Bring On 2015

 

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 

 

2014-11-26 23.39.28Hello!  We’re back!  With the busy time of year you may not have even noticed we were gone, but we took a “holiday hiatus” so we could celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and get ready to ring in the New Year by focusing on our family.  We breaked from both blogging and blog worthy projects (except food, we created lots of food and we definitely missed some good culinary and libation blogging opportunities.)  However, we’ve had  a relaxed and blessed holiday season.  With that being said we have missed our projects and we have missed our blog and we’re excited to be back.  The project list is long, but we’re excited to jump in and tackle them.  Maybe (just maybe) a few snow days along the way will gift us more time to work on our list.  Regardless, we look forward to creating and sharing in 2015.  In 2014 we launched this blog and for those of you who have been reading all along thanks so much!  For those of you who are new here we look forward to sharing 2015 with you.  We wish you the best in the new year!

We didn’t get Christmas cards created and out this year.  So below is our electronic version of that.  We’re kind of old-fashioned sometimes and love getting and receiving Christmas cards the old-fashioned way.  However, it takes so much time to get them ready, printed, addressed, mailed and it is so expensive.  Not to mention the trees that are sacrificed for the process.  So…in the spirit of simplifying this Christmas to focus more on our family and the real reason for the season we proudly present to you our electronic holiday wishes.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

Aaron, Kelli, Greer & Ella Rose Barnett

 

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See you in 2015!

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The Best of You: Carol’s Hoosier Cabinet Redo

We have always loved Hoosier cabinets at the Unconventional Farmhouse.  Anytime we run across one up for grabs somewhere we always linger over it and covet it, but we never walk away with it.  One day we will grab one up, I’m sure of it. But for now we always seem to have more pressing needs so we will just live vicariously through others.  (For the record you have our permission to go ahead and send us info if you happen to know of one for sale for a great price in our local area- who knows maybe the timing will be just right.)  A Hoosier cabinet is a cupboard that was popular in the first decades of the 20th century.  They are named after the Hoosier Manufacturing Company even though there are other companies who made them as well.  They fell from popularity when built in cabinets became the kitchen norm.

There are many Hoosier cabinets out there that are beautiful in their current condition, and then there are plenty that are in need of a facelift.  Carol Pettijohn sent us this Hoosier cabinet make over and we couldn’t wait to share it with you.  It combines two of our favorite things: (1) A beautiful piece of history dying to be upcycled and (2) Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

This is what Carol told us about her cabinet:

“This is an antique Hoosier cabinet that I inherited from my aunt years ago. I’ve always wanted to use it, but never knew how I wanted to fix it up to use in my home.  It has been sitting in my garage for about 10 years.  I finally decided to use Annie Sloan chalk paint- old white and duck egg blue. I love the results and it’s something I can always remember her by!”

Carol's Before Photo

Carol’s Before Photo

Carol's Stunning After Photo

Carol’s Stunning After Photo

A little sweat equity sure can go a long way!  Thanks for sharing Carol- we LOVE your project.

-Kelli

P.S. We would love to share your best stuff with our readers.  Check out this post on how to send those wonderful ideas in: http://unconventionalfarmhouse.com/2014/10/20/announcing-the-best-of-you/

Our Obligatory Pumpkin Post

 

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This post is not about pumpkins. It’s about what to do with the various bits and pieces of pumpkins. We always enjoy creating our jack-o-lanterns each year around the end of October, and the last few years our daughter, Ella Rose, has decided that each of us needed to create our own jack-o-lanterns. You know, just to be fair. Of course this means a big mess and several bowls full of “leftovers.” I actually wasn’t even looking for ideas using our leftovers, but instead I stumbled on a really interesting idea that seemed like it would be worth a shot. The idea came from one of my favorite websites called instructables. This is a great site which is basically a community blog that anyone can contribute to. I have found instructions for difficult tasks such as building outdoor pizza ovens as well as instructions for such mundane tasks as how to clean and shine shoes. It really is a great source for any DIYer. The idea that captured my imagination was when I saw the title of an instructable called “pumpkin liqueur.” Just let those words sink in a bit…..that’s correct, pumpkin flavored booze….I believe no further convincing is required so I will continue. The instructable I used was this one. It has links to instructions for juicing a pumpkin (more on that later) and it covers the bottling of the liqueur as well.

To pursue this dream elixir I needed to get my hands on some fresh pumpkin. Of course this time of year you can’t throw a rock without hitting a pumpkin, but where could I get the best product and still be mindful of the size of my wallet and my environmental impact? The answer to these produce questions is usually the same.

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Just about any local farmers market will have several varieties of pumpkins from early October until after the Halloween holiday.  Not to mention that every time we have bought pumpkins from local farmers the price is about half compared to a big box or grocery store and I’m sure the quality is superior, especially since we were planning to consume a majority of our orange gourds. The great thing about this little project was we were going to use nearly every portion of the pumpkins. We would be creating jack-o-lanterns, roasting seeds, and using the guts and any excess flesh to make our juice and the magical elixir.

This will be my version of how we made our Pumpkin drink and some changes and struggles we had along the way.

For this creation we needed:

Guts and extra flesh from at least 4 pumpkins

1/4 teas ground ginger
1/4 teas ground cloves
1/4 teas ground allspice
pinch ground nutmeg
2-4″cinnamon sticks
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract

I’m sure many of you have had the pleasure of gutting pumpkins. There are a million techniques but it all really comes down to elbow grease. We started by pulling all the insides out and separating the flesh and the seeds

Gut em!

Gut ’em!

 

Helpers helping

Helpers helping…

 

Just go for it!

Just go for it!

