"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Hands

I admit, I've had a bit of a bad streak just lately, but even so: these hands will never be featured in a Palmolive commercial. What's that you're soaking in? Girlfriend, don't ask.

I don't think I can remember all of the minor injuries I've suffered recently. They are pretty much a daily occurrence.

Left forefinger: chopping tomatoes. Ditto web of left hand between thumb and forefinger (that one's a bitch-kitty, feels like a giant paper-cut.)

Right palm below the pinky: broken ladder. I was on the aluminum ladder looking for eggs in the hayloft when it suddenly slid backwards, catching just the last half inch on the edge of the loft. The angle of the ladder went from about 80 degrees to about 30. I had time to think oh shit, this is going to hurt, then the ladder snapped beneath me, the top dropped off the edge and I fell. Not even sure what I scraped my hands on but it got them pretty good.

Left thumb: ??? Looks like a burn.

Scratch below left thumb: I think this was a mama hen. They can be quite vicious when I get too close to the the chicks. On a related note, I had a dream the other night that we had a huge barn, and it was totally stuffed full of feral cats, and they all had litters of kittens. But they weren't taking good care of them, not sitting on them like good mama cats, and so I had to search all through the hay and gather up these fetal-looking kittens and shove them randomly under various mama cats. I think we had too many broods of chicks too close together.

Right middle knuckle: You can't see it in the picture, but this is the worst injury on my hands. I tore a big flap of skin off the knuckle, and I haven't the faintest clue how. It was one of those "hey, where's all that blood coming from?" moments. I get those a lot.

Maybe I ought to invest in a few pairs of good leather gloves, hey?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This Is What You Call Having Your Work Cut Out For You

This is my dining room table, which comfortably seats ten, just about covered end to end in gallon sized ziploc bags of produce - mostly roma tomatoes, but also basil, greens, and epazote.

I picked all this in about forty minutes at my neighbor's farm. My neighbor - known here as Veggie Man - grows organic vegetables on some fifty acres in Custer. He and his wife have been my trade partners all summer. Today we went by there to see about getting some waste veggie oil for Homero to make more biodiesel (we've used up his first two batches and run out of oil). Not only did Veggie man (maybe I should call him Veggie/Oil man) load us up with quality WVO, but he said "go get some tomatoes, for pete's sake, they're all going to waste." His wife added, "and anything else that looks like it's about done."

Luckily, my sister was nearby, so I called her up and we went to TOWN. I think I have something like fifty pounds of romas in the kitchen. They are gorgeous, perfectly ripe, and ready to cook up. The basil I think will become pesto which I will then freeze in ice cube trays. I happen to have pine nuts in the house; go figure. The greens will be eaten as is. As soon as I took a bite of them in the field I realized how hungry I am for chlorophyll.

What a generous couple of people! Of course I gave them all the eggs I had in the house and a batch of goat cheese, but they've basically just given us tomato sauce and vehicle fuel for the winter. They wouldn't take any money. I told Homero he should just sneak over there and give their car a tune-up.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Omnivore's 100

Here's a fun list I picked up over at Farmer’s Daughter, which is a very cool blog tat you ought to check out. I don't know where she got it from (does that cover appropriate attribution?)

I've added my own answers - what are yours?

1. Venison- nope, although I have eaten moose and elk (I liked moose best)
2. Nettle tea (keep meaning to)
3. Huevos Rancheros - but of course. I make a mean version, if I do say so myself.
4. Steak Tartare - not yet.
5. Crocodile - well, I assume alligator counts. Yes, on a childhood trip to deepest Florida. Fried.
6. Black pudding - nope
7. Cheese fondue - are you kidding me? I adore fondue, one of my top ten meals for company.
8. Carp - not sure
9. Borscht - yes-indeedy-do. Make a good one, vegetarian or beefy, as you please.

