Friday, May 27, 2011

snapshots from the farm

I don't usually bring the camera along when we're working on the farm, so there are few pictures of the children in this place they do so love. When the camera is on, I find that what is captured through the lens tells the story of how these little ones have come to know this place. It's a story told in fragments and snapshots, one that we will continue to tell through the moments, and one I hope they will always remember.

:: above the ground::

::out the window::

::through the hayloft:

:: in her hand::

:: amid the light::

Thursday, May 26, 2011

lentil salad

A finicky computer has been keeping me away the past few days, but I wanted to pop in to share a quick recipe that's been in frequent rotation around here.

Lentils are a staple in our kitchen, making appearances in soups, alongside rice and vegetables, mashed in burgers or just served up plain. With the warmer weather, I wanted a way to still enjoy the taste and nutrition lentils have to offer in a cooler recipe. And so we mixed up this lentil salad. I especially appreciate this recipe as a way to showcase the garden's early offerings of fresh herbs!

Lentil Salad

The lentils:

1 cup French green lentils
1 clove garlic
a few sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper

Place ingredients in saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce to simmer and cook until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain any remaining liquid and remove the garlic clove and any thyme stems.

The dressing:

1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/8 c. olive oil
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
a few dashes of salt and pepper
fresh thyme
chopped parsley

(I must admit I am guessing on the amounts for the dressing. The dijon mustard was running low, so we mixed the oil and vinegar right in the jar and shook it up. Feel free to adjust as needed!)

Combine vinegar, oil, mustard, salt and pepper. Pour over lentils. Stir in thyme and parsley. Serve warm or chill for later!

This recipe makes a great side dish for burgers, kebabs, fish or just about anything else you might be cooking up.

Don't forget to enter for a chance to win The Bread Book Giveaway!

Monday, May 23, 2011

the recipe and a *giveaway*

Now, let's get on to that bread you've been asking about...

I think there's a part of me that has always been deeply in love with homebaked bread. I remember waking to my dad's fresh baked cinnamon raisin bread as a kid, how the sweet smell seemed to fill and warm the house. Through so many ways, I have come to see how the food we share with others can provide much more than nutrition, an offering of nourishment and sustenance for more than just our bodies. I try to be conscious of this through the many rounds of meals and snacks and treats this kitchen of ours sees, and it is in the rhythms of baking bread that I find I am most fully brought back to this idea.

It's true that baking our own bread aligns with my thoughts on healthful eating, it's a step down the path towards self-reliance and it certainly saves us money. But I think what I value most about bread making is the doing. Each piece of the process of mixing, kneading, rising, resting, shaping and baking brings an opportunity to be grounded here where I am. It all draws me in... the rhythm of working the dough with my hands, the transformation that each rising brings, the connection I feel to the history of this particular work. I find it very meditative (oh, I do know I'm not the first), and I am grateful for the moments of peace and reflection found in the attention the dough requires throughout our day. (And I should mention, too, the gratitude I feel for bakers and grocers who go on tending this work for those times when I'm not feeling it).

Yes, bread making for me seems to come in waves, and when I am deep in the middle of bread baking bliss, it's hard to imagine not always loving the work. With all the recent jams and jellies and such around here, we've been baking full tilt, two loaves every two or three days. We've worked through quite a few recipes over the years, but our current version seems to be the favorite. I love the simplicity in the recipe, finding I can easily put a batch together from memory even in my sleepy early morning fog.

I've been getting so much encouragement and confidence from The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, a truly wonderful whole grains baking guide found on the 50 cent rack at a used book sale. I can't say enough good things about this book. I love the recipes, it's true, but more than that I love her writing. She has a way of bringing the reader in, making you feel as though she is there in the kitchen with you, guiding you through the process. I must admit that the stories and anecdotes she includes have found me reading this book even when I wasn't about to bake from it. The troubleshooting handbook and the step-by-step guide through her "loaf for learning" truly help deconstruct the task of making good bread.

Fully explaining all the steps to making bread by hand is beyond the scope of this one little (rambling) post, which is why I'd like to share with you the book that has made it all seem so simple to me. There is a newer version of this book out there, but in the spirit of thrifting that first brought me to this fantastic book, I have another copy of the version I love that I'd like to pass along to you. If you're interested, leave a comment (maybe sharing with us some of your favorite bread recipes and tips...) and a winner will be chosen next week.

