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Fall is time for…

Plenty of things:  knitting, drinking tea, coloring in front of the fire, drinking tea, reading in front of the fire, drinking more tea, planning my Thanksgiving menu (I get immense joy out of planning my menu and then executing it!!), putting the garden away for the winter, choreographing barre routines, working on my cottage food license…so many things to choose from!!

I have been getting some knitting and sewing done this month–I finished two projects that had been in limbo for a few weeks while I found time to pick up some zippers that were the correct length and color-coordinated with my fabric.  Here are the finished products:

These small bags are sized to hold a Kindle Fire, so they are roughly 5 inches tall by 9 inches wide. The purple one was for a friend–she is one of my barre regulars and I just adore her.  The green one was a donation to a silent auction for a meeting I attended last month. I started another one last weekend that does not yet have a final recipient assigned to it yet.  One of my favorite winter activities is to knit in front of the wood stove in the evenings or on those nasty days when it is snowing hard and I have no desire to go outside.  Sometimes I exhaust myself and end up taking a nap, knitting needles and runaway balls of yarns drooping off the couch.

I’ve been reading more in the evenings this fall.  I just finished reading Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner.  This book discusses the battle over water in the West:  dams, floods, irrigation canals, droughts, politics, corruption, etc. I remember waaaaay back in college I started reading this book and I became so disgusted and enraged that I had to stop reading it.  Now, nearly two decades later (Whoops, did I really just date myself? I guess I did…) I can read the book because let’s face it: with all the crazy going on in the world these days, one sort of has to desensitize oneself in order to get by.  I’m not saying I’ve Capturecompletely lost my compassion, but I tend to let the bad things roll off my back more easily these days because I have to if I am going to maintain that compassion.  But suffice it to say that this book brought up many excellent examples of how humans can be so arrogant and stupid in their quest to exert their control over nature.  And, get this: to follow up that book, I chose my next book to be The Battle for the Buffalo River by Neil Compton.  And guess what?  This book follows a similar plot as Cadillac Desert!  The good news is this book has a happy ending–the Buffalo River was not dammed and subsequently became the nation’s first national river in 1972.

Still, there is only so much reading on such depressing topics I can do in one sitting.  So I break it up by coloring, knitting, reading other things, planning Thanksgiving, and pondering my cottage food license (to be honest, though, I haven’t really done much work on my cottage food license this fall–which is something I SHOULD be working on).  I tend to find that coloring is generally more relaxing, though.  And I have several new completed pages in my coloring book to show for my relaxing, fire-side efforts:

Now that Thanksgiving is less than three weeks away, I need to get serious about my menu.  I found a new recipe for a Moroccan-spiced winter squash dip that I made last week and I LOVED it.  If my vegan friend comes again, I will have to make this dip.  It will pair perfectly with homemade pitas, which I made for the very first time last weekend (along with homemade, from-scratch, falafel–it was the best!).  And I know what you are thinking: How can that be?!  How have you never made homemade pitas?

I know, I know.  It’s just one of those things that never happened. But they are so stinking easy, I will be making them again.  And again. In fact, maybe I will do a video on how to make them!  And you will make them, too!  Perhaps the video will include the winter squash dip, too.  But first…

I’m going to dig out my pile of unsorted recipes now.  Maybe I will find a hidden jewel that I need to include in my Thanksgiving menu this year.  It will be like a scavenger hunt to find exciting new foods to try!

 

Paid road trips are my kind of vacation

When was the last time I took a vacation that wasn’t tied to visiting family or working?

Ummmm….

But you know what?  I don’t mind the so-called ‘working vacation.’ I mean, I’m not really one that seeks out a tropical beach with an umbrella over my head and one tucked into my drink.  I’m more of a road trip sort of gal.  I like to seek out cool hikes, scenic mountains, waterfalls, kayaking waters, or funky little museums in out-of-the-way towns in the middle of nowhere, Oklahoma, for example.  So if I can tie a little work into a road trip, work that may take me off the beaten path to explore new towns/wildlife refuges/waterfalls/boating waters–why would I pass that up?

In short, the answer is I WON’T!

