Monday, December 3, 2012

Tanglewood Equine Holiday Giveaway!

Alright folks, this one is open to my horseback riding clients only, so I apologize in advance for this.

If you have ever taken lessons/training with me, or if you are a current boarder at Constantine Farms, you are eligible to enter my Tanglewood Equine Holiday Giveaway!

As you may or may not be aware, I am running a holiday promo for my lesson program to try to generate new interest and to expand my clientele. Here's the flyer:

Isn't it just adorable?? 

Anyway, from now until Thursday, December 13th, you have three opportunities to enter a drawing to win one free hour-long lesson, or two hours of training for your horse. The various ways to enter are simple:

  1. Share this image on Facebook! Then return to this blogpost and comment below, letting me know that you shared it on facebook. (You can share this flyer by pasting the following link into your status bar: or you can find it on my facebook page and share it from there.)

  2. Share this image on Twitter! Then return to this blogpost and comment below, giving me your twitter handle and letting me know that you shared it on twitter. (You can share this flyer on twitter by posting the following URL:

  3. Print the following flyer image and share it in a physical location, like at work, at the gym, at the local hotdog stand... and return to this blogpost and comment below, giving me the details of your flyer-sharing exploits!
(Click on the image above to download the flyer for printing.)

How un-classy is it to do a promo for your promo? Hahaha. Oh well. Make sure you leave me a separate comment for each time you share the flyer. I will be choosing a winner by random-number-generator on Thursday, December 13th at 8PM.

Questions? Concerns? No problemo! Email me at or find me on facebook!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Holday Challenge: A Parsimonious Christmas

This Christmas, I have decided to see just how frugal I can possibly be. This is mostly a challenge for challenge's sake, but because it seems like it's going to save me quite a bit of money I can't completely discount that as incentive. This year, my goal is to make all of my gifts for friends and family. Cool, huh?

Alright, that's not all of it. My goal is to see if I can keep from spending over $100 total on all of my supplies for making gifts this year. Parsimonious Penny-Pinching! This will be the perfect way to save money, but it'll also encourage me to use what I have around the house: stashed fabric and fiber, half finished projects, things like that.

So... If you're a friend or family member following my blog, you may want to read sparingly over the next several weeks. You're welcome to follow me in my adventures in frugal holiday spending, but just know that I'll be posting updates and tutorials here. Of course, I have several things planned, so you could always follow along and try to figure out what it is I'm planning for you!

If you're not a friend or family member, follow along! Join me, even! If you do join me in my ridiculous challenge, or if you run a similar challenge, let me know and I'll be happy to share information on your challenge here as I blog. 

Are you planning any fantastic challenges for the holidays this year?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Buying Local: Biercamp, Ann Arbor

On the south side of town, tucked adorably between a mom an pop artisan grocer and a mom and pop furniture store you'll find Ann Arbor's Biercamp. The shop is run by a young couple and specializes in in-house smoked meats, unique jerkies, pickles, deli meats and more. Riding on the sort of northwestern woodsy type (date I use the word "hipster" in a positive sense?) aesthetic wave, the shop is lined in knotty pine and the walls are scattered with old photographs of farmers and cows.

This place has the most amazing selection and quality I can imagine. From lamb bacon to hotdogs, from pickled green tomatoes to deli sandwiches. It's all there.

Our last trip we even tried their olive loaf (I mean seriously, who even likes olive loaf?) and, well, amazing. Subtle, not too salted, but definitely briney enough.

I strongly suggest a visit next time you're around. They're located in a charming little house on State street, south of the stadium and just across the railroad tracks. Check them out!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Vintage Fabric Find: Woven Cotton Check

Well shoot, this blog is fast becoming more about my vintage fabric and sewing adventures than anything else. Ah well!

I have been looking for a specific fabric for AGES and I finally found something very similar to it while browsing Etsy today. Just a side note: I'm thinking it's time I either give up Etsy or get an account and start selling to support my habit. This is ridiculous. I am going to be broke.


Woven check cotton fabric is nearly impossible to find! I even posted about it in a blog post a few months ago, and on facebook, trying to find out if it had a specific name or if anyone knew where I could pick some up. Just by chance today I was stalking a vintage fabric seller on Etsy today after day dreaming about buying some other fabric from them and lo and behold! There it was! And only five dollars a yard, to boot! Anyway, I've immediately come up with a super-cute early 30's dress idea for it, but before I get too set on anything I want to have the fabric in my hand. If it's what I think it is, it'll be perfect!

Have you ever sought a nameless thing only to have it find you? 
(I am sounding super zen here, despite having disappointingly material intentions...)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fashion (Blog) Envy: All the Pretty Dresses

It's a grumpy sort of morning. I have Pride and Prejudice playing on the television and am snugged up in nearly ten blankets on the couch with a puppy (I've yet to start the wood fire this morning). My DH is out of town this weekend, leaving me to my own devices (watching Jane Austen adaptations on DVD, napping and grumping around eating poorly) but I just happened to stumble across this blog this morning and so I had to share it.

