Archive | December 2014

New Chainsaw

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Meet my brand new chainsaw!  Stihl MS170, just what I asked Santa to bring me.  Plus I got sawing chaps to protect my legs and anti-vibration gloves.   The 170 is just about the smallest chainsaw Stihl makes.  It weighs around 8 pounds.  I need a small, light saw to prune the large limbs in the orchards, keep up woods trails and trim back small trees and limbs from the edges of fields and from hedges and windbreaks.  Can hardly wait to get to work!  I used to do all that cutting by hand, very hard and tiring.

I’ve used both electric and gas powered chainsaws in the past and just finished reading the owner’s manual.  I also have read Barnacle Parp’s book on how to use a chainsaw, an excellent guide for anyone.  I do believe in safety first and will make every attempt not to saw myself.  Today my husband had a chainsaw mishap.  He managed to get his biggest saw caught in a tree and then the tree dropped on it.  Completely destroyed the saw.  He’s now in the market for a new chainsaw.  Luckily he has a smaller, limbing saw he can use in the meantime, since we have at least a cord of four foot firewood to cut to stove length.  I hope nothing happens to his little saw, or he’ll start looking at mine!

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Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls

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Our favorite breakfast treat for after opening the presents is homemade cinnamon rolls right out of the oven. These are fairly quick and easy, well worth the effort.  You can make them to taste by varying the cinnamon and sugar or adding raisins.  The rolls can also be made the evening before and left to rise in the refrigerator overnight.

Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls

4 cups flour

1 cup warm milk

1 tablespoon rapid rise or bread machine yeast

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use light olive oil)

Combine 2 cups of the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Heat the milk in a glass measuring cup in the microwave about 1.5 minutes until it gives off a little steam and is just a bit too warm to keep a hand on the side, around 130 degrees.  Pour the milk over the flour mix and stir until the dough begins to get tacky.  Add the oil, eggs and another cup of flour.  Stir again until well combined.  Add the last cup of flour while kneading the dough until it is all incorporated.  Knead until soft and elastic.  (I always knead bread in the bowl, similar to using a dough trench.)  Cover the bowl and let it rest in a warm spot for 10 minutes. Turn the dough out on a large sheet of waxed paper.  With a pin, roll the dough into a rectangular shape about 18″ x 12″.

Filling

2 tablespoons melted butter

1/4 to 1/2 cup brown sugar

2 or 3 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Cover the dough with the melted butter.  Sprinkle the entire surface with the brown sugar and cinnamon (and optional raisins.)  Starting at one long end, roll the dough and seal the end.  Using a sharp knife, cut into fifteen 1″ thick slices. Place flat in a greased 9″ x 13″ pan.  Cover and let rise in a warm place for 30 mins. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes until light brown.

Ice the warm rolls with confectioner’s sugar blended with milk to make a thin icing, drizzle over the surface of the buns before cutting.  Serve warm.

These smell so yummy while they bake, a couple rolls with coffee or tea make the perfect holiday breakfast.

Natural Air Freshener

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For several years I’ve been making natural air freshener using essential oils and water.  The aerosol and pump spray air fresheners sold commercially are expensive, wasteful of metals and plastics unless people recycle the empty containers, and are full of strange chemicals that become aerosolized so we breathe them.  Some propellants even use hydrocarbons that give me asthma attacks.

c3My natural air fresheners cost only pennies per bottle and are very effective.  There is a huge selection of essential oils available so I can create an endless variety of scents.  I prefer to use pure essential oil, distilled from plants. Essential oils concentrate the aromatic essences of flowers, bark, leaves, fruit peels, etc, that contain the plants’ familiar fragrances.  Essential oils are often cut by blending with a carrier oil for many purposes such as candle or soap making. A blend of essential and carrier oil is called a fragrance oil. For my air freshener, I use only essential oil.

Making essential oil air freshener is a simple process.  I purchased a few super fine spray mist bottles like people use in making scrapbooks.  These are little pump sprayers that create a mist as fine as a pressurized aerosol spray.  The bottles I have hold 4 oz.  They are the perfect size to fit in the hand for easy pumping.c2  I first pour in a total of 1/8 to 1/4 oz of essential oil.  This is where I get creative with different combinations of oils, if I want.  For this Christmas I’m doing straight cinnamon.  Last year I made one with frankincense and myrrh and another with orange and nutmeg.  Some of my favorite combinations are florals with woods like sandalwood ylang ylang, or herbs and woods such as cedarwood sage, flavors such as vanilla hazelnut and my husband’s favorites that involve burberry or cinnabar.

