Bird in Hand Farm

Bird in Hand Farm is an imaginary place.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Buying a Car: Steps 1-9

We need a second car.  We have lived with only one for the past 6 years and it has worked fairly well.  I bet we saved a ton of money.  Sometimes it took some creative planning, but we made it work.  But, all good things come to an end.  This Autumn we will all be heading in different directions and it is finally time to go car shopping.  

Here is the Bird In Hand process of buying a car.  We have many, many dumb mistakes in purchasing previous vehicles.  Lets see how well we do this time.

Step 1: Think about it for a really long time...

Step 2: Look at the bank accounts and play with loan calculators on line.

Step 3: Get pre-approved for a used car loan through the credit union.  3.9% interest for 36 moths.  no penalty for prepayment.  My credit is pretty darn good.

Step4: Contact car buying service offered through the credit union.  They will help research and find the vehicle we want and negotiate the deal.  They cost $200, but if we purchase with credit union financing within 30 days the credit union reimburses us.  Sweet.

Step 5: Go to Library and copy Consumer Reports Used Car Buying Guide.

Step 6: Test drives begin...
'08 Hyundai Elantra:It was better than I thought.  Decent ride, basic, responsive.
07 Honda Fit:  It looks like a cartoon car.  Inside and out.  It is designed to appeal to someone 20 years younger than me...  But, it was fun to drive.  It was a stick.  I like sticks.  The kid likes it.  I like the flexibility of hatchbacks.
'0? Honda Civic Coup: The Kid HATED it.  The dash was weird.  It handles like a Honda, which is all good.  But it is off the list.
'09 Kia Optima: Again, better than I expected.  Still basic.  I did not like that I could not see any of the instrumentation from the passenger seat.  The best thing it has going for it is the Consumer Reports ratings and the warranty.

Step 7: Get overwhelmed.  Go back to Consumer Reports and make a top 10 list.  Items in italics have been test driven so far.  In no particular order. 
1. Toyota Corolla
2. ScionXB:
3. Mazda 3
4. Mercury Milan
5. Honda Fit
6. Honda Civic
7. Hyundai Sonata: The Farmer pronounces it like "snot."  I am not driving the booger-mobile.
8. Kia Optima
9. Totota Yaris
10. Pontiac Vibe (Toyota drive train)

Step 8: Restart Test drives.
 '07 Mazda 3: It was cramped.  Tiny trunk opening.  Black interior.  Kid was not impressed.  Farmer said the handling was awkward.
'08 Scion XB: It was purple and looked like a shoe box.  It drives well.  It's nimble.  Good pick up.  Feels roomy inside.

Step 9: Remember how much I hate car shopping.  Maybe showing up on the lot on a whim and signing the paperwork 3 hours later for our last vehicle purchase was not such a bad thing.

Guess what we are doing today?  More test drives.  Yippie.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Aloe, Tea Tree, and Peppermint Soap

I found some aloe juice in the back of the fridge.  It smells okay but I decided to make soap with it rather than drink or cook with it.  I found a good recipe in Essentially Soap by Dr Bob.  I am going to substitute the aloe juice for all of the aloe vera gel and part of the water that the recipe calls for.  Aloe, tea tree, and peppermint are all said to be good for nourishing and soothing irritated skin.  I also love peppermint soaps in the winter when I have a cold.

Tea Tree Oil Bar by Dr Bob
12 oz lye dissolved in 650 g of water
175 g olive oil
50 g jojoba oil
650 g palm oil
650 g soy oil
660 g coconut oil
50 g canola oil
25 g tea tree oil
50 g aloe vera gel

I lined the loaf mold and put out a big bowl to catch rain water on Wednesday night.   

On Thursday, the Farmer and I made the soap.  There was more in the aloe bottle than I thought: 546 g.  So, I used the rain water and half the aloe to dissolve  the lye.  I wanted to avoid "cooking" the aloe if I could.  The aloe-water-lye solution turned a bright yellow and then went to a beige yellow with a cream foam on top as it cooled.  

It came to trace easily and glopped into the molds.  Half an hour later it is hot and firm.  I bet when I go back in it will be in gel stage. I picked it up to feel the bottom of the mold.  When I put it back down it cracked open a little bit as you can see in the picture.

It hit gel stage before I went to bed.  This morning the loaf is still warm.  It is also really hard. 

I cut it tonight using a miter box and a scraper.  I don't remember the ash you can see being there this morning.  It's not bad.  The soap is the texture of firm cheese, just a tab crumbly.  I got 15 bars from the loaf mold and 9 small bars from the tray mold.

