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


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?