Thursday, June 28, 2012

Spring Garden Remembered

I’ve been working in the garden all morning and decided it was time to take a much needed break as well as grab some lunch. I am afraid those beautiful days from earlier in the week of low humidity and highs of 80 are gone for the summer

I thought I would share some of the photos of my gardens from last spring. First I should warn you, I have my gardens subdivided into several smaller gardens. I am definitely a perfectionist by nature and perhaps a bit of a control freak. This allows me to keep my sanity by being able to get in and work in a garden finishing whatever needs to be done. I also like to focus on different types of plantings in different areas. Let’s see, there is the…
  • Raised bed vegetable garden — unfortunately, time got away from me this year and I only have a few herbs and tomatoes planted.
  • Perennial sun garden — mostly drought resistant plants.
  • Hydrangea garden — that boosts a gorgeous dogwood along with ferns, spring bulbs, and a liriope border.
  • Deciduous garden — with an oriental feel, it is full of beautiful specimens of dwarf cypress, evergreens, and a Japanese maple.
  • Shade or hosta garden — mostly hostas, astilbes, and bleeding hearts.
  • Bird bath garden — partial shade/sun, really a mixture of plants, mostly spring perennials and summer annuals.
  • Echinacea garden — small area near the shed where I decided to focus solely on all the beautiful types of echinacea.
  • Butterfly garden — with three butterfly bushes as well as other wonderful flowers all chosen to attract butterflies.
  • Rose garden — lines the front of our fence with roses, boxwood, and hostas.
And one garden that is still under construction — the fragance/herb garden. Someday on the list would be a night garden (only white flowers) surrounding the back patio and a small fruit tree orchard. I am thinking 2 apples, 2 pears, and 2 peach trees along with a handful of blueberry bushes. I have to admit though, being so spoiled by all the wonderful fruit and orchard vendors at the farmers market this one might not happen any time soon.

The Bird Bath Garden

Perennial Sun Garden

Shade or Hosta Garden

Shade or Hosta Garden

Climbing Rose on Shed

Over the years, I have collected quite a few chicken garden features.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Go To Cookbooks

I have lots and lots of cook books… some by celebrity chefs, a full arsenal of soup & stew cookbooks, and those with irresistible photos on the covers. But truth be told, there are only six books that really qualify as my go to cookbooks. What are they?

My most basic recipes from macaroni and cheese to apple crisp come from my Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book. I can’t remember when or where I received this cookbook – I believe it was a wedding present years ago. My mother had one. My grandmother had one. If I was told to pick only one, this would be my first choice for its wholesome tried-and-true home style recipes.

I am not a big baker, I prefer recipes that can easily adjust to whatever ingredients are in season. I am definitely a dice and dump cook as I seldom measure ingredients. But even I will admit nothing beats the smell of fresh baked bread. When I am in the mood for baking these are the three books I go to:

The Best-Ever Book of Bread by Christian Ingram is my all time favorite bread cookbook. I don’t know of any type of bread that is not in this cookbook. Even when I receive recipes from customers or find interesting recipes in magazines or on websites, I always compare them to recipes found in this book.

Ratio by Michael Ruhlman. This book revolutionized the way I think about cooking. It’s not so much about recipes as it is about ratios of ingredients.

Farm Journal’s Country Fair Cookbook. This is the book I turn to when looking to bake a unique cake, pie, or other sweet treat. It has an endless supply of great desserts and sweet breads. This was actually one of Corey’s cookbooks when he was in 4-H.

I love to can and preserve fruits and vegetables when they are at their peak.  Whether it is jams, jellies, pickles, relishes, or preserves there is a certain feeling of self accomplishment and preservation that comes from having a cellar full of canned food. I have two books I constantly go to during the peak of the growing season.

Home & Garden’s Home Canning and Freezing. This is a hand-me-down from Corey’s Grandmother. Open it up and you will find notes from three generations of women. (By the way, if you aren’t writing in your cookbooks, you need to. I am constantly making notes about what I like and don’t like as well as changes I have made to recipes.)

Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving.  This is a relatively new addition to my library. I love the new and creative twists it adds to old school jams, jellies, and relishes. Although I have only tried a few of the recipes thus far, it has twice as many as my H&G Home Canning and Freezing cookbook.

What are your favorite cookbooks?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I recently heard the following sports quote…

“Slumps are like a soft bed. They’re easy to get into and hard to get out of.”  — Johnny Bench

That’s when it hit me, I was in a slump! No, not a batting slump, but a mental slump.

As a proactive optimist, I have always been one of those folks who could do anything I put my mind to. Expand the farmers market entrée menu? Love to. Return to school at 43. No problem. Deciding to coach high school soccer, cook for Virginia Lamb, be super mom, and go to school simultaneously? You bet. Adding physics on top of my math major? Why not. Somewhere along the way, I heard the warning signs. You know the nagging thought that one has crossed over into survive mode instead of thrive mode.

Then summer break hit. The crazy intensity was over. I looked around and was all but paralyzed by the amount of life that had piled up. The weeds had taken over my gardens, the sheep needed to be shorn, there was fence to be fixed and painted, and the list felt endless and overwhelming. Instead of digging deeper and finding strength, I just froze. I kept hearing over and over again in my head all the things I had to do. That is when the slump hit. I was functioning day by day. I still loved spending time in the kitchen. But somehow the spark had grown dull.

So I reached out to a fellow gardener from the northwest. Reading her daily gardening adventures, I slowly began to feel the need to play in the dirt. You see, gardening has always been a representation of life to me… the work that must be put in to reap a successful harvest… the often necessary solitude of weeding, watering, and transplanting to reflect on life. My gardens reflect my moods, my inner strength, and my clarity of vision. Lately, I had been avoiding the garden as the weeds seem to bear witness to the endless list of chores I had hanging over my head. Then it hit me. I always have an endless list of chores. And when it grows too short, I add all kinds of interesting to-dos to the list like learning to make pasta, wanting to making homemade soap as Christmas presents, or reading up on medicinal herbs.

It wasn’t my list. It wasn’t the weeds. I just needed to unwind and recharge. I needed a mental make-over. And the one thing that always brings me back into balance? Gardening.

Bear with me over the next several weeks, as there are bound to be posts that encompass weeding, tilling, and lessons learned as I recapture the beauty of my gardens.

I was so focused on the weeds, I almost missed the roses!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Art (via Smart Phone & Photoshop)

Chicken Barbecue Sauces

As the weather turns hotter, the count down begins. For those of you who have not found your way to the Clarke County Fair, I would definitely add it to your summer fun list! Yes, there are carnival rides, rodeos, petting zoos and all that exciting fair stuff, but the crowning jewel of the whole event, bar none, is the Chicken BBQ. Marinated just right. Slow cooked all day. Mouthwatering at its finest. For us, it has become the final exclamation point on a summer well spent.

Although the official barbeque recipe used by Clarke County Ruritan members is top secret, here are a few recipes I have collected over the years.  The following sauce recipes are enough to grill 10 halves, so you may want to reduce the recipes by half or store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. We recommend salting the broiler halves before cooking, so salt is not included in any of the recipes. By the way, these sauces also work well on pork, lamb, goat, and beef!

Garrison’s Famous Broiler Barbecue Sauce
2 c. cider vinegar
½ t. red pepper
1 c. vegetable oil
½ t. garlic powder
1 t. Tabasco
Spicy and Sweet Barbecue Sauce
1½ c. water
¼ t. Tabasco
1 c. vinegar
¼ t. paprika
½ c. vegetable oil
¼ t. black or red pepper
1 lemon or 1 oz. juice
¼ t. onion powder
2 T. brown sugar
¼ t. garlic powder
New England Sauce
2 c. vinegar
1 c. water
1 c. vegetable oil
2 t. black or red pepper
Chicken Barbecue Sauce
1 c. vinegar
2 t. Tabasco sauce
1 c. vegetable oil
3 t. prepared mustard
1 c. tomato catsup
1 lemon or 1 oz. juice
4 T. worcestershire sauce
¼ t. red or black pepper
2 T. sugar
Deviled Chicken
2½ c. vegetable oil
1 t. black pepper
¾ c. prepared mustard
1 t. red pepper
4 t. dry mustard
½ t. onion or garlic powder
Fruit Barbecue Sauce
1½ c. frozen pineapple juice concentrate
¼ c. water
1 c. vegetable oil
1 T. sugar
½ c. lemon juice
½ t. ginger
Spicy Chick-N-Que Sauce
1 c. water
2 T. chili or curry powder
1 c. vegetable oil
3 T. sugar
1 c. vinegar
2 t. red or black pepper
½ t. garlic powder
1 t. dry mustard
½ t. onion powder
¼ t. cayenne pepper
2 T. worcestershire sauce
2 T. Tabasco sauce
2 T. paprika

