April 5, 2011

Spring Break

My Spring Break has been only from the blog!  Many things have been happening in the past three weeks, not the least of which was my grandmother's 101st birthday party!



It was heartwarming to watch her and my father chatting together.

She had a wonderful visit with all of her guests, and in typical fashion she gave a little speech after she had opened her gifts and cards. She is priceless, and a gentle, lovely soul.



When my dad was here for my grandmother's birthday, he brought along a few family heirlooms for me.  One of them was his Bible that was given to him in his church when he entered the Army.  It has joined my husband's father's Bible in a place of honor in our home.




Spring has continued to bless us with wonderful sights and  sounds.  The peepers at our pond are in high pitch, and the bullfrogs are answering back in deep tones that vibrate all the way across the yard.  Geese are landing on the pond daily and we have hopes that they will nest permanently. Redwing Blackbirds are back reserving their nesting spots on the reeds, Bluebirds are visiting the nesting boxes on our fence, and the Cardinals and other bright birds are constant at our feeders.  These things make lovely excuses for staring out the window for long stretches!







Our neighbor's horses have been boarded elsewhere all winter, and it's a delight to have them in the field behind us again!  There are two extra this year.  They are beautiful to watch, and the way they interact with the herds of deer that wander through each night is very entertaining!

 
With Easter coming around, I've broken out the decorations and have the house filled with bunnies and chicks.

These bunny Peeps made an appearance at a recent missions bake sale. When I get into the zone, I can't stop myself!



And speaking of being in the zone, this guy made a dive into this huge garden project.  We decided to place landscape fabric and pea gravel in some areas of the garden to make it less "weedy", and give an overall neat appearance.  My DH worked a little TOO hard for his first time at bat this spring, but he's making a fast recovery!  He has a lot of big projects up his sleeve, and no doubt will be in fine form in no time at all!

March 15, 2011

Spring in our Step!



So many lovely signs of what's just around the corner!  We think these are daffodils, or maybe jonquils?  No matter what they are, they will be very welcome.


Thanks to Costco, we have instant spring blooms in the house.  These two begonia plants came in a very nice basket, and eventually I'll set them out on the porch for the summer.  The price was really reasonable and I've learned from experience to get these kinds of plants when I see them, and not wait until I think I'm ready for them!


 
Another nice spring bonus are fresh farm eggs from chickens who have just started laying. One of the women I work with has been so generous to bring in these eggs to share!  I love all the colors, especially this greenish egg. What a lovely surprise to see the pale blue interior when I cracked it open!

Maybe the thing that put the spring in our step the most this week, was the gratifying site of these seedlings, which have sprung to life in no time at all.  Since my last posting, we've seen very encouraging growth in many of our seeds.  Maybe the most encouraging being the sprouting of the seeds that my husband saved from ripe fruits two years ago.  He was given some very nice heirloom tomato seeds in the past, and now he's had the experience of planting, growing, harvesting, saving seeds, and planting again.  What a beautiful thing!









March 8, 2011

Here We Go!

The signs of Spring are pouring in now - rain vs. snow, Girl Scout cookies for sale, our flock of red-wing blackbirds returning to the pond, decent strawberries showing up in the produce aisle.

And...we have begun putting in our garden, by planting seeds indoors, which we haven't  done since two growing seasons ago, and it feels great to be back at this practice!  The first step was using a very diluted bleach solution to wash down these tray systems (bottom trays and dome lids), as we don't want to pass on any disease that may be hanging on from the previous season.



Here you see some of the lovely seeds we ordered from Seed Savers, in Decorah, IA.  You also see in this picture, that we are using an abundant number of plant markers this year.  If you've followed us for a while you will know that we have had our challenges with identifying seedlings at times!
 

