Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sunshine in a jar

It's peach-canning season.

Someone from a friend's church makes a run to Yakima every year for peaches. At $15 for a 20-lb. box, it's hard to beat the prices. This year I ordered five boxes -- one box for fresh eating (I love LOVE LOVE peaches!), four boxes for canning.

Canning 80 lbs. of peaches is a serious, day-long affair. I've found it's easiest if I set up "stations" in the kitchen. This is my scalding station:

My cooling station:

My peeling station:

My peeled fruit station:

My jar station:

and my syrup station:

This allows me to get into a rhythm. Some peaches are scalding, others are cooling, while I peel yet another batch. When I have a full bowl, I stop and slice, and fill jars...

...then top them with syrup.

Before capping the jars, I wipe the rims to get any spilled syrup or peach pulp off. This also allows me to check for any nicks I may have missed.

When the jars are all filled, the stove is then free to start processing. First I scalded my Tattler lids.

Peaches are processed in a water-bath, so I got my two biggest pots (using racks on the bottom, of course). The bigger pot held seven quarts, the smaller one five, so I could process 12 quarts at a time.

Quarts are processed at a rolling boil for 30 minutes. I set two kitchen timers up to monitor both pots separately.

After removing a batch but before putting in another batch, I pre-warmed the jars in hot water so they wouldn't break when I immersed them in the water-bath.

Batch by batch, I got the jars processed until by the end of a long and exhausting day, 35 quarts were cooling on the counter.

By the next morning, I was in more of a position to admire my handiwork.

However I didn't want to put the peaches away into the pantry until I washed the jars. There's always a bit of overflow which causes stickiness.

Then I washed the rings, a boring but necessary task.

Canned peaches are like sunshine in a jar.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

"May you always have cows around"

A reader sent me a link to this YouTube video entitled "Cows Around." I have seldom laughed so hard.

I was able to find the lyrics, which demonstrate unequivocally the songwriter had cows. Every word is true, as our daughters can testify:
Well everything is better with some cows around
Livin' in town sometimes brings me down
Let me bestow this western blessing share what I have found
May you always have cows around

What else you gonna spend that extra money on
What else is gonna get you up hours before dawn
What else is gonna keep toiling on and on and on
May you always have cows around

C'mon you know that you got too much time on your hands
Not merely enough complication in your plans
You need to invite all the frustration that you can
May you always have cows around

Everything is better with some cows around
Livin' in town sometimes brings me down
Let me bestow this western blessing leave you saddle bound
May you always have cow around

What else can make the bishop swear like a sailor might?
What else can cause such tension between a man and his wife?
What else could ever bring all these enhancements to your life?
May you always have cows around

What else is gonna get out when ya dont close the gate
What else'll make ya prematurely show your age?
What else'll take a run at you in a fit of bovine rage?
May you always have cows around

Well everything is better with some cows around
Livin' in town sometimes brings me down
And although this western blessing leaves you cattle bound
May you always have cows around

What kinda cows Corb?
Well there's Hereford, Highland, Simmental, Welsh Black and Maine-Anjou, Chianina, Limousine, Shorthorn, Charolais, Watusi too, Texas Long Horn, Corriente, Romangola, Galloway, Angus, Brahma, Brangus, Jersey, Guernsey, Holstein, hey!

Well ya mighta had to let 'em dig for oil and gas
Ya mighta had to turn the place to an exotic game ranch
Ya mighta had to do all things to raise the cash
So you'd always have cows around

How else ya gonna lose it all like daddy did
What else will make sure you leave nothing for your kids?
It's too late now you know it is you might as well admit
That you'd a barely floatin', sentimental, masochisticness
And that despite all the statistic and the advice that you get
You will always have cows around

Ya everything is better with some cows around
Livin' in t own sometimes brings me down
Well you wont know what you're missing till ya hear that sound
May you always have cows around
May you always have cows around
Mooo moo

Waaaay off in the suburbs of New Jersey, Older Daughter is listening to this and nodding her head in agreement. Betcha....

Monday, August 29, 2016

A new kind of creature

We have a new kind of critter in the neighborhood -- alpacas.

