Sunday, February 27, 2011

warmth of the fire


We all gather around the fire for warmth and cooking on these snowy winter days.  I have soup, vegetables and grains cooking on the stove.  Bread is rising on the lower right of the fire, and kombucha tea and sourdough are staying warm on the mantle... A normal winter day  Of course even our dog Summer likes to stay warm by the fire.  Our woodstove is older and well used, it needs a good cleaning and repainting, along with a new damper, but it sure puts out the heat and does a great job cooking food.  This time of year we almost never let it go out, and bank it at night to easily start up in the morning. 

We live in the upstairs of the barn and use the cabin daily for showers and sometimes cooking, as we are still slowly building our big house, which is in the sheetrock stage and has been for a long time.  In the lower level of our barn is a woodshop, and has it's own woodstove.  The cats live in the lower portion, and enjoy the fire when it's going down there.  It's still snowing outside, and is starting to turn to rain a little today.  You can see Kaley in shorts (just in from sledding, and removed all her snow gear), the kids don't seem to feel the cold like adults, I will bundle up warm on these cold winter days.  March will be here this week, and I'm looking forward to Spring days in the garden full of sunshine and warmth, we're getting close, maybe this will be the last snow of the year.

I haven't been able to get in to Seattle to pick up the rest of my soap making supplies, namely the Lye (due to the weather).  I drove all over to every store I thought would have lye in our town, and no one had it, I guess lye is not a popular thing people buy these days.  I had no idea this would be such a hard item to find.  I know the store Zenith in Seattle will have it, so hopefully the snow will melt, and I can get down there on Tuesday or Wednesday.  I have everything else ready, and just need lye and cocoa butter.

Wherever you are, I hope you're warm and cozy too.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Snow Angels

Kaley has been having fun in the snow all morning, here she is making a snow angel.  The school district called for 2 hours late today, and since our roads are worse than most, I let the kids have a snow day, most of the kids on our hill will stay home too.  The district knows about our challenges when it snows,  the school bus hasn't been able to come up our hill for the last couple days because of all the snow and icy roads, this isn't just a hill, but a big 10 minute drive up our hill (mountain). 
Jason had to hold Summer so she wouldn't jump in on the snow angel action, she already did twice, and Kaley had to start over.  Golden Retriever's are like kids, they like to play and play, her favorite is to grab a hat and play chase. 

We've been bringing in the rabbit water bottles to thaw, every one's water has been freezing.  It's thawed a little and icicles are forming.  They're calling for cold weather over the next couple days.  After my walk around this morning feeding, watering and taking a few pictures, I've been inside making food, and have gotten the chicken soup stock going on the woodstove, and our weekly bread rising, I'm making 4 loaves of sourdough bread, and it's rising by the woodstove.  I'll be making chicken vegetable soup this afternoon, with barley, lentils, and rice.  The kids have been in and out, and we've been checking on the new baby bunnies, we're happy to report they're all doing wonderful, and are toasty and warm under their downy fur blanket, with the new moms feeding and tending to them. 

 The chickens are hanging out indoors, with sunshine coming through to warm them a little.  We've been getting 6 or 7 eggs a day, and our family eats them all.  We make scrambled eggs, poached eggs, tapioca pudding (from Bobs' Red Mill tapioca)  custards,  and many other things.  We missed eggs through the winter and simply cut back, hopefully we'll soon have a couple hens go broody, and will have spring chicks.
"mama" one of our mini rex does resting a day after giving birth. 
 This is her first litter, she is tired but  doing well.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

rabbit babies ~ just born today

We had 2 of our Mini Rex does give birth (kindling) last night and today, during one of our worst winter storms, it's been snowing for 2 days, and is around 25 degrees.  As you can see they are all snuggled into a warm nest of downy fur.  The mother rabbit pulls fur from her chest and sides to line the nest, and covers them, so they're all snug.  I pulled it the fur back to take this picture, then covered them quickly to keep in the warmth, there's another one in this litter tucked in underneath these three.  One of the rabbits had 4 kits, and the other one had 3 kits.

When rabbit kits are born, they are almost bald, with their eyes closed, their fur will grow quickly though, and before too long their flat ears will begin to prick up.  I'll take pictures once a week so you can see how cute they are, and how fast they grow.  Our rabbits have been some of the most enjoyable of our farm animals, we've had several that have became so tame, they would run up to us and sit in our laps to be pet. 
Today I gave the mothers special treats of apple peelings this morning, and leftovers from our dinner salad, we always give special treats to pregnant does, and extra special goodies to new mothers, especially while they're nursing.  I also brought both does inside for a nail trim and file, this needs to be done, so when they crawl in the nest box to feed they don't poke them with a sharp toe nail.  Usually we don't pick them up for several days, so they can bond with their mother.  I did reach out and gently pick up this one for the picture, the mom knows me and trusts me.   We'll probably keep a couple of these rabbits, and will sell the rest to our local feed store for pets, they've been buying them from us now for the last 2 years, and always sell out quickly.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

blustery snow

This morning it's been snowing and coming down like a blizzard since I drove the children to school.  The dark clouds came over and the snow began along with blustery winds sending the snow sideways.  To see the large Douglas Fir trees surrounding our property dance in the wind while covered in snow, well it's a spectacular sight, you realize their immense size and strength.  Pictured below are the cabin on the left and the big house on the right, along with a portion of the fenced garden on the right.  You can see a couple of the young fenced fruit trees,  all our young fruit trees have to start their lives in a circle of fencing, due to deer.  The big barn is down the driveway (in picture above).

