Saturday, July 30, 2011

Running in the Rain

Early this afternoon, a storm rolled through. At first, it was mild--a little thunder, a few flashes of lightning, nothing major. And then the skies opened. It was an official gully washer in five seconds flat, and there I was, open shed doors galore. What is a girl to do? You guessed it: Out I ran into the rain. Barefoot, tanktop and shorts, rain so thick you could hardly see and it felt like a bucket of lead pouring over your whole body. And cold--whooo eee. That was a surprise! It was remarkably invigorating. I covered the whole operation in about a minute and a half, slamming doors and shutting windows and turning off an electric fan that was in danger of falling over with the hard winds pushing the sheets of falling water around and rocking the walls of the bunny barn. The rabbits and chickens were surprised to see me, appearing as I did, like a large, wet rat out of the pouring rain. I made it through the backyard without (1) falling in any holes (2) stepping in dog poop or (3) sliding through mud and wet grass to land on my cushy butt. I burst through the back door in a torrent of rain drops, and raced to the bathroom to fling off sopping wet clothes and warm up with a soft towel.
It was wet. It was cold. It was completely insane, dashing through a flood with thunder and lightning all around.
It was freakin' marvelous.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sometimes, You Get Sauce.

The Sweet Cherry Jam failed to set, and I don't feel like reboiling it with more pectin. I am settling for sauce, which will taste quite lovely slathered on creamy ice cream or atop cake. I like this version of "when life hands you lemons...."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

That's Some Hot Jam, Mama!

Whoooooeeee! I think I have discovered a new favorite in a long-line of delicious, hot and sweet jams. I still dearly love Hot Pepper Jelly, and who doesn't love the smokey heat of Ginger Peach Jam, but there is a new contender fresh out of the kitchen. That's right, now we have Chipolte Raspberry Jam. Hot, spicy, smooth and sweet, this jam is freakishly fantastic smeared on a bagel with a cool slather of cream cheese. Haven't tried it on the cracker-cream cheese combo yet, but I am betting that will also be amazing. This would be good with cheddar biscuit "thumbprints" (kinda like the classic jam thumbprint cookies, but larger and involving cheesy biscuit dough)....Yes, I know. I am such a tease, going on and on about an incredible jam and not revealing the recipe.
Chipolte Raspberry Jam

You will need: 5 cups mashed raspberries (I ran mine through the food mill to remove most of the seeds); 2 teaspoons minced garlic; 2-3 Tablespoons chipolte chiles in adobo sauce (about 1/3 of a 7 ounce can); 1/3 c. red wine vinegar; 3 cups sugar; 3/4 cup powdered pectin (or, 1 1/2 packages, but buy it in bulk dears, it is cheaper!)

Now, puree together the garlic, chiles in adobo sauce, and vinegar. Add to the raspberries in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Add in the pectin, stir well, and bring back to a nice hard boil. Add in your sugar, bring to a hard boil, and boil for one minute while stirring constantly. Remove from heat, skim off foam, and ladle into scorchingly hot jars. Top with a lid, tighten the band, and water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from the bath, cool, check the seals, and store away for a day when you need a little spicy sweetness in your life. Makes 5, 8-ounce jars.

P.S. I made Sweet Cherry Jam this afternoon. It's from the Blue Ball book of preserving, and it is definitely a keeper! Makes the purchase of a pitter very much worthwhile. Mmmmm, cherries!

P.P.S. With the extra cherries, I plan to be a little naughty and make homemade cherry cordial. Mmmm. Can you imagine the cherry cosmopolitans I will enjoy?? Hooray for fermentation fun!

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Lazy Summer Day

Today, it is perfect here: About 76 degrees, cool breeze, peace & tranquility wherever you turn your gaze. The last of my week-long houseguest fest went home this morning, and my little cottage is my own once again. I celebrated by taking a long shower with the bathroom door open, and doing loads of towels and bedsheets. There is nothing quite so sublime as the sound of sheets flapping in a cool summer breeze.... The animals are celebrating the finer weather too, chickens happily scratching and chuckling over the prize of a tasty worm; the dogs lounging in the sun, not panting in the shade; the rabbits drowsing in the comfortably-warm-afternoon heat of their little bunny barn. Even the cicadas seem to be happy in their shrill mating song amongst the tree tops. I wish I could say that I spent lots of time in the sun and the garden today, but I've been enjoying the breeze and view out of my office window (sometimes duty does call, even on lovely days). Tomorrow, I am going to town with my handyman and his heavy duty truck, and fetch a $25 bargain of an upright freezer that I tracked down on Craigslist. That is one great resource for things like hay and freezers and assorted other "needful things" for fairly cheap cost. This freezer, gas and labor included, will cost me far, far less that purchasing a brand new one ever would. Yes, efficiency of modern things is nice, but beggars cannot be choosers. I will happily absorb the extra $15 per year in energy cost that this 8 year old freezer will cost me. The lady who is selling it will be happy to have the additional space in her basement, and come November, my half of Trevor the pig will have a home until he becomes many, many fine meals. With the summer harvest coming in, I find I need more space for frozen vegetables (even I can only can so much) and a second freezer will do nicely to hold all that, a hundred pounds of pork, and assorted chickens. Just thinking about this makes me giggle--who knew one person could successfully put up 80% of her food needs, between a few dozen canning jars, two freezers, and an assortment of dehydrators? Talk about food independence, people!
Now, I just need to grow my own grain and coffee beans....

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Update on the Heat Wave

It is really hot still. Today, the heat index was 120 degrees. Luckily, my mom (who is visiting for a week--the hottest week of the year, of course) was amenable to staying home this afternoon so I could do hourly checks of all the outside critters. You have not seen pathetic until you see a chicken being hit by a cold hose. At first they hated it, but by the third trip of the day when the heat started cranking up, they were chuckling and hooting but staying right under that spray. Poor things.
The rabbits are hanging in there, too. I got a cooling mist system delivered yesterday afternoon (thank you, and hooked it up. It said that it would lower the temperature by 20 degrees, and to be honest, I was just hoping for five. Would you believe the thing actually works as advertised?? I was shocked, but it was seriously significantly cooler in the rabbit barn than outdoors, even during the high heat, full sun part of the day it stayed tolerable in there. It does get everything very very drippy so all the feeders are covered by ziploc baggies and the hay is covered by a spare bit of wood. I'll take damp over deadly heat any day.
Tomorrow is supposed to be cooler. I believe it when it gets here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Some Days, You Just Lose Some...

So. Today, it was freakishly hot. I kept checking on all the chickens and rabbits, but to no avail. On my last check of the afternoon, I found that five of the pullets had died, and all seven of the baby rabbits had not survived the hot day. I know this is part of raising animals, but still...I'm a bit in shock. Digging a mass grave is really not a fun way to wind up your afternoon.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rabbit Update!

I was waiting until I could get a good look today, but baby rabbits arrived Tuesday night or Wednesday morning! Little Mama, who had a sad experience with a delivery gone bad a couple months ago, has (I think) five fat and sassy babies in her nest. Big Mama had kits too, but....well, let's just say she was very Grecian and ate them. There is some Greek myth about a mother who ate her children, isn't there? I don't mean that people from Greece eat babies, or anything, but I swear, there's something in Greek mythology about a bad mother who eats her young. Ick-ola. Anyway, I think she had four kits, but since I only found bits and pieces, I am not really sure. It was very macabre...I don't think Big Mama will be bred again, if you know what I mean. Anyway, let's end on a happy note! Little Mama has happy babies!!! Yay, Little Mama! Pictures will come in a couple of weeks, when the little bitties have fur and L.M. isn't feeling quite so protective of her new additions.

Rainy Days mean Canning

In mid-summer, it is really nice to have a cool day, dripping rain off & on, where you can heat up the kitchen a little and get some canning done. I'm heading to the farmers market this afternoon, and before I add more peaches to the freezer I decided that I needed to clear out more of that stored fruit. So this morning, I started off by making a batch of plum preserves. I love making preserves, no need to chop into small pieces, oh no, just stick the halved & pitted plums in the pot with a bunch of sugar and a little lemon juice, and cook away until it gets all thick and sticky. And then I decided that I really did need to make cranberry sauce, my most favorite condiment of all time, in quantity to have on hand. So I made a bunch of that too, with it's wonderful scents of cinnamon and dried orange peel. I wound up with five half-pints of plum preserves, and 6 pints of cranberry sauce. The basil was getting unruly, so I gave it a good hair cut and made a giant batch of basil. Giant enough that I got three quart-sized freezer bags full! I love putting up food. It will be wonderful to open jars or defrost baggies, and enjoy summer freshness while the snow flakes fall...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Apricot Rum Jam

I recently decided I needed to clean out the freezer compartment of my giant fridge. I don't need a giant fridge, but that seems to be the size they come in nowadays. It has a nice big freezer compartment, too, the perfect size for things to disappear into for years and years. A cleaning was seriously in order. After chucking all sorts of little bags filled with the remainders of fish, and chicken, and what I think was once a steak (or pork chop?), I rediscovered a whole lot of fruit I had frozen & bagged last summer. There was the rhubarb. Aha, there was the plums, blueberries, and cranberries. And best of all, there were the apricots! I found them at a local farmer's market last summer, locally grown and tiny, sweet and just perfect for anything. I ate too many, and squirreled away the rest for "another day". Today was that day, folks. I dug out one of my favorite jam books, well preserved by Judy Hassol, and made a batch of fragrant, sweetly delicious Apricot Rum Jam. If you like apricots, this will make you think you've gone to apricot-pirate-rum-smuggler paradise. Mmmmm....

Apricot Rum Jam

4 cups pitted, chopped apricots (no need to peel the skins!)

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 1/2 packets of powdered pectin, or 2/3 cup All-Natural Dutch Jell bought in bulk

8 cups sugar

1/3 cup rum, white or dark (I love Captain Morgan's Spiced Dark Rum!)

Combine apricots and lemon juice in a large pot. Bring to boil, stir in pectin. Bring back to hard boil. Add sugar slowly, stirring constantly. Bring back to boil, and boil hard for one minute. Stir in rum--watch out, it will sizzle up!--and bring to boil again. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, top with a hot lid & tighten bands. Invert for five minutes, then flip right-side-up and allow to cool. Try not to eat the whole jar with a spoon in one go.

The View from My Corner of the World

It's July, and everything is coming up green. I thought a few pictures of my place were just what this blog needed, so here goes.

The back garden, fenced in & growing like mad!

My potato hedge. I am really hoping there are lots of spuds under there!

Tomatoes & peppers loving the southern sun next to the herbs.

The front gardens, one pretty & one full of veggies! The birds seem to really like them both. My squash is starting to grow up the trellis!

This is what my grumpy neighbor would rather see. Sad, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


This afternoon the weather is absolutely lovely. No need for the AC growling away; I can actually have my windows open, with cool fresh air pouring in. I picked the last of the peas, and discovered that my beets have decided to bulb up and are ready to pick. Growing up, I never really liked beets because all I ever experienced was the nasty, tin-can tasting ones. But a fresh beet, now that is a thing not to be missed. After trimming the greens and tossing them in by the grateful hens, I'm boiling them on the stove to soften them up and loosen their skins. Then comes the cooling process, then the slipping off of the papery thin skins, and my favorite part: Making them into a yummy side dish for dinner! My favorite way to have beets is to make a dish called Harvard Beets.

Harvard Beets

3 cups boiled-till-soft, peeled, and sliced beets

3/4 cup sugar

4 tsp. cornstarch

1/3 cup vinegar

1/3 cup water

3 T. butter

salt & pepper to taste

In a saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, vinegar and water. Bring to a boil and lower heat, maintaining a good strong bubbling action for five minutes. Stir often, because the sauce gets thick and sticky. Add beets, simmer 15 minutes on low heat. Stir in butter, season with salt and pepper. Good served warm, but can be eaten cold if desired. Yummy!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday, oh Sunday

It's been a busy day around here so far. A thunderstorm rolled through about 6 AM, which drenched everything nicely so I didn't have to do any morning watering. That let me actually have time to eat my breakfast (a bagel) sitting down. What luxury! Then it was off to the races: I moved the pullets to the grow-out pen temporarily, since I needed my brooder shed for the stinky meat chicks currently attracting fat flies to my porch. I decided to rechristen the pen to the TARDIS, because it is a big, blue, box (although lacking the ability to travel to various points along the space-time continuum). That's a Dr. Who reference, folks, and if you have no idea who that is, all I can say is: Watch the episodes, you can find them on Netflix and then you too can be a geek who makes obligatory references to an obscure British sci-fi program in your blog, too. The pullets seem happy in there, although since it is now 90 degrees and humid in the afternoon, a little annoyed at the warmth. I told them to stay in the shady bits and drink water, and they'll be fine. So, after the little girls were re-routed to their new digs, I called up my friend Willie who needs all things poo and got him to come over and take away all my muck that I pitched out of the brooder shed. He's a fanatical composter, in case you were thinking he has some nasty kind of feces-fetish. Little did he know that I was also going to con him into helping me move the stinky chicks from the porch into the shed. Between the two of us, we got the little smelly SOBs installed and he wandered off with some horribly fragrant old shavings. I swear, I just cleaned it yesterday, and it looked like a herd of elephants had crapped in it for a week and a half. I love knowing where my meat comes from, but seriously--these meat chicks are mess-ee. Blech. Anyhow, a little bleach soaking, a little rinse, and now the stock tank is retired until next spring when the mayhem of raising meat starts over again. Once the chickens were all settled, I moved on to the bunnies. Two of my girls are due any day, so I plunked the nest boxes into their spots. Both seemed very, very interested, and started moving the straw around to their liking. Of course, then it became super hot out there and everybody is lying next to their frozen bottles, chests heaving like they are hiking it across the Sahara at noon. Summer sucks sometimes, particularly when it is humid. And if all THAT wasn't enough, I shaved down Max again so he can be a little less wooly and hopefully cooler. He is such a trooper, putting up with my bad-ass momma haircuts. At least I don't use a bowl...and once his hair was all trimmed and tidy, I took a shower and now here I am, parked by the computer procrastinating doing homework. Later on, if it cools off and doesn't storm, I'll mow the lawn this evening. Ahh, the life and times of a farmgirl are never dull.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

It's a Fountain, Baby!

I was wandering the aisles of Menard's this morning, after returning some spare parts leftover from putting in the privacy screen yesterday. Of course, I wound up in the garden area--surprise, surprise. They had hydrangeas on sale, so I finally got the hydrangea "Limelight" I have been longing for. And then I saw it: A nifty, make-your-own rain chain fountain. Sure, it was an advertisement, encouraging me to buy the most expensive rain chain they had, but the concept was killer. I had to have it. Who wouldn't need this at their house? I got the pot (plastic, but looks like real stone), shepard's crook hanger, submersible pump, tubing, and a clearanced, copper rain chain all for $50! It took me about 10 minutes to put together, which includes wrestling-free-from-packaging-time, and there you have it. My original, unique water feature, just waiting to greet guests by my front door. I put a couple of my glass floats in it, they look really neat bobbing around. It splashes a bit, but I love the sound the water makes as it flows down the copper chain. I can't wait until it develops that cool patina that copper acquires after a few years of seasonal exposure!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

“Chicken Shack” Video Up

“Chicken Shack” Video Up

Mystery Solved

After waiting two days, the nice guy from the phone company came this morning. He peered into the hole, said "yup, that's an old phone line down there", sealed up the break with some putty, and said "well, it's not active so just move out a foot or so and you can keep digging". Allrighty then.
In other news, a guy from Xcel energy came, marched out back, placed ONE little flag, and marched away again. Ummmm....I don't know if the flag is marking a line, or just a signal that he came, because no paint spray lines appeared. It was very, very odd. In any case, I don't think the flag means anything, and it is away from where I'm digging, but it is a little freak-a-licious to have a random white flag waving at me, with no connection to anything. Apparently I am supposed to be psychic and know what it means.
If I hit another dang hidden wire in this project, I think I may just have a little nervous breakdown.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Mystery of the Wire