10. Baba Ganoush - yup, another favorite of me and my kids. Recipe:

one fat eggplant, pricked with a fork and roasted at $25 until collapsed. Peel and blend, along with: 2 cloves garlic, one big spoonful tahini, several tablespoons best quality olive oil, and juice of two lemons, plus salt and pepper. Blend until smooth: serve with crackers.
11. Calamari - several ways
12. Pho - duh got my favorite place just like everybody else. Yoohoo Pho Lai in Bellingham!!!
13. PB&J sandwich - what is wrong with you people?
14. Aloo gobi - okay, not totally sure what this is, but I'd bet ten bucks I've eaten it.
15. Hot dog from a street cart - in many cities, yes.
16. Epoisses - this is the first stumper
17. Black truffle - yes and yum
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes - apple, made by my dear friend Sofie. Made any lately, hon?
19. Steamed pork buns - they're called Char Siu Bao, people!!!
Pistachio ice cream - yes, I like it
21. Heirloom tomatoes - not as many as I intend to

22. Fresh wild berries- I live in the blackberry capitol of the world, not even counting huckleberries, cloudberries, salmonberries, and thimbleberries

23. Foie gras - no.
24. Rice and beans- from three continents. Moros y cristianos is probably my favorite, from Cuba
Brawn, or head cheese - nope
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper- wish I hadn't
Dulce de leche - make my own, from my own goat's milk
28. Oysters- once again, I live in prime oyster country, and I should eat ten times what I do eat. Adore them.
29. Baklava - oh my god shut up
30. Bagna cauda - yes, and if you don't like anchovies, you're a pussy
31. Wasabi peas - luch bag staple
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl- Hello! Land of Ivar's over here
33. Salted
lassi - once. prefer mango
34. Sauerkraut - I am a suerkraut maniac. I'm making my own this fall.
35. Root beer float - don't care for root beer, but a coke float is good.
36. Cognac with a fat cigar - this brings back bad memories.
37. Clotted
cream tea - probably shouldn't have, but did. Oh my thighs!
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O - never. I didn't pledge.
39. Gumbo - I make a rockin' gumbo, and it's about time. Thanks for reminding me.
40. Oxtail - yes
41. goat - several times, in various incarnations from barbecues on a street corner in Mazatlan to stewed in a garbage can in Yakima. I LIKE GOAT. Which is lucky for me.
42. Whole insects - grasshoppers in Oaxaca
Phaal - hmmm....?
44. Goat’s milk- raised on it
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more - don't think so... what's the conversion rate?
Fugu - no
47. Chicken tikka masala - duh
48. Eel -= can you say "unagI?"
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut- One of those things I wish I hadn't
50. Sea urchin - yes, and can't say it rocked my world
Prickly pear "nopal," people. It makes great ice cream.
52. Umeboshi - HATE it
53. Abalone nope, but I found one on the beach
54. Paneer -once a week or so
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal- Do I have to admit it? Oh okay
Spaetzle - not the real thing
57. Dirty gin martini - I prefer voldka
58. Beer above 8% ABV - yes, I live in the Pacific northwest
Poutine - that's disgusting

60. Carob chips -in another incarnation
61. S’mores- I have a thing against marshmallows
Sweetbreads - no, but they're on my list
63. Kaolin - WTF?
64. Currywurst - are you trying to make me sick?
65. Durian I HAVE smelled it. That was enough.
66. Frogs’ legs no indeed. Frogs are a declining species.

67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake - what sad derived child has not?
Haggis - URK
69. Fried
plantain - I love 'em

70. Chitterlings, or andouillette - it was a mistake
Gazpacho - many kinds
72. Caviar and
blini - caviar yes but not blini
73. Louche
absinthe - once
Gjetost, or brunost - huh?
75. Roadkill - no, no matter what my sister says
Baijiu ???
77. Hostess Fruit Pie - oh god damn it, yes, okay?
78. Snail - i don't think so
Lapsang souchong - only smelled it. but I like the smell.
Bellini - I don't know what this is
Tom yum - please. I prefer Tom Kah.
Eggs Benedict - not anymore. I quit
Pocky - yes.
84. Tasting menu at a three-
Michelin-star restaurant- it's on my list
Kobe beef - not to my knowledge. I eat grass fed from the field across the street.
86. Hare - wild rabbit caught by my dog. does that count?
Goulash - I tried to make it once... wasn't impressed. Maybe it's better if you have a Hungarian grandmother.
89. Horse - don't think so.
90. Criollo chocolate - what's this? If it's chocolate I've probably eaten it
91. Spam - to my eternal shame.
Soft shell crab- Only watched my mom eat it, and it creeped me out
harissa - well of course
94. Catfish - ditto
Mole poblano - in Puebla, no less
96. Bagel and lox -yes but I don't like lox
Lobster Thermidor - I don;t know, but I've eaten my share of lobster. If anyone ever can. I think my share is bigger. MORE
Polenta - yes, it's a cheap and easy staple
Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee - no. My palate isn't that rarified.

