Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

Here it is, 11:35 on December 31, 2010: less than thirty minutes before midnight and how am I ringing in the New Year? By writing this blog. My brother is out at one of several parties he'd been invited to but I am choosing to stay here on the Unfarm with the animals. (In the interest of full disclosure I should probably say that I wasn't actually invited to a New Year's Eve party as all the people I know are animals, and most of them already live here on the Unfarm with me - but that's fine with me: I don't get along with people nearly so well as I get along with animals.) So here I am, at home, trying to finish my massive to-do list before I go to sleep (another classic case of I-think-I-can-handle-it-itis, for which I am well known - it is rare occasion when I tackle a project that I actually have a reasonable chance of completing.) I have decided that instead of (or most likely, in addition to) spring cleaning, I will clean (and even dust) my room, do all my laundry, change the sheets on my bed, and try to catch up on my workout so that I can start 2011 fresh tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, I spent most of the day procrastinating so now I have an unreasonably long list of things left to do and I am quickly running out of time to accomplish them.

I also need to write out my resolutions, which will probably include trying to make a dent in the massive pile of books I have yet to read (I did manage to read at least 12 of them this year but I probably also bought close to that many, if not more, new ones.) Books are my one weakness. I generally hate collections, but I will admit to having a fairly large book collection - but in my defense, many of them are reference books having to do with animal health and art techniques. The only problem is that I am now running out of room for all my books. I have four bookshelves (one of which is an IKEA shelf almost as tall as the ceiling) but they are now all at capacity and it will take a small miracle if I am able to rearrange them enough to fit in the new ones.

Fireworks. It's midnight.

I will probably have several things on my list of resolutions, but one of the most important goals is to lose weight. I know, I know: everyone makes that resolution and very few people keep it - if I am being completely honest, I made that resolution last year and didn't manage to keep it, so we'll have to see if I'm able to do any better this year. I am not looking forward to a weigh-in tomorrow as I have been eating fudge and butter toffee and cookies for the last few weeks. I have a terrible sweet tooth and I have discovered that if I try to simply limit my sugar intake, I generally go overboard and my self-imposed limits are usually out the window before lunch, so this time I'll try going cold turkey and cutting out sugar (in the form of candy, cookies, ice cream, etc - it would be too difficult to eliminate all sugar from my diet) altogether. Whether or not I will manage to keep any of these resolutions, however, will have to remain to be seen. I will try to keep you updated as to my progress on my goals, but whatever the animals have been up to lately is usually far more interesting than whether or not I lost a pound or finished reading Think Like A Cat yet.

So, as a special treat for New Year's Eve, here's a sneak peek at some upcoming posts from the Unfarm. First, a report from the field: we took all three dogs - even Buddy - up to the mountain for some post-Christmas snowshoeing (by which I mean that we were on snowshoes and the dogs were barefoot: we tried giving them little boots to wear but the dogs had them off within minutes.) And secondly: what do you get when you mix Buddy, a low table, and a bag of carob chips accidentally left out? Hint: the answer is not pretty.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sigh

Note: Forgive the delay, I started this post before Christmas, but with all the last minute shopping and spending time with my family, I wasn't able to get it posted until now.

It is, unfortunately, almost Christmas. This is unfortunate for two reasons, first, the sooner Christmas comes, the sooner it goes and all that's left is dreary, gray, wet winter; and second, I am - once again - nowhere near being ready. Why does that sound so familiar? Perhaps because I went through the same thing last year. The difference is that this year I have very little help with all the baking. And I got a much later start than I would have liked, due to the fact that I was slogging my way through a depressingly thick microbiology textbook and trying to cram the common names, scientific names, and identifying features of a huge list of deciduous plants. All this studying left very little time for doing anything. I think the only people less excited about all my schoolwork were the animals. The dogs were lucky if I managed to walk them once a week, the bunnies rarely got their usual time out in the evenings, and the ducks... who am I kidding - the ducks are exceedingly adept at getting whatever they want so my studying didn't bother them a bit.

The other task that fell by the wayside was keeping up on this blog. So, since I know everyone has been clamoring for an update (all one or two people who read this blog), I will oblige. There is nothing new to report with Kita and Maia, which is usually a case of no news is good news at this point: it means that their arthritis isn't getting any worse and their health is holding fairly steady. Kita is, however, on more pain medication in addition to his Rimadyl which seems to have made him a bit more playful, but he's still dragging by the end of our walks. But, despite his convincing performance of utter exhaustion, I am still not entirely sure that he's telling the truth. He always seems to be able to get up the energy for a second wind whenever he finds himself out without a leash or able to find a hole in the fence. As for Buddy, he temporarily acquired the unflattering nickname of "conehead." This was due to the fact that he managed - somehow - to rip a quarter sized piece of skin off the front of his shoulder which required stitches to patch it up (resulting in yet another vet bill, but on the plus side, they are naming the new wing of their building after us). And to keep Buddy from picking at his stitches, he was required to wear one of those plastic e-collars, hence the conehead nickname. He bore it tolerably well, though and after two weeks he was able to shed both the collar and the nickname.

Aspen is overjoyed that my brother - who had left for a month to visit relatives in another state - is back at home as this means that he will once again be getting decent milk. I should mention that the milk I give Aspen is the exact same milk that my brother gives him, but Aspen is convinced that what I have poured him is sub-par milk. He will drink almost anything my brother pours him, but should I make the mistake of pouring him anything less than half-and-half he looks at me like I'm trying to feed him dog food or something equally absurd. He will, however, grudgingly accept whipped cream from a can, cream, and eggnog from me. Mynx is easier to please and is quite content as long as the cable box with her blanket on top stays warm.

The chickens are finally out of trouble. A couple weeks back they were regularly staying out at night instead of going into their coop. This then necessitates an in-the-slippery-mud-and-pitch-dark chase of the chickens around the yard - a chase that the chickens nearly always win, being much smaller than us and therefore able to dart under the deck and wiggle around bushes much faster than we can. After several nights of slogging around in the dark after the chickens I grounded them to their run for a few days and that seems to have cured them of their rebellious attitude: they are now going into the coop on their own once it begins to get dark.

Things continue much the same with the rabbits: Jojo hates TJ. TJ hates Jojo, but gets along with Suki. Suki loves Jojo, tolerates TJ, and hates Clover. Clover spends all his time out of the cage marking every spot that Jojo has marked but is otherwise prevented from having any contact with TJ, Suki and Jojo by an elaborate system of gates and blockades. All attempts at bonding the rabbits are temporarily on hold, but I am hoping to start up again soon as their hormone levels will be lower during the winter (or so I am told - we'll have to see if that really makes the bonding any more successful than it has been previously.)

