Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Last year I decided to make and keep some New Year's Resolutions.  I'm proud to say that I did!

I wanted to reflect on what I have accomplished in the last year.  Sometimes it feels as if the time goes by so fast, we hardly remember what we did.
1. Learned beekeeping
2. Learned to bellydance
3. Learned to milk a goat
4. Made goat milk cheese
5. Made goat milk soap
6. butchered our own meat (both beef and chicken)
7. learned to can pickles
8. learned to can tomatoes (in all different variations!)
9. stepped out of my comfort zone and volunteered for Ron Paul's political campaign as a county coordinator, which includes (gulp) public speaking and recruiting volunteers
10. taught my older kids how to play piano
11. Started writing this blog
12. Lost weight and reached my goal
13. took a picture every day for my 365project:
14. adopted a steer to raise for beef
15. raised our own produce
16. homeschooled the kids

Now to decide how to better myself in 2012!
Happy New Year!!!

Saturday, December 10, 2011


I started making toffee last year.  I was never a fan of it until I made my own....and now it's a favorite.  I like that I can make all different flavors very easily by varying the type of chocolate and nuts.  I even experimented with crushed candy-canes!  The recipe is really easy,  I got it from King Arthur Flour.

I've tried putting the toffee down first, then topping it with the chocolate and nuts, but prefer to put the nuts down first, then the chocolate, then pouring the hot toffee over it.

1 cup (2 sticks, 1/2 pound) butter*
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 cups (8 ounces) diced pecans or slivered almonds, toasted
1 pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (chocolate chips are an easy solution here; you’ll need about 2 2/3 cups)

*If you use unsalted butter, add 1/2 teaspoon salt.
In a large, deep saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar, water and corn syrup, and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil gently, over medium heat, until the mixture reaches hard-crack stage (300°F on an instant-read or candy thermometer). The syrup will bubble without seeming th change much for awhile, but be patient; all of a sudden it will darken, and at that point you need to take its temperature and see if it’s ready. (If you don’t have a thermometer, test a dollop in ice water; it should immediately harden to a brittleness sufficient that you’ll be able to snap it in two, without any bending or softness). Pay attention; too long on the heat, and the syrup will burn. And what a waste of good butter and sugar that would be!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chocolate Truffles

Years ago as a new mom unable to get more than a couple of hours of sleep, I was glued to the Food Network and one of my favorite shows was Good Eats with Alton Brown.  One of his shows was dedicated to truffles.  I had enjoyed them once at a craft fair, but they charged $2 a piece, and while they were good, I couldn't bring myself to buy a whole box.  Needless to say, Alton's show piqued my interest and I tried his recipe with great success.  I decided to send some to my family and now every year my gift list gets longer.  I make about 8 different varieties using different liquors.  My favorites are cointreau (orange) and peach schnapps.  Needless to say, these treats aren't for children!
For the ganache, I use Ghirardelli's 60% cacao chips and unsalted butter.  I cut the butter into pieces and add it to the chocolate.  
 Heat it in the microwave in 1 minute intervals, stirring in between until mostly melted.  
 Meanwhile, in a saucepan add heavy whipping cream and light corn syrup.  Stir and heat until hot but not boiling.  Add to the chocolate mixture, letting it set for 2 minutes before stirring in fully.  

Add the liquor of choice, stirring it in completely.  
 Refrigerate for a few hours.  
 I use a cookie dough scoop for uniformity and scoop out the balls of ganache onto wax paper lined baking sheets.  Refrigerate again for a few hours.  

I use gloves at this point, roll the balls between your hands to firm them up.  
 Put them back in the fridge while getting the semi-sweet chocolate ready.  

Heat about 2/3 of your semi-sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler, stirring until melted, then add the remaining 1/3 chips (this is my step to avoid tempering the chocolate).  Stir until melted.  

Using a chopstick, spear one of the ganache balls, dip it into the chocolate and twirl the ball while using your gloved finger of your opposite hand to smooth the chocolate over the ball.  
 Sorry I couldn't get a pic of myself doing this (oh, for that 3rd hand!!)  

