Ordered My Seeds

    I totally enjoyed browsing the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Catalog & Garden Guide.  It was like reading a book on how to save seeds.  There was a lot of information in there!  I requested their catalog after reading Mother Earth News' article on Floriani Red Flint corn.  This corn is suppose to be one of the highest in protein, and make some of the best polenta.  (Which is why I wanted it. --- Never mind that I don't know how I would be grinding it, I'd figure that out when I got it :-) This is what I wanted to order.  But alas, I was to slow.  I guess they were out within a month of that article.  Oh well, I ordered  the rest of my seeds.  I liked that the seeds are not treated with fungicides.
I also ordered the book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, And Craft Of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Katz.  I have seen people tweeting about it and mentioning it on blogs, it sounds really good.  Spring here we come!

Black Bean Salsa

My daughter Kerri was thrilled to be the hand model, lol!
 I had two organic mango's that needed to get used up. ......I just couldn't pass up making this salsa for Sunday's supper.  It's a favorite with all the kids, and the grandkids too!

Black Bean Salsa

1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (11 oz.) Mexicorn, drained
1 medium mango, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
2 TBL. lime juice
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
Combine it all, refrigerate until serving. Serve with corn chips

I always double it for our crew.  Because this is one of our favorites, I will be canning our own mexicorn and black beans this year.  Beans are so-o-o-o easy to can, I'll walk you through it one of these days soon.

.....dr momi



The Kitty Sitter

    Someone had to have dropped off those kittens.  They were way too tame --- and they just "showed up" one day.  I found the first one in the garage, playing with imaginary mice.  "What's that?" I said to my husband.  "What?"  "That"   --- "I have no idea where THAT came from."  It was a pure white kitten about 7 wks. old.  Now, how many of you know that when you pick up a 7 week old kitten and it starts to purr you go "awwhhh" inside?  She was named Blanco. (even though I know it should have been Blanca)

     It wasn't long after I found "Spot".  He was totally white except for one black spot.  They seemed very hungry.  All I had was dog food, but they devoured it.  I have never had an inside cat.  These were not going to become the first.  So, Spot and Blanco played and slept in the garage.  I kept a little dish of food on the porch.  That afternoon I came out and there they were nursing on a white mama cat!!  She was very tame too.  Thinking they might have been someones barn cats, I let them figure out where they were going to live.  They left ----- until the next afternoon, when the kittens showed up again!  No mama -- just the kittens.  It was like I was being "used" as a babysitter!

Granddaughter Gracie and sleeping Blanco
      Needless to say, the grandkids fell in love with them.  All the cousins kept taking turns holding them.  When it was Gracie's turn, she wanted to give the kitten a ride in the in we were suppose to push her and the kitten around.  She settled into the stroller with her arm around the kitten, making sure it couldn't get away, and my daughter-in-law started to push her.  What a cute picture -- I grabbed my camera.  After a while, my daughter said "awwhh look the kitten fell asleep."  I guess you might have had to been there to see the horrer that fell over my daughter, daughter-in-law and myself, as we realized at the very same time that perhaps Gracie was holding on a little to tight!  In unison we all said, "Is that kitten breathing?!"  ----- (Now, do you really think I would be telling this story if it had a bad outcome?)  Turns out Gracie was an excellent kitty sitter.  A quick check revealed the kitten WAS sleeping.  Just taking a snooze while she was being pushed in the stroller. :-)

.....dr momi

Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop


Fresh Tomato Soup

Fresh Tomato Soup

1/4 c. olive oil
2 large onions, sliced
2 medium organic carrots, chopped (no need to peel)
2 organic celery stalks
5 cloves of garlic, quartered
3 strips of fresh organic orange peel
9 cups of chopped tomatoes (measure frozen tomatoes when they are thawed)
1 cup chicken broth
1 TBL. fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried
1 bay leaf
1-2 tsp. sugar (to cut the acidity)
1/2-1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper


Freezer Diving

Tomatoes from last years garden,
just washed, quartered,  and frozen as is.
Tomato soup here we come!!
      I just dug through my bigger freezer, which is really a medium size one.  I'm trying to clean some things out, because I heard I have some grass-fed beef coming my way!  I don't have room for much, but I'm making as much room as I can.  I could do without the wild turkey tail in there, which he (as in my husband) says is destined to be a turkey decoy  - guess I'll let him have the space.  :-)    We have 2 freezers.  This medium size one and a small one.  When we get toward spring as the freezers are clearing out, everything in the little one will get transferred to the other, then we unplug it for the summer.  In general, the vegetable are in the small one and meat in the larger one.
     This is what I came upstairs with.  Two gallon size freezer bags full of the last tomatoes of the garden -- I was so sick of processing tomatoes last Aug.......I do believe fresh (frozen) tomato soup is in order.   A large  plastic container full of brown rice --- from a year and a half ago.  This will get cooked up for the chickens over a few days.  A quart of homemade chicken broth with no date on it ---uggh!  I think it is still good.  I brought it up to the refrigerator freezer to use up next.  A bag of wild grapes and rose hips from a year and a half ago, put in there for winter feeding of chickens.  The chickens are getting it for breakfast tomorrow.  And lastly, a small freezer container full of kale from the 2009 garden  --- and into the chicken food it goes.  You can tell I was lax this fall in  getting things all cleaned up.
     There is still quite a few chickens, some venison hamburger and loins in there, but I made a nice hole for the beef :-) Tomorrow my tomato soup recipe.