As for the ducks, Minna is - once again - laying eggs. This means several things: one, that Minna is regularly leaving eggs in the bunny room every morning; two, that Minna has become very insistent - and very vocal - in demanding multiple trips to the dog's water bowl every night; and three, that Maggie's hormones are in overdrive and she (he) frequently attacks both Minna and myself in multiple attempts to mate every day. It is particularly dangerous to refill the dog water bowl in the evening as that seems to have a sort of aphrodisiac effect on Maggie. I'm not entirely sure why that is - but it is almost a guarantee that as soon as I start pouring the water Maggie will either hop on top of Minna or go after my ankles.

Ah, and there it is, right on cue. Minna is demanding her third, or maybe fourth, trip out to the water bowl which means my peace and quiet has come to an end. She is, as I said, very vocal.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Kettle Corn, part 2

Here we go, "kettle corn, the sequel." The first batch I made, while tasty, was more like caramel corn than kettle corn so I was forced try out another recipe. Which is a not entirely unpleasant way to spend the evening, and I found the perfect recipe. This one has a light coating of sugar and a hint of saltiness to make an awesome batch of kettle corn. As is my custom, here is the recipe, followed by my comments on it.

Kettle corn part 2

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup yellow popcorn kernels
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Pour the oil into a large pot with a lid, and add three kernels of popcorn. Heat the oil over medium heat and once the kernels have popped, the oil is hot enough. Pour in the rest of the popcorn and the sugar. Put the lid on the pot and shake frequently until the kernels have stopped popping. Pour the popcorn out into a large bowl and sprinkle on the salt. Toss to coat with a wooden spoon. Let cool and enjoy.

The recipe is pretty good as it is, but I had a bit better luck with it when I stirred in the sugar instead of just shaking the pot to mix it. It's also a good idea to use a really big bowl to mix the popcorn with the salt, so you don't have popcorn falling all over the counter. In addition, if you want a large batch of popcorn, I would make several small batches (where this recipe is one small batch) instead of trying to double this recipe - adding any more popcorn to the pot will make it hard to evenly cook the kernels, plus you'll need a larger pot and the bigger the pot the harder it's going to get to pick it up and shake it well enough. With that said, good luck and have fun. It's actually surprisingly easy to make.

Additional note: You can also make this recipe using white popcorn kernels, but I would advise using less than the recipe calls for - maybe only one third cup? - because the white kernels are smaller than the yellow kernels and when I made the recipe with the white popcorn I had more trouble getting the popcorn evenly coated. The extra popcorn makes it harder to mix the pot by shaking it and so you'll end up with some pieces well coated and some with almost nothing on them.

And, as is proper, credit for the recipe goes to: http://pinchmysalt.com/2009/11/24/lets-get-old-fashioned-homemade-kettle-corn-recipe/

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Kit Kat



Kit's grave, and the view from it of the ocean.

A few weeks ago I decided to take a mini vacation up along the Puget Sound. I went for a walk on the beach and made something of an unusual discovery. Most of the time when I am at the beach I find seashells or seaweed or the shells of dead crabs (none of which I take home, by the way - I am not a fan of beachy smells) but that day I came across a cat. Or rather, the cat found me. And, as you may have noticed by now, I can not resist an animal, especially an animal in need. So I scooped her up and took her with me into the house. (Was there ever any doubt?) As soon as I picked her up I realized just how much trouble she was in. She was covered in fleas, had enormous mats in her long fur, and she was light as a feather - I'm pretty sure that you could see just about every bone in her little body, and she was extremely dehydrated. She must have been trying to survive on her own out there, without any food - and probably precious little fresh water as well. As I had not planned on finding a cat I neglected to bring with me the basic necessities: litter and a box, as well as food. Every cat - every animal, for that matter - needs a name so I dubbed her KitKat (the inspiration was a KitKat bar that I found in the house sitting on the kitchen counter), secured her in the bathroom so that the dogs wouldn't bother her, and took off in the car for the 12 mile drive to the nearest market to pick up some litter and much needed food. I got back to the house and spent the rest of the day neglecting my homework in order to take care of Kit. I gave her some food - she couldn't eat much though, as her stomach must have shrunken during the weeks she had been without food. The dogs, being fairly accustomed to my habit of bringing home strange creatures, took little notice of Kit after the initial introductions, although they were careful to give her space on the couch or bed and not crowd her. I set up a litter box and showed Kit where it was, although she hardly needed it - she couldn't have let out more than a tablespoon of urine. A couple hours later I decided that Kit needed a bath. This was somewhat of a difficult decision to make - on the one hand, getting her wet might force her to use more energy to stay warm, but on the other hand, she had so many fleas on her that I worried they were sucking out any nutrients she might have and weakening her further. In the end I decided to try the bath - I soaped her up in the kitchen sink, washed her down with warm water and wrapped her in soft towels to try and dry her off. When I noticed her shivering I put her under the covers in the bed and snuggled her next to my chest to keep her warm. I tried to get her to eat something later in the afternoon but she wasn't feeling up for it and her movements became less coordinated. I let her sit on the couch with me when she didn't want to be held, and cuddled with her when she did want to be. Her breathing became a bit labored in the evening and I let her rest against my chest and cuddled her to try and comfort her. Around 10:30 that evening I felt her stretch and was relieved that she was finally feeling better, and that her breathing was finally quieting. I took me a few seconds to realize that I wasn't feeling her breath much at all. I shook her gently and said her name to get her attention. Once. Twice. A third time. But she was gone.

Usually, I am not much of a crier, but when it comes to animals I have a soft spot, so I will admit that I did cry for about an hour after she died. Partly because I felt guilty that maybe the bath had pushed her over the edge, but mostly because I didn't want her last weeks of life to be so miserable. I wanted her to be safe and warm and loved and happy before she died. Full of good memories to take with her. I wanted her to have enough good life that it would make this hard time a distant memory. Instead of being cold, hungry, thirsty, lonely, and looking for help but unable to find it. I can only imagine her going from house to house, looking for someone to help her, but at that time of year there are fewer people at the vacation homes. And even worse - what if she had found someone but they had refused to help her?

I wrapped her in a towel and, because it was beyond dark out, put her on the bed in one of the back bedrooms and shut the door. I couldn't bring myself to put her body outside for the night, all alone, but I also realized that I needed to separate her in some way from the dogs because the fleas would start jumping ship now that she was gone and I had to protect them from the fleas as much as possible. In the morning, I found a spot on the hill above the house, in the sun, with a view of the ocean and dug a hole as best I could in the rocky ground. I laid her inside and covered her back up, feeling guilty that I would be leaving her there on her own when I went back home again.

