Tuesday, August 25, 2015

No rhyme or reason

for this post.  Just figured I better check in so you don't think I fell in a ditch. 

Besides the usual busyness of work/farm/work/farm, recently we (the sisters) have had our hands rather fullish keeping an eye on our parents.  We have been very, very lucky up to this point - both of our parents are in their early 90s, live on their own, and have maintained a happy, healthy, autonomous existence.  My dad, who just achieved 93, has rather suddenly started to fail.  It's like he is winding down, both physically and mentally.  This has meant that we need to keep our eye on him at all times.  This also has coincided with my sister's (their main caregiver) two-week vacation.  We put our heads together and managed to piece together a schedule that will have either someone there 24 hours every day or at least be able to cast an eye upon them once a day.  My mother is under strict orders to let us know if she needs an assist.  She tends to not want to bother us.  Sigh.

Here they are, the cuties, a day before Dad's
93rd birthday
We are hoping that my sister is actually enjoying her vacation (if you are reading this - you better be relaxing! Everything is going fine.)  Besides, no matter who, what, where and when, there is only so much one can do.  I think it is much easier for us, his daughters, to accept this downward spiral than it is for his wife of 65 years.  Gone is his ability to hold a (long) coherent conversation, make plans, have fun.  I may need to write into my will that I be allowed to wander out to the back 40, dig a hole and Bobsyeruncle when I get to that age.

Speaking of oldsters, I wouldn't mind being able to cast my eye on this guy 24 hours a day.  He spends his days either sleeping, staring at me (willing crunchy treats to appear in mid-air), bouncing (when his food dish is making its way to his eating station), barking (on sight only, not sound), and gnawing on his marrow bones.

Lawsy, I love this guy.

On a more upbeat note, the evening sky was quite beautiful a couple of nights ago.  So beautiful that I even was inspired to grab my phone and take a picture.  You can just make out the half-moon behind those rosy fingers if you bigify it.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Chicken Scratch

Since my creative mind has been numbed down to a sodden lump - my internal clock seems to have a hitch in its giddyap - I will post a gratuitous update on the furred, fleeced and feathered dependents of the Little Lucky.  (I don't have pix - they will come after the fact.  Honest.)

Chickens.  Got lotsa them.  Lacey, the oldest hen, one of my friend Rosie's original flock weighing in at approximately 7, doesn't seem to have the same sparkle in her eye.  I am guessing that this will be her last summer.  They seem to know that another winter is rumbling up and it's just too much for them.  The old girls keel over in the fall.

The Tweenagers are now coming into their own.  Since I rehomed Bleu, the two Lavender Orphington/Olive-Egger roolets have grown large and lustrous.  There are crows developing - a slow, strangled, painful process, from the sounds of it.  There has been some tentative Elvising and half-hearted attempts at jumping on top of the hens, but the girls are having none of it so far.

The Babes are dumb as stumps.  Cute, yes, but don't have the sense that god gave a turnip.  They have been allowed out of the little coop into their little fenced run for almost a week.  They have yet to figure out that they must go back into the coop at night.  Every stinking night I am out there with my headlamp, scooping them up and putting them back in the coop.  I've tried putting the light on ("Go towards the light.....") but to no avail.  I was spoiled by the Tweenies who figured it out in a day.

I like the make-up of my flock; lots of diversity and a hodgepodge of personalities.  Egg production is erratic at best - I go from 5 a day to 12-18.  There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason.  At least Bleu's poor, sex-slave hen is now out and about.  She has regrown most of her feathers and isn't as hysterical.  Two of my hens have already started to moult.  Geez.  As much as I long for fall - my favorite season - I don't long for the cold, snowy winter that the old timers are predicting.

Sheepies.  The Icelandics (Juno and Linden) resembled wool-covered dirigibles, tottering around on toothpicks.  Even Norman is chunky.  And he doesn't even like apples - crazy guy.  The llama, however, is wild about apples.  She frets and hums and stamps her feet when she knows they are coming.  I believe her eyesight is now down to a little peripheral vision and that's it.  She can see some movement - as when Miss Whirlwind (aka Lovey) whizzes by doing her loops.  She really needs a barrel cut - next year for sure, even if I have to tranquilize her.  She is very, very skittish and was even before the loss of sight.  Even putting her halter on is now a three person job - if I had three people.  Which I don't.  So I coo to her and feed her apples and make sure she has her little wading pool when it's hot.  She likes to stand in it, with her banana ears moving around like furry radar dishes.

