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arts & crafts

Favorite Things 2018 – A Gift Guide

Oh, yes, friends. It is that time of the year againTime for a list of my favorite things, aka The Aghag’s gift guide for Holiday giving. Please excuse me for being late this year. The Camp Fire has taken its toll and everything is just a whisper off.  Ok, back to business, I have this set up where all you have to do is click on the link under the photo (the underlined words in the caption of the photo) and it should take you to the corresponding shop. These are all products I use and love and I am not being paid to say that.

1.

Last year after the Cherokee Fire, a group of my friends sent me boxes of “things that made me feel better”. All of the things made me feel loved and better. But my friend, Dairy Carrie extra spoiled me because she sent a box of glorious cheese. I won’t lie, I cried when I opened it. You will too. This is a great gift. My whole family loved and benefitted from this gift.

2.

 

This has been a big year in terms of personal growth for me. I learned a lot about feminism, patriarchy and how we react when confronted with ugly truths. Without this book, I would have been very lost. Ms. Solnit’s writing helped guide me through some nasty misogyny this year. I highly recommend men, women and teenagers read this book. It is a wonderful start into this complex topic.

3.

If you are from Chico chances are you have a Klean Kanteen and this is why: “The devastating Camp Fire in our Chico backyard decimated the town of Paradise. We’re proud to offer our exclusive ‘Butte Strong’ 16oz Insulated Wide. 100% of NET proceeds will go directly to Camp Fire relief efforts. Special thanks to local Chico artist 12 Volt Tattoo for the custom graphic. “
I bought one because they are giving back and supporting the survivors of the Camp Fire and I love this model because of the lid.

4.

Authentic Japanese snacks, need I say more? I’m a foodie. I like to try different foods. I heard about Snakku and I knew immediately I needed to try it. It did not disappoint! Everything the box contained was a new and exciting experience in taste and texture. It came beautifully wrapped, so not only was it a treat for my palate, it was for the eyes as well.

5.

Two words: honey bears! Travis started his own apiary (aka beekeeping) from scratch. I had the privilege to meet his bees, taste his honey and see some of it get bottled. It was fascinating. I’ve always wanted my own bees until I figured out I’m allergic and I saw how hard Travis worked. It’s much better to buy honey from the professionals. I highly recommend this one.

6.

Growing up in Durham, you know the Sohnrey family. You just do. A couple years ago they opened up a farm store. It’s my go to place for local agriculture products. These Lemon Almonds have been sent all around the world in gift packages because they are freaking amazing. All the best fruits and nuts come from California, here is the best place to get some.

7.

It makes the List every year for a reason, wiping your own butt is gross. It will make the List every year for that reason. Enough said.

8.

My Mom makes this lovely soap. She has for over 20 years now. She hand makes it, in her kitchen, in small batches. She uses goat’s milk, essential oils, clay, olive oil, and other feel good, smell good and look pretty things. It’s all I use in my shower and I swear by it. I know I’m her kid, and I’m supposed to say this, but sweet Baby Oprah, this soap is glorious. You have to email her at SharonLBrown@gmail.com if you’d like to place an order. Her inventory changes with the season, so make sure to ask about all her scents.

9.

Black Chickpeas! Small Town Specialties has some unique products!

Black Chickpeas! Small Town Specialties has some unique products!

Small Town Specialties has black chickpea and Livermore red walnuts. Both super cool things! I had the pleasure of meeting both Allen and Melissa, they were wonderfully nice. Black chickpeas and red walnuts are pretty usually, so this would be a wonderful gift for your favorite foodie or entertainer in your life.

That is it for this year folks. I hope this helped or at least gave you some good gift giving ideas. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and thank you for reading.

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The Best Spinach Dip

Spinach dip is a death row food for me (you know, what you’d request if you were on death row for a last meal). I grew up with our family making it a certain way. As I became an adult and went to non family parties, I learned a bitter truth: not everyone made spinach dip the best way. It was shocking, to say the least. In an effort to show people the best version of spinach dip, I feel compelled to share our family version.

Cold, creamy, deliciousness. And it's spinach so it's healthy, right?!

Cold, creamy, deliciousness. And it’s spinach so it’s healthy, right?!

The Best Spinach Dip

  • 1 (16 ounce) container sour cream
  • 1 cup Duke’s mayonnaise  (if you don’t have Duke’s, Best Food’s will work fine)
  • 1 (8 ounce) can sliced water chestnuts drained and chopped
  • 1  packet Knorr Leek Soup Mix 
  • 1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach
  • 3 Green onions thinly sliced (as an onion dis-liker, this is optional)
So basic! So easy! So good!