All The Pretty Dresses is a blog detailing the internet findings of an antique fashion fan and there are nearly eight hundred posts! Each post documents a dress or piece of clothing that she has found on web sites other than museum sites (ebay, etsy, etc) and has the original photos and description, as well as her own input. I've been on this site for so long that I can barely see straight, and I've only nicked the surface!

This page has convinced me to post a few of my own vintage and antique dresses over the next few weeks as I get them cleaned up. Stay Tuned!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fashion-Envy: Late 1910's House Dress

Here's another top-contender for dresses I'd love to remake. This one is actually almost within my budget, and it's already a reproduction, but there's just something so gosh-durned awesome about making a dress yourself, especially when I can taylor it to my exact fit.

I'd love to do this one with hand-embroidered detail at the cuffs, modesty-panel and hem. I wish I had a better photo of it. The neckline is my favorite. 

This one is a little more practical than the last one, but I'm still torn.

What do you think of this one? Rated on a scale from 1-5?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fashion-Envy: 1920's Working Class

Lately I've been thinking about choosing a dress to recreate using modern fabrics. This one below is one of my current favorites. I found it on Etsy, and while I'd love to buy it, I'd love even more if I could own a sturdy, wearable reproduction of it. It's a mid-20's dress that would've been worn by a working class woman. Perhaps a factory worker? 

It's pin-tucked wool with a linen insert, cuffs and collar. I can't help but want to try it out, especially with the drawn-thread work in the linen. My main concern is that it would look kind of funky on my petite-yet-busty figure.

What do you think of it? I'd love to get readers' opinions on it before I start searching for fabric.

Monday, October 8, 2012

My Fashionable Ancestors (pt 2)

The second photo my mother emailed me this week was from the mid-to-late 1920s, judging by the drop waists. Probably more mid, since the older woman has a bit more of an earlier fashion about her, but it's possible she was just more conservative in her choices of clothing.

The shoes in this photo are making me insane with envy. Look at the cutouts on the lady on the right! You can probably click on the image above for a closer look. I'm also a serious sucker for cloche hats. 

Is there anything in historical fashion that you wish was more socially acceptable today? Bustles? Drop waists? Suits of armor? 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Fashionable Ancestors

My mother recently emailed me some photos of my Edwardian era ancestors and I just can't stop ogling at them! 

The first photo has some great dresses. In fact, the dress second from the left (is it polka dots? floral?) is absolutely fantastic. I'd love to recreate it. I'm assuming this is right around 1918-1920 because the blouses are still deeply formal while there is some serious ankle peeking out. 

This era is definitely my favorite in historical fashion; it just screams modernization, and the influence of practical-lifestyle creeping in from wartime is such a fascinating catalyst in fashion. Women had to look great, but they also had to be able to actually function in their clothes. What a novel idea!

What's your favorite historical fashion era?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Vintage Sewing (an intro to mini-posts)

Well, I've obviously been absent to the blogging scene for a long while now. I think about it nearly every day, though, I promise! Blogging is a real commitment, and I've definitely dropped the ball lately.

In my defense, I've been suffering some pretty atrocious migraines and headaches and long sits in front of the computer screen tend to do-me-in for hours. So I have a solution. I'm going to attempt to start writing mini-posts on a more regular basis. It won't be the eloquently articulated mind-spout that my usual posts are, but it will allow me to share what I've been up to with you. Theoretically they'll just be a snapshot and a quick sentence or two... better than nothing, right?

That said, who loves vintage sewing?

I do.

I've been obsessing over all things vintage-fashion (picture me rolling around in piles of vintage cloth and patterns, laughing maniacally) and I want to share some of my recent projects and eye-candy.

Some vintage reproduction fabrics I picked up

a terrible photo of my intensely goofy (and awesome) plus fours aka knickerbockers

Did I mention my new-found adoration for vintage trims?

Yeah, I went a little crazy with the vintage trims...

I've been working on a 1930's shirtwaist dress with cap sleeve this week. More photos to come!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

On new old hobbies...

I have been curious about tatting since the first time I saw one of those strange little shuttles at the craft store next to the embroidery floss. I have always kind of know I'd get around to trying it. I have a passion for historical crafts and lacy, dainty things. Hah.

So this past week I picked up a shuttle and some ecru colored thread and went about learning. I quickly found that while it's numbingly abusive to the finicky, detail-oriented part of my brain, the part of my brain that does math and manages my OCD was intensely satisfied. What could be better than counting and having to pick out little tiny knots every few minutes? Did I mention I love to untangle knots?

