more than just cute kittens

don't disturb the kitten

as many of you know if you are readers of my personal blog, we got a kitten this summer while we were in the states. we got her at st. mathias farm, which is near brainerd, minnesota. we were there with lisa of lil fish studios, who was felting small sheep at the celtic festival that was being hosted on the farm that weekend.

our kitten, molly, is awesome, but i wanted to tell you a little more about st. mathias farm, because it's a very inspiring place. the farm is 80 acres and they cooperate with local restaurants and schools, as well as other farmers. they provide fresh, "seriously local" (their motto) produce to the schools, restaurants and also to their CSA members.

at the celtic fest, they invited local artists and farmers to do things like shear sheep, spin, felt (that's why lisa was there), show how stone fences are built and the like. there was music and local food and beer. it was a joyful day and if we hadn't had an 8-hour drive ahead of us, we'd have stayed all day, not just 'til noon. they had their own alpacas on display and i'd love to have adopted one of them as well as a kitten.

it's precisely the kind of thing i'd eventually like to do, tho' we have only 17 acres, not 80. but it's so inspiring to visit such a place, learn all you can (i do wish i'd asked more questions and had more time), take in the sights, the well-curated (there i go, using that word) antique store/garden boutique and atmosphere and dream.

i really wish we were going to be there as pumpkin season approaches.

you can read more here (be sure to read the comments - there's a complainer and a very good response from the farm themselves). they're also here on facebook.


An experiment

As soon as August comes around I feel like making my vinegars again so that I some sunshine during the winter. This year I decided to start really totally from scratch. Never made any vinegar from scratch before and therefore I started reading and reading a little bit more. Some information showed lenghty processes while the book you see in the picture made it as easy as it could be.

I had to give it a try. I peeled the apples, put it in the jar, poured over some water and left it for 3 weeks. Yes, that's the method and magically vinegar appeared. It is no balsamico by any means but the fun I have while trying makes up for that. I used very green apples for this experiment. Next time I want to find deep red apples and see if that influences the colour and taste of the vinegar.

Did you ever made your own vinegar from scratch? If yes, please share.



what a difference a month makes

i promised an update post as to how much things changed here at mantorpg√•rd while sabin and i were away. if you want a refresher of how it looked mid-july, go here. just as i suspected, the plants have taken over the greenhouse! in fact, it's a little overwhelming! we're eating loads of cucumbers and putting colorful nasturtiums on our salads.

husband didn't do such a good job at keeping the weeds back in the melon/squash patch! and i've been stopped from the task myself several times by swarms of flies! it's miserable out there and i suppose our squash crop will reflect how much competition the plants had from the weeds. i found a few zucchini (enough to make zucchini bread) and have used flowers to make delicious stuffed and breaded tasty treats, but they're not going like gangbusters like they should be. i hope the fly problem abates soon!

the tomatoes are lush and jungly and it smells HEAVENLY in the greenhouse, but so far, no red ones. i spotted a couple with a bit of a blush, so perhaps soon.

the eggplants are doing well and full of blooms - if our weather holds out as good as it has been for the past week, we'll surely get to eat some before the season is over. we had such a slow-starting, cool early summer, so plants didn't get going like they should have initially.

the cucumbers LOVE the new conditions in the greenhouse. they're doing MUCH better than they were last year. we filled the boxes with rich compost that's free at the local recycling center and they seem to LOVE it. the higher walls also seem to create a level of humidity and heat that's been just what the cucumbers ordered. that's lucky because we have an 11-year-old who would eat cucumbers for breakfast, lunch and dinner. and now she can!

husband's sawmill project didn't come as far as i thought it would, but what you see here represents FAR more work than you might imagine. the cement truck is coming today to pour the floor, but just going from bare ground to a foundation that's ready to receive the cement has been a BIG job. husband has been driven indoors on more than on occasion by the same flies that keep me from weeding the squash patch. it's a weird year for flies. which is actually kind of strange, because we don't have horses or cows on the place this summer.

