"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chicken Conundrum

Time for another installment of the regularly recurring game - "Where the %$@? are the chickens laying their eggs?"

I don't expect many eggs this time of year, of course. But I can tell by looking at them that some of the hens are laying. There are several signs to look for, but the easiest way to tell if a hen is laying or not is to look at her comb.

This hen is not laying. She is molting. See how she looks skinny and untidy, and her comb (though I barely got it in the picture) is small and pale? She won't start to lay for probably several weeks. First she has to grow all her feathers back and gain some weight. Hens go into molt after their first year of laying, at about 18 months of age. The first year is the most productive, but the second year is still pretty good. After year number two, it's charity to keep a laying hen alive.

These two hens are intermediate: their feathers are full and sleek, but their combs aren't there yet. The black hen is a little closer to starting production, I think, but the speckled hen is not close yet.

This hen is a layer. She is fat and fluffy, her comb and wattles are well developed and bright red. She is laying her eggs somewhere all right... I just don't know where!!! For comparison, here is the comb on one of our roosters. A hen in good laying form has a nice big crest and wattles, at least two thirds the size of a rooster's. Combs vary a lot by breed, so some will be bigger than others, but all laying hens will have combs and wattles that are thicker, brighter, and redder than hens who are not laying.

Now I have to go back out to the barnyard because as I was posting these pictures, I saw that I had taken a picture of an egg which I didn't find when I was out there. Can you find it?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Medical Preparation - Mediprep?

Christmas Day, I slipped on a patch of ice on my front porch and twisted my knee pretty severely. Today I finally got to the doctor and the diagnosis (which I had already come up with myself - R.N., remember?) is a sprained medial collateral ligament, possibly with a torn meniscus on top of that. Orders are ibuprofen around the clock until the swelling subsides, rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE), wait three weeks and if not significantly better, return for an MRI.

I think it will be fine - well, as fine as it was before, anyway, which isn't great. ("Doctor, will I be able to play the violin....I mean rugby?") But it got me thinking about preparation for medical emergencies. Lately I haven't been writing about it much, but my preparations for a more self-sufficient homestead are proceeding apace. Many of my major goals are either met (reproducing livestock, barns and fences, Homero's shop, biodiesel processor) or partially met (water storage, food storage systems, off-grid heat and cooking capability). Some are still in the planning stage (electricity generation).

Over the past several months I have slowly been building up the pantry, with the goal of eventually having a year's worth of food on hand. It's a gradual thing; an extra twenty pound of rice one week, a case of tuna the next, et cetera. When I hurt myself and it happened to be a holiday weekend with no medical attention short of the emergency room, it occurred to me it would be a good idea to do an inventory of my medical preparedness. One never knows what the future holds, and if it holds scenarios in which professional attention is not readily available (euphemism for "Oh crap, we're goin' down!") then it behooves us all to make what preparations we can.

As in other areas, medical preparedness consists of both knowledge and equipment. Although I am a registered nurse, my training is rapidly receding into the fuzzy past and it would be a good idea for me to take a first aid course. Every adult in a given household should at least have CPR training. Lucky for me I have all my old college nursing textbooks, which make a pretty big stack and include all kinds of extremely useful information. Many used bookstores carry textbooks, and emergency medicine texts should be relatively easy to find. This isn't the forum for a complete course in first aid, but adults should - at a minimum - know how to treat bleeding, recognize anaphylactic shock (extreme allergic reaction), give the heimlich maneuver and CPR.

Building a medicine cabinet is a good idea. We all have a bottle of aspirin in the cupboard, but that doesn't cut it. A good medicine cabinet will have a supply of both equipment and medicines. Here's a list of what's in mine - as a nurse, I have some things that aren't necessary or helpful for the average person, so take with a grain of salt.

Thermometer, band-aids, sterile gauze, tape, moist burn pads, ace bandages, self-adhesive wrap (horse tape), couple of assorted braces (wrist, knee) scissors of various sizes and specialties, good quality tweezers, nail clippers, chemical cold packs (if the power is out, you still want to be able to ice an injury), iodine and alcohol swabs, dental floss, stethoscope, otoscope, blood pressure cuff, blood sugar monitor. Measuring spoons and syringes (no needles). Epi-pen. cotton balls. An eyewash cup.

Not including prescriptions (try to have a month's supply of any prescription meds), aspirin, tylenol, and ibuprofen in quantity, including liquid and pediatric formulations. Benadryl for allergic reactions. Hydrocortisone cream. Triple antibiotic ointment (neosporin, for example). Tums or other antacid. An anti-diarrheal medicine and a laxative. Throat lozenges and spray - I like Chloraseptic, which actually contains an anesthetic. Mouthwash. Iodine. Hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol. Anti-fungal cream for vaginal infections. Nasal spray (good for bites and stings as well as stuffy noses). Epsom salts.

That's about all I can think of at the moment, though I'm sure more will occur to me later. Most of these items can be purchased at a VERY steep discount at Costco. For example, if you buy Ibuprofen in 24 caplet bottles at the grocery store, you will pay about $5.00. If you go to Costco, you can get 500 tablets for about 8 bucks. Same with Benadryl (diphenhydramine is the generic name) and things like band-aids. I think a year's worth of medical supplies is a laudable goal. Not all medications will last a year, but most will. Just keep the cap on that bottle of hydrogen peroxide!

UPDATE: I thought of a couple of items important enough to add. Vitamins and fluoride tablets or drops.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Dinner 2009

Okay, it was just us this afternoon for Christmas dinner, so I have to admit I didn't work to make it pretty. Last night we went to my mom's and had a very pretty (and very delicious) four course dinner of green salad, raviolis, broiled lamb chops, and too much dessert. This afternoon, I kept it simple.

