a good harvest
Blog Tools
Edit your Blog
Build a Blog
RSS Feed
View Profile
« November 2013 »
1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
You are not logged in. Log in
Entries by Topic
All topics  «
Education and Values
Harvest Hills Farm activity
Home Environment
Nutrition and food safety
Saturday, 23 November 2013
A beautiful loaf of bread
Topic: Recipes

Hello...my name is...homemade bread?




I know you might find this impossible when there's a million other things to do with your time. But, you know, when you make all those wonderful soups, stews and cassoulets –not to mention herbal teas and gluhwein--this winter, you really should have a homemade loaf of freshly-baked bread, shouldn't you?

I recently read a great article by Adam Gopnik on breadmaking in the New Yorker magazine. And, it filled me with the desire to bake homemade bread. I really wanted to knead, wait, knead again, bake and await, see, smell and then taste...

I really wanted all those verbs!


But, if you saw my schedule (like yours), you'd realize that this would be an impossibility for the near future. So, best case scenario, I'd pull out my breadmaker and pop in the ingredients and do stuff on my schedule until I could do those verbs...await, see, smell, taste.

I found this great recipe in the book that came with my Oster Breadmaker. It really produces a brioche-like loaf seen in the pictures.

Country White Bread

Add the following ingredients in this order into your breadmaker pan (I still lightly spray it with cooking oil)

Liquid Ingredients, mixed together go in first

1 cup warm milk (110-115 degrees)

1 and ½ TBSP melted butter

1 large egg

Then, add dry ingredients, mixed together,  directly on top of the liquid ingredients:

4 cups flour

1&1/2 tsp salt

1&1/2 TBSP pure cane sugar

Finally, make a well with your finger and place 2 tsp. Dry active yeast into the middle of the well, still in the dry ingredient layer, NOT in contact with liquid.

Now, secure bread pan in place in the machine, close the lid and select the Basic (3 hour) setting, with a medium crust color (if that option is available).

Press the START button.

Here's what you'll end up with...a beautiful crumb, lovely with butter and raw honey (in this photo) and a cup of tea...or with anything!


Posted by Karen at 16:07 CST
Share This Post Share This Post
Friday, 22 November 2013
Dinner in the French Countryside...a cassoulet
Topic: Recipes

A French Cassoulet

in the humble Crockpot

Interested in sitting down to a rustic country French dinner in the middle of the week? Without airfare and without a lot of prep time either!




I'd like you to think a bit out of the box and use your trusty crockpot, some common ingredients you'll likely have around the pantry and refrigerator, and create a trip to the countryside of France in the middle of the week...

French Cassoulet in the crockpot

serves 4, increase as needed

4 slices of bacon, cooked in microwave, then chopped

Prep the crockpot with reserved bacon fat.

Add into the prepped crockpot:

1 lb. cut up boneless chicken and a couple of links of smoked sausage cut up into 1" pieces --OR-- 1+ 1/2  lb chicken sausage cut into 1” pieces (my choice in this recipe)

Bacon (see above)

1 can of Cannelini beans (white kidney beans) rinsed and drained

1 can of diced tomatoes, with the juice

1 lb baby carrots

Add sprigs of fresh thyme, dried Herbs de Provence blend, salt and pepper—start with 1 tsp dried herbs blend. Adjust seasonings after fully cooked.

Cook on “low” setting for 8 hours. Serve in bowls with freshly baked bread, a salad and a glass of dry, red wine.



Posted by Karen at 18:34 CST
Share This Post Share This Post
Saturday, 16 November 2013
Make Your Own Fruit Wine--a kitchen craft you should know!
Topic: Education and Values

Make a Quality Berry CountryWine

Good day, post-modern Pioneer! Here's a skill you may want to add to your kitchen competencies...how to make a rustic, berry wine. This is a long post but well worth the read and print and keep for future reference!


Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas are all just around the corner and we know “it's all about the food.” In fact, most of the time, we're just serving mineral or ice water at the table, occasionally a white or rose' wine. But, this year, why not consider crafting your own rustic, dry wine using a non-grape fruit concentrate? Unlike our wonderful and ancient grape winemaking techniques, this simple berry wine is relatively quick because non-grape fruit wines do NOT improve with age or oak or anything else. They are what they are once the fermentation process is over.

