Cast and Crew

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Completed Gingerbread Farm

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sides and roof.

Fences and naked animals. Oooh, naked!!

Keep those barn doors shut!

Construction, phase 1.

So far, so good.

Looking tidy!

The roof tried to slide quite a bit. Need stronger icing.

A simple cow shed for the neighbors.

Decorate, decorate, decorate!

Good fences make good snacks.

The pig corral is complete!

The rest of these shots were taken only moments before a violent earthquake caused a major cave-in of the roof and walls. No animals were harmed.... until I got hungry.

Free range chickens on the lawn.

Two belted galloway cattle held up the roof for a little while.

Farmer Me!

A turkey shares the pig pen.

I hope your holiday was filled with cookies, too!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Let's Have a Ginger Barn Raising!

Christmas this year is going to be simple and quiet. The last few winters have been very hectic, so we're extremely happy to have a simple one to celebrate. No snow, no plane rides, no painting the living room and dining room, no puppies in need of potty training, and most importantly, NO WORK! It's not often that I get weekends and holidays off in my job, so I try to savor them while they're around. I've been super lucky to get extended in my current position, which I've been in since April of this year. Perks include the aforementioned weekends and holidays off, decent working hours, and the ability to commute by train. All this fun won't last, though. I'm back in the ranks of uniformed blue collar labor as of the first of the new year.

But until that happens, it's time for holidays!

Tonight I'll start things off by prepping cookie dough. Gingerbread and sugar cookie dough needs to chill before baking, so it can be made ahead of time. Tomorrow I'll be baking the main body of a gingerbread farm, complete with cow shed and grain silo (I hope). Friday, Christmas Eve, is the cookie bake-a-thon! We've got animal cookie cutters for everything a gingerbread farm needs. I've always wanted to make a gingerbread house during the holidays, but I never make time for it. This year, I'm going all out. Who wants a gingerbread house when you can build a farm??

If you'd like to join me in cookie farming, below are recipes and building instructions (from Let's make some icing!

Don't forget to raise your own cookie cows, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, llamas, donkeys, horses, and veggie crops!

Gingerbread Urban Farm Cookies


6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup shortening, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup molasses
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix together the shortening, molasses, brown sugar, water, egg, and vanilla until smooth. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients, until they are completely absorbed. Divide dough into 3 pieces, pat down to 1 1/2 inch thickness, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies 1 inch apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. (If you're making a barn, silo, house, or cow shed, use the blueprints above and cut the doors and windows with a knife. Leave them in place to cook and remove them after everything is cool.) Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven (and remember that larger pieces may take longer). When the cookies are done, they will look dry, but still be soft to the touch. Remove from the baking sheet to cool on wire racks. When cool, the cookies can be frosted with the icing of your choice.

Makes 1 barn-sized serving

Sugar Cookie Urban Livestock


1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 tspn vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tspn baking powder
1 tspn salt

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight). Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with a floured cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely. To stand farm animals up, glue them with icing to the half-round in the blueprints above.

Makes 4 herds (dozen)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Seed Catalog of My Dreams

If you haven't gotten on the mailing list for a seed catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, let me tell you why you should.

Have you ever seen a Backpacker tomato?

Seed catalogs get gardeners through the cold months, the rain, the snow, the wind, and the lack of eggs from lazy chickens. Right about now, when the last few struggling plants have blackened and shriveled back into the mulch that covered their roots through the first freezing nights and blankets of snow, the mind of a city farmer turns to thoughts of spring.

Our trusty Subaru beneath a cozy blanket of snow. Heated seats and all-wheel drive make snow like this a pure joy.

Well, almost every city farmer thinks of spring. There are many weeks to get to that phase, and in the meantime..... I love winter. It's such a wonderful season of darkness and slowing down (when we can), of warm fires and hot chocolate, baking and simmering, twinkling lights and the smell of snow in the air. We took a day trip to Leavenworth last weekend. It snowed at least fifteen inches in five hours. We shopped and walked through the bustling streets of the small tourist town, aka Bavarian Vegas, which was the description offered by one group of people who slid past us on the icy path. The lights came on in the early evening, and we watched children sled down a small hill in the center of town. It sealed the deal that the holidays were really upon us. We might just make that trip a seasonal tradition.

What happens in Leavenworth, stays in Leavenworth.

And while I'm off the subject, let me also mention that I am especially grateful for the three week break from college. I apologize for my lack of presence lately, but essays and exams take over my life at times. Working full time and going to school full time leaves room for little else, so I'm trying to savor as much of the season as I can before the rush comes back to our day-to-day.

But back to the seeds. And spring. I do love spring, despite the fact that I must give up winter to get to it. Spring always starts with a stirring desire to plant seeds in little pots. I get to the point in winter where I genuinely need little green things around me. It's like a desire to nest. I get broody and need to feel dirt under my fingers.

See what I mean? Centerfold. I thought about taking this on my train ride to work, but I think I'd actually blush if I got busted staring at the winter squash.

I know this is coming, and I am armed with catalogs. This year I was especially on top of things, and the seeds are not only ordered, they have indeed arrived. They'll sit in the shortbread tin on the counter until the days begin to warm and the planting itch starts. If only I had known a new catalog was on its way.

Enter Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

In all honesty, I cannot say that I have ever seen a more beautiful seed catalog in my many years of gardening and farming. It was more like a magazine, a full spread of lingerie-like-lettuces and centerfold squashes ready to jump from the pages and plant themselves in the waiting raised beds of my imagination. Page after page of sweet and hot peppers made me salivate for the salsa I've never made but dreamt about. Clusters of bright red, striped green, flat, skinny, round, ripe tomatoes tempted me and made me forget, if only for a moment, that the more tropical plants barely survive in our cool, northern climate. Nine types of rutabaga, twice as many turnips, mysteries from Siberia and parts of Russia, stabilized and imported for you to welcome into your vegetable rows amazed me. I began to rethink that seed order, paid for and received, planned, simply waiting for an opportunity, sitting in a shortbread tin with stray packets of those little dessicants they put in shoe boxes. How could I not include these new (old) heirloom plants? Would I find satisfaction with my meager stock of plain cukes and ordinary beans? More importantly, how could I get away with making another seed order without my girlfriend catching me?

Maybe you don't need this kind of conflict in your life. If that's the case, forget I mentioned this HEART-STOPPINGLY-GORGEOUS seed catalog. Spare yourself the agony of choosing between the hundreds of varieties of names like Hero of Lockinge Melon, or Little Fingers Eggplant, or Crapaudine Beet.

But if you're at a friend's house, and you see this catalog lying around, tempting you with glimpses of full color photographs and delectible descriptions, resist the urge to pick it up before you're ruined like me. I don't think I can ever go back to the pale, two-dimensional life of other seed catalogs again.


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