So basic! So easy! So good!

Defrost and dry your spinach. This is a very important step, if you don’t dry you spinach enough, you get soggy dip, and that’s gross. After your spinach is nice and dry mix all the ingredients together. Let’s chill in the refrigerator overnight. If you get too exited about this and try and eat the dip before the it gets to set, it’s going to feel like you are eating glass because the dehydrated leeks are tough.

This right here is the secret. Use LEEK soup mix. Not vegetable like to Knorr recipe calls for. This is SO much better!

This right here is the secret. Use LEEK soup mix. Not vegetable like to Knorr recipe calls for. This is why it’s the best!

Serve this dip with good sourdough bread. If you feel fancy, hollow out one of the sourdough bread rounds and put the dip in it. That’s how it was done at family holidays around here. Also as much as I hate saying this, raw vegetables also compliment this dip very nicely. That is it, the best way to make cold spinach dip!

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Guest Post: A Piggy Tale

Living and working on this ranch give me the opportunity to share this lifestyle with others. Sometimes that is as simple as inviting friends to come over for a hike, but sometimes it involves giving my friends animal body parts. My friend amazing Alyssa asked me for some body parts for her kids, now I know this might sound weird or strange at first, but stay with us here. When I figured what she was planning to do, I squealed with delight because this is something I’ve heard a lot about but never seen done. Know what? I’m going to let her tell you what she did….


A Piggy Tale

by Alyssa Manes

When I was young, I loved to read. I picked books based on author (I read all the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley), based on cover (King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry), and based on title (The Secret Garden by F. H. Burnett). There were books I didn’t read for the same reason, and Little House on the Prairie series was one of them. One cover had a girl holding a doll, and that definitely wasn’t a book for me. I’m so glad that having children has given me a chance for a second childhood! We borrowed Little House books on audio CD from our local library to listen to, because our homeschool co-op group was doing a unit on the Little House time period.

Now one of the many advantages of home school is the ability to do some really neat hands-on projects with your kids that might be impractical in a larger group. So when we listened to Little House in the Big Woods, and heard the mention of playing with a pig bladder like a ball….well…..why not try it out? All we needed was a pig bladder and a bit of willingness to try something new.
My friend Megan has a ranch and has started breeding heritage pigs, and was very gracious about hooking us up with several fresh bladders. So here’s how it went down:

 

The pig bladder. Note it is about the size of her hand.

The pig bladder. Note it is about the size of her hand.

I have three children – my son, the oldest, is cautious (which is great because he’ll be driving first), the second has special needs (I think she was napping during our bladder experiment) and the youngest girl is full of joy and mischief.  My plan was for my oldest and youngest to follow instructions and blow up the bladders while I took pictures and helped.  No go.  The youngest was excited to help, but at the age of two, she was a little limited in her ability.  She did hold the pig bladder and watched me closely.  The oldest became the photographer and watched me blow them up.  Now I supposed I could have blown directly into the bladder….after all it didn’t really smell or look all that awful.  But I took the easy route and used a drinking straw.   It actually fit perfectly in the urethra (I’m pinching that part in picture below).  I had a really hard time finding the “tube” that carried urine to the bladder.  I’m not sure if it was a smaller part attached to the urethra or if it was either so small or had some valve to keep the air from flowing out that we never had a leaky bladder once we blew one up.

 

Pinching the urethra of a pig bladder.

Pinching the urethra of a pig bladder.

Considering the bladder started about the size of my hand, it actually expanded quite a bit (see below). When the bladder was full of air, I pinched the urethra as I pulled out the straw, and had my son help me tie a piece of thread around it. I tried once or twice to use the urethra to tie it off like a balloon, but things were too slippery and/or the tube was just too short.
So there you have it!

Blowing the bladder up

Blowing the bladder up

Getting bigger!

Getting bigger!

Once the bladders dried, I suppose you could have played with them. They have a bit of a crinkly sound now, but they have lasted a year and a half looking like this:

Dried bladders.

Dried bladders.

The fat on them is a little greasy, but the main bladder part is translucent and oddly beautiful.

Bladder balloon!

Bladder balloon!

