Monday, December 19, 2011

Fiber Giveaway Winner!

Update: We have a winner! Our winner is #6 - Kelly H, who said "I'm a knitter, and wannabe spinner, so I'd be using your lovely wool to learn how. I'd also use some to needle-felt fix a small hole in my favouritest sweater that a moth found last year. We're going to be educating ourselves on sheep farming this winter, with big dreams in mind. What made you decide on Icelandics?"
Congratulations! Be sure to check back for additional giveaways this winter. I've got at least three, maybe four lined up and they're all going to be awesome! (I may do a few more fiber giveaways as I destash some of the bags of fuzz I have amassing in my house!)

In the meantime, here's a photo of our latest visitor here at Tanglewood. His name is Ollie and he is a pure bred grey moorit Icelandic from Queso Cabeza in Olivet. He is a lamb ram who gets to make his breeding debut here with our three lovely ladies... 

that is if he can ever catch them!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Wooly Anniversary and A Holiday Giveaway!

While tossing the last of the windfall apples into the sheep field on Thursday, I had to smile. My ewes now know to line up when I start scouring the ground under the apple trees that are outside their field. They shuffle each other out of the way, grunting and throwing mini sheep-tantrums (they literally jump right up into the air and then STOMP as hard as they can on the ground - all four feet - it's omgSOcute). I can run my eyes across them and gauge their condition (OH they are fat). I can watch the way they interact to know who is the boss today (it changes daily!) and I can spot a runny nose from across the yard.

I have spent the last year learning many things about Icelandic sheep. A lot of these lessons have been hard. I lost poor Ingrid to "grass tetany" or magnesium deficiency in spring. Her darling little lamb, Brighid, bounced back quickly and after a few bottles of warm local goat milk she had decided to wean herself. Brighid grew very close to my other ewe, Gertrude, after her mother's death. 

Unfortunately this fall, after a very long, hot summer, Gertrude succumbed to all sorts of complications of white muscle disease (WMD). She hung on for so long and tried so long and taught me so much in the time that she was ill. I have never had to learn so quickly about animal supplements, shots, treatments... and I've never seen an animal fight so hard to live. She was incredibly inspiring. 

After that, Brighid was introduced to her two new sisters, Blaire and Nance, who were a little rough with her at first but these days Brighid and Blaire are totally inseparable.

Of course, there have been fantastic moments as well. When Gertrude was around, my heart would leap every time she ran up to me for treats. She was a special sheep with a great personality. There was also Brighid's birth, which I actually got to see! Little itty bitty Brighid nose, poking out... aww... I remember running to the house to get Jeremy and by the time I got back to the barn, Brighy was standing and bleating her first little bleats... Of course, I cried a little from relief. :)

So here I am, a year later, with entirely different ewes and all the mileage and lessons of a year tucked neatly, albeit slightly emotionally, behind me. What better way to celebrate? Playing with fiber!

You can find my wet felting tutorial over at Not Dabbling in Normal!

Do you have any awesome fibery ideas? To celebrate, I have 4 ounces of fuzzy warm Icelandic fleece looking for a new home! (Forgive me, this is my first giveaway!) 

One winner will be chosen via random-number-generator on Sunday, December 18th at Midnight and will be posted here the following day. Please make sure you include some method of contact information so I can find you after the drawing!

Entries are open through the weekend. If I get more than 50 entries, I'll add a second winner!

I'll contact the winner(s) after the drawing and you can let me know what color you prefer your fiber to be. This is RAW fleece, which means it's unwashed, but it'll be prime fleece. It'll be individual locks of Icelandic fiber (tog and thel - it's a double layered fleece) that you can spin, felt or you can use the curly locks for dolls!

To Enter:
Simply comment below, before the cut-off on December 18th, with your favorite fibery project!

Want a second chance to enter? Post this blog entry to your twitter OR your facebook, and then come back here and comment AGAIN letting me know you did so! 

Only two entries per person, sorry!


Update: We have a winner! Our winner is #6 - Kelly H, who said "I'm a knitter, and wannabe spinner, so I'd be using your lovely wool to learn how. I'd also use some to needle-felt fix a small hole in my favouritest sweater that a moth found last year. We're going to be educating ourselves on sheep farming this winter, with big dreams in mind. What made you decide on Icelandics?"

Congratulations! Be sure to check back for additional giveaways this winter. I've got at least three, maybe four lined up and they're all going to be awesome! (I may do a few more fiber giveaways as I destash some of the bags of fuzz I have amassing in my house!)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Another Dark Days Post, or Why I shouldn't be allowed to take on challenges right before the holidays

My GOODNESS I'm difficult to keep on track.

