Archive for March, 2011

Hen Song

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hen Farm

For years I could never figure out why I found the sound of hens singing so soothing to me. A hen’s song is hardly melodic, it’s compact, two or three notes at most. It’s nothing like the beautiful rambling warble of a blue jay or the warm throaty coo of a dove. Hens sing a plain song, one that we might hum while going humbly about our daily farm chores. It’s quiet and low compared to the excited cackle that Hen lets out to announce that she has just laid an egg or has been surprised by the dog. There’s not a hint of the sharp screech she lets out at the sight of a hawk flying overhead. A hen’s song only keeps from slipping away to something humdrum because it spills forth from what sounds like pure exhilaration at just being alive on a warm spring day or knowing that the next time she goes scratching, the soil will produce a juicy wiggly worm to munch on. You won’t hear a hen song when the weather is foul or the temperature low or a cold north wind blows. She is a fair weather songstress.

It came to me one day, why hens singing sent a wave of tranquility over me. It isn’t because they announce a fair weather day free of hen stresses, although that could have something to do with it. No – it is because as a child living in suburbia we had chickens roaming the yard. No matter where I played in the yard or worked in the garden I was never more than 100 feet from hearing the hens sing all day long.

There were days, to be sure, that mom and dad had a decidedly different opinion; when a storm blew through, or the neighbor kids ransacked the garden or dad went on a long business trip or we worried, as a family, about the recession. But mostly I lived a life filled with peace, days that seemed endlessly free from all the chaotic supervised activities like school, sports, and youth groups that kids deal with nowadays. There was no need for today’s kind of protection. Mom was always nearby, singing or playing music, and dad was no farther than the garage or the garden. They didn’t hover over us kids like parents do today, they didn’t have to.

They were close enough to keep an eye on us. I had siblings to play with. We rarely got bored. There were so many opportunities for adventure, make-believe and mischief on our suburban farm. During my whole childhood hen song was penetrating the very core of my being. That reservoir of song would carry me through the years that brought trouble and uncertainty. Her song stayed in my memory, subconsciously reminding me that there were places I could still be heard, that I could go to one of those places when I needed to.

And so it has turned out, on a fair day desperately pushing into spring, I can hear hen’s song from outside my window when I write. Sometimes though, when I hear too much of it I realize those dang hens are scratching in the garden again.

Creative Commons License photo credit: TCR4x4


Tuesday, March 29, 2011


We all know that when life gives you lemons you make lemonade. But, what about when life give you too many eggs? I pondered that question this afternoon when I pulled a basket full of eggs out of the chicken coop. I couldn’t believe it, there were eggs in every nesting box. And, we have ten. I looked at the pile, then looked at the hens and wondered what kind of super human – I mean super chicken – effort did such a feat take. Then I wondered what the hell I was going to do with all those eggs.

After a few quizzical moments it came to me – Frittata.

Frittatas are similar to quiches on the inside, but don’t have a crust. They are firm and thick like omelets and can contain any variety of chopped meat or vegetables. They are the Italian version of an omelet.

Now I was on a mission. I took the eggs into the kitchen and set them on the counter. When I opened the fridge, staring me in the face were three dozen more eggs to go along with today’s haul. What the hell were my hens eating or doing that they produced this many eggs. Or, was it that we were not eating eggs often enough. How could that be though? I have eggs and toast almost every day for breakfast. Moving on with my mission, I rummaged through the fridge and pulled out parmesan cheese, spinach, asparagus, and onion. This would be the base for my frittata. I would use bacon instead of ham, fry up some potatoes and have toast with homemade blueberry jam. It was beginning to sound like breakfast for dinner, but didn’t care. I was going to use up at least 6 eggs, maybe even 10.

The basic recipe I used is below. Any combination of ingredients can be added with success. Even the cheese can be changed. Try Monterey Jack, White Cheddar or Swiss. Frittatas are a great way to use veggies and small amounts of meat to make a nutritious and satisfying meal. For a wonderful weekend brunch pair your Frittata with a nice green salad. Read the rest of the story »

Lemon Aide

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lemons can be found in most American homes these days. From fresh and frozen, to their essence in cleaning supplies and beauty products, the diversity of these bright, tangy, tart, yellow fruits is limitless. And, thanks to the Mediterranean like climates of California and Arizona, lemons are available throughout the year, accounting for 95% of the U.S. lemon production.

Originally found in Northern India, and prized for their unique flavor, lemons enhance culinary delights around the world, and were once referred to as the “golden apple”.

