Early May Around the Homestead

This is our first spring here on our homestead, and it has been a busy one! In addition to work (so much writing and editing for me, and woodworking for Roger — we are truly lucky!) we’ve been busy digging garden beds, starting seeds, mowing, and just generally settling into spring. We’re closing in on the end of our homeschool year, and there’s still so much I want to get in before we break for summer. We’ll see how it goes.

Other than that, our big news was that we FINALLY got our chickens! We’ve wanted them for years, and considered trying to keep them on the downlow at our old place, but we waited, and I’m so excited to finally have them. I wasn’t confident enough to start off with chicks for our first time around, so we ordered three pullets from a young woman who hatches and raises them locally, and we picked them up last week.

I adore them. We named them Jyn, Leia, and Rey. 😉

Here’s a quick peek at what we’ve been up to the last couple of weeks:

Tasha is very intrigued by the chickens. They are not her biggest fans.

It’s okay, Tash. We love ya.

This is Rey, and behind her is Leia. They’re Easter Eggers, and my new favorite form of entertainment is watching them take dust baths. They really get into it. 🙂

Roger has had a TON of orders in the past few months, and we’re thrilled to see how many people love the items he makes. Of course, this means that some days, he spends nearly the whole day in the workshop, but now that it’s warmer it’s a lot more pleasant out there. Plus the kids are outside more, and his workshop is kind of right in the middle of everything.

We saw these sweet little wildflowers during a walk in our woods. I have no idea what they are, but I keep meaning to look them up. There are also some white ones.

We’re doing nature study more regularly now that it’s warmer out. Last week, we sketched the little flowers on our maple trees. This week, it was all about chickens. 🙂

And, finally, this little sweetie turned NINE earlier this month. I swear we were bringing her home from the hospital just yesterday.

That’s our early May in a nutshell. Now that there’s so much going on, there should be no lack of things to write about here on the blog. 🙂

 

Collecting: Milk Glass

I have Martha Stewart to blame for my interest in collecting milk glass. Well, Martha, and the fact that milk glass is plentiful and easy to collect, and you don’t have to put a lot of money into building a collection.

Of course, I’m not focused too much on age or rarity. I simply buy a milk glass item if I like the shape or size of it. For my purposes, our local resale shops, eBay, and Etsy are all good places to get my hands on milk glass pieces I love.

A Quick History of Milk Glass

Milk glass has been around since the 16th century and was produced in Venice in a variety of colors. The white milk glass that many of us think of when we hear the term “milk glass” became popular during the Victorian era. It gained popularity in Victorian times because it looked almost like porcelain, allowing people to purchase dinnerware that resembled the more expensive, traditional porcelain, even if they were on a budget.

Popularity of milk glass fell off a bit until around World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s, many companies in the U.S. started mass-producing milk glass, which is why we’re lucky to have so many pieces available to us today. Some companies still make milk glass, so when you see it in a resale shop, it’s very possible that you’re seeing a fairly new piece, rather than an antique.

How to Tell If Your Milk Glass is Antique

It’s not easy. Most milk glass wasn’t marked, and patterns stayed fairly similar throughout production. Older milk glass often contained lead, and, if you hold these items up to bright, natural light, you’ll be able to see a sort of “rainbow” effect at the edges of the glass. Other than that, you’ll have to look up your item on sites such as Kovel’s or in books such as The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Milk Glass. The National Milk Glass Collector’s Society also has a helpful FAQ on their website about collecting milk glass.

As for me, I’ll continue to collect for fun, based on what strikes my fancy when I see it. Here’s a look at some of the items in my little collection:

The Bookish Homestead: What We’re Reading This Week

When we moved here, we half-joked, half-cried about how “oh, god, there are more boxes of books to carry in!” It seemed as if every time we were sure we’d finished carrying heavy book boxes in, we’d find a few more on the moving truck. Aside from the shared library in our living room, we all have our own little libraries, and we check out books by the armful when we go into town to visit the library.

I thought it would be fun to share what we’re reading, so here’s the inaugural post of our “The Bookish Homestead” series.

What We’re Reading

The Kids:

Alex, age 8: The Magic Tree House: The Knight at Dawn by Mary Pope Osborn. Alex has read several of the Magic Tree House books, and he says “I just like these books.” Good enough. 🙂

Elizabeth, age 9: Princess Ponies: A Dream Come True by Chloe Ryder. My animal-crazy girl is very into fiction about animals right now. She says: “It’s about Princess Stardust’s best friend, Blossom, who likes to play sports.”

Sarah, age 12: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. Sarah says “it’s a good story and I like the way Maas writes.”

Emily, age 13: Emily is reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling. She just started this, but since she immediately grabbed it after finishing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it’s probably safe to say that she’s just as obsessed with Harry Potter as I’d hoped she’d be.