I have like 8 projects simultaneously started right now, none of which were a blog post to cover the local meal we had for the Dark Days Challenge this week. I cannot believe how immensely BUSY I've been this past week! This whole handmade Christmas thing might be getting ridiculous. Yeesh. I think I've taken it too far... again.

Of course, I didn't manage to get photos of it, but it was delicious all the same! Wednesday of this week we made some of the best nachos I've ever eaten and they were almost exclusively local!

We are lucky to be able to buy our tortilla chips from the Ann Arbor Tortilla company. They come flavored with natural lime and salt, and their corn masa is never from genetically modified corn. They're the best. Ever. Seriously. If you find them in a store near you, give them a shot!

Atop our wonderful local chips we had chorizo from the farmer's market, corn that I had frozen from the farm stand earlier this year, shredded cheese from Traffic Jam's fantastic dairy in Detroit, sour cream from Calder's dairy which we have delivered weekly, pickled jalepeno and carrot relish (naturally fermented) from the Brinery in Ann Arbor (best pickles ever) and topped off with ... organic canned black beans.

I can't do nachos without black beans and I haven't yet mustered the enthusiasm to cook beans fresh for my mexican food. Ahhhh well...

So I'm feeling like this is kind of a boring post without photos of our nachos. What I CAN share is photos from our recent outing to Frita Batidos in Ann Arbor. Frita is a cuban and honduran inspired sandwich shop known for it's support of local agriculture and small farms. It's owner, Eve, is a big name in Ann Arbor locavore culture, and I cannot stress enough how fantastic the food at this restaurant is.

First of all, they serve their freshly made ginger lime juice in a twisted sandwich bag the same way juices are served on the streets of Honduras, where Eve took her Frita staff to research the cuisine and culture.
Second of all, they offer a chorizo sandwich topped with fresh cilantro lime salsa, sweet chili mayo AND fritas - French Fries! Oh my gosh. So delicious.

The interesting thing is that the chorizo they serve there is actually the same chorizo we had on our nachos at home. How do I know? Well, while we were sitting there eating lunch, the farmer we buy our chorizo from came into the restaurant hauling a HUGE wheeled cooler brimming with pork and wearing his farm boots, woolen hat and insulated carhart coveralls. The cooler had to contain at least an entire pig. Most of the customers stared on in bewildered horror... Jeremy and I just smiled.

Ah, the farmer. Ah, local food.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Couch-Sleeping

The Husband and I have been sleeping on our couch. No, we're not simultaneously "in the doghouse" and No, we're not avoiding our bedroom because of ghosts...

We've been sleeping on the couch because in this house, until you get every single window triple sealed with storm window, weatherproofing putty and shrinky plastic, the warmest room in the house is our living room.

The thing that helps is that our couch is an early Victorian sofa with a very unique modern cut, so it's very deep and very long. It's actually more than half the width of our bed anyway, and it's at least 6" longer (we sleep on an antique bed and mattresses - have I mentioned how conventional we aren't?) so the couch works pretty well as a warm-snuggley substitute.

I could see how the necessity of this inconvenience would drive some people totally bonkers. They'd say things like "Why not just get a heated blanket?" "Why not finish sealing all of your windows (thus making the atmosphere of the house something akin to living in a goldfish bowl...)?" "Doesn't it make you squirrely to have to sleep on your couch omg omg?"  "What is wrong with you?!"

The truth is, we don't mind. Last night we put up our itty bitty potted Christmas tree in our living room, with the LOTR movies playing in the background and (real) hot chocolate with fresh vanilla whipped cream. Honestly, guys, getting in the Christmas spirit just doesn't get any better than a good snuggle. It's not about the presents or even the mad-dash traveling to see family and friends. It's about finding the inner warm and fuzzy place and holding on to it through the cold weather. We fell asleep with the fire roaring and the Christmas tree lights twinkling, and I didn't even mind when the husband elbowed me in the face when he rolled over.

Now that is Christmas.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Forging through the Dark Days

In Michigan these days really are dark. At seven this morning it was literally black as pitch out and I managed to stay huddled in bed until at least eight thirty before the dirty, dusky light crawling in through my un-curtained my window. If only we had a layer of snow to reflect the teeeeeensy bit of light we get before eight.

My Dark Days post this week is about preparing for a fantastic Dark Days Dessert tonight, rather than actually executing it. I know, lame, right?