Had Kit lived, I fully intended to bring her home with us and make her a permanent member of the Unfarm. After what she had to go through, trying to survive out there on her own, looking for help but unable to find any, until me, I wanted to
know, without a shadow of a doubt, that she would never have to go through anything like that again. The only comfort I could take in the situation was in knowing that she was, on her last day, warm, and safe, and very, very loved.

And so I have decided to add her, posthumously, as a full fledged member of the Unfarm family. In addition, because I was unable to save Kit, I decided to make a donation in her honor to a local cat shelter. I have recently started drawing pet portraits for friends as gifts and so I decided to give a gift certificate of a pet portrait to the cat shelter, and they would choose one of their less adoptable cats to give the certificate to. The certificate would be an added incentive for someone to adopt the cat, giving that cat a chance at the life that Kit should have had.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Kettle Corn

It has been a while since I've written anything, not so much because I have nothing to report but because I have been too busy with school and homework to find time to sit down and write. I've been short on time, long on stress, and heavy on homework. But tonight I attempted to make kettle corn and I figured I'd pass along the recipe and my thoughts on it. So here you go:

Kettle Corn

yellow popcorn kernels
vegetable oil
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt (I used 1/2 teaspoon)

You will need a pot with a lid, a smaller pot, a wooden spoon, and a large bowl. Pour some vegetable oil into the lidded pot, enough to cover the bottom. Add the popcorn kernels - put in enough to make a single layer on the bottom of the pot in the oil. Put the lid on and heat the popcorn over the stove, shaking the pot every five to ten seconds. The popcorn is done when it's no longer popping continuously. Pour the popcorn into the large bowl and set it aside. Combine the water, vegetable oil, and brown sugar in the small pot and heat to boiling. Once it starts boiling, lower the heat to medium and let simmer for 3 minutes. Mix the salt onto the popcorn, and then pour in the sugar mixture and toss with a wooden spoon to coat the popcorn. Let cool a few minutes and then enjoy.

Okay, so that was my first time making popcorn on the stove and it turned out pretty good - much better than the disaster I was expecting. As for the finished recipe, it wasn't exactly as kettle corn-y as I thought it would be. Not that it wasn't good - it was. I mean, how can you go wrong when you put sugar on popcorn. (Or almost anything, for that matter.) But I would describe it as being more like caramel corn than kettle corn, which could be due to a couple of factors. It could be that I didn't put in enough salt. And it would probably have been more like kettle corn if I had a made a LOT more popcorn so that each piece got a light coating as opposed to being drenched in sugar. I should also note that the popcorn was fairly sticky and messy-ish to eat, not as dry as the kettle corn I'm used to. I think that the next time I try out a kettle corn recipe I'll try one of the versions that uses regular sugar instead... I'll keep you posted on how that turns out.

And now, unfortunately, it's back to my microbiology notes - I have a midterm coming up on Tuesday and I am dreading it as the teacher gives us a study guide and then promptly tests us on material not on the study guide.

By the way, I found this kettle corn recipe here: http://www.aliciakachmar.com/blog/life/homemade-kettle-corn-cheap-and-easy/ in case you want to check out the whole thing and see the pictures that go with it for yourself.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cross that off the list

It's done! Finally! A picture of every single animal that lives with me here on the Unfarm. Getting the pictures added to this site has been on my to do list for a few months now - I needed to add pictures of Minna and Maggie (now that they are full grown and sporting their adult plumage), as well as Maia, Jojo, Clover, and Mynxy cat. But getting the pictures was - as is customary on the Unfarm - easier said than done.

Minna and Maggie were relatively simple as they tend not to run around as much as the other animals. Not that they can't run - don't ever think that just because they have large feet designed more for swimming than mobility on land that they aren't fast - it is at times hard to outrun Maggie when she (I mean he, but it has become habit to refer to Maggie as a "she") is determined to catch up to me.

As for Mynx, I happened to catch her during a rare moment when she was not sleeping. She did, however, decide to investigate the camera and I was eventually able to get a shot of her whole face, rather than just her nose.

When it came time to get a picture of Miss Maia it took considerably longer than I had originally thought that it would as Maia was convinced I was about to deliver some cruel treatment of some kind. As a result, although she did as I asked and sat on the couch, she spent the entire time trying to avoid looking at me while trembling throughout her entire body. It may have had something to do with the fact that I often corner her on the couch or chair when it is time to clip her nails - something she (well, all the dogs actually) abhor. To be fair, I try to be as careful as possible when clipping their nails, but both Kita and Maia have black nails and sometimes accidents happen and I nick the quick.

The most difficult photos to get were the pictures of Clover and Jojo. The rabbits, while they do many, many cute things and strike numerous adorable poses, only hold those poses for approximately 2.3 seconds - not quite enough time to get the camera in position and focused. After about 10 minutes or so of taking pictures of Jojo and Clover, I had 5 decent photos to choose from, and 63 photos depicting only a blur of bunny moving across the screen.

But they're here, they're done - uploaded and titled and off of my to-do list - now all I have to do is tackle the other 374 things on my list.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Unfarm updates, for lack of the writing mood

I have been trying, on and off for the last couple of hours, to come up with some kind of amusing, fascinating, witty couple of paragraphs to post but so far I've come up empty. I've managed to come up with a few sentences on one or two different topics, but I can't seem to complete my thoughts, so rather than wait for perfection and post nothing - yet again - I will instead admit defeat and post a couple random thoughts and observations tied together under the rather vague title of "Unfarm updates, " so here goes.

Updates from the Unfarm:


It's raining. I'll allow you a moment to recover from your shock. All better? Good. As I said, it's raining. And while our garden produced, over the course of the past few months, several very large zucchinis, thirty-one pounds of beans - a mixture of both wax and green beans, a number of delicious ears of white corn (my favorite), dozens and dozens of huge scarlet runner beans (which we didn't eat as they were planted mostly for the flowers to provide food for hummingbirds and bees), a few cucumbers, many delicious basil leaves, and countless flowers; it has not, unfortunately, managed to produce the bumper crop of tomatoes that we were hoping for. I should clarify. We planted several tomato plants - a mix of romas, cherries, and heirlooms - that produced tons of tomatoes, all of which are now... green. We neither eat nor particularly like green tomatoes but it appears that we are going to be stuck with pounds and pounds of them. The rather slow start to the summer and the less than hot temperatures have resulted in a glut of green tomatoes all over the northwest and put a damper on our plans for making bruschetta and margherita pizza using tomatoes from our garden. We may try out a few recipes using the green tomatoes, or we may try to ripen the tomatoes using the technique my great-grandmother used to use: place the tomatoes into boxes in a single layer and store them under our beds. I'm not entirely sure on the reasoning behind storing them under beds, but I think it had something to do with finding a cool, dark place to ripen the tomatoes combined with the lack of storage options that occurs when two families (six people total) live in a small house with only three bedrooms. Our house is considerably larger, but even so, with the amount of tomatoes we have on our plants I suspect that we'll have boxes of tomatoes under all of the beds as well as the living room couch, the computer desk, our grandmother's armchair and anything and everything that we can stuff tomatoes under.


