The New Polar North

img_3553I have an idea about global warming.  We are not seeing it so much here in the Puget Sound Basin.  We are having snow this morning, for the third time in a week.  It doesn’t stay long, but it is pretty, but it is also pretty cold.

This winter has been much colder than ones in recent times with temperatures in November/December in the 20s and the remaining since in the 30s with a high in the low 40s.  Usually it is around the mid 40s most of the winter, with rain.  We will have an occasional false spring where it might get up to 60 in January for a day.  We did have one day this January with a Chinook wind that was 58 degrees, but generally, this has been a cold winter.

I have decided that global warming isn’t really global warming, just warming in unusual areas, leaving those of us here in a general cooling spell.  My philosophy is that the poles have shifted and the Arctic and Antarctic are moving toward the area we would consider the equator and the Puget Sound Basin will become the new North Pole! Yes, I know that axis of the earth does shift and very gradually.  But it is beginning to feel like the polar north around here.

This winter we have had more days when it snowed than I can remember since I was a child, back in the dark ages.  But we also had snow for Halloween and Thanksgiving then.  We even had snow on April Fool’s day once.  The lowest temperature we have recorded here at our house was in 1978 at minus 10 degrees.  The pipes froze.  Luckily (?) this winter the lowest was 19 above.  Needless to say the fuchsias in the greenhouse won’t make it this year.

We live in a cabin in the woods, so the temperatures are tempered somewhat around us, cooler in summer and warmer in winter.  This morning it is three degrees warmer here in the woods than out in the open spaces.  We have natural air conditioning, keeping the house at least ten degrees cooler than the open spaces in the summer time.  It is great.

With a cooler winter this year, we are burning a lot more firewood to keep warm.  The woodstove is the primary heat in our house and I have to split and stack it every year.  Fortunately, this year we ordered extra and we still have reserves as we often need to heat until June.

When we had that Chinook day in January, a friend of mine was thinking of going out to plant her potatoes.  Washington’s Birthday is the traditional day to plant pod peas here.  If either of these activities happened, they are not going to make it.  Frozen potato sets do not produce potatoes. I am still looking at the seed catalogues, not having ordered at my usual time in January.  I need to get on my horse and get it done or they won’t be here if we have an early spring (please!).  I usually plant everything in May.  The plants are healthier and the peas come on the same time as those planted in February.

Well, so much for the morning snow gripe.  I am looking forward to a day indoors, painting a painting of an old truck that is in progress.  Hopefully I will have it finished by the end of the day.  Hope your day is one in which you can do something that you love too.

Enjoying the Harvest

img_3498Being an avid vegetable gardener, I was very interested in a program that the local school district is doing to help children learn about food production and preparation.  It looks like it was a great success.  Go to  https://whidbeyschoolgardens.wordpress.com/ to see the results.

We did have a wonderful year for the vegetables.  We have been giving lots to the local foodbank and friends. The tomatoes were especially productive and we have definitely eaten our fill.  We also have several dozen bottles of various tomato products sitting in the root cellar shelves.  The Brussels Sprouts are just ready now as we have just had our first frost (a very late one this year) and now they will be sweeter to eat.  The leeks are wonderful too.  We will have those fresh all winter.

The gold nugget squashes are sitting safe from mice and rats and we can eat those for the entire winter.  They will probably be gone by spring and we must have had about fifty of them.  Gave quite a few away too.  We like these in particular as they are just the right size for two people.  Though I like baked squash, hubbards and their kind are just too big.  I have tried baking them and putting them in the freezer, but it is just too much, so we have settled on the gold nugget.  They are sweet, very yellow and are also suitable for making pies.  I cut them in half and fill with sausage or sausage and cornbread dressing, or just with butter and brown sugar. Yum.

Well the dark days of winter are here and some days I am not sure the sun has even come up.  Today we will have sunrise at 7:48 a.m. and sunset at 4:15 p.m.  Not a very long day, especially when you almost need flashlights during the day.  All the lights are on in the house just to help us stay awake.