If I had to rate this “activity” as a family experience, here is what I would say:
Pros:

  • not very stinky/smelly (although my dog thinks differently and is hoping that a dried bladder will come within her reach)
  • fascinating to see the bladder inflate and to think of its usefulness in historical terms as a child’s “toy”
  • didn’t take very long
  • medium gross-factor

Cons:

  • tying the string while holding the bladder was a little challenging, since my oldest didn’t want to get too close to the bladder
    wrangling a toddler with gross hands (but this part is still totally worth it in my book….as long as she doesn’t try touching my face…)

Overall, a really cool and memorable experience. Thanks, Megan, for the opportunity to do something so unique!

 


Thanks for sharing this project with us Alyssa! As an avid reader of the Little House books myself, this was so fun to read about!

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Recipe: Blueberry Almond Croissant Pudding

Want to make something for brunch or breakfast that will be a major crowd pleaser? Want it to be super easy and low stress too? Well I give you Blueberry Almond Croissant Pudding. This has been a winner every time I have served it. I made it for Mother’s Day for my Mom. I made it for Cal Fire (I love them so much) when they were saving the Ranch during the Cherokee Fire  I made it for a Ranch Day. Each time, it was met with rave reviews and recipe requests. The almond paste gives it a very subtle nutty flavor that is divine! You can omit the almond paste, but I think it’s what make this dish so good.

Best brunch dish ever.

Best brunch dish ever.

Blueberry Almond Croissant Pudding

7 large croissants , cut up
2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
2 packages (8 oz.) cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 package almond paste
5 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla
2.5 cup milk

Your ingredients.

Your ingredients.

Layer croissant pieces,  blueberries, and small chunks of the almond paste in a 9×13 baking pan. Meanwhile, beat cream cheese, sugar, eggs and vanilla in your stand mixture until well blended. Slowly incorporate the milk. Pour the mixture over croissant pieces. Put in your refrigerator overnight.

I love watching the bread soak up the liquid goodness.

I love watching the bread soak up the liquid goodness.

Bake at 350°F for 50 to 60 minutes or until set in center and golden brown and a knife comes out of the center clean.

IMG_5450

 

It’s just that easy! But if you need some more breakfast/brunch ideas, may I recommend…

Caramel Pecan Rolls & Cinnamon 

The Most Delicious Banana Bread Recipe Ever!

Spring Sausage Casserole 

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Wordless Wednesday: Pigs Post Fire

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Favorite Things 2017 – A Gift Guide

Oh, yes, friends. It is that time of the year again! Time for a list of stuff I love, aka The Aghag’s gift guide for The Holiday’s. Now I have this set up where all you have to do is click on the link (the underlined words) and it should take you to the corresponding shop. These are all products I use and love and I am not being paid to say that.

  1. Everyone in my life is getting the 2018 FarmHer Calendar because I am in it. Mom, Dad, Grandma, Aunts, Uncles…..all of them. Silly pig and I are December. But honestly, a good old fashioned calendar is a functional gift everyone can use.
I am in this!

I am in this!

2. My Mom started using these twists and told me for the longest time how awesome they are. She finally bought me a pack of them, and I started using them too. Now I am a raving fan. These would be a great stocking stuffer!

These work in my think, long hair!

These work in my think, long hair!

3. From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty. I read her first book and it made 2015’s list. This book is as interesting, if not more. I finished it in about two days and now I tell everyone to read it. I now want to start a funeral pyre business out on one of our ranches.

I loved this book because it make me uncomfortable.

I loved this book because it make me uncomfortable.

4. When I went to Europe I experienced bidet use for the first time. I now understand why they think we are dirty Americans. Once you go bidet you can’t go back. It attaches right onto your toilet and is amazing. I installed it myself in about 10 minutes and never looked back. This product makes my list every year because it is life changing. Wiping your own butt is so 2015.

Don't question me. Just buy it.

Don’t question me. Just buy it.

5. I stumbled on this wonderful etsy store because she is local to the valley where I live in the summer. Meagan’s jewelry is custom, unique and totally fits in with Western styles. And it’s handmade! Need a gift for that person that has everything? They don’t have Renegades Bead Work, yet.

It's so pretty!!!!!

It’s so pretty!!!!!

6. I am a foodie. I take my food very, very, seriously. I am always learning and expanding my food knowledge. This year I got a sous vide and my steak making abilities rival the best steak house in town. I am not even joking. I can now enjoy steak house style steaks at home, in my undies. This is a game changer. Buy this for the foodie in your life and enjoy the amazing food that will come your way! Here is a link to get a free smart cooker if you live in California. But if you don’t live in California take 20% off on Nomiku.com using the code “NOFOMO.

