Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I had to show off our Christmas Card - simple and true, we are blessed!

Blessed Tidings Religious Christmas Card
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Blessed Tidings Religious Christmas Card
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Stationery card

Blessed Tidings Religious Christmas Card
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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful . . .

Thanksgiving is the time for realizing our blessings, and the Mattamuskeet Momma home is no exception.  I can't begin to list all of the things that I am thankful for - I think that I would go on for ever this morning, much to the dismay and tummy-growling of my boys.  But there are a few things that come to mind that I haven't been able to share since my long-ago last post.

I am thankful for my family - my three beautiful boys, my wonderful husband, our parents, our sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and all of those that touch our lives and make it better for the love that they share with us.  In this picture, my dad and my sister came to visit and we all worked together on the "family apple pie"  made with fresh, organic apples picked from  my mom and dad's trees.

It is, while in moments like these, that I stop and take a look around at every tiny detail  - the crisp smell of ripe apples, the tangy sweetness of the endless apple peel snakes, the excited chatter of the boys, my dad's rough hands carefully enclosing Eli's little ones as he helps him turn the apple peeler . . .  I try to burn these images into my memory forever, in the hopes of keeping them shiny and new and always within easy grasp, like a warm blanket to wrap around my shoulders on a chilly fall day.

 I am, of course, thankful for the bounty that our garden brings us.  I love the boys' shrieks of delight when they find "giant" vegetables nestled within leafy confines.  Cole had to have his picture taken with the asparagus beans that were "as big as him!"

I am thankful for beauty, wherever we may find it. My sunflowers, waving tall over my garden in the late summer never fail to put a smile on my face.

I am thankful for long, lazy days, where there is nothing better to do than just breathe in the goodness around you.

I am thankful for laughter, of which my boys provide me an abundance.  This is my three in their Halloween Costumes this year.  They were a hit as "The Duck Commanders," and their buckets were overflowing with candy by the end of the night.

And I am thankful for the little things in life, like long naps in the car with a belly full of hot doughnuts.

Take a look around you.  What are the things that you are thankful for?  Even on our worst days, there are always things to be found that make our lives worth living.  Blessings come in all shapes and sizes - make sure you count yours today and every day.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Walking the Walk

Having a backyard chicken flock has become extremely popular in recent years, and our backyard is no exception.  Every spring during our visit to the local Tractor Supply Store, my boys would beg me to bring home chicks.  Of course, I put them off for a few years with the "well, we have to build a chicken coop first" excuse.  But this spring, I decided to finally give in.  After all, we were committing to a sustainable lifestyle, and having our own fresh eggs, along with a troop of fertilizing, bug-picking machines was a textbook requirement.  So before the Chick Days kicked off for 2012, I got to work collecting pieces of leftover building materials around our place.  I looked at coop designs, constructed coops, and countless internet sites.  I found chicken tractors, chicken mansions, and strange homemade converted chicken coop contraptions.  Taking stock of what I had, and the time allotted to me with power tools and a toddler, I decided to convert a cold frame that my dad had helped me build a few years back.  Three afternoons with constant interruptions later, my chicken coop was complete.  We were ready to go get our chickens.  

Our all-recycled coop!
So, we headed out to Tractor Supply, the boys bouncing with excitement in the back of the minivan.  This is when I learned Chicken Lesson 1 - Never tell your children that you are going to get chicks if you are not 100% positive that there are chickens at the store.  The boys were devastated that there had been a run on chickens and there were no more chicks at that particular store.  They told us that there would be another shipment in a couple of days.  So I called another Tractor Supply about an hour and a half away.  "Do you have chickens?"  "Yes, plenty of them!" was the reply, so the Temples loaded back into the van and set off on our epic chicken adventure.  This is where I learned Chicken Lesson 2 - Never doubt that within an hour and a half there can be a run on chicks at the Tractor Supply Store. We emerged stiff legged and rump sore at the store, rushed to the chicken section, only to find - you guessed it - no chicks.  "What happened?  I just called!" I asked the sales associate.  She shrugged and said that a bunch of people had come in and bought chickens.  All of the chickens.  So, we headed back to Hyde County, the boys sniffling in the back seat the whole way.

