Tuesday, October 30, 2012


The Littles will be dressing up for Trick-or-Treat,
and I'm making some yummy caramel apples for them.
This recipe is so good!  
Homemade caramel!  What could be yummier?
This recipe makes a lot so get plenty of apples washed.


Carnival Caramel Apples

(from taste of home)


  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • Dash salt
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 10 to 12 Popsicle sticks
  • 10 to 12 medium tart apples, washed and dried
  • 1 cup salted peanuts, chopped


  • In a large heavy saucepan, melt butter; add the brown sugar, corn
  • syrup and salt. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes
  • to a boil, about 10-12 minutes. Stir in milk. Cook and stir until a
  • candy thermometer reads 235° (soft-ball stage). Remove from the
  • heat; stir in vanilla.

  • Insert Popsicle sticks into apples. Dip each apple into hot caramel
  • mixture; turn to coat. Dip bottom of apples into peanuts. Place on
  • greased waxed paper until set.  You can also use sprinkles or any other toppings for dipping the apples.  Yield: 10-12 apples.

Nutrition Facts: 1 serving (1 each) equals 526 calories, 17 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 32 mg cholesterol, 231 mg sodium, 94 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 6 g protein. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Laundry room blooms...

She's at it again!  The Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas-Easter Cactus is coming into bloom.  I had really good intentions of repotting her this summer.  The old girl is enormous and ought to be potted into a larger container -- a washtub perhaps -- or else she ought to be split into smaller plants to share with my girls.  But.......I didn't do any of that.  I forgot to do the smallest thing -- give her a dose of spring tonic.  But here she is faithfully brightening the short-sun days with her goodness and beauty in my humble laundry room.  Miss Cactus is an especial gift given to the laundress herself, and I'm singing her praises!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Thank a chicken...

Because they are beautiful, 
Because the are delicious,
Because they are natural and nutritious.
Who can deny their health?
Protein, vitamins, minerals -- wealth!
Do yourself a favor
And eat an egg today.
Thank a farmer,
Thank a chicken
For all the eggs she lays.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


nature journal entry November 16, 2000 by OnlyDaughter (8th grade)

However careless we may be of our bird friends when we are in the midst of the luxurious life of summer, even the most careless among us give pleased attention to the birds that bravely endure with us the rigors of winter.  And when this winged companion of winter proves to be the most fascinating little ball of feathers ever created, constantly overflowing with cheerful song, our pleased attention changes to active delight.  Thus it is, that in all the lands of snowy winters the chickadee is a loved comrade of the country wayfarer; that happy song "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" finds its way to the dullest consciousness and the most callous heart.
~Anna Botsford Comstock Handbook of Nature Study

The Chickadees are here and I hope they decide to stay on for the winter.  Sometimes they stay, and sometimes they go.  I'm hoping that my offer of a never-ending supply of sunflower seeds will convince them to stay.  For now, I'll be content to listen for their sweet songs and watch their happy acrobatics.  I think chickadees are friendly birds.  They don't seem to mind sharing the backyard with me at all.  Just yesterday I filled the bird bath with fresh water and one of them came right up to me as I was pouring.  It was as if he couldn't wait to jump in or get a drink.  I know the sound of trickling water is very alluring to birds, but I like to think he came so near to say thank you. 

 I recall long ago OnlyDaughter wanted to "tame" the chickadees.  She had read somewhere that if you will be patient and still, oftentimes chickadees would come close and eventually land upon you just as they would a tree branch.  So out she went one winter afternoon to see if it might be true.  Standing still-as-a-stalk out in the snow underneath the swing set, her mitten'd hands open wide with an offering of sunflower seeds, she waited patiently, and soon the chickadees landed on her mittens and fed happily while my wide-eyed, rosy-cheeked girl grinned from ear to ear.  Is there anything so grand as a wild bird trusting the hand that feeds it?
 In the late fall and winter months, the sound of twittering birds becomes hushed here in the north country.  An eery silence falls, and all at once, so it seems, I realize the birds of summer have all gone.   Those hardy birds that do stay bring great joy.  Breaking the silence is a small ip-ip from a Nuthatch.  The hammering of the Downy Woodpecker or the Northern Flicker can be heard clear and loud on a still winter's day.  I love hearing the distinct hoo-ing of the owls back and forth at night, and it's great fun to take the grandgirls out "owling" with flashlights in hand to find the Great Horned Owl, but the jolly song of the chickadee is the sweetest that I know.  The Littles, even the youngest of them, like to imitate the song, "chick-a-dee-dee-dee."

