Thursday, August 30, 2012

Adventures in Backyard Farming: The Honey Harvest, part 1

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My husband has dreams of making enough money at his day job to retire and be a full-time farmer. In the meantime, he has us raising chickens in our tiny backyard (at one point we had 40-something, but now we're down to 2!) and planting "crops" along every spare inch of fence. I used to be really squeamish about all of this living off the land business--the thought of eating an egg from an actual chicken was crazy! But at some point along the way, I guess a switch was flipped, because now I'm all in. And I mean all in. Our friends used to laugh when we'd get together because no matter how recently we had seen them, we had some new farm-ish purchase to talk about.

"Oh hey, we bought a couple of cows this morning."

"We're getting 5 pigs tomorrow. Do you want in?"

"We just ordered 46 chicks from the mail-order catalog. They're in our garage."

"Guess what? We ordered a bazillion bees today. They get delivered next week, so we're reading up on beekeeping this weekend."

Luckily, my in-laws have 16 acres outside of town, and they very generously and graciously allow us to pretend to be farmers on their land while we save toward a farm of our own. Last week, it was time to harvest honey from the three beehives that sit next to the garden. I thought you might like to see how beekeeping and honey-harvesting go down!

Anatomy of a Beehive
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On top of the beehive, you have the outside cover; there's an inside cover under that, which you can't see from the outside because the outside cover does a very good job of covering everything.

The top box is called a super, and it is filled with frames where the bees store excess honey. Our frames have a piece of plastic with little hexagons stamped on them; this gives the bees a pattern to work from when they build their honeycomb. You can slip up to 10 frames in the box, and the bees will build honey comb on both sides of each frame and fill the little cells with honey. Once all of the frames in your super are filled with honeycomb, you can put another super on top of it and the bees will start again!

The next 2 boxes are just like the super, except they are where the bees live, store their food, and raise their young. They're called brood boxes. So how do you keep the queen from laying eggs in your honeycomb? There's a piece of metal called a Queen Excluder that you put in between the supers and the brood boxes. It allows the worker bees to get into the super to fill the honeycomb cells with honey, but the queen can't fit because she's too big.

And on the very bottom is the...bottom!

Getting the Honey Out of the Hive
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Honey is ready to be harvested when the honeycomb in the super has been capped off with wax. Before you can go near the hive, unless you are very zen and don't care about getting stung, you have to don some bee-proof gear, like a hat with a mesh veil, thick leather gloves, and long sleeves, preferably not waffle knit.

Lesson #5 in Backyard Farming: Waffle knit shirts, aka Thermals, don't stop bees from stinging your arms. I learned this the hard way. Actually it was the easy way for me, but the hard way for my husband. Which takes us to...

Lesson #6 in Backyard Farming: If you can, avoid doing any actual work on the farm. If you are documenting the day for posterity by snapping a few photos from the safety of the golf cart, you can't possibly be expected to help, right?!

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Once your safety gear is donned, you get the bees nice and woozy by pumping smoke from a lovely silver smoker into the air all around the hive. Then, you use a hive tool, which is not so creatively named, to pry the frames out of the super one at a time. As you lift each frame out of the super, you very gently brush the bees off with a bee brush (another completely uncreative name). Then you put the bee-free frame in a large container with a lid (like a clear, plastic storage tub) and move on to the next frame.

Stay tuned for The Honey Harvest, part 2 next week; we'll learn how all that beautiful liquid gold gets from the frames into lovely little jars ready for storing and gifting, and I actually participated in this part! update: you can find The Honey Harvest, part 2 right here!
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Monday, August 27, 2012

Chewy Honey Cookies

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Last weekend, my husband and I harvested honey from two of the three beehives we keep at his parents' farm out in the country. And when I say "we" I mean he did all the work and I sat around in a golf cart taking pictures and staying a safe distance away from any angry bee action! The two hives we worked on were practically overflowing--by our estimate we got almost 80 pounds of beautiful, amber-colored wildflower honey. So I've been scouting out honey recipes to try using our bountiful harvest, and couldn't resist the idea of sweet, honey-scented cookies. Coincidentally, my kids were invited to a book party with friends this week. We had to bring a favorite book (The Berenstain Bears Go To School) and a matching treat. We brought these yummy, honey-flavored treats. Loaded with butter and brushed with golden honey, they were a big hit with both children and grown-ups, and I'm pretty sure the Berenstain Bears would have approved!

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Annie's Grandma's Fresh Peach Pie

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Sometimes the simplest things are the very best. The first summer that we lived here, my friend Annie brought this mouth-watering treat to a church pie contest, where it handily won the honor of crowd favorite, despite having a simple, 6-item ingredient list. The beauty of this sweet and easy pleaser is that those basic ingredients pack a wallop in the flavor department: a buttery, crumbly graham cracker crust with warm notes of vanilla and honey; a creamy, lemon-spiked topping that is at once both sweet and tangy; and nestled in between, a mile-high layer of fresh, juicy peaches bursting with the brightness of a summer afternoon.

