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Harvest time. October 28, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silnce Dogood here. It’s a mild October day, and normally I’d be sitting out on our back deck listening to the corn talk. (The farmers in front and in back of our little cottage here in the middle of nowhere, PA, grow corn, and once it gets tall and dries out, it “talks” with every slightest breeze.) Today, however, I’m hiding in the house.

That’s because the farmers are harvesting the corn behind the house. There’s a terrible noise, and every few minutes a rhino-like, John-Deere-green creature passes in front of our deck doors, bellowing and presumably cutting down corn. This of course isn’t corn on the cob, it’s dried corn and cornstalks to make silage and sustain their milk cows through the winter.

I wonder what our poor chickens make of all this. This will be their first winter, and they love the dried corn in their scratch grains, but I doubt that they’re loving the racket that machine is making. People always tell you that country living is quiet and peaceful, but apparently they forget about the machines.

It’s something to keep in mind if you’re thinking about a move. Not to mention all the toxic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and so on. There are plenty of upsides—we have lots of great deck-sitting days—but downsides too. Days we see toxic bubbles from farm chemicals in our stream and wonder if our well water is drinkable. Days we can’t breathe outside because of chemical application. How wonderful to live surrounded by organic farms!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Time for homemade cream of tomato soup. October 22, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. The leaves are falling, temperatures are dropping, and harvest season is coming to an end. This means it’s time for warming comfort food, like cream of tomato soup. I don’t know if a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of cream of tomato soup with a pat of butter melting on top was your idea of childhood cold-weather lunch heaven, but it certainly was mine. Yum!!!

Unfortunately, a check of the grocery aisles will reveal a selection of cream of tomato soups packed with high-fructose corn syrup, cornstarch or flour, and all sorts of other ingredients that I don’t want in a simple soup. But, thank heavens, it really is easy to make this one from scratch in just minutes and get the benefit of all that healthy antioxidant lycopene without stuffing yourself with things that are bad for you. Here’s all you have to do:

Silence’s Homemade Cream of Tomato Soup

1 6-ounce can tomato paste
3 cups whole milk
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 stick butter
salt (we like RealSalt), Herbamare or Trocomare, white pepper, and/or hot sauce to taste (we’d choose Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa for this, if we wanted to use hot sauce)

That’s really all you need. Heat the milk and half-and-half in a heavy pot, never allowing it to boil. Once it’s hot, add the tomato paste, mashing with the back of a large spoon until it dissolves into the milk/half-and-half mixture. Add the salt and whatever else you want, stirring to blend. Chop the butter into pieces, reserving two for the tops of the bowls, and add the rest to the soup, again, stirring and watching carefully to make sure it never boils (which would destroy he texture). When the soup is quite hot, pour it into two bowls, top each with a pat of butter, and enjoy, with or without the accompanying grilled cheese!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Frozen vegetables are frozen vegetables. October 21, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. If you walk down the freezer aisle in your preferred grocery and look at the vegetable options, there are almost as many choices as n the toothpaste aisle. No longer do you only have plain frozen vegetables and that horrid mix of peas, corn and diced carrots. There are lots of vegetable mixes, lots of frozen veggies in buttery sauces (those Green Giant people are no fools), and lots of boil-in-bag and steam-in-bag options.

But what if you just want a particular veggie, without sauce, and can’t find it frozen as is, but can find it frozen in a boil-in-bag or steam-in-bag version? Can you just open the bag and treat the contents as if it came from a regular frozen package?

I think we’ve all heard by now that nutritionists agree that frozen veggies are really good for you, better than fresh veggies picked out of season and shipped green, like, say, winter tomates. Frozen veggies are picked at the very peak of ripeness and flash-frozen to retain their nutrients. (Admittedly, I’ve never seen a bag of frozen tomatoes, but jarred tomatoes are wonderful for you, since they concentrate the protective, antioxidant-rich lycopenes in ripe tomatoes.)

I have no microwave, nor do I want to boil anything in a plastic bag and then eat it—aaaggghhh!—but one of the staples I love keeping on hand for cooking is frozen white shoepeg corn. The season for fresh white corn is so short, and I love sauteeing it to add to a meal, adding it to corn pudding at the holidays, and tossing it into chili. But I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to find a bag of frozen white corn, much less white shoepeg corn, in this area. What I can find, however, are bags of frozen white shoepeg “boil-in-bag” and “steam-in-bag” corn. And in my experience, the’re every bit as good added to a dish or sauteed as plain old frozen shoepeg corn could ever be.

