My Hats

We all wear many hats when it comes to the things we do/juggle in our lives. A few of the hats I wear are mom, wife, DogVacay host, Grandma-sitter, gardener, blogger, chicken-wrangler…. ok, maybe more than a few. From time to time I get to put on a few more hats, event-planner, cake-baker and caterer. This month, in the same weekend, I had two fantastic projects to add to my mini portfolio. I had such fun with both events that I really want to share the story with you and introduce you to the me who wears the caterer/cake-baker/party-planner hat.

The first was a dinner that consisted of a first course with a salad of tender greens, orange supremes, toasted walnuts, red onion and gorgonzola cheese, dressed in a fresh orange juice vinaigrette and served with fresh-baked baguette. Dinner was grilled rack of lamb, roasted red potatoes and grilled zucchini (my homegrown) and yellow squash. Dessert was a simple dessert the hostess remembers from her childhood with fresh whipped cream and chocolate wafers, I added some fresh berries for a pop of color and bright flavor. This dinner was for 14 people at the studio, really a nice home in the local foothills, of the hostess. The living and dining rooms are one large area with a high ceiling that has hardly a free space on any of the walls. It is just filled to the max with the beautiful paintings and sculptures of the evening’s hostess. It was a last-minute booking for me, and smack in the midst of party preparations for a surprise party for my friend of 25 years.

I wasn’t able to snap even a single image of the first dinner as it was just myself running the kitchen, slicing, plating, serving, clearing and cleaning. That was Saturday night. It was a fast paced few hours that will go down as one of my favorite catering memories. Later in the week when I ran back for the one item I inevitably forget every time I cater an event, I received the best gift, the hostess had not been expecting the lamb to be seasoned and prepared like it was. See, she’s not the best listener, though she is one of the best clients. She is fun to work with, a little quirky but we manage to work rather well together. Any who, she asked for lamb, I immediately went to my favorite marinade and the best cut. Rack of lamb with a marinade of lemon, garlic, rosemary and mustard. She thought, roasted leg of lamb, even after we agreed to my version, I still found mint jelly waiting to be served alongside the lamb. I assured the hostess we would not be needing mint jelly (I really am not a fan). So when we met up later in the week and were chatting about how well received the dinner was and how she was still getting compliments on the food, she told me that the lamb I served was now her FAVORITE way to eat lamb!!!! That is a compliment that will stick with a girl.

No time to rest, I still had a surprise 40th birthday party to put the finishing touches on. My mantra “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. There is just too much life to be lived. Many a late night was had the week prior to this party. It was so much fun putting all the details together and really a dream gig. The Bestie’s mom wanted to throw a big bash for her daughter so she funded the shindig and green-lighted every idea I offered for the event. So to say I got carried away would be an understatement. But I really couldn’t help myself. This friend is SO worth every last bit of hard work and late night. The party was a Bastille Day themed bash. Pretty easy to put together since the French flag is blue, white and red. Here is a little peek into the event
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(Click on the picture to enlarge)
I will post more pictures on my catering Facebook page Your Family Affair Cakes & Catering
I cooked up Boeuf Bourguignon, Coq au Vin, green beans, mashed Yukon gold potatoes and baked more baguettes. There was a dessert table with assorted chocolates, candies, gourmet popcorn and French macarons. I am obsessed with the macarons now. I made raspberry with dark chocolate ganache filling and lemon with vanilla butter cream filling. The lemon ones were divine, like a lemon meringue pie in two bites.

The cake? Oh just a simple 5 layer chocolate cake with chocolate mousse filling and chocolate butter cream icing.

Midge and I made tissue paper blooms that we strung from the open beams on the patio cover. We also made coffee filter flowers by dying individual coffee filters in yellow food color and then dipped the centers in green after the yellow dried. I glued those onto twine to make a garland. The colors of the day were red, white and blue with pops of yellow to brighten it all up. If only the day hadn’t been the hottest day of our summer thus far, the day would have been absolutely perfect. The smartest thing I did was bring in 2 staff to run the kitchen, set up food and clear dishes. The guys have worked with me on several other events in the past and are my go to helpers. Having them in the kitchen freed me up to be a properly involved hostess and unchained me from the kitchen duties, absolute genius I tell you.

