Tuesday, March 30, 2010


'Bout berries, red and black, warmed by the spring sunshine and bursting with flavor on my tongue. It's all about the simple things.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Butter cream Easter eggs....

The sin of all sins - homemade butter cream eggs.

A yearly tradition for my family since I was in high school.
Pictured above are peanut butter cream eggs. I've included the "original" recipe below for not only peanut butter, but, traditional butter cream, coconut, and chocolate butter cream.

Here are the creams from above all dipped in chocolate. I can smell the calories!

On a few, I drizzled white chocolate after the chocolate shell had set.

And,here it is, still in my original binder from my home ec class in 9th grade. Click on the photo to read the recipe!
It's easier than pie and more fun than kneading dough - well kinda.
The dough should be a consistency you can handle without it sticking to your hands. And a little hint - start with less milk and add as needed and always have a little extra 10x (powdered) sugar available in case it becomes sticky.
After you've made the dough, break off chunks to a size of your liking an roll into a ball between the palms of your hands. After you have your ball, start to roll like a snake, then just before it becomes a log shape, flatten into an egg shape.
After you've rolled out all your eggs, let the dough rest in the frig for at least a couple of hours or even better yet, overnight. The idea is you want the dough cold.

For dipping, I typically use 1/2 unsweetened and 1/2 semi or bittersweet chocolate. To give you an idea, the batch above was a double batch (2lbs of 10x) so I wound up melting 8 squares of unsweetened and 8 squares of semi-sweet for the coating.
I now melt everything in the microwave - it only takes a couple of minutes. Beats the old double boiler method! I microwave in 30 second increments to keep a better handle on the melt. The square don't have to be totally melted - they will continue to melt - just keep stirring to keep the consistency blended and smooth.
Now comes the most boring - and I mean boring- part. Dipping the eggs. I use two forks.
Drop an egg in the chocolate, roll it over with one fork onto the other then lift out of the chocolate. Let the excess drip back into the bowl and as it's dripping, use your free fork to scrape the excess of the bottom off the fork holding the egg. When most has finished dripping, set on a tray covered with wax paper. Continue dipping until all your eggs are coated. Pop the tray in the fridge until set. You can then wrap each egg individually into little squares of plastic wrap. These do best if kept refrigerated, but, they do okay at room temperature.

If you are avoiding sugar, chocolate, or tooth decay you may want to stay clear of these. They are pure non-nutritional heaven.

* I do not use margarine in this recipe. I use butter for the entire amount*

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chugging along...

Couple more updates on the new garden. All the beds in the center of the garden are now done and filled. We still want to add some peat moss to help "fluff" the soil just a bit.
We still have the beds to build that will run along the fence line, but, they will only be in the back of the garden (marked by the wooden stakes on the left) and the front on either side of where the gate will be. The back bed will run the entire length 2' x 40'. I will most likely put berries in this bed, but, the verdict is not in yet. I'll decide once they are all done and the fence is in.
The view of the new garden is from the angle of me standing in the middle of the current garden (forefront). This garden will now be used for crops that take up space - corn, potato's, and viny things such as melons this year, and, we are thinking on wheat for next season or for winter.
I wasn't much help to the hubsters today - I woke up feeling quite under the weather and only did some odds and ends outside today. I don't think he minded too much, I mean, after all he has his new toy to help.

This is a 4' x 28' bed that is sectioned into three 8' lengths and one 4'. I see lots of Roma's in this bed for sauces and salsa.

The one thing I did manage to do today was tidy the asparagus bed. I was surprised to see shoots already! It's early this year. Looks like fresh asparagus will be on the menu this coming week and boy, let me tell you, I can't wait. I also started making butter cream Easter eggs - more on that later.

And, just for a smile I thought you'd like to see where some house finches have decided to make their home.. on my grapevine that hangs above my back door! I must say, they've made a beautiful nest.
It's been an absolutely lovely day, but, I think some couch time and watching some of The Good Life (Neighbors) DVD's are in the plans for me this evening. I just love Tom and Barbara Good.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Peaceful Fridays.....

