Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Random Thoughts on Blogging


1.  The friendships you will make... Sometimes what you least expect turns out to be the best part.  I've developed so many friendships as a result of blogging and they feel very real.  Often I feel that we have so much in common we would never run out of things to talk about.  Not only have I formed friendships with fellow bloggers, but I also think of many readers as friends.  I look forward to your visits and sweet comments more than anything else.  They are often what encourage me to keep blogging!

2.  Don't let anything stop you... I can't tell you how many times I have hesitated before publishing a blog post.  (Oh yes, it will definitely happen with this post.)  I can't tell you how many times I have felt like my blog posts are uninspiring and probably not worth sharing.  But despite that, I am so thankful I kept posting away... blogging has made me grateful for many things in my life.  I even started noticing little things I hadn't noticed before... like the new blossoms on a shrub and the way the start of a new season brings different scents and sounds.  So if you ever feel the urge to start a blog, I say go for it! 

3.  Why do you blog... I really love blogging.  Why?  It's fun, it's rewarding, it's motivating, the list goes on and on.  I started my blog on impulse but I did read a book prior to starting entitled "Blogging for Bliss".  I think the title of the book sums up my feelings about blogging to this day. 

4.  But it takes time and effort... When I first started blogging, my husband would frequently ask me if I enjoyed it.  When I answered yes, he would jokingly respond, "Good, because it sure takes a lot of time!"  And I really feel like this is true... blogging does take a lot of time and effort, so I think it's important to enjoy it.  My husband hasn't asked me this question in a long time... I guess he knows what my answer will be now! 

5.  Capturing moments on camera... Developing a love of photography is something that has only happened since my blog.  I didn't even know how to turn a DSLR camera on!  Gradually during the past year I learned a little more as I went along, simply by trial and error.  It was a long time before I turned my camera to manual mode (yes, I had to google YouTube videos to figure out which button did what!) and I'm still learning.  But taking photos has turned out to be my favorite part of a blog post.  I love trying to capture a moment and I love trying to tell a story from a photo.  My camera is always nearby and I reach for it often to capture little things I enjoy.  Some of the photos get shared, but many are just random snapshots.

6.  Why did you start a blog anyway... Every now and then I get asked this question and I have to take a deep breath.  The easy answer is since that first day I discovered that there was such a thing as a blog, I have loved reading and discovering new blogs.  It was (and still is) like getting my favorite magazine on a frequent basis!  But, the hard and personal answer is... last year around this time my husband had made the decision to dissolve his (our) business of 8 years that he had put everything into and we were left picking up all the broken pieces.  It could have been so much worse, and I think we recognized that we had the important things to be thankful for, but it was still a difficult experience.  My husband took the first job he found, which meant he worked many weekends and evenings.  It was then, at the end of the day, when the girls were tucked into bed, I started my blog and began writing.  I guess you could say it was a little therapeutic for me.  Now I can happily say that my husband found a wonderful job about 6 months ago that he enjoys (not to mention the fact that he is home for supper each night and weekends) and we recognize now that dissolving the business was the right thing. 

7.  Let's get personal... I think there are probably quite a few people that I know that consider me to be a private person. Then why do I have such a personal blog?  Hm, good question.  I think the answer to that is writing sometimes comes easier for me than talking.  (Unless I really know you, and then I'll talk your ear off!)  I remember even as a little girl I had a journal and I kept one all the way until I married.  Now that I think about it, I suppose that I still do keep a journal - just a very public one - ha!

8.  I think I'm getting used to it now... For a long time, only a handful of people I actually know knew about my blog.  Then I was a finalist for the Country Living award, and well, I think everybody knows now!  Recently I received a birthday card in the mail from our friend who is in her 80's and when I opened it up it said, "Make Justus cook the biscuits."  (Yes, she was referring to my biscuit post.)  I laughed out loud out at the mailbox!  I think it was then I realized I'm getting used to the people I love and know so well reading my blog!  

