Mug Shot

Bird Bullies

I have a theory. Meat birds are jerks! I think that’s why they became meat birds. Early food eaters were probably perfectly happy just eating eggs. Then, one of the birds had to go and be a jerk. It didn’t take long to figure out that somebody had to go. Yeah. Meat birds.

People shake their heads and smile when they see how great our animals get along. No joke. They hang out. They share. They even play together. Alpacas, chickens and ducks, in perfect harmony. And then. Meat birds.

Harmony

My egg birds and ducks are peaceful and friendly. I love the calm, quiet quacking, and the friendly clucking. If you think I’m being overly sentimental, you haven’t spent time on a farm. They’re perfectly happy to swim and peck and lounge in the sun. I can actually feel my blood pressure lowering when I’m around them. (Relaxing sigh.)

Ducks   Hens

By the time the meat chickens were ready to be processed, I was ready to see them go. First, most of them were males. Lots of testosterone, and they all wanted to be Big Bird. My peaceful barnyard was turning into a feather-flying peckfest. At least they were about the same size as the other chickens, so it was a level playing field.

Now, we have these turkeys. I’ll admit it. I don’t like them. I thought I would like them. I wanted to like them. When they were little, I DID like them. Not anymore. They’re mean. When they first moved in, I had to stand guard because they were using their beaks to pick up the smaller birds and shake them. Not cool. At first, I thought they would settle down once they settled in.

Gang

They aren’t quite as aggressive as they first were, but the ducks and hens try to stay away from them. The turkeys peck and chase and squawk at anything that gets too close. If we had another enclosure, they would be put in segregation.

The turkeys were supposed to be for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but at least a couple of them won’t make it that long. Next year, we’ll be doing things differently. There will be a separate enclosure, and all the meat birds will be in there. It will be like our own little juvenile hall. I nominate Charlie as Head Warden.

Princess Layout

Love and the Fabric Store

When I was a little girl, my mom sewed for herself, my brothers, and me. One Christmas, she even pulled a Sound of Music moment, and made me a whole wardrobe of Barbie clothes out of her old dresses. I grew up knowing Mama’s sewing machine was just short of magic.

As I got older, I got to help make my own clothes. I remember as early as 1st grade, going with Mama to the fabric store. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I probably made her crazy. I would spend HOURS picking out fabrics that I felt would work together. And then there were the buttons, appliques, or embroidery patterns for the pockets.

During the last weeks of summer, we would work together in the den. I would embroider flowers, or butterflies, or puppies for the front of a shirt, or the pocket of a dress, while Mama did the cutting and sewing. If I was managing to be focused and patient, I was even allowed to sew some of the straight seams.

I was so happy during those summer days. Mama and I working together to take flat, rectangular pieces of fabric, and turning them into something I could actually wear. It was the magic of the sewing machine. Unfortunately, there were mean, snotty girls in my class who made fun of my homemade clothes. This made me so sad because I LOVED making my clothes. By middle school I had caved to the pressure and insisted on store-bought clothes, like everybody else.

My love of the fabric store never died. By high school I was back to spending hours picking out fabrics to make things. Store-bought clothes were still important, because I was a teenage girl, but I had to sew. Mama helped me make formal dresses, and I made shirt, shorts, skirts, dresses, and tote bags. I don’t know if the mean girls chilled out, or if I just didn’t listen to them anymore, but they were no longer part of the equation.

llama fabric

When I had my own kids, I made clothes for them from time to time. We also sewed Christmas outfits, drama costumes, and performance skirts. I didn’t get to spend as much time at the sewing machine as my mother, but I still got in a couple of projects a year. The best part was still the fabric store, picking out the prints and fabrics I felt would work together.

Squares

As the kids got older, and I had more time, I started making quilts for everyone. I don’t have the patience for little pieces and the actual quilting, so I make what I call “Lazy Gabba Quilts.” I sew squares or strips for the quilt tops, and back them with fleece.

Cutting Strips

Now, I enjoy sewing things for the grandkids. Raymond loves superheroes, so he got an Avengers quilt for his birthday. Reta Jean is all about princesses and pink. I managed to find not only princesses and castles, but frogs, too. Riley doesn’t have an opinion yet, so naturally she got llamas and alpacas. And these were just the summer projects!

Avengers

Princess Layout

Rileys blanket

Over the years, I’ve used Abby Cadabby and Santa Claus. Pirates, owls, fish, and maps. Ladybugs, flowers, camo, and birds. I’ve tried to put together all kinds of colors, prints and patterns.

The women at the local fabric store have already learned my “process.” I find one fabric I really like, then roll through the aisles picking out the rest. Hours. Just like I’ve done my whole life. When I’m sitting at the sewing machine, I always think back to those summers with Mama. Taking those random pieces of fabric, and turning them into something, still makes me happy. The thing that makes me even happier, though, is seeing my family enjoy what I’ve made.

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Taters

Tater Time!

Back in April, I wrote about potato planter bags. It’s been hard, but I’ve been patient, and today I got to harvest the first full bag of taters!  Since potatoes grow underground, you have to plant them and have faith they’re doing something. Last summer we weren’t terribly successful, which just added to the suspense this year.

As a recap, the best potatoes to plant are actual seed potatoes. Grocery store potatoes can be planted, but now many growers treat them with something to prevent eyes from growing. The eyes are where they new plants originate so, no eyes, no new plants. Each seed potato should have a few eyes. Cut the potato so each eye is on a separate piece, then plant each piece. I couldn’t remember, but Charlie said he cute each of our seed potatoes into four pieces, and each bag had just four pieces, or one potato, each.

Each planter bag started with the potatoes planted in just a few inches of soil. As the plants grow, the leaves and stalks are covered with more soil. The potatoes grow from the covered stalks. Once the plant stops growing and the leaves die, the potatoes are ready to be harvested. Some of our bags are ready, but some are still growing.

Potato bags

I’ve cheated and pulled out a few potatoes in the last few weeks. Today, I went for it, and emptied a bag of Yukon Gold. I tried to just dig straight from the bag, but that gets pretty cramped. We had an old tub out back, so I dumped the bag of soil into the tub. This gave me more room to move the soil around.

Potato dirt

At first, I was scraping the dirt away and looking carefully for any signs of life. I found a little worm, but that didn’t count. After a few layers of dirt were removed, potatoes started showing themselves.

peek a boo

I dug and dug, and felt like I was on an archaeological expedition. I didn’t want to miss any potatoes, and I didn’t want to slice into any of them with my little spade. The deeper I got, the more potatoes there were. Most of them were pretty good size, but some of them were teeny. They were like little potato beads.

Taters

I took them in and scrubbed them off. (A fingernail brush works well.) I was pretty happy with the outcome, especially since this started with four little potato pieces. See how cute the little ones are?

Clean

This crop may not have been as many as we were hoping for, but it was definitely more than we got last year. There is definitely enough to make something yummy. Grilled potatoes and onions is sounding good.

This is just the beginning. There are still 10 bags on the patio, of all different colors and varieties. I’ll be harvesting them over the next couple of weeks and coming up with fun ways to cook them.

This is one of those projects anyone can try, even if you have very limited space. And I have to say, I was super surprised at how much better really fresh potatoes taste than those you get at the store. If you missed the original potato planter bag post, you can find it here:

http://redmonwoods.com/2015/04/22/potato-planter-bags/

Monkey bread

Monkey Bread – Lots of Options

By now, many of you have seen the video for Chocolate Cream Cheese Stuffed Monkey Bread. If you haven’t, check it out here.

https://youtu.be/L91LfZpu_uc

Yummy, right?

Charlie came home from work and asked if I had seen the video. Usually, if he brings something to my attention face-to-face, instead of just on Facebook, I know he’s interested. I was going to town anyway, so I decided to pick up the ingredients.

A twenty minute drive to the store allows plenty of time to think about what you’re shopping for. I like cream cheese, but it seemed like maybe I could do something different. S’mores-inspired monkey bread, with marshmallows instead of cream cheese, sounded pretty good. But then, so did caramel apple monkey bread. Once I got to the store, I saw raspberries. Oooh, that would be good with chocolate chips (or white chocolate chips), too.

I took a pass on the raspberries, and decided to make 1/2 cream cheese, and 1/2 cinnamon apple. I picked up walnuts, cream cheese, caramel bits and apples, and refrigerator biscuits. I have everything else at home, in the pantry.

I peeled and chopped 2 apples, and mixed them with 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon. I also cut the cream cheese into cubes. In the video, it shows the biscuits being cut in half. There are only 8 biscuits, and it seemed like I needed more than 16 pieces, so I cut them in quarters.  Smooshing the quarters into large enough pieces to accommodate the cream cheese or the apples took a little work.

The video speeds up to show making the little balls. That’s because it’s really tedious. It takes awhile to stuff them and squish the dough together. Not hard, but it probably took about 30 minutes. Allow time for this if you decide to try this.

I put a chunk of cream cheese and a few chocolate chips in half of the dough pieces. In the other half, I put the cinnamon apples and a few caramel bits. As I finished each batch, I shook, shook, shook them in the cinnamon sugar. I put the cream cheese balls on one side of the pan, and the cinnamon apple on the other side, layering them with walnuts and glaze like the video instructs.

After baking and plopping them on a plate, the filling stayed hot a long time. I would say, count on letting them cool 10-20 minutes before serving.

Carly and the kids had come for dinner, so I had lots of taste testers. Both kinds were good, but the Cinnamon Caramel Apple was by far the favorite. The kids called them Cinnamon Apple Pops. They were like little, mini apple pies. That half of the plate went pretty fast. The cream cheese half went too, but not quite as fast.

Notes for next time:  1) Get two rolls of biscuits and cut them in half, instead of quarters. I think it may cut down on the prep time, not having to squish the biscuits so thin. Then again, it may end up being too doughy. OR, I could squish them thin, and just have room to put more filling in them. 2) Get raspberries. After the success of the Cinnamon Caramel Apple, I want to see what the family thinks of Chocolate Raspberry.

Bottom line, this recipe was a hit! If the cream cheese and chocolate, or the caramel cinnamon apple doesn’t sound good to you, think about what does. I think this recipe is only limited by your imagination. Any kind of pie filling you like, could be wrapped up. If you’re pressed for time, I imagine store-bought pie filling would work in a pinch. If cinnamon doesn’t seem to go with what you’re doing, shake the balls in just sugar. Instead of a brown sugar and butter glaze, maybe powdered sugar would be better.

Give it a try and let me know what you do! I’m sure there are lots of great ideas.

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The Great Escape

Autumn is coming, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite season. It gets pretty cold at night, but we still have sunshine during the day, without the heat. There’s still some harvesting and canning to do, but the rush to get the bulk of it done has passed. Everybody else gets to have a lazy summer, we get lazy autumn.

Saturday morning was chilly, and nobody had to be anywhere. The perfect day to stay in bed until it warms up outside. The yard is quiet, except for the rooster, but that’s nothing new. But he sounds awfully close this morning. Nah. I decide he’s just getting his big boy voice and has gotten louder. (In reality, my eyes are closed, my feet are warm, and I don’t want to get up.)

Strangely, after I hear the rooster crowing, I hear something tapping across out patio. I decide it must be Tori heading out to work. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t ever leave by walking past our door, and she’s a lifeguard wo has no reason to wear high heels to work. It also doesn’t matter that I have to get up to use the bathroom, and her car is still in the driveway. (I’m going back to bed to close my eyes and warm up my feet.)

I really have no idea what these noises are, but my bed is so warm and cozy, I don’t give it much thought. Some of the birds get out from time to time. They find a hole under the fence, or manage to flutter high enough to get over the fence. They stay close, and return to the yard when it’s time to eat.

