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February 22, 2013

Gearing Up for the FTE

Does everyone have their storm preps done? At this writing (Thursday night) the Big Storm of Doom is stretching all the way back to the Dakotas and all the way down to Louisiana. They are already cancelling school - lots of schools.  There is only one thing to do - declare an FTE.

Sooooo much butter and syrup.....

That's right - a French Toast Emergency.  That's when everyone panics and runs out to buy bread, milk, and eggs...everything you need to make french toast.

This was a fabulous breakfast.

It's still my favorite joke. Seriously. My most hilarious friend told me the FTE joke and I can't get enough of it. Or french toast for that matter... and us with all that maple syrup.

The syrup was from our first batch made over the campfire. I added a drop of cream while cooking.

Unfortunately the freezing rain is no joke and we expect up to a quarter inch of ice to coat everything. Hopefully by the time you read this we still have power. The storm should push off by noon on Friday so here's to hoping.

I kinda like an FTE every once in a while. But only for the french toast.

The last time we lost power due to ice we were down for 4 days. We are ready tho. We have our winter storm preps done and we are ready to Defeat the Four Horsemen of Ice Storm of Doom 2013. To make extra sure we went and got another load of firewood earlier in the week. We may end up not using most of it until next year because I'm just sure spring is going to be coming soon... but that's OK. If we end up without power for a while we'll need all that wood to stoke the cook fire so we can have plenty of french toast.

Good Luck everyone! Did anyone else actually make french toast?

February 21, 2013

How to Cook Maple Syrup

I should say this is ONE way to cook maple sap into maple syrup. We are probably doing it wrong but it totally worked! So we were really excited. Maybe some of your northeasterners who know what you are doing can give us other ideas?

 This set up worked really well for us.

Here is what we learned when we were out there cooking the "M" the other day.....

First, our rocket stove didn't take off. Maybe we were missing something but it didn't seem worth it to construct the whole chimney thingy to have a small fire that only kind of did the job.

So we moved on to a campfire type set up. We were warned by a couple people that if we cooked the sap over a regular fire it would taste smoky. Ours didn't get smoky at all and it was terrific. But I'm not a superduper taster so if it had smoky notes I didn't notice. We actually thought our syrup was pretty vanilla-y.

The campfire arrangement was the business. It worked like a charm. Granted I can make a smokin' hot smoke-less fire... so maybe it was more luck than anything.

The day we cooked the sap outside it was pretty darn cold - and it even snowed a little later in the day. We used the biggest pot we could find and then a smaller one also. We'd get a head start with the smaller pot and let it boil pretty fast until it boiled down to a certain level. Then we poured it into the bigger simmering pot. This way we could boil as much of the water out as possible.

Yes the handle on this pot it broken - that's why I'm using it on the campfire.

At the end of the day we brought in both pots and let them set on the woodstove all nite. Then after church we "finished" it on the stove top. Apparently you are supposed boil the heck out of it until it reaches 7* over boiling. Then its officially syrup.

The only wonky thing we found was that we hit boiling at 208*!!!! I'm a little freaked out by that but we rolled with it and took our syrup off the heat at 215*.

It was spectacular.
We had pancakes. 

Very soon there will be french toast. Oh yes.... there will be french toast.

So was it worth it? Heck yeah! The day I sat outside and tended the fire was one of my best days on the farm this entire winter. I sat with my feet propped up getting warm, randomly reached down to pet the dog from time to time, and watched snowflakes melt in my hot chocolate. It was fabulous.

But was it worth it just get a few pints? I guess that depends on how you value your time. Sure I could have driven down and grabbed a $9 bottle off the grocery story shelf then gone home and watched Desperate Housewives of Peoria for the rest of the afternoon... but my time is more valuable than that. I'm learned fun things and had a terrific time doing it. So yeah, it was worth it.

Happy Thursday everyone! Any body else boiling their syrup this week? Sap is going to be running Saturday and Sunday for sure. I don't know about you but I'm totally hooked on this syrup thing.

February 20, 2013

Goat Due Dates, a new Goats Page, and Questions?

Yesterday I finally sat down and figured out exactly when all of these goats are due. You'll remember our breeding plan didn't really pan out. We had the highly ineffective, but delicious, Peanut....we drove about a million miles trying to get our tall girls bred to a short buck, then we had to spend all one of our Saturdays and most of our money for the ugliest buck in the state.

I think it all ended well tho - I keep looking a Debbie and Dahli and they are both looking a little tubby around the middle. Nibbles is as big as a house. Previously I thought she had maybe 3 babies but she still has 45 days to go... So I'm guessing four. I hope it's not five.

I used two different goat gestation calculators - and my own notes to figure out some dates. I found them here for full sized goats and here for mini goats. My goats are La Manchas (and Nibs is a mini mancha) so they have slightly longer gestations.

As far as I can tell the ladies earliest due dates are:

Nibbles: 04/06/13   
Dahli      05/19/13  and could be as late as  5/28
Debbie:  04/26/13   and could be as late as 5/5

Nibbles could be a little earlier. This could be a ridiculous spring.

I also did some work to clean up my Goats Page along the top of this blog. I tried to reorganize it so it makes more sense. And I added some additional links.

A couple days ago someone contacted me and asked for more...and more in-depth goat posts. We can sure do that - does anyone have any specific questions. We can try and do a "200 Level" goat discussion if that will help. What do you think - do you have any specific questions?

