Wednesday, November 27, 2013


It looks to be a quiet Thanksgiving this year.  It will just be the three of us. I've had quieter ones, when I was single in CA and all my family was 3000 miles away.  Back then I did up the whole bird and all the sides and desserts for myself, and I will do up the whole thing for the three of us tomorrow, then we will live on the leftovers for as long as they last.

I bought the biggest bird I could find, 22 lbs.  When else is meat 55 cents a pound???  The leftovers freeze well and we'll live off the thing for a few weeks, too bad we are a dark meat family and they have bred these monsters to be all breast meat.

 I have a streusel topped apple pie in the freezer, made during the apple  processing craziness of the fall. (As soon as I am done wit this post I will pull it out to defrost) All the ingredients to make a pumpkin pie waiting in the pantry. I'm hoping to work it so that my daughter will volunteer to make it.

We have three kinds of cranberry sauce, I like the whole berry, and my husband likes the jellied with the can marks displayed. We have to have the cranberry orange relish, because it cuts the greasy blandness of the gravy, plus it's yummy.

We do something that my family looks at with horror, we do the marshmallow sweet potato casserole after a couple of years in the South it seemed like it was time to try it and and it has won its place at the table. I never understood the green bean casserole thing, mushy, salty, with the fake onion things on top, blah!  If you enjoy it, you can have my portion.

All of this is just the warm up, because the day after Thanksgiving is the best!  The menu barely varies from year to year.  Breakfast is pie and coffee.  Lunch is an overstuffed sandwich with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, with either Miracle Whip or mayo (depending on which side of the divide you sit on) and a  glass of coffee milk ( the Rhode Island official state beverage).  Dinner is hot turkey sandwiches  with cranberry orange relish, with more pie and a cup of tea.

I hope all sixteen of my readers have an enjoyable holiday with their families!!  Drive safely!

Sunday, November 24, 2013


The chickens are free again, after a couple of days of no eggs, it seemed unfair to imprison them.   They probably need more daylight, chickens don't lay well during the short days of the year, so they need to have a little supplementary light.  I'm a little leery of plugging anything in and putting it out there (see January 31st's post), so I'm looking into rechargeable or solar possibilities.  There is also the possibility that I just hold off until spring and they will pick up laying all by themselves.

The first thing they did when I freed them was to remove all of the mulch that I had over the front garden looking for the bugs that had been sheltering there.  Thanks girls.

 The book I read most recently has haunted me a bit.  No, it isn't horror or anything, well maybe it is...

American Nations, A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard, it continues the light bulb that lit  when I read Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer, a few years back.  It is an analysis of the different original cultures of the current regions of North America (mostly European, the Native Americans didn't get the option of having their cultures extend to the present in most of the regions--but that situation is partly analyzed in Jared Diamond's book, Guns, Germs and Steel). 

I could write pages and pages about what I took away from the book, but the most important point I took away was a bit scary.   I boils down to the objectives and viewpoints of the Yankeedom  and the Left Coast regions  are irreconcilable with the objectives of the regions of the Deep South (political power to few, no emphasis on education except for the ruling families) and Greater Appalachia (folks from the war torn north of England and Ireland settled here, shoot to protect your family, a few families control the political scene and money, distaste for whomever is in power) and the Far West. There will never be peace or an easy political process, to satisfy one group, the other has to give up everything.  If he is right, then the implications for our nation are chilling.

Anyway, the premise is that the original culture of an area persists in various forms in the current society of that area.  Meaning that the New England, Upstate New York and most northern parts of the Great Lakes region are extensions of the Puritan's beliefs, with the religion watered down as scientific discoveries gave other explanations.  The part that survived is the ethic of strong education, community participation in the government and the need to work toward a stronger society through social experimentation, he calls it Yankeedom.  Being a product of Yankeedom I wouldn't have agreed with him until I moved out of the area and lived among several of the other regions and felt as if I had landed on another planet (with the exception that all the shopping centers were identical, all that differed was the roofing detail).  The book clearly had a Yankeedom bias, the author hails from Maine.

