Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Spring plants & brownies

It snowed today. Again. Where is spring? It was nice earlier in the week.  Oh well. It does feed the soul to see things growing and I'm grateful for it.


I think this picture was from the weekend. The rhubarb looks great already. So much green!


All of the cold crops are doing well under the lights in the basement.  There must be about 100 kale seedlings coming up.  Whoops.  Two varieties, I don't remember the names but one is blue and the other purple.  The plan is to plant them decoratively in the garden and then them feed them to the poultry throughout the season.   I refuse to spray vegetables due to 20 % principal / 80% laziness and whenever I grow kale it is quickly covered in tiny caterpillars - the exact same color as the kale leaves.  It does put a person off  badly to find them in a salad.  Luckily kale is easy to grow and the chickens/ducks/geese love it.  Even the quail get into it - they can't get enough of the tiny caterpillars. A win for everyone. Except the caterpillars.


Impulse buy at Aldi's today.  The dinner plate dahlias were $3.99 for 3 tubers - crazy!  I got the last two bags and am excited to see what colors they turn out to be.  The raspberry plants were also an impulse - they look healthy and were 2 for $5.99.  When we moved here I planted a row of blueberry bushes and two of them have not bounced back after getting mowed down by deer - the plan is to dig them out and put the new berry bushes in those spots.  (Dear friend L who has graciously offered me raspberry bushes - if you are reading this - I think you will understand that it's sometimes easier to just buy the plants, plant them and then feign ignorance than to explain to a spouse where a plant will go, how it will be pruned etc. and so forth. Am I right?)  The bean packet in the photo isn't really something we needed but I had a coupon at TSC for a free seed packet, so there you go.


Oh, what else.  The little man and I made scratch brownies today from the recipe on the King Arthur Flour bag.


I don't know who considers these "fudge" brownies.  They are good and do have a nice complex favor (due to the coffee probably).  The recipe calls for espresso powder and we only had instant coffee granules but it worked anyway.  There are a lot of good things about this recipe and it's a keeper, but we're going to play around with it and see if we can get it a bit more "chocolate" and dense.  Possibly just folding in some chocolate chips and baking in an 8x8 pan would do the trick.

A lot of cooking has been going on which I'll post about at the end of the week.  I had to get rid of a drake last week and he rose to glory in two dishes.  It was also the opening day of trout season last weekend and there's a trout dish to share. But enough for tonight.  There's still a kitchen to clean and then off to bed.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Skunks

Ever since we moved in here we've had skunks on the property.  I remember the first summer coming back to the house from our fire pit at night and seeing a baby skunk hanging around the corner of the house.  It was adorable.

Sure, OK, they smell but they're also chubby and waddle when they walk.  And I love them because probably half a dozen times they've dug up and eaten nests of yellow jackets that we didn't even know we had.  Just dug up nests and dead wasps bodies in the morning.  That alone makes them worth their weight in gold.

  And they're beautiful.  I mean, would you look at this? I kinda just want to pick one up and squeeze it.



Not my picture.  Thanks, Pinterest.

Lately though, we've been having a skunk issue of sorts.  Bee has been coming home at least once a week smelling like skunk.  She's never been sprayed by one, she just smells vaguely like she's been in the same area as a skunk.  Napping near a den or worse.


It's been happening so regularly that I am actually starting to wonder if a bit of this has been going on:



I'm having a hard time coming up with another theory. What do you think Bee? Anything you want to tell us?


No?

I've looked on-line thinking someone somewhere must sell wipes for pets that take away a skunk smell...... and can't find anything.  Bee acts like an enraged badger if you try to bathe her and I'm not even attempting it.

The geese have been trying to nest and their eggs keep disappearing.  Guess what I caught last week in the Havaheart trap? A skunk.  It looked really, really sad.  So I let it go.  Is it true that they have to be able to stand up to spray you or is that just urban legend?  I have already been told that If I get sprayed messing with one I am not allowed back in the house.  So I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.  The trap was covered with cardboard and I opened the trap door and set it.  The skunk just blinked at me.  "Go ahead, little buddy! Waddle out the door! It's open!" He just sat there.  I sighed and came in the house.  When I went back outside to check after lunch Nigel was sitting sadly by the trap and two of his hens had managed to trap themselves in it.  Not one, but two.  I have no idea.  Chickens aren't the brightest. 


Neither is the cat apparently.

So, the skunk is still out there waddling around.  Bee still smells.  She's currently napping on our bed.  I wonder how long this is going to go on?



