Blog

What’s the earliest thing you eat from the garden?

My garden has seen the light of day for about 3 weeks now, even less than that if you count me removing the mulch I put down last winter, which I did last weekend.  In the fall I let a lot of things go to seed, specifically carrots and spinach, and they are usually the earliest things to pop up in the garden.  In fact, when I pulled back the mulch, I had tiny leaves of spinach that were actually edible!  I also had a couple of whopper carrots that were edible after surviving the winter.  Very cool.

But what was the first thing I have eaten out of my garden?  My Egyptian walking onions!  They made it through the winter with green tops and you can eat them just like green onions.  I sauteed them with some red cabbage last night for dinner and I put them in my chicken salad today for lunch.  Mmmmmmm!!

But it won’t be long until there’s a lot more early-season goodies to harvest.  Okay, pop quiz!! Can you guess what some of these things are growing in my garden?  If you don’t know just click on the picture and the caption will pop up!  How many of these do you know?

There’s some exciting things happening in my garden.  Get this: my globe artichoke survived its SECOND winter and is putting up new leaves!  I didn’t get around to starting new plants with the seeds I saved from last year (sorry) but I will try to do that this spring and I’ll plant them this fall so they can overwinter next year.  They won’t produce artichokes this year, but that’s okay!

In other exciting news around my little urban farmstead, we have completed the fence around the front yard and the chickens can now roam freely over about 70% of our property now (it’s all they’ll ever get–the last 30% is to be the ‘chicken poop-free zone’).  I’ve got some netting up on the boxes I don’t want them getting in right now (spinach, strawberries) and we’re going to put up another fence across the front to keep them out of the garden area so that once we get the really yummy things going, like tomatoes, peas, and peppers they won’t destroy the garden.  But for now, I don’t mind them poking around in the garden boxes and finding bugs to eat.  I’ve got a bad case of leaf miners, and I’d like the girls to make a dent in the population.  And they can help turn the compost, too.

IMG_4850
Happy girls!

I spent the weekend cleaning up the yard and digging out more plants from mulch and leaves.  This place is starting to green up nicely!  Time to get some more early season goodies planted.  I’d like to start some kale, green onions, celery, and basil.  Lots and lots of basal of all kinds–Genovese basil, purple basil, lemon basil, lime basil…it’s all great stuff!  The gardening bug has finally hit me after a long winter!

Spring is for lemon meringue pie!

I’m back!  I was traveling for work recently and once I got home I got hit with a whirlwind of writing reports, playing birthday dinner hostess, preparing for upcoming field work this summer, and my favorite: doing quality control on data entry into our master database at work (kidding).  And I think spring has FINALLY arrived in Helena–we’ve had 2 nice weekends in a row and I have spent as much time as I can outside working in the yard and garden.  And you know what?  The garden is alive! More on that later…

First things first: my little lemon tree produced 7 lemons this year, a record for me.  For many people growing lemons in a warm climate, this may seem unimpressive, but I was quite pleased to have 7 fully ripe lemons in Montana.  I gave away a couple of lemons to friends and I had 4 left.  What to do with my bounty?  Then one day it hit me: lemon meringue pie!  Of course!  And I can use eggs from my gals, too!  And it was settled.

Meyer lemons are quite a bit smaller than the lemons you find at the grocery store but they have a wonderful flavor.  I ended up using 3 lemons, which means I still have one more–maybe I’ll make some lemon rosemary shortbread cookies.

If you want to watch my kitchen calamities, the video will hit on a couple of good ones. If you just want the darn recipe without any of the monkey business, you can find it here.

 

Egg Salad!

The chickens haven’t slowed down the egg production, but I have managed to get rid of some eggs this week, opening up a shelf I haven’t seen in quite some time.

And then there were those Easter Eggs waiting to be re-purposed.  Nearly 2 dozen of them.  So of course I had to make egg salad this week.  I switch up the ingredients depending on what’s available in my fridge, my garden, or my CSA share.  There’s no real recipe that I follow, just whatever seems like a good idea at the time.  You can catch the experiment in action below:

Naturally dyed Easter eggs!