A few days ago I pulled the duck breasts that I got from my hunter neighbor (New Trade Network Partners) out of the freezer and put them in the fridge to thaw. Then I ransacked the internet looking for some approximation of chinese barbecue duck that I could actually pull off. I warned Homero (the big duck-lover) that whatever I made, if he was going to compare it to what we got in Vancouver's Chinatown, he was going to be disappointed and I was going to be mad. He should try to wipe his mind clean of the memories of House of Hong and just enjoy my duck dish on its own merits.

Either he liked it fine or he did a damn good job of pretending. He ate three duck breasts. Myself, I've never really cared for duck and I find that truly wild duck is even less to my taste. My daughter Rowan said "if I didn't know better, I'd think this was pork," which is what many people say about duck, but I don't agree. It's far wilder and more bloody-tasting than pork. To me, it almost tastes like liver.

But I like liver. Go figure.

Anyway, here's what I did with the duck breasts, and if you like duck, you'll probably like this.

- One or two duck breasts per person (I'm giving the rest of the quantities for my meal as I made it: six duck breasts). If not bought from a butcher or grocery store but given to you by the hunter, you will probably have to singe the remnants of feathers off. I used my husband's propane torch, but a small fire of crumpled paper is perfectly serviceable. Use a very sharp knife to score the skin on each breast.

- half of one fresh pineapple, peeled and cubed

- one small or half of a large yellow onion

- tablespoon chili-garlic sauce

- 2 tablespoons orange marmalade

- 1/4 cup rice vinegar, unseasoned

- few tablespoons soy sauce

- ditto honey

- white rice cooked according to your usual method.

Preheat oven to 325

Combine chili-garlic sauce, marmalade, vinegar, soy sauce, and honey along with a little water in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Stir. Boil at a fast simmer until slightly reduced. Meanwhile:

Heat a scant tablespoon of canola oil in a large skillet. Lay duck breasts skin side down and fry over medium high heat until skin crisps and some fat renders - about five minutes. Remove breasts to a baking dish, skin side up. In the same pan, fry the onions and pineapple until lightly browned. Use a slotted spoon to scoop and scatter onion and pineapple over the duck breasts.

Pour reduced sauce over breasts and place in oven. Every ten minutes or so use a large spoon to turn and mix. We like our duck well done so I bake for about thirty minutes. I know that the fashion is for very rare duck breasts: if you want to do it that way, then lay the breasts on top of the onion-pineapple mix, raw side up, and broil, watching very carefully, for only five minutes or less. In this case, don't pour the sauce over before putting duck in the oven, but rather keep reducing it to a thickish glaze and pour over after breasts are done.

I served these with white rice and a side of bok choy. But thin chinese pancakes and plum sauce would be great!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Today's Ethical Conundrum: Low Carbon Food Choices

I feel like I already do a pretty good job of minimizing my family's environmental impact when it comes to our food choices. Of the food we eat at home, 80-90% of the meat is home-grown and very very local. Milk, eggs and cheese are produced on the farm for well over half the year, and for the rest of the year we just don't eat a whole lot of those things. This year to date I have bought two dozen eggs from the supermarket, and perhaps five or six gallons of milk. Maybe five pounds of cheese. From May to October, a high percentage (70%?) of our vegetable and fruit consumption is also from producers local to within a few miles, due to the success of the trade network.

However, I have by no means banished high-impact foods from our lives. Most significantly, we go out to eat at least once a week. When I eat out, I pretty much throw away the rule book. Sure, I wouldn't knowingly eat a critically endangered species ("I'd like the pan-broiled panda, please - NO, the bluefin tuna sushi."), but I know that my meat is most likely conventionally raised in a CAFO, that my chicken was battery-farmed in cages too small to spread their wings, and that my milk products are chock-full of antibiotics and artificial hormones. I can't see myself as one of those people who spends fifteen minutes grilling the waiter about the liberal-progressive credentials of the food ("Is this tofu organic? Was it grown in Brazil? Were any indigenous people displaced as their rainforest homes were clear-cut for a giant international conglomerate to grow GMO soybeans?"), so that means we just need to eat out less often. Good for the pocketbook, too. We spend far too much on restaurants.

Even when it comes to regular old grocery store shopping, I could certainly do a better job. Today, for example, I went to Costco with my sister. You could argue that Costco is already a good choice, as buying in bulk cuts down on packaging. Well, only if you buy the twenty-pound sack full of plain rolled oats and not the giant carton of individually wrapped, highly processed, forty ingredient oat n' honey granola snacks. On this trip, the only processed "convenience" foods I bought were a big ol bag of fishsticks and a three pound package of chicken-apple sausage. Everything else was staples: rice, butter, oil, flour, fresh fruit. In between items include mega-jar of olives and full-case of canned diced tomatoes.

But let's examine that fresh fruit, shall we? I bought a flat of pomegranates from California. Pomegranates are in season. Also, California is not Mars. It's two states away from me; same coast. Could be worse. But could be better. Of course, if I'm ever going to eat pomegranates as long as I live, they will never be local. Until we retire to Mexico, that is. Pomegranates are my absolutely favorite fruit. One box of poms once or twice a year is not something to beat myself up over. However, there are other items which are not once-or-twice a year, but once or twice a month.




Oranges, lemons, and limes.


Today I bought a pineapple flown in from Costa Rica. I read that pineapples are the single highest- carbon item of produce on the shelves. I only buy pineapples once or twice a year, but still - how much guilt do I want to ingest with my plate of fruit?

How good is good enough? How low is low enough? What level of virtue should I strive for? What level of personal responsibility for planetary destruction am I comfortable with? When does sane, sober responsibility morph into crazy, obsessive behavior? Is there even any such thing as too much virtue? Is there any acceptable level of harm? These are questions that apply much more widely than food choices, of course.

