Spring Entertaining (farmgirl style)

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Springtime entertaining.  Nice enough to start up the grill but still a bit chilly to eat outdoors.  So, set the table with spring colors and liveliness!  Mix matched china dishes in spring flavor, a bird cage with aspen wrapped candles, a pretty rose tablecloth underneath the lady bug vinyl cloth.  Candles scattered across the table.  Cloth napkins, mix matched silverware.  We started the meal (and finished it) with Mimosas.  I had a bottle of Champagne from my wine club and a jug of orange juice.  The bright taste was perfect with the food.

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The grill master went out to start the BBQ.  The charcoal briquettes were from last fall so they were less than effective.  Doug threw on some pieces of cedar, pine needles, and lit the thing on fire.  The smell was mountain-like, camp fires, the sweet smell of cedar permeating the air.  When it was hot, he added the briquettes.  He had prepared the most lovely piece of salmon.  He had slathered it in my homemade barbecue sauce which is kind of on the sweet side, adding his own touches of soy sauce, Worcestershire, and honey.  He placed it on the grill after wrapping them in foil, checking it regularly.  Eventually Nancy went to check on it and the flames lapping the sides of the food prompted us to bring it in.  It was perfect, sweet, succulent.

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Nancy, Faleena, and Steve joined us for a spring dinner.  They brought a little chick feeder filled with pastel colored M&Ms.  Such a clever hostess gift!  I would like to say I had a few, but all of our children were there as well.  The candy went pretty fast!

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I made two foil packets (I used Martha Wrap (as in Martha Stewart).  If you haven’t seen this marvel look for it at the store.  It is lined with parchment.  Inside parchment paper, outside foil, no aluminum in one’s food!)  I filled them with fingerling potatoes, half a bottle of Guinness (to Doug’s horror), sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary, garlic.  sprinkled it with salt and pepper and wrapped up the whole thing and placed it on the grill.  (Note: the potatoes take an hour on the grill, plan accordingly!)  These are what we call Beer Potatoes and they are delicious!

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I snapped the ends off of a bunch of asparagus and lined them up on a cookie sheet.  A drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of sea salt is all it takes.  At the last minute they go into a 450 degree oven for 5 minutes.

These can all be made ahead of time then placed on the grill or oven in appropriate time leaving plenty of time to drink Mimosas.  A quick salad adds to the meal.  Sparkling sodas for the kids in wine glasses.

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We finished the meal with a delicious light cake topped with strawberries and fresh whipped cream that Nancy had made.  A pot of french roast.

Cooking shouldn’t be such an intense science.  Look at what herbs you have, what spices.  What is in the root cellar, what is in the freezer?  Check for doneness.  Your nose is the best timer.  Most of all, enjoy your company, your friends, the conversation, the laughs, the Mimosas!

Bored, Boards, and Gourmet Popcorn (with wine!)

This weekend we fell off the homesteading wagon.  It was fun, I won’t lie, but not very sustainable or good for the bank account!  I know we need to live a little but it got ridiculous.  We were getting bored around here, being winter and all, and no wood stove to curl up in front of, and kids and friends running through the house, so we went out.  I guess the problem for us is we go out and stay out!  Friday night we went to a four star restaurant and ended up at a cigar bar.  It was fabulous.  Saturday night a surprise birthday party and dinner across the state.  Sunday started at a coffee shop then we started reminiscing about our old Chinese restaurant we hadn’t been to in years and next thing we know, we’re out eating egg rolls.  We made a weak attempt at leftovers yesterday and ended up at Subway.  I don’t even like Subway!

Doug's wine pic

So, now about two bills short in the bank account and a new week ahead, I need to get back to the homesteading mentality!  I am desperately trying to save up for a homestead.  I want one that I can buy outright.  My entire being wants a homestead.  I start to lose hope but then keep dreaming again.  When we get to said imaginary homestead, we won’t have a full blown business like we do here and will have to pinch pennies in every way which I have been training myself to do.  I am learning to make everything we need.  So perhaps my winter evenings and weekends will be filled with a spinning wheel by the fire, the gentle hum of creating yarn.  Or sewing some clothing articles.  Or preparing a pot of soup.  Or making candles and soap.  Taking care of farm animals.  Right now it only takes two minutes to check on the chickens and I am done with my “farm” chores.

Game nights are a great way to keep your bootie on the homestead and it doesn’t cost a thing to have hours of raucous laughter and competitiveness.  Scrabble, Rummie, Chess, Balderdash, and Scattergories all wait in hopes of being played.  I need to do this more.  Doug and I alone can play a few games.  Friends can be invited over for a mad game of something or other.  Even the kids might want to play.  All alone?  Solitaire.

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What to serve?  Popcorn of course.  I do not mean microwave popcorn or crappy popcorn from Walmart.  I am meaning real kernels that came off of a real ear of corn.  A bag of organic popcorn kernels are less than three dollars at the health food store and provide lots of nights of popcorn. (Organic is important so that we don’t consume genetically modified corn.)  Now, here is where the culinary diva comes out of me.  Jazzing up popcorn so it becomes a meal.  It can be a meal, you know, corn is considered a grain and a vegetable and is high in lutein and many vitamins and minerals.  And our other food group, wine, is amazing with great popcorn.

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In order to achieve gourmet popcorn we need infused olive oils. I get mine from the Olive Tap ( http://theolivetap.com )because of the all the intense, yummy flavors that are ready at my fingertips in the cupboard.  I love the Porcini oil, or the Tuscan Herb, or who doesn’t love Truffle oil?  There is Orange oil, Sesame, Chipotle…and the list goes on.

You can also make your own.  Simply put 1 part herbs to 3 parts olive oil in a sauce pan and heat over medium-low heat for 20 minutes or until fragrant.  Swirl the pan often to keep the oil from burning.

Add a clove of minced garlic, 1 ts of basil, 1 ts of oregano, and a pinch of cayenne.  Or 2 Tb of rosemary, a pinch of thyme, and sesame seeds.  The combinations are endless and the result is spectacular.  Infused oils take the ordinary homestead meal to a five start restaurant while not breaking the bank!

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Now for the popcorn combinations:

Truffle oil and parmesan with a touch of salt and a glass of Chardonnay

Garlic and Herb oil with sea salt and Pinot Noir

Sprinkle garlic powder, onion powder, nutritional yeast (health food stores, tastes like cheese, high in B12), a pinch of chipotle and drizzle with plain olive oil and salt.  Cabernet Sauvignon can stand up to this one!

Sprinkle basil, parmesan, smoked sea salt, and garlic powder onto popcorn then drizzle olive oil over it.  Try a Pinot Grigio with this one or even a great red blend.

The combinations are endless, the results delicious!  The price….saving up for a homestead cheap.

 

 

The Entertaining Farmgirl Strikes Again

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I love to entertain!  Being a farmgirl is not all about perpetually dirty fingernails, loose chickens, and seed catalogs.  It is about living a simple life.  Living a simple life, however, means I am not off to the theater all the time to see a play (just once in a while) like I used to be and knowing that every time I go out to eat I am spending just a little more of my future homestead money.  So, what is a girl supposed to do to have a good time?  Have friends over for dinner, drinks, and laughs of course!

My friends from the city will bring empty egg cartons to refill and will bring a dish or a drink.  We laugh until our sides hurt.  They must like coming here because it is quite a drive but they are here often and I love it.  Crossing the bridge into our little town brings instant serenity.

My friends from the country will bring a canned good or a great bottle of wine.  We skip down the country roads to each other’s houses often and enjoy a long evening of dreaming up new implements for our farms, what chicken breeds to get next year, and play music on the fiddle and guitar.

It costs nothing to have friends over and it will prove to be more fun than any movie or fancy restaurant. (Don’t get me wrong, when we do go out on a date, it costs a pretty penny.  I apparently am spoiled.)

Here are some ideas for a lovely New Year’s lunch or dinner complete with my recipe for Seafood Chowder.

First pick a decorating style:

If you use a regular tablecloth make sure it has a stunning print.  Big florals are a bit much, opt for small floral prints to create a country cottage look.  Pick up vintage floral plates at the thrift store when you see them.  Not a set, just one or two of a great old pattern.  The mix-matched look creates whimsy on the table.  Use votives strewn across the table for light.  Cloth napkins and tea cups with a pot of great tea would make a lovely theme.

You could use a bright oil cloth table covering; they are shiny and fun and add a touch of vintage to your table.  Solid plates, earthenware preferably, but plain colored dishes set off the colors in the oil cloth.  Amusing sayings on cocktail napkins give an element of surprise when folks pick up their napkin.  I have a few right now that say, “Can I be the designated drinker?”

How about an Indian blanket like the one shown?  It adds a pop of southwestern to the table.  Use wood candle holders or faux wood candles and pine cones to decorate the table.  Fiesta ware or even toile china looks great on these blankets.  Wine glasses add sparkle and cloth napkins will complete the look.

Lastly, a quilt as the table cloth, mix-matched china, small canning jars for drinks, and tall candles with a tea pot filled with flowers create a funky elegance to your gathering.

With this seafood recipe, Champagne would be excellent.  So would a  Pinot Grigio but being a red lover, I found that a good Pinot Noir fits nicely as well.  A loaf of fresh Italian or French bread is a must to sop up the glorious dredges.  Happy New Year my friends!

Seafood Chowder New Year’s Style

5 T of olive oil

1 cup of minced onion, 4 celery stalks chopped, and 4 cloves of garlic minced

Saute in oil until onion is just turning brown

Add 4 potatoes chopped up small and 6 cups of broth (I used onion broth)

Boil for 15 minutes and using potato masher, mash potatoes some to thicken

Add 4 cups of corn (preferably that you canned last summer)

28 oz shrimp and 24 oz of crab meat

1 cup of cream

1 t of bay seasoning, 1 t of seafood seasoning, and 1 t of Cajun seasoning (I have way too much fun at Savory Spice Shop, you could use a blend of dill, paprika, salt, lemon pepper, garlic, etc.)

