Tuesday, September 29, 2009

8 eggs for a 4 egg loaf

Ellie has been asking nicely (okay, whining incessantly) for french toast made with challah. She wanted me to buy challah at the store, and I pointed out that we have chickens at home who lay lots and lots of eggs and I in fact, know how to make bread.

Today was Baking Day. Granola, dried apples, sandwich bread, scones, I planned to keep the oven (and myself) hopping.

Of course managing the flow of yeast breads is something probably left to professionals or at least people who don't occasionally have to leave the house. I missed the sweet spot for the whole wheat loaves to go in the oven and have sort of bricky bread. (Cut in half, then flip cut ends down and slice vertically, and even the flattest loaf is big enough for a sandwich or toast.) The challah had over risen and had to be punched down again and reshaped.

You'd think I might have noticed that it was, well. . . big for the loaf pan, but no. I just redid it, braided and patted it, and slapped it in the pan. Later I baked it.

My new oven actually has a see-through door. Fun, but it also allowed me to see that I had made a fairly large error.

That was actually two loaves' worth of bread. The braid top is easily as big as another loaf all by itself. Oooops.

FrankenChallah tastes great, and I went ahead and made another batch, using four more eggs, and only screwing up what kind of flour I used this time.

Thank goodness the red kale seedlings are so cute and frilly. I spent some recuperative time outside cooing to them.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saving Eggs

Whenever the chickens are really going gangbusters with egg laying, I try to remember how annoying I find having to buy eggs! Really, come February, I'll be grouching my way through the grocery aisles. I could only eat eggs in season, I suppose, or I could investigate historical preservation methods.

Or, I could use my favorite method and freeze them.

I've discovered that each of my ice cubes holds roughly 1/2 of a standard sized egg. So I beat half a dozen at a time, sprinkle them with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt (I'm all about winging it here) and pour them into the tray.

If I knew that I wanted to only make cakes or something, supposedly I could use sugar, but I don't mind salt for any applications. After they're hard frozen, I pop them into a freezer bag and use as needed. If I'm using them in baking, I let them thaw of course. Usually I do if scrambled eggs are called for, but not always. I have thrown them onto the skillet frozen, and scrambled them as they thawed in the pan. Whatever works!

So now, if the refrigerator egg count goes over 24, I try to freeze some. This also prevents me from having a custard attack and eating something ridiculous!

MIssion Creep

That baby sweater really is almost done. Good thing, too, because I'm not sure it's going to fit the wee lass who is now already three weeks old. Sheesh. Some day I'm going to need to crank this knitting speed thing up a bit.

So. Did I spend my free afternoon finishing the sweater with adorable embroidered flowers and clever ties? No! I spent it bringing to conclusion my first foray into Japanese sewing books. I tend to try to keep my book acquisitiveness in some kind of control --mostly it just pops out in something like garden seeds -- but these books really got to me. I love sewing, and I'm not great at it, but my kids will sometimes wear what I make, and these just look so -- well, like things I'd love to see my kids in.

The books are all in Japanese, but they're pretty clear if you've done any sewing. My big challenge is recognizing which pattern pieces go with which pattern, as they're all on one paper and you're to trace your own cutting copy. Not reading Japanese means that I did my best. I didn't actually use a pattern for the trim, though! (And I just realized that I omitted the pocket. Must add that. . .)

So here is the little beauty resting on a bed of kale I went on to thin drastically:

And from the back, on the child it's meant for. It's been warm here -- good for the skirt, bad for a baby sweater -- so she'll be able to wear it this week to school.

After a hard day's play, her hair is less sleek than it was when Bridget braided it this morning:

I'm looking forward to doing more sewing soon. I noticed some really yummy flannel and couldn't help thinking of matching Christmas pajamas. Ha! Maybe I should finish some matching Christmas gloves for Sarafina before I get completely nuts.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Still Life

With squash and cat.

I opened the first of the butternuts yesterday for lunch, along with some braised tat soi. I've never seen an oranger squash, although it just tasted like butternut, not ambrosia or anything.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Population Cluctuation

At the beginning of this week, we had eight chickens. Six new ones from this spring, and two old ladies from our very first chickens -- they were well on to four years plus.

Then one of them looked awful on Saturday. . . limping, hunched, and I thought briefly about putting her out of her misery, but it was hot and I was busy, and I'd promised not to kill those two. Anyhow, I didn't do anything.

The next morning she was dead. I hope she died before whatever ate on her got to her. From now on, I'm doing the hard stuff and chopping heads. In fact, I think I'm going to buy dual-purpose birds and do a two year rotation.

But, before I implement that plan? A notice went out on the local chicken list that some folks were in need of homes for some of their hens. I offered to take two, a Wyandotte and a Sicilian Buttercup. I liked the Buttercup we had before quite a lot. The birds showed up this morning.