I couldn’t have pulled this all off without the help of Midge and my Handsome Hubs. Midge is my right hand, when I have an over-flowing plate I know I can depend on this kid to pick up the extra workload and handle whatever I put on her to-do list. The Hubs too, he put in his full-time work hours, picked up an electrical emergency side job and still managed to get his party to-do list accomplished on time. I am a lucky girl to have a family that allows me to continually bite off more than I can chew and help me get everything accomplished all while smiling. (at least to my face).

How many hats do you wear?

I can CAN

I’ve been a bit silent lately. Hopefully you noticed since I am such a HUGE part of your lives now, Ha, riiiight. Let me tell you though, even on a little city lot I have plenty to keep me busy this summer. The garden is growing like mad. I have been picking enough cucumbers each week to put up a handful of cans of pickles each week for the past few weeks. It is fun having such a bounty that I can pick a new recipe each week to try out and since upgrading my 1970′s home canning cookbook to this beauty
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I have been busy putting veggie to canning jar pretty much every weekend. We have Kosher Dills, Refrigerator Dills,
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Dilly Beans and Dill Pickle Slices.
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Midge has been asking for sweet pickle relish and I have been picking at least 2 good-sized zucchini nearly every day so I can now add sweet pickle relish, that is DELICIOUS and I even canned up a couple pints of zucchini pickles!
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The relish is fun, it is made with all our homegrown veggies, I didn’t have any red bells so I substituted our pretty lilac bells
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This new canning cookbook has gotten me so excited to can. I may have dog-eared a page or two of recipes I cannot wait to try.
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Up next is trying a few more canning recipes for all my zucchini and then restock my mason jar collection in time to hopefully put up gobs of tomato products next month.

Do you can? What is your favorite canning recipe or favorite thing to can? Please share.

Pampered Post

What a week I have had! I apologize for missing all of my regular blog posts, that I hope you have become accustomed to seeing each week, but I was slammed with catering and party prep. Between a cake pop order, a catered dinner for 12 on Saturday and a Surprise Bastille Day themed 40th birthday bash for a dear friend I hardly had time to sleep, let alone find inspiration for blog posts. Oh add in the regular summer chores of the garden and trying to keep up with the volunteering at the local “for the community” garden we have recently been working with, harvests, canning, blanching a freezing of produce that waits for no one. To say I am tired, I think that could have remained unspoken. Please note, I am not complaining. I love this kind of tired, a tired from hard work with a successful finished product that I put forth is the best kind of tired.

When you are swamped with projects it is easy to push time for yourself to the back burner. Now that I have made it to the completed side of all these projects it is time to put myself and my care back to the forefront. Take a little me time to recuperate and recharge. What better way than with a little pampering. So, thanks to some AW-mazing homesteading bloggers I give you the “Pampered Post”. Links to posts for everything you need to nourish your body from the outside in, from start to finish.

Bath Time:

These Stress Away Bath Melts from The Toups Address look divine, lavender has long been known for it’s calming effects. Can you imagine soaking in a hot tub with one of these mixed in.
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Face Time:

I have heard many a woman talk about this Oil Cleansing Method. It’s a pretty interesting idea that I have yet to dabble in due to the sensitive nature of my skin, that combined with the lovely psoriasis that plagues mainly my face just makes it difficult for me to find things that will work for me. This might be worth trying. Do you use the OCM for your facial cleansing?
Check out The Toups Address take on the Oil Cleansing Method
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You can find more from The Toups Address on Facebook
and on their blog

With all the dirty work that comes with spring, catering and party prepping (I am a serious party prepper) sometimes a good scrub is what my skin cries out for. This Orange-Honey Facial Mask and Scrub from Five Little Homesteaders looks delish! Maybe make a 2 batches, one for your face and one for a snack. Relax, I’m joking (I think)
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You can find more great DIY’s from Five Little Homesteaders on Facebook and of course at their Blog

Hair:

Do you do the No-Shampoo thing? I tried it for a week and have mixed thoughts on the subject. Using baking soda and vinegar (separately and diluted) worked wonders on the scalp full of psoriasis but left my hair feeling less that soft and manageable. Learning and Yearning has this cool Shampoo Bar that, though more involved in making, may be a good alternative to the “No-Poo” (I really dislike that little term) conundrum.
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While over at Learning and Yearning check out the post on Natural Skin Care, they cover homemade, natural deodorant, face creams, lotion bas, foot scrubs, and talk more about the OCM. A great recourse.
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Want more from Learning and Yearning? Facebook and Blog

