Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bits of news....................

Coherent thought processes are never my strong suit. And they seem to be less-coherent this holiday season. Like having purchased and wrapped a major Christmas gift ........ only to find one for the same recipient that I bought during the year!!!!! I am soooo losing it!! Let's forget about that stuff (which .... trust me ..... I will!) and move on to other news.

First major bit of news .............. my favorite LYS is closing. This store is located in Muscatine. Muscatine has been hit with more lay-offs and cut-backs than any other city in the area. So the recession claims another retail victim.

The good news is that the Coralville store will remain open. And they are roughly the same distance for me. Muscatine was a bit handier...... but I can live. Its just sad when a local yarn shop closes.

Second news is for the QCA area residents. When you live in a small town, you get to know the post master pretty well. And Donahue postmaster James is no different.

Small town post offices are pretty unusual places. In Donahue, a rush is five people in line at one time. Happened the other day and we didn't know how to react! A trip to the post office is never a quick affair. Not because of long lines. But because of the conversations that go on.

The front window is always decorated with the art projects from the local grade school. Right now ... chains of green and red construction paper hang over the window. Snowflakes will show up in January and hearts will be featured in February. Always the same...... always changing.

James has been a big help with chick orders.... sometimes, tracking them down for me when they don't arrive exactly like they should. OK -- it might be self-defense on his part. Once, they received a box of turkey poults. The turkeys were all dead ....... and had been for a while! I got the distinct impression he didn't want to go through that again!!

Well, James and his family put on a fabulous Christmas light display. Without a doubt, one of the best in the QCA. Drive by .... say hi.... tell them that Miss Eff sent you.

And finally, my Christmas present from Honey is a re-do of my office. You have never seen my office??? There is a reason! My desk is a large office table/desk. 30" x60". And I am capable of filling every bit of space on this desk ............. with stuff!! I am certain there is a theory in physics about stuff filling the available space. Oh -- that was physics according to George Carlin!

So the behemoth of the desk/table is disappearing. I have no idea where. But it is going. Want it? Drop me a note.

And in its place will be a dainty little rustic kitchen table made of pine. (You do understand that to mean..... wobbly, unstable and incredibly small! That also can be construed as .......... cheap!)

So Honey has started ripping my little 20" x36" table apart.......... only to discover that someone never ever wanted the top to come off again!!!!

Yep ......... 56 long rusted nails in a table that was originally built without a nail in it!! This could be an adventure!!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

About a week to go......................

Well -- the shopping frenzy is about to begin in earnest. Oh no ..... not me. I no longer think that an over-drawn bank account and the mandatory menu of bean soup in January are necessary for a happy successful Christmas.

But a lot of people will be hustling around this weekend, trying to find the perfect doodad. Something else to dust. A hunk of Chinese-made plastic to sit on a shelf.

So it is time for me to pull out my soap box and do my semi-monthly pitch for buying local! I'm membership chair for Buy Fresh, Buy Local. We talk food. But this has got to go beyond food to build a successful economy. In the Quad-Cities. In Iowa. Even in the United States.

I really don't think China qualifies at local.

I could be wrong. I was once. Hence, a starter marriage. But I digress.

So today's post for Blog for Iowa was about 12 great places to shop/buy gifts for Christmas.

It absolutely amazes me that if you spend $100 at a locally owned business, only $27 will leave the community. But if you spend that same $100 at Wal-Mart or Target or K-Mart ( the list can go on and on!) $57 will totally leave the community.

So support your friends and neighbors and shop locally.

As Martha would say ................. It's a Good Thing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Lesson in Failure......Cheesemaking 101

OK -- Many of you know that I am teaching adult education classes at Scott Community College.

I have had several classes canceled due to low sign-up numbers. But last week, we were to have our pizza and cheesemaking class. I was excited. There were twenty people signed up ..... with a waiting list.

And then........we got this!

So last night, a week late, the class was on!!

We started out by making pizza crusts. I did one in the bread machine and Jason (the little guy on the far right in the pic .... he was the only one shorter than I was/am!!) helped me make another. The class then went and made their own crusts so it would have time to rise while we were making cheese. We all knew .... everyone wanted to learn how to make cheese.

The class is conducted in a local high school home economics lab. The demonstration kitchen has a gas cook top while the "students' kitchens" have electric stoves. I started to make the mozzarella. We were all standing around the demonstration cooktop ...... just waiting for that magic moment when a gallon of milk goes "poof" and cheese suddenly appears!!!!

Perfect .... like I had rehearsed it a hundred times before. There was beautiful silky mozzarella cheese. One gallon of milk yielded 16 oz (one pound) of cheese. It was perfection.

Then 5 kitchens started making their own cheese. Same milk, same expiration date, same water, same rennet, same citric acid, same recipe...... of course, they could not use the same pan but one kitchen did. ONLY difference.......... the electric stove vs. gas cooktop.

Three absolute failures. No curds.... no nothing .... you could see the yellowness of the whey but that was it. One kitchen had very small curds with very small yield. To be honest, it was better than my first attempt but not good.

And finally, one kitchen had an acceptable product. (Thank you! Thank you, Michelle!! If it wasn't for you I would have thought I was a complete failure as a teacher. Now .... I know that I am an 80% failure as a teacher!!!!) Yield was still lower than mine but not bad --probably about 10 oz.

The only thing I can think of --- looking back and deciphering all the information (Yea ... I obsessed over it all night long!!!) --- the electric stove took it from 90 degrees past 105 degrees much too fast and the curd never formed. In reading (another term for googled obsession!) when many of the kitchens went to 120 degrees ...... the rennet was ineffective. So my attempt to salvage the cheese with additional rennet was futile.

OK -- we knew that all ready!!!!

So as I said when I started the class, I hoped you would learn something. I knew that I would. And I did.

Slow .... slow .... slow.... low... low... low. And if any of the class is reading this...... e-mail me. If you want to try again ..... I will gladly open up my kitchen and we can do it again! No charge. Just buy the milk. I'll take care of the rest! Let's just do it after the holidays!

Thank you all for your patience. Thank you for a fun evening. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. And don't give up .... try it again. I know you can do it.

Miss Effie

Monday, December 14, 2009

What a great weekend!!!!

As with most people this time of year........ the weekend was busy. Shopping, tending to the care and feeding of the poultry in the cold and snow, church and a day at "Retail-Hell"........... which was actually quite fun! (Thank you, dear customers, for being so nice and funny and no one yelled at me for wishing them "Merry Christmas!")

But the highlight of the weekend was Thanksgiving 2.0. Friday, we received an email from adopted daughter Laura. Laura had spent Thanksgiving in Guatemala so she missed out on Thanksgiving with her family.

So the Oman clan ... mom and dad Tina and Bruce, sister Emily, brother Steve and two exchange students came from the tip of Wisconsin to bring Laura dinner. And we were honored with an invitation.

It was sooooo wonderful to meet Tina and Bruce. First of all, they raised three amazing individuals. Funny, smart, talented and very-well grounded. Then they were so much fun! I am hoping that they will join us for supper sometime this summer ...... in the corn-zebo, of course!

And the meal!!! Mostly local ..... smoked turkey, a wonderful squash dish and the Laura-birthday-traditional Dairy Queen ice cream cake. It was a fantastic meal. And Honey and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts for including us in your very special celebration.

The most exciting news (for me, at least!!!) is that Emily will be an intern at Miss Eff's this summer! We have worked out a schedule that will allow her to sell all her baked goodies at the Freight House Farmers Market like she did last summer. Unfortunately, the economic climate at Miss Eff's does not allow for a regular salary. And even though, she will be getting college credit for this, she does need money -- not just eggs and flowers!

So we are working on some ideas that we hope will help and enhance her intern experience. I want her to walk away with some valuable knowledge of the business world ... even from very tiny little business and farm. Our main focus this year is value-added agriculture.

We grow a lot of items here on the farm that sometimes ........ sit. Herbs are a strong example. My marketing ability of herbs is dismal at best! They grow nicely in their galvanized wash tubs .... only to sit. The first year of business...... I planted 180 basil plants. We had 3 types of basil. They were beautiful full plants. I sold enough basil to pay for ......... one plant!!!

So what can we do to sell those herbs??? And that will be part of Emily's focus. So expect some dried herb blends, some cut fresh herbs and some herb jellies in the new Miss Eff's Summer Kitchen.

Also with our effort to become a partner site with Silos and Smokestacks .....we will be working on brochures, signage and enhancing the educational experience at Miss Eff's. And Emily will be a key player in that plan.

I am so excited!!! For years, I have wanted to expand the experience at Miss Eff's. But I am one person and my focus needs to be with my customers. To have someone, that is self-motivated and is on the same page, will be HUGE.

Expect some new changes at Miss Eff's in the next 6 months. The gears in the old brain are just a-whirring away!!!!! It will be lots of fun .... decorating the new Summer Kitchen in Miss Eff-style. (yea ..... you know, everything will be old, scratched, tarnished and rusty .... and extremely cheap!!!!) and then filling it with homemade local goodies.

So come visit us soon ........... it will be June before I know it. Yikes!!! I've got flowers to order!!!!!

Thursday, December 10, 2009


So .......... it has been a memorable couple of days here in eastern Iowa. First of all ............... we that live slightly north of Davenport officially got 9.8" of snow. And then ..... 45 mph winds. I am certain that all the snow in eastern Iowa is in my driveway.

This is my lane. Approximately, 275 feet long. Not the end of the world by any means, but when you are surrounded by the wide open spaces of cornfields.......... some how all the snow ends up there.

Honey got it shoveled and plowed to the front of the drift. Our neighbor took his big 4x4 truck with plow to the back of the drift ........ and almost got stuck. Which is kind of where I am now. Stuck here at home.

He is coming back later with his John Deere with the blower on it and try to get us out. That should do it. Unless it blows shut again. It is winter in Iowa.

Personally -- I don't mind being stuck. I don't have "mall cravings". I don't want a pizza from Pizza Hut or Casey's. I have enough food to last a year plus in my pantry, freezer and chicken coops!

But the thrill of being snowed in changed to worry when our power went off. This is a rare event for us. The REC does a killer job of maintaining the lines in our area. I called the outage in ... and asked if they had any idea how long the power would be off. The answer ............... it will be a while. YIKES!!!!

A few years ago -- we had an awful ice storm. Almost everyone in the area was without power. We lost power for 17 hours. My dear friend Sheepie Neighbor lives 2 miles away. Straight up the road. Different power company. They were without power for 9 days!

So you do worry about being without power when you are up on a hill. In a 1892 farmhouse with its original insulation(!!) when the temperature is falling to zero and there are 45 mph wind gusts.

But I had the stove on .......... making jam. Honey fired up the wood burner and we were set! Fortunately, the power was back in about 4 hours.

And in the meantime, I made 2 batches of cherry-almond jam, a batch of sunshine jam, a tray of peppermint bark, a batch of ultra-creamy hot chocolate mix and a killer beef pot pie for supper.

I don't need to leave the house for entertainment!
But I am thinking that these guys would like some room service!!!!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Faith ......... not fear.

I don't talk a lot about my faith. There were two topics you didn't discuss in polite society. Religion and politics. But I will never be known as the Miss Manners of Donahue. Hey! I talk politics all the time. Its time to talk about my faith for once.

I was raised in a Christian home but like many, I became apathetic to Christ and God. I really didn't see how it could make a difference in our life. Besides, I sure didn't fit into that church where I was raised!!!!! We were good people.........that should be good enough.

So God spent a lot of time trying to get my attention. Lord knows, He gave me one of the most beautiful places in Iowa to live! But evidently, that still wasn't enough to wake me up. Like my grandfather would say, "Sometimes, you have to hit a mule over the head to get its attention!"

Yea ..... I got hit with a 2x4!

A little over two years ago, Honey and I had trucked through a hayfield. I was looking for a barn to move to the farm so a friend suggested one and we were off looking at it. On the way home, Honey mentioned feeling a little off his game.

We were walking around outside.... debating some alternatives to moving a barn(!) Honey said he thought he would go inside for a few minutes. I should have thought ........ hmmm, that's weird. But I didn't.

A few minutes later .... I went in to join him and sat down at the spinning wheel. "I don't feel good", Honey said. "So what is wrong?", I asked. Honey had a sore shoulder ......... but he had unloaded 250 lbs of feed the night before. And then he said he was nauseated.

Easily explained symptoms. Nothing alarming.

However........... I was sitting at the wheel and I heard a voice very clearly say, "Get him to a doctor now!" It was my Dad's voice as clear as a bell. But Dad had died of a heart attack 23 years earlier......... at exactly the same age Honey was at the time. Evidently, God knew that I wasn't going to listen to a random voice. It better be someone that could wake me up!!!

For some reason ... Honey listened to me and we went off to the doctor. (Of course, I did let him drive!!!!) We reached an emergency health care facility and instantly knew that Honey was in the midst of a heart attack.

Honey had a 99% blockage in the artery that they call "the widow maker". No pain -- no Fred Sanford "I'm coming to meet you, Elizabeth". Just a little discomfort.

After an emergency surgery with two stents ..... and another surgery scheduled....... Honey was home again. I had been blessed. For 60% of all heart attack patients ....... the very first symptom is death.

Every night ........ I would lie in bed, listening for sounds of his breath. I would lay my hand on his chest to make sure he was ok. I was terrified. I was living alone in this sea of friends. I was living in fear.

Fear was not a place I wanted to live. But I was going to live there ........ if I didn't have faith. It was a choice only I could make. God gave Honey and I a second chance (and really, a third and fourth chance.... considering he survived 1-1/2 bouts of cancer!!!) Yea .... we aren't the sharpest knives in the block. Takes us a few hits over the head to get the point!!!!

So the last two years have been a new journey in our lives. With the love and support and the spiritual guidance of our friends, Debbie and Jim .............. Sunday, we celebrated our birthday! Honey and I were baptized at Heritage Church in Bettendorf. I can not begin to describe how amazing it was!

We have a l--o--n--g road to travel to reach knowledge and understanding. But we made the first step on Sunday ... and if you were there, you know it was an extremely long step for me!!! (I am very very short and the tank was very very deep!!!)

Thank you, Debbie and Jim for your patience, your understanding and your love.

We love you both.....
Honey and Miss Eff

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A sign of the times.............................

Do you remember this post? I know you have anxiously been on pins and needles, just wondering what I was going to do with the only blank wall in my house.

It's been killing you, right? Ok -- not so much. But it is time for the great un-veiling.

But first a little history. Miss Effie's closes at 3pm on Saturdays. By 3:30, Honey and I are usually on the road to DeWitt to get some ice cream. We take exactly enough money. $3.09. I get a small dish of vanilla and Honey gets a medium twist cone. No sprinkles, nuts or hot fudge. Just a simple little treat of ice cream before we head home to do the chores and get some more work done.

One Saturday, we find a yard/antique/junk sale. Hmmmm? That magic word ..... antiques. So we do a u-turn (DeWitt is a town you might be able to get by with doing a u-turn!) and stop to look.

Now mind you, we have $3.09........ and no more. We look. And we look. And Miss Eff sees something that catches her eye. But with $3.09, I wasn't going to bargain for much!

But thank God for ATM's! And I went back and purchased these vintage (but not antique!) signs.

Hand painted signs from a long-forgotten roadside veggie stand. Proudly proclaiming what was fresh and in-season at the moment.

I love the whimsical pumpkins and strawberries.

You know -- I always thought that an antique quilt would be the perfect piece for the stairwell.

But today, as I chatted with my friends at the Freight House Farmers Market and I bought some cheese and meat sticks and missed out on the greens......... I realized this is the perfect piece for me.

Maybe it will help me inspire others to eat and shop locally. But if nothing else.... it is my wake-up call (Literally!!!! Its the first thing I see when I stumble down the stairs.. gasping for coffee!!!) A not-so gentle reminder of the importance of supporting our local farmers. The guys and gals that raise our beef, grow our veggies and make our soaps and candles.

Across the country, there are lots of markets selling local goods. To find a market near you, look here.

Its Christmas time. Do you need a reminder????

Friday, December 4, 2009

ISO gourmet pizza toppings......................

Ya know that I like making my own mozzarella cheese. And I like to talk .... which leads me to teaching what I like to make.

So on Tuesday -- I am teaching a homemade pizza and mozzarella cheese class through Scott Community College.

I thought ..... this will be fun. Maybe there are some other people that are nutty enough to want to make their own cheese. Well ........ there are. Twenty of them. The class is completely sold out and there is another class scheduled for February.

We teach the classes in the home economics classroom of a local high school. There are 6 kitchenettes and the demonstration kitchen. I will be making a pizza and demonstrating the cheese making process. Then the students will divide into groups and make their own pizza and cheese.

Here is the question.............

I am looking for some great pizza combinations. I will be roasted the veggies (which I love!!!). I will have the ingredients for a classic margarita pizza. I want to use only the mozzarella cheese and not go into feta or blues --- even though I really love those. I really didn't think we would be making 7 different pizzas!!!!

So do you have any great pizza combos?? Care to share??? I'll send you any left-overs. (Don't check your mailbox too often. Chances of left-overs? NONE!!)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Only the Hungry..............

My new post for Blog for Iowa is up.

The other day the statistics for food insecurity were announced. I really despise the term "food insecurity". It's hunger. Pure and simple hunger. People that don't have enough money to provide meals for their family.

One in eight Americans are currently on the SNAP (food stamp) program. 25% of all children get some form of food support with SNAP, WIC or subsidise school lunch program.

I find that absolutely appalling!!

Now .... I would really like to know some other statistics. What is the percentage of people with cable or satellite television? What is the percentage of people with cell phones? How many of those households have a PlayStation3 or a Wii?

Hunger is a major problem in America. When 25% of our kids have to get some kind of government assistance to eat ...... Washington, we have a problem!

But I think priorities are the bigger problem. When we have to have the latest gadget or gizmo but can't put food on our table .... we have a problem. When having the appearance of money is more important than being honest with yourself and others about your finances ...... we have a problem. When stuff is more important than feeding our communities.... we have a problem.

I'm proud of Team Lafrenz. My husband's family quit exchanging Christmas gifts three years ago. Seriously, do I need another candle?? And now -- we pick a charity to support. One year, it was Coats for Kids. Last year, it was the North Scott Food Pantry. This year, we are donating to the Zion Lutheran Church's food pantry. And with almost 40 of us ..... it can be a pretty big help to a small community.

We had a $15 gift exchange in the past ....... and now, it is fun to see how many nutritious items I can buy for $30. No Hamburger Helper or high fructose corn syrup products in my boxes!!!!! (But you knew that already!) Lots of pasta, brown rice, oatmeal and dried beans.

There was a line (that I blatantly stole!) from a Water for Christmas brochure. I will steal it again ...... it is worth it.

This is our chance to trade consumerism for compassion.

So ..... I know you are kind, generous, giving people. I have seen it over and over and over again. But 25% of our children go hungry at some time. Its time to change that.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Looking Forward ... quick glance back!

Thirty more days and we can count 2009 as history. Wow! That went fast! Or .... if you happened to be a farmer in eastern Iowa .... maybe not fast enough!

2009 has been one of the wettest years on record. And we ain't done! October was one of the coldest Octobers on record. And November was the 7th warmest on record.

The record at Miss Eff's ................... Best customers on record! Ya smiled, ya laughed. You dined in the corn-zebo and enjoyed the tea cup tree. You bought eggs and jellies and jams. You brought me milk jugs, sandwiches, tea cups and tablecloths. You wrote reviews and sang our praises. And if you didn't............ at least you had the heart not to tell me!!!

You drove from miles to see us .......... and didn't complain about the gravel road. (Personally, I think the gravel road keeps the riff-raff out. And besides, my neighbor drives his 1/4 million dollar combine down it! I think its good enough for a $35000 SUV!!!)

You gave me hugs when I needed them. You were generous when I asked for your help with the food pantry. You held chickens when I forced them on you. And you forgave my dusty house when you used the restroom.

And most of you liked our old shabby-chic farmhouse. (Except for the woman that said to me "You live in that house? I'd burn it down!!!") Actually, it cracked me up!!!!!

You have been the best!!!!!

In bad news, it was the worst flower season ever. (Which does have the additional effect of lowest checking account balance ever! Just another record to be broken! That is why there are now ads on Miss Eff's. So far, I have made seven cents. Really.)

We had sooo much rain, the blossoms of flowers would literally "pop" off the stem. Hot weather flowers didn't grow... cold weather flowers rotted in the rain. Not a stunning year.

But I am a farmer and enough of that stuff! I was taught at the "Scarlett O'Hara School of Agriculture"................ Tomorrow is another day!!!

So here is a look forward for next year and the goals at Miss Eff's.

First on tap --- the new retail store. Plans have been drawn. The site is clear and "The Summer Kitchen" should be reality by the first of June. (Depending on Honey, economic and weather conditions) This will make for easy shopping for our customers. Fresh eggs, jams, herbs, dried flowers and hopefully, hand-spun yarn will be available. Maybe an extra loaf of bread or so.

Secondly, our plans include starting some new raised beds this year. In an effort to make it easier for our customers to cut the flowers, we hope to have at least two raised bed rows this year. (It has nothing to do with the fact that my knees are aging and I love doing this -- so by the time I'm 90 -- everything will be in raised beds!!!!)

Third --- We hope to have an intern. We are growing too many products that are not being used to their potential so we are looking at value-added agriculture. Our herbs will be used in jellies, dried herb mixes and baked goods. I even have a fantastic intern in mind ......... if we can get everything to work out!!! (Hint! Hint!)

And finally, we hope to be a partner site with Silos and Smokestacks. This will give me the opportunity to educate people on the history of agriculture, particularly the woman's role in agriculture. Hopefully, with the above-mentioned garden slave (scratch that!) intern, we will finally be able to offer the classes we have always wanted.

(Emily! You know I am only joking!! You can do what you want... whenever! Anything to have you here on the farm!!!!!)

So that's what is new at Miss Eff's ......... I've been working on flower lists and there will be lots of changes for the new season. Stay tuned and I will keep you up to date on the progress and new ideas.