Saturday, March 31, 2012

Remembrance Trees, Wedding Shower & Gift Idea's and yummy Three Cheese Herb Pasta Bake

When we purchased our farm the home had been abandoned for over a year and to say the least it was a 'fixer' upper.  Although as we walked through it I could imagine what I could make it to be, and so the long road of fixing is still in progress.  That's o.k. though because I enjoy making things look like 'me'. We moved in the first of March almost five years ago and I had the garden's to be on paper before you could bat an eye.  The veggie garden and flower beds would be first priority and then planning some hard scaping. Each year we have added new elements and I can always envision more beds and dreams. 

Remembrance Trees or plants are a beautiful and potentially long lasting treasured gift.  Neil's mom had purchased for each of the six children a 'remembrance' tree in memory of their father after he passed away.  Unfortunately our beautiful Emerald Luster Maple tree was left at our previous home.  She had wanted something for our new home and got us several much needed shrubs.  This is such a wonderful idea that can be remembered for generations.  

Wedding Showers can be so fun and especially with the right theme.  If you are planning on hosting one, even in the dreary months of winter, make it a Garden Theme.  Here are a few cute ideas to get you started!
*Invitations- You can create the cutest invitations with all the graphics, rubber stamps and stickers out there today.  Especially if you have one of those nifty die cutting machines! 
*Have everyone bring their favorite Recipe on a card that you send them with the invitation (then they are all the same size & coordinate).  Put them in a cute Terra cotta pot as each guest arrives; have the bride-to-be pull 2 or 3 of the cards and whoever's name is on them, they win a door prize- give them a potted plant.  The recipes then can be put in a book or box for the bride-to-be and will be a long lasting treasured memory. 
*Place Setting Name Tags- use 10 for $1.00 seed packets- simply use address labels with a cute font and garden graphic to print each guests name on and then put on the front of seed packet to cover the company name, but not flower.  Have just one of a certain seed and use that for another door prize winner.
*Door Prizes- pairs of garden gloves, hand tools- trowels, shovels, scratcher's; garden stationary, seed packets, potted flowers or any other garden themed gift you can come up with.  
*Menu- You can change names of recipe's to feature the theme.  For example, 'Berry Blossom Salad'- use edible flowers (if available) like pansies & nasturtiums. Rhubarb Punch or Garden Spiral Pasta Salad are a few more.  Use your imagination!
A wonderful Wedding Gift for the happy couple to be is a Picnic Basket.  Be sure to fill it with two of everything- linen napkins, place mats, plates, cups, flatware and pretty glasses.  Don't forget to include a table cloth, candles & candle sticks and some of the couples favorite treats.  
Another special gift is a small Planter of Cooking Herbs such as Basil, Parsley, Sage, Thyme, Oregano and Rosemary.  Make it even more special by including a book on Herb Gardening and an Herb Cookbook. 

Try this yummy meal using Garden Gates Italian Sausage and let your tastes soar....
Three Cheese Herb Pasta Bake

3 Tbsp. butter                                                                            1 tsp each- basil, dill & oregano from A Pinch of Spice & More
2 cloves garlic, minced                                                             2 Tbsp. fresh parsley from Garden Gate    
1/4 cup Whole Wheat flour, from Garden Gate                         1/2 tsp. Pink Himalayan Salt from James Creek Sutlery
1 tsp. mustard from Sansonetti's                                              1/2 tsp. Black Pepper from James Creek Sutlery
3 cup milk                                                                                 16oz. package of Tracina's Gourmet Specialties Rigatoni, cooked
1 cup shredded Cheddar Cheese from Grassfields                   1 pound Italian Sausage from Garden Gate
1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack from Grassfields
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1.  Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic; saute one minute.  Whisk in flour & mustard.  Pour in milk; continue to whisk until smooth.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat and simmer one minute. 
2.  Combine cheeses;  reserve 3/4 cup and set aside.  Add remaining cheese to sauce, a little at a time, stirring until cheese melts.  Add herbs and seasonings. 
3.  Toss pasta with sauce; sprinkle with reserved cheese.  Spoon into a lightly greased 13"x9" baking pan.  Bake uncovered, at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.  Uncover and broil for 1 to 2 minutes, until golden and bubbly.