We always enjoy roasting our seeds. We spray the seeds down with olive oil, pour onto a baking sheet covered in aluminum foil, and then add a sprinkle of salt. Stick them in the oven at 350 for 20-40 mins depending on how roasted you like them. Easy. This year we experimented a bit with our seasoning and did several batches using Old Bay seasoning. We all loved how it turned out!

Yes Please.

Yes, Please.

That's the stuff

That’s the stuff!

Our next step was carving. We purchased a kit from the store for the occasion. It worked out well because the tools are created to be used by children and are much more safe than kitchen knifes. The designs included are also a bonus.

Focus young lantern learner

Focus young lantern learner.

Future artist. No doubt

Future artist. No doubt.

While the young ‘uns carved I began to ponder the best way to wring juice out of a pumpkin. We tried several techniques. I tried stewing the flesh to help break it down and release more moisture, I tried using our 10-year-old veggie juicer and I tried using cheese cloth to drain the guts. My best results came when I added a few cups of water to the guts and then stewed them on low heat for several minutes. This process helped add liquid to the pumpkin and the heating help release even more. After heating the guts I added them to the veggie juicer and let it rip. (I must add that at I did manage to completely destroy the juicer during my second batch, but to be fair it was almost dead before I even started due to age.)  In the future I’ll have to come up with an alternative method. (Or buy another juicer.)

Stew it up

Stew it up.

You like the juice?

You like the juice?

After juicing it was time to start cooking. The measurements I used are for adding to 4 cups of pumpkin juice. I added the spices (not the sugar) and then boiled the juice for several minutes to infuse the spices into the juice and to sanitize the product as well. After cooking I drained the juice through a cheese cloth to eliminate some of the solids left over by the spices. I then added that juice back to the pot again and then added the sugars. Next I heated it until the sugars had dissolved making this a “not so simple syrup.”

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I can almost smell it now.

Witches Pot?

Witches Pot?

 

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The Elixir of Fall!

After dissolving the sugar the result is a very delicious syrup that can be the highlight to many different drink combinations. At this point you could continue to follow the instructions on the original recipe and make proper liqueur but I decided to leave the syrup as is so we could make a variety of drink sensations. Here are some of our favorites.

Bubbly Punkin’

3 tbsp pumpkin syrup

1 tbsp vodka

3/4 cup sparkling wine

Pumpkin Tea (Greer’s favorite)

Glass of unsweet tea (decaf for our son, but that’s your choice)

2 tbsp pumpkin syrup

Pumpkin Coffee (move over Starbucks)

Make your coffee and add the syrup (Have you seen all the bad stuff on the ingredients list of store bought pumpkin coffee?  Yikes!)

Southern Pumpking

2 fingers of bourbon

a splash of syrup

1 ice cube

We really enjoy our little piece of autumn in a jar, but to create this syrup from scratch did require some effort.  It was worth it and we will be revisiting this creation for many falls to come.

-Aaron

P.S. Tomorrow will be the day after Halloween!  What better day to get a pumpkin on sale??!

 

 

 

 

Mummy Lantern Making Pinterest Success

I wish all Pinterest stories were success stories, but unfortunately they are not. There are lots of awesome Pinterest Fail articles circulating out there.

Like this one from Buzzfeed:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/readcommentbackwards/31-horrendous-pinterest-fail-monstrosities-dmjk

And this one from Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/pinterest-food-fails-pictures_n_2199732.html

And here is a whole website called epicpintersetfail.com that has the sole purpose of documenting Pinterest Fails:

http://epicpinterestfail.com/

However, in the interest of spreading good cheer here is a success story!

I recently became a Girl Scout leader (there’s a whole story there that begins with me and a friend declaring we would never sign up for such a time-consuming task that culminated in us both being co-troop leaders a few weeks later, but that is not the point here) and I needed a quick and easy Halloween craft that would make our first meeting of our brand new troop fun. I needed something I could do with 10 girls, that wouldn’t take too long and would result in something cool so they could get excited about becoming a scout. We originally considered painting pumpkins, but decided we wanted something new. So, I did what all of you would do, I consulted Pinterest. I quickly found a pin with an article from babble titled 25 Ghoulishly Easy Halloween Kids Crafts that gave me some fun ideas.

You can check out that babble article here:
http://www.babble.com/crafts-activities/25-ghoulishly-easy-halloween-kids-crafts/

After perusing all of these great ideas I thought mummy lanterns fit the bill. I followed the post and found a great new blog called Crafting a Green World. We like to be as green as possible here at the Unconventional Farmhouse so I can’t wait to go back and read more from this blog. Here is the link to their mummy lantern post and I hope while you’re there you will read other things they have to say:

http://craftingagreenworld.com/2011/09/23/how-to-mummified-glass-jar-candle-holder/

Although this craft idea isn’t original to us we thought we’d give due credit and share it with our readers too. The craft was simple. First Ella Rose and I did a test run the night before and then all the girls went to town in their meeting. They LOVED it and I would definitely recommend it to all those of you looking for a great Halloween craft.

The materials are packed up and ready for the Girl Scout meeting!

The materials are packed up and ready for the Girl Scout meeting.

For the jars we used:

  • Mason Jars (various sizes)
  • Rolled Gauze (From the local pharmacy first aid isle)
  • Flour
  • Water

In individual bowls the girls mixed flour and water and stirred it with spoons until it was a liquidy paste consistency.  Then each girl took a strip of gauze and dunked it in their bowl until it was completely covered.  They then wrapped their jars with gauze.  It made a mess, but they pushed up their sleeves and got over it quickly.  They laughed when they thought about the fact that it’s the same ingredients they use for cookies!  For these reasons keeping our clothes clean wasn’t a concern.  They then put their mummy on a plate and went and washed their hands.  We didn’t give any dry time before completing the next step.

