Thursday, September 11, 2014

Competing Interests


As the sun sets on summer, I am thinking about how full of a season it was. I was unexpectedly really busy at work, which meant extra hours and less time and energy for gardening, cooking, preserving and, well, everything! I still fit in a lot of fulfilling seasonal activities but it just seems like summer always has so much more to offer than can fit into the days.


It was probably a good thing that I wasn't hyper-focused on my garden this year because I had a lot of competition in that arena. Squirrels, birds, rabbits and chickens all feasted in the garden on a regular basis.  I fault some weak areas in our garden fence, the lack of dogs guarding the yard and the cleverness of chickens who figured out how to eat through the chicken wire and stand atop the garden fence to get at the plants. 

This combination of critters going after our garden resulted in hop rhizomes uprooted before they even had a chance to grow, hardy greens and brussels sprouts eaten down to the ribs, pole beans plants chomped off at the base, just-about-ripe tomatoes with bites taken out of them, every single apple stolen from the trees before they grew to full size and many more casualties.


 Really, it is ok, though.  I probably wouldn't have had time to process everything, so I guess I had some to spare. I did get some preserving done, we had a lot of fresh vegetables on hand for cooking and Paul did get 1 hop plant to grow.  So, it was worth the effort, just not as big of a return on investment than in past years.

We put "fence repair" on our fall to-do list so hopefully next year I will have at least eliminated the rabbit issue.  And, the dogs?  There is much talk about a puppy around here so that might be addressed by next summer, too.  Not sure what we'll do about those clever chickens, though.


Speaking of chickens, still no eggs but I feel like it will happen soon.  Fanny has become quite intrigued by them and they feed her curiosity by lingering near the door. They have become more bold around us, frequently coming up to the back door, lurking there just in case we might appear with a treat for them. In fact, I feel a bit like I am being stalked whenever I am out in the yard.  I guess they have made the connection about who provides their food!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Quick Wisconsin Visit


After 8 months of trying to figure out how to be able to visit my dad, I think we've got it!  He and I both recognize that with my health concerns, his house is probably not the best place for me to spend time as he smokes e-cigs and cigarettes, neither of which are things I can tolerate right now. Even if he only smoked outside while I visited, I am still concerned about residue left in his space, especially when it comes to sleeping there. So, my grandma and aunt came to the rescue with an offer to stay with them when I visit. They are just up the road from my dad, have a great guest room and nobody smokes inside their house. We tested the arrangement out last weekend and it worked splendidly! It was like a 3-4-1 as I got to catch up with my grandma, my aunt and my dad as I split my time between the two places. I am so glad to have found a solution!

It was a quick visit so I didn't take a lot of pictures, but I did catch a few shots.


The wild blackberries were just starting to ripen so I found a few here and there are we walked around the property.  We also found chicken of the woods and oyster mushrooms some of which were eaten right away in a delicious pasta dinner!


Speaking of chickens, both households are raising chickens and my Aunt Audrey is even raising a few ducklings.  It was interesting to see the differences in flock behavior when there is a rooster around.  The shots above are of Nugget.  He is one of my dad's roosters and the only flock member at my dad's house that has a name. He is low on the pecking order but still crows loudly and struts around like he owns the place. I have to say after being around a few roosters, I am just fine with my all-female flock. I find that the drama level is happily low without a rooster. Since my dad and Audrey incubate and hatch their own chickens, having roosters is a necessity for them. They are sure pretty, especially the barred rock roosters.

A lot of the time on my trip was spent harvesting produce out of my dad's garden.  His soil is sandy, so the root crops do really well in his garden.  This freshly picked carrots smelled so good!


It never ceases to amuse me that my dad has this enormous, plentiful and abundant garden yet he isn't a huge consumer of vegetables. He is introducing more of them into his diet, so I must give him credit where credit is due. That said, I took a carload of veggies home and barely made a dent in his garden!


I am not sure what I am going to do with the enormous turnip I brought back.  Any ideas?


I have never seen how black eyed peas grow before.  They are like fireworks coming out of the plant!


