Skeins

Ribbons from the Fair

Charlotte’s Web was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. My daughter Carly is actually a Charlotte. It’s a family name, but I’ve always felt that I named her after that beautiful spider. When I brought Tori home from the hospital, Carly immediately started calling her Wilbur. They’re adults now, but sometimes I still think of them as Charlotte and Wilbur.

We had a fair nearby when I was a kid, but it was nothing like the fair in Charlotte’s Web. There’s just not a whole lot of “country” in the middle of the California desert. Oh, how I wanted to go to a real live country fair!  Now, I look forward to the Evergreen State Fair every summer.

After our first trip to the fair, I decided I was going to enter something. We’d only lived in the country a couple of months, so I had no idea what I would enter, but I was going to enter SOMETHING. The truth is, I wanted a ribbon. I didn’t care what color, any ribbon. (The only thing I didn’t want was the little sticker that says, “Thank you for entering. Please try again next year.)  I’ve never entered anything in anything, and I when I played sports as a kid participation trophies weren’t a thing. The kids had shelves of ribbons and trophies from years of soccer, baseball, baton, swimming and water polo.  Is it wrong for me to want just one ribbon?

Well, last year I didn’t pay attention to the deadlines, AND I didn’t really have anything to enter. The fair came and went, and I still admired all the pretty ribbons. THIS year was going to be different. I’ve learned to spin and crochet. I’ve also learned to make jam and jelly, and can all kinds of things. Not only was I going to get to enter the fair, I had choices!

I started checking and double checking deadlines in June when the fair entries were first published. I really thought I would enter my pickles and green beans in canning, but changed my mind. For one, they require a lot of information on recipes and canning methods. Two, they don’t even taste the canned product. They’re just judging canning technique. To me, that meant I would be judged on how well I followed directions. I’ll probably enter some canned goods next year, but for this year it just didn’t sound like much fun.

Ever since we got Spike and Tajo, I knew I wanted to spin their fiber and enter it in the fair. Because they’re rescues, I really wanted to show how awesome they are. We’ve had them for a whole year now. Because we got them shortly after shearing last year, I felt fully responsible for this year’s fiber. Whatever I produced, good or bad, was 100% on me.

003 (800x465)After shearing, I washed (and washed and washed and washed) their fiber.  Alpacas love rolling in the dirt, so this is a big job. I then dyed Spike’s fawn fiber with cherry Kool Aid. I would have liked to enter both boys naturally, but you can only enter one skein of yarn in each category.  With the natural shadings of Spike’s fiber, the yarn came out a really pretty rust color, with lots of different subtle shades. Then, I carded both batches of fiber. Twice! I wasn’t going to have any tangles or matting or grass interfering with my yarn. I’ve realized that after all the prep, spinning is actually the easy part. I was really happy with the results!

SkeinsOn entry day, I drove into town with my skeins carefully tied and twisted in the passenger’s seat. I’ll admit, I was a little afraid the people collecting the entries would laugh at my attempts. I kept seeing those stickers from previous years: “Thank you for entering. Please try again next year.” I would be so sad if I got one of those. I was absolutely tickled when asked if I was entering in the Master Class. Me? No way. Spike’s yarn got entered first. When she looked at Tajo’s she asked what method I had used for dying his fiber. She was amazed when I told her that was natural. He really does have fabulous, shiny, inky-black fiber! And with that, I was in!

EntryI had to wait nearly two weeks for the fair to open, to see how I did. The first day of the fair was free entry, so I picked up Carly and the kids and we went to check things out! We went straight to the yarn exhibits and I scanned the entries for my name. I would have been happy with “Some Pig.” Just please, please, please not a try again next year sticker.

Guess what!

1st Tajo     1st Spike

Yep. I got ribbons!

 

Canned

Chicken Stock

After butchering all the chickens, Charlie saved the torsos for me. Do chickens have torsos? Or do I call it carcasses? Anyway, all the leftovers came to me. I’ve never made homemade chicken stock before, but it was time to learn. Turns out it’s an easy, stay-home-all-day job.

The recipe calls for 3-4 lbs of chicken. I doubled that because I was going to can it. Anytime I’m canning, I want to make it worth the time, especially when using the pressure canner. When I first purchased a little countertop scale, I was a little afraid I was wasting my money on something I’d rarely use. Turns out, I use it all the time. Farm life is measured in pounds, not tablespoons! Three torsos and necks = 7-8 pounds.

While the chicken starts boiling, I chopped the veggies and extras. Celery, onions, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Yep, the onions are from the garden. Then, everything gets dumped in the pot and simmers for 2 hours. (I read afterwards that some people prefer simmering for 4-6 hours, for stronger taste. I’ll try that next time.)

Veggies salt and pepper

Boiling stock

Once it’s all done simmering, the chicken and veggies are removed, and the rest of the broth is strained to get all the stuff out.  I found this handy little cloth strainer and stand at a local farm store. It should come in handy with stock, cheese, and jelly.

Straining

Time to wait for the fat to float. This is going to take awhile, so it’s a good time to run to town. I have to laugh sometimes at how I organize my days. Errands are run at down times in the middle of projects. When I get home, I can skim the fat from the top of the broth.

Fat floats

Charlie and I bought some 1/2 gallon jars at the farm store, thinking I would can the stock in that size jar to be used for soups. Turns out it’s not considered safe to can stock in a jar that large. Good thing I always double check the safety guidelines. It would be better if I checked those guidelines BEFORE I was ready to can something. If I had been really lucky, I would have had quart jars and lids on hand, but I’m not quite that lucky. If I had checked guidelines before going to town, I could have brought home quart jars, but that didn’t happen either. Fortunately, I had some pint jars and lids available. I can make this work.

Canned

I only have 8 jars, so I have to freeze the rest, but that’s OK. It will be wonderful in Charlie’s rice pilaf.

Baby Riley is due any day now, and Carly is feeling VERY pregnant. I decided I needed to take her some chicken soup. Every single thing is straight from the yard. All she has to do is make it. How yummy is that!

Chicken soup

**NOTE: Chicken stock needs to be canned in a pressure canner.

For canning recipes and supplies, check out my Amazon Store.

http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

Packaged

Packaging Chicken

Now that it’s over I can talk about it. Thursday was traumatic, but every day after that got a little easier. I’m talking about catching, processing, butchering, and packaging our meat birds. The yard was crowded, the feed bill high, and it was time.

Flock  Red Chicken

We bought these birds specifically for meat, but that didn’t make sentencing them to death any easier. We had a dozen meat chickens, plus some others. It’s the “others” that made me cry. We bought 6 ducks for eggs, but 4 of them ended up being male, so those were going to go. We also had Sportacus the rooster. He wasn’t quite an “attack” rooster, but he liked to run up behind me, then act like he wasn’t up to anything when I turned around. Since we were set up for processing, it was a good time for him to go, too.  The most difficult were the girls. After about two years, their egg production drops off significantly. We had 9 birds that were this age, and we rounded up 5 of them. The other 4 girls are more like pets, and I just couldn’t bring myself to send them to the plucker.

The birds aren’t supposed to eat for 24 hours or so before processing, so we gathered them all up Thursday evening, and closed them up in the coop. Charlie and I came at them from different sides, got them in a corner, then Charlie caught them with his fishing net. Easier said than done. Sportacus saw us coming at him, jumped the fence, and took off into the woods. So much for the brave rooster protecting his flock!

The egg birds did make it a little easier on us because they all huddled up on the feed cabinet. That gave us fewer birds to deal with in the yard. A couple of the boys made it easy to catch them because they tried to hide UNDER the shelter. Since they couldn’t see us, they must have thought we couldn’t see them. Wrong.

Girls Hiding

Boys Hiding

There are no pictures of the processing because I was hiding in the house. The plan was for me to be gone, but the scalder we rented had a gas leak, so I had to keep pots of boiling water available all day. Joe came up to help Charlie, saving me from the yucky parts. I’ll tell you the steps of processing now, so skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to know. The chickens are put upside down in a metal cone. Being upside down actually makes them calm, so they’re just chilling out there. Then Charlie would slice their throats which killed them quickly. I couldn’t watch this part at all. Once they’re dead, the get dunked in hot – over 145 degrees – water for 15 seconds. This loosens the feathers. From there, they’re dropped into the plucker. I hate this machine. It’s a plastic tub, with “fingers” sticking out from the sides. The bottom of the tub spins, causing the chickens to bump into the fingers, which pluck all the feathers off. Once they’re plucked, they look more like the whole chickens you would buy at the grocery store, so I could look at them again. The last step was Charlie cleaning them out, then putting them in the chiller until the next day.

We had to wait until Sunday to actually butcher, package and freeze the meat. Apparently chickens go through rigor mortis. If you freeze them before rigor has passed, they’re preserved at this stage and will end up being tough.  (The older egg birds would probably be tough anyway, so we froze them right away for stew meat.) Charlie cut them into breasts, wings, legs and thighs. We set aside several of the torsos and necks to make chicken stock right away, and froze the rest of them for chicken stock later.

Check out how big those wings and thighs are! You don’t see them like that at the grocery store.

Wings   Thighs

We had everything butchered and packaged in about 2 hours. This should last several weeks.

Ready to freeze

While we butchered and packaged, we had a whole bird on the rotisserie. Now that they look like meat instead of birds, I can tolerate them a lot better. And, served with veggies from the back yard, this one was delicious!

Rotisserie

 

Meat Birds

I’m having a really hard time this week. Charlie and I caught and penned our meat birds last night because Charlie is going to be processing them tomorrow. (“Processing” is a nice word for butchering.)

I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle processing day, but I barely got through catching them. The idea of hurting anything, or even seeing something get hurt, has always upset me. I won’t watch boxing because the idea of hurting someone on purpose, for money, makes me want to cry. When Cookie was a puppy and broke her leg, I almost passed out at the vet’s office when the vet told us the details of the necessary surgery. I’m not queasy about blood or broken bones, but I couldn’t stand that she was hurting.

Now, meat birds are mean. They pick on the other birds. And they’re kind of stupid. And they eat a LOT. And we bought them as chicks so we could raise them for meat. We know what they’ve been fed, and that they haven’t been exposed to medications or hormones. We also know they’ve had a good life. They’ve had room to run, fresh air, and lots of veggie treats from the garden. And yet none of this makes it easier to know I’m sending them to their deaths.

Even harder than the meat birds, was pointing out which of the older egg birds had to go. One of the hard farm realities is there is no place for “freeloaders.” As egg birds get older, they stop laying, but they keep eating. If we kept every chicken we ever brought home, we’d soon have dozens of “pets”.  I have such a hard time with the idea that they’ve done nothing wrong, but they’ve outlived their usefulness, so it’s time to go. It seems heartless.

We have eliminated an attack rooster because it wasn’t safe to have him around the kids. We would also not hesitate to put down an animal if it were suffering. When Charlie hunts or fishes, we eat what is brought home. We don’t take animal lives for granted.

If I’m able to eat meat from the grocery store, I should be able to accept responsibility for their lives. No doubt I will share recipes and cooking adventures when I’m making 100% homegrown, natural meals. It’s the whole reason we’ve taken on meat birds. I’ll either learn to be OK with it, or will become a vegetarian.

Ingredients

Princess Cake

Another birthday, another cake. I keep asking the kids if they want a fancy bakery cake, but they keep saying, “No! Gabba cake!” Raymond wanted an Avengers cake with strawberries from the garden. When I asked Reta Jean what kind of cake she wanted, she looked at me like I was not so bright and said, “BIRTHDAY cake, Gabba.” Well, duh, Punky! Any other requests? Pink, sparkles, princess and jelly beans. Well, OK. Let’s see what we can do.

I pulled together everything I thought I would need. I try to make everything from scratch, but Reta Jean’s birthday landed in the middle of a week and a half of guests. I had to cheat on the frosting. Carly thought Reta Jean would like a pound cake, which was great to me since it takes lots of eggs. I baked the cake in a tube pan so we’d have a hole in the middle, and also baked 5 little cupcakes. There was a plan brewing, and all I had to do was figure out how I was going to pull it all together.

Ingredients

 While the cake was baking, I got to work on the “towers.” I’ve been on Pinterest enough to have an idea of what to do. First step, melt white chocolate and color it pink. Next step, roll sugar cones in the pink chocolate.

Melted Chocolate     Dipping Cones

It takes a couple of rolls to get a smooth coat of chocolate. If I had more time, I would have rolled the top part of the cone first, and let it dry, then roll the pointy end. As it was, there was a little time crunch, and they ended up a little messy. Fortunately, Reta Jean was turning 3, and as long as the cake resembled a castle, I thought I was in pretty good shape.

Before the chocolate hardened, I dipped the rim in pink sugar. I also sprinkled the top, and added a little candy ball. I attached the ball with a little more melted chocolate. This added to the mess, but it looked much better with the little ball. Even though they weren’t as Pinterest-y as I would have liked, I think the overall look was really cute.

All Towers

Have you been wondering about the cupcakes? They’re to hold the jelly beans in the cones! I frosted the cupcakes with pink frosting, filled the cones with jelly beans, and plugged up the cones with the cupcakes.

Cupcakes  Jelly Beans

The cake is done and frosted, and I filled up the hole in the middle with jelly beans. I sliced the top of the cake to make it smooth. Then, I cut a small circle from this extra piece of cake, and covered the jelly bean hole with it. All that’s left is putting it all together. I sprinkled the cake with more pink sugar, and used more little candy balls to ring the cake and cupcakes, and make a castle door.

Cake

Reta Jean loved it so much, she clapped and did a little wiggly dance. That was all I wanted! As it turned out, the cupcake/cone/jelly bean combination was the perfect serving size for little kids.  As happy as Reta Jean was to see the cake, all the kids giggled and cheered when we removed the cupcakes from the cones and jelly beans poured out. All the adults knew there were jelly beans in there, and it didn’t occur to me that the kids didn’t know about them. It was a really fun surprise for them. When we cut into the actual cake, even more jelly beans spilled out.

Pretty easy, overall. If I bake another castle, I’ll make sure I have more time, and fine-tune some of the decorations. As long as I can get giggles, grins, and happy dances, I’ll consider it a success!

Troll Bridge 2

City Girls in the Country

Our California granddaughters were visiting last week. Their mom loaded them up in the van, hit the road, and took them on their first big adventure. That’s one mom, 3 girls, about 1200 miles, and who knows how many potty breaks.

Shelby is 6, going on 13. The twins, Bristol and Briley, are 4, going on 5. They didn’t just travel far to get here, they ended up in a whole different world. Charlie and I weren’t sure how they were going to handle country life, but really hoped they would all enjoy it as much as we do.

Raymond and Reta Jean were excited to see their city cousins, and we had prepped them that they would have to teach the girls the ways of the farm. They loved showing off their favorite things to do, and the girls took to farm life right away. Almost.

Troll Bridge 2

Of course, the first stop was the troll bridge. This quickly became their favorite place to run and play. Any time we were home, the girls were out under the tree.

We moved on to harvesting lots of veggies, especially peas and green beans. They got the hang of it quickly. The best part of having kids help on the farm, is they’re short. They can reach all those low veggies, and see all the ones  we missed.Green Beans

Peas with Mom   Onions

We took the girls in to feed the alpacas and that’s when they’re city started showing. Briley took one step through the gate and said, “Eww, poop!” Shelby and Bristol shared that opinion. They REALLY didn’t want to be in the yard. Until I got the food out. It took a couple of meals, but soon Spike and Tajo were eating while the girls held their dishes, and the birds followed them around to get their grain.

Two days into their visit I overheard Briley saying, “Ewww, soap!” Progress!

Raymond had fun teaching the girls how to feed Spike and Tajo beet leaves and Asian pears through the fence. Turns out Bristol is a farm girl at heart. She loved all the animals, and they seemed to know she was a kindred spirit.

Feeding Pacas

After awhile, the cows came around to say hello. The girls had seen cows at fairs and such, but these were awfully close, and awfully big. Everybody knows you can’t call yourself a country kid until you learn to use the gate as a viewing area. I don’t know why I get such a kick out of the kids lined up on the gate, but it makes me happy every time they do it.

