Pandemic, Hygge Dinner Therapy

Here we are. In the midst of another rise of the never-ending Covid19 pandemic cases. As you know, if you follow my instagram, I have gone through many ups and downs when it comes to being able to find joy during these unpredictable and tiring times. My lack of being able to remain “present” and finding a sense of purpose in the recent months has reached new levels of unattainability. And, lately, I find myself leaping from idea to idea; grasping at straws trying to keep my mind busy with anything and everything that I can fit into my schedule. Painting my bathroom, trips to isolated book stores far away, amusing myself with imagining and planning journeys to the hippie towns across America, random acts of kindness to friends and strangers, painting a ridiculously hard (and still incomplete) paint by numbers… you name it, it’s probably floated across my mind.

The point is, we all want to feel a little bit of completeness during a time when so little is certain. We want to feel whole where there are voids. And if we can find anything heartwarming, we’ll latch onto it. And what warms the heart more than having a meal with friends and family? Not much.

Unfortunately, at this time, getting together with other humans is discouraged because, well… COVID. Yes, we know it travels, it’s extremely contagious, and you have to move heaven and earth to get people to wear masks… So, dinner parties? Not really much of an option, unless you want to spend time with 15 people and have 72% change of contracting the virus. Or so said an article I read online today. Yet, I have/had been dying to just GATHER. Like, we used to. And it’s brought a number of tears to flow throughout the year, knowing that it’s just not possible. So, I decided to take matters in my own hands.

In the recent years, I’ve developed this attitude like ‘I’m not gonna wait around on other people. If I want to do something, I’m going to. Even if I have to do it alone.” Apparently, dinner parties are included. So, I informed my hubby that I was going to do a faux dinner party, just because and for my family. Decor and all. Just for some kind of therapy.

Now, at first, that was going to include lanterns and 150 paper cranes hanging from the ceiling. I was THIS close to ordering a massive amount of twinkle lights from Amazon and stringing them up. Nearly bought new dishes… Until, I realized that I might be getting a tad carried away.  I mean, we are legitimately just trying to get by in these awkward, socially distant times. So, instead, I resigned to save my really amped up ideas for when I can fill my home with more people I love. And, decided my main objective would be to just set up a budget friendly, cozy meal that would feel intimate and a little more rustic than say handmade origami ornaments at each place setting. Are you sensing a theme yet?

I’ve been craving Asian food for weeks and, specifically, missing a restaurant from our home in NC. My fave dish is served there and it’s flawless, along with their coconut cake for dessert. So I looked up some recipes on pinterest for what I wanted and found an overabundance of options. I decided to make the main course and dessert from scratch and accompany it with pre-prepped appetizers and sides. Yeah, I was going a real restaurant style dining here, and wrote up the menu on my dining room chalkboard a week in advance so I’d have something to look forward to. You could, of course, do this week any type of food.

Now let’s talk decor and place settings. I’d like to talk about this in case you are in a little bit of a slump and want to do something simple like this in order to bring yourself and family a little bit of cheer. I’ll go through what I threw together and what alternatives there are out there.

The tablescape, you’ll notice, was rather uncomplicated. I didn’t have time to get flowers or anything and my table is SO long that it’s very hard to find an inexpensive table runner or table cloth to cover it. So, I started thinking about how some restaurants cover their tables with butcher paper and thought, “HELLO, KID FRIENDLY & easy cleanup!” But, rolls of butcher paper were like 15 dollars! This craft paper, gift wrapping paper was $1 a roll at Dollar Tree. I could’ve used the underside if I had wanted it plain, but I really loved the fun polkadot playfulness it gave the table. They also have plain kraft paper available for just under $2 a roll at Dollar General.

I already owned the candle lanterns and candles, which I got from walmart at the beginning of fall from Walmart. I’m linking the candles (which smell divine!) HERE. I haven’t seen the the lanterns since, in-store or online, so HERE are some similar ones. And you could probably also look at places like Hobby Lobby or Old Time Pottery for something similar and inexpensive. As well as the candles.