9.  There's always reality... My huge to-do list this week isn't filled with fun, interesting projects; it's simply filled with reality.  My husband is a great sport, but he still rolls his eyes every time I take a picture of him; my oldest daughter loves to call me "mommy blogger" while giggling because she knows everyone will laugh and her mommy will get embarrassed; there's still loads of laundry to do, and dishes to put away.  Maybe that's why it's so appealing to take photos of pretty things!  (smile) 

While we're getting personal, this is more along the lines of what our house looks like on a daily basis!

These random thoughts have been on my mind for a while now, probably since it's been over a year now since I started my blog.  I thought it was probably about time I shared a little more about myself (smile). 

More than anything, I want you to know how much I appreciate your visits, sweet comments, and emails.  They are like little rays of sunshine in my day!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Planning for a Garden


 I was oh so excited to receive the packets of seeds I had ordered in the mail last weekend.  I sat outside to do my preliminary planning last Saturday and all week I've been looking forward to getting my seeds started. 

This year I'm planting an all heirloom garden.  And I'm holding my breath while writing this post for two reasons... one, I've never planted with heirloom seeds and two, I've never started seeds.  Basically that means I had (have) no idea what I was doing and could only follow some written instructions and hope for the best.  But planting with heirloom seeds this year was important to me and something I really wanted to try.  Heirloom seeds are pure, natural, have good flavor and are not genetically modified (GMO-free). 


 I ordered all my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (rareseeds.com).  They have the largest selection of heirloom seeds in the US and are a great source of information.  I could spend hours just reading their seed catalog alone. 

And although totally unrelated, aren't their seed packets so pretty?


I used a numbered system last year for keeping track of what was planted where and it worked so well I'm doing it again this year.  I spent some time writing a few planting tips down as well on my master list and drew up a garden plan too.   This year I'm planting a vegetable garden twice the size as last year, which means I'm in for a busy summer!  


 I purchased organic seed-starting soil and organic biodegradable fiber pots and trays for starting my seeds (tomatoes, onions, and peppers).  I used my numbered system on the pots as well so I remember what I planted (smile).  

These days I am so forgetful! 


 I used the planting guide provided at rareseeds.com (here) and also followed the instructions for sowing on the back of each seed packet.  The first step was moistening the soil mix so that a firm bed is created for the seeds.  Yes, I poured my soil mixture into a mixing bowl and put it my kitchen sink.  What better to stir with than a kitchen spoon?  I found that the faucet sprayer worked well so that I wasn't over-watering. 

It looks like I'm cooking something up with my spoon in the soil... a kitchen garden, anyone? 


 The supplies I ended up using were simple household items: a mixing bowl, spoon, and tweezers.  And they worked great!


 The soil is packed into pots and I used my thumb to press down as I went.  This prevents the seeds from falling down to the bottom of the pot. 


 The tweezers worked so well for picking up the tiny little seeds and placing them in the pots. 


After I was finished, I misted the pots and covered the trays with plastic wrap until they (hopefully, hopefully, hopefully) germinate.  

Really, since I've never done this before, I probably should have waited to publish this post until I had seedlings.  But as usual, my blog posts tend to come unplanned.


 Even though I have no idea if I'll have success, it really did feel wonderful to do a little gardening today.  Isn't it amazing to think of a tiny little seed and what it can produce?


P.S.  This mama planted seeds while the girls were napping but forgot to move the mixing bowl with the soil somewhere high.  The girls woke up and before I knew it, I heard Jillian, "Mommmmy!  Rosetta's climbing on the table!"  Then I ran because I had a bad feeling somebody was about to sample whatever was being mixed in the bowl.  I  snapped this picture then and look who was being silly for the camera! 

Have a great weekend! 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Just Dreaming


 Somehow it seems so fitting that one of the first colors to greet us with the promise of springtime is one as cheerful and bright as yellow.


 I've been dreaming of spring all weekend... my gardening seeds arrived in a package Friday and I spent a relaxing hour sitting on the picnic table working on the garden plan while Justus was hammering away on our soon to be chicken house.


A few cheerful yellow buds placed on the dining room mantel bring in warmth and sunshine and almost make me forget that it's still cold outside and only February. 


 Do you remember the dough bowl my father-in-law made me?  Well, he actually made us two and just recently gave this one to us(I know, could I be any luckier?)  This one is a bit wider than the other and was made from a piece of cherry. 