Happy Day,

Friday, March 30, 2012

Seed Gift's, Secret Pal's and a Yummy Quiche

Seed Gift's, Secret Pal's and a Yummy QuicheI love to give gifts, especially gifts for or from the garden!  There is something special in a wild flower bouquet just because.... or a small start from a perennial plant for a special friend.  I have several perennials in my gardens that are from friends and each time I venture through I think of them, and I do believe this is the point. Each Spring most local stores have the 10 for $1.00 seed packs, I like to stock up on them and include in gift baskets, birthday cards or any other little garden type gift.  Store them in an air tight container and keep in the freezer, it will add to their longevity.

Have you ever had or been a Secret Pal?  I have been on both the receiving and giving end, it is so much fun!  Here are a few tips on how to be one!
*First pick someone who you think could really use some cheering up or someone you think it would just be really fun to surprise.
*Decide how long you want to do it- 3months, 6 months, the longest should be a year.
*Decide on a theme- this makes it easier when deciding on gifts. Once you decide on the person, that should make the theme easier because you will more than likely know what they like. Make a list with the twelve gifts you want to give fitting each one to the month.
*Premake your monthly cards- I used the pictures out of one of those mini calenders you can get for a buck or two, cut the pictures down to fit on a piece of card stock- 4"x6" works really well- also they are already themed to the months!  I glue the picture down for the front of the card and then write or stamp what I want in each one, put it with the envelope and you're ready to roll every month.
*Watch at thrift stores for gifts- you would be shocked what you can find.  Typically most of the bigger thrift shops have a section that is jam packed with Brand New items, still in the wrappers with price tags!
*You can even preplan you gift 'container'. Choose if you want to go with simple yet cute gift bags- which can also be picked up at thrift stores- or cute baskets or even nesting boxes.  The options are endless.
.... so choose that special person and gift away, after all, 'it is better to give then to receive'...
Here is a really yummy Quiche for a special brunch you may be planning or just a really special breakfast...
"Michigan Winter Farmer's Market Quiche"

1 deep dish pie shell                                            2 cups Grassfields Organic Monterrey Cheese (or similar), shredded
1 pound Garden Gate Hot Italian Sausage          1/4 cup chopped bell pepper from Willow Ridge Farm
3 Garden Gate eggs, slightly beaten                   1/2 tsp each Pink Himalayan Salt and Black Pepper from James Creek Sutlery
1 3/4 cup Milk                                                     1 container of Jar Head Salsa
1/2 cup sour cream
                                             Lettuce from Springbrook Garden's, shredded          

1.  Prebake unpricked pie crust on a preheated cookie sheet in a 450 degree oven for about 5-6 minutes.  Reduce temperature to 325 degrees.
2.  Remove casing from sausage, brown in skillet, breaking up the meat until crumbly and cook thoroughly.  Drain well.
3. In a bowl combine eggs, milk, cooked sausage, cheese and peppers.  Turn into partially baked pastry shell. Bake at 325 degrees on the preheated cookie sheet for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from center.  Let stand about 10 minutes to set before serving.
Serve topped with sour cream, salsa and shredded lettuce for a super yummy treat!  Enjoy
Happy Day,

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Robins & Geese, Kitchen Gardens & Yummy Potatoes, oh my...

Several weeks ago our friends Kevin & wife Hilda spotted twenty-one Robins in their front yard! Kevin is the music teacher at our childrens school and he told the children how he and his wife gazed out their living room window in awe counting.  Back in the beginning of February when Neil & I were in Saugatuck we watched about seven fairly large flocks of Canadian Geese heading North.  Well, many an old timer would say, 'The birds know..."  I believe it.  
This weather sure puts me in the mood for gardening even more!  I have several herbs planted in the green house right now; Basil, Rosemary, Parsley, Oregano, Sweet Marjoram and several others.  A few years back my daughter Taylor was reading through one of my Country Garden mag's and came across an article on Kitchen Gardens.  That was all it took for her and then, 'Mom, could we make a kitchen garden?'  Well I never say no to creating another garden, so we went right for it and now we have a lovely garden right off the side of our garage that is easily accessible from the back door and adds beauty to our yard.  We incorporated a Tea bed and several perennials along with the veggies we plant each spring.  My favorite spot in it is the Herb Garden.  I used several old drawers and other containers to put the herb's 'in'.  There are all the perennial herbs that come back year after year and then we try a few new ones each year as well. We always incorporate the annual have to's - primarily Basil! Oh how we love our fresh Heirloom tomato Brushetta with fresh picked basil and garlic.

