April 30, 2009

A Farm Girl at Heart

The other morning I went out to dump the watery coffee grounds from my french press into my planters when I discovered that my broccoli plant had sprouted a tiny little florette and the potatoes I planted a month ago were leafing up out of the black dirt. Just the site of my plants spring to life was enough to make my finger tips tingle in excitement.

I love to garden. Well, I love to garden vegetables. I will be the first to tell you that I know almost nothing about flowers. I love them, I long for a beautiful, blousy cottage garden with roses and lilacs and phlox and pinks and every other kind of flower that I love to look at around the neighborhood but don't know the name of. But vegetables, well, I'm pretty good at vegetables.

When I was growing up, my parents divided out yard into three, nearly even parts. One third was for grass and trees and for a time, my rabbit, minx. One third was devoted to the deck and one third was the vegetable garden. i can honestly say that the only flower I remember my house having growing up were some red tulips that I thought smelled of watermelons. I know we had more, I'm sure the front door was surrounded by flowers, I just cant remember them. But I remember almost every inch of the vegetable garden. Against the house was a triangular shaped bed that started out being devoted to potatoes but ended up being overtaken by mint. Along the garage was a narrow bed where the pole beans grew. I used to lie on my back in the grass between the pole beans the the next bed over, usually planted with tomatoes or peas, hidden amongst the green, blowing bubbles up into the air from my dollar store can of bubble mix. I thought that every time a bubble popped, a fairy was born. My own version of the old adage "every time a bell rings..."

Through most of the moves of my childhood I helped my father plant out a garden. In San Antonio we planted a long row of okra which I never learned to like. In Pendleton there were sweet potatoes in big pots on the deck. When I went away to college I craved a garden the way most college students craved jello shots. I cajoled Will into helping me dig up an enormous patch of land in the even more enormous back yard of the first house we rented. I planted the newly tilled soil with winter rye, as recommended by my favorite book and then paid the price when it was almost impossible to till in by hand and ended up borrowing a crappy rototiller from our neighbor and almost vibrating to death trying to make a garden out of it. I discovered that I had a talent for starting tomatoes from seed and could get even the most sorry looking tomato plant from the dying plant table to flourish. The summer that Briton was born my tomatoes were so big that just one could make a huge bowl of salsa.

I continue to plant gardens, both big and small, in homes we've owned and places we've rented. In our flat in Dublin I raised one tiny squash plant from seeds I bought from a street vendor in Rome. In our last house I had four glorious raised beds, two compost bins and a chicken coop in a corner of the yard that was all my own. Here, where our back yard is almost completely shaded, I have a collection of pots on the deck where I hope to get a small but delicious crop of onions, broccoli, tomatoes, and potatoes, not to mention the lettuce we've already been eating for the past two weeks.

I'm not, by any means, the worlds best gardener. I hate being really hot so come July I'll be neglecting to do much beyond watering. I tend to let tomatoes go their own way without much support, which can be messy looking and sometimes hard to harvest. I'm not a big fan of weeding. But I do love the feel of dirt under my fingernails. I never could do the "Scratch a bar of soap" thing, I'm only just getting used to wearing gloves, and only because I'm afraid of spiders and in Virginia, there are lots of spiders. And even though my garden this year is just a clump of pots, I still love it. And someday I'll have my big garden again, where I can use up all the good manure/chicken poop our hens are making right at this moment or the worm castings that the worm bin at Will's office harvests every month and comes home in coffee cans or Tupperware (and as a side note, worm castings do look like leftover brownies when brought home from the office in Tupperware, but sadly, they do not taste like brownies. Lesson learned!)

Until then I'll just keep myself busy with lists of plants I'll have in my dream garden and visions of the chest freezer that I'll get someday and fill with shucked corn and shredded zucchini and tubs of homemade pesto. Bring on the summer, and the harvest, even if it's a tiny one.

April 27, 2009

Hey Everybody! What time is it? It's CHICKEN TIME!!!

Well, it might not be DONE done, but after a few late nights building in our garage, one evening work session in the yard and a last minute long lunch for Will and Joe, the coop was done enough for the chickens to arrive. And arrive they did.

