Thursday, December 11, 2014

Just a Quick Note

Hey friends, it's been a while, right?

I'm sorry for the lack of posts lately, but sadly, one of our dogs passed away unexpectedly just before Thanksgiving. Grieving isn't an easy process for anyone, and this one has hit me pretty hard. Please be patient, I need some quiet time to process everything before I can focus here again.

Thank you for your understanding.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Still Frozen

Well, hello friends! Can you believe it's Monday again already- and that November is over halfway over? I really don't know where the time goes.

According to the weather report this morning, our deep freeze pattern should be breaking up tomorrow. Yay! I'm over this cold snap... the pond even iced over last night! The warm(er) weather here (the low for tomorrow is forecast at 34 degrees, so warm is a relative term) is definitely going to be welcome. My thoughts go out to the folks who aren't warming up yet.

The extended cold weather is a great excuse for staying inside and working on projects, however. I'm putting together a list of holiday crafts for upcoming posts, as I start planning out my own gift-giving agenda. Do you have any go-to items that you enjoy making for your friends, this time of year? I'd love to hear about them! Either drop me a note here or on Facebook and tell me what your favorite handmade gifts are, either to give or receive.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Venison Stew

A friend gifted us with a lovely venison roast from a recent hunting trip- seriously, if you aren't a hunter, make sure you're at least friends with one. I happen to love venison; it is a stronger flavored meat than beef, but I don't think it's as "gamey" as some of the others out there. Alex, on the other hand, seems to pick up on that flavor and isn't as big a fan of it as I am. (Which is pretty much the only reason we haven't gone deer hunting yet...)

Anyway- back to the roast. Alex saw a recipe on Facebook that looked pretty good at first glance, but when I dug into it a little further- and by that I mean I actually read the recipe, and didn't just drool over the photo- it seemed like it needed some work, for my tastes. The one thing that really stuck out at me was the mention that tomato sauce or vinegar can be used to tame some of the gaminess of the meat, if you're so inclined. So, with that in mind, I grabbed my slow cooker and started thinking.

First, I trimmed off some bits of silver skin that were there, just because I have a "thing" about weird chewy bits of meat. Then, I seasoned the roast with salt, pepper and garlic powder, and the let that rest while I heated a frying pan with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Once the oil was nice and hot, I placed the roast in the pan and seared the meat for a few minutes on each side, in order to get some really nice carmelization going.

While the meat was searing, I chopped up some veggies: onions, carrots, celery and potatoes. As I've mentioned before- I hardly ever measure when I'm making things like this, so... maybe a cup to 2 cups of each, except the celery, which was probably a little bit less by proportion. These were all cut into relatively similar-sized pieces, so that they'd all cook at the same rate.

For the stew base, I used a package of Lipton's (kosher) Onion Soup mix. I know that might sound weird, seeing as how I'm a huge proponent of making things yourself, but I'll tell you what- there are just some things I won't make without it. So, into the crock went the soup mix and the veggies, and the nicely seared roast went in on top of that. I de-glazed my searing pan with some hot water; once the little stuck bits were dissolved I put that liquid into the crock as well. Then, I topped it all off with some boiling water, just up to the level of the veggies. The last ingredient was a pint of plain tomato sauce, from the pantry. I gave the top a little stir, just to incorporate the tomato sauce, then on went the lid and away I went.

Some hours later, everything was finished cooking and the house smelled amazing. I fished out the roast and set it aside to carve up into bite sized chunks. Once that was out f, I added some corn starch in water (maybe 2T in a 1/4 cup of cold water) to thicken the sauce a little bit more. I also threw on a pot of egg noodles to boil, but you could use rice or another grain if you prefer. I finished cubing up the meat, and put that back into the pot while we waited on the noodles. once they were done, I dished everything up and we dug in.

The verdict? Alex was positively over the moon about it! The addition of the tomato sauce really surprised me; it added a nice depth of flavor to the stew and while the venison still tasted like venison (thank goodness!) he said it wasn't gamey at all. I couldn't have been happier with the way it turned out.

What's your favorite way to cook venison?

Monday, November 10, 2014

I Spoke Too Soon

Graphic courtesy of Click for source. 
It looks like the Fraser Valley up in Canada is building a cold weather system that's due to hit us early tomorrow. Generally, when one of these systems sets up in mid-winter, that means we'll have freezing (or below) temperatures for a solid three to five days- since this one is early in the season, we're just looking at freezing nights for the next few days. (Our days are forecast to be in the 40s. Not balmy, but I'll take it.)

Good thing I have my frost blankets and stuff prepped already. Once I finish in here, I'll be outside for a good part of the day- getting the plants all tucked in, turning off and draining outside water lines, putting those little styrofoam covers over spigots, that sort of thing. Oh, and I can't forget the firewood... I'll bring a couple wheelbarrow loads over so I can get the pile by the back door stacked up nice and high.

I'll also be putting down extra hay for the rabbits, and making sure my backup supply of water bottles are ready to go, so that in the mornings I can just swap out the frozen ones with fresh ones from inside. Really, that was one of the best "work smart, not hard" decisions made over the years. Anyone who has ever dealt with frozen waterers would likely agree. That's got to be one of the least pleasant tasks to attend to- I almost always end up getting soaked in the process of breaking ice, so I try to avoid it whenever possible. 

The chickens are in pretty good shape already, so thankfully I don't have much to do out there. I will need to keep an eye on Flo,however, since she still hasn't feathered back out completely. I'm sure she'll be fine, though- since she's the alpha, the other birds will keep her plenty warm at night when things are at their coldest. 