My chickens are really producing the eggs in quantity these days, so with nearly 8 dozen eggs in the fridge, I decided it was high time for some egg salad!  But also why not dye some of them first and share the experience?  So that’s what I did…

IMG_4004

SO BEAUTIFUL!

And pretty easy to make, you just need a little time and refrigerator space to dedicate to this project.  This is a fun one for the kiddos, too!  I made a video, too!  Check it out below.

 

 

 

Chocolate & red wine cupcakes

I embarked on a cupcake experiment today.  Chocolate and red wine are one of my favorite pairings, and I thought, “Why not fuse the two together into a cupcake?”

Yesh, why not?

Behold!  It is done.

DSC_0697-compress

And I made a video detailing my adventure in the kitchen today.  You can check it out below.  And if you are interested in trying the recipe yourself, you can find it here.

Busy, busy in my absence

IMG_2685

I’ve been pretty quiet on my blog for several weeks now, so a quick update as to what I’ve been doing.  Some of it is quite exciting, other aspects, well…not so much.

First, the exciting:  I’m working on my cottage food license.  This is a big deal because it will allow me to prepare certain low-risk foods (jams, jellies, spice rubs, cookies, etc.) and sell them directly to consumers.  This means I can sell these food items at the CSA pick up this summer, at the farmer’s market, or out of my front door.  This is a new law in Montana–it has only been in effect for a couple of years.  I attended a workshop last month that answered a lot of questions I had.  Next week I’m meeting with the county sanitarian (who will review my application) to go over more questions and get some clarification before I complete my application.  The biggest pain for all of this is I have to convert all of the ingredients from volume into weight.  This is to make sure if you are preparing something like a jam or jelly that the recipe meets a certain percentage of sugar in order to be considered safe for a consumer.  It’s a pain, but there are resources available to help with the conversions.  Once this process is complete, should I want to take my products retail or wholesale, then most of the legwork will be completed.

Now for the now-so-exciting:  A couple of weeks ago I had to travel for work (that could be considered exciting) but in the process I came down with a nasty bug.  I always get sick when I fly, and this one knocked me flat for several days.  Was it the flu?  I’m not sure.  I had a fever and full body aches.  I never had a sore throat (thank goodness–I hate having a sore throat!).  It’s been two weeks since I got sick and this little bugger is still clinging for dear life.  Honestly, I’m still not exactly sure how I navigated my way through a 4 hour layover in the Denver airport with all of my belongings while being doped up on Nyquil and all–I don’t really remember much about my trip.  I’m just glad I made it home.  In the first 36 hours of being home, I spent 33 of them sleeping.  I was so tired I could barely move.  It was awful.  And when I could drag myself out of bed, it was all I could do to sit upright on the couch for 30 minutes before falling over from exhaustion and falling back asleep.  Once I felt well enough to stay out of bed for over an hour at a time, I did a lot of coloring.  A LOT of coloring.  I use watercolor pencils to sketch in my color, then I take a small paintbrush dipped in water and go back over the pencil marks to mix them like watercolors.

It’s quite fun and soothing, actually.  But there is only so much coloring I can do before cabin fever and a general antsiness overtakes me and I just want to do something.  Anything but sit around the house feeling miserable.  This week I finally returned to teaching barre at the gym, but with the clinging congestion and my diminished lung capacity it has been challenging.  It feels so good to be working out again and hopefully working the last of the sickness out of my system.

So that’s been my February.  I have not watched any of the Olympics.  I have slept and colored most of the month away.  And on those days when I have felt less cognitively challenged, I have worked on my cottage food license preparation.  In a way I’m ready for a new month to begin.  A fresh start.  Maybe March will be better.  Maybe March will be warmer.  It has been a very cold and snowy winter so far.  Monday morning when I took MaeBelle for a walk it was -16 degrees F.  I like the winter and I like the snow.  Really, I do.  But I don’t particularly care for it when I’m sick.  It’s supposed to warm up a little by the weekend.  And that means this coming weekend I ski.  It helps keep the winter blahs at bay.  Hooray!

 

Let’s make hummus!

I love hummus, but I have to be honest here, I don’t love store bought hummus.  Sure, I eat it, but I usually only buy it for camping or field work.  I much prefer homemade hummus, and you know what?  It’s really easy to make!  And the best part is you can make it any flavor you want.

The video below will show you how to make it entirely from scratch using dried chickpeas.  You can also use canned chickpeas if you want to skip cooking the beans yourself, but if you have a pressure cooker, it doesn’t take long at all to cook dry beans, soaked or not.  More on pressure cooking in future posts.  I absolutely love mine and I’m a huge proponent of using them to save time and preserve nutrients in food.  Check it out:

An argument for keeping your own flock of backyard chickens

There is an abundance of information on the Interwebs on why raising your own chickens is such a wonderful adventure (and raising chickens really is an adventure).  For me, I chose to start raising chickens because I loved the idea of having my own fresh supply of eggs from the girls.  I didn’t realize the other benefits I would reap from my flock.

For example:

I love interacting with my chickens.  I talk to them, coo at them, cluck to them, and encourage them along, especially in the dark days of winter when they are complaining about the cold and snow.  “Soon, girls.  Soon it will be spring and the green grass will appear again an you can roam around the newly fenced yard!”

I laugh at my chickens.  I had no idea how funny chickens were until I had my own flock.  They are wonderfully social, and if allowed to range free, they will come check out every little thing you are doing, to the point of aggravation.  While living in the South, I grew peanuts.  While harvesting the peanuts, I pulled the plants from the ground and set them aside, with the peanuts still attached to the mother plant.  The chickens decided to ‘help’ me harvest the peanuts, so they began plucking the peanuts from the plants to eat (or partially eat, as was the case) and then they got right under me to dig in the freshly disturbed soil to look for bugs.  Have you ever tried to tell a chicken to ‘move it’ because she’s in your way?  The plea falls on deaf ears, I tell you.

I have fewer bugs in my yard because of my chickens.  When living in the South, we had all sorts of bugs–ticks, fleas (and subsequently, tapeworms that showed up in MaeBelle’s system every couple of months), grasshoppers, and the like.  Once we brought home chickens and let them have free range of our 5 acres, I no longer got ticks while walking around the yard and MaeBelle stopped getting tapeworms.  The chickens were eating tons of bugs!  I was flabbergasted at the impact 7 chickens had on the bug population of such a large area.

Currently I live on a quarter acre city lot.  With the footprint of the house, driveway, sidewalks, shed, and sidewalks, our free range space for chickens is much, MUCH less than what we had at our previous place.  But we still have 7 chickens and they have plenty of space to roam free and peck for their food.  Soon they will have even more space as we have fenced our front yard with all the garden boxes, and they will have the run of this space come Spring.  We don’t really need 7 chickens, we could get by with 3 chickens.  But with 7, we get around 3 1/2 dozen eggs per week, so I can sell some at the CSA, give some away, or make tons of ice cream and angel food cake in the summer.  Like I mentioned earlier, the main reason I wanted a flock of chickens is for the delicious, and nutritious, eggs.  There are studies that show the nutritional differences between commercially raised chicken eggs and those that come from free ranging backyard chickens.  One study showed that free range backyard chicken eggs had more vitamin A, more beta carotene, more vitamin E, more omega-3 fatty acids, less cholesterol, and less saturated fat.  I can tell visually that my girls lay more nutritious eggs, especially in the beta carotene department.  Just look at this photo below:IMG_3691

The egg in the front is a store bought egg.  During the last half of December, the girls stopped laying and we finally broke down and bought eggs from the grocery (thankfully we only had to buy 2 dozen before the girls began laying again).  These store bought eggs were the “free range, vegetarian fed” kind.  First of all, “free range” in a commercial egg producing setting does not mean the same thing as free range in my back yard.  Don’t believe me?  Look it up.  There are plenty of sources out there explaining what “free range” means and what commercial producers can get away with and still call the eggs “free range.”  Second, CHICKENS ARE NOT VEGETARIANS!  They are omnivores and believe me, they WILL eat just about anything.  I once witnessed 3 of my girls ripping a snake into 3 pieces and chowing it down (after fighting over it, of course) before I could stop them.  “Vegetarian fed” is simply another way of saying the chickens are being fed corn, soy, or some other cheap, nutrient deficient food source.  The result?  Pale yellow, nutrient poor eggs.

One of my girls laid the egg at the back of the skillet.  See how golden orange that egg is compared to the store bought egg?  There’s nutrients in that baby!  And this is the middle of winter, so my girls are not getting the green grass and bug-filled diet that they get during the growing season.  They do get kitchen scraps in the winter, courtesy of us AND some friends and neighbors who don’t have compost piles and hate to see their vegetable scraps end up in the landfill.  And I have bags of leaves, also courtesy of my kind neighbors, that I can dump in their run and let them scratch around in on those nice days when they actually want to come outside.  This gives them some exercise and they find little tidbits of bugs, grass, seeds, and other goodies that keep them busy and happy until the snow flies again and they coop themselves up, complaining loudly about how long winter is in Montana.

Also, check out this photo:IMG_3692

See how perky the golden yolk is at the back and how flat and limp the yolk in the front is by comparison?  The longer an egg sits, the more flaccid the yolk becomes.  The eggs sitting on the shelves at the grocery were laid weeks (and WEEKS!) before you bought them.  Sometimes I collect a (still warm!) egg and crack it into a hot skillet before it has a chance to go in the refrigerator!  It’s the best.

So what if you want to raise your own flock of chickens?  How many chickens should you have?  Where do you buy chickens?  Where should they live?  How much space do they need?  What if you have a dog?  What breed of chicken is best?

There are all great questions and there are many answers, and many variations and opinions on the answers to these questions out there.  For starters, I recommend talking to someone who raises chickens in a setting similar to where you live.  Live out of town on a large farm?  Talk to someone who lives out of town on some acreage who has chickens.  Sure, you can talk to someone who lives on a small city lot, but the issues and concerns you have will be different depending on where you live.  Fox predation is not an issue in town, but noisy squawking potentially bothering the neighbors is.  Then do some more research, either online or by checking out a book from the library on housing and space requirements.  Look at coop designs.  Read about the different breeds.  Do you want meat birds as well?  Do you want to raise your own chicks?  Can you have a rooster?  Do you WANT a rooster?IMG_6784

I’ll provide some information on the breeds I have in a future post and give some pros and cons of each breed.  In my experience I’ve found that chickens are pretty easy to raise as long as you provide them the basics:  food, a clean water source, protection from predators, space to roam, a place to lay eggs, and a place to roost.  IMG_7111

If you can’t raise your own chickens, or you don’t want to, then think about finding a source of locally raised eggs from a neighbor or farmer in your area.  Not only will you be supporting a local food producer and reducing food miles, you’ll be adding more nutritious eggs to your diet.  That’s a win-win for everyone.

The best birthday cake ever: hazelnut carrot cake with cream cheese frosting

IMG_3686

I have the same birthday cake every year: carrot cake.  I cannot even remember a time that I did not have carrot cake, though I remember (vaguely) of a Strawberry Shortcake birthday cake like this one from my early childhood:

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51ZbQJbIFNL._SX355_.jpg

I actually had the original cake form up until I last moved 7 years ago, along with several other cake forms for Blue Clues, Tigger, and many more cartoon characters that I can no longer recall.  But for years and years and years, it has been carrot cake.  I love carrot cake.  No….wait.

I LOVE carrot cake.

Last year I switched things up a bit, like I always do, and instead of using pecans or walnuts, I decided to try hazelnuts.  It was a freakin’ home run.  In fact, when I was first pondering what to make for my first YouTube video, this carrot cake was one I thought about making as my debut video.  But for some reason I didn’t.  Maybe it was for lack of time, who knows.  But the time has now come and yes, even though it was my own birthday, I made my own birthday cake.  Not-so-secret:  I always do.

I enjoy it, so why not?

And also…once someone, who may or may not be Hubby, made my birthday cake for me and made the comment that the batter looked like vomit.  Fair enough.  This batter doesn’t have a sexy, lick-the-bowl look to it, but it tastes phenomenal (both in batter and baked cake form).  So from that point forward, I decided it was just easier on everyone involved if I made it myself.  This year I had a particularly grand time making this cake, as you will soon find out if you watch the video.

