Thursday, June 27, 2013

A walk through the garden

I somehow went from not being able to keep a plant alive to suddenly having the capability of growing food. Every day I view my garden as some sort of miracle. A gift of nourishment to me and my family. 

 These tomato plants are the very same ones that I started from seed back in March. I grew the seedlings in little egg cartons on my window sill. Now they are the biggest living things in the gardens. Eric cut the tops off of two of the beds in order to accommodate their size. No problems with squirrels so far.
Two weeks ago Eric built a triangular ladder trellis for the squash and cucumbers. What we didn't consider when planting, is that not all varieties of zucchini and squash climb....adding it to the very long list of things to remember when planning the garden next year . Fortunately it does help keep the huge plants a bit more contained though, which is incredibly helpful in such a small space.
The peas are climbing up the twine that is attached to the rafters above this bed. Interestingly enough, my plants only climbed as high as the top of the cage, even though there was nothing stopping them from climbing higher. The sugar snap peas we have harvested so far are the sweetest I have EVER tasted. Unfortunately the yield is quite small, giving us probably about a salad bowl full if we were to harvest them all at the same time. Right now we are enjoying snacking on them straight off the vine.
 And because I can't NOT post pictures of my chickens, I will let you know that I may or may not be owner to ten of the silliest chickens in all of Chicago.
And, perhaps, the two silliest girls as well.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Farewell Spring

Today is the first day of summer. And while I do love summer, I love spring more. Because with spring comes peonies. And unfortunately summer brings their season to a sad farewell. I was blessed to have a whole two weeks (perhaps a bit more) of blooming blossoms, though, and am trying to get excited about what the rest of the year holds for our other plants. But in the meantime, I'm enjoying the last of my peonies.

Here's my the inside of my Chicago bungalow.
For the home decorators out there, I am recovering all of my red pillows this coming week. Red and I are officially breaking up. And for the moms out there, YES, white couches are CRAZY! DON'T DO IT! Grey covers are being included in the fall budget. 
My newest piece, finished last month. India ink on painted canvas. 
I love the way it looks with the metal birds. 
And of course, I can't talk about birds without acknowledging my real ones. Here are three of our four Buff Orpingtons, just a few months shy of being full grown.

For your amusement of the day, I was gardening outside yesterday in the hot sun when Lexi said she wanted to put on her bathing suit and swim in our little pool. I told her to go ahead and go inside to put it on and then come right back out. Well, I got distracted. This happens. And a lot of time went by. And then, just as I was about to go and check on her, she opens the back door. "MOM!!!! I PUT SUNSCREEN ON ALL BY MYSELF!!! I PUT IT ON MY BELLY AND MY LEGS AND MY ARMS AND MY FACE AND MY BOTTOM!!!! ISN'T THAT GREAT???!?!?"
And there she was, at the top of the stairs. White. White. White. In every single place she said, plus some.
I bet you can't guess what the inside of the house looked like, can you? 

Farewell spring,
 and welcome summer.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Leafy greens

Just an evening's harvest! Kale, spinach, lettuce and chard.

It is really exciting to know that most of what is at the Farmer's Markets right now are growing right in my garden. This won't last much longer, but as of right now, we are overrun with greens! We eat huge salads twice a day, pack the greens into our morning smoothies, give it away, freeze it, and still can't harvest fast enough. Our Arugula already bolted a few weeks ago, turning bitter and ending it's life as an edible. Our spinach bolted shortly after, shooting up to over three feet tall and blooming funny little yellow blossoms. The leaves aren't as sweet and succulent as they were at the beginning of the season, but luckily they aren't bitter either. 
Not wanting to let anything go to waste if I can help it, I have been harvesting the spindly spinach (with an occasional taste just to be sure it's still edible) and pureeing it, freezing it in ice cube trays exactly the same way I make my daughter's baby food.  
Leafy greens are PACKED with amazing nutrients - making it onto the list of "super foods" several times!
Gotta love the green foam! My girls won't eat spinach in leaf form (still too hard to eat leafy things), but they drink green smoothies like there's no tomorrow. As Lexi told me this morning, "Mama, I WUV 'sinach!')." Drop a few spinach cubes into the blender with your other ingredients and you're good to go. I also stir one spinach cube into my 14-month-old's oatmeal every morning, and she gobbles it up happily (one of the few foods left that she won't fight me over).
Tools of the trade. My Vitamix blender has turned out to be one of our better investments. I use it daily for so many things. Though because of it's amazing wonders in pureeing, I do think we may be needing a bigger freezer soon...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Parenting with chickens

My girls are endlessly creative.

My 14-month-old is especially creative when it comes to food. I think the Hunter-Gatherer in her has begun to come out now that we are pretending to be farmers in the city.

Do you see this face? It's not innocent, let me tell you.

