Saturday, December 31, 2011

Girl Meets Truck

Recently, my beloved Bennie Car started having issues. As in, $600 minimum per incident, per 4-6 week interval, issues. Poor, poor Bennie Car. He saw me through my first chicken pick-ups, and processing days (ohhh, the poo that went everywhere...), and dogs and road trips to the American West, and moving my mom to St. Louis from New Hampshire, and many, many long days driving the backroads of Wisconsin headed off to work. I love Bennie Car. But Bennie Car was threatening to leave me stranded with strange, mysterious hybrid-computer-meltdown-tantrums in the middle of the Wisconsin prairie, which is really not nice in any relationship, car or otherwise. Thus, Bennie Car and I have been contemplating an amicable parting of the ways: him, headed to a new life as the happy city-dwelling car for a green-loving person in need of a used hybrid vehicle...and me, to green pastures and wide-open sunsets behind the wheel of a vehicle designed to not only haul my sorry butt around all corners of the earth for work, but ready to tackle moving everything from hay to critters to many cubic yards of dirt come the weekend.
This afternoon, after emailing and phone conversations with the nicest car salesman guy I have ever met (Chad at Swant Graber in Barron), I met my new friend Lucille Laverne. She's a lovely little thing, who looks like a lady and kicks ass like a roadhouse barmaid. (Technically, she is a Dodge Ram 1500 quadcab, but she likes to be called LuLa after you buy her a fancy drink with an umbrella in it.) She even came with a trailer hitch. Good lord, I am in love with a truck...I'm even buying her shiny pink things to make her look "pretty". I did feel sad bidding my Bennie Car good-bye, it was definitely closing the chapter at the end of a really good book. But with my new truck, I don't have to worry about how I'm going to get things here or there, or am I going to make it to work...or home from work?? Can't tell you which option of not making it places is worse, really. And yes, my gas mileage is going to be different--but the way I drove Bennie, I wasn't really doing great in the MPG department to begin with. (Bennie averaged at best 30 MPG. LuLa should be around 26 MPG.) Besides, paying for gas ALWAYS sucks, no matter what car you drive. Someone should really make an engine that runs on water, or spit.
Today's adventure marks the culmination of a longtime dream, owning a nice big truck capable of doing many, many jobs at a moment's notice. It's something I have always wanted: a big truck, complete with fuzzy pink steering wheel cover, fuzzy pink dice on the rearview, and a pair of fabulous Audrey Hepburn-esque shades perched on my freckled nose. A long time ago, someone told me that "girls can't handle driving trucks" when I shared my dream of having a truck to drive around in. Well, LuLa and I just plain ol' disagree with that statement. Watch out, boys, and don't choke on my dust.
Happy New Year, everybody! Here's to fulfilling all of those amazing dreams.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hope Springs Eternal

Ahh, my Max. A good dog is a priceless friend to have...even if he happens to be mildly obsessed with my rabbits. Ever since the event that will be forever known as The Great Bunny Escape happened a few weeks ago, Max is convinced that small white rabbits are just going to appear, any time he stands near the bunny barn. This is where he hangs out, after watering the various trees or clothesline post: staring vigilantly at the sides of the rabbit yard. After staring at this side, he trots over to the other side. And sits. And stares. And stares some more. (He's very good at staring. Do not challenge him to a staring contest unless you are prepared for a fight to the death.)
I don't have the heart to tell him that the mini-Houdinis have moved on to greener pastures, a.k.a the Freezer. The newest batch of babies haven't mastered the art of escapism yet, and hopefully will not conquer my latch-metal-spring-clip-plus-carabeener-clip-thingie and make the leap to freedom. All this staring does have the side benefit that Max no longer spends all of his time looking across into the backyards, very much like a furry stalker, waiting for his friend Daisy to appear, and then commencing a loud, barky conversation with her. Waiting for rabbits is much quieter, even if the eternal vigilance is a tad unnerving.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Can you believe that all this has appeared in my mailbox over the past two weeks? I found four (four!) today, alone. If you don't garden, it is hard to describe the rush of excitement you feel when another garden possibility falls into your lap. I have to constantly remind myself that I can only grow so much, in so many places, on this backyard farm-lette. And, that not everything will grow in this climate. Yet. I live in hope that someday I will be able to grow my own coffee on bushes around the yard...or bananas. Ooooh, what about lemons?? Sigh. Well, not yet. Maybe when I hit the lottery and can afford a heated glasshouse. For now, I sit with pen and paper and plans. Only 84 days 'til spring.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas to All!

What a nice day here on the little farm-lette! Everyone got treats from Santa: the chickens got hot multigrain cereal, the rabbits got dark leafy kale. Max and Phoebe scored new squeak toys (a goose for Max, and a pheasant for Phoebe). The cats collectively got a dozen new catnip mice and some kind of furry barbell...oh, and a catnip goose. I think we had a kind of wild poultry theme going on in the stocking gifts department. As for me, I've spent the day wandering about, making Christmas dinner (it's nearly done!), and never making it out of my fleece lounge pants. It's glorious, I tell you, simply glorious. I've even managed to call/skype nearly all my family, and spread Christmas cheer nationwide. I feel like a one-woman holiday pajamas. It could be the laced-coffee talking, but this is a very nice way to spend the holiday. I highly recommend it.
Here's hoping everyone out there has had a nice day, too. Happy Christmas!
P.S. Rudy the rooster found his voice today. Aroo-arooo!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Taking Off the Pajamas

Warning: Some photos included in this post are graphic, depicting what is involved with harvesting meat rabbits. So if you don't appreciate this kind of thing, don't read this entry.
If you are reading on, don't say I didn't warn you. Be prepared for a soap box lesson at the end.
Today was a typical cold December day, with an unexpected mini-blizzard whirling in to coat the world with a thin layer of icy whiteness. A couple good friends came by to learn the fine art of how to take the pajamas off a rabbit. Really, that's what the French call it. It's not a bad description for how you peel off your cozy fleecy bed garments when you undress a rabbit and make it into meat.
The teenagers had reached roughly adult dimensions, and Big Mama was needing to realize her full potential (versus being a free-loading, kit-eating giant rabbit). So it was into the snow to tackle the finger-numbing work of harvesting meat animals in the winter. To be honest, it's better than in the summer, as there are no flies and no worries about needing to keep things cold to ward off spoilage. And all in all, it went pretty darn quick. I am very much liking the faster dispatch offered by my high-powered BB gun. The addition of dedicated pruning shears really sped up certain parts of dismemberment as well...anyway, for those of you who don't want to know the gritty details, we'll leave it at that. Just to set the scene, here's a couple of pictures of the day:
Dispatching the rabbit
Taking off the Pajamas
K & A learning the ropes
So I know some of you out there reading this blog are going to be thinking, man, Cris has reallllly lost it this time! Why post pictures? Ewww! And you're right, it's a little out there. I mean, we're all supposed to be content with not really knowing what goes into making our dinners, we're all supposed to want to just know the sanitized version of events. So yes, I could have left it as "I took off the rabbit's pajamas". All of you would have had a nice chuckle and thought oh that Cris, what a nut.
Here comes the soap box lesson.
The reality of what happened today, though, is as much a celebration of an animal's life and contribution to this little farm as it is a dramatic, hands-on taking control of life and how you live it. And that kind of event is something that I think needs to be shared, even though it might make people uncomfortable or unhappy to know it happened. When I harvest an animal, it's an affirmation of life. That animal serves a purpose; it wasn't demeaned or abused or forced into a role that it wasn't intended for. It had a happy life, even if it was only three months long, and it's sacrifice will go into the running of this little household machine in a big way. Not only will it become a wonderful meal, hopefully shared with friends and family, but the other animals on this little backyard farmette that eat meat will also get to benefit from the harvest in the form of offal and left-overs. The fur coat that kept it warm and healthy, will eventually be tanned and made into a product (such as mittens or a nice hat) that can be sold for a modest profit, that will go back into keeping this little operation going. Even the parts that can't be used for food or clothing will go back to making this place work, placed under a future tree in the future spring, that will nourish the roots that grow the tree that makes the fruit (that eventually feeds the rabbits in the future).
So yes, I hear you when you say, Cris, this harvesting of bunnies is so...brutal. And I agree, any death is hard. When it is your hands that deal the final blow, that is a hard, hard moment. But that rabbit's life contribution is going a long, long way into the future, and that, my friends, is what I find honorable and true and simply amazing. If only all the animals we consume were treated to such a fine death as the one I helped to deliver today.
I'll get off my soap box now.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Let the Planning Begin!