I've actually recently been having a discussion with my brother - a thoughtful, intellectually rigorous, highly educated man with loads of integrity who nonetheless disagrees with me most of the time (how is that possible?) about the limits of personal responsibility for communal suffering. He's a political conservative and seems to be comfortable with limits that leave me feeling desperately, squishily, quaveringly, liberally guilty. I guess each of us can only consult our own consciences with searching, fearless honesty and try as hard as we can to live by it's dictates.

For those of us who need a little guidance in this endeavor (me! me!) below is a wonderful, easy to follow guide published by Gourmet magazine on it's fabulous and highly recommended "food politics" page. Gourmet recently ceased publication after some sixty years and I feel it is a great loss. Not only was it a terrific resource for everyone interested in cooking, but under it's most recent editor Ruth Reichl it was a strong voice for justice and fairness in our agricultural system, and a voice that got results! The web site is still alive, though probably not for much longer. Please visit the food politics page Food Politics : gourmet.com while it is still around. Meanwhile, enjoy this easy to follow guide for making low-carbon food choices:

Ever since a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization found that the world’s livestock industry sends more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than transportation, pressure has been building on food manufacturers to measure, and ultimately to reduce, their carbon footprints. In March of this year, the British government’s Environmental Audit Committee called for the establishment of a standardized system of labeling to show the impact of consumer goods and services on the earth’s atmosphere.

In general, consumers in England are more familiar with carbon issues than we are. The government-backed Carbon Trust has been pilot-testing a Carbon Reduction Label for a few years now. But American companies are now getting into the act: In January, PepsiCo certified the footprint of its half-gallon carton of Tropicana Premium orange juice with the help of the Carbon Trust, and it plans to release the footprints of Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Gatorade, and Quaker Chewy Granola Bars in the future. (Tropicana has also partnered with Cool Earth in a “Rescue the Rainforest” campaign.)

Opinion varies as to what extent the footprint numbers will affect consumer behavior. Without a meaningful point of reference, the numbers are all but meaningless: The carbon footprint of that half-gallon of Tropicana orange juice, in case you’re wondering, is 3.75 pounds of carbon dioxide. Some have suggested that rather than listing the total pounds of carbon dioxide emitted, the labels should indicate how much carbon is embodied in every dollar spent, a system that would enable consumers to compare the impact of anything from a candy bar to an mp3 player.

Even if carbon labels don’t immediately change consumer behavior, they can help pinpoint the origins of our energy use and emissions and could likely spur reductions. In the meantime, here are some fast facts about the food system’s impact on climate change, as well as some tips on how to reduce your own footprint. The information is courtesy of the Cool Foods Campaign, a project for the Center for Food Safety and the CornerStone Campaign. To learn more, visit coolfoodscampaign.org.


Agriculture emits greenhouse gases through the production, packaging, and transport of pesticides and fertilizers. These chemicals cause erosion and pollute water, two processes that also emit greenhouse gases. The machinery used on industrial farms—from tractors to irrigation systems—creates further greenhouse gases, as do livestock: Their waste is often stored in “manure lagoons” that emit methane. (Cattle, of course, also emit considerable amounts of methane in the digestive process). Finally, the grains that comprise the livestock diet have been refined by methods that are energy-intensive as well as polluting.

Once harvested, food is packaged and then transported an average of 1,500 miles, steps that further contribute to climate change.


The Cool Foods campaign’s “FoodPrint” reflects the total amount of greenhouse gases that have been created as a result of the growth, processing, packaging, and transportation of any given food. By making better choices, consumers can have significant impact. When seeking out the “coolest” foods, just ask yourself a few simple questions:

1. Is it organic?

Organic foods have been produced without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, growth hormones, and antibiotics. In addition to the emissions from fertilizer mentioned above, nitrous oxide, another potent greenhouse gas, is emitted when these chemicals are applied to farmland. Conventional fertilizers also pollute water sources, kill sea life, emit still more methane, and contribute to erosion, a process that creates carbon dioxide.

What you can do:
Buy “certified organic” by looking for the USDA organic label at your local market.

2. Does this product come from an animal?

Conventional meat is the No. 1 cause of global warming in our food system. Animals in industrial systems are sprayed with over two million pounds—and their cages are treated with another 360,000 pounds—of pesticide every year. They also ingest a whopping 84 percent of all antimicrobials (including antibiotics) used in the United States and half of all the grains grown in the country.

What you can do:
Limit your consumption of meat, dairy, and farmed seafood. Buy organic, local, and grass-fed meat and dairy, as they are produced without synthetic pesticides and herbicides and may use less fossil fuel. Look for seafood that is wild and local and whose stocks are not endangered.

3. Has it been processed?

Unlike fruits and vegetables, processed foods require the use of energy-intensive canning, freezing, drying, and packaging. Processed foods are usually sold in packages and containers listing their ingredients and tend to be found in the center aisles of grocery stores.

What you can do:
Try to do most of your shopping in the outside aisles of the supermarket, where produce and other whole foods are displayed. If you must by processed products, opt for “certified organic” whenever possible.

4. How far has it traveled to get here?

The transportation of food accounts for over 30,000 tons of greenhouse gas per year.

What you can do:
Buy local (or relatively local) if you can. Look for country-of-origin labels on whole foods and try to avoid products that come from the other side of the globe.

5. What sort of package does it come in?

Plastic packages are manufactured using oil and, as such, are responsible for creating over 24,000 tons of greenhouse gas every year.

What can you do?
Avoid excessive packaging by choosing whole foods: loose fruits and vegetables, as well as bulk cereals, pastas, grains, seeds, and nuts. And remember to bring along a reusable grocery bag.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Who Could Abuse This Pony?

