Appreciating Our Homestead

I love our house/property, and I have since we moved here more than 10 years ago. In the last year or two though, I am trying to more purposefully take time to observe and notice. I am using the day-to-day beauty of the flowers and the veggies and the fruits, and the hard work that goes along with it, to help me with missing the kiddos every day. It seems to help me stay (at least slightly more) centered.

The blog and my newer enjoyment of taking pictures also helps. So, while I’m waiting for us to make more progress on the pergola, I thought I’d share a few flowers with you.

The bee balm was beautiful again this year, though it gets a powdery mildew pretty quickly.

And the echinacea did really well.

Daylilies with larkspur and bee balm make a pretty color palette.

Of course, having Fargo The Terrible around helps (most of the time).

Veggie garden, blueberry and pergola updates coming soon!

Pergola Part II

This is such a huge project, that I think it will require a three-part series. I started assembly in the garage. I asked hubby to look things over before I put pieces together and then I did my best to get things moving.

I began on my own because the neighbors had some trees cut down and were nice enough to offer us the wood. When you heat with wood, you need to be thinking about the cold, even when you are sweating your a$$ off in the summer.

I only made it through step 4. The next one required the big posts, so had to wait for the hubster to be available. After a few hot, sweaty and tiring days, the main structure is up.

This was the first big project in a while that we were able to work on together. I really enjoyed it (95% of the time 😉 ). I did mess up a bit, but luckily hubby can cover for me. I pushed out of my comfort zone and really worked hard on something that I would have previously thought of as “his project.”

It’s not throwing much shade yet. We’re hoping to have some sort of climbing/trellising type of plant. We do have a shade for the side to block the setting sun, but may need to get something lightweight to cover the top for a while too.

There are quite a few more steps to go, but we already love it. It makes the back of the house more interesting, and somehow homier. Shoulda, coulda, woulda done this years ago.

 

Pergola Part I

As much as I love our house and our yard, one of the big issues we have, and never addressed, is that our patio is unusable much of the summer. The back of our house is bland and there is no cover. What there is, is direct sun all afternoon and evening. IT. IS. HOT!!!!! We’ve had a patio set with an umbrella for 20 years but even tilting the umbrella doesn’t help, it just throws the shade 5 feet away.

For a while, hubby was researching designs and lumber options and the plan was to create and build it on our own. Each year it didn’t get done and didn’t get done, and so on. In order to facilitate this actually happening, we did something unplanned and bought a pre-cut pergola that just needs to be put together.

Three very large boxes of pergola pieces have been in the garage for about 4 months now.

Hubby spent a good bit of time before building the new stecks (yes, that is the correct word), measuring to make certain they would allow room to enter/exit the pergola. If you look at the picture above, you will see there is a bench seat on one side and a high table across the other. We definitely wanted to be able to access the interior without having to go into the yard first.

Hubby had unloaded one of the boxes a few weeks ago, and now, I’ve finished unloading (and inventorying) the other two.

Now, let’s hope the putting it together (and the Pergola Part II post) happens soon!

Berry-Cherry-Palooza!!

This has been my life the past two weeks!

Resulting in 24 jars of

4 Quart bags of frozen strawberries and multiple

Hubby’s first go at homemade crust was a home run

Meanwhile, first big year for this guy

I spent many hours pitting (which is a pretty good excuse to watch Netflix/TV)

So we could have

Between strawberry and sour cherry, I think we ended up with 6 pies. I froze 4 cups of cherries, and there are more staring me in the face right now. Also…I noticed some black raspberries ripening…

Panzanella, Potatoes and (a) Porch Step

It was a busy week, but there is some fun stuff to share. We took the new grill on its maiden voyage, moving it from the garage to the patio and then testing it out.

In case anyone is wondering, far left is for searing, next is a gas grill, next is a charcoal grill, and last is a smoker. This is one large monster of a grill. Happy birthday/early Father’s Day to the hubster.

