Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In the bleak midwinter...

Ah, December 30. Christmas is over and I managed to accomplish somewhere around 90% of the things on my list. I did not manage to get the kitchen trim or crown molding done, and the dogs still haven't had their baths and won't be getting them for a week or two yet as Kita just had surgery to remove six fatty tumors from his head and belly so he can't have a bath until the stitches are out in ten days or so. I managed to finish all my shopping at the last minute but I decided to do a somewhat simplified route for the gift wrap (read: the gifts were wrapped, but nowhere near the level of Martha Stewart's wrapping. And I am perfectly ok with that.)

And although I am glad to finally be done with all the shopping and wrapping for another year, I am sad to see Christmas go. Not so much because I miss the gifts or the food (we have a special breakfast menu that we only use once or twice a year) but because I miss the season. Up until December 25 there's this huge thing to look forward to: decorations are set out, lights are up on the houses, people are - for the most part - pleasant and giving, families spend time together and everything seems somehow brighter.

After Christmas you have until New Years, give or take a few days, and then all the decorations get put away, the lights pulled down and stored, and there is nothing to look forward to. Just three months of cold, grey, bleak weather. I can't even look forward to snow, at least not on a regular basis. Any snow that shows up here is, for the most part, a pleasant surprise and short lived. We had an unexpected snowfall yesterday but by this morning all that remained was slush on the sidewalks that makes it dangerous to walk three exuberant dogs.

So here we go, entering the hardest part of the year. And it will be especially dreary this year as I am headed back to school (for the zillionth time) and am signed up for the oh-so-exciting classes of Statistics and Intro to Accounting. I can hardly wait. School-wise, spring doesn't look much better: I have to take on campus classes of chemistry and microbiology, with labs. There are few things I hate more than lab classes. Sigh.

Speaking of things I've been dreading brings me to January 1st. The day that all my resolutions go into effect, including the one to weigh in at the beginning of every month. It will, in all likelihood, not be pleasant as I have been munching on the four basic food groups all this month: chocolate, ice cream, cake and chips. And I have been using my current cold as an excuse to avoid my workouts.

I just realized that I've been rambling on about just about everything except my animal family here on the Unfarm. So what can I tell you? Minna continues to wiggle out of her diaper most nights, leaving me a mess to clean up in the morning - but both ducks have at least been staying in their corner as opposed to fly-jumping onto the rabbit cages in the morning. (Knock on wood.) The chickens have seen snow before and weren't particularly pleased to see it again. The ducks had not seen it before but didn't seem to mind it much - it is, after all, just another form of water - especially today when it melted and left puddles everywhere. Kita was excited to see the snow but unfortunately wasn't up to playing in it much as he was still recuperating from his surgery. Buddy the Wimpet will take snow over rain, if forced to choose one, but would much rather deal with the heat, and Maia doesn't care what the weather does as long as she gets to sleep on the bed during the 23 hours and 45 minutes that she isn't outside every day. I attempted another bonding between TJ and Jojo yesterday. It failed - I'll allow you a minute or two to get over your shock. [Humming a little tune...] Mynx was sad to see her mom go home yesterday but she has decided that her routine here isn't so bad and Aspen has discovered that when we are out of his preferred milk he will gladly accept a squirt of whipped cream as a substitute. And that's the news on the Unfarm, for now.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

[Partial] Christmas To Do List

Here it is, December 16 and I have a million things still to do. In an effort to get organized, I am writing up a list of at least some of the things I have to get done. So here it is. On the plus side, the weather has finally gotten into the 40-50 degree range, meaning that everything that was frozen has now thawed out and I can once again use the hose outside to do the animal chores, making things MUCH easier. For the (too many days) that the temperatures were below freezing, I was having to lug a bucket of water, soap and scrub brush out to the side of the yard to clean off the duck stuff every morning. And I didn't even try to clean out the rabbit boxes. We were having all the inconvenience of snow without any of the fun of it. Just cold and clear and not a snowflake in sight.

1. Finish three week drawing in less than two days

2. Get to IKEA for picture frames

3. Make fudge

4. Order Bootie Pop panties (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4EvVErNhVE) haha - as if!

5. Make rocky road candy

6. Make butter toffee candy

7. Make chocolate covered cherries

8. Bake rolled sugar cookies

9. Bake cranberry coconut cookies

10. Give away 90% of what I just made.

11. Finish Christmas newsletter

12. Take the train to Spokane

13. Alter Maggie's diapers (ugg - I wish they would just stay ON)

14. Make new diapers for Minna (see comment for number 13)

15. Deliver Scentsy orders

16. Give the dogs a bath - all three of them (dogs, that is, not baths)

17. Give Aspen a haircut (remembering to first recruit help and write my Will, and keep plenty of bandages nearby and an ambulance on stand-by)

18. Buy Christmas gift(s) for the cats

19. Ditto for the dogs, bunnies, ducks and chickens

20. Finish the kitchen baseboards

21. Buy, cut, and put up crown molding in the kitchen

22. Replace the old kitchen trim with the new stuff.

23. Vow to never again start a project that I think I can handle only to realize that I really actually handle it. Or can handle it but don't really want to handle it.

24. Buy Christmas gifts for Mom, Dad, Liz, Pete, and Jenny, and wrap them all in yards of gift wrap, ribbons, bows, and hand stamped and embossed gift tags, as per Martha Stewart's instructions.

25. Buy birthday gifts for Mom, Liz and Pete, and wrap them as indicated above.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Unfarm introductions - Mynx

In which we discover how Mynx came to live on the Unfarm, we learn how she and Emmy got along, and we reveal some of the quirks of Mynx herself.

Mynx is our most recent cat acquisition. Not that we often go out actively looking for cats to acquire. Of all the cats that I've encountered here - eleven, that I can recall - eight of them have found me. Mynx was one of those eight, who came to live with us four years ago after she followed me home on a walk.

She was tiny, her coat in rough shape, hungry, white with black spots (picture a holstein cow, in the size and shape of a cat, and that's basically what she looks like), with a tail that is only 3/4 length, with a little bump on the end of it, and - after looking for her home for a couple weeks with no results - ours.

We thought (a bit naively) that she would be the perfect addition to the current cats on the Unfarm - that she and Emmy (our female cat) would get along great, seeing as they had so much in common. They were, after all, both female, both petite, both variations on the black and white theme, and both rescued from homelessness and starvation.

This picture of domestic bliss we had envisioned turned out to look - in actuality - much like extreme hatred would. Emmy and Mynx, instead of curling up together on a rug in front of the fire, would only come within five feet of each other if they were in the midst of a raging, yowling cat fight. These fights were, fortunately, not too common an occurrence - fights are dangerous to both parties, after all, and it is in everyone's best interest to find another way to work out disagreements. Which they did, much to the dismay of our carpets.

They began staging what I can only describe as "pee battles," the rules of which are as follows: one cat pees on the carpet somewhere and the other cat retaliates by peeing somewhere else. They were dividing up the house, staking out their respective territories by scent marking them. While this may be a natural behavior for cats to engage in, it certainly made the house rather unpleasant to live in: while we were often able to figure out which room had been marked, we couldn't always find the exact location. Needless to say, the carpet cleaner was well used.

By the time Emmy died this past April, she and Mynx had established a sort of tentative truce and the Great Pee War was largely over, with both sides sticking to their mutually agreed upon territories. And while we are still feeling the loss of our Little Miss Emmy - the gentlest and most cuddly of all the animals - Mynx seems to be taking rather well.

