Gone To The Birds!

Jersey Roo

It was a horrible, awful winter! Between historic snow accumulation and historic sub zero temperatures, the winter was hard on me, and it was hard on my chickens and geese. My husband was healing from a neck/shoulder injury for a good part of the winter, so guess who did most of the snow shoveling? I’ve never been so happy for spring to arrive!

There were a couple of unfortunate events concerning my birds this winter.  About 4 weeks ago, I went out and found that my prize Jersey Giant rooster (pictured above) had keeled over dead … just like that.  He was fine one minute, and the next he was dead.  At only about 8 months of age, he was growing very fast and was already about 15 pounds.  I’ve speculated that maybe his heart gave out.  I had spent quite a bit of money to purchase him, along with two hens, from Maria Hall back in October.  She breeds some outstanding birds, and my three chickens were not exactly cheap.  My purpose in buying the birds was to establish my own flock, and I wanted to start out with high quality birds for breeding.

With my rooster gone, and no broody hens to sit on eggs, I rushed the freshest eggs that I had on hand to a friend who agreed to incubate them for me.  My hope was that we might be able to hatch out at least one rooster, so I wouldn’t have to shuck out another $150 to get a replacement. Three weeks later, we got lucky, and 10 eggs hatched out. Here’s one of the little guys within 24 hours of hatching out.

JG chick

And here’s a shot that I took today, the end of week 1.  If you look closely you can see the first little feathers at the very tips of the wings. Before you start over-romanticizing how cute and fuzzy he is, I’ll have you know he pooped on my hand twice while I was trying to take his picture!

jg chick 1 week

The other unfortunate event, which happened on Valentine’s Day,  involved my gander. I don’t know how it happened, but I went out one day and found him just sitting with a deep laceration across the top of his head.  I was sure he was a goner, but a great local vet patched him up and he survived.  Unfortunately, he’s now blind in one eye, but he’s adapted very well, and it doesn’t seem to be causing him a problem.  And, he felt good enough to father children.  His mate is sitting on 6 eggs which are due to hatch in exactly 2 weeks.

sitting goose 2

She’s so pretty I’ve just got to give you one more picture. I’d say newly hatched chicks and goslings on the way is a pretty good way to greet the new spring, wouldn’t you?

sitting goose

Winter Italian Sausage Soup

sausage soup

This is one of those recipes that was born standing in front of my open freezer on a Saturday morning, clueless as to what we were going to have for dinner. My eyes landed on the Italian sausage that I get through a co-op of which I’m a member. On the shelf above were containers of frozen broth made from leftover roast chicken bones.  OK, soup – Italian … tomatoes … garlic … you see how my mind works?  So, I started grabbing staples from my stores, and ended up with the picture below.  Remember, I do everything the long hard way, so I’ve included suggestions for the sake of time and simplicity.  I dry tomatoes in my dehydrator in the summer, so I’ve always got them on hand.  I usually have kale in the winter garden, but thanks to a run-in with the geese, my kale is no more. This was some organic red kale I’d grabbed at a local store. Will someone  tell my why the geese turned up their bills at kale when I offered it to them out in their pen, but when they took a wander around the property they suddenly decided they couldn’t get enough of it?

soup staples

Winter Italian Sausage Soup
1 pound Sweet Italian Sausage
1 cup dry beans, soaked (or 1-2 cans of some sort of white bean)
6 cups chicken broth
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed and diced (or half the head like I did)
1 cup dried tomatoes (or you can use canned tomatoes)
Small bunch of kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
Salt
Red pepper flakes (optional)

Brown sausage in soup pot.  Add garlic and cook for a minutes.  Add chicken broth and beans, simmer for about an hour until beans are tender (you can skip this cooking time if you use canned  beans). Add dried tomatoes and simmer for another 15 or 20 minutes (skip the cooking time if you use canned tomatoes).  Add kale and simmer for another few minutes.  I like to be able to chew my kale a little bit, so I don’t cook it much longer than 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and red pepper flakes.

OK, I feel better now. I recently noticed I hadn’t blogged a recipe in a very long time, and had been boring the heck out of people with the geese and chickens.

