New Kids on the Block in the New Year

January 4, 2014

I am not sorry to put 2013 in my rear-view mirror. I know that I am up to the challenges that life throws my way, but I am tired of doing it. If I were not such an eternal optimist, I would have curled up in a ball. Not saying I didn’t do that a bit, but for the most part I kept on dealing with reality.

So what made 2013 so hard, you might ask. Lack of work was huge (and continues to be, at the moment). It isn’t that I don’t have plenty to keep me busy. I have never understood folks that can’t find things to do to keep themselves amused. And with the animals and property to care for, there is never a shortage of chores that need doing. But with no paying job, that means no money coming in to take care of those things that require something other than physical labor. I am continuing to look, but am getting very tired of hearing that I am over-qualified. I have never understood why an employer would not want to hire the most qualified person they can get for the money they are offering.

But my biggest challenge was the one that went on for way too long – no running water. My home runs on a cistern. Just before Thanksgiving, it ran dry. When it refilled a few days later, I could not get the pump to hold a prime and run. Yikes! This coincided with a deep freeze that gave us some of the coldest temperatures the area had experienced in a very long time (down to -30!). I spent several weeks bringing home jugs of water from my Mom’s house, and accessing cistern water for the animals via bucket brigade. That is a workout that I am not eager to repeat, but at least I was up to the work. Just call me Pioneer Woman. Just after the Solstice, a friend’s boyfriend came over and got the pump figured out. Yay! I filled the animals waterers, and went off to celebrate with a soak at the Turkish tub.

But of course, that was too easy. When I got home from my soak, we discovered that there was a major leak under the house. So the pump got turned off again, and I went into major denial. I am not afraid of plumbing repairs, mind you, but I had a severe case of the “I don’t wanna’s”. Luckily, my friend offered up her boyfriend again, and a few days later he came back. There was a major break in the metal pipe that ran from the hot water heater to the kitchen sink. He ended up cutting out the old pipe and replacing it. Yes, I could have done it, but it was so nice to be taken care of! The only down side was how much water emptied out of the cistern during the 6 or so hours that the leak went undetected, but time will remedy that.

I know that in much of the world having no running water is the norm. In the grand scheme of things, being without was merely an inconvenience. I am lucky that my Mom lives close enough that I could go over to her house to fill up all my jugs and take a hot shower. Being in an old mobile, I long ago developed the habit of entering winter with at least 15 gallons of jugged water in the house to guard against those times when the pipes freeze for a day or 2. At least I had a roof over my head, and enough wood to battle the cold. My ordeal made me even more thankful for what I do have, and on a quest to figure out what I can do to help those that don’t. I can’t even wrap my head around the idea of being homeless with children in the winter around here.

The New Year has started well. A local farm, Rainshadow Organics, was also hit hard by the deep freeze, which hit their stored potatoes. Rather than seeing it as a complete loss, they invited the public to join them on January 1st to go through the potatoes, sorting out the rotten ones and taking home as many free potatoes as you could carry. These were several beautiful heirloom varieties, and I made the drive out and joined the crowd. Folks were also invited to help sort out spuds that would be donated to local food banks. This is my loot, after I had given away several pounds to friends and family. I don’t know that any will survive to be planted in the spring, but I will be ordering some different varieties to grow.

potatoes from Rainshadow Organics

After I got more potatoes than I could really carry, I went off to gather up 9 gallons (yes, gallons) of raw cow’s milk that had not been picked up from the dairy. No sense in letting it go to waste, so I am playing at cheese again. I have already made mozzarella and ricotta, trying a little different method for each, and now I am ready to try my hand at cheddar and jack. It is nice to have such a quantity to work with, but a bit daunting too. I am being good about keeping notes on what works, which I think will be even more important with the hard cheeses since they have to age for so long before you can taste them.

Yesterday I went to Laura’s. I took her potatoes and cheese and picked up the newest flock members (the “New Kids” referred to in the title) – ducks. A mutual friend was disbanding his farm, and she had collected 13 ducks from him. They are mostly Runner crosses, which makes them a little odd looking, but the females should be laying soon. After doing a bit of research online, I got one of her Muscovy males (the white duck below) to try my hand at breeding moulard ducks for the freezer. We thought we had sorted out 4 females for me to bring home, but in talking with their original owner last night it turns out that the big, beautiful black is also a male. I don’t want the girls to have the option of breeding with him, so I will be separating him out of the group in the next day or so. They are all a little skittish right now, what with 2 major moves in as many days, so I will give them a little time to settle down. I am very excited about having duck eggs to work with, especially for pasta making. Yum!new ducks

I have also made a decision about recreating the shawl that was stolen last summer. I’ve been working on some commission spinning this fall, and talked the woman into letting me do a yarn with silk noil added in. It turned out very pretty so I made up some for me too. I am doing one ply of the black alpaca/black American top/dyed silk noil and one of the American top, both spun very thin. This is a very dense yarn, so I’m not getting the yardage that I’d hoped for, but I think it will be spectacular knit up. This was the last yarn I made in 2013, about 350 yards. Since I will need about 2000 yards, I have quite a bit of spinning left to do! I’d like to get it done in time for Fair, so I have my work cut out for me. I’m hoping I have enough of the black alpaca left (fingers crossed). black alpaca silk lace

I don’t make resolutions for the New Year, but I do set goals. So my goals for 2014 are:

  • Continue my weight loss/get healthier campaign. I am very happy that I have managed to maintain my weight through the holidays. Didn’t lose any more, but I didn’t put any back on either, so I count that as a win.
  • Blog more often. I compose wonderful posts in my head as I’m doing other things, but then I get in front of the computer and do other things. I admire folks that blog every day or so, but that isn’t me. Once a month is too little though, so I will just say “more often”.
  • Make more art. I have tons of art supplies that sit unused, and I need to stop that. It doesn’t have to be great art (and I’m pretty sure I can promise that it won’t be), but I need to get over the idea that it needs to be. I started this morning. Don’t count on seeing any of it shared here, unless I get really brave.
  • Sew more. Again, I have tons of supplies that sit unused. Even if I just make a pile of quilts to donate to the homeless shelter, it would be good to clear out some of the stash.