I do (in honesty) have a great excuse though... I had planned my fantastic Dark Days execution for last night, so I could get it just under the wire with my recapper over at Not Dabbling in Normal. Then, in a fit of madness while at work, I helped my barn manager catch a very stray kitten and managed to get a really nasty bite. My evening dissolved into a whirlwind of phonecalls to the health department; a long drive to the humane society; scrubbing, soaking and rescrubbing the bite wound; trying not to think about rabies (which is unfortunately something we have to worry about in Michigan); and finally a small inner war at the end of the night when husband suggested rather than cooking we go to the local health food store for pizza. When he mentioned he would personally go pick it up and I wouldn't have to do anything, I admit, my resolve dissolved... heh. At least the pizza was made using whole grains and rBST free ingredients. *fail*

Anyway, this is my plan for today....

I battled with motivation all morning (literally from the moment I opened my eyes), thinking about dropping out of the DD even before it started. I realized that's seriously silly though. We eat SOLE foods regularly, and just because I hadn't managed to do a write up on any of the meals we've had so far doesn't mean I should give up. Right?


So I walked into the kitchen and suddenly remembered the adorable Bosc pears that I purchased at our local Ann Arbor farmers' market two days ago. Mmm. Pears. The most readily available local ingredients that we have around our house are definitely baking ingredients, so I figured Hey! Spiced Pear Pies.

Well, unfortunately in the dark days challenge I am trying to stay as local as I can, and spices really aren't all that local to Michigan, so I was left trying to come up with a recipe that would add a zing to the soft mute flavor that is pear.

What do we grow in Michigan that is zingy? Well, not much. We don't grow citrus, that's for sure, and spice beyond the brazen capsaicin of simple dried chili peppers is pretty hard to come by. We have native sumac, which can be used as a lemon substitute, but I'm not quite sure how to process sumac into a usable substance yet. I'll get there, I'm just a little intimidated by the large fuzzy spires on the staghorn bushes in the woods.
Then it struck me - another zingy thing that most people overlook - rose hips! They're totally in season now too, having mellowed just a tad from the recent freezes we've had. I googled a bit and found a spectacular looking recipe for rose hip and pear pie (so it's really "a thing"!) so as soon as I finish here and hit "publish" (and I suppose I should try to forward this on to Jen at Not Dabbling so she gets my lame-o cop-out update for this week) I will pull on my wellies and a couple wool fisherman's sweaters, top myself off with a stocking cap and trudge out into the orchard where the wild rose bushes grow.

I don't want to take too many rose hips from the birds, but I figure I can glean a few pounds without affecting them too drastically. Our orchard is literally brimming with rose bushes... hundreds of them. I'm pretty sure they're all multiflora rosa, so they're the nasty invasive type. I'll try to see this as I'm preventing a small percentage of additional seed-fall, to keep the invasive species at bay. Hah.

Monday, November 28, 2011

I love my Job

I have some of the most adorable horses in the world. Esme, the chestnut on the left, has found a new home and will be leaving theoretically tomorrow to go live at Willow Tree stables with her new owner. I'll miss her, but I totally adore her new owner and I know she'll be happy and well cared for.
It's been rainy here in Michigan. This time of year, rain = mud... LOTS of it. I was unprepared yesterday for the sludgy sloppy mess at the horse farm, but today I will be trekking out in knee-high rubber boots. Take THAT Michigan mud...

...And while much of the rest of the employed world is sitting in chairs and typing on keyboards and planning and discussing and presenting various real-worldy kind of things, I will soon be at my job, where I am essentially paid to play in the mud with big, friendly fuzzy creatures while teaching others to do the same. 

I love my job.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Busy busy like a bee

I have recently found myself super motivated to do anything but sit at the computer. I've come out of a funk that I hadn't even realized I was in, and I'm planning gardens, cutting firewood, preserving seasonal food, baking like mad and pretty much running around like a crazy person.

It's nice to be a crazy person again.


Anyway, this morning I found myself inspired to make cranberry syrup so that I can freeze it and use it to flavor various things (spritzer, wine, sugar, bread, cookies? Oooh the possibilities are endless!)

Have you ever made cranberry syrup? It's super easy!

Simply take cranberries and bring them to a slow boil in just enough water to cover them. In this case I used 13oz of local cranberries (isn't Michigan cool? We can grow everything from cranberries to kiwis!) and 3 cups of water, with a sprinkling of sugar and a pinch of meyer lemon zest. I'll boil it until it looks right and then I'll strain it through cheese cloth, let it cool and package it up for freezing. I might freeze it in ice cube trays! Oo!

The best part of all is listening to it boil as the cranberries Pop Pop Pop!

It's very satisfying.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

To be Thankful

(Alright, I'm shadow-posting this from my Not Dabbling in Normal post this morning. Sorry folks!)

I am Thankful (this is my thankful face^).