100. Snake

Lazy Lady's Compost, and a Better Way

First, this beautiful image of Mt. Baker at sunset the night before last. I never get tired of it. It's going to be so awful after the 7,500 square foot McMansion goes in next door. *sigh.* Guess I'll plant trees: I may not be able to see this inspiring sight anymore, but at least I don't have to see an ugly and gargantuan waste of resources, portrait of everything wrong with life in America in the 21st century and an affront to all that is good and decent.


Now for something completely different: Big piles of garbage - aka kitchen waste, straw, leaves, grass clippings, animal waste and paper - gently rotting under controlled conditions into one of the basic building blocks of life on earth: soil. Sweet, fertile dirt. Composting is a miracle, an art and a science. A science that I wish I knew more about.

When I was a child, I learned (passively) about composting from my Dad, whose basic philosophy was, pile it high and leave it alone for a year. He even once buried a goat that was killed by wild dogs in the compost. That method is not highly recommended. It works - everything rots eventually, goats included - but not very quickly. I myself am still using a slightly improved version of the same process. Soiled bedding from the barn (which contains a mixture of poo from chickens, ponies, and goats) forms the main bulk of the pile. Every other day or so, I toss my kitchen scraps on top. This causes the chickens to come running and they scratch vigorously, doing some of my turning for me. They also, of course, contribute while they are there. Some hard labor with a pitchfork about once a month and occasional watering with the hose during a dry spell, and there you have my composting technique.

Yes, it could stand some improvement. Which is where this web site comes in:GoGreen.VC — Blog — Vermi Composting / Gardening / Farming(I hope that made a link. If not, please cut and paste, people. It's well worth the effort.) It turns out, composting technology has vastly advanced since my childhood! There are apparently these little creatures, these little wiggly things... oh yeah WORMS! which do most of the work for you. If you knew how much my back hurts after an hour with a pitchfork you'd appreciate worms for the wonder they are. Worms are responsible for the creation of most of the topsoil on earth (I think worms are present on every continent except Antarctica, which has a notable lack of topsoil). Without worms, we'd all be dead.

Plus, at my local country store they will give a free ice cream cone to any kid who brings in two dozen night crawlers. That right there is a great incentive to your kids to start crawling around in the compost pile butt naked like a couple of worms themselves. I know. I've been there.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

More Chicks!

Six new chicks this morning. That's the last of them, I'm pretty sure. Pictures to follow - they are all black and yellow speckled, really cute.

Apple Madness

More people came over to cider yesterday afternoon. They were a very sweet couple originally from New York with six or seven big tote bags full of beautiful apples. Almost too beautiful to press, except what else can you do with 500 apples? I think they were gravensteins. They made a very clear, sweet cider, and lots of it. About seven gallons, and the couple wouldn't take more than two. They also left me the thirty or apples that were left over from the last barrel. I think I'll make a pie this evening.

The press itself is showing its age. It still works perfectly, but the frame is getting rather rickety and the blades are in need of sharpening. Also the wooden tray that the barrels sit on is a little bit warped and the juice runs out the sides unless we cover the tray with something flexible like tinfoil or chopping mats. I think at the end of this apple season I will see about getting it serviced..... at least, the blades removed and sharpened and some screws tightened or whatever. This is the same press we used when I was a child in Woodinville, after all, and I doubt it was new then.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Two Mommies, Chicken Edition

Well it appears that two female chickens can partner up and both be mommies to the same brood. It's been a few days, and both hens are still in full-on mother hen mode. The babies have not yet exhibited any preference for one hen over the other and will run under whichever one is closest to them. Both hens spread their wings and shelter the babies; both hens do the special "food cluck" to tell the chicks where the grain is; and both hens will try to attack me when I get too close.

Apparently same sex families are a poultry possibility. Keep it under your hat, I don't want anyone trying to censor my henhouse.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

No Arachnaphobes....

.....should open this post. Oops, too late? Sorry.
This big beauty of a garden spider just about ready to pop with eggs is right outside my front door. I don't use that door much, but when I do I have to duck under one of her guy-wires. She only one of hundreds. Thousands, more likely. The little twisted beech (tormented beech? contorted beech? Curly beech?) off the front porch has at least a few dozen spiders embedded in it, all just as fat and sassy as this one.

Spiders in space! It looks like some lesser spider has tried to invade momma's web. They are fighting.

I couldn't resist this beautiful web. My favorite spider-time is in the spring, when all these babies will hatch and go floating off into the breeze in tiny clouds.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cidering Party

What a great day I had yesterday. Two of my friends came over with their husbands, kids, and boxes of apples and pears to make cider.

I made lunch, and beforehand we had a picnic on the grass in the lovely bright september sunshine. The kids played together beautifully. The men talked easily with beers in their hands (including Homero! Yay!) and bonded over the mechanical aspects of pressing, while us girls chatted as we washed fruit and cast an occasional eye in the direction of the kids.

When we ran out of apples we raided the neighbor's tree. She owes me apples.

All in all we pressed some eight or nine gallons of a delicious cider, roughly 80% apple and 20% pear. I love cidering.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Chick Update

Still only the same three chicks. The two hens have abandoned the nests now, so there won't be any more. I'm afraid I may have committed an error in moving two hens and two nests into the mama barn: although I gave each hen a live chick and put their nests as far apart as possible, now both hens are trying to cover all three chicks. The chicks don't seem to have a preference at this point but I assume they will soon imprint on one or the other, and then what?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Operation Hayloft

I'm not sure I ever informed you all, but a few weeks ago I noticed that there was a chicken up in the hayloft, brooding. It's kind of late in the season for new chicks, but what could I do? I had no idea how long she'd been up there. Then, a few days later, I saw another one. I decided I'd better make a thorough search, and I found no fewer than THREE hens brooding in various dark and dusty corners of the hayloft. And I got fairly well covered in chicken shit and had a hay-dust induced coughing fit.

Well, hens will be hens, and I never mind a few more chickens around the place. But I knew that I'd better keep a sharp eye on them, because once they hatched, the chicks would fall off the loft and either freeze or be trampled. Or both. This evening, when I checked, I could tell by the posture of the hens, their heightened vigilance and increased hostility that if the chicks hadn't hatched yet, it would be any minute (Why yes, I do read chicken-minds. Just call me the chicken-whisperer.). I checked, and yes indeed, two of the mamas had chicks under them, with several eggs left yet.

Thus began Operation Hayloft. We all trooped out to the barn armed with pillowcases and a camera, and extracted all three hens, distributing them to various safe locations. Was it easy? No. There was much squawking and flying of feathers. But I think I can say that Operation Hayloft was a success: all three are now bedded down in their new nests.

Volunteer Rowan intrepidly risks life and limb on a wobbly ladder and valiantly braves an asthma attack in her zeal to locate and retrieve one of the mama hens.

One of the nests. The little yellow and black one is totally adorable. Hope s/he lives.

Yellow mama safely ensconced on her new nest in the mama barn. Of course, you can't ever tell how many of the eggs might hatch, but if the hens manage a 50% hatch rate, there will be eleven new chicks. Yowza!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Freezer Inventory and Seasonal Living

Yesterday my sister and I went to pick up our side of beef. We bought one together from my neighbor across the street and split it between us, just as we did last year. Last year's quarter lasted my family just about exactly a year and it was the best beef I think I've ever tasted. Grass fed right up until the knacker-man's van arrives in the field. About as local as it gets, too, seeing as how I can see the cows grazing from my kitchen window. Didn't somebody say "eat your view?" Well, I took it heart.

The chest freezer is getting pretty full, as it should be this time of year. When I put the beef in, I took an inventory and here it is:

1/4 steer, divided into steaks, roasts, ribs, and hamburger
1/2 pig (more or less), including ham, bacon and sausage
4 gallons apple cider, frozen
12 gallon zip0lcs of blueberries
14 quart ziplocs raspberries
6 gallon ziplocs of kale
and a couple of things I am pretty sure we will never eat: one frozen pork liver from the first pig, and a giant bag of pork-fat scraps which I intended to render into lard.
The freezer is now about three-fourths full. We better start eating some beef and kale if we want to fit a couple of goats in there too! I would have liked to get more vegetables in - last year I did frozen corn and peas too. But on the other hand, the corn didn't actually freeze very well. Defrosted, it was only good for soup or to put in baked goods, it was just too mushy to eat straight. The peas were delicious, though.

Stocking the freezer for winter had me thinking about seasons on the farm. I used to think that I lived in accordance with the seasons, for a city girl, anyway. I knew when the expect the autumn rains and get out the sweaters from the chest in the closet. I always made note of the first T-shirt day of spring, and I always picked blackberries in season and tried to shop seasonally at farmer's markets. But that is a far cry from the way I live seasonally now. On the farm, each season has it's own work, and there aren't just four seasons (spring, summer, fall and winter) but more like a dozen.

For example, cheese season is ending soon. The goats are on the downslope of their lactation curve, and I quit milking much after the weather turns nasty, so I must make cheese while the sun shines, so to speak. Cheese season is about three months long, say June to September.

As cheese season wanes, apple season is just picking up. That means cider, applesauce, pies, and dehydrating. Of course it's also pear season and squash season. Maybe I should just call it "late harvest preserving season." Early harvest preserving season -May to August- is snap peas, garden peas, beans, cucumbers, greens... mostly for me it's a lot of pickling. Pickle season. Tomatoes straddle the early and late preserving seasons.

As do berries, but around here they deserve their own season. Berry season is long; it starts with strawberries in June (oh my aching back, I hate picking strawberries) and doesn't end until the last blackberries (ouch, ouch ouch) have gone with the coming of the autumn rains. Soon, soon. Raspberries in July. Blueberries in August and September are my favorite. Picking blueberries is delightful, unless it's too hot.

After all the berries are gone there is the brief and lovely mushroom season, which I experience vicariously because I don't hunt mushrooms but which I anticipate every year with my mouth watering. Oh chantrelles!

Butchering season. Sausage making season. Smoking season (I will smoke this year, I will!).

Mud season. Frozen mud season. Frozen hose season. Mitten season. Trudge-season. Toting buckets season. Cold toes season. Dark season. Long, long, long dark.

Planning season. Thinking about spring season. Seed catalogue season.

Mud season again.

Roto-tilling season. Seedlings-in-the-sunroom season. Sprout season.

Radish season! Micro-greens season! Spinach season! Salad season! Joy! Joy!

This upcoming year I've decided on an all-container garden. The weeds have kicked my ass three years in a row. I call that a KO. I give up. I've been scavenging containers. I got two bathtubs off craigslist, cheap, and I plan to plant potatoes in them. Here's what I'll do: as early as possible in the spring, I'll lay potatoes in the shallow layer of dirt on the bottom, and plant spinach and radishes on top of that layer. By the time I'm harvesting radishes and baby spinach, the potatoes will be up and ready for a new layer of dirt. Two harvests out of each bathtub!

Also, tires. You can see two tires in front of the tubs. I have cut off the upper rim of each so as to make a larger planter. It's hella hard work with a handsaw. I've got seven tires to go. Also I have a half barrel which will also be a two-harvest potato planter. And I'm going to use milk crates lined with cardboard on the sides but not the bottom. Each will be about one square foot of dirt and therefore I can follow the square foot gardening guide.