So if you like boiling your veggies in a bag or cooking them in a bag in the microwave, I have no doubt that both methods work fine. But if you’re a traditional cook who simply needs to stock up on frozen staples you can’t find, don’t fear the boil-in, steam-in veggies. They’ll work wonderfully for you as well. Just keep away from the ones in sauces.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Another reason men aren’t like women. October 14, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. A friend just e-mailed me, telling me that she had an upper respiratory infection and was making garlic-onion soup to try to get rid of it. I understand this completely. When I was recently ill, unable to keep anything down, all I could think about was miso soup and white rice. Healing, soothing: ahhh!!!

But when our friend and fellow blog contributor Richard Saunders was recently stricken with agonizing kidney stones, unable to eat, moaning and groaning for days while taking powerful narcotic painkillers nonstop, what was the first thing he wanted to eat once he’d passed the stones? He wanted a “California burger” with the works—mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion, provolone, pickles, potato chips, and a giant order of fries with plenty of ketchup. And a salad and breadsticks on the side, please, with butter for the breadsticks! Our friend Ben and I took him out to get one. He ate every bite, too.

The mysteries of the differences of the sexes will never end, but yowie kazowie. Easing back into health doesn’t seem to be on guys’ agendas. Richard isn’t the only one. God knows, OFB is ready to get up and go the minute he’s able. No miso soup or garlic-onion soup for these guys, bring on the burgers or wings or fried chicken or pizza or whatever. And don’t forget the sides! (Actually, pizza doesn’t sound so bad. Hmmm…)

‘Til next time,

Silence

Birthday cake. October 7, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As it happens, my birthday falls on the long Columbus Day weekend holiday. And so does my sister’s. We were both born on October 11, a year apart, and were both premature, so go figure that, while our brother, born several years and several months later, was a huge, late baby. I now love having been born on a holiday, but growing up, I don’t think I noticed that. Instead, what mattered was the cake.

My mother wasn’t much for dessert, so we almost never got any, except for holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. (Plus, of course, the inevitable Halloween basket.) But for our birthdays, we each got to choose our own cakes. And since my sister and I shared a birthday, we got to choose two cakes. This was a really big deal!

Sadly, at this point I can’t even recall what my brother’s favorite was. (I’ll have to ask him. But I already know the answer: “What are you talking about?”) My sister’s was chocolate cake with homemade chocolate fudge frosting. But mine was always angel food cake with whipped cream icing.

Even out of a box, this was not an easy cake to make. You needed one of those tall cake pans with a tube in the middle and a removable bottom. You needed lots of whipped eggwhites. You needed to get the cake out of the tube pan and let it cool while whipping the cream and adding sugar and vanilla, then chilling the whipped cream until just before icing and serving the cake. When I was a child, in October berries were unavailable, so there were no sliced strawberries or whole blackberries or raspberries or blueberries on the cake, not even any sliced bananas. There certainly was no whipped cream in a can. But I loved the delicious purity of that whipped-cream-topped angel food cake.

These days, if I’m invited to friends’ for my birthday, I’ll still celebrate with angel food cake. This time, the cake will be store-bought, and I’ll have plenty of lovely berries and sliced bananas to nest in layers of whipped cream (still homemade). Yum! It’s no longer my favorite dessert, but it’s still my favorite cake, and it holds so many memories. It’s light, so it doesn’t weigh you down—all those eggwhites, why it’s called “angel food”—a perfect finish for a meal.

Anyway, my point is that every child should get to choose their own birthday cake. It’s such a special thing. Maybe your children will choose a different cake every year, rather than going with the same one as we did. But in a world where everything’s constantly changing, having one ritual that never changes, empowering your children to do one thing exactly as they want it, is more important than I can say. They may not know to thank you now, but they’ll thank you later. And it’s just a cake.

Someone sent me a “happy birthday” e-mail this week, and encouraged me to celebrate with a big slice of cake. I can’t really remember the last time I had cake, or any dessert—usually, it’s food or dessert, and I choose food. But the e-mail reminded me of my childhood, and those birthday cakes, and my family, and the good times. Laissez les bon temps roulez!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Cold enough for chili. October 6, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Brrr, is it ever cold outside! Silence Dogood here. Temps dropped to the 30s here in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, last night. Our friend Ben and I managed to keep all our plants alive, but yowie kazowie, that is cold for early October. We weren’t so cold inside our cottage home, thank goodness, but it certainly made us start craving cold-weather food, like chili.

