Thursday, November 15, 2012

Productive Day, Inside and Out

Today was a productive day.

I started out by canning some ginger honey applesauce, got some pumpkin butter going in the slow cooker and roasted some pumpkin seeds. It was nice to spend the morning in the kitchen, but the sun was actually shining so I was anxious to get outside.

I decided to work on our future garden spot, shown above on September 2nd. It's not as green, all of the weeds are brown, but they are nearly as tall as I am. I had every intention of working on it sooner, tilling the ground and prepping it for spring, but time got away from me and other projects took priority.

Before I could get working I had to go out to the shop and collect supplies; weed whacker, rake, wheel barrow, etc. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal but when I stepped into the shop I heard a "Tink, Tink, Tink". "Oh great, a mouse" I thought. I slowly walked around listening to the "Tink, Tink, Tink" as it lead me to the big oil drum stove we have in the back. One of my cats had beaten me to it and was anxious for me to open the door so she could get inside.

By this time I had realized that the noise was much to loud to be a small mouse. A rat perhaps? Maybe a squirrel? That happened once when I was in high school; a squirrel fell down our chimney and left sooty paw prints all over our house. Today I braced myself as I opened the stove door and jumped back just in case. A flicker (the bird pictured in my last post) flew out and up to the ceiling looking for a way out. I rushed over to the "hanger door" and opened it as wide as I could. This bird wasn't very smart, it took it several minutes to head towards the sunlight. When all was said and done I looked out the shop door at the yard to see the dogs, cowering in the distance. They were not at all thrilled by this crazy bird.

Once that was settled I was able to get out and do a few hours of work in the sunshine. Brian picked up some free tarps from a local beehive maker and I'm hoping they will help kill the weeds. They are brown paper on one side and a white tyvek like material on the other. I know that people use either black tarps or newspaper to kill weeds, and I feel like this is somewhere in between. I'm hoping that the brown paper will decompose and the plastic topped with snow this winter will help smother the weeds. I'm not sure if it will work, but it's worth a shot. I know they will let water through, and sunlight when it's not covered in snow- both of which are undesirable for weed killing, so I guess we'll see. I'll be sure to post whether or not it works.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Day to Day Life on the Farm

So..... the to do list didn't really go as planned. Brian went hunting and I just didn't feel like tackling it myself. Brian is now on a work trip and the list has been left nearly untouched.

I've been chipping away at our box of apples, slowly but surely. Lately I've had a couple of batches of jelly that didn't gel, so I read an article on Fixing Canning Mistakes and I'm trying them again.

The other night I made Roasted Garlic and Butternut Squash Cassoulet and it was really incredible. The leftovers are lasting us quite a while too. I used the whole head of roasted garlic instead of half. You can never have to much garlic, right?

The other day this large bird flew into our window (the sun catchers don't seem to be working). I've seen them around the farm before but they never stop long enough for me to get a picture. Does anyone know what it is? When it flew away it caught Bomber's attention. He kept running around looking for it- is that a good sign of his future bird hunting abilities?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The List

Lately my motivation to get things done hasn't really been high. I'm not sure if it's the dreary weather or the fact that my knitting projects seem much more appealing than chores but I really need to light a fire under my ass and get things done. I feel so much better once things are done, it's just a matter of getting my butt off the couch and doing them.

Brian has 3 days off this weekend and I'm sure he'd appreciate a motivated and productive wife while he's around. The best way I know how to overwhelm myself with the To Dos is by writing them down. That way I can't ignore them. Here is this weekends To Do list. I think I'll need to make a lot of coffee this weekend...

I really need to get going today on some of those things, namely the canning, since I know Brian is going to want to work outside this weekend. I've made 2 batches of apple butter this week but we still have at least 30 pounds of apples that need to be dealt with. My goal is 2 batches of red onion marmalade, 2 batches of Green Apple Pectin Stock for Champagne and Rose/Lavender jellies, apple sauce, and mint jelly.

To the left is how I'm hoping my afternoon will go, although now that it's getting later in the day I'm not sure I'll have the time for applesauce.

The kitchen is all prepped for a Rainy Day Canning Day

Monday, October 29, 2012

Changing of the Seasons

It's amazing how it seems as through we've been through a year's worth of seasons in just a few short months here on the farm. We try to walk up to what we now call "The Veranda", the two adirondack chairs that we put at the top of the property, every so often and if I bring my camera I snap a picture. It's so neat to watch things change.

June 9, 2012

September 4, 2012

October 1, 2012

October 24, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

Those Darn Birds

We have several big windows that look out over our backyard and on most days I love them. Yesterday was not one of those days.

As I mentioned a little while ago, the birds have found our bird feeders. They are right by one of the big windows and I love sitting and watching all the birds chirping and eating and flying around.

There must have been something in the air yesterday because the birds and the window kept having issues. A lovely large black bird flew into the window early in the morning. I was so sad for it. it seemed ok, but I remembered something that my Uncle recently told me- Most birds that are alive after hitting the window are just stunned and if you pick them up and keep them warm they will be fine. Getting cold makes them more likely to die. Whether or not this is true I have no idea, but it stuck with the animal loving side of me and seeing that black bird stunned on the snow made it impossible for me to leave it alone. It was only 36 degrees outside.