Trust me. It's a game changer.

Trust me. It’s a game changer.

7. Alamendra wine. This is a local winery, I’ve known the owners since I was a child. They started this winery and distillery in the little town of Durham and I feel like it breathed some life back into the community. I’ve been to several events there and always enjoyed myself and the booze! When the fire happened my Friend gifted me a bottle of the Luna (because Luna saved her pigs, get it?!)

After your ranch burns up a nice bottle of wine helps you feel better about the situation.

After your ranch burns up a nice bottle of wine helps you feel better about the situation.

8. I love it when women in agriculture do cool things. My friend Jennifer Campbell over at Farm Wife Feeds did just that! She wrote a book, Meet Pete! This book is a favorite of mine to give out at baby showers and kid’s birthdays. I quest to corrupt children and bring them into the dark side, you know, agriculture!

Great kid's book!

Great kid’s book!

9. As you may or may not know, the ranch burned up. It was traumatic to say the least. I told myself that if I was strong and did not completely fall a part I could buy myself something shiny. I follow and lurk a lot of stores that sell shiny things but only trust a few. I almost don’t want to share this with you because I still plan on buying myself a squash blossom from them at some point and I don’t want the competition. So just know, if you buy my squash blossom out from under me, I’m gonna be super mad (kidding, kinda). The shiny thing I bought myself was delivered super fast and in perfect condition. I love it. Like I said, I plan to spend a lot more money at Turquoise Creek Jewelry.  A side note if you feel like getting me a gift, anything from here would be super!

I love this and have worn it out exclusively since I got it.

I love this and have worn it out exclusively since I got it.

 

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Easy Refrigerator Pickles

I love pickles. That’s not a secret. As I type this I have four different types of pickles, pickling. This particular recipe is super easy and amazingly delicious. I serve these pickles often at potlucks and BBQ’s and they are always met with rave reviews. Give them a few days to “pickle” before you get into them, it will be worth it I promise! Again, this is a recipe where you can mess with the spices a whisper and only good things will happen. For example, omit celery seed, add a cinnamon stick, or just use pre-made pickling spice.

Fresh garden goodies ready to be pickled!

Fresh garden goodies ready to be pickle

Easy Refrigerator Pickles

  • 6 medium cucumbers
  • 1 large red onion
  • 2 small bell peppers
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 3 cups white vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seed
  • 2 teaspoons celery seed
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • Bay leaves (optional)
Sliced veggies enjoying their salt treatment.

Sliced veggies enjoying their salt treatment.

Thinly slice the cucumbers, onion and peppers. Toss in a large bowl with salt and set aside.

Cooling pickling mixture.

Cooling pickling mixture.

In a saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, mustard and celery seed. Bring the mixture to a boil. Remove from heat and add 3 cups of ice. Place vegetables in jars, adding a few garlic cloves  and a bay leaf to each one.

In just a scant few days, these will be amazing!

In just a scant few days, these will be amazing!

Once the ice has cooled the pickling mixture, pour over the vegetables. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

See? Super easy! I hope you enjoy these pickles as much as I do!

 

 

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Blackberry Sweet Tea

I might have a slight obsession with sweet tea. It started when I went to Alabama, because here in California, it’s just not a thing. When one has “sweet tea” here, it is just a glass of ice tea with a packet of sugar added to it. Disappointing and grainy. When I had it in Alabama (or anywhere in the South) it was an ice-cold glass of delicious nectar. Every time I get to go to the South or have a layover at the Atlanta airport,  I’ll bring airport sweat tea back in my Swell bottle. I ration it for a few days and think Southern thoughts.

If you can find Milo’s tea in your area, get that. That is my baseline to judge all other sweet tea. If you can’t find it, you are going to have to make it. But it’s ok, I’m here to help! For me, the secret to a good sweet tea is the simple syrup. You must make a syrup or you don’t get the same mouth feel. The syrup makes the tea just a whisper thicker, and if you get the good ice (you know, like the kind from Sonic’s), you end up with a kinda tea slushy which is heavenly, IMHO.

Sweet nectar of the god's.

Sweet nectar of the god’s.

A basic simple syrup recipe is equal parts water and sugar, heated until dissolved. You add that syrup to your ice tea and you’ve got a pretty good start of a decent sweet tea. However, if you wanna church it up a whisper, add some fruit to your syrup. Since its summer here in beautiful Northern California, we have all the fruits right now (literally and figuratively), pretty much all of my sweet tea is a fruit sweet tea. This week I’ve done peach, blackberry and nectarines. We have wild blackberries growing here right now, so that is why I am doing blackberry for this blog.

