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?