March 31, 2010

creamy broccoli soup

Soup season is going to be coming to an end soon, so in honor of the snow we had on the ground this morning, I thought I'd share one of my all time favorites.

This was originally a potato soup recipe, but the base is what caught my attention. Actually, it was one particular ingredient in the base that really called to me.

Cream cheese.

It called my name.

I heard it.

Creamy Broccoli Soup

1/2 cup chopped onion
4 T butter
8 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup flour
1 cup water
3 tsp chicken bouillon granules or 3 bouillon cubes
3 1/2 cups milk
broccoli - I think I ended up using around 4 cups, maybe a bit more, of chopped broccoli (should have kept closer track of my measurements. Sorry.)

I start by chopping my broccoli quite small. I add a bit of water, cover and microwave for four to five minutes, stirring after each minute. You want that perfect not too crunchy, not too mushy texture.
Saute onion in butter until soft. Add cream cheese. (I soften it in the microwave, which seems to help it blend in without getting lumpy.) Add flour and stir in. Add water and bouillon and mix well. (If you use cubes, you will want to dissolve them in the water first.) Finally, add the milk and heat until it starts to thicken, stirring constantly. Stir in the broccoli, and you're done!

We usually serve it in a sourdough bread bowl and top it with shredded sharp cheddar.

p.s. I usually chicken out when it comes to posting recipes, because I'm afraid someone will take the time to make one of them, and not like it. That makes me very nervous. However, I think the cream cheese is giving me courage, so here goes! Hope you enjoy.

March 28, 2010

the purge - an update

Last week, I had a reader ask how the purge is going, so I thought I'd give a quick update on my progress.

Back in January, I began the process of sorting through my closets, cupboards and drawers with the goal of getting rid of anything that didn't have a place in my house. Part way into my closet cleaning venture, the devastating earthquake hit Haiti, and I made the decision to give any money I made to disaster relief. If you're new around these parts, you can read the first part of the story here, and part two, here.

Having a cause and the opportunity to do something for people in dire life or death need really helped my resolve. Knowing I could either keep something I would probably never use, or sell it and perhaps make a difference in a hurting persons life, kept me motivated.

I actually made pretty short work of things, and have been, for the most part, done for about six weeks now. I couldn't be happier with the results. Between my local flea market, which took all of my nice but not vintage/antique items, a back alley vintage tablecloth deal, and an antique store in town that took the rest, I was able to make a $2400 donation to Compassion International's Disaster Relief Fund. Yes, you read that right. Two thousand four hundred dollars. I told you I had a lot of good stuff!

I still have a handful of things, some of my nicest things, that I'm not quite sure what to do with. I've been tossing around the Ebay idea, or maybe trying to sell them here on the blog, but so far, I haven't come up with a plan. I'll keep you posted and let you know when the perfect solution presents itself.

Now, because I can't do a post without pictures, here are some I came across while cleaning off my hard drive.

I have always had a love for miniature donkey's. We had one living down the road years ago, and much to my children's dismay, we had to stop and talk to him every single time we passed by. As in roll down the window, stop the car, and ask him about his day. He was the cutest thing ever, and one day I will have one for my very own. His name will be Donkey, and he will be kept company by my pot belly pig, Petunia. I very well may need a miniature goat or two as well. We'll see.

Anyway, while visiting my sister a few years ago, she took us to visit a newly born baby miniature donkey....can you even imagine the cuteness? Amazingly enough, the baby donkey quickly took a back seat to a very friendly llama (or alpaca, I can't remember which,) (those of you who know, please set me straight,) named Olivia.

Olivia made a bee-line for my youngest and was very, very determined to give him a smooch.

He fought it for a while, but after a serious stare down....

.....he gave in.

Best friends forever.

March 26, 2010

the week in pictures

Photo Friday, the bane of my existence, has snuck up on me once again. One would think I would be used to it by now, as it's on a fairly predictable schedule. My new favorite pastime of complaining about Photo Friday also seems to be on the exact same schedule.

Every Friday, just like clockwork.

It's all very similar to the way dinner sneaks up on me every day at about four o'clock, so I guess there's a bit of a pattern here.

This week, I think we'll just take a little photo tour of the happenings around the farm. I have no doubt it will have you riveted to your chair with excitement.