After the essential oil mix is in the bottle, I add 2 oz of warm water. This leaves room in the bottle for mixing and the warmth helps distribute the oil.  Next is the most important step.  Shake and shake some more until the oil droplets are emulsified and the mixture has turned white (or sometimes pale yellow depending on the color of the oils.)  Then I add more water to fill the bottle.  After a few spritzes to check the potency, the air freshener is ready.  The bottle is always shaken well before each use to evenly distribute the oils.  Now, when I breathe in the freshener, I am only inhaling minute particles of natural plant oils and no industrial chemicals.

I’ve found that certain oils are so thick they will clog the sprayer head if used alone.  Citrus oils like orange and lemon have to be combined with another oil or two so they don’t gum up the works.  It is a good idea to clean the sprayer head occasionally and also give a thorough rinse to the bottle and sprayer when changing scents.

Yule Chocolate Drizzled Caramel Corn

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Happy Yule!  After today the Earth tilts back toward the Sun and our daylight begins to increase.  I so welcome the return of the sun.  To help ward off the depressing darkness and satisfy hibernation cravings for sweet, crunchy prey, I offer Dark Chocolate Drizzled Caramel Popcorn.  The caramel in this recipe is made with dark brown sugar, but paler sugar can be substituted for a lighter result.  Real butter is the secret to the perfect caramel flavor.  There is enough salt in salted butter so it is not necessary to add any more to the recipe.

This homemade drizzled caramel is in response to commercially made products that contain soy lecithin, and other unsavory ingredients like GMOs.  I am allergic to soy, particularly soy lecithin that seems to concentrate the offending soy protein.  Just a little lecithin sets off my allergic reaction of intense itching on my back. Lecithin hides in everything, even chocolate.  I hunted for several minutes through the baking aisle to find dark chocolate chips made without soy lecithin.  Most caramel recipes include corn syrup, a GMO product unless you can find this in non-GMO form (impossible in my area.)  I am on a mission to eliminate GMOs from our diet.  The substitution of honey works perfectly.

Dark Chocolate Drizzled Caramel Popcorn

12 cups popped corn

1/2 cup butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup honey

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 cups dark chocolate baking chips

Heat oven to 200 degrees.  Place popcorn in a very large bowl so there is plenty of room to stir in the coating. In a 3 quart saucepan melt butter, sugar and honey over medium low heat, stir with a whisk periodically to prevent burning.  Bring the mix to a slow boil and simmer five minutes, stirring with a whisk frequently. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and baking soda.  The baking soda may cause some foaming, so be careful.  Stir with the whisk for a minute or so until the caramel has achieved a lighter consistency.

Pour some of the caramel over the popcorn.  Use a large spoon and mix carefully to avoid breaking the corn. Continue adding caramel and stirring until all the caramel is on the corn and the coating is well distributed. Spread the corn on two large oiled cookie sheets and bake for one hour, stirring every 20 minutes to avoid burning.  This baking gives the caramel a crunch.  Remove from the oven.

Melt the chocolate chips either in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring, or in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each interval and taking care not to burn the chocolate.  Using a large spoon, drizzle the chocolate over the warm corn.  Allow to cool completely.  Break into munching-sized portions and store in an airtight container (I lined my containers with waxed paper) for up to two weeks.  Good luck keeping it that long!!  Makes about 24 oz.  This is enough to share some as a Yule gift for your favorite people.

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New Suet Feeder

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Plastic mesh suet bag

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New metal suet feeder

Gray squirrels raided my suet feeders. In the past red squirrels have visited the seed feeders with little trouble. Gray squirrels are a different story.  They are nasty little thieves!

This year I hung two plastic mesh bags of suet out for the woodpeckers so they would stop tearing holes in the cedar shingles on the house.  The suet is very popular and does satiate the birds.  Unfortunately two gray squirrels have moved into the neighborhood.  At first they limited their activity to foraging on the ground for dropped seeds. Then they branched out to hanging off the bird feeders.  At some point they discovered the suet bags.

One morning the bags were there and birds were eating.  Later in the morning both bags were gone.  I found one under the tree, pulled right off its hanging hook.  The other bag the dogs found several yards away buried in the snow.  I hung the bags back up.  The next day they were gone for good.

Then I decided to install a wire suet feeder.  A search of local bird feeder sellers revealed all the suet feeders are shaped and sized for rectangular blocks of pre-formed suet and seed mix that the stores conveniently carry.  These suet blocks are not cheap.  I save money by feeding the voracious birds in our yard with suet I purchase directly from the butcher in 10 pound lots when we get our beef quarter.  The chunks of suet would be hard to fit in the commercial block feeders.

So, I made my own suet feeder out of hardware cloth. The top is left open. After filling the feeder, I pinch the top together and hold it closed with a wire clasp. The feeder is also wired to the branch now so no determined squirrel can steal it. Phew! I got the new feeder up just in time! Woodpeckers were starting to tear at the house after only a few hours without suet. I am now a hostage to angry woodpeckers.

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Woodpecker holes by the front door, a few of the many new holes in our cedar siding.

New Rabbit Quarters

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Gem and Citrine at the new place

 

The angora rabbits have moved to their housing in the new temporary barn.  There was only room for five of the six cages so old grandfather bunny, Jasper, stays in the other barn with the chickens.  There is now plenty of space for him and he is out of the part of the barn in danger of collapse.  I can hardly believe Jasper still lives. He is an ancient rabbit, eight and one-half years old, getting thin and with a small tumor.  The past two winters I thought would be his last, yet he goes on and on and even thrives.

bun1bun3The rabbitry in the temporary barn consists of four does and my young buck, Marble.  They live in fairly large cages, requiring lots of room.  I wish the rabbits could all live in a large community as some rabbit growers keep their animals.

Mostly, community keeping is done with meat rabbits where production of young is encouraged and rabbit lives in general are short.  This arrangement does not seem practical for the high maintenance angora.  The coats would be too easily tangled and soiled by contact with other rabbits and the bedding.  Adult rabbits tend to fight, rearing up to scratch at each others’ faces.  Some nasty injuries can occur.  The buck could not live with the does unless I wanted endless litters of fawns.  Even the does together could be trouble since females often try to mount one another and the act of mounting causes them to ovulate (rabbits are induced ovulators.)  Ovulation without impregnantion can lead to pyrometra, a death sentence for a doe.  So, sadly, my bunnies must spend most of the day in a cage.  I try to get them out for a few hours in separate runs on the ground for exercise and a change of scene.

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Marble, the herd buck

To keep angora rabbits clean, they are best housed in wire cages.  I give mine a piece of untreated pine board to rest on and also for chewing.  The boards quickly become soiled.  I keep a bunch of boards on hand and rotate out the dirty ones for cleaning.  Rabbits like to use one spot for their toilet and if the waste builds at all they sit on top of it and mess their fiber.  So the cages must be cleaned to prevent manure accumulation.  The long fibers that are shed tend to collect on the wire floor, preventing waste from falling through. Cage cleaning is a frequent chore to keep the rabbit’s underside mess free.

Cages are suspended at a comfortable height for the care person.  In the winter I use grain bags to close the sides of the cages when it is cold.  In very cold temperatures, the rabbits are given hay to sleep on.  To protect the walls beneath the cages from urine spray, I use old pieces of plywood.  Rabbits produce thick whitish urine rich in minerals, particularly calcium.  This urine quickly stains a wall white and is difficult to remove.  I keep the cages over a dirt floor, periodically removing the waste piles and sprinkling the floor with lime or stall freshener to keep odors down.  Rabbits require good ventilation without drafts, hence the open ends at the ceiling.  For a grooming table, I set up a temporary spot using a transport cage and a piece of plywood. Angora rabbit coats need frequent brushing and spraying with compressed air for clean, matt-free maintenance.

The bunnies seem happy in their new spot, no complaints voiced, anyway.  They are active, eating well.  The new area is warmer than their last two homes, better protected from direct outside blasts of winter.  They appear content and I guess that’s the best I can hope to achieve.

