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It all started with me being off work for a while due to medical reasons. As I was feeling better, I needed to keep myself occupied so I became very active on my local FaceBook buy/sell groups. Now, I’ve always wanted to have chickens out here so when I saw an ad for guinea fowl, I just couldn’t resist. I contacted the seller and reserved two hens and three cocks.

Of course the next step was getting them proper housing. I have a canine condo that was built when I had 6 labs but it is sitting on concrete and would need some modification to be an appropriate hen house. I looked online and found what I though would be a fine temporary home so my mom and I headed to Farm and Fleet to buy a coop to build. This is just going to be a temporary home because they will be free range after they have been here for a week or two. If I don’t contain them they will try to go back to where they came from.

When we got to F&F, of course the only one they had was the display unit. Sure, I’d take the display unit! After all, none of the other Farm and Fleet stores for 75 miles showed having any in stock and it would eliminate that bothersome step of having to assemble the coop. This was a great plan!! Well, except that the assembled coop wouldn’t fit in the back of a Chevy Captiva because it’s too tall. I had paid for the coop and wasn’t going to leave without it so a young man and woman from F&F disassembled the coop in the parking lot so I could take it home. Ah well, it’s always something. And I’m getting guineas!!

Things got busy during the week and we didn’t get around to getting the coop assembled. Okay, to tell the truth I was putting it off because I remember how long it took me to build a doghouse! The guineas had to be picked up on Saturday so on Friday afternoon, we got out the electric screwdriver and started assembling. Some of it was already assembled, so how bad could it be? It really wasn’t too bad but there were some moments. Like when we figured out that we had it upside down and the left and right sides were reversed. But we got it all together and in place under the Prairie Fire tree just waiting for the Guinea Gang.

Saturday afternoon came and I loaded up a dog crate to bring The Gang home. It is a wire crate and has a pan in the bottom. Perfect! The guineas could breathe and the pan would catch their poopage. Hold that thought… It seems that the guineas didn’t want to just stand around in the crate and enjoy their 15 minute ride. They wanted to shit and kick it out while they were stomping around in the crate. Let me tell you, guinea shit smells no better than any other shit! Okay, maybe not as bad as some, but it is not a fine fragrance. And it’s green. When I got home I had green guinea shit all over the back of the vehicle because I forgot to put down the plastic drop cloth.

But it doesn’t matter because I have guineas! It’s crazy how happy this makes me. I sit with the window open and listen to them out there in their temporary home and they sound content. And I’m content.

We recently experienced a soap tragedy here on the hill.  We lost our entire stock of soap that was on the curing rack.  It was heart breaking for us and I know that there will be some who are very disappointed that you won’t be able to get soap at the Apple and Pork Festival this year.  We hate it too.  This has brought us to a crossroads where a decision must be made whether to continue with soaping or to let it go.  It’s weighing heavy on my heart and mind.

I guess since I don’t have any soap to show you this fall I will have to share other things.  My mom and I have been selling vintage items for a while so maybe I’ll highlight an item now and then.  And of course there are always canning stories and recipes to share! 

In other news, I’m starting paralegal studies in preparation for some upcoming changes in my “real” job.  It’s exciting but I sure am looking forward to winter when I won’t have yard work as a drain on my time.  LOL  I really hate mowing and weeds.

I hope you all had a very nice Labor Day and got to spend time with friends and family or doing other things you enjoy. 

My message for today is:  Live the life you want to live, not the life you’re expected to lead.

 

Welcome to 2011!

Beans, Greens, Ham Hocks, Spices, and Crusty Harvest Bread

New Year's Feast

 

Happy New Year to you! 

Yes, like so many others, I partook of a new year traditon by having black eyed peas, ham hocks, and greens.  Okay, I know, I know.  This isn’t what everyone’s tradition is, but it’s mine.  I tried the Hopping John with the rice and beans and it really turned out awful – major suckage, you might say.  But I do have the pork and the beans in there and instead of having cabbage I have greens.  And because I seem to be out of corn meal (oh the horror!), I am having a wonderful harvest grain bread instead of corn bread. 

A friend of mine, Monica (Hi Monica!) asked on Facebook yesterday where the traditions of eating pork and cabbage, or pork and beans, or some other combination came from and what they mean.  I know I’ve read the explanation at some point but there are likely to be as many explanations as there are traditions.  So, I’ve decided to make up my own explanation.  Yeah, like you didn’t see that coming!

So anyway, I thought about it and of course the greens are in the hope that the new year brings me lots of green so I can continue to feed the critters and pay the bills.  But what’s up with the pork?  And the beans?  Hmm, I guess it could be indicitive that I hope I have enough gas to keep me running about and to keep my car warm but well, okay, that’s not what I want my tradition to be about.  So here is what I’ve decided the history behind MY tradition will be:

The ham hocks are from the lowest part of the hog and is a part that’s overlooked and probably pitched out by some.  The beans are warm, nourishing, and filling.  The greens are simplicity at its finest.  Some people might call them weeds and bypass them but they’re part of the bounty that the earth gives us.  And they’re the color of money (okay, some habits die hard).  With this new year’s day meal I’m reminding myself that it’s the simple things that are going to make me happy and comfort me most in the year ahead.  I don’t need the newest or best or brightest new toy that comes out to make me happy; that happiness would be fleeting and I’d be waiting for the next toy.  All I really need are the warm comforts of home and the simple pleasures of family and friends and the bounty that I can find outdoors and in nature.  And if you know me you won’t be surprised that I added a healthy dose of hot sauce to my meal because even the simple life needs spice!  So that’s what my tradition is all about.

