0930141311

Lasagna 101: Intro to The Lasagna Project

Last summer, Charlie and I hit all the local farmers markets on a regular basis. By the end of summer, I was quite pleased with myself when I made a 100% Farmers Market Lasagna.

This year, I’m stepping it up! I’ve been waiting all summer to have everything ripen in our garden to make 100% Redmon Woods Lasagna. The tomatoes took their sweet time getting ripe, but they’ve finally gotten themselves ready.0930141311

Here’s what’s happening! Italian tomato sauce will come from our tomatoes and onions. Next, I’ll make mozzarella and ricotta cheese. I’ve made this before, and it worked, so, fingers crossed. Finally, I’ll make the pasta, using eggs from our own chickens.0930141537c

In the interest of full disclosure, some things will have to come from off-property. Flour, sugar, herbs and spices, and garlic will have to be bought. Charlie tried to grow garlic, but it just wasn’t cooperating this year. I will be using farmers market garlic, so it’s almost as good as coming from our own backyard. I’ll also have to buy milk for the cheese. I’ve used both raw milk and store-bought pasteurized milk for cheese, and pasteurized actually works better than raw. Goats are on the wish list, so maybe the milk will be home-grown next year. I was going to make vegetarian lasagna since we have no meat animals, but the family likes meat. Fortunately, we can get sausage from the farmers market.0930141537

That’s the plan! The rest of this week, I’ll be taking you through it step-by-step. This is my “culminating project” to wrap up my summer gardening and canning. We’ll have the family up for dinner this weekend to see if I pass.

I’ve added all my lasagna-making supplies to my Amazon a-store. Take a look!

http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

0929141750

Pumpkin Butter

I woke up so excited to make pumpkin butter today. Charlie harvested all our pie pumpkins, so I have lots to work with. I went online last night to find directions that didn’t start with “1 CAN of pumpkin.” I got up early, got my pans, pots, knives, and other doo-dads together, and got to work.0929140741

The first step is to make pumpkin puree. This means the pre-first step is to get the pumpkin ready to puree.  I cut the tops off, then cut the pumpkins in half. Easier said than done.  My pumpkins fought me the whole way. Using an ice cream scoop, I scooped out the seeds and guts. The chunks of pumpkin then get cooked on a cookie sheet at 350 about 45 minutes, until tender.

092914080809291408090929140810

We have a super small oven, so I can only fit 2 small cookie sheets at a time. This first step is going to take awhile.

*Oops. Carly needs to run errands in town, so the babies are going to come play for a little while. I can see them from the kitchen while they play in the living room and watch a movie. I have a good start and a good system, so it won’t take me long to finish.

When the pumpkin is soft, I let it cool a bit, then cut the skin off. This part is really easy.  The seed wads go into a bowl to pick out the seeds for planting next year. The pumpkin tops and skin go into the scrap bucket for the alpacas and chickens. The pumpkin goes into the blender to puree. This has to be done in fairly small batches because only one pan of pumpkin is done at a time.0929140912a0929140915

0929140926

*This is about when the laundry room floods. Carly is on her way with the babies, so I have a few minutes to clean it up, while pumpkin is doing its thing in the oven.

Pumpkin Butter Recipe

Crock pot full of puree (about 20 small pumpkins)

4 cups sugar

1 Tbsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

½ tsp allspice

Cook 6-8 hours in crock pot, on low, to thicken pumpkin mixture

I’m not done with all of the puree yet, but I start putting it in the crock pot as it’s ready, so it can get started thickening. This is also when I add the sugar and spices. Yum!

0929140953

*And now is when the power goes out. When you live in the sticks, everything is electricity. I have pans of pumpkin in the oven, two racks of pumpkin cooling, a blender full of pumpkin ready to puree, and a crock pot, almost full, ready to cook.  I also have 2 toddlers in the middle of a movie that has just shut off. It must be time for lunch. Can’t cook anything, so PB & J it is!

Two hours later Raymond, Reta Jean and I had lunch, colored, and practiced spelling. Carly and Tori are home, the power has finally come back on, and I’m back in business.

The rest of the cooking, pureeing, and processing goes off without a hitch. I add more puree to the crock pot and still have quite a bit left. I bag 9 1-cup portions to freeze and take the scrap buck outside. The alpacas and chickens are pretty darn happy with me. Now, the crock pot just has to do its thing. Tick-tock…

0929141426

The crock pot has done its job, and the house smells SOOO good! Canning experts say it is not safe to can pumpkin puree, and I’m going to listen to them. I have processed the pumpkin butter as if I were canning it. This seals it into jars to help preserve it, but it will be stored in the refrigerator. I have a total of 7 1-pint jars.  Of course, I sneaked a few tastes and it’s like pumpkin pie in a jar.

