Thursday, May 31, 2012

Healthified Italian Sausage Soup

We might tend to think of a soup like this as being more appropriate for a cold, winter day, but, if you are attempting to eat in season, this is actually the time to try out this recipe. 

We were able to use the Swiss chard, onions, and new potatoes from our garden for this recipe.    Even if you're not growing these items yourself, you can most likely snag them at your local farmers' market right now. 

2 slices bacon (we use turkey bacon)
1/2 lb. lean Italian sausage
4-6 new potatoes (cut into 1/2" pieces)
1 large onion (or several smaller ones), chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
4 c. water
3.5 c. chicken broth
4 c. chopped fresh kale or Swiss chard leaves (thick stems removed)
1/2 lb. pinto beans (soaked overnight, then cooked all day in crockpot on low heat)
1 c. half-and-half

1. Cook bacon and brown sausage, then set aside.  Crumble bacon, once cool.

2.  In large pot, mix potatoes, onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, pepper flakes, water, and broth.  Heat to boiling.  Reduce heat to low; cook uncovered about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3.  Stir in bacon, sausage, greens, and beans.  Cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until potatoes and greens are tender. 

4.  Stir in half-and-half; cook until just heated.  Add additional salt to taste.

This was a delicious, spicy soup!  It made enough for us to freeze for a repeat meal later on.  We served it with some goat cheese and crackers and a big salad, but it was hearty enough that it really could've stood alone as the meal.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Truly All-Natural Laundry Soap!

Though I've been making my family's laundry detergent for quite awhile, even using Ivory soap doesn't make it completely natural.  Once I began soap making, I set out to create an all-natural soap especially formulated for laundry. 

This Coconut Laundry Soap is all-natural and is formulated differently than body soap (making it much better for laundry use than Ivory).  It contains Coconut oil, which lathers and cleans well but will not build up on fabric and rinses away better than traditional soap during the wash cycle.  This soap is suitable for vegetarians and vegans and is handmade by yours truly.  :)

Since this is a product that is not easily obtained in stores and I've made more than I necessarily need, I'd love to make it available to you via the blog.  If you'd like to order one of the 3 products listed below, please email me (Ashley) at

I will sell this soap in 3 different forms:

1.  Baggie of Shredded Soap.  If you plan to add the soap to your own laundry mix, this just saves you a step.  This amount is enough to mix with a full box of Borax and Washing Soda to create enough detergent to last you months. 
$5.00 + cost of shipping (if applicable)

2.  1 qt. jar of prepared laundry detergent.  If you haven't yet tried homemade laundry detergent, this would be a cost and resource-effective way to try it without a big commitment.  This jar, containing a mix of Borax, Washing Soda, and my Coconut Laundry Soap, is ready to use and since it takes only 2 Tbs.-1/4 c. per load (depending on your water), it should last you long enough to decide whether you'd like to continue using DIY laundry detergent.  In fact, this one jar should last about 30 loads.
$3.00 + cost of shipping

3.  Bar form.  This bar is 2" in diameter.  It can be shredded to add to your own mix of detergent or can be used in its bar form as a stain pre-treater. 
$2.50 + cost of shipping (if applicable)
(Available 6/27)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Never Buy Yogurt Again!

This post has been a long time coming.  I tried 7 batches of yogurt before I was finally ready to post about it.  I'll be honest.  When I first read how easy it is to make yogurt at home, I was a little embarrassed that I've been buying it from the store all this time. 

All the info I've read about yogurt making touts how easy it is to do.  I apparently was blocking out the part where they say "unless you're using goat milk," which of course I am.  Apparently the different construction of the fat molecules in goat milk makes getting it to set up as yogurt much more challenging.  I've yet to succeed with goat milk.  I did eat a jar earlier this week, but it was so runny that I had to pour it over my granola.  Apparently, in Europe, they prefer a runny yogurt.  It's considered more gourmet.  Since I've grown up with my Dannon from a plastic cup, I prefer to be able to spoon my yogurt into the bowl, so I refuse to count this thickened milk as a success.

Still, I'm not giving up on making yogurt from our goat milk.  In an effort to rule out other variables, I made a batch this week with cow milk from the grocery store and had great success.  So, since I'm assuming that most of you drink cow milk, I thought I'd pass along this little blip of success on my journey toward goat milk yogurt in hopes that you may be able to take it and run with it for your own families.

Here's how you do it: 

1.  Heat 1/2 gallon of whole milk (cannot by Ultra Pasteurized -- click here to see why -- read the label.  If it comes in a jug and just says "pasteurized," you're good to go) to 180 degrees.  Stir pretty much constantly once you get to 140 degrees so that you can be sure not to scorch the milk. 

