Sunday, January 25, 2015

Texas Chicken

We took a short vacation a couple of weeks ago.  We were gone a week during which we visited friends in south Texas.  These are friends who spend the winter near McAllen, Texas.  They have a small travel trailer parked in a large mobile home park that caters specifically to senior adults.  There are daily activities covering all areas of interest ... card games, pool tournaments, bicycling, quilting classes, water exercise.  You name it, they've got it.

We spent two days there and had a blast!  And, of course, we had to go shopping for souvenirs.  I didn't want something that would just sit around and gather dust.  So, I ended up buying, what else, but a chicken!  A chicken flower pot, that is.  

Isn't she beautiful!  I was excited to get her home and introduce her to our other girls.  I was sure they would love her.  I set her on the ground in their pen and here's what happened.

They wouldn't go near her.  I even put lettuce leaves all around her and they still wouldn't venture close.  They love lettuce and normally I have to fight them off when I go in the pen with lettuce.  But, nope, they weren't going to have anything to do with it as long as the brightly colored intruder was there.

So, for now my new chicken is gracing my covered porch where she keeps me company when it is warm enough to sit out there with my morning coffee.  This summer she will be filled with petunias or other bright flowers.  She may not be alive, but she sure is pretty.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Italian Seasoning Mixture

Last summer I was overrun with tomatoes and ended up freezing a bunch of them.  I also made Spaghetti Sauce with some of them in which I used basil and oregano that I grew in my herb garden and dried myself.  Here is a blog entry I wrote about that.

Recently, I found a recipe for "Italian Seasoning" that works nicely in the Spaghetti Sauce above.  It is very simple.  Just mix the ingredients together and store in an air-tight container.  I use old spice jars that I have saved.

Italian Seasoning  

2 tsp dried Basil
2 tsp dried Oregano
2 tsp dried Marjoram
1 tsp dried Sage

All of the herbs used in the recipe are easy to grow and you can dry them easily by simply laying them on paper towels on your kitchen counter for a few days.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Scissor Happy

My preference in kitchen scissors has evolved over time.  Here is a picture of the ones I currently own.

I've had the orange-handled pair on the left and the pair next to them for several years.  It was nice to have two pairs in case one pair got misplaced (which happens often!).  

When we started our farmers' market business, I ended in charge of the herb garden and needed a good pair of scissors to use for cutting herbs.  I started out using the orange pair, but found they got gummy and dirty quickly.  In order to clean them, they had to be taken apart.  This was a pain in the patootie for it involved getting a screwdriver to loosen the bolt that held them together.  The black pair was no better.

The problem was solved when I found the third pair from the left.  When turned over, you'll see they are held together by a small piece of metal on one side that fits into a rectangular hole on the other side.

When opened up all the way, the metal piece will slip through the hole and they come apart.  This makes for easy cleaning.

I use this pair for heavy duty work, like cutting thick basil stems, where I gather several stalks together and cut them all at one time.  It goes faster that way.  I liked this pair so well that I bought a pair of real "herb" scissors (the shorter green-handled pair on the right) for lighter work.  They come apart in the same manner.

Believe it or not, I use all 4 pair for various chores.  I've decided you can never have enough scissors!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Cat

About two years ago, I wrote about a little stray cat who came to our house.  We started feeding her, named her Misty and adopted her as our own.  Our own, that is, if anyone can "own" a cat.  She is quite the independent little soul.

My how time flies!  Today, that little cat has grown into a beautiful lady who has captivated us with her personality.  She usually spends the day outside, especially in nice weather.  Here she is last summer lounging on the front walk.

In the summer, I frequently find her in the garden laying under the basil plants in the shade. 

She occasionally jumps into the chicken pen on her way to the shed where we store t-posts, tomato cages and other farm items.  The chickens ignore her and she ignores them.

She prowls around in the shed looking for mice.

She's not the best mouser in the world (probably too well fed for that), but that doesn't keep her from practicing.   She likes to stalk and chase "invisible" mice.  These antics crack me up.  Here she was on the front porch earlier this year stalking an invisible mouse.

She was quite wary of Sally (the dog) when she first came here, but they have since developed somewhat of an alliance, even eating in close proximity at times.

And, more recently, sleeping together on the "dog" pillow.

If you have followed this blog, you know that Sally is crippled from a bullet wound she received before she came to us.  (Sally's Story)  Anyway, as a result of her injury, she doesn't spend a lot of time outside, chasing squirrels, etc.  However, once or twice a day she goes out and makes her "rounds" of the farm.  More often than not, you'll see the cat following along behind her on these outings.  This is funny because Sally seems blissfully unaware that she is being tailed.

