June 30, 2016

In full bloom


I love this time of early summer when the flowers finally begin to bloom and are still lush before the real heat and dryness of the summer hits us.  I have worked hard the last two years planting perennials in the flower beds around our house.  Things are getting established now and filling in the beds well.  It makes me happy when I pull up to the house and see all the blooms.  

These lilies have traveled with me through three different houses.  I had them in my first home that I bought by myself.  Then I dug them out when I moved in with Josh.  Now they have settled here at Phillips Farm and are doing fabulously.  The fence along the pool is nearly invisible in all their foliage and flowers.


I found these multi-colored cone flowers (also known as Echinacea) early last spring.  I planted them in with the Black Eyed Susans and they seem to love where they are at.  This year they came back about twice their size and they are laden with flowers.

This hydrangea bush was here when we moved in and is thriving.  It's big flower heads are pretty for bouquets.

The hollyhocks in the front have been devoured by some kind of bug that makes its home in the leaves, creating dark scabs all over them.  The leaves began to shrivel from the ground up, weakening the plant.  One hard rain knocked the tall stems diagonal and now they just look sad.  I was hopeful they might bounce back but it may be time to just cut them back.

I was so excited when I found hollyhock seeds at Seed Savers Exchange.  When my mom and I were traveling in northern Germany a few years back, we visited a seaside town that had hollyhocks growing from every crack in the sidewalk, against every building, in every alleyway... They were enchanting and romantic.  I wanted them for my house!  I had difficulty finding healthy plants here so when I saw the seeds I thought that might be the answer.  I'm disappointed that the insects won out in my quest to grow these pretty flowers.  Two years in the making (they're biennials), they will have to be cut back just when they begin to bloom.

Has anyone else had luck growing hollyhocks?  What's the secret?

June 28, 2016

"How to Make White Wine Vinegar Flavored With Herbs"

My latest article went live yesterday on the Countryside Network website.  It is a how-to piece on making herb infused vinegars.  I show step-by-step how I made white wine vinegar infused with the garlic flavor and beautiful pink color of the blossoms from my scallion plant.

Read it here:

June 27, 2016

Farm fresh breakfast

I had a truly farm fresh breakfast this morning.

Let's start with the frittata.  I collected eggs from our hens yesterday evening, which I cracked fresh this morning and added to broccoli I harvested from the garden yesterday afternoon.  If only we had a cow or goat, the milk and cheese I finished it off with could have come from our land too instead of the store.  Alas, my husband says I have to get him a motorcycle in return for a few goats so that won't be happening anytime soon.

To go with my eggs, I cut a slice of the loaf of caraway rye I made on Saturday.  I toasted it so it was warm and perfectly crisp then spread on it a thick layer of the dandelion jelly I made last month.  The jelly somehow tastes like honey - a distillation of Mother Nature's sweetness.

Finally, I brewed a cup of chicory coffee.  I spent much of this weekend learning about how to harvest, clean, roast and grind chicory to make drinks (I'm doing a piece on this culinary adventure for Countryside - I'll post a link when it's live).  This morning I mixed some of the ground root with my coffee in my little espresso pot.  

It yielded a new take of my daily routine.  The chicory added a touch of spice to the coffee and maybe a hint of cocoa.  

There's nothing like eating food you grew, raised, prepared... 

What's your favorite fresh from the garden meal?

June 20, 2016

Broccoli time!

Yesterday I harvested a whole head of broccoli - my first time ever trying this veggie fresh from the garden.

I thought it looked like a bouquet when I brought it inside. Soju, my mini schnauzer, was looking at it longingly too!

I sautéed it in a little olive oil with salt pepper then sprinkled a bit of grated cheese on it while it was hot.  It was delicious!

Today I tried a different method. Instead of cutting off the entire head, I used a serrated knife and carefully cut florets off lots of different heads. This should allow the plants to keep growing and producing and me to start enjoying my harvest. 

I made honey garlic chicken for dinner tonight and I added some of the broccoli. I was cutting it into smaller pieces when this little booger popped out. 

That's a cabbage moth caterpillar. I can't stand these little critters. They have devoured my kale the last couple years and now they have moved on to my broccoli (both in the brassica family). 

The one bright spot in the situation is that the chickens ❤️❤️❤️ to eat caterpillars so they have fun when I start tossing them over the fence. 