Actually, this first stop is kind of exciting. Thanks to a comment left on my last post, my pillow experience with Amy just got even better, something I would not have thought possible. A reader asked about the little bundle in this picture.

In my haste to unwrap the pillows, I assumed each package had a sachet attached. I didn't take the time to look at each individual one. Looking closer, it's pretty obvious this wasn't another sachet, but I missed it nonetheless.

I was focused on getting to the goods.

I had my eye on the prize.

That little bundle is actually a pocket tissue cover. I can't believe I didn't see it right away. So, another shout out to Amy for this extra little treat. Very clever, very cute. I'm afraid to put it in the black hole that is my purse, for fear I will never see it again. I love it. Thanks again, Amy!

On the shopping front, yesterday The Farmer and I went to the local farm supply store. I never, ever in my early days here in Montana, thought I would enjoy going to the feed store. I fought it for the longest time. I was not a feed store/farm supply kind of girl, I was a mall girl through and through. But, it's grown on me. It's actually a pretty fun place. It was really fun yesterday, when I scored these cuties. On Sale.

You never know when you might need some daisy boots. It's good to be prepared.

In other outside news, we are starting to landscape around the greenhouse.

1. This is how it looked before we started. We flagged out the beds and a small patio. 2. Taking out the sod and topsoil. 3. The Meadowbrook Farmer, going over the plan with his crew. 4. Two weeping crab apples are planted and the ground is prepped for flagstone.

Speaking of the crew...

This is John. John is cold. You can see his breath in the air. John works for my husband. John and his wife are going to have a baby in about six weeks. What John and his wife don't know is that I am going to kidnap their newborn baby girl and take pictures of her. I hope they don't mind. I should probably ask first.

Next up is Cody. Cody also works for my husband. Cody's wife is going to have a baby in about eight weeks. I am going to kidnap their newborn baby boy and take pictures of him too. I will definitely ask Cody first. I don't want to get on his bad side.

But, they have to let me. I have connections with their boss, and their jobs depend on it.

Last but definitely not least is Ken. Ken is not married, nor does he have a baby on the way. Ken is showing us how he can pick up huge rocks with his hand. My husband calls Ken the human forklift. He is S.T.R.O.N.G. I call him Kennebunkport. When the first President Bush was in office, I was always a bit fascinated by his vacation spot, Kennebunkport, Maine. Why? I have no idea. I just loved the name. It's fun to say. Try it. You'll see what I mean.

Kennebunkport. Kennebunkport. Kennebunkport.

See? Fun.

(Sorry, I'm on a new allergy medicine.)

Things are starting to happen inside the greenhouse as well. The longer, warmer days have really kicked the plants we overwintered into grow mode.

Six out of eight of the rosemary cuttings I potted up a couple months ago have new growth. I almost gave up....things were looking pretty grim, but all of a sudden, they sprouted.

Patience is a gardening virtue.

On Sunday, we built a propagation bed for the greenhouse. We are trying our hand at some cuttings this year, so we set up a system to provide bottom heat for the little starts.

Cuttings are a new thing for me, so I'm really hoping they take root. My hubby had success with geraniums and fuchsias many years ago, but petunias are new for both of us. We had a couple plants unexpectedly make it through the winter, so we figured we'd give them a try. Some are already looking a bit peaked, so I have my fingers crossed for the rest.

I am currently obsessed with taking pictures of water droplets.

As far as the rest of the greenhouse goes, the ladybugs did their job with much success, nary an aphid to be found, and they've also gone to work on a little white fly problem we had going.

I think we're going to order another batch, as most of them are either hiding or have flown the coop altogether. I so wish I'd had a kid in need of a science experiment this year. Aphid annihilation is much more interesting than the sad little carnation and colored water experiment we threw together on more than one occasion in years past.

Okay, last stop on the farm tour. This is Ellie. She is The Meadowbrook Farmer's loyal companion. Ellie refused to look at me for a picture today.

She is without a doubt the sweetest dog on the planet.

She is also, without a doubt, the most disgusting dog on the planet. Ellie loves anything that smells bad. The compost pile, cow pies, horse manure. You get the picture. I call her Smelly Ellie, or Smellinore. This part of the post is purposely photo free. In this past week alone, Ellie has brought to her bed on the back porch, a deer leg (from who knows where), two dead fish, and.....a placenta. This is not her first placenta. Ellie has graced us with many placentas. I think it's her way of letting us know there's a new calf in the pasture. Unfortunately, the list of things Ellie brings us on a regular basis gets worse. I can't even tell you about the worst of the worst, but it may very well involve boy cows that are not quite as manly as they used to be.