The farrier came yesterday. He's been working with Rosie for months now, but she's still absolutely terrified whenever he comes near. She trembles and tries to run away, she kicks and lashes out with her forefeet, she rears and whinnies. The poor farrier, who is an absolute model of patience and gentleness, has been kicked twice and knocked over in the mud a few times, too.

I don't know much of anything about Rosie's life prior to my acquisition of her, but the farrier says it's obvious that some bad things have happened to her. He thinks it likely that she was used as a broodmare. Broodmares with less-than-scrupulous owners don't have much interaction with people except when they are being bred or having a foal pulled from them, neither of which activities is any fun for a pony.

I had heard that she lived with a free running, free breeding herd on a big ranch in Eastern Washington and that she'd just never been handled much, but the farrier says that this kind of extreme fear is not normal. It's only about her feet: she can be haltered and led easily, and she's never tried to kick or bite anyone who wasn't trying to touch her feet. Well, now that I think about it the vet had a pretty hard time giving her her vaccinations.

I guess only time and persistent tenderness will make any difference - if anything ever will. At least I know that whatever Rosie's life was like before, it's a pretty good life for a pony now. She has room to run, pasture to graze, a herd of goats and her filly for companionship, and good health care. Maybe Rosie will never be a great pet, but she did give me Poppy, and Poppy is going to be an absolute joy and a sweetheart.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Gingerbread Cookies

I hate to eat gingerbread, really, but it's so much fun to decorate.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Goat Butchering Party

Who knew, butchering can be fun?

Well, I wasn't actually around for most of it. I had just left the house yesterday afternoon about 5:00 with a full schedule of things to do that would keep me and the kids busy until about 7, when Homero called to tell me the boys were there to do the baby goats. He also told me they had brought a bottle of mezcal, and he tried to convince me this was traditional. Maybe it is.

Luckily, one of the men, Crecencio, is a very expert butcher. Homero assures me that each goat kid was dispatched very quickly and humanely, by a sharp knife to the jugular. They bled out in under a minute. Then each kid was hung from the rafters of Homero's shop (no playset this time!) and skinned, gutted, and jointed in about twenty minutes.

Homero is always irritated by the amount of "waste" when the professionals from Keizer meats come to kill the pigs. To me, it doesn't look they are throwing away anything I'd want to eat - ears, hooves, various unrecognizable organs, stuff like that. But now that I have seen a Mexican butcher at work, I totally get it. These guys left nothing behind. Pretty much literally nothing. The only things I saw go in the trash bag were the skins and the full rumen.

They had two giant steel stockpots - much bigger than anything I own, and into one them went all the muscle meat and the bones. ALL of it. The heads. The legs, skinned right down to the feet. The hooves were skinned off and the tender inner part of the foot went in the pot. There was just nothing left of those goats. In the other pot went all the organs, and I do mean all of them, with the single exception of the rumen. The hearts, the lungs, the livers, the kidneys, all the fat. The big sheet of some kind of tripe that hangs off the rumen. Most of the intestine. They kept everything.

It was all quite clean. No mess, no smell. Crecencio was obviously very competent. All the men helped with this or that, but mostly everyone was free to stand around the little fire they built and talk and drink. They had brought some enormous maguey leaves (where do they get fresh maguey in washington state? Who knows?) and were slowly roasting them over the small fire.

By the time I arrived, everyone was pleasantly lubricated. The talk was mostly about food: all the great, remembered home cooking of their mamas and grandmas; which ingredients can or can't be got here; reminiscing about all the weird things that can't be got here, like grasshoppers, chinches, real queso fresco, a bunch of plants I don't know. By the time the butchering party wound all the way down, about ten o'clock, we were invited to the big party tomorrow (well, today, now) and many heartfelt sentiments about friendship and solidarity were expressed. The men all made a point of telling me I wasn't too bad for a gabacha and that they looked forward to introducing me to their wives.

I had a great time, and I can't wait to find out what all those unseen Mexican ladies are going to do with my goats. I bet it's going to be delicious.

I actually haven't seen Homero so happy in a long time.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Homero's Bad Mood

My husband has had a hard couple of days.

He was in Atlanta visiting his brother for a week or so, and the work really piled up while he was gone. The washing machine broke, the furnace broke, and a bunch of people's cars broke and they called him about it. The minute he got home, he had several day's worth of work waiting for him.

I didn't make life any easier for him by lining up several jobs for him myself. Besides the washing machine, there were fences that needed urgent repair (escaping goats again!) and the pigpen to repair for the piglet I bought, which was being held on the farm until he could go get it. Oh yeah and I ordered hay which he would need to load, unload, and stack.

It was just bad luck that his flight was several hours late and he didn't actually get home until three in the morning. He started off at a sleep-deprived disadvantage.

First he tacked down the lower edge of the field fencing all along the back side of the property by cutting three foot lengths of re-bar and bending the ends into hooks, then pounding them into the ground, catching the bottom edge of the fence under the hook. This prevents the goats from pushing under the fence. It took about twenty-five lengths of re-bar. He was trashed that evening.

Yesterday he went to get the piglet. I told him to take the pick-up truck and the dog crate and put the pig in the back, but he said he would take the beetle because the truck uses too much gas. I said "are you sure? The dog crate won't fit in the bug. That doesn't seem like a great idea."

"Sure, I'll use the little wire chicken cage. The piglet is small enough to fit in there."

When Homero returned from that little errand, his bad mood was firmly entrenched. The pig had spent the whole fifty-mile drive shitting and squealing a foot or so from Homero's ears and nose. Did I mention that one of the many jobs that hasn't gotten done yet is fixing the electric system in the bug? The windows don't roll down.

A good wife would never say "I told you so." Do you know any wife that good? I sure don't.

But the pig was not done contributing to my husband's evil state of mind. This morning we found that he had escaped the pen. The wire was all squished down in one corner and he is still small enough to squeeze between the boards. He was out and he had to be caught.