Right now I'm living on the border of Midlands and Tidewater with a tiny hint of Yankeedom from time to time, since the original settlers of this part of Maryland were Puritans.  My mom at one point in her first visit made a comment about a gentleman we met saying, "I didn't know they had Old Yankees down here!" and she was right.  I've bumped into a few of them now and then, one of them runs the saddlery shop where my husband and daughter get some of their horse gear.

The Puritans were overrun pretty early on by Tidewater, who are now being overrun by Midlanders (eastern Pennsylvania-live and let live types, work hard, keep to themselves).   I see more Midlanders as I head toward DC and as I drive away from DC I cross into Tidewater-land. The local Facebook page for information and events sometimes has inquiries about strange booming noises (probably military) or sounds of shotguns, etc.  The Midlanders don't like folks shooting near their suburbs.  The Tidewater folks are still doing what they have always done, even though all their neighbors have sold their farms to Midlanders who developed giant suburbs for other Midlanders, who generally don't shoot near houses  One person posted that these folks had moved to the country and that they need to just accept that they are in the country now. He hasn't noticed that his "country" is being paved and built up. The Midlander's freedom to feel safe in their house is conflicting with the Tidewater's freedom to shoot their gun where ever they choose.

It is really weird that some folks here draw out their vowels in a southern type accent and others have a more clipped vowel northern accent and they can be from neighboring towns and their families have been here for generations.  I heard both the "y'all" and "you guys" shouted from the sidelines of the soccer field, one coach "y'all=ed" the other "you guys-ed".  The blend worked, they won the county tournament.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

One Brown Egg

Finally, one day before the chickens turn 26 weeks old, we have our first egg.
It's probably not the first that they have laid, but it is the first we have.  I locked them in the chicken run yesterday, instead of letting them run about the yard.  In one corner, I placed a recycle bin filled with wood shavings and a white supermarket egg to give them a hint of what I wanted them to do (with no risk of mixing up which egg is fresh since all the girls are brown egg laying breeds).  One of them obliged, but I have no idea which one.  They are locked in again today.   Leftover rice really helped encourage them.  While I stepped outside to photograph the egg, they all lined up and stared at me from inside the run, seemingly indignant that I would lock them in for a second day.  Sorry girls, it will probably be a week or so.  They need to get used to laying their eggs in the recycle bin instead of some hidden spot in the yard, leaving the eggs to feed the big possum.

I've spent some time reading Sandor Katz's Art of Fermentation.  It makes me wish it was the beginning of the growing season instead of heading into the winter.  I've been wanting to try some vegetable ferments beyond the kimchi experiments, but couldn't figure out exactly where I would do put some of this stuff.  Our not quite 1300 square foot home is not equipped with what my grandparents referred to as "cold cupboards", closets on the north side of the house that were unheated and used to store food.  We do not have a basement, but as the weekend projects have reminded me, we do have a crawl space.  We have been removing insulation that was installed with the paper outward-trapping moisture-and either flipping it or replacing it, depending on its condition--a horrible, nasty job requiring tyvek suits, goggles, face masks, gloves,lots and lots of crawling on the ground and lots and lots of time.  The area of the crawl space nearest the hatch opening is high enough to sit up in (for me, but not my husband) and could be a reasonable storage spot for some kimchi, sauerkraut, kosher dills or who knows!  I could always dig a bit of a pit to help insulate against temperature changes--but first the fiberglass insulation under the floor boards.

I have to be more careful with the bread ferments, the sour dough bread, pancakes, appams, etc., because of the 1500 calorie issue.  The breads (sigh) add up quickly.  I did try sour dough pancakes this weekend, they weren't sour tasting because I added baking soda shortly before cooking them.  I fancied them up with apples and cinnamon inside, and a bit of my apple butter on top.  They came out pretty well, but I'm going to tweak the recipe a little.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Foal

My computer took on some nasty malware last week, so I had to send it to rehab.

It took several days.  

Not having a computer for almost a week while camping is one thing, but trying to live an everyday life without one is another.  My daughter kept asking if she could look up words, so that she could do her homework.  I kept pointing to the dictionary.  She'd sigh.

