Thursday, July 28, 2016

Chalk Paintings

An artistic friend of mine has recently been making beautiful chalk paintings of flowers.  We used to do a lot of chalk drawing on our tiny blackboard for home school, but I have abandoned that, largely because there is no paper-trail of work that way to show that we have done something other than bake cookies all school year.  I hadn't thought of using chalk on paper.  She has done several very lovely paintings (they actually are called paintings, if they are drawn in chalk on paper), and even has one entered in a gallery in Canada.

The technique intrigued me the moment I saw it.  The colors are so vivid, and they blend together in interesting ways so different from paint, and the movement it captures is so distinct.  My friend has a gorgeous set of chalk she got second-hand at a great discount, because real chalk-painting chalk is incredibly expensive (like hundreds of dollars for a set).

I found a beautiful (and affordable) set of chalk at Scissors, Paper, Stone that I invested in.  We just used regular construction paper I got locally.  Everyone loved making these paintings.  After drawing for a little while, Clothilde rubbed her face and turned completely green.  She looked like a ninja turtle and had to be washed off.  The big kids started with garden pictures, and moved on to snow scenes.  I can't tell if they were just dreaming of cooler weather, or if it was to monopolize the much-in-demand white chalk.  Artistically, it is a good opportunity to work with directional line, shading, and how different colors interact next to each other, because the chalk colors don't blend easily like paints or crayons.

Another plus - the clean up and set up were easier than painting, which requires jars of water.  Half the reason we don't paint more (we used to paint every week when Mirin was little) is because Clo always manages to overturn a jar of water, every single time - and she also does unmentionable things to paint brushes that can be frustrating for the older children, who like the paintbrushes to have hairs in them and still work.  I know we will get a lot of use out of these chalks for awhile.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Free Knitting Pattern: Waffle Stitch Dish Towel

I know, I know, cotton yarn, and a non-garment item!  It's not my usual knitting style!  But it's actually becoming my favorite kitchen towel.  I love the soft cotton and the chunky knitted texture.  The garter stitch border keeps the edges from curling, and there is an option to knit on the loop for hanging it up.  The details of how I came to knit this dish towel are here.

 And now for the pattern:

Yarn:  1 skein Blue Sky Skinny Cotton in "Birch"

Needles:  US 5 or 3.75 mm.  I used a 24" circular needle I had on hand, but it was a little awkward as the extra plastic part flopped around at times.  Probably 12" straight needles would be the best.

Other Stuff:  2 stitch markers, or loops of yarn, a spare knitting needle if you are going to knit the hanging loop.

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Cast-on 61 stitches (I knitted them on)

1st round:  K3, place marker, K  until 3 stitches remain, place marker.

Now begin stitch pattern:

R2:  K3, slip marker, K1, *P2, K1* until you reach the 2nd marker, slip marker, K3.

R3:  K3, slip marker, P1, *K2, P1* until you reach the 2nd marker, slip marker, K3.

R4:  Same as R2:  K3, slip marker, K1, *P2, K1* until you reach the 2nd marker, slip marker, K3.

R5:  K all sts, slip markers as you go.

R6:  Same as R5:  K all sts, slip markers as you go.

Continue working these 5 rounds until work is the desired size (I kept knitting until I was finished with the skein, with only a little bit left over.  It made a perfect-sized dishtowel).

Get ready to cast-off after R5.  I used a stretchy cast-off:  K2tog through the backs of the loops, return stitch from right needle back to left needle and repeat.

Hanging loop cast-off option:  Begin on R 5:  K3, remove marker, K to 2nd marker, remove marker, K3 and turn work.

Next Round: K3 and turn work.

Continue knitting the same 3 sts and turning the work until you have a loop about 2" long (I counted about 18 rows of garter st on my loop) on one end of the work.

Slip the 3 loop stitches onto the spare needle, and turn the work as if you have just finished R5 and are going to begin casting-off on R6.

Grafting the loop on:  K1 from the spare needle (SN), then K1 from the main needle (MN).  Pass the 1st loop over the second (cast-off).

Now K1 from SN, and pass that loop over the one on the right needle.

K1 from MN, and cast-off as before.

