Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Risen King

What a beautiful day Sunday was!  We chose to celebrate the resurrection of our King in a somewhat unconventional manner - with Sir Knight praying for us, serving communion and reading passionately of Jesus' final hours and triumphant resurrection from the book of Luke.  Oh, glorious day!

He is risen....He is risen indeed!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spring Cleaning....

With no snow on the ground and balmy, spring like weather, we have taken to cleaning up the garden beds, spreading compost and doing myriad other outside chores.  We have been burning slash piles, cutting, splitting and stacking firewood (for next years burning) and generally cleaning up the yard in anticipation of spring.  Oh how I love this time of year!

The log deck


Stacked in the wood hut for next winter
As most of you know, I have struggled to grow any kind of a garden since moving to this windswept prairie.  Our soil is heavy and full of clay and it seems that no matter how much organic material I till into the soil, it produces nothing more than a handful of weeds. 

After reading numerous books on the subject, I have become convinced that permaculture is the only viable way of coaxing our land into bountiful production, however, I have to admit that I am overwhelmed with the thought of beginning such a garden and consequently, have done little to establish a vibrant permaculture garden.

Raspberry bed getting a dose of compost

A larger bed with a layer of ash and a double layer of compost
As overwhelmed as I am at the thought of a whole new method of gardening, I am bound and determined to put my all into building a small "guild" and hopefully turning our barren patch of dirt into a lush, productive, garden full of microclimates, swales and self-sustaining goodness. 

In addition to working on a new garden, I am trying to feed the ones I already have, hoping to coax a lovely harvest from them as well.  After putting a thin layer of wood ash (from the burn pile) onto the gardens, I put a rather thick layer of compost on each garden bed.  I am hoping that by amending the soil early, the nutrients will have a chance to soak into the soil as the spring rains fall, creating a rich bed for seedlings and young plants.  What a study it will be - the garden beds and the permaculture garden - I am awash with anticipation!

Cleaning out the front garden bed

Princess Dragon Snack and Master Calvin cleaned the iris beds

The sunroom (in the background) will need some work before it's open for spring!
And so, spring cleaning will continue.  The children and I will pick up the mess that seems to accumulate over the winter, spruce up the sunroom and clean the chicken coop.  We will busy ourselves with spring cleaning as we anticipate a full and productive summer - getting ready for another winter.  Oh, to dance to the music of the seasons!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A New Chapter

Maid Elizabeth just bought her first house.  She has a good, steady job and has been feeling like she needed to do the "next" thing for awhile, but was unsure what that next thing was.  She had tossed around the idea of building a little cottage on our property, but that seemed daunting.  She had (briefly) considered renting an apartment, but she was not at all pleased with that idea.  And then, the cutest little house came on the market.  It was in need of a little (or maybe more than a little) TLC, but it was close to her job and it was a foreclosure, so the price was (really) right.

A very large living room (with wood heat)

Original banister

A small storage cubby on the way up the stairs
So, for less than many people pay for their first car, Maid Elizabeth bought a house.  She signed on the dotted line and took possession of her keys yesterday.  She walked through her threshold with a mixture excitement and trepidation - excited because she had her very own home and terrified because she felt the whole weight of home ownership on her shoulders.

Original door knobs

The original chimney in the kitchen
Her little house needs work before she moves in - the hardwood floors need to be refinished and the bathroom gutted.  She wants to put new flooring in the kitchen (that has a chimney and room for her wood cookstove!) and paint all of the walls.  It needs new paint outside and a bit of yard maintenance, but it is structurally sound and in remarkably good shape for a house that was built in 1910!

First Tea!

Maid Elizabeth practicing hospitality in her own home!

Master Calvin and Princess Dragon Snack enjoying their tea
Our oldest child is stretching her wings!  And we are so proud to watch her soar.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A Blustery Afternoon

March is blowing its way into our lives.  After a beautiful, balmy week, we awoke to pounding rain this morning, along with dreary, overcast skies.  Since our plans for outside work were sidelined, I decided to organize my "new" pantry, do a little housework and bake a cake to go with our afternoon tea. 

Shouse living can be interesting, particularly when it comes to storage.  Our kitchen is completely "unfitted", meaning that every cupboard, stove and pantry is free-standing, none matching the other.  Our kitchen has evolved over the years, beginning with industrial shelving, a home-made counter-top and open shelves to hold our dishes.  Now we have a cupboard unit (out of an early 1900's restaurant), complete with drawers and flour bins and grocery store shelving (from a depression era grocery) has replaced the industrial racking.  Even with the shelving, my kitchen storage was severely limited, so a number of years ago my parents gave us a pantry they'd had built to fit in the small kitchen of our single-wide trailer.  It was perfect for our kitchen, not taking up very much space but providing much needed extra storage space. Unfortunately, our home is often the end of the line for poor, unsuspecting furniture.  Everything we own is WELL used, and my parents pantry was no different. 

I have been looking for a replacement pantry for a while, but the niche in our kitchen that we could put a cupboard was small, and finding just the right pantry proved to be a difficult challenge.  One afternoon, on an excursion to town,  Maid Elizabeth and I walked into an antique mall/flea market and what did my eyes behold but the perfect cupboard for our kitchen pantry!  I didn't buy it on the spot, but measured it and thought about it and decided that if it was still there when I went back to the store I would bring it home.  And so I did.

