Archive for June, 2011

Why hello! I am Emily’s husband, Jeremy.  You might’ve seen pictures of me doing various farmy type stuff.  I like to be very supportive towards any and all of Emily’s flora and fauna vices.  I love animals and I like to eat vegetables, but I’m really whiny when it comes to physical labor. I’m really appreciative that Emily puts up with it.

I draw for a living, which is easier to do from the inside of a house, so about 94.78% of everything Emily posts about is all her.  I know it bums her out a little and she covers it up really well.  When she does tap me on the shoulder and say “I need you outside” I drop my brush and try not to be a poop head.  I do love the out-of-doors and we do make several camping trips throughout the summer.  The things I love to draw the most are organic in nature and are influenced by artists like Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Walter Crane, and Winsor McKay to name a few.

I, myself, like to be a bit creative in the kitchen [not as successfully as Emily] and I appreciate her exotic layering of different flavors to entice the palette.  I do the majority of the cooking though and usually that means a meal that is less thought out and quicker in prep time.  Emily is outrageously good at preparing special suppers and the like, when she has a goal in mind. She’s getting a lot better with multi-tasking several dishes at the same time too, but she sure can fill up an empty sink with dirty dishes afterward! 😉 HahAAaa!

I never saw myself as a farmer when I was little, I’ve known I wanted to be an artist since I was like 6 or something, but I did not see this coming.  Still, I help put the critters out and feed them, and then put them up for the night. It’s not really that hard.  I’ve promised Emily an hour a day to help her in the garden when she needs me.  I know that doesn’t really sound like much but it takes a lot of time to do what I do so that I can pull my weight with bills and things.

I reeeeeaaally enjoy living where we live right now and hopefully we will be here for a while.  You should see the gardens Emily has sweated over; they are really beautiful.  She has an incredible stamina for working outside, I know I couldn’t do that.  But then again I sit at a drawing table for 10 hours a day.

When Emily and I first met she knew me as that art snob that worked at the art store and she totally had a crush on me.  I remember seeing a really pretty girl that I thought was out of my league.  Then, a year later I eavesdropped on a conversation between her and a coworker of mine about Terry Gilliam and I had to put my two cents in about his brilliance and that’s how the ball started rolling.  I think the thing that really cinched it was our mutual love of childrens’ books.

While she is trying her best to become the next Tasha Tudor I am working hard to be somewhat of an Arthur Rackham with the line work of Gustave Dore.  Now when Emily posts pictures she usually does really nice photos of her gardens or the animals or something she conjured in the kitchen; I don’t really do so much of that.  Soooooo I will put up some of the stuff I dabble in. So here you go.  Hope you like it and can sympathize with why I spend so much of my time avoiding going outside.

I too have my own blog. I am not as efficient as Emily at loading it with good stuff on a regular schedule but you can see more of what I do, while Emily is earning her callouses outside.  You can visit me at jeremybastian.blogspot.com.  Thank you all for taking the time.


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Obligatory Title

Not Dabbling has been on my daily browsing list for quite some time now. I will admit that I am a lurker. Always reading – Never posting.

I grew up in rural Tennessee on a 150 acre farm. In the late 80’s I ran a small poultry operation. I used a recycled box truck bed as a coop, experimented with no-till farming to feed the birds, and used the bird manure in the garden. I didn’t know what organic was back then, but by today’s standard, both the eggs and meat produced would be pretty close to organic. In the early 90’s I moved to the city and left my farming life behind.

Today, I am a technologist by trade. I don’t consider myself a true computer geek, but I suppose most people would. I am the guy with the smart phone, laptop, busy schedule, project deadlines et al. My life today is VERY plugged in. Needless to say when my wife suggested getting into poultry, I was the consummate skeptic. I didn’t think we had the time for birds because I remembered all the DIFFICULT things about it, I also wasn’t sure Jennifer was really up to the task.

I couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

As Jennifer went down the path of poultry husbandry, I followed right behind with a watchful eye. I was tasked with housing, and was able to tap into latent abilities learned on the farm many, many moons ago. I began to remember the REWARDING things about caring for birds. I began to connect with dormant parts of my history.

Now that Jennifer is 100%, certifiable bird crazy (read that any way you want), I continue to find other connections in her blog. I also connect to what all of you do. At one point or another, I have been reminded of the person I once was by every Lady on this blog. Your writings and photographs clearly relay the passion that each of you has for Not Dabbling in Normal. That passion helps me unplug from time to time. I stop to appreciate the beauty that surrounds me.

Thank you Jennifer. Thank you Ladies of NDIN. You all have a great thing going on here. I will continue to lurk as long as you all continue to write.

