Thursday, May 12, 2016

A french themed bridal shower, because what else does a lady farmer do in her spare time?

In addition to being a writer, B&B owner, and farmer; I have always had this really stupid dream of being a professional party planner. While I mow acres upon acres of lawn I daydream about hosting elaborate Better Homes and Gardens worthy parties.

That’s why I took on my cousin’s bridal shower. Well, that and I was the only geographically local bridesmaid.

My family has a habit of just deciding that someone has a hobby, and then gifting them nearly nothing else until a person gets a personality out of desperation and a lack of places to keep storing all the themed treasures. In my case – wine themed gifts EVERYWHERE. My house looks like I own a wine bar. Which I’m okay with, because hey, who wouldn’t love being surrounded by wine? My cousin? Well, she had the unfortunate pleasure of going to Paris once in undergrad.

So, yeah, her shower theme?

Paris, or “French garden” because she had lots of d├ęcor we could borrow and I’m classy. Or because in addition to wine my other gift theme is garden so… I don’t want to brag here, but I had some stuff. A platter already owned is a platter saved, people. Showers aren’t cheap.

Fortunately the shower was the Saturday before Mother’s day, and my mom worked as a florist before becoming the president of a conveyor company, so I was able to beg my way into free flower arranging of grocery store bouquets and wild flowers. Okay, not really wild, more like along the driveway and out of my yard flowers.

While she worked on the flowers, I had my aunt and fellow bridesmaid cousin helping set up, and I cooked. I had Googled a bunch of French recipes for the party: sauscission en croute, brie en croute, croquembouche, and something that turned out to be glorified French onion dip… damn language barrier.

There is nothing quite like being up at five in the morning attempting to teach yourself how to make caramel to assemble a tower of cream puffs. Caramel is hard. It is also hot. Someone in a forum referred to it as baking napalm, and that is 100% accurate. I had blisters all over my fingertips before it was all said and done, and the damn croquembouche fell over. Twice. I finally stacked strawberries inside it and Saran wrapped it together then stuffed it in the freezer to maintain its shape. It still tasted great, and while not as pretty as it had been initially it looked nice on the buffet.

Damn croquembouche…

Fortunately the fancy term, “en croute” just means wrapped in puff pastry. That I could do easily.  So easily that I will share the recipes with you now:

Lauren’s saucisson en croute: purchase 2 packages of beef kielbasa and a box of frozen puff pastry. Read the recipe and then leave it at home in your rush to move everything to the venue. Cut the sausage into bite sized pieces. Using thawed pastry wrap the sausage pieces and seal them up into small pockets of delight. Realize that you need and egg wash. Nearly decide to forgo it, but then think of what people will say when the pastry looks weird. Panic. Send your aunt to the store for eggs. Die a little because you are using store bought egg yolks to glaze your bundles of pastry and you literally have enough eggs at home to take up egging houses as a competitive sport. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, until golden, in a 450 degree oven. Serve warm with mustard, and make sure to stand next to them so you can tell your family to: “Try one! Please?” Resort to saying, “They’re just fancy pigs in a blanket.” Let your inner foodie sob.

Lauren’s brie en croute: buy round of brie, apricot jelly, and frozen puff pastry. Thaw pastry sort of like they say on the box, but don’t actually read the box until you have already thawed the pastry. It’s more fun this way. Lay out the puff pastry sheet, set brie round on top of puff pastry, take a double tablespoon full of jelly and schmear it across the brie. Wet your fingertips with water, or stress induced tears for added flavor, and seal the pastry. Brush with egg whites and bake until golden brown in a 400 degree oven. Serve warm with freshly baked baguette or crackers. Fortunately people should try this on their own since they liked the saucisson so much. Thereby validating you as a cook, host, and human being.

All joking aside though, the shower turned out incredibly well. I give you a french themed bridal shower picture collage:

Brie en croute, french onion dip, fresh baguette, saucisson en croute,
a killer vegetable tray, crackers, and assorted meats and cheeses.
What makes it even better? A champagne cocktail bar!

Desserts, gift tables, table decor, and games. What more does a shower need?
When you have a shower at the Cohen Memorial home, the answer is nothing.
The venue is a gorgeous home overlooking the Missisippi river in Chester, IL.

And it only took about four hours after cleanup for me to start thinking, “Yeah, I could do this.” So who knows, maybe my B&B will eventually have an event space? Not a bad thought!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

"This Old Rock," the repair show of the future.

Today on This Old Rock, we will be discussing how to determine which type and size of rock to use as a hammer. Before we get started, you should wear some safety glasses and earplugs. When utilizing Stone Age tools safety is very important. Always wear your PPE.

When choosing a rock to use as a beating tool it is important to weigh the benefits of the rock type and the heft.

Now of the local rocks I can easily find laying around my work site I personally prefer a nice solid limestone for a hammering application because the sandstone just doesn’t hold up as well. I have found that they tend to crack when enough force is used, so if you do decide to use a sandstone you should probably keep another one in reserve. Shale types obviously are poor choices for the application we are discussing today, beating a lawn more deck back out so that the blade doesn't keep hitting the guard.

The size and weight of the rock is important too, because you’re going to need one that will fit with what you are hammering. For my particular application I had to be very careful to get a rock that wouldn't hit the blade while I was working on the guard. Could you take the blade off and use a bigger rock? Yes. But that would require tools, and lets face it If I could find those we wouldn't be here today. Anyway, too large of a rock and you can do more harm than help to your application, but too small and you might as well never use the mower again. It will take too long to be a viable repair option. 

