Friday, October 31, 2014

Our First Harvest│ First-time Gardeners│ Farm Fresh!

Our First Harvest│ First-time Gardeners│ Farm Fresh!

Here on this last day of October, the last day of my twenties, I felt it appropriate to blog about my first harvest, and our first year on the farm. I cannot believe how fast the year has gone, how fast thirty years have gone. Time really does fly. I whole-heartily believe that no matter how long you live on this earth, life is short and each moment counts. This year I made it my goal to live in the moment, try new things, and be grateful for each blessing-conversation-interactionno matter how large or small. Tackling projects outside of my comfort zone has been quite rewarding. One of the most unexpectedly-magical projects was our first garden and harvest. While gardening is a commonplace activity for the majority of folks here in NE Iowa, planting my first garden, watching it grow, and harvesting our produce felt surreal, symbolic, and monumental.

It all started when I met Kate and she wanted to plant her first garden, too, so we decided to plant and learn together. We had no clue what we were doing, but we had fun doing it! We quickly decided that this would be an experimental weed-less garden. By weed-less, I mean we didn’t pull weeds or use any weed killers. With all of the weeds, we still had lots of vegetables, but we did decide that next year we will make an effort to keep them down. We talked about fencing, but never got around to it. Even though we didn't put up a fence, we only had minor disturbances (cows in the corn).

Our garden wasn’t the prettiest in the neighborhood, and it definitely wasn't perfect, but we actually grew vegetables! It felt like a miracle every time a new plant popped up out of the soil. I remember jumping up and down when we realized we had corn popping up in rows!

It was amazing to watch our first buds pop up and grow into actual vegetables. Harvesting different veggies throughout the summer and fall was awesome. Who knew gardening was so rewarding? I think part of my awe over the whole experience was how unexpected and new it was to me. I am fully aware that planting seeds in the ground and watching them grow into food is not a new phenomenon; however, each plant truly felt like a tiny new miracle. There is nothing like a first-hand experience to give you an entirely new understanding and outlook. I never in a million years thought I’d be living on a farm in NE Iowa and growing my own vegetables...

After having our first garden, harvest has a whole new significance to me. I am so thankful for all of the blessings, experiences, relationships, and even the weeds that I've encountered throughout my life and our first year on the farm. 

For you seasoned gardeners out there, our crop may seem meager; however, to Kate and me, we rocked it!

We had lots of beautiful
·         Green Beans
·         Sweet Corn
·         Watermelon
·         Summer Squash
·         Butternut Squash
·         Cabbage
·         Lettuce
·         Tomatoes
·         Volunteer Dill
·         Volunteer Ground Cherries
·         An Abundance of Apples

We need to try these again:
o   Carrots (I did have one miracle carrot)
o   Peppers
o   (I need to check on our sweet potatoes!)

I've thoroughly enjoyed all of my adventures over this past year, and being able to look back at them on the blog. I'm sure my family, and friends "back home" have been completely surprised by my garden updatesjelly making adventures, reno projects, and all of the other atypical-Jillian behavior that's taken place! Our garden was definitely one of the highlights of my first year, and I can't wait to see what we plant, grow, and harvest next season!

Thanks for checking in! 

Coming Soon: A Sunset Beach photo session and the perfect 
Murrells Inlet Wedding Day!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Takes Engagement Session │October in the Driftless │Fall & Love

On a sunny October afternoon, Shannon and Jason drove up to NE Iowa to spend the day and to be surrounded by fall foliage while they had their engagement photos made. Jason’s sister had given them my info, and I was super excited to meet and photograph these lovebirds!

Taking advantage of the gorgeous day, we explored several serene locations. I loved getting to know these two. We had such a perfect day that our two-hour session turned into an all-afternoon adventure. There was so much love and laughter during our photo session, and the images radiate their super-sweet personalities.   

Jason & Shannon, thank you for asking me to take your engagement photos. I couldn’t be more excited for you both and I wish you all the best! 

I wish you a lifetime of happiness, health, 
forgiveness, patience, laughter, 
and most importantly...


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Apple Pie│Faith's Fabulous Flaky Pie-Crust Recipe│Secret Ingredients│DELICIOUS!

 I apologize that I'm just now getting back to my blog, but don't worry—it has been very sunny in Saint Olaf and I have tons of things to show and tell you! We've had a super-fun, busy summer and fall. I cannot wait to catch you up with lots of overdue posts: our first harvest, friends who've visited, trips we've taken, photos, delicious details, art, and more. 

To start, let me give you a photo overload of our apple pie cooking class that took place back in September. Do you remember my Grape Jelly post with my friends Faith, Jodi, and Emery? Well last month we were at it again. This time Faith shared her secrets to making the most buttery, flaky, mouthwatering pie crust. 

Apple Pie Day:

On a beautiful afternoon in September, I ran outside to quickly harvest some apples from one of my favorite trees on the planet. Zach's grandparents planted our apple tree years ago, and it has grown so big and beautiful. I've loved watching this tree through all of the seasons. In the spring, the tree blooms white and fluffy, then mini green tart apples appear. As fall rolls around, gobs of large, shiny, red apples cling to each and every branch. I still can't believe how many apples grew on that one gorgeous tree. I grabbed my apples in a hurry (I'm usually running around in a mad dash to get everything done before anyone shows up at the house) and ran back into the house as Jodi, Emery, Kate, and Faith arrived. 

We needed to make the pie crust first so that we could let it chill while we peeled our apples. Faith brought several of her and Gabe's apples from their farm in west Iowa. (What big beautiful apples you have! Why, the better to bake with, my dear!) I actually preferred Faith's apples to mine for baking and I'll show you why at the end of this post.

Flaky Fabulous Crust

Yep, vodka!
As soon as we got ready to start making our apple pie, Faith went through the ingredient list and asked if I had any vodka. We were all a bit dumbfounded. Vodka, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, while making pie?  The vodka goes in the crust to keep the water from making the flour gummy. The alcohol molecules don't attach to the flour the way water does. That way, you are able to cut in your shortening or butter, add your flavoring, water/vodka, and keep a light, airy crust. This trick was figured out by some chemists in a pie-crust-baking study, and lucky for us, Faith was happy to share it with us. :)


  • Have a fabulous friend who likes to share her tricks of the trade.
  • Make your crust first so it can chill while you peel.
  • Take notes or photos. :)
  • Don't use too much water mixture in your crust. (3 tablespoons at a time until you reach the right consistency)
  • Do not overwork your crust.
  • Oh, and no sleeping in class! Unless you are Emery—we let her get away with it. 

After we had our crusts pressed into disks between our plastic wrap, we stuck them in the freezer to chill while we moved to the dining room table to peel our apples. Making apple pie takes time, but what a fun way to spend the day with friends. We even got to see Emery try her first taste of apple.
After the apples were peeled and sliced, it was time to roll out our crust. If you're really good, you can talk on the phone while you roll out a perfect pie crust. Would you believe Faith was actually talking pie to the person on the phone?
 Some people use fancy rolling pins in combo with the "regular kind." Rolling your crust between plastic wrap makes it easy to lift and store. You can just slide your pre-rolled crust into a freezer bag and stick it in the freezer for a later date. That's what I called being prepared!

Don't forget to take the plastic wrap off before  you put it in your pie plate. (I almost forgot that step, whoops!)

Sometimes you have to perform pie surgery. Don't worry, it only takes a bit of water to glue your crust back together again.
If Jodi and I can do this, so can you. When my pie crust turned out perfect in the pan, I was pretty proud of myself. Emery was quite impressed with Jodi's pie crust skills, too.
 You can make up your pie crust in advance and freeze them. I'll definitely be doing that to save time in the future.

After we put our top crust on, Faith taught us to tuck-in the top crust. What a neat trick. She also showed us how to make those classic scalloped edges.  Don't forget to make your vents and mark it with an A for Apple. Always brush the top with milk and sprinkle sugar for a sweet shimmery crust.

My first double-crust apple pie, made with apples from our very own tree. What an awesome feeling!

My apples cooked down a little too much in my pie, but Faith's apples kept their shape in hers.
Sometimes you just need to experiment with what you've got.  
Oh, and I never waste anything. All of those crust edges? I turned them into a mini-crisp. I had plenty of dough left over for the bottom of a small 4-inch dish and topped the crisp with an oatmeal brown sugar crumble.

Of course, I invited the girls to share in my apple pie. Pie tastes good alone, but it tastes even better in good company.

Thanks for sharing your tricks, Faith! It was so yummy and I cannot wait to impress my folks over the holidays!


P.S. Be on the lookout for our next cooking class in the country: coconut cream pie, coming soon!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I ♥ Fall!


Yesterday, I scooped up Jodi and Emery for a ride around Clayton County. We were on a mission to check out all of the fall colors and beautiful scenery. We started out with a lead from our friend Gary and his trusty side-kick, Woody; so we hiked up the bluffs at Big Spring. It was such an amazing view and awesome spot for a bonfire. Gary, thanks for being our tour guide!

Yes Woody... thank you, too!

Next we drove out to a remote cabin by the Turkey River. The colors were breathtaking and we could taste fall in the air.

After a few other stops on our journey we called it a day and headed back to Elkader. I needed to run some errands and wanted to make it to yoga. Yoga left me relaxed and refreshed. Instead of the usual 15 minute drive home, I drove up the gravel road along the Turkey River. With the sun setting on my left and the moon glowing on the right, I slowly made my way back to Saint Olaf.  Yesterday I felt totally in the moment. I felt I needed to take the long way home, and I'm grateful that I did.

Life is but a vapor...

It is so important to take time for yourself, time for friends, time out of our crazy busy lives, time to connect with the world around us.