Why Make Whey

Let stand at warm room temperature
for 3-4 days or until the whey separates.
     I can hear you all.  Making whey?  Why?.......because it's good for you :-).  Actually, you also get cream cheese.  Start with 2 quarts of whole organic milk.  Raw is best, pasteurized homogenized --- if you must, pasteurized ultra-homogenized -- not good.  (why is another whole post).  Add 1/4 cup of buttermilk.  Not all buttermilk in the store will work.  Some just don't have live cultures.  You might have to try a few brands until you figure out which one works.  Now let it sit for 3 or 4 days, in the warmest room you have, till the curds (cream cheese) and whey (the clear liquid) separate.   Line a colander with a clean dish towel, place over a bowl and let it drain.  Overnight works just great.  In the morning refrigerate the cream cheese and put the whey into a jar.  Keep both in the refrigerator for quite some time if you want.  However, there is always something to make with cream cheese, and you're going to drink that whey right up.
    Whey is good for you because of the available minerals, enzymes, and lactobacilli.  I especially like whey in the summer when it is extra hot.  Pour some whey into your lemonade and it will refresh you so fast.  You can feel the difference.  After working hard in the garden it is great!  Try it after a hard workout or run.  It actually has a little sour taste that you don't even notice in the lemonade.
     I am making this whey to add to my breakfast shakes that I am going to be starting, and for my oatmeal.  Whey can also be used to ferment vegetables.  I have used it to make beet kvass -- very good for a cleansing diet, and excellent for the stomach and digestion.


Freezing Eggs

Scrambled and ready to freeze.
Make sure there is at least 1/2 in head space.
     Are your hens laying eggs faster than you can use them right now?  Maybe your favorite organic eggs in the supermarket are on sale.  Did you know that you can freeze eggs with excellent results?  It's so easy, and when you use them, you won't be able to tell the difference.  I have used them for baking, but also for scrambled eggs, and they taste just like fresh.
     Begin with Ball Freezer containers, they are by the canning supplies in your favorite store.  The little ones with the purple lids are perfect for three large eggs.  Crack 3 eggs right into the container and add 1/2 tsp. salt.  Now scramble them with a fork, just enough to break up the yolks good.  Always make sure there is at least 1/2 inch head space.  If your eggs are extra large, 3 might not fit, then put in 2  -- but the same amount of salt.  Make sure to label and date, then pop them in the freezer.  I would try to use them up within 6 months.

Make sure to label and date.
     In October when I have extra eggs I will start freezing some.  That way I have plenty of my own eggs for all the extra Christmas baking.  When you use the eggs for baking, make sure to adjust the salt in your recipe to account for the extra salt in the eggs.  If you are scrambling them, you might want to mix in with some fresh eggs so they don't end up too salty.


Two New Crops In The Garden

     I always start getting antsy (is that a word?) to start my seeds this time of year.  Way to early around here.  I have another month to wait.  So, I pour over the seed catalogs to plan my garden.  Not that it is ever a whole lot different, but I always try to plant something new, something I've never tried before. 
     I already knew that my new crop would be parsnips this year.  It was suppose to be my new crop last year.  I buy my seeds bulk sometimes at the feed mill.  The jar the seeds were in said "Parsnip", but that is not what grew.  A long row of turnips grew!  Oh that I had my pig then.  At least the ducks and chickens liked the green parts.  Turnips are not high on my "like" list. I also planted "zucchini".  It was obviously crossed seed.  We called them "pumpchini's"  :-)  This year ---- I'm ordering from a reputable catalog.  The parsnips will be planted specifically to try making some parsnip wine.  They say it tastes great, one of the best country wines you can make.  I have no idea what kind of medicinal value it will have :-).
     Since I am a year behind in trying something new, this year I'm trying two things.  I finally learned how to start a sweet potato!  I could buy started plants, but I wanted to learn how to do it from scratch.  There are no organic sweet potatoes in my little town.  Knowing full well that I should not be even trying to grow one from the grocery store (because it was most likely treated not to sprout) I did it anyway.  I cut off the bottom 1/3,  then put 4 toothpicks in the small part just to hold it half way in a glass of water.  It didn't grow.  Now, most people would not try the same thing again, but I am not "most" people.  Two months later, I bought another sweet potato from the grocery store --- and you got it --- it grew!  Green shoots above the water, and lots of roots below the water.  I planted it, and it is growing beautifully.  Next I will cut the shoots, and start them in water till I get roots.  I already cut one shoot to get it started, had it in a glass of water -- I guess just a little close to the edge of the counter.......  "Where did my sweet potato shoot go?!!"  "I didn't do anything to it"  "Well, it's gone!!"  The only ones not talking were the dogs.........I hope sweet potato vines aren't poisonous.  (They are both still alive, and neither got sick :-)
The "parent" sweet potato vine.


Making Pumpkin Pie From Scratch -- part 2

Pumpkin  Pie
(for 2 --  9 in. pies)

4 large eggs
1 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup agave syrup --- which has a lower glycemic index)
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
2 cans evaporated milk (or 1 can of evaporated milk and 1 cup cream)
4 (heaping) cups of pumpkin puree

Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees.  Put everything into a large bowl and beat with blender until mixed well.  Use a measuring cup to fill the ready pie shells.  I fill them on top of the stove so it is easier to get them into the oven.  If they are not filled right to the top your pies will look scanty, but it's a tricky process to not spill them on the way in when they are full.  (I spilled this time around.)  There always is a little extra pumpkin filling.  Just bake it in a little oven proof bowl.  (no wasting allowed :-)

If you spill as you put it in the
oven it will not look as pretty.  Guess tastes the same :-)
Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.  Then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.  If the crust seems to be burning before the pie is done, put a sheet of aluminum foil lightly over the whole pie until it is done.  Test for doneness by piercing the center of the pie with a butter knife.  When it comes out clean, it is done.  Cool on cooling racks.