In addition to preventing the tomatoes from ripening, the rainy weather also means that the rabbits are stuck indoors again all day. Last winter, this was hardly worth concerning myself over but the addition of a new rabbit has, predictably, complicated matters. The old routine was for the rabbits to get time out of their cages every evening: TJ would get the first hour and a half out, then he would go back in and Suki and Jojo would be given their 90 minutes of free time. TJ and Jojo remain on less than friendly terms but have at least become accustomed to one another and, for the most part, tend to ignore each other when one or the other of them are hopping around the room. The novelty with Clover, however, has yet to wear off and rather than spend their free time doing binkies they tend to spend it fighting and scrabbling at each other through the cage bars. This is problematic for two reasons: first, it reduces the chance that the rabbits will eventually bond with each other, and secondly, this territorial behavior is often accompanied by territory marking (read peeing or leaving bunny berries on the carpet.) So the addition of one new rabbit has created a huge logistical problem if I am to keep all the rabbits apart from each other while still giving them the much needed chance to stretch their legs. At the moment I have a wire gate separating TJ from Suki and Jojo, while still giving Suki and Jo access to their cage (and, more importantly, their litter box.) TJ, who is the best behaved of all my bunnies, is allowed free access to the room, including under my art table – a privilege not usually given to the rabbits as they have too much opportunity to get into trouble under there – but, because the ducks have their bedtime set-up in front of TJ's cage, he cannot get into his cage, so his litter box has been brought out into the room. Suki and Jojo, meanwhile, are hopping up and down the hall to get their exercise, but they are not allowed into the living room (too many cords attached to expensive objects to give the bunnies free range, especially as they have already demonstrated their willingness to chew through any and every electrical cord they can get their teeth on) so I have put up an old mirror at the end of the hall to block them from accessing the living room. The reason I am using a mirror and not, say, a gate, is because the gate also succumbs to bunny teeth – I have set up the gate a couple of times only to come back five minutes later and discover the bunny where he shouldn't be, and a suspiciously bunny-sized hole in the gate that wasn't there five minutes ago.


Speaking of Clover, after having lived here for over a month now he is proving to clean up quite nicely. He has put on weight and his coat is 100% better than it was when I first found him struggling to survive starvation and coyotes in the small patch of woods at the end of the street. He is becoming quite a handsome rabbit, sleek and healthy. I will have to try to get a good picture of him to add to the blog now that he has become a permanent resident of the Unfarm.


Life has not been as smooth for another Unfarm resident. My brother has come down with a case of digestive upset. It could be giardia from drinking stream water while backpacking, but on the other hand, it could also be a particularly nasty case of Karma. The same brother that is recovering from a bout of explosive ---------- (illness specifics will be withheld to protect some of my brother's dignity, not that he ever actually reads this blog – supportive fellow that he is) promised me that we would go camping this summer but never seemed to be able to find the time to actually go. It is now mid September, mere days away from the official start of Autumn, and I have given up on us going camping this year. The karmic retribution comes in because just last week my brother was able to find the time to go off backpacking with some friends of his. He was to leave on Wednesday and return four days later on Sunday. “But,” he said, “maybe we could go camping next Tuesday and Wednesday, if I don't have too much work to do.” Come Sunday evening I received a text from him stating that he was going to stay out longer with his friends and that he would be home on Wednesday. While my brother never can seem to find time to go camping with me, as soon as his friends want to do something his schedule miraculously clears up. Amazing how that works. Needless to say, I do not feel the least bit sorry for him.


I can, however, sympathize with our chicken, Penny. It rained all day today and the sun never could manage to break through the heavy cloud bank that blanketed the sky from one horizon to the other. And while the ducks can't understand why anyone would ever want any weather than this – I mean, water actually falling from the sky, and it's everywhere! – the chickens are miserable. They spent a large part of their day standing around under the redwood trying to stay dry, hoping that perhaps, if they were lucky and Maggie wasn't around, the squirrels would drop some of their food down on the ground for them to break up the monotony of the day with. But by 6:30 Penny was already settled into the coop for the night, a good hour before dark. I don't blame her. She probably decided that it had been terrible weather all day and it wasn't going to change any time soon so she might as well go to sleep until morning... or May... whenever the weather improves. I'm tempted to follow suit and head off to bed to hibernate until spring. Unfortunately, school begins – for yet another year – for me on Tuesday. Microbiology and Deciduous Plant Materials, so hibernation isn't really an option at this point. Although, with five hours of Deciduous Plant Materials, from 8am to 1pm every Wednesday, it is a very good possibility that there will yet be some napping in my future.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rain

It is raining out. Scratch that, it's pouring. This is the first time in a few weeks, possibly even a couple of months, that we've had such heavy rains. Normally rain at the very beginning of September would distress me, reminding me that fall, with it's near constant rain and clouds, is just around the corner. Today, however, the rain and gray skies match my mood and so it seems only natural that everything should be getting soaked. I am in a funk. A depression. All I want to do is sleep and sleep and sleep. I tried doing some artwork earlier but in this kind of a mood everything I try to do seems inferior to all the other artist's work out there, and I eventually abandoned my efforts. I know what it is I should do: I should take a shower, I should do my workout, I should ride my bike to work - for that matter I should go to work. And I will - eventually - but for now I'm too busy wallowing in my depression. Unfortunately, a funk also makes for lousy writing - for me anyway - so I don't feel up to posting stories from the Unfarm at the moment, but hopefully I will be able to shake this depression shortly and life will soon return to normal. Well, what passes for normal around here anyway.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Of cats and haircuts

Disclaimer: we would never, ever intentionally hurt any of our animals.

We are torturing our cat. We are drugging him and holding him down and threatening him with sharp implements. And yet, with all of that, we are still no match for an angry cat with flexibility, teeth, and claws on his side.

