Playing catch up with some before and after pics

I did post this picture before, but now that it is done, I wanted to show the before and after pictures together.  This was made from garage door panels. As I had mentioned they seem to be a commodity that garage door companies are happy to give away. Each panel is insulated, which helps a lot in our climate! The new birds are doing well in their new coop. Next step is biting the bullet and opening their attached run so they can range.

These logs were ready to plug with shiitake spawn. I am hoping to sell pre-inoculated logs next year as an addition to our farm sales. It takes a year for the logs to fruit so if I sell them next year, they would be prime to fruit for the buyer.

Here are the logs, I hope to sell,  that will rest till next year.

The little Morel looked like it was in a fairy land, it was too pretty to not be remembered. The season started very slow this year since it was so cold late into May, later it did start to really pick up. I happen to live with the Morel Whisperer so it’s not me finding these great hauls.

I meant to post this a while back. This beef jerky was made using 3 large round roasts from our Highland Cattle. It took a fair amount of time, but turned out great. I love that this dehydrator has the fan on the back of the unit so you don’t have to rotate trays. I wish the jerky had lasted longer, I’m afraid it was too good!

This was sad. One of our young birds got pushed off the plank by another bird and damaged it’s leg badly. It was definitely in pain so we decided to be kind and cull the bird. I didn’t want to waste any of it, I felt badly it was pushed off, and got hurt. It was important to me to take this small bird to the table, and I wanted none of it to go to waste. It was enough for both of us to have delicious chicken sandwiches for lunch, and a few cups of broth. It wasn’t what I planned on doing that day, but sometimes the day goes in unexpected directions.

This was the view from my “blind”. Yep it was my first time turkey hunting, and I sat in my $5 pop up blind from a yard sale. It was a beautiful night, I got to practice some calls, and heard one turkey. Good enough.

Everything says Spring… well except for the falling snow right now.

The Midwest always will throw you a Spring surprise! It is currently snowing outside, despite the fact the lilac bush is in full bloom, and the violets, ground ivy, dandelions, morels, dock, day lilies, chives and more are all up!

This basket was from a few days ago. The day lily shoots, mushrooms, chives, 0regano, hostas, and garlic mustard made for a delicious Spring saute.

This year I plan to do a lot more eating of foraged foods. Last year I surely got better at it, but I did a lot of reading over the Winter and so I am feeling a bit braver in broadening my hunting skills in this area.

The cattle could not be happier. They have been dreaming of this day all Winter. Beautiful green grass and NO mud! Finally clean animals again, the mud was really getting old for all of us. Still no luck selling our young bull. We may end up banding him and finish raising him for beef.

More Spring signs. Our garlic is coming up very nicely!

…and another Spring sign. Last year when Hubby hurried to get the coop done for the birds, we swore this wouldn’t happen again. We also swore it would be the last coop. Fast forward to this year, because of some changes in the way we want to do the poultry here, he is building yet another coop, and once again the birds in the brooder are getting scary large and he is working as fast as he can. He learned about a new resource for materials. When people get new garage doors, the garage door folks pay to have all the old doors hauled away. Hubby has been picking these up for free. This coop will get covered in garage door panels. We will likely put barn boards over the panels, because garage door panels are not so nice to look at, but part of the beauty of the garage doors, is that each panel has insulation inside it, so it will help in the winter to keep the birds warm.

Meet my plants. As I mentioned in a previous post, I wanted to start as many of my plants as I could this year. I seem to do fine at gardening, but I have always worried that I wouldn’t be able to produce those nice sturdy plants that I see at the garden shops, and I opted in the past to buy my starter plants or barter with my neighbor for his starters. I started early this year in the case that there was a fail. Well good thing I did. My first plants never made it, but I started over and feel like a pleased and proud new parent. I have surely given these plants more attention than they needed but I had fun doing it. This Summer I will learn about seed saving, and maybe someday, I will supply my own seed for most things, and start my own plants. This would be a big step forward, bigger than maybe it sounds like to others. Now if it would stop snowing, and sleeting and freezing I could think about planting this little babies.