 The contrast of colors in the wood is beautiful and I knew immediately it would be perfect used as a centerpiece on our dining room table.  As I'm sure you do, I treasure handmade items like this, even more so when it's made by someone special to us. 


My husband snapped this picture of Rosetta and I this afternoon while we were all enjoying the last couple hours of sunshine and I was busy picking yellow flowers.  My little Rosie is growing up... 

I hope you have a wonderful week!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Thank You Romantic Homes


 I hope you had a nice Valentine's Day!  Ours was nice, but low key... although the girls and I did do some impromptu cooking baking (chocolate hearts, of course) and I've been enjoying my beautiful Valentine's bouquet of tissue paper flowers that Jillian made for me all week. 


 I wanted to say a huge thank you to Romantic Homes Magazine for including my blog in the Site Seeing section of this month's issue.  The entire magazine is beautiful and not only features some gorgeous homes, but inspiring bloggers as well.  


 I was so touched when I read what was written about my blog.   It's an honor to be featured in such a lovely magazine.

Thank you, Romantic Homes!

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend.  It is cold here, but we are making some progress on our outdoor projects and I'm busy dreaming of springtime and gardening! 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Make-Ahead Chicken Dinner


 After getting a few requests for additional recipe posts, I thought I'd try and share with you more frequently some of the meals we enjoy.  This chicken dinner is easy, delicious, and best of all, the majority of it can be prepared ahead of time.  I don't know about you, but there are often times that we are away from the house and somehow arrive home just as everyone is hungry and tired (smile).   

I cooked a whole chicken in the crock pot for the first time a couple weeks ago.  I prepared everything early on a Sunday morning and when we arrived home around noon, the house smelled wonderful and the chicken was literally falling off the bone. 

I loved it so much that I made it again for supper yesterday... I started it about 11:00 in the morning and we ate at 5:00.  Six hours seemed to be just perfect for the chicken.

Let's get cooking, friends!

Slow Cooker Whole Chicken


 1 whole chicken
1 carrot
1 celery rib
1/4 yellow onion
1Tbsp fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
1 tsp minced or chopped garlic
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Crock Pot (it doesn't have to be fancy... I received mine as a wedding gift and it's still going strong today)


 Begin by removing the packaging from your chicken.  Remove any giblets and give it a thorough rinsing, inside and out, under cold water.  Pat the chicken dry and place it in a crock pot.  Sprinkle coarse salt all over the chicken and inside the cavity as well.  Repeat by freshly grinding black pepper over and inside too. 


Chop the carrot, celery and onion.  Prepare the garlic and thyme.  (I didn't worry about chopping up the thyme... I just removed the leaves from the stems.)    


 Scatter the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, thyme, and lemon juice over and around the chicken in the crock pot.  Put the lid on, turn your crock pot on high and simply leave it for the next 5-6 hours. 

Note: You do not need to add any liquid to the chicken... as the chicken cooks, it will create its own juices.  Yum!

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 Fresh Garden Salad


 Typically my salad making consists of opening the refrigerator and seeing what I have that is fresh.  Yesterday it was a spring mix of lettuce and greens, grape tomatoes, a cucumber, red onion and goat cheese. 


I chopped the vegetables and combined everything with the exception of the goat cheese, covered and placed in the refrigerator.   

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Balsamic Vinaigrette


 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp lime juice (lemon would also work)
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper

While we're at it, let's make a balsamic vinaigrette for the salad... it's easy, I promise!  Combine all the ingredients, cover and shake until everything is thoroughly mixed.  I love this dressing because it's so flavorful - a little tangy and just slightly sweet. Place it in the refrigerator too... we'll add it to the salad just before it's time to eat.

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Cornbread


 1 cup self-rising cornmeal (or 1 cup cornmeal, 1/2 tsp baking soda and 1/4 tsp salt)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 Tbsp unsalted butter

8" Cast Iron Skillet

Note: This is just the right amount for our family, but if you're serving a larger group, you can easily double the recipe and use a larger cast iron skillet.  My skillet is old but I think the equivalency would be about 8".

