Wyatt, my best friend and beloved companion, died January 17. Although we loved and enjoyed him for over 7 years (he died at 14) I don't feel as if I had enough time with him. He had been noticeably slowing for at least a year and the last few weeks were tough on him. Three days before he passed, Stella's best friend and surrogate mother Nessa passed. Her passing was completely unexpected. She went out for an evening run and came home happy and relaxed. When we woke in the morning, she was no longer with us. These furry family members have enlightened us in such an intimate way. They taught us to love, taught us how to be a pack and left us with a deeper knowledge of the world.
It's been months since I checked in and posted anything, which is why today I'll be posting lots of wonderful photos! Lets see, our summer was full of animals, kids, Mohawks and camping trips, farmers markets and parties. Our house was full all summer long with kids and animals and various adults, much to the annoyance of our neighbors, I'm sure. My dad passed at the beginning of June, which has clouded our recent experiences. His service was stunning and he's greatly missed.
Stella lost a tooth and wrote an adorable note to Nik and I, as the Tooth Fairy, explaining that we've already given her more then the world and that she appreciates our efforts. Seriously a tearful parent moment!!! I, of course, cannot let this one last childhood myth die and I denied the lie, protesting that the Tooth Fairy still breathes.
My Godchildren Lilly, Leroy and Libby came to stay with us a few times during the summer and we enjoyed them immensely. They're so wonderful and beautiful and I'm so lucky that I get to love and cherish these children and they're not even mine! I get all the good stuff with them and I really only give a little bit in return. Josh and Jason, especially, are totally in love with 4 year old Leroy. He's like a little brother to them, but better, because they never get annoyed or irritated with him. And Lilly, 10, is Stella's best friend and almost sister. She's a wonderful helper and sweet spirited playmate. Libby, 3, is hilarious and is the household comedian. They were such a joy to have around this summer!
I was invited to work for the Pearl Bakery at the Portland Farmers Market again this summer and it was wonderful! I enjoyed working with one of my favorite people on the planet, Andrea. We spent our Sundays and Wednesdays laughing and selling bread and meeting excellent people and sweating. What a wonderful way to spend a summer!
This past Sunday we had a very special guest at the homestead. Julie Sabatier from Destination DIY (www.destinationdiy.org) stopped by to interview us. We spent about a week trying to get the 'stead looking nice; all the while the kiddos built forts and damned up irrigation canals and basically created chaos. All in all, by the time Sunday morning rolled around, everything looked about as chaotic as it usually does. Which I suppose, is at least truthful. I did manage to vacuum the living room though, less than 20 minutes before she came! She might have caught me on her mic, bribing the kids to be on their best behavior. There was the choice of money or video time involved. Oh what she must think of my parenting skills!
Lucky thing for us, one of our broody mama ducks decided that morning was the perfect morning to show off her just-hatched chicks. In addition to our 9 two week old ducky chicks and 3 week and a half old goslings, it was super cool to show her 10 just-out-of-the-egg ducklings. Whitney Houston and Maybelle (goatie extraudinairs) tried to eat her radio bag, of course, and Poncho Villa (our roo) wouldn't crow for her despite our chasing him frantically around the Habitat. The rabbits ignored us and the chickens clucked contently for her radio mic.
Ms. Sabatier spent a few hours asking us questions about the livestock and our ethics behind the choice to homestead. By the end of our time together, my tongue was dry and I'd contemplated never speaking about myself again! She asked quite a few questions of the kiddo's and I'll admit that I'm so darn proud of Joshua, Jason and Stella's answers to her probing questions. They spoke candidly and wisely. Sometimes I get so caught up in the day to day work that I loose out on really enjoying how intelligent and insightful my kids are. I'm so amazed they came from Nik and I! I'm also proud of myself; I only lost myself once to a fit of giggles at the awesomeness of the moment! And of course, Nik was well poised and beautiful the whole time, as he always is. The segment Ms. Sabatier interviewed us for is concerning homesteading and it should be out on her website, www.destinationdiy.org, in June and it'll be on OPB radio sometime in July or August. Each one of these events that happen in our lives, whether it be a spot in a local magazine or a quib in the newspaper or a few minutes on the radio, helps to create a wonderful childhood for the kids. When they're awesome adults doing amazing things, they can reach back and hear or read a little bit about their childhood and for that, I can't ever be thankful enough.