What are your goals for the coming year?

newyear

 

 

November is Over?

November 30, 2013

Where does the time go? I have every intention of posting at least weekly, then I turn around and a month has gone by. It’s not that I don’t think about it. I compose wonderful blog posts in my head, as I’m driving or when I’m getting ready for bed, but somehow they just stay in my mind. Good intentions don’t count for much, do they? Oh well, it is what it is.

Not that there’s much to share with anyone these days. I’m still looking for work (I am so tired of hearing that I’m either over-qualified or don’t have the necessary skills for the jobs I apply for!).  Finances are becoming very challenging as a result, but I am working hard to stay positive that things will work out in the long run. It’s hard to do some days, but so far I am managing for the most part.

I did the “30 Days of Thankfulness” thing again this year. Especially when times are hard, I find that it is helpful to make myself recognize that I have a lot to be thankful for.  Some days have been a struggle, but I do know that I am very lucky in many, many ways.

  • Day 1 – I am thankful that my back is stronger than it was this time last year. I wish it was stronger, so I could get more things done, but I am thankful for the improvements that have happened.
  • Day 2 – I am thankful for all the “extra” kids in my life, and that they choose to include me as a spare mom even though we are not related by blood. I love them all!
  • Day 3 – I am thankful that I have the skills and ability to feed and clothe myself, and I am thankful that I live in a time and place where I can choose to let others do the necessary work.
  • Day 4 – I am thankful that I have a roof over my head, when so many do not. It may not be the house of my dreams, but it keeps me warm and dry.
  • Day 5 – I am thankful that I am an optimist by nature. Some days that trait comes in really helpful in my efforts to keep moving forward.
  • Day 6 – I am thankful for my Mom’s good health.
  • Day 7 – I am thankful for old treasures rediscovered as I worked in my bedroom, and the strength to let some stuff go.
  • Day 8 – I am thankful that I know that the depression lies.
  • Day 9 – I am thankful for my spinning group. I always come away from our meetings feeling inspired and appreciated, which is a really good combination.
  • Day 10 – I am thankful for my friends, both the ones that I see and talk to often, and the ones that I see rarely (or have never met in real life). I am blessed to have so many people who truly care about me!
  • Day 11 – I am thankful for my supportive sisters.
  • Day 12 – I am thankful for the animals that share my life and let me share theirs. They help me retain some semblance of sanity, and help to keep me fed and clothed.
  • Day 13 – I am thankful that, as dysfunctional as my family may be, we would never qualify to be on Dr. Phil.
  • Day 14 – I am thankful that I am able to string more than three words together at a time, usually with all the words correctly spelled and with proper punctuation. I recognize that these are not skills that all possess.
  • Day 15 – I am thankful that I am still young at heart (even if my body doesn’t always agree).
  • Day 16 – I am thankful for friends that can make me laugh, and good food shared with them.
  • Day 17 – I am thankful for snow up in the mountains (where it belongs), and sunshine while I do chores.
  • Day 18 – I am thankful for nights of peaceful slumber and sweet dreams.
  • Day 19 – I am thankful for rainbows, especially on dark, dreary days like this.
  • Day 20 – I am thankful for my children. They have brought me so much love and happiness, and have taught me so much. I am very proud of all 3 of them!
  • Day 21 – I am thankful for the sun on my back as I scythe cut grass to feed the sheep.
  • Day 22 – I am thankful for my ability to teach others to knit and spin. Love spreading the addiction!
  • Day 23 – I am thankful that Daughter’s friends have continued her traditional “Friends Thanksgiving”. I wish I could be there this year.
  • Day 24 – I am thankful for my wood stove, which warms the house so well on these cold days.
  • Day 25 – I am thankful for the apple trees I am growing from sprouted seeds found in an apple this summer. They make me smile at possibilities.
  • Day 26 – I am thankful that I am able to distract myself when things aren’t going well.
  • Day 27 – I am thankful that my pantry is still well enough stocked that I can have a normal Thanksgiving tomorrow. Pies are in the oven now.
  • Day 28 – I am thankful for the loved ones sharing Thanksgiving with me, and for those that aren’t.
  • Day 29 – I am thankful that I was able to totally avoid the idiot that didn’t even see my van when he pulled his car out from the stop sign. Damn my cloaking device, and thank goodness for good reflexes and working brakes!
  • Day 30 – I am thankful for the potential that the future holds. Fingers crossed that all the new changes are positive ones.

I also took part in NaNoWriMo again this year. I had a hard time getting going with the story that insisted it wanted to be written this year, and for most of the month I was way behind. But I managed to catch up last night, and finished this morning. I will admit that it is a pile of random words, not a cohesive story by any stretch of the imagination. I bounced from chapter to chapter, character to character, never really getting to the point at all. But since the point of NaNo is to get 50,000 words on the page, I can say I managed that. Not pretty words, though I do think I got some nice descriptions going from time to time. I don’t know if it appeals to me enough to go back in later and edit it. I do enjoy the exercise though, and think it’s something that everyone should try at least once. And I can proudly say that Kid the Elder blew it out of the water, writing over 100,000 words this month (his top 8 days alone added up to over 50K!).

