Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Shades of Orange

I am finally returning to the land of the living after a week of feeling off my game.  Ugh!  Thankfully, I seem to be the only one who has had to live with the funk and hopefully B and the kids have dodged the bullet! 

The beginnings of fall have ushered in some much needed rain that has weighed down the leaves that are still clinging to their branches and caused several to fall and plaster the ground like a first layer of natures paper mache.  This past weekend, B took Charles out to harvest our first batch of pumpkins and winter squash.  Varying shades of orange now adorn the porch in a festive fashion.
From the mere decor of the cornfield pumpkins (larger, tho' the picture doesn't quite do these beauties justice), to the tasty morsels that are the sugar pumpkins (babies) and winter squash (glimpse in back) about half of the pumpkins are now accounted for.
They also picked about half of the butternuts.  Amazingly, these were all super-sized this year and yielded two that were completely pumpkin shaped (one of them above).  You can see a couple little imperfections on the one in front where a diligent squirrel tried to take a taste, but was unsuccessful and the resilient squash healed over.
Fall is filled with many hues of beauty, even the late summer ones merge into the season and fade into the sunset. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Serenade of Pops


Pop..... pOp..... PoP..... poP....
Such a gratifying sound to listen to.  It is the sound of a jar successfully sealing down after it's come out of the boiling processing water.  The eighteen jars that we just canned are serenading me as they seal.  It seems that most of this years canning is on a theme...green.  With the weather turning so cool and the garden a couple weeks behind because of the cool start, we have only been able to can two quarts of roasted tomatoes and now we are focusing on condiments.  Yesterday we had some friends over and canned most of our harvested tomatillos into salsa, a rich beautiful green color.  We decided to use the remaining tomatillos to make tomatillo jam, which turned out to be a pale golden green color.  With a continued lack of warm days in the forecast we will turn our attention soon to a mass processing of green tomatoes into relish. We are continuing our preservation of a bumper crop of green beans, and will try to preserve green ancho chillies.  Ripe or no, regardless of your season, there is a wonderful way to utilize your bounty.  What unique ways do you use your garden/farmers market rewards ?

Tomatillo Jam
12 C Tomatillos
2 C Lemon juice
5 C Sugar
2 Packets unflavored gelatin
Zest of 2 lemons

Process your tomatillos in a food processor until they reach a fine texture.  Place the processed tomatillos in a large soup pot with the lemon juice and 1/2 of the sugar and bring to strong rolling boil.  Once boiling slowly add remaining sugar and cook down for about 15 minutes, while stirring regularly.  Bloom the gelatin to the package instructions, add to jam mixture and stir vigorously for 5 minutes.  Stir in lemon zest to combine, remove from heat, and put into hot sanitized jelly jars. Place on two part seal and process submerged in boiling water bath for 15 minutes.  Remove to counter to cool and listen to the serenade of pops!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hurry Up And Wait

Crazy gourds
Some projects are hurry up and wait.  The last couple of days as we have ushered in fall, I have been  preparing gourds for winter crafting.  We planted these gourds last year and they were very successful plants.  We had traditional crafter's gourds, and then a volunteer plant that produced amazing warty gourds.  A year ago we harvested them and then put them in the barn for the winter.  During that time, they began to dry out and get covered in mold (naturally part of the process).  Then early summer we put them out on a patch of the drive, out of the way and let the sun finish drying them and bleach them a little. 
The next step was to bring them in (in batches) and scrub away all of the dirt and mottled bits of mold.  This took a little more elbow grease than you might think!
Once finished with their scrubbing, they headed out to the porch to dry.
The next order of business will be to cut a small hole in them and pull out the fibrous web that was once the innards. Then they will be ready for whatever design we decide on for future bird houses, lanterns and decorated gourds.  Some projects are worth hurrying up to wait for!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mabon

Harvest
The free form days of summer merged quietly into fall's more structured work/school/activity schedule.  Nestled into fall are freeing tasks, similar to spring, fall is a time of renewal.  A time to raise all of the windows in the house to accept cooling breezes, clean, sort-out and simplify spaces.  All of this is in anticipation of shorter, colder days that will, all to soon, drive activity indoors. 

As I fill my lungs with deep breaths of crisp air, I glance around the landscape that seems muted, like it's resting after the summer just preparing itself to burst into flames of color.  I have a distinct feeling of wonder in fall.   Working on our property, we are reaping rewards as we pick, distribute, consume and process the rich jars that will be put away for days to come, when fresh flavors will be even more appreciated.

Harvest and Thanksgiving truly take on a different meaning when you are so connected to the source of your food.  Did you know that the original Thanksgiving celebrations took place the last week in September, or at the latest, the first week in October when harvest was virtually finished?  It wasn't until Abraham Lincoln was president that the current holiday time was put in place. 