Summer afternoon--Summer afternoon...the two most beautiful words in the English language.
                                                      --Henry James

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Grilled Ciabatta with Roasted Garlic

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My parents moved out to the suburbs of Las Vegas when I was in college, and shortly thereafter, a new Costco opened up just a few miles down the road from their new house. That Costco carried this amazing ciabatta bread slathered in a savory roasted garlic butter spread. I've never seen it in any other Costco, and I've never been able to find a copy cat recipe online, or even any mention of it, which is crazy because it is the best garlic bread ever. I finally took matters into my own hands (after many years of doing nothing) and just made up my own recipe. Let's just say it was a success--you don't need to know how many pieces I ate, right?!

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Fudgy Chocolate Zucchini Cake

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I know most people who plant zucchini in their garden have problems with too many zucchini, or zucchini that's huge, or, if they're really lucky, too many huge zucchini. But we can't get zucchini to grow in our backyard, so we almost never have to figure out what to do with all the extra zucchini that doesn't pop up in our garden beds. This summer is a little different because my mother-in-law is out of town for the entire month of August, and we've inherited an enormous zucchini patch--and all of its bounty--until she gets back in mid-September. Every day, my husband brings home more lovely, green ladies to toss onto the zucchini pile; luckily, I have a few stand-by recipes for occasions just such as this! The first recipe in my use-up-lots-of-zucchini arsenal is this moist, fudgy cake. You'd never know that it has two heaping cups of zucchini hidden in its chocolatey layers. And guess who gave me the recipe...my mother-in-law. I think this might have been her plan all along; I always knew she was an evil genius!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Printable Placemat

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When I was growing up (and again, now that my parents and grandparents moved just a few minutes away), we always had a nice dinner on Sunday evenings with my entire family. One of the kids was always in charge of setting the table, and my Nana made sure that we learned to set it properly. Looking back, it was a small but valuable bit of knowledge, and something I hope my kids will learn as they grow up.

Back in May, I got to help out with an etiquette dinner for the youth at church. We grown-ups decided that sticking with basic manners would be more than enough for our group of teenagers, including how to properly set a table for dinner. To help them, I designed these fun placemats that we printed out and laid at each place setting. I've been meaning to post them for the past three months, and figured I'd better do it now before the paper placemat trend is completely over!

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The placemats we used at the etiquette dinner were made specifically for that night; someone told me exactly what the plan was dinner-wise, and I made sure the correct utensils were on there. The placemat available for download below is a more basic one that would work for any weeknight dinner. One of my friends had her husband print them on his printer at work, which can handle 11x17" paper. If your home printer can't accommodate that size, just download the file to a thumb drive and have a copy shop print some for you! Click HERE to download your own copy!

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Festival Food!

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The end of summer means lots of things: the kids will be going back to school soon; tomatoes and corn and peaches are ripe and ready to eat; and you can find delicious (if not slightly junky) food to eat pretty much every weekend for the next month and half because it is festival season! We spent last weekend at a sweet little Scandinavian Festival that we look forward to every year. There are kids in Norwegian and Swedish costumes doing cute folk dances, men in viking garb wandering around with horned helmets, and best of all, food, food, and more food. Here's a little of what I ate at the ScandiFest:

1.  Fri-Jos--Basically piping hot fried dough covered in cinnamon and sugar. I ate 3 over 3 days (and you would too, so don't judge!).
2.  Swedish Meat Pies--Savory shredded potatoes, cheese, and ground beef tucked into a yummy sour cream pastry. The line for these babies always snakes around the corner and down an alley.
3. Oregon Mint Fudge Ice Cream--from the Girl Scouts booth.
4.  Almond Delights--Warm almonds covered in a candied cinnamon sugar coating. I always buy a bag and eat them by myself; Melissa doesn't share food!
5.  Lemonade--There are so many lemonade stands at the festival, but I found the best! Fresh squeezed, and in 4 flavors (keep reading).
6.  Chicken Teriyaki--What? That's not Scandinavian? No, but it sure is good!
7.  Shave Ice--I got strawberry pina colada. Twice.
8.  Cotton Candy--Because you cannot go to a fair and not buy cotton candy. The ones we bought on Saturday were very modest in size, but the ones we bought on Thursday were 2 feet tall!
9.  Candy Wrappers--Candy bars (in this case a Snickers) wrapped in puff pastry, baked, and drizzled with dark chocolate.
10.  Aebleskivers--These cute little balls of pancake batter are fried in a special Aebleskiver pan and served with homemade strawberry jam. They are the most popular food at the Scandinavian Festival, and we bought 30.
11.  Raspberry Lemonade--See #5. I couldn't resist; I had to try more than one flavor!
12.  Potetgul Swirl--Do you like potato chips? How about a giant paper cone full of freshly made potato chips seasoned with some kind of delicious garlic parmesan sprinkle. Yeah? Me too.