Thanksgiving was nice, but quiet. It was me & Mom, Kid the Elder & his wife, and her dad & brother. We do it at Mom’s house, but we do most of the cooking. I did the turkey (home-grown, 21 pounder), stuffing, gravy, rolls and pies (peach and pumpkin). I decided on the rolls last second on Wednesday night and threw together a dough that sat out covered on the washer overnight. They were spectacular, light and fluffy, with just a hint of a sourdough flavor, which I think could only have gotten better if I’d had more time. For the pie crusts, I used Erica‘s suggestion to use a different alcohol in the traditional vodka pie crust. Why had this never occurred to me before?? I can’t use vodka in anything, since I am massively allergic to it (I know, I’m weird!) So, since I had bourbon on hand from the bourbon apple butter I made this summer, I used that. Wonderful! It wasn’t identifiable as bourbon, but it added a very subtle spicy note to the crust, and the crusts were very flaky. I’m thinking of possibilities now; tequila for a key lime pie maybe, or a spiced rum maybe for a pear pie. I didn’t get any pictures of the feast before we started, but none of us walked away from the table hungry. Mom did a chopped Brussels sprouts saute, Kid the Elder made mashed potatoes enhanced with my oven roasted garlic, and DIL’s dad brought his baked beans. I always cook at my house and transport things to Mom’s when they are done. She doesn’t care for the smell of roasting turkey (I come by my weird honestly), so when it’s done cooking I whip up the gravy and drive on over. Luckily, she lives just a few miles away, and even though I totally forgot the stuffing at home and had to call Kid the Elder to bring it over, the turkey was still warm when we finally ate an hour later than originally planned. It works for us. She isn’t stuck with all of the mess, and neither am I. Kid the Younger is working a new job and didn’t make it home for this holiday. In fact he had to work on Thanksgiving day. Am I the only one who hates the idea of Black Friday spreading in to Thursday? I doubt that I am, but I’m afraid that the big box stores really don’t care what we think, and they offer enough good deals that folks think they can’t afford to miss, that the idea of having one day dedicate to spending time with your family is a goner. I used to love getting up really early on Black Friday and having my shopping list all ready to go. But when they moved the start times back to midnight or earlier I gave up. I didn’t even look at the ads this year.

I’ll leave you with an old picture of Maggie. I lost her this week (listeriosis). She’s not the only one that’s gone. It’s been a rough month.Maggie close up

The Great Chicken Adventure

October 31, 2013

Last Saturday, Laura and I had a date at the butcher’s for the chickens. Because she was concerned about the possibility of nasty fog in the valley we left here at o’dark thirty. Our appointment was for 10 am, which with a little padding meant we needed to leave my place by 5:30. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I am not a morning person! I got to bed at about midnight, and set the alarm for 4:30, since Laura had mentioned that her’s was going off at 3:30 (she lives about an hour away).

I had just enough time to get dressed and brew a pot of coffee before I heard her coming. She was also bringing a Muscovy drake that had proved rather mean to his ladies, and two pea-hens, and they were in a crate in the back of the Suburban. Turns out, that was taking up way too much room, so we removed them from the crate, and loaded the chickens. Both the pea-hens were tied into feed bags, with just their heads sticking out (the butcher had requested that we make sure they couldn’t escape), and we tied the drakes feet.  Unfortunately, we found another dead chicken when we went in the pen (number 7). Loading the remaining birds went very quickly, and we hit the road right on schedule.

About half way over the mountains, there was a slight ruckus going on in the back, and when I turned to see what the deal was I found that one of the pea-hens had escaped her bag. Oops! We pulled over and tied her feet together better, and found that the drake had killed another one of the chickens. He got stuffed into the bag vacated by the pea-hen and tied up so that his head was no longer loose.

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful, especially when compared to our trip last year to get the turkeys processed. The anticipated heavy fog never materialized, and we actually arrived at our destination an hour ahead of schedule. Lucky for us, the person who was scheduled for that time slot hadn’t shown up on time, so  we were able to get started right away. The pea-hen tried to make a run for it, but she and the other two odd birds got taken in first, along with another chicken that had died since our earlier stop. They were able to bleed him out completely, so he wasn’t a loss, unlike the one that perished in the stampede to avoid all the folks reaching in to grab birds (the kid that grabbed him just tossed him on the ground and didn’t try to bleed him out).

We were totally done by 10:30. Well ahead of our anticipated time, we took a side trip to a local monastery, where Laura got a present for her dad, and we both picked some chestnuts. We also went in to the Craft Warehouse in Salem and treated ourselves to some goodies. All in all, it was a lovely day.

So the final count was 31 chickens that survived to the end (out of 40). After looking at their final weights (5 to 9 pounds at 8 1/2 weeks), I will process them at 7 weeks next time around. I hadn’t lost any until the last 10 days! We split the losses, so Laura got 11 and I got 20.

So what did I do with 20 chickens? The final tally is in:

  • 8 were bagged whole. 7 of them are in the freezer at Mom’s, and we celebrated a successful trip by roasting a small one Saturday night.
  • Also in the freezer are several bags of chicken parts (boneless, skinless breasts, skinless thighs, and wings)
  • 14 quarts of boneless chicken chunks were canned
  • 7 quarts and 8 pints of plain chicken broth were canned. There is another 3 quarts in the fridge for use this week, and I made a fantastic roasted garlic/chicken soup which I ate on Sunday, and took a quart each of the broth and soup to Mom.
  • 7 quarts and 12 pints of chicken soup. It’s pretty basic, but will be easy to spice up as the mood strikes me.
  • 5 half pints of schmaltz. I gave 1 to Mom, 1 is in my fridge, and the other 3 are in the freezer.
  • The last chicken was roasted here at home last night and shared with Kid the Elder & his wife. We only managed to eat half of it, but I’m looking forward to some great sandwiches this week.

It took me a few days to get everything processed, and my back was not happy with all the kitchen work. But I know that it will be worth it every time I go to the cupboard and pull another can of something tasty out to eat. I took a little time to clean out the linen closet in the spare bathroom, and was able to dedicate 2 full shelves to all the goodies I’ve canned this fall, and set up an inventory sheet so I can keep track of it all.

Very little went to waste. The broth and soup were made from the bones, the meat still on the bones went into the soups, and the fat and skin went into the schmaltz. Little pieces that were too small to go into the jars of chunks went into my freezer in 2 bags, for stir-fry later on.

This is the schmaltz, just starting to render. Schmaltz

Roast chickenTasty roast chicken and potatoes. Pan juices were added to the stock pot after dinner.

