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My Week as a Farmer, Part I

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Most of my life I’ve fantasized about being a Midwestern pioneer woman in the 1800s, living a hard and fulfilling life on the prairie.  (If they had a more moderate farmer-woman type outfit, I surely would have picked that for the above photo, and forced Dennis into overalls.)  It started with the Little House on the Prairie books when I was in elementary school, and it was kindled again when I started watching the PBS television programs where they send people back in time, to live in the colonial era, as pioneers in Montana, in England during World War II, in a Manor House in Edwardian times, etc., doing the types of things people did in those times, wearing the style of clothing, living in the type of house, for months at a stretch.  It is utterly fascinating, at least to me.    My favorite of the programs is The Frontier House.  (If you’ve never watched or heard of these, I highly recommend renting them from Netflix or your library.  There is a complete list of these programs at the end of this post.)

Last month was the closest I’ve ever come to living out my fantasy.  Our friends, Ben and Ashley, went on their family’s annual camping trip, and they asked us to take care of their birds and garden while they were gone.  Now, I’m not talking parakeets or parrots, I’m talking chickens and ducks.  Being a city girl all of my life, to me, having chickens equates to living in the pioneer days so, of course, I readily agreed before Dennis had a chance to say anything.

Every day, we arrived to the happy sound of chickens squawking and clucking.  If I could define the sound of peace, those squawks and clucks would definitely be in the mix.  It’s the sound I awoke to as a child, during the summer on my Grandparents’ farm.

Our first priority was to feed the birds.  Because if we didn’t, they tried to eat things like my toenail polish, or the back of my ankle, where I cut myself with a razor one morning.

When they started pecking at me, I turned the other cheek and tried to pet them, which really freaked them out and they steered clear of me after that.  But I still tried to pet them.  It’s my instinct with animals, I can’t help it.

After we fed the chickens, we checked around for eggs.  The white duck was reliable, pumping out an egg every day.  We missed the first one, so we found two on the second day.  We got to keep any plunder we found while the Allens were away, including eggs and vegetables. Score!

The chickens are young and only one is laying, but we never found her eggs.  When Ashley and Ben came home, they found seven eggs in the mama duck’s nest!  She had been stealing the chicken’s eggs every day and rolling them into her nest.  Talk about an overactive mothering instinct.  Here she is with her baby.  I guess she didn’t want him to be an only child!

We also washed out their water pans and refilled them, then moved on to the garden.  Jessie came with us to supervise.

“It’s looking kind of dry, Mom.  Time for another soaking!”  OK, sweets, just don’t think about lifting your leg while you’re in there!

While caring for it, we harvested a yellow summer squash and two tomatoes.  I think this was a pepper plant but we left it alone.  I don’t think they were quite ready.

The temps were in the 110s and even made it to 115 while they were gone.  We tried to save this squash plant but couldn’t revive the poor thing.

Once we finished the duties were were commissioned for, we went onto those which we most desired but weren’t required: tending the livestock.  AKA, the canines.   :)  Another friend was feeding them, but we were compelled to stay and extra hour or so to give them some companionship while their humans were away. They greeted us at the fence every day with cheerful barks.

From left to right, Little Anne (aka Big Girl), Beans, Daisy, and Scout.

Little Anne is the eldest and mildest in manner.  Undemanding, unassuming, and grateful for attention.

We love hanging out with the black girls. :)

The dachshund on the ground, looking up at me, is Beans, I believe, but it’s hard to tell her and her mother, Scout, apart.  Meet Beans and/or Scout, up close and personal.

The best part about Scout and/or Beans is watching them run.  Their ears stick out and flap like bat wings!

“You talkin’ to me?”

What I loved best about Scout in particular was her velvety soft, squishy chest.  You would not believe how soft it is.

And then there’s Daisy.  AKA “Diva Daisy,” as I call her.

This pooch demands to be carried at all times.  No compromising.

I’m convinced her destiny of being adopted by a celebrity and toted in a purse around Hollywood was cruelly thwarted when she was adopted by an upstanding, hard working, and practical Midwestern family that would scoff at such a notion as carrying her in an oversized handbag.  Or better yet, baby sling.

