Getting ready for Fall already….and a serial killer chick?

Ok, I know it seems strange to even be thinking about fall when Summer only just started.  However, if you have any interest in growing pumpkins and gourds for Fall decorating and carving now is the time to get them going.

Last year I took the advice of a man at the nursery who said he was sure pumpkins should be started by the end of July…he was wrong.  My pumpkins were ready by December.  By the time the pumpkins were ready I was so frustrated with them I ended up cutting them open and feeding them to the goats, chickens and pigs.  The animals loved it but I felt like I failed again.

I’ve always wanted to grow a real pumpkin patch for my kids.  I have never, not even once been successful.  As you can imagine south Florida is not an ideal place to grow pumpkins but I kept trying.  I spent hours every year trying to find a real pumpkin patch to take my kids to…try to get that great photo with the kids sitting amongst the huge pumpkins and vines.  All I ever found were fake pumpkin patches that sprout up in parking lots.  Forgive me, but I wasn’t looking for liquor store and bank signs in the background of my idyllic photo.  Sigh.

Today, I started 9 pumpkin vines and 3 gourd vines.  Fingers crossed, I just don’t want to fail….again.

In other farm news, That hen that’s been sitting on eggs for what seemed like a year finally hatched out 5 chicks.  Then for some reason she decided that was enough for her and she jumped off the nest taking her chicks with her.  When I went to clear out the nesting box I found 4 eggs partially hatched with the chicks inside at way too low a temperature.  I collected these poor eggs and ran inside to see what I could do to save them.

There is a certain amount of moisture that is required to keep the chick from sticking to the inside of the shells.  The Momma hen usually takes care of this.  She quit her job and so I had to try to provide that moisture at the last moment.

I was able to get all of the chicks hatched but….unfortunately, 1 chick was stronger than the others.  He killed the other 3 over night.  It was horrible.  We named that chick Manson….after the serial killer.  That chick doesn’t look evil but he sure must be!

Now I was left trying to figure out how I would get the Mamma hen to take Manson back with her other babies.  Every time I tried to put him with the others she ran him off.  It’s way too hot outside to waste time trying to reason with a crazy hen who only likes half her own kids.  So, I did the only thing I could think of…. I grabbed up all of her chicks (she chased me and hissed then started screaming)  I rubbed all the babies together mixed in with Manson.  Then, once I figured she wouldn’t  be able to tell him apart anymore I gave her back 6 babies instead of the 5 she had.

She stood there with her legs spread wide apart fluffed up to twice her size.  I said I was sorry and tried to make nice with her….she bit me.  I swore at her….

The chicks all ran back to her and tried to hide under her.  Manson being the weirdo he is just stood there…standing out like a sore thumb!  I shoved him under her….she hissed but accepted him long enough to smell him.  Manson smelled like the others so even though she seems to know something was not the same she can’t figure out what it is.

I gave them fresh food and water (looking to buy favor) and backed away.

I checked an hour or so later to see if Mamma was still accepting Manson and of course checking to see if he had killed anyone else.

Mamma sat there with her (now) 6 chicks very happily.  I had done it.  I have neosporin allover my hands but hey….it’s better than having another chick living in my house.

Tomorrow, I have an amazing recipe for dried strawberry muffins to share with you.  They are the best I’ve ever had.  A cup of coffee and one of these muffins….makes being covered in chicken bites not so bad.

Try and stay cool out there….see you soon!

 

Update and sincere thanks

So many of you sent your prayers and genuine concern to me and my family.  I wanted to let you all know that thankfully, both my parents are doing well.  My Dads surgery was a bit more complicated than expected but he is a trooper and is doing great.  If my Dad were reading this he would say of course I am a trooper….I used to be a boy-scout!!!  You don’t know my Dad, but…he was an awful boy-scout and a menace in general in his youth.  He’s also one of two of my favorite men on the planet (hubby being the other of course).  Dad is hurting quite a bit but the fun spirit that makes him who he is has suffered no damage. Thankfully.

My Mom, has the strength of 10 people and seems to have figured out how to give cancer a really good fight.  So far she is winning the fight in amazing style.  Even though my Mom is the “sicker” of the two my Mom is on her way back home from treatment and will be looking after my Dad while he heals.  Forgive me men, but we women are on to you….we know you fall apart because you know we will take care of you like baby birds.  My Dad is doing great….until he lays eyes on my Mom.  Then he will collapse into a whimpering pile of man in need of love and care only my Mom can provide.

