Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Vegan (and Gluten-free) Gyro

**Attention**  No husbands were harmed in the making of this gyro.
Yes, I had to make that statement, because my husband is not a spicy food fan, like me.  These gyros definitely have a kick, but you can absolutely adjust the spices to fit your taste buds. He powered through the spice and even went back for seconds, so thats a true testament to how delicious these babies are!  If you have followed me in the past, you know I have had some pretty serious health issues over the past 4-5 years.  I've taken matters in to my own hands and have tweaked my already very clean diet to improve my healing to the highest possible factor.  This includes avoiding meat, gluten, and dairy. It's farmer's market season, so this helps to amp up my creativity in the cooking department based on what's growing in the garden and what's new at the market on Saturday.  This meal was a huge hit for us! And,  if you do eat dairy or don't worry about being gluten free, you can make it based on what you have on hand, (that's basically what I did!)  I hope you enjoy!! 

This may seem like a lot of work, or like it will take forever to make, but I had this done and on the table in less than 40 min.  You could even save time by purchasing pitas or flatbread in the bakery. I'll share the order that I made everything.

Eggplant "Gyro Meat"
  • 2 Tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp (6.8 g) paprika*
  • 1 tsp (3 g) ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp (1.5 g) cayenne pepper
  • ¼ tsp (1.4 g) salt
  • 2 Eggplants
Instructions:  Get eggplant roasting first.  Preheat oven 400° F. Cube eggplant into 1 inch pieces. Coat with olive oil and spices.  Taste to check that seasoning is to your preference. Cook in a baking dish for 30 minutes. Make flat bread while eggplant roasts.

Flat bread: 
  • 2 cups unbleached gluten free flour mix (or if not gluten-free use all-purpose flour)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup non-dairy milk (I used cashew)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor, fitted with a dough blad or a stand-mixer. Mix until a ball forms. Or use your hands to form a ball if you don't have a mixer. The ball of dough should be soft, pliable, but not sticky. If it is sticky, add flour by the tablespoon until it no longer sticks to your fingers.
  2. Transfer the ball of dough to a floured surface. Divide the dough in half and roll both halves into balls, and then in half again, until you have 8 small balls of dough.
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Make sure your surface is still well-floured. Take one ball and use your fingers to flatten it into a circle. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out into a 5 to 6-inch circle. Place the flattened dough on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with 3 more balls of dough. Lay another sheet of parchment paper over the circles and continue with the remaining 4 balls of dough (laying them on the top sheet of paper).
  4. Heat a frying pan or griddle over medium-high heat. Place one of the circles of dough in the pan and cook until bubbles begin to form (if using all-purpose flour) or the center begins to rais up from pan to create a pocket about 1 to 2 minutes. Use tongs or a fork to flip it over and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and place on a plate. Cover with a clean kitchen towel to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining circles of dough. 
  5. I set my timer for 2 minutes per side and that worked perfectly. That way I could prepare the tzatziki while those were cooking. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 days. If flatbreads seem to crack in the middle when folded, wrap a damp paper towel around it and microwave for 15-20 seconds to make is softer and more pliable. Now on to the sauce!

Cashew Tzatziki:
  • 1 1/2 cup cashews, soaked in water for 2-4 hours (or overnight)
  • **(If not dairy free, use 1 cup of greek yogurt instead of soaked cashews)**
  • 1 clove garlic
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tbs white vinegar
  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • ¾ cup  water
  • 1 small cucumber chopped
  • Sprig or two of mint or dill (whatever you have on hand)
  1. Drain the cashews and add with all other ingredients (except for the chopped cucumber pieces) into a blender and process until smooth.
  2. Transfer to a bowl, add the cucumber pieces, and mix. Store in the fridge. (This gets better as it sits and flavors meld.)
***You could prepare this the day before and store in the fridge if you like. It seems to get better as it sits. 

