118 items found for ""
- It's Here...
Vine to wine season has begun and fall is here to stay. The temps are falling to perfection. We love this time of year. Why you ask? Because we make wine, pick & squeeze pomegranates, and enjoy bug free hiking. We walked the orchard to inspect the trees. We are happy to see the progress. It was great to reflect on where we started to now. Next years we expect to have our first 'You Pick' pomegranate season. We picked a round of grapes this last week as we had some rain in the forecast. This year is all about the quality of grapes. We have had large batches in previous years but this year we are going small. The main reason, hail. We did a massive vine clean up in early June to reduce the vines to three clusters of grapes max per stem. This allows the vines to concentrate on the growth to only a few clusters of grapes, but what we didn't account for was a massive hail storm. Our pristene clusters were damaged and some beyond repair. Although our choice of grapes were limited we believe we'll have some amazing wine. We pulled about two liters of mushti which is basically grape juice with a kick. And it was so tasty, it didn't last two days. We'll continue smushing the wine twice a day for the next ten days. Once it's fermented for a bit we'll filter and transfer the wine to a new barrel. The original crushed grapes will kept for a round of raki. Our garden is still producing tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers. The spring onions have popped and the garlic is slowly coming in. Art added new spring greens to our spinach beds and our hot peppers are still poppin. Our trees are bountiful figs, jujube, sugar plums, quince and fall pears. We have about a dozen chestnuts and walnuts on our young trees. And the pomegranates are nearly ready to squeeze and the persimmons aren't far behind. We can't wait for both! We've also added a few new chickens from a neighbor that was off loading some livestock and have another mama hen sitting on another generation. Art has already started plans to expand the hoop coop and improve the roost section to allow room for more and make space for rude/bully hens. And we caught a coyote carrying away one of our chickens. And let's just say his days were limited. The pigs got an upgrade to their pig chalet. They now have a secure dutch door and insulated walls for the winter and have moved out of the temporary house. We picked new one liter bottles for pomegranate season and plan on pasturizing some of the juice this year. We've always squeezed and freezed. If you have any tips about pasturizing large batches of juice for a long shelflife please let us know.
- Creating Memories
August has always been a very busy month for tourists and ex-pat Albanians that come back for the local wedding season. And this year was no different. We've had our first non-family visitor in a long time. She hailed all the way from New Zealand, a daughter of a friend and former colleague when I lived and worked in NZ. We took a few road trips to show her what Art likes to dub "The Kingdom of the North" aka Lepushe, Vermosh and Boge. We even took a dip in Lake Shkoder and explored the Rozafa Castle of Shkoder. All and all we loved sharing our homestead and experience someone's first time seeing the beautiful northland. Our nephew from Michigan was along for the ride and his presence helped even the playing field. I am most definitely not 22 any more and neither is Art but shh don't tell anyone. He still claims he's in his twenties if you dare ask. We spent another few days up north in the Alps with family and to avoid the hot temps rising in our valley. There they hiked a path they've started a few times in the past but never made it to the top. Art captured the highlights of their picturesque hike to Pojanice. Would you follow him? What scenery takes your breath away? We've experienced a shift of seasons in our garden. We've pulled the last round of beans, peppers, potatoes, but still have fresh tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers. And the second round of mountain tea is nearly ready to pick. We have a few apples almost ripe but the main source of fruit at the moment is our figs! We have been enjoying the daily bounty of fresh figs and are considering different ways to cook, preserve or store figs. We've made fig jams, dried figs, baked figs with some goat cheese and bacon. What's your favorite way to eat figs? Art has been pruning the pomegranate trees in the orchard. We've almost reached the time of year where less watering and more of a waiting game for them to ripen. The grapes sustained a bit of damage by a hail storm in June but what clusters we do still have are ripening to deep purple. We're on track for a late September/early October vine to wine harvest. Our hoop coop has reached a new occupancy status of 33. We've introduced two large hens, and three rounds of chicks. We have four mama hens and their chicks to move in but overall they've adapted to their new home quite nicely. Our cornelius cherries (thana) are ready to harvest. We typically collect the thana for a batch of raki but still have plenty of raki in the cellar so I believe the pigs will consume the bounty this year. Have you tried this fruit?
- Farm to Table Season
We've entered food overload season. We have mass production in the garden and are picking new veggies, herbs, and fruits everyday. Our plates are covered with fresh eggs, pork, beans, garlic, onions, eggplants, watermelon, cantaloupe, melon, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, spring greens, spinach, parsley, pear, peaches, or potatoes. This year we had root rot with our bell peppers but we have jalepenos! And our onions took a hit after a wetter than normal late spring. But overall a great year and amazing food. One of our favorite recipes here at Homestead Albania! We've also have been harvesting a massive amount of tomatoes. We've made a large batch of sauce and a smaller batch of salsa to can and save for the winter. And we also harvested our bush beans. Our stockpile is growing every week. We've tripled our chickens. Our mama hens have been busy and our need for additional secure housing became priority one. We are still on predator watch for our chickens as we found evidence of an attack in the orchard. Fox is a likely suspect. Art has been busy creating our own version of a chicken hoop coop with a run. We've chosen to place it at the back of the property that is shaded between our two mature mulberry trees. It's post season for mulberries and we'll be adding wheels to the coop so we can move it during season. What do you think? Next up is fig season and our grapes are maturing everyday. Plus the orchard is doing great. We've got pomegranates!
- June = Birds, Bees, and Butterflies
Starting off June with quite the show of nature. The bees investigating the pomegranate blooms and lavender, a new mama sparrow carrying her dinner to four new checks, new swallows, and the butterflies dancing over the wild flowers in and around the garden. The garden has transformed and we are actively picking potatoes, chamomile, onions, garlic, spring greens, mint, strawberries, spinach, plums, peaches, zucchini, and mulberries. We have loads of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and eggplants filling up the rows. And the melons, beans, popcorn, watermelons, mountain tea, and carrots are coming along nicely. If you ask Art, the cherries and peppers are the biggest disappointment so far this season. But we have planted jalapenos and they are doing well. It's been a rocky road in the chicken department. A few days after my last blog post we lost 11 chicks and 2 hens in less than a week. We did go on the offense and Art engineered two live traps to capture the predators. And so far three predators have been caught. We have a new mama hen that are hatching now. It's her first time. I counted four baby chicks this afternoon. Fingers crossed our live traps prevent any additional loss. We've found three turtles so far this month. We had six roaming around last year and hadn't seen them until now. And they love our mulberries. We hope they stick around again this year. The pomegranate orchard has transformed. We have trees with hundreds of flower buds and some with just a few but overall they've recovered from a late frost that damages a few of the trees. We look forward to see the continued growth and a you pick season! 800 Pomegranate trees and counting. In other news, we've been busy working on our audiobook catalog. And added Who Is Maggie and Twisting Hercules. Art and I had to the honor of narrating the books and are planning our next project. You can request the titles at your local library or purchase at your favorite audiobook vendor. We do have the MP3 or iTunes files available at our publishing website. KimMalaj.com Happy Summer Reading/Listening!
- It May Explode
We've entered the wait and see stage of spring. Everything is planted and it's been a wet week of rain and even hail. The transformation from just a month ago to now has been significant, with only a few duds. Speaking of duds. Our two mature cherry trees. We had beautiful flowers but ZERO healthy cherries. Another dud was a beautiful pear tree that dropped all the fruit. But we have some winners! Our peaches, plums, mulberries, quinces, nectarine, apples, thanas, and walnuts are doing wonderful. The vineyard has taken on new life and the grapes are starting to sprout. We have full shade in the hammocks under the vines in a manner of two weeks it filled in nicely. We have added to our chicken population since my last post. And another mama hen about to hatch another round this Friday. On average we collect about 10 eggs a day from our hens and are down to one rooster (for now). We do have a few predators stalking our baby chickens. Possible suspects include a falcon, pied crow, and an owl. Our orchard took a hit with a late frost but is bouncing back and showing signs of life. Art has been working on the grass between the rows on the sunny days. And our roses are blossoming and the fragrance our driveway is intense. And the wildflowers are not disappointing. And we found an old friend in the garden. Spike is back! We are collecting garlic, onions, spring lettuce, spinach, chamomile, and strawberries. Our bookish adventure has lead us down the audiobook path. We've narrated Who Is Maggie and have added that to our other two audiobooks at KimMalaj.com. We are currently recording Twisting Hercules.
- Bee Obsession
Our daily walks through the garden have been transforming every day. I've taken the camera along to document the homestead over the last five years. One shot I've repeatedly taken are the bees. Art waits while I click away when there is a few bees nearby. Here are a few of my most recent shots... We have delayed our spring veggie crop one week because we had a late frost that damaged some of our potatoes and a few of our pomegranate trees. Thankfully we waited because we ended up with hail with our latest rain showers. Next week after the showers we'll cover the beds and plant the veggies including tomatoes, various peppers, eggplants, climbing beans, squash, melons, pumpkins, cucumbers, popcorn, and bush beans. The orchard is growing quickly. Thankfully the late frost hit before the blossoms were due. They've recovered and are showing popping. We have baby fruits are popping the mulberries, pears, peaches, nectarines, and plums. And the vines are taking off. Over the last two weeks we have seen so much growth. Our baby grapes are popping too. We have a family of birds that has made a nest in the corner of the house but Art put together a new home and they took it on the first day. We've added two additional houses that we rescued from the mulberry tree from his uncles property. Hope to set up a camera or two to capture them soon. We've had one new addition to our pig squad. So we have Sancho, Pancho, and little Josephine. And we have two mama hens sitting on some eggs. They are about a week apart. Our current mama hen fended off a hawk that tried to take one of our baby chicks. We are collecting between seven to ten eggs and some tiny from our newest hens. The changes on our hillside have started to transform changing my love of fall to the spring! Photos are just two weeks apart! It's kind of magical! What do you think?
- Spring Awakens the Soul
We've finally hit the stride of warm sunny days and nights in the 10 day forecast. And the plants are showing their appreciation. March on the homestead is all about the transition. We've kicked off the season with our ritual morning walks to check the trees and plants as they come back to life. Art shared with me this morning that he recalls making the morning rounds with his grandfather Gjeto to check the garden and any game traps. I love that some traditions stay steady on this beautiful land we cherish. It's a rapid transition as the bare trees comeback to life with bits of color, buds, and some flowers are popping already. Pear, peach, pomegranate, cornelius cherry, quince, mulberry, nectarine, plum, fig, grapes, kiwi, blueberry, and apple. We've seen the new onions pop and have transferred the spring green and spinach starters to a newly constructed raised bed with a cover. We also recycled our tires and transferred some of our strawberries that were a little too crowded in our annual beds. And with a new season we have new additions. Our mama hen is tending to seven new baby chicks. On average our other hens produce 7-9 eggs a day. We celebrate my birthday every year with a day trip and this year I wanted to go check out the waterfalls in the Albanian Alps. And it did not disappoint. We shared lunch with a Belgium cyclist braving the climb on a windy and chilly day. Love meeting new people and hearing about their love and appreciation of stunning Albania. Art and I are also busy recording the audiobook for Who Is Maggie. I hope to have a release date coming soon. We have also prepped and trimmed all the pomegranate trees in the orchard. They are starting to show pops of red. If you haven't added Albania to your list of travel must see. What's holding you back?
- Early Prep for Spring
Here in northern Albania it's always a bit of a mood during February. This year the mood is blue skies and sunny days but super chilly nights and frosty mornings. Last year was cold, gloomy, and rainy. So we've taken advantage of the warm days and started the prep for garden a few weeks ahead of schedule. We harvested the remaining broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower then removed last years plants, support sticks, irrigation lines and the black plastic. We have spring garlic and onions thriving plus we have added a third row of 9 kg of onions. We are prepping the next row for potatoes. Art has extended our annual bed to transplant our blueberry and aronia bushes from the vineyard to the garden. Strategically to protect them from our chickens and we have 50 new vines to plant. Replacing the blueberry row with forty vines and planting the other ten on the far end of the orchard that will introduce a new pink grape to our four varieties. We have several plants thriving in the annual beds including lavender, mountain tea, a small bay leaf tree, rosemary, hithra (nettle), strawberries, mint, spearmint, and transplanted more chamomile. We are introducing black tea this year and maybe chickpeas again. We've also been tracking to new blooms in the garden. The asian persimmons have tiny fruits, the bright yellow cornelius cherry (thana) blossoms and the bulbs of the green plum trees. Spring is Art's favorite season here and our mornings will soon be busy inspecting each new flower on all of our trees. Art cleaned up thorny weeds in the orchard. We have inspected the trees and will do some trimming before they blossom. We've taken advantage of the nicer weather with a bike ride to the lake and a hike up the hill. Both add variety to our day to day routines and the views are equally as stunning. The lake ducks are always entertaining! We've also prepped the mulberry wood barrel and are officially aging our grape raki. Art built a beautiful wheeled cart to support the barrel. I am near the halfway point with my newest novel Twisting Hercules, a small town mystery. Coming this spring. Cheers!
- Winters on the Homestead
I, Kim, returned after a month away to a very different landscape. The mountains are capped with the fresh snow. The homestead has been trimmed of all vestiges of our fruit bounty. It's been picked for the season. Art kept very busy trimming the vines and trees, making raki from our grapes, and planting new hazelnut and plum trees while I was away. He cleaned up bramble and old trees along a fence line in the back of the orchard and made room for a few more pomegranate trees inside the orchard. Plus Art collected the remaining persimmons for a small batch of raki to brew in the spring. The garden producing a winter bounty of broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, peppers, fresh parsley, cabbage, and leeks. Over a year ago, we dropped off mulberry wood from the garden to be crafted into a barrel to age wine and raki. Art picked it up while I was gone and the pictures really don't do it justice. IT IS GORGEOUS! The finish on the wood is so smooth and shiny. Art says we may use this for raki only, we'll shall see. Next up on our agenda is to complete the cleanup of the vines and the rest of the trees. I insisted he waited to trim the large mulberry trees until I returned. It's back to rain for the week and we'll start recording the audiobook Who Is Maggie. Cheers!
- Seven years and many adventures...
Last year, we attempted to dry whole persimmons but the outcome was tossed in the compost pile. But with the purchase of a small five tray dehydrator it's been a game changer. We pick firm persimmons, peel, thinly slice, dry for just over 24 hours, rinse and repeat for the last two weeks. I'm obsessed. We have three full mature trees and we are racing the clock. Once they go soft we can't slice for drying. They are too gooey to place on the trays. They are crunchy, chewy, and sweet but not too sweet! I had to check the dietary effects and was very pleasantly surprised. Dried Persimmons are a good source of vitamin A to maintain healthy organ functioning and fiber to regulate the digestive tract. The fruits also provide small amounts of vitamin C to strengthen the immune system, potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, and calcium to protect bones and teeth. So I call this this a great snack alternative to anything sugar related. We've stored them in several large jars and I'm hoping they make it to spring but I make zero guarantees. And we are looking to buy a second dehydrator and will consider packaging these next season. Would you be interested in all natural dried persimmon slices? Our garden is in full winter mode. Hot peppers, cabbage and leeks are ready to be picked as needed. The spring onions and garlic are doing well and we have one giant pumpkin left. And we have four lemons, one orange, countless persimmons and few grapes left on the vines. Last week, we managed to squeeze the remaining wild tart pomegranates on a chilly afternoon and took a small hike up the hill. We also celebrated St. Nik's with a fireside roasted lamb. Art finally got to use his motorized rotesry set up. I'll spare you the pictures of said lamb. And this week, we celebrated seven years of marriage with a day trip up to Boge, Albania and some foraging of wild rose buds (kaça) for our tea collection. The road up above Boge was clear which is rare this late in the year so we drove up to a restaurant with an incredible view of the mountains, and had lunch. Art filmed part of the drive while I was driving. We enjoyed the snow but were happy to return home where snow is only just visible on the peaks of the mountains. It was below freezing the but views absolutely stunning. Art and I have dedicated our long winter nights to narrating and recording my novel, Who Is Maggie. We're new to this and are taking it slow but so far it's less terrifying than I originally thought. I've also looked at manuscript with a finer comb and found some areas on where I can improve upon in a future edition. But we hope to have it ready by spring. And speaking of books the cat's out of the bag. I'll be returning to Missouri to visit family and kick off a second book tour. Celebrating the release of Guide Time Inside, the fourth book in the Ember in Time Series. It's the final book of the series and closes the chapter on my first fantasy series. I look forward to seeing friends and family plus fellow readers on my journey across the pond. While I am away, Art plans to brew our fermenting grapes and make more raki on a few clear sunny days in the forecast. And of course manage all things homestead in my absence: our many chickens, dog Bobby, and our three little pigs. Yes, three. This will likely be my last post of the year but we have a busy year ahead so check back next month and we'll share our plans for 2023. Happy Holidays to your and yours. Cheers!
- Persimmon or Pumpkin?
As the holiday season kicks off across the pond we are still enjoying the last little taste of fall. Our fall meals change as the garden slows. We have cabbage, leeks, pumpkins, spring onions and garlic, broccoli, and a few peppers and tomatoes ready for picking in the garden. Fruit wise it's officially persimmon season. I like to bake with persimmons in replacement of pumpkin. Add a little cinnamon, nutmeg with the honey sweetness of the persimmon it's devine and reminds me of the flavor of a pumpkin chai. We've dried the persimmons this year and I am a fan, they are sweet and chewy. A fantastic addition to the pantry. What's your vote on pumpkin vs persimmon? We are nearing the end of pomegranate season, but the orchard is little golden beauties. Lemons and orange tree are nearly ready to pick and our asian persimmon bloomed. It's grafted on our quince tree so we'll see how that does over the next few months of cold damp weather. November has been full of little mini adventures. We had family visiting from the states and visited an area called Tale, Albania. It's little village north of the capital that sits on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. The water is clear and the sand is beautiful. It has a few condo projects coming up but is rather undeveloped. What do you think? Would you invest in this view? Our next mini adventure included a movie premier starring my nephew Mateo. We graced the red carpet, met the cast, and enjoyed the movie, even shed a few tears. The movie is based on a true story and it captures the essence of Albanian Hospitality and part of it was shot up north in Boge near us. He gave a wonderful performance and this was his second big screen appearance. We were very proud. Our annual fall foraging trip to the Mokset hills did not disappoint. We came back with a trunk full of wild tart pomegranates. It was a beautiful sunny day and we had some wandering company. And we juiced about ten liters of juice and have had to some rearranging of the freezer to stock up all the bottles. Our next adventure included a trip to Velipoje, Albania another town set on the coast to pay our respects to the family of our sister in law. It's off season and takes about fifty minutes from our front door to the water. During summer season it would likely take two hours but I digress. We checked out the new additions to the boardwalk and enjoyed a long week on on the beach all to ourselves. We've discussed the investing in a beachside apartment or condo over the years but they're locations are close. We can make a day trip and sleep in our own beds. But the idea of running out and going for a swim any time does sound amazing. The beach from the boardwalk to the water is almost 90 meters at the widest section and it's 14 km (8.6 miles) long. Water is clear and the sand quality is fantastic so between Tale and Velipoje it's two amazing options to enjoy the coast. And last weekend we stopped by the small mountain village of Razem and captured the last of the fall foliage and a few grazing horses before the rain. We've been busy this month and still have a few days left. I am happy to announce my novel Guide Time Inside, Book Four in the Ember in Time Series is with my editor and will be out in December. And for those following my author's journey. I will be starting another mini book tour in December 26th through January 19th to celebrate the final series book and an upcoming mystery book, Twisting Hercules. I'll post the dates and locations soon. From our homestead to yours, stay well and enjoy the holidays.
- Fall Garden and Prep for Winter
Here at Homestead Albania we do a fair amount of canning. And this year we stocked the pantry with various versions of tomato based sauces, pickled various peppers, eggplants and tomatoes, made a few rounds of mulberry and grape pekmez, fig and plum jams, made plum and pear compote, dried chickpeas, beans, popcorn, figs, plums, quince, lavender, mountain tea, rosebud, mint, chamomile, spearmint, rosemary, basil, thyme and parsley. And added various jars of honey from local beekeepers. The deep freeze is full of meat, blueberries, pomegranate juice, and figs. I know I am missing a few items, but I think you get the idea. It's packed and ready for some long winter nights and cooler days. One of our great mama hens added another ten baby chicks to our flock this week. Egg production averages about four to six a day. In the garden, we are still harvesting eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, squash, melons, watermelons, mountain tea, brussel sprouts, and broccoli. We are still awaiting the cabbage, leeks, a few pumpkins plus the spring onions and garlic are poppin. We picked all but six pomegranates in the orchard. We've confirmed that the turkish variety ripen first and they are sweet. The wonderful variety need a few more weeks to ripen but we did taste test one and it has a semi-tart flavor. The davendish variety trees are slowest to mature. We only had three poms of this variety and we are waiting to pick for another week or so. And we did pull the sweet domestic mature pomegranates from the garden this week. We squeezed 13 liters of fresh juice. And this month we granted life long wishes for two visitors, Jennifer and Enola. They stopped by and toured our little corner of the world. We took them up the hill to give them a birds eye view. They were giddy excited to take in the views. They also picked a few grapes and got to live out their 'I Love Lucy' dreams of stomping grapes with some Albanian music playing. We danced and laughed a lot. It was amazing sharing their joy and seeing our homestead through their eyes. Albania offers US citizens a one year visa free stay. This attracts remote working/retired travelers to make Albania home for a year at a time. We've had 17 visitors stop by over the last few years. It's always great to share a bit of the history and seasonal goodies from the homestead. We harvested a second round of grapes for wine. It took two days to collect and crush another 220 liters of grapes to ferment. So far we've pulled about three liters of grape juice (mushti) with a kick and it's amazing so far. High praises so far for the wine this season. Art finished the cellar project just in time for more wine. A fresh coat of paint on the walls and floor. Custom steel and wood shelves add the storage we need to expand our wine production and store other canned goods. This week we've been blessed with a visit. Art's sister and brother in law are here just in time to enjoy the beautiful sunshine. Cheers to an amazing fall with bright warm days and average temps in the mid seventies (23°C).
- Four years, many wines ago...
We've picked, crushed, smushed, and fermented our çylek grapes. Yesterday we filtered and drained the wine from our 500 liter and 50 liter barrel of mush to begin the racking process. We moved the wine to a 200 liter barrel inside to rest for a few days and then we filter the wine into another barrel to rest again. The mush will rest for raki to brewed in few weeks. We repeat this process every few days to remove the muck and sediment from the wine for the first seven to ten days. Once the wine stabilizes we will move the wine into our oak barrels to age. Tasting the wine at nearly every stage from sugary sweet grape juice, bubbly sweet grape juice, smooth grape juice with less sugar, and on day 14 it taste more like wine and less like juice. Young wine is always a great introduction for people that are new to wine. It's got a lot of the great flavor without the punch of a mature wine. This round will yield about 60 bottles of wine. But we aren't done with our season. We will be harvesting the rest of our ripened grapes this week to start the process over again. If you are nearby come by and we'll let you stomp some of the next round. The grapes is not the only thing that is ripe. We've picked several pomegranates and squeezed out amazingly sweet juice from our garden and even several from the orchard. And our quince tree is full and ready for picking. We will be peeling, slicing and preserving the quince in the form of jam. The garden is still producing beans, peppers, eggplants, brussel sprouts, watermelons, and pumpkins. Our garlic, onions, cabbage, and leeks are growing fast. The remaining producing trees are the olives, walnuts, jujubes, persimmons, orange and lemons. I fly our small drone a few times a month to capture the changes. I put together a few shots over the last six months. We live in a beautiful bowl where our sneezes and laughter echo around. The mount behind the house has some magical views. Today marks four years here in Albania. One of the many questions I hear often, is why Albania...my dear people, why not! Our beloved property has evolved in many ways over the last four years. One project underway includes the destruction of an old stone shed built by my husband and his father in the 90s. We did consider keeping a few walls but the condition is just too far gone. We are planning a steel-framed building in it's place to store our wine and raki equipment, and additional cold storage for the pomegranates. And one day accomodations and tasting room. Just need to sell a few more books. Happy Fall!
- September Brewing
In the last two weeks, we have made four rounds of plum jam, plum preserves, grape mushti (grape juice with a kick), grape pekmez (molasses), fig jam, dried hundreds of figs, and today a batch of thana (cornelian cherries) raki. Never a dull moment on the homestead. The grape pekmez made for a very sticky situation. We've made it from mulberries over the last few years but never tried to make it out of grapes. IT WAS THICK! We picked the ripest grapes, smushed, strained and slowly simmered down to a thick honey texture. I enjoyed the flavor. Art enjoys the mulberry pekmez a bit more. We only made about six small jars but a worthy experiment. And taking full advantage of our grapes we made some mushti. We picked nice juicy grapes and smashed into a small barrel. We let it rest for two days and then strain into a pitcher. It was taste sweet like grape juice but has a bit of a kick. We've gone a bit plum crazy here this year. It started with 5 kg of plums. Then another 5 kg and another 5. After three rounds of jam we preserved another 3 kg of plums. And just this afternoon I picked up another 6 kg. I called not my jam. I'll update next month on the jar count of plum related items we have stored for the winter. Side note, we have several plum trees that aren't quite mature, so hopefully next year most of the plums come from within the walls of our garden. And the figs! It was delicious season for our figs. And Art tried several different versions of drying with just the sun vs a new dehydrator or a combo of both. The fresh figs sliced in half placed in the dehydrator took about 18 hours, dried evenly, but I enjoyed the texture of the whole fig for two days in the dehydrator. It's a soft chewy instead of a taffy tough chew. After drying, we bag and freeze for another 24 hours. This helps prevent any pests that may have burrowed there way in from living. We place the dried figs in jars with a bay leaf and store in our pantry, which is filling up really fast. We do share a fair amount with my sister-in-law here. And the jam was a success. We've tried a few variations of fig jams, with lemon juice, without. And this year we choose without lemon. It's yummy! We walked through the orchard to inspect the pomegranates. Art picked one and it's sweet although pretty small. I would say we are weeks away from a bountiful season of juicing coming our way. In between all the brewing and canning we took advantage of the cooler temperatures to enjoy the lake. The Bar Restorant Syri i Sheganit is about a ten minute bike ride and the views never get old even with the addition of a few quacky ducks. It adds to the ambience of one with nature. The garden is still producing peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, watermelons, cucumbers, beans, and pumpkins. The cabbage, leeks and brussel sprouts are progressing along. Cooler temperatures are in the forecast plus a bit of rain. Our trees that are pick ready: apples, figs, plum, kimchee, and a few olives. Next up the pomegranates, quinces, persimmons, orange, and lemon. Vine to wine season in the next few weeks. Cheers!
- A tasty month...
August always comes in with a variety of colors and changes throughout the homestead. Our fig trees are on a daily full five gallon bucket harvest mode. We are attempting several versions of drying our figs to keep up with the vast bounty. It takes two days with our little dehydrator and about three days to sun dry. The garden is still producing peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes, okra and beans. We've picked a few apples and we even harvested a second round of mountain tea and lavender. Pumpkins and watermelons are still ripening. We even popped our first round of popcorn from the corn this year. We have a few stalks that need to ripen but the rest are drying. Art and I collected the thana (cornelius cherries) for raki. They will ferment for about 45 days or so before we can distill. The pomegranates have doubled in size during the last month. The orchard looks more like trees and less like bushes. We have about forty trees with fruit this year. Next year we should see that number to be around a few hundred. The walnut, olive, plums, persimmon, quince, dates, orange and lemon trees are still ripening. Our daily walk around the garden includes taste testing the various grapes ripening throughout the vineyard. We have the luxury of living close to many beautiful sites like the Albanian Alps, the beautiful Lake Shkoder, but we also live near the border of Montenegro. We enjoy the view of Montenegro mountains from our front porch. Montenegro is a small country with less than half the population of Albania. They have several coastline towns and villages along the Adriatic Sea. We've visited a few places over the years like Kotor, Port of Montenegro, Ulcinj, and Budva. Last week we stopped by the Port of Montenegro to visit family and we were treated to a view of Montenegro via sea. We spent the day cruising the coastline and checking out the beautiful villages, old churches, forts, and castles that still remain. Day trips from our homestead add variety and the options are endlessly dreamy. I love living where I can experience new food, culture, languages, ancient villages, and still sleep in my own bed. Has Albania been added to your must visit bucket list?
- Exploring to beat the heat
July was crunchy hot. So we turned on the irrigation to water the trees and the garden and headed north a few times this month. First up was Theth. The valley of Theth sits high in the southern end of the Malesi e Madhe region of Albania. We've been near Theth a few times but finally crossed over and snaked our way down to the Theth valley. The road is new so the pavement was great but it's a bit narrow. So why here, you may ask? It has family owned guesthouses, rivers, waterfalls, blue eye spring, and many mountain trails. A popular hike is from Theth to Valbona or vice versus. It's a long day hike connecting the two small valleys with amazing views. We've not completed the trek but it's not off the list. If you go to youtube and type in Theth or Valbona there are hundreds of videos of hikers making this trek. We visited the blue eye but overall agreed it was a bit to crowded. Cross at the top before the switchbacks on the way down between Boge and Theth. And this last week we made two trips north to Vermosh and Lepushe. The drive there is MAGICAL. It never gets old. The trip is about an hour and half. When you climb up from our valley you pass through the village of Rapshe and stop a scenic lookout. It over looks a canyon with a beautiful a river snaking between the Albanian Alps. You literally drive down parallel with the river as you wind your way through stunning small villages. If you come through in early spring or late fall the waterfalls are countless. Including one we've admired from the road and finally stopped to get a closer look. We've nicknamed the spring fed waterfall the Crying Giant. In Vermosh the hike of choice was summiting Mount Jeshnic, a grazing valley high in the Albanian Alps. A steep hike with incredible views and lots of shade to rest and take it all in. His family stayed at the Peraj Guesthouse. It's family run and they served farm to table AMAZING meals. It has four little cabins, areas for camping, RVs, and even a few rooms in the guesthouse. We met several travelers from Germany and Netherlands. All who were very impressed by Albania. And a few days later we made the drive back up to Lepushe. Art, our nephew and four of our nephew's friends hiked to summit Mount Vajush. We completed this hike two years ago and I decided to sit this one out. I stayed back at the guesthouse Bujtina Lepushe. I worked on my fourth book in the Ember in Time series and enjoyed the beautiful views and cooler weather. Art and my nephew captured some incredible footage of their hike. Back here at the homestead. We are sauced out! After a week of picking, chopping, cooking and canning we have 47 jars of sauce. We made several varieties but my favorite was heavy on the garlic and basil. We are still picking tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, a second round of mountain tea, yellow pod beans, watermelons and even picked a pumpkin (10.7 kg) yesterday. We pulled the last of the bush beans and will be picking the chick peas later this week. We have figs, grapes, and thana (cornelius cherries) are ripening daily. And yesterday we picked the last of the pears. And the apples, sugar plums, pomegranates, oranges, lemons, quince and persimmons are still progressing nicely. The orchard had a second round of growth in the last month. We have three different varieties: davedishe, hicanzar, and wonderful. And the hicanzar (a Turkish variety) are pretty full with new fruits. Compared to the other two varieties that peaked with less than five fruits. And Art and I did a mini excursion at the beginning of the month to the south of France and Barcelona, Spain. We enjoyed exploring Nice, Monaco, Cannes, Marseille, and Barcelona. And Barcelona has topped my list of my favorite European city. It was extremely easy to get around, cost was reasonable for food, hotels, and it has something for everyone. The sea, beautiful parks, amazing architecture, vibrant live music, beaches, and the food all so good! Highly recommend second to our little corner of the world. A few shots of our walks around. Hello August...we hope you are cool.
After a week away and several jars of sauce, pickled peppers and eggplants completed by my sister-in-law and Art's mom we returned to harvest the potatoes, bush beans and the rest of the onions. After a full day of braiding the onions and pulling potatoes we've encountered a storage capacity issue. We have more than doubled last year's production and are exploring using the new pig chalet (we haven't moved them in yet) for food storage until we complete another option. A new building to replace the crumbled one in the back is getting higher on the to do list each season. And today we pulled the ripe pod beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, okra, peppers, eggplants and pears. It's about to be sauce central for the next few days! The watermelon, popcorn, and pumpkins are still growing. We will have huge pumpkins this fall! The thana (cornelius cherries) are ripening to a bright red and the apples, kimchi (dates), lemon, orange, persimmon, plum, pomegranate, and quince are holding steady. What's next on the eat now calendar? Figs! The vines are thriving and we expect a sweet wine season. We have a few very hot days coming up and hope to finally get up towards Theth for some cool mountain air. The photo below I snapped with the drone last night. The highest peak is mountain we summited a few years back but the small hills to the left are on my list to explore. Who's game? Check back soon for a sauce update.
- Sweet Garden Haven
It's beginning. We have buckets of fresh peppers, cucumber, eggplants, potatoes, yellow pod beans, and tomatoes coming from the garden daily. We've picked the last of the chamomile, lavender, mountain tea, and pull the garlic. We laid down the stems of the onions and slowly picking okra. Pumpkins, watermelon, squash, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower are still growing. Our bush beans and chick peas are grown and maturing. Our meals are fresh and filling! We are picking pears daily and our fig seasons are right around the corner. The spring figs are ripe now. DELICIOUS! The vines are thriving under and the quality this years is amazing! And the pomegranates in the garden and in the orchard are doubling in size nearly every week. And this week we were blessed six additional chickens. We made quick day trip this week and discovered a new corner of this beautiful country. Stopped by and visited a new business and did some drone work. Blue Beach Restorant is has 101 umbrellas/lounge chairs on powdery perfect sand leading to the clear water of the Adriatic Sea. It has a full service beach bar and pizzeria coming soon. Free shaded parking and Wifi. A little corner of paradise. And then we popped over to explore Cape Rodon. It's been on my list for a while. And it gave me serious New Zealand vibes. The rolling hills backdropped by the blue Adriatic Sea. We stopped for brunch at Saint Michelle. It's building new villas with some absolutely stunning views. We have earmarked this area for future stays. And then we made it to the tip of the cape and hiked to the Rodon Castle, explored a bunker café and the Saint Anthony church. And then made it dinner with some family at lovely seaside resort called Arbeni. It was a long 2.5 hour drive home but SO worth it! Are you considering a trip over? No, let me give you a few reasons to add it to your bucket list minus all of the above. Visa free entry for US citizens for 365 days and 90 days for EU/UK. Easy permanent resident visa process if you choose to stay. Hiking or admiring breathtaking, mountains, waterfalls, roman era ruins, canyons, beaches on the sea, lakes, rivers, castles, bunkers, and it's a tenth of the cost compared to our neighbors Greece and Italy. Still no? The culture of hospitality surpasses any country I have lived in or visited, the language is beautiful but fun fact, most kids under the age of 40 are fluent in English and Italian. And the WINE, so GOOD. So pack a bag or three and pop on over. I promise it will not disappoint!
- Summer Bounty
The garden is providing us healthy hearty meals everyday. We spend our morning tour picking cucumbers, peppers, onions, eggplants, potatoes, beans, basil, spinach, green lettuce, tomatoes and the fresh eggs from our hens creates a wonderful breakfast omelet. A combo of the veggies is added to a lunch/supper soups and a fresh salad. And it's officially pear season! The spring pears are ripe and crisp. And we got a little sticky this week. Collecting several buckets of our white and black mulberries to smash and strain. We made another around of pekmez aka mulberry molasses. And we handpicked a few mulberries to attempt preserving via drying along with some pears, an apple, and a banana. After 10 hours they were still plump and not dried at all. But the pears, apples and bananas were fantastic. We may try once more but we are on to other projects. I am dubbing this as the 'Pig Chalet'. Art poured the foundation a few weeks ago and this week we put up the walls. He plans to keep a side of it for storage and the other side as a new shelter for the pig (our current one backs up to the building we are knocking down soon). The roof, interior dividing wall and doors are still a work in progress. The grapes in the vineyard seem to be doubling overnight. We are anticipating quality and ample size grapes this fall. The other fruit and nut trees are progressing along well. We have a collection of tea in the garden this year including a native mountain green tea that we've foraged while hiking over the last few years. It's second attempt grow it and it's blooming. Even the bees are enjoying the bounty. We look forward to our 'breaks' in the hammocks under the vines. It's a great chance to relax and recharge. So we purchased a third to share with anyone that may want to stop by and join us. And drum roll please! We have two new mama hens with a total of 16 baby chicks this week alone. That brings the total of new chickens to 26. Art built two chick condos to accommodate the hens and their flocks. We have a third hen scheduled to hatch her flock at the end of the month. So a third condo is on the to do list. And for the first time in ages I am writing again. Guide Time Inside, Book Four in the Ember in Time Series on progressing along. No expected date of release so far but fingers crossed I'll have it ready before Christmas. Happy Summer days here, stay cool and well my friends.
- June came in HOT
We are officially in our window of 95 (35°C) and sunny everyday for three months. Now that's tolerable most days because of the low humidity. So shaded areas aren't too suffocating like our hammocks under the vines. We also have more bounty ripening every day in the garden. The cucumbers, peppers and potatoes are garden fresh and super tasty. So the sun isn't all bad. And we have over a 100 tomatoes ripening so bring on the salsa, sauce and canning recipes. Our food forest continues to grow including a new addition lavender. This was our third year in a row trying and this year it was successful. The northern regions of Albania are major provider of medicinal and essential oil herbs. There are fields of lavender, sage and other herbs all through our area. I have been monitoring our garden's growth each month with a series of shots taken daily or everyday. Check out the progression of last month alone. And the vineyard is thriving. The grapes are the size of the tip of my pinky and growing. The orchard has new blooms and blossoms. We are doing weekly watering and have lost count of the fruits. So fingers crossed we will have some new pomegranates from the orchard. But our pomegranate trees in the garden are FULL. And the bees are so HAPPY. Mulberries are juicy and plump. We still have another week or so to shake and collect. And our project mode is in full mode. Art is building a new piggy pin and two baby chick condos. We have two mama hens sitting so more baby chicks soon. And we released two audiobooks: Castle of Teskom and Art's book Northern Albanian Folk Tales, Myths and Legends. He narrated the entire audio. They are available today on your favorite audiobook platform or on our publishing website www.KimMalaj.com. Plus the anniversary second edition of Recover or Yield dropped with new content including new cover, chapter art, fantasy map and more. Hardcovers coming soon!