Information and tips about Sweetlife Farm products
Things of interest in the garden
Musings about savoring the sweet life....
What are you doing for Thanksgiving? We are hunkered down, of course, and not planning our usual gathering of 8-12 people. Instead, for fun, we decided to challenge ourselves to cook most of our dinner in the wood-fired oven. I've linked to ingredients and recipes found elsewhere on this and other websites.
The turkey will be smaller than usual, but large enough to have leftovers; it will be swathed with butter combined with Wild Juniper Rub before roasting. A little white wine in the bottom of the pan will catch the savory drips, help retain moisture and become a starting point for a yummy gravy.
Stuffing will be new to Bob and I this year. One of our housemates brings her grandmother's stuffing ball recipe to the party. I am amazed to learn there is a twist on stuffing that I have never heard of. We've made stuffing with everything from white bread to cornbread, with or without Italian sausage or oysters or vegetables or nuts, cooked in a casserole or in the turkey cavity. This "stuffing" is prepared and formed into balls, then baked in a pan, resulting in individual servings, each with a crispy exterior ready to soak up lots of gravy....
Spinach Gratin will be our side dish. It is Ina Garten's Spinach Gratin recipe, and will serve as the main course for our vegetarian housemate.
Spiced-Tea Cranberry Sauce is our longtime favorite twist on classic cranberry sauce.
Potatoes will be mashed with lots of butter and cream--easy peasy and nothing not to like....I may do an Ina trick and throw in some lemon zest, just for fumn.
We haven't yet agreed on a sweet potato recipe. I have a thing about turning them into some giant dish of sweet candied thing that everyone politely eats a couple of spoonfuls of and we end up throwing most of the leftovers away. If any of you readers has a great savory recipe idea, please share! Otherwise, ours will likely be cut into wedges and roasted simply, with a little olive oil and one of Dr. Bob's seasonings.
Dessert will be my rendition of Bob's Mother's Pumpkin Pie, even though it was also Bob's choice of birthday dessert a little more than a week ago. We all love it and it never lasts long....
It's hard to believe that it has been a year since the 2019 version of myself was preparing to sit down give thanks at Thanksgiving. 2020 forced change and challenges that no one anticipated, transforming us and our ways. As the holiday approaches, the anguishing aspects of 2020 highlight-in brilliant tones-the life I am so grateful for.
I say it often, but life really is sweet, and here’s why:
- One more trip around the sun with my husband Bob, my business and life partner for 48 years. Being old during a pandemic is scary, but every ring on the tree adds deeper perspective, acceptance and gratitude for the shared experiences, measured in moments and years.
- Sweetlife Farm-It is both a place in paradise and a lifestyle that began as a vision in the mid-1970's shortly after we met, and came to fruition more than 20 years ago: a desire for putting down roots, living sustainably, contributing to community. This tucked away spot 5 minutes from town has served as our serene, safe haven with plentiful gardens and plenty of things to do during COVID-19. For many months we quarantined alone and continue to leave the property rarely.
- Family and friends-local and far away-all add richness, context, compassion, muscle and meaning to our lives, even as we are forced to forego in-person connections.
Our daughter and son-in-law drove to Washington from Texas in August, isolating for two weeks in their truck with their own food and water, camping in off-grid locations and even using their own makeshift composting toilet, all so they could visit us safely.
One dear friend spent many, many Covid isolation hours helping me rebuild this Sweetlife website-while each of us navigated a full plate of other demands. I am humbled by the depth of her commitment and friendship. The mental gymnastics continue to be a stimulating challenge and a welcome diversion.
Another friend has been "all in" as a Sweetlife creative partner for several years, always ready to give countless hours of enthusiastic talent to making Sweetlife products shine with personal touches, even though Covid 19 forced us to curtail in-person time.
Friends and family are a phone call, Skype, Zoom or email away, ready to pick up where we left off, no matter how much time has passed. We are "there" for each other, even in these trying times.
- Two young women "WWOOFers" (willing workers on organic farms)-each quarantined in the tipi before moving into the house in August and September to become part of the current family pod. Together we live, work, cook, laugh, play, and have amazing conversations. We inspire each other to be our best selves, dig deep, think big, and go for the long game. We are grateful for their help, support, keen intellects and company. They are not the first, and hopefully won't be the last helpers who drop into our lives and become forever friends.
- My 93 year old mother-keeps on keeping on, one day at a time. She lives next door in a cottage we built for her 10 years ago. I am grateful for her perserverence, for modeling a life well lived in the 9th decade of life, for the dedicated caregivers who help her remain at home, for the amazing community services, activities and friends that enrich her life: The Senior Center, Island Volunteer Caregivers, Kitsap Access buses, Bainbridge Performing Arts.
- Loyal Customers-who enjoy our products, remember we exist, and thoughtfully support us with their encouragement and returning business during this stressful time.
This is too long, and I wax too sappy. To all the people in my life, know that I cherish every one of you!
We planted a small orchard here at Sweetlife 20 years ago. It’s a quiet place, with several varieties of apples and one California plum tree. We eat the fresh fruit as a garden snack, and bake some into pies and other desserts; most of the apples are squeezed for juice that either goes into the freezer to drink later or is used to create Sweetlife’s Apple Cider Vinegar. We welcome the addition of apples from friends’ trees as well, since a blend of varieties creates a more complex and robustly flavored juice.
We use a Correll cider press, purchased about 15 years ago. Correll presses are handmade by a three generation family business, and are built to last a lifetime, becoming family hand-me-downs. Sometimes we host a cider party, invite friends and neighbors to bring their apples and containers, and everyone gets into the act. Bob even makes apple cider donuts, which hardly make it out of the kitchen before being devoured.
Washed apples are mixed together and placed in buckets to be washed before pressing, then the whole apples are placed into the grinder and chopped into pieces. Once the bucket of chopped apples is full, it is slid into the next portion of the press to be pressed. This is done by spinning a lever that compacts the mash and allows the juices to flow by gravity into a bucket. Once all of the apples are pressed, the juices are mixed together.
The chickens gobble up the pressed "mash" left over from juicing, so literally nothing goes to waste. I love thinking about the life cycle: the apples grow on trees on the property, giving us apples and juice; the parts we don't use are fed to the chickens who in turn give us eggs and fertilizer that goes back into the same soil the apples are grown on.
The fermentation process from juice to vinegar takes between two to six months; during this time we monitor the Ph levels to determine when the juice has fully acidified into vinegar. We complete the bottling process without heating the vinegar, since heat kills the natural yeasts and probiotics that make it so good for you!
A bottle of Sweetlife Apple Cider Vinegar sits on our kitchen counter, and I use it almost every day when making dressings, marinades and much more. We keep a gallon of it in our pantry for our own use, and I usually refill the container in the kitchen without pouring out the previous liquid, which has a healthy “mother” of its own now growing inside of it.