Now, I am not talking about those overly yeasty “jug” wines of old—or that fruit, sugar and alcohol blend bad idea you picked up at a tourist resort. You can actually make a pretty decent wine with the old balloon-as-airlock if you apply some of the concepts used in traditional grape wine-making to your “Berry Country Wine Recipe”.

This recipe will yield 2- 750ml bottles of wine when the whole process is over, a nice amount for sampling with a holiday dinner So, if you want more, then double the recipe and number of fermentation bottles.

I am also going to assume you want to work with products and supplies you have at home or can easily get at a grocery, meaning frozen fruit concentrates, pure cane sugar, and rapid-rising yeast granules found in the baking section.




This wine will be sulfate free, but that means you must adhere to food safety principles of cleaning and you must assure your alcohol content will be adequate at the end of the process to kill any bacteria and yeast. We'll do that by adjusting the sugar content at the beginning.

This simplified methodology will give you a nice, light and fruity, and DRY final product. Serve chilled.

Berry Country Wine

( for 2- 750 ml bottles)


2 half gallon glass milk bottles

Small jar with lid to make yeast mixture

2 clean, uninflated Balloons


2 disposable, paper Coffee Filters to fit into the funnel for later transfer

2 screw top wine bottles, recycled, cleaned and sanitized, or

Glass wine decanter or pitcher with cap



2- 12oz. Cans of 100% Juice concentrate—your choice cranberry, any berry with berry blend.

(Note: Read the ingredients list very carefully. It's OK if apple juice or grape concentrate is in the blend, but it must NOT contain any high fructose corn syrup or sucralose, or any other additives, EXCEPT for Citric Acid and/or Ascorbic acid—these are OK additives.)

Filtered, pure water – 48 oz. to reconstitute the concentrate,

¼ cup for yeast mixture, ¼ cup for simple syrup mixture

(again read all the ingredients to make sure there's nothing added in the water, you don't want flouride or s ofteners, just plain, filtered water)

Pure Cane Sugar : (1) ½ cup mixed in ¼ cup of boiling water, and (2) 1 Tbsp mixed with ¼ cup warm water and ½ tsp. Yeast

Rapid Rising Yeast ½ tsp of granules mixed with sugar and water as above.


(Note: I used this blend: “Old Orchard 100% Juice Blueberry-Pomegranate” which also contained Aronia berry juice, apple juice, and grape juice. I am expecting all these fruits to be expressed in the final wine. I looked for Cranberry juice but the blends were limited to cran-apple, cran-raspberry and the super-antioxidants in the blueberry-pomegranate and Aronia berry won me over.)

(Note: Even though we did not dilute this concentrate fully, The BRIX of this mixture was still only 15. Unlike wine grapes which naturally have high BRIX at maturity, our non-grape fruit concentrates will need  more sugar in order to yield an alcohol content needed for food safety as well as appropriateness for a dinner wine.)

(This produced a BRIX of 20, potentially an alcohol of about 10-10.6%.)

Here's what you should have at the end of 24 hours.

This is Day 2 at the time of maximum yeast growth and conversion of sugars to alcohol. It's cloudy and you may wonder “why on earth did I do this, I certainly won't drink this concoction?”

Trust me. Be patient. You can wait a few more days. As the yeast utilizes the sugar and converts it to alcohol, then higher alcohol content will kill off the yeast.

And your next thought is: “Will that balloon will explode?” It won't- it's porous and excess gases will escape.


At THE END OF WEEK ONE: I tested the specific gravity and BRIX again. Not ready, even though the wine was clearing and the yeast-y top receding.

Lift the edge of each balloon, deflate them and replace.

WAIT ANOTHER WEEK. During this time, you'll see for yourself that additional air will fill into the balloon showing there's still fermentation going on.

AT THE END OF WEEK TWO: The specific gravity is 0.995 and you can see the top surface is pretty clear, there's sediment on the bottom which is actually the dead yeast cells.

