Saturday, January 2, 2016

Creative in the Kitchen: Kumquats

Miss K's kumquat tree produced quite a yield this year. Our little three foot fruit tree brought in about 5 pounds of tiny fruits (with the help of a good rainy season and some hearty mushroom compost). While plenty of these vitamin C rich bites were eaten straight up- and shared with others- I ended up with two pounds that needed 'put up' before they went bad.

Last year Miss K and I stirred up kumquat preserves; one in jelly form, one in marmalade style, and a batch of candied kumquats. From those test recipes, we found the jelly form our favorite with the candied version a close second.

This year, with a need to distract myself (son shipping out), it seemed a good idea to play with last year's test runs. Instead of my standard jams and jellies, I decided to focus in on honey and spice; two things I already had on hand and enjoy immensely. Honey is a perfect preservative with numerous health benefits and a serious shelf life. Spice, well, I intended to use cinnamon and cloves, however, when rummaging through the herbal cabinet the scent of cardamom and anise spoke to me. Upon rubbing a few pods together in my hand, I determined to blend them together for a unique aroma. A few basic recipes from the internet and I was on may way to playing in the kitchen.

I took two pounds of washed kumquats, stems removed, and simmered them in just enough water to cover. After about 10 minutes they had plumped and split (not all of them split, but that's okay). Drained and returned to the pan, I poured in a quart of honey along with a palm-ful of cardamon pods, about 10 star anise pods, and a tablespoon or so of clove buds. This simmered until is smelled divine- about 10-15 minutes.
Heat off and slightly covered, this wonderful concoction was left to sit overnight steeping in the wondrous perfume.


The next day, I strained the honey. Kumquats were placed in jars with the infused honey poured over to cover. Those amazing herbs were dried in the dehydrator to be ground and used in all sorts of yummy ways. Finally the remaining honey was jarred and set to use as well.

How do we use all this?

Kumquats can be eaten, added to baked goods, dried for a tasty snack, and added to hot tea.

Spices can be ground, added to anything needing a sweet hint of spice.

Honey is wonderful on anything!



Monday, December 28, 2015

Breath...


The cold winter wind finally found its way to the homestead; a wind of change, I do believe. This year is leaving me and moving on never to be seen again.

So many changes have come and gone on the little plot of earth we inhabit:
        children have grown...
             a grandchild has come...
                    jobs and routines have altered...
                      a boy became a man...
                           all while I wasn't looking.

This year has been a challenging year of revelation; a time to see the hard truths and find the way to face them. Nothing tragic has happened and no losses have occurred- things have just changed.

With a new year comes evaluation and adjustment; life will be different:
            no children living at home....
                a full time job with changes of its own...
                     a young man in the military spreading his wings and taking flight...
                          the home to consider.

There is no doubt in my mind the homestead will need to adjust to the needs and changes of our household. We have less people to feed, so considerations will be made regarding gardens, livestock, and space; no plans to end our homesteading- only adjust it.

I sit in the quiet wrapped in hand made warmth; Ben and my warm cup for company as I patiently wait for the ideas to flow. For now, it is time to rest... to breath.

Happy New Year! May God's grace be with you.



 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rambling: The Overly Affectionate Dog



The other day I read an article about a woman who was dropping her dog off at the animal shelter because he 'constantly wanted to be near her'. Yes, you read that right. Pet owner, dog shelter- reason given: overly affectionate. I was dumbfounded. Was affection not the reason most of us take in a dog?

Admittedly, the livestock on my homestead live here for a purpose. They provide a purpose, meet a need, or serve as protection: goats are milk and meat, poultry are meat and eggs, while the donkey is the herd keeper and the puppy (Ben) is guardian. Despite how cold this may sound, they also serve as companions, comedians, and comfort- distractions from the world around me. Never has one of them been sent away or put down because of their affection.

This article came across my news feed shortly after my own Ben was attacked in our own property by two aggressive pit bulls. In reality, my dog's 'affection' for us nearly cost him his life; he was protecting us because he loves us.

Before we jump to condemn this woman, let us consider her lack of understanding. True- a dog can be inconvenient when they jump on your cleanly pressed work clothes; when you trip over them every time you turn around in the kitchen- or when they bark at the 'shady intentions' of every leaf in the yard. Did she not realize that, in turn, the dog's affection also meant his loyal protection? He would, most likely, defend her against any unsavory intruder (human or otherwise)? Warn her of danger- natural or devised (snakes? coons? even a 'dark personality')?

The take away from all this rambling? Animals of any type are a responsibility we must consider before we bring them home; sometimes people just don't know how to handle them; and, finally, if we put the work into them, the benefits out weigh the irritation.