After the weekend I called our local store again and found out that an order of assorted chicks was arriving mid-day.  We quietly loaded Eli and Greyson into the van, picked Cole up after school, and nonchalantly made our way to the store.  "Where are we going?" Cole asked.  "Umm, errands.  We have to run some errands," I said, a veteran of Lesson 1 and living in fear of Lesson 2.  We showed up at the store and found a feed trough full of black and yellow chicks.  They were Black Australorps, the chickens I wanted, but they were straight run and not the pullets I was hoping for.  Do you think I was going to leave that store without chicks based on the possibility of picking all roosters?   Lesson 3 - The possibility of going home with all roosters is preferable to going home for the third time with a car full of crying children.

So we picked out eight chicks, hoping they were all hens, and made our way home with a heat lamp, chick starter, more cedar shavings, a feeder and a waterer.  We got the little balls of fluff settled in the garden shed under the heat lamp and gathered around the box to stare at them.  For hours.  People joke about watching "chicken TV."  They aren't kidding.  Chickens are just about the coolest little things to watch, especially with kids.  The boys asked me all sorts of questions about how they eat, how they sleep, how they move, why they peep, and on and on.  We had more in-depth biology discussions over the course of a couple of hours than we have had over the last year.  

So the chickens grew and grew.  We kept them fed, watered, clean, dry, and tucked under their heat lamp when the nights got chilly.  Soon they moved into the coop we had worked so hard on.  We kept them shut in the coop for a couple of days, so they would know where to "come home to roost."  We let them pick bugs in the square run we had fenced in for them for a week.  Then, came the Big Day, when our little chickens became free ranging, and our yard became theirs.  We worried and watched over them all that day, and sure enough, as soon as the sun went down, all eight chickens were cuddled up in their coop.  We shut them up for the night, and so began our routine.  June and much of July passed with the dawning realization that we had five roosters and only three hens.  I knew that the day of reckoning was soon approaching, but I kept putting it off, even as the gangly young roosters began to harass our poor, out-numbered hens.  Then came the day when Eli was wandering outside and I noticed one of the roosters, we called him White Tail for the patchy white feathers that circled his tail, pranced a little aggressively his way.  As Eli is the same height as the roosters, this raised some concern.  As in, Holy-heck-are-the-chickens-going-to-peck-out-my-son's-eye concerns.  I got on Backyard Chickens and asked the incredibly helpful community what I should do with my chicken situation.  The resounding answer was to send my roosters to "freezer camp", at least four of them, if not all five, for the safety of my toddler.

Before I offend anyone who would cry "Why not give the roosters away to someone who needs them?" please understand that where I live, no one needs roosters!  The people who already have chickens have too many roosters, so relocation was not a factor.  But, still, I dragged my feet.  I kept a close eye on Eli every time I was outside with the chickens, which is almost impossible as he cruises around the yard like the RoadRunner, his little feet a blur.  Then came the evening when I was working in the garden and I asked Ed and the boys, who were picking figs for me, to keep an eye on Eli.  Of course he started to wander away as they were picking on the other side of the tree.  The mother's sixth sense kicked in, as a faint "chick, chick" carried to me across the late evening air.  My head jerked up from the weeding and, hoe in hand, I ran out of the garden.  Eli was standing a few steps from the fig tree, and White Tail was speeding across the yard - straight to him.  Screaming "No!  Eli!"  I bolted across the yard.  Cole and Ed heard me, and Cole ran straight to him from the other direction.  We both reached Eli just as White Tail, with puffed up chest, came toe to toe with my toddler.  Of course, when he saw a crazed mother with a hoe and a yelling six year old bearing down on him, he promptly took off.  Cole and I chased him until we were out of breath and he was far from Eli.  Honestly, if I could have gotten in a swing with my hoe, White Tail would have been history.    Regardless, I knew time was up.  Something had to be done.

