Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A little color

Here's a burst of sunshine and color from this summer. These are two kinds of watermelon we grew, Yellow Doll and New Orchid:

White food

Recently we were given some store-bought eggs. Yesterday I was baking cookies and pulled the carton of eggs out of the fridge. As I opened it I heard a gasp, and turned to see The Princess with wide eyes, up on tiptoe, saying, "They're SO white! They're completely white!"

It had not occurred to me that she might not have seen white eggs. I suppose the last time we didn't have our own laying hens was almost four years ago, when she was just 3, and even then I usually bought brown eggs.

This reminded me of this past summer, when we had used up all our chickens in the freezer, and I bought some breast meat at the grocery store. Farmer Boy came into the kitchen, looked at it, raw, on a tray waiting to go into the oven, and said "What is THAT?!" He actually did not recognize it as chicken meat. When I told him it was chicken he said, "It's so... white!" Later, when asked for his thoughts, pronounced it, "Gross." He said the texture was what really bothered him. "Sort of slimes down your throat... blech" was the best he could describe the texture. This is the boy whose eyes light up when he hears the word "tongue". Not a picky eater.

Now let me clarify that he ate it (that comment notwithstanding, he is a polite boy), and was not criticizing the cooking. But he could distinguish the vast difference between home-grown chicken and factory-farmed chicken. And he was not impressed.

For Stephen and me, coming from a non-farming background, we have had a similar reaction, but different in its emphasis. Our kids have been surprised by how bland factory food is. We have been amazed by how delicious fresh food is. Animals grown in healthy environments produce tastier eggs and meat. It is that simple.

Veggies just picked from the garden glow with color and flavor. Bread made with freshly ground wheat is tender and moist. Last summer Stephen was the caretaker of a goat dairy farm for a few weeks. He is not normally a milk drinker, but he guzzled that fresh milk!

Because I cook mostly from scratch, I find my taste is now more sensitive to artificial ingredients. It is surprising how few ingredients are needed in a recipe when each ingredient is bursting with flavor because it is fresh.

Obviously this can be expanded almost indefinitely. In the final analysis, the way God made it is the way it is best enjoyed, and best for you.

Fewer and fresher ingredients in our food, our homes, our relationships...

Some older posts to follow

I have not blogged for many months (three I think), but I did occasionally sit down and write a few entries without posting them. Following this you will find a few of those posts with their original dates.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Going to the Opera!

The Princess and I took advantage of a remarkable opportunity yesterday. Austin Lyric Opera opened it's final full dress rehearsal of La Cenerentola (Rossini's Cinderella) to students and teachers, including homeschoolers.

We went out to a lovely dinner at The East Side Cafe (my favorite Austin restaurant, to which I have not been for 3 years). Our dinners even came with flowers on them! Fitting, given the fancy hairdo The Princess made for herself.

Then, with an hour to spare, we went to the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Our extra time allowed us to go the top of the parking garage and enjoy the night skyline. It also permitted us to get amazing seats, since seating was General Admission and we were there when the doors opened. We paid a total of $17 for our tickets. The seats we chose were in the "orchestra prime" area. If we were to go this Saturday, EACH TICKET would cost $126!! $17 vs. $252.

Because it was a dress rehearsal we were told beforehand that there might be stops in the action, and the performers might not always "sing out" (preserving their voice strength for opening night). There were only one or two occasions when the singing was soft, and no interruptions. The singing was amazing, the orchestra stirring, the costumes over-the-top. I was completely overwhelmed.

It was long, and late, so when intermission came and it was close to 9:00 already, I suggested to The Princess that we just head home then. She wanted to stay, and so we did. The 2nd act was even better and we were both so glad we stayed. It was a wonderful evening for two very happy girls!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Freezing milk

Here's why it is a bad idea to freeze milk in a glass jar with rounded shoulders...

Dear doggies

We have lived on our farm for four years now. In that time nine dogs have lived here. They've come to us from people who can't keep their dog any more, strays that have shown up, and some just born here.

Farm life is a happy life for a dog, I think, but it's not a soft life. Our dogs don't sleep on our beds; they're not even allowed in the house, unless there's a terrible storm.

They're expected to work... protecting the animals and farm. Most of them really like to do this. Some have thought the chickens might be quite delicious, but we've managed to limit this somehow.

They run endlessly, play in ponds, get dirty and don't get in trouble, and pretty much live a doggie dream life.

Of course we've had dogs get stepped on by cows and kicked by horses, but the really dangerous thing for dogs here turns out to be cars.