Friday, April 13, 2018

Stocking a tiny vintage camper


Camping season is nearly here!

Still no cell phone.  Have to admit the technology break has been kind of nice but I miss taking pictures. It's been a doozy of a week: a dead goose, a dead duck and a skunk in a Havaheart trap among the highlights.  Hopefully next week I'll be back to taking pictures and we'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I was recently asked by a new camper owner what exactly we keep in our camper. The Metzendorf has a tiny 12 foot long body and hardly any storage.  Still, if you pack it right it has plenty of room for what we need.  This is what I passed on as a general list of what's worked for us so far.


First thing to pack: a sense of humor.


Storage - nearly nil. Those bottom two doors are mostly decorative.

First, we are not exactly neat people but we found out the hard way that it's a good idea to make the beds and have the place look presentable when you open the door in the morning.  Vintage camper people are really friendly and at Cook Forrest we had a Scotty owner come by and ask to see the Metzendorf at 9 in the morning. It was a wreck.  Lesson learned.  A place for everything and everything in it's place, right?

The Dollar Store was my friend when stocking the camper.  They seem to sell things that are just smaller sized (like dish draining racks).  You can find a ton of good things there for cheap.

I went to the Dollar Store and picked up a handful of storage containers for the camper cupboards.  They sell square shaped ones that stack nicely and fit in the small space.  It is really handy to organize this way and you can fit way more stuff this way than you would think. I labeled ours so we can just grab them.

In the trunk we store: a small tool kit, bungee cords, duct tape, rope, tarp, extension cord, power strip, fix a flat, wheel chocks, level and leveling jacks.  There is a spare tire carried in the tow vehicle. We should probably get a set of stick on tow lights in case of emergency.


One of our wool point blankets being enjoyed in the off season.

Bed linens: for each of the beds we carry a fitted sheet, a wool blanket, and a light blanket.  Also sleeping bags but these are probably overkill.  The throw pillows in the camper and double as sleeping pillows.

Bath stuff:  towels, washcloths, hair dryer, flip flops for the shower.  You will need some kind of caddy to carry this stuff to the shower room (again, see Dollar Store).  Most showers have small private changing room with a bench attached to the stall.

We have a huge bungee cord with clothes pins that you can hang between two trees to dry things like towels (this contraption cost less than $5 on Amazon).  Good for towels & wet shoes.

Toiletries: it might seem wasteful but stock up on trial sized everything (shampoo, toothpaste).   The Dollar Store sells packs of 6 toothbrushes for $1, making them disposable.  We don't have unlimited storage and you'll want to keep space and weight in mind.  Also, it's a lot easier to haul travel sized things to and from the bathroom then a bunch of full sized bottles.  All of our toiletries, for three people, fit into two small containers like you would store leftovers in.  Toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, mouthwash, soap, razor, comb, everything.


A doormat outside the camper steps keeps dirt from being tracked in, mine was $4.99 at Aldi's.  we will probably spring for a larger one at some point, I've seen them go pretty cheap at Lowe's and Wal-Mart in the fall.

Small dustpan and hand broom, they have these at the Dollar Store.

Most places have laundry machines.  Measure out enough detergent for a load and put it in a tiny jar.  Quarters for the washers and dryers.

First Aid kit.  Don't forget tweezers if you pick up a tick.  Stick a couple of pairs of earplugs in here just in case of dogs barking or loud drunk neighbors. This is also kept in a storage container.

Sunscreen and bug spray.

With all of these things, remember that you only need to put in the camper what you'll need for a long weekend.  You don't need to pack an entire box of band-aids or q-tips, you just need a couple.  Things stay organized in the storage containers.

A roll of toilet paper in a zip lock bag and a travel pack of Kleenex. Wet wipes for hands.  This year we'll have a pop-up bathroom outside; I've read that lining the potty with a garbage bag and adding scoops of kitty litter works well.  Chuck the bag in the camp dumpster as needed.

We keep a water jug with a spout and tiny bar of soap right on the picnic table for washing hands.

For the fire: I have a metal ammo box that I store some fire starters in (these are just empty toilet paper tubes stuffed with dryer lint - you could set a rock on fire with these).  Long lighter.  Heat-proof glove. Every place we've camped so far came with a fire ring and grill that fit over it. We have a small hatchet.  Most places you can find someone selling wood and kindling either at the campground or nearby.  Or just bring your own and avoid the hassle. I've seen where some people mount a box on the camper tongue to haul firewood in.