At Seed Savers, they are committed to preserving and promoting heirloom variety seeds, which are those that have not been genetically modified, or in other words are like the ones that Grandma and Grandpa used.  You can save these seeds from ripened plants, and use them in future growing seasons, unlike many seeds you buy commercially, which are called "hybrid".  If you saved seeds from hybrid plants, they would either not germintate at all if planted, or they would germinate but produce something quite different from the original plant.  A wonderful treat at Seed Savers are the seeds offered that are just like the ones used in illustrious gardening places like Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.  How pleasant to us to be planting the same thing that once grew there, a place we have visited and loved.  Jefferson was quite a pioneer in the horticulture field and made the most of his travels oversees to bring back plant varieties that had yet to be introduced to the USA, including the tomato.  Now where would an Iowa gardener be without the tomato!!


This seedling process starts with a good growing medium.  This year my husband chose to go with a soilless mix, that is for the most part, a combination of peat moss and vermiculite.  There are many choices and you should check out your local garden center for a ready-made mix, or the ingredients to make your own. 

He filled up all the little cells with this light mix and then they go into these trays, which are now ready for seeds. 

Next the seeds will be gently pushed down into the soil, the marker put in place and then down to our basement where our "nursery" is set up.  So far, we've planted eggplant, onion, tomato, and pepper seeds.  These are some of the plants that need a particularly early start.  Some gardeners would contend that we are lagging behind already!


Here you can see the grow lights, at this point sitting very low on the growing trays, and under that is the special plant heating pad, that helps encourage the seeds to get going!  One note of safety is to avoid trying to use a standard heating pad for this purpose - not good!  These systems are not inexpensive, but they are specially designed for this purpose, and if you go this direction, it is certainly wise to invest in proper equipment.

 This last photo shows the screen shot of my husband's planting chart, which he intends to tweak and share on the blog in the near future.  This year we're planting along with the cycles of the moon - should be interesting!

Hope you're in a growing frame of mind already! A shout out to one of my nieces who's in the process of starting her own little salsa garden to grow on her patio-AWESOME!!

February 22, 2011

Inspiration

I've spent that last little while chatting with my DD on gmail chat - what a nice privilege! What a nice daughter! It gave me the inspiration to write a little today, which has been lacking. I know as soon as the garden gets rolling I'll be writing too much!

Speaking of inspiration - I've been watching Mad Hungry lately. Lucinda Scalla Quinn is the cook on this show and I just love her style. She's passionate about food, but even more passionate about her family. Good balance! Recently we tried out her corn fritters as a side dish with fish, and they were delicious. Watching her videos is helpful since there are recipe details she gives on the show that don't end up in her written recipes online. Might have something to do with the Martha Stewart Corporation filter that she has to go through - just postulating!


She has also inspired us - or I should say specifically my DH - to put our cast iron into use. He even grabbed one of our camping skillets and used her instructions to bring in back to life. The other cast iron grill pan is a recent gift and it came pre-seasoned. Now that he's learned the proper care, this should be easier to use than ever. Tonight we're making steaks, which will sear in the cast iron, and then go into the oven to finish cooking. Great stuff!



Hunger, plus increasing prices at the grocery store, inspire me to make bread each week! I've shared the video of making this perfect whole wheat bread in another post. In that post, you can click on the link for the food storage site that offers two great videos for the method they use with the bread.
The latest thing I've been doing is making homemade croutons from the crusts of the bread. I just chop them into medium sized pieces, let them dry out, and store them in a baggie. To make croutons, I toast them in a skillet with a little olive oil and whatever seasoning sounds good that day. After you toast them in the oil, it works well to let them sit on a paper towel and crisp up a little as they cool off.



The same goal of saving money led to my experiment in freezing sun-dried tomatoes. I like to save money by getting the huge jar at Costco, but how can two people ever get this thing used up before it goes wrong?!! I love these freezer jars and made sure to leave a little "head room" at the top. They're now solidly frozen and no bulges or cracks, so - success!



All the way back in November, we had the wonderful experience of a photo shoot with our friend Bonnie in Maine. At this lovely New England studio she took some truly amazing photos of our girl. We finally got our order in this week and now we're inspired to begin working on a family photo wall, between our living room and kitchen. Upon opening a couple of storage bins, this layout on the table attested to the fact that this project is long overdue!



Another project that is finally becoming a reality, is painting the outside of our house!
DH is going through the lovely process of getting bids, and we've both been looking online at color combinations, and getting inspired to do something brave - like a pumpkin colored door?? This faded yellow abode will hopefully be brightened up in the near future!



