Thursday, May 31, 2012

A New Addition to the Family

 We got exciting news over the weekend when our son, Neal, announced his engagement to a lovely red-headed lass named Shannon. A new daughter in the family! What a blessing!

It's almost like having a baby! Well, without the achy hips and weight gain. And I don't have to raise her! She's all done! Her folks did a fine job. We just get to enjoy her talents and sunny personality and we got to skip all the teenage angst and growing pains. If she had any of that.

And her talents are many- she's a classy country girl and it looks like she may be able to out-hunt and out-fish her future husband. She butchers hogs and makes soap like a true pioneer woman.

Which means she'll fit right in around here.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Teaching Kids to Enjoy Work

Our usual Memorial weekend project of planting the big garden, once again turned into an adventure for the future farmer's of America.

The biggest jobs can feel like play for the littlest kids when they are included in any kind of work.

There was not one complaint or negative attitude all day as boys and girls of all ages worked together on a task that took cooperation and responsibility. The future harvest for the family depended on their job quality.

We've used this method of child labor for many years and it has resulted in adults with a work ethic that gets them hired at any job for which they apply and glowing references from their employers.

"Work" may be a four letter word but it is not a bad thing. Children love to work and to feel a part of the team. They enjoy a sense of accomplishment in a job well done as well as adults do.

And having kids do the work just makes planting the garden for the twenty-seventh time a lot more fun.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Dairyman

Here on the farm we are raw milk drinkers. Goat's milk and cow's milk have been present in our kitchen for most of our family's history depending on the availability and the status of our own animal population.
Nothing compares to the sweetness and deliciousness of fresh raw cow's milk. I have read extensively about the many health benefits of natural milk with all its health building enzymes intact and am convinced that drinking raw milk as humans have all over the world since the beginning of history is the best way to consume this nutritious dairy product. Unfortunately because of the glut of misinformation, politics and fear-mongering, unless a person owns a jersey cow, it is getting harder and harder to obtain good, natural milk in America. (In France, they sell it in vending machines. But of course!)

Since our goats are not producing right now, I buy cow's milk for our family from a farm on the other side of the mountain at great expense with a heavy dose of time and effort to bring it here. But it is worth it. Tonight I had  some extra cream so decided to make butter with it. If you have never seen fresh, non-homogenized cow's milk, you may not know that the cream naturally rises to the top of the milk and is easy to separate by pouring it off. (Separating cream from goat's milk is not that easy.)

To make butter, I put the cream into a clean jar, let it come to room temperature and enlisted an eager helper who has energy to spare. It isn't necessary to have any special equipment to make butter like butter churns or paddle jars. A simple jar with a tight fitting lid is all that is needed. Well, you also need some muscle, stamina, patience and perseverance. And muscle and stamina. And did I say patience? This is where having eager kids with young muscles is beneficial...

Start shaking the cream.

And shaking....

Keep shaking! Shake some more!!

Don't stop... keep shaking! Shake, shake, shake!!

After many minutes,, days and days!....of shaking, shaking, shaking....something magical appears!

Butter! The fat has separated from the milk and floats in what is now buttermilk.
Look at the lovely yellow color that spring grass makes. Some contented cows made this butter.

The next thing to do is pour off the buttermilk and wash the butter. Washing the butter in cold water rinses all the buttermilk out of the fat and this will keep the butter fresher, longer. Pioneers used to store their butter for long periods in their ice house. There is an old saying that "butter commends the housewife, good cheese, the cow" because well-rinsed butter tastes sweet and fresh for a long time. A little salt added after the washing also helps to preserve the butter.

Peter had a good time making his first batch of butter.

 Mom! It's like......real butter!

His next question was- how do you make cheese? Can we make cheese?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Remodel Update

We've been working steadily along on the addition to our house (aka The Money Pit). If you remember, last summer we tore a section off our old structure and added some new square footage to our home.

The addition was closed up and weather tight five minutes before the rainy season began. We have spent the winter plugging along on the interior details as we've had time, energy and money.

I spent an entire weekend recently laying a tile floor in the new pantry/storage room. Samuel helped his dad install the underlayment of hardiboard.

Since I'm the ceramic artist in the family, tiling has always been my job. I like it that way. After a handful of big projects over the years I'm gradually getting better at it.

After painting, trim work and installing a door, we are getting closer to the finish line in this room. To fit with our cottage home I chose to do the walls in a board and batten style with bead board on the walls. The wall color is a pale, pale grey with the trim boards painted in a complimentary white to have just the slightest of contrast. The tones go well with the tile floor. I haven't decided what color to paint the door yet. Currently a wrap around shelf is in progress that will circle the room on three walls above the level of the refrigerators that will reside in this room. Yes, I said, refrigeratorS, since I will be using two extra this summer for my wedding cake production. I am more excited about this room than anything else, I think. To have this amount of storage, shelving and places for extra appliances in my little farm house is a dream come true. I can't wait to start organizing it!

The bedroom is officially finished!
We technically cannot use it until the county building inspector gives us the okay.
So let's just not notice the made up bed, mmkay?

The closets are by far the nicest ones in the house. I had fun designing them.

With sturdy, nicely finished shelving on the interiors, again, they are my favorite part of the bedroom. I can't wait to start using them!
It says a lot about my house and life when closets and shelves and storage are my favorite things.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Mother's Day....

 ....was lovely in every way. I spent time with each one of my seven offspring in one way or another- in person, on the  phone or via internet video call.

In the last few years a new Mother's Day tradition has developed here at home and now the kids are counting on it each year.

 We have a campfire in the backyard under the big Douglas Firs. Campfires always mean hotdogs and marshmallows too. Alyssa made a giant vat of potato salad and dessert included banana cream pie leftover from the baking week because it was graded too low (by me) to be presented to a bridal couple. So sad. (Not.)