Happy Wednesday everyone - are you ask cold as we are today? Our windchill hasn't even moved into the double digits yet....

February 18, 2013

Home Hog Harvest - Yes you can! Interview with Harmonious Homestead

It may be just 20* out there but I just know that spring is coming and we'll all be ramping up our farming activities. Hopefully you've got your confidence up and are ready to take on raising some pigz. But what about the harvest part of pig raising? Are you ready for that? By now you've read our How to Hog Harvest Step by Step... but can you really get out there and get 'er done?

Sure!  You know that we can do know that our friend Duncan can do it... but do you need more encouragement? Ok - how about our friend R from Harmonious Homestead? Does everybody know HH? What a great site - and she offers classes on all kinds of homestead skills. Everything from making home dairy products, to cooking and preserving, and even how to build  a hoop house! If you are in Central Ohio and want to get some good teaching you've got to check out these classes.

And....they butcher pigz. That's right, regular people doing home butchering. If we can do it, you can do it.

OFG: Thanks for doing this interview with us, HH! First, tell us a little about your farm... and you teach classes for folks, is that right?

HH: In October we moved from 1/10 of an acre in a neighborhood of Columbus called Clintonville to 2 acres a few miles away. We're surrounded by the city but technically live in an unincorporated township. Our property right now is a lot of lawn with some older growth trees but we have big plans.

We are receiving chicks today (yay!) to raise into laying hens. These will move into a new bigger coop with our 3 year old Australorp chicken soon. We're hosting a hoop house building workshop in early March that will result in a 10x20 house to grow seedlings and extend the season for greens, lettuces, and roots. A blueberry patch is already planted and 25 fruit trees are on their way. We are building top-bar hives to prepare for bees in April. Because we aren't sure of soil quality, we are planting smaller gardens in several areas of the property to see where vegetables will grow best.

We are inclined toward growing edibles because we love to eat. My husband worked in a restaurant and does much of the cooking and charcuterie while I focus on canning, preserving, fermenting, and baking. I teaching cooking classes around Columbus on homestead/DIY topics and record our homestead adventures on

OFG: So, you are an old pro at home butchering, what is your experience and how did you get started?

HH: Three years ago, a farmer we knew had an extra full grown pig and was open to us slaughtering and butchering ourselves. We wanted to preserve the offal and certain cuts for charcuterie. On an early spring day we headed out to the farm and did the deed. It was fascinating to learn on the job as we gutted, skinned, and butchered.

Since then we have slaughtered a couple chickens, several squirrels, a deer from our own backyard (free meat!), and we slaughtered a pig from Six Buckets Farm.

Butchering a large animal is exhausting work. Pigs and deer take at least three days - one to gut, skin, and get into primal cuts, the second to make meal-friendly cuts, and the third to make trim into sausage. We actually haven't made the sausage from deer and pig yet. We should get on that before the weather warms too much to air-dry sausages.

OFG: Aside from the logistics, what did you learn about about "making" your own food with a first timer? How did they do?

HH: It's amazing how universal people seem to react to slaughtering an animal they've known alive. There is initial anxiety and nervousness before the shot. Then, a pause and maybe some words of reverence. Next comes gutting which is fascinating to every kid and adult that's been around when we've slaughtered. It is an amazing way to learn about anatomy. During the skinning or plucking, everyone gets a little silly with exhaustion and then there's a final push of energy when we cut the meat into pieces that can fit in coolers.

Every time we've slaughtered, we have included friends or family who are first timers. No one yet has had a bad reaction or not been helpful - it's always an educational experience.

OFG: What does your family and friends think about you "making" your own food?

HH: Some are a little grossed out at the things I choose to make and consume. But I come from a family that is thrifty and so they understand why I would cook heart - otherwise it would be wasted.

Some friends are thrilled to taste meats like venison that are difficult to purchase if you live in the city. I believe the desire to know your food is expanding and I am happy to be part of the community allowing this exposure for city folk.

OFG: What is your best advice for someone who is hesitant to do this?

HH: Be prepared with tools and energy. Slaughtering and butchering doesn't take many pieces of special equipment beyond a way to hang the animal and sharp knives. A bone saw is extremely useful but even that isn't absolutely necessary. The killing shot is what everyone is worried about but the hours of standing and working with heavy meat is what they will remember.

OFG: Thanks, HH for all the great info. I really loved how you said it takes 3 days from soup to nuts (as it were) when butchering a large animal. That's what we've found also. I'm also glad to see that we aren't the only ones with stupid butcher day jokes. I also really liked that you said that first timers are nervous about the shooting part of it...but then they become really interested when they get into the work and that's what they will remember.

It seems the theme of "community" really comes out for a lot of people who do their own butchering. Working together to provide for your family is really rewarding.

So friends, what do you think? Has R's story given you some confidence? Do you think this will be your year to butcher at home? Can you do it? Yes you can!  Now go back and re-read some of the posts about raising pigz and butchering and get up your gumption!

Happy Monday everyone!  

February 17, 2013

Cooking the "M"

A bunch of us over on 'the facebook' had a pretty good laugh this weekend about a recent news story. As I was tromping thru the house when I caught the last part of a story about some folks who were raided by the police. The local boys got a tip from a neighbor that some folks were cooking up some meth right there in their yard. The raid ensued.

Turn out the only "M" they were cooking was...... maple syrup. Not meth. Just pancake topping. There's a lot of material here and tons of jokes to be made.

The joke was on me tho - for the last two days I've been cooking up my own "M" out in the yard.