Foraging finds on a rainy day hunt.

At 12 o’clock, and going clockwise: Pheasant back mushrooms found in the woods, day lilies from all over the farm, radishes from the tunnel, hostas from the front yard, morels from the woods, and in the center are dandelion greens found in the ravine.

Pheasant backs!

Spruce tips that will become Spruce syrup.

This mixture of sugar and spruce tips over time will turn to syrup. All I have to do is leave it in the window and strain it out when done. I have never done this before so it will be fun to see how it turns out.

…and finally, this one was a tough decision

I have mentioned in this blog about my small business that had a goal of helping to support some of our endeavors out here. I’ve just celebrated my 5th year at this small biz, and although I have definitely created something with local following, it just isn’t adding up to a future income as the next years go along. If I wanted to travel our 4 state region promoting it, put money into advertising it, and put enough money into the business that I can approach the bigger venues for selling I could maybe make a go of it. These are not things I want to do though, the last thing I want to do is spend all my time off farm traveling with my wares. It’s time to call it. Hoping to develop the small farm basket CSA I have always thought about and I look forward to exploring this option, but for now everything will be about tightening up the loose ends as I wind up this business. It will be amazing this year while in the farm busy season, to be able to focus on it, without also focusing on my small business. It should make all the food growing, animal care giving, and food processing go a lot easier. So here’s to no endings, just new beginnings.

Spring Days

Signs of Spring

There is so much newness in Spring. The baby chicks are growing before our eyes, lettuce is coming up in the tunnel, and the Spinach that made it all year is thriving and has the biggest leaves I have ever seen! My starter plants are doing well and the pond has come up considerably, in part because of some of the work we have done (we hope) and also because this is a wet time of year and so the inflow is heavy. Either way it looks so nice to see it filling. Also in the Spring we occasionally sell a Highland or two. This young bull shown in the picture will hopefully be sold this Spring. Oddly when I advertised him on the local page, people mostly were romanced by his nice hair, they wanted to hug him and pet him etc. Eye roll, hugging a Highland, ha, ha! Clearly I advertised in the wrong place, time to hit the more serious sale venues! All that said, Spring is a busy time, after the quieter months of Winter.

Another incremental step:

Each year I try to learn a new thing to make us more sustainable here. Last year I began learning to identify the many wild plants on the farm and their uses, both edible and the historically medicinal. While I continue to explore and learn more about this, I decided that this year I would learn to start my plants, but the more important flip side of this is that I will, at the end of the season, learn to save seed for the next year. That will be another important step. I have the Summer to learn this. So far my little plants are doing quite well, and I can’t lie, I am super excited about it!

I wanted, before Spring got too busy, to catch up on my freezers. It is about this time that I figure out if I used things too fast or too slow over the Winter. I did some rearranging in the freezer, and there it all was, the fruit my family picked and froze for me, so I wouldn’t miss it while Mom was so sick last Summer. There were strawberries, cherries, blueberries, high bush cranberries, peaches and rhubarb. My daughter was kind enough to come and help me make them all into various jams. We decided it to be a tradition now, we will make jam, not when it is super hot out in August but in the cool Winter or Early Spring. Also we ended up with 77 jars of jams and peach butter, and decided that from now on we will do the Jam thing every other year! It is exciting to have so many beautiful jars of jam, for gift giving, and of course eating.

More sign of Spring:

Foraging is back! I have been reading over the Winter and learning more names of plants and uses, and am becoming a bit more confident this year. This dish (above) includes our Shiitakes, dried foraged Morels and garlic scapes gathered one year ago in the Spring, and fresh Day Lily shoots, and Chives from this Spring. I love combining the seasons into one dish.

