Spreading Little Wings

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know by now how much I love my critters. My teenage chicks got to taste their freedom for the first time a few evenings ago with some supervised time outside their run. It was so fun to watch them come bursting through their run door into the big wide world, and their explorations began. Curious little things.

I had been intending to start integrating them into the big girl flock for awhile, but this was prompted in particular by my rooster, Bernard, who is honestly just a jerk to all of his flock mates. He may end up in the soup pot if he isn’t careful. I have to say, I’ve enjoyed the big girls putting him in his place on a number of occasions…They came to inspect the proceedings and definitely aren’t impressed with Bernard.

The last few nights, they’ve gone out with the big girls, interacted pretty seamlessly with the hens, and managed to put themselves away successfully at sundown. How easy is that?

Blue-Eyed Banshees

A tragic incident on Friday bereft me of my favorite hen, and has rendered Pearl unfit for and relieved of chicken duty. My very kind husband never once laughed at my copious tears for poor Amelia who got her little head ripped clean off and the next day he brought home three cats. Three beautiful, white critters, with toffee-colored point markings and the bluest eyes. And they are wild as little banshees. Considering that, and they fact that they will never lay blue eggs, I’m not sure it quite replaces my poor beheaded chicken, but I’m willing to be open minded.

They were born to a neighbor’s barn cat and haven’t really ever been handled. As long as I keep both my eyes and all my digits, the two girls will be mine, and the male, provided he’ll let me shape and mold his disagreeable disposition, will be sent up north to my mother-in-law who lost one of her mousers (supposedly a mouser; I’ve only ever seen them snoozing) about a month ago.

Amelia (in honor of the deceased chicken, may we always fondly remember the dead) and Madeline are capable of the most withering looks of disdain, with their slightly crossed and very blue eyes, and such scornful looks they don’t hesitate to cast in my general direction if I offend them. As long as I mind my manners and don’t talk too loud, they’ll deign to emerge from their little corners and frisk about at a royal distance. Occasionally one might sneak closer, but stop far enough away to remind me of proper etiquette and the fact that they don’t appreciate having been cat-napped.

I rather have my doubts that they understand yet that all parties on this ranch will eventually be expected to fulfill certain obligations, but I’ll let these blue-eyed banshees bask in the warmth of their deity and their self righteous indignation for a little longer.

Ranch Wife Musings: Good Mornings

“Good morning!” There’s a lot tied up in that little greeting, depending on the recipient. My husband gets the first “good morning” of the day, for obvious reasons. After coffee and breakfast, the dogs get a “good morning,” then the cats, the chickens, the horses, and sometimes even the garden. It just depends on how personable I’m feeling.

It’s hard to have a truly bad morning when it starts with coffee and is followed by the cacophony of grateful little noises of a passel of chickens and two-month-old chicks. This little chicken here is Bianca. She loves to be scratched under the chin. As an aside, my husband complains that I have more pictures of my chickens than of him. He is absolutely correct, and I gently remind him that they outnumber him and are uniquely cooperative. I also want to make a disclaimer: I really don’t like selfies, and pretty much the only times I take them are either with a chicken or with abnormally large vegetables.

In spite of some very chilly nights and actually resorting to turning on the furnace this morning for the first time this fall, the garden is as of yet unfrosted! This coneflower has been getting more and more beautiful for about the last week, and if the warmish weather continues, there are a few more buds trying to bloom.

The turnips got thinned this morning and the mature ones planted much earlier this summer got fully harvested. They’ll make a delicious turnip green soup!

Now to put the kitchen to rights after all the canning yesterday, tidying the house, drying herbs, and a long walk. Doesn’t get much better.

I love a good morning.

Fall Days

This time of year, the shortening days fill up swiftly with a never ending list of tasks to be done. They’re the pleasant, busy sort of tasks that can easily occupy a full day, and make a chilly, blustery, foggy day not seem quite so dreary! Much of yesterday and today was spent in a fog bank, making those inside tasks extra appealing. I actually thoroughly enjoy an honest-to-goodness fall day, whether that be sunny and blue skies, or drizzly and foggy, but I have to say I don’t enjoy freezing myself without due cause. So as the outdoor tasks slowly wrap up, the indoor tasks really take off.

The garden has mostly finished producing, so over the last couple of weeks I’ve been slowly clearing it out, putting away the sprinklers and garden hoses, saving and stacking the pots from our trees to grow tomatoes and/or peppers in next year, and sorting through my seed collection. It is a little sad to see the season wrapping up, but it is also exciting, because inevitably I’m already thinking about my garden for next year!

As I’ve cleaned the garden out, I’ve picked winter squashes and pumpkins, a little early, perhaps, after a terrible case of powdery mildew infested the vines. If it isn’t grasshoppers, hail, or an early frost, it’s powdery mildew. Oh, well. It didn’t really affect my squash harvest anyway, so what does it matter? Next year, the squash will get planted with better breathing room, which will help with the mildew issure. My kind husband helped me haul them all inside yesterday, since it sure felt like it could have frosted last night, and the whole corner of our dining room is now covered with Hubbard squash and pumpkins, and a couple of random others, a meat squash and two Lakota squashes. The meat squash seeds were ancient and only gave me one squash, and the Lakota squash just didn’t really do much. The Hubbards, however, did amazingly well, and will definitely be in the garden plans for next year! The largest of my Hubbard squashes weighed in at a wonderful 25 pounds, and I can’t wait to bake it later this fall or in the winter! Each vine isn’t particularly prolific, in general only producing one large squash, but each will produce a few smaller ones that can be picked young, during the summer, and sauteed like zucchini, only better than zucchini.

I’ve baked and pureed a number of the pumpkins to freeze for pies, roasted the seeds, and baked up some delicious chocolate chip pumpkin muffins (here’s the recipe if you’re so inclined). I put up a bunch of zucchini salsa and green tomato zucchini salsa, a great way to use zucchinis (I actually intentionally grow them big just for such a recipe), and have also dehydrated zucchini chips for snacking and shredded a bunch to freeze for zucchini bread and other recipies. We will eat really well this fall and winter!

There are some kale and chard plants that are still producing, and are doing better now that the grasshoppers aren’t destroying them, and I have beets yet to harvest, and turnips and carrots still growing. The zucchini plants have mostly petered out, what the mildew didn’t kill off, but there are still a good half dozen baby zucchini left to harvest, and hopefully we have enough warmth this next week for them to grow a little more. Maybe I’ll do another dehydrator full of zucchini chips!

I picked just about all of the green tomatoes out of the garden and spent today making green tomato salsa verde. Yes, yes, I know green tomatoes can be picked and will ripen over time, but I honestly just wanted to put a wrap on the tomato project for the year and didn’t want a million green tomatoes looking at me every time I opened the door to the spare bedroom, which serves as our pantry and freezer room. And the salsa is delicious. Every single jar pinged the first time, too, so that was extra satisfying. Sixteen pints of salsa verde added to the pantry!

The plum project (finally!) wrapped up last week, as well as the apple project, with pureed plums and chopped apples in the freezer for crisps, cobblers, and pies. Over the last month, I put up several quarts of plum pie filling, several of apple pie filling, several pints of plum jam, and many half pints of plum butter and spicy plum sauce (amazing on crackers with cream cheese…tangy sweet with a spicy kick!), as well as quart bags of dehydrated apples, which Brad and I really enjoy snacking on. With all of that fresh fruit waiting to be processed over the last few weeks, I had gotten spoiled, chopping a couple of the small plums and putting them on my homemade yogurt for breakfast in the mornings. I will miss that, but I tried some of the leftover plum pie filling on my yogurt this morning and, boy, oh, boy, it was delicious. Mm. Wow.

And with all of this harvesting, the chickens have been eating really well. Really really well. Spoiled little things. Pretty much nothing goes to waste! It is fun to watch them pick a pumpkin shell, what’s left after I bake it and scrape it out, down to the very last bit of rind, or devour overly-ripe plums and leave clean-picked plum pits in their feed pans.

These fall days fill up so quickly, and are over in a blur. But it really is just the best time of year.

Recipes | Easy Trail Mix

Okay, so this barely qualifies as a recipe. It really doesn’t. But there isn’t another comparable word for a “handful of this, handful of that, shake it up” sort of concoction. But it has become one of our favorite quick snacks! Not to mention, this old coffee cannister is pretty nostalgic for me – It recalls years of memories of my grandparents and their delicious chocolate chip cookies, since this served as their cookie jar as far back as I can remember.

Anyway, Brad and I eat a lot of nut mixes and trail mixes. We come in from chores or cow work and just need a quick snack mid-morning, and a handful of something, oftentimes peanuts or cashews, generally does the trick. We had found a couple of really good trail mixes at Sam’s Club, but we ate enough of them that I finally decided I wanted to start just mixing our own trail mix. As silly or simple as this might sound, we enjoy the homemade version better than the store bought versions.

Pick from a variety of nuts, M&Ms or chocolate pieces, and dried fruit, add desired quantities and shake it all up! You can go sweet or savory, with seasoned or unseasoned nuts, roasted or raw, salted or not, and the list goes on. If you want to get a little fancier, you could toss your mix with a little olive oil and a seasoning of your choice, and bake briefly in the oven. The possibilities are endless.

This one is peanuts, almonds, M&Ms, and raisins. There were supposed to be cashews, but I think I accidentally ate them all before I got around to mixing this up. I made a second jar for myself without raisins. Brad pointed out that there were twice as many M&Ms in my jar as in his jar, but I pointed out that he got all the raisins. Fair’s fair.

Tough Love

This is Amelia.

She really does have as much personality as it looks like in this picture. As a chick, even just a week old, she was feisty and would frequently attack my hand when I reached into the brooder. A chick can’t really do any damage, but fast forward a couple of months and I had started wondering if Amelia was actually a rooster. Once she flew at me and to my surprise made it about to eye level, which was a little startling.

Well, Amelia has since started laying eggs – the most beautiful blue eggs, as a matter of fact – so clearly she isn’t a rooster, but prior to that she was really just a pain. Literally a pain. She’d run up and peck at my hands and fingers or anywhere else she could find to peck, and I got sick of it pretty quick. And by “peck,” I really mean that she’d run over and grab me by the finger and just hang on. It was annoying. Finally one day she ran up and bit me pretty hard, so I grabbed her by the legs and held her upside down and spoke sternly to the little wretch. She didn’t like that. But she tried the same stunt again and received another round of being held upside down by the legs.

It took one or two more of these little confrontations and she eventually got the picture. She settled down. One might think she’d behave herself sullenly and sort of keep to herself and away from the mean lady who grabs her and hangs her upside down, but that would be incorrect. Amelia is now the first one to greet me whenever I come into the chicken coop, and basically begs for attention. She loves to be scratched on the head. And hugged. Yes, hugged.

A little tough love goes a long way.