Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Welcome to our zoo

I thought it was bad enough that we had about 50 chickens, a cat and 2 fish, but as I'm standing outside the other day watching the proud mother hen parading her babies around the yard I noticed that a grey squirrel was walking past the hens looking for interesting things to eat most likely. A few minutes later one of those little brown squirrels ran down the tree under which I was standing and started chattering at me. Then not more than a few minutes later a bunny bounced out to look at the chicks then walked right through the middle of them to get where ever he was going.  I live in a zoo!

And  our yard is not limited to those cute cuddly animals that don't really cause any damage either. On other days we've seen a herd of deer grazing on our fruit trees followed shortly by one of us running through the yard clapping our hands trying to scare them away. And over the past few years we had a family of raccoons who frequented our yard as well. That ended in tragedy a few years ago when they ate 4 of our chickens. I've also seen a coyote, bobcat, an opossum and an owl visit occasionally. So far those have moved through without causing harm to our more permanent residents. There may come a day when that neighborhood bear decides to come to call and that's when I'll either start packing my bags or start shopping for a shotgun!

Saturday, May 28, 2011


So this morning Hubby goes out to feed the chickens and comes over to the bedroom window with an amused look on his face. I opened the window and he says "Guess what." I say, "What?"

He says, "I saw one of our feral chickens sitting in a hole by the coop." I say, "They do that all the time. Why is that interesting?" He says, "Because she wasn't alone."

"Yep. Guess how many."
"2, 4, 6, 8?"
"Keep going."
"10, 11, 12?"
"She has 12 chicks!"

I guess there was a nest we didn't find and a hen we didn't miss for about a month. That's a definite sign that you have too many chickens...and now I guess we have a dozen more! But this hen did this on her own, so she can raise them on her own. We did put a couple of chick waterers out where she was sitting with the chicks, and put a small feeder there, too. But ultimately she's the one responsible to keeping them safe and alive. The mommy hen is an Aracauna and the chicks look like Aracaunas as well, but the daddy rooster could be an Buff Orpington, Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red or an Aracauna. I'm not sure what that means for the color of the eggs these chicks will lay. That's assuming they are hens and not roosters.

It was pretty cool to watch her pecking around for food for them and watching them follow her around.

It was also pretty cool to see all dozen of them push their way under her to keep warm. Maybe she'll be a good mommy. I hope so!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Seeds of Change

A while back I applied to the Seeds of Change seed giveaway. I paid $5 at the time and after several weeks I received my padded envelope containing 25 packs of organic seeds! I'm so excited about these seeds. This weekend the boy and I planted 5 different types of flowers in pots in the greenhouse. He is my gardener. Anytime I say I'm going to plant seeds or transplant starts he's right there ready to help.

Hopefully I'll have a plethora of wildly colored flowers to sit on my deck and in the garden this summer. Yay!

Beef and veggie Bolognese

Last week I ordered a 1/4 of a grass-fed cow from my rancher friend in Oregon. A couple of my other friends decided to join me on my order to reduce the price per pound and share a 1/2 of a cow. One of my friends doesn't generally cook with a lot of ground meat, but a 1/2 of a cow comes with a significant portion of ground beef that's made from the bits cut off of the steaks and roasts. So I've been on a mission to come up with more recipes that contain ground beef.

I already had a few in past posts like my Meatloaf recipe and Beef Soup with Tarragon, but I have several more that I make but haven't posted here. One way I cook ground beef is simply browning it in a pan with onions and other various veggies and serving it with some veggie side dishes or over pasta if the rest of the family is so inclined. I looked it up and apparently meat sauce served over pasta is a Bolognese. So here ya go! Here is my verson of Beef and Veggie Bolognese.

Beef and Veggie Bolognese
1 T butter or bacon grease
1 C diced celery
1 large onion
1 lb grass fed beef
1 C pasta sauce of your choice (I use Trader Joes or Classico because of their low-to-no sugar added.)
1 C Pico de Gallo or other salsa
salt and pepper to taste

Brown celery and onions in butter or bacon grease. Remove onion mixture then brown meat in the pan. Return Onion mixture to meat then add all other ingredients. Simmer over medium heat until everything is bubbly. Serve alone or over pasta (if you eat pasta).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Beef soup with tarragon

Some days there’s nothing better than a big pot of soup for dinner. The aroma infuses the house with that comforting smell and makes you ready to eat even if it’s not dinnertime yet. Today I had a hankering for beef soup. And given that I just bought ¼ of a grass-fed cow last week, I had some beef ready to use! I also get a veggie box from Mother Nature’s Organics once each week that stocks my fridge with yummy organic produce. I pulled some of that out today to add to the soup as well. I’m a fan of refrigerator soup. You know, where you just throw every veggie in the fridge into the pot. So that’s basically what I did. This week I got some fresh Tarragon in my veggie box. I've never really been good at cooking with fresh herbs, but since I had it, I used it. The Tarragon gave the soup a nice peppery taste that I didn't expect, but it was really good. Give it a try and enjoy!

Beef soup with tarragon
1 lb ground grass-fed beef
3-4 small to medium sized zucchini cut into chunks
1 large onion
1 T diced garlic
1 container or can of chopped tomatoes (I use Pomi in the tetrapak to avoid BPAs)
4 C chicken broth
2 C water
¼ C chopped fresh tarragon or 1 T dried tarragon
2 T lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown meat and onions then add with all other ingredients to a large soup pot. Bring to boil then simmer on low for about 1 hour or more.

Paleo/Primal Rhubarb Crisp -- Gluten and Dairy free

The first really veggie (or is it a fruit?) to be ready to pick in my garden is rhubarb. This nice old rhubarb plant was already in the tiny garden when we moved into our house. Over the years it has been one of my more consistent producers even through the mild wet summers like we had last year. Hopefully this year it will be just as prolific or more so. One of my family’s favorite uses for rhubarb is the rhubarb crunch. In the past I’ve made a crunch topping using oats and flour, but this time I tried the almond flour crumble topping that has become my favorite since my paleo/primal experiment started a few months ago.

I also used Coconut Crystals in place of sugar. According to the package:
When the coconut tree is tapped, it produces a naturally sweet, nutrient-rich inflorescence (juice or "sap") that exudes from the coconut blossoms. This sap is very low glycemic (GI of only 35), diabetic-friendly, contains 17 amino acids, minerals, vitamin C, broad-spectrum B vitamins, and has a nearly neutral pH. It is a raw food, gluten free and vegan.
The result is a little different in texture than what I was used to with traditional recipes since it didn't have that oats-and-flour crumble, but it is quite good and was a hit with the whole family.

Paleo/Primal Rhubarb Crisp
3 C chopped rhubarb
1 C coconut crystals, honey or other sugar of choice
1 T cinnamon

1/3 C coconut oil
1 T cinnamon
2 C almond flour
1 t vanilla flavoring
1 t salt
1/4 C Cocount Crystals, honey or sugar of choice

1. Mix all filling ingredients in an 8x8 baking dish
2. In a separate bowl, mix all crumble ingredients until the mixture has the texture of wet sand or a little lumpier.
3. Bake filling ingredients at 350F for about 30 minutes until they are bubbly
4. Remove dish from oven and spread crumble over top of filling ingredients.
5. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for another 30 minutes removing foil in the last 10 minutes to crisp up the topping.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Garden Update

The garden has gotten off to a very slow start this year. The cool temperatures and record rain fall have made for difficult times for tiny seedlings. I start my seeds in my greenhouse then transfer them to the garden once it's been weeded and prepped for planting. This year I'm having a heck of a time getting my seeds to even sprout. This week has been the first week of nice weather with temperatures today getting almost to 70F. Maybe in the coming weeks we'll have more of these warmer days.

So far I've gotten a lot of my cold weather veggies in the garden. Peas, spinach, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce and chard are all planted. Onions, cabbage and beets will go in next with zucchini, yellow squash, beans and pumpkins to follow closely after. Watermelon, cucumber, cantaloupe and more beans are still having trouble sprouting. I'm thinking of just putting them in the garden anyway to see what they do. I bought my tomato starts again this year. I have not been able to get tomatoes to sprout for me in years...ever really. I either keep it too cold or too hot, I guess, but I've given up on them. I just buy the starts and they grow nicely after that as long as I keep them close to the greenhouse.

I'm also keeping the sprouts for my daughter's Girl Scout troop in my greenhouse. Due to multiple issues with the community garden in which we plant these sprouts, they are still not in the ground and won't be for a week or so. The radishes are looking pretty sad and I'm considering just putting them in the ground in my own garden to save them. The other option is to let the girls see them and try to plant them then explain to them that some plants just don't grow well when they don't have the right growing conditions. So it's a choice between having more veggies to donate to the food bank or learning a lesson in gardening....hmmm.

Anyway, here are some pictures of seedlings from my garden and my greenhouse. How goes your garden this year?



Red Leaf lettuce: My lettuce seeds didn't germinate this year so I bought a 4 pack of lettuce starts for $1.99 and got 40 plants out of it. That's 5 cents per head if they all produce!




carrots and pumpkins

Girl Scout starts.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pork Shoulder with Spinach and Onions

The other day I was looking around the meat department at Costco where I usually buy their pork loin bulk pack, but I saw a package of meet labeled "Pork Shoulder Country Style Ribs - Boneless". That sounded interesting to me and the meat looked like the dark red of steak rather than the light pink of pork and was very marbled with fat. So, I grabbed a package and decided to cook some up for dinner. As with most of the things I cook, I really don't have a plan before the cooking begins, but these steaks turned out SO good! I think these country style boneless ribs have become my new favorite choice for pork steaks.