The Crows have flown in now to gobble up the corn left behind in the feed bunks.  The Canada Geese made a V-line south.  The robins are still here, but they are all flocked together and I think they are talking it over when to pack it up and fly south.  The American Goldfinch have changed their bright yellow tuxedos for gray winter tweeds, and many of them will stay on for the winter. Maybe, just maybe the chickadees will stay too.

Friday, October 19, 2012

No-knittin' Mittens...

It's mitten season!  The days here can be so nice and sunny one minute and freezy-cold the next so one must carry her mittens in her coat pockets. The Littles especially need extra-warm mitts and they are hard to come by, but not any more!  This no-knit granny has found a way to make cozy mittens with old sweaters and polar fleece.

I was nosing about in The Bakery the other day and found some lovely mittens made with felted wool sweaters.  They were beautiful and warm and seemed fairly uncomplicated so I decided to try my luck with making some myself.  I bought a bit of fleece from Annie and a couple of wool-blend sweaters from the thrift store and went home to find a pattern and some instructions.

I found a couple resources:  here and here.  I immediately made my first pair (gray with green fleece trim) and then moved on to my second pair (blue snowflake with red palms) and then decided I needed to make the Littles a pair.  I didn't have a small pattern, but just traced around a child-sized mitten and made a pattern just like the ones in the tutorials only smaller.  The pink stripe mittens should fit the yearlings, Toodles and Bee, and the gray with pink trim will fit Peach who is four years old.  Such fun! 

One note:  some of my sweaters did not shrink down as well as I thought they would, but I cut them up anyway and they worked just fine for this project.  I think you could also make mittens from old polar fleece shirts and blankets too.  Wouldn't the mittens make nice Christmas gifts? 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Healing Salve...

 Infused herb oil

Since I've been dabbling in making homemade balms, I figured today I would make a Healing Salve out of the  infused herb oil I made a week ago.  This ointment will be good to use on cuts, scrapes, burns, diaper rash and on itchy skin as well as for everyday use on rough, chapped skin.  I added in a few drops of lavender and rosemary essential oil for their healing properties.
Healing Salve
2 oz. infused herb oil (or add any liquid oil of choice)
1/2 oz. beeswax
12 drops grapefruit seed extract or 2-3 vitamin E capsules
10-16 drops of essential oil of choice (opt.)

Combine oil and beeswax in a pint mason jar.  Place it into a pot of hot water on the stove.  I add a jar ring in the bottom of the pot to keep the jar off the bottom of the pan.  Heat beeswax and oil together on low heat until melted. Remove from heat and add grapefruit seed extract OR vitamin E oil OR both.   The two are a natural preservatives and antibacterial.  Add optional essential oils.  Mix with a whisk until combined but pourable.  It will start to harden fairly fast.  Pour into tins or glass jars.  Cool.  Add lids.
Makes 1/4 cup.
To clean out greasy jars, tins, and other items used in making salves, sprinkle them generously with baking soda and wipe out with a paper towel.  Then use hot soapy water to finish cleaning them.  I find that a final swipe with an alcohol-soaked paper towel takes the last of the oily film off containers.

Medicinal Herb Chart:  uses for plants and herbs.  You can use drops of essential oils instead of an infused oil for making healing salve.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Why I sunbathe and other good things...

I hope you didn't come here expecting to see my oil slathered skin in a bikini lounging on a grass mat on the beach.  It would be a highly unlikely photo to find and I promise, you won't ever see that here.  Instead, how about looking at the necessary sunbathing things on the crate beside me?  A mug of Yorkshire Gold Tea, a Country Living magazine, and some homemade cream that I rubbed into my legs and arms.