the day after we got home, the last two remaining nesting hens hatched out 6 new chicks. i took away the eggs that weren't going to hatch and now they've divided the 6 between then, 3 and 3, and are contentedly teaching them to scratch and peck and take dirt baths. there were 5 black and one brown chick. i guess it's true what they say about swedish girls...(heehee).

and the chicks that were little when i left are now this big and seem to be tended by only one mama now - ten chicks following her around. there are still 4 following a different mama and one that's a bit bigger and part of the big flock now. it seems that husband managed to lose 3 chicks while i was away, but in all, it's been a good chick season - we've had a total of 25 since easter. pretty good considering most of the websites you read say it's impossible to let your hens raise their own chicks.


Farm To Table

When we were in California the beginning of July, B and I had several opportunities to treat ourselves to nice meals out.  For starters, we eat predominantly seafood when we are in California, we can't seem to get enough of it.  At the first meal that we went out to on a 'date night' we were disappointed that the food was just so-so.  We critiqued discussed the experience as we were eating and began to realize that either our expectations were way to high, or we had just gotten to the point that with the love and effort we put into our cooking and the enjoyment we get form our 'tastebuds' dinner club, we can do it, and better.  I know this sounds horribly conceited, but maybe our tastes are just more towards the slow food we cook than what was laid in front of us.

This experience and a bottle of wine later, we began to talk about how fun it would be to do a farm to table dinner a couple of times a summer (best after fair week) for maybe 6-8 people at the homestead.  This idea was blossoming in the back of our mind during the rest of the trip.  While we were tossing the idea around, I mentioned it to a good friend and fellow tastebud.  She was super excited and a couple of days later I got a text from her about a small catering job that she couldn't do and would I be interested in picking it up.  Leave it to dear friends to give you that little push off of the cliff you find yourself on the edge of! :)

This morning I completed 80 tea sandwiches for a wedding shower.  The ideas for them flooded to me easy enough and I just made sure to get all of  my prep work done in advance so that this morning was all assembly.  I was nervous about the sandwiches because if they sit too long they can tend to get soggy.  I took some precautions against this making sure to coat the inner bread with a portion of ingredients that would help stave off dreaded sogginess.  What I ended up with was three creations in a farm to table theme:  A tarragon poached chicken with blackberry aioli and arugula micro-greens, a play on a farm caprese salad; hazelnut pesto with buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes in a balsamic reduction, and finally a farm fresh egg salad with green tomato relish.  I was excited about how it turned out and hope that it is a taste of a farm to table segment at the homestead.  Thanks D!

I'm afraid I was a bit redundant here, as I was so excited today that I decided to post it here and on Tilting At Windmills too :)
~ Amy


right here, right now

i'm about to leave for three weeks for holiday in the states. so this morning, i took a little stroll around the garden with the camera. being here every day, i don't often have a chance to really see the changes that happen over several weeks. i'll do an update post in three weeks when we return. sabin and i are going and husband will stay home to build a barn to house the sawmill equipment he has purchased.

yes, you read that right, husband has bought a sawmill. we are going to use a lot of wood in our renovation project, since the house will actually have wooden siding when we're done (not like us-style siding, more like swedish-style (more about that later)). husband decided he loved working with wood so much that he wanted to cut all of that wood for the house himself.

this morning, i helped him measure out where the building will go. he had the foresight several weeks ago to spread out black plastic to kill the grass, so digging out the foundation would be easier. it will be very interesting to see how far he gets while we're away.

i know the garden will be very different when we return. you can see that our year has been a bit cold and wet, so things seem a little behind and small. i'm sure that will change. and the foreground is indeed weeds, but that's ok, since nothing's planted there.

inside the greenhouse, little green tomatoes and little bitty cucumbers are forming. they'll be ready to start harvesting when we return.

the lush green smell of tomatoes is heavenly. we've also got a few melon plants and some aubergine and cucumbers and nasturtiums. i imagine they'll have taken over by the time we return.

cherry tomatoes and regular tomatoes are bushing out nicely. in our climate, we just can't grow tomatoes outside of a greenhouse, it just never gets warm enough.

