Sunday, May 31, 2015

Happy birthday Frank and Fern!

This is the second anniversary for Frank and Fern's excellent blog Thoughts from Frank and Fern.

Whoo-hoo! Whistles and cheers!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Friday roundup

It's time for the Friday Roundup, where we all pitch in the things we did during the week -- big or small -- that contributed toward self-sufficiency.

Okay, technically it's a Saturday Roundup, but what can I say, we were busy yesterday.

Here's our week's tally:

• Don and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. I would argue that marital stability is one of the biggest factors contributing to a prepared lifestyle.

• We rounded up (three times) a cow that kept slipping over/under/around the pasture fence. It's been a couple of days now and she hasn't escaped, so I think we have the problem licked (for the moment). Sometimes failures (as in, fences) can be just as important as successes.

• Speaking of failures, we lost our beloved Snap to a coyote.

His loss -- and the increased watchfulness we have for our remaining flock -- reminds us it's time to make improvements. We're planning on building another chicken coop inside our yard and fencing it against dogs (and thereby against coyotes as well). We're expecting our Jersey Giant chicks next week and want to guard them against predation.

• I spent some time on the phone with a dear friend who's going through a rough patch and needed to talk. I don't know if I offered much by way of help just by listening, but I do know cultivating and maintaining friendships are critical in a prepared lifestyle. No one can go it alone.

• We noticed one of our little cherry bushes was infested with aphids. We don't want to use chemicals on the little buggers (though we will, if necessary, to save the bush), so we treated them with soapy water as an organic pesticide. Vigilance toward pests is necessary for self-sufficiency.

• We checked on, and fed, the bees. They're eating less syrup now that flowers are blooming, but we will feed until they no longer take syrup at all.

• We harvested a bit of lettuce from the garden. This is entirely volunteer lettuce, growing from blown seed from last year. It made a delicious salad.

• Don turned over the compost pile, both to aerate it as well as to bring to the surface the best stuff. A neighbor will be coming to get some so he can plow it into his garden space.

• We harvested the very first strawberry from the garden. Don and I split it. Delicious.

• I did a tremendous amount of weeding, still prepping the garden beds for planting. Times a-wastin', gotta get them veggies planted!

• I found this on the Art of Manliness website and thought it highly appropriate:

Now it's your turn. What did you do this week?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Requiem for a rooster

We lost our beloved rooster Snap yesterday.

We hatched Snap from an egg back in August 2010.

He was the ideal rooster: protective of his flock, easy on the hens, good natured toward us, virile, manly, showy. Over the years other roosters have come and gone, but Snap has been our mainstay.

A coyote ended his life yesterday morning. I released the chickens from the coop in the early morning, as usual, and about an hour later I took a lead rope and went to get Polly from the pasture for milking. On the way back I walked past the telltale signs of predator/prey.

This is not the sort of thing I would miss seeing, so evidently it happened while I was out getting Polly. Clearly the coyote was waiting for the opportunity while my back was turned to steal his meal. I knew in a moment it was Snap who was taken.

It would also explain why I found the hens huddled by the barn rather than scratching for worms in the compost pile.

We are all surprisingly saddened by Snap's loss. Our yard seems empty and quiet without his lusty crow. I'm jumpy and protective of the hens who are now without their mate.

This coyote has been plaguing our neighborhood in the past couple weeks. Our neighbor across from us is down to two birds left in his flock, thanks to the coyote's insatiable appetite. We've lost a couple of hens as well. Once a coyote knows where to get an easy meal, there's no stopping him.

I saw the coyote early one morning last week. I went around to the back of the barn to check on Dusty and her calf, and saw the canine slink out of the woods...

...glance around, and slink back. I can't blame him, really -- it's how he makes his living -- but we're not about to lose our flock without a fight.

Don will be carrying the shotgun around and I'll start releasing the hens later in the morning when we have a more active presence outside.

