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Relish the Possibilities

Summer’s bounty has arrived, and I, like many others who have a garden, am trying to figure out what to do with some of the veggies that I have oodles of.

As I have mentioned before, this is a bumper cucumber year. I have already tried my hand at refrigerator pickles. Now, I have decided on Dill Relish — that way I can also put to use a lot of that dill that has gone to seed. I have made Sweet Veggie Relish in the past, but never dill. So here are some pics of my experiment.

The recipe calls for 8lbs of cucumbers. We have so many, that I opted to double that -- 16 lbs it is!

The recipe calls for 8lbs of cucumbers. We have so many, that I opted to double that — 16 lbs it is! I also made a couple of other changes — fresh dill seed instead of dried and slicing cukes instead of pickling. We use what we have, right???

Next comes the grinding. A food processor tends to make mush of the veggies, so I use an OLD SCHOOL grinder. We found this one at the Goodwill a few years back.

Next comes the grinding. A food processor tends to make mush of the veggies, so I use an OLD SCHOOL grinder. We found this one at the Goodwill a few years back.

Next, wash and seed the cukes. I think that if had used pickling, I could have avoided the seeding.

Next, wash and seed the cukes. If I had used the pickling variety, I could have avoided the seeding. At least the pigs will be happy with the innards.

Here's the grinder in action. If you are curious, YES it takes FOREVER.

Here’s the grinder in action. If you are curious, YES it takes FOREVER. If you choose to use one of these, don’t forget the bowl underneath. The dog loved the fresh cucumber water that results.

After letting the cukes sit in 2 quarts of water, 1 cup of salt, and 4 teaspoons of turmeric for 2 hours, it was time to cook the relish. I drained and rinsed the cukes in cold water. Then added 2 lbs of chopped onion, 1/3 cup of fresh dill seed, 2/3 cup sugar, and 2 quarts of vinegar. I didn't think that was enough dill, so I sprinkled more over the top. Then I brought to a boil, simmered for 10 minutes then VOILA -- RELISH.

After letting the cukes sit in 2 quarts of water, 1 cup of salt, and 4 teaspoons of turmeric for 2 hours, it was time to cook the relish. I drained and rinsed the cukes in cold water. Then added 2 lbs of chopped onion, 1/3 cup of fresh dill seed, 2/3 cup sugar, and 2 quarts of vinegar. I didn’t think that was enough dill, so I sprinkled more over the top. Then I brought to a boil, simmered for 10 minutes then VOILA — RELISH.

After a 15 minute boiling-water canner — I had about 14 pints of dill relish. I think that should last us a while. A long while.

 Here's a view of our pantry. Oh yeah, I processed 17 lbs of fresh tomatoes, too. I made salsa. Don't be too impressed, I completely cheated and used Mrs. Wages packets. If you are curious, they are DELICIOUS. Use cider vinegar.


Here’s a view of our pantry. The sweet relish, apple butter, beets, and tomato sauce are from last year. Oh yeah, I processed 17 lbs of fresh tomatoes yesterday, too. I made salsa. Don’t be too impressed, I completely cheated and used Mrs. Wages packets. If you are curious, they are DELICIOUS. Use cider vinegar.

I started the relish and salsa canning around 10 AM. I finished around 4 PM.

We went out to dinner.

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September 1, 2013 · 7:09 am

What Not to Wear

A few mornings ago, as I sipped my coffee and jumped around online, I was annoyed by a car pulling in to our driveway. As I have mentioned before, when you live on a farm, you are never really alone. The reasons for this are many, but one of the major reasons is that people just seem to stop by whenever they feel like it. I have learned that no time is too early for this, as old farmers have knocked on the door at 7 A.M. looking for my husband. I try to put on a bra early. Mostly.

This particular morning was not quite that early. It was more like 9 A.M. when the large white sedan pulled in. I remember thinking that the women in the car must be enamored by our quaint space and must be stopping to enquire about what we sold. I sighed and opened the door, cognizant of my attire and frizzy hair.

I put on my best welcome to the farm smile and opened the door.

“I think you have cows out.” The woman said, standing at her car door and pointing to the edge of our pasture. “It looks like the fence is down over there.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

“Thought you’d probably want to know.” She smiled, waved, and drove away.

Cows out.