Oh sure, I'm so organized NOW.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Pressed fifteen gallons of cider yesterday. A guy came with a pickup truck half full of gorgeous honeycrisps. I only kept four gallons, because I ran out of containers and because the guy is a serious homebrewer and offered to make up the difference in wine. Um, yes please!

There was a five gallon bucket of apples leftover. Today I used those, plus the last of the holy pears to make a gallon or so of pear-and-applesauce. It is delicious. So delicious, I'm not even bothering canning it, because I know we will eat it all within a couple of weeks.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My Favorite Time of the Year

Apple cider time. We pressed our first batch of cider yesterday, and as usual, it kicked my butt. My knees and hips and ankles ache like murder. I always forget just what hard work it is to press cider - and I don't even pick the apples!

Last week I put an ad on Craigslist asking for apples and offering to split any cider 50/50, and several people have answered. There is generally a glut of apples in this area, as in most semi-rural areas, I believe. So many old homesteads and large suburban lots have three or four or more apples trees, generally planted long ago enough to be fully mature but not yet old enough to be in decline, which means bumper crops of apples. Most of these apples fall to the ground and rot, attracting wasps and slugs and generally littering up the landscape. Few people make full use of their apples. I never did, back when I lived in the city and had only two trees.

Of course, many of these trees are neglected and produce small, scabby apples, but that doesn't matter when it comes to cider. The apples can be just as ugly as you please and still make a delicious product. Yesterday a guy came over with two garbage cans full of apples and we washed them in the kiddie pool and pressed them in my old motorized press, which I had previously hauled out of the falling down shed we call the "Parthenon" and scrubbed and bleached to within an inch of it's life.

We made about eight gallons of cider, and then we had to stop because we ran out of containers. There are still about half a barrel of apples outside. Today I made applesauce and I guess I will make some more tomorrow, but my guess is many of those apples will end up on the compost heap. The chickens and the goats will eat them, so it's not really a waste.

It was hot and sunny while we worked and the yellow jackets were out in force, but they didn't bother us because they were all drunk on apple-mast. I plan to try again this year to make hard cider (last year's attempt was a dismal failure) but in the meantime I just bought a bottle of rum and if I want my apple cider alcoholic all I have to do is tilt my wrist.

Which I did, and I am enjoying the result as I write to you all. Hope you are enjoying your afternoon as much as I am.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cheesy Goodness

I made a new type of cheese today. Black Pepper-Rosemary Queso Fresco. It's good. It's really, really good. That brings to four the kinds of cheese I can make (well okay, really it's flavors, not kinds so much:

Chevre, with or without herbs
Queso Fresco, ditto
Regular Cheddar
"Smokin' Goat" Chilpotle Cheddar, which seems to be the hands down favorite.
I will keep on trying new combinations and ideas. I just remembered the Pepper Thyme combo was pretty darn delicious. I think oregano would be nice. I'd like to get some grape leaves from my neighbor and try wrapping some soft chevre in them.

My kid is hanging off my arm and it's hard to type, gotta go.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Parson's Pears

These aren't our pears. I mean, they didn't come off of our antique pear tree, which inexplicably produced only about a dozen pears this year, instead of the hundreds it popped out with last year. These are the pastor's pears which I picked from the pear tree in the parsonage (say thatten times fast.). She said to take as many pears as I wanted, so I did. The container they are in is a half-barrel, so you can see that's a lot of pears.

I realized at some point afterwards that I didn't actually want to process that many pears - pears have a short window, once off the tree they ripen quickly, and ten minutes after that they are nothing but fragrant mush. So I gave away about twenty-five or so, and have about forty left to process today or tomorrow, whenever they seem perfect.

I need to scour my cookbooks for pear recipes. I used to make a fantastic pear-ginger-sour cream cake with walnuts. Wonder if pecans and yogurt would work just as well? We'll find out. Then I remember from last year a delicious kind of pear pie with cheddar cheese that my Aunt Christie sent me a recipe for. I'll certainly make that again. Hope wants to dehydrate some. And I want to can some in syrup - which I've never done before. For some reason I'm candy impaired, I can't ever make anything that involves melting sugar come out correctly. And yes, I have a candy thermometer.

