Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pruning Time!

Well, we’ve been having technical difficulties over the past week or so.  I’m so thankful that Papa the Farmer is also a software engineer!  He can always fix our computer troubles!  Sometimes it just takes him a while to find the time to do it.
In my cyber-absence things have been progressing around here.  I have involved myself in a huge whole-house de-cluttering project.  I’m not sure if this is last year’s spring cleaning just extended to now, or if this is next year’s spring cleaning done early!  Cleaning and de-cluttering is never done for a mama with small children!  I think I’ll chalk it up to next year.
In farm news, this is the time of year to prune trees.  Many people don’t think of it until spring or autumn, but in fact, winter – when the tree is dormant – is the best time to prune.  So this week one of the things Papa the farmer did was prune the trees in the orchard:
It always makes me sad to see the trees being pruned.  I am looking forward to having an orchard full of large trees that produce beautiful fruit!  It seems so counter-productive to cut the trees back when we want them to grow!  But in fact, if we don’t cut them back, the tree puts all its energy into growing branches and leaves.  It doesn’t become well-established and it doesn’t produce as much fruit, so the pruning process is necessary in these early years. 
It makes me think about how the Lord prunes our lives.  This whole farming-adventure has been a pruning experience for me.  I can see that God is already using it to produce good fruit in my character and I hope that it is producing strong roots as well!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Vegan, Gluten Free Yummies!

Over on Facebook, somebody is hosting a Gluten Free Cookie Recipe Swap.  Gluten free baking is a challenge… mostly because gluten-free flours taste like… well…  let’s just be honest.  Gluten free flours can taste like cardboard.

As an aside, I lived in Guyana for a year.  Apparently, the Guyanese people who are my age grew up under a dictator who banned imports – including wheat flour.  Most of what they ate growing up was made of rice flour.  It’s grainy and yucky.  I cannot imagine growing up eating mainly rice flour.  When I lived there wheat was allowed, but even so, Guyanese baked goods didn’t taste very good to me.  And so, when I realized that my family has gluten sensitivities I resolved that we would not be eating desserts that taste like cardboard.  If it’s going to have that many calories, it’s got to taste great!

Here are some of the yummiest recipes I made for Papa the Farmer on his birthday.  If you like these recipes, be sure to go back to the Facebook Gluten Free Cookie Recipe Swap and click “like” on my recipes, so that people will know they are yummy and they should try them!

Of course, there is my now-famous recipe for allergy free fudge which was published over on the EasyLunchBoxes.com Blog:

And here are some new ones that I haven’t posted yet.  I hope you enjoy them!

“Peppermint Balls”
In a food processor, blend 4 cups of pecans and/or Walnuts, 4 cups dates, 4 cups fresh mint leaves and 1 cup carob powder.  Slowly add a couple of Tablespoons of water until the mixture reaches a doughy consistency.  Roll dough into little balls.  Chill in the fridge.

crunchy bars  “Crunchy Almond Bars”
(This recipe is inspired by a similar recipe in “Country Life Today” by Diana Fleming")
1/4 cup oil
1 Tablespoon liquid lecithin
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tablespoon vanilla
2/3 cup honey
1 1/2 or 2 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds.
1 cup gluten free oats
1 1/2 cups dry, uncooked millet.
In a bowl, beat the first seven ingredients.  Set aside.
In a coffee grinder, grind the gluten free oats into flour.  Add the gluten free oat flour to the first mixture.
In same coffee grinder, grind the uncooked millet into a flour.  Add to the first mixture.
Thoroughly mix first mixture with flours. 
In a well greased 9”x13” baking pan, spread the mixture out, patting down with your hands. 
Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.
Cut into bars and serve.

Lemon Bar Variation:  omit almond extract and chopped almonds.  Add 1 1/2 tsp lemon extract and 1 1/2 tsp grated lemon rind.

oatmeal bars“Polynesian Bars”
(This comes from the cookbook “Country Life” by Diana Fleming)
1 cup dates, packed into cup
3/4 dried apricots, packed into cup
2 cups unsweetened orange juice
1 cup millet flour
1 3/4 cup gluten-free oats
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup coconut
1 cup finely chopped walnuts.
Soak dates and apricots in 1 1/2 cups orange juice for 10 minutes.  (Don’t be like me and think you can skip this step!  If you do, you might burn your blender out like I did.)  Then blend on high until fairly smooth.  Set aside.
Make Millet flour by blending 3/4 cup dry millet on high until flour consistency, stopping blender once to stir well.  Measure one level cup and pour into bowl.
Add remaining ingredients to the millet and rest of the orange juice, mixing well with hands.
Press half of mixture into bottom of 9”x13” oiled baking dish. 
Spread fruit filling evenly on top.
Crumble remaining half of mixture over filling.
Press into fruit lightly.
Bake at 300 degrees F for 45-60 minutes.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Making Soap at the Good Old Days Farm

I love making soap!  It’s a creative and useful outlet for me and the Little Farmhands can help me with some parts of the process.  Plus, all those essential oils make my kitchen smell wonderful as the soap dries!


It’s almost blasphemous to call handmade soap and commercial soap by the same word.  Handmade soap is so luxurious it should have it’s own word!  Give it a try and you’ll never want to switch back to store-bought commercial soaps!  There are a few reasons it is so different.  First of all, my handcrafted version is made with plant oils instead of petroleum based detergents.  Also, commercial soaps often have the glycerin removed from them.  Pound for pound, glycerin is more expensive than soap, so large manufacturers remove the glycerin to make hand and body lotions.  I leave the glycerin in my soap which results in a very moisturizing bar of soap, indeed.

I often get asked about lye.  Lye is what turns the oils into soap.  It is highly caustic by itself, but when you mix it with water and the right proportion of oils, it triggers a chemical reaction which creates the glycerin.  So, there is no caustic lye in a properly cured (dried) bar of soap.

I often get asked “How do you make your soap?”  Since I’ve been (and will continue to be) making so much soap this week, I thought it would be fun to show you how I do it. 

This is NOT a tutorial.  If you want to make your own soap, please, for your own safety, get a book.  I recommend “The Complete Soapmaker” by Norma Coney and “Smart Soapmaking” by Anne Watson.  This is just a general tour for people who are curious enough to ask, but not curious enough to make their own soap!

The first thing I do is measure my oils.  The measurements are based on weight and so I weigh out the correct amounts on an ordinary kitchen scale.  I use a digital scale for the sake of accuracy:


Some of the oils are liquid (like olive oil) and others are solid (like palm oil). 


The next step is to melt the oils until they are all liquid.  Most people do this on the kitchen stove.  I happen to be cheap.   If we have a fire going in the woodstove anyway, then I just place the pot of oils on top the woodstove for a little while. 


(Don’t mind the cheapie garden fence in front of the fire place.  That’s to prevent little crawling farmhands or careless preschool farmhands from getting too close to the fire.  They have learned not to cross that fence for anything!)

While I’m waiting for the oils to melt, I put on safety goggles, an apron, rubber gloves and a respirator mask.  I measure out the water and lye on the kitchen scale and mix a lye solution.  (That’s the part you need a book for.  Lye is caustic and should be treated with great RESPECT.)

The Lye and water will trigger a chemical reaction and it will immediately heat up to extremely high temperatures.  The trick is to get both the lye solution and the oils to cool so that they are about 100 degrees Fahrenheit at the same time.  (Again, if you’re going to try this, read a book for instructions!) 

Once the lye cools, you pour it into the oils and stir:

When I first started making soap, I stirred by hand.  I have literally spent 1 1/2 hours standing in front of my stove just stirring.  Now, I have discovered that a hand held immersion blender with thicken the soap very quickly!


See how thick and creamy that’s getting?  This is thick enough, but I like to blend it for just a bit longer:


Unfortunately, I got distracted by little farmhands at this point and when I came back a few minutes later it had thickened even more.  It’s not a problem, it’s just not necessary for the soap to be quite this thick before pouring it in to a primary mold:


At this point, the soap needs to set to harden.  I’m not really sure why, but all the books say to “wrap” the soap so that it doesn’t “catch cold.”  I just trust their advice and do as I’m told:


The soap will sit like this for several days or weeks until it is hard enough to grate.  Then comes the fun part! 
By this time, the soap is no longer caustic so the little farmhands can help.  The first thing we do is grate the soap!  Then we measure out 3 pounds of soap and melt it again:


Why would we melt it again?  This is called “milling” and it results in longer-lasting soap.  Once the soap completely liquefies, it is time to add fun ingredients that will give the soap special characteristics.  Sometimes I add cucumber for a facial bar, or oatmeal for a soothing bar.  This particular batch is called “Orange Blossom Pomander.”   It is a fun, scentsy choice for the holidays.  It has sweet orange essential oil with undertones of cinnamon and ginger.  Mmmmm!

