Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"Step Away From The Cake" Recipe

Here's the recipe for the best rhubarb cake ever made (in my humble rhubarb-loving opinion) per a request made by a reader to a recent posting of mine.

This recipe was printed a couple of years ago by a gal who writes a food column for our local newspaper.  I changed the name and made slight modifications to the recipe, but owe its lusciousness to her originally shared recipe.

I don't usually enjoy or make cakes because about 98% of them seem too dry to me.  This cake is not dry in the least and is my go-to cake whenever rhubarb is in season.  Here goes:

Step Away from the (Rhubarb) Cake

Sift into a large mixing bowl:
    1 cup sugar
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 cups flour

Then add and mix well until batter is fairly smooth:
    2 beaten eggs
    1 cup plain yogurt

Next fold in:
    4 cups diced rhubarb 

Batter will be very thick.  Put it into a greased and floured 9" x 13" pan and smooth it out with a spatula.

For the topping, in a small bowl combine:
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1/4 cup flour
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Cut in 1/4 cup butter until thoroughly combined.

Sprinkle topping mixture evenly over top of the cake.

Bake in a 350 degree oven until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

Four people did this much damage to the cake in one day.  (Is that a bad thing?)

I may have under-baked the cake a smidge bit this time around as it usually rises a little higher, but the flavor was not hurt one iota.

Every time I make this cake, I get a good chuckle reading the last line the author put at the bottom of the printed recipe.  After the baking instructions, she wrote: 

"Eat every last crumb then make a second
cake for your family and friends."

Yes, the cake is that good!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Feeling Less Behind and Happy at Home

Whew, we've had a couple of really nice days (not always sunny, but if there's no rain, I label them nice) lately, and I've been able to get a lot done in the garden.

Rain was forecast for all day today, but when we got up and there was no evidence of moisture, I didn't even stop for breakfast but headed right out to the garden.  I did have to stop for lunch around 11:30 (much to my also hungry husband's delight) because I was so hungry I was starting to feel nauseated.  But then right back out again and all was well until 3 p.m. when the intermittent raindrops became more steady than intermittent, and I had to call it a day.

Our asparagus continues to be bountiful . . . and we're succeeding in eating all of it fresh.  I haven't frozen any at all yet, and you would think we'd be tired of it as it appears on our table at least once and sometimes twice a day.  But, nope, we're both still exclaiming how wonderful it tastes.  (Can you break out in hives from eating too much asparagus as some people do when eating too many strawberries?  If so, we're in trouble.)

I took the first cutting of rhubarb today.  Seems the stems shot up from 6" long to a foot long nearly overnight.  Soon as I finish with this post, I'm mixing up a favorite rhubarb cake recipe for tomorrow.

Another milestone today . . . Papa Pea decided it was time to integrate Mama Duck and her brood into the big poultry yard and pond.  I was nervous as to how the geese would react, but any fears turned out to be unwarranted.  The big, ol', clumsy geese exhibited a little curiosity which then quickly turned into boredom and by afternoon all the poultry was co-mingling without any problem.  Mama Duck continues to be a good mother and is keeping the little ones close.  They have all gone down to the pond several times and although Mama Duck goes right in, her offspring have (so far) stayed near the shore with short (very short) forays into the water.  You can almost hear them saying, "Wow, this is one BIG water pan!"

I'll try to get some pictures to post soon.

The chicks we ordered from the hatchery several weeks ago are still corralled in their chicken tractor with an additional small pen attached to it.  They'll be let in with the rest of the whole feathered flock probably sometime this coming week.

We're spending the Memorial Day Weekend at home which to my mind is not a bad thing.  I went into town yesterday and the traffic on the roads was heavy.  Cars and trucks and trailers and campers and boats, oh my.  Papa Pea never fails to reminisce about when we were still living in Illinois and decided to go to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky over a Memorial Day Weekend.  Coming home it was bumper to bumper the whole way home, and we didn't pull into our driveway until the wee hours of the morning.  Nope, we're not fighting traffic anymore in this phase of our lives.  We're happy, happy, happy celebrating most holidays right here at home.

Hope you're all having a lovely weekend in whatever way you choose to spend it!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Would Like to Post More . . .

