Wednesday, February 29, 2012

And Winter Arrives


It's only three months late.  Who's on a schedule, anyway?  Not Mother Nature.  That fickle bitch has her own time frame, and it apparently coincided with my needing to drive from a long distance to home at the end of a long work day.  It wasn't a bad day, just long.  When the sleety-mix of nastiness started falling at 3:00 PM, and I was heading into a long meeting, I thought:  Well, dang.  This isn't going to be a fun ride home.

When I left the bulding an hour and a half later, it was sleeting more.  Of course, it was colder, and getting darker, and feeling ominous, too.  Off I headed on the usual 1 hour 50 minute drive home, keeping my mental fingers crossed that I wouldn't hit anything "too bad". (My actual fingers were safely holding onto the wheel.)

30 minutes later, I was temporarily airborne, hurtling off the road and down into an old pasture.  When Lula hit an incline, which was covered by an inch and a half of ice, she started sliding--and even though I turned into the skid and was only going 10-15 MPH, we were broadsided by heavy winds and launched.  Lula took out an old T-post and some barbed wire, but came through (after flying over a frozen stream, and bumping through the pasture a ways).  I had to hike around looking for old tractor trails, and then Lula hiked up her skirts and made use of four-wheel drive to get us out of the field, through a thankfully unlocked fence, and back onto the road.

We made it another 5 or 6 miles, going 10 MPH, hit yet another incline, slid, got whacked by winds, and flew off the road again.  This time, it was off of a culvert/bridge thing, letting the road pass over a fairly deep ravine with a creek in it.  I managed to get control back enough to avoid the guardrail, and evade a huge thick wooden fencepost, but off we flew into the air...I closed my eyes, and screamed.  All I could think was, oh my god, we're going to hit the top edge of that frozen bank, and she's gonna roll.  I am going to be dead...oh dear lord, I hate my frickin' job!  Then came a blessed KAH-WHANNNNGGG THUMP, and Lula was on all four wheels, sliding rapidly to a bumpy stop in the middle of a cornfield.

I was NOT DEAD.  How nice.  For a few seconds there, I wasn't entirely certain.

 Another hike around the car, a quick climb around underneath Lula to make sure nothing was dragging, leaking or attached to something, and we were off, following more tractor trails out onto a road.  I made it to a church parking lot, pulled in, and just started shaking.  After a bit, I recovered enough to call a good friend whose husband is the guru of driving trucks, got some sage advice, and started the long long looooooooong crawl home.  It finally started this slushy-snowing bit, which actually was helpful, and made the last leg of the journey a bit less slidey.  I just was getting vertigo from the swirling...but hey, I was on the road, staying there, and averaged a speed of 12 MPH.  Wahooo.  Sign me up for NASCAR.

Everyone was happy to see me come home.  I was pretty damn happy to see myself, too.  The dogs had to pee desperately, the rabbits commenced a thumping Morse code tattoo to let me know how hungry they were, and the girls had a few comments about my late egg collection.  Once everyone was fed, tidy, warm and dry, I popped a beer and ate some noodles.  Gawd.  What a night.

This morning, after a night of sleep interrupted by the sound of the wind, sleet slamming on the windows, and something that sounded like a boulder falling, I awakened to a world of ice and snow.  The front door was drifted shut, as was the entry to the coop run.  The girls were snowed into the hen house and had to be excavated...although they took one look, and scuttled back inside.  The rabbit barn was covered by snow, which had to be shifted off by pushing a broom against the tent sides.  I did some minimal shoveling, and now I am having a snow day.  All the area schools are cancelled, the roads aren't plowed, and Lula is content to hang out in park for the day.  All around there is the sound plows, and snowblowers, and revving for ATVs equipped with small plow attachments.

I think I'll go have another cup of tea.  The shoveling can wait.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Another Project Begins


No, I am not adopting a child.  I am tempted by the puppy...but not right now.  What I am showing you here is my newest home project: a wood stove.  Currently, my only heat and cooking sources all rely on electricity--even the LP furnace is dependent on electricity to fire and run the fan cycle.  This is not the greatest, as if we ever (1) ran out of LP as a natural resource or (2) start having electrical issues with the local power supply, I am completely screwed.  This house stays pretty warm, but give it a few hours with no power, and everything gets far too frosty for comfort.  As well, there is the minor factor of I like to eat, and you can't eat everything raw.  It's that small issue with e coli and his nefarious friends, you know.   I also, quite simply, miss wood heat.  While it was a pain having the chore of stacking wood, hauling wood, or filling the endlessly empty wood box as a child, it was a nice way to get warm.  It was friendly sounding, too, with the crackle and hiss of wood flames and pinky-pinging of expanding warm metal.

