Milk, Eggs and Apples, Down in Amish Country

We have had a great weekend over here At The Lemontree House.

One of the highlight of this weekend was our trip about fifty minutes South of where we live, down in St Mary's county, Maryland. There is a somewhat sizable Amish community cohabiting with the population in the small towns in that area.

We usually go down there every couple of months of so, since we now buy all of our poultry, beef, pork, honey, some of our eggs, milk and a few other things directly from the Amish farming families.

We decided however, that would start making the road trip more often because:

  1. It's so beautiful down there, it's free therapy!
  2. We both love driving through the country, it's so relaxing and we get to spend quality time "stuck in the car" chatting, laughing and dreaming about the future
  3. Just what I said: we have some a somewhat unrealistic dream of selling everything and moving to the country, raising our chickens, growing our own food and homeschooling our children (it's a rather popular dreams these days!
  4.  We wanted to start consuming real cow milk: our strategy is to buy a few gallons at a time to freeze and thaw as we drink it. We also wanted to buy eggs solely from there
  5. We just like everything rural, country and the more we go there, the more we can observe and make notes for the future.

It is truly an enchanting area, at least for the part of the me that dreams of a nice little country farmhouse with a chicken coup and a few goats nestled in rolling hills.

The best yet somewhat strange part of it though, is really how close the Amish families live to their neighbors. As soon as you turn off the main road (a state route with lights, a Burger King, and a shopping center with all the regular society's amenities), you share the road with buggies and young Amish boys. There are even "regular" houses sandwiched (for lack of a better term) in between Amish families' homesteads.

I was telling my husband how I think that these people just have the best life; being able to enjoy a quiet, simple lifestyle, while sharing the same land with people who have kept some of oldest homesteading traditions.

Also just being able to have daily access to real fresh milk (straight from the cows) and related products such as cream and butter, real eggs, real honey, freshly picked produce and best of all real poultry, beef, pork, and goat meat is such a privilege in today's modern society of processed everything, from fake tomatoes to cloned onions, meat from tortured chicken, neglected pigs and GMO corn fed cows.
Did I mention fresh unpolluted air, and an environment free from noise pollution: honking, police sirens, auto engine noises, loud music in cars etc (I can see and hear the busy road right from my living room window).

Sorry for the rant... Back to Amish country!

Our first stop was the Herzler's Farm where we usually buy our chicken, eggs, milk, honey and occasionally cream and cheese. It's usually busy on Saturdays as many more families like us come to buy better produce for their families.

The girls of the families are usually very busy cleaning the chicken while the younger boys (as young as what I guess to be 5-6 year-olds) pick the chicken to be sold from the coup, hold them sometimes 2 or 3 chickens in one hand at a time and proceed to, em, getting them ready for cleaning (the boys are sooo brave!) and they do all that often bare feet.

However, it was all quiet when went there and this time we were the only ones there, which we really enjoyed. We pulled up into the property following the graveled driveway from the road, parked, got out of the car and patiently stood there for a little bit, knowing that our arrival had been noticed; we didn't have to wait for too long.

The two girls who usually so happily serve us did just that and 30 minutes later we were leaving with our 5 chickens, 2 -24 oz mason jars of honey, 7 dozens eggs and 3 gallons of milk.

While waiting, I was able to express the artsy side of me and took these beautiful pictures of my son, Nathan,

and both my husband and my son together,

The structure behind them is the place where the family keeps their hay. Just behind it, there is another large chicken coup and then the field where they grow tobacco for a good part of the year. They also have goats and some cows but only for the family's needs. We usually go to another family for our beef and pork.

Finally, our last stop was for apples and sweet potatoes.

We stopped by Anna's place. Now, she, my friends, is my kind of gal: funny, talkative and welcoming.

We chatted for a good 15 minutes about cultures and languages: Pennsylvania Deutsch which they speak, German (which I took 4 years of), French (my first language) and English.

She narrated the stories of her grandfather saddened that Pennsylvania Deutsch was getting too diluted (with English) and that the younger generation of Amish was not putting much effort into speaking the language the way it had been.

She also shared some of the stories that were passed down from earlier generations of her ancestors about how they got their last name and why. Listening to those stories were soo much fun; I wished I had some cool, family story or oral tradition, recounted from generations before me. But I enjoyed hers a lot.

She then proceeded to teach us about the different kinds of apples and what they were best for.

We got a full case of different kinds

We also got some sweet potatoes and saw purple cauliflower which I had never seen before (not pictured)

She also had an assortment of jams and jellies but we passed on that since my husband doesn't like jellies like that, and I am trying to do away with refined sugars.

We left Anna's place happy to have shared stories and laughter and not just the typical goods/money transaction. I told her next time I will be glad have her tell me more stories about her family's traditions.

I snapped a few pictures along the way and think the scenery is just so beautiful and peaceful.

It makes me long for a time where I will be able to part from much of the conveniences (many of which have a cost that we have refused to calculate) of urban life and learn to enjoy a simple life, focused on family, faith, and in tune with nature.

One last one: Nathan biting on a juicy apple from Anna's.

Should I add that our chickens, honey, eggs and milk cost us less than $100?

Hope this find you well settled into this New Year... I haven't posted since the end of last year when I started the blog but I have been working on some posts, although sparingly!

Well, life has been busy, mainly analyzing various opportunities (both for income and for self development). But I am ready to share a little bit more of our adventures over at The Lemontree House.

This new urge

One thing that has been a recurrent topic of interest and research in our household is, along with eating healthier, really trying to figure out where the food we choose to ingest and feed our child come from.

Truly, just trusting someone else who is in the business of making money for providing you with food to maintain your health and nourish your body has become somewhat of a folly in my eyes, although with the way the system is, there truly isn't that much choice for the common unaware citizen, or is there?

I spent the past year and especially the last few months trying to learn more about the food industry and how what we consume is being produced, and that led me straight into researching alternatives, especially alternatives that are realistic, affordable and sustainable (why bother changing something if it won't/can't last right?) for our circumstances and our household.
I will share some of what I have learned along the way and small steps that our family is taking eat better, healthier, and in a way that is more wholesome.

In other no news...

For some of you who read through my posts about strategizing our trying to conceive plan... well... we are still working on it and... we are still waiting for the stork... haha!!
I am now 6 months shy of turning 30, so let's just say I will not meet my lifelong goal of having a second child by then.

But honestly, we can truly count our blessings, immensely grateful for a bright, inquisitive, funny, healthy little boy who is now 2 years and a half.

We started this year sick from the flu, myself, my son, then my husband, then myself and my son again in an endless cycle until the end of January.

It was pretty scary to see my son wheezing and breathing shallow breaths, not being himself, burning hot and screaming for pain. Turns out it was an ear infection that was pretty settled in after a few bouts of cold and congestion.

We are all healthy and grateful.

We are also thoroughly enjoying the change of season with Spring settling in quite nicely although the winters here are usually somewhat mild with just a few weeks of truly below freezing temperatures.

This also means that my garden project (which I will share with you in an upcoming post) can start sailing along pretty smoothly.

I hope you are having a wonderful week wherever you find yourself! I encourage you to find some time once in a while and find things or situations in your life that you can be grateful for, it can always be better, but it can certainly also always be worse.

This is what I am grateful for... (my Nathan and his daddy)

Until then... ;)

It's a girl!

A few years ago, I started my hands at cake decorating. I was amazed at the astonishing details that made some cakes almost too pretty to eat and the incredible skills of the decorators. I have always loved food and especially making food look and taste good. I love hearing the "hoo"'s and "ahh"'s so... since I like new challenges and the kitchen is my favorite room in the house, I decided I would offer a lady I knew, who was planning her engagement party, a beautiful cake for her event.

Now, of course, being me, terrified by the prospect of failure, I never said anything to the lady until the morning of, when I informed one of her best friends that I was almost done making a cake as a gift to her (she had helped organizing the food when we got married).

I was less than pleased with my cake but still very proud of achieving something like that on the first try and the ladies who picked up the cake were amazed.

And that started my love/hate relationship with cake decorating... I'll expand on that in the near future :)

I thought I'd share a few pictures of a few of my creations along the way and maybe some of the stories behind them if I feel inspired but for today, since I am cooking for a baby shower for my husband's niece, I thought it would be appropriate to share a baby shower cake I made a while ago. It's still one of my favorite baby shower cake designs...

I hope you like it!

Crockpot Homemade Yogurt

I love learning to make things from scratch. And I have, over the past couple of years developed an increasing interest for learning traditional techniques and ways of making food that have been lost over the decades of industrialization of our food system and automatizing of our kitchens and homes.
I also love saving money, especially on food items that I don't have to buy at a premium price just because I can't make it myself.

You won't find an easier recipe to make than homemade yogurt! Do you know that you can even make your own greek yogurt at a fraction of the price you pay at the grocery store? (I share here -post is coming soon- how you can make your own homemade Greek Yogurt and impress your friends and family)

I make yogurt by the gallon, usually in a large cooking pot and store it in Mason Jars. My husband takes one jar to work on Monday for the week (he eats it for breakfast sprinkled with almonds and honey, with berries or other fruits, or just plain).
Then, my toddler and I usually have it for breakfast or snack. We usually just eat it plain as we are attempting to cut out most refined sugars from our diet. But many other times, we add a drizzle of honey, almonds and any fruits in season that we can find at the store.

We also add it to oatmeal instead of milk (Here is -coming soon- a fun oatmeal yogurt shake recipe that is healthy and wholesome and makes for a nutritious filling breakfast that you can spoon out or simply drink cold).

Now onto how I do it.

I usually use a regular larger size pot. I pour my gallon of milk in the pot and let it get to a boil on medium to medium high heat. As it warms and get closer to boiling point, little bubbles will form under the surface starting in some places. You know you have to watch your pot when you see that because boiling milk "swells" and overflows quickly. I then turn off the heat, and move the pot from that burner (I have to do that with my electric stove because the burner  stays hot/warm for a while).
I let the milk cool down for about 30-45 mins or so. It should still be warm but more on the lukewarm side of it. I add my starter (just a little bit of plain unsweetened unflavored yogurt, maybe 1/2 cup or so), whisk briefly to combine, close the pot (I often cover it with some plastic wrap, then aluminium foil and then cover and place in a warm spot of the kitchen (such as the oven). The "good" bacteria need a warm, dark place to multiply and do their job of digesting the milk protein and turn it into yogurt.

I have just recently switched to using my crockpot simply because it's Fall on our side of the planet and the temperature inside the house/kitchen is cooler. This means that the milk takes forever to ferment and the "bad" bacteria might have a longer period of time to proliferate, faster than the "good" bacteria can. The crockpot solves that problem.

For my yogurt I start with washing my crockpot thoroughly. I usually plug it in, set it on high for a little bit so hat the heat "sanitizes" the inside of the crockpot, then I add my milk, close it and let it sit on high for 3 hours. I then turn it off and let it cool down for another three hours.
Finally, I add my starter, I whisk to combine and that's it! Those busy "good bacteria" will be working hard at reproducing and turning the milk protein (which has been denatured by heating it) into yogurt and whey. I close the crockpot (don't plug it back in) and leave it alone fore 12 hours or longer.
In the summer, I usually just do 8 hours (right before going to bed) because of how warm room temperature is.

We live just outside of Washington, DC and temperatures here are anywhere between the low 50s to low60s right now so it definitely take longer than 12 hours. For instance, I mixed my starter in the afternoon yesterday, around 4pm and opened my crockpot this morning to a beautifully creamy gallon of yogurt!

Well, not exactly.

When you first open your crockpot, you will notice some watery light yellowish substance sitting at the top of your yogurt.

That's whey, which you can use for shake, smoothies, for baking or as substitute in any recipe calling for milk. That's the stuff all these people at the gym who are trying to build super bulging muscles swear by. That's the stuff they sell in its powered form at the vitamins and supplements store. Now you got some, and for free!
You can freeze it and find some use for it later if you want to. (Here is -coming soon- a easy and fun way to freeze liquids that you might only use in small quantities at a time).

So once you put your spoon in there, you will notice that your yogurt is not creamy but kind of "breaks" and is lumpy.

All you have to do is vigorously stir it for about a minute until it becomes homogeneous. It will still be a little runny because it's warm.

Store in a container (preferably a glass container such as a mason jar, they are really cheap, fun and keep food fresh longer than plastic containers, which by the way, often leak -the plastic- into your food after prolonged contact and can be annoying to clean properly; here is what I have Ball Jar Mouth Pint Jars with Lids and Bands, Regular, Set of 12) and chill for a couple of hours. It will thicken beautifully and you will have the best tasting plain yogurt ever!

Add healthy (or not!) toppings for breakfast or snack, mix with berries and/or nuts and other fruits
 and freeze for a fun healthy snack for kids or for yourself or use it like we do in oatmeal instead of milk, as a sauce for your roasted or grilled chicken, or ribs (check out -coming soon- my yogurt based sauces that are all easy to make and taste awesome) or in cakes and other baked goods (check out -coming soon- this easy yogurt cake recipe and it's grain free version).

Let me know if you try it out, and how it turns out!

The bigger girl on the other side

This is my first post on this blog and I am just so excited to be able to share with you all my adventures at home, sometimes cruising through this crazy life, and most other times, slowing down (not always on purpose) to remember what it's really all about.

Hopefully, you'll bear with me and all my ramblings about being a stay-at-home mom and attempting to be the best that I can be where I find myself at this season of life.

Sometimes, I catch myself "wow-ing" at the fact that not that long ago,  I was a little girl who was trying her very best to please her parents, dreaming about what was on the other side of childhood.
Where has time gone by? I look at my 2 year old son and I cannot believe I am his mom! HIS mom! He has no one else to call mom!!! I am A MOM? Gosh! I am not sure who entrusted me with this kind of responsibility...

I am really still a girl inside. Really. I really still want to jump up and run around, and giggle until I have to pee, and dream about the future and how perfect life will be when I grow up, when I won't have to keep my closet neat, and make sure my little sister doesn't get me in trouble and not worry about showing dad my report card and when I'll be able to buy myself all these nice fancy things these bigger girls wear so elegantly... I'm sure with all the right things I'll be able to look just as nice as they do... Sigh...

And there life is upon us. And I am a grown up!

Well, let me tell you... I felt as though I lost myself for a little bit in it all, between responsibilities, adversity and expectations; but I am more than determined to fulfill the dreams of that little girl, and look proudly to the other side of childhood to her grown self and smile...

I wonder what were other people's dreams when they were younger. What were some of your dreams? What do you remember hoping and wishing for?
Were you able to remember those dreams and carry them with you through adulthood? Why? why not? Do those same dreams affect your life today?
Have you ever been able to convince your spouse to live that particular dream or those dreams with you? Did someone else ever impose their dream(s) on you?
I would love to hear your unique experiences...