another shot of the garden - you can see where husband's sawmill will be down at the end - the black plastic over there looks a bit like water.

our artichokes are doing very well. we tried to move last year's and they all died, so these are new ones. apparently artichokes, which are a perennial, don't like to be moved.

the rhubarb is still going gangbusters. and last year's asparagus seedlings are coming in very well.

it will be nearly raspberry time when we return - we have late-producing raspberries. i'm glad i won't miss the chance to make jam.

i did a batch of red currant and black currant juice, but will miss the opportunity to harvest all of them. we moved and divided a lot of the bushes last fall, so it's probably ok to just let them be this year anyway.

our big potato patch is doing well. you can tell we're organic by the weeds. :-)  no pesticides around here!

the little zucchinis are starting as well, but if husband picks them while we're gone, they'll still be going strong when we come back.

i'm really gonna miss these little guys - i know they'll be MUCH bigger when we return.

i tried to instruct husband in my crazy chicken lady ways, but i'm not sure he fully embraces the concept, so i guess they'll have to take care of themselves.

catch you in a few weeks!


so much garden goodness

i'm so far behind on sharing all that we've been eating and preserving from the garden this year. i guess it's a good thing to be living out there in the real world and not being quite so concerned about virtual life online. it was a good year for elderflowers. we've got a lot of them on our property here and there and we took full advantage. i made 15 bottles of cordial and we dipped them in pancakes and made elderflower fritters for dessert.

their delicate fragrant flavor just sings of scandinavian summer to me. they're around for about 3 weeks, so we do our best to take it all in during that time. i even put some down in some vodka and made elderflower vodka to go in cocktails. i should have done two bottles as that one's almost gone. we mixed the elderflower vodka with a bit of elderflower cordial, topped it off with fizzy water (we recently bought a soda stream and absolutely LOVE it) and an elderflower garnish. summer in a glass.

we've had cool temperatures and lots of rain. it means the garden has been a bit slow to get started, but my herb beds, close to the house, are going like gangbusters. i was looking for a way to use a bunch of them at once and decided to make some herb salt. i gathered some of everything there was, including elderflowers, cleaned it carefully and threw it all in the food processor with some sea salt and whizzed it up.

here we have sage, bronze fennel, oregano, thyme, and elderflower. i also had a few stinging nettles, some parsley, lovage and a few sprigs of mint for freshness. i'm going to make another batch or two including garlic now that we've harvested that as well.

you just lay the salt/herb mixture out on a tray to dry - i put it out in the terrace so it could get some of the rather scarce sunshine and stirred it every time i walked by for 2-3 days and then put it in a jar. we've already seasoned steaks with it and thrown some in pasta. so satisfying that it came from my own garden instead of some snotty kitchen boutique.

it has been a banner year for strawberries - i've picked and picked and picked and now they've finally tapered off. we ate as many as we wanted - strawberries and cream every evening for dessert for an intense couple of weeks. i made jam and i used my wonderful steamer to make the best juice. i managed to bottle up 15 bottles of that as well - some in combination with rhubarb and ginger, some with just strawberries and a couple of vanilla pods.

we've been enjoying it in a gin cocktail - strawberry cordial, some good gin and again a top off with fizzy water, garnish with a strawberry and again, summer in a glass.

we've got 3 bee families now, but only one is doing well. we harvested about 25 kilos in the first round, so we've got 50 jars of honey. at the rate we use it, that won't last long, so we're happy that our two weaker families seem to be coming around. one of them killed their queen and made themselves a new one and that seems to have really helped. if the queen is weak, so is the family, as we're learning.

we planted a veritable shitload of potatoes this year. our sandy soil is good potato soil. husband had ordered 20 kilos of seed potatoes in the spring, not really realizing how many that would be (it's 15 rows). we've already started digging up lovely little tender new potatoes and enjoying them with whatever we're eating, nearly every evening. it somehow doesn't seem bad with those carbs when they come from your own garden.