This year was the best time yet. The weather was glorious and summery. In past years we have huddled under blankets, inching ever closer to the fire to warm up in the chilly wind or drizzly rain.

Living in the mountains we are restricted from having bonfires or campfires during the summer burn bans. The Mother's Day campfire is a real treat and having actual summer-like weather made it a perfect day.

 So the menu for Mother's Day is simple, assembled with lots of help from the kids. Chairs, benches and tables are dragged into the back yard with the cushiest resting places reserved for the mothers.

With a hand-me-down trampoline now present in the yard, there were new shenanigans taking place.

Lots of laughs and thankfully no injuries.

Fun with the kids is what Mother's Day is all about.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


This is what I see when I wake up in the morning. I think dogwood is my new favorite flower. I always thought I loved the pink trees the best but this white blossom with the pink tips and green centers is just heavenly.
But tomorrow lilac may be my favorite flower. Or peonies.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

In the Kitchen

The Fleur Cakes kitchen is going to be extra busy this week.This cake is the first of the batch of orders I have.
 As usual, as soon as I was finished with this cake I started biting my nails and thinking of problems with it. I worried maybe it was too juvenile for a ten year old. Maybe I should have put Wolverine on it or something. My ten year old and eleven year old boys liked it but that didn't keep me from the usual self-flagellation. Too late! Delivered it anyway. Moving on.

Next up- a vegan vanilla cake with vegan fudge icing. No animals will be harmed or even annoyed by the making of this cake.

Followed by- a session of making dozens of fruit filled turnovers with my trusty assistant, Alyssa- one last job before she runs off around the world and leaves all the dough rolling to me. These pastries will be donated to a library fundraiser and a 4-H bake sale as well as the Little League concession stand.

Then there are brides to meet and grooms to feed cake. And blueberry pie. And banana cream pie.

And for the 4-H bake sale- where the new dictate has been handed down by the state of Oregon, that there shall be no baked goods containing moisture on the bake sale tables, only "dry" things like cookies- stale ones apparently- too dangerous, donchaknow, for us folks to eat- wouldn't want to make the mistake of eating some week old cupcakes that have been left in a warm dark place growing harmful bacteria- I'll be making the moistest, gooiest, most delicious chocolatey brownies ever, just because I'm ornery like that.

Finishing off the week I'll be making another cake for the first client who wants something for Mother's Day too.

Any volunteers to do the dishes?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hand Pies

Whenever I teach a pie making workshop one of the pastries I demonstrate is hand pies, also known as turnovers. I have made thousands of apple turnovers in the last few years and lived to tell about it.

For the pie workshop I prepare a fruit filling, usually berry of some kind, and some chicken pot pie filling also. The students and I use the fillings to make sweet and savory varieties of hand pies.

Hand pies come in many forms in other world cuisines. Cornish pasties are a hand pie, as are empanadas. A hand pie simply needs a crust to enclose a filling for a portable meal. I first learned about Cornish pasties when I moved to Michigan as a child and saw little restaurants that specialized in these traditional meals that were carried into the copper mines by immigrants from Cornwall. I have since learned that I had an ancestor, a great uncle on my maternal grandfather's side, that had a killer pastie recipe that he wouldn't share with anyone. He took it to his grave!

Don't ever do that.

Share your recipes! They won't do you any good when you're gone but sharing them will give you something special to be remembered by. It would be so wonderful to have my ancestor's recipe today.

The best part of making little savory hand pies like these is that they freeze really well. After the last workshop I taught there was a lot of chicken pot pie filling left so I made up a lot of little chicken turnovers and stored them in my freezer. Now when I want a good meal but don't have the energy to start from scratch I can pull out a dozen for dinner. Tonight we had these for supper with a salad and some corn chowder (that also whips up easily from frozen garden fresh corn. Remind me to share a recipe.)

Another variation of the savory hand pie is to add some pesto to the pie dough. I just make my regular pie dough but while pulsing the butter into the flour I throw in a couple tablespoons of prepared pesto.

This would make a great crust for a quiche too.

The filling I used for this batch had Italian sausage, mozzarella cheese and just enough pasta sauce to stick it all together.

Pizza pockets! (Only better.)

After forming the hand pies I lay them out on a cookie sheet and freeze them. When frozen solid, I transfer them to an airtight container. They do not stick together if they have been frozen on a tray. To bake, I lay them out on a parchment lined baking tray and allow them to thaw.

I brush them with an egg wash and bake in a hot oven (425 degrees) for about twenty minutes until golden.

Homemade fast food!

Delicious, nutritious and so easy!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Adjustment Period

Remember I told you that we finally found a dog to add to our family?

We've spent a couple months now getting used to each other.

It turned out that adding this dog to our family wouldn't be quite as seamless and easy as we dreamed it would be.

Though he is a sweet, friendly dog that is eager to please everyone he meets, it turns out he was never taught any real manners in his former homes. He's still learning the ropes and what it means to be a farm dog. (He had no idea!)

So he's had a lot to learn and so have the boys who are supposed to teach him.

We are making progress!

The biggest problem we are having with him right now is teaching him to control his friendliness and curiosity.
Because we have had to keep a tight rein on him it has only amped up his desire to find out what is over the horizon. At the slightest opportunity he will take off to visit the other places in the neighborhood, especially if they have canine pals- at any time of day or night.

Case in point: the other day I had him with me, on a leash, in the yard. While I was busily pointing my camera at the bees in the cherry tree, he was sniffing the wind for possibilities.

A moment later I turned around and saw this:
And Danner was four houses away, down the road, playing Deaf Dog.

At least I'm getting a little extra exercise. Right?