The house smells great! Maybe I should clean out the fridge more often. 

Update: 4 weeks later I love this soap.  It has great bubbles, smells good, and is rock hard.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dried lavender, clean sheets, a quilt, and a confession

The lavender is dry.  It smells pretty good.  I was able to get the buds off the stems easily by rolling it in my hands.  I sewed it into a simple denim sachet that is going to go live in the linen closet so that the sheets this fall and winter will be scented with lavender.  I figure it will get squished and bounced around in there.  As it moves, it will continue to release scent.  That's the hope anyway.

One of my favorite moments of the whole week is sliding into bed on "clean sheet night."  We have well worn, soft cotton sheets in the summer and fuzzy flannel ones in the winter.  I love the feeling of getting into a freshly made bed with a quilt for a little bit of weight.   I love it even more when the sheets have dried on the clothes line.   The sheets smell like fresh air.  It is delicious and wonderful.

I made all of the quilts on our beds.  The one on the line there is one of my favorites.  It is a really simple half square triangle design in blues and browns.  I don't remember the patten name but it is laid out in a sunshine and shadows pattern.   I used a flannel design wall to make the colors range from really light and washed out near the center to dark at the outer edge.  It is a scrap quilt and my notebook says that I used 83 different fabrics.  It is the perfect size for me in the summer and the batting is a fine, thin cotton bat, so it is warm but not hot for cool summer nights.  The Farmer is always hot and does not sleep with a quilt during the summer.

Now for the confession.  I sleep on the side of the bed away from the door.  Sometime before I met the Farmer, I read an article that asserted that women should deliberately choose to sleep on that side of the bed.  Do this at the outset of your relationship.  Don't tell him why.  Someday you may have children with this guy and guaranteed they will come into your bedroom in the middle of the night for something.   The author suggested that the child would go to the side of the bed closest to the door and wake him up, allowing you some more precious minutes of sleep.  I followed her advice.  I never told him.  It has not exactly worked out.  The kid is stubborn and will come around to my side of the bed.  Or, if she doesn't, it's because she really is sick and I wind up getting up to help anyway.  Maybe it has worked once or twice, and for those times I am grateful.

Sweet dreams.

Monday, July 26, 2010


We went raspberry picking yesterday morning at Navarino Orchard.  It was cool and damp.  We got there just after they opened and no one else came the entire time we were in the patch.  The kid tried one and declared that it was good.  For a while she was picking with us and singing a berry picking song.  It was cute.  I wish I remembered the words.  Then she got sick of it and decided that she was hungry/tired/didn't feel good, so we called it quits.  We picked just over 2 pounds. We had no idea what we were going to do with them.

The taste of fresh raspberries is worth the effort of going to find them.  They are sweet and the flavor is way better than anything you find on a grocery store shelf.

A friend sent me an article on freezing berries from Cooks Illustrated.  We froze a quart using the sugar syrup method. 

I made a smoothie and 3 frozen berry pops using the last cup of yogurt in the container, about 1/3 c frozen blue berries, a cup of raspberries, splashes of lemon juice and vanilla extract, a T. of sugar and 3T of simple syrup.  There are only 3 pops because I could not find the last stick and cap. The kid pronounced the smoothie to be as good as McDonald's and took it.  We have some work to do with her.

The farmer used a cup of raspberries and a cup of blueberries in a Berry Buckle from All Recipes.  It is really good.  The rest will go in my oatmeal and just get eaten.

Go picking!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

More wierd greens

This week we were supposed to get bok choi, chicory greens, and mizuna.  I have heard of chicory, but I thought is was a root that folks in New Orleans roast and add to coffee.  Never heard of people eating the greens.  And what the heck is mizuna?!   At least we knew what bok choi is.  Of course we cooked it before we took pictures, so I had look on Google for images...

When we planned the menu, we decided to use the chicory greens in our Utica Greens variant. Unfortunately, the chicory was a no show for our Pod.  Maybe Grindstone did not have enough, maybe they were not ready,  Dunno.  But, remember the beets?  Those babies came with these beautiful green and purple greens attached.  Supposedly, beet greens can be substituted for Swiss chard or spinach.  Add some of the mizuna to round it out, and Utica Greens went back on the menu.

The remaining mizuna and bok choi landed in a stir fry.  Not very creative, but still very good.  Oh, mizuna is a Japanese green that is described to have a mild, peppery flavor.  It can also be used in soups and salads.