0929141752

0926141841

Alpaca Spinning

Artists have a mindset that I’m trying to develop in myself. Real artists allow themselves to try new things and experiment, without being completely invested in the end product. This way of thinking just causes me anxiety. When I start a new project, I like to feel fairly confident I’ll have something to show for it.

Here’s the problem: If you’re trying something completely new, it may not work out the first time. When I first started spinning, I had to accept that I may end up with something called “yarn” that couldn’t actually be used for anything. Overspun, underspun, too fat, so thin it breaks. Arrrrgh! So, I buy the roving, I spend the time, I work through the frustration, and what have I accomplished? Well, even if what I made is unusable, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, and each attempt is better than the last.

Shortly after I got my wheel, I bought some alpaca roving from a local farm. It was super-soft and a beautiful dark brown and it scared me to death. I put off working with it for months because I was afraid I would ruin it. I didn’t want to ruin it. I wanted to make something beautiful and lush out of it.0923141021

It didn’t help that experienced spinners told me repeatedly how difficult it is to work with alpaca fleece. It’s fine, slippery, and hard to hold onto. It spins “fast.” It breaks easily. On and on. I’m only just getting the hang of spinning wool. What made me think I could manage alpaca?

0923141032

A couple weeks ago, I took a deep breath and jumped in. I told myself it may not work, and that wouldn’t matter. I may “waste” a lot of fiber trying to figure out how to handle it. I might spend hours fighting with it, only to have nothing to show for all my hard work.  I could fail. I’m sure artists don’t understand this way of thinking at all. You just do it!

0923141033

Turns out I love spinning alpaca! The roving I have is thinner than any wool I’ve gotten. This makes it fall apart easier, but it also means less handling to spin. For me, it breaks less and gets away from me less than wool. I feel silly for letting it scare me, and I may never go back to wool.

0926141749a

I’ve now spun about half the alpaca. There’s not a lot of it, but I should have enough for a hat or scarf. I may not be an artist, but at least I’m getting more comfortable thinking like one. Now, all I have to do is find a pattern I like and go for it!

eggs and pancakes

Breakfast at Steve’s

When you live in the same small town forever, you can’t go anywhere without running into someone you know. Some people find this annoying, I found it comforting. Same checkers at the grocery store, same parents on the pool deck, same staff at our favorite restaurants.10402095_738445949552145_6835165190414361763_n

We knew moving to a new town, we’d have to make an effort to find “our places” and carve out a new life with new routines.  We tried a few different restaurants before Steve’s American Café and Grill opened a few months after we arrived in town. It quickly became our favorite. (Its location even has a small-town description: In the red barn, next to the Shell station, on Hwy 2)Papa and Ray

Most everything at Steve’s is made from scratch, on-site. Good ol’ American comfort food! Bearcat Burgers named for the local high school, chicken biscuit pie, mac & cheese, and meatloaf. (I’ve never even been a meatloaf fan, and I LOVE Steve’s meatloaf.) Whenever we have out-of-town guests, we make a point of taking them to Steve’s.RJ

As good as their lunch and dinner are, it’s breakfast at Steve’s that has become our routine. Every weekend, unless we absolutely can’t make it, we’re there. Carly and Joe have also let us make it part of Raymond and Reta Jean’s routine. Saturday is the first day of the week the kids mastered. If anybody says “Saturday,” they respond with “Eggs and pancakes!” Guess what they always get. 0914140928a

The kids are too young to realize it, yet, but they’re so lucky to be part of the Steve’s family. They’re always greeted with enthusiasm and smiles. Sharon, the owner, will always take a minute to dance and giggle with Reta Jean. Raymond gets hugs from the manager, Jen, who also lets him check out her sparkly jewelry. I think everyone who works there knows most of our order, without asking. Charlie usually likes to try out the new specials, so they have to check with him. There are other morning regulars, who make a point of saying hello to us and the babies. 09141409150914140906

When people are happy to see the kids, it makes me proud of them, and of their parents. Carly and Joe know it’s their job to raise their kids to be able to function in society. That means they’re not allowed to be brats, but they are allowed to be kids.

To some, it may seem like a simple breakfast. To me, as a mother, grandmother, and former teacher, it’s so much more.  They’re learning they can count on Gabba and Papa to have fun. They’re learning how to interact with adults, both friends and strangers. They’re learning restaurant manners in a place where it’s also OK to be toddlers. They’re learning that they’re likable and people want to be around them. They’re learning shapes, colors, letters, numbers, counting and reading. Most importantly, they’re learning to be part of a community.

"D-O-D-G-E spells Auntie Tori's car" -Raymond

“D-O-D-G-E spells Auntie Tori’s car” -Raymond

1491507_10202837819056280_521099560_o

On the Clock

My life today is so different from what it was just a few years ago. I did the Monday-Friday work week forever. I’m not able to do that anymore. I’m past feeling bad about it, and love my new life. I also love teasing my friends who still have to get up and go to work every day.

Since I do tease so much, I thought I’d set the record straight. I actually have a lot to keep me busy. Morning chores need to be done 7 days a week, rain, sleet, snow, or just wanting to sleep in – the animals still need to be cared for.

09241411190924141120

First thing in the morning, I have to let the dogs out and  feed them. Then, it’s off to the yard. The ducks need fresh water, food, and I collect their eggs. After opening up the hen house, alpaca poop needs to be cleaned up. Water supplies have to be checked and refilled as needed.  Now that the hens are up and moving, I can get in and clean up more poop. There aren’t usually eggs that early in the day, so I’ll go back for those later. Food dishes and nesting buckets need to be topped off with food and bedding.

0924141108 0924141108a

0924141115bIf I stay too long in the hen house, the alpacas come check on me. When they see me putting the lime over their poop piles, they know they’re next in line. Some nights they have food fights and their shelter needs some extra cleaning. I top off their hay tub, THEN they get their grain.

0924141105  0924141116a

Once I’m done with the animals, it’s on to the vegetables. If there’s nothing to be brought in, I probably have buckets of stuff waiting to be processed for storing. Today, it’s blanching beans and broccoli for freezing, then deciding what to do with MORE squash.0924141123

After chores, it’s time for projects.  Yesterday, I finished spinning a bobbin of alpaca yarn. Today, I need to rinse and hang the yard. I also want to work on a hat I’m crocheting for Raymond. It’s orange which is his favorite color and the color of his soccer team, so I want to finish it before this weekend. (I’m looking forward to the end of vegetable season, so I have more time to make things.)

0923141239

Sometimes Raymond and Reta Jean come to play. That takes priority over everything except feeding the animals. Most days I also need to make time for a nap. Think of it like an extended coffee break.

Raymond cleaning up

No matter how much I have to get done on any given day, I absolutely love doing it. I can “go to work” in my pajamas if I want to. I get to decide what to do each day and how much time I want to spend. While I may not clock in daily, I definitely put in my time

0923141227

A Tale of Two Pumpkins

Last fall, I bought some mini pumpkins and gourds for decoration. When we were done with them, we tossed them in the backyard, figuring birds or critters would bust them open and enjoy the seeds.

Those pumpkins survived rain, snow, and freezing temperatures, and were still intact come springtime. When Charlie started tilling beds for planting, he blew right through those pumpkins. The exploded and seeds went everywhere. Fortunately, we were planting squash and pumpkins in that bed, so we just left the pumpkin shrapnel to see what would happen.  Soon, we had this crazy, mixed patch of mini gourds and pumpkins.

.0923141000

I’ve cooked fresh pumpkin for pies before, but not these little guys. Since I had no idea how well they would cook, and since I add pumpkin to the dogs food, I decided to try to cook and freeze these for the dog food. Here’s how:

1) Cut the tops off

2) Put the pumpkins in a baking pan, with enough water to cover the bottom of the pan, and cover pan with foil0923141005

3) Bake at 350 until soft (It took mine 1 hour)

0923141202a

4) Allow pumpkins to cool, then scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff

0923141203

5) Scoop pumpkin into bowl and mash0923141214

6) Measure into Ziploc bags and freeze.

Super easy, and I ended up with 6 cups of pumpkin, which gets mixed into 6 weeks’ worth of dog food.

Bonus: The chickens loved the pumpkin guts and came running when they saw me with treats. Spike didn’t like the goop, but he can’t be left out of anything.0923141221

Extra Bonus: Some of the pumpkins were more gourd-like, and when I scooped them out, I had little pumpkin bowls left over. (If I’d paid more attention, I could have matched up the lids) I’ll have to take them to Carly for crafts with the babies.0923141212

522

5-Gallon Farm Necessity

We live on a small portion of a large cattle ranch. Not small by suburb standards, but small for a farm. Our animals and garden use about ½ acre.

We don’t have a tractor. It would be nice, but we don’t really need one. We have two SUVs, a heavy duty wagon, and buckets. Lots of buckets. The 5-gallon, bright blue, plastic, Lowe’s buckets. We use them for everything.

2 Buckets

When we first started building our shelter, we used a few buckets to haul tools out back. Saw, hammer, nails, tape measure, drill bits and extension cords.  Keeping everything in buckets made it much easier to lug it back and forth, until we had a covered area to store it.

7 Buckets

As we were researching hen houses, we saw that some people used 5-gallon buckets, on their sides, as nesting boxes. We decided to do the same. The chickens love them, and it makes clean up a snap. I can dump all the old nesting material into one bucket, take it to the compost pile, and refill the buckets with clean shavings. Easy peasy!chicken buckets

2 Buckets

Two alpacas and 16 chickens produce a fair amount of poop. I clean it up twice daily, and need somewhere to put it. One bucket for the alpacas, one for the chickens. Poop duty is easier when the bucket is light enough to carry, but big enough that it takes a couple days to fill.

17 Buckets

Growing season in Washington is short. Tomatoes and peppers don’t like cold, so their season is even shorter. Charlie planted the tomatoes and peppers in buckets, and we kept them in the sunroom until it warmed up outside. Then, we were able to move the plants outside easily.650

4-5 Buckets

When our garden started producing, there were a LOT of vegetables to bring in. It soon became very apparent that my little harvest basket wasn’t going to do the trick. The wagon was too bulky to get in between all the crop rows. Buckets to the rescue again! I could haul a bunch of empty buckets out back, in the wagon. I would fill no more than one bucket with each vegetable because that was enough to tackle at any one time. Once my buckets were full, I pulled my wagon back to the house and had manageable amounts of produce to work with.700

I also store skirted alpaca fleece, animal food, and baby toys in the buckets. They can be found for free on Craigslist, but they’re only a couple of dollars, new. When not in use, they stack up in a corner. Of all the things we’ve found to be useful around the farm, these buckets are at the top of the list. You could even create a portable mini-farm in your own backyard with buckets and some creativity!864

0920141358

Flower Power – Chickens and Sunflowers

0920141357I love sunflowers! Always have. My mom always pointed out how cool and magical they were, and I fully agree. There’s something about a giant, bright yellow flower, that grows as tall as some trees, that’s just very Wonderlandish.

We planted some along with our garden this year. Watching them grow is still magical. I hoped Raymond and Reta Jean would love them as much as I do, but they weren’t interested. I think maybe the flowers were too tall to even register to them this year.

Many of the flowers are now “done.” Their heads are drooped, the petals are falling off, and the wild birds are digging out the sunflower seeds. It’s time to put them to work. I’m going to feed them to the chickens!0920141358b

Any time we put anything out for the chickens, they’re on it immediately. Anything that slightly resembles food doesn’t stand a chance.They attack pears, squash, even french fries. I was excited to see what they would do to the sunflowers.

I threw a big one into the yard, and stepped back to watch the chaos. Nothing. They didn’t even come look. Well, it had landed seed side down, so maybe they didn’t realize there was some yumminess waiting for them. I had also noticed about half the seeds were already missing. Maybe it just wasn’t worth their time. I went and got a seedier sunflower, took it into the yard, laid both flowers out seed side up, and hustled out of the way before I got stampeded. Still nothing. Huh.

0920141414a I moved the flowers to a shadier part of the yard. No, I don’t know why. Seemed like a good idea. Still nothing. The chickens have never been intimidated by me, but maybe this time they wanted some privacy to check out these alien food sources. I left the yard and watched. A couple of them went and pecked and sniffed at the flowers, then walked away. Not at all interested.

0920141416

Then it dawned on me. Maybe I’ve put something out there that they can’t eat. Maybe I’ve accidentally tried to poison them. Maybe I’m not smarter than a chicken. They were still ignoring the flowers, so I left them there while I hustled inside to check on the internet if I was inadvertently committing henocide.

I finally got through on our CountryTime internet, and everybody says chickens LOVE sunflower seeds. That’s what I thought. What’s not to love? I mean, my chickens eat worms that are buried in poop. I didn’t think they would turn up their noses at sunflower seeds. As I’m getting my answer, I see a sudden burst of activity from the yard. Somebody was brave enough to dig a little deeper into the flowers, and now the chickens are in a full on feeding frenzy.

