“Little Swiss Brains”

As the ridiculously humorous Karen over at The Art of Doing Stuff Calls them……….I’m talking about all the Swiss Chard that I finally got around to putting up in the freezer yesterday. I always plant Swiss chard in the garden because it is so easy to grow. At some point during each season, I always start wishing I had not planted it because it just grows so fast and easily and you just.can’t. kill. it. I always end up with so much of it and, quite honestly, the husband and I don’t eat enough of it to whittle it down at all.  So there I am, every year, at the end of every summer……..staring at a big patch of something that looks like this……


And wondering what, exactly, I’m going to do with it. It’s a sea of green that seems to grow rampantly, no matter how fiercely I ignore it.  So this year, I couldn’t stand seeing it all go to waste, and–not wanting to make 1000 gallons of soup with it just to get it into the freezer–I did a little investigating. As it turns out, you can actually freeze the stuff! And it’s really simple to do. As mentioned before, Karen at The Art of Doing Stuff has an excellent tutorial on how to accomplish this. Her blog post on freezing greens for the winter is the best I’ve seen yet.

First, you pick it all from the garden. It’s better if you let your dog supervise this.


I think Cleo approves. Then you wash it, trim it, and throw it in a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes.


After 2 minutes has passed, plunge the goods into a bowl (or a sinkful) of ice water.

After 2 minutes in the cold water, you remove the leaves, squeeze them out, and roll them up into little balls. Hence, the reason they’re referred to as “Little Swiss Brains”.


Get it? Get it? After all that is done (so simple, right??), you lump them into the sandwich bags and chuck them into the freezer.


They’ll be waiting there for you when you’re ready for some fresh frozen green stuff in the middle of winter.  And now to find the time for that 1000 gallons of soup…………..


A cluck, cluck here………

So it has come to my attention that I haven’t talked about the chickens much lately. That’s mostly because I have worked myself into quite the conundrum about what to do with their current situation. What current situation, you might be asking yourselves….. Well, follow along now….

As you most likely already know, chickens like to run in packs (usually referred to as a flock in the chicken world ;p ). Last fall, our flock of chickens had dwindled down to only 5 members, so George and I decided that we would get some more come Spring. Which we did. We bought 9 little baby chicks this past May from Hanson Grain in Hanson, MA. They were so adorable! And I had just the right number of new baby chicks to name each one loosely after the Nurse Practitioners I work with. So there’s Jojo, Lizzy, Heather, Lindsey, Meg, Jill, Cindy, Erin, Coco, and Carrie. More on Carrie in just a sec…..Here’s little Coco trying to escape shortly after we got the little chicks, when they were still residing in the house….always the instigator. Down below is little Erin, being lead down the primrose path….. 😀


Shortly prior to the arrival of the new peeps, we also acquired 2 other chicks. One cool April evening, on her regular daily run, one of the ladies I work with, Stephanie, heard some chirping off in the distance. When she stopped to investigate, she found 4 baby chicks that had been left abandoned on the side of the road in a cardboard box. While you’re wondering who would do such a thing, try to console yourself with the fact that Stephanie found them and asked if I would take them. I think we all know what my answer was.Here they are in their little box.


Stephanie really went to heroic lengths to rescue them. Even so, only one of them actually made it to my house–and that was with the help of one of the other NPs that I work with–Carrie. So sad.Here’s the car ride home from the hospital. Carrie literally sang and hummed to her all the way home to console her. It worked!

We named the surviving chick–what else–Stephanie. And since chicks need friends, we went to Hanson Grain and got just one chick so baby chick Stephanie could have some company. We named the chick friend Carrie, of course. Initially, Stephanie tried to kill Carrie, but now they are very best friends. Stephanie is the Rhode Island Red on the left and Carrie is the Buff Orpington on the right in this picture.


So–to line it all up for you– we now have the original 5 (group 1), Carrie & Stephanie (group 2) and the 9 new baby chicks (group 3). That’s 16 chickens, in total.This is Jojo, slinking around in the bushes.

We had not anticipated the difficulty of combining 3 separate groups of chickens. It’s a little trickier than you would think! It never occurred to us that we couldn’t just throw them all together to make one big hen party! No, no….when we first put them all together outside in the coop, they were all 3 separate warring factions! There is a reason they call it a “pecking order” in the chicken world. This picture is Meg….. by far the friendliest of the new group.


