Archive | September 2018

Meet Ruby

Meet the newest member of the Phoenix Farm rabbitry, Ruby, a chocolate angora doe.  She was born here on the farm at the end of April.  Although she is not yet six months old, she is the same size as her mother and her fiber coat is lush and long.  The hairs are up to seven inches long!  When this baby is full grown she could well produce hairs to eight or nine inches in length!  Below is Ruby with some of her siblings in June.

Ruby was named by my granddaughters.  I think the name fits perfectly.  She is a gem of a bunny!  Her parentage is mostly French angora with English, German and Giant mixed in.  The ears and face show her ancestry as French angoras tend to have very little long fiber in those areas.  The German and Giant in her contribute to her large size.  Bigger rabbits produce more and longer fiber.

I have just started harvesting her first shedding of fiber.  Our rabbits are hand pulled, a process that does not cause the rabbit any discomfort since only the mature, loose hairs are removed.  When she is done harvesting, her coat will be about two inches long instead of the current six to seven inches.  She feels like a big fluff ball, all fur covering a much smaller bunny body underneath.  The fiber is excellent quality with a superior length, lovely cream color shading to brown and grayish-brown at the tips, with a good crimp.  I know it will spin up into gorgeous yarn!

Ruby shares an over-sized, comfortable cage with her mom, Moonstone.  Frequently they come out to hop around the barn.  Moonstone loves to dig holes!  Mother and child really enjoy being together and I will try to house them in this manner for companionship.  It is harder to keep angoras in groups because the constant rubbing together of their coats creates mats.  They will require more frequent grooming.  It is the least I can do for bunnies who are so generous with their fiber.

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Maine Eats

When people travel, they often like to sample the authentic flavors of the places they visit.  Well, you can’t find a more authentic Maine establishment than Karen’s Hideaway on Rte. 27 in Boothbay.

Conveniently located for tourists right on a main artery to the ocean and all the coast has to offer, don’t blink or you might miss it!  After Shore Hills Campground, keep watch on the left.  Karen’s food trailer is across the road from Adams Pond and parked next to the Maineiac Fresh Seafood shop.  This is where she gets the ingredients for many of her delicious offerings.

We found Karen’s a couple years ago when we were hungry after a long walk on the ocean-side trails that abound on Cape Newagen, also called the Boothbay, Peninsula.  Being an epicurean adventurer, I’m always ready to try a new place to eat.  My husband Tim’s motto is “I can get a hamburger anywhere.”  We were both very pleasantly surprised at the amazing food served up by this humble kitchen.

You know the seafood is going to be super fresh.  It is caught daily and brought over to the lunch wagon from next door.  I ordered the crab melt basket and Tim got the burger basket.  If you ever go to Karen’s don’t make this same mistake unless you are extremely hungry–lost in the woods for a week hungry.  The baskets are served with an overflowing heap of the best french fries around.  They are thick, crispy outside, and soft inside with no trace of oiliness.  I can’t believe we managed to eat all those fries except once you start, you just can’t stop.

Tim’s cheeseburger was comprised of 12 oz of fresh ground beef on a big, soft bun.  He put it all away!  My crab melt was made with two pieces of Texas toast from the grill, stuffed with an obscenely generous amount of fresh crab barely held together with mayo, and topped with melted swiss and American cheese.  When I’m feeling really adventuresome I get the crab melt with bacon, lettuce and tomato, so yummy!  The fries in the photo below are just a small portion of the total provided.

On the side are served a choice of Karen’s pineapple coleslaw ( I usually skip the coleslaw, but not this one, it’s divine!) or her loaded baked potato salad.  I can’t find enough descriptors to do justice to the deliciousness of the spud salad!  It is filled with cheddar cheese and bits of bacon with hints of real baked potato in the skin and sour cream.  Since Tim doesn’t like anything with mayo on it, I get both the sides, yay for me!

You place the order at the window with Karen, a gregarious lady with a ready laugh and sharp Maine wit.  When we told Karen our trip to Boothbay was an anniversary celebration, she confided that she and her husband had been married even longer than our 35 years.  I suspect her husband runs the seafood shop.  Ordering is done from a laminated menu.  Be careful to specify whether or not you want a basket or you will be inundated with fries!  One basket meal provides plenty of fries for two.