Heat through another 10 minutes.  This serves 12 so feel free to pare it down to how many people you are serving!

 

Reindeer Droppings

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Mom’s Busy Day Cookies were a staple at our house. It was wonderful to come home some days from school and see the delicious cookies lining the counters on wax paper cooling. I really thought my mother invented these so imagine my surprise when I saw them at a cookie swap as an adult, and thought, ‘Is my mom here?’

When Andy was in fifth grade, the class made a recipe book for Christmas presents and each child was to bring in a recipe. I sent him off with Mom’s Busy Day Cookie recipe. When the precious book came home in his smiling hands I turned to the page with our recipe in it just to see it called “Reindeer Droppings.” “Reindeer Droppings!” I exclaim, “Why did you call them that?” He smiled the classic little boy mischievious/innocent grin and said, “That’s what they look like!”

When you have company over to open presents, place a cinnamon stick in with the coffee grounds before adding water to the coffee maker or French press and whip up some of these no-bake, easy, and delicious…um…Reindeer Droppings, and enjoy!

Reindeer Droppings (aka: Mom’s Busy Day Cookies)

2 C. sugar

1 stick butter

1/4 t. salt

1/2 C. milk

¼ C. cocoa

½ C. peanut butter

3 1/2 C. rolled oats

1 t. vanilla

Measure sugar, butter, salt, milk and cocoa into a large saucepan. Stir until sugar is dissolved, over medium heat. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Stir in peanut butter, rolled oats and vanilla; mix well. Drop by teaspoonfuls on waxed paper. Cool completely

Yield about 3 dozen.

The Entertaining Farmgirl

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People often think of homesteaders as those who go out and survive on their own away from society and civilization.  Most homesteaders know that one cannot become a hermit.  A better term than “self sufficient” would be “community sufficient”.  I could not possibly make and provide everything my family needs.  So, I depend on Miller Farms to help me out when I fall a little short on my gardening goals.  When I need goat cheese for a recipe (like the one  below) I call on Nancy who has goats.  When she needs herbal medicines, she calls on me even though she took my classes and knows how to make them, time catches us all at the end of the day and sadly, we cannot do everything!  I get honey from someone else until I get my hives in the spring.  I provide a lot of preserved food and fresh eggs and physical labor to my mini-homestead.  Even when I get the whole farm and can grow enough animal feed, peeople feed, legumes, eggs, fruit, honey, and can mostly take care of myself, we might fall short on wood one year, or need someone to help us sheer the alpacas.  God didn’t design us to walk it alone!  We can have our little haven but we’ll always seek out the company of like minded people.  Here’s some ideas when you invite them to supper!

Candles and twinkly lights are my arsenol all year long.  The rooms look so beautiful softly lit with candles, oil lamps, and Christmas lights.  I understand once I go off grid, I will have to find a source for solar twinkly lights!  In the meantime, I buy a year’s worth in season.  It is my downfall and my vice, but they make me so darn happy!  Tons of candles (that the cats can’t reach) and oil lamps light up the dark corners and everyone looks fabulous after a hard day working on the farm in the glow of flame (small, not out of control flame).

Inexpensive gold chargers make each place at the table special.  The candlelight bounces off the luster and the table seems to sparkle.  I will one day, when the children move out, buy some crystal wine glasses that will really sparkle!  In the meantime I have mix-matched glassware and small canning jars.  Luckily if you keep pouring the wine, no one cares.  I use my Christmas dishes or fine china.  No use keeping everything locked up.  You’ll never enjoy them in the attic.

This meal is super easy to prepare and oh so delicious!  Serve a bold red wine to balance the goat cheese.  We had a great Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Syrah blend from Argentina.  One day the wine will come out of my own cellar!

Oyster Mushroom and Truffle Goat Cheese Pasta

2 oz of dried oyster mushrooms reconstituted (I get mine from Savory Spice Shop)

Marinate mushrooms in 3/4 cup of marsala wine for 30 minutes

In the meantime mince 3 cloves of garlic and saute in 1 Tablespoon of butter

Add mushrooms and wine plus 2 more Tablespoons of butter and cook for 5 minutes.

Add 1 Tablespoon each of fresh parsley and thyme plus a pinch of cayenne

Add 3 shakes of liquid smoke, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and paprika

Stir in 2 cups of fresh goat cheese, 3/4 cup of cream, 1 teaspoon of maple syrup and heat on low for 10 minutes stirring to blend

Whisk in 1 Tablespoon of flour to thicken. Cook for 5 more minutes or so.

Serve over 16 oz of pasta.

A great big salad drizzled with sesame oil, a bit of rice wine vinegar, a handful of sesame seeds makes a great side dish.  Place salt and pepper at table so everyone can season.