Archive for June, 2008

Pardon the silence.

I promise to get back into the blogging mode next week. It’s been one heckuva week, but I’ve got lots of hope for good things to come – especially from the crafty front. I’m a little bit jealous and a lot inspired by the crazy whirlwind of sewing that Elsie Marley has been doing of late. We’ll see what kind of good things can come out of that.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!  Oh yes.  We’re off to see Tom Waits.  !!!!

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Got Milkweed?

We do. Lots of it, happily, and we’ve been waiting for these guys to show up for weeks. Not that they’re late; only that we misread their RSVP. In case you somehow missed out on the ubiquitous Kindergarten-3rd grade science unit on metamorphosis, I shall introduce you. This is a monarch caterpillar. They eat only milkweed. A shortage of milkweed = a shortage of monarch butterflies. We have no such shortage, hence, we shall be getting a jump on the Kindergarten exercise of watching for a cocoon and then bringing it inside to watch it hatch. Once hatched, we’ll release the beautiful monarch butterfly into the wild so it can prepare for its Mexican vacation. Or wherever it winters over. Is that Mexico?

We’ve got some time; this guy is pretty small, at less than 1/2″. For more on this metamorphosis process, I’d recommend this book. Hee hee.

Happy Solstice to you all! Let the summer games begin.

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We are totally making this up as we go.

Time to check back in with the guineas, who are really, really starting to look like actual guineas and not just gawky chicks. The pearled patterning that gives this breed their name is showing up now on the feathers that grow longer by the minute. Now that they can hop and fly beyond the ceiling-less confines of their section of the coop, they’ve started taking ownership. I’ve read that the guineas will quickly claim their rightful spot as Coop Bosses, and got a glimpse of that last night as a couple of guineas chose the backs of some docile hens for a resting place. Despite our intentions to raise them to be tame and friendly, we’ve not handled them nearly enough to overcome their skittishness, which makes for an entertaining show when we enter the coop, as they hop, skip, jump, and fly the heck away from us. Overall, though, they’re doing very well, and we’ve only had one casualty, a guinea with a birth defect.

The “chicks”, however, are another story entirely. A sad and frustrating one, I’m afraid. In a fog of naivete and maybe a little bit of arrogance, we’ve suddenly found ourselves caricatured inside the pages of an age-old children’s tale. You, no doubt, know the story too – the cunning fox (or here it’s likely a racoon) outwits the farmers night after night and walks out with a delicious chicken dinner and a sneer on his lips. We’ve probably read three or four different adaptations of this story to Isadora already, but in each “retelling”, the chicken always manages to outfox the fox. A modern day, underdog twist, perhaps? Completely unrealistic, as it turns out.

We were first alerted to the situation a few nights ago. To prepare for our upcoming Transition The Broiler Chickens From The Orchard To Our Freezer operation (how’s that for a euphemism??), we separated one rooster and what we hoped were all the females (pullets) from the bunch and added them to the chicken coop to join the Lovely Ladies (laying hens) and Guineas. We tucked them all in for a good night’s sleep and tucked ourselves in. The next day was uneventful. The next night, when tucking them in and going through roll call, we thought one might be missing, but recounted several times and dismissed it as our error. The following morning, however, Andrew found a pile of white feathers near the door of the orchard coop.

Still, we thought it an isolated incident. Until late that night. The windows were open, catching the refreshing night breeze when a series of distressed shrieks jolted me out of my light sleep. What could that be? All the chickens were tucked in, safe and sound, I thought.

But the next day, I discovered our folly. The Villain in this story had crawled into the orchard coop through a chicken wire hole that was formerly filled by their heat lamp. At least three chickens had met their demise that night. Panic and shock and a little bit of helplessness shook me for a bit as I cleaned up, and only intensified when a quick walk around the orchard revealed multiple piles of feathers outside the perimeter. No doubt this critter was a regular customer. We were so stupid, in our own la-la land every night as our flock was systematically reduced, one by one.