So, was it worth it? Only someone who was never had homegrown meat would really ask that. It’s like the difference between a homegrown tomato and a store-bought one. The 2 birds that I’ve roasted so far have both been incredibly tender and juicy, more flavorful than anything I could buy at the store. Mom and I discussed the differences while we ate dinner. I think we finally settled on the idea that it just had more substance than a commercially raised bird. Grocery store chicken tends to be very bland and, well, the word flaccid comes to mind. I am looking forward to some fantastic meals! The cost per bird would have been better if all 40 had made it to the end, but I’ll say yes, it was definitely worth it. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Ongoing Changes

October 24, 2013

Life is change. I know that, but that doesn’t mean that I always appreciate it. Over the years I’ve had too many changes imposed on me, with no say in the matter and while I can work with necessary change, change simply for the sake of change irks me. At my old job, they would often shift our desks around simply because they could, and I always objected.

Things around here are changing too. Some of it is good and necessary. Some of it is annoying. I will spare you pictures of the crap-tastic pallet and recycled wood fence I built by the pole barn. One of the neighbors (I’m assuming the idiot next door) had complained to the County, even though nothing had changed in over 12 years. I have a feeling that he thought that after Sweetie passed I would sell off and move, and when that didn’t happen he decided to stir the pot. I got a letter from the County about 18 months ago, with a “solid waste” complaint. When I called to ask about it, I was told that the dead cars in the yard had to be removed, and my pile of trash bags. I don’t have regular trash service; I just make a dump run as needed and it was about time for another. So, dump run accomplished and dead cars removed (3 sedans and 2 pickups), I went about my normal life. Until early this summer, when the Sheriff showed up with a summons. He informed me that I would have to pass inspection, which would have been good information to have from the get-go. Again, I asked for specifics on what needed to be done to make them happy. This time I was told that there was too much “stuff” on my front porch, and that would need to be cleaned off. What an adventure that was! After going almost 30 years without being stung by anything, I was stung by paper wasps 5 times. Each reaction was worse than the one before, so now I’m a little paranoid about being stung again. I called for my inspection.  The County guy ignored everything I had already done, and decided that my pole barn needed to be completely cleaned out, or a sight-obscuring fence needed to be built. Argh! How hard would it have been to tell me that in the beginning. It was now the heat of summer, and I was unwilling to risk any more wasp stings. Luckily, I was able to convince him that I needed an extension until we got enough cool weather to quiet the wasps down, and I was able to get enough of a fence built to appease him.

Once that was out of the way, I started looking at my front porch. A hole had developed in the decking at the top of the stairs, and I obtained enough decking to replace all of the floor. Unfortunately, it has developed into a much more complicated job. After looking at it carefully, I’m not sure how the porch is still standing. Turns out, there is no real structure under it, only piles of wood that are holding the deck up in places. The posts that hold up the front end of the roof over the porch aren’t even attached to the porch, just resting on it! So that means that I will need to tear the whole thing down and rebuild it from the ground up. Times like this are when I miss my dad; he would have been a big help in doing the job right. Oh well, at least he trained me well.

The freezer will be getting new residents in a couple of days. In early September one of the feed stores I deal with got in a bunch of chicks. I got 40 Cornish cross chicks to raise and share with Laura. I brooded them in half of the barn, then moved them all outside to a spare pen. Up until last week I’d done a great job, without a single loss. In a week, I have lost 5 of them. It is frustrating to put all the work and food into them and lose them so close to the end, but the remaining ones are looking mighty tasty. They take their trip to the butcher on Saturday, so hopefully they’ll all last that long. I know other producers can have losses up to 30%, so mine aren’t too bad in the grand scheme, but it’s hard losing them this late in the game.line up at the buffet

I’ve been working at the carder too. I’m slogging my way slowly through the commission alpaca fleeces, washing fleeces while the weather is being cooperative. As a break from all the natural color, I carded up some rainbow batts from some leftover Romney cross fleece.  I did each of the colors separately, adding in some sparkle.Individual colors

Then I split them up and thinned things down for another trip through the carder. Ready for final carding

I’m really happy with how these turned out. They are very cheerful in person. Three of them are being bartered for a Christmas present, but the other 6 will be sold if I can resist spinning them up myself. The pictures don’t do them justice.Finished batts Twisted close up

I’ve been knitting on socks. I had started these yellow ones quite some time ago, with the intention of doing some infinity cables on the legs. They had been on the needles too long, and I was having problems wrapping my addled brain around the cables, so I just finished them off plain so I could free up the needles. Then I jumped in to knitting a pair off fairly quickly, as barter for my massage therapist. Didn’t get them done in time for her last visit, but she’ll be back soon and I’ll have this pair done. Hopefully I’ll be able to get the yarn she left for me so I can get another pair started too. We haven’t worked out an exchange rate yet, but I need to get to work on Christmas knitting too.  finished plain Becky sock

I have also found my hand cards. Sweetie had packed a tote that was on the front porch. In his normal fashion, there was not much rhyme or reason to the things in the tote. I found beads, a steak knife, a flashlight, my cards and an assortment of fleece bits. Most of the fleece was toast, but I played with the cards and some of the fleece that I indigo dyed back in late April. I made up batches that were pure undyed, pure dyed and 3:1 ratios (both directions). I’m thinking a new hat and matching gloves or mittens might be in order, but I haven’t settled on a pattern yet. I’m toying with the idea of doing some color work, but will see what I finally settle on. I do like to colors, and the progression. hand carded variation