The Wyandottes went at each other like WWW, chicken-style! Much leaping, wing flapping, and beak-and-wattle grabbing. I think they've worked it out, though, despite the Sturm und Drang. The Buttercup?

She did that thing that all bullies the world just love -- she ran around shrieking and cowering. In ten minutes, the mid-range hens (always a bully in the middle -- not the popular kids, not the picked-on!) had her trapped inside the coop.

Well. We have been here before.

Fortunately, Denise came over this afternoon and was in an amenable mood. With some under the table child labor, we got the pathetic creature innocent victim boxed up and headed to her new coop. I hope she has a much more graceful integration there! She graced us with one egg before she went, and that was nice.

So the population out back went from eight to seven to nine back to eight.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Jumping In

Denise and I have been batting this idea around for a while, and I decided to float a test balloon.

Up on Craigslist now, our ad.

We shall see. . .

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pavlov and me

If we ever have a hailstorm, my chickens are doomed to be at least battered. They'll run outside and flap around, and get nailed.

Why will this happen? Because I have conditioned them to associate random missles hitting their coop and the walls around it to be tomatoes thrown from across the yard where I'm picking the vines.

No matter how well I think I'm managing, there are always fallen fruit underneath. The rotten, the soft, the badly-cracked by rain, all takes to the sky and most of it hits Hen Heaven.

Some of it misses, and I bet the squirrels are happy for the ones on the garage roof behind our yard, the bees are annoyed that I'm hitting the hives, and the neighbors on the other side probably are going to wonder where the volunteers came from next spring. I could act like an adult and keep a bowl next to me for chicken treats, but throwing them is so much fun, as is hearing indignant squawks followed by frantic eating noises coming from the birds.

A girl's got to find her jollies where she can. I plan to can most of those tomatoes, along with the ones in the freezer, but I will happily eat that 12 oz Cherokee Purple with sea salt and may dry some more of the Principe Borghese. Because?

Because they were pretty good on foccacia, and I bet they'd be even better if I used fresh dough rather than the batch I'd frozen two weeks ago.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


The past few days have me thinking about very small things and how they add up. One knit stitch -- wrap, pull through, slip off -- measures less than 1/4" square. I pick the knitting up, do some repeats of that activity, put it down, attend to something else, so on and so forth. Sometimes, like this weekend, there's a long stretch of time. A drive, say, to a night away without the kids at a resort. (Wheeee!) I can do that one little stitch over and over and over again.

After I repeat it enough, and if I've paid attention to the bigger picture while doing the tiny movement, by tomorrow night I might have something like a warm hug for a baby in our neighborhood whose arrival is impatiently awaited.

But my efforts (even on socks with smaller stitches) pale in comparison to other incremental activities here on the homestead. One of my beehives was queenless last week, so I decided to do my favorite newspaper trick and combine them. While doing so, I pulled the capped honey supers off of all three hives. What a difference having drawn comb made! Each one was nearly full, in only a month and a half. I'm looking forward to next spring when I have supers and deeps full of drawn comb to offer them, if they're stored correctly in the meantime.

I rented the manual extractor because the deep frames fit better in it than in the electric one. My area was all set up, so I scraped the propolis off to save, since Kristin has me interested in some propolis preparations, scratched the caps loose on the cells, and loaded the extractor.

Small steps, repeated two times per frame, three frames per extractor load, ten frames per box, eventually it was about thirty-six frames of honey, some partial.

Spin the extractor round and round. I started counting. About 300 turns for one side of three frames, times two, so on and so forth. I wasn't trying to throw off every drop of honey; the bees will lick up and clean the bits I leave and I'm not feeling greedy, just blessed with abundance. Still, it takes quite a few turns to make a heavy filled frame into a light emptier one.

The honey flies off of the frame in tiny droplets. They sound like rain at first, but then I don't hear them as the wall becomes covered in flowing honey. Amazing to me as I watch, that each teensy droplet adds up. A warming cable encourages the honey to flow down, where it eventually gets deep enough to drag on the bottom of the frames. I open the gate and pour the honey into the filter on the bucket.

Another incremental issue. Each bit of scraped-off wax is very small. But then, so are the openings in the filter, one smaller even than the other. The wax clogs up the strainer and I have to periodically stop and transfer the wax to another bowl so the filter can strain and the extractor can be emptied so I can spin even more frames. Over and over. When I was done, I had twenty full quarts, a handfull of pint or so jars, and a bag of wax dripping what looked like about another quart of honey. At least 64 pounds this time.

And if I think I'm working hard or having to repeat actions?

