Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Gone To The Birds!

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

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

Not So Lazy Sunday

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

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

 

 

Personal Log: Stardate 67095.7

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

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

Just Another Summer Morning

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

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

 

Waiting For Spring

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

tromping

I’m ready for spring.  I’m ready for warmth. I want to start poking seeds in the ground and get dirt under my fingernails, to start tromping in the woods, to see green, to start shedding my winter insulation.  I feel like I’ve been holding my breath, and desperately need to catch it. I feel like I want something, but don’t know what it is.  I haven’t felt like this in a long time. It’s weird, not bad, just strange. I’m sure I’ll figure it out. I always do. Thanks for humoring me… I needed to get that out. The picture above is of one of my sons and I tromping in the woods two springs ago. My other son was the photographer.

Bee Swarm

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

My husband and I used to be beekeepers.  About 5 years ago we decided to hang it up for a while.  As a two business household, we found ourselves increasingly busy, and knew we were going to have to choose to let a few things go.  A man made us a good offer for all of our equipment, so we decided to take him up on it and sold it all except for a bee suit and a smoker.  For some reason, my husband couldn’t part with the suit and smoker.

This spring a colony of bees set up housekeeping in a burn pile on the edge of our property.  Because of the drought this summer, we haven’t been able to burn the pile.  My husband figured he would get into it this winter and remove the honey before we burned the pile in the spring.  It’s one of those locations that doesn’t offer a way to save the hive.

Today we were treated to a sight that had us yearning for our beekeeping days.  The colony in the burn pile decided to swarm and settled on a branch in a nearby mulberry tree.

Normally, swarm season here in Indiana is during May and June.  We were a little surprised to see a young, newly formed colony swarming in July, especially considering the drought and how little forage has been available.  I called another beekeeper I know to see if he wanted to come catch the swarm, but he wasn’t available, so the swarm is most likely going to fly away over the next few days and set up housekeeping elsewhere.

I guess this is going to make my husband’s job of removing the honey from the burn pile a little easier.  Swarming is basically a part of bee sex, and one of the ways they propagate. For a number of reasons a hive will decide it needs to form a new colony, so it will raise a few new queens.  Prior to swarming, a bunch of worker bees will gorge themselves on honey to take with them to their new home.  Once gorged on honey they will leave the hive, usually settling somewhere nearby while they wait for scouts to direct them to their new location.

This swarm may leave right away, they may stay on this branch for a couple of days, and in rare cases they may even begin building comb right there on the branch.  One of the reasons it was so easy to get in close to take these pictures is due to the bees being gorged on honey.  In this gorged state, their flight is slow and lazy, and they are very mild mannered.  They are incredibly intent on the task at hand, very non-aggressive, and not inclined to sting.

Zesty Tomato Garlic Croutons

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

You’re going to need these croutons for the next recipe I post.  I suppose you could use store-bought, but these are better…. at least I think so!

Sometimes I’ll whip up a batch of my Honey Whole Wheat Bread just so I can let it go stale for making croutons.  My family loves croutons. We throw ‘em in soups and salads.  Of course they go into French onion soup.  I’ve even caught my 17 year old munching on them like popcorn.

Croutons are a snap. Coat stale bread cubes in flavor bombed oil, toast in the oven, and viola! Croutons! I just throw it all together (not the bread cubes) in my food processor, and taste as I go.  I use tomatoes I’ve dried myself, which don’t have as much moisture as store-bought sun dried tomatoes.  I have to soak them in a little water before I get started, or they won’t pulverize properly in the food processor.  This recipe makes up a batch of flavored oil which is more than needed to make a batch of croutons.  It can be stored in a jar in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 weeks, and can be used in a variety of ways: croutons, tossed with pasta, or spread on sandwiches for an extra punch of flavor.

Zesty Tomato Garlic Croutons
Cubed stale bread
1 cup sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 or 5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 teaspoons dried basil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2-3 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup olive oil

Place all ingredients (except cubed bread) into a food processor and let ‘er rip. Process until the mixture is relatively smooth.

Place bread cubes in a bowl and spoon some of the tomato-oil mixture onto the cubes.

Toss until the bread is completely coated with the tomato mixture, adding more if needed.

Spread the croutons on a baking sheet and toast in a 350° oven.  Check the croutons about every 5 minutes and give them a quick stir.  Because of the sugar content of the tomatoes, the croutons will tend to caramelize, and you want to be careful not to burn them.  My croutons took approximately 15 minutes.

Honey Whole Wheat Bread and a Few Bunny Trails

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Before I get on with this, I’m warning you my motivation is on its way back,  and I was a little camera happy this morning.

I realize bread making is a little time consuming, but I think it’s worth the effort. You’re probably wondering how I manage to bake bread several times a week when I work a full time job.  Here’s the beauty of working from a shop located on the same property where I live.  I can head to my kitchen on my lunch break, and mix up a batch of dough and knead it.  It’s not uncommon to find a batch of dough rising in my office.  At the end of the work day, I take it back to my kitchen, ready to pop in the oven.

I don’t know why I haven’t blogged my bread recipe before.  I make it so often I could do it in my sleep.  I’ve fiddled around with different ways of making bread over the years. The resulting conclusion of all this fiddling….. the books, famous chefs, food network, etc….. they’ve made it WAY too complicated.  No wonder so many people are intimidated by homemade bread.  Seriously folks, bread has been the staff of life, successfully feeding and nourishing mankind for thousands of years….. it can’t be that complicated!  Of course, in the last 100 years, we’ve managed to corrupt the stuff beyond what our ancestors would recognize as bread.  However, that’s a whole ‘nuther conversation.  Anyway, I’ll show you how I make bread, and I’m warning you…. I break a lot of rules.

I don’t have a convenient local source for bulk organic grains and flours, so I have them shipped from Heartland Mill out of Kansas.  You can shop online, but I tend to phone my orders so I can have them ship on my business’ UPS shipper account.  I’ve got a negotiated volume discount with UPS. Heartland’s prices are fantastic, and even with shipping I’m paying less than if I bought 5 pound bags of organic Bobs Red Mill from the local grocery.  I purchase in 25 or 50 pound quantities, depending on the type of flour.  I tend to use about twice as much all-purpose flour as I do whole wheat flour.  I’m still working on that. I keep my flours and grains in 6 gallon buckets stored under some of my canning shelves in the basement.

Yes, I’m a little OCD.  Yes, I know the shelves are bowing a little. Drives me nuts!  I’ve got a bunch more shelving on the opposite facing wall.  Everything in the buckets is organic: durum semolina for pasta, rye flakes, steel cut oats,  arborio rice, wild rice, green coffee beans, whole wheat flour, unbleached all-purpose flour. The wooden crates are where onions, squash, and sweet potatoes are stored. The large jars on the shelves are dried herbs, spices, dried fruit, and other things of that sort.  I have an arsenal of herbal witch doctory on that shelf. Top shelf is elderberry juice, jams, salsa, and assorted pickled veggies and relishes.  If you’ve ever received a food gift from me, it’s a good bet it came from the top shelf.

So, on to bread making. This is my base recipe for bread, and I vary it depending on what I’m making. If I’m making raisin bread I’ll add more honey, a little cinnamon and some raisins.  I’ll form it into focaccia and slather it with olive oil and olives, artichokes, or roasted red peppers. I’ll form it into bagels, boil, then bake them. This recipe produces one average  sized loaf.  I don’t like to make 2 loaves at a time, since I prefer fresh bread and there are only 3 of us in the house these days.

Honey Whole Wheat Bread
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vital wheat gluten
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
Up to 1/4 cup honey
1 egg
1 to 1 1/2 cup warm water

I usually just throw my ingredients into the bowl without measuring: one part each of whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour, about 1/2 palm full kosher salt, a scant palm full active dry yeast, and a palm full vital wheat gluten.  I decided to be kind and give you some measurements.  I warned you I break rules.  No messing with extra containers, softening yeast in water ahead of time.   I just dump all the dry ingredients together and give them  a quick stir with my spoon.

A little bunny trail here with some information on ingredients.  Bread does not taste good without salt. (period).  Most recipes don’t call for enough.  I use more salt.  Salt does tend to slow down the activity of yeast, yeast feeds on sugar, and this recipe includes plenty of honey.  See where I’m going with this? I’ve never had a problem with the salt preventing the yeast from doing its job.

I include vital wheat gluten when using whole grain flours because I get a better rise from the dough as well as a lighter crumb in the finished bread.  You can choose to leave it out, but you’ll probably end up with a heavier more dense loaf of bread.