This has been a favorite all year… I froze so much tomato puree last Summer that we still haven’t used it all up. I discovered a quick trick for the easiest Tomato Basil Soup ever! After I run the tomatoes through my tomato press, I freeze it in containers. Then when I want to make the soup I run the top of the frozen tomato block under hot water to melt of the icy layer at the top. This removes a lot of water leaving a much richer tomato puree. This saves hours of “cooking it down” in hot Summer weather! The next picture shows what it looks like after melting off the top…

I just heat the tomato block, in a pot, and add last year’s dried basil, a bit of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil. Less then 10 minutes for Summery tasting Tomato Basil Soup all Winter! I love not having to cook it down in the Summer anymore! It won’t quite keep us in Tomato Basil soup till our tomatoes come in, in July, but it did get us clear through the Fall and Winter and part of this Spring. Next year I will puree even more, to last the whole year!

These colorful veggies are still getting us through till this Summer’s produce comes in, and they still taste garden fresh. These beans are still plentiful in the freezer and definitely will last us until we start picking beans at the end of June/early July. It’s nice to see the rhythm, of what we are doing, working so well.

 

Next on the agenda is inoculating the Shiitake logs. Checking things off the Spring list!

Dorothy was so right…”there’s no place like home”

We had a wonderful time with our family, out west. There is just nothing like holding your child’s newborn.  New Mommies are amazing, and the love affair between a new Mom and her infant is such a beautiful thing to be near. Spending time with their family and being part of this first week with their new son made for a very special week.

All that said, the farm was missed, and was such a welcome site after a week away.

Every single day is beautiful here, but each in its own way. The farm is so woven into my fiber that a week away leaves a small hole within me that can’t be mended till I’m wrapped in it when I return home.  Our first day back, each twig, leaf and pine needle was robed in glass, a beautiful gift for our viewing. This walk was was a cold one but felt alive and crisp, even with the constant cool misty rain that was falling.

Today  I will be getting my set up ready for starting seeds. I am excited to finally tackle this. I’ve always relied on my neighbor who often sells garden starts that he raises in his greenhouse. They are hardy and beautiful plants that give me such a reliable start for my garden. I generally trade him meat for these plants, but I’m trying to do things in a little bit more sustainable way each year, so I’ve decided I have to get over my fear that my starts won’t be hardy enough and the garden will suffer. Looking forward to learning from this and adding a new fold in our farmigami, if you will.

When I read lists of how to live in a sustainable way, I know we are getting there but there is always more to learn! Here is some of what we have achieved…

  • Grow and preserve vegetables and fruits
  • increase our fruits, by experimenting on a small scale (elderberry, blueberry, blackberry, grapes, red currant, plum, goji)
  • Raising Shiitake mushrooms
  • successful Winter tunnel for growing greens
  • Raising chicken for eggs (and meat)
  • Raise livestock for us and our farm biz (grass fed Highland cattle, Heritage breed, pastured pork, Heritage breed chickens)
  • Wildcrafting food from the farm
  • Trade/barter for what we don’t have
  • Cultivate new skills (can, ferment, dehydrate)
  • Making herbal meds (in the learning process)
  • selling our meat cuts, veggies and eggs, through our farm business (working on getting the word out to increase sales)

What we are working on or towards…

  • Saving seed for starting plants (hope to start at the end of this growing season)
  • starting an herbal medicine garden
  • Raise our own chicks (this one is a bit farther out, since we have never kept roosters past butchering day, here)
  • Learning to use our newly built smoker (hubby and SIL smoked some delicious cheese in it for a test run)
  • Hunt deer, rabbit, turkey – will be our first time hunting. We will start slowly with Spring Turkey hunt if we are able to get a tag for this hunt – they are hard to get.
  • Starting a very small “Farm Basket” type CSA, for a handful of local families, to help support the farm (grass fed beef, pastured pork, eggs, mushrooms, garden food, and herbs)
  • Work towards providing our own power (someday, unfortunately this one way is way farther out).

It is good for me to look at these lists this way, so I know where we have come from and what we are going towards. As the title, of this blog says, we are “incrementally stepping towards homesteading”.