It's the most wonderful time of the year...
Yes, that is correct: The garden catalogs are pouring in! I love it, for just when the nights seem long and dark, along come the seed catalogs filled with a siren-song promise that soon, spring will come and once again, I can be outside playing in the dirt. I have plans for garden expansion everywhere: front yard, side yard, in the back orchard, and in the back garden. One of my nefarious plans is pictured here: Yes, you guessed it. It's a hoophouse. (Otherwise known as a low-tech greenhouse.) I am ridiculously excited about it. This year will be the year that I successfully grow bell peppers, watermelons, and hot peppers galore. Since I put in the privacy fence (Ahem. For full story, see July 2011), I now have a lovely sheltered area that will hopefully create a pocket of warm, wind-protected, growing-lusciousness where my more delicate veggies can flourish.
I am also organizing a Seed Share event in the area, where hopefully my fellow gardeners and I can trade spare seeds, as well as band together to save on shipping and get happy seeds from happy, non-GMO sources, and save the planet one square foot garden at a time. So if you happen to be hanging about on Saturday, January 14th, come on over to the village community center and check out your seed ordering options.
Jeez louise, listen to me. Am I going a little nutty over garden plans or what?? Ah well, I can't help it. Green & growing things speak to me. Besides, it beats drinking too many Gingerbread Man cocktails and losing brain cells to online Mahjong marathons. See? Everyone would be soooo much happier if they gardened, too. Maybe I should start a fan group. I think I need a tee-shirt slogan. "Veggie Vigilante"? "Garden Goddess"? "I Heart Dirt"? Maybe I'll just stick with my bumper stickers. I'm waiting on a great one, free from the American Farmland Trust: "No Farms, No Food". You betcha.

Monday, December 19, 2011

'Twas the Week Before Christmas

Around here, the week before Christmas is (thankfully) pretty peaceful. All the people-gift shopping is done, the decorations are up, and my Pandora christmas crooners radio station is playing softly in the background. I went simple on decor this year, partially because I am limping along one-handed and didn't want to haul heavy boxes in and out of the house, but in second part because I am living with the Destructo-Twins (aka Emily and Ernest the kittens). So far, they have managed to unplug the lights around three windows four separate times, stolen treats out of the stockings, knocked over the little Charlie Brown tree and broken the plastic ornament three times, yanked off a tablecloth, taking down books, a lamp, and assorted chocolate candies that they then ate and barfed back up. I shudder to think what would be happening if I had an actual full-sized tree, complete with garland, lights and fancy-dancy ornaments on it, in the house. There wouldn't be enough fishing line or duct tape in the world to keep it upright...

I do have a couple of items on the pre-Christmas shopping list still to pick up, though. And here they are:

1. Cream of Wheat (for chickens' Christmas feast)

2. More butter (because it is Christmas, dammit)

3. Figure out meat for Christmas dinner (harvest, or buy a roast?)

4. Check level of available alcohol products

5. More hot cocoa. Don't forget whipped cream!

6. Kale or similar greens (for rabbits' Christmas feast)

Oh, it is a festive season here, I tell you! Usually I am traveling away at this time of year, but this year I am staying put. I couldn't find anybody who was available to hire on to watch the dogs, cats, chickens and rabbits (and the house, too), so here I stay. I am a bit sad to not see my family, but I am also excited about the idea of waking up in my own bed on Christmas morning and celebrating with all the creatures that depend on me. I can actually open stockings with the dogs (which is SUCH fun!), treat the cats to new catnip delights, and rustle up some fancy treats for the chickens and rabbits to thank them for their continued partnership on this little farm. Oh, and I can indulge in perpetual laced-coffee all morning knowing I don't have to go anywhere. Hooray for the Holidays!

P.S. The little injured rabbit didn't make it. Poor thing...I hate it when creatures don't get to fulfil their purpose. Sigh.

P.P.S. Check it out--a second dozen eggs from the ladies! Contributions from Sookie, Twoey, Fifi and Pearl.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chores in the Rain

It's hard to believe that just a few days ago, I was chasing white rabbits through snow and ice in the backyard. Today? Well, there's a bit of ice left in spots, but all that snow has melted away in the steady, cold downpour that took over this afternoon. All day long, I lugged gear in and out of school buildings doing my illustrious day job. (My advice for working with recalcitrant five-year-olds? Bribe them, baby. It gets the job done.) All day long, I fought the battle of water versus dry socks. I wanted to curl up somewhere with a book and a blankie, and maybe a nice mug of mulled wine. Okay, it wasn't all grim. I did go get my nails done. I am a farmgirl with a french manicure, dammit. After all that fun, and a long dark and foggy drive home, I got to check on the flock and herd.
The chickens were more than ready to voice their complaints over the wet day they had endured. Poor Rudy looked like he had stood sideways in a powerwasher. I consoled them with leftover chili and crumbled stale biscuits. The rabbits had a drier day inside their barn. They were all very excited to have their nightly dinner of kibble and hay. I am a little worried about one of the new kits. Starting a couple days ago, I noticed her holding her head sideways. Now, it is completely cranked to the side, one eye up and one eye down. She was still able to get into the water and feed this morning, but this afternoon she simply wandered in circles and bumped into her mother and siblings. When I picked her up and held her, it feels like the muscles and tendons are stretched tight, pulling her head to the side with no reprieve. She doesn't seem to be lacking spunk, though, so I'll see how she is in the morning. If she appears to be suffering, well...I'll take care of her. But if she has an injury but is doing okay, I'll let her be. I've had chickens lose toes, parts of beaks, an eye, and still be the leader of the pack. Animals have a greater tolerance for mishaps than we humans do, so generally I let them be until it seems like suffering is ensuing. I'm hoping this little bun continues to keep her "joie de vie". Stay tuned on the adventures of rabbit-herdsmanship.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rabbit. It's What's for Dinner.

Yes, I know. Some of you will read the title line and be complete squweed out. Others, however, will be intrigued (I hope), and will be tempted to try this surprisingly easy, Julia Child-inspired recipe. I call it, "Rabbit ala Cris".
Rabbit ala Cris
You will need: one rabbit, cut into 5-6 pieces (depends on size of the rabbit); 1/3 cup flour; salt & pepper; smoked or Hungarian paprika; olive oil; 2 Tbsp. butter; ground tumeric; bay leaves; dried minced garlic and onion; cayenne pepper; thyme leaves; 1 1/2 cups wine of your choice.
Mix flour, 1/2 tsp. each salt, pepper, and paprika. Toss in rabbit pieces, shake to coat. Heat olive oil and 2 Tbsp. butter in a cast iron frying pan. When hot, brown the floured rabbit pieces on both sides over medium-low heat. While you're doing this, put wine in a small sauce pan (I used a nice, $10 merlot. Just remember, always pick a wine to cook with that you would also drink). Add 2 bay leaves, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, salt, ground turmeric, dried onion & garlic, and thyme leaves. Bring wine to a boil, whisk well to combine all spices. Place the browned rabbit into a crockpot, pour wine sauce over. Turn your crockpot on low and cook for 6-8 hours. Serve on a bed of mashed sweet or regular potatoes, rissoto, or rice. You can reduce the wine sauce and make into a slightly gravied sauce to pour over your rabbit. If you prefer, this can also be made in a dutch oven in a low oven (300 degrees) over the course of an afternoon. You MUST cook rabbit low and slow; it really shines after a good long braising.
You'll be amazed at how far this will go. A rabbit, which weighs about 2-3 pounds dressed out, is a very dense, delicious meat. You eat far less of it, and feel very content afterward (trust me--I ate a 1/3 of this roast, and I feel like I ate a giant turkey dinner!) How does rabbit taste? Well, it tastes like dark meat from a home-grown, happy turkey. (I say this because factory turkeys taste like sawdust and sorrow.) And with this recipe, the finished roast is tender and moist and literally falls onto your fork in joy. Yum-o.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Escape from Bun-Catraz

It was a calm, cold night. The stars were shining in a clear sky, temperatures hovering around 5 degrees and dropping steadily. I was headed for my to-bed routine, and had just let the dogs out for last pee. Suddenly, Max the labradoodle was baying like the Hound of the Baskervilles. No amount of yelling from a cracked door got him to either "shut IT!" or come back to the door, so there was nothing for it: out I tromped wrapped in my fuzzy robe and rubber wellies. Turns out, some idiot (ahem) left the door of the hutch open, and the four mostly-grown rabbits had braved the three foot drop and made a run for freedom. After dragging a very reluctant dog inside, I spent the next half hour catching and corraling very happy rabbits. I got peed on not once, not twice, but three times, as I scrabbled underneath the other rabbit hutches to catch very fuzzy, very devious little white rabbits. I felt like Alice on bad acid. Really bad acid that smelled like rabbit pee. (I know: ewww, right? Just say no to drugs, kids.) Finally, everyone was incarcerated once more, and I was able to shower my reeking self and head to bed. (Note: Rabbit catching is NOT an activity recommended in the recovery process after arm surgery.)

When I set off this morning, it was with comfortable knowledge that all hutches were secured and no inmates would be leaving Bun-Catraz without official notice. Imagine my surprise when I got home and found all four rabbits had escaped, again. Somehow, my innocent-looking bunnies had morphed into miniature Houdinis and managed to wiggle the lock open on their cage. A carabeener clip and stretchy chain cord should hopefully fix that issue, but still...they needed catching. So in I dove, risking pee-baths and trying not to fall into snow. After 45 minutes, I managed to catch and re-jail three of the incorrigibles. They seemed happy enough, and commenced goring themselves on hay and kibble. But Inmate #4 was made of different stuff; no amount of coaxing and fancy footwork would woo him to capture. The final rabbit repeatedly mocked me with his fast rabbit feet and insouciant twitching nose. He was confident that freedom was his, bwah hah hah hah...

So I got out my trusty sidearm.

He's now safely incarcerated in The Freezer. Goes to show you, nobody outruns the long arm of the law, not even when its gimped up and recently destitched. Take that, cocky rabbits everywhere.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Three Egg Day

Today is a monumental, historic day in the (short and convoluted) story of "Life on 1/3 Acre Farm". It is the day that I found three (yes, three!) eggs in the nest box when I got home in the afternoon.
I know, to many that would not be of epic historical proportions, but I have been virtually eggless since July. It has been a long, long journey to get to this point, I tell you. Sigh. But here it is, at long last. I will actually have the ability to make an omelet per day, should I have a hankering to. I can bake cookies and cakes with abandon. Bundts as far as the batter can flow. Poached eggs, scrambled eggs, eggs-on-toast, toad in the hole, bacon and eggs, eggs and sausage. Boiled eggs, baked eggs, eggs a la Benedict. Oh, the quiches we shall see!
From the top going clockwise, we have eggs contributed by Fifi the Cuckoo Marans (dark dark brown), Sookie the Speckled Sussex (light brown), and Pearl the Araucana (turquoisey-green). Ain't they a bee-you-tee-full site, folks? Three girls a-laying, three more to go. I do not, however, expect any eggs to be produced by Rudy the Rooster (unless he turns out to be transsexual, which has happened on this lit' farm in the past. It's a wild world around here, I promise you.) A round of scratch grains and fridge gleanings all around, bar keep, and a good night to all.
Keep 'em coming, girlies. Mama needs to fry her up some grub.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Let It Snow

Last night, one of those snowfalls came that makes everything look like a classic Christmas card. It started just as I went out to do evening chores, feeding the buns and settling the chickens for the night. Everyone was happy with their kibble, particularly the rabbits who seem very enthusiastic about the grassy bale of hay I just opened for them. For those of you who thought rabbits were solely interested in your garden produce, let me assure you that domesticated rabbits are all about the hay. This one has big leaves of some sort of plant (goldenrod, maybe?) that they can't get enough of. It was terribly peaceful in the bunny barn, with the snowflakes hissing against the roof and walls, and the buns munching into their hay and kibble. The newest kits have emerged from the nest, and look as fuzzy and cute as three and a half week old baby rabbits can look. Even their teensy red eyes are adorable. In another week or so, they will graduate to the grow out pen and their older siblings will graduate to the, err...ummm...well, to the freezer. You have to trust me on this, but they have grown past the cute baby stage and have reached the nice-looking-and-quite-tasty-too stage. Once my hand/elbow heals up a bit more, it will be a harvest day of sorts around here. (I warn you of this coming event, so you can skip that chapter when it comes up if you want to.)
Still only one egg in the nest box per day, but Sookie the Speckled Sussex and Pearl the Araucana have been sighted checking out the digs so perhaps the coming days may see additional eggs arriving in the nest box. Of course, if the days stay cloudy and gray and cold like this one was, I may see no additional eggs until March. No crowing from Rudy the rooster yet, and I hope that holds off a bit too. Somehow, when the windows are sealed and the heaters are blasting, I feel more confident that no grumpy neighbors will complain over a mild cock-a-doodle-doo now and again. Besides, sun up isn't until almost 8 Am now, and in a few more days it will be even crowing won't be waking anyone but the worst slugabed up at that hour. Around here, nobody seems to sleep quite that late (more's the pity)!
It is snowing again this evening, and I should head to bed. My 2-week medical leave ends in the morning, so it's back to work with a vengance come 6 AM. Augh. I'm probably going to have to shovel, too....where is my live-in sherpa when I need one?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back in the Nest Box Again

The girls have apparently taken my many lectures on the evils of freeloading and failure to fulfill a promise. This morning, a bright sunny end-of-November-cold kind of day, I wandered out and handed over the obligatory two (two!) scoops of scratch grains and refilled the water supply per usual. The girls were dissatisfied greatly with the ice on their water bucket, and muttered evil things under their beaks as I knocked out the ice scum and apologized. I seem to spend a lot of time apologizing to the current girls in the flock...
In any case, when I lifted the lid of the nest box bin, I wasn't expecting to see anything but the yellow plastic "encouragement" egg looking back at me. Imagine my delighted surprise when I found this dark brown beauty tucked into the straw! Yes, folks, that's right: Someone finally got the guilty bug and laid me an egg. I have my suspicions that it is from Fifi, my lovely Cuckoo Marans hen. That breed is known for laying deep chocolate colored eggs, and this one is of a definite cocoa hue.
Yes, I apologized to the girls for lecturing them on not laying for me, before checking for eggs. I don't think they accepted it.
In other chicken news, Thing One has been renamed Rudy. He is growing into a fine young rooster, with lovely irridescent green tail feathers and exceptional wing plumage. I hope he doesn't turn out to be noisy, because I would rather like to keep him. I have visions of hatching my own chicks come spring "meat bird" season! (Thing Two is hanging onto her name, appelated as Twoey. She isn't impressed.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Tale of the Little Blue Cooler

Today was one of those cold, gray days that are Mother Nature's way of telling you that winter is at hand. Snow was predicted (and as I type, it has actually come and appears to be staying), and the whole day felt like it was waiting. As for myself, I was layered up, hat on head, and headed out the door to my friends' place, Living the Dream Farm.

Khaiti and Andrew are this simply wonderful couple, and I am happy to say that since I met them this summer, they have decided that I am a friend. It's always nice to meet people who also like growing their own food, and who don't think I am insane for having a wee little farm in my backyard. Ahh, kindred spirits unite!

Anyway, today as Turkey Harvest Day (otherwise known as the Saturday Before Thanksgiving). One of the nicest things about buying a turkey from Khaiti and Andrew is that on-hand participation is strongly encouraged. So when the time comes for your turkey to fulfill it's destiny, you get to help with all parts of the process. Plus, the turkey is nice and happy and eating turkey nummies (in my girl's case, yummy black mud) right up until they get tucked into an old feed bag. It was rather ingenious actually--my bird got gently stuffed into a cosy recycled feedbag with her little neck sticking out, and I snuggled her for a bit until the throes of passage were over. (Yes, I know. And I hope you are all appreciating the euphemisms I am using. Death is a part of life, but some of you out there get a little squweed out when I start talking about how my dinner gets made. It really was a nice process--would be that everyone's purpose in life was so clear, and death be so calm...)

I learned today that plucking turkeys is sooooooooooo much easier than plucking chickens or ducks. Give me a turkey to pluck any day. I met some really nice folks too, who were all there gathering their turkeys. All in all, it was a really nice morning. But errands and duties called, so I had to pack up my little hen and head back home. (I made it just before the storm started.) My morning adventures were done, and now the main course for my Thanksgiving dinner is waiting in the little blue cooler, preparing to make a grand, butter-basted debut in full glory. This really is the way to celebrate a holiday based on thankfulness.

Here's to good friends, local food, family coming to share in a good meal, and honoring my once-a-year turkey. I hope your holiday is full of good things, too!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Packin' Heat

It was time. The stars had aligned, pay day was at hand, and I was headed to a gun shop. Before the day was out, I was going to be the owner of a weapon of mass destruction.
Well, sort of. I was on a mission to buy myself a bad-ass BB gun.
You could smell the testosterone before you even opened the door. The walls were lined with animal heads with freakishly shiny faux-eyeballs. Everyone seemed to be wearing some combination of flannel, Carharts, and ball caps (dear lord, it was my lumberjack fantasy come to life.....) Shelves lined with scopes, firearms, cases of bullets. There was a gynormous display of Old Dutch potato chips, side-by-side with a display of jerky. It was overwhelming. I think I now understand what men feel like when they accidentally wander into Bath & Body Works.
When I wandered in, there was a discussion going on consisting of how many points respective bucks had had in years past, and how badly the current speaker was stretching the truth. It took them a minute to notice that there was a girl in their midst, but then they saw me. All conversation stopped, and suddenly not only the glass eyes from the ceiling were staring at me. It was one of those somewhat-tense moments, where you wonder if you've fallen down the rabbit hole and perhaps running away might be the better option. (Thank god they were deer hunters, not cannibals, or I would really have started sweating.) Finally, the guy behind the counter cleared his throat and asked "Er...hem...can I help you with something ma'am?" So I explained I was looking for a BB gun. And some guy in the back near the corn stove piped up "Your boy going after some tiny deer, honey?" Har har har. (Did I mention I had conveniently forgotten that it is only three days before gun-deer season starts? Ooops.) I waited for the laughter to die down, and said calmly "Well, no, honey. I'm planning on shooting them myself." Snorts, har-de-har, whoooeeeee she gotcha, Bobbo! Oh funny lady that I am. I followed this up with "Actually, I'm raising rabbits and I thought I could kill them faster with a tiny bullet, rather than standing on their necks." Silence. From the back: "Uhhhh....really?" The male stares were suddenly a bit warmer. Apparently, in this neck of the woods, a woman who knows how to knock off her own dinner is an object of desire. Where is the singles dating site for that?!?
I found myself in the middle of a discussion of the merits of a classic Red Ryder BB gun (ala "you'll shoot your eye out") versus a high powered Gamo model. Both had their good points, and fan clubs on either side. What seemed to win the argument was a statement from a laconic farmer-type who finally broke into the fray with a story about how on the hunting channel, he saw a guy take down a wild boar with the Gamo model. And taking down a boar that is charging of course means that I'll be able to take down a bunny in a box. The vote was unanimous.
That's how I found myself walking out with a lovely box containing a pump action, super-scoped high powered BB gun, with some very nice gentlemen cheerily waving good-bye. I also have a lot of advice about how I can stalk chipmunks covertly living in rock pile sanctuaries and take down those crazy little squirrels that live in the tall tall trees, mocking all of us bipeds with their suspiciously expert climbing abilities.
Just wait until I wander back in for .22! I'd better still have both eyes....

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lights On!

With the days growing colder and shorter, the chickens once again have simulated daylight. With the help of a 40 watt lightbulb screwed into a utility light and a timer, the girls will have an extra four hours of day added to their wintery evenings. If all goes according to plan, the light will click on at 3:30 PM and click off shortly after 7 PM. I'm contemplating adding warm cereal to their evening routine. I thought Cream of Wheat or hot oatmeal, but that seems a little excessive. Maybe I'll just round up a bag of mash at the feed store. Apparently, you add hot water and mix it up and there you have it, instant hot meal for the chickens. They seem a little thin to me, so I think adding a bit more meal to their day wouldn't be a bad thing with cold weather coming on. If the Almanac is correct, it's going to be a cold and snowy winter and the girls are going to need the extra calories.
In other news, I am once again celebrating the joys of having a handyman on call. While I was at work this afternoon, my rabbit barn got cleaned, plywood was nailed up over broken plexi-windows on the sunporch, and my two freezers were leveled which my handyman swears will keep the compressor from burning out. He's coming again to put plastic around the covered chicken run, once the wind dies down and the plastic sheeting won't take flight and sail off to Michigan. It is simply wonderous how many items got checked off my to-do list while I wasn't even at home. I wish I could say that I have been half as productive since I got home this afternoon....

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Brighter Week

Life is amazing, how a couple of days can make a difference in your view of the world. This morning I woke up to the first snow: three inches of wet, white stuff that hardly stuck to the gravel and melted on the road. It was definitely snow, though, and while I am sure it means a long cold winter is ahead, I still get excited at the prospect of chilly days and deep-blue snow drifts.
Yesterday evening, I drove home in the most beautiful twilight that I have seen in a long time. The usual assortment of deer bounded in front of me, but I managed not to hit any of them. It's hunting season here, and the middle of rut, so the poor things are running from arrows AND panting after each other. Nature sure has a sense of humor....I love November evenings, where the combination of the quality of light and deep purpling skies blend to give lovely closure to a shortened, crisp day. Of course, November has a high proportion of grey skies and murk, so it makes a lovely evening even more noteworthy. I arrived home with enough light to do chores without my headlamp, and it had warmed up enought that the hose had unfrozen. It's nearly time to pack it away for the winter, and I am not looking forward to lugging buckets from the house to the outdoor livestock. The rabbits were happy to see me, as I've changed their feeding schedule to evenings and they looooooove their hay & kibble. Little Mama had a lovely surprise for me, with a litter of new, naked babies in a fur-filled nest. I think she had them just that morning, because they were incredibly small and very naked. Don't worry about the chilly temperatures! All the outdoor animals are loving the colder weather, and rabbits are most cheerful when it is fall-into-winter. Their permanent fur coats finally serve their purpose. Of course, Little Mama made it known that now she requires double rations. I think I'll pick up some kale for her at the market this afternoon on my way home from work. She's earned it, and I love to see her little pink eyes crinkle in bliss as she munches her greens.
More news from the farm soon. Yes, I know: I still need to post those Halloween pictures! Patience, my pretties. Patience!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Rough Week into November

It's been one of those kind of weeks around here. Monday night, my pup Charlie passed away while he was at the vet's office. What we thought was a routine kidney infection morphed into something horrible, and poor Charlie just had to go. I miss him a heck of a lot...particularly his bounce when I'd come home at the end of a long day. He was the only dog who ever refused to not snuggle on the sofa with me, and he was a very jealous lover. It was nice to feel so desirable to somebody, even though he was a dog. He was my dog, and I love him. I was really lucky to find him...or be found by him, I think is more what actually happened. Anyway, enough sadness for one posting...

Halloween was a good night, even with sick dog woes and the usual work-week stresses. I had about 100 kids come, and all seemed to love diving into the "Cauldron of Candy". My favorite kid was Dr. Who, who got my fish fingers with custard joke. (It's a Dr. Who thing, you'd have to watch it to get it. And then you too will be a geek like me.) He was so excited, and shared his sonic screwdriver with me for a while. Pictures will come soon. They're still on my camera, which is somewhere in the mess formerly known as my house. The cats are eyeing my witch's hat trimmed with feathery festoonage, so I'd better get cleaning sometime soon--or I'll have no costume for next year. I still have 40-odd pumpkins in the yard, which hopefully someone will want for animal feed or compost or something. I'll put some in my compost heap, but I surely don't need 40 of them. Somehow I think that would throw off the mixture a tad...

This weekend, I am hoping for decent weather so I can pick up after Halloween, tidy the gardens for winter, and put out my Pilgrim People. Yes, I do decorate for Thanksgiving, that no-mans-land holiday that seems to get swallowed into Christmas. And no, I don't use a giant inflatable turkey to mark the day. Somewhere in here is likely a picture of my bad ass homemade decorations, but I'll post them again when they are up and lit. Simple and chic, that's how we roll with T-Day around here. Anyway, I am looking forward to cleaning a bit and reclaiming my yard. Potentially I may get to enjoy the decadence of sleeping in. With time change happening Saturday night, I really need to take advantage of that extra hour. If the stars align just right, maybe I will take care of rabbit butchering too--I'll post edited pics of that adventure, for all you wanna-be rabbit farmers out there. I just need to round up a nice BB gun first...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What a Crazy Couple of Days...

Just when the season has officially turned to Fall, and I start thinking "oh yay, harvest is done and I can now relax into the winter", everything hits the fan. It's nearly Halloween, and I am soooooo behind in my Village of the Damned yard make-over. The chickens refuse to lay eggs (bastards). I need to cart mounds of rabbit poo all around the yard, which I've been procrastinating doing and now need to get it done yesterday, as I found out I need to have surgery to fix my wrist. It'll be nice to feel my fingers again, but I am really feeling the time crunch. Oh, and I haven't cleaned up the gardens and put them to bed for the winter yet. Can you spell "procrastination"??
To cap it all, Charlie the puppy is sick. Really sick, as in laying-on-the-sofa-moaning-and-shaking kind of sick. I thought he'd swallowed something along the lines of a stinky asian beetle, but it turns out he has a kidney infection. So he's on cipro (the same drug they treat anthrax with) and pain medication. Poor boy. He is feeling very sorry for himself, and I am feeling very sorry for him too. There is nothing quite so miserable as a sick puppy...and yes, I am restraining myself from spoiling him too much. (I'm spoiling him just a little.)
Why is it that nothing like this (any of the above) ever happens when you have time for it to happen? Like, when you have alllllll summer to deal with things. Oh no. It has to all wait until you are up to your armpits in commitments and obligations and tight schedules, and then fling itself upon you like a cascade of stink.
I just wanna be a chicken farmer, dammit.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Another Baby Bun Video

I just can't stop taking videos of these little creatures! They are ridiculously cute, and entertaining. Now that they have a bigger space to cavort in, they are doing random bounces and leaps of joy. It is so much fun to watch them grow. And in a few short weeks, they will fulfill their purpose and fill my freezer. It's a little hard to contemplate that, really, and please don't think that I am a soulless wretch who lives to commit murder on small fluffy animals. I firmly believe that we, all of us living creatures, have a purpose in life. We need to be born well, live well, and in the end, have a good death. I like to think that my livestock (such as it is) has a better life than many other creatures on this planet of ours, and I try my best to make sure that their deaths are respectful, quick, and as painless as I can make it.

I will admit to feeling a little, teensy-tiny thrill at being the owner of a .22--maybe it's some latent testosterone lurking in my genetic makeup? There is just something about owning a weapon of mass destruction that appeals to my dark side. Like, I could totally defend my homestead from mauraders, random zombie invasions, or hordes or wererabbits on the prowl! Need to kill off a weasel? Just give me a call. Got problems with the local gang of forty thieves raiding your pantry or secret stash of treasure? I'm your girl. (Yes, I am running images from A Christmas Story and Ralphie defending his family from evil with his trusty "Red Rider BB gun with the compass in the stock and this thing that tells time" through my head, right now, as I type.) Hmmm...well, I'll balance my hunter's instinct with getting a mani-pedi this afternoon. And I'll paint something else pink...that'll do it, I think.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Real Reason I Preserve...

(yes, I totally hijacked this. and no, I don't care if the copyright police come to get me.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

It's Official

Yesterday, I spent most of my day driving around between locations that were very far apart. I didn't really mind though--between the gorgeous scenery, unseasonably warm weather that makes fall feel like late summer, and the zen of humming tires, it was nice to let my mind leap-frog between thoughts. This morning, I am taking advantage of a later afternoon work schedule and relaxing with some coffee before leaping into my day. All the animals seemed jazzed by the nice weather. The chickens are doing their thing, digging for worms and hunting flies. The rabbits are liking the cooler evenings, that are just warm enough that the top dutch-door gets to stay open and they can enjoy the night scents. The dogs are going a little nuts, barking at falling leaves and drifting pine needles. For the cats, they are spending a lot of time in windows. As for myself, I am liking the soft warm breezes and fall colors, although secretly I am hoping for some "tall boot" weather in the near future. It is awfully nice to not have to run the heat right now, though. I have a feeling that a long, cold winter will be coming soon enough.
In other related rabbit news, it appears that the baby bunnies are weaned now. My first clue was the diving head-first into the feed bin when I poured in the rabbit chow, followed by a mass slurping from the refilled water bottle. One of my projects for this weekend now includes putting together another cage and relocating my little buns into their new home. I believe that Little Mama will enjoy the extra space. I hope she won't mind that it will be temporary; if all goes well, in about another month she should have another litter of kits. (See previous post for discussion of my feelings on being a bunny pimp.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Indian Summer Afternoon

It was a gorgeous afternoon today. While my work day was scattered and fraught with angst, my afternoon was much more mellow and full of golden light. I didn't get to play outside very long--too many inside chores like laundry, washing dishes, and mopping up email messes--but I did get to commune with the chickens a bit. The girls are getting big and sassy, with that teenage "spread" that heralds soon-to-arrive eggs. No joy yet, but it is getting much more exciting to check the nest boxes daily. They don't seem to like my faux eggs and keep flinging them out in disgust. Who knew chickens would be so opinionated about wildly colorful, striped-and-spotted plastic easter eggs? I keep reminding them that to be rid of the horrible fake eggs, they need to start laying their own. I don't think they believe me.
The rabbits are happy and hoppy, with the babies surviving the current relative heat wave. They are almost big enough to be in a cage of their own. I think Little Mama is determined to wean them. Little does she know that this weekend, she and Bucky have a hot date...hee hee. I feel like a bunny pimp. I wonder if all farmers feel this way, just a little, when they go to breed an animal? I mean, seriously...sheep farmers dress their rams in S&M leather vests, dairy farmers stick their hands waaaaaaaaaay up there and then squirt these little syringes full of bull's delight, turkey farmers have to do obscene things to the breeding toms to get them to do their "thing". You'd think there would be a regulatory committee or something to manage all this wild kinky stuff occuring in the bucolic countryside. Oh wait, there is: The Ag Department. Man, their Christmas parties must be really fun.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Harvest Kind of Day

Today was one of those days when I kept meaning to be doing/going someplace else, and never quite made it there. I was going to go to a friend's for a fun apple harvest day, and when I wandered out the car, caught sight of mold taking over my shell beans. This resulted in me grabbing a huge tub, hastily picking all the beans, and spending the next three hours shelling. (Most of the beans were saved, but I lost about a cup of my little pea beans to the nasty mold.) And then I thought, oh, I can still go! But I caught sight of the giant bag of Hungarian Hot Wax peppers I was gifted, and realized: That goo forming on the bottom of the bag is from rotting peppers--oh no!

You guess it, I've spent the last couple of hours dealing with peppers. The end result is going to be firey and fantastic, in the form of Cowboy Candy. This sounds wonderful--it's pickled peppers in a sweet, spiced sauce. The usual recipe calls for jalepenos, but when life hands you a bag of Hot Wax, you use what you are gifted with. They'll just be quite a bit hotter...yeehaw! This version might appeal to the cowboys of Hungary...Anyway, after a month they will be "mellowed", which I think means that the hot peppers will be imbued with the flavors of turmeric, celery seed, cayenne pepper, and garlic. What a crazy combination, when you keep in mind that it also involves quite a lot of sugar and cider vinegar. I may have discovered a new sinus cure. Or a way to kill off taste buds, or create instant ulcers. Hee hee!

Cowboy Candy

To make a batch of this potent peck o' peppers, you'll need to corral: 3 pounds or so of hot peppers, jalepenos or otherwise; 6 cups of granulated sugar; 2 cups of cider vinegar; 1/2 teaspoon each of ground turmeric, celery seeds, and ground cayenne pepper; 3 Tablespoon of granulated garlic. Wash and slice the peppers into 1/4 inch slices, set aside. Please, use plastic gloves! Your eyes will thank you later...Now, in a nice big pot, combine the sugar, cider vinegar, and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add pepper slices and simmer for 4 minutes. Remove slices by using a slotted spoon, and fill 6 hot pint jars. Return the syrup to the stove, raise heat and boil hard for 6 minutes. Ladle boiling hot syrup into jars, release air bubbles, and cover with hot lids. Tighten bands and place in a hot water bath canner. Bring to boil, and process for 20 minutes. Remove from canner, allow to cool 24 hours. Check seals and store for one month. You can eat them earlier, but for best flavor they need to "mellow". Warning: These are really "hot", so eat in small doses. Syrup can be drizzled on as a condiment as well. Great on burgers, nachos, baked potatoes, crackers smeared with cream or goat cheese...yummy!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Feeling of Change in the Air

It's one of those Christopher Robbin kind of days out there, where you expect to see Winnie and Piglet tramping across the landscape looking for a heffalump in the blowing, blustery wind. I love fall days like this, particularly mornings when I woke up feeling less-than-well, went back to bed, and woke up feeling revitalized (but still willing to keep taking a sick day). So far, I have cleaned the fridge, which was horribly gritty inside with some mysterious sticky stains. I have to go to the store and restock my larder, and it is so much easier to clean out the fridge when I've eaten through leftovers and only have a few bits and jars of things to remove.
Animal check this morning went well, with all heads present and accounted for. I had my bug man come and spray yesterday evening, which should help with the annual fall invasion of nasty Asian beetles. I don't believe in pesticide spraying, but this is one exception I make. I hate these biting beetles more, and living in a former barn, they really like to come in and make themselves at home. I try to make my home as welcoming as possible, but not for insects.
As you can see, I revamped my blog's look. Hope you like is striking me as a little busy, but in a good way. If you've ever visited my house, you've probably noticed my love of layers as decoration. Everywhere you look, there are layers and layers of cozy, colorful things. And I believe that books are the ultimate house accessory! So hence, the cozy, warm, book-themed look that I chose for my blog.
Sometimes it is just fun to clean things up and create some small changes, particularly when the seasons themselves are changing outdoors. Now, if I could just figure out how to change my little farm into a big one....

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Babies Have Left the Nest

This morning, I went out to feed the rabbits early. Its definitely fall outside, and this morning was dark and murky and rainy. (Not my most favorite chore weather...)

I got a big surprise when I wandered into the bunny barn: The kits have hopped out of the nest! Their eyes had opened a few days ago, and they had gotten a lot more active with exploring the nest box. I wasn't really ready to be greeted by five pairs of eyes staring at me from a cage that usually only has one pair in it. Little Mama is disappointed, because now she no longer gets any grass rations at all. Darn kids, always messing things up! Anyway, she seems to be very proud of her little brood. They'll stay in with her for another week or two, and then move to their new collective cage. I'm hoping to figure out how to tell if they are boys or girls before then, which I think is going to be a little complicated. I'll keep you posted on how that research turns out.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What a Haul!

The weather finally cooperated for a few hours this morning, and I was able to head out to the back garden and dig the potatoes and last of the onions. It was amazing how the weeds just swarmed over everything in the last couple of weeks--see, I knew heading back to work after a summer off was bad for the garden! Yet another reason to become independently wealthy...well, maybe in my next lifetime.

If you felt like it, you could scroll back to early spring ('round about April, I think) and find where I mention that I planted the potatoes that arrived from FedCo, a five-variety package called the "classic keepers collection". And the five types, if you really wanted to know that, were Green Mountain, Kennebec, Red Pontiac, German Butterball (ha ha, I love that one...), and Russet Burbank. What I think I forgot to mention is, that for each of the rows, I planted four or five potatoes and then hoped for the best.

As you can see, my little table is covered. I decided it would be over-kill to show that the kitchen table is also half-covered in potatoes, so you'll just need to take my word for it. I gathered just over 30 pounds of potatoes this morning, so added to the 10 pounds or so I dug up over the season, that is not a bad return on 20 individual potatoes. As far as I can tell, the russets and the reds did the best, but I did eat more of the German Butterball...not only is the name a hoot, but they were the best new potatoes ever....

And yes, I do realize that the middle of this table is covered in onions. I harvested the last of the yellow onions as well. They grew, and while they are small, I think they'll be fantastic cooked into a whole variety of yummy things this winter.

Oh, and I got the lawn mowed as well. Not bad for a chilly Sunday morning! I feel completely okay with being lazy and warm inside this afternoon--besides, it's started to rain again, so I can watch PBS and knit and not feel one whit of guilt.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

First Year - A Video by Jenna Woginrich

I am so crazy proud of this girl, I can hardly stand it. She figured it out, and went for it. This video makes me cry with pride, every damn time I watch it. You go, Jenna. You go.

My Good Life Moment

My friend Gretchen came over this morning, to help with taking some pictures of me for this online dating thing I am trying (again). Yes, yes. I know, I am such a happy singleton whatever am I thinking?!? My philosophy of the moment is: It doesn't hurt to give it a whirl again. Who knows, maybe my dream farmer-lumberjack-Shrek-gorgeous man is out there. This time. Likely I'll acquire the same batch of needy oddballs as I did last time, but they will be NEW needy oddballs. It makes for good dating horror stories to wow your friends with, in any case.

This is one of my favorites, and since Gretchen pointed out that there are no pictures of myself on my own little blog, I thought it might be a good thing to show that there is more to me than just the random finger pointing to bunnies or hand holding an egg. Ever watch the show from the 1970s called The Good Life? Its a British sitcom, about a couple who decide to turn their home and garden into a suburban farm (!!!). This is my good life moment photo op. Looks good on me, doesn't it?

P.S. The potatoes were Gretchen's commission for her photo-extraordinaire expertise.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Little Bunny Video

As you can see, the kits are doing very well. It is amazing how fast they are growing! Little Mama has been eating more & more, and I think she'll be glad in another week or so when her babies start hopping out of the nest and sampling kibble and hay bits. Of course, she'll miss her daily dose of fresh grass (the kits can't eat it, as it will make them really sick) but perhaps the break from child-rearing will be an even trade.

In other news, the two kittens are getting into trouble (as 9 week old kittens should) and making friends with the other creatures of my household. Ernest is in love with Phoebe, although he does get confused when she tries to make him nurse from her belly...but he keeps purring and mewing and rubbing on her anyway. Both have learned to hunker down and grimace their way through the greetings from Max and Charlie (which are invariably wet and slurpy). It is promising to be a lovely weekend here, so I hope to mow the lawn one last time and dig my potatoes. I'll post pictures of the harvest, I promise!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Update on The Kits

They are one week old and doing great! All have fur, and are fat little sausages. Little Mama is an excellent mother, and her four little ones are happy, content, and just starting to open their eyes. They no longer look like little pink piggies, but are identifable as white rabbits-in-miniature. Pictures will come soon, as Little Mama dislikes the flash and I can't say that I blame her. Just rest assured, my friends, that these little kits are having a MUCH better experience than the poor nest of this past July. I think I may just be getting the hang of this livestock wrangling yet...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Toasty Toes

It's that time of year again, when you climb into bed and the bottom of the sheets are cold as ice. What is a girl to do? Wear socks? Sure. That's an idea. But my preferred method involves a simple rubber bottle filled with boiled water, covered with a new handy-dandy wool cozy, crammed at the end of the bed just waiting to have my chilled toes snuggled up against it.

Okay, yes. Hot water bottles are seriously old-school. Yes, they are the height of "camp". And yes, perhaps they are kind of odd and strange and vaguely unnerving--I think it's the fluid sloshiness that gets people feeling a little freaky--but you can't deny the beauty of finding a warm bundle of wonderful heat, hidden below chilly covers, on a cold fall/winter night.

So here's to the old fashioned wonderfulness that is a hot water bottle. Long live warm toasty toes!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Harvest Moon Tales

I love this time of year, when everything turns golden and brown, baked by a long summer season under the sun. My garden is still producing, but it is a race to the finish before everything gets frost bitten. That might happen sooner than I am ready for, if the predicted near-freezing temperatures come to pass tomorrow evening. I feel very suspicious about tonight's low, so outside in the garden it looks like the local KKK chapter threw a strip-tease party and left their clandestine sheets draped over my tomatoes, peppers, squash, and greens. I spent part of the late afternoon wandering around and gathering what was ready to harvest. The last of the green beans went into a bucket, followed by a couple of half-ripe tomatoes and a lonely poblano pepper. I dug some onions, but was repelled by giant prickly masses of emerging nettles. I'll go back and conquer them, armed with leather gloves, but for now the onions are safely hidden in the dirt. One more melon fell from it's vine, so in it came, along with a couple of sprigs of brocolli that decided to head up. Everywhere was the sound of bees, humming and buzzing and muttering their to-do lists and weaving a zig-zagging path around the remaining blooms. One of my roses is blooming like it is June again; my policy of benign neglect is apparently reaping its' late season rewards. When the sun settled to the west, I went around, closing up cold frames that have been open since late May and adjusting assorted sheets and tablecloths, wrapping them snugly around tomato stakes and squash plants. The rabbits are settled in for the night, munching their hay and cozy behind the closed dutch door, keeping the worst of the chill out but allowing the night in through windows ajar. The dogs are restless, listening to the neighborhood dogs barking out the nightly chatter of approaching deer and raccoons invading the corn field across the street. I love the comfort of this calm house as it wraps around me in these early evenings, when darkness falls before we're ready and makes us long for nights wrapped in quilts and warm cotton blankets, with nothing but a snoring cat and a good book between me and a good night's sleep. It seems like fall inspires me to slow down, savor the shortening days with their amber light, resigned against the winter that lies ahead.

Monday, September 12, 2011

It's Too Hot Out There

So look who came inside for the afternoon. It is about 95 degrees in the bunny barn, and when I popped in to check on the inmates before taking Ernest & Emily up to the vet for worming & first shots, the little kits were squeaking and wiggling around (which are apparently signs of distress). Much to Little Mama's consternation, I pulled the nest box out and hiked these little ones to hang out in the dim, cool kitchen for the rest of the afternoon. Once the sun goes down, and I shut off the cooling mist system (can't get the kits wet, either), I'll put the nest box back in. Hopefully, since I haven't touched the babies, Little Mama will be very happy to have them back and not get freaky on me. I just had to pull them out, though...I was having flashes to my week old kits' being killed in July, and couldn't bear the thought of these new arrivals not making it! Tomorrow, it is supposed to be much cooler (high in the low 60s) so the kits shouldn't need to come out again until they are ready to be weaned in a few weeks' time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Meet Ernest & Emily

This is Emily, who is not amused.

This is Ernest, who already worships me as his Queen.

Very smart, Ernest. Very smart.

French Press Love

I love a good cup of coffee. I can handle a crappy cup of coffee, but life is too short to dwell in Folger's Territory. So hand me those beans to grind, and I will happily take the time to make the perfect, rich, delicious, seductively dark cup of joe.

I love coffee soooo much, that I routinely kill my coffee makers. Yes, I am hard on my small appliances. Foolishly, I expect them to work (and work hard) on a daily basis. Apparently the designers in foriegn lands think either (a) Americans only need coffee once a week or less, or (b) will tolerate needing to buy a new coffee maker every other year or so. When my latest model crapped out, I decided it was time to step away from the drip and move into french press-land.

Oh, and what a wonderous land it is! After moving away from Anchorage, I thought I would never again find the proper cup of coffee. But here it is, in my own kitchen! Ahh, the French truly are the masters of all things cuisine. It makes me feel very chic to heat up my snazzy little electric kettle, measure my beans, and stir up the most wonderfully black libation....but there is a downside. I tend to savor, not gulp, my good coffee. And a french press coffee pot has zero insulation, so you wind up with cold coffee that needs to be microwaved, or incarcerated in a tin thermos. So not chic. But being the intrepid knitter that I am, I scoured the pages of (best knitting pattern site ever) and found a simple pattern for a french press cozy. Here it is, in all it's noro-varigated yarn glory, and yes, it works! So, my friends, unite with me in rising against the tyranny of nasty dried coffee that has been chemically treated up the whazoo, and join the french press revolution. Freedom!!

How to make a french press cozy:

You'll need size 10.5 or 11 needles and bulky weight yarn (or hold two strands worsted together). Cast on 19 stitches in the method of your choice. Knit in seed stitch (knit 1, purl 1 across all rows) until piece measures 10 inches. Bind off. Using a crochet hook, chain 15 stitches at each corner, and in middle of narrow rectangle-side. Wrap around your french press pot, and tie crochet ties together at top, bottom, and beneath the handle across the middle. Now your coffee will not only be hot and delicious, but stylish as well!

The Lovers

I Have Made Melon

It has only taken me four years of attempts, but I have finally grown a melon. These are melons that I picked up at the Seed & Plant Swap in June, and it took them forever to get started. Suddenly, the vines flourished, and little melons appeared. And the little melons grew and grew...and then just sat there, mocking me. While I heard others were enjoying their ripe and delicious melons, mine were green, hard, and unpleasant. Mocking me, I say. Mocking!! I could hear the laughter, low and nasty, from the garden at night....but today, this little melon gleamed amongst the green weeds and fell off the vine when I touched it. Hah!!! I feel like the Queen of the World: Let it ring from the rooftops! I have made....melon!! (And it was good, too.)

Friday, September 9, 2011

I could win big....

But only if you rate me! I've entered a photo contest at McMurray Hatchery, and if my coop photo rates "high" in the likes department, I could win a gift card! The grand prize is $100 to be spent on hatchery products (such as little peeping boxes of chicks), which would be simply too fantastic for words. So, go to the website by following this link (you might need to register as a user, but you won't get strange chicken-related solicitations):

The photo you are looking for is this one!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It's Free for the Taking

Today, I stopped for lunch in a parking lot of a county park. It was deserted except for a couple of chickadees and the roar of a cataract as water fell over the spillway of the old dam. It was such a peaceful place to munch my sandwich and contemplate how much I would rather be home, digging potatoes or processing yet more apples....and then I looked left out my window. Holey moley! Bounty was at hand. Literally inches away was a whole passel of bright red, ripe and ready rosehips. Rosehips, for the uninitiated, are the little red apple-like fruit of roses of the rosa rugosa variety. They are tart and not so nice on their own, but brewed like tea they make great...well, tea. And you can also use the tea-infusion to make a great lightly rose flavored jelly, chock full of Vitamin C and other great stuff. After climbing out of the car (okay, yes, I nearly fell out of the car in my hasty joy of finding wild forage of such beauty), I wound up with almost two cups of rosehips.

After finishing my work day, I wandered home by way of the store for yet more pint jars (oh yes, there be apples here...) and comenced the afternoon's "putting up" sequence. I made another huge batch of applesauce, adding another 6 pints to my stash, and juiced a whole buncha apples into my own homemade cidery drink. I have nearly four quarts full, but once the froth dies down and I filter it, I think I'll have three quarts to pop into the freezer and enjoy all winter. What about the rosehips, you say? Oh yes, those have been steeping with two chopped apples and four cups of water, to be poured into a jelly bag and drip overnight. Tomorrow morning, I'll pop the clear juice into the fridge and it will wait patiently for me to come home & transform it into one of my favorite "old timey" jellies: Rosehip Apple Jelly. Mmmmm mmmmm. Here's me, fighting scurvy one foraged fruit at a time...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Lazy Labor Day

Today, I played with apples. Again. I have lots of apples. I have done pretty much everything with apples, and still I have more apples. It is exciting, in a ridiculous, Tribble-like way. They multiply when I am not looking, I swear. So, I have cans of applesauce, apple chutney, frozen apple slices, and apples in the dehydrator laced with sugar and cinnamon. If the sun would stay out consistently, I'd load up my solar dehydrator with more apples for the rabbits to enjoy as supplemental food this winter. But it has turned cool with intermittent puffy clouds, so today the dehydrator outside is taking a break. It seems fitting for Labor Day.
I mowed the lawn, which was desperately needed, and I think I discovered the hidey-holes of one or two ground bee nests. No stings were involved, just some mild posturing on their part, and me steering my whirling blade of doom the other direction when they appeared. I'll wait to clear the head-high shrub weeds that they seem to be nesting in when it officially freezes in another couple of weeks. Lucky me, ground bees, wasps and bumblebees all die when it freezes, so then I can clear out their old homes without needing to run for my epipen. (Yes, I have one, because my old bee stings wake up and itch from time to time, which makes my doctor think I am now allergic to bees.) The flies are lazy and persistent, due to the cold I think, and it is a hoot to watch the chickens polish them off, snap by beak snap. There is some kind of huge garden spider making a prolific web in a corner of the coop. He/she has caught several flies and a large ground bee, and doesn't seem phased by the prolific dinner at all. The chickens are wisely leaving this pest-control expert alone. I swear, this spider is the size of my thumb--the whole thumb! Giant spiders appearing out of nowhere, cold mornings with faux frost covering the garden, needing a quilt on the bed at must be September.
Here's me, off to deal with more apples.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Back to the Start

I don't ever post advertising in this blog, mostly because I find it very difficult to find any ads that actually support what I believe to be important. This one, though...I love this. It sums up so much of what I think is wrong with the way the food industry hands out as the "way food must be"; and it shows what has to change (and is changing!) to make our food system safe, healthy and sustainable for both people, animals, and the Earth. If you haven't stopped in at Chipolte Grill lately, or ever, you should give them a try. They are the one fast-food joint that is getting it right...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Somehow, It's July Again.

Just when I thought, gosh the last couple of nights I've woken up cold and shivering and reaching for a blanket, it decides to be hot and muggy and just plain ol' nasty outside. It turned into the kind of day that you break a sweat just strolling from the drivers' side door around to the back to grab your bag from the trunk. The kind of day when an iced drink of any sort is more than welcome, at every moment of the day. The kind of day when you can feel your deoderant throwing in the white towel before it's even hit 10 AM coffee break time.
Yes, I am whining. We had a lovely taste of fall, and I am hungry for more. Apples falling from overburdened limbs, a pot of soup simmering on the stove, bread rising to be baked in the oven--all those things have been calling to me. To be suddenly plunged back into the middle of summer is just harsh and unpleasant. Someone should write to the management and demand an immediate change back to the appropriate season! Tomorrow evening is a home football game, and I am thinking that the kids running around under pounds of gear are going to be sweating buckets. Poor guys. If we lived in Texas, I could understand it but here in northwestern Wisconsin we expect our seasons to behave. (And to apparently support the football boosters, as well.)
Aside from the unpleasant weather, the garden continues to produce. I have a couple offers of free apples, so I think I will be wandering around with buckets and bags gathering the bounty. Afterward, I will be swimming in various forms of apple-goodness, including my favorite Curry Apple Chutney! Oh, how I love that stuff....thank goodness it is fall again so I can replenish my supply.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Beans, Beans, Beans.

Finally, my sunflower tower of bean vines has decided to produce pods! Last night, I battled sprawling squash vines and pernicious mosquitoes, and picked about five pounds of beans. Of course, then I realised that I had no more pint jars.

So, tonight's plan includes stopping at the grocery store and picking up another package of canning jars. After that, it's home to put those babies to rest in lovely pressure canned goodness. Can you tell I am excited to use my pressure canner again? After overcoming my fear of imminent canning-related explosion and/or death due to shrapnel, it is amazing how confident I feel about loading that contraption up, cranking up the heat, and pressurizing the world.

Of course, between canning fun & the usual evening routine of animal chores (feed the dogs, feed the cats, feed the rabbits, feed myself...), I have to drive my car to the local repair shop & leave the keys so my nonfunctioning brakes can get overhauled. It is a lovely thing when your car is so smart it can tell you what "system" is defunct, but it is also frustrating when it doesn't tell you what is wrong with said system. I can hardly wait to find out what is wrong with it....and how much it's going to cost to fix it. Good thing I have all those beans to eat...too bad they aren't magic!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pulling Up

The powdery mildew has ravaged my zuchinni plants, so this morning I yanked them out of the ground. I did discover one last round zuchinni ball, so at its very last my little plants produced for me. I also took apart the maze of vines that was one of my pickling cucumbers, as the mildew had gotten that one as well. I found several small cukes, and one giant boat that had hidden itself amongst the raised beds. That one got fed to the chickens, who are enjoying a new layer of fresh straw and some scratch grain sprinkled into the mix. So far, the acclimation of the new pullets is going well. No extreme screaming, no denuded birds, no massive bloodshed or chicken war cries. My big pullets are even letting the little ones eat near them (amazing!). I rewarded them for good behavior by pulling up two of the copious swiss chard plants and flinging them into the run.
The back garden is slowly disappearing under a layer of weeds, but I was still able to find a few side shoots of brocolli & check on the slowly ripening melons. I still can't believe I got melons to grow, let alone get to the stage where I am eyeballing them daily to see if they're ready to eat or not. They may never ripen, but at least I got them to grow. That is quite the achievement, I tell you.
No canning yet today, although the day is young. I may need to wait a day or so, and then I will have tomatoes to deal with...ahhh, tomatoes. August's wonder crop! Now, to decide what to do with them is the big question....

Friday, August 26, 2011

Holy Hot Pepper, Batman!

The hot peppers are on in my friend Trudy's garden, and she sent me home with a grocery sack full a couple days ago. They sat on a plate for a bit, but today was the day to change them into one of my favorite condiments of all time: Hot Pepper Jelly. It is the easiest jelly in the world to make, and when it is all said and done, it is fantastic on crackers with a mild cheese, like chevre or cream cheese. I just grind up the whole pepper (minus the stem), and leave seeds and all in the mix. If you find yourself with a surplus of peppers, you just have to try it!

Hot Pepper Jelly

You will need: about a pound of whole, hot peppers (such as jalepeno, hot portugal, cherry bomb, habanero, etc.); 2 cups cider vinegar; 6 cups white sugar; 2 pouches of liquid pectin; and red food coloring if desired. Use your food processor to grind up the peppers and one cup of the cider vinegar together (remove the stems first). Pour mixture into a large pot, add the remaining cup of vinegar and the sugar. Bring to a boil, and boil hard for 5 minutes. Add pectin all at once, and boil for one minute stirring constantly. Remove from heat, you can add some red food coloring if you wish, and ladle into hot jars. Wipe rim, cover with a hot lid, tighten band and water bath for 10 minutes. After removing from hot water bath, allow to cool for five minutes or so, and then gently swirl the gelling jelly to disperse the pepper bits & seeds evenly. Makes about 6, 8 ounce jars.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Feels like Fall....

This morning, when I got up early to drag my reluctant self to work at the office (Day #3 and I already want to play hooky...), I bebopped outside to do my usual round of chicken checks followed by rabbit checks. Lately when I've been checking the chickens, I have wandered outside in bare feet. It is such a delicious feeling to wade through the dew laden grass and savor the last bit of summer underfoot. This morning, after a humid evening, I expected to find the out-of-doors the same way as the house felt: warm, slightly sticky, more August than September. Imagine my surprise when I stepped outside into Fall. The dew was there, but it was chilly underfoot. Chilly enough that I actually thought about turning around and getting shoes, before gritting my teeth and wading on through. The air was clear, lovely, stirred by a gentle cool breeze. Even the morning sounds of birds and rustling leaves hinted of the coming cool weather of September.
Not only is my summer over, but I think Mother Nature's summer is almost done as well.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

all this from one potato

Hay for the Buns

I've been meaning to post a picture of this (my completed hay shed) for a while, but other, more exciting things have been coming up. I mean, really: Canning tomatoes is soooooo much more exciting than storage for hay near to the actual animals that will eat said hay.

Okay, you saw through my ruse: I forgot to post about this weeks ago. It is more exciting than canning. Well, maybe equally exciting as canning.

Though the bunny barn is fantastic for storing the actual rabbits, there isn't quite enough space to store hay off the ground and where it won't get peed/pooed on. One day I had a brain wave, while I was moaning to myself about needing to hike the hay from the car shed to the bunny barn: Why not build a little shed that can hold 6 bales of hay at a time, right near the bunny barn? (Yes, even my brillance is astounding on occasion. Notice that I don't say how long I had been moaning to myself about needing to cart hay across the yard. That's just embarrassing and doesn't bear mentioning, although I will say it was a long, long time.) So, I called up Jack the Handyman and he whipped together a little shed for me. I still have to paint it, but it is sturdy and does a great job keeping the hay dry and off the ground. I am thinking about adding a tarp-flap to cover over the opening for the winter, as I think snow may creep in and freeze around the bales. The idea of needing a pick axe to remove a flake of hay just seems unpleasant...

The past several days I have been doing nothing too much, aside from starting back to work for the school year and managing to pull a major muscle group in my back. Luckily, my day job doesn't involve heavy lifting and I lifted all sorts of heavy things at home this past weekend (hence, the now-mangled back). I am now well stocked on all sorts of pharmaceuticals, and although it is hard to tell if they are doing anything for my back, I am pleased to report that (1) I don't care that it still hurts, so that detachment is exceedingly pleasant, and (2) I can kind of put together some coherent sentences in both this blog post AND on paperwork at the office. I can't remember what I wrote/said after I've done it, but so far I have not incriminated myself or signed myself up for some horrible obligation. It is very helpful that no one but me is back to work, so I can be deranged in the back room without witnesses.

Stay tuned for more canning shenanigans. I think I may be picking up 5 gallons of tomatoes tonight....

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Saturday, August 20, 2011


This morning, I left the house at 4:45 AM. I know, it was horribly painful. But, unlike last Saturday, my mission to find the small animal swap in Fall Creek was much more successful. I came home with: A "white cornish" pullet (although it looks nothing like the "cornish" breed in my chicken encyclopedia, so I think it is a barnyard mixture pullet--who only cost me $5 so it's okay);A black cochin pullet, crossed between a bantam variety and a standard variety, so I think she'll be "in the middle" sized ($2);and two standard cochin pullets, crossed between partridge and buff colors ($5 each, from a guy who really knew his stuff--he's trying to create a "true red" color variety!)

Right now, the three larger pullets are in the coop, in a kennel. I did some reading of various blogs, and this sounds like the best option for the next day or two. Right now, everyone is pretty freaked out (that is, the new additions are freaked. The current pullets are interested but not upset). The littlest one, the black cochin who I think will become Gretel, is in a separate kennel on the porch. She isn't too pleased, but the other newbies were picking on her so I thought, ahh well let's give them a day or so apart and see how it goes. It should be okay, as everybody is young and hasn't gotten the adult "kill the infidel" urge yet.In other chicken news, I decided to rename Speckles the Speckled Sussex to Sookie. It seems more fitting, and way less blah. Along with Pearl and Fifi, Sookie seems to be getting over her trauma and settling in. They come say 'hi' now when I am outside, a big improvement over the shrieking and running that marked the last week. And there you have the amazing chicken update from my little rurban farmlette. I think I'm going to go take a nap now...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tomatoes are in....

This morning, I am celebrating finding a heck of a deal on canning tomatoes at the Farmers market in Barron. Yesterday, as I was searching for cauliflower, I stumbled over a display of wooden buckets filled with "canning tomatoes, 15 lbs for $15". How could I resist? My tomato plants have started producing, although not with as prolific a harvest as I had hoped for. I believe that monsoon rains at the height of blossoming are to blame, as well as horribly hot weather that baked them into submission directly after the rain. In any case, I have the need for copious amounts of tomatoes as they are my go-to ingredient for homemade soups, sauces, chili, and casseroles.

Today, I am making an incredibly good concotion called Tomato-Basil simmer sauce. It winds up thick and delicious, with fresh basil added after the cooking process is done, right before you sling it into jars to be sealed up tight. It is great as a pasta sauce, or pizza sauce, and I love it on top of browned chicken made into a fantastic rendition of chicken parmesan. Everyone who has every tried it raves about it (even kids). I found it a couple years ago in Real Simple magazine, and with a couple of tweaks I think even they would agree that it is extra-fantastic!

Tomato-Basil Simmer Sauce

You will need: 12 lbs of ripe tomatoes; 3 T. brown sugar; 4 tsp. kosher salt; 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar; 1 tsp. ground black pepper; 2 cups basil leaves, finely chopped; 1 cup herbs, chopped; 6 Tbsp. lemon juice.

So first, you need to peel the tomatoes. Using a sharp knife, cut the core out of the tomato (also known as "where the stem was"). Then drop the tomato into a pot of boiling water, leave it in there about a minute or so, and then scoop out and put into a big bowl of ice water. The skin will peel right off. Drop your peeled tomatoes into your handy-dandy food processor, whirl them around, and pour the liquid mess into a big non-reactive pot (I love my enameled steel pot). Add sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper, then bring to a boil. Lower heat just enough to maintain a steady boil for the next 70-90 minutes. You want to cook this until it is thick and darkened slightly, and smells like tomato heaven. I recommend not going far in the last 20-30 minutes, as you are going to want to stir it often to prevent burning...and burned sauce needs to be tossed to the compost, honey, because you cannot save it. Pull the sauce off the heat once it is thickened to your liking, and add your herbs. Stir them around well. Put the lemon juice, 1 Tbsp each, into hot pint jars. Ladle in the sauce, being sure to leave a good half-inch of head space (that tricky space between the bottom of the lid & the food) because this sauce does expand when heated during the hot water bath processing. Place your hot lids, tighten down with a band, and process in a hot water bath for 35 minutes. Allow to cool overnight, then check the seals & store them in a cool, dark place. Makes about 6 pints, but I really recommend making a double-batch. This goes FAST! It's a great way to use up those "too soft" tomatoes, as well as the crazy amount of basil that is turning into shrubbery in the garden. If you prefer it spicy, you can add 2 Tbsp. of crushed red pepper flakes with the herbs. Or, you can snip in 1 cup of sundried tomatoes at the same time, if you like your sauce to have that extra-tomato flavor.