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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cream of celery soup

Celery, onions & chicken broth before flour & cream are added
Good food is something many people take for granted, I am not one of those people.  They say to have loved and lost is better than to have never loved at all - this does not hold true for good food.  I have mentioned before that I lived just outside of New York City for several years.  REALLY good food is available on almost any corner and if an establishment chooses to provide or produce poor quality food, they don't last long.  Having all this available within a 30 minute drive (sans traffic) in any direction was something that I took for granted.  What 'The City' has in great ready-to-eat or prepared food as well as the supply chain to support it, Northern Vermont has in its natural, local, quality ingredients.  A supply chain exists, but it is difficult to get a regular delivery of really fresh seafood to Burlington, let alone out to Newport or Island Pond.

One learns to preserve the fresh whenever possible and then hones the art of making what was once fresh come alive again in uncomplicated, deliciously prepared meals.  For me, one of the great things about being on the farm that much more is the opportunity to craft delicious home cooked meals.

A simple and flavorful cream of celery soup was to become the foundation of homemade chicken and biscuits this week.  Celery from the summer was taken from the freezer along with our neighbors onions which were chopped and frozen at the peak of freshness, and set in the skillet to soften.  Our own chicken broth was added, a touch of salt and pepper, a little flour and some cream from the farmer down the road to make a light, fresh, flavorful soup.  Some people puree carrots in their cream soups to add some additional flavor, but our broth is already packed with flavor from the chicken and the herbs it was cooked with.

To this yummy soup we added some frozen vegetables and left over, farm-raised roast chicken, and a quick batch of fresh biscuits.  It is a stick to your ribs kind of meal that is great for cold and snowy/rainy days.

The recipe I used for the soup:

4 cups chopped celery
1 extra large onion, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup flour
4 cups hot milk
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
     (I omitted this ingredient since I was adding the soup to chicken & biscuits)

Saute celery & onion in some of the chicken broth or a little butter to soften.
Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.
Whisk together flour, milk, salt & pepper, add to pot with the butter.
Boil for 10 minutes.

You can now either strain out the vegetables or run them through a blender or food processor to make a smoother soup.  Again, since it was going into another dish, I used it just the way it came off the stove.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Laundry soap

I don't know if it is all the spring projects and the seemingly never ending amount of cash that is diverted off the farm to fund them or that new ideas seem to hatch at this time of year in my brain; my thoughts turn to ways to reclaim some of that cash.  Last year at about this time I talked about my attempts at resourcefulness in crafting all manner of homemade items.

Inspired by a post from an online homesteaders magazine, From Scratch Magazine; I decided that $2.00 for five gallons of laundry soap was far better than the $4.69 per gallon I am spending now.  I looked in the cabinet and found I had two bars of Fels Naptha and I always have Borax and Washing Soda around.  So began my attempt at making laundry soap.

While Little man was having his lunch I sat at the kitchen table and began grating the Fels Naptha.  I could have tried the food processor to make faster work of it, but there are the simple pleasures in performing and completing a task by hand especially while entertaining a fourteen month old.  Careful to clean up after myself, as the original post advises the grated Fels Naptha seriously resembles cheddar cheese; the table was wiped down and my bucket of gratings moved to the kitchen counter adjacent my large pot.  The soap is added to warm water until dissolved, the powdered ingredients added along with more water and finally added to hot water in a five gallon bucket and then finally more hot water resulting in just shy of five gallons of viscous yellow liquid.  Finally, the mixture is left to set overnight.

My mistake, and I make several throughout my trial and error education, was carefully placing the bucket out of Little man's reach in the mud room to set overnight.  The temperature in this particular room is only slightly warmer than the outside temperature as it is insulated but there is no heat in there.  This beautiful bucket of soap congealed into a semi-solid, soap-like mass.  Tomorrow I will get out my largest canning pot, add the mixture to re-warm and dissolve the mass and then will carefully place it in the bathroom to set overnight.

I chose not to add any essential oils as the Fels Naptha does not carry with it an offending odor.  Our current bottle of laundry detergent should be about empty on Sunday - this weekend will determine whether I wasted my $2.00 or have found another cost savings thanks to the wonderful homesteading world on the Internet.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Woman on a mission!