Here are are a few tips for making your own Kitchen Garden:
*First, make sure your new garden is near an entry door to the house where you can easily go out and gather the bounty for your meals.
*Make sure there is a water source nearby that a sprinkler can be used.
*Do a 'map' of the area and what you would like to incorporate before you start.  Get the proper info on each plant and know how much space you will need for it's growth habits.  I have made the mistake of not giving enough room too often in the past and end up climbing over and through a mass of plants.
*Use container's of all sorts to add an eclectic look. This will also help keep things where you want a bit easier.
*Use flowers to add beauty & charm- you can choose edible ones as well!
I like to take before & after pictures so I can see the progress and see growth over the years.  Have fun in the garden, it is a happy place to be.
Cute Herb Tag Idea:  Take small pieces of broken old slate, painting the name of the herb on it, and spraying it with an acrylic sealer.  Place the marker at the base of each herb.  Then the next year when cleaning up the garden spot there won't be any problem with identification. 
Here is a yummy Winter Thyme Potato Casserole
Of course you can get your potatoes, bacon and thyme all from The Garden Gate Farms booth at the market...
20 Redskin Potatoes                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       1 cup Cheddar Cheese, shredded & divided
1 tsp  Seasoning Salt                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       1 tsp. dried Thyme
1/2 lb. Garden Gate Bacon, crisply cooked, crumbled & divided                                                                                                                                                 1/2 cup Butter, melted

1. Cook potatoes in boiling water until tender; drain.  cool and slice about 1/4 inch thick.
2.  Arrange half the potatoes in a greased 9"x13" baking dish.  Season with Matt's Mix & Thyme.
3.  Top with half the bacon and half the cheese.  Layer on remaining potatoes; repeat with other half of bacon & cheese.  Drizzle butter over top.
4.  Bake, uncovered at 325 degrees until cheese melts and casserole is heated through, about 30 minutes.
Serve with yummy Fostoria Sour Dough Bread with Bellwether Farms butter and Enjoy!
Happy Day,

This is part of the Herb Container Garden in our Kitchen Garden

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Nifty Bird Feeders, Homemade Hummingbird Nectar, A Lovely Garden Path & Taylor's Yummy Oatmeal Pancakes!

I was in the kitchen the other day leaning on the counter looking out one of the windows when a male & female Purple Finch landed on the feeder.  I quick called over baby Aaron and picked him up to watch them.  We were actually only about seven feet away so the view was quite charming.  Aaron got big eyed of course and started pointing and oohing over them.  The birds were quite relaxed due to the 'usual' noise coming out of the house- this was no big deal and continued to eat and enjoy the sunny day.  Soon another pair settled in and things were even more splendid. As I have mentioned in several of my entries, we are big bird watchers and we enjoy feeding them very much.   Although all the bird feed can get a bit expensive I do believe it is well worth the efforts and the rewards of being able to see one of Gods most intricate & beautiful creatures so closely. I have large climbing Sweet Autumn Clematis' growing on both my front arbor and my pergola and the birds just love them. They gather for shelter as well as nesting! Last week I put a bird house in the inside corner of my front arbor well in the vines and I am pleased to say I already have a pair of sparrows nesting in there! 