It has taken them a little while to assimilate into the outside world together. And don’t think I didn’t have the thoughts of just building 2 new chicken coops for the 2 new groups of chickens, making our own little “chicken village”. I’ve said it a million times…..thank goodness George is the voice of reason and reassured me that they would learn to live with each other. This is Cindy, with Jill in front. They’re part of the group of new chicks.


So at this point, we still have essentially 3 separate flocks of chickens, but as the days go past, they all seem to become a little bit more tolerant of each other. I’m constantly cogitating on various ideas of how I can help them learn to be one big flock. But as time goes by and I see that they’re gradually becoming more used to each other, I’ve started having the thought that I just might not have to do anything. As one of my favorite people at work always says, “sometimes doing nothing is the right thing to do”. Stephanie and Carrie started off as enemies and now are never apart. Maybe I’ll just leave them alone, after all. They seem to know how to make it work. The lessons you learn from your backyard chickens….




Strawberry Fields Forever…..

It’s that time again…..strawberry jam time, that is! Two days ago, I made my annual pilgrimage to the strawberry fields at C.N. Smith Farm to pick my own strawberries. I did plant some strawberries in a container just outside my kitchen door this year, but every time a strawberry gets close to turning red, the chickens help themselves.  By the way, chickens LOVE strawberries…toss some into the yard and it’s a feast!!


So off to the fields I went……..the strawberry fields at the farm are vast. And of course I waited until the middle of the day right in the middle of the summer heat to venture out.


Luckily for me, the clouds rolled in to block out the light and heat of the sun. I picked 6 quarts of beautiful berries in about an hour. But seriously–these berries are gorgeous!



So first, you get the goods home, hull them, wash them, and cut them into little pieces.


Then, you put them in a pot with your sugar and lemon juice. Mash up the strawberries to the chunkiness consistency of your liking. If you like it really smooth, I would suggest using an immersion blender.


Heat this pot of goodness on medium until the sugar has melted, then turn the heat up until you get the mixture to the boiling point. Let it continue to boil at a low rolling state for about 30 minutes.


When it’s ready to pour up, or “set”, it should pass the “crinkle” test. Basically, you put a little plate into the freezer when you get started making the jam, take it out when you’re ready to test and drop a dollop onto it. Let it sit for a minute or two and if it crinkles when you nudge it with your finger, then it’s done. As I neglected to take a picture of this step when I was actually doing it, I’ve nicked someone else’s from the Internet. Thank you to whomever did take this picture. It is from the Food Fanatic website. That is not my finger.


Don’t fret if you have to let it rumble around in the pot a little bit longer than 30 minutes. That’s actually just when I start testing it. I don’t really like to use commercially prepared pectin, and strawberries contain their own naturally. So depending on the amount that is in your strawberries, it is not unusual to require a longer boiling time.

When it’s all set, pour the mixture up into your previously sterilized jars, put the lids and rims on and pop them into a pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes. At this point, you can take the jars out and put them on a cooling rack to cool overnight. And this is the best part–you’ll hear the popping of the lids as they seal! I never tire of hearing that. It’s one of my favorite sounds on the planet.

And the 6 quarts of berries that were picked yesterday turned into 6 pints of fantastic jam today. I kept one quart aside for us to snack on, so technically only 5 quarts turned into 6 pints. But you get the picture.





Super Easy No Pectin Strawberry Jam
5 quarts freshly picked, juicy strawberries
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
  1. Wash, hull, chop the strawberries.
  2. Combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in your pan on the stove. Stir over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. You can mash them with a potato masher or use an immersion blender here.
  3. Increase the heat and boil for 30 minutes. Stir frequently.  Skim off the foam frequently, as well.
  4. Do the crinkle test until you have positive crinkle.
  5. Pour the jam into hot sterilized jars. Leave about ¼ of space from the top. Put the lid on and the ring on.
  6. Put the jars into boiling water. Boil for 10 minutes. Take the jars out of the water and place on a cooling rack where you can let them cool overnight. When you hear the popping sounds, rejoice!! 😀




The Quilt.