“Sigh.  I was never meant for farm life.  It’s so hard to keep a clean manicure when I have to walk on grass every day!”

But there is one canine that they couldn’t leave out with the others.  Because he’s a menace and a danger.  A chicken murderer, and as we would soon discover, a thief to boot.  Meet…ARLISS! (cue scary music)

To be continued…

Read “When Arliss Attacks” on Monday!

Check out PBS’s living history reality television programs:

Colonial House

Regency House Party

Frontier House*

1900 House

Manor House*

Texas Ranch House

The 1940s House

*My favorites


Honey Bun Cake

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It’s the height of spring here in Kansas and today was our warmest yet, 84 degrees.  I had the day off for a routine doctor appointment so I got to enjoy a bit of the sunlight today, and had enough time to try out a few of the recipes I’ve gotten from fellow foodies.

Since I had a bit more time in the morning than I usually do, I actually cooked breakfast rather than dumping it into a bowl.  I chose to make the French Toast that my friend, Kimberly, posted on MySpace (you can get it here), which has brown sugar and nutmeg in the batter with cinnamon sprinkled on top.  It was delish!  Next time I will add vanilla and possibly some orange zest.  I love French Toast!

French Toast with melted butter (ate it as soon as the syrup was on):

I stopped at my Mom and Dad’s house to drop off some eggs (I have a local supplier) and Dad was out back so I went to go see what he was up to.  He had just picked some garlic and was cleaning it off to give to his girls (I’ve got two sisters).  Like how he’s labeled for easier identification?

Dad loves to be outdoors and chat, especially now that he’s not working, so he kept me there as long as he could, showing me around his “garden.”  I put that in quotes b/c it’s not a traditional garden, by far.  In any case, I was glad to stay, glad to feel the sun, glad to smell the herbs & weeds and soil, glad to spend some time with my father for no particular reason.  (He had a stroke last October, leaving him without the ability to read, and although I visit once or twice a week–it’s usually b/c I have to fill his medicine container, read to him and pay his bills….Mom doesn’t do any of this b/c…well, she’s a long story.)

Here’s what I meant when I said his isn’t a traditional garden.  In this photo, there are so many things to notice that you really don’t see anything.

This is his garden–a mishmash of scattered herbs, dead poppies, weeds, grass, all lined with concrete blocks with toilet lids & rocks on top and a compost pile in front.

I asked him to show me where his garlic was and he pointed to about seven different places.  I thought the funniest one was amongst the iris.  You probably can’t see it, but the tops are thinner than the iris leaves.

He also has comfrey, which you can make tea with to help heal broken bones (I used this when I broke my tailbone):

Horseradish (the big leaves behind all the grass, garlic & various weeds)

A goji plant (he says he’s the only one in KS that has one but I wouldn’t believe him unless he actually had to travel to China to get it)

And, thinking of our dinner tonight, I picked some tarragon:

And some sage:

I had a good chuckle over the “volunteer” squash and broccoli plants that had cropped up in Dad’s old compost pile (right next to the new one–ewwww!)

Here’s a close-up of the broccoli

And over what Dad considered “lawn decorations,” like the toilet tank lids (some broken) and his seashell collection in the bowl of an antique sink.


I call him “Alta reincarnate” when I see stuff like this b/c his mother (Alta) would never throw anything away and used a lot of crazy stuff like this to decorate with (including plastic soda bottles).  He’s also got an old cement mixer & toilet in his yard.  I do like these huge chunks of glass, though:

Oh yeah, and laughed a little over the lamb’s quarters too:

Apparently this is just a weed but can be eaten. He didn’t plant them, they just sprung up as weeds do, but since he’s got so much Alta in him, he’s going to eat them b/c otherwise it would be “wasting” (wasting weeds!?!).  Oh no, I just realized I do the same thing with food–I can’t waste it!  It’s in my blood!  But I don’t know if I’d be eating weeds.