Doglets.  Scrappy remains the sunlight in my day.  He is definitely getting creaky, but still bounces like mad when his breakfast and dinner is in sight.  He is also very deaf.  But a sweeter dog you will not find.  Lovey looks wonderful and is having a ball chasing red squirrels.  They drive her mad.  The little buggers sit outside on the front deck - in maddening view of Lovey - eating pine cones and making a mess.  The Pepperoni continues to drive me mad.  He is such a dachshund.  Cutie.

Cats.  I should rename them Stan and Ollie.  Kramer is the skinniest thing alive.  He eats (but is very picky) and apparently has the metabolism of a grasshopper.  Slimbo eats.  Everything.  He does not have a metabolism.  He is also becoming very lovey-dovey.  While he is not a lap cat (thank goodness), he will now sleep tightly next to me.  It's quite a challenge when it's hot and humid - all this furry love.

How I can drone on.  I will work on getting some pix up of the entire menagerie - may even some Good 'n Plenty sheep!

Monday, August 17, 2015

O, Fall, Come Quickly on Little Wing-ed Feet!

My view - the whole of my weekend.

My beloved Bread & Butter

I really do believe the gods have a sick sense of humor.  Imagine all the tittering and sniggering as it was decided to make everything ripen and need to be canned during the dog-days of August.  I had a lot of time to ruminate about this and many other things, as I slaved over a hot stove for most of the weekend.  Whining aside, it was very satisfactory to see all the jars lined up on the counter (and the kitchen island and the dining room table and on top of Pepper's crate) by Sunday night.  I am most thrilled at my new cache of Sylvie's mom's bread and butter pickles.  I have been out since February.  It's not been easy.
I did manage to talk myself out of buying an entire bag of corn (55+ ears!) as it is finally dawning on me that I am a family of one (person).  I am going to can a couple of dozen ears' worth and that will have to do.  On Sunday, I made zucchini lasagna - nice thin, flat ribbons of zucchini taking the place of pasta.  I also used a package of frozen mushrooms, a jar of diced tomatoes and a jar of roasted tomato sauce, both from the pantry, a package of grass-fed ground beef, a handful of reconstituted diced onion from last year's bumper crop (thank goodness for my dehydrator!), homemade ricotta cheese, and topped of with dollops of last year's garlic scape pesto.  Delish!  Unfortunately (or fortunately - depending on your frame of mind) I also made fresh peach ice cream and peanut butter / banana chunk ice cream.  I had leftover cream that HAD to be used.  HAD to.  I may need an intervention.
Last week, some fairly violent winds made origami out of the shade canopy I used on the back deck.  It was the only thing that allowed me to actually use the deck.  I came home Thursday night and it was twisted like a pretzel.  After scouring the limited options in my rural neighborhood, I found a deck umbrella at a deep discount.  Noodling it around for a while, I finally bungeed it to one of the Adirondack chairs on the deck - a rather elaborate bungeeing job, if I do say so myself.  So far, it's remained upright.  A friend dropped by last night and we had a glass of wine bowls of ice cream under the umbrella.  It was very nice.  It is difficult, however, to remain cool when covered in furry beasts. 
Speaking of furry beasts, the flies have been gawd-awful the past few days.  The sheep and llama are especially bothered by them.  I found my jar of SWAT and trotted out to smear the Pepto-Bismol pink goo on their faces.  I thought Juno looked like a particularly fetching woolly Good 'n Plenty.  They were so miserable, they didn't mind.  Apria took some convincing - and six smooshed apples.  Flies have been sneaking into the house which causes the dogs to leap and snap.  It's been pretty exciting.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Social Life.

"The term social refers to a characteristic of living organisms as applied to populations of humans and other animals. It always refers to the interaction of organisms with other organisms and to their collective co-existence, irrespective of whether they are aware of it or not, and irrespective of whether the interaction is voluntary or involuntary." (Wikipedia)

Up until this week, my 'social' life was about as dry as the definition above.  My interaction was confined to four-legged, feathered, furred, wooled, and some brief encounters with two-leggeds.  Just how I like it.  Then some friends decided that I needed to stretch my interactions to include adult beverages, food I didn't make myself and time off the farm. 

As you probably have guessed, I don't have much free time, what with the dreaded job - gotten to by the dreaded commute - family obligations, farm chores, food processing, etc.  What free time I do have, I like to enjoy in the company of my dogs.  Don't get me wrong - I am not a hermit (quite) - but all the in/out of the car, long miles with dreadful drivers and the like, make me so very happy to be home that I don't want to leave.  And let's not forge the guilt!  Three pairs of big brown eyes that seem to look at me quite reproachfully if I dare to exit after a long absence.  Of course, a heavy hand with treats seems to take care of that.

Monday night I raced home, fed dogs, got eggs, fed sheep/llama, tossed treats in the general direction of the dogs and exited to meet 'the girls' for a night of beer (not me) and pizza (make mine gluten free) in a very noisy, crowded pizza joint that has been rated Number One in our area for years.  There was much yelling - as in you couldn't hear yourself holler - and I was greatly relieved when we finally left.  Fun factor:  Friends - 10  Atmosphere - 2  Gluten Free Pizza - 1.

Wednesday I had dinner with my neighbor - he's a widower of 80+ with more energy than I have at twenty years + younger.  We have a nice friendship and he makes dinner and tells me about his week(and all of the illnesses, deaths and other woes of family and friends).  Fun Factor:  Friend - 10  Atmosphere - 6  Dinner - 3 (you can always count on carrots.  and mushrooms.  together). 

Tonight the same bunch that have made it their quest to deliver unto me a social life, bullied me into meeting them at a local hash house for wings.  I am not a devotee of wings.  At least it will be a short drive.  Fun Factor:  Friends 9 (they are starting to get to me... :)  Atmosphere - 3  Dinner - 5.

Saturday night, the family (missing you, Cyntheeta) are converging on a very nice restaurant to celebrate my dad's 93rd birthday.  Whether he's aware of it or not.  In any case, he will have a good time.

Sunday is my day of anti-social behavior.

Nancy had asked for the recipe for the quiche and GF crust - here is the link for the quiche (I love almost all of her recipes).  The pie crust recipe is from The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook from America's Test Kitchen.  I highly recommend this book - wonderful recipes whether you're eating gluten free or not!

Single-Crust Pie Dough
One 9" Pie

2-1/2 Tablespoons ice water
1-1/2 Tablespoons sour cream
1-1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar
3/4 cup plus 2/3 cup their GF Flour Blend (they use their own blend)
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" pieces and frozen for 10-15 minutes

Combine ice water, sour cream and vinegar in a small bowl.  Process flour blend, sugar, salt and xanthan gum together in a food processor until combined.  Scatter butter bits over the top and pulse until butter is the size of large peas - about 10 pulses (this is rather confusing, as cutting it into 1/4" pieces IS the size of large peas...)  Pour half of sour cream mixture over flour and pulse until incorporated - 3 pulses.  Pour remaining liquid in and pulse until dough just comes together - about 6 pulses.  Turn dough out onto sheet of plastic wrap and flatten into a 5" disk.  Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.  (Can be refrigerated up to 2 days)  Before rolling out, put on counter for 15 minutes.  Roll out between two pieces of plastic wrap.  Peel off top layer of wrap and flip into pie pan.  Gently press into place, using bottom wrap (now on top).  Carefully peel of wrap, flute edges.  Re-use wrap to loosely cover crust and refrigerate until chilled and firm - at least 15 minutes or up to an hour.  Fill and bake.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I'm eating my vege as fast as I can!

'Tis the Season of the Vege.  And boy, do I know it.  I am trying all kinds of new ways to squeeze in a zucchini here and a bean there.  My lunches are now packed in my neato Indian stacking tins because I am awash in salads - corn salad, cucumber salad, tomato salad, bean salad.  People wander by my office door and stare.  Let them.