Whipped  Cream
1 cup whipping cream    
1 Tbl. vanilla
1/4 to 1/2 cup powdered sugar (or agave syrup, or maple syrup)

In a bowl beat the cream till it starts to thicken, keep beating while adding vanilla, and slowly adding sugar, until peaks stand straight up           




Making Pumpkin Pie From Scratch -- part 1

Pie Crust (for 2 pies)

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup lard  (my way favorite) or Spectrum organic "shortening" (non-hydrogenated palm oil)
1 egg, beaten
3 TBL. water

     Measure flour, salt, and lard into a bowl  With a pastry blender or I just use my potato masher, blend until the lard is pea size.  Put egg and water into a small bowl and whisk with a fork, pour into flour mixture.  Now with the fork,  blend just until it all holds together.  If you need a little more water add it.  Flour the area where you will be rolling out the dough.  Take half the dough and roll out into pie shape.  (Sprinkle a little flour over the dough so it doesn't stick to the rolling pin.)  Fold the dough back on itself 1/2 way, lift it from your surface and put the fold into the middle of the pie tin.  Unfold.  Now trim with a butter knife all around the pie tin.  Use your thumb and forefinger of both hands to make a beautiful edge to your pie.   Separate your thumbs by 1/2 inch.  Your left thumb and forefinger move backward, while your right thumb and forefinger move forward.  Keep moving to the right.  Your left thumb always going where your right thumb just was.  You will end up with a beautiful fluted edge.  Prick the bottom of your pie crust with a fork. 

Just needs pricking and then ready to fill.




Baking Pumpkins

Pie pumpkins from storage in the basement.

     It's really cold here in Northeast Wisconsin.  It's going to be 10 degrees below zero tonight with a 20 degree below windchill.  This was a good day to use the oven and not get the house over heated.  So, I baked pumpkins to use in pumpkin pie.  Three of my stored pie pumpkins were cut lengthwise (from the stem down).  All the seeds and insides cleaned out --- to go to the chickens and ducks.  Then placed flesh side down on a cookie sheet.  Bake them for one hour at 350 degrees.  Let them cool, so you can handle them without burning yourself.  Now spoon out all the flesh into a bowl.  Use an immersion blender, and keep blending till it's all smooth.  I use the same amount of my prepared pumpkin as it calls for in the Libby pumpkin pie recipe, in my pies. 
     Fresh pumpkin has 2650 I.U.'s of beta-carotene (that gets converted to vitamin A) per cup!  That is a lot!  Pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin tastes so much better!  If you are not using it right away.  Freeze it.  You don't have to do anything more to it.  I freeze it in quart size freezer bags -- with the exact amount I need for a pie.  This pumpkin puree can of course be used for other recipes, and makes a fine baby food.  Just freeze in the sizes you'll need.  I do believe tomorrow  I will be baking pies :-)

Baked and cooling.

Frozen and labeled / and fresh puree.


Redtail Ridge Ducks

The ducks of Redtail Ridge. 
 Elton has a wild
hairdo -- I think he is a
White Crested/Swedish cross.
      I never planned on ducks.  We have no pond or close water.  They just sort of "happened".  A friend of my husband got 3 cute baby ducks for his wife's birthday.  He had them for a year and a half, and truly couldn't handle how much work they were any more.  He asked if I wanted them.  As a favor I took them.  He had one condition....I couldn't butcher them.  So, Donald, Elton, and Daffy (yes, he named them) came to live at Redtail Ridge.
     Ducks are weird.  Not like chickens really at all.  Over this last summer I did fell in love with them though.  Nothing makes you chuckle more than ducks "puddling" in a puddle on a rainy day. It's right up there with baby goats bouncing off walls, and kittens chasing a piece of binder twine.
    Donald and Daffy laid eggs. (We call her Doni now)   They were not very good at hatching eggs.  They kept moving them around and leaving half of them out of the nest.  (They should have been separated)  Then one day my daughter asked if I wanted some baby ducks that had hatched at her place.  I took five 2 week old baby ducks and put them under Doni who was still trying to sit on eggs.  She loved them immediately :-)  We kept all the hens, so now my flock consists of 4 hens and 1 drake (Elton)
    When they start laying eggs this spring I want my daughter to try the duck eggs in baking.  My grandson is allergic to chicken eggs, but I have heard that sometimes duck eggs will not give the same reaction.  I'll let you know how that works.  I will bake with duck eggs also, everything  is more tender and fluffy with them.  I can't eat them scrambled or fried though --- it's a really different texture.
     I will also let my banty hens hatch out some duck eggs.  I heard chickens are better duck mothers than ducks are :-).  My small flock of ducks eventually will have a bigger job.  They will have run of the orchard (or at least part of it).  The goal is for them to help keep down the population of apple  maggots, you know, the insect that leaves the "worm holes" in the apples.  I'm not sure I'll have fencing up yet this year, but it will be coming.  (I'm looking into natural hedgerow fencing)  It won't have a top on it, too big of an area, but the ducks seem to be very "hawk wise".  We'll see how it goes.


Raising A Pig

     30 years living in the country and I never had an urge to raise a pig for butcher.  Now I want one.  I want it for two reasons.  1)  I hate weeding, and my garden is always out of control come late summer.  It is my understanding that a pig allowed in your garden after the harvest is done, will root up those crab grass roots, and leave some manure for next season!  2)  I want the lard.  I want the lard for the very occasional high heat frying I do.  .....and for my bread recipe that calls for shortening.  .....and for pie crust.
     Lard is stable at high heats.  In other words, it won't throw off free radicals.   Every time I fry perch in vegetable oil I cringe.   Vegetable oil is not stable at high temperatures, and gives off free radicals.  I know it's not a good thing to be doing.  My bread recipe calls for shortening ---I won't do it! --- full of trans fats, formed by the hydrogenation process.  I don't make many pies, but, have you ever had pie crust made with lard?  We are talkin' about flaky.  .....and the plus to all this, lard is an excellent source of vitamin D.  I know this is thinking outside the box for some of you.  Try googling "free radicals", "trans fats", and yes "lard".  The thinking is changing on this stuff.
     The meat will be organic, and I will save some ribs for a summer picnic, the hams, some bacon, and try some liver sausage.  The rest I will probably give away.  (we just don't eat that much pork, I know my Dad wants some pork chops that taste like when he was growing up -- he can't find it in the store.)
     So, I am gathering fence posts and pig panels, figuring out feeders and waterers.  Checking into solar electric web fencing too.   Come spring I just need to find my feeder pig.  Maybe someone will barter for maple syrup.......


THE Best Oatmeal

     Making your oatmeal the old fashioned way, will give you the best bowl of oatmeal you ever had.  Creamy and yummy.  To make it, you start the night before.  Before going to bed, in the pot you will cook it in, measure 1/2 cup of organic rolled oats (not quick cook, more if you like it thicker) into  2 1/2 cups of water.   Add a splash of homemade whey, or a spoonful of plain yogurt, stir till mixed.  Let it sit till morning.  In the morning add 1/4 tsp. of salt, bring slowly to a boil and then turn down to a simmer.  Stir occasionally. Simmer 20 min.  When it's done, doctor it up to your hearts content --  butter, cream, whole milk, berries, ground flax, etc. I add real maple syrup and a dab of butter.  My husband adds a spoonful of honey.  This makes enough for 2 people.   
      Soaking the oatmeal overnight insures that the phytic acid in the grain is neutralized.  Phytic acid can play havoc with the absorption of  minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc.  Amazing that great-grandma knew nothing about phytic acid, so why did she do it that way?  Because that was the way to get THE Best Oatmeal :-)


Tattler Canning Lids

Try them out,
       I just got a late Christmas present from my sister-in-law.  (Getting together this year didn't happen - long story)  It's what I asked for.  Tattler reusable canning lids.  I'm so excited to try them.  The reviews on them are great.  They work in the pressure cooker and boiling water method.  They aren't exactly cheap (and she got me 6 doz. of them!), but they last over and over again.   Since I'm doing a lot more canning these days these will be used!
     I have 2 daughters that are chiropractors.  They work in their Dad's clinic which is 3 minutes away from our house.  Needless to say, it is really easy for them to show up on their lunch break and say "what's to eat".  Lots of times there are leftovers, but just as many times I will say "eggs" in "nothing great".
     Yesterday I had leftover barbecue thawing but nothing else, and the conversation went like this.  "Green beans, I want some green beans to go with it."  "Well go downstairs and get some."  "Mom! don't you ever tell me there's nothing to eat, there's tons of canned goods down there!" :-)  I reminded her it wasn't all that much.   I would really like to have 2 years worth of say, green beans, in case there is a year the crop fails.  She came up with a pint of green beans and a pint of canned potatoes to go with the barbecue.  We talked about how easy it is to make a decent meal (as in good for you, -- organic from the garden) when you come home from work, if you have canned goods.  The ultimate "fast food" for anyone working and putting on supper for the family.  The food is already cooked -- just heat it up! I canned venison and salmon for the kids this year, obviously I didn't can enough.  They are all out already.
     If you want to can along with us this year, start getting ready now.  I will be walking you through it this summer. Buy jars and lids, water canners are cheap and you should definitely pick one up, you can can fruits this way.  You can't can meat and plain vegetables in a water canner though.  If you decide to get a pressure cooker, don't even bother to get a cheap one.  Make sure it has a dial on it so you can tell exactly what the pressure is.  More on all of this to come.


Making Homemade Vanilla

       Making vanilla is so easy and economical.  If you do any amount of baking, the price of vanilla in the store is outrageous.  I won't use the imitation stuff.  I have no idea where my homemade vanilla is on the "gourmet" scale, but I've used it for years and I don't notice any lack of vanilla flavor.

One bottle 2/3 gone and
the next started.
     Here's how you make it.  Buy 2 fresh vanilla beans.  Around here, they cost about $12.00 (for 2) at my local health food store.  Go buy a liter of vodka.  It doesn't have to be the best, I buy the least expensive to keep my vanilla price down.  Slice the vanilla beans lengthwise and then cut into inch  pieces, put them into the vodka and cap it again.  Now, put it into the back of your pantry and every once in a while when you see it, give it a shake.  I would let it steep at least 2 months.  It will turn the color of.......vanilla!  I leave the beans right in the bottle while I am using it.  When I get to the last third of the bottle, I will start another batch.
     One year for Christmas I decided to give each of the kids a bottle of homemade vanilla.  I started early in the year buying a bottle of vodka (I needed 5) every time I went to the grocery store.  I sure hope I had a different clerk every time so stories didn't get started!  I thought putting it on the high shelf in the pantry would keep it from the kids sight, until my son declared one day, "Mom do you have a problem I don't know about?  What are you doing with all that vodka?".........."my problem" became known at Christmas time and we all had a good laugh.

.....dr momi


St. John's Wort Oil

St. John's Wort Oil labeled for storage
and dried St. John's Wort for tea. 
      My husband burned the palm of his hand picking up a spoon that was hot from laying on a hot burner.  Nothing that major, about the size of a quarter, but it wouldn't stop stinging.  He had it under cold water and put something on it (I can't remember what it was), but it was still stinging like crazy.  That's when I remembered my St. John's Wort Oil.  I had him swab some on with a Q-tip.  The stinging stopped immediately.  He was impressed, and I was impressed :-) 
     I've made St. John's Wort Oil for a few years in a row, but this was the first I'd actually used it.  It's not hard to make.  Someone was selling it for $10.00 a 1/4 oz. at the farmer's market last summer.  I had made a pint of it, so I figured it was worth $320.00..... :-)
     St. John's Wort blooms in late June around here.  I pack the flowers tightly in my jar (whatever size you want).  Don't use the stems or leaves -- just the flowers.  Then I pour the jar full of olive oil and prick open a vitamin E capsule and squeeze it in (to help preserve it).  Cap it with a nice screw on lid.   Now, put it in a sunny window where you will see it often, and shake it every day for 2 weeks.  When it's done,  use a strainer to get out the flowers.  It will be a beautiful rusty red color.   Now label it, and store in a cool dark place.  Mine is stored in my "medicine" cabinet.  It is now my official "go to" for a burn.
     More to come on St. John's Wort when it's growing this summer.


Big Pheasant Feed

We work Billy very hard around here :-)
       The first Big Pheasant Feed as my husband calls it, was on Christmas Eve.  Our second Big Pheasant Feed, is about to happen this weekend for my son's birthday and the third Big Pheasant Feed will be for my other son's birthday in April.  As you can see, only special occasions are worthy of a Pheasant Feed. :-)
     My husband and son's along with their hunting dogs, (Billy is my husbands dog) bagged enough pheasants this year for 3 family meals.  We never have a Feed before Christmas Eve.  This is what a Big Pheasant Feed consists of : pheasant from the fall harvest, sweet corn frozen from the garden, and smashed potatoes from the garden.  That's it.  No variations.  No extras.  (the guys have made the rules :-).
This is how we make the pheasant to feed 12 adults and a bunch of toddlers.

Boil pheasant breasts (we use about 10 birds for everybody) in enough water to cover until meat is done.  Save the water, cool the pheasant and debone.  Cut into bite size pieces and place in a super large cast iron pan. Add 3-4 large onions diced, 2-3 sticks of butter (remember this is a special occasion), 1 box of chicken broth and the pheasant water to fill the pan.  Now let it simmer till the water is gone and the pheasant and onions brown well. (keep scraping when it starts browning).  Salt and pepper to taste.

I can smell it now.......
The Big Pheasant Feed


Cookie Monster & Rooster From Hell

     Cookie Monster is a bantam (banty) rooster. A very gentle calm rooster.  He got his name one day while I was babysitting my almost 3 year old grandson.  Logan was being silly that day, and giving all the chickens he saw running around outside a name.  I can't remember the names all the hens got, but Cookie Monster's name stuck.  Cookie Monster is the only rooster I have right now.  He is the Rooster From Hell's replacement.
     The story is recalled over and over when the extended family gets together.  Belly laughs are heard long and loud.  But, I get ahead of myself.
     Rooster From Hell was determined to nail me, and nail me good.  He was a standard size mixed up breed chicken, and he was mean.  Somehow he figured I was a threat to his hens, and any chance he got he would rush at me with those spurs leading the way.  One day while I was filling up the chicken waterer at the faucet of the house, Rooster From Hell ran from the area of the chicken coop all the way across 30 yards, and with my back turned, nailed me in the back of the leg.  It left a nasty bruise mark.  That was the straw that broke the camels back.  He was a gone-er!  There was no catching him while he was running loose, but the next morning in the coop I caught him (after a battle).  Holding him by the legs, I marched my way to the house and yelled for Rick to get the axe.    .......I swear he understood, with all his might he gave a last ditch effort to get away; and didn't I loose my hold, and he was safe for another day.  Beaten by a rooster.
     The next day I was in town, and when I got home the story was retold to me.  My brother-in-law and nephew Kyle came for a visit.  Kyle was 10 years old.  Rick warned him about the rooster and not to bother him, but Kyle was a pretty "tough" guy,  he was pretty sure he could out run any old rooster.  So doesn't he go down to the coop just to taunt that bird.  The way Rick and his brother told it, they were sitting on the porch laughing their heads off as Kyle was running full blast all the way into the house, "cryin' like a little girl" with that rooster right on his butt! Kyle is 12 this year and the rooster jokes just keep on coming........
     As funny as it was hearing about Kyle and the rooster, I knew I could not keep such a mean rooster around all my grandchildren.  None of them can run as fast as Kyle :-)  It was a bad accident waiting to happen.  Rooster From Hell became "Rooster Soup", and  I have to say, it wasn't the best pot of soup I ever made.  The meat was as tough as... (wait for it)....nails.

Mason Bees

My Christmas present, a Mason bee house.
     The note next to my keyboard says: 5/16 drill bit, holes 4-8", 3 ft. off ground.  It is a result of a google search for mason bees.  It all started when I got a mason bee house for Christmas (yes, my kids know that that is something I would really like  :-) --- really)  I am looking for ways to get my orchard and garden better pollinated this year.  The honey bees are truly lacking.  We are working on getting a top-bar beehive built and getting honey bees again.  Years back an elderly friend, Clarence, helped me put a couple of honey bee hives on the back of our 10 acres.  Wow! what a difference in production of everything in the garden.  The plum trees were loaded, and oh the pumpkins we had that year!  Clarence had worked  honey bees for so long he never protected himself except for the head gear.  If a honey bee stung him, he considered it good for his immune system.  Today Clarence, I think, is 98 years old.................  Those old bee hives were heavy and I didn't have the same passion as Clarence, so I let them go. The top-bar hive I think I could manage, but, that's another story.
     So back to the mason bees.  We have quite a few of them around here.  They worked the flowers and tree blossoms as hard as they could last year.  Including the dandelions - when I was picking them for wine last year I got stung!  They don't make honey but they do pollinate.  I am out to make sure I have as many of them as possible.  So, besides the nest I got for Christmas we are going to make some nests.  We will start with a big block of firewood and drill holes in it.  Evidently the 5/16 in. drill bit gives the perfect size hole, and if it is at least 4-8 in. deep, you will have more female bees than male.  It is the female bees that do a lot of the work pollinating, and of course laying more eggs.  From my reading it sounds like they don't go further than 100-300 ft. away from their nesting spot.  A couple in the orchard and a couple next to the garden is my goal.  A spot of wet clay mud helps them cap their pollen and eggs. The results of all this won't be seen until the garden of 2012.  Google mason bees, and then put a nest near your might be giving mason bee nests for Christmas gifts before long :-).


Banana Walnut Bread

Yuck right? Don't throw them, use them!
     With grand kids at my house all the time, I always have bananas in the fruit basket.  I wish they were organic, but here in Northeast Wisconsin those are hard to find. Pretty often I have bought bananas faster than the kids ate them.  I never throw them out.  If I'm not ready to bake today, or I don't have enough for a double batch, I throw them in the freezer (skins on -just throw them in). I figure there is no sense in heating the oven for a single batch when it is just as easy to make it a double batch.  The bananas come out of the freezer mushy, but tasting the same -- perfect for banana bread.  The more ripe your bananas -- the more banana taste you will get.
     I always toast my walnuts while the oven is heating up.  I keep stirring them every 3-4 minutes.  I never chop them because  I hate doing it, and when you slice the banana bread it doesn't seem to make any difference.
     Don't get alarmed if your bread "cracks" on the top.  It's suppose to.  That's the sign of a good quick bread.  This recipe makes 4 little small loaves, and 2 regular loaves.  Banana bread freezes really well.  Eat a loaf now, freeze a loaf, and share your little loaves with your neighbors :-).

Banana Walnut Bread

2 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup of butter softened
4 lg. eggs
8 medium size extra ripe bananas, smashed
1 cup buttermilk, fresh is best, reconstituted dry will work
2 tsp. vanilla
5 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
2 cups whole roasted walnuts
     Mix well everything except the flour. Add flour and fold in gently just until all the flour is mixed.  Spray your pans.  Bake at 350 degrees.  At 30 minutes, check the small loaves.  A toothpick should come out clean.  Keep checking the big loaves at 10 minute intervals, until the toothpick is clean.  Let them cool 10 minutes and then remove from pan to keep cooling on the cooling racks.

10 seconds after I took this picture, my husband was "diggin' in"

Perch Are Biting

Grandson Ryan, ice fishing for perch.
      It's fa-r-e-e-z-i-n-g with the windchill today, and my husband has decided to go perch fishing on frozen Shawano lake.  Well, you have a good time honey, I'm staying right here by the fire. :-)  He will come home with a catch though.  He gets excited to eat perch and I appreciate all the extra protein I will cook up for the chickens.
     With feed prices climbing higher and higher for the chickens and ducks I have been actively trying to figure out how I will feed my little flock off the land.  I can grow grain, and forage berries etc., but protein becomes the issue.  Without enough protein they won't be laying eggs.  In the summer when they are foraging for themselves it's not a problem, worms/bugs = protein.  Winter is harder. Organic soybeans work -- I will soak them overnight and then cook them up for them (along with anything else I'm clearing out of the freezer or refrig that day).  I will get extra eggs the next day, but soybeans I really try to use sparingly.  They can be allergenic, and around my grandbabies I'm cautious.  If the chickens are eating soy, the eggs could be a problem.
    That brings me back to the perch.  When Rick cleans the perch, the females will be full of eggs.  One of these days I'm going to try the Fish Egg Patties recipe I found -- super nutrition :-), but right now I will cook those eggs and the heads and skeleton of the perch until the bones are super soft, and feed it to the chickens.  Free protein! They will go crazy for it.  I love watching happy chickens :-)


How's Your Vitamin D Level?

     I just got back the results of my vitamin D test.  Right in the middle of normal.  Sounds good right?  Well, it didn't happen over night.  Two years ago when I was tested it was almost non-existent.  If you live in a northern latitude and are not taking vitamin D, I guarantee you, yours is low too.  Today I take 5000 I.U.'s of vitamin D every day.
     Over these last 2 years while getting my level back up, I've been trying to learn how they kept their vitamin D levels up back before the days of a capsule.  Well, for one thing, they ate liver.  I know, you all just curled your nose.  But, the fact is, liver is one of your best sources of vitamin D.  I save all the organic chicken livers from when I butcher my chickens, and am determined to find a recipe for liver pate that everyone will eat. (I'm still working on it).  When Rick bags his deer in the fall, I am all over him to bring me back the liver rather than leave it out there for the coyotes.  If we can't bring ourselves to eat it, at least we can cut it up into dog treat size, freeze them individually on a cookie sheet, put them in a freezer bag to store in the freezer for a month (to kill any worm larvae), and then feed them as the healthiest dog treats ever!  My dogs love frozen liver treats.
     Another good source of vitamin D that I read up on, is drying shiitake mushrooms gill side up in the sun.  I can't remember the exact amount of vitamin D they absorbed, but I remember being so impressed with the number that I was going to start doing it. (It was a lot)  I still haven't built something to dry things in the sun and keep the flies off at the same time, so it hasn't happened yet --- maybe this summer.  Then you would throw some mushrooms in your chicken soup every time you made it. 
     Vitamin D is so important for making hormones and keeping our immune system up that if you have never had yours checked, well, you should :-)


Elderberry Wine Recipe

Spiced Elderberry Wine
 Makes 1 gallon of wine ( 5 bottles)
                        2 lbs. elderberries
                                    1 organic lemon
                                    2 campden tablets (I don't use these)
                                    1 tsp. nutrients
                                    1/2 tsp. pectic enzyme
Crush the elderberries and place in primary fermentor.  Add 12
cups cold water, lemon juice and rind, campden tablets if you
use them, nutrients and pectic enzymes.  Let sit overnight.        

