Wednesday, April 28, 2010

2 Rainy Days in April

When it rains, I'm not great at coming up with a good plan. Over the last couple of days, though, we've kept busy by getting into our rain gear and tromping around our neighborhood (the farm) and visiting what the girls call "the milk store," where we get our milk each week. Here are some of our findings.

True barn cats. Look closely!



And while I'm pretty sure I think this is a whole lot cooler than the kids do, this gorgeous little tree is growing up right in the middle of an old building foundation. I get the idea this was Bill's house, thereby giving the hill where we live the name, "Over to Bill's."

The old pump house, next to which is Aunt Judy's actual well. More later on these
cutest-ever hats.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Gram's Raspberry Jelly

If you didn't know already, the difference between jam and jelly is that jam has chunks of berries in it, and jelly is strained so that it is smooth and without seeds or chunks. I've never much been a fan of making jelly, since it requires quite a bit more time, and I love the chunkiness of jam. Still, the aunts, especially my mother, suggested that raspberry jelly is a must-have for the farm stand, so I went for it. And, I must say, it did turn out incredible. Thanks to Grammie for the top-secret family recipe. Check out that color! Mmmmmmm...

And this is blueberry jam in the making. I froze just about 20 quarts of blueberries over the summer. The girls absolutely love eating blueberries right out of the freezer, in pancakes, on ice cream, or just mashed up with a spoon. And it makes pretty darn good jam too.

The result of my efforts over the last couple of weeks. What we have here is Hot Habanero Jam, Strawberry-Rhubarb, Raspberry Jelly, Strawberry Jam, Cranberry Jam, Blackberry Jam, and Holiday Cranberry Sauce. Next up? Making an official label, and.... Relish.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Coupe de Poulet, Ou sont Vous?

The weekend began with a little freedom outside for the chickens while Joe continued to build their extra-extravagant coop-- he calls it a coupe. And by "freedom," I mean pecking around in a small enclosed space while a drooling bird dog points at you for hours and hours.

Poor Bubba. He was exhausted by the end of the day from guarding, pointing, and generally fretting over his inability to get at the birds.

In the meantime, I planned what was to be a relatively successful birthday party for two 3-year old girls. The kids had a great time running around, blowing bubbles, getting their faces painted, and waiting patiently (ok, not super-patiently) for cotton candy and cake. By the way, the flower cake came out pretty darn good. I decided to remove (and eat) the flower pot all together, then create a new big flower out of all the little flowers, and finally add mini-marshmallows and chocolate chips to the empty spots to make the flower look like a brown-eyed Susan. The kids tore into it, leaving the butterfly for the adults.

We're huge fans of keeping things simple, so when the kids needed a break from the yard and house, we took a walk to Uncle Brian's hammock for a quick swing with the girls.

And the day ended with good friends and a little toe-nail painting for Daddy. He is such a good sport!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Getting Greener

I'm not sure why Joe wanted me to pick these up, but I love looking at them. Ruby tried to bite into one because we were out of apples. She was unpleasantly surprised!
Here's my attempt at making two cakes at once. It's our first genuine birthday party for the twins. Charlie said she wanted a "magical fairy princess" cake, and Ruby said she wanted a "magical ballerina" cake, but I was able to convince them that flowers and butterflies are just as magical and beautiful. I'm going to reconfigure the flower pot cake to look like one big flower-- I'm not in love with the way it came out this way.

I keep saying, "Maybe we should think about a ride-on mower," but Joe likes the old, and I mean old, push mower. It takes him 2 hours to do the whole yard. It was dark when he finished up last night. All in the name of a good toddler party!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Spring Fever

This is evidence of me thinking I can plant something in the ground and make it grow. It would be terrific if the girls could have the experience of actually planting something, watching it grow, harvesting it, and eating it. Even though we'll be getting most of our produce directly from Anderson Farms this summer, they're still missing the first few steps of that process, so I'd love to fill in the gaps. We'll see how it goes.