Once all of your flatbreads are cooked and sauce is made, the eggplant should be just about done. This makes enough for approximately 8 gyros. Layer your flatbread with your tzatziki sauce, eggplant, thinly sliced onion, and maybe even some extra cucumbers or tomatoes, or whatever toppings your little heart desires!

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Spring Flower Crowns

This is what happens when you are a crazy animal and flower lady...
We recently went under a name change with our local flower farmer business.  Lola,  our black lab was the original namesake for the business, "Black Dog Homestead," but we decided to change the name to something more flower focused.  The new name is "Bushel and Peck Wildflowers," and we have been busy bees prepping for this year's flower season!  Lola was not even offended that the logo and name changed.  She has been such a good sport that she agreed to still be our mascot, and continues to model for us!

I decided to play with some spring blooms from the yard to make this flower crown that doubles as a beautiful fresh flower collar for my babes!

I used tulips, narcissus, muscari, some foraged branches and vines, and some tiny little blooms that are probably weeds, but I think they are pretty and a beautiful accent!!

Our crazy little sweet boy, Odie, also had to have a flower crown collar, but his is a bit more manly...

I used the foraged vine foliage to make a leafy collar that accented his lion's mane, and just a few small buds that sit at the "lapel" area that act as a little puppy boutonnière. Its a little peter-pan-ish, in a good way! *wink, wink*

"Do I look ok, Mom?" 

Lola loves to wear something special on her collar or her rain coat, or thunder shirt.  She has such a big personality, and its obvious that she feels pretty by the way she prances and smiles with her eyes!

Odie is the same way!  They have such big personalities!

This was my day today...surrounded by flowers and pets!! Doesn't get much better than that!

  He looks like one of the lost boys, (he he!) They totally pose!  You can tell they were very proud of their fancy flowers!

Showing a squirrel her flowers...

Odie took it upon himself to test the sturdiness of the collar...

 Durability tested, Odie approved!

 " Should I do a serious face?"

"No, I'll smile instead..."

 Being a doggy model is hard work. The struggle is real.

This is only the beginning... get ready for more flower hi-jinx. We're going big this year!!

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Monday, April 20, 2015

The Best Books for Beginning Gardeners & Farmers

It only took me 30 years to figure out what I  really wanted to be when I grow up.  A farmer!  I had this initial discovery when I began taking the Small Farm Business Management class at the local community college.  We were given our list of books that would be required reading for the course, and the second I opened "You Can Farm" by Joel Salatin, all the pieces just began to fall in place.  This was the voice I needed to hear (or read) and it's what motivated me to study up and try my damnedest at farming.  You must know that while I have learned a lot over the last few years I'm still a long way from working my own farm, but I'm getting closer and closer.

Our garden on our 3/4 acre homestead (and our business, which is called Black Dog Homestead) continues to expand and get bigger with every coming year, and our first year at the farmers market went really great last season!  Not to mention, we'll be attending a second farmers market this year in addition to the previously mentioned one.  All that said, I think that Lindsay and I are well on our way to creating our farm and I'd like to mention some of the reading material that I feel has brought us here.  So, in no particular order here is my recommended reading for anyone who is interested or already involved in gardening or farming.  Since I've already mentioned him I'll just start off with...

Joel Salatin
You Can Farm
Folks, This Ain't Normal

As I mentioned before "You Can Farm" is really the whole reason that I had the idea to expand from just gardening as a hobby, to taking a shot at farming full-time.  Joel Salatin is really a charismatic person and I'd almost be willing to say that he is a far better speaker than a writer. (Just type his name into the youtube search and watch any of his videos and you'll see) But, he does have a way with words on paper just as much as he does speaking.  What more would you expect from someone that describes them self as a "Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer"?  "You Can Farm" is his most informative work and covers almost every different aspect of farming you may have questions concerning.  "Folks, This Ain't Normal" is quite different.  It's more humorous, but focuses on the philosophical ascpect of farming and where our food comes from.  Joel also has a great book on keeping chickens and earning an income from them, as well as a book on raising cattle.  Unfortunately, we have yet to get into the livestock territory, but a boy can dream!

