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Tuesday, 7 January 2014
The Arctic Blast 2014
Topic: Education and Values

The worst is over for this Arctic Blast and its minus 50 degree wind chills. But it's still sub-zero today (though without the wind, it does feel like a mini-heat wave).

Winter still continues for another two-and-a-half-months and – what do you think the chances are that we'll have an “early Spring”. (We've all seen snow on Mother's Day.) I'd advise everyone to keep your pantries stocked with the staples and the gas tanks full at all times. And, I doubt I'll be abandoning the mega-layers of clothing for some time.

How're the animals doing, you may wonder? Especially the cattle who live "free range"?

Well, here's a photo of the some of the cattle early this morning, after 48 hours of windchills between minus 30 and minus 50 degrees. (My phone camera “failed to initialize” after two photos in the still bitter cold, before I could photograph more. No problem, I shouldn't have left my hand out of my gloves for any longer either.)



They have the three things that cattle need to survive arctic cold: wind shelter, plenty of hay, water.

On our farm, we have several pastures that link together so that we rotate them easily between the pastures. During the time the grasses are growing, usually we move the herd of 60 plus cattle between each 20-30 acre pasture, allowing them to graze it, then move to the next in a process known as “rotational grazing.” Depending upon grass growth, they could be in a pasture one week or three weeks. During dormancy, this might be sometimes only a few days. We round on the animals and pastures twice a day to determine when to move.

But in the Winter, there is no pasture grass to graze, it's under ice and snow. Instead, the hundreds of hay bales that were made from our designated hay fields are served to the cattle, horses, and sheep. “Make hay while the sun shines” is a critical piece of advice that we quote often. We were lucky to get 4 cuttings of hay from some fields last Summer. And, as this Winter is showing, you can never say you have “too much hay.”

Hay (a dry combination of different cut and baled grasses and legumes) is the only feed allowed for Animal Welfare Approved and American Grassfed Association cattle and sheep. It is their natural diet and life-saving in bitter cold, because the digestion process of hay actually creates heat (as opposed to grain which consumes heat and can produce acidosis).

So, in the Winter, we move our cattle to a central pasture and lowlands area. They are still “free range” in this 30+ acre area, but they have natural shelter in a basin area with hills and with plenty of tall trees to provide additional wind protection. And there is a long stretch of clean, free-flowing creek. Even after the last 48 hours of arctic blast, here's a picture of one pool in the creek. The surface may be frozen, but there's flowing water available at the bank, that they are keeping open.



Our cattle eat free choice, not at specified times like in a feedlot, so there are always bales of hay available. They have “group-designated” a particularly wind-sheltered, woody area for ruminating. Incidentally, the herd has a favorite ruminating spot in each pasture, which is always under the trees, winter or summer. Lucky animals—and smart husband—each pasture is delineated to have large stands of trees, so they have the shade protection of trees in the summer.

I'm happy to report no ill-effects observed from this Arctic blast, but I caution everyone to remember, it's still sub-zero and a long time until the grass is green again! The chickens still need to be fed and watered inside their coops, they wisely refuse to freeze their feet. And, every animal that eats hay needs extra hay and water. Every animal needs wind (and rain and sleet!) protection.

And we still need every one of those extra layers of clothing!

Posted by Karen at 12:48 CST
Updated: Tuesday, 7 January 2014 13:12 CST
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Monday, 6 January 2014
And then it got worse...
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity

Unbelievably cold this morning--in fact they said on the TV that it's the coldest recorded since 1884. My front porch temperature is minus 19, they say the wind chill is minus 50, that wind has been howling all night and continues, the wind turbine is spinning like a top. I upped the clothing to do chores this morning to : 3 shirts, 2 jackets, leggings, pants and thermal bibbed overalls, logger hat, scarf, thermal gloves, wool socks, and continued grippers on the work shoes. All animals and chickens doing amazingly well, but none are interested in leaving their wind-sheltered positions. That's the secret of their success I suspect.

You are definitely stuck indoors. It's the perfect day to make a pot of Corn Chowder, something kids and adults will appreciate.

You likely have everything in the house and you can SUBSTITUTE almost everything to make it work for you. For instance, in my recipe, I didn't have frozen corn but did have frozen mixed vegetables so that's what I used! No frozen--use canned--or even fresh, just cook them longer.