I got a towel, wrapped up the bird, and propped him up on the picnic table. I looked out the window at him periodically and after about 10 minutes he flew away, good as new. I was so happy.

I was still beaming with pride at helping save this bird when lunch time rolled around. The large flock of birds, that we now think are purple finches, were still happily eating as the snow was melting and sun was shining when something spooked the flock. All of a sudden I heard a BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!!!! against the window. "What the hell just happened!" I yelled to the dogs. At least 10 birds must have hit the window at once. Nothing like this has EVER happened before.

I rushed over to the window to see a few stunned birds flying away, but 3 birds looked really hurt. One was flapping around on it's back, one looked like it hurt it's wing, and another wasn't moving at all. The towel just wasn't going to do it. I needed a box now.

So I went out to the shop and got a box, lined it with a towel, and went back to the house to collect the birds. I picked them up one by one and put them in the box and covered half the box with a towel since it was now starting to snow. Within a few minutes one of the birds flew away. I was worried about the other two so I went and filled 2 sandwich bags with warm water (this is the part of the story where Brian started to roll his eyes at me when I told him about it later) and put a warm bag of water next to each bird. Within 10 more minutes one of the other birds flew away.

I waited, and waited, and waited for the third bird to fly away but he just wouldn't. He was sitting up, looking around and seemed ok but he just wouldn't fly. I put some seed in the box with him just in case he was going to be around for a while, made sure the towel wasn't preventing him from flying away and I left him alone. I checked on him every few minutes and finally, after an hour, he had flown away.

It felt good to save the birds, but it felt bad to not have done anything to prevent this from happening in the first place. So many things used to prevent birds from flying into windows are so ugly- and I really like looking out the window.

Then I remembered that my friend Ashley makes beautiful suncatchers out of Angelina and wool (I get my Angelina from GrittyKnits). I haven't made mine yet, but here is Ashley's tutorial. If you don't want to make your own, sometimes she has some in her shop too, so be sure to check out her website. Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hello Winter!

The past two weeks have been so busy! We've been fence building, canning, entertaining the most wonderful house guests, and have gone on a few mini road trips.

I've made 2 different kinds of pear jam, applesauce, Rosemary/Sage "Jelly" that didn't gel (so we call is glaze) and I still have about 60 pounds of apples to can. I have so much to tell you (next time)!

The most notable development is that winter seems to be here! I came home from a weekend away to find that our maples had turned yellow and dropped their leaves. It was so gorgeous that the dogs and I had to romp around for a bit. No sooner had I taken pictures of Bomber that it started to snow. The pictures below were taken on October 22nd, 2012. The ground is still white today and it doesn't look like it will melt for at least a few more days.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bird Feeders

3 months after moving in and putting out bird feeders the birds finally found my feeders! I'm so happy. They are so pretty and fun to watch. They are around our crabapple tree almost all day now, going through a lot of seed. Anyone know what these are? Click the picture to make it bigger.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Autumn Harvest

The past week has been filled with more play than work while my mom and uncle were here for a visit. But during their visit we had our first frosty weather with night temperatures in the hight 20s. I forgot to harvest our last red tomatoes and when my mom and I went out one morning all we found were frozen marbles. We harvested them all and I promptly got to work on a batch of chili.

We have a pear tree on our property and we have been waiting for the fruit to ripen. We purchased the property after the tree had flowered so we didn't have time to thin the flowers so that the tree would produce less, but bigger, fruit. We ended up with a tree COVERED in tiny pears.

We heard that pear don't do the best here in our part of Montana because they take so long to ripen and the first frost comes early. Well, we had our first frost and I rushed out to make sure the pears hadn't frozen. They hadn't, thankfully, but they still aren't even close to ripe.

I decided to take the advice of an article from Oregon State University Extension Services about How to Ripen Pears. I learned so much about pears! According to the article pears don't ripen to our liking on the tree, if they ripen on the tree they develop a course and gritty texture. They ripen best off the tree, at cold temperatures. They recommended picking the pears and putting them in a paper bag with a ripe banana or apple.

I have decided to experiment. I picked a basket full of pears and did what the article recommended. There are still lots and lots of pears on the tree. In a week or so, I will go pick more (assuming they haven't frozen and rotted) and see if leaving them in the cold, with the autumn midday warm sun will make any difference in the ripening process. I am determined to make some Pear and Ginger preserves from the Canning for a New Generation book, so I really hope this works! Wish me luck!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Corn and Bean Soup

I love walking into my kitchen before cooking dinner and figuring out what I can make based on what's in the fridge. Last night everything just seemed to come together perfectly.

I had bought an extra bag of baby carrots because they were buy one get one free at the store and I had always planned to make a soup out of them. I also had some beef broth, corn, and black beans that needed to be eaten asap. I decided it was time for the first soup of autumn.

I don't measure things, I like to do it by taste. I started by combining a small bag of baby carrots, 3/4 of a carton of beef broth, a large can of tomato puree and 4 cups of water in a large pot. I added in some bourbon smoked paprika, pepper and oregano, covered the pot and let that cook for about 30 minutes.

While that was cooking I minced:
1/2 of an onion
1/2 a head of garlic
2 jalepenos
1 thai hot chili
1 green bell pepper
1 bunch of green onions

I also cut the corn off of 4 ears of corn.