Lip Service

I LOVE lip balm. I have countless varieties floating about my house, car, purse. I have purchased all natural ones and I have found I love these the best, they tend to keep my lips moisturized far longer (like half the day) without out being overly greasy, heavy, or wrought with the stench, and taste, of chemicals. Seems I am not the only lover of lip balm. Such an assortment. I may have to make a batch each to add to my plethora of lip balm.

Green Eggs and Goats gives us 2 recipes to try with their DIY Lip Balm
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Green Eggs and Goats
on Facebook and their Blog (Be sure to sign up for Beulah the Cows Mooooooosletter while you’re there.

The Toups Address has a recipe for Homemade Lip Balm that uses a bit more shea butter for increased softness
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And Lastly, a nice girly one with the addition of a bit of natural color in this Homemade Tinted Lip Balm from Five Little Homesteaders. I just love what she came up with for the color.
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Well there you have it! Thanks to the wonderful ladies at these Homesteads for their creativity and willingness to share.

Five Little Homesteaders
Green Eggs And Goats
Learning and Yearning
The Toups Address

July 1999

I uploaded over 40 images to build this post today, I think that is a couple, ok maybe a few, too many for one post. I could easily make you sick of the subject that in 15 years I have yet to tire of. Of all the things in my life, this is by far, BY FAR, the greatest. I can confidently say this subject is one that will NEVER, yep I said NEVER, tire of. I am pretty sure those near me have grown a bit bored with the broken record that I have become. If you were as tied to this as I am you too would understand the reason for my obsession.

What could possibly keep me so enthralled for so many years you ask?
My daughter!
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Today is her 15th birthday and I am about to, I think it has already started, go all proud momma on you here. Scroll for images or sit tight for the emotional torrent from this boastful mom.
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How could you not love such a face? This kid is incredible. Even at a young age she has shown more empathy for those around her than pretty much any adult I have met. While most are quick to jump to an angry conclusion, this girl, young lady, automatically gives the benefit of the doubt. Quick to forgive, slow to judge. Cool, calm and collected in an emergency. Thoughtful, sensitive, compassionate and genuine. From the start, this kiddo has been wise beyond her years, tender, giving and kind.
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Quick with a smile, hug, compliment and encouragement.
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Lover of all things furry and feathered. Midge is the happiest when she is among the animals. Rough housing with the dogs, caring for the cats, snuggling a bunny.
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Chillin’ with the chicks.
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She has said, she feels most at home when she is at the local stables, where she used to take riding lessons and still volunteers at summer camps
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There is no question, animals are her passion. With the strength of character, self awareness and confidence that this young lady carries herself with there is no doubt that her goals of becoming a veterinarian and one day opening her own rescue center will be realized. She has her head in the books, in the clouds and on her shoulders.
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Hard working, oh my for “city girl” she has a work ethic that can put folks to shame. From running just as hard as I do on a catering or event, seriously, my right hand. She springs into action without hesitation or complaint. She works side beside me on any big job, ready and willing to tackle each new task asked of her and all without complaint. From scrubbing houses to pulling weeds for hours this kid just digs in and works until the job is done. As her grandma said in disbelief “What teenager does that?”, having raised a few of her own.
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As if all that weren’t enough, Midge has had her top 3 colleges chosen for more than a year and makes the choices that keep her headed toward her goals.

I cannot recommend enough the need for everyone to have a Midge of their own. Bad days dissipate when she hugs me. Tears dry up when I hear the tenderness in her voice and feel the love in her heart.

Midge is:
Baker

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Though not always successful
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Girls Scout
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Clown
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Sassy Teen
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My Carpool Buddy
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My HEART
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My EVERYTHING
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Told you, solid obsession. Insane levels of pride. This kid is INCREDIBLE! You all should be so lucky as to have someone so magical, memorable, and magnificent in your lives. I am SO blessed.