If I had a video of what transpired in my back field this morning, I could get filthy rich, but I'd probably also have to get divorced. Homero chased the pig all over the muddy field with a giant net on a six-foot pole. After several near-misses, he finally managed to snare the pig long enough to throw himself down on top of it and wrestle it back into the jimmy-rigged pigpen.
The pig promptly went to sleep and Homero promptly took a long hot shower.

And there's more. Later on this evening, he's going to help butcher three goats. I need to do something nice for this man. Soon.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Poppy Showing Off

In the absence of much going on, I've been mining through my photo collection, and found this series taken on a blustery day a few weeks ago. For some unknown reason, Poppy was just going nuts. She charged around like a wild animal, back and forth and up and down, bucking, rearing, and kicking up clods of dirt. Then she would blast straight towards me and swerve aside at the last minute, and race as fast as she could around and around the whole field. Just feeling her oats, I guess. She is really shaping up to be a beautiful little horse. I can't wait to really start training her next summer.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Almost Fixed

Thank you everyone, for your warm wishes! That's still the only thing warm around here, but soon the new furnace will be up and running. It's about half installed as I type.

I got the highest efficiency available, 95%, and it is eligible for a 33% federal rebate come tax time, which will be nice. Between that and the energy star rebate on the fridge, and possibly the rebate for the new insulation, I may not pay any taxes this year at all.

I am back at home now, and it has warmed up a little - enough so that the animal's water stays liquid for several hours at a time. That's a plus, since it means less running around with buckets.

I think I'm going to take the girls and get a christmas tree today. We're going for a live one which we will plant after the new year. I need to figure out the best species for my area. Off to do some online research!

Again, thanks for the kind comments. It makes a difference, believe me!

And a big shout out to my sister for putting up (and putting up with us) for a few days. Thanks, sis!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Freezing My Tuchus Off

The furnace went kaput. My husband is out of town for a week - actually a good thing or he would have insisted on trying to fix the furnace. The furnace repairman shut it down and disabled it - not something he does very often, especially in this kind of weather - because it is a fire hazard and ispumping out carbon monoxide like nobody's business.

Apparently, there was a class action lawsuit against the makers of this particular furnace because it does this. That lawsuit is now closed, however, so I have to buy my own damn furnace.

If this were April - or even March - instead of mid December, I'd say okay, let's just get by with a couple of space heaters until we can 1) install the woodstove, and 2) maybe get the oil burning furnace out in Homero's shop up and running on veggie oil. But either of those projects would take a couple of weeks minimum, and meanwhile all the pipes would freeze and then we'd have a gigantic plumbing mess on top of it all.

Man, bad things happen ion threes all right. First the refrigerator (new fridge, $1,200), then the washing machine (repairman scheduled for monday), now the furnace.

I'm staying with my sister until we can get the new furnace in, so I probably won't be writing much. I still have to come home twice a day to feed the animals and tote hot water out to the goats in buckets. Sigh.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hello, Goodbye

Goodbye, Sandy and Tutu (and Clove, not pictured). I sold all three goat kids to a Mexican guy who is throwing a birthday party and wants to put on a big ole barbecue. I don't how many people he's expecting, but apparently three goats' worth. I sold the three of them for $200.

I have mixed feelings about this. One - I intended to eat one myself. We were invited to the party, so I guess we'll get a taste, but that's not the same as putting a whole goat in the freezer. It's not that we need the meat more than we need the money - we don't - but rather that it means putting off for another year taking the large psychological step of killing and eating a kid ourselves. I want that task over and done with.

On the plus side, the Mexican gentlemen are going to do the butchering here, and Homero will be watching and learning. I'd like to watch and learn myself, but I think I had better take the kids and get the hell out of dodge for the duration. I made the mistake of letting the girls hear about the upcoming slaughter, and then I had such a situation to deal with! Such weeping and yelling! Such wailing and gnashing of teeth!

It's understandable. It's normal. I am sad myself, to tell the truth. It wouldn't stop me from enjoying a nice roast leg, but I'm not looking forward to seeing my sweet little kidlings killed and skinned. If the girls give me a legitimate excuse to be absent.... I'm cool with that.

Hello to the newest animals on the farm.... bees! This is just a photo I pulled off the web, since my camera cord is missing. But we have approximately the same setup - four hives plus all the ancillary equipment. Yes, you guessed it - Craigslist. Yes, I agree, it's maybe time for me to find a CL anonymous meeting - but in the meantime, I have a new hobby.

Or Homero does. His father used to keep bees and Homero has often expressed an interest in learning. I like the idea of bees for several reasons - honey, obviously. Better pollination of the orchard and the garden. The possibility of income. But mostly, it's the ultimate fulfillment of the self-sufficiency game The self-sufficiency game (love you, Dad).

Monday, December 7, 2009

New Trade Network Partners

Heretofore, the trade network has pretty much been a summer phenomenon. I didn't think there was much going on in the winter. Why on earth didn't I think of hunters before?

A nice man from my church is giving us a few ducks in exchange for some of my sourdough rolls. I told him it seems like the trade is heavily skewed in my favor, but he said "not really," stuffing another roll into his mouth, "I'm always trying to offload ducks this time of year."

The church is shaping up to be a great boost to the trade network - of course that's not the only reason I go (Hi Pastor!!). I'm finally meeting so many of my neighbors. They are wonderful people and I'd be glad to know them in any case, but it's nice that the trade network benefits too. For example, it hadn't occurred to me before to trade equipment, but Mr. B down the road asked if he could borrow the apple press last month. Normally I don't lend it out, but he's a trustworthy, capable soul and a neighbor, so I said okay. Of course he brought it back safe and sound, along with a few gallons of cider. He even made a minor repair on it that I'd been bugging Homero to do. And, several weeks later, when we desperately needed to borrow a flatbed trailer, he obliged.

