Molly Mooching!

Morels

Freshly picked morel mushrooms.

My roommate Mindy and I picked our way through the woods, carefully stepping over fallen tree limbs and budding brambles. The morning was warm and the sound of bird call echoed through the trees. Mindy knew these parts of the woods well, pointing out a slight rise as she explained to me what I was looking for. You see, Mindy has been roaming these woods since she was knee-high to a grasshopper and she was about to share with me one of her family treasures: the coveted morel patch.

The previous evening we had a warm Spring rain and this particular morning was clear and bright. Perfect conditions for the tasty morsels to make their appearance. Mindy explained to me that they were a rare find because they require such specific conditions including old growth hardwood forests; the deer enjoy dining on them, often before we can find them; plus, they are only harvestable for about three days.

Mindy showed me areas around the rotted wood and spongy lichen where they are usually known to grow. Dried brown leaves from last Autumn still littered the forest floor, so we gently pushed the leaves aside as we walked hunched over like a couple of elderly nuns.

Suddenly, Mindy let out an excited squeak as she reached down between some flowering wake-robin and pinched off a small, wrinkled, knobbily gnome shaped fungus. “Got one”, she said as she held it out for my perusal.

Within a few minutes, she had discovered four or five more of the mushrooms in the vicinity. I had yet to find one myself.

Molly mooching, as morels are often called in the Appalachians and West Virginia are actually Morchella esculenta. They are a highly prized delicacy by both professional chefs and home cooks. Currently, you can purchase 16 ounces of these dried mushrooms for $305.40. From Walmart.

I had read earlier that mushroom ethics mandate a mesh bag for gathering the gems, so the spores can scatter to the ground as you carry home your harvest. This time, we were not quite as technical as we carried our small bounty back to Mindy’s mom’s house in a grocery bag. Mindy’s mom, Joy, submerged them in a bowl filled with water and placed a plate on top of them so they would stay submerged for a period of several hours. This was to purge them of dirt and crawly things.

When it was time to cook the mushrooms, Joy placed a couple of eggs lightly beaten in a shallow bowl and whole wheat flour in another bowl. She melted half a pound of butter in a large skillet on medium low heat. The morels were sliced in half and Joy first dipped them in the eggs then dredged them in the flour before placing them in the skillet to fry. She seasoned them with a little salt and cracked black pepper and allowed them to cook just until golden on one side before turning them over. She then cooked them a few minutes more on the other side, until lightly browned, and then scooped them onto paper towel to drain.

Fried morels

Fresh batch of butter fried morels. YUM!

There is nothing I can compare these tasty butter fried mushrooms to in flavor. They are uniquely mild and earthy with a savory umami deliciousness. Crispy and crunchy, they are a delightful treat.

Our harvest this time provided Mindy, Joy, my daughter Kayla, and I a taste of an elusive prized delicacy. After we were done licking our fingers and exclaiming our pleasure to one another, Mindy informed us she would be going back out again tomorrow morning.

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Nessie’s pond located in the middle of the woods where we picked the morels.

We would love it if you took a gander at our handcrafted herbal soaps made right here on Whimsical Moon Farm.

Kayla on the Farm!

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This is Kayla on the Farm!

Kayla was born 28 years ago. She spent the beginning of her tiny life at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at OHSU, Portland, Oregon. Many of those weeks were in the Neonatal Intensive Care Center.

The specialists soon determined that her ‘floppy baby syndrome’ would become a diagnosis of Myotonic Dystrophy (a muscle disease) along with several developmental delayments. It was a momentous occasion when they moved her onto the main infant’s floor. Many, many prayers were answered when we were actually allowed to bring her home.

As she grew into toddler-hood, her delayments became more pronounced and Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder, learning disabilities, and several anxiety disorders were treated with medications and specialized therapies. Several years later, as she matured and grew into ‘puberty’, she had a major break-down and was again hospitalized for several weeks. She was diagnosed with psychotic schizophrenia along with her numerous anxieties and her OCD. Add to that a diagnosis of Type ll Diabetes.