What we are actually doing is trying to cut the mats out of Aspen's hair, hence the sharp implements (although the razor we are using is actually a pet grooming tool and there is no danger of cutting Aspen with it.) The drugging is a veterinarian prescribed sedative designed to calm him down, and the holding him down is largely ineffectual. We were attempting to save Aspen the stress of traveling in the car and going to the vet's office to be groomed – and us the $150 (minimum) expense – by grooming him ourselves at home. When our vet gave us the sedative, we were told to give Aspen half of a pill and then wait for thirty minutes or so for the drug to take effect. If he was not drowsy enough after that time, we could give him the other half of the pill, but no more than that in one day. After both halves of the pill and one hour, there was no noticeable effect on Aspen. It was only once we called the vet for advice that we learned that the medication does not always have the desired effect on every cat. In fact, some cats actually have the opposite reaction and become more hyper with the medication. Just our luck, Aspen seems to fall into the second category. We tried two different medications and several different times to get rid of Aspen's mats but were eventually forced to give up and take him in to be groomed. (His belly area, where many of the mats were located, was thoroughly protected by eighteen razor sharp claws which he had no qualms about using against the hands that feed him.) We knew that he would not be happy about being groomed but we hoped that he would come to see the necessity of it and at least accept it. Knowing Aspen, we should have known better. The first thing Aspen did when I looked in his carrier at him and told him how cute he looked with his new haircut was to let out a loud noise that was some combination of a growl/hiss/high pitched yowl. Once home he promptly ran downstairs and hid under my brothers bed, refusing to come out for the next five hours. It did not help, I suspect, that when my mom saw him as he slunk out of his carrier she burst out laughing and exclaimed, “he looks so scrawny!” Granted, he did look much smaller than his usual self which is bulked up considerably by his thick coat, but I wouldn't say he looked scrawny, exactly. He was given a lion cut, which means that his body was shaved down but the hair was left on his head, tail, and arms from the elbow down.

He has had a few weeks now to recover from his ordeal and I think that, while he would prefer to have his normal hair, he has gotten used to his new look and it doesn't bother him much anymore. This change in attitude is due partly, I think, to the fact that we have been telling him over and over again how much he looks like a lion. A “big, fearsome, gorgeous lion,” and “aren't we lucky to get to live with such a handsome lion?” The copious amounts of half & half and tuna we gave him didn't hurt either. All the same, I think that everyone involved - humans and cats alike - would rather not have to go through this again any time soon.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies Mini Batch

I have decided that it is time I share my absolute most favorite cookie recipe. It is actually a quarter batch of a regular recipe batch, hence the "mini." It makes around 7-9 cookies depending on the size you make the cookies, which is perfect for when you want a few cookies but don't want to make an entire batch because you just know you'll end up eating at least 25 cookies. (Or maybe that's just me - I have disgustingly weak will power when it comes to sweets.) The other reason I love this recipe is because the cookies come out a little bit crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside - yum. I should note that my mom never liked these cookies when I started making them but because she can't resist a cookie any better than I can, she would eat a couple anyway and she says now that they've started to grow on her. I made a batch a couple of weeks ago and Mom asked, as usual, if she could have one. When I mentioned that she sure eats a lot of these cookies she doesn't like she replied that "they're addicting." At any rate, try it for yourself and see if you like it. If you don't like them, at least you only have to throw out 7 or 8 cookies instead of 50. So here you go, but pay attention to the notes at the end:

Mini-batch Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup shortening (I use either Earth Balance vegetable shortening or Crisco sticks)*
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 egg *
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together sugar, brown sugar, butter, egg, and vanilla. Mix well. Stir in flour, salt, and baking soda until everything is well mixed. Add in the chocolate chips at the very end. The dough will be very loose and crumbly. Scoop up a handful of dough and pack it into a ball, then flatten gently between your hands before placing on a greased cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 5-8 minutes, or until the cookies begin to turn golden and develop cracks. Take them out of the oven and let them sit on the sheet until cooled off. Leaving the cookies on the sheet until cool lets them finish baking.

* The shortening is important in keeping the cookies from spreading out too much and becoming little pancakes. To get the half egg I use EnerG Egg Replacer powder (found in stores like Whole Foods or New Seasons around here, in the vegan food section) and simply cut in half the recipe for the one egg equivalent. It ends up being 3/4 teaspoon powder mixed with 1 tablespoon water, if memory serves. I know that it would be easier to make the cookies if the dough wasn't so crumbly, but these are good enough that I don't mind the little extra time it takes.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lemon-Lavender Cupcakes

It's been a while since I've tested any recipes but I have finally gotten around to trying out this one, and it was pretty good. I found this recipe in Shape magazine, another one of my favorites that I've been reading for years. So here you go, enjoy - my notes are included in italics and at the bottom of the recipes in the cryptically named "NOTES" section.

Lemon-Lavender Cupcakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons dried lavender buds, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and brought to room temperature (I just used whatever butter I had on hand, I have no clue if it was salted or unsalted, and I was too impatient to wait for it to get to room temperature and it seemed to turn out fine)
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 cup lowfat buttermilk (or whatever buttermilk you have on hand)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place cupcake liners in a 12-cup muffin pan. To make the batter, whisk together flour, lavender, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed for 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, lemon juice, and zest. Beat in one-third of the flour mixture until just combined. Beat in half the buttermilk, followed by another third of the flour, then the remaining buttermilk and flour.

Fill cupcake liners about two-thirds full and bake for 24-26 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack.

Thanks again to Shape magazine for the recipe, from the August 2009 issue

Lemon Butter Cream Frosting
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening (I just used Crisco sticks)
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon lemon extract
4 cups sifted powdered sugar (approximately a 1 pound bag... and I never bothered with sifting it)
2 tablespoons milk
Few drops yellow food coloring, if desired
1-2 tablespoons of lemon zest, if desired

In a large bowl, cream shortening and butter with an electric mixer. Add lemon extract. Gradually add sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape the bowl often. When all the sugar has been mixed in the icing will look dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.

If you have left over frosting after topping your cupcakes, you can store it in the fridge in an airtight container for 2 weeks. Rewhip before using.