I am on my way out to chop firewood again.  With this cold snowy weather, we have burned quite a bit of wood to keep warm.  Now it is time to warm myself working outdoors splitting it.  It is something I have written about previously in this blog and something I do enjoy.

Happy Holidays and keep warm!

 

A Frosty Morn

ringneck-doves

Just came in from feeding the animals.  It is cold again this morning.  It was colder yesterday morning at 22 degrees, which for Western Washington, is cold.  Since we have rather high humidity, the cold is more penetrating.  For those who live in the mid-west, they probably would consider these temps a heat wave. Ha!

Everything is frozen outside, so the first thing I had to do when getting suited up to meet the weather challenges was to fill a large bucket with very hot water.  The doves, the baby chicks and the molting old hens all need to have their waterers unfrozen.  I also filled the birdbaths with warm water as the poor wild birds have no place to drink.

We have one baby dove who is just now fending for himself and I was worried that he might not make it through this cold.  This morning he is huddled in a corner trying to keep warm as his mother has now abandoned him since he can feed himself.  He was fine and jumped right in when the feed was provided.

The ten chicks, which are now two months old, are very hardy, but today I gave them their first cracked corn, which helps warm the chickens from the inside out.  The also got fresh bread, which they chased all over their pen.  The cold doesn’t seem to faze them.

The old hens, however, felt the cold.  Why do they choose to molt just when the weather turns cold.  Molting, as I have mentioned in earlier pieces, is the process of losing all their feathers and growing a new set, which means they are not laying any eggs.  So we are between eggs with old ones molting and new ones too young yet.  I hate buying store eggs.

The plantings in the yard look sad, especially the rhododendrons that lower their leaves as though dead or dying.  This is the way they look in the heat of summer when they are in dire need of water.  I always hate the look of them in this cold.

I know when things thaw that there will be lots of mud because the frost has pushed up around the stones in all the pathways making crunching noises as I walk out to do the chores.

The advantage to all the trouble above is THE SUN IS SHINING. It is a trade off.  If we have sunshine, we have cold weather.  If it is in the 40s then it will rain and be grey.  Yesterday and this morning, we can bask in its warmth and enjoy the vitamins it gives to us, though begrudgingly in winter.  Makes me feel perkier already.  Amazing what a little sunshine can do for your mental health.

Guess I will go for a walk and enjoy it.  Never know how long it will last.

Homemade Biscuit Mix

When we go camping and even at home, I have a batch of homemade biscuit mix in a container in the cupboard.  We have waffles, pancakes, muffins, or biscuits at least a couple of times a week and I found having a mix on hand makes the morning’s chores go more quickly.  My general mix is for the buttermilk variety.  If you want to make the recipe with sweet milk, then leave out the baking soda.

For the batch I make for the RV, I use powdered buttermilk in the mix so all I have to add is water, oil, and for all but the biscuits, eggs.  If you want to make scones, add a little sugar.  If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use a cup of milk with a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice added and let it set for a few minutes before adding.

 

The mix:

6 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon baking soda

2 teaspoons salt

Shake all these together in an air-tight container and you are ready to go.

If you are camping you can add 1 cup powdered buttermilk to the mix, in which case, you just add water for the liquid. Remember buttermilk needs the soda.  Regular sweet milk only needs the baking powder, not the baking soda.

When you are ready to make biscuits, take 2 cups of the mix.  Add 1/4 cup vegetable oil and 1/2 to 3/4 cup buttermilk (if you are using the camping mix, just add waterand oil).  Variations:  You can add grated cheese, herbs, red pepper flakes, bacon bits or whatever inspires.  If you want to make scones, increase the oil to 1/3 c or substitute butter and add 3 tablespoons of sugar.  I like to add white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.  Any nuts are good, try hazelnuts and when you are ready to eat spread with Nutella. Yum!

For waffles or pancakes, use the same proportions as above, but add a little more liquid (about a cup)to achieve the correct consistency.  We like to add nuts to the waffles or bacon bits.  Pancakes can have sliced bananas added (if served with peanut butter, Elvis would be happy).  Ricotta cheese added to pancakes with a goodly amount of lemon zest shavings makes a great pancake, but plain is good too.