Do-It-Yourself Sauce

Use 1½ to 2 cups vinegar and 1 to 1½ cups oil as a basic mixture. Add other ingredients, listed or not listed in the above recipes, to season to your taste.

Many of these were developed by Ed Garrison, retired Extension Poultry Specialist with the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Plywood Seat and a Rock

Photo Taken by
Many women have wish lists – some include diamonds, others dream vacations – mine has a new first to top the list. I want my own tractor! Not one of those powerhorses that would get stolen away by the men in my family, but one with a bucket on front to clean the barn and rotate the compost pile, and one I can use to mow the fields at the farm. I guess I am starting with the end of my story. Let me rewind…

Yesterday we decided to divide and conquer. Our farm list was getting rather long from the neglect of soccer season. Corey and Brady headed off to the farmers market as Jordan and I headed out to the farm. We had gotten the breeding ewes in the night before so we could get an early start. First on our list was to go through the ewes. With the coyote attack last week, I wanted assurance that none of the other girls were missing. It might be easy to spot a missing sheep in a flock of ten, but easily recognizing a flock of 73 when it should be 74, not so much. As we caught each ewe, we did a quick health check, looking for any abscesses that might have been caused from the occasional snake bite or broken tooth (all were good!). We also checked the color of their eye lids to determine if any were anemic, a sure sign they need to be dewormed. After the girls were all cleared, they were given free access back to their pasture. Next we went through the lambs. A few were allowed to leave alongside their mothers, most needed to be weaned (this is our second group of weanlings). So now the barn is full of very loud and disgruntled lambs. After a couple of weeks we will move them to their own pasture for the summer.

Ewes and lambs taken care of, we moved onto other pressing projects. Armed with reinforcements (our oldest son, Brett, was now on the scene) we decided to tackle the fence around Nanny’s yard and mow pasture.  Needing brute strength, I left Brett and Jordan in charge of repairing the fence. This had become priority one, given the less than pleasant visit we had from Dad accusing the lambs of eating Nanny’s flowers. Not our cute little babies, I cried! But I was too late, they were past the joking stage. And a mad grandmother is never a good thing.

With the fencing (or lack of fencing) fiasco being addressed, I headed off to mow. Ah, we are back to the tractor. First Brett had to give me a quick tutorial on Big Red, our oldest and never before tamed by me tractor. With all the other tractors currently being used in the hay field, Big Red was all that was left. I climbed up the three foot steps to take a seat. What? No comfy, cushy driver’s seat? In its place was a make shift plywood seat, no, seat seems too kind, it was more like a stool on a spring! Never deterred from a little “me” time, I took the throne and off to the pasture I went. I was making great headway when suddenly I hit something. With all the rock breaks on the farm, I couldn’t have been more careful and watchful. I couldn’t imagine what I hit. I turned off the PTO (power take off that runs the mower) and pulled up to see the cause of my frustration… a rock, a little, barely protruding rock. Oh, the story doesn’t end there. When I tried to re-engage the PTO, the mower motor began to smoke.  Shoot! Back to the barn I went. Brett took a quick look under the mower deck and whistled. Whistling was not the sign I was looking for. Thumbs up, all good, anything would have been more welcomed. But instead my mower blade now looked more like the blade on a hand sickle.