Speaking of fire: we have a smoke detector in the camper and a small fire extinguisher that stays by the back bed.  Because face it, if there's a problem in one of these canned hams you are dead otherwise.  It was less than $10 at Wal-Mart.

Kitchen: Coleman stove plus extra fuel.  Dish washing rack (from Dollar Store).  Cast iron skillet. If you have the wind gaurds up on the stove your actual cooking area gets pretty small - make sure you can fit your pans into the space. 



Everything here fits into my chuck box: saran wrap, aluminum foil, paper towel roll (again the Dollar Store sells small versions of these) hot dog sticks, silicone spatula, basting brush, slotted spoon, cutting board,  kitchen shears, grill tongs, grill spatula, pot holder, oven mitt, 2 sharp knives for prep, cork screw/bottle opener, can opener, veg peeler, tea kettle for boiling water, French Press for making coffee, enamelware pots for heating soup etc, coffee cups, red plastic cups (to hide booze in State Parks), paper plates, paper bowls, disposable silverware and straws. Zip-loc baggies for leftovers.

We do disposable as much as humanly possible, I don't go on vacation to wash dishes.  But the chuck box also has a couple of sponges (I cut a big sponge into "disposable" pieces), a scraper for the skillet and a tiny container of dish soap - most places will have a dish washing area.

We keep food in one cooler and drinks in another.  No real reason except it's easier to find stuff.  You can freeze some of your water bottles to keep the coolers cold.  If you use ice, put everything into ziplock bags. It's pretty gross to wake up to water-logged bacon.  A picnic basket or the holds dry goods.  We don't really use the icebox in the camper because it's a pain to have to keep going in and out to get stuff when you're making food.  We store the coolers/basket outside during the day and put them in the van at night (animals).

Our icebox has a pin latch to keep it from opening while you're traveling.  If yours doesn't it's probably a good idea to rig something. We've had cupboard/closet drawers come open.  Don't know how to fix that. 

Food: remember again that you aren't going to be gone forever.  I measure out coffee grounds into baggies, small baggie of sugar, coffee creamer cups, zip-lock bag of cereal not the huge box, that kind of thing.

Every campsite so far has had potable water but we carry a couple of gallons just in case.

Cell phone charger. You can buy solar-powered ones for about $20 but we haven't bothered. We should.

For the awning: extra tent pegs and a rubber mallet. Solar lights for putting by the stakes so you don't trip and kill yourself on the rope at night.


Such a treat.

For comfort: fly swatter, 2 small battery powered fans, space heater, battery powered radio, deck of cards, field guides, hammock.  You can buy a really nice rip-stop hammock on Amazon with quick set up straps for under $35.  Folding chairs.  I mounted stick-on press lights inside the closet and cupboard. I need to hang a small mirror for stuff like putting in my contacts.

Extra socks for everyone and long underwear. A knit hat.


For toddlers: a Pack N Play to put contain the little guy while we set up camp.  New toys ( a bag of stuff from the Dollar Store - tiny dinosaurs, magnifying glass, bug net etc).  A ride-on toy. Favorite bedtime book. Favorite blanket and pillow.  Baby carrier.  This season little man will be dressed in brightly colored, see it from a distance clothing for safety.  Next year I'll put a whistle on him and teach him to blow it if he's scared or lost. 

Wal-mart bags for trash.  Campgrounds have dumpsters and those hooks you see at the sites are so you can hang things without animals getting into stuff.  Or you can hang a lantern there.

A couple of small lanterns and a flashlight.  Keep one by the bed.  It is REALLY helpful to put a lantern outside at night - if you have to go to the shower/bathroom area it can be damn difficult to find your own campsite if the trails wind and it's pitch black.  Turn it on when you leave and you can look for your lantern on the way back.

We've starting collecting the free campground maps you can get when you pull into the parks - on these we list what spaces have good views, phone reception and the ones that are next to a swamp (ew) or have poision ivy (worse).

It sounds like a TON of stuff but it's really not.  The chuck box holds a lot.  Other than that the "dirty" outdoor stuff mainly goes in the trunk.  The bedding and the camp stove fit under the dinette benches.  Linens and clothes in the closet.  All toiletries etc above the kitchenette.  Tiny toys/toddler stuff in the kitchen drawers. 

Spring is such an exciting time, camping season is just around the corner.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

2017 Canning Critique

I've been meaning to get some canning notes down for awhile and now that my phone is toast and I can't take pictures for a couple of days this seems as good a time as any.  Here's what I canned in 2017 and what I want to remember about it this year.



