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Blog

Grab a beverage, find a comfy chair, and catch up with what we have been doing. You can read it all here on our blog page

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Annie Get Your Gun

Ann Stoll

Do you have any idea how many times I've heard that in my lifetime? Too many to mention. I was raised around firearms, so they are not a scary item to me. Although, when my kids were small, I didn't want any in the home. As my boys grew, it became increasingly evident, that it is ingrained in them to be intrigues with military arms or firearms. Believe me I tried to keep our home "gun free". They weren't allowed to watch any sort of violence on TV. No water guns allowed or anything that looked like a gun. What a joke. So even though my boys really weren't around any sort of guns, they still made them out of Tinker Toys, Legos, and just using their fingers. I gave up.

Instead of trying to keep them away from guns, we decided to allow them to learn about them and go to NRA summer camps, so they could learn to properly use firearms and be able to shoot all sorts of them. They learned to respect them and safely hold, carry and store. They even went small game hunting a couple of times and brought home some squirrel and pheasants. I needn't worry about them starving in their futures. They will be able to provide for their families, if need be in this fashion. It's only been done this way since forever. And it's healthier.

While I have never feared firearms, I also never really learned much about them. Well this weekend changed all of that. This lady here, went through the Conceal Carry course, all 16 hours of it, in order to apply for conceal carry in Illinois, if I should choose to apply for the permit. There is a lot to think about. A lot of responsibility that I never thought of. And let's just say, I'm not running out any time soon to send in my application. I need to pray about this.

As you can see, I'm not a bad shot! Part of the certification requires you to shoot thirty times, ten times each at three different locations. The shots are also not to be trick shots either. No smiley faces or continuing to shoot out the same hole. The teacher is suppose to be able to count all of the shots. I think all 30 of mine made the mark. Not bad for someone who hasn't used a firearm much, ok barely.

I'm not one to live in fear. I have God on my side and when my time comes, then so be it. But also, I believe we have a right to defend ourselves with force if the need arises. It was long days of learning, but I think overall, it was worth it, whether I choose to go through with obtaining the permit or not. Hey, at least I know I'm a decent shot.

Life Balance - For Real?

Ann Stoll

Probably the thing I hear many people, women in particular complain about is trying to balance life and work. I'm going to cut through the chase right now and tell you, it's a myth. A big fat lie that glossy photos and Cosmopolitan magazine-type articles tell you. That you CAN have it all and do it all. Ok, I guess you can. But can you do it well? Are you satisfied with mediocrity?

Being an older woman (here we go again), I can safely say, that I've tried it all. I've lived it all. And I failed much. Actually, I probably fail every day. But there is a difference now. I've learned something along the way. It's okay to fail. It's okay to be happy being a stay at home mom, one of the highest and most important jobs on this planet. But it is also okay to be a working mom, too. I've already alluded to what I believe to be the best of it all, but I'm not talking about this in my blog post. Every woman needs to do what she is called to do. But does that mean she needs to do everything all at once or at the moment? No, I don't think so.

There is a time for everything. A time to bear and raise children. A time to learn and grow and be creative. A time to climb the ladder. A time to be a wife. Actually, this last one is very important. If you are a married woman, your husband needs to be your first priority. One of the goals of raising kids and if you did it well, they should at some point move out and be self-sufficient. You are then left with the husband of your youth. If this relationship is not nurtured and put first in your life from the get go all the way until the empty nest, how can you expect to pick up those pieces? Marriage is hard enough without having to rebuild the relationship from scratch and find that spark again. Fan the flames NOW!

Thinking you can balance all the things of life and be great at all of it will just wear you down and cause you think less of yourself. Instead, try prioritizing what you need to do right now. If you are married and have kids. Start there. Do this well, first. Then add in other things slowly. I know it's hard sometimes to do this, but I did it several years ago.

When my boys were in 2nd and 3rd grade, we pulled them out of school to homeschool. Best thing we ever did. No joke. At the time, I also had a successful landscape/design business that I worked by myself and I liked it that way. I learned very quickly that I couldn't do both well. So what was important? My kids of course. Having a business is not that important to me. While I love doing my own thing and being creative, I found other ways to satisfy these urges while schooling my kids. As the years moved along, Blossom's Barn became alive. For the first four years, it sort of stayed more of a hobby that made a few bucks to pay for supplies. But I was still schooling my kids, so I didn't have the time to pour into this business. Now that they are graduated and moving along with life, this past year has afford me the time to knuckle down and start to make things happen for this business. Now was the time for that, not when I didn't have the time and tried to squish too much into my life. I've been there, done that. 

There is a season in life for the things we want to do. We must learn to be patient in those things. We are better off learning this lesson.

Meet the Girls

Ann Stoll

My puppy love, Cassidy

My puppy love, Cassidy

It seems our homestead is overrun with girls. Girls of all sorts, coming in all forms. I never purposely intended for that to happen, but if you are raising your own food and animals, you need the girls. 

First up is my favorite girl, Cassidy. She's our Great Pyrenees and keeps our farm safe from all critters that don't belong here all the way down to not approving of worm farts. She lets us know about all of it.

Hens out for a walk with their rooster

Hens out for a walk with their rooster

We are full of hens, but there is one rooster. These girls and guy, do a great job cleaning up insects and grubs. I really think we have a lower insect population because of their foraging in our yard. They also are terrific and tearing up, er, turning over our flower gardens. They also provide us with the yummies deep orange eggs. Mmmmmm

Summer in the front, Blondie to the left, and Suzy in the back. We also have Peaches. Summer is at a new home now and Peaches is retired.