This afternoon, I met a very nice chimney expert, who also sells and installs stoves.  My house is so teeny tiny (800 square feet of liveable area) I was a bit worried that either I wouldn't be able to have a stove at all (due to lack of adequate space), or I would wind up with a giant one that would cook me outta the cottage.  But it sounds like a small, very efficient stove (with a cooktop on it!  Waaaaaaaaay excited about that) will fit in the former-porch-now-office-and-dog-space.  He even commented it was a fairly perfect location for a stove.  Wow, I wasn't expecting perfection!  He's going to work up a quote and email it to me, and sometime late spring/early summer my new stove will be installed.  Yay!

On a note of mild consternation, he said that my roof was in horrible shape and needs replacing.  And the old chimney stack is about ready to fall off, but it'll stay there for a while longer.  Yikes.  Oh well.  Who needs a long, exotic vacation?  I think I'll be happy with a tidy new roof (before next winter).


Sunday, February 26, 2012

As Promised



Awwww!  Meet the babies, about three days old.  I counted seven this morning..but they keep moving so there could just be six.  I love it when they are just starting to get fuzzy.  Aren't they just too sweet for words?  They are warm as toast under that fluffy pillow of white rabbit fur, and fat as little sausages.  Little Mama is happily lounging in her cage, chewing on hay and comfortable in the knowledge that yes, she is the Queen of all Mother Rabbits.  Maybe I should change her name to the Queen Mother??  Naaah.  I might get a cease and desist letter from Great Britain, to stop breeding their Mum.  (Eeesh.  Now that is one uncomfortable mental image.  Quick, refocus on the babies!  Awwwwww, cuteness.)


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Les Bebes

Photos to follow soon, but just had to post that Little Mama finally had her kits. Yes, this was when I had initially calculated their arrival. I think she likes to mess with me sometimes, and the early nesting urge was just a false alarm. Although, I have read that rabbits can have two births: one with a couple kits, followed up to 48 hours later with another, larger litter of kits. So who knows, maybe she was having nesting fever like a lot of pregnant creatures do!

The initial count of teensy tiny babies is (at best guess) eight--however, this was a pretty quick check, done primarily to rule out any stillbirths in the nest, as Little Mama wasn't best pleased to have the Human looking at her little lovelies nestled in the fur. So the actual count could be a few more, or a few less. She is quite the trooper, is Little Mama. I think I definitely do need to acquire a larger grow-out pen for the kit collective if this is going to the "norm" for how many kits arrive. Oooh, and just wait until Magda starts in the mix! It's going to be rabbit for dinner, all the time!

Yes, I know. Some of you out there find that disturbing. Particularly in a post announcing a delightful birth of baby bunnies. Strange juxtaposition, isn't it? Some would even say "macbre", but to me, it's just normal. These kits, though only a day old, have a purpose to fulfill--and that is to be a wonderful dinner someday. The benefits of rabbit raising don't just stop at having something cuddly to pet. Lots of manure, lots of fiber to use, fur for clothing and yes, meat for supper. (Are you humming "Circle of Life" yet?)

For now, it's "Hooray for the Bambinos!" Later on, I'll be cheering for additions to my freezer.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Yep, It Cures Just About Everything

So, the germs finally got me. I don't want to sound all whiny, but blech. I hate being sick. But...I don't mind having to take a sick day. Well, it would be more fun if it was simply a day off, but sometimes you take what you can get.

I had a completely lazy morning. Really, I did. I know some of you may think that being lazy is impossible for me, but hey, when you have a headache the size of Texas and a throat that stings like you ate a lemon with razor blade chasers, laying about the sofa is pretty much akin to climbing Everest in a blizzard. (No, that is not whining. It's a statement of fact.) Anyway, about 2:30 I realized that I was feeling mildly better. What a revelation! To complete my cure, I was sure I only needed a good cup of soup...

That's when my unpleasant discovery occured. No chicken broth in the house. How the heck do you make soup with no broth? Oh, well, I suppose some people would crank open a can. Not in this house, dang it. I admit, I do have a can of cream of mushroom soup for using in the odd hot dish, but other than that, no tinned soup in these cupboards. (I do have visions of pressure canning soups someday, so I can reach into the cupboard and dump a lovely jar of homemade soup into a pot. Ahhh, someday...)

No broth, but man alive I needed some soup! Emergency! V-E-R-N!! Ayuda me! Save me, jeebus!

This leads to an interesting side conversation as to the importance of keeping chicken backs in your freezer. Never underestimate the power of frozen chicken backs. They are fantastic for making copious amounts of chicken broth, which is a much better use for them than nibbling the little bits of meat contained in all those gristly bits.

Okay, so now that we all understand why it is important to hang onto the backs of chickens, back to the soup saga. In order to make good broth, you start by roasting the bony bits. So into a large roaster go the backs, and that gets stuffed into a nicely hot 450 degree oven for a while. When they look all kinds of roasted, with a lovely dark crust on them, load up a stock pot with some celery, and carrots, and garlic and onions, and those roasted backs that are fulfilling their lives' dreams. Pour in a bit of water to cover everything slightly, and set to simmer for a couple of hours.

What you'll find, after pouring off the liquid, is some of the best, rich tasting yellow-golden chicken broth. It is imminently freezable, which is great as you get TONS of broth, way more than you need for a pot of soup.

Now that I have my pot of restorative, cure-all chicken soup perking away on the stove, the Sick Day Soup Crisis is resolved. Let the healing commence.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It Doesn't Look Like Much Now

But in a few months, it is going to be a thing of beauty.

This humble empty lot, located at the corner of Wayne Street and River Avenue, is the location of the future Prairie Farm Community Garden. I am beyond excited about this! It took a couple years of working toward it, and a year or so before that just thinking through it, and a whole bunch of people coming together to agree that having a garden space in the village is a simply fantabulous idea, to make it happen. Under that thin layer of snow, there is ground just yearning to be worked, planted with seeds, tended with care...in other words, it is ready to GROW, man. I dearly love liberating a lawn from it's grassy prison. Come, squash! Onward, beans! Carrots? There's a bit of room over here for you. Bring those lazy parsnips along with you. And let us not forget the lettuce. (Come on, you know I had to include that old garden joke. I hear you tee-heeing, don't make out like you don't find produce humor hil-AR-ious.)

If I haven't confused the timing, a press release will hopefully appear in the next edition of our local monthly paper, announcing that garden space is available. After that, let the phone calls pour in, people! Let's grow us one heck of a community, in a garden, together.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Happy President's Day!

Today, I took the day off. Oh, boy howdy, how I needed a three-day-weekend! But I wasn't completely lazy, oh no. In a completely appropriate manner, I celebrated the holiday by starting some seeds.
Appropriate how, you ask? Well, there has been a long tradition of Presidents and their First Ladies to pass some time in the garden between meetings, and signing bills, and so forth. So instead of thinking all they did was buy furniture (I mean, really...a couch to celebrate our Presidents??), here's some Presidential facts that might just inspire you to start this year's garden today:
George Washington, the first of our illustrious line of Presidents, was an avid farmer, gardener and mule-breeder extraordinaire. He was very dedicated to his gardening projects, and often wrote letters home dictating what needed to be accomplished in the orchards and veggie beds. In fact, he was so dedicated to the ins-and-outs of managing his farm at Mt. Vernon after his retirement from politics, that he spent an entire early spring day outside in April 1799, in a nasty sleety storm, checking on all his lovely gardens...which eventually led to his death, when he contracted pneumonia and died two days later.
John Adams was the President who established the first White House vegetable garden (although he only enjoyed it for four months). Thomas Jefferson (who inspired John to start the garden) took home gardening to a whole new level. In his 1000 foot vegetable garden at Monticello, he maintained 250 varieties of 70 species of vegetables. His orchards boasted 170 varieties of fruit. And, because he was that kind of guy, every year he hosted the First English Pea challenge in the neighborhood (to see who could grow the first fresh spring pea of the season...what a great competition!)
And let's not forget Woodrow Wilson, the much-maligned President during World War I. In 1917, he ordered sheep to graze on the south lawn of the White House estate, to help with landscaping. Okay, granted, it was mostly because there was a lack of men to do the gardening for him. But still, sheep grazing at the White House. You have to admire that degree of farming initiative!
But it wasn't only the boys who had the gardening bug. Eleanor Rosevelt was a champion Victory Gardener, planting beans and carrots on what used to be a lawn. (You know, that giant green thing they use only to roll eggs down come Easter.) She inspired 20 million Americans to grow Victory Gardens during World War II, which produced 40% of the nation's vegetables and fruit during the war years. And Lady Bird Johnson, who was not known for her veg gardening, was instrumental in establishing the Wildflower Center in Texas. The Center functions as the official Seed Bank for the State of Texas, preserving native species which might otherwise be lost to development.
It is amazing how the long history of gardening continues in our nation today. The Obamas have brought back the vegetable garden in a big way at the White House (read about it here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/The-Story-of-the-White-House-Garden/). Millions of Americans are returning to the idea of the backyard as a place to sustain the body, as well as nourish the soul, through a connection with growing little vegetable plants in a patch of earth. And you all know how I cultivate nearly every spare inch of my yard. To quote a fairly famous gentleman:
Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its' liberty and interests by the most lasting bands." --Thomas Jefferson
Gardening. It's the patriotic (and Presidential) thing to do!



Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cleaning Out the Freezer

I have a tendency to stockpile foodstuffs. This likely comes as no surprise to all of you out there, who must believe by now that I have an endless supply of diverse items to pull out of the freezer or pantry at a moment's notice, and whip up something divine out of nothingness. Harry Potter and his buds have nothing on me when it comes to magic in the kitchen. Well, perhaps Mrs. Weasley and I could be neck-and-neck in a kitchen conjuring competition...but I digress.

I tend to gather and freeze food, and then there it languishes forlorn and frozen, longing to be made useful. This is particularly true when it comes to the berry family. I love buying up pints and pints of fresh fruit in the summer. A lot of it gets transformed straight away into jams or jellies, but the rest...well, it gets frozen in a layer on a baking sheet and then shoveled into a ziploc bag. The bag then gets added to the layers of similar fruit-filled wonders on a shelf in the freezer, and there it stays for months.

Where the heck am I going with this sad confessional? Okay, it came to this: I was longing for pie. I mean, seriously jonesing. If pie was crack, I would completely have a three-pie-a-day habit. And did I have pie in the house? No, no I did not. It was terrible. I didn't even have pie filling to shovel into my ravenous maw by the spoonful. Oh, the agony!

Anyway, after contemplating chucking it in and going to the store for a slice of nasty store-bought pie, I realized I needed to do something. So, I rummaged through the freezer and found two (TWO!) giant gallon bags bursting with blueberries. I dimly remember putting them in there in July...and I think it was July of this past summer. I am not sure, though. (See? This is where storing large amounts of food in the freezer gets dangerous.) Anyway, everything looked fine and when defrosted, nothing started moving around in there or smelling whiffy, so I proceeded with my plan to make large amounts of homemade blueberry pie filling.

I know, I hear you all thinking: Ewww. Canned pie filling is nass-tee! And it is, when it is mass produced, souless crap that I wouldn't feed to the pig. The pig would file a lawsuit citing cruel and unusual punishment, if a can of that ka-ka wound up in the trough. But, homemade pie filling is another thing entirely. Number one, it is far less sweet and has no corn syrup in it (which gives the store variety that lovely sludge consistency). Number two, the berries were happy to begin with, so making them into pie filling makes them happier. No longer are they incarcerated in a chilly prison. Number three, I always add lemon zest to my filling, so it tastes fresh and tart and ummm-hmmmm good.

I love it when I finally get around to cleaning out the freezer. There is nothing better than being able to can up summer's goodness in the depths of winter...and make a little room for more to arrive, next season. I recommend trying it sometime. Or, if you don't want to clean out your freezer and make your own pie filling from scratch, but perhaps want to go out and get some good quality store-stuff (as in, organic happy and has a reasonable expiration date in this century kind of stuff), here's what you can try with some of that pre-pie goodness:

Lemon Curd-Blueberry Tartlets

You'll need: one pie crust (yes, I cheat and buy the Pillsbury kind...shhh, don't tell!); blueberry pie filling; lemon curd (yes, I made this, too); a biscuit cutter or large circle cutter of some sort; a 12-hole muffin tin; powdered sugar.
Roll out your pie crust, and cut out circles. I find with a 3-inch biscuit cutter, I get 12 circles. Tuck each circle into a muffin tin opening. Fill with 2 Tablespoons blueberry pie filling. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Pop tartlets out of the muffin tin--I use a spoon, catch the edge, and whoops outs-a-daisy they come. Top with a teaspoon or so of lemon curd (which is lovely and tangy and luscious). Dust with powdered sugar if desired. Try not to eat all 12 by yourself. Good luck with that last step.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

It's That Time of Year Again!

