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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Grilled Tomatoes

The weather has hinted at being a little bit warmer lately and my thoughts are turning to fresh garden vegetables.  In their absence, I must resort to that which comes from the grocery store.  DH and I use our grill all winter long, but the fresh steak and grilled tomatoes from the grill last week was just delicious.

Grilled Tomato Ingredients
Vine Ripe or Plum Tomatoes - or whatever is fresh out of the garden later this summer
Mozzarella, Parmesan, Cheddar, Pecorino (or other favorite) Cheese
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil

Preheat grill, spray rack with cooking spray
(be careful it will flare).
Slice tomatoes in half, season with salt and pepper - grill on both sides till almost tender.

Place sheet of aluminum foil on other half of grill - or if you have one of those vegetable holders for the grill that will work too - add some olive oil and garlic. 

Place tomatoes skin side down onto foil/holder.

Top with shredded cheese - close grill cover, cook for 1 - 3 minutes until cheese is melted.

I suggest tongs to remove tomatoes, it also helps them hold their shape so they don't fall apart.

Depending on the thickness of your steak, you can use 1/2 of the grill to cook the tomatoes and the other half to cook your steak.  Of course these go great with pretty much anything or even sandwiched between two slices of crusty italian bread by themselves.

Steak, haricots verts and grilled tomatoes - not bad for a healthy meal!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weather woes, project delays

Spring in Vermont is full of unpredictable weather.  In 2010, it snowed on Mother’s Day, almost 10 inches.  In 2007 it snowed on Easter and in 2006 it was over 60 degrees they day after Valentines Day.  17 of the first 22 days in April have had temperatures below normal and 14 of the first 22 have had precipitation.  It has put a damper on the spring projects around here.  I have managed to get seeds started and while slow to sprout with the below normal temperatures, they are finally poking through – definitely need to include some supplemental heat in the plans for expansion later this summer or next spring.

Several of my projects include repair and painting.  My grandparents had two beautiful wood and iron benches.  I don’t know the story behind them, but they are heavy, solid (save for a couple of missing bolts) and both of them unique in the ornate details.  One has been in the garage since before we moved in, in 2006.  As we were cleaning out a spot for the chicken brooder (which I still haven’t started) I decided that I would start with this one.  I started out gung-ho in the latter days of March as temperatures finally rose to the mid-forties; removed all the wood from the iron frame, sanded it all down and applied the first coat of stain.  I have tried once since then to apply polyurethane to the wood portions of the bench only to have it bubble and then dry unevenly.  This project remains in the garage waiting for two or three days of forecasted good weather.

Another project DH has tried to complete remains in pieces.  This is a garden cart we picked up as part of a package deal, final cost of about ten dollars.  It needs some support, some metal patching, a new tire, a good sanding and some fresh paint.  This may seem like a lot of work, but it is a very useful tool.  New tires were ordered, which didn’t fit.  The search is on for a piece of pipe to replace the current axle so that the new tires will fit.  If we are not successful this week, the tires will be returned and new tires purchased from a store a mere 50 miles away.  Weather has also hampered DH’s work on the cart as paint and epoxy sealer do not dry on wet rainy days.

We did purchase an incubator and added the eggs on Wednesday.  Now I have to get the chicken brooder done otherwise I will have no place to put baby chickens in eighteen days.  The chickens are scheduled to arrive at about the same time as this year’s Christmas tree transplants.  Weather permitting, we might have the old pasture prepared in time.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Farm equipment - today success, tomorrow...

Lawn equipment, tractors, backhoe’s, splitters, chainsaws, etc. are all valuable pieces of equipment for the small farmer.  They are loud, they often smell a little, they require yearly or more frequent maintenance; and they make our lives that much easier.  Making efficient use of the time I spend around the farm is essential.  Working off the farm to make ends meet means less time on the farm working toward that self-sufficient lifestyle I yearn for.  To be able to stay home and work hard for myself and my family is the end goal of this adventure.  My equipment allows me to keep the grass in check between the Christmas trees, clean up errant dead wood for boiling maple syrup, cut some cedars to make raised beds, trim and prune fruit trees, carry soiled hay to the compost pile and so much more.  Without these machines, I would not be able to get nearly as much done in four hours per day.