0920141440

By the time I get back outside, the dust has settled, and the chickens have calmed down. They’re happily pecking at their newfound treasure. Reta Jean may not be impressed by the flowers, but she’s going to love feeding them to the chickens!

on guard

Security Detail

Everyone who lives in the country will tell you it’s a good idea to have a farm dog. We had desert dogs. They were used to fences, gates and swimming pools with steps. We weren’t sure how our dogs were going to do in wide open spaces. They love it!

People who don’t live in the country sometimes ask if I’m not a little nervous living “way out there.” Not at all! Never. Those desert dogs have assigned themselves the job of my personal security detail

Peanut came to us as part of a 4-week-old foster litter that was found abandoned in the desert. We were told they were pit bull mix, and they were adorable. We lost one of the pups to parvo, then Peanut contracted it. After nursing her through, and worrying she wasn’t going to make it, I couldn’t stand to give her back. (Out of curiosity, I had Peanut’s DNA tested. No pit at all. She’s Doberman/boxer/ Rottweiler/German shepherd/Dogue de Bordeaux. How’s that for a mix?)

0919141536Peanut is the Head of Security here at Redmon Woods. Anytime I go outside, she goes first. She stays about 5 paces ahead, looking left and right the whole time. Once I get to my destination – alpaca yard, garden, chair in the shade – she will take off to make sure the rest of the world is safe. First, she scouts all the way around the animals. Then, she patrols the edges of the property.

While Peanut is chasing off bunnies and deer, Cookie steps in as her back up. She’s a 10-year-old Chihuahua-Pekingese mix. I also got her as a puppy. I used to sneak her into my classroom in my coat pocket. She would curl up and sleep in my desk drawer. She may be getting old and cranky, but she still has my back. Literally.

Cookie has taken on the responsibility of bringing up the rear. She trots along after me, and stays nearby when Peanut is checking things out. If I go in 0919141509the animal yard, she waits at the gate for me. When I’m gardening, she’s in the shade, under a tree, until I’m done. Her favorite duty is lying at my feet, or in my lap, when I’m outside spinning or reading.

They make me smile every time we go outside. There has been no “guard dog” training, but they seem to take their duties so seriously. There hasn’t been a single security breach since we’ve been “way out here.” Our security system must be working.

10649534_10204615384134296_7871851067864570453_n

Bubble Head – Popcorn Stitch Hat

Spinners tend to be knitters. The knitters in our local spinners guild make beautiful items. They know their lingo and they know their stuff. I don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. I crochet.

This past weekend, I attended a 5-hour crochet workshop hosted by our guild. Now, I say I crochet, but I’m a pretty basic crocheter. I was so excited to learn some of the more involved stitches and get some help understanding what some of these funky patterns are really trying to say. This day was exactly what I needed!

First of all, I knew the lingo. Single crochet, double crochet, half double, chain. Woo hoo! I was on it! I was far from the head of the class, but I knew what I was doing. I started crocheting less than a year ago, following a 1-hour class at the local Ben Franklin craft store. I spent HOURS practicing , watching videos on YouTube, tearing out mess-ups, and starting over. It was so encouraging for me to see all that work was paying off.

Our instructor was Karen Whooley, designer, instructor, and author. She was wonderful and informative and encouraging. All those little, weird, blippy things in patterns, I now understand. You can learn more from her at www.karenwhooley.com.

We learned cross stitch, shell stitch, basket weave, “flower” stitch, and popcorn. We practiced each of these in a sampler scarf, that I’ll continue to work on.

0917140847

All the stitches were fun, but when I saw the popcorn stitch, it just screamed Reta Jean. I just had to make her a bubble head hat! Super simple! Ready for directions?0917140805a

I started with double crochet, stitching in the round. I increased for each of the first 5 rows. Then, I got the popcorn popping. I started the 6th row with three double crochets, followed by a popcorn. I continued that pattern all the way around. The next two rows were double crochet, followed by another row of 3 double crochets and a popcorn, all the way around. This section ultimately had 1 row popcorn, 2 rows double crochet, 1 row popcorn, 2 rows double crochet, 1 row popcorn. I then made the brim with three rows of double crochet, stitching front post. To cinch in the brim, I skipped each popcorn stitch. Turns out that made the hat too small for Reta Jean’s curly top. I’ll be pulling out the brim section and skipping every other popcorn stitch to make it a bit bigger.

0917140805

If you’ve crocheted a basic hat, adding in the popcorns is easy, and you can put them anywhere you want. I love the overall look!

You can find a couple of Karen’s crochet books at my aStore:

http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

Here is a video showing how to do a popcorn stitch:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzPEQzoMH08