Monday, May 31, 2010

The Holiday Kitchen

We're having a Memorial Day picnic outside with grilled burgers, cucumber salad, zucchini and yellow squash casserole, homemade salsa, buttery corn-on-the-cob, raspberry limeade... and Don is making homemade strawberry ice-cream for sundaes too. 

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ratatouille Recipe

I got several emails asking for the ratatouille recipe, so here it is:



2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium eggplant, cubed
2 zucchini, cubed
2 medium yellow squash, cubed
2 green bell peppers, seeded and cubed
1 chopped red bell pepper
4 roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
4 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste


1.Heat 1 1/2 tablespoon of the oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft.

2.In a large skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and saute the zucchini in batches until slightly browned on all sides. Remove the zucchini and place in the pot with the onions and garlic.

3.Saute all the remaining vegetables one batch at a time, adding 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet each time you add a new set of vegetables. Once each batch has been sauteed add them to the large pot as was done in step 2.

4.Season with salt and pepper. Add the bay leaf and thyme and cover the pot. Cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes.

5.Add the chopped tomatoes and parsley to the large pot, cook another 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally.

6.Remove the bay leaf and adjust seasoning.

Friday, May 28, 2010

U-pick Peas

Black-eyed peas from a u-pick farm down the road.
Don saw the u-pick sign up yesterday on Forbes Rd. on his way home from work. After a quick trip to the Farmer's Market and Parksdale, Michael and I went out there and picked two big buckets - sixteen dollars worth. It was a good deal. At the Farmer's Market, we bought a case of Roma tomatoes and another one of red peppers. We'll be busy this weekend shelling peas, canning tomatoes and roasted peppers, drying tomatoes in the dehydrator, plus cooking and eating some of those peas too.

Buying local produce is a great idea, and picking it yourself is the best way to ensure it's as fresh as possible, with the added benefit of lowering costs by cutting out several middlemen and transportation expenses involved in the process. is a good place to find established u-pick farms. There are many others that just have a sign on the side of the road, and they are usually cheaper.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Flowers, Bees, and Harvest

An aloe flower from a volunteer growing by the front porch.
We have grown aloe in pots on our front porch for years.  They are wonderful for burns, small cuts, and the gel can even be added to smoothies.  This is the first time I've seen an aloe flower growing in the garden, and what's neat is that the plant is a volunteer that popped up in just the right spot about a year ago.  It's a mammoth, I love it. 
After the hard freezes we had this last winter, I thought all the powder puff plants were history. All we had left were sticks. Well, they are back. I was surprised to see so many blooms on my way to the back yard to watch some beehive maintenance work this afternoon.

Don and Michael treated the hives for mites.  All that was needed was a sprinkling of powdered sugar.  Everything looks good there.  The beetle traps they set up last week were empty, so it looks like they haven't found us, yet.
The month of May in Florida is our peak harvest season.  I made this ratatouille with yellow squash, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, and basil from the garden, plus butter from our Jersey.  Maybe next year I'll plant onions and garlic, that would make it 100% homegrown.
But the corn!  How can I describe this corn picked just minutes before hitting the pot of boiling water, then onto our plates with a good slathering of home-grown Jersey butter?  Sublime, delicious, sweet, juicy, plump, and thoroughly satisfying. 
This morning, the girls went back to the u-pick blueberry farm.  Local blueberries are at their sweetest this week.  We now have nearly thirty pounds of berries.  Monday's picking is vacuum packed in the freezer.  We will eat fresh berries today and tomorrow, then freeze the rest.  One of the easiest, kid-friendly, and healthy snacks is a bowl of frozen berries, with milk and honey.  They call it blueberry ice-cream because the berries freeze the milk and turn it blue.
For dessert tonight - Blueberry Boy Bait.  I think Michael thinks I made the name up just to tease him, but that is really what it's called, and we know why.  Yumm!  It is made with our very own fresh eggs and butter - and I don't think it would be half as good if the butter was substituted by some other such thing as m********e... or even oil.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

old chickens and updating the coop

Some of our old hens enjoyed broccoli scraps from the garden. These chickens are second generation at our farm. Our first flock was attacked by raccoons years ago, which left us with a handful of chickens.  Then we got a new flock from the feed store, Rhode Island Reds and Buff Orpingtons. From that straight run, we kept a Rhode Island Red rooster who bred with those hens, the parents of the chickens we have today, half RR and half BO. They have been good layers, like their mothers - and some of them are still around. They don't lay much any more, but they still earn their keep on the farm. They have spent their time in the chicken tractor, clearing and fertilizing beds for the garden.  I read recently that it may be a good idea to have a couple of older hens in the coop.  They can actually teach the younger hens a thing or two...
This is the back coop where the old mama hens live.  The new chicks are in the chicken tractor now, once they reach the size of the chickens in the big coop, they'll move in there.  We were going to work on this last weekend, but other things took precedence.  We need to upgrade this coop so we can have more chickens in here.  Even though the Florida weather is  temperate, we do have to provide shelter from summer thunderstorms.  This will be where some of the Cuckoo Marans will be staying, separate from the rest so they can breed true. 

The mailman has come and there were no eggs today.  I think we'll see some tomorrow!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

honeybees at work, reading, and harvest

Don and Michael inspected the beehives today.  They didn't find the queen, but this frame sure looked like it will be ready to be harvested soon. We'll have to order an extractor for that.  I think we've decided on the Dadant two frame manual extractor.  I just can't wait to try our first honey. 

I have been reading Chickens in Your Backyard. I've had it in our farm reference library for years, and I can see by looking in the incubation chapter that it's been well used. I am enjoying reading it through this time, and I'm learning a bunch.  It has already been of great help with the pecking problem we are having this week. I have the injured birds isolated from the chicken tractor, and they are healing.  I am glad there were no signs of trouble amongst the other chicks.  I've been working at keeping them busy pecking at garden scraps. 
I got to use the new Bosch again today.  With all the surplus zucchini from the garden, I baked two loaves of zucchini chocolate chip bread and two zucchini pizzas for dinner.  Both were hits, and there is very little of them leftover... I really liked the pizza crust, it wasn't too thick; and it was nice and crispy.  I'm going to make some with mushrooms... maybe Saturday.

the new bosch

I must confess that I am an incurable nightowl. At least once a week, I end up staying up late. I love the peace and quiet that can only be found when everyone is asleep, it's a good thing. So, since I was up, I decided to bake up the cookie dough I had made earlier and had sitting in the fridge, supposedly to be baked tomorrow (today).  Warm cookies just out of the oven, in a quiet house, late at night... That's a really good thing, sometimes. These very yummy Key Lime Meltaways are a first goodies out of my new Bosch mixer that came in yesterday from Bread Beckers
It is a replacement, and an upgrade. Our ten year old KitchenAid mixer died last week.  I was in the middle of kneading two loaves of bread, when it made this terrible grinding sound.  Don opened it up and looked at it, but it was history.  We discovered that there was one gear made of plastic, the horror, and it was stripped. I guess part of me was expecting it to happen.  It always seemed to get too hot every time it kneaded bread.  It even hopped around, which means I had to keep it from falling off the counter whenever there was kneading going on; plus, from very early on after we bought it, the knob that was supposed to hold the heavy top part where the motor is was really loose, so that it would unlatch, which would make the top fly up and slam back down...  Anyway, it was ridiculous, and I put up with it for ten years.  It just didn't seem to have been built for kneading.  I wasn't even making a large amount of bread last week - just two loaves.  

The next day, I went online and read about KitchenAids and how they don't make them like they used to.  In 1986, the company that had been making KitchenAid mixers and gained their worldwide reputation for reliability and durability sold the name to Westinghouse, and that's when trouble began.  If you have a KitchenAid made before 1986, you have a great thing.  Sadly, mine only lasted ten years.  It seems that's the way of appliances these days. 

Now I have my new Bosch.  Let's hope it lasts.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

this morning

I went outside to check on the chicks and discovered a pityful sight, one has been picked on and has a wound on one of her wings.  While I was watching them, I actually saw two chicks picking at it.  Chickens can be so nasty to each other.  There is another one that also has bald areas around the wings, no wound.  We're pulling those two out and setting them up in a rabbit cage till they heal.  I'm glad I found a good chicken site with advice on how to deal with this, because reintroducing henpecked chickens back into the flock can be difficult.  The injured chicken, the one that has her head in the food bowl, looks smaller than the rest.   I think she has been kept from feeding too.  Michael set up the rabbit cage and is out there soothing the two hens.  He is such an animal lover. 

The turkeys are getting along just fine, I'm glad we don't have to worry about them injuring each other...

I finally found a farm that will ship 6+ fertile Cuckoo Maran eggs to us. Since we already have an incubator and have used it several times, this is not as intimidating as it could have been. I hope they make it all the way here in one piece. We have a new mailman that seems a lot better than the woman we had before who refused to bring our packages down our long driveway, so I'm hoping for the best.  We got the incubator out of the attic last night and turned it on to make sure it works, and it does. 

While I was looking around for Marans, I found some interesting articles at the Mother Earth News site about raising chickens in a more sustainable way. The idea of Small Scale Silage is great - collecting grass clippings and fermenting them to be used in the winter using trash bags and cans. It looks doable.  Even though our winters are mild, the grass does stop growing for a couple of months. We won't need to store a huge amount.  A couple of other interesting articles: help for aggressive roosters and encourage hens to hatch eggs.

I planted one watermelon as an afterthough or maybe an experiment this spring.  It's growing among my tomatoes and calabaza.  I think it looks like a big green egg in a nest of hay.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Well, I did some more research on Marans - the chocolate egg laying chickens, and I'm going to have to cancel my order from McMurray's. Apparently, they are breeding Barred Rocks into their Cuckoo Maran bloodlines to get better laying chickens, boo... So, I went back to square one. This mornign, I found a farm out in TX where they breed Golden Marans. They are beautiful birds! So, I sent an email and am hoping for a reply soon. The Marans are also known to be good meat birds, no need to order those Cornish X hens either. Something about the X and the fact that they are so fast growing, are infertile, and can't live healthy lives due to people breeding them to have such big chests just didn't sit quite right with me anyway. The farm in TX ships both fertile eggs and day-old chicks. I guess it depends on availablity.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

today's harvest and bees

The cherry tomatoes are ripening quick in the May heat. We have an abundance of tomatoes and more to come! The garden doesn't seem to mind the heat as much as the humidity. Come June, everything will start fading fast, unless the summer rains are delayed. We've had an odd year so far, weatherwise. We are hearing predictions of hurricanes for this summer due to high water temperatures in the Gulf. Let's hope not!

Don and Michael went to a Tampa Bay Beekeeeper's workshop today. They came home with lots of new information which I hope will help them harvest some honey in a couple of weeks. They won a veil for me at the raffle, that was nice. I always stand a ways off when they work on the hives, because one time when we went to visit a beekeeper we all got stung in the face. I learned later that bees instinctively go for the face as a defense against bears. One of the things they learned at the workshop was that people in Pinellas County can't have bee hives. They are considered "infestations." Ridiculous.

The garden provided us with a good bit of our dinner vegetables tonight. We had salad with our own lettuce, watercress, beets, tomatoes, and cucumber, and I made zucchini spaghetti, an adaptation of quick zucchini saute with some of the zucchini harvested yesterday.

more chickens and chocolate eggs

The chicks we ordered from McMurray are 5 weeks old today. Even though they sound just like chicks, they look a lot more like chickens now. I am able to tell from their new feathers what some of them are, the white one in the picture is probably a White Orpington. I think we'll have a very pretty flock of layer hens.

Don and I have been talking for the last week about raising chickens for the table. We do eat chicken after all. If we raised our own, it would be a lot better than what we saw in the Food Inc. movie we watched recently, where chicken farmers were forced to keep their chickens in the dark, in appalling conditions. Plus, they would be true free-range chickens. So, this evening, while Don, Gabi, and Michael went to a movie at church, I had fun ordering 20 Jumbo Cornish X Rocks from McMurray, and since they require 25 minimum order... I also ordered five Cuckoo Marans.

I've been looking at the breeds that lay chocolate brown eggs for some time. I really like what I've read about the Cuckoo Marans, because they are good layers and can be meat birds as well. The Cuckoo Marans have a long history, they were bred in France during the late Middle Ages.

The breed originated in Marans, a town on the Atlantic coast, near La Rochelle (France). In the 12th century, with the marriage of Henri of Plantagenet, Duke of Anjou, who became Henri II of England, to Aleanor of Aquitaine a part of the south west of France was brought under English rule as part of her dowry The English domination lasted two centuries. So, English ships often stopped over at La Rochelle (near Marans) and unloaded fighting cocks which were crossbred to local hens, ultimately resulting in this unique breed. Long Meadow Ranch

These are chickens with an interesting past - I think they will please the history buffs around here. I ordered a straight run, hoping we'll get both hens, roosters, and the capability of breeding. We are going to participate in 4-H with our homeschool group again next year, and I think these rare, chocolate-egg-laying chickens would be an interesting entry at the State Fair in January.

**NOTE: The cornish X order was cancelled that same day, and I have since read terrible things about these chickens.  We are now looking to raise broilers from heritage breeds such as the Marans chickens which are more sustainable because the hens go broody and are good moms.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

DIY: the old bean pot & grooming Molly

We had a real treat last night - baked beans made from scratch in my "new" bean pot. I found the bean pot last Saturday on my downtown antiquing expedition. It is in perfect shape, like it was never used. The pound of dry beans were almost gone, a sure sign of goodness from the kitchen. So long, canned baked beans; beans made from scratch are a good thing - cheaper and healthier, without corn syrup or preservatives. The recipe came from the "official" Boston baked bean pots site.

After dinner, we were all set to do another DIY project - grooming Molly. I think it's scandalous how much groomers ask for their services. So, armed with thinning shears and a pin brush, I set about to grooming our little bear - Molly the Havanese. When we received Molly last year, she didn't look like a Havanese at all. Her previous owner couldn't spend the time needed for a long-haired dog, so she had her looking like a Scottish Terrier, basically. We love Molly's silky-soft coat. She was bred for it. It took me three hours from bath to vacuuming up the mound of fur I cut off. One can hardly tell, but she is half the dog she was yesterday, or last week!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

inspecting the hives

Don worked from home today and had a chance to go out at noon and inspect the hives. Michael was in charge of keeping the smoker going. Smoke is a fire alarm that instinctively causes bees to focus on saving the hive. Within seconds of sensing the smoke, they scrambled, we heard a loud buzzing, and saw how they moved about quickly gorging themselves with honey. They were too busy at that point to bother with us, and that's when it's safest to work with the hives.

The darker yellow area near the center and top is where the new honey is. Once the bees fill about 70% of the box (super), we'll have to add another one to prevent a swarm.
Michael handled his first frame today. He has been very cautious around the hives. I'm happy to see he's not too bold and takes this seriously.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

the May garden

Emily waters her flowers in the background. :)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gro-Mor is gone...

One of my favorite places in Plant City is no more. Gro-Mor went out of business sometime in April. The owner's son happened to be there last week when we stopped by to buy some okra seed for the garden. He told us that the city didn't like having their business so close to downtown.
To us, Gro-Mor was a historical landmark, the place where one could go on Saturday morning and always find good and inexpensive seeds for varieties that would do well in our area, fertilizer, farming advice, and meet local farmers and gardeners. I learned some good things from the folks at Gro-Mor. They will be missed, and so will their old, rustic building. It will be sad to drive to the library and not see Gro-Mor. What next for Plant City?
We were directed to Brownlee Citrus for the seeds. So, thankfully, there is a business in town that still carries them. They are family owned and bought all of Gro-Mor's inventory.

This last Saturday, my friend Cindy and I went downtown to take pictures of old Gro-Mor before the wrecking ball has its way with those rustic buildings that so offended certain people in city government. Let's hope the local downtown cult is not involved with this land deal, as we heard from a local store owner they purchased the old lumber yard a block away - apparently to put in an apartment complex.

We had a good time rummaging through the antique stores and decided that we will be going downtown at least once a month. We need to support our local economy, especially those businesses we have learned to associate with our downtown, as it was in the past.
After the antique store, we stopped at the new Christian store. I found a biography of Hudson Taylor, part of a series Michael has been reading this year. So I happily made a purchase. I saw several other interesting books there, so I'll surely be back.
The pastor who sat at the register told us he is doing his part in stemming the tide away from the Scientology cult. I was thankful for his testimony.

Knot's is another one of Plant City's oldies. I never have trouble finding anything there. The guys are always willing to direct you, and they know their stuff. We should try to support them too.

We had lunch at Fred's. If you are in the mood for some totally genuine southern food, this is the place to go. My favorites are the bbq ribs and fried green tomatoes, best in town!

Friday, May 7, 2010

It had been a few years since we'd seen a fox at Big Oaks. Today's is the third sighting in two weeks. Gabi was out walking about this morning and saw it near the house where the chicks and poults are. Don found a dead chick (the brown Turken) in the tractor when he went out to milk the cow. Could it be that it was trampled by the others trying to run away from the fox? No idea. What to do?

Speaking of poults, we brought home three from Southside yesterday morning. We were there to pick up feed for the cows. I think we have two females and one male. They'll be big and ready for Thanksgiving. I think we may keep a pair and breed them. At $10 per chick, it seems like the thing to do. We will have to go visit the organic feed store in Sarasota on Monday. I was thinking of going to the beach then, so we may end up at one of the Sarasota beaches.

We finally decided to groom Molly ourselves. So, last night, we went over to Tractor Supply and picked up shears. While I was there I also found this magazine full of information on how to raise turkeys, including a section on how to do it naturally - with organic feed. They also have several examples of turkey houses which we're looking at. We need to find a way for the turkeys to graze as part of their natural diet. Considering the threat of predators around here, we need to make sure they are protected. I was shocked when my friend Anjie told me a few weeks ago she practially bumped into a coyote on her morning jog! It turns out that there are packs of coyotes around Plant City. Who would have thought?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Between yesterday and today, we've harvested 12 lbs. of vegetables from the garden- zucchini, yellow squash, peas, tomatoes, thyme, basil, lettuce, beets, and even a few blueberries. Although May is the beginning of Florida's summer heat, I like it because of the garden's fruitfulness. It's a busy month out there. The Sweet 100 tomatoes growing in the hydroponic buckets just started ripening this week, and they are delicious. I lost track of which variety of tomatoes I planted in the ground. Those were started from seed back in late December and have bunches of green tomatoes.
I hope they have enough time to ripen before the heat, humidity, and bugs get to them - usually by mid-June. For some reason, the bed where the cucumbers are isn't doing so well. The pole beans are also giving, but the plants look a little pale, like they are lacking in nitrogen. There is a really huge sunflower growing in the middle of that bed, a volunteer from last Fall's planting which I didn't have to heart to pull at planting time... I wonder if it's zapping the rest of the plants there of what they need. It is a giant - surely a descendent of one of the Mamoth sunflowers I had growing nearby in the Fall.
We have a few busy bees in the garden, though less than I expected after getting our hives. I may need to go out there at different times of the day. Perhaps the they are still busy inside building comb to do a lot of harvesting yet.
Molly watches me waiting for me to move on so she can keep on with her mischief... She was eating away at a big pumpkin leaf while I picked peas. She is a faithful garden companion. I thought for sure she would be sick from eating that leaf, but it seems to have done no harm.
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