Summer in the front, Blondie to the left, and Suzy in the back. We also have Peaches. Summer is at a new home now and Peaches is retired.

Then of course, we have our does. I have two right now in milk production. That milk is what you will find in our soaps. Goats are fun and fairly easy to maintain. Plus they don't eat too much and require little land, although brushy land is preferred.

Find the queen, if you can!

Find the queen, if you can!

Then there are these girls. They out number us, but I love them. For the most part, they are gentle and pay you no mind. They are too busy to bother with you. Hoping for a honey harvest this year!

This is Misty. She's our spoiled rotten barn cat.

This is Misty. She's our spoiled rotten barn cat.

And finally, there is Misty. She is a high needs cat. Every day she waits for her special food that the other cats don't get. Why? Because she's Misty and demands special attention. She has her own special cushion and food dishes. Yep. Spoiled. But she is so precious!

We use to also have brood cows, a dairy cow, last year we had three female hogs. But not at the moment. So yes, we tend to be overrun with girls and I'm okay with that. But let me introduce you to one special, smelly guy.

Meet Bucky

Meet Bucky

Right now, this dude is running with the cattle and he's okay with that. But in another month, you'll know by the twitching of your nose, that he's anxious to get with his girls. Starting about September, rutting season begins. He becomes cranky, smelly and well not very pleasant to be around. You definitely don't want to be out in the pasture when he's like this. He sees you as a target of some sorts and you don't want to be there. But come late November, he is allowed to be put with his girls and he becomes his old happy self again. Maybe another reason why we have girls, boys are grumpy and not safe to be around all the time. 

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed meeting most of our critters.

The Therapy of Bees

Ann Stoll

I got stung today. That hurts.

For years I had wanted a few bee hives. My hubby, even though he has a fear of bees (actually wasps, but that's another story), surprised me one Valentine's Day about six years ago with a double date to a bee keeping class and my first hive. It was probably one of the best things he has ever given me. A hive against his own fears. It is probably my favorite thing that I work with on our homestead. Yes, I love my goats, garden and all that, but there is something special about honey bees. 

Cracking into a hive and looking into their world, because that is exactly what it is, is amazing. They all have a job and do it dutifully or there are consequences. The inter-workings of a hive can leave you with no doubt there is a Creator for there is no way evolution in all its millions of years, could pull this off. Anyway, talking about my hives is not what I'm writing about today.

People seek out the honey bee for various reasons. The obvious is their honey, which if sourced very local to you and is raw (not pasteurized) is known to help with certain allergies. It's better than an allergy shot since it contains all the local pollen that one my be allergic to. Plus it tastes amazing.

But there is one practice I will never understand. Well, I understand it, but I sure can't seem to wrap my head around it and that is bee venom therapy.

Bee venom therapy uses live local bees to inject the beneficial compounds directly into the skin. The stinger is just the right length to penetrate many layers of skin without going too deeply. The bees stings are applied to acupuncture points and areas of chronic pain. It is not known exactly why this therapy has success for many people, but the venom seems to reduce inflammation. Patients with auto immune issues such as gout, MS, and rheumatoid arthritis have experience relief from their symptoms that prescription medicine has not been able to achieve. Keep in mind, bee venom therapy is not a cure. It only may help with chronic pain symptoms.

So when I got stung today, I thought about the people that intentionally have this done to them. It makes me wonder the level of pain they must be in to subject themselves to such a treatment. Bee stings hurt. They hurt for a time and may leave a large swollen, painful area. The person's pain is so great, that the pain of a bee sting is a good alternative to their current condition. 

I do hope it provides real relief because every time a bee stings, it dies. It has a tiny barb on the end of its stinger that will attach itself to the stingee and it will literally rip out of the bee and kill it. I'm very sensitive to the health of bees and try to do my part to raise healthy hives. But, if someone needs bees for relief from a debilitating disease, then so be it.

Of course, if you are allergic to bee stings, then bee venom therapy is not for you. More info on apitherapy can be found at www.apitherapy.org

Our Homestead Evolution

Ann Stoll

When we bought this place eight years ago, we (or really me) had high hopes to not only produce our own organic food in a humane way, but to also make it available to our local neighbors. So we set off by getting our first goats, chickens, cattle and even a dairy calf. Along the way, we occasionally raised turkeys and each year, we do raise our own meat chickens. Our main goal was and still is, to grow and raise our own food as healthy as possible. 

Our cattle and dairy cow are raised on grass only. Chickens run around the homestead and are also fed organic grains. Goats get a mix of both. The meat chickens and turkeys, were also raised on grass. An enormous garden was planted as well as an orchard. I started to set up a little farm store with hopes that I could have a couple of days a week to offer fresh produce, have an honor system for milk and eggs. And always, sanitation and just doing things the right way, were always on my mind. 

Like any business, even though I didn't really think of our homestead as a legit business, I wanted it to earn enough money to have us break even on the cost of hay and feed and if there was extra, then that was a bonus. Unfortunately, being so small and doing things in a small way, is just like any other business when it comes to the cost of doing that business and the amount of work on a small scale. Let me see if I can explain.