In the past, I've felt like writing the whole "I am thankful for..." thing was ridiculously primary-school. It always felt forced and stuffy. I am thankful for my dog and my house and my Polly Pocket.
It really wasn't until this year that I realized that listing what we're thankful for isn't just listing; It's committing. It makes the writer bear a part of them self in a concrete way and it makes the writer really ponder the things in their life.

If you still feel like its primary-school-like, well... too bad.

I'm thankful for the bountiful harvests that occur around me each year, both naturally and cultivated.

 I'm thankful for the beauty in the world, and my ability to pause and take it in.

I'm thankful for the silly in the world and my husband's neverending ability to make me laugh harder and longer.

I'm thankful to have been born into a supportive, albeit strange family, and to have married into a family just as supportive, albeit a little more "normal".

I'm thankful for my life, my passions and my endless daydreams.

I am also thankful to be part of a blossoming digital community that comes together, via blogs and social networking to discuss, learn, challenge and inspire one another.

Thank you readers and NDiN contributors.

With love, Emily

Saturday, November 12, 2011

An Afternoon at the Horse Expo (and a brief history of Cowboy Ben)

I spend a pleasant afternoon with some great friends yesterday, old and new (I can't tell you how exciting it is to have a new friend... life gets a little stale as a homesteader, especially if you're prone to hermit-like behaviors like I am). We went to lunch and then over to the big expo center in Novi for the Novi Equestrian Expo - Michigan's Finest Horse Equestrian Expo. This is kind of a misnomer, as the Lansing Stallion Expo in March is far better as far as programming, setup, turnout and venue, but I digress. 

We wandered the shopping areas and I managed to talk myself and some friends into buying new Roeckl riding gloves (mother of god they're expensive!) and I found the perfect cowboy boots for my little brother, Ben. I call him my little brother (speaking of misnomers) because he's six years younger than I am, but he's probably ten inches taller than I am, too.

Ben used to have this bizarre alter ego as a toddler where he'd wear a cowboy hat and run around pretending he was a cowboy. If you called him "Ben" he'd correct you; "Cowboy Ben" he'd say. We'd have to ask him when "Ben" was coming back and eventually he'd go "Well I'm gonna get going" and leave the room. When he returned without the hat on, he obviously was "Ben" again. Oh, I bet I'm gonna get some flak for posting this. Anyway. These boots totally rock, and I'd love to see Cowboy Ben riding his dusty mare in them... perhaps this time in more than little-kid-tighty-whities and a hat. (Oh yes, I can see the approach of the end of my life, now... He will kill me. Tighty Whities. Bwaha. I <3 you, Ben! I'm an older sister, this is what I'm programmed to do!)

I also picked up some of the best machined socks I've ever worn. They're from a local alpaca farm (Williamston Alpaca Shoppe), and the woman raises Suri alpacas (super soft fiber), barters for Huacaya fiber (stronger, less soft) and has it combined, milled, spun and machined into boot socks which she sells at her store and at various expos and fairs. They weren't cheap, but I can tell you that they definitely beat out smartwool socks any day, and they were comparable in price. Plus, they're local!

After milling about the vendor areas, we meandered over to the demonstrations and sat. It's hard for me to go to these expos and take pleasure out of the demos, usually. There are a couple trainers in the area (who I will avoid naming, obviously) that I think are outright terrible. In particular, the one trainer bills herself as being a centered, balanced and gentle trainer; Her horses look stiff, there is no bend and no grace, and because this woman has shown at upper levels she has a massive following. 

Let me hop up on my soap box for a second and talk about the Golden Curse. 

My trainer, growing up, often talked about the Golden Curse. When people who have lots of money they often buy the horses with 10 out of 10 star movement. These are horses that have Olympic, or at least Grand Prix potential. 

These same people then want to get to the highest levels the fastest, so they employ a huge battery of methods to do so. This includes using gadgetry, strappy-tie-down-thingies, working the horses too much too fast, developing the wrong muscles, and basically creating the equivalent of over-processed horses (think McDonalds food - Fills you up, leaves you unhealthy). 

They started with 10 star movement, and because these horses are so amazing, naturally, their crappy training brings them down to 7-8 star movement and they still go to the top levels. They score well because the judges are looking for horses in a certain "frame" and despite the fact that these horses don't have the muscle or balance to be in that "frame" correctly, they do well at shows. Unfortunately, like any athlete trying to perform above their body's capabilities, these horses often break down by ten years old. You rarely hear of horses in the Olympics competing beyond the age of ten, and when you do, they're the horses that clean up and continue to come back year after year because they are correctly trained.