I wanted to know the weather forecast, I had to wait for it on the radio (we don't have a tv connected to the outer world).  I wanted to check what the specials were in the grocery stores, I had to pull out the flyers that come in Wednesday's mail.  News? Radio, again.  Pay bills?  Call my husband at work to do it.  I was living in a time warp.

Now the box is back under the table and healthy again.  Now I can write about what happened last week, besides the time warp.

Every week on Monday, my husband feeds a friend's horses.  One horse has been looking ill and behaving strangely.  Last Thanksgiving, she had been found hanging out with the stallion, so they had some suspicions of what it might be.  The vet said, "Not pregnant.", twice, one of the times was just a couple of weeks ago.  Last Monday, my husband had all the feed buckets prepped and was toting them to the paddocks when he noticed a chestnut foal lying on the ground next to the ill looking mare.  After he called the owner, then he called home, my daughter, the horse nut, had her shoes on in record time.  We bundled up and dove into the car.  Twenty minutes later we pulled up, and charged over to the paddock.  The foal was lying on the ground in a little bed of hay that my husband had arranged for it, but it was still on the ground.  Usually a horse is up on its feet within an hour of birth, the baby was clean and dry, so it had been born more than an hour earlier. In a few minutes it struggled, placed its front legs on the ground, hoisted itself  a little and tipped over.  It tried again with the same result.  It lay back down in the hay and slept.

Preparing to "walk" the foal to the paddock.

The temperature dropped as the sun set, we put on our hats and gloves.  The owner arrived just as the light was disappearing and set right to work setting up a paddock for the mare and baby. Once it was ready, we prepared to move the baby.  It wasn't a simple job.  The owner and I bent over double to support the weight of the foal and tried to "walk" it the length of the original paddock, around the next paddock and inside to the sheltered spot lined with a foot of loose hay with a heat lamp.  His fore legs kept crossing and had to be uncrossed repeatedly.  He could not support any of his weight.  It was like carrying a bag of wood pellets bent in half, and having it get caught on something repeatedly.  My husband led the mom just a few feet behind us and my daughter led the other mare "D", who had been nickering to and nuzzling the baby more than the mother "R".  The object was to make sure that neither Mom nor the second mare freaked out over loss of sight of the baby.  About halfway through the promenade, the mom butted me with her nose a few times letting me know that as an infrequent visitor I was not a suitable person to be handling her baby.  The owner carried on despite her blown back and neck brace.  When the baby finally settled into the deep hay it disappeared from the mare's view and she thrashed back and forth in the little paddock nearly stepping on the foal with each pace.  I was sent to the feed room get some sweet grain. The owner grabber the scoop held the grain next to the baby's head.  Finally, spotting the baby, the horse's muscles palpably relaxed, she nickered to the foal, then ate the grain.

It was then an idyllic scene, a paddock with the mom  chewing her grain and baby tucked in the hay, a red heat lamp providing the warm glow.  The second mare quietly watching over everything.  We then went home for the night.

The next day the baby still couldn't stand, so he couldn't feed.  He couldn't suck well either, even from a bottle.

Trying to drink.

 For two days my husband and daughter (and the owner's daughter) helped care for the little guy, but he just wasn't strong enough to even nurse properly.  I brought food for  the humans,  as we spent the third evening trying to get a few ounces into the foal and help him nurse from Mom.  He fell over at one point and his eyes looked relieved to be back on the ground.

Before we left I reminded my daughter to say goodbye to everyone, so she did, including the foal, which was my intention..

On that, his third night, he died in his sleep.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fermenting Ideas

It's that quiet time between soccer and basketball seasons, a time when dinners do not need to be rushed, homework can be put off a little later and the weekend schedules are what we make of them.  I'm sure I'll figure out something to do in all the extra time.  I have eleven books out of the library that have food themes, mostly recipe books.  I'm on a 1540 calorie diet.  I may be setting myself up...