Blackberry (0r Fruit) Sweet Tea

Fruit Simple Syrup

  • 4 cups fruit
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar

Tea

  • 8-10 cups of water
  • tea bags  (I prefer cold brew bags)

In a saucepan, add fruit, water and sugar. Bring to a simmer, cover, and let cook for 15 times. Mash up for fruit with a potato masher and simmer for 10 more minutes. Let cool. Run this mixture through a mesh strainer. Discard the solids.

From berry to sauce in just a few short hours.

From berry to sauce in just a few short hours.

Since I don’t have air-conditioning in my house, and I think sun tea is a bad idea, I use cold brew tea bags. I think it tastes the same, especially if you are adding fruit syrup to the mix. It makes making tea easy. I simply add my water to my container, add my tea bags, and stick it in the refrigerator until cool. Then I add my fruit syrup, mix well, and serve over ice.

My favorite tea receptacle.

My favorite tea receptacle.

If I close my eyes and turn my smoker on when I drink this, it almost feels like I am in the South! Mess around with this recipe – some people (who aren’t used to sweet tea), find this too sweet, some people (who are used to it), find it not sweet enough. You’ll find your happy place pretty easily. Add some mint or fruit when you serve it, to up the ‘wow’ factor. Enjoy!

Taaa daaaa! Easy fruit sweet tea!

Taaa daaaa! Easy fruit sweet tea!

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Tuscan Ravioli Salad

Recently my Mom was laid up for a few weeks. It was hard on her because she is incredibly active here on the ranch. There really wasn’t much I could do to help her with Dr. ordered rest, but I could make her comfort food. There was a lot of tomato soup, grilled cheese, broccoli bacon salad and this little gem of a recipe. There are about a million versions of this floating around the internet, this one happens to be our favorite. I think next time I might switch it up a little and add some sweet purple onion. It’s always a crowd pleaser so think about making it for your next pot luck.

Yum.

Yum.

Tuscan Ravioli Salad

1 lb. cheese ravioli
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. good balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. honey
Dash of red pepper flakes
salt
ground black pepper
1 cup cooked bacon or pancetta, crumbled
1 cup baby spinach
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

I like this salad because it has lovely colors. Makes me happy.

I like this salad because it has lovely colors. Makes me happy.

 

Cook ravioli according to package directions. Drain and transfer to large serving bowl.
Meanwhile, mix olive oil, vinegar, honey and season with salt and peppers to taste.
In the large serving bowl add bacon, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan and dressing, toss until well combined.

I had to add a picture of bacon. Had to.

I had to add a picture of bacon. Had to.

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Grandma Halsey’s Holiday Punch 

This doesn’t even count as a recipe. It’s more of a happy memory. When I taste this punch, I am 8 years old again. It’s Christmas, I’m surrounded by my playing cousins. This punch, or a variation, was served at all family gatherings for most of my youth. And I looked forward to it! It wasn’t a proper family gathering until I felt nauseous from happily drinking too much of this.
Now that I’m an adult, I make variations of it for all kinds of events. When I do make it, people always, without fail, ask me about it. Seems like punch is one of those old timey things that we don’t make that often anymore. Which is too bad, punch is awesome! In an effort to make punch great again, I’m sharing my basic recipe.
Now remember, this recipe is just a starting point. It can be altered to fit your tastes, preferences and budget. Basically as long as you use frozen juice concentrate, ginger ale and sherbet, you’re gonna get the desired results and specific mouth feel. But you can experiment with different juices, add fresh fruit!

3 basic ingredients make such a fun thing!

3 basic ingredients make such a fun drink!

Grandma Halsey’s Holiday Punch

  • 2 litter ginger ale
  • 1 frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 1/2 gallon sherbert

In a punch bowl or pincher, allow sherbert and juice concentrate to thaw for 20 minutes. Pour in ginger ale.  Gently mix all ingredients. Serve over ice.

Bam. Done. If you use rainbow sherbert you and don’t mix it up, you can call it unicorn punch and kids LOVE that. In you use orange juice, orange sherbert and add vanilla vodka adults LOVE that (think dreamcicle ice cream bar!). I’m fairly certain it is impossible to find a bad combination here. So enjoy, go wild and please serve at your next family gathering and drink one for me!

Unicorn punch!

Unicorn punch!

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