Earlier this month I had a meeting halfway across the country–Hubby and I presented a training course on a project we worked on years ago.  And since we don’t board MaeBelle (she would die of a broken heart, being ‘abandoned’ and all) we drove the 1,800 miles to the meeting. The trip served multiple purposes: we attended the meeting, we got to visit family and friends, and I got to do some field work in Colorado on the drive back. Hubby couldn’t stay for the entire two week trip, so it was just us girls on the drive home.

My field work was in NW Colorado–from Meeker to Craig to Maybell (And YES! MaeBelle got to go to Maybell, Colorado!!) and points beyond.  It was a pretty sweet gig–drive around looking for wet spots, take photos & GPS points, make notes, move on to another wet spot.  I’m involved with a project at work where I’ll be mapping wetlands in Colorado, and it’s always helpful to have a little on-the-ground reconnaissance before you begin work, you know?  Lucky for me, Colorado is between Montana and Arkansas, so things worked out pretty well.  I went just a little bit out of my way to visit NW Colorado, but I got to visit a friend in Avon and I got to spend the night with my in-laws (free room & board PLUS dinner and breakfast (I mean, I guess could have had gas station hot chocolate and Cracker Jacks for breakfast instead of the homemade huckleberry pancakes.  Confession: a few days earlier I did have that exact gas station breakfast, so I guess I CAN have it all. Life is good.  2nd Confession: I much prefer Crunch ‘n Munch to Cracker Jacks. That is all.).  Total damage to my odometer?  Well, it was about 250 miles longer to take the scenic tour, which, in my opinion, was totally worth it.  My fuel was paid for, my rooms were paid for, my meals were covered, I earned a few bucks…and I got to hang out with my favorite doggie (who is an AWESOME travel partner still at 13 1/2 years) and see some cool places.  What is not to like about this set up?

I need a bumper sticker that reads:  WILL WORK. WILL TRAVEL. WILL PLAY.

Have I mentioned how much I love my job(s)?

Tomato Fennel Soup

Who likes fennel?!  Not the seeds, the large, white bulb!  Not being a particular fan of licorice, I can’t say that fennel is on the top of my grocery list–ever–but a few years ago I had some tomato fennel soup that was out-of-this-world good.  And I have been wanting to make it ever since.  This week it finally happened.

We got fennel in our shares ANDDDDD I just happened to order a 20 pound box of Roma tomatoes to process into tomato sauce this week.  I had tomatoes to spare for soup.

This soup is so simple.  Roast veggies. Dump into large pot. Cook 10 minutes more. Blend. Serve.  YUM!  I served this soup with feta cheese and some homemade pesto.  Double YUM! I’m too lazy (read: busy) right now to write up a recipe, but you can sort of make it up as you go.  This was my inspiration, and I adapted it from there.

With fall weather moving in today:  cold, cloudy, drizzly, this was the perfect bright spot in my day.  Go make this soup!

The Chicken Wars

Fall is on its way and the days are still nice enough that MaeBelle and I can sit outside and enjoy the warm, sunny afternoons.  The chickens are enjoying these final days of summer as well, chasing bugs around the garden, eating sunflower seeds, and dusting in the squash bed.  It’s soothing to sit and watch them do their ‘chicken thing’ while listening to their soft clucking noises of contentment they make while they roam the garden.  So peaceful.

And then came the chicken wars.  The girls were dusting in the squash bed this afternoon.  It was not peaceful.  But it was pretty darn funny.  I’m not sayin’ I’m going to lay blame on anyone, but Miss Buffie is a bit of a pig in my personal opinion.  I’ll let you decide for yourself.  What I wouldn’t have given to have been a fly on the wall in the coop tonight as they came in to roost…I REALLY need to get a webcam in there, don’t I?

How to make dilly beans

I’ve never made dilly beans before.  In fact, the only pickled thing I’ve made is refrigerator pickles, so this seemed like a step up because of the canning process to make them shelf stable.  But they are really easy to make–I made a batch in about an hour and a half.  Not bad.  And they’re really tasty!  Check out how I made them in the video below:

Roasted Eggplant Parmesan

Do you love eggplant Parmesan?  I do, but I don’t really like the extra calories of battered, deep fried eggplant.  And if I’m making it myself, I don’t enjoy battering, breading, and frying it.  It’s time consuming and messy and again…there’s those extra calories.