Enough said.

Did I mention how very, very sweet she is?

Okay, I can't leave you there, so lets get that image out of our head with some pretty spring daffodils.

I love daffodils. They are so sunny and full of hope. $1.99 a bunch at the grocery store.

Now you're pretty much caught up on life on the farm. The only thing I've left out was the fire we had last weekend, but I'm not quite ready to talk about that yet. It involved watching my husband chop down three flaming trees, and enough smoke inhalation to take at least a couple years off my life. For my part, I manned the four wheeler mounted water tank, complete with a water gun that put out the equivalent of a half turned on garden hose during a drought in the Sahara. Good times.

Have a great weekend!

March 23, 2010

pillow pals

I always love getting packages in the mail. Last week it was my seed order. The week before, shoes from Piperlime. This week brought a package that's a little different though, because there's a fun story to go with the newly arrived loot.

A while back, I shared how I discovered the Etsy shop Vintage Home, and consequently started collecting vintage tablecloths with the misguided plan to make my own version of the beautiful pillows found there. You can read more about it here.
Shortly after writing that post, Amy, the shop owner, happened upon my blog. It's a small cyber world we live in. Surprised to see her very own self on a perfect strangers blog, she left me a comment, and we started an email friendship.

A few weeks later, as I was sorting through things I wanted to get rid of during the purge, I thought I'd see if Amy was by chance interested in some of my tablecloths. I had long since decided I was not a pillow maker in the making, so some of my linens needed to find a new home. Amy was interested, and a deal was struck. Awesome writer that she is, Amy tells the story from her perspective on her blog, Into Vintage.

Part of that deal involved Amy making a set of pillows I can finally, a couple years after first discovering her shop, call my very own. It's the circle of life, vintage linen edition.

Right in the midst of our emailing design ideas back and forth, Amy posted this collage on her blog, showing some of her previous projects.

I love every single thing in this photo, so it was extremely easy to give Amy a few (okay, maybe more than a few - quit laughing, Amy) suggestions of what I was looking for. All that was left was to just sit back and wait for my dream pillows to make an appearance on my doorstep.

Yesterday was the day.

Each pillow cover arrived with it's own sachet in a bow tied package. Always a good sign of what's to come.

Each has it's own adorable Vintage Home tag.

And each, as requested, coordinates color wise, but is not matchy-matchy.

Amy even used some of my favorite blue chenille to make the cute pillow backs.

As luck would have it, Amy is having a giveaway for one of her wonderful vintage tablecloth table runners. It's a beauty, so if you're in a colorful, vintagey state of mind, hop on over to her blog and take a peek.

Thank you Amy, for helping me realize my vintage tablecloth pillow dreams. Thank you also, for not being offended by my extremely lame and very short-lived plans to shamelessly copy your one of a kind, beautiful and original work. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? I love my pillows, and can't wait for that first warm porch swing day, when they will take up their rightful place at last.

March 19, 2010

snap out of it

I've been in a bit of a funk.

Just a little one.

A photo funk.

It seems that Friday, and thus my self-imposed photo posting challenge, have been sneaking up rather quickly each week. Apparently, my old friends motivation and inspiration went on Spring Break without me, leaving me with no vision and a slight case of annoyance with myself for starting a weekly photo posting commitment in the first place.

But yesterday, instead of focusing on the seeming lack of late winter subject matter, I decided to change my viewpoint. I gave myself a kick in the pants. A little pep talk.

With a little thought, I actually have plenty of lovely subjects at my fingertips.

Simple everyday things that are beautiful in their own right.

I don't have to have a date with a baby, a teenager, or a garden of pretty flowers in order to create a worthwhile picture.

I just need to put on a fresh set of glasses and a new attitude, and a whole new world opens up. A beautiful world.

Happy Friday!

March 15, 2010

annual must haves

A while back, we had a very nice little chat about perennials. It was fun to show a few photo's, and especially fun to hear everyone's favorites - I think peonies topped the most popular list. Perennials are truly wonderful. They come back every year, better than ever, and you buy them once and have them for ages. They are a delight.