Today will forever be the Greatest Day of my life, the day I met the coolest person on this planet (trust me, she is). I am a better person for having My Midge in my life.
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Happy Birthday to the best thing to ever happen to me!
(and your dad).

Kosher Dill Pickles

Finally!
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A successful crop of cucumbers which in my house automatically translates into Dill Pickles!!! The recipe I use is adapted from a cookbook with a publish date older than I am. I cannot remember how this book found itself in my possession but I am certainly happy it did.
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I add a little extra spice and garlic to my version since that’s the way we like our pickles around here. I weighed my cucumbers and had about 7 pounds but I only got 6 quarts out of them. The original recipe calls for 2 1/2 pounds and says it makes about 5 quarts, that has yet to prove true in my experience. So I just grab a handful of all the ingredients, mix up the liquid following the measurements and have a go at it, I figure I can heat more liquid if need be and will fill as many jars as my cucumbers will fit.

Kosher Dill Pickles

Ingredients:
2 1/2 pounds 4-inch cucumbers (about 25)
Fresh dill
Garlic Cloves
Hot peppers
(I used fresh cayenne long and super chile from the garden and chiles de arbol – the little dry, red ones from the Hispanic foods section at the market)
Pickling Salt (or in my case Kosher salt)
4 cups Cider vinegar
3 quarts water – filtered before tap please

Directions:

Get your water bather canner filled and heating on the stove before you start your pickles. Follow manufacturer directions for your canner.

1. Prepare your jars and lids according to manufacturer directions.

2. Thoroughly wash cucumbers. Quarter them lengthwise.

3. Combine the vinegar and water in a large saucepan, bring to a boil.

4. Rinse the dill, peel the garlic and wash peppers (if using fresh)
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5. Pack cucumbers, dill (like 6-8 little stems. Don’t count, just grab a small bundle), peppers (I like 2, you might try 1 to start) and garlic (again I like 2 big cloves or 3-4 smaller, cause garlic = heaven in my home) into hot jars. Pack them in as tight as you can get them

6. Measure 1 Tablespoon salt into each jar.

7. Once your vinegar mixture is boiling, using a canning funnel, carefully lade the hot mixture into the jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Run a table knife down the insides of the jars to release any trapped air bubbles.

8. Wipe off the rim of the jar with a towel. Place lids and rings on and screw down firmly.

9. By now, the water bath canner should be hot, Place your filled jars on the rack in canner, making sure the jars don’t touch. Once all jars are in the canner, check water level. If necessary add more boiling water so that the water is at least 1-inch over the tops of the jars.

10. Once the water begins to boil, start your timer. Process in boiling water for 20 minutes*.

11. When your pickles are finished processing, turn off heat under canner and, using can lifter, carefully transfer your jars to a rack or towel in a draft-free area. Leave space between jars to allow air to circulate. Now wait for the chorus of pings to begin. Such a sweet sound to be heard at the end of processing.
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*Note: The processing time is for sea level, for every 1000 feet above sea level add 1 minute to the processing time.

I like to can my pickles for a shelf stable pickle that I can pull one can at a time to refrigerate. If I had an entire fridge I could dedicate to just pickles, I would likely just make refrigerator pickles. Here is a link to a Refrigerator Pickle recipe from the folks over at Wood Streets Gardens that looks a lot like my canned one. Though they add a spice that I hadn’t ever thought to try. Think I’ll add it to my next batch.

Now the hardest part, waiting to break into a jar of these delicious pickles! We can hardly stand it. Like a young child in the weeks leading up to Christmas, with each day drawing us just that much closer to the date marked on the calendar, it just gets harder and harder to not sneak a peek (or taste) of what’s inside.

Enjoy!

Do you have a favorite pickle recipe? What vegetable do you most like pickled? Please share.

In Bloom

I little photo update on the “Growings-On” in our garden. Photo credits are all mine this time. Hope you enjoy.

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Love the pretty purple silks of the corn.

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White pumpkin

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Jack-o-lantern pumpkin

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Pumpkin blossom

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The very beginnings of what is promising to be a bountiful cucumber season

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Cucumber blossom

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Early Girl tomatoes

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The corn has to be a good 10 feet tall now! I think we may be harvesting some for the 4th!!

