Archive | October 2013

Horseback Riding

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After the hay is cut, the large, open field is irresistible to rider and horse alike. My 24 year old mare, Vista, loves to race around, wind in her face, no fences in the way. Holly always joins us. This particular afternoon’s impromptu ride is without helmet, the first time I’ve forgotten my riding helmet in over two decades. Not sure what happened.
I ride my horses bitless, with Dr. Cook bridles. They both love the bridle and respond well. No more head tossing from Vista, as she did with all the various bits I tried, even the hackamore. My younger mare, Maddie, has never felt a bit. Usually, I take Vista out bareback. She is a calm, predictable animal, trained by me since she was 10 months old. I don’t worry about being unseated. Her old back appreciates not having to carry the weight of a saddle.
This day as we played on the second crop grass, my husband crept up and took a few shots before we spotted him. Then we posed. Vista is still beautiful, 3/4 Saddlebred, with the most comfortable riding gaits. We have had many great years together.a4

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Autumn Muffins

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I just invented a recipe for delicious, good-for-you muffins, feel free to use it, but if you share with others, please give me credit. I call these Autumn Muffins because I invented them in autumn and they are just right for a cool, sunny morning breakfast. This recipe will make 12 large muffins-3.5″ diameter, or 24 regular muffins. I don’t care for the taste of full bran muffins, which is what inspired me to create this recipe that incorporates bran in to a more traditional muffin base.

Autumn Muffins

1 cup Kelloggs All Bran cereal                                                                          a2
1 cup milk
4 eggs
1 cup oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup Splenda
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup craisins (cranberry raisins)
3/4 cup golden raisins

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Place cereal in large mixing bowl.  Add milk, let sit for 5 minutes to soften.  Add beaten eggs and oil,  mix.  Add sugar and Splenda, mix.  Add flours, baking powder and salt.  Mix to blend, do not over work.  Fold in dried fruit.  Fill cups of oiled muffin tins 2/3 full of batter.  Bake 20-25 mins until done.

a1When I cook, I use light olive oil, the kind designed for baking. We use 1.5% fat milk. I like to substitute a little Splenda to cut the sugar calories, not enough so you can taste it. The eggs are farm fresh free-range, of course. I like white whole wheat flour for most baking because you get the bran without the heaviness. I use Salt-Sense low sodium salt, never notice any difference in taste. Our grocery store has an all-natural and organic section where I buy non-GMO flour.

Any fruit can be added to the batter, fresh, dried or frozen.  I also like to add sunflower seeds sometimes.

Sterling Silver Spoon Earrings

ear1The designs on the handles of some flatware patterns are so gorgeous that they make nice jewelry. Especially old solid sterling silver flatware. I have a ring made from a Towle sterling spoon handle. The cost to purchase these finished pieces can get prohibitive, if you can actually find a style in the pattern you like.

I fell in love with the Kirk Stieff Repousse sterling pattern from 1924.  The design varies by the piece with the demitasse spoon handle being my favorite.  Stieff sterling flatware is heavy and finely detailed, perfect for jewelry.  I was lucky enough to find two demitasse spoons on eBay for a very reasonable price.  They were both engraved on the backs of the handles and were given as souvenirs for National Accountant’s conferences in 1949 and 1951.  Because of the engraving, I got these spoons for less than half of their value.  For $10 a jeweler removed the engraving.

One spoon didn’t have the pretty dark patina in the crevasses that sets off the detail of the repousse.  So I zapped a broken egg in the microwave and put the spoon in a sealed container with the hot egg for about an hour.  Don’t let the egg touch the silver, just allow the egg and spoon to share the same air. The sulfur in the egg causes the silver to tarnish.  A quick polish and rinse and the spoon was perfect.

I used tin snips to remove the handles from the bowls of the spoons, then cut the handles again to make a length of 1.25″.  I smoothed the cut ends with fine metal files and finished them with my nail file and ultra fine sand paper.  Very smooth edges.  Then I used a fine diamond bit in my Dremel and drilled a hole for the wires.  I got a bunch of sterling french earring wires on Etsy for very little cost. Used my set of jeweler’s pliers my loving husband gave me to put the handles on the wires. Voila! Lovely sterling earrings for less than $40.  Try even finding these for sale anywhere.

I still have the rest of the handles to use to make something.  Maybe I’ll try a bracelet next.  And the bowls can be hammered flat and used in a windchime or sold as sterling scrap.  The photos really don’t do these earrings justice, they are shiny and gorgeous.ear2  My new favorite earrings!