I am telling her story because Kayla is my daughter. Not only am I her mom, but now I am also her guardian and her full-time caregiver. Moving Kayla to the farm was not a decision I took lightly. This is a young woman with the emotional and mental IQ of a nine or ten year old. Kayla believes in fairies, dragons, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny.  I should know. She ‘chats’ with them often. She is obsessed with puppies, kittens, and unicorns. And Captain Jack Sparrow. (OH, wait! That’s me!!)

Kayla holding a brand new chick, two of her farm cats (Bella and Pookie), a tiny toad, fledging robins about to test their wings, and a young Screech owlet.

I chose to move Kayla and myself to this farm for several reasons. The main reason was to allow her the experience of raising animals and growing gardens. I wanted her to experience the changing of the seasons, along with the abundance and the diminishment that goes along with those cycles. Lots of fresh air, exploration, and new adventures have provided her many opportunities to get ‘out of her head’ and experience a more visceral, hands-on daily life. Moment by moment.

The fluffy two day old chicks grew into scrappy chickens!

Kayla helped us pick out our six chicks from the nearby Rural King last March and participated in raising them into the ‘divine ladies’ they are today. She checks for eggs daily and she never ceases to be amazed every time she finds an egg. Or five. She was also actively involved when we lost one of our hens to a deformed crop that suddenly caused the hen to convulse and die. We were sad and we mourned our chicken. It was both an experience of the joy of life and the grief of death.

Farm kittens in a basket, going outside for the first time, stretched out on the comfie chair, smiling, and catching the sunshine on a straw bale.

One of the things Kayla really, really wanted was a cat. We had to leave her cat, Zoe, behind with her grandma and grandpa when we moved. She missed her companion. Zoe was just a little too old and a little too settled to be bothered with being packed in a crate and flown clear across the country. I continued to put Kayla off, promising her when we were more settled on the farm we would begin to look for a cat. She wished and prayed for that cat often. Well, all the time!

Needless to say, she was beyond thrilled when I discovered  four fluffy kittens snuggled behind some old boxes in the shed early last February. It was a bitterly cold morning with several inches of snow on the ground, of course they needed to be ‘rescued’!  Pookie, Bella, Sweetums, and Whimsy soon became active members of our farm family. Mosey, the St. Bernard, was beside himself. The Chihuahuas scoffed and went about their little duties. Kayla was delighted. She reminds me often that prayers are answered!

Kayla’s creative ‘fairy’ garden, her specialty: strawberries, planting seedlings, fresh vegetables for our salad.

Kayla loves to help me plant seedlings in the garden and watch them as they mature into delicious salads on her dinner plate. She is not a big fan of the weeding process, though. Neither am I. But we get it done and then we enjoy the bounty.

Kayla loves to eat and she loves all of her vegetables and her fruits, but her all time favorite thing is munching sun ripened strawberries right off the vine. She volunteered to grow our strawberries. We have several large pots that sit on the front porch and she is eager when the season becomes warm and we can clear the straw mulch and look for the first tiny leaves. Last Winter was harsh and we had to replace many of the plants, but Kayla enjoys choosing the variety she will grow. As the season progresses and tiny flowers blossom into hard green fruits, she checks her ‘crop’ daily looking for that first blush of pink, then red. She also has no problem volunteering to taste the new strawberries and make sure they are yummy. Somehow, they are always yummy!

Kayla pulled the winning name for our Whimsical Moon Farm gift soap give-away, a big chopped salad, handcrafted items for the cottage business, a Blue Jay at the feeder, the first daffodils of spring, baby bunny in the back yard.

Kayla enjoys participating in all aspects of running the farm and growing our hand-crafted soap business. Chopping vegetables for one of our favorite farm salad dinners, testing a new fragrance for a batch of soap, and discovering what just might be outside her kitchen door are many of her daily amusements.

