Sunday, December 30, 2012

Fancy Fingerless Gloves

Seems that I get the sudden urge to knit every year around Christmas time - it becomes an obsession, and there is nothing like the approaching deadline of holiday gift-giving to finish projects.  This year, I became fascinated by fingerless gloves.  They don't take too long to complete and it is fun to experiment with more intricate lacy designs.  Most of the patterns I used came out of  the "One Skein Wonders" book, though I also found patterns in some of my older knitting magazines.  Here are some of the gloves I finished in Decembers:

Friday, December 28, 2012

Easy Firestarters for the Woodstove

We've tried lots of different ways to start fires, from soaking dried pine cones in hot wax to using a blow torch...but the best way we found to get our wood stove fire going is to make simple fire starters out of old candles and paper towels.  We burn a lot of candles, especially during the holidays, and we always save the left-over wax.  Come winter time, we melt the wax in a pot on our stove, using a low setting for the burner.  When all the wax is melted, we use single sheets of paper towels, which we twist to form sort of a rope, and quickly dip these into the melted wax.  We then lay them out to dry on freezer paper (or aluminum foil).  Once they are dried, we store them in a bucket or bag until we need them.  We still use a blow torch to get a fire going, but the wax soaked paper keeps the flames going for a long time, enough to get the kindling pieces burning.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It's Snowing!

What a beautiful sight -  right at Christmas time too - snow falling softly, blanketing our farm in white.

Herbs in the snow
Leif's first sledride


Snow Barn

Snowy Chambourcin

Snowy Neill Family
Snow-covered tree by pond

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas - Fröhliche Weihnachten!

Christmas Eve Dessert Buffet
  • Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake
  • Pumpkin Roll with Cream Cheese Filling
  • Italian Christmas Cookies
  • Peach Pie
  • Lemon Nut Rounds
  • Iced Sugar Cookie Cut-outs (made by Toben)
  • Pumpkin Spice Cookies
  • Banana Nut Bread
  • Chocolate Espresso Cookies
  • Ginger Snaps

Monday, December 17, 2012

More Uses for Grapevines

This afternoon, Jeff and Samantha figured out how to make a basket from grapevine trimmings.  After searching for grapevine basket images on google and closely examining willow baskets from Tina's collection, they just made one:

After dinner Jeff decided to keep working on another basket, on the back porch this time - apparently basket weaving had created quite a mess in the kitchen earlier.  It was a relatively warm evening, and they already had a lot of cut vines.  What can I say - one can never have enough baskets....

Here are some other things we had made from grapevines previously: decorations around a rustic birdhouse (Jeff made this from old weathered barn boards), and a grapevine Christmas tree (really a re-purposed tomato cage, wrapped closely in grapevines and embellished with a string of brown wired fairy lights)


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Grapevine Wreaths

A little side benefit from growing grapes is an abundance of grapevines that need to be trimmed off every year.  We've been getting better at making wreaths - one at a time...

The largest wreath we made so far was measured around the outside of our round patio table.  We used an old woven wire fence panel to support the wreath.  When we had wrapped sufficient vines to make the wreath the size we liked, we fastened the wreath to the fence panel with wire.  We then cut around the outside and inside of the panel with wire cutters, basically making a wire form on the back of the wreath to keep it stable.  We then fastened several strings of brown wired fairy lights to the wreath.  Duff and Caleb helped to get the wreath positioned at the peak of the barn - climbing to the vent from the inside of the barn, they lowered a rope, which we used to pull up the wreath.  Inside the barn a very long extension cord with a timer connects the light strings of the wreath to an outlet.

We also made some smaller wreaths and Lars is getting rather good at it:

We use the wreaths for decorating outside and inside:
Wreath underneath bell
Wreath wrapped with bells



Sunday, December 9, 2012

Pumpkin Cookies

Here is a  recipe for some incredibly good, soft and cake-like pumpkin cookies with caramel icing, courtesy of my friend Robin:

Robin's Pumpkin Cookies

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup chopped raisins
Cream sugar and butter, stir in pumpkin, egg and vanilla.  Sift remaining dry ingredients and add to batter.  Stir in nuts and raisins.
Drop by heaped teaspoon onto cookie sheet and bake at 350 degree F for about 12 minutes.  Let cook and then spread icing (below) onto cookies.