Chili is one of those forgiving foods that tends to taste good no matter how you make it or how you serve it. (Our friend Ben loves it over rice, my favorite is over buttered spaghetti with shredded Cheddar, which is apparently called Cincinnati chili, and of course, you could always serve up a big bowl plain.) I have lots of chili recipes, including one with pumpkin puree (it really is delicious, trust me), but here’s a basic recipe:

Saute 2 diced sweet onions, such as Vidalia or Walla Walla, in olive oil. Add 6 teaspoons minced garlic, a generous tablespoon each granulated garlic, salt (we like RealSalt), cumin, dried rosemary, thyme, and basil, and hot sauce (we like Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa for this), plus a minced fresh jalapeno pepper. Add a diced bell pepper (any color), a diced fresh tomato, 2 tablespoons chili powder, and a splash of Frank’s RedHot Sweet Chili Sauce. Stir, adding splashes of vegetable broth or water as needed to keep everything from sticking, until the onion has clarified.

Now, add a large can (28 ounces) of crushed tomatoes and a can of Ro*Tel diced tomatoes with hot peppers or a large can diced tomatoes, and a large can (40.8 ounces) of kidney beans (light red, red, or dark red all work fine). Cook until the tomatoes cook down, stirring as the chili cooks, until it’s the consistency you like. (We like thick chili, like a thick spaghetti sauce.)

Once it’s as thick as you want it, you can turn it down or turn it off while you make the rice or pasta or whatever you’d like to serve it with or over. I think slices of polenta, sauteed or baked until molten with butter and cheese on top, would be delicious floated on chili. If you like yours soupy, adding grated cheese and sour cream to each bowl, then serving it with your favorite soup crackers and passing the hot sauce or salsa sounds good.

Finally, let me remind you that, like spaghetti sauce, chili is very forgiving, so it’s a great way to use up leftovers. If you have an ear or two of corn that’s passing its prime, or half a carton of fresh hot salsa, or a softening avocado or tomato, go ahead and throw them in. Your family will probably wonder why the chili is so much better than usual!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Love your pets, love yourself, love your home. October 5, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets.
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Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders, your three bloggers here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, are all history buffs. Silence is especially interested in the domestic history of past times. When the three of us get together, it’s a topic we often talk about. As in, how did the royals and nobility in earlier times, who clearly loved their lapdogs, manage to survive living with their fleas and with their unspayed, unneutered pets?

When our friend Ben and Silence first moved here to Hawk’s Haven with our two cats, we didn’t realize that the cat of the previous owners had left fleas everywhere. We’d never experienced fleas at all, nor had our poor cats. The experience left us with bloody, itchy bites all over our lower legs, and nearly killed our cats from blood loss before we realized what was happening. Fortunately, there are now flea sprays that stop larval development in your home, breaking the vicious cycle. We’ve never had a flea problem again.

Every month, we feed our dog Shiloh a chewy treat that also happens to prevent heartworm disease. We used to dose her with a poisonous flea-and-tick preventive on her neck at the same time, but now they’ve developed a chewable. She loves her “treats,” and it’s such a relief to be able to feed her something she loves once a month rather than rubbing something she hates onto her neck.

This is easy, but it’s not cheap. It’s still better than dosing your house, your family, and your pets with God-alone-knows-what, though. And it’s far better than being bitten alive by those fleas (or, shudder, ticks). I still wonder about royals like King Charles I and his queen holding their beloved spaniels in all those portraits. Were their legs bleeding and itching the whole time? Don’t let it happen to you. Give your pets their meds.

Love your pets today. October 4, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading, pets.
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Today, October 4, is the Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. On this day, many Catholics take their pets to church to be blessed. But you don’t have to be Catholic to share the spirit of the saint who called animals his brothers and sisters.

Instead, just give a few more minutes of your time to make your pets happy. Make sure your cats’ litterbox is clean and filled with fresh litter, your aquarium filter is replaced, your birdcage bottom is cleaned and lined with fresh paper. Make sure every pet has fresh food, treats, and water, and fill up the wild bird feeders. Finally, pet, brush, and play with your dogs and cats. Let them know you love them. If you have chickens, don’t forget to give them leftovers: fresh fruits and veggies, bread, rice, and so on. Everybody will be so happy!

If you think about how much your pets love you, if you think about why you have them, if you think about how much you love them, how much your children love them, maybe it will be a little easier to buy some nutritious treats for them today while you’re grocery shopping, or decide to spend an extra ten minutes a day playing with them, or not yelling at them if they’re making a racket.

Happy Saint Francis Day!