NOTES: These cupcakes were pretty good, but if I make it again I think I'll leave out the lavender or else put less in, even though I generally like the smell of lavender. But then maybe I'm just not an eating lavender type of person so use your own judgement. And for the frosting, if you have extra left over you could either use it on some other frosting friendly baked good (cookies or cake or more cupcakes, something like that) or you could try sandwiching it between two graham crackers as a snacky thing - that's one way we typically use up extra frosting.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Another new addition

The Unfarm has another new resident. A rabbit, this time. And, coincidentally, this newcomer arrived while my parents were camping on the coast and thus out of town. Somehow I always seem to get into trouble when left to my own devices, and this time I didn't even set out to get into trouble. Admittedly, most of the trouble I get into is my own fault and, more to the point, planned specifically for a time when I am left unsupervised. This time, however, I had nothing up my sleeve. No painting the kitchen, ripping out the basement carpet, or creating murals on the laundry room walls - just a regular, uneventful weekend. (Besides, I've already done all those things.)

So, how then did I come to acquire another rabbit? It started a few days ago when I was late walking the dogs. I set out too late and ended up at the end of the street after it was dark already, which is when I saw a rabbit bolt across the street in front of us, and while we do have wildlife in the area, we do not have rabbits. Two days later, with a live trap borrowed from the Rabbit Advocates (a great group that rescues domestic rabbits, check them out at: http://www.adoptarabbit.com/) I had caught my very first rabbit in a live trap. It was a boy, as yet unnamed, he's white and orange with a scruffy coat, a bit beat up, thin, and pretty hungry. He was probably abandoned by his previous "owners" and had been fending for himself for a couple of weeks. He's lucky to have survived so long with limited food and more or less unlimited danger from coyotes, cars, and dogs.

Fortunately for him, his luck held out and he ran into me. He is, at the moment, sitting in an extra cage here in the bunny room. (I have found that, given my propensity to attract animals, it is always a good idea to keep extra cages, bowls, leashes, collars, crates and beds for when I find strays following me home.) He's been given fresh hay, food, water and a bath. He was, however, considerably less than enthusiastic about the bath but he tolerated it well and his coat seems much better now that the dirt and gunk has been washed out. He seems to like being held and petted and I have great hope that he will recover from his ordeal and flourish here. If the weeds are anything to judge by, things seem to have a habit of flourishing here on the Unfarm.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A series of unfortunate events

Where to start? To begin with, I stink. I reek, actually. I was working in my garden earlier - which, by the way, I am beginning to doubt I will ever finish - digging a hole for the rosemary plant that has been languishing on the deck ever since I bought it approximately thirty seven weeks ago. (I may be exaggerating a bit - perhaps it was only thirty three weeks ago.) At any rate, as I was widening the sides of the hole I noticed a smallish rock lodged in the dirt near where I was digging. Not wanting to hit it with my shovel, I reached in to take it out. It was upon touching the rock that I came to the sudden - and rather unpleasant - realization that what I had thought was a rock was actually an egg. Or, to be more specific a rotten egg. It must have been one of Minna's eggs - in addition to the eggs that she's laid in various places all over the yard, I've also buried some of them (they are fertilized so we don't eat them.) I came to the conclusion that this was a rotten egg and not a rock when touching the object caused it to explode a foul smelling fluid all over me. My previous experience with rocks tells me that they neither explode nor contain fluid, that's how I knew it was an egg. And this was no normal rotten egg, this was a rotten rotten egg. Needless to say, having rotten egg fluid sprayed all over you is a less than agreeable situation.

Speaking of disagreeable situations, I experienced another one a couple weeks ago when I was awakened at two in the morning by an entirely disheartening sound when Maia's poor choice in diet finally caught up to her. A day or two prior to my early morning awakening, Maia and the other two dogs, Kita and Buddy, had managed to rip their way into a bag of chicken food and gorge themselves on a diet better suited to feathered creatures who lay eggs, both of which the dogs are not. So I was disappointed but not surprised when I discovered, at 2am, that Maia had had explosive diarrhea all over the wall and carpet in my bedroom. After spending a good twenty minutes vacuuming up Maia's mess in my bedroom, we then spent a week cleaning up after Maia all over the dog run. While Kita and Buddy showed no ill effects from their change in diet, Maia developed Clostridium and had to be put on antibiotics for a week. She has, however, finally recovered and we are now both able to sleep through the night uninterrupted.

And, finally, the grape arbor. The grape arbor is, at long last, finished. And, as is usually the case, it took three times longer than I figured it would, and was ten times more difficult. For the last several weeks I have spent every spare minute I could out in my garden, trying to keep everything (except, of course, the weeds) alive and salvage what I could of my grapes. What I thought would be a fairly straight forward project was immensely more difficult than I had planned. Why I seem incapable of learning from my past experiences (or, some would say, mistakes) I am not sure, but it seems to be a chronic problem with me. Here is a summary of what I had planned on happening, and what actually transpired.

Plan: Dig five holes, put in 4x4s, add cement. Reality: Move ten plants out of the way, work around three other large (read: immovable) bushes. Get out post hole digger and begin digging a hole only to discover that the arms of the tool run into the old grape arbor. Recruit brother to dig holes while I push the old arbor out of the way and hold back approximately 23 grape vines. Dig the two holes on the southern side, then start on the three northern holes only to discover that the arbor is leaning too far over for me to push it out of the way on my own. Search the less-than-organized garage for rope, then set up a system of three ropes tied around the arbor and fence to pull the arbor upright enough that it can be held out of the way of the arms of the tool. Finish digging holes, put in 4x4s, add cement. Add support beams. Find out I didn't buy enough 2x4s, then scrounge the aforementioned garage for enough wood to finish the support beams. Dismantle old arbor. Discover that in dismantling the old arbor the grape vines have collapsed into one another in a giant tangled mess of vines. Lose half of my grape vines - and thus, half of my grape harvest - in the process of untangling the plants, but finally finish the project, three weeks behind schedule.

Here's hoping the next few weeks are blissfully uneventful. I'll take boring over rotten eggs and diarrhea any day.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Of coyotes and weeds and grapes, oh my

Summer has finally - it seems - arrived. We have had sun and blue skies for the last few days so that we can, at long last, open the windows without first putting on coats. The peacock was calling a few days ago and at the moment the bunny room window is open and I can hear the coyotes calling over in the forest. I love to hear the peacock and don't even mind the coyotes, really, as long as they aren't eating my cats. Or anyone else's, for that matter. They generally aren't a problem during the day - or even during the night, as long as the cats are brought in. And the fact that we have three big dogs patrolling the yard probably tends to discourage the coyotes from coming too close at any time, day or night.