Laurel speaks in her book of the task of bread baking as part of a reformation of sorts "... particularly because it is so immediate and personal, and so well within nearly everyone's reach," that this small act can assure people that "indeed life can be both simpler and more challenging, but much more satisfying in the bargain." I tend to agree with her.

And now, here's our recipe, inspired by Laurel's yogurt bread. I've altered it a bit as I have yet to find 100% whole wheat bread flour. Here's how we do it:

Whole Grain Yogurt Bread

6 Tbsp. warm water
1 tsp. active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tsp. salt
1/3 cup cold yogurt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. honey

Dissolve yeast in 6 Tbsp. warm water. Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine yogurt with 2/3 c. hot water. Mix in oil and honey. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the liquid ingredients (yeast, yogurt, water, oil and honey.) Begin mixing the ingredients to form the dough. A good dough will be soft and sticky, but you can adjust the consistency at this point by adding flour or liquid as needed.

From here, the dough will be kneaded until smooth and elastic, left to rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 - 2 hours, deflated and left to rise again (45 min- 1 hour) before being rounded, shaped and baked in a loaf pan at 350 for 1 hour. This recipe makes one loaf but is easily doubled.

I'm hoping that many of you who've asked about our bread will give this a try (and be sure to let me know how it turns out or if you have any questions along the way). And I am hoping that you will all find as much pleasure in the doing as in the finished product.

The giveaway is decided! Congratulations to Meg who won the copy of Lauren's Kitchen Bread Book . Happy bread baking to you!

Friday, May 20, 2011

new digs

With the finicky weather of late, progress in the yard has been slow. So many projects have been put on hold due to the cold and wet that just won't let up for long enough. With the help of the kids' Grammy and a dear family friend, Mr. Bud, we did see the completion of one new addition this past week.

The kids were eager to help with this project, unloading the lumber, measuring the cuts and learning the ins and outs of power tool safety.

It all came together quickly and beautifully, and once assembled in the backyard, the kids had themselves a new place for building and playing. They lost no time digging in.

They are so happy to have this new digging spot, and I am all too content to watch it all while swaying in the hammock. Oh, it is good to check one more thing off the dream list...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

through the neighborhood

Despite my dreams of a big old farmhouse on lots of land, I must admit, I do love where we live.

There is a part of me that was less than ecstatic to buy a house one town over from where I grew up; I always imagined I would move someplace else... not necessarily far away, just somewhere very different than the place I knew as a child.

But having kids has a way of changing things, and as we thought about buying a house, there was much discussion about the ways we wanted to raise our children (in a place with lots of space and a slower pace) and what we valued when bringing up little ones (the support and closeness of family). We chose to stay here, where all the grandparents and a good deal of aunts, uncles and cousins are all close by.

So we find ourselves on the outskirts of Chicago, with nearly every major store within a 2-mile radius, and yet I still feel we have the bit of nature and seclusion I so wanted for our children.

I am astonished by the variety of wildlife our small neighborhood contains, bordered as it is by major roads on all sides. In the creek, we have found crayfish, frogs and several varieties of fish. Ducks and geese make their nests along the shorelines, herons stop by to visit the marshy, low lying areas. We have watched red foxes and coyotes in our yard, not to mention the usual residents of skunks, possums, raccoons and others. Even with all of this, it was a surprise yesterday afternoon to see a beautiful doe walking along the creekbed in our backyard.

Charlotte's excited cries of "deer! deer!" soon sent the deer on her way upstream, which sent the big kids into the house to prepare for an important adventure trying to follow her through the neighborhood. They assembled the necessary supplies:

And off we went on a tracking expedition.

It was a decidedly spontaneous way to turn what had been a very stress-filled day into a thoroughly enjoyable adventure. We walked the creekline through the neighborhood, stopping to investigate any signs of interest along the way.

We made our way, watching ducks fly overhead, hearing frogs splash into the water at the sound of our footsteps, listening to the gentle babble of the water and the rustle of the cattails, taking in all the sights along our path.

At the end of our journey, we stopped to enjoy a snack of bread and jam creekside with the children's aunt, and I found myself once again so pleased to be here, in this place, with family so close and adventures out our door.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

in the open

The ways these little birds have changed over the past three weeks is incredible. I never imagined that chickens could have so much personality or would prove so very entertaining, but chances are, if you can't find one of the members of our family (ahem, Matt) he or she is likely in with the chickens.

As our little guys (or, hopefully, gals) grow and change, we have introduced them to the world beyond their brooder. On a warm, green day, they had their first adventure into the open.

