Friday, June 16, 2017

Echinacea Lemonade Popsicles

Summer colds are no fun - but popsicles are! Here's a fun way to give the kids' immune system a boost during warm weather.

Echinacea Lemonade Popsicles

3 cups of water
3 bags of echinacea tea
1/2 cup of honey
3/4 cup lemon juice
Steep tea according to directions; discard (compost!) tea bags. Stir in honey and lemon juice. Pour into popsicle forms and freeze.

Use echinacea elderberry tea if you have it, for extra immune-boosting power. Or alternately, use elderberry syrup instead of the honey (I like to use my homemade elderberry honey - elderberries harvested from my garden, and honey from my own bees - so I am completely sure of the quality of the ingredients).

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Cheerful Agrarian and the Three Little Pigs

Once upon a time (about 1:30 this afternoon, actually), the Cheerful Agrarian went with two of her children to pick out two little pigs to live in her back yard. On the drive to the farm, she texted her friend Monica, who said she would like Cheerful to raise a pig for her family, too. And so it was that Cheerful brought home not two, but three little pigs.
Now, these pigs do not have houses of straw (it's been very windy here in Wisconsin lately (a tornado went through just two miles south of us last month), so even if a house of straw could stand up to the huffing and puffing of the big bad wolf, I don't think it would do so well against the weather this spring), nor do they have houses of sticks (I haven't perfected my wattle-and-daub technique yet - but it's on my list!) They definitely don't have a house of bricks (have you priced bricks lately? Definitely out of my price range!) Instead, they have a house of fiberglass. An old truck topper, to be precise, that a friend gave us last year ("and please don't give it back!")
The pigs are named Chris P. Bacon (a name that my daughter had picked out last year, but we opted for other names for our two previous porkers, so it was only common courtesy to use it this time around), Alexander Hamilton (he's so popular these days!), and Spot Chop (my 10 year old son named him - I told him to try to think of something that included a reference to his spots and the idea of pork chops. So Spot Chop he became - Spotch for short.)
Weighing in at just 30 pounds each, they are the perfect size to be loved on and adored by the kids (and their mother . . .) They love their new home - before we had even unloaded them all from the truck, Spotch had already started digging holes with his until-now-untried snout. They certainly didn't need to be taught how to root! Four and a half hours later, and they still haven't so much as sniffed at their hog feed. I'm sure that will change pretty quickly, though.

I'm going to try to keep a running tally to see how much it's costing us to raise our own bacon (the two we raised last year ended up around $3.16/lb- $1195.25 total - including on-farm slaughter, processing, and curing the bacon and hams) These pigs cost us $55 each ($165 total), and their first bag of feed (we're going all organic) was $24.88 (65 cents more per bag than last year). So, at 90 pounds total, they've cost us $189.88.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Pumpkin Puffs

. . . because cream puffs are the best dessert ever, and because it's fall, so everything must be pumpkined!

I was reading through a fun book I saw at the library - The Year of Cozy by Adrianna Adarme - and found (among many other things I immediately bookmarked) a recipe for No-Bake Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. The author said she "fell in love with chiffon pies a few years ago; they're wonderfully light, and their texture is silky smooth." Maybe it's just me, but this description immediately cried, "Cream Puff!" in my mind. So I tried it. The original recipe calls for rum, which my kids didn't like, and beaten egg whites for its lightness. So I decided to try it again, after tweaking the recipe to our taste. First step: compare all of the pumpkin pie recipes I could find with all of the Boston cream pie filling recipes I had. So I pulled out my book of family recipes, my Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, and, of course Joy of Cooking.

The latter was, as usual, the most helpful in "reinterpreting" a recipe - there I found that folding in whipped cream to the the cooled custard would give it the lightness I was looking for. I served them to my kids (and also to my husband, sister-in-law, mother-in-law, and niece and nephews, who were visiting that day - a good excuse, I thought, to try out an extravagant new dessert. Thankfully, they're used to being experimented upon (and when it comes to dessert, they don't seem to mind!) Plus, Debbie brought a back-up dessert of leftover apple crisp, so even if it flopped, we were covered). The verdict: an unqualified success (Debbie even asked for the recipe - and took all of the apple crisp back home).
So Debbie (and everyone else who shares my love of all things pumpkin and all things cream puff) here you go:

Pumpkin Puffs
Puff pastry:
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour
4 eggs
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat water and butter to boiling in a medium saucepan. Stir in flour all at once, stirring until mixture forms into a ball and leaves sides of pan (about 1 minute - I like to use my Kitchen Aid hand blender for this). Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. When all of the eggs have been added, drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until puffy and dry. Cool, then cut off tops and scoop out any soft dough remaining inside.
3 Tbsp water
2 tsp unflavored powdered gelatin
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup maple syrup (honey or sugar work fine, too)
2 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 Tbsp maple syrup (honey or sugar work fine, too)
In a small bowl, sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the water and let rest. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, mix the pumpkin, heavy cream, maple syrup, eggs, salt, and spices.  Cook until mixture begins to thicken. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the rum and gelatin. Refrigerate. 
Whip the cream and maple syrup. Beat chilled custard to soften; fold in whipped cream. Spoon into prepared puff pastry.  
Chilled custard

Blended custard

Folding in the whipped cream
Ready to spoon into the puffs
Chocolate Sauce:
1/3 cup maple syrup (honey or powdered sugar would also work)
1/2 cup butter (coconut oil is fine, too)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
dash salt
Mix together in a double boiler until melted and smooth.
 Drizzle over pastry top.


