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Monday, April 18, 2016

Strawberry Blossoms!

We're coming upon my favorite time of the garden year!

Last year we had as many strawberries as we could eat, freeze, and preserve for family. I also had enough to make Crooked Gap Farm Jam to sell throughout the year. This year I am looking to have 3 times the berries as last year.

Hmmm. . . What to do, what to do?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Planning Pumpkins and Projects

It's that time of year again. It's time to start planning your garden!

Have you made plans yet on how you can include your kids in your garden? Or if you don't have children at home, how about grandchildren, neighbors, or friends.

After all, growing a crop is wonderful, but what a blessing gardens can be to help grow relationships.

One of my favorite family crops: pumpkins!

If you don't have a lot of space, mini pumpkins are a ton of fun to grow and then decorate with.

 If space isn't an issue, be sure to grow the big ones too!

What a blast the kids will have scooping out a pumpkin they planted themselves . . .

to carve it into a favorite face! 
The kids helped me carve out this cat for our cat lover on his 6th birthday.

A Jack 'O Lantern isn't the only way to carve a pumpkin though. 

Once scooped clean, it can be baked . . .

 to be cubed and canned or pureed and frozen.

Seeds can be baked for fun snacks (don't forget to dry and save some for planting next year!), and the pumpkin can be pulled out for delicious baked goods.

Our dog lover was thrilled to get a doggie pumpkin pie to share at Thanksgiving for her 10th birthday.

Not only that, but the kids can learn to bake as well. From our 4 year old up, our kids work together to measure and mix up their pumpkin bread for snack time.

 Our 10 year old has also learned how to mix up and roll out a pie crust from her great grandma's pie recipe.

She carefully forms the crust in the pan to fill with the pumpkin mix she also prepared . . . 

to make pumpkin pies for her dad, his favorite!
And from her trial piece of chocolate chip pumpkin pie, I think she might be on to something!

When you plan your garden this year, be sure to plan for crops to enjoy throughout the growing season and maybe even crops to feed your family for the year.  I encourage you, however, to also use your garden to nurture year round the relationships that you have been blessed with.

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Tools of My Trade

A couple years ago I received a set of pastry rolling pin covers and a pastry cloth from my mom.  She picked them up for me at the Amish near where I grew up and told me about how her aunt use to use them.  Reluctantly, I gave them a try, and now I LOVE using them.  They are wonderful to prevent doughs from sticking and reduce the amount of flour needed when rolling out doughs, which in turn benefits your dough. Not only that, they are great to use with beginning bakers as they making the rolling out process so much easier.

A digital food scale, such as this one, is a very handy kitchen tool.  I will use mine when pre-measuring out my purees for freezing. By filling a baggie set in a container, I can quickly see when I have measured the amount needed without making a mess of spatulas and measuring cups - and my counter!

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Thrill of Laundry

Cooking, dishes, cleaning, teaching (if you home school), laundry . . . these things can pretty much consume your days. And unless you are a lot better story teller than I am, the stories of the day are not so interesting.

Don't get me wrong, I am incredibly blessed to have the job I do, but sometimes I feel like if I really shared my days with people, I would end up looking into a lot of bored faces.

But they ARE my days. 

And sometimes, even when you feel like what you have to share is incredibly boring, you still just want to share.

So at the risk of boring my readers, I am going to share how we do laundry around our house. (Okay, so I wrote this post last year, and am now just risking boring everyone!)

And at the risk of inviting comments and receiving none, I'd love to here how you do your laundry at your house. :)

I try to teach my kids to do as many "family jobs" around the house as they are able.  From the time they are young, they are required to sort their own laundry into the appropriate laundry baskets.  Before they are able to read, they know what each of the color coded tags mean on each basket, although I still do write the words. (I think it helps Ethan!)
 I used to try to do 2 loads of laundry a day, but I was often discouraged about the non-stop piles of laundry cycling through the house that needed to be dried or put away.

Now, I attempt (*attempt*) to have all of my laundry done in 2 days - 3 if it takes a bit to dry.
Mondays, are my wash day.  Since I have 7 loads that I do and only 4 laundry hampers, there is a small bit of sorting, but the majority has been done already throughout the week.  My youngest enjoys tossing the last sorting of clothes into the washing machine with me.

Throughout the day, I have a number of laundry baskets that clothes get dropped into straight out of the washer.  In the summer, I would go outside and hang up clothes on the line right after I threw the next load into the washer.  In the winter, however, the wet clothes accumulate in baskets until evening. After supper, it's go time.

I have 2 closet poles that come out of the laundry room that get stretched between our dining room chairs. While I am setting this up, my kids are sent on a hanger hunt to collect all of the hangers from their closets.

 We then turn on Pandora and have a little race.  The kids have 5 songs to get their clothes that are hung in their closets put on hangers, their clothes that go in dressers in one laundry basket, and socks and wash clothes in a second laundry basket.  Nothing really happens if they don't beat the song, but they enjoy the challenge - and it helps keep them focused.

 While they are working, I am also working along beside them.  I hang up Ethan and my shirts, hang all of the dresser clothes on our 2 taller-than-me Amish made drying racks which my mom gifted me (from the settlement in Hazelton close to where I grew up), and finally throw the socks and wash clothes into the drier.  Why do I only dry the socks and wash cloths?  Dryers are expensive to run!

When we are done, this is what the area between the living room and kitchen looks like. (Can you see why I might enjoy summertime when clothes can be hung outside?) 

Our wood stove, which is right by my drying area, is fired up with its drying heat, the 2 steam pots which supply our house extra humidity are removed from the wood stove, and the ceiling fans are turned on for the night.

When morning comes, I will pull off all of the dry clothes from the drying rack and rearrange the wet clothes on to one rack, letting me put one of the monstrosities away.  The shirts on hangers (which are usually still slightly damp) are taken into the laundry room to be hung in designated spots for each person until they finish drying.

Once Tuesday evening rolls around, its time to put laundry away. Pandora is set to 5 more songs, and the sorting begins. 

The dryer is emptied of socks and wash cloths, and the kids start sock sorting.  Everyone has their own sock spot which the kids deliver socks to, as well as match up matches. Caleb and Hannah each have a bookshelf, Ethan has the couch, I have a blue chair and Isaac and Jonathan share the piano.

 As they sort socks, I cycle around behind them and fold socks together. We also make a little race of this.  I try to get all of the socks folded that are matched up before they get done, and they try to keep ahead of me. I have attempted to let them fold their socks together, but I have found that just leads to me sifting through dressers picking out socks that have came apart and are floating around.  Maybe when they are older . . . 

All of the laundry from the drying racks is also dumped out and folded.  As it is folded, it is stacked on the back of the couch.  Each of the kids has their spot on the couch where their folded clothes go.  (Ethan and I have a spot on chairs and the towels on a bench.) When these spots are full, Caleb puts his clothes away and helps Isaac with his, and Hannah does the same with hers and Jonathan's.

Along with the clothes folding, is the diaper and wash cloth folding. (Okay, if you count the diapers and work wash clothes, there are 9 loads of laundry/week.) Isaac and even Jonathan (5 yrs old and just turned 3 yrs when this picture was taken) are pros at this job.  As the wash clothes and diapers are folded, they are loaded up into a laundry basket to be carried to the bathroom and put away.

And not to be forgotten are those shirts.  I usually leave them hanging in the laundry room one more night, but bright and early Wednesdsay morning they are placed on the kids' spots on the couch, to be whisked away into closets when they wake up.

And just like that, we are done with laundry until the next Monday morning.  5 beautiful laundry free days. 

On a good week.

For some odd reason, I kind of enjoy hearing about how my friends do their laundry.  Maybe it's because I find it facinating how each family has a different rhythm to making laundry work in their family . . . or maybe it's just in hopes that my life isn't that boring itself and someone enjoys hearing how I do laundry. 

Either way, I'd love to have you share your laundry routine!

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Tools of My Trade

This folding drying rack is similar to the drying racks that were made by the Amish area where I grew up.  They are wonderful for hanging multiple loads of laundry, sheets, towels, jeans, etc.  Not only are they very sturdy, but they also allow for good air flow. I couldn't not use my dryer without one!

Although it isn't as heavy duty as some, this laundry hamper has served me well for the last 10 plus years. I also like the mesh bags which allow you to see in and allow any damp or soiled laundry to breathe.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Hobbies and Birthday Cakes

Over Christmas, when talking with relatives about hobbies, Ethan told me that I should get a hobby.

My sister-in-law was the one to notice "the look" I gave back, as she knows that my hobbies have taken a shelf in the upper cabinet (or have been heaved up in the attic) as we have gotten our farm going with now 5 children whom are being home schooled.