K1 from SN, and cast-off.  That should be all 3 stitches cast-off from SN.

Now continue casting off normally.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016


{These French recipes are from a French cookbook called La Cuisine:  Guide Practique de la Ménagère by Chef R. Blondeau.  This book was passed down to me from my great-grandmother, who was from Alsace, a North-eastern region on the Rhine river plain in France.  It was published in 1930 as a guide for cooks hired to cook for a family.

 I am translating the recipes from French, testing them out with home-grown or raised food, and re-writing them in a modern format, with notes about what worked for me in the kitchen} 

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That's tomato sauce, in case you couldn't I have mentioned before, I only had a few large tomato plants this year - mostly we have gotten by with Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes (15 of them).  They are much more work to pick (and you have to pluck off the green tops, too), but they have so much flavor, and are so much less work as far as keeping the caterpillars away.  Usually every evening after I milk, I am in the garden picking army worms off of the tomatoes.  They are a numerous foe, and generally I win the wars but lose the battle (I would still rather hang out in the tomato jungle and find lots of caterpillars to feed the happy chickens than use sprays, even "organic" ones like Bt).

We get a few of the horn worms that everyone always complains about, and I would much rather have them.  They do very obvious damage on the plant, and get very large and easy to see, and turn into a lovely moth that I have always admired.  I usually relocate them to the wild nightshades when I find them.  Army worms are sneaky - they are small for a long time, and hide in the foliage.  If you disturb them, they drop off and hide in the mulch.  They target the fruit, and make ugly rotting holes in perfectly good tomatoes.  They also ate up my cabbage, collards, potatoes and calendula this year.  It was very annoying.

Somehow the Matt's Wild Cherry is resistant to them.  Either they have stronger biochemistry, or the army worms can't keep up with the loofa-vine like growth habit they have, but we have been slammed by cherry tomatoes this summer.  We have to spend about an hour picking every other day to keep the vines picked, and even then there are some that are missed and spoil.  This yields a shocking amount of tomato, and you can only eat so many tomato salads, even if they are creatively put together!  So naturally we have been making sauce.

SAUCE TOMATE (direct translation)
Wash six large tomatoes, cut them in pieces, put them into a pot with a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, a head of garlic, and an onion cut into rounds.

Cook over a low fire, without water.

Watch over the pot, and stir the tomatoes minute by minute, so that they don't stick to the bottom of the pan.

When they have given up all their juice, pass your sauce through a strainer with a pestle, to remove the seeds and skins.

Put back over the fire : add salt, pepper, a pat of butter, and leave to simmer for twenty minutes.

It was not difficult to change the recipe to also accommodate cherry tomatoes.  I tried for Estimated Tomato Volume (I eye-balled it).

The sauce was very good, and, not totally surprising, reminded me of the little pizzas we had bought at the market in Nice when we were there (when I stayed there when I was a child, my aunt always cooked and we hardly ate things like that).  It was the herbs, I think.

Also, a Foley Food Mill, which is what I imagine the "strainer and pestle" refers to, is invaluable not only for this recipe, but also for anything that requires straining/puréeing.

Tomato Sauce

6 large tomatoes, washed and chopped into pieces
A bay leaf

A sprig of thyme

1 head of garlic, peeled

1 onion, sliced into rounds

salt and pepper

1 teaspoon butter

1.  Put the tomato pieces, bay leaf, thyme, garlic and onion rounds into a pot, and cook over a low fire.

2.  Stir often, to keep the tomatoes from sticking.  Cook until the juice has been released from the tomato pieces, and they are soft.

3.  Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprig.  Put tomatoes through a food mill (see above), or you could try using a wooden spoon and a fine-mesh strainer to remove the seeds and peels.

4.  Put the resulting sauce back into the pot over a low fire.  Season with salt and pepper, and add the butter.  Cook slowly for twenty minutes more.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Public Nuisance

David, our buck, has been such a nuisance lately.  He's waited for months until his girls were no longer pregnant, and now he is in rut again, although no one will be in heat until the fall, and they run away from him (you can't blame them). 

He's started to pee on himself and stink again, and has just been obnoxious - harassing the girls non-stop, sticking his tongue out, and making the "whro-whro-whro" courting noise that sounds so idiotic.