Happy spring y'all!!! Every year around this time I question whether or not this whole homesteading thing is for me. Every winter I get to be lazy and sit around and read lots of books and knit stuff and be self indulgent. I usually put on a few extra pounds and enjoy doing so! Hmmmm, cheese. And then spring comes; usually it seems to happen over night and I'm never ready to get up off the couch and begin the long haul to harvest. In anticipation of my self imposed pre-spring apathy, Nik took a week off work to help me get the 'stead into shape. The kids also had week off. We started the week with the arrival of 9 yards of dirt. Now when I look at 9 yards of dirt I think, oh crap that's gonna be a lot of work. When kids look at 9 yards of dirt they think, oh crap! I'm gonna build tunnels and caves and live in that mound for as long as mom'll let me! Which is what Josh, Jason, Stella and about 6 other neighbor kids did. Jason built this crazy awesome tunnel and cave in the center of the mound and proceeded to fill it with snacks, juices and sleeping paraphernalia. And every night he begged me to let him sleep in it. The kicker is that it rained a whole bunch and his boy cave became more of a mud room then the awesome chill zone that he had intended. Throughout the week I'd find random kids, mine and everybody else's, with no shirt or shoes on, wallowing in the mud pile. We're a dirty influence on those nice neighbor kids! Eventually we got all that nice dirt to where it needed to be, namely Nana's yard, to fill all the duck dug holes. We also created this neat little stream and some swales and berms to help direct the water instead of letting it constantly flood us.Whitney Houston (the goat, not the songstress) kept getting out of the
Habitat and devouring our neighbors' beautiful food forest, so we had to
rebuild about 200 feet of fencing. Before our help arrived, in-laws and
kids, Nik and I spent a good two hours "discussing" how we should
proceed to put the fence together. I had just finished with an
especially witty quip about fencing etiquette when I slipped and fell into the biggest pile of
duck poop, EVER! Unfortunalty, the way that I fell encouraged my face to
land softly, in said duck poo. I'd rather not gross anyone out, but I
have to admit that I ingested enough of my share of duck excrement.
Ewww! Needless to say, Nik felt so bad that he let me have my way and
the fence got done like I wanted it to. I like to call that feminine
prowess. Half way through the week Nana got an additional 9 yards of gravel to re-gravel the driveway with. I think that I must be innately lazy because looking at that huge pile of gravel and anticipating the work of spreading it, about made me soil myself. Fortunately, Nik and the kids are easy to bribe. The kids required money and Nik's request was adult in nature. Both easily granted! We had some help from my good friend Jess with the gravel but Josh was being such a butt that I think I spent the majority of the time chastising him. He's almost 13 and boy oh boy has he learned to complain! Not from me, I assure you; he probably picked up a few pointers from Nana. At one point I had to threaten to bury the boy up to his neck in compost in order for him to continue to shovel. Not that I would have done it, mind you, but I was tempted! At one point he took the time to research child labor laws and vigorously tried to convince me that I was unlawful in my direction of labor, with regards to him and his brethren. His point was so passionately argued that I consented to offer him a "working" wage, to be redeemed at the end of the week in the guise of a "reward". Their reward was a trip to Wunderland with enough money to see a movie, indulge in some sugary snacks and play the video games.
Because I have given up driving (I'm never ever going to drive again), we had to take the bus with all the kids. Oh man did I get us in over our heads! I often walk or take the bus with my own children and it's usually a pretty laid back experience. We each bring a book and money, each child accountable for themselves, under my direction. We invited the 5 kids that had helped so much during the week and each one of them had a little zip lock baggie containing the money he had earned in addition to bus fare. None of these kids had taken the bus before and they were all excited for the journey to begin. I felt like a mama goose walking her goslings to the water for the first time. It was idyllic, for all of about 10 seconds. One kid would go one way while another went the other, both into an oncoming car or rabid dog or off a cliff. 4 kids lost their bus money and I had to scrounge to find more. One kid tried to hide behind a tree as we herded them onto the bus, in the midst of a temper tantrum. Another tried to sit on a homeless man's lap while his buddy pulled the guys' grayish mustache. The one little guy that was just calming down from his tantrum mode asked an elderly lady if she was an "antique". All the while there's another of my little angels pulling the stop cord over and over and over. And then Nik starts singing "The wheels on the bus", loudly. All on the 8 minute ride into downtown Milwaukie.
Needless to say, I don't think I'll be attempting this sort of excurs
ion again. The highlights include fights between boys, the mooning of buses, attempted run amuck-ness, picking gum up off the ground and trying to chew it, open viewing of highly intoxicated individuals followed by loudly worded questions. All in all, good times. What really matters is that all the kids had fun and I honestly hope they did, they all deserved it. In essence, spring is chaos, right?