Caramel Icing:
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup of milk
  • 1 cup (or more) of powdered sugar
Combine butter, milk and brown sugar in a small pot and bring to a full, rolling boil (the kind that cannot be stirred down).  Boils for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Cool and then add vanilla and powdered sugar - beat until smooth (an immersion blender works great for this)

Sunday, December 2, 2012


When the boys returned from their hunting trip to Bedford yesterday, they not only brought a Christmas tree for the house, but also two scraggly white pine trees to use for decorations.  Well - there are a lot of branches on two trees, and it started to rain before I could use all of the greenery.  I did get the garland for the back porch done, by just using green wire to string branches together, and then wrapping a string of clear lights around the garland before hanging it.

Also made a small garland with all the left over short branches and used it for the archway into the back garden.  The arch itself has white wired clear lights on it, so it will look nice in the dark as well.

Other branches that were too short or too scraggly I just stuffed into tin buckets or into other containers which I then placed into outdoor flower pots.  (I do water these branches so they last longer - even outside)

Now that it is really raining, we are concentrating on the indoor decorations. This year, we used one of our "fabric" garlands around the mantel by the woodstove.  (fabric garlands are made by cutting homespun fabric into narrow strips, and then cutting each strip into 4 - 6 inch pieces.  These then get tied onto a string of Christmas lights) I used our cast-iron stocking holders to hold the garland in place.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sign Post for The Long Shot Farm

A pretty awesome birthday present from my family - made by a local blacksmith/welder/artist, based on a design by Sammy:

Jeff dug a hole and filled it with concrete to permanently anchor the sign.   I was so excited, I made a garland and decorated for the holidays right away:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Improvised Kitchen Island

With another lucky auction find from earlier this month, I was able to create a very low cost, usable kitchen island.  I bought 6 folding tables at a local school auction and they must have been cafeteria tables, with perfect laminated tops, just like kitchen counters!  I bpurchased 3 six foot tables and 3 eight foot tables (for less than $40) and they are the sturdiest folding tables I ever encountered.  I tried both sizes in my kitchen, but the six foot table definitely looked better.  I scrubbed it completely and then bought a set of "bed-risers".  By putting 4" bed-risers under table legs, the table becomes standard kitchen-counter height - a tick I learned  when I volunteered at the PA farm show food court.  To make the table look pretty - and hide all the food grade buckets with my flours and sugar storage -  I sewed 4 simple curtain panels.  Using 10 yards of 36" wide muslin, I was able to take the fabric lenght-wise, so there are no seams in the long panels.  The 36" width was just enough to make a 2 inch seam on the top, to thread a curtain rod through, with a small ruffle above.  To keep the curtain looking clean on the bottom, I also bought 2 yards of "homespun" fabric.  I chose a checkered pattern - that way cutting the fabric into 6" wide strips went rather quickly...just had to follow the lines of the squares.  The folding table had a wood base under the top, and we were able to attach brackets for the simple cafe rods on the short sides, keeping the curtain a good 2 inches back from the table edge.  To make the curtain rods line up at the corner, we used wire and dry-wall screws, wrapping the wire tightly around the ends of the curtain rods and then twisting the wire around the screw.  We also made wire supports in the middle of the long sides, to keep the rod from sagging.  It took a few hours to sew the panels, but it was worth it!

Dressed-up for the holidays!

Estimated Cost:

Used folding table: $7.00
Bed risers:  $10.00
Curtain rods:  $10.00
Fabric (using coupons and sales): $30.00

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Decorating with Evergreens

One of our cedar trees lost a large branch during hurricane "Sandy", a sad sight, but at least this happened at just the right time of year for winter decorating with evergreens.

With the help of my trusted reciprocating saw, I cut 2 and 3 foot sections that had lots of greens on them and arranged those in my two largest outdoor flower pots.  Once I liked the look of the "arrangements" and they looked somewhat balanced, I secured the branches to each other - and to the container -  with zip ties.  All I need to do now is add fairy lights.

Though it is a bit early to start bringing branches inside, I could not see wasting any of the fragrant greenery,  so the smaller cuttings ended up in the dining room windows.  I used large glass urns, into which I placed a glass with water.  The branches will fit into the water glass, but I have space outside the glass to fill the urn with small Christmas balls (once I retrieve those from the attic).  This effectively hides the water, which will inevitably turn brownish. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

More Outdoor DYI

We had one of those late fall surprise warm days:  64 degree weather, with sunshine!  So we finished some outdoor projects:
  1. We finally finished the roof on the shed - which was only missing the trim pieces along the edges and the final cap to cover it all up.   Lars and Caleb did the roof work, while Jeff did all the cutting.
  2. Tina painted the windows on the barn with another coat of white paint.
  3.  Lars - with help from Caleb - managed to get a new chimney cap on the fireplace chimney.  He worked entirely off the ladder, which was extended close to capacity!
  4. Tina scraped and wire-brushed the garage doors and painted them with some of the left-over barn paint. 
One more warm day in the forecast, then back to colder temperatures again.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Comfort Food to Ease Election Jitters

Happy Election Day 2012!  Here is one of my favorite comfort foods: creamy, old fashioned  Rice Pudding.  Unfortunately, as with so many of my favorite foods, I am the only one with cravings for rice pudding in my entire household.  But I indulged today, to ease election jitters.

