Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How To Meet Your Country Neighbors

When you move to the country, it can be difficult to get to know your neighbors. Houses are separated by considerable distance, you don't physically see your neighbors much, if at all, and country folks are generally wary of strangers driving onto their property unannounced. The quickest way to remedy this situation is to wake up in the morning and discover that you're hosting someone's loose cattle on your land. This was how I began Saturday morning. The dogs were barking outside the kitchen door and I looked out to see a longhorn (with three friends) standing on the opposite side of our stock tank. We're still trying to figure out how they got in. Upon later inspection, no openings could be found in the fence, and if they had managed to get across our cattle guard, they'd have walked right past our front door. Surely one of us, or the dogs, would have noticed THAT. Again, I'm lamenting another missed photo opportunity. I'm not sure why on earth it didn't occur to me at the time to take a picture. I guess I got caught up in the moment.

In the course of 24 hours, we met the cattle rancher up the road (who, it turns out, doesn't own these particular cows), the man who takes care of these cows and the father and son that actually DO own them. They were all quite friendly, and it was good to finally have some face time with the folks we share a fence line with. I feel worlds better about having met and talked to them. I also have it on the cattleman's authority that if my goats ever end up on their side of the fence, I'm not to worry. He said, "They'll be fine over there. Feel free to walk on in and get 'em."


Monday, February 23, 2009

All I Want Is Some Hay

Sorry to be fairly quiet lately, but goat preparations are full-tilt. I've spent many, many hours working on their barn and paddock. I moved a 3 foot high by 5 foot wide stack of lumber out of the area that will be their yard, which means I moved the entire stack about 30 feet. I smashed my thumb with the hammer at least 30 times hanging tin sheets on the newly framed barn walls. I reached into deep, dark, scary places and uncovered unspeakable things. I raked. And I raked. And I raked. And still, we're not quite finished. We're close enough to taste victory, but not quite there yet.

All the while, I've been shopping. Goats are complex creatures and have needs far surpassing those of a motley bunch of farmyard fowl. I've bought milk pails and medicine, hoof trimmers and hay racks, feeders and first aid kits. But the single most elusive thing I've had to buy for these goats? HAY. That's right, hay.

If you take a drive through my neck of the woods (or rather, prairie), you generally can't go a mile or two without seeing rolls and rolls of hay sitting patiently in freshly mown fields. Likewise, you can't go any distance without spotting signs along fence lines advertising hay for sale. You've seen the ones I mean - the handpainted wooden sign that simply says:

(555) 555-1234

Yet somehow, now that I'm actually trying to procure hay, I'm finding it extremely difficult to get the right kind in the quantity I need. Since most folks around here raise cattle, there's an abundance of hay for, well, cattle. This is not the same type of hay that goats generally prefer. Also, small square bales are rather difficult to find. Most of what is available comes in large rounds like the one pictured above, that can't be moved without equipment. I would have to have a round bail delivered, and once it was here, it would be staying wherever they choose to deposit it. Because I'll only have three goats, and will largely be caring for them myself without the aid of heavy machinery, I need small quantities of hay that I can easily move from storage to barn myself - i.e. square bales. I cannot find square bales of Sudan hay to save my soul. I keep trying and striking out. I did manage to score a delivery of 15 square bales of alfalfa, which is coming tomorrow, but that's a bit rich for them to eat all the time, so I still need some squares of good old grass hay for roughage. I keep telling myself that it can't possibly be this hard. They'll be arriving in just a couple of weeks, so the search continues.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

We Have Duck Eggs!

On Saturday, my husband found a wayward egg in the grass near the chicken house. This isn't terribly unusual, so he brought it in and left it to sit on the counter. When I saw it a couple of days later, something became immediately clear to me. This was not a stray egg dropped carelessly by one of our hens. This was, in fact, our very first duck egg! I resolved to watch the ducks carefully from that moment on. Sure enough, one of the females, that very morning, was anxiously pacing outside the closed chicken house, looking desperately for an entry point. I opened the door, and as usual the chickens spilled out in a noisy, black and white wave. The moment the last tail feather crossed the threshhold, our girl was in, and began settling into a small divet she'd made in the pine shavings. There was one egg already in place, and I left her alone to deposit a second one, which she did.

The other female payed her a visit and provided a bit of fussing - helped move pine bedding around just so, confirmed she was comfortable, and then excused herself. The drakes waited steadfastly outside. After about 45 minutes, she emerged, her parcel faithfully delivered. And then there were two.