The chicken learning curve is indeed a steep one, especially when we’re climbing so many other inclines at the same time. And I’d like to clarify that there has, indeed, been hours and hours and hours of reading (real, grown-up books, not the aforementioned children’s stories), thinking, talking, planning, and other responsible actions taken to go about our ever-evolving Chicken Project. Sometimes, though, there’s just no way to gain experience, knowledge, and wisdom without actually DOING. And sometimes, we can only do the best we can at the given time.

To close, I’d like to introduce you to Dapper Dan, our handsome rooster. We think he’s a Blue Andalusian, though there was a free rare chick added to our order, so it’s possible he’s something else entirely. If you have any ideas, let me know. What we do know is that he’s kind, mild mannered, a bit shy, and possesses a nice crowing voice. He’s the crown jewel of the coop and we have high hopes for his protective abilities as he matures a bit more. We hope he’s happy here.

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ABC Graham Crackers

In an effort to conserve time and gas, I’ve been working very hard to limit my forays into town for groceries. For us, that means heading into Madison to visit the food coop, where we’ve been undoubtedly spoiled. It’s been a bit of a culture shock to discover how our eating habits no longer work with the offerings of local grocery store. Taken-for-granted-things like goat cheese, kalamata olives, tamari, basalmic vinegar, artisanal bread, and blue corn tortilla chips have exposed this new truth, not to mention organic or local ANYTHING (produce, honey, maple syrup). Since these are the very things that stock our pantry, I try to make my pilgrimage into town once a week and group my other errands into that same trip. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t quite happen with that frequency, and we’re left with no bread, milk, or other staples.

But we’re still hungry for that after-nap, before-our-late-supper snack, so last week we got a little creative. Way back when Miss Isadora was raisin-size floating in utero, I came upon a recipe for homemade graham crackers. Because, of course, I would always make homemade graham crackers and other more-nutritious foods for my baby and wouldn’t ever buy them. This dogma was clearly the result of some kind of pregnancy-induced, utopian delusion, because I’ve not until this moment made them. And, as revealed, the motives were more necessity-driven than they were tenets of our food doctrine. Nevertheless, they were fun to make, good to eat, and we will definitely make them again, as I continuously strive to meet my own ambitious food goals.

Graham Crackers

1 c. sifted flour – graham or whole wheat

1 c. white flour (whole wheat pastry flour worked well for me)

1t. baking powder

1/4 c. honey

1/4 c. butter

1/4 c. milk + a little more to get the right consistency

Mix dry ingredients, work in butter with a pastry blender. Stir in honey and milk, then knead to form firm balls. Add a little bit of milk as necessary to get this consistency. Roll out to about 1/4″ thick. Cut into squares or use cookie cutters.

Bake at 400° for 15 minutes, or until brown.

I think it might be best to store these in a loosely-fitted container to maintain the crispiness of crackers. We didn’t, and our crackers were more like less-sweet cut-out cookies than crackers, so we’ll try that next time. Also, not having milk, we found that using half and half, which we did have on hand, worked well when diluted a bit. Not that I’d recommend the substitution unless you’re in a real pinch…

If you also have ABC cookie cutters, you’re in luck. The B and the X are especially delicious with this recipe.

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Stick with it – pics are near the end. And they’re worth it.

Yesterday was a really rough day. Rough as in not good and inconvenient and lacking particular joy. But nowhere near the kind of rough experienced by soooooooo many others during the latest round of storms and mass, unprecedented flooding yesterday. Given that, I feel a little bit like an ass for mentioning that my day wasn’t particularly good, but it is my blog, and I think it makes today look especially good.

Because today is just teeming with new life.

Yesterday, though, I made my usual rounds to feed the chicks, hens, and guineas. What greeted me in the hen house took my breath away. Two hens in the nest boxes had met an untimely death at the hands of some kind of varmint. Blood, feathers, and some innards were strewn about. It marked a sort of turning-point for me, and in the donning of gloves and swift removal of the carcasses, with my stomach in knots, I gained a measure of legitimacy in this new role of homesteader. Rather ironic, too, as this weekend was to be the fated weekend to transition our broiler chickens from their range in the orchard to our chest freezer.

