Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Homemade Living: Cucumber Salad

When we're on our green juice kick, we use up a lot of cucumbers. This year we decided to try our hand at growing our own cucumbers to cut down on the expense of buying them at the grocery store. Whenever I try growing something new, I never get my hopes up too high because I don't want to be disappointed. I honestly didn't expect much from the cucumbers, but I am completely amazed at their quick growth.

We basically just put two posts in the ground and attached some bird netting to act as a support for the climbing vines. We planted the seeds a couple inches apart, and the vines just took off. This past week we have been harvesting cucumbers like crazy! I swear, it seems like from the time you see a tiny cucumber growing to picking time is just under one week. When I came back from my vacation, I couldn't believe how many cucumbers were ready to be plucked off the vines.

Yesterday's harvest.

Due to our recent cucumber overflow, I scoured the internet for cucumber recipes and came across this which I immediately pinned to my food board on my Pinterest page. I really liked the idea of a simple cucumber salad, so I whipped it up quickly earlier this week and was very pleasantly surprised.

The skin on my cucumbers was a little tough, so I peeled them first before slicing for the salad. I found that the cucumbers softened slightly in the dressing, but there was still a nice crisp bite to each slice. A very cooling and refreshing salad perfect for an appetizer or side dish. I will definitely make this one again! You can go here for the recipe.

What is your favorite way to use cucumbers?


This week in the Homemade Living series, I am joined by Daisy and Mary in posting about how we incorporate homemade items into our lives. Next week Meg, Staci, and Amber will be up. If you have some free time, please check out the other posts in this weekly series!

Shared with From The Farm Blog Hop, What I Am Eating  

Monday, July 29, 2013

Girls' Road Trip 2013

There's nothing I love more than being on the homestead, but every once in a while I find it is good to get away for a bit. I like to have new experiences whenever I can, and I always end up appreciating what I have even more when I return home. This past week I had one of the most fun trips of my life with two of my best girlfriends, Heather and Angela. We decided early this year to take a road trip together and agreed our initial destination would be New Orleans! Our first stop there was Café Du Monde for the world famous beignets (fried squares of dough dusted in powdered sugar) and café au laits. We decided to go through the take out line and eat our beignets behind the restaurant in a cute little area with the most beautiful doors.

From there we spent the rest of the day exploring the city. We took a little ride on the trolley, just because, and kind of got out of the way a bit so we ended up walking the rest of the day.

We saw the farmers market, flea market, Jackson Square, and visited the St. Louis Cathedral.

St. Louis Cathedral

The cathedral is absolutely gorgeous with old wooden pews, stained glass windows, and murals all over the ceiling and walls. Plus it was air-conditioned, so it gave us a nice break to sit and cool off a bit after walking around in the humid heat all morning long.

After Jackson Square, we headed over to Bourbon Street. We really wanted to see it, but the nightlife scene isn't our thing, so we made sure to go during the day (apparently it can get kind of dangerous at night as well). On the way down to Bourbon, we heard some awesome live music, so we stopped and watched the street performers for a bit. They were amazing! I even took a quick video so you could get the authentic New Orleans experience.

I made sure to give them a few dollars before passing by. I love music and try to support the arts whenever I can.

Just a short walk past the performers, we reached Bourbon Street. It was neat to see all the different shops and signs, but we didn't end up spending too much time down there. We are glad we went to see it, but agreed it wasn't our favorite part of the trip (the smell didn't help much!).

One of my favorite parts of the trip was visiting the Garden District in New Orleans. The houses in this area are some of the most beautiful and grandiose I've ever seen. Heather was driving, so I enjoyed just looking out the window as we drove past all the estates.

I loved the marble staircase and dark entry doors.

After a quick bite to eat in the Garden District, we headed back downtown because we had a steamboat cruise planned for the evening. It was actually a crazy night, because just as we arrived at the dock, we saw a steamboat taking off into the Mississippi and thought we missed our cruise! We figured we could at least ride the ferry to get the river experience, so we rode that a couple times. After exiting the ferry, Heather saw another steamboat getting ready to take off at a different location on the dock and come to find out, that was the boat we were supposed to board! The gates were closed, but we made it just in time to get on board before the boat took off. Phew! It was such a lovely cruise and when the sun went down all the buildings looked so pretty all lit up.