Soooooo……about a year and a half ago (maybe a little longer, but who’s keeping track??), my best friend’s husband, Steve,  decided that it would be a good idea, since he had retired, to have a quilt made out of all of his ties that he wore over the years to work.  More specifically, he decided that I should be the one to make the quilt, since I’m one of the few quilters that he knows personally. I very naively agreed with him that this was a phenomenal idea and that I would do it. One thing, though. Ummm….I had never worked with silk before and had not realized what a ginormous PIA this would be. Nonetheless, I had agreed to take on this project, so I set out to complete it. I won’t lie. When I first started working on it, if I could have backed out gracefully, I certainly would have. But a promise is a promise.

The first surprise was that he actually packed up (very neatly and super organized) several boxes filled meticulously with 200+ rolled up ties. He then proceeded to mail them from Georgia to Massachusetts. Seriously, people. This picture does not include all of the boxes.


After I had recovered from receiving all the boxes filled with ties, I had to get on with the process of deciding what type of quilt, specifically what PATTERN. On the surface of things, this seems like a simple task. But trust me, when you take the time and make the effort to construct something from scratch with your own two hands, you want the recipient to LOVE it. It must be perfect. I wrestled with this for a while. When you look on the internet for ideas for a tie quilt, most of what you find are silly, comical patterns. Knowing that Steve has true love and respect for traditionally pieced quilts, and also knowing that Erin (the biffle, his wife) would have to tolerate the quilt in her presence, it seemed that a “real” quilt was the right way to go.

During a conversation with Erin some time later, she casually mentioned the quilt (and how much she loved it) that is on the bed on the British sitcom “As Time Goes By”. I replied that I had never noticed it. Her response? “How have you, the quilter, never noticed this?”.  I will admit she seemed a little incredulous. 😉  I made a mental note to do a web search for it later. It really is a nice, traditional quilt, don’t you think?


When I saw it, I thought it was the perfect way to blend the history of Steve’s ties with something Erin loved, as well. Since she would have to look at it every day, seemed only right.  Then I had to get down to work. The quilt pattern itself was easy to replicate. It’s just big pinwheels. I then chose which ties I would use for the quilt and deconstructed them. This one used to be Steve’s “fine Republican tie”. Hey! No room for politics here!

IMG_2016Then I had to figure out exactly how to work with the darned silk they’re all made out of. Seriously Steve, you couldn’t have had the forethought to find some nice cotton ties for me to work with?? Surely you could’ve thought of this 20-30 years ago when you were buying these ties. 😉

Figuring out how to work with the silk was a bigger task than you would’ve imagined. It’s so slippery and uncooperative!! Turns out, all I had to do was ask Stacey at Heart in Hands Quilt Shop and she could’ve taught me. Which she did. Which made the rest of my tenure with the quilt infinitely easier. Turns out there’s this iron on backing you can use to make it not so unwieldy….

IMG_2927So I would cut the backing out in the size I wanted, then iron it onto the deconstructed tie. Once this step was completed, it enabled me to cut the silk into the shape I wanted so it could be sewn together to form the final square. Woohooo!!

Once I started accumulating squares, I started piecing them together.

















Once I had all the squares constructed, I laid them all out to determine the correct color sequences and started sewing them together. First, I sewed them into long rows. Then I sewed all the long rows together. There were many long nights sewing and ironing by the fire….

IMG_3421After that, I sewed the borders on. When I was finished sandwiching the top of the quilt with the batting (all organic cotton, of course) and the backing, the top stitching was completed.  Then all that was left was stitching the binding into place. I hand stitched that into place, just because I love the look of that so much better than the machine stitched look.


I think the finished product is beautiful. So much so, that I plan to enter it into the Marshfield State Fair quilt competition.


So, even though it started out as a painful project, it actually turned out to be quite a lot of fun to make. (Don’t tell Steve……)



It was bound to happen…..

And this is what a decimated pea patch looks like……..