And so now, of the female cats, it is just Mynx left on the Unfarm. What we didn't know, when we brought her home, was just how shy she is. I don't know if she's really shy, so much as half wild. She is, to put it simply, Mynx.

Here's Mynx in a nutshell: She can not stand to be held, but the moment you sit down she's in your lap and she will lick your hand until your skin falls off. She always drinks water with her paw in the bowl. She is condensed – our vet's word – that is to say, she is not fat, but she is incredibly heavy: it actually hurts when she stands on your stomach. She loves to play. She plays with cat toys, bunny berries, invisible bugs; anything she sees (or thinks she sees.) She only goes outside if the temperature is above 80 degrees F. And even then, only for ten minutes at a time – as it is November now, she won't even look out the window until May, at the earliest. She is, at the moment, sprawled out on the table with one foot on the cable box - she does this when she's gotten too hot from sleeping curled up on top of the cable box. She will spend hours at a time moving from the cable box to the table and back again. And then there's her diet: she likes catnip (yesterday I caught her licking the plastic bag that we keep the catnip toys in) and junk food. I eat apples with those little Laughing Cow cheeses and Mynx is constantly trying to eat the cheese out of the wrapper. She also eats popcorn – both Kettle and Butter flavors – and Sun Chips.


So there you have it: a (perhaps not so) short introduction to our Mynxy cat, in all her quirky glory.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What is there to say?

I must have writer's block again. Or maybe it's apathy disguised as writer's block. I'll start a sentence or two and then decide it's no good and erase it all. Everything I try to write I end up hating. Hopefully this funk will work itself out soon and I can get back to writing again...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The search continues

I am on a search for something. I'm looking for the perfect biscuit/scone recipe that produces a smooth, somewhat flaky, rich buttermilk style biscuit. I've decided to chronicle my search here, partly so that I can keep track of which recipes I've tried and which ones I haven't, and partly so that I have something to write about now that the colder weather has the animals in a more subdued mood.

Tonight I attempted another recipe to see if it was the holy grail of biscuits, but alas, it is not. It's not bad though, and is a good plain sort of biscuit that works well as a vehicle for any sort of jam or curd you might have on hand. So here it is:

Basic British Scones

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup sugar
1/4 cup margarine
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons milk

Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees. Put the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt and sugar into a large bowl and stir it with a whisk. Cut in the margarine with a pastry cutter until it resembles small grains of rice. Add the milk and stir until the mixture forms a dough, then turn it out onto a floured surface. Knead it a few times and then roll it out to 3/4 inch thick and cut out circles with a round biscuit cutter and place them on a greased baking sheet. Bake them in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.

I had to try it out if only for the reason that it's called Basic British Scones and we are very British... my great grandmother (Nana, to all of us in the younger generations) came here from England so by the time I came along my grandma had been married to my grandpa (Nana's son) for long enough to fully entrench all his British customs in her so that we grew up with grandparents who drank tea daily and - on Christmas morning - made up a fancy breakfast of welsh pancakes with orange sauce, and blood sausage. (Which I hated at first, partly because the name grossed me out a bit - who wants to eat something called blood sausage? - but gradually came to like until I became a vegetarian over 10 years ago.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Of squirrels and feeders

Our back deck is, admittedly, a bit of a mess most of the time. At the moment is has two mostly dead basil plants, three plant pots, a stack of firewood, a wooden deck chair that is probably twenty years old, a metal deck chair that is only four years old, a bucket of potting soil, a bucket of duck food, and a bag of squirrel and jay food.

The squirrel food was on the deck because it is not well tolerated sitting on the kitchen table and besides, Buddy is likely to get into it if it is left inside. During the rainy season it is safe on the deck, even left on the ground, because Buddy only goes out when he is forced out to go to the bathroom, and even then he stays out only as long as absolutely necessary. This being the case, I was a bit surprised today when I went out and discovered two or three new holes in the bag of squirrel food, and a good amount of the food scattered all over the deck. I figured that the dogs had managed to get out during a break in the rain and get into the bag. (Squirrel food is, apparently, a delicacy to dogs. But then again I have noticed that dogs think a good many less than desirable - or even completely disgusting - things are delicacies.)

I scooped up the biggest of the mess and dropped it into the squirrel feeder and then went in to have breakfast, leaving the rest of the mess for later. Which is just as well, it turns out, because what I mistook as a mess was in reality, apparently, an all-you-can-eat buffet. It wasn't long before I noticed first one, and then two and finally three squirrels making their way along the fence, moving towards the deck. It was not the dogs that caused the mess (for once), but the squirrels. Apparently they got tired of waiting for someone to fill up their feeder and decided to help themselves to as much as they wanted.

The squirrel feeder itself is out on the dog run fence, next to a redwood tree so that the squirrels can move safely from the tree to the feeder and back again. When we first got the feeder it was a box with a hinged lid and a front made of plastic that slides in place along grooves. The clear front allows both people and squirrels to see how much food is in the feeder, and the hinged lid allows the people to fill the feeder, and the squirrels to lift the lid and take food out. This worked quite well for a while but eventually the squirrels tired of going to the trouble of lifting the lid to get to the food, so they pulled the plastic panel out and dropped it on the ground. We found it and put it back in. They pulled it out again. We replaced it. They pulled it out and chewed the wooden top off so that it couldn't be replaced, thus ending the Window Wars. Squirrels, 1; humans, 0.

The feeder still functioned without the plastic, except that you couldn't put as much food in because it would start to spill out the front. But the squirrels accepted this reduction in food as an acceptable trade off for the convenience of being able to sit on the feeder ledge and eat the food without doing any work to get to it. Actually, the squirrels preferred the feeder this way because on rainy days they can sit inside the feeder, under the lid, staying dry while snacking. Aside from the feeder's reduced capacity, the windowless feeder also allows the jays and chickens to land on the feeder (the jays are considerably more graceful at this than the chickens are) and snack on the food as well.

Because of this increased traffic at the feeder, the food runs out a lot faster than we manage to refill it. Which is why, when the squirrels discovered the food on the deck, they overcame their fear of being near the house (and, as a result, near the dogs) and turned the food bag into a small bistro: not a lot of selection, and it's all self-serve, but you can't beat the price.

I suppose I'll have to clean it up eventually, but at the moment - what with all the mud in the yard and the frequency with which we have to walk through it to refill the feeder - it's as much a convenience for us as it is for the squirrels.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mystery solved

I have - finally - solved the Mystery on the Unfarm. The Mystery on the Unfarm, in case you were unaware, is the mystery of how Minna was finding her way into the dog run, which is fully fenced off from the rest of the yard. I had two theories as to how she was accomplishing that: first, that she had found some gap at the bottom of the fence that she was crawling under; or second, that she was managing - somehow - to fly over the four foot fence. I had seen her do some pretty impressive flying when moving around the yard, so I figured both options were equally possible.

After the first or second time I found her in the dog run, I typed up a new post (entitled, obviously, Mystery on the Unfarm) and figured I would be able to solve the mystery and post the answer within a few days, maybe a week at the most. The only problem with that idea was that Minna then stayed out of the dog run for the next several weeks, meaning that the mystery would have to wait.

But, at long last, a week or so ago, Minna began turning up in the dog run again and I was finally able to catch her at it. Aha! She's been going under the fence in the gap near the compost bin. Which also explains why Maggie was never able to get into the run with her: she's too big to fit under. Which, although they are very close, did not seem to bother Minna as much as it bothered Maggie. You could always tell when Minna was in the dog run by the fact that Maggie would stand out in the yard, wandering aimlessly and quacking somewhat forlornly - upset at being left behind.

After Minna's first visit back to the dog run a week ago, she has since decided that she will head into the dog run every day, often several times a day. After about a week of watching Maggie sulk in the yard and chasing Minna back out of the dog run, I finally found a spare fence board to wedge into the gap, thus preventing any further forays by Minna.

It's not so much that I mind her going in there, but that I feel bad for Maggie who gets left alone, and I worry about Minna if the dogs happen to get worked up over the neighbor dogs while she's in there. The dogs have been remarkably well behaved around the ducks, and very tolerant of their presence in the house during the evenings, for the most part - Maia did snap once at one of the ducks when they tried to crawl over her back - but I still don't entirely trust Buddy to behave himself when he's in the throes of a FRAP. (A FRAP is a Frenetic Random Activity Period: that is the name for what happens when your dog - puppies and young dogs, mostly - goes from sleeping on the couch one second to running laps around the house like he's doing the dog version of the Indy 500 the next second.)

So, with that, I deem the case closed; mystery solved. Minna is sure to be a bit disappointed as she does not like being denied anything, but I am a worrier and I always put their safety and well-being ahead of their happiness, whether they like it or not. And with that I'm signing off - TJ is looking rather annoyed at the moment and I fear retaliation if I don't pay proper attention to him soon.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sightings

I had two interesting sightings here on the unfarm yesterday. One was cool, and the other one was a bit strange, although somewhat appropriate given that it was Halloween, I suppose.

First - while working at the computer in the bunny room, I happened to look out the window and noticed a bird perched on the end of our deck. The fact that it was so close to the house, and just perching there, warranted closer investigation so I stood up to get a better view. Upon more careful study I determined that our visitor was a hawk. I know that we have hawks in the area - red-tails and sharp-shinned hawks - but red tails are usually only spotted circling the area, never just sitting out in the open. And the sharp-shinned hawks are even more elusive - they are a smaller hawk that hunts in forested areas, preying on smaller songbirds. You might have them around and never know it because they tend to stick to the trees and stay under cover. In fact, we never even knew we had sharp-shinned hawks around until a few years ago when we discovered one dead in our blueberry bushes. It had, apparently, hit the window in the dining room and then either landed or fell into the blueberries nearby.

(The dining room window is notoriously treacherous for birds because of the way the house was laid out - the dining room is open to the living room which has a large, three panel sliding glass door leading out to the balcony. This lets in lots of light, but it also means that when a bird is flying around outside, it can see straight through the house, in the dining room window and out the glass door, so it will sometimes try to fly through, not realizing there is glass in the way. We even bought a bunch of those stickers that are designed to make birds realize they're about to run into a window, and placed them all over the window and door, but they still occasionally run into it.)

Back to our visitor, I determined eventually that it is most likely a sharp-shinned hawk due to it's smallish size and coloration, which I studied in our bird book. It sat there on a piece of firewood for several minutes, during which I was able to get a couple pictures of it with my zoom lens on my camera, before eventually flying off.

The second sighting did not actually occur on the unfarm, but near it, in the pasture across the street. My brother and I had gone in to look for apples to pick, but didn't find any. I don't know if it was just a bad year for apples (which I've heard) or if the horses or deer got to the apples before we did.

At any rate, without apples weighing us down, we decided to go check out the progress on the beaver dam. I never actually manage to spot the beaver but he has definitely left evidence of his presense in the area. What used to be a small stream flowing through a forested area is now two small lakes, separated by a pretty sturdy little dam, in an open area. He has, so far, taken down probably 15 trees - at the very least - ranging from small, thin trees with trunks only a few inches around, to maples that were a good foot or two around.

Having inspected the beaver dam and having no luck spotting the actual beaver, we decided to explore further up the valley to see if we could find a path into the forested green space above our house. As kids, we spent hours upon hours in the forest, making trails, hiking, building forts and "campfires" (that never actually hosted any real fire) and exploring around. So we set out, moving through the mud and blackberries and came to a small clearing not far from the beaver dam which is where I came upon the second discovery for the day.

A large - extremely large - dead pig, which someone had attempted to "cover" with a few clumps of weeds, pulled up and spread over the top of the pig. It was a massive animal, and probably had only been dead a couple of days, judging from the lack of any significant decay or numbers of insects. I think what must have happened is that the owners; a family who lives down the street from us who keep geese, horses, pigs, and - several years ago - a large quantity of "meat rabbits;" must have walked the pig down to the lower pasture and out of reach of the horses (pig tracks indicated that it walked at some point, and pigs are not allowed out in the pasture), shot and killed it, and then tried to cover the body to some degree with plants. Not very well, obviously, but I don't think they planned on anyone walking around down there. (Disclaimer: I do NOT condone the shooting of animals, even farm animals, for any reason - humane euthanization is the least someone can do for an ailing or dying animal.)

All in all, it was an eventful day here on the unfarm - but then, with 13 animals, including ducks that wear diapers and sleep in the house at night - when is it not an eventful day on the unfarm?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Rustic Pear Tart

While I have put off the daily art for the time being, I have not put off baking. Today's specialty: Rustic Pear Tart. The original recipe came from Sunset (my favorite) magazine, but I've altered it a bit, leaving out the egg wash and the creme fraiche, and making a few other changes. I'll include the original and my alteration recipe.

Original Rustic Pear Tart

1 sheet (about 10-12 inch) frozen puff pastry (14 oz package), thawed
2-3 firm-ripe pears, like Bosc or Comice
About 1/3 cup orange marmalade
1 large egg, beaten to blend
About 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
6 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly butter 2 large baking sheets. Roll out pastry, on a floured surface, to 16x18 inches. Cut into thirds lengthwise and in half crosswise - you'll have 6 pieces. Transfer them to the baking sheets. Core the pears and cut into thin wedges. Arrange them, overlapping them slightly, on the pastry rectangles, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border clear. Warm the marmalade in the microwave to melt, then brush over the pears. Fold border over edge of pears, stretching slightly and pressing down to hold. Brush new edges the egg, then sprinkle turbinado sugar over the tarts, especially the edges. Bake until pastries are richly browned, 25-30 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk creme fraiche and sugar until slightly thickened. Serve warm or cool, with creme fraiche.




The Unfarm's Rustic Pear Tart

1 sheet (about 10-12 inch) frozen puff pastry (14 oz package), thawed
2-3 firm-ripe pears, like Bosc or Comice
About 1/3 cup orange marmalade, heated in the microwave
About 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
Whipped cream, optional

Option one: family style: Preheat oven to 375. Grease a baking sheet. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface, to 16x18 inches. Transfer it to the baking sheet. Core the pears (and peel if you want) then cut into small chunks and drop them into a bowl. Measure out the marmalade into another bowl and melt it in the microwave, then add it to the pears. Toss the pears until they are evenly coated. Spoon them out onto the pastry, leaving a 1 inch border. Fold the pastry edge over and secure (press) against pears. Sprinkle the sugar over the tart, especially on the edges. Bake until tart is golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Cut into 6 pieces and serve (best warm) plain, or with whipped cream.

Option 2: individual tarts: Lightly butter 2 large baking sheets. Roll out pastry, on a floured surface, to 16x18 inches. Cut into thirds lengthwise and in half crosswise - you'll have 6 pieces. Transfer them to the baking sheets. Core the pears and cut into small chunks. Toss them with the marmalade in a large bowl, then spoon them onto the pastry sheets, leaving a 1 inch border. Fold the pastry edge over and secure (press) against pears. Sprinkle the sugar over the tart, especially on the edges. Bake until tart is golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Serve plain, or with whipped cream. (Tastes best warm)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Got daily art?

Umm... nope. At least, not right now. I have decided, for the time being anyway, that I'm going to put the daily art on hold for an as-yet-undetermined length of time. Partly because I'm sick of my giant printer/scanner taking up space on my desk, and partly because I need to get some serious art done soon and having the daily art hanging over me every single day is making me avoid the art I need to do.

My main concern now, after announcing the hold on the daily art, is that this exposes me as not a real artist. I feel like a real artist would be happy to do art every day. Would be excited to do art every day. Would not run out of ideas of something to draw after only a few weeks and have to resort to drawing every fruit I can lay hands on in the kitchen.

On top of everything, I feel a vague sort of anxiety starting to settle in, which I hate. It comes out of nowhere and settles in like it knows that it will be here a while so it might as well get comfortable. I hate battling off a funk. Especially when I don't know exactly what brought it on. (Not knowing where your enemy is coming from greatly reduces how well you can plan your battle, I find.) So I guess I'll stick to the old standby of reading organization books and watching TV in an effort to forget my anxiety until it - hopefully - goes away on its own. (Probably not the method most mental health professionals would recommend, but I'd rather do that than sit around analyzing my anxiety. I prefer to ignore it, whenever possible.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Daily art

It's October 18 and another daily art - a cow this time. It turned out ok, I guess.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What's new on the unfarm?

I realize there hasn't been an unfarm update in a while so here's a quick briefing.

The chickens spent most of this morning in a miserable huddle under the redwood, trying to stay dry. It poured here all morning - dark, grey clouds and thunder, making it seem like it was dusk at only 11 am. The chickens, in general, do not appreciate the rain. Light rain they will tolerate but this was far from light. Even the ducks took cover during the heavy rain.

Speaking of the ducks, Minna continues to lay an egg every day, and she continues to manage to wiggle out of her diaper after only a couple of hours of wearing it. Maggie keeps hers (or rather his) on all night most of the time but Minna is always out of hers by the morning. I'm not entirely sure why this happens - the only thing I can think of is that Minna's significantly larger chest results in the diaper strap sliding to one side or the other, which then eventually pulls the diaper off completely. I think her chest has gotten larger since she started laying. This means I'll have to try reworking her diaper - again - to account for her new... bustiness. I am really not looking forward to another session with the sewing machine - each diaper takes at least an hour to make. If I don't screw up and sew the velcro on the wrong side or stitch the back strap on backwards. But there's no avoiding it - I need to get her diapers to stay on all night, their sleeping area is always a mess in the morning and as it gets colder it's going to get more and more troublesome to do the cleanup with the hose when we have to shut of the outside water.

The cats have now officially moved into their fall routine. This means that Mynx will not be going outside again until (in all likelihood) sometime next June, and Aspen has finally decided that he will come in (most nights) at a decent hour, as opposed to his summer routine of making me wait up until midnight when he finally deigns to grace me with his presence. He also will start rubbing up against our legs again when he comes in. This - in other cats - is a sign of affection. In Aspen's case, he only does this when he is wet. Aspen is a Norwegian forest cat and the rain doesn't actually soak into his fur, it just sits on top until he wipes it on something - or, most often, on someone.

The rabbits still aren't getting along. And on top of that, I think that TJ has finally given up on Suki becoming a mate. By mate I don't mean a husband/wife type situation so much as a best friend sort of thing. In rabbits a bonded pair spend most or all of their time together, keeping each other company and grooming one another. When one half of a bonded pair dies (as is the case with TJ, in which his mate Tajha died) the remaining rabbit can get depressed and mopey until they have a new mate. That was supposed to be Suki, but Suki doesn't seem to want to participate. So, from what I can tell, TJ has decided that I will be a sort of substitute mate. What this entails is the requirement that I pet him and massage his ears whenever he is out of his cage. If I do not pet him, he reminds me of my job requirements by biting me. Not the most pleasant situation - I'm still holding out hope that somehow I can get all three rabbits to get along.

It's getting pretty late and I'm tired so the last one will be very brief (as opposed to the rest of this, which was supposed to be brief but ended up rather long and rambling...) The dogs: Buddy is improving in his behavior on walks, but I suspect that this is only because I continue to carry a water bottle and threaten to squirt him whenever he misbehaves. Maia: she remains the most well behaved on walks and around the house, but she is starting to show her age a bit in the trouble she has jumping onto and off of my bed (which is, admittedly, ridiculously high.) Kita: he is also showing his age a bit by slowing down a bit on walks and having some trouble hearing at times. In general I hate seeing evidence of old age or illness in any of the animals, but I guiltily admit that this morning it was kind of nice to see Kita sleeping through the thunderstorm which usually sends him into a full blown panic.

Daily art


Here's today's daily art: a peach. I have decided that my favorite mediums to work with are watercolor, colored pencil, and chalk pastels. I like the way watercolor has so many effects you can do with it, I like the way colored pencil and pastels can be blended and built up gradually to get the look you want.

Daily.... art?

This is (sort of) October 16th's daily art: a blind drawing of a flower which is, even though it's sideways here, definitely not my best work. But it was the daily art so I am obliged to post it. I am only slightly consoled by the fact that it is a blind drawing. I really don't like it very much.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Another dose of daily art

October 15. A tiny pear thing - yet another kitchen find. I'm hoping this creativity block is temporary - I am feeling extremely dull and uncreative.
October 14. Still suffering from artist's block I am resorting to drawing whatever I can find in the kitchen.
October 13th's daily art: Mouse in a teacup. He's kinda cute, I think.

Daily art for October 12, 2009. A blind drawing of a sleeve and hand. I was desperate for ideas of something to draw, having developed a sort of artist's block.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Daily art

Brown bear, brown bear: October 11th's daily art



Duck, duck, GOOSE: the daily art for October 10.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Recipe special notes

Apple pie notes:
To make fun, cute individual apple pies: using ramekins, place a ramekin on the rolled out pastry crust dough and cut out circles that are about 1/2 an inch larger than the ramekins all the way around. Cut out enough circles for all your ramekins. Spoon the sugared apple mix into the ramekins and fill them up to slightly heaping. Place the dough circle on top and seal the edges, then prick with a fork or knife a few times. Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet and place them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 - 25 minutes. Check them occasionally for apple tenderness and a golden crust.

Pizza notes:
You can skip the parmesan cheese if you don't have any/don't want the extra calories/can't find any good vegan option. This pizza is also really good when made with vegan mozzarella - buy a block of the melty kind and grate it yourself - Jenny has tested and approved it :)

Double crust pie pastry

2 1/2 cups flour plus extra for rolling
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chilled vegetable shortening or margarine
1/3 cup (more or less) ice cold water
1 tablespoon milk

Stir together salt and flour. Using pastry cutter, blend shortening into flour until it is the size of small grains of rice. Pour ice water over dough and toss with a fork until it can be shaped into a ball. Add more water if needed. Cut ball of dough in half and set one piece aside. Roll dough out, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Transfer it to the pie plate by rolling the dough up around the rolling pin and then unrolling it over the pie plate. Make the pie as directed then roll out the second piece and top the pie with it.

Apple pie

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 pounds (about 5) tart cooking apples
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 Double-crust Pie Pastry

Combine sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Stir together. Peel and core the apples. Cut the apples into quarters, and then cut each quarter into 8 long pieces, and finally cut the pieces in half. Drop the apples into the sugar mixture and toss them to coat all the pieces evenly. Preheat oven to 450. Line the pie plate with the bottom crust, then spoon the apples into the pie plate. Cut the butter into bits and sprinkle them over the apples. Lay the top crust over the top, trim and seal the edges, prick with a fork in several places, and paint the crust with milk. Place the pie on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 and bake for another 40 minutes, or until the top is browned and the apples are tender when pricked with a fork or knife.

Pizza Margherita

Simple pizza dough recipe
2 tablespoons olive oil
6-8 roma (plum) tomatoes, seeded and minced
1-4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
1/2 to 1 cup grated low-moisture part skim mozzarella
15 to 20 basil leaves, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spread the dough into a circle onto a lightly greased pizza sheet. Heat some olive oil (about 2 tablespoons) in a medium sized skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and tomatoes and saute 5 minutes or until tomatoes have softened. Season with salt and pepper and let cool. Spread the tomatoes evenly all over the pizza dough. Sprinkle the basil over the tomatoes. Spread the cheeses on top. Bake 12 -15 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the crust is golden. Slice and serve immediately. Delicious.

Simple Pizza Dough

This is a simple but very good pizza dough recipe.

1 cup warm water, divided
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Put 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl (check the temperature required by the yeast - it's probably around 110 -115 degrees, I check the temperature with a candy or meat thermometer) and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve. Sprinkle the yeast on top, let it sit for one minute, and then stir it into the water. Check that the yeast is active - it should get bubbly - and then add the remaining ingredients. Mix together with a wooden spoon until it comes together into a ball. Sprinkle some flour onto a work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Knead it about ten minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Keep adding flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Grease a large bowl and put the dough inside. Spray a little grease onto some plastic wrap and cover the bowl, greased side down. Place the dough in a warm place to rise until it has doubled in size (about 1 1/2 hours). Punch down the dough and knead a few times, then spread it out onto a greased pizza sheet.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Daily art

Lion on the savanna: the daily art for today - October 9. He turned out rather cute, I think.

Daily art and an update


A rowboat for October 8.

Unfarm update: Jojo is currently bored of being out and is sitting in the corner, licking the carpet. (Weird behavior though it is, because he is a rabbit, and because almost everything a rabbit does is cute, it is very cute to see him grooming the flooring.) He has exhausted all his energy on vainly trying to move the gate that blocks off the base of the table. He remains convinced that he will be able to move it if only he works on it long enough. What he doesn't realize is that the gate is now locked to the edge of my desk, thereby preventing any movement. I resorted to the lock after getting tired of constantly putting the gate back into place while the rabbits were out as they love nothing more than getting into things that they shouldn't - and they seem especially tempted by areas that I have blocked off.

Daily art

October 7, 2009 daily art: opposites (as in opposites on the color wheel: purple is opposite yellow, blue opposite orange, and green opposite red.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Daily art


And, finally, October 6: Pomegranate. Today's art and yesterday's (the coneflower) are done using watercolor and (for the black lines) calligraphy pen and ink. It's a fun way to draw, using the calligraphy pen, but the downside to it is that the ink isn't permanent and it will bleed when you add the watercolor on top.

Daily art


The art for October 5: Coneflower

Daily art

Oh, sunflower: the October 4th daily art.

Daily art

Daily art from October 3rd.

Daily art

I'm a little behind in uploading the daily art so here's October 2nd's drawing.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A comment on rabbits

In the bunny room/my office I have a large desk along one wall and a table along the adjacent wall so that I end up with an L shaped work surface. The table is used as a work surface for cutting fabric, doing art projects, or working on puzzles and underneath the table I have two large storage containers and two smaller containers that hold my art supplies. Between these four containers are gaps that are the perfect size for rabbits to squeeze into. This would not be a problem if the rabbits behaved themselves - as TJ tends to do lately (he prefers to hop on top of on the the containers and sit on the pile of blankets after he's finished exploring.)

Suki and Jojo are another matter. They tend to be more rambunctious during their time out. (TJ has been kind of low ever since his mate Tajha died and I have been through four rabbits so far in an attempt to find him a new mate but none have been the right one for TJ so far... losing one half of a bonded pair is very hard on rabbits and TJ is still battling some depression and loneliness I think.)

Were it just the containers under the table I would not be concerned, but there is also carpeting and electrical cords - both of which rabbits can wreck havoc on in very little time. Very little time. You would be surprised how fast a rabbit can bite through the cord of a $120 iron or an $800 vacuum cleaner. (What may not be surprising is how much trouble I get into when they do this.) Thus, the gate. I buy several packs of those metal grids that can be assembled into cubes for storage and zip tie them together into gates of assorted sizes and lengths, as well as large rabbit cages.

Suki and Jojo, however, are very determined and a mere gate is not going to deter them. The gate does prevent them from getting under the table, but it doesn't stop them from trying. For the past two hours they have been biting the gate and tossing their heads (thus tossing the gate far enough to create a gap where they can scoot through.) While they were making progress with the gate they kept at it but they have finally given up since I tied the gate shut. Suki was the most determined, even going after the zip ties themselves when the gate wouldn't budge but even she has finally given up (but not without looking over the gate rather forlornly when she realized that hopping over was not an option either.)

I might be tempted to give in if I didn't know that they were bent on some kind of mischief, but I do know what they're after (the cord to my lamp and the carpet in the corner.) As it is, they get two hours time out to run around the room and they will leave bunny berries all over the floor that I will have to clean up or Maia will eat them. (Dogs don't have the most discriminating of tastes, I have noticed.)

Daily art

Daily art for October 1st. And now I'm caught up. It's a bit different from the previous daily arts, but I was getting tired of coming up with ideas of things to draw and decided to just draw something that already existed - hence one of the tomatoes that we harvested from our garden today.

Daily art


Daily art for September 30: All Tied Up. The cat is orange because I didn't want to try and do a spotty cat like Mynx (who, by the way, I need to get a picture of...) and I used to have a large, orange cat named Milo. Milo didn't play with string, though - his favorite things to play with were twisty-ties and acorns. He was a very unique cat.

Daily art

I know what you're thinking: she's only been doing daily art for, like, a week and she's already slacking off: tsk, tsk. But I have been doing the art, I just haven't been uploading it because I didn't have my printer/scanner set up. The printer/scanner sits on my desk and takes up a HUGE amount of space and with only two cords to plug in I often unplug it and store it on top of my filing cabinet, out of the way. (I like to keep my environment tidy and having a printer the size of a small pony sitting on my desk is less than ideal for me.)

So: September 29th's daily art - Knot Too Shabby

Monday, September 28, 2009

Daily art

Here's today's art: "I'll Fly Away." It's a cardinal, I guess, since I have very limited color choices until I can get to the art store.

And now, another exciting edition of The Unfarm Update: Tonight when I went to put the chickens away in the armored coop I noticed that Daisy was back up on the roost bar between Penny and Sakari. This is an improvement over last week in two ways: first, because for the past couple days Penny had decided that she was going to spend the night perched on the rim of the garbage can in the shed where we store the extra straw; and second, because all of last week Daisy refused to sleep on the roost bar, choosing instead to sleep under the nest boxes on the floor of the coop - very unusual for chickens, and probably a result of her being picked on by the other two.

Things continue as usual with the rabbits: Suki is steadfastly diplomatic, being civil to both TJ and Jojo, although she is not unbiased, giving preferential treatment to Jojo and refusing TJ's repeated requests for grooming; meanwhile Jojo and TJ remain sworn enemies.

Maggie's leg appears to be on the mend and her limp is much less noticeable now - she feels well enough to come thundering down the pathway after me, trying to grab grapes before I can take them inside. Ducks in the water are very graceful. A full grown Pekin chasing you around the garden: not so graceful. (But cute nonetheless.) Minna is taking full advantage of the fact that her quack is quite noisy and is using that to get her way whenever she feels like it: bring me water in the evening, bring me food in the afternoon, let me in early and then let me out again, etc, etc.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Art by request


The poem "The Bridge Builder" by Will Allen Dromgoole with an illustration - it was commissioned, kind of, for my grandpa, who loves this poem, so that he would have some art on his walls while he stays in a rehabilitation hospital as he recovers from his stroke.

Daily art note: I have decided to count this as today's daily art because I was so busy today. First we went out to Sauvie Island and biked around the main loop, stopping at a farm store to buy squash and apples. When we got home I had to peel and chop apples, mix in the sugar, make a double batch + a little extra of pie crust dough, and bake two regular and three mini pies, then take a pie and some rocky road over to some friends who had to put their dog to sleep today. (She has been battling bone cancer for a while and her quality of life has been going downhill for a little while.) So today was busy and by now I'm tired and I still have to clean up the bunny room - I have art stuff scattered all over the place and it's a mess.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Daily art: Campfire

Here's today's daily art: entitled "Campfire." Someone in the area has been burning something the past couple days so that delicious campground smell gets carried into our yard on the breeze. Of course, I think it smells great but I know that not everyone loves the smell - my sister washes her clothes as soon as we get home from camping to get the smell off whereas I wait as long as possible before putting my sweatshirts in the wash.

I was going to do today's art entirely with watercolor but it appears that I am sadly lacking in watercolor paint: no brown, white, pink, or grey, very little yellow and tons of sticky orange stuff. Of course, I could always make pink or grey if I had white, but I don't. And it does NOT pay to try saving money buy buying cheap paint: it's usually pretty poor quality and you'll end up throwing it out in the end and you'll still need to buy good paint. My lack of paint necessitated that I find some other medium to color the logs so I used a brown oil pastel, and with the texture of the paper it ended up looking a bit log-like so I guess it's not too terrible, but I think I'll be taking a trip to the art store tomorrow.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Daily art

Here's today's daily art. Three days in a row now: not too bad. Even though I'm not totally pleased with this picture I decided to be good and upload it anyway. It's called "Baby Maggie" and it's not so much that I think it's a bad picture, but more that it isn't in the same style as the first two and I like it when things match up, are consistent.

This picture, by the way, is how the ducks looked when they slept as babies. They would have put their beak under their wing but their wings were too little.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Daily art

I first heard of the concept of daily art from Creative Thursday - http://www.creativethursday.com/ She's a super creative lady and her art is so cute. So I'm going to try to follow her lead and try to do art every day... and here's today's art, entitled: Ewe so lovely.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

There's a bird on my head

Today's art: entitled "There's a bird on my head"

A thought on art....

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
- Scott Adams

Yesterday, my brother and I took the day off and went to the fair. I went with my sister last year but she wasn't able to make it this year, thus necessitating I convince my brother to go with me. If we'd had the time I'm sure he would have insisted that we bike there as he is generally pretty opposed to using cars to get places. But the trip is about 200 miles and three hours by car and not exactly feasible to make it up and back in one day on bike. But to give him credit, my brother agreed and we had a pretty good time, even though he wouldn't let me get an elephant ear (my splurge treat) of my own and made me share one with him. (My sister has a different approach to fair food: as soon as we got to the fair last year she said, "Ok, we need to get elephant ears, caramel apples, and cotton candy.")

Most people tend to go to the fair to ride the rides and spend hundreds of dollars to win stuffed animals that just got unloaded off the ship from China that morning and probably cost about 50 cents to make. Our family, on the other hand, spends most of our time looking at the animals and the various 4-H and art exhibits. And it was the art exhibits, both professional and high school (some of the high school art was good), that have sparked my guilt. These kids are at least ten years younger than me and they're doing some really nice work. I really need to spend more time working on art. I usually just draw or work with acrylic paint but I also want to work on watercolor, lithograph, block printing and collography (just as soon as I figure out what exactly collography is.)

So, a mid September resolution of sorts: to work on practicing art more often. The two things that usually stop me are laziness and fear of the result not being as good as I had pictured it in my head. But maybe this time it'll be different and I'll actually follow through with this resolution. Hey, just last week I finished the quilt that I'd been working on for several years and had resolved to finish this year, so there's always a chance.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mystery on the Unfarm

Mystery on the Unfarm - it sounds like it could be the title for a Nancy Drew novel but it's just the latest thing going on here on the Unfarm. Yesterday I went out back and found Maggie quacking away and looking a bit lost with Minna nowhere in sight. This is unusual as Minna and Maggie are rarely more than five feet away from each other at any given moment. Minna, however, is not a quiet duck by any stretch of the imagination and following her quacks I was quickly able to find her in the dog run. How she got in there I don't know. Enter the mystery.

The backyard, I should explain, is a series of fences and runs: a chicken coop sits in the back corner surrounded by a six foot (supposedly too tall for a chicken to fly over - not true, by the way) fence that makes up their run. This is not so much to keep the chickens in as to keep strange dogs that might be visiting, out. The chicken run sits inside the dog run, which is a four foot fence that fences off the back quarter of the yard, with a "chute" that runs down the middle of the yard up onto the deck. To get from one side of the yard to the other you can either go through the gates in the dog run chute or walk under the deck, which is about seven feet off the ground. The back yard itself is entirely fenced to keep all the various animals from running off or from being bothered by passing dogs or roaming coyotes.

So the only way Minna could have gotten into the dog run, with the gates shut, is to have flown over the top or to have crawled under the dog run fence beneath the squirrel feeder, where the chickens have made large holes as a result of their dust bathing. Initially, my thinking was that Minna had simply wandered under the fence by accident - half the time the ducks wander around the yard nose first following bugs, their eyes on the dirt. Walking under a fence while not paying attention would not be unheard of.

Today, however, I arrived home to find Minna on the back deck. So did she walk under the fence again or is she stretching her wings and flying over the fence? I am starting to get a bit worried that she's flying. My previous duck could fly and she once flew over the backyard fence and hit a powerline. She also later flew away for good after my dad threw out her nest of eggs even after I had expressly told him not to touch them. (But that is a WHOLE other story.) Maggie, being almost twice as large as Minna, can neither crawl under or fly over anything and so while Minna goes exploring so she stands out in the yard quacking (somewhat forlornly) and waits for me to come out and open the gate for her.

Because I am unable to ask Minna how she keeps getting into the run, it seems that for now the mystery will continue. But we're bound to catch her at it one of these days and the Mystery on the Unfarm will be solved. Until the next one appears. And there likely will be a next one. It once took us a week to solve the Mystery of the Disappearing Chicken, but we did manage to solve it (she was flying up into a large fir tree at night and spending the whole night perched in the branches) and things returned to normal. Well, normal for the unfarm.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thoughts on autumn

It is autumn now. It's only September 16, but the rain has started and, though there might be a few more sunny and/or warm days around the corner, the summer is - for the most part, anyway - over.

What will I miss most? Keeping my window open all the time, for one thing. I like to hear the quiet noises from the garden: the birds chirping, the hummingbird flying past the house, the ducks talking to each other, a breeze in the Japanese maple outside my room. I had to close my window yesterday morning as the "quiet garden noises" coming in - while I was trying to sleep - were the neighbor's twin boys yelling about getting ready for school and remembering their lunches. Not exactly peaceful.

I'll also miss my plants. Over half of them go underground for the winter - not that you can blame them with all the rain and cold we get during the nine month rainy season here in the Pacific Northwest. I talk to them when they first come up in the spring, and then all summer long so I miss each one of them when they're hibernating. (And, out of all of the gardens on our unfarm, mine is always the most lush and beautiful. Coincidence? I think not. Talking to plants - in an encouraging way - helps.) Along with my plants, I'll miss sitting in my garden, smelling the honeysuckle and watching the bees.

And the third thing I'll miss? The bats. I love watching the bats flying over the field at dusk. We don't have a lot of bats here, but the few we do have are definitely worth watching. We have a bat house up in one of our trees - it's been there several years but we have yet to have a bat move in. Bats, it seems, don't work through a realtor. Although, a couple summers ago, we did have a nuthatch work laboriously all summer to chip a hole in the front of the bat house, only to discover - once the hole was big enough - that the bottom of the house was not solid. He looked so disappointed when he had to abandon his home after all his hard work.

The rain today was a mixed bag, as far as the animals were concerned. The chickens dislike the rain. They'll tolerate light rain but get positively disheartened when it really pours. They stand under the eaves of the house, with their feathers all fluff up, staring out at the rain with miserable expressions on their faces. The ducks, on the other hand, love the rain. They love playing in it, swimming in it, and searching out new mud puddles created by it.

Updates from the unfarm: the grapes are finally ready, and well worth the wait. Harvesting them was a bit of a challenge, though, trying to keep them away from both the rabbits and the ducks - both of whom were determined to eat as many as possible. Minna laid an egg this morning, but didn't quite know what to do with it so as soon as breakfast was ready she left it behind without so much as a backward glance. Mynxy cat has taken to licking my toothbrush. She is a very strange little thing sometimes. TJ has thrown his litter box into the middle of his cage and is moping (it appears) in the corner. Kita is feeling much more frisky after getting his hair cut again, and Buddy has been on somewhat better behaviour lately during our walks. But he is sure to be unhappy today as he HATES walking in the rain. He actually thinks that once it starts raining, going outside for anything (even to go to the bathroom) is optional. We continue to insist that it is NOT optional, and that he will not get a treat for running outside and simply pretending to go to the bathroom - a trick he constantly tries to pull every rainy season.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Open-face Caprese Sandwiches, special notes

Hey all -
Check out the new note I've added at the end of the original open-face caprese sandwich recipe - I did the recipe a second time in just the oven (instead of the grill) and it turns out just as awesome. This is a really good, simple recipe that I highly recommend if you like basil, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, or any combination of the three. It would probably also be a good thing to serve if you were having a get together with friends, as it's simple and makes a good snack sized thing that looks like you've put more work into it than you actually have to. If you do get togethers. I don't, as I don't even know enough people to fill up a broom closet, but maybe you know more people than I do...

Enjoy!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lemon Pudding Cake

The batter separates into a sponge cake layer atop a pudding bottom.

2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt

Pre-heat oven to 350. Set 6 ramekins (6 oz each) in a 9x13 baking pan, and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy. Stir in flour, milk, butter, lemon juice and lemon zest. In a large, clean bowl, whip egg whites and salt until firm (but not dry) peaks form. Stir one quarter of the egg whites into the yolk mixture until blended, then gently fold in remaining whites. Pour the batter into the ramekins. Pour enough hot water into the baking pan to come one inch up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until cake layers are set and tops are lightly golden, about 30 minutes. Remove ramekins from water bath and let cool to room temperature before serving.

Notes: This is another recipe from my favorite-est magazine in the world, Sunset. I highly recommend getting a subscription to it, especially if you live in the west as it is the magazine of western living.

I pretty much followed the directions on this one - I think in baking there's a little less wiggle room than there is in cooking. I've seen several recipes for ramekins and I've always wanted some so I broke down and bought some for this recipe - if you like baking a lot I think ramekins are a fun investment. And if you buy them at Cost Plus World Market, they're practically free - $2.99 for 4!

The recipe turned out pretty well, I think. Especially if you like lemon. I would probably like this better if it was done with chocolate instead so I might try to find a way to alter it or something... It's also a little bit more technical (is that the right word?) than I typically like but it's a good summer dessert - sort of light and airy and fresh.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Writing

"When ideas come, I write them down; when they don't come, I don't."
- William Faulkner

And unfortunately, none have come lately. No good ones, anyway. I would call it writers block but I don't know as though I actually qualify as a writer. Question: how do you know you have writers block? Answer: when the only thing you can think of to write about is writers block.

In an effort to work through my massive pile of recipes I've saved over the years I made a new dessert tonight. A "rustic" pear tart. It turned out decent enough although it could have been much better and I'll probably try it again when I have the correct type of pears - the ones I used were 1) not the right variety, and 2) much too ripe, resulting in a much soupier tart than I would have liked. So the final verdict: probably a keep recipe, but further testing is required before I can be 100% sure.

And what is new around here with the animals? Not a whole lot.

The chickens - well, Penny and Daisy, anyway - are molting and so are not laying any eggs for the time being... Sakari is not molting but she's not laying because she's on strike. Our chickens, it would seem, have unionized. But as they are valued for themselves and not simply for being egg dispensing machines they will continue to live with us as possibly the most spoiled chickens in the whole of the western hemisphere. Their current diet: corn, watermelon and - lately - grapes that they poach from the vines in my garden.

Rabbits: a bit annoyed at the lack of time out of their cages - I haven't had the heart to kick Kita out of the room the last couple days - but quite pleased with the 1.5 pounds of basil and bag full of carrot tops that we brought home from the farmers market on saturday.

As for the cats, Mynx has been spending time in Mom's room in the evening - very strange behavior for her - and Aspen has been refusing to come inside in the evenings until I bring out the tuna. Ornery cat.

The ducks are still demanding water every night at midnight and continue to enjoy their days outside - they are the only animals that are not upset by the rain, as they love water and don't seem to care in the least whether it's in their pools, comes from the sprinklers, or falls from the sky. Mud puddles are an endless source of amusement for them, although at times they look as though they've just come from a mud bath at the spa...

The dogs continue on much the same as always. Buddy gets up on the counter any chance he gets and balks at going out in the rain - as if we actually expect him to go to the bathroom outside even when it's wet: what kind of monsters are we?? Kita is looking a bit disheveled lately - trimming him takes longer than he has patience for so I have to do it in stages, with the result being that he looks somewhat patchy until I finish it completely. Maia sleeps with me in the evening, and in Mom's room during the day. I think she must log only about 45 minutes of time spent awake per day. Today Buddy was thrilled to discover that we were cutting up bell peppers - they are one of his favorite treats. That, along with broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, etc - how he came to love vegetables so much is beyond me. I'm a vegetarian and I don't even like most veggies. Maia continues to maintain her stance that Buddy and Kita are insane to eat anything that doesn't start with an "m" and end with "eat." Speaking of meat, while defrosting the freezer yesterday we came across a package of deer meat that was given to us by a "friend." As no one wanted to eat I decided to grill it up for the dogs. The most disgusting thing I've seen/smelled in a long time. Truly nauseating. Didn't seem to bother the dogs, though, as they managed to eat everything I gave them.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Open-face Caprese Sandwiches

In my attempt to work my way through my giant stack of as-yet-untried recipes I am trying to make one new thing every week or so. This week: open-faced caprese sandwiches. (Well, Jenny - my brother's girlfriend - did all the cooking, I just supplied the recipe.) The verdict: very tasty, with perhaps a little less garlic next time. Here's the original recipe, compliments of Sunset Magazine (only the best magazine ever printed!):

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon minced garlic
8 slices (about 1/2 inch thick) crusty Italian bread
3 ripe medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
16 medium basil leaves
2 tablespoons balsalmic vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare a grill for medium heat (350-450 degrees). Combine 1 tablespoon oil and the garlic and brush onto one side of each bread slice. Lay bread oiled side down on grill and cook until slightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Turn bread over, lay tomato slices onto bread to fit, overlapping if needed, then lay cheese slices over tomatoes. Cover grill and cook until cheese starts to melt, about 4 minutes. Transfer sandwiches to a platter. Put 2 basil leaves over each sandwich and drizzle with remaining tablespoon of oil and the vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Notes from our test run: We weren't able to find "crusty italian bread" so we used store made french bread instead and it turned out pretty well, probably a little softer (read: less crunchy) than the original bread would have been. We also used two different cheeses: a vegan mozzarella for Jenny and regular store bought part skim mozzarella. It probably would have been a little better with the fresh stuff but the stuff we had turned out really good too. We also skipped the balsalmic vinegar and drizzling the extra olive oil on top. So, try it if you want, whichever variation you want, and enjoy. There's nothing more summer than a caprese sandwich made with mozzarella and fresh tomatoes and basil from your garden...

Notes from trial #2: You don't have to own a grill! We did it in the oven using the broiler setting and it only takes a couple minutes - butter the bread, stick it in the oven for about 2 minutes or until the bread is a light golden, take it out, turn it over, put butter on the other side (I would recommend using either a spray margarine or melting a little butter and brush it on, as the bread is somewhat hard to handle when fresh out of the oven), add the tomatoes, basil, and cheese and put it back in the oven for another 2 minutes or so and it's ready to eat. When using the broiler, it might be better to put the basil between the tomatoes and the cheese so that it doesn't crisp up too much as it tends to do when it's on the top.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Simplicity, Part 2

Some thoughts on simplicity...

"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

- William Morris

"The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak"
- Hans Hofmann

"Maybe a person's time would be as well spent raising food as raising money to buy food."
- Frank A Clark

"You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need."
- Vernon Howard

"Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like."
- Will Rogers

Thinking about simplicity

I have been thinking about simplicity lately. Well, I always think about it but I have been thinking about it more than usual the past couple weeks. I have a small piece of calligraphy written on white paper that says "I need very little, and of that very little, I need very little" and I think of this saying often, especially when going through my stuff looking for things to get rid of. I love it when things are clean and organized and the house isn't crammed with unnecessary things everywhere you look.

I used to think that living in the country on a farm would be the ultimate simple life: grow your own food, see the stars, spend the afternoon on the porch. That is, until we got our chickens, rabbits, and ducks. I now realize that a farm life might well be a good life, but it would not necessarily be simple. Take pitchforks, for example. How many do you need, do you think? One? That's what I thought, until I discovered that there is one for turning the compost pile, one for moving hay out of the chicken coop, one for garden work, and another one for moving large quantities of hay, straw, etc. That makes four pitchforks.

And then shovels: a small one perfect for planting perennials, a normal sized one for digging out and replanting larger plants and bushes, and a square edged one for cutting sod, edging paths, and moving small patches of snow off stairs, etc, and finally an actual snow shovel for clearing large areas of snow. In the pacific northwest we don't often get snow in the winter, but you can't get rid of the snow shovels because you can be assured that as soon as you do there would be a freak snow storm that drops a good foot or so of snow, even if it's in the middle of June.

And then the ducks: they need several water bowls spread out all over the yard as well as two pools - a kiddie pool for splashing in and a livestock tank so that they can actually swim without their feet touching the bottom. And then at feeding times you have to stay with them while they eat to refill the water after Minna has stepped in it and tipped it, and then refill the food after Minna tips it trying to get out of the water bowl. Oh, and to chase the chickens away before they can chase the ducks away and steal their food.

The rabbits are another story entirely: three rabbits and two cages. Suki gets along with Jojo and TJ, they get along with her, but they can't stand each other. They need run time (outside) and binky time (inside). They should have pellets and hay available all the time, and then greens as often as possible, but not too much at once and TJ and Suki love basil leaves but Jojo looks at it like you've just given him a worm (which is to say that he gives it a disdainful look and refuses to touch it.)

And this isn't even taking into account the dogs, cats and chickens. So the only conclusion I can come to is that, no, farm life would definitely not fall into the simple catagory, but then again, life without animals would be too dull to contemplate so I suppose I will compromise by having a complicated life as long as I can keep my home and belongings simple and clutter free.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

All's quiet on the western front...

So where have I been for the last 10 days, and did I manage to accomplish any of my goals from two weeks ago? Let's see... Finish knitting a hat, check. Read three chapters of my book, check - but just barely: when I'm stressed I tend to read organizing books instead of educational ones. Walk the doggo woggos four times... no check there - I flaked out and only did three walks. I also only managed to get to the gym twice instead of the three times I'd planned on going. And, finally, try making one new recipe: check. It was a blackberry yogurt cheesecake kind of thing that sounded a lot better than it turned out, so I chucked the recipe.

And what did I manage to accomplish last week? Dog walks, gym sessions, bike rides, or new recipes? Nope, nope, nope and nope, the reason being that my parents had gone camping for the week and thus were not home to stop me from starting some massive project that I have no hope of finishing before they come back. This happens often, every time my parents leave for longer than three days, actually. Telling my sister my lastest plan - to completely redo the front yard in the time between Monday when my parents left and Friday when they returned home - prompted her to reply that she was surprised that they let me stay at the house unsupervised when they went away and that perhaps they should invest in a babysitter.

"Relax! I can handle it - just pull out the weeds, move a couple plants, retain the slope and rearrange the plants. It'll look awesome." Famous last words. But then again, all of the projects I've started have been MASSIVE projects that would easily take a whole crew of people a good week or two to finish, and invariably my parents return to some half finished construction and/or landscaping mess. And yet somehow I never seem to learn and always assume that this project will be different.

By Friday I had:
- managed to pull out five large plants, two of which I replanted in the backyard, one of which was a tree we were getting rid of anyway, and the last two - a rhodie and an azalea - which I was going to move but didn't manage to get around to, so they sat strewn about the yard, one next to the lilies, the other plopped into the ditch at the base of the yard.
- spent so much time pulling weeds that I began to dream about pulling weeds at night, and somehow managed to fill two huge yard debris bins as well as five large lawn/leaf bags with all the weeds I'd amassed from the front yard alone.
- spent multiple tedious - scratch that: extremely tedious - hours picking out hundreds of small river rocks from the dirt and transporting them to the backyard.
- been working since Monday from morning til night, whenever I wasn't walking dogs for work, running on fruit loops cereal and not enough sleep to try and finish the yard in time.

And did I get it done in time? Well, of course... not. The most that I can say for it is that it's weeded, for the most part, but - as any gardener knows - any lack of weeds is a temporary situation at best and they always seem to come back bigger and stronger the next time.

So now, you might be thinking, I must surely have learned my lesson and will never again start some big project (redoing the front yard, ripping out the carpet in the basement, painting the whole downstairs, etc) while my parents are gone on one of their longer camping trips during the summer. And hearing that question right now I would have to answer: definitely - I have no desire whatsoever to do anything more industrious than cleaning the kitchen. But, knowing me, if you ask me the same question next month I will probably already be picking out paint colors or researching flooring options.