I finished Michael Pollan's Cooked a couple of weeks ago and now the books that intrigued me from his bibliography are arriving through inter-library loan.  The section of Cooked that grabbed me was one that I had played with off and on, but had forgotten about between moving, gardening, parenting, job hunting and the bugs (which I will come back to).  Pollan refers to the section as Earth, he uses the ancient elements to structure his book, so for him "earth" is the process of fermentation. 

A few years back in the deep-dark-mid-life-grad-school days, I filled some of my time growing Chinese cabbages and daikon radishes in Florida (among many other things).  They grew wonderfully in the mild fall and winters, so well that I had to figure out what to do with them, which wasn't hard, because at that point in life I was battling a kimchi addiction.  At five bucks a quart, the kimchi habit bit into the teensy grocery budget.  Soon I was searching on-line for a reasonable recipe that someone who was not Korean could consume without reaching their capacin limits within the first mouthful.  A helpful clerk in the Asian grocery made sure I had all the right ingredients, while trying to get his mind around an American making kimchi.  A few minutes later the cashier looked into my basket and said, "You're making kimchi???" I replied, "Of course!"  The Korean people who I have spoken to about kimchi give it the status of both a mark of pride for the Koreans and as a cure-all of sorts, a means to maintain health. A proud look appeared in her eyes, but then she looked at me and I saw uncertainty.  After a few moment of chatting, she made sure that next time I planted radishes I would plant the Korean "mu" with its green shoulders, not the pure white Chinese daikon.

I hauled my ingredients home and proceeded to rub salt into the cabbage and daikon, and within a mere five days I had a plastic tub of kimchi stowed in a cooler in bottom the small, dark coat closet.  It was wonderful.  A few weeks later when the next growth of cabbage was ready I made another batch.  That evening my husband walked two steps into the house, pulled himself up short and said, "You made kimchi again, didn't you?" It was a little fragrant, maybe a bit pungent and somewhat stinky.  Perfect.

After fermenting several vats of kimchi, my addiction was cured. I haven't made it since (going on about six years now), then I read Michael Pollan, I might have to do it again.  I had been toying with the idea this past spring, but the bugs, slugs  and caterpillars conspired against my kimchi dreams.  The cabbage was unusable.  It looked like someone had fired a shotgun loaded with bird shot at it.  Next year, I will do the floating row covers that my husband had recommended (and I  blew off his suggestion, oops).  I did see some bai tsai (Chinese white cabbage) in the grocery store last week though, hmmmm...

The other thing that reading Pollan's book set me back onto was sourdough bread.  I had a starter a two years ago, and was having pretty good success with it.  Things got crazy when we bought the house and moved in six weeks flat and the starter went somewhere in the process, probably into the compost.  I began a new starter, but this time I was trying to do wild yeasts and whole grain and it has been less successful.  It smells right, but I have created two very different "lead" breads from it. I now have plenty of bread crumbs in the freezer, on 1500 calories a day there is no room for food that is sort of okay. 

The rising just isn't happening in the whole grain doughs.  A few tweaks and we'll see what happens.  In the meantime, I'll be reading Sandor Katz's The Art of Fermentation, quickly, because it has no renewals!  Who knows where this will take me!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Up in the Sky

I have been bemoaning the lack of birds at my feeder and suspected that the reason was that I was the equivalent of the lady who passes out Smarties on Halloween and by my current evidence, my guess appears to have been correct.
I am now the lady who hands out full size candy bars from an unguarded bowl. 

I had bought a less expensive bird seed, and it had made a difference, it wasn't the stuff the birds craved, someone else was passing out something better.  During my weekly grocery shop I picked up a bag of sunflower seeds, went home mixed them into my bird seed and voila two days later the diversity and population size of the birds in my backyard has soared. (pun intended)  The pine tree has a line of birds waiting for a turn at the feeder and the nearby bushes bounce up and down with all the avian activity.

Some poor neighbor is probably wondering where all the birds went, their mid-grade birdseed just isn't measuring up anymore.

I haven't even started with the suet cakes yet.

I've been out hauling manure for the garden again, I have extended the front garden bed by about six feet, with more to come, so that that back garden can be converted to a thin strip of veggies and the remainder converted into either currants or shade tolerant flowers or both.