Here's where it gets interesting: The digger marker guy came out this afternoon while I was away (of course) and marked all over the yard and into my neighbors' yards. And where is there no mark? Right where Mr. Mystery Wire is. Aha! Now the question becomes, who's line is it, anyway?
I broke out my Valley Girl-air head personna and called the local telephone company, and said that given where the lines were marked, we dug well away from them...and found an unmarked line! What is a girl to do?!? The telephone company tried to pass me off to another company, another utility, anybody but them...but in the end, they are sending out a man in a truck to come look at my mysterious underground wire. If it isn't theirs, I am hoping that they can tell me whose it I can play stupid with another utility. (I know, this is borderline deception. I am being honest about the digging of the hole and the hitting of the wire, but is it so bad to leave out the when it happened sequence of events? I think not.)
I'm not sure when the man with a truck will be coming, so the bucket with half-a-bag-of-concrete weight will stay put for now. Hopefully, they make it before any big thunderstorms decide to cruise by. Meanwhile, Jack & I are planning to tackle the moving of the dirt tomorrow, which will be nice to have that project done and over with. Pending discussion of the wire, I'm hoping that the fence is up by the weekend. Then I can paint it, boring gray for my boring, tedious neighbor to stare at. And I will be soooooo haaaaaapppppyyyy gardening in my little garden, safe from her beady, little, judgemental eyes. Bwah hah hah hah!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Weekend Update

Happy 4th of July! It has been lovely here, after a very humid start to the weekend that culminated in a ferocious thunderstorm Friday evening. Since then, it has just been lovely. I've been hard at work, hauling dirt around the yard. I filled in behind the chicken house, and underneath the brooder shed with rocky gravel. I moved barrow-load after barrow-load of topsoil into my new raised bed in the back. After two days of moving dirt, my leg and arm muscles start twitching every time I think about picking up a shovel...
This is where having a handyman around to help with odd jobs comes in handy. He came yesterday morning, declaring an intent to start digging some post holes. I said, sure go ahead, and off he trotted into the backyard with his digger. About twenty minutes later, he calls out "uh...oh..." and back I trotted. Then we both stood back there, peering into a hole, staring at a wire where no wire should be. That's right--I completely forgot about calling digger hotline, and seriously, when they've been out before, they've never marked the yard back there when they've marked the whole thing for underground lines. It doesn't appear to be electrical (thank god) but its something, not cut all the way through but definitely showing some shiny wires. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. All digging halted. So far, no visitation from anybody claiming loss of phone service or cable. Jack believes it is a "dead" line. I called digger hotline (belatedly) and they'll be coming out to paint line markings. If they mark one there, I suppose I need to find out which utility owns it and fess up to a major boo-boo. At $2000 for the fine for digging "illegally", I really really really really hope that this line goes to nothing at present. (I also really really hope it isn't something going to grumpy neighbor's house.) Ahhhggggg. This situation just keeps exploding into new fires, every time I turn around!
So today, I set Jack to work moving dirt and filling holes and helping me lay ground-retension systems in the backyard. The dogs have dug to China, and it is really really dangerous out there--you can't walk for falling into holes--so after spreading oodles of topsoil on the barren earth, we laid a layer of chicken wire topped by a layer of Earth Wise straw mat, which I watered heavily and spread with organic Dutch white clover seeds. I need to go back to Fleet Farm and buy more chicken wire, straw mat, garden staples, temporary fencing, and shady seed mix. Jack will return on Wednesday, hopefully by then I'll have been visited by the digger-marker fairy and will find out how screwed I am. Making friends all over the place, that's your friendly neighbor Cris all over!