I’ve been wondering why all our seemingly overabundance of wildlife has not discovered our garden just yet.  I’ve been busy believing that they thought it was too beautiful to disturb. Not really. That’s just me. Truth be told, I think the wildlife around these parts have had enough to eat elsewhere, so they haven’t had to come looking for my garden. Well, all that has changed now. Something–and I’ve narrowed it down to either groundhogs or rabbits, or both–has most definitely located it. They’ve gone through it like rogue bandits in the night. Only it wasn’t the night. I actually have seen groundhogs scurrying away on my approach and a teenaged bunny wildly flew out of the ruins aiming for me when I was inspecting the massacre. Hence my super sleuthian, Sherlock Holmes-like detective skills in figuring out that it’s rabbits or groundhogs that have infiltrated our territory. 😉

But it’s a little strange. They are mostly eating the pea shoots and not the peas! Every now and then, I like to throw pea shoots into our salads, but it’s really the peas themselves that I’m mostly after. So it’s fine–I don’t mind sharing. And they haven’t touched anything else yet, so I’ve made sure that the fence is as secure as possible.It just looks terrible now. But I’ll look on the bright side………

The tomatoes are still flourishing………….


The potatoes will be ready within a week or so…………..


And soon I’ll have more squash than I can handle….


So we made it until the end of June before we were invaded. All in all, I’d say that’s pretty good. And we still get a pretty good “catch” every evening!



Everything’s coming up roses….

Well, maybe not roses proper, but everything sure is blooming! IMG_3282

The lilacs have come and gone, but the were as resplendent as ever this year.  They are breathtakingly gorgeous and smell delicious. My photos do not do them justice……..must work on that.  IMG_3279There’s an entire row of them that runs across the length of the front of our property.  They very nicely shield us from the busy street.






IMG_3387Gertrude’s irises have begun to bloom as well.  There’s all different varieties. They are all beautiful.







George’s favorite is the White Siberian Iris.  It’s very small and delicate. IMG_3569










The clematis is climbing up the north side of the house…..






















My geraniums are the most brilliant color of hot fuschia pink I have ever seen! Okay, this particular one could use a little deadheading…….


The dogwoods have already reached their peak and passed it, but they were lovely, too.










The birds seem to have brought us a few, um,  presents this year, too. A new poppy appeared this year where there was none before……..

IMG_3585And a lovely foxglove has also sprouted for the first time….




Cleo totally photobombed this picture. She’s running with one of her favorite toys here.





    Even the okra is starting to bloom!IMG_3640










One of the most breathtaking sights around here these days, though, is the rhododendrons. Someone, at some point long ago, did a beautiful job of planting these delightful bushes. They are big enough now to be pruned as trees, but really shouldn’t be. In the blizzard of 2013, several of the ones that had been pruned to look like trees split into pieces, due to the lack of support underneath and the weight of all the snow. They seem to have recuperated okay, but we are trying to let them grow back as the bushes they are intended to be. IMG_3593Little Cleo seems to get herself into a lot of my pictures…. 🙂








They come in all shades of pink………










I love the view from the butler’s pantry window…..

IMG_3594The bees seem to love the blooms, too.


I wish this time of year could last forever. As I’ve said many times before, Spring is my favorite season, but as summer has actually just begun,  I’m happy to move forward. There are fun things to do in the summer in New England. But I’m sure I’ll be missing the Spring and all it’s charming attributes. So for now, all is well on Isaac Brown’s Farm.



Everything is coming along quite nicely…..

As I’ve said in previous postings……..I really love Spring. It is my absolute favorite season. Always has been, always will be.  It’s my favorite at this point in my life for a different reason than it used to be. In Georgia, Spring is a time of beauty. Everything is in bloom and it is SPECTACULAR. The wisteria, azaleas, forsythia, magnolias, dogwoods and hydrangeas are all in bloom at the same time and it is absolutely glorious. I was born in the Spring and always use that as an excuse to go for a visit to see my family, but really, it’s the blooming season I’m after.  The family is just a bonus. 😉

Since I’ve moved to my transplanted home of Massachusetts, Spring is a time of rebirth, reawakening. The dregs of winter are over and you can actually walk outside without your lungs freezing. Garden dreams are mobilized and the crocus plants start to peek out of the ground. Soon after, forsythia starts to bloom and that’s when you know you’ve survived another cold season.

Although those reasons for loving Spring seemed totally different to me when I started writing this, it has since occurred to me that they are really much the same. The Spring in Georgia, in my mind, is the equivalent of Autumn in New England. Total splendor! I suppose it’s the quickening of nature that I seek after a long Winter’s slumber.