Yes, that's right! It is the weekend of the annual Chicken Fly event in Ridgeland. Wahoo! I know you are all wondering, so here's the story: Yes, this happens every year. I know, only in Wisconsin, right? No, I didn't see any PETA people this year, or the lady who dresses up like a large yellow chicken. Yes, a whole bunch of people got knocked down trying to catch chickens. Nope, nobody went to hospital. Yes, the chickens got away at times, including flying up into the trees. Yes, somebody got stuck under a car trying to slide under and grab a chicken. Yes, pretty much every adult there was drinking with a foam cozy-covered beer can in their hand. Yes, it was before noon and they were drinking heavily. (It was Saturday, after all, folks.) Yep, I think there were a good several hundred people there all excited to catch chickens falling from the skies. No, I didn't contribute any chickens to the toss. No, I didn't catch any new chickens at the Fly. Yes, I agree, that would've been cool if I had, but really...I am doing good on chickens right now. No, I didn't get crushed in the hoarde of drunken revelers who were careening around snatching at feathers. Yes, it was hilarious watching them stagger around and egg each other on to catch another chicken (ha ha, chicken humor alert). No, I didn't get pooped on from a fly-by overhead.
That being said, here are some photos of the day!
Five Minutes Before Chicken Fly
Three Minutes to Go!
One minute...wait for it...wait for it...
And they're off!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

It's All in the Scheduling...

I think I may have mis-timed my prediction of when Little Mama would be producing her new brood. When I wandered in this afternoon (with a new larger cage for her, incidentally), she was sitting in a corner of her cage, hunkered over a sad little pile of hay and some furry fluff. She looked at me balefully, as if to say "listen, chickie, next time MARK things on your calendar, will ya?!?"

Apparently, my calculations were a wee bit off. Kits were a'coming and there was no room in the inn, let alone a nice stable with a manger. (Okay, I know. That is sacreligous, but quite appropo, honestly.) Anyway, a speedy transfer to the new larger spacious living abode, some quick packing of straw into the ol' nest box, and she was a much happier rabbit-in-labor. Little Mama immediately dove into the box and started rearranging things, huffing and mumbling to herself like a fretful housewife who has found her kitchen a mess after the menfolk attempted cooking. Straw bits were flying. Thumping and pounding arose, with little puffs of white hair emerging from the fray from time to time. It was fascinating to watch...and then she noticed me staring. Oops. The look she gave me almost set fire to my eyebrows! I hastily finished scooping feed and sloshing about water, and skedaddled.

Intimidated by a five pound pregnant rabbit. Yep, that would be me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mid-Week News

Oh yes, it is another Wednesday. Wish it was Friday, but hey...it's getting closer. Life on the farm-lette has been fairly status quo the past couple of days. The girls are laying about 90% now, which means I get 5-6 eggs per day. When it is cold and grey, they seem to lack the ooomph to put all the work into pushing those eggs out. I can't say that I blame them. I fairly lack the will to live on a gloomy day!
Little Mama looks gigantically pregnant. In another week, we should have another arrival of kits, if all goes according to plan. Magda, the new addition, is growing and filling out, and should be ready for breeding in later March. Bucky will be sooooo terribly excited! He pines for his dates, I tell you. Simply pines. A pining rabbit is a sad thing to see. You have to trust me on this. It is a little hard to tell from the other rabbit expressions, but there clearly is a dejected state that can only be called pining. I suppose it is all my fault, introducing the guy to the Joys of Sex and then rationing it in small doses. Poor Bucky.
The doggles are doing great, even with occasional Drama on Ice moments in the backyard. I keep worrying that someone is going to break a leg, but it is likely going to be me. And yet I worry about the four-legged beasties. I know. I am a Dog Momma. The cats continue to be bulemic. It seems to make them happy. Whatever.
I am planning a mid-week run to the feed store on the way home from work this afternoon. I am so excited. Usually, I do this on the weekend, so it is kind of a special treat to hit one on a Wednesday afternoon.
Yes, I realize typing that makes me sound a little pitiful, when an outing to Tractor Supply is a major highlight of my week. Again, I say, whatever. I love feed stores, and I am not ashamed. Whoot. Power to the farmers, people.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Taking the Plunge

See this empty field? Lovely, isn't it.

Now, imagine it filled with several small, roaming pyramidal houses made of chicken wire and plastic piping, roofed with cheerful blue tarps, and filled with happy, protected chickens.

