Monday, April 16, 2012

Less chickens in the yard..... more time spent in the kitchen (these things are not directly related)

It was a lot of fun having a flock of 18 chickens running around, but I wasn't destined to keep them all.

So I selected 5 to keep, and hauled the rest to my parents' farm.

They've spent the entire day hanging around the porch. I suppose they're kind of confused with the rest of the flock gone.

So now we're working on names for them. Loosely they are Big Bertha, Louise, Chicken Butt, Nameless and Esmeralda, respectively. I'm sure most of those will change in time.

The bird-watching has really picked up in the park, the last few weeks.   It's so pleasant to hear the Tanagers, Wood Thrushes, Hooded Warblers and Vireos singing around the house once again. One of the most awaited arrivals is the Cerulean Warbler, a threatened species that breeds extensively throughout the park. Bird-watching enthusiasts travel hundreds of miles to try and catch a glimpse of this beautiful and elusive bird, that stays high in the treetops. Many of them would turn green with envy if they knew I sometimes see them from my kitchen window as I do the dishes. :)

A Cerulean warbler taken in the park by Dave Hawkins Photography out of Nashville

I've been experimenting at making more foods from scratch and cooking more nourishing foods. This past week I have:
  • Made raw coconut milk from a whole coconut
  • Made raw goat's milk kefir (wow! talk about an acquired taste!)
  • Started a batch of lacto-fermented salsa (we'll see how that is in 2 days)
  • Made homemade bread crumbs from the leftover, dried out homemade loaf
  • Dried coconut meat (from making the milk) in oven for other uses
Here's what I've learned:
  • Making coconut milk from a fresh coconut is LABOR-INTENSIVE! It's not even the drilling the holes, draining the water, cracking it open on the sidewalk in a towel (that part was fun actually), of prying the meat out of the husk. It was the removing the "any brown parts left adhering to the meat" that took forever. Any source that details this process just mentions this little step, almost dismissively. I alternated between using a knife and a vegetable peeler for the job. Once that was over, the rest was smooth sailing. And I ended up with almost a quart. Had it been less I wouldn't bother doing it again. But I really liked the end product and this week I bought 2 more coconuts to do it again. And, I had a hefty cup of coconut meat as a bi-product! Which I'm looking forward to using in seafood batter, cookies or other things.
  • I've come across kefir many times in my search for healthier eating. It has been touted as quite the all-curative elixir. My lovely sister-in-law shared some of her kefir grains with me, and I thought I'd give it a try. It's been described as a "drinkable yogurt," but I would have to say that it is like yogurt on steroids! This stuff punches you in the face! It's very hard for me to drink straight, even after fermenting for only 24 hours. So I just put some in a smoothie. I plan to drink it everyday, and hope that all the amazing restorative abilities of this mysterious blob will become known to me.
  • I recently acquired the book Nourishing Traditions and really like it. I've only made one or two things out of the book so far, and today I whipped up my first batch of lacto-fermented salsa. Well, lacto-fermented anything, really. It was pretty straightforward, only I didn't think twice about dicing up jalapenos without wearing gloves first. WHOA! Feel the burn.
  • Making the breadcrumbs was pretty easy. You know, tossing bread cubes in the blender.
Overall I've learned these things aren't (that) difficult to do, and really, they're quite fun! I've always enjoyed food preparation to some extent, and been interested in making more things traditionally and from scratch. So I'm making the most of my time at home before work starts to pickup in the summer.

I'm also planning to make either pancakes or waffles in the morning, after soaking the flour overnight, which is supposed to make it more digestible.

I've not been investigating these things just because they're interesting to me, or I find them so enjoyable. In the last 10 years I've suffered from various ailments that have greatly affected my quality of life as a young woman. Joint and muscle pain (diagnosed as Fibromyalgia back in '07), PCOS and endometriosis have caused me great discomfort at times. I've been fraught with fatigue, pain, mood swings and depression........Western medicine offers nothing for these mysterious conditions except medications or "just live with it."

So I sought out and found an incredible local doctor who practices Eastern medicine, and have gotten great results. I'm still not 100% though, so I've been gradually improving my diet. I thought I was doing pretty good until I got ahold of Nourishing Traditions, then I realized I could take it even further.

Further motivation was the loss of a long-awaited pregnancy at the beginning of this year. I'm not sure whether the miscarriage had anything to do with my physical condition (overall I'm a pretty healthy gal), but I know any improvements in nutrition can only help my future chances.

Wow, this entry got kind of deep! It's been a low-energy, low-key kind of day, and I've been mulling over lots of things.

And so evening is falling (my favorite time of day). Trees shrug in the breeze, the birds are singing their last songs, and far away the sun sparkles on the lake. The end of another day at our Cabin in the Woods.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The end of a productive day....

We spent a long day of shed building, gardening, yard work, animal tending and house cleaning yesterday. Instead of vegging out in front of the TV, the hubby made a campfire where we talked and gazed at the stars. A nice end to a long day.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Reluctant Homemaker

The more and more I look at our homesteading goals and make steps to reach them, the more I realize that homesteading and homemaking go hand in hand.

I'll be honest - I am not good at homemaking.

I really let the dishes, laundry and dirt pile up. Our furniture is dusty. There are cobwebs in the corners. My kitchen is rarely clean. I may clean my fridge once a year.

All our drawers, cabinets and closets are cluttered, disorganized and overflowing.

It's not that these things don't bother me. They do! I've just let them go for so long, it's hard to know where to start.

My cleaning days come in spurts. Usually by the time I get one area clean, the previous area I worked on is in disarray yet again. And so on. It's just kind of overwhelming.

Any headway I make during the slow season, quickly goes to heck when my busy summer starts and I'm on the road all day.

So I decided to start in the area I work the most in: the kitchen....

I'm not thrilled with my kitchen. It's full of largely out-dated, hard to clean appliances, and cheap cabinets full of old peeling liner paper. Mice frequently visit, and leave their "deposits" necessitating the cleaning of just about every object that gets removed from the cabinets.

But, for better or for worse, it is my kitchen. And I've decided I'm going to take better care of it. (I love how the flash from the camera makes all the wood look so clean and shiny. :) Believe me, it's not!)

And boy have I been spending more time in it! In an effort to improve our eating habits and tighten up our budget, I've been trying to prepare more and more of our food at home. Yesterday I actually baked bread! Not only that, it turned out great! (I have a knack for ruining just about every recipe that involves baking, so I was thrilled it wasn't another disaster.)

Today's project has been slow-roasting pecans for snacking on.

These pecans are very special to me. They come from trees that grow at my Uncle's house in Arizona.

My Uncle Bill and I have shared a special relationship for years. My mom's older brother, he was the one that introduced her to wildflowers and the wonders of the natural world. This in turn, was passed on to me. We have been pen-pals since I was a young teen, sharing our lives and the plants and animals that we come across.

2 years ago we made it out to Arizona for the first time to visit him, and it was an amazing trip.

Every winter he mails us a gallon bag of pecans from his trees, that he husks himself. Last year we made it back to AZ for my niece's wedding, and even saw his tannin-stained hands.

I really wanted to do these nuts justice. So as per Sally Fallon's instructions in Nourishing Traditions, I soaked the pecans overnight in saltwater, and have been slow roasting them all day in the oven. We will be enjoying these nuts for some time. I think food with meaning has to be more nourishing. :)

Other projects I may try in the week to come include:
  • Making homemade laundry detergent
  • Making butter from my new cow share (if I can get it this week)
  • Making cocount milk from scratch

Just one small homesteading (and homemaking) goal at a time.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Grow or Mow? How about both!

So we finally got our push reel mower.

It actually exceeded my expectations!

If I had thought about it, it would have been good to get before and after shots of the lawn, but I was having too much fun mowing! Ha! Mowing? Fun?! By the way, I did most of the lawn, Mark just grabbed it before I could go over the spots I missed. :)

The yard was about 6 inches tall for the most part, and mostly consisted of clover. Of course there was also the occasional clump of grass about 2 feet tall. This is the first time we've mowed for the season, by the way. We were just determined to hold out until we got our reel mower.

It could hack away at parts of the tall plants, but we just used this thing for those:

I don't suppose a reel mower would be for the lawn perfectionist, but then a perfectionist would have never let their lawn get as high as ours. And I imagine it would work great for trimming up well manicured grass.

At $200 it was a bit of an investment, and I was disappointed that Lowes didn't carry any catch bags for it (of course I was surprised Lowes carried the reel mowers at all - they said they've been selling a lot, though!). I figured it would be worth the investment since we would never have to buy gas for it, or pay for expensive replacement parts. Mowers are so notorious for breaking down.

The most profound advantage was how quiet it was. Usually mowing is associated with deafening noise and noxious fumes. With the reel mower it was just the sound of the rotating blades and cutting grass. I can still hear the birds singing, my husband calling for me, or the kettle start to scream on the stove top.

All in all, I think it is one of the best investments we have ever made.

In other news, we decided to forgo housework and take a canoing trip down the Caney Fork. We have lived for years (6 for me, almost 10 for Mark) with this gorgeous river right at our back door, and never canoed on it. So today we did. And it was awesome.

Taken with Mark's phone

This is the old railroad bridge where the opening scene for The Green Mile was filmed.

We got more pictures but they were taken with an old waterproof disposable camera leftover from our honeymoon cruise. We actually have to get film developed!

In other news the chicks are growing strong, and loving their coop. In fact, I've been letting them free range (under supervision). I've only had one hawk (a redtail) take a swipe at them, and he was quickly chased off by the dogs.

These young ladies are particularly adventurous. They were labeled red sex-links at Tractor Supply, but I'm leaning more toward golds. Notice the German shepherd  pup (Tala) in the background. She's the only one one out of our 5 dogs that is still learning chickens are NOT for eating.

The black sex-links are beginning to get their brown feathers. This was also before we mowed the lawn, by the way. They are so fun to watch, chasing bugs around the yard. Pretty soon all but 5 will be heading to my parents' place.

I'm loving the raw goat's milk! But I'm beginning to realize that a gallon a week isn't enough. I find that I go through it quickly just drinking it. So whenever I have to use it in cooking, it almost hurts! So I'm thinking we might get a half share of cow's milk to compensate. And I'll have extra cream for making butter! A win-win.

Well, that's all I'm going to ramble about for now. After mowing and canoing my under-used muscles need some R&R.