After the cruise it was getting late and we were exhausted, so we called it a night and headed back to the hotel. The next morning we were heading to Gulf Shores, AL to spend a day at the beach, but things didn't go as planned and we didn't make it there until just before dark. We did stop at Gulfport, MS on the way there and checked out their beach after some shopping at the awesome outlet mall. We weren't too impressed with the beach there, but we did see some of the cutest gulls. I tried to get close to them to get their photo but they kept flying away from me! I did manage to get this shot which I think turned out really cute.

The next morning we headed home, and stopped in Memphis for an early dinner on Beale Street at Miss Polly's Soul City Cafe. This was actually my favorite meal of the whole trip because it reminded me so much of my grandma's "soul food" cooking that I grew up with. It was so delicious!

I've always wanted to see the ducks at the Peabody Hotel, so before leaving the city we checked them out and I was in love! I didn't get to see them take their parade through the hotel to the elevators back up to their rooftop home, but maybe I'll get to see it someday.

We really packed a lot into our four day road trip and I have so many happy and funny memories that I will cherish forever. I kept joking that we'll have so many stories from this trip to tell our kids someday. The kind of stories we will tell them over and over again and they'll know them by heart and get sick of us telling them, haha.

For me, the best part of coming home is seeing all the animals. Gizmo seems to have grown so much in just a few days while I was gone! As much as I enjoyed returning home, I think David was even more thrilled to see me. He had to tend the homestead all by himself while I was gone, and this week was a crazy busy week of band camp for him, so he had his hands full. Maintaining the garden and tending to all the animals while working full-time is definitely hard for just one person. But he did a great job and the garden totally exploded while I was gone.

It was a fun trip, but it is good to be home :)


PS - I'm still playing catch up, but I look forward to checking in with all my blogging friends soon!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Feathered Friend Friday: A Quick Way To Cool Them Off

Welcome to our series "Feathered Friend Friday." Every Friday I write a post with interesting facts, photos, or funny stories about our chickens and guineas. If you need to catch up, you'll find all the Feathered Friend Friday posts here  

It's no secret that we have recently been stuck in a huge heat wave in the US. Most of the country has been suffering the past few weeks with crazy heat and humidity. When the temperature rises it is uncomfortable for us humans, but it's even worse for our feathered friends. I always provide plenty of fresh, cool drinking water for my chickens, but in addition to that, I've found the quickest and easiest way to give them some relief from the heat is to create shallow puddles for them to splash around in and get their feet wet.

I know lots of chicken owners like to buy kiddie pools for their girls and boys to cool their feet in, but my flock won't go near them! (FYI - If you do have a pool for your chickens, just make sure it's only a few inches deep - you don't want them getting their feathers soaked because that interferes with how they regulate their body temperature and is actually very bad for them.) Instead of a plastic pool, my flock prefers smaller puddles or streams of water, so I like to pull the hose out and just let it run for a while.

They love to just stand in the water and get several drinks to help them cool off. If I see any of them looking particularly hot (lethargic, pale comb/wattles, dull appearance, panting) I will pick them up and place their feet in cool water and they seem to bounce right back. Placing a cold compress on their combs and wattles can help cool them down quickly as well.

 What is your favorite way to help your chickens stay cool?


Shared with From The Farm Blog Hop 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Our First Figs

We mentioned in this post how we transplanted several fig trees from my grandma's yard this spring. Looking back on a photo of the tree below when we first got it in the ground, I am amazed at the growth we've seen so far in just the past few months!

I was really hoping we'd get a few figs this first year, but I wasn't expecting a huge harvest. When we saw several tiny little figs appear on the branches earlier this summer, we were overjoyed! We watched them grow each day until finally, they were ready to harvest.