At any rate - coyotes or no - there is other news on the Unfarm. The garden, which is usually the picture of health, is suffering. The roses have developed powdery mildew and black spot, my honeysuckle is looking less than perfect, my anemone is falling over, the columbine are half their usual size, and my hostas are in the worst shape I've ever seen them in, with wilted, beaten up leaves. I can only hope that this strange affliction of my garden is due to the extremely cold, wet spring we've had, and that there will be no lasting damage. Sure, I could replace them, but any of the plants dying off sends me into a fit of anxiety that eats at me for days. So I am doing the only thing I know to do, and running around the yard frantically spraying the plants with compost tea and watering them with organic fertilizer when they seem to need it.

The only thing not suffering in the yard is the weeds. Some kind of plantain weed has sprouted up all over my garden, wild daisies are appearing in every corner of the yard - although I let them stay because I can't bear to take out anything with flowers, the thistles are three feet high, and the horseradish is getting so big that I think next week I will be able to build a tree house in them. On the plus side, I have always wanted a tree house - I just never thought I would build it in a stand of horseradish.

On top of all the other problems in the garden, the grape arbor is falling down. I thought I had built a fairly sturdy support for the four grape vines that surround the rabbit run, but apparently I underestimated the exuberance of the grapes. They've grown so much and so fast that the once upright arbor is now leaning at a 45 degree angle. I think the only reason it hasn't already fallen down is that the rabbit run is in the way. This failure of the grape arbor means that I will have to now perform the worrisome procedure of building a new, stronger (read 4x4's and 80 pound bags of cement) arbor around the original structure, and then carefully dismantle the old structure while simultaneously moving the grapes from the original support to the new arbor. All this is made even more complicated by the fact that each grape plant has approximately ten thousand new vines sprouting from each of it's branches. It will not be a pleasant experience, but I am looking forward to the day when the project is finished and I no longer have to worry about thirty tons of grape plants coming crashing down into my garden. So that is the goal for this weekend, and I have been doing the painstaking prep work of digging out all of the plants that are in the way and moving them to an area out of the way, where they will - I hope and pray - be safe until I can put them back in the ground later this weekend. And if I am to have any hope of completing this massive project by the end of the weekend, I should probably get off the computer and go to bed so I'm not waking up at noon... wish me luck.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Death of a diaper


There are several things a duck diaper must have: snaps, velcro, reinforced flannel, straps and elastic. A giant gaping hole is not one of those things but upon taking the diapers out of the dryer today I discovered that, alas, one of Minna's diapers has suffered a fatal wound and will have to be retired. It will first be stripped for usable parts - the snaps and velcro can be salvaged and put to use on another diaper - and then given a proper burial, or perhaps a cremation. The loss of this diaper means, of course, that I must now get to work again on making more diapers - a somewhat tedious process that I had been hoping to put off for a little while longer, having just recently finished another rather long sewing project. But apparently the diaper waits for no man - or duck mother - as the case may be.

More updates from the Unfarm:
This spring we had a robin family build a nest under our back deck and the mother laid, and hatched, two little babies. For the last couple of weeks we have been watching both parents fly around the yard gathering worms for the little ones and today, finally, the nest is empty. Judging from the size of the babies a couple days ago (the nest could barely hold both of them) I figured that they would have to leave the nest soon, either that or the parents would be looking at adding a room or two onto the nest. Apparently they went with the more economical option of kicking out the kids.

Kita is finally sporting his new summer haircut. It took several days of cutting, and it looks far from professional, but I managed to get his hair to a more comfortable length for the summer. As a malamute mix he has a thick undercoat that tends to make him overheat a bit in the hotter weather (not that we've seen any so far), so a shorter cut lets him get more air flow through his fur, and makes it easier for me to get his medicated shampoo down to his skin when he starts itching.

Minna is still sitting on her nest of eggs - four of them, hidden in the daylily - and refuses to get off the nest for anything less than a chicken wandering too close. Because she is considerably smaller than Maggie, and is still walking with a limp, she is quite wary of the chickens proximity. And with Minna on her nest, Maggie is left to wander the yard on her own. Whenever I go out into the garden Maggie comes running up behind me, as fast as her little duck legs can go - which is surprisingly fast, I almost can't outrun her - and, after she greets me, she mostly just wants me to sit nearby while she nibbles on plants and digs around in the dirt.

The grass I planted in the rabbit run has finally come in - not quite as thick as I would have liked it, but that is my fault for not putting down a thick enough layer of seeds to begin with. But nevertheless, the grass came in thick enough to suffice for now and the rabbits have had a couple of days to enjoy it between downpours. I thought that they would spend all their time grazing and would have the grass clipped down to nothing in no time but so far they haven't so much eaten the grass as sat on it and mashed it into the ground...

Weather wise there is little change - I am beginning to doubt that summer will ever arrive. No, seriously - I am actually worried that it will never warm up. On the plus side, if this is global warming I don't think we have much to worry about.

Friday, June 4, 2010

It's beginning to feel a lot like... winter

I am considering going into hibernation as it is apparently still winter, and it will remain so until... who knows - forever? It has rained every day, or nearly every day, for the last few weeks. There are gray clouds from here to the end of the sky, and at this point I doubt that the ground will ever dry out. There is probably water seeping out of the ground at the other side of the planet from all the rain we've gotten here. It is the beginning of June but the air smells like woodsmoke from the chimneys that are still going. It feels like we should be out gathering pumpkins instead of strawberries. Spring? I wish.

On the plus side, however, I am finally done with my ethics class. Add another check to the endless list of classes I need to take to finish my degree - one more down, somewhere around one hundred left to go. And we have had some more newcomers here on the Unfarm, as well. A pair of robins have made a nest under the back deck and their eggs have recently hatched. I haven't actually seen the baby birds, as I do not want to disturb the parents by going so close to the nest, but both robins have been busily flying around the yard gathering worms to take back to the nest. So the rain is, I suppose, beneficial in that it has been keeping the worms near the surface and the parents are easily able to keep their little ones fed.

The dogs, however, are a bit out of sorts as all this rain has had me in such a mood to hibernate that I have tended to neglect their walks. I am aware that this makes me a somewhat terrible mother, but all I've felt like doing lately is sleeping. Perhaps I'll take the dogs up to our family's cabin on Puget Sound for a couple of days to make it up to them. If it ever stops raining - I find that the beach is little fun when you're as wet out of the water as you would be in it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Snowballs in Spring


These two photos were taken a few weeks ago during a small stretch of dry weather. They are some of the flowers from my Chinese snowball bush (otherwise known as Viburnum macrocephalum 'sterile') which I adore. I got the plant several years ago and it has grown into a nice little tree/bush that produces dozens of these large, white flower clusters every year in early spring. They start out lime green and gradually change to white and are beautiful to look at but do not produce any noticeable fragrance.