 

The Devil … errr.. Tina Made Me Do It!

tincture-tea

When I got off work on Thursday afternoon, I kicked back on the sofa with a cup of tea and the most recent issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine.  My intention was to relax for a short while, unwind from a busy day in the shop, and then have dinner waiting for my husband when he came in after dark from deer hunting.  That’s not what happened.  Instead, I read an article written by my friend, Tina Sams, the editor of the magazine, entitled “Grocery Store Preparedness”.  The article was about how to stock your cupboards to be somewhat prepared for an unexpected cold or bout of the flu.  It also included some instructions for a few herbal concoctions meant for prevention and easing symptoms.  At this point I went off on a wild hare.  Pictured above is my kitchen counter within 10 minutes of reading the article, just before it exploded.

My herbal remedies arsenal has dwindled dangerously low, and I’ve procrastinated restocking for weeks. Tina’s article was just the motivation I needed, and dinner ended up being reheated leftovers, instead of the meatloaf I had originally planned.

First on my agenda was getting a few tinctures started. From left to right is Eleuthero root, Astragalus root, and Holy Basil (also known as Tulsi). Making tinctures is quick and easy.  I just fill a jar about 1/3 full of dried herb, and cover with vodka.  I let it sit about 6 weeks before using.  At that point it can be strained and bottled.  I store mine in the jars and strain off what I need into 2 ounce dropper bottles as I need it.

making tinctures

Eleuthero is an immune system booster, effective against colds and flu. Astragalus, one of my favorite preventives,  is effective against viral infections, helps boost the production of white blood cells, and promotes interferon production in the body. Interferon is a chemical that disrupts the life cycle of a virus. Holy Basil is most commonly used for stress and anxiety, but it’s also a powerful adaptogen, rich in phytochemicals, which exhibits both antiviral and antibiotic effects.  These three have a significant presence in my household, along with elderberry, which numerous studies have shown to be effective against multiple strains of influenza.

Next, I mixed up my favorite blend of herbal tea which I like to use when I feel a cold coming on, and also during a cold.  I need to give it a name.  I blend the following in a bowl and store it in and old bail lid canning jar.

2 parts Holy Basil
2 parts Dried Elderberries
1 part Dried Ginger
1 part Lemon Verbena
1 part Lemongrass
1 part Hibiscus

herb tea

I like this blend because it meets the criteria for my personal preferences. It tastes good – some zip is provided by the lemon verbena, lemongrass, and hibiscus (which also gives the tea a rich rosy color).  The elderberry and Holy Basil help combat the virus, and the ginger provides a warming effect that can help break a sweat and fight off chills. Elderberry also helps promote sweating.

herb tea

Next, I made a batch of garlic infused honey, recommended in Tina’s article. I’m not even going to go into the myriad benefits of garlic.  You can Google it.  When I eat garlic I seem to stink worse than most people.  When I eat it raw, I fart – a lot.  You want to stay far, far away from me when I’ve been eating raw garlic.

garlic honey

I also made the Ginger Elixir and the Fire Cider included in Tina’s article. A friend of Tina’s and mine calls the Ginger Elixir “ginger lemon honey throat yum yum stuff”.  That about sums it up. Since these are in the current issue of the magazine, I’m not going to give them here.  I bet if you visit The Essential Herbals Facebook page and ask about it, Tina might share … or you could just subscribe to the magazine, and she’ll start you off with the current issue.

Another Goose Post

autumn pens

The farmer decided to harvest the corn field next to my pasture today, and the geese were curious, but a little freaked by the big green, roaring monster.  Additionally, I’m sitting on 90% chance of rain by tomorrow, and the trees in my yard decided to dump almost all of their leaves in the last few days.  All of this was a recipe for me needing to be outside raking leaves, all the while reassuring the geese that it was OK to come out of the goose house to watch the combine, and that it wouldn’t eat them.