June 18, 2016

A lavender harvest

Last year I planted little lavender plants all across the front of the house.  I just love to breath in the smell of lavender as I walk by the flower beds and I think it's a lovely greeting for people coming to our home.  The plants are thriving and lush with purple flowers so I decided it was time for my first harvest.

This was a challenge for two reasons: bees and a mamma duck.

The bees absolutely LOVE the lavender and the tall hollyhocks behind them.  They are buzzing and flying about everywhere.  I was nervous but just decided to calmly sit down amongst them and hope for the best.  It was really amazing, actually.  They flew around me but left me be.  I think they must sense anxiety and the possibility of harm and the opposite - calm and no desire to hurt them.  A couple times I cut off a stem with a bee on it and it just came right with the flower into my pile then eventually flew away.  

The second issue is our mamma duck, who has made her nest in the flower bed.  Who knows why but she chose this spot, in the front of the house, to lay her eggs.  Now she has become very territorial and protective.  When you approach, she starts hissing and puffing herself up.  I decided she was riskier than the bees and I didn't even attempt to harvest from the plant directly in front of her.

I used my clippers and cut stems until I had a nicely sized bunch then wrapped the ends in string.  I cut about 15 bunches then brought them inside to my laundry room - checking to be sure I wasn't bringing any of those bees in with me!

I read that lavender needs to be hung upside down to dry and that as it dries the blossoms become brittle and may begin to drop off.  Several people suggested the method I decided to go with - encasing the bunches in brown paper bags then hanging them.  The paper is breathable and it catches any petals that may fall off as the lavender dries.

The clothes drying rack has been re-purposed for now to hold my flowers.  I can't wait to crack the bags open and shake off the dried petals.  I've been saving all kinds of lavender recipes to try with my harvest...

I'll post again when it's time for the next step.

What's your favorite thing to make with dried or fresh lavender?

June 17, 2016

A beautiful birthday gift

My birthday was on Wednesday, and I had had a nice day of celebrations but the chores must still be done.  So around 9 pm I went out to close up the chickens.  It had been storming quite intensely and was still drizzling so I had my raincoat on and my head down.  When I passed the workshop and got out to the coop, I looked up and was stopped in my tracks by this sight: a perfect, richly colored double rainbow.

It was absolutely beautiful.  I felt immediately filled with gratitude for such a gift to finish my birthday.

I also felt my mom's presence whispering, "happy birthday cupcake."

The first time I saw a spectacular rainbow like this over our home was on the day that she passed from this earth so every time I see one now it feels like a sign that she's still here, that she wants me to know she's watching over me.

As the rainbow began to fade in the east, the sun was fading in the west, bathing the house in a golden glow.  My stepson came outside to see what was keeping me and marveled, "wow, it looks like heaven."

The golden light faded and the clouds were painted like a rich watercolor scene with shades of pink and purple.

The wet driveway acted like a mirror for the sky.  Truly spectacular.

"Look for me in Rainbows"

Time for me to go now, I won't say goodbye;
Look for me in rainbows, way up in the sky.
In the morning sunrise when all the world is new,
Just look for me and love me, as you know I loved you.

Time for me to leave you, I won't say goodbye;
Look for me in rainbows, high up in the sky.
In the evening sunset, when all the world is through,
Just look for me and love me, and I'll be close to you.

It won't be forever, the day will come and then
My loving arms will hold you, when we meet again.

Time for us to part now, we won't say goodbye;
Look for me in rainbows, shining in the sky.
Every waking moment, and all your whole life through
Just look for me and love me, as you know I loved you.

Just wish me to be near you,
And I'll be there with you.

Music and lyrics: Conn Bernard (1990). Vicki Brown

June 15, 2016

Mint Wine in the Making

After Rita and I siphoned our Dandelion Wine over into a new carboy, I was so excited about our brewing adventures that I decided to start a new project: Mint Wine.  I went out into the herb garden and filled a colander with all the varieties of mint growing there: Apple Mint, Pineapple Mint, Spearmint, and Chocolate Mint. 

I brought them inside and rinsed them clean.  It was so fragrant in my kitchen!

Meanwhile, I brought about a gallon of water to a boil.

I added three cups of sugar and stirred until it was thoroughly dissolved.

Now I had my syrup.  

To that, I added the mint leaves.  I pushed them under until they were saturated then left it alone until it cooled to near room temperature. 

The air was full of freshness at this point!  It almost smelled like I had rubbed Vicks Vapor Rub on my chest.  I stood over the pot inhaling the minty-ness. 

When it was cooled enough, I threw in a couple teaspoons of yeast then covered it with a damp towel.

I left the mash on the counter for three days, stirring daily and re-dampening the cloth.  After three days it looked like this...

I strained out the leaves and my remaining liquid had turned a rich golden color.  

It wasn't incredibly bubbly so I decided to add a little more yeast.  I mixed this in then poured it into my sterilized carboy.  I set the airlock in place and now I wait.

My counter is getting crowded.  I have Dandelion Wine from April, Honeysuckle Wine from May and now Mint Wine from June.  I wonder: what will July bring??

Mamma duck has learned to sit

If you have been following our adventures here on the farm for long, you know that it has been a constant learning process for us figuring out what our ducks are doing and what they need from us.  Bossy Pants, our adult female, has made various nests around the yard and filled them with eggs but never really gotten into incubating the eggs.  She would occasionally sit on her nests but not consistently enough to make anything happen.

Then we had our little experiment into letting a chicken hatch duck eggs.  One successful duckling came of that, our now large Cupcake, who continues to think of herself as a chicken.  

So we were torn when we discovered that mamma duck had made a new nest in the front of the house, under my hollyhocks.  What to do?  Do we collect the eggs or let her try again?

Initially we did collect the eggs but then something different happened: she started to sit, and sit, and sit.  She began to leave the nest for less and less time each day until she got to the point where she only left at night, when she would seek out the safety of the chicken coop with her male companion.  Then she made the full plunge and even started to sit on her eggs at night!  Who knows what made it happen, but mamma duck seemed to finally understand how to be a mamma!  

Needless to say, we stopped collecting eggs.  We have actually stopped even going near her because she has become very protective of her growing babies.  When you approach, she hisses quietly at you and puffs herself up to look bigger. 

She had to choose one the hottest spots in the yard!  It has been really bakingly hot and humid so I brought her a container of water and carefully set it down as close as I could get it then backed away slowly.

The only times she leaves the nest now seem to be very early in the morning - when she goes back to eat and drink in the chicken coop - and just before dark - when she gets up and paces in front of the nest to stretch her legs.  The other morning I snuck out while she was off eating and caught a glimpse inside the nest.  Looks like we may get a nice big bunch of ducklings if she really gets this done!

I watched her from afar yesterday afternoon while she used her bill and feet to gently turn each of the eggs.  What a marvel to get to witness.  I am so excited for babies.  

I so hope that she can get through this safely and bring a new generation of ducks to us here at Phillips Farm.

June 10, 2016

If life gives you lemons, make limoncello!

I had about half of a bag of lemons sitting on my counter about a month ago.  I had used a few of them for recipes but didn't have plans to make anything that needed lemon so I thought to myself: What can I do with these so that they won't go to waste?  Then it hit me: limoncello!  

I spent my junior year abroad in Milan and dated a man who lived on the Amalfi Coast, well known for their fabulous football-sized lemons and the sweet digestivo that they produce with them: limoncello.  Needless to say, I became quite the connoisseur of the stuff.  I could drink limoncello everyday if I had it!

I did some reading online and it looked fairly easy.  There are really only two steps:
1. infusing the alcohol with the lemon peels
2. adding a simple sugar syrup for sweetness

I thought, I can do this!

And so I began...  I used a peeler a remove the rinds from my lemons.  

I juiced the lemons and froze the juice in a couple small containers so I'll have it for later use.  You could also use it to make some homemade lemonade.

I had a bottle of vodka, hardly opened, in the freezer that someone had given me long ago.  I'm not a vodka drinker so it had sat untouched.  I think the only time I used it was to make a vodka sauce for pasta.  I grabbed a large mason jar from the pantry and in went the alcohol and lemon peels.  I sealed it up and put it in the back of the fridge to infuse.  

After three weeks it looked like this:

I tasted it to see how lemony it was.  Miraculous!  It was very tasty, but not sweet enough.  We can fix that.

I poured the mixture through a strainer and disposed of the lemon peels.  This is something the chickens won't eat - they don't do citrus - so it will just be added to the compost.