Above is the link to the tatting tutorial that I used to learn. I think I also pulled up a little video on youtube when I learned how to join picots, but I honestly can't find the link. Forgive the poor linkage, please. I'm posting from my phone and blogger still has a seriously inferior app for posting (I'm considering checking out Wordpress for this very reason).

Needless to say, I am hooked (heh) and I urge anyone who has a mind for patterns and hand-work, and who can understand tension, to give it a shot. I've been making bits of tatted lace to trim some of the projects I've been working on and it's so satisfying to complete!

This is a link to my next project.

Have you ever tatted? Do you find yourself tatting in your sleep now, like I do? Haha!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Tanglewood 2012 lambs!

Well, I've been insanely busy lately but I figured I'd post quickly about the latest additions to our farm.

Last week Nance finally gave birth to a leggy single moorit ram. He's adorable and gawky and hilarious to watch walk.

I admit I was a little disappointed since I plan to send all rams off to freezer camp this fall and this meant I only had one more chance for a ewe lamb.

Well, Blair didn't disappoint! She gave birth to two adorable little lambs, a strong and spunky spotted ewe lamb with some serious chrome, and an adorably scrawny and wimpy little solid black ram. They're so cute together!

In between the lambing ewes, I had another surprise greet me in the barn. One of our chickens, who we have repeatedly had to kick off a nest, had apparently been sneaking back to it to incubate her eggs. I walked in the morning after Nance lanes to find six baby chicks! They're super cute, though we did (literally) lose one yesterday. It was there and then it wasn't! I guess that's how things go on a farm sometimes.

So. I'm posting from my phone which means this isn't going to be very nicely formatted, but here is your daily dose of cute!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Brighid's Little Boy

Now, I know the first few days of a lamb's life can be a roller coaster, but I never thought I'd see such an intense little newborn lamb!

Brighid, my one winter ewe (meaning she's only one year old herself), has given birth to a beautiful and incredibly strong little ram lamb! I'm actually sitting in the barn right now (hooray for wifi!); Nance and Blair are convinced my laptop is edible and Brighid and her little boy are tucked away in a lambing jug with molasses water and alfalfa hay.

I was just drifting off to sleep, with the window cracked ever so slightly, when I heard the quietest nudge of a baa come from Brighid out in the field. There is this seriously fantastic sound that mother sheep make to their babies: something between a baa and a grunt, but with all the softness and gentleness in the world. Brighid sounded exactly the way her mother sounded when she was born!

Of course I was filled with an icy adrenaline burst immediately. I grabbed my sweater and slipped on my sandals and dashed out the door with a headlamp. When the lamplight hit the barn entrance I saw four little sets of eyes reflecting back at me, where there are usually three!

Brighid had not only birthed the little guy all on her own, she had cleaned him off and had mastered the art of shoving him back to her udder where he appeared to be happily, and strongly suckling away, tail wagging the entire time while she cleaned his little bottom! Of course, it's possible he was just trying to suckle. I'll have to watch him over the next several hours to make sure he's looking perky. I can't believe how well formed Brighid's udders are for a one winter ewe!

I'm pretty sure I'm not making a ton of sense right now, but I'm also pretty sure you understand.

I hope everyone else has a nice sound night of sleep. I'm sure I won't, especially since this super-big-bright-full-moon ('tis a broad brecht moonlecht necht tenecht!) has the raccoons, coyotes and even the foxes crying tonight. Super creepy! I'm on high alert, as, I'm sure, is Brighid!

Friday, April 20, 2012

April Showers at Last!

It's finally raining on the 250+ strawberry plants my mom and I planted and transplanted earlier this week. It is exciting to see them blooming so profusely this year!

Two years ago I liberated a number of older strawberry plants by planting them out in the field along the raspberry beds. This year they have taken off and are actually choking out the perennial grasses in some spots! How exciting to grow such a deliciously functional groundcover!

Now if the 100+ transplants take off like that I am going to have an amazing strawberry patch out there.

I have "liberated" all of the modern varieties, leaving my raised strawberry beds specifically for rare and heirloom varieties. The single plant pictured below (with the HUGE blossom) is of a variety first documented in the 1700s! I can't wait to have all twelve of the front raised beds planted in rare varieties. Mwahaha...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Right. I have got to get back to this.

I've neglected you, poor blog! The spring has sprung and I have let you fall by the wayside.

The nice thing about a blog is that even if you lose readers from neglect, you can always pick the blog back up and dust it off.

This spring has been an intense one here at Tanglewood. I've put in so many berry bushes I can't even count them all and I've brought the berry patch up to a total of over 1/4 acre of blackberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries and even some less common rubus like wineberry, loganberry and tayberry.

I've also been hard at work prepping strawberry beds for the impending arrival of new bareroot stock this week. I've even been in contact with another strawberry enthusiast who has hooked me up with Madam Moutot and Scarlet cultivars, both of which are incredibly old and hard to acquire.

