Monday, December 4, 2017

Watching the Children Play

     I'm waiting for my oldest daughter to finish band practice,  and while I wait,  I'm keeping an eye on my other two.  Watching them play with a group of children who are also waiting for older siblings. There are about a dozen of them playing on old playground equipment in the process of being dismantled.  It is fascinating watching them; clustering together,  then scattering apart, like starlings. They climb in and out of an old tube slide.  Rolling it with others inside. Constantly switching positions,  going in and out,  switching roles without visible communication,  like ants. It looks mildly dangerous,  but I fight off the maternal urge to go down and tell them to be careful.  I would only ruin the beauty of their play,  that strange tangled harmony of childhood. 
     A girl jumps out of the tube,  her hair reaching well below her waist,  flying around her like ribbons. She takes her turn with the other kids pushing,  while shrieks emerge from the children still inside. 
     They dismantle, move, assemble, and take apart again.  Their play is industrious and focused.  So much more fun like this, with the equipment on the ground and loose.  Much more fun than it was before when you could slide through the slide,  and everything stayed in its place.  

Monday, July 3, 2017


      Today I finally got to use my fermenting crock to make some pickles!  I got the crock last year, right after cucumber season was over, so this is my first batch of crock pickles. I actually got the crock after fermenting some cucumbers in a mason jar last year. I had always made pickles with vinegar, but after one taste of my fermented pickles, I knew this was the only way for me. The flavor is so much more intense, and they're sour without being sharp.
     I bought the crock so that I could make more at once, and make it easier. (No more having to "burp" the jars or skim off scum.) I have since made a couple of batches of sauerkraut, and they were wonderful! Fermenting is so easy, and the result is like nothing you can buy in a store.

     For the pickles, I used dill, garlic, and red pepper flakes to season them. Garlic and dill go together beautifully. The grape leaves are to keep the pickles crunchy. Like a natural pickle crisp.
     I picked small cucumbers because I was pickling them whole. If the cucumbers were bigger, I would slice them.

     I layered the cucumbers and the seasoning until the crock was nearly full, then put the grape leaves on top. I had just enough room for the weights. Now I wait!
      I leave the crock on my table while it's fermenting because I don't have anywhere else to put it. You're suppose to put it somewhere cool, but not refrigerator cold, after three days. In the summer, everywhere in my house is warm. Some rooms more so than others, but there is nowhere cool. It was fine for the kraut, so I think it will be fine for the pickles too.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Circle of Life

         Today I woke up, rounded up three of my chickens, and went to a friend's house to butcher chickens. We did three of mine, and about a dozen of hers. The last chicken I butchered took hours for just one chicken, so I had no idea how long this was going to take. I did know that I wasn't going to pluck this many chickens. I do not pluck well.
     My friend graciously does the actual killing, as that is one part that I am still too squeamish to do. One day I'll get there. We try to do it as humanely as possible, so that means sticking the chicken head down in a cone, and then slitting it's throat, so that it bleeds out very quickly. This is by far the worst part.  

     After the chicken is dead, I put it on the table and chop off its feet, and then the head. I have found that if you cut the neck close to the head, it will still be able to make a noise when air is pushed out through the voice box. This is creepy. It really startled me the first time it happened!

    Cutting off the head is hard. I do not look at the actual head as I am doing it, but just concentrate on the neck. Once the head is gone, then the connection I felt towards the living breathing animal is less, and it is now a hunk of meat that I can process without feeling sorry for it. This particular chicken's name was Buttercup. She was a pretty chicken that gave us good eggs, but unfortunately she and the other two Wyandottes, were relentless bullies that made life for all of our hens unbearable. I felt that the responsible thing to do was to kill them and use their meat, so that their lives were not wasted. 

     Back to the processing... Since plucking takes so long, we decided to skip that step, and just skin them. This was so much easier! We also just got the breast and leg quarters, since nearly all the meat are in these two cuts and it is easier to store this way. 
     When you butcher a hen, there are going to be egg yolks of different sizes in her. This is really cool, and shows just how amazing the egg making process is. We even found a few hard shelled eggs.

     In the past, Samuel has been very against any chickens being killed, but this time was different. I think it was because the Wyandottes were just so darn mean. The kids joked about how all of our other chickens were going to have a party when they realized the mean ones were gone for good. I think it's good that my children can joke and laugh about it, and chase each other around with chicken feet. I'm glad that they realize that chicken isn't manufactured. Every chicken you eat, whether it's chicken nuggets from McDonalds or the chicken you raised and butchered yourself, was once a living and breathing animal. The only difference is in the kind of life it had before that point.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Making Jam

     I went to the farmer's market on a whim the other day, and couldn't resist getting some strawberries.  I could care less for the strawberries you can get in the grocery store, as they tend to be more sour than anything, but once a year, when it's strawberry season, I get a big bucket from the farmer's market, and indulge in this once a year treat.  I made strawberry shortcake with tons of whipped cream the day we got the strawberries, and today I made jam.

    Abriel, who is normally my child least interested in helping me in the kitchen, came in after I had prepped the berries, apron on and wanting to help.

     A few years ago, when I first started canning, it was, "No one come within ten feet of the kitchen",  I've relaxed a bit since then, and realized that I won't give every one in my family food poisoning if the recipe isn't followed with surgical precision.  
     I was happy that Abriel wanted to help, as she has had a rough day, and a little extra Mommy time sure wouldn't hurt. She got kicked in the mouth by Samuel last night while they were romping around. It was bad enough to merit a visit to the Dr this morning. Her mouth is very swollen, and she even lost a tooth, A baby one, thank goodness!
     She squeezed lemons, stirred the jam pot, (She says stirring is her favorite part about cooking.) and fetched things for me.  I hope that my children will remember these lessons and moments when they are grown, and maybe making jam won't be stressful and intimidating for them, as it was for me.
    The finished result; nine jars of jam.  For some reason it separated a little, but I am sure it will still taste wonderful. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

First Camping Trip of the Year

      We usually go camping around Dave's birthday every year. The first couple of years we did, it was just coincidence that it coincided with his birthday, but now we plan it that way. This year we decided to branch out and go some where we hadn't been before. Roan Mountain State Park. We knew there might be some rain that weekend, but decided to go for it anyway.
       The park is beautiful; full of babbling brooks and rhododendrons, and everything was so green! We soon found out why. As soon as we had set up, it started to rain, and continued to rain until well into the evening. We found out that even if it wasn't raining a few miles away, as soon as you got into the park, the drizzling would start. Everything was saturated, but oh, so lush.

          All the rain would have been fine, if it wasn't for the pop up leaking. Rain started pouring in from the roof and the sides. We were all a little damp. Fortunately, my brother-in-law came to the rescue with zip tape (duct tape on steroids) and saved us from a second night of dripping.
       The next day was beautiful, and the kids discovered that this was the ideal habitat for red-spotted efts. They showed up at the camp site with their hands overflowing with the little orange salamanders.

     They were jarred long enough to observe them, then set free.

     The rest of the day was spent playing in the river, and taking Chestnut for short jaunts around the campground, until it was time to have supper and roast some smores over the camp fire.