It has been great working outside lately, the temperature is just right, there is little humidity and the blue sky intensifies all the other colors.  Up in that sky have been some interesting clouds, a new hobby of mine.  The library had had a book faced out on one of its shelves a few weeks ago called The Cloudspotter's Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds  by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.  I remember the elementary lessons on the types of clouds, but the old lesson meant little until I spent some time reading about each of the types, the weather that it indicates and some of the factors that will determine its shape and type. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fall, I think.

I heard my first public Christmas carol of the season yesterday, at the gas station.  It felt right in that it was crisp and cool, with a touch of winter in the fall air, but it was missing one thing--digesting turkey.  I prefer my Christmas season to be short and intense, the tree goes up a few days before Santa comes, cookies baked, traveling, wrapping presents, (all bought before the turkey comes on the scene, I hate to wait in lines and I like to have a choice) all that holiday cheer crammed into a week and a half.  Some folks like to start the holiday shortly after the kids return to school, but I don't belong to that club.  Unfortunately, we've had to bend the "no carols before the turkey" rule in the past few years. My daughter is in the school band and each year they have a winter concert featuring songs that the students have been practicing since September--so those chestnuts have already been audibly roasting in our house for a while.  Luckily, the chestnuts roast more beautifully each year.

The leaves peaked here this past week and are now starting to fade and drop, that must mean that it is time to start hauling manure again to make new raised beds in the front yard.  The back garden is too close to those walnut trees causing too much shade and juglone issues.  This past year the tomatoes all stretched laterally toward the sun, I'd tie them back and a few days later the new growth would be straining back in that direction. This coming year I won't fight it, they will receive the garden where the pumpkins went wild with full sun blazing above.  I will tote in soil for a new garden bed for the pumpkins over the next few months.

Snacking on millet
What eggs?
The chickens are enjoying their extended adolescence, they are due to start laying any day now, in fact, they might be laying and hiding their eggs from us, ignoring that lovely next box I installed for them.  They will be 24 weeks old tomorrow, according to the books and websites they can start laying anytime from 20-26 weeks, but there has been no sign of eggs.  They have started to make horrendous noises that sound like strangling geese, which chickens do during and after laying an egg.  I have searched to see if their are any little warm brown orbs awaiting us, but I have found nothing.

The girls are also enjoying all the millet that falls from the bird feeder. The birds are starting to discover it, but the squirrels will need to remove their fuzzy little behinds once in a while for the wild birds to have any chance of tasting the sunflower seeds.  The first winter we were here, we didn't see any squirrels, this year we are very nearly overrun with the critters.  Maybe it is because we have had two mild winters in a row, or maybe it is because I asked the neighbor kid with the BB gun not to use it on our property. (When we bought the house we had to replace two windows because BBs had damaged them.)

Three more "starting at 500K" houses have begun to be erected down the street. I have visited people who live in similar homes, they seem like giant caverns and are not very homey.  The ones I have seen have almost no furniture in them, so they seem that much more cavernous.   I find it interesting that the lower ceilinged rooms adjacent to the caverns have furniture and appear as if they are used, unlike the cavernous spaces. The practical New Englander in me thinks about the heating bills for cathedral ceilings. I am certainly glad that I won't be writing those checks.  The tree hugger in me thinks about the energy wastage associated with having those soaring ceilings and the real spacial needs of an average family.  The city planner in me thinks about the traffic that will be caused by the sprawling American landscape and the disconnected society caused by poor neighborhood design.  The farmer in me thinks about the loss of the farmland that the houses have usurped and that it would be cool if they landscaped with food bearing plants.  The mom in me thinks about how many more kids will be crammed onto my daughter's bus (which was an issue earlier this year), they forget when they set the bus capacity that each child will be bearing a 25 lb or more backpack and half of those students will tote band instruments three times a week.  I hope no one  in those new houses plays the tuba. It would still be better than the third world buses I have ridden with women carrying baskets of flowers or crates of chickens on their heads, with everyone packed so tightly that there was no chance of standees falling down if the bus stopped suddenly.
I digress, but my whole blog is one giant digression...