Pickling!

Two summers ago I went to a fermentation workshop at Blooming Glen Farm in Bucks County, PA with Amanda O’Brien of Phickle.com. I really enjoyed the workshop and learned a ton. I left feeling inspired and determined to eat only fermented veg from then on. But I ended up killing everything I tried! My cabbage kraut got dry and moldy and my whey-pickled carrots were just gross. I enjoyed the pickled beets we made during the workshop, but since I had been keeping them in the microwave {uncovered}, the jar ended up overflowing and pink pickle juice was everywhere. I started to think pickling wasn’t right for me.

But this summer I was determined to try again. I attended another fermentation workshop in February, this time hosted by the local chapter of the National Ladies Homestead Gathering, and something about hearing some simple recipes and tricks from women just like me made it seem 100 times more doable.

Bormioli Rocco Fido Hermetic Jars

The most important thing I learned that night was to use the swing-top, Fido brand jars for everything. The rubber gasket allows built-up CO2 to escape, and that positive pressure means no air {or mold} can enter the crock. This summer I have made at least 8 batches of pickles in my Fido jars with zero mold. I did a test batch in a regular mouth mason jar with an airlock {like this} with the same results.

Cabbage Kraut JuiceThe second most important thing I learned: If you’re mashing up some cabbage, and you don’t have quite enough water squeezing out to cover the cabbage {even after you’ve added a weight}, you can add more salted water and still have positive results. It seems pretty obvious to me now, but my very first attempt at sauerkraut, way back in 2012, was such a dry, dismal disaster I threw it out and swore I was done with homemade sauerkraut. That’s three summers of no fresh kraut. But my kids decided they love sauerkraut, so I had to give it another try. For my first batch of the season I had such an old head of cabbage, I didn’t think any amount of mashing would yield enough liquid. So after mashing and squeezing as much as I could, I just topped it off with salty water everything turned out just fine.

IMG_5164I’ve been using the Sour Pickles recipe from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. He calls for “2 to 3 heads garlic, peeled,” but even with my “epic” garlic harvest this year {approximately 60 heads}, I don’t have enough to do that, so I usually end up doing 5-6 cloves, and 3 Tbsp. dill seeds, plus a “handful” of oak leaves {supposed to keep ’em crunchy}. I fill a half gallon mason jar with water and 6 Tbsp. of salt and shake to dissolve. Once my crocks are packed with veggies I pour the salty brine over everything. Sometimes I need to mix up a little more, but if I have extra I just save it until the next batch. I’ve used the same recipe for pickling cucumbers, beets {peeled and sliced}, and green beans {raw} all with delicious results. {Read here about why a cloudy brine is OK.}

Overall, I’ve been really excited to get pickling this summer and encourage you to give it a try!

{OvO}

Puppy Update: 1 year

The “puppies” turned one this week! Here are some of the highlights of their first year:

Both collies participated in a Herding Instinct Test in April and performed very well. While we have not had a chance to get any more formal training, we brought home two new lambs that weren’t keen on going to the barn at night, so we started letting the collies help us get the sheep into the barn. Both dogs were eager to help, and were quick to pick up on what we were asking them to do. Unfortunately, their eagerness means they often over-run the sheep. Both dogs in the pen at the same time seems a recipe for disaster, but even having the not-working dog outside the pen seems to increase the energy level too much for my comfort, so we’re going with one at a time for now.

Kep & Findlay have shown a great interest in “helping” with the chickens as well. They do not seem inclined to harm the birds, but their energy can get out of control and has, on more than one occasion, led to the “rolling” of a hen. I have deliberately asked each dog for help with the chickens from inside the pen one time. For a while few of our birds insisted on “roosting” under the chicken house instead of inside it and since we needed to move the house the following morning, I needed all the birds inside. I was able to get three of the four inside by myself, and Kep helped me catch up the straggler. He was definitely excited but really seemed to be listening to me. On a second occasion, after a chicken refused to cooperate following a chicken-house-move, I took Finn by the collar and walked with him behind her, saying “Easy, easy..” His presence alone was enough to gently encourage the wayward hen to return to the flock.