I heated some oil in a pan and sauteed the minced ingredients. Then I added the corn, mixed them up, and turned off the heat while I did the next step.

Once the carrots were soft in the broth I used a slotted spoon to fish them out and put them in a blender. I blended them until smooth and added them back to the broth along with the black beans and onion/corn mixture. I simmered everything (the pot covered) until all the ingredients were hot. I didn't want to corn to become soggy so I didn't cook it very long.

I don't have a picture, but I can assure you it was very tasty, and absolutely perfect served with some corn tortilla chips and a dollop of sour cream.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Farm Dog

The past few weeks haven't been terribly exciting, except for one thing- we got a puppy! Bomber arrived last Saturday night and the reason I have waited until now to say anything is that it took us a good 5 days to name him, and then I wanted to wait a few days just to make sure it stuck.
Bomber is a Brittany and is now 8 weeks old. He comes from a long line of bird hunting dogs, so Brian is hoping to train him to be one as well, although he has never attempted training like that before.

Bomber is a a little firecracker with enough energy for all of us and teeth as sharp as needles that like to be firmly gripping something at all times. The other animals tolerate him, and have all shown him who is boss (aka- not him). They are starting to let him jump on them which I appreciate since I am currently his only play buddy.

The timing of his arrival was perfect. Things on the farm have been pretty mellow. Brian has had extra things to do at work, we have had a few people come to visit, and we haven't made it to the farmers market to collect things for canning in a couple of weeks. We are in between major projects and the house is livable and functional as it is.

That doesn't mean our To Do list isn't a mile long, but it's been really nice getting to know our new puppy, watching the season start to change to Fall (my favorite!), and rest up a little before we start preparing for the cold winter ahead.

Bomber and his big brothers, Manny and Cloverdale

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Big Storage in a Tiny Space

The biggest challenge with doing lots of canning throughout the year is finding a place to put it all. We don't have a pantry in our kitchen, but we are fortunate enough to have a closet under the stairs in the basement. Instead of leaving everything in boxes on the floor we wanted to create shelving, but the space is very narrow so shelving options were limited to narrow shelves on both sides, or a deep shelf on one.

I've been hoping to find a use for some old drawers I took out of an upstairs room. They are strong and sturdy and seemed much to useful to take to the dump or stick in the burn pile.

The drawers were absolutely perfect for this project. Brian bolted them all together and then to the wall. We decided how to arrange the shelves based on the size jars we had, and we had a built in storage system in no time flat. The only problem is, we plan to can more, and we used up almost all of the shelves we installed. I guess we'll just have to build a few more farther back in the closet, and it will just involve a little crouching to get things out.

Click on the picture below to enlarge it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

DIY Washboard Planter

Crafts are my domain. Like Brian, I like to do things myself when I can, and there are no shortage of Do It Yourself ideas on Etsy. I've spent many, many hours looking for things to decorate my home with, and realized that quite a few of them I could create myself.

I have seen many different styles of plant hangers, some ceramic, some wood, some mason jar. The one I was most impressed with, and have only seen one of, was a plant holder made out of washboard. Since then I haven't been able to get it out of my head, and went on a quest for the perfect washboard.

The one on Etsy involved putting a screw through a small metal pot and through the washboard metal to attach the two pieces together. I decided to use a different method (that I saw on a different plant holder) involving a hose clamp.

Here's what I used for my design:
  • Metal Washboard with vertical wood pieces
  • 3 skinny half pint mason jars
  • 3 hose clamps that fit mason jars with a little extra room
  • 3 O Rings
  • Hens and Chicks (or other succulents that don't require much water)
  • Gravel
  • Potting Soil
  • Preferred hardware for hanging picture frames

Assembling the planter was really easy, the most difficult part was lining up the hose clamp, o-ring, and mason jar while tightening the screw. I used the o-ring because I wanted something there to create a cushion between the curved wood and the curved mason jar. Any piece of rubber would work. The o-rings worked out very well. Once I got all the mason jars attached where I wanted them I leaned the washboard on the bench and filled the jars with a little bit of gravel, then a layer of potting soil, the hens and chicks, and then a little bit of gravel to keep the soil from falling out when I water it. Voila! Awesome plant holder for under $20.

I put the plant holder in the dining room where it will get a little bit of morning sun. The hens and chicks should be fine there, but if they need a little extra sun I can always take it outside from time to time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chicken and Duck Stock

Making your own chicken stock is really easy and it's a great way to get a little more use out of that roasted chicken. The entire process from raw bird to stock is really easy and fairly inexpensive. We went down to the farmers market and bought a chicken from the Pondera Hutterite Colony for $7.50. We bought a bag of carrots, head of celery, and 2 onions (we were able to use half for the chicken and half for the duck a week later). Roasting the chicken took about 2 hours. The chicken provided us with 3-4 meals and plenty of doggie treats for the pups.

The stock was even easier, Simply Canning has a great recipe and a tip I hadn't considered: save up your scraps over time in the freezer until you have enough to make stock, that way you don't have to buy it all at once.

For the stock we put the chicken bones, skin, and leftover bits we didn't want to eat in a large pot with some chopped up celery, carrots and onion (it's not an exact science, use what you have on hand) and let it simmer for several hours, the longer the better. I think we ended up simmering it for 4-6 hours. Then we strained out the chicken pieces, bones, and vegetables. Use the pressure canner method to can the stock. Easy!