– Cody


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From the distaff side

I’ve been asked to write something for this blog, and I have to say that it’s been a long time since I’ve done any creative writing. Memos? Sure, all the time; love my email. But not so much writing on a topic, particularly an assigned one.

Especially gardening. In spite of its major role in our household, gardening is pretty mysterious to me. Some people were over the other day, and I gave them a tour of the garden, doing it solo since Xan wasn’t home. The tour consisted of me walking them through and pointing out the obvious (here’s broccoli!), the well marked (I think this is basil—oh yeah, there’s the sign), and the rest of the time waving my hand in a general direction (those are flowers over there). I am not the one with the green thumb.

I’m okay with helping out, though. I’ve been known to wrestle the ten-pound cobblestone into yet another new walkway configuration, or help set up fencing to keep out the rabbits. I can be trusted to do some watering, and though it fills me with anxiety, I can pick vegetables without tearing off the wrong parts of the plant. I’m also primary keeper of the fish pond, though I’m not sure this should really be considered helping out in the garden. It’s more of a way to get me out of my office and into the fresh air…yet not be underfoot among the greenery.

As peripheral as I am to the gardening, I find it pretty interesting to hang out with someone who is so very into it. Of course it’s a constant pleasure to look out on what Xan has created, and always fun to talk about the things that need to be done, that should be done, and the fun stuff that could be done. In fact it’s a little bit like raising children (including, I’m afraid, the budget). I also like the way our garden is connected to the larger world and how it makes you think about where our food comes from. More people should be gardening!

Or at least hanging out with the lady who does.

–Wei C.


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Photos: Our Fellas

This week we gals are celebrating our guys and all they do for us. Since Father’s Day is this coming Sunday we’re devoting the entire week to the men in our lives – even if they’re not “proper” dads. I think we’d all agree that dads come in different shapes and sizes, with different experiences, teaching methods, and sometimes even different species as “offspring”. What matters is their support and love of their family.

Thanks, fellas, for all you do for us!


Here at Unearthing this Life, I’m very fortunate to have a guy that enjoys helping me with projects and shares many of the same interests as I have. Even when we don’t share the same interest, he’s a great sport and plays along when needed. In fact, this spring he spent a majority of his weekends helping me build poultry tractors, taking me for motorcycle rides, and helping to reign in the birds. Love my guy – dad to one daughter, 17 birds, and two cats.

cushy shoulder




Starting with his kids, Wei is all about the little live things. While he’ll help in the garden when prodded
and given very explicit directions, I finally discovered the magic formula and started giving him all the tasks surrounding critters–fish, bugs, worms, children, rabbits, squirrels. Of course, now he wants bees and chickens. I’m not planning on letting him know that Chicago allows you to keep pet goats. Here he is at his favorite garden task (sitting in it).


Here at Chiot’s Run, Mr Chiots is always willing to go along with the crazy things I come up with, from installing hoop houses on my raised beds, drilling taps in the maple trees, brushing up on his fish netting skills, to digging the hole for our new garden pond. Mr Chiots can often be found helping me in the gardens at Chiot’s Run. I have written an Ode to Mr Chiots on my blog and won’t reiterate it all there.


Being married to an artist does tend to mean that when the weather is fair I will go entire days, seeing no more than glimpses of my husband. This is alright though, because when I need help, regardless of how heavy, gross, tedious, difficult or complicated the task is, Jeremy is always willing to drop what he’s doing (even when he has deadlines!) to come out into the gardens with  me.

Together we have dug fence posts, built coops, tilled beds, eradicated brambles, chopped wood, said hard goodbyes to pets and livestock and even welcomed new life… The list goes on forever, and whenever it’s something important, my man is by my side – ready for action!

(Err… usually, that is. Sometimes he’s a little peeved when he’s helping out and I pick up the camera instead of the shovel.)

Of course he has his goofy side as well; Jeremy has the worst fashion sense while farming, and has been known to utter the occasional Tuskan Raider cry while wielding various hand tools.  We’re both known for being a little bit eccentric, but how many artists/farmers do you know that aren’t?


Won’t you spend the week and celebrate your fellas with us?

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Several months ago I read an article about mexican Cajeta while searching for a good carnitas recipe. I love all Mexican foods, and I know I have mentioned before that I am afflicted with a terrible sweet tooth, so upon discovering what exactly cajeta is I discovered a strong pining sensation radiating from me.

Have you ever had Dulce de Leche? Cajeta is like Ms. Dulce de Leche’s spiced, goatier cousin. It’s basically a caramel sauce made with goat’s milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and, if heat is desired, a habanero pepper (as per suggested in blogs by the Fabulous Beekman Boys). Of course at the time I didn’t expect to ever have access to fresh goat’s milk and so I wrote it off as something I’d never have the opportunity to taste, let alone make.

Months later I discovered Silver Moon farm and the wonderful goat shares that they offer. I now bring home a minimum of a gallon of goat milk a week, and sometimes it’s as much as two gallons, all thanks to the wonderful efforts of Gen-the-goat. I have used this milk for drinking, cooking and cheese making, but never for confections. It’s richer and has a deeper flavor than cow’s milk and I’ve really grown to love it. For some reason it didn’t occur to me immediately to make cajeta. I guess my subconcious knew I should just wait until strawberry season to give it a shot.

This past weekend I spent no less than six hours sitting by the stove with a good book and a large spoon, stirring and stirring and stirring. It’s hard to devote six hours of time to a project if you’re not even sure it’s going to turn out, but then again what is homesteading all about? We all rush around trying to create “good” food in such a hurry these days that a lot of dishes, cajeta included, are dismissed as not worth the time it takes to create them. Honestly, though. I can tell you that many of these time and labor intensive foods are absolutely worth it, having subtleties of flavor rarely glimpsed in modern cuisines.

After six long hours of stirring, and a few foam-overs of disastrous proportions, I dipped my spoon into the rich, sweet concoction, tasted, and found myself grinning. The sweet tooth was obviously quite satiated as this delicate caramel is incredibly sweet, but more than that, this caramel has a complex flavor that speaks to my very belief in local foods. You can taste the goat in it, and it’s not musky or bitter. It’s earthy and brown (yes, sometimes I describe tastes in colors…) and its texture is not quite smooth. To me it seems to have the complexity only a small-batch hand crafted and all natural confection could ever have. If you are a sweets-snob like I am, I seriously suggest you give it a shot.

Even more complex is the taste of cajeta on fresh, sun-warmed strawberries from the garden. They are both warm flavors that seriously compliment each other beyond compare.

This isn’t mere caramel, folks. This is cajeta.

(I found this recipe somewhere online, but basically it’s the same everywhere so I’m not sure whom to credit. Yes, whom.)

Cajeta with Vanilla and Cinnamon

2 quarts local goat’s milk (a unpasteurized as you can get it, folks!)
2 cups (organic) cane sugar
2-3 Mexican vanilla beans, or substitute 1 Tbsp vanilla extract.
1 tsp baking soda, dissolved in very little cool water

Optional: habanero pepper, cinnamon sticks, other peppers, etc… Be creative! (I’ve heard some people use coffee beans!)

Bring your milk slowly to a boil in a heavy pan. It’s helpful if your pan is only half full (or half empty?) when the milk is in it as it will foam and froth later on.

After your milk has boiled, reduce to a simmer and add your sugar and stir to dissolve.

While your sugary milk is simmering, prepare your vanilla and spices. If using a vanilla bean, be sure to split it before adding. If you’re using spices that you worry will be difficult to strain from caramel sauce at the end, try tying them in a ball of cheese cloth to make a sort of “spice tea bag” to steep in the cajeta. Plop your vanilla and spices (or spice ball) into the mixture and stir well.

Once the mixture has been stirred and is simmering again, add your baking soda. Now this is the part I didn’t understand. When you add the baking soda, a chemical reaction occurs causing the milk to form a rapidly expanding foam. You should do this over very low heat, and be prepared to stir like a crazy person. Some of my batches foamed more than others; I have no idea why they did. I just know there was a huge mess to clean up after my first batch boiled over and continued to expand across the stove like a creepy science fiction movie.

Here’s the fun part. (hashtag: sarcasm) Once the foam has been reduced and the milk is simmering controledly again, it’s time to wait, and stir… and wait, and stir, and wait. As the cajeta cooks down it will thicken, much like the way water is boiled off of maple sap to create maple syrup.

The milk will begin to darken until you get a viscous brown liquid. This took me literally 5-7 hours for each batch, though I was doing double-sized batches. Lucky for me I am pretty good at multi tasking so I had multiple batches going at once.

To tell when your cajeta is done, simply drop a teensy bit into a glass of cold water. If the droplet dissolves, it’s not finished yet. If the droplet keeps some semblance of its former drop-shaped self than it’s done! We’re looking for soft-ball stage, though I found using my candy thermometer that the actual temp for soft-ball stage made for a much thicker cajeta than I wanted. If your cajeta is too thick, just add a tiny bit of water and thin it out again.

I found myself sticking my fingers into spoonfuls of too-hot cajeta before I knew it. I couldn’t help it! The whole house smelled amazing, too. You can serve cajeta over strawberries like I did, or you can put it on icecream, stir it into frosting, use it in breads… or you can serve it my favorite way: On A Spoon.

I used a hot water bath for 20 minutes to can some of this in canning jars. I’ve been told it’s a stable suspension, no longer being a perishable dairy product, and is safe to can and eat later, but I urge you to use your own judgment when canning anything that contains dairy.