You remember last week I was telling you about the snow flurries?  Well now we are enjoying some 70 degree days with sunshine.  My goodness, the pendulum swings when it comes to weather on the northern prairies.  On days like this, I really try to get out in the sun and sunbathe for a good half hour.   I bare as much skin as I possibly can because honestly, you can't soak up enough vitamin D without some skin showing.  And just like we did back in the 70s, I like to grease up!  D is produced in the oils in your skin.  I don't know about you, but this old hide of mine can use all the grease it can get.  Anyway, why sunbathe?  Because first, it feels good to soak up the warm sun, doesn't it?  Secondly, my body gets to soak in some much-needed vitamin D.  Did you know that most Americans (about 70%)  are deficient in D?  We need it to keep our immune systems strong to fight everyday colds and flu, to ward off seasonal depression,  to keep pregnant moms and babies healthy,  and also to fight diseases like cancerA study was presented to the Swedish Society of Medicine that showed women who sunbathe tend to live longer.  Sounds good to me!   It's not that we need to be out in the sun for hours on end, but we do need about 10-20 minutes a day without sunscreen in full sun with as much skin exposed as possible.  If the skin starts to flush pink, you've had enough.
Speaking of skin and oil...I made a batch of my Bee Balm, but this time I made it harder in consistency -- similar to a lotion bar or to Burt's Bees Lip Balm.  I used coconut oil, mango butter, and a little bit of grapeseed oil and honey.  I didn't add any extra scents because I am an unscented-type-person.  The balm smells a little like honey and nothing else.  I use it on dry, chapped skin, on lips, as well as hands and feet.  It works well anywhere the skin needs a little extra TLC.  If you want to make it yourself, here's the simple recipe.
Bee Balm Bar (or Lip Balm)
1/4 c. oil (your choice of oil:  olive, coconut, mango, almond, grapeseed or any combination)
1/4 c. beeswax (grated or in pellet form)
1 tsp. honey or glycerin (humectant)
2-3 vitamin E capsules (pierced and squeezed in)
Melt beeswax in oil in a double boiler.  When melted, stir and remove from heat.  Add honey or glycerin and the E oil.  Stir well.  If you want to add essential oils for fragrance, you can.  Pour into tins, lip tubes, or glass jars.  Cool and cover.  *Add more oil if you want it creamier.

For more skin soothing tricks... I've been having an oatmeal bath every so often.  It's so easy to make a little pouch out of a piece of muslin or a piece of cheesecloth or with a chunk of an old tea towel.  Or you might run across some of these muslin spice bags to fill.  Just scoop a good handful or more into a pouch and tie it shut, or you can use a rubber band.  Then toss the "Oat Float" into the bath and squidge it around in your hands to release the oat-i-ness.  You can also use the pouch to give yourself an oatmeal facial and then moisturize your entire body.  When you are done you can dump the oatmeal out, rinse, and re-use the bag and start over.  One winter I made several "Oat Floats" by sewing cheese cloth pouches, filling them with oats, then labeled and bundled them for giving. I gave them as Christmas gifts to some of the women I know and made several for my own winter bath nights.  I like keeping it natural as much as possible.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Homemade Cream of Tomato Soup...

It's really starting to get cold here on the prairie and when that happens, I get a hankerin' for soup.  With windy, gray skies and chilly daytime temps of 44 degrees, I've been thinking a lot about creamy tomato soup.  So tonight, with a five gallon bucket of homegrown tomatoes in the kitchen and supper to fix, I looked up a Cream of Tomato Soup recipe and took a chance on this one from Whiteley Creek Homestead Bed & Breakfast.  I find that  most B&B's in winter country really know how to knock out the cold from your bones with good soup.  This one is no exception.  It is simple and delicious. 
Homemade Cream of Tomato Soup
 Makes 12 cups (8 - 1 ½ cup servings)

5 tbsp butter (I used 2 tbsp.)
½ cup chopped onion
4 tbsp flour (I used 2 tbsp because pureeing it in a blender thickens it.)
4 cups milk (I used whole milk.)
½ bay leaf (I used 1 whole bay leaf)
1 ½ tsp sugar
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda* (I used 1 tsp because I doubled the amount of tomatoes.)
6 cups (approx) fresh or canned tomatoes (I used 2 – 28 oz cans diced tomatoes plus the juice.)

Melt the butter in a soup pot. Add the onion and cook until the onion is soft and translucent but not browned. Sprinkle the flour over the butter mixture and continue to stir and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. (Because I reduced the butter, the flour will burn if you cook it that long. I just mix the flour into the butter and call it good.) While stirring, slowly pour in the milk. Add the bay leaf, sugar, and salt and continue to cook and stir until slightly thickened. (You’ll only see a slight thickening action because I reduced the amount of flour, so I heated it only hot enough for serving. Do not simmer or boil.) Stir the baking soda into the tomatoes. It will fizz. Add the tomatoes to the milk and bring it back up to serving temperature. Remove from heat and put through a strainer. (I say, "Why strain it? And toss out the tomato chunks? Why?!" For a smooth/chunky combo, allow to cool then puree half of the soup adding it back into the remaining chunky soup in the pot. If you want a smooth consistency without chunks, puree entire mixture, including tomato chunks, in a blender. For average blender container sizes, you'll need to do this in stages.) *Adding baking soda to tomatoes neutralizes their acidity to keep the milk from curdling.

