Forty Days and Forty Nights

email preserving the harvestWell, it isn’t quite that bad, but sometimes it makes you wonder if you should start building a boat. Luckily for me, I live at the highest point of the island and the water runs down from here. It is definitely running down. It has been pouring for weeks now and the rainfall for the month is now over five inches. My region of NW Washington usually has an average annual rainfall of approximately seventeen inches A YEAR. We are well on our way to that and we haven’t finished the first month yet.
Yesterday, big, fat, quarter-sized raindrops were falling on my windshield when I went to the post office in the afternoon. One lady I met said she thought she heard thunder, in January? Very odd. Not too many folks were out walking around as it was a drencher. The grocery store parking lot was a river. In some areas, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but in my lifetime, I can remember few occasions where we have had torrential downpours. We are having some almost every day this past couple of months. Usually we are an area of constant drizzle, not downpours. Before I moved to China, there was a period of time where we had had ninety consecutive days of rain. Thought about building a boat then too, but I was moving away.
One fortunate thing about all this precipitation is the building up of the snow pack in the mountains. In our area, this is a very important thing. I don’t mean for the skiers either. Water stored in snow in the mountains provides several cities with their drinking water, but more importantly, it provides a reservoir of water for power turbines and agriculture. It is released slowly to create electricity and grow crops.
I collect water at my farm from the roof of a small woodshed. I have storage for 4000 gallons which is used in the summer to water my large vegetable garden. On the Big Island of Hawaii water is caught for house hold use. The land I own there requires that if I build a house, it must have 500 square feet of catchment for each resident in the household. The catchment area is usually a roof. Homes have large tanks adjacent to them with filters to take out particulates and bacteria. It is the only method of having water in your household unless you have a tanker truck deliver from one of the few wells on the island. Some years they wish they had our rain and most years I would be happy to give it to them. Here on Whidbey I have a neighbor who has caught rain for over thirty years to supply his household. He has a large Sears above-ground swimming pool to store the water. He filters it and uses it in his home for non-edible uses. He uses bottled water for drinking and cooking where the water isn’t boiled. Remember, birdies do it on your roof, so collected water must be purified in order to be safe.
The downside of all this rain is mudslides. We had one very bad experience last winter during the slide at Oso in Washington State. The whole town was almost swept off the map. Many died. It was a terrible thing. We have had similar slides here on Whidbey. When I lived on the beach in Clinton, I walked a mile to the Ferry every morning and home again in the evening. The morning trip was in the dark during the rainiest part of the year. One morning I heard a terrible rumbling. I didn’t know which way to run or if running would put me directly in the path of the mudslide. Luckily it was right behind me. Whoosh! And then a garage and Mercedes Benz inside were crushed. I had to walk home on the beach that night and for several days before the road was opened again.


Just finished Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.  It is a good read and you might like it.  The author’s mentor-professor from college is dying from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and they visit each Tuesday.  Sweet book that addresses life and our purpose and goals and interactions.  Not long and an easy read.  Thought you might like to know about it.  Our local library has copies.


Soup for a Sub-Freezing day and a Birdie’s dinner too

It is still below freezing this January morning. I am trying to think of something warming and yummy to make for lunch after we have been out working on the woodpile. Chopping and stacking wood keeps us warm, but it is nice to come in to soup and biscuits for lunch. It needed to be something that didn’t take a lot of time to make.
Well I have a big pile of winter squashes which are supposed to be Gold Nugget Squash, but turned out to be about eight other kinds of winter squash. Most turned out a golden yellow but they range in size from about six ounces to about four pounds, some look like queen squash, and some look like turban. The turbans don’t have the best flavor, but you can still use them in something if you add a lot of herbs and spices too. We have apples stored from the neighbor’s tree as well which are some unknown variety, but keep pretty well. How about a soup of winter squash with apples and curry? These winter squash to have very tough hides and I have found that I cannot cut them with a knife, very gourd-like. They need to be vented to roast or they will explode due to the pressure of steam building up inside. I actually made a bunch of vent holes in one to roast it and it still exploded. What a mess in the oven. So I took it out to the chopping block in the woodshed and chopped it in half with the ax. Perfect cut, equal halves. Roasted them face down with the seeds in them until tender. Steamed the apples and put both through the Foley food mill till smooth. Added lots of chicken broth, a little cream and some brown rice flour for a thickener. Dried onions and parsley and LOTS of curry powder. Since we had just had turkey, I picked the carcass and put some turkey chunks in it too. Baked up a batch of biscuits and we are still warm.
Now I have these two halves of the squash shell left with the insides scraped out. Not much left in them for the chickens to peck so what could I do with these? I could have served the soup in them, but I didn’t.