My mom and dad were due for a visit that week.  Dad gets on the phone with me and says "I hear you need to kill some chickens.  I can help with that."  There is something, no matter how old you are, supremely comforting in the thought that your Dad will take care of whatever unpleasantness you need him to take care of.  Of course, Ed and Cole had said that they were going to kill the roosters for me.  Their method was going to be death by firing squad - Cole with his BB gun and Ed with number 6's.  But, when Dad said he was going to "take care of it" I knew that the roosters' days were indeed numbered.  

My parents arrived, and the next morning I was ready to go.  I was up at 6:30 and collectived all manner of utensils that I thought might come in handy.  When Dad came down the stairs, he found a pile of knives, rubber gloves, bowls, and cutting boards.  He took one knife from the pile and shook his head at the rest.  I was outside trying to determine which roosters were going to go.  There was one especially pretty rooster with a long, fancy tail that Ed and I said we should keep.  We figured if they were going to breed, then we should have the prettiest rooster.  The problem was that I was especially fond of Short Tail, a rooster that followed me around like a puppy looking for treats.  The whole rooster killing experience was hard enough without actually throwing in a chicken that I was genuinely fond of.  So, I decided that I would keep a spare rooster, in case something happened to one of them, and if they harassed the hens or started to fight, one of them would be dinner at a later date.  That said, I had to figure out which one was Short Tail, and not mix him up with another rooster who looked just like him.  Out in the pen that morning, I held out some bread and Short Tail came running up as usual.  As he cocked his head to look at me, I noticed that someone had pooped on his head that night, and a long streak of white marred his iridescent feathers.  It is amazing how providence works - who knew getting pooped on would lead to saving your life?

Dad was ready and told me to hand the roosters to him over the fence and he would take care of the rest.  Cole was hanging around and I told him to go inside.  He said no, but a look of panic began to overtake him as he saw me hand my dad the first rooster.  I told him again to go in the house, and he ran to the other side of the yard, where I assumed he would go into the house.  Dad stretched the rooster out on the almost horizontal trunk of our old pear tree, and I crouched in the chicken pen with my hands over my eyes.  I looked up after hearing the whack of the butcher knife, just in time to see the chicken leap from the pear tree and engage in its macabre death dance in the yard.  "It's still alive!"  I shrieked, but Dad said no, that's just what they do.  Regardless, the first sight of that was a little horrifying, even more so when Cole came running around the corner of the house to witness the hurky-jerky chicken dance.  Fortunately, I did not have to tell him to go into the house again.  My mom told me later that he blew into the house like a shot, took a deep breath and said "I'm fine, Ma.  I think I'm just going to stay inside."

My Dad and the results of his expert butchering.
After the first, it was easier, and soon we had three roosters killed cleanly.  Dad started to clean them, but I told him that this was where I stopped being a wimp.  As I didn't have a big outside burner for boiling water, we opted for skinning and cleaning the birds.  It was surprisingly quick and easy, and when we were done, we had some of the most beautiful chicken meat that I had ever seen.  We washed it off, put it in a container of salt water, and let them sit in the refrigerator to soak.  Just like that.  

We cooked it for dinner a couple of nights later, and it was the most amazing chicken that I had ever eaten.  Tender, juicy, and almost sweet.  And what made it taste even better was that I knew there were no chemicals in my chickens, there were no strange hands butchering and processing my chicken, there were no trucks and packaging and long hours of refrigeration.  They were my chickens - fat on garden scraps, bugs, and long, warm days grazing the green grass.  

