The results of the home inspection are in for the 13-acre farm in southwest Wisconsin! I’m relieved that there are no major problems, or at least there are no problems that we view as deal-breakers. Our future as the proud owners of a farm is starting to look more like a reality!
Like any older home, the farmhouse has a list of relatively minor problems. The front porch needs to be replaced and the septic system will eventually need to be updated. The only really expensive fix is the roof. There’s evidence that an ice dam has formed at the junction of the roof in the past and caused a leak. To be safe we would probably need to replace the roof with metal before the next winter and install heat tape at the problematic spot. Galvanized steel roofs are costly, but they have an incredibly long life span of at least 60 years. We could potentially live there for the rest of our lives and never replace the roof again!
We are concerned to find out that the radon levels in the basement are high. Radon is a poisonous gas that seeps into homes through the basement. It’s dangerous to live with radon; in fact it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States (right after smoking). We’re looking into an inexpensive fan system which would continually flush the radon-laden air out of the basement. Radon can actually dissolve in water as well as air, so we decided to order another water sample to make sure the drinking water is radon-free.
The results of the energy audit were surprisingly positive. Apart from the single-pane kitchen windows, which could be replaced to improve energy efficiency, the house is surprisingly well insulated and energy-efficient for its age! This bodes well for our dream of eventually being off the grid.
The fields are leased out to a farmer until the end of the summer. Judging from the weed-free looks of the corn crop, they’ve used herbicide. We’ll need to contact the farmer and get as much information as possible on what crops have been grown and what chemicals have been applied in the past. It’s too bad we aren’t buying the farm early enough in the season to get a jump-start on the long process of soil rehab. It can take many years for the biological community in the soil to rebound from pesticide and herbicide use, but we’ll have to wait for the next growing season to begin.
Back in West Virginia, summer is in full swing and I’m celebrating another turn around the sun. I always associate my birthday with ripe strawberries because, in Wisconsin, they’re at their peak right now. If you can get locally grown strawberries there’s nothing in the world that compares to their juicy flavor. Fresh local strawberries are ruby-red and sweet as candy, which is why I almost cried when I saw the pale, California-grown berries in the grocery store. By the way, you definitely don’t want to mess around with non-organic strawberries, which are heavily contaminated with pesticides. Luckily we have access to locally grown berries that haven’t been sprayed, so I’ve been eating them for almost every meal!
I love the addition of fruit to a green salad, and strawberries are one of my favorites with a tangy dressing. When the weather is hot we often eat a big salad on its own for our evening meal, and this Strawberry, Kale and Quinoa salad is certainly hearty enough to stand alone. As a side dish, you could lighten it up by omitting the quinoa.
The fresh snap of pea pods works well with the sweetness of strawberries. This time of year we’re scrambling to stay on top of our ever-ripening peas and we welcome any opportunity to eat them up. All you have to do is forget about your pea patch for a couple of days and you’ve got big, woody, over-ripe peas (if this happens to you, pick the peas anyway, even if they’re too tough to eat, to encourage your vines to keep producing).
The cabbage white butterflies have found our kale patch, and I’m starting to see evidence of caterpillars chewing the leaves. I’m a fan of butterflies and wouldn’t mind sharing a little, but they can quickly devour and kill an entire kale plant if left unchecked. Our garden is small enough that hand-picking is an option, so every few days I’m removing caterpillars from the leaves. If you buy organic kale from the farmer’s market you might want to give your kale leaves an extra careful check before you prepare your salad. Personally, my goal is always to serve a salad with 0% caterpillar. On the other hand don’t let yourself get too worried about what you might miss; what you don’t know won’t hurt you.
If you’ve never given kale a massage before, you’ve got to try it. Massaging kale breaks down the cellulose and removes any bitterness, leaving the kale tender and sweet. Plus it’s really fun! The kale magically changes before your eyes, becoming dark, silky, and drastically smaller. Just check out these before and after photos:
Last, I top the whole thing off with a delicious and easy Honey Mustard Dressing. All it takes is oil, cider vinegar, honey and Dijon mustard. Just combine in a jar and shake it up. There’s no need to buy bottled dressing when this is so simple to make!
Strawberry, Kale and Quinoa Salad
- 1/2 cup dry quinoa
- 1 cup water
- Large mixing bowl full of kale (about 6 ounces). Start with a lot because the volume will decrease dramatically as you massage it!
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- finely ground salt
- 2 tablespoons raw sunflower seeds
- 1 heaping tablespoon fresh mint leaves, chopped
- 1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
- 2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced (optional)
- Honey Mustard Dressing (see below)
- Rinse quinoa in a fine mesh strainer. Bring water and quinoa to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until tender. You’ll know your quinoa is done cooking when “tails” (the germ of the quinoa) are visible on the quinoa grains. Drain any remaining liquid. For maximum fluffiness, return quinoa to the saucepan and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
- Remove stems from kale (see my Turnip Green Pesto recipe for a tip on stemming greens). Shred leaves into 2-3 inch sections. Wash well and dry in a salad spinner or by patting with a tea towel.
- In a large bowl, sprinkle kale with lemon juice, olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Toss to coat and massage the kale with your hands for several minutes until it softens and darkens in color.
- Add quinoa, sunflower seeds, mint leaves, and dressing. Toss to coat. At this point the salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 1-2 days.
- When ready to serve, top with strawberries and hard-boiled eggs (if desired).
Honey Mustard Dressing
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoons flax oil or extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon fresh marjoram, finely chopped (optional)
- Add all ingredients to a small mason jar. Screw the lid on tightly and shake for 1 minute until creamy.
- Use immediately or refrigerate with the lid on for up to 1 week.