Sometimes it takes extra hands and heart

February came in like a very muddy Lamb. Our driveway is squishy and sloppy, the chicken eggs are muddy, and the cattle are excited by the warm temperatures but are wondering where the beautiful Spring green grass is that usually accompanies these warm temps. I don’t know where Winter went, it is mid February and I am not ready to give it up! Still hoping for more cool temps and even snow. It is just too soon for Spring yet. The buds on the fruit trees are going to get all confused and I don’t want it affecting our harvests, this Summer and Fall! Despite the fact that it is currently 60 degrees at home right now, while we are out of town meeting our new grandson, and that it will be in the 30s and 40s all this current week, when we return, this was the scene just two weeks ago… 

All this crazy weather that we are having doesn’t change the fact that Spring planning is top of the list these days. There are Shiitake logs to inoculate, seeds to pick out and start indoors, picking out chickens and figuring out where to find more garden space to accommodate us even better this year than last. I reviewed some of last years notes and am focusing on more quantities of what we need/want for the year of food, rather than on the unusual or trial items. I would like to grow enough potatoes, carrots, onions and squashes. I have to read up on how to keep my kale, collards, brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli safe, since I had a bad bout with bugs last year and lost a lot of these veggies. Last year apart from the veggies mentioned, we had a great garden, with loads of beans, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, onions, basil, thyme, cilantro, parsley, potatoes and more. We had so many cucumbers that we still have fermented dill pickles in the fridge from last Summer!

While I am thinking about this, I am also looking back to last year. At this time last year it was a difficult time with Mom so ill. My family was wonderful. While I was frequently out of town, for a week at a time, over the course of most of last year, they picked up the pieces. They tapped the trees when I was out of town in February and March and foraged for Pheasant Back Mushrooms, and Morels in late Spring. As Summer came they made sure not one sour cherry went to waste and while the green beans went crazy in late June, my daughter was freezing them as fast as she could. Sometimes it takes more hands to get things done, and I felt the love deeply as I saw how they honored the homestead and my hopes and pulled together to get things done. Last year was a long year. It was difficult, and it was life changing. It cultivated new depths to relationships as we all worked though it together with Mom. This is the first year that I can’t tell Mom about my Spring plans, Summer harvests, and Fall pig butchering, she loved listening to all of it. Sigh. She is so missed.

In other news, I attended the Garden Show recently and learned some details about Straw bale gardening. We will experiment with this. It seems that if you follow the prescribed method you can’t really go wrong. Well that’s what they said anyhow. I am not ready to invest my whole garden in the method, but think I will start with the Dragon Tongue bush beans. I don’t like putting bush beans in the garden because they use up so much space. This is why all other beans I do are pole beans, but we do love the dragon tongues. Pole beans require much less squatting while picking too! Oh and on an amusing note, I will grow mostly yellow beans, I decided the green are too hard to find and the yellow ones stand out so nicely in the green foliage. Hmmm, less squatting…easier to find…seems like someone is accommodating the garden to their age, lol!

I hear often from people, who find out that we do not buy much at the store… “don’t you get bored of the same food all the time?” We have freezers full of pork, and beef, all the eggs we can eat, some senior hens that will be stew birds soon, and a large variety of garden produce, cider and juice and neighbors that are always willing to barter. As I put this dinner on the table I thought, nope, we never get bored

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This pizza was called “roll with the punches pizza”…

I prepped all these great foods from the freezer for pizza, and hydrated the mushrooms (the mushroom broth from hydrating them went into beef soup the next day). I was well prepared to make these pizzas.

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The dough was perfect and so I got started. Suddenly, i realized that each time I looked at the oven it kept saying 100 degrees. It took me a minute but I finally got it that the oven just wasn’t working. I was just way too prepared for these pizzas and I was not going to give up! I decided that I would try cooking the pizza dough in my cast iron pan on the stove top and then put on the toppings and slide it under the broiler because although I couldn’t bake , it still worked to broil.