We used the grill to cook ingredients to try a Smitten Kitchen recipe, Grilled Pepper and Torn Mozzarella Panzanella. I mostly followed the recipe, though I used balsamic vinegar instead of sherry vinegar, I didn’t peel off the pepper skins, and I added a few kalamata olive pieces. We put our finished product on a bed of lettuce and let me tell you, it was so good that there were NO leftovers. A friend mentioned that she had never made panzanella (which beat me because I had never heard of it) because she thought the bread would be soggy. This bread was not at all soggy after being grilled. I predict this will be a summer staple.

As for potatoes, a quick check in on the sweet potato slips that, so far, look pretty good.

Other than replacing two tomato plants, we always keep a few extra til we’re sure, the rest of the garden seems to be hanging in as well.

The patio step project is on the list because both of the steps leading from the back of our house are rotting. Here is a picture of the right side step.

Here is the left side, pulled away from the house. Gross. We don’t even use that step and the wood is disintegrating at the meeting point.

So, hubby spent a good bit of time designing new steps, keeping in mind the pergola that is going up (SOON I HOPE!!!). The original design had two steps on each side, one step on the same level as the house. After building the bottom step, we are going to wait a while and see if we think we need two, as we like the way one looks. I do think, however, that we might have made it a board width smaller if we anticipated only doing a single step. It’s a large step.

Maybe we should call it a steck? It’s almost a combination of a step and a deck. Bottom line though, it’s a vast improvement over what was there and hubby did a pretty great job.

Fargo The Perennial

It’s quite amazing that every year I can still be in awe of the amount of weeds in our perennial beds, and how the grass encroaches so quickly. We work so very hard to grow our veggies, but the weeds don’t seem to need any help to flourish. This spring was no different than previous in terms of the hours and hours and hours we (mostly me) spent weeding and pulling grass.

Here is a picture from the day we really went to town (dogwood blossom photo bomb in the top left corner).

This pathway is a bugger to keep clear. It’s not just the weeds and grass, it’s also the bee balm and the black eyed susans, etc. that want to spread between the stones.

It started to feel like we were making some progress, though the opportunity to weed NEVER really ends. I’m not sure Fargo agreed with this assessment.

In one area, the grass was so prolific that we decided the better option would be to just dig it out and start over. I need to research a native perennial or two to add into the open spot, but in the meantime, Fargo The Perennial will keep it warm.

In the few weeks since I took these pictures, the perennials have exploded in growth. I’ll share a few recent pictures in the next post.

Saying Goodbye Still Stinks!

Had such a wonderful few weeks. As always, we loved having the kiddos home and the week went by WAY TOO FAST. They left yesterday. I gave myself the day to be sad and for my heart to hurt.

I looked back at a few pictures from the week. This one, while watching Moana together (which we loved), isn’t great quality, but it makes me smile.

I was productive through the tears yesterday. I did some cleaning and planted the cabbage and broccoli in the garden. I had some help over the weekend to get the tomatoes and peppers in. We usually wait until at least Memorial Day to plant, but the tomatoes were out of control tall and spindly. Hoping the forecast is right and there are no surprise frosts.

Hoping to get my brain, and my body, back in gear this week.

Chocolate Stout Cake

Last year, after hearing a friend talk about Irish Car Bomb Brownies, I decided to try them. Wowza, were they amazing!! I made them more than once, shared with friends/neighbors, froze them to get some to the kiddos, and ate way more than we should have right here. This year, around St Patrick’s Day, I opted to try another adult beverage themed dessert, Chocolate Stout Cake. Hubby was not upset at the prospect of having some extra Guinness to drink.

This recipe uses a bundt pan, which I actually have but haven’t used. My bundt pan, however, is apparently much skinnier than the one in the original recipe which I noticed after the cake was baked and on the cooling rack.

I had to re-read the recipe to confirm that it actually said to put the Guinness and the butter in a saucepan together. That was a new one for me. I used my early birthday present, pretty saucepan that matches my last year’s birthday present, pretty saute pan. (Aside: we are slowly working on updating the cook/bakeware, some of which we’ve had more than 20 years, and which REALLY needs to be replaced.)

Every time a recipe has hot ingredients that get mixed with eggs, it does give me a bit of worry, but it typically turns out without any eggs getting scrambled. And I must admit, I don’t especially enjoy working with cocoa powder, though I do enjoy the results. I followed the recipe fairly closely, though I probably used just a touch less sugar.