The biggest change I’m undergoing right now, I suppose, is self-imposed. Back in late April, I changed my mindset about food. I have had issues with my weight most of my adult life. My weight had held steady for the last 20+ years, within 5 pounds. Didn’t seem to matter what I ate or how I exercised. I’ve always had a fairly good diet. I don’t eat candy, I love fruits and vegetables, I’m just an easy keeper. When I paid attention to how many calories I was taking in, I was holding steady at about 1200 calories a day (most indications are that I should have been losing at least 10 pounds a month at that input).  Until the last few years I wasn’t seeing any real negative issues. My cholesterol levels were fine, and my blood pressure was ok, and so I didn’t worry about my weight too much. Then, a couple of years ago, my bp sky rocketed. In early April, it went as high as 170/100. That is not a number I’m comfortable with. While a simple diuretic was able to control it, I now have no insurance and wanted a chemical free way of keeping it down.  In April, I moved to a mostly raw food diet. I tried doing a juice fast for 3 days, but my body quickly informed me that I needed protein. So I listened to my body. I juice once or twice a day, I can eat whatever I want (just not all of it). Before I dried Myrtle off (for breeding), I was using raw milk and making raw milk cheese. I’ve cut way back on the amount of carbs (bread, pasta, etc), but if I want them I can have a reasonable serving. So far, I’ve lost about 25 pounds, and more importantly, my blood pressure is back to normal! Even if my weight hadn’t changed at all, it would be worth the effort (little as it is) just to have my blood pressure back where it should be. I don’t feel like I’m dieting, which is huge (as any of you that struggle with your weight will understand). I still eat out occasionally, I’m cooking well. I’m not sure how I managed to reset my mind & my relationship with food, but this is one change I am thankful for. I’m not losing pounds quickly, which is fine since I couldn’t afford to replace my entire wardrobe all at once. But my clothes are fitting a bit better, and I’m getting a few compliments when I’m out in public, which never hurts the ego. Still a long way to go to get back down to what most would consider a “normal” weight, but I’m good with that. I may never get back to “normal”. I am more concentrated on feeling better, on making my body last as long as possible. I would like to enter my 60’s healthier than I am now, with less pain. I’ve got this!

 

 

Stocking Up

September 16, 2013

It’s been a while since I did any substantial amount of canning, and I seem to be making up for lost time.  Last count was over 50 1/2-pint jars, and I’m not done yet.

It started when I saw a flyer at the feed store, announcing that they would be having a box produce sale early this month. The timing was perfect, since I would have a little disposable income from judging at State Fair (more about that later).  I came home with a 25 pound bag of onions and a box each of Gravenstein apples, peaches, and Roma tomatoes.

The onions are amazing, probably the freshest I’ve ever bought. I caramelized about a dozen of them in one batch. I love having them in the freezer. I store them in small bags, then use them in soups & stews, or add them in to all sorts of other dishes. I’ll do the rest once I catch up with all the canning.

I discovered a wonderful new (to me) blog, http://localkitchenblog.com/. She has a lot of great jam recipes and most are pretty low in sugar, which I really appreciate. Several of the creations coming out of my kitchen right now are either directly from her site, or inspired by things there.

First up was a handful of the apples. The pulp became Bourbon Apple Butter, and the drained juice became Apple Jelly with Lemon and Lavender. I still want to make applesauce, but the apples will hold for a little while, and the soft fruit was demanding attention. The tomatoes were easy, just peeled and put up in quart jars with a bit of citric acid.

On to the peaches. From the Local Kitchen site, I settled on a Peach Jam with Caramelized Onions and Basil. This is more of a savory jam, and I think it will be fantastic on pork or chicken. I’ve made one batch, but I think another is a good idea. I also made a simple Peach Butter, and on the recommendation of my friend Brenda, the pits and skins were made into Peach Pit Jelly. I’m still waiting for that to actually gel, but all the sites say to give it up to 2 weeks before adding more pectin. It’s a very subtle taste, and very pretty.

Then the feed store sent out an e-mail saying that any produce left on Sunday was half price. I was really hoping for another box of the apples but they were all gone. Instead, I came home with a box of Bartlett pears. Luckily, Tien Chu mentioned that she was going to be making a Pear-Lavender Jam and she generously shared the recipe with me. My first attempt could have been a fiasco, because I turned on the burner and sat down at the computer. I completely forgot about the pot on the stove until I smelled burning sugar. Oops! It turned into one of my best “mistakes” ever! The lavender got lost under the caramel, but it was tasty enough that yesterday I recreated it, using ginger instead. I also made 2 successful batches of the Pear-Lavender.

jelly collage

To top it all off, I came home from a massage on Saturday with 2 more boxes of peaches. I chopped up most of the first box this morning and let them macerate with some lime juice and a bit of sugar before cooking them long enough to soften them up enough for the food mill. Now the pulp is cooking down, and it will become Peach Jam with Lime and Balsamic Vinegar (I’m inventing this as I go). And yes, the color in this picture is accurate. These are some of the reddest peaches I’ve seen in a while, and very tasty. A peach pie is definitely a possibility…

peach puree

So what about State Fair, you ask? It was a fun experience. Mom came along, since she had never been to the State Fair before. We drove over in the morning, checked in to the hotel and dropped off our luggage, then headed to the Fairgrounds. After a quick lunch, we strolled the grounds, checking out the entries and the commercial booths. We spent a lot of time looking at the orchid exhibit (we have a hard time believing that they are really easy to grow). We were headed over to spend a little time watching the horse show, but got distracted by the big cats and a wonderful reptile exhibit, and then by the birds of prey show. Then it was time for me to report for duty. For their first show, the Angora breeders did themselves proud. Several of the classes put me through my paces, and I tried to incorporate the things I’ve learned as an exhibitor (even if you’ve made up your mind everyone deserves a look, find something positive to say about every animal, and let everyone know why you put the class the way you did) . I won’t be upset if they ask me back next year to judge again. It was a nice couple of days with my mom, and a good introduction to the State Fair for her.

Last week I delivered 4 sheep to their new home, 3 of mine and an extra from another local breeder. Meridoc, Manny and Nelson are now enjoying life on the coast with their new owner. It’s always fun seeing the looks I get with a van full of sheep. I even had a Highway Patrol man following me for a while, and when he pulled around me he paused long enough to catch my eye and wave. It surprises me more how many people don’t notice the sheep staring out the windows. The trip also allowed me to have a quick overnight visit with Kid the Younger and see the new apartment, and to treat him and the roomies to dinner out.

