Thursday, December 27, 2012

Merry Christmas Tree and Luminaries

We spent a quiet Christmas here at home, just Tom and me.  We will be celebrating with our kids and grandkids this weekend.  So, I wanted to take a few minutes to update the blog before everyone gets here and the excitement and fun begins!

When I was a little girl growing up in southern Arkansas, I would go with my Daddy and we'd tromp off through the woods in the rural area where we lived to cut a cedar tree for Christmas.  Looking back on it, I'm sure I must have taxed his patience while trying to decide exactly which tree I wanted.  Cedar trees were plenteous and we could usually find a nicely shaped one. 

Alas, though, we gave up that custom many years ago and started buying our Christmas trees from one of the local stores that carry them.  I recall one year when it was very hectic and none of the kids were going to be home that we neglected to go buy one until the weekend before Christmas.  Do you know if you wait that late to get a tree, you can find some great deals!  I can't remember exactly how much the tree cost us that year, but it was a heck of a deal!  Granted it was not at the peak of freshness, but it had a good shape and was pretty once we got it decorated.

The last few years we have gone to various Christmas tree farms in the surrounding area to get our tree.  This year we went to "Santa's Forest" near Ponca City, OK.  It was a fun experience.  There was hot apple cider and hot chocolate to drink and we greatly enjoyed visiting with the owners.  The tree turned out lovely after it was decorated.

Also, this year for the first time, I made "luminaries" for our front porch.  Here is a picture of them.

All you need to make these are some white paper bags, sand and votive candles.  Put about half an inch to an inch of sand in the bottom of the sack.  Light a votive candle and carefully place it in the middle of the bag.  Oddly enough, the bags do not catch on fire.  I lit the luminaries for 4 nights before Christmas, ending on Christmas Eve, for about 3-4 hours each night.  I had to replace the candles once.  

The luminaries were beautiful, soft and peaceful, and evoked a quiet joy in my soul.  We've never been ones to decorate much outside at Christmas time.  But, this is definitely a tradition that I plan to continue.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Rabbit Hole

We have  a French drain across the driveway into our shop building.  It terminates a foot or so from the fence.  Several times this fall I noticed some critter had piled up dirt in front of the opening to the drain.   Each time, I got the shovel and cleared away the dirt so the drain wouldn't backup should it rain.  

We have gophers and I suspected they were the culprits.  I've heard that traps rarely work and I refuse to use poison.  So, we've just tolerated them and try to get along with them.

One day, I noticed the dirt piled up in front of the drain and went to get the shovel.  However, I got distracted and forgot about it.  The next day I noticed the dirt had all been cleared away.  I figured Tom had done it and later told him I appreciated his taking the initiative to clean out the drain.  He looked at me rather strangely and said he had not cleaned it out!

Okay, so I had to know what was going on out there and set up the wildlife camera to record the activities around the drain opening.  Here's what it revealed.

It appears our friendly neighborhood rabbit did not appreciate the gophers piling dirt in his front door either.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Gray Ghost

A few weeks ago I wrote an entry about a little gray and white cat that we have been feeding and trying to make friends with.

I am happy to report that we were finally able to catch her.  Yes, I said "her".   Tom was right about her gender and he decided to name her Misty.   We took her to the vet to get her vaccinated and spayed.  Then, Tom kept her out in the garage for a few days afterwards.  She was still quite skittish, so I suggested we bring her into the house and keep her for a while to help her become better acquainted with us.

This worked out well.  She liked being petted and seemed to gain trust in us.  We eventually decided it was safe to let her outside.  So, we let her out early one morning, but kept her food inside the house.  She appeared to relish her freedom and disappeared into the weeds and bushes across the fence, but she was at the door again that evening.  Upon being let in, she high-tailed it up the stairs to the guest bathroom where her food was located.

We have kept to this routine and she has adjusted well.  Here is a picture of her being an indoor cat.

We want to keep her inside at night because there are too many dangers lurking after dark for a little kitty, like her, to be out.  Coyotes, foxes, bobcats and even owls will prey on cats.  So, for her own safety, we keep her inside at night.  Now, this is against her will, you understand.  She would much rather be out there in the dark herself.  In fact, if you are not careful when you open an outside door, she will slip out before you know it.  For this reason, Tom has taken to calling her the "Gray Ghost".  Fortunately, the times when she has escaped the confines of the house at night, we've been able to catch her or entice her back inside with food.  

Also, my allergies seem to be tolerating her presence very well.  Perhaps this is because she does not come in our bedroom, but prefers to stay in the living room or upstairs near her food bowl.  At any rate, "so far, so good" and I am enjoying having a cat around the place again.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chicken Feathers

One doesn't normally think of chickens are "pretty" birds.   When you think of pretty birds, ones like bluebirds, cardinals and robins come to mind.  However, I realized one day while I was watching our chickens that they are just as pretty as these other birds.  You just have to look closely to see their beauty.   I took some pictures to show you what I mean.