I'm not sure what type of figs these are (Grandma doesn't know either) but they are delicious! I eat every part of the fig, skin and all. I knew these were ready to pick because the fruit was tender to the touch and the figs came off the branch with just the slightest twist.

There really are few things better than pulling a warm, ripe fig off your tree and taking that first bite. These figs were sweet, but not too sweet just yet (I suspect they will get even better as the tree matures).

Grandma's fig tree has turned into more of a giant bush actually, but we plan on pruning ours each year to train them to grow as trees. I can't wait to see our trees grow in the years to come and hopefully produce lots of delicious figs for us!


PS - By the time you read this, I will be out of town through the rest of the week. I have my post scheduled for Friday, so don't forget to check back in for your weekly dose of feathered friends! I can't wait to catch up with you when I am back in town next Monday.

I also wanted to let you know that I am participating in a new series with five other bloggers called Homemade Living. Each Wednesday three of us will write a post for the series, then the following Wednesday the other three bloggers will publish their posts. My first post in the series will be next Wednesday, July 31, but in the meantime please check out the other bloggers participating (Meg, Staci, and Amber are posting this week) to see how they have integrated homemade items into their lives!

Meg @ Little Homestead
Staci @ Life At Cobble Hill Farm
Amber @ Making a Home
Daisy @ Maple Hill 101
Mary @ Homegrown on the Hill

Shared with From The Farm Blog Hop 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Double Chocolate Lavender Brownies (Dairy-Free!)

You may remember my post a couple weeks ago about visiting a local lavender farm and harvesting my own bundle of culinary lavender. I was so excited to use my flower buds in a recipe, but first I had to wait for the lavender to dry. After waiting impatiently, my lavender was finally ready to go over the weekend! I remembered the farm owner speaking about how lavender can bring out and enhance the chocolate flavor in dessert recipes, so I thought I'd try using it in some double chocolate brownies.

I was already into my recipe when I realized I only had 1/2 cup of sugar, so I improvised and changed things up a bit. To my surprise, it worked out really well and the brownies were delicious! My recipe is a mix of several different recipes I've seen online (here and here) with some adaptations of my own.

Double Chocolate Lavender Brownies
1/3 cup water (I used cold brewed double-strength coffee with a little bit of water)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs (I used four free range guinea eggs)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Ghirardelli)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup local raw honey
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli chips in the gold wrapper are dairy-free!)
1 teaspoon (or more, to taste) dried lavender

1) Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a 9x13" baking pan.
2) Whisk water, oil, and eggs in a large bowl to blend.
3) Add the flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa powder, sugar and honey. Stir well until mostly blended then add in the chocolate chips and lavender.
4) Pour batter in prepared baking pan (batter will be thick) and spread out with a spoon.
5) Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 25-30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting (I find that a plastic knife works best when cutting brownies).

My addition of coffee and lavender really brings out the chocolate flavor in these brownies (of course the chocolate chips don't hurt much, either). The texture is light and fluffy with a nice crumb, which is a little more cake-like than I'm used to but a nice change of pace. The brownies aren't overly sweet and the lavender adds just the right floral touch to make the dessert seem so sophisticated. I don't know that I'd make these for kids, but if you are looking for a dessert that's a little more grown up, this is the one for you.

Have you ever used lavender in a dessert recipe?


Friday, July 19, 2013

Feathered Friend Friday: An Evening Stroll

Welcome to our series "Feathered Friend Friday." Every Friday I write a post with interesting facts, photos, or funny stories about our chickens and guineas. If you need to catch up, you'll find all the Feathered Friend Friday posts here  
One of my favorite things to do is let my chickens out for supervised free ranging time while following them around with my camera. I love to watch them exhibit their chicken-ness and have a good time scratching, pecking, and exploring. On an outing earlier this week, Jobin and Tubs were especially interested to see what was blooming in the garden area by the house.

Red checked out the garden for a bit as well, but then decided to join the rest of the flock in the woods where Cam was watching over the other hens as they searched for bugs.