Cut to trainers like me. My horses have average movement. 5 star. I can't afford anything more. With slow, balanced, light and correct training my horses have the capacity to be ridden with 6, 7 or even 8 star movement. We all average out, but because most judges see the 10 star horses moving at 80% capacity consistently, they get the better scores. Never mind the fact that the horses have pinned ears and swishing tails, or that they have severe bits or cranked nosebands. They look miserable. The one trainer had a student riding her horse like that. The horse easily could've moved out into a fantastic gate, but was stuck in an outright abusive bit and had developed an S curve (swan neck) to it's neck. Ew. Ew. Ew.


Definitely hopping off the soap box.

So we watched the demos and gritted our teeth. I found where I used to giggle at the silly training mistakes some of the demonstrators would make, I now cringe and watch the horses bear everything simply for the love of their owners. They're simply amazing animals.

The last demo we watched was a cowboy with his overo (type of spotting) trick horses. He had the loudest colored Fresian I've ever seen - 50/50 black and white pinto. The bizarre thing is that usually when you see a rare-colored horse (Fresians are almost always solid black - in fact I don't think the spotted horses can be registered as purebreds) they are built like mongrels, and their color has come about from poor choices in color-genetic-focused breeding. This guy was actually considerably more "correctly" built than most, so I totally swooned over him. Of course then I learned his name was "Crusader" and that his owner is a "Cowboy for Christ" (his other horses were Apostle and Pastor...*PalmForeheadSmack*) I'm not atheist or anything, but GEEZUZ. Crusader? Really? I lost interest quickly, after that.

The expo was a nice way to spend an afternoon away from home. I get so caught up in things around the farm that I get a little too "in my head" and find myself talking to plants and musical instruments and stuff, so this was a mental health day for me - that's for sure!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dark Days of Winter Challenge

Well, the Dark Days of Winter Challenge, hosted this year by Laura from Urban Hennery and the whole crew (including myself) over at Not Dabbling in Normal, is getting ready to kick off... It begins November 27th and will run through March 31st, so I hope you're ready for some serious SOLE scavenging! SOLE stands for Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethical - the four main principles guiding this challenge.

By signing up for the Dark Days Challenge, I am committing to cooking at least one SOLE meal a week. After that, I'll be posting about it here on my blog, and then weekly or biweekly we'll be recapping all of the participants' posts over at Not Dabbling. It's going to be intense! Last year there were tons of participants, and this year we're trying to work together to get even more!

I've been preparing by freezing local produce and eggs. This morning, my lady-chickens actually had left five eggs for me! This is a record. I think they loved the slightly sunny, warm weather we had yesterday so they went into overdrive. I had been getting an average of one and a half eggs a day, so.. Woo!

Some of my girls lay the most beautiful green and blue eggs (they're Easter Eggers - poorly breed Americaunas - mutts); the others lay light and chocolaty brown eggs, and the recent influx of nice-weather-at-the-end-of-the-season eggs means I have enough to freeze. I'm also planning to blow these eggs (as well as freeze the innards - dual purpose!) to use to make some Christmas presents. They're such pretty colors, it's hard to resist!

This leads me to my next question: Are you planning an ethical Christmas this year? Do you plan to do your holiday preparation and shopping Conscientiously? If so, I have another challenge that we'll be announcing soon - Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On the mastication of bones, and mid-night brainstorming

Jeremy and I decided to go to bed fairly early last night. We had planned to go to a movie but, upon completing a mediocre dinner out, we gave in to our old-fogey-ness and skipped the movie to go home instead (after a quick stop at the bookstore).

He has just returned from a comic convention in North Carolina, and his returning flight was such that he'd been up since the wee hours of the morning (after some late and ruckusy comic-book-geeky nights previously) so he was ready to crash. I was fairly wired for the trip home but as soon as my eyes spotted the nice warm covers I was a slave to sleep. It was nice to get some rest... while it lasted.

Around 3:30AM (which is the time that my brain likes to wake up and be super manic if I so much as stir while sleeping) I heard a loud crash from across the room. I listened quietly to discern which animal had done what terrible act and sure enough, moments later, I heard a very low "Mrrrrrrerrrremrrr..." This is the sound of our tomcat mumbling a growl around carefully mouthed, fuzzy body of a mouse. I'd know that sound anywhere.

Harrison often loses his mice while trying to play with them, so I figured I'd let it play out a minute. Unfortunately I started to drift off to sleep again (all the while my brain going "Hey! You're falling asleep again! That's cool, you can't normally do that this late in the wee morning. In fact, normally you're stuck thinking about what you need to do today, and just think of all those things you need to do today... you need to teach later, three lessons, what are you going to do in each lesson? hmmm..." et cetera...)