On the way home, I stopped at Food For Thought for some local ground bison.  The Whole Foods by us ran out and hasn’t had it for a while (it’s just a local store, not a part of the big chain) so I took advantage of being uptown to stop at the health-food store I grew up with.  It started out in this rinky dink little place (where it says Central Food Mart)

And then moved across the street to this larger location (though probably still laughably small by big-city standards).

I didn’t take many pictures, but this is an adorable store with lots of fascinating things for sale–they’re not just about the vitamins and gluten-free products.  I liked this one, though I managed to refrain from purchasing (I prefer poking my enemies with real pins):

Here’s their organic produce section.

I headed home with four pounds of bison and actually took time to prepare myself a decent (late) lunch rather than slapping a sandwich together.  I had a Morningstar Farms Hickory Barbecue Riblet (it’s actually meatless) with what has become my new favorite side dish–green bean salad (recipe here).

Instead of making my own vinaigrette, I just use Kraft Sundried Tomato Vinaigrette and sprinkle on some dried basil.  It might not be as delicious as originally intended, but I love it. And I love the riblets too–they’re the bomb.  They have a really meaty texture and are kind of like shredded brisket that has been compacted.

I’ve been wanting to make Tucky‘s Honey Bun Cake ever since she posted her Mom’s recipe for it on a bulletin, but I haven’t had the time until today.  I headed out to get some sour cream and then whipped it up into two shallow pans b/c I wanted to keep one and give the other away.  Doing it this way, there wasn’t quite enough batter to cover the filling layer, but it still worked out and baked up nicely.

 For dinner, I made Sweet Bacon Chicken Wraps (recipe here) using my friend Kim‘s idea of leaving the breasts whole and adding in herbs between the chicken and bacon (and then I couldn’t help sprinkling it over the top too). This is where Dad’s sage & tarragon came into play, and I also added some basil and rosemary.

If I hadn’t used fake chicken breasts, this would have probably killed me, but I only suffered a mild aneurysm.  Thank goodness for fake poultry!  This was so incredible, it’s almost enough to make me try it with real chicken.  Brown sugar and chili pepper on bacon-wrapped chicken–what could be wrong with that?!  And if you’re wondering why I would bother using fake chicken if I’m going to use real bacon, then you’ll have to ask b/c I don’t feel like getting into it (and you are probably better off staying out of my head, anyway).

As good as dinner was, we could hardly wait to clear the table for dessert–the sweet cinnamon smell was calling to us!!!!  I served up two therapeutic-sized slices and we gobbled it up in silence–the only sounds being our forks scraping the plates.  Then we both looked at the rest of the cake and then looked at each other.  And smiled.  I nodded and served us up another slice.  Then the cake seemed to be a little bit crooked so we evened it up with a thin sliver.  And then another.  The cake is more than half gone now, but I’m consoling myself with the fact that if I’d made the cake in one pan, only a quarter of it would be gone.  Is there something wrong with me for thinking that a quarter of a cake isn’t that much? :)

All in all, a very nice & relaxed day (even the Dr. visit wasn’t bad–he was very happy that I’ve lost 15 pounds–and we parted with our usual hug) and the cake was…well, the frosting on the cake (though it might have undone some of my weight loss efforts)!  To make the ending as sweet for you as it was for us, I’ll leave you with the Honeybun Cake recipe, compliments of Tucky & her dear Mother.

Honey Bun Cake


1 box yellow cake mix
3/4 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 (8-oz) container sour cream

1 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon

1/2 cup milk
3 cups powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9×13 pan.  Pour HALF the batter into the pan and sprinkle with filling. Pour remaining batter on top and bake at 350 degrees for 40 min. While cake is hot, poke holes in the top of the cake with a fork and then pour & spread icing onto the cake.  Chill and serve!

*Veronica’s Notes: I used two disposable 12.25×8.13×1.13 pans and divided everything between them.  I did double the icing, but that wasn’t necessary.  Also, I served it at room temperature and it was delicious.  I’m chilling it now to see if it’s better that way b/c I think the cake is still in need of some trimming.

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