 

Messy, messy, messy!

Messy, messy, messy!

 

For the face we used:

  • Construction Paper (mostly black, but a few wanted to add a twist)
  • Hole Punchers (some wanted to punch out holes to add to their face creations)
  • Elmer’s Glue (squirted onto a plate to share)
  • Small Craft Sticks (to apply glue)
She is getting the face ready.

She is getting the face ready.

Adding her own design.

Adding her own design.

The girls chose whether they wanted creepy, silly, scary, funny or whatever their heart’s desired and they started cutting out faces accordingly. They glued them on with Elmer’s glue. We let them dry overnight and by the end of school the next day they came running at me like a herd of excited Girl Scouts to pick up their mummy lanterns.

Happy girl!

Happy girl!

When they got home they got to have their parents light the tea candle I put inside each one for a mummy lantern effect.  Isn’t it nice when success can be simple?

They look great in a group!

They look great in a group!

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

Our unconventional mummy lanterns on display.

Our unconventional mummy lanterns on display.

Have a safe and fun Halloween,

Kelli

Building a Row Cover (aka Mini Greenhouse)

We consider ourselves avid gardeners but throughout the years we came to a realization that even though we enjoyed our dirt from April to August there were many more ways to utilize our little piece of the third rock. We started by expanding our options and squeezing raised beds into almost every nook and cranny we could find. A strawberry bed here and a whiskey barrel there and we had just about gone as far as we could go and still remain within our garden fenced boarders.

Bursting at the seams.

Bursting at the seams.

Next we started utilizing more of the growing season, instead of putting in tomatoes and peppers some time at the beginning of May we were planting carrot, lettuce, greens and pea seeds in mid March. These were all foods we loved so making a little extra effort was a no brainer. After we figured out the beginning of the growing season we began to realize there was still plenty of good sunshine left after the tomatoes had given up their last red balls of summer time joy. We started slow by adding a few additional collards or kale plants. This year we had a couple of beds go though 3 different plantings. One bed started the year with lettuce, then came the beans, now its home to some happy spinach. There are several varieties of greens and plants in the cabbage family that will continue to grow well after the frost starts to show up, but one of our favorite treats (home grown lettuce) will turn a lovely shade of “NO!” as soon as that first bit of frost starts to settle on the ground. Obviously someone needed to figure out a way to keep the crunchy goodness growing well into the holiday season. If only there was some tool that allowed people to access information they previously had limited knowledge of. Maybe a data base that was transmitted through the air directly to some kind of control device which is operated by entering queries into a system designed to locate said information that is only applicable to the specific needs of the searcher. Oh well, maybe sometime in the future when cars drive themselves and everyone has phones that can talk. For now all we have to work with is Google and Pinterest.

I am motivated in many ways. I enjoy things that taste good, I like creating with my hands, and I enjoy a challenge, but one of my most potent motivations is the desire to make the wifey happy. So it was very important to me to try and figure out a way to extend our growing season even further into the frosty months. We had successfully stretched out our growing opportunities but the next step would require a little help that Mother Nature could not provide. We needed a way to protect our fresh little greens from the elements but at the same time still provide them with all the tools they needed to continue to flourish well past the time other plants wilted and went to see the big lettuce head in the sky. We needed row covers. Similar to a mini greenhouse, row covers are meant to protect plants but still provide them with space, light and water that they need to flourish. Think ‘greenhouse that only goes waist high’. Because we had raised beds the process of installing a row cover would be much less difficult. The sides of the beds provide a distinct edge that acts not only as a measuring point but also an anchoring point that should give the cover more stability. After scouring the web (my favorite!!!) we decided that for our first attempt we should go with a PVC frame and a cover made of simple, white, plastic. There are many positive aspects about working with PVC as a frame material. PVC is very inexpensive and can be found at most home improvement and hardware stores, and even Walmart. PVC is also easy to manipulate, it cuts easily with a hand saw and is very flexible. We decided to try an arched design that uses larger PVC pipes driven into the ground as foundations, or anchors, and smaller diameter pipes that would slide into the foundation pieces then bend over and slide into the opposite side. The idea is to create an arch that the plastic can then simply lay on top of.

My first course of action was to measure the distance between the sides of each garden bed and then I needed to guesitmate the correct length of pipe to arch over the beds. Luckily I decided that the standard 5 foot length found in most stores would be perfect for our situation. We also determined that 4 mil thick plastic row cover would be perfect for our needs.

The victim...I mean the patient.

The victim…I mean the patient.

Inexpensive materials makes the wallet happy.

Inexpensive materials makes the wallet happy.

 

Next up was cutting the pieces that would be anchored into the ground as well as into the sides of the wooden bed frames. These pieces needed to be big enough so that the arched section would easily slide down into them. We used 1″ diamater pipes for the anchor points and 1/2″ for the arched section.

 

Measure 27 times cut once. Hopefully!

Measure 27 times cut once. Hopefully!

The anchors were cut to about 1 foot then driven into the ground 6 inches leaving 6 inches sticking out

The anchors were cut to about 1 foot in length then driven into the ground 6 inches leaving 6 inches sticking out.

After securing the 8 anchor points by driving them into the ground and putting a screw through them into the bed frame I began making the arches.

Bendy!

Bendy!

Very Bendy!!!

Very Bendy!!!

Building arches, piece of cake. What's the big deal Roman Empire!!?

Building arches, piece of cake. What’s the big deal Roman Empire!!?

Once the arches were set all that needed to be done was to measure, cut, and attach the plastic cover.