      On the Fence   Cows

All of this was Day 1. They worked and played hard. Raymond and the girls kept going and going and going, but Reta Jean wore her little ol’ self out.

Wiped Out

Grandpa, Mom and the girls also did lots of sightseeing. They saw the rivers, the mountains and the ocean. There was sunshine and blue skies, with just a little bit of rain. I joined the troops on a trip to the zoo in Seattle. Busy, busy!

When we were home, we did farm stuff. We “melted” egg shells using vinegar. This gave us a whole lesson on the difference between chicken and duck eggs. Did you know, if you soak eggs in vinegar, the shell gets eaten away and you’re left with an egg in a membrane? Easy to do and really fun. Did you also know you can bounce eggs after they’ve soaked in vinegar for a couple of days? The girls were amazed by this little trick.

Melting Eggs   Bouncing Eggs

I think Shelby probably got the most out of her farm time. She loved collecting eggs, and then trying to pick out which ones would have a double yolk. She got pretty good at it. She also wanted to learn to spin. We tried it, but her arms and legs just aren’t quite long enough to pull it off. Maybe next year. What I really loved is that she went from 6 going on 13, to 6 going on 7.

Spinning

There were a lot of things we wanted to do with the kids, but there just wasn’t time. Just running and playing takes up a lot of time. I was so happy there was no reason to be concerned about not having enough “to do”. I really should have known better. What kid doesn’t love fresh air, open spaces, animals, and learning new things?!

Mom says this will have to be an annual trip. Shelby is already angling to come up earlier in the summer so they don’t have to leave so soon to get back to school. The girls and I are going to be researching fair entries for next year. Even if they have to return to the city before the fair, we’re going to come up with projects they can submit while they’re here. If I have it my way, their trip to the country will stay with them all year.

 

HappyTurkeys

Clipping Wings

One of our turkeys got out, and I caught it all by myself!

It wouldn’t have gotten out in the first place if Charlie wasn’t in the pen trying to catch it, but that’s not the point. I caught it, picked it up, and took it to Charlie!

We were catching them to clip their wings. We have four – two male, to female, we think – and they have been in our smaller coop/run. We’ve known that they needed to be moved to the big yard, but we have also been told that turkeys are excellent at flying and would have no qualms about, literally, flying the coop.

Turkey pen

Charlie has talked to other farmers and watched countless YouTube videos to learn how to clip the wings properly. He felt confident, but I just knew it was going to be a fluttering, biting, scratching, flapping mess. I’m so glad I was wrong.

The most important thing Charlie learned is to hold the turkeys upside down, by their feet. This instantly calms them, and they pretty much don’t move at all. Who knew? I still didn’t quite believe it. (Once you’ve been attacked by a rooster, it’s difficult to ever fully trust poultry again.)

Hanging

Well, how about that? It really worked! I kept waiting for the birds to lull us into believing they were calm, then springing a surprise attack on us. I was responsible for holding them, and I didn’t want to be the one who hurt them, or freaked out and let them go. Couldn’t have been easier. They just hung around while Charlie clipped their wings. They were so mellow I could even hold one with one hand and take a picture with the other.

First Cut

For those who have never clipped wings, there are actually two sets of feathers: A long set, and a shorter one. Using regular scissors, you clip the longer feathers, following along the tips of the short feathers. A built in guide. Our turkeys are old enough, the long feathers have completely grown in, and the quills are like fingernails. We can cut them right off, and it doesn’t hurt the birds at all.

Did you know you’re only supposed to clip one wing? It’s not the shortness of the feathers that prevent the birds from flying, but the imbalance. If you clip both sides, flying will be harder, but they can still get away. With just one side gone, it’s like paddling with one oar. They won’t get anywhere.

We were able to clip all four turkeys and relocate them into the big yard in about 30 minutes. Now they have room to roam, but won’t escape and become prey to the neighborhood coyotes.

My biggest problem now is these guys are really friendly and have quirky little personalities. They’re also supposed to be Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.