"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Turkey Tale and Maybe Bears

These are our new turkeys. A neighbor was selling off her entire menagerie, and we got these pretty mixed breed ladies. She said they were layers, and went broody, but they haven’t laid any eggs here yet. They spent the first couple weeks locked up in the coop, and then we let them out into the barnyard. I always prefer to let my poultry free range if possible. 

It isn’t possible, however, with Haku around. The very first morning they were out, he chased them and scared them, and they flew away over to the neighbor’s property. I really don’t know what I’m going to do about that dog. We’ve had turkeys and chickens for years, and he’d gotten quite good about not chasing them, but we haven’t had any poultry in about six months, and I guess he “forgot.” I’m very worried about the future baby goats. That, however, is a worry for another day - a day about six weeks off. 

The turkeys spent two nights roosting in a horse chestnut tree on the fence line between the neighbor’s yard and Homero’s shop. We put out food for them, but when we approached, they retreated. They are good fliers. There wasn’t much we could do except wait and hope that they’d come back on their own. I wasn’t sure if they’d been here long enough to think of this place as home, but apparently so, because this morning they were back in the barnyard. 

We still haven’t been able to catch them and get them back into the coop, though. We’ll wait for dusk and hope they roost in the barn, then we can sneak up on them. I found a Tom turkey for sale nearby, and I’m going to get him tomorrow. If their former owner was telling me true, maybe they will hatch chicks this summer. That would be cool. 

While we were beating about the bushes along the fence line, Homero found something odd in an inaccessible corner. A sturdy cattle panel - heavy gauge! - has been severely bent, wrenched up off the ground more than two feet, making a big gap. It looks like it got hit by a car, but there’s no access for any vehicle - it’s deep in the brush.   

Last summer, while we were in Mexico, a friend of mine was coming by three times a week to make sure everyone had water and to enjoy the cherries and plums that we were missing out on. She told me she saw bear-scat a couple of separate times. Normally I’d be skeptical, but this particular friend grew up in the Yukon, and she knows bear scat. Also, there were multiple sighting of a young black bear within a couple of miles of our place. Maybe this is how the bear got through the fence. I really don’t know what else might have done it. I would have guessed a bear would go over a fence, not under it, but what do I know about bears? Not much. 

Haku, meanwhile, is on house arrest. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Snow for Days (Sno-Crastination)

It’s a repeat of 2017 - snow up to the roof. This picture actually taken yesterday; it snowed more overnight. It’s been snowing on and off for a week. It’s still snowing right now. Or at least I think it is - the wind is high, so maybe it’s just blowing the same snow around. It’s hard to tell.

The drift outside Paloma’s sliding glass door is taller than the dog. 

It’s hard to guess how much snow actually fell, because of the incessant wind. There are bare patches, and there are shoulder-height drifts. That same wind makes it RAWTHER unpleasant to go outside. So, we aren’t playing in the snow or making forts or having snowball fights, we are huddled inside around our eletronic devices. 

Other snow-day activities: Downton Abbey marathon; bread baking, making valentine’s day cards with scissors and glitter glue; teaching the kids to play gin rummy. 

Snow-day activities I ought to do but most likely won’t:
Clean the fridge; fold laundry; sort the snack drawer and cabinets; take pantry inventory. And the biggie - taxes. 

I will have to go outside of course. The animals need liquid water and more hay. Our new turkeys are shut up inside the mama barn and they need food and water. The goats need more hay. I’m not looking forward to chores this morning. 

Update: My wonderful husband did the chores

I must be old. I’d much rather watch the snow through the window than go out and be in it. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Jelly Fail and Jelly Lessons

Pepper jelly

I am not an expert canner. I do a lot of water bath canning - at least, “a lot” statistically speaking. Most people don’t can at all anymore, so I’m on the upper part of the curve by default. In my circle, there are still a fair number of women who “put up” a significant portion of their family’s food every year. These women count their canning jars by the gross - I count mine by the dozen. My best estimate for my current supply is eight dozen - two thirds filled, one third empty. 

Nonetheless. Canning is a regular part of my kitchen activity. I can at least once a month year round, thanks to the Gleaners’s Pantry, and in the high season I might can once a week. This week, the Gleaners’s Pantry offered up beautiful peppers, and so I decided to make pepper jelly. 

Pepper jelly is an under appreciated condiment - it’s delicious and beautiful both. It makes an excellent Christmas present. At the end of the day, though, it’s jelly. And I’m not good at jelly. Judging by the number of websites devoted to helping people master jelly and/or fix jelly gone wrong, I’m not the only bad-at-jelly canner our there. 

Jelly, it seems, is rather finicky. Jelly requires a level of kitchen precision more often associated with wedding cakes or soufflés. By which I mean, I guess, the willingness and ability to closely follow a recipe, including actually measure all the ingredients and being in possession of a thermometer.

I have a thermometer - I’m both a nurse and a cheesemaker - but I cannot, for love or money, closely follow a step-by -step recipe. Therefore it follows that my jelly often refuses to gel. Today’s pepper jelly seems to have done just that.

While I was searching the internet for reasons my jelly might have failed to gel and for ways to repair a failed jelly, I learned a whole bunch of things I did not know about jelly. Most of those things only served to reinforce my suspicion that I may be congenitally incapable of the precision and consistency required, but in the firm belief that the information may be useful to others, I offer some of the tips I learned here:

- when removing the jars from the water bath, try to keep them vertical. Set them down gently. Any jarring motion or departure from the vertical can interfere with gel formation.

- leave the jars alone for two full days. It can take that long for the gel to firm up. Really!

- try putting a jar in the fridge. Cooler temps can help. 

If none of this works, you can open the jars and re-do the entire process. But holy mother of god, the instructions for determining what went wrong in the first place and how to correct it read like a third-year chemistry exam. Apparently, gel formation relies on a complex interplay of the variables Acidity, Pectin, and Temperature. Hence the whole following recipes thing. 

Here’s a list of sites that provide detailed instructions, but to be honest, my favorite advice is “call it syrup and move on with your life.”