. . . but don't have the time.  I know you can all relate this time of year.

We still seem to be in the midst of two days of rain, one or two days of sunshine.  Temps are still cool (yes, I sound like a broken record), but when the soil is dry enough I take full advantage of garden work.

In the last couple of days I snapped some pics of our feathered friends.

Wet, wet, wet.  Rain falling but the birds don't seem to care.

Even in the rain, afternoon feeding time is a popular affair.

Several of the birds will come up to eat out of Papa Pea's hand.

Mama Duck giving her little ones a lesson in preening after getting soaking wet.  Being out in the rain was their choice.  They had a high and dry house to go into, but obviously it was more fun to splash in the wetness.


Actually, the Muscovy ducks don't quack.  Their method of communicating is more of a chirp/hiss/whistle.

Yesterday we had (hallelujah!) bright sunshine.  Here's Mama Duck (she's such a good mother) with her little brood resting in the shade.

More sun forecast for today . . . so I'm outta here!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saturday Night, After Dinner, Before Bed

I'm feeling behind on getting the garden in.  (I say this every year, don't I?)  The weather hasn't been conducive to planting.  We seem to be getting two days of rain, two days of no rain.  The first day after the rain stops, it's too wet to do much in the field garden, but I can usually work in the raised beds . . . which is good.

Rain (about an inch) is predicted to fall on us over night tonight and if that happens I'll lose another day of progress in the field garden tomorrow.  But I did get all my shell peas and potatoes planted there today.

Wasn't a particularly pleasant day weather-wise.  Very damp with a stiff breeze.  Worked with knit hat and down work jacket on most of the day.  On the other hand, the bugs aren't bad.  (They have yet to make their appearance.  Knock on wood, maybe they'll never hatch this year.  Ha.)

Also got carrots planted in a raised bed.  I'm still shaking my head over the size of my carrots from last year.  They were plentiful but about big around as a pencil.  (Slight exaggeration.  Slight.)  My carrots are usually fat and sassy so last season's were a puzzlement.  I plant a total of 32' of them which is an ample supply for us.  (Except when they turn out to be such skinny-minnies.)

Got a little more done as far as weeding the blueberry patch.  Not totally done yet, but getting there.  Same with the strawberries.  Plants are looking great, but no signs of blossoms forming yet.  It's early for us.

Started zinnia seeds inside yesterday.  They grow so fast that they'll be ready to put out about the first week in June.  If our weather ever turns warm, that is.

I'm not feeling "down" as this post may sound.  Just tired.  I think more from working out in the chilly, breezy weather than the day's physical work.  All is well and I'm feeling very thankful tonight for our little oasis in this crazy world.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Day Off

And it's just about wrecked me!  I feel more tired, beat-up and run over tonight than if I'd worked hard physically all day.

Yep, until yesterday, I have been working hard getting the garden in, weeds on yet bare ground under control, weed whipping, berry bushes pruned and ready for the season and related outside yard/garden projects.

All that and more until our full day of rain yesterday.

Even then I kept going non-stop all day catching up on repotting seedlings, household-y type chores I'd been neglecting, etc., etc. 

Papa Pea strongly suggested we take today off.  Seems he may have pulled a muscle or ligament or possibly damaged a tendon down by his ankle but has been gimping along on a very swollen ankle and foot for several days.  He finally made the decision this morning (his decision, not my suggestion about which I've been nagging him) to spend the day sitting with the swollen appendage up and resting.  Turns out it's been a good day for his idleness because it was cold and very gray this morning with rain starting again after lunch time.

All I did this morning was go to the library and make a quick stop (the devil made me do it) at a local nursery before coming home.

The rest of the day I've spent reading on the couch . . . which is something I never do during the day, even in the dead of winter.  Why, you may ask?  Because I immediately fall asleep when I'm not moving!  I do declare, I spent more time this afternoon dozing off and then jerking myself awake than I did reading.  Hubby tried to talk me into stretching out and taking a real nap, but I knew I would feel cwappy upon awakening.  (The few and far between times I've succumbed and napped during the day always brings the same yucky results.)

So I guess the moral of the story is the old saying, "It only hurts when I stop."