When I made this soup tonight, I used fresh, chopped tomatoes instead of canned, but I'll use my home-canned tomatoes this winter.  I halved the recipe and added pepper and garlic powder to taste after it was all put together.  I used my stick blender to break up the tomatoes to the consistency that I wanted instead of using a blender.  I think it's way easier than trying to pour hot soup into a regular blender.  
( M E S S )  Adding a little fresh or dried basil to your taste would be another delicious addition to the soup.  All in all, I think this took about 15 minutes to put together including the chopping and the making of grilled cheese sandwiches which, to me, must always go alongside cream of tomato soup --  Winter Comfort Food Supreme!

For the Record:

We took the bucks out of the ewes this past week (10-4).

We received our first snow last week and had a little today too.   It was a light snow that didn't stick to the ground.  There were snow flurries today too but I don't think October snowflakes are quite ripe.  As Lucy from A Charlie Brown Christmas says, "It's too early. I never eat December snowflakes. I always wait until January." 

The vet came to fertility test the sale bulls yesterday.

The 2-year-old heifers got their new ID tags today, and we sorted them into two bunches:  Keepers and For Sale.

Huge flocks of Canada Geese flew over as we were working livestock today.  Wave after wave of V'd geese flew over us, calling to one another, "Fly south!"

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Wild herbs and garden herbs for healing salves...

Calendula Petals

I've been doing a little wildcrafting as it is sometimes called -- gathering herbs and wildflower to use medicinally.  I have never done this before except in a very small way using natural oils for my Homemade Bee Balm, but never have I tried infusing oil with wild herbs  and garden herbs before.  I made an infused oil using four herbs:  calendula, yarrow, plantain, and rosemary.  It's really not hard at all to do, and I'm anxious to see how well the healing ointments turn out.  Above are some calendula flower petals that I picked at OnlyDaughter's house.  I had a few calendula growing in my own garden, but not as many as she did.  I also gathered a few seeds to save for next spring's planting.  I have had calendula flowers growing for many years in my flower beds and oftentimes they were the only flowers growing on especially dry years.  I didn't realize until recently that they are very healing for the skin when infused into oils and ointments.  Before I go on, you must enlarge the above photo and notice that I took the photo on a local, small-town newspaper.  The rural communities supply the paper with their own weekly news of pot lucks, haying, brandings, doctor appointments, and the like.  I thought it appropriate that someone went to the "pain doctor."  Maybe they should try my wildcrafted oils and oinments?  

The Herbs:

Calendula flowers are known to be one of the best healing herbs used in creams and salves to sooth diaper rash, eczema, cuts and skin abrasions, burns, and sunburn.  Yarrow is a wildflower that grows everywhere here on the ranch and is known for its antiseptic properties as well as blood clotting properties.  In Greek mythology, Achillies used yarrow to treat the wounds of fallen comrades.  Most folks have plantain weed growing in their lawn grass.  Little did I know that plantain leaves can be bruised and put directly onto cuts and wounds, stings and rashes to bring natural healing.  They also possess natural antimicrobial properties.  One of my favorite garden herbs is rosemary.  I love to use it in rubs for my winter beef roasts and pork loins, but did you know it can also help reduce the pain of sprains and arthritis?  It can be used for sore aching muscles and is said to stimulate circulation when used as a massage oil.  It is also considered one of the best hair tonics.

 Infusing Oil with Herbs

There are two ways to infuse oil with herbs. You can either combine the herbs and the olive oil in a jar with an airtight lid and leave 3-4 weeks, shaking daily or heat the herbs and olive oil together over very low heat in a double boiler for 3 hours until the oil is very green.  I put my herbs and olive oil into a 16 oz. mason jar and then set it in my crock pot on "warm" for 3-4 hours.  Next, strain the herbs from the oil by pouring through a cheesecloth, old tea towel or coffee filter. I immediately added about 1/2 teaspoon of grapefruit seed extract to my jar of oil to help preserve it.  You can also use a few capsules of vitamin E to do the same.  At this point, I can use the oil "as is" for treating any skin problems like burns, rash, cuts, and blisters or I can use this infused oil in creams and salves for dry skin, chapped lips, diaper rash cream or for healing salve.  I intend to use it in my old Bee Balm recipe for part of the oil called for in the recipe.  I call it "bee balm" because the beeswax in it gives it a honey smell.  If you would rather not mess with infusing oil as I did, you can always add a few drops of different essential oils to your homemade creams and salves.  I use those too and find the NOW brand of essential oils to be good and affordable.  A little essential oil goes a long, long way.