Just as I hit that critical moment of sleep that accompanies brain-shut-uppedness, I hear it... "Scrunch, squish, crunch, crunch, squish..." To anyone who has ever done small animal taxidermy, this is the high tambered, gristly sound of a rodent skull being slowly cut into... or masticated, in this case, by Harrison. He doesn't normally eat his mice, so the shock of this was jolting enough that I quickly found myself out of bed and chasing him around the room, mouse body complete with stringy brains hanging from his mouth and dragging all over the floor. Finally I caught him and shook him around a bit until he spit the poor ragged body out onto one of my sweatshirts. Ew.

My cat: The Zombie.

Anyway, after this, attempting to sleep was pretty futile for a while. I lay in bed quietly daydreaming of pastries and sweet, of how I'm going to arrange my market booth and how I'm going to display my baked goods. It wasn't a bad experience, but it definitely would've been more welcome at a time other than four in the morning. I eventually managed to get back to sleep right before the sky began to lighten, and then of course I was greeted by the Bremen town musicians chorusing below my window, complete with ducks, roosters and sheep.

Now that I'm awake I have decided to spend the morning scribbling my own personal recipes onto index cards, denoting whether they are cake base, frosting, cookie, confection or tartlette recipes in the corner for quick and easy recognition.  It's been a while since I've done anything with index cards. I admit that laying them all around me after I've completed them is a satisfying way to quantify how much work I've put into developing recipes so far, since beginning this whole baking endeavor. I refuse to use recipes from other people unless I've done quite a bit of tweaking and altering. Instead, I've been reading up on baking chemistry and taking inspiration and ideas from other recipes to sort of set me in the right direction. The one exception of this is probably the Miette double chocolate cake (Oh god. So good.) but it's not likely to be a cake I actually get around to selling, as I have some excellent alternatives to it that are slightly less labor intensive. It's more of a cake to show off to your friends with... :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Tanglewood Poll: What would you consider buying?

What tiny sweets would you consider purchasing from a Market Bakery and Confectionary?
(Please select your top 3-4 choices)
 miniature single layer cakes
 miniature three layer cakes
 miniature cookies
 miniature fruit pies
 miniature chocolate or nut tartlettes
 miniature cupcakes
 fruit candies
 chocolate candies
 freshly made marshmallows free polls 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Tanglewood Baked Goods: Signage

I spent some time this morning working on the design for the sign I want to use for my bakery stand at markets. I know I want it to have a sort of Art Nouveau look, so I gave it a rounded top. I'll be making two signs: one for hanging and one to top a chalk board easel-style sign for venues that I can't hang things.

So this is my first sketch. I took the thistle design directly from a piece of jewelry, so I won't be using it exactly, but I liked the gesture and shape of it so I put it in as a place holder until I sketch up something a little closer to what I want the finished thing to be.

What do you think?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tanglewood (_______ Baked Goods)

Well, I know I've been slacking over here on the blog lately and that's in part due to the fact that I've been diving into bakery prep with the intensity of seven suns, though some days after a complicated mistake it feels more like seven weakly lit flashlights. I've made cakes, cookies, candies; frosting after frosting; and I've been designing my aesthetic and display. (I've also been researching correct, non-traditional ways to use the semicolon; please forgive me.)

Through my various attempts at charming-sweet-tasties I have noticed one thing. This one thing has become my focus and will likely be a way that I separate myself from other home bakers. It'll keep me challenged, help me feel less guilty about eating the things that I make and dangit - it's cute!

Miniatures. I love to bake miniatures. I love the extra detail I have to add and the care and delicacy of it. I've always had a thing for miniatures, and I've always liked the look of a whole-buncha-tiny-colorful-things put together. I blame it on Richard Scarry's Busytown. Richard Scarry was the kid's book master of itty-bitty-eye-catching and I remember looking at the pages showing the busytown market and bakery and thinking WOW! I wish apples were that tiny...

Okay, I know, that's kind of a weird thing to admit, let alone base a baked goods business on.

This kind of strange love of itty-bitty-detail may also come from living with my husband, Jeremy Bastian, whose comic book art is known for its bizarre and almost impossible detail and minuscule size.

Okay, so I'm not going to be baking "toy" sized (to borrow from the world of dog breeds), just more like bite sized. It may sound totally silly to some of you, but it really does have some valid bonuses to it. I often find with baked goods - cookies in particular - that I either really only want a single bite of something sweet, or I want a variety in my few sweet bites. The nice thing about baking small is that while you can eat only one small bite of sweet, you can also eat multiples. They make great novelties for kids and for parties, and I like to think most people will recognise the extra care that goes into decorating a miniature cake or cookie. Plus... I mean... come on. They're totally adorable!

In order to keep things catchy, I'll take at least one mini layer cake to market each week. Mini in this case means either 3, 4 or 6" in diameter, and at least three layers deep. I'll take orders for traditionally sized baked goods as well. 