This kind of thing goes beyond the trade network, of course. It's that quaint old fashioned concept - neighborliness.

Funny I just realized that. Man, I feel ashamed of myself. I've been thinking all this time in terms of "the trade network," and how my family can benefit and save money. Not entirely selfishly of course; I've also thought in terms of the benefit to the environment and to local farmers of buying local... but I haven't, until now, just thought about what it means to be a neighbor.

Lending a hand just because that's what neighbors do, not as part of a semi-formal this-for-that arrangement. Dropping off a load of apples or a few ducks just because you have extra and your neighbor might like some. Stopping off to see how they are or if they need help with a project.

Homero has been offered help with his shop several times already.

I should go see Mrs. B. I know she hasn't been well.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Storm Cloud Earning his Keep

Today our little Storm Cloud has gone off to another farm to try and be a big grown up buck. A neighbor (the turkey lady) is renting him to breed her two Nubian does. $50 for a month at her place. She knows he's only six months old and unproven - but I have seen him leaping on our does, so I think he's capable.

He's never been off the farm before, or away from his dam. We still see him sneak a drink from her occasionally. It's funny how much it annoys Homero - he chases Storm away and says you can be a baby and nurse or a buck and breed, but not both. I laugh and tell him he's just jealous.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas 2009, Thrift Store Edition

Any woman knows, the biggest item on December's to-do list, most years, is going to be Christmas.

I was supposed to be out of town this year - far, far out of town. 5,000 miles out of town, in a different country. Reluctantly, I admit that one of the main attractions of traveling for Christmas is avoiding the whole gift-giving conundrum. My Mexican relatives don't give Christmas gifts, or they only give small ones for the children. They do celebrate Christmas - in a pretty big way, in fact. For weeks beforehand, there are posadas to attend, neighborhood gatherings, fiestas, dances, and parties of all descriptions. The festivities culminate in midnight mass on Christmas eve, followed by a very late (or very early) fancy dinner.

But they don't do presents, which is a relief. Now, since we are not, in fact, going to Mexico for Christmas (sad face), I have to figure out what the heck I'm going to do for gifts. If I had been more industrious earlier in the year, I would have wonderful preserves to give - jams, jellies, jars of cajeta, perhaps, maybe jerky or dried berries. But I was rather lazy this year and pretty much just chucked everything in the freezer instead of doing much canning. I could scrounge up some nice jam to give a few people, but by and large, my pantry is not the solution to my problem.

So where do I turn when I have many gifts to get and few dollars to do it with? Why, the thrift stores, of course! Actually, my family members will tell you, I turn to the thrift stores all the time. Thrift stores supply my family with fully 80% of their clothing (everything but underwear) and most of our furniture, books, and knick-knacks, too. I know every thrift store in town, and which one to go to for which purposes.

Thrift stores each have their own personality, you know, which could easily be it's own post, if not an entire book, but just quickly:

Value Village used to be great, but lately has been stocking the shelves with the cheapest of chinese goods, apparently in a bid to be the lower-rent Target. Still a good place to go for lightly-used clothes, and great for books, but not cheap, as far as thrift stores go. You won't find the real funky stuff here - don't bother to hit Value Village for vintage, for example.

Goodwill is the mainstay and the old standby of thrift stores. Often they are huge warehouses, and you can pretty much walk into one those big Goodwills with an agenda and fill it - something you can't do in most thrift stores. Prices are decent, but getting higher. Also, Goodwill is a true community organization, providing literacy and job training to people of all stripes for many decades now. Shopping there is a community service.

The Salvation Army and Saint Vincent de Paul are the low-end thrift shops in most towns. The stuff is likely to be harder used, but the prices are rock bottom. Also, and I'm not sure why, these places are where you will find the really old stuff, the stuff that came out of somebody's attic after fifty years, the crazy, funky junk that you just can't believe. If you are a serious collector, these are the thrift stores to hit. And of course, these shops support hardworking charitable organizations. Food banks, missions, and hospitals.

In any town there will be small thrift shops that support local organizations and churches, and these places are often quite wonderful. I'm sorry that the names of the ones I know here in town are not coming to me now (I could give you cross streets). These are places staffed by old blue haired ladies and often have the most terrific and surprising inventories. Prices vary widely.

I hit the salvation army thrift shop looking for Christmas tins. All of the tins in the above photo were had for 25 cents each. I plan to fill them with candy, cookies, and fruitcakes and give them as presents. The kids can help me make the goodies and get into the christmas spirit. I just need to find some recipes for dairy and gluten free goodies. These little vintage cookbooks (below) won't help me with that, but I couldn't pass them up. I love these things.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Things I Saw Today...

While I was out enjoying the sun.

That Homero has made good progress putting up the walls of his shop.

A confused rhododendron.

Mount Baker.

Giant mushrooms on the lawn - about eight inches across.

That somebody has dug up the roadkill deer.

I wonder who?

The Mountains Are Out!!!

After what feels like weeks of solid rain.... zero solar units...... generalized greyness and never quite getting all the way dry.....


Hallelujah. I love living here. I also let the animals out this morning. Since it still hasn't frosted heavily, the grass is still green and alive, so they may as well eat some of it before it dies. Look how Poppy has grown! She makes her mom look like a midget horse.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Steps Toward Sustainability

Craigslist has been good to me lately. Last week I found some items I've been looking for for quite some time. These big white cubes are 250 gallon food-grade plastic tanks. They have steel cages around them so they can be stacked, and you can screw them together so they make one 500 gallon tank (et cetera). They also have spigots on the front so water can be drained easily. These are not easy to find; they show up rarely on Craigslist, and often are unusable because they have been used to store something noxious or else they are very expensive. I lucked out; I found a guy who had 8 of them. He was selling them for $100 a piece - already a good price - but when I offered $700 for all of them he accepted. Also he took $50 to deliver them, which I thought was extremely reasonable. These particular tanks were used to store soy lecithin, which is a food additive naturally derived from soybeans. It's completely harmless unless you are allergic to soy. I'll obviously be washing them out with a high pressure hose before I use them to store water.

I know. It's been raining here for weeks on end, sometimes torrentially. The idea that I might need to store seems totally ridiculous. It always does this time of year. But all I have to do is think back to last August. Anyway, these are for the future. Do I think I will enjoy unmetered water forever? No, I do not.

Actually, I only get five of them for water storage. Homero gets the other three for use in his biodiesel production.

This is my other find. I've been wanting a woodstove for a long time. Currently our only heat is propane, and that is not sustainable long term. Also I don't have any way to cook in the event of a power outage, and I'd like to have one. A woodstove fulfills both these purposes. It's a little rusty, but I can clean that up and paint it with the special woodstove paint. It's been sitting in some guy's garage for about ten years and now he's tearing down the garage. He says it was in perfect working order when he put it out there. It only cost me a hundred bucks, so I can't go too far wrong. The only question is where and how to install it. But that is for another day. Getting it into a pickup, hauling it home, and getting it out of a pickup and into the playroom was enough work for one day.

These are small steps - they are only purchases at this point. All I've done so far is shop. Getting the tanks hooked up and made into a functioning rainwater catchment system will be a job. Ditto installing the woodstove. Recently I purchased a handgun, with an eye to butchering. That's still just a purchase too - I haven't fired it yet, much less used it to butcher a goat or a pig. But gathering materials is the first step of any endeavor, right? You can't make an omelet until you have some eggs.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Local Thanksgiving A Success!

My local thanksgiving feast was a great success. The turkey, although admittedly a bit tougher than a conventional bird, was delicious, and exactly the right size. The beef roast my brother-in-law brought was terrific. These were the big ticket items, and they were both raised within a few miles of me (the beef across the street).

I tweaked the recipe of my wild-rice dressing to include more local items (hazelnuts instead of pine nuts, and dried cherries instead of raisins.).

The potatoes were local, too. So was the pumpkin, and the eggs in the pie.

Of course, some items cannot be omitted and cannot be obtained locally - yams. Wheat. The wild rice. Cranberries. Coffee. But these items are becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the feast, and local items are getting more and more important.

And the apple cider, I almost forgot! It was decent - not, I must admit, the tastiest hard cider I've ever had, but it wasn't bad, and it was rawther strong.

All in all, a good time was had by all. Thanks to everyone who came and made it a wonderful time!

A Fine Day

... for the fridge to break.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Now What?

My damn free-range, organic, pasture raised, heritage breed, locally raised turkey doesn't fit in any of my stock pots. I'm trying to brine it overnight, not just for better flavor, but because I don't have room in the fridge. The turkey is spending the night in the shed, legs sticking out and all. I covered it with plastic wrap, and that's just going to have to work.

Brine recipe:

Put two gallons fresh cold water in your largest stock pot. Separately, on the stove, boil a quart of water with a cup of sea salt, a half cup (or so) of brown sugar, a few cloves, allspice berries, garlic cloves, sage leaves, bay leaves, and a teaspoon or so of fennel seeds and mustard seeds and black peppercorns. Stir to dissolve salt and sugar. Add to large stockpot along with a couple of dozen ice cubes.

Add ridiculously expensive turkey. Curse when you realize it won't fit. Manipulate turkey through several full revolutions and bring to a stop breast down. Cover with plastic wrap. Mutter "if they don't like it they can go take a flying fuck" and pour yourself some chardonnay. Put stock pot and turkey out in the shed and close the door to protect from coyotes.

Proceed with pumpkin pie. These came out gorgeous. I feel so sorry for the no-dairy/no-gluten people. They have to eat tofutti with blueberries for dessert.

P.S. I love the trade network. The turkey-people have Nubian goats and want to breed them this year. I brought a photo of Storm Cloud, our insanely pretty spotted buckling with me to pick up the turkey, and they say they will happily trade us turkey for his stud fee. YAY!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gentlemen, Start Your Ovens!

The cooking has begun. Today I am baking pumpkins and making puree. I decided on a pumpkin custard (made with goat's milk) for the no-gluten/cow milk people. Also I will have a regular pie.

I am also making the cranberry sauce today. I don't have an actual recipe, but I have an idea. Orange-vodka cranberry sauce with cloves and pepper. We'll see. If you're going to experiment with Thanksgiving dishes, cranberry sauce is a good one. If you mess up the yams or the stuffing, you might have a mutiny on your hands, but nobody cares that much about cranberry sauce. Plus you can always have a can of jellied as backup.

I would like to make the rolls the day of, of course, but when you work with sourdough, you bake on the sourdough's schedule, not your own. I have to bake today. But I am doing a slow-rise in the refrigerator, so I probably won't actually bake until tomorrow morning. Then I can wrap them up tightly and they'll still be soft and delicious on thursday.

Tomorrow I will probably make pie dough and put it in the fridge. The turkey gets picked up on wednesday, and I'll most likely brine it overnight and leave it out in the shed. Then on the actual day it's just bake the turkey and yams, make the mashed potatoes and the green salad.

Oh and the pie and custard.

And I forgot to put in my timeline, clean the house.

That could take all week.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Giving Thanks: Not As Simple As It Seems

I am hosting Thanksgiving this year, for the first time in about six years. In my family, there is always a tussle for the right to host major holidays. My mom, although it is beginning to be a bit of a strain for her, would still like to host Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas every year, and sees it as her matriarchal right to do so.

