Friday, October 31, 2014

Wild Asparagus and Magic Insulation

I'm not tired of taking pictures of the sky when I'm at the farm house, so brace your self for a future of fluffy clouds and streaking sunsets.  Last weekend, as Puck and I took a walk down the long driveway to turn the water on to the house, the sky was magnificent.  My cell phone camera takes awesome panoramic photos too, but I haven't figured out how to post them on this blog.  Let me know if you have any advise.  

I volunteered to walk down to the water meter because I wanted to get a close up view of some wispy vegetation I spotted in the lower west field.  Could it be...?

Asparagus!  I was chasing the wild asparagus, at last!  I also found a small patch in another field, once I realized I should look for it.  I hope I remember in the spring so I can steal some stalks for the grill.  

It's strange to look at these photos, which are only a week old, and realize that the world was recently so green.  Now the trees and the fields are golden yellow and brown.  In the photo above you can see how long our walk to the water meter is.  Just imagine, someday soon, we can wash our hands without first having to take a long walk!  I might miss it.  

Am I tired of insulation?  Yes.  But I still get excited when we fill in some of the major gaps, like the kitchen wall in the photo above.  Notice that the kitchen ceiling is not insulated in the photo.  

Then, like magic, it has insulation!  I wish the process was more like waving a magic wand and less like straining with my arms over my head and getting fiberglass in my sweaty skin.  I guess that's the appeal of hiring someone else do messy jobs like this.  I recently had a conversation with a friend who was trying to persuade me to hire someone to do the drywall instead of doing it ourselves.  His argument was that it would save us the trouble, probably look better, and it wouldn't be that expensive.  Ha!  It doesn't matter how inexpensive it is when you compare it to not paying for labor.  

I agree that a professional will do it faster though, if we could even get someone to actually show up. We hired someone to install the metal roof since we don't like heights, and we tried to get someone to give us an estimate for some gas line work but he never called us back after we repeatedly tried to get something from him.  We even had someone give us an estimate for electrical work, and then couldn't get them to come do the job.  While waiting for them to come, Brandon figured out how to do it himself.   I think there must be a shortage of handymen in the world, because no one seems to want to work on projects of this scale.  Oh well, more for me I guess.  

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!  Unlike last year, when we went all out on our viking party raiding party costumes, this year the most fun I've had with Halloween frivolity is to take goofy selfies wearing the plastic teeth my dentist gave me as a reward for good behavior during visit.  I like the one above because I look especially deranged with my googly eyeballs!  

Maybe it was the Novocaine that prompted me to stand in the back yard and howl with the dog?!

Watch out Mrs. Hall, I'm going to suck your blood!  She was not amused.  

Wait, are these Dracula teeth, werewolf teeth, or confused cave woman teeth, because I can't tell? 

Who needs laughing gas when the shear relief from being released from the dentist chair can induce this sort of behavior!  

Puck, You Want to Take a Walk?

There are certain words that make Puck extra excited, and one of the word combinations that sends him over the edge is "Do you want to take a walk?".  Saying those words while putting on my gym shoes nearly sends him head over paws on his way to the door as he careens off the walls and slides on the rugs.  He doesn't really believe it's actually going to happen though, until he sees me pull the door closed while he's still on the outside of it, and his anticipation for that moment makes him shiver all over while he holds his breath and crouches in readiness.  Once the door is closed, he turns for the front gate so fast his front legs come off the ground like a miniature stallion rearing.  Well, he looks a little more like a chubby dwarfish pony than a stallion, for sure, but he's very majestic in his attitude anyway.  He loves going for a walk so much that it's great motivation for me.  

We don't walk in our neighborhood though, since we don't enjoy being lunged at by scary dogs behind fences and yipped at by the herds of tiny house dogs that prowl our streets (have you ever tried to kick a tiny dog?  They are so fast it's impossible!).  Instead, we take a one minute drive to the nearby walking track on the grounds of a historic mansion. 

In years past, before the trail was built, we walked the long road to the mansion, which never had any traffic since the mansion closes in the evening and we had the road all to ourselves.  But a few years ago a small lake and walking trail was built there.  At first Puck and I were sort of grumpy about having other people at "our place," but we've come to appreciate the track and the lake so much that we don't mind to share.  