Adding a thickener is optional.  I found that the cow milk came out thick enough without it, though.  If you try it the first time and found it too thin for your liking, add 1/4 c. powdered milk next time.  Add it to the milk BEFORE heating it.

2. Once your milk has reached 180 degrees, plunge it into a sink full of ice-cold water.  Watch it closely as the temperature will drop quickly.  When it reaches 120 degrees, remove from water and act quickly with the next step.

3. Add your starter culture.  You can go one of two routes here.  The easiest thing is to add 2 Tbs. of yogurt to the milk.  Be sure that the yogurt you choose is plain and contains active cultures.  It should say on the package. 
This one says it on the back near the nutrition information.  I love this Greek yogurt, so I tried this one (in several of my attempts). You will only ever have to buy one little tub, though, since you can just reserve 2 Tbs. from a previous batch to reuse next time.

Your other starter option is to buy a powdered culture from a supplier.  I've had success with Dairy Connection's ABY-2C culture, which is similar to a Bulgarian yogurt and I'd read is a good one to use with goat milk.  Cultures for Health, which is where I order my cheesemaking supplies also has several yogurt options, including a Greek that looks yummy.  It only takes a smidgen of this culture per batch (yes, smidgen is a technical term.  I just learned this myself.  Apparently a smidgen is 1/32 of a tsp.)

Whichever culture route you go, you stir it in immediately once your milk temperature has dropped to 120.

 Then, pour it into mason jars and cap tightly. 

Submerge in a small cooler full of nearly boiling water (I just had some water heating in a big pot on the stove alongside my milk so that it would be ready for the cooler.)

The goal is to keep your yogurt at an approximate temperature of 116 degrees for 6-8 hours as it sets up.  I found that in the kitchen, the cooler did the job pretty well.  About 4 hours in, I heated a bit more water and threw it in, just to keep things warm.  If it's a hot, sunny day, you could just sit the cooler outside.

Another option would be to use a Yogatherm or something similar.  I'd read about good results with goat milk, so I forked over the $40 for this electricity-free option.  It basically just super-insulates the milk to better maintain the temperature.  It's available at either Dairy Connection or Cultures for Health (see links above).

At the end of the 6-8 hours, open it up to be sure it's thickening.  Then, refrigerate overnight. 

In the morning, enjoy a bowlful with some fresh berries and honey.  Or, at least, that's what I'd do.  :)
1/2 gallon of yogurt is a lot.  Luckily, it should keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks.

  Don't forget to save those 2 Tbs. for your next batch, and you'll never have to buy yogurt again!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Snap Peas and Asparagus Penne

Before I share this recipe, consider this great excerpt from Barbara Kingsolver:

"If we are blessed with an abundance of choices about food, we are surely also obliged to consider the responsibility implicit in our choices.  There has never been a more important time to think about where our food comes from.  We could make for ourselves a safer nation, overnight, simply by giving more support to our local food economies and learning ways of eating and living around a table that reflect the calendar.  Our families, of course, will never need to be as beholden to the seasons as the Native Americans who called February by the name "Hungry Month," and I'm grateful for that.  But we can try to live close enough to the land's ordinary time that we notice when something is out of place and special."

If you are making an effort to live "around a table that reflect[s] the calendar," consider putting this recipe on the table this week:  Sugar Snap Peas and Asparagus Penne.  In our area both snap peas and asparagus are in season, and we've got so many peas right now, we're struggling to eat them all.

Sometimes simple is just best.  This recipe is so easy, and it's simplicity lets the local, in-season flavors of the asparagus and snap peas really shine. 

1 lb. fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
8 oz. (or about 2.5 cups) of sugar snap peas, trimmed
8 oz. dry penne pasta
3 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 c. grated or shredded Parmesan (we used shredded -- it's what I had)
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.  Add asparagus and cook for 2 minutes.  Add peas and cook for an additional 2 minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl and cover to keep warm.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions (I was able to boil my veggies in a big pot with a strainer inside so that all I had to do was lift out the strainer once veggies were done, and I had veggie-flavored, boiling water ready to use for the pasta.)  Drain pasta.

Place pasta in the bowl with asparagus and peas.  Toss with olive oil, Parmesan, salt, and pepper.


You could get really creative with this and kick up the flavor factor by adding some bacon, crushed red pepper flakes, cherry tomatoes, or maybe some sun-dried tomatoes.  Because tomatoes are not yet "in season" at our house and the kids won't eat anything too spicy, we just went basic, and it was great!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Broccoli? Seriously?