Normally, as long-time readers know, Xandy is around to deal with this problem, but this time I was alone. I left Kitt in the house and ventured to the edge of the pasture to see what my morning visitor was talking about. As I walked, I called Xandy at work to let him know the situation. He promised to be right there. Right there, however, meant 35 minutes. I was on my own.

Sure enough, a piece of red fence panel had fallen over and a steer was on the other side of it munching away. I walked slowly toward the critter and asked him what the hell he was doing on this side of the fence. He looked at me, turned, and proceeded to jump through the barbed wire fence beside the panel and then galloped back towards the rest of the herd.

Ouch.

I called Xandy back, “You don’t have to come home. It was only one. I got him. He jumped through the barbed wire, though.”

“He’s fine.” Of course he is. We chatted about throwing hay to the others while I fixed the fence and ended our conversation.

Fix the fence. That made me laugh. If you know me, you know that I have ABSOLUTELY NO talent when it comes to fixing or building anything. I can’t even hammer a nail in straight. But, I’d rather have crooked nails than forty cows in the street, so I set off to my duty.

My sister-in-law stopped by at that moment, and helped me toss a few bales to the herd. She waved and smiled as I went back to the fence to fix the damage. “You can do it!” She yelled, as I went back towards the fence. I think I can. I think I can.

I wrapped baling twine around the panel, and hammered in a few nails to the barbed wire. Later I learned that staples are used for this job — but hey, the nails work. After I stood to admire my work. The barbed wire remained loose, but would work until later. I knew I could. I knew I could.

About ten minutes after my return to the house, my father-in-law showed up to do some haying. I sent him to fix the embarrassment of a fence.

“You know those movies where the farmer’s wife takes over the farm after the husband dies and she’s all tough and can do it all?” I asked my husband later.

“Yeah.”

“That will never be me.”

Did I mention I looked like this and that I was fixing the fence right beside our highly traveled road?

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August 24, 2013 · 8:35 am

Cobwebs in my Soup

A bit ago we had friends for dinner. I apologized in advance to all of them for my lack of housekeeping skills, as we are in an old house and I can never seem to keep anything clean. One of my friends told me not to worry at all.

“I grew up on a farm,” he said. “We had cobwebs in our soup.”

Oh how true that is. No matter where I look or how many times I clean them up — in some corner of my house you will always find this:

Those are not dirt specks. They are dead flies.

Those are not dirt specks. They are dead flies.

And then — in the garage, we have a Charlotte’s Web scenario right now. I was looking for terms about how wondrous our pigs are, but instead only found this little guy eating his lunch:

Spider Eating Fly

I think I counted five spiders of various sizes and colors working to build a system of webs in the corner of our garage. I swear that those weren’t there yesterday.

 

But the ultimate bane of my existence is this godforsaken creature:

I know this looks fake, but I took this morning on the cabinets above my kitchen bar.

I know this looks fake, but I took it this morning on the cabinets above my kitchen bar.

The house fly, I think, is the WORST thing about living on a livestock farm. By August, instead of playing Sudoku on my IPad, I play how many goddamn flies can I swat at once. I am up to three. I am thinking about learning that chopstick trick from “The Karate Kid.”

“It’s a healthy ecosystem,” my husband tells me.

Yum, yeah. Flies landing on everything, laying eggs that form maggots. Healthy.

One just landed on my arm as I am writing this. I want the thing to die a painful death. I guess I can never be a Buddhist now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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August 14, 2013 · 9:27 am

Baby Got Bat

“There’s a bat flying around upstairs,” my husband said to me as he went to bed last night.

“A WHAT?”

“A bat. You really need to get your hearing checked.”

“I heard you. I was just processing. What the hell are we going to do?”

He stared at me blankly.

“Can you close Kitt’s door, so the dang thing doesn’t go into her room?” I called after him as he ascended the stairs to do battle. Or so I thought.

About fifteen minutes later (I had to finish the episode of “Suits” that I was watching, a new guilty pleasure –Xandy can handle the flying rodent, I rationalized), I turned on the hallway light and went upstairs to bed. With each step I took, I glanced around for any creatures of the night. The hallway was silent and clear. Even though Kitt’s door was wide open, I didn’t worry as I assumed my husband had taken care of the problem.

Something still nagged at me, however, and I turned on our bedroom light. My husband looked at me amorously from beneath the covers.