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Monday, October 17, 2016

Broccoli Three Ways

Just had to share this picture I took with my phone when I went out to check for eggs this afternoon. Although it looks like a mess, this is actually one of the most productive parts of my garden. I planted broccoli (and other things) in the chicken run this spring, while the chickens were out in another pasture. When I'd harvested all I wanted, I let the broccoli flower, and eventually let the chickens back in to that pasture. Now the bees are enjoying the late fall nectar from the broccoli flowers, the chickens are feasting on the broccoli leaves (and any cabbage worms that may fall off of the broccoli), and the plants are enjoying the fertility left behind by the chickens. It was one of those scenes that made me stop and think, "Yup, God knew what he was doing!" It all works together so perfectly!
Not to mention we humans get three harvests from one plant - the broccoli florets, the honey from the bees, and the eggs from the chickens (four if you count the meat and broth from the chickens when they're done laying!) So much abundance from one small space!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Grilled Cheese Waffles

Yes, you read that right. My daughter and I had a genius idea last night - we were out of bread, and really wanted to have grilled cheese sandwiches. What to do? Make waffles! We mixed up a batch of Belgian waffles, left out the honey, added cheese and garlic, and voila! Light and fluffy, and perfect with tomato soup!

Grilled Cheese Waffles 
2 eggs
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups milk (or buttermilk)
6 Tbsp melted butter
2 cloves garlic (optional)
1 cup shredded cheese
Mix all together until smooth, fry according to waffle maker directions.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Healthy Mayonnaise

Here's another condiment that's so easy to make at home, you really don't have to put up with the processed soybean oil version you buy at the store.
Healthy Mayonnaise
1 cup oil (sunflower oil works great in this; for the most amazing BLT ever, make it with melted (but not hot) bacon fat!)
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp honey
1 Tbsp distilled vinegar
2 tsp lemon juice
If you have a stick blender, you simply add all the ingredients to a pint-size jar, rest the stick blender on the bottom of the jar, hit the "on" switch, and slowly raise the shaft to the top of the mixture. It should take about 5 seconds.

If you're using a conventional blender, you need to put all ingredients but the oil into the blender, mix lightly, then drizzle oil into the blender jar as slowly as you can. This will take much longer, but the final result will be the same.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Favorite Books of 2015 #3 - The Seed Garden

The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving edited by Lee Butalla and Shanyn Siegel
(click on the link above to buy the book on Amazon)

One thing I'd like to do more in my garden is saving my own seed, but to be honest, I know just enough to know I don't know enough to do it well! I know, for example, that I need to have a large enough planting to avoid inbreeding in certain crops (although self-pollinating crops, like beans, don't have this problem) - but which ones were self-pollinating again? And for those that do cross-pollinate, which crops do they cross with, and how much spacing do I need between them? When it's harvesting time, how do I know when my seeds are fully mature, and how do I dry and store them? I remember that tomato seeds need to be soaked and fermented before they're ready, but what other seeds need this? And which ones need a cold period?

I could hunt down information online about each crop when I was planning my garden, and again when I was harvesting seeds, but in the hustle of summer harvesting, who's got time for that? And in January when I'm planning my garden, my kitchen table is already overflowing with books on companion planting, how-much-to-grow-for-how-many-people charts, lists of how much our family ate last year, and of course seed catalogs! There's no room for seed-saving research for a dozen different plants.

That's why this book is a Godsend. In one handy, indexed volume are 230 pages of crop-by-crop descriptions of everything you need to know about each crop (usually two or three pages per crop), including history of the plant and its common uses, how to grow it for seed (not necessarily the same as growing it for food), pollination requirements, variety maintenance concerns (isolation distances, inbreeding depression, specific traits to select for, etc.), how to tell when your seed is fully mature, and how to dry and store your seed.

And if you don't know why all of that matters, the first 119 pages of the book are like a Seed Saving 101 course, giving you the whys and hows of seed saving and basic plant genetics (but in a very friendly and understandable way). This book is packed with information, and would be useful for both the first-time seed saver and the expert, who would welcome having all of this information at his fingertips. Much more comprehensive than other books on the subject (but not overwhelmingly so), this handy reference would be a useful addition to every gardener's bookshelf.

*** I should note that although this book is pretty comprehensive in respect to vegetable varieties, it does not cover flowers or herbs (I'm assuming they chose not to because of the sheer size that volume would have to be!) For those, I will be keeping my old copy of Seed Sowing and Saving by Carole Turner, which lists basic information for saving both vegetable and common herb and flower seed (although it's by no means as extensive in terms of vegetable crops as The Seed Garden, or as comprehensive in the information about each plant - Seed Sowing and Saving mostly just covers how to preserve the seed, and basic planting requirements).

Note: I was not payed to review this book, I just really love it! But if you click on the link above and buy the book at, I will receive a small commission from the sale. Thank you for your support!