I went out to check on all the animals and bring their morning feed to them, it feels good to know everyone is tucked in and fed, warm and dry.  Including me as I sit here by a fire looking out at a winter wonderland.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Nigerian Dwarf Goats

Yesterday we went to look at a local breeders herd of Nigerian Dwarf milk goats.  They are the same family that first introduced me to the breed at the Evergreen State Fair (our local fair) a year and a half ago. You can see in the picture she has all different color combinations, and every one of the goats are so friendly and curious.  The Boyd's have 4 children that have helped to hold,  feed, and love all of them from babies, so they are totally used to people and will come right up you and jump up to see if you have anything good.  They've had Nigerian Dwarf Goats for 5 years now, and their bloodlines are our of California, where they moved up here from.

Over the last year and a half I have been studying up on the breed, and have been getting Hoegger Supplies Goat Catalog ever since that time.  I've also gotten books from the library, and have been looking at other goat owners blogs, learning from them as they talk about goat nutrition, kidding, milking, medications and diseases to watch out for.  Around here at Applegarth Farm we've also been getting ready for them with a pasture, and even have "Sierra" our Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog.  Great Pyrenees are kind and gentle, they like to live in harmony with their flock and will protect them faithfully.  

You can see just how curious and friendly they are with Kaley.

I was amazed at their beautiful coloring, Kristi said that every year when they kid, it's like easter eggs, you never know what color the kids will be.  The nice thing about Nigerian Dwarfs, is that within the breed registry there are no colors that are disqualified in the show ring, and they can have blue eyes as well.  Currently she has about 10 bred does.  They have about 20 does on their farm, but some are too young to be bred.  She breeds them when they're about one and a half years old.  A doe will typically have twins or triplets, but she had a doe one year that had quadruplets, and a friend with a doe that had six. Wow! that's a lot of babies.

The small goats in this picture are last years doeling kids, they're not ready for breeding until next winter. 

We spent a sunny but cold afternoon yesterday enjoying seeing these cute little goats with personality.  Before we left we discussed price, and I shared with her what I was looking for,  2 does in milk, and one of the does baby girl (or doeling) to come with her mom.  That will give me 2 does to milk this summer and next Fall, and to breed next winter, plus will give us a baby doeling to enjoy this year,  and then she will be ready to breed in a year and a half. 

Next Spring we will have goats kidding.  This year, Kristi is going to send me a message and let me know when her does start kidding, probably around middle of April she said.  The does will be ready to go home with us around the middle to the end of June.  4 months, we still need to get their paddock area fenced and a couple gates installed, along with feeders, milk stands, collars, and lead lines.  I can hardly wait.  Thank you Kristi and your family for sharing with us about your goats, and introducing us to this charming sweet breed.  They even gave us a bar of their own homemade soap, after hearing about my recent adventures in getting ready for soap making.  Farm folks are like that, kind and helpful, I know they will be new friends, and a wealth of information.  They also run the 4 H goat chapter in our area, so that may be fun for Kaley to join with her new doeling, the baby doeling will be her very own to train and care for.   These little goats put a smile in my heart :).
I have more pictures and information to share later this week. 
 This one Kristi said is her favorite, isn't she beautiful?

Soap Making Lessons

My first lesson in soap making that I have learned is that gathering all the supplies you will need to make soap takes longer than I first anticipated.  It is a big part of the learning process as a beginner.  Once you've gathered all your supplies, the next time you plan to make soap will go much smoother.  You can learn along with me, I am using a book by Norma Coney called The Complete Soapmaker ; Tips, Techniques & Recipes for Luxurious Handmade Soaps.  In it, she talks about many different types of soap, I am beginning with basic soap, then will handmill it to add the fragrances, and natural additives.

Soap making is really a 3 part process;
1.  Gather your supplies, and render the suet if you're going to use a recipe calling for it.  
2.  Make a basic soap recipe.  In this book there are 5 basic soap recipes, a couple don't call for tallow at   all and use vegetarian oils.  Once your basic soap is made you will pour it into a large tupperware mold, and cut up it up when it's cured, this basic soap will then be used in many different recipes for hand milling. 
3.  Make handmilled soap by grating basic soap, melting, and adding additions like fragrance, herbs, fruits, spices, then pour into individual molds.  In this book she also tells how to make many different types of soap out of various fats rather than suet, like olive oil, coconut oil, vegetable shortening, cocoa butter castor oil, palm oil, and of course tallow, which she highly recommends.  I want to try different soaps to see which ones I like, and hopefully will have enough for gifts, bartering, and if I decide I really like it enough I may make soap to sell, we'll see after several batches are curing.

Here's the list of Soap Making Supplies I made up to check off as I found.  I wanted to buy inexpensive supplies just for soap making and nothing else.  Goodwill is where I found pots, plastic pitchers, some molds, and wooden spoons.

Supplies you will need for soap making 
  • Digital Kitchen Scale
  • Soap Pot ~ 8 ounces or larger stainless steel or unchipped enamel
  • 2 plastic pitchers with pouring spout
  • A couple long handled wooden spoons
  • 2 Kitchen thermometer
  • Rubber gloves
  • Wooden or stainless steel ladle
  • A couple stainless steel pots ~ for small batches of handmilled soaps
  • Soap molds
  • Lye
  • Olive oil
  • Suet ~ rendered into tallow
  • Cocoa butter
  • Larger tupperware container with lid
I will be making the Plain white soap recipe #1 in her book
it calls for these ingredients;
  • 32 ounces olive oil /vegetable oil
  • 74 ounces tallow
  • 3 ounces cocoa butter
  • 14 ounces lye
  • 41 ounces water
I still need to buy a digital scale, find the lye, and cocoa butter, tomorrow I'm headed out on a mission to obtain all 3, so I can make my basic soap.  I've been looking for soap molds all over, sardine cans work good, interesting shaped tupperware, and plastic or stainless steel molds.  You'll begin to look everywhere you go for what might make a nice shaped bar.  I will also do some simple rectangular shapes just by cutting them from a larger tupperware mold.

I also spent time today looking for soap making supplies closer to home, rather than driving into Seattle to go to Zenith.  Zenith is a store that carries everything for soap making, candles, herbs, spices, oils, etc, it's a great wholesale store, I've bought many things from them, and may end up taking the 45 minute drive there tomorrow to get more essential oils, cocoa butter, and almond oil.  It's a store that is easy to spend money in, so I have to go with a budget.  They also carrry digital scales.

Over the weekend I completed the rendering of the tallow, and wanted to show you the blocks of tallow that came from the suet.  After boiling it down and straining 2 different times I poured it into metal pans with high sides, let it cool overnight, and it pops out easily in the morning, ready to finish scraping off the last of the impurities that remain on the bottom.  I used a long knife to scrape it off.  After rendering the suet I ended up with 4 nice sized blocks that are hard, and  feel like cocoa butter on your hands.  It's amazing to me how you can take this really stinky mess when you're rendering it and boiling it down and turn it into something quite wonderful.  There's still a slight smell, but not much, they say the quality of your tallow is the single biggest factor to the quality of your soap.  If that's the case I should have nice soap.  Here are a few pictures to show you the impurities I scraped off after I took the tallow out of the pans.
You can see the top is a light brown, I will scrape it off and throw into the fire (or trash).

After all the time I spent to get to this point of making beautiful tallow,
 I'm looking forward to the next step of making basic soap. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

fond memories of puppy days

Summer (our Golden Retriever) and Sierra (our Great Pyrenees)  from a year and a half ago, just posted for a smile, I miss the baby days.  J bought Summer for me when the older girls left the nest and I missed them so very much, she helped me through that time of my life.  Now that I don't have my own babies, they're all growing up, I have enjoyed our animal babies, the rabbits should be kindling any day, nests are being built by them in preparation.  We also have kittens (an oops) pregnancy to be arriving any day.  Kaley and I made up baby quarters a couple nights ago.  Spring will arrive with kittens, chicks and baby bunnies. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Staying Strong

Many times in my life I have had to be a coach to myself, because I needed someone to say the right things to encourage me and I didn't have anyone around to say them. Digging down deep I speak what my heart tells me I need to hear, that still small voice.  My normal state of being is positive, and often times through the years my husband has called me Pollyanna, because I like to dwell on those things that are good in life.  I don't like to watch scary movies, I try to never allow negative images into my mind, I don't swear, I realize the power of good words, words that build up and edify, and I don't like to be around mean or judgmental people. 

In our home we don't have regular tv, so I don't get to see live images of the news, but over the last couple weeks as I look at news on Yahoo's splash page, seeing  what's happening in and around the world, it seems to be in an uproar right now, who would have imagined  a month ago what just took place in Egypt and is continuing to take place all over the middle east, it can be unsettling.  Plus we're in the midst of  having a solar storm from a large solar flare, one of the worst in years.  I've read about EMP(electomagnetic pulse) and that it could take us back to the days of old, it could take years to fix if all the electrical grid gets hit...not stuff I want to dwell on, but it really could happen.  One reason for self sufficiency, and stocking up. 

We had snow this morning, luckily the children have a 4 day weekend, so we don't need to drive and try and get off our hill, at 1200 ft, we have to descend the hill for 10 minutes down into the valley, and another 5 minute drive through the valley across the river and into town where the schools are.  Our bus route is the toughest in the district, we've had the same school bus driver for years, because no one else wants to take it on.   Sometimes I have to chain up, just to get down the hill to meet the bus on snow route days.  One year we had over 2 weeks of snow days to make up.  The snow at our elevation will often last for weeks.

We had an interesting experience a few days ago with a raven that we found.  It had a broken wing, we heard the loud cawing sound just outside our door, and ran to see what it was, our cat Tigger was getting close to pouncing (must have been instinct) on the giant of a bird.   We managed to corner it in the woods,  pick him up and set him in a clean cage with food and water.  Jarin took it into PAWS the next morning for them to set the wing, and I had high hopes of rehabilitating it here.  They told us they have to keep him in their care due to fish and wildlife rules.  This afternoon we called to check on it, and they said it had to be put down (we were so sad), someone had  apparently shot it quite some time ago, and the muscle tendons wouldn't heal properly...why would anyone shoot a raven or crow, they are so smart and fun to watch. We have many ravens around here, they are loud and obnoxious at times, but I still like them.

A bright spot in my week was my sister visiting on Tuesday evening, and spending the night, we had tea and talked until late in the night, then woke in the morning and had coffee and chatted some more.  We made a fresh egg omelet, and then she left, it was short and sweet, as she was on her way home from the airport, and had to get home to her family.  My sister and I are identical twins, I'm 4 minutes older, so technically her big sister.  We have been very close our entire lives, and when she moved to Wenatchee 7 years ago, I missed her alot.  We talk on the phone every few days, and no one on this earth can encourage me or lift my spirits quite like her.  We are similar in our positiveness about life.

Tomorrow I will finish rendering all the suet into tallow and plan to make soap on Saturday, we'll take pictures of the process.  On Sunday afternoon my 2 youngest daughters and I are planning to go meet a local breeder of Nigerian Dwarf goats, and we'll get to meet the pregnant does, her does will be kidding in April. I'll bring my camera.  Some of the good things in life to me are my family and friends, our gardens, and farm animals, a warm fire to sit by, and yummy food to share. Sometimes staying strong is just talking and writing and knowing when to go to bed early, and wake up to a new day full of promise.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A story of 3 sheep

I just received this photo from my friend Deborah and thought I'd share this amazing story of how fate can step in, even for animals.  I loved hearing this story from her, and know she's a great mom to all her animals, these girls will have a wonderful home for the rest of their lives. 
This was the message I got along with the photo.

Hi! Here are Annabelle, who I raised from a tiny baby in my laundry, her twin Rose, and Lily, Roses baby.This was taken last year, they have heavy fur now. I adore them. Fondly, Deborah
The breed is Barbados Blackbelly Sheep they are on the endangered species list, and are a cross evolved from the African hair sheep, and the European wooled breeds. They are wonderful, sweet, playful, and love to jump.

A few years ago Deborah found a baby sheep (Annabelle) caught in a fence near her house, it was close to dying and she nursed it back to health and raised it from a tiny baby in her laundry room.  As Annabelle got bigger she had to move her outside to live near the 2 horses.  I remember her talking with me back then about this little sheep that had won her heart.  Since then she has also managed to rescued the twin sister of Annabelle whose name is Rose, from the same place that owned the fence (farm) where Annabelle came from.  She rescued Rose the day she was to be slaughtered. 

Deborah paid the money for Rose they would have gotten for her at the meat market.  So fate stepped in again to rescue her, I don't know how much animals can feel or know, but through the kindness of one person not only Annabelle, but later her sister Rose too were miraculously saved.  Even more remarkable was the fact that Rose was pregnant with Lily at the time, amazingly, they were going to slaughter her anyway, even though she was pregnant. 

Going back about a month ago I wrote about wearing wool, and natural fibers for warmth.  I talked to Deborah about what she was going to do with the wool from her 3 sheep, she said that normally the wool just comes loose, and she pulls it out.  I asked her if I could have some to send it away to get it washed, carded, and spun, there are companies that do this and will send it back to you in skeins, ready to knit.  Deborah said that I could have the fiber, so now we are hoping to sheer them this Spring.  I have a friend with all the sheep shearing equipment, and he said I could borrow it.  This might be a bit of a stretch for someone with absolutely no knowledge of sheep sheering, but I'm going to look into it and we'll see if it sounds like something we can do ourselves.

I'm a real do it yourselfer, so usually I will give something a go, even if it's not done just like the pro's do it.  I will keep you posted on this little adventure, I think it would be fun, and will research to see how hard it looks, and read up on the process.  To be able to make some simple scarfs and hats out of their fiber would have special meaning for both Deborah and myself.   Maybe this will turn into an annual ritual and we'll get good at it, and have some great fiber to boot.   I'll update when I have more info, and if anyone reading this knows anything about sheep shearing, we'd love to hear from you.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentines Day

Happy Valentines Day to you! I hope this is a day filled with love for you and your family. It's a day to do something extra special, I am pulling out a heart shaped cake pan this morning, and making a chocolate cake, along with a special dinner for the family.

Above was written in the morning, this is what we made this evening.
For dessert we made a couple of simple chocolate cakes out of the Bob's Red Mill cookbook.  The one I chose was a yogurt chocolate cake, that I had never made before.  It called for half whole wheat, and half white, I used our fresh eggs from today, and of course yogurt, which added a nice tang.  We pulled out a couple decorative cake pans that are fun to use, and will make a simple cake a little more special.  I didn't use any frosting because it was delicious and moist without adding anything.

For dinner we ended up having a huge salad feast, with leafy greens and raw vegetables, which we all crave this time of year, we included carrots, beets, red chesnock garlic (we still have a lot from the garden) radishes, celery, and parmesan cheese.  My kids love salads, they've grown up on them, and a meal just isn't the same to me without some raw vegetables for enzymes.  We also made brown rice and poached eggs, I was going to make something more, but everyone was just happy with this simple meal.  We were going to sit at the table, but ended up all sitting around the fire happily eating and talking about our day.  Kaley always has fun stories to tell, and when you're in 4th grade, Valentines Day is the best, getting all the cards and candy, she said "it's kind of like a mini halloween".  I remember as a child how much fun it was, definitely one of the best days of the year.

I don't know why I always take a picture of baked goods, and not all the healthy stuff I make, you guys are going to start thinking I'm a real carb junkie... sometimes I am, but I also have balance, and crave healthy things I know my body needs.  I do love to bake though, and I have the mouths to help eat it, so I don't have temptation for long.


free range chickens

This is Rodney our main rooster, he's just a barnyard rooster, meaning he's a little of this and a little of that.  When I asked the lady what kind of chicken he was when I picked him up from a very small family farm where he was hatched, she just said he was a barnyard rooster.  He's a very nice gentleman, and in the year we've had him he has never even attempted to threaten any of us.  We've had 2 roosters in the past that we raised from day old chicks that were so mean and nasty, I had to defend myself anytime they were loose, and the kids had to run for their lives.  Of course they thought it was funny and laughed and ran like crazy while being chased by a wild looking rooster.  If my children were small this would not have been funny, luckily they were all old enough to easily outrun them.  I also did my share of running and laughing, but the time one jumped at my face with his spurs coming at me was the time I decided to carry a large stick, after the first time of getting whacked hard by me, I got some respect.  For some reason, probably size and authority the mean roosters never did challenge Jarin.

I decided back then I would never live with a mean rooster again, so I put an ad on craigslist for a nice rooster wanted and got this one when he was only 6 months old.  The lady said all her roosters were nice, she had 3 of the most beautiful roosters, all barnyard ones.  He guards his girls, and will call them over excitedy when he finds a tasty morsel, he loves to dig and scratch for bugs and grubs and eat his greens.  He joins in the egg laying chorus everyday, the hen who's getting ready to lay will make a racket (song) and he joins in to create the egg laying melody. 
Henrietta is a Buff Orpington chicken, last year she went broody in the Spring and Fall, and produced some wonderful chicks, she fussed over her babies non-stop with a faithfulness few animals exhibit, she went out to pasture and free ranged with them when they were only a couple days old.  Both her and Rodney are some of our favorites, they've earned respect around here for good behavior.  I'm hoping Henrietta will go broody this spring, and when her chicks hatch out and are a day old, I can slip a couple banties, and silver laced wyandotte chicks under her to raise.  You can do that at night if they chicks are all the same age(one or two days old)the hen will raise them as her own.  This is so much easier than raising them in a stock tank with a light.  

Free range chickens are a dream I've always had, we have learned some very expensive lessons doing this the improper way, we now put dogs on chicken duty in their assigned spots, plus we are always within view and earshot, plus we go check anytime we hear the dogs barking.  One of the first areas they all migrate to is under the rabbit hutches, the tastiest spot for grubbing.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Rendering Suet into Tallow ~ The first stage of the soap making process

This is suet, it's the fat around the kidneys of a cow, and is one of the finest fats you can use for soap making. It's different than other fats on a cow in that it's much drier and better for making soap.
Friday I went and picked it up from some family friends that are butchers, this is a little more than half the fat I got. I have another big batch in the bucket below, I weighed it when I brought it home and it weighed about 45 lbs, I have no idea how much soap this will make as there are other ingredients I will be using like olive oil, cocoa butter, milk etc.

I've never rendered this kind of fat before, just small amounts of chicken, and turkey fat.  Several weeks ago I wasn't even sure where suet came from, I just knew birds liked it in special feeders with seeds.  Now that I'm going to be making soap, this was the first step I needed to do.  Today I spent several hours rendering it, and will spend much more time tomorrow boiling a pot full at a time and stirring it all the while. 

During this process of rendering, beef fat is melted in water in order to separate out any impurities.  The purified fat which results is called tallow.  Here's the step by step process I used.

1. ~ The first thing your need to do is gather your supplies.

 Supply list for rendering:

~ Suet or other meat fat
~ Water
~ 2 to 4 tablespoons salt
~ Sharp knife
~ Large pot
~ Long-handled wooden or plastic spoon
~ Safety glasses or goggles
~ Rubber or plastic gloves
~ Wooden or stainless steel ladle
~ Sieve or colander ( I used both, and stained it twice)
~ Primary mold

2.  Place the chopped suet into a large pot, no more than half full, to accommodate some expansion of the suet as it heats and bubbles.  Add 2-4 inches of water to the bottom of the pan.  Also add the salt to help separate the impurities from the mixture.

3. Set the mixture over moderately high heat and put on your safety goggles (I put mine on after it came to a boil) it can splatter and get you so be careful.  The object is to get as much of the suet as possible to liquefy.  Allow the mixture to come to a slow boil, watching it constantly, as it may ignite if it boils over. Mash the small pieces of suet with you spoon to release any trapped liquid fat and speed up the melting process, which will take at least 30 minutes for each 2-3 pounds of suet, and longer for larger amounts and bigger pieces.  If the water begins to boil away, add more water. 

4.  When most of the suet has dissolved, remove the pot from the stove and allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes.  Pour or ladle the mixture through a sieve or colander, straining it into your primary mold (I used large metal pans with high sides).  The sieve or colander will catch any debris, like gristle, sinew and meat.

5.  Inspect the strained solids remaining in the sieve, if you've cooked the mixture long enough, these will be brown.  Throw them out to the chickens, birds, your dogs, or cats.  My animals were very curious and like to eat these little tasty morsels.

6.  Placer the filled primary mold in your refrigerator overnight, you don't need to place a lid on it. 

7.  Remove the mold from the refrigerator and turn it upside down into your sink.  Press the bottom of the mold to remove the block of tallow, allowing any liquid to drain away. If you started out with more ordinary fat than suet or if the fat contained much meat, you'll see a gelatin-like mass on the bottom of the block, and you'll want to scrape this off and discard.

8.  You should now have a hard, firm, white or off-white block of tallow.  Scrape away and discard any layer of debris on the block.  Also scrape away any portions of the block that are soft or discolored.  Refrigerate or freeze the tallow until you are ready to make your basic soap.

The higher the quality of your tallow, the better your soap will be.  To make the highest-quality tallow, use beef suet, which once rendered, makes an excellent soap base and a much harder soap than many other rendered fats.  Although tallow rendered from ordinary beef fat trimmings can be used, it just doesn't measure up to suet-based tallow.  Suet isn't always easy to locate, spend some time calling grocery stores and butchers in your area. 

Even within suet there are variables that are out of your control, like the diet of the animal, and it's overall health.  I know when we went to talk with the butchers they actually said that the fat on the cows they were butchering at the time had really nice fat.  It was interesting when I cut into it, it definitely seemed like good fat. 

One final note.. this is stinky business, I am so glad we set up the outdoor work area with our propane cook stove, it's a nice big heavy duty one.  The smell was very unpleasant, and would have really stunk up the house.  The animals sure liked it though, everyone was around watching, and Summer my golden retriever was my little vacuum cleaner and cleaned everything up that fell on the ground.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

new look for the blog

The entrance to our garden (taken the end of August). 
The fuscia colored flowers are Amaranth or Love lies bleeding,
you can also see the concrete raised bed in the background, with inlaid copper to keep the slugs out. 

I have been intending to update my blog to the newer templates for quite some time, and kept putting it off.  I tried out many different looks last night, and in the end chose a very simple white style, then changed my mind to the darker one this morning.  The primary reason was for printing purposes, in the event someone wanted to print a recipe out ( I don't have a printer hooked up to my computer, so I have never tried to print any of this), my Mom this morning said that she like the black background, we both agree it make the pictures look nice, and she said with the black background she could still print it, and it came out white.  So for now I'm back to the darker look, but have the new template, which I needed to do anyway.  Don't be surprised to see it change a little more, any thoughts or input would be greatly appreciated. 

The old design I had was from 3 and a half years ago when I first started this blog.  They've had the new designs for about 3 years, now that I'm set up with the new layout, I can add more things like a slide show, and category tabs.  I will be customizing and adding things over the next couple of weeks.
Times change! 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

glimpse of today

This is Dutchess, our 16 year old farm cat, It's amazing to me how young she still looks and acts, I hope I can maintain my looks half as good as she has.  I got her as a kitten when my oldest daughter(who's 20) was only 4 years old.  She's an outdoor barn cat, although we do let her into the bottom of the shop when it's open, she likes to lay next to the water heater for warmth.  Years ago when she was young she had 2 litters of kittens, she's been in fights, been moved, had close calls with something that left a lot of fur missing and a huge cut on her face, it all grew back.  She exclusively likes Purina Cat Chow, and is the spokesperson(cat) if the food dish is empty. She loves to be with me in the garden on sunny days, and likes to sit with us on the porch like all the animals do.  Our dogs and other 2 cats all have immense respect for her. I'm not sure how long cats can live, but she's going strong with her 9 lives.

The water pump out by the chickens and rabbits, I use this everyday to fill their water bottles, and fonts.

Jarin using his chisel to carve a joint in a beam.

A young pregnant mini rex doe, we have 3 pregnant does due in a couple weeks.  They are pregnant for about 31 days, and usually have from 4-6 babies.

PS. This last week I've been studying soap making.  I finally decided now was as good a time as ever to start.  I've been wanting to make soap for a long time, and have studied it over the years.  Yesterday I made a list, and spent the day  gathering supplies, and running around getting all the things I will need.  One of the biggest things I needed to find was suet (the fat around a cows kidneys) to render into tallow.  I stopped by a family friend that is a meat cutter, they were working on a side of beef when we showed up, and I got to see what suet looks like, they said they have plenty and could save it for me over the next couple days.  I was so glad to find this, and will happily share some soap with them.   I will be sharing with you in another post the supplies I gathered, and the baby steps of learning to make soap.   

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Golden Egg

I remember well our first egg, we had all been watching for it, knowing it would be any day that our young chickens, called pullets would begin laying their first highly anticipated eggs.  This was a year and a half ago, and the hens were still in the basement of the coop, since the upper floor had yet to be finished.  We created a couple spots for them to be comfortable enough to lay an egg. 

It takes a hen about 5 months to begin laying, so when you get day old chicks in the Spring, you'll begin to get eggs around the first part of September.   The first egg your hens lay is really special, there has likely been a lot of money spent with no return, until now.  Those first five months, I remember well all the hard chickens lessons we learned.  No one can quite prepare you for it, as every situation is different.   Because we went through losing some right before they began laying, I was extra careful to make sure the 7 we had left were guarded closely.   

Raising chickens makes you aware of their vulnerability, and total reliance on your care.   They need to be fed, watered, and cleaned up after.  They also need to be guarded when you let them out to eat grass and free range.  They need a safe place to sleep on perches, and a good place to lay eggs and  make a nest.  If you have broody hens, they need a quiet corner to sit for several weeks, and baby chicks need to be protected from rodents, and kept extra safe at night.

That first year, we had to crawl under and look for eggs in the basement, we always kept it clean with fresh shavings or straw.  This is Tessa that first day she found an egg.

Ruby getting ready to lay an egg, in her nest box.

Kaley with our first egg, we were all so proud that day of our chickens, and that we had managed to keep some alive through those first 5 months to actually lay an egg.

Monday, February 7, 2011

the cabin's desk

This is the table in the cabin.  We don't usually eat here, because we eat our meals in the barn at the kitchen table.  This is more a desk, with photo's, rocks, art, cards, magazines and books. You'll also notice, Grit magazine, plus a local bird book that we frequently use to identify birds, we write down the day we first see them come back in the year.  An example, this year we saw our first robin on Feb. 2nd, last year it was on Feb. 6. Since we sit on the porch to drink our coffee in the morning, we get to observe the various birds at different times of the year at our bird feeder.  On the desk, there's also a money plant, for good fortune, the ying and yang frogs, and a cute picture of polar bears.    

We like to collect rocks, the one pictured below is a Chrysophrase, and is one of our favorites.  I love the turquoise, it's the same color as a mountain lake we like in the North Cascades called Lake Blanca.   One of our first dates we ever took was a day long hike up to this incredible glacier lake, there's a picture of us on that day in one of the framed photos on the desk. 

Indoor Lighting

Over the weekend we were in the big house working on the electrical.  There was a chill in the air so J got a roaring fire going to make it cozy for working in.  15 years ago he built the fireplace and the octagonal tower that is the master bedroom.

We had my daughters boyfriend Roberto over for the day to help work on the electrical in the big house, this was a birthday and Christmas gift from him.  He's just about ready to become a journeyman electrician, and does this everyday, so we are so thankful to have his expertise and help.

J wired the barn, and cabin himself years ago, but he is a much better carpenter than electrician.   He ran all the wires in the big house, with books laid out before him, learning and studying how to do it along the way.  Then he put up the sheet rock, but the electrical was never finished, with outlets and lights. 

Currently we're in the sheetrock stage, the next step we're  planning is to stain all the wood and beams inside. Then we'll tape,  texture, and paint, then come the floors, trim and cabinets.  The cabinets J will hand- build to hold the large granite counters we have sitting waiting to be shaped.  He will also custom make all the trim throughout, and build some built in bookshelves. 

The master bedroom on the second level looks out over the garden, and has a small fireplace.  There is also an upper loft that will someday be a book nook/ hideout, or just a warm private place to retreat.  I'm excited to be able to have indoor lighting, and see the glow coming through the windows at night.  Now we just need to get our wind powered generator system hooked up to run the whole place.  I don't think solar power is the way to go in our climate, too many grey days and not enough sun.  But a windmill, we already have, we just need to buy the tower to get above the treeline (a very tall tree line)... someday we will... all things in time.  Building a home takes time, money and energy, plus a lot of patience.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

an evening ritual in the garden

During the summer and fall when the garden is overflowing with abundance, I have an evening ritual of going out to the garden to pick our dinner.  Depending on the time of year I harvest many different fruits and vegetables, looking at this picture tells me it's late summer, the beets, potatoes, blackberries and blueberries are ripe.  The rhubarb and strawberries don't give it away, because I have them all season here.  I have early strawberries called "Benton" and later strawberries that go until frost called "Tri Star" we have a lot of strawberry plants,  plus I have given away as many as I have.  That tells you how fast strawberries multiply, it's amazing.

I took this picture one evening after I had leisurely strolled through the garden picking as I walked, deciding what to make for dinner.  I might have made stir fry with the small zucchini's, sunburst patty pan squash, baby carrots, and broccoli.  I usually have a salad picked along with root vegetables, and whatever else I can find that's ripe.  I bring pounds and pounds of produce out of my garden all summer and fall. 
Rhubarb does well in our climate all summer long because we're so mild.  It's one of the first to start producing  something edible from the garden, and it's a perennial.  I make lots of pies with rhubarb, which is also called the "pie plant".  One of my favorite pies is strawberry rhubarb.  I have good success in our climate with broccoli, kale, cabbage, peas, potatoes, and all the cool season crops.  I can actually grow many things, just not the heat loving ones like melons, tomatoes, eggplant.  

Beets do well in our climate, last year I planted 4 different types, they are a true dual purpose vegetable, and one of my most valuable.  I love the greens while they're young, and the beet roots when they're mature, they last well into the fall and early winter, and some last through winter and are a pleasant surprise to find in the spring.  Today I actually harvested a few vegetables for dinner, salsify, parsley, and a few beets and turnips that I found while digging, it was nothing major, but I am thankful. 

Broccoli is harvested all the way to Thanksgiving, and it is also one of my most faithful crops, along with tomatillos (which come up like weeds everywhere in my garden). Salsa verde is what I make with tomatillos, lots of it.  Some years I can grow tomatoes, not the big ones mind you, but cherry and plum tomatoes will usually ripen.  I can grow basil if started indoors early, and still have pesto in the freezer, one of my favorite breakfasts is sauteed vegetables fresh from the garden with pesto, feta, and a couple poached eggs.

I'm starting to get back in the garden mode, and am looking forward to painting the empty canvas once more with radiant colors and vitality.  I love to eat rainbow foods from the garden, and have been missing them.  Today as I spent several hours digging, weeding, and helping my garden look more orderly, it felt good to get my heartrate up and see the results of my work.  The temperature was around 45 degrees, and a little windy, but I bundled warm with a hat and gloves, and with my faithful dog Summer by my side, we happily worked away. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Timber frame chicken coop

Add caption
The construction of our chicken coop has been a slow process, as good things take time.  I never imagined when I brought home day old chicks that my husband would want to make a timber frame chicken coop, or  that it would have a basement, or that it would turn out so nice. We've had a couple friends who've said they could live in it, I guess set up with a kitchen, deck and fireplace it could be cozy. 

The size of the coop is 10 feet wide, by 12 feet deep. The foundation is  6 piers, 2  pairs are connected with an arch.  The piers are 4 feet into the ground to the hardpan, with cages of rebar within the concrete.  The foundation is then bolted to the wood structure.  Most of the wood we used was salvage, and some from trees off the land, most of it was what we had on hand, so there was a lot of mix and match, and seeing what sizes  we had that would work. 

A note here worth telling, is that with some forethought and  chicken knowledge, we would have done things differently.  We would have dug out the basement and poured an entire concrete foundation, bottom and sides.  I had read an old timers book about chicken coops, and she said that her chickens love the dirt under a chicken coop because it stays dry in the winter, and the chickens can take dust baths.  Well the first winter that they lived in the basement was fine, we didn't begin to have troubles until spring with new baby chicks arriving.  Something began to dig under and steal a chick every few nights.  So I proceeded to spend a couple long days in the cold digging out the dirt a section at a time to a depth of about 1 1/2 feet, and laying rabbit wire to prevent dig ins.  I then refilled the dirt so they could have their dust baths.  This would have been so much simpler to do at this stage, rather than bent over digging where a full size shovel wouldn't fit.
The 7 hens we had left in the Fall, out of 20 chicks we started with in the Spring, shows the learning curve we've had with chickens.  Do not underestimate how many things want to eat your chickens.  They will come by air, ground, and even underground.  The need for a strong coop becomes paramount to keeping your flock alive. 

 The first winter we got the chickens all set up in the lower level, with perches and the aviary/chicken run.  Before the aviary was finished, we were just letting the chickens out to free range during the day, I had this dream of free ranging chickens that could run around the property.  After several fatal attacks from neighbor dogs, coyotes, and hawks beginning to fly overhead regularly, we realized the seriousness of keeping them safe in a coop and chicken run.  We also set up dog protection in the form of a zip line for Sierra and a tie out spot close to the coop for Summer.  We still put the dogs on chicken duty when we let them loose, this has been effective.  We try to let the chickens out several times a week on dry days, for a couple hours.  I notice a difference in the amount and quality of our eggs when they can free range.
When I first brought the chickens home, we kept them in a large stock tank with a light, and I would bring them out to the garden to run around while I worked.  I hauled them back and forth from the barn to the garden so many times that summer, a year and a half ago.  The coop has been done in stages, because we have other projects and work going at the same time.  It's still is not totally finished, we have plastic up where the windows should go, and we still need to put the final siding on the front and sides, along with building the overhang and landing at the entrance.  These will all get done in time

The bottom doors open up to get inside the basement, and allow access for food and water, and cleaning.  The panels on the basement have strong rabbit wire to keep out rodents. 
One of our Rhode Island Reds cruising through the arch from outside, you can kind of see the ramp that goes upstairs in this picture.