So why not roast the eggplant?  It’s easy, you can limit the oil, and it’s absolutely delicious.  Did I mention it’s easy?  Don’t believe me?  Check out the video below.

Lemon basil & lavender shortbread cookies

IMG_6055No video for this recipe, sorry!  I don’t actually have any lemon basil growing in my garden right now–my pesky chickens ate all of my baby basil plants earlier this spring.   So, I can’t make any of these delicious cookies until I can get my hands on some lemon basil.  And I don’t know of a source of lemon basil, so it might be a while before I can make these cookies again.  Which, if I think about it, is probably a good thing because when I first experimented with this recipe I ate the entire batch that afternoon (nearly 2 dozen cookies).  I’m not kidding.  Also I’m not particularly proud to admit that (or am I?).  I’m not into hot dogs, but if there were a shortbread-eating contest, though, I’d definitely be in the running to win.

I made a big batch of these cookies for my friend’s wedding earlier this summer (see my previous post) and somehow I managed not to eat a single cookie before I got to the actual wedding.  How on earth did I manage that?!  I suspect it had something to do with the gobs of cupcakes and icing I had consumed the day I was making literally hundreds of cupcakes and cookies.  Nothing like a little sugar overload to stave of a good shortbread craving…

For this recipe I prefer to use fresh lemon basil.  I use a mortar and pestle to grind the basil into a paste, and use a little bit of sugar as a grinding agent to help break down the basil.  Using fresh basil turns the sugar paste a brilliant green!  Unfortunately, the green color doesn’t hold–it gets diluted as more ingredients are added to the dough.  For the wedding, I only had dried lemon basil.  Honestly, I couldn’t tell a difference in the flavor–so if you happen across lemon basil, buy as much of it as you can and dry it!!  You can then make these cookies all winter long (assuming you have dried lavender flowers).  If you don’t have either of these, then your next best option is lemon-rosemary shortbread cookies, which may just be my second favorite flavor of shortbread.  You can substitute rosemary for the lavender and lemon zest for the lemon basil, but add about 1 teaspoon of lemon juice in addition to the vanilla extract.

Let’s just say that you need to find a way to make these cookies.  Buy yourself a pack of lemon basil seeds and set a pot in your windowsill.  Grow some lemon basil and while you’re at it, get yourself a lavender plant, too.  Besides being beautiful, you can harvest some of the flowers (before they open) to use in cookies, breads, teas, whatever.  And then leave most of the flowers to open because the bees LOVE THEM.  They go completely nuts!  And we all know the bees can use all the help they can get.  So help feed the bees while beautifying your garden!  Win win!

Go make these cookies!  Find the recipe here.

I’m ready for August (I can’t believe I just said that)

This month has been a complete whirlwind and it just about killed me.  Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but I am pretty darn tired on this last day of July.  I was home all of 8 or 9 days this entire month–the rest of the time I was traveling for work, family reunions, and training, with a little bit of fun thrown in here and there.  The good news is I think I will be home for a little while now, which will give me a chance to dig the garden out from the bindweed that has taken over in places (Curses!) and I have plenty of work to do on my storybook and cottage food license before fall.  Oh, and I think I’ll make time to do some canning as well!  And maybe this means more gardening, cooking videos, and blogging.  Hopefully.

And just so you aren’t thinking I’m being whiny about how busy my month was (I’ll admit it, I’m whining), here’s a quick look back at the month that was:

1) Okay, really this happened in late June but it’s part of equation to my hectic month–my friend got married June 30 and wayyyyyyy back in January she asked if I would help her make cupcakes and cookies for the wedding.  “Sure!” I replied eagerly, not thinking about field season when we still had over a foot of snow on the ground.  “That will be fun!”  Fast forward 6 months and I am freaking out because I was in the field in mid-June and I had to leave July 1 for 12 days of field work.  That left me….oh, 5 or 6 days to make 150 cupcakes and 200 shortbread cookies.  It all worked out, but that was a pretty busy 5 or 6 days of work!  I did save a little bit of my sanity by prepping ahead of time.  How?