Combine cornmeal, buttermilk and egg.  We're going to add the butter later.

This is a very traditional cornbread.  I have no idea whether this is acceptable in the cooking world, but many times I have combined the cornbread ingredients ahead of time and placed in the refrigerator for a few hours until I'm ready to put it in the oven.  It's just another step out of the way.  If you'd prefer to wait until dinner time to combine the ingredients, that's fine too.

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About Six Hours Later 

   Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Over high heat on the stove, melt 1/2 Tbsp butter and stir it in the bowl with the cornbread batter.  Melt another 1/2 Tbsp butter and swirl it all over the cast iron skillet so that the cornbread won't stick to the skillet as it cooks. 

 
Pour the batter into the skillet and bake until golden (for this size, I removed after 20 minutes... for a larger size, you may need to bake longer). 


  While the cornbread is baking, pour your desired amount of vinaigrette in the salad, mix and sprinkle goat cheese over the top.   (Of course you can eliminate the cheese or use whatever you would like as a topping.) 


Remove the chicken meat from the crock pot and place on a platter.  I like to pour some of the pan juices on top of the chicken along with some of the vegetables and thyme.  Besides being easy, what I love so much about this chicken is that since it has simmered in its wonderful juices for several hours, it is so moist and tender.


Remove the cornbread from the oven and don't forget to place a jar of fresh, local honey on the table as well.  It works as dessert too! 


If you're like me and simply putting this meal on the table for your family, you can haphazardly set the table and serve the cornbread in the skillet (smile).  

Enjoy! 

P.S.  When you're cleaning up, don't throw away all that delicious chicken juice!  Strain to remove the vegetables and bones, add some water to the rich broth, ladle into freezable containers or bags and you have homemade chicken broth to use another time! 

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Thank You Country Living Magazine


It has been just a little over one year since I published my first post here.  My blogging journey thus far has been fun and rewarding to say the least and filled with some amazing highlights.  Being notified that I was nominated and a finalist in the Country Living Blue Ribbon Blogger Awards was incredible in itself... to actually be chosen as the judges' pick winner, travel to New York to visit Country Living, and be included in the latest issue is still a bit of a dream. 


The March issue highlights such talented bloggers, some that I had the fortune of meeting in person, and I am honored (and humbled) to have a little feature there too. 


The issue also shares some of the pictures from the luncheon and you can find additional photos here on Country Living's site.  I can't help but smile when I look at these pictures - it brings back such fun memories of our trip there.

Thank you, Country Living!

P.S.  If you missed my post about our trip to New York City, you can find it here.  

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Organizing a Pantry


Living in an old farmhouse with (putting it mildly) limited storage space and with two active little girls running around, one area I really try to keep on top of is organization.  By the end of each day our house has toys scattered everywhere and once everyone has settled down for the night, I quickly go through each room and put everything back where it belongs.  I'm especially particular about keeping our kitchen and subsequently the pantry as organized as possible.  It makes cleaning and putting away groceries a breeze and also helps when putting on a meal.

Since I recently gave our pantry a seasonal cleaning and I was drawing a blank when it came to a blog post, I thought I'd share my pantry staples and a few things that help me. 


I know I've shown you our pantry before, but in case you missed it, it's actually a huge old cabinet I found at an antique store.  I was so thankful when we moved into our house that I already had it on hand because it immediately served a purpose!  The door squeaks every time you open it and its rustic characteristics definitely make it feel like it's always been here (smile). 

My pantry is stocked with pretty much the exact same things all the time.  I always know what I have and therefore what I'm running low on. 


My pantry's closest friends are mason jars.  I like to store my food items in glass versus plastic, and mason jars not only work great for actual canning, but they are also a very inexpensive and effective way of storing pantry goods.  I also use baskets and containers for storing smaller or grouped items.


Baking Goods

My pantry baking essentials are baking soda, baking powder, and pure vanilla extract.  I also keep cocoa powder and chocolate baking bar(s) on hand.  I store the majority of these in... yep, you guessed it... mason jars (smile).

