30 March 2011

Review: The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball

The Book:

Kristin Kimball was single, living and working the fast track in New York City. Then she meets Mark during an interview about farming and everything changes. Kristin finds herself leaving the life she knew behind and follows Mark upstate to start a CSA farm. With no experience, Kristin begins a journey over the next year creating a place to raise crops, animals, and a marriage.

28 March 2011

With My Own Two Hands (Part One)

Yesterday was my birthday and I tried to make sure I got to relax, although being the mother of two niblets does not preclude large amounts of relaxation. What I did, instead, was make sure most chores were done on Saturday, including a couple of "fun chores", which for me means baking and gardening.

It is still pretty cold here in central MA, although the sun is definitely showing signs of spring warmth. The beds are showing signs of spring too, as I went exploring.

Out front in the flower bed I found that some of the plants are coming back up! These would be some daylilies I put in (I really need to write names down when I plant them.)

I put in a strawberry plant for ground cover and it is already sending out runners.

These are where I put my bachelor buttons in last year, but they aren't the right kind of leaves. Wonder what mystery plants will appear?

I put in garlic last spring and lost track of the plants in the summer (also lost tops due to foraging squirrels and skunks), but they seem to be making a reappearance.

All this makes me want to get my hands in the dirt, but that means starting seeds! I did do this Saturday night, but it has enough details to write another post about it separately.

So, onto the baking! Last weekend I made a large batch of pizza dough for a gathering of friendly, like-minded, food-and-game-loving librarians, which turned in part to a surprise birthday celebration for me also. I do adore my friends.

We call ourselves Team Unicorn. We like rainbows. And cupcakes.

For the pizza, I use a recipe I found about six years ago in Cooking Light and adapted it to have two parts white bread flour and one part whole wheat bread flour, which I think gives it an even better taste. You can find the recipe on our group blog.

This weekend was in search of sweets. My friend Jen found a recipe on Annie's Eats for Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread. It certainly seemed simple enough, and I am enjoying working with yeast breads again.

The dough rolls out easily, but I wish that my non-stick mat was a bit larger. Yes, I know, I have a lot of orange in my kitchen.

 The recipe specifically states to put all the cinnamon sugar mix (all 1+ cup of it) on the dough. "Yes, really use all of it."

Why use so much? Because you are going to have SO FREAKING MUCH OF IT FALL OUT while you are slicing and moving it into the pan. At least that is my experience.

I put my genius hat on when I flipped the pan on its side to start stacking all those sugar-laden layers of dough together.

And voila! I wish I had Smell-O-Vision or Scratch n' Sniff images  for the blog. Smells that good.

I will tell my seed-starting portion of the weekend soon!

23 March 2011

Review: Art of the Chicken Coop by Chris Gleason

The Book:

Chickens need a coop, and what better way to show your love than building one?  In The Art of the Chicken Coop, seven unique coops are presented with detailed building instructions, along with an additional gallery for more inspiration for your ideal coop.  With additional information from other chicken owners, the lessons to creating a place for your chickens starts here.

21 March 2011

In My Mailbox (5)

Welcome to Round 5 of In My Mailbox, hosted by The Story Siren.  Here I highlight books I have acquired for review and for fun.  Titles link to Goodreads, authors to their website (when available).

For Review:

Two books from LibraryThing Early Reviewers the past couple of weeks!

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronvitch.  I picked this one back in November and it is here at last.  A wizard's apprentice and London cop, sharing my love for police procedural and urban fantasy.

A Tiger in the Kitchen by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan.  Another love of mine: culinary tales.  A woman begins a journey to reconnect to her Singapore roots through food.

From the Library:

When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James.  One of her fairy tale based romances, James always has a smart heroine within reach.

The Year of Living Scandalously by Julia London.  Another favorite romance author who writes smart heroines in Regency England.  London creates well-woven series of books from the characters you meet.

The Complete Guide to Making Cheese, Butter and Yogurt at Home: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply by Richard Helweg.  I have made all three of these at home at one time or another, but couldn't resist picking this one up off the shelf.  I hope that the explanations are not as long as the title.

Dark Swan Bundle: Iron Crowned, Storm Born & Thorn Queen by Richelle Mead. I grabbed this from my OverDrive Digital Catalog when I knew this was on the order list this week.  Really just to read Iron Crowned, as I do not own it (yet).

Happy Reading!

16 March 2011

Review: Shine by Lauren Myracle

The Book:

Everyone knew why Patrick ended up in a coma, but no one really wanted to talk about it.  Cat knew Patrick was gay, but the horrific hate crime was lost in tiny, tight-knit Black Creek, North Carolina.  Cat knows that someone is to blame, and she is willing to face her own demons to discover the one that is residing inside her town.

10 March 2011

Review: The Cruel Ever After by Ellen Hart

The Book:

Near broke, Chester Garrity returns to the one place he swore he would never go: Minneapolis.  Chester is planning on making his fortune back by selling a priceless artifact that was recently stolen from the Bagdhad Museum.  Unfortunately the sale falls through when Chester wakes up the next morning with no recollection of what happened the night before, and his mark dead beside him.  Chester runs from the area, but returns to try to clean up the mess he made.  However he comes back to a tidy home and no body.  Who would help him, and what will it cost him?

Chester decides to turn to the one person from his past that he helped start on her way to making her own mark in town.  Restaurateur - and ex-wife - Jane Lawless.

