Friday, December 31, 2010

Seeds Started - Let the fun begin!

If you live in Central or South Florida and have a vegetable garden, it is time to start seeds!  Yesterday, I finally got myself out of holiday mode and thinking about next year's garden...  I got all the seeds out of the refrigerator and sorted out the ones I wanted to get going this week.  They soaked overnight, and this morning they went into labeled ziploc baggies inside soaked, unbleached coffee filters.

I've been using this system for a couple of years, and it is what has worked best for us so far.  I soak the seeds overnight, then put them in wet coffee filters and over the hot-water heater until they sprout.  Because in the winter our house stays pretty cool, the water heater is the best, warmest spot to get seeds started.  The temperature there stays at around 80 degrees.  I've especially noticed a big difference with pepper seeds.  They used to take up to three weeks to germinate before using this method.

So, what did I start? 
Tomatoes - Stupice (I'm really looking forward to this one, it's a new one for us), Amish Paste, Pink Brandywine, Sweet 100 (cherry), Roma.
Peppers - Corno di Toro, Bulgarian Carrot, Jalapeno, Quadrato Giallo D'Asti, Sheepnose, Paprika.
Eggplant - Black Beauty, Fairy Tale

I expect the tomato seeds will be the first to sprout in the next few days, followed by eggplant, then peppers.  I'll plant them in flats at that time, then the challenge begins.  Keeping them warm enough for growth, with enough light, and well watered and fed for the next eight weeks, waiting for warmer weather will be very important if we want to have nice, healthy plants to place in the garden at a reasonable price. 

This weekend, I hope to start a few flowers and herbs directly in flats.

Wishing you a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Merry Christmas!

The finished stockings, lined this morning...

The stockings were hung...

Ornaments from our early years
The old Christmas Teddy bear

Reason for the Season

Merry Christmas!
Linking with:
Shutter Love
Outdoor Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday - Grammy Mouse
Wordless Wednesday - Homegrown Families
Creative Share Wednesday

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Eggs of Many Colors

Our first chocolate colored egg
Last spring, when we replaced our old chickens, I decided I wanted to have lots of variety - if we were going to have chickens, why not have interesting and colorful types?  So we ordered an assortment from the hatchery.  As I learned more about chickens, I discovered that there were some that even laid chocolate colored eggs - the Marans chickens from France were one of those.  I was captivated by this breed.  So, I set out to find a few chicks, and over the period of two months, and many twists and turns, we managed to gather about a dozen assorted Marans chicks. 

The Marans chicken breed originates from western France, around the actual town of Marans, and near La Rochelle. The Marans rooster is very striking, multi-colored, and is often depicted in French paintings and farm scenes. The hens look totally different from the rooster. Within this Marans breed there are actually eight or more colors or varieties.

Well, a couple of days ago we finally got our first chocolate colored egg.  I must say, my picture is a little washed out.  The contrast is greater in person.  We really have nice, dark, chocolate eggs! 

The buff rooster on the left and the "blue" hen behind the brown Speckled Sussex are both Marans
 I think Marans are a shy breed.  They have a friendly docile temperament.  It's actually hard to capture one with the camera.  I have chased them around the yard more than once...  Marans chickens are generally characterized as a large attractive hardy breed. They are very active chickens, and do well in a homestead setting. They were originally bred for their very dark brown egg production, and meat value.

Blue Marans Roo on the left, buff Silkie roo, white Silkie hen, and Black Copper Marns hen in the background.
This blue roo is also a Marans.  Can you see our two Silkies?  We have an almost white Silkie hen, Snowball,  and a rooster, Phileas Fog with his head in the mulch...  They're a handsome pair.  Silkies are known for their strong broody instinct - an overwhelming motherly desire to sit on their eggs.  I may be placing Marans eggs under Snowball when she decides to go broody, so she can do some of the incubating for us.  I'm looking forward to seeing the new chicks 2011 will brings to our hen house.

Linking with Outdoor Wednesday

Friday, December 17, 2010

Enjoying the Christmas Season

This was our living room for several nights this week. The last two weeks have been non-stop for my family.  We've had several Christmas concerts to attend, parties, shopping, baking, and knitting the last-minute stockings which I am officiall done with! I guess it's been the usual Christmas rush. 

Last Saturday, I spent the day at Epcot as a chaperon for our local community choir where my oldest daughter sings.  She and several friends participated in Disney's Candlelight Procession.  It was beautifully done.  I had never been in the backstage area at Disney and was really impressed at how professional, efficient, and well prepared all the Disney employees were.  We both got two free tickets for a day at any one of the parks for participating in the event.  Guess where I'm going the week after Christmas? 

In the evenings, we've enjoyed slowing down by the fireplace and reading out loud Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.   The entire family has gathered to hear about Scrooge and his encounters with the three ghosts who haunted him and reminded him of the values he had lost - family, friends, traditions, generosity...  We'll be watching at least one of the old versions of the movie after we finish the book next week.
Tomorrow, I'll be cooking and baking for our small group's Christmas dinner.  We'll be going caroling with our church on Sunday afternoon, and I'll need to take the time to make a couple of Waldorf dolls for the girls in the next couple of days.  All our Christmas shopping is done, so I'm hoping to spend next week baking, finishing our homemade gifts, and just enjoying more of the slower part of the Christmas season, away from traffic and stores!

Today, I'm linking with Friendly Friday Follow!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sprayed Ice Along our Driveway

The fence that separates our driveway from the strawberry field next to it is always covered with icicles whenever we have a freeze.  That's because of the many hours of spraying the strawberry farmers must do in order to prevent their crops from failing.  Last night, they were spraying by 9:00 PM and didn't stop till around 8:00 AM today.  But, there was some good news in the newspaper this morning about new water regulations for the strawberry farmers, so we are happy about that.  It said they pumped 900 million gallons of ground water for eleven consecutive days back in January. We knew it had been a lot, so that figure makes sense.

We never have snow down here because for the temperature to fall below freezing we must have a clear night.

These cold nights have brought  fall colors down to us here in Central Florida.

We have fall colors! A rare thing and much appreciated
So here is Don wearing a wool hat I knit for him last year, but as you can see, it is very difficult to get a Florida native to wear anything but shorts, even if the temperature dips down into the mid-twenties, as it did this morning!

I am linking with Nature Notes today.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Harvest Monday - Cilantro

I discovered several cilantro plants at the foot of a rose bush growing wild along the path I walk by from the garden last week.  So, I decided to harvest some and make one of our favorite dishes - "Huevos Rancheros."  The cilantro seeds (coriander) must have fallen off some of the dried plants from last spring as I walked by.  Some survived the freeze (28 F/-2 C) last week.

We've had a profusion of eggs from our chickens lately, this was a great way to make a dent on those.  The tomatoes came from the ones we canned back in June.

Huevos Rancheros

1 large onion, chopped
3 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 dozen eggs
Salt & pepper
1/2 to 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Sautee onions in oil, when they become translucent, add garlic and cook 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper.  Drop eggs in sauce and cover.  Cook for a few minutes till it's done to your likeness. Add cilantro at the very end, otherwise it will lose its flavor.  Enjoy!

Linking with Harvest Monday, go see what's growing along other people's paths today, and the Hearth 'n Soul, Meatless Monday, Slightly Indulgent TuesdayTasty Tuesdays, and Tempt My Tummy  blog hops for some delicious home cooking.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Arctic Blast

The arctic blast that has the northern states under ice and snow arrived here last night.  We had three and half hours of 28 degrees, enough to freeze the kale and everything else in the garden.  I don't know what will survive, but I know the peppers, basil, and eggplants are gone. 

We salvaged what we could... 

A solid block of ice is what the birds found in their bath this morning...

We could hear the water pumps running when we went to bed.  The strawberry fields were sprayed from 10:00 PM till 8:00AM, at least ten hours straight.  We fear these freezes after the strawberry farmers depleted the aquifer back in January leaving hundreds of dry wells and sink holes all over town, like the one at Trapnell Elementary School just down the road from our house.

Linking with Tuesday Garden Party.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Michelle's, Michael's, and Don's

The Christmas countdown is on, as I try to finish the other three stockings before Christmas Eve. I began the first one early in November, but the Thanksgiving week was a complete dud in the knitting department.  I am making good progress on Emily's now. 

I had decided that all the stockings would be in three colors plus the off-white in the background, but when I asked Emily to chose her colors... she just couldn't settle on three.  After I tried coaxing her, very unsuccessfully, and tried to explain that three was the limit, I finally gave in and let her chose as many as she liked.  Well, I actually had fun trying to figure out how to blend in all her choices...  and her stocking will be unique!

Emily's stocking of many colors
See many more Christmas crafts at Centsational Girl's Christmas crafts linky party.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

November Mosaic

November was a busy month.  The garden produced lots of greens for our daily salads, soups, and vegetable dishes.  We made a big batch of soap for our use and to give away for Christmas.  Our spring chickens produced over 300 eggs, and we've enjoyed every single one of them, big and small!  

We did have a low point in November with the loss of our bees... we have been planning our strategy for next year and plan on re-establishing our hives beginning in March.  We will be more aggressive this time fighting pests, boosting the hives with nutrients, and possibly moving them during the months of September through November when planting season begins. 

 Last week we had our fill of bok choy and Jericho (romaine) lettuce.  The parsley plants are huge, so I'll be looking for ways to use lots of it this week.  We got one fig from our tree, there are still some more hanging on the tree, but I wonder if they will ripen now that the weather has turned cooler.

Bok choy beauty, cooked in sesame oil with tamari sauce... very delicious!

I had been waiting for a night with temperatures in the 30s to harvest our first kale - lots of it was used to make a chicken, kale soup on Thursday night.  On the right is arugula which went into a salad with the Jericho lettuce leaves on the left side of the picture.

Visit Mosaic Monday to see beautiful photo compositions and Daphne's Dandelion's Harvest Monday to see what folks are growing around the world... especially in the southern latitudes, right?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup

Emily patiently stirred a pot of condensed cream of mushroom soup meant for a chicken casserole dish we had for dinner this evening.  She seemed to enjoy the feeling of being in charge at the stove.

It has been years since I quit buying canned condensed cream of mushroom soup, ever since I discovered that  the MSG in it was giving me migraine headaches.  We have managed to eliminate MSG from our diet, but it has meant making changes like this one.  One of those changes has been cooking most of our meals from scratch and very rarely eating out.  If you ever want to test your MSG tolerance, just drive through a Checkers fast-food restaurant and order a large french fries...  they are loaded with MSG...  a sure headache inducer for me, and I loved those fries!

Homemade condensed cream of mushroom soup, it was sooo good, better than the Campbell's storebought in more ways than one. 

Cream of Mushroom Soup - Condensed

2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 c whole wheat or gluten-free flour (I used gluten-free)
1 tsp. salt or more to taste
12 fresh mushrooms, chopped
2 cups of milk (less for a thicker soup)

Heat butter and oil then add flour and salt, stirring to make a roux. Add mushrooms and cook about a minute, just to soften. Add milk and stir until thickened. This is a substitute (and a great one at that!) for two 10 oz. cans cream of mushroom soup. To make cream of chicken, simply omit mushrooms, add 1 tsp. chicken base (a paste, like bouillon but without the MSG) and substitute half the milk with chicken broth or stock. To make cream of celery, substitute celery for the mushrooms and proceed as listed above.

I am participating in Simply Sweet Home's Friday Favorites  and Foodie Friday - where you can find many great recipes to have fun with this weekend!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Fresh Christmas Tree

 This year, we decided to buy a real tree for Christmas.  We went to the lot this afternoon and picked out a beautiful 8 foot Fraisier Fir.  We had an artificial tree that lasted eight years, but it was in terrible shape by last Christmas with branches so lose we feared it would collapse in a heap at any moment. 

The younger children had never had a real tree for Christmas, and even our older ones probably couldn't remember having one, it was so long ago for them.  We used the opportunity to talk about the symbolism of the Christmas tree and its history.  How it became one of the symbols of eternal life, and how that would appear to the Germans who first started bringing them into their homes to celebrate the birth of Christ -  evergreens surrounded by white snow where no other plant would appear to live was a good way to point to the birth of Jesus who would bring us eternal life.

The family who ran the lot was very friendly and chatty.  They told us all about the trees, most of them came from North Carolina and Michigan. Their tents had a good variety, all were nice and fresh.  The smell of those trees was so wonderful, it was worth going there just to smell the aroma.  You could close your eyes and imagine yourself in a pine forest.  We finally settled on a beautiful Fraisier Fir.

They trimmed it, wrapped it, loaded it on the rack, and off we went...

Is that a star growing out of his head?

Our tree-decorating crew did a marvelous job, the Christmas Season is off to a good start!

I had almost forgotten how much I loved having a fresh tree in the house. 

I am participating in Spiritual Sunday.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I spy... me!
 The table is almost set... and this year, I decided to do something a little differently.  I set up a "kid's table" so the big table would be a little less crowded.  In years past, we've had trouble trying to get young ones to willingly sit at the other table.  Soooo, I decided to decorate it better!

And I spy...  a fan!
 Ta-da!  Emily decided where she was sitting as soon as she came down this morning... the kids table, I win!

In fact, I may even sit there myself!

Still missing napkins...  but almost there.
Can you believe it's going to be in the 80s down here today??? We have the A/C on... and the turkey is actually cooking outside, because we are having our first smoked Thanksgiving turkey today. I'm happy to not have a hot oven in the kitchen all day long in this weather.

 Happy Thanksgiving!

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