Happy February! Most years, January and February is spent huddled down, reading books and knitting and creating in the home. I really feel that quality down time in the winter energizes us for spring and summer. Winter is when we relax and play. There's not that much work to do out in the garden or barnyard; no picking, plucking or canning to be done. It's really the time of year I look forward to the most. Our flock (ducks, chickens, geese, turkeys, ducks, goats and rabbits) is smaller in the winter and they're happy to just be lazy too!
Not this year though! 4 broody hens had different plans for us when they hatched 34 chicks this past fall. Bantam chicks. Bantam chickens are great for pets or play, but they suck for an urban farmer. They're smaller then other breeds and are bred for their attractive good looks and spunky personalities, not for egg or meat production. All full sized chickens fly but as they grow, they do so less and less. They become heavier and more interested in grubs and food on the ground. Banty's never loose their ability or desire to fly. My fencing abilities are not of the best quality and it's become increasingly hard to keep our little feathered Friends from roaming the neighborhood.
So yesterday we butchered. We had 9 roos that were driving us and the neighbors bonkers so our amazing friends and neighbors came over and helped teach the kids how to butcher a chicken. This was the first time that the kids had actually taken part in butchering an animal. Jason actually delivered a mortal blow to a chicken he called "Mr. Jerky Roo". I'm so proud of Jason, Josh and Stella! And what a great way to spend a Super Bowl Sunday! While we set up the butchering areas, the kids threw the football around the front yard and loosened up for what did become an emotional event. We all expressed our thanks for these amazing (though sometimes annoying) little birds. This couldn't have been the event that it was without the care and love of our friends and neighbors. I'm so grateful that we are surrounded by such a great community!
We love corn 'round these parts and since corn is just now hitting the stands at the farmers' markets, we've been indulging ourselves. Today we made Sweet Corn Relish. I found a recipe, Blue-Ribbon Corn Relish, in magazine entitled Canning (creative name, eh?) and made some changes.
Sweet Corn Relish
8 cups of fresh corn (approx. 8-10 ears)
2 cups water
3 cups chopped celery (3 or 4 stalks)
2 medium sweet red peppers, chopped
2 medium green peppers, chopped
1 large onion, chopped 2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar 1 3/4 cups sugar
4 tsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. pickling salt 2 tsp. celery seed 1 tsp. ground turmeric 3 tsp. cornstarch 3 Tbs. water
The first step in this awesome relish is to remove the husks from your corn. We actually love to use these husks and silk in our sheet composting ventures. Right now these very same greens, pictured above, are layered in among other compostables and newspaper beneath my Sumatrian Plum tree. Wash your corn and scrub with a veggie brush to remove all the silks still attached to the corn.
After washing said corn, remove the kernels from the cob. Place kernels along with 2 cups of water in a large stock pot. Add 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Once the water reaches a roiling boil, lower temperature and cover. Simmer for a few minutes until corn is almost tender. Drain and return to your massive stock pot.
Chop your celery, peppers and onions; add to corn. At this time you'll also want to add the turmeric, celery seed, pickling salt, sugar, mustard and vinegar. Simmer, sans lid, for 5 minutes or so. Stir occasionally.
While your veggie concoction is simmering away on the stove, mix together in a small bowl, the cornstarch and 3 tablespoons of water. Stir the starchy water into your veggies and cook and stir and cook and stir and so on for a handful of moments until it's slightly thickened and bubbling.
Scoop your Sweet Corn Relish into hot, sterilized pint jars that have been patiently waiting in the oven. Leave a 1/2 inch head space. Wipe the jar rims and place your lids. Process your jars in a hot water bath. They need to be boiled for 15 minutes. When your 15 minutes is up, place jars on a wire drying rack or whatnot until they're cool. This recipe makes 6 pints with a little left over for some after-canning snackings.
Sweet Corn Relish is not only tasty but beautiful in the jar. This makes a great gift partnered with a bag of homemade tortilla chips or a loaf of fresh bread coupled with a local pilsner or sun tea.
One of my favorite soups in the whole world, Fresh Corn Chowder, requires almost the exact same ingredients as the Sweet Corn Relish. I found this recipe years ago in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest and Other Timeless Delicacies by Mollie Katzen, the author of the Moosewood Cookbook. Depending on the time of year, whether or not I'm forced to use frozen corn or fresh or if I've forgotten to pick up a certain ingredient at the market, this recipe can be extremely flexible and always tastes stunning.
