The end of the year is always a busy time on the farm. There’s usually lambing going on, bottle calves to feed and all the festivities of the holiday season. Miss Piggy is expecting to give birth at any moment! The university I work for closes for almost 2 weeks at the end of the year but this year I decided to end one year and start the next by spending more time with my family, friends and animals so I took some vacation time to extend my holiday break.
To kick off our holiday season, the husband and I decided to get away for the weekend. We decided on Gatlinburg, Tn. It’s far enough away that we feel we are on vacation but still close enough that if anything happened on the farm we could get back home in 3 or 4 hours. Our oldest son farm-sat for us and was gifted with the first set of lambs of the season while we were away. It was an easy birth, mom and lambs are in great shape, he moved them into their jug (pen in sheep farming) easily, took pictures and sent us a text letting us know.
We haven’t been to Gatlinburg in years and were surprised by how much it had grown. It’s mostly wall to wall shops now. It was very pretty at night as the town was decked out in holiday lights. We walked the main strip once but mostly just enjoyed the surrounding area as we are not shoppers. Happily our motel, Zoder’s Inn & Suites, was located in a quiet area at the beginning of the strip.
Zoder’s Inn & Suites
I know you are thinking, yuck it’s a motel, but motels are very common in Gatlinburg and are usually well kept due to the high demand of tourists. Zoder’s offers a little bit of everything, rooms, suites, cabins and townhouses. When looking for a place to stay, they offered a creekside room with complimentary breakfast, milk and cookies at night and wine and cheese in the evening. Complimentary wine! All for a decent $98/per night – sounds like my kind of place.
Lovely decorated bridge
The creek runs through the property and all the rooms along it have a balcony. The room we stayed in looked to be one of the originals as it could have used some updating but it was very clean albeit a bit musty. A couple shots of air freshener to work it’s magic while we went out to dinner took care of that. The grounds were very pretty with their holiday decorations. There is also an indoor pool/hot tub, racquet ball courts, exercise area and an outside pool which we did not take advantage of. There is a grill area with a fire pit that I would have liked to enjoy but was a popular spot with lots of folks settled in around it both evenings we were there.
All in all we had a very relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable weekend. We are back on the farm and ready to meet lambing and the holiday season!
I have made vanilla extract in the past with bourbon and while I liked it I have been wanting to try a more neutral flavored alcohol. So with some downtime around the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I decided to make a couple of batches. There was a bit of rum left over from the last margarita blitz so along with that I picked up a bottle of vodka on my way out of the city.
Making vanilla extract is so easy I don’t know why I haven’t been making it all along. It does take some time for the vanilla beans to infuse the liquor but still – so easy and much less processed than store bought vanilla. I had quite a few vanilla beans on hand as I pick them up at my local food co-op and whenever I see them on sale in the grocery store. There are also online sites that you can order them from though I’ve not done that yet.
I started with the vodka, 6 Madagascar vanilla beans and a clean, sterilized bottle. I just happened to have a cute little herb bottle that I had saved and an old liqueur bottle. Cut the beans in half longwise, then in half or thirds across, put the beans in the bottle and top with vodka. Leave enough head room in the bottle to be able to shake it. Put the cap on and be sure to label it so you won’t have to guess as to what is in there later.
Next up was that bit of rum which fit perfectly in the small herb bottle I had on hand. I usually keep a stash of bottles and jars just for times like this.
Homemade Vanilla Extract made with Rum
Once everything is bottled, give it a few shakes and store somewhere dark and cool to infuse. Mine are residing in the back of a bedroom closet. I’ll shake them a few times for the next couple of months then will check the flavor. I usually let mine sit for 3 or 4 months but depending on how many beans you use, the flavor may be where you want it in just a month or so. Enjoy!
Alcohol of your preference (rum, vodka, bourbon, brandy)
Vanilla beans, 2-10 depending on size of bottle
Please use a clean sterilized bottle of your choice. I usually use around 6 vanilla beans. Cut them lengthwise then across into halves or thirds to fit into the bottle. Pour alcohol over leaving enough headroom to be able to shake the contents. Store in a cool dark spot. Check in a month, shake and leave longer if needed for flavor to develop. Check every few weeks. Enjoy!