While the food cooks, patrons enjoy the authentic Maine atmosphere up back behind the trailer where several tables with umbrellas are arranged in a small clearing in the woods.  A resident chipmunk will keep you company.  Note the proximity of one table to the portable outhouse, dining at its finest for the tough Maine natives who happen by.  The wall of a nearby shed has been painted with a scene from the Boothbay coast, it’s almost like eating right at the shore.  When your number is called, your meals are presented on a tray for ease of transport back to the picnic table.

After such a satisfying repast, we are usually ready to hit one final hike before heading home.  On our last visit we enjoyed a stroll on the Cross River Preserve trails and were rewarded with this view of the Cross River.

Monarch Chrysalises

This morning I was stacking wood from a large pile that was split during the summer. The pile was about five feet high before I started, and fifteen feet wide, at least.  It is made up mostly of oak and apple wood that has aged for a year.  I was just working along, grabbing pieces of firewood and stacking them in neat rows on top of pallets, when I turned over a stick of wood and nearly crushed a monarch butterfly chrysalis.

All summer I’ve been scouring milkweed plants in search of monarch caterpillars, eggs and chrysalises.  I’ve had plenty of luck with finding the caterpillars, but no eggs or pupae.  So I was greatly surprised to find this green case just lying in the woodpile!  Dumb luck saved the insect from destruction.  At any moment the stick of wood could have rolled or been jammed into other hunks of wood.

I checked the chrysalis carefully and found no evidence of damage.  Since the woodpile is not a safe place for baby caterpillars, I wedged the stick of wood in the branches of a crabapple tree.  There the butterfly will be out danger and protected from rain.  Then I returned to stacking wood, thinking what an unusual find I’d just made.

About ten minutes later it happened all over again!  I came much closer to squishing the second chrysalis.  Just a whim of fate lay between life and destruction for the baby caterpillar as I grabbed several sticks of wood and tossed them together to make an armload.  Once again I checked the pupa and found no damage.  So I carried the second over to join its brother in the crabapple.

Both caterpillars chose to pupate in close proximity within the woodpile.  For the rest of the morning I used greater care when moving the wood, especially in that area.  No more monarchs were found.  As I finish stacking the pile, I will be on the lookout for any more silly monarchs!

This species truly has the most beautiful chrysalis.  It really looks like metallic gold dotted around the ends.  Why nature expends energy to create a beautiful exoskeleton for a pupating insect is beyond me.  It must serve some evolutionary advantage or it wouldn’t exist.

The caterpillars in these chrysalises are still in the early stages of metamorphosis.  They need ten to fifteen days to change, depending on the weather.  The warmer it is, the quicker they develop.  Temperatures are forecast for the 60sF-70sF during the day and no cooler than the mid-40sF at night for the next ten days.  The baby insects should be able to grow.  They will need to move out of this region quickly and head south.  The frosts are on the way!

To form the chrysalis, a fully grown caterpillar seeks out a sheltered spot and hangs upside down by its two hind-most legs.  It spins a small anchor of silk to keep it hanging securely.  Then it sheds its skin to reveal the green exoskeleton.  As the butterfly develops, the chrysalis will turn transparent and the lovely colors of the monarch wings will be visible within.  Here is an adult monarch I saw recently in a butterfly garden on Mt. Desert Island.

I’m hoping the insects continue to develop and I’m able to get some photos of the transparent stage and of the emergence of the butterfly.  I’ve read they emerge mid-morning on a warm day.  So, I will keep a close eye on these baby butterflies.

 

Red Pear Jelly

The red pears are ready during the first part of September.  These early organic pears are delicious, fragrant and sweet, but they don’t hold long.  They must be picked when they are still a little crunchy and ripened under close monitoring.  In a couple days they can go from perfect ripeness to all brown on the inside.  The ones that survive my appetite for fresh pears are turned into jelly.