After school on Friday, four moms and nine kids descended on the poor farmer we had contacted about buying chickens from. He was more than a little surprised to find a bunch of "city slickers" roaming around his yard, scarring off the sheep, petting the dog and pointing at the cows, but he very sweetly indulged us in all our questions (on the mom's part) and shrieking (on the kids) and sent us home with four Buff Orphingtons, two Golden Laces Wyandottes and two Rhode Island Reds in Elvira's dog crate.

Joe was finishing up the roofing when we arrived and Will came home early from work to help a few minutes later and before long they were clucking away in our little coop. Since then it's been a busy weekend of popping up just one more time to see the hens, coaxing them out for some loving and giving tours to neighbors. Several of us nervous nelly parents may have made late night/early morning dashes over just to make sure things were ok, but I won't name any names :)

And although we have more to do; doors to make, a whole separate section to construct, a permanent roof to attach, it's extremely gratifying to see the hens in there, doing what they do, what we dreamed of them doing this winter. The chickens are here, and all is right with the world.

Now, we just have to wait for the eggs...

April 16, 2009

Stitch Happy

Spring is in the air, the flowers are blooming around town and I'm in the mood for some embroidery!

I'm not, as a rule, and embroiderer. I lack the patience that it takes to finish a project of any size and have a pile of half done cross stitch/embroidery projects in my sewing box to prove it. But when I received the book Sublime Stitching as a gift a few years ago, it opened my eyes to a new world of embroidery. The book, and its successor The Sublime Stitching Craft Pad, is packed with cute, slightly funky patterns for projects that you can use to embellish just about anything. And for me, there's nothing like stitching a little something special to a store bought outfit to add some "awwww..." to my kids' wardrobes. So far we've done cowboy patches on worn through knees, Scottie dogs on a bland dress or two, Siamese kitties to turn a little boy coat into a little girl one and a rocket ship tie that was the hit of the school concert. The tie was, in fact, such a bit hit that I've been commissioned (and paid in kisses) to make another, this one with dinosaurs.

Kids ties are hard to find and when you do, they are usually plastered with cartoon characters in garish colors. But ties are also remarkably easy to make. No, really they are! I used to make them for Christmas gifts for my teachers when I was in elementary school. I wonder if Mr. Koep still has the jungle with glow in the dark eyes tie I made him all those years ago... Kids ties, are even easier, since they require less fabric and don't need to be perfectly smooth and tailored.

For a pattern, I used on of my husband ties that I had put on my son, adjusting it so that the narrow end was the right length and the wider end was too long. With a pin I marked the spot on the front of the tie where I wanted the length. After I'd removed the tie and ironed it I set it out on the fabric I planned to use and cut a rough pattern using the length and width as a guide. Keeping in mind my seam allowances I embroidered the dinosaur of choice. The rocket ship tie was fully line which made it a little thick so this time I only lined the ends before stitching the seams closed and giving it a whirl. The result was a perfectly proportioned tie that my son is excited to wear anywhere he gets a chance, which, given the fact that he would stay in his pajamas all day if allowed, is saying something.

April 14, 2009

Everybody Wants a Lick

I've found the fatal flaw of the KitchenAid Stand Mixer. One Beater.

Growing up, I was an only child until the age of 7 and a half. And even after my darling little brother entered into the world, it was a good three years before much of what he did affected my privileges regarding the licking of the beaters during baking sessions. And by then, well, I was ten and didn't care as much. But even if we had been closer together, close enough to both demand something to lick after a batch of brownies or cookies or pudding was whipped up in my parents kitchen, there were always two beaters. As it was, I usually got both aside from the occasional stealing of a beater by my dad.

Now putting aside fears of salmonella and too much sugar, licking the beaters of a mixer is one of life's great pleasures in my book. What could be sweeter than a taste, more than a taste if mom was feeling generous and didn't scrape too much off, of whatever delicious treat we were in store for later in the day. And up until this week, I've carried on this time honored tradition with Briton, that was until Evelyn cottoned on to what she was missing. And here is where the KitchenAid mixer comes into the mix.

I love my stand mixer. As I've already proclaimed, despite her age and crankiness, I use the old girl on an almost daily basis. I don't know what I would do with out her. BUT, she only has one beater. And that can cause serious problems.

Really, it's all the fault of Spring Break. You see, there I was, making a second batch of cookies for the week (the previous batch having disappeared long before they should have, we'll say Spring Break was responsible for that too) Briton at my side, adding the flour and the chocolate chips, his two favorite steps (flour for the inevitable puff of white that erupts form the bowl when he turns it on too fast and the chocolate because, well, that's obvious, right?). Dough balls on pan and extras stowed in the freezer I began to dismantle for washing, handing the beater to Briton to "pre-clean" it when Evelyn walked in.

"Want lick too mommy!" she said, pointing to the beater. Crap, crap crap crap. Why didn't I make the cookies during nap?Why didn't I save the bowl for her, now sitting full of soapy water in the sink? Come to think of it, why didn't I give myself the beater and send the kids outside while I furtively licked the last crumbs of batter off of it? Too late now.

There we stood, Briton with his tongue wrapped around the white rubberized side of the paddle beater, Evelyn standing, hands of fists looking expectantly at me, Shootout at the OK corral music drifting from the stereo. Ok, so the music was only in my head, but that's where we were headed. Tantrum at the Grimm Kitchen. I didn't blame her. She's nearly three, of course she was going to figure out that what mommy mixed in the big silver bowl and the yummy things that came out of the oven were connected.

As the "Wah, wah, wah" played in my head I grabbed a spoon and a soon to be frozen ball of dough out of the freezer, smearing a chunk onto the bowl of the spoon and handing with over before the scream could even escape her mouth. Crisis averted, lesson learned (use hand mixer when both kids are awake/home, or better yet, bake after bedtime)

And what did I do with the rest of that ball of cookie dough? Only my taste buds can say, and they aren't talking....

April 7, 2009

If You Build It, They Will Cluck...And Lay, Hopefully!

Well, after some truly crappy weather for the past few weekends, we finally got a few sunny days and the Chicken Coop building has begun! Actually, Will and Joe had been working during the evenings at Joe's Woodworking shop. The upside of that is that they had alot of it done before the weekend even started. The downside is that Will now has serious shop envy. I can see power tool wish lists in our future.

By Saturday afternoon the framing was done for the bottom half and Will, Lisa and her friend Brooke spent a few hours building a sturdy but movable if necessary, foundation before the parts to the bottom of the coop were hauled from the shop and up the hill to the site. By the time that was done the sun was starting to set and the bar-b-que was fired up for an impromptu cook out. It was the perfect (and delicious) end to a lovely day. It also gave me an excuse to bake a yogurt cake I've been meaning to try.

This week is spring break and building is pretty much at a stand still until everyone returns (or at least, until Joe does!) but Will and Briton have plans to head over tonight and finish assembling what's there and we are HOPING to get the rest done in one big push next week and the following weekend so that we can get the birds in before there are none to be had. Stick around, Buff Orphington Pullets! We want you! Honestly!

Apple Yogurt Cake

- 1 cup vanilla yogurt
- 1/2 cup sugar + 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- a pinch of salt
- one large apple, peeled and finely sliced

Preheat the oven to 360° F and butter the bottom and sides of a 9 inch spring form pan.

LinkIn a medium bowl, mix yogurt, sugar, eggs and oil. In a small bowl combine dry ingrediants then gently fold the dry into the wet. Mix just till combined, there will be some lumps. Pour into spring form pan and layer apples on top of the batter then sprinkle with a tablespoon or so of brown sugar.

Bake for 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean and the apples are starting to brown slightly. Remove from the pan and allow to cool slightly (or all the way, but it's yummy warm)

I really liked this recipe. it was not too sweet and really, pretty healthy but totally delicious. We had one slice left over which I put in a tin for storage and ate the next day, and I have to say it got better with time so this would be a great make ahead cake. I think next time I might switch the white/brown sugar mix for one cup of vanilla sugar just for kicks. Yumm....

Recipe adapted from Apple and Maple Yogurt Cake from Chocolate and Zucchini.