They are adorable.

I love them.

Now, that I can breathe again…I can get back to sharing my farm antics and kitchen adventures.  Whew!  First, I need a nap.

Yet another interruption…..

Please excuse this interruption, both my parents are having health issues at the same time.  I have two kids here on summer break looking at me to supply entertainment while I’m trying to hold it together.  I have so many nice things to share but am unable to think.

My Dad is having surgery tomorrow while my Mom is in another state for her cancer treatment.  As you all know, I’m in yet a third state coming apart at the seams.

You have all been so kind to me through so much of this.  Your warm wishes and prayers mean everything to me.

I am thankful.  See you here again soon.  This will all pass because good times always follow the bad ones….I hope.  I miss you all.

Most sincerely,

Tamatha

Perfect Italian style biscotti with dark chocolate

As you can imagine living on a farm, even a small one like this requires a pretty strict routine.  When I am even slightly pushed out of my routine I get (a little) cranky.  Now, I would not admit this to my husband because frankly he is the biggest source of distraction in my life.  You would think it would be the kids but no…..it’s Hubby (rumored to be a grown man).

We had the blessing to have him home for a couple of extra days this week and I’m telling you….I’m lost.  Don’t get me wrong, having him home delights me.  But….I’m a creature of habit, I do things the same time every day.  I’m convinced this routine keeps the kids from completely losing their minds (there by me from losing mine) ….keeps the animals from screaming for food unless it’s feeding time (yes they scream, Oliver the goat screams like a kidnapped woman.  It can be startling for people who don’t know him).  Lastly, my routine brings order to my world and helps me NOT to be (a little) cranky.  You should know that for the record, my husband and kids would not necessarily agree with the “a little” part.

I’m right, they’re wrong…that’s it.  :)

I’ve mentioned the word cranky a couple of times.  Really what I mean is…I hate change.  When did that happen?  When I was younger I remember being up for an adventure at any moment.  Go eat pancakes at 3am at the local diner? Sure!  Go to karaoke with my Cousin Eric at a weird Japanese restaurant in lower Manhattan to just sit there and mock people?  Why not! Ok, that last one wasn’t my best moment but we did it….quietly, no ones feelings were hurt I promise (I was young and stupid).  I was even talked into going to Atlantic city at 1am.  It was a 2 hour drive!  I went and had a good time.  I won $167 with 1 quarter.

Where did that person go? I cherish my daily routine.  I feel a sense of peace when things go exactly how I plan them.  I need to work on lightening up, better balance wouldn’t hurt me, in fact it would do me some good I think.  Of course I will deny all of this to my Hubby and kids just in case I quit trying to lighten up so they can’t use this thought against me.

Everyday at 3pm I sit down and have a cup of tea.  I love my tea time.  I get to flip through a magazine….check out Pinterest and read other blogs that I love.  I ask that all craziness hit the pause button around here at 3pm.  Oliver the goat can scream all he wants….it’s the time of day he will get no response from me.  It’s tea time!!!!!  Stop screaming Oliver! I’m not coming!

To go with my tea, I have created a wonderful recipe for Italian style biscotti with dark chocolate.  Dipping this cookie into my cup of tea is worth every single calorie, EVERY SINGLE ONE.  It’s even worth how annoyed my family is while waiting so they can go crazy again (after tea time).  Yes, it’s that good.

Let’s bake!

Italian Style Biscotti with Dark Chocolate ~ Tamatha Mavraides

1 cup dark chocolate chips

1 stick softened butter

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon anise extract

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

For chocolate glaze

1 1/2 cups chopped dark chocolate

Here we go…

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside.

In the work bowl of your standing mixer cream the butter and sugar.

Add the eggs and beat until fully combined and lightened.

Add the vanilla and the anise extracts, mix.   Scrape down the sides and mix again to be sure everything is combined.

Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined.

Add the chocolate chips, mix very briefly.

Line your baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the dough in half.  Shape the dough balls into 12 inch long logs that are about and inch high.  Do the same with the second half of the dough.  Make sure the dough logs are several inches apart on the baking sheet.

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Bake the logs for about 30-35 minutes.

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Remove from the oven.  Allow to cool for 5-8 minutes.  Using a serrated knife slice the logs into 1 inch slices on the diagonal.

Place the sliced cookie back on the baking sheet and return to the oven for 5-7 minutes.  Flip each cookie over and bake again for 5-7 minutes more.