Now we're ready to remove the balloons and pour the wine into the prepped empty wine bottles, through a coffee filter lined funnel. I say “very gently” because we do not want to disturb the yeast sediment lying at the bottom of the jars. That sediment should be discarded, not bottled.

The wine should be capped and again allowed to sit undisturbed and upright (in the refrigerator now) for another week or more, as additional sediment will descend to the bottom, further clarifying the wine. Basically, this “Country Wine” is ready to drink as early as 2 weeks from the time we started this project, or you can keep longer in the refrigerator.


This wine has a beautiful color, and lovely fruity fragrances with no off-odors or chemical smells. It is a dry wine, so makes a good table wine for those heavier holiday foods.

This works because we used a good quality fruit concentrate, did not reach for the stars in terms of expectations of creating a Gold Medal aged, vintage, estate grape wine, but instead set our goals on a blended berry wine with reasonable palatability (nice acidity, pH 3.5, alcohol about 10%) and interesting complexity. We got the bonus of playing around with all of these super-fruits --blueberry, pomegranate, Aronia berry--known for their high anti-oxidants, making it a good conversation piece. And, we got to work our primal, pioneering spirit into the blend.

We made a DRY, TABLE wine, that's now fully fermented. If you want to change this into a sweet wine, at this point you can do so by adding simple syrup: 1 oz pure cane sugar, dissolved in 1 oz. water. Add ½ oz (that's 1 TBSP or 15 ml) to each bottle and you'll convert the dry wine to a sweet wine.

IF you simply must “Craft” your wine further: You can add aliquots of a dry red (grape) wine into your berry wine for more complex flavor profiles in a “blended” wine.

Posted by Karen at 10:35 CST
Updated: Friday, 29 November 2013 17:48 CST
Share This Post Share This Post
Friday, 15 November 2013
Love Sparkly Thngs? Make a Scarf or Two!
Topic: Crafts

The Joy of Sparkly Things

I know I risk all the blonde jokes by writing about my attraction to (and distraction by) “sparkly things”.

I'm the one who walks into a store at Christmas and sees the decorations, not the merchandise. And if I don't have a list, I'll walk through the entire store without remembering what I came in for.

The same thing happens with magazines. If there are sparkly things in the photos, I'm hypnotized. I don't care what the content is.

This happens wherever I go, so when I was looking for some scented candles for the Holidays, that section was located right by the yarn aisles and, you guessed it!- sparkly yarn. I had to walk over and touch it. And then, hypnotized by both the lacy feel and metallic shimmer mixed with the variegated blues, I wanted to take it home with me. I really wanted it.


This instinct was immediately counter-balanced by extreme guilt...there already was sparkly yarn sitting for the last two years in a bag with other UFOs (unfinished objects). The solution became immediately clear. I'd make two scarves. First, the UFO with the silver gray sparkly yarn and then use this really gorgeous blue metallic yarn. Of course, since this new yarn was thin and really wanted a lacier feel, I also had to buy giant #16 needles, too.


So first,  the unfinished object: 

My silver-gray metallic-flecked scarf is knitted on size 10 needles, straight knit, no fringe. Look how pretty it is over a simple black t-shirt--perfect for Choir Practice! 


Next...I am working the blue metallic yarn scarf as a much narrower neck accessory,  but "loopy" on size 16 needles, I might do fringe. 


My suggestion to you for the long cold nights coming up before the holidays is to complete a couple of super-quick knitting or crocheting projects while watching a romantic comedy or classic holiday movie. It's not pointless or silly, it's satisfying to see a completed project, to work with the tactile sensation of fibers--knitting or crocheting does wonders for the soul.

And, because you are working with a simple pattern—you can make a scarf using a straight knit or crochet because “it's all about the yarn.” The only decision you'll have to make is whether you want to add fringe or not!

Posted by Karen at 14:37 CST
Share This Post Share This Post
Tuesday, 12 November 2013
A Turn of the Seasons: feed the birds, make Bittersweet Brownies
Topic: Entertaining/Party

A Turn of the Season

An early artic blast threw a nasty reminder that Autumn may be briefer than hoped-for and Winter is close at hand. We received some early snowfall dusting accompanied by wind and temperatures in the teens. While we are expecting a short reprieve later in the week, I don't expect it to last for long. The garden now looks like this... (we left the kale in hopes it might stand the cold a little longer, but its pretty frozen today).