Not less than five minutes after returning to the house, after cleaning the hen house and bolstering the perimeter against future attacks, I greeted my newly-awake-from-her-nap crabby girl and sat down to check out the details of the thunderstorm that had begun to rage outside. The radar casually mentioned something about a Tornado Warning for my county. Oh, WHAT?? That’s right. Tornado’s due in my neck of the woods at approximately 3:35pm, so have tea ready. It was then 3:05ish, so I had some time. To wrangle the girl and put some pants and shoes on her, kicking and screaming. To wrangle some shoes for myself. To wrangle a radio to monitor the situation. To wrangle some sugary snacks to stop the crying, kicking, and screaming of the girl who’d not yet eaten lunch. And to wrangle the dogs who were not outfitted to greet a tornado.

Then safely in the basement, I had a little time for reflecting.

1. I’ve come a long way with my tornado phobia. A big help: the understanding, about two years ago, that a tornado warning means a tornado is somewhere in the county, not necessarily spotted by someone in my town, or in my back yard. Thus, there’s usually time to breathe, then get the heck downstairs.

2. Why the hell aren’t we using our dehumidifier in the basement??? We have one, but have not yet saw fit to plug it in. Enter musty old-basement smell.

3. There may be nothing more insulting that waiting through “Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel on the radio for updates on the impending weather crisis. As God is my witness, we will own a weather radio before the sun sets.

4. Frosted Mini-Wheats and their generic knock-offs are truly clever. Great with or without milk, portable, and instrumental in passing 45 musty dark minutes in a basement waiting for the ceiling to fall.

In the end, we emerged from the cave unharmed and not even touched by that storm, who decided instead to revisit a town hit only last week by a previous tornado. Do what you know, right? Eventually, Andrew arrived home safe and sound, with Weather Radio in hand, and we bunkered down to watch the flooding crisis unfold.

And today, with a wee bit of trepidation, I journeyed out to the hen house to investigate some hen squawking. And this is what I saw in the run:

A snapping turtle, I’m assuming. They’ve been getting our attention a lot in the past few days – Andrew, ever the Boy Scout, escorted one across a busy highway last weekend, and last night we learned of the one trying to nest in the garage of Andrew’s parents. I ran to the house, grabbing Isadora and the camera, and we soon were witness to this miracle: (I’d recommend watching with sound the on, to catch the completely un-coached commentary)

Minutes later, we discovered that Momma Finch was not alone in her nest!

And right before naptime today, we were graced with a visit from Momma Deer and her sweet Fawn, who we first met yesterday morning. Photo taken from upstairs window, so ignore the poor quality and look at those spots!

Today has been a fantastic day.

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Pretty in pink.

What a weekend it was. Wedding bells were ringing. Also, wind, hail, tornadoes, and rain. Lots and lots and lots of rain. Flooding everywhere. Again.

We were among the very fortunate – our home is sitting high and dry. And lucky too, for missing out on the chorus of tornado sirens on Saturday as we gathered with family near and far, danced, laughed, and celebrated the merging of two families with one heck of a party. And officially gained a sister! Completely oblivious to the fury in other parts of the state, we were granted safe haven and blessed with a beautiful wedding and lots of merriment.

On Sunday, the rains came. We glimpsed the magnitude of them as we made our way back home, the 100 mile journey that usually starts with a piping-hot latte. We quickly realized that the frontage road leading to the coffee joint was flooded and marveled at the brave or maybe foolish people plunging through anyway. After deliberating a bit, we decided that we did, indeed, need that coffee to help us navigate home through the heavy curtain of rain and post-party exhaustion, so we circumnavigated the flooded road and made our way through vast, dry parking lots. We were fully aware of the depth of our need for this caffeine.