We did the same thing with the duck, but that was a special treat since the bird was $16. We won't be doing that every week, but it sure was tasty and it makes a really rich and fatty stock. Now we have about 20 pints and 4 quarts of homemade stock to use. I love adding a little stock when I'm cooking rice or barley, it adds a really nice flavor to it.

Here are the chicken and duck stocks side by side:

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Name Game

I've always been excited to name our farm. Even if we ended up in a house on 0.25 acres, I probably would have named it. I think it comes from growing up in California, in Pebble Beach and Monterey, where so many of the houses had names; some funny, some mysterious and some romantic. My favorite was always "Three Gables" because it reminded me of my favorite book series as a child, Anne of Green Gables.

Naming our farm has turned out to be a bigger challenge than I expected. The first challenge is that I have another person to consider, Brian, and he really isn't a fan of the cutesy names I come up with (like "Pitter Patter Farm" after the animals we will have, and the fact that the farm used to be owned by the Patterson Dairy). The other factor we have to consider, the WORST factor, is that just about every farm name under the sun has been taken by another farm. The reason that matters is because I plan to have sheep that I use for my business, and I can definitely see us producing to much produce, eggs, and honey and needing an outlet to sell it, like at the farmers market.

I have a list of over 20 names, almost all crossed out because the names exist already. I've tried to use all sorts of descriptive words that describe us, the farm, what we want, where we live, etc but we haven't come up with the winner yet.

I started by thinking about what we are and what we want to be. helped us here. Are we a Ranch, "an establishment maintained for raising livestock under range conditions."? I don't think so. Are we a Farm, "a tract of land, usually with a house, barn, silo, etc., on which crops and often livestock are raised for livelihood."? Quite possibly. How about a Farmstead, "a farm together with its buildings."? Yes. I think that works. Or would Homestead fit better, "any dwelling with its land and buildings where a family makes its home."? I think that fits too. From there there are other descriptions such as plantation, estate, hobby farm, acres, etc. I think for us Farm or Farmstead would work best.

From there, there are descriptive words about the area we live in; Mission Mountains, Flathead Valley, and Big Sky. There are words to describe our land and what we have here; 2 canals (or creeks), Willow, Cottonwood, and Maple trees, owls and feathers, menagerie, meadow, windy, sunny. We could describe us; we're both B Wilson.

From there I have come up with (names that have all been taken by another farm) Twin Brooks Farm, Big Sky Meadows, Hidden Acres, Flathead Acres, Eli Acres, Featherwood Farm, Willowbrook farm, Super B Farm, BnB Farm, Peace B Farm, Breezy B Farm, Featherwind Farm, Feather Brook Farm, and a host of others. The one's that aren't taken but we aren't super excited about are Peaking Mountain Farm, Sloping Meadow Farm, Pitter Patter Farm, Feather Meadow Farm, and Feather Run Farm.

I know there's the perfect name out there. I just need to learn to be patient. Any ideas?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Brian's Chainsaw Adventures

Brian hasn't looked at my blog much, which is good to know if I ever feel like talking smack about him. The one thing he was most curious to know about the blog was: Have I talked about his chainsaw yet. "Well no, I haven't, but if you looked at my blog you would know that."

So here is is: Brian's Epic Adventures with a Big Ass Chainsaw.

When we moved in we knew we were going to have a do a lot of tree maintenance, or rather, Brian was going to have to call people he knew who liked cutting down trees to help because I know nothing about the topic. There are (were) 2 strange rows of trees in the back part of our property, we think they are cottonwoods. One row was alive, and 1 row was completely dead. The dead row was dangerously close to power lines so before this winter we wanted to cut them down. Brian decided it was the first thing he wanted to do, before we had even moved in, because he wanted to buy and "play with" a new chainsaw.

He got one with a 25" bar, I'm pretty sure it was the biggest one in the store. My dad and step mom came up for a weekend to help (shown above), and on another weekend Brian called on our friend Wanda, who used to work as a smoke jumper down in Missoula. She loves using chainsaws as much as Brian does, she even came over once when we weren't here to cut down a tree or two. That's dedication.

One of the trees was very large and Brian had the idea to cut it in half lengthwise so that we could use the two halves as footbridges across our two canals. He called on Wanda again and another friend Landon to take part in a little tree cutting party.

I have to admit, the bridges scare me a little. They are narrow and bow with your weight as you walk across. I am a very clumsy person and I know I'm going to fall in at least once during our time here on the farm. I will also admit, Brian did a great job with them, and it's very special to have bridges that Brian made from trees on the farm. My fear is just a silly personal problem that I hope to get over.

The other big project of the moment was a willow tree that had fallen across the canal and was resting in the crook of another tree. We wanted to take it down before it did any damage to the other tree, and it was also shading a maple that we would like to see thrive. It wasn't as exciting a project as making the bridges, but it provided Brian with an excuse to get out the chainsaw (shown here, with our starved for attention dog Manny).

This project took the better part of a day and involved lots of sawing, hauling logs with the truck, and sawing some more. In fact, a week later, there are still some giant logs on my porch. I wonder how long until that part of the project gets done.

It was absolutely amazing what a transformation the space took and the amount of light it let in. It makes me want to work on trimming all of the other willow trees that are in desperate need of some maintenance.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Old Door Project Number 2: Coffee Table

Brian has a habit of going into a store where there are handcrafted goods and saying "I could make that". More often than not, he's right (although he doesn't always get to prove it).

A few weekends ago I went into an antique and "upcycled" shop that had lots of unique items, and many of them were made out of old doors. We love old doors! I was blown away by a kitchen island completely made out of old doors. I was totally ready to rip out our existing island for that one.

But a more reasonable and attainable discovery was that of a coffee table. A coffee table made out of an old door, and it cost $300 (after getting home and googling I found some as high as $1000). I knew exactly what Brian was going to say "$300!?! I could make that.". And I'm pretty sure that's exactly what he said when I dragged him into the store to look at it. "Great. Lets go buy a door", was my reply.

We drove on down to our favorite vintage and antiques shop, Farmer Brown's Mercantile in Ronan, MT because I knew they had an old door on display in front of their shop. It was perfect, even had the knob and hardware still attached. It was $40 and white, perfect for our living room.

We snatched it up and before I could even get a picture of it Brian had started cutting it up.

The door was a solid wood door (absolutely necessary if you are going to be cutting it up, hollow doors won't work) and had 5 squares or panels like many old doors do. Brian cut 1 panel off the top and one off the bottom (for either side of the table), leaving 3 panels to be the top. I'm not sure if he secured the 3 pieces together with anything more than L-brackets, I missed the first few steps.

After he put the 3 main pieces together he used some old barn wood to create the shelf in the bottom. This added a lot of stability to the piece. He used a vice of sorts to hold everything in place while he screwed in the boards. The last step was to scrape away some of the excess paint from the top and apply a clear coat of varnish to protect the top surface.

It turned out so amazing, I couldn't be happier. I'll be sure to get some more pictures of it once our living room is more put together. It took Brian about a day and a half and $50 to build.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Holy Tomato!

We can never have enough tomato products in our house. I cook with them whenever I can. Pizza, pasta, burritos, tacos, rice and beans, curry- we eat them all, and I slather on the tomatoes. We ran out of last years canning supply months ago, and it has been so hard to buy canned tomatoes since then. This year we decided to "Go Big, or Go Home.".

We started with 4 boxes from the farmers market- 112 pounds. You may that's insane, so brace yourself when I tell you that the next week we got two more boxes, for a total of 168 pounds of tomatoes.

We started with Brian's favorite recipe, Tomato Jam, from Food in Jars. I thought the recipe sounded strange when Brian wanted to make it last year. Tomato jam? What could we use if for? Once I tasted how yummy it was, I found uses for it. We use it on burgers, meatloaf, sandwiches, and with crackers and cream cheese. It's a great alternative to ketchup, in fact, we don't even buy ketchup anymore.

Brian wanted to make it less spicy this time, but forgot. I'm glad he did because I love how spicy it is, and sweet it is. It's perfect. This year we got 13 half pints from the recipe.

After that we started in on the salsa, tomato sauce, and canned tomatoes. My step-mom Karen came up for a visit on our second day of canning tomatoes and things went a lot faster with another set of hands. I still got to chop all 168 pounds of tomatoes, but she helped blanch and peel the tomatoes and chop up all the other peppers, onion, garlic etc that went into the salsa and sauce. It was a big help. She even brought up a huge bag of fresh basil from her garden to go into the sauce. Yummy!

Most tomato recipes are the same. They all come from the USDA Tomato Canning Guide because there really is a specific way that tomatoes need to be canned to preserve them properly. We used their guide for all of our products, only varying slightly in spice and seasonings.

We made 2 batches of salsa. For the first batch we used the "Tomato Salsa using Slicing Tomatoes" recipe on page 3-24. We added in some super hot peppers for spice. It turned out OK. It was a big watery, but the flavor was good and fresh. We made a larger batch and got 12 pints.

For the second batch we wanted a thicker salsa so we tried the "Tomato/Tomato Paste Salsa" recipe on page 3-25. It wasn't nearly spicy enough so we added some chiles in adobo sauce and red pepper flakes for a smokey/spicy flavor. It didn't have the fresh taste of batch 1, but it was much thicker. I actually think mixing the two salsas together would be perfect, and that's what I do if I have 2 jars open. We got 10 pints of the second batch

Here you can see Batch 1 and 2 of Salsa next to each other:

For the tomato sauce we used the "Spaghetti Sauce without Meat" recipe on page 3-13. We made 2 batches of sauce; one with large slicing tomatoes and we forgot to add in the basil, the second batch we used roma tomatoes and remembered the basil. For both we added in extra red pepper flakes and italian seasonings.

I'm not really sure why the recipe said it would yield 9 pints. We followed the recipe to a T for the amount of tomatoes and other large ingredients. We simmered it for hours, reduced it almost by half (until it was the thickness we liked), and we got 20 pints with the first batch!

We haven't tasted batch 2, but batch 1 was definitely a success:

There isn't much to say about canning plain tomatoes- chop them up, put in 2 tablespoons of lemon juice per quart, pack it up, can it. Done. We used the "Tomatoes-Whole or Halved (packed raw without added liquid) recipe on page 3-11, and we made a lot of them, enough to use 1 jar per week. Don't they look pretty?

So that's tomatoes. Next up: chicken stock made after roasting a yummy chicken we got from the Pondera Hutterite Colony. It's cooling in the kitchen right now and smells amazing.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Our Home Design Vision aka Adventures in Antiquing

Brian and I decided that for our home we would like a mixture of old and handmade things. I created a list of style keywords for us (by the way- Domino: The Book of Decorating is a wonderful resource).
  • Rustic/Country
  • Vintage/Antique
  • Clean/Minimalist
  • Organic/Natural
  • Handmade/Reclaimed
  • Artistic/Bohemian
  • Earthy
Focus on:
  • Wood- natural or painted
  • Metal- painted or distressed (not shiny)
  • Natural fabrics- wool, cotton, linen
  • Plants! Gotta love indoor plants

Our vision involves exploring more unconventional home furnishing and building supply stores. It involves making random and frequent stops in places that might look a little shady; a barn, someone's garage, even their house. We've stopped at all of those places and found some that we love, some that we hated, and some that were just plain HILARIOUS.

Our favorite stores are Farmer Brown's Mercantile in Ronan, Elizabeth Ann's in Kalispell, the Shabby Chic Shack in Kalispell, and the Montana Antique Mall in Missoula. They all have a mix of antique and upcycled items at great prices.

But they aren't the one's that I want to talk about. They are normal, cute, great stores. We have purchased things from all of them. I want to talk about the weird stores, the one's with the real characters.

Well, the first one wasn't that weird. It was cute, funny, and totally country. We were driving in the country and saw a sign for an antique store. We decided to stop because it was in a cute barn behind someone's house. We walked up to a barn to find 3 old dogs and a toothless old woman rocking in her rocking chair, peeling loads of garlic. She informed us that she was getting ready to make a batch of pickles. It was almost as if someone had paid an actor to sit outside the barn to give off the feeling of being on a real country farm. It was no act. I had to buy a jar of her pickles, and they were amazing.

One of the strange stores was on our way up to Kalispell from Polson yesterday. There are lots antique stores around Flathead Lake and we had never stopped at any of them before. I was so exited when we walked up to this one, there were wire baskets, old doors, and milk jugs in front. But when we stepped inside it was another story. There were antiques, but they were covered floor to ceiling in european soaps and smelly things that almost gave me a migraine just by stepping in. A woman in her 30's with ratty birds nest hair, flannel shirt, and jeans stepped out from amidst the soap and in a dreamy, hippie, stoner voice said "Hello, welcome to my shop. Have you been here before? My vision is to create a store that pays tribute to my european ancestors. Everything is imported from Europe or Canada. Smell this soap, it's amazing. It's from France, but it reminds me of the flowers here in Montana.". "So is that why this bookcase that is old and falling apart is $2,000?" I thought. Alright lady. Lay off the grass.

We should have known better than to go to last store of the day yesterday. There were cars, parts, tools everywhere outside the "Collectables" store. I went in first, a few minutes before Brian, and I was truly concerned that I was going to be sucked in and Brian would never find me again. It was a warehouse that was packed floor to ceiling with stuff. It was like an episode of Hoarders. There were very narrow small paths that lead everywhere. A middle aged man came out from between head high boxes and said "Hi! Been here before? Know what you're looking for?" I walked around and found a spinning wheel! Super excited. I walked up to the man and he said "That's not for sale, that belongs to my wife." "Um, ok- so I'm assuming the same applied for everything else in here?" I thought.

He lead me to the back of the store where his wife was sitting in a little cubby space that had been carved out of the junk at her sewing machine working on something. He proceeded to pull things out of the mass and tell me about each one. "This here is my shirt. She made it to look like an antique confederate shirt. My ancestors are from North Carolina so a lot of the stuff in here is because of that. This here is a hunting shirt, but I have to have pockets, but they have to be hidden because shirts didn't have pockets back then." Again with the ancestors! Brian walked in and we exchanged a wide eyed "Holy Shit" look.

This man also had a lot of guns, so Brian rescued me my asking about some gun thing. He proceeded to show Brian a lot of things that he hadn't asked about as I tried to make my escape. A few minutes later they met me outside and the man described offers that he had refused to accept on various cars and pieces of equipment in the yard as we inched our way towards our car. This man clearly didn't want to sell anything, and just had the "business" as an excuse to hoard.

I am really looking forward to the next adventure antiquing, even though it is truly an exhausting endeavor.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Different Pace

The pace of life on the farm is very different than life in the city. I'm sure you've heard that before. It is so easy to get lost in what's going on outside, things that you never notice if you spend all of your time indoors. When I head outside to do something I'm sure it takes me twice as long because of the things I discover along the way. Every day there's something new or something changing and I'm learning very quickly to never go anywhere without my camera.

One of my favorite discoveries so far has been this tree. Someone planted trees to close to a fence line so the tree grew around the t-post and now the post has become a part of the trunk. I wonder how long ago that happened, how long it took to get that way?

Another great thing to discover are the living creatures on the farm. Some of them are a nuisance, but I find them all fascinating. One evening we walked up to the top of the property and along the canal. I found some very interesting things in the thistles and reeds that grow along the canal. Click on the images to make them larger so you can see what I found:

And the owls never cease to amaze. I go out every day in search of feathers, and every so often I get to see the owls. It never gets old. They are so beautiful. In flight, hiding in a tree, or perched on a fence post, I'm always intrigued by what they are doing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vintage Door Headboard

We recently discovered the coolest store in Montana, the Home ReSource store in Missoula. It's like the Habitat for Humanity Restore we used to go to in Oregon- but better. They have a little bit of everything you could imagine for home renovation. Every day there are new treasures to find, and each visit you come up with new projects that you want to do.

I wanted to create a unique headboard for our bed and we found the perfect thing at the Home ReSource store: 3 old doors that just happened to be around the same height, and were already painted colors that we liked and matched out room

You'll have to excuse my lack of construction knowledge and terminology, Brian is definitely the builder of the two of us. First we cleaned up the doors, washed them, scraped off loose paint, and attached some new hardware where doorknobs had been removed. Brian also had to cut a few inches off one of the doors so that they were all the same height.

It was easier to assemble the headboard in our bedroom since we have a king sized bed and the doors were heavy. I'm not even sure they would have fit through the door assembled. Brian used straight bracket thingies to attach the doors together, and L brackets to join the headboard to the wall. Easy Peasy.

At some point we might add a header to make it taller and a piece of art behind the glass, but for now we're really happy with how it turned out.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dilly Veggies

We don't do a lot of pickling in our house, I'm not really sure why. We love dilly beans, but I think it's easy to forget that we have them when they aren't really a staple food in our diet. My husband also isn't a fan of pickles so I didn't feel like I could justify making a huge batch just for me.

We've been making dilly beans for a couple of years now because we do love them, and love to give them as gifts. The Food in Jars Recipe is pretty close to what we do, although we do use dill weed instead of seed.

This year we got a great deal on a giant bag of beans at the farmers market and they also had giant bags of cucumbers. We decided that for $20 we were willing to experiment with pickles. Maybe Brian would like them more if we make them ourselves?

Dilly bean and pickle recipes are very similar. I got recipes from my friend Sue and from Food in Jars and decided to take elements from both.

Follow the Water Bath Canning Method for prepping the jars and canning the goods.

Since we got cucumbers late in the season they were a bit bigger. We decided to keep the smallest ones whole, and experiment with different shapes for the larger ones. Some were quartered and some were sliced. The quartered cucumbers packed best in the jars.

Brine: Some recipes call for cider vinegar, some for white. We decided to experiment with them. We did some with white, some with cider, and some with a mix of both vinegars. The brine is half vinegar and half water with 5 tablespoons of salt for every 8 cups of liquid. We basically just heated batches of the brine until all the jars were full, since we weren't really sure how much we were going to need.

Spices: Some of the dill weed we bought had gone to seed so I spent some time separating out the best dill weed and pulling the seeds off the rest. Instead of crushed red pepper we decided to try using some dried De Arbol Chile peppers that we had in the pantry. Since we used several different jar sizes, here are the ratios of spices we used for each:

Pint Jar:
-1/2 tsp dill seed or 1 spring dill weed
-1 garlic clove
-1/2 tsp pepper corn
-1 dried chile

Quart Jar:
-1 tsp dill seed or 2 springs dill weed
-2 garlic cloves
-1/2 tsp pepper corn
-1 dried chile

1/2 Gallon Jar:
-2 tsps dill seed or 4 springs dill weed
-4 garlic clove
-1 tsp pepper corn
-2 dried chile

Now we get to wait. One month from the canning date we're going to have a tasting to see which vinegar we liked the best. Check back for the reviews!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Owl Soap Opera

The day we came to view the house I looked out the window at one of the many willow trees along the south canal. It it was a very large owl. I figured it was one of those fake owls used to deter other birds. "That can't be real", I exclaimed. Brian and our real estate agent came over to see what I was looking at and as soon as they did the owl turned it's head and looked right at us. We all gasped. Brian claims that our agent planted it there to add to the romanticism and appeal of the country.

As we were moving in we got to know our resident Great Horned Owls. We had discovered 3 that liked to spend time in the trees around the house and the remnants of a 4th owl at the base of one of the trees. The owls had built giant nests in every tree that would support them, so there are a lot of places for them to hide. There was the large owl and two smaller owls, whom I assumed were the large owls children. The smaller owls are in the picture below. I named them Domino (at first he was called Mr. Crankypants because he always looks mad) and Fawn (because of her doe eyed look).

Drama really took ahold on our first official day sleeping in the new house. I discovered the top of a skull of an owl under a tree. I knew it had just been killed because it was covered in blood and bugs I was landscaping under that tree the day before. There was no other evidence of the owl at all. No feathers. No body. Nothing. A scavenger must have taken it away.

I walked around the property to see if I could find any evidence of the dead bird. What I found was Fawn flying around frantically from tree to tree, crying and screeching as she flew. She was clearly distraught over the death of the owl. It took a few days, but we discovered it was the large owl that had been killed, because Domino was still around. What we learned later is that the only real predator of great horned owls is the great horned owl. There must have been a fight over territory or over a lady owl.

After that day we never saw Fawn again. Domino has stayed around the property, hanging out on his regular branches. There were also some hawks hanging out for a few weeks, but they have since moved on.

Since we've moved in I have started a feather collection. Most of them are owl, but I have a few from the hawks and other birds that like to hang out around the house. Lately there have been so many more, I think Domino is molting. A lot of them are smaller and fluffy, but occasionally we will find large wing feathers. I go for walks around the property every day now just to search for feathers, and I rarely come home empty handed.

This mornings walk was a very eventful one. It is a very windy morning and the dogs and cats decided to walk with me. Right as I was passing the large maples on the way to the shop and large owl swooped out of a maple and across the canal to the most popular owl tree. It had to fly low to avoid branches but it was very close to the cats. Sierra (one of my cats) got spooked and wasn't sure if she should chase it or run away so she half jumped at it and then looked around frantically for what was going on. Brian and I both were wide eyed and agreed in unison that it was time for the pets to go inside.

As Brian herded our menagerie of pets back into the house I wanted to investigate this owl. There was no way it was Domino, he is much more cautious than that. This owl seems very confident, perching on a branch out in the open that leaves him very exposed. I walked over to where it had landed high in a tree and it was clearly a new owl. I looked around and sure enough, Domino was hiding in another tree. I walked over to Domino and I could tell that he was not pleased. He was making very small screeching noises in the direction of the other owl. As I'm sitting here in the living room typing I can hear him out there calling to the other owl.

I'm not sure what this means for our little farm, that I had liked to call an "owl haven". I can only hope that it means that Domino is going to get a girlfriend that he can make cute owl babies with, and not the opposite. I would hate for him to share the fate of the late senior owl.

Stay tuned for the next installment of The Young and the Restless Owls.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Farming Doesn't Start in the Garden

I wish that someone had told me that when we bought a farm we should allot a generous budget to a books fund. I know lots of people who are fans of libraries, I am too, but for something as ongoing and involved as farming I really need to have reference books on hand. The internet also has a wealth of information, but there's just something special about having a "Go To" book in my own personal library.

The book I'm reading right now is the Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman. I figured that buying the house at the end of June, settling during July, and having family visits from August-October, winter was the first season I would get to think about gardening. As I learned from the book, I'm probably wrong, but I'm still going to try.

We have a shed in the middle of the property (north of the house, southwest of the shop) that we have no real intention of using as it is now. It's a metal sided, wood floored shop that has definitely seen better days. It smells of animal urine, has had wasps take nest in it, and I'm pretty sure that the smell and my dogs interest in getting under it means that skunks have taken up residence under the floor. It was also assembled to close to the cherry trees so that branches rest on the roof, and to close to the raspberry bushes so they get no sun. It has to go.

My idea, and the main reason I bought the Winter Harvest Handbook, was to move the shed frame to the front (south side) of the property where it would get the most light and replace the metal siding with plastic, or greenhouse siding. I want to repurpose the shed.

That is still the plan, but the capability of using it this winter is in question. According to the book (that I'm only about 50 pages into) we should succession plant, or plant the same crop several times, so that we can get that crop over a longer period of time. Their recommendation for their zone in Maine (the same zone as ours in Polson, MT according to's Zone Finder) would be to plant cold hardy vegetables in August, September, and October so that you can harvest throughout the winter. Well, August is almost behind us and the first half of September is booked. The soonest we'd get to this plan is the end of September- that leaves October for planting. Perhaps we could get one round of winter veggies in this year? I guess we'll find out...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Jams: Peach/Huckleberry and Apricot

It may sound silly, but one of the things I knew I was going to miss the most about Oregon was blackberry season. It was a huge consideration for me when deciding whether or not to move (that and wild mushrooms and fresh off the boat tuna) Blackberries grow like weeds in the Willamette Valley and we would spend many weekends picking berries to can, freeze, and ferment.

I was very pleased to realize that I didn't have to give up berry picking, rather, I just had to switch which berry I would obsess over. In Montana the berry is huckleberry. They are much smaller than blackberries, grow closer to the ground, and involve slightly more difficult terrain, but they are worth it.

We came home from an hour or so of picking with about 8 cups of berries, plenty to make into jam all by themselves, but we decided that we wanted to save some for other purposes (mainly huckleberry pancakes). We chose to mix them with peaches and used Food in Jars Peach Jam recipe, substituting 3 cups of huckleberries for 3 cups of peaches.

Brian was also invited to pick apricots from a coworkers tree. We were not expecting there to be so much fruit! We came home with enough for two batches of jam.
For the first batch we chose a simple Apricot Jam recipe, but for the second I wanted to be a little more adventurous. I chose Apricot Jam Recipe with Noyaux, Spices and Bourbon. It was very unique and I got to try new things. I'd never cracked open an apricot pit to use the kernels in cooking before and it uses the candy method instead of pectin so I had the pleasure of standing over it and stirring it for what felt like forever. I'm now a huge fan of pectin.

The only changes we made to the recipe was we couldn't find cardamom pods so I used 1/3 tsp ground instead.

I liked the recipe, but I think I'd make a few changes next time. Ours boiled down a bit to much so we only got 5 half pints instead of 8. I think I would use the pectin method next time to save time, and get more jam. The lemon flavor came through a little strong, so I think next time I would use a little less lemon and a little more spices, maybe a little more bourbon too. All in all, it was a great recipe to try.