Having these machines to make our lives easier sometimes comes with a price!  The tractor just returned from having its hydraulic system repaired (they still haven’t sent me the bill – it must be REALLY bad!) and the other equipment is migrating across the dooryard to the garage for spring maintenance.  Change oil in push mower, drain old gas, add fresh gas, check spark plug and air filter – done.  Pull cord – VROOM.  A battery is required to keep the riding lawn mower running so we will grab that in our travels this week.  The chainsaw will need a new chain soon, but appears to be running well.  The weed whacker runs, but needs something, we will have to look into that as the grass gets taller.  Things were going really well…

Somewhere in my educational process, my father, grandfathers, uncles or someone, taught me how to read schematics (blueprints); for that skill, I will be forever grateful.  We took the push mower out to trim the lower field of Christmas trees – pull cord – sputter, die.  OK, prime it a little, pull cord – sputter, die.  OK check the spark plug – no spark – it is brand new – GRRR.  It could be the coil (DH suggestion), maybe it isn’t getting enough air or too much gas, maybe it is the carburetor (my suggestion).  We are over thinking this.  Inside to get the manual which I cannot find anywhere.  Thank you Internet!  Download and save manual in two places.  Try all the trouble shooting options – check spark plug, fresh gas, air filter – yep already done that.  Head back out to the lawnmower and notice a frayed cable.  Back inside to the manual, follow schematics down to switch which controls fuel to engine.  Back outside to lawnmower – DH holds switch manually while I pull cord – VROOM.  Jerry/Jimmy Rig fix so that lawnmower will run – head back to the Internet to order replacement cable.

“Hun, while we are ordering parts, can we look at the hand held brush hog?  I think it needs a new throttle cable…”

Even though the parts come with a price, it is so much more efficient than cutting four acres of lawn and in between 5 more acres of Christmas trees with a scythe.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

First Ever Maple Syrup!

Thirty six and change years into this life, I joined a long tradition of Vermont farmers and made my first ever maple syrup.  There was a little trial and error in the process, but it is all part of the learning process.

We tapped a wise old Rock Maple in the middle of what used to be the cow pasture and what will this year be a Christmas tree field as well possibly a firewood landing (this one isn’t my project, thankfully).  A few drops fell pitifully into the buckets and after three days of perfect sugaring weather we had an amber colored twelve ounces of sap.  Anyone who knows anything about maple sap (which of course I didn’t) knows that maple sap must be clear and slightly sweet.  The bitter amber colored liquid was discarded.  DH and I discussed the neighbor’s daily yield of over 400 gallons; it was time to consider relocating the taps or giving up on this project.

Five of the six taps were relocated to another, slightly younger, although still well over a century old, Rock Maple and its companions a little further into the pasture.  We watched in amazement as the beautiful, clear liquid poured from the tap hole before the drill bit was even removed.  Three hours later we emptied half full buckets of sap.  Back to the house with 40+ pound buckets of what would soon be liquid gold; the sap was filtered through a strainer and stored in gallon jugs until the fire was ready for the boil.  Each day of good weather yielded just over five gallons of sap from the six taps. 

Sap should be boiled as soon as possible after collection to produce the best quality syrup.  Time and off farm work schedules provided me with one day per week to boil.  With only five taps producing sap, it doesn’t take too long to run out of gallon size storage containers.  Out to the barn we went, in search of something big enough and with enough surface area to evaporate the water from the sap.  No evaporator was found lurking in amongst the years of stored treasures; a ten or fifteen gallon washtub would have to suffice.  Washed and scrubbed clean of the years of collected dust, the washtub was placed over the maple fire on a metal grate.  In elementary school I learned that water weighs over eight and a half pounds per gallon.  I knew that the salvaged grate would need a little help holding up over 100 pounds of maple sap.  Back to the barn again, we found a couple of pieces of rebar which we placed across the fire pit to support the weight of boiling liquid.  Sap was strained through cheesecloth into the washtub and set atop the fire pit.

The first day we boiled, it was windy and cold, but standing next to the warm, delightful smelling liquid for six hours was not at all un-enjoyable.  On the second boiling day, the sun shown brightly, DH started the fire early and the boil began.  While boiling I was able to get a little yard work done and cleaned up some more stones which were deposited from the driveway onto the lawn during snow removal this winter.  Ten hours later and facing imminent darkness, the so-close to syrup liquid was removed from the fire, strained through more cheesecloth and into a 16 quart saucepan.  Inside to the stove top for finishing.