Speaking of spring, it has - technically - arrived. Practically speaking, however, it might just as well be winter. We have had rain nearly every day for the last two weeks or so. And not just sprinkling rain but downpours that produce sheets of rain and turn what used to be our gutter into a lovely water feature. We have always wanted a waterfall in our garden, although this is not exactly what I had in mind. Just about the only creatures on the Unfarm who don't mind the rain is the ducks. They are frequently seen sitting in their pools in the middle of a rainstorm when all the other animals: dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits and humans, take shelter. The rabbits, I should mention, don't actually take shelter so much as simply do not go out in this weather. They hang out inside unless the weather is over 70 degrees, at which point I permit them to go out on the deck or in their secured run.

The chickens, the only animals that do not regularly come inside, frequently sit under the redwood when it rains as it is one of the only dry places in the entire yard. So there they sit, looking out at the rain with miserable expressions on their little faces, plotting a way to hitchhike south to drier climates.

Ordinarily, rain of this volume would result in multiple accidents in the dining room due to Buddy's refusal to go out in any kind of wet weather, but I am happy to report that he seems to have - finally! - realized that going to the bathroom outside is not, in fact, an optional thing, to be done only when the weather is nice enough. He is, it would seem, finally learning the rules. (Knock on wood.)

I can only hope that there is an end to this rain so that the ground will dry out enough for me to be able to weed the garden before my dad gets too restless and decides to take a weed wacker to the entire front yard. In fact, I had a nightmare last week that my dad had gone out into the garden and pruned all the roses until they were mere stumps in the ground. This dream was made especially scary by the fact that he has done this before. We have a lovely climbing rose - an older variety that we rescued from my great grandmother's garden that actually climbs, as opposed to the (rather pitiful) climbing roses you seem to find nowadays - and my father chopped it back to the ground because it was getting "too leggy." Fortunately it made a comeback and is now climbing all over a large portion of the dog run fence, providing plenty of habitat for the various wild birds that visit our garden and producing a multitude of gorgeous white flowers in summer. Should summer ever deem to make an appearance.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Graduation Cake

So here's my latest attempt at baking a cake. I made it for my sister's graduation from college and it is my first time ever working with fondant. It is, admittedly, not perfect, but it's not a complete disaster either. The stars are courtesy of my brother's help and they look pretty good, I think. I got the recipes online and here they are:

Classic White Cake
6 cups cake flour, sifted
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
3 cups sugar
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 egg whites

Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray the sides and bottom of two 9-inch cake pans with PAM or similar non-stick spray.

Sift the flour and baking powder together and set it aside. Then cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy and set aside. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry and set this aside as well. Then, with the mixer on slow speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternately with the milk. Beat well after each addition to thoroughly incorporate it. Next, beat in the vanilla and then gently fold the egg whites into the batter. Pour half of the batter in each pan and bake it until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

NOTE: This recipe comes from the Wilton website (http://www.wilton.com/) which has lots of good information on making cakes and makes a lot of different cake decorating supplies. I can't remember exactly how long the cakes were in the oven and the recipe doesn't specify but I think it might have been around 20 minutes. Once the cakes are out of the oven, let them cool for just a couple of minutes and then take them out of the pans and wrap them in plastic wrap or a sealed plastic bag. (I got that tip from some other website about making cakes, and it's supposed to keep the moisture in the cakes and prevent them from becoming dry. I've used this idea a couple of times now and it has turned out well so far.)


Buttercream Icing

1 pound bag of powdered sugar

1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 sticks of butter cut into 1/2 inch slices

1/2 cup shortening

Whisk the sugar, salt, vanilla, and milk at a low speed until smooth. Add the butter, one slice at a time until incorporated, and then add the shortening and whip at the highest speed for 10-12 minutes, until the volume increases by at least 50%.

NOTE: I found this recipe on this website: http://www.easy-cake-ideas.com/buttercream-filling.html which has a lot of great recipes of buttercream and fillings, and the recipe turned out really well. This recipe was approximately enough to frost a three layer 9-inch cake, depending on how much frosting you like to use.

A note on fondant: I must say that it looks good, but I wasn't overly fond of the taste. Perhaps it is because I was working in my sisters kitchen, with her rolling pin, and it is a less than ideal situation for a baker as she does more cooking than baking, and could not seem to get the fondant to roll out as thin as I would have liked, thus resulting in a thicker than ideal layer of fondant. Or perhaps I just don't like the taste of fondant. Or maybe it was both the thickness and the taste, but I have decided that I will concentrate for the time being on buttercream rather than fondant as the finish for my cakes.

Both of these recipes were really good - the cake didn't turn out dry like some of the previous recipes I've tried and the buttercream didn't give me any problems, so I'd use both of these recipes again, and probably will at some point but I'm a bit junk fooded out at the moment, having just finished a road trip to Idaho during which I ate a shameful amount of cake, restaurant food, and Oreo cookies. Additionally, my mom has ordered a moratorium on all baking activity for the time being, and as I have a bridesmaid dress to fit into in August, I am forced to comply. I have a distressingly weak willpower when it comes to avoiding sugar and carbs so just how successful my diet will be remains to be seen.



Monday, May 3, 2010

Newcomers on the Unfarm

We have, recently, welcomed three newcomers to the Unfarm: a starling, a crow, and a squirrel. Admittedly, these are not exotic creatures, but they are wildlife and welcome all the same.

I know that most people do not like starlings, claiming them to be invasive pests, but I do not think it fair to blame the birds for something they have no control over. While there may be a secret headquarters somewhere, where all the starlings gather once or twice a year to sit around some huge table and talk about their plans for world domination, I am skeptical. I simply enjoy the starlings for what they are: birds with yellow beaks and beautiful feathers. The ladies (Penny, Daisy and Sakari) also enjoy the starling's visits because his food of choice is the suet, and he tends to be a messy eater, dropping bits of the suet down to the girls who wait underneath the feeder.

The crow is not new to the neighborhood, just to the Unfarm. We have had crows living somewhere in the vicinity for as long as I can remember, but they tended to stick to the upper branches of the taller trees, or to the sky when mobbing one of the resident red-tailed hawks. To have a crow actually land on the hook in the yard that holds the feeders is something new. He came by a few days ago for a short visit, and then again today when he stayed much longer. He was trying to find a way to get to the squirrel food and made several aborted attempts while moving from branch to hook and back to branch again. The squirrel feeder is easy enough for the squirrels and jays to reach, but I think the crow felt a bit too large to land on the ledge of the feeder. I put some food out on top of the dog run fence and he was eventