBQ sauce and anything else I can think of to preserve their goodness for the coming winter.

Guess what my friends and family will be receiving for Christmas?

Until next time,

Friday, July 26, 2013

Dollars & Sense

I've been thinking a lot lately about how fortunate I am to live where I do and have the things I have even though all I have requires a great deal of hard work and sometimes real penny pinching. A lot of my friends tell me they wish they could live in the country away from the stress of city life and they envy how much money we must save living the country life style. I'm here to tell you a cold, hard truth - it is not cheaper to live in the country! Sure, if you are a true back to nature, live off the grid, live off the land type that you see on the Discovery Channel I'm sure it is cheaper. But I like running water, electricity and heat. Oh yes, I like heat and electricity. God bless Thomas Alva Edison.

When we moved to Dogwood Lane 16 years ago we both knew that we would still have to work at full time jobs for a good long time in order to make our rural dream come true. Being able to finally retire has been such a blessing and has made it possible to tackle projects we've had on hold for many years. 

We chose to buy a place that needed a lot of work because it was less expensive and to keep the cost down we do all the labor ourselves and the labor is hard, sometimes backbreaking. It can take years to finish a project because we just don't have the money or the time after working at our paying jobs all day. The modern things I'm not willing to do without like Internet service, heating and electricity cost more because they have further to go and service fewer people (supply & demand), groceries are more expensive for the same reason and because I have to drive further to get them (fuel isn't cheap).

Please don't misunderstand me, I truly love my life. Both Chris and I love a challenge and we both enjoy the satisfaction of completing a difficult job. But I am not romantic about this life we've chosen and I wouldn't want to lead anyone astray by painting too rosy a picture. If your considering a move to the country remember to factor in some of these facts: housing, heating, water (very important), who will do the work of maintaining the land, transportation, can I afford to keep animals including fencing and housing them and accessibility during inclement weather and how close is health care as you age?

Always dream but dream with your eyes open!

Until next time,

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mrs. Gold & the Kids

Remember these little fluff balls? They're seven weeks old now and feeling frisky.

It's hard to get a picture of all of them together, they like to be on the move. 

Sadly, we lost one of the babies last week. When we returned from our week vacation we noticed that she was not doing well at all. This little chick was the last one hatched, a full two days after the others and had been weaker from the start. Mrs. Gold took extra care of her giving her special treats, waiting for her to catch up when they were on a walk and she seemed to be thriving. But when we returned from our time away I noticed that she could not seem to stand up fully. Both of her legs were swollen and hot to the touch and she was walking on her hocks/elbows. She was still eating and drinking well but could not keep up with the others at all. I searched the Internet for answers as to what this illness/injury could be but could find nothing to give me a clue. Mama was still trying to help her and she wasn't getting weaker but it was obvious that she could no longer stand and soon would not be able to get around at all. When I tried to straighten her legs to possibly splint them they were very swollen and painful to her. After watching for improvement for a week we made the decision to euthanize her since I could not find any solution to the problem.

There is no sign of illness or injury in the rest of the babies and all are thriving. We have tried to introduce them to the older flock  in small groups but Mrs. Gold is sooo protective that if any of the other girls looks cross-eyed at one of her kids she flies into a rage and a gang fight breaks out! Someone could get hurt. We'll have to keep them separated for now.

When you have animals they come with responsibility and sometimes hard decisions must be made. Even though some may say they're only chickens I don't take these decisions lightly. I cannot allow any animal to suffer just because I'm too afraid to do the right thing but I will try whenever possible to save an animal if I can. Almost all of us have had to part with a beloved dog or cat. Have you ever had to make a hard choice regarding one of your farm animals? How did you handle it?

Until next time,

Friday, July 19, 2013

I'm Blushing!

I've been so rude and I'm so sorry. Way back in June I was a winner in the It's For the Birds Blog Hop organized by Madame Samm of Sew We Quilt. I received the nicest prize package from Feathered Nest Studio . I took pictures and everything and then I promptly forgot to post anything about it.

There are handmade beads and beautiful threads, charm squares and many wonderful things for embellishing some future project. I did send a thank you email but I should have promptly blogged about this generous gift. My face is red. But as Emily Post always says, "It's never too late to say thank you."

Please, hop over to Feathered Nest Studio and tell the amazingly creative Jennet I sent you.

Until next time,

Those $&*(#@$% Dogs!!!!

I love them, you know I do, but the amount of trouble they sometimes cause can be a royal pain in my behind!

Sure, they look innocent enough when they're sleeping. But recently they're been getting into all kinds of trouble when our backs are turned. As long as one of us is home River and Shadow are content to roam the property with us and generally just hang out. After all they have around an acre of fenced area. That's a 7 ft. fence by the way with 5 ft. reinforced cattle gates.

River looking innocent and also wolf like at the same time.
However, the last couple of times that both Chris and I have been gone on all day errands and left these two in the yard they have managed to find escape routes and roam the countryside. They don't do anything bad and most people around here don't even fence in their dogs. But here's the thing - I don't believe in letting your dogs roam around the world willy-nilly. They can get hurt and dogs are dogs and do dog like things when they join up with other dogs. Even your most friendly family pet can turn into a true carnivore in a pack situation. Also, there's a law in our county that property owners are allowed to shoot dogs on sight on their  property, because of the previously mentioned pack behavior and the possible damage to livestock. So these two skipping around could be in real danger even though you and I know they're super friendly and probably wouldn't hurt a fly.

Here's the solution! The super deluxe, strong as Alcatraz, doggy jailhouse complete with shade/rain cover and raised platform bed. Nestled amongst the trees in a corner of the yard inside that 7 ft. fence even if they should get out of jail they still have to escape the yard. That should slow 'em down! 

All right girls - "Go to jail!" We'll be back in a while. They don't love it but they don't hate it either and will sometimes hang out there during the day because it's quite cool and shady.

"Wait! Good dog."

Do you have a solution for keeping your animals safe? Maybe it's not a problem for you.

Until next time,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Diet Be Damned

Hang onto your resolve because you're  going to need it when you see the pictures of what I just baked. Then throw caution to the wind and bake one of these scrumptious cakes for yourself. My friend Kathy O. posted this recipe on her FaceBook page just to be a temptation to the rest of us and I'm a fool for cake and cinnamon so what did she expect me to do?

I've been known to bake cinnamon rolls from scratch but those are typically breakfast food and we all know that I'm not at my best in the morning, so just imagine me throwing around dough and sugar and cinnamon before 10 a.m. Doesn't happen too often believe me - like once a decade! This cake might just fill in for those yummy doughy treats with a lot less work but all of the flavor.

Cinnamon Roll Coffee Cake
3 c. flour
1/4 tsp.salt
1 c. sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 c. milk
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. butter, melted

1 c. butter, softened
1 c. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. cinnamon

Mix dry ingredients together; whisk eggs, milk and vanilla together and add to flour mixture all at once. Stir to combine, don't over mix. Slowly stir in the melted butter and pour into a greased 9x13 pan. For the topping, mix all the ingredients together until well combined. Drop evenly over the batter and swirl with a knife. Bake at 350 for 28-32 minutes.

2 c. powdered sugar
5 Tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
While cake is still warm drizzle the glaze over the cake.

 I didn't even need to get out the mixer to whip this up. The cake was super simple to put together. Then I topped it with the buttery, cinnamon goodness. Lumps of heaven right there! Full disclosure photo - you can see what a mess I make when I cook, it's all about the food, right?

A knife gets swirled around all the cinnamon lumps of love to make sure they reach all through the cake. It looks pretty too, bonus!

While the cake is in the oven make the glaze. Here's a glaze tip for you free of charge. For a perfectly smooth glaze free of pesky bee-bee ball lumps, sift the powdered sugar. See those tiny things? They will never melt. They're coated with corn starch to prevent clumping in storage and you'll whisk all day and still have lumpy glaze unless you sift them out. You're welcome.