Misty has carved out a little kingdom for herself on our 5 acre farm.  That's about all the room she needs to be Mistress of the Manor.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Oyster Mushrooms

I've never been mushroom hunting before, largely because I'm terrified that I will misidentify the mushrooms I find and poison myself.  So, it was with a bit of trepidation that I accepted some  wild oyster mushrooms from a friend last week.  I had been reading a lot of posts and seeing pictures of these mushrooms on the Oklahoma Wildcrafting Facebook group page, and the mushrooms that my friend gave me looked just like those.  In addition, he is an experienced gatherer of wild food, so I felt relatively secure I could eat these mushrooms and not die.  Some of them were huge!

First order of business was to trim away the tough neck or stem or whatever it is called. You can see it better when the mushroom is turned over, gill side up.

Here's the mushroom with the neck trimmed away. 

Next, chop the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces.

Then, put the chopped mushrooms into a skillet with some olive oil or butter.  I have a well-used wok that I like to use.  I threw in some chopped garlic too.

 Cook until the mushrooms are tender. 

I have to tell you these were the best mushrooms I have ever eaten!  I had enough for several meals, so I froze some of them.  To freeze them, I cooked them in olive oil and then put them in freezer bags.  However, I understand that you can also dry them.  

After seeing these mushrooms first-hand, I felt confident that I could identify them in the wild.  From what my friend told me,  they grow on dead trees, usually cottonwood or willow trees.  So, I took a walk over to the creek near our house and, sure enough, about half-way up a dead tree that was leaning out over the creek I saw several of them.  Unfortunately, they were not within reach and I was not able to get them.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Deer

We've been feeding the deer during the winter for several years.  This winter is no exception and I want to share a few pictures of our resident deer.  They show up regardless of what the weather is doing or whether it is a holiday (for humans).  Here they were early on Christmas morning.

They are grazing the grass because the corn in the feeder is all gone.   The reason it was gone is not because the deer ate it, but because of this.....

This is the first time we've had escaped cattle come to the feeder.  We aren't even sure who they belong to, but I think whoever it was must have found them because we have not seen them today.  I'm sure they were not happy to be out rounding up their cows on Christmas morning!  

Deer are most active at night, but many days they show up in the early evening, like this group.  They are beautiful animals!

They appear to live in small groups that consist primarily of does and yearlings.  One group lives in the cedar trees in the background.  Another group lives in the woods on our neighbor's property.  When the groups meet, it is not always friendly.  Notice how the doe on the left below is striking out with her hoof at the one on the right, a sure sign of aggression.

The bucks normally separate from the does when they reach a year of age.  Young ones sometimes pair up, like the two below.  The guy on the right is called a "spike" buck because his antlers are not branched.  He is likely to develop branched antlers when he is older, just not this first year.

We caught this pair on camera having a friendly shoving match, practicing for when they are older.

We have one or more older bucks that we see occasionally. Whereas the groups of does come to the feeder almost every night, we don't see these guys every night.

Whenever a buck comes to the feeder while a doe group is there, it causes quite a stir, even if it is one of the young bucks.  The doe group scatters and lets him have the feeder to himself.

We never know what we are going to find on the wildlife camera.  It is like opening a Christmas gift to see what is inside.  Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sumac Spice

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an entry on using soapberries to make a mild detergent.

I learned about soapberries from a Facebook group called Oklahoma Wildcrafting.  Another thing I have learned by keeping up with this group is how to use native sumac seeds to make a kind of spice that has a tangy lemony taste.

There are many varieties of sumac, including Poison Sumac.  You don't want to eat that!  In general, the varieties that have red berries are edible.   The following is a picture of the typical native sumac shrub that grows along the roadsides and in the fields here in Oklahoma.

The spice is made from the seeds that make up the red clusters, like you see above.  Here's one of them.

Here's how to make the spice.  First, remove the seeds from the stem.  This can be quickly accomplished by rubbing the bunch between the palms of your hands over a piece of newspaper.  Then, pick through the seeds and remove any bits of stem and other debris.

Next, put the seeds in a mortar and grind them until the red coating comes off.

It should look something like this.

Pour the mixture into a sifter and shake the bits of red seed coating into a dish.  It is the seed coating that you want for the spice, not the inner seed.

At this point, a lot of the seed coating may be too big to go through the sifter.  So, you can pour it back in the mortar, regrind and re-sifted it again.  Some of the seed coating may stick to the inside of the mortar.  You don't want to waste it, so use a pastry brush to brush this out.

Finally, pour the spice into an empty spice bottle and label it.

I sprinkled the spice on sugar cookies before baking.  This gave them a delicate lemony taste that was delightful.

I found many other recipes for using this spice on the internet.  It appears to be used a lot in Middle Eastern cuisine.

If you are interested in making your own sumac spice, the following Eat the Weeds website is very informative and tells how to make a type of "lemonade" from the berries.