Meanwhile we're planning another chicken coop and a fenced yard for our incoming Jersey Giants, which should be arriving next week. As newborn chicks, they'll spend their first month or so in the house, then another month or two in the inside coop in the yard, by which point (hopefully) we'll have the new coop and yard built.

Such is life on the edge of the wild. But we'll miss poor Snap.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Blender butter

Since I've been milking Polly every day, I've been getting about 1.25 gallons each morning. Needless to say, this stuff stacks up in the fridge. I haven't made any cheese for awhile because I'm out of starter culture and need to cultivate more; so until then, I've been skimming the cream and making butter.

I don't know why it didn't occur to me to put up a blog post about the process until I was halfway done with this latest batch, but there you go. So I apologise for not showing the eight or so gallons that were stacked in the fridge, or the process of ladling the cream into a large pot. But suffice it to say, I ended with this large pot (which holds two gallons) full of cream.

I heated it slowly to 60F.

For whatever reason, when cream is warmer or cooler than 60F, it takes too long to churn; but right around 60F, it churns quickly and easily... especially if you churn in a blender, which I do for the sake of convenience.

The blender shouldn't be more than half full, since it increases in volume during the churning process, plus it needs room to splash around.

It takes maybe a minute (or less) for cream to churn to butter in the blender. You can "hear" when it's done because the motor changes tone as the contents become thicker. This is what it looks like after it's churned. Butter floats on top, buttermilk is at the bottom.

I line a colander in the sink with a large piece of clean sheeting, about 2x2 feet square, and pour the liquidy butter/buttermilk into the colander.

The colander will hold the contents of two bouts in the blender (this photo shows just one blender's worth).

When I've churned twice and dumped everything into the colander, it's time to squeeze out the buttermilk. You can save the buttermilk if you like, though I don't bother. It's not like the thick buttermilk you find in grocery stores, by the way. That's cultured buttermilk, which this isn't.

Gather up the corners of the cloth...

...then squeeze downward. I prefer "thick" sheeting rather than "thin" sheeting for this purpose. If the fabric is too thin or loose (like cheesecloth), it will squeeze out the butter along with the buttermilk.

After that, move the sheet over a large bowl...

...and strip the butter downward off the sheet into the bowl. It's messy, but the butter is so softy and liquidy it's very easy.

Repeat this process until the cream is all gone. I am able to set up a comfortable rhythm: While I'm stripping butter from the cloth, another batch is churning; then I dump the churned butter in the colander and set up another batch to churn while I squeeze and strip the butter, etc.

At the end, this is what the butter looks like. It's very watery and loose and bears little resemblance to the finished product.

The next step is to wash the butter. It's necessary to wash all the buttermilk out of the butter, or it will go rancid very quickly.

Run COLD water into the bowl...

...and start working the butter -- squeezing and flattening, squeezing and flattening.

The water will quickly get cloudy, and you'll feel the butter start to firm up.

Pour off the water and refill the bowl, always using cold water. I like to pour off the cloudy water over a colander, because sometimes little bits of butter get poured off too.

Repeat this process for as many times as necessary until the water comes clear - maybe nine or ten times. You can expect anywhere from 2 to 3.5 pounds of butter from two gallons of cream. This time I got 3.5 lbs, calibrated for the weight of the bowl.

The next step is to salt the butter. Salting isn't necessary, though it does improve the flavor and helps preserve it. Most instructions for making butter call for waaaay too much salt, in my opinion. Through trial and error, I've found one teaspoon of salt for three pounds of butter is just about right. If I had only one pound of butter, I'd add 1/3 teaspoon.

Sprinkle the salt over the butter and work it in until you can't feel the graininess of the salt any more. You'll probably work out a bit more water during this process, so just pour it off.

Then the butter is done. Since 3.5 lbs is more than we will use in the immediate, I froze the excess. I tore off three sheets of waxed paper and laid them on the counter, ready, then weighed out a pound of butter.

The butter is still very sloppy and loose since it's at room temperature, so I plop it onto the waxed paper and carefully roll it into a ball within the paper, tucking the side tails of the paper under the ball. This left me with half a pound left over, which I put in the fridge for immediate use.

I like to slip each pound of wrapped butter into a plastic Ziplock bag as well, before freezing.

That's all there is to making butter. From start to finish, including cleanup, takes about an hour. By the way, you'd think the piece of fabric I used to drain the buttermilk would be a mess to clean, but it's not. Under hot water, it's quite easy to rinse off the remains of the butter, after which I put the cloth in the wash.

As I see it, knowing how to make butter is just one more step toward self-sufficiency. After all, you can't get much closer to the cow than homemade butter.

Oh, and let's not forget... this butter is EXTREMELY RARE AND PRECIOUS, according to this article. LOL.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Love Letter

25 years ago - this day, I was blessed with the finest day of my life. On that day, the best woman in the entire world took a very risky gamble and accepted me as her husband.

We have led a life where for most of the years that have followed we've worked together. With relatively rare exceptions, we're never much farther apart than 2 or 3 hundred feet. Occasionally, I'll go do a craft show or she'll head off to a prepper convention. But on the average day I'll be in the shop and she'll be at her computer or in the kitchen. I'll hear something on the radio and rush in to tell her about it. We'll stop and talk about it. I'll kiss the back of her neck. She'll give me a hug. And I'll go back to my work...happy. When we find the time, we'll go for a walk - holding hands - and talk about the day or tomorrow or plans for the next year.

 In the evening, like tonight, she'll go to bed earlier than me and give me kiss before heading upstairs.

We don't really "celebrate" much. Every minute of the day seems so full. Kids, cows, garden, fences, chicken, shipping product,

 Birthdays are noted; but without much fuss. Previous anniversaries usually are a kiss and and an "I love you". I can't speak for Patrice on this, but for me annual anniversaries just aren't that big a deal because I've celebrated 9,125 daily anniversaries so far, and I look forward eagerly to tomorrow and the next one.

Patrice may not always be first thing on my mind when I wake up in the morning - But I get up only because she's here. She may not always be the last thing on my mind when I fall asleep - but I'm always the spoon she's nestled in. Patrice may not be on my mind every minute of the day - but there is no one and nothing that I think about more. She is the sunshine of my life - so I never fear the darkness. If I do something that makes me proud - it's because I want her to be proud of me. If I screw up, I feel bad because I never want to be less in her eyes.

I believe in God. I believe his Son died to take away the sins of the world. Still...I worry sometimes that when my day is done, and I face my Lord, the balance of my shortcomings might sway things against me. But if the Lord asks me to say one thing in my defense - one last chance to change my fate - I'll tell him that "Patrice loves me." And that must surely count for a lot.

And I will love her until the end of time.

Happy 9,125th anniversary Maeve.

I can hardly wait till tomorrow.

UPDATE: Folks, I didn't know Don put this up until I checked the comments this morning. I'm standing here with tears flowing down my cheeks because of the love my husband holds for me.

Happy anniversary, darling husband. I love you more than I can say.

Wedding photo goes viral

Here's an astounding photo caught by a wedding photographer of a Marine praying with his bride before they walked down the aisle.

According to the article: "A wedding photographer has captured the touching moment a US Marine sought out his bride-to-be so the pair could say a prayer for their marriage together just moments before they walked down the aisle and said 'I do'.

To ensure he wouldn't see his bride before the ceremony, US Marine Corps Corporal Caleb Earwood and his fiancee Maggie, both from Asheville, North Carolina, kept their eyes closed and turned away from one another as family members brought them together for a prayer on Saturday before their Memorial Day weekend wedding.

The photo shows Caleb in his Marine uniform and Maggie in her wedding gown as they hold hands and pray near a staircase with their backs turned away from each other.

And the poignant image quickly became an internet sensation, sparking a flurry of positive responses."

Too beautiful not to share. It brought tears to my eyes -- how about yours?

Memorial Day

Words are inadequate to thank veterans for their service and sacrifice.

But I'll try.