Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Weekend at the Cottage

I spotted this little beauty on Friday night just outside the cottage door.  I had seen her web weeks before but I had never seen who inhabited it.  Apparently she comes out after dark because I had to use a flashlight to illuminate her.  I believe she is a common Garden Orb Spider and she is about an inch long.  Pretty big spider!  I think that is a moth that has been spun into a cocoon, Friday night dinner?
Saturday morning I woke with a craving for muffins.  Lucky for me I had some fresh blueberries.  They made a tasty breakfast treat.

Later in the day I went to check on the chicks and look what they gave me as a thank you for taking care of them
Such cleaver girls!  This is the first and therefore is a special, blessed egg.  There have been duplicate offerings each day since.  I believe one of the Light Brahmas is the thoughtful hen.  Her sisters should be following her lead soon.

Here is the special egg in a carton of store bought I just purchased the day before.  Isn't it cute?  From what I understand they should get progressively larger as both types of chicks are large egg layers.
 The last week in August, can you believe it?  Where has the summer gotten too?  I hope your weekend was filled with special finds.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Spinning Out of Control

I may be taking up yet another new hobby...spinning wool!  I took a quick class at the county fair this month and they gave us a handmade drop spindle and some luscious wool.  The wound up blob at the bottom of the picture was my first attempt.  I'm having a tough time with the drafting of the wool before it's twisted so I think I'll be practicing that this weekend.  I bought a super soft alpaca "top" which I hope I'll be able to spin into usable yarn. 

This weekend is also the local yarn crawl so I'll be hitting lots of yarn shops!  Shh....don't tell my Ever So Handy Husband I may be buying yet more yarn.

What will you be doing this weekend?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Wild things

When it's flowering it's hard to call the thistle a weed.  The flower is so striking.  I always find it amusing that the thistle is the flower of Scotland.  It's supposed to represent the beauty but thorny nature of Scotland under the British rule. 

The little bunnies are white tailed jack rabbits.  I caught them out in the front of Prairie Cairn Cottage last night.  I thought we had jack rabbits and cotton tails but after a quick internet search I discovered these are actually white tailed jacks.  No matter, at this age they remain cute.  Once they get full grown, well, that's a different story, I'm afraid they might abscond with Little Black Brindle.  But for now they are welcome.

After reading a magazine article on making your own extracts I thought I would try my hand at it.  This morning I made up some lemon extract and vanilla extract.  Earlier in the month I made up some raspberry extract and some mint extract.  It's pretty darn easy if I do say so, we'll just have to post back how they work in baked goods.

The basic recipe is 1/4 cup berries or mint leaves, 3 to 4 vanilla beans halved then split length wise or the zest from two lemons (you could also use oranges or grapefruits if that suits your fancy) which ever you want to make.  To each of these you cover with 1 cup of alcohol.  I used vodka in the raspberries, lemons and mint and some whiskey in the vanilla.  The recipe I got for the vanilla called for vodka, bourbon or brandy.  Shake the mixtures daily for 3 to 4 weeks.  If it is strong enough for your tastes then you drain the berries and mint but you can just leave the vanilla and lemon zest in the jars.  If you'd like a stronger extract for the raspberry and mint, you'd strain it and then add some fresh berries or mint and repeat the procedure.  If you run low on the vanilla or lemon extract you can just add additional alcohol and let it sit for several weeks.  It's supposed to take a long time for them to lose their flavoring.   

The Mexican vanilla you can buy uses bourbon so I went to the store to buy some.  The clerk at the liquor store told me that bourbon is actually bourbon whiskey.  It can only be called bourbon if it was distilled in Kentucky.  I had some pretty good  Canadian whiskey at home so thought I'd go ahead and use that.  If it doesn't make good extract we will just use it as vanilla infused whiskey.  Who knows, maybe we could come up with a new cocktail!

