Preserving for Baby (and for soup!)

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We had already preserved carrots, and broccoli, green beans, and peaches.  We got a few more bags from another farm that we wanted to turn into baby food.  We were on a time crunch to make it happen before it went to waste.  We had a long to-do list of other chores to get done and there really wasn’t enough to can, so we tried something else.

We started with green beans.  We cooked them for a few minutes in boiling water and drained them.  When they cooled a bit, we put them in the food processer.  Then we poured the puree into cocktail size ice cube trays.  Two ounces, perfect!

Then we repeated the process with the broccoli.  The next morning, the cubes were solid and we transferred them to freezer bags.  Labeled, of course!  Stuff looks suspiciously similar come early spring!

We did the same thing with the carrots and simply pureed the peaches.

We have some jars of baby food that we thought to make while we were canning, Asian pears, apple sauce, squash.  We can easily puree any of the canned items we have already put up.  We can feed her quite a bit of our own meals squished up.  But, this will be nice for Emily.  She simply has to defrost some cubes overnight and will have baby food at the ready.

As I was putting away cubes of carrots, I thought this would be a great way to store extra vegetables coming out of the garden.  Not quite enough to can, but certainly enough to add flavor and extra vegetables to soups and other recipes throughout the winter.

Just one more way to preserve the bounty!

Autumn’s Face

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The chill in the air awakens again

A peaceful fog has just rolled in

Pull my flannel closer, a warm embrace

Take in Autumn’s beautiful face

The leaves are donning their new painted cloaks

From Wood Vine to the grand old Oaks

Sienna, Gold, Crimson, brilliant dresses

Trees showing off their bold tresses

Warm sun peeks through, shines on my upturned face

Nostalgic wood smoke warms the space

Embracing a cup of steaming spiced Chai

A brilliant azure Autumn sky

From One Zoo to Another

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When your own zoo gets too crazy, where should you go?  Another zoo, of course!

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I teeter between opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to animals.  I have supported PETA.  I have befriended ranchers.  I do not wear fur.  I wear used leather.  I am vegetarian (previously vegan).  I am not opposed to people eating humanely raised and killed meat.  I support animals rights.  I have never understood the uproar about zoos.  A lifelong zoo visitor, I find respite and peace among the talking peacocks, the yawning lions, the playful cubs, the swinging monkeys, and the lilting elephants.

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The exception being some places that call themselves zoos (such as Amarillo, Texas…what the hell?) where the animals are kept in closet sized spaces alone for all to see and some people’s back yards.  We have sought out zoos all across the country as we travel.  Our honeymoon was at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.  We are lucky in Colorado to have two of the best zoos in the country, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and the Denver Zoo.  And these are where we flee when we need a break.

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Some people may feel it is cruel to keep animals cooped up and that their place is in the wild.  This is all well and good except that the majority of these animals are endangered.  You see, we people like to kill anything inconvenient to our existence, chop down rainforests, and encroach on animal territory.  So, if we want Okapis, and Rhinos, and Snow Leopards to survive, we have to start breeding them again, give them fabulous places to roam, and provide them a safe life.  Plus, these animals have never seen the wild.  They have been born in captivity, their first ancestors likely rescued after injury or exploitation.  It is all they know, and they seem happy lazily lying around or swinging from trees!  The conservation efforts of good zoos is indeed impressive.  They raise considerable funds that go to animals still living in the wild to keep them safe and thriving.  Every time you go to a good zoo, you support the lives of wild animals around the globe.

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Even though the zoo is a homeschooling parent’s treasure trove (animal biology, geography, history), one does not need children to go to the zoo.  We have been to the zoo throughout our own childhoods, and with our own children countless times, but we have also been there plenty of times by ourselves, holding hands, walking through the park.  Occasionally riding the carousel and waving madly at monkeys.

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This time we had a special treat.  Our granddaughter’s first trip to the zoo.  Maryjane loves animals and enjoyed every moment, only tuckering out for a few moments before she was up again.  We spent more time perusing the zoo than we ever have before and we were all tired and pleased by the end.  We completed the day with Maryjane picking out a stuffed animal as souvenir, blowing kisses to the mongooses, and promising to come back soon.

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The Most Sincere Chicken Egg

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We live in a little house on a busy street.  We have two lots so it lives big, but we have neighbors, traffic, and street lights.  There are no chickens allowed in the front yard.  They have a large area in the back yard where they have taken over the swing, the lawn chairs, the outdoor dining area, and the fire pit.  They have a large, comfy coop, dogs to play with, laundry to pull off the line, and the back porch to play on and under.  It’s freakin’ Disneyland for chickens back there.  They seem happy enough and we don’t see them attempting to get out all that often.

Wading through the pumpkin patch yesterday to find the perfect pumpkin to roast, I gingerly sifted through the large spiky leaves, and tall grass.  As I lifted a limb of the choke cherry near a large pumpkin leaf, there lay eighteen beautiful eggs.  I stood there a bit dumbfounded.  ‘Could it be a duck?’ I thought.  Far fetched I am sure.  Farm fetched more like it.  Could it be Leo’s chickens across the street?  Robin eggs?  As my mind raced wildly for an explanation I came to the more realistic conclusion that one of the chickens has been out hoeing around the front yard.  I know who it is.  Sophia.  She is as naughty as she is lovely.  I have seen her running around the side yard a few times but thought I had just caught her.  Apparently she loves pumpkin patches as much as I do!

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Doug said, “That’s not the Great Pumpkin!  That’s the Great Chicken Egg!”

(Perhaps a little early for Halloween references, but we feel that It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! is a year round classic that should be quoted at will.  I do hope you will indulge your inner child and watch it!)

That Girl Ain’t Right

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She is a loner.  She doesn’t hang out with the other girls.  While the other chickens are perched upon the racks, cuddled all together to keep out the chill in the air, she perches above them to sleep.  When we open the chicken door in the morning, we open it, and then hide behind the door because Aretha thinks she is a good flyer.  She will promptly fly into your face, the wall, or a nearby bucket.

She looks so funny with her small stature and her crazy white feather hairdo, that she could be a little mad.  Oh, and now she bites.  Doug says they are love bites, but they kind of blister because she doesn’t just peck.  After Shyanne came over to check on the chickens while we were gone she sent me a ranting text.  Your %$#@ mongrel chicken just %^&* bit me!  Yup, that chicken ain’t right.  Even the rooster doesn’t go near her.

Our friends, Rodney and Pat, that I write about often, have a twelve year old son, Mark.  As soon as he comes over, he heads straight to the chicken coop.  They live in the city.  They have cats and dogs.  As far as I know, this kid has no experience with chickens.  But they love him.  He scoops up his girls, Aretha and Ginger (the Polish Rocks), and with one under each arm, coddles them and walks around the yard.  So, she has her exception of whom she is partial to.

She doesn’t bite me, but when I go to pet her she is often walking around in a daze.  No eggs yet.  Just a crazy teenage girl.  Perhaps she’ll grow out of it.

The Delicious Journey to Food Self Sufficiency

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It’s become a bit of a game.  We sit down and see how much of the meal came from our farmstead.  The best are frittatas.  The eggs are ours.  The vegetables piled in it are ours.  The cheese and cream are the only things that I didn’t produce.  (Okay, mental note, try goats again…or a big, fat cow that can’t escape…)  The bread is homemade but I didn’t grow the wheat.  (Could I grow wheat here?)  Can’t wait until this wine was made here!  (I guess I better grow some grapes.)  The peaches were not grown here, but were grown locally, and canned by me.

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Next meal; Sustainable fish (sure wish I had a stocked pond), mashed potatoes (from the garden), corn bread (we’ll see if I am producing my own cornmeal this winter from my experiment!).  Grape juice from Aunt Donna’s garden.

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How far into self sufficiency can one go?  I can try to grow nearly all my own fruits and vegetables, enough to eat and enough to preserve.  With the help of other friend’s gardens, this may be possible.  (I have choke cherries, they have apples…we can trade.)  I learned a lot this year on just how much I need to grow to provide meals and winter stores.  I also learned that some of the vegetables take up a lot of space and take a long time to grow.  That space could be used for more intense growing of common vegetables that don’t take as long to mature like beets, green beans, early tomatoes, etc..

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I could get a cow or a couple of goats and have milk, butter, and cheese.  I have chickens, so I have eggs.  Ducks might be fun next year.  We are not into “harvesting” our own animals but we did grow a lot of beans for protein this year!

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Could I grow grains?  This year we have our corn experiment to see if the varieties I planted will indeed dry nicely and become cornmeal and/or popcorn.

My mini-orchards hate it here.  They promptly pop off and die.  Maybe I can sneak a few trees into a different spot, water well,  and hope they don’t realize they are at my house!   They might just grow!

Food Self sufficiency Checklist:

1. Can we grow our own protein?  Beans, legumes, fish, eggs, milk, cheese

2. Can we grow our own grains?  Wheat, buckwheat, corn, oats

3. Can we grow our own vegetables?  Spacing out vegetables so that there is something to eat in every season?

4. Can we grow our own fruit?  Trees and bushes (We rent, is it worth it?  If we get one good harvest, I’d say so.)

5. Can I preserve enough for winter?  I think so!

6. How about sweets?  Honey, maple (I don’t have any maple trees though…)

We could do all these things, especially with bartering, and help from friends, and careful planning.

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Further self sufficiency would be moving somewhere with a well.  A wood stove.  A forested area for mushrooms and wood, as well as an open area for farming.  An area for animals to free range.  A place to grow fodder.

It seems like it is a never ending goal.  And perhaps it is a lifetime goal.  I’ll probably never be able to harvest yeast, or salt, or other valuable items in the homestead kitchen.  So, maybe it is about the journey.  One thing at a time.

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This year we had the most stunning garden.  People stop us in Walmart to ask if that is where we live.  People honk and wave as they go by.  People know us by our garden.  We have stored, frozen, dehydrated, and canned over six hundred items so far for winter.  We have saved money for the winter.  We have learned new skills like spinning, knitting, farming.  We have learned from failures; fencing in goats, bird netting over the chicken coop, making jam…I mean syrup.  We grew enough to eat, but not a lot to preserve.  (We got cases of veggies from one of my farmer friends to preserve.)  Next year, I will plan better.  I will use my root cellar checklist to order seeds!

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We are ready for our next homesteading lessons.  Right after we rest a spell from this crazy homesteading summer!

Farmgirl Business

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Now, I don’t mean business as in financial business.  Though every good farmgirl should know how to create and run a business as well as keep a household running for under $25K a year.  I am meaning personal business.  I know we farmgirls are busy gardening, canning, working, keeping a family together, cleaning the house, taking care of animals, taking care of everyone else, and getting hot food on the table every day, but Honey, there comes a time when we farmgirls need a break.  At the point that one finds themself without a shower for a week, ready to throw hubby out, close to strangling one or two animals, whilst planning one’s runaway to California to a.) Join the circus or b.) Get a job in a vineyard, one may consider taking a few moments of rest and recuperation and pulling oneself together.  For nervous breakdowns in farmgirls are neither attractive nor practical.

Now, go get that cocktail and your farm book…or trashy romance…and relax a bit.

To Screw or Cork…

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A few years back we were sitting in an upscale wine bar, twinkly lights abounded, a joyful dancing fire warmed in the large fireplace,  It was our monthly wine tasting event and we were cozy with the owner at a table as people milled around sampling, catching up on the month’s events.  I came back to the table with my next sampling.

“This wine has a screw cap!”  Giggle, giggle, shake my head.

I could see that Lee had explained this many times and just as he had explained to me how to pronounce meritage, he patiently explained to me the reason for screw caps.

Cork is endangered, actually.  It is a tree.  And we sure use a lot of it to make floors, and wine corks, and corkboard.  One could choose the plastic type corks but they expand and contract.  So does the cork, actually.

The wine maker pouring the wines cut in.  “Every one in one hundred bottles gets oxygen into it via the cork.  That ruins the wine.  I only have one shot at getting people to fall in love with my wine,” he says, “It may not seem like a lot, but one out of a hundred people are not going to re-purchase or try my wines again because of it.  Screw caps keep oxygen out better than plastic or corks.”

This is also cost effective and helps keep wines affordable.

“Do you know how much I paid for that wine?” my dinner guest exclaimed ($13), “I can’t believe it has a screw cap on it!”

I proceeded to tell her what I just told you.  It wasn’t until last night that I remembered my own lesson.  I had bought different bottles of wine during the week but had taken them to friend’s houses and left it or my friends drank it all at my house.  (I helped.)  Last night I wanted a glass.  I had three bottles of half drunk wine.  One vinegary, one really vinegary, and the one with the screw cap.  Doug poured me a glass of the screw capped one.  I hesitantly sniffed it since it  was about ten days old and after four, we typically pitch it.  It smelled of Sangiovese, of Italian countryside, fresh currants, and cinnamon….

Ah, screw caps, you spoil me.

Harvest

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The sun came out and bounced off the crystal droplets that held fast to the plants in a great display of shimmer.  The water evaporated and the plants took a great breath of the fresh autumn air.  We headed out in sweaters with baskets to see what Mother Nature had left us.  Like Easter morning, our eyes full of wonder, searching for treasures within the rows.

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Doug deftly found the beans that we are drying for winter stews and chilies.  He filled quite a bag full.  I found rich purple and red tomatoes, bright spicy chilies, and sweet, small peppers.  Ear, after ear, after ear of corn.  The other side of the gardens yielded two gallons of Swiss chard, kale, and collard greens.  A gallon of fresh lettuce.  A bag of soybeans to eat in front of a football game boiled just right with a little sea salt and chipotle.  The last onion.  A handful of cherry tomatoes.  Spicy radishes making their second debut this year brought a spring to my step with each peppery bite.  Piles of earthy potatoes just waiting to join onions and garlic in the cast iron skillet.  And pumpkins.  I do love pumpkins.

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Through worry and work, through screwy weather and days of bliss watching the plants grow, this is truly the reward.  Seeing the rich palette of colors that start to glow and brighten the world in a majestic show.

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Happy Harvesting!

To Become a Farmer

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To become a farmer you must have an overwhelming desire to feed yourself, your family, and part of the city.  You must have an intense desire to teach young people where their food comes from (and adults…a woman came up to my friend’s farm booth at the market and asked why the carrots had dirt on them seeings how they grow on trees….my friend just walked away speechless.) because there are an astounding number of people that do not know where their food comes from!

A lady had an argument with me at the wine bar one time because she knew that cows always have milk to give their whole lives and do not have a need to give birth.

My hair stylist did not know that pepperoni was meat.

If the grocery stores closed in an emergency (like the one we are experiencing now in my state of Colorado), folks are going to starve!  Children worry they will starve to death as they trample wild foods (weeds), and do not know what to do with seeds.  We must teach and grow food!  I rather fear I have that inextinguishable desire to be a farmer.

To become a farmer, one must be quite clever on space or inherit a large amount of land.  I was feeling pretty smug about my quarter acre of garden this year.  Everything looks wonderful and the food tastes wholesome and delicious.  I envisioned a bit of California in our small town of Kiowa, where one could leave work and come by to pick up a few things as inspiration for a fresh, flavorful dinner.  Pop by my house and pick up a big handful of tomatoes, some crisp heirloom lettuce, a pumpkin to roast, some corn to butter.  I have one person that was coming to the farm.

“Do you have a bushel of green beans?”

“No, I just have enough today for a really great side dish.”

“Oh.”

The next week, “Do you have a bushel of tomatoes?”

“Um, no, I have enough for you to make some really great pasta sauce tonight.”

“Oh.”

Most of the food is going to us, which is what I intended primarily anyway!

To become a farmer, you must not want to sleep.  You must be perfectly in tune with every sound on the farm and be able to hear those little deer rascals eating the green beans, or the raccoons partying in the corn, or the squirrels making away with the sunflower heads!  (Okay, the latter is really cute and alright with me.)  My friends who have large farms are up late picking and harvesting, up early loading trucks, and on the road across the state by dawn.  They sleep in January.  We, too, with all the farmer’s markets, farming, and classes are just now catching up on some shut eye.  But, as the old adage goes, You can sleep when you’re dead!

To become a farmer, you must not want to quit.  You must be a stubborn, determined, half sane from lack of sleep, passionate person.  My friend has had a farm for nearly 100 years in his family.  He is tired, but he is a work horse.  Someone offered him two million dollars for his land last week.  They did not want to farm it, just hold it for investment.  Joe thought of the possibility for a second or two, but then he turned it down.  Two days later, he awoke in the middle of the night suddenly (because he is a farmer and one must not sleep if one is a farmer) and went outside.  The rain was coming down in incredible sheets and he could not see his truck.  It was underwater.  He quickly waded through and turned on the pumps in the fields and because of that they are muddy, but the crops are still alive.  His farm is literally underwater (as is most of our state) and they have not found two of their trucks yet!

A farmer must be very forgetful.  Forget about the fires.  The drought.  The hail.  The scorching sun.  The 100 year flood.  The seed loss.  The debt.  If one stops to think of it, two million will sound quite nice.  No, a farmer must forget about varmints, and floods that wash away semi-trucks.  Next year, Joe will be out there planting again because it is in his blood, full knowing that something will try to destroy his farming season.

Writing all this, I see that I should become a secretary or a truck driver.  But, I am just watching for the rain to let up so I can go harvest my crops!  I will be planting next year as well.  And I will have a larger farm one day.  And I will be sleep deprived, stubborn, forgetful….what was I saying?  Oh, I am already there.  This makes me a perfect candidate to be a farmer.  There is no other place on earth for me.  Break in the rain, I have to get outside!!..