For muffins, line the tins with greased muffin papers or just grease the pan.  Mix 2 cups of mix with 1/3 C white or brown sugar, 1/4C vegetable oil, and 1 cup buttermilk mixed with one egg.  I like to add dates, cranberries, craisins, nuts, bacon bits, pieces of dried fruit, blueberries, orange zest, lemon zest, vanilla or almond extract, just about anything.  I sprinkle them with coarse raw sugar and bake at 400 degrees about 15 minutes.  Any of the additions make for great muffins.  Serve with lots of butter and jam.

Hopefully you will find this is a great mix to keep for camping or just making your mornings easier.  You can make almost any recipe you find on a biscuit mix box, but you need to add oil as the commercial stuff has shortening added.  If you add it to your homemade mix, then it needs to be refrigerated.  I usually skip that and add it when I am making breakfast.

Happy baking.

Twice warmed

img_3438

Firewood warms you twice, once when you split it and once when you burn it.

It is that time of year.  Time to get the last minute wood in before the “snow flies.”  It doesn’t really do that here, but it is getting cooler with 47 degrees this morning.  A little sunshine today.  So out to the woodpile to split and stack firewood.  We had it delivered about two months ago, so it has “aged” well and most is fairly dry.  Once the weather got wetter, we covered it so it wouldn’t get soaked.

We have been having fires in the wood cookstove for about three weeks now.  If we don’t fire up one of the fireplaces, it begins to get very damp in the house.  Fall and spring, the in-between-times, we have a problem with damp, especially the fall when I am running the pressure cooker canning day in and day out.

The old Wenkle Wood Cookstove is our main source of heat in the winter.  It has three large stockpots filled with water simmering away on top, which provide heat through the night.  They are still quite warm in the morning, long after the fire has died, and the house is still toasty.

It is the soup time of year too.  With the stove going, we can slow cook almost anything, even a fifteen pound turkey in the oven.  Day before yesterday I made navy bean soup and it was delicious. Soups and slow cooked dishes like ribs, chicken, chili and more, are wonderful on the stove.

It has a warming oven which makes great yogurt and crème fraische.  The end farthest from the flame is good for raising bread and keeping the sourdough starter happy.

Needless to say we use about three cords of wood.  This entails cutting down trees or cutting up blow downs.  Fortunately the last several years no trees have blown down.  I ordered wood from the local woodlot and purchased the necessary three cords.  A cord is thirty-two cubic feet.  It is easy to get cheated, as has happened to us in the past.  Don’t let the woodman deliver at night after dark, you’ll be cheated.

I used to split all the wood with a maul or a wedge.  When I became the old person I am, I purchased a wood splitter that runs off the hydraulics on my Kubota tractor.  Best $175 investment I have ever made.  Now I can split half a cord in the morning, and this was a perfect morning for doing it, sunny, chilly, a great combination so as to not get soaking wet and not to overheat doing the work.  I didn’t split half a cord because I also stacked all I split.  For me stacking is more labor intensive than splitting.  I counted the pieces I have split and we have enough for fifteen very cold days.  Not much in relationship to the three cord pile sitting there, but there is tomorrow with a forecast of no rain.

The County Fair

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Cock of the walk

It isn’t called the county fair any longer.  It is now the Whidbey Island Area Fair.  It is still the same fair, carnival, hotdogs, cotton candy, blue ribbon cows, pigs, sheep, goats, horses.  Lots of folks and lots of things to see including vegetables of all sizes and shapes, beautiful flowers, photography, fine arts, crafts, quilts and needle work.  All kinds of people in all shapes, sizes, and some are multicolored, showing off their body artwork in scantily clad attire. Unfortunately, it rained this last evening of the fair and people were leaving in droves.  The band that was highlighted this evening had a small audience after the rain started.  The food vendors lost almost all their customers and the carnival rides were looking wet and deserted.

We usually go to the fair the first day to see the flowers, and vegetables and fruits before they wilt and shrivel and before the mold starts on the pies and bread.  The goods look attractive and appealing then.  They were beginning to look a little frowsy by today.