Filling The Freezer

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Today I brought home our order of one-quarter of a beef animal to fill our deep freeze for the winter.  We have a medium sized freezer, perfect for my husband and me.  It holds a year’s worth of beef along with fruits and vegetables I gather during the summer and great deals I happen to find at the grocery store.

I once raised all our beef here on the farm.  For many years I would purchase a newborn jersey bull calf, grow him for eighteen months then take him to the slaughterhouse.  It’s been ten years since I raised a baby calf. Once an old dairy veterinarian told me I was a miracle worker to grow a baby jersey by hand.  Apparently, they succumb easily to scours.  I never had a problem and raised many.  My secret to healthy baby calves was to purchase a gallon of colostrum milk from the dairy when I got the calf.  The first feeding would be just that milk.  The next feeding would be three-quarters milk and one-quarter milk replacer.  Then down to half and half, then one quarter milk and the rest replacer until the milk was gone.  The abrupt change to milk replacer is what shocks the calf’s system and causes problems.

And oh, the joys of teaching a tiny bull calf to drink from a bucket.  They are hungry little critters, eager and impatient for their food.  If they can’t get food fast enough they butt their heads very hard and can send the milk bucket flying.  Nature gives calves a strong nursing reflex, but I want them to learn to drink from a bucket.  Much easier than dealing with big calf bottles and nipples.  So the first few feedings until the little one gets the hang of the bucket can be a real challenge.

The milk is warm to appeal to the baby.  I restrain the tiny calf between my knees, let it get to sucking on my finger, then slowly lower my finger into the bucket.  If all goes well and the calf has a few brains, soon the baby learns to suck the milk from the bucket without the finger.  Some calves are much faster learners than others.  After a month, grain, hay and grazing are added to the baby’s diet until by about six months the calf can be weaned off the expensive milk replacer.

The joys of being covered with milk, sweat ( baby calves are usually started in the late spring when the weather is quite warm) and calf smell are now a thing of the past for me.  As are putting up an additional one hundred bales of hay to see the beefer through the winter, buying and hauling bags of cow grain and shoveling cow manure.  Other things I do not miss are placing elastrator bands to steer the little bull and applying caustic paste to their tiny horn buds to dehorn them.  The necessity of both these operations cannot be stressed enough, yet they were always a struggle. The steer also needs to have good pasture during the summer and a nice little shelter with attached paddock for exercise.  I always taught my beef animals to lead and would stake them out on long ropes in good grazing each day then bring them into their paddock for the evening.

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My last beef steer, Sirloin, Fall 2004.

At slaughter time it was often hard to say good bye.  I always gave my steers names like Ground Round, or Porterhouse , or the last one:  Sirloin, to make the parting a little easier for me.  Some I was glad to load in the wagon and haul to the slaughterhouse because young steers are very energetic and constantly searching for ways to break out of the fence to get into the garden.  The slaughterhouse would cut, wrap and freeze the meat usually in trade for half the carcass.  This yielded us 300-400 pounds of meat, enough to get through until the next steer was ready for the freezer.

After many years of this beef calf circus, I figured out that we could get grass fed, free range, all natural beef locally for about the same cost as raising a steer.  And, with a lot less effort on my part.  The growers don’t use hormones or excessive antibiotics.   The animals have good lives with other cattle and lots of pasture. They are not jammed into stinking feed lots where they stand in liquid waste and are stuffed with corn to “finish” them before slaughter, as are most of the cattle used to produce the meat on grocery shelves.

In the past ten years I’ve found several people here in Maine who raise a few grass-fed beef animals every year and sell a whole steer, a half or a quarter.  You place your order with the grower and when fall slaughter comes you get a call to tell the butcher what cuts you want, when to pick up the blast-frozen, packaged meat and how much to pay.  The last three years we’ve used a grower very nearby, we can even drive to his house and watch our steaks growing.  The price after all the expenses is about $5-$6 per pound for delicious, tender, high quality ribeye, tenderloin, NY sirloin, ground round hamburg, and excellent roasts.  This year our beef critter was an angus cross.  We’ll be sampling him soon.  And I did not have to teach him how to drink from a bucket or chase him out of my corn patch!