Roger and Colleen’s Reads:

Roger is reading Backyard Projects for Today’s Homestead by Chris Gleason. If you can find a copy of this out-of-print book, grab it! Roger says that he likes the fact that there are lots of good, simple projects and plenty of detailed photos. Great book to get inspiration for your own building projects.

And, finally, I’m reading Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton (and currently listening to the Hamilton soundtrack as I’m writing this post…) I’m really enjoying this massive biography. Chernow does an amazing job of bringing Hamilton to life, and I love seeing Hamilton’s cockiness played against his insecurities. Fabulous read.

So, that’s what we’re reading this week!

5 Herbs You Can Grow on a Windowsill

One of the things I miss most about gardening during the long winter months is the scent of the garden. Green, vibrant, alive. The pungent odor of tomato leaves, the almost antiseptic scent of marigolds, the delicate perfume of the wild roses that grow near the lilacs in our yard.

And the herbs.

At our old house, for a while at least, I had a respectable little herb garden. I grew chives, two varieties of sage, parsley, dill, chamomile, basil, and rosemary. Thyme crawled along the edges of the raised beds and spilled over the sides. Lemon balm and mint blossoms drew bees while providing us with plenty of leaves for tea.

I will have an even bigger herb garden here, but at the moment, the ground is covered in a couple feet of snow pack. This is the time for dreaming and planning.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t grow a few herbs inside while I wait.

Easy Herbs to Grow on a Windowsill

The main issue you’ll run into in trying to grow herbs indoors is that most of them need A LOT of light to grow well. It’s difficult to find a sunny window in some houses even in the best of times, but winter sunlight is even weaker. You’ll also, of course, need things that don’t grow too tall (unless you have unlimited window space).  Luckily, a few herbs will grow well (if a bit slowly) on a windowsill.

Thyme: There are many varieties of thyme, and all of them grow well indoors. Start with a plant; they take a while to grow from seeds and you want to be able to harvest as often as possible. Let the soil dry out a bit between waterings. The scent of thyme is absolutely glorious, and it’s worth having around just to run your fingertips through occasionally, releasing that fragrance into the air.

Parsley: You can grow this from seed and it will grow well on your windowsill, but you’ll have to be patient. I find that flat leaf parsley does better indoors, but curly parsley will work, too.

Chervil: This herb has a delicate, almost basil-like flavor. It grows well on a cool windowsill with little fuss. Start this one from seed; it grows fairly quickly and the leaves are delicious added to salads, tuna or chicken salad, or any variety of sauces.

Mint and Lemon Balm: These herbs have a reputation for spreading throughout the garden, growing in sun and shade and needing to be fought back to keep them from taking over. Needless to say, this exuberance is well-suited to surviving in the less-than-ideal conditions of your kitchen windowsill. Look for different varieties of mint, such as apple, pineapple, spearmint, peppermint, or even chocolate mint. Mint is best if you start with plants, because some varieties, such as chocolate mint, just don’t grow true from seed and they can take a while to get going. Lemon balm, on the other hand, can be easily started from seed.

Please note that these herbs still prefer warmth, and if your windowsill is especially cold or drafty, they won’t likely do well. If your window is well-insulated, though, they’ll likely thrive there. If your window is a little cold, you can still try it; just move the plants away from the glass a bit so their leaves don’t get too cold, and bring them away from the window if the temperatures are especially frigid.

Of course, if you have an area set aside with grow lights, you can grow pretty much any herb you like indoors. Roger bought a little AeroGarden for me this past year for Christmas, and I’m currently growing basil and parsley in it, so that’s another great option as well.

Either way, a bit of greenery, a gentle hint of basil fragrance in the air, and the chance to spend some time tending to plants makes this snowbound gardener happy. Happy gardening!

Perfect, Simple Baguettes

One thing we can’t seem to get enough of is good bread. Slathered with butter or jam and toasted, serving as the foundation for our favorite sandwiches, or served alongside dinner to soak up sauces and gravies, we are most definitely bread people.

While I love a good, soft sandwich bread, there’s something about a crusty baguette that makes me a little extra happy. And the good news is, you can make 2 baguettes in less than a couple hours. I usually start the dough around lunch time so that the bread is finished baking just before I start dinner; this way, the bread is still warm when dinner goes on the table.

If you need to bake your baguettes ahead of time, but still want warm bread with dinner or lunch, an easy way to achieve that is to wrap your baguettes in aluminum foil and place them in a low (200 degree) oven for ten minutes or so. Unwrap, slice them (or just tear off a chunk) and you’re good to go.

Here’s how I make them.

Assemble Your Ingredients

This is one of the easiest, least fussy bread recipes I make. You only need five things:

  • 4 cups of all purpose flour (note: not bread flour. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but bread flour will make these loaves too soft. You want a nice chewy texture with a baguette.)
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast (equivalent of two packets)
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (Kosher or table salt. Either will work fine.)
  • 1 3/4 cups of warm water (How warm? It should feel like warm bath water. If you’re the thermometer type, you want to shoot for around 110 degrees.)