I wish I could say that I’m totally ready for Oregon Flock & Fiber in 2 weeks, but I’ve been distracted by the fruit. Oh well, hopefully I’ll get my act together this week.

Paying Attention to the Little Details

August 26, 2013

We all get caught up in the day-to-day banality of our lives and let the little details slip by unnoticed. It’s one of the things about spending time with little kids that I miss, their ability to be completely absorbed by some minor aspect of life, and it’s something I try to do at least occasionally. I had the opportunity to be reminded about this a couple of times in the last week, and I’m glad I slowed down enough to pay attention.

The first detail caught my eye as I rounded the front corner of the house, headed to turning on the hose so I could fill water troughs. The mound of dirt got my attention first, then I noticed the hole. That is my daughter-in-law’s hand for scale. After much reflection, I think a neighbor dog must have done the damage. The cats don’t normally dig like that to go after a rodent, and I have seen no evidence of anything living in or near the hole. Guess I’d better fill it in before I twist an ankle in it.new hole

 My spinning wheel (a Schacht Matchless) has been having some issues lately. That led to my 2nd little detail. I needed a screwdriver to work with, and grabbed this little brass one that Sweetie’s dad had given me several years ago. I have always enjoyed using it, but never really paid attention to it until this week. screwdriver There was a little noise when I used it, a slight rattle. Instead of ignoring it (as I must have in the past), I investigated. And I love what I found. Not one, not two screwdriver2, not three, screwdriver4 but four screwdrivers,  screwdriver4all nestled together like one of those Russian dolls. I love it! The biggest is about 6 inches long, and the tiny little one is just over an inch. I’ve always loved good tools, and this one just moved up a notch in my favorites list. And with its help and a little TLC, the Matchless is back to behaving beautifully, and I am finishing up the last of the Merlin blend yarn that I started during the Tour de Fleece.

I have gotten a few farm chores done also, including shearing three sheep. Manny and Meriadoc went from shaggy boys to nearly naked. I love their colors, but I still need to really look at their fleeces and assess the quality. I did discover that I messed up when I banded Meriadoc and only caught one of his testicles. This would explain some of his behaviors (very pushy with his pen mates, and occasionally head bashing wood panels). He has never shown any inclination towards being aggressive towards people, so if he stays here I will probably leave things as they are.Manny yearling face onMeriadoc yearling face onManny and Meriadoc shorn

I also sheared the old lady of the flock, Bridget. At 13 years old this spring, she has earned the right to retire, especially since she gave me such a nice replacement ewe lamb this year. I think she looks pretty good for such an aged sheep, and she is now doing “Ashe duty” and getting some grain as a reward. Bridget after shearing 2013

Speaking of Ashe, she is doing well. I am trying to hold her weight steady where it is now (don’t want her getting too fat), and she and Bridget have full run of the barn pen.  She is fairly mobile, even if she does look funny getting around. I hope that she will regain some more flexibility in her front legs, for comforts sake, but she seems content. As I’ve said all along, as long as she is willing to keep up the fight, so am I. Her lamb, Navid, is doing well also, and is a friendly little guy, always ready for a chin scritch.

Navid face on

I am getting ready for State Fair later this week. My mom has never been, and since I will be judging the Angora goats in their inaugural showing this year we are going to make the trip over the mountains together. I have booked a hotel room so that we can relax a bit after seeing all there is to see. Should be fun; I always enjoyed taking the kids to the Fair as an “end of summer” treat. Then next month, we will be enjoying the circus. Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey are coming to our local fairgrounds, so Kid the Younger and Fiancee are coming over to go with mom & me.

No word on my missing shawl yet, but the response I have gotten online has been wonderful. My picture has been shared all over the world, so whoever took it will not be able to wear it in public without being spotted. I have made peace with the fact that it is gone, and will dig out the book so I can make myself another one (in a different color so I don’t get accosted wearing it out!). Someone shared how a shawl of theirs made it home 6 months after being taken, so I won’t give up hope, I just won’t waste any energy thinking nasty thoughts about the person who took it. I prefer to fill my life with positive thoughts and actions. Not always possible, but I try.

 

Over Fair

August 5, 2013

I enjoy going to and showing at our county fair. Most years I actually show at ours and the next county over, but this year money is a bit tighter and I confined myself to just my home county (I will go visit the other one). It it an enormous amount of work getting everything in and set up, but I am very passionate about sharing my animals and my crafts with the public. When we are not showing or taking care of the beasties, we are usually in the sheep barn spinning. I am usually one of the first people in the barn in the morning and almost always the last one out at night.

This year, my friend Correy brought in some brand new lambs, born the day before fair started. Her rams escaped 5 months ago and 2 of her ewes had babies as a result. They were absolutely adorable, and a crowd favorite for sure. I hadn’t used up all the pens assigned to me, so they were at the end of that row, close to where we were sitting. It was fun watching “Lamb TV” all week. My sheep did fine in the show (we had Romeldale classes finally), and I got plenty of spinning done. The cheese I wanted to enter didn’t happen, but there is always next year.

Unfortunately, my fair experience this week was marred on Saturday night by some heartless person. I had brought in a few of my hand-knit shawls to display in the barn. While I was talking to folks, someone helped themselves to my big red Neibling. I could not have missed the theft by more than 5 minutes. I am hoping that it was grabbed by a little kid and I will get it back as soon as the parents realize, but I know that this is not terribly likely. I filed a police report immediately and told them the value ($1,000. One cop said “That’s a lot of yarn”, to which I replied “No, that’s a lot of time and talent”). I have posted the picture on Facebook, Craigslist and Ravelry (I figure the more eyes looking the better). I am heart-sick, more over the fact that someone would take it than over the loss of the shawl. I can knit another one, and from my notes on Ravelry I even know about how long it will take.  Of the 3 shawls, it was the one I could most afford (emotionally) to lose. But it also is the shawl that I wear most often and that I have gotten the most compliments on. I will not let this experience ruin my trust in the basic good nature of most people, but I am not likely to bring my hand-knits back for display in public again, and that is sad because I love sharing what I do. So please, keep your eyes open, on the off-chance that it shows up in your neck of the woods and can be brought home where it belongs.Neibling

Su-su-summer-Time

July 23, 2013

Anyone else remember that song? Sorry if I planted it in your ear…

Summer so far has been dry and hot, prime conditions for fires especially when we get thunderstorms. The local firefighters are getting more of a workout than I’d like, but are doing a great job.