Pickled quail eggs!  The recipe and the "how-to's" are in the link above.  I LOVE these, they are so addicting and delicious.  The recipe posted is the one to keep making.  I also did a quart from a Jamie Oliver recipe that was mostly white wine vinegar; there weren't so good and won't be made again.  I want to remember that the chicken eggs I stuck in there got super rubbery - the quail eggs still taste amazing.  There are just a few left in the bottom of a jar - 8 months later and still good to eat.

Pickled garlic - another huge win.  This is a great way for us to store garlic and it's so handy to just open a jar when we need a couple of cloves.  The texture is soft (I use a cheese grater instead of mincing) and the garlic favor does mellow but this is still awesome.  Great long-term storage option if you grow garlic.

Pickled tomatoes - meh.  I only used one jar of these, poured it over a chicken I was roasting along with some grains and greens.  It was way too acidic for me but my husband really liked it.  I'll break open the other just and try again before calling this a loss.


Mixed berry jam.  Any kind of organic jam is welcome in this house and a great way to use a bit of this and that. 



I don't know how many jars of tomatoes I ended up canning; a lot.  We haven't gone through as many of these as we have in previous years, they've mostly been going into stews and this Jamie Oliver meatloaf with white beans.  Still, they're always handy to have and I'll do more this year.


Leftover venison stew turned into pot pie.


Canned a bunch of apples which we've been using slowly.  The best thing I do with these is saute them with bacon and onions and put it over a bed of pierogie.  Sweet and savory winter food.


This is a really quick week-night favorite.  There are never any leftovers.


Bruchetta.  Recipe here.  We haven't used many of these but they are super handy when we do.  These little jars make an amazing dinner if you've only got one or two fish fillets - just poach them in this & butter, flake and serve the whole thing over noodles.  Really good.


Blueberry syrup  So very good over ice cream or pancakes (we eat a lot of pancakes around here).  I would really like to make this again, along with some syrups in other flavors (blackberry maybe).  The only catch is that the pectin in the fruit does cause it to set a bit as it sits but that's not a huge deal and you just need to shake the jar up a bit.  A nice treat for our house.

Well, I think that's it.  It doesn't seem like a lot but when you do a bit of this and that you end up with a respectable amount of home grown food put up by the end of the season.  Not sure what this year's going to bring but it will be interesting to find out.  Hopefully we'll find some new recipes to try. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Babies through the mail


This picture is so cute I kinda want to cry.

Look who showed up today! The Post Office called at 8 to tell me that our goslings were waiting to be picked up. This is just so amazing to me.  The little ones traveled from Metzer's in Gonzolas, CA to our little place in NW Pa, a distance of 2,622 miles. From sunny California to snowy Pennsylvania in less than 48 hours.  They must be a tad disappointed. 


This is how they travel. On a bed of hay with a heat pack and little snacks of gro-gel. I don't know what gro-gel is exactly. I think it's there in case of emergency; the last goslings we ordered took an extra day to get here and they did eat all of the gro-gel.

Hatchlings absorb the last of their yolks right before they break out of their shells, this lets them go without food or water for about 48 hours (in nature this is so the rest of the eggs can hatch out without mama having to get off the nest). Another genius design. 


So tiny. 

I brought then home, put them in the brooder with the ducks and showed them the water. Silently thanked TSC for selling me the ducklings. That was a great move. Usually when babies arrive here they need to be watched for the first day or so to make sure they get the hang of the food and water. The little goslings have the ducks to do that for me.


Speaking of babies, anyone see my feet? No? Me either. I've entered the whale stage. Having labored one baby already I was thinking on the way home from the Post Office how much less trouble it would be if I could just pick up the new baby this way too
 Like we would get a call early one morning announcing that our baby was ready for pick up, stork style. Perhaps a tracking number would be included, I don't know. Seems reasonable, right?


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Walks, play and cooking

What a beautiful holiday weekend.  It snowed on Friday morning so we were stuck inside but Saturday was wonderful. 


A very long walk in the woods. Didn't see any birds or animals but lots of fun things to explore and poke at.


Plenty of rocks tossed in the creek. We walked about a half mile. A long distance for little legs, old paws and pregnant ladies. I love this time of year when the world smells like mud and new growth. After a cold winter you really notice it when the earth starts to warm up again.

Saturday evening and Sunday we celebrated Easter with our families. Kentucky Fried Chicken at my dad's with picnic sides. It was really fun and easy. Easter egg hunts for the kiddos.