What is up with the broccoli?  Seriously. 

You can't really get a feel for how large this is from the picture, but the width of the garden bed is 4 feet.  It's enormous and still shows no signs of what we think of as broccoli.  It should form in the center but so far just keeps producing big, showy leaves.  I'm going to give it another couple weeks, then it'll become chicken food.  It's creating a bit too much shade for neighboring plants and seems like a lot of fanfare for the whole lot of nothing it's produced so far. 

Suggestions?  Insight?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Onion Harvest

Today, I finally got to harvest the onions.  They are smaller than I'd hoped for, but once the tops start to die back,  it's time to harvest.  I should've taken a picture of what they looked like before I pulled them up, but, basically, they just looked like a strong wind had blown them over, and they were beginning to brown. 

You know what they say about hindsight, right?  Well, according to my reading this morning, my bulbs may have been bigger if I'd laid off the fertilizer for the past 7 weeks or so and reduced the amount of water. 

The onions that bloomed are mostly still standing and seem to have bigger bulbs under the soil.  I will give them a few more weeks to show signs of dying back.  If they don't, though, it'll be time to harvest, and we'll have to eat those bulbs first as they likely won't keep as well as the ones that die back on their own.

To prepare the onions to last awhile, I cleaned them up and laid them out on the porch (any warm location will do).  They'll stay there for 2 weeks (unless they're all eaten up by then) and will then be ready for cooler storage.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Chicks Are Growing!

Our little chickies are not so little anymore!  It seems they've become lively, rebellious teenagers.  They love getting moved to new grass each day and try to escape to even greener patches every time we open up the door.  We sometimes have to spray them with the hose so that they'll back away enough from the door for us to switch out their feeders.   

Here's one of the Dominiques (or "Domineckers," as they say around here) that will become apart of our laying flock.

We are now able to tell the difference between hens and roosters.  This Buff Orpington is a hen.

See the pronounced red comb?  This one is a rooster.

I opened the door to get some better pictures, and they promptly charged me! 

It's so much fun to see how these little guys are growing. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Baby Dove, Baby Love

Remember my post that included these guys?  Click here  to see the original post about these Eurasian Collared-Doves who've called our yard home. We love listening to their beautiful call and watching them walk around in the goat pen, looking for goodies.

Well, John stumbled upon this little guy while weed-eating the other day.  He's a baby Eurasian Collared-Dove.  You can even still make out some of his little fuzzy chick feathers.  Based on how shocked he seemed to be sitting atop the fence and how close he let John get with the camera, I'm assuming this was one of his first trips out of the nest.    We thought he was adorable!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Silver Lining of Mosaic Disease

It appears that a couple of my potato plants have developed Mosaic, an easily-spread disease that can be caused by a variety of viruses and lead to stunted plant growth.  Mosaic can present itself as mottled yellow and green leaves, puckered leaves, or blisters. 
If infected plants are not removed early in the growing season, aphids will feed on infected plants and fly the disease to other locations in the garden.  In fact, the disease is so easily spread that gardeners should wash hands and tools that have touched infected plants in a strong soap solution. 

Interestingly, smokers may pick up the tobacco mosaic virus by handling infected tobacoo products then then spread the disease to their plants by gardening without washing hands after a smoke.  (Yet another reason to quit, if anyone is still looking for a good one:)

Tomatoes, pepper, potatoes, squash, cucumbers, melons, lettuce, spinach, and more are all susceptible to Mosaic.  Though they probably won't die, diseased plants will yield fewer fruits and squash-family plants will usually produce small, mottled fruits that have an off-taste.

So, I bit the bullet and yanked out these potato plants.

And, look what I found!  Yep, these guys came out with the two plants I pulled out.  I had been waiting for my potato plants to bloom like my garden guide had suggested.  But, I was forgetting that if I wanted new potatoes (as this variety is intended to be), then I should actually dig them up earlier. 

If not for the Mosaic, these would've outgrown their new potato phase.  See, silver lining!

So, I cut off the remaining plants and will leave the rest of the potatoes in the ground for 2 weeks to develop their tough skin that will help them last longer in the pantry.   The kids are especially excited about digging for potato treasures in 2 weeks!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Honey Vanilla Coffee Creamer

Tomorrow, I will head to the grocery store with a list of about 50 items.  Not on the list = milk or eggs.  I love that!  I'd love to reach a point where I can eliminate ALL dairy items from the list. 

