Saturday, March 31, 2012

Snohomish County Republican Convention

      Linda and I will be spending the day together at the Snohomish County Republican Convention. We were both elected to be delegates to the convention at the Republican Caucuses on March 3rd.  I was an automatic delegate because I was previously elected to be the precinct officer for Marion Precinct.  Linda was elected while she was off doing good works at the Star Fish House in China.  Only one other person besides me showed up at from my precinct caucus.  We were allowed to elect two delegates besides me to go to the county convention and I had not been able to persuade anyone else to come to the caucus and participate.  I am supporting Mitt Romney and the other attendee was supporting Ron Paul.  I told him I would vote for him to be a delegate if he would vote for Linda to be a delegate.  That seemed like a fair trade and he agreed.  The hard part was breaking the news to Linda after she got home from China and talking her into going. I am hoping she will have a positive experience if for no other reason than so she won't be reminding me about roping her into this for the next however many years.

      I got up early today to take care of the animals before we left.  The ducks of course are still producing two eggs  every morning without fail.  I have caught a couple of the hens sitting in the next boxes over the past few days. I finally found my first chicken egg.  The little pullet egg looks pitifully small compared to the duck eggs.  However, the chickens have finally gotten on the score board.  The current tally is Ducks  106, Chickens 1. I'm not sure I should even count the pullet egg as a full egg.  However, the chickens are in such a hole at this point they need all of the help they can get.
The duck nest with eight eggs

The chicken nest with one small pullet egg

My future mint bed

This is one of two black currant bushes I planted between the goat pasture and the chicken pen

The pullet egg looks very small next to the duck eggs

     Linda has been diligently working outside quite a bit this week.  Her efforts have been centered around the cleanup of some garden beds which involves the removal of some peppermint she naively planted several years ago.  I dumped the remains of the unruly mint bed out between the chicken pen and the goat pasture, next to my new bee yard.  I fully realize that will result in another mint bed, but that is actually a pretty good place for a mint bed.   It will have difficulty spreading into the bee yard, the chicken pen or the goat pasture and I have a bamboo barrier on the remaining side.  I like having a mint bed near the bee yard as I can use the mint to mask my scent when I want to work the bees bare handed.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's Great to Have My Sweetie Home!

Linda's Triumphant Return
     We picked Linda and Rachel up from the airport on Monday.  It is so very nice to have her home again.  Sarah and Chris came up with all the kids and two of Rachel's friends so we had a full house. Unfortunately, Linda is having a difficult time adjusting back to Pacific Daylight Time.  Her body clock seems stuck somewhere between here and China. I, on the other hand, am already sleeping much better now that Linda is home. Its been a long sleep deprived 5 weeks while Linda was in China.
Linda coming up the escalator at SeaTac to her awaiting fans
Pike Place Market
   We stopped by the Pike Place Market in Seattle on our way to pick up Linda and Rachel.  The primary purpose of the stop was for the purchase of a a nice bouquet of tulips for Linda.  We also managed to pick up some donuts.  You can guess which picture below is a more accurate presentation of the actual size of the very large donut.  Fittingly, we also passed a street musician playing some sort of Chinese stringed instrument.

Ducks vs Chickens
    The challenge continues, but sadly only one side is participating so far.  The current tally is Ducks 88, Chickens 0.  We are accumulating a lot of duck eggs in the fridge.  I'm going to take another 18 over to the Veatchlings and give them another shot at incubating eggs.  In the meantime (as opposed to the "nicetime"?) we have lots of eggs for anyone who wants to try duck eggs.  Our ducks are not eating any fish so there is no fishy flavor or anything like that.  I like them as fried eggs, etc but Linda doesn't care for them claiming they taste different. My friend Quentin, who can be particularly persnickety when it comes to tastes and smells, actually prefers the duck eggs to chicken eggs. Any blog followers are welcome to a dozen duck eggs to try for themselves. The only catch is that you have to stop by to get them. I have no plans to send eggs in the mail any time soon.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

New Cornbread Recipe

     I found an interesting book at the library entitled "The Cornbread Gospels" written by Crescent Dragonwagon.  In spite of the odd name of the author, I had to check it out.  I have always considered cornbread to be serious comfort food. I've been looking through the book for the past week in an effort to decide which recipe to try first.  I finally settled on the second recipe in the book, "Truman Capote's Family's Cornbread".  I am not a Truman Capote fan, but I tried the recipe anyhow.  The book didn't make any claims as to Truman Capote actually having used the recipe. It merely purported to have come from Truman Capote's great aunt, Sook Faulk, from Monroeville, Alabama.  I was intrigued with the recipe partly because it was so very simple and partly because it used no wheat flour, just corn meal. I also liked the idea of baking the cornbread in a cast iron skillet.  The recipe is as follows:

      1 tablespoon butter or bacon drippings
      2 eggs (I used 2 duck eggs as that was what I had, probably the equivalent of 3 chicken eggs)
      2 cups buttermilk
      1 teaspoon sugar (I used a tablespoon of sugar)
      1 teaspoon salt (I used 1/2 teaspoon of salt)
      1 teaspoon baking soda
      2 cups stone-ground white cornmeal (I used yellow cornmeal because that was what I had)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the butter or drippings in a 10 inch cast iron skillet, and place it in the oven.

2. Combine the eggs and buttermilk in a small bowl or measuring cup, whisking it together well with a fork.

3. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, salt, baking soda, and cornmeal, stirring well to combine.

4. Stir the egg and milk mixture into the dry ingredients, beating just until the dry ingredients are moistened, no more.

5. Pull the skillet from the oven. It should be good and hot, with the fat sizzling. Swirl the pan to coat it. Quickly transfer the batter to the hot skillet and return the skillet to the oven.

6. Bake until browned and pulling away from the skillet. Serve hot in wedges from the pan.

Truman Capote's Family's Cornbread
   In spite of my various substitutions it turned out very well. Since it was just cornmeal and no wheat flour I had expected it to be heavier than my regular cornbread, I am happy to report that was not the case. It wasn't heavy at all. I will have to try it sometime with white cornmeal. I have never bought the white cornmeal before as I am just so used to the fact that cornbread should be yellow. If you have any interest in cornbread I would recommend the book. The first recipe I tried was a serious home run.

     For those who are following the epic struggle between species of poultry the current score is Ducks 66, Chickens 0.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Goat Shearing Stand

     I recently completed a shearing stand for the goats. Its a little project I've been working on over the past month or so.  I found plans on the internet for a milking stand and with a few modifications seems to work very well as a shearing stand.  I built the shearing stand from recycled treated wood and deck screws from the erstwhile front deck.  It is very stout and worked surprisingly well.  I managed to shear both goats in less time than it would normally have taken for me to shear one of them.  The most wonderful part was that I didn't have to recruit an assistant to help restrain the goat while I sheared it.  Its amazing how much easier a job can be if you have the right tools.  I was also able to trim their hooves at the same time. While I'm still not exactly an expert shearer, I felt a good deal more competent having the aid of the shearing stand. I had to build what is in effect a "booster chair" for Buster as he is so much shorter than Black Jack.  That worked very well too.  I built a bracket to hold 2x4 boards to keep the goats from moving away from me and stepping off the shearing stand.  I didn't even have to use that with little Buster, but it was very necessary with Black Jack.  I still need to tweak that particular feature a bit and I need to add a second one on the other side of the shearing stand as well.
Less than Fully Cooperative Black Jack on Shearing Stand

Unhappy to be Here and Going Nowhere

     I took my incubator and 18 duck eggs over to the Veatch family on Wednesday evening.  The girls were real excited about trying to hatch out ducklings.  I'm hopeful that they will have some success. I gave them some instructions and left the potential little ducklings in their enthusiastic, but less than experienced hands.  The incubator is a still air type and needs to stay at about 102 degrees fahrenheit, measured at the top of the eggs.  The eggs need to be turned three times every day. Once when they get up, once when the girls get home from school, and once before they go to bed.  Since waterfowl eggs require higher humidity, it is important to spray the eggs with warm water every time they are turned. Duck eggs require 28 days incubation. I bought a really cool egg candling device the other day. I lent that out as well because it is very very important to cull out any eggs that are infertile. Otherwise they just get very very rotten and can actually explode inside the incubator.  I told the girls they needed to candle the eggs at the end of the first week.  Any eggs that are infertile need to be culled and thrown very far away.  We wrote a number on each egg in a circle on one side of the egg.  We placed an x on the other side so as to make it easier to know when all of the eggs have been turned.  The girls wanted to start naming them on the spot, but I suggested they may want to wait until they have culled the infertile eggs.  At that time they can name all of the infertile ones different variation of "Stinky".

    Meanwhile, my two runner duck hens, Olive Oyle and Sweet Pea, are each still laying an egg every morning, just like clockwork.  The score as of Friday, March 9th is Ducks 62, Chickens 0.

   I have been trying to diligently keep the bird feeder filled during Linda's absence.  We had a pretty good supply of McDaniel's "Patio blend" bird feed when Linda left for China. I have gone through most of it during the last four weeks.  I had to buy another large bag of the stuff today to replenish our store.  It seems rather expensive compared to most bird feed, but its really not a bad buy. It doesn't contain anything the birds don't like so they don't have to scatter seeds everywhere as they try to pick through to find the good stuff.  From the birds' perspective, its all good stuff.  They like it so well that they even clean up most of what falls to the ground.  I took a few pictures to document the fact that I've been keeping the feeder filled.  Note the Western Flicker in the top picture.  The cats are both very enthusiastic bird watchers and also appreciate a full bird feeder.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ducks vs Chickens Update

     I have contracted out the job of incubating a clutch of duck eggs to the older Veatch children.  I've had the incubator running for about 5 days and it seems to be doing a fair job of keeping close to the requisite 102 degrees Fahrenheit required to do duck eggs in a still air incubator.  I'll be taking the incubator and the duck eggs over to the Veatch home Wednesday evening.   As of this morning,  the score is  Ducks 54  Chickens 0. The chickens are being smoked like the proverbial cheap cigar.

    I have started  a number of seeds indoors and am trying to get my cold frame finished so I can move them outside soon.  It gives me great joy to see the little seedlings emerging from the soil. I'm trying out some "Earth Pots" which I saw at the Seattle Flower and Garden Show.  So far I'm favorably impressed.  It looks like it is much easier for the plant roots to penetrate the pots than it is with the old standard peat pots.

     I'm doing another winter squash trial this year.  I'm planting Golden Globe and Lakota winter squash seeds that I was given by my good friend Terry Johnson.  I'm also trying Golden Hubbard.   Terry strongly recommended both of the squash varieties he gave me as doing well in our marginal winter squash climate. Terry says they have been successful when other varieties have not.  I'm planting the Golden Hubbard as a point of reference.  If they all do well, I'll be looking to see if the Golden Globe and Lakota matured earlier than the Golden Hubbard.  I'll really be impressed if the Golden Hubbard doesn't make a crop but the other two varieties are successful.  I'm starting them early in the cold frame so if we even have an average summer I hope to get a harvest from all three.

     I looked up Lakota on the internet and found some pictures and a little history in the Burpee catalog.  Lakota is an heirloom variety supposedly obtained from the Sioux Indians.  It has a Hubbard shape and appearance but has some really pretty striping rather than just one color.  It looks like it could be the inspiration for some indian blanket designs.

     I've also started basil and tomatillos.  Terry Johnson said he planted tomatillos about ten years ago and they have volunteered every year since.  As evidence of their success Terry gave me a three gallon bucket full of tomatillos last year. I made them into salsa verde.  I've about given up on tomatoes in our cool maritime summers.  At least with tomatillos I should get salsa verde every year.  Among my goals today is to get at least some of my onion sets planted.