I had to show this again it's so good!
While I'm on the subject of cinnamon rolls whose bright idea was it to remove the wonderful food court option from the new Terminal B at Sacramento International Airport? Gone are the convenient food choices and bright, airy eating area. Most importantly gone are the Cinnabons! Some planner really dropped the ball on this one. In place of the above travelers now have their choice of high end, pricey eateries and greasy pizza slices. Blah! Oh, and booze - lots of booze. (My airport rant for the week. I've been traveling a lot recently.)  
Until next time,



Monday, July 15, 2013

DWM/Spirals Table Topper

I've been sewing on one project exclusively for sooooo long I needed a palate cleanser so to speak so I pulled out this project. I figured I could actually finish this in a day which wold give me some sense of accomplishment.

The pattern is by Ursula Riegel at Designs to Share and includes directions for placemats and two sizes of table toppers. I'm going for the largest table topper. Which calls for 5/8 yd of the feature fabric, 1/2 yd of the coordinate and 3/4 yd of backing.

Starting with a 10" square and cutting off the corners.

I have never done a project that called for partial seams but they turned out to be easy. You have to have a ruler with an easy to see 45 degree angle mark for this project in order to cut those corners as you go.

After the first round of sewing you have a placemat 14 1/2" x 14 1/2". Cute but I'm ready for round two.

After completing three rounds of sewing I ended up with a topper 24 1/2" x 24 1/2" ready for quilting. I'm using my amazing stitch-in-the-ditch walking foot. It's hard to see here but I have old gold metallic thread in the top and black thread in the bobbin. Always bring your bobbin thread to the top of the project before stitching to avoid those nasty rat nests on the back of your project. My machine will stitch in place to secure the thread but if yours does not take a few careful stitches before going all out to anchor your thread.

This is what I use to grab that bobbin thread - industrial tweezers purchased at a booth at a quilt show. You know the ones I mean with a million little gadgets.

Just look at that stitching! That foot was worth every penny I paid for it, I think about $25.

The finished runner on a table just to give you an idea of the size. The whole project including cutting and quilting took four hours. This is going into my gift box for the coming Christmas season and I think I'll make a few more with holiday themes they're so easy and quick.

Linking up to Patchwork Times for more design inspiration for you.

Until next time,

Friday, July 12, 2013

Preserving the Harvest/Sweet Peppers

I recently came across a fierce sale on sweet bell peppers and decided to freeze them for later use. Let me walk you through the easiest method of preserving these recipe staples.

Most preserving books recommend blanching vegetables before freezing and that's a good idea for sturdy vegetables like green beans but I've found that it turns veggies like bell peppers and squash to mush. The first thing I do is give them a good wash and dry and then decide how I want to cut them up. Some I slice and some I dice depending on how they'll be used in future recipes.

Next, I lay them out in a single layer on a parchment paper lined baking sheet that will fit in my freezer. The paper prevents the pieces from sticking once they're frozen. Into the frezzer the sheets go for a couple of hours.

Once the pieces are good and frozen out they come ready for the next step. The frozen peppers easily pop off of the parchment paper and into plastic freezer bags. If you're using zip-lock bags be sure to squeeze out as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn.

I use my Food Saver to remove all the air and create an air tight seal. This thing is worth it's weight in gold to me for all the money it saves me in wasted food and food I can buy in bulk and repackage.

Here are my sweet pepper packages labeled with the amount, date and cut ready for long term freezer storage. Don't forget to label. It can be difficult to tell sometimes just what is inside those packs. I put 3/4 cup in each because that's about as much as I use in a recipe no matter what the recipe calls for, my husband is not a huge fan of bell peppers. My preserving guides state that peppers do not have to be blanched and will keep for up to 1 year at 0* if properly prepared and packaged.

Until next time,

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wouldn't You Know It!

Yes, that is a picture of my very dirty garden feet. I'm showing you my feet to illustrate a point. Otherwise I would never offend your sensibilities with such a show.

