Friday, September 28, 2012

What to do with prunes?

While at Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival last weekend (see recap here), I was gifted with a shopping bag about 1/2 full of prune plums. We were eating them, but not making much of a dent, so I said I'd take them home and make jam. Yes, well...

It turns out that prunes are drier and sweeter than regular plums (I never knew that), so they behave differently. I also didn't measure them after I cut them up, which affected the outcome.

So, yesterday morning, I cut them all in half and pitted them (they are free-stone, thank goodness!), and they filled my 8 quart stock pot. Obviously, this would not work - I couldn't stir them without them slopping over the side!

So, in true Laura cooking fashion, I dirtied another pot, a 16 qt. stock pot.

This pot was a present from my mom many, many years ago. It has made horse bran mashes, many batches of jam, and lots of stock from Thanksgiving turkeys. It also has a lid, which some of my others don't (we won't go into why...).

I added a couple of inches of water and started cooking them. They got soft, and softer and then I went at them with a potato masher.

What I ended up using is one of my favorite kitchen tools - my immersion blender. I got it at a yard sale, along with its mini-food processor jar and blade for $5.00. I LOVE this tool. I use it all the time to make chopped garlic, flank steak rub that includes cilantro, ginger, jalapenos, green onions and soy sauce - the little food processor is a champ. The blender portion is wonderful for pureeing food in situ - no dirtying additional bowls, you just zoom it around until it looks good. I have a pumpkin soup recipe that begged me to get an immersion blender, which I did, and it is awesome. I also used it to puree some ginger root, which was added to the prunes, along with some allspice.

After cooking it down some more, I decided that I would turn it into jam. Reading the pectin instructions it says, "5 3/4 c chopped plums" - uh oh... I have 16 3/4 c of prune soup. This wasn't going to go well, I could tell. So, I called Michelle, who cans a lot, and makes jams and butters and asked her advice. "I put mine in the Crock Pot," she says. So I did.

It was a bit full. You can't expect things to cook down if the lid is on. So I rigged up a cover to keep any stray bugs/flies out of it out of tule netting that I scavenged from my niece's wedding 5 or 6 years ago. It worked well, and other than dunking it in it a couple of times when I was stirring it, there were no problems. After the dunking incidents, I added 2 pieces of wood (clean, of course) to hold it up off of the rim, which solved the problem nicely.

It eventually cooked down, and I got to thinking (way dangerous...). It wasn't very thick, even after cooking down, so what if... I added some more sugar (I hadn't put much in to start with), and some pectin? With my sister on the phone (who also cans a lot), I added 1 1/2 Tablespoons of pectin. Hey - it's starting to look like gravy! I decided to leave it overnight in the crockpot with the lid on, and heat it up in the morning and process it then. It still didn't seem very thick, so I added another Tablespoon of pectin, stirred it in, and let it warm up some more.

When the canner was boiling merrily away, I started filling jars, discovering that half-pint jars fit two to a slot (except where the handles are) and 2 in the middle! I ended up with 13 jars, which didn't really fit, so I made do. They were all covered with the requisite 2" of water, so I figured it was good!

Since I'm at 4300 feet, I processed them for 20 minutes after reaching boiling. After fishing them out, I went back to working on the computer (real work, not FB), and hearing the "tinks" from the kitchen is probably the best sound in the world!

Here they are, all tinked down, and ready to eat. After loading up all the jars, there was enough left in the crock pot for my morning toast.

It was very yummy...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Post PTSD Milestone

Yesterday was "World Spin in Public Day." I didn't participate, because Tang had a pony pedicure appointment.

I thought about hauling her over (it was where she used to be boarded) in the trailer for practice, but decided that since it's only about 2.5 miles away, that I would ride her over.

This is a huge step for me. I have not ridden my horse without anyone around since I've owned her. I haven't even contemplated riding out by myself up to this point.

I tacked her up, and got on (yay for mounting blocks), and off we went.

I have mentioned that she's energy conserving... Well if she could have walked any slower, we'd still be out there. She wandered back and forth across the road like a drunkard, looking at everything. She especially was interested in all of the horses that we passed - I think she misses having a close, across the fence, herdmate. She was singularly unfazed by cars/trucks going by very fast. Thankfully, they all moved to the other side of the road (this is the country and they know about horses on the road) to pass.

After her pedicure, we headed back home. She wasn't thrilled about leaving her buddies, but she did, and seemed to know we were going home because she walked a little, teeny-tiny bit faster.

I live off of a private road that is disintegrating. There are potholes in it that would eat my truck. There was a bit more traffic on it when we were going home than when we left. I heard a truck coming up the road behind us, and found a driveway to pull out into to let him by. This is the only thing Tang took issue with. He was pulling an empty boat trailer, which was bouncing around in the potholes and making lots of noise. She flinched and moved a half a step, and then stood, wide-eyed while he passed.

We resumed our quiet amble up the road.

Things are very different on horseback. You can hear the earth breathe, the bugs going about their work, and the wind soughing through the trees. It's lovely, beautiful and very grounding.

I am very thankful for my horse. She is very good for me.

Friday, September 14, 2012

I got off with a warning...

I've been locking the poultry up at night for protection, and it's been working.

This morning, after a late night doing "real" work, I was awakened by the cat at 6 am (grrr), and the peahens alarm calling. I struggled to put on clothes and shoes in my groggy state. By the time I got out there all I could see was that there were turkeys that weren't locked up, and everyone was looking towards my horse trailer. I couldn't see anything.

I half-consciously counted beaks, decided that everyone was there and went back to bed. I should mention that I have a fish tank in my bedroom - a small 10 gal. with 3 guppies - to help deflect energy back into the room from an alcove at the end of the closet. With that running, my ability to hear any sort of ruckus before it escalates is pretty much nil. I can't move the fish tank, so I'll need to come up with something else (maybe a baby alarm...)

So, when I got up again at 7:30, I had a cup of coffee and went down to seriously count beaks, because I realized that I hadn't heard the roo...

Everyone is there and breathing and walking and following me around. Whew! This means, in addition to what I had planned for today (here), I need to get fence moved and connected to the charger. I can do that. I can do that. How am I going to do that?

A parting shot of a very curious turkey hen:

And a gratuitous shot of Mr. Big:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hey - check this out!

I published a knitting pattern. I tell you, this is not easy... It's fraught with potential entanglements.

However, it is published, corrections (ahem) on the way, and the story is here (Fiber Voodoo).

Thanks for looking!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hello, my name is Laura and I have a problem...

And it's name is Craigslist!

I'm always checking it out: jobs, farm and garden, materials, general, arts and crafts, free - you get the picture.

So yesterday, I was looking at F & G, and saw 2 free ducks. Like I need more poultry, but they're free! They were in Crooked River Ranch (kind of the back of beyond, as it turned out, but I was in Madras today for the Fall Wool Gathering, and was in the (sorta) neighborhood.

They are Muscovies - the ugliest bird next to a California Condor... However, they're very quiet - they hiss instead of quacking - and they're a pair, a drake and a duck. So I went to pick them up, and a very pregnant young lady came out of the house, and said there was a gate, and all I had to do was catch them.

I'm an experienced poultry wrangler. They had a hen house, so I herded them in there, blocked the door, and without too much trouble, caught the duck. After depositing her in the dog crate in the truck, I went back for the drake. He was a little more feisty... A few scratches and a wicked looking cut on my thumb later, he was also caught and placed in the containment vessel.

Once home, I dragged the dog crate into the poultry pen, where I put them in Jail with the buff chickens. Oh man, they were terrified. All of the turkeys and some of the other chickens went into the coop, which shares a wall with Jail, and were talking trash to the newbies.

I'm sure they will settle in just fine; the buffs leave in a little less than 2 weeks to go to Michelle. I've revised my housing plan - the small coop will now be the duck shelter with a small yard just for them.

So, with the warning about ugliness having been given, here they are:

Their feathers look horrible - they didn't have a "pond," a lack that will be remedied shortly. They're also moulting, but I think it's more that they haven't had access to water. Duck poop water makes a great garden additive!

I have actually had Muscovies before, and found them to be good birds. The ducks laid well, the drake was protective of his girls, and they hatched young without much trouble.

I'm looking forward to them looking a little less flea-bitten and more like healthy, happy ducks!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Predator Prevention

I have been rather cavalier about protecting my birds. Other than the peafowl, who are locked up all the time (to prevent hordes of wild peafowl from populating my area), the rest of the birds, while penned up, haven't been locked up, nor has their fence been "hot".

However, the other day, counting beaks, I realized that I was missing one, an Australorp. I should have had 3, and only had 2... Just the morning before, I heard a ruckus, but not like death throes, or anything, more like turkeys or the roo chasing an unwilling hen. I didn't check it out. In hindsight, it seems I should have.

Since that day, I've been awakened by coyotes singing every night. I decided to lock them all up at night. They are not amused. Since I had to lock them up to give them shots the week before, they were suspicious at first. They have become more resigned to it, but still would rather be out in the pen on the stock tank (turned over, since 2 tried to be ducks and drowned), or the tipped over feeder (one turkey got stuck in it and couldn't get out until I tipped it over - it's getting moved out of there tomorrow), or on various other high points. With the fence not hot, it's more of a visual deterrent than an actual. I'm using Premier 1 Supplies' Poultry net. With few exceptions, it keeps the birds in once they are close to adult size. When I first put it up, they were still small enough to squeeze through.

Unfortunately, there were several (all of the Buffs, and a couple of others) who persisted in crawling UNDER the fence, and wandering around to their hearts' content. This is what happened to the missing one, I'm sure.

I found her remains yesterday. All that was there was a pile of feathers. Except that it happened at dawn, it looked like a hawk kill. Given the time frame, I'm pretty sure it was an owl. A coyote would have taken her somewhere else to eat.

So, now I'm on a mission to separate the species, get the fences moved and tightened up and install ground rods so I can hook up the plug-in charger. It packs a punch, let me tell you - it's my own accidental electro-shock therapy! I'll hook Tang's pen into it, as well, which means I'll have to put in a cut-out switch so I don't zap myself. I'm in the process of putting together a shelter for the turkeys, present and future. I also would like to fence off the garden with the smaller portions of netting - this will protect the exposed side of the peafowl pen.

I have about 2 months until the designated turkeys fulfill their destiny. I don't want to feed them to non-paying customers!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Happy Trails!!

I was resting this afternoon, when the phone rang. It was my neighbor, asking if I would like to go on a trail ride. OF COURSE!!

So I tacked Tang up, searching everywhere for everything (I'm in the process of making a "tack room" in the storage shed, so it's still scattered everywhere), and taking way more time than I thought it would!

But eventually, I mounted up, and off we went. I'm not far from BLM; it's literally just up the road.  Getting there involves riding on our gravel roads, and I'm sure, even with Tang's excellent feet, she may be a little sore for a couple of days. Not enough that I'll put shoes on her, though - with her "dinner plates" it would be prohibitively expensive! She has awesome feet though, and didn't pick up any rocks at all.

It was really fun - my neighbor and her husband are older than I am. I'm guessing she's in her mid-sixties, and I know he's 81. They ride most of the year for a local cattle outfit in exchange for hay - what a sweet deal that is!! She led most of the way and Tang was happy to follow. She only got excited (for her) once, when she didn't follow my directions, and got separated from the other horse by a few trees. I made sure that she didn't drag me through the junipers just to get back to him, and then she was fine (really, all she did was snort and whinny a little - no dancing).

When Dad and Wilma were here the first time, I tried my old Wintec saddle on her, and it looked like it fit. I was pleased because the other ones are leather, or antique and leather, or my dressage saddle. I could go bashing around in the woods and not worry about banging up the saddle.

This is the saddle I used today. I like them - they're very comfortable, only weigh 8 lbs (I used one for endurance riding for a long time), and, I thought, seemed to fit.  You can see what's coming...

When we got home, and I took the saddle off, there were ridges in her back where the panels pressed down, away from her spine. I was horrified. She's such a patient, kind horse - I'm sure this was very uncomfortable.  So the Wintec is on the sale block - cheap!!

This means that I either a) ride in the Passier , which is very comfortable, and fits her well, but is vintage (built in 1964), and leather, and I would worry about it, or b) use my dressage saddle, which is synthetic, also fits her well, but I'm not sure I want to bang around in it either. Oh well, I'll figure something out!

I did get to practice some things we've been working on, even though we mostly walked. When I asked her to move one direction or another, I consciously used my outside rein as a "wall" - it worked very well, and she followed the cues nicely. She's also getting a little better about moving off my leg (like away from branches) - a little better, but still needs more work on that.

All in all, we had a wonderful ride. When we got home, she was a little concerned that her "buddy" was leaving (their driveway is around the corner from mine), and we did a couple of little circles to get over that, but because she could see him as we walked up our driveway, and the rest of the geldings (who were quite excited that their girlfriend had returned), she was fine.

With the promise of more opportunities to ride, I'm feeling very comfortable having her home.

(sorry Michelle - no pictures. Next time, I promise!!)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Changes in residents

This last couple of weeks (a month, really) has been quite stressful.

My Dad and Wilma came up on the 7th of August, on their way to Seattle to embark on an Alaskan cruise. I was to watch Dad's dog, Snickers. Snickers is an 11 yr. old. Cairn Terrier, and is very blond, mentally and physically. She's a fun little dog, but kind of weird - she's not very affectionate, runs away if you reach towards her, and chases cats. Poor Art got so tired of her following him around with her nose in his butt, that he vacated the premises except for eating.

Because I was having house guests, it seemed like a perfect time to clean the house. It took me a LONG time... I finished up the morning that they arrived. To say that housework is not my favorite thing is a gross understatement!

In the midst of all this, my birds developed some really vile excrement. I tried a couple of different antibiotics, which didn't work. I called the vet, and $143 later, I had some that I had to inject every day for 4 days. Given that I was leaving on the 4th day for Nevada for my nephew's wedding, It was one more thing that I didn't need. What really sucked is that it didn't work.

I drove down to Reno, and spent the night at Mim's. It's always fun to see what she's doing fiber-wise, and see all her sheep and goats and dogs and... Well, you get the picture! We had a great time, and I came home with some rabbit cages for a future project.

When I picked Dad and Wilma up from the airport (heading to my sister's), they had brought back a foreigner - a cold from Alaska. I have no intrinsic immunity to anything from that far away, and being tired, I caught it. Dang...

We had a wonderful time at the wedding - helping get ready, attending the ceremony (outside, great weather), and then the reception. Back at my sister's, we all crashed. Over the course of running errands before the wedding, my sister mentioned that her daughter (my niece) was going to buy their "extra" car (they have 4 vehicles for 2 people...), but needed to sell hers first. Her car was an escort, and they wanted a fair price for it. I had to sell my Subaru because my work had really fallen off, and to stay here and pay rent, the car was the most liquid asset (I was very bummed). What this meant was that I was driving my truck everywhere, and it's tired. I drove it to Nevada - made for cozy passenger hauling, I can tell you, since it's also a stick shift! I mentioned the car to my dad, and bless him, he said he'd buy it, pay for some of the deferred maintenance on it, and it was done. I arranged for a tow dolly and brought it home.

I have a thing about red cars - my ex and I had two over the years, and he rolled both of them with me in the car. This car is Cranberry. It. is. not. red. It's name is "The Craisin." It looks like a little cranberry jelly bean! It will get 40+ mpg, and I'm very grateful to have my dad bless me with it.

When I got home, the birds were still plopping, and the smoke was horrible, and I stayed in bed for a day or so. Dad and Wilma came back through on Wednesday to pick up Snickers - she was very happy to see them. Art had decided that he missed me enough to ignore the dog, so he was back sleeping with me at night - in a full size bed with a 52 lb. dog and a 15 lb. cat, it's quite cozy (read crowded...).

I finally got down to business building Tang's pen - she had to come home today, and I finished it this morning after she took up residence (hooking up the fence charger...). She was so funny - there are three geldings next door, and she was talking to them as I drove up the driveway. They all have the same sire, so they look like three peas in a pod lined up along the fence looking at the blond bombshell that moved in next door.  She found lots of things to her liking:

At least there's food
And lovely bushes to scratch on
Oh, yeah. Right there... (scratching her udder)
And there's space
I think this'll be ok!
She kept herself busy, all the while keeping a wary eye on the turkeys and peafowl. They were staring at her - imagine that. She spent most of the day munching on the dry grass, and seeming surprised when I fed her tonight, not that she'd ever turn down food...

It's good to have her home. I'm already figuring out how I can ride her here, and have a make-do arena. My neighbors have invited me on a future trail ride, which will be a hoot. They work for a local ranch, moving cows, and really know the area.

In addition, today was a dye day, but you'll have to check out Fiber Voodoo for that!