This is why I focus so much attention on my garden. So far, this attention is paying off in spades.  The lettuce is growing faster than I can keep up with. I honestly don’t know what made me think I should plant that much of it. I’ve been feeding my neighbors and coworkers regularly. IMG_3481




This one is a particularly pretty variety, although I can’t remember the name of it. And I grew it from seed! Tastes delicious, too.






I planted 3 beds of actual lettuce (WHY??), which doesn’t include the bed of Swiss Chard, spinach, or bok choy. One of the many bonuses here is that our grocery bill has decreased dramatically. Always a plus!





The Red Romaine is growing very quickly, too. And the bees love it! Can you see the bee in flight in front of it?





The tomatoes are finally big enough that I needed to stake them up this week. Instead of paying tons of money to buy prefab stakes or cages for the 48 tomato plants that I have ($$$$), my husband very resourcefully procured “natural” stakes from our property that are doing a fine job. You either love this look or hate it. I do love it, but the garden in general is starting to have that scrubby look that they get when baby plants grow up. 🙂


And look what I’m starting to see……..the first tomato blooms!! It won’t be long now…..well, probably still longer than I’d like to wait, but at least I have visible evidence that things are working.




The pea patch is out of control. If I ever go missing, look for me there. It would be easy to get sucked into it, never to be seen again.

Love the baby pea pods that are starting to pop up all over the place. It’s going to be a full time job to keep up with these when it’s time to pick them.










A close up of the pea thicket……..





The beets are growing like weeds, too. They take forever to grow!





But they are so worth the wait…..





And we’ll be knee deep in potatoes before you know it…..








This is what my kitchen counter looks like every evening…..










So, for those of you who are still unclear. I do love Spring and I will continue to love Spring. Bring it! Happy Spring!


Kermit, cover your eyes…….

There are people in the world who love bright, shocking, glow in the dark colors.  I am most decidedly not one of them. Gray is my absolute favorite color and I’m also quite fond of taupe. Now don’t get me wrong……. I do love a splash of red here and there….I’m not completely boring.  Just mostly.  😉

Recently, while out antiquing with George, I ran across a hutch just like I had been looking for. It was perfect……the price, the form, the shelves, the storage underneath….except for one thing.  It was green.  And not any remotely lovely shade of green. No, no.  It was the most obnoxious, rude, offensive–what other negative word can I think of to insert here–oh yes, repugnant shade of green that you could imagine. It was very disagreeable to my senses. Even Kermit would’ve been offended–hence the title of this post. Okay, I think I’ve made my point.  But here it is in all its glory.  You decide.

IMG_3362The Dr. Suess-ish knobs are the icing on top.  Why, why, why would anyone paint such a lovely piece of furniture this color? I’ll try not to be so critical. One of my “artiste” friends loved it. And like I said–I love taupe and gray, so who am I to judge? Maybe for a kid’s room…. okay, I’m done with the conjecture. Let’s move on….

I decided that it would work for my 1765 farmhouse if I refinished it. I wanted to “antique” it. I had the perfect spot in the kitchen in mind. Imagine my husband’s surprise when I announced we were taking this lovely piece home.  I thought I would like it much better if it had an antique black with red undertones. So I bought all the supplies, and got started. First, I primed it……

IMG_3365Looks better already, right? After the primer dried, I painted on the red layer…….

IMG_3366Once the hutch was completely covered with the red paint (which I was initially appalled at–it looked like borscht had been poured all over it!),  I let it dry completely and sent a picture to my sister in law. Turns out, I really, really liked the dried red color, and my sister in law did, too! I decided to just leave it for now to see how it works in the kitchen. I put on the new hardware and voila! Done! IMG_3372

Here it is after I put my lovely summer dishes on it……

IMG_3381I can always paint the black over it and “antique” it as originally planned. But for now, I think I like it just the way it is. Here’s to venturing out of the gray and taupe comfort zone!


Let the Gardening Begin……..

As most of my family, friends and casual acquaintances are well aware, I love having a garden. Especially a vegetable garden. That’s my favorite. Every year, I plan my vegetable garden to the nth degree. I tend to bite off more than I can chew (Ha! Puns :D), and then I end up trampling through the brush every August to fetch a tomato. I don’t think I’ve have really solid plans in the past.