Still lovely, right?

This is my new, expansion-into-the-big-time, chicken sales-queen of 2012, adventure! For the past couple of summers, I have raised small batches of chickens for myself, and sold some to friends and family. Everyone loves the taste of homegrown, naturally raised chicken, and I've long thought, man, I would love to expand this to help other people buy good, happy chicken, too...well, maybe when I get the farm someday soon.

And then I had a brainwave a couple weeks ago. I drive all over the place, on all these wonderful back roads, and I see all these old pastures just laying about. Once they housed cattle or a horse or two, but now they are too small to hay and too small to plow up and plant in corn or beans. So instead of renting them out, they are left to languish and grow luxurious crops of goldenrod and black caps. As I kept passing them, I was thinking it would be nice to put them to use again. But what use? Hmmm...hey. How about chickens??

Brilliant! A few conversations later, some word-of-mouth pre-sales numbering around 100 birds, handshake agreements to rent a fallow pasture, and I'm in business. Long Live The Chicken Lady! To date, I've confirmed the use of one field, and have another two pending. I am thinking I can put at least three portable, movable houses in each field. And since each house can house up to 50 birds (they are big houses, folks), that's a heck of a lot of chicken. Wahooo! I may become a chicken mogul yet, even without a farm to call my own at the moment. Minimal rent, sales of pasture-raised chicken, happy customers, support for local chicken processors, and a fun summer adventure of making the rounds to check on the livestock in Lucille Laverne. All this to look forward to, and it's only February. Imagine what the rest of pre-Spring will bring.

Hopefully, lots of orders for chicken!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Colonel Mustard

I know, I am on such a condiment kick lately. Is it getting too obnoxious? Sorry about that...but I have discovered that eating out of your backyard means, a lot of meals have the potential to be a bit same-y. And we can't have that. Variety is the spice of life, don't you know. Which means, having an arsenal of condiments to pull out of the cupboard or the fridge at a moment's whim is rather essential to not being bored to death with your otherwise-much-desired-dinners.

I highly advocate making your own mustard. Really. It is sooooo simple, and smells amazing. Well, if you consider to be "amazing" to include the potential to vaporize your sinuses, it qualifies for that adjective. (I've been having a wee bit of a sinus issue lately, so sniffing mustard...ooooh, now THAT is breathing clearly!)

I totally hijacked this recipe from this wonderful little blog I found via Facebook, called What Julia Ate. Man, that is one girl who eats well. It is, again, incredibly easy to make your own mustard. The hardest part is waiting for it to soak overnight before you spread it on your sandwich or dip a pretzel in it. Mine is a teensy bit modified from hers, mostly because I couldn't find brown mustard seed at the bulk food shop yesterday. As always, remember: When cooking with alcohol, pick what you would drink, not the crap you'd go and boil a bratwurst in.

Beer Horseradish Mustard
You will need: Six (6) Tablespoons mustard seed (I used all yellow seed); 1/3 cup cider vinegar; 1/3 cup good beer (I used New Glarus Fat Squirrel Brown Ale--oooh, nummy); 1 giant, heaping Tablespoon prepared Horseradish (grated or cream style, you pick. I used cream style because it's what was in the fridge); 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or whatever salt you've got).
Combine all ingredients in a pint sized jar, preferrably with a wide lid opening. Pop on a cover, and shake to mix well. Place in the fridge and soak overnight. Next morning, take the lid off and stick your immersion blender into the jar. If you don't have one of these, use your blender, Bullet blender, or food processor. Whirl until it is pureed a bit. You will still have whole seeds, but some will become paste-like and thicken up your lovely mustard. You can eat some now, or allow it to sit and mellow out for a couple more days before giving it a try. I will warn you, using beer when making mustard makes one heck of a hot mustard, so this is quite spicy. If you are a fan of spicy, rough looking mustards with lots of whole seeds, you will love this one. And the kick of horseradish ain't bad, either. Cover with a tight fitting lid, and it will keep in your fridge for months. I doubt it will last that long before being consumed in all sorts of ways, but like all mustards, the rule of thumb is to toss it and make new in about three months or so. With all the mustard oils, vinegar and potent horseradish, you are very unlikely to get any nasty growth of bacteria, but dipping a spoon or knife into the mix does add a bit of risk. So, follow the three month rule, people.

I can't wait to try this on some nice roasted ham for dinner this evening!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Just Junkin'

I love junking. Some call it picking, some call it thrifting, some call it going on a rummage. Me, I like to call it what it is: digging through piles of junk, to find a lonesome treasure to call my own. No matter the weather, no matter how dirty, dusty, or mouse-poop ridden it is, I love to dive right in and see what is hiding in the depths.
Today was a clear and lovely day, with temperatures around 0 degrees. Cold enough to freeze your nose hairs, but pretty with sunshine to tempt you out-of-doors. Perfect weather for trip to the wilds of Weyerhauser for a dig through the barns owned by Gene of Gene's Used Furniture. It is one of those places that you drive past and think, my word, look at that...must be a junkyard. Oh no. You would be sooooo wrong. It is full of junk, which is the treasure for everyman. Or everywoman, in this case.
Note: When junking in winter, remember layers are your friend. I highly recommend cuddleduds or similar long undies. Barns may block the wind, but it is like being in a large, dusty freezer!
Every time I wander through Gene's, I find something needed. Sometimes I go with a plan, like the time I went with a friend a year or so back. She was on a mission to find old silverware to make into jewelry, and I needed a new sewing table for the sewing loft. Both of us found what we needed, at a bargain price. I think she spent $10, and I spent a whopping $20. And then there was the time I took my mom, and came home with a deal on a miniature china cabinet, which lives on the porch and houses my collection of childrens' milk glass tableware. I love that thing, and I know I spent under $150 on it. It perfectly keeps my miniatures safe from maurading cats, and they aren't tucked into a box anymore for "safe-keeping".
This time, I simply needed a day of junkin', sure to soothe the nerves and distract me from too-long-winter-and-too-much-work woes. Boy, did it ever work. Just check out this place!
Can you believe it? Every which way you turn, there is more stuff to dig through. Nothing is priced, officially. I firmly believe that Gene bases his price on how excited you get about whatever it is that you've found. I also know that if you smile reeeeeeaaaaaal pretty and flirt just the teensiest bit, and maybe let him give you a squeeze or an innocent rump pat, you will be walking out of there with the deal of your life. And if you choose dicker with him, be nice about it. You know: that oh-so-casual mix of deference, flirtatiousness, and womanly strength. He likely will win the bargaining match, but hey. It's fun for everyone.
This time, I introduced my friend Gretchen to the wonder that is Gene's. See how mesmerized she is? (Look for the person wearing a white kerchief. It's like a white flag, waving bravely in the midst of lovely junk.) This place grabs you like that. You get the bug, to keep searching and digging and eventually you just know a bargain is going to jump out at you. A pearl amongst the swine. A diamond in the rough. All that, and more.
So this time, I went into the barns and sheds and narrow, tunneling paths lined with boxes and old mattresses with no plan or objective beyond a nice morning wandering and poking about. But in about the third barn, I realized: Huh. I need new kitchen chairs (two of my 100-year-old balloon back chairs have given up the ghost and need replacing), and here is a lovely purple-painted shieldback chair just calling my name. And oh, what's that? This pink sign proclaiming "It's Good To Be The Queen" needs to come back to the farm-ette, too? Well, okay then. $16.80 later, and I am a happy woman tooling back home to the ol' P.F.
I have modified my dream farm plan. I want a place that has been left intact, goodies and all, with stuffed barns and outbuildings. And once the deed is mine (or rather, the mortgage is arranged...), I am calling the American Pickers guys and setting up a head-to-head, no holds barred, Greatest Pickers of The World challenge between Frank & Mikey and Gene & his grandsons. I'll make dinner, and they have until the triangle rings to pick their little manly hearts out. Whoever makes the best score, wins.
Now that's a show I'd pay to see.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

It's Almost Time...

You can almost feel it coming. Spring is just around the corner, and that means the sap will be a'running. While I don't have maple trees on my property, I have their close (and weedy) relative: the box elder. Home to some incredibly bright red beetles, it also produces copious amounts of sap that when boiled down, tastes just like maple syrup. As I have three large-ish specimens in my yard, and I just like trying another project, I am going to tap them, collect sap, and make my own maple syrup. I found taps ($4 each), bags ($6 for 12), and bag holders ($7 each) this afternoon at everybody's favorite store, Fleet Farm. I just love bringing home a bag full of new project. Of course, my bag is going to sit for a couple weeks, but come the first weekend in March, there will be sap sacks hanging from my trees, I tell you.

Doesn't that sound mildly pornographic? Sap sacks. Oy vey.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Move Over, Heinz.