Put the truffle onto the wax paper, push it off the stick with your 'twirl' finger and use the chopstick to push a little excess chocolate over the hole the stick left behind.  You should have a nicely covered chocolate truffle!  
To differentiate the different flavors, I decorate with different pretty toppings.  I use ground cocoa, powdered sugar, nonpareils, chocolate jimmies, chopped nuts, etc.  You need to decorate them almost immediately after placing them on the tray, as the chocolate coating will harden pretty quickly.  Obviously, the cocoa and powdered sugar won't, but the sprinkles and nuts will just fall off.  (You don't have to top them after every one, I decorate 3 truffles at a time).  After you're done with a tray, place in the refrigerator overnight to firm them up completely.  I love this time of year, it's cold outside and I put the truffles in containers and place them in a cooler on the deck.  This serves 2 purposes, it keeps the fridge clear and most importantly, reduces the temptation to snack!

A box full of the different truffles is truly a wonderful sight!


  • 10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup brandy or other liquer
  • 1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa powder, finely chopped nuts, and/or toasted coconut, for coating truffles
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

Monday, November 21, 2011

Meet the critters: Cows

After we had the chickens awhile, we knew that our next step would be a dairy animal.  Since I'd had a bad experience with goats, I knew that I didn't want them....and besides, I'd always heard that their milk tasted funny.

Our neighbor had a wonderful jersey and they were nice enough to share her milk with us.  The cream was wonderful.  I was able to make ice cream and butter and the kids loved the milk.  So of course, we had to get our own cow.

We found a jersey due to calve within the month, and brought her home.....well, not all the way home, since we didn't have a barn to put her in or a pasture for her to roam.  The kids got to name her, I tried to help them with suggestions, but they each picked out a name and we combined them into:  Flower-Bob.  It was February, there was still snow on the ground and the ground was too hard to put in posts.  Our wonderful friends kept her at their house and did calf checks on her all night long just in case she had the baby early.  Eventually, my hubby built a barn, and we brought her home, and within a week, a bull calf was born.  We named him T-bone....and we knew what his future would be.

Flower-bob was a great mom, we tried the calf-sharing method, where we separated them during the day, milked her in the evening and then put the calf with his mom at night.  This did nothing to foster his trust in us and we also never got around to dehorning him....oh, and we botched his banding (to make him a steer).
So he grew into a very large, horned, and angry bull.  He was pretty smart.  Using his horns, he would pop off all the electric fence insulators, drop the electrified fence to the ground and walk over it to wreak havoc on the ranch.  His favorite game was to chase after a very pregnant me.  We had to take him to the vet for castration and then wait at least six months for all the testosterone to leave his body, otherwise the meat would have a strong (unpleasant) flavor.
We had him butchered in February.  It wasn't an easy thing to do, having raised him from birth, but man, does he taste good!

We had Flower-bob artificially inseminated that summer using sexed semen.  The next spring, she had a little jersey heifer we named Clarabelle.  After her birth, we kept them together long enough for her to drink Flower-bob's colostrum and then we separated them.  We bottle-fed Clarabelle and immediately dehorned her.  Instead of being distrustful, she now thinks she's a very large human....she loves attention and still has fond memories of her bottle, as she chews on anything made of rubber (mostly my barn boots).  She really loves my hubby, as he was the only one able to get her to drink from a bottle at first.
Now Clarabelle is old enough to be bred and we AI'd her with long horn semen, since she is still a little small, and long horn's have long, skinny calves.  We had Flower-bob AI'd with the last straw of sexed semen, so she will have Clarabelle's sister in June.

Since we don't have another steer, we adopted one in May from the local dairy.  They cull all the steers and sell them really cheaply.  They even dehorned, banded and bottle trained him!  The kids named him Meathead.

We brought him home and housed him in the goat barn where he made fast friends with the Nigerian buck born 2 weeks prior.

Flower-bob and Clarabelle weren't too happy with the interloper and they pick on him, so he gets free run of the ranch, which means he mostly follows me everywhere and stands outside the back door moo-ing for me to feed him.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


This year was my first year making pickles.  I've never had enough cucumbers to make into pickles, but the greenhouse really performed well this year, I picked about 3 5-gallon buckets full.  I used the Seedsavers heritage pickling cucumbers.  Have I ever told you how much I love my greenhouse?

The first batch I made were sweet pickles.  I couldn't decide on a recipe, so I took a shortcut and bought some Mrs. Wages mixes. 

I used my mandoline to slice them uniformly, then packed my hot jars and processed in a boiling water bath. 

