May 31, 2010

Recipe of the week -- Easy Meatballs

Who doesn't love meatballs?? They are simply the best, easiest and yummiest appetizer around.

Versatility is the key here and these meatballs are perfect. They make a great appetizer or with the addition of some cooked rice they become an instant lunch. What's not to love?

My kids ask for these about once every couple weeks and they will eat as many as I will allow. I've also found that when I use them as a meal, broccoli is the veggie of choice to go with.

Easy Meatballs

30 frozen meatballs (approx. 1 oz. each)
1 cup BBQ sauce (use your fave)
1/2 cup Sweet & Sour sauce
Cooked white rice (optional)

In a large skillet, heat frozen meatballs over medium heat until mostly thawed. Add sauces; stir to coat meatballs. Cover. Cook over medium heat until heated through.

For an easy main dish, serve over cooked rice.

As you can see from my picture, the last time I served these, I dressed them up with green onions and sesame seeds. It made them look pretty and gave them just a little something extra special.

The crockpot is another excellent way to prepare these. Put the frozen meatballs and the sauces in a 3-4 quart crockpot and cook on low until 3-4 hours. This way is especially good for buffet style dining.

For more great recipes visit everyone over at Tempt My Tummy Tuesday, Tuesdays at the Table and Mouthwatering Mondays.

Planting Season

Have you ever seen the movie For Richer For Poorer with Tim Allen? It's one of my favorite movies.

If you haven't, it's basically a story about a couple that hiding out from the law (they're innocent) and end up on an Amish farm posing as cousins from Missouri. The movie lets you think that they fooled this Amish family into believing they are the cousins until the end when the couple comes back to visit and make amends for the trouble they caused. The Amish couple reveals that they knew all along that they were "English" and just choose not to say anything. When Tim Allen's character asks why, they reply "Planting season". They needed the help so they let them stay.

All week I've been walking around thinking about that and how when it's planting time I wish there was more help. I'd love to get all the planting done in one day instead of several, but I also know that I'm just picky enough that no one would ever do it as good or how I want it.

I know this is a major fault of mine, but knowing this I try not to complain about the work too much. It keeps everyone happier that way.

We finally finished planting last night. There was a big push to get it done as it was supposed to rain today. And guess finally is. When I woke up to sunny skies I was slightly annoyed. I thought the weatherman was wrong again.

We now have nearly 5000 sq. ft. of yummy veggie goodness waiting to grow and become dinner. I can almost taste them just looking at the rows and rows of potential awaiting us.

I did manage to plant a few flowers, too. Not too many though because for whatever reason flowers and I don't get along so well. I planted one barrel of annuals and hopefully I can keep them alive. Poor things.

I think I'm now going to go grab my book and watch the rain fall. I believe I deserve one afternoon off, don't you?

May 27, 2010

Fiber Fun Friday -- The Tale of the Evil Bamboo

We've been super busy this past week so I don't have much for Fiber Friday, but I do have a tale to pass along to you.

A couple weeks ago I saw a posting on facebook by a friend. The picture was eye catching and I just had to click on it.

That picture was this ~~
It was linked to her Etsy shop. That friend and her shop is Silver Sun Alpacas. Seriously awesome spinning fibers. I've bought from her before and she's speedy and her fibers are the best! I love her stuff so much that I have to purposely avoid her shop most of the time.

Anyway, I had to buy it. It's 3 different 1.5 oz bamboo rovings. I've worked with bamboo when I've mixed it with alpaca, but I'd never thought to spin it alone. The price was great so I had to give it a try.

It arrived in the mail in 4 days and I was ready to go. Of course I had another project on the wheel at the time so it had to wait a few days.

Eventually I was able to sit down and give it a try. Right away I could feel it was far slipperier than the wools and alpaca I was use to. I got it started with little difficulty and was going along good when *BAM* it broke (or rather pulled apart). Grrr. I got it going again and a few feet later it broke again.

This happened several more times until I had what looked like a little pile of white worms hanging out on my lap. I walked away and left it for a day.

It stared at me as I knit, making me feel guilty for leaving it all alone so I sat down at the wheel again to give it another whirl (haha).

I stubbornly kept at it and finally found a rhythm that allowed the fiber to flow through my hands and still give it enough twist to stay together.

I'm so glad I finished it because now it looks so gorgeous. The white is spun, the black is nearly finished and tomorrow I'll finish the wine colored bamboo.