Oh, for all their growing, they seemed so small out there in the grass. At first, they all huddled so close to me, perching on my feet and hands. The chick who has shown the most confidence and pluck in the brooder was the one who was least reluctant to leave my hand outside.
(We've named that one Adel, after our dear friend who called during the hatching and asked that the next chick be named for him. It's very difficult to tell any of the other chicks apart, but Adel is easily recognized for his solid-colored beak and whiter shades).

As they all felt more courageous, the chicks moved out on their own. It was truly something to see, watching these little things size up the world. They cocked their heads and took in the span of sky above them with equal parts wariness and curiousity.

They strutted and flapped and stretched their wings, feeling more space around them than they have known before.

They devoured the violets, clover and dandelions in the grass and comically fought over the worms the kids dug up for them.

We had worried that our dogs might take an unguarded opportunity to snack on our new little friends, but they have taken to these chicks quite well.

Seeing the chicks in their natural environment, engaging in their usual chicken behavior, made me feel very glad to have the responsibility to care for these birds. Yes, chickens are such common parts of most people's culinary lives that we often don't honor their place as living beings. But getting to know these chicks and watch them grow makes me disheartened for the millions of birds who will grow inside a concrete, windowless enclosure.

It brings me great satisfaction to say I know the cow who gives us our milk, or that I have shook the hand of the farmer who raises the animals that provide our meat. I imagine that sense of pride will be even greater when we enjoy the eggs these chicks will someday offer and watch them as they grow and live, where they belong, out in the open.

Monday, May 16, 2011

flavors of the season

The following post is brought to you courtesy of too many strawberries (you didn't really think we were done with strawberries, did you?), lots of fresh rhubarb and a few warm, sunny days.

Last week brought some summery weather, just right for grilling and dining outdoors.

It also brought a whole lot of fresh, tart rhubarb.

I have had a deep fondness for rhubarb since I was little, when I had my very own plant growing in the garden. I remember cooking up fresh plucked stalks of rhubarb with sugar and eating it straight out of the pot. The smell that accompanies cutting through the shimmering, ruby stalks brings me back, and its unique flavor is always linked to this time of year.

What better way to end the season's first dinner outside than with some sweet ice cream topped with a simple strawberry rhubarb sauce?

Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce

4-6 stalks of rhubarb, peeled and chopped
sprinkle of ground cinnamon
honey and/or sugar
10 diced strawberries

Simmer the rhubarb and cinnamon in a small amount of water on the stove. Add strawberries, cook to soften and sweeten to taste. Serve over ice cream or eat by the spoonful!

The evening was made even better with a little after dinner knitting by the bonfire.

Of course, with all that rhubarb (and all those strawberries!) there had to be more cooking. We made up two batches of strawberry rhubarb jam. I've found that the way to get a good balance and texture when using rhubarb in jam is to chop it and cook it down first. It reduces by half once cooked.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

2 cups mashed berries
2 cups cooked rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
2 1/2 tsp. Pomona's pectin
2 tsp. calcium water

Place your fruit and rhubarb in a pan with the calcium water and bring to a boil. Measure your sweetener and stir in the pectin. Add the sweetener/pectin mix to the fruit, stirring for 1-2 minutes. Return to a boil, then ladle into prepared jars. Boil jars in hot water for 10 minutes. This recipe yields about 5-6 cups of jam.

I'm almost ashamed to admit how many loaves of bread and jars of jam we've been going through around here, but it is such a delicious snack (don't miss the recipe and a giveaway!).

This jam is also quite tasty atop homemade waffles.

While I do love the jam and bread combinations, the hot weather this past week had me wishing for a light, refreshing drink that drew on the flavors that have been filling our kitchen. I came up with this recipe and it hit the spot!

Strawberry Rhubarb Soda

1 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 cup pureed strawberries
sparkling water

Begin by making a syrup; bring rhubarb and water to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Stir in sugar, honey and strawberries, cooking until the sugar and honey are dissolved. Strain the syrup into a jar. Add desired amount of syrup to sparkling water. Serve over ice, with a squeeze of lemon juice.

We're loving all the many ways we have found to enjoy the flavors of this season.

For those of you who don't know, Blogger service was down for a while last week. During this time, the comments that were left over a several day period were all lost. I greatly appreciate every comment you leave, and I apologize if I was unable to respond before the comments were deleted. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

seeing red

Oh, I just couldn't pass this one up.

(Organic strawberries -- $1.99 a pound)

Food is about the only thing I'm excited to shop for, and I'll fall for a good deal on food we can use or put up every time (let us not forget the whole bushel of apples I carted home last fall).

There I was with three children and a list of things we needed, when suddenly my thoughts were filled with all sorts of strawberry treats, desserts, jams, pies.... Surely I could make use of a whole flat of strawberries. In fact, it wouldn't be the least bit unreasonable to take home three flats of fresh berries (that's 24 pounds for those of you wondering). At least, I think that's how my rationalization worked at the time. It's hard to remember just what I was thinking, dazzled as I was by all the lovely red berries.

So began the strawberry extravaganza, which started out in earnest as the kids easily polished off five pounds fresh out of the cartons within the first two days.

The next several pounds made their way into a raw fruit freezer jam, made following the directions from Pomona's Universal Pectin. I had never made a raw fruit jam before, but the idea of preserving the nutrients and fresh flavor of the fruit (and skipping the hot water bath part of canning) was appealing. And as I've mentioned before, I like that this pection doesn't rely on the sweetener for jelling, meaning you can add only as much sweetener as you'd like. Freezer jams are exceptionally easy, so it was a good starting point for diving into all the berries.

Raw Strawberry Honey Freezer Jam

4 cups berries, washed and hulled
1/4 cup lemon juice (optional)
1/3 - 1 cup raw honey
3/4 cup water
3 tsp. pectin powder
4 tsp. calcium water

The first step when using this pectin is to make the calcium water by dissolving 1 tsp. of calcium powder (smaller packet in box) in 1/2 cup of water). Set aside.

Mix your fruit, lemon juice and honey in a large bowl. Next, boil 3/4 cup water and place in a blender or food processor with the pectin powder, blending 1-2 minutes until dissolved. Pour in the fruit mixture and blend well. Add the calcium water and blend, then check for jelling. The jam will set up more when cool, but if there is no sign of jelling, add more calcium water (1 tsp. at a time) blending and repeating until jelled. (If you like a chunkier jam, mash your fruit first and mix the pectin and calcium water directly with the fruit in the bowl, rather than running it through the food processor).

This recipe makes about 5-6 cups of jam. Store in freezer safe jars, making sure to leave about 1/2" of headspace to allow for expansion.

We used about 1/2 cup of honey total and added the lemon juice, which gave us a fresh, tart jam that pairs perfectly with our bread (don't miss the recipe and giveaway!) and peanut butter.

Next up, we tackled the traditional cooked fruit jam. There was more washing, hulling, mashing, measuring and all the necessary preparations for canning.

For every four cups of mashed berries, we added 1/2 cup of raw honey and 1/2 cup of sugar. Oh, how I wish I could share the smell of the strawberries cooking with honey here with you all... It was heavenly. We all agree that this is the finest cooked jam we've made yet.

I wish I could say that I successfully cooked up all 24 pounds of strawberries, but somewhere into the fifth day of strawberries (under my nails, decorating the walls, staining the clothes) and about the 16th jar of jam, I about gave up. That's when I remembered that freezing is just as admirable a method of food preservation as any. Whew. That thought saved me (and about 6 pounds of berries).

The last few cartons were washed, hulled and individually frozen on lined baking sheets before being sealed in bags.

No doubt, the berries in the freezer will soon be appearing in many of those treats and pies I was so eager to make before (after all, something has to accompany all the rhubarb that keeps showing up).

For now, we are happily strawberried-out, content with what we've put by, and looking forward to all the ways we will enjoy these sweet, red berries in the months ahead.

Monday, May 9, 2011

from the weekend

The weekend brought with it all a mama could ask for -- sunshine and warmth, work to be done and old favorites like sleeping in, breakfast in bed, handmade cards, backyard fires and playing around.

The thoughtfulness of my husband and children brought some new things as well...

:: flowers for the front porch pots ::

:: more lavender bushes in the beds ::

:: a hammock for swinging by the apple trees, and a new journal for keeping track of all we've put in the ground ::

While more garden beds were being dug and new blueberry bushes were being planted, I got to work right away, testing out that hammock and filling in the garden book with last year's planting.

Oh, it was hard work as usual, but nothing this mama couldn't handle.

A good part of the weekend was spent honoring the mothers in our lives. There is a deep sense of gratitude for what my time as a mother has been, for the confidence gained from the successes and stumbles along the way, for the mothers before me and alongside me who help to lighten the load and for the love and partnership that it is all built on.

Here's hoping all you mamas out there felt celebrated this weekend.