At first I thought this happened in Ohio - the news story named a county near mine - but then I saw this was actually in Illinois. I have to say these folks took the whole thing much better than I would have. I might have been able to talk my way out of meth charge... but I probably would have gone down hard on "resisting." I'd be laughing too hard to cooperate if the local police didn't know the difference between a meth lab and making maple syrup.

Luckily for me, if I was hauled off to the pokey, I found out I had some blog friends who would come and post bail - even if they had to pay my bond with a sack of ducks. 

Dog#1 - always helpful.
Saturday was probably one of the most fun days we've had on the farm in a long time. After all the tapping we finally started cooking down all the syrup on a bigger scale then just a couple gallons.  I was not raided by the police.

Shine came and helped. Mostly he just looked disinterested.

I sat outside with my best dog and my favorite barncat and tended the fire most of the day. It started out a blue sky day but then the snow started. What could be more farmy then cooking down maple syrup in the snow?

The local cardinal came to see what was going on about the time the snow started.

Happy Sunday everyone! Any body else got in danger of being raided for cooking the "M"?

February 15, 2013

On the fence

I found some old pictures.... I love this one. It's from several years ago, fall, at the old farm.

On the fence.

Happy Friday! Any body else going thru old pictures?

February 14, 2013

Winter Pigz. Sucks.

The winter pigz are just about done......

Would you just look at the bacon on these bad boys? TBM for scale.

We were talking on 'the facebook' yesterday about why winter pigz are the pits. If you are thinking about fall or winter pigz you might want to hold out for spring and summer pigz. Winter pigz suck.

Pig looks wistfully at a bucket collecting maple sap...foreshadows a maple cured ham.

We raise our pigz on pasture - down in the woods. During the winter there just isn't a lot for them to eat down there. Sure they rooted everything up during the fall - and they did a great job. But after everything dies back and the weather turns the pigz pretty much just want to snuggle in. This means we need to buy more bagged feed.

By far these are the most expensive pigz we've ever raised. Not only are feed prices extraordinarily high because of the drought this summer - we've also just had to buy more feed for a longer time.

These pigz didn't seem to grow as fast this year. Granted we got an extremely late start, but we normally grow out pigz for 6 or 7 months, so we are about on track. However, we've had a few things working against us:

* we started these pigz during the hottest part of the summer - everyone did poorly in the heat
* the goats and chickens were winding down by the time the pigz should have started to take off in their growth - so we didn't have the extra milk and eggs that we would regularly feed them
* the weird summer caused a strange growing season and so our orchard friends didn't have as many apples for as long as they normally would - so we had fewer apples to feed the pigz

All of these things caused the pigz to grow out more slowly. Just as they started to grow again...the weather turned. This means that some of the calories from that expensive feed went to keeping the pigz warm instead of concentrating on their growth.  That was another strike against us. We finally just gave up and started pouring on as much bagged food as we could. This worked. That bacon had better be worth its weight in gold.

Winter pigz in mid/late December. They don't hate the snow.

The cost of feed is bad enough but the worst thing about winter pigz is doing chores.  Winter chores are harder anyway with having to deal with the cold, mud, and snow. But the pig chores just seem more exasperating. The pigz are a good long way from the house. So not only do we have to hike down there to feed them, carrying heavy buckets, but we have to water them too. When the weather gets too cold, no matter what we do, the hoses freeze up. So we have to haul water down to them. Sometimes we have to make two trips. Uphill - both ways. In the snow. Barefoot. It's terrible and frankly I'm glad its my husband's job.

The good news is that our heritage breed pigz, the Tamworths, actually do just fine in cold weather. They have a thick layer of fat and a heavy coat of shaggy hair. We whacked together a prety good shelter for them - which is bone dry even in the bad mud - so they are out of the wind and can retain their heat. We also take bales of straw down for their shelter to make sure they can dig in deep and stay warm.

Raising pigz in a barn would be ideal. But frankly we've never had good luck keeping pigz in their enclosure with anything other than electric hotwire. We could use hotwire inside but that just sound like a horrible way for me to get tangled up in it and die. And I'd hate to put the poultry in that close of proximity with pigz. A stand alone hog building would be terrific - but these pigz only lasted a couple weeks in the turkey house before they very nearly got out by digging under the walls. We just aren't set up for that.

With all of that foolishness it just seems easier to go with earlier-in-the-year pigz, grow them out on pasture, goatmilk, and eggs... and have a hog harvest during the first or second really cold stretch.

Winter pig a couple days ago. That's the way to get 'er done. 

As it is, we look to have our butcher day the first week in March. I am counting the days.  For sure we've learned our lesson with these late season pigz. But I have to say - would you just look at all the bacon on those porkers? It could be worth the wait!

Happy Thursday everyone! Any body else sick of their winter pigz?

February 13, 2013

It was a chicken-tastic day!

We've been working our way thru the winter meat chickens so this week has been about parting up heaps of meat. I had a complete and total chicken-tastic day on Monday. It was epic.

 Cats love chicken-tastic days. Here they are polishing off some extra broth.

I made curried chicken salad, chicken stock, and fried chicken. It was all chicken, all day - it was amazing.
Don't forget to render all the fat! Look at that!

Several of the meats were what we've been calling "3 or 4 meal-ers." They are huge! The two of us will get 3 or 4 meals out of one bird. And that doesn't include the stock, the good leavings for us which will become chicken salad or egg rolls....and also the not-so-good leavings which are for the cats. It's a terrific food value.