how's your gardening going this year?


how i became a crazy chicken lady

peep peep

note: i posted a version of this post over on my main blog, but since i've shared most of our chicken adventures here, i wanted to post here as well, since not everyone reads both. i did make a few changes as well, so it's not completely the same.

the world is rather scary

as you all know, we got nine hens and three roosters last summer. i was a bit skeptical of keeping chickens, since they don't seem to be the brightest animals around, but the lure of fresh eggs was too great. we got two nordic heritage breeds - danish land chickens and black swedish ones. and i got a bit of a kick out of them, way more than i thought i would. late in the winter, several of them became broody. pretty soon, the nest boxes were full of broody hens and the egg production had ground to a halt. husband built an addition at the back of chez poulet. all that early brooding resulted in one single little chick, just in time for easter.

motley rooster

he's now grown into a funny, motley rooster that's clearly a combination of both breeds. until his mother hatched out more chicks recently, he was even still getting in with her at night, sitting on top of her in the nest box, tho' he was getting far too big for that. now he's bottom rooster and has to content himself with a corner of the perch, rather far from everyone else. poor dear.

little chicks

in recent weeks, the five brown hens have managed to hatch out another 14 chicks - 4 little brown ones and 10 black (which i suspect will be combination chickens like the motley rooster - as one of the brown roosters is top dog). the black hens were clearly very sneaky at getting their eggs under the brooding brownies, getting them to do all of the work of hatching out the chicks. we are consequently referring to the chicks all as SHE this time around, as we want them to be future hens. we certainly don't need another rooster around here. in fact, in the near future, one or two are going to be dinner.

a new chick every day

there were 5 little brown chicks, but they killed off the first one that had hatched out. he did seem to be a little bit off in the eyes, so we think they knew something we didn't, tho' i was still unaccountably sad about it when i found him. it has made me a bit worried about the rest, so whenever i need a break from writing and editing and planning workshops, i head out to check on them. at the beginning, i needed gloves to lift the brooding hens, but now i just ignore their attempts to peck me and unceremoniously lift them up with my bare hands to see what's going on with the eggs. i find little peeps and help them find their mama again when they've wandered too far away into the tall grass. in other words, i perform all the duties of a crazy chicken lady. i can almost see the hens rolling their eyes at me.

let's hope they don't kill this one

the chicks are of varying ages, hatched out several weeks apart, but there are four brown hens sharing the tending duties between them. there's still one brown hen, sitting on a nest that's down to 7 eggs - and one more hatches every few days. then, when they're big enough to jump down from the nest box, they go and join the others and one of the tending mamas takes them in. the little motley rooster does a mighty duty in chasing the over-interested cats away and thus far, all the chicks have been safe thanks to his efforts. it really does seem to take a village to raise the chicks.

tiny chicks in motion

it's funny, when i rushed in to google all i could about the hatching out, care and tending of baby chicks, i found all kinds of scary scenarios and if i'd believed it, i'd have thought it was nearly impossible to let your hens hatch out their own chicks and have them survive. and i didn't find any advice that said you could let them remain in the henhouse with the others - which we have done (we tried to move them into the addition at the back, but they didn't want that). the chickens manage to do it all on their own, totally naturally. for all my worries and fussing, they don't even really need help from the crazy chicken lady.

nature is cool.


Got Milk?

A while back I heard an interview on NPR that prompted me to put a book on my wish list.  I started reading that book earlier this week and it just seems to make good sense.  I am about half way through with it and just finished an extensive section on milk.  When I went to the grocery store this morning I made a small change.  I purchased Organic Valley whole milk from grass fed cows.  The nutritional benefits range from better digestion and more effective absorption of nutrients to anti-inflammatory. This particular brand was one of the ones suggested if you couldn't get raw milk.  Raw milk is currently illegal in Wisconsin, though I know there are ways to find it, there is ongoing debate about it and legislation is pending.

The book is:  Real Food What to Eat and Why,  By:  Nina Planck.   
Have you read it?  
What do you think of raw milk?