Monday, March 30, 2015

Life is Just a Bowl of Fairies

With spring art fairs coming up, I've been busy getting crafty and stocking up Mountain Hearth Handcrafts. One of the things I like to have ready for our Waldorf school's May Faire is a colorful assortment these flower fairy dolls. With posable arms and legs, they are great for creative play. My kids and I have had a lot of fun with them over the years, and I enjoy passing that fun along to other families. Corey's parents were visiting this week from the Midwest, so I had the help of his crafty mom in making the most fairies I've ever had at one time. These days, life is just a bowl of fairies!

You can see more of them in my Etsy shop: Mountain Hearth Handcrafts

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spring Housekeeping

I've been working on some spring housekeeping and updates around here, and am pleased to announce a few new additions to the site.

You may have noticed the new banner with my photo of the Three Sisters taken near our home, and some new links underneath it where I added an "About" page, a link to my Mountain Hearth Handcrafts Etsy store, an updated reading list, a farmhouse recipes page and a hiking page with links to some of the trails I've written about over the years. Also, there is a set of fancy new social media buttons in the sidebar linking to Mountain Hearth Handcrafts on Facebook, and my new Instagram and Pinterest accounts, where you can connect and share creative ideas.

On another note, there was a hiccup with my Blogger comments this past month, and after wondering why no one was commenting on my posts anymore, discovered they were being sent for moderation to an old e-mail address I had closed. If you commented on posts over the last month and wondered why I didn't respond, I am not being unfriendly, I just didn't get them! I always enjoy reader comments, so feel free to comment away and I will always do my best to respond.

Here's to spring housekeeping and new things beginning!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Quiche. It's What's for Dinner.

Spring is a time of new growth, longer days working out in the garden, and for those of us who keep chickens, many eggs. Sometimes it takes a lot of creativity to come up with more egg recipes to keep up with the girls' production, but my tried and true go-to is quiche. Quiche is for breakfast, quiche is for lunch, and quiche is for dinner. It's a creative food. You can put just about whatever you can imagine in it and it will usually turn out to be good. Maybe it's because I grew up eating a lot of quiche in my house, but I am a firm believer that quiche can be a staple. It always comes through for you in a pinch, and can be as rustic or fancy a meal as you make it. Also, it uses up all those eggs piling up in the basket on the counter. It's efficient.

Another thing I love about quiche is how darn easy it is to make. Here's a little how-to for those who aren't familiar. You start with a simple crust (I use 6 Tbsp cold butter cut into 1 1/2 cup flour. Crumble with your fingers. Stir in 4 Tbsp cold water with a fork and add a pinch of salt and sugar. Don't even roll it, just press into a buttered pie dish.), add your cheeses of choice (I like cheddar, chevre, Swiss or cream cheese) and sprinkle on some fresh herbs if they are around. In a separate bowl, whisk 4-6 eggs, add a little milk and Dijon mustard if you're into that, and set it aside.

Then you either saute or don't saute your filling. Either works fine. I like to use onion, mushrooms and garlic. You can add anything at this point. This is where you add the seasonings, and I like to go French farmhouse with thyme, herbs de Provence, mustard powder, smoked sea salt and pepper.

Then you put the filling in the crust, pour the egg mixture over it, and bake at 375 degrees for about a half hour until it is no longer gooey looking in the middle. Then relax, sit down to a nice meal of some homemade farm-fresh quiche, a green salad and maybe a glass of red wine, and call it a day. If you love leftovers like we do in our house, it is a good idea to make two at a time. Cold slices of quiche are one of my favorite leftover lunches to pack, and just make me feel extra fancy.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Basket Full of Nettles

It's nettle season, and I have been working on gathering my yearly supply. I currently have a basket sitting in my car, and have been enjoying their very green aroma. Although nettles can be a bit prickly and off-putting, I can't help loving them. They are incredibly rich in nutrients and just plain GOOD for you. From fresh eating, to drying for tea and powdering to add to my Wild Nettle Chocolates, the uses are many. If I end up harvesting enough this year, I would love freeze some nettle pesto and try my hand at making a nettle beer.  I'm also working on establishing a nettle patch at my house, so I pulled up a few vigorous looking rhizomes while I was out there to plant beside the compost. I'm hoping proximity to compost and a good top dressing of leaf mulch will encourage them to grow robustly, so I can pick fresh nettles for my tea without having to go out on an expedition. Not that I mind the expeditions, especially on these damp spring days when green things are budding out all over the forest and the birds are singing. I'm just working toward that homesteading dream of an edible landscape, and nettles are part of that picture.

Although nettles are my favorite cup of tea, I realize nettle picking may not be everybody's cup of tea. A basket full of nettles may seem like a hard-earned haul. They are rough around the edges, and will sting you if you don't handle them with care, but as is the case with many things in life, they are good for you and worth the trouble. I fully encourage you to be brave, give them a try, and prepare to find a new favorite food in your backyard.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Drifting on the Mckenzie River

For my newest wall hanging, I was feeling inspired by the beautiful McKenzie River watershed I now call home, so I decided to focus on some uniquely local elements. Wooden drift boats are a frequent sighting along the McKenzie, dating back to the 1930's when they originated here, and so common in fact, that their likeness appears on road signs for launch sites. There is an annual festival held at Eagle Rock Lodge each year, called the McKenzie River Wooden Boat Festival, which I have not been to myself, but sounds like a good time. This year it happens to coincide with a local artisan faire I'm helping to organize, so the river and wooden boats were on my mind.

In this wall hanging, the river originates from high up in the Cascades with the Three Sisters watching over as it makes it's way through the foothills, past Castle Rock and Eagle Rock, meanders under the Goodpasture covered bridge, passes by the filbert orchards and towering forests, and widening out as it approaches the Leaburg Dam. The McKenzie River has quite a journey to make, and this captures just a part.

The fishermen drift along in their wooden boat, enjoying the beautiful day and casting their lines again and again, hoping to hook something fine for their supper.

Here's a link to my Etsy listing for the wall hanging:

If you are intrigued to know more about these wooden boats, here is a great article from Oregon Live: McKenzie River Drift Boat Trout 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

One Raised Bed at a Time

Raised beds are handy. They're easier to weed, ergonomically nice for working in, and ideal for some plants that just need their own space. I like to keep things like rhubarb, strawberries and asparagus in their own raised beds because you know exactly where the crowns are when things die back during the winter (in the case of rhubarb and asparagus)  and once they take over the bed (which they inevitably will) there is a barrier to prevent them from taking over everything else. Also, plants with large, spreading foliage like artichokes do well when they aren't flopping over on their neighbors. Last year, we reclaimed some old lumber on our property and put in four raised beds. We had room to put in another, but ran out of wood. We planted one bed of strawberries, one of asparagus, one of rhubarb, and one of artichokes. All was well with the arrangement, except for the strawberries going wild and crowding themselves out. Since strawberries are one thing I would never mind having more of, we decided to use salvaged cedar lumber from our rotten balcony demolition project to built a larger bed for them. This also freed up the old strawberry bed for basil, which was an added bonus. Some of those woodchips I wrote about the other week that we hauled home from the free city piles in town made a great mulch around the beds, and things started looking pretty sharp in the garden for winter time.

Once the strawberries were divided and transplanted, things were looking sharper still. I think the strawberries will thank us by producing more fruit, and the basil will thank us by being pampered a little more in a raised bed. I like to pinch the flowers off my basil to promote more leaf growth until I harvest it for pesto, so having it growing in a raised bed right by the walkway will keep that ongoing task on our radar.

In other raised bed developments, Corey unearthed an old cast iron bathtub I'd had my eye on for a cut flower bed, and I got to try my hand at stone work to create an herb bed along the South side of our shop. Before, my herbs were getting crowded out by other things in the stone raised bed by the back porch, and not doing so well. Furthermore, the wall of the shop was looking very long and bare. I found some piles of stones under the ivy out back, and figured if the people who built this house could do all that stonework, I could too. I just stacked them carefully, finding the right stones to fit the right spots, and within a couple of days I had a long, narrow bed against the concrete foundation at the bottom of the shop wall. 

Once it was back filled with buckets of soil from our friends' giant compost pile at their herb farm up the road, the stones seemed pretty well anchored in place and I think as long as no one does anything crazy, like kick it, my rock wall should hold up nicely.

I already got my poor, bedraggled thyme and chamomile moved from the bed where they were being crowded, and a couple of parsley starts from the nursery. There are a few more herbs to add as the growing season gets going, and I think it's going to transform that plain old wall into something really nice to look at. It also made a great spot to finally get out my rock collection of many, many years and display them along the top of the rock wall. Rocks are a thing in my family. My mom tell stories of my dad bringing all these boxes of rocks with him when they got their first house. I guess the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.

Having all these raised beds finished is really adding to my excitement for the gardening season to begin. Our kale, chard and collards are all having a stellar time out there, but I'm itching to get a load of steer manure and get things tilled up. One of my favorite local breweries, Agrarian Ales, has a hop farm and tasting room up by the farm that sells manure by the truck bed, so I think a field trip is in order soon. There has been talk of our recycled window greenhouse project getting started over spring break, so things might really get into full swing this year. Our homestead is certainly shaping up, and it is a more rewarding feeling than words can express watching it unfold. It's an affirmation of sorts that dreams really can come true, in this case on raised bed at a time.