When I think about it though, I still do have some things I would consider hobbies.  They aren't really activities I do regularly for leisure, but little extra things I do to enjoy occasions.  Things that wouldn't need to be done apart from the fact that I find enjoyment in them or want to bring others enjoyment through them.

One of these "hobbies" is making a special birthday cake for our kids' birthdays. I started this when our oldest, who is now ten, turned one. For the weeks leading up to their birthdays, I think about what has stood out in their previous year.  I then dig through my pans and bake ware to find just the right shapes to construct a cake to signify this - a cake not necessarily professional looking but one that is always greeted with excitement each birthday morning from kids who have been eagerly anticipating just what their cake will be.

As I have baked cakes and decorated them in preparation for birthdays, so many wonderful memories come back from the year before.  And although I have had some major frustrations while trying to prepare their cakes as I have envisioned them, I thoroughly enjoy the time of reflecting on how each of our children have blessed us with just being themselves from the year prior.

For this, I am happy to leave my hobbies in the attic. 

Our Jonathan turned 4 today. All year he has tagged along beside us with his level helping to farm and doing "what farmer's do." No matter if it was a building project or working with livestock, everything got checked for level - so why not his cake too?

After he put on his safety glasses, he got to take off the level to check it himself. He also was able to measure it,

 pound in the nails,

and screw in the screws.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Farmcrafted Soap Giveaway!

That's right! I'm giving away 2 bars of my Crooked Gap Farmcrafted Soap for free! Why?  Because I've been wanting to have a giveaway for all of my online farm friends, and I have just gotten around to doing it. :)

A Bit About our Soap
Our natural, fragrance free soap is handmade here on our farm using as many ingredients as possible that are produced on our farm, gathered from local sources, or commonly found available on a farm.

Not only is our soap gentle on all skin types, but it is loaded with glycerine and will leave your skin feeling incredibly soft and moisturized. (More info on our soap can be found on our website, here)

How to Enter the Giveaway

For your chance to win, simply check out the varieties available in my Etsy Shop (also tabbed in this blog's sidebar and on my The Beginning Farmer's Wife Facebook Page), and comment on this Facebook post as to which two varieties you would like shipped or delivered to you. A winner will be picked on Saturday through an internet randomizer. Good luck!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Don't Waste that Turkey!

This past Sunday we had our Thanksgiving meal at church.  Ethan volunteered to cook a turkey, and I got ready to can up some turkey and broth.

Although we have yet to raise our own turkeys, I have been canning turkey for at least 7 years according to this blog post.  It almost pains me to see a cooked turkey disposed of without continuing to cook it down to get off the extra meat and to make broth.  There are often so many meals left on a turkey - meat for casseroles and sandwiches and broth for flavoring rice and noodles or for making soup.

When it comes to not wasting our turkey, a bit has changed over the years: We have switched from cooking our turkey in the oven to cooking it in a roaster, from cooking the broth in a pot to just continuing to cook it in that same roaster (You can find my photo tutorial on cooking broth on our CGF recipe blog.), and even my turkey soup recipe has changed from my original recipe.

A few things still remain the same though.  I still get excited when I have stocked my pantry with canned turkey and turkey broth, and Ethan continues to declare his turkey feelings every year.

If you are cooking a turkey this Thanksgiving, I encourage you to not throw out the carcus but instead try making your own turkey broth.  If you don't pressure can (or aren't ready to try out my series of posts on Beginning Pressure Canning), you can always freeze your broth and leftover turkey meat or just go ahead and make a big pot of soup to enjoy. 

CGF Turkey and Vegetable Soup
  • 1 qt turkey broth
  • 1 pt turkey
  • 1/4 cup + 2 T dehydrated carrots (1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 cup +2 T dehydrated green beans (1 1/2 cup fresh or fozen) or 1 pt green beans with juice
  • 1/2 cup frozen or fresh chopped onion
  • 2 cup frozen sweet corn
  • 1 qt canned diced potatoes or 4 cups raw
  • 2 stalks celery chopped
  • 1/4 cup lentils
  • 1/4 cup wild rice
  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic
  • 1 bay leaf (remove before serving)

** This recipe is based on the different ways I have preserved my produce.  Ingredients can be substituted, omitted, or additional ingredients added depending on availability and tastes.

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Tools of My Trade

Although a roaster might be hard to find at a garage sale or from an individual no longer needing one, you might be able to snatch one at an estate auction. I placed a 22 qt roaster (vs the 18 quart) on my Christmas list. I use it for multiple projects, and not just ones where I need to heat with it. I can't remember how I functioned with out it! Here is the link to the roaster I own, and I am very happy with it..

Much of what I preserve is pressure canned due to the foods' low acidity in order to kill all bacteria that would cause dangerous food born illnesses. Foods can be safely canned by using the recommended times and pressures given for your altitude. I have a couple older Mirro pressure canners given to me that work wonderfully, and my mom has a newer one that she loves as well. If you do some asking around, you might find someone who has given up canning and has one available, or you can look for one like the one pictured below. It should hold around 9 pint jars or 7 quart jars. This link will take you to my series of posts on Beginning Pressure Canning.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Perserving Peppers

It is October 22nd, and although we have had some light frosts, it hasn't been enough to knock out the garden yet. Because of this, I am still bringing in tomatoes and peppers. which I have been enjoying having this late in the month!

Not too long ago, I brought in a nice batch of peppers to put away for winter use.  This year I am freezing sweet peppers mainly for pizza toppings and pickling banana peppers to put on our sandwiches. 

To start with, I'll give you a glimpse of how I freeze my sweet peppers.  It's really pretty simple.
After washing them up, I cut around the core in order to pull out the seeds.  I then cut them into thirds with the contour of the pepper. I used to dice them up when I froze them fresh. Now I just leave them in their thirds since they are so easy to break or chop into different sizes when frozen.

If you have the time to chop (which I didn't this year), I would suggest blanching them.  If you add this extra step, you will help stop the enzymes that cause the breakdown of nutrients.  To do this, simply chop the peppers into the size you wish to use them as, drop them into boiling water for 2 minutes or steam them until tender, and then cool them in ice water for the same amount of time to stop the cooking process.

Whether blanched or prepared fresh, I then spin the water off of them to help them freeze nicer and bag them up.

My favorite method of bagging things for the freezer is to portion out meal size portions into sandwich baggies and then place these into a gallon zip lock, which I will reuse and redate from year to year. I have found this keeps my foods easy to use, keeps them from being frosted, and is more economical than lots of smaller freezer bags.

And that's that.  I love to pull out sweet peppers for not only our pizza toppings,  but also for casseroles, stir fry, or other dishes!

Another favorite way to preserve peppers is pickling banana peppers.  This is a tad bit more involved, but it is well worth it for me.
After washing these peppers, I prepare them by slicing off the top and stem, running a slit lengthwise down the pepper, and using my finger to slide out the seeds.  The pepper is then cut in rings.  I used to remove the seeds without slicing the pepper so that I would have true rings, but that didn't last many batches after considering the time it took.  If you don't mind your peppers a bit hotter (I prefer as mild as I can get), you can also leave the seeds in.

Here are my peppers, all sliced up.

The next step is to let them soak in a cool salt water bath.  This helps keep your peppers crisp when they are canned. I prepared 12 cups of peppers so I used 1 cup canning salt dissolved in 12 cups of water.

I just combine my salt, water, and pickles in the pot I will be cooking them in, and stick it in the fridge overnight. 

The following day, when I get around to it, I finish preparing them.  I thoroughly rinse and drain my peppers and set them aside while I prepare the rest of the ingredients.  Using the pan they had been soaking in, I combined 2 cups water, 6 cups vinegar, 3 T sugar, and 2 cloves of garlic. I then simmered this for 15 minutes.

Once it was done simmering I discard the garlic cloves, brought the liquid to a boil, and added in the peppers so they could heat before packing them into my jars. 

The jars were packed, the hot liquid was added until 1/4 inch of head space, and lids and rings were put on. Finally, I processed my jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

And there you have it, pickled peppers to be used throughout the year, a great addition to many sandwiches, as pictured in this post!

The next pepper preserving recipe I would like to try is pepper jelly for our pork chops.  Anyone have a blue ribbon recipe? :)

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Tools of My Trade

The recipe for my pickled peppers was adapted from this preserving guide, which includes the complete instructions and process as well as many more wonderful recipes! 

This little salad spinner is perfect for spinning water out of peppers and berries for freezing, which greatly improves the quality of the frozen produce.  Not only that, but it is wonderful to spin batches of lettuce from the home garden, helping the lettuce to last longer in the fridge.
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