30 July 2014

Tender Mercy

While driving around a few days ago, I saw a beautiful patch of landscaping and thought to myself that I'd like to have some black-eyed susans in my flowerbed. It was more of a thought to tuck in the back of my mind to ask around this fall and see if anyone had some they'd like to split.
Not a day later, I was jogging along the road with Raven and spotted a patch of newly-blooming black-eyed susans. Now, they're living in my flowerbed and though it was a rather insignificant-yet-very-appreciated blessing, we refer to them as tender mercies.
Jack even dug them up and planted them for me--another tender mercy.
The trick is to remember and recognize when a tender mercy occurs. Thankfully, I have flowers to remind me of at least one.

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29 July 2014

Wild Raspberries

The raspberries are just getting started...
If we weren't blessed enough with wild asparagus, cherries, grapes, apples, honey, hickory nuts, plums and mulberries, this year, we also discovered wild raspberries. Jack's life may now be complete...
Wild raspberries are black and have larger seeds but they're still tasty.
We were out digging up our free asparagus when one of our elderly neighbors came crashing out of the brush on his golf cart with several bucketfuls of the sweet little berries. He was more than willing to point out where they were and told us to follow his trail. There were more than enough to share.
Evelyn and Claire are quite the little pickers.
Though we weren't expecting to be berry picking that afternoon, we happened to have a plastic trash bag handy in the car (I guess there's ONE good reason nobody ever throws their garbage away in the car...). We all got out and careful pulled the fruit off the very thorny vine.
Kate pretty much ate anything she managed to pick.
I would say the raspberries were free, but really, like foraging for any food, it isn't. The cost isn't money--it's the risk of poison ivy, ticks, chiggers, thorn scratches, stained fingers and clothes, spiders, angry mother birds and mosquito bites. Even with all of that, the girls, Jack and I kept picking.
Vanilla Mousse and Berry Parfait anyone???
We went several times over the berry season and have ended up with several pounds of frozen berries in the fridge. Long after the harvest is over, we'll be enjoying them.
A good little catbird chick who sat absolutely still and his poor parent who scolded us from overhead.
Thank you again, Mother Nature!
Mmm...

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28 July 2014

German Pancakes

Oh, yum.
I've had this recipe in my recipe box for several years now but never got around to making it. I am regretting that now. My sister introduced it to us when she made some during their last visit. It's the perfect combination of puffy, crunchy, flaky and soft and when topped with anything from syrup, mulberry syrup, fruit or pie filling, it's divine. Quick meal for a special breakfast, brunch or dinner! Double recipe if entertaining company.

Ingredients:

1/3 cup butter
1 cup flour
4 eggs
1 cup milk
Dash of salt

Preheat oven to 425F.  Melt butter in a 9x9 baking pan (use a 13x9 pan if doubling). Meanwhile, beat together the flour, eggs, milk and salt until smooth.  Pour in hot butter, reserving one tablespoon in the pan to keep pancakes from sticking.  Pour batter into the hot pan and return to the oven  for 15 to 20 minutes or until edges are golden brown.  Slice and serve hot.
Puffy is normal. Puffy is gooooooood.
Enjoy!

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27 July 2014

Canoeing at Cagles Mill

What a scenic canoe trip!
We were happy to have some family visit this weekend and somewhere in between chopping and splitting wood, putting in a new window in Kate's room, helping someone move and keeping up with the chores, we found time to go canoeing.
Getting ready to push off!
It's the first time we've been able to find time to go in Indiana. We lived less than ten minutes from a ramp down the Skunk River in Iowa (where, thankfully, we never saw any skunks) and have been dying to boat for a few summers.
Guess who unexpectedly made the trip with us and had to sit in the car while we had fun...
If going out on the open water wasn't enough of an adventure, Evelyn also found her first tick in her hair (which completely freaked her out) and our cat Hercules took a ride on the top of the car, under the canoe all the way down the interstate to our destination. I was both angry at his naughty habit of climbing in and on cars and relieved that he hadn't slid off and that when we stopped, we could hear him meowing and he came when called.
Amy, Jackson and Kate's first canoeing venture.
The time on the water was sort of a test run for the girls too.  The last time we went together was on a lake before Kate was born and while we didn't take all three at once, they understood they were to sit and stay sitting while on the water.
Jack taking his mother out on Cagles Mill.
Jack's mother, sister and nephew took a turn as well and it turned out to be quite the gorgeous, scenic trip. I'm already planning another, maybe with a picnic at an upstream waterfall...Saturdays can't come fast enough!
We had a blast!

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23 July 2014

Biscuits and Gravy

Jack is not a huge fan of breakfast for dinner (I know. Weird) but if it's biscuits and gravy, he scarfs it down without complaint. It's the southern boy in him (he is half Georgian, afterall). Here's a basic recipe that uses butter instead of shortening for the biscuits and is a quick, hearty meal anytime.

Ingredients:

Biscuits
2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons cold butter, cubed
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425F. Sift together the flour, powder, sugar and salt.  Cut in the butter until crumbles form. Stir in the milk, then knead by hand into a stiff dough.  Roll out about an inch thick and cut with biscuit cutter. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 14 to 18 minutes or until biscuits are firm and bottoms are golden.

Gravy
8 ounces sausage (more or less to your taste)
4 Tablespoons oil
1 cup flour
3 cups milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown sausage and set aside. Whisk together remaining ingredients, heating until thickened. Add sausage and stir to combine. Serve hot over biscuits.
Enjoy!

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22 July 2014

Blue Egg

Trying to keep cool while finding a snack in the beans.
So, since we apparently have ALL roosters, I spoke with my neighbor who was nice enough to hunt down a couple of excess hens someone had. One, the girls already named Strawberry, is in kind of rough shape. Let's just say she was definitely at the bottom of the totem pole and thankfully, our roosters have left her alone after establishing their pecking order (of which, Strawberry is, again, definitely at the bottom). The other is a white girl like long ago Jelly Bean, who has aptly been named Snow.

Though I have yet to find a colorful egg from Strawberry (I hope she's just recovering and not an eggless mouth to feed), I've found a few beautiful blue eggs from Snow. They don't call those girls Easter Eggers for nothing.
Silly girl, hiding in the beans...
While rounding up the flock the other night, Snow was obviously missing. It's kind of hard to lose a pure white hen in a sea of green grass. We looked and looked . . .
A robin would be jealous of that color!
. . . and found her shading herself in the middle of the beans sitting on another beautiful egg.

Keep up the good work, Snow!

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21 July 2014

Cherry Bars

Since picking cherries a few weeks ago, I've been carefully plotting how to use them.  There will be cherry cobbler and cherry pie, of course. These cherry bars will have to be added to the regular line up as well!
Ingredients:

Bars
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 cans cherry pie filling

Glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 Tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Cream together butter and sugar.  Add eggs, vanilla and almond extract.  Sift together flour and salt.  Add to the butter mixture and mix until well combined.  Spread about three cups of the batter into a greased 13x9 baking pan.  Top with pie filling. Drop the remaining batter by teaspoonfuls over the pie filling.  Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.  Mix together glaze ingredients.  Cool on a wire rack and drizzle with glaze.
Thanks to The Homemaking Helper for the recipe inspiration!
Enjoy!

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20 July 2014

Mounds

The Great Mount (see the ditches on both sides?). I wonder if ancient peoples met here to roast s'mores and tell ghost stories...
This week has felt like summer is winding down, even though it's still a good two months away to the official end of the season. Evelyn will be off to school in no time and the cool weather we've been enjoying feels more like autumn than the blazing hot that should be scorching us in late July.
We love ourselves a good board walk.
So, we decided to take a camping trip. We packed up the gear and arrived at Mounds State Park just in time to find out the campground was full (BUMMER!) but since we'd already taken the hour drive, we decided to stay a few hours and look around.
Admiring a modern-made-ancient-style canoe.
Mounds was incredibly interesting because of, well, the mounds.  There are several man made mounds around the property that were constructed by ancient people in America. Their purpose, shape and frequency of use was a mystery but it was terribly interesting to walk on ground that I knew people were walking on about two thousand years ago.
Overlooking White River.
We hiked the trails and though the dimming light made the forest a bit eerie, it was a very tranquil, easy trip.
Evie's a pro at catching lightening bugs.
When we had visited all of the mounds, we stopped at the playground and enjoyed some time running around. We taught the girls the art of firefly catching and Evie found a little toad underfoot.
Kate isn't keen on bugs, but was excited to hold a toad.
It was a fun, quick trip with all the benefits of camping, minus a restless night's sleep (can't say I didn't mind sleeping in my own bed).  We're going to enjoy summer while it lasts!
Everyone enjoyed the hike, including Raven. I think her cowardliness may be wearing off.

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19 July 2014

Swarm

Yep. Those are ALL bees.
Just as we were getting ready to leave, I was powdering my nose when Evie drug me over to the bathroom window.

"Look at the bees!"

Sure enough, something was up.  There were hundreds of bees stuck to the outside of the hive (which is semi-normal if it's hot enough, but the weather was gorgeous) and there was an equally impressive cloud buzzing around the yard.  My heart skipped a beat. Were our bees swarming?
The noise those swarming bees made was quite impressive!
Really, there's nothing to do if our bees had decided to jump ship and fly away. I wasn't about to go out there and shove something in front of their exit so they wouldn't leave (I'd like to maintain my bragging rights to never having been stung).
Anyway, we watched them for a while and it seemed like the settled down. It wasn't until we were pulling out of the drive that I heard them again, swirling up in the top of the trees.
Jack invited over another bee enthusiast to help.
Another swarm of honey bees had been attracted by ours and came to see if there was somewhere suitable to stay. Jack did his best to coax them into a hive box by dousing it in honey and tried his darndest to climb up there with everything from ladders to climbing gear to his bare hands but to no avail.
A few of the girls came down to eat and check out the box.
The bees have now left. And Jack is sad. And so am I.

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18 July 2014

Cherry Picking

I really want some cherry trees on our property...
If there's one skill I'm not good at, it's bartering. It's hard to find the nerve to ask someone for a favor in exchange for a favor because I feel like I'm inconveniencing them. When someone barters with me though, I'm all ears.
Kate helped too, of course.
A friend asked to borrow our truck to haul away some brush in exchange for allowing us to pick cherries at their house. Deal! The truck was borrowed, the cherries ripened and we got there just in time before they soured.
Reach!
As usual, the girls are not inclined to sit back and watch. They are always hands on, which meant they were scrambling up the ladder to yank off the cherries. After a bit of instruction and caution about being gentle with the fruit tree, they were regular pros.
There may have been some taste testing during the process as well.
We ended up with a generous bagful and though we could have gleaned more, the girls decided they were done. It was drizzling a bit and they were sticky, bored and since they're country girls, don't really understand the danger of streets despite my attempts to teach them. End of cherry picking.
Straws work great for pitting cherries!
The next day, the girls and I washed, pitted and processed all the cherries in a single standing. It's hard work and though I'm so happy we were able to get some more free food (asparagus or mulberries or hickory nuts, anyone?), I'm equally glad that I don't have to gain all our food by our own laboring.
I've already made some cherry bars and will surely make some cobbler and pie with them too. And if anyone's got a good cherry pie filling recipe, do share. It was my first attempt and it was more watery than I would have liked. Still, delicious.

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