There's a new ketchup in town.




To add to my condiment repertoire, I broke out my frozen supply of summer-grown tomatoes and made a batch of less sweet and much more tomato-y ketchup. Did you know that there are fruit ketchups out there? I came across one for mango ketchup...if only I had a supply of frozen mangoes in my freezer. Ahh, well. Maybe next time. (Actually, I want to try making beer mustard next. Mmmm. Mustard.)




You, too, can try making your own ketchup. It is pretty darn easy, but it does NOT taste like Heinz. That stuff is loaded with a ton of salt, and high fructose corn syrup, and lots of sugar. Ummm, that isn't exactly what I want to dip my fries in, know what I mean? My version tastes like tomato. With extra tangy goodness. No faux-corn-based-materials involved.




This is the version I tried, modified slightly from a recipe in Small Batch Preserving, a simply wonderful canning book. (Their version called for a red bell pepper, whirled in the mix of tomato and onion. I had no peppers, as it is mid-Winter and all my frozen stash have been long since consumed a la fajita.)




Homemade Tomato Ketchup



You will need about 4 pounds of peeled plum tomatoes (very important, otherwise it is not going to taste good. MUST be plum tomatoes, folks); 1/2 cup chopped onion; 1/4 cup sugar; 2/3 cup cider vinegar; 1/2 tsp. canning salt; 1 tsp each whole peppercorns, cloves, allspice berries; 1 bay leaf; 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half. Place the tomatoes and onion in the food processor and whirl until smooth. Put in a nice big enamelled pot and bring to a boil. Add vinegar, sugar and salt, stir well and bring back to a boil. Tie the allspice, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaf and cinnamon stick pieces into a square of muslin or tuck into a tea ball. Plonk into the tomato mixture. Reduce heat and let it slow boil until very thick (about 2 hours). You could try the overnight slow cooker method with this, where you leave the lid cracked and the system on low all night long. But I wanted it done, so I cooked it on the stove. I also whirled it a bit at the end with my stick blender, because I like my ketchup smoooooooth, baby. When it is nice and thick and ketchup-y textured, ladle into hot half-pint jars, top with a hot lid, tighten the ol' band-ito, and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes. Makes about three half-pint jars of ketchup goodness.




Somebody pass me some fries.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Good Advice



Saturday, February 4, 2012

Generosity & A Pig



Ahh, Saturday. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand!


Ha ha ha ha.


After a life-restoring sleep, it was time for a substantial breakfast. Which of course meant, time to break into my stash of pork! My favorite breakfast meat (next to bacon) is breakfast sausage. It is easy to make, too: 350 degree oven in a foil-lined pan, and 30 minutes later you have the breakfast of champions.


Ahh, Trevor! You were one happy pig, if the quality of your sausage is an indicator. (I believe that it is.) Lucky me, you were also a generous pig--I have oodles of deliciousness in my freezer, with many more meals to be made.


Right now I am celebrating more generosity: the girls have been laying 5-6 eggs daily, so I am awash with eggs. This is a delightful occurence, as it allows me to indulge in making a custard pie. Oh my. I do love pie. Mmmmm. Pie.


Who loves Saturday?? Meeeeeee!!

Friday, February 3, 2012

New Life

There are times, even in the mildest of winters, when it feels as though spring will never come again. Day upon day of dank, grim murky mists and soggy socks stretch out ahead. Even when there is a short string of warm days, it's not like real spring. It's a tease, isn't it, to hear everything melting and having to deal with the dogs dragging in quantities of mud every time they come in from the yard, and know that it is weeks yet before it will be time to play in the dirt, preparing garden beds for the summer growing season.

This week has been one of those interminable grey weeks: Three days in a row of foggy mornings, with the sun reluctantly peeking out this afternoon. It was one of those weeks that makes reaching Friday a major accomplishment. One of those weeks when the dishes don't get done, but at least you remember having something for dinner...how else would the dishes have landed in the sink? One of those weeks when the idea of going to bed before 8 PM makes you as excited as going out dancing used to back in the good ol' days.

But then I wander past my bright little indoor green house, and find this waiting for me: New seedlings, sprouted in a week's time, undeterred by the gray weather outdoors. I love new seedlings. Their two tiny leaves remind me of baby's hands, clapping with joy. It may be the beer talking, but between a hot shower, a little booze, and the sight of these, my world may just turn right again.

Well, all of that and about 14 hours of sleep, too.