That also reminds me to ask you to make sure you're feeding your birds now. If not, your trees are fair-game.




But these woodpeckers are quite willing to use a suet feeder and the female cardinal, in this picture from yesterday afternoon, looks happy to know the feeder is plump with chow.


The turning of seasons...always a bittersweet passage, not for the faint of hearts.

Seems like the perfect day to fill the house with chocolate fragrance, so why not try something fitting like this?

Bittersweet Brownies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, prep a 7”x11” or 8”x8” cake pan.

Melt together :

1 stick of butter

6 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

Remove from stove , add:

1 tsp. Vanilla extract

½ cup pure cane sugar

1 tsp. Instant coffee granules

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking soda

When batter is mixed, you may add additional chocolate chips or toasted nuts, if desired.

Turn batter into the prepped pan and bake 25-30 minutes until done. 

Cool, slice, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Enjoy in a warm house,looking out through frosty windows as the sun sets at 4:30!

Posted by Karen at 16:04 CST
Share This Post Share This Post
Saturday, 9 November 2013
Squash Soup--As AN APPETIZER!

Yesterday, I hosted a Ladies' Luncheon at my house.  Guests usually arive over a 15-30 minute period so I always like to have sone type of appetizer to greet them, until everyone is ready to sit down together for lunch.

On a brisk November day, I thought savory "shots" of soup with tiny cornbread mini-muffins would be unexpected and fun. I also had a perfect pitcher from which to pour the hot soup and tons of punch cups to offer just the right amount--a couple of ounces, nothing overwhelming.

This might be a fun idea for inclusion in your upcoming winter holiday parties so I am re-posting the Squash Soup recipe and you can select what seasoning combination you'd like to go with, depending upon your crowd. 


Turban Squash Soup

(Prepared 2 ways based upon final seasoning)

1 large Turban Squash, slice in half, scoop out seeds

(reserve and make roasted squash seeds or reserve for your chickens)

4 cloves of garlic

Cut the squash into quarters, coat cut sides with olive oil. Place on a lined baking pan and roast the garlic and squash until soft, about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

In a soup pot, cook 1 stalk of finely chopped celery and ½ small onion in 2 tbsp olive oil until softened. Add 1 quart of organic chicken broth and set aside until the squash is cooked.

Remove the squash and garlic from oven when cooked. When cool enough to work with, scoop out flesh, adding it to the soup pot along with the garlic cloves. Discard the skins.

Use an immersion blender and pulse several times until the squash and other solids have been pureed.


To Prepare for serving as a hearty bowl of SOUP:

Reheat the entire soup pot and season with fresh or dried parsley, Italian herb blend, salt and pepper to taste. (optional—use a few shakes of nutmeg instead of pepper). 




To Prepare as savory, spicy "shots" of soup-as-appetizer:

Season with this combination: 1 tsp. cumin, 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp dried or fresh, chopped cilantro.  Add Thai hot chili sauce and salt to taste. You want to end up with a full palate flavor profile, ending with the unexpected heat, subtle not startling.

Serve with cornbread mini-muffins? 


Posted by Karen at 13:30 CST
Updated: Saturday, 9 November 2013 16:28 CST
Share This Post Share This Post
Sunday, 3 November 2013
Pizza as Art?
Topic: Recipes

Pizza as Art?

One of the best convenience cooking ideas is to keep pre-made pizza dough in the freezer. One frozen wad of this dough will make a super-sized 16+ inch pizza crust. And it's so affordable--I pay about $1.50 at my local store. You just have to remember to defrost in the refrigerator the day before you intend to use it!

One other reminder to get a real crispy pizza crust (since not all of us are blessed with a pizza oven in our kitchens) is to pre-bake the crust in a 425 degree oven for a few minutes until browned before you dress the pizza.  Lightly brush the raw, rolled out pizza crust with olive oil before baking. You've seen this technique used in the refrigerated or room-temperature pre-made pizza crusts. Your results will be better if you take this step before assembling the pizza.