Our house is close to the road, and for reasons I still can not understand, cars are very threatening to the canine mind. Trucks hauling trailers are the ultimate enemy.

We have had three dogs get hit by cars. Two have died. We've also lost dogs in mysterious ways... they've just disappeared. And we've given dogs away.

Molly, Fleck, Fred, Zeke, Belle, Sheila, Pepper, a stray we never named, and Luke. Nine dogs, and we're down to one.

Luke is our only dog now. Dear limping, sad Luke. He really is a good dog, but he's never gotten over being separated from his brother and best friend when he was a year old and brought to live with us. Luke was hit by a car this summer. He has recovered but will always limp.

Recently Luke seems to be cheering up. His solo status actually appears to be a positive for him... he gets all the human attention and doesn't have to argue with anyone over status (although he'd been top dog since right after he arrived).

He's not doing his job very well. We're down to six chickens (from 40 in the summer). Rather a calamitous loss. I believe the coyotes refer to our house as "The Breakfast Club".

Wild Turkeys

Stephen discovered a large flock of wild turkeys (technically called a rafter of turkeys) on our property recently. I was excited because we do not raise turkeys yet, so we still have to buy Thanksgiving and Christmas birds. Wild turkey for Thanksgiving dinner - how fitting!

Unfortunately (for me, not for the turkeys), turkey hunting season is in the spring. Good thing the folks in Plymouth lived before government regulations on hunting. Not that they were unfamiliar with the problems of a heavy-handed government...

Anyway, here are the birds. Ugly but in a really cool kind of way.


Oh my, three months since the last post. Yes, it has been a full and happy summer.

While Stephen has had many new projects on the farm these past few months, my main farm project has been planting a much bigger garden. As I've written, Stephen enclosed a little more than 1/4 acre for us last spring. We got some planted, but it was previously pasture, so there was a lot of work to do to break the ground.

In August, Stephen took over the ground breaking part (phew!) and now we are moving along quickly. At this point we have about 1500 square feet planted, and are probably 1/4 of the way done. Of course we want to feed ourselves, but we are also planning to sell vegetables at the Bastrop Producer's Market.

The kids and I plant mostly in the morning after breakfast and before school. After dinner I like to go out and sit in a chair in the garden and just look.

I still squeal like a 5 year old to see things like this (our first sugar snap pea):

We have marauders in the garden periodically. A rabbit systematically helped itself to our bean babies. This picture is taken half way up a 40 foot row, the rest of the row behind me was wiped out too.

Here's what fills the row where there you see no green above:

Thankfully I read that tabasco sauce mixed with water and sprayed on the leaves deters rabbits. It works! That's why we still have some left.

They pilfered a cabbage plant too. Here's a happy cabbage:

And a missing neighbor!

Yesterday I was marveling at how green everything in the garden is. We are in a serious drought and most of the farm is dry and yellow, but our wonderful soaker lines keep the veggies green.

We do have bursts of color here and there...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

My son is crazy

I've mentioned the rat snakes in the hen house before. More than once. Big stinkers. Hungry. Farmer Boy chased one or two out last month, but one time decided the fastest way to deal with it was catch it! He knocked on the back door and here is what I saw! Don't worry, they are not venomous. Is he brave or what?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Beef tongue

WARNING TO VEGETARIANS: This post deals almost exclusively with meat.

WARNING TO OMNIVORES: This post deals almost exclusively with weird meat!

Okay, so I have put it off for a long time. Yes, years. I have had a growing collection of (deep breath) beef tongue in my freezer. Each steer we slaughter comes with a tongue. And various other things like a heart, two kidneys, a liver. We have these things all tidily packaged in white paper in our freezer.

A few months ago I made kidney stew. The Princess and I were reading Mirette on the High Wire as part of our Five in a Row curriculum (which I mostly just use to guide our circle time theme). "Delicious" kidney stew is mentioned, so in keeping with the theme, I found a genuine french kidney stew recipe, and we had kidney stew with crusty french bread for dinner. It was terrible. Ugh.

We have used up our regular frozen beef. We have eaten our last frozen chicken. We are down to the end, and I really don't want to buy factory farm meat at the grocery store.

So I cooked beef tongue today.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to learn how to cook beef tongue these days? Only one of my cookbooks has a recipe (The Joy of Cooking from 1964... and I'll bet the new edition doesn't have it). Online the recipes are few and far between. Seems beef tongue is especially enjoyed in Mexico and the Philippines. But not so much in the US.

I decided to take the Mexican angle today. So I made beef tacos. Note the word tongue is not mentioned... we had BEEF TACOS. Some of us have these bizarre psychological hangups. I'm not naming names.

So, on to the method. I kind of pieced this whole thing together from various sources and made the sauce out of what I had available.

First I (with great trepidation) unwrapped the packages. The tongues looked like tongues. Really big tongues. I decided to spare you pictures, but if you are really curious, look here. I scrubbed them and put them in a big pot, then covered them with water.

I put the pot on the stove, added a few bay leaves, a lot of garlic, about a teaspoon of salt and some coriander seeds. Brought it to boil and let it cook for 3 hours.

When it was done, I took it out and easily removed the skin, then cut up the meat. I sauteed (for 1 min):

2 T vegetable oil
2 T flour
2 T chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin

Then I added:

the sliced tongue
14 oz can stewed tomatoes (with liquid)
1 cup water left from boiling tongue
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder

I mixed the whole thing and let it simmer until dinner time, about 45 minutes.

Here it is, on a home made whole wheat tortilla, with onions, cheese and lettuce, ready to be rolled up:

The meal met with approval, but I still hadn't told the kids what kind of beef we were eating. After Farmer Boy had seconds, I told them they had eaten tongue, and they laughed! I really have the best kids in the universe.

As for me, I would not be sad if I never ate tongue again. I'll confess. I'm the one with hangups.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Recent harvests from our garden

Last week was our first green bean harvest (actually they were purple... Royal Burgundy Bush Beans from Seeds of Change... but they changed to green when cooked!)

We enjoyed wild dewberries in late April and early May, and the early blackberry bush in our garden area put on some huge juicy berries for us all through May:

Last night we ate our first corn:

And tonight found our first yellow tomatoes (we've had a few red ones already):

Soon to come... zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, peppers, cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon, and lots and lots of blackberries in a patch down the hill. And of course lots more beans, corn and tomatoes. Yum!!

Yet more baby birds

As you know, we live on a farm. We have domesticated animals. We have lots of wildlife. You'd think with all these acres, we would have some "humans only" space, even just right outside the house. Say, on the front porch, for example.


First there are the dogs. The cool concrete is very soothing in a hot Texas summer. Especially when you've just taken a nice dip in the pond then rolled in the dust.

Then the chickens. Doorsteps are great places to roost on. Rocking chair arms give a fine vantage point for surveying the lay of the land (aka the front yard).

And of course, there's the wildlife. We do have trees, quite a lot for Texas. But as I've written, we have already had a nestful of babes born in a hanging flower basket over the front porch this spring.

Around the time they were born, we noticed some swallows rebuilding a nest that had been inadvertently knocked off the house around Christmastime, probably due to Christmas lights. This nest had had two sets of babies born in it each summer we'd been here, so we were sad. We needn't have worried.

After the first fledglings from the flower basket headed off for adulthood, these scrawny cuties started peeping from the rebuilt swallow nest whenever they heard the squeak of the front door:

That picture was taken on May 21st, from our open front door.

Here they are on June 3:

You can imagine what the porch underneath the nest (yes, almost directly in front of our door) looks like.

Today I went out and they were gone. All "growed up" in a whopping 2 weeks. But never fear! We are not baby bird-less yet! For we have another hanging flower basket. Yes, now it too has a nest therein.

I sneaked a peak, and look who's ready to get a-growin...

So if you come to our house and wonder why we have two completely dead flower baskets hanging over our porch, now you'll know it's because they are actually bird nurseries, and bird mamas don't take kindly to having their babies' rooms flooded.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Planting flowers

The big kids and I took advantage of Little Guy's nap one Saturday and planted more seeds in the cut flower beds.

I think we are weeding in this picture. This day we put in zinnias; right behind me are two rows of cosmos that were a few weeks old. And obviously we are surrounded by unbroken ground (loads of grass and weeds). Think of the possibilities!


Stephen has been working hard to get water into the garden for me. He dug a 3 foot deep trench in the back yard and ran piping out to the garden fence. Then he installed a faucet inside the garden.

At the moment we have a series of regular hoses and drip hoses hooked up to the faucet, but we need more already. The flower beds still have to be hand watered, and I am starting a new area for a second corn patch.

If you give a 6 year old a camera...

... your iphoto library will look like this...

My personal favorite came with this gleeful explanation, "My bedroom floor was actually clean so I took a picture of it!!"

A portrait of the artist as a young woman:

May wildflowers

In May I made up this bouquet of wildflowers I found in our yard and garden. The picture doesn't really capture the amazing variety of color.

The trouble with allowing forklifts at the table...

... is that they are bound to lift your lunch...

Catching up

Been away from the blog for quite a while, so I will be posting lots of small entries to update things. Thanks for understanding the whimsical nature of being a mama, homesteader, and well, me. ;-) I suppose I shall have to someday post my musings on the problems of being rebellious about schedules.

Monday, May 05, 2008


Lots of recent sightings of interesting wildlife lately.

Stephen found this gray tree frog on a gate by a downed tree that he thinks had been the frogs home:

He also found two rat snakes in the hen house (here's one):

To give you a perspective on its size, here it is next to an adult's hockey stick:

We'll add the snakes to our reasons for declining egg production lately. The extreme free-rangedness of the chickens is yet another. Here's a nest of about 10 eggs that Stephen discovered by the road! We eat all the eggs from newly discovered spots ourselves and only sell eggs that we gather fresh from known laying spots.

I also found a snake in the dog house. When Stephen went to move it, it slithered away. In his search for it, he uncovered these gulf coast toads who had been hanging out under a piece of plywood:

Last night I went to water some hanging plants and to my great surprise, a baby bird flew out of the plant. I had seen some activity in this plant some weeks ago, but had not seen any birds around it for quite a while (not even when watering). I counted 4 Carolina Wren babies in all. They are all fledglings who kept fluttering around on the front porch and wall nervously while their mama watched vigilantly.

Here's one on the front window screen (you can see the plant in the upper left corner):

This one is SO cute! I just love the "eyebrows". It was on the step of the front door:

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Farm update

Well it has been a while since I have written about the farm, and lots has been going on.

Stephen finished fencing in the back yard and the 1/4 acre garden. All the posts came from trees he cut down, stripped, hauled and sized himself. This is the garden:

I have been working sporadically (thanks to the usual demands of homeschooling, home making, and TODDLERS) on putting in and caring for the garden. We have veggies in for ourselves and I started putting in a cut flower area in the hopes we can make it to some farmer's markets this summer. I am just going to keep planting until I run out of space, again, with the hopes of trying out selling veggie surplus at farmers' markets. I hope I actually get to the point that I run out of space, but my pace of planting is painfully slow.

Here are some sprouts from a few weeks ago... first one of beans, then a baby tomato:

Our chicken situation, as always, is in flux. We have had a bit of chicken loss lately, mostly due to coyotes, but in one very sad case, due to a chicken getting into the car when the door was open and not being noticed. I found her a few hours later when I went to get something out; it had gotten too hot for her, and she did not survive. This was especially sad as she was one our favorites, and had a name (you may remember that we rarely name animals because we know how easy it is for them to leave us).

The free range chickens are all laying hens, except for our dear rooster Louie, who has been with us since 6 weeks after we moved here. Our dogs haven't even lived here that long! Here is proud, beautiful Louie:

A number of hens tried to hatch out clutches this spring. One successfully hatched two out of the 10 or so she sat on, but we have not seen the chicks since they were 2 or 3 days old. We suspect coyotes again. We let this girl sit for more than three weeks and not one of them hatched. When Stephen finally kicked her out of the box he disposed of some very rotten (chick-less) eggs.

We have had a few successful hatch outs here in past years. This girl's birth Mama was a Black Australorp, and her Papa is Louie. If I remember correctly, her adoptive Mama was a Buff Orpington (maybe even the one above; this breed tends to be broody in spring). I think the mix turned out really cool in her feathering:

We got another round of meat chicks 4 weeks ago. Here they are on day 1, oh so cute:

And here they are a few days ago, almost 4 weeks old and getting pretty ugly as their feathers finish coming in:

You are seeing them in the porch of their brooder house. They will soon move to pasture in a portable hoop house, allowing them fresh air and fresh forage daily, while still protecting them from predators.

A few weeks ago the cows alerted us to a coyote sitting on the edge of some trees watching the chickens longingly. This was around 9:00am... pretty late in the day for a coyote.

The picture is a little odd, I know... the coyote can be seen in the upper left corner, and you can just make out a line of cows facing him (the playscape is what is in the way... it was impossible to get a clearer shot). Stephen estimates the coyote was about 150 yards away from the house.

We have had two more calves born in the past month. That brings the total for 2008 up to three. The most recent:

Our horse Joe discovered that Stephen had changed to chicken feed storage location. He broke the door in, helped himself to the feed, broke the feeders, and ate most of a bale of hay that was in the chicken house. Here's the door-less chicken house:

And, being spring in Texas, we've been enjoying the wildflowers. This year the field between our house and barn is filled with evening primroses:

Here is a close up of one my favorites, the wine cup:

With all this going on, you can see why I haven't done much posting lately!