Needing something a step up from salads and zoodles, I made a GF pie crust Monday morning, then a tomato/basil/cheese quiche Tuesday morning.  I was quite happy with the results - and quite happy that I have found THE gluten-free pie crust recipe.  Not surprisingly, it's from America's Test Kitchen.  And also not surprising, every single one of their recipes I have tried has worked out wonderfully - with the slight exception of the peanut butter cookies.  Very dry.

Today's lunch is quiche, corn salad and cucumber salad.  Good thing I could eat vege morning, noon and night.  Because I am.

Last night I tackled the beans - the only downside of these purple pod pole beans is that they grow so darn fast, you end up with a lot of beans that are large.  I have dilled the younger ones and decided to blanch and freeze the larger ones so that I could braise them over the winter.  Still left to deal with are the cucumbers - Sylvie's Mom's Bread & Butter pickles are on the to-do list for this weekend.  They are my all-time favorite pickle.  I have found a few behemoth cukes lurking in the leafy depths and the chickens are enjoying their seediness.  I will also get a bag of corn and will be canning that this weekend as well.  I only can corn every other year, thank goodness.  Later this month, I will venture out into the fields for my annual U-Pick tomato/pepper extravaganza, then it's all over but the whining.  Since my own potato crop was downright pitiful - interesting to note that the Red Norlands planted in my fancy-schmancy potato bag hardly multiplied, while my tried-and-true tire planting multiplied plenty - I will be supplementing my yearly potato ration with the nice taters at a local farm.

Speaking of chickens, I decided to re-home Bleu, my Blue-Laced Red Wyandotte rooster.  While he was a beautiful bird and had a nice temperament, he decided to make the life of one of my hens a living hell and I had to intervene.  She was afraid to leave the coop, had no feathers on her back and was losing weight.  So, off went Monsieur Bleu to a nice, rooster-less flock fifteen minutes from me.  Since I have at least two up-and-comers from the tweenagers, I wasn't worried about being rooster-less too long.  However, I really miss his crowing.  And there hasn't been peep one from the youngsters.  Until this morning.  As I toddled out with their breakfast, I heard a long, pathetic, strangled call.  Ah, music to my ears!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Zig Zag

I am flexible, if I am nothing else.  This does not, unfortunately, include my joints.  Those are NOT so flexible.  However, my plans, schedules, time, focus are all flexible.  Because they have to be.  I don't think I can remember one weekend that went as planned.  Why do I bother planning?  So I can lull myself into a false sense of control.  I settle for organized chaos crammed into one day.

One of the things that is helping bungee down my sanity is the appearance of the Short List.  This is  limited to four (maybe five) chores that I very much want to get done during my weekend.  My Short List is printed on my dry erase board (thank you, Sylvie) where I cannot miss seeing it.  I also still have my Chapter List, but that is now so daunting that I tend to put it at the bottom of various stacks.  Right now, I believe, it is residing under two stacked boxes of canning jars on my dining room table.

On my Short List this past weekend:

Finish Painting the Shed
Weed Front Flower Bed
Dig Potatoes
Clean Behind Sheep Feeder
Pull Waxed Beans
 Not bad.  I had all my painting gear ready on Sunday, but got waylaid by a phone call from a neighbor who's early apples were falling and did I want them for the sheep?  You betcha!  So I zoomed over with two 5 gallon buckets and filled them.  And filled a bag for me.  I am not sure what kind of apple tree it is - the apples are smallish, pale yellow, with a sweet-tart taste.  She also gave me half a loaf of GF bread, a spaghetti squash and a zucchini. 
I came home and smooshed some apples for the sheep - the llama will trample anything in her path to get her apples.  It's the only time I've ever seen her spit - usually on Norman, who is always in the way. 
Saturday was spent cooking - crustless cranberry pie (GF version), fruit tart, flat beans and bacon, cucumber/tomato/sweet onion salad.  I picked up peaches from DS Melanie, stopped for sweet corn, stopped and picked up a beef tenderloin, and joined up with the family to celebrate my DS Connie's birthday with a grilling session.  Got to see my nephew and his truly adorable girlfriend, parents, sister and BIL.  Only one missing was my DS Baby Legend (inside joke), who was rockin' in Boston.

Friday, August 7, 2015

My Boy.