In the past few days, she has hunted, gathered, and eaten (what I wasn't able to scoop out of her mouth) varying quantities of the following:
- grass
- egg shells (fished out of the compost)
- dead bugs
- leaves
- dry chicken poo
- wet chicken poo (she finger painted in it first, then gave it a lick)
- duck feathers
- dirt
- burnt wood
- an old apple core
- fresh oregano (good choice, I must say)
- rocks
- bottle caps
- plastic wrappers
- dog poo
- seeds
- dog food
- cat food
- and the list goes on...although I do think she may have a taste for poo. No wonder she's becoming such a picky eater. Good thing it's organic poo. (LOL)

Just for the moms out there, I DO worry sometimes that she is going to come down with some crazy disease related to her poo consumption. It's not like I encourage her to do this. Like I said, she's endlessly creative. And for those of you who are wondering why on earth there is so much poo in my yard, that's what happens when you turn your city lot into a "farm-yard"?
Lexi is equally creative, like the other day when she thought it would be a good idea to sit on a chicken. Do you already see how this ends? After the sobbing stopped, we cleaned up the three inch scratch on her arm with the slightly obvious, but none the less needed wisdom, "That's what happens when you sit on a chicken." Both the chicken and the girl are doing fine, albeit slightly scarred (pun intended) from the event.
And she shall be called "Beady Eyes!" Taken in early June, both the chickens and the gardens are now much more plump and full.
Thankfully though, when it comes to food she has a more sophisticated pallet that prefers goat cheese spread on toasted crackers and cherry tomatoes dressed in balsamic vinegar rather than animal poo. Love that kid. She is crazy, though. One minute, a room in the house will be tidy and have that "just cleaned" satisfaction, and thirty seconds later, I look in and can't see the floor. This morning I was watering the garden and came into the house to find that my kitchen had been turned into an imaginative space, where Lexi was mixing up her own concoction of leftover green smoothie in my salad bowl, and picking greens to put in it from off the floor....
Yes, the kitchen floor was now growing grass.
It was just covered in freshly picked grass and oregano leaves.

You might be wondering why she was in the house alone? You can ask her the same question. Clearly it's way more fun to be creative when Mom is distracted with something else. This happens, um, a lot.
I can't get this pic to turn for me. Either way, she's an alive one!
In farm news, Ice Cream is continuing to woo the ladies with his manly waddle and swaggle, and Oreo and Cookies & Cream are continuing to lay eggs. I believe in the two nest boxes, we now have a total of 12 eggs. By the looks of things, we should have ducklings by the first week or so of August! And speaking of babies, LOOK AT MY CUTIE BABY PEAS!!! In a mere handful of days, they emerge from their flowers and dangle on their vines like little green Christmas ornaments.

Also, this steaming beauty came out of my new bread machine (yay for Craig's List!) today. One more check off the list to make Real food a daily reality. Love.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

It's what's for breakfast.

Last weekend, on our way home from our weekend away in Door County, we stopped at a quirky farm in Lake County, which Eric had found on Craig's List. We were after one thing (well, four, as it turns out): Muscovy Ducks. 

A funny looking breed of ducks native to Latin America, these ducks don't really need swimming water, barely make any noise at all, live peacefully with chickens, lay eggs, and make an excellent meal (when that time comes).   
We purchased four adults, one drake and three hens, put them in cardboard boxes, set them in the trunk of our car and drove an hour home (yes, this is inevitably how our romantic weekends end...purchasing fowl and pretending to be farmers in the city. I love us.).
So far, the ducks seem to love it here. 

Two of our ducks started laying the other day. We are planning on letting at least one of the Mamas hatch a clutch of ducklings, and see how that goes (plus my daughters are already ecstatic about the thought of baby ducks running around the am I, who am I kidding?!), some of their eggs are also destined for our tummies. This one we found outside of the nest box. Voila! Breakfast.

Compared to a chicken egg, the yolks in duck eggs are HUGE! 
 Duck eggs, it turns out, are thick, rich, and SO FLAVORFUL. I have never eaten a more delicious egg in my life. Granted, I've really only eaten chicken eggs from the grocery store, so I don't have much to compare to, but really - they are SUPERB.
 I ate my egg with some homemade whole wheat toast and fresh strawberry jam (not made by me, but still lovely). Eating a whole foods diet (or Real Food as some people call it) takes extra time and effort, but it is SO WORTH IT. Food tastes better, because it IS better. And you can appreciate what you put into your mouth so much more because not only do you know where it came from, but the extra effort to prepare/grow it adds to that appreciation as well.

Meanwhile, outside in the coop....

Meet Cookies & Cream, one of our Mamas, who has been hovering around the nest box all morning
Ice Cream, the big white one here, is our drake. He takes full advantage of his harem quite often. And still the ladies won't leave his side. Machismo in duck fashion.
Ice Cream is in the back, herding two of his ladies, Yogurt and Oreo back into the coop since it started to rain (btw, my three-year-old claimed naming rights. Don't you love them?!)
Silly chickens. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A weekend away...

Five happy years. 

One lovely weekend 
- with just the two of us - 
in Door County, WI.

Here's a small glimpse of our fun. 
[*The following pictures are a mix of phone and camera pictures - hence the random quality change]

Sturgeon Bay
Peninsula State Park

All boys have to show off a little...

At a lookout in the park

Breakfast in bed
Our private porch

Feeding baby goats at a local dairy we visited

Our favorite place in Ephraim

Kayaking out to Horseshoe Island

On the shores of the island

Hiking on Horseshoe Island

I fell in love with all the wild Forget-me-not's covering the forest floors. They look so ethereal.

Our sweet rewards for kayaking there and back again. Mine was french vanilla and black cherry double scoop.

Light dinner of fresh produce and local bread, wine, and cheese on our porch

In the gardens at the bed and breakfast

This Sturgeon is covered in cutlery! I forced Eric to pose by it...

Already missing it. 
So thankful for a time to get away and be with my best friend. 
No distractions. Nobody small to care for. Nothing to do, except anything and everything.
Looking forward to hopefully visiting again next summer!