Antietam Valley Farmers and Artists Market

A very lovely friend of mine recently moved to the Antietam area. She discovered and shared with me that they have an awesome farmers market on Saturday mornings. Their grand grand opening for the season was earlier this summer. The event is usually all outdoors but because of the rain they moved it into the rec center there at the park. This alone was super awesome.

We first did a circle to see everything. The worst thing to do at a farmers market is to buy at the first stand you see. You must walk around, see what everyone has and THEN go around and purchase.

My first purchase came from Conebella Farm. They are a dairy farm that has been owned by the same family since 1923, a whopping 5 generations. They have AMAZING cheese. After trying a few samples I was HOOKED and left with a 10oz block of Hickory Smoked Colby Jack. I purchased the Old Bay cheese  spread the last time I was there. It’s so good with pretzels. The prices are great for a local, fresh cheese!

Next came HONEY! Griesemer Beekeeping has fresh honey made out of Wernersville. I did not buy a jar of honey this time, but couldn’t resist a few honey sticks 5/$1. They have a variety of flavors and it was hard to pick just a few! Fun fact- buying local honey is also great for allergies!

Grow Your Own Freedom was my next stop. I am addicted to this stand. I’m just going to leave their website right HERE! I’ve been using their bug sprays all summer. At least once a year like this because of bites-IMG_7001

I usually swell and hurt and throb, it’s a nightmare. This year, I got ONE bug bite on my hand because I forgot to spray once. Even with working in the garden. Even in the middle of a swamp in North Carolina on vacation. NO BUG BITES. Seriously. This stuff is MIRACLE spray. The last time I was at the market I got their Vanilla Mocha chapstick. Uh. Holy. Moly. I can’t even. Or odd. So yummy. It leaves my lips nice and soft without being sticky. I am in LOVE. They make soaps, salves, scrubs- tons of all natural and locally grown/made stuff. Garden care is also a service that they provide and help with. Seriously. I think I’m in LOVE. 

We bought a few other goodies, but I will write about those in a later post. For now, enjoy this picture of me with a purple tongue from eating a pint of black raspberries all by myself.

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It’s Only Been A Week

It’s been just over a week since we planted our garden. We have had lots of growth and some death thus far.

IMG_5609Our strawberries are the only ones to have seen death. Out of all of the plants I put in, 2 have died. We specifically put so many in for this exact reason. It is still early, there may still be some loss, but as of now, the rest of them look like they are doing well. 

 

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IMG_5614Two of our 12 potatoes have busted through! There is evidence that at least 3 more will pop through in the coming days. This is the first year we are growing potatoes in this garden. I am excited to see how well they do.

IMG_5613Our mixed greens and leafy lettuce are flourishing. Fresh lettuce grows like weeds, and lasts FOREVER. We were giving it away last year because it lasts 3-4 weeks when stored properly. 

IMG_5612Our radish patch is doing quite well. We only planted in half of the area because we are going to rotate them out. So next week we will plant another 2 rows of radish, just in time for our first ones to be done in a few days time. They have a quick germination/maturity time. 
IMG_5611This is our singular bush cucumber plant. We planted 5 in the little plot. We’re hoping that by the end of the week we’ll have a few more. Mom wants to make pickles…even though she’s the only one that eats them.

IMG_5616I like to call this the “Mater Forest.” I feel like we have so much more than last year, and I know that once they really start growing up, it’s going to look like one as well. They haven’t had much vertical growth, but it’s still early. They’re more busy rooting that growing.

IMG_5610We planted about 8 sunflowers and 6 of them have already started popping! I took a shot of the two biggest ones. I will harvest the seeds in the fall and bake them! 

IMG_5608We are most excited for the green beans…ok….it might just be me. I LOVE green beans. I like them raw, I like them blanched, I like them sautéed in butter with garlic and onion, I like them fried. I haven’t met a green bean I didn’t like…except casserole. They are bursting forth in their little rows and I could not be more excited.

IMG_5618This little guy is not in our back garden, but I like it anyway. We planted 4 lavender plants in our front/side gardens this year. Lavender is not only pretty once it blooms, but it also smells good and is a natural bug repellent. It is also a perennial so we will not have to worry about having to replace it every year.

We are still waiting for the onion, peppers and carrots to pop. They should be showing up to the party in the very near future. The cosmos and zinnias that we planted around the vegetable garden are barely showing above the mulch. Our marigolds are thriving. Those 3 were planted as bee attractors and bug repellents.