Eliot Coleman
The New Organic Gardener
Four-Season Harvest

"The New Organic Gardener" had to be the second book that got me super excited to grow different vegetables and take a chance at selling them at the market!  Eliot Coleman really takes organic gardening and makes it so easy.  This book covers several different topics and helps to get you prepared for selling your own produce at the market.  "Four-Season Harvest" is another excellent book that helps to show how you can grow a variety of vegetables throughout all of the seasons, even winter.  I feel that this is something that most gardeners don't even consider, I should know because it certainly hadn't ever crossed my mind until opening this book.  Funny side note, back when The Learning Channel was actually a channel with substance, Eliot and his wife had a great show called "Gardening Naturally".  My how the time's have changed.

Gene Logsdon
The Contrary Farmer
Two Acre Eden
The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening
Gardener's Guide to Better Soil

Alright, I had to stop myself before I just listed the man's whole list of work!  Gene Logsdon is by far my favorite author when it comes to gardening and agriculture.  Hell, he's become one of my favorite authors in general.  Just read some of the posts on his blog and you'll quickly see how infectious his sense of humor and intelligence are.  It was hard to narrow down the list, he has nearly 30 books under his belt: some even fiction, one on life and death and even one titled "Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind".  C'mon!  If you were more interested in a book on farming I would highly suggest "The Contrary Farmer".  While "You Can Farm" got me started, I much more enjoyed "The Contrary Farmer" and it has that Gene sense of humor that is just too hard to beat.

Ellen Sandbeck
Eat More Dirt

Libraries are under appreciated.  Mine works with several other libraries in the central Illinois area, so if one of the other libraries has a book you would like you can put a request in and they'll receive it for you.  I've used this several times, just like I've checked out some of the same books several times!  Ok, there are a handful I have broken down and purchased my own copies. (Salatin, Coleman, Logsdon...) Anyways, I was lucky enough to come across this book at the local library while I was just browsing.  It's a quick and easy read and has some great pointers regarding organic gardening.  I haven't read any of Ellen's other books, but she has written some and keeps a blog on living a 'green' lifestyle.

Rebecca Thistlewaite
Farms With a Future

Each chapter throughout this book focuses on a different farm the author visited.  Some being strictly vegetable farms, some livestock, some both.  The different chapters discuss some of the groundbreaking ideas the farms had as well as some of their failures and advice from mistakes that they made.

Niki Jabbour
The Year Round Vegetable Gardener

This is another book I just happened to uncover while browsing the 'new' section at the library.  The idea behind this book is in the same vein as Eliot Coleman's "Four-Season Harvest".  It focuses on showing how to garden during the cold winter months.  Unlike Coleman's book, this is a larger hardback and has photographs rather than illustrations.  While the informational content may not be any better than Colemans, you may find the photographs to be more helpful and it really is a nice-looking book to browse through and get those taste buds salivating.

Edward Smith
The Vegetable Gardener's Bible

I've only listed this one because it is pretty massive and it's a good trouble shooting guide for the avid gardener.  If you can't find any answers from this book or any of the other massive Rodale gardening books you're probably S.O.L.

Helen and Scott Nearing
The Good Life

This isn't really a book to help you with gardening or farming, but it still has a great deal to with those two topics.  This book reflects on how Helen and Scott lived self sufficiently for sixty years and it makes a lot of good points on how we should try to live, and to think of where our food comes from and how it really matters to live our lives to the fullest while respecting the planet we live on.  I'd highly recommend any of the Nearing's books if you haven't already read any.