I finished up the Tour de Fleece in good shape. I accomplished most of the goals I set, and my final counts were over 2 pounds and 1.7 miles of yarn created. I’m still working on the final 2 goals that didn’t get done (spinning the silk cap on the Golding spindle and the moorit Romeldale/alpaca/camel down/silk blend, which has been much slower coming together than I had hoped). The blend is turning out very pretty; the different shades of brown really add a lot of depth to the overall color.   And since I added in spinning up one of the braids that I dyed before Fiber Market Day, I would definitely put this year’s Tour in the Win column. Here’s the final picture I posted on Ravelry, summing up my Tour. Day 23 collage

Last week, Mom finally made the decision to let her old Bull Terrier Ruth cross the Rainbow Bridge. She had been going downhill for a while, but it is always a tough decision to make. Since 1978, Mom has owned 4 Bullies. Ruth was the oldest at 14 years, 7 months. She was born the day after my Dad passed away, and was the last remaining dog from her breeder. This is an older picture of her, but this is how I will always see her. She was a great dog and her passing will leave a big hole. Ruth

Our County Fair starts in a week. I have entered 2 of the yearling ewes, 2 of the ewe lambs and 2 of the ram lambs. I am also hoping to get a mozzarella finished up later this week to take in on Saturday. I hate that we have to do things like that so far in advance (fair doesn’t start until Wednesday).  It means a special trip, and things aren’t as fresh during fair as they possibly could be. Not as big a deal for art work and things like cheese, but flowers and baked goods suffer. Oh well, at least we finally managed to get a separate class for the Romeldales. I decided not to enter the goat girls, which turned out to be a very good decision since the goat barn was filled to capacity about 2 weeks before entries closed. If they have nice udders after they freshen next year I will consider showing them again, but there didn’t seem to be much point this time around. Myrtle unfortunately can’t be shown, since I can’t register her even as a grade goat (she is half Nigerian Dwarf, and grade goats have to be from only standard breeds).

I made the decision not to enter the other local fair this year. I just can’t justify the added expense on my very limited budget this year. I will go and visit a time or 2. It was a hard decision to make. I enjoy the fairs, and I like showing at them.

My biggest news this summer is that I was contacted about judging Angora goats at the State Fair. Of course I said yes! I mailed back the contract this morning. Angoras haven’t been shown at the State Fair before, so they will be showing for ribbons only (no premium money this year). Mom has never been to the State Fair before, so I’m trying to talk her into going with me. My judging gig doesn’t start until 5 pm, so we could make a day of it. I think everyone should visit their State Fair at least once!

Going on Tour

June 30, 2013

Once again, I’m taking part in Ravelry’s Tour de Fleece. For those of you that don’t know about it, the Tour de Fleece is an opportunity for spinners to concentrate on their craft while the Tour de France is going on. You set your own goals, hopefully set yourself some challenges along the way (on the days the riders are mountain climbing), share pictures of your accomplishments, and have a chance at winning some lovely prizes. This year, I have offered up a prize from my Etsy shop.

My goals are pretty ambitious this year.

  1. I want to spin enough lace weight yarn from Merlin’s fleece for a spectacular lace shawl (pattern to still be determined). Merlin Day 1
  2. Blend the rest of his fleece with camel, alpaca, and silk (all shades of brown) and spin it up for a sweater. I still need to figure out the percentages, but I figure I will have at least 1 1/2 pounds of this.
  3. I am blending another fleece with the last of my own kid mohair and angora from a friend (69.4% CVM/14.4% mohair/16.2% angora). I’ve made the first pass through the carder with this, and plan on at least 2 more passes to blend the colors and fibers as completely as possible. There is a pound of this. It is amazing how much room it takes up at this stage. Here you can see the fibers filling the tote (wool at the bottom, kid mohair top left, bunny top right. Once I get the batts finished, I will twist them as I normally do and they will fill a single plastic shopping bag, as will the finished yarn. Air takes up a lot of space! romeldale bunny goat kid fluff
  4. I am finishing up a blue & purple roving I dyed a while back on my Golding spindle. Half is already spun up. Golding Day 1
  5. The other spindle project is a pink and purple silk cap, also dyed quite some time ago. It has been hanging around in my vendor booth for too long.
  6. For my challenge days, I want to create and spin a couple of art batts. I don’t get the appeal of art yarns, but I figure this will be a chance to stretch my boundaries and infuse a little more color into my Tour, which is pretty focused on natural colors.
  7. I am also hoping to make some head way on the gossamer merino/silk which has languished on the elec-spinner for way too long. It requires a lot of concentration to maintain the grist of this yarn, since a few extra fibers make such a huge difference when you’re only using about 20.

If I get done with all of those, I also have 7 alpaca fleeces that I am spinning on commission. There isn’t a huge rush on those, but they will be paying for my firewood this fall, so that is good incentive to get them finished! I’m still not positive how this woman found me (she was given my e-mail address by a yarn shop a few hundred miles away, in a city I’ve never visited), but I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I enjoy commission spinning, once I can help my customer figure out exactly what they want in the way of yarn. Many knitters have no real understanding of the yarns that they work with, and it can be challenging to help them understand the possibilities when you are starting with raw fiber. Alpaca is a lovely fiber, but it has little to no memory, which can make knitting with it problematic. I will be trading out some of her fiber for wool, to give the yarn some recall, and we have discussed adding a bit of silk too. I would love to be able to make a living just spinning.