No ham? Use bacon.  

In fact,if you don't have a can of cream-styled corn, you can double your mixed vegetables and run the immersion blender through the pot of soup a couple of times to give it a creamy appearance. 

And if you don't have chicken broth, then use vegetable broth!

I think you get the idea--today is a soup day and chowder's a great plan. 

 Corn Chowder


In a medium soup pot, start by cooking 2 stalks of minced celery, 1 small chopped onion and 1 cup of diced ham in 2-3 Tbsp olive oil (leftover ham from New Year's Day?)

(No ham? Substitute 4-6 pieces of chopped, cooked bacon-cook this separately and drain off fat, then add to soup pot.)

Now add 32 oz Chicken Broth, 1 diced potato, 8 oz. (1/2 bag) or 1 can of drained corn (or like me, substitute frozen mixed vegetable blend with corn). Add 1 Tbsp. parsley, a little garlic powder, salt and pepper to your taste. Simmer for about 30 minutes until potato is soft.

Add 1 can of Cream-styled Corn and  heat through. 

If you'd like a thicker soup, you can add 1/2 cup of dehydrated potato flakes.









Posted by Karen at 08:42 CST
Updated: Monday, 6 January 2014 09:06 CST
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Sunday, 5 January 2014
It's Beef Stew Weather!
Topic: Recipes

It's hard to believe that the weather has gotten even worse. There are predictions of wind chills below minus 50 degrees in the next 24 hours.

Fortunately, all of our animals have wind protection (one of the most important safety plans) and entered the winter season with great body scores--whether cattle, horses, sheep...or Llama! They've got plenty of water and my husband made tons of excellent hay this Summer so they are eating well. In this extreme weather, these animals consume fully twice as much hay daily as usual. 

As for us, we are bundling up in enormous layers of clothes just to walk to the barn. I wear leggings, quilted bibbed "snow" overalls, a long sleeved shirt, two hooded jackets (seriously, I wear two jackets) and one of those fur-lined logger hats--with the hoods up on all, thermal mittens, ice grippers on the waterproof shoes, wool socks. On top of that, it's so cold, the Gator gets a spot in the garage just so it'll start.

I have the wood furnace going with a nice stack of wood ready to replenish.

It's good to know that BEEF STEW is on the menu, in the crockpot. And a multigrain bread mix is doing its job in the breadmaker. I've been so enamoured of the health effects of some foods, that I can't help but make sure I include cooked tomatoes, parsley, garlic, celery in whatever I can --so it's in the stew--and, of course, use the potatoes from the garden, fresh carrots and always...grassfed-only beef.




Beef Stew 

Prep crockpot with spray oil.

Add the following ingredients and stir to combine: 

 2 lbs. beef stew meat, first dredge in flour,  brown in olive oil in a skillet.

1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes with the juice

2 medium potatoes, diced

4 large carrots, prepped and sliced

2 stalks of celery, chopped

2-4 cloves of chopped garlic

1 small onion, chopped

1 Bay Leaf  (this must be removed before serving)

1 Tbsp. Stew Mix seasonings (your own mix--mainly dried parsley with some thyme, basil)

Cover and cook for 8 hours. Then remove about 1/2 cup of the liquid into a small bowl. Add to that 2 Tbsp flour and 1 Tsp Gravy Master (or Kitchen Bouquet). Return this mixture to the stew and stir in.It will thicken and make a gravy. Then add about 1/2 cup of frozen green peas. Salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and cook another 1-2 hours, while you stoke the furnace and finish those last chores of the day... 

Stay Warm! 




Posted by Karen at 13:10 CST
Updated: Sunday, 5 January 2014 14:52 CST
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Friday, 3 January 2014
The Coldest Weather in 40 years!
Topic: Recipes

The Coldest Weather in Forty Years???

So they say.

That means you'll need....


A nice roaring fire with great reading material--see it in the foreground? Lots of great magazines...

 And an easy recipe for a great, "stick-to-your-ribs" dinner. Then you're good to go!



 Salisbury Steaks

4 “minute steaks” or “cubed steaks”

Seasoned Flour- 2 Tbsp. Flour with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley.