Fresh Corn Chowder
2 Tbs. fresh butter
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 minced celery
1 sweet red bell pepper, minced
4 cups fresh sweet corn (approx. 4-5 ears)
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 cup stock or water
1 cup evaporated milk (or regular milk)
Like the previous recipe, begin with getting the corn buck naked. Make sure that there's no silk left on the corn before you cut the corn off the cob. Many a time we've been lazy and neglected to de-silk the corn properly and have paid the price while eating later. Silks get stuck in your teeth and don't have the best texture for soup. Place naked, de-cobbed corn in a bowl and set it aside for later incorporation.
In a medium sized sauce pan, saute the chopped onion in the butter. Cook the onion to a beautiful, buttery translucence. Add minced celery. Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Then add chopped peppers and corn.
Seasoning time! Reduce heat slightly and add seasonings; stir well and cover. Let her cook for another 5 minutes or so until all the veggies are slightly soft and the flavors are meshing well.
Add stock. We like to use our own chicken stock, from our own chickens, and haven't ever used anything else. Thus said, my preference is to use chicken stock. You can use vegetable stock if you're not into the meat thing or water works as well.
Simmer for about 10 minutes. Using a blender or food processor, puree about half of the soup's solids in its own liquid. Add the yellow goo back to your soup and simmer again.
About 10 minutes before you plan to serve, lower the temperature to medium-low and add the evaporated milk. Raise the heat slowly, gently, to eating temperature. Do not bring to a boil as scorched evaporated milk does not taste very good.
Dig in! This soup is great paired with a light salad on a warm summer evening.
A huge part of what we do here on the 'stead is growing our own meat. We're not large enough to raise a cow or have multiple pigs, but we are big enough to grow our own chicken, duck, goose, turkey, guinea hen and rabbit. We've been blessed in that we've always been able to fill our freezers with poultry meat for the whole year, within a season. And every year we experiment with different ways to keep our flock healthy and happy. A happy hen or roo makes for a happy meal. The flocks' regular diet consists of Payback Organic Pellet, Scratch and Peck whole seed and variously gleaned fruits, veggies and otherwise composted foods. Our flock free ranges on about .25 of an acre. Well, I should say their fenced area is about .25 of an acre. Unfortunatly for me, fortunatly for them, I'm horrible at building secure fencing. They roam freely throughout the garden and front orchard. Luckily, our neighbors are spectacular as about a dozen of our ladies like to congregate in their front yard on a daily basis.
In addition to their wild wanderings, we've tried to offer them variety and fun in their Habbitat. After Christmas every year, we collect unwanted christmas trees and leave them in the Habbitat for more natural nesting and resting areas. The grass grows taller around these dead trees and offer wonderful little hiding places for broody hens or cranky roos. They also provide excellent bug hunting grounds. In an attempt to create more diversity, we decided to try something new this year with pallets and left-over seeds, inspired by accident. Earlier this spring I read an amazing article about the taste of eggs in regard to the season. Eggs, of course, taste differently according to what the hen has eaten and is experiencing. In the spring the eggs are deeply yellow and rich, because the insects and wet roots she eats are abundant in the fresh spring weather. Early fall, the eggs are lighter in color and lighter in taste, because she's eaten more grasses and forage and is hiding out from the heat, thereby not eating as much. In an attempt to affect the flavor of the eggs, and encourage more natural behavior in the flock, I mounded a couple long rows of compost into which I planted last years' left over seed. Over the top I placed several pallets, laid side by side. The idea is that as the plants under the cover of the pallets begin to grow, the chickens, geinea hens, ducks and geese will feast on the leaves and veggies without digging up the roots and killing the plant. So far it's worked wonderfully, though I'll save my praise until the end of fall to see how well it worked throught the seasons. I planted squash, beans, sunflowers, wild grasses, lettuce and melons. Stay tuned to see how well it works!
When we first began raising our own meat a few years ago, everyone told us not to love, name or become attached to any of the animals destined for dinner. We tried to be stoic and removed and it honestly didn't work for us. I've discovered that despite what others have said, it's a more complete transition from backyard bird to dinner plate if we allow ourselves to love along the way. To understand the sacrifice it takes to kill a living being in order to live, we must first treat that living being with the respect and love it deserves. With that in mind, we totally love on all our birds, layers and meat alike. If anything, over the years I'd say we feel closer to the animils we claim as food then when we started. This year, all of our ducks and many of our chickens we hatched ourselves. Lovingly cleaning them of their broken shells at birth, caring for them throughout their lives, cherishing them by name and recognition of their personalities and in the end, delicately leading them through the process of their death. I think we'd all swear to the fact that these birds bring a whole different meaning to the term Happy Meal.