                                                                     The next day add
                                                                                                          packet of wine yeast (I use Lalvin K1-V1116)
                                                                                                         1/2 ounce thinly sliced ginger root
                                                                                                         2 inch cinnamon stick
                                                                                                         1 cup chopped organic raisins

                                                                     Stir daily until frothing stops -- about 3 days.  Then add:

                                                                                                         3 lbs. brown sugar. (this all turns into alcohol)
                                                                     In a couple of days, place in secondary fermentor (add some oak chips if 
                                                                     you like - I do) and attach airlock.

For a dry wine: rack in 1 month, and every 2-3 months about 3 more times.  Bottle
For a sweet wine: rack in 1 month.  Add 1/2 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup wine.  Stir gently, and place back into secondary fermentor. Repeat process every 6 weeks until fermentation does not restart with the addition of sugar.  Rack every 2-3 months until one year old.  Bottle

     I'm going to walk you through all this again in the fall when I am making it.  In the mean time, find yourself a beer/wine making supply shop.  Let the store owner help you with your selections, including a little basic book on getting started.  Do your homework now, before the garden chores set in.  At the same time the elderberries are ready to be picked, the tomatoes will be going crazy :-)  You won't have time then :-)           
     Why is elderberry high on my list of medicinal herbs?  The elderberry's berries have ingredients in them that stop the replication of viruses.  This is one of my "go to" herbs when I feel a cold coming on.  I start it right away.  I have personally known it to knock out that cold over and over.  I don't care if it is juice, tincture, or wine, it all has medicinal value.  Just one elderberry bush in your backyard can give you a good supply, or if you are like me, you plant half the orchard in elderberries to supply yourself and all of your friends :-) 


Racking the Elderberry Wine

We always try to eat as "close to the land" as possible. Two years ago I found out I could drink "close to the land" also :-). We rarely drink alcohol, but a couple glasses of wine on Sun. night when all the kids are here, goes really good with supper. When we are talking medicinal herbs, elderberry is right up there on the top of the list.  I made 3 gallons of elderberry wine this year, a really fun way to preserve your harvest. Freezing elderberry juice takes up too much space in the freezer, though I do make the grandkids some elderberry syrup that they take home and freeze in their own freezer. The grandkids call it their "black ice cream vitamins". It does look black because of the deep, deep, purple color. :-) (think of all the antioxidants!) I did can some elderberry juice this year too. I will be doing more of that again next year.
     Three gallons of wine is 15 bottles of wine. When it is finished, this is what we will bring out if there are a lot of colds/flu bothering the adults. What a fun way to take your medicine :-). More on the medicinal value of elderberry, and the elderberry wine recipe, next time.
See all the "gunk" at the bottom?
     So, for now let's rack the wine. This wine has already been in the primary fermentor (a 5 gal. pail) for about a week, and in this 3 gallon jar called the secondary fermentor for a couple of months. All that racking is, is siphoning off the wine into a new container and leaving all the gunk (dead yeast -- I'm pretty sure "gunk" is not a real wine term
:-) .  You may have to rack your wine 3 or 4 times, with a couple of months in between each one, before you bottle it. This will make sure it's nice and clear in the bottle. Learned that the hard way with my dandelion and rhubarb wine this year. I bottled it too soon. It will still taste great, just not that pretty in the bottle. Tomorrow more on elderberry.


.....and the FOX story

     It was a spring morning when I heard Rick yell "Jean, quick! come see what's coming down our driveway!"  Two fox were running up the driveway in the middle of the day.  Just before the house they cut across the field and we watched Mr. Fox chase Miss Vixen all the way across 40 acres.  No doubt she was in heat, but it was kinda neat to see them so close.
     Fast forward to early summer........seeing them up close neat?.....not so much.  Mr. and now Mrs. Fox set up house somewhere in our neighborhood. I'm pretty sure they had a lot of mouths to feed too.  Our first encounter was a hole dug under the summer chicken coop door.  He/she killed the whole flock except for one hen.  My husband set a snare in the hole in hopes of catching her.  She never went through it again.
     She then dug under the coop door at the neighbors and wiped their flock out.  They even had a 3 foot wide stone in front of the door.  It was a regular tunnel that she dug!  So now we are on big time fox alert.  The new meat and layer chicks were getting pretty good size.  I love letting them free range.  The problem is they don't end up back in the coop to roost before I want to go in the house.  I'll remember to come out in a bit and close the door.....ya...right.  I woke up at 5:00 a.m. to distressed chickens squawking in my open window, and opened my eyes up just in time to see the fox carrying one away.  We had feathers and about 6 dead chickens all over the yard.  What a bummer feeling.
     We built a new run this last summer.  We made sure to extend the chicken wire down the wall and out about 2 1/2 feet onto the ground.  Then piled lots of field stone on top of it.  If she decides to dig a tunnel, we could still be in trouble.  We haven't seen them at all this year.  Did someone else trap them???
     Ok --- enough critter stories.  Tomorrow we rack the elderberry wine :-)