Wouldn't a gift basket of these in a smaller 2 oz size make a great hostess gift for the upcoming holidays?  Or perhaps you have a baker in your gift exchange.  Either way, try your hand at home crafted extracts. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Quilting Bug

Going to the county fair in Fairview, ND and then my hometown county fair last week I'm afraid I picked up a bug.  After looking at all the wonderful quilts that were entered in these fairs I've been chomping at the bit to get back into quilting.  I guess it all started when I worked on this little block from a previous post.
When we got back from Prairie Cairn Cottage North, I got out some shop hop blocks I'd purchased years ago and put one together.  After that was done, I contemplated working on another when I spied a quilt I had started a long time ago.  I had taken a few classes back then and felt the confidence all new crafters experience so thought I would make my Ever So Handy Husband a quilt.  I got the blocks put together and sewn into vertical rows.  The first two rows I joined didn't go together as easily as I had anticipated and I got intimidated by the project.  It naturally got pushed aside for something more in line with my experience. 

Fast forward to the present, I couldn't remember how far I had gotten on this quilt or how bad it looked.  I pulled it out and placed it on my bed; it didn't look as bad as I had thought. 

I have much more experience now than I did back then and have made two bed size quilts (sorry for the out of focus picture).

I've decided to go ahead and finish my old UFO.  I hope to get it done before the end of the month or at least by the end of September.  It's an odd size so I'm adding some extra borders to it to make it fit one of the beds at Prairie Cairn Cottage.  Stay tuned for updates.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Blackberry Pie

When I was a little girl, we'd spend summer vacations at my Grandparents ranch in Southern Arkansas.  There would usually be a family reunion of sorts during those hot days and always cousins around to play or do chores with.  One of our very favorite chores was to go down by the creek, each of us with pails, and pick wild blackberries.  We'd pick one for the pail and one or two (or more) for us.  By the time we'd get our pails full our faces, hands and shirts were stained purple and we'd all be itching from the pricks we'd received from the blackberry thorns.

We would proudly take our pails and show our mothers our hard work.  They would then turn the buckets over to my Gammer who would magically transform those delicious berries into a more delicious cobbler.  Gammer's blackberry cobblers were the stuff of legend in my family.  Though I haven't tasted one of Gammer's blackberry cobblers in probably 25 years, they still rank as my favorite dessert.  Many have tried to duplicate the cobbler but sadly, all have failed.  I think the magic of her cobbler was a combination of Arkansas wild blackberries picked at the peak of ripeness and the love that only Grandmothers can put in their creations.

My pie in the pictures above was a tribute to my Gammer and those lazy summers of my youth. 

Note to self:  We must plant blackberry bushes at Prairie Cairn Cottage!  This pie was delicious!  Even Little Black Brindle thought so.   

Friday, August 10, 2012

Home Ground Beef

I know a lot of you are already doing this, but I finally jumped on the bandwagon of grinding my own hamburger when I picked up a package of pre-ground at the big box retailer and read the label.  Vague terms like "all natural ingredients" were predominantly posted on the label.  Then I saw that it was packaged in S. D. and that triggered a memory of a former big named politician from S. D. doing a tour of one of the plants that made "pink slime".  Even though this big box retailer stated that it doesn't sell hamburger that contains "pink slime", I quickly put that package back on the shelf and walked towards the roasts.  I picked up a chuck roast with some nice fat on it and put that in my grocery cart (or buggy as my Momma called them-but that's a topic for a whole different post).

I sliced the roast into small chunks, fed the chunks through the food grinder attachment of my Kitchen Aid Mixer and voila!  Home ground beef.  I had enough for two good size burgers and another pound went into the freezer for a future meal. 

 The color alone of the home ground beef made me a believer!  It was rosy and fresh looking, unlike some commercial packaged beef which can be almost brown in the middle.  I fired up the gas grill outside and cooked the two burgers.  Divine!  It actually tasted of beef.  I don't know what they use in the pre-packaged chuck hamburger, but it sure never tastes this good! 