Sure hope the weather is good tomorrow so I can work hard again.  I'll feel much better.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Another Glorious Day

Our weather has been cool to start in the morning, warming up to shirt sleeves mid-day, and then back to cool 'round about 4 o'clock in the afternoon.  In short, perfect for working in the garden.  The very best part?  NO BUGS, yet!

I've got five cold frames filled.  (One in the picture above is still empty.)  Two hold broccoli and cauliflower I've planted out early.  They wouldn't need the cold frames except for the cold nights.  I don't think the plants would actually be hurt because the temp hasn't gone down to freezing, but I don't want to stress them either while they're so small and tender.

Yesterday I planted a bed (the seeds) of slicing cukes.  Those want to be kept as toasty as possible so I only crack the cold frames open enough during the day to introduce a little circulation of fresh air.  Then I cross my fingers that the soil doesn't cool down too much over night.

My bed of salad greens has sprouted and probably won't need the cold frame over it for much longer.

A good friend gifted me with many tomato plants (Big Boy and Brandywine) and several pepper plants (same ones as I've got started on my seedling rack -- California Wonder) but I don't have a cold frame or makeshift greenhouse, row cover, hoop house or whatever big enough for the tomatoes so I potted them (and the pepper plants) and have the pots set on the soil of a raised bed with a cold frame over them.  Where I'll put them when they grow big and it's warm enough to plant them in the ground, I don't know yet.  Will have to figure that out.  I've never any success growing full-size tomatoes because they need some kind of extra protection for the warmth they require.

I have about half the blueberry patch weeded and got a start on the strawberries today.  We're in need of rain and the soil in the strawberries where I'm trying to dig out weeds is like cement.  If we get the rain predicted over night, that should help.

We were planning on mowing the lawn for the first time tomorrow, but now realize it may be too wet if the rain materializes.  We really do need the rain as the fire danger is listed as High right now.

Our asparagus is coming along, just not fast enough for our taste buds that are all set for it.  The rhubarb, of course, is shooting right up.  I finally found a wonderful rhubarb cake recipe last year, and I fear as soon as the rhubarb is ready, I may break our rule of trying to avoid desserts!

I'm still working at getting all the quack grass out of the as-of-yet unplanted raised beds . . . and I think I may be gaining on it.

I was feeling pretty cocky yesterday thinking I was ahead of the game this year . . . until I checked my records and found I had all my potatoes and peas planted by May 10th last year.  I never should have checked.

Not a very exciting post, I realize, but good as record keeping for me.

Hope the weather in your part of the world is cooperating and your gardening season is starting out really well.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

It's That Time of Year

Yep, it's that time of year when many of us can't possibly come even close to fitting everything that needs doing, or that we want to do, into any 24-hour period.

Our growing season up here is short.  I can start getting my cool weather crops in first whether they be transplants (with some protection) or seeds.  The push to get these out, in, up and growing usually starts around the middle of May.  Then the planting of the transplants and seeds that need warmer weather, along with ship-shaping up the berry patches and fruit trees, usually takes me into mid-June when I finally breathe a big sigh of relief and announce that the garden's ready for the year.

Funny, they looked much bigger inside!

Today I transplanted some of my cauliflower plants grown from seed indoors out into a 4' x 8' raised bed covered with one of our cold frames. 

Also, one of the three planned beds of onions got planted.

Early this morning before leaving for one of her three (or is it four?) jobs, Chicken Mama was a sweetheart and planted a bed of bulbs for me.  Her fella, aka Gilligan, gave me some gladiola and some tiger lily bulbs for my recent birthday, and I also had some pink and white glad bulbs (or I think more accurately "corms") from a kind and thoughtful Internet friend (thank you, thank you, Karen!) in Wisconsin.  Can't wait to see the showy display this planting produces this summer.

Speaking of Gilligan, here he is making a lovely seed bed out of the new patch we plowed up last year, fertilized and had planned on using for a new raspberry patch (and a few other plantings) this year.  Well, it ain't gonna happen.  Just too darn many other projects started or planned that are a bigger priority.  So we asked Chicken Mama and Gilligan if they wanted to use the space as their vegetable gardening area this year.  We were pickled tink to have them eagerly accept the offer.  It will be so much fun to see "another garden" right next to ours.  The space includes an adjoining area behind and to the left in the picture so they should have a good amount of ground to work with.