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**Please note: These times are for a non convection oven.

Remove the cookies to a rack to cool completely.

In a microwave safe glass bowl let 1 cup of the chopped chocolate.  The chocolate should not be melted while in the microwave but will be once stirred.  This takes about a minute in my microwave.

Stir until the hot but NOT scotched chocolate is smooth.  Add half of the remaining chopped chocolate.  Stir until smooth.  If needed add a little of the remaining chocolate.

With a spoon, slather melted chocolate onto the tops of the cooled cookies.

Put the cookies in the refrigerator to set the chocolate.  Once the chocolate is set move the cookies to an airtight container.

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Enjoy….at 3pm for tea time perhaps.  :)

An easy twist on the European Kitchen Garden….

I’ve spent years reading about the European style kitchen garden.  Both the French as well as the Italian versions.  I’ve watched you-tube videos and done countless photo walk throughs trying to figure out how to make one work for me at my own home.

In Florida we did a very good job creating a garden but it didn’t have the feel I was looking for.  When we moved here we found ourselves with so much room to work with we immediately went in the wrong direction and tried to create a garden that was much too large and too far away from the house.  The only thing we grew successfully were red ant hills and tomatoes riddled with blossom end rot.  Each pitiful tomato had a bite taken from it by our resident chickens.  It’s safe to say last years garden was a total failure.

Then, we decided to regroup.  We took a good look at the land available to us for gardening and the resources at hand to create the garden I could so clearly see in my head.  Here is the closest we’ve ever come to a proper French kitchen garden….we are simply delighted!!!

One of the first things needed to give the garden that enclosed space of the French garden was to create walls.  Why had it taken so long to realize that??  I don’t know.  Maybe for the same reason I forget to wear socks under my muck boots…the mud pulls the boots off and I’m stuck in the mud with my bare feet.  I’m a moron.  The mud is gross and makes me consider chopping off my own foot every time it happens.  Sigh.

Anyway…

We have been collecting wood pallets all year.  We had enough pallets to create a really large garden room.  Hubby will build the garden gate over the next few weeks.  The enclosure is done and works perfectly. See…….

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Having the walls around the garden immediately gave us that sense of cozy and structured space that we’ve been looking for.  The walls also help keep the chickens out (once the gate goes up).  In case you didn’t know, chickens don’t eat a tomato here and there.  They literally take a bite from every single thing grown in the garden if they are allowed to reach it.  Except for hot peppers, they seem to know not to taste those.

The next issue was the soil.  The soil here is heavy clay.  So many people here seem to grow amazing gardens in this soil but I grew nothing but ant hills.  We tried some simple raised beds last year but didn’t love them either.  We grew the blossom end rot in those….I guess we used poor soil mix to fill the beds.

This year we went with straw bales that we conditioned for 12 days before planting.  The method is from a book written by Joel Karsten called Straw Bale Gardens.

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The book lays out a truly simple way to grow in straw bales with shocking results.  We figured we would give it a go.  I have to tell you, we love and I do mean LOVE the results so far!

We have more still to be planted in the way of vegetables though we are just about done.  I think we have one row left.  We’ve begun planting flowers.  We had such great results in Florida mixing flowers in with the vegetable garden we just had to do it here too.  The flowers make the garden so pretty but the real plus is that the flowers attract bees and butterflies.  In Florida, once we planted the flowers throughout the garden our yields jumped significantly.  Of course, it’s important to grow the right flowers for that purpose.

As many of you know, I love to make pickles and jams….food preserving is yet another hobby of mine.

This year we are growing:

5 types of tomatoes

6 types of peppers both spicy and sweet

2 types of strawberries

4 types of onions

2 types of cucumbers (pickling and slicing)

Sugar baby watermelon

4 types of mint

2 types of oregano

3 types of thyme

Dill

Italian parsley

Cilantro

Basil

Chives

Tarragon

Carrots

Celery

Salad greens

Swiss Chard

We, have also started a small orchard.  The orchard is home to our figs, blackberries, raspberries, and citrus trees.

Thanks for visiting our “Jardin Potager”(French kitchen garden).  I can’t wait to make pickles, jams, marmalades…..pies….cakes….flavored vinegars…..canned tomatoes…..tomato paste….roasted peppers preserved in garlic oil…… ok, you get the idea.  Get the canning pots ready y’all!

I will post updated photos as the garden grows.  I’m so excited!

This is a picture of Penelope wearing her bed as a hat….It has nothing to do with anything.

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