When the daylight began to fade, Cam led the way back towards the coop with his faithful girl Ellie by his side (she's really enjoying her return to the flock after hatching out her five chicks).

On the way they had to grab a few quick bites of the freshly mowed grass before calling it a night. Sylvester stayed close to keep an eye on them until they retired for the evening.

And just as soon as it started, the evening stroll was over. I can't think of a better way to wind down than watching my flock enjoy themselves and seeing the sun set through the tree line in the woods. Life is good!

If you have chickens, do you find it relaxing to sit and observe their behavior?


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Introducing Emma

A few weeks ago I introduced you to our new kitten Gizmo, and today I'd like you to meet Emma!

She and Gizmo just showed up at our place a few weeks ago and we don't know where they came from. They were both truly terrified of me at first, but I worked my magic on Gizmo and he came around before I knew it. Emma, however, wasn't so quick to become my best bud. I had to give her some space and show her that she could trust me before she would open up. After several days of feeding her and slowly getting closer and closer, she eventually caved and now plays with me all the time.

As much as she likes me, she is completely enamored with our older outdoor cat, Sylvester. Whenever Emma sees him coming, she runs to him as fast as she can. It's insanely adorable! Sylvester seems to adore her, too, and I often see him tumbling around on the ground with her or giving her a quick bath.

He used to roam most of the day, but now he spends nearly all of his time with Emma down by the chicken coop just watching over her. He is really taking his role of watchdog (er, watchcat) very seriously.

We've decided to keep Emma as an outside cat because she seems to really love being outdoors and she stays around the chicken coop area where Duchess (our chicken guard dog) and Sylvester protect her. Duchess doesn't mind her at all, but Emma still hisses at Duchess if she gets too close. It's so funny to see a tiny kitten stare a huge dog in the face and hiss at her! But Duchess just backs off and gives Emma her space when she needs it. This little girl has already found her place in our crazy animal menagerie and now I can't imagine our homestead without her.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Bee Oasis

Look what we did yesterday!

We inherited this cute little pond from David's grandma and we worked hard yesterday to get it installed in the garden area behind our back porch. It was a little bare back there, so we thought this would add a nice touch to the yard and work double duty as a bee oasis!

When planning out the space, David had the idea to plant some flowers that the bees would like. He went to the store and saw some Russian sage that the bees were going crazy over, so he picked up some of that for our new backyard space.

We really didn't have a water source for the bees other than a bucket set up close to the hive, so this will also work as a great way for them to get water. The bees do need something to land on while drinking, so we will probably add some more plants like lily pads to make sure they stay safe while getting drinks.

I'm really happy with how it turned out and I think it makes such a nice addition to our yard. I love sitting on the porch swing listening to the water flow in the pond. It's so calming and soothing. Eventually we may get some fish for the pond as well; I'd love to see some colorful koi fish swimming around in there!


Friday, July 12, 2013

Feathered Friend Friday: Broody Guinea

Welcome to our series "Feathered Friend Friday." Every Friday I write a post with interesting facts, photos, or funny stories about our chickens and guineas. If you need to catch up, you'll find all the Feathered Friend Friday posts here  

We recently found a nest of guinea eggs in our garden, and I was excited because I love to cook with guinea eggs. Our guineas free range, so their eggs boast yolks that are bright orange with a rich, buttery taste. Guineas will not return to a nest if their eggs have all been removed, so I left a few and marked them so I could just take the freshly laid eggs at the end of each day.

We had been doing this for a week or so, when one day David noticed a guinea sitting on the eggs late in the day. It seems like we usually have at least one broody guinea each season, so I figured this was the case with our garden guinea.

My suspicions were confirmed when she was still on the nest the next morning and all through the day. She has been sitting for a few days now and hisses when I come near, so she is definitely trying to hatch out some keets. There are probably only about six or seven eggs under her, so luckily we won't have too many more guineas running around (our current count is somewhere near 30 and that's just about enough for us!).

She's in a pretty well covered spot in one of our garden beds, so I think she is safe there. I really didn't want to let any guinea hens hatch out more keets this year, but David said we should just let her do her thing and not intervene at all. Last time we rounded the keets up and took care of them until they were grown, but this time we will just let mama do her job and leave the rest up to nature.

So here in a few weeks we may have some little keets running around following behind their mama! Of course I will be ready, camera in hand, to capture all the insane cuteness.

PS - Go here to see our adorable batch of keets that hatched last fall.


Shared with The Backyard Farming Connection Hop 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pollen-Bound Hive?

Upon an inspection of the beehive a few weeks ago, we noticed there was very little brood and we couldn't find the queen. We were really worried that we may have killed her somehow (every first time beekeeper's worst nightmare). David was making arrangements to buy a new queen ASAP so our hive wouldn't be too affected by her absence, but before we jumped the gun we contacted a few experts for their opinions (thanks for all your help, Natalie!).  We decided first of all to conduct a very thorough search of each frame to make absolutely certain that we did not have a queen before buying a replacement.

And what do you know, we found her!

We were so relieved once we spotted the queen, but still worried about the lack of brood. During the summer when they are foraging nonstop, worker bees only tend to live about six weeks. They basically work themselves to death. If the queen hasn't laid any new eggs in a while, the hive population could drop drastically in a short period of time. So this led us to do more research on why our queen would not be laying up to her full potential, and we reached the conclusion that she may be pollen bound. Many of the frames were so packed with pollen (and also honey, but not as much as pollen) that it seemed the queen had nowhere to lay her eggs. David figured we should switch around some of the frames, moving some that were still somewhat empty over by where the queen was hanging out. By giving her some frames with space to lay eggs, we hoped she would ramp up production.

While I was at work yesterday, David opened the hive to take a quick peek and noticed a lot more brood. Success! We caught the problem fairly early on and were able to solve it with a little research and following our instincts. So far there has been such a steep learning curve to this whole beekeeping adventure (which I fully expected) but I'm glad we are learning so much about them. After all, if everything went perfectly, we wouldn't learn much, right? At least that's what I keep telling myself!


Monday, July 8, 2013

Pioneer Women Outing: Lavender Farm

Each month a group of women in my family and some of our friends get together to do different activities, many of them focusing on old skills that have been lost like food preservation or soap making. We call ourselves the pioneer women and this past weekend our group took a little field trip to a lavender farm near St. Louis. It was such a great time!

When we arrived, the owner of the farm gave a very thorough and interesting talk on lavender and all its beneficial uses. I really had no idea that lavender was so great for medicinal purposes! I've always heard about the cosmetic uses, but actually it sounds like it is a wonderful all-natural cure for just about anything that ails you. It can help wounds heal faster, alleviate symptoms from allergies or sinus issues, and can also act as a sleep aid.

Dried lavender can also be used in cooking, and after the talk we had our lunch which featured some of the lavender grown there on the farm. With my veggie wrap I had a wonderful spinach strawberry salad with a balsamic vinaigrette infused with lavender. To drink I had lavender lemonade, and for dessert it was a chocolate brownie with dried lavender. Everything was so delicious!

After lunch I was ready to go pick some lavender for myself. They have several different varieties growing at the farm, and I was sure to harvest my lavender from the variety used for culinary purposes. If you use a different type of lavender, it can be very overpowering and slightly bitter in your food.

I was so thrilled to see bees everywhere! They actually have two beehives at the farm but they were all sold out of honey. I wish I could have tasted some - I bet it is heavenly!

After I had collected my lavender bundle, I spent a little time walking around the property and taking in the beautiful scenery. There were several small ponds and a cute old barn making up the landscape.

To end the time at the farm, we headed up to the gift shop where they sell all sorts of wonderful products created with their lavender. I purchased some lavender essential oil (made from steam distillation) so I could try making a few of my own cosmetic items at home.

It's always fun to spend time with my pioneer women. The lavender farm was the perfect destination for our outing for the month of July!


Shared with Tuesday Muse, Eco Kids Tuesday, Barn Charm