Monday we bought a a family pass and went back to the Children's Museum for part of the day. Little man's favorite part, again, was the pretend pizza restaurant.  I think we'll make pizza here soon.


I can't link to things from my phone but last night made a "Korean style" ground beef dish I found online.  We hardly ever eat beef here and it was a nice change. Here's a link to the recipe. Super fast, dinner was done by the time the rice cooked. Great sauce.


Little man both "stirred up" and decorated the Easter cakes. We did a box mix but subbed butter for the oil and added extra eggs and vanilla.  


The Easter Bunny dropped off some mystery gifts this weekend. The cookies didn't have a card but I think we know who sent them and we need to thank you.  Someone also left a can of beer on our porch? That was exciting because the brewery is right by us and we didn't know they were canning. Also, did I mention beer magically appeared? Thanks, Easter bunnies!


The rhubarb is up along with the garlic, alpine strawberries and herbs. I started trays of seeds: flowers, greens and tomatoes.


We got this book at the Little Free Library at the museum.  The little man loves lady bugs. I didn't know they hatch as larvae and molt although it seems obvious.  That was fun to try to explain to someone who is 2 and a half.  He didn't ask any questions but looked horrified. 

Lots more going on but time to start the day.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Fell into the Bantam bin at TSC...

My husband will tell you I've been pretty obsessed with bantam chickens for the last couple of months.  Bedtime reading is more often than not a poultry catalog, which must be super sexy to some people but not in our house.  In spite of my pledge to take a season off.... well.... it's Chick Days right now at Tractor Supply Company.  Bantams are actually miniature chickens, the pair we currently have are full grown and the size of grapefruit.  Cute as buttons, the size of walnuts when chicks, they come in all different wonderful & amazing feather patterns that standard chickens don't. To beat it all they only cost $1.99.  

$1.99 regular price.  When I rolled in they were on sale buy one get one free.  There are policies at feed stores pertaining to the minimum amount of chicks you can purchase but in my opinion there also should be a waiting period for people like me.  As in "Hey, crazy pregnant chicken lady: pick out your chicks and then go have lunch while we do a quick background check/call your husband.  Cool your heels a bit."


But they don't do a background check so here we are on the ride home.  The one box is stuffed full of peeps.  The other?  Continue reading.


I bought 10 total.  They are sold "straight run" (unsexed) so probably half will end up being roosters.  Thought it would be cute to stuff them all into a pie plate for a picture but they weren't having it.  Here are the varieties that came home with me:


Teacup saucer for scale.  These are Silver and Golden Seabrights. Bought 2 of each. When they get older they look like this:


Thanks for the picture Wikipedia. This is a Silver.  The Golden have orange where you see white here.



I bought 5 of these.  Hoping, hoping, hoping that they are Millie Fleur chickens.  Which look like this:


Those are real chickens, folks.  I've seen them at the fair and they are stunning.  If they ARE Millie Fluers, they're getting separated off into a little breeding group and we'll raise chicks from these.


This little guy on the right, I have no idea what it is and bought it for the fun of finding out.  Some kind of Game Bantam maybe?

But, hey, wait - what was in the other box?


A pair of Khaki Cambell ducklings.  I don't know what to say here except they were also on sale two for $5.00.  Ducklings are so horribly messy to raise, not to mention high strung, and I would not have considered these in a million years if we weren't getting baby goslings in the mail next week.  Remember how the hatchery sent me the wrong geese?  The replacements are due to arrive next week and the ducks will bunk with them.  It also occurred to me that the since we're only getting 2 replacement geese they might do better with buddies... so... anyway.... yeah.  I'm hoping they're both drakes and will rise to glory in Duck Bigarade.  My husband hasn't noticed these yet and I'm operating on a "don't ask don't tell" policy just to see how long it takes as an amusement to myself.  He does love Duck Bigarade.  So far they've been in the basement unnoticed for two days.

So, that's it for the fun news.  Spring has sprung here in one of the best ways.  

Monday, March 26, 2018

Anyone remember summer?

It's been pretty nice outside the last couple of days, warm and sunny enough to be outside.  Summer still seems a world away but we're slowly getting there.  Remember when there was this much color in the world?


I can't believe my garden looked like this.  It's a mud pit right now. God, what we take for granted.


Fresh tomatoes! Remember what those taste like?



The praying mantis must have had a good summer.  There are egg cases all over our property.


Hey, fatties.  Look how happy they are in the orchard.

 

Dang, look how happy I was in the orchard.


Sigh.