Thursday, August 28, 2014

Late Nights Kill Mornings - And Tomato Trials in the Kitchen

Our busy little man has been really fighting bedtime, these days. Part of the problem is that he refuses to nap until he is just EXHAUSTED, then crashes at around 6 PM. I start trying to get him to bed as early as 9:30, but it's been taking two hours to get him down. Then, it doesn't matter how late it is, once the baby is down for the night, I have a renewed energy and desire to get stuff done. So it ends up being after midnight by the time I get my hind end in bed.

Inevitably, we all end up sleeping later in the morning; and since the baby has been waking up multiple times throughout the night (teething pain I'm sure), I am exhausted in the mornings. If Mark has the morning off, I simply cannot resist the opportunity for an extra hour or two sleep, if he can take Ian for me.

Unfortunately, this sets the tone for the rest of the day, in regards to productivity.

Not very productive, in other words.

I did however, manage to do something with that mountain of plum tomatoes from mom's garden....

(By the way, some of the pictures on this post are from none other than the latest pavement fatality...

As it turns out, the camera itself works fine. I just can't see what the hell I'm doing! Haha!

I'm planning to start a new photography business:

Crapshoot Photography. --- "you never know what you're gonna get - crap or gold!......... ...mostly crap".)

Anyhow.... back to tomatoes.....

I tried a few different methods of freezer prep, since I've not really ventured into the world of canning as of yet.

First I tried slow roasting in the oven with garlic and olive oil. The photo in the book made it look so enticing....... and how delicious would that be for sauces in winter?!

End result:

... yeah, not so much. The recipe recommended 5 hours at 275. This was after 4.  Granted, I should have been keeping a closer eye on things, but Ian gets overwhelmingly clingy anytime I attempt ANYTHING in the kitchen. This makes things *stressful*, to say the least. (By the way, they didn't all go to waste; the few non-charred ones got tossed in the sauce, and the rest to the dogs.)

Simultaneously I was working on blanching, peeling & squeezing another batch.

Once I started, I realized that we had not made it home with the ice cube trays we just bought. So the only thing I had to make a cold water bath for the hot tomatoes were a few cold packs from the freezer. Not very successful.

I still got 2 quarts of tomato flesh and one quart of tomato juice from the process, but not without a lot of swearing and a crying baby clinging to my leg (or getting into things or disappearing into other rooms, etc.).

I kept thinking to myself, how on earth did the women in the days of yore get this crap done ALL DAY?! I guess they had enough kids to keep each other busy. Or more family members to help out, perhaps.

The following day, I had the second half of the tomato pile to do something with. This time I decided to just cook them down in to tomato sauce. I used 4 onions, 6 cloves of garlic, dried oregano, butter, olive oil, Worcestershire, balsamic vinegar and a touch of brown sugar, with added salt and pepper. 10 pounds of chopped tomatoes made about a gallon of sauce. It would have been better without the seeds, but removing them would have been too labor intensive.

At least those beautiful tomatoes didn't go to waste.

I also managed to grate up 4 cups of zucchini to freeze last week.

I had all these aspirations of preserving mountains of produce to fill a sparkling larder, but I don't feel like I've accomplished much.

But I suppose a little is better than none. Especially considering accomplishing a daily shower is much celebrated, of late.

Now to do something with this small pile of yellow squash. And - OH GOD! My tomato pile is growing again! Help!

I got tired of picking beans, so I decided to let the rest dry on the plants. Hurray for dual-purpose beans!

Here is a glimpse of our first Painted Pony bean:

How cool is that?!

In three short weeks we'll be leaving for our annual vacation in the Gulf. While I am eagerly anticipating white sandy beaches, fresh seafood and casting a line into the surf; I'm looking ahead to our long drive with a 10 month-old with much trepidation. How could it possibly be a pleasant ride? That question is rhetorical, by the way. The short answer: it won't be. No. Freaking. Way.

But as always, I'm trying to focus on the positive.

A tiny update on the house:

We are at the negotiating stage, currently. This is taking a lot of patience and restraint, on our part; not to mention all the long discussions and crunching numbers. Buying a house is no small task. Nor is it a simple one. It's a great learning experience though.

Not to say that learning experiences equate to rollicking good time.

I'll report more on that subject when there is more to report.

Fingers crossed!!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Oh Yeah, It's Summer

Monkey Flower blooming on the river's edge

It's been another incredibly mild and rainy summer this year. We've had several days cool enough to leave the windows open! That is almost UNHEARD of for a July in middle Tennessee.

But now, finally, in the middle of August, summer decides to set in; temperatures in the high 80s, humidity upwards of 80%, and heat index in the low 100's.

HOT, in other words. UGH!

Oh yeah, it's summer. It does this EVERY year.

Of course, this heat wave just so happened to coincide with the replacement of the HVAC and ductwork for the ranger residence. Sounds nice, and indeed it will be, as it's supposed to be a more energy efficient unit. But not when it takes FOUR DAYS  to install. Mind you, that's FOUR DAYS  withOUT  AC. Ian and I spent most of those days basking in the AC at my parents' house. But the rest of the time it's been Sweaty Muggy Crabby City. And extra buggy, too.

I will never take air conditioning for granted again.  EVER!

Been having to keep a close eye on the rabbits, too. Even though the New Zealand Reds are in the shade all day, they were starting to show some signs of heat stress. So I decided to go ahead and put a fan on them too. Luckily, the fans for both groups of rabbits seem to be sufficient to keep them cool. Better safe than sorry.

Acer and Cardamom saying hello

I've been trying to train all of the rabbits to use the stick valve water bottles I inherited in abundance from a retired rabbit breeder. The older Cremes got it, no problem, but the young rabbits are being really stubborn about it. I got two cheap water bottles at Tractor Supply for the Reds, but they are the LEAKIEST sorry things I have EVER seen. I have to fill them twice a day because every time a rabbit moves in the cage, water streams out. It makes for a very sloppy mess around the cages, not to mention putting them in danger of running out of water. I will NEVER buy anything from Home Rig brand again. (Incidentally this is pretty much the only brand of rabbit anything  that Tractor Supply sells.)

In addition to the terrible bottles, I had purchased J-pliers of the same brand, and they were so pitiful I threw them away after fighting with them for an hour.

I should have read the product reviews before I purchased either of these items, since I'm obviously not the only one hugely dissatisfied with their products. A unanimous one out of five stars. Lol.

 Live and learn, I suppose.

I decided to move the older hens and their tractor to the backyard.

They were spending so much time in and around the road, I was afraid they would cause an accident. There had already been several close calls. They and the new trio haven't exactly meshed, but there isn't any fighting going on either. But now the new guys want to roost on TOP of the chicken tractor, and every night I have to move them to safety. They are just asking for a Great Horned Owl to carry them off. Seven birds are a little cramped in the tractor, so I just moved the new guys back to their pen for now.

I'll be moving the older black hen to the farm until processing day. In addition to her and  two (or three) roosters, I need to determine which of the free range hens are laying down there. I suspect there are numerous free loaders in the group who would make some excellent chicken and dumplings.....

The excess Silver Appleyard drakes will also need to be processed soon. Before much longer they will be harassing the hens mercilessly.

Here they are, all grown up! Those are a pair of old Pilgrim geese in the background.

We did finally get to taste one of the young drakes we processed in the spring. I sauteed the breasts and made a glaze to go over them. It was DELICIOUS! (Yeah, no picture. I am so bad about taking pictures of entrees, because I'm always too eager to eat them!) I'm looking forward to eating the rest.

The garden has been doing so-so.

I've gotten a handful of zucchini, but there seems to be a lot of growth and blooming without setting fruit. I'm sure it has to do with not enough sunlight, and probably not enough room either.

The cucumbers are about done, but have been fairly productive. Again, lack of sunlight, and general lack of hot days, probably contributed to that.

Out of the two tomato varieties, the Cherokee Purple have been performing the best by far. They have HUGE, HEAVY fruits that are meaty and delicious. Loving the color too.

(Again, no picture. By the time I remember we've already eaten them.)

The Amish Paste aren't doing as well. I'm sure they are quite crowded too, and since we never got around to staking them sufficiently, they are all flopped over on each other.

Despite the neglect, and all the other factors, it's done well. Especially considering we haven't watered once, in several months. But then we have had quite a bit of rain.

So now we're fighting that late summer lethargy, and de-motivation. I'm also having a sudden relapse of Fibromyalgia symptoms, which has put a damper on my enthusiasm for just about everything. Kind of a bummer.

We made our first offer on the house, and are waiting to hear back from the owners. The suspense is killer.

I hope we know something before the weekend gets here.

So with the soaring heat and humidity, and the droves of biting insects, we spend most of our time indoors. Between trying to keep Ian happily occupied and keeping all of us fed and bathed, I still make future plans for our little homestead. And look forward once again to cooler days.

Mark on a recent rare trip down the river. So looking forward to the day when I can join him again.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Little Accomplishments and New Developments

Today we finally FINALLY got the cages hung in the rabbit shed. It really didn't take long, it was just a matter of both of us being free to accomplish the task. Although 3 people would have been best, since it pretty much takes one whole person to keep Ian from eating every rock, plant, insect, and rabbit turd within his reach. But alas, we prevailed!

As you can see, there is really nowhere else to store hay except on top of the cages

[By the way, I commandeered Mark's camera for these photos] 

I'm hoping that will help insulate them against the heat from the metal roof

Risking a little "rabbit raindown" with this shot, but I HAVE to get all angles :)  ...really though, they're way up there!

We left room for at least two 24/24 cages on top, and then a whole row along the bottom. That will come later. At least for now these guys are far away from their waste. I'll hang on to the stacked unit, as I know it will come in handy later on. Back in storage it goes!

The reds are doing great. Growing out nicely, and really getting some shine.

Little miss Cardamom is already getting her dewlap. I'm pretty sure she was from a separate litter, as she is a little larger than Acer. 

Ichigo doesn't like sitting still for pictures. And he was very interested in the camera.

Oh yeah, we got more chickens! My sister-in-law had some extras, including a Faverolle rooster.

Isn't he handsome? He's not fully feathered yet, but what a fine beard he has! He's also very tame, since my niece and nephews raised him. This poor, gentle soul spent his first night with my older hens in the chicken tractor. By first light they were pecking him mercilessly. I decided to move him into the chicken/rabbit pen with the two sex-link pullets I also inherited from my brother's family.

They always look so angry, for some reason. Anyhow, he walked right up to say hello, and proceeded to get the snot beat out of him by these new hens too. Oh well. I'm sure they'll work things out eventually.

The poor guy spends most of his time in "time out" on the roost. Soon enough he'll take the role of the masculine, crowing king of the chicken yard.  Hopefully. He could just be a pansy.

By the way, the sex links are a cross of Buckeye and Barred Rock. They have very glossy plumage and one curious longer feather on their tails. Buckeyes are actually a critically endangered breed that a local family raises. They are very intelligent, gentle and awesome foragers.

Buckeye rooster

I'll attempt to consolidate the whole flock here in a few weeks, before we leave for our vacation. By then the new rabbits will be done with quarantine and ready to join the Cremes.

Right now this is the arrangement: rabbits and chickens in [relative] peace and harmony.

New critters aside, there is another exciting development.

I've been hesitant to post anything on my blog, because it seemed so far out of our reach. I could see it: our dream finally being realized; and I was so afraid that if I spoke of it that this fragile dream would shatter and blow away.

We may have found our homestead. A place to really set our roots and grow a legacy.

There is a place for sale right next to my parents' farm. It's a double wide on 8.5 acres, fronted by a small stream. It's a beautiful setting, and I've always admired the location. The owners are selling it in our price range. So why the hesitation?

It needs a LOT of work. A renter did a lot of damage to the home, and it will be costly to fix. It's also been sitting empty for over a year. We've met with the bank twice, to discuss our options, and still have yet to make our first offer. We are proceeding very carefully at this point.

At the moment it looks hopeful. I'm trying not to become too attached, but it is impossible for me. All I can do is sit and think about all of the things we could do with that place. The animals we could raise. The things we could grow. The memories we could make....

We will also have direct access to my parents' 40 acres. Not to mention the mutual benefits of having family for neighbors.

It's in God's hands, and I'm going to try and let it go for now. 

Here are a few pictures from the ad:

I have always LOVED this barn. It needs a few minor repairs, but it has so many possibilities. My parents' property is just beyond the fence.

So there it is. Hanging my dream out there in the real world, for all to see. A beat up double wide and 8.5 scrappy acres may not seem like much, but to me...... it could be paradise.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Walk Around The Homestead.... and Another Camera Bites The Dust

I haven't been taking very many pictures lately, just because daily busy-ness has detracted from my ability to slow down and enjoy my surroundings.

So I got the camera out and took a walk around the yard, snapping pictures of things I enjoy looking at.

(By the way, it's a good thing I did, since this camera hit the pavement later that evening and is no more. This seems to be a recurring theme.)

Garden Phlox transplanted from the butterfly garden. I love being greeted by its Earth-shattering fragrance when I step out the door.

Cardinal flower in bloom

The garden is doing well. I am SOLD on hay mulch. Haven't had to water in over a month, and weeds are at a minimum.

Tiny Edmonson cucumber

Cherokee Purple tomatoes. Not purple yet, obviously.

It is a JUNGLE in there

Colbert the Creme has grown up. He's old enough to breed, but it will be awhile before he has any dates.

Finally got the two large cages put together. All we need now some eye hooks and we are ready to start hanging them.

Black-eyed-susans in bloom

The salsa peppers planted in the garden are pretty much dead, but the potted one is still producing. I gave it a big dose of bunny berries so I think that will make it happier.

The potted Tophat blueberries are looking MUCH better after their bunny berry treatment. This stuff is the plant WONDERDRUG.

The chocolate mint is enjoying its new planter

Sultan's Golden Crescent beans. Not producing much in the pot. The ones in mom's garden are doing much better.

Cardamom and Acer enjoying some wild greens

The rabbit shelter. Beautiful I know, but hey, it works. 

The stack of firewood is starting to grow


 The difference between splitting tulip poplar (left) and elm (right) is the type of grain. The straight grain of poplar is like butter, while elm's twisted grain makes for a lot of frustration.

Tala likes to play with firewood

Wild plums ripening

Sunset on Center Hill. Evenings like this always remind me why I love living here, and how much I take it for granted.

So, unless I use Mark's camera, these will be the last pictures for awhile. Well, I guess there's always crummy cell phone photos....

Oh! And, we finally have our unlimited internet and [Halleluia chorus] NETFLIX!

So our involuntary media fast is over, and now we have even more excuses to NOT get things done around here.