Dredge minute steaks in seasoned flour. Brown both sides in 2-3 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet.


1 can of Golden Mushroom soup mixed with ½ can water (or ½ water, ½ wine), 1 tsp. Gravy Master.

Cover and simmer until fully cooked and tender, about 30-40 minutes.

Now serve with mashed potatoes (plenty of gravy to top those potatoes!), mixed vegetables.  

 Bon appetit! Let the cold winds blow, you're safe inside.

Posted by Karen at 19:42 CST
Updated: Friday, 3 January 2014 19:52 CST
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Tuesday, 31 December 2013
La Vita e Bella ("Life is good")
Topic: Recipes

Happy New Year 2014!!!


It's almost here and I know you have plans for tonight and tomorrow's foods already....  If you're seeking good fortune in the New year--it will either contain fish or be "hoppin' John" or some version of blackeyed peas and ham...

That's what's on our ER menu tomorrow. the recipe is in the archives--or visit my Memphis friend Joe Spake's blog for his great recipe http://joespakeblog.com/2012/01/12/cooking-with-joe-hoppin-john-is-not-just-for-new-years-good-luck/

I am posting a recipe of true comfort food--easy to prep and bake while you take your contemplative walk through the woods... on January 2nd!





 Chicken Vesuvio!

The American (perhaps even Chicago) Invention

It is typically made with cut-up chicken, but I had boneless chicken thighs so I went for it--technically you can "Vesuvio" any cut of meat, chicken, steak, etc-- or maybe even fish. It's about browning the chicken and potatoes in a "flour and parmesan cheese with seasonings" light breading, then browning them in a skillet in garlic and olive oil, then deglazing the pan with some white wine, then baking--then adding a few green peas at the end. Simple!

Check out the big pciture and you can almost smell and taste it! Yes, those are French fingerlings from the garden ! And yes--I used rosemary cut from the plant I brought indoors!

 Chicken Vesuvio 

for 2-3

6 boneless chicken thighs

4 potatoes, cut longwise into quarters

Olive oil, sufficient to brown the chicken and potatoes

Several cloves (at least 4) of chopped fresh garlic 

2 Tbsp flour

2 Tbsp shredded Parmesan

Salt, Pepper, dried parsley 

About 1/2 cup of white wine or  dry vermouth to de-glaze the pan

handful of frozen green peas 


Heat garlic in olive oil in a large skillet. 

Combine flour, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and parsley on a plate. Coat all surfaces of cut up potatoes and chicken with coating. Brown all surfaces in the skillet assuring adequate olive oil. Transfer to an oil- prepped baking pan. 

Deglaze the skillet with white wine or dry vermouth and drizzle all pan drippings and sauce over the potatoes and chicken.  Add the two sprigs of fresh Rosemary, then cover the baking pan with aluminum foil.  

Bake for 1  hour at 350 degrees. Remove from the oven and scatter the handful of peas, put the aluminum foil back on and return to the oven for an additional 5 minutes.

Serve in a large bowl with a nice side salad. Perfect way to start the new year! 





Posted by Karen at 16:32 CST
Updated: Tuesday, 31 December 2013 17:35 CST
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Monday, 30 December 2013
Wintertime at the Farm
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity

Wintertime around the Farm

In the past week, we've experienced an ice storm, heavy snow, a hoar frost, temperatures down to -11 and up to 47...it's wintertime in Jo Daviess County, Illinois.

Here are some photos showing the fields, vineyard and outdoor infrastructure under the ice, snow and frost. The ice and snow you will recognize, no doubt. But it's rare to have the perfect conditions for a hoar frost which covers every surface of thing outdoors with a delicate fuzzy coat of icy dew.



















The Ice coating branches, above and to right

















Then the snow--this is the actual color of the atmosphere during the snowfall- 


 Some photos from the morning of the hoar frost.




I know we are all forced inside by the wintry conditions and weather alerts cautioning wind chills and frost bite. But I'd like to inspire you to force yourself to bundle up, put on the “grippers” if icy, or snowboots, or if very ambitious—the cross-country skies!--and take a nature walk, just for the fun of it. It doesn't have to be further than the perimeter of your backyard or once around the block. It will wake up your ancient brain and stimulate both sides of your cerebrum as you simply experience and observe. You can indeed “communicate” with nature simply by being “in it” provided you use your senses and are open to their input without putting up excuses about why you can't go outside or don't have time.