I recently discovered flavored coffee creamers.  Mmmmm!  So, as I've got enough goat milk in my fridge right now to fill the Duggers' breakfast glasses, I thought I'd try my hand at making some delicious creamer. 
Honey Vanilla Coffee Creamer
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. whole milk
¼ c. raw honey
2 tsp. vanilla

Whisk together cream, milk, and honey in medium saucepan over medium heat.  When the mixture begins to steam, remove from the heat.  Whisk in vanilla. 

Pour into a glass bottle and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.  It makes about 2 1/4 cups.

Stir into your favorite cup of Joe.   Yummy!

Monday, May 21, 2012

And the Goat Milk Soap Goes To . . .

Thanks so much to the 8 of you who made me smile with your comments!  It looks like strawberry and lemon pies are favorites.  Jenny, I love the frozen berry pie, too.  I think I may have made a dozen of them last summer.  I'll have to do a post on that recipe later on.  Ericka, I remember your warm strawberry cream cheese pie.  Yummmmm!  And, I'm anxious to try your frozen pie.  While I do love lemon, I've never made a lemon pie, so I'll have to give that a try as well; thanks, Merrilee, for the recipe for that one.

Now, for the big reveal.  John served as my witness for the big drawing   (Mom, do you recognize the 99 cent bowl you bought me from the antique store last weekend?  A little oil went a long way, huh?).

The winner is . . . Ericka!  Looks like I'll be mailing some all-natural, handmade goat milk soap to Texas!  I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Goat Love!

Our goats have been here long enough to really get settled in, and we are getting to know each of their personalities.  We each have a favorite goat.  This is a pic of me with Honey, my favorite goat. 
She always meets me at the fence for kisses!

This was the view out my kitchen-sink window this morning.  Aren't they cute napping together?

This is Razz, our milker.  They crack me up when they get down on their knees like this to reach through the fence.  Apparently, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence because they work hard to get at it!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Beet Juice!

Our organic backyard beets are ready for juicing! 

This morning, John and I (no, not the kids) enjoyed a beet and apple combination that, according to Natural News, boasts these health benefits:

1. improves blood structure by building red blood cells
2.  improves circulation
3. cures diseases of the large intestine and digestive system
4. dissolves stones in the liver, kidneys, and bladder
5. lowers blood pressure
6. improves HDL levels (good cholesterol)
7. increases the number of CD8 cells in the colon, which are cancer-destroying cells

To borrow a line from the article:  "Not bad for a common item found in most grocery stores."


Friday, May 18, 2012

Bucket List

My parents had the chance to visit our little farm this past weekend.  It was their first trip here since the goats arrived.  After Girl 1, showed them how to do it, my Mom jumped right in and took a seat on the milking stool.  She did great and seemed to really enjoy the goats during her visit.

It took Dad a day to warm up to the idea, but he wasn't going to be shown up by Mom, so on Day 2 of their visit, he gave it a try. 

The look on his face says it all:   Okay, I'm doing it.  Can I be done now?   
I love this picture!

Though he probably won't be jumping onto the milking stool again any time soon, I was proud of him for giving it a try.  Maybe he should write "milk a goat" on his bucket list, so that he can cross it off.

By the way, if any of you, dear readers, would like to cross "milk a goat" off your own bucket list, feel free to stop by between 5:00 and 6:00 for a visit.  Razz is very tame and patient with beginners, and we love to have visitors. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Who Doesn't Love a Giveaway?

I know you're out there.  The blog's stats show that I do have readers.  But, I can count the number of comments I've received since the blog's inception 3 months ago on my fingers.  But, I LOVE comments, dear readers.  So, like any good parent, I'm prepared to bribe you ;) 

I've decided that each month, I'll give away a product to one lucky reader.  All you have to do to get your name put in the pot for the drawing is post a comment, answering the question of the month.  Easy, huh?

This month, the winner will receive a bar of handmade unscented goat milk soap

This all-natural soap is great for all skin types and contains a combination of several oils in addition to the milk, which is so nourishing to skin.  It is suitable for both face and body.  Because this bar is unscented, you can use it in the shower, then follow with your favorite scents for lotions and sprays without their having to compete with a scented soap.

To be entered to win the goat milk soap, please comment on this post by Sunday, the 20th.  I'll post the winner on Monday.  Ready for your question?

As summer is approaching, my mind turns more and more to pie.  :)  I love a good, fresh berry pie like this one.  I'm assuming lots of you do, too, since this pie post currently ranks #4 in my most frequently viewed posts.  So, what's your favorite pie for summertime?  You may include the recipe in your comment or provide a link, if it's an online recipe.  I hope to hear from several of you (and be able to enjoy your wonderful pie suggestions this summer, of course.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Eat Local; Eat in Season

Yesterday, a County Extension agent held a meeting here in town to help us coordinate the upcoming Farmer's Market.  It will begin in June, run for at least 6 weeks, and be located right on Main Street.  Now, we are trying to get the word out and get local farmers to commit to being there once (or possible twice) a week for the duration of the 6-weeks.