The more you can buy in bulk for supplies and feed, the cheaper the price. Since we are small, buying in huge bulk is a gamble. Will it rot, or will something happen to all that feed. We only have so much space with which to store extra feed. We don't have the machinery to move all of these supplies. We do most things by hand and most of the time, it's me doing it. Most people don't realize the amount of work that goes in to raising animals and vegetables. So due to our smallness, we can't buy in huge bulk and it takes just as much time to take care of a few animals vs. many. My time is worth money, too. When it's all said and done, it's difficult to offer really great food at a reasonable cost. Since we don't have the middle man, we can offer it direct and that saves the customer money. 

The biggest problem though, is getting the right amount of customers and to have them come regularly. Too few customers, means a ton of work for little to almost no pay and high waste. Too many customers and we can't serve them all. So what to do? Well the State of Illinois solved one of our problems. As of July 1, raw milk sales must be done under a permit from the farm only. No biggie, right? Just go out and get a permit. Not so fast. Here are the latest regulations:  http://www.ilga.gov/commission/jcar/admincode/077/077007750000550R.html   Just a little bit of light reading. What it boils down to is a permit is needed. The place needs to basically be set up like a Grade A dairy operation and inspected regularly. So long, small time dairy farmer. Since it's important for me to follow the rules, we no longer offer raw milk for sale. Just as well. We lost our dairy cow last year.  The eggs? I've been known to throw away 5 gallon buckets of eggs. So I decreased our flock to just serve us. My vegetable garden is a 1/3 of what it was. Our beef is decreased again, to serve our needs. I still may have fruit available here and there and hopefully honey, when the bees cooperate.

We are still very much raising our own food, it's just not for sale any longer. I can only do so much and with Blossom's Barn growing, it's all I can do to keep up, if you want to call it that. It's a lot of work, work that I love, but I only have so much time to give. Choices need to be made and that's what it has come to. Over these eight years, we have gone through many changes. From learning how to do all of this, to doing all of this, to now down-sizing into something more manageable for our needs. It's good. Real good.

The Power of Elderberries

Ann Stoll

image.jpg

Last year I planted some elderberry bushes (Sambucus nigra). I only planted two, which I felt was probably going to be more than enough for our purpose and for them to be able to pollinate each other. It's a very strange shrub, partially woody, partially soft. It's fragile in storms and tends to break off easily. It does grow fast and fairly tall and this year it bloomed and now has berries on both bushes. I won't say it's a bumper crop. I guess I won't know that until I harvest them.

Harvesting could be interesting. Supposedly, the umbels will just break off and then a fork is used to get them off of the stems. Only the deep purple fruits are picked, not the green or unripened fruits. Elderberry has poisonous parts. The stems and leaves contain cyanide, and the unripened fruit may cause stomach distress. So only the beautiful deep purple fruits are desired.

Why, you might ask, am I bothering to grow a fragile, poisonous plant? Elderberries are known to boost the immune system, provide a burst of vitamins, is higher in vitamin C than oranges, help with colds and flu, are antioxidants, anti-carcinogenic and an all around good thing to help with your health.

Now is the time to start working on your immune system. By being outside and gaining the vitamin D from the sun, something many of us lack, especially if you live in the north or places where the sun hides a good portion of the year or you are stuck inside. Get outside and get some sun. Another thing to do is to eat or drink elderberries. I craft an elderberry syrup for my family to take. I'm also going to try some other recipes, like jam, mead, infused honey, and maybe just keep some frozen. There is also elderberry ice cream. So many uses.

Immune Boost Syrup

1/2 c. dried elderberries

3 c. water

1 c. raw honey

2/3 c. raw apple cider

Fill a pot with the water and elderberries. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and mush the fruit well. Strain liquid into a separate bowl using a cheese cloth, coffee filter or something similar. Add honey to the liquid and stir well, then add the ACV. Pour into a jar and store in fridge for up to six months.

As a tonic: Adults 1 Tbl per day      Children 1 tsp a day

Take every hour for a cold/flu

Bumper Crops and Peach Salsa Recipe

Ann Stoll

Peach season is upon us, here at our homestead. Sounds like we have tons of peaches and maybe we do, but really, we only have two producing trees. Little did I know when I planted them 7 years ago, that they would grow quickly and produce within three years. We don't spray or do any manipulations to cause them to grow well or be insect free. As you can see in the photo, they are not perfect, but they are still delicious and I know they are safe. Nothing like being able to pick right from the tree and eat, which I do every day while I'm out doing chores in the morning.

Last year, I planted two more trees, because when trees grow quickly and begin to produce at a young age, they usually don't live very long. I'm learning that if I don't prune out branches and thin out peaches from branches, they will easily break and snap. As a matter of fact, I have some broken branches right now. The trees I planted last year, which were twigs, were full of blooms this spring, which I enjoyed, but dutifully plucked any peaches forming off of those trees. They are too young and even though they were only about four feet tall when I planted them, both are taller than me this year. Way too young to be producing. I did miss one peach and decided to leave it.

So now I must get busy putting those delicious peaches away by turning them into yummy treats for us. Tomorrow I will be canning peach salsa. I made some fresh today for dinner and I thought it was a winner. So in my classic Ann-style recipe, I shall post it below.

First bring a pot of water to a boil, place peaches in the hot water and blanch for about 30-60 seconds in order to be able to slip off the skins of the peaches. Plunge into ice cold water. Remove skins. Slice in half and twist to remove the pit.

I used about 8 cups chopped peaches

1 red bell pepper chopped

1 red onion chopped

4 seeded jalapeno peppers chopped

about 1/2 c chopped cilantro

about 1/2 c. vinegar

2 tbl honey (I will use a bit more)

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients together and enjoy! This was delicious on the tacos I made and it will be grand with corn chips. I also think it would be the bomb with fish tacos.

I will also working with many apples this year and pears. My poor pear tree is having a tough time of it and it also bending under the severe weight. Problem is, the pears aren't ready. I will have to get crafty and try to help it out. 

Having an orchard is so rewarding, but there is work. Work were you actually see results. Grandpa would be proud.

Agree to Disagree

Ann Stoll

This political season is wearing me out. I'm finding myself avoiding social media, Facebook in particular, because people who once were capable of have civil debates, are now slinging just as much mud as the candidates themselves. To be honest, I don't know what to believe anymore with what is going on with the candidates because of social media.

I'm not writing today to begin a political rant. I have my own ideas on the matter and sharing them with you will not change the world, nor anyone's views, probably. What I would love to throw down here is my observations of how we are treating our fellow human neighbors. What is a neighbor? Anyone who is not you. As time progresses, social bullying is becoming rampant and severe. We are brave when armed with a keyboard. Hey, we can say what we want, when we want to, and what is anyone going to do about it? Unplug my computer? Shut off my wi-fi?

I'm all about free speech. But when we are speaking to blatantly hurt someone, vicious name calling, and labeling people that you don't even know anything about, all for the sake of defending your opinion, is wrong. With each thread I read, without a moment's adieu, it usually degrades into a drunken bar room brawl online. Emojis of people eating popcorn. It becomes the new Jerry Springer form of entertainment. I almost wonder if there are people that just jump from thread to thread, just to incite people to flare up.

I think we all need to put on our big person underwear and learn to walk away from a fight. We don't have to engage every person we disagree with. Most of the time, it's not worth it. Are we seething with so much hate and anger that we have nothing nice to say anymore? Are we so self centered that we have to speak the loudest or most vile in order to get people to notice us?

So here's the deal with me.

I am a Christian. I try to live my life to please God only. If you do not find me pleasing, feel free to move on. I will not bow down to the trends of the culture. I will not flock to the popular vote, because that is what everyone else is doing. If you find me weird, conservative in my thinking and actions, and not going with the cultural flow, then I'm doing my job. I will still love you anyway. I will still treat you with respect. And most of all, I will be praying for you. You can count on that.

So let's be kind to one another. Life is short. We do not know how many days we will have. Let's use them to lift one another up. 

A day at West Elm

Ann Stoll

My set up in the front of the store

My set up in the front of the store

Today was a pretty exciting day for Blossom's Barn. I spent a good chunk of it in the front part of the store known as West Elm. This is a nationwide chain of 70+ stores, three of which are located in the Chicago area. today I was in the Skokie store. 

The reason I was there today, is because West Elm loves to support local makers to their stores. I did have to apply and I dutifully filled out four applications. Two asked me in for an interview. Both of them loved my products and have recommended me to corporate. 

When it goes to corporate, they will be contacting me to hammer out all the details that goes into working out the future collaboration of wholesaler/buyer. When all is said and done, all three stores in this area will be able to buy from me! This is a big deal to our little company. 

Now I must wait. My inderstanding is that this could take awhile to finalize. That's ok, I have plenty of work to keep me busy in the meantime.  

This is one big store-fish in a very large ocean of stores. The possibilities are endless! Keeping the nose to the grind stone and keeping everything cloaked in prayer is a good start, I'd say. I think of every accomplishment no matter what size it is, is a blessing. 

If you know of any nice boutiques or stores that our products are a good fit for, send your ideas along to me and I'll check into it.  

In the meantime, well just keep plugging along and wiser where this path takes us. It's pretty exciting and I'm thankful for the opportunities we are given. 

Time Flies

Ann Stoll

Our wedding day. August 27, 1994 - 22 years ago

Our wedding day. August 27, 1994 - 22 years ago

Well look at me! I'm all of 29 and weighing 129 lbs soaking wet! Ha! My, how things change. My hair was dark as night, skin light and fair and I had a nice long neck. Now-a-days, my hair is all gray, verging on going into white. It's pretty streaky. Let's say I could never squeeze into that dress ever again. Ever. The place where we got married, The Mill Race Inn in Geneva, Illinois, is no longer. Gone are the gorgeous gardens. I don't know what's there now, since it's been a few years since I've been back to check it out.

Fast forward 22 years

I'm a 51 year old woman who thinks she's still 29. I love to have fun. I don't take myself too seriously and I will be the first to laugh at my mistakes and goofs. Over the years, life has taught me much. I think I've reach the elderly wise woman stage in life. I'm okay with that. I have lots to offer younger women. I tend to catch people off guard with things I say and do, thinking I'm this serious person (I am when I need to be) strict (oh yes, that too) but once in a while they get to see this

I don't know why, but I really love this photo!

I don't know why, but I really love this photo!

Wisdom comes with age, at least we like to think so. Young people should seek out an older person as a mentor to be a guide, someone to talk to about what's going on in their lives, because lemme tell ya, nothing surprises me. I remember as a youth in my teens and 20s thinking old people were so naive. Boy was I ever wrong. Now that I'm on the older side of the spectrum (hey, let's go easy on the old person thing) I realize now, that there is nothing new under the sun. Bad attitudes, pride, addictions of all varieties, dating, divorce, kids, etc. has been around forever. It may change a bit, but it's still the same.

We need each other. Young people need the guidance of those who have gone before. Older people like to feel needed and want to share our experiences. If there is someone you think you would click with, approach them and have a chat about getting together on a regular basis. You will be amazed at the richness of that friendship. Hanging with those of the same age, for the most part, doesn't necessarily force you to grow. The challenge comes when different generations comes together in love and friendship. The younger will challenge the older with what is in their lives. What i mean by challenge is that we will want to fix everything for you. But we won't. It's only good for you to go through what you are going through. That's how you grow. But it will frustrate us and probably break our hearts, but it's a good thing. Trust me. The older will challenge the younger in this very thing. We will push you to grow up and take responsibility for your actions and feelings. Or we may remain silent and just listen. 

Where ever you are in life, find someone of a different age to spend time with and mine the riches that are there for the taking. 

Sunrises, Storms, and Sunsets

Ann Stoll

Flying down Rt 55, trying to out-run this bad boy

Flying down Rt 55, trying to out-run this bad boy

Living on the flatlands has advantages. My favorite is to watch storms and sunrises. These first several pictures are of an oncoming storm on July 17, as we were heading out for our trip to Arkansas. I will apologize right now about my lack of photography skills, so these will have to do. They may show us riding down the road, or it's night time, therefore the photos are grainy. Whatever the case, I use what I have and I hate missing out on come really cool sky shows only God can create.

It's coming along side of us. We traveled next to it for a long ways

It's coming along side of us. We traveled next to it for a long ways

Depending on the storm, it can exhilarate you or scare the snot out of you. Being in the flatlands brings on wind I've never experienced before in my life. You can see all the lightning strikes hitting the ground. Rain barreling down in the distance tells you exactly where it's at.

It's getting really cool to see, now!

It's getting really cool to see, now!

Unlike the storms of life, we can see the storms coming at us. Life storms, not so much. They can broad side you when you aren't looking and knock you down for a time, only to have it start raining. Sometimes life feels like a losing battle, when all you seem to do is fight with it.

The other night, another storm rolled in, similar to the one above, only it was evening

Taken while watching from my front porch

Taken while watching from my front porch

Some storms in our life can seem so dark, we wonder if we'll ever see the light of day ever again. We get buried in debt, our heart gets broken, we lose someone close to us, whatever the situation, sometimes it feels like we can never get out of our situations.

There was lots of lightning

There was lots of lightning

Even in our darkest hour, there is One who knows what you are going through. There is One who is in control of these storms. He has a plan for your life. Look up and see the wonder!

More bubble clouds as we are now under the storm front

More bubble clouds as we are now under the storm front

There is only one thing that can help you to see the light, because He is the Light! Jesus is the way, the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father in Heaven except through the Son, Jesus Christ.

Sunset on the farm

Sunset on the farm

Each day is a new day. We all have 24 hours to use wisely. Make good choices. Love each other. Help one another. Love God first.

Sunrise in the mist

Sunrise in the mist

Each day is a gift. How will you use it?

Tuna Macaroni Salad Recipe

Ann Stoll

I will never claim to be a great photographer, especially of food.

I will never claim to be a great photographer, especially of food.

I would have never thought the day would come when I would cook with a bit of this and a spoonful of that. I watched in amazement as my grandmothers would put together meal after meal this way. I thought it would be hopeless for me to ever get that good. But I'm learning.

About a decade ago, I delved into wholefood cooking. This means that your ingredients are fresh and in their true state. It's up to you to make the wonderful dish from those ingredients. Since we grow/raise most of our own food right here, I've become way more creative in recipe formulation. Certain things, like baking, need to be more exact. But making delicious meals doesn't need to be exact at all. 

Case in point: I had a bowl of macaroni left over from last night's dinner. (I don't make pasta very often, since it's not a whole food) What to do with a bowl of pasta. Well I thought I would make macaroni salad, but I wanted something more filling and can be eaten as dinner. So here's how it goes. I end up on Pinterest, search my main ingredient for recipes, and go from there.

So here's the original recipe as written by The Country Cook

Tuna Macaroni Salad

1lb elbow macaroni

3 (5oz) cans of tuna, drained well

3 hard boiled eggs

1 shallot

1 c. mayo

1/2 c. sweet pickle relish

1 tbl celery seed

1 tbl lemon juice

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 c. frozen peas

Directions: Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain water from tuna cans. Chop hard boiled eggs and shallot. 

In a separate bowl, combing mayo, relish, celery seed, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Stir in tuna.

Once macaroni is cooked, drain well. Put into a large bowl. Pour mayo mixture over macaroni. Add eggs and shallot, followed by thawed peas. Stir well. Put in fridge to keep cold.

So here's how it really went down in the Stoll house and this is typical. I'm one of those that does not make meal plans and then goes shopping. I create meals from what I have in my freezers, pantry and refrigerator.

My take on Tuna Macaroni Salad

Bowl of cooked macaroni

2 cans of tuna

5 hard boiled eggs because they didn't shell nicely for deviled eggs

4 green onions

1 c. mayo

about a 1/2 c. homemade green tomato relish

about 1 tbl celery seed

squeeze 1/2 a lemon

about a cup of sliced carrots

about a cup of chopped cauliflower

Put all into one big bowl and mix. Serve. And it was yummy!

Tools of the Trade

Ann Stoll

Today was the first day that I made soap in a 7 gallon bucket. Whoa! That's a lot of soap! This particular soap is being made for a private label customer. These are shave soaps that are poured into a PET container. The customer then applies their own label. I've been trying to figure out how to manage such a large order efficiently, because shave soaps are a strange beast. My formulation uses a dual hydroxide and most people do what's called Hot Processing, which is basically forcing the gel phase of the soap faster. The process I began to recently use doesn't have a name, but I learned it from another maker at the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild conference I attended in May.

When making large batches of soap, it's imperative to find more efficient ways to produce the product. Tiny batches of anything are not efficient. It still takes you just as long to collect and weight all the ingredients as it does for a large batch. Mixing takes about the same amount of time, etc., but you end up with less product for almost the same amount of work as a large batch. So I was very pleased to learn this new method that is very similar to what I normally do when I make soap, and that is Cold Processing.

When scaling up the process of making any product, you are suddenly in a spot to see that maybe your equipment needs a bit of an upgrade. For these soaps, I went from a large stainless stock pot to a 7 gallon bucket. Another thing that was upgraded was my mixing tool. Seven gallon buckets are very deep and my immersion blender is just not long enough, nor do I have any device that was long enough. So, I purchase a mixer tool that attaches to a drill. Genius.

My hubby let me use his Milwaukee for this project. I will probably have to get my own drill in the future. The shaft on this is about 30 inches.and fits nicely into the bucket and does a bang up job blending all that goodness into something amazing. I see myself using this tool more and more as Blossom's Barn continues to grow and expand. I was able to mix up 127 jars of shave soap in one batch. Hurrah!! I could actually do more, but I didn't this time. I get to play with this again tomorrow to finish up this order. 

See ya around the soap shop!

Josephine House

Ann Stoll

This photo was taken a couple of years ago

This photo was taken a couple of years ago

Many businesses have some sort of social good put into place, or an organization that they support. Blossom's Barn is no different. We are proud to help support the Josephine House, an orphanage that loves, houses, and serves children who have been left behind, abandoned, dumped by parents with addictions, or not able to be appropriately taken care of, due to severe medical needs. It's a small orphanage, keeping approximately 10-15 children at any given time.

This beautiful little orphanage is located in Cusco, Peru, South America, tucked up in the mountains. The Josephine House survives solely on donations. They also hold rummage sales to help supplement income.They are blessed with what they need and the medical needs of the children. Even in Peru, medical care requires money and many of these kids have severe medical needs. This past year, they were able to build new housing for the kids and nursemaids that help with the children.

The Josephine House is not suppose to be a permanent home for the children. The home parents are busy trying to find forever homes for these kids, or the parents have to go through rehabilitation of some sorts in order to get their kids back, if they were taken away. Many of the kids do get placed, even though much time is needed to find that forever home. Unfortunately, I would love to adopt a couple of these kids, but the international adoption process is pretty much not possible. Due to sex trafficking, international adoptions have been closed down from here.

Blossom's Barn offers a beautiful canvas bag with five random half bars of our soaps nestled inside. We donate 100% of the proceeds of this bag of soap, to the Josephine House. We don't usually talk about this project because we prefer to give in secret, but we need to let you know that this is available. So if you're looking for an unusual gift with a cool story, or something special and unique for yourself. we can fix you up. Help us to help them. You can get yours on our website right here

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If you want to see more pictures of the kids, you can find them on the Josephine House Facebook page www.facebook.com/TheJosephineHouse/

 

Gluten-Free Angel Food Cake Recipe

Ann Stoll

Being gluten-free doesn't mean that we are stuck eating cardboard tasting desserts. I've been on a quest to find a sponge cake recipe that would rock my world. I was never able to make a regular sponge cake very well, so I just figured this wouldn't be any different. But since I'm not a quitter, I thought I would give this one a go. I was pleasantly surprised to have created a very tasty, spongy cake that would rival any other.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 c. confectioner's sugar

1 c. gluten free cake flour *

1/2 tsp xanthan gum - omit if your mix already contains this

1/2 tsp salt

1 3/4 c egg whites (about 12 eggs) at room temperature

1/3 c. warm water

1 1/2 tsp cream of tarter

1/4 tsp almond extract (can substitute vanilla extract)

Sliced strawberries and whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degree. You will need a 10" tube pan. Set aside.

A sifter is essential for the next part. Sift 3/4 c. of the confectioner's sugar, flour, and xanthan gum into a bowl. Sift 3 more times. This is an essential part of the recipe. Sift a total of 4 times.

To make the meringue, in a stand mixer bowl with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites, warm water, cream of tartar, and almond extract on medium high speed. Gradually add remaining 3/4 c. of confectioner's sugar in 3-4 batches until soft peaks form.

In four batches, add the sifted flour mixture to the meringue, gently folding it into the meringue with a spatula. Work quickly, but carefully. so as to not deflate the meringue. Carefully transfer the batter into the ungreased tube pan. Carefully run a knife in a zig zag manner through the batter to release any air bubbles that may be trapped. Smooth the batter with the knife. The pan will be very full.

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Place the pan on a center rack in the pre-heated oven. Bake until a toothpick stuck in the  middle comes out clean and the top is lightly browned and the top springs back when touched. Bake for about 35 minutes.

When the cake is done, remove from the oven and invert over a long necked bottle if your pan doesn't have legs to elevate the pan while inverted.Do this for 1 hour. Coax the cake from the sides of the pan with a butter knife or spatula and release from pan and finish cooling on a wire rack. Slice with a serrated knife by moving in one direction and not in a sawing motion. Serve with strawberries and whipped cream.