We haven't been taking our walks all summer, and poor Puck is becoming even more of a couch potato than me.  He only gets a quarter of a cup of cat food in the morning, and a cup of dog food in the evening, and he's still getting fat.  I'm not sure why I can exercise for my dog's benefit more readily than I can my own benefit, but it's true.  We have been making a little more effort to get back in the walking groove, and it's been very good for both of us.  The trail has lots of lovely things to admire, like the herds of young steers in the photo above.  

There are always beautiful skies, and I take every opportunity to stop for photos so we can catch our breath at the top of the hills.

Not only are there pretty cows and sunsets, there are running people.  Of all the different shapes of people you can see, running people may be the nicest shaped of all.  If we have to share our place with other people, at least they are pretty ones. 

And of course, there is the historic mansion and the sprawling fields that surround it.  Puck and I are fortunate to have such a nice place to walk, and as excited as I am to move to the farm house, I will regret leaving our walking place behind.  

Don't be fooled by those stubby little legs, Puck walks so fast he shows up blurry in my photos!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Chicken Liver and Onions

I used to think chicken liver was gross.  Then, I butchered some chickens, and now I know chicken liver is gross!  It's squishy and pink, and attached to the intestines by a green sac of bile. Totally gross (in a very fascinating way).  But here's the thing, everything about a chicken is gross in that way.  I never thought drumsticks were gross, or chicken wings, but now that I've severed the tendons in a chicken knee to create a drumstick, and pulled the giant wing feathers from the edge of the chicken wing, I know just how gross a bucket of KFC really is.  Trust me, chicken liver isn't any grosser than the rest of it, and KFC tastes mighty good.  

There's something about harvesting my own chicken liver that makes it more palatable too.  Not only did I observe the heath of the entire bird, including all of it's organs, I know I was extra careful when butchering, which is probably why I can't eviscerate a chicken in three seconds like they can do at a processing plant.   And because of all the trouble it takes to raise a chicken and butcher it, I feel just greedy enough to investigate how to prepare chicken liver in a way that Brandon and I will enjoy, so I don't waste any of that effort.  

My mother claims that my brothers and I liked chicken liver when were were little kids, and that we actually preferred the soft texture to other meats.  I'm not sure a what age we all decided it was gross, but I'm guessing it was around the time we were big enough to open the refrigerator and see the gross styrofoam cup of shiny raw pink organ.  If you asked Brandon if he liked chicken liver before last year, he would be also be very adamant that it was gross too.  I'm beginning to think the gross factor of chicken liver is directly related to age, because when I started to survey my friends, I realized that everyone my age or younger got the same disgusted look on their face when I mentioned chicken liver, and then would proceed to tell me about some older relative who actually liked liver, which they were using as evidence of this person's obvious derangement. 

Having lots of chicken liver in my freezer has encouraged me to cook some.  I tried chicken liver pot pie, which was good, and a way for us to get a taste for it when it was disguised as little chunks mixed with lots of other ingredients.  I chopped it up very fine and put it in the thanksgiving gravy last year, and no one complained.   Then, I sauteed some vegetables and cooked small pieces of liver in the same skillet.  We liked it.  So last week, I bravely made the classic liver and onions, by dredging the liver in flour and browning them in butter.  These were obviously livers.  A lot of liver, actually.  Final verdict?  The opposite of gross!  Delicious.  We even looked forward to the leftovers.   I think we have officially graduated to the deranged older person liver lover category.  I can't wait to tell my nieces and nephew! 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Blue Bus Goes Feral in the Sunlight

Brandon and I finally spent a few hours at our blue bus in the woods last week.  I miss the bus.  I know that someday, when we have the farm house put back together, and get some of our favorite farm projects under way, we will come back to lazy days playing at the bus, chopping firewood, swinging in hammocks, cooking on the campfire, and watching wildlife, but right now I'm just glad to know that the bus is waiting for us should we decide to visit it.  