a) for some of the cupcakes, I mixed together the dry ingredients and put them in my freezer.  When it was time to make the cupcakes, all I had to do was cream the butter, sugar, vanilla, and eggs, and add the dry ingredients.  All the measuring was done ahead of time, which actually saved me quite a bit of time (and washing of measuring utensils).

b) did you know you can make frosting and freeze it, to be thawed later and piped onto cupcakes?  It’s a beautiful thing.

c) same with shortbread cookie dough.  Mix up the dough, shape it into a log and wrap it with plastic wrap or waxed paper.  When it’s time to bake the dough, set it out at room temperature for an hour or so, then slice and bake!  Ta da!  Nearly instant cookies!

How did they turn out?  Pretty amazing, if I do say so myself.  Here are a few of the things I made:

This was honestly a good experience and I’m glad I was able to help make my friend’s wedding day special with some tasty treats.

2) The day after the wedding I left for a 12 day field hitch.  The work was in SE Montana, but the closest town with a hotel was Sheridan, WY.  This was the second summer I worked on this project.  Needless to say, I’m becoming quite familiar with Sheridan.  It’s a quaint little town.  The vegetation surveys I was doing require clipping of vegetation so that annual production can be estimated–this is a coal mine reclamation and essentially they want to know “How is the vegetation doing?”  So we make a list of what’s there and then clip some to take home and weigh later.  Here’s a time-laspe video showing what it’s like to clip.  The plot took about 30 minutes to clip, condensed down to 15 seconds.

3) After I got home from Sheridan I had a few days to do laundry and re-pack my bags for Nebraska, where I attended a family reunion of my hubby’s side of the family.  We loaded up the kayaks and MaeBelle and spent some time on Lake McConaughy, which was wayyyyy more fun than I expected, if I’m being totally honest.  I mean, I’m not hatin’ on Nebraska by any means, but Nebraska in July wasn’t exactly on my bucket list.  We spent most of a Saturday on the water and it was windy that day, which meant big breakers on the beach.  Also lower humidity.  It was a total hoot in the kayaks! MaeBelle had a ball.  And we had Dutch oven cherry cobblers for dessert.  Wins all around!

4) Nebraska was a whirlwind 5 day trip.  We were home for 2 days.  We didn’t even unload the truck completely.  Just did some laundry and bought a few more groceries, then we headed for McCall, Idaho, where I had barre training.  Again, we spent time on the lake in our kayaks.  Fires have erupted in Idaho, and a huge plume of smoke was visible south of town.  We also drove through an active fire area near Riggins. ‘Tis the season for wildfires…but air quality was good in McCall, thankfully, otherwise camping wouldn’t have been nearly as pleasant.  Also, MaeBelle wasn’t feeling well on this trip–maybe she picked up something in Nebraska?  But I can assure you that traveling for 9 hours, then camping for 3 days, then traveling 9 hours home with a dog with diarrhea isn’t nearly as much fun as you might think.IMG_6271IMG_6277

And now I’m back home, picking raspberries and talking to my chickens again.  It’s time to prep my late summer garden plantings (snow peas, beets, spinach) and gear up for canning next month!  Gah!  Fall is just around the corner!  No rest for the weary, but at least I get to sleep in my own bed. Hooray!

Sometimes you just have to go kayaking

Evening kayaking, that is.  Every once in a while we load up the kayaks and hit the water after work.  Since it was in the mid-80s today (and it’s supposed to be cold and rainy AGAIN this weekend) we decided to take advantage of a very pleasant evening and get out on the water.  The evening did not disappoint!  You gotta make the most of these loooong summer days!

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Savory bread pudding–how to use your share from Week 2

Hello, everyone!  I thought we were getting morels this week in our share.  But they didn’t arrive on the truck.

I know!!  Major. Bummer.  We’ll try again next week.

Despite not having morels to include in tonight’s dinner, it still turned out fantastic!  All you need is some stale bread (it doesn’t really have to be stale…you can use fresh bread), some eggs, milk, and your choice of veggies.  Easy!  No formal recipe yet; hopefully I can get to that soon.  So you’ll just have to watch the video if you want to make it.  Enjoy!