I did manage to get most of the leaves picked up and moved into the chicken and goose pens. The leaves provide mud control during the winter, as well as entertainment for the chickens.  By spring they’ve picked, scratched and turned the leaves so much that there’s nothing left but a little compost.  I forgot to wear gloves while raking, and now I’ve got a blister on my thumb.  After I was done raking, I just hung out in the pasture with the geese and we watched the combine together. The chickens lived up to their name, and hid inside the coop the whole time.

autumn geese

I’ve been really surprised at the amount of time I’ve been spending hanging out in the pasture with the geese.  I guess it’s my version of taking the dogs out for a walk. It will be interesting to see what I do once the snow starts to fly. Tulsi the goose says, “Hi”.

looking at me

Not So Lazy Sunday

I was a little negligent during my work week, so I’m behind on paperwork.  I went to a beer festival yesterday, so I promised myself I would put in a full day of work on Sunday.  Of course, I woke up to the most perfect weather I’ve seen in weeks, so I’ve decided to see how much I can cram into one Sunday. I probably don’t have time for a blog post, but I actually felt like writing today, so hey, why not?  I’ve been breaking up the work-work stuff with fun-work stuff.  After round one of the not so fun work, I grabbed my camera and went out to the pasture to play with the geese and scrub down the wading pond, water buckets, and feeders.

On the way out I got sidetracked by the passionflower vine I planted along side the chicken coop this spring.

passionflower

I’m a little fastidious about keeping my birds clean, so every week to 10 days I usually scrub down the water buckets and feeders, as well as the goose pool.  The goose pool gets a little “interesting” if I don’t clean it up periodically.  I found a leopard frog in it the other morning. A good stiff scrub brush and some elbow grease were called for today.

pool

Of course, I had some help from Teasel, the gander. He’s very nosy, and insists on inspecting everything.

help

Tulsi, the female was content to armchair supervise, and even treated Teasel and I to some dancing.

dancing

Did I mention it’s an absolutely gorgeous day?

blue eyes

While I was scrubbing the pool, I let the hose run into a muddy spot where Tulsi and Teasel love to root around in the mud. They were so busy with the mud, I was able to sneak up from behind and get this shot.  Usually, they are so busy being armchair supervisors, that I’m rarely able to get a shot from behind.

feathers

Did I mention that it’s an amazing day? The bees were busy on the fall asters blooming in the pasture.

bee on aster

By the way, the chickens I raised from chicks this spring just started laying eggs two or three weeks ago.

welsummer eggs 2

When I was done in the pasture, I made a simple lunch of three perfectly poached eggs, and a piece of toast made from stale leftover bread (seriously, stale homemade bread makes the BEST toast in the world).  Then I wrote this blog post, and now I have to go back to the not-so-fun work.

poached eggs

 

 

Outdoor Canning Kitchen & Sweet Corn

canning kitchen

This weekend I dragged out all my paraphernalia to set up my outdoor canning kitchen. I set it up on the sidewalk just outside my kitchen door, and it will be getting quite a bit of use over the next few weeks. It’s a very simple setup, and keeps my house from becoming hot and steamy during the dog days of August.  The burner/stand is from an old turkey fryer.  I use one big pot to boil water for scalding tomatoes, peaches, corn, etc.  The other big pot is filled with cold water, which I use to quickly cool said scalded tomatoes, peaches, corn, etc.  From my staging area outdoors, I move my scalded/blanched produce into the house to finish processing.

This weekend I’ve been working on a wheelbarrow full of organic sweet corn that was GIVEN to me.  Yep, that’s right, it was free!

corn

I also got some help this time around.  Since we moved our youngest son to college last weekend, my husband has been especially attentive to me, as we’ve been adjusting to our empty nest.

bart shucking

I also got a little bit of help from the family cat. He’s always got to be in the center of whatever is going on around here. I finally had to give him a small ear of corn to get him out of my hair. He’s a raw fed kitty, so who would have figured he was a sucker for sweet corn?

feisty helper

My setup for cutting corn is very basic.

corn setup

I use a bowl turned upside down in a shallow pan and a very sharp, comfortable knife.  I keep a knife sharpener handy, and run the knife over it every dozen or so ears of corn.  I use a regular sharp edged teaspoon to scrape the cobs after I’ve cut the kernels off.  Once I have all the corn off the ears, I package it up in freezer bags, lay the bags flat on cookie sheets, and then stack the cookie sheets in my big deep freeze until the corn is frozen.

Now, I need to go finish the corn.  I’ll let you know how much I end up “putting by” later in the week when I share some more of my canning adventures.  I’m going to have close to 50 pounds of tomatoes to deal with on Tuesday.