Our neighbors leased (yes, leased) six of these dazzling things. Why, I have no idea, but I must admit they're awfully cute. They're so different than the usual cadre of cows and horses, sheep and goats.

But what was absolutely hilarious was the reaction of our cattle to these new animals. The moment the alpacas were spotted, the entire herd came thundering over to gape. And I mean gape.

They mooed and bellowed and pawed and gaped some more.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. Since the neighbor's pasture is on the other side of the barn from our house, it's not clearly visible from our yard. Therefore Lydia had never seen the alpacas.

Now that the bees are no longer in the garden space, I've been letting Lydia loose to roam about while I'm weeding or watering.

Then she saw the alpacas for the first time -- and suddenly all that is Pyrenees in her came surging to the forefront. Alert! Alert! New animal in the vicinity!

And she barked. And barked and barked. Alert! Alert!

Alpacas are so different that Lydia instantly determined they were, well, different. Alert! Alert! (As you may have guessed, "high alert" is nothing unusual for Pyrenees.)

Meanwhile the alpacas seemed mildly interested but hardly concerned.

When it became apparent the alpacas were not in imminent danger of invading her territory, Lydia calmed down, though she kept a wary eye on the newcomers.

I have no idea what the neighbors intend to do with these lovely creatures. They won't be shearing them for wool (they were sheared before they arrived). I guess they just like having unusual pets.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Farmer's instinct

Sometimes it amazes me how much instinct farmers have -- an intuition or sixth sense when something is amiss.

A few years ago I noticed a calf lying down on the farthest side of the pasture. He was just -- lying there. Nothing wrong. Yet there was something that piqued my interest, especially when he laid there a lot longer than calves are wont to do. Turns out his hoof was tangled in a wire.

Another time, my concerns about Polly's hunched posture tuned me into a close call with hypothermia.

A few days ago we moved the cattle back to the wooded side of the property. Shortly thereafter we had a windy day (wind is nothing unusual around here), and of course during wind we hear all kinds of clanks, bangs, rattles, and other normal sounds.

So what was it about one particular clank that caught my attention? Through an open window in the house, I heard a chain clank against metal from a direction it shouldn't have. I stepped outside and saw the feedlot gate...

...had swung wide open. The wind had pushed the gate back and forth just enough that the single link holding the gate closed had worked its way out.

Inside the feedlot (still littered with debris from felling trees) were several cattle lounging about.

A few minutes longer, and the temptation to explore the open gate would have propelled the whole herd into the driveway.

This was just a trivial incident, but it does drive home how important it is to pay attention when your gut tells you something is wrong.

It also makes me ask: where else do people respond to their gut as part of their job? One poster mentioned nursing (true). Another mentioned hunting (also true). Others?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Making bread (the cheater's way)

A few days ago I made a passing reference to my bread machine, prompting some questions from interested readers.

I'm no good at breadmaking. Early in our marriage, I tried and tried and tried to make bread ... and didn't have much luck. Long story short, around 1996 or so I broke down and purchased a bread machine, specifically a Regal Kitchen Pro Model no. K6743. At the time, it was one of the top-rated machines.

(I took this photo off an eBay listing, because my bread machine isn't nearly this clean and shiny.)

This marvelous invention has churned out literally thousands of loaves of bread over the last 20 years. Don's a sandwich guy, so on average I make two or three loaves a week.

For awhile, bread machines were the "thing" to have, but for some inexplicable reason many people never used them once they had them. As a result, you can often pick up pristine hardly-used machines in thrift stores, often with the instruction books intact. Gold!

I'm sure today's modern bread machines are far better than the one I currently use, but I certainly have no room to complain about my particular model; it still works flawlessly. A lot of newer machines produce more "loaf-shaped" loaves as well, but we're so used to the taller vertical bucket that we never give it much thought.

For literally the entire lives of our girls, they've eaten homemade bread. In fact, here's a true story: One time when Younger Daughter was just a baby, I got behind on making bread and we ran out, so Don purchased a couple of loaves at the grocery store. When he came home, Older Daughter (who was about three years old) watched him unpack the items. Suddenly she came flying into the bedroom where I was changing Younger Daughter's diaper. "Mommy, mommy!" she yelled with great excitement. "The bread! It’s sliced!"