Sometimes, words aren't needed.....
Have a peaceful weekend, y'all.....

Thursday, March 25, 2010

New garden progress....

Pictured above is the new garden addition we have been working on. It measures 40' x 40' which will be enclosed with a fence. This area will be all raised beds and the greenhouse.
Right now it's a hap-hazard arrangement, but, there is a method to our madness. Since we no longer have to take wheel barrow after wheel barrow of soil and compost one at a time, we've decided to lay out a bed, bring the tractor over with the contents to fill, dump, then move on to the next. We've just started the assembly line and hope to get most of them filled this weekend.

We are building a variety of sizes for the raised beds - some as small as 4' x 4' and others as long as 4' x 28'. We found 4' wide a comfortable width for working. The beds that will butt up along the fenceline will only be 2' wide since we will not be able to get to the other side.
We are making the beds out of pine. Cedar was just way out of budget considering the number of raised beds we will be constructing.

The larger square with the 4 x 4's is where the greenhouse will sit. The space between the greenhouse and the first bed leaves space for the rain barrel. It's a slight downhill slope, so, gravity should do us well in regards to watering with it.
Once we get further along, I'll take more pics so you can see the progress of the beds and what we will be planting in them. So exciting, I must add.

In the meantime, the cycle of life goes on and shares its' beauty.

What has this girl all stretched out????

Maybe she got a glance at this!
Don't worry little hen - it's just for chopping wood.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Time flies when you're having fun....

Or at least that's what I've been told. I think time is flying because I am busy more than having fun. Now, that's not to say I'm not having fun - I am. Well, at least as much as work will let me.
This past weekend, the hubsters and I were able to finally get outside and play homesteader. While I was working on pruning all the berry bushes, Doc aka the hubsters started putting together the new raised beds for the new garden area. All told, we were able to get 3/4 of the new beds built.
After reviewing our drawing of the new garden, we realized that the new compost bin would be better on the outside of the garden rather on the inside. No problem, I say. We can just rake out the contents, which isn't that much yet, then roll it. Um, easier said than done, especially since we forgot that we stuck pieces of rebar in the bottoms of the main support posts. In comes the mighty Kubota! Slide the bucket under the supports, loosen it all up, then flip! Ta da! We then wiggled it by hand to where it would permanently rest and then scooped the compost contents and dumped it back in the bins. Fifteen minutes and we were done. If we would have done this all by hand it probably would have taken a better part of the morning and the expletives would have been flying like swallows in the summer looking for bugs! Let me tell you, that's a LOT of flying!
Since we were able to tackle moving the new compost bins, we figured we'd go ahead and move the old one and finish spreading its beautiful gold around the garden. Once again, fifteen minutes and it was done.
Geesh, what will we do with all this spare time given to us by Kubota?
I think we'll figure it out.
Pics of the work in progress coming soon. Back to the feeding the Pharaoh...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Instruments of traditional music....

The harp - the National symbol of Ireland. It's history is long, so, I'll give you just two short tidbits of info.
First off, the harp was a gentry instrument. Itinerant harpers would wander the country and play for the well-to-do. One of, if not the most famous harper was Turlough O'Carolan. At 18 years of age, O'Carolan contracted smallpox and as a result, lost his sight. At the age of 21, he set out with horse and cart to travel the Emerald Isle to play for the gentry and compose music. Many of his pieces were named after those for whom he played.
Second - the harp is the logo for Guinness with one exception - it faces the other way!
Just a small footnote - you typically will not find a harp at an Irish session.

The button accordion. Found as either a B/C or C#/D tuning, this free-wind instrument started spreading through Europe in the 1830's and there is evidence of it starting to gain popularity here in the States in the 1840's. In Irish traditional music, the diatonic accordion is most widely used, but, piano accordions are played as well.

The bodhran (pronounced baaw-run) or frame drum. A wooden frame covered with animal skin (and in present you can get synthetic also) typically goat skin. Evidence of it being around in the Irish rebellion of 1603.
If you are a good bodhran player, you are loved. If you stink, run for the hills.

The fiddle (or violin, but, since it's folk music, I go with fiddle). Long established and available in Ireland in the 1900's. Traditionally in Ireland there are four styles of fiddling - Clare, from the central West, Donegal, from the Northwest, Sliabh Luachra, from the Southwest, and Sligo, a bit south of the Northwest tradition. Each region has its own distinct sound.

The penny whistle or tin whistle. It derives from a fipple flute dating as far back 51,000BC.
The modern penny whistle is indigenous to the British Isles. Made from tin and costing a penny.

The concertina. Developed in England and Germany, most likely independent of each other. In Irish tradition, the anglo concertina is played and is a hybrid of the english and german concertina's. It was found in Irish homes beginning somewhere around the 1830's and is typically the instrument that was played on the cuaird.

The uilleann (pronounced ill-yun) pipes or elbow pipes. Though not truly represented in the tradition until the early 20th century, next to the harp, it is the instrument one relates to when naming traditional Irish music. Hauntingly beautiful is the sound of the pipes unless in the wrong hands. Then it just sound like someone squeezing a goose too hard.

After the folk revival in the late 50's and 60's, other instruments made their way into the playing of traditional music. The Irish bouzouki, tenor banjo, guitar, mandolin, and cittern all fall into this category. Pictured above is the bouzouki.

This is the tenor banjo. It has four strings and is played with a pick or plectrum, whereas the five string banjo, most associated with bluegrass music is played with finger picks.
The instruments pictured above are all what one might find if, perchance, you walk into a pub and a session is in progress. There are other instruments as well, though not as widely accepted. The most odd "instrument" I have played with in a session was a washboard. Thankfully the player had good rhythm and taste!
Now I thought I'd leave you with a few bands to check out for some more traditional Irish music. Hope you enjoy them.
The Bothy Band (you'll have to youtube them)
Just a few to sample. It'll keep you busy for a while :-)
Apologies for the lack of posting and reading all of your blogs. I even missed "Peaceful Fridays.."
I've been swamped with life at the moment. Happens to the best of us. I'll try to catch up over the week. I'm hoping all of you garden bloggers have been busy outside and getting a taste of
Spring. Actually, I hope everyone has been outside getting a taste of Spring!
With that being said, Happy Spring, everyone!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dancing at the crossroads....

The dance at the crossroads.....circa 1891

The above photo, known at least locally as "Dancing At The Crossroads" represents a time in Irish history when dancing was prohibited by the English. The Irish would meet on country roads, often where the roads crossed, bring food, drink, and music, while watching out for British soldiers. They danced their country dances, the ceili dances and set dances we dance now. Believe it or not, this is still practiced in some areas of Ireland today, but, with more modern conveniences to the players and dancers alike. Motor vehicles are what the folks look out for now instead of British soldiers!

And now, more traditional players.....

Button accordian player Billy McComiskey is a local based musician out of Baltimore, MD. He is a legendary player and learned from the cream of the crop.

Check his music out www.myspace.com/billymccomiskey.

This is his son, Sean, who also plays button accordian with the knowledge passed down from not only his father, but, many of his fathers peers also.

Sean is a part of the next generation of those who carry on the tradition of the music. Passing on the tradition is an integral part of Irish music.

The band that my husband and I play in do educational demonstrations at our local public library system. Some come to hear the music, but, most come for the history. The history of the music, the instruments, and the players. The folks who come range in age from 4 years to 85 years. We interact with everyone during the demonstration because we want them to ask questions, we want to hear their stories, we want to know if they play music. The demonstration typically only last an hour or so. They questions and references afterwards can go on for a bit.

The satisfaction from doing these demonstrations doesn't come from applause, well, maybe a little, but, mostly it comes from knowing we've possibly sparked someone's interest in the music. To try and pass it on. To keep it alive. To have a sense of community.