From here out, I will post garden updates once the plants start producing or something super super exciting happens!

Happy planting!

Spring Gardening

In March, in the midst of a snow storm I spent the day planning our garden. This weekend, the snow has been gone for a few weeks, the sun has been shining and we were finally able to get stuff in the ground!

I had come up with beautiful plans and a beautiful layout, created with tons of research, love and care. screen-shot-2015-03-05-at-5-18-30-pmThen we got out there and my dad decided things needed more space. The really pretty garden layout that looked like the above, ended up looking like the below in reality. Which, is ok. It doesn’t look near as pretty in a chart like this, but it works. Sunflowers and cucumbers were added to the garden. The “walking path,” kinda disappeared for the most part, but there is plenty of space between plants so we’ll be just fine.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 9.26.29 AMWe also have an adorable little strawberry patch, I have claimed it as my own.10689423_10206003822511341_2734209453159910876_nAround the garden we planted marigolds, cosmos, and zinnias. Marigolds are natural (bad) bug-repellants, cosmos and zinnias are natural bee attractors. When you have a garden this big, with this much stuff in it, you want as many bees as you can get! 11206100_10206003822071330_2141622102369986064_n

11204480_10206003822311336_9176184884080786480_nWe have 24 tomato plants of 3 varieties, Roma, Celebrity and Brandywine. We planted red potatoes because we think they are better to cook/bake with. Mom wants to make pickles this fall so the cucumbers are small bush cucumbers. There are 15 strawberry plants in the box. I’m not sure that they’ll all make it, and if I do…well…if anybody would like some strawberry plants, hit me up. The rest of the garden is seeds, so I guess we will see in a few weeks how many of each we have!

Stay tuned for update posts and recipes throughout the summer!

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Snow Day Garden Planning

It is a winter wonderland right now. Seriously. We have over a foot of snow in our yard, a combination of the approximately 8 inches we got today plus what was already laying on the ground. My dad used our snow blower to created a doggy path in our back yard since our critters are a bit vertically challenged.

10437617_10206255174127735_8793836284818350200_nI am desperately looking forward to the days when our yard looks more like this-

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Last year was the first garden my parents did. This little plot is 8×10. This year, we are more than doubling that to a whopping 32×10. Yes, 32×10. That is 320 square feet of prime food growin ground. When you decide to grow a garden that big, you can not haphazardly throw plant in the ground. There is an art to this, a serious science. I have spent at least 3 hours researching, drawing, erasing and going back to the garden boards to plan out our vegetable garden this year. An excel spread sheet, and 2 tables later, I think I’ve got it!

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This is an excel spread sheet of all different fruits and vegetables we will be growing, whether in the main 32×10 garden, in a separate box, like our strawberries, or in our side garden, like the cucumbers. It features how deep to plant the seeds, how far apart to plant them, how many can be planted in a square foot, when to plant, companion planting info, soil info and sun preferences. Instead of having to search 18 different websites, I can simply pull this up and all of the info I need is right there in one spot!

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This is our 32×10 garden lay out. Below is the color key, black is walking space. It is a pain in the butt to harvest, weed and take care of a garden when you have no room to actually walk! What a travesty to have great plants and accidentally step and crush them! This helps aid this problem. Having it laid out also means no guessing when it comes to planting time. Each square will have 1-16 plants depending on what is being planted there. We LOVE canning homemade tomato sauce, and being able to harvest and freeze fresh green beans, carrots and peppers to use throughout the winter and spring. Nothing beats having fresh carrots and green beans in a good hearty pot of stew in the middle of December. We are also planting marigolds around the perimeter of the whole garden. There are numerous benefits of this, one of them being that they attract bees, which helps pollination, which in turn means lots of produce!

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 5.18.33 PMRight now, the wind is blowing and the snow is still kinda falling. By the end of the week it is supposed to bounce back up to the 40s and Spring will quickly be approaching. I still have our front flower gardens to plan and a few weeks before we’ll be able to till the ground and get our (organic/natural) soil additives in preparation for planting time mid-April. Though it seems so far away, like the snow may never stop and the ice will never melt, I know that in just a few short weeks I will have my toes in the dirt and seeds in the ground!