The Morning Ritual

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Those who drink coffee will understand the importance of the morning ritual. Just the smell of the freshly-ground brewing coffee is enough to wake up the brain cells. Probably I drink more coffee than I should, three to four large cups per day. And it must be consumed before 3 pm or the caffeine will keep me awake at night. My mind won’t shut off when it’s time to sleep.

Sourcing coffee responsibly is important to a conservationist like me who consumes more than her share of the beans.  Above all, the environmental impact of the habit must be considered.  The beans have to be grown organically.  The coffee shrubs need to be shade grown, cultivated beneath the existing forest canopy to preserve the habitat of migratory birds who live in Central America during the winter months.  Coffee should be sourced as close as possible to me, to cut the transportation (CO2 emission) costs.   Since I live in Maine (not a coffee growing area), I prefer to drink Mexican coffee, the closest natural source.  Then the humanitarian considerations:  my coffee has to be Fair Trade, produced and sold by co-ops of local farmers, not by mega-corporations bent on profit no matter who suffers.   When these concerns are met, then I consider taste.

Much of the coffee Americans consume is of a lower grade than what is sold to more discerning markets, such as Europeans.  Our coffee can taste bitter because the cheaper beans are not properly sorted for size prior to roasting.  The smaller ones burn, causing the bitterness.  To get the smooth taste I love, my coffee has to be European grade.  The flavor of mountain grown beans also seems cleaner and sweeter to me.

So, I buy organic, shade-grown, mountain grown, Mexican fair trade coffee.  Finding this commodity at a reasonable price is a challenge.  Cafe Mam in Eugene, Oregon has this holy grail of coffee in bulk packs.  Heaven.

My husband and I both love our morning cup and are pretty particular about the flavor.   Fresh roasted seems to improve the savor and fragrance over beans that have sat in small bags for weeks after being roasted.  We like a medium roast, for the best taste and higher caffeine content, blended with a darker roast for color.  Our favorite right now is Cafe Mam Mocho (pronounced mo-cho) blend.  YUM!  Fresh ground coffee has a certain sparkle to the flavor that is lost when the ground beans are held for extended periods.  Early on in life (before enlightenment) we used pre-ground coffee.  When friends gave us a grind and brew coffee maker, the difference in taste was startlingly obvious.  I suppose if we roasted our own coffee we’d be purists, but who can be perfect?

With the price per pound around $10, we want our coffee to last as long as possible.  We get the lowest price by purchasing our whole beans in five pound bags.  The beans are roasted just prior to shipment from Oregon and arrive in Maine usually within two days via Priority Mail.  We store the beans in several layers of plastic bags in the freezer, taking out just a pound or so at a time.  This we store in a sealed can in the fridge.  I’ve heard keeping the beans in the freezer instead of the refrigerator is preferable, but we haven’t noticed a difference.

The grind and brew machine was made to produce a medium grind.  It seemed to me that a lot of the bean was wasted with this grind, the chunks being thrown out were quite large.  So I purchased a ceramic-bitted hand grinder.  Automatic knife or even some burr grinders can get too hot and singe the coffee as it is ground.  I set the grind to extra fine, espresso or nearly Turkish grind.  The result is ground coffee the consistency of coarse confectioners sugar.  I bought a fairly cheap drip coffee maker and use a fine mesh gold permanent basket, not paper filters.  We have been able to reduce our bean consumption by at least half over the grind and brew machine method.  We get twice as much coffee drinking for our money.  Very exciting!coffee1

To my taste buds, the absolute best coffee is not made with a drip machine.  When we go camping, we make our morning cups with a Melitta hand brewer.  The grounds go in a funnel-shaped top that sets on the carafe.  Boiling hot water (heated on the camp stove) is slowly poured over the grounds and the coffee drips down into the carafe.  Maybe it’s the luxury of fresh, hot coffee after a night spent sleeping on the ground in a tent, but this brew is so delicious I go camping partly for the coffee.

Our particular method of making coffee has spoiled us for most commercially served brews.  We go out to breakfast and moan about how completely awful the coffee tastes.  Even the freshly brewed stuff the waitress brings around.  My husband often won’t even drink the stuff.  Since I’m addicted to caffeine, I’m not too particular when I’m desperate.  Just add more Splenda and creamer to dilute the burned, bitter tang.  If only everyone knew how great coffee can taste if done right.

Really Warm October

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We have been having such a warm fall.  Usually by now we would have gotten a few killing frosts, but no.  The grass is still growing joyfully.  The sunflower is blooming and even the little moss roses in the planters are thriving.  They are so sensitive to the cold that usually the first night below 30 does them in.  There is no hard frost in the near future, either.