Our trail through the woods to the bus is nearly reverted back to it's wild state, and has small trees and vines growing throughout.  This doesn't bother me though, since I know that most folks don't like blazing new trails through snake and spider habitat, so the blue bus is protected from vandals by it's isolation.  I've always thought the bus looked like it has personality, and now that the leaves are falling to coat the top and hood of the bus, and algae is turning the paint blueish green, I think it's getting a feral glint in it's eyes, like the flying car from the Harry Potter stories, that lives wild in the forbidden forest.  

I took the photo above through the hazy back window while I waited for Brandon to find the door key.  Now that the forest canopy isn't so thick, I love the way the sunlight shines in the windows and makes the couch look very inviting for a nap.  We always joke that this is our favorite thing about the bus - it's the perfect place to take a nap, and Brandon in particular never misses a chance!  It's something about the quite sounds of the forest, I think, and the relaxing feeling that comes when sitting in the bus and watching the leaves sway in the wind and the light dance on the trees, and realizing there's nothing that has to be done, it's all just for fun, so what's the hurry.  Why not take a nap?

The photo above was taken looking up while I stood on the back deck.  The leaves were green and gold and shimmered in the sunlight.  Some of the most beautiful trees are the large sugar maples.  I always tell myself that I'm going to tap the sugar maple trees during the late winter, and make some maple syrup  But, I always take a nap instead.    

Puck is standing next to a fallen dead tree, which I expected to come down someday, and was very worried would come down on top of the bus.  Thank goodness it didn't.  Instead of lamenting broken windows and crumpled metal, I was excited to have firewood delivered right where we can use it.  I hope we are always so lucky.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Garden Surprises

I haven't been giving my garden much attention.  Here, or on the ground, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been busy without me.  Look at all that basil!

I pulled all the leaves off of one of the two plants, and brought them in the house in order to encourage myself to make some pesto.  After all the pesto I made last year, I was surprised to find out that we are completely out just in time to make some more, which means we eat a lot of pesto if we have it.  

This year I poured half a bag of walnuts in the food processor, and then put in several large handfuls of garlic, which I grew out at the farm, poured in some olive oil and whirred it to mush.  Then I threw in some Parmesan cheese and all of the basil from that big plant in the top photo.  Once it was all blended together, I give Jame and Brandon both small bites and enjoyed their hoots and expressions when all that strong garlic and basil hit their sinuses.  Ha!  Despite the strong flavor, I'm happy to report that the pizza we made with the basil was delicious.  This has encouraged me to turn the other plant into pesto as well.       

The chard gets the gold star for the most prolific garden plant this year.  I feel like the more leaves I pull off to eat, the quicker it makes more leaves.  It's amazing that so few plants can make so much green food.  The carrots in the foreground of the photo above have been in the ground since the spring, which makes me think they will be tough and bitter.  One of these days I'm going to pull them up and eat one, but mostly I've just picked off the green leaves and added them to our green juice and green smoothies.  Apparently, the carrot leaves are just as healthy as the root, and like the chard, the more I pick off, the more leaves the carrots make.  

The beans on the bean tepee are finished, and as the pods turn brown I bring them in the house to continue to dry.  I didn't eat many of these beans this summer, but I have enough saved that I can plant even more next year.  I plan to save more zinnia seeds too, since I've really enjoyed having the flowers scattered though the garden beds.  

Wait, whats that yellow I see!  I had no idea the summer squash were still doing stuff, and was very surprised to find a giant zucchini and three yellow summer squash.  

I love it when I find unexpected edibles.  It's like a have bonus foods!

For some reason, Mrs. Hall has decided that she prefers the top of the tomato cages for roosting now.  This is nice for fertilizer deposition, but what's wrong with the coop?  

Did I plant okra?  Obviously that weedy rectangle in the corner of the garden I've been ignoring all summer was supposed to be an okra patch, and now that the pods are old and turning yellow I can see them in the weeds.  I really should learn to take garden notes.  

The tomatoes have stopped getting ripe, but there are still green ones hanging on the vine.  I have several recipes for using green tomatoes, and I like them fried in a skillet too.  

My onions get the gold star for worst performing garden plant this year.  Other than some small green onions, most of them just disappeared into the parsley forest.  I think I didn't observe the rules of companion planting or appropriate spacing, and my onion harvest suffered for it.  The parsley is  doing great though.  Just when I thought the garden was done, it surprises me.  

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fall Color and Acorn Harvest

Have you ever seen the strange pink and orange seed pods of our native strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus)?  I remember finding these when I was a kid and thinking it was the weirdest thing I had ever seen.  Who ever thought those colors should go together!  

The fall colors never seem as brilliant in my cell phone pictures as they look in real life.  I took these forest photos a few weeks ago from my parents driveway.  

Some of the prettiest color was from the sassafras trees.  In the photo above, you can see one of the leaves with three lobes.  Some sassafras leaves have no lobes, and some look like a mitten, with only one lobe sticking out like a thumb.  

Even though the leaves are falling from the trees, it doesn't mean the garden has given up.  In fact, the parsley and Swiss chard are growing better now than they did all through the hot summer.  I've been picking bundles like this often, and making green smoothies or juices.  

And look at all the acorns from my parents big tree!  From what I've read, if you want to make acorn flour, it's best to process the harvested acorns as soon as you can.  Unfortunately, mom sent Jamie home with an entire bucket of acorns just as I left town for several days, and because I was busy it was several more days until we got around to sorting the good ones from the bad ones.  

In that time, not only did the acorns sprout, but little white maggoty looking worms began to emerge from some of them!  

Despite separating the good ones from the bad ones, Jamie and I were a little grossed out after seeing the worms, which may be one of the reasons why I still have trays of acorns sitting on my washer and dryer more than a week later!  

The other reason I have acorns instead of acorn flour, is the amount of work it takes to make the flour.  Jamie and I used baseball bats and smashed a bunch of acorns, which wasn't easy.  Then we realized that we have to pick the nut meats from the shells, dry them, leach them, and then grind them up.  Whoa.  I see now why I've never had acorn products despite the abundance of oak trees.  I also see that I may have trays of acorns on my dryer indefinably unless I'm ready to admit defeat and put them out for the chickens.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Buckets of Sore Muscles

If you remember, I did a little research this summer to find the best time to transplant some of my favorite perennial flowers out to the farm.  It seems that September is the ideal time for most, so of course it took me until October to be sufficiently pressured by this dead line to actually do the work!  

As we were preparing to leave our suburban house for a work day at the farm, I grabbed a bucket and shovel and started to dig up a few iris bulbs.  Needing another bucket, Brandon scrounged up at an entire stack, which he then preceded to fill with plants.  I was very happy to finally get the transplants I wanted, but I was a little worried that his helpfulness was going to make a much bigger job for me than I planned for the day.  A dozen buckets filled with plants equals a very long day of planting and several days of very sore muscles.    

If I already had established flower beds, more time, or stronger muscles, I probably wouldn't have had such a long hard day.  By the time I would dig up the sod, like I did around the cistern in the photo above, I was extremely glad to fall to my knees and arrange the bulbs while I caught my breath. 

I also took every opportunity to pause for a photo shoot, like when this caterpillar with the pretty yellow stripes went inching by.  Maybe this is a smartweed caterpillar (Acronicta sp.)?  I moved him out of my way and placed him on the top of the cistern, where he was immediately attacked by tiny ants.  So, I scooped him back up and placed him by the barn, thinking he would be out of harms way. 

But then I found this large praying mantis on the side of the barn.  If you've ever seen the art work of Catherine Chalmers (check out the food chain series here), then you know that placing your caterpillar in vicinity of a praying mantis is not a good idea!

On the other side of the barn was this large wolf spider.  If you zoom in on the photo you can see that she is loaded down with her infants as she carries them on her back.  This is the problem with relocating wildlife - there's already somebody living in every nook and cranny of this old farm!  

I dug up sod and planted irises, peonies, lilies, and wild flowers until the sun was setting.   At that point, Brandon stopped his work in the house to help me, and I'm pretty sure we were so desperate to be finished that the last few buckets of plants were planted in random places in the yard, with little planning or thought about composition.  It's sort of difficult to worry about composition when you can't see in the dark.  If they survive, maybe someday I'll have time to think about moving them to more appropriate locations.  Maybe.  I did manage to pick the low hanging fruit from the apple tree on one of my many recuperation breaks.  

After all my work pruning the apple tree last winter, I think I got fewer apples, and more spots, than the year before!  
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