I've decided my focus for this year is to take the heirloom gardening a little further. I plan to use a number of Victorian (and Victorian inspired) methods to grow pre-1900 era plants. In fact I'm only growing two non-heirloom plants this year, but they're modern French imports: the Mara des Bois strawberry and the Petit Pois pea, both of which are supposed to be modern kickbacks to a time when the goal of growing food was taste (and novelty) and not marketability or quantity.

Yesterday my husband and I spent a bit of time in the morning's flurries (yes, flurries... Thanks, Michigan!) gathering pea sticks to support my shelling peas. I'll be posting photos (and info, in case you are unfamiliar with pea sticks) of them soon, I promise.

I also started plotting lines in the garden using my new string winder, based on Victorian designs.

Have you been up to anything unique in the garden?

Have you all abandoned me as I have abandoned you? Lol!

Friday, March 2, 2012

On Melon Houses and planting new fruit varieties

If you've read my blog much at all, I'm sure you've picked up on the fact that I have a huge sweet tooth. When you combine that with gardening you end up in all sorts of trouble.

I LOVE to grow fruit, and this year I have decided to pull out all of the stops. I'll be planting new varieties of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants and gooseberries - new to me, that is. Nearly every variety that I'm adding to my garden this year is from before the 1950's. The few exceptions include a modern white currant cultivar that I bought to compare to several antique cultivars that I've ordered, and of course Mara Des Bois strawberries, which I am in love with despite their modern origins. I'll post more on the berry additions later.

For now, take a look at what I've been designing and planning over the past few weeks!

It may not look like much, especially in my chicken scratchy handwriting and sketching, but this is hopefully going to be my adaptation of the British Victorian melon house. The whole thing will be covered with plastic, like a green house, but suspended midway (angled around approximately 2' above the soil) will be a cattle panel (heavy duty welded wire grid). The idea is that I will plant a row of melons at the back of the house (the small end). The vines will grow up the back of the house and onto the cattle panel where they will continue to sprawl outwards across the gaps in the panel. When they finally fruit, the fruit will hang down and I will tie it with simple cotton netting to hold it in place.

This set up will allow for air flow to help prevent mildew, cover to provide early heat for the plants and to prevent cucumber beetles from wreaking havoc on the poor flowers, and control of pollination. My plan is to hand pollinate all of the melons myself (Ooh, I'd love to use an authentic rabbit-tail pollinator! How cool!)

The other thing this set up will allow me to do is grow strawberries beneath the melons. June bearing strawberries tend to reach their peak in (duh) June, which is long before the melons would reach across to the front of the trellis. While the melons are making their first meager inches up to the trellis, the strawberries will be fruitful, planted in a row along the front of the bed. I'll also be hand pollinating these strawberries, which means I'll be able to play around with breeding a bit if I really get the drive. In between the strawberries and the melon plants will be some cutting greens, spinach and tom thumb buttercrunch lettuce.

Also, a slight miscalculation lead me to build these houses 6" shorter than the length of the raised beds. I intend to plant snap peas in a single row along the north side of each bed in this space to help fix a bit of nitrogen and to add some diversity. If cucumber beetles become a real nuisance, I'll tear out the peas and put some rattail radishes in instead. 

No inch unplanted, that's my motto!

So in a fit of intense mania this morning, I began to build my melon houses. Heavy rains and storms were forecasted but I managed to get all three beds ready for the installation of the cattle panels. Once those are in place, I'll attach the final beams, some additional supports, and cover them in tensed 4mm plastic! I've never been a fan of using plastic in the garden, but glass is just not feasible at this point in my life :) I'm sure you understand...

So, this is what I've been madly researching, designing and executing lately. 

Are you planning anything exciting in your gardens this March?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In the kitchen: black currant and wild european blackberry sauce

(Sorry to double post this - it began as an accident but I figured I'd leave this up here in case you wanted to follow what I'm doing in my bakery kitchen this morning. Visit for more posts!)

Today I'm mixing up several cookie doughs and other sweets but what I am most excited about are the fillings for my tartlets.

This week's tartlets will be extra special as I'll be cooking down a rich and earthy fruit paste made from local black currants and locally foraged wild blackberries (European variety, naturalized).

I expect these to be super flavorful with hints of summer wines. I may yet put them over a chocolate or other base when they're in their final tartlet form. I'm hoping for now that they'll stand alone just fine, as I expect them to.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


No sap flow today, but I've got half my spiles in and waiting!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I have been so berry busy..

I was going to apologize for the title of this post, but... nah.

Well folks, it's been a while, and as a consequence I realize I've lost some readers which is a huge bummer... but, but, but! I've been so busy! I go through phases of extreme mania this time of year any time we get a break in the weather, and Michigan seems to be offering break after break after break. It's hard to sit still long enough to write a blog post, unless part of that sitting still involves the comatose collapse after overworking myself in the garden or at the horse farm. We got a dusting of snow the other day; really it was four inches or so, but the next day it was nearly 40ยบ outside so I call it a dusting since it only stuck around for a few hours...

