Monthly Archives: March 2013

Aspendale Farm Does … The Harlem Shake?

The family that plays together, stays together!  (Yeah, we’re just silly that way!)

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Small Time

Source: Photo by net-efekt on flickr.com.

When I was just a spring chicken – our oldest son was two years old and the rest of our family was only a glimmer in our eyes – we lived in a neighborhood smack in the middle of a city.  The lots were small, the houses close together.  It was known as a “starter” neighborhood.  Lots of young couples and retirees lived there, in small houses that were inexpensive and easy to care for.

We would go walking in the neighborhood on nice evenings, pushing the stroller, letting JJ toddle on ahead or ride his tricycle.  Just around the corner was this quaint red bungalow with white trim and an arched, white front door.  An elderly couple lived there.  They had to have been at least in their eighties, and I wouldn’t hesitate to guess their early nineties, either.  They were both little.  And old.  That made them a little old couple I guess.  But they weren’t lacking in energy or enthusiasm judging by the incredible vegetable garden they grew to the side of their house.  I remember how rich and black the dirt was and the vegetables were so tidy and huge!

They had lived in that same house for decades, yet the idea that they didn’t have enough land to feed themselves never occurred to them.  Their “yard” was cabbage and peppers, green beans and squash.  They didn’t have to mow.  They planted and they weeded and they enjoyed the food they produced from their little plot in the middle of an urban neighborhood.

Sometimes we get caught up in the notion that we have to have a big piece of land to farm.  Most of us really don’t.  Intensive planting and loving attention to healthy soil can coax an amazing amount of food out of a limited space.  And bees, rabbits, fish, pigeons, and sometimes even chickens and ducks can be raised in many suburban homes.  You might even get around HOA regulations against livestock by raising one or two of these hobby animals.  Did you know you can raise meat chickens entirely indoors?  And we all know families with pet rabbits in a hutch.  How is that very different from one breeding pair that raises a couple litters to put in your freezer every year?

Even if you don’t want to take it that far, some fruit bushes in your landscaping, a row or two of lettuce and spinach and a couple tomato plants makes you … a Small Home Farmer.

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Goin’ Retro!

Picture 001

Confession time again.  Yes, I seem to need to make public confessions periodically.  This one has to do with my love-hate relationship with vacuums.  There’s nothing that bothers me quite the same as when I buy a new vacuum and the darn thing busts on me within a couple of years.  Am I made of money?  Do I love to throw cheap, plastic trash in our landfills?  Rhetorical question.  The answer is no.  A vacuum is an appliance.  And while I get the “planned obsolescence,” I madly hate it.  I’d far rather purchase a good vacuum, pay what it’s worth – even if I have to save up quite a while to get what I need – and have something that will last me a good ten or more years.

I know I am not alone in this.  Cheap vacuums are just plain cheap.  Two and a half years ago I frustratedly replaced an old Hoover that should have been working, but the hose had split on me… two different hoses had, actually.  And then it wouldn’t stick in the hose slot so I had to tape it in place when I wasn’t using it.  It went to someone who couldn’t afford a vacuum and would gladly put up with the irritating hose in exchange for clean carpets and I – well, I splurged.  I spent an exorbitant amount of money on a Riccar, which I wrongly assumed would last me ten or twelve trouble-free years because, as it boasted, it was made of metal parts.

Ha ha ha!  Well, technically, yes.  It’s “lasted.”  So far.  I still have it.  It still works.  But I’ve also had to take the thing to the repair shop, an hour and a half away in the nearest medium-sized city that has a service shop, multiple times.  Little did I know it was actually rated by Consumer Reports as the most repair-prone brand of any uprights they had reviewed.  Often it gets clogged.  There’s an odd bend or two in the workings where accumulated dirt and hair get caught regularly.  Most times I can take it apart and fish the stuff out, but once in a while I can’t.  Then there’s the stupid belt assembly.  Apparently an English degree from a prestigious university doesn’t qualify me to change a vacuum belt.  Thank you youtube for your ‘Regular Joe Without an Engineering Degree’s Guide to installing a Riccar Vacuum Belt tutorial.”

If I hadn’t spent so many hundreds of smackers on the darn thing, it, too, would be gracing somebody else’s cleaning closet.  But as of this week it has been booted to the closet at the foot of the basement stairs, relegated to a lifetime of being pulled out the handful of times a year when we remember we’re supposed to vacuum the basement.  That will be dozens of times fewer that I’ll have to get on my hands and knees and unclog it.

So Monday – cleaning day – my Riccar was missing a belt (which took three days to figure out how to replace) and the older Hoover I’d picked up as our “basement vacuum” just completely quit working.  No power whatsoever.  Nada.  How do you vacuum with two broken machines I ask you!  You don’t!  So I set to work to find just one vacuum that I could fall in love with, use and abuse, sucking up objects I am too lazy to bend over and pick up – nothing like a pencil or a nerf dart mind you (things that are often found in our child-friendly home), but the odd spitwad or a small, dried up piece of orange peel might qualify.

So what miracle product have I found to keep my farmhouse carpets in apple pie order?  Weeee-ell… you see, my Grandpa, who was a mechanical genius by the way, owned this old, red Kirby Classic.  It was a bear for an eight-year-old to vacuum with, I’ll tell you.  But I was still vacuuming with it when I was in high school and would go over to his house and clean for him.  And he’d been vacuuming with it for years and years and years before I ever knew it existed.  Good old Kirby.  Good old, very expensive, but very durable, and very effective… Kirby.  With an average lifespan of twenty-five years.