Now, just in case you have any basil left outside—why not make a fresh pesto for the sauce? Or maybe you canned or froze some pesto—this is a great time to use it.

For a quick pesto: Pulse about 2 cups of cleaned, loosely packed basil leaves in a mini-food processor, adding ½ cup of pine nuts (or almonds or even walnuts), ¼ cup of parmesan-romano cheese (or equivalent Italian cheese blend) with ½ cup of olive oil. Add fresh garlic cloves to pulse in and salt to taste. The pesto should be spread-able, add extra olive oil if needed.

Of course, you can use standard pizza sauce on your pizza and top with your family's favorite toppings. You can also use taco sauce and top with cooked, seasoned ground beef, jalapenos, chopped tomatoes and onions and use taco cheeses to make a “Mexican pizza.” Or try Alfredo sauce and make a “white Pizza” topped with cooked chicken and cooked, drained mushrooms and onions. As long as you have pre-baked the pizza crust before topping and then baking a second time, your pizza crust will support any toppings allowing your creativity to burst forth!

I chose to top my PESTO PIZZA, half as a vegetarian, half with meat, using cooked, drained , crumbled Italian sausage. Both sides were topped with sun-dried tomatoes, minced red onion, and a sprinkle of Italian seasoning blend. I used 8 oz of shredded Mozzarella over the entire pizza. (Here again, you can use any cheese you'd like—or even omit the cheese and maybe add carmelized onions for more texture and moisture.)




Remember any meats and large vegetables should be cooked and drained before use as a topping.

Remember too: This is a great activity to engage children in--let them create their own healthy pizza and learn a bit about food safety at the same time! (Explain why we wash our hands before handling food, why we cook meats before using them on the pizza, why we cook at such a high temperature)

Then, bake the topped pizza at 425 degrees for an additional 12-15 minutes until cheese is hot, melted, and browned.

Remove from oven and let set 5 minutes before cutting.

Then have a generous slice of that creative pizza with a side salad and you've just upgraded the humble pizza into a simple, fun dinner plan.




Posted by Karen at 07:32 CDT
Updated: Sunday, 3 November 2013 07:36 CDT
Share This Post Share This Post
Sunday, 27 October 2013
Our New Addition--Zoey the Llama
Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity
Meet Zoey!
...or "Zoey Monster" as she is referred to by her former foster family.


We recently started a flock of sheep with 11 ewe lambs. You can see them in the background behind her.Needless to say, we were nervous parents of lambs, especially when the coyotes howl in the dead of night and the sheep barn feels miles away. We really wanted a guardian animal to live with them and a llama is a perfect choice.


I went to my favorite source for adoptions first, that's www.petfinder.com where many of my friends and family have started when they want to rescue an animal. That resource led us to Southeast Llama Rescue. 
Southeast Llama Rescue  actually has multiple satellite foster farms all over the United States. Looking through the available llamas, we couldn't help but think that Zoey would be a good fit for us. She was at a foster farm in central Illinois which was about to receive another shipment of 16 llamas the following day, so we were lucky to see her before that farm's busy following day. We all might have gotten lost in that llama explosion.
She's won our hearts and seems right at home with her paddock and barn. However, I can see she is yearning to roam the many fenced pasture areas the sheep have available. For the first few days however, she'll need to stay close to understand this is her new forever home.

Thank you Southeast Llama Rescue . We just love this redhead!

Posted by Karen at 13:51 CDT
Share This Post Share This Post
Saturday, 26 October 2013
Drying herbs (and flower petals and leaves???)
Topic: Education and Values

Dry some herbs? (Or petals or floral leaves?)

Might be your last chance

It's not too late to salvage some of your woody herbs and other perennial herbs before they go dormant. And maybe you are lucky enough to still have some parsley or cilantro or even basil  tolerating the colder weather. Why not harvest a bunch of these herbs and dry them-- then make your own "soup-and- stew" blend to use throughout the winter months...and don't forget you can even make a fine tea out of your dried mint leaves while you're at it!