That's a dinner plate, folks. Check out those breasts!

Parting up the meats usually goes like this:

1. Take off the huge legs - either the thighs get cut up into "stir fry size" chunks or the whole leg goes into the crock pot to cook over night. This way I'm getting a double dip - I fill the crock pot with cold water and get a nice whack of luscious stock.... and also cooked chicken for extremely quick meals (nachos, eggrolls, chicken salad, chicken and noodles, etc.).

Chicken chunks for stir fry.

2. Take off the enormous breasts and freeze whole or cut up into fillets. We use these to make chicken piccata, or our favorite - fried chicken. I like to use boneless pieces because they cook so quickly. Soaked in buttermilk, dipped in flour, and fried in lard - this version of fried chicken is just delish.

3. Put the rest of the carcass into the stock pot, cover with cold water, and simmer all nite. I get some good meat for us from this pot... but most of this goes to the cats. The stock is all ours tho.

4. Don't forget to render all the fat! I love using chicken fat for frying. 

Cats get lots of leavings. Our grumpiest cat, Teddi, is finally happy. She loves the necks.

The cut up chicken is portioned into servings and goes into freezer bags. The cooked chicken also goes into freezer bags (for us) or into tubs for the cats. Then I can all the stock. My best idea was to can half pint jars of stock. This is perfect for when I need just a little bit and don't want to open a whole jar.

We still have about 10 creepy meats to go. They will be in the freezer - and the stock pot - soon.  And then we'll start working on those winter pigz......

Happy Wednesday everyone! Anybody else having a chicken-tastic day?

February 12, 2013

Doesn't Matter - Got the Mole

She got it alright......

Kai and Zander spent about an hour digging a mole out of this spot the other day. It's a big hole....for a small mole. Doesn't matter - she got that mole and sent it to it's doom.

Now if they could only rid the back of the property of whatever was scratching on that tree from yesterday.....

The most popular guesses of what was making those scratches were:

* a bear
* some kind of big cat
* chupacabra

I'm really hoping its not a bear. It is a fact that I moved to Ohio because this state wasn't supposed to have any bears. So I hoping it was just a big squirrel. Or a raccoon. I'm still kind of freaked out and we are still going to do a lot of fencing.

Happy Tuesday everyone. Anyone else have mole killers on their team?

February 11, 2013

What's the word, Nibs?

Hey Nibbles! What's the word - how's that attitude of yours?

There you have it.  Lookin' good, Nibs...  You can't tell from picture but she is thrilled that spring is coming along.

Yesterday the goats were all running and jumping and kicking up their heels. I think they can tell we are "over the hump" and headed toward spring. They had some spring in their step and spent the day meandering around in their yard.

We spent the day gawking at our maple tree taps. The sap was just flying right out of them. By the end of the day we had about six gallons! We'll be cooking that down later this week - I'm super excited.

But um.. here is a weird thing. We tapped a couple trees down past the pond (and the pigz) and we found these scratches on the trees. Sooooo....anybody wanna guess and who or what made them?

I have a feeling this summer our #1 Priority will be to fence off the bond and string up a lot of electric hot wire....and expand the dog's patrol area. 

Happy Monday everyone! Any body else excited that spring is on the way?

February 9, 2013

We Made Maple Syrup!

I'm not prepared to call it a raging success... but hey! Look what we did!

The fruit of our labor. That's a half pint jar, folks.

Tapping our maple trees was really a fun project...and it worked!  We've been wanting to try this project for a while - especially since we know folks who make syrup and we just love it. But we either haven't had our act together or didn't have the confidence to try it. But this year is our year.

The best online references we found were and also Our Neck of the Woods Part One and Part Two.

We ordered taps from Lehman's. Of course you can spend a lot of money getting all the gear, but since we don't know what we are doing we just got the metal ones for $3.25. We grabbed the drill bit, a rubber mallet, the taps, a bucket, and marched out there.  A little bit of drilling, a few taps of the hammer, and soon sap was flyin' right out of that tree and into the bucket. We couldn't believe it. After about 5 hours we had a little over 2 gallons of water.. I mean.. sap.

The next morning we ran right into the kitchen and started boiling down the sap. That worked also. Well. Mostly. I was monkeying around with the official candy thermometer and may have heated the syrup a little too much during the final finishing step. But at then end of the day we had just enough syrup for one pancake.

We were thrilled and called it a victory. The syrup was sweet, light, and delicious.

Like most things we like to try our new projects on a small scale before investing too much time or money. We were glad to do our learning on 2 gallons of sap instead of 40. The downside of trying this on a small scale is that you end up with a very small amount of product. The sap has to reduce at a ratio of 40:1 (or more) to become syrup. So if you have 40 gallons of sap - you'll get a gallon of syrup.

The sap came flying out of the tree as soon as we put in the tap!

I know. You're thinking who the heck would do all that work for so little!?! Actually it just wasn't that much work. I think we spent about 15 minutes setting the taps and going back to get the buckets - and we boiled down the sap while we were butchering chickens. So aside from standing over the stove for the last couple minutes - it just wasn't that much work.

Here is what we learned:

1. We can't believe we didn't do this earlier. It totally worked. Everyone should just try it!
2. We should have marked our trees when they still had leaves on them.
3. Next time we will probably have a more elaborate set up then just the cheap taps and an open bucket.
4. I'm not going to try and boil 40 gallons of sap in the house. Wow! We had the fan going and the window open and it was still so much steam! The good news is that the walls and the inside of the windows are now clean from when I had to wipe them down.
5. There is a fine line between usable syrup and something that is kind of like candy.