The lesson here is obvious....don't give up no matter how "evil" your fiber may behave.

Happy Birthday to Two of My Beautiful Daughters!

One amazing daughter by marriage, one by birth. Both share the same birthday. Happy Birthday to both of you. May your day be great and filled with joy!

May 25, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Feelin' The Alpaca Love

We are jumping up and down here on the farm as we have just realized we've hit 100 posts!! Whohoo!! Thanks for joining us and enjoy Wordless Wednesday!

My Thoughts on the National Alpaca Conference thoughts. That could be dangerous. :o) Where to start....

As a farm still in it's toddler stage (sorry, I think like a mom), we are still new to shows. We visited our first alpaca show in April of 2009. It was the Indiana Alpaca Invitational and it was a level V show. It was an awesome experience and I have to admit it spoiled us a little.

We attended our first show as participants in September of last year with just one animal. We had a great time there too. We were ready to keep on showing and really looking forward to the 2010 Spring shows.

It was around Christmas time when we found out that the National Alpaca Conference was coming to Ft. Wayne, IN. What luck!! Ft. Wayne is only about 1 1/2 hours from here. Practically in our backyard! This is also the same place we've attended other shows so it was a little like a homecoming. Immediately we assumed we'd go as alpaca exhibitors because why would we pass this opportunity up?

Registration opened up in March and I was first in line (metaphorically speaking). Enter huge disappointment #1. The price for registration was unbelievable! It was far higher than any other show we'd attended and too far out of our budget. It took only about a minute to realize we weren't going to Nationals with our animals. :( Instead we choose to focus on other things we could enter. Spin-offs were an obvious choice.

If you don't know what spin-offs are they are a competition in which your alpaca's fiber is judged anonymously on it's characteristics and it's ability to be spun into yarn. You get lots of feedback from the judging and it gives your animal a chance to get a ribbon without the stress of a trailer ride. Very cool!

I also sent in some of my photos to the photography contest. We all know I can't resist a photo contest. :o)

Well, now we are up to show time. The show was this past weekend and originally I thought we weren't going to visit it at all, but we were able to take off Sunday afternoon to check it out. I had a feeling that by the time we got down there a good majority of the farms would be packing up for their drives home, but the emptiness of that arena was astounding. Enter huge disappointment #2.

We mostly went to say we had gone to Nationals and to see how our spin-offs and photos had done. I also really wanted to see the vendors because they usually have some great show specials and I can buy things in person to save on shipping.

We arrived at the show about 1pm. Now according to the schedule the show was open to the public until 4pm and alpaca and vendor move-out was from 4-10pm. I guess no one reads the schedule because the first thing we see when we walk in is dozens of empty paca and vendor stalls.

If you happened to read my post about the Indiana show in April you know my feelings about farms leaving early. I know some of them have long drives, but the vendors I couldn't believe. Why would you leave early and lose the potential sales? To all of you that left early...don't expect any future business from me.

I was also completely amazed that the AOBA people had already taken down all of the fiber arts projects, yarn skeins and photographs. Grrr. I had come down to see how my photos placed and of course wanted to check out the competition.

I found one of the people wandering around with an AOBA staff name tag and asked her about the photos. I told her that I had come down to see the show that afternoon and had wanted to see the photos. She apologized, but didn't seem that apologetic. I had to explain to her that I had entered photos and wanted to see how they placed. She finally went and retrieved the box they had been put in. Turns out I had a 1st, 3rd and an honorable mention. Whohoo, I guess. Seemed like a let down after not being able to see them up.

At least the spin-offs were still up, but because they were behind tables I couldn't find my animals. They were too far away for my poor eyes to see. Disappointment #3.

We walked through the animal pens and although a vast majority were packed up and empty we did see a few nice animals. One huacaya in particular caught my attention. We've been looking to add a fawn female to our breeding herd so I was kind of looking. In the back of the lower level sort of by where the shearing was taking place was a pen with 2 huacayas in it. The fawn colored one was gorgeous. Unfortunately there was no farm sign, no registration certs hanging, no identification what so ever. In fact I have no idea if it was male or female. I thought about getting in and lifting it's tail, but if someone had done that with mine I'd have been pissed, so I stayed out.

To the unknown farm that had this animal....If this animal had been female I probably would have made you a cash offer right there. Your loss.