Pork Shoulder with Spinach and Onions
about 1 lb of pork shoulder country style ribs - boneless
1 Tbs butter or coconut oil
1 onion roughly chopped
2 ribs celery chopped
1 bunch spinach rinsed and stems removed
salt and pepper to taste

I chose a couple of "steaks" and started to brown them in my cast iron pan with a few pats of butter. Once they were sufficiently browned on all sides I added a chopped onion and a couple ribs of celery chopped then put them in the oven at 350F to finish cooking. After the internal temperature reached about 155F I removed the meat to a serving dish and put the veggies in the pan back on the stove top. I added a bunch of rinsed spinach to the pan, a sprinkle of salt and pepper then sauteed the onions, celery and spinach until the spinach was just wilted. Slice meat and serve with veggies.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

I have been a Mommy for a bit over 8 years now. Those have been 8 of the happiest years of my life. I love the sneak-attack hugs, the tiny hands that grab mine as we're walking together, the butterfly kisses on my cheeks as we snuggle. I love being a MOM!

This year I'm lucky enough to have my Mom here with me on Mother's day. Happy Mother's Day to all of the Mommies out there. May you have a day filled with many sneak-attack hugs!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

We found the brown eggs!

In an earlier post, Pre-Easter Egg Hunt, I took you on a tour of where our feral chickens were laying eggs around the yard. A that time, the Barred Rock hens' nest(s) hadn't been found, but...now they have! That dastardly hen decided to lay her eggs in the black berry brambles. But even black berry brambles are no match for me and my pruners!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Dirty Life Book Review

The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball has now become one of my favorite books. Kimball tells the story of her transformation from a single New York City denizen to Upstate New York farmer and wife in a way that read more like a novel than a memoir or autobiography. Her descriptive powers and incredible honesty paints the picture of a farmer's life in a way that would make even those who think worms are icky want to pick up a shovel and dig in. From the book jacket:

Kristin knew nothing about growing vegetables, let alone raising pigs and cattle and driving horses. But on an impulse, smitten, if not yet in love, she shed  her city self and moved to five hundred acres near Lake Champlain to start a  new farm with him. The Dirty Life is the captivating chronicle of their first year on Essex Farm...
I loved some of the wildly funny yet vivid descriptions in this book. In one chapter, Kimball and her husband travel to an Amish auction where a few Amish farmers were selling the contents of their farm in order to relocate. Since Essex Farm was to be worked by draft horses using organic methods rather than by tractors, an Amish farm had most of the equipment they would need. She describes the auction process as well as the people who attended and worked at the auction site. At one point after the auction had concluded a group of men walked into the refreshment area.
They all have the same style eyeglasses - those slightly oversize plain wire frames that the kids who took the auto shop classes in high school wore - and they have the lenses that tint dark when they're out in the sun, so when the whole lot of them walked into the warming area, it looked like a ZZ Top tribute band convention, all long beards, dark suits, and shades.
Conversely, Kimball is also proficient in conveying the true love she felt for the animals on her farm and how hard it was to see them suffer from attacks by wild animals or other natural but heartbreaking ailments. She came to realize that on a farm the animals take top priority over anything else that may seem important to the rest of the world. Farm chores were kept organized on their planning calendar in the kitchen.

The day in October when we planned to get married Mark had written WEDDING, and below that, on the same day's square, 50 CHICKS ARRIVE. The letters were the same size, and the only thing that set the first event apart from the second was a pair of conjoined hearts. The following week he had written HONEYMOON and also, neatly, EXTRACT HONEY from the hive.
I am intrigued by the idea of the "whole diet" CSA model that Kimball and her husband pioneered in their small farming community. From their farm, subscribers could get vegetables, fruit, beans, pork, beef, chicken, grain, flours, eggs, milk, cheese, maple syrup, flowers, herbs and more. I would love to have such a model in my back yard, but sadly I don't live on 500 acres or have the farming experience to make something so grand work at this time in my life...maybe someday.  But until then I can live vicariously through Kristin and Mark. I loved this book and definitely recommend it to those of you who are interested in gardening, farming, country life or who just like a good read.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Let's go racing!

Saturday was WQMA Ride Day! The WQMA (Washington Quarter Midget Association) is a volunteer run organization in which boys and girls 5-16 years old race Quarter Midget race cars (one quarter size of the midget race cars driven by adults) on an oval 1/20th mile track. On Ride Day any child can borrow a kart, helmet and other safety clothing to "race" around the track for several laps. The karts are set to idle around the track at a fairly slow speed with the gas pedal disabled, but even at an idle, the kids get a feel for what it's like to race a kart. The day also contained some real racing as the experienced racers took to the track to show the crowd what a typical WQMA race looks like.

I think if we had unlimited funds, we'd have 2 kids with their own karts and gear racing on the track every weekend during the summer. They seem to really enjoy it and their dad was nearly salivating over the For Sale karts around the track. The organization seems to be run by some really dedicated parents with a lot of knowledge about building and racing karts. Some families are so into the sport they have their own karts, trailers to haul the karts and an RV to live in while on the road at races. Although the sport is fun, I can't see us ever being that dedicated, but if someone wants to provide me with unlimited funds I'd consider it.


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