“So you must have gotten rid of the bat.” I said as I approached the bed.

“Nope. I have no idea where that thing is.”

“SERIOUSLY? Only you would think of…” I turned to see the small, black critter clinging to the wall opposite the bed staring at us. “It’s right there!”

“Would you look at that.”

“So now what do we do?”

“No clue.”

The bat didn’t even flinch. It just remained in the same position like a miniature gargoyle standing watch.

“We could go to bed,” he said, and it took everything I had not to scream back at him. The last thing we needed was to wake Kitt up.

“We have to get this thing out of here. They carry rabies for God sake.”

Xandy grabbed a dirty work T-Shirt from the floor and walked towards the bat.

“No. Not that. Grab that garbage can. You can trap it and then we’ll cover the can.”

“With what?”

I glanced around the room. Thankfully, a few days ago I had gone on a TJ Maxx shopping spree and had purchased a new set of sheets. This night I was happy about the wasteful use of cardboard in the sheet packaging.

Xandy dropped the T-Shirt, not entirely convinced that my method would work. He grabbed the small bedroom wastebasket and walked slowly towards the bat, which still hadn’t made any sort of movement. I hoped it were dead. That thought only lasted seconds, however, as the moment the can covered the thing, it started to fly around inside of it. Xandy carefully slid the piece of cardboard between the wall and the can, and moved the can from the wall.

I wondered if bats could chew through cardboard as we descended the stairs. Seconds later our visitor was set free to fly the night sky.

“Hey it worked!” I was thrilled that a plan I hatched actually came to fruition.

“Yeah, well, the shirt would have worked fine.”

I just shook my head. Sure it would have. I thought about changing my profession to animal wrangler, but thought better of it when I actually considered keeping the light on for bed.

“This is totally going in the blog tomorrow,” I told him as we finally climbed in bed for the night.

“Only you would document our sex life.”

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August 5, 2013 · 8:14 am

Fresh Pickles? Yes, Please!

As I mentioned earlier, we have a ton of cukes. This year I grew slicing cucumbers, although I honestly prefer pickling. Beggars can’t be…well, you know the rest.

So I decided with all of our new harvest goodies that I would make pickles, and delicious pickles I did make.

Here are the ingredients:

IMG_1542

I also used cider vinegar, not pictured. I just LOVE the flavor.

First I simmered the following together until the sugar dissolved:

1 C White Vinegar

1/2 C Cider Vinegar

3 cloves garlic (picked fresh from our garden and cut in half)

1/3 C sugar

1 T mustard seed

1 T sea salt

I then poured the hot mixture over a bowl of thinly sliced cukes (1/2″ or so) and mixed in

1/3 C chopped fresh dill (also picked from my garden — how spoiled am I?)

1 Bay leaf

I didn’t measure the cucumbers, but I used about 1 and 1/2 large slicing cucumbers. I then covered the mixture and stuck it in the refrigerator until cold.

Here is the finished product before I covered and refrigerated them:

We ate these with dinner, although I could eat them anywhere.

We ate these with dinner, although I could eat them anywhere. I am thinking about taking the bowl in with me in the shower tomorrow. Then I can wash away the evidence.

Perhaps those slicing cukes aren’t so bad after all.

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July 31, 2013 · 8:00 am

Garlic and Basil and Dill, OH MY!

Finally — we are starting to see some of the “fruits” of our labor. Here are just a few of the things we have begun to harvest:

This may be my favorite thing that we grow: GARLIC. YUM. Garlic gives twice during the year -- first when we harvest the delicious garlic scapes, and now.

This may be my favorite thing that we grow: GARLIC. YUM. Garlic gives twice during the year — first when we harvest the delicious garlic scapes and now as we collect the full heads.

Here is our garlic in the drying racks. We will keep it here for a couple of weeks and then store it in our basement to use during the year. We will cut the "hair" off the bottom of the heads in a few days after the dirt has dried It is just easier that way.

Here is our garlic in the drying racks. We will keep it here for a couple of weeks and then store it in our basement to use during the year. We will cut the “hair” off the bottom of the heads in a few days after the dirt has dried It is just easier that way.

We have A LOT of cucumbers and they are huge. I have also started harvesting some of the beets. This one was particularly large!

We have A LOT of cucumbers and they are huge. I have also started harvesting some of the beets. This one was particularly large! Xandy yelled at me because I gave the beet greens to the pigs. Hey, a pig’s gotta eat too, right???

My basil has just taken off. Pesto, here I come.

My basil has just taken off. Pesto, here I come.

Look at this fabulous dill. Hmmmm...and I have cucumbers. I think I know what is my next post! :-)

Look at this fabulous dill. Hmmmm…and I have cucumbers…. I think I know what my next post will be! :-)

Stay tuned for the rest. Tomatoes are coming, and I think that it may be time for coleslaw. Hooray for summer!

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July 29, 2013 · 8:00 am

For All that is Good and Hole-y

My husband loves to dig holes. “I can see my progress,” he says when I ask him just what it is about hole digging that he so likes.

I think about this often as I mow our unending lawns. We have about an acre of them and during the summer the things never stop growing. Xandy HATES mowing the lawn (yes, I get the irony), which I fortunately do not. I, too, like to see the progress as I go from lush jungle to finely trimmed golf green. OK, if you have been by the house you know that our lawn looks more like the hay-field across the street than a golf green, but you get the picture.

Anyway, back to the holes. There are many holes to be dug on the farm. Most of them are due to fallen fencing from our barbed wire fence that is probably as old as our 100-year-old farm. Sometimes, though, the holes are for different purposes.

One such purpose happened a few weeks ago when I noticed a horrendous stench and volcanic-like gurgling emanating from our upstairs bathroom. Both could only mean one thing: full septic tank.

“When’s the last time it was emptied?” I asked my father-in-law when he arrived later.

“Emptied? We never emptied that thing. My father’s theory was stir in a box of RidX every now and again and you’ll be fine.” He chuckled as he mimed stirring the pot like some sort of noxious witches brew.

“UGH! Have you ever stirred it then?”

“Well, no, that would just be silly. But don’t worry, that tank is not that old.”

I knew “not that old” was all a matter of perception in this family, as our “not that old” tractor is a circa 1982. “How old is it?”

“Oh, I suppose about fifteen or twenty years old.”

FIFTEEN OR TWENTY YEARS??? For any of you non-septic tank owners, tanks are supposed to be emptied every three to five. If not, let’s just say you might end up with a wonderfully soupy manure pond in your back yard.

He then went on to tell me that there were actually three septic tanks in our back yard.

Lovely.

So first Mark and then Xandy set to digging — because not only has the tank never been emptied, Mark was not quite sure where the damn thing was. He chose an area dug for a while, and when he couldn’t find the tank moved a few inches and dug some more.

“It’s around here somewhere,” he told his son, and left him to dig.

Xandy was finally able to find the tank about four feet or so down. We both commented on what “six-feet-under” must look like and were pretty happy that we weren’t grave-diggers. Xandy did tell Kitt that he was looking for dinosaur bones when she asked, but all he found was an old toy matchbox from his childhood, which made me doubt my father-in-law’s twenty year timeline.

After even more digging, Xandy finally found one of the two tank covers. We learned when the tank was emptied (don’t worry I won’t talk about that God-awful stench) that he had uncovered the wrong tank cover, so that night he set off to digging again.

Here is the hole:

IMG_1530

At least that is one less chunk of lawn that I have to mow for a while.

Ah, the wonders of home ownership.

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July 28, 2013 · 6:14 am

Hammer those Bees

So my father-in-law Mark has been quite anxious to get into my blog more. I think that he is jealous of all the attention that I have been paying to his son. I have tried to tell him that I am not sure that the type of attention that Xandy is getting is positive, but I don’t think he believes me. Anyway, this is the story he told me today.

I was out fixing fence up the road when this wicked vicious bee attacked. To hear him tell it, there was a swarm, but to go on…the thing wouldn’t leave me alone.

“So what did you do?” I asked.

Well, I started swatting at the damn thing with both my hands. I forgot that I was still holding the hammer, and I smashed myself in the head with it!

“Then what happened?”

That stupid bee still got me in the corner of my eye. Then it flew away! You should tell that story.

This is for you, Mark, and for that damn killer bee, too.

Mark deserves much more than this lame-ass bee story, considering the fact that it has been in the 90s for the last week, and his 70-year-old self has been in the hay fields every single day working his ass off. But I can give him at least this.