We did have a great time with the vendors so one thing went right. I got some new halters and Jim got some socks. We also got a really great deal on a universal chip reader. That alone made the drive worthwhile.

On the way out we were able to pick up our spin-offs. We sent 3. Two placed. Our Chu Chu got a 2nd place and Jack (the same Jack that I keep mooning over when I spin) got a 6th place. Not bad considering the number of whites he was up against.

Overall the whole experience was a big disappointment (I think you might have already figured that out) and I'm really losing any enthusiasm I once had for shows.

May 24, 2010

Recipe of the week -- Super Yummy Honey Mustard Sauce

This mustard sauce should be called the Super Yummy Honey Mustard Sauce That Goes On Everything! The name says it all. We use this sauce as a baste, a glaze and a dipping sauce. It's very kid friendly.

This sauce came from a more complicated chicken recipe eons ago. That recipe was only so-so, but this sauce was a huge hit.

At our house this is commonly eaten one of three ways...on ham, on chicken or as a dipping sauce for the ever present chicken nuggets. I'm sure there are lots more ways to use it too. These just happen to be the most used in our house.

For ham I will usually take ham steaks, cook them under the broiler, basting with the sauce every couple minutes. Mmmm.

I do a little more work with the chicken. I dredge chicken breasts in flour and brown them in a skillet with olive oil or butter (depends on the mood). Then I brush the sauce on the chicken breast and broil them until they are cooked through. This makes a nice crispy outside and a juicy inside. Of course extra sauce must be served on the side for dipping! :o)

****Reminder -- Never, ever, ever use sauce for dipping that has been anywhere near raw or undercooked meat. If you want to baste and then use sauce for dipping, remove a portion of the sauce and set aside before you baste.****

I have made up this sauce and kept in the fridge for a week with no problems so you can enjoy many dippings this way.

Super Yummy Honey Mustard Sauce

1/2 cup prepared mustard
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup mayo or Miracle Whip
1 tbls. dried onion flakes

In a small bowl, mix all ingredients until well blended. Let sit for at least 10 minutes before using. Refrigerate any unused portions.

For more great recipes visit everyone over at Tempt My Tummy Tuesday, Tuesdays at the Table and Mouthwatering Mondays.

May 21, 2010

Fiber Fun Friday -- How To Read a Knitting Chart

I feel like I'm playing catch-up this morning. Normally I have my posts done ahead of time, but not this week. I had the most horrible earache yesterday. It actually had kept me up most of the night before. It felt like someone had stuck a red hot poker in my ear and wiggled it around. The whole side of my face was on fire.

Went to the doc yesterday morning and he said I have swimmers ear. What?!?! I don't swim! Apparently that just means that the ear canal has lost it's nice protective lining so it's inflamed and irritated. I've got ear drops now and the pain is down to a dull roar, but it kept me from concentrating on anything yesterday. Now I'm trying to get this post up this morning before I head out to do chores in the rain.

Have you ever come across a pattern that you loved, but choose not to knit because the instructions were in a chart instead of written out? I've passed by many in my knitting career because they just looked terrifying.Well.....I finally found a pattern that I couldn't pass up. It's the cutest baby bonnet. I know lots of expectant mothers in my ring of friends so I'm sure one of them will get it as a gift, but it just seemed like the perfect pattern to use some of my handspun alpaca. Unfortunately it has a chart for the repeated wave pattern. Yuck! I spent 2 days agonizing over this. I read instructions, called my mom, read more online and even then was not sure I was reading it right. (and my chart was a tiny repeat)

I finally decided I needed to dive right in and I would figure out fast enough if I was reading the chart right or not. Amazingly enough the pattern came out perfect so I must have finally deciphered that stupid chart right.

I thought for this Friday I'd pass along what I learned about chart reading to you in the hopes that you won't agonize over it as long as I did.

Knitting charts begin at the lower right-hand corner. The bottom row indicates the first row of knitting, and as your work your way up, each row of the chart shows the next row of knitting.

This seems totally foreign since we've had the left to right, top to bottom drilled into us since Kindergarten, but it makes sense when you think about it. If you hold you work in front of you, as if you were going to start knitting it. Were is your first stitch? On the right side of the piece. The next row would be above that's sort of makes sense when you think about it.