The remaining liquid was a bright, sunny yellow.  I set this aside while I made the sugar syrup.

For the syrup, I set a small pot on the stove.  I added three cups of sugar and just enough water to moisten it.  With the temperature on medium-high I stirred continuously until the sugar dissolved and it became a thick syrup.   

I let the syrup cool a little then poured it into the infusion, stirring constantly, and tasting every now and again to see if it was sweet enough.  I ended up adding all of the sugar syrup because I like mine sweet, but taste yours as you go to ensure it's just right for your palette.   

And ta-da!  Limoncello complete! 

I ended up with two mason jars about 75% full.  Traditionally, limoncello is served straight from the freezer, in a small cordial glass or shot glass.  My jars are in the freezer getting nice and frosty so that I can enjoy an ice-cold digestivo after dinner tonight.    I'm so looking forward to it!

June 9, 2016

An ecstatic pollen bath

Walking by my flower beds yesterday evening, my ears filled with the buzz of flapping wings.  I looked down to see bees all over my lavender plants.  Each plant had easily 15 bees on it.  How exciting!  

You hear more and more about how bee populations are struggling with environmental factors and other predatory insects wiping out vast quantities of them.  We are fortunate to have a healthy and active set of hives across the street from us.  The man who owns them offered to set one up in our yard too as soon as he has enough bees to split off a new hive.   

As I watched the bees fluttering about, I followed one that flew up towards my taller hollyhocks.  It landed smack in the middle of one of the big black flowers and commenced an ecstatic pollen bath.  It rolled and crawled and covered its whole body in pollen.  The black petals, too, were smudged with it.  The bee seemed oblivious to everything except for gorging itself on Mother Nature's sweet gift.  

Watching this whole scene reminded me of a poem I had once read, which I went back and looked up again.  Enjoy!

Extract from Kahlil Gibran’s "The Prophet"

And now you ask in your heart, 
"How shall we distinguish that which is good in pleasure from that which is not good?" 
Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower, 
But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee. 
For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life, 
And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love, 
And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy. 

People of Orphalese, be in your pleasures like the flowers and the bees.

June 8, 2016

Dandelion wine: part II

It has been almost two months since Rita and I started our dandelion wine and 99% of the fermentation seemed to have stopped.  We each had just a minuscule amount of teensy bubbles in our jugs, and the liquid had cleared significantly; so we decided it was time to move on to the next step: siphoning the wine into a new carboy.

I lugged my full wine and an empty, clean carboy across the street to Rita's house after dinner.  I must have been quite a site carrying those jugs as I got honks from every pickup truck that passed!  

Rita had kept all the supplies that we got from our wine-making neighbor down the street.  We got them back out and tried to remember all that she had told us.  There was a solid plastic tube with a sort of cap on the end, which she had told us to insert into the carboy and hook the siphon onto.  This would prevent sludge from getting sucked up with the liquid.  So we set this up, put the empty carboy down low and I gave it a suck to get the siphon going.

I tried and tried but I couldn't get it flowing so we recruited Rita's husband Frank to help.

Frank had a little better luck than me, but even he could only get a little liquid to flow.

We looked at our set-up and decided it was the solid plastic pipe with the cap that was messing up our suction.  We took this off and resolved to just be careful with the end of the siphon in the full carboy, to not let it down too close to the bottom.  I held it in place.

Frank sucked on the end of the tube again, and - Woah!  Did it flow!

Before long we had gotten all the clear liquid out into the new carboy, and just the sludge and a little liquid remained in the original carboy.

Here's a look down into the original jug.

And the remaining liquid is pretty clear!  We did it!  Now it has to sit a while longer to clarify more and see if anything else settles out of it.  Then the next step is to bottle it.

This is my official "bootlegger" picture Rita took as I was walking home.  

While sucking on the end of the siphon, I got the chance to taste the wine so far.  At this point, it tastes a lot like a dry white wine, maybe a little too dry for my taste.  Our neighbor told us that you can add a sugar syrup to it at the end of the process, before you bottle, to adjust the sweetness to your particular taste.  I think that might be on the horizon for us.

Now that I have a free carboy, I think I might start a batch of mint wine.  I'm hooked on fermentation!  It's fun to learn something new and now I'm so interested to see how the different wines made from stuff already growing in my yard will taste.