Now that we have our confidence up we are going to work on our tapping project this week. We'll have freezing nights and sunny days for the next week to 10 days. Apparently these are the proper conditions.

We'll be ready for a lot of sap. We have a bunch of 5 gallon food quality buckets for collecting and storing the sap...and I have several extra big stockpots for boiling it down. We can do this outside on the gas grill so I think we are good to go.

We'll have more results as our week goes along but if you are interested at all - give this project a try.

Happy Saturday everyone! What are you waiting for? Get out there and tap those trees!

February 8, 2013

I'd Tap That

We tapped some maple trees yesterday...

More on this later - but I think it totally worked! We'll have results soon. 

Happy Friday everyone! 

February 6, 2013

Death Shines in His Eyes

She had been unhorsed earlier in the day but now thundered toward the safety of the Eastern Gate. OFG clutched her knight, Shine, in one arm and the reins of the enormous black horse in the other. Low in the saddle she urged the huge horse onward. They were within seeing distance of the walled gate.

“Open the gate!” She bellowed, her commanding voice carried over the distance and the pounding hooves. The giant horse was well lathered but he ran hard, neck outstretched, and flinched not at the barrage of war cries that followed them close behind. Her heart lifted They would make it. OFG could see Lucky just inside the hidden doorway to the left of the huge gate. She dared not look behind her but she could see from Lucky's eyes that the villains were closing in on them. Lucky nodded, silently urging on his liege. OFG heard the hinges of the massive gate start to give way. They would make it. “Hold on, Shine.” She whispered, “Just hold on.”

The day started out as any other. But then word came from a scout that there was trouble beyond the Eastern Gate. The report said the banished rats that once lived in the Turkey House were on the move. OFG and the big man would ride out together to see for themselves. Normally they would be accompanied by her personal guard but she demurred Col Ti's concern.

She told her first in command that they would not be long...and somewhere afield was Shine, their best scout and assassin. He was overdue and OFG was getting worried. If there was danger afoot then best to keep the party small. Besides, she explained, the big man was with her. Col Ti and the big man looked at each other with deep understanding... Col Ti relented with a huff, his well chiseled face still lined with concern.

“At least be well armed.” Col Ti nodded to a page who presented a dazzling bow to the big man. “Your own weapon is still being repaired. I hope you'll find this sufficient. This bow belonged to Henri The Bold. Its name is Harbinger.”

“From your true brother, Henri, who lives in the Land of the Ocean's Tide?” The big man raised an eyebrow and turned to OFG. He knew the bow was most precious to her.

“The same. It brought him many victories. And since Col Ti here worries over me like an old mother hen, I thought it might calm his nerves if you carried it.” OFG gave a wry grin and moved off before the Colonel, her most faithful companion, could protest further.

The big man and OFG made their way to the Eastern Gate and set out as the sun crested the great wall that protected the eastern side of The Land. Despite her apparent ease, she was concerned about Shine. It was not like him to miss reporting to his station. Shine was one of the most valuable members of her fighting forces.

Shine was of good size and his coat shone glistening like pewter in the sunlight. His eyes were deep green and he generally wore a kind of rogue's smirk. Shine was well like by all and it was rumored that he was related by distant birth to Mistress Peep, one of OFG's courtiers.

His name was unpronounceable in the common tongue, but loosely translated it meant “Death Shines in His Eyes.” He came to The Good Land as most had – as a wanderer. Shine's skill in hunting had won him renown and glory. He was knighted for his many victories and given his choice of assignments. He chose the wilds past the Eastern Gate – the very lair of the despised rats.

The dread rats had long been a problem in the Good Land but now that winter had come they were even more brash. The Good Land would be over run with vermin without Shine and her other assassins. However, there had been murmurings by certain scoundrels across the lands that her rodent killers were too cruel, too punishing in their duties. This gave the rats a new confidence. It was clear the rats were making their move to overtake her rule and destroy the peace that OFG had built.

They planned to meet up with Shine at the Scout's Post, patrol the near valley along the Eastern Gate, and return within a few hours. But that was not to be – Shine never came to report for duty. After a short search the big man and OFG found Shine. He was surrounded.

Timidus and his loyal crew of malcontents had disrupted the supply chains and ransacked several food stores earlier in the season. With every victory they were emboldened. They numbered now in the hundreds – these were the rats that cornered Shine. For now the rats were taunting Shine but they would soon make their move.

“The Butcher's Hook?” Asked OFG, it was a strategy that served them well in the past. The big man nodded. They had the element of surprise and there was a clearly a weak point in the rat's line.

OFG and the big man stormed the scene, he with the borrowed bow, Harbinger, and she with her war axe. Deadly arrows flew holding the vandals at bay while OFG made a daring ride into the field. She rode in hard and barely skidded barely to a stop. Shine lept up onto the saddle with her. OFG kicked her mount and they were off before the rats, harried by arrows, understood what happened. As they raced ahead toward the safety of the Eastern Gate the big man rode behind them several paces providing cover for OFG and Shine.

Shine was thusly retrieved but their race to safety was thwarted by a trap laid by the rats. A tangle of bramble ensnared her coursing steed and sent them crashing to the ground. The hard fall left Shine unconscious and OFG without a mount. She had also taken a hard blow to her right leg during the fall but she scrambled to her feet. OFG heard the pounding hooves of the big man's great horse. She took Shine in her arms and readied herself...