Do you have any favorite labor intensive foods?

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens, her livestock and her leased historical home in SE Michigan.

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elder blossum, Sambucus

The end of cool, spring days are long gone here in the southeast (and most of the Midwest for that matter), and we’re working our way into a hot and dry summer. Though the days may be thick with heat, we’re fortunate that the fragrance in the air is sweet, making odoriferous (read: sweaty) outdoor life a little more bearable. Between the honeysuckle, magnolia blooms, the last of the spring roses, and now elderflowers (also known as Sambucus), the perfume outdoors is downright heavenly.
elder flower, just opening

In the past I’ve talked about elderberries,  but the flowers that make those berries are just as – if not more than – extraordinary, and dare I say: exquisite. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to sample the blossoms in liqueur form (aka St. Germain) you’d recognize the slightly lemon and honey undertones in the air. It’s a sweet, heady, and perfumed flavor, but not quite cloying. Elderflower liqueur or syrup is definitely spring in a bottle. The liqueur or syrup is gorgeous mixed with champagne, it makes a lovely iced tea, and numerous other cocktails. Just don’t consume too many or the alkaloids will give you an upset tummy*.
elderflower stars

If you do happen across some elder, be sure to leave plenty of blossom heads to produce berries in another month, and then leave some of those berries for wildlife and to produce new shrubs. The berries are an important resource for many critters including birds and many moths. Pick the blooms that are open as it’s the pollen that helps to flavor and color your cordials – avoid those that are already forming berries and blossoms not yet open.

Elderflower Syrup

  • 10 large flower heads, largest stems removed, bugs shaken off
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced – avoid bitter pith
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 Tbsp citric acid

Bring water and sugar just to a boil, then combine remaining ingredients. Allow to steep for 12-24 hours. Strain through muslin, then bottle and keep in refrigerator for up to a week.

Elderflower Syrup Ice Cubes

lavender and elderflower syrup

Simply pour your cooled syrup into ice cube trays and freeze. An excellent way to keep your wines or punches chilled this summer. Also a fabulous

way to extend the life of your syrup which will last about a week in the refrigerator.

Elderflower and Lavender Syrup

Follow directions for Elderflower syrup, but add 5 stems of lavender to 1 pint of liquid. Strain through muslin before bottling.

Elderflower Liqueur

  • 5 large flower heads, largest stems removed, bugs shaken off
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups vodka

Strain vodka through a water purifier if you have one available. Put flowers into quart-sized jar then cover with vodka. Allow to steep for about three to four weeks, then strain through muslin cloth. Return vodka to jar and add sugar. If 1/2 cup isn’t sweet enough, add more.

I’ve got all of these above in process currently. Next up is a recipe for elderflower& vanilla panna cotta I found at the River Cottage blog. The apple elderflower jelly and the strawberry elderflower jam both sound divine but I’m afraid those will have to wait until next year because I’m reserving the rest of the flowers for elderberry jam!
elderflower syrup

*Concerning toxicity via Wikipedia:

The leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots contain a cyanide producing glycoside. Ingesting any of these parts in sufficient quantity can cause a toxic build up of cyanide in the body. In addition, the unripened berry, flowers and “umbels” contain a toxic alkaloid.

Due to the possibility of cyanide poisoning, children should be discouraged from making whistles, slingshots or other toys from elderberry wood. In addition, “herbal teas” made with elderberry leaves (which contain cyanide inducing glycosides) should be treated with high caution. However, ripe berries (pulp and skin) are safe to eat”

Information and history of the Elder via the USDA plant guide.

A lovely guide, history, and some recipes vie A Modern Herbal at Botanical.com


You can also find Jennifer blarging along at Unearthing this Life when she’s not too busy wrassling turkeys and guineas, chasing chickens, playing with a seven year old, and working her (now) massive garden. She even sometimes tweets her nonsense @unearthingthis1 on Twitter.

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I don’t usually cross-post too many things on my personal blog and here, but I thought this was the kind of thing you might love and if you don’t read Chiot’s Run you wouldn’t have seen it.


I wrote an article with my recipe for Whole Grain Stout Mustard on the Your Day blog at Ethel . I’m a huge fan of various condiments with mustard being my all time favorite. I love a good hearty whole grain mustard, but they can be pricey in the store. Making your own is quick and easy. I like to make my with Guinness or wine, but you can easily substitute water for if you’d like.

I source my organic mustard seeds from Mountain Rose Herbs in case you’re wondering, they’re inexpensive and you can buy in bulk. People will certainly be impressed when you take homemade mustard to the next cookout you attend.

Head on over to the Ethel Blog and tell me what your favorite condiment is.

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, maple sugaring, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Ethel Gloves, Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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