Well, that's it!  I know there's a massive amount of literature on the broad topics of gardening and farming so hopefully this little list was able to help narrow it down some for you.  If you check any of these books out (library pun!) I'd be interested to know what you thought of them, or if there's any other good books you know of that I missed don't hesitate to mention them in the comments.  Remember, you can farm!  You can garden!  You can be self sufficient!

Harvesting pumpkins with Keller after a hard day of slip & slide!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Quick and Cheap Ways to Freshen Up Your Living Space

The past week I've been trying to finish up indoor projects before garden season is in full swing.  I finally got a chance to use the Hawaiian fabric I bought in Maui to make new curtains.  And as you know, one project always leads to another with us!  I came up with this idea a couple months ago while thinking about a way to keep plants on the window sill without the worry of them  getting knocked over.  We had a few pieces of this really pretty decorative white trim laying around, and I thought why not nail some in to the front of the window sill!  It looks really streamlined and polished, and has the functionality of keeping all of my pretty plants safe from harm.

Maui is Jared and I's favorite place in the world, so we love to bring Hawaiian elements into our decor if at all possible.  I hit the mother load at the fabric store there and brought this as well as the silver and white lace vinyl that covers the built in window seat, which is super pretty an easy to clean!

This color palate is very unexpected, and to tie the room together, I had to make new pillows. (Just kidding...I think it was just an excuse to play with my new Cricut Explore Air cutting machine. Yussssssss!) They are currently having an awesome promotion going on right now, too!

I whipped up a couple of pillows using this yellow and then some burlap to keep the beachy feel.  Then I busted out my Cricut Gold Glitter Iron-on Vinyl.  I am in LOVE with this stuff. I wish you could better see in this picture how beautiful it is in person!  My Explore Air has a cut depth setting for Iron-on which I used for the gold.  I chose the designs I wanted and then my sweet little machine cut them out perfectly.  I ironed them on, which took all of two minutes total for the three pillows and then promptly showed Jared my handy work!

Apparently its a hit with our new little baby boy, Odie, because he thinks mama put the pompons on the sides of the pillow for him to leisurely chew on when he's lounging and not in the mood to jump down and get a toy.  
But seriously, look at that face.  Every damn thing he does is cute!  I'm under his thumb...err...paw? Paw pad? What would you call a dog's thumb?....

Anywho...here are the other pillows I used.  All of this fabric was laying in my hoard, ah-hum, I mean stash, of fabrics.  I ironed heat n' bond onto the back of the seersucker fabric and cut this fern and palm tree on the fabric cut setting of the Explore Air.  It made glorious cuts!!!! Hallelujah!!

And now I can check the "curtains" off my list and also feel like the room is tied together.  Methodically mismatched....

And unexpectedly whimsical without feeling too childish.  We'll leave that up to the owners! (wink, wink)

Enjoy!! Please feel free to comment or message me about my experience thus far with the Cricut Explore Air! 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Music For Meditation

     I am so excited to introduce my better half to you!  I know I've written about him many times, because, let's face it, he either starred in, or had a hand in making all of these "tales from our cottage." You probably feel like you know him already! Jared will be sharing posts along with me, and I can't wait for you to hear all of his expertise, not to mention his perfectly timely sense of humor.  He is pretty much a music guru, garden master, beer connoisseur, and a professional at dealing with most of the struggles that come along with taking care of a young, chronically ill person.  He has an enthusiasm for life that will envelop your noggin as you read, and will inspire you and knock your socks off all at the same time! Join me in welcoming Mr. Storm to "Tales from a Cottage," in first person!!!  Take it away, Jared.....


During the past year my wife Lindsay has gone through a hellish struggle with her health.  One of the main culprits she’s been diagnosed with is fibromyalgia.  At first, she began attending physical therapy which seemed to help in the beginning, but over time it began to feel like the therapy had screeched to a halt and wasn’t helping as much as it should.  We decided to take matters in our own hands and just about everyday now we do yoga together.  We came across a practice instructed by Rodney Yee that uses gentle, restorative yoga and focuses on healing any pain from fibromyalgia.  Yee always has an amusing way of speaking that makes us chuckle every time, he’s become quite quotable around the house.  He’s really great.  Anyways, there’s several different styles of yoga, but one thing a lot of them share in common is that they focus on relaxation and meditation.   