And not pictured (but enjoyed last weekend nevertheless) are cream puffs, corn dogs, and crepes. Lucky for me, this only happens once a year!
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Friday, August 10, 2012

Chicken Caesar Salad Pizza

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We are lucky enough to have lots of family living near us. When my husband graduated from school and our oldest was almost 1, we got a job in a new state, and we moved away from everyone we knew and loved. Happily, in the past six years, we've somehow managed to talk both sets of parents, a few siblings, and even my Nana and Poppy into moving up here! We're still working on a few stragglers, like my little sister and her family who are going to grad school in North Carolina. We had the opportunity to fly out to the East Coast in July to spend a few weeks with them, and they took us to all of their favorite parks, museums, and restaurants. One of the places we were most excited to visit was the Mellow Mushroom in downtown Durham. We've been hearing nothing but raves about this pizza parlor for the past 2 years, and it did not disappoint! We had quite a crowd to feed, so we tried lots of different Mellow Mushroom specialties, but by far the most popular was the Caesar Pizza--a tender crust topped with pesto-drizzled chicken, gooey, melted cheese, and a crisp, fresh caesar salad. I couldn't wait to recreate it when we got home, and I'm ashamed proud to say I ate until I couldn't take another bite!

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Garden Stake Party Favors

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I'm happy to share some exciting news with you today:  I'm a new contributor over on Celebrations At Home, a website with fabulous recipes, party themes, and other resources for all of your home entertaining needs! My first post over there is up! It's a quick tutorial on how to make these cute little garden stake party favors for your next shower or get-together! Visit Celebrations At Home for the full tutorial.
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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Creamy Chocolate Cake

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I've been eating this cake for my entire life and just discovered something amazing about it a few days ago: this is man-catchin' cake! No one can resist the delicious temptations Creamy Chocolate Cake has to offer, but for whatever reason, men are especially drawn to its siren song. Maybe it's the tender chocolate cake base that calls so sweetly. Maybe it's the thick, silky chocolate pudding spiked with tangy cream cheese, or the sweet Cool Whip topping covered in tiny Hershey Bar curls. I wish I knew, because I'd bottle it and make my fortune!

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

August Favorites {Give-Away}

For my favorites this month, I thought I'd go with a classic summer theme.

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1. favorite breezy summer dress: the Beachcomber dress from Shabby Apple
I've been in a shopping rut lately, but I'd love to get my hands on one of these cute, comfy striped dresses from Shabby Apple. I'm pretty sure I'd swap out my ubiquitous skinny jeans to wear this dress from their perfect-for-summer Lighthouse Collection every single day. {photo from Shabby Apple}

2. favorite summer party DIY:  fringey drink umbrellas from Jenny of Hank & Hunt for Oh Happy Day
Do you think drink umbrellas are a little tacky? Think again! Jenny from Hank & Hunt shows you a quick way to take those umbrellas from subpar to sublime. So fancy! {photo by Jenny Batt for Oh Happy Day}

3. favorite frozen treat maker: Zoku Quick Pop Maker
Like every family in the country, we have a cheap, flimsy, plastic popsicle mold stuffed in our cupboard, and we never use it. But I bet if we had one of these cheerfully colored instant pop makers from Zoku we'd make popsicles every day. I'm just sure of it! {photo from Zoku}

4. favorite way to have a little summer in your home all year long: this cute print from Katie Daisy
I had the pleasure of meeting super-talented artist Katie at a craft show we both did last year. And she is just as sweet as her gorgeous watercolor and acrylic illustrations. Every print in her Etsy shop is like a warm summer breeze. {photo from Katie Daisy on Etsy}

5. favorite summer recipe that I haven't tried yet but am determined to before the month is over:  Creamy Avocado Salsa Verde from A Spicy Perspective
I love, love, love tomatillos. They have a bright, tangy flavor and gorgeous green color that make them both beautiful and tasty.  And when avocados are good, they are one of my very favorite things to eat; creamy, subtly spiced, and rich. I can't wait to give this amazing recipe a try. It combines roasted tomatillos and avocados to make one amazing condiment! {photo by Sommer Collier of A Spicy Perspective}

6. favorite guilty pleasure summer pop song: Heard it On the Radio from the Disney Channel's Austin and Ally Soundtrack
Yeah, you heard me right. The consistently catchy pop songs on Disney's Austin and Ally make me wonder why other TV shows can't seem to come up with any songs as cute (just sayin'). Maybe it's because they don't have Ross Lynch. He's adorable! You can watch the video here and download the single from iTunes here. The whole album hits stores September 11th, and yes, my 6 year-old and I plan on buying it! {photo from from Disney via Billboard}

***

The give-away is closed now and the winner has been contacted. Thanks for stopping by!

For this month's give-away, I will buy the winner whatever 8x10" print they want from Katie Daisy's Etsy shop, The Wheatfield. So nice, right?! To enter the give-away, leave a comment on this post. Be sure to include your email address so I can contact you if you win. The give-away will be open for 1 week; I'll choose and contact the winner next Wednesday! Best of luck, everyone.
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