Just TingedThe Autumnal Equinox, which occurred at 4:04 this morning marks a true yin and yang of the year.  Today, the day and night are equal again.  The light of the growing season is fading slowly into the darkness of hibernation.  The world comes alive around us as every creature is preparing for the winter.  It is a busy time of clearing up and hurriedly completing tasks on our property not just for winter, but readying it for the season beyond, when the light returns.  It is a time for celebration and thanks,  for apple cider and pies,  for leaf collecting and jumping, for preparation.

Mabon, comes from Welsh lore.  It is also known as "harvest home."  The ritualistic process is lovely.  It encourages reflection, focusing on our connections to those around us and what our personal harvests have been.  It is peppered with families together telling stories of generations before, collecting and decorating with fall beauty, and consuming the seasonal sweets that have been provided by nature, namely apples.  This special time of year, and the thoughts behind Mabon, do perfectly capture the overwhelming love I have for this season and I am thankful.

Happy Weekend & Happy Mabon!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sunday Supper On The Porch


A long awaited gentle, soaking rain could never put a damper on a Sunday supper on the porch.

 Gentle breezes, grey skies and muted hues that suggest fall sneaking in.  The house was filled with the sounds of multiple conversations happening in unison coupled with the intricate tango that was the children's laughter, at times halted by animated discussion as they each negotiate their way, and then laughter again. 

Slow food; fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, cheesy grits, pepper pot, wine and conversation flowing freely. 

While enjoying the soft, meditative sounds of rain, that drew pause in the conversation, I reflected upon how lucky we truly are.  These are the moments that bring life back into perspective.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Remarkable Season~ Garden Update

This has been truly a remarkable growing season for us.  We began with cooler than normal temperatures all through June, only to be thrown into almost two months of warmer than normal temperatures.  We have had next to no rain, the irrigation in the garden has worked great and we haven't had to mow near so much, yet the grass looks much like mottled, fresh cut hay.  Then, this week we had our first light frost on September 14th!!!  Let me put this in perspective for you.  We typically have our first frost right around Halloween.  It seems every year we think we are going to get cold and then have a lovely Indian Summer.  Then just as we approach a time when the kids are going to be trick-or-treating, they have to have coats on over costumes.  This week our highs have averaged in the upper 50's!  There are hints of sprinkles in the forecast, as well as a return to more seasonal weather (low 70's) for a couple of days.
What this all means??  Well, we have seen throughout this season that the garden has run roughly two to two and a half weeks behind schedule.  We normally process the bulk of our tomatoes during the last couple of weeks of August and first two weeks of September.  Just as our vines, heavy with fruit, were starting to ripen, it turned cold and everything seems to be in a state of pause.  Because of the extreme variations in weather, I stopped doing weekly newsletters/inventory lists on our farm bags.  I am varying their contents slightly from person to person depending on what has ripened that day.  The weather has been great for fall crops and this weeks farm bags consisted of Leeks, Beet Greens, Kale, Green Beans, and a few partially ripe tomatoes to be put in warm windows for a few days. 
Take a look at my post over at a sustainable life, where I discussed our first adventures in wine making.  This in mind, B and I spent several hours yesterday taking a country drive and foraging for elder berries and wild grapes along roadsides and ditches.  We came away with a 1/2 bushel of each and enough to start a five gallon barrel of wine.  For my purposes, I am stealing about 2 pounds of the elder berries to make some cordial.

This property once had a working orchard on it.  Sadly, after decades of neglect there are only a few gnarly trees remaining in various states of deterioration.  The apples are bumpy and nothing to look at, but this year (probably because of the drought) seem to be intensely flavored and amazing.  We collected a volume of fallen apples cut away the bad, kept the good and canned some amazing applesauce yesterday!  Adding to the homestead to do list...we are researching taking cuttings of these old trees so we can re-populate the orchard and one day never have need to go beyond our backyard.

I'm off to de-stem elderberries, and simmer some cordial!  Happy Weekend!!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Irony


B is a small animal exclusive Veterinarian.  That is just where he decided his interest in practice was.  We see dogs and cats only, and he knew from entering veterinary school that he did not want to practice medicine with food animals.  That said, it is very ironic where our life has come. 

One of our girls, dubbed by Sid as Feathertail, had just not been right for a few weeks.  She stayed perched by herself.  She had a full crop and was frequently eating, but at the end of last week I thought she seemed too full in the crop and a little thin.  B concurred and decided to see if he could remedy what we thought was a crop impaction.  He took her into work flushed and messaged her crop and what felt like a somewhat doughy mass seemed to resolve.  Then, over the weekend it seemed to just return again.

He did a lot of research, consulted with a veterinary discussion board, and even talked to a veterinary specialist that we refer our patients to (she has a special interest in avian).  Our concern quickly became crop paralysis from Mareks disease.  He decided to take make one last effort to make sure there were no foreign objects and empty her crop, then we would see if she refilled again confirming our concern, and make decisions from there.
Full Crop

Little did our staff know that they would be intubating and performing anesthesia on a chicken Monday morning, but that is just what they did.  To our surprise, she had a crop full of straw!  I don't know why she decided THAT was a good idea, but as you can see from the before and after pictures, it was substantial.  So, our concern for Mareks disease has minimized to more a concern for a neurotic straw-eating hen.  We are keeping her seperate for a few days to monitor her and get her as much food and water as possible, but so far so good!
Empty Crop

The sign at the top that hangs in our office,  was a gift to B from my parents about 18 years ago, ironic isn't it?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Whooo Are Youuuu?

