November 13, 2015

Frank the Squirrel is a Bastard!

I get it.  Squirrels are storing up for winter. And everyone loves an easy meal.  But they are stealing more cracked corn and oats than the chicken and sheep are eating. And we are on a budget!

It started a couple months back. We keep the scratch and oats and chicken feed in plastic garbage cans under the pole barn between the chicken coop and sheep stalls.  Every day when I came down to toss some scratch and oats around, the lids were cockeyed or on the ground. I was like, what keeps flipping the lids?  Then I saw him - the largest squirrel in the world climbing out of the chicken feed.

This guy was huge.  I mean, draw a mask around his eyes can he could be a raccoon.  The cats are scared of him.  And that wasn't all. He had a whole gang of smaller squirrels on lookout in the trees.  They started chattering as I came down and the big one, which I named Frank, was able scurry (more like lumber due to his weight) away.  The first time I saw him, I said out loud to the animals "Holly shit! That's a huge squirrel."  They baaa-ed and clucked their agreement.

At least the mystery was solved.  It's Frank who is stealing from us.  Now, what to do about it.  I'm not feeding squirrels the organic, expensive feed the animals get. The squirrels can get a job and buy their own food.

First, I replaced the garbage cans with ones that have handles that lock up and prevent the lids from being removed.  Plus the plastic was thicker and heavier than the others.  For a few days, all seemed good.  Except Frank was obviously angry because there was poop and pee all over the lids.  And then I came down one day to find a hole chewed right through the plastic (see picture).  How the hell did they do that and not loose a tooth? I assumed that Frank forced the lesser squirrels to do the dirty work.  A true Godfather. In some sort of show of victory Frank also peed and pooped in the feed.  I had to toss it all out.  Nice.

I went back to Wilco and got metal garbage cans.  Try chewing through that you little bastard! The lids also fit tight.  Apparently Franks has supper natural strength or can organize themselves to work together because a few days later the lids were off again.  Seriously!?  Those lids were tight!  Hard for my daughter to remove.

By now, Jeremy was actively trying to shoot Frank with the BB gun.  A BB won't kill the squirrel, unless you are an amazing shot and can get 'em right in the temple or eye.  Honestly, Jeremy wasn't interested in killing Frank, just discouraging him with some stinging pain.  I'm not usually a fan of torturing animals, but Frank has got to go.  Guess what, Frank was barely phased by being shot.  Apparently his fat layer is like titanium.  I'm convinced he is genetically engineered.

I'd also taken to screaming obscenities at Frank every time I did chores.  Anyone walking by down on the road would think a crazy lady lives here.  The animals were getting worried too.  Their normally calm, kind speaking mom was running at the poll barn yelling"Frank, you little bastard!  I'm going to kill you!"

Next, we attached bungee cords across the lids.  For a month now, Frank has been trying to chew through the bungees (see picture).  He hasn't gotten through yet.  Or I should say that his minions haven't gotten through yet.  They probably cry at night with tooth aches.  At least it's easy and cheap to replace a bungee if they finally get through.

I wish that were then end of the story.  I win, Frank loses.  But no.  Now they are raiding the chicken feeder.  I came home to two swinging and eating like it was a rid at the amusement park. I have no idea how to deal with this.  The chickens are free range, but they need the supplemental feed this time of year.  I can't keep the squirrels out without keeping the chickens out.  I hate to say it, but we may need to put a contract on Frank and change from the BB to the 22.

August 16, 2015

Apple Sauce

I talk to a lot of people who are nervous about preserving food.  It's understandable.  Can you say botulism?!  In reality, preserving food can be really easy.  In the past I've posted instructions for simple preservation, like freezing and making jams.  But a great beginner's step into food preservation is to make apple sauce.

It's mid August now and the apple harvest is just starting.  The early apples, like Romes, Cortland, Braeburn and Gravenstine, do not store well and are best eaten fresh or made into sauces, juice or pie filling.  To get your apples, I highly recommend going to a local farm and buying direct.  Not only will you get a great day out in the country and support local farmers, but you are more likely to get the apples you want.  Stores typically only carry the most popular apples and therefore have a small selection - you almost never see saucing apples at the store.  For the best apples sauce, pick a variety of apples. Get about 10-15 pounds.  These do not have to be pretty apples.  After all, you are just going to sauce them not display them.  Misshapen, water marks, a couple bruises are all OK.  (No worm holes though.)

You do need some basic equipment.  August is a good time to buy canning equipment.  Most stores, even Fred Meyers, have canning equipment on sale.  If you aren't ready to make an investment, ask around.  I bet you know someone who will loan you a few things for a day.  Here is what you need that you probably don't already have in your kitchen:

1) A food mill.  To make nice smooth sauce, like you buy it at the store, you need a food mill.  I also use this to make blueberry jam and cranberry sauce.  Yesterday I made plum sauce with it.

2) A very large, deep pot and two smaller stainless steel pots (one is pictured).  You will use the huge pot on the left to give your jars of sauce a "hot water bath".  That's the processing method.  You need a pot that will fit roughly 8 pint jars and that you can fill to 1-inch above the top of the jars with water - so pretty darn big.  The pot on the right is for making the sauce.  Don't use aluminum because it will discolor your sauce.  You need two because you boil the apples in one and then sauce in other.

3)  The thinging on the left is a jar extractor.  You use this for putting the hot jars into the boiling water and removing them after the hot water bath.  The funnel on the right is for putting the sauce into jars without spilling.  It's not necessary but very helpful.

4)  And you need jars, of course.  I use wide mouth pint jars.  

5)  You'll also need a big slotted spoon, a soup ladle, and a couple of clean kitchen towels.

The whole process will take 2-3 hours from start to finish.  There is some down time, but not much. 

Preparation.  Wash and dry everything, including the jars and lids.  If you have a sanitize setting on your dishwasher, use that to clean the jars and lids.  Keep the jars and lids hot.

Step 1 - Slice and core the apples.  Remove any major blemishes.  No need to peel.  No need to make them look good - just chop them up.  Place into the stainless steel pot, filled halfway with cold water and 2 table spoons lemon juice (to slow the browning process).  Keep going until the pot is full.  Place on stove and bring to boil, stirring occasionally to prevent apples from sticking to the bottom.

Step 2 - While the apples are coming to boil.  Fill the large pot with water to about halfway and put on stove.  Cover and bring to boil.  Since it's such a huge pot, it will take a while to boil.

Step 3 - When the apples are soft and starting to fall apart, move that pot off the stove, on to a folded up kitchen towl.  Set the second pot on the stove with the temperature off.

Step 4 - Place the food mill on the empty pot by hooking the two legs over the edge of the pot.  Use a large slotted spoon to scoop apples into the food mill until it's half full.  Twist the handle clockwise around and around.  Every so often go backwards (counter clockwise) to loosen up the apples and then go around and around again.  Keep going until all you have left are the peels.  It takes a while.  Dump the peels into the compost.  Scoop more apples in and do it again.  Keep going until all of the apples are through the mill.  Add some water as needed.

(If your hot water both is boiling, turn the heat down to medium to keep it hot.)

Step 5 - Taste your sauce.  It's hot so be careful.  Decide if you want to add sugar or cinnamon.  Add a little at a time.  I add 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, stir and taste again.  You can always add more, but if you add too much there is no going back.  You can add more of the water from the other pot if the sauce is thicker than you like.  Make it perfect for you.

(Let the liquid from the boiling cool and then pour into a pitcher.  Store in the fridge to have fresh apple juice for the next week.)

Step 6 - Start bringing the sauce back up to boiling.  You  need to stir constantly to prevent burning on the bottom.  Slowly increase the heat from low to medium to high.  Thick sauce doesn't boil like water.  It will create bubbles that can splatter.  As soon as I see bubbles, I turn down the heat to medium-low.

Step 7 - While your sauce is coming to boil you need to prep the jars.  Clean out your sink and fill with hot, hot, hot water.  Place the clean, sanitized jars and lids into the hot water.  Make sure everything is covered with water.  You want to be working with the hottest jars and lids possible.

(Turn up the heat on the hot water both, so it comes back to boil.)

Step 8 - Remove one jar from the hot water (use the jar extractor).  Place the funnel in and use a soup ladle to scoop sauce into the jar.  Fill leaving about 1 inch of headspace at the top.  Place the lid on and tighten.  I use a towel to hold the hot jar and tighten.  Use the jar extractor to put into the hot water bath.  Repeat with the next jar.  Keep going until the pot is full - usually about 8-9 jars.

Step 9 - Bring the hot water bath to boil.  When it's boiling, set the timer for 10 minutes.  Then use the jar extractor to move the sauce to a towel to cool.

Note - If you have more than 8 jars worth of sauce, you will have to make two batches.  While the first batch is processing, drain and re-fill the sink with hot, hot water.  Prep the next set of jars.  Keep the sauce at a very slow boil and stir occasionally.  When the first batch is done, repeat steps 8 and 9.  If you have just a little bit of sauce left - like one jar - skip the hot water bath.  Instead fill the jar, put on the lid and let it cool.  Then put in the fridge and eat within a week.

Step 10 - After all the jars are cooled to room temperature, check that each has sealed.  The center of the lids should be sucked down.  Gently push on each lid.  If there is no give, it's sealed.  If it pops down and back up, it didn't seal.  Sealed jars can be stored in the cupboard for up to a year.  Unsealed jars should be placed in the fridge and eaten within a week.  I stick a square of masking tape on the top of each jar and label it "2015 Apple Sauce."  If all you are making this year is apple sauce and you've never canned anything before, then you don't need to label.  But if you make lots of stuff you will forget what you have and when you made it.  I've dug into my pantry and found jars of stuff that are years old.  (Those go straight to the compost.)  And some things look a lot alike - plum sauce, cranberry sauce and pizza sauce look surprisingly similar but cranberry sauce on your pizza is no good at all.

That's it!

The picture below is me and my mom picking out apples in Hood River, OR.  We go to the Heirloom Apple Festival every year and get some awesome apple varieties.  My favorite are called Arkansas Black.  They have a thick skin and hearty flesh, so they store great!

September 4, 2014

Funny Bee Story

It's been a few years since we've had honey bees at our place.  We've tried three times.  Two were bought from the store and the third swarm adopted us.  But I think that we don't have a warm enough place for them because every winter they die.

That's not the funny part.

The first time we tried honey bees on our property, we let our neighbors know.  Not all the neighbors, as required by state law, just the neighbors we know and talk to every once in a while.  Bees travel up to a mile for their pollen, so I suppose we should have talked to a lot more people.  But I figure they wouldn't know my bees from any others out there.  It's not like they have an ID bracelet that says "If found return to Brooks' Hobby Farm."

One Saturday morning, shortly after the first hive of bees arrived, the phone rings.  I answer and the lady says, "Hi.  I'm your neighbor on the north side." (Not a neighbor I usually talk with and therefore didn't know about the bees.)  She continues, "Lola said you guys got honey bees and I think they may be moving into our attic."  (Lola is our wonderful neighbor and probably mentioned it in passing.)  I replied, "Yes, we got honey bees.  Why do you think they are moving into your attic?"

I should note that in my professional career I deal with angry and frustrated people on a daily basis.  After 15 years of trial and error (a lot of trial and error), I have learned how to respond to any unknown entity without 1) being defensive; or 2) revealing anything but simple facts.  I think those are really important tack-ticks when working with neighbors regarding bees, pets, fences, trees, noise or anything else, ever.

Anyway, she asked "Do you have all your bees?"  That caused me a pause.  A hive of honey bees is like 30,000 bees.  Do have them all?  Well, let me go count them and see.  All I could say was, "I think so."

She proceeded to tell me that she was seeing one or two bees fly into and out of the attic frequently for the past few days.  She was concerned that the bees were slowly moving into her attic.  Again she asked if I was sure I had all my bees.  I replied that I would go check.  However, I told her, bees don't move homes like that.  If a hive gets too large for its home, an entire swarm of about 10,000 bees leaves the hive.  The swarm moves, all together, while drones go look for a new home.  When a drone finds a new home, the entire swarm moves in all at once.

We purchase only about 10,000 bees to start the hive. We only had them for a few days at that point, so it was highly unlikely that a swarm had left.  But since she was clearly frustrated and thinking the invasion was my fault, I said I would go check the hive and call her back.

About 10,000 bees - ready to move into the hive
I'm not sure what she thought I would do.  But what I did do was go down and listen to see if there was a lot of buzzing coming from the hive.  There was and a few bees were coming and going to gather food.  Did we have them all?  I don't know.  But odds were that we did. I call the lady back and said yes, we have all our bees.  Thankfully, she accepted that answer.  She didn't have too, but she did.  Her tone because a bit desperate.  She wanted to know what she should do.

I get it.  Most people have a healthy fear of bees.  The sound of buzzing is used in horror movies because it makes humans react and get agitated.  But the truth is that bees (not wasps) are not aggressive.  Honey bees are docile unless threatened.  Yes, swatting your hand at a bee is aggressive and it may react.  Seriously, if someone started smacking you for no apparent reason while you were walking down the sidewalk minding your own business, you would probably react too.  And truth be told, if a swarm of honey bees takes up residence in your attic, they will do a massive amount of damage!

I gave the woman a few numbers to call.  I let her know that she should work with some professionals to get the swarm out of the attic and moved into a proper home.  Perhaps I scared her a little, telling her about how much damage the weight of their honey could cause.  But she was happy to have some people to call for help.

Ok, maybe that story isn't actually funny.  I just can't get over "Do you have all your bees?"

March 4, 2014

2014 Seeds

It's that time of year again.  Actually, I'm a little late.  I've been really enjoying winter, skiing most weekends, and not thinking about the garden.  But it's warmed up and the chickens are laying again, so spring is here.  And ... the Territorial Seed Company catalog came in the mail Saturday.  Gardener porn.

Last year, I saved seeds from my corn, green beans, wax beans and pie pumpkins.  My mom saved seeds from her loose-leaf lettuce.  This will be my first time grown veggies from seeds I saved.  I hope it works out.  If it does I'll save more and purchase less next time around.

Saved corn seeds
We also culled the seed list this year.  I always get excited about trying new things and about certain veggies that I love to eat, but only fresh.  This year, we decided to only grow what we will can or freeze.  Sure I may eat some fresh, but I'm not planting something I don't preserve.  For example, fennel.  I have a couple dishes that are yummy and use fresh fennel.  For those two dishes, which I make maybe once a year each, I'll just go to the produce market and buy fennel.
Some of preserved goods
So here it is, my seed list, with Territorial Seed ID numbers:
RD750/S Amethyst Radish
SQ790/L  Black Beauty Squash (zucchini)
BN046/L Black Coco Bean (shelling bean)
SQ801/S Cube of Butter Squash (summer squash)
PE631/P Dakota Peas (shelling peas)
KL363/S Nero Di Toscana Kale
LT407/L New Red Fire Lettuce
BT133/S Red Ace Beet
CR287/S Romance Carrots
CU299/L Wautoma Cucumbers
XP702/A Yukon Gold Potatoes

All that leaves to buy at the local feed store are tomato and green pepper starts.  I always grow Roma or San Morazano tomatoes - a nice plum tomato for saucing.

February 2, 2014

Big Game Gluten-Free Dinner

I love to try new recipes!  I will take an excuse to dig through websites, Pinterest, cook books, newspaper clippings, you name it to create a meal.  Any excuse :-) We found out that Jordan's youngest cousin is allergic to gluten, dairy, eggs and citrus.  Challenge accepted!

The Big Game is this weekend.  I always make meatball subs and then try new stuff.  Here is the menu I came up with - all gluten free, egg free, non-dairy:
Meatballs (hoggie roll optional)
Cauliflower Poppers
Chocolate Cake

Please also see sources for the original recipes.

Gluten-Free Meatballs
5 cups GF tomato sauce (I used my homemade marinara)
4 T olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup GF quick oats
1/2 cup almond milk
2 lb grass-fed beef
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar (or honey or agave)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. In a large, heavy bottom sauce pan.  Bring tomato sauce to slow simmer.
2. Fry onions and garlic in olive oil until opaque.  Remove from heat.
3. In a large microwave-safe bowl, mix oats and milk.  Cook in microwave for 1 minute.  Mix in onions and garlic.  Allow to cool until you can work it with your hands.
4. Add remaining ingredients and mix well with your hands.
5. Form meatballs and place in simmering tomato sauce.  All to simmer until done through.  Remove from heat and let cool 15 minutes before serving.

Update - I think I'll cook the meatballs in the oven and pour the sauce on on the sandwiches instead of leaving the meatballs in the sauce.  The reason is the oats continue to absorb the sauce and the meatballs get mushy.  I'll bake the meatballs at 350 F for 30-40 minutes or until done through.

Cauliflower Poppers
1 large head of cauliflower
3/4 bottle of GF buffalo sauce (or spicy BBQ sauce)
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons plain almond milk
3/4 cup brown rice flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon curry powder (or cumin if you like it less spicy)
1 Tablespoon potato starch

1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
2. Spray a large non-stick baking sheet with olive oil
3. Chop cauliflower into florets.
4. Combine flour, spices and starch in a bowl and stir until well combined.
5. Pour almond milk in a separate bowl.
6. Toss a handful of florets in milk and then in flour mixture.  Place on baking sheet.  Repeat until all florets are on the baking sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes or until crispy.
7. While cauliflower is baking, heat buffalo sauce in a sauce pan, stirring frequently.
8. After 20 minutes, use a wooden spoon to turn the cauliflower.  Turn oven to broil and cook, with oven door slightly open, for 5-7 minutes or until florets start to brown.
9. Pull cauliflower out of oven and place on serving platter.  Poor buffalo sauce over all.
10. Serve immediately with celery.

Original recipe:

Update - I decided to serve the buffalo sauce on the side along with ranch-style salad dressing so people could choose what they like.  It didn't work out.  The poppers were too dry.  Next time, I'll cook the cauliflower, toss with sauce and then broil.

Gluten Free Chocolate Cake
1 medium ripe avocado
1 large very ripe banana
2/3 cup honey (or maple syrup or agave)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup plain almond milk
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon brown rice flour
2 Tablespoon potato starch
1 Tablespoon tapioca flour
2 Tablespoon corn flour
1/2 cup GF oat flour
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 F.
1. In a large bowl, mash avocado and banana
2. Whisk in olive oil, honey and vanilla.
3. Pour milk and vinegar and let sit for 2 minutes.  Then whisk together.
4. Whisk in baking powder and baking soda.
5. Whisk in cocoa powder, salt, rice flour, potato starch, corn flour and tapioca flour.
6. Whisk in oat flour. Taste and add more honey if needed.
7. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of your cake tin. Place in cake tin, then pour cake batter in.  Place in oven and bake 40-45 minute.  The top will crack and the side will pull away from the tin slightly when it's done.
8. Remove from oven and let stand for 1 hour.  Then invert onto a plate, peal off parchment paper and then flip on to another plate so it is upright.  Dust with powdered sugar if you want.

Original recipe:

Update - Jeremy and I loved this!  Very fudge-like, not too sweet.  But Jordan wanted it to be sweeter.  Next time I'll serve with whipped cream or ice cream for her.  I could frost it too, but that might be too sweet.