What about you? It looks like this cold front is going to hit most of the country- even places that aren't used to this kind of weather. So, I want to know: What tips and tricks do you have for taking care of things when it gets super frosty? Let's share what we know with our friends who don't usually experience this king of thing... head on over to FB and tell us what you do!

PS: A&T passed TEN THOUSAND pageviews over the weekend... another huge milestone! Thank you so much for being a part of my world!!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Florence and The Molt

Poor Flo... she looks like this right now:

She looks awful. Her feathers are completely jacked up... well, the ones that are still there, anyway. I've been trying to get photos of her for a couple of days, but she seems to know how bad she looks and won't hold still if I come anywhere near her with a camera. I can't say I blame her, really... I wouldn't, either.

Molting varies from chicken to chicken, it seems. Some of my birds- the Americaunas, specifically, just lose a few feathers at a time, and simply look a little ragged for a couple of weeks. Last year, the Barred Rock lost almost all of her head and neck feathers at once, but that was pretty much it for her. Historically, Flo just loses her poofy nether feathers, and runs around with a bare bottom for a couple of weeks while things are growing back in. This year, however, she's jettisoned easily a quarter, if not a third, of her feathers altogether. She's got a strip missing down the back of her neck, as well as a matching one on the front. Her rump is mostly bare, her tail is long gone, and I've even found primary flight feathers scattered around. She looks moth-eaten, to be nice about it. (But not so bad that I'm knitting chicken sweaters, or anything.)

It's completely normal (however abnormal it may look) and is something that happens to chickens around this time of year. Personally, I think that seems like poor timing, but I'm sure there has to be some genetic or evolutionary reason for ditching all the outerwear just as colder weather rolls in. If I had to guess, I'd say it likely has something to do with ditching external parasites, or maybe just trading out the old feathers for newer ones, before the weather gets really bad. That's just my supposition, though... I haven't found any definitive answers, yet.

Along with molting, comes a cessation of egg laying. Flo hasn't laid an egg in at least two weeks, because her body is putting energy into making new feathers -fast- as opposed to making eggs. So, if you have a chicken that's molting, make sure you're getting extra protein to them, to make the process go as smooth as possible. Once her feathers are back in, she'll start laying again- but at a much reduced rate - maybe one or two eggs a week, now that the dark days are here. Since the egg-laying cycle is governed by hours of daylight, chickens naturally decrease production in the winter.

Commercial egg producers (and some home chicken keepers) use supplemental lighting in the coop to keep eggs coming through the winter. We don't do that here- I believe that if a system is designed with a built in rest period, there's probably a good reason for that and it should be honored. I stockpile eggs when everyone is laying daily, and if we need to ration them towards the end... well, so be it. I'm not running a sweatshop, after all. Besides, now that the girls aren't foraging as much, the eggs aren't as awesome as they are in the spring and summer months. (They're still great; much better than store bought, though!)

What's happening in your chicken run- are your feathered friends molting now, too?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Winter Care: Chicken Edition

Hell no, we won't go... out. (February 2014)
If the weather keeps going the way it is, this year will go on record- and by 'record' I mean our kitchen calendar- as having the latest frost since we moved here 9 years ago. Our 10-day forecast appears to be holding steady with highs in the 50's and lows in the 40's for the forseeable future. 

While I'm not complaining whatsoever, I do find it a little bit weird. After last year's mild-ish winter (minus that ridiculous freezing spell we had) I've had the feeling that we are in for a chilly/snowy one. The Farmer's Almanac disagrees with me, calling for a wetter and warmer winter... which, so far, is precisely what we're getting. 

Winter weather brings a whole new level to taking care of the animals, whether it's freezing cold out or just soggy- there's no one-size-fits-all solution in our maritime climate. Each weather system brings its own set of challenges: freezing weather means extra food, breaking ice and monitoring for warmth, and the dampness means wet animals, soggy bedding, and the increased potential for respiratory issues. 

While I personally dislike freezing cold temps (they aggravate my fibromyalgia) I think that for taking care of the animals it makes things a little bit easier. The way our weather patterns set up, freezing means dry: we'll have sunshine during the day and icy cold nights with almost no humidity whatsoever. This helps keeps the bedding in the chicken coop nice and dry, which makes for cleaner conditions all around. 

When we have extended periods of rain, however, things get messy really fast. The chickens don't want to sit outside when it's pouring, so more time inside the coop equals more manure to deal with. Good ventilation is essential here- not just for keeping things from getting super stinky, but chicken poop is high in ammonia- those fumes can make the birds sick, if the air isn't moving around enough. 
I find it's necessary to put down additional wood shavings pretty regularly, to help manage the increased manure load. This year, I'm also trying an enzyme product that is supposed to help break down the manure faster and keep the odor level down. (More on that later, once I've had some time and experience with it.)

Depending on how warm our temperatures stay, I also have to watch for mold and mildew in the coop, which can some on really fast with all that extra moisture in the air. From basic respiratory irritation like coughing and sneezing, all the way to life-threatening fungal infections like aspergillosis, chickens definitely need to be monitored for illness during the soggy months. Good hygiene in the coop can help minimize problems with respiratory issues. Clean and dry... it's easier said than done, but really, it's what has to happen. 

In tomorrow's post over at GRIT, I'm going to talk about some additional steps I like to take, in order to keep my flock happy and healthy over the winter. I hope you'll check it out! Until then- what challenges do you face with regards to weather and your animals, during the winter?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Worky Work, Busy Bee!

Wow, what a week! I started a new job yesterday, working from home as a transcriptionist- I'm really excited about it, and there's a TON of information that I'm trying to learn and absorb while I get my feet under me. So, my brain feels a little mushy at the moment... bear with me.

I have a new yarn to put up on Etsy this weekend; it just needs to finish drying and then I'll be able to take photos. Until then, though- here's a sneak peek... shh! It's another gorgeous Greenwood Fiberworks creation: a 50/50 Merino and Silk blend called "Paper Roses" that measures out at 315 yards. It's a 2 ply, lighter weight yarn- I'll have the final gauge after it's fully dry.

Oh, back to learning the new job- I'm going to have to adjust my schedule here a bit while I get into the routine needed for work. My plan is to keep posting here at least twice a week, and keep my Tuesday GRIT posting as-is... I'm just not sure how the "Around the Web" and "Friday Photos" posts fit into things, right at this moment. (Besides, it's raining like mad here, so unless you want to see dimly-lit photos of puddles... we may want to just take a break from that for a little while.)

So, whether it's still Monday and Wednesday, or some other assortment of days, I'm not sure. But, I will still be here, at GRIT, and on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest (and maybe even Twitter from time to time!) as I get my new routine established.

Have a safe and Happy Halloween!


Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Did everyone get their cowls finished up? I did, and I love mine! I think I'd like it to be a teeny bit longer, say maybe 4 inches or so, but that's an easy adjustment to make for my next one.

I really like the yarn that I used; there's a little more charcoal grey in it than shows in the picture- I think it's lost in the knit sections, in that shot. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get better photos before writing this morning- I wrapped it up last night after dark, and the sun isn't due to come up for another half hour or so...we're in the dark days now, you know. We'll have to raincheck better pictures until later today.

Back to the yarn, though- the color repeats were definitely different between the two skeins. One had much more of the pink-purple in it, where as the other was more green and grey. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, but it is something to look for when picking out skeins of this particular yarn.

I thought it was nice and quick to work up- except at the end, when the last purl section seemed to take That's on me, though, and not the pattern itself. I need to come up with a more efficient style of purling that I'm comfortable with- because as it stands, I'm a slow purler. I just can't seem to find a way to hold the yarn that seems right, which is fine when there's just a couple of stitches to make, but 6 rounds of 186 purl stitches gets a little old pretty quick. Again, that's me- and I'm planning on making another couple of these before winter is out, so clearly it's not all that bad.

What did you think? Pros, cons, challenges? Too fast or too slow on the pattern breakdown? Swing on over to FB today to let me know what you thought of the project and show me photos of your cowls, whether they're done yet or not.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Home Stretch of the KAL

Happy Wednesday, everyone! How's the knitting coming along? I have to admit I got a little off track after this past weekend, but I'll be knitting away this coming weekend so I can finish up with the rest of you. Fortunately for me, I have a reader-submitted photo to share with you:

Thanks, Mom! 
I absolutely love the colors she picked- the yarn is Lion Brand "Amazing" in their Strawberry Fields colorway. Gorgeous!! I've knit some hats and a different cowl using that line of yarn, and I have to say it's never a disappointment.

If you didn't slack off like I did, then you should be on the final bits of the project. This week's assignment is to Knit 3 rounds, cast off loosely, weave in the ends and enjoy!

Not sure about the cast off? It's also called a "bind off", and there's a great video over at Very Pink Knits. I should say another great video- she's my go-to resource when I need a refresher on anything knit related.

Oh, one more thing: I really want to see your photos! Post them over on Facebook so we can all admire your hard work and celebrate our accomplishments together. Also, tell me what you thought about the project... likes, dislikes, what you'd like to see for a future KAL, you know- all that good stuff.

Finally,we're taking a few days off, so things are going to be more or less quiet here from now until Monday. Until then... happy knitting and I'll see you when I get back!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Fiber Fusion 2014

Normally I don't *love* the antique machines.
This one, however,... stunning. 
Happy Monday! I hope you had a great weekend.

This weekend marked the fourth annual Fiber Fusion NW, where fiber producers, dyers, knitters and makers-of-awesome-things all get together in little old Monroe, WA for a weekend of fibery goodness. There are judged competitions for raw fleeces and finished hand goods, and a huge marketplace for all of the above.

All in all, it's a wonderful event, and it draws a large crowd- I think this is my second year attending, and it seemed to be much bigger than the previous year. I also found out that there are two spinning guilds in the area- not just the one, like I'd thought. So, I've gone form hemming and hawing about whether or not I should join a guild, to which one should I join? Oh, the problems I have. (Eye roll)

The highlights of my day at the event were the Fleece Judging (Judged by Amy Wolf) and a class I took called "Beyond Braids: Color Ply with Hand-dyed Fiber" taught by Taryn Winegardner of Fiber Haven. This was some seriously good stuff; the class recap will likely be its own post altogether. If you're into fiber stuff, and want to learn a thing or two, see if you can find an open judged wool show in your area. (In the mean time, check out this free Craftsy class called Know Your Wool!) I know our county fair had one as well, but I missed it. Anyway, I learned SO MUCH in the couple of hours that I spent watching the judging- in fact, I didn't realize how much time had actually passed, I was so caught up in what she was saying. Fantastic!

Then there was the vendor area...and the fleece sale... making yarn isn't an inexpensive hobby. I did manage to show some restraint, however, and came home with a new braid of Huckleberry Knits hand-dyed roving (the colorway is called Allegretto" and it's the blues, greens and purples of a peacock's tail), a nice big bump of a heathered silvery-gray super soft Romney roving, and -get this- a second place winning fleece from the show. I had no intention of buying a fleece, but in addition to being gorgeous, the price was impossible to walk away from. I mean, really. There was no way I could sleep at night if I hadn't brought it home with me.

And last, but not least, were the people. I forget sometimes that there's a huge community of folks like me out there who like to do things that the mainstream considers "old fashioned". I absolutely loathe crowds, but going to events like this is actually alright by me. There were so many people there, in every possible age bracket and demographic, all  getting along because they share the same love for fiber arts, and making beautiful things. (Next up is Madrona, in February!)