This morning, the same drill - three eggs today. These ducks are known to be reliable setters, so I'm anxiously awaiting the day she goes in and stays. Then we count the days. And wait.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Where The Seed Meets The Dirt

I just had my first really labor-intensive weekend in the garden. Planting time has begun here, and I had a good bit of prep work still to do before I could get the first seeds in the ground. I gave the whole bed a fresh tilling, set in two rows of bricks down the center to border my main walkway and built two pea trellises with hubby's help (guess who got to dig the post holes?). Not to mention all the little things - a trip to the feed store, raking, smoothing, spot cultivating, marking rows, etc. My garden bed is about 975 square feet - curiously, the same size as my house - so it took a considerable amount of work just to get four things planted. I finally put in four rows of peas, a row of radishes, a row of green onions and two rows of spinach. It was really satisfying to finally get something in the ground after all the obsess...I mean, er, planning...but wow, do I feel like I've been drug through a knothole.

My schedule of abuse for next weekend includes putting in beets, kohlrabi, arugula and some pak choi. I also have blackberries that I need to get planted. I hope to get those in next weekend as well. Since they grow quickly and spread, I'm counting on them to help provide a bit of a wind break for my little garden seedlings. The wind whips through here at 35 mph pretty regularly, and I fear for their welfare. I'll also spread hay over my walkway to prevent having to walk through too much mud when it rains. The long, LONG term plan is to have at least three, maybe four plots of this size. I know it sounds mad, but we'd like to end up with a rotating system where every year we have one planted in vegetables, one planted in grains and/or livestock crops and one resting. If we had four plots, we could have one plot each of grains for us and food for the animals. We'll most likely dig one new plot each year until we either have as many as we want, or decide that we've been hitting the crackpipe too hard and there's no way we can possibly manage any more.

I did get to try out my seed planter from Lehman's that I got for Chrismas. It is positively sick. It works very well. It is a bit fiddly, in that you have to change the planting depth and seed plates all the time and would not be useful at all for anyone planting small quantities of things. But if you have long rows, or a lot of any particular thing, it makes it much easier. No bending, getting up, moving down the row, bending again...blech. Also, I think you might be able to do a certain amount of consolidating - like planting everything that uses the same plate, then changing it out.

We had a milestone this weekend, too. We found our first duck egg! Now I just have to watch for the females to be conspicuously absent - that's when I'll suspect that they're sitting!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Getting A Handle On Domestic Chores

Or, the "dish towel schedule".

I find that it's quite hard to get everything done that I need to get done. Since I began working from home, I actually thought it would be easier, but in fact it's more difficult, in a way. There's a certain freedom that comes from sitting in an office all day, far removed from your piles of dirty laundry and unswept floors. If you can't see them, you won't worry so much about them. Since I'm home all the time, I constantly see things that must be dealt with, and I feel compelled to do them all right now. This means I'm distracted from my work, and never get things done completely or efficiently because I'm constantly stopping to do this or that other thing.

As of today, I'm moving to a new model of domestic management. Or rather, an old one. I'm assigning bigger household tasks their own day of the week. Chores used to be done this way by everyone, for good reason. If structured in a way that works with your schedule, it really can make much better use of your time. This is sometimes called a "dish towel schedule" because apparently housewives used to be able to get dish towels with each day's chore embroidered on it. The standard schedule looks something like this:

MONDAY: washing
TUESDAY: ironing
THURSDAY: marketing
FRIDAY: cleaning
SATURDAY: baking
SUNDAY: rest

Since we have sewing and ironing to do, oh, maybe twice a year, and since we have very long days at the office on Tuesday and Thursday, my schedule will be modified as follows:

MONDAY: washing (this still works great)
TUESDAY: nothing (but I will get everything ready Tuesday night for Wednesday baking)
THURSDAY/FRIDAY: marketing on one of these two days, depending on how much we need, and where we need to go
SATURDAY: big farm tasks
SUNDAY: cleaning first thing in the morning, then rest (or carryover farm tasks from Saturday)

Obviously, some things like dishes and animal chores still must be done daily, but at least this way I won't spend my time fretting over when I'll get a chance to dust or wash towels or buy groceries. It's on the schedule! Today is wash day, and so far it has been quite liberating. I didn't worry at all over the weekend about dirty clothes piling up because I knew they'd be dealt with today, and when I got up this morning I knew exactly what I needed to do.