While I can’t complain about warm weather, it is troubling.  Doesn’t feel right.  The deciduous trees notice the weather is wrong.  Their colors are muted.  Many trees didn’t even develop nice autumn shades.  Their leaves went from green to a drab, anti-climactic brown and dropped from the branches.  These subtle changes:  extended growing seasons, too much summer rain, storms with rain instead of snow, have been creeping up on us for a couple decades.  Just as the water level in the ocean creeps up, nearly unnoticeable until a hurricane demonstrates how much more water is available to throw inland.

If no one else notes the changes to the weather patterns, the farmers see it.  And it makes us nervous.  Unsettled that something we could always anticipate and predict has suddenly swung wildly out of control.  While no farmer could ever control the weather, most learned early how to read it and adjust to the patterns so crops would continue to grow and be harvested and livestock thrive.  Now we are left guessing and struggling to keep up with the surprises.

This farmer does not like the weather changes that humans seem to have caused, nor trust the thought that humans will act to stop what we have wrought.

Free Range Chickens–Little Dinosaurs

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Here are a few of the young hens free ranging on the farm.  These have come into the door yard and are looking in the window at me.  All five Ameraucana pullets were hatched in early May and are five months old.  They should start laying within the next two months.  The chickens run all over the immediate area of the barn yard.  One of their favorite stops is to eat the drops under the apple trees in the orchard.  Here are a couple shots of several more youngsters hatched in late June.  They are picking at apples.  chick1At the moment there are 29 chickens free ranging.  Sometimes we have 80 or more birds running loose on the farm.  That’s when we need to be hyper vigilant for predators.

Allowing unlimited exercise and access to the foods chickens really want to eat helps develop very healthy, strong birds who produce delicious free range eggs for us.  This time of year when the year-old hens are molting and don’t lay well, and the pullets have not yet begun laying, eggs are in short supply.  My customers complain bitterly about having to buy store eggs. They call them bland, tasteless, stale, pale and anemic.  Which they are.  Even eggs touted as cage-free or all vegetarian do not compare with free range eggs.  That is because the birds are still confined and can’t exercise or eat as they wish.  Chickens are not vegetarians, they are omnivores. They love fruits, vegetables, grains, grasses, legumes, insects, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, eggs, worms and anything else that they can get. Their bright, beady eyes don’t miss a thing and they are very intelligent animals who know how to fend for themselves.

chick2 I think observing chickens has given me insights into the lives and behavior of the birds’ ancient relatives, the dinosaurs.  The structure of their bodies, the way they carry themselves, their habits and methods of producing sounds all hint at what dinosaurs were like.  Especially dinosaurs of the theropod suborder that scientists believe gave rise to birds.  Give chickens long jaws with teeth and soft, downy feathers and they would appear very much like dinosaurs.  Scientists have even discovered a supressed gene present in birds that if expressed would cause development of toothed jaws rather than beaks.  Pretty strong evidence of bird origin. Watching my little prehistoric-like critters is one of the special perks of farm life.

Indian Corn Harvest

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Every year I grow Indian corn, also called decorative or flint corn. A starchy variety, Indian corn is not for eating fresh. It can be dried and used to decorate, or can be ground into corn meal or popped. The colorful kernels make very interesting popcorn. Sometimes I will place an ear of corn in the microwave and the kernels will pop right on the ear. Popped corn on the cob!
The corn harvest is nearly over, only a few late ears still ripening. The ears are ready to cut from the stalks when the husks turn dry and papery. Decorative corn comes in many colors. The basic shades are white, blue, red and yellow. Many color combinations form as the plants cross-pollinate. Amazing mixes of colors and the beautiful effects of sunbursts on a cob make opening each ear like a treasure hunt.

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This corn takes at least 100 days to mature and must be planted by late May. The stalks are either green or red.  Deep burgundy red corn ripens first, blue corn is last to be ready.  Corn should be planted in blocks of rows for adequate pollination. The stalks grow to 8 or 9 feet tall and are susceptible to heavy winds. To encourage root formation and help stabilize the plants, during the early summer when the corn is about 3 feet tall, I hoe along each row to form a mound around the base of the plants. The corn will grow a second series of roots in this mound and will be able to withstand near hurricane force gales.
At harvest time, I remove the ears, open them and allow them to air dry for several days. The stalks I gather into bunches with baling twine and use to decorate around my house. I leave some of the smaller ears of corn on the plants for the chipmunks and squirrels to enjoy.corn3