Here’s to Your Health!

Here’s to Your Health!

 

Recently I mentioned homemade yogurt and how much I am enjoying making that from local-sourced raw milk.  One popular add-in for yogurt is granola, and thanks to my friend Karen N., I can now make that myself, too!  Top off that combination with some apple butter, or a handful of blueberries, and you’ve got a great way to start the day that is as healthy as it is pleasing to your palate.

Here’s the recipe I used this evening:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2 cups chopped nuts (I used 2/3 cup each of pecans, almonds & cashews)

1 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. cinnamon

a dash each of ground nutmeg and ground cloves

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

       Place all these dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir well to mix and break up the brown sugar.

       Then combine these in a measuring cup:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 Tbsp. honey

1-2 Tbsp. maple syrup

1 tsp. vanilla

     Drizzle these mixed liquids over the dry stuff, then stir & turn to coat.  Pour the granola onto a large cookie sheet with sides, and pack it down with a spoon or spatula.  Bake 10 minutes, remove the sheet, and use a pancake turner to flip the mix over in sections; pack it down again and return to the oven for another 10-12 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool just a few minutes before removing from the pan.  Store in an airtight container.

This recipe is not exactly like the one from Karen, but I think it’s close.  The neat thing about granola is that you can adjust the taste to suit your own liking.  Don’t like cinnamon?  Leave it out, or decrease the amount.  You can even add dried fruits after it’s baked, such as raisins or chopped dates.  The possibilities are endless.  But you’ll know what’s in there, and it’ll be fresh and really, really good, with very little effort.

Wishing you good health and much happiness in the New Year.  Enjoy!

Hibernation

Hibernation

Turtles are a common sight on the country roads around here during the summer.  In fact, one of the ways I discern the bona-fide Arrival of Spring is when the box turtles start their meanderings.  In late June, I spotted this one while traveling a gravel road on the county line, and had to stop and take his (?) photo.  I put a question mark there, because my abilities in identifying terrapins by gender is 100% nil, and this large example literally clammed up upon my approach.

There are more than a dozen types of turtles native to Missouri, including a few snappers, some water-lovers, and several different kinds of box turtles.  Children often beg to be allowed to bring home and keep these last varieties as pets, which seldom bodes well for the turtle.  My eldest grandchild (as a three-year-old) once gave us the silent treatment for all of an hour after I responded in the negative to such a request, and that was back in the day when she spoke practically non-stop!  The Department of Conservation website has an online Field Guide that provides detailed descriptions and photos.  The turtles are shown in the same category as the frogs, toads, and lizards–which don’t bother me in the least–but also with the snakes, which do.  Gives me the willies just to see them on the screen.

What struck me as unique about this particular turtle was his size.  I picked him up for a closer examination, momentarily forgetting to hold him head-up and at arm’s length, lest he have the pee scared out of him by this treatment.  Alas, I was quickly reminded.  After the Deluge, so to speak (big turtles evidently have big bladders), I was able to get a look at his lower shell, which was yellow with brown markings, and much prettier than the top part of his case.  Since I was alone, however, it wasn’t possible to get a photo of that, as it goes against my moral code to lay a turtle upside down, even temporarily.  Poor guy had been frightened enough already.

Before leaving him to his business and getting on about my own, though, I did snap a picture of him from above, with my sunglasses nearby for comparison of size (see below).  Impressive specimen, isn’t he?

This morning there was frost on the grass here, and in the coming weeks that will become more and more frequent.  Mr. Turtell  will undoubtedly be finding a place to hibernate for the winter.  And with the first blanket of snow or glaze of ice that covers the roads, I’ll be wishing I could do likewise.  Wake me when it’s Spring again!

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Pluperfect Peaches

Pluperfect Peaches

Here’s the honest truth: I wasn’t sure that “pluperfect” is an actual word. Now and then over the years I’ve heard it used, as in “Ed Earl, you’re a Pluperfect Fool!” (bonus points if you can name the movie that line is from!). But this afternoon I had to look it up to be certain, and sure ’nuff, there it is: pluperfect: utterly perfect or complete; more than perfect; supremely accomplished; ideal. The dictionary also had something about perfective verb tense, but that went right over my head. Besides, I digress. What I’m really writing about here is Peaches!

Two weeks ago I bought a box of five peaches at the local produce market.  They were reportedly grown in Georgia, and they were pretty good, but small, and the ones I didn’t eat immediately began to shrivel rather quickly.  Last week I stopped at a roadside stand about 60 miles away, and paid more money for the same number of peaches, but the sign said “Missouri Grown”.  That made me think they were probably allowed to ripen on the tree longer, since they didn’t have to be shipped so far before selling.  Well, the color of that fruit was pretty inside and out, but the taste was more tart than I’d expected.  Three of them are still in my kitchen, not looking so great.

This morning, however, after the dogs had their first run, then their breakfast, then their second run, I went up the hill to the barn and let the birds out for a good long day of foraging.  On my way back toward the house I checked the two peach trees in my tiny orchard.  Jackpot!  The taller “standard” tree has quite a bit of fruit on, but they aren’t exactly ready yet.  Next week, maybe, or the week after.  But the “dwarf” tree–the one that had so much deadwood pruned out last November that I was afraid it might need to be replaced–the peaches on that tree were ripe.  Whether it was the super cold winter or the winds this spring or a combination thereof, there were only a baker’s dozen of pickable peaches on that poor little tree, but they were each about the size of a softball.  One of the branches had been hanging so close to the ground that the sphere of fruit hidden behind its leaves had been chicken-tested.  But don’t worry; I got the other half.

So here I sit, with a bowl next to my keyboard.  The peach wedges in that bowl are bright orange-yellow, the skin a rich blush, the juice that bursts out with each bite tasting of pure sun-ripened sweetness.  (sigh)  Pluperfect!

How’s Pickins?

How’s Pickins?

Growing up in the suburbs, I was fascinated with the flocks of laying hens kept by my aunties who lived in the country.  Going out to the chicken house with a basket or bowl for the eggs was a privilege that never lost its charm.  Even now that I’ve had my own birds for many years, it’s still a bit of a treasure hunt to gather the fresh eggs each day.  But even beyond that benefit, there’s just something wonderful about having a flock of my own.

Presently, I have nine hens, one rooster, seven guineas, and one lone pigeon.  (The pigeon is another story altogether!) This particular group of chickens were gifted to me when my friend Dave D. was moving out-of-state and wanted them to have a good home. The barnyard birds love to patrol the lawn, hunting and pecking for tempting tidbits of bugs and greens.  It keeps them happy and healthy and cuts back on the feed bill to allow them this pleasure.  It also provides me with a sense of peace and well-being to see them out there, meandering about, scratching the surface with their feet now and then in search of something tasty.

In the spirit of tradition, the rooster is called “Rojo”, (that’s pronounced ro-ho), which is Spanish for “red”.  My Uncle R. had a rooster by that name.  Why the hens belonged to Aunt K and the rooster was said to be Uncle’s property, I haven’t yet figured out, but it may have had something to do with the original Rojo’s demeanor.  As in, he couldn’t have gotten much meaner.  (The rooster, not my uncle).  As kids, we were afraid of Rojo.  On our way out the back door, we’d grab either a broom, a bucket of water, or a poor unsuspecting cat, and if the ol’ buzzard–er, rooster–was nearby, one of us would deploy whatever item of self-defense we’d picked up by hurling it at him, whereupon we’d take off running before he could peck our feet or legs, both of which were usually bare all summer.  Sometimes this worked better than others.  I would swear that bird hid, barely beyond the corner of the house, just waiting for us to exit.  He never bothered Uncle, though.  Maybe he knew he couldn’t peck through the tough leather cowboy boots and blue jeans, and didn’t waste his efforts in the attempt.

By contrast, however, my own Rojo is neither vicious nor vindictive.  He will come a-runnin’ if one of his hens utters any kind of distress call, and he’s not what you might call a snuggler, but he’s gentle enough as roosters go.  I like to watch him navigate the yard with his “girls”.  I’ve fed them long enough that when I go outside, they all hurry to gather ’round me, just to see if I’ve brought them anything special from the house, which sorta makes me feel guilty when I don’t.  Which reminds me . . . I gotta go shred some cabbage.  It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind!

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Keep On Growing

Keep On Growing

Yes, that’s more than just the title of a song by Eric Clapton.  Bonus points if you can tell me what album that’s from without looking it up online . . . (!)

Summer is exciting in so many ways, not the least of which is all the growing going on.  My friend Michelle brought over two heirloom tomato plants from the dozens she had started from seed.  One should produce low-acid yellow fruit–yes, a tomato is technically a fruit–and the other is supposed to be orange.  Because I wasn’t putting in a big garden this year, she repurposed a couple of heavy white plastic buckets, drilling a few holes in the bottom of them for drainage.  With a few rocks in the base for ballast and to help facilitate the drainage, then layers of potting soil, compost, peat moss, and old chicken litter, the tomatoes are going to town, figuratively speaking.  Last weekend I saw the first few blossoms, and now there are little baby tomatoes hanging around.  It’s so neat!!

Up the hill in the orchard between my house and the barn there are pears and peaches.  Not as many peaches this time as there have been before, but this does vary a lot from year to year, and the folks in Georgia are still trucking some very decent fruit up this way for us Midwesterners to enjoy.  One morning this week after an overnight rain, though, I caught a glimpse of the half-grown apples on one of those trees out by the dog kennel.  The raindrops hadn’t yet been evaporated by the heat of the sun, and it made for such a pretty sight.  There’s more than one reason the supermarkets install that misting equipment in their produce departments.

Wheat harvest around here is over, the corn has mostly tasseled out, and the soybean fields are starting to show some definition.  Farm country is a great place to live if you like to watch things grow, especially when Mother Nature cooperates with sufficient rain on a timely basis.  So far, the drought conditions suffered during the few years previous haven’t been a problem, and crops are looking good.  To all my farming friends and neighbors:  Good Job, and Keep On Growing!

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Almost Paradise

Almost Paradise

What makes you happy?  The answers to that question will likely be as numerous as the folks who answer, either in the comment section or just to themselves as they read this.  Some of them will even be true.

So many people would reply “more money” to that question.  And while it’s true that money can help solve certain types of problems, it can also create others.  If you had millions in the bank, how often might you fret about your children being kidnapped and held for ransom?  How many total strangers do you reckon would write or call or even show up on your doorstep asking for a handout?  And how difficult would it be to discern if new acquaintances were being nice because they actually like you, or if it’s only because of what they think they could gain from the association?  Who could you trust?

For the time being, then, let’s take the “money” answer off the table.  Now, what really makes you happy?  A stunning sunrise or sunset?  The smell of a just-cut lawn or fresh bread baking?  The time to prepare a flavorsome meal and the sight of your hungry friends or family gathered around the table to enjoy it?  A good book or movie?  Playing the piano, the guitar, the mandolin, the banjo, the trumpet?  Hugging your grandchild?

Maybe it’s just one of the steps in dealing with loss that has me pondering this, but lately I’ve been snapping photos right and left, finding beauty and wonder all over the place. This morning it came in the form of a newborn foal from my daughter’s mare, Buttercup.  With a tawny coat, long matchstick legs and a white blaze on her face, the filly was already up and walking, sticking to her mama’s side like glue, ducking her head under the mare’s flank for intermittent breakfast breaks every few minutes.  It’s simply amazing to watch.  And it makes me happy.

Find your version of paradise, and do what you can to enjoy it.  I’m not advocating you play hooky from work, or school, or neglect your chores or taking care of your kids.  But try to carve out an extra five or ten minutes in your day and look around you for something that makes you smile.  Breathe deep, let it out slowly.  See?  Almost Paradise!

Things are Humming Right Along Here

Things are Humming Right Along Here

Each year about this time, I listen for the telltale “buzz” around my flower garden that signifies the annual arrival of one of the most fascinating creatures:  the hummingbird.  Yesterday afternoon, while pulling a few weeds (yes, I do try to guilt myself into a little manual labor now and then), I heard it.  Not quite a “buzz”, actually, maybe more of a “whir”.  It’s the sound made by the wings of a hummingbird as it zooms in and then hovers, looking for an acceptable source of food to fuel its rapid flight.  Well, that sound gave me an instant excuse to stop the weed-pulling, which my allergies fail to appreciate anyway.  In the kitchen, I put one cup of white sugar into a small pan, added 4 cups of water, and set the stove burner under the pan to medium low just long enough to melt the sugar into the water for a syrup.  Then I retrieved one of the hummingbird feeders from the mudroom where I’d hung it up last Fall, after washing it out.  As soon as the syrup was cool enough, I filled the feeder and hung it at the edge of the porch roof overhang, just a couple of feet above the not-yet-blooming honeysuckle vine.  A quick glance at the clock:  3pm.

Fast forward to 6:42pm.  The son-of-my-house is mowing my lawn (bless him!), my daughter and grandchildren are on the front lawn, practicing volleyball serves and spikes, and in between joining the fun and retrieving a drink of water from inside, I saw it:  the First Hummingbird of the Year!  At least, the first one to show up at my place, that is, and that I actually saw.  Wary of the fact that I was standing just seven feet away, the tiny bird jetted in from the Bald Cypress tree to the feeder, grabbed a quick sip, then sped away.  “Aha!” I told the kids.  “Not even four hours after the feeder is up, that hummingbird has already found it!”  They took a break from their game long enough to sit on the porch swing and the box that houses the cat triplex to watch for the bird’s return.  Ice cream bars all around helped mark the celebration of the hummers’ return.  From as near as I could stand without scaring it away, I focused in as close as my camera would allow and waited to click the shutter.  We were not disappointed, and the hummingbird seemed to enjoy his treat as much as we liked our own.  It was difficult to discern in the shadow of early evening, but we think it was a female.  No glint of the ruby throat of the male that summers in this part of the country was visible, anyway.

Today, the mini-blinds on the front windows of the house are all open, and I find myself stealing hasty glances out toward the feeder.  Two hummingbirds are busy zooming back and forth, so maybe it’s a mated pair.  The honeysuckle is setting on some buds, and when it goes into full bloom, they’ll be busy for sure.  But just in case, I’m going to find that other feeder from winter storage.

Got a hummingbird story?  What’s the highest number of hummers you’ve counted at one place?  Share a comment!

 

Guineas

Here’s what I know about Guineas, of which I have seven on the farm right now.

Plumage:  gray with white polka-dots, sometimes silver, or white

Head:        UGLY

Eggs:         smaller than chicken eggs, hard light brown shells with spots, tear-drop shaped

Voice:       loud and annoying

Tame:       not at all

Utility:      they eat ticks!

Need I say more?

Actually, these birds are pretty fascinating.  They fan out in a row like an organized search party and patrol the lawn, the orchard, and the pasture on their quest for bugs.  The very thought of swallowing any bug (let alone a TICK!) makes me gag, but guineas seems to thrive on them.  They will also eat grain, and share the chicken coop with Rojo the Rooster and his nine ladies, but tend to keep to themselves even while confined there together. I’ve seen them chase after a mouse who dared to enter in search of a free meal from the feeder, but won’t describe what happened when they caught it.  Believe me, it wasn’t pretty.

Guineas can fly, and will quickly take to the trees, or even the barn roof, if they feel threatened.  Mine tend to return inside the coop at twilight, where I am sure to shut and latch the flight pen door to keep predators at bay, but some people have told me that once their guineas were out, it was impossible to get ’em back inside.  Their heads look almost prehistoric, so I guess it’s no wonder they act thoroughly wild.

Every year about this time, however, I’ll witness this little dance between a pair of them.  On April 18, I was able to catch this video from my front porch, looking west into the corral.  About a week ago I started finding guinea eggs in the coop, and I’ve brought the incubator up from the basement.  I’ll keep you posted on what develops.  Here’s a link to a very short video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TsTSjIdPp4

Wordless Wednesday #6

Wordless Wednesday #6

Calf Slobbers

Calf Slobbers

My good friend is moving.  Actually, it’s been a progressive process for quite some time, but now it’s official.  The house has been sold and Saturday they had a Sale.  If you live in the city, you probably call it an auction, but if you live–or grew up in–the country or a small town, you likely call it a Sale.  Basically, it’s a method of dispersing, in short order, of lawn and garden equipment, furniture and other household goods that one doesn’t intend to take along when they move.  If the owner has died, it’s referred to as an Estate Sale.

People can find some really good bargains at Sales.  If you’re just starting out on your own and don’t have much in the way of Worldly Goods yet, try to catch a few of these events.  It’s amazing what you can pick up for a small investment.  If you’re lucky, there will be food available (for a price, of course).  And if you’re really lucky, as we were on Saturday when the food was provided by some folks from a little local church congregation, the offerings at the concession table will include Pie.  Not just any pie, but honest-to-goodness, made from scratch by someone who truly knows what they’re doing, homemade pie.  With Meringue!  Is it chocolate, lemon, or coconut filling hidden underneath that fluffy, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth topping?  Who cares; it has meringue!

Not everyone likes meringue.  More than one person I’ve met (my mother included) call it Calf Slobbers.  They’d rather have a chocolate cream pie adorned with whipped topping than meringue.  Is it whipped cream?  Dream-whip or Cool-Whip, or what?  Do they even care?  If not, that’s ok, too; it’s their pie, after all.  But given the choice, I’ll pick meringue for my cream pie every time.  And Baked Alaska?  I’m pretty sure that’s what Heaven’s all about.

Now it’s your turn.  What’s on–and in–your pie?

 

photo credit:  Michelle Furnell, used with permission