Oh yeah, I AM hoping for some green too!  And for those of you who are cringing about that old cutting board – it’s just a photo prop.  But I like it so I keep it around, mostly hanging on my wall waiting to be used for a photo.

Happy new year to you all.  I’m hoping the year brings you the comforts that make you happy.

Lavender for Labor Day

Lavender Goat's Milk Soap

Today I made my first full-sized batch of soap since I had shoulder surgery a while back.  I’ve made some batches of soap that were 2-3 lbs of oils but today I bit the bullet and made a BIG batch.  Yay me!  Woohoo!

This batch started out with 12 pounds of oils and butters and then I added in the essential oil, goat’s milk, clay, and caustic solution.  It’s now a bit over 17 lbs of soap batter and will lose a bit of weight during the curing process.  The curing time is mainly for water to evaporate out of the soap.  Right now the bars would weigh 6.4 ounces each but they won’t weigh that much in a few weeks.  The color will change a smidgen, too.

Truth be told, I was rather timid about doing a 12 lb batch and had horrid visions of being too weak to do it and having a huge caustic mess on my hands.  Luckily that didn’t happen and I managed just fine.  I’m expecting some soreness tomorrow but that will go away – I did it and soon there will be 42 big-ass bars of Lavender Goat’s Milk soap on the curing rack.  Now, what kind of soap should I make tomorrow?

With the dividers, I don't have to cut the soap after it's firmed up.

A beautiful bounty of home canned vegetable soup!

Last week while I was on vacation, my parents and I made vegetable soup.  A single batch recipe makes about 14 quarts of soup.  I had in mind that I wanted to share 3 quarts with friends who are always generous with me.  I hated to miss out on those 3 quarts, but giving the wholesome product of our labors was what I wanted to do.

Now, with this recipe, if you have a little extra of one thing or a little less of another it doesn’t really matter and you use what you have.  It just happened that this year the “little bit extras” yielded 3 extra quarts of soup!  If that isn’t a little life lesson, then I don’t know what is.  Don’t be afraid to share because you’ll find you always have what you need.

With that in mind, I’m sharing the recipe for the vegetable soup.  We’ve been making and canning this in my family for as long as I can remember; I know my mom’s been making it for over 50 years.  I hope it will be a favorite of your family too.

Barb’s Vegetable Soup Recipe
12-14 quarts

1 peck (2 gallons) of tomatoes (peeled, cored, and chopped)
1 quart carrots
1 pint (or one can) lima beans
1 pint (or one can) peas
1 single bag celery
3 green peppers
5 large onions
1 tablespoon paprika
½ cup salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup quick cook barley
½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine

Clean and chop your vegetables.  If using canned peas and beans, don’t drain.  Cook the vegetables separately until just soft – don’t let them get mushy.  Boil the barley for 10 minutes.

Mix all ingredients together in a big pot and cook until it begins to boil.  After it’s at a boil, cook for 10 minutes.

Fill your prepared jars and, using a pressure canner, bring pressure to 5 pounds and cook for 2 minutes.

If you want to pressure cook your vegetables before adding all of the ingredients together:

Pressure cook carrots and celery with ½ cup water at 5 pounds for 2 ½ minutes.
Pressure cook onions and peppers with ½ cup water at 5 pounds for 1½ minutes.
I do not advise pressuring the beans and peas – they could clog the pressure vent and cause a dangerous and messy explosion!

When I open a jar of soup to serve it, I add cooked potatoes and meat and any other veggies I choose to throw in.  I cook the potatoes in beef broth and then add my soup, meat, and veggies right to the pot.  I’m known to add a shot of hot sauce, too.

Serve with bread, corn muffins, or biscuits and some sliced cheese and you’ll have a fabulous meal.  Enjoy!

Rolling in Clover

Red Clover in a Vintage Ball Jar

I went out to pick some chicory blooms this afternoon but I got sidetracked by the red clover.  I felt bad taking it away from the bees and butterflies that were loving it.  In the end I decided that there was a lot of red clover for them in other areas that I wasn’t going to bother so we are all good.   I didn’t take a lot… just this quart.

I only put itin the jar to see how much I’d gathered and how much it took to cover the bottom of my large harvest basket.  Turns out it is one snug quart!  After I’d taken the photo above I  put the clover in a medium sized tray basket to dry.  I set it outside in the sun and brought it in just a bit ago; I’ll set it back out in the sun again tomorrow.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll get the chicory.  Maybe.

We'll use the sun's heat to dry the clover blossoms.

I had a great day traveling with my friend (and fellow soapmaker), Laurel!  The first person to leave a comment correctly identifying where I was today will win a prize!

Sorry Laurel, you’re not eligible.

WE HAVE A WINNER!  Erin K correctly guessed via my facebook page that I was at the Hippie Memorial in Arcola, IL.  Erin will be receiving a bar of Hippie Memorial commemorative soap scented with Sandalwood and Patchouli essential oils.  In a tie dye pattern, of course. 🙂

The sun prisms seem very fitting.

And since we already have a winner, here are a few more photos…

My favorite part of the sculpture.

Most of the monument - with an intruding train in the background. How rude.

And me waving the peace sign, of course. And yes, I AM wearing tie dye.