We applied the whole piece of plastic then just cut it to our needs.

We applied the whole piece of plastic then just cut it to our needs.

 

We doubled over the plastic to give it more strength, then use wood staple to secure one side

We doubled over the plastic to give it more strength, then used wood staples to secure one side

We used an 8' long extra piece of PVC on the other side as a "handle"

We used an 8′ long extra piece of PVC on the other side as a “handle”

 

Again we doubled this over and secured it with duck tape.

Again we doubled this over and secured it with duck tape.

The design we came up with made it very easy for us to cover and uncover the bed. The long PVC “handle” allows us to simply grab one side and easily take the entire cover off the frame in one easy motion.

uncovering:

…and covering is just as easy…

 

 

Overall I would rate this project as very worthwhile and easy to complete. It may take us a few seasons to figure out all of the ways to use our new beds with their new fancy covers but I’m sure it will lengthen our gardening season.

 

-Aaron

Announcing The Best Of You

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We get messages and emails all the time sharing the awesome things you guys are doing! Because we know you have many great ideas and projects that are worth sharing we have decided to start a new “The Best of You” Section! We want you to send us your projects…big and small that we can share. Don’t be afraid to put it out there! Sometimes the simplest projects are the most rewarding because anyone can do them and they plant the seed of inspiration. The big projects can be great because they make us all go “WOW”, and even though we might not be able to recreate it, we can certainly glean inspiration from it. We want them both, big or small! We would love to see what you’re doing in a variety of categories…home décor, diy, construction, gardening, arts and crafts, kiddo ideas, cooking, canning, handy fix it tips, anything, everything, all those things! Please share and help us build a community of idea sharing! Your ideas can be original or borrowed (the best ones usually are) and both are acceptable!

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Here’s how you contribute:

*Email us at unconventionalfarmhouse@gmail.com

*Attach photo(s) that are good quality (email the highest resolution you can even if you need to send multiple emails). Don’t stress if the photos are not perfect, ours certainly are not and we know this is a weakness of our blog right now. (It actually held us back from starting for a long while until we changed our mindset to just jump in and figure things out as we go.)

*Answer the following questions: Where did your idea come from? How did you do it? Why do you love it? Are there any websites or people out there we need to link to your post for original idea credit? Tell us a quick blurb about you and where you live. What else do you want to share about it? Don’t feel pressured to fit any kind of format, you can keep it short and sweet or you can be long winded it’s up to you!

*Optional: send us your photo (or one of you and your family) to personalize it.

*Send it in any format you wish and we can tweak it. Don’t be afraid!

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Thanks for helping us meet our goal (sharing the creation of….stuff!)

Happy projecting,
Kelli & Aaron

Dilly Beans…A Family Favorite!

I have always LOVED pickles! When I was a kid my sister made me drink pickle juice blindfolded (I have friends who can vouch for this) and I LOVED it! I come from a long line of pickle lovers too. However, I had never had “dilly beans” until I visited Aaron’s Granny & Papaw Barnett’s house in Roan Mountain, Tennessee (almost 20 years ago now) when we were dating. It only took one sample to fall in LOVE with this family favorite…and this family! I was hooked! Aaron’s sweet Granny and his sweet Mom have been feeding my addiction ever since. I’ve made these “blessings in a jar” a few times before in small quantities, but this year my son Greer wanted to make our own 10 pint batch so we could have LOTS of dilly beans on hand. Who was I to argue with that logic? After looking at various recipes from family members, Greer and I decided on a version that is mostly Aaron’s mom’s recipe, but slightly “kicked up a notch” meaning this would be an extra spicy batch. If you are interested in a more tame dilly bean experience just don’t use as much jalapeno.

So by request here is our 10 pint recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 lbs green beans
  • 9 cups of white distilled vinegar
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1 1/2 cup of salt (we use kosher salt)
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper cut into long slices
  • 13 tsp of dill seed
  • 10 whole garlic cloves
  • 5 diced garlic cloves
  • 5 diced jalepeno peppers
  • 10 pint jars and 10 lids
Don't you love eating things that you know began with fresh ingredients in your kitchen?

Don’t you love eating things that you know began with fresh ingredients in your kitchen?

Directions:

Wash the jars in hot water and set aside.

Blanch the green beans by boiling a pot of water, dumping the beans in, covering for 3 minutes, taking the beans out and then submerging in a big bowl of ice water for 3 minutes.  (I don’t cut them or trim the tips- just leave them whole.)

Don't get burned when you remove them from heat!

Don’t get burned when you remove them from heat!

The ice water stops them from over cooking.

The ice water stops them from over cooking.

Stuff the empty washed jars with blanched green beans.  Put a couple of slices of the red bell pepper in each jar.  Also put 1 whole, peeled garlic clove and 1 tsp of dill seed in each jar.

A good helper always makes this more fun!

A good helper always makes this more fun!

Chop it into long strips.

Chop it into long strips.

Getting close!

Getting close!

In a pot combine the vinegar, water and salt and bring to a boil while stirring until the salt is dissolved.

Greer is stirring our salt until it dissolves.

Greer is stirring our salt until it dissolves.

Remove from heat and stir in the 5 diced garlic cloves, 5 diced jalepeno peppers, and the remaining 3 tsp of dill seed.  Using a funnel poor this mixture into each jar stopping just below the bottom of the jar’s neck.

Careful!  It's hot!

Careful! It’s hot!

Next boil the lids of the jars in a separate pot.

In your hot water canner (or a giant pot) put water on high heat.  You will need enough water to cover the cans by a couple of inches.  You can guess to start off with and add more water after you get the cans in.