She does have several farm responsibilities besides gathering eggs and growing strawberries in the summer. She keeps her bedroom picked up and her bed made. She helps with laundry and puts her own clothes away. Plus, after a blustery wind, there is always yard pick-up which usually involves gathering broken locust tree limbs and building the burn pile. She is in charge of small fallen limbs.

She shares in the delight of discovering the first daffodils as they bloom and identifying the wild birds as they come to the feeders. As her focus moves from her internal landscape to what is right in her backyard, she is thrilled when she notices a baby bunny poking around near the compost. Or the bright colors of the resident blue jays or male cardinals.

How amazing it is for me to watch my daughter blossom right here on the farm. Beyond all the therapy appointments, psychiatric evaluations, blood glucose maintenance, and morning and evening medications, there is a young woman who is a part of my heart and my soul. If I ever had any qualms (okay, I had many) about bringing Kayla to this farm, they have long ago been diminished. I honestly believe divine inspiration brought us to this place. Kayla thrives!

Kayla, Kellen, Chelsie, and I, Grandma and Grandpa, Mindy and Mosey.

I want to thank my folks, Don and Loberta May (grandma and grandpa), as well as my daughter, Chelsie Johnson, and my son, Kellen New for being the most supportive, loving, and kind family Kayla and I could ever ask for.

Also, a big thank you to my farm partner-in-crime, Mindy Hall.

Please feel free to check out our hand-crafted herbal soaps grown and created right here on Whimsical Moon Farm.

 

Hallow’een Whimsy!

Pirates in East Cornfield, a pumpkin witch at Metamora, IN, and a toasty All Hallows’ Evening bon fire.

Hallow’een has always been one of my favorite seasonal celebrations. It marks the very end of the harvest for us here on the farm and it provides me an excuse to be creatively ghoulish. I have as much fun carving Jack O’ Lanterns and decorating the yard as my daughter Kayla.

As we light our bon fire and get ready to barbecue some weinies and burgers, we can feel a definite closure to the summer season as we pull our jackets tighter and warm our hands around the fire. We know that Winter will be knocking on our door soon, along with snow and freezing temperatures. But right now, we enjoy the riotous golden colors, the crisp fresh air, and spicy pumpkin cheesecake with tart apple cider. Oh yes!

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 Our little farmhouse in all its Autumn glory.

It seems like the maple trees turned orange and yellow overnight and we find ourselves shuffling as we walk outside, kicking up crisp leaves and giggling like the ‘mature’ adults that we are. Most of the major preparations for the Winter have been completed and I for one look forward to the quieter, calmer season of introspection.

My daughter Kayla reminds me (often) that her favorite celebration is only 53 shopping days away. But I feel confident that she will stay busy as she prepares for the holidays. She enjoys the process of creating gifts and special seasonal cards for her family. Her special needs require that we begin early, so that each card and gift has been crafted just the way she likes. Hallow’een is our special reminder that it is time to get creating.

This is Kayla patiently waiting to roast her hot dog, our old maple tree showing off its colors, and a passel of lazy farm cats.

One of the biggest enjoyments for me living on this farm is actually experiencing the seasons both in work and play. My daily life is intertwined with the changing seasons as everything ebbs and flows, withers and then blossoms again, resting and preparing for the next season of growth.

Whimsical Moon Farm has moved into its season of cozy retreat.

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Captain Jack wishes you an abundant All Hallows’ Evening!

Just One of Those Days!

bare-trees

Our changing landscape: the harvested corn fields and fall trees look bare against the Autumn morning sky.

I woke up early this morning and knew it was going to be one of those days. A fabulous day! The sun is shining, the air is fresh and crisp, and I feel like I can conquer the world. Well, at least my tiny, tiny corner of the world.

I practically skipped as I did my chores, my steps light-footed, and my off-key singing barely bothered the chickens. What is it about some days that allow you to feel like everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be?

