Flannel Jammies Farm

...praising God on our 1/5 acre of suburbia

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Baking Bread...

The scent of bread baking soothes the soul... calls us home... relaxes everything into a smile.

I recently attended a workshop led by a local woman with a wood-fired oven in her backyard.  She is an artist in every area of her life, but especially with bread.  Bless her, she had gotten up very early and fired the oven to get it to temperature for our baking adventures.  We watched as she cleaned the oven floor in preparation for baking.

We had arrived to rising dough and we kneaded... no, we caressed the dough and left it to rise happily again.  We learned to shape the dough just so, not too loosely and just perfectly taught, into a ball of dough.  These were placed lovingly into rye-flour dusted, linen-lined baskets.

These linen liners can be made so simply:  cut a square of linen cloth larger than your basket, tuck the square evenly into the basket, pinch together 4 pieces of the linen to ease the cloth into the basket evenly creating darts, pin these darts, cut around the circle of the basket rim leaving a couple of extra inches of fabric, sew the darts and trim, serge or zig zag the circular edge.   Perfect!

Once the formed dough had risen again, we carried the loaves out to the wood-fired oven.  We each had the opportunity to add our loaf to the hot oven with a long paddle.  When all were tucked safely inside, the door to the oven was closed.  And we waited.  We peeked in during the baking to see that they were rising and browning nicely.  The fragrance was amazing!

When done, the loaves' interior temperature was checked.  Our baker/instructor tells us that 180 degrees is just about perfect... and ours were!

The loaves were unloaded and left to cool slightly.  The loaf I shaped and formed and loaded into and retrieved from the oven was placed in a brown paper bag and carried home to enjoy with some Spinach and Chive pasta with marinara sauce.  Delightful!

We also baked a loaf in the home's kitchen in a Dutch oven.  Both the kitchen oven baked loaf and the wood-fired loaf were delicious, but there was something 'heady' about the wood-fired oven loaf.  Here's how I summed it up:  kitchen oven = Budweiser (good, highly drinkable, enjoyable); wood-fired oven = Newcastle Brown Ale (deeper, richer, more soul).  What a wonderful day!

Don't have a wood-fired oven in your backyard?  Me, neither.  Good thing we can still bake bread in our kitchen ovens!  Here's a basic artisan bread recipe shared at our workshop (makes 2 large or 3 small loaves):

6 cups (1 lb. 9 oz.) flour
2 cups (10 oz.) whole wheat flour
1 Tblsp. (10 grams) instant yeast (not active dry)
3 tsp. (21 grams) fine sea salt
3 - 3 1/2 cups warm water

Mix all ingredients in the dough bucket.  The dough should be shaggy and sticky.  If the dough is too dry, add water by the Tablespoon until it feels right.  Let rise until double in bulk.  Pour onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for several minutes to firm up the dough.  Try not to all too much flour... you need just enough to be able to wok the dough without it being sticky.  Put it back into the the bucket and let it rise for about an hour until double.  Repeat the kneading process.  Let it rise for another hour, knead again, and separate into 2 large loaves or 3 small loaves.  Mold each piece of dough in to a round and place each onto a linen cloth or piece of parchment paper; cover and let rise until almost double.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

If baking on a stone, put your stone on the top rack and an empty pan on the bottom rack to heat.

If baking in a Dutch oven, place the covered Dutch oven on the top rack that has been placed in the middle position in the oven.

When the oven is ready, slash your loaf with a serrated knife.  

If baking on a stone, slide the loaves onto your stone.  Carefully add boiling water to the pan on the bottom rack and bake for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 375 degrees and bak for another 35-45 minutes for large loaves or 25-35 minutes for smaller loaves.  Check loaves after 15 minutes and if tops are browning too quickly, lay a piece of aluminum foil lightly over the top.

After the allotted time check a loaf by tapping the bottom.  It should sound hollow when tapped.  If not, return to oven and bake an additional 5-10 minutes.  You can also check with an instant read thermometer; internal temperature should be 180 degrees.

If baking in a Dutch oven, cut parchment to size, carefully take the pot out of the oven and place the dough in the pot.  Cover and return to the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes, covered.  Uncover and bake an additional 10-15 minutes.  

When done, leave the loaves on a rack to cool before slicing.  Enjoy!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Making soap...

I have the honor of being acquainted with some very talented and artistic women.  We share stories and skills, seeking always to take care of ourselves, our families, and the earth in the most natural and healthy way possible.  We learn through classes on canning, fiber prep, beekeeping, chicken rearing, and so much more.  Each of these women has given me inspiration, delight, and sometimes lovely and silken soap!

Lately, my favorite soap is the gorgeous Oat & Honey from the artisan hands of Roses Ridge Farm.  It's a lovely nut brown color and soothing to the skin (my skin is incredibly sensitive and riots at the least provocation!), and is now available at lots of stores locally, including Whole Foods!  And I buy it all the time.  Take a moment to visit their website and view all the handcrafted, eco-friendly, and healthy skin care products, including soaps, lotions, balms, scrubs, and gentle baby items...  http://www.rosesridgefarm.com/

So wasn't I excited when a cold-process soapmaking class was offered at Roses Ridge Farm??? 
Our gorgeous soapmaker, Kylene, holding a good resource, The Soapmaker's Companion

I was one of a dozen students greeted by the bull, the goat, the sheep, the chickens, and the turkey babies as we arrived at Roses Ridge Farm.  We chatted outside in the cool breeze of April, and unhurriedly made our way into the farmhouse.  The class gathered in the part of the house that was built in the 1700s, windows open, home-love surrounding us.
Adding a protective apron, then gloves, then eye protection when using lye

Adding the lye to the distilled water

Stirring the lye/water mixture; vapor rising 

Checking the temperature

Lye/water mixture in cup, oils in bowl, scale, blender, distilled water

We learned SO much about lye and oils and molds and temperatures and equipment and safety!  Two hours flew by so quickly!  Each of us left with a small bar of Roses Ridge Oat & Honey Soap in a darling gingham bag, full instructions for beginning our soapmaking journeys from the Soap Queen website, and the joy of spending the afternoon with each other in such a sweet environment.
Mixing the oils with the immersion blender

Adding the lye mixture to the oils

Blending to emulsify and bring to 'trace'

Trace = pudding consistency and 'trails' left behind

*contented sigh and soapmaking anticipation*

Soap mold lined with freezer paper

Soap mixture, trace reached and poured into mold
Unmolded soap after 24 hours

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lilac Jelly...

Many years ago, when my parents came to live with us and we were just beginning to garden the tiny lot this funny little house is on, my mother wanted lilacs.  She remembered the sweet fragrance and the elegant blossoms.  She remembered the beauty of Spring lilacs.   So, against advice from area gardeners, we planted 3 lilacs... and they have thrived!  These shrubs burst forth with riotous blooms and perfume every Spring.

But their blooms are so short lived!  A week, maybe a bit more, and the beauty and fragrance are gone until the following year.  What's a farmgirl to do?  What else?  Google!  I found an interesting recipe for Lilac Jelly, written, it seemed, from a poet's soul.  Why not?

On the night before making the jelly, our daughter helped me pick the heavy blossoms from the lilacs.  She and I sat and plucked each flower and bud gently from the bunches.  This is sticky business, and fills the air with perfume!  But also gently rhythmic and quietly simply work.  We finally had a well-packed, 2-cup measure of lilacs.  These were funneled into a large canning jar, around 1 split vanilla bean, and 2 1/2 cups boiling filtered water was poured over the lot.

We continued to pluck lilac flowers and buds to infuse the sugar that would be part of the jelly-making process.  Using 3 cups of sugar, we layered sugar, then lilacs, then sugar, then lilacs, then sugar into a large bowl.  The bowl was covered and put to bed for the night.

The next day, the lilac-infused sugar was shaken through a sieve into a large bowl.  This takes a little time, and some sneaky blossoms make their way through the sieve, but these can be easily picked out.  The recipe calls for 3 cups of sugar (4 if you like it especially sweet), so more plain sugar can be added to bring the fragrant sugar to that level, if needed.

The jar of lilac/vanilla bean water was strained through a cheesecloth-lined fine sieve into a clean jar.  Oh, the smell was wondrous!  What remained was a gorgeous lilac-pink liquid.  About 2 1/4 cups is needed for the recipe.

Into a large pan went the strained lilac/vanilla bean liquid, the juice and grated zest of one lemon, and one box of powdered pectin (we used Sure-Jell Premium).  The mixture was brought to a full rolling boil while stirring constantly, and turned this amazing bright pink color!  Once boiling, we added the sugar all at once, and continued to stir until the sugar dissolved.  We brought it back to a full rolling boil and boiled the mixture for 1 minute.  The pot was removed from the heat, and the foam that had formed on the top was skimmed off.

We ladled the jelly-to-be into hot, sterilized 4-ounce canning jars, and then ran a chopstick around the inside of the jar to remove any air bubbles.  Using a wet cloth, each rim was wiped clean.  Lids were placed on the jars, and the bands were screwed on, just fingertip tight.  (For the Weck jars, the rubber seal was added, then the glass lid, and then the metal clamps.)  We processed the jars using the hot water bath method for 10 minutes, then removed the jars from the canner to a kitchen towel atop a cooling rack.  After 24 hours, the seal was checked and the jars were admired...

I know that every time we open the pantry in the coming months, and we gaze upon the sweet golden pink of these jars, we will recall the beauty of the Spring lilac blossoms... and we will smile and sigh contentedly. 

What interesting canning recipes have you found to extend the harvest?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

kale & pear smoothie

Ahhh, Vitamix....  Been wantin' one for years. 

Recently a friend offered a SWEET (I mean, totally syrupy!) deal on the Vitamix in her cabinet that she never used.  YES!  At last, a Vitamix on my counter!  And today, this sweet machine made the most luscious creation for two:  the Kale & Pear Smoothie!

It all started when I was in the garden and looking at the beautiful kale growing in the sun.  Surely someone has a kale smoothie recipe, right?  And there it was, on the Vitamix website!

We loaded all the ingredients into the Vitamix, in the order listed.  So pretty!

And turned it on, slowly increasing the speed and then switching it to HIGH for about 45 seconds...

And there it was, vibrant and green and oh-so-delicious!  Happy Breakfast, everyone!

Kale and Pear Green Smoothie


  • 1 cup (160 g) green grapes
  • 1 (140 g) orange, peeled
  • 1/2 (89 g) Bartlett pear, seeded
  • 1 (118 g) fresh banana, peeled
  • 1 cup (70 g) kale
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) water
  • 2 cups (480 ml) ice cubes


  1. Place all ingredients into the Vitamix container in the order listed and secure lid.
  2. Select Variable 1.
  3. Turn machine on and slowly increase speed to Variable 10, then to High.
  4. Blend for 45 seconds or until desired consistency is reached.

Monday, April 1, 2013


I have always loved bees.  And the hubs likes them, too. 

We became interested in keeping bees a few years ago after becoming aware of the honeybee population decline and colony collapse disorder.  We viewed the movies Vanishing of the Bees and Queen of the Sun together and started planting pollinator-friendly plants near our vegetable garden to attract and protect these precious insects.  Click HERE for a list of bee-friendly plants in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.
Suited up and ready!

For Christmas, the hubs and I shared a gift:  the Basic Beekeeping course offered by the Beekeepers Guild of Southeast Virginia.  IT WAS FABULOUS!!!  We went for three Saturdays in a row and filled our minds to the bursting point with all things beekeeping.  Sign us up for a beekeeping mentor, please! 
Me in my oh-so-attractive beekeeper's veil

A couple of weeks ago, we had our first hands-on bee experience.  Our mentor's hive had to be split to prevent the bees from swarming... we'll be right over to observe and help!  What amazing creatures!  We observed so many things and helped where we could, splitting our mentor's hive into 2 hives plus a nuc box (a small starter hive). 

Cannot WAIT to get our own hive.  We're fortunate that our city allows home beekeeping.  Here I share with you some of the wonder-filled things we saw that day...
Bees coming and going from our mentor's hive

The hubs and I trying to light the smoker

Smoke calms the bees

Hubs testing the smoker

Opening the hive and finding SO MANY bees!

Using the hive tool to pull out the a frame of comb and bees

Lots of bees!

Bees with capped brood, eggs, and larvae

There she is... the Queen... with the yellow dot!
Captured Queen

Bee cleaning house and another in flight

Take-offs and Landings

Me taking a look at a frame from the hive

Me pulling a full frame out of the hive


When finished (L to R): Hive 1, Nuc Box, Hive 2

One of our new friends bids farewell to the hubs