Remove the lids from the boiling water and put them on the jars and attach the screw on rings.  Lightly shake up the contents and place in the hot water canner before the water inside begins to boil.  If you need to add a little more water to cover the cans go for it.

Bring it to a boil.

Bring it to a boil.

Put the lid on the canner (or big pot) and bring to a boil.  Allow cans to boil for 10 minutes then remove from heat and let cool.

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Remove carefully!

You should hear the lids “pop” as they seal.

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Wowie, Wow, Wow, Wow!

And finally…by far the most difficult step….wait at least two weeks to enjoy the full flavored effect!

After you devour a jar of dilly beans don’t throw it out!  We slice up a cucumber and add to the beanless jar to make what we call “quick pickles”…after a few days in the fridge they are yummy.  We actually reuse our brine several times this way…they will be a little more weak each round so when they begin to lose their flavor and/or the brine turns cloudy then its time to toss it. Now hurry up and can those dilly beans before it is too late!

Quick Pickle Yumminess

Quick Pickle Yumminess

-Kelli

Dim Sum Yummy Dumplings

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I’m going to start this little story by making a confession. I really love to cook, and I really love to try new recipes and different types of food. When I say I love it I’m not using hyperbole, I really get a lot of joy finding recipes, creating a shopping list, buying new or interesting ingredients, combining all of these things together, and enjoying the final results. I often find myself perusing different web sites for anything that might look different and delicious. Kelli will sometimes have to drag me back to reality if I start planning a dinner that in no way will be able to be completed by bed time (or basketball practice, or dance lessons, or horseback, or baseball game, or soccer game, or…) This urge to find new and flavorful creations has led me to discover several out of the ordinary meals that have become regulars at the farmhouse. One of our favorite and most unique meals is Dim Sum.

Dim Sum is a term used to describe a style of Cantonese dumplings from China. They are usually served steamed but can also be fried. There are several varieties of Dim Sum ranging from savory meat fillings to sweet fruits or cake type fillings. I have only tried to make one kind of Dim Sum called Shaomai. This kind of dumpling is filled with a pork and shrimp mixture that I’m certain was used to lure sailors to their deaths on the rocky shores of some ancient Chinese island. It’s possible I got my wires crossed on that story. One of the odd things about these meatballs form heaven is that the stuffing only contains four ingredients. FOUR! That’s it! There is some elbow grease required to get the meat mixture stuffed into the wrapper but I have come to really enjoy the process. It’s a great meal to prepare while talking to your beautiful wife and drinking a glass of wine. If you’re into that kind of stuff. Now at this point you may be asking, “But how do you cook these most glorious sounding dumplings from the land of the raising sun?” and that is one of the tricks, or exceptions, to this otherwise straight forward gift from our neighbors across the biggest pond. A bamboo steamer. This simple yet elegant contraption is the most primitive and at the same time most artistic tool in our kitchen, it is made of interwoven strands of bamboo similar to a basket made of flattened material.

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I doubt I would have ever decided to go in search of my own steamer but luckily I married into a family that shares some of my same passions. Our steamer came as a gift from Kelli’s sister, Frankie. Frankie puts my little dabbles in cooking to shame, and her blog Recipe Realities (go ahead and click it- you know you want to) is a great source for anything food related. The steamer works by trapping steam coming from a pan full of boiling water, the steam causes the bamboo to expand which in turn traps even more steam causing the temperature in the steamer to rise to levels that are capable of cooking just about anything.

Ok enough jibber jabber lets get to the nuts and bolts of this recipe. The pan full of water should be put on an eye that is set to a medium high temperature. For this treat you will need to prepare a few things for the filling first.

You will need:

1 lb of ground pork
1 lb of raw shrimp-it will need to be shelled and tailed (if you can find it that way already then good for you)
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

Later you will need:

1 head of Bok Choi

And for a ridiculously easy dipping sauce you need:

1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp. fresh grated ginger
1 tbsp. fresh chopped garlic
1 tsp sesame oil
Hot sauce to taste

Start by shelling and pulling the tails off of your shrimp. Be sure not to waste any of the precious little bugs. Here is a short video on how to “pinch the tails” to keep all that yummy in one piece.

After shelling the shrimp process them in a…….um……..processer until they have the consistency of the ground pork.

Ground Shrimp

Ground Shrimp

Then combine the pork, shrimp, green onions and chives in a large mixing bowl.

First harvest

First harvest

Photo Sep 21, 6 48 44 PM

Then chop

Stir it up...little darlin

Stir it up…little darling

This is the point where these little guys take a bit of elbow grease. The steamer needs to be lined with something to prevent the cooked dumplings from falling through the grates in the bamboo. Parchment paper with holes poked in it can be used but we prefer to use bok choi because it is delicious after soaking up the dumpling juices. The meat also needs to be placed into the wrappers to make the dumplings. There is an art to this, some dumplings are made sealed on all sides (think ravioli, only with a thinner cover.) However, I prepare this version using an open top dumpling. This process allows more of the meat mixture to be in each dumpling. The wrappers used to make traditional Dim Sum are made with rice flour. They are very thin and difficult to work with, and nearly impossible to find in Northeast Tennessee. My little cheat is to use egg roll wrappers that have been cut into four equal squares. Stuffing the wrappers starts by laying one of the pieces on top of your hand while making the “OK” sign with your index finger and your thumb and then placing the meat mixture right in the center of the hole formed by you hand.

 

Photo Sep 21, 7 10 38 PM

 

 

You slowly work the meat and the wrapper into a bell shape to keep it from falling over in the steamer and then place each one in the steamer making sure they do not touch to allow steam to circulate on all sides.

So cute

So cute

Photo Sep 21, 7 10 12 PM

They’re like snowflakes no two are ever the same

The amounts given in this recipe make around 30 dumplings. Most steamers have two levels and if you throw some edimame or asparagus in it will pretty much fill up the entire steamer….and three or four bellies.

Closer to heaven

Closer to heaven

All that is left to do at this point it to reassemble the steamer and place it on nearly boiling water and let it just hang out for 10-15 minutes.

 

 

 

While things are getting steamy its a good time to throw together the soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and hot sauce to make a perfect dipping sauce. Just combine in a bowl and give it a good stir.

Checking for doneness is the same as for any meat product, your best tool is a meat thermometer, it can give you an idea about the internal temp of the dumplings. I usually shoot for around 160.

Perfect!

Perfect!

Now, eat ’em. Just try to stop before you get so full your pants feel tight. I never stop in time. I know this culinary adventure requires some time and a couple of things that aren’t in an average kitchen, but just in case you ever get the urge for a simple, unique, and delicious treat give it a try. Or just show up at the Unconventional Farmhouse and twist my arm. If you bring a bottle of something fun to drink I’m sure I can be motivated.

-Aaron

(P.S. by Kelli- My mouth is watering reading this, for real.  Warning: If you give this a try then addiction is highly likely.)

 

 

 

 

 

For the Love of Color

I have an admitted addiction. I know you are assuming it’s to painting, but that’s not it! I am addicted to color! I do appreciate the look of houses that follow a single color pallet or theme, but that design is just not for me. I like to look around and see all sorts of color. It makes me smile! We have mustard yellow walls, light yellow walls, tan walls, purple walls, red walls, terracotta walls, turquoise walls, dark green walls, bright green walls and as Greer likes to call the color he picked for his room “man cave gray” walls. The way we try to tie it all together is by using color in a variety of other ways throughout the house. It’s a kaleidoscope of happy and plans for more happy, I mean color, are underway. I will always be adding color. Many prefer a more monochromatic home because of its relaxing atmosphere, but for me life is just too short not to have color everywhere. Aaron long ago stopped trying to keep me from adding colors and started embracing it (and maybe even liking it) and Greer and Ella Rose love their bright and fun home. My addiction has led to stashes of paint everywhere! Sometimes I just buy a can of spray paint, not because I have a particular item to paint, but because I like the color. Then I will walk around and find random things to paint…true story! I use all kinds of paint and I use it to cover furniture, canvases, barn wood paintings, accessories, floors, rugs, and all sorts of other things. Sometimes this works well and sometimes not so well. Experimentation is part of the fun! I could walk around our home and take hundreds of photos for this post, but I will just select a few and maybe one day do a follow up post with a few hundred more. So, here are some examples of how I have added color by painting random things. I have also included some of my biggest blunders. I thought you might like to see those too! If you are afraid to make a blunder then painting random things may not be for you.

These guys were a little boring!

These guys were a little boring!

A little spray paint gave them more personality.

A little spray paint gave them more personality.

This table used to be very shiny wood...much more deserving of our unconventional farmhouse now!

This table used to be very shiny wood…much more deserving of our unconventional farmhouse now!

A little too blah for my taste!

A little too blah for my taste!

Now it packs a punch of color that is nice in the garden.

Now it packs a punch of color that is nice in the garden.

I don't even remember what color this cabinet used to be, but simply painting the trim a fun color instantly added uniqueness.

I don’t even remember what color this cabinet used to be, but simply painting the trim a fun color instantly added uniqueness.

Barn wood is painted and so is the silver bottle!

Barn wood is painted and so is the silver bottle!

The fireplace looks like tile, but nope, I painted it.  The original plan was to tile it when funding allowed, but now we just love it.  All those squares were stamped on with make up sponges.

The fireplace looks like tile, but nope, I painted it. The original plan was to tile it when funding allowed, but now we just love it. All those squares were stamped on with make up sponges.

Faded, brown and boring these cushions didn't make the cut for our new pool porch redo!

Faded, brown and boring these cushions didn’t make the cut for our new pool porch redo!

So after reading several other bloggers say you could give them a make over with spray paint, I decided a $4 can of spray paint was a bargain cushion redo.  (Have you priced these?)

So after reading several other bloggers say you could give them a make over with spray paint, I decided a $4 can of spray paint was a bargain cushion redo. (Have you priced these?)

I liked the look!  Bright, fun, different!  But boy, our booties did not!  It was scratchy and miserable and remember this was for a pool!

I liked the look! Bright, fun, different! But boy, our booties did not! It was scratchy and miserable and remember this was for a pool!

Thankfully K-Mart clearance saved the day!  This is much more comfy!  Painting FAIL!

Thankfully K-Mart clearance saved the day! This is much more comfy! Painting FAIL!

Speaking of those chairs...they were a worn out and faded green color before some spray paint brought them back to life!

Speaking of those chairs…they were a worn out and faded green color before some spray paint brought them back to life!

This pergola was on the porch of the house my generous sister-in-law bought, but it didn't fit.  So....it was donated to our spruce up our pool porch cause. But, it was black, and I wanted the porch to be injected with personality!

This pergola was on the porch of the house my generous sister-in-law bought, but it didn’t fit. So….it was donated to our spruce up our pool porch cause. But, it was black, and I wanted the porch to be injected with personality!

It took over 30 cans of spray paint, many hours of labor, very sore blistery fingers, and maybe some inappropriate language and the black aluminum still showed through!  So...I brush painted the final coat and finally got the look I wanted.

It took over 30 cans of spray paint, many hours of labor, very sore blistery fingers, and maybe some inappropriate language and the black aluminum still showed through! So…I brush painted the final coat and finally got the look I wanted.

