Tag Archives: Farming

Flowers and Frost

By Mary

This month my sister Kate came for a delightful visit to our new home. A hard frost was right around the corner, so we brought many flowers in for an impromptu photo shoot with our sister in law Nicole.

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Harvesting the last flowers of the season gave me time to reflect on what a blur this growing season has been.

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Last winter I paged through a seed catalog in delight, reveling at the many colors and textures and heights that I intended on planting for the 2018 season. The seeds arrived before spring did, just before our move in date for our new, tiny rehabbed farmhouse, which was scheduled on the same day as my due date for our first baby.

I used the last of my last paycheck to order berry canes, which arrived in a snowstorm. To say I was a little overwhelmed would be a large exaggeration. However, I took inspiration from Native American women, who would bring their papooses along as they worked and gathered. I also come from a line of capable women, and I clung to the advice my sister in law Aurora gave me, which was that babies sleep a LOT.

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Bit by bit the tiny flower seeds became 35 flats of flowers, were transplanted, and became bouquets which I delivered weekly to the Viroqua Food Coop and People’s Food Coop for sale. All the berries got put in. And our son now sleeps substantially less and is much harder to wrangle while I am working.

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This season has been bountiful in so many ways. I failed a lot, learned a lot, and am so grateful for all that has bloomed.

 

Taking Stock

By Kate

Once upon a time I was a food writer. I was writing for Freedom Farms magazine and it was a rich and rewarding experience. I was working with a sustainable farming operation that I deeply believed in, I was able to drive out of the city and ride tractors and climb hay bales and get my boots muddy on a regular basis, and my children had the chance to spend time on a farm. Each month I listened to Lisa King, mother of ten children and incredibly talented cook, explain her philosophy of creating simple, nourishing, and unbelievably great tasting meals.

At the same time, I was struggling to balance my writing and my own household. I was regularly hyperventilating over a deadline about a farm fresh meal while tossing cold hot dogs to my own children, who were constantly in the midst of tearing the house to pieces. Eventually I had to take stock of my life, and to step back from writing and shift my focus to doing different work that allowed us to create a different, deeper family rhythm. (Literally, because we started a family band, but that’s a different story.)

It took years for me to begin to put into place the lessons I learned from Lisa King. At the heart of the message was to keep food preparation simple. Farm fresh, seasonal ingredients. One pot meals. Meal plans that please an entire household and automatically yield leftovers that do the same. Like so many seemingly simple things, the simplicity is deceptive in that it is refined by years of hard won experience.

Today I am making chicken stock. The simple recipe flows from the heart of the meal plan I’ve developed over the past few years. Once a week I roast a chicken. After it is carved and served and cooled, I save the entire carcass and the juice by placing it in a gallon size freezer bag, and sticking it into the freezer. I don’t roast chickens or make soup often in the summer, but now that the autumn frost and cold and flu season has arrived, I’m pulling out those frozen bags and turning them into stock.

Sometimes there is a great deal of meat left on it and sometimes it is almost picked bare, which is really the only thing that determines whether I’m technically making stock or broth. Technically, stock is made with roasted and simmered bones, while broth is made with both bones and meat. In either case, the end result is a nutrient rich, immune boosting, culinary staple that can be used as a simple soup or as the base for soups, risotto, pasta, dumplings, and a wide variety of other recipes.

Here is the recipe for my simple chicken stock.

SIMPLE STOCK

You will need:

-Chicken Carcass

-1 Onion

-6 cloves Garlic

-1 Celery Heart

-1 bunch Green Onion

-1 Ginger Root

-1 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar

-1 tsp Salt

-1 tsp Pepper

I use a crock pot because it allows me to simmer the stock slowly and safely without being tied to the stove all day. In the crock pot I place a chicken carcass, generally frozen and straight out of the freezer. (Keep the gallon bag handy, you can use it again to store and freeze stock!)

Roughly chop 1 onion, 6 cloves of garlic, and 1 celery heart.

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Grate 1 knuckle of ginger root and slice green onions.

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Add to crock pot, along with 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp of salt, and 1 tsp of black pepper.

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Add water to 2 inches below top of crock pot. Bring to a boil and stir. Check intermittently for pieces of skin, which will rise to surface. Remove and discard. After boiling mixture for ½ hour, lower heat and simmer for an additional 4-6 hours. At this point, pour the mixture through a metal colander. Discard all of the solids and allow the liquid to cool.

Store in an airtight container. Homemade chicken stock will keep for several days in the refrigerator. Depending on the size of the batch, I generally freeze some in freezer bags to use at a later date.

Stock serving suggestions: I like to drink broth for a light midday meal. I add red pepper flakes, thyme from my garden, and garlic powder. Some of my kids really enjoy homemade bread dipped into plain, heated chicken stock- but some of them will only eat chicken soup, which is another recipe for another day.

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April 16, 2015

By Mary

With my green eyes I see beauty and with my green thumb I like to nurture and create it. One of my very favorite things to do is to spend hours lost silence while gardening. Growing flowers never bores me. I have an appreciation for the flexibility of flower gardening because first and foremost, it offers me a creative outlet that is beautiful, as well as in constant motion. I really do despise sitting still, so it’s wonderful to be engaged in projects that keep me busy and moving, Plus growing flowers is such a flexible way to have a fun niche market.

Yesterday I picked up flats of baby lupines that I had started at an Amish greenhouse back in February. While at the greenhouse I spent a few minutes looking around at what’s available, which made me ponder new ideas for this season. Later last night I was able to look back at some of the pictures from last summer which made me remember times, colors and designs that were a joy to experience during last years growing season. Here are a few memories, designs and projects from 2014.

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Last February the world seemed to as if it would always remain in a cold state of below zero frozen doom. Lisa King from the GAC show Farm Kings sympathized with my state of winter misery and was able to brighten my spirits by showing me the first shoots of new life inside her greenhouse. As a side note: Lisa is an amazing flower gardener and does some amazing and gorgeous things with flowers. For some great inspiration from Lisa, checkout some of the clips that are available from their show or Freedom Farms Magazine.

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After coming back from Pittsburgh, I was able to put together some lists of records and start planting.

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Writing for the Freedom Farms magazine challenged me to spend some time coming up with articles that gave potting a new twist (just like the twisted grass in the globe pots I made that resemble my unbrushed hair!). To make these, just up-cycle an old globe, slit it in half, drill holes for drainage, and plant inside before attaching rope for hanging,

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Last summer I was able to burn out a stump and turn it into a flower bed.

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Burning out a tree takes a lot of time, and in my case one very heated argument…. but I liked the end result!

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Last year I recycled old bottles that had labels I liked and used them as vases. The price is right to reuse them. This gave me a great inspiration to buy bottles of wine that had horses on the labels, I mean, I bought them for my flowers, right?

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When it comes time to fill buckets with bouquets to take to the co-op for market, I am in my zone!

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This year I will have new colors and plants to work with. I am really looking forward to seeing what I come up with. My hope for this post was that it provided some inspiration to think creatively, and most importantly, encourage you to get out and get your hands in the dirt. Happy gardening and don’t forget to get lots of dirt on your hands!

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Whereabouts

by Kate

This morning felt like fall. The air was chilly, the leaves scarlet and swirling down against a grey sky, and the park was full of small children in brightly colored sweaters.

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It’s been a long hot entry into autumn here in Pittsburgh, but this morning it was clear that the seasons have shifted. I am adding extra blankets to the beds, drinking more coffee in the morning, taking more time to curl up on the couch and read to the kids while across the street an avenue of trees blaze into fiery color. There may even be more time to blog. Somehow this is preferable to other time consuming possibilities, including but not limited to catching up with the laundry. The laundry situation has hurtled out of control here in my home. Browsing through the photographic record of the past month or two, I begin to see why.

Life has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. There was samba dancing at Kennywood Amusement Park.

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There was the addition of a brand new chicken coop and three elderly laying hens to our urban backyard, bringing a sweet peace to my farmgirl soul.

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Speaking of farming, I’ve spent a lot of time with a camera around my neck…

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at the farmer’s market and way out in the country, taking notes and photographing the Farm Kings for their new magazine, which you should head right over and subscribe to. They’ve been shooting the new season of their reality show, which makes things particularly interesting in their neck of the woods.

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The day of the Farm Kings tomato field shoot, I sprinted across those hay bales to get some shots, jumped down, drove back into town, and got all gussied up in red lipstick and rhinestones to play the harp…

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for a spectacular, high society style Downton Abbey fundraiser at the WQED Studios here in Pittsburgh. It was pretty stunning.

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Watching young ballerinas from the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre rehearse quietly before the madding crowds arrived, dripping with jewels and sophistication, was one of my favorite moments of the night.

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Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to dance myself at a huge party comprising the entire Cultural District of downtown Pittsburgh, to welcome the Giant Rubber Duck to the city.

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It was a fantastic evening. The kids got to have a dance party in Katz plaza and see one of the largest Rubber Ducks in the whole wide world, and I got to work with some truly lovely women on a bellydance flash mob, and also had an excuse to wear bright red harem pants in public.

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Here in my own neighborhood, I had the privilege of spending an afternoon in my neighbor’s sunlit garden, playing the harp for the Lawrenceville House Tour.

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I am both exhausted and exhilarated by the various gigs I’ve had in the past few months, but it is possible that the most tiring thing I did was go on vacation for three days, with four women and six (small! loud!) children. Here is a picture of the sweet peace and sunlight that actually eluded us for the entire three days we spent laughing and snorting, occasionally crying, staying up far too late, and shivering because those were the only FRIGID three days of the entire fall. Holy cow was it cold.

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Also? I am shockingly inept with a rowboat. It was still great though. And I saw Lake Erie, and heard the thunder of waves upon the sandy shore.

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Back in Pittsburgh, there have been impromptu picnics….

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many wagon rides…

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and a lot of walks.

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Back in the park with the leaves swirling down, something about the change in the season makes me realize I am ready to sit down on my wooden stool and spend a bit more of my time here, on this blog. Come on over- you may just find me here. And then maybe, just maybe, I’ll get started on that laundry.

Country Girl in the City, Part One

by Kate

I was born and bred on a farm. I climbed a grain bin barefoot on my wedding day.

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And then I moved into the heart of a great grey city of steel and iron and statues and stone.

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But I am still a barefoot country girl, although I also have a pretty fabulous collection of sky high heels. I think that many people assume that simple sustainable living is a country thing. I know I did. I was wrong. I’ve learned a lot in the past few years, and I want to share some of them with you. These are some of the things that I do that remind me of home and have helped me to create a beautiful and sustainable life here.

I hang my clothes on the line.

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I’ve got a bed of strawberries under the laundry line too. I grow garlic, enough to last all year.

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I use cloth diapers as much as I can. These cheerful ones were a gift from a blog reader. (Thanks again, by the way. I love them.)

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I bake bread, and cookies, and cake, and I teach my children to bake too.

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These are some of the things that make me feel at home. Bake bread, grow garlic, hang clothes. Keep a compost pile. It turns out that some of the things that made country living enjoyable for me weren’t contingent on living in the country. I plan to keep sharing these things in an occasional series. Kick your shoes off, and join me on my country girl in the city adventures!

Slow Spring

By: Mary

Though this is just a mason jar filled with last fall’s jam:

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to me- it a vessel filled with the sweetness of summertime. Since making jam last September and October, the supply has slowly been consumed with the exception of one jar that I held on to. That is, until the other night when I used it as a substitute in a blackberry cobbler that my niece requested for her First Communion party.

I don’t usually hoard jam. The problem is that after 6 month of winter I am reluctant to believe that soon enough I will have fresh produce and fruit to use again.

I know I believe in God, and the Blessed Mother, and heaven and hell…. but I am not so sure I believe in spring anymore! This week has brought on more snow and ice. It’s less than amusing to be having to use windshield wipers to clear off snow and heat my car to thaw off the ice that coats it on early Ridge mornings. On Thursday I went to Tractor Supply to pickup more pellets for my pellet stove and was told they were out of them. What the heck? Hello we are still in the midst of a 6 month winter…. I say that with snappy assurance after having been on a long Saturday run with a winter stocking cap on my head this very afternoon.

This morning I showed my god-daughter how to make flowers out of egg cartons while Clare finished off the rest of the jam with some pancakes.

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The jam is gone and egg carton flowers are this spring’s April substitute for fresh blooms.

But next month…

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Might just be a good time for daffodils and apple blossoms

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and kites

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and dabbling with sheep

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and coveting how adorable they are as lambs,

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and of course, digging in the garden and fields.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALife will bloom soon enough under sunny spring rays,

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but until then I’m hoping the Tractor Supply will keep getting shipments of wood-burning pellets, because this is one slow spring.

Comfort and Calamity

By: Mary

In a matter of hours my connecting train from Pittsburgh to Chicago’s Union Station will take me back home. Home may only be 5 hours away from the busy city of Chicago, but to my county girl heart this layover in the city makes me feel both foreign and lost. The streets are full of slow moving traffic caught in jams, and the sidewalks offer little space as they accommodate the congestion of pedestrians moving at many different paces, most of whom are dressed in darker colors, and all of whom wear thick winter clothing to combat the cold and sharp wind that blows.

I have heard that in Wisconsin there has been a terrible storm raging away. It has been said that this is one of the worst of the year which means it must really be a beast of a storm as it has been an exceptionally cold and snowy winter.

Surely when I get home the snow will be deep and the pipes in my recently completed apartment will still be frozen. Grh!

Despite these obstacles, I am ready to return to my roots.

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I don’t have a place in this busy city traffic. When in Pittsburgh, I ended up in a conversation with someone at a Brazilian Carnival. He tried to sell me the concept of moving to Pittsburgh. I laughed and told him I gladly would move to the city with the requirement that my closest neighbor would have to live at least a mile away.

I love the silence and life that living on a ridgetop offers.

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I love the comfort

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and calamity

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that comes from being surrounded by open space and family.

The richness that rural life provides challenges me as I balance (not only on my horse’s back!)

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I love the roulette of farming.

I am thankful for knowing what contents and captivates me. Also, I am very excited to welcome the goodness of spring under the sphere of its golden sunshine.