Here we have some neck feathers. 

More neck feathers.  This one would not hold still to have her picture made.  I finally had to grab her.

Tail feathers.

Rump feathers.

Covering their body, chickens have a layer of small, fluffy feathers that lie underneath the outer feathers.  These are called "down" and help to keep them warm.

On the underneath of their bodies, the feathers are so fine that they look almost like hair!

So, the next time you see a chicken, be sure to take a close look at it.  You may be surprised at how pretty they actually are.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How to Make Sauerkraut

During the summer, I wrote a blog entry about the "country wine" that I made from peaches.

This endeavor was inspired by a book that I purchased titled "The Art of Fermentation".  The country wine was just one example of fermentation that is described in the book.  Next to wine and other fermented beverages, foods such as pickles are probably next on the list of the most widely known fermented foods.

Many people do not realize that sauerkraut also falls on the list of foods that are fermented.  In fact, the aforementioned book covers making sauerkraut as well and it is quite easy, so I decided to try it. 

The biggest challenge was finding a suitable container to hold the sauerkraut while it sits quietly and ferments.  I happened to have a large glass jar that I bought one time to use as a terrarium.  I don't remember how the terrarium turned out or why I dumped it out.  But, suffice it to say that I broke the lid at one point and it sat in a closet for years.  When we moved to this house,  I took a lot of stuff to the non-profit resale shops and gave other things away.  So, I  wasn't real sure it had made the move with us.  But, after a search, I was rewarded by finding it on a shelf in one of the upstairs bedroom closets!

I bought the largest head of cabbage that I could find (4 pounds) at Consumer's IGA.  Removed the outer leaves and cut it into shreds, like this.

I had to do this in several batches.  As I finished each batch I added it to the jar and sprinkled it with salt.

You can use any kind of UN-iodized salt.  I used sea salt.  The recipe called for 3 tablespoons of salt for each 5 pounds of cabbage.  I used 7 teaspoons for the 4 pounds of cabbage that I had.  It does not have to be exact.  After each layer of cabbage and salt, I took a wooden spoon and tamped it down tightly.  This is supposed to bruise the cabbage and help draw out the juice.

After the cabbage and salt were in the jar, I found a small plate that would fit through the jar opening to place on top of the cabbage.

And then weighted it down with a heavy object.  This needs to be a glass jar filled with water or other non-reactive material.  

Finally, it has to be covered with cheese cloth or a kitchen towel to keep out insects and dust.

The recipe says to remove the cover and tamp it down several times during the next 24 hours.  This should help draw the juice out of the cabbage.  The goal is to have the cabbage submerged completely in brine.  If, after 24 hours, this has not happened, then you should add salt water to the container until it covers the cabbage.  The salt water should be mixed at the rate of 1 teaspoon per cup.  I had to add a couple of cups of salt water.

As the fermentation proceeds, scum will develop on the surface of the liquid.  You can skim this off every now and then.  But, don't worry about the sauerkraut.  As long as it is submerged under the brine, it will be fine.  Fermentation length will depend upon the temperature of the room.  You can taste it occasionally to determine when you want to eat it.

More details can be found at the following website.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Winter Bouquet

Tom surprised me yesterday with a bouquet of flowers.  Here they are.

He picked these flowers from the garden.  So what kind of plant flowers in December??!!  Well, if you look at the following blog entry that I wrote about this time last year, you will see.

Right!  These are mustard flowers.  However, they are not the "Mighty Mustard" that I wrote about then, but a type of mustard green that is suitable for cooking and eating.

To be honest, I have not cooked any mustard greens this year.  I got hooked on Collard greens a few weeks ago and have been cooking those every chance I get.  We have sold a few bunches of mustard greens at the farmers' market this fall, but they are not hugely popular.  However, I've become convinced that they are worth planting just to have fresh flowers this time of year!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fresh Greens in Hoophouse

In September, I wrote a blog entry about Tom cleaning out our hoophouse and letting the chickens in there to help clean up the weeds.

After this was written, he planted lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, kale and arugula in there.  At this point he had to bar the chickens from the hoophouse because he discovered (the hard way) that they love to scratch around in newly tilled ground!

That was about 3 months ago and this is what the hoophouse looks like inside now.

Hoophouses are generally unheated and crops are planted in the ground inside them.  They are also called "high tunnels" and there is lots of information available about them on the internet.  Here is one good site:

It has been so warm this fall that the greens are growing quickly and we have a lot of them.  However, as we get on into the winter, they will slow down a bit.  But, for the time being, we are enjoying the bounty and sharing it with our farmers' market customers at our local winter market.  We are fortunate to have a nice, warm indoor location for our winter market courtesy of Northern Oklahoma College here in Stillwater.