That’s it.

Make the Dough

To make the baguette dough, simply add the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast to a bowl and whisk the ingredients together. Once that’s done, add the water.

At this point, your bread needs to be… kneaded! If I’m in a hurry, I let my KitchenAid work for me, setting it on a speed of 4 and letting it work for about five minutes.

If you don’t have a mixer or don’t want to use one, simply knead the dough for ten minutes on a lightly floured surface.

Let It Rise

Now, you just need to let it rise. Take your kneaded dough and add it to an oiled bowl (you don’t want the dough to stick to the bowl) turning it over so it’s fully coated in oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and set it aside to rise in a warm, draft-free spot for 30 to 60 minutes.

There are a couple of options here. I like to set my bowl near the woodstove in our living room. It usually rises in about a half hour there when the stove’s on. If your house is particularly cool or drafty, a good option is to turn your oven on before you start the dough, on the lowest possible setting. Let it warm up for about ten minutes, then turn it off. You can place your covered bowl of dough in the oven to rise.

Shape and Rise Again

After 30 to 60 minutes, your ball of dough will have at least doubled in size. Now, it’s time to form your loaves.

First: get out a sheet pan and cover it with parchment paper so your loaves don’t stick. If you don’t have parchment paper, you can sprinkle corn meal onto your sheet pan to do the same thing, plus add a bit of crunch to the bottom of the loaves.

To shape your baguettes, divide your dough in half, putting one half back into the bowl and covering it so it doesn’t dry out.

Flatten the other half of the dough, then roll it out into a roughly 14 x 8 inch rectangle. You do NOT have to be perfect here and there’s no need to get a ruler. Just roll it into a rectangle, and if it’s a little uneven, no big deal. You’ll just be rolling it up anyway.

Once you have it rolled out. start at the long side of the dough and start rolling tightly all the way to the other side. Use a bit of water on your fingers and pinch that seam tightly.

Now you have to deal with the ends. They’re probably a little uneven and weird-looking, right? Wet your fingertips again and fold them over to the seam-side of your loaf. There you go. Nice, neat ends, and all of your seams are on one side. Now, just place it on your sheet pan, flipping it over so the seam side is down.

Repeat with the second loaf.

Slit the top of the loaves and cover them lightly with a towel or plastic wrap. Let them rise another thirty minutes.

Baking

If you want that perfect, shiny baguette look, you’ll want to brush your loaves twice with an egg wash. To make the egg wash, whisk an egg with about a tablespoon of water. Right before the loaves go into your preheated 375 degree oven, brush them with about half of the egg wash.

Place your pan on a rack in the center of the oven and let the loaves bake for 15 minutes. After fifteen minutes, brush them with the rest of the egg wash, rotate the pan to ensure even browning, and then bake for 10 more minutes.

(An aside: I’ve forgotten the egg wash several times in making this bread. It’s just as delicious without it.)

Done!

There you go: two perfect, delicious, crusty baguettes, in less than two hours!

To store this bread, you can wrap it in foil or, if you have bags from storebought sandwich bread (yes, I hoard plastic bags…), simply slip the loaves into those. The loaves freeze really well, too. Just wrap them up in foil or plastic, freeze them, and take them out the morning you want to eat them so they have time to defrost.

This is probably my favorite bread recipe, and it’s SO EASY. Good luck!


Print Recipe
Easy Homemade Baguettes
Delicious, chewy, perfect baguettes, right from your very own kitchen.
Course Bread
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Passive Time 60 to 90 minutes
Servings
loaves
Ingredients
Course Bread
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Passive Time 60 to 90 minutes
Servings
loaves
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Add flour, sugar, salt, and yeast to a bowl. Stir.
  2. Add water. Stir.
  3. Knead for ten minutes by hand or for five minutes in a standing mixer.
  4. Let the dough rise in an oiled bowl for 30 to 60 minutes in a warm, draft-free spot.
  5. Divide dough in half. Working with one half at a time on a floured surface, flatten then roll with a rolling pin into a 14 x 8 inch rectangle.
  6. Starting at the long side of the dough, roll into a cylinder. Pinch seam closed.
  7. Fold over ends to seam side, pinch closed.
  8. Repeat with 2nd loaf.
  9. Place loaves, seam side down, on a parchment covered baking sheet or a baking sheet sprinkled with corn meal to prevent sticking.
  10. Cut slits in the tops of the loaves with a serrated knife; allow to rise for 30 minutes.
  11. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  12. Brush with 1/2 of the egg wash (optional) then bake for 15 minutes.
  13. Rotate pan, brush with remaining egg wash, and bake for 10 more minutes.
  14. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
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