After being melted, the soap cools and thickens again.  When it is just thick enough I pour it into another mold.  These wooden molds were a great Craigslist find!  Lining the mold with wax paper makes clean-up just that much easier!


I place this loaf pan in the freezer for a couple of hours until it is frozen solid.  Then I slide it into this cutter which helps me to cut uniform bars:


I found a really great shelf at Goodwill.  You can’t tell in this pictures but the shelves are little “baskets” that are just the right size for holding finished soap.  I just laid some pegboard on top the shelves for soap that is still drying.  I flip the soap over every morning and every evening until it is completely dry.  This usually takes a couple of weeks.

And then the soap is ready to go!  Mmmmm!  I sure wish you could smell it!

[This picture is of Orange Blossom Pomander Soap (top shelf, left), Sweet Orange Soap (top shelf, right), Cucumber Soap (bottom shelf, right) and Oatmeal-Rose-Lavender (bottom shelf, right).]

Monday, December 6, 2010

Feeding Bees

Brrr!  The nights are getting cold… and the days are getting a wee bit chilly too!  We’ve sure enjoyed having a fire in the woodstove the past couple of nights!

One of the things we need to think about when it gets cold is our honeybees.  God designed them to more or less take care of themselves, but it’s nice to give them a helping hand once in a while.  One of the ways we do that is by putting sugar-water outside for them in case they need extra food.

The recipe is simple. Dissolve 5 pounds of sugar in 2 1/2 quarts of water.  Here you can see Papa the Farmer making sugar-water with the master chef-in-residence.  You can tell which one is the master chef, because of lovely empty sugar bag chef hat he is wearing on his head!


What Is It? Answers!

As promised, here are the answers to the “What Is It?” pictures that my friend Jennifer Range took at the Dallas Children’s Aquarium  when we went together last week:

What is it? (A) was a lionfish!

What is it?  (B) was a starfish!

What is it? (C) was a sea jelly!

Did you guess any of them correctly?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wait! That’s Not The Farm!

No, today you won’t be seeing farm pictures because I have a special treat for you… and it involves lots of eye-candy, compliments of my very talented friend Jennifer Range.  But first, can you guess what these are pictures of?
What is it? (A):

What is it?  (B):

What is it? (C):

Hint:  These pictures are not of anything you might find here at the Good Old Days Farm! 
Over the past 6 years my friend Jennifer and I have taken turns (it seems!) having babies.  Yesterday we got the crazy idea that it would be fun to take 6 children age 6 and under to the Dallas Acquarium:

There they are!  Yay for 8 passenger vans.  We piled all the car seats into one van and off we went!  The Children's Acquarium at Fair Park was recently renovated and is having a free “sneak preview today and tomorrow” so check it out if you’re in the area!
Jennifer is graciously allowing me to share some of the things we saw, through her camera lens.  We saw lots and lots of fish, of course:

My personal favorite was the “Look Down” fish.  It is a pretty silver color and has a flat profile:

Seahorses!  (Do you see this one hiding behind the rock?)

A big sea turtle:

We got to see how seaweed grows.  Seaweed happens to be a favorite food for the little farmhands and I!  We make vegetarian “sushi” rolls!  Mmmm!  (This is kelp):

We got to see what happens to the fish each time a wave crashes against the top of the ocean:

This exhibit taught us all about the tentacles of the octopus:

And this was one of the little farmhands’ favorite exhibits.  When you turn the wheel you see a little baby turtle being born out if its shell!  This was a big hit amongst the little people!

And we even got to watch the zookeepers feed the albino alligators!  (Who spit out their vitamin pills after the zookeeper left, by the way!)

The most significant change at the aquarium is the addition of “Stingray Bay” where visitors can pet the stingrays!  Anyone can pet the stringrays and after this weekend it will cost $2 to feed the stingrays, but yesterday they let us all help feed the stingrays for free.  Everyone (including the babies) got in on the action:

All in all, it was a very fun day at the aquarium! 

Many thanks to Jennifer Range for her contributing her photographic talent to today’s post.  Please do not copy or use her images without first obtaining written permission from Jennifer (Contact us to be put in touch with her!)

PS – The answers to today’s “What is it?” Quiz will appear in the NEXT blog post!  Stay tuned!