summer greens at Mountain Glen Farm

summer greens at Mountain Glen Farm

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Beginning Cake Decorating

I just cannot help myself.  I have to keep trying new things even though I have enough interests to keep me busy 24-7 for the rest of my life…no exaggeration!

This time it was a cake decorating class.

I had no real intention of learning cake decorating.  I had wanted to learn how to frost cupcakes (by the way, to date, I have never made a cupcake in my life) since watching the television program, ‘Cupcake Wars’.  And, for Christmas 2011, Becky gave me a decorating set which included 14 different decorating tips, a flower nail, a coupler for attaching the tips to the two reusable frosting bags, a cake tester, a decorating comb, a spatula, and four bottles of food coloring; but, NO instructions.  So, the set sat in a kitchen drawer.

Then, four weeks ago, I decided to check out the class schedule for Staunton Parks & Recreation in Augusta County. Even though I live in Rockbridge County, I am able to take advantage of Augusta's programs.  This recreation program is where I took a jewelry making class last summer, and you know what happened with that class... I went crazy, more like excessive, making natural gemstones necklaces.  In any case, there it was…Beginning Cake Decorating.  And, the registration deadline had passed.  It was late Friday night and I had no chance to inquire about the class at that time.  I thought about that class over the weekend; and, on Monday morning, I decided to try to get into the class.  I did.    
first practice plate

my 2nd cake decorated (Valentine's Day)
my 1st decorated cake ( Glenn's birthday)


Four class sessions later, I am able to (not perfect, but passable for a real beginner) smoothly frost a layer cake (my frosting  would always sag down the sides of any layer cake I made previous to this class); and,  use frosting to write messages, to decorate with shell trim and basket weave, to make rosettes and roses to decorate cakes.  I think my progress is a huge accomplishment over my normal technique of flat frosting a pan cake with a butter knife (I never owned a spatula - angled or otherwise) and throwing some decorating sugar or sprinkles over the top - done!
more practice pieces

my first attempt at roses - Would you believe wildflowers?

I am thrilled, I had fun, and I look forward to truly decorating all my future cakes.

My class final - the cake is unfinished because I ran out of frosting - oops!

By the way,   I still have not made or decorated a cupcake. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Queso Blanco

So, what am I up to now?


Well, I took another class last night and today I am making homemade cheese.   In class, the procedure was so easy and fun...except for that woman who almost poured an entire pot of HOT milk, curds included, on me.  She missed the bowl and I was lucky enough to be quick enough to jump out of the way. The instructor is well versed in ‘back to basics’ stuff such as herbal remedies; bread making; canning; soap making; and homemade, natural cleaners.  I have signed up for another class to be held in April.  You will have to check back to see what else I will be learning.

Dee, the instructor, demonstrating the draining process.

Now, for the cheese…


I am using store-bought milk since our cows are beef cows; but, I am already putting my own twist on the recipe by incorporating my dried Roma tomatoes and my dried sweet basil, both of which are home grown. I hope we , meaning Glenn and I, like it.

heat milk
add acid, curds form
drain whey from curds

The recipe itself is quite simple: heat milk, add vinegar, drain curds, add salt/tomatoes/basil, and drain again. Voila - homemade Queso Blanco cheese.

drained curds
adding salt, dried tomatoes, dried basil

mixed cheese curds/crumbs


And, the taste…..well, I will not know for hours because that it the time needed for the second drain.  Actually, that second drain can be anywhere between one hour and overnight, but I am going for a four-hour drain. Correction…I must have done something wrong as I did not need a second drain.  I thought I was supposed to twist and squeeze the cheese wrapped in cloth before draining…guess not. So, I unwrapped my cheese ball and it is more like cheese crumbs; fortunately, the cheese crumbs taste great.  My version should be a tasty addition crumbed over salad, spaghetti, baked potatoes…


And the resulting liquid from the drain, the whey (remember Little Miss Muffet eating her curds and whey?), will not go to waste.  It can be reheated resulting in a ricotta cheese.  And, the resulting whey from the ricotta can be used in bread, in other recipes requiring water, watering plants, or to water the chickens.  I think I will opt for bread, first.


Wrong again as I did not get any, and I do mean NOT ANY, ricotta formed during the reheating of the initial whey.  I think I will nix the bread this go around and recycle my whey to my chickens.  They will eat/drink anything.