Alas and alack, I'm not going to have the time I want for the next couple/few weeks to comment on all of your interesting, entertaining, informative, and uplifting posts.  I'll miss doing so but as I started out this post by saying, all of a sudden the days are too short . . . the the list is too long!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Holy Moley!

Is this a beautiful loaf of artisan bread or what?

Our daughter has been experimenting in my kitchen (lucky me!) perfecting the making and baking of sourdough bread.

Yesterday she turned out this three pound loaf of all-einkorn flour sourdough artisan bread. 

How did it taste?

Wonderful!  Great texture, flavorful, hearty and wholesome.

She also made a loaf of rye with rye sourdough starter she's been working on.  Considering the bread was made with 100% rye flour, I'd call it a success.  (Rye flour has very little gluten in it which makes any rye bread difficult to rise.)  She wants to work on getting it to be a loaf higher in volume, but we all agreed you couldn't improve upon the texture and flavor of this sourdough rye.

But that wasn't all she baked.

She made a dozen of these all-einkorn burger buns.  This is the recipe you steered me to, Kristina, and although we haven't taste tested them yet, I have a feeling the recipe is going to be a keeper.

Dear daughter is a talented bread baker, there no doubt about that.  Her dad is a staunch advocate of sourdough bread so he may have to hire her to come in every Monday morning to create our weekly supply of healthy sourdough bread.  (Sounds like a good arrangement to me.)

It's a treat to have her in my kitchen (doing any cooking or baking), and this sourdough bread, especially, convinces me more than ever that those grueling thirty hours of hard labor to bring her into the world were worth it!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Shuffling Ducks (And Chickens and Geese)

Our Mama Duck who hatched out a dozen ducklings and two chicks is doing great raising her little mixed brood outside in their own little chicken tractor.

Last winter we ordered new chicks from a hatchery and the boxful arrived on Tuesday, May 2nd.  One chick was dead upon arrival and we've lost two since then.

A fellow beekeeper in the area happened to contact us before the chicks arrived and asked if we knew how he could go about getting five chicks as his 8 year old daughter was very interested in raising hens in their back yard.

Back story:  A couple of years ago this same guy had given us a nuc from his own healthy bees when we were looking to build up our bees after having lost most of them over the winter.  He was very generous and wouldn't accept any payment for the nuc.  (This was at the very same time another beekeeper in the area was offering nucs for $70 each.)

We told him we had chicks on order and would call the hatchery to see if we could add a few more chicks to our order which we gladly did.  (The least we could do as a thank you for him giving us that nuc was to provide chicks for him.)

So five more chicks were added to the two dozen we had on order.  When the 30 or so chicks arrived last Tuesday, five new little peppers went home with a thrilled-beyond-belief 8 year old.

About a month ago, our good neighbor had said he would love to try hatching out some of our eggs in an incubator at his house.  So we gave him one of our incubators and some duck eggs and the one goose egg we had at the time.

Last Saturday, May 6th, the goose egg produced one honkin' big gosling which he let dry off in the incubator for a day and then brought over to us.

We put the gosling in with the about four days old chicks (who are still in their garden cart brooder in the garage), but immediately saw that was a no go.  Those darn cute little chicks turned immediately vicious and started attacking and pecking at the gosling's head.  They would have damaged an eye and/or killed the gosling, I'm sure.

So the big/little lonely gosling was put in his own separate brooder box (in the garage).

Yesterday, we took four of Mama Duck's ducklings from outside and introduced them into the gosling's brooder.  The four instantly bonded, snuggled down together and all has been happy and peaceful.  (Hallelujah!)  Now the idea is to (tonight) reintroduce the four ducklings along with their new best friend (the gosling) back into the house with Mama Duck hoping she will welcome them all back.

The two dozen rasty chicks in the garage?  Yesterday we set up another chicken tractor with two heat lamps for them out in the poultry pasture.  We monitored the temperature all day yesterday and over night last night to make sure the now week old chicks would be comfy out there, and today they will leave the garage to go to their new home.

Last in this long saga of new poultry additions to our little homestead is the report on the two female geese who have been sitting on nests.  Sad to say, the incubation period for them went far beyond their "due dates" so we removed all the (undeveloped) eggs and the two girls seem happy to be out and about with the other six geese swimming in the pond and grazing all day long on the new green grass shoots in their pasture.

We're appreciative of the new additions to our feathered flock we did get this spring.  Next year, with maturity, perhaps more of the geese and ducks will successfully hatch some offspring that can be raised naturally (a much easier way to go for us) by their mothers.  

And wouldn't it be nice if we had a broody chicken mama next year, too?


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Oh, Spring, Wherefore Art Thou?

We've been alternating between cool, sunshiny days and cool, dark, drippy days.  Not the best for getting much speed built up on outside tasks.  But it is the merry, merry month of May in the north woods, so we shouldn't expect anything else.

Yesterday was a drippy one so I spent the day in the kitchen making four different big pots of soups/stews in an effort to restock the pantry for the upcoming busy summer months.  I was planning on making two more batches today but we did have sunshine so I worked outside digging out great quantities of the dreaded quack grass which is making an effort to invade the (as of yet empty) raised beds.

I've dropped several hints to Papa Pea that the field garden is wanting to be cultivated in order to further incorporate the compost we put on it last fall plus to beat down the early weeds.  Cultivation hasn't happened yet but the fella has been a busy beaver doing lots of other chores, all of which seem to rank as a number one priority now that the snow is gone and outside temperatures are pleasant.

Pleasant temperatures, yes;  warm temperatures, no.  We're still dropping down to the low 30s at night and even the sunny days do nothing more than tease us by getting allll-most to the 50 degree mark. 

I did some transplanting of seedlings today, planting to bigger pots.  (Avert your eyes, Rain.  I'm using those deeply despised peat pots.)  I think I have the damping off fungus under control.  Sort of.  At least nothing else seems to be dying, but out of 40 Brussels sprout seeds planted (and they were new seeds), I got germination and good growth of only 10.  Not a good ratio.  I think I still have time so I'll plant some more seeds tomorrow.

I also planted one raised bed outside today with a mixture of salad greens.  An assortment of lettuces, some spinach, Swiss chard, Scarlet Frills, arugula, radishes, kale, etc.  Covered the bed with a cold frame and am hoping for the best.  The seeds are all cool weather crops and we've certainly got the cool weather!  I'm thinking the biggest hurdle will be to make sure I ventilate the cold frame enough on sunny days and keep the seeds watered.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Even My Ankles Ache

Usually I start off the gardening season doing nothing more strenuous than preparing a bit of soil and planting some seeds.

This year, I decided I'd better attack the asparagus bed before any of the new shoots appeared.

I had left the ferns, which were close to six feet tall in the fall, standing and covered the whole bed with a light mulch of straw.  Now was the time for the spring clean-up.

Yesterday I started by crawling down the rows and into the maze of topped over and intertwined debris and cutting off the dead fern stalks with hand pruners.  That in itself was a challenge.  (I took my cell phone in there with me in case I got lost and couldn't cut my way out.)

I tossed the stalks off to the side and Papa Pea came along to gather them up and haul them away.

Then I spent a little time in an upright position with rake and pitchfork getting all of the mulch off the area.  I made several trips hauling it in a wheelbarrow down to a pile of "reusable" straw at the end of the main garden.

Back down onto my hands and knees again with a hand spade to dig out all the weeds that had already started to take hold.  Most of them were big dandelions (not yet blossomed) spread out flat on the ground with roots two feet down into the ground.  (Slight exaggeration.)  As seems typical, most of them (no foolin') were growing right in the center of an asparagus plant.  How to remove them without damaging the asparagus?  Very carefully.

Next I put a sprinkling of canning salt around each plant as they need sodium chloride rock salt (NaCl).  This improves overall growth and helps resist crown and root rot diseases.  (Don't use iodized table salt for this supplement as that's a whole 'nother thing.)