And finally, the February thaw has inspired us to get serious about seeds and starting seedlings -THIS WEEK! We got our leftover seeds and empty packets organized into this storage box first. Then we made notes about which ones we liked and which were a bust, plus which were empty and needed re-ordering. Oh, these seed catalogs are so captivating!

"And God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth." And it was so." Genesis 1:11

Everlasting inspiration...

February 13, 2011

Our Bundle of Joy!

And a joy she was, and still is! Today she is 21, and she is everything that makes for a lovely young woman. As I look at her contented little baby face in this picture, it's hard to believe she's nearly finished with college, is student teaching, and searching for a job. It's so trite to say that time flies, but there are few other expressions that can capture the way the years flash past. And they have been wonderful years, and God has been so gracious to us all. May He continue to be your Wonderful Counselor as you journey on. Happy Birthday our Dear, Dear Daughter!

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD,
plans for welfare and not for evil,
to give you a future and a hope."
Jeremiah 29:11

February 11, 2011

A February Frenzied

The month of love, the month of cabin fever and the winter blahs, the month before spring officially starts, and in our house, the month of birthdays! Between our family and close friends, we have no less than 8 birthdays in February! My time and attention has been split between getting my sea legs in my new job, a quick weekend trip to Omaha, trying to do some special things for our daughter's 21st birthday, giving a little thought to Valentine's Day, starting the planning for our daughter's college graduation, plus truly fun hospitality responsibilities at church. There you have the mildly frenzied part of my February, or the first 11 days anyway! I took these dark chocolate/buttercream cupcakes to our last potluck at church - they have a very calming effect on the frenzies!


While in Omaha, we visited a remarkable restaurant called V. Mertz. I was anything but frenzied when we dined here! It was quite an experience and one we probably wouldn't repeat, but wouldn't have missed either. At times we felt as though we were on one of the snotty cooking shows where the server is telling you in excruciating detail what is on your plate. Apparently that helps you appreciate what your eating? It was a little hard to stifle a giggle at times, but the server took his job so seriously and was so earnest that you wouldn't dare! The bottom line was that the food and service were both pretty amazing and it did indeed feel like a special birthday celebration for both my DH and my daughter. The setting was wonderful too, as it was in the Old Market section of Omaha, and we'll want to visit this charming area again.


This bag holds my "little bit of thought" for Valentine's Day, referenced above. I wanted to make a care package for my daughter and her lovely roommates. This will be one of the last times I can do this for them - oh dear! Inside was some Play-Doh in Valentine colors, a bag of Hershey's Valentine Hugs candy, Valentine cereal bowls for each (so cute and only $1.79 at Target), and a big bag of homemade cranberry-almond granola. It's so much fun to put packages together, and I'm not sure how I'm going to get my care package fix after DD graduates!


Is it a stretch to combine these two items in this photo?! First is the recommendation for these little containers, and I do love a new container! Yes indeed, I freeze bacon fat and left over jalapenos in these tiny containers, among other things! The lids actually snap onto the bottom of the container, so you can stack them in the freezer - love it. The little smiley girl in the pictures behind the containers is the same one about to be 21 - and this thought does have me a little frenzied! I'll be more than a little emotional on Sunday when this becomes a reality - more in the next post about this life passage. The photo series of "I Love You" was a Father's Day gift a number of years ago, and would make a great Valentine's Day gift too.


And speaking of bacon fat, our little piggy did go to the market and we now have a freezer full of lovely, pastured, hormone-free porky products. It's been tender and sweet and we're really pleased with it! Last night we had a couple of the Iowa chops, which had a pocket cut into them for filling with stuffing. I made the stuffing from the crusts of our whole wheat bread. Just delicious. I have no picture unfortunately, since I'm never really happy with food pictures that use artificial light, and of course this time of year, dinner is usually after dark! But days are getting longer, we have so much to celebrate in our family this month, groups of bright red cardinals are busy at our feeders, and this weekend we're picking out garden seeds - yippee!

"It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter." Psalm 74:17

February 2, 2011

Snow Day!