If you'd asked me while working on it and even within the two months post finished product I would've said epic painting fail...

If you’d asked me while working on it and even within the two months post finished product I would’ve said epic painting fail…

...but now when I smile anytime I see it, sit in it, or even in this case look at a photo of it I definitely think epic painting win.

…but now when I smile anytime I see it, sit in it, or even in this case look at a photo of it I definitely think epic painting win.

Some painting victories are much more small like this old rusted basket I painted to add a punch of color.

Some painting victories are much more small like this old rusted basket I painted to add a punch of color.

Many of you asked about this wreath from our front door post and the truth is it is an old Christmas wreath that the stars rusted badly on and the red berries peeled off of....but a little paint changed it up.

Many of you asked about this wreath from our front door post and the truth is it is an old Christmas wreath that the stars rusted badly on and the red berries peeled off of….but a little paint changed it up.

Another random accessory painting.  Sometimes color can be subtle.

Another random accessory painting. Sometimes color can be subtle.

These chairs used to be black.

These chairs used to be black.

The other two became lime green for the vegetable garden.

The other two became lime green for the vegetable garden.

This was metallic gold when found second hand...I actually painted it black (ha, I know) and sprinkled some grass in and painted again to give it texture.

This was metallic gold when found second hand…I actually painted it black (ha, I know) and sprinkled some grass in and painted again to give it texture.

Another formerly black chair!

Another formerly black chair!

This rusted very badly, so it got a coat of paint.  It did rust again and get touched up again, and then it rusted again.  This time I left it.  Many would consider it a painting fail, but I think it's just unconventional.

This rusted very badly, so it got a coat of paint. It did rust again and get touched up again, and then it rusted again. This time I left it. Many would consider it a painting fail, but I think it’s just unconventional.

Some simple spray painted letters.

Some simple spray painted letters.

They pack some punch to the front door!

They pack some punch to the front door!

Why does most patio furniture come in black?

Why does most patio furniture come in black?

A little fun with color and some experimentation can go a long way.

A little fun with color and some experimentation can go a long way.

That's better!

That’s better!

This framed piece of tin was beige and plain when we yanked it out of a stash in the back of a run down antique store.

This framed piece of tin was beige and plain when we yanked it out of a stash in the back of a run down antique store.

I gave the frame a red wash finish, the tin a yellow wash finish and then took toothpicks and dabbed each dot already pressed into the tin with a variety of colors.  Instant happy!

I gave the frame a red wash finish, the tin a yellow wash finish and then took toothpicks and dabbed each dot already pressed into the tin with a variety of colors. Instant happy!

One last view of what happy looks like!

One last view of what happy looks like!

So go ahead, buy some paint, experiment, have fun!

Just don't paint your feet!

Just don’t paint your feet!

-Kelli

P.S. As I just took a cleaning break while writing I noticed an overwhelming number of things I did not include! Part two will definitely come one day!

A Box of Possibilities

About 7 years ago when our son Greer was in kindergarten Aaron’s sister Rachael moved to New York City. Greer made her a “box of possibilities” to take with her. It was an old box that he’d found and decorated. We have no idea where he came up with the phrase, but it certainly was adorable…and appropriate. She recently moved back home to Tennessee and unpacked the “box of possibilities” that I had long forgotten about and I was again amazed at his insightful gift. He was disappointed to see her go, but excited for her at the same time. He knew she was going on an adventure and that anything was possible. I kind of feel the same way about this house. Aaron and I have always loved old things. We used to drive around and hope to find an old farmhouse that we could live in. One day about 13 years ago Aaron came home from the grocery store with a “for sale” flyer for a house that had been taped to the front of a coke machine. The house was in rough shape, but all we saw was an affordable “box of possibilities.” It soon became our “box of possibilities.”

I’ve been reflecting a lot on our home and how other people perceive it over the last few weeks. First let me clear up that other people’s perception isn’t really what matters to us at all. I mean we care about you, our neighbors, our family, and our friends, but what you think doesn’t really drive our decisions on what to do around here. If it did the front landscape of our home would not be overgown and still on the to-do list while other more private areas of our property that we use are rustic-cottage garden lovely. We also wouldn’t have kept putting off the awful laundry room and half bath that everyone sees first when they come into our side door (which everyone does) for a later date. These kinds of items are on our to-do list for sure, but they just haven’t jumped to the top yet. However, since we launched our blog and I’ve had subsequent conversations with people from all areas of my life I’ve come to realize that people who only know our home through this blog think of it as a completed show house, full of nifty completed projects. I suppose that’s my fault because I only post the good stuff so I thought I would clear up that misconception. When we look around our home we don’t see a completed home (you wouldn’t either if you were here in person), but we also don’t see an overwhelming laundry list of to-do things (although maybe we’re niave)…instead we prefer to see a “box of possibilities” (a lot of potential.)

Living in a “box of possibilities” can get overwhelming if you’re not careful. I’ve certainly had moments where it has ovewhelmed me and I’ve wanted to throw in the towel for a more completed home. (I mean completed in the traditional sense…you know perfect.) However, over time Aaron and I have mastered the art of enjoying what we’ve accomplished while looking forward to what we want to accomplish. And I’ve realized perfect is a mirage anyway. We get asked a lot about our planning/organization for our many simultaneaous projects and project plans. I’ve read some other impressively organized blogger posts on how they plan projects. I’ve read endless to do lists that are detailed out to what is going to happen and when and in what order. Here’s our secret: we’re just not like that. We don’t have lists of long range developed plans. Do we plan? Absolutely! Having brainstorming conversations is actually something we love to do. We talk about projects A LOT before we actually ever do them. But, we’ve never made a project to-do list that is more long range than a few weeks out. It’s just not how we roll. We talk more in terms about what we’d like to do one day. But, honestly, that is always changing. We brainstorm a lot of ideas and the ones we are passionate about emerge to the top of the list when we feel strongly enough about them. We save up money, materials and ideas to do projects and sometimes even then we change our minds. We’re okay with that. It’s fun for us. It’s about the journey and not the destination. It’s about the possibility of it all. We do it beause we enjoy it, not because of the finished product (although that part is great too.) Talking about projects is something we both love to do. But we just don’t get caught up in worrying about the long list of things we’d like to do one day.