Check out some tips on how to use this amazing fruit around your home:

  • A bowl of fresh lemons will add fragrance and color to a room for days.
  • Add a slice or two of fresh lemon to a glass of water. It has visual appeal and makes the water taste and smell better.
  • If you are reducing your sodium or fat intake, try squeezing a wedge of fresh lemon on salads, steamed vegetables, soups and stews. You’ll never miss the salt or butter!
  • Add the grated zest of fresh lemon to recipes for added intensity in cakes and cookies.
  • Sooth a sore throat by mixing lemon juice and honey with hot water.
  • To whiten cloth napkins, linens, and even socks, fill a large pot with water, and drop in several slices of lemon. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Add the linens, and let them soak for about an hour. Then launder as usual.
  • Freshen and moisturize the air in your home on dry winter days. Place an enameled cast-iron pot or bowl on top of your wood-burning stove or stovetop, fill with water, and add lemon (and/or orange) peels, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and apple skins, and just simmer the water periodically.
  • Neutralize cat-box odors, by cutting a couple of lemons in half and placing them cut side up, in a dish in the room, and the air will soon smell lemon-fresh.

BUT — even with all the attributes of this small oval fruit, my favorite use is still in Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins and a fiery Lemon-Rosemary Roasted Chicken. Check out the recipes below to make these treats for your family.

muffin recipe

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins Recipe

Read the rest of the story »

Like Sails in the Wind

Saturday, March 19, 2011

wind power

The wind this week has been like a gale blowing in off an angry east coast sea. The kind of gusts that make you think your house (or barn) will lift off and fly away like some kind of surreal scene from The Wizard of Oz. The temperatures though have been oddly warm, mid-50’s on some days, which sends contradictions through my brain. Every structure on the farm was swaying and bowing to the winds force. In the dark still of night you could hear the wind howling through our valley. Far in east, then through distant trees until it came closer and louder…sending shivers through you as the sound of branches breaking rang out like gunfire. When you’re out in it each blast of wind comes at you like an angry wave, ready to bowl you over. Your face feels chapped and your hair blows every which direction. Lips chapped from previous winter storms are chapped even more.

Over and over the wind rolled down onto the farm like this. We were in full batten down the hatches mode, making sure everyone was inside their barn abode. The dogs do not go out on nights like these. Instead we all ate our dinners indoors, listening to the wind race over a jet black sky, trees casting eerie shadows that swayed like ghosts with every gust. What a show.

Feeding the animals in wind like this is hard and time consuming. Buckets of grain seem heavier, water seems to run slower and just moving animals is complicated and labor intensive. They seem out of sorts and unsure of where to go. So instead, of feeding grain first then hay as a second course, the lambs are all feed together with grain piled high on a bed of hay. The hens will get a second trough for mash that will tide them over for several days and every water bucket will be filled to overflowing. Hopefully, the wind will be gone by then.

The hens will get another layer of straw in their nesting boxes and as litter on the coop floor. I wanted the barn as comfortable as possible, as the wind whipped at us all through the little 12×24 building. I prayed the roof wouldn’t lift off like an Apollo spacecraft or the weathervane, now spinning wildly, would fly through the air like some kind of Ninja Worrier weapon. All around me the lambs, chickens, even the rabbit seemed quite content and calm in their domesticated dwelling, while I checked for the hundredth time that the structure was solid and secure. Read the rest of the story »

Making Juice with a Blender

Thursday, March 17, 2011


At our house juice is consumed almost as much as water. It is the beverage of choice on hot days when we’ve been working hard in the garden or in the barn. It gives us a little extra burst of energy with all vitamins and natural sugar it contains. The problem is, commercially made juices are expensive and full of unwanted chemicals, corn syrup and preservatives; and juicing machines are more money than this frugal farmer wants to spend. The answer: making juice using my blender or food processor.

You can make virtually any kind of juice with your blender, and what’s more, a blender won’t separate the healthy fiber found in the peels and pulp like a commercial juicer can. The fiber in the peel and pulp helps your body regulate the absorption of sugar, vitamins and minerals.

Making your own blender juices is simple and fun, and allows you to combine several different fruits to make a juice blend.

To make your own homemade fresh juice:

  • Wash fruit thoroughly.
  • Remove thick peel on fruits such as pineapple, mango or papaya.
  • Remove any large seeds. Smaller seeds can be strained out later.
  • Rough chop fruit and add to blender with a small amount of water so it will blend easier.
  • Flip the switch and blend away.