Those few hours of snow were kind of a blessing though because they provided me with an excuse to crash between manic activities. The photo above is of the preparations for our 2012 berry garden. I forget if I've posted on this yet, but I'll be harvesting from seven rows of mature red raspberry bushes (30 ft rows), two rows of mature purple raspberry and two shorter (15 ft) rows of mature blackberry bushes this year. In addition to these beauties, I'll be planting at least 20 new blackberries, 24 gooseberries and 24 currants, in various varieties. This doesn't even begin to touch on the strawberries I have plans for!

While it was warm enough to melt the top few inches of snow this week I was able to get some belated weeding done. We have a serious problem with perennial turf grasses sneaking into raised beds. Ugh, what a drag. We are also plagued by catnip and creeping charlie, or ground ivy (which I find so satisfying to pull out by the arm load, so that's alright!) While weeding, I couldn't help but smile happily at the itty bitty wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) leaves I would find popping up here and there. They are incredibly hardy, but I still tucked them back into bed after I weeded, under some leaves and straw, just in case.

So if you haven't already picked on it, I feel I should point out that I've finally embraced my love for all things fruit and I've decided to replace many of the less desirable points of landscape around our place with fruiting plants. I will still vegetable garden, totally, but I will keep my veggies a little lower key this year, planting primarily things I can direct sow or let self seed. I want my veggies to be a little more... liberated. I'll be interplanting certain semi-shade-tolerant veggies with the berry patches and i'll still have a handful of raised beds designated for them, but I've given myself over to the siren that is fruit gardening, mostly perennial fruit. I've also made plans to convert my cutting green gardens to covered european melon beds, with strawberries interplanted beneath the slanted panels (they'll get crowded out of their sunlight, but not until after their June fruiting season when the melons really take off... at least that's my hope.)

(On a side note, I've recently applied to a government germplasm bank to receive tissue samples of some incredibly old Frageria x ananassa cultivars to use in some kinda geeky research that I'd like to do involving historical vs modern gardening techniques and the antique strawberry - one of these varieties is even documented as being bred at the turn of the 18th century! I will keep you posted on this - even if I don't receive the tissue samples, I have found a few resources for 19th century varieties that I can use.)

Another aspect of my yard that I've decided to dominate with fruit-bearing plants is the West-facing wall that runs behind the long garage. We don't actually have use of the garage; it's used to store golf course maintenance equipment, but I contacted our land lady (who has GOT to be the best land lady ever... and I don't even think she reads this blog so I'm not sucking up here) and she gave me permission to plant espaliered fruits along that wall! I've always wanted to train fruits to a wall, and this wall almost creates a Victorian courtyard feel to our yard, which I really enjoy and want to embrace. 

Yesterday I spent hours clearing the wall. It was plagued by some of the largest multiflora rosa bushes I have ever seen (with canes literally three inches thick!) and the image above seriously shows about half of the length of the wall I cleared. The bushes were huge! You can kind of make out the break in the grass (by the loppers) that shows how far they extended into the yard. I also cleared out years of junk that had been tossed behind those bushes, before our time. There were pallets, logs, old industrial wire, plastic... all SORTS of stuff! I threw away the garbage and dragged the rest of it to the windbreak of pines we have at the West side of the yard where I used it to close a few holes in the existing brush where the ducks like to scramble through to the other side of the old fencing. 

This is a photo that shows the finished wall. I left an adolescent crabapple tree down at the far end because it provides some awesome crabapples that I like to use for canning and we have a pair of orioles that occasionally nest in it in spring. Apart from that, with a bit more work on the existing stumps, this wall will be the new home to three fan-trained blackberry bushes (maybe five if I can clear out behind my raised beds), two fanned cherries, two espaliered pears and two fanned apricots. (I know apricots are impossible to grow, but I'm hoping that by keeping them against the west wall they will flower later and thus be sheltered from late frosts... hoping). I want to avoid growing many pears and apples because the several antique cousins looming over the property harbor a lot of disease that would make it inevitable that they would struggle. I may give in, though, especially if I find them cheap! I've got all sorts of walls I can train plants to on my house, too! LOL.

So yes, I haven't been blogging, but I've been doing so much more! Learning about espalier and prepping for spring has been keeping me very busy. What have you been up to, readers? Anything to prep for the impending spring?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Spring shouldn't be Springing...

We've been enjoying the strangest weather here at Tanglewood. This week has offered two days hovering in the mid-to-high 50's, and the rest of the week has been and will be in the 40's. My usual February activities are almost exclusively house-bound, apart from the occasional slogging of hot water to the barn if the hydrant has frozen again. 

Last year on this very date we were recovering from a snow storm that dumped feet of snow on us; I had to climb fences to get to my horses, as the gates wouldn't open in the deep snow. This year is in stark contrast, as yesterday I spent almost my entire day in a sweatshirt and muck boots, dividing berry bushes and digging holes for the 87 berry plants I've just ordered (Yikes. That number looks bigger when I type it here...) 

Today I intend to spend my time doing the same, taking a break in the mid-day to grab lunch with my brother and then slogging out to tap some Box Elder trees in the hopes that this year produces at least a little sap run despite the bizarre weather.

The crazy thing is, things are actually starting to break hibernation in this heat wave! The peach tree buds have the tiniest bit of swell to them that, if I hadn't inspected them closely last week, I would never have noticed. I have to wonder how this is going to affect our fruit production state-wide, this year. I can't imagine it's going to be good.

Crazier still, when I went outside yesterday morning and checked the pussy willows, they were tightly closed, the buds showing only minimal swelling. By noon, however, six of them had begun to swell so much that they were bursting open! This weather is strange, indeed.

Are you experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures where you live? How are the plants and animals taking it?

(Also, has anybody ever tapped Box Elder trees? I just learned that they produce a delicious sap for syrup and our place is literally plagued by them!)

Monday, January 30, 2012

On Tomatoes and Planning to do Nothing

You know.. I was thinking the other day. Every year, I have some volunteer tomato plants pop up here and there, and I rarely deter them from doing so. Every year I've been pleasantly surprised by the tasty results of said volunteers... and so this year...

I think I'm going to lay off the tomato planting.

At the end of 2011 I gave up on trying to keep up with the ripe tomatoes. I had planned poorly, staked wimpily and decided pretty much that the slugs could have the tomato plants. There were plenty of heirloom tomatoes out there, rotting on the ground. Thus, the tomato kingdom fell prey to various nasties (though I was incredibly surprised to only find two hornworms the entire season!)

This winter, I've been reading up on winter sowing as well as do-nothing farming, as conceived by Masanobu Fukuoka. I've posted about this before (though I can't find the post to link to it) and I'm thinking this year I'm going to put my faith in the seeds of last year's laziness. :) I was late planting my tomatoes last year and because of that and the terrible lack of fruit-setting heat, I got very few tomatoes before the slugs were strong enough to chase me out of the garden with their slimy sluginess. Ew. Because of all of this, I'm feeling a little pre-defeated... I don't want to deal with it again. Not like last year.

So. Theoretically if I let the tomatoes do their own thing this year I should get fruit similar to the open-pollinated and heirloom varieties I planted last year, right? On vines that sprout when they think it's best to sprout, grow straight from the ground and never know the restricting walls of a cellpack or a seeding tray... right?

If it doesn't work... well, I'll see that early enough that I can probably purchase some more mature plants and catch up more conventionally. I just can't help but feel my anxiety levels begin to creep up as soon as I open the seed catalogues to the entire chapter of tomato varieties that they offer. Hundreds of varieties, people. It's overwhelming. I don't want to plan tomato patches. I want to plan neat little rows of things like lettuce and beets... and long-term projects like the blackberry and gooseberry patches.

So that's my plan. I'll amend the soil a bit with some composted manure in the spring, and I'll till the pathways, weed and thin seedlings... but apart from that, Mr. Tomato, You are on your own for 2012.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hero's First Arena Turn Out

Today was the day I'd both been looking forward to and dreading; This was the day I had planned to let Hero loose in the indoor riding arena to really see her progress. 

It's a scary thing to do because since her ligament injury she has had very little change to walk around, let alone run. Horses with a lot of energy can do stupid things, injuring themselves with a wrong turn or twist, and if she re-injures that ligament she's toast... I'd hate to retire her at seven years old!

So here is the video of her strutting her stuff in the indoor. She only bolted a few times up and down the long side of the arena, and each time she did some fancy turns and stops that made my stomach do flips, but she didn't re-injure herself and she managed to wear herself out after a few short minutes.

What a good day!

O Hai Winter! There You Are!

Brighid found winter, and so did I! That snow storm was such a nice polite reminder that we're actually in the winter months. I had just been talking to Jeremy about how I wasn't feeling ready to start planning garden stuff and how I was feeling overwhelmed and underenthusiastic. 

Then, overnight, we got 5 inches of snow and my attitude changed completely. The snow has covered up everything that had me stressed. I can't see the piles of rubbish waiting to be hauled to the compost pile. I can't see the garden hose in the north garden that I forgot to drain and coil. 

All I can see are the gardens in my mind's eye and those gardens look fantastic!

Are you planning your gardens yet? If so, what are you planning?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hero's Day Out

Yesterday was a good day, despite some difficult twists and turns. The biggest highlight of my day, and probably my week, was that I got to sit on the back of my horse, Hero, who is recovering from a bad ligament strain (possibly even a tear; we're not sure.)