Now if you will excuse me, my giant lug and I have a snuggle routine to complete before bedtime rounds start. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dark, Difficult Love



I did something I rarely do. I sat at the TV flipping through the 'holiday happy love' junk. Dozens and dozens of sappy situations to feed our emotions (and our discontentment). Every channel offered 'the spark', the glow, that tingly feel good thing that is suppose to be love.

Not one to deny those loves exist, I am one to say those moments are not constant. The warm, fuzzy emotion of love is fleeting, even occasional in real life. Images given to us by media and entertainment toy with us, pressing us to believe that is the one and only true love.

Love is a choice; an action; a daily thought that is tested and tried- pushed to its limits. Love challenges us to look at the deepest parts of ourselves and face what we often choose to hide. Our vanities and virtues are tested by love-
                   as we are placed in a place of humility for the needs of another
                        as we stand back for another to make their own choices no matter the outcome
                             as we look past the mirror and see the darkest parts of ourselves
                                  as we face who we are forced to reckon with that darkness and move forward.

Over the many years of my life, the pain and test of dark, deep love has surfaced and subsided. So many times it pushes me to places in my heart I dare not look (nor do I want to). Some moments creep up on you, some hit you like a bus:
                    as our dreams are not reality and others don't play by 'our rules
                           as our spouses are imperfect and flawed (as we are) choosing a path we didn't
                                  as our children grow and make choices and mistakes of their own
                                        as loved ones come to a place of need.

There is a beauty in choosing this dark, difficult love; in submitting to it, facing it, and working through the fire it brings. Nothing compares to the emotion, pain, and joy found here. When the dark moments pass, sweet release reveals the precious, secret reality:
                        there is no greater love that this
                                  there is no easy path to it
                                           there is no more precious a gift that to be given the opportunity to love
                                                     in the dark, difficult, humble and gracious
                                                                love.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Decluttering the Homestead

Time gathers things- or, maybe it's better to say 'we gather things with time'. Either way, the reality is.. clutter happens.. and a homestead is a clutter magnet! Over time space becomes filled with this and that- the things we said we will get to later. Items that fell to the wayside and the wayside crept closer and closer to the door. You get the point.

This month's focus on my homestead is declutter: use it or remove it.

The goal: break the homestead into zones and clear the zone.

Repurpose, recycle, reclaim- but do not let it remain!

We are twelve days into this month and let me just say this is hard! One: it's ragweed season so I am battling out the histamine drip while trying to decide keep or cull. Two: emotions and doubt play tricks with your mind as you try to decide in there is any use for 'that old thing' (OTC allergy meds are not conducive to mental clarity!). Three: not everyone in the house is on board with my manic urge to purge.


Since the allergies are winning, my focus turned inward these past few days. Closets, pantries and drawers are the starting line. So far the upstairs spare room (now the sewing room) has been gone through- though I can't say it is clutter free since it is packed floor to ceiling with outgrown baby items. Does every grandparent's house have a baby stuff stash?

From there I pressed on to the downstairs spare room- now the grandbaby room. Despite the toys it is in pretty good shape- if only I could figure out how to make the art table/supplies less messy looking. Wait, why? Aren't all creative, artsy people a bit messy? My room is now where I'm at. Then pantries and cabinets. The house is only one small piece though.
We have a barn, well house, storage shed, greenhouse- four poultry pens, three gardens, three pastures- not to mention the place where the trailers set, the 'bone yard' and the dreaded place where all clutter goes to multiply and mock me..the shop! The magnitude of this mess makes me dizzy. Standing in the drive at the end of my work day causes me to ask myself why I didn't start sooner. I know the answer- it is a pain!

The plan?

Burn the fallen trees - or re-purpose them in the goat pen (they are dropping like crazy right now).
Recycle the metal- damaged metal objects are now being piled on a trailer for a little trip.
Trash the trash- determining what is truly trash is the object of many grumblings. (keeping it real)
Thin the 'herd'- metaphorically, of course. Here we are focusing on downsizing or simplifying the chores: barn, gardens, and pasture care. There are less hands on the homestead, so time to re-evaluate what we focus our energies on.
Finally, there are some areas of disrepair that need a tune up. My goal is to fix those fence 'patches' and make things easier for me to handle on my own... calf panels are this girl's best friend. (If only I could find a gate solution as wonderful as calf panels).

Will I get this all decluttered by November- oh, honey, I doubt it, but there's no reason not to be ambitious!

Now, before I get distracted again (or my sinuses clog up), better go bag some more stuff from the closet!