After losing a few chickens late last summer, presumably to airborne predators, we have not lost another since the boys have been on full-time duty. We did have an accidental chicken death in the fall when one of our younger hens left the pen and ran into the barn. All the dogs chased her and she got squeezed between some old barn boards and the stone wall. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but it was our 12-year-old dog, Hickory, who had the last contact with her. After getting Hickory out, I was able to send Finn into the tight space and encouraged him to “get the chicken.” He brought her out just far enough so I could grab her and I asked him to give her to me. He dropped her at my feet. While Kep & Finn are probably too old to be considered for full-time chicken guardian duty, they have done an exceptional job keeping our chickens safe from outside the pen.

The collies have separately or as a team, killed, retrieved, scared off or otherwise annoyed: 5+ moles, 1 groundhog, 1 squirrel, skunks, coyote {twice}, deer, hawks, crows, vultures, bears {suspected}, owls {much to my chagrin} and 1 tom cat. They have proven to be useless against mice, so far. 😦

Kep & Findlay have been wonderful with our dogs and our children. They are still a little too interested in our two outside cats, but don’t bother the indoor cats at all. Finn is the more sensitive one, reacting like his feelings are hurt when I’ve reprimanded him. He also doesn’t like to be touched from behind. He’ll ask for space and hasn’t shown any true aggression, but he really, really doesn’t like to be brushed or have his nails trimmed. In fact, he’ll put his mouth around my hand {or the comb I’m using} to dissuade me from grooming him. Unfortunately, his very, very thick coat tends to get matted and is constantly full of burrs so we’re working on it a little at a time, trying to make it a positive experience for him… Kep, on the other hand, lets me comb his entire body and trim his nails. Finn’s coat is also much thicker than Kep’s, and I do prefer Kep’s easier-to-maintain coat.

Kep is more biddable, probably because he has bonded more closely to me. Findlay is not nearly as willing and in fact can be a bit of a bad influence – he is much harder to recall and tends to run off {a bad habit he learned from our older dog, I am sure}. While I know focused training could help with some things, Finn often looks right at me when he’s disobeying, as though daring me to get angry. He just doesn’t have the instinct to “help” that Kep has. Fortunately, we have a lot of space, so when Finn runs off he’s usually still on the farm, but he does chase the car off the farm {I have to put him in his kennel now when we leave} and has recently started going next door to bark at my neighbor’s penned hunting dogs. Kep chased us for a while – I could tell he wanted to stay put but was persuaded by his brother to disobey – but seems to have grown out of it. Kep almost never misbehaves if Finn is not around.

Findlay is an absolute love when you’re not messing with his fur or feet. He “hugs” and is an incredibly gentle “kisser,” just barely touching you with his nose, and always with a closed mouth {unlike Kep who is an exuberant and toothy kisser}. Finn has never met a stranger, which makes him a great greeter on the farm. In fact, one of our biggest challenges has been keeping him away from our rental cottage – he keeps an eye on the doors and makes a beeline whenever he sees someone step outside. Finn will run up and waggle all over the guests while his brother is barking his head off. It’s a bizarre scene to be sure…

Bottom Line: We have decided to neuter Findlay and leave Kep intact. It was always our plan to choose one of the pups to breed, and I think Kep is a more complete package – at least for what I’m looking for in a farm collie.

Our plan for the next year: 1) Get more sheepherding training and practice and 2) Find a female to start a family with 😉 We’ll definitely have our hands full!

{OvO}

Two pups on one rock
Two pups on one rock
Kep {2 Months} and C
Kep {2 Months} and C
Puppies {2 months } and Hickory
Puppies {2 months } and Hickory
Two Puppies at the Bonfire {3 Months}
Two Puppies at the Bonfire {3 Months}
Finn {4 Months} and O
Finn {4 Months} and O
Kep {7 Months}
Kep {7 Months}
Kep & Findlay {8 Months}
Kep & Findlay {8 Months}

Finally sewing again…

It’s been about a week, but I was so proud of the dress I made for O’s birthday this year, I just had to share it. For her 5th birthday, she wanted a new birthday dress. I don’t know, maybe the last one I made is getting a little small…?

O's Birthday Dress (2yrs)
O’s First Birthday Dress (2 yrs)
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Still going strong 3 years later…

Anyway, I was happy to oblige. As you know, I’m a huge fan of Amanda Blake Soule and her blog, SouleMama. Trust me when I tell you: a craftier, more thoughtful-gift-giving mama you will never find. In need of the perfect crafty gift for my little one, I headed straight over for a bit of inspiration. I was drawn to a pattern very similar to the one I made in 2012: Geranium by Made by Rae. I like that the pattern comes in 18 months all the way to size 12 and has a few variations {sleeve options, gathers or pleats, etc.} which means I can essentially sew the same dress for the next 6 or 7 years! I’d say it was totally worth the price.

I stopped in at The Stitchin’ Post to inquire about where to find the best fabrics for sewing such a dress, and the proprietress, Erin, directed me to The Quiltery in nearby Fairfield, VA. The Quiltery is fully-stocked with so much fabric your jaw will drop. They have a huge selection of Civil War reprints, at least 100 different batiks, plus doo-dads and what-nots enough to sew anything your heart desires. They have sewing clubs and quilting competitions and all kinds of great things happening all the time. After about an hour, I picked out a few options, coming back again and again to the 1930s reprints in the back room, and finally settling on the very first fabric I’d picked up.

You know a dress was meant to be when you get home and, realizing you need four matching buttons, you reach for your grandma’s old jar of {almost completely white and ivory} buttons and find FOUR vintage purple buttons that are a) just the right size and b) exactly the right shade of lavender. Good looking out, Gurn. 🙂

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IMG_5371

Now, Amanda has, at least once, made two of these dresses {TWO} in one day {in ONE day}, but it took me two and a half days – I cut everything out during the kids rests on Day One, and sewed it all together on Day Two then re-vistited The Stichin’ Post for a quick tutorial in button-hole-making and sewed on the buttons on Day Three. In my defense – the dress was meant to be a surprise so I could only work on it during kid-free {read: sleeping} time. I was up very, very late the night before O’s big day, but I think it was well worth it. Don’t you?

The birthday girl!
The birthday girl!

PS – waiting a week to post this means I can tell you that she did in fact wear the dress for 4 days straight. ❤

{OvO}

Event Update :: Blue Moon Bonfire

We are really looking forward to our Blue Moon Bonfire on Friday, July 31! With just under 2 weeks to go, we are putting the final touches on the “plan” for the day. If you’re going to be in the area and would like to attend we would love to have you! Call, email, or click here to RSVP.

We are planning to have some live music and will be encouraging audience participation, so be prepared to play and/or sing along! 🙂

We hope you’ll join us for a great time on the farm!

Guests are encouraged to bring:

A dish to share
{dinner, side or dessert}

A comfy chair
{or blanket}

A tent
{if you want to spend the night}

Friends and family

Guitar, Mandolin, Harmonica, Banjo, Ukulele,
Pennywhistle, Spoons, Bones, Saw, Washboard, Voice…

Moonshine
{for a little tasting}

Please do not bring:

Your dog

Cigarettes

Rain!

blumoon

Recipe: Zucchini Muffins

‘Tis the season of the Zucchini….. Here’s a great recipe we made this week as a special birthday treat. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did! And here’s a quick link to another of our favorite zucchini recipes…in case you’re as covered up as we are.

Don’t forget: If your garden is growing faster than you can eat it, consider donating some items to your local food pantry or community kitchen! I’m taking some zucchini to The Community Table this week!

Zucchini Muffins :: A great birthday breakfast!
Zucchini Muffins :: A great birthday breakfast!

Zucchini Muffins

Ingredients
3 C. grated fresh zucchini
2/3 C. coconut oil
1-1/3 C. coconut sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking soda
3 C. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl combine the coconut oil, coconut oil, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the grated zucchini.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Stir these dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture. {Optional: Add 1 cup of nuts and/or 1 cup of raisins or cranberries for a little umph!}
  3. Coat each muffin cup in your muffin pan with a little butter or coconut oil. Use a spoon to distribute the muffin dough among the cups, filling them completely.
  4. Bake on the middle rack until muffins are golden brown, and the top of the muffins bounce back when you press them; about 25 to 30 minutes. Test with a toothpick or bamboo skewer to make sure the centers are done.
  5. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove muffins from muffin pan and allow to cool another 20 minutes.

*Note: If you are adding walnuts or dried fruit you are likely to have more batter than what is needed for 12 muffins.

Ladies Homestead Gathering THIS WEEK!

The Rockbridge County Chapter of the National Ladies Homestead Gathering is getting together THIS WEEK at OUR FARM to discuss water bath and pressure canning! The group will be preparing some canned peaches to take home, so if you plan to join us, make sure you bring a 16oz Ball brand canning jar with a NEW lid and a ring. The chapter will provide the peaches, the canners, etc.

Please come whether you have canning experience or not! We’d love to have you!

Thursday, July 16
Meet & Greet at 6:30pm

Discussion and Canning Demo 7pm

Come early for a tour of the farm!

LHG - Logo Small

Red Wing Roots Music Festival 2015

RedWingLogo3The kids and I had an amazing time at Red Wing Roots Music Festival this weekend. It got off to a rather rocky start but improved dramatically once we were finally settled in at our campsite.

The morning of our planned departure I received no fewer than 14 yellow jacket stings. At 6:45 am. It was awful. One of our Old-Time Scotch Collies, Kep, alerted me to something near the sheep/chicken pen, so I put on my boots and went with him to check it out. I never got my eyes on anything when suddenly I felt as though I’d been shocked by the electric netting around the sheep/chickens. It seemed like a plausible explanation because I was standing only a foot or so away in very dewey grass. I concluded that my fence was in perfect working order when, instead of finding relief by walking away, I continued to receive sting after sting. I have no idea where they came from, but they got me and Kep multiple times. Apparently, the only downside of Bogs Boots is that they trap bees. And while farming in a skirt offers great climate control {and is super cute}, the rollover waistband of the particular skirt I was wearing that morning trapped a bee inside which stung me on my hip. Ouch. Oh, and one got caught in my bra. Not awesome. I took some Advil and Zyrtec and felt “better.”

Sweet Kaya Girl
Sweet Kaya Girl

Unfortunately, the day did not improve. We had an appointment for our 13-year-old Golden Retriever, Kaya, for 8:30am for some routine-ish blood work. She had been a little “off” for a day or two, and we thought we’d take a quick peek to see if anything stood out. The veterinarian did a full physical on her, and of course the technician weighed her. The tech said she was 70 lbs. Since I had spent 1-2 hours brushing her just two days before and noticed how bony she was, I was instantly concerned. My girl has had her bouts with….fluffiness…but this was different. Farmer Tripp reminded me to ask for a urinalysis to go along with the bloodwork, and when the doctor returned to the room with the ultrasound machine in-hand, I knew something was wrong. On the screen was a 5-6 centimeter mass on my girl’s spleen. You can’t tell much else from the U/S, so he recommended going to Roanoke for a more in-depth U/S, an aspirate {where they suck up a little bit of the icky tissue to see what kind of mass it is} and radiographs. Our quick morning visit had already stretched to over an hour, but we hopped in the car and headed south. We got to the VA-MD College of Veterinary Medicine Roanoke Referral Clinic around 11 am and dropped her off for an hour or so. The doctor there was in constant communication with me and with Farmer Tripp {a veterinarian as well}, and before we finished lunch our worst fears were confirmed. Kaya had cancer in her spleen, her liver, and her lungs. Suffice it to say the prognosis for a 13-yo Golden Retriever with cancer in three organs is nil. We left hoping we would have “days to weeks” with our girl. I was in shock. I was terrified. I was heartbroken. And, to make things 10 times more awkward, I had 2 full-weekend passes and a 3-day camping pass to the Red Wing Roots Music Festival. Not going meant giving up over $300 in ticket costs, not to mention letting the kids down. I thought about just staying home, but knowing we’d only be about an hour away, Farmer Tripp encouraged me to take the kids, and said he’d let me know if anything changed.

So we went. We came home and packed the truck and headed out. We were, of course, about 5 hours later than I’d hoped to be, but I figured it would be easier to get there in the dark than get the kids motivated early enough in the morning to get there before the music started at 1pm. Turns out I was right, but still….

The directions on the festival’s website were incorrect, so I lost about 30 minutes backtracking around the beautiful countryside before arriving at the gate at 9:00pm. The lovely gate attendant told me that they had stopped checking people in at 8pm. I told her I figured there would be a cutoff but since I found nothing about a cutoff on the website, had forged ahead anyway. She apologized for the “confusion” and said we could camp in the parking lot. Um, sorry, hun, but I have my two kids in this truck and we’re going to camp in the spot we paid for. “Let me see what I can do…” Fortunately, the powers that be finally decided to shine a little light down on us and we were granted entry to the park.

Setting up went about as well as setting up a tent in the pitch black with no one to help you can be, but I managed. We finally got in bed around 11pm.

We woke up bright and early and after breakfast and a few campground neighborhood introductions, made our way to the festival. For the next 3 days we enjoyed music and food and made lots of friends – even some from our hometown. The festival takes place at Natural Chimneys Park in Mt. Solon, Virginia, and aside from the amazing beauty of said natural chimneys, there’s a bold, beautiful river running through the campground that the kids {and I} got to enjoy. It was crazy, crazy hot and humid the entire time, and it rained a lot, especially overnight Friday. I didn’t think I’d mind the rain, but since I broke the tent while setting up Thursday {d’oh!}, there was a big section of not-quite-taut tent wall that collected rainwater and the floor {and sleeping bags, and pillows, and clothes} inside were soaked in the morning. I was surprised to find I was okay with that – after hanging my sleeping bag to dry under our EZ-Up shade – and kept rolling. The kids complained of the heat, and complained of being bored. In fact, I thought I would have to send them home Saturday. They wished for more toys/activities/games/whatever. Thankfully, they made some friends and ended up having a blast. They even cried when it was time to come home Sunday evening {in the rain, of course}.

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Our first show of the weekend…Mandolin Orange ❤
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The best way to beat the heat at Red Wing
Two kids having a sweet drink on a hot day. <3
Two kids having a sweet drink on a hot day. ❤
Some kind of super hero...
Some kind of super hero…
My little fashionista...
My little fashionista…
Hula Girl
Hula Girl
ENO Hammocks saved our weekend....
ENO Hammocks saved our weekend….
Momma, O, Sara, Sarah, Aoife
Momma, O, Sara, Aoife, Sarah
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“You mean I can keep it??” 🙂

My favorite performances: Mandolin Orange, Sara, Sarah & Aiofe, Punch Brothers, and The Wood Brothers.

We met folks who drove from Wisconsin {17+ hours}, Canada {14+ hours}, and Chattanooga, TN {7+ hours} for the weekend. And we met folks who lived in the town of Mt. Solon and got to go home every night to a clean bed and a shower…

Having been to only one other music festival previously, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Red Wing. There were some things that definitely bugged me {bad directions, camping in a farmer’s corn field full of thistle and poison ivy, super-tight performance schedule, no musician’s workshops} and some things I really appreciated {lots and lots of families, amazing line-up, fantastic food vendors}. I heard the “premium” camping sold out in 10 minutes, so I’ll definitely try to get a site next year, but will probably settle for Z-Lot again, and see how the 2nd time goes. I’ll also be keeping an eye out for a pickup truck camper, travel trailer, pop-up or camper van so we can stay a little drier…maybe.

{OvO}

 

In the Garden :: May 30

In the Garden 2015 May 30

Things are growing pretty well…for the most part. The onions are still completely choked with weeds, but the garlic is looking really good. I pulled a few garlic hoping to give the remaining plants more space, so we’ll see…

I harvested the teeniest little carrot the other day, while I was working with the tomatoes. These were actually seeds I planted in the fall, hoping for a “winter garden,” but nothing {no-thing} grew. I was very surprised to find these little guys growing when the weather warmed, and even more excited when I harvested a full-size, grocery-store-looking carrot this week! We haven’t eaten it yet because it’s just too awesome. I’ve been “growing” carrots since we started gardening in…2010?, and I’ve never {ever} harvested a dinner-worthy carrot. Accident or not, it’ll be good eats.

The asparagus didn’t look harvest-able for as long as I was hoping. We got maybe 8 pounds? We ate what we harvested and had asparagus every few nights for about 2 weeks. That’s probably normal but still a little disappointing. I was especially concerned when it didn’t seem like any more would grow – so we wouldn’t have anything to leave through the fall to do its thing. Fortunately, there’s a pretty decent stand of asparagus morphing into tiny trees out there now, so hopefully our patch isn’t doomed…

The raspberries should be ready to harvest soon. Lots of fruit growing. I’m concerned about the nasty fruit flies we had last year… I’m also disappointed that even though we worked and worked to tame the canes last fall, there is so much new growth you can barely even see the mature canes, better yet harvest from them without drawing blood. I’ve found a fair number of wineberry canes around the farm, so if we can harvest a good amount from them I may not keep the raspberries. {If it’s even possible to get rid of raspberries – they put out runners 6+ feet away!}

Some of our tomato starts are actually still alive. Most didn’t make it, but a top dressing of chicken house shavings seemed to help a lot. The starts we got from the farmer’s market are way more full and already setting fruit.

My Sugar Snap Peas didn’t germinate very well. Only 50% even though I’m pretty sure I put two seeds per hole… The four plants that are growing look really great, and starting to set some pods. We’ve actually never grown this tasty snack, so I’m just keeping my fingers crossed for something edible.

I planted black beans again for drying. I had good luck with the plants in 2012 but didn’t plant enough to actually eat any. Practically speaking, I think I would need to plant hundreds of row-feet to grow enough to eat for the year. If these produce we’ll save some for planting next year and enjoy one special beans-from-the-garden meal sometime this winter. I’m still not sure if planting in the ground will be an option for us here – there are SO many rocks! My pasture management plan is focused on #1) producing healthy animals and #2) building up organic matter. {More on that later.}

That dag-on Winter Rye is still persisting! It even put out seed this month! The kids and I hacked it back and I gave it all to the sheep, hoping we wouldn’t have any accidentally seeding itself in the garden. I think I’ll cover the last remaining bed with cardboard and compost and let it sit for a while. Ugh.

I started my first potatoes this month! I’ve never grown potatoes but I had a rather large bag of spuds sprouting in the pantry to I went ahead and put them in the ground. I had very little hope for anything, but they are all {ALL} growing green leaves and looking really good! I honestly can’t believe it. I *think* they are New Potatoes, but I’m not sure if that just means young potatoes, so who knows what we’ll end up with.

How’s your garden growing?

Recipe :: Mayonnaise

I tried making homemade mayo a few years ago and was relatively pleased with the results. I got a creamy, kinda yummy, soupy spread that sort of resembled mayo. Plus, it was only recommended to keep for a few days, and we just couldn’t eat it fast enough.

This spring, I discovered a recipe for mayonnaise in Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions that seemed easy enough. {I’m telling ya – that book is so full of recipes I am convinced I will never have time to prepare them all! But, if you’re curious, here is a link to a blog devoted to doing just that:  The Nourishing Cook} And, since I’ve been making yogurt at home, I finally have a reliable source of non-flavored whey. I’ve made this recipe at least 4 times since February, and I’ve been very happy with the consistency, the flavor and the shelf life. Adding the whey extends the expiration date from two weeks to several months and makes the mayo thicker.

mtMyFjcqV79EaQGn_zj1NNQBecause I don’t care for the flavor of olive oil mayo, I usually prepare this recipe with half olive oil and half sunflower oil. Also, I use my immersion blender in the cup that it came with, and when finished, it fits perfectly in one of those Bonne Maman jam jars!

Ingredients:
1 whole egg, at room temperature
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1 tsp. Dijon-type  mustard
1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. whey (optional)
3/4 – 1 cup extra virgin olive oil or expeller-expressed sunflower oil or a combination
generous pinch of salt

Instructions:

  1. In the cup of an immersion blender, combine all ingredients except oil. Process until well blended, about 30 seconds.
  2. With the blender running, slowly pour in the oil.
  3. Taste and check seasoning. You may want to add more salt or lemon juice.
  4. If you have added whey, let the mayonnaise sit at room temperature, well covered, for 7 hours before refrigerating.

Enjoy! {OvO}