In both my dad's and my grandma's gardens, I saw this type of bee.  Do you know anything about it?  I looked at some guides online to see if I could find out if it is a good thing that they have tons of these or if it is a concern.  Please share any wisdom you have!


My dad taking a rest (downwind).


Audrey's dog Rudy likes car rides and belly rubs.  He is a loving, simple dog who very recently survived being hit by a car, which is why his eyes look a little funny.  I really enjoyed being around him for part of the weekend.  Paul and I have been really noticing how much we miss having a dog in our life lately and Rudy was happy to accept all of the extra affection I had to offer.


Now that I have a situation that works for me up north, I am hoping to go back again soon. By that time Rudy will need another good belly rub from me and maybe those ducklings will be laying eggs!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer Bounty


Summer is so full of abundance.  So many events and celebrations.  So many local foods to savor.  So many places to explore, bike rides to take, projects to do...I try not to get overwhelmed with the sheer volume of potential there is all around me and appreciate each thing as it comes.


I tried a new jam recipe this year.  It is the rhubarb fig recipe from Gourmet Preserves.  I used dried figs and some of the tons of rhubarb growing in my patch.  I feel like the texture of this jam has great potential.


Amid the preserving, I have also been attempting to eat what is growing right now.  A recent meal consisting largely of green beans, leeks, mushroom and dill over a mixture of rice was particularly satisfying.


On a recent Sunday, I preserved a batch of sofrito sauce, a few jars of roasted tomatoes, a large batch of cucumber aqua fresca and baked some zucchini bread.  Paul also chipped in that day doing the harvesting, starting a batch of fermented tomatillo salsa and blanching and freezing green beans.  I hadn't planned to spend the day preserving but the garden spoke up and said, "Now!"

Paul has also been very hard at work on a big sewing project.  He sewed his own camping hammock from scratch.  Complete with tarp, top and bottom quilts and bug netting.  It turned out spectacularly well and his sewing skills grew exponentially.  I am proud of his focus and efforts in getting this project done before his trip to the boundary waters.  He just got back and is in love with hammock camping and far prefers it to tent camping.


I have also been enjoying some hikes/walks with friends/family as a way to see new sites and have good quality time to catch up.  On 2 recent hikes, my sister Jessy and I hiked the loop at Pike Island at Fort Snelling and saw a ton of deer as the sun was setting and my friend Jill and I explored Crosby Farm Park in St. Paul where we walked on the boardwalk above a swampy bog area.  There are so many great parks to explore in this area!


In other garden news, the sunflower seed harvest vs wildlife feeding ratio is currently about 30% me and 70% them, but I feel ok about that.


I'll close with a shot of a recent "pick-up" meal that Paul and I shared.  I grew up eating meals like this from time to time when a fully composed meal was too time consuming or labor intensive to create.  They are still satisfying as an adult, especially when a good portion of it grew right in your back yard!


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Chicken Shenanigans

These girls of ours are starting to get a heck of a lot more adventurous during their free range time. We let them out each evening for a minimum of an hour or two and longer on the weekends.  Invariably, I often peak out the window and catch them up to something they shouldn't be doing.


Like ending up on the wrong side of the garden fence or sometimes ON the garden fence.  It seems to happen by accident as they usually look baffled about how they got separated from their buddies.


Sometimes they journey up onto the deck and peek in the window.  Fanny doesn't know what to make of their visits.



Camilla is the worst offender when it comes to exploring and perching in places we would rather her not be. This quality also makes her our most charming and endearing flock member.







Nellie is our stable and steady bird. She isn't too skittish or too brave. She isn't too aggressive or too shy. She just does her thing.


Petunia has become cleverly evasive.  She is nearly impossible to catch unless you team up with someone else and corner her somewhere.  I am not sure why she is so fearful of being touched.  She will come close to be fed and hangs out with the other ladies as they come and go from the run.  She just avoids all physical contact with us.  I am hoping her charm will be her blue/green eggs.  But, as of yet, no eggs!


They very much enjoyed some of the leftovers I shared with them from the softball BBQ, including this bread.  As a result of the party, they also lost their innocence. More specifically, they were fed some chicken leftovers. Paul made pulled chicken from whole chickens for the BBQ and had leftover carcasses. I hemmed and hawed before letting him feed them the carcass.  For the record, they seemed to have no moral qualms about it.


Do you know what the birds aren't doing?  Keeping the yard free of other wildlife like the plethora of bunnies that have found the weak parts of our garden fence and are wreaking major havoc on our garden this year.


Or the squirrels who have pulled down every single apple from our 2 apples trees only to eat a bite or two and drop them into the yard. Come to think of it, I wonder if the squirrels and chickens are in cahoots on that one since it is usually the chickens who eat the dropped apples!


I learned the hard way about letting the chickens free range at dusk.  They end up places they should not be.  Like on top of the run, from which they could very easily hop over the fence into the alley.


The problem is as the light shifts, this starts happening earlier and earlier each night.  I have to be paying close attention to the onset of dusk or I come out to this scene.


I think they have an easier time getting on top of the run now that we installed our raised bed at the end of the run.  On the day I put it into place and filled it with dirt it was hot and humid out.  The chickens took the opportunity to nap in the cool soil while I ran to the garden center for my bags of dirt. I didn't have the heart to kick them out so I held off on filling it up until they were done napping.


Now that they are almost fully grown, the feathers that they shed are pretty substantial.  I have started a little collection in this jar just inside the back door.  I am not sure what I will do with it but at this point it pleases me to just have them hanging out there.


Their patterns and colors are very worthy of admiration.


For now, they are backyard pets but very soon we should have eggs.  I hope my next update will include egg pictures!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Blueberry Fever


In July, I took a vacation day and headed to Blueberry Fields of Stillwater with a plan to pick a ton of blueberries for jamming, baking, eating and freezing. Unfortunately, despite arriving right when they opened in the morning it soon became so hot and sunny that I picked 5 pounds and had to call it quits.


I made jam. Paul and I made a pie together. I ate fresh berries every day for a week.  And then they were gone.  I didn't have enough to put any into the freezer. I was sad.  I couldn't stop thinking, "but I want MORE!"


I thought, "Let it go, Trinity. You are really busy and it takes a good chunk of time to drive out there and pick more berries. Just let it go."  But then, I bought berries at the market that weren't nearly as good and cost way more than the pick your own berries and I thought, "Come on!  You can make it work!  You will be so happy in the winter when you have blueberries in the freezer!"


But the hours for the field are sporadic due to supply timing and they are usually only open in the mornings. I wasn't sure if it was going to work so I tried to make peace with the spoils from my first round of picking.  But the truth was that I still wanted MORE!



And then! Then! They opened up during the evening! And I didn't have a schedule conflict.  And my friend Flannery wanted to go, too! So we left straight from work and spent the whole evening there picking almost up until they moment they closed. While we were checking out they told us the turnout had been good enough that they were now closed for the rest of the season. Phew! At the very last moment, I came away with another 5 glorious pounds and since they wanted people to come out, they had a half price sale that last night!  I think it was meant to be.


For the record, the pie we made was pretty spectacular.  We used this recipe for Whole Wheat Blueberry Crumble Pie, but I didn't bake it as long as it says to and I used almonds in my crumble.


And now that pesky, blueberry-obsessed voice in my head is quiet.  Until next year.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Paul's Birthday

I can't believe it but it has already been a whole month since Paul and I celebrated his birthday! As has become our birthday tradition, I planned a day full of activities I thought Paul would enjoy and surprised him with it. It is a lot fun to have someone surrender a day to you. It is rare and special to set aside that much time to whatever the day has to offer. Not to mention there is a great deal of trust involved in letting someone else call all the shots for you! I very much enjoy being on each side of this tradition as there is love and joy to be found in the giving and receiving.


Without further adieu, let me share the day with you! We started out with a big and delicious breakfast at Blackbird before heading out of town on a day trip. It was a good thing our day trip involved a cooler so I could tuck my leftovers from breakfast into it.
 

For almost the entire drive Paul had no idea where we were going or what we were doing.  But, when we neared our destination, he noticed a sign that tipped him off: "Eat Local Farm Tour".  Yep!  After having this event on my radar for a few years, the timing finally worked out. The tour is structured like an open studio tour but for farms in the Twin Cities area. Each farm contributed some information and an overview of the day's events that were printed in a booklet. I poured over it and chose our itinerary so that it would appeal to Paul. In other words, I went with the cheese.

Our first destination was Shepherd's Way Farms. They make artisan sheep cheese from their own sheeps' milk, which means it all happens right there on the small family farm. We got there in time to watch this little lamb's bottle feeding session.
 

Paul is something of a cat whisperer.  He made many a barn cats' day during our trip.


This young man is the son of the farmers and was doing us the kindness of drawing the sheep closer.  They seemed to like him or maybe it was what was in his bucket that won them over.


We got an informative tour of the cheese making process from Jodi, the cheesemaker.


For sanitation reasons, we viewed the process from outside the rooms in a cleverly arranged viewing hallway.  I am so happy that there are local dairy farms that are able to see the process all the way through from raising the animals to packaging and selling the cheese.  It definitely makes the price you pay for local cheese seem like a great value.  There is so much effort, skill and care put into each step in the process.


You can be sure we tasted all of their cheeses and had a hard time narrowing down which ones we wanted to take home with us.  Luckily for us, some of their cheeses are sold at our coop and at the Mill City Farmers' Market.


Paul's offerings of affection don't work the same magic on sheep as they do on cats, but he did manage to entice one sheep to break from the flock and almost eat from his hand.


And....back to the kitties.


After we wrapped up at Shepherd's Way Farms, we went to nearby Big Woods State Park for a hike and a picnic. Our birthday celebrations often involve a lot of eating so it is nice to work in a little exercise, too.


Our picnic was quite a spread!  It included 2 of the cheeses we had just purchased from Shepherd's Way.  Yummy!


From there, we headed to another dairy/cheese farm, this time GOATS at Singing Hills Goat Dairy.


It seems that pigs are a good companion animal when you are dairy farmer as both farms we visited had them. Although, by companion animals, I don't mean a pet. I mean that they eat the whey leftover from cheese production and they themselves become a product. For now, they are living the life with mud puddles, fallen apples from the farm's giant apple tree and plenty of whey to fill them up.



As we got a tour of the pasture, we came across the "little meat boys".  Paul and another farm tourist both noted what a great band name that would be. I recognize that on farms there is a pretty quick life cycle and that livestock are not pets, but my hopeful, animal loving soul has a hard time with that concept so the "little meat boys" comment made me alternately chuckle and groan.



Lynne, co-owner of the farm and cheesemaker gave us a tour of the land and the milking area.  We learned a good amount about the breeds of goats they milk, the qualities of the milk and the feed and health practices they use on the farm.  Once again, the expertise and effort put into the process is remarkable.


Of course we needed to take home some of their cheese, too!


There were so many other great options for the farm tour that I hope to partake again next time and visit some of the urban farms within the city limits. I am very grateful for the thriving food community we have here in Minnesota. It is a great place to be!

After driving back to the city, we made a stop back home for a gift opening session.  Paul got an assortment of food related gifts including a pasta roller, a dry grain container for the vitamix and some heritage wheat berries to grind into flour.  I think there will be some homemade pasta in our future!


To wrap up the day, we ate at Hola Arepa. This restaurant was newly opened after their food truck was so successful. I have to say, I far prefer their food truck offerings. The noise level in the restaurant is out of hand and the increase in price is not offset by a bigger or better plate of food.  I am glad we gave it a try but I will definitely stick with their food truck offerings in the future.


And, guess what!  That wasn't even his actual birthday!  His actual birthday was a work day so we started the festivities the weekend before and revisited birthday land with a dinner at Naviya's Thai Brasserie on his actual birthday. All I took that evening was a cell phone picture of his steaming hot plate. It was served fajita style with a loud sizzling and smoky presentation. Dramatic!


And, since I managed to get this far without showing up in any of the pictures, here is one more to prove I was there, too :)


Happy, happy birthday, Paul!
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