June 1994

Twenty years ago this week two unlikely paths came together. We were just kids when we met. He was 20 years old and I, well, I was (am) younger.
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Not like creepy younger, I was 17, which just means I’m not 40 yet.

I didn’t know then that this guy and I would be where we are today. That the love and friendship would continue to grow. That with everything life has thrown at us we would both continue to make the choice to stand together to face whatever may be. Travis and I have held tight to one another as we have navigated the sometimes Tsunami sized waves that life has pounded us with. It has only been with a mutual love, support and respect that he and I have always managed to reach the surface, together, still strong.
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Of all the bad decisions we have made in our lives, there have been a few doozies, we have also managed to make some of the best, like choosing to support when at times it would have been easier and more expected for us to fight and push apart. You know, that choice to become parents, could quite possibly be the greatest decision we have made or will ever make in our lives. We do have the most incredible daughter.
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Today, Travis and I celebrate our 14th Wedding Anniversary. I am not really sure where all these years have gone. All I do know is there were few who ever thought that 20 years ago, those two kids would have ever been standing together with the love and commitment we have today. As a teen I thought I knew what love was, who I was or where I was headed. When in reality I had zero concept of the gift that stood next to me. I was unprepared for many things. Most of which was how much MORE I love my husband today. How much strength, courage, support, love and friendship he would have to offer me over the years and how the love, respect and bond I have for him would continue to grow with time. Now that I can see what 20 years brings I say BRING ON 80 MORE!
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Happy Anniversary to my best friend, my rock, my heart. The best person a girl could have next her on this wild and crazy ride called life. I thank the Heavens for you daily.
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All these years and I still swoon for this man. I am one incredibly blessed girl.

(Duck) Egg Bread

With the recent gift of fresh duck eggs came the desire to use them in just the right recipes. I have read many things about the difference of duck eggs from them being a bit richer in taste to giving baked goods more loft and texture. I had 3 very distinct recipes in mind.
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The first recipe I tried was a duck egg custard. Unfortunately in my eagerness to try this particular recipe I used the only “milk” I had on hand, Almond Milk, and in doing so, promptly wasted my first 3 eggs. It was awful stuff. Lesson learned, real dairy ONLY for custard making. Though the chickens didn’t seem to mind the grainy texture and almost “instant” taste of it, so I guess it wasn’t a complete waste.

The second was egg bread. On our homesteading journey I have been steadily reducing our consumption of pre-made baked goods, bread, tortillas and what have you. I successfully created a wheat bread that Midge happily eats (Yay me!). We all LOVE homemade corn and flour tortillas *swoon* they are delicious! French bread – No words for the pleasure that comes from eating it, so good. But the Hot Dog and Hamburger bun department I had yet to create that perfect bun. See how I said ‘had’? Yep, that is where this next recipe comes in. Duck Egg Bread! I have made this bread with our chicken eggs before (Well, me as in Midge and her friend Tiny)
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This is the perfect bread for French toast. Slice it thick, dredge it in that creamy mixture of eggs and milk with a splash of vanilla extract and a couple shakes of ground cinnamon, then cooked on a hot griddle till fluffy and golden brown…Oh my gosh I need to go cook breakfast!

Ok anyway, back to the recipe.

My first stab at hot dog buns yielded rolls so bready (is that a real word?) there was no room for the dog, they were so dense the only way to choke them down would be like the pros at hot dog eating contests where they soak the bread in water to get them down. These things were awful! Into the freezer they went, until they were forgotten about and eventually discovered on a cleaning mission where they then went out to the chickens to demolish (Got to love chickens, nothing goes to waste). The next attempt was a complete 180 degree about face from the first; we didn’t have to worry about having too much bun as these came out flat and hard – breadsticks. Oops, oh well, Foxy Roxy enjoyed that batch as they were definitely more akin to a dog biscuit than a hot dog bun. It was clear something needed to change. I had tried a white bread recipe and a potato bread. The potato bread is great for hamburger buns but just not what I was looking for in the way of hot dog buns.
Then I found inspiration in an unlikely source…

One of my favorite guilty pleasures is grabbing that ridiculously inexpensive, giant hot dog after a shopping trip (or even without the shopping) at Costco. I mean really? That giant dog and a drink for less than $2? The buns they serve are the best, not too much bread, not too chewy, but strong enough to hold all the tasty toppings. That is the hot dog bun I want to create for my family. Perfectionist? Yeah, maybe.
Lucky for us I am that obsessive about good food or we would have never come to this
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Egg Bread (Sans Bread Machine)
Ingredients:
4 ¾ cup bread flour
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups milk (I used almond, it’s what I had)
3 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon salt (I used sea salt, it’s what I had)
2 eggs (Duck if you have them, but chicken eggs will do)

Directions:
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour and the yeast; set aside. In a medium saucepan heat the milk, sugar, butter and salt just till warm (120F to 130F), stirring constantly. Pour the milk mixture into the flour/yeast mixture. Add the eggs. Beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed for 30 seconds; scrape the sides of the bowl often. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. With a wooden spoon, work in as much of the remaining flour as you can.
2. Turn the dough out on to a floured surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. (The trick here is to not add too much flour, I found a slightly wetter dough aides in achieving a lighter, airier final product). Shape the dough into a ball. Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft free location till double in size (about 1 hour).
3. Punch down dough, turn onto a floured surface. This is where I divided the dough in half; I turned one half into a loaf and the other half I divided into 12 equal portions to turn into hot dog buns.
*For the loaf, gently roll out or just pull and stretch the dough into a rough rectangle about 9”x 16”. Beginning on a short end, roll up the dough, pinching seam to seal and pulling ends under. Place in a greased loaf pan, cover and let rise in a warm, draft free location until about double in size (about 1 hour)
*For the hot dog buns, gently stretch each dough ball out into rough rectangles about 5-6 inches long and (honestly?) as wide as you can get it, likely only a couple inches. Starting on a long side, roll up, pinching the seam to seal. Gently pull the end under. Place seam side down on a greased cooking sheet. At this point, your dough is going to look more like the dog than the bun. Repeat with remaining dough. Place about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Prepare 2 baking sheets as one won’t hold them all. Cover and let rise until double in size (about 1 hour)
4. Bake in a 350F degrees oven.
For the loaf – 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.
For the buns – 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.
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Bread Machine Version
Ingredients:
1 1/3 cup warm milk
3 tablespoons butter, softened
2 eggs
4 ¾ cup bread flour
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast

Directions:
Place all ingredients in bread machine bowl in the order listed. Create a well in the center for the yeast. Place bowl in machine, select the Dough setting and start.
Once the cycle is complete, turn dough onto a floured surface. This is where I divided the dough in half; I turned one half into a loaf and the other half I divided into 12 equal portions to turn into hot dog buns.
*For the loaf, gently roll out or just pull and stretch the dough into a rough rectangle about 9”x 16”. Beginning on a short end, roll up the dough, pinching seam to seal and pulling ends under. Place in a greased loaf pan, cover and let rise in a warm, draft free location until about double in size (about 1 hour)
*For the hot dog buns, gently stretch each dough ball out into rough rectangles about 5-6 inches long and (honestly?) as wide as you can get it, likely only a couple inches. Starting on a long side, roll up, pinching the seam to seal. Gently pull the end under. Place seam side down on a greased cooking sheet. At this point, your dough is going to look more like the dog than the bun. Repeat with remaining dough. Place about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Prepare 2 baking sheets as one won’t hold them all. Cover and let rise until double in size (about 1 hour)
Bake in a 350F oven.
For the loaf – 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.
For the buns – 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.
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Enjoy!

Oh and that third recipe I mentioned earlier? Well, that was going to be fresh pasta, but Sunday morning, while typing this post up, I was so hungry for French toast that I used the last 3 duck eggs for that. I had a serious battle, in my head. I desperately wanted to hold on to my last precious duck eggs to make fresh pasta with but I just couldn’t see using chicken eggs on my duck egg bread. One day, this will be a choice I won’t have to make, one day.

Top 10 Things I love about this life, #9 might be the best.

Last summer was when we first brought home chickens. It was the beginning of July and so marked the beginning of this homesteading journey that we had no idea we were setting out on at that time. With this also being my 100th blog post, I thought it the right moment to stop and reflect on the past year, where my family and I started, what I’ve learned and share a few highlights. So I give you, the top 10 things I love about our little urban homestead life, as discovered in the first year.

1. Fresh Produce – The joy of going out to the garden each day to see what is ready to be harvested. Planning our meals around the fresh produce we have available and knowing that it was grown with lots of care and careful planning and without the use of chemicals and pesticides. Fresh produce from our backyard garden is the best.
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2. Fresh Eggs - Just as wonderful as the fresh produce, fresh eggs from our delightful backyard flock makes every day feel just a little like Christmas and Easter. There is a difference between grocery store eggs and fresh pasture raised eggs, yes they are healthier, the yolks are vibrantly orange and perky, but they also have more substance to them, they aren’t watery and plain. You actually have to chew fresh, pastured eggs. Weird I know, but I just don’t know any other way to describe this difference. They seem more like a real food than those old grocery store eggs.
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3. The Chickens – Another benefit of having a backyard flock is the chickens themselves. For me, the hens are a constant source of entertainment and stress relief. I just cannot help but giggle when the girls get to running across the yard, whether it’s to great me (the feeder) or to race from one shady patch to the other. Oh and the chicks are even funnier. They hop, flap and scramble to close ranks across the yard, running in single file, following the leader, even if he is headed directly into the fence they no longer fit through. Then they have to snake their way around the gate to make their way back into the chicken yard. Just watching chickens and chicks be just that, is great therapy. Watching my broody talk to, teach, protect and care for her clutch this spring was almost magical. Nature at work as it should be, that is a great source of pleasure.
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4. Learning and Trying New Things – This, our first year has been the year of many firsts. From bread and tortilla making to keeping chickens and hatching eggs. Growing new vegetables in the garden, lacto-fermenting our cabbage into sauerkraut (If you have never tried sauerkraut made this way, you really are missing out). The May Meet-Up was a brand new experience. Oh and I checked a big new experience off the list recently when I purchased our first half-gallon of raw goat’s milk. The 3 of us easily drank down half of it before I took the last quart and turned it into another first when I made a small batch of fresh Farm Cheese. That was to fun! To say it has been fun discovering all the “do-it-yourself” things that are out there would be a gross understatement of large proportions. With each new success comes the confidence and drive to add more “must try’s” to our list.
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5. Overcoming Fears – With all these new experiences comes some fear and trepidation. I will openly admit I was just as apprehensive about tasting raw goat’s milk for the first time as I was excited to finally get to taste raw goat’s milk for the first time. But my biggest anxiety thus far has been learning to pressure can. This surpasses the uneasiness that comes with learning to cull that first chicken. Still trying to figure it out but what did happen was The Hubs and I working together to learn this new skill. He admitted he was a little nervous too, until he read the manufacturer’s directions, he ACTUALLY read them! We may not have conquered the pressure canner as of yet, but we are in the process (pun intended)
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6. Getting my Hands Dirty – It’s as simple as it sounds; there is no greater therapy for me than gardening.
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7. Accepting Failures as Lessons – It hasn’t been all rosy and drama free. We’ve lost hens, baked loaves of bread better suited for masonry work. There have been garden flops from frost to insects to chicken demolition crews. But from every failure has come a lesson learned. With each lesson has come personal growth and a broader knowledge base. Without failures there really is no growth. So I graciously (but not without some tears) accept all the failures, both grand and trivial.
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8. Patience – Patience is a learned skill and one that is vital in homesteading, farming, gardening, all aspects of “doing” for yourself. You cannot rush a hen to lay an egg. No rushing a seed to sprout or a plant to grow or set fruit. Bread needs time to rise. Patience is not something we all have in this instant world we live in but as I practice homesteading skills I discover how vital a skill it is, one long forgotten as my daughter has grown and gained independence over the years. It is hard to return to the patient side of life but it is helpful in relieving stress and undue pressure. The whole “stop and smell the roses” cliché comes to the forefront as a necessity and an actual way of life.
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9. New Found Friends & Community - Meeting like-minded folks from all over the country, world even. From fellow backyard, urban homesteaders to those on acreage, living off grid or taking a stab at building a full-fledged working farm, each individual has been a great source of drive, support, strength and knowledge. This continues to prove to be a delightful by-product of this little blogging adventure. I have made new friends that live both near and far. Most I have not met in person, nor may I ever, but they are still an integral part of my life now.