The cupboard was a perfect fit!  It has so much storage space (much more than my old pantry) and I have thoroughly enjoyed organizing it to make it work for our family. 

My pantry cupboard isn't our only new kitchen acquisition.  We also replaced our old farmhouse kitchen table!  We bought our table 20 years ago when we had two children and a small kitchen.  At the time we thought it was HUGE (at 6' long), but over the years, as our family increased the table seemed to shrink.  After moving into the shouse, we noticed a few other challenges - it was too wide for our dining area and the legs made it difficult to fit extra chairs around the table.  In order to make things work, we moved the table every day (sometimes 3 times a day), keeping it tucked in next to the garage door when not in use and pulling it out into the room when we had a meal.  It worked, but caused a lot of wear and tear to the table.  Another disadvantage was that it was very difficult to seat more than our family at the table, and even that was a little tight.  Holiday meals were truly challenging, seating some people around the table and scattering the rest throughout various spots in the house. 

A few weeks ago we found a table on Craigslist that was longer (8 feet) and narrower than our farm table and it had a trestle rather than 4 legs.  And to top it off, it was priced at yard sale pricing.  Sir Knight and I drove to a town an hour away, loaded up the table and hauled it back to Little Shouse on the Prairie.  It has been wonderful!  I was a able to bring our big garden bench in and put it on one side of the table (it easily seats 5) and put chairs at the head, foot and other side.  At a tea party last week I set the table for 9 and enjoyed a comfortable, non-squeezed luncheon!  We can easily seat 12 and still have room to move around!

As I mentioned earlier, not only did I organize the pantry today, I also make a coffee cake to accompany our afternoon tea.  It was a lovely cake, with a tight, cake-like crumb (not coarse like many coffee cakes) and lots of cinnamon streusel.  It is perfect for a blustery afternoon, especially if you melt butter on each slice before serving!

Streusel Coffee Cake

For the streusel:
1 1/2 C packed brown sugar
1 C all-purpose flour
2 1/2 T cinnamon
6 T butter, melted

Combine streusel ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.

For the cake:
1 1/2 cubes butter, softened
1 1/2 C sugar
1/3 C packed brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs
3/4 C sour cream (or yogurt)
1 1/2 C milk
3 3/4 C all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 13x9" baking pan.

In a mixing bowl cream the butter, sugar and brown sugar.  Add the vanilla and eggs.  Beat until well blended and light.  Add sour cream and milk.  Beat until well combined.  Add the flour, baking powder and salt.  Mix until combined.

Pour 1/2 of the batter into the prepared pan.  Layer 1/2 of the streusel over the batter.  Spread remaining batter over the streusel filling.  Top with remaining streusel.

Put the pan on a larger cookie sheet and bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Serve warm with dollops of butter on top.

Ready for tea!

Coffee Cake with melting butter on top.....

Maid Elizabeth's tea cup


I hope you too, are enjoying a blustery, cozy March afternoon!  Remember, these are the good ol' days!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Irish Potato Bread

In the past, I've shared my recipe for the Quintessential Survival Bread (Irish Soda bread), and this recipe is another take on that very simple, rustic quick bread. 

Irish potato bread is a wonderful way to use up leftover mashed potatoes and the recipe is infinitely adaptable to whatever you happen to have on hand.  You can keep things simple or add herbs, cheese, onions or even leftover bits of meat.  Irish potato bread is wonderful with a hearty soup or lovely slathered with butter and jam to accompany a cup of tea.

This loaf, which I served with Beef and Cabbage soup, had a handful of chives added, along with about a cup of mozzarella cheese.  The results were divine - crusty on the outside, soft and savory on the inside - just right for a blustery, rainy, March afternoon.

And now, the recipe.....

Irish Potato Bread

3/4 C mashed potatoes (leftover)
3/4 C raw, grated potato
1 egg
1 egg white
3/4 C milk
2 T chives (optional)
3 1/4 C flour (whole wheat or all-purpose)
1 1/2 T baking powder
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly oil an 8" cast iron pan.  Set aside. 

In a medium bowl, mix the mashed potatoes together with the raw, grated potato.  Add the egg, egg white and milk.  Mix together.  Add extras, if desired, and mix well (cheese, sautéed onion, bacon bits, etc).

In a large bowl combine the chives (if desired), flour, baking powder and salt. 

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until a soft dough forms.  Lightly flour a work surface.  Turn dough onto the floured surface and knead 6 - 7 times.  Place dough into the center of the prepared cast iron pan and gently press into an 8" circle.  Use a sharp knife to cut an X into the top of the loaf. 

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 - 55 minutes, or until it sounds hollow when you tap on the bottom of the loaf.  If you are unsure, allow the loaf to bake for another couple of minutes.  Remove from pan (after loaf has cooled for 5 minutes) and allow loaf to cool for an hour (or the bread will crumble when you slice it). 

Left over mashed potatoes

Raw grated potato

Adding egg, egg white and milk

Mixed together

Adding the mozzarella

Dry ingredients

Mixing the wet and dry ingredients

Ready to go into the oven

Just out - crusty, brown and warm!

Soft, savory and flavorful

This potato bread is moist and soft and perfectly wonderful!  If you have any left over (highly doubtful!), it toasts beautifully, and is a sublime breakfast companion.  Now you just have to think of something to have with mashed potatoes!