So, for those keeping track, the weird greens we have eaten since joining the CSA are: Swiss Card, radish tops, kale, tatsoi, more chard - rainbow this time, bok choi, endive, more kale, mizuma, and beet tops.  Most of which we have never cooked before.  It might even be fair to say that we have eaten more bitter greens in the past six weeks than we have in the past six years.  It has been a learning experience.

Friday, July 23, 2010


There are 6 years between my older and brother and I.  My mom had a couple of miscarriages, but they kept trying.  Finally, they got pregnant with me.  Sometime during that stressful first trimester, my Mom went to the bathroom and the pee in the bowl was dark pink.  My Mom started crying.  My Dad came running and they both stood there, not sure what to do.  Then, as the story goes, my Dad said, "Wait a minute!  We had beets last night!  Supposedly, my parents were dancing and crying in the bathroom because they had eaten beets.  That's what turned my Mom's pee pink.  It's a great image.  The dancing, not the pink pee - stay with me people.  I've never liked beets that much, but I'm glad to know that I was a very wanted child.

This week there are beets in the box.  What to do with them? I want to eat them, but I don't think I like them.  We decided to look for some "un-beet like" recipes.  Boy, did we find them.  But all of them required the beets to be cooked first.  *sigh*  Then we got a bright idea.  We roasted the beets in foil while we baked 2 loaves of Blueberry Zucchini Bread.  The foil pouch fit right into a metal loaf pan and now we have baked beets ready to go.  When the bread was done, so were the beets. 

Recipe #1:  Beet Hummus
Oh dear God, it was a spectacular failure.  The color was amazing.  The taste was horrible.  Really, really bad.  I'm disappointed.  The reviews were really good.  I followed the recipe because it was already too weird to mess with.  I don't like it when people review a recipe and complain that it did not turn out well; but then tell about all the tweeks they made.

Okay, I did not add lemon zest to the hummus, 'cause we don't have any.  I admit it.  I still think it would have sucked.  We washed it down the drain.
We omitted the almonds and wheatgerm.  We added a cup of chocolate chips.

The kid said "It's okay."  But she asked for more.  The Farmer initially said "It's not bad."  Not exactly a rousing endorsement.  But, he ate his whole piece.  I think it would be better with vanilla ice cream.  You cannot really taste the beets.  The general consensus is that it is worth making again, but with less cinnamon and nutmeg. 

So, I will never buy beets on purpose.  But when they come in the CSA box, I have a recipe to use them in that everyone likes.  That's a good thing. 

Oh yeah, I almost forgot.  Blueberry zucchini bread rocks.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Congratulations Rory! (and a little bit about a hat)

Rory won!  Congratulations!  Thank you all for your comments.  It was fun to read what folks had to say.  I'm thinking about what I want to celebrate next, so we can do it again.

The kid drew Rory's name out of her pink hat.  The pattern from the hat is from Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitting Workshop that appeared on PBS.  I was able to get the DVD's from the library.  It was great.  I learned how to do Fair Isle Knitting.  Not bad for my first try.  Elizabeth can teach you anything from how to cast on, knit and purl, all the way to advanced techniques.  I love her approach to knitting.  Watch it.  It's worth it.  The yarn is Paton's Classic Wool.  The hat has been worn and washed a bunch and she still loves it.  I made her mittens and a scarf to match.

Again, thanks for your comments and for stopping by.  Keep reading.  I think I'm going to write about beets next.   It will be interesting, I promise.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer Spaghetti Sauce

Time for spaghetti sauce!  This is more of a concept than a recipe.  I like chunky sauces and have been known to go overboard with additions.  In the summer, I love to add fresh vegetables from the garden.  What winds up in the pot depends on what we have on hand.

Summer Spaghetti Sauce
1 jar of sauce - homemade, store bought, whatever you like and any/all/most of the following:

summer squash - sliced
onion - chopped or sliced
garlic - smashed
Roma tomatoes quartered.
mushrooms - whole or sliced
black olives - whole or sliced
sweet peppers - chopped in hunks
fresh oregano
fresh basil 
ground beef and/or Italian sausage OR chicken

Use a big heavy bottomed pot.  Cook the meat first, then saute the other stuff.  Add the sauce.  Simmer while you cook the pasta.  Summer Sauce freezes really well, so make a double batch for a day when you want to eat homemade but don't want to cook.

Tonight's version consisted of 2 leftover cooked chicken breasts, onion, garlic, red and green bell peppers, a small zucchini,  and fresh basil.  We made the sauce in the time it took to bring the water to a boil and cook the pasta.

This is one of the most effective ways I have found to get the family to eat a whole mess of vegetables without blinking.  Oh, and it tastes really good.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Stan's Berry Patch

Stan's is a great blueberry patch in the middle of nowhere.  We went last year and picked a ton.  It was fun.  They have rope that you can tie to the bucket so that you can use both hands for picking and drop them right into the bucket.  The berries rocked!  The Farmer thought we picked too many, but we ran out back in November.   He decided that this year we need more...
I was wondering when the berries would be ready, because supposedly berries are coming in early this year.  Then this post card arrived. Yay!  I tried to grow blueberries when we first moved here but I could never get the soil to be acidic enough and the plants just petered out.

We went this morning.  The kid dressed for success in these boots and a purple sundress.  I love her.

We arrived at 7:59 am and there were already 6 cars in the lot and people picking in the patch.  It was a beautiful morning.  Cool, with a breeze.  The guy took us down to a part of the patch where we were pretty much by ourselves.  

There were a few hiccups.  The kid decided she needed to pee.  Really bad.  Not a porta potty in sight.  We took her undies off and taught her how to squat.  Boys have it so

easy.   We also accidentally kicked over a bucket and had to get down on our hands and knees and pick up a few hundred berries out of the grass.  

We spent $30.72 for just over 18 quarts (24 pounds).  Stan's price is $1.39 a pound, but because we are on the mailing list, we got 10% off.  For comparison, Wegmans has them for 2.99 a pint or $7.99 for 2 pounds.  Price chopper has them advertised for $2 a pint.  We saved $42, got to spend some time together outdoors, the berries are as fresh and ripe as possible, and don't have any packaging or shipping costs.

Now we get to freeze them.  I've read that washing them first causes the skins to toughen.  The patch had one heck of a rain storm yesterday, so I'm claiming that Mother 
Nature washed them for me.  What I do is dump the berries out onto a cookie sheet
 and shake the sheet back and forth to get them to roll into one layer.  Pick out any stems or yucky ones.   Freeze them for a few hours and then you can throw the little blue marbles into a freezer bag.

This is the kind of thing that makes me really happy.  I don't know why, it just does.

Got any good blueberry recipes?

Edit 7/13/11: Stan's has a website!  This year's postcard arrived.  They open for the season on July 19th! 

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cream Cheese Omelete with Peach and Blueberries

I really like omelets.  It took me a while to learn how to make them, but now I'm pretty good at it.  I learned from Alton Brown.  One of my favorites is a cream cheese omelet.  You can make them savory with fresh herbs, chives, peppers, or salmon; or go sweet with cinnamon and sugar or almost any kind of fruit or berry.  Peaches and blueberries are in season, so here we go.

Cream Cheese Omelet with Peach and Blueberries.
Serves 2
nonstick skillet - sprayed with Pam or nonstick stuff
4 eggs room temp
2 oz cream cheese
1 peach sliced thin
handful of blueberries
sugar (splenda or stevia)

1. Whisk the eggs
2. warm up the cream cheese in the microwave so that it is soft and warm ~ 30 sec in mine.
3. heat the skillet and add the eggs.  Do the whole spatula around the edges and popping bubbles thing.
4. Nuke the peaches and blueberries for 30 sec to warm them up too.
5. Once the eggs start setting up, add the cream cheese in globs and fruit.
6. Sprinkle with some sugar and nutmeg
7. Fold over one third with the spatula and do the second fold when you slide it off to the plate.
8. Sprinkle with some more sugar and a few blueberries to make it look pretty.

It tastes great and will hold you till lunch.

<- I really like that  picture.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Utica Greens

We get lots of greens in the CSA box.  They are supposed to be so good for you, blah, blah blah.  Most of what I have found to do with them involves soups.  It's 87 degrees.  No soup for me!  

One of the wonderful things about living in upstate NY is the regional food.  Utica Greens is a great example.  Lots of restaurants serve them, and they all make them a little differently.  The cool thing is that they can be made with escarole, chard, or kale.  This is the recipe that the Farmer used tonight as a jumping off point.  Below is what we actually made:

"West of Utica" Greens
2 cups chopped escarole
1 bunch chopped kale
2 T minced garlic 
1 package Steak-ums
2 tbs olive oil 
1/2 cup chicken broth 
1/3 cup bread crumbs
2/3 cup grated cheese

Wash and drain greens thoroughly and coarsely chop.   Heat oil in a saucepan. When hot, brown the Steak-ums and garlic.  Add greens. When greens start to wilt, add broth and simmer covered. When tender, fold in cheese and breadcrumbs, reserving one tablespoon of crumbs. Remove from heat.
After plating, sprinkle dish with remaining breadcrumbs. Salt and pepper to taste. 