OK… so, cheese making looked like it was going to be easy.  Maybe I need a cheese-making refresher course already…and, better luck next time!


P.S.  Those cheese crumbs were a fabulous flavor topping for our dinner salads; so, not a complete failure.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Grey Day

Yesterday was a grey day.


Yes, the sky was dark; getting even darker as each hour progressed.


And, by the time we left the house around 2:00 PM, we were driving through a heavy snow storm.  It was difficult to see. It was also a good thing that the snowstorm seemed to be hovering over our farm and very local surroundings. The majority of the 2.5 hour drive was dry; yet, still very dark.

We said our ‘Good Byes’ and I shed a few tears as we saw Matt walk through the gates at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC. 

He had started his journey for deployment overseas.  Excuse me while I go get a tissue….

We learned that earlier in the day, Matt ran into a small glitch as he pre-registered for his flight from home; his airline ticket had not been paid by the person in charge.  He had a reservation, but no payment had been made.  Unfortunately, late Saturday afternoon is not a good time to find out such news.  Matt quickly figured out how to make the payment as the responsible party was not working at 5:00 PM this past Saturday. Then, three hours later, at the airport luggage check-in desk, his paid ticket information could not be found.  After fingering her computer for minutes, the counter agent finally announced, “You are going to London, right?” WRONG!  First leg of the flight had Matt landing in Germany. GOVERNMENT…enough said.


Matt likes to keep his life private, so all I will say is that his final destination begins with an “A”.  NO, not Alaska (he just came back from there after a long three years), but you are close…I guess a winter parka is similar to a Burqa in terms of cover-up.  I do not think Matt will down a Burqa; a man dress… maybe.  Again, enough said.


So, as I empty the tissue boxes, I will always be thinking of my son and hoping that he stays safe!

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Time To Think

A simple walk...nothing fabulous, nothing spectacular…just an ordinary day on the farm in the middle of February;  the trees stand bare, the grasses are brown, the sky radiates blue, the air warm and calm, the cattle and sheep graze contently and quietly in the far pasture, and all is peaceful…a time to ponder, a time to remember - perfect!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Silent Sam

Today was another mild day, so I decided to go for a short walk with the dogs.  I mean, I went for a short walk with Jake following or near my side while Buddy raced ahead, as usual.


Coming back into the yard, I decided to go fetch the day’s accumulation of eggs.  As I made the turn around the corner where my overgrown barberry knot garden is located, I noticed Sam, our resident mockingbird, sitting only a few feet from me.  I stopped and watched him.  He rotated his head and watched me. The cats started to gather near us, but Sam did not move.  Sam did not even quiver.


I decided to take a chance and detour into the house for my camera.  I asked Sam to wait.  And, wait he did.


On my return, again, I was able to proceed to just a few short feet from his position at the top of one of the barberry shrubs. 


Sam posed as still as a statue for quite some time. He was very patient as I took a few photos with different settings on my camera. Then, it was time for him to fly off.


And, for a few minutes this afternoon, I was in paradise!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

No Groundhogs In Sight

When the weather outside is downright cold, I do my wildlife watching from inside the house. The location of the house is favorable to this activity as I can look out any window and enjoy a myriad of creatures most any time of day; and, the best part is that I go unnoticed.


This morning Glenn called me over to the front, mountain-side window to observe a  hawk perched in the nearest tree downhill from the house. WE believe this hawk to be a Red-shouldered Hawk. I see this hawk (I like to think I see this particular bird) quite often; so, I have designated this red-shouldered our resident hawk. This bird is so majestic at rest or in flight.  I am thrilled to be able to watch one on, what seems to be, a regular basis.


Later in the afternoon, one of our many herds of deer wandered out of the woods into the pasture just below the house.  I started counting…one, two, three, four, five; and then, I saw two more off to the side.  One of these ‘loners’ was a buck.  I could barely make out the nice rack of antlers  blending with the muted grasses of the season as the buck lowered his head to graze, but I did; not enough to count the points, but enough to know I was looking at a buck.


The buck joining the small group of does.
Even though it is the day after Groundhog Day, our groundhogs, and we do have quite a population, seem to be hibernating. But, that is OK, as watching the hawk and deer are so much better!


And, as for the remainder of winter, I do not give much credence to a groundhog’s prediction. I take the seasons as I get them, always spiced with plenty of natural beauty.


Each moment…magnificent!