But this year will be different. I started in the planning stages of said garden back in January,  because what else would I be doing on a -18 degree day in 600 feet of snow? Okay–maybe a bit of an exaggeration there–but you get my point. I downloaded new software (Thanks Mother Earth News! You can find their info here) and began to plan in earnest then. I bought the seeds in February. I love Annie’s Heirloom Seeds.  You can get to that website here. I started planting the seedlings indoors in February, but wasn’t able to actually transplant them outdoors until the middle of April, which is when we started building our raised beds.


Another change I’ve made this year, that I believe will help in my quest for a less labor intensive, more successful garden is that I’ve decided to use the Square Foot Gardening Method (read all about it here). In years past, I have had all great intentions when marching out to the garden area armored with all the appropriate tools, but the weeds invariably roll over me and I give up. This year, I vow things will be different. We cleared the ground before the weeds had a chance to take over, put down landscaping fabric and put the raised beds on top of that. I purchased a carefully constructed loam/manure/compost mixture (way cheaper when bought in bulk–even with the delivery fee!), laboriously filled the beds, and when the time was right……… the seeds were planted and seedlings transplanted. I started with the cool weather crops, of course. The broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, carrots, onions, and peas went in first. Love the peas…….if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the peas. Only about half of them actually make it into the house. I usually eat the other half in the garden while I’m picking them. Delish!!


Just this past week, I finally got my beloved tomatoes in. They’re my other favorite. With the SFG method, I was able to plant 48 (that’s right, 48!) plants in 48 square feet of space. Canning season should be fun around here.Then there’s the pak choi and more Swiss Chard than George and I will ever consume.


I’ve also planted  jalapenos, radishes, all kinds of lettuce, yellow summer squash, zucchini, bush beans, pole beans, beets, kale and potatoes. And I can’t forget the okra–we’ll see how that turns out. I don’t know that I’ve ever tried to grow that north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

IMG_3317I won’t lie, that one bed is crooked and it makes me twitch a little bit every time I look at it. I am only consoled by the fact that when the plants grow bigger, I won’t be able to tell it so much. But I digress……

Here’s the okra in the same bed as the spinach. While the spinach is growing at the speed of light, the okra seems to be lagging behind. Okra really likes the heat of my native south Georgia, not the coolness of May in southeastern Massachusetts. We’ll see how this turns out.












When fully filled, there will be 17-18 beds. I already have little tiny, barbie sized heads of broccoli……


The potatoes are growing almost faster than I can keep up with in their bag. They’re a lot of fun to grow. If you have children, you should definitely try this–kids love it! It teaches them the basics of gardening and they get to eat the fruits of their labor!



The radishes are already almost ready to be pulled out of the ground…..



And our bees have found their way into the garden!! That’s super exciting to me….


You really get so much more bang for your buck with SFG, not to mention not having to weed the space nearly as much. I can grow plenty of food for George and myself in our little 20′ x 40′ space!  And with a little luck, I’m sure there will be plenty left over for the neighbors and our friends, as well. Thank goodness Spring is finally here!!


Spring is here. Wait, what? SPRING IS HERE!!!

And it couldn’t have shown it’s long awaited face a minute too soon! After the horrible winter we here in New England have just been through, the first 40 degree day felt like there might be a chance that we’d actually survive. Of course, it’s currently the middle of May, and I’m not real sure we’ve broken 75 degrees yet, but I don’t care. Surviving the brutal winter and finally seeing the beginnings of Spring have renewed my faith in the human spirit.

IMG_2855The chickens finally came out of their coop (after 6 weeks of captivity! Ouch!). We did not lose a single chicken over the winter. For that, I am thankful. We’ve actually just gotten some brand new baby chicks. More on that later……

And egg production is back in full swing! I didn’t realize how much I had missed my daily fresh eggs!



The dogs love being outside again. Turns out, we were all sick of being trapped indoors. Although Cleo is a poodle–not known for their herding capabilities–she does a pretty impressive job of keeping the chickens in line. Whether they need it or not! Here she is in action……


So at this point, my attention has fully turned to Spring-type activities. Getting the garden going, putting all the winter clothes away, spring cleaning, sleeping with the windows open, all things soul-renewing for me are in full throttle now. Let Spring begin!