My schedule is full with necessary activities that I have to get done, but I felt optimistically confident that creativity and calm will reign supreme. My daily writing practice has been swept aside lately with the accumulated tasks that have piled up, but today is the perfect day to make my writing a priority again. I fired up my lap-top as I sat on the front porch, listened to the ‘girls’ softly cluck, and spent pleasant moments as I revisited my story in progress. I even got to share the calm with a deer as she crossed the barn lot. Thank goodness we always keep the camera handy and ready to roll for moments just like this.

A deer wandered into our barn lot, the chickens keep me company while I write on my porch, and the day-lilies always make me smile.

Monday is always clean house day, and usually I drag my vacuum cleaner around like it is a torture device. I grumble and sneer. Today I decided to open up the house one last time before the weather turned cold and give the place a thorough once over. Cobweb patrol, chasing dust rhino’s from under the furniture, and even washing windows gave me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. A good spit-shine can lift the spirits of an old farmhouse and it just feels good to sit back and ’embrace the clean’. This is a fabulous day!

 Kayla standing in front of our ‘Gandalf’ scarecrow, newly canned applesauce, and dinner: big ol’ chopped salad.

Maybe it’s just the Autumn season that provides this feeling of exuberance. The cooler temperatures and the shorter days give me many reasons to spend time ‘nesting’ and slowing down. Life doesn’t feel nearly as frantic and things get done as they get done. I have crossed many chores off my to-do list, like canning applesauce and dilly beans and freezing summer corn. Most of the outbuildings are secured and ready for the harsh Winter weather ahead. The chicken coop is almost ready for Winter and we’ve stocked up on bales of straw and feed. Being prepared does provide much impetus for a fabulous day!

My daughter Kayla has decided she would have a fabulous day today, too. Her special needs and her battle with schizophrenia can often cause her anxiety and stress, but how can anybody be ‘down-in-the-dumps’ when you have a friend like ‘Gandalf the Scarecrow’ to protect your pumpkins and make you smile? She decided to help me make our main meal and cheerfully began chopping vegetables and tossing in handfuls of walnuts and dried cranberries. Soon our salads will change over to thick, hearty vegetable soups but since today is so fabulous, chopped salad it is.

toad

Ninja toady. Can you see him?

As I brew a pot of coffee on the stove-top and look out the kitchen window, I notice the drain spouts full of dried leaves, old clay pots that need to be stored in the shed, and fallen limbs that need to be stacked on the burn pile. I will save those chores for my next fabulous day. Right now, I need to go take a peek at the big toad Kayla found next to the smoke house and have a mug of hot, fresh coffee.

It’s just been one of those days! I hope you have a whimsically fabulous day, too!

Turning of the Season on our Farm

The last sunflower of the season; Mosey sniffing newly-harvested cornfield; the garden is winding down; lazy autumn cats; end-of-summer barbeque.

 

Since I’ve moved to our farm, I have found my year is now measured not by the days of the month but by the seasons. My calendar is based on the work and events on Whimsical Moon Farm and the farmers around me.

People who farmed had a different way of understanding time, one based on sunlight and seasons, ebbing and flowing in activity like river water. Their year was alive, growing and dying.”  Jenna Woginrich, sheep farmer.

Living on a farm, you would think that Spring would be my favorite season of the year. You know: renewal, Mother Earth waking up again after a long Winter, newly planted gardens, baby animals….but truth be told, I am all about the Fall. I love the cooler temperatures, the slowing down after a hectic summer, harvesting and ‘putting by’ the last of the garden bounty, and the beautiful fall colors. Orange, russet, yellow and red.

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Autumn glow at a nearby lake. This picture was taken last fall.

Although my summer garden beds have pretty much been laid to rest, there is still plenty of activity all around me.  The agri-farmers have begun frantically harvesting their corn and soybean crops. The weather here in East Cornfield has been spectacular for this time of year but the farmers still race against the perfect timing of dried corn on the stalk and the possibility of a thunder storm stomping across the fields.

The dance of combine, tractor, and over-flowing wagon has begun circling around us, as we are bordered by crops on three sides of our tiny farm. We hear the revving of Farmer Matt’s tractor early in the morning and prepare ourselves for a day of loud engines, blowing chaff and dust, and the abrupt change of our landscape.