Canned Homemade Apple Sauce

I finally went apple picking. It was everything I had hoped it would be and MORE. Not only was the weather perfect, but the fruits of our labor were exceptionally sweet! I am fortunate to live by an awesome little place called “Weaver’s Orchard.”
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Weaver’s boasts a beautiful orchard with over 30 varieties of apple. Not to mention the raspberries, pumpkins, blueberries and all of the other pick your own yummy treats. They also have a farmers market and lots of other fun, delicious things on site.
Ethan and I went on the perfect September day. I bought a 16lb bag and went to town. I got a few of as many kinds of apples as I could get. Honeycrisp, Red Delicious, Jonagold, Granny Smith, Sun Crisp and a few others. They looked quite pretty all piled up in my mom’s green fruit bowl.
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After washing the apples in a warm water and vinegar mix in the sink, it was time to SAUCE!
Ingredients:
8-12 apples peeled and chopped (I used a variety of apples)
2 cups of water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 ginger
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 cup Maple Syrup (YES! That is the secret!)
1/4 cup good honey
3-5 canning jars/lids

I like my apple sauce nice and spiced so that it tastes like apple pie. It even lends itself to be a bit closer to apple butter. ANYWHO.
1. Peel and chop your apples. Add all ingredients to a crock pot set on high and stir.
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Your house will smell AWESOME! This is great to do in the fall because it smells AH-MAZING.
2. Cook on high until the apples are completely mushy and soft- this takes about 6-8 hours depending on the apples you use and how many.
3. Using a blender or hand held blender, blend the apples until smooth, or your desired consistency. Some people like chunkier apple sauce- what ever floats your boat.
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4. While blending, I started my boiling water for my jars/lids.
5. After blending I dumped the blended apples into a large pot on the stove and brought them up to a good boil. Be careful, it will pop and splatter and it is VERY HOT!!!! Homemade apple sauce is much darker than the stuff bought in the store. It is also darker because of the spices added.
6. This next step is a two-three person job that my mom and or dad usually help with so that it is done quickly before anything can cool! (Thanks guys!) Once jars and lids are brought to a boil in the water, pull them out and ladle in the hot sauce. As long as the jars, lids, and sauce are all nice and hot, you will not need to water bathe them again. It took about 3 ladles of sauce per jar. Set them aside on a towel with space in between so that the air can get in and cool them. Do NOT put them in the fridge they will crack and break. They must cool slowly. The tops should pop within an hour or two. If not, you may need to put the jar in boiling water for 5-10 minutes to heat everything back up to induce the sealing of the lid.
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This batch made 3 pint jars and enough at the bottom of the pot for everyone in the family to have a spoonful. I have been trying to share my apple sauce, but it’s so hard when I want to keep it all for myself! I got two batches out of my 16lb bag from the orchard. I definitely plan on getting at least a 24lb bag next year. The two batches made 7 pints and 3 of the smaller sample size jars to share with friends.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

There is something wonderful that happens when you harvest fruits and veggies from your garden that you have spent months loving and tending, bring them inside and turn them into yumminess. There’s something reassuring when you know exactly what was used to help make them grow. Last summer I had the joyful job of learning how to make my own mater sauce and can. For what ever reason I had this thought in my head that canning and turning tomatoes into sauce was this daunting task. It certainly wasn’t the herculean quest I thought it would be, but definitely a process.

I learned a few things.

1. You don’t necessarily have to do the whole water bath thing. Run the mason jars and lids through the dishwasher on the sanitizing cycle with heat dry and try to time it so that the dishwasher ends when the sauce is ready. As long as the jars/lids and the sauce are nice and hot, they should pop on their own without having to do the water bath mess. If the tops don’t pop then you might have to do some water bathing. I only had to do this for 1 of about 30 jars we did last year. You can also just put the jars and lids in boiling water, pull them and fill. Same concept, works just as well.

2. Avoid putting herbs/garlic/onions in with your sauce. As they sit in the sauce they can make it bitter and taste funny.

3. You don’t need anything but tomatoes if that be your desire.

4. The longer you cook the tomato puree, the thicker it gets and the more like tomato paste or marinara it becomes. There’s a sweet spot.

SO, now that that is all out of the way, time for the actual sauce making process.

Pluck your maters! I found that for about every 30 medium tomatoes I would get 2 quart jars of sauce. We used a combination of heirlooms and romas.

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Romas!

Phase I. Line up your work station. As much as I hate having an electric stove, the flat top can double as extra counter space now and again. Left to right I have a pot of boiling water on the far burner. Next to that on a cool part of the stove I have a bowl full of ice water. On the counter I have a bowl for scraps, my cutting board, and another bowl to put the processed tomatoes.

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1. To remove the skins, place a few in the boiling water for 10 seconds to a minute. Some skins break and start to release almost automatically. Some need a wee bit more time. Once you do it for a while you kind know what they feel like when the skin has separated, and obviously you can visibly see when it splits.

2. Place the maters in an ice bath so that they are cool enough to handle.

3. Peal the skins off of the maters and put the skins in bowl #1. With your hands or a knife split the tomato into smaller pieces/chunks. Remove as much of the seeds as you can now and throw them in your scraps bowl.

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4. The tomato chunks go into bowl two to await their next step.

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Repeat until all of the tomatoes you harvested have gone through this process. When you’re done, clean it all up but leave out your bowl of maters and your scrap bowl. Get out a large pitcher or another bowl and your blender. You are now ready for Phase II.

Fill your blender about 1/2 full of the tomato chunks and blend until smooth. Feel free to leave a few chunks if you’re into that kind of sauce. Pour your puree into your bowl/pitcher. Repeat until all of your chunks have been blended.

Place a big pot on a front burner of your stove on medium-low heat. Place a relatively fine sifter/screen over the top of your pot. Pour the tomato puree through and stir to help the sauce through the screens. This removes the seeds that are still there and any chunks. You can choose to reblend them for smooth sauce or pull them out, make sure they don’t have seeds stuck to them and throw them in the pot. This is the longest part of the whole process and would be much easier with a food mill. Which we haven’t invested in yet.

To the very runny, kinda pink, not very tomato-saucey stuff in your pot I add about 1 cup- 1 1/2 cup of white granulated sugar. Again, this depends on how much sauce you are making. I also added about 3 tablespoons or so of salt. I leave the pot on medium heat for about 3 hours. Check and stir every 20-30 minutes to avoid the bottom burning. This also helps you gauge about when to start your dishwasher if you are using that method.

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Again, the longer you cook it down, the thicker and more paste like it becomes. When I use a jar, I like to simmer it on the stove with a crushed garlic clove, fresh minced onion and herbs so I keep my sauce a bit on the thin side to accommodate for my cooking style.

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The beginning of the cooking process

When the sauce is ready, my mom, dad and I tag teamed to make the process quick. I laid down a dishtowel on the counter. Mom pre-washed the brand new jars and lids. Dad boiled the jars, rings and lids because I think it is easier than the dishwasher for small batches. Dad pulled them, I fill with sauce, screw the tops on and repeat until the sauce is gone or I don’t have enough for a jar and have to put them in freezer containers. If the jar tops haven’t popped in about an hour, you should submerge it in boiling water to make sure that happens.

This particular batch took about 3 hours to cook down to the consistency that we wanted. We got 5 24oz jars! 😀

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Mom is obviously SUPER excited that she FINALLY has sauce from her garden tomatoes!

Garden Growth

GREAT PUMPKIN! I don’t think anyone quite understands the joy of having not one, but MULTIPLE pumpkins growing right now. Last year, we had a giant plant and no pumpkins. I LOVE pumpkins. Pumpkin carving and pumpkin seeds are two of my most favorite things in the world. I have not ventured to pumpkin soup. That might change this fall though! They’re still little, and look more like our watermelons, BUT THEY’RE PUMPKINS! Yeah, I’m that excited. Like a kid in a candy store.

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Of course, the tomatoes. They are HUGE! And we have had a few start to turn red. I can’t believe how big they are this year. We must have done something right to the soil. We didn’t get very many even close to the size of these guys. By the time I get back from Antrim I will have a bajillion to make sauce with! Thank goodness I have already set a day aside to do it!

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And the chickens. They are still growing. Their combs are slowly but surly coming in. They LOVE eating strawberries and have begun to associate me with feeding them the delicious little treats. The other day I saw one of the girls “assume the position.” I had never seen a chicken lay an egg and didn’t realize it was different from when they just kind of sit down. Eric, who has a bit more experience informed me that that is how they sit when they are laying an egg! No eggs yet but hopefully that’s a sign that they are coming soon!!! 🙂 I love their fluffy little butts too!

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Children of the Corn

Ok, I thought the play on words was hilarious. I have a very dry, off kilter sense of humor though. It’s ok. I know most of you will roll your eyes or not get it.

Honestly, I didn’t think it would happen. When Eric told me he wanted to grow corn I rolled my eyes. Everyone knows that in order for corn to be successful you must plant quite a bit of it in order to get proper cross-pollination. My aunt and uncle have been growing corn for years, and have had struggling crops more often than not. They do, however, have issues with varmints and deer that we simply do not. Reluctantly, I kept my mouth shut and said “Go ahead,” totally expecting very little to come of this venture. We could be planting green beans in that space! I was quite pleased as the stalks began to creep upward. I was still unsure of whether or not we would get ears of corn. It’s not unheard of to have plenty of stalks with teeny tiny, little to no ears sprout because of a lack of pollination. Today, Eric proudly sent me pictures of  4 baby ears of corn coming in. We have about 20 fuzzy little sprouts coming in.

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I must say, and admit, he was right. I am excited to see how big they get and how many more sprout up over the next few weeks! 🙂 I guess now I have to let him make next years corn area take up a bit more of the garden space.

Pocket Pork, Cheesy Bacon Potatoes, Fresh Green Beans

After spending my afternoon floating around reading “The Jane Austen Handbook,” and drinking my favorite Summer Tea, I got to make dinner!

Ingredients

1 cup chopped onion

4-6 Boneless/Skinless pork chops

1 clove garlic

Salt/Pepper

1/2 cup EVOO

Fresh Green Beans

3 tablespoons butter

8-10 red potatoes (as many or as little as you need really)

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup shredded Marble Jack

Worcestershire Sauce

Garlic Powder

REAL Bacon bits

1. Mince the onion and clove of garlic. We had a little baby onion from our garden that was the perfect size! Add almost all of them too a bowl. You’ll need about a tablespoon of the onion/garlic for the potatoes.

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2. Add the EVOO, salt and pepper, and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce to the onion and garlic in the bowl. Add in the thawed pork chops. Shake around to distribute the marinade.

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3. Pre-heat your oven to 400. Start a pot on the stove to pre-boil the potatoes.

4. Dirty peel and chop your potatoes. Add them to the water with the remainder onion and garlic. Boil until soft NOT mushy.

5. Create a foil pocket, spray with non-stick spray. Dump the pork chops and marinade into the pocket. Wrap up, and place on a baking sheet with sides.

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6. Grease a baking dish. Add half of your potatoes. Cover with half of the cheese and bacon. Dump rest of potatoes on top. Cover with remaining cheese and bacon. Cut up 2 tablespoons of butter to add on top. Cover with foil.

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7. Add potatoes to the oven with the pork chops. The pork should be in for a total of 30-45 minutes depending on how thick the chops are. The potatoes really just need to melt and have the flavors meld together and should be in for about 20-30 minutes.

8. As everything finishes cooking, boil your green beans until soft and strain. Toss in your last tablespoon of butter. Sprinkle with garlic powder.

9. Pull everything out, make a plate and ENJOY!

 

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Summer Tea

Having done mission trips through a southern based organization, to say I’ve grown up with southern sweet tea is an understatement. My mother’s recipe is a collaboration of an Alabama recipe and a North Carolina recipe. She made it during one of our mission trips and auctioned off two gallons to go towards our mission fund that week. Both gallons went for HUNDREDS of dollars. Poor Southern boys were a wreck up North here without their sweet iced tea.

MY tea, is not southern sweet tea. There is not 2 cups of sugar. No peaches were harmed in the making of this tea either. It’s fruity, fun and refreshing.

Ingredients:

2 Black Cherry Berry and 2 True Blueberry teabags

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1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup honey

Fresh Strawberries (optional)

Lots of water

1. Heat water in a pot until it starts boiling.

2. Add sugar, honey and the 4 tea bags

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3. Allow to boil about 30 seconds and remove from heat. Let the bags steep for about 10 minutes.

4. While the tea is steeping, slice up some strawberries! When I got to the house today Eric had been out in the patch and picked an entire bowl of the little red rubies! Talk about FRESH!

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5. I poured the tea into a pitcher to chill for about an hour.

6. Pour into a mason jar, add strawberries AND ENJOY!

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Check out that back porch view!

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And because I’m not spoiled enough, I spent my afternoon floating around the pool, drinking tea and reading “The Jane Austen Handbook.” I’d like to clarify, I spent my whole weekend working retail, I have EARNED this lazy day. 😉 That book review will be up tomorrow!