This Sunday will mark the tenth consecutive week that Hero has spent in a box stall. She originally had an abscessed hoof, and unfortunately the ligament injury was compensatory for that. Poor Hero. The first week or two was really rough. She wouldn't stand on her abscessed hoof and she couldn't stand on her injured leg, so she literally spent more than a week standing on two legs, only setting the tips of her toes down to balance occasionally. She already has leg issues, as she as malnourished as a foal, and her front legs are two different lengths, her right foot being somewhat clubby. The vet, and my own trainer whom I really look up to, told me that she'd be a good school horse but she'd probably never excel at anything. Before her injury, however, she was working on second level movements in dressage including half pass and she was really starting to collect, and she had jumped 3'9" with beautiful form and ease... psh... That's excelling in my book!

I kept a pressure wrap on her leg for more than eight weeks straight, changing it several times a week and dealing with poor Hero's irritated antics (kicking, biting, shoving, head waggling..) because the poor thing is so bored in that stall. She is used to being turned out 24/7, and she took her playing in the field very seriously before this. For the first month, I kept her in her stall in the middle of the barn and she was outright MEAN to anybody or any horse that came by. She would lunge through the opening by the grain bin and try to bite, she would spin and kick if you came into the stall... it was scary. She has been one of the most sweet, albeit expressive horses I've ever known, and this is where she started to make her opinion very clear.

After a month or so I moved her to the very last stall in the barn so that she could see her friends in the field and so they could stick their heads over the gate to visit when they come up for water. There was an instant change in Hero. She became friendly again and stopped some of the neurotic behaviour she'd had before I moved her.

So, flash forward to this week: Hero's pressure wrap has been off for more than a week now and she has been working in hand at both the walk and trot soundly. At one point the other day I went to introduce her to a new friend that she'd be recovering with in the small paddock eventually. When she saw him, she pulled free from me and bolted around the muddy paddock for five minutes, galloping, twisting, spinning and kicking up... all the while this was happening I kept having flashes of her leg, ballooned up, and myself signing her over to a retirement home. Blech. I finally caught her, thanks to a fantastic student who ran out with a bucket of grain, and shoved her in a stall for a few hours while I taught, trying not to think about what she'd just done to her leg.

When I came back to her after teaching, her leg was fine, and she was asking for more! So I gave her a few more days of relaxed hand walking and trotting and then I came to yesterday when I decided I would finally sit on her again.

She has been antsy and slightly unpredictable, since she's such a bored horse, but as my butt sat on her back she immediately put on her game face and went to work. It was amazing! She obviously remembers that working in the arena is her job and it doesn't matter if she's been cooped up for months, if she's doing her job, she does it right. What a fantastic work ethic! I rode her for almost ten minutes, just walking her in large figures while asking her to soften and stretch down so her back muscles would get a good work out. It was fantastic.

I'm hoping this is the start to her coming back into real work. For now I'll be hand walking her 3-4 times a week and riding her bareback another 2-3 times a week. Hopefully after she builds some muscle she'll be ready to go back to work! Before her injury, Hero was a fantastic dressage horse and a very promising jumper. When she was jumping 3'-3'9" with me it was with very little effort, but she really never had the forward drive of a competitive jumper. I always assumed it would come with time, but maybe this is a sign that she shouldn't jump. My plan for now is to keep babying her until the end of February, when I'll make the decision to keep her on as a school horse or to sell her to someone who will use her more lightly to prevent further injury, something I don't particularly want to think about.

Still, that's a decision for down the road. Yesterday was a huge triumph for both of us, and I'm so happy to see that she's ready and willing to go back to work. Horses are really amazing creatures...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tanglewood Bakery: The Flour (and it's rich historical origins)

The De Zwaan (meaning the Swan), now standing in the city of Holland, Michigan, has a rich and exciting past. It was first built in 1761 in Krommenie, near Amsterdam, and was moved in 1889 to Noord Brabant. The inspiringly beautiful structure survived wars and natural decay, albeit just barely. In 1964, the windmill was transferred to Holland, Michigan in sore shape. It had been the source of frustration and controversy for the Dutch government much in part due to it's poor condition, and when it left the Netherlands it became the very last Dutch windmill to leave before the government there decided to ban the sale of their precious historical windmills. It is now the only operating Dutch Windmill in the United States.

There have been changes made to the mill over the years. It's original state would've been atop a hill, and it would've been a bit shorter simply because it was placed in an area with excellent winds, as opposed to Holland's Michigan's intermittent mini-gales off of Lake Michigan. Still, the history literally oozes out of it when you step inside. The rich smell of ground wheat permeates the air, even on a crisp autumn afternoon. The interior is a fortified and complicated structure that upon first glance is incredibly overwhelming. Still, as you start to run your eyes across gears and pulleys and levers, you can start to grasp the amazing mechanics of this large beautiful beast of a machine. 