For a long time I have used a few simple items to clean with such as baking soda used as a soft scrub in the bathroom and lemon oil to polish wood furniture but I’ve never made an all-purpose cleaner. So, about a year ago I started searching online for a recipe and found an orange cleaner that I really like. Being a major fruit lover, I am all about the citrus; I love to eat it, smell it, wear the colors of it. The recipes I found call for soaking dried peels in vinegar for a week or so. I’ve been making it regularly and really like it.
Well, this past weekend I was cleaning out my laundry area and found a jar of orange peels that had been soaking for going on two months. Way past time to mix up some cleaner so after straining, I added essential oil to enhance the smell even more and added a couple of drops of dish detergent just to give it a bit of oomph. This stuff is really good! It cleaned up a greasy stove top easily and smelled nice to boot.
15 drops or so of Tangerine or other essential oil, optional
Save peels from oranges, lemons or citrus fruit of your choice. Dry in sunny place such as a window sill. Pack into a quart jar and top with white vinegar. Store in dark area such as a closet for at least a month. Strain, saving liquid. Pour into a clean spray bottle, add 2 squirts of dish detergent and about 15 drops of essential oil if desired. Shake to mix.
Back when I first moved out on my own I started copying recipes into notebooks. The copying turned almost into an obsession to the point where friends were hiding their cookbooks from me or I’d be in their homes until all hours of the night scribbling away like a madwoman. The stickler was that I barely knew how to cook and really didn’t want to. I just liked the art of handwriting.
As a kid, whenever we traveled I also use to look in the phone book of the city we were in for all the riding stables listed. Not that we were going to visit them but I just liked seeing what kind of information they had about the stables. I WAS a horse crazy kid but still…..okay, so I might have been a bit odd when I was younger but I have a great collection of recipes! All that copying turned into 7 notebooks of recipes. Some of the recipes I cut out of magazines and pasted into the books but most are hand-copied.
Below is a Notebook Recipe – Zippy Wing Sauce that we really enjoyed this weekend.
When I cook wings I break off and discard the wing joints, then separate the wing. I then salt and pepper them and bake in a 375 F. oven, flipping several times until they start turning brown. Baste with the sauce about 10 minutes on each side. The next time I make these I’ll cook the wings on a greased rack set in the pan so the drippings can fall through.
My job is in the city so I commute about an hour in the morning and afternoon. Because of this, I miss a lot of the farm happenings. This past Saturday morning found my husband out hunting so it was left to me to let out the chickens out from the Chicken Wagon and to let the sheep out into the big field. I was up and out the door just as the sun was topping the trees to take care of them. On the way out, I grabbed some bread that was on the south end of fresh and the cattle stick in case our ram, Rambo, decided to have a go at me and walked down to the farm. It was a beautiful morning.
Waking up in the Chicken Wagon
Having a whole flock of sheep that are happy to see you is a great way to start the day. We all made our way out to the big field where the Chicken Wagon is parked. I could see the chickens at the windows and were anxious to start their day. After scattering the bread around for them and the sheep, I opened the door and scooted around to the back of the chicken wagon so I would not get rooster attacked. Between the rooster and the ram, you really have to stay on your toes.
I love to hear happy chickens singing and clucking.
I have been wanting to make some Black and Blue Jam using blackberries and blueberries. We had a good blackberry crop this summer and when the blueberry prices dropped at the end of the season I stocked up. What I did not use for the jam went into the freezer for more jam, blueberry pancakes and other dishes. Something about cooking or baking with fruits during the cold days of winter brightens my day.
For the Black and Blue Jam, I used the Mixed Berry jam recipe from the Ball Book of Canning: http://www.freshpreserving.com/recipes/mixed-berry-jelly. If you have never canned before pick up Ball’s canning book (that’s how I learned) and start with recipes that call for water bathing such as jellies, tomatoes, pickles, etc. They are easy to master. Then when you’re comfortable you can move on to pressure canning! For the Cherry Jam, I used the Cherry Preserves recipe of Ball’s and added a few tablespoons of my homemade bourbon vanilla.