     So, I'm walking very slowly to the duck coop with a pail of water in my hand  --- it's really slippery after our thaw and then freeze again.  I notice tracks in the inch of fluffy snow we had last night. I stopped to ponder.  "What are those? Cat tracks?  Rat tracks?" I started to follow with my eyes where they led to.....I didn't get far.  Thank goodness I had stopped where I was.  Five feet in front of me was a big fat raccoon!!! .....and it wasn't moving.  This is 10:00 in the morning.  You usually don't see raccoons in the day that aren't sick.  When they don't clear out fast when they see you, it is not a good sign either.  I ran back to the house for Rick (my husband) to get the gun.
     The thing you worry about with this situation is rabies.  The raccoon didn't look sick, but was moving in a half-dazed mode.  Rick thought that with the thaw he woke up out of his partial hibernation and was in la-la land, but, you can't take chances with rabies.  If you ever find that you have to shoot an animal that you suspect might have rabies, don't shoot them in the don't want to spread rabies.
     Critter control.....part of homesteading.


How Redtail Ridge Got It's Name

     Redtail Ridge is named after the Red Tail Hawk and the ridge of limestone that protects the south side of the house.  We owned 10 acres, and after 25 years sold the old farmhouse and 5 acres. We built a new house on the back 5 acres, which is plenty big to homestead on for me.  The first summer here we were putting in a new lawn, there was no rain!  I hauled hoses all over the new lawn and garden that year -- it was a full-time job.  I will never forget coming home from town one hot day, and there in the sprinkler was Papa Red Tail Hawk.  He sure looked huge on the ground.  His wings were spread all the way out while he took a little shower!  Redtail Ridge was named that year.
     That was a fond memory of Papa Red Tail, but sadly I have a love/hate relationship with him.  Mr. and Mrs. Red Tail live in the tall pine trees on the ridge.  They would take a chicken dinner in 2 winks given the chance.  I have a covered run attached to my chicken coop for that very reason.  If I am not home, the chickens stay in the coop for the day.  When I'm out working in the garden etc., they get to be free range chickens.
     The people that bought our old farmhouse had a little hole in the chicken wire over their run.  Papa Red Tail went through that hole and killed most of the flock.  Hawks like to eat the brains of the chicken and then move on to the next one.  It is best to never give him a chance.  When we lived at the old house, our outside dog run was right next to the chicken coop.  We never had hawk or fox troubles.
At this new place we have no outside dog, and the hawks and fox know it!  Tomorrow is the fox story :-).


Egg Laying Machines

     Here we are going into the dead of winter in Wisconsin, and my 6 laying hens each laid an egg!  All those soup scraps pay off! ..... and it helps to have the right breed of chicken.  Four of my hens are Red Star Sex-Links, (that lay brown eggs) one is an Araucana (that lays a green egg), and I have a 2 year old Leghorn (that still lays a huge white egg almost every day).  The carton of free eggs my kids get to take home every little bit is very colorful :-)  I have a couple of banty hens that didn't start laying yet, and that's ok, because their job will start in the spring.  I bought them  because the description in the Murray McMurray catelog ( said they would go broody easy.  That means they want to sit on eggs to hatch them out.  Not a trait you necessarily want in your laying hens.  When a hen goes broody, she won't lay eggs.  All she wants to do is sit on eggs.  However, this year I want my little bantys to hatch out some duck eggs for me.  Last year my ducks did a terrible job of it!
     I've had chickens for many years, and I have to say the Red Star's are the best.  They started laying an egg everyday since about 5 months old.  I ordered them after I read an article about them in Mother Earth News.  It said not only do they lay eggs early and every day, but the omega 3 fatty acids in them were far higher then any other breed.  That sold me. 


Chicken Soup, part 2

     This is a soup kinda day here in Northeast Wisconsin!  The pot of soup that simmered all day yesterday is back on the burner to simmer most of today.  By the time it is done, the ends of the bones will be super soft.  Letting it simmer till the whole bone is soft is probably the way to get the most minerals in the soup, but my husband can never wait that long!  Towards the end, I do pull up the bones and crush the ends off into the soup so the marrow can leach into the broth too. (this is good nutrition and good flavor).  So, later this afternoon I will pour it through the collander to make sure there are no bones in it.  I have tried just fishing it all out --- there's always a bone left.  Way better to put it through the collander.  The skin, bits of meat, and vegetables will become chicken food -- they will think they got a GREAT New Year's Day meal :-).  The bones will still have a lot of marrow in them, no sense in wasting it.  When I boil up some soybeans for the chickens I will throw in the bones too, to get the rest of the nutrition out of them.  I figure it becomes part of the next egg I eat.  Until then, I will throw them in the freezer.
     So now there is a pot of very rich broth, excellent nutrition for nursing moms and anybody who is ailing.  Now, about 4 of my big homegrown potatoes gets cut up into bite size pieces and thrown in.  I don't even peel my potatoes, but, I surely would if I used non-organic potatoes from the store. 2-3 big homegrown carrots get cut up, again, I don't peel mine from the garden. You can add barley, rice, or any other vegetable you might like.  Let it simmer till everything is done.  At the end I throw in 1/2 bag of egg noodles -- just for my husband (this year I am going to practice making my own noodles).  Oh, and don't forget the leftover chicken! Now, season to taste.  Always start with the boullion if you use it. I try to use the least amount possible, I don't like it's ingredients. It will need a little more salt, probably not any pepper, and about 2 tbls. of dried parsley.  I think the parsley is more for looks then anything :-)
     From this pot of soup my husband and I will eat 2 -3 meals, freeze a quart, and give a quart away.  Nobody turns down homemade chicken soup!  There is nothing like a hot bowl of homemade soup on a cold winter day.  The only thing that could make it better is some homemade bread to go with it!!!   Hhhhmmmm -----I have time :-)