Each of those cells is bwtween 4.7 and 5.1 mm at the top. Each one holds roughly 1/2 teaspoon of honey. 192 teaspoons in a quart, 384 cells per quart. 20 quarts x 384 cells is 7680 cells. How many bees it took to fill that cell-- well, a bee's honey stomach holds 70 mg of nectar, but I don't know its volume, only weight. I assume it's about 50 bee trips to fill a cell. 50 bee trips times 7680 cells -- 19,200 per quart or 384,000 trips for the twenty quarts. Almost 400,000 bee trips to do twenty quarts, and that's just this harvest.

Where do I go with these musings? Nowhere special. Just that little things add up, that I might want to take care in my valuation of what I do. I don't know which moment of attention paid to a fruit tree might pay off most, or which hug might tip a child over into "satisfied" for the day. I just have to pay attention and fulfill my duties with as much grace as I can muster, and assume that the bigger picture, the filled quarts, the grown child, will follow apace.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

This is the second post for today. Please scroll down if you want to read my compliance with a meme order.

The squashes, especially, seem to be putting on another flush of growth. The butternuts almost completely succumbed to powdery mildew, but I saw this beauty the other morning.

I originally scoffed at the name of this zucchini. The variety is "Cute Fancy," and I thought, "Ha! No such thing. . ." but it really is a nice variety. Not a whisper of powdery mildew, well-behaved light green fruit, and nice mild flavor. It, also, is flushing a new crop.

I'll have more Triamble if the plant fights off the latest powdery mildew attack. I had hoped the cooler weather will help, and we'll see.

We're eating apples off of the espaliered trees daily. I saw another fireblight branch that I'm going to have to clip off, so grafting really may be on the agenda. The Braeburns and the Fujis are especially good.

The row of apples is really partially a trellis for squash.

That broadcast-seeded kale bed?

As I was harvesting some baby kale for dinner, leaving some big spaces for the remainder to grow into, I discovered that my seed wasn't quite pure:

There's Tat Soi among that kale. Good thing I love both greens and they have similar cultivation requirements. This year, I'll bag the seedheads.

The Purple Cherokee are looking interesting:

I can't wait to see this one all ripened up.

All but one bed are built, but not all are full. Holiday weekends are good for big projects.

We had lots of help with the most exciting (to me) big work effort.

A few more joints to glue and trenches to dig and backfill, and the fall garden will have -- WATER!! Eventually we'll run it off of a pressure pump from a large rainwater tank, but this year I'll use house water just to get it going. Greywater will go to the fruit trees and the front garden. So exciting.

That Seven Things Meme

I'm so bad at these, but kitsapFG has tagged Denise and I and Denise insisted that I fulfill the requirements, so here goes.

1. I'm a morning person. At about 9-10 pm, I pull a complete fade. I can stay up late, but really, I'm much better if I'm up with the larks.

2. My life is partially defined by having a sense of persistent underachievement. Eric says that my perspective is skewed, but I consider myself a Jill of many trades, mistress of none.

3. I read voraciously and have since I was three years old. It's been an utter constant in my life.

4. I have a teenager's fondness for speed metal punk music. Loud and bouncy, that's me.

5. For years, I considered myself a wild extravert with almost no need for alone time. Then I had four children and discovered that that might not in fact be true. Just not that much, but not none.

6. I consume Snickers bars, when I eat them rarely, in order: chocolate off the sides, chocolate off the top, caramel off the top, chocolate off the bottom, nougat. A good friend once said that I eat like a 5 year old. I assume that is confined to this example only.

7. That newspaper thing. Writing about this almost makes me shudder. I want my morning paper in perfect order. Even if someone else has read it, I want the sections in the order I want to read them (front page, local news, garden, food, entertainment, real estate) AND I want them perfectly stacked. My eldest child leaves the paper turned back to the comics and Eric strews the sections. Ugh ugh ugh! I tend to be proprietary about my turn, too. You'd think, reading this, that my house would be clean all the time. . .

Now I've done my duty and probably won't again soon. I'm passing the pain along to
Esperanza at Pluck and Feather
My good friend and fellow urban farmer at West Vista Urban Farm School
Small Goat Garden
The Gumshoe Gardener

And now I'm not going to keep going.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sweet Stages

Spinning and knitting continue apace. I now have a 3x3 rib halter sweater in charcoal. That's what I'd have if I stopped and added straps to the saddle shoulder hate to knit/love to wear sweater. There has to be a name in that somewhere. Baby sweater for neighbor #1 (I've heard tell there is going to be a crop of the baby kind here soon, so I'm planning more) is coming along nicely. Lately, I've put evening knitting aside for paid work, and daytime knitting aside for yard work. Whew! Someday, I'll sit and knit in my yard, and won't that be the bees' knees?

I don't want to embarrass anyone or cause family friction, but right now I'm finding my eldest child easy to enjoy. Thoroughly. A wise friend told me to enjoy it but not assume it will stay. Said child also reminded me that five years ago I thought frequently and longingly of boarding school for her, so there is hope for the younger set at home. She's right.

But she just emerged from her bedroom and said, "Gleaves go over your boots, right?"
I must have looked owlishly at her, because she said, "Leg armor?" hopefully. I said yes, I assumed that over made sense.
"Right," she said, and disappeared back into her room.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Finished things

I realized that I didn't explain the helmet hair in the last post. We've been riding our bikes and we all have wonky hair after pulling off our super-duper bike helmets. Oh well, small price to pay, I guess. Plus, my hair is often damp so I just do some heavy-duty finger fluffing once I get home.

The latest hat will probably mash hair much more thoroughly than a bike helmet, though. My own 3/2 rib design, quickly put up in Lamb's Pride worsted, in the same color I knit my very first sweater for me in, about 12 years ago. I have got to get this yarn all used up! Maybe I'll knit feltable potholders or something.

I liked the decreases when I was done:

The yarn dyed with indigo has been humming in my head ever since it was dry: "Wonder what I'll loooooooook like? Wonder how I'll spinnnnnnn. . . " I may not be able to resist heedlessly starting new knitting projects as the whim takes me, but I can wait on spinning, partially because I only have a few bobbins and it's hard to spin over other yarn. Besides, I had to finish that lavender wool that I had 3/4 spun up. So I did.

618 yards of two-ply laceweight. I haven't figured out the wpi yet, and it clearly varies. I'm toying with the idea of replying it. It's nicely balanced, but it's very loosely plied. I obviously need some remedial spinning help.

The color is sort of all over the place. Some of the white appears yellowish to me, but the lavender is kind of appealing. A swatch would tell a truer story.

Maybe when I finish the two sweaters just hanging about on the needles, that's just what I'll do. Or else I'll spin indigo. . .

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mysterious eggs, tomatoes in traction

I've been getting such a kick out of the chicks' gifts of eggs; it just tickles me that I can go out there in the morning, open the nesting box hatch, and find a few eggs---nature's vending machine. I often beat the kids out there it's such fun.

We have six chicks, three or four of whom we think are laying. So imagine my surprise, my delight, indeed my amazement, when I opened the box the other morning to find this:

The kids and I ran through the possible calculations: Did three hens each lay three eggs and one laid one? Two hens each laid two and two laid three? It was a chicken mystery.

Then Kevin sent a message: "I assume you found my little joke..." Joke? What joke?


No, I hadn't noticed the eggs were cold, suspiciously cold ... refrigerator cold.

Okay, so maybe I'm gullible. It's probably the same quality that allows me to appreciate the wonder of natural variety.

Kevin made two nesting boxes for the chicks, which is supposed to be plenty for six. The other day, though, Big Mouth---our first producer---was dismayed to find both boxes occupied. She protested so long and so loudly that I went outside to find out what the ruckus was about. There she stood, inches from the poor hens trying to lay, squawking her head off, while the interlopers studiously ignored her.

So now there are three:

Nesting boxes aren't the only things Kevin's been up to. Instead of a sprawling pile, we now have a firewood shed:

The compost piles are up and running:

(As an aside, man alive, I never thought I'd end up cheerfully taking pictures of my compost! Life is anything but dull.)

Here's the whole back corner, with the chicken coop, compost, and shed, all built with salvaged wood.

And here's where we keep the salvaged wood now, tucked away on the side of the house (read: happily out of the way) waiting for future projects:

The wood shed is where the mushroom logs used to be, but we kept forgetting about them, so we moved them to the other side of the yard, by the walkway. Now they'll get more attention---and hopefully more water.

The squirrels are wreaking havoc with our sunflowers.

Apparently they can't climb over the thick honeysuckle to reach the sunflowers there. Next year I'll plant more in front of the vine-covered fence.

Then there was the tomato implosion. I've mentioned before that Early Girls are pretty much my reason for gardening. Well these plants grew so thick and heavy that they fell over, so we went into tomato triage:

Yes, that's a hastily constructed bamboo/redwood/rope/green yarn tomato scaffold, or, as the squirrels like to call it, the sunflower seed--eating platform.

It was a tough call---sunflowers or Early Girls?---but of course the tomatoes won out. More of the sunflowers live in vases now, brightening up the interior.

And the Early Girls? Their color takes my breath away:

There you can see green heartbreak: tomatoes broken during triage. Sniff.

In other parts of the yard, forget the corn---the pole beans have conquered the apricot tree:

I'm trying to figure out when the Lakota are ready to be harvested:

and we're getting ready for our biggest raspberry harvest yet:

My oldest always gets them before I do, so I'm hoping one of these has my name on it.