bird feeder
I have some drippings in a tin can that I have poured off from cooking. When it is cold, it is hard. What about a little birdseed and some drippings cast into the squash shells, tie on a string and hang it out for the birdies who are really feeling the cold? Well, that is what we did. They are pretty with the bright orange shells. I have two halves so will save the other for when this one is finished. I can’t do this in the summer as the drippings would melt and run out, but there is plenty for the birds to eat in the warmer weather. It is now they really need something, including water. All the birdbaths are frozen, so be sure to remember to put some warm water in the birdbath. I gave the doves warm water yesterday and they promptly bathed in it. That must have been cold when they got out.
Keep warm!

An Over Abundance of Milk

Last night I discovered that I had overbought milk. I had a fresh container in the bottom of the fridge and I had just purchased another, both half gallons. We cannot use that much milk in a reasonable period of time. So…I decided to make some ricotta with one of the containers.
This is really easy and it meant that we could have cheese blintzes for breakfast in the morning. Blintzes are crepes filled with ricotta and a little berry sweet, in this case lingonberry jam. Yum. Roll the crepes around the cheese and jam and bake until warm the whole way through. We topped them with whipping cream and a little dab of jam on the top. What a treat.
To make ricotta heat milk (skim or whole or whatever you want to mix up) to 185 degrees. Pour in vinegar or lemon juice, stir, and watch it separate from the whey. The whey will start to appear as a clear, slightly green water. I had a half gallon of milk and I used about 1/4 cup vinegar. If you don’t start seeing greenish water, then add a little more vinegar. After it has separated, pour into a colander which is lined with cheesecloth. Let rest and drain into a bowl. Draining into the bowl is important because we use the whey as well. More in a minute about that. When it stops dripping, dump the resulting cheese into a container with a lid. You can add salt or cream as you wish. I added a little cream to this batch for the blintzes. Cover and refrigerate.
One wonderful way to eat this ricotta is with honey drizzled over it while it is still warm and sprinkled with cinnamon. Yum. Great with a little granola for breakfast too. It is also great mixed with onions, garlic, roasted red peppers, chopped olives or whatever you like, and spread on crackers. It can also be used to make cheesecakes.
Now the whey. It is a pale yellow and somewhat clear. It makes great borscht, which we like a lot. I use it in place of broth in the recipe. In general it is a good soup base and can be frozen. It also is great to use as the liquid when making bread, which I did later in the afternoon. I made a rye bread with some cornmeal, honey and wheat flour. Great sandwich bread and you have the benefit of the added nutrients in the whey.
If you are really curious about whey, which a lot of home cheesemakers feed to their pigs, read and get all the information you could possibly want. It is also used, I have gathered, for natural ferment starter in pickles, sauerkraut and the like. Better read up on that as I have little knowledge of this.
Well the blintzes were marvelous and the bread made great sandwiches and French toast. I recommend trying it. It is much easier than it seems to make this great cheese.

Who was Penny Peahen?

One of my readers asked about the peacock who had adopted us.  Here is the story.Diamond T Tanker II

About two years ago, we had two peahens (female for peacocks) walk into our yard. Over several weeks before this there had been advertisements about found peafowl. The photos showed seven standing in the middle of a street about a mile from our house. I always assumed these were from that group.
You need to understand that when you purchase peafowl, you don’t really own them. We have others over the years wander through our farm, attach our dachshund, and try to cohabitate with our chickens. The chickens don’t know what to make of this. They are larger birds, the males being the more spectacular, but the females, when on their own have a great beauty as well. Their necks are a pearlescent green mixed with pink and violet. Their bodies are grey, but mixed with a rainbow of color. They have a little crown on their heads that reminds me of princesses from fairy tales. It is tall and has about six to eight feathers that curl outward at the tips.
We have had peafowl cry loud calls from our rooftop twenty feet above the forest floor, sometimes in the middle of the night. Their call can carry for at least a half mile and I assume the lonely, singular animals who have passed through our yard are trying to find their like kind somewhere out there.
When these two peahens came to us about two years ago, they would show up about once a day for a little while and then be gone for the rest of the day. Eventually we saw only one. Either the other one found a mate or some predator captured her. Anyway, we were down to one and I named her Penny. I was happy to see her each day, but didn’t consider her part of my menagerie as she would wander off each day.
Eventually we didn’t see her much at all. Only intermittently and then only about once every three or four days. I was taking the dog for a walk one day and spied her sitting on a nest in the brush. She had been setting on eggs. Apparently she had been with a peacock as one of the eggs hatched and was laying in the orchard driveway. I picked it up and added it to my collection of oddball eggshells. I never saw her baby or babies, and eventually she came out of the brush without them. She stayed and I started to give her a little bread and corn each morning when I fed the chickens.
She stayed for a year. She would sneak in with the chickens to see what delectable scraps they had gotten each morning and would roost high in a fir tree near the henhouse at night. She would always call to me when I went out in the evening to close the henhouse against predators.
One day this past spring I saw her down the road a ways. She came back for feed time but wasn’t in her tree when I went out at dusk. I saw her again further down the road a day or two later, but she wandered off, maybe hearing the call of another some ways away. I hope she found another peafowl as the chickens were not her choice of companions, she was lonely. It was also the time of year when she would probably have liked to raise another brood and she couldn’t do that by herself.
You can’t own a peafowl. People purchase chicks and raise them up, but they always wander off and go on walkabout. They are great at flying and cannot be contained except in cages. If you think you would like to see peafowl walking around your “estate” think again as you cannot own a peacock. They are just visiting before going on walkabout.

Why do Chickens Molt?

Why do chickens choose to molt……IN DECEMBER? I can understand the desire to have a new set of clothes. But why, when I am piling on loads of sweaters and pulling on my long johns, are they taking their clothes (read feathers) off and walking around half naked in sub freezing weather? It is a wonder to me. My husband says because they are busy making eggs during the good weather in order to reproduce. When the weather is bad or cold, the offspring are less likely to survive so they lose their feathers in winter.
Since chickens need protein to both grow new feathers and to make eggs, they cannot do both at once. tells us that molt means
verb (used without object)
1.(of birds, insects, reptiles, etc.) to cast or shed the feathers, skin, or the like, that will be replaced by a new growth.
verb (used with object)
2. to cast or shed (feathers, skin, etc.) in the process of renewal.
3. an act, process, or an instance of molting.
4.something that is dropped in molting.

Actually it is more like teething or a tooth ache, which is something to which we can all probably relate. They feel pretty bad and so would you if you took your clothes off in 20 degree weather. They really don’t want to eat much, which means they are not getting enough protein to do the process quickly and therefore may spend several weeks to a month in this condition.

It certainly seems like a backward concept to me, but who am I to say. I have a dove setting on two eggs right now. She is very tenacious and it will only take 16 days until the babies hatch, but their survival is going to be tricky because it is so cold. They are such feeble little things when they hatch and the mama has to feed them regurgitated food for about a month until they can eat on their own. I would bring them in the house, but the constant feeding schedule is too difficult and doesn’t match my being home to do it. I can see taking the babies to my classes and feeding them every five minutes. My students would find that interesting for about five minutes.
On the subject of molting, I have started culling my closet. I have managed to empty about twenty-five hangers. They will go to the local thrift store which is my favorite place to shop. Hopefully I won’t decide to buy some of them back again. Though I haven’t worn them in some time or they no longer fit, I am loath to part with them. Well we will call it a time to molt for me as well, though I feel badly about it too!