And, walking the dog doesn't count! The dog's communicating with nature, not you--and you are meanwhile distracted with a task. So, likewise, going out to fill the birdfeeder or feed the barnyard animals also doesn't count as a personal encounter with nature. Go out without a task in mind.

And, if you truly can't leave the house, then park yourself by an unobstructed window and spend some time. You might see something interesting, like these guineafowl at your birdfeeder.


Like the Nike advertising advises: just do it!

Posted by Karen at 13:44 CST
Updated: Monday, 30 December 2013 19:06 CST
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Sunday, 15 December 2013
Do a couple of nice things for yourself...
Topic: Entertaining/Party

This is one of the most difficult times of  the year in terms of time- management and demands on your time, isn't it? Yet, it's important to remember to treat yourself while you're addressing all of your family and friends' needs.  

Here's an easy recipe for your breadmaker to do--for YOU..

Make  yourself a nice comfort bread--just a little demi-loaf-sized.


 Polish Babka

(makes 1 demi-loaf in the breadmaker)

Set up and prep your breadmaker container with a little spray oil.

Combine the following ingredients together:

¼ cup (½ stick) butter, melted

¼ cup pure cane sugar

2 egg yolks

Mix well.

Add- ½ cup warm milk (temp betw. 90-110 degrees)

½ cup golden raisins

Put the above mixture as the first layer in the bread maker.

Next, add 2 cups of flour (bread flour or all purpose flour) as the next layer.

Make a well in the middle of the flour, add:

¼ tsp of Bread Machine or Rapid-rising yeast (check the date to make sure it's fresh!)

Here's a picture with your layers and well in the breadmaker.

 Start the breadmaker on the “Sweet” bread setting (2h 50 min) or you can use the “Basic” setting (3 h) and use Light or Medium crust.

This makes a very dense, small loaf. 1 slice is substantive especially topped with fresh sweet butter or Farmers cheese or cream cheese-- (and a better choice than a bagel in terms of carb count!)


And, in case you need reminding--did you plant an Amaryllis bulb or two? Maybe you still have your bulbs in the garage from last year- or you've bought some new bulbs? In any case, if you re-pot and water now, in about 3-4 weeks--when the snow is really flying--these blossoms will be there to greet you!




Posted by Karen at 15:55 CST
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Saturday, 14 December 2013
Crunch Time Recipes
Topic: Education and Values

I had the great fortune to have a paternal grandfather who was a baker. As a child, my memories of the bakery developed my future palette and palate--unlimited tortes, whipped cream delicacies, sugar encrusted pieces of art and real bread.

Likely you, my Reader, have similar memories of your parents' and grandparents' kitchens, filled with the most beautiful culinary delights, especially at holidays. I am not going to presume to teach you anything traditional this year. Savor your family heritage!

But, if you, like me--have a very willing but culinary challenged spouse or partner, put him/her to work on this simple recipe. It can provide an artistic diversion because, you can vary it a bit and call it your own. It requires few kitchen skills and will be appreciated however it turns out!

In case they are really kitchen challenged, please remind them to tie back hair (if applicable) and WASH their hands (20 seconds with soap and water)....ok start. 




  Easy Bourbon Balls

(about 4 dz 1 inch balls)

2 c ground vanilla wafers (use food processor)

¼ cup bourbon

Combine above together in a large bowl. Then add the following: 

1 pkg (12 oz.)semi sweet chocolate chips, melted in the mircowave

2/3 c. sweetened condensed milk

Mix thoroughly.

In separate bowls, have some powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and ground nuts to roll the balls in.

Have a tray or serving platter prepped with paper candy liners (available in the baking section of most groceries). If you have this ready, then you'll be able to immediately place the coated ball into its liner which is the plan.

Using a teaspoon, scoop the mixture into your nice warm palm and rotate until you have a 1” sphere. Take the ball, still warm from your hands and roll it in one of the toppings, then place in its paper candy liner. When all are done, refrigerate. The balls become firm, solid after chilling. They can then be packed into containers and taken to your party or neighbor's—that is, shared.