You can see why I've been hesitant to plant anything at all. Winter comes and goes through the spring, and I'm terrible about weeding. Still, I picked up a bunch of seeds, and I still have a couple pounds of giant sunflower seeds to plant in the fields by our house. Let the tilling begin!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Secret Life of Chickens

Well, it's not that secret. You either hatch baby chicks yourself, or you purchase day-old chicks at a chicken store (Agway or other supplier). Then you bring them home, keep them in a warm and sheltered place for a few weeks, and transfer them to an appropriate coop outside once they have enough feathers to keep themselves warm. Seems pretty basic huh?

Well, in this house, chicken-raising is a new and incredible adventure. Who knew the Easter Bunny would actually deliver 2-week-old chicks to our house in their own brooder (the little warm sheltered place I was talking about). She (yep, the bunny's a chick-- well, she's female) even brought enough food for a couple weeks. That bunny is a serious giver.

When the birds arrived we had 10. On Easter Sunday we gave 4 of them to Auntie Sarah, who already has several chickens, but who thought she could use a few more to "resupply". She has a large dog, a fox who frequents their property, and who knows what else to support the diminishing of her chicken population. When I was looking into getting chickens, for their eggs by the way, Sarah suggested Americaunas. This kind, also known as "Easter Eggers," lays blue and green eggs. Some even lay eggs that are a cute little shade of pink. They are chicken mutts that come in lots of shapes, colors, and sizes, and they happen to be super-friendly. So that's what we ended up with, plus an additional Hubbard Isa Brown. Would you believe the Hubbard is named after the company that created this genetically altered chicken to be a super-layer. I'm serious-- this is what they call Hubbard Isa's. Super-layers. Sometimes they lay 2 eggs a day, which seems completely unnatural and painful to me, but apparently it works for them. So it works for us. And the one we have, Alice in Wonderland, is actually pretty cute and friendly, not at all the chicken robot you'd think an engineered chicken would be.

Alice is the golden-looking chick to the far left. Note how she's posing for the camera. These are the same chicks as those in the photo above, only 2 weeks later. They grow incredibly fast.

And by the way, from left to right, their names are Alice (you've met already), Ally (the white one), Candace (eating), Buddy (Camden's chicken), Dirty Dirty Chicken (we call her "Dirty"), and Princess of the Castle (also known as "Princess" or "Castle") Note how Alice is the only one with yellow feet. Weird.

Our intent is to transfer the chicks to their outside coop whenever Joe finishes building it. This should be any day, but the weather hasn't cooperated over the last few days, so he's just getting out there now to put up the side walls. We figure we'll probably have to use a couple light bulbs to keep the birds warm at night for a few weeks since it is still pretty nippy out. Plus, we've all grown pretty attached to them, so I know I'd be up at night obsessing about whether or not they're too cold out there. The light bulbs should prevent that.

The space under the side wall is where an access door will go so we can get in there to clean out the coop. It's identical on the other side so we can just push or pull everything out easily. The attachment on the back of the coop are where the nest boxes will go, and a side door there will allow us to easily reach in to get the eggs. We'll keep the coop on its stilts and make the underneath an actual shady shelter for the birds when they're out and about. Because of all the dogs in the neighborhood (especially our own bird-chaser), the chickens will have an enclosed outside area. This should also help with any other predators who may be interested in having chicken for dinner.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Always time for bread

I took some time yesterday before Holly's arrival to make our family's favorite kind of bread. It's from a terrific cookbook, The Bread Bible, by Beth Hensperger. I love the book especially because it gives me a good basic understanding of how bread-baking works, as well as easy recipes for bread that seem like they'd be hard to make. The White Mountain Bread recipe is what I use to make good 'ole white bread in its regular form, as well as sweet "roll-up" breads like cinnamon-raisin, date and honey, any-kind-of nuts, etc. And yes, it is awesome with jam.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dam Hot Jam

All I could think about at work tonight was whether or not my Habanero Pepper Jam (aka Dam Hot Jam) finally set well after I left the house. It was looking sort of soft, despite my following my recipe right down to the gram and degree (in Celsius!). Hopefully a few days sitting will do it some good. It started out like this:

And ended up like this:

And completely unrelated, tonight at work I re-read a poem from a one-page publication entitled "Menu-poems." It's put out by Alimentum: The Literature of Food. It's a cool little literary journal dedicated solely to the literature of food. Food writing. This is my favorite poem from the bunch:

Eating Out Without
by Michele Battiste

the baby, without the body listing
and pitching off my lap; without quick
fingers that dart into sauces, squeeze
the butter, chuck the bread. Restaurant
dining without mashed biscuit smashed into
cleavage, without Pelligrino toppled
and soaking the puff-pastry shell. Without
the babe, I order the snails. Indulgent —
but not for the butter, the garlic,
the price — solely to feed only myself
with the exquisite, silver, child-sized

In the mean time, have I mentioned our dog Bubba? We are in love with our dog. He is brilliant, cute, and funny. Also very loveable and likes to snuggle, preferably underneath all the blankets at the bottom of the bed. He has a good life here on the farm:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nuts and Tulips

At 5:00 this morning, the frickin chickens, as they are now known to be (I use these words with love, of course), woke me up with a new high-pitched peeping I had not heard before. You'll have to imagine, if you haven't been inside my house, that the noise of peeping can already be heard through the night since the babies are about 5 yards from our bed in our bathroom. So, when the new panic-peeping began, it was unbearable, and I couldn't sleep. It seems that the new chick-starter-- this is what baby chicks eat until they're a couple months old-- is not good enough for them. Apparently they can not adapt to a new brand of food. So, after this mutiny occurred, and I decided to try to ignore it since I couldn't get to Andy's Agway until mid-morning anyway, I got up and came to the computer. I instantly discovered Saving the, a terrific web site dedicated to preserving food. Then, I found a recipe I just can't wait to try out with farm fresh peppers this summer. Check it out if you get the chance: Fire-Roasted Red Peppers in Red Wine Vinegar

We walked down to Auntie Carol's in the morning to say hi and get a photo of her incredible nuts. Yes, you read correctly. Aunt Carol collects hickory nuts from the woods next to her house, then dries them on a sifter so she can use them to bake with when they're ready. They are gorgeous.

Also gorgeous is Auntie's basil. Can't wait to snag some of that when it gets a little bigger.

The girls and I checked out our tulips today too. It looks like they're thinking about blooming. I love watching the looks on the girls' faces when they first walk out each day to see just how much each flower has grown. I supposed I need to start thinking about planting. I've always said that I didn't "get the farming gene," but I can't imagine it would be too difficult to have a little garden, right?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Whole Foods and More Jam

Charlie is my biggest fan!

The day began with a walk around the neighborhood with the dog(s), then our usual Monday visit to the local library for story hour. The librarian is wonderful and sometimes attracts up to 20 toddlers in the little place. After choosing our books for the week, I coaxed the girls via gummy worms into enjoying a trip to Whole Foods in Portland. This is really a trip I'd rather do without the girls. Browsing is tough with three kids under 5, and I feel like people are more impatient with my "mass" at Whole Foods than they are at your run of the mill Hannaford. Still, I had to have rhubarb, and I knew they would come through for me, even this early in the spring.

And they did. So, I went for it: Strawberry Rhubarb Jam. I love rhubarb. I'd much prefer to eat a rhubarb pie than a strawberry-rhubarb pie. Too bad I only have one stalk left, and Ruby really loves to gnaw on the stuff. That girl eats everything! The fresh goods will be here soon enough, and then we'll have enough for pies and jams a-plenty.

Waiting for the "pop." You can even see one of the jars' lids is about to invert.