My sister and I each want to have Christmas morning at home with our own kids, though we are happy to travel the hundred miles (over the river and through the woods) to Grandma's house for Christmas dinner. We go to Mom's for Easter because she hides money in the eggs and puts on a hell of a spread, so that just leaves Thanksgiving for the three of us to arm-wrestle over every year.

My sis hosted last year, and even managed to convince our brother and our dad to fly in from the far-away places they reside. It's my turn, though I will have to be satisfied without Dad or Gene, since they can't fly out every year. I haven't hosted any holiday since we moved to this house, so I'm particularly thrilled to do it. I called Thanksgiving back in August.

Due to either misunderstanding, forgetfulness, or downright orneriness, however, it appears that Mom will be hosting her own Thanksgiving and won't be coming up here. It's the first time we haven't shared this holiday in years. I'm sorry about it, but not sorry enough to cancel my own plans, which would mean dis-iniviting several people who are coming from out of town. Apparently we are each too stubborn to give in. But in all fairness, I must point out that she was stubborn long before I was even born, and I got it from her.

Well, all of that is one type of Thanksgiving consideration. The next type is all about the food. Every single person who will be at the table has some kind of strong opinion, religious conviction, allergy, health consideration, or just plain prejudice about the food. Without naming any names or passing any judgement (seriously: I know these restrictions are all either health necessities or deeply held beliefs) , here is a list of the foods which one or more people on the guest list must avoid:

Artificial colors

Additionally, to satisfy my own idiosyncratic views, we will not be serving any industrially raised meat, and we will be trying to procure as many foods as possible locally. At first glance, this may seem like some serious restrictions. I thought so at first. However, none of my guests are extreme enough to insist that the foods they cannot eat be entirely excluded from the feast; only that they be clearly labeled (actually it just occurred to me, I am the most extreme person by this measure, as I intend to entirely exclude industrial foods from my feast.). In actual fact, the options are wide open.

Here is my provisional menu:

- A pasture raised, organic, heritage breed turkey which I bought from my neighbor down the street.

- A beef roast (Sister's family is bringing it) made from free range, pasture raised beef from another neighbor.

- Wild Rice dressing - not local but yes organic, gluten and dairy (hereafter, G&D) free

- baked yams, ditto

- mashed local, organic potatoes - will have dairy, but clearly labeled.

- Hard cider from apples we pressed ourselves (Thanks, homebrewin' boys!)

- local organic braised greens (G&D free)

- sourdough rolls from my 75 year old starter (has gluten, obviously)

- local pumpkin pie (has D&G)

- tossed green salad

I have invited everyone to bring a dish, and I'm sure they will, so I have no doubt there will be plenty of acceptable food for everyone. There are two things I think I should figure out: a G&D free dessert (maybe baked apples with raisins and maple syrup?) and a G&D free gravy, which is tough. I could use arrowroot, corn starch, or tapioca as a thickener. I could use wine, water, or stock as the liquid. I can google it, I'm sure.

There's one more consideration. It's hard for me, as the hostess and just as myself, Aimee Day, Modern American Woman, not to put all the emphasis on laying out a massive spread. There's a part of me that feels I will have failed unless everyone rolls away from the table groaning. That's always been the measure of success at my mom's (and most American's) Thanksgivings. Is everyone sated nigh to sickness? Are all the belts in the house loosened? Okay then.

But surely there is more to this Holiday than that. We call it a Holiday - a Holy Day - don't we? Why is this day Holy? What are we giving thanks for?

Certainly, this day is a day consecrated to giving thanks for all that we have to give thanks for, and that will be personal and private. Perhaps a loved one has recovered from a serious illness. Perhaps our marriage has survived a crisis or our job has been saved. Surely we will all have our individual thanks to give. But also, we have our communal thanks to give.

It is not an accident that Thanksgiving happens in November. It is, at base, a harvest festival. We give thanks for the fruitful Earth, that brought forth this bounty - enough to feast upon, and enough to carry us through 'til spring. We will not forget the animals on the tables, and we give thanks for them, for their death, for our life. We give thanks to the men and women who worked the earth to raise our food, whether those men and women are farmers far away or are us, ourselves. We salute their sweat and their strong arms. We rejoice in our own hard work. We give thanks for the gift of foresight, that led us to plan and to plant way back in March or April, and that allows us to put away for the winter or for hard times. We pray for the foresight and the wisdom and the strength to be better stewards of the Earth, that she might continue to provide for us and for our children.

We give our thanks that we are here, together, alive. That we have food to eat. That though the darkest time is upon us, yet we have hope for the future - spring, yes, and all the springs to come. We have faith. We give thanks for faith.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Look! Up in the Sky! It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's.....

A flying calf hutch!

We knew the windstorm was coming. We took precautions. As usual, we parked a car next to the trampoline and chained them together (this is since the trampoline hit the roof year before last). We brought in the kiddie pool (which we have fetched from the neighbor's field once already), loose tarps, anything like that.

But it just never occurred to me to tie down the calf hutch. For those city folks among you, a calf hutch is about nine feet in diameter and maybe four feet high. Weighs perhaps 100 pounds. Looks like a UFO as it is gliding silently over three fences and across a state highway.

It's back. And tied down. There's another windstorm predicted tonight.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Homebrewers Make Good!

Hooray! Several weeks ago, a couple of college age homebrewin' boys came to press apples with me. Even though I have burned in the past by homebrewers who take all my juice and never deliver the promised cider, I decided to take a chance on these boys. What the heck, I already had a freezer full of juice. So instead of taking 50% of the fresh juice (my usual take), I asked for 25% of the finished product back. I figured odds were 50/50 I'd never see them again.

But on friday, they showed up! With 24 bottles of hard cider! They said they had just bottled it, so leave it at room temperature for another couple of weeks, but it should be ready to drink by Thanksgiving.

I'm SO glad I'm hosting this year!