I'd love to thank everyone who has offered their support and guidance (namely Julia, who is a font of baking information and troubleshooting!) I'm hoping to have a mid-winter tasting party over here at Tanglewood early next year, and if you've spent any time around me lately you've likely had sweets shoveled into your mouth as a taste tester.

So now I am left trying to come up with a sub text for my signage. I plan to just use the name "Tanglewood" rather than "Tanglewood Bakery" since I don't want to imply that I have a storefront elsewhere. I'd love to have the subtext read something like "Conscientiously Baked Goods" without sounding so verbose. I intend to use as many local ingredients as possible, and I have already sourced specialty flours, dairy, spices, herbs, etc (though I'd love to find a local source for non-GMO beet sugar if anyone knows of one!)

I also intend to use only biodegradable, recyclable packaging, and only from the most local sources I can find. I want my baked goods to taste amazing, so I intend to buy amazing ingredients. I also want to feel good about selling them to people, so I don't plan on putting anything into the business that I'm not completely sure about. So far, my display consists of garbage picked shipping crates and signs made from scrap wood, but that is a post for another day! I guess if this whole thing fails, I could always be an astronaut... (thanks Ben!)

Anyway, I'm going to set up a giveaway this weekend so be sure to check back soon! 

Any words of advice for someone trying to set up their own baked goods business from home? Is it legal to sell home baked goods in your state?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fall Shearing Day (part two: In the Barn)

We started by shearing Brighid, thinking that since she tends to be the super nervous lamb it might help to have her done before the other girls so she didn't stress out and get more and more aggravated watching the other girls get done before her. Oh boy. Now it seems so obviously silly to get the "easy" one out of the way first!

She was so docile! She has a perfect blend of her parents' personalities - personable and curious like her father, and wise and cautious like her mother, and she has such loft and crimp to her fleece! It was like Christmas, seriously. She has grown up so much since Gertrude died, and her personality has finally been able to come through. She's not as skittish and neurotic as I thought she was - she's cautious and sweet. <3 


She even handled the less dignified positions with grace.

We did let her up part of the way through since she was being so well behaved. Half-shorn sheep look hilarious!

Blair was next and she was, predictably, a fighter. We didn't let her up to rest between positions, she just escaped from us over and over and over. What a turd! She got away from us so many times, and we found the best way to shear her ended up being in a head lock between my calves, braced against the wall. Ugh. 

Even if we thought Blair was bad, she was a walk in the park compared to Nance. After trying all sorts of restricting positions for her we found the best way to shear her was gently. We let her stand, and I stood at her shoulder, one hand under her chin and one behind her head, just in case she tried to move. Eventually we had to get her belly, and it was nearly impossible. We finished her with scissors. LOL!

All in all, the day was exhausting and I am pretty beat up. At one point yesterday I was trying to head lock Nance with my legs and she managed to shove through and bolt across the barn with me riding her! I landed on my butt with my elbow naturally in a pile of sheep poo, laughing hysterically.

The sheep are now bald and I have three pillowcases full of beautiful fleeces - Much nice than Gertrude or Ingrid's were. I can't wait to get to spinning this stuff! The sheep will be happy to go out on the grass today. Now that they don't have fall fleeces on them, I don't mind sending them out to the field to find the last few burrs of the year.

Overall I'm happy with their conditions. The older ladies both have just a bit of fat over well muscled bodies, broad backs and wide hips. Brighid is a bit thin, but Laura pointed out she's still growing so her body is sending nutrients to bone and growth rather than layers of fat. She's still decently muscled too so... hooray!

Fall Shearing Day (part one: In the Kitchen)

Let me just open this post by declaring that Laura is the BEST.

Yesterday was our first fall shearing here at Tanglewood. When we got our sheep it was in December so we had missed the fall shearing by a 6-8 weeks (not that you could tell - they looked fully fleeced when they arrived!) This year I was lucky enough to have Laura, our sheep's breeder, offer to come shear our sheep for us in return for "something tasty".

Ooh, I do love a good barter. Something tasty? I can do that.

This was an exciting day in the kitchen for me because I got to taste test some things on someone new and I got to play around with gluten free baking for the first time. I decided to make GF plum and blueberry clafoutis, and hazelnut tarts with GF sweet crust (pâte sucrée). Gluten free is... interesting.

The clafoutis, upon first inspection, came out beautifully. It looked just great! Of course when I went to remove it from the pan it absolutely refused to budge and became more of a lumpy, gooey mess. Of course it still tastes great - It's just not something I could sell without some tweaking. Then again, who sells clafoutis at markets? Hm.