While the fruit is blending, place a strainer over a bowl or 4-cup measuring cup. When juice is blended well, pour it into the strainer, and using the back of a spoon mash the juice and pulp through, leaving the peel and seeds in the strainer. If you prefer a clearer juice, strain it again through a layer or two of cheesecloth.

The interesting thing is that you will get more juice and less pulp from the blender process than when using a traditional juicer. In fact, you may get as much as 50% less pulp.

If your juice needs a bit of sweetening add a small amount of honey or some apple juice. Apple is one of the sweetest fruits, and is perfect for adding natural sugar to your juice mix. Most juices can be kept in the refrigerator for a day or two. When making larger batches, freeze in small containers for later use.

There you have it…simple, fresh, homemade juice.

Creative Commons License photo credit: taka_horri

A New Generation of Farmers Emerge

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In an age when people want to feel more connected to their food than they can at a grocery store a younger group of farmers have emerged. Young people in their 20s and 30s who have chosen farming as a career. Influenced by punk rock bands and a “foodie” culture this new generation of farmer is embracing the connection between what they grow and who ultimately consumes it; bringing back the trust between them.

Garry Stephenson, coordinator of the Small Farms Program at Oregon State University, said he had not seen so much interest among young people in decades. “It’s kind of exciting,” Mr. Stephenson said. “They’re young, they’re energetic and idealistic, and they’re willing to make the sacrifices.”

Though the number of young farmers is increasing, the average age of farmers nationwide continues to creep toward 60, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture. That census, administered by the Department of Agriculture, found that farmers over 55 own more than half of the country’s farmland.

To read the entire New York Times article click here.

Tales of a Night Table

Monday, March 14, 2011


I spent part of this evening cleaning my room. Nothing wildly exciting I know, but after two livestock auctions and three major sheep shows that sent us north five times in 6-weeks my sleeping place was beginning to look like – well – a shambles of laundry, suitcases, half completed quilting projects, shoes, and a pile of tax documents waiting to be organized, and, sadly, cobwebs. The bathroom was much, much worse.

I moved through my room with single minded determination, dusting, putting away, throwing away, organizing. When I reached my night table I stopped for a moment. Looking down at all that I keep close to me at night, it crossed my mind that you can tell a lot about a person and who they are by the contents of their night table.

My night table is not a night table at all, but a four foot long antique drop leaf table. Its top is smooth like tumbled glass from years of polishing; the claw feet are rugged and bold like some kind those of a mid evil cat. The urn shaped lamp glows through a sage green shade that sparkles with green and amber beads hanging from its rim. Its power illuminates my latest read. There’s a small floral notepad for jotting down things to do, items to buy, people to call, story ideas, phrases, quotes and projects that come to mind. A small vintage silver tray lined with a woven cloth napkin I found at a flea market in Vermont holds a warm cup of tea in winter and a cool drink in summer. A small Waterford vase holds seasonal flowers, whose fragrance fills the room. A picture of my daughter and I, taken for my parents 50th anniversary sits in the back reminding me of how far the two of us have come and how lucky we have been in our journeys. The radio is set to NPR, my go to station for morning news and interesting talk shows. Then there’s the pile of books at one end, at least eight, with titles like Goat Song, One Acre and Security, Amazing Rare Things, The Contrary Farmer, along with an array of Thoreau and Emerson thrown in for good measure. There are the magazines on farming, gardening, livestock and homesteading, too.

If a stranger came into my room they could tell at a glance that I am a mom, a gardener, a farmer, a homesteader, a reader who likes to educate herself and be informed, a traveler, an owner of livestock and a walker.

But, most of all it would tell them that I like serenity and tranquil surroundings. I like calm.

Troubleshooting Bread Making Problems

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Making homemade bread is almost as fun as eating a thick, warm slice smothered in creamy butter or drizzled with honey. But what happens when your bread making fun has trouble; little problems that affect the taste and texture or outcome of your bread.

It happens, folks – to everyone – at some point in their bread making career. If you’ve had trouble in the past, check out our problem-solving pointers to see what may be going wrong. You’ll be back to bread making success in no time at all. Read the rest of the story »

Rainy Saturday

Friday, March 4, 2011


I just heard on the radio it’s going to pour all weekend. Usually, this is good news; I am a big fan of rainy Saturday mornings. I get to wake up and face a wet and chilly farm then after all the animals are fed and I’m back inside my little house all is right with the world. I get to relax. I can leisurely cook the breakfast of champions (scrambled eggs with diced ham and cheese), start a fire in the living room, and curl up on the sofa with a dog and a good book or maybe watch a movie or work on my latest quilt project.