Personal Log: Stardate 67095.7

I know I’ve been rather quiet this summer.  It’s been a mixed bag, emotional roller coaster of a summer.  This morning, as I’ve been moving around my house, trying to go on with life as usual, I’ve been feeling the overwhelming need to get it all off my chest. This blog is the closest thing to a journal that I’ve ever kept, so it just makes sense to do it here.

This season of big changes in my life began in May with the news that my eldest son had been offered a job in Utah, and had 6 days to pack for the move.  I knew something like this would happen one day, and it was a wonderful opportunity for my son.  This is what raising children is all about … shaping them into happy, responsible adults who will be equipped to strike out in the world, and make their own way.  I found out I wasn’t as prepared for this eventuality as I thought I would be, and spent those 6 days crying as I helped him pack.  Then, on the evening of May 20th, my little birdie flew.  As happy as I was for him, it felt like like my heart was going to break.

fly birdie

However, life goes on, and my husband, youngest son, and I grew accustomed to the change.  Eleven days later, my youngest son graduated from high school.  My son is the young man on the left.

kuyler-graduation

My little family of 3 settled into the summer routine of work and play, and began to make preparations for my youngest to go away to college in the fall.  In the middle of the summer, I had a difficult moment of heartbreak.

In July I decided to add a couple of young Sebastopol geese to the flock of chickens in the pasture. They were beautiful, friendly, and so intelligent.  I fell in love with them immediately.

geese

A few days after bringing them home, a wandering Siberian Husky climbed the pasture fence and killed my new geese, and half the flock of chickens I had raised from chicks.  I was devastated.  It turned out the dog belonged to a neighboring Amish farm, and the Amish farmer did compensate us for the loss.  Unfortunately, here in farm country, a dog that kills livestock has to be put down, which made the whole situation all the more tragic.  I decided to get right back on the horse, and was able to locate a new pair of geese, which I brought home about 3 weeks ago.

new geese

So, this brings me up to this morning.  Yesterday my youngest son moved into his dorm room in Indianapolis.  My beautiful baby boy is now a young man taking his first steps of independence.   My house is a very different kind of quiet this morning, and I’ve started to cry again.   I usually pour my heart out to my mom, but she’s away in England visiting my brother right now.  My husband is out in the woods hunting squirrels, my oldest is in Utah, and my youngest is in Indy posting pictures of  his new  view on Facebook. It’s very different than the view of the cornfield from the bedroom window he’s looked from since birth.

Indy

It’s exciting that my kids are grown up, and beginning lives of their own.  It also marks the end of an era for my husband and I, and the beginning of something new.  I know these changes are normal and good, and common to all parents. My story isn’t unique, but yet it feels like it is.  I know there are many good things to come, but for right now I feel like my heart is breaking.  These children are so much a part of me than they’ll ever know, I love them more than life, and the separation is difficult.

brother messing around

Seriously… Don’t Buy Me Another Kitchen Gadget!

tart cherries

I needed a short break, so I’m writing this post before going back to my task.  My husband and I went to a neighbor’s this afternoon and picked about 10 pounds of tart cherries, so you know what I’ve been doing today.  Yep, that’s right … pitting cherries.  Which reminded me of how much I’ve come to loath kitchen gadgets.

One year I found this in my Christmas stocking.  I’m sure my mom will forgive me for the public disclosure.  I never used it, and finally gave it to Goodwill.

pineapple cutter

Another year I got these very cool looking herb scissors.  Again, I’ll need forgiveness from another family member. They’re in a drawer in my spare bedroom, still in the original packaging.

herb scissors

Years ago, in a moment of insanity at one of those home parties, I bought something that looked like this.  Talk about a useless piece of crap! Too many parts to clean, and the “blade” dulled in about 15 seconds.

food chopper

Most of the kitchen gadgets that I’ve gotten rid of over the years, have lost their place in my kitchen thanks to this bad baby, my Wusthof Ikon chef knife with a blackwood handle. It’s heavy, perfectly balanced, alarmingly sharp, and can chop and dice just about anything I throw at it.

wusthof

So, guess who is not using a cherry pitter?  Yup, this girl….. er, I guess I haven’t been a girl for a while now.  Instead, I’m using my smallest stainless steel funnel.  Just shove the tip of the funnel into the stem end, give it a little push, and viola!  Pit pops out the other side.  I love multifunctional basics.  My break’s over now, so back to the pits. I’ll let you know what becomes of the cherries at another time.