 So, yesterday I was out in the garden enjoying the morning air before it got too hot, watering and deadheading the flowers, saying good morning to the hens, throwing the ball for Shadow and River, clipping branches and stuffing them in the wheelbarrow. Just a nice, regular morning when it struck me - what's the date? I've been in San Diego visiting my kids and celebrating birthdays and have lost all track of time so I'm a little behind on some of my chores, like bookkeeping, like paying the bills, like paying the car registration which is due in TWO DAYS. Yikes! I have to get that thing mailed today.

I race into the house grab my car keys and slip out of my garden clogs and into my brand new purple flip flops. Maybe that will disguise the fact that my feet are filthy. Right. Never mind the outfit I have on - a holey tank top, baggy shorts which are three sizes too big held together by a huge safety pin (hey they were on sale years ago and have a million pockets great for gardening) and don't forget the hat, the squashed straw hat with the chewed brim from when River was a four month old. I kept the hat on
because the state of the hair do is appalling. The purple flip flops will be a complete distraction from all this should I run into anyone I know at the post office.

The dogs joyfully race after me as I open the car door and we're off for a ride down the mountain to the post office. You all know by now that I live in a VERY small town and the hub of any small town is the post office but I was praying that I wouldn't see anyone I knew. A quick in and out that's all. Who was I kidding? As soon as I stepped out of the Jeep clutching my DMV payment envelope I met the following in no particular order: two garden club ladies who wanted to chat about what a success the recent garden tour had been and how hot it was;  one of my quilt group friends who wanted to discuss the meeting tomorrow; one of my husbands Rotary buddies; a group of two complaining about the quality of the newspaper even though I haven't managed the paper now for two years and a man who admired my dogs and wanted to discuss training tips!

Next time I'll just register on line.

Until next time,

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Dance With the Devil Kahlua Cake

We like cake! There I said it. Whenever there's a party or a gathering of any kind, people ask me to bring the dessert so I'm always on the lookout for new ideas for recipes for cakes, especially because they can feed a crowd. You may remember the recent graduation activity around here? Graduation certainly calls for a cake, a Dance With the Devil Kahlua Cake. That cake went so fast I was only able to get one picture! That's ONE picture of ONE piece!

Dance With the Devil Kahlua Cake
Makes a 9x13 cake 
Preheat oven to 350*

1 devils food chocolate cake mix
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (optional, not really if you want a super chocolate cake but some folks don't like it so chocolatey , who are those people?)
3/4 cup Kahlua 
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 lg eggs
Place ingredients in large bowl and mix on low for 1 minutes to incorporate ingredients. Scrape down bowl and mix mix on medium for two minutes longer until batter is well combined.
Pour batter into a greased and floured 9x13 pan and bake at 350* 30 to 35 minutes or until cake springs bake when lightly pressed with your finger.Cool while you make the frosting. You know me by now, it's all about the frosting.

For the icing I used the Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Sheet Cake Icing from her yummy cookbook The Pioneer Woman Cooks

1 3/4 sticks butter
4 heaping tbsp cocoa powder
6 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 lb powder sugar, sifted
1 cup finely chopped pecans

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and stir until smooth. Add milk and vanilla. Add powder sugar and stir together. Put in the chopped pecans and stir until combined. Pour the warm icing over the warm cake.
Chocolate Kahlua Frosting

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
5 tbsp boiling water
3 tbsp Kahlua
8 tbsp butter, at room temperature (that's 1 stick of butter people don't be stingy)
4 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Place the cocoa powder and cinnamon in a medium sized bowl and pour in the boiling water and Kahlua. Stir until the cocoa comes together without lumps. Add the butter and beat with a mixer on low until the mixture is well combined. Stop the machine and start adding the confectioner's sugar a little at a time or you'll get it all over the place and make a mess. Keep adding and mixing until the sugar is incorporated. Increase the speed and beat until the frosting is fluffy. 

Recipe adapted from The Cake Mix Doctor Returns by Anne Byrn

Don't blame me for the calories - the devil made me do it!

Until next time,