Farmer Matt maneuvering his combine across our tiny road into the soybean field on the east side of our farm, cleaning up freshly harvested corn field, hauling the filled wagon to the grain bin, harvesting the soybean, the corn field next to our farm as it is cut down.

The hard-wood trees have begun to change color and the squirrels have been frantically busy burying dried corn on the cob, black walnuts, and dried seed heads they discover in the flower bed and herb garden. Many of my favorite wild birds have already flown south for the Winter, so all I have at the feeder now are nuthatches, a lone red-headed woodpecker, and mourning doves. I’ve kept the hummingbird feeder up as I still have hummers swooping in each morning and evening.

Even though the days are growing shorter, the chickens continue to lay their eggs, keeping us supplied with tasty omelets and frittatas.  They have become fat and sassy chickens, their feathers shiny, and their loud ‘crowing’ when one just laid an egg never fails to make me smile. Sometimes I will sit on the side porch sipping my first cup of coffee of the morning, and listen to their gentle clucks and watch as they scratch the ground, entertained by ‘Farm TV’.

There are plenty of chores around the farm that need to be accomplished before the weather turns cold, including shoveling over the garden one more time, cleaning up the compost pile, closing up the storm windows, and maybe even getting that shed painted. The furnace needs to be serviced and we still need to fill up the propane tank. (I never look forward to that!)

The ‘girls’ rearranging their attic, autumn fire-pit, the tip of a recently buried cob of corn the squirrel placed in a fresh mole hill, falling leaf tangled in a cobweb, I LOVE Halloween!

Yes, I love Autumn. And I love living on Whimsical Moon Farm. As I’ve grown older, my definition of success has changed dramatically. Living a life that makes me happy, surrounding myself with freshly grown food and outdoor activities,  working with the seasons and the rhythm of the farm, and building a sense of place and community, Autumn is that time of year I can take time to reflect and appreciate this simple way of making my way in the world.

I send you Whimsical Moon fall blessings with hot spiced cider and fresh baked pumpkin bread on the side.

 

 

 

Whimsical Moon Farm Musings

Bella-boo heading outside, the girls in their attic loft, a tiger lily blooming next to the chicken coop, and another tomato ripening.

 

Even though it is hot and muggy, you can feel the summer season winding down on the farm. Leaves are turning golden on the old maple tree and I can feel a slight chill in the air when I go outside to do chores each morning. The days are increasingly shorter, yet there is still plenty to do as we look forward to the Autumn equinox.

Tomatoes and peppers continue to ripen on the vine and the ‘girls’ greet us almost every morning with an egg or two. The Ameraucana chickens have been laying for a few weeks now and we are patiently waiting for the Buff Orpingtons to begin their laying cycle. There is nothing tastier than  fresh chicken eggs!

Fresh picked peppers, tiny first egg next to regular sized eggs, Sweetums snoozing on the comfy chair, baby toad, and a recent farm sunset.

 

I find myself just as busy in the kitchen as I am outside. Besides freezing bushels of corn last month, I have canned tomato sauce, pickled dilly-garlic green beans, and dried peppermint, sage, and rosemary for tea and crafting soaps. Soon, we will be gleaning fallen apples from the neighboring farm and I will fill my kitchen with the spicy scent of bubbling applesauce and apple-pear butter for the winter.

The gigantic pile of broken tree limbs and cleared scrubby locust trees and encroaching mulberry shrubs is still smoldering ash after Farmer Matt came chugging down the road in his backhoe three days ago and helped us build the pile into a massive bon fire. It is such a relief to get the back yard cleaned up but it looked like a scene from the ‘burning-man festival’ for most of the afternoon into the evening.

Farmer Matt working on the burn pile, glowing bon fire in the evening, the tiny egg sunny side up. (We couldn’t help ourselves. It was one of the first eggs!)