What else is happening, you ask? Well, Kid the Younger is now a college graduate! I am so incredibly proud of his accomplishment. He will be going on to graduate school, but this is a major step. His fiancée has been a huge support for him, and gifted him with a dozen bacon roses and a jar full of “life advice” from several friends and family members, which he read aloud at his graduation party. Many were funny and heart-felt, and he choked up when he got to the one I included from his big sister, “Dance Like No One is Watching”.

Black Sheep Gathering was the following weekend, and despite being slower than normal coming out of my annual depressive state (which has ended about the first of June normally, but has drug on a lot longer this year) I managed to attend. If I hadn’t been the contact person for the Spinner’s Lead I might have bailed on the whole idea, but not showing up wasn’t really an option. Over all, I’m glad I went. I had the opportunity to speak with a couple of friends that are also going through things this spring, and I think that helped all of us to feel better. The Spinner’s Lead was a rousing success, and I need to write up an article about it for the next issue of the Black Sheep Newsletter this week. A couple of us will be revising the rules slightly for the future, to try to encourage more people to take part.

I need to get to work figuring out my entries for Fairs this summer. I’m still not entirely out of my funk, which makes planning for the summer a bit of a challenge, but I know that I will enjoy it when it happens. Sometimes getting out of my own way is the biggest challenge of all!

One Step Closer To Being Ready For The Zombie Apocalypse

May 15, 2013

Just kidding, I’m not getting ready for the Zombie Apocalypse. But I do enjoy making myself as self-sufficient as I can, and yesterday I took another step in that direction.

It somehow seemed appropriate that I take the occasion of the 4th anniversary of Sweetie’s passing to play in the kitchen with the goat milk that I have been collecting from Myrtle. And while he would not have appreciated the mess I made, he would have found a great deal of joy in how much I was enjoying myself as I experimented with making not 1, but 2 kinds of cheese.

I have been following Leigh’s adventures with her goats and homestead for quite some time, so earlier I had checked out her archives for the info I needed, as well as doing a little additional research online. Can’t have too much education when starting a new project! I had been scooping the cream off the milk in the fridge and putting it in a jar in the freezer, and Saturday morning, the jar was finally full enough to try my hand at making butter.

Butter starting to come together It was a warm day, and once it solidified it was too warm to stay cohesive until I could take a picture of it. A little time in the fridge though, and I had butter! I find the taste difference between cow’s milk and my goat milk more noticeable in the butter than in the liquid milk. Not objectionable, just different. I was already aware that it wouldn’t be the standard “butter yellow” that we are used to in store-bought butter, but that doesn’t bother me in the least. Used on something (like the fresh corn on the cob I shared at Mom’s for dinner that evening) it is very tasty. First butter Enjoying first butter

Yesterday morning, I got up ready to dive into cheese making. I had read several things that indicated that mozzarella might not be the easiest cheese to start with, but I laughed in the face of danger. I’m not ready to do hard cheeses yet, and I’m not a huge fan of chevre, so mozzarella it was.

Just added milk to citric acid I added my gallon of milk to the citric acid in a pot set in a sink full of hot water.

Starting to coagulate with just citric acid It started to coagulate almost immediately, which was fun to see. Once it was up to 90 degrees, I added in the rennet. From what I had read, I thought it would take a while before I would see clear whey, but after just 5 minutes I was ready to proceed

five minutes after rennet was added I cut the curds and let them sit for a while before scooping them into a colander to drain. I added 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the curd, but I think next time I will add more (it seems a bit bland to me)

Then comes the really fun part – stretching! I had put a pot of water on the stove earlier to heat up, and found out that on low, the front left burner kept the water at the perfect temperature (140-150 degrees). I had bought a brand new pair of insulated rubber gloves for this step, because that’s a little warmer than I’m comfortable with. I dropped about half of the curds into the hot water, breaking them up with my fingers so the heat could get into everything. You work the cheese, lifting it up out of the water and back down as it cools. The transformation is very cool, at least to my cooking geek. When you start, the curd is kind of grainy looking, but after a short while it gets glossy and workable, kind of like taffy. Couldn’t really get pictures of that part, since I was home alone, but this is what I ended up with: First mozzarella done Isn’t it beautiful?!

And while I was working on stretching the mozzarella, I had put the whey on to try my hand at making ricotta too. I had read mixed reviews about how well that process worked but figured I had nothing to lose.Starting to heat the whey for ricotta I didn’t measure the whey, but judging on where it was hitting on the pot I figure there was about 3/4 of a gallon. I heated it slowly, working it slowly up to 200 degrees. Not seeing any changes by the time it had reached 180, I chickened out and added 2 tablespoons of vinegar (next time, I will trust the process and try it without). At about 190 degrees, I finally started seeing something happen

Ricotta curd

This got drained and salted also Ricotta done Plus, I now have whey in the fridge to play with.

Finally results: 14.9 ounces of mozzarella, 5.4 ounces of ricotta, and a half-gallon of whey. I used some whey in a brine that the mozzarella sat in for a couple of hours. The ricotta is wonderful, very tangy and smooth. The mozzarella is very firm (I hesitate to use the word tough, though that was my first thought). It shreds very nicely and melts beautifully (yes, I tested it on a piece of french bread set under the broiler. Yum!) I am now researching how best to use the whey.

I’m not getting a ton of milk out of Myrtle, but next year I will hopefully be milking all 3 of the does. My goal is to make hard cheeses like the daughter of one of my friends used to (before she got married), and to try my hand at Camembert. For now, I will be satisfied playing with a gallon at a time. I started a Dairy Journal, so that I can keep notes on what I did and how it worked.

I am also slowly working on getting the garden back up and running. I’ve weeded 2 beds completely, and rescued the rhubarb at the end of a third bed (I thought it had died off, but it was just buried under grass. Freed from that and with a top-dressing of alpaca poo, it has made a very happy recovery). My back only allows so much digging, but I’ve got peas, beets, spinach and chard in the ground. Hopefully, they will produce something before summer gets here. The sheep and goats are very happy to deal with the weeds I’m pulling from the beds, which haven’t been really worked in 5 years. I get my garden back, and they get snacks; it’s a win-win situation!