What did you do this weekend?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Web Surfing

One of the Inky Cap mushrooms.
Here's a snippet of what I've been checking out online this week. You know, in between running around snapping photos of mushrooms, knitting, spinning, working on the sock machine and putting up the last odds and ends from the garden. I don't know what I'd do with all the free time, if I didn't have so many interests!

  • This post regarding Vitamin D deficiencies is pretty interesting. Decreased D levels are linked to many things, and particularly here in the PNW, our levels can drop dramatically as daylight decreases. 
  • Potted Cheese with Bacon and Shallots, what? This would be perfect to have on hand through the holidays for the impromptu cocktail hour. (I'm going to make two batches, one with Port added- Port and Cheddar are one of my favorite combos. I'll keep you posted!)
  • As always, some great insight from the Head Farm Steward- this time regarding raising pigs. We're hoping one of the neighbors (from the beef project) will raise pigs next year. If so, that means broiler chickens are on us. Well, we're probably doing that anyway, but I need to sort out the logistics over the winter. But pigs! I'd love to run a few pigs myself, someday. 
  • Thai Stir Fried Chicken with Chile Jam, courtesy of David Lebovitz; already on the list for dinner next week.
  • Local Fibery folks- don't forget Fiber Fusion this weekend! I'm looking forward to spending the day there on Saturday, to meet up with the ladies from the local spinning guild (I'm thinking about joining!) and to take a class in the afternoon. 
  • Jane Goodall... such an amazing woman, and definitely on my Hero list. (If you like her too, check out her talk on TED.)
Alrighty, then... time for me to get moving today! I need to hurry and get the yarn I'm working on wrapped up, so my wheel is free for class on Saturday. What have you been up to, lately?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Shop Update: Two New Additions!

Hey everyone! Sorry for the quiet, but I've been busy cranking out some new yarn for the Etsy shop. Check it out when you have a chance!

Monday, October 13, 2014

KAL Status Report

We're one week in to our knit-along; how's it going? I'm enjoying this project quite a bit... It's coming together quickly, and is not overly complicated. Any challenges? How about the cast-on!?!?! That took a little getting used to, for me.

This week's goal is to Purl 6 rows, Knit 6 rows, and Purl 6 rows. That will take us through the bulk of the cowl, and all that's left after this section is one more chunk of knitting and the cast-off / weaving in ends. Sweet!

I'd love to see photos of how yours is shaping up- stop by FB and show me!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Photo Friday: Mushroom Edition

Well, not *just* mushrooms... but quite a few. Right now, here in the PNW the weather is perfect for fungi and they're popping up everywhere! Each evening, when I let the chickens out for their free range time, I wander around with them and take pictures of all the different mushrooms I can find, so I can try to ID them later.

Shelf fungus on a standing dead cherry tree.

Last of the tomatoes and peppers.


Gem-studded Puffballs.

Shetland sheep whose name I can't remember.
She (and her friend) want to come live here with us, though. 

Beautiful morning at the farm.

Unknown variety; still working on ID. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Links: Craft Daily Free Trial, TBT Video and More!

How's the knitting coming along? I'm loving how my cowl is turning out, and my mind is blown by how the moebius is actually coming together. I understand the concept, but it's another thing entirely to see it in action on the needles. Crazy! Post photos of your work in progress (WIP) over on the Facebook page!

Also, while I'm thinking about FB- please feel free to post harvest photos while you're there too! It's a community page, after all, and I'd love to hear from you. 

Ready for some links? Here we go:

  • This one is HUGE so I'm putting at the top. Craft Daily is offering another completely free 4 day trial, and sign-ups start today.  I signed up for the last one, and I can't tell you how great the site is- there are over 500 videos on pretty much every craft imaginable- fiber arts, jewelry, papercraft, and more. Anyway- CLICK HERE NOW and use the code CDFT500 to sign up. (Registration for the free trial closes on Monday, so don't miss out!) 
  • Did you see my post over on GRIT this week? If not, click here
  • It's not too late to think about cold frames.
  • A new to me blog, all about cooking on a wood cookstove.  Now, I don't have a wood cookstove, but I do have a wood burning stove that we use just about daily, in the winter. It'd be nice to learn how to cook on it better- other than just for emergencies and random baked potatoes.
  • I really like recipes that can be adapted to use what you have on hand... and take the thinking out of what to make for dinner. This "Easy No-Recipe Frittata" definitely fits the bill tonight!
  • Swimming in basil, still? I wish I was! Here's a great pesto recipe from The Elliot Homestead that will use up the last of your basil before the frost hits.
  • An oldie but a goodie on introverts, from The Atlantic.  Fall, by its very nature, seems to really have an effect on us. 
  • TBT: The Carol Burnett Show... bloopers. Because sometimes you just need to see Tim Conway and Harvey Korman together. 
Have a great day, everyone! 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Let's Knit it On

Got your pattern, needles and yarn all set? Cool! Let's Go!

I'd recommend getting Cat Bordhi's video from the last post all queued up and ready to go, before you start the cast on. I got a little sideways with mine, and I'll tell you, it's a tough one to undo if you need to start over. So take your time, and watch your tension- you really don't want this cast on to be too tight. If your yarn starts squeaking, it's WAAAY too tight and you need to loosen everything up before you proceed. This will make a big difference, when you start working on the first round.

All told (even counting tearing out my first cast on and starting over) it's taken me a little over an hour and a half to get the cast on and first full row done. It didn't feel like a long time, though, so I was kind of surprised when I checked the clock. 