Rarely, though, do you find one that will bloom all summer for you.

That's where annuals come in.

Most annuals, with a few exceptions, do their thing until frost. Gotta love that.

Here are a few of my very favorites, in alphabetical order.

Alphabetical order allows me to feel very official in a garden handbook, potentially annoying know-it-all, kind of way. It also lets me save the best (zinnias) for last.

So, lets get to it.

Anagallis (shown with geraniums, bacopa and yet to bloom verbena). This little beauty is fairly new to me. I've only used it in my pots for two years, and I'm in love. The color is a brilliant, gorgeous blue, quite possibly my favorite garden color ever.

It's a great filler. (Seen here with ivy geraniums, lobelia and bacopa.)

Okay, it's a great filler for about two and a half months, then things get a bit out of hand.

I'm all for any plant that's this enthusiastic, but it did become a bit of a hog by the end of the summer. All this from four little 2x2 pots. It definitely gets an "A" for effort, in an overachiever kind of way.

Cosmos. Bright, cheery, feathery and tough. And, they reseed like crazy.

Impatiens for shade. They look beautiful all the time, with no deadheading required. I'm not a huge fan of deadheading, so that moves these guys right to the top of my list.

Larkspur. This photo is from the Year of the Larkspur.

After a couple years of reseeding themselves, they went wild. They do have a limited life though, and when they were done and it came time to pull them out, my beds were bare. Now, I try to keep them in pretty small groups so their absence isn't felt so harshly in late summer, when they've gone to the big larkspur field in the sky.

Love, love larkspur. Does anyone it an annual version of delphinium? They sure look similar.

Marigolds. Who doesn't love a marigold. Actually, I didn't for the longest time. Their smell kind of bothered me, but they have grown on me over time, and now I gotta have em. This photo was in hot competition to be the sidebar picture for Meadowbrook Garden. I lost sleep over which one to pick. Did I make the right choice?

Petunias. Specifically, Supertunia Vista. This color is called Bubblegum.

This is one plant. If you look close, you'll see a sad little purple one of a different variety that just couldn't quite hold it's own. The supertunias are ridiculous. Insane. And, icing on the petunia cake, they don't need to be deadheaded, which is not always the case with other varieties.


So fun, because they reseed and come back very different from what they were the year before. You never know what you're going to get.

Okay, here we go. The best for last. The must have of all garden must haves. (For me, anyway!)


You will be so tired of hearing about zinnias before the summer's over. You'll be all, "enough already with the stinkin zinnias, lady!" Between the zinnias and Sunsugar tomatoes, you will think you are in the movie Groundhog Day, and that I just keep writing the same post over and over again. That's how much I love to talk about zinnias and Sunsugar tomatoes.

For today, I'll keep it fairly short.


My very, very favorite is the Magellan variety. They are compact and bloom like crazy. They fade beautifully, so you really can go quite a while before you have to deal with the old blooms. I probably only deadhead them three times during the summer. In fact, I took a picture of the spent blossoms, because they still looked so pretty.

I also love the taller State Fair mix, as well as the Dreamland variety. With a new greenhouse to play in, I am going to try pretty much any zinnia I can get my hands on. Should be fun! The only zinnia I am not totally in love with is Profusion. It is truly gorgeous, and I love the shape of the plant, but the flowers seem to fade quickly to a crispy brown, and I think we've pretty much established how I feel about deadheading. In fact, after writing this post, I am starting to feel the same way about the word deadheading, as I do about the actual process of deadheading, so it's probably time to call it a day.

Now, please humor me and tell me about your favorite annuals. I'm always looking for ideas. And if you have a favorite zinnia, I'd love it if you would share that too.

March 12, 2010

two steps forward

One step back. At least as far as the weather goes.

Last week, we had three glorious days...warm, sunny, work in the garden, t-shirt days.

Spring paid a visit, and it did my heart good.

I have an earlier than ever start on my beds, and in a case of sunshine induced mania, I crossed a gardening line I have never crossed before.

I took the shop vac to my flower beds.