In our small town, lots of people have backyard gardens and other small-scale farming operations.  Many growers produce far more than their families can consume yet have no good outlet for their extras.  This market will serve the farmer by allowing them a way to earn some cash while unloading surplus and will serve the community by providing us an opportunity to eat food produced locally and support our own local economy. 

In keeping with eating locally, did you notice the new gadget on the right sidebar of the blog?  It automatically updates to show you what foods are currently in season in Arkansas.  This can be helpful when meal planning and will help you know what to expect to find when you show up on Saturday  morning at the Farmer's Market.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Pain of Pruning

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know that I love my Knockout roses.  I love them so much that I hate to take the pruning scissors to them.  In fact, a few years back, I refused to cut them, even when the blooms had dried up.  You know what happened?  They grew spindly and didn't continue to bloom that year.  Then, I learned that when the blooms dry up, it's time to trim them back so that they can bloom again.   And, again.  And, again.   I know this is the case, but it still hurts me to cut back these blooms!


While God as gardener of our souls is not a new metaphor, my pruning session was a reminder to me of how God works on us.  When necessary, He prunes us.  As master gardener, He knows how to grow us into the most beautiful versions of ourselves.  Sometimes, He may have to cut parts off.  Other times he may have to add things that he knows will benefit us but that seem stinky to us (like the rabbit poo I dumped all around the roses after their trim today:).  But, He is a careful and loving gardener and loves us far more than I love my roses.  It may pain Him to make the cuts, but He knows the end result, a more beautiful bloom, for His glory.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Happy Mother's Day to Me!

Among several other well-chosen gifts, this was one of the gifts I unwrapped on Sunday morning (my husband does such a good job!)  Has anyone ever been so excited about receiving a compost pail?  Apparently, John picked up on my not-so-subtle hint (click here for that post) that I'd love to have this pail.  He even got the exact model I'd linked to in the previous post.  I know, I know.  He's a keeper. 
Moving into it was almost as exciting as moving into a new handbag.  :)

For size comparison, here it is sitting next to our previous model.

So far, the charcoal filter in the lid is definitely doing its job, which is to keep odors in check.  Here, you can see it's got about a gallon-ful of orange pulp, coffee grounds, green onions, and more.  Still, you'd never know when the lid is on that it's holding all of that yuck!

I love that my husband knows me well enough to know that I'd rather receive a compost pail for Mother's Day than a vase-ful of flowers!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Mother of a Different Breed

A couple days ago, I naively snapped these photos of the first visitor to my hummingbird feeder this year.  Thanks to and  Audubon Arkansas, I'm now much more informed about who she is.
It appears that, like me, she is a mother. 
How do I know?  Unlike me, she's not given away by her trailing 3-year-old.  Here's the info I've gleaned that makes me think she's a Momma bird. . .

1.  She is a she, not a he. Her markings (and location, here in Arkansas) give her away as a Ruby-throated Hummingbird -- only, she has no ruby throat.  That's because the males are the ones who use their dashingly handsome red necks to make the women swoon.

2.  She is very small.  I've had this feeder hanging right outside my kitchen window for a few years, and she may be my smallest visitor to date.  Her size may lead one to believe she's a juvenile, but it's actually the mothers who are smaller than their chicks.  Why is that, you ask? Hummingbirds lay their two white, pea-sized eggs in their walnut-shell-sized nests each spring.  For the 14 days or so that they are nesting, the mothers rarely leave the nest and dwindle in size as they vigilantly warm their tiny eggs. 

3.  This hummingbird is eating like a horse.  Okay, maybe not like a horse, but she kept returning to the feeder so much that I thought I would have to refill it in just a matter of days.  For the first 10 days of a her chicks' lives, the mother hummingbird leaves the nest solely for the purpose of finding nectar to feed her young.  By the time, her young have left her an empty-nester (which they do at the end of the 10 days), she is about half the size she was before laying the eggs.  Talk about motherhood taking a toll!

So, my best guess is that either she is currently feeding her young, way up in the nest I keep watching her return to, or they've recently left the nest, and she is eating so ravenously to regain her own strenth.

  Either way, it seems like a great picture of motherhood, putting the needs of our young before our own.

  Happy Mother's Day to the many moms out there (including mine) who show love by doing just that on a daily basis!