Monday, January 31, 2011

Is that a peeping box I see before me?

Well, not yet anyway. I am getting so tired of gray, dark, cold days. It is that horrible time of winter. Too much snow, not enough sun, every day looks the same: Gray, wet, cold, nasty. What is a girl to do? Oh, starting dreaming of little fuzzy chicks arriving in the mail, of course! Today my Randall Burkey catalog arrived. Nice company, several varieties of chickens, but rather expensive. Plus, the chicks get shipped all the way from TEXAS! Yikes. Talk about traveling afar....I am leaning toward Stromberg's hatchery (out of Minnesota) or McMurray hatchery (out of Iowa) for my new layers. I had been thinking of ordering super-special-rare-and-therefore-ridiculously-expensive-Cuckoo Marans this year, but, ummmm....the economy has not improved that much in this household. And while I do love my Special Blacks, I am wanting to try something different. I will be keeping the two mystery chicks, who have grown out to be lovely Golden Laced Wyandottes, and I am torn between several new breeds. Do I want to go with tradition and get New Hampshire Reds or Barred Plymouth Rocks? How about a couple of Welsummers to lay dark, chocolate brown eggs? Or maybe an Ameracauna to find some green or blue treasures in the nest box! I do love big puffy Brahmas, who are so gentle and sweet....Of course, my other dilemma is rounding up some folks who want a couple of hens from a couple varieties to go in on a chick order with me. I am thinking that may not be too much of a problem, but you never know. Minimum order is just 15 after all! I am, of course, planning to order my usual batches of meat birds from the hatchery in Beaver Dam, WI. They have the best prices on meat birds (82 cents each!) and I have never had concerns about chick health. Plus, the office ladies who field the phone calls are super nice. OH, winter weather. Hurry up and bring back some sunshine. My chicks are calling me, and I need warmer weather before having them packed into a holey box and sent to my door!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dreaming of Spring

I got another rabbitry book in the mail today (along with three Terry Prachett novels, I just LOVE him). It is gray and cold and just miserable outside. Inside, it is warm but a bit drafty and my face hurts from having a tooth pulled this morning. All I want to do is dream about spring. Some day, when the weather is warm, I'll be able to sit on my deck. I'll be able to see green grass, and admire my new rabbit "barn". My garden will be growing, a warm breeze will be blowing, and the whole world will be filled with bird song. Right now, all I can do is take some pain pills, hug an ice pack to my face, and look through catalogs.
I am getting very excited to expand my rabbitry. I'd like another angora or two, so I can collect more fiber quickly to eventually spin with wool to make yarn. I'm tracking down local breeders of California white rabbits, which make good meat rabbits in a smallish size (5-6 pounds) which will be perfect for me. The latest issue of MaryJanes Farm has given me a great idea for building a barn in the backyard out of a canvas covered carport tent thingie and recycled pallets. I already know someone who has pallets to spare and has assured me that I can have as many as I can haul away! And, I scoped out the size carport I need online at Menards--it's about $300, but if I can get pallets for free, recycle some of my collected screws and nails, and just get some additional items like 2x4s and 2x6s and metal plumbers tape, I think I can do up a whole rabbitry barn for under $500! And then I will have a sheltered place for my rabbits to be in year round, near to the garden for easy fertilizer removal and near to the house for easy winter chores. It is so fun to have a dream to get through these long, dreary dark days of January.
Soon I will be placing my seed order, which is another fun project--who to buy from? What to get? I am trying to narrow down my list of "wannas" to what I know I will use: onions, squash, carrots, radishes, various greens, potatoes and some tomatoes. I have plans to make two more 4x4 gardens in front, where I'll plant my squash, and some cold frame planters on the south side of the yard near the orchard. I also want to plant a couple more heritage apple trees, another plum, and some apricots, which can go in the back. Oh, and a hedge of highbush cranberries to screen the view a bit and provide shelter for my little feathered friends. I am hoping to put in a little garden of sunflowers, too--I just love their smiling faces and how they follow the sun all day. A smiling flower face is certainly something to get me through a gray day like today.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Cold Saturday