The baby goats are huge, and more playful than ever in their little gang.  I've been having everyone out grazing since the babies are so big now.  They have been jumping fences and going where they please, and only show up to be milked.  Twilight showed up with four babies skipping around her yesterday, and there was nary a sign of the other goats.  She was pleased to be milked first, and tried to nurse Mustardseed afterwards.  Oberon tried to get just a sip, and she showed him what-for.

One of Allan Nation's book reviews in The Stockman Grass Farmer caught my eye this week.  It was about a book called The Serengeti Rules, by professor Sean B. Carroll from the University of Wisconsin.

Carroll studied the ecosystem of the Serengeti to try to find out how it worked. He identified three distinct habitat zones that were constantly changing based on how the animals were using the land.  Populations that used the land differently (such as grazers like the buffalo versus the browsers like elephants and giraffes) altered the land as their populations pulsed.  Periodic droughts pulse the population to low numbers that allow the plant growth to recuperate.

One of the observations was that healthy ecosystems all start with large ruminants.  They were the ones (along with their predators and population controls) that were the basis of the ecosystem, and it was their impacts that created the habitats.  I found this so interesting, as there is so much in the environmental movement against domestic ruminants.  If mismanaged by human beings, they can destroy, but it is only our misunderstandings and lack of insight into the workings of nature that cause them to be destructive.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Pumpkin Harvest


The pumpkins are coming out of the garden now.  There are Seminoles from seeds I saved last year, a few Galeux D'eysines, some delicata (didn't make the pictures), North Georgia Candy Roasters, Jarrahdales and Marina di Choggias.  There are also a pile of Zucchino Rampicante from one vine that seeded itself and has taken over a quarter of my fairly large garden.

  Curiously, in my Seminole patch I have a bunch of the green-striped pumpkins with golden splashes.  They look like cassaba pumpkins, and taste like cassaba pumpkins.  I saved these seeds from pumpkins the pigs had "planted" when we put the seeds and stringy insides in the piggie bucket for them to enjoy.  Last year all the pumpkins we got were from the vines in the pig yards.  I did buy some cassaba pumpkins that winter, and threw the seeds to the pigs.  They must have grown, bloomed, and crossed with the Seminoles (they are the same species - I've checked.  There are four different pumpkin/squash species that won't cross with each other).  I didn't get any cassaba pumpkins last year, so they must not have set fruit, but they certainly flowered.

It's not good for pure seed saving, but I actually really like cassaba pumpkins mixed in.  My Seminoles, having been pig-planted in the first place, also have Tahitian Melon traits.  There are good things about all three of these varieties - Cassabas are just delicious, with thick-walled flesh, but don't keep.  Tahitians are very, very sweet, and keep, but not as well as the Seminoles.  The Seminoles are hardy, grow like crazy, and keep for almost a whole year at room temperature.  They are my most useful pumpkin, and are really a staple crop for us.  My favorite winter dinner is:  a roast, a baked Seminole pumpkin, and a huge salad from the garden.

I figure I will use them in order - the cassabas first, not being good keepers, the ones that have a Tahitian look next, before they lose their sweetness, and the hardcore, Florida native Seminoles last, because they are wonderful like that.  They keep their sweetness even being stored so long.  If we end up with a really variable pumpkin, I won't mind, since I like all three of them.  Maybe I'll plant a blue or red Kaboca pumpkin to blend in, too - as long as they are fairly distinct, I think I'll be able to tell which order to use them in.  It would be a fun experiment, anyway.

It's interesting to me that the French pumpkins I've grown (Rouge vif and Galeux D'eysines) are both very watery pumpkins.  My French cookbook only has one recipe for pumpkin - soup.  They make very good soup, but it seems so boring.  I put pumpkin in all sorts of recipes - we always have so many.  It seems the Seminoles were selected more for roasting than for soup.  You have to work with what you have, I suppose, so if you have soup pumpkins, you make soup.