It may have begun as a small suggestive voice while bouncing my bum on that plywood seat, but in that instant I became certain. Now on the tippy top of my wish list is my very own tractor! And I think a pretty pink one might just keep it out of the hay field.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Grilled Rack of Lamb

In honor of Father's Day I thought I would go through the cook books and find a great recipe for rack of lamb. Fire up the grill -- this one's a winner!

  • 1-2 racks of lamb (8 ribs each)
  • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Trim racks of all visible fat. Combine remaining ingredients and mix well. Spread mixture over lamb ans set aside (or marinate in the refrigerator for up to 1 day). Preheat grill. Place lamb on grill over medium high heat and sear for a couple of minutes per side, reduce heat or move off of direct heat and continue grilling until the internal temperature reaches 140 to 150 degrees F. (about 10 minutes per side).

Serves 4.

Lamb Chops with Lemon Basil Sauce


4 Rib Chops
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for pan
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, bruised
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup white chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves, plus additional for garnish
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped

In a non-corrosive dish lay lamb chops flat. Combine half the lemon juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, the rosemary, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and pepper. Add the lamb, turn to coat with the marinade, cover. Let stand for 15 minutes at room temperature or up to 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the surface of pan. Pat chops dry and season on one side with salt and pepper. Place the chops seasoned side down in pan. Cook until crisp and brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season the top side with salt and pepper, turn, and continue cooking until just firm. An instant-read thermometer should register 130 to 135 degrees F. Transfer to a platter and tent with foil to keep warm. Allow the lamb chops to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Pour off any fat left in the pan. Return the skillet to medium heat. Add the chicken stock, using wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add half the remaining lemon juice and simmer until the mixture is reduced to a glaze. This should take about 4 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of butter until melted. Add the basil and olives and season. Return the lamb chops to the sauce. Turn to coat thoroughly. Arrange chops on a platter, pour sauce over chops and garnish with basil leaves. 

Serves 4.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Baking Bread

There is something relaxing about making bread, once you get past the sticky dough stage. Maybe it is the kneading or the “oh-ah” transformation as it rises or perhaps just those wonderful memories brought on by the smell of fresh baked bread.

My grandmother Hazel (better known as Ho-Ho) was an excellent cook. I never once saw her use a recipe, everything worth cooking or baking she knew by heart. Raising five sons and a daughter on a dairy farm in the mid-twentieth century may have had something to do with that. Of all the things she made, I would say her sweet rolls and sticky buns were her claim to fame. Unfortunately she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s before anyone thought to get her mental recipes on paper. To this day, I have yet to recreate her mouthwatering breads. And I have tried endless attempts.

I don’t know. Maybe it is just that reality can never match sweet memories. What I do know though is that she gave me a deep soulful, pleasure in baking bread. Right now my favorite go-to bread is a rustic focaccia topped with fresh herbs and salt.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Off the soccer field and back to the pasture

How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon? -- by Dr. Seuss

How is it possible that June is half way over. Let's see, what we have done so far... 

Both my daughter's high school soccer team and my boys' team made it to the state tournament. I think we've seen all of Virginia from the valley of Stuarts Draft to the beaches of Northampton to the mountains of Radford. We are so proud of both teams. The boys made it to the quarter finals and the girls to the semi-finals. So now we bid a farewell to soccer season. I have washed and counted uniforms and stored away all the equipment until next February. How I miss my team when soccer season is over.

With our minds so preoccupied with sports, I think I am going to need a machete to weed the gardens. (I have to admit, that might be why I am on here writing a blog entry!)

We've been to both our county fair and state fair weigh-ins. The kids will be showing lambs and goats again this year. For those of you who have heard about the VA State Fair bankruptcy, don't fret. Virginia has a fantastic network of livestock breeders, ag businesses, extension leaders, and advocates. Juniors will still be able to show at the 2012 Virginia Junior Livestock Expo. Corey is serving on several of the committees and reports that preliminary planning is going smoothly.

This past week we lost one of our favorite ewes, Crazy Carl. Named appropriately because she was always so hard to catch. She was thirteen last February -- which is very old for a sheep. We also lost one of our lambs to what appears to be an immature coyote kill. Needless to say, bush hogging the fields just moved up on the priority list.


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