Monday, June 8, 2015

Stinky Spring

It's difficult for me these days to keep up with blogs, especially during the spring season with so much to get done!  I wanted to make a fast post to show you what I finally captured before it withers.  Behold, the majestic Symplocarpus foetidus or Skunk Cabbage.

When I first moved in with Pat, I jogged religiously and I began to notice an odor near our creek bridge every spring.  At first, I thought it might have been a dead deer carcass that I couldn't quite find but after smelling it around the same time each spring I figured it had to be some sort of mold or fungus.  Pat figured it out last year when he noticed the goats would not eat a particularly green large leaved plant growing on the lowland.  Usually, for the goats, large leaf equals prized food but not this time.  Pat tried to offer it to them but when he plucked a leaf out and crushed it, he found it smelled like rotten meat.  Bingo.  Culprit found.  He did a little research and found that it actually has the ability to generate its own heat to melt snow in spring.  It also has a contractile root system which means it pulls the plant itself down into the earth further each year.  In essence, it grows down not up.

I went looking for the blossom this year and found it!  I am one of those weirdos who likes carnivorous plants and weird looking blooms.  The green and red striations are very striking to me.

But I have a secret to share:  I had a cold so the whole time I was photographing, I couldn't smell a thing.  Otherwise, I might not have been so into the idea of getting so close to this fetid rose!

First Vegetables out of the Garden

The radishes are peeking above the soil!  Such pretty colors in the summer sun.  The bugs are beginning to notice the broccoli so we pulled the biggest out of the bunch to have for dinner before the insects beat us to it.  I count this as a grand success since we had brussell sprouts that tried to flourish but the bugs just kept at them.  A leaf would unfurl and promptly get nibbled back.  This guy is far from grocery store sized but we ate it anyway!  We chopped up the radish leaves and broccoli stem leaves and mixed it in with salad.  There are good sources of minerals in those leaves!

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Goats of Spring

Spring is here and lovely new green leaves mean the buffet has arrived!  I'm pretty sure the goats are tired of just bamboo and hay.  The winter snow and ice fells a lot of pine and they love to clean up after that but it's just not the same and wandering through a mild spring morning in the shade of the trees while the birds are chattering.  It's been a good long time since I updated on these guys and I know Aunt Amy, Aunt Linda, and Pops Dube are wondering what is up so here we go:

Legend is the alpha goat.  He's mild but cranky in his old age.  Where does a 150+ lb. goat go? Anywhere he wants to go.  He likes the companionship but he's got no problem knocking the other two out of the way if he wants.  Here he has his regal camera pose.  He rules the roost even without horns. 

Brother and Sister like to stay together even if they butt heads more often than not.  Sometimes you can here them go clack!clack! when one or the other has something the other wants.  The altercation usually doesn't last long.  Sometimes when Pat and I are with them they will put on a play show that will last.  Then we can root for our favorite teams and place bets!

Odin is a true beta.  He can usually be found either kissing Legend's butt or competing with him half heartedly for resources.  Legend puts up with this for a few minutes before he knocks him out of the way.  Odin always cracks me up because if Pat or I are around, he usually diverts from kissing up to Legend to kissing up to one of us; which ever one has the most resources/power at the moment.

Vada is a lady and anything but meek.  She is low goat on the totem pole.  Thankfully, she is also the resident spitfire.  While the boys are busy competing with each other, she will go off on her own path to fend for herself.  You go girl.  She can be sweet too, when she wants, and both her and Odin will come up and lay down on you if they are so inclined. Not Legend.  No fluffy business for him.  He will lay down near you but will flip out if you try to rest against him.

As a white goat, she can be blinding in the sun sometimes.  She's usually pretty clean and I rarely see her get muddy or poke berry stained.  Always a lady.

After a full day of browsing, everyone likes to lounge in the lot and digest in the shade.  Legend looks like he is in the process of telling a bad joke and the rest are responding, "her, her, her, that funny."  Life is good in the spring time and bellies are full.  Can't wait to break into Lana's garden and eat everything when she's not looking!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Say Hello . . .

. . . to my little friend!  Pat and I took a walk this morning and this is the little present I found.  Yep, nasty hippy went digging through road kill.  Don't worry.  I washed my hands instead of licking them clean.

I saw bleached white sticking up out of the grass and went to investigate.  Those are some nasty look'n choppers.  At first I thought it was a cat but the snout is too long to be a cat.  My second guess was fox but owing to the mass of gray fur around the bone pile, I'm pretty sure it's a possum.  I wondered about the gap between the canines and the small incisors but when I looked up "possum skull" I saw that it is a groove for the bottom canines to slot into.  The bottom jaw was missing.

So, now I'll share with you two possum stories.  I'll wax nostalgic and start by opening the way grandma would by telling you to "sit the hell down and listen!"

When we where little, my brother and sister and I went to play in the back yard which included a pasture behind the woodshed.  I was about 7 or 8 and for some reason an old lime green flannel blanket was laying in the middle of the pasture.  Back then we used a clothesline to dry clothes and I can see where the wind might have blown it loose and carried it into the back pasture.  When we went to investigate, we found a very large (20 lb?) possum curled up in it.  He was playing dead and his lips were curled back and we could see his shiny sharp teeth.  We didn't know any better and we figured he was asleep.  I think we turned him at least once and poked him a few times and he never budged.  When we told mom, she just about had a stroke over it.  I'm grateful now to that old possum.  He could have leapt up off the blanket and shredded us kids but I guess he somehow knew we were just kids and would leave him alone eventually.

Story number two involved my father finding a baby possum when he was young.  I think he was about 6 or 7.  At any rate, he brought it home and knew he would get in trouble so he hid it on their enclosed back porch where my grandmother did the wash.  There was a clothesline strung up inside so he curled the little possum's tale around the clothesline and left him hanging to sleep for the night.  Needless to say, when my grandmother did a load of laundry early the next morning she nearly had a heart attack and my dad got in big trouble.

Damn kids, and clotheslines, and possums!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Twas the Day before Christmas

So, on a whim, I snagged the latest copy of Mother Earth News a week ago.  Try a new bread recipe for myself?  Well, yes!  So, when I had Christmas Eve off I knew I had a mission.  I had actually made blackberry juice for jelly earlier this fall and put it in the freezer.  From September up until now I felt as if a fuse had been lit in my life and things went into overdrive.  I had one opportunity or success after another (and I can ask for NO better problem to have really) but boy was it a whirl wind.  Now I finally got to try out the preserves recipe I've been toting around.

I never did try out that recipe in the magazine!  I didn't have some of the ingredients so I just made one up.  To my dismay, it seems the food moths got into virtually all my flours so I inadvertently had to clean out my baking cabinet.  My bread ended up being a oat, flax seed, whole wheat/white mix.  Still tasted good!

I had two recipes I wanted to try.  The first I did was for blackberry jelly.  Jelly has no seeds.  Jams and preserves retain the seeds.  The blackberry juice cooked up so pretty.  Any fan of blackberries will appreciate the sweet dark rich abyss bubbling on the stove top.  

I had just enough blackberries left in the freezer to also do a batch of jam.  Woohoo!  Now there is room in my freezer to stash other things.  It was surreal to be canning my jam and then look out the window and see snow falling.  How lucky we got today to actually have a white Christmas Eve!

It's been a while since I've updated on the goats but they are doing well.  We switched them over to the garden yesterday and put up the temporary shelter.  I wish I had more photos but they didn't stand very still and it was getting dark.  Vada is turning into a little ham.  She kept hopping up on my legs and putting her snoot into the camera lens.  I managed to snap one good shot that wasn't snuffly or blurry.

Say Goat Cheese!

~~~Happy Holidays, Everyone! ~~~

Monday, June 25, 2012

Delicious Fox Grape Forage

Here in Virginia, and particularly in my part of Appalachia, it has become a popular venture to open up wineries in the sloping mountainsides. Many wineries that rely on European and North American grapes owe a debt to the Southern Muscadine or Fox Grape. This wild cultivar of the south is resistant to many of the diseases that plague most domestic grape stock. Considered a weed by most for its tenacity and ability to choke out other plants and over run fences and creek beds, many don't know the secrets of fox grape wine, jelly, and jam. I myself find it hard to gather enough grapes from our tough scrubby vines as they love to climb up high into the trees of dip into the creek in the back yard. I did however come to enjoy the leaves when I was trying to make Vietnamese leaf-wrapped rolls and found myself without the traditional Betel leaves. The recipe said "if you lack for Betel use Grape instead". I wondered if it would be okay to use the Fox Grape leaf. I know of the domestic varieties being used but never heard of anyone cooking with Muscadine Grape Leaves. I tried it out two years ago and Fox Grape Leaf Wraps have become one of our favorite harbingers of spring and summer and we look forward to it every year.

First recognize your quarry and grab your basket for the harvest!  I have a few different places that I gather on my property so I'm not taxing any one plant.  I doubt I could over harvest them as they really do grow like weeds but I try to be sustainable all the same.  Look for full leaves ideally the size of your palm but slightly smaller will do for tiny portions.  Try to get leaves that haven't been riddled with holes, splattered with bird poop, or had bug eggs laid on them.  Pretty obvious but . . . anyway, I look for leaves that have an attractive middle green color and have a flat, not shiny, color.  They are young enough to be savory but old enough not to fall apart during wrapping.  Brand new spring green leaves that still have a sheen on them will tear easily while wrapping.  Older leaves that are a dark green color can harbor tough strings in the veins that are not fun to eat.  I find that I can make 30 rolls from one pound of meat.

Gather your grape leaves, rinse them in the sink, and then soak them in a bath of water for 20 minutes to a few hours in the fridge.  I find I can gather the leaves in the morning when it's cool and not as buggy, mix the meat, and then stash it in the fridge and it is ready and waiting by the time dinner time rolls around.  For the meat filling, you will need:

*1 pound of ground pork
*2 cloves of garlic minced
*2 tablespoons of minced lemongrass
*2 shallots minced
*1 teaspoon of curry powder
*1 teaspoon of oyster sauce
*2 teaspoons of fish sauce
*1 tablespoon of corn starch
*2 teaspoons of sugar
*1/4 teaspoon of salt
*1/2 freshly ground black pepper

I mix all the seasonings together in a paste first and then kneed it into the pork like meatloaf.  If I don't have everything readily available, there are some suitable substitutes you can use.  I rarely have shallots just hanging around.  I went to the Spice Diva and scored some dried shallots.  (I adore their apothecary style storefront!)  I use a tablespoon per "shallot" called for in a recipe.  In the photo above, I substituted scallions.  If needed, I'm sure you could substitute hoisin for oyster without noticing too much.  Once your filling has been prepared, let it rest for an hour in the fridge.  Take this opportunity as well to toss 5 or 6 bamboo skewers into some water to soak.

While your leaves and filling rest in the fridge you can whip up some delicious dipping sauce!  You will need:

*1 teaspoon of hot pepper flakes
*3 medium cloves of garlic
*1/4 cup of sugar
*3 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice
*1 tablespoon white vinegar
*3 tablespoons of fish sauce
*1/2 cup of water
*1/2 teaspoon of salt

First, dissolve the sugar and salt in the lime juice, white vinegar, and fish sauce.  Next, mince the garlic and crush with the side of the knife to make a finely minced paste.  Add to sauce along with pepper flakes.  Add pepper flakes and set aside to wait for grape leaf rolls!

Now we are ready to start assembling!

Step 1:
Place your grape leaf on a flat surface and spoon a tablespoons worth of filling in the center.

Step 2:
Roll the bottom end near where stem was up.

Step 3:
Tuck sides of leaf into the roll as you would a little burrito.

Step 4:
Continue roll with sides enclosing meat filling.

Step 5:
Tah-Dah!  You've completed your grape leaf roll!

Step 6:
Now, skewer the little bugger on a bamboo skewer and keep trucking until the leaves run out or the filling runs out!

Now, your little green army is ready to cook.  Eeew!  That dirty hippy doesn't wash her pans!  No, my pan isn't dirty.  It's seasoned.  Stop judging.  I keep this one for things I know are going to make a mess.  Think of it as the battle ax veteran that holds your little green army together.

Go ahead and brush some oil on both sides of your grape leaf rolls.  I use olive oil.  These are fantastic on the grill but if you don't feel like firing up the briquettes you can fire up your oven to 400 degrees and cook for roughly 10 minutes until they look like this:

Trust me, it smells like heaven.  You might be inclined to say, Wow, that was a crap ton of work.  I don't know if I want to do all this again. and then you'll taste them and say, Wow, when are we going to have these again!!!  Later on during the winter when the snow flakes are drifting softly down you'll sit by the window and think, I wish I had a fox grape leaf roll right now.

I serve these up on a tray alongside fresh veggies like cucumbers, lettuce, carrots.  Most any vegetable that you like to consume raw will compliment these and taste great with the dipping sauce.  Enjoy!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Odin & Vada

Remember those cute babies that I posted about earlier in April?  It is now time for a formal introduction.  I don't go to church anymore but that doesn't make me a less spiritual person.  In fact, (because I know everyone is just DYING for me to go into my own spirituality.  Enjoy this.  This is for you.) I have always felt more spiritually alive in the fields of my family farm, overgrown back roads forests, and scrambling blackberry thickets than any church I've had the opportunity to attend.  That said, it's no surprise that I've ended up with hobbies that require me to constantly be outside and in the brush.  I do hold to some habits that would be perceived as superstitions and introduction is one of them.

Many cultures have ceremonies and rituals that include a waiting period for giving a baby a name.  The Jewish ceremony of naming a baby occurs 8 days after or at the first Sabbath (for girls).  Ghana culture also dictates waiting for 8 days until naming a child.  Hmong have a ceremony called "Hu Plig" or soul calling which takes place 3 days after birth in which the name of the child is officially conferred.  Until then, "a baby was not considered to be fully a member of the human race," (Anne Fadiman, "The Spirit catches you and you fall down"1997)  All of these stem from the practical aspect that you "don't count chickens until they hatch" and even then some.  Infant mortalities these days in humans are not what they used to be, at least in this country.  Animal husbandry is still a tricky business so I am superstitious and usually keep quiet on any new venture until I'm satisfied that things have settled into a normal rhythm of existence.

Meet Odin!  He's the little brown boy who is going to knock around with Legend when we aren't there.  I wanted to keep his horns and they are growing at a much faster rate than his sister's.  At first, I chose his name because we had just seen the movie Thor and found Norse mythology that I know nothing about to be exotic and interesting.  I can't wait to start painting 8 legged horses.  Anyway, Odin is living up to his name sake because his cry is piercing and people in Waynesboro could probably identify Odin by now.  I think he will be known as "Odin Broketail" because his little tail is turned to the side.  It was probably broken at birth because the photos of him when he was a day old show his tail cocked to the side like that and I can feel a knot in the bones.  It doesn't seem to bother him and he'll wag it all the same. Though we left his horns intact other things were not to be . . .

Here's a picture of us hanging out on the porch swing after he got neutered.  He's a 20 lb. chunk and was still groggy when we got back from the vet.  I didn't have the heart to toss him back in the pasture while he was stumbling around so we sat on the porch for a while to sleep off the anesthesia.

The staff at the vet's office were intrigued by his little "horn-staches" as I call them.  He still has little tufts of hair growing from the tips of his horns.  They will fall off eventually but the staff said they've never seen that before.

Odin was so knocked out that he drooled on my arm on the way home.  After a while, he was back to his old springy self and was bouncing around in the pen with his sister.

His ears still turn up like little tacos and we call him "taco ear" sometimes.  He's growing fast and I'm sure soon we'll have trouble picking him up like this.  He never would drink the bottle after we got him.  His sister started off well but he didn't want to have a thing to do with the bottle.  It was frustrating and one of the reasons I didn't want to post about my new goats because if one wasn't eating there would be trouble fast.  He's gotten fat and growing tall and fighting with Legend over the grain bucket.  The vet said he was doing well too so my fears have subsided.

Meet Vada!  She looks very similar to her mama.  I chose my grandmother's middle name for her.  It is germanic for "ruler" in the feminine.  She is not as boisterous as her brother and not as big but she's proven to be more of a climber and jumper.  If I'm trying to keep Odin out of Legend's grain and vice versa, she'll try to hop up on my back or shoulders for attention.  It's really a goat rodeo.  Maybe it's the Kirin in her.

We initially started out with plastic soda bottles.  Because they were young we were starting out with Pritchard Nipples.  These had threads that you screw on to a plastic soda bottle.  I don't really like to use plastic anything very much but we wanted to give it a try.  Needless to say, we got milk everywhere but in the goats.  It was a mess.  I had gotten some black rubber nipples just in case and thank goodness for that.  Pat got some beer bottles down from out beer making kit and I laughed because they were Kirin beers.  They work great and heat up nicely in a water bath.  

Vada all but mows you down for her bottle now.  We usually have a towel around because she gets a milk foam around her mouth that she'll shake everywhere and wipe onto you.

She's gotten into the bad habit of running through the electric fence wires because she is small enough to fit through the gaps.  That is the only time she will try to get out of the fence.  If she sees the bright color striped bag we carry her bottle in coming down the path, all bets are off and out she'll pop through the fence.  Bad baby, Vada!

We will probably have to widen their area soon because the little (and big) munch machines have cleared their area out pretty well.  By next year it probably will be a pasture instead of an overgrown brush.  I thought we would end this story with a shot of everyone together but when everyone got lined up, of course, they were all facing me with the tail end.  Typical goat.