While we’ve been pretty successful with keeping up with our yoga practices, I’ve had trouble with allowing myself enough time to look inward and meditate.  I know, we’re all busy with our family, work, hobbies, and other obligations, but if you can close the rest of the world out and meditate for at least five to ten minutes a day then that’s a perfect way to start.  I’m currently working on that to  relieve some of my stress.  Another thing I’ve found that has helped relieve stress over the years is music.  I’m a huge music fan.  Lindsay and I like a lot of the same stuff, but there’s plenty of my music that she could tell you is just atrocious. (See: Swans, Death Grips, John Maus...)  These albums do not fall into that category.  I’ve selected these albums because they are calming and have allowed me to find peace and the right amount of quiet when I’ve needed it.  I hope to use these albums more in an effort to find clarity and to help me meditate on whatever I'm struggling with.  You may prefer to meditate in silence and that’s great, do what works best for you.  I’ve found my mind begins to wonder and worry about minor or major problems of the upcoming day when there’s absolute silence.  Its hard to clear the clutter.  These albums give my mind something to return to and focus on as I recognize that clutter and let it drift away. If you think that yoga or meditation is too new age, or witchy, it’s 2015 and you need to check yourself.  So, here they are in no particular order:

Stars Of The Lid “The Tired Sounds Of...” 
This album is what initially peaked my interest into ambient music.  I first heard it while I was living in Chicago, working at a record distributor.  It was like nothing I had ever heard before, it blew my mind!  And now, Stars Of The Lid is probably one of my favorite bands of all time.  The title of the album describes the music perfectly, droned out-heavily treated guitar, horn, flute, piano, and other classical instruments make simple sounds and creates maximum opuses!  If you only listen to one of these, make it this one.  Or probably the next album, that’s a tough one...

Brian Eno “Ambient 1: Music For Airports”
One of the first, if not the first “ambient” album, this was recorded during 1978.  The idea for this album was "intended to induce calm and a space to think.", which is exactly what I find it does for me.  The music consists of tape loops of different lengths consisting of acoustic piano, electric piano, synthesizers and vocals.  I’ve heard Eno came up with the idea while laying in a hospital bed and hearing muffled, silenced classical music for several hours.  It’s also been said he came up with the idea while being stranded at well, an airport.  This man has to have at least 20+ ambient albums under his belt and I'd recommend them all!

The Caretaker “An Empty Bliss Beyond This World”
This album is a bunch of 78 records sampled and rearranged and edited, mostly old time ballroom style records.  Sometimes the scratches on the vinyl are amplified to the point where they make up the majority of some songs.  The ballroom scene in “The Shining” is the perfect description for this album, which I have read from somewhere else and I’m sure has been referenced many other times.

The Dead Texan “The Dead Texan”
This is Adam Wiltzie of Stars Of The Lid, and unlike SOTL there’s more instrumentation throughout this album and even some soft vocals!  Wiltzie said these songs were supposed to be on a SOTL album, but were “too aggressive”.  Aggressive is the last word that would come to mind thinking of this album, it is definitely soothing, dreamy and calming.  The final song on the album, “The Struggle” is one of my favorites.

Brian McBride “The Effective Disconnect”
The other half of Stars Of The Lid (are you beginning to notice a common theme here?), McBride conducted this music for a documentary called “The Vanishing Of The Bees”.  No surprise the sounds on this album are along the same vein as those on any of the Stars Of The Lid albums, smooth and dulcet as always.