To me, watching my children munching chicken legs and then going outside to water the five left in our little flock, it was an important moment.  It is well and good to talk about sustainability, and to garden and bake and preserve.  But, as a meat eater, raising my own meat and humanely harvesting it is one of the most important things that I have ever done.  That's when it finally felt real to me.  I wanted the chickens for the eggs and for the experiences, but I also had to do what a responsible flock owner needs to do.  It's not all cute coops and chicken pictures, it is indeed a responsibility to the health of my chickens and to my family.  And though it was not my hand wielding the knife, the next time it will be.  And I will be ok with that because, in this sustainable life, you must be prepared to walk the walk, even if you start with baby steps.  Chicken legs, anyone?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Getting Ready for Market Day

I am so sorry that I have not had a chance to write lately, and I have been trying to get a spare minute all week long to no avail!  But today is Friday, which has become the busiest day of the week - the day before the Farmer's Market.  Between my work with my non-profit, chasing after the boys, keeping up with chores, and baking and preserving up a storm, I'm ready to collapse into a heap on Friday nights now!  Just take a look at the preparations:

Our welcome sign for our customers.

Beautiful Candied Fig and Orange Preserves - they taste divine if I do say so myself.  There is something about the marriage between orange and fig that is a match made in heaven!

Baking, baking and more baking.!  I have twelve loaves wrapped and ready to go.  The Momma's Garden Herb Bread is my favorite, made with my organic garden herbs (basil, oregano, dill, parsley and my crushed garlic).  Ed loves the Roasted Sweet Pepper, which is chocked full of roasted Mattamuskeet Sweet Onions and my organic bell and sweet banana peppers.  And the Cinnamon Swirl, what can I say?  I actually hope that I don't sell it all because I make sinful French toast with any leftovers on Sunday mornings!

My mom and dad just came to visit this week and brought me  loads of juicy white and yellow peaches.  I blended this together with pure cane sugar and a little lemon juice and let it simmer to golden nectar.  There is something to be said for letting the flavor of pure, fresh ingredients take the lead, and this is an example of uncomplicated glory.

Ok, so you know me, I had to experiment just a bit!  I had beautiful lavender growing in my herb garden, and I couldn't resist blending it with my peach preserves just to see what  happened.  I made a test batch of Old Fashioned Peach, and steeped sprigs of English lavender in at the finish.  I removed the sprigs and stirred in some lavender flower buds to generate a random taste explosion throughout.  What resulted was a smooth rich peach flavor with a lingering floral essence reminiscent of an English garden a high tea.  I love it when an experiment works out!

So, dear readers, I will be back this weekend to fill you in on all of the happenings - the tomato horn worms, the chicken killings (long story!), and all of the rest of the homestead news.  See you soon!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Natural Born Salesmen

I had no idea that the boys were natural born salesmen.  I thought that I would have to coax them into talking to any customers who might come our way, that they might be too shy or nervous to speak with adults that they didn't know. Boy, was I wrong!

There they are, my two little entrepreneurs behind our first ever Mattamuskeet Momma table at the Belhaven Farmers' Market. We had decided earlier in the week that we would make our debut at the Market this weekend, so we worked diligently, putting the finishing touches on our preserves. We made twelve half-pint jars of beautiful, rich Blueberry Citrus Preserves that taste just like the warm center of fresh blueberry pie with soft notes of orange and lemon zest, and twelve half-pint jars of Seedless Blackberry Preserves, a deep purple spread with just a hint of lemon zest to complement its sweet-tart goodness. We used what ribbon we could find around the house to dress up the jars a little bit, and we packed them carefully in boxes for the trip into town. The boys whole-heartedly agreed that I should bake up some fluffy loaves of Cinnamon Swirl Bread because "that was their favorite and people would want to buy it from us", so I stirred, kneaded, and baked 6 rolls of soft bread swirled throughout with melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon. We wrapped it fresh from the oven late Friday afternoon, placed our labels and ingredients stickers on top, and we were ready to go.