One minute, I’m sleeping soundly and snugly, the next minute Charlie is charging out the back door. “All the turkeys are out!” Oh, that doesn’t sound good. We clipped their wings so they can’t fly, and they’re too big to squeeze through the holes under the fence. “The chickens are out, too!” Crap! Good-bye, snugly bed. “And the ducks!”

The panic is now setting in because the only way everybody could have gotten out is with a major breach of security. Either the fence is down, the gate is open, or a tornado blew through, picked up the birds, and set them down outside the fence. Since we’re not in Kansas, it has to be the fence or gate. This means the alpacas could be out, too. As I said, crap!

Running out the back door, we check the alpacas first. They’re in the yard, even though the gate IS open. Once we know the pacas are safe, Charlie closes the gate and we start to figure out how to return our two-legged critters to the fold. Peanut takes matters into her own hands. Most of the birds are foraging in the woods, so Peanut charges through the group, and sends them scattering. Oh, great.

As it turns out, the solution was as easy as that. Once the birds are flushed out, they immediately head straight to the gate. We open the gate, they all file in, and we can relax. Except for the two or three or four birds that ran the opposite direction. Not to worry. By noon, out last wanderers have returned.

Neither Charlie, nor I, are sure how the gate came to be open. Friday evening, when the kids were visiting, one of the turkeys had gotten over the fence. Charlie thinks he may have opened the gate to get the turkey in, then forgot to close it, when he was able to pick up the turkey and drop it over the fence. Who knows? This is why we hook the latch.

latch

All’s well that ends well. And I can try to sleep in again, next weekend.

Chicken soup

Farm Food Fans – Grow Your Own

I have lots of friends who love visiting farmers markets. They come home, happy with their treats, and enjoy the fresh fruits and vegetables, or the yummy dishes they’re able to make.  The key word here is “treats.” Most people I know don’t take the time (or have the time) to visit a farmers market every week. This means the treats are just that, a treat to enjoy when time allows.

Let’s think about that. The majority of the country treats FRESH food as a treat similar to eating out at a fancy restaurant. It’s something we enjoy, but not something we expect to have on a daily basis. Doesn’t that seem wrong?

Charlie and I really are accidental farmers. Sort of.  Like many people we got treats from the farmers markets. But, then, we went home and looked around the yard. We had room to grow some of these things by ourselves. We started with squash, tomatoes and 6 hens, and have added more every season.

At this point, we grow a lot of our own vegetables, get our eggs from our own chickens and ducks, and have ventured into the world of meat birds and rabbits. Meats we can’t raise ourselves, we try to buy from local farms. Within the next year or two, we hope to grow or raise the majority of our own food. But for now, we still have to buy food from the grocery store from time to time.

Turns out, in our efforts to bring fresher foods into our lives, we’ve also created some food snobs. The kids and grandkids are starting to call us out on store-bought foods. And I’m not talking about frozen, processed foods, I’m talking about homemade meals with store-bought ingredients.

Reta Jean started it. Even at two years old, she scolded Carly for giving her store-bought eggs. With just one look at the plate, she told Carly she didn’t like eggs from stores, she likes eggs from chickens. That’s one of my favorite Reta Jean lines because I could just picture her explaining this to her mommy.

I think the next on the bandwagon was Joe. I made lasagna – HOMEMADE lasagna – and he questioned if I had made the cheese. I’ve made cheese for lasagna before, but that particular week I hadn’t planned ahead so didn’t have homemade cheese. Joe noticed it wasn’t “fresh” cheese. With another, recent lasagna, Carly, Tori and I all ended up picking out the sausage. Yep, it was store-bought.

If I bake something, I’m asked if I used chicken or duck eggs. When Charlie makes pork chops, he gets asked if they’re from the store of the farm. Vegetables are expected to be from the backyard, and if they’re not, it’s noticed. We don’t like winter because more of our food comes from the store. We’re working on figuring out how much we’ll need to grow next summer to make it through the next winter.

Now, I don’t mean to bash grocery stores. They’re called on to provide a lot of food to a lot of people, at a reasonable price. BUT, I can’t ignore that within just two years, with fairly regular access to fresh foods, we’re all (even the preschoolers) able to tell the difference.

I also know that not everybody has the time, space, or soil to grow a lot of their own food. BUT, I think everybody can grow some of it. Here’s my suggestion: Try providing just one thing from your own space. If you live in an apartment, and like tomatoes, grow tomatoes in your window. If you have a backyard, get a couple of hens. A lot of cities allow hens within city limits, just not roosters. There are also self contained coops, with attached runs to protect them and keep them from escaping. Fresh eggs for breakfast – or dinner – is a pretty cool thing.

So, here’s a little challenge for you. With fall rolling in, and winter around the corner, there are a few months before the next growing season. If you’re interested in growing your own food, spend this time investigating. If you want chickens, check your local laws. If you want vegetables, pick just one or two that you know you like and will use. Tomatoes are a little tricky in some areas, so they need a little more attention. Squash and green beans are easy to grow, but require a bit of space. Strawberries can be grown in a rain gutter attached to a fence or balcony. Onions and garlic actually get planted in cooler weather, so if you want those, you’ll need to get started a little earlier.

If you want fresh meat, look into local farms, or at least local butchers. This can be a little harder to find, but ask at your local farmers market. Even if there isn’t fresh meat available in your own town, the other vendors may know of someone available, fairly close.

Oh, and don’t get too hung up on “organic.” There are a LOT of regulations to be certified organic. When we get new chicks, I give them medicated feed to give them a healthy start. When we’ve completed one bag of medicated feed, I move to natural, unmedicated, but that one bag of medicated feed means I’m not organic. The chickens also like leftovers. If I bring home French fries, I give them to the chickens. Again, not organic. There’s just not a “Really Fresh, But Not Quite Organic” category.

Charlie and I bought books, joined clubs and searched the internet to learn everything we could. Here are some of the resources we’ve found to get you started:

Territorial Seed Company. Go ahead an order a catalog. I was amazed at all the information available.  Charlie likes their seeds. Very productive. http://www.territorialseed.com/

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones. This will help you plan. Southern states have a much longer growing season than northern states, and this website tells you what zone you’re in. The Territorial Seed catalog tells which plants grow better in which zones, and when planting should start. http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/Default.aspx

Mother Earth News. This magazine also has lots of information online. You can learn about everything from gardening to livestock to cheese. Good winter reading!  http://www.motherearthnews.com/

R Heritage Farm. I’m including them because they’re our favorite pork farm. If you’re interested in locally raised meats, their website can give you some ideas how it’s done. To find a farm close to you, an internet search can point you in the right direction.  http://rheritagefarm.com/

 

Cover

Sweet Pickle Relish

I LOVE sweet relish. When I have a hot dog, it’s relish only. A barbecue without relish is tremendously disappointing to me. I feel comfortable canning pickles, and I felt like it was time to tackle relish. But have you seen all the little diced pieces???

I didn’t have a food processor, and didn’t particularly want another appliance to figure out. This summer, I found a food processor attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer. It slices, it dices, it does it all! I love it. And it made dicing all the relish ingredients super-easy.

Here is the recipe from the Ball Blue Book. I had to make a couple of adjustments because I wanted it to be prettier. Yes, really. For the onions, I used half white onions, and half red onions. Then, instead of green peppers, I used orange. It’s REALLY pretty!

Recipe

Ingredients  Ingredients2

Pickling Salt

It’s a very easy recipe to follow, and it’s processed in a water bath. No pressure canner needed! When the veggies are done soaking in salt water, the best way to drain them is to line a sieve with cheesecloth so none of the little pieces go down the drain. While that drains, combine the other ingredients in a pot, bring it to a boil, then add the veggies and simmer.

In the pot  Simmering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simmer, then scoop your relish into the jars, close them up, and drop them in the canner. Process for 10 minutes, and you have relish. Easy-peasy.

