Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Field of Sunflowers

The next town over is a quaint little farming community. The rolling hills form a patchwork of golden wheat fields, corn fields, and purple blooming alfalfa. The downtown boasts a few scattered buildings, a feed store, an old post abandoned Post Office that looks like it's straight out of the old west and a mingling of white picket homes with red tractors parked in the front lawn.

Among this picturesque landscape is one of the most spectacular sights I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing. It's the sunflower fields.

These photographs do not do this breathtaking scene justice. But it's the best I can do to share it with all of you.

Zach and I have been stalking the fields watching the green sunflower stalks get higher and higher. Every couple weeks we take a ride with our cameras to see how the flowers have been progressing, Oliver usually joins us. We watched as the crown shaped flowers formed their disk shaped heads and at different parts of the day, moved their large green faces across the sky, always following the sun.

This was our first ride out seeing the flowers in bloom. We rounded the usual corner and I was expecting to see the lime green of the fields, but instead the landscape had transformed and almost looked artificial. It's so very, very yellow. 

These photos were taken at sunset and the reflection from the suns rays off the yellow flower petals illuminates the surrounding area in a golden hue that is just beautiful. It's as if the sunset had spread across the land in tangible, tiny sun balls. The heads for some reason had not followed the trajectory of the sun's arch and were facing the road with the sun behind them. I'm not sure if the heads are too heavy to move now, or perhaps the sun wasn't bright enough that day. All I know is that I'm glad that if they are done turning, that they are facing the road.

I'm slightly obsessed with this field and almost fell off the hood of the Jeep trying to take some of these photos. I wanted to get up as high as I could so I could get as many of the blooms in the frame as possible. I'd like to go back in the morning with the eastern sun shining on the blooms, rather than silhouetted in the background.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Tomato Season is Upon Us!

We've been picking cherry and grape tomatoes for a while now, but things in the larger tomato department are still looking pretty green. That is until this weekend! Finding that first red jewel among the green shaggy leaves of the tomato plant brings me back to Christmas mornings as a child. It's as if the clouds open up, a choir sings "aaaaaah", and a golden light focuses on that ripe, juicy redness.

We grew a few new tomato varieties this year, the first being Black Prince which has a lovely deep tomato flavor, a little acidic, not too sweet and a beautiful color. (I'll have to snag a photo of the next one we pick, we ate the first before I could get my hands on a camera.)

The second are these beautiful Indigo Rose.

They start out a deep purple/black color and then ripen into redness. I prematurely thought they were ripe about a month ago because in my experience black tomatoes often start out green then turn black when they are ripe.

These have a mild tomato flavor and are fairly sweet. I think I will grow them again next year because they are very prolific (the vine is LOADED!) and such an interesting color.

We're also picking Romas and Yellow Pear Cherry Tomatoes. 

In other news, we brought in our first purple bean harvest. This variety is called Amethyst. It's a bush variety and is as beautiful as it is tasty.

We're still bringing in cucumbers on a daily basis and I'm excited to try my hand at red cabbage sauer kraut this year. I have some beauties ready to pick.

What's picking in your garden? 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Around the Farm

The weather is finally starting to warm up...not that I'm complaining about the cool weather, but the heat has prompted the tomatoes to start ripening. It's going slow, we pick about a cup or two of grape and cherry tomatoes each night, and I plucked the first Black Prince last night. The rest are still green and hard.

Here's an update as to what's been going on with us lately.

Some of Zach's latest work. A lovely long stem rose, hand forged from steel.

The pickles are ripening daily. I swear they explode overnight and get massive if we don't stay on top of them. We have the refrigerator pickle brine jar and we continue to add freshly sliced cucumbers to the jar each day.

The zucchini are going crazy as well. I shredded up seven large ones and froze them in 2 cup measurements so I can bake zucchini bread throughout the winter.

Some second planting radishes.

Oliver inspecting a bug in the grass.

 The Queen Anne's Lace is in full glory. A sure sign that Fall is on it's way.

 The Purple Beans are almost ready to pick.

This is my plant experiment in the garden this year. It's called Pumpkin-on-a-Stick. This plant gets purple thorns down it's leaf spines. On the underside too. It's in the eggplant family and produces orange fruit that resemble small pumpkins. I'll share photos when it sets fruit.

Ichabod and Timber deconstructing a loose bale.

To see more of what we're doing at Iron Oak Farm I invite you to visit and "like" our Facebook Page where I share even more photos and updates.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Romace of Collecting Antique Woodworking Tools

Zach enjoys collecting and restoring old wood working tools. So for his birthday I took him antiquing. This is what he found.

A nice simple box plain.

A saw set which is a tool used to set or "tune" the teeth of a saw a uniform or correct distance and angle from the blade and from each other.

And a hand crank boring machine used for timber framing. The boring machine is used to drill out the bulk of material in a piece of timber that will then be squared off with a chisel to create the mortise in mortise and tenon construction.

Zach spied the boring machine from across a few booths and almost plowed over two unsuspecting ladies looking at clown figurines in the bee-line. (serves them right for liking clowns...clowns are creepy.)

"Oh my gosh this is awesome!" As he started moving by-standing antiques out of the way so he could properly turn the handles.

"Look at how cool this is!"

I can always tell when Zach is truly excited about something. He's a quiet guy. It takes a lot for him to get riled up but when he is, it's all over his face...he's genuine that way.

"I've wanted one of these forever!"

So I asked him. "Will this be your birthday choice?"

He turned the handles a few more times with stars in his eyes, and fingered the price tag gingerly. "No,...no, it's ok."

Zach and I are on a strict budget for the next couple years. We have goals and plans that need adhering to. So frivolous purchases, even in the name of birthdays are still hard for both of us. Spending money for us, takes lots of consideration and usually results in one of us talking the other person into the splurge. It's frustrating at it times, but it helps us appreciate what we do have, and a new "toy" is always treasured.

I told him to take it down for me so I could take a turn at rotating the handles. He lifted the awkward thing off the shelf and tried to set it on a lower surface.

It was an antique store so there wasn't a surface not filled with, well...antiques. 

"Here, just hand it to me."

I grabbed the boring machine and cradled the big thing in my arms. 

"You won't be able to turn it if you're holding it."

"I have no intentions of turning it." And with that, I marched the boring machine up to the register and paid for it.

It's so funny how an old piece of wood, some gears and a big stick of twisted metal can bring so much joy to my husband. But that's why I love him. The fact that things like this DO bring him joy, and I know why it does, and I know that we share the same passion between us. Almost like a secret.

There's a million different reasons why we both love history, antiques, simple tools, old ways of doing things...we've hashed those reasons out many times over the 19 years we've been together. (We started dating when we were 14 and been friends since first grade.)

We've sat many nights, oranged faced with the soft glow of a bonfire warming our fronts while our backs freeze to the cool night air talking. Or laying on the dewy grass staring at a slice of moon and discussing tidbits of things we've read about how things "used to be done."

It's our romance, our nostalgia of a time that we've never lived, but for our own reasons, feel connected to.

And here sits an 80 year old boring machine on my coffee table.

A strange, yet appropriate sign of my love for a unique and lovely man.  


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Field Trip: Grand Rapids/Grand Haven Michigan

Zach and I had an amazing Saturday this past weekend! Monday is Zach's birthday and one of things he wanted to do was go for a day trip. Extended vacations are a thing of our past now that we have a farm full of animals that need feeding and watering day and night. So instead, we enjoy mini day trips when we can. Luckily, we live in a state where it's easy to try new things within a short distance. You can spend the day in the city enjoying art and culture, and in 30 minutes you can be at a state park in the woods, on the dunes, or on the shore of one of the Great Lakes. 

Yesterday, Zach got off work at noon and when he got home we headed out to Grand Rapids, Mi. The  first stop was the Fredrik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. This is an amazing place for a plant and art lover. The gardens span acres and acres of land holding a collection of different themed gardens including The Winter Shade Garden, The Farm Garden, The Children's Garden, a Bulb Garden and the up-and-coming Japanese Garden.

There is also a Sculpture garden which Zach took particular interest in as most of the pieces were formed from metal.

Being a blacksmith/sculpture himself, he enjoys mentally dissecting the pieces and tries to figure out how the artist constructed the final art. 

The grounds also boast a 5 story Tropical Conservatory with full size palms, tropical birds,

a waterfall and a stream with bridges.

My favorite part of the experience was the Carnivorous Plant conservatory

and the Succulent greenhouse.

There were so many varieties that I'd like to share,

I might break these two rooms into separate posts.

We also enjoyed a tour through the gallery featuring the work of David Nash. His exhibition seemed to be themed around trees, which was an appropriate study for a Garden atmosphere. 

After leaving the Gardens, we headed for downtown Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids is an eclectic town filled with a mix of inner city culture and industry which sets it apart from it's farm land outer reaches. Within the city you get a real mix of culture. There might be a soup kitchen two doors down from a 4 star restaurant. One thing is for sure, Grand Rapids is a food lover's dream! Tucked in the buildings that line the brick covered streets are gourmet bakeries, pasta shops, artisinal cheese and sausage shops and lots and lots of local breweries.

One of our favorite places was the Grand Rapids DowntownMarket. The whole place has a very epicurean feel. All of the vendors are of the highest quality and specialize in their product of choice. There was a raw juice bar, a chocolatier, artisian breads, a fish monger, butcher, fresh produce stand, spice merchant, wine cellar, imported cheeses and sausages, Gelato and many, many more.

We decided that we couldn't leave the market without bringing home some treats so we got a sampling of cookies from Sweet-licious Bakery which included Oatmeal Raisen with Butterscotch Chips and Maple Glaze, a Peanut Butter and a Chocolate Dollar which is like a gooey brownie. We also sampled the Molasses which might be the best cookie I've ever had. Molasses is my favorite though...so I might be biased. It took all my will power not to bring home one of the berry pies. But I reminded myself that we are planning on berry picking soon, so we will have more than enough berries to make desserts at home.

My favorite part of the market was the Old World Olive Co. Talk about fun! This vendor sells infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars that are absolutely amazing! The best part is that you get to sample all their different varieties. The flavors explode in your mouth. I never realized how complex and interesting a vinegar can be. With much debating and hemming and hawing between the 18 year Balsamic, the Espresso Balsamic, and the Dark Chocolate we decided on the Dark Chocolate which I plan on pairing with some grilled steaks tonight for dinner tonight. We were also impressed with the Wild Mushroom and Sage Olive oil, which would be amazing on roasted potatoes.

After we left the market we decided we needed some dinner. Zach wanted sushi for his birthday dinner so we decided to try Rockwell Republic, a restaurant that prides itself on using local ingredients and also has an awesome sushi menu.

We started with the Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps and then shared three rolls of sushi. The first was a Wagyu Steak with Soft Shell Crab and Spicy Mayo. Second, Smoked Duck with Shitake Mushrooms and Siracha and then we tried the roll on special, a Shrimp and Asparagus Roll with a Miso, Ginger Gaze. We finished it up with a Goat Cheese, Cheese Cake with Blueberries. The dessert was delicious, it had that lovely tang from the goat cheese which we loved!

After dinner, we headed to Grand Haven to watch the sunset on Lake Michigan.

I dipped my toes in the lake and it was FREEZING! I'm glad we brought sweatshirts because the wind coming off the lake was cold as well.

We enjoyed watching a few sailboats pass by in the sunset and relaxed on the beach in the cool evening air.

Such a wonderful day!         

Thursday, July 24, 2014

CC Post: What's Up With the Cornish Cross?

Check out my latest Community Chickens post for some reflection on this common meat bird breed. What's Up With the Cornish Cross?