Instead of working each row as you see it from right to left, though, you start the second row with the first stitch on the far left side and work from left to right. Continue working from right to left, left to right, right to left from the bottom to the top of the chart. When you reach the top and knit the last row, you're done.

Some patterns are simple color patterns, while others are more complicated, requiring keys to different stitches to help you decipher them. Some knitting charts show the full width of the pattern, while others indicate where a pattern repeats over the course of a knitted blanket or shawl, for example. Color knitting charts indicate where the colors change in a pattern, while pattern charts show which stitches are made at which point in the project.

If you're having trouble making sense of a knitting chart or keeping track of where you should be, it might help to write out the instructions in words. Some people are more visual (not me) and take to knitting from a chart very easily, while for others it is more difficult and takes some practice (me!).

I wrote on my chart indicating right side and wrong side because my chart symbols were instructions like P on WS, K on RS for one symbol and K on WS, P on RS for another. Would it have been to hard to just make a purl symbol and a knit symbol!

Anyway, I made it through and the pattern turned out beautifully. Now I only have to finish the back of the bonnet and stitch the seams. Wonder who is going to get this lovely bonnet? {Evil grin} I know, but you'll have to wait to find out.

Oh, if you like the looks of the yarn, I do have another skein identical to this one in my Etsy store. It's called Jack's Crush.

For more Fiber Arts Fun visit Fiber Arts Friday.

May 18, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Reading Lesson

4-H Recycled CD Case Project

Today is one of those days where I am struggling to get anything done. It's cold and rainy here again and it makes me want to curl up in the chair with a blanket and watch movies all day. The weather man is promising temperatures nearing the 80's very soon, but I won't hold my breath. Every time we seem to get close it gets damp and chilly again.

I thought I could at least share with you our fun little craft from 4-H last week. We had a great time as always and this month's craft was non-messy. I always love the glueless crafts!

This project was great because it was a "green" craft. It was made from CD cases that one of the families were just going to throw out. How cool is that!

The instructions we used can be found here.

Basically you took the CD cases apart and put them back together kind of backwards. They then snapped together to form a cube that we put cute decorative scrapbook paper in. Others were putting pictures and mini calendars in theirs, but I hadn't thought that far ahead.

The way these are made there is no bottom. You can't use them to carry things around, but they could hold things on a shelf or desk. They make such darn cute conversation pieces too.

They turned out really cute and even Nick enjoyed the project. In fact, I think I am going to have to make one filled with alpaca pictures and stick it on my desk.

May 16, 2010

What's In Your Yard?

I'm not sure why, but all of a sudden I had the "what's in your wallet?" commercial in my head, hence the title. :o)

Every year about this time we have snapping turtles. Big, huge, mean snapping turtles. They come out of the surrounding swamps to find a place to lay their eggs. We get 5-6 different ones every spring. Yesterday there was one in our neighbor's yard. Today one is in ours.

The alpacas are not very fond of these turtles. I think maybe it's because they can't really tell what they are. They can see them moving across the yard, but they don't stick up above the grass much.

It takes each turtle 2-3 hours to cross our yard depending on which way they are going. The entire time they are visible to the 'pacas, the 'pacas are screeching. If you've never heard an alpaca screech...well, I think I need to invest in a pair of ear plugs during turtle season.

This particular turtle's shell was around 12"x14". I'm only guessing though since I wasn't getting close enough to measure it.

I got a video of the turtle walking. It's so funny because it walks a couple feet then takes a 10 minute break before walking again. I also was able to get 1 video of my watch-girl Athena screeching at the turtle. I swear, the second they see the camera they shut up no matter what hazard they think they see.

Recipe of the week -- Texas Sheet Cake

This is my go-to chocolate recipe for those times when I just have to have some chocolate.

Besides being super easy, this is a one bowl (or rather pot in this case) cake. There are versions of this cake all over the place with some slight variations in each. My recipe came from my Grandma originally.

Texas Sheet Cake

2 sticks butter
4 tbls. baking cocoa
1 cup water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups sugar
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350*. In a large sauce pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add cocoa and water; bring to a boil. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Pour into a greased and floured jelly roll pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

1 stick butter
1 lb. powdered sugar
4 tbls. baking cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup milk

While cake is baking, melt butter in same pot used for cake. Add remaining ingredients; stir. Pour into cake immediately after it is removed from oven.