Vegetable critters are a hoot.  Kids have a competition making things from various vegetable parts.  We like to see these the first day while these critters are still recognizable as something.  By today, the last day, they are morphing (moldering) into something that was never expected by their creators. Some are pretty interesting after four days without benefit of any refrigeration.

Of course there are the commercial displays with the hawkers trying to lure us to the vegimatic choppers or the synthetic jeweled jewelry that is a cheap price.  The cable TV companies want us to subscribe to their four hundred stations and I just smile.  We haven’t owned a television for almost forty-five years now.  They would have better luck trying to sell me a book.

We saw chariot races in the arena this year, something I don’t remember seeing in the past.  Teams of four semi miniature horses racing flat out against each other.  Kind of breath-taking.  All in good fun and not a battle, just a race.

The greatest animal participation is the horses.  There must be five horse clubs in this jurisdiction and they all come decked out for parades, competitions, races and just judging of the animals.  Lots and lots of ribbons there.

The poultry barn was the usual din.  Roosters crowing constantly were competing with the hens squawking.  The bantam (miniature) roosters crowing voices are several octaves above that of the “heavy” (read large) breeds.  The poor, sleepy rabbits cohabitate in the same barn and don’t speak a word as their breathing and esophageal parts are separate and they have no voice box.  Chickens also make a great deal of dust.  Eggs are judged here as well for consistency of color, size and freshness.  This is one of my favorite barns being a chicken farmer myself.

Well it is the second week in August and at nine tonight the fair will close for this year.  All the folks camping at the fair will go home and resume their real lives with 9 to 5 jobs from which they have taken time off for the festivities at the fair.

As I mentioned it rained.  Most of the days were cool in the 60’s for the most part.  This was good for the animals as they didn’t get over-stressed by heat.  I am not sure that they didn’t get over-stressed by people looking, poking them, giving them things to eat they shouldn’t eat and more, so I think the animals are probably the most grateful to return home to rest until we do it all again next year.

email Pig #1 (caught in the flowers again

Blackberry Season

IMG_3275

 

Yeah! It is blackberry season.  Two weeks earlier than usual and at sunset a couple of nights ago, my husband and I went for a walk and picked enough for breakfast.

I probably should explain, for those of you who don’t live in Western Washington, that we have an abundance of terrible bramble patches that produce blackberries.  We have three kinds and for the most part we consider them a blight.  The state considers them invasive species.

The smallest come in June and early July.  These creep along the ground and have VERY small berries which are a delight to eat and virtually seedless.  However, it will take hours to pick enough for a pie as they are so tiny.  I snack on these while working on the garden.  Beware though, these little ankle-biters can do major damage to your ankles.  Knee high rubber boots are best for wondering where this species grows.  They tend to invade the flower beds and grab at your sleeves and wrists while weeding.  The tiny briars are just about impossible to see for removal.

Generally, in August we are blessed with a larger, seedier berry that is truly the blackberry season.  These giant briar patches can totally encompass a house or outbuilding, automobiles, small children, if they stand still for any period of time.  They can scratch the paint off your car. They are real tigers but worth the effort.  They make great seedless jam and blintzes.

Though these are seedy, they are juicy and fragrant and this is what my husband and I were picking.  Blintzes for breakfast! What a treat. We were in heaven.  I used montrechevre goat cheese (any soft cheese will work like chevre or even cream cheese) with a little sugar, vanilla and orange bitters for the innards.  Wrapped this in a crepe.  Heated until just warm.

I took about a cup and a half of fresh blackberries and added water, cornstarch and sugar.  Simmered until hot and thickened, but not until the berries fell apart. Poured it over the warmed blintzes and we had a superb breakfast.

If you are half asleep in the morning, you can make crepes and keep them at ready in the freezer separated by waxed paper.  Thaw and prepare.

I know, it sounds like a lot of work for a meal most of you don’t eat, but this took fifteen minutes including making the crepes, but not counting the berry picking time.  You may substitute blueberries, strawberries, even rhubarb compote for the blackberries at other times of the year. Enjoy.