10. Who I See When I Look in the Mirror – I am not in my twenties, heck I am rapidly running out of my thirties too. I am not thin, nor am I content with the size I am. What I see when I look in the mirror runs deeper than these surface details. It is a woman (though I still feel like a girl, or more often, a 10-year-old boy), a woman, one who is finally figuring out what happiness truly is. One who is throwing aside the materialistic wants that so easily can be mistaken for needs. A woman who speaks with confidence, compassion and honesty without fear of what the listener may think. No longer do I worry so much about what someone thinks of what I am doing or why. I don’t use my words to convey the love and respect I am now living my life with. I use my actions. The level of self-confidence I carry now is the most fantastic treasure I have discovered, and so soon in my journey. As I stand at the threshold of this new chapter in my life I am already learning that stumbling is inevitable but using the bumps as building blocks as opposed to stones in a wall I can only continue to grow and flourish. For the first time in my life, I know I am where I need to be.
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I want to thank each and every one of you for following along as we find our way on this new journey. I hope you have enjoyed the ride as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you. Thank you.

Beyond Bountiful

This past weekend I had the opportunity to load up on all the citrus I wanted. As a “favor” to a friend, Midge and I helped trim her citrus trees and in the process, clear loads of oranges, lemons and avocados. Once home, unloaded and weighed it turned out we had just about 200 pounds total. 128 of those pounds was all oranges!

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Sunday found Kiddo and I washing, juicing, zesting and canning. I found a no pectin marmalade recipe that I wanted to try. I am disappointed to report that I ended up with 4 1/2 pints of a pretty sauce as it didn’t gel. I saved it with the hope of adding in some pectin to see if I can get it to come together. I sure hoe so as it not only contains lemons and oranges from a friend but it also contains grapefruit from my new friends over at Hometown Hive.

Thankfully, it was only the marmalade making that was flop. We managed to juice enough oranges to fill 5 1/2 gallons. We put some in the freezer, sent some home with the grower of these juicy oranges and are sharing with the Grandma’s who love fresh squeezed orange juice. I have no idea what type of oranges these are but they are certainly the juiciest and sweetest. There is no “pucker factor” and I didn’t need to add any sweetener. We didn’t juice all the oranges, I would guess we still have 20 or so pounds. I want to make more marmalade and have found some other fun recipes to try. These recipes from Attainable Sustainable are for tangerines but I can easily swap in oranges.

I like the idea of the combination of orange and ginger in this jam recipe. Tangerine Ginger Jam

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Homemade Triple Sec, fantastic idea!! Tangerine Triple Sec

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This recipe is an interesting one. I had never thought to preserve citrus in this manner and for the sake of being able to say I’ve tried it, I will try it. Salted Citrus

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If she hadn’t included ideas for how to use I might have just clicked right back out of that last one, but I am intrigued.

We also juiced out most of the lemons. We filled 3 ice-cube trays to freeze smaller portions of the juice for quick grab use in things like homemade mayo, pasta dishes, dressings and marinades, when you only need a tablespoon or 2. I know I want to make some lemon curd, a lemon meringue pie and Midge requested a lemon bundt cake. But beyond that???

Oh of course lemonade, but check out this variation on the timeless classic from Yearning and Learning.

Bubbly Probiotic Lemonade
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Then there is this wonderful round-up of all recipes Meyer Lemon from Ever Growing Farm. More than a few have caught my eye. Lemon Coconut Bars, Meyer Lemon fettucine, Lavender-Meyer Lemon Tom Collins Cocktails, Natural Cleaners and more!

Meyer Lemon Extravaganza
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What about the avocados you ask? Simple, a bag to my step mom who loves this creamy green fruit as much as I do, a bag to a Bestie, a pile in the fridge to delay their ripening and the majority set in a dry, warm location to ripen. I imagine a monstrous vat of guacamole being made once they ripen. I like to vacuum seal family sized portions to then freeze for a later date. Thawed in cool water, the guac tastes as good as it did when it was made. No ugly browning or off taste. A few may find their way into other salads and even a vinaigrette, but the destiny for most will be ‘that which I could live on’ guacamole!

With so many fun, different and interesting recipes I am going to have to go back and shake those trees down again and again.

Did I miss anything? How would you use this bounty?