47 so far have been pulled out the garden and are covering whatever surface is available in the living room.  It's another Pumpkin-A-Week-Challenge year, as Ethan calls it.  There are more still in the garden ripening.  Of course it never works out to really be a pumpkin a week.  Sometimes I don't cook pumpkin, and sometimes I roast several at a time, because they are good leftovers.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sick Days and Baking

Note: The two cake pictures were from the "Dad Bake-A-Thon", and you can't really expect anything to be put away or the table to look clean.

We have been so, so sick.  The kind of sick that strikes you down and crushes you so you can't move.  Clothilde spent four days lying in bed, sleeping.  THAT kind of sick.  I haven't seen her so still since she was newborn.

Last week, when we were just starting to feel a tickle in our throats, I had to have a big cooking day.  There was cream to skim, butter to make, tomatoes to boil down to sauce, stock to set on and an overload of eggplants from the garden and eggs from the chickens.  And not to mention all the goat milk.  Every day I am draining more cheese. 

I've been lately been spending a lot of time working on things with my children - we've been doing chalk paintings, reading, playing board games and needle felting to amuse ourselves while it is so hot and awful outside.  But there had to be a cooking day, so I pushed them outside and took over the kitchen.  It was a  busy day, but so much got done.  And then, to my amusement, the very next day became a Baking Day.  I got pushed out of the kitchen, the cookbooks came out, and a baking contest began.  Rose made pretzels, Mirin made cake.  Clothilde hindered in a helpful way.  I helped decipher recipes and offered advice, but mostly I stayed away and knitted.  It was fantastic to see all of them working away in the kitchen together.

The day after that Clothilde was sick.  Then Mirin was sick.  Now I am sick.  I am just now feeling well enough to be out of bed - the sooner, the better.  Everyone has missed me so much, it's hard to say who misses me more - Ethan or the children.

Clothilde was up horribly early, energetic and chirping after four days of rest.  The big kids were up soon after, squabbling with each other and playing wild games on the furniture.  They needed breakfast, the dishes had to be put away, the floors swept, the milking equipment boiled and set up, the milk skimmed, the jars washed, the laundry sorted, washed, and put away.  And Clothilde played a game in which she locked all the doors in the house and Ethan had to search for the key to the back room so we could get to the phone.  Just the usual, but if you aren't used to someone else's work, everything goes slowly, and if you aren't used to doing things with three children bouncing around, it can be distressing.  I was accused of being secretly amused by it all when I came out briefly to lay on the couch and see how things were going.

By mid-morning the children sent in a delegation.  They said they were being neglected.  Rose wanted to bake a cake (correction:  she wanted someone to bake a cake with her), and Mirin was insisting on chocolate chip cookies.  Rose gave a long-winded speech complaining that "Daddy is so horrible"  (that was basically what she said), and Mirin claimed that I needed to get better immediately because, "It's daddy's job to sit in a chair at work and make money.  It's YOUR job to take care of us."  He said it was all they could do to survive.

However, they finally went away to do better things and Clothilde and I got a nap.  Ethan did bake cookies and cake with them, and everyone survived.  I'm feeling slightly better, and I hope to be back to my usual duties tomorrow, which apparently I am irreplaceable for.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Yarn Along: Cotton Waffle Stitch Towel

I have finally again picked up some knitting.  I haven't had a knitting project on the needles since the spring.  I had a sudden inspiration a few weeks ago to try knitting lace.  I've knitted lace patterns into things, but never lace to be sewn onto something else.  I have two yards of beautiful yarn-dyed linen, and I thought a simple skirt edged with knitted lace would be lovely.

I bought cotton yarn - something I've only done once before - I really didn't like knitting with cotton the first time I tried it.  It seemed to want to stick to the needles.  This yarn (Blue Sky Cotton) seems to be easier to work with, but it is too thick to be lace yarn.  I've since ordered cotton lace yarn, and am putting this to use knitting a cotton dish towel.  I am always running low on dish towels since I culled out the ratty ones with holes.  My last cotton knitting project was a washcloth, and I have always loved the soft chunky texture from the knitting.

I wanted a sort of waffle-weave texture, so I made up a stitch pattern for it, that seems to be working well if I don't forget where I am and add an extra row (or two).  It's a very forgiving pattern, being a rectangle and very repetitive, and a good thing to knit when we are all recovering from whatever awful illness Mirin brought back from scout camp.  I will try to write it up in a pattern form when I am finished and share it here.