If you're the type who gets distracted easily or feels bogged down by it all, give this system a try!

It Lives!

The tractor has been resurrected. Welcome back, old friend.

Friday, February 6, 2009

How Do You Like My New Digs?

Spiffy, eh?

Thanks for coming over. All new content will be published here from now on. Links will be added later, when I have the time. They were not migrated over with the rest of the content, so I need to put them all back in one at a time.

Come back soon!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Economic Downturn Cuisine


To give credit where it is due, this post was my husband's idea, and I think it's a great one. Dust off your aprons, because now that everyone's wallet is thinning, it's time to get resourceful. I'm all about eating well (often very well) but there are times when economics dictates that I need to be frugal. I think most of us are at or approaching that point now. My challenge to you is this:


Of course, we have outlined some rules and parameters as follows:

  • The entire meal (not including beverages) must cost $5 or less. No breaking down individual serving costs, either. If you have to buy an entire bunch of celery just to use one stalk, the full purchase price counts. We're pretending that we literally have a five dollar bill, and have to make a meal with it.
  • The meal must serve four average adults. Not football players or supermodels, just average folks. If you'll have leftovers, even better.
  • The meal must contain protein, carbohydrates and vegetables in some form.
  • Takeout, fast food and frozen dinners are not allowed. You have to cook. We had a frozen pizza for dinner last week that cost five bucks, but it DOESN'T COUNT (mmm...it was good, though).
  • Prepared and semi-prepared foods are allowed, but they cannot be served solo. They must be incorporated into a larger dish. For example, you can use a can of cream of mushroom soup in a casserole, but you can't crack open that can of soup, add milk and call it dinner.
  • Because we all always have something lurking in our kitchens no matter how bare they are, I'm allowing two "free" items for each recipe that won't count against your budget. Your free items should be things you'd use in fairly small quantities and are likely to have around anyway - the odd can of creamed corn, some dried parsley, an onion...you get the idea. They should not be the primary ingredient in your dish, and they should not be exotic (no foie gras or shitake mushrooms). I have laying hens, so an egg in a recipe might be one of my free items, or vinegar, because I keep that around all the time.
  • I'm going to assume that everyone has salt, pepper and oil, so those are free no matter what.
There you have it, folks. Those are the rules. It would be really great if everyone actually cooks their meal, but if you don't, at least look at the ingredients the next time you're at the store. Try to use real prices, rather than guessing. The price of some items can vary a lot from day to day and store to store, so try to pretend that you actually have to go through with this. Even better, DO go through with it. Post your submissions to the comments section, and I'll post an update after a week or so.

Happy cooking!

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Machine Dilemma

Just as I was going on to someone this weekend about how much I love my bread machine, it decided to bite the big one. Well, sort of. The machine itself still works fine, and will likely continue to work for a long time, but the pan insert has cracked, and leaks something awful. While you can get replacement parts for these, the pan insert for my model is no longer made, and I can't seem to find any stock anywhere. This leaves me with a dilemma. I truly can't decide whether to buy another machine or continue searching for a pan for this one, or just give up on it altogether and go back to making bread by hand, the way people have done for centuries.

I'm not normally a big fan of gadgets, especially gadgets that only do one thing, but I must say that the bread machine has been a notable exception. I've found that it really does save me time and effort, because I can put all the ingredients in and walk away, and not have to stop what I'm doing every so often to mix, knead, punch down, etc. I've been quite happy overall with the results I get from it, and if I want to do something special (pizza crust, rolls, etc.) I can still let the machine make the dough and then shape and bake it in the oven. I find this very convenient. The other big plus is that I can bake bread in the machine without heating up my house the way the oven would, which is a boon here in Texas where I live, where it's uncomfortably hot for much of the year. I see that as a distinct advantage. Ultimately I'd like to have an outdoor, wood-fired bread oven, but that isn't in place now and won't be in the near future.

I'm still torn, though, because the machine is large, takes up a lot of space, uses electricity and has parts that will break or wear out. Something about doing it by hand feels more authentic and more sustainable, in that it's one less machine I need to buy, store and cart around. That aspect of hand bread making is very appealing to me. Also, when you make it by hand, you have more control over the end result. I would certainly need to make more of an effort to work bread baking into my schedule. When I use the machine, I get more bread made, but somehow I still feel sort of lame doing it that way.