The big man was still charging at a good pace when he veered in close, reached down, and pulled OFG up and onto his saddle, Shine still in her arms. The big man gave a hearty laughed in her ear, “Just like the old days, eh?”

When they had distanced themselves from the band of rats the big man pulled his horse to a stop, swung down from the saddle, and positioned himself, bow drawn. OFG took the reins and briefly rearranged Shine, securing the still unconscious knight tightly in her cloak.

“Take no chances.” She said. The big man glanced up and nodded, his eyes meeting hers. He slapped the flank of the great horse and sped them on their way.

It was known in the Lands that the huge unnamed horse could only be ridden by its master. Descended from a line of noble Thracian fighting stallions this enormous black horse struck terror in many hearts. The stable hands avoided him and the grooms begged to be relieved from tending to the great beast. They had all heard how the giant horse had guarded its master from the enraged hog. Not only did this ancient line of horses carry their riders into battle – they fought alongside them as well.

This particular horse had many kills attributed to his renown. All – save the big man – gave the horse a wide berth. OFG herself wasn't sure if the great horse would bear her safely, but she had no choice. She must get to the Eastern Gate. She knew the horse would obey the big man. While they were riding together she heard the big man command the horse to take her home. The horse ran with a fierce determination but he was steady and sure.

Branches and brambles whipped by them, Shine still tucked in her cloak, the wind pulling at OFG's hair. She could hear the sounds of death behind her as the big man struck down the rats one by one. The vengeance unleashed from the bow Harbinger slowed her pursuers and would give her a chance to get Shine to the Gate.

Suddenly the massive Eastern Gate was before them and she was yelling for entry. The enormous horse streaked toward the slowly opening gate, the rats still in pursuit. The big man's arrows had stopped but OFG could not allow herself to wonder what may have happened to him. They were so close to the gate now and Shine would be safe. Lucky was nodding at her urging her to hurry. They would make it. OFG glanced down at Shine's closed eyes and she held him closer, and leaned lower in the saddle. They were just heart beats away.

The Gate was open wide enough to let one rider through. Just before they entered she violently halted the horse. “Lucky!” She cried and her second in command moved quickly to avoid the sharply dancing hooves of the great horse. OFG passed the unconscious Shine to the awaiting Lucky then flung herself from the saddle. While yet turning to face the oncoming rats she pulled her war axe from over her shoulder with her left hand and released her sword from its scabbard with her right. She heard the horse's hooves clattering away as he made his way thru the gate and toward the stables.

“Be gone you vile villains lest I kill you until you are dead!” OFG bellowed and brandished her war implements at the line of raiders. They were great in number and horrible to behold. She could smell their stinking fur and see their terrible teeth gnashing at her. The distance between them was not far and their battle line was strong. Three large rats stood in front of the line and cajoled their underlings to order.

OFG stood strong even though she felt the wound pounding in her right leg. The rats sneered and cackled. Timidus, the worst of the lot, yelled “You alone, OFG? You must be mad. Look at this great host! Prepare yourself for death!” The other joined in with their mocking laughs. Timidus's henchmen, the odorous Incertitudinem and the well scarred Dubitare, laughed with their leader.

“Go back to your rotten holes, you thrice cursed curs! This Good Land is no place for the likes of you. Go back or face my full wrath!” OFG's eyes blazed with anger.

“You know our terms, OFG, we will smite you where you stand unless you meet them!” Timidus yelled while the others chortled with glee. Seeing her alone outside the wall gave the villains false courage.

“Yes, OFG, recall your assassins and keep them muzzled and away from our people!” Now called Dubitare, his paunch and pinched face screwed into a sneer. “Your assassins, these cats of yours, hound us night and day! We demand you keep them behind your walls! They are murders creeping and crawling thru our lands, killing our own. Look! Look at what they do! What do you call this?” Dubitare held forth the savaged, limp body of a small field mouse.

Just then an arrow flew, snatched the small mouse out of Dubitare's grip, and pierced it onto a nearby tree. The rats gasped and huddled together.

“Some would call that a snack.” Mocked OFG raising an eyebrow.

“Hand over your assassin-cats and we will deal with them on our own!” Incertitudinem called out, somewhat unsure.

“Die of your own pestilence, Rat Fiend!” Shouted OFG. She had no fear - just disdain - for these malcontents.

Timidus started to move forward. There was a hesitation but the rat battle line followed. “Give us those killing cats!”

“Molon labe!” Roared OFG invoking those ancient words as she stood taller and squared her shoulders.

Out of nowhere the Princess Kai appeared on OFG's right and Commander Zander on her left. Col Ti was just behind OFG and he shouted to the wall “Archers!” Hundreds of war hens appeared at their battle stations high upon the wall, nocked their arrows, and pulled hard their bows.

OFG took a bold step forward framed by her famed warriors. The Princess Kai, arrayed for battle with her fiery war tiara and the number of her war kills written in blood down her leg. Commander Zander's gleaming black war helm caught the late afternoon sun, its glorious emerald eyes danced, the horsetail plume fell like a cape over his broad shoulders.

“You want these cats, Vermin?” OFG clashed her war axe and her sword together over her head, and snarled, “Come and get them.”