It turned out to be just the beginning of the flooding we saw all the way home. In our little corner of the world, the trout stream was quadrupled in width and county-owned dump trucks barreled past with loads of fill for other waterways bursting at the seams. We heard about the tornadoes that raced through the county north of us and then, yesterday, learned of the lake that is no more. Buckling under the intense pressure, a weak spot in its perimeter was breached and the entire lake bursted through, creating a new path to the already-raging Wisconsin River. Taking entire houses with it. And the lake is now almost completely empty.

Last night, after a day-long reprieve from the rain, the dusk sky was entirely blanketed in fluffy pink cotton candy clouds. Never before do I remember being so enveloped by a sunset. She’s got quite a wardrobe, this Mother Earth. And a pretty short memory, for dressing so ostentatiously so soon after delivering her wrath to so many. Here’s hoping the pink is a sign of times to come.

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Taking a dip in the gene pool.

Today I enjoyed a shining moment of Momma Pride when peeking in on a better-be-asleep little napper. Just like her Momma, falling asleep with a good book. I’m going to go ahead and attribute this characteristic to my gene pool. Which is something I haven’t really done much of lately.

Immediately after she was born into this family of adoring eyes, even before the soreness and pure shock! had left my nether-regions, exuberant claims started rolling in. One look at her and everyone was racing to claim some genetic responsibility, and I sure couldn’t blame them – she was beautiful. “She’s got Daddy’s eyes! Look at that hair – just like Daddy’s! And those eyelashes!” And comparing her to Daddy’s newborn picture seemed to support every one of these claims – she was a dead-ringer. But the blood hadn’t even dried yet and I was hopped up on crazy-mad Momma hormones and the last thing I wanted to hear was that she looked almost exactly like my husband. Oh, he was great, but he didn’t invest the 9 months as a gestation-machine, nor did the hardest of the work getting her out of said machine, so it was hardly fair for him to get all the credit. As my own strength improved, I was able to claim the big-looking feet, the eyelashes, and maybe the dimples.

And now it doesn’t really matter. She’s clearly a nice blend of both of us, taking most of our best features and melding them beautifully into this sleeping little angel. Who I sure hope is back asleep, because taking this very photo had jarred her from her light slumber. Got my fingers crossed, because there’s work to do!

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There will be no almost-free pork hocks.

Editor’s Correction: The Finch Family has 5 children on the way, not 4. Also, the Clip and Save Coupon from yesterday’s gazette should have read “Pork Hocks 50 cents off” rather than “50 cents.” We trust you recognized the improbability of such a price as erroneous.

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We are very popular with the feathered folks.

Chives, chives, everywhere we look. Having seriously considered starting a chive farm, I’ve decided instead to harvest those that are taking up valuable real estate in the flowerbed. What to do with them now? My chive repertoire is weak as it is. I know they’re great with baked potatoes, cottage cheese, garnishing things like salad, soup, etc, but what to do with buckets of them? My wise friend, Google, pointed me to this concise article by Gail Reynolds, who suggested two good solutions for preserving/using them. Freezing them seems to be the best way to preserve the fresh flavor and color. I will chop them, lay out on a cookie sheet, and flash freeze them for a few minutes and then put the not-quite-frosty pieces in an airtight freezer container. Flash-freezing allows for easy retrieval for future oh-yeah-I-should-add-some-chives-to-this winter cooking.

The other option that I liked was to make a chive-infused vinegar. How beautiful is this??

Taking Ms. Reynold’s recommendations to include some flowers in the mix does indeed impart a lovely lavender hue to the vinegar, doesn’t it? I think I remember a friend mentioning her intention to infuse them in oil, so I may try that as well.

Moving on to other business, I discovered today that a new family has moved into town. Mr. and Mrs. House Finch (or possibly Purple Finch – I couldn’t make out the lettering on the mailbox) have taken up residence here, on our porch:

You’ll have to take my word for it, as she had the curtains drawn in this picture. They have 4 children on the way, though I couldn’t get a good shot of them either. Maybe tomorrow. We’re excited to have them and to watch their progress, though they make it tricky to keep this begonia watered. Maybe I can distract them with a Welcome-to-the-Neighborhood Pie and sneak a watering can in there…

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