Note: My husband used DARK chocolate chips and Wild Turkey so I know they'll be yummy—and adults' only!.

Posted by Karen at 16:38 CST
Updated: Saturday, 14 December 2013 16:56 CST
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Thursday, 12 December 2013
Last Minute Gift Ideas
Topic: Education and Values

Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas for the Foodie and Gardener...

I know it's crunch time and the most difficult people are left for you to choose for Christmas gifts. You probably have already done your homemade gifts in advance. Certainly, you paid attention to making preserves, canning , floral sugar, wine etc. weeks ago.

So the people left...they are also the most important people, aren't they? Moms, wives, husbands and close friends--those fellow sustainable gardeners and foodies....the hardest of all...

How about a few ideas?

First, the crockpot...if they have one size, get the other...For example, Mom has the perfect size for her and Dad. Then, buy her the bigger crockpot for Beef Burgundy on Bastille Day! Or, she has the mega-size, then get her the one that will make Beef short ribs or Osso Bucco for her and Dad!

How about that Immersion Blender. If the Foodie on your list does not have an immersion blender, then THIS is THE gift for them. They will love you for it!

Then there are the two things every good gardener should have: SALAD SPINNER and FOOD DEHYDRATOR. If you've read the Summer/Fall blogs, you need no further explanation.

And, there's the gift every sustainable gardener will love...a gift card for a truly great organic seed company. Why not? Even if they have researched everything, every gardener has a curiosity to try something new. I like http://www.groworganic.com/peaceful-valley-gift-card.html but there are infinite options for you once you start looking.

How about a really out-of-the-box idea for the person in your life who DOES know everything about gardening and food safety but just lacks a “credential”? One of the best gifts would be to fund a course in safe food handling that leads to a certification. Why? Because there is a certain confidence and “street cred” one gets from certification. Try


You can also check your local extensions from your state and regional universities for great programs in good agricultural practices and safe produce handling.

For example, I have taken classroom courses through Iowa State University http://www.extension.iastate.edu/ and online courses through Cornell  http://www.gaps.cornell.edu/ 

You can check out options in your state but also consider the national programs that will allow your “gift recipient” to chat with like-minded people around the country while they take their virtual courses!

These ideas may be “last minute” but they may end up being...perfect for the perfect person!

Posted by Karen at 16:17 CST
Updated: Friday, 13 December 2013 10:30 CST
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Saturday, 7 December 2013
Yogurt--Breakfast and Beauty ?
Topic: Education and Values

Now that Winter is settling in ( I know technically it's still Autumn but it was 3 degrees this morning at the Farm!)--everyone is inside, we are cold-stressed, our resistance is lowered and exposure to illness heightened. Don't forget to include yogurt in your diet.

Here's my favorite breakfast that takes no time to create. Plain yogurt, mixed nuts, a drizzle of honey.



 Now... what about this yogurt recipe?


Looks edible,doesn't it? Well, it's another yogurt recipe but this one is the real focus of today's blog. The weather and the holiday food and just the aging process are likely doing a number on your face, so why not try this ANTIOXIDANT-YOGURT FACE MASK ?  You probably have everything around to make this right now.

 Antioxidant- Yogurt Facial Mask

2 Tbsp. Coffee grounds, fresh, cooled

2Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

3 Tbsp. Plain, unsweetened yogurt (greek styled or regular)

1 Tbsp. Honey

Conbine in a mini-processor or hand mix very well.

Apply the mixture with a cotton ball, disposable makeup pad, OR your fingers to your entire face and under the chin and lower jaw, avoiding the eyes. It's a thin mixture, so slide it on but do NOT rub it into the skin since the grounds can actually scratch the facial skin. (note: avoid rubbing any masks or scrubs with particles into the face for this reason) Just apply it on the skin surfaces and let it dry. Keep it on about 20-30 minutes. Then—into the shower and let warm water rinse it off.

You will notice very smooth skin and a reduction in puffiness and wrinkles!

Refrigerate the remaining mask mixture and you can repeat a mask in the next couple of days while it's still fresh and use-able.

Obviously, do not use this recipe if you are allergic to any of the ingredients.



Posted by Karen at 10:30 CST
Updated: Monday, 16 December 2013 22:19 CST
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