All-in-all this first-ever attempt at making maple syrup was a success.  Ten quarts of varying grades of syrup have been sealed into glass jars and stored in the cool basement awaiting a gift giving occasion or simply to be added to the Maple-Oat-Wheat Bread which we make every other week or so.  The first batch yielded what I would guess would be a medium A grade amber syrup.  The second batch was much darker, although I think tastes even better, and is a solid grade B.

A hobby sized evaporator will be in the plans before next spring and while a pipeline is not in our immediate future, we will be looking into expanding our sugar production a little each year.  Someday I might even have my own sugar shack.  This weekend; however, I will be having pancakes with fresh – HOMEMADE – maple syrup!

Stuffed Chicken Breast - Prosciutto & Provolone

This recipe has become another go to recipe here on the farm.  Eventually I would like to say that all of the ingredients came directly from the farm, but it will be a few years before we build a cave for aging our own meats and cheeses.  Until then, the chicken and basil comes from the farm and the cheeses from the grocery store.

Chicken breast - pounded flat
Sliced prosciutto - from the deli department
Provolone cheese - available in chunks in the cheese department or sliced from the deli
Grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh Basil or dried chopped basil
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place cast iron or other oven safe skillet on stove top and turn on to low/medium heat.  Add olive oil and garlic.

Season chicken breast with salt and pepper 

Layer one slice of prosciutto, one slice of provolone and one large or a couple small fresh basil leaves on the chicken breast.  Sprinkle with grated Parmesan.  (I was out of fresh basil so I substituted dried instead).

Roll up and hold closed with a toothpick.

Place in heated skillet with olive oil and fresh garlic (optional).  Brown all sides until rolled breast holds its shape. 
When browned on all four sides, place skillet in the oven for 10-15 minutes until chicken is no longer pink.

These chicken breasts are great served with garlic and herb pasta or a fresh garden salad.

Perhaps this one will be come a favorite at your house.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Walking up the hill my shoes squish in the layer of mud which was once my driveway.  The rain/snow mix falls gently from the sky ‘ticking’ off my jacket.  Passing the pond I startle the mallard duck pair who was hiding in the cattail reeds.  Off they fly across the driveway to the other pond looking back at me as if to say, “You have some nerve lady!”  Closer still to the maple trees and the woodchuck hiding behind the old spring snickers at me and lumbers away; somehow knowing that I have no interest in bothering him.  Puddles hiding underneath last year’s grass suck in my foot as I cross the field to the maple trees.
Walking ever closer to the trees, I wonder how much sap awaits inside the glimmering silver buckets.  I set down my collection container, remove the top and voila – ½ bucket full of beautiful clear maple sap.  Four more buckets await, actually five, but one of them is almost always empty; we probably should have moved the tap, but we figured the damage has already been done.  No need to injure another tree so that we may benefit from its sugary sap; she can keep it this year.  Three buckets emptied and my five gallon collection container is dangerously full.  Final bucket – filled right to the tippy top, the sap rippling gently at the rim in the light breeze – just in time!  The final sap bucket emptied, it will be a slow walk back to the house because I didn’t bring the lid to the collection bucket.
Before lifting the 40+ pound bucket and walking back to the house, I pause looking down the hill over the farm.  The rain/snow now dripping from the hood of my jacket, the sap spilled on my jeans getting that much colder, and the moisture seeping through my worn out winter gloves; I stare contently back toward the lake.  Even from the top of the hill I can hear the rooster crowing from the open door of the coop, almost complaining about the precipitation which is keeping him inside today.  Brush from the recently trimmed apple trees rests beside them awaiting the return of the tractor to be picked up and either added to the campfire wood pile or chipped for mulch around the garden and flower beds.  The brook has risen today with the weather and cruises at a dull rumble through the pond and down towards the lake.  Although the ice is almost gone from both ponds, that which remains on the lake is holding on till the very last minute.  The dog stares out at me from the bedroom window as if to say, “You are NUTS for going out in that weather.”  Freshly sprouted pepper plants shiver slightly in the greenhouse, wondering if I am going to turn on the small heater to chase away the chill of this Vermont spring day.
Standing at the top of the hill, moisture permeating all of my outerwear, long walk back to the house with a heavy bucket; there is no where I would rather be.