When you buy blackberry plants, they come in what's called “bare root” form — that means each plant is basically a root and a tiny stem, maybe 2 or 3 inches long. Or at least that's what mine looked like. They were kind of pathetic. And they ...

Hunting Blackberries

When you buy blackberry plants, they come in what’s called “bare root” form — that means each plant is basically a root and a tiny stem, maybe 2 or 3 inches long. Or at least that’s what mine looked like. They were kind of pathetic. And they didn’t graduate to being much more than that for many years.

Now, look at what has become of the three bare-root Darrow plants I purchased in September 2013:

Poking around yesterday and bringing in the beginnings of our harvest, I made a few interesting discoveries. First, I found a bird’s nest, made mostly of straw, tucked away neatly within the barbed vines.

And then, another bird’s nest — this one made from sticks.

In all of these pictures you’ve seen lots of green and red berries, but where are the black ones? Oh, you have to look around and, inevitably, they’ll be hiding JUST out of reach.

I decided to leave those to the birds. But I was able to pluck a few — standing on a chair, carefully weaving my arm through the vines, and getting caught on the briars all the same. Then, just as I’d think I’d gotten them all, I’d spot another juicy-looking specimen behind a leaf. That, of course, made me wonder how many others I was missing, so I’d peer at them some more, taking new vantage points in hopes of a ripe one catching my eye.

I remember having adventures like this with my grandmother in East Texas, where we’d go off picking wild dewberries and bringing them back (whatever was left, anyway) for a dewberry cobbler. That’s why I planted these — wanting to have my own little surprise moments of discovery. And the blackberries seem to thrive in the heat of our summers.

The post Hunting Blackberries appeared first on Free Range.


Still here. Really I am. June 2018 edition.

So it appears it’s been more than a year since I’ve updated this site. Oh, so busy. I’ll dispense with the excuses and begin with the updates…

  1. My automatic watering system is no more, through no fault of its own. That’s because a hose-end system like mine is dependent on everything being super tight and tidy at the tap, but I never got it quite right and so, when I left the tap open — so the system could distribute the water — leaks abounded. I haven’t given up entirely, yet, as hubby promises he’ll “take a look” at this over the weekend. We will see!
  2. I’m no longer making bread daily. Oh, if only it were possible. Honestly, my kids are nearly teenagers now and are much pickier about the size of their sandwich slices. It was a great experience and perhaps one I’ll incorporate into our lives again at some point.
  3. My garden, however, is thriving. This year, we’ve got 3 raised beds on the go, and we’re working on: tomatoes (6-7 different varieties), Genovese basil, Thai basil, Japanese Eggplant, onions, sweet potatoes (mostly for the greens), cantaloupe, habanero and ghost peppers (not doing very well, sadly, but mostly growing them for the experience), and a little perennial herb section featuring sage, oregano, thyme and tarragon. Meanwhile, the blackberry bed is growing like gangbusters and the little peach tree is actually bearing 2 or 3 fruits.
  4. The off-brand power-blender is still going strong, although I dropped the canister at some point and had to order a new one from the original seller. Worked like a charm, though, and was thrilled to find the original seller still on eBay!
  5. The baby goats are now full grown and as ornery as you’d expect goats to be. They like to terrorize the dogs, especially a certain little one that has come to join our family recently. I haven’t yet bred our doe, Dulcinea, as I’ve not been ready to commit to a once- or twice-a-day milking schedule, but it’s still a possibility for the future. The short-term goal with the goats is to keep them from eating our house. Easier said than done!

And now, without further ado, some pics of some of the recent action hereabouts.

The post Still here. Really I am. June 2018 edition. appeared first on Free Range.


Here’s What’s Happening This Spring

The cacti are flowering, the blackberry bush is budding out, and there’s a baby peach (I believe) on the tree. This year, I’m growing heirloom tomatoes and herbs — and that’s it, so far. I’ve set out a couple of containers — one with a fig tree and another with native flowering plants, and they seem to be doing quite well. There’s not much else to report about from the garden — I just haven’t been spending the time on it this year.

Meanwhile, I finally got a definitive answer on the identity of that mysterious tree. But, unfortunately, what I discovered was that it’s considered an invasive species. It’s a Bradford Pear, a sub-species of the Callery Pear, or Pyrus calleryana. Oh, well… I’ll enjoy it as long as it lasts, I suppose.

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Recipe: Cinnamon Coffee Cake Chocolate Chip Muffins

It’s been a busy time at the homestead, with preparations for Christmas, ongoing volunteer work, kids’ activities and much much more (including my full-time job), but I always love an excuse to bake. This time, it was for my eldest son’s school holiday party, taking place today.

My son requested something cinnamon-y, while my husband requested chocolate chips (which he went out and bought so… fair enough), so I dug through my latest favorite baking cookbook — Duff Bakes. I wasn’t familiar with the author’s work (though I had heard of the Ace of Cakes Food Network show), but picked this up when the ebook form was on sale at Amazon. Since then, I’ve tried a couple of recipes and they have both been big hits with the family. No wonder his baked goods are so popular. Duh. (Last on the planet to figure this out, I know.)

While there wasn’t a cinnamon-y muffin recipe — which is what I had signed up to bring — there was a cinnamon coffee cake recipe, and it explained how to change up the recipe (really just cooking time) for cupcakes. It didn’t include chocolate chips, though, so I just made one batch without chocolate chips and then added them into the batter before spooning it out into the second muffin tin.

So, now, without further ado…

Cinnamon Coffee Cake Chocolate Chip Muffins

based on a recipe by Duff Goldberg

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yield: 12 muffins

Cooking spray
2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons orange flower water
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups creme fraiche
4 extra large eggs
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
10 oz chocolate chips
For the Streusel:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 stick butter, softened
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Tiny pinch of ground cloves
1 cup all-purpose flour


You can make the streusel ahead of time if you’d like. Just mix all of the ingredients together and use a spoon (or your hands, or a pastry cutter) to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it’s like a crumbly powder.

Preheat the oven to 350. Line the muffin pan with liners or grease with cooking spray.

With a hand or stand mixer, cream the butter, 1 cup of granulated sugar and the brown sugar. Add the vanilla and orange flower water and beat for 30 more seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the baking powder, salt and flour. Gradually add half the flour mixture to the butter mixture, then half the cream fraiche and 2 of the eggs. Then the rest of the flour and then the rest of the creme fraiche and eggs.

Mix until combined.

If you’re going to add the chocolate chips now’s the time. Gently fold them into the batter. We used dark chocolate morsels and they were a great fit.

Fill each muffin container halfway with batter, spooning it in.

In a small bowl, mix together the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, the cinnamon and 1/4 cup water. Using a plastic knife or chopstick, cut a zig-zag pattern in the batter, then pour the cinnamon mixture on top. Spoon in the rest of the batter to cover.

Sprinkle the streusel on top and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Muffins are done when a toothpick inserted into the thickest part of the muffin comes out dry.

The post Recipe: Cinnamon Coffee Cake Chocolate Chip Muffins appeared first on Free Range.


Bringing Our Baby Goats Home

dulcie-in-crateAfter two frustrating delays, we were afraid to even believe we’d ever get our baby goats. But it’s been a whirlwind week full of lots of bleating and, finally, first-hand experience.

We had to drive 1 1/2 hours on the dreaded Interstate to meet the breeder in the parking lot of a farm and ranch store. Of course, we were running late, as I was trying to squeeze too much in and attended our property owners’ association’s annual members meeting — where I planned to advocate for laying hens in keeping with my big campaign. I had to duck out before it was finished (who knew it would go 2 hours+?), handing off my survey print-outs and post-it notes to an ally.

Turning to the matter at hand, I drove near the quite high speed limit the whole way, fingers gripping the steering wheel as I managed the ever-changing lanes being shaped by construction crews. To give you a sense of this experience, keep in mind that the reduced speed limit in the frequent construction sections was 60 mph. All along the way, I glanced in the rear-view mirror regularly, constantly fearful that the dog kennels we’d strapped in would fly off and cause a multi-car collision.

When we finally arrived and found the truck carrying our precious cargo, the transition was swift, as the breeder and her family members seemed eager to be on their way — understandable since we were running late, after all. And there we were — responsible for two new baby goats, which turned out to be much smaller than I’d expected. The feeling was not unlike leaving the hospital with a new baby in a car seat, where you halfway want to ask the nurses if they’re certain they want to let you leave with this tiny creature — because you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.


We relaxed much more on the way home and Google Maps even helped me find a much more pleasant route home, which got us off the dreaded Interstate much more quickly.

Still feeling like we had no clue, my youngest son and I wrangled the little beasts into their newly-constructed pen. At first, they were super fearful, taking shelter inside their little dog house and refusing to come out. But before long they were showing their true nature, jumping on top and checking out their new surroundings.


More to come, of course, in the coming days and weeks as we all settle in.

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