We've been reading a lot of E.M. Forster lately.  Ethan just finished Howard's End, and I am trying to get him to read this one now.  I love Forster's writing style, and how he writes so well from a feminine perspective.  Passage to India is less philosophical than the other books of his I have read, but it has a lot of interesting situational commentary on imperialism.  Living as I do in a country that makes its fortune largely from imperialistic policies, this book has just as much meaning now as it did a long time ago...almost more so because the practices are the same, but the specific justifications are slightly different.  The excuse of "keeping the peace" for the violent natives while siphoning off all the wealth seems to be a very effective line.

When we were talking about it we got into a discussion on how the different countries implemented imperialistic policies.  France, for example, tended to try to obliterate any local culture and make everyone "French" in their colonies.  England, in contrast, liked to play upon the differences that were already there, and destabilize the culture in that way.  Ethan mentioned that the Caste system in India was on the decline when the British took over, and they brought it back because it was useful for keeping people from getting together and organizing for their independence, and it also matched their own social system closely.  Having just finished reading a lot of Jane Austen, I found that comment very interesting, particularly after reading Emma, which is all about social status (all of her books are, really).  I can very much see the similarities between the English class structure and the Caste system.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Nature Finds: Infinte True Things

A wasp with it's caterpillar prey

a chrysallis on blueberries

I don't recognize this little insect - sort of a cross between a robber fly and a damselfly....but it reminds me of a fairy.

Mirin got safely back from Boy Scout camp on Saturday, taller, tanned, and repeating nerdy jokes and bad songs.  My dad had planned the whole thing, keeping the packing list top secret until the very last minute when he burst in, barking orders and was angry because they were late.  Mirin dragged his feet.  This was the first sleep-away camp, and he wasn't really ready.  My dad had signed him up without consulting us first, and when he announced the news, it was with a defensiveness I decided not to argue with.  We parted last Sunday hoping he would have a good time, and trying to convince my dad it was too late to give Mirin the stupid haircut he insisted on giving him just before they drove away.

He is back, sick and coughing, but he enjoyed himself, despite the cafeteria food and lack of sleep.  Rose is also "sick," and they are both clamouring for a day in front of the TV with My Little Pony screeching at them.

I am refusing them that, offering instead books, games, tea and rest.  It doesn't do to sit in front of a screen when you are sick - it only makes you feel worse in the long run.

I was watching the little goats playing a few days ago.  I have never had a TV, but I understand why people watch so much of it.  The truth is, our lives here, while filled with unimaginable comforts, incredible physical wealth, and convenience - are lonely.  In town I live surrounded by people, and hardly see them all day.  We make an effort, and have a fairly good social life here, but from travelling I have seen how much more social people are in other places - places where good friends drop in suddenly for company every evening - something that would be very forward here.

TV is entertaining without revealing truths,  gives you social situations without making you a part of them, allows you to be comfortable and still feel you are experiencing life.  Generally, when people hear I don't have and never have had a TV, they are shocked.  Surprised.  They suggest I am cut entirely from life and the world, because to them TV is life and the world.  It has become their Truth and Perspective entirely, and to offer up the idea of not possessing these, they think there's nothing left.

I get the same feeling watching the animals as other people do watching TV.  You get to see their social interactions - sometimes cruel, sometimes humorous, and judge on them.  Was that out of hand?  So-and-so has such an obnoxious personality!  I reflect on the people I know who also act the same way, and how, honestly, we are not so very different at all.

 In fact, we all think about mostly the same things - the little ones think about how they are growing, exploring the world, what their mama is up to, and whether or not she cares for them.  The big ones think about keeping safe, their stomachs, sex, and their status in the herd. 

And afterwards, rather than feeling fed a perspective on the world, I feel like the world has spoken to me, shown me infinite true things that I can hold on to.

Thursday, July 7, 2016


{These French recipes are from a French cookbook called La Cuisine:  Guide Practique de la Ménagère by Chef R. Blondeau.  This book was passed down to me from my great-grandmother, who was from Alsace, a North-eastern region on the Rhine river plain in France.  It was published in 1930 as a guide for cooks hired to cook for a family.