The eldest loves pickles and has been asking for weeks to try them.  I was a little nervous having never made them before (and cheating by using the mix which did NOT smell like sweet pickles when I made them!!)  I took a bite and LOVED it, the girl?  She was expecting dill pickles and was completely disappointed to find that they were sweet and 'yucky'.  The hubby and I really enjoyed them, though!
The next batch is going to be kosher dills.  I am going to do a mix of slices (for our homegrown hamburgers) spears, and slices to go with sandwiches.  

 I hope they pass the 7 year old's taste test!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Final garden harvest

It's forecasted to get down into the 30's at night this week, so I needed to harvest all the remaining produce out in the garden.  It always makes me sad to see the end of all my hard work (and yet, I'm looking forward to the rest!). 

My 12 little tomato plants really outdid themselves this year.  This is the first year we've produced more than a couple tomatoes, I think I brought in about 200 pounds of fruit. 

I have 4 large boxes filled with totally green tomatoes in layers, 2 filled with slightly orange ones (hopefully they'll all survive after the baby gets done touching them all).  I'm looking up recipes for pickled green cherry tomatoes. 

We've been busy canning them and making spaghetti sauce.  Since our wind generator died again 2 weeks after we got it fixed, I haven't been able to dehydrate the peels as I did before, so I'm saving them in freezer bags for when I can run the dehydrator again. 

I picked a bunch of zucchini, which I plan to shred, then freeze to make into bread in the coming months.  My other plan was to dehydrate those as well, and 'spike' our meals with the yummy goodness, but that is also on hold.

We still need to go pick our pumpkins.  I planted a 'giant pumpkin' plant, and got exactly 1 large pumpkin from it and a lumina pumpkin plant, which grew 4 small pumpkins.  Perfect for our family of 5!  Next year, I hope that we can grow more, since we all love roasted seeds.  My hubby loves pumpkin pie, so maybe I'll plant some sugar pumpkins, too.

My corn never did well, the heritage popcorn did the best, and I'm able to harvest a couple ears to save and plant next year. 

My watermelon plant finally produced 2 melons.  I left them outside to ripen as long as possible and they are very sweet. 

The greenhouse still is growing beets, leeks, cabbage, pickling cucumbers and carrots, the frost shouldn't affect them, so I have some time left before I need to process those!

I'm participating in the Homestead Barn Hop.  Feel free to peruse other blogs, I know this is my favorite part of the week.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Home maintenance: Skylight Replacement

One of the joys of being a homeowner is doing maintenance.  When we first bought the house we knew that the original owners had removed a skylight in the bathroom over the garden tub.  Unfortunately, after the first winter, the skylight in the kitchen started to leak.  We patched it, knowing that in the future we'd have to either replace the skylight or remove it altogether.  I really like the additional light in the kitchen and it saves on energy, which is important to our off-grid lives.  We would forget about the leak in the dry months, only to be wetly reminded once fall came around again and the bucket came out to catch the drips.  For a time, we would cover the roof with a tarp (and some tires and concrete blocks to hold it down)....oh yeah....we looked pretty tacky!

Finally this summer, my hubby decided to remove it and I convinced him to install a solar tube in it's place.  

My feeble attempt to contain the mess.

When he removed the skylight, he discovered that the roof was badly damaged and a large area would have to be replaced.  Also, that night it decided to rain for the first time in weeks, so out came the tarp again!  I felt like I had OCD trying to keep up with the falling drywall and dust, along with keeping the baby out of the kitchen. 

After replacing the roof, he installed the solar tube, but he declined to tackle the drywall.  For some reason in our area it's incredibly difficult to find a contractor to do work, even the simplest project is a hassle trying to find someone. 

After a few weeks of contacting drywall installers, we finally were able to have one out for an estimate.  The crew came back the next day and finished it up beautifully in less than 4 hours. 

After a quick coat of paint, it looks perfect and like there never was anything different in that space!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tomatoes: Dehydrating

I saved the skins and seeds from making sauce to dehydrate to make powder.  Why powder?  Well, to add to soups or stews to give it a little tomato flavor, of course!  You can also add it to spruce up your recipes without adding extra liquid.

I placed the skins and seeds on a roll-up tray in a thin layer.

After about 4 hours on high, I used a fork to lift and flip the mass of skins.

I let it dry another 4 hours.  It probably didn't need that long, but I wanted to err on the side of caution.

The next morning, I put it into a quart canning jar and used the bottom of my blender to create it's own canister to grind it up into.

I had to keep shaking the jar to get it to grind, but it only took a couple of minutes to become a fine powder.

The kids were astonished as to how small the skins from over 100 tomatoes ground up into!