Yes, you heard right. I vacuumed my flower beds. I was meticulously picking dead leaves from the many branched base of my spirea, and got to wondering if I could just suck them out. It actually worked pretty good, and once I got started, I couldn't stop. I just kept vacuuming. It was kind of fun. Actually, it was really fun. And addicting. It took a while, but eventually I mastered the technique for sucking up the leaves while leaving the compost and dirt behind. I still haven't found a way to get it to suck dandelions, roots and all, out of the ground, but the shop vac may just replace my favorite old scratcher as the garden tool of choice.

So, after three very productive days, and a fully developed case of what my sister calls Garden Body, (you're familiar with Garden Body, right? It takes twice as long to get out of bed, and muscles you didn't know you have are screaming in pain? It's also commonly known as, "I Recently Decided to Start Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred Body") then came Tuesday.

The snow was actually a welcome event, as I had vast amounts of laundry to do, and around here, history has repeatedly shown that when the sun shines, the laundry is the first thing to be neglected. Actually laundry and dinner, and since food and clean clothes just happen to be the two most quickly consumed items in my house, this leads to obvious problems. I wish I could juggle both inside and outside chores, but so far, I haven't found the key to making that work.

I'll leave you with one more spring treat found in our pasture this morning.

She's a twin, and for the first time for us, it looks like the mama has accepted both babies. Sometimes, the weaker one dies, or we have to bottle feed one, or try to get another mother, usually one who has lost a baby, to accept the rejected calf. I love their first hours of life, when you can pet them and they willingly pose for pictures. After that, they pretty much skedaddle when you get anywhere near. So cute.

So, what spring treats are showing up in your neck of the woods? Daffodils? Cherry blossoms? Baby animals? I'd love to know.

March 8, 2010

a junk house bathroom

For several years now, we have been 99.9% done with the Junk House project. The house has been livable in every single way, with that last little fraction of unfinished projects being things that we had lived with for so long, we didn't even notice them anymore.

I won't bore you with the list of projects, but it did include a doorknob that needed to be installed for ten years. And, we've had the door knob for ten years.

Ten years.

To put on a door knob.

One of the fellas who worked on the outside of the Junk House back in 2001, for some reason has not had the foresight to change his phone number since that long ago project. Every year or two, I call him up and ask if he's game for any number of odds and ends projects. He always is, and last week he was nice enough to come over and finish up my list.

Door and baseboard trim were all that was left in the boys bathroom, and with that project finished up, I think it's time for a little before and after. Are you up for a stroll down Junk House memory lane?

Picture the tub with some bubbles, a good book and some nice scented candles.

And make sure you notice the outdoor lights over the sink.

If these scans weren't such poor quality, we could zoom in and really investigate what's happening on that wall. Thank goodness for the olden days of film.

The bathroom was functioning for the first part of the gutting process, but I refused to use it. There is not enough bleach on the earth, people.




I happily got in my car and drove to my in-laws when need be.

Now, compared to the before, the after definitely makes a statement, but on it's own, it's pretty basic. I didn't go all out decorating - it is a boys bathroom after all, no one else uses it, and they could not possibly care less what it looks like. I actually avoid going in there as much as possible. At least until the DOD contacts me to see if they can use whatever is growing in there as a new biological weapon. Then, I grab a bottle of bleach and face the monster.

Oh, I kid. Truly I do. I can't really complain about the original state of the bathroom, and then let you know my bathroom cleaning skills are less than stellar, can I? So, here's my story....I clean daily with a toothbrush. There. Was that convincing enough? No? We'd probably best just move on.

Here's the after.

Now, since we're already in the bathroom, tell me what you make of this. This is what greets me every single time me and my bottle of bleach pay a visit to the men's room.

I specifically got the easiest to operate tp holder for this room. When it comes to all things housekeeping related, lets just say some of my family members are not necessarily of the go above and beyond frame of mind. I wanted to make things easy for them. Apparently, it's still not easy enough. No matter how many times I put the roll on the holder, it always ends up on the floor. Always.

Kinda funny.

Similarly, I estimate that the same amount of effort is required to close a cupboard door, but this is my pantry on any given day.

If you have seen the movie The Sixth Sense, you will notice an eerie similarity to the kitchen scene. So, in their defense, I suppose my family could possibly be totally off the hook here. And if, like the movie, I have a female ghost living in my house, I will simply embrace the fact that I am no longer totally alone in a household of men.

I wonder if she cleans bathrooms?