Old Fashioned Rice Pudding

  • 6 cups milk (the higher the fat content, the better - I used 2%, as that is what we had)
  • 1 cup short to medium grain white rice  (I usually use River Rice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoons sugar (more or less to taste)

Using a double boiler, place water in the bottom pan, and pour the milk into the insert.  Add the rice and salt and bring water to a boil.  Turn down heat to maintain a light boil, and steam the rice this way for at least 1 hour - until all milk is absorbed and rice is very soft.  Stir rice frequently!   Sometimes it takes up to 1 hour and 15 minutes or so.  Also, make sure that the water in the bottom does not boil off.  When the rice is done, add the butter, vanilla and sugar and mix well.

Enjoy the pudding warm with some sugar and cinnamon, or cold with some fruit compote. The rice can be reheated in the microwave, by adding a little milk (or cream) before heating it for about 1 minute for one serving.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Visit to Hunters Valley Winery

This weekend we were very fortunate to meet up with Darlene and Bill, the owners of Hunters Valley Winery in Perry county....just over the mountain and a little to the east of us.  They were very gracious to spend a few hours explaining their winemaking, grapegrowing and history of their winery.  They have been doing this for 27 years! and recently expanded to a larger winery and tasting room facility and also added a pavilion for weddings in the vineyard.  We learned so much from them and really appreciated their hospitality and willingness to share their knowledge. 
We also tasted some of their wines and took home a bottle of their Berry Mountain Red blended wine, which is delicious!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Overwintering Geraniums

This year, I am digging up as many of the geraniums as I can fit onto two large tables in the barn and I will let them overwinter there.  So far, I dug out about 50 plants, carefully getting as many roots as possible.  Each plant is trimmed back so that only a few stems with leaves remain, and then placed in a flowerpot with potting soil.  Our barn will be rather cold, but I hope they will make it.  I have kept potted geraniums in my cellar before (which also gets rather cold), but it has very little light and I ended up with very spindly looking plants.  I also tried shaking off all the soil from the plant and placing them in brown paper bags to overwinter in the cellar - letting the plant go completely dormant.  Some of those actually do come back to life, if I remember to plant them early enough. I found that keeping potted geraniums in a cool spot with light seems to work best for me.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

"Sandy" Barn Damage

The massive hurricane, properly called "Sandy",  left our part of Pennsylvania relatively unscathed.  We were truly very, very lucky, especially when compared to the devastation the storm brought to the coastline, just a few hours east of us in New Jersey and New York.

We had some issues with our power, it was off most of the night on Monday.  We played Monopoly with oil lamps and candles and then we all slept in the living room, as we had the back-up gas heater running.  The electricity came back on around 7, just in time for everyone to take a shower, and then it was back off by midmorning. 

We had some trees uprooted (just small ones in the fence row), and a lot of small and mid-sized branches all over the place.  The only real damage was to the back of our barn, where about 20 boards got torn off, and the vent on the very top of the barn got knocked out as well.  Everything that was stored on that side got rather wet, but it was mostly our unused stainless steel tanks and stacks of lumber - so it could have been worse. 

The damage was toward the top of the barn, so we had to get some help to get this one fixed.  Our friend Mike, who happens to run a construction business, managed to squeeze us into his schedule today.  He brought scaffolding and ladders - and not only replaced all the boards, but re-nailed all the existing boards as well.  Lars climbed up on the scaffolding as well - Jeff stayed on the ground, cutting boards to length. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Preparing for "Frankenstorm"

Buttermilk Rye, Cottage Cheese,
Plain White & Dinner Rolls
It's too early to tell how bad this storm will actually be, but we did make some preparations, just in case the worst case scenario plays out.

It is important to remember that we live in southcentral PA, where even a hint of a snowflake triggers a massive run on the bread and milk aisles in the grocery store.  So with "Sandy" slowly moving up the east coast, there was no bread to be had by Saturday, which was not such a bad deal, because I got to bake all day Sunday and call it "storm preparations".

Bottled Water in the Barn
In addition to baking bread and different apple cakes, we did fill up a number of our unused 5 gallon carboys with drinking water and stored those in our barn.  We have rain barrels under our downspouts to catch water (great for flushing toilets) and we do have a well stocked canned food cellar and freezers. 