May 13, 2010

Fiber Fun Friday - Do You Know What Cotting Is?

Until this week I had no idea what cotting was. Well, I'd seen it, but I didn't know that was what it was called.

The dictionary says the definition of cotting is this: Said of wool which has become matted or felted while on the sheep, due usually to continuous wetting.

Poor sheep. It happens to alpacas too and it makes the fiber almost entirely unusable.

I spent Monday at my second most favorite farm (mine being first of course!). It was shearing day at Wind Walker Ranch in Middleville, Michigan and we drove up there to offer our help. Andrea, the Wonder Why Gal, was there sorting the fiber as it came off the animals.

(The Wonder Why Gal)

My job that day was filling out forms as Andrea sorted. I wrote down whatever she said without much thought until she said "mild cotting". Cotting?? What the heck is that?

It turns out that cotting is the term for matted fleece. Basically the fiber felted to itself right on the animal near the skin. For us fiber artists that spells bad news. Fiber that has cotting is not very user friendly. In fact, most of the time it's not usable at all.

How to prevent cotting? I'm not sure there are any fool-proof methods to prevent it, but since it's caused by a lot of moisture at the skin, the first step would be to prevent that moisture build-up. You can do that by shearing before it gets too hot or keeping the animals cool with fans if shearing is not yet possible.

Cotting is now my new vocabulary word and like the kids, I've looked up the definition and used it in a sentence. Do I get an A? :o)

Hopefully you've learned something today and as a parting gift I will leave you with a picture from my favorite yarn I spun this week.

The Knitting Song

Do you remember watching Fraggle Rock on TV when you were little? I do. I came across this and I'm still laughing. Seriously, there are tears running down my face.


May 11, 2010

Last Day of School

It's the last day of school. Not our school at home, but our homeschool co-op. The kiddos get a few more weeks of school at home, but it was nice to celebrate this milestone today. Now, what do you think of when you think of the last day of school? Warm temps, shorts and t-shirts, sunny skies and thoughts of trips to the beach?

We have none of the above today. It's cold, windy and rainy. All of our last day plans got shoved aside by the horrible weather.

Hey Mother's MAY 11 not March 11.

The temp picture was taken in my truck on the way home from school. It was early afternoon.

Anyway, it was a good day despite the weather. This group is made up of some really great people and we are so happy we joined this year. It's made a big difference on the kids attitude towards school work.

My 3 morning classes were all prepared to work hard, but I surprised them. In craft class we got to color and watch Veggietales, in history we played pictionary and in science they colored. What a fun way to end the school year.

As much as we are looking forward to summer, school and all our friends will be missed. And thanks for the donuts Susan!!

May 09, 2010

Big Announcements!

As some of you have seen or heard we had one big announcement already this week. Our farm will soon be selling Spinolution wheels. These spinning wheel are AWESOME and I will let you know the second they arrive.

The second announcement is just as exciting, but also slightly terrifying.

We are now Full-Time farmers. That's right...Jim no longer works at Lowe's and I get to be his boss now (insert evil bad guy laugh).

As great as this is, it means we are now completely responsible for making the $$. Over the next few months you will see our fiber business expand and take off (fingers crossed since a lot of this is up to you guys). The veggies will also be a major player over the summer as we hit the farmers market with our tasty goodies.

Of course the 'pacas are always here and for sale to the right buyer. Babies are coming soon and we will eventually have to make some room by selling a few.

We just ask that even if you can't support us by buying our products, you can support us with your kind words, thoughts and encouragements. They mean a great deal to all of us.

The kids are absolutely ecstatic by this turn of events because Daddy's home all the time now. Mommy is happy, but not so ecstatic about the change of routines. We'll have some time to figure it out and I'll just have to become less of a control freak (ok, I'm not really that bad).

As always, we will keep you up to date on the farm happenings and look for Spinolution wheels to be arriving soon!

May 08, 2010

To the Greenhouse We Go

It's Spring, at least according to the calendar, so it means it's time for the annual trip to the Greenhouse. Most things we plant from seed, but tomatoes and peppers are bought at the local greenhouse. I decided awhile ago that it wasn't worth it to try and grow these from seed.

We had a great time looking at all the pretty flowers and yummy veggie plants and the people here are always so nice.

Now if only he weather would cooperate. It's 40* and WINDY here. Brrr. For now my little plants will have to hang out on the kitchen table.


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