 Over the last week the kids have been feeding a caterpillar that they found in the garden (yet another great use for a mason jar).  This morning I noticed that it had stopped eating and settled into a sleeping position.  I loved the way his stripes came together when he scrunched up.  As if he was asking the question Whooo (inhale hookah) Are Youuuu(as he exhales)? 
Then right before my eyes as I snapped some shots of the markings, the little guy began to shake and shimmy, and those beautiful markings began to shed, just like he was pushing up a sweater sleeve. 
Then he began to wriggle like mad, trying to get that old skin off. Those markings were so last season!
Finally, he assumed the position, all cocooned, which took all of two minutes.  Now he is (and we are) patiently waiting to find out who he is going to be.

Silent Sunday


Silent Sunday

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

When Life Gives You Apples..

It has been downright cool the last few days.  Enough so that a light sweater outside is perfect.  The last couple of years our apple picking has slipped passed us and we have headed out late in the season, when the best, in my opinion, were over.  This year with the onset of crisp air, I jumped on it and we spent some time Monday exploring a new, to us, orchard about 45 minutes from here.  It wasn't the pick your own that we are used to.  They pick and then we get to sample and load up on all we want.  Very reasonably priced too.
Preparation
I was especially impressed with the reduced price "seconds".  These are the fruit that have some minor blemish on them, and they were selling for $1 a pound.  Fantastic!  These morsels rarely had a bruise, mostly an abnormality in the skin that for whatever reason tainted their appeal (pun intended ;).  Well not for me!  What do you do when life gives you apples??  Make applesauce, of course.  Yesterday after work, I opened all of the windows to let in the fall-like breeze and began slicing and dicing.
Cook & Can

Of the many applesauce recipes that I have made over the years, I find that the easiest is always the best.  I don't like it too sweet so for a large pile o' apples (20) I used 1/2 C sugar, 2 1/4 C water and 2 tsp. cinnamon.  I let it simmer for about 45 minutes and then gently took an immersion blender to smooth it out, but only a little bit, some chunks are just fine!  The batch made six pints of applesauce which I processed in a hot water bath for 20 minutes.

I'm thrilled that we so eagerly began the season, Charles wonders why we bothered canning them, they won't last a week!  Well, I have good incentive to make more batches of my four ingredient applesauce, so we can taste the first glimpse of fall the rest of the year! 

Monday evening we finished watching the Walton's with the kids.  All nine seasons plus the movie specials, all in order over about 18 months.  Tonight I am including the applesauce in an old fashioned applesauce cake for B's birthday.  A favorite made by Livy Walton, and a little taste of the simplicity that we strive for.  A happiest of birthdays to my 'old fool'!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Feeding My Soul


Shorter days, that bring twilight at supper time.
Crisp mornings that glaze the surroundings with droplets of dew.
Soft breezes begin to coax the trees of their heavy  burdens,
swirling  leaves just tinged with color to our feet.
Windows flung wide open welcoming.
 Fresh apples, full of the promise, just waiting to be transformed.
The garden's gift, wrapped in hard work, with a bow tied by mother nature's elements.
This, the beginning of Fall, a season that feeds my soul.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Beating the Heat


This first Friday of September has been very productive.  We have farm bag number seven ready for pick up and are thrilled that everyone will be able to taste the beauty of late summer in their meals.  It is funny how I start out a week wondering if we are going to have enough, to deliver the variety and quantity that I want to.  Then, by the time we are ready for people to pick up, the fridge is bursting and I am jotting handwritten notes on my typed contents list to add on extra goodies.  This week's bag has three types of tomatoes, tomatillos, beets, eggplant, enough green beans to freeze a few batches after eating fresh, and some of the first new potatoes and peppers.

As I walked around the property last night, I noticed many of the elderberry bushes were heavy with ripe berries, ready for picking.  So this morning we also spent a little time downtown at a great shop called D P Wiggly.  We got an impromptu lesson on wine making and bought the necessities for getting our first batch put down.  The first steps have been completed, but this topic deserves it's own post, so there will be more soon.

We also canned our first jars of roasted tomatoes this season and blanched more green beans for the freezer.  All in all a great way to beat the heat on this 92 degree Friday.

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

August In Review

It is hard to believe that September is here.  Truly the fastest summer ever!  With as many photos as I took in August, it seems there were a few days that I took none.  I guess I was busy loading the volumes that I took in Colorado and at Girl Scout Camp, or maybe I just took a moment to stretch in the final lazy days of summer. Whatever the case, here is a glimpse of August through my lens. August 2011

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