Ooh, candied dried pears!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

(Theoretical) Great Leap Forward in Self Sufficiency

My husband has made a great Craigslist find. He had to drive 500 miles round trip to pick it up, but he got a nearly new, totally complete oil burning furnace for $200. One that is fully capable of heating our entire house, and doing it on waste veggie oil (hereinafter WVO), with a few small modifications.

Theoretically. I have take his word for it because I am not the sort of person who can make "a few small modifications" on a furnace. I am the sort of person who can recognize a furnace. Usually. If it is actually putting out heat and is in my utility room. A sign that says "furnace" would help me out.

So, here's the plan. Homero is going to make his modifications and get it running on WVO out in his shop. If he can make it run all winter out there without pooping out once, then next winter it will heat our house. That is because I am not willing to take any chances on it pooping out on us, oh say, in the middle of January when the temperature is twenty degrees. I know; I am showing a severe and debilitating lack of confidence in my husband that probably is emasculating and may rise to the level of marital crime. So sue me; I like the water in the toilet to be liquid.

Also, that plan gives us a year to stockpile the WVO (and heats the shop!). Then we can get rid of the propane tank and the propane heater (which I believe are only leased from the utility) and save ourselves $2,000 a year. Theoretically!

My theoretical homestead is beginning to acquire the lineaments of reality! Way to go!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Back to Work


I haven't really taken any time off "work," of course - a homemaker with a farm and three kids during the first week of school? Take time off? Ha ha ha ha ha ha don't make me cry.

But I had slacked off the preserving a bit. Well, not if you count cheesemaking, I've been making cheese about twice a week, which is a lot. I guess I only slacked off the vegetable preserving. Wait a minute. This week I actually picked, processed and froze twenty pounds of blueberries. And we picked about the same amount of tomatoes from my tomato-for-eggs trade. I don't know what I'm talking about. I haven't stopped at all!

Blueberries in the chest freezer

Maybe I just mean it's been a while since I got out the canner. There we go.

Canning tomatoes is a big fat pain in the tuchus. And messy! After about three hours of work - not counting the picking - washing, chopping, stirring, and forcing the pulp through my food mill, I realized I was only going to get about two pints of tomato paste. That's just silly; it isn't worth it. So I added a quart of half and half and some chicken stock and we had the best tomato soup EVER. Still have lots of the orange sungolds to eat.

Today I canned beets. The ones I made last year were straight pickles, no sugar. Then I tasted some of my friend's canned beets and decided they were way better with sugar. Rowan got a lesson in canning - and also in improvising. After we had the beets all peeled and chopped and the jars sterilized, I realized we didn't have enough white vinegar to make the brine. So we went over our options: substitute another acidifier or go to pressure canning instead of water-bath. Our other available acidifiers were various other kinds of vinegars (balsamic? I don't think so. Sherry?) or lemon juice. We decided on lemon juice. I'll tell you how it turned out in four to six weeks.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Change in the Weather

It rained today. Not a measurable amount; in fact an infinitesimal amount. It rained here and there, for a few minutes. At our place it drizzled lightly for about twenty minutes; just enough to settle the dust and get the grass wet. I wish it had rained harder and longer. However, with the tiny amount of rain came heavy cloud cover and a stiff breeze. The temperature dropped fifteen degrees. All the trees turned their leaves up-side down, and all the animals kicked up their heels and ran in circles and made a lot of noise. Everyone could feel the change in the air.

The forecast calls for rain again later in the week. God willing. The leaves have started to change already, but it hasn't felt like autumn. It has felt like drought, like a strange, extended summer that won't quit. Yes, color has touched the leaves, but more than that, they have started to just shrivel up without rain. Today felt like a reprieve. We were all briefly refreshed. We still have all of September ahead of us before the real rains of fall begin, another long dry month to get through. But days like this will help us get through.