 

I’ve noticed many of the birds in the area gathering into their flocks. Chickadees, finches, and hummingbirds will soon be moving south and the juncos will be moving back in. The fields of corn and soybean are beginning to turn brown and soon we will hear the loud combine and tractor engines crawling through the crops harvesting another years income.

Each season in Central Indiana is distinctive and defined by different types of work and activity. As the urgent summer heat and growing season mellows towards Autumn, I look forward to the cooler temperatures, the slower work load, and the pile of books growing next to my favorite reading chair.

Harvest blessings from Whimsical Moon Herb Farm.

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Pookie Poo peeking out from my bamboo garden cage.

 

 

Sweet Summer Corn!

Friends visiting from out of town in front of ‘the corn’, sweet corn pudding with fresh blackberries, Bella-boo kitty peeking out from under the bathroom sink, and a butterfly on wild Echinacea.

As someone who has lived most of her life in small towns or suburbs, I have found living in the country agrees with me in so many ways. Besides the benefit of neighborly black Angus cows nodding at  me over their fence as I sit on my porch drinking my early morning cup of coffee, the freedom to raise farm animals and grow wild gardens without breaking residential codes, and the opportunity to see wide open sky and and tangled meadows growing along our wandering creek, I have found one aspect of living on a farm that I had not counted on: BARTERING!  The unspoken bartering system is alive and thriving in East Cornfield, Indiana.

For instance, when our driveway was covered in two feet of snow last winter, the farmer down the road plowed us a way out, and in turn we baked him several batches of his favorite chocolate chip cookies. A tree blew down in our backyard this spring and our widowed neighbor chugged down the road in his back-hoe and made short duty of removing it. He also received home-baked goodies and a meal or two. He does appreciate a home baked meal now and then.

So, when my 71 year old friend Joy Jean called me up one afternoon and asked if I would like some fresh picked sweet corn I eagerly said “for sure”! I could always use a few bags of corn. She told me her friend Sandy’s farm had a miraculous (raccoons hadn’t gotten into it) abundance of sweet corn and all we had to do was come get it. As we pulled into their driveway, Sandy met us out by their Gator utility vehicle and pointed into the back. The entire bed was filled to the top with corn. Bushels and bushels of corn. We filled Joy’s trunk bursting full and tossed several more bushels in her back seat. We knew we had our work cut out for us, but I was excited. Enough sweet corn to last all winter. And it is the best tasting sweet corn I have ever had.

As soon as we got back to Joy’s place, we set to shucking all of the corn. We sat outside near her burn pile and tossed husk after husk after corn silk well into the late evening. By the time we had finished, the moon had crested over the tree-line and we were ready to take a break. But, there is ‘no rest for the wicked’, or so Joy Jean says, and we got busy blanching the corn, stripping the kernels off the cobs with an old-fangled corn kerneler (that’s its technical name), and scooping serving sizes into freezer bags. By the time we were finished, we were covered in wet corn kernels, smelled of corn, and were hot and weary from our hard work. But we looked at each bag as we placed them into the freezer and smiled in satisfied, tired agreement. Sweet corn is good. Friendship is even better.

If there was some way to package the laid-back, caring, neighborly, sharing attitude of living in the country into freezer bags, I would make sure everybody had their very own.

I hope each of you is having a lovely Whimsical Moon sweet corn day!

 

Sweet Corn Pudding with Fresh Blackberries:

Ingredients:

6 ears sweet corn
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 white cheddar cheese, shredded (I used a little bit more, I like cheese)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp maple syrup
about 1 cup of blackberries (any berry works here)
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease casserole dish (or pie plate). Shuck the corn and cut all kernels off with a knife into a bowl, making sure to keep all of the runoff juice from the corn. Reserve. Mix together the milk, heavy cream, cheese, cayenne pepper, eggs, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Add in the reserved corn. Gently stir in the berries. Pour into casserole dish and bake for 35 minutes or until the pudding is set. (Still kind of wobbly.)

(This recipe is an adapted from The Neelys)