Would 'ya look at that. Voila!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Making Jam

Why, you ask, are you making strawberry jam in April, when strawberry plants haven't even thought about poking through the ground? Well, I had a bunch of frozen strawbs, and I changed up my jam recipe, so I'm giving it a shot. Also, whenever you want to sell your jam publicly, you must have it approved by the Maine Department of Agriculture. You create your recipe, using only specific weights and temperatures. Then you make the recipe in a sterile environment and send a sample of it to Al Bushway, a man who I expect to be hanging out, holding a giant spoon in each hand, waiting for piles of people's jams and jellies to arrive at his doorstep so he can try them out. Actually, when I proposed to the department that this was my vision, DOCTOR Bushway's assistant explained that he actually does often taste the jam, but that really has nothing to do with whether or not it is deemed "approvable" by the state of Maine. He really just needs to know that the Brix level (sugar) evens up with other ingredients so as to help the jam remain fresh enough for long enough so I don't poison anyone. So far so good in that department.. Every time I change a recipe, or add a new jam recipe, I have to send it to Dr. Bushway for approval. I feel quite good about the process actually. It means someone is keeping track of food safety.

So, this morning I coaxed Joe into taking the girls to Tractor Supply, where I know he loves to browse. This allowed me adequate time to clean up and make the jam free and clear of any tantrums or other unforseen jam-stopping moments. Also, hot jam is wicked dangerous-- I've been using "wicked" so much more lately! The stuff is super-hot and sticks to your skin like hot glue. You don't want the kids around when jam is boiling.

Here's a shot of what strawberries and pectin look like before adding massive amounts of sugar to make jam. Isn't that color incredible? There really should be a crayon color called "Strawberry Jam."

Let's just say, there is a lot of sugar in jam. In this case, there is an equal amount of sugar and strawberries. If you want to feel better about the amount of sugar in your jam, just imagine that this container is really small. (But it's not.)

Once you add this absurdity to your fruit, a process occurs which can not truly be explained. It is magic. It is color-changing, bubble-forming, incredible magic. It is jam. Yum.

And to make the process extra safe, a batch of jam has to be boiled for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. This seals the deal, literally.

Then you pull out the jars, with what I call "The Grabber." The next part is extremely satisfying. It also has a name I so ingeniously created: "The Waiting." Specifically, we're waiting for that perfect "pop" you hear when the jar has created enough pressure to suck the cover of the jar down, pulling the cover-button inward. I love this sound. I wish I could use this sound as a ring-tone. Can I do that? Probably someone knows how.

And finally, the last step is to let in Woodpile, our cat. One time I was visiting my in-laws in Virginia, when Joe's Mom's pet bird flew across the living room and into the kitchen, landing right on the edge of a pot of boiling soup. That bird did not live long, and I'm not sure how many of us actually ate the soup. This is the reason animals should really not be in the kitchen when I'm cooking stuff for other people to eat. It's just not safe. Plus, I get a kick out of watching the poor kitty trying to let me know just how badly he wants in.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cold April Naps

I told Addie I'd be in to see what she was up to in 10 minutes. I wanted to download some photos onto our computer while her sisters were sleeping, then I'd be in to snuggle with her, my non-napping 4-year-old. 10 minutes later I found her sprawled on my bed sound asleep, snoring at a perfectly restful pace. Joe is currently working on the chicken coop outside in what seems to me to be an unusually cold April day, although it probably only feels unusual to me since we've had such a warm spring so far. Joe has moved on from a lot of leaning on and staring at the frame of the coop to cutting 2 x 4's and nailing pieces together. I called him in around 12:30 to eat what was originally going to be dinner, but which ended up being a great lunch for this weather. When we were visiting Joe's family in Virginia over the winter, the girls and I found a terrific Menonite market, in which we found Grandma's Pantry. It really looked like a strip mall until we walked inside, where I bought a bag of bulk "Harvest Soup" to bring home to Maine. It turns out the soup mix can be made with pretty much any kind of meat, is quick and easy to cook, and we love it. Well, Joe and I love it, but we have to bribe the girls with dessert, or threaten them with never feeding them again, until they eat a few bites. So Joe is back at it again, creating what we hope to be an appropriate dwelling for 5 Easter-Eggers and a Hubbard ISA Brown.

The Beginning

Well, not exactly the beginning. It's the beginning of the blog, but not the idea for the jam business, or the birth of our girls, or the day we moved to the farm. It's just the beginning of the blog. Holly made me do it, and I'm glad she did. We'll see what happens from here.