When the relish is first canned, each of the individual flavors stands out, especially the onion. I thought of it as pickle salsa. Within just a couple of days, the flavors really start to blend together and become even more relishy. YUM!

JarsI’ve said before, I don’t want to be responsible to anybody getting sick from canning. If you haven’t canned before, I would say purchase the “Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.” This book is easy to follow and explains all the processes to make sure you’re canning safely.

I made 6 jars of relish about a week ago, and I’m down to 3 jars already. Tori apologized for one of the jars going so fast. What I didn’t realize at the time was that particular jar only had about a tablespoon of relish left in it. She was eating the relish straight from the jar. Carly came to visit and had a taste, and there went another jar. She likes it straight from the jar, too.

I’ve been keeping an eye on our cucumbers in the garden, and I think I’m going to have enough for one more round of relish. I’ll have to hide it from the kids and ration it out over the winter.

You can find the Ball preserving book, as well as canning supplies, AND the Kitchen Aid food processor attachment at my Amazon store.  http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

Closeup

Welcome, Riley Ann!

Through all the fun we’ve had this summer, poor Carly has gotten more and more pregnant. I think Raymond and Reta Jean were starting to think Mommy was always going to be pregnant, and there really wasn’t a baby. I knew she’d be here this week because it’s the week Charlie is in California for his annual hunting trip.  She has finally arrived! Riley Ann was born 9/1/15, 10 pounds, and 21.75″. She’s a big, healthy girl!

Riley Ann

All three of Carly’s kids have been early, but Riley Ann only beat her due date by 3 days. It’s the longest Carly has been pregnant, and from the size of Riley Ann, it would have been nice for her to arrive a little earlier.

While Carly and Joe were at the hospital, the kids stayed here with me. Raymond always does his own thing, so he’s pretty calm about a new kid in the house. Reta Jean had a few concerns, though. She wanted Mommy to hurry and come home, and kept asking where Mommy and Daddy were. She knew, she just needed to hear they were coming back for her. She’s also been confirming for about a week that I’m HER Gabba. I told her, of course, but I’m going to be Riley Ann’s Gabba, too. Reta Jean says, no, that’s not OK. I’m her Gabba and Riley has to figure out something else.

Carly sent pictures as soon as Riley arrived, but we had to wait to go visit. After waiting all day, we finally got the call to come. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the kids get dressed and get their shoes on so fast. All the way to the hospital, the kids were practicing songs to sing for Riley. They decided Old McDonald was too long and had too many parts. Raymond thought ABCs were a good choice, so we practiced that. I started singing Inch Worm to Raymond from his very first visit to Gabba’s house. (I was pretty sure of the words, it was short, and I could just sing it over and over.) Raymond thought Inch Worm was an OK idea, as long as we sang the “interesting” parts – we had to include the addition parts.

When we finally got to the hospital, the kids couldn’t get in fast enough. The gift shop is wisely placed right in front of the maternity wing. This was good because the kids really needed to bring presents. After some exploring, Raymond decided on Cookie Monster and Reta Jean went with Abby Cadabby. The first thing Reta Jean did was give Riley her present, and climb up on the bed with Mommy and the baby. She was absolutely fascinated with this little person, but she was a little disappointed that Riley wasn’t big enough to play with, yet.

RJ meets RileyThe girls

And what did Raymond want to do? Play on the bed. So many buttons to figure out! He did finally settle down and say hi. For a minute.

Playing with the bed

Mom and kids They both got to hold Riley and loved her immediately. Reta Jean is going to take care of her and help Mommy with everything.  She’s counting the days until Riley can play with her – we told her she’d have to wait until at least Christmas. Raymond is going to make sure she learns all the “interesting things.” He was VERY clear on that – Riley needs to know all the interesting things.

Reta and Riley  Big Brother

It was finally my turn! I got to hold the baby! There’s nothing sweeter than a brand new baby.

Miss Riley

Everybody is home now, settling in. We’re all excited to get to know her, and have new adventures. Congratulations, Carly and Joe! Welcome to the family, Riley Ann!