The sound of a thousand arrows filled the air and signaled the war charge. Before Princess Kai and Commander Zander could even close the distance to the battle line the mighty bow, Harbinger, wielded by the big man brought death to Timidus, Incertitudinem, and Dubitare.

The battle was joined. Our heroes utterly defeated the rats and smited them all.

February 5, 2013

Missing Duck Mystery - Solved!

Ever since we got that new drake the ducks have been in a dither. We had to shuffle everyone around to put all of the duck hens in with the new dandy.

 I didn't see anything but hay. Hey! What's that?

All except two. My funny little garage duck doesn't get along with the other ladies so she stayed put. And we couldn't catch one of the little runner ducks so she stayed in the garage also.

But we haven't seen the little runner hen for the last couple of days. This usually means bad news. As in curtains. As in "get the gloves and bring a bag." Woefully I checked around but I couldn't find her remaining remains...or any other sign of her.

So I brought in the big guns. The Big Man is really good at finding the bodies. He was in the garage for about a minute and came out laughing.  He found her. She was up on the stack of hay bales on a beautiful nest. A nest! At this time of year!

Who knows if the eggs are good but at least we know where she is now. Silly girl. 

Happy Tuesday everyone! Anyone else have a duck who doesn't know when to set a nest?

February 4, 2013

Snow Day - the Goose Edition

We are still swarmed in snow. Snow snow snow and more snow. Snow everywhere. No one is happy. Well. I gotta say the geese are not unhappy.

We had a couple days where it was just too cold to handle. One day the windchill barely made it above 0* So everyone - including the geese were cooped up. But yesterday's heatwave - a heady 26* - allowed the bold to flippityflop directly out and into the snow.  They loved it.

The geese don't mind the cold weather a bit. Someone asked me once if it was OK for the geese to be out in the snow. Um... I know someone with an expedition level sleeping bag rated for -20*. Guess what it's filled with? Yep. Goose down. These geese are just fine at 26* and fluffy snow.

Chores are a bit easier on snowy days. About 3:30pm the turkeys and the chickens pretty much give it up and put themselves to bed. These geese tho.... I usually have to chase them around.

Today we have another round of snow coming. Then there will be more snow. Anybody else sick of this white stuff?

Happy Monday everyone!

February 2, 2013

Smoked Duck and Bacon Hash

That's what we had for blunch today.... it was really great.

Bacon - from the yard.
Duck - smoked it a while ago
Taters - home grown and canned

Not too bad for throwing together from whatever we had on hand.  I started with a cold skillet, rendered the fat from the bacon, added onions and celery then cooked them down. Then I added a quart jar of home canned taters and a handful of smoked duck (that had been previously portioned and frozen). After the liquid cooked off (I should have drained the potatoes better) I just fried everything until crisp, dished it out,  and added a plop of sour cream. It was very delicious.

It would have had an egg but the hennies have been cooped up for two days and dont tend to lay well as such. Today tho they are roaming free in the snow and we grabbed up their eggs as soon as they laid them. Tomorrow my smoked duck and bacon hash will have a nice fresh, poached egg on top.

Today it is snowing. A lot. It hasn't really stopped all day.

Anybody else having a lazy day and late blunch?

Happy Saturday everyone!

February 1, 2013

A Fabulous Pancetta

Remember that shockingly beautiful belly piece we got from our last pork butcher day? It was naturally rolled which made it a candidate for a homemade pancetta.

After being cured in salt and spices the belly piece was wrapped in cheesecloth and hung in the basement. Technically it hung a little longer than it should have...but it turned out beautifully.

I've been using the pancetta in just about everything. It's a terrific base for a complicated bolognese, for a lovely chicken marsala, and for...well... bacon. Whatever I use pancetta for I always start with a cold pan so I can slowly render the fat. The spices used in curing the pancetta really come out and add an extra layer of flavor.

I'm pretty sure we are going to have chicken marsala again here pretty soon. And you can bet it will start with some of this pancetta.

Happy Friday everyone! Anyone else have some pancetta hanging?

January 31, 2013

And then it just kind of died...

Do I sound faster? If yes it may be due to my fancy new computer. My poor, long suffering laptop finally just kind of died. We are trying to get everything off the hard drive but its taking a very very long time.


I have a shiny new laptop and it's the beez kneez. It's superfast and really deluxe. Since a few folks have asked.... it's some kind of Dell thing with a 3 in the descriptive number. That's just about all that I know about it...and the "a" key is a little too far away for me. I'm having a remarkable number of 'a'-less words... I'm working on tht.. I mean... that.

Honestly, I should never have anything this nice. It will probably end up dropped, peed on, covered in flour, or flooded with coffee. So I'm being very, very careful. I need to get my pix off the other computer before I can do a proper update.

And.. you know, I gotta figure out how to use Windows 8. I spent about 10 minutes trying to tap the screen to get those fancy panels to work. It's not a touch screen and I know that now.

So in the meantime, I hope everyone was able to enjoy the mild weather. I had the windows open on Wednesday....but I understand that by Thursday morning it will be 20* and icy.

Happy Thursday everyone! For heavens sakes - it's the last day of January, how did that happen?

January 29, 2013

Coffee with a Canine interviews me!

Hey check it out! My pal over at Coffee with a Canine interviewed me and my hard workin' farm dogs!

Thanks, CwaC, so much for giving me the opportunity to talk about Lucky and Ti. This was a great interview and a fun way to talk about my dogs. I loved the questions!

