Upside Down Peach Cake

Peaches! My favorite fruit on this entire earth. I have yet to have any luck planting peach trees here on the farm. No luck, as in I killed two of them. Probably because I brought them home and then failed to put them in the ground for several months. Not my best plant parenting. Luckily, we are a stone’s throw away from the great peach producing state of South Carolina which actually out produces Georgia in peaches. This year I received a text from a friend that one of her other friends would be making a trip to a nearby peach farm and was willing to take orders. Between myself, my mother, and my mother-in-law we ordered two and a half, twenty-five pound boxes. I was in peach heaven!

We enjoyed a few fresh ones and froze the majority for future use, but one recipe that I absolutely had to make before the summer was over was this fantastic variation on Pineapple Upside Down Cake. I love it so much and will likely never make the traditional tropical version again if I have the option. Give it a try and see if you agree.

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 Upside Down Peach Cake

11 tbps unsalted butter, divided
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3-4 large peaches, peeled and sliced
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tbps baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup whole milk

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Preheat the oven to 350 F. Using a 10” cast iron skillet, melt 3 tbps of butter over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and let melt until it melts and bubbles to make a sticky, thick syrup.

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Remove from heat and allow to cool five minutes. Place the peaches in the pan in a circular pattern.

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In a large mixing bowl, beat 8 tbps of butter with the sugar until fluffy. Beat in the vanilla then the eggs.

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In a separate bowl, mix the flower, baking powder, and salt. Stir half of the dry mixture into the wet mixture. Stir in the milk. Stir in the remaining dry mixture and stir just until mixed. Pour the batter of the peaches spreading it to the edges of the pan.

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Place in the preheated oven for 60 minutes or until the edges of the cake pull from the sides and a knife poked into the center of the cake comes out clean (pushed only through the cake portion, not the fruit).

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Allow the skillet to cool for 20 minutes before flipping it over onto the cake plate. Allow to cool slightly and then serve while still slightly warm (with vanilla ice cream as a bonus treat).

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Time Management Tools for the Homestead

For anyone out there following The Pony Draw blog regularly, you probably have noticed that it has been several months since anything new has been posted. That is because back in March 2016 I returned to full-time work after working only part-time since August 2015 shortly before this blog was started. In the hustle and bustle of establishing a new schedule the blog fell by the way side, but has not completely disregarded.

One of the questions I hear all the time regarding our homesteading adventures is ‘how do you have time to do it all’? The answer is simply that I don’t. There is never enough time in the day, the week, or even the year to get done all the things I plan or desire to do. The green tomato relish wasn’t canned because the tomatoes all turned red before I got to them. Seeds weren’t harvested from the cilantro because they had all dropped before I had time to trim and hang them. The horses are all unfit, the cow pasture remains without fencing, and my dissertation is so far behind schedule it is shameful. The biggest time commitment by far is employment. Two full-time incomes are required for our family right now and with mortgages, student loans, tractor payments, and our own personal activities it probably always will be. Heck, sometimes picking up part-time work is needed to fund expenditures outside our norm. Combine that with the duties of the farm, the completing of a doctorate degree, and maintaining (somewhat) a functionally clean home it is no wonder a little supportive care is required to juggle it all.

As a professional educator with a master’s degree and nearly completed doctorate in higher education administration, I have found that many of the time management tools we teach students are just as useful on the farm as they are at the university. Two of those tools that have become gems in my daily life are my weekly schedule keeper and my journal.

The schedule is a concrete component of my time management that is meant to serve as a road map for the week. It details in half-hour segments exactly what I need to be doing and when in order to make sure everything gets the attention needed throughout the day or week.

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The journal on the other hand is the flexible piece. Unlike literary journals where you write your thoughts and reflections, I use my journal to keep track of the tasks, appointments, and other important information that comes my way throughout the day. I set it up to contain a to-do list on the left hand side and a weekly calendar on the right. The to-do list is what I need to get done while the weekly calendar along with the schedule is when I need to get it done. Important notes and thoughts also get written down in the journal such as the phone number of a pet sitting client or an important date in the future. If I were to misplace the journal I’d be in real trouble!

Do I always stick to the schedule? No. Does the to-do list always get done before the next journal page is turned? Absolutely not. But these tools do help me stay on track a lot better than if I worked solely on my own memory. These tools work for me because a state of organization is my happy place. For someone that thrives better on a more hectic pace these may not do the trick and may be more torture than anything else. There are a variety of other time management exercises out there and a simply internet search will reveal many of them as will browsing the self-help section of just about any library or book store. The key is finding what works for you no matter what it happens to be.

Happy Homesteading and God Bless!

Jenn

Riding the Sandhills Game Lands

Over the past few years we haven’t had too many opportunities to wander far from the farm and with spring nearly upon us the likelihood of that chance remains slim to none. Last weekend though we took advantage of a quiet, yet beautiful Sunday afternoon to haul the horses out to the Sandhills Game Lands with friends.

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Despite this amazing public land resource being right here in our home county we often forget that it is such a gem. The Sandhills Game Land is a one of many large natural reserves set aside for public land hunting opportunities. Horseback riding is allowed within certain regulations on designated game lands throughout North Carolina though not all. We are lucky in that the Sandhills allows horseback riding year round except for one small block that is restricted during the months of October and March which leaves vast amount of land to be explored on horseback. The terrain is soft with wide cut roads and paths making riding easy and enjoyable for even the most novice of trail riders.

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While at first glance it is easy to say there is nothing to be seen here except pines and sand. While it is home to the largest stand of old growth long leaf pine that just isn’t true. The lands are dotted with streams and ponds that give rise to multiple varieties of wildlife including deer, squirrels, reptiles, song birds, birds of prey, fish, and even bears (though I have yet to have my first sighting).

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The United States Army is also active on the Sandhills using the game lands for military exercises including parachute jumps which can be a whole new experience in your horsemanship when you encounter them. It usually takes a horse or mule a little bit to figure out those figures dressed in camouflage are actually people and not horse eating monsters. Folks who know the game lands well can lead to special spots that include old military equipment such as tanks and burned out helicopters as well as churches and houses that date back to years when this land was rarely visited by outsiders. Camping is primitive so come prepared if you plan to spend the night.

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Maps of the Sandhills can be found online, but don’t expect to find specific trail maps. I enjoy the rides here most when I have an experienced Sandhills native such as Neal or other long time trail riders with me, but you can navigate the lands with a GPS and compass just fine if you are savvy in that department.

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That short evening ride just a few weeks ago was just the thing I needed to relax as well as be mentally ready for the up coming spring and work that comes along with it. Hopefully, we are able to manage our tasks and time in such a way that we can return more often than we have in the past as these are the moments that remind us why we live here and do what we do to stay.

Happy Homesteading and God Bless!

Jennifer

Starting Plants from Seed

Last month I shared the growing rack that I had put together to start seedlings and grow plants indoors. I was so frustrated that it took me this long to carve out a time to get my seeds planted, but this weekend I made it happen. My sister-in-law, Martha, inspired me with pictures of her seedling sprouts that are just about ready to transfer into their own individual pots. She was also very generous and shared some of the seeds she had harvested from her garden bounty last year. I had also saved tomato seeds from last year as well had some herb seeds that never made it into the ground. My preparation for this adventure was to read up on starting plants from seeds in books I found at our local library as well as picked up from a second hand store. To start I gathered all the needed materials and set up on a folding table outside. My materials included…

1 bag peat moss
1 bag vermiculite
Five gallon bucket
Handheld garden shovel
Seedling trays
Four seedling trays
Seedling cell inserts – enough for four trays
Seeds

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I pulled out all the seeds I had put up last year and separated them into four groups. Commercial herbs, commercial flowers, commercial vegetables, and harvested seeds from our family’s various 2015 gardens. The vegetables and herbs took priority today. I ran out of soil mixture by the end of the task so was not able to get the flowers planted, but will do that during the next round.

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I mixed the peat moss and vermiculite in the five gallon bucket. I tried hard to make sure it mixed evenly though I did end up with the bottom of the bucket being heavy in vermiculite. It shouldn’t be a problem, but wasn’t my intention. I then lined the seedling trays with the seedling cells. These were all saved from plants we bought from a local plant farm last year so no additional expense for them this year. Once in place I filled the cells half way with the soil mixture then sprinkled the selected seeds into the cells. I didn’t really have any rhyme or reason to the amount of seeds in each cell other than trying to have enough cells to evenly distribute all the vegetable seeds. Some varieties had only enough seeds for two or three per cell while others had much more, just depended on how many seeds I had and how many cells were available.

Seedlings 03 While planting I made sure to clearly mark the different seeds so I didn’t loose track of where I had placed each type which is something that would be in character for me. I then sprinkled more soil mix over the top to fill the rest of the cells.

Seedlings 05Once all the trays were finished I lightly watered them to ensure they were thoroughly dampened, but not saturated. The seeds will not need any more water until well after germination. The most important thing until they sprout is to prevent evaporation and maintain a soil temperature of 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. They don’t even need light necessarily though most set ups including mine use the light to help maintain the temperatures. The evaporation is prevented by placing plastic wrap over the trays.

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Once the trays were planted, watered, and covered I placed them on the grow rack and plugged in the lights. Now just time to watch them grow! There is a variety of different germination rates in these trays so they will not all pop up at the same time. As they do start to peek out of the soil though I will be able to mark them with more permanent stakes and move the cells around so that those that still need to be under plastic can remain there while those that don’t can be separated.

Looking forward to sharing an update in a few weeks and having plants to put in the garden and take to market soon!

Happy Homesteading and God Bless!

Jennifer

Reaves Engraving

Reaves Engraving is a family owned business that has been based in Scotland County since 1933. Specializing in quality invitations and social stationary Reaves regularly provides complete ensembles for weddings, save the dates, rehearsal dinners, birth announcements, social correspondence, and many other printed items. In addition to stationary Reaves also offers calligraphy completed through computer-driven plotters which provide perfectly formed calligraphy at an affordable price in comparison to hand calligraphy.

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Invitations and other stationary items ready to be put together for sample packs.

Reaves is owned by Lindsay and Gay Pratt of Pinehurst, North Carolina after being long time residents of Laurinburg. Another familiar face at Reaves is the office manager Barbara who has been part of Reaves since ____. Other employees who work in the typesetting and calligraphy departments are often friends and family of the owners or former employees and have thus known the Pratt family throughout the years.

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A computer-drive plotter does calligraphy for a rehearsal dinner invitation.

Most business is conduct through mail, online, and phone orders though customers who live nearby are welcomed to come visit the shop and see first hand what options are available for their needs. Reaves offers multiple printing techniques including engraving, letterpress, flat print, thermography, or digital printing. Each style offers a variety of colors and fonts to personalize a customer’s piece in either a classic presentation or unique personal flair.

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A collection of multi colored napkins available for customers to select from.

Reaves also offers a variety of services that help make the invitation process as easy as possible. Invitation orders can be finished with stamping services for both response and mailing envelopes including international addresses, number of response cards to keep track of attendees, stuffing completed elements of the ensemble, and even shipping directly from the shop if the customer desires.

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Invitation orders wait their turn for calligraphy before being shipped to customers.

Ultimately, Reaves provides a classic stationary product with expert experience in etiquette and design all with the personalized service that can only be provided through a small, family owned business. A credit to their success can be seen in their marketing strategy which is almost entirely word of mouth. Reaves has successfully brought that small, hometown experience to the rest of the world through their mail order business which makes the experience much more special than purchasing stationary through a mass production corporation.

Happy Homesteading (and local shopping!) and God Bless!

Jennifer

 

Pimento Cheese

It took me a good couple of years to create the perfect pimento cheese recipe to fit my tastes. I searched and searched cook books and blogs for that tasty blend of smooth cheesy goodness and sharp pimento flavor. Alas, I was unsuccessful. Instead what I present to you here is a recipe that I built piece by piece during my search. For me what makes this recipe perfect is as much the technique as it is the ingredients. I want pimento cheese to have a smooth texture and consistent flavor in each bite. I loathe tasting chunks of sharp cheddar or bland cream cheese in a spread. I believe that use of the electric mixer for this recipe is key.

PIMENTO CHEESE

8 oz cream cheese at room temperature (Not the end of the world if you forget to set it out and it is still firm from the fridge. You will just have to blend with the mixer longer.)
1 cup finely grated mild cheddar cheese (MUST be fine grated and MUST be mild)
1 cup finely grated  monterey jack cheese  (again, MUST be fine grated)
(Note: Two cups of a mild colby jack blend works well here, just make sure it is finely grated)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 fresh pimento
1-2 fresh jalapeno peppers (option)
(Note: For this particular batch I used dehydrated pimentos and jalapenos from our Spring 2015 garden. Dehydration removes many of the oils from hot peppers giving them a much milder flavor when re-hydrated. I am not a fan of super hot heat in this recipe, but using the dehydrated peppers gives the perfect balance of jalapeno flavor and just a hint of heat. Below are photos of the dehydrated peppers when they first hit the water and then about two hours later.)

 

Dice the pimentos (and optional jalapenos if using – removing the seeds to reduce the heat if desired) in a food processor and pulse until the peppers are very finely minced and blended well.

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Place the pepper mixture along with all other ingredients in an upright stand mixer with the paddle attachment (a hand held mixer would work just as well). Blend on low to medium speed until all ingredients are well incorporated and you can no longer distinguish the individual ingredients except for the bits of pepper.

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Serve immediately with crackers, fresh veggies, or on sandwich bread. Place left overs in a resealable container and place in the fridge.

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Happy Homesteading and God Bless!

Jennifer

Meet the Mules

I am of the opinion that the world is just a better place when viewed through a set of equine ears. I’m not picky as to exactly what kind of ears, but there is indeed something special when they are mule ears or LONG EARS as the mule skinners  call them. Does this sound like a foreign language to you already? You aren’t alone! Mules and mule people can be a very unique set of individuals with terms all their own. My life has been enriched by mules and their people since 2009 so it is often easy for me to forget that not everyone knows about these amazing creators and the folks that love them. Let me introduce you to just a little bit of mule know-how to help you see what I’m talking about.

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A group of “Mule Girls” enjoying their mounts and good company.                Photo: courtesy of Shannon Hoffman

 

One of the first questions I get from non-equine people is “what is it”? Some think mule is just another word for donkey or possibly a breed of horse. The truth is that a mule is the result of the mating of a mare (female horse) to a jack (male donkey). If the match is reversed with the female being a donkey (jenny) and the horse being male (stallion) then you get a hinny which may be difficult to tell apart from a mule unless you are an experienced mule enthusiast. Mules have been a part of the equine world since the domestication of horses and donkeys. They combine the best of both worlds with the calm and quiet demeanor of the donkey, but the size and athleticism of the horse. They are known for being very sure footed, hardy, and smart (or stubborn depending on if you are talking to someone they have recently out smarted). Just like any other animal though, they each have their own personalities, talents, and dispositions so generalizing them so broadly can be misleading. I have had horses that I liked more so than some mules and I have had mules that I liked more than some horses.

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Sadiee Mae, a Belgian molly mule. Photo courtesy of Shannon Hoffman.

Another question I get is “what do you do with a mule”? My answer is anything you do with a horse. My mules ride both on the trail and in the show ring, are trained to pull a wagon or carriage, and one is even trained in tricks. Just like horses mules can be trained in all different styles of riding and which ones they excel in is often determined by the talents of their horse mother. Mules that are born of draft horse mares are commonly used for driving and pulling or as riding mounts for larger adults. Mules out of stock horse breeds (Quarter Horses, Paints, Appaloosas, etc.) are common on the trail and in competitive western riding events. The breed doesn’t necessarily have to limit them in the events they parttake in though. Below is a picture of Lucky Number Seven owned by Shannon Hoffman of St. Claire Mule Farm and ridden by Dr. Jock Tate after winning the 2013 Quest for the Best Challenge at Reflection Farms in Vass, NC. Seven is a Belgian draft mule.

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Lucky Number Seven (owned by Shannon Hoffman) and ridden by Dr. Jock Tate during their victory lap in the 2013 Quest for the Best at Reflection Farms, Vass, NC.                                 Photo courtesy of Shannon Hoffman.

The reason I remain attracted to these special animals is the challenge they present to my horsemanship (or more correctly mulemanship). I find that training and building a relationship with a mule is different than doing the same with a horse. Mules require more of me and make me really think about what I am asking, how I am asking it, and how I can improve my communication with them as an animal. When I “get it right” they reward me with a long standing trust that opens so many doors as a mount on the trail, in the ring, or around the farm. I am blessed to be in possession of an amazing mule named Sally who was trained by the mule skinner James Lamm then later purchased by the late Buddy McCarter whose widow (also named Sally) left her in my care upon his death. Sally was already an exceptional mule when she came into my life. She was well-trained and mannerly, but she still required me to get to know her and bond with her before we really became a team and tapped into all the great things we could do together. I trust Sally with my life and the life of those around me because of this bond. I have never had that with a horse even Max who I have known and cared for twelve of his thirteen years.

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Sally with Jennifer McRae aboard at the 2012 NC State Fair Mule and Donkey Show.          Photo courtesy of Eddie Bruner.

I have had several other mules come into my life since Sally and each is as unique as can be. Some were introverted and laid back (Katie – below left) while others have been social butterflies that require constant stimulation and companionship (Woody – below right). Very different, but each special.

My absolute favorite thing about mules though is their people. The mule community has a type of comradery that is hard to come by in other circles. The equine world in general has been known to be a tight-knit and sometimes even exclusive group that can be difficult to find a place within. Mule people are different. They are a down to earth, fun-loving group that is passionate about their long ears. Years ago I was connected with the Carolina Mule Association and have been able to participate in a handful of their events though not nearly as many as I would like. It is through this group that I came to truly appreciate everything that is the mule community – passionate, caring, and fun. Even without a mule, membership with this group is amazing. Below are pictures of the group during a 2012 ride at South Mountain State Park in North Carolina. There were a total of 12 mules and one horse on that ride.

If you are in the area come visit the mules of The Pony Draw someday. Maybe even take a lesson on the great Sally. I promise you will not be disappointed with the experience and may even be ready to start your own journey to becoming a mule skinner.

Happy Homesteading and God Bless!

Jennifer

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Meadow, a stock breed molly mule. Photo courtesy of Shannon Hoffman.