We also re-organized our canned fruit, (which really had to be done anyhow)  in case our cellar floods.  All the full jars are moved to the top shelves, so the bottom shelves only hold empty jars, which can easily be washed and cleaned.

We moved all our outside furniture into the barn, got firewood closer to the house, emptied the rain gauge,  hooked up a large propane tank to the gas grill and got gas for our cars.  And we finally moved Oliver, the tortoise, inside.

Now, the phones are charging, flashlights are ready, the laundry and dishes are done...and I have time to post on our blog.  Outside, the wind has definitely picked up, its starting to rain harder and the temperature has dropped quite a bit.  Just be safe everyone!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jeff's Chicken Corn Soup for a Crowd

A long time ago, Jeff asked an old farmer's wife how to make chicken corn soup.  She looked at him as if he was daft, and then told him to cook chicken with corn - duh.  Jeff  has expanded on those basic ingredients and over the years learned to make pretty decent soup.  Last week, his own mother asked him for his chicken corn soup recipe, so I thought it may be time to write it down for everyone:

Jeff's Chicken Corn Soup
(makes 5 gallons)

  • 20 lbs chicken pieces (we use thighs and breasts)
  • 4 lbs onions
  • 1 bag celery
  • 1/2 stick of butter (or 1/4 cup vegetable oil)
  • 1 Tablespoon ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup of salt
  • 1/4 cup of chicken bouillon powder
  • 3 gallon bags of frozen corn
  • additional seasoning to taste
Using a 22 quart pressure cooker - with the drain tray for jars placed in the bottom - add the 20 lbs of meat and 1 gallon water (the drain plate prevents the meat from burning).  Cook the chicken at 10 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes.  This pretty much "destroys" the meat.

Pour meat through colander, catching the broth in a bowl.  Pour all the broth back into the pot.  Let the meat cool enough to handle, then debone it and add it back to the pot.

Coarsely chop the onions and celery and simmer in a separate large pot, with some butter or oil (just enough to get the onions started to make juice, about 1/4 cup or so).  Simmer for 20 minutes, until soft.  Optional:  we use our salsa screen for the food mill and run the onion/celery mixture through this, which removed all the strings from the celery, and leaves "no chunks".  The onion/celery mixture makes another gallon of creamy liquid, which we add to the broth.  For "chunky" soup, the food mill step can be skipped, just add the mixture to the broth.

Add pepper, salt and bouillon.  At this point, the pot will be less than half full.  Add the corn until the kernels are level with the liquid.  Bring back to a full boil.

We then let the soup sit several hours (actually over night).  By the next morning, the corn will have soaked up all the liquid.  Add more water to again just cover the corn.  Reheat the soup, adjust seasoning (with pepper, salt and bouillon powder) and simmer for several hours.  (We simmer it all day and serve it in the evening.)

This is the soup Jeff originally made for a wedding with over 100 guests, for which we had doubled the above recipe. 
We freeze left-overs in 1 gallon containers

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fall Garden Maintenance

For the past few weeks we have been concentrating on getting all plants ready for the winter.  Each weekend, we get a little more done and the farm looks a bit more cleaned up.

The blackberry rows are an arduous task, we can only work a few hours on this at a time, so it is taking a while.  We not only trim the stems, but control how many stems per bush we want to keep - selecting the strongest and making sure none of the branches shade out other stems.  Then we manually pull the weeds around the bush, just within weed-whip range.  All the trimmings are dropped between the rows.  Eventually, Jeff will run the bush hog through each row, which pretty much destroys even the thickest bramble branch.  Then we will run the weed-whip along the rows to clean up the final weeds.


This weekend, Tina finished the final weeding and rototilling on the "Jam Garden", and planted a few more red raspberries (they were on super clearance at Lowes).  This garden now has 3 rows of blueberries, 2 rows of strawberries, and one mixed row of black and red raspberries, plus one gooseberry bush and two black currant bushes.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Spices and Herbs

Managed to get one more good cutting of herbs today, before starting to weed the herb garden:
  • 2 huge bunches of peppermint
  • 2 bunches of thyme
  • 1 big bunch of rosemary
  • 1 bunch of oregano
  • 1 big bunch of sage
Fresh herbs hung up to dry in the kitchen

We also made a batch of spiced apple wine - the recipe called for cloves, broken up cinnamon sticks and shredded ginger root.  Can't wait to see how this will turn out - may we'll have it ready for next year's Thanksgiving holiday.  In the meantime, I am making do with mulled hot cider - actually sipping it right now and it is delicious!