Take your time, and if you've never used circular needles before, get accustomed to how they feel in your hands- it is different than working with a pair of straight needles. Try not to fight them, though- again, it's all about tension. Go slow for now; once you get the first full round completed, things start to look normal and you can speed up quite a bit. 

So, this week's homework is to get through the cast on, knit 5 rounds, purl 6 rounds, and knit 6 rounds again. I like writing little tick marks on the pattern itself to keep track of where I am, but there are some row counter apps out there for smartphones, if you're so inclined. Whatever works for you!

For our new knitters- check out the videos over at Very Pink for very clear and easy to understand tutorials on Knit and Purl stitches. I can't say enough nice things about Staci's site and her excellent tutorial videos. 

Happy knitting! If you have questions, or want to post pictures of your work in progress, please post them on Facebook! I'm looking forward to hearing from you. :)


Friday, October 3, 2014

Yarns for the KAL

I picked up my yarn! It's Red Heart Boutique 'Unforgettable' in the Echo colorway. Click on the link to see their other colors.

It's 100% acrylic but it has a nice feel to it, and it's machine washable. Oh, and it's a third of the price of Noro- which makes total sense, since the Noro yarn has real silk in it.The gauge appears to be a match as well- the pattern calls for using a size 8 (5 mm) needle, and so does this. The skeins are also labeled as being 280 yards, so 2 will do the trick nicely.

I considered getting Red Heart Boutique 'Treasure' but I liked the colors in Unforgettable more. Treasure has more of a marled/heathered look to it, and Unforgettable was more silk-like. Plus, the skeins are only 150-ish yards, each. I think that Treasure would work just fine, but you may want to go up one size on the needle, since they call for a 9 instead of an 8 on their labels. It's close enough that the pattern would work just fine, if you happen to love one of those colorways.

One more possibility for you is the Lion Brand 'Amazing' yarn. Same thing on the gauge, though- you may want to up the needle size to a 9 instead. (Although, I used that yarn for one of my cowls, and I'm pretty sure I knit it on 8s.) It's a little more rustic-looking (less silky) but again, they have some gorgeous colorways to choose from. These skeins are also in the smaller side, at 147 yards each, so make sure you buy enough.

I found mine at Michael's, but if you don't have one nearby you can check the manufacturer's site for a local retailer. (Oh, and if you go to Michaels, hit their website first for a coupon.) All three of these should be readily available... the hardest part will be deciding on the colors! Happy hunting, all. :)

Spring Moebius Cowl KAL

Image by knitomatic, on Flickr and Ravelry. 

The people have spoken and the Spring Moebius Cowl, by Haley Waxberg, will be our first-ever Knit Along (KAL) project!

Click here for the link to Ravelry, where you can download the pattern and supplies list. If you're not already a member, you'll need to create an account. It's totally worth signing up for, as that are LOADS of project patterns available, both free and for purchase.

A note about the yarn: as much as I love Noro yarns, they can be on the spendy side. Feel free to swap in a comparable yarn in the same gauge, if you can't get a hold of Noro. (I'm going to head over to my local JoAnn store later this morning, to look at substitutions, and I'll post those this afternoon.)

We'll kick things off on Monday, so over the weekend, gather up your supplies and take a look (or three) at the Moebius cast-on video from Cat Bordhi to get familiar with the start of the project.

Questions? Drop me a note either here or on FB, and let me know. This is going to be fun!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Around The Web

Recently, on the interwebs...

Happy Thursday, Everyone!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

GRIT Day! Circular Sock Machine

Good morning- I just uploaded today's post over on GRIT, and it should be live shortly. Keep an eye out for it later today. In the mean time, here's a short documentary that I found on YouTube about the history of the Circular Sock Machine that I thought was pretty interesting. Enjoy!

Here's "The Wonderful Knitting Machine, Part One":

...and here's Part Two:

Monday, September 29, 2014

Onward and Upward

Happy Monday, everyone! It's going to be a busy day here, so I'm going to keep this first post short, for now. I've decided to take the plunge and open up an Etsy store; my personal goal is to get at least 15 items photographed and listed today.

Photographing things like yarn can be challenging, at best. Indoor lighting adds color casts that need to be corrected, otherwise the actual product photo turns out quite different than the "real life version". So, I'm planning to spend my morning fiddling with lighting and staging so that I can get the photos just right.

So, that's the scoop for now. I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Around the Web

Happy Thursday, everyone! If you're with me on Facebook or Instagram, you may have already seen the photo of my "new" Circular Sock Machine. I will freely admit that I'm a bit smitten, and a lot of my online activities this week have been fiber-related. Blame the weather change... I can't help it.

Speaking of weather changes- ours has shifted dramatically in the last 48 hours or so- to the point where my tomatoes are exhibiting blight-like symptoms, and nearly everything else is being taken over with powdery mildew. Warm + Humid this time of year is not a good thing for the garden. Everything is on its last legs, anyway, so resistance to any pathogen is decreased. I'll be ripping out plants in between rainstorms, to salvage what fruits and veg that I can, and destroying the infected plant material so that the pathogens can't overwinter in my garden or compost.

  • Tomato blight is destructive and FAST- here are some precautions you can take. 
  • Powdery Mildew... nearly every gardener's nemesis. 
  • Fall is a good time to pick up new chickens if you need to add to your flock. Here is an article on quarantining, and why you should do it. 
  • I love, love, love rooftop gardens like this one. Not to get too soapbox-y about it, but I think they should be a requirement in most cities. 
  • I don't know which I like more- the foliage photos or the chowder recipe. Jen's blog, Use Real Butter, never disappoints!
  • Smoked Salmon. Need I say more?
Don't forget to stop by Facebook and vote on the project you'd like to do for the Knit Along next month. Remember, these are both great projects for beginners, so it's a great opportunity to learn!

What have you been checking out online this week? 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Heirloom Life Gardener- WINNER

Please join me in congratulating Kimberly Luke- she's won the book giveaway!

Special thanks again to the folks over at Baker Creek Seeds who kindly provided the copy of the book for our contest.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Candle Safety Tips

This is nice...

In today's post over at GRIT, I'm sharing an experience we had recently with an out-of-control candle. Here are a few tips to go along with that post:

  • Be sure to place candles (in holders) on non-flammable surfaces such as tile, glass or metal. 
  • Keep lit candles away from walls, towels or curtains- at least 12 inches, to be safe. 
  • Don't burn candles while you're sleeping, or in unoccupied rooms.
  • Keep a saucer or lid handy when burning highly-fragranced candles. If the wax catches on fire, you will need to extinguish it by smothering.
  • Teach your kids and model safe habits with regards to matches, lighters and candles. If you're careless with fire, they will be too.
  • Make sure you locate candles where pets or kids can't knock them over accidentally. 

...this is Not. 
Sure, a lot of this seems like common sense- but as you'll see from my post, things can go wrong even when most of the precautions are taken. (My mistake? Burning a candle in an unoccupied room. Fortunately, the other safeguards kept it from turning into a big problem.)

PS: Don't forget about the giveaway! You have until 11:59 pm tonight to submit a comment on either of the giveaway posts on Facebook, to be entered into the drawing.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Autumnal Equinox and Gratitude

"The Mystic Wood" by John William Waterhouse
It's official- tonight, at 7:29 pm (PST), is the Autumnal Equinox. In Greek mythology, this is the time when Persephone (the Goddess of vegetation) goes back to the underworld to live with her abductor/husband, Hades. It's also the time that the ancient Celts called Alban Elfed, which means "the light of the water". Traditionally, this is the time of the second (and final) harvest of the year, and a time to be thankful for the bounty that spring and summer gave.

Now, I'm not interested in getting into a discussion on religion versus mythology, but thankfulness... well, I think we can all get behind that. This past summer has been one of the most bountiful times I've experienced here in my garden. Potatoes notwithstanding, I've put away more food this year for the winter than I can ever recall, and there's still more coming.

The chickens have been something else, too. Some of the new girls are still getting their systems up to speed, but even with that plus the shorter days, we're still getting on average 6 eggs a day. I'm going to test freeze a small batch of eggs today, to see how they turn out once thawed- stay tuned for more on that.

The beef "experiment" is also a reason for me to be grateful. We got everything back from the butcher last week, and we were definitely right to get another freezer ahead of time. We have 174 pounds of meat, plus an additional 17 pounds of soup bones. In looking at it all, I don't think Alex and I have ever eaten that much meat in a single year, but I suppose I could be wrong. It's a little daunting, to be perfectly honest- so I'll be scouring cookbooks for creative ways to work through it all. (And there's still rabbit in the freezer too! Yikes.)

I've also had time on my hands, for which I am extremely thankful. For the first time in ages, I've had the summer to focus on things that are important to me. Growing food, raising animals, finding a place to volunteer, working on the blog and writing in general... I've certainly been blessed, in that regard.

Last, but absolutely not least, I'm thankful for my family and friends- and you too, dear reader!- I couldn't do any of this without the support of such wonderful people in my life.

What are you most thankful for?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Happy Friday!

Fig Jam in the making. It turned out great; might even be
the best thing that's ever happened to yogurt, IMO.

Giant Pumpkin. 1,330 pounds!

These displays are one of my favorite parts of the fair. 

Love the tree in the center of this one!

The dahlias were outstanding- probably the best looking flowers being judged.
Some of the roses were quite nice too, but they were a little older looking.

There were a lot of  bite warnings on the animal pens, but this was the most artistic.

What did your week look like?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Today's Thursday, Right?

Jeepers... I'm having a terrible time keeping the days straight this week. No idea why; it's not like I've been out of commission or anything- maybe it's because I have something scheduled for each day this week. I keep having little freak-out moments, like I've forgotten an appointment or something.

Besides that, yesterday was a BLAST at the fair. I got some great photos and we had a great time walking around and looking at the exhibits and animals. The only downside? We didn't check the schedule close enough, and all of the fiber animals (sheep, goats, alpacas, etc) weren't showing until today. Yep... so aside from the petting zoo, and a little bit in the artist's shop, there were no fleeces or fibers to be found. I did meet some really nice ladies though, in the fiber arts corner- there were a few spinners and weavers set up, so I chatted with them for a while. I think fiber people are some of the friendliest folks on the planet! (Oh, and in case you were wondering- yes, I bought a little bump of roving from the shop, as a consolation prize.)

  • Speaking of consolation- Fiber Fusion is only one month away. Yahoo!
  • Another update already? I just installed 7! Two iOS 8 update tips and tricks, courtesy of my dear friend Joe. 
  • This recipe for pork chops with a chanterelle sauce sounds divine. I've never heard of skyr before, so I really appreciate 1) learning something new and 2) when acceptable substitutions for hard to find ingredients are provided in a recipe. 
  • Ooh. Ginger Apple Cream Scones? Yes, please!
  • My oven is about to get a workout... another version of a roasted tomato tart!
  • Speaking of tomatoes: How to ripen the green ones. If you, like me, have a bunch of them on the vine as the weather starts to change, this could be invaluable. 
  • Or, you could try pickling them. (And by pickling, I mean fermented, of course.)
  • Looking for some sheepy goodness on Twitter? Check out @herdyshepherd1 for some fantastic pics. 
What have you been checking out online this week?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Making Stock

I use a lot of stock in the kitchen, for everything from the base of a soup to cooking rice or other grains. Does a recipe call for adding water? I'll often sub in stock instead, as it adds nutrients and depth of flavor that water alone can't bring.

Canned or boxed stock from the grocery store can get pretty spendy, though. Even if you skip the organic, and wait until the cans are on sale, you're still (at best) paying dollar for 12 ounces of stock- along with the extras like preservatives and too much salt. Sure, the cans are handy to have in a pinch, but I'd much rather make my own. Not only does that let me control the salt level, but making my own stock lets me use up scraps from the kitchen that would otherwise go to waste.

I keep a designated container in the freezer for veggie scraps. It's nothing fancy, just a one gallon zip-top bag. Every time I cook, I put whatever vegetable trimmings from cooking that meal into the bag, until it's filled. I mostly just keep onion ends and skins, garlic bits, carrot peels and ends, celery leaves, tomato cores and the occasional parsnip for my stock because those are the veggies I prefer. I leave out all brassicas- things like cabbage and broccoli are a little too funky in stock, and potatoes because they'd break down and make everything cloudy. Nothing moldy or slimy- it has to be good enough to eat, after all.

Next comes the chicken... I love making a roasted chicken for dinner. When I don't have time to do it myself, I don't mind picking up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. For $7 we can get at least two meals out of one chicken; even more once you factor in the stock. The bones are really what we're after; once we have our main meal, I'll take whatever meat is left and set that aside for leftovers. If my veggie scrap bag is full, then we move straight on to stock. If not, the bones go in their own container in the freezer, until all of the ingredients are ready.

Once I have everything I need, I break out my roasting pan. The bones and veggies all go in the oven, for at least an hour, at 300F. Roasting them together brings out a whole lot of flavor, and while it's not technically necessary, I think it's worth taking the extra time and wouldn't skip the step. Next, I take everything out of the oven, and the contents of the roasting pan goes into my slow-cooker. I add water to the roasting pan, to loosen up any of the pan drippings- exactly like I would to make gravy. The pan drippings go in the slow-cooker as well, and then I top it off the rest of the way with more water, making sure everything is covered with liquid. On goes the lid, the temperature gets set to low, and I walk away. Well, mostly away. I'll walk back occasionally to stir and check the seasonings- stock definitely needs a little salt, once in a while. I find though, that if my chicken was seasoned well enough to begin with, adjustments are slight.

The longer I can let this cook, the better. This is where my stock crosses over into bone broth territory; I don't consider my stock done until the large bones (like from a drumstick) have softened and start to crumble. What's happened by this time is that the water has begun demineralizing the bone, pulling out calcium and bringing a ton of minerals and amino acids into play. Bone broths are nutritional powerhouses, and are a cornerstone of many traditional diets.

Once I see the bones start to soften, I separate the liquid from the solids by using a colander lined with cheesecloth. The bones and veggies have given up all that they have by this point, so once everything is strained, the cheesecloth bundle goes straight out to the trash. The stock then goes into the fridge, covered, for an overnight chill to make defatting the stock easier. The fat will solidify on top of the stock, making it easy to lift or skim off.

After it's been defatted, I'll either can or freeze my stock, depending on how much time I have. Either way works just fine. Since stock is considered a low-acid food, it needs to be canned in a pressure canner, for about 20 minutes- which ends up being around an hour total with the warm up and cool down factored in. (So yeah, I freeze a lot of stock, except after Thanksgiving, when I have turkey stock to contend with. Bigger carcass means LOTS more stock.)

If you wanted to make some vegetable-only stock, you wouldn't need to cook it for nearly as long- just simmer a couple of hours on the stove, after roasting the veggies at say, 250F or so. Besides that, the possibilities are endless... Beef, Pork, Rabbit, Chicken- those stocks are all made the same way, either with or without veggies added. I think fish stock is done differently, but I don't know for sure. (If I need a fish-based broth, I just use bonito flakes. It's way easier to store.)

Do you make your own stock?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Potato Bin Wrap Up

Happy Tuesday! Since I did the first potato bin post over on GRIT, I figured I should post the follow up piece over there as well. Check it out, by clicking here

Monday, September 15, 2014

Who's Up for a Knit Along?

Like clockwork, once the weather starts to change even the slightest bit, my hobbies shift as well. I'm itching to knit something these days, and it's too warm during the day to work on something huge. So, while I was surfing Ravelry for ideas, I started thinking about organizing a knit-along (otherwise known as a KAL) and making it a group thing. Who's with me? (Fellas, I'm talking to you, too. There are lots of guys out there who knit, so don't be shy! Think about it- how impressed would your lady be, if you knit her a gorgeous gift?)

My goal for our KAL project is that it will be easy enough for beginners to work through, yet still interesting enough for an advanced knitter. We'll have updates on FB, and our new knitters can get help from anyone in the group, including me, if they run into trouble. I'd also like it to be a small enough project, that it could be wrapped up in no more than 3 weeks. With the holidays coming, this would be a great way to kick off the making season!

I'm a huge fan of scarves and cowls when the weather gets cool. So, I've picked out two possible projects for our KAL, and I'd like to hear your feedback. If you're not on Ravelry yet, you'll need to sign up (it's free) to access the patterns. Not all of the patterns available on Ravelry are free, but the ones I've picked out below, are.

My first choice is "A Noble Cowl" by Emily Kausalik.. I knit this cowl a few years ago, and I get compliments on it every time I wear it. I love the way it fits, and it's definitely a wardrobe staple for me. Also good to know: it was the first pattern project I ever tried, and it wasn't hard at all. If you're a newer knitter, this is a great project to get you used to following patterns and what-not.

My second choice is this "Spring Moebius Cowl" by Haley Waxburg. I haven't knit this one before, but after reading through the pattern, it's just a series of knit and purl rows, so it looks super easy to make- perfect for someone who has never knit before, even.

What do you think? I'm also open to suggestions, if neither of these are grabbing you. Go ahead and browse the patterns on Ravelry (you can even view my Ravelry profile, here) and post a link to the Facebook page, if you see something else that you like more. Let's plan on choosing our final project by Friday, September 26th- this way, we can gather our supplies over the next couple of days and be ready to kick off the KAL on October 1st.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Photos

The fun just keeps coming! 

Pink Heirloom Beefsteaks on Monday

When life gives you eggs... make french toast! It freezes well!

Foraging in the evening light

A new friend at the farm!

We're getting about 8 eggs a day, now, give or take. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Around the Web

Port Gardner Bay, 2011
Sunsets are coming earlier and earlier- we're losing between 3 and 5 minutes of daylight, daily- and I can definitely feel it. I love our extra-long summer days, and I know this is the trade off... but still! And the mornings definitely have that fall chill... the thermometer read 40F when I let the dogs out this morning. All told, it makes this a busy time for folks like me who have lots to do outside, still.

I have taken a little time off from the outside chores, though, to peruse the interwebs-  and here's what I found:

  • This Fig Jam from WellPreserved looks fabulous.
  • An interesting read on another aspect of the local food movement. (Thanks, Val!)
  • Cheers to San Francisco, where leaders are looking to boost the urban farming movement.
  • So long, iPod- it's been fun. 
  • These potato skins look perfect for foodball football season!
  • A rabbit ravioli recipe! Whole Larder Love, indeed. 
  • Brilliant! A fermenting glossary from Phickle. 
  • Beautiful harvest pics from my favorite Matron. I can only hope to have as productive a plot, one day. 
What have you been checking out online this week? 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Free Preserving Class

I stumbled across this the other day, and wanted to share it with you: the National Center for Home Food Preservation has a free, self-paced, online class on food preservation techniques! I enrolled the other day, and it took about a week for everything to get set up, but I'll be starting the class later today. I enjoy learning new things, so any time there's an opportunity for a free class on something I'm interested in, you can bet I'm going to sign up for it and/or tell everyone I know about it.

The course is offered through the University of Georgia's Cooperative Extension program, and there are four units, according to the syllabus: Intro to Food Preservation, General Canning, Canning Acid Foods and Canning Low Acid Foods. I'm hoping they get into drying and other methods in the first unit, but even if they don't, this looks promising. I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

Are you going to sign up? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the course!

PS: Don't forget about our Fall Giveaway! Leave a comment on the blog post to enter; I want to know what hobbies you have that get you through the winter months!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Making Yogurt

I'm kind of fussy when it comes to yogurt. I like a few of the brands out there, but more often than not I find most commercial yogurts to be thin and overly sugared. Perhaps worst of all, I'm seeing more and more brands of yogurt with so-called "added fiber" in the form of inulin (a.k.a chicory root extract, or fructoogliosaccharides) on their ingredients list, which I'm totally intolerant of. Between that, and all of the preservatives... well, I'll just pass, thanks.

Besides, it's really easy to make yogurt at home. I have this little 1 quart yogurt maker that I bought a few years back, and I love it. I think calling them "yogurt makers" is sort of a misnomer, but yogurt incubator just sounds weird, I guess. That's all it does, though: keeps the temperature at a cozy 110F or so, which is perfect for the bacteria to work their magic.

The recipe I use is equally simple:

  • 1 Quart Whole Milk (1/4 cup set aside to thin starter yogurt)
  • 1/2 cup yogurt. I use a Greek-style yogurt with as many different kinds of live cultures as I can find. (Zoi, Oikos and Fage are all ones I've tried, with success.)
  • 2 Tablespoons powdered milk. This is not necessary, but I use it to boost the protein and make a thicker yogurt. Feel free to use or omit, as you choose.
First, I take the milk and powdered milk, and stir them together in a saucepan over medium heat. My goal is to bring the milk up to a low boil, without scorching it. Once it starts boiling, I take it off the heat and set the pot aside, so it cools back down to somewhere between room temperature and 110F.

While that's heating up, I like to pour the reserved 1/4 cup of milk into a small measuring cup, and add the 1/2 cup of yogurt, stirring gently until well blended. I try to get rid of as many yogurt lumps as possible, so that it's evenly distributed throughout the batch when all is said and done. I also prefer to get this done as early in the process as I can, so that the yogurt starts coming up to room temperature. In my mind, the bacteria needs to wake up from their refrigerator-induced slumber and could use the head start. I may just be projecting, though... not being a morning person, and all.  

Once the milk has cooled, I add in the thinned yogurt. If the milk is still on the warm side, I'll temper it by adding some of the warm milk to the thinned yogurt first, much like you'd do making an egg custard. It brings them closer to temperature, without shocking the thinned yogurt with an abrupt change in temp. Once everything is combined and smooth, I fill the jars per the manufacturer's instructions and put them in the maker. I leave the jar lids off but put the machine lid on, and set the timer for 12 hours. Once the 12 hours is up, the jars come out, lids go on, and into the fridge they go for about 3- 4 hours to stop the culturing process. 

Once chilled, they're ready to eat. I like mine over some granola with honey or maple syrup for a little sweetness. If you prefer fruit yogurts, just add a dollop of your favorite jam right before eating. No preservatives, nothing you can't pronounce... just happy, yogurt-y goodness!

(Want more info on making yogurt at home? Check out this page over at Cultures For Health! They have a TON of information on all sorts of cultured foods.)

What's your favorite way to eat yogurt?

PS: This post has been shared on the Homestead Blog Hop. Click  the link to see more like-minded posts from around the web!