So, with that being said, tomorrow - the instruments of Traditional Irish Music and of course, more players.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy Paddy's Day to all......

Don't have time today to give a full post - what was I thinking yesterday?? It's work and music this evening in Brunswick.. hectic, but it's all good.
I will give you some more trad players tomorrow and a little about dancing at the crossroads. Until then, have a very safe day in wearing of the green.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Cuaird and more traditional players....

Today I will lead you to the music of Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill.

Both musicians are exceptional players, but, play with a touch known only to them. It's a gentle touch or as Martin Hayes calls it - The Lonesome Touch. Go check them out.

If you chance to be a fiddler, you can distinctively hear the difference between Martin's playing and Liz' playing. If your a guitar player, same goes between John and Dennis.

The Cuaird - the chair by the door...

Sunday's after mass, in the West of Ireland , are the times when the country folk would go on the cuaird. The cuaird comes from the Irish gaelic word cuiart which in short means "to visit". Similar to "visitin" down through the Appalachian areas.

No invitations are sent - it something that has been done since the small villages and towns came about. The kitchen door was left open and an empty chair sits next to the door. Neighbors from surrounding farms would start to drift in to the home, savouring the smell of brown bread, scones, and cakes. A pot of tea would be waiting for all those who came. The families would gather in the kitchen, the heart of the home. Soon, the reason for the cuaird would become apparent. News. News of the village - who was getting married, who was having a baby, how the turf and hay was getting on for the year. Women exchanged recipes while the men talked farm business. The cuaird was the lifeline to these small farmers.

As the night wore on, the conversations turned more casual and stories would begin to unfold. Stories would lead to songs, songs to prodding the lady of the house to play some tunes on the concertina. The music would begin and toes would start tapping. Tapping toes led to dancing the sets. Yes, they danced right there in the kitchen. As the dancer's spun 'round the room, they lilted the tune out loud. There was much laughter and joy, pots of sweet tea consumed, and over there in the corner, the gents would break out a jug of poitin (homemade whiskey). The dancing, songs, and stories would go late into the night.

The cuaird is a tradition that I'm not sure if it's even still carried on in today's present Ireland. But, out of the cuaird came house sessions and dances which still go on today.

Below I've linked you to a Youtube video that talks about house dances. I hope you enjoy it.

Tomorrow, more great Irish musicians and dancing at the crossroads.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Everyone's Irish.. at least this week.....

*Liz Carroll and John Doyle*

This week, being St. Patty's week and all, I thought I'd focus on bringing some traditional Irish music from some of my favorite players. I may even get into a little history here and there for those of you who may be interested on how all this "Irish" stuff came about.

To be honest, I have a hard time pinning down favorite players. True to the tradition, all players have their own styles and interpretation. With that being said, the picture above shows probably my two most favorite players - Liz Carroll and John Doyle. Individually they are top notch players and performers. Put them together and it's down right explosive..

Go give them a listen. You'll be glad you did.

A wee - disclaimer... no Danny Boy, Celtic Thunder, Celtic Woman, or Riverdance will be found in the upcoming posts this week. I'm going with true traditional music.

Although Danny Boy (written by an Englishman, btw) is a beautiful air (also known as the Londonderry Air), most musicians can't do it justice. The one player I do know who interprets this air with grace is fiddle player Eugene O'Donnell.

Tomorrow - more great traditional players, the cuaird, and dancing at the crossroads.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dirty hands...

It's been raining like cats and dogs this past weekend, but, I needed to get dirty - garden wise that is! So, I worked with my seedlings.
I thinned and transplanted some of the lettuce and sage to other peat pots and I seeded a couple of more things to get a head start. Most of what I seeded were herbs - lavendar (yet again I try), rosemary, and dill. I also seeded some Bloomsdale spinach and just for fun, some Envy and Violet Queen zinnia's.

I also received my onions and shallots this weekend from the Maine Potato Lady. The sad part is, the garden is no where near ready to put them in.

My seed organization tray. I told you I wasn't very methodical! But, I look at it this way, I know where everything is!

This year I bought seeds from Johnny's, Seeds of Change, and Baker Creek. I also picked up some Ferry Morse organic at the local homestore, too. I have to be honest, I haven't looked into whether or not the Ferry Morse organic seed has any doings with Monsanto. I feel a bit guilty about not doing so before I bought them.
I've told myself I need to be a better seed consumer. I'm slowly educating myself and scaring myself a bit along the way too. This just gives me an incentive to save my own seeds and to research more heirloom seeds and seed exchanges that are available.

When I started my lettuce table experiment I wasn't sure what I was going to put all the pots in if I used pots or whether I wanted to make soil blocks myself and put them in old trays.
As you can see, I went with peat pots with a good starting mix and then found an old plastic shallow bin in the garage to put them all in. It fit perfectly on the old mail table and under the lights. Sometimes things do fall into place - even if they aren't quite planned thoroughly. Okay, I just got lucky...
Lettuce and sage transplants. They always look a little rough right after you do it, but, they were quite perky this morning.

Here are some leeks I started on 2-21 . I was a bit disappointed with the germination rate, but, something is better than nothing. I'll transplant these to the new raised beds. Sometimes it's all an experiment!

This is Flashy Troutback lettuce that was seeded on 2-21 also. I'm leaving them all in the peat pots to see if I can grow it to maturity under the lights inside. Yes, they are crowded, but, that's part of my experiment too. I want to see if I can push the pot limit and still get mature, tender lettuce.
I've actually taken the time to record some of the seed starting data so when next year rolls around I'll have a reference. If there is one thing I've learned - don't trust my memory! Even more so - don't trust my husband's memory!!
It's been a bit dreary this weekend and I wish I could have been outside playing in the dirt, but, at least I got to play in some type of dirt. We're going to finish this weekend by going to a great coffee house in Brunswick to hear some friends of ours kick off the "Wearing of the Green" week with some traditional Irish music. This coffee house is great as they let you BYOB with a corking fee, so I see a Guinness or two in my future.
Dirt on my hands, traditional music, and cold Guinness. Not a bad weekend at all!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Peaceful Fridays.....

As you go about your weekend, try not to get too "bogged" down to stop for a moment and take in the view, breathe the air, and be thankful for all that surrounds you.
Have a peaceful weekend, y'all............

*view of the peat fields from Diamond Hill, Connemara National Park*

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The music house.....

This is where we hang two nights a month to let some of the pent up creative juices loose.
We always have a grand time, that's for sure, but, some nights are just - prodigious. Last night was one of those nights - the craic was grand! (go here for an explanation of craic)
Thirteen musicians sitting in a circle in front of a roaring fire playing tunes. A pub full of listeners, Guinness and Smithwicks at each players side, and laughter in our hearts.
Some nights just don't get any better than that!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Chicken melting.. not molting...

Sometimes I just don't get it.
My chickens seem to suffer from an affliction. Sun collapse syndrome. If they stand in just the right way in sunlight, they melt like the wicked witch of the west - slowly oozing onto the ground, wings spread to save themselves but they can't. They just keep melting.
After they've melted, they go into a trance like state.

The other chickens who have not melted come to see what's going on. Sometimes I think they regret it because they start to melt too!

Others just go about their daily chores as if nothing strange is going on in the henhouse.

Others try to look dignified - like it could never happen to them. And sometimes, they are successful and don't melt.

Speaking of things melting, we're making progress here. I don't think I'll be hosting any parties here on the decks anytime soon, but, at least I can see the furniture!

More and more I can see the "season of mud" about to begin.

And, signs of life under all that snow continued its cycle.
Kinda reminds me of a mailman - no matter rain, hail, sleet, or snow - they still continue to do their rounds.
Happy week everyone!