Below I'm including some links that I thought were especially helpful for making homemade oinments and butters with natural ingredients and herbs.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The spud report...

It was a gorgeous day here for gardening, clearing off some plants, and digging spuds.  I'm only digging what I need until it looks like we're going to get a deep freeze.  Starting tomorrow we are expecting a snow-rain mix.  Yup.  It goes from sunbathing weather of  82* and sunshine to high winds, cold 43* temps for highs and slush.  We'll take it!

Do you remember back when I told you about my new gardening experiment?  The No-Dig Potatoes?  Well, since the growing season is drawing to a close, I thought you might like a spud report.  So far I have dug maybe a sixth of the garden up so there's a lot more left to uncover, but so far the potatoes are really lovely, clean, and a nice size.  Most of the spuds are what I'd call average size and I'm getting about 5-6 average sized potatoes per plant.  Some plants have a few bigger potatoes and some have smaller ones, but I'm really happy with how this experiment has turned out and I definitely will do this again next year.

 This was one of the driest years on record here so I think if we would have gotten just a wee bit of rain from the heavens, the potato crop might have been even better, but who knows?  Check out the itty bitty potatoes left on the root of this plant (above).  Imagine if they could have all become nice, bug spuds!  I pulled some average sized spuds off this plant, but was amazed by the amount of "babies" the could have grown up to big Mr. Potato Heads!
I pulled out the rest of the jalapeno peppers and dug a few carrots and picked the last of the cucumbers.  The stuff that grows underground I usually leave as long as possible and pull up only what I need until the snow flies and the ground freezes hard.  Keeping things underground helps the potatoes toughen up their skins and the carrots just grow sweeter.

This evening in the dark, Hubs and I yanked up the tomato vines and pulled off all the unripened tomatoes.  We put them on a tarp and both of us carried them into the garage.  Hubs thinks we have about 75 pounds of tomatoes.  I think they'll ripen up in the garage as the days and weeks go by.  We also fetched in the pumpkins and the butternut squash from the patch.

Tomorrow morning I'll go snip all the parsley and dry it, and then I'll cut the calendula flowers and dry those too.  I'm planning to infuse the petals into oil for homemade healing ointments.  I didn't realize my flowers had healing powers until I started looking into making different salves.  I'm learning lots.

Guess what's going into the crock pot tomorrow?  Potatoes for Zuppa Tuscano Soup!  Can't wait.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Cream Soup Mix

Just this week when I was cooking for a crew of folks, I realized I didn't have any cream of mushroom soup for my pot roast.  Living 60 miles away from town, I can't buzz down to the grocery store when I need a little something.  My way of life is to improvise or substitute.  This nifty little mix has been in my cooking arsenal for many years and it is a deliciously inexpensive way to substitute for any cream soup.  You may adjust the herbs and the bouillon  to your tastes. 

Cream Soup Mix
  • 2 c. powdered milk
  • 3/4 c. cornstarch
  • 1/4 c. instant chicken bouillon granules (or soup base) -- may use low-sodium
  • 2 tsp. dried onion flakes
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried basil 
  • 1 tsp. celery seed
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
Mix ingredients together in a bowl to combine and then pour into a quart mason jar or other airtight container.  To use, scoop out 1/3 cup of dry mix and add 1 1/4 cup of water to it.  Dissolve and bring to a boil,  stirring constantly.  When thickened, remove from heat and use as you would in recipes that call for a can of cream soup.

My old recipe card says the cost comes to 18 cents per batch to make it.  That was some time ago, so let's up that for inflation to 50 cents a batch. It's a lot cheaper than canned soup and check the protein value!  A one quart batch will make the equivalent of 12 cans of cream soup.

Nutritional Facts 1/3 cup mix equals 152 calories, trace fat (trace saturated fat), 5 mg cholesterol, 557 mg sodium, 26 g carbohydrate, trace fiber, 10 g protein. Diabetic Exchanges: 1 starch, 1 fat-free milk.


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