Coffee with a Canine is a great blog with interviews of dog owners - many are writers and they feature some terrific books. They talk about their dogs....and coffee. 

Why does this interview focus just on Lucky and Titan and not Zander and Kai also? Well... you know me. I could talk about my Dog Horde all day long. So I chose just to introduce my best farm workers. Commander Zander and Princess Kai are my hunters, as you know, and I didn't think that rat killing was the best interview subject. Altho you know I love a good rat shoot.....

Grab yourself some coffee and run right over and check out Coffee with a Canine and let me know what you think!

Happy Tuesday everyone!

January 28, 2013

Folklore Apothecary & Tilton Hollow

I'll tell you what, friends. If you want to make a farm pal happy - give them a gift bucket. Not a basket.... a gift bucket.
It was a real bucket! With great products!

And that is exactly what I got from my pals over at Tilton Hollow. It's a real farm bucket and it was filled with their products. And beets. You heard about my beet woes, now solved, which was great - but I am wow'd by Tilton Hollow's spectacular products.

Even tho I'm not girly-fancy, I am very particular about what products I put on my skin. Mostly it's out of self defense. I'm allergic to most of the so called pure products out there so I only ever want naturally made soaps and such.  The goat milk soaps and Folklore Apothecary products by Tilton Hollow offer exactly that - natural ingredients without any of the funny stuff.

The soaps, Raaw and (wal)nut scrub, are divine. You can smell and feel the quality and again - no funny stuff. Except, you know, the nut scrub is hilarious to me because of ....well... nuts. Of course, that is my favorite soap! The Raaw is just pure goat milk soap and it's unadorned and perfect. Aside from being hilarious the nut scrub smells heavenly. Not perfume-y but just clean and lovely.

I also received two of the salves... oh golly... I have to tell you about the salves. They come in adorable little tins. I've been keeping the tin of Smoothing Salve on the arm of the couch where I sit so I can just reach up and get a little lovin' for my poor dry hands.  The thing I love most about it is that it's not greasy. I can rub some on my cracked and dry fingers and then just go back to typing away. It absorbs into my skin and doesn't get all over my laptop. Or the cats.

I'm completely gaga for the Foot & Hoof Salve. There's something about the easy scent that I couldn't place. Then I figured it out... it's the pumpkin that gives the peppermint and the lavender some ooomph. It's perfect. And my feet just love it. After being cold, wet, and shoved into workboots my hooves need all the help they can get. Now my feet go to bed happy with some Foot & Hoof Salve.

Need a gift for a farm pal or just want to treat yourself? Check out Tilton Hollow's products. They have a stunning line of 100% Natural Goat Milk Soaps. The milk comes from their lovely dairy goats on their beautiful farm. Their Folklore Apothecary line contains the salves and soothing soaps. They also have a Farmhouse Collection with candles and such. If you'd like to learn more about their farm be sure to click on their Brand Graphics link - the pictures are amazing.

You may purchase Tilton Hollow' products at some retail shops listed on their soap page here or check out their online store.

We are in that long stretch now where spring seems just a little too far away. So why not soothe yourself with some products that will make the wait a little easier? Or maybe you need a perfect gift for a farm friend? Be sure to fill a real bucket with Tilton Hollows products - they will love you for it. Guaranteed.

Happy Monday everyone! Look - I smell clean now! Thank you Tilton Hollow for this generous gift!

January 26, 2013

How about a little petit déjeuner?

Croissants. Nailed it.

Any body want to come on over for a little chocolat chaud  and some croissants? It's what's for breakfast.

Finally! I solved the mystery of the complicated pastries. They are light, flaky, and buttery - not bread-like last ones but these are the real deal.  

Thanks to my pal, K, who sent me this excellent video on how to make croissants, I think I got the hang of it.

As I expected from my earlier near miss, I needed to be much more careful in how I rolled out the dough. I used my Never Wrong to make sure it was rolled to 10 inches by 20 inches. I also made sure that I brushed the extra flour from the dough before I folded it.

I found this extra fun video which explained the process even more.  How great is this girl?  At first I couldn't place her accent but then I clicked around on her site - she's from Brazil. She is super fun.

In addition to the plain croissants I also made a few apple pastries....

...and some chocolate croissants ones as well.

I don't know what you are doing today but I'm sitting around having hot chocolate and croissants.

Happy Saturday everyone!

January 25, 2013

Snow Day 2013

Finally! We got a little snow to go along with our bitter cold. Yesterday was our first real snow day of 2013.

This little hen, one of my favorites, was unsure of the white stuff.

The dusting we got gave everyone something to talk about. Today, tho, we should be in for another snow - up to 4 inches which is kind of big news around here.

Easy Nibbles, no need to hurry!

Nibbles couldn't be stopped from waddling on down to get some pine needles.

I think she looks pretty good. I'm guessing 3 babies this year.

And the runner ducks weren't exactly running but they thought the snow was pretty good.

Runners, not running.

Speaking of ducks. Would your look at this handsome drake! He's here temporarily - he's on his way to someone else but my lady duck just thinks he is the most handsome guy she's every seen. I think he's striking.

You know who you are, look at this dandy!

Of course the dogs loved the snow. I wanted to show my friend, SD, how long Zander's legs are getting. He's very tall these days. Our Bubby is getting very, very big.

Zander and Ti love the snow.

Our beautiful Kai made a funny snow face.

Isn't she funny with her tongue hanging out? Kai! Such a goof.

Happy Friday everyone! Are you having a snow day?