The Belhaven Farmers' Market is open on Fridays and Saturdays, and of course the boys wanted to go both days.  Thunderstorms had plagued us off and on all day Friday, but by 4:00, the sun finally started to peek out.  We decided to chance it.  We were the only ones at the Market when we arrived at 5:00, but, buoyed by the excitement of our new enterprise, we quickly set up shop and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Every time someone drove by slowly and looked our way, the boys screeched "Look, it's a customer!" only to say "Oh.  Nevermind,"  as the car continued on.  Eli kept himself entertained by building small mountains in the gravel that covered the ground.  Finally, a car turned into the market, and a nice man walked up.  To us.  Our first customer!  Mr. Julian Goff was a wonderfully sweet man who decided to try our bread and preserves.  He couldn't have come at a better time, as the boys who had earlier been flying high on enthusiasm, began to wilt with the evening humidity and lack of excitement.  We thanked him for coming to see us, and then we went back to waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  At about 6:30 I decided to throw in the towel, my decision aided by lack of traffic and the tired grumpiness that was beginning to over take the boys.  Though we only had one customer, I still felt that the evening was a success just because  we actually did it.  It is one thing to talk about making things and selling them at the Farmers' Market, but it is an entirely different thing to load up three little boys, our inventory, and all of the other necessities for a long wait on a warm summer's evening and actually go out there!  The evening was made even more of a success when I returned home and found that Mr. Goff had visited this blog and left an incredibly warm comment about our food and my boys, and I will always be thankful for his thoughtfulness.

The boys begged to try it again on Saturday morning, and 8 o'clock found us back in the parking lot of the Farmers' Market, this time greeted by a whole different scene.  There was a hustle and bustle of set-up at the front stalls, and Cole, Greyson, Eli and I grabbed our things and headed for an empty table.  We heard a lady ask us if we were setting up, and we said "Yes!" in all of our goofy excitedness.  She gave us a searching look, and began to explain the market to us.  All I can say is, thank goodness for Elizabeth Gurganus!  In my eagerness to begin our Market experience, and not being able to find a thing on the Town of Belhaven's website about the Market, I just assumed you showed up, grabbed a table and sold stuff.  No, no, no.  The tables all belonged to vendors, the stalls were rented by vendors by the day or by the month, and we needed to go visit the Market manager and register.  Seeing the deflated faces of my boys, Elizabeth took care of us and pulled an extra table from the back of her van.  She helped us set up, and introduced us to everyone.  She makes beautiful hand-made jewelry, purses, aprons, and all manner of pretty and useful items - from wallets, to bibs, and so many other items is a gorgeous array of fabrics.    Heike, in the next stall down, sold a lovely array of art, from bird houses to pillows to stepping stones.  Beverly was the main attraction of the morning, however, with her fresh blueberries and mouth-watering baked goods and preserves.  

Archie and some of his beautiful local produce.
With the added vendors on this Saturday morning, there was much more traffic coming in and out of the market, and the boys were soon caught up with the buzz of activity.  So many people to talk to and see, and yes, customers even came to visit our little borrowed table!  The boys were ready this morning, and when the first person showed interest in our goods, Cole asked, "Would you like to buy our bread or our jam?  It's really good."  Greyson piped in "Yes, and if you buy one thing its $5, and if you buy two things, then it's $10.  Don't you want to buy two things?"  I had to put my hand over my mouth so I didn't laugh at loud at their earnest sales pitch.  And this was no fluke, but instead, was repeated over and over again during the morning with no coaching from me.  It was nice to see how seriously the boys were taking our venture, and the responsibility that they felt for selling the things that we made.  Or maybe it was just the visions of the Legos they wanted to buy with their share of the profits that had them so fired up.  I wasn't looking the gift horse in the mouth.

We stayed until about 10 o'clock, and then we packed up and headed off on a supply-buying trip to Greenville.  I had a table to buy, among other things!  We had a great first weekend at the Market. We met some amazingly nice people, vendors and customers alike.  Everyone was warm and kind, and made us feel welcome right from the start.  At the Market, even if it was for a brief couple of hours, I felt like the four of us were a part of something that we could be proud of.  It was a great feeling.  

I want to thank any of our customers who might be reading this for supporting us in our fledgling efforts at local food commerce, and please tell me what you think of our preserves and bread in the comments section.  The boys and I are already hard at work for the coming weekend, where we will have some new bread and preserves varieties.  We spent last evening picking figs from our monstrous ancient fig trees, and we will be making half-pint after half-pint of glorious golden jam.  See you on Saturday!