Cut full stems of herbs and then wash in a cool water bath, changing water as needed. You can then spin them in a salad spinner, if you have a lot, or layer them between paper towels and pat dry. Cut off the stems of parsley, cilantro, mint because you just want dried leaves. But leave thyme, oregano, and rosemary on the stems until they are dried because they will be easier to strip from the stems when dried.

Then it's time for drying. I use a food dehydrator, well worth the initial expense because you can dry herbs with minimal heat but adjust up the heat as needed to dry other products like fruits and jerky. (And maybe some rose petals or pine needles for potpourri)



It's versatile. However, you can also make your own dehydrator for herbs with a simple box fan and using a sanitized window screen on which to layer the herbs --in a warm room or porch.

Using the food dehydrator, it will take about eight hours (overnight) to dry sprigs of thyme, parsley, cilantro, mint, and basil leaves, oregano, rosemary and similar herbs. High water content, larger leaves such as sage will take twice as long.

Layer the leaves in a single layer and dry. Sprigs should dry first, then “strip” the leaves off. Combine your dried herbs and store in a glass container.

Now—for some REAL fun—look at this wonderful idea my friend and piano teacher, Sonja Bauer, gave me this week.

How about drying the leaves of your remaining scented geranium plants and then layering them in pure cane sugar? If you dry the leaves, layer them in sugar in a glass jar and let them set for a few weeks....



You'll have this amazing geranium scented sugar to lace your favorite tea with as the snow flies next month! And –doesn't that look like a wonderful hostess gift for the holidays???


Posted by Karen at 19:31 CDT
Share This Post Share This Post
Saturday, 19 October 2013
Winter Squash--Turban Squash Soup
Topic: Garden

Winter Squash

Did you grow some of these this year?


I am talking about Winter Squash...such as Spaghetti squash, butternut, acorn, pumpkin or this new find of mine...the TURBAN squash. (that blue corn will show up in a winter post!)

We know that Spaghetti squash is cooked either baked (whole or in halves, cut and face down on a baking sheet) or boiled or microwaved. Afterwards, the squash is cut open, seeds scooped out and then the flesh is scooped out in these “spaghetti-like” strands. These squash strands can be used wherever you might think about pasta. (See earlier post for Meatball Stew over Spaghetti Squash.) Spaghetti squash has been a Mom-secret way to get kids to eat vegetables for awhile.

But it's not often that we look at the other Winter squashes and utilize them to their fullest. The firm flesh Winter squashes can basically be substituted for each other in casserole and soup recipes. Because this year is the first in which I grew these Turban squash, I was anxious to try one as soon as I could.

The Turban squash has a dark orange (pumpkin colored), dense flesh. The seeds are compactly located in the center and can be cleaned and roasted like you would roast pumpkin seeds. The flesh can be baked or peeled and cut up, and boiled or microwaved.

One of the easiest ways to cook and use Turban squash (or any of the dense winter squashes) is in a soup. Try this simple recipe for a rich, creamy soup packed with nutrients and right out of your edible garden!

Turban Squash Soup

1 large Turban Squash, slice in half, scoop out seeds

(reserve and make roasted squash seeds or reserve for your chickens)

4 cloves of garlic

Cut the squash into quarters, coat cut sides with olive oil. Place on a lined baking pan and roast the garlic and squash until soft, about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.


In a soup pot, cook 1 stalk of finely chopped celery and ½ small onion in 2 tbsp olive oil until softened. Add 1 quart of organic chicken broth and set aside until the squash is cooked.

Remove the squash and garlic from oven when cooked. When cool enough to work with, scoop out flesh, adding it to the soup pot along with the garlic cloves. Discard the skins.

Reheat the entire soup pot and season with fresh or dried parsley, Italian herb blend, salt and pepper to taste. (optional—use a few shakes of nutmeg instead of pepper)


Using an immersion blender, pulse several times until the squash and other vegetables are completely pureed and the soup is creamy. Serve warm. 




Posted by Karen at 10:43 CDT
Share This Post Share This Post

Newer | Latest | Older