Next, combine the honey, egg, and warm water. A quick aside on water amounts.  The amount can vary depending on your flour.   My current batch of flour needs about a cup, but I’ve needed to use as much a 1 1/2 before.  If your dough is a little too wet, just work a little more all-purpose flour into it when you knead the dough.  I’ve developed a sense for how the dough should feel, and know when I need to use more or less water.

Don’t worry if the warm water causes the egg white to get a little hazy, because you’re just going to mix it up like this.

And then dump the wet into the dry.

Stir it until it forms a rough dough.

Dump it onto the lightly floured counter top and knead for about 5 minutes.  At this point I walk away from it, and let it rest for 5 minutes while I do something else.  I took the time to refill the nearly empty flour canisters I keep on my counter. Knead the dough for a few more minutes, until it feels smooth and elastic.  Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of a bowl and turn the dough in the oil to coat it.

Cover the bowl with a cloth and set it in a warm draft free place to rise until doubled in size.  Rising time will vary depending on too many factors to list.  Expect anywhere from 1 to 2 hours for the first rising. This batch took 2 hours because the house was cool this morning.  This is one of my favorite vintage tea towels.  It’s too pretty to use for any messy kitchen work, so I use it as a proofing cloth.

Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, knead it a few times, and place it back in the bowl with a drizzle of oil to rise a second time.  The dough will rise more quickly the second time.

After the dough has doubled a second time, punch it down, knead it a few times, form it into a loaf, and set it aside to rise for the last time.  I love crusty free form loaves, but my guys don’t care for crust, so I bake the bread in loaf pans.  I do whatever it takes to keep them from requesting that soft, tasteless, chemical laden, plastic wrapped stuff that passes for bread these days.  This last raising will take as little as 30 minutes. 

Once it has doubled, place the loaf in a 350 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes. Yet another bunny trail….. baking time and temperature.  350 for 30 minutes is what works for me.  My oven is not properly calibrated, so I bought an oven thermometer to make sure my oven is properly preheated.  As I mentioned before, my family likes a less crusty, soft crumbed bread.  If I had it my way, I’d make a crusty free from loaf baked at about 400 or 425 for about 20 minutes, on a stone, and with steam for the first few minutes of baking.  My point being, do what works for your quirky oven and personal taste.

I know you’re supposed to let the bread cool before cutting if you don’t want to mangle your loaf.  Mangling be damned! I wanted a piece so I cut it right away, slathered it with some homemade strawberry vanilla jam, and made myself very happy.

 

 

Winter Blues

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

I thought I had better put in a quick appearance.  Thanks to a mild case of the winter blues, my motivation level has been almost non-existent.  It’s been a few years since I’ve had a legitimate case of the blues, and I hope it’s the last for long time to come.  I’m dreaming of sunshine, warmer temperatures, green things, and dirt under my fingernails.

I’ve been getting organized, and all of my seed starting paraphernalia is ready to go.  Egg production in the chicken coop is on the rise…. a sign of days lengthening into spring.  Speaking of chickens, I was cheered a little by a sight outside my window.  Not exactly the kind of bird I was hoping to attract to the feeder, but a bathing beauty all the same!

The girls enjoy grazing on the dormant rye/vetch cover crop I planted in the fall.

Chunky Knitted Hat Project

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Do you remember this yarn from a previous post?  I said I was going to make a hat for my niece for Christmas, and I did. It ended up being a  big hit with my mom and sister.  I think my niece tried it on when she opened it at Christmas, and then again when this picture was taken.  Apparently, my sister has  stolen the hat and wears it a lot.  My mom put in a request for her own.

The pattern is not my own. The yarn I used was wool hand spun and  hand dyed by my friend, Maggie. I used size 13 double-pointed needles, and stuck to the pattern. I hate circular needles, and avoid them whenever possible.  I was able to complete the hat in about 2 hours.  The original hat is neat, but I love the crazy nubby texture I got using Maggie’s yarn a lot  more.   This was the first time I had worked with a single ply yarn.  I’m hooked on it now, and have put in an order for more.  It just so happens Maggie has been spinning up a storm, and listed a bunch of her single ply yarns this week.  I’m going to shamelessly plug her Etsy store, because a little bird told me she’s renovating her kitchen right now, and is trying to raise some funds to pay for new flooring.  Maybe I should have titled this post “Fundraising for Flooring”.  So, go now!  Buy some yarn from Girl With A Sword at Etsy. Make this hat. Or, something else.