I simply bought reindeer moss for $1 a bag from Dollar Tree and filled the bottom of my lantern with it, around the candle, for a more woodsy and homey look. And to avoid fingerprints on the glass, I maneuvered it around with a spatula.

I got my snowy trees on a log, tabletop decor from Walmart for like $6, but I can’t find it on their website anywhere. If you can’t find anything in your area similar, you could probably craft it pretty easily with supplies from a dollar store. Or you could purchase a set like THIS from Walmart (below) or THESE glittery gems from Target.

On either side of the trees, I places cutting boards to place appetizers on and flanked them on one side with a beaded garland I got from Amazon earlier this year. I also used four, mercury glass votive holders I found at Dollar General for $1 a piece on each corner. They are adorable and I’ll definitely be reusing them again and again. I found a similar set of 12 on Amazon HERE.

Now, let’s talk about dishes! Mine are by Magnolia (Hearth & Hand) from Target and I got them a little over a year ago as part of their fall collection. They are no longer available, but if you are in the market for new dishes, I strongly suggest checking out what they do have in stock. Such as the beautiful, red rimmed dishes they just came out with!

I used the mixed matched silverware that I already own (I’m due for a new set) and wrapped it with $1 white napkins from Dollar General & found red burlap ribbon on sale to tie it up with. Next time, I may go ahead and spring for some more expensive linen napkins like the ones I’ve found online (below). And if you are having a little fancier of an event with more extended family…etc, it would definitely be a nice touch. You could even do matching ones with your dishes like the photo above.

There are also plenty of nice biodegradable options online. Like these palm leaf plates! Which are a great, more natural, primitive choice.

That’s about it. I would’ve done placemats like these had I thought about it beforehand, so that’s also an option. I also, ordered chopsticks because of the nature of food, that only set me back $6.99. Plus, everyone loves chopsticks! Twinkle lights also came into play all over the room where I could hide the LED battery pack HAHA! Spent $5 on 5 packs of those at the dollar store and they were a nice addition to the cozy, hygge factor. And the candlesticks on the mantel + burning wood stove in my dining room didn’t hurt anything either.

Overall, I spent approximately $28 (not counting all the groceries for dinner) and repurposed a lot of things I already owned. I hope this gave you a lot of ideas of how you can easily create a comfortable, spruced up space for you and your loved ones to enjoy a special dinner despite everything going on in the world right now. You don’t have to have a lot of money to enjoy a nice, memorable evening together- even if you’ve already spent months in the same house. Take the time out to make your life extraordinary!

GUEST POST: Fulcrum Farms’ Chicken Paprikash

I am so thankful for Instagram and the people it provides to you at the right time. Amber @ Fulcrum Farms has always been super sweet and supportive of my page so it just felt right to reach out to her and ask if she would write a post for the blog. If you talkto her, it just felt like a natural fit. She came up with such a great post and one of my fave comfort foods to write about for you. So, without further adieu…

FULCRUM FARMS, Amber:

When I was contacted by the lovely Quin, to write a post for her blog, I was kind of caught off guard. What could I possibly say that anyone would want to read? I’m new to owning land, I don’t have experience with real farming, and I’ve never officially raised an actual farm animal (aside from chickens, which most people start out with anyhow). So what could I write about that people might be interested in?

Then I decided – well, I could just share a quick recipe, something perfect for cool weather, and comforting after a long day of work. I don’t know anyone who couldn’t use a good recipe for that! Everyone that I have shared this with has enjoyed it immensely. It’s super simple, but it is also absolutely delicious. Handed down from mother’s side of the family, I make this many times through the fall/winter months to fill all our tummies when we are running on low. I hope that you like it as much as we do!
Chicken Paprikash

4 Bone in Skin on Chicken breasts (or thighs or a mix)32 oz chicken broth1 large yellow onion, chopped4 cloves garlic, crushed1/2 C flour1/4 C Hungarian PaprikaSalt and Pepper, to taste 16oz sour cream
Heat and oil a large skillet or pot with a lid. Cook chicken until browned on all sides, it will finish cooking through during braising.  Remove to a plate and cover.  Lower heat. Add onion and garlic to the skillet, pour more oil if needed.  Cook, stirring often, until fragrant and onions turn translucent.

Meanwhile, mix together flour, paprika, salt and pepper.  Once onion and garlic are soft, stir in the flour/paprika mix.  Increase heat to medium and stir, it will be VERY thick – you just want to cook the flour for 30-60 seconds to remove the raw taste. Whisk in the broth, be sure to stir it very well to remove clumps. Once the broth has been mixed into the flour, bring pot to a boil. Return chicken, submerge and lower to a simmer.  Cover with lid. 

Allow to cook several hours, I usually leave mine on low for 4-5.  Or, if your cooktop likes to burn things, put into an oven at 250* for 3-5 hours (optionally a slow cooker and/or instant pot would work wonderfully for this recipe too!). Check every so often, if you’re using an oven or cooktop, to make sure the it isn’t boiling hard – you want to braise the meat slowly in plenty of liquid. 

About 60 minutes before you plan to eat, put sour cream out on counter to come to room temp.  30 minutes before you plan to eat, use a colander and drain the chicken, onions and garlic.  Wipe out pan, then add liquid back into pot, keep off heat. Separate the onions and garlic from the chicken, discard. Debone, remove skin and shred or chop the chicken, set aside.  Whisk sour cream into pot, turn heat to medium low.  Add in chicken, stir, and keep warm until serving.

I make homemade spatzel to go along with this and serve with a side of fordhook Lima beans or baby peas. Egg noodles and rice are both good options as well. 
This makes enough to serve my family of 6 – with seconds and usually some leftover. It’s also easy to adjust to your taste – add or remove ingredients to your preference. We like a lot of paprika, so my recipe calls for a large amount. We prefer white meat, so I use bone in skin on breasts. We don’t like the onions/garlic floating around in our liquid so I strain and remove them. 
If I can give 2 recommendations –

  1. Use bone in and skin on chicken, any pieces will work or just take a whole chicken and cut it up to fry and continue with the recipe as written.
  2. Purchase Hungarian paprika. The better quality you have, the better your dish will taste. You can use the store brand paprika, but if you can splurge on a container of real Hungarian paprika – do it!

Enjoy!

Bottle Babies, Growing Up

This weekend on the farm was pretty relaxing. My parents are in town. Pretty much the only people we’ve hung out with since covid… we haven’t seen them in almost 8 months! The weather has been fantastic and, even with the threat of rain, the breezes and mild temps have been something to be thankful for. Making s’mores with the kids and spending the majority of the time outside was just what the doctor ordered.

Here are some very candid iPhone pics 😂

Otherwise, we were very excited and nostalgic because we have weaned our bottle calves!! Seems like only yesterday that we picked them up and brought them home, even though it was mid-April. Back then, we were still wearing toboggans and Carhartts; trudging out to the barn in the cold and [sometimes] snow.

Today is actually the first day that they have been completely off bottles and [so far] it seems like they don’t even notice that we haven’t made the journey out to the barn with their regular milk bar + have only supplied them with feed and hay. They have been doing well during the transition the last couple of weeks but, of course, we have been keeping a close eye on their progress. A part of me will miss playing the part of mama to these babies and seeing the bond that the kids got from caring so intimately for them.

Before committing to the task of raising calves, we (aka hubby) joined a lot of Facebook groups, read books, and did a whole bunch of online research. One of the most important things we learned, starting out, is how valuable it is to get your calves from a reliable source. So, if you get your calves from an auction, you have no idea usually if they have had colostrum from their mother, what bacteria’s they have been exposed to, if they have scours…etc. However, if you get them from a local farm, they will be able to provide you with information regarding their health and wellness.

So, we got in touch will some farms in our area and, fortunately, found one (dairy) that was basically willing to give us as many calves as we wanted for a price that is so low it’s not even worth mentioning. Their bull calves were, obviously, not useful for their field, so we gladly accepted- at first- one. Being that they were about 5 minutes away, it was good for the calf and us because of the low transport time and easy transfer. Within one day, we knew we were going to get more.

Cows are social animals and I couldn’t bare the thought of having one lonely calf. Especially, since we haven’t yet expanded our pasture enough to have other larger animals, like horses…etc. Also, we are still contemplating what species we would like to include here and can reasonably care for. That being said, we knew that several bull calves would be available within the week. And within that time, we acquired two more. Now, I have to insert that, in our livestock vet’s opinion, it is wise to get all of your calves from the same place/herd because each farm/group of cows has its own strain of bacteria and germs that it carries with it. If you calves are all from the same homestead, they are less likely to get ill and contract viruses.

Every person/family decides to do things differently with their calves. If there is anything I’ve learned from reading online feeds it’s that hardly any person does the exact same thing to care for their animals. So, you have to find what works for you.

We started out giving ours two bottles a day; one in the morning and one in the evening. The formula we used was DuMOR milk replacer from our local Tractor Supply, and we accompanied the morning bottles with DuMOR probiotics. We did struggle with a little bit of diarrhea at the beginning, sometimes tinged with blood, and, being newbies, we didn’t really know how to handle it or if it would truly be considered scours. So, we began giving the calves Theracaf electrolytes but, when that didn’t work, we reached out to the farming community to find out what other solutions may be better. An overwhelming amount of people came back with the response to use Spectogard Scour-Chek. That made a HUGE difference, and our calves recovered [almost] overnight. We never noticed them suffering from loose bowels again.

They started gaining weight quickly, although one of ours is a runt. And they are still fattening up pretty nicely. I guess I should’ve mentioned before now, but we have Jersey calves. If any of you have Jerseys, perhaps you have had others comment on our “skinny” or “sickly” they look. If you’re new to bottle calves, like we were/are, don’t let that get to you. If you’re concerned about your calves being too slim or their rate of growth, my best advice is to find a livestock vet you feel comfortable with (ours was recommended by the farm where we got our calves) and have them give the calves a once over. We had some comment on the fact that our calves seemed to be very bony, but the vet had told us already that they were doing 100% perfectly. Also, TRUST YOUR GUT. Just because you might have not done this before doesn’t mean your a dummy. A first time mom still intuitively knows what her baby needs, and shouldn’t listen to unsolicited advice. Neither should you when it comes to your calves!

Whiskey (left), Reuben (middle), Hiccup (right)

Early on we started leaving sweet feed and hay/alfalfa out for them to munch on, to get used to the idea of more solid food. They took to it pretty regularly around month two. As well as chomping on pasture grass. Now, these babies are ready to be eating more substantial food full time. We will definitely, however, be providing them with treats. I don’t think the girls could stop feeding them dandelions, if they tried. These calves would wait all day at the fence for just one of those.

Of course, baby cows are mischievous. We’ve had one get caught in the fence and turned upside down, we’ve had them break out of the fence, and they have certainly tried to drag the elderberry bush into the pasture to devour. But, all in all, raising these babes from just days old to, now, three months has been a rewarding experience. Especially for the kids. They have learned a lot of responsibility, a lot of compassion, and a lot about how the ‘circle of life’ works.

Our intention is to take three to the butcher when they are somewhere between 18 + 24 months. I never used to think that I would be able to accept that fact. I always just wanted to have a cow as a pet. But, the longer we have them, the more I realize that to have a sustainable lifestyle on a homestead, it’s just not practical to have three cows chillin’ out on your land for their whole life; 18-22 years! (Now, if I ever get my Highland, that’s another story! haha)

For now, we are just enjoying the process and acquiring a lot of knowledge along the way. If you all have any tips for us starting out this ‘adolescent’ phase with the calves, I’d love to hear them! As well as anything you would do differently at the start. We will definitely be getting more calves after these ones so I’d really appreciate any opinions or ideas.
Happy Monday!