 Oils and Vinegars

The oils I keep stocked are extra virgin olive oil (I always have plenty of this), coconut oil and sesame oil.  I keep a wide variety of vinegars, including apple cider, balsamic, rice, red wine and white wine.  The majority of these come packaged in such pretty glass bottles, but these little glass cruets also work great (I've seen these widely available - I think mine came from Wal-Mart or Target).  


 Flours

There are so many flours available now it's amazing.  I haven't delved much into the flour world (although I would like to), so the flours I always have are pretty simple: unbleached all-purpose, whole wheat, unbleached self-rising, and cornmeal.  I get asked quite frequently about the glass canisters I store my flours and sugars in.  I buy these inexpensive canisters at Wal-Mart.  The lids do not not have a seal, but I have never had any issues and I have used them for several years... I love them.  

Sweeteners

Can you believe I forgot to take a photo of any sweetener?!  I keep stocked with unrefined cane sugar, organic brown sugar, honey, molasses, agave nectar (delicious with hot tea) and maple syrup.  I keep my sugars in glass canisters as well. 


 Miscellaneous Goods

My husband and I both drink one cup of coffee a day (I can't ever seem to give this up) and I drink a lot of peppermint tea.  I like to store these in glass containers too, like this vintage coffee canister. 


Beans

I typically cook my beans from scratch, which is actually easier than it sounds (smile).  Right now I have pintos, cannellini, and chickpeas.  Pintos are my favorite... my mom frequently cooked a pot of pintos growing up. She was raised in New Mexico where many dinners consisted of pinto beans and warm tortillas.  You just can't beat a pot of freshly cooked pinto beans!


Spices

I have a wide variety of spices and actually have an entire shelf in my pantry devoted for storing them.  My most used baking spices are ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.  I don't use dried herbs quite as frequently these days as we have herbs growing in the garden, but I still keep staples like thyme, parsley, basil, rosemary and oregano.  And of course, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper get used on a daily basis.  I don't always have access to a store that sells spices in these glass jars, but I love them.  After I use all of a spice, I wash the jars and reuse them.   


Canned Goods

 This past summer I canned and canned and canned tomatoes.  Ugh!  Many afternoons I was sweaty, hot and tired... and I kept going by reminding myself of the winter months when we would enjoy tomatoes from the garden and it would all be worth it.  I can say it now... It really was worth it.  Just about the only canned goods I've bought in recent months are tomato paste, tuna and salmon. 

Nuts and Seeds

I usually have almonds, walnuts and pecans... either all or at least one (smile).  Sometimes I buy seeds, like pumpkin or sunflower, too. I have a big jar of popcorn kernels... I know it shocks most people (Mom) that we don't have a microwave.  When we moved ours stayed with our previous home as it was located above the stove and I discovered (with limited counter space) I really didn't use or need one anyway.


 I try to keep like items grouped together and (although not always possible) everything within easy reach. Sometimes I buy a little prepackaged snack for Justus or the girls, but I suppose my pantry might seem a little shocking now that I 'm writing about it... I cook and bake just about everything from scratch and have for so long that I hardly think about it.  Over the years cooking and baking has become something I love to do and I also appreciate knowing exactly what ingredients my family's eating.


Due to limited space in the pantry cabinet, I also store a few pantry staples elsewhere.  Potatoes are stored in a bag in an old milk crate on top of the refrigerator and onions in a basket that sit in the little cabinet beside the pantry cabinet. 


 Grains

 Oh, how I love grains.  Rolled oats, steel-cut oats, rice, millet, pasta...yum.  And as you can see, I'm just about due for a trip to the grocery store to stock back up!  These grains are stored in large vintage mason jars that are displayed on the open shelves of my wood cabinet next to the pantry. 


I took these pictures while the girls were napping so I don't have any photos of their little hands helping, but I did have somebody for company... Huck in the laundry basket (smile). 

Have I ever told you that my favorite part of blogging is reading your comments and emails? Since I love to hear from you, I thought it would be fun to ask you a question about your pantry (if you've managed to read this far that is!).  

What is your most used pantry item?

Hmm, I had to think about mine for a minute.  I suppose my pantry door probably squeaks the most for extra-virgin olive oil.   I'm not sure I've cooked a supper without using a little of it in something (smile).  

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