Well, I've been whining about needing sunshine, and today we got some - never mind that it came after a blizzard! It was a doozy, but we have nothing to complain about since we didn't lose power and neither of us had to go to work. DH worked from home, and the dentist I work for had lots of cancellations and didn't want her employees out on the drifted roads. She's a good egg that way. There's a lot to appreciate about a snow day. It really is beautiful when the sun comes out and plays off the marshmallow landscape.


And on snow days I certainly appreciate having this cute man around, who is always willing to clear the driveway and sidewalk! Don't you love this furry hat that our DD picked out for him for Christmas?!


That same man also came up with this thoughtful idea to warm up my snow boots that had been left in my car. Can you see the heat register under the cupboard there? It certainly did the trick!


And of course on snow days it's a bonus to make a pot of warm soup. This is Roasted Tomato Tortilla Soup , and you can find the recipe on my recipe page by clicking on the link. I just revised and revamped the recipe, and I think it's better than ever!



To our friends and family in Colorado, Illinois, and Maine where the weather is still frightful, or where our storm is on the way - we're praying for you, and warmer days ahead! And for our family in Alaska, well...spring is coming soon!

January 30, 2011

In Need of a Little Sunshine

We've had so much flat, white light this winter, and I'm craving a little sunshine! We have family that have evacuated their own winter scenes for AZ, FL, and Caribbean cruises, and maybe that's what has us craving the same! In all fairness, we have have had some open invitations for warmer climes, but it's just not in the cards this year.

Two years ago we took a trip to Hawaii, and that was quite a cure for the winter blahs! However, that's hardly in the realm of possibilities on a yearly basis, so as a band-aid I'll sometimes reach for this cookbook that we brought back from Hawaii, and cook up a little island cuisine!


This was my most recent choice, though clearly I wasn't able to purchase any Opakapaka in Iowa! I could buy Alaskan, wild-caught cod fillets from Trader Joe's, and that was a fine substitute.


The only change I made to the recipe was adding two teaspoons of natural cane sweetener to the marinade. I actually made the marinade in the morning and popped it into the fridge so that it was ready for the final prep.


I added a colorful salad to the fish and rice and had a nice, sunny meal. The salad has orange segments in it, as well as long shreds of carrot, and red onion sliced on a mandoline slicer, which helps keep the flavor nice and mild. I had a poppy seed dressing on hand, which worked nicely.


And one more bit of sunshine we brought home - good Hawaiian coffee, also from Trader Joe's. Just about transports me there - just about! Hope you have a sunny day, or at least a sunny outlook!

January 19, 2011

For the Birds

Since we had a live tree this year, I repeated what we did two years ago, and decorated it for the birds. We had a lovely Concolor fir this year and it went out to our deck after Christmas, where it was tied to the railings by my DH. Then I started making birdy treats!

I used some suet packets we normally use with our metal cage style suet feeders. I cut them into smaller squares to get started on the first ornaments.


Then I pilfered the netting from some red onions and clementines. This too was cut into smaller pieces.


The final product was secured with twist ties and is ready to go.


The next ingredients were some slightly around-the-bend oranges, that had also suffered a freeze in our second fridge, which lives in the garage. In the most brutal winter temps, it's not wise to store produce out there!

Once I sliced them, they looked much fresher than I imagined they would. I used twist ties on these as well and they were done in a flash.


The classic popcorn and cranberry string was a very appealing choice, since the 8-year-old who devoured every Little House on the Prairie book is still living inside me! I used the end of a spool of carpet thread, and that made a very sturdy garland.


I liked the effect very much and hope the birds find it and enjoy!

It's nice to look out on the deck in these dreary days and see something so cheerful. Once the birds start making regular visits, it will be even more pleasing. The new picture of the bluebird in the header of the blog is from our 2009 tree, and it was one of many birds that visited that year.



My husband took this picture and he really liked the view of the bird tree with the deer in the snowy background. I, on the other hand, saw this and thought about whether or not those greedy critters would have enough nerve to come up on the deck and eat the decorations right off of it, and then finish off the tree too!! I need to get a more positive outlook for sure!