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The pizzas turned out so well that I might just do it again this way!

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The next snowy morning this was breakfast. No there is no boredom here, and it is for a couple of reasons. One reason is because we have so much food here, and because there is such satisfaction in the fact that it, for the most part, is all our food…food that we gathered, grew, raised, prepared, froze, dried, or preserved in other ways. It is an amazing feeling.

What I learned from my tunnel garden, again.

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What I learned from my tunnel garden this year is the same as what I learned last year. Plant earlier! I planted earlier than I did the year before but still not early enough. These goodies could have been much bigger, on the other hand the tiny carrots couldn’t have been cuter and tasted so sweet. It got too cold for it just before Christmas, so I pulled most of it out. It makes me realize that this really does work for us though. We extended the season for 3 months. I do have to get the timing right. I will start the tunnel August 1 next year. At that time of year the plastic is off the hoop and we wait to put it back on till about October. It is a very tiny space so I want to grow things that will have the most impact for us, so for this reason I will be filling almost half of the space with carrots, and most of the other half with Spinach (because it’s so hardy and good) and fill in the rest with Watermelon Radishes. The ones in the picture here, never had a chance to get big enough, but they can get very large, are delicious, and so pretty inside! Kale is also hardy and more so than Spinach but the system I have set up is such that I can not plant things that grow higher than about 18 inches. When it is really cold I pull the second layer of plastic over the plants, so they can not be too tall. (See the previous entry with photos of our tiny but mighty high tunnel.) It truly was fun to go out to the tunnel, in the cold and the snow and walk inside and smell dirt and see such pretty greens. The funny thing is that after the little harvest, the Spinach started sprouting back up again, when it got above about 20 degrees outside for a handful of days in a row, so who knows what may happen in there, maybe I will get some surprises.

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We have been enjoying some beautiful snowfalls.

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We had a wonderful family Christmas with our in-town family. Relaxing, delicious, and filled with thoughtful gifts that will keep us warm, well read, and fed.

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This year we didn’t put up a tree. I instead decorated my antique plant drying rack. I thought it was quite pretty, I think my family thought it was pretty, but not a tree. Next year I think we will have a tree, but this was fun to me. The ornaments hanging were mostly made by the kids and grands, with a few baby’s first ornaments included.

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The holidays equal cookies. While these cookies seem perhaps not as fancy as many Christmas cookies, they are the best butter cookies ever. The recipe was given to all attending my friend’s Mother’s service, at a small local church in a valley a few miles from here. The cookies were something she made for her family frequently. After the service the Pastor said, “You are all invited downstairs for Butter Cookies and Fellowship”. I like that there is a story that goes with these cookies.

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Our Holiday meal included a root veggie platter of bartered potatoes and onions, a gifted acorn squash, and our garlic, carrots, sage and rosemary, and a few organic sweet potatoes from the quick sell basket at our local market.

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It also included a standing rib roast from our Grass fed Highland Cattle. Here it is going into the oven, for one reason or another we didn’t get an after picture, maybe too busy eating?

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This was a tradition at my Husband’s family Christmas. Now his folks are snowbirds, and each year since Hubby has brought up the yummy Chocolate Steamed Pudding from his family Christmas, so last year after Christmas I decided I would get the pan and make it for him this year. Chocolate Steamed pudding with Hard Sauce. One cousin calls it heart attack sauce, but we all agree that once a year you have to say to heck with that and bring on Tradition! It was delicious, and insanely rich.

Other than holiday things….

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I first true successes with Kombucha. I have a very active fruit and honey ferment and I will try to do a second ferment w my kombucha you see here, and see if I can get some fizz this time! Scoby looks happy and healthy so far!

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I finally gathered all the peppers that were drying in the downstairs room. I didn’t realize I even had this many. I gifted some and still have a lot. I am looking forward to learning more about cooking with them, but in a way where the hot tastes good but doesn’t overtake it all. Haven’t learned that art yet. I wanted to thread them onto long strings but I unfortunately waited and now they are so dry, I don’t think it would work well. Just another reminder that timing matters.

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Last year I made a table runner for my West Coast daughter. This year I made place mats for my in-town daughter and her fiance. I was pleased with how they turned out. It is fun, and I love that the fabrics are either from our old sheets and clothes or from St. Vinnie’s, where they have huge pieces of fabric for $1-3. It definitely is the store I buy at most frequently for kitchen items, books, warm winter shirts for layering, canning jars and more. I never know what I will find there, but it is always fun exploring.

Snow finally happened.

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Our warm Fall lasted forever, and I started to wonder if snow and Winter weather would ever arrive, but over the course of a couple of weeks we went from T-shirts to long johns. Despite the weather, though, we are still enjoying Spinach salads with watermelon radishes and fresh dill several times a week. After the snow today, I really wondered how it would look in there, but it all looked great. It’s hard to believe how different the temperature is in there compared to outside!

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A two layer system. The blanket covering gets rolled back on days where there will be sunshine.

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It tastes even more amazing when everything else is covered in snow;)

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So what is on our minds now…Yep firewood. Hubby went out and pulled two trees up here today to cut up this week. We didn’t go through any wood at all in the Fall and then all of the sudden we are going through it very quickly. Cutting firewood was able to be put off, with the warm weather we were having, which made him very happy because…

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…he got the whole barn built! Phase 1 is completed, next Spring will be siding, but the hay will be undercover for this Winter, and that is a huge thing for us.

Towards the end of barn building it was time to have the hogs butchered, and we for the first time had a locker that comes on site, come out and slaughter on the farm. This means a lot to us. It’s very difficult for us to load animals and transport them for slaughter because we know that no matter what, it is a stressful end for the animal. This year went differently. They came out and had a State Inspector attend as well, so that our meat can be marked “for sale”. Here, if you don’t have an inspector present, then you can not legally sell the meat

I happened to have just strained elderberries out of an elderberry tincture made with Vodka, the night before, and so I mixed the boozey elderberries in the hog’s feed. The boozey berries worked perfectly, the hogs were relaxed and laying in the sun, when the truck arrived. Having them come out and do an on farm kill went so well.  A stunner was used a so it was sunshine one second and they were out the next second. They loaded the hogs into the truck, gutted, and skinned them, then inspected the livers. Then they were off in their refrigerated truck to their brick and mortar store to package the meat. We will do this with our cattle next year too. It was a good experience. No gates, no ramps, no transport, no off loading at the locker etc. Just all around the way we want to do things for our animals.

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When the barn was done and the cold hit, it was time to rebuild, and Winterize the coop. While he worked on this, I was working on the beef and pork orders, which involved (researching) and filling out cut sheets in detail, and reviewing and setting pricing for our beef and pork. Then there was the scary part of juggling all the frozen meat so that it fit, and was organized for customers. Thanks to some excellent help from my daughter who spearheaded “project organize the freezers”, it all looks great!

The birds are now moved from the chicken tractor up in the field above and are down in their Winter coop, and the older ranging birds have moved from their Summer coop into this new Winterized coop. It is nice for them, it is set up so the pop hole door leads to the underneath of a big fir tree which leaves them nicely protected.

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The completed and fully Winterized Coop! As usual he did an amazing job!

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We had three calves this year. We might have found a new home for young Maggie, shown in this picture. We sold one of our one year olds to this other farm already, and they may be interested in her next Spring. Our other two little ones we had this year are bulls and so they will be sold for beef in a couple of years. I do love this picture of Maggie with her Dad (Scotty) and Mom (Jill).

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And drumroll……this is the newest addition to the kitchen. I am exploring Kombucha and seem to have a healthy SCOBY here! This may be one of my Winter kitchen projects this year.

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Now we finally settle into the quiet of Winter. A favorite time of year for me.