Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Wonderful Family

My parents are in town and we are having so much fun. Almost a month has gone by and I seriously couldn't be happier. We have picked Italian plums, Niagara grapes, apples, and pears from the yard and processed them into yummy canning goodness! Jams have been made along with multiple variations of apple butter, and fruit sauces to drizzle over ice-cream. The house has been either buzzing with canning activity or sleepy calm with reading books. We play games in the evening, usually Rummikub, and chat until the wee hours of the night. I took them up Pike's Peak (driving this time;)) where we noshed on chocolate covered eclairs we purchased at the French bakery "La Baguette" (their french onion soup is deee-vine!!!).

Best Kiss Ever.

Making Niagara Grape Jam: Our jam went from disgustingly green prior to cooking to a deep maroon fruit spread! The guys even joined us and we all had some great family time discussions.

This is what happens when I'm put "on call" from work. Jam right! No time is wasted!

My parents are still wetting their pants laughing after this one. These are my "onion chopping goggles". Seriously, they work. I pulled them out when the scalding Orange-Plum jam started splattering like crazy when adding Grand Marnier right before canning. You can laugh, it's alright.

Apple time! We were taking a mini break with 100% fruit popsicles. As my mom said, "Canning isn't work when you're doing it with others."

That's 24lbs of apples cut up right there. And we still have 2 more bins full! What is awesome is ALL canned fruit mentioned in the blog is 100% off the land. Nothing store bought. 

After a terrible episode trying to use my KA strainer attachment with the grapes (later I read slip-skin type grapes are not to be used with this attachment, oops), I was hesitant to experiment with the apples. I psyched myself up then chunked up 18lbs of apples: uncored & unpeeled. When I cooked them with a little water until soft then ran them through the KA it was like magic just happened. Right there in front of me. Just happened. It was truly beautiful. Easy-Peasy. The apples got fed into the hopper at top (with added extra large tray), pushed down lightly with the plunger and out came the pureed apples on one end and the other end spit out the core, seeds, and skins. Fabulous!!! The applesauce went into two crock pots to simmer for the day and the next day we canned Spiced Maple-Apple Butter and Honey-Ginger Apple Butter. 

We also took my parents to our local LDS canning facility and let them have fun canning a bunch of rolled oats, wheat, and sugar! Over the years I have shared our knowledge of food storage and they are really understanding the fun and benefit of it. The other day Cowboy made them some cream of wheat after grinding some fresh wheat on our mill. The looks on their faces were priceless as they said, "this tastes just like Ralston growing up and we can't find this stuff anywhere!". We are already in the negotiation phase of grinding them up a bunch to take back home.

And in other wonderful news: Martha, our "Miss Personality" Americauna, laid our very first egg yesterday! It was such an exciting moment for the entire family. Mom came running in the house from hanging clothes on the line, exclaiming the good find and wouldn't allow anyone else out of the house to witness it until we all were downstairs together as a group. We cheered and whistled and gave Martha a few extra treats in celebration. It was a small little blue-green egg but we were as proud as if she just laid the notorious golden egg!

Blue-green and speckled

 Martha's egg among the "dairy farm" eggs. She's tiny but a mighty flavor bomb!

 Martha's vibrant orange yolk on left. 

Nom Nom Nom!

That night I sat on the living room floor and read sections of my chicken book to re-familiarize myself with the whole laying process. The book stated that although it takes 25hrs for an egg to be formed, it could take 3-4 days for the "new-laying" chicken to lay another egg. Surprise, surprise Martha laid a second one today! 1.8oz and just as pretty blue-green pastel as the previous one.

Life couldn't be better!

Dad pretending he's a pirate with Martha

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Clucking Around

The weather was wonderfully cool today for the first time in a few weeks and I jumped on the opportunity to get things done around the house.

I did:
1. touch-up paint on the coop
2. installed our new "poop board" (a tray that sits underneath the coop's perch to collect chicken poo which keeps the general insides of the coop cleaner and easier to maintain)

3. mucked out the old shavings which I added to our compost pile and then added fresh pine shavings sprinkled with Diatomaceous Earth (the old shavings weren't really that dirty but with the poop board in, I wanted to start fresh and witness the effectiveness of the tray)
4. raked the dirt in the run, put that pile of chicken waste in the compost, and sprinkled down DE in anticipation of getting a few truckloads of sand tomorrow for the run floor.
5. mowed the lawn- the chickens, who were free ranging, loved the fresh cut grass and plethora of bugs that jumped around because of it. They were running to and fro, chasing the grasshoppers and such down.
6. washed the laundry and hung it all out to dry on the line. Love that smell.
7. went to water the tomatoes, peppers, and herbs I planted around the outside of the run...then gave up because the chickens had plucked every single baby bud off the plants. Oh well, at least they enjoyed themselves. Now I know when time to plant my big garden next year to put a nice high fence around it!

 Mmmm freshly mowed grass and hopping bugs!

I had a great time watching the chickens swagger around the yard, clearly very happy with their ability to roam wherever they wish. I let them out of their run whenever I wake in the morning and let them range all day. They stay in our yard without any issues. Well...except one.

Last week a hawk came to visit us. There are three in the neighborhood that don't live to far away.  One swooped onto a telephone post and took a look-see at the chickens. I stood there all "Protective Mama" with my hands on my hips and giving it my best stink eye, just daring the bird to come any closer. The chickens sensed the hawk as its shadow swooped overhead and they ran immediately to the cover of the grape vines. The hawk stood there gawking for a minute or two then must have thought better of it and flew away. That or he decided to wait until the flock wasn't so heavily guarded. I have now placed my pink Daisy BB gun at the back door for quick access if the need arises. Which I hope it doesn't. I don't want to have to spank a BB in a hawk-butt to have it learn a lesson or two but a Momma Hen has gotta do what a Momma Hen has gotta do. I have also allowed Argos to mingle with the birds more while watching him very closely. He is getting better with them every day. Today, he was very much a sheepdog to the flock of girls.

Just today, the girls learned to jump and perch on the very top of the heap of vines. They squatted down and got cozy as if they were sitting in a nest just for them. So much for us human-folk getting any grapes...

Lucy- shimmering blue-green feather tips against her black

Ellie Mae (the heavyweight of the flock) and Buffy

The Two Silkies: Is one a Roo??

 Anges- the round butterball, smokey blue-gray feathers, less pronounced (colorful) comb

 Penny- brighter blue earlobes, ring of brown around neck and copper colored feathers, much brighter maroon comb than Agnes.  When they square off, Agnes is usually the first to pounce, but she gives up and gets bored quicker. Penny is usually left staring her down as Agnes turns her butt toward Penny and walks away.

 Protecting the flock


Martha- by far the most friendly and winner of Miss Personality Award

 Slowly working their way back to the coop for last minute grain snack before bedtime. They put themselves to bed without any help from me (except for my small part of closing the main run door and securing the latch. I leave the pop door open for them to let themselves out to breakfast in the morning). 

Almost 2000 and time for bed. They take at least half an hour to jostle around for the the best perch position before snuggling down and trilling soft happy sleepy notes.