So, there is a sweet spot of a rock that is sizable, but isn’t too big to manipulate easily. It may take more strokes to work with a slightly smaller rock, but some of those two handers just aren’t practical. I can’t stress this enough, you need to size your tools properly.

Now, some people are going to be sitting back saying, “Lauren, why don’t you just use a hammer?” And to them I say, “Well, I would. If I could ever freaking find one.”

But I can’t ever find one.

So I’m perfecting my Stone Age tool catalog, and sharing it with you. The great thing about these tools is that they are local, sustainable, and they have no carbon footprint. If you think about it, rocks really are the tools of the future. They’re actually made by Nature. Yeah. Think about that when you’re using your fancy made in China hammer…

Today's episode of This Old Rock is brought to you by:
"Nature and Innovation, Together we will go far."

Monday, May 2, 2016

Barnyard Tales: From Bra to Brooder, a chick story

It was about nine am. The scene looked eerily similar to other ones I’ve seen. White feathers mingled with old hay and dust on the barn floor, a sure sign of an attack. Chickens are locked up at night to prevent this from happening, but somewhere along the line this hen had decided to leave the safety of the hen house and raise a clutch of her own without the added safety. We didn’t even realize that she had a nest elsewhere until it was too late.

Something had carried off the hen, leaving nothing behind but a few wisps of white. It looked like the barn cats had gotten the chicks. Sunday was shaping up to be a bad day.

It hadn’t been a raccoon, because the hen had been taken. It almost had to be a fox, but she had been on the floor in the same stall as the barn dog. How did a fox get in? WTF, Milk Dud? Worst barn dog ever.

Captain America, my dad, and I pondered this as we searched in vain for more clues, or maybe an injured hen. It was then that I noticed the sound, niggling on my nerves. Was it a barn swallow? Did they have chicks yet? But no, it was the insistent peeping of a chick in a horse feeder, across the barn from the massacre. Had she hatched the chicks in stall seven then? Only to have a few leave the nest and she flee the safety to protect them in stall two? It seemed to be so. I wound my fingers around the tiny balls of yellow fluff and gingerly cradled them close. One of them had already passed away, frozen to death; but one was healthy and the other wasn’t quite gone yet. I knew just what to do.

I ran towards the house, “MOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!” I sprinted up the stairs and shoved the handful of chilled chick at her. “I found baby chicks. The momma is missing. Warm these up!”

“What?” She blinked at me and then started examining the golden fluff.

“He needs warmed up. The one is okay, but the other is probably dying. I’m going to see if I can find the hen.”

“Yeah. I think he is dead.”

“No he’s not. He blinked.”

“Okay give them here.” She promptly shoved them under her shirt. You learn quickly as a woman on a farm that the best place to revive cold newborns is in your cleavage. It doesn’t matter what they are: kittens, puppies, chicks… okay calves and foals wouldn’t really fit, but I digress.

I couldn’t find the hen anywhere. It was starting to look more and more like a fox in the horse barn was our culprit. CA and I ran to the feed store for chick starter, and I fought the urge to buy another chick to keep the one little peeper company because I was pretty certain that even the power of nestling in a brassiere wouldn’t revive the other one.

I got home and ran upstairs with my load of chick probiotic and feed only to find mom still in bed. “Thank God. Set up a brooder. I can’t stay in bed all day!” She then pulled down her collar to show two happy little chicks curled up and warm.
“Maybe you should just wear them in a tank top? They would be so happy, and you could use your hands, momma chicken!” She glared at me. “Okay, okay. I’ll find stuff to set up a brooder.”

So, back out to the barn I went in search of a heat lamp and some sort of chick container, but what did I hear? A soft “peep, peep, peep” came from the roof of the tack room. I wrestled a ladder around and what did I find at the top? Another freaking chick. I scooped him up and ran him back inside the house. How in the hell did he wind up on top of the tack room?

I tried to shove him under one of the other hens, but she glared at me and then fled like she had no idea what to do with a baby. Such great mothering instinct…
Back in the house we introduced chick three to his siblings in the mineral tub turned brooder. Mom hung the heat lamp off of her inversion table and fretted over their temperature. My tank top suggestion was turned down, again.

Thinking my good deeds for the day done, I went over to the Hill to meet CA and fix the seeder that I broke two weeks ago. We even got the bonus of meeting neighbors who were four wheeling on land that they thought was theirs, which wasn’t. After finishing up with all that CA left to tend the MO farm, and I started feeding. Mom and dad offered dinner, and we ran in town. So it was almost eight pm when we got home and I was walking towards Guilty Grin with full feed bucket in hand when I hear a very faint “peep, peep, peep” coming from the wall. Yes, the wall. The SOLID WOOD WALL AT THE WHOLE OTHER END OF THE FREAKING BARN. WTF?!

I ran in and grabbed a flashlight and drug the ladder down the aisle way to peer into the tiny crack between the wooden stall wall and the tin outer wall of the barn.

And there was a barn swallow.

And a chick.


I ran back in and told mom and dad that there was a bird stuck in the wall, but it would require property damage to get it out. Bless her soul, my mom looked up from her bedroom brood box and her response was to ask my dad to go out and take a look: “take the siding off, it’s falling down anyway.” Which it isn’t, except for the down spouts that I ripped off with the manure spreader while I was in high school because I have no spatial reasoning ability whatsoever. So, at 8:30 last night we were ripping the siding off a horse barn to rescue a chick trapped in the wall. Still not exactly sure how he got all the way over there.

That’s farm life.