One day, every other week, Little man goes to child care, his father goes to work and I don't have to work off the farm.  Two days out of the month, I compile a to-do list in my head which would humble even the best list makers and I set out to accomplish at least twenty-five percent of it.  It has finally stopped snowing in our corner of Northwestern Vermont and the temperature is forecast to be in the low forties.  A few outside projects occupy today's list and there are a few projects which require some good concentration when Jen's brain is fresh. 

Today's list includes:
  • Feed and water all the animals - everyday chore but I add it to every list lest I get side tracked on a new project and forget to do the basics.
  • Cleaning the rabbits
  • Cleaning the chicken coop
  • Putting the plastic on the greenhouse
  • Melt all the snow inside the greenhouse and clean out any uncomposted chicken coop and rabbit pine shavings and move them to the outside compost pile
  • Make laundry detergent
  • Do laundry
  • Vacuum
  • Dishes
  • Burn pile of scrap wood
  • Find lid to third sap storage container, wash out & collect sap
  • Assemble the new exercise bike I got on freecycle
  • Make website edits
  • Write a blog post - one down!
  • Balance the checkbook and pay some bills
  • Build a bookshelf for the cookbooks that have been sitting on the couch in the kitchen since before Christmas
  • Wash the grime off at least two kitchen cabinets - beginning of my true spring cleaning
  • Sort through the seed orders that came in this week and update my seed starting schedule
  • Clean off at least two feet of the work bench in the work shop; it took me 20 minutes to find the drill bit I needed for the greenhouse project, it is time to get better organized around here.
  • Patch leaking water pipe in the basement
  • Check on the new baby rabbits which began arriving last night.  Three of five does have kindled, a fourth is feverishly pulling hair today.  They were due today so I will not worry about number five until this weekend.
  • Clean the litter box, take out the garbage, make dinner, etc.
The list is long but the woman is determined!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


When faced with a challenge, the answer used to be - run to [insert name of big box store here] and pick up [insert solution to challenge here].  Nowadays I approach these challenges much differently.  Lack of cash flow has something to do with it; it is more the overwhelming desire to stop accumulating stuff.  This, of course, does not apply to Little man who deserves to be showered with toys.

Little man's stuffed animals no longer fit in the toy box with the other hard plastic or wood toys.  Piled too high on the living room chair, even the weight of Little man on the floor adjacent would cause the pile to shift and tumble about.  He thought this was the greatest - my toys are jumping off the chair to play with me...  It doesn't take Mom too long to get tired of picking up the same toys ten or more times per day.  Instead of running to the store, I looked in the attic and barn for another toy box or other storage solution; to no avail.  I remembered seeing in all those home decorating magazines, stuffed toy hammocks.  A quick search of the Internet yielded several knit and crochet patterns.  Back upstairs to where the yarn is stored and one week later, crocheted in 15 or 20 minutes segments each day, the toy hammock was born.  Salvaged removable plastic hooks unearthed from the storage drawer and stuffed toy storage was born.

The second project was actually contrived two years ago when I was pregnant with Little man and had very little to do while on bed-rest.  Through one of the loads of laundry went an inexpensivecheap recyclable grocery bag.  Unfortunately the 99 cent bag stood little chance against the hot water and spin cycle and what emerged from the machine 40 minutes later barely resembled a fish-net.  I grabbed the yarn and a search of the Internet provided several patterns for reusable bags.  Some I liked, some were far too small, and some were just poorly constructed.  I chose one and set out with my hook and thread.  What emerged was a great bag; it didn't resemble the photo in the pattern at all.  While I use it from time to time, the poor kids at the grocery store have no idea how to pack it, so it is reserved for small trips when I am the one packing the bag.

My most recent sack pattern came from a crochet magazine and the resulting bag is great.  It is big and roomy; it was however meant to be made with thread and not yarn.  The stretch is a little much and any kind of weight puts the contents of the bag at my knee level - I am 5'7".  I will try the bag again with just thread and then perhaps with a combination of yarn and thread.  The search will continue for the perfect replacement for the 99 cent reusable grocery bag; in the meantime, I think I found something that will work nicely.

Ideally I would like to start making something that can be sold at farmers market, but sugaring season has arrived, the incubator has been started, rabbits have been bred, and warmer weather is on the way.