That philosohy makes this post difficult for me. I’ve been asked for a list of what projects are to come from some of you and so even though I don’t like to make project lists I have decided to do it for you. As long as you don’t hold us to this list that is! Here are the projects that we are currently brainstorming about. Disclaimer: it will change! Some will happen, some won’t happen, Other stuff will happen too.

Possibility: Rip out overgrown plants and put in nice, simple landscape.  (Problem: One side is deep shade and the other is sunny.)

Possibility: Rip out overgrown plants and put in nice, simple landscape. (Problem: One side is deep shade and the other is sunny.)

Possibility: Redo front steps and front walkway.

Possibility: Redo front steps and front walkway.

Possibility: Fix up these steps leading to our front walkway.

Possibility: Fix up these steps leading to our front walkway.

Possibility: Clean up fallen limbs and put up a zip line for our kiddos on this hill.  (We already have the kit- Ella Rose asked for it for her birthday- so this possibility is really happening SOON.)

Possibility: Clean up fallen limbs and put up a zip line for our kiddos on this hill. (We already have the kit- Ella Rose asked for it for her birthday- so this possibility is really happening SOON.)

Possibility: Scrape and paint our front porch and paint our railing a fun color.

Possibility: Scrape and paint our front porch and paint our railing a fun color.

Possibility: Put in a screened in porch on the back of the house along with a side outdoor deck, fire pit, grilling station and wood burning pizza oven.  Obviously a big, expensive dream.

Possibility: Put in a screened in porch on the back of the house along with a side outdoor deck, fire pit, grilling station and wood burning pizza oven. Obviously a big, expensive dream.

Possibility: Build ourselves a new couch!  Yep, you read it correctly.  We're having fun brainstorming this one!

Possibility: Build ourselves a new couch! Yep, you read it correctly. We’re having fun brainstorming this one!

Possibility: Rework our rigged by previous owner butler's pantry shelves and build a nice sliding pantry door for it.

Possibility: Rework our rigged by previous owner butler’s pantry shelves and build a nice sliding pantry door for it.

Possibility: Give the fire place in the dining room a facelift.

Possibility: Give the fire place in the dining room a facelift.

Possibility: Rip up laminate flooring in kitchen and see what is underneath...then make a plan!

Possibility: Rip up laminate flooring in kitchen and see what is underneath…then make a plan!

Possibility: Replace this laundry room window.  We already have it- just need to prioritize it.

Possibility: Replace this laundry room window. We already have it- just need to prioritize it.

Possibility: Fix up this hideous 1970 era half bath.

Possibility: Fix up this hideous 1970 era half bath.

Possibility: Finally fix the walls (the quilt hides a giant hole) in the laundry room.

Possibility: Finally fix the walls (the quilt hides a giant hole) in the laundry room.

Possibility: Tile the laundry room floor and add  more personality to it while we're at it.  Maybe then I won't let the laundry get so high!

Possibility: Tile the laundry room floor and add more personality to it while we’re at it. Maybe then I won’t let the laundry get so high!

Possibility: Transform the current extra bedroom that is my closet, art studio and general storage to a nice walk-in master closet and a bathroom.  (We only have one full bath and it's downstairs and our bedrooms are upstairs.)  Obviously high dollar project, but will add a lot of value.

Possibility: Transform the current extra bedroom that is my closet, art studio and general storage to a nice walk-in master closet and a bathroom. (We only have one full bath and it’s downstairs and our bedrooms are upstairs.) Obviously high dollar project, but will add a lot of value.

Possibility: Transform this nook into an art studio.

Possibility: Transform this nook into an art studio.

Possibility: Replace this dresser with a giant one that I have fun painting plans for.

Possibility: Replace this dresser with a giant one that I have fun painting plans for.

Possibility: Paint this dresser gray.  Maybe two shades.

Possibility: Paint this dresser gray. Maybe two shades.

Possibility: Finish the molding repair work we've started in the master bedroom and other finishing touches in this room.

Possibility: Finish the molding repair work we’ve started in the master bedroom and other finishing touches in this room.

Possibility: Paint and recover this movie theatre seat that Aaron acquired decades ago and move it into our living space.

Possibility: Paint and recover this movie theatre seat that Aaron acquired decades ago and move it into our living space.

Possibility: Transform these and other attic relics into usable pieces in our home.

Possibility: Transform these and other attic relics into usable pieces in our home.


Not even we know what of these things is next on our list, but we’d sure like to hear your opinion on what it should be. In the meantime, if you visit us (which we hope you do) don’t expect to see anything more than a “box of possibilities.” A lot is done. A lot is left to do. We are going to enjoy both. We hope you also enjoy your “box of possibilities”.

-Kelli

P.S. This list includes items from a simple walk through of our house. After writing I have remembered all sorts of things I didn’t include…like refinishing our bathroom cabinet, painting our shutters, building an island for our kitchen, adding a back gate to our garden, sewing new pillows and curtains, oh and learning to sew. This is why we don’t make lists…it would never end! I’m stopping now because I think you get the idea.

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