If you enjoy feeding the birds, here is a really easy bird feeder recipe that you and the children can make to stretch the seed out a 'little' bit longer .
*Nifty Bird Feeders~ General Recipe: Mix about a tablespoon of white corn syrup with approximately 1 cup of bird seed~  Make as much as you want and then using a rolling pin, roll out onto counter or table until about 1/2 inch think or so.  Using cookie cutters have the children cut out shapes; re-roll any remaining seed mix until you have used it all.  Using a thin dowel, no larger than a pencil make a hole about 3/4 of an inch below the top edge of the bird treat; using yarn, thin wire or twine make a loop about 12 inches or so long to hang it out with.  You can also form into suet size to put into your suet holders.
*To make suet cakes use smooth Peanut Butter mixed with a couple tablespoons flour and mix in bird seed of choice, form into cakes and fill your holders.  Keep these in shady areas because they will melt in the heat of August. You can store these in the freezer for up to 3 months, so have fun and make ahead when the peanut butter is on sale and you have time! 
*If you do purchase pre-made suet cakes, save a few of the plastic holders they come in so you have a form handy and they will be the right size.
*Hummingbird nectar is super easy to make without buying the expensive mixes.  Simply add to four cups hot water 1 cup of sugar; stir until sugar is completely dissolved then add  2 drops of red food coloring if you want to, but it is not necessary. Put in fridge to cool down and then fill your feeders- hang out and enjoy the flock that will come. 
*Be sure to plant a row of Mammoth or Giant Grey Striped Sunflowers in your veggie garden or some in your gardens, you will be entertained in the fall by many birds looking for food!
*If you don't have room for a large bird bath somewhere, you can use large Terra cotta or plastic plant saucers for them.  Put down on the ground next to a large shrub so they have somewhere to fly and be sure to keep clean water in it.

*A Pretty Cobblestone Walk ~ see  photo at our website One of the first things I did when we purchased our home was plan all the 'future' gardens and then some. There was nothing here when we came except on overgrown apple tree, an ugly shrub next to the front porch steps, two lilac bushes, a hydrangea bush  and one big beautiful Maple in the back yard. Some might be saying, "Well that's not too bad."  Well maybe it's not to some and the ease of that would be just fine & dandy~ not so for me.  I want gardens that surround and abound, both veggie and flower.  In my opinion they go hand in hand~ you can't not have flowers in your veggie garden anymore than you can't have herbs and a few pretty chard or potato plants mixed in the flower beds.  So the planning started.  One thing I had to have was a cobble stone walk.  A good friend of mine, also a gardener, had a form, soooo I put Neil to work, of course I helped, after all someone had to tell him what to do :-) ! He is my muscles when I need certain hard scapeing done, so we got the neighbors cement mixer, bought several bags of  concrete and went to work.  First I dug up the sod from the planned walkway; next I put down black plastic ground cover to hold back the nasty grass that would surly want to rear it's ugly head up into my path; next we put down about four inches of sand. Now we have a gravel/sand pit right across the road from us, so this is free for the taking for township residents.  If you don't have access to free, then you need to buy enough to lay at least 4 to 6 inches of sand down for the stones to mold into. Now I needed my 'muscles' and as usual he came through beautifully. He mixed the concrete and filled the form on and on until the walk was complete.  I wanted it to be more special though so I had each of our children press their little patties (hands) gently into a stone, then I carefully printed their name and the date in another stone beside it.  I added marbles and made smiley faces with them in neighboring stones as well.  I also had Neil & I do the same and put our wedding date and a heart made with marbles in ours (see photo attached).  I wanted a bit more so I took some maple, fern and hosta leaves and pressed them into several of the other stones.  Now after several years they are all still perfectly visible and are a happy reminder of a hard days work. 

Pancakes can have so many variations, it's simply to the cooks imagination as what to add or not. Here is a yummy variation that goes over well at our house!
Taylor's Yummy Oatmeal Pancakes

1 Package of Taylor's Bake Shoppe 'Buttermilk Pancake Mix'~ follow package directions and then add to one batch recipe:
1/2 cup whole oats
1/4 cup more buttermilk
1 tbsp. Maple Syrup

Fry as you would and serve hot with Garden Gates Breakfast Sausage patties or links and a jug of Kapnick Orchards yummy Apple Cider! 

Happy Day,