The surprising thing was the tart recipe. I had heard that working with gluten free pastry shells was incredibly difficult and frustrating. I quickly learned that the recipe that I used for my pâte sucrée doesn't like to be as cold as it does when it contains wheat flours. When I chilled it, it quickly became an unyielding mess more like a croquet ball than a ball of dough. I set it on the stove to warm it a bit and when it came to just cooler than room temperature (which you must realize is only about 60-65º in our house) it became workable. It baked beautifully, and had a fairly delicate flake to it, and just like the clafoutis, it refused to budge from it's ban. I did have some luck with the mini-tartlettes that I made in a mini-muffin pan that was non-stick. Apparently if I use butter to grease my pans it gets absorbed into the GF dough. If it's non-stick, it releases fairly well. I've got to remember that.

I just realized I forgot to take photographs of any of the tart stuff. Damn. They were pretty, too.

The sheep were definitely ready for shearing. Brighid was beginning to substitute as a snuggy for the chickens.

The other girls were looking pretty hairy, too, so it was a good thing Laura was able to come get those gorgeous fleeces off of them so that they can start growing their fleeces for the winter. 

When Laura arrived I was still finishing up the tarts, so we stood in the kitchen for a while and caught up. As soon as I finished with the work in the kitchen we headed out to the barn to start shearing. Later, during breaks between sheep, we enjoyed hazelnut tarts on the couch and chatted about life. There's nothing like sweets to take one's mind off of aches and pains, flailing hooves and biting wind waiting in the barn.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fall has Fallen

The leaves are changing and the winds feel restless as they blow rain and storms our way. This past week has been an amazingly clear and beautiful respite from the chill and damp. We've had our indian summer, with temps in the high 70's and nothing but sunshine. It's been a fantastic farewell to summer.

The Virginia creeper is blazing in shades of red and fuchsia.

The blueberries are a rainbow of intense hues. 

You can hear the leaves falling like rain today. I keep thinking it's sprinkling outside and then I realize it's a shower of box elder leaves, spiraling towards the ground. The maple trees have yet to change, but I'm sure it's just a matter of days. We're nearly at peak color here and I'm finding myself at peace, despite the insane number of tasks in the garden that I haven't completed. I've managed to remember this year that I have until the ground freezes to pull vegetable plants - It's not the end of the world if I don't get everything pulled by hard frost... I can take a deep breath and enjoy this farewell to summer while we have it.

Are the leaves changing where you are, or are you already enjoying the crunch of falls frosts?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hard at Work in the Kitchen (rather than on the Blog)

I have been using these past few weeks to experiment. Like a mad scientist in a frilly floral apron, I have been pouring over books and manuscripts, researching ingredients and methods... and at last I have come to the conclusion that...
Yes. I could see myself truly pursuing the art of making sweets.


I am uncertain of whether I should say I'm pursuing baking, pastry arts, confections or just "nummy things". I'm certainly not ever going to be a pâtissier, simply because at this point in my life I can't afford the cost or the time it would take to pursue full pastry chef schooling. Still, I'm pursuing sweet and dainty things that have a specific aesthetic... alluding to childhood sweets, appealing to subtle and refined tastes. Within these sweets I intend to combine the freshest and most local of ingredients possible - Michigan grown/milled flours, home grown fruits, local honeys.. I even found a supplier of locally grown, GMO-free soybean oil, for those times that really call for vegetable oil rather than less processed fats.

I have been truly experimenting, starting with base recipes and making serious alterations. Baking batch after batch after batch until I have a recipe of my own that is up to my standards.

The best thing is, I'm having a great time doing it and I've accepted that sometimes it's best to just throw the whole thing out and try again! It's almost liberating to be baking for baking's sake, rather than for a person or an event. If it doesn't turn out, nobody has to eat it.

So far I have tried several cake recipes, cookie recipes, tea cakes, frostings... I've even been working on a sweet skillet bread (spotted dick - yes, that's what it's called) that is moist, crusty and fantastic! I hope you understand that I'm not going to pretend I'm something that I'm not. I am not a trained professional; I am a dabbler. Still, baking has sparked a passion and obsession in me that I haven't felt since I started training horses so I would imagine this is going someplace good.

To take good, fresh ingredients and to make them into something that invokes a physical and emotional response reminds me of when I was in school for art. I've always loved to create things, but I've always made art for myself and cringed at the idea of doing it for the pleasure of others. With baking it's totally different; I bake because I want to share the experience of my finished piece with others.

I've been taking samples to pretty much any gathering I can, to shove into the mouths of unsuspecting friends, family, students and clients... It's awesome to see their responses, and people have been very honest with me. I can't wait to share more of my adventure with them and with you... like a mad scientist I cannot wait to take over the worrrrrld! (or at least a few of my local markets...)