It was good.

So, what's the deal with that first picture?  That's desert.  Homemade Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches.  As Dan'z Cookies says, "Life is precarious.  Eat desert first."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

One month anniversary

I have been working on this experiment for a month!  Woo hoo!  So far so good, I think.  To celebrate, I am going to give away a pound of soap to one brave reader. The dragon on the left is the Honey Wheat Beer Soap. The dragon on the right is Castile Beer Soap.  The two brown bars are Coffee Soap.  The light square on the right is Cobblestone Soap.

Here is the deal.  Leave me a comment on any post to date.  Say "hi" or tell me what you think.  I will put all the comments into a hat and the kid will pick one.  Rory has a head start on everyone.  But I know there are more people reading.  Fess up.   The deadline for "entry" will be by my bedtime on Wednesday, 7/21.  I'll post the results on Thursday, the 22nd.  Check back in, in case I cannot figure out how to contact you.

Thank you for reading.  Writing this blog has turned out to be a lot of fun and is helping me focus my creative energy.  I hope it keeps going and getting better.  Maybe someday it will actually be a real farm. 

Oh, and maybe someone can answer why my  water tastes so much better?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

First Harvests

 I am trying my hand at drying lavender.  There was more out there than I thought, but I did not want to take too much and hurt the plant.  I also probably waited too long to cut it, but it still smells good.  Not sure if I will use it in a sachet or soap.  Supposedly, once the dried buds are removed, you can burn the stems in the fire place and they will gently scent the house.

I also cut back the basil the first time tonight.  I think by the time I was done, you could smell basil through the entire neighborhood.  I was about half way through pulling leaves off when I remembered to take a picture.  

I buzzed it in the mini chopper with some olive oil.  It is amazing how that overflowing basket became one baggie of chopped basil.  There have
been so many years I have grown basil with the best of intentions. This year we are actually preserving it. This blog is helping with that. Thank you. 

It does look like basil doesn't it?  I hope so.  I really don't ever want to have to explain baggies of green stuff in my freezer.

 These are my favorite "harvest" so far.  I love daisies.  These were the ones knocked over during Friday's heavy rain storms.  They seem messy and beautiful; and just happy.

Speaking of beautiful, what do you think of this?

Yeah, I don't think it's beautiful either.  But it runs, it's ours, and it is warranted for a year.  That is a thing of beauty.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Just keep knitting...

Ever watched Finding Nemo?  Remember Dory?  "Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming."  I have repeated that phase many times over the past few months.  I used to make quilts for the babies of family and friends.  Now, spending time in a sewing room just does not work with the family.   So I started a quilt for the last family baby and embarrassingly, I never finished it.  This was two years ago.  Now they have had another baby.   Yikes.

I decided to try to knit two baby blankets.  I didn't let the fact that I have never knit a blanket before stop me.  How hard can it be?  I cruised patterns on Ravelry.

The first pattern I found was the Baby Love Diagonal Baby Blanket on Lionbrand Patterns.  I liked the ones where people threaded ribbons through the yarn-over holes but my favorite one was done in stripes and changed halfway through.  I love the stripes, but weaving in all the ends was a chore.

The next pattern was the Moderne Baby Blanket from Mason-Dixon Knitting.  I liked that it was based on a quilt and required no sewing.  I apparently got stuck in a blue-green rut.  The yarn is the softest pima cotton called Crayon from Knitpicks.  I tried other color combos, but nothing else was doing it for me. Mason-Dixon Knitting is a good book.  I have made a couple of the patterns and the writing is fun and clear.  I got a ton of this blanket done while flying for work.  Yes, you can bring knitting needles on domestic flights.

I am soooo glad that these are done!  Not because they are late.  Really late.  No, I'm glad because they were literally miles of garter stitch knitting.  I'm not sure if I can purl anymore.  There were moments (okay days) when I thought they would never be finished.  I would plug along and knit some hoping that they would eventually add up to a blanket.  Finally, they did!

Now all I need to do is finish a Dead or Alive? fish hat for their big brother, write an apology/congratulations note, and get these in the mail.  Phew!