My pear jelly recipe was developed through trial and error and adapted from the apple jelly Sure-Jell recipe.  Pears have a similar pectin content to apples, but they contain more juice and are sweeter.  To make perfect pear jelly, select ripe fruit that is still slightly firm, not gone too mushy.  The skin and cores contain pectin, so they are retained.  The low sugar version of Sure-Jell reduces calories and allows more of the fresh fruit flavor to come out in the finished jelly.

Pear Jelly

4 lbs pears to make 4 cups pear juice

1 cup water

3.5 cups sugar

1 package low-sugar Sure-Jell

Wash pears well, remove stem and blossom end.  Cut the fruit, with the skins and cores, into approx. 1″ cubes.  Place in a large saucepan with the water.  Simmer, covered for 20-30 minutes, until soft.  Mash the fruit, place in a jelly bag or within several layers of cheesecloth and drain off all the juice.  I like to put the juice in a covered pitcher in the fridge overnight so any pulp that makes it through the cloth will settle to the bottom.  Then I pour off the clear juice, leaving the sediment.  You should have 4 cups of juice.  Add up to 1/4 cup water if you are a little short.

Place the juice in a large stock pot that is at least four times the volume of juice to allow for expansion during cooking.  Mix the Sure-Jell with 1/2 cup sugar then add to the juice.  Cook on high, stirring, until the mixture boils.  Add the rest of the sugar all at once.  Continue to stir and return the mixture to a full rolling boil that can not be stirred down.  Boil for one minute.  Remove from heat.  Skim off any foam.  Immediately pack in hot containers.  Process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes.  Cool out of drafts.  Check for a seal before storing.  Makes about 6.5 cups of jelly.  Yum!

Valley Cove, Acadia National Park

The first week of September my husband and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary with our customary trip to Acadia National Park.  We camped overnight and did a lot of walking.  By day two our aging knees wanted a break.  We opted for a nice, easy morning hike.  There are not many easier walks in Acadia than the Fire Road to Valley Cove, a one-half mile path to the ocean.  The valley in the name refers to the space between two small mountains, Flying and St. Sauveur.

The trail is wide, graveled and well maintained.  Yet, it is a quiet and isolated spot, seldom frequented.  Trees push close, providing shade from bright mid-morning sun.  Cicadas and crickets add their high-pitched music to the ripe September day.  A gentle breeze stirs the treetops.  Gulls cry high overhead, blending with the occasional sharp call of a bird-of-prey.  Peregrine falcons nest nearby, although they don’t tend to make much noise.  The park is home to osprey, eagles and various hawks.

The predominant tree species is red spruce.  Several squirrels rustle in the undergrowth collecting spruce cones.  Nuthatches make petulant noises at one another as they scuttle along the tree trunks.  The air is fragranced with the scent of fallen pine needles baking in the sun.  In a few short minutes the end of the trail is near.  A view opens of the sheer face of St. Sauveur, a 679 foot edifice that stands with its toes in the ocean. 

Soon the cove is in sight.  Access to the shore is by a newly constructed bridge and set of stairs.  Trail repair is ongoing in this area.  The loop to access the summit of St. Sauveur from the cove is closed due to trail deterioration.  My hat is off to the workers, many of them volunteers, who haul material and labor mightily to maintain the hiking access at Acadia.

Valley Cove is part of Somes Sound, a deep inlet of the Atlantic Ocean that separates the two sides of Mt. Desert Island.  This beautiful place is on the “quiet side” of Acadia, away from the throngs visiting sights such as Otter Cliffs, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond and the Spring House on the northeast arm of the park.

While the southwest side sees plenty of visitors, we had the cove to ourselves this early fall day.  The ocean is at its warmest now, although the temperature would be considered bracing by many.  The clear water, slate and granite ledge, and coarse sand invite wading.  On a hot day, this would be an excellent spot for a dip in the sea.Gazing northeast, the height of land to the left in the foreground is St. Sauveur, then the flank of Acadia Mountain (681 ft) and on the right side, across Somes Sound, is Norumbega Mountain (852 ft.)  There are over twenty mountains on Mt. Desert, quite a feat for a little over 100 square miles of area!  What we see today are just the stumps, the remainders of much higher mountains that were ground down by glacial ice sheets.  The view to the south is of the side of Flying Mountain.  At 284 feet, it is the smallest peak in Acadia.