If you haven't done this little experiment for yourself I urge you to do so.  It may be more expensive but knowing what is in my hamburger, how fresh it was when it was ground and how good it tastes makes it worth the extra cost in my opinion.  Little Black Brindle gave it two paws up!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Near Disaster!

My poor hens!  I stayed at work late on Monday and when I got home I didn't go check on the chicks like I normally do, I instead went and fixed dinner for the inside crowd.  After dinner and relaxing in front of the telly for a bit, Little Black Brindle and I went outside to check the girls.  We came upon this sad picture:
Yes, that is their coop blown over!  I've had the roof blow open before but never had the entire coop blow over.  This is the bottom and as you can see the floor of both the coop and the next box collapsed.  The wailing and keening of the hens was too much, "Our poor house!"  "Where are we going to sleep tonight?"  "What shall we do?"  "Who will help us?"  The poor dears were traumatized.  I don't know if they were inside when it blew over but they seemed to be all right physically.

I went straight to work pulling out the pieces of flooring and perches.  Emptying the used shavings, righting the structure.  All looked salvageable.  The worst damage was the roof itself.  The hinges were all torn and unusable but the roof was in one piece and sat on the building fine.  Some of the siding had broken towards the roof where the hinges attached but for now it's called ventilation. 

As I worked the hens perched on the walls surveying the damage.  The keening and wailing continued.  I finally got everything back in place and put some fresh shavings inside.  The poor dears had cried themselves to sleep perched on the walls so I gently lifted them into the coop.  They were confused and disoriented at first put finally crawled into the nest box with some whimpers.  I put the roof back on top and then put some concrete bricks on top of the roof to keep this from happening again. 

The next day, they were still whimpering and in shock but seemed to have spent a good night in their damaged coop.  Today when I checked on them they were back to their old friendly selves.

Thank goodness they were not hurt!  And thank goodness I was able to salvage their home.  This just reminds me that this was only meant for a temporary home for the girls.  In this coop, there is no way they will be able to withstand the rigors of the winter on our part of the Prairie and summer will soon be over.  Looks to me like it's time to do something about their permanent home.  Stay tuned for construction updates.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

Home Again, Home Again

We got back to Prairie Cairn Cottage late Friday.  Everything was ship shape thanks to our caregivers.  I went to see the chicks and I do believe they were happy to hear my voice again.  Or could it be that they are just friendly birds?  I'll go with them happy to see me!  Little Black Brindle was ecstatic to be back on his home turf!  He ran around and checked on everything.

We did bring home a new addition to the Cottage.  When we first arrived at Prairie Cairn North, I opened the garage door to the house and there was this little creature.  Don't know how it got in the garage or how it survived but I released it that same night.  I think the poor thing was abandoned or lost as it never left, just kept coming back.  Finally on Saturday we went and bought necessities. 

We spent 2 weeks looking for the owner.  No one claimed it, no lost ad, no posters.  So, it looks like we belong to a cat once again.  We brought Tabby back to Prairie Cairn Cottage and so far so good.  

It's good to be home, even when it's a new home for some. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fair Time

We went to the Richland County Fair tonight.  What a fun little outing.  We got to see 4H horses, cows, poultry and swine.  They were showing the rabbits so we stopped and watched a couple of the entrants.  The exhibits showed that there are some very talented young people in this county.  There were handmade quilts galore and aprons and dresses; jars of preserves, loaves of breads and fat round cookies; scrapbook pages and other paper art, pictures of friends, family, pets and wildlife. 

I love county fairs.  I always felt deprived because my family never went to fairs when I was young and when I finally could take myself as an adult, the county we lived in tore down the fairgrounds and didn't rebuild them for many years.  When they did finally rebuild they built a horse race track but never brought back the fair.

Do you have fair memories?  I'd love to hear how many of you have ribbons won at your local fair.