*The flour mixture I used was the Four Flour mixture from the Gluten Free Gourmet Dessert cookbook. You can buy pre-mixed cake flours for gluten free baking. Pamela's makes an excellent mix for most baking needs.

Recipe is by Nicole Hunn of Gluten-Free on a Shoestring

Toad Suck and other amusing places

Ann Stoll

goobertown.jpg

While Arkansas is a beautiful place, it sure has it's fill of interesting town names. How about a town called Toad Suck. Toad Suck is located along the Arkansas River and had a ferry back in the 1800 for the postal service to get mail to Hot Springs. On the west side, a bar was built and the rough and tumble patrons would "suck on the bottle until they looked like toads" was how the name of this unincorporated town came to be. Of course there are other, non-interesting stories of how the name came to be, but why share those?  This town also has a Toad Suck Arts and Crafts festival every year along with a Toad Master and the Toadaly Awesome Drum and Kazoo band. What's not to love about this?

Another town we stumbled upon is the place called Flippin. Flippin is home of the Ranger brand bass boats and other industries. It is nicely located nestled in the Ozarks between Bull Shoals, Mountain View and Eureka Springs. So if fishing is your game, there is plenty to do. If you like to visit the artsy towns for shopping, you have that as well. It is home to about 1350 people. Try attaching Flippin at the front of another word, Flippin grocery, Flippin gas station, well, you get the idea. Try doing that with a straight face. History has it though, that one of the original names of this town was Goatville. Which do you think I would have chosen?

Finally, and by no means is this the last, but I must end somewhere, is the town called Goobertown. Goobertown is named after the humble peanut. It was established sometime before the Civil War, and veterans brought their families back and farmed peanuts in this area. Nowadays, the total population as of 2009 is...wait for it...40 people. A grocery store is still there and its most popular item is a t-shirt with the name Goobertown on it. There is not much written about this particular town, so fun stories are short coming.

I enjoyed our travels through this beautiful part of the country that is still not defiled by the hand of man. Many areas are left untouched. Pure clean air and crystal clear water. And silence.

What funny named towns have you seen on your travels. Let's hear about them!

A Special Side Trip

Ann Stoll

Today on our journey through Arkansas to us to the little bustling town of Hot Springs. Here, in the downtown shopping district of quaint unique stores, sits a beautiful little gem called Bathhouse Soapery & Caldarium. This is the home of a soap shop that most of us soapers can only dream of aspiring to, but can obtain when we put our noses to the grind stone and get busy making our dreams come true. And that's exactly what Charlene Simon is doing. Making her dreams come true.

Charlene is a serial entrepreneur. Starting off with a modest budget of money, she has worked hard and has built not only one drop dead gorgeous soap shop, but three with a fourth on the way. Along the way, she also started Fat Bottom Girl's Cupcakes which is pretty self explanatory, and an olive oil and balsamic vinegar store called Evilo Oils and Vinegars, which is olive spelled backwards . Evilo is located a few doors down from the original Bathhouse Soapery location which is cleverly on bathhouse row. I made a healthy purchase from that store. So many yummies to choose from!

In all of her free time, she managed to also win the Mrs. Greater Hot Springs contest and will be moving on to the Mrs. Arkansas contest. I know many people ask me how I do it all, but I get to ask her that same question. Her response was to say that she can't imagine doing anything else. Her bubbly and passionate personality is infectious! Some day, I hope to be able to actually have her sit for a spell and pick her brain. Beauty and brains, all in one package.

I was fortunate enough that Miss Arkansas was visiting this day as well. 

I was fortunate enough that Miss Arkansas was visiting this day as well. 

Both she and her hubby are a great team in pulling these businesses together. Their daughter now owns and runs the cupcake shop and we even met one of their sons working in Evilo. If you are ever in Hot Springs, Arkansas, stop by and check out this store. 366 Central Avenue, Hot Springs AR | www.bathhousesoap.com |

It's Hot Out - I guess I'm still talking about it!

Ann Stoll

Never believe what Snapchat says the temp is outside. It lies. Like a rug. Hubby and I are taking a bit of a road trip this week, scouting out Arkansas. Today we landed in Petit Jean State Park. We are staying in the lodge and it's very nice. It has a lovely view as you can see below.

It's at least 100 degrees out at this moment. It's very difficult to appreciate the views when your baking on the rocks like one of the snakes that lay around. I wanted to come to Arkansas when it was at it's hottest. People get lured into moving to places when they visit in the winter, spring and fall. Never mind that you are cooked the rest of the year. You kind of put that aside and say "How bad can it be?" besides, as you get older you love the heat, right? If that is true, then I'm still 29 and holding. Yes, visit your desired retirement spot or place you dream of moving to at different points throughout the year and get a good taste of what it will be like. Are you willing to adjust your lifestyle to accommodate the new climate? I'm not convinced just yet. Hubby thinks that we'll get used to it after living there a bit. Again. Not convinced.

We waited to take a hike to the waterfall after dinner. It is about a 2 mile walk round trip. No problem, usually, I can walk 4 miles no problems. Yes, many rocks were in our way, and it was an uphill, no wait, downhill battle. I was forever listening for the horrible rattle of some nasty serpent that may live nearby. (I'm terrified of snakes, can you tell?) or a black bear or whatever else lived in the woods and wants to come out and play at dusk. We managed to hoof it pretty good, but safely, to get to the water fall. It was brisk and very warm. We took our quick photos of the falls (I didn't get any since my phone battery was done and I left it behind) and I was glad to have left it behind. We reached the designated spot on time and turned around and headed back. We had to stop many times, I thought I was going to throw up, to get my heart rate back in check. I'm really out of shape. We made it back to the lodge before dark. We sat on the rocks and looked at the view so we could "cool" down. It's good to have taken a shower. But it was HOT!

See, I lured you in with a pretty picture at the top and leave you with this! Our clothing was soaked. But all in all, it was a great hike, we got to see the falls, had a good workout, and now it's time for bed. Until tomorrow! Cheers!

Hot Sun in the Summertime

Ann Stoll

I'm day 11 into the Blog Your Brand Challenge. Like last time, I'm amazed I've come this far. I love telling stories and giving glimpses into who I am, plus behind the scenes of our company, Blossom's Barn and our homestead.

Summer has it's own challenges for livestock. While in the throes of winter, we long for those lazy hazy days of summer. I think many of get lost in thoughts of when we were kids and time stood still for a bit. Swimming, playing and enjoying our friends, pretty much summed up our lives. But on a homestead, we find many new challenges to deal with that winter does not. 

First, let's face it. It gets hot! What do we want to do when it gets hot? I think many of us are wimps and run for the air conditioned areas and I raise my own hand for that one. I also enjoy cooling off in our pool. But what do animals do? 

Summertime is actually more dangerous for most livestock than winter. It's easier to warm up than to cool off. Animals will huddle together to keep warm and they usually have shelters, as well. In the summer, unless there is a watering hole available, they are out of luck. I have been known to hose our cattle down on the really hot days. Initially, they are afraid, but when relief is realized, they love it. My goat and chickens, not so much. My goats will just lay in their barn stall in the heat of the day and the chickens will find a shady dirt hole to lay in, much like the dogs do. 

Water is essential. Always fresh water is supplied. At least that is easier to come by than in the winter when things tend to freeze up. Then it becomes challenging. In the summer, they drink lots of water, so it's crucial to make sure the animals have ample supply. 

The chickens tend to molt, which means egg production is going to take a nose-dive. Dogs and goats blow their coats. Many animals also pant to release their heat. have you ever seen a chicken pant? It's kind of weird and so are goats and cattle panting. You just don't think of them doing that, but they do. My daughter use to show rabbits and it was a must to provide frozen water bottles to keep in their cages for them to lay on to keep cool. Yes, rabbits pant, as well. 

Living on a homestead definitely teaches how reliant the animals are on you to take care of them. Even though we raise them as "naturally" as possible, they still do not have access to what would be instinctive for them to cool off, such as shade trees, bushes, water holes, etc. 

Just remember, animals rely on your care of them. Summer is no different. Summer can mean death if they are not attended to. If you're hot, they're hot. And don't forget, they can get grumpy, too.

Go See What's in Arkansas

Ann Stoll

For part of this blogging challenge, I've been writing to you from Arkansas. Hubby and I are on an adventure, going from place to place and checking out the different sites. It's a lovely place, hot and muggy, but lovely. Today we arrived in Eureka Springs.

The past couple of nights were spent in Bull Shoals. We were excited to see that location. Thinking we'd find a thriving community due to it's location and being surrounded by a beautiful lake, what we found instead was a depressed town, a shadow of what once was. Needless to say, we left there scratching our heads. We did stay in a well kept, albeit old, motel and it was probably the best of the bunch. We spent the day yesterday just driving around looking at all the small towns within 50 miles or so, to only see more of the same. These crazy cute towns with so much potential have been left to be ghost towns. All the store fronts are empty. There's just nothing left. We did find the thriving area of Mountain View. Here was a bustling town with a busy town square set up to please the tourist. This area is known for it's music and shops. Other than that, we couldn't figure out what was so special about that spot, over all the other towns we saw. What drove the people there?

So today we ended up in Eureka Springs. It's definitely got stuff going on and a pretty huge shopping district in the historical area of town. The buildings are fantastic and of course I imagined a soap shop in any of the empty storefronts. Lots of restaurants to taste from. But again, it took us three tries before we found a restaurant that was open on Tuesday. Not lacking cute cabin-like places to lodge, most were empty. The place we are in for the next couple of nights is crazy cute and very well kept. The amount of people shopping wasn't all that great either.

I guess what I'm curious about is, what do people do for vacations? Is it all about how fancy the amenities need to be? Hotels? Water parks? What is it? Do people even take vacations anymore? This is a very sad state in my eyes. So many people relying on the tourists to come and spend money in their communities and the people are just not there. Yes, the weekend are busy, but there is a season to that as well. The depression in Bull Shoals was the biggest felt for us. Such a gorgeous area and a beautiful lake for fishing, jet ski and any other water activity you can think of. Beaches, too. All were empty. Hardly a boat on the water. Campgrounds are empty. Beaches desolate. Were is everyone?

If you have never been to Arkansas, I recommend it. Such lovely scenery, plenty of sport fishing and water activities. You name it. But there are no water parks. I haven't seen a movie theater, Internet is hit and miss (gasp!) or are there any amusement parks that I've seen. But there are caves, lakes, hiking, biking and shopping and some other old fashioned family time activities. If you want to get away from it all, yet have some things to do, I recommend this place and many other in Arkansas. Pack up and have a good old fashioned family vacation.