Soon-not-to-be-secret: I lightened up the original recipe considerably and there is absolutely no compromise in flavor, texture, or overall quality of this cake.  It’s practically health food, as far as cakes go anyway, so you should definitely give it a try.

Recipe is here.  Video is below.

Making the most of these last days of 2017

I know this is totally cliche, but what a year!  2017 has been an interesting year, to say the least.  I had a good year for the most part.  Urban Farmgal is gaining some traction, my cooking videos are improving, I got to go backpacking in the Beartooth Mountains (I need to write a blog post on that soon.  New Year’s Resolution: write that blog post!), I taught myself some sewing techniques (ZIPPERS! And…I turned a denim jumper into a really cute denim skirt–more on that soon), I’ve been baking a lot of holiday goodies, and I’ve been skiing like crazy the past few weeks with MaeBelle and the Hubs, in large part to work off all those holiday calories!  But I’m ready to say goodbye to 2017.  I need a fresh start in 2018, just like every year.

A few highlights from the home front recently:

1.) Everybody needs a pineapple pillow case!  And flannel, too.  When I saw this fabric, I knew Stepdaughter #2 needed it in her life.  I didn’t know what form it would take when I purchased the fabric–I knew I’d figure it out later. I picked up the other fabric at the same time, not knowing I’d use the two together.  But I needed a little extra length and the pattern looks like sea shells, so why not combine it with pineapples?  This is probably the easiest Christmas gift I have ever made.  When you need something clever and quick, a quirky pillowcase can do the trick!

IMG_3550

2) Getting outside to enjoy the snow.  I have a new pair of skis.  They are short and fat and act like sliding snowshoes.  They are from Altai Skis and they are called Hoks (pronounced Hawks).  They have built in skins, so you can climb up hills but they will also slide & glide like cross country skis.  If you get on a steep enough slope, you can even turn them like downhill skis.  They are so much fun!  MaeBelle took me on an adventure with them last week and we climbed up on the trails south of town:

IMG_3565

3) A friend helped me out of a bit of a pickle last week.  What better way to repay her kindness than with a knitted hat?  I love the colors of this hat and I’m quite pleased with the outcome.  I hope my friend loves it.  This photo doesn’t even do it justice.

IMG_3594

4) Skiing!  Hubs, MaeBelle, and I went for a ski tour up at Stemple Pass this afternoon.  It was a glorious way to spend the last day of the year.  It was cold in town (-14 degrees F when we got up this morning and still below 0 when we left the house at noon) but it was 18 degrees up at the pass.  It was a bit windy, but we followed some other skiers who broke trail for us and stayed in the trees protected from the wind.  What a great way to get a workout!

IMG_3626

5) Snow science!  Hubs and I dug a snow pit on our ski tour today and he showed me how to examine the snow to look for weak layers that could fail and lead to an avalanche.  We actually found some weak snow, which means avalanche danger is fairly high right now.  We knew the snow was a little sketchy because we’ve gotten a ton of snow the past couple of days.  Just after we left the truck, on a fairly flat section, I felt my skis “wumphf” beneath me, which is a tell-tale sign of weak snow layers.  We also took our avalanche beacons and wore them just to practice using them.  Don’t worry, mom!  We were not in any danger, I promise!

IMG_3660

6) Here are my Hoks.  They are only 125 cm long, which means my poles are longer than my skis!  They truly are just a ball of fun.  And they climbed up some pretty steep snow today, which impressed both Hubs and me. Unfortunately, this year’s stock, including my skis, have a problem with the skins delaminating and so they have to be replaced or repaired.  At least they are under warranty, but I may have to ship my skis back while I wait for my new ones to arrive.  That means I may not have a chance to hop on these babies again for a few weeks…

IMG_3650

7) Full moon rising.  We saw the moon rising as we were driving home and it was a glorious sight!  A full moon on the last day of the year seems a fitting way to bring 2017 to a close.

moon crop

Happy New Year, everyone!  I hope 2018 brings you much health, happiness, and prosperity.