Water for winter birds. October 1, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading.
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Building on our previous post on feeding winter birds, our friend Ben would like to address the issue of providing water. Most “experts” will tell you that providing water is crucial for keeping winter birds alive. Food is not enough, and shame on you for daring to simply set food out! Well, shame on them for not giving you a simple way to do that.

If you don’t have a stream, pond, or other way to provide water, go to your local Tractor Supply or hardware store and buy a black rubber water dish. We have two for our backyard chickens. Unlike a birdbath, a rubber container is flexible, which means that you don’t have to heat it. If the water freezes in cold weather, just turn it upside-down and flex it to get the ice block to come out. (If it won’t come out, you may have to turn it upside down, set it on the ground, and stomp on it.) Then rinse and refill. It may freeze again, but so what? Flex, refill, the end. No submersion heaters, open water for your wild birds.

Winter birdfeeding basics. September 29, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading.
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When our friend Ben and Silence Dogood go out to buy our monthly big bag of birdseed, we’re always amazed by the variety of birdfeeding products available. There are elaborate feeders, special seed mixes, specialty seeds, dried mealworms, literally hundreds of products. Books on birdfeeding are just as bad, making it seem like you need a special seed or seed mix for every single winter feeder. What’s someone who just wants to feed birds in winter supposed to do?

Actually, the answer’s simple. SO simple, it’s ridiculous. All you really need to feed birds in winter is a bag of black-oil sunflower seeds and a squirrel-proof tube feeder. That would be one, such as a Droll Yankees feeder, with a metal top, bottom, hanger, and feeder perches so squirrels can’t gnaw their way in. Hang it from a metal shepherd’s crook or from a branch where you can see and enjoy it, fill it up, and watch as the birds fly in. When you fill it up, don’t forget to scatter seed beneath it for ground-feeders like cardinals, juncos, and mourning doves, and you’re all set.

Sure, birds will eat other seeds. Cardinals will eat safflower seeds, goldfinches will eat nyger thistle seed. You can buy the most expensive custom blend of seeds, nuts and dried fruits imaginable and you’ll get an appreciative audience of birds. But for a fraction of the cost, you’ll attract all the same birds with plain black oil sunflower seeds.

Here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage garden OFB and Silence share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, we love sitting out on our back deck in the lazy summer mornings and evenings and beautiful autumn evenings, so we keep one tube feeder up and running all year. Most birds are busy eating bugs and berries then, but they’ll still come up to the feeder where we can see them from the deck.

Once the cold weather arrives and supplies of bugs and berries thin out, we up the ante. (Pun about ants suppressed.) First, we put away our windchimes until spring and hang more tube feeders on the windchime hooks, except for the windchime directly in back, er, front, er,?! of our deck. Years ago, someone gave us one of those cylindrical suet feeders that holds a block of suet inside and cages squirrels out. Our woodpeckers and nuthatches very happily eat black oil sunflower seed from our tube feeders, but they (and our chickadees, titmice, and so on) love the hi-cal, pre-formed blocks of suet stuffed with peanut butter, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and so on, and we can buy a six-pack at our local hardware store for less than a dollar a block, so we indulge them, and ourselves, by hanging that feeder right next to the deck.

We also have what we call a cabin feeder, a wooden feeder shaped sort of like a log cabin with a “roof” that lifts up for filling and long, shallow troughs for eating, plus glass sides so you can see when it needs refilling. It’s attached to a tree by our front door so we can check its progress by looking out the front windows. Ground-feeding birds like cardinals, bluejays, and juncos are willing to eat on its platform, so it brings them closer to eye level.

So here’s the bottom line: Feed black oil sunflower seed; everybody likes it. Hang a tube feeder where you can see and enjoy the birds (and see when the feeder’s empty). You’ll need a vermin-proof container for your seed (we have a wonderful bird-themed canister we got years ago at a wild bird store, but a small tin garbage can with a tight-fitting lid would do), plus a scoop for your seed and a way to pour it into your tube feeder. (We bought a big plastic bottle with a long nose from a wild bird store, like a giant ketchup dispenser.) If you don’t want to set up a cabin feeder, just toss some seed around on the ground (or snow) under your tube feeder for the ground-feeders. The end.

Buying a guide to winter birds in your area will certainly increase your pleasure as you watch your little visitors enjoy your offerings. The guide will provide tips you’ll want to know, such as that the olive-colored birds at your feeder in the winter are the goldfinches that lit up your garden all summer (they’ve just shed their brilliant yellow breeding plumage). Happy birdfeeding!

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