cherry pitter

 

Just Another Summer Morning

The weatherman was calling for a rather warm, humid day with a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon, so I decided to get an early start this morning.  First on my agenda was running to my Amish neighbor, Rose’s, house to help her butcher a few chickens.  She had promised to give me a refresher course in chicken processing, since I’ll be doing my own at the end of the summer, and haven’t done so since I was a teenager.  Apparently, chicken processing is a little like riding a bike, and it all came rushing back to me.  Rose gave me a chicken to take home for dinner, and it’s currently soaking in buttermilk in my fridge for Buttermilk Fried Chicken from the cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks.  One of these days I’ll have to sneak some pictures from a distance of the Amish working in their fields, or a buggy passing by for you.

Anyone know what to do with a gallon of mulberries?  After placing an old sheet under a mulberry tree along the pasture fence row and giving it a good shake, I’ve got a gallon I need to decide what to do with. Sorbet for dessert after fried chicken tonight?

mulberries

I spent a little time with my garden, pulling a few weeds, and picking some out of control greensl.  I suppose those should become part of dinner this evening also.  That’s spinach in the foreground, cilantro behind it, flowering arugula in the back, and dill in the upper left hand corner.  When I’m done writing this post, I’m going to go back out and pick the sugar snap peas.

lush greens

Because I garden in raised beds, space is at a premium. I always grow one or two zucchini plants, and they tend to be a bit problematic, thanks to their sprawling tendency.  I picked up a tip on pinterest that seems to have solved the problem.  I placed an upside down tomato cage over the plant, and as it has been growing, I pull the leaves up into the cage. It’s holding the main stem relatively upright, and preventing the plant from creeping out of its designated space.  We’ll see what happens as the plant grows larger.

zucchini control

 

Teenaged Chickens & Pickled Radishes

 

chicken butts 2

The chicks aren’t chicks anymore.  They’re teenagers now. This morning when I let them out of the coop into the pasture, I noticed their chirpy little voices were interspersed with awkward, croaking clucks. Also, a few of the roosters have been attempting to crow, which is hilarious. I’m reminded of  the catching and cracking of the voice of a teenaged boy, as it transitions to a deeper, more manly sounding thing.

As you can see in the shot above, feeding time is very serious business. Whenever I make a trip out to the pasture, I’m practically mobbed, as they all come running up to see if I’m bringing more food.

chickens grazing

The roosters have begun to develop their tail feathers, and combs and wattles are coming along nicely. I ended up with 12 hens and 13 roosters.  When butchering time comes around, the largest guy with the most spectacular plumage, comb, and wattle (aka superior genetics) will get to stay on as the patriarch of my little flock.

rooster

On to the subject of radishes.  This past weekend I brought in my first major haul of the gardening season, and spent time in the kitchen putting some of it away for winter use.

strawberry rhubarb

I made 3 small batches of strawberry vanilla jam, a batch of my Gingered Rhubarb Conserve, an arugula feta quiche for lunch, a pan of strawberry rhubarb crisp (my youngest son’s special request), and a big jar of pickled radishes.

jar of radishes

These are quick and easy refrigerator pickles, and my solution to a bunch of radishes that need to be pulled all at the same time.  I just can’t eat them all at once, and they don’t hold all that long.  I go with the more French garlic and tarragon flavor, but you could go with dill instead, or any other favorite herb for that matter.

Pickled Radishes
Radishes
Garlic
Tarragon Sprigs
Peppercorns
Vinegar
Water
Salt

Stuff a jar with cleaned and trimmed radishes, several whole garlic cloves, sprigs of tarragon, and a teaspoon or so of peppercorns.  I like my radishes whole, but they can be sliced.  Fill the jar to cover all of the radishes with a solution of half vinegar, half water, and salt.  I use about 1 tablespoon of salt per 2 cups of solution, but it’s a good idea to adjust to your personal taste.  Let the jar sit in the refrigerator for a few days before eating.  The pickling solution will pull all of the red out of the radishes.  This is what mine looked like in less than an hour.

pickled radishes