All day today, it has been cold. Yesterday, I came home to find a chicken, who expired from the cold and (possibly) egg duct issues. I also found each of the four eggs frozen, split down the middle and hard all the way through. While I admit that being able to peel a frozen egg and admire the inside parts is interesting in a science project kind of way, it was disheartening to find so much loss in livestock in one day's time. One less hen means seven less eggs per week, which is no small loss. Today dawned equally cold and bright, making the outside world appear far friendlier than it truly is. The dogs were not eager to spend much time outdoors, and the rabbit bottles spend more time frozen than thawed, even on the sunny porch. For myself, I piled on the layers, poured a hot cup of coffee and wandered upstairs to work on a few sewing projects. I started an apron the other evening, and finished it today. It is lively, covered with chickens, eggs and dancing pots with bright red ties and a sparkly button on the pocket. I think I may need to make more--what fun to dive into my fabric stash! I also started making some market bags for future gifts out of canvas-like upholstry fabric scored from some garage sale or other, and some clearanced chintz found the other night at Farm & Home. Once it warmed up (to a whole 3 degrees), I decided it would be a good idea to run the car for a bit and headed over to the Grain Bin, a bulk food store and bakery about 8 miles up the road. The day called for chocolate, and I managed to come home with all the things needed to make a batch of One Bowl Brownies. They are simply sinful (and no, you can't stop at one!)
One Bowl Brownies (from the Chocolate! cookbook)
4 squares unsweetened Bakers chocolate
1 1/2 sticks of butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup flour
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped nuts, or more chocolate chips, or dried fruit--or a combination of all of these!
Put butter and chocolate squares in a large, microwave safe bowl. Heat in the nuker for about two minutes, stir to melt chocolate completely. Add sugar, stir well. Add in eggs, flour, vanilla. Stir until well mixed. Fold in nuts, chips, fruit or whatever you decide to toss in (or leave out if you like naked brownies). Pour into a foil-lined and greased square cake pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven about 30 to 35 minutes until firmish in middle. Cool in pan on rack, pull out of pan by foil. Remove foil liner, cut and eat. Yum. P.S.--This is a great recipe to make to thank someone for services rendered, or to beg a favor after they eat them.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

January Day

I am not sure where the time has gone, but here it is: January. Fall is done, Christmas came and went and is packed away for next year. It's a gray, snowy day, perfect for catching up on a good book and baking a loaf of bread. I spent today doing homey things: Gathering eggs, checking on the rabbits, baking and a bit of cleaning. A good portion of the early afternoon I spent sewing upstairs. When I go grocery shopping, right now I use market bags from Wally World and other grocery chains to load up my goodies. Not only are they cheaply made and retain stains and develop mysterious tears after a few months of use, but I feel like a walking advertisement for these stores. I may shop there, but I don't feel the need to broadcast to the world. It also is a bit embarrassing when shopping at "fancy" stores like the local co-op or bulk food store. We all like to pretend that we aren't products of mass media, and there I go: "Can you load it into my giant, tacky Walmart sack, please??" (What can I say? They have the best prices on some life necessities...) So my new market bags are free of campaign slogans and store related ads. I found in my fabric stash a large piece of heavy, nearly-like-canvas upholstery cloth with large blooming peonies across it. After slicing it into appropriately sized rectangles and finding some funky chintz prints (I so have a thing for retro fabrics!) to act as inside liner fabric, it was simply a matter of seaming the sides and stitching on bias tape handles. I even used iron-on hem tape to make the top edges all tidy. Five new market bags, all one of a kind and straight from the stash. Not bad for a girl who never took home ec!

My loaf of bread turned out lovely and brown and smells delicious. I'm excited about toasting a nice slice and slathering it with butter---mmmm. Thanks to my third-new-to-me bread maker picked up for $5 at a local yard sale, I can enjoy homemade bread without needing to hurt my hands by kneading. The trick is, use the dough cycle and then turn out into a greased loaf pan for the final rise and bake. You get the normal loaf shape instead of that weird tubular loaf, and your oven smells yummy. The recipe is a piece of cake to make: Use the wheat bread recipe in the little booklet or find one online, use real butter in the recipe, and add finely chopped walnuts and dried tart cherries when the machine indicates. See? Easy-peasy.