I am not ashamed to say that I love my boy. 
I love him completely, without reservation and
with my whole heart and soul. 
And the best part? 
The feeling is mutual!

Happy 15th Birthday to my sweet Scrappy Doo -
who moved into my home and heart six years ago.
You make my life so much better.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Pickle Test.

The verdict is in.  The half sour pickles are....good!  I think my cukes were a little large, but that just means more pickle!  This was definitely a keeper recipe.  So, Joy, for your pickle-making pleasure, here's the recipe:

Adapted from Brooklyn Farm Girl

Half Sour Pickles
(makes 2 quarts)

Enough kirby cucumbers to squeeze into two quart jars
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
Fistful of dill (I had heads - large ones.  I used one per jar)
3 bay leaves
6 cloves of garlic minced
1/4 cup sea salt
6 cups water
Additional whole coriander seeds and peppercorns to add on top
(Ball's Pickle Crisp Granules if you have them)

Wash your cukes and squeeze them into the jars.  Dissolve salt in water.  Grind the dry spices in a mortar and pestle (or put them in a plastic zip bag and use your rolling pin on them).  Put the minced garlic in your jars, then the ground spices, then pour the salt water mixture over top.  Push in your dill and sprinkle additional whole spices on top.  (If you're using the Pickle Crisp, now's the time to sprinkle 1/4 tsp on top of each jar.)  Make sure your cukes are completely covered in water and then put lids on the jars.  I gently shook my jars to distribute the spices.  Put them in the fridge and let them rest for at least 4 days before eating. 
After five days, mine were nice and crisp, but not as flavorful as I like.  So I am leaving mine in for another five days before trying them again.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Monday? How can it be Monday?

After a week of wrestling with the small, fat eel, AKA Pepperoni, trying to get his nails trimmed and give him a much needed haircut and bath, I gave up and took him to the groomer on Friday.  There is one on the way to work (big box store) that charges WAY too much.  But it was convenient and I can drop him off early and then pick him up at lunch time.  He got to spend the afternoon in the office with me.  It was sooo exhausting.

What do you mean you don't have treats here?

Wake me when you come to your senses,

My officemate - whom Pepper adores, as he shares his lunch with him - was on vacation.  Pepper was greatly disappointed and went back to his nap.

Now that processing time has arrived - rather in fits and starts, which works just fine with my little windows of processing opportunity - I've made blueberry jam with the leftover berry mash from my steamer - and it JAMMED, people!  I also made a half-gallon jar of new half dill pickles.  I love pickles but have never been able to can a crunchy dill.  I will get to taste test on Wednesday - fingers and toes crossed, as I have tons of cukes in the garden.  Speaking of tons...

This bad-boy was lurking under some cuke leaves....insert music from was the size of a quart canning jar!  The chickens loved it - and I'm glad I got a photo because I love the colors and patterns.  I may be painting it this winter in all my free time (snort, choke.)

The best thing I can say about it, is that
it's still standing.
Another job almost completed was staining the run-in shed.  I painted as far as I could reach without a ladder - next weekend I will finish it.  I am now forcing myself to finish projects before I start new ones.  It is tough to rein in this frenetic mind.

I had a nice visit and lunch with my parents on Saturday, followed by locking my keys in my car, having a birthday shopping foray flummoxed by a streetwide tag sale and finally locating new tires for my big Bertha wheel barrow.  I had been very remiss over the winter and did not store it wheels-up as I normally do.  The tires were shot and there was a valve problem which rendered it useless.  I am now learning how to remount a tire.  Tricky.

I also had a new friend over for dinner on Sunday - the meal was resplendent (if I do say so myself) with food mostly from the farm.  We spent a very convivial hour or so on the deck with black bean tortilla chips and whipped feta dip.  For the main course, I boned out one of the Nuggets and marinated it in olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and fresh herbs, then grilled it.  Wax beans were steamed and tossed with bacon and shallots.  The salad was cubed tomatoes with homemade mozzarella (thanks to Jasmine...) and basil.  The whole thing was topped off with homemade peach ice cream.  Yowser!

Kramer was exhausted by the entire process and from all the attention he received.  He is a tall, skinny drink of water.