In the oven, with just a little mess up while pouring it in the pan.

And, looking good after baking. I gave it an extra minute or two, though it may not have needed it. The toothpick came out clean, but the cake just seemed too soft. Looking back, I’m guessing the sour cream added enough moisture to make it that much softer. Luckily it was not at all dry with the extra oven time.

I let it cool completely in the pan and then it popped out beautifully. This is when I realized it was a lot skinnier than the pan used in the recipe pictures.

I almost broke it when I moved it onto the cake stand. We had a guest over for dinner, so I used the fancy stand. The ganache turned out much thicker than in the recipe pictures, but it also meant it was less messy, and still pretty in its own way.

This cake was delicious. I was surprised, but I could taste the beer in the first bite, but after that, I couldn’t pull the flavor out again. After the first bite, the flavors melded and it was really pretty amazing. The ganache was good, but actually a little sweet. I used a combo of Trader Joes chocolate chips and chunks. I think the next time I will use the big squares of dark chocolate from the red wrapped bars, which are less sweet. I think it will still be sweet enough, but not too sweet to take away from the rich chocolate flavors.

I was pretty proud of myself on this one.

 

Special Guest Post

I am super excited to have a special guest on my blog today. I’ve mentioned my friend of many years and fellow empty nester, Beth, in this blog a a number of times. I had thought it would be fun to add a new feature of posts by empty nester friends, and she was gracious enough to agree to my request. I hope to have more empty nester guest posts over the next few months, and maybe Beth will even stop back again. After reading her post, I may finally use my Instant Pot for more than just yogurt.

THANK YOU BETH!!

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When Mara asked me to write a guest post for her blog I was flattered and slightly nervous at the same time. It took me weeks to figure out what to write about. Mara and I have a lot in common so there are many directions I could go. We have been friends for over 30 years, we are both runners and empty-nesters, both have puppies attempting to refill our empty nests, and we both enjoy cooking and crafting.

My empty nest puppy:

I decided to go in the cooking direction and talk about my latest cooking appliance, the Instant Pot.  I had been intrigued for the past year after reading many articles and blogs about people who adore their instant pots. For anyone not familiar, the Instant Pot is a multi-function pressure cooker with additional settings to be used as a slow cooker, rice cooker, sauté pot, steamer, warming pot, and yogurt maker. I finally purchased one because I thought it would complement my cooking style.

I’ve been doing much more food prep over the past year or so. This is part of my “empty nest”  routine as I no longer cook a meal every evening as I did when my son was at home. Instead I tend to cook a couple of times each week and make larger batches of food that my husband & I eat for multiple meals. For example I may roast a tray of chicken, a tray or two  of vegetables, bake some potatoes and cook some grains. Then we mix and match for different meals all week. It’s a great way to save time while eating healthy.

Back to the Instant pot. After reading the instructions multiple times as well as reading and watching various online tutorials, I finally felt confident that I wouldn’t have an explosion in my kitchen and was ready to do some experimentation. The first thing I made was hard boiled eggs. They had a five-minute cooking time, came out perfectly and were very easy to peel. (Does anyone else have a hard time with stubborn shells that are a pain to peel?) Next I baked purple sweet potatoes (10 minute cook time), quinoa (1 minute cook time!), and chicken breasts (5 minute cooking time). Keep in mind that each food takes a few minutes to get up to pressure and then to depressurize after the cooking time so the actual time is a bit longer but this gives you a comparison to traditional cooking times.

Perfect chicken:

My first attempt at an actual recipe was Thai Chicken Coconut Soup.  This involved first using the sauté mode for the onion and chicken for a few minutes, then adding additional ingredients and letting the Pot do it’s thing on high pressure for 10 minutes. The finished product was absolutely delicious, with tender chicken and bright flavors.

Outstanding soup:

There is still much more experimenting I will be doing with the Instant Pot, but so far it is definitely a winner in my kitchen. It’s great for food prep as well as being able to turn out dishes quickly without having to “babysit” them at the stove. I expect the Instant Pot to be in frequent use in my kitchen.