I was tempted to say “I’m not dumb” and then launch into my latest, greatest scheme for getting a great vacuum cleaner that I love.  But sometimes I am dumb.  So let me just say that there was no way on this planet that I was going to sit through a mind-numbing demonstration by any Kirby rep, then weep as they brow-beat me about why I didn’t think that spending $3500 on a brand new Kirby to save the planet and cure cancer was a completely just and worthwhile investment.  No, no.  I did what any budget saavy girl would do.  I jumped on craigslist.

Granted, before jumping on anybody’s list, I spent, literally, hours and hours reading reviews, comparing brands and products, talking to vacuum repair- and salesmen.  When I research something, I really do it.  I concluded that the Kirby Diamond was my weapon of choice.  Made about seven to ten years ago.  The newest model is the Sentria, which some have complained is not quite as good as their previous models.  But I shan’t go into all that.  Suffice it to say that, for me, the choice was a Kirby Diamond.  You know, those things still look almost identical to the one my Grandpa had.  Just a different colored bag and trim really.  Pretty funny, I think.  Very retro.  But retro is cool these days, so we can just pretend that I am the ultimate in retro stylishness.

Okay, I’m totally not.  But I snagged a Kirby Diamond on craigslist with all it’s many and various parts, many of which I shall never, ever use.  I’m all about the vacuum head, the hose and wands, and occasionally the crevice tool or dusting head.  There is actually a pretty cool “zipp brush” that you use to clean stairs, which, considering the vacuum really and truly weighs 35-ish pounds, is a small blessing I will probably also use with regularity.  But certainly the “scalp massager” will sit, collecting dust.  Nevertheless, for a good chunk less than I had paid for my plain Jane model of Riccar, I am now the proud owner of a Kirby.  And it’s been quite fun to play with all week.  I don’t mind changing out the heads and tools, as I thought I would.  And the 5×8 foot, navy blue oriental-patterned rug that has had a permanent installment of white English Setter hair in it since Benson joined our family in 2005, is finally, actually, just navy blue.

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Miller’s Amish Bakery Peanut Butter Cookies

Photo by Jamie L. Pearson. Some rights reserved by j.l.p.

Looking for a great idea for a plate of “Honey-Do” list cookies?  You know, the kind you make when you give your Honey a list of things around the place that you’re hoping he or she will do?  You’d be surprised at how far a plate of cookies can carry someone down that list!  LOL!

I like peanut butter a lot – especially when it’s paired with chocolate!  But there are two peanut butter items that I don’t care for – Buckeye Candies (I know, I know.  I’m insane.  That just leaves more for you, my friend) and peanut butter cookies.  That is, until I tasted the peanut butter cookies from Miller’s Amish Bakery on Miller Road, between here and the next rural town.

I was just being polite, really, when my friend Chantel told me I “had” to try one of these fabulous peanut butter cookies.  She didn’t know I didn’t like peanut butter cookies, and she was so excited about them I didn’t want to deflate her.  I determined to break off a small chunk to try, then discreetely pass the rest of my cookie around for the kids to share.  Huh uh! Not once I’d actually tasted this peanut butter gift from heaven!  I ate the whole thing and tried not to keep glancing back at the plate of remaining cookies.  Was it obvious I wanted more?  I started scheming about how to get some of those cookies for my very own!

As you may already have figured out, I love to tinker with recipes, and this became my new quest … to find a cookie recipe that tasted so peanut-buttery crisp-sugary.  I know, that’s not really even a description.  Whatever.  Just bake these cookies and eat them.  You won’t care how goofy my elaborate praises sound.

The difference between the bulk of the peanut butter cookie recipes out there and these – and maybe why I like these and don’t care for most peanut butter cookies, is that this has no flour.  It’s mostly just peanut butter and sugar and a smattering of other cookie ingredients.  Let me know what you think if you try them out!

Miller’s Amish Peanut Butter Cookie (Copycat Recipe)

2 c. peanut butter (Jif is my favorite, hands-down)

2 c. white sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. baking soda

1 pinch salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Grease lined cookie sheets with butter or baking spray.
  • In a medium bowl, beat together peanut butter and sugar until smooth. Then add eggs, one at a time, beating well. Stir in baking soda, salt, and vanilla.
  •  Drop by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet and press cross-hatch marks into the top with a fork.
  •  Bake about 9 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool 1-2 minutes on sheet, then when the cookies have firmed up enough to use your spatula, transfer to a cooling rack or newspaper to cool just enough to touch. Then you can eat them. I can’t wait until they’re any cooler than that, and I’ll bet you can’t either. Unless you have no taste buds. In which case, why are you making cookies in the first place? Go make a salad.

We usually make just a half batch, or else we’ll eat more cookies than is reasonably sane. Just ask my sister- and brother-in-law who may well have actually witnessed the horrific spectacle of me eating four cookies at a go over the weekend. <Shakes head sadly>

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Little Farm in the Woods

We have carved clearings out of the woods for our various farm projects.  There are still plenty of trees!

We have carved clearings out of the woods for our various farm projects. There are still plenty of trees!  Photo by Chantel Lamphere.

I think people wonder, when I mention that our farm is in the middle of the woods, how on earth that works out.  Basically, as you can see in the photo above, we’ve had to carve clearings out of the woods where there were only swathes of trees before, to put our livestock, our gardens, our orchard.  But we are still surrounded by trees, and many of the paths on our property that lead from building to building are lined on either side by woods that go on and on.  It can be a challenge, but in a way we get the best of both worlds – farm and forest.

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