Again, Papa Pea helped by going to our saved stash of wood ashes and spreading a dusting of them over the whole bed which helps to raise the pH level ( which should be 7.2 or higher) required for optimum asparagus growth.

Revving up my little Mantis tiller (vroom-vroom, love that thing), I tilled in the wood ashes and maybe even eradicated any weeds under the surface that were thinking of emerging once I turned my back.  Then I raked up several inches of soil into a mound on the rows in which the asparagus is planted.  It's believed this helps prolong the abundance of the crop as sometimes the roots can slowly work their way upwards from where planted which may, in turn, produce thinner and tougher stalks.  So adding some soil in this way each year assures the roots stay as deeply covered as they're supposed to be.

Lastly, I ran the tiller around the edge of the patch a couple of times to let the sod know I'm serious again this year about not letting it creep into the patch.

In a couple of weeks, I'll lay mulch down between the rows and up near the plants.  Unfortunately, our straw used for mulch over winter had a lot of seeds left in it, and I'm expecting many of them to germinate so I'll use the tiller to beat them back a couple of times before applying the mulch.

I did, also, manage to get my Sweet Pea seeds (which I had soaked over night) planted on either side of the trellis in one of the raised beds close to the house.

Oh, yes, I was feeling the pain at the end of the day yesterday, but a couple of doses of Arnica pellets during the day and one before bed last night and I don't feel too bad this morning.  Not too bad.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The New Chicks Have Arrived

Despite all of our cajoling, pep talks and out-and-out bribery, we've not had any success in the past couple of years getting any of our hens to go broody and do what comes naturally.  In other words, hatch out some new, replacement chicks for us.

So early in 2017, we sat down and made out an order to send to a hatchery for some new chicks which arrived this morning.

Years ago, we purchased this small garden cart from folks having a household sale.  We found it a bit too small for our purposes, but a good size to use as a brooder for ducklings, goslings or, this year, chicks.

Papa Pea got it set up yesterday with heat lamps, water and food in anticipation of the chicks' arrival.

We got the call from our local post office at 7:30 this morning so Papa Pea made the trip to town and came home with a loudly peeping box of chicks who were ready to have their day and a half journey over.

All seem healthy and perky . . . except for one that succumbed on the trip through the postal service.

One half of the shipment.

The other half of the box.

They were all thirsty (understandably) and quickly got the hang of dipping their little beaks in the fresh water.  (If only it would stay that way for more than fifteen minutes!)

Now most are settled down for a nap under the heat lamps and will soon be acclimated to their new home in Minnie-soda.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

First Gardening Day!

I'm calling this my first real day in the garden for the season.  Yippee!  The weather started out cool (barely 40 degrees) but climbed to feeling very warm in the sun by midday.  'Course, then by 5 o'clock it started to feel very cool again.  So goes spring time in our neck of the woods.

Chicken Mama and Gilligan were here giving us a hand with various projects all day.  At break time in the afternoon, I made a special treat using the new "soda fountain" glasses I got for my birthday.  (Thanks for the idea, Rain!)

I made strawberry shakes for us all using berries I had in the freezer from last season.  I don't think the shakes could have tasted any better with fresh strawberries.  But just for the sake of comparison (ahem), we'll have to try a repeat with fresh ones as soon as they come in this year.

Speaking of strawberries, Chicken Mama and I took the mulch off the strawberry patch.

When Papa Pea and I put the straw on the berries last fall, it was a windy day so we laid cattle panels on top of the mulch to keep it from blowing into Canada.

Aaaaand, uncovered.  The green leaves you see are the old ones from when we put the mulch on.  I'll let the soil dry for a few days, then rake up what's left of the straw.  Then a week or so (depending on good drying days) the old green leaves will turn brown and wither.  Going up and down each row on my hands and knees, clipping off the old foliage will be the next task.  Then I'll mulch around the plants with wood shavings and put some of the old straw on the ground between the rows.  If all goes well, by July 4th, we'll have all the berries we want.  Nuthin' to it!

I finished off the day by putting up the trellis in one of my raised beds where I'll plant my Sweet Peas this year.  If the weather stays decent, the seeds will go in the ground within the week.

I'm tired tonight, but it sure felt good to be out working in the garden again.