 I am translating the recipes from French, testing them out with home-grown or raised food, and re-writing them in a modern format, with notes about what worked for me in the kitchen} 

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There are so many eggs this time of the year, that any egg recipe is most welcome.  I have my own version of cheese pie, or quiche - which usually includes whatever vegetables is particularly abundant at the time, and lots of home made goat cheese.  Sometimes it has a crust and some times not - I prefer the crustless quiche because I like things to be all homegrown, and also wheat does not quite agree with me - however, my children are the opposite.

The crust recipe for this quiche is interesting because it includes egg.  And it turned out very nice, I wasn't sure what to expect.  I usually use flour, butter and cold water or cream, but I think I liked the La Cuisine crust given here better.  It is rich and flaky.

The only thing was that it seemed to make more crust than I could fit in my tart looks like a large tart pan, but perhaps it is actually small.  I used all the pastry, just to be fair to the recipe, and the crust turned out rather thick.  When I make this again, I will probably make a thinner crust and use the extra pastry for crackers, or blueberry tart or something.

Naturally, this recipe comes in three parts - first the crust, and next the filling (which is for a regular quiche), and last the modification to add gruyere:


 Line a buttered baking dish, three centimetres deep, with a dough made as follows:

500 grams of flour;
250 grams of butter;
8 grams of salt;
2 eggs.

Bake your crust in a hot oven for 10 minutes, remove, allow to cool, and fill with a half litre of cream, 100 grams of diced butter, four whole eggs, beaten; add salt and pepper and mix it well.

Let cook in a gentle oven for 10 minutes and serve the quiche well browned and toasted.


Prepare as above, but replace the cream with 250 grams of grated gruyere.

baked, but not filled

filled and ready to bake again.

Cheese Pie - a modern version
For the pastry:
4 cups of flour
2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons butter (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons)

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1.  Preheat the oven to 400F while you mix all ingredients into a dough.  Roll out on a floured surface and line a buttered tart pan (about 3 centimetres deep).  Or, if you are lazy like me, press in the dough in as evenly as possible, and crimp the edges.

2. Pre-bake the crust for 10 minutes.  When you pull it out, turn the oven down to 350F.  Let the crust cool for a bit while you are preparing the filling....

for the filling:
7 tablespoons of butter, diced

4 eggs, beaten

salt and pepper

3 cups of grated gruyere

1.  Mix all the filling ingredients well.  Pour into the pre-baked crust and put back in the cooler oven for about 10 minutes.  It should be well browned and toasted when it is done.

Notes:  OK - a confession for this recipe - I did not have enough gruyere for three cups (it's so expensive if you go for the real imported stuff!!!!) - only about a cup and a half, so I added half the amount of cream to make up for it.  It took about twice as long to bake and be browned and pretty, so perhaps it had to do with the substitution.  Still, it turned out rich, creamy and flavorful.  There are no oven temperatures given in the recipe (I think they were probably assuming you are cooking on a wood stove) so I gave a good guess.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


I realized the other day that I always feel overwhelmed at the solstices - at the winter solstice mainly because everything looks brown and dead, and the lack of life, the dryness, the dark and the cold. 

The summer solstice is exactly opposite.  It's hellishly hot - our version of deep winter - and the weeds are over my head.  Life abounds in plenty to the point of oppression.  In the long days you would think you could get a lot done....and surely you could if it were 75F.  But it is not.  The humidity weighs terribly, and undone work cries out everywhere, becoming swallowed in the ungrazed grass.  You try to work on it and end up bathed in sweat, your head aching from the heat and the sunshine, your movements like someone underwater.  You hardly do anything, and yet you end up exhausted.

The fifteen cherry tomato plants are bursting with fruit, not unlike the flood of milk and the crush of eggs.  They are harder to pick than the big tomatoes, of which I hardly got any around the army worms - it was a bad year for them and I didn't have the time to pick them off every day.  These little tomatoes are sweeter, more flavorful, more vigorous and productive than the big tomatoes.  The challenge is keeping up with them.  They are dripping off the vines by the hundreds, and they must be picked, in the spirit of thriftiness and to honor the season of plenty.