It could be a perfect morning, but not this Saturday. This weekend is a sheep show weekend. We leave Friday after Brianne gets out of school and will drive the three hours up the coast to the show grounds. We would never consider skipping a show on account of the weather. We’re not those kinds of people. Weather never gets in our way. We will unload and set up shop in our assigned pens. We’ll wash and groom four unwitting lambs who would rather be anywhere other than in a cement wash rack being doused with cold water, then sheared slick of all their warmth holding fleece. I have to admit it does take its toll, standing around in a cold damp show barn for hours on end.

But, come rain or shine it’s what we do, folks, show sheep, raise chickens, grow our own food, make our own way and deal with what ever Mother Nature throws our way. I’ll hope for the best or at least hope for a warm rain, but we’re ready for the worst; raingear, muck boots, hats and gloves. We’ll play it by ear, but personally I’m gonna take a move out of Gene Kelly’s playbook…

I’m singing in the rain
Just singing in the rain
What a glorious feelin’
I’m happy again
I’m laughing at clouds
So dark up above
The sun’s in my heart
And I’m ready for love
Let the stormy clouds chase
Everyone from the place
Come on with the rain
I’ve a smile on my face
I walk down the lane
With a happy refrain
Just singin’,
Singin’ in the rain

Think warm thoughts for us, folks, and, if you don’t mind have a hot toddy for us – we’ll need it.

Creative Commons License photo credit:

Organizing the Well Stocked Freezer

Friday, March 4, 2011


I opened the door to my freezer the other day, to get something out for dinner, and instead of finding what I wanted an avalanche of frozen meat came tumbling out and landed right onto my foot (%#@$), nearly breaking my toes. At that moment, amidst the pain and four-letter words I vowed to get my freezer organized and stay organized so something like this would never happen again.

I normally purchase frozen items when they are on sale and when I have a coupon for them. Meat from the discount bin and butter when it’s on sale at holiday time are big items. But, because they are not “planned for” purchases I usually have not made space for them in the freezer, so things are just shoved in where ever they will fit. Bad idea, as I came to discover.

So, I set out to reorganize my 25 cubic foot upright. But, how?

Easy part first – The Freezer Door: This is the warmest part of the freezer. I use it to store soup base, butter, lemonade concentrate and half-gallon milk jugs filled with water to use in the ice crest or in the rabbit hutch on hot summer days.

When the door was finished I stood there staring at four large shelves and one pull-out drawer crammed full of chicken, lamb, beef, pork and a variety of other frozen staples like flour, rice, spaghetti sauce and pre-made soups. Where to begin? I scratched my head.

I knew I wanted everything “contained”, easy to locate, with older items close to the front so they would be used before newer purchases. After standing there for a few minutes I decided to use the same approach as I had when I organized my garage, plastic lidded bins. Only this time I wouldn’t need the lids. I measured the length and width of the shelves and determined what size bins to buy. One large bin would be too heavy when full, so I decided to buy two smaller bins that could sit side-by-side. I headed off to town and purchased eight 16-quart bins that measured 11”x16”. Perfect!

Fortunately for me the day was cold and I didn’t have to worry about spoiling what was in the freezer as I pulled packages out and sorted them. Shelf by shelf I sorted meat into bins and vegetables, soups, sauces and other items out of the way as I worked my way through the freezer. Now I have an individual bin for chicken, pork and beef. Since we butchered a whole lamb last fall I needed two bins for those packages. The bins also have a slight slant to them and when sitting on the shelf provide a nice little “cave” between them for oddball items or overflow. The bottom drawer is used for miscellaneous items like odd cuts of lamb we feed to the dogs, lamb salami I had made out of our ground lamb, and large roasting chickens that won’t fit in the bins.

The top shelf is stocked with rice, flour, vegetables, fruit, ice cream, pre-made soups and sauces. At a glance I can now see if I need to purchase more of a particular item, helping me take advantage of sales and coupon specials. I can also see what I may have too much of, enticing me to find new recipes in order to use it more quickly.

My organization project also showed me how woefully lax I have been at dating my meat and freezer containers, leaving too much to memory on when it was purchased or made. In the future, I’ll be more diligent about dating and labeling what goes into the freezer so I can use the oldest items first.

All-in-all it was a well used chilly afternoon.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Cowgirl Jules