I am always looking for new label designs and really like the way brown paper looks but it is expensive to buy. So, I asked for paper bags the last few times I was at the grocery store and used them. Here’s the steps, it’s very easy.
• Take apart the brown paper bag, I didn’t worry about the wrinkles
• Using a regular sheet of typing paper trace around it on the bag
• Cut it out and use just like normal copy paper
• You might want to adjust your printer settings to a thicker paper setting such as photo paper
• I set the color settings to Vivid, it helps the colors to be a bit brighter since the paper is dark
• Cut out the label and trim it so the ends overlap just a bit when wrapped around the jar. Dab just a bit of glue (I used an Elmer’s glue stick) in the middle of the back of the label to stick it to the jar then glue the ends together.
Here are the labels that I made. Feel free to use and happy canning.
If you want to grow your own food but don’t have a lot of acreage you might be able to do more than you think. Our sheep, cattle, and chickens live over on Maplewood Hill Farm, our 15 acre farm down the street from the house. The lot that the house and yard sit on is less than an acre. There is a large garden, blackberries, blueberries, grapes, raspberries, sour cherry tree, sweet cherry tree, peach trees, plum trees, garden shed, kennel and a chicken house that doubles as an animal nursery. You can pack quite a bit into a yard! Currently residing in the chicken house is Miss Piggy.
Miss Piggy came to us as a little runt piglet that was getting too roughed up by her siblings so she needed a friendlier place to call home. She came to us in January and lived the winter in the chicken house buried under piles of hay. She came out long enough to eat, get back scratches from us and stroll outside for a few minutes if it was warm enough. Her company was an orphaned calf who she loved but the feeling was not mutual.
The intent was for her to go into the freezer but with the price of pork so high these days, quite a few of our friends let us know that they would buy the piglets if we had her bred. It took a village, but she was finally loaded and sent off to visit the boar of our dreams. She rendezvoused with him for few days and came back obviously traumatized from being with her own kind.
Loading her back up for the ride home went much smoother than the initial load. The farmer that owned the boar that she visited said the other pigs were pretty rough with her and he had to feed her off by herself because they wouldn’t let her eat. Poor girl, she’s been handled gently here and has only seen cows and Keb, the Border Collie. When we got her back home, she got a nice cool shower and a clean house to go to. It was just like when we got her; she stayed in the house and only came out to eat. It took a couple of weeks but she is back to her own sweet self and hopefully she’ll produce lots of piglets around Thanksgiving.
Summer is all about sunshine, being outside, and having good times, right? One of the main characters on Maplewood Hill farm is Keb Mo (named after the recording artist!), farm dog extraordinaire. We just call him Keb. He entertains us.
Being a Border Collie, he likes to round things up and bring them to us. Not only does this include the sheep and cattle but other live things like possums and such. This morning he presented us with a chipmunk, a LIVE chipmunk. Let me tell you, that chipmunk was none too happy about being dug up out of his hole, picked up by a big slobbery dog mouth, and carted over to us. Needless to say, after telling Keb thank you for the present, he was asked to drop it. When Keb spit him out that little ground squirrel hit the ground running. I’m pretty sure he gave all us a good cursing on the way back to his hole.
Crunchy Strawberry Tarts
Another part of summer is big red juicy strawberries. I love these little tarts. Don’t sugar the berries and they will be a wonderful tart/sweet combination. These are great for get-togethers. I usually make 12 tarts and still have some left to cut into squares.
6 cups of crispy rice cereal
4 tbsp. of butter
2 or more tbsp. of butter for greasing
1 10-oz. package mini marshmallows
1 pint strawberries
Using 2 tbsp or more (if needed) of butter, grease 12 mini-muffin or regular muffin tins, set aside. Melt the remaining 4 tbsp. of butter in heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Add marshmallows, stir until melted. Remove from heat, add crispy rice cereal. Stir to combine.
Drop balls of mixture into muffin tin. You’ll probably need to butter your fingers or the back of a spoon and press the mixture against the sides and bottom of the muffin tin to form a tart. Let harden. When ready, pop out of the tins. Chop as many strawberries as needed and mix with the whipped topping (there’s no hard and fast amounts here, just use what you need). Drop by the spoonful into each tart.