The girls have dabbled in the "great unknown" of commercial white bread at various times, but they're grown to dislike the pasty consistency and bland flavor and now appreciate a good wheat bread.

Over the years, I've made different types, but our daily standby is wheat. It's not whole wheat, since the recipe calls for both unbleached white flour and oatmeal, but it's tasty and hearty and makes excellent sandwiches.

I add the following ingredients (in the following order) for one loaf of wheat bread, #2 setting on the bread machine:

10 oz. warm water
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ tablespoons sugar (or honey)
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 cups white flour (don't bother with bread flour)
1½ cups whole wheat flour
2/3 cup oatmeal
1½ teaspoons yeast

One reader asked what yeast we use. I buy bulk Saf Instant yeast and store it in a quart jar in the fridge.

At first I was embarrassed to be "caught" using a bread machine, but gradually I came to realize I should be no more embarrassed than if I were "caught" using a washing machine or a similarly useful invention. The fact of the matter is, I would not make homemade bread nearly as fast as Don could eat it without the handiness and ease of this gizmo.

So that's the skinny on our bread machine.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Moving cattle

Well, it's that time of year again -- when we move the cows from one side of the property to the other.

Our 20 acres is roughly divided in half, with about ten acres in subdivided pasture and the other ten acres in wooded pasture. Winters, the cows are in the woods since that's where the barn and feedlot open into. Summers, they're in the pasture or on a neighbor's leased 20 acre parcel. (We could have kept them longer on the neighboring property except some wily cows persisted in getting through/under/over/around the fence onto another property. Long story.)

Somehow, even though we hadn't called them, the beasties knew what was up and were waiting for us at the gate.

Although we took the precaution of closing the driveway gate, it wasn't necessary. They knew exactly where to go and made a beeline for the gate into the woods.

Except for some of the calves, of course. In this, their "puppy-stupid" stage, they don't know to follow everyone else. Four of them ended up clustered waaaaaay down at the bottom of the pasture by the gate into the neighboring property.

Surprisingly, when they saw me at the top gate taking pictures, they came galloping up the hill.

Once in the driveway, it took no time for them to orient themselves towards the proper gate because they could hear the other cattle.

We had to haul up and clean out the low water tank, which we then put behind the barn with a float valve to keep it full.

We're hoping the cattle have enough to eat in the woods that we can avoid feeding until late September or so. Moving cattle: yet another milestone in our homesteading year.

Different views

We moved the cattle to the wooded side of our property on Saturday (I'll post pictures shortly). Yesterday morning from the window, I saw this view:

The morning shadows were still long so the photo isn't very clear, but you can see Brit (our horse) and a number of cattle grazing. The air is a bit smokey because local farmers are burning off crop residues this time of year. In the foreground on the left is an aspen, and on the right is the young walnut tree we planted in May.

Now consider this: Yesterday morning we got a call from Older Daughter, whom many of you know is working as a nanny in New Jersey. It was her day off, so she was calling from a café in New York City, where she was enjoying a cup of tea and a bagel. The reason she called? Because the contrast between what she was seeing and what she knew we were seeing was so huge.

We asked her to take some photos. When she said the view was nothing special, we reminded her of the obvious: what was ordinary to her was unbelievably exotic to us. When she sent the pictures, she wrote, "Just down the road to the right is Penn Station, I was waiting for the hourly train back. Next time I think I'll make a trip specifically to go to the Natural History Museum."

We always told the girls the city life is fun and exciting when you're young. Both Don and I lived in cities when we were single, and later in the early days of our marriage. There's always stuff to do, see, and experience -- even if it's sitting in a café with tea and a bagel, watching the pulse of the city.

I think you'll agree the respective views we both saw yesterday are about as far away from each other as it's possible to get.

We're glad Older Daughter is experiencing a taste of urban life while she's young. And maybe there's someone in New York City who thinks a view of cows is exotic.