 

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July 17, 2013 · 8:43 pm

And Now There Are Two

A few nights ago I awoke to the incessant barking of my eight-year-old Norwegian elkhound. If I keep very still, I told myself, maybe Xandy will take care of it.  We both play this “wait-it-out” game when our daughter Kitt comes into our room, going back and forth with taking care of her, but the dog is usually my responsibility.

“That damn dog never listens to me,” Xandy often says.

“Well, if you didn’t call her ‘Stoop’ (short for ‘Stupid’) she may listen to you more.”

“She likes it!”

“Yeah, everyone loves to be deemed an idiot.”

“Damn dog.”

Thankfully, Xandy this night took pity on me and got out of bed to take care of the barking. When he came back to bed, I thought he said something about Lakota being choked by her collar. He later told me that he said nothing. Regardless, the barking stopped, and we slept.

The next morning this is what we found all over our front lawn:

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One of our hens had been dragged from the barn to some unknown location by a creature during the night. A trail of feathers stretched out into the side pasture and then just disappeared, as I imagine the hen herself did — into the belly of a fox or other night predator. I thought about the fear she must have felt as she was taken from her perch, her feathers ripped from her body, her neck broken. It was so sad to see only two hens out in the yard the next morning.

“Poor thing.” I said later to my husband.

“She’s just a chicken.”

“But still. That is not a way to go, and Lakota was trying to warn us.”

“She’s still a damn dog.”

I thought about how the first time Lakota came to the farm, she saw the entire place as her own personal dog park with the chickens as chew toys. She actually de-feathered a couple of birds herself. Now, she is a protector — spending her days and nights watching over all of the farm inhabitants. I love to watch her sitting majestically in the morning overlooking the pool.

Man, I love that dog.

Lakota and I years ago at a canine 5K in Colorado. She still looks the same!

Lakota and I years ago at a canine 5K in Colorado. She still looks the same!

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July 15, 2013 · 9:19 am

Vent Sexing and an Egg Hunt

I have absolutely no idea where our hens are laying.

I think about this fact as I use two eggs for chocolate chip cookies and open our usually full 18 pack only to find 12. Time to go on an egg hunt — one that I am willing to gauge will not be successful.

We have three Rhode Island Red hens that in the summer we allow to roam free. This fact makes my hippie-heart proud. I often sit on the front porch and watch the birds pecking their way over our front lawn.

Chickens

My hippie-side gives way to the carnivore, however, when our free range hens stop laying in the coop — and start laying in different places all over the barn. We then have to search in all of the crevices and all over the hay to find where the hens have decided to lay. Unfortunately, we often miss a few spots causing my husband or father-in-law to be pelted with frozen eggs mid-winter as they pull hay to feed it out to the cattle.

We started our chicken collection with a dozen chicks about three years ago. Chicks are extremely fragile, and my husband ordered that number under the assumption that a few would die. Laying hens at their peak, after all, lay one egg every 25 hours.

No one eats that many eggs.

All of the chicks (of course) survived — with one of the so-called “hens” a rooster. This is normal, I have found, as it is difficult to “sex” chickens. One of the main ways that “chicken sexers” determine the sex of a chicken is to squeeze the feces out of a young chick and look in its anal “vent” to see if there is a small bump which would indicate a masculine bird. This is called “Vent Sexing” — I just call it plain icky. Check out the Dirty Jobs video if you need a visual of the practice. If you aren’t eating, of course.

We decided, after an inundation of eggs, to give a few hens away. We kept five and the rooster. I am not sure why we kept the rooster, save that he was a beautiful and somewhat docile bird (rare for a rooster, I have learned). I say “was” as we sold him along with a son that he helped to create after a particularly harsh season of hen gang-rape. Our poor hens had no feathers on their backsides after repeated attack by the two roosters. Two even died.

So now we have three happy hens that produce just enough eggs for us to consume. Just enough, that is, unless we can’t find them.

Right now, our barn looks like this —

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which is making it a little difficult to find any eggs.

As I entered the barn, I inched by the wagon to search all through all of the former laying spots only to find the singular egg that was left to ensure the hens continued laying in that spot — obviously, a practice that does not always work.

Frustrated, I left the barn empty-basketed.

I think next time I will take Kitt with me — she is much better at finding eggs. It must be the farm blood in her.

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July 11, 2013 · 7:48 am