Tim Hecker “Dropped Pianos”
Tim Hecker, another ambient artist I discovered while working in Chicago, usually puts out more abrasive albums full of electronic glitches and echoes of white noise. (see: “Mirages”, “Ravedeath, 1972”)  However, this album has a softer sound than most of his other ones.  Essentially, it’s just a bunch of simple sketches that he made to dissect for a future album.  The instrumentation of that album is mostly, believe it or not, pianos.

William Basinski “The Disintegration Loops”
Via Dusted Magazine, “In transferring 20-year-old loops from analogue to digital format, the tapes decayed, and Basinski captured the phenomenon in its rawest state as the oxide literally flaked, fell off and became dust.”  Basinki was living in New York City at the time, and has said he was completing the tapes during September 11th while the Twin Towers were attacked, hints the album covers.  It’s amazing to listen to the sounds slowly deteriorate.

Aix Em Klemm “Aix Em Klemm”
Yet, another release from Adam Wiltzie of Stars Of The Lid.  Last one, I swear.  He teamed up with one of the guys from Labradford for this release.  Still as calm as ever.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen “A Winged Victory for the Sullen”

Ok, so I lied.  This is the latest output from Wiltzie of SOTL.  It’s probably my least favorite release from any of the projects that he’s been involved in, but it’s still good.  Perfect for just sitting back or laying down and unwinding.

Aphex Twin “Selected Ambient Works 85-92”

Wait, I thought this was a list of ambient music, not techno?  Well, it says ambient right there in the album title!  This is basically ambient music with some beats layered in.  Definitely worth checking out if you’ve never given Aphex Twin a listen.  The next couple of albums listed aren’t exactly ambient and have a “rhythm section”, but they still maintain a sound that you can really decompress to.

Boards Of Canada “Music Has The Right To Children”
I really don’t know what to say to describe this one, thick layers of melodies from different synthesizers, laid back beats and the occasional eerie vocal samples.  No other bands have touched on the sounds these guys have been able to come up with.  You just need to go and listen to this if you haven’t already.

Polmo Polpo “Like Hearts Swelling”
This is another one of those albums that I was lucky to uncover while working in that Chicago warehouse.  Polmo Polpo translates to “octopus lung” in italian.  Sandro Perri is the man behind the name, I think the translation is probably a good description of the music, but then again it sounds so much prettier than the image those words draw up.  The rhythm within the music sounds like being underneath waves, hell, most of the sounds on the album sound like they were recorded underneath water, or at least in an aquarium-like surrounding.  This album still remains one of my favorites after all of these years, and I suppose there are a few moments where it could get maybe just a little noisey, but I still find the album to be mostly tranquilizing.

Gas “Nah Und Fern”

I don’t think I can beat the description for this one that Wikipedia has: “Gas is a music project of Wolfgang Voigt (born 1961), a Cologne, Germany-based electronic musician. Voigt cites his youthful LSD experiences in the Königsforst, a German forest situated near his hometown of Köln, as the inspiration behind his work under the name Gas.  He has claimed that the intention of the project is to "bring the forest to the disco, or vice-versa".


Honorable Mentions:

Loscil "Submers" https://youtu.be/DWy79Zw8Yxc
Eluvium "Copia" https://youtu.be/xduIjhAhVek?list=PL1B9940760FED4B38
Tarentel "Big Black Square EP" https://youtu.be/Fe3iPlA6avc?list=PL1Z6--99k0HtHl7rBYxbKbFjE8hESZHxo
Keith Fullerton Whitman "Playthroughs" https://youtu.be/DNX3uS4_OK4?list=PLa7-UT2Fn2_z5Vonir2dV6TdsXpScQzbK

My hope is that while listening to these, you heard something that brought you some peace and composure.  If any of these strike a chord with you,  then I would recommend downloading that album, or finding a physical copy to enjoy the best possible audio experience you can.  In the future, whenever you’re listening to music, or experiencing any art for that matter (television, film, theatre, visual arts, etc...) always ask yourself, “How does this make me feel?"  

Inhale, exhale and pause.


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