08 March 2011

Review: Tales of an Urban Werewolf series by Karen MacInerney

The Books:

Sophie Garou has a great job as an auditor for a prestigous accounting firm, a wonderful boyfriend, and a whole lot of clothes in her closet.  The only downside is the fact that she goes through a bunch of razors and a lot of wolfsbane tea each month.  Sophie is a werewolf, and after over twenty years of being on her own in Austin, she is discovered by the local pack and finds that family ties can bind in a big way.

07 March 2011

In My Mailbox (4)

Welcome back for my fourth In My Mailbox.  Hosted by The Story Siren, this is a way to highlight the books I have received over the last couple of weeks for review and for fun.  Titles link to Goodreads, authors (and publishers for review titles) to their websites or author page.  Let's get started:

For Review:

How to Woo a Reluctant Lady by Sabrina Jeffries (Feb, Pocket Star/Simon and Schuster).  Many thanks to Goodreads and Simon and Schuster for this giveaway (so also a "won" book)!  This is the third book in Jeffries' Hellions of Halstead Hall series, and they have been really good so far.

The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals, edited by Gail Damerow (March, Storey Publishing).  I really enjoy The Backyard Homestead, which sits with my gardening/homesteading books.  Thank you to Storey Publishing for providing this to me.  (Don't you love how it came all wrapped in paper with bees, chickens, goats and cows?)

The Changeling's Champion by Miya Kressin (October 2010, The Writer's Coffee Shop) An ebook, a tale of the Fae and searching for true love.


Hexbound by Chloe Neill.  I love many of the authors highlighted on Bitten By Books, so to win an autographed copy from a favorite author (previously reviewed here) is a definite plus!  Along with bookmarks (who doesn't need bookmarks?)  I haven't tried Neill's YA series yet.


One Of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde.  If you have not picked up the Thursday Next series, get thee to the library!  The latest in another favorite series I was able to get hold of from one of my librarian colleagues (Yes, I must give it back.)

Pretty In Ink and Driven to Ink by Karen E. Olsen.  I do admit I like the topical cozy mysteries, and about a tattoo artist?  Count me in!  These are #2 and #3 in this series, so I have to go back to the first once I am done with these.


The used bookstores - they call to me.  These are from one of my faves in Northampton, Raven Books.

Magic Burns and Magic Strikes from Ilona Andrews.  I have read all of this fantasy series so far, and have loved it, so I grabbed these copies when I saw them.  Of course, now I need #1 and #4 from the series.  I can start at the beginning of a series, I swear!

The Locavore Way: Discover and Enjoy the Pleasures of Locally Grown Food by Amy Cotler.  When I saw this title sitting on the shelf I had to get it.  I am still a newbie at finding local foods, so I hope this will help guide me.

What are you enjoying right now?  Happy Reading!

03 March 2011

Review: Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces by Gayla Trail

The Book:

Not everyone has the space for sprawling garden beds.  Not everyone has the funds to invest in designer planters and elaborate arrangements.  Grow Great Grub is a gardening book for those with limited spaces and budgets, who want to focus on growing food in an organic way.  Gayla Trail brings an easy but comprehensive look at microfarming, no yard required.

01 March 2011

Review: My Empire of Dirt by Manny Howard

The Book:

Manny Howard was looking for work in 2007.  When New York magazine approached him to write a story about the rising urban agricultural movement and try growing food in his backyard to subsist on for 30 days.  But why stop there?  Howard decided to make his Brooklyn backyard into a farm.  For the next seven months, Howard toiled, struggled and fought for and against The Farm, his lack of knowledge and his family's dismay to prove himself worthy of the challenge.  No matter what happened.

The Yarn:

The idea of locavorism and urban agriculture is one I support wholeheartedly.  Howard's basic idea of creating a sustainable farm in his yard was a great big picture with ideas for gardening and meat animals.   However the big picture seemed to be his best way of thinking.  The actual ideas behind raising rabbits and chickens are erratic, his search for live tilapia is hilarious in its own right.  Howard dives into each project with a lot of energy but little thought.  It hurts a bit to think of the amount of money that went into preparing his dead clay yard for growing, the lumber and parts for housing chickens and rabbits and feeding them, the description of the growing pile of trash, accidental (and not so accidental) deaths of animals.

Amidst the day to day struggle of creating this farm Howard talks about his family: wife Lisa and children Heath and Bevan Jake.  Background of how they ended up married and in the house is there, along with the struggle of keeping some - very little, in fact - normalcy for his family.  The tension and trouble the farm creates for his marriage is outlined in great detail in the book.

I struggled with a lack of empathy for Howard.  His descriptions of making decisions with very little planning, and obvious lack of conversation with Lisa, definitely rub me the wrong way.  As Howard talks about his first attempt at seedstarting and watching them fail (for too little and too far away lights), this is one I have gone through myself, but instead of looking to researching why, he jumps into a hydroponics store and tries to buy the most he can with the least amount of information.  This carries through the book, and while is definitely a thought and action style some may see themselves in, my own need for planning made me want to throw books about gardening and livestock at him.

However, some of that is recovered in the last few chapters, once Howard finishes his 30 days and reflects on what he has done.  Howard's marriage survived dead animals, his daughter's surgery, a lot of alcohol, and a tornado. He is still keeping chickens, and the rabbits (for the most part) escaped being part of the food chain.  He found authenticity on "The Farm", even if it wasn't always the best pieces of himself.

My Empire of Dirt is a strong, if not always sympathetic, story of one man's work on an urban agricultural project.  You can read Manny Howard's story in New York online.

The Ink:

Title:  My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard Into a Farm
Author:  Manny Howard
Publisher:  Scribner
Date:  March 2010
Read:  Library Hardcover