Setting up the Homestead Part 2

This last weekend, Mr. Gillis’ mother was able to watch Izzy all day Saturday and Sunday. This was a perfect opportunity to get ourselves some flooring and get some work done down on the homestead.

We dropped Izzy off around 9 am on Saturday morning and proceeded to drive the 40 odd miles to Houlton, the nearest place we have access to box stores like Tractor Supply Club, Walmart, Grocery Stores and MARDENS, the true destination of our trip.

We really wasted no time in going to this mecca of must haves -their slogan is literally “should have bought it when i saw it at Mardens”. I dare you to start that sentence in front of your native Mainer and not have them sing the rest to you.

Suffice to say, our trip was a success, and we indeed bought it when we saw it at Mardens. We found a 17’x12′ piece of vinyl sheet flooring for $141 and the glue for $25. Tax and all, we are officially able to put floors down in two rooms for about $175.

We also bought a gallon of special killz, and a gallon of noname bright white interior paint. These two gallons bring our gallon total to 7.


Our Mega Giant 5 Gallon Bucket of Paint

We rushed home to get to work, but still had to be impressed with the fall colors coming out on the ride. We really are lucky to live in such a beautiful state.

We pulled into the driveway, unloaded our wonderful find and got to work.

Mr. Gillis got to work on finishing the electrical problem he was having with the old wiring in the future plant nursery- its important we have reliable and safe power in this room.

I grabbed the killz and started going at all the water damage I could find in the storage room I had been working on. When I took up the floor we found a fair amount of old water damage from when a washer had been running improperly. Once the Killz was on, I threw on the last coat of bright white to the entire room.

At this point, Mr GIllis had gotten his wiring done, but had in the process, ruined my paint job on one wall. He apologized and I sucked it up pretty fast. I guess. Even tho I obviously felt the need to post a picture of the devastation.

We agreed to break for supper and come back after. After scarfing down some nachos at our current home- they were homemade and delicious with turkey meat and lots of veggies – we rushed back to the homestead and got back to work.

Mr. Gillis went back to working on getting walls up in the plant nursery and I decided it was time to salvage what I could from the kitchen.

After a grueling hour and a good portion of a container of clorox wipes, I saved the fridge. Then I ripped out the cupboards and as much or the counters as I could without destroying our only sink area. We took stock of what I had torn out and decided to leave the rest for another day and call it a night.

The next morning, we got up and got to work around 8 am. We assessed the situation in the kitchen and made a couple decisions. 1. The stove top needs to be hooked up to some propane and tested before we decide to keep it or not. 2. the sink needs to stay as it is for now so we have a place to rinse our paint brushes. 3. Their is a lot of water damage in the ceiling and that and the walls needs to be torn out and replaced and 4. the water heater is most likely the cause of this water damage and needs to be junked.

Mr. Gillis went back to work on getting walls up in the plant nursery and I started tearing out the bathroom. First I tackled all the shelves and the cabinet. Then I took out the shower, revealing a window. With a little talking amongst ourselves, we decided to uncover this window all the way and leave the bottom of the shower stall in case we needed to give a chicken an emergency bath. As we look over the walls and ceiling we see that these too need to be torn out and replaced.

So now the kitchen and bathroom are both at an impasse.

I convince mrgillis that in order for me to do anything else we need to cut the flooring.

We got both pieces cut for the 8’x10′ rooms we’ve been working on. I go to sweep up the floor as good as I possibly can and I look to mrgillis and say, hey mrgillis, I think we should remove this big black plug that will never get used and will ruin our perfect floor.

so he turns off the power. and the power is not turning off.

needless to say, this giant black plug is a giant road block in our plans to do any flooring.

So, we reassess again. I decide that the only thing left for me to do is move EVERYTHING from the front room and start painting the ceiling, because well, we don’t want to tear out more walls until the plant nursery is done.

I’d like to take a moment of silence for the pine boards we had to cover. We really didn’t want to, but we couldn’t afford to restore them- and we need this place to be easy to clean and maintain.

With my painting and mrgillis’ hard work in the future plant nursery, we are getting step by step closer to turning this place into a useful work space for us come this winter.

We definitely ran out of time, before we ran out of work – so that’s the standing plan for this coming weekend if we can swing it.

Until next time, have a wicked good day.


Putting the vanilla in… Pickles?

You might have to suspend belief in all that is pickling recipes in order to follow me on this. But suspend you must and following me is recommended because these pickles are NOT to be missed. 

I cannot claim credit for this recipe. I found it online at a garden forum about 5 years ago. The forum itself was even older then that. It was a discussion about lemon cucumbers, which at that point, was my newest obsession. Everyone was throwing out recipes that were for pickles and relishes… They were troubleshooting about the best way to grow them in order to get the most out of their bushes… It was a lemon cuke lovers meeting of minds and it was amazing. 

I read thru the pages of that forum like your average rabid canner. It didn’t take long and I had found it. The recipe. The one I just HAD to try. And I am going to do the right thing and pass it on. 

If you don’t believe me, make a half batch or even less. This brine covered 4 quarts plus 8 pints worth of cucumbers with some left over. That’s a lot of pickles to make if you’re unsure. But if you like the idea of a sweet pickle with lots of flavor punched in, this is it. Take a flying leap. 

French Vanilla Pickles

  • A big bowl of small pickling cukes. 
  • 9 cups sugar
  • 8 cups white vinegar 
  • 1 Tbsp canning salt
  • 1 Tbsp whole cloves
  • 1 Tbsp pickling spice
  • 1/4 cup vanilla
  • 1/4 lemon juice
  • 2 to 4 cinnamon sticks per jar 
  • 3/4 tsp alum per pint, 1 1/2 tsp per quart

As always, the best pickles begin with clean, firm cucumbers

First things first – clean your cucumbers thoroughly. I use my soft veggie brush and cold water. 

For extra crispness, put cut cucumbers on an ice bath in your fridge for a few hours


Get a large bowl and put a whole tray of ice in the bottom. Once I cut the cukes into smaller pieces they’ll go into the fridge on an ice bath for at least 5 hours. 

Goodbye blossom butt and stem


Trim the ends of  each cucumber. Then cut the cucumber into quarters. 

Cut the small ones into quarters for a mini treat


I cut the larger ones in half lengthwise before cutting those pieces into quarters. 

These are all acceptable sizes for pickling lemon cucumbers


Anything larger then the cucumbers picture above are chicken food in this household.

The large ones can be cut in half first for smaller pickle bites


These little guys make great snacks at family gatherings


Once you’ve got the cucumbers all cut up and on ice, seriously put them in the fridge and leave them alone for a while. After you’ve given them their ice bath, you’ll want to give them another quick rinse with cold water. 

Maybe I’m odd but that is such a pretty sight to me


Now you’ll need a large pot for this brine, the recipe makes a lot. 

Supplies are gathered!

On a medium heat, combine the 9 cups sugar, 8 cups white vinegar, 1/4 cup lemon juice (1/2 a jumbo lemon), 1/4 vanilla and 1 tbsp of canning salt. . 

Yes you really do need that much vanilla and lemon juice.


Mix this well, but be aware that it will stay cloudy for awhile. 

We use this tea holder for our spices. Some of the leafy stuff escapes, but not much


Next, in either a tea ball like ours or some cheesecloth, put the 1 Tbsp of cloves and 1 tbsp of pickling spices. Drop this into the brine mixture right from the get go. 

The sugar dissolves as it gets closer to its boiling point


Keep this going on medium heat, stirring pretty much constantly. Because of the high sugar content it will scorch quickly, so keep an eye on it. 

Getting closer to the boil


Once it gets to a boil, keep it there for five minutes. 

While its boiling is a good time to pack your jars and relax your lids. Remember, relax your lids in simmering water, not boiling. If the water is to hot, it can actually ruin the rubber seal.

For every pint, we use 2 cinnamon sticks, as many cucumber pieces as I can squeeze in and 3/4 tsp alum. In every quart we use 4 cinnamon sticks and 1  1/2 tsp alum. 

Our pickle packing station

Once the jars are all packed and the brine has boiled for 5 minutes, it’s time to fill them with the liquid. After all your jars have been filled, cover with your lids, secure with your rims and process in your hot water bath canner for 5 minutes. 
After the jars come out of the water bath canner, set them on a towel, covered with another towel for 24 hours. If any don’t seal, put them in the fridge. 

I like to let my pickles stew in their juices for at least a month before eating. My dad usually waits 2 or 3 days. My way makes for more flavor saturation, my dad’s way means yea pickles. 

So that’s that for this blog. We still have lots of pickles to make, but now it’s apple season here in Maine. And that is what’s going on for next time. It’s time for another Maine adventure, and it’s about to get real. Real foragie. Because we don’t pay for apples. Nope, we go Apple hunting. 

But that’s for next time. 

Until then, have a wicked good day. 

Who doesn’t love a pickle?

This years garden has been an amazing adventure in the hands off approach. My dear husband put the plants in the ground, laid out weed fabric and hay. Then he weeded out some rows once a few weeks after planting. Otherwise, we’ve just been to busy to do anything else until the last few weeks. And the last few weeks have been harvesting and processing green beans, zucchini, peppers, and now CUCUMBERS! 

I say this with capital letters because it means, PICKLES! Also worthy of capital letters. 

Today’s recipe is for Dill Pickles. We had a lot of different size cukes, so we are doing spears and sandwich slices. 

We also have a mix of Boston picklers and lemon cucumbers. If you haven’t ever had a lemon cucumber, you need to find some. Just make sure they are small. Like the diameter of a quarter to half dollar, no more. And white to light yellow in color. Not dark yellow. They get very seedy and very bitter once the get any larger. But if you get them small and yellow, they are sweet and firm – great for pickles and eating fresh.

Here’s a link to a Maine seed company that we love. When we go to the MOFGA Common Grounds Fair in a few weeks they’ll have some wonderful displays. 

This recipe yielded 8 quarts. We ended up with 4 jars of spears, 3 jars of slices and one jar of mixed. We don’t waste a pickle oppurtunity in this house. 

Dill & Garlic Pickles

  • 10 cups water
  • 6 cup vinegar
  • Lots of Fresh dill enough for a good 2 to 3 large fronds per jar
  • 1 clove of fresh garlic, per jar- cut in half 
  • 2/3 cup Canning salt
  • 4-6 Black peppercorns per jar
  • 1/2 tsp alum per jar
  • Optional – 1 tsp mustard seed per jar 
  • A big old bowl full of pickling cukes of your choice

So early in the day, is when you want to cut up your cucumbers. This is so you can ice bath them for a few hours before pickling them. It’s an old wives tip, to supposedly help keep the cukes crisp threw the canning process. We don’t know if it helps or not because we always do it. Better to be crisp, then soggy in our opinion. 

These are Lemon Cucumbers, we love them but you have to pick them small.

I make sure to always use a nice sharp paring knife to cut up pickles. For sandwich slices, cut off the blossom end. Then just keep cutting slices in your desired thickness. I cut my slices fairly thick. I like the crunch. 

We’ve got two cuts we’re doing today for dill pickles. I love dill slices on a cold turkey sandwich, but spears go nice with meals.

When cutting spears, first cut off the blossoms and stem ends. Then, cut the cucumber in half lengthways. Now, placing the cucumber cut sides down on the board slice it in half, lengthways again. Take each of those quarters, and slice them in half lengthways one more time, leaving you with 8 spears. 

To make the brine, simply grab your large pot and mix together the water, vinegar and canning salt. Get this to a boil on medium heat, stirring occasionally. This mixture doesn’t take long to boil so you want to get your quart jars, rims and lids cleaned and sanatized pretty quickly. Also, don’t forget to get your lids relaxed in some simmering water. 

We got our fresh dill destemmed, our garlic cloves cleaned and halved and our spices ready and waiting

Now it’s time to take one of your nice warm, sanatized quart jars and pack it full.First goes in the dill, garlic halves, peppercorns and if you’re feeling plucky, the mustard seed. Now, pack those jars full of cucumber slices. And when you think you couldn’t possibly fit another, try anyway. Just don’t let any stick up above the fill line. It’s important that your brine cover the entire cucumber. 

Put your dill, garlic, peppercorns and, if you want, mustard seed.

Once your jars are all packed full of your spices, herbs and cukes, it’s time for your pickle crimping agent. We use Alum, but I know other pickle crisps work just as well. We just have a readily available source of cheap alum. 

Packed tight with some alum sprinkled on top.

Since Mr. Gillis and I can together, one of us fills the jars with pickles, while the other one fills it with brine, and covers it. If you were working by yourself, I would recommend filling your jars with all your spices and cuckes first and then doing your brine. But really, do what is comfortable for you. Pickling should be fun… Hot, sweaty, work-like fun, but fun. 

I love how the lemon cucumber looks up against the glass.

Now that all your jars are filled with your cucumbers, brine and spices, and are all closed up, it’s time to process them in your hot water bath canner for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, pull the jars out, set them on a towel and leave them alone for 24 hours. 

After your waiting period is over, if any of your lids didn’t seal, store in the fridge. Otherwise these pickles should sit for at least  a month before eating, even tho that doesn’t stop my dad from digging right in. 


We are still snacking on last years pickles while these go hang out for a few months.

There it is, our dill pickle recipe. It’s pretty simple, but we think that it really highlights the dill flavor. 

With such a large cucumber harvest we’ve already done a bread and butter pickle, a sweet chili relish and these pickles. Tonight, we make a special recipe that we cannot take credit for. I’ve read that it’s an old French recipe… It is a lemon cucumber recipe but we’ve used regular picklers. 

All I know is that it is a different, but delightful pickle. And it’s my next blog post- but you’ll have to wait till then to find out.  

Until that time, have a wicked good day.