I was so lucky to get a full tour from Alisa Crawford, the miller, and her assistant, Dick. They are both so obviously passionate about the mill that it's no wonder it is so well cared for. Ms Crawford is an inspiration herself. She has worked very hard to become the only certified Dutch miller in the Americas, not to mention the only female member of the Dutch miller's guild. Of course in order to do this, she had to learn to speak Dutch, which is no mean feat. She has been working with various historical mills for much of her life, and the De Zwaan seems to have become her baby. You can feel the very strong bond between the miller and her mill simply by listening to her speak. 

Did you know that the entire cap of a dutch windmill rotates to accommodate changing wind direction? This spoked wheel is how they do it! They walk along the spokes and turn the monsterous cap to face the wind... amazing!

I was so lucky to be able to buy flour ground on this amazing mill for my blossoming bakery business. It's exciting to know that the flour I bake with comes from technology and mechanisms designed 250 years ago. Even more exciting was the "hook up" that Alisa offered me when she discovered I was interested in historical agriculture and modern sustainability. 

De Zwaan actually had taken in some wheat earlier in the year from Primrose Farm in Illinois to grind and return to the farm. Now, I know Illinois isn't as local as Michigan grown wheat, but Primrose Farm is an historical living farm that plants and harvests using their powerful draft horses, and threshes using equipment and technology from the late 19th century. They aren't certified organic, but because they use methods of farming from before the introduction of synthetic chemicals to agriculture, their grains are grown naturally and without sprays. 


I borrowed these photos from the Primrose Farm facebook page where there is all sorts of information on their seasonal educational programs and their beautiful produce stand.

When Alisa offered me this amazing flour, which is not only from high quality grain but beautifully ground and sieved, I couldn't say no. I snatched it up and immediately began adjusting my recipes to accommodate the finicky nature of whole grain hard red wheat, laden with high levels of healthy proteins (as opposed to soft red wheat, which is higher in starches). I am happy to sacrifice the simplicity and ease of baking with soft wheat to know that I am using a sustainable and natural product farmed using methods from before my grandparents were born. 

Using such amazing flour has really inspired me to examine the concept of modern Craft as opposed to craft. When something is made by a person so intimately involved, you can feel it, see it and in this case you can even taste it. The products that I bake with this flour are often very hardy and tend to want to be heavy, but through careful recipe balancing (and rebalancing, and rebalancing - heh) I've worked hard and produced delicate and delicious results. 

(Of course, you know now I'm researching planting one of the back strips in wheat this year... I'd love to be even more involved with the flour I use!)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tanglewood Bakery: First Market Recap

Jeremy and I set up the Bakery booth at MIX Marketplace in Ypsilanti, Michigan yesterday. I was running late (when am I not?) but we managed to get there and get set up before anybody approached the table so that was nice. 

The overall aesthetic of the table was a huge success. We got some fabulous compliments, many people remarking on how they loved the set up and that they'd never seen such beautiful baked goods. I can't tell you how nice it was to hear that, especially after so much last-minute work!

We had TONS of samples for people, and we even had two people stop by, obviously disinterested, shove a sample in their mouths and after walking a few steps, stop in their tracks, spin on their heels and rush back to buy something... A look of desperate sweet-tooth-dom on their faces. I can't tell you how good that made me feel. I've had that moment at a market, and I love that I can give it to others. Nomnomnom. 

The bundt cakes didn't sell much, but we didn't have any samples out and I'm confident they would've sold more if they'd either been available to sample or topped with a more visible frosting (people love frosting... I learned that one quick).

The biggest seller was definitely whoopie pies. I'm a little bummed I didn't get my adorable "Gobby Hand Cake" labels on them, but they sold well all the same. 

Another item that received very high praise was the dark chocolate shortbread with pink peppercorn and fleur de sel. Chocolate lovers definitely enjoyed this one, and I got tons of compliments on the presentation. One particularly interesting individual told me that they tasted like pizza, fruit cake and Dessert, and went on to say Dessert differed from the usual usage of the word because he didn't just mean dessert, like sweets. He meant Dessert in the sense that it comes after a very good meal and intermingles with the flavors from that meal to create a perfect finish. It was both the most unique and inspiring compliment I received all day! He had some really great things to say about all of the samples, and really taught me a thing or two about my own prejudices against first impressions... I kinda hope he comes back next time!

One thing that people were drawn to more than I expected were the fig caramel and chocolate tarts. I really just made these for myself since I'm a huge fan of figs, but they were received well and with open arms and mouths... :)

So... I can't begin to explain how exhausted I am right now. I'll be at the MIX marketplace again on the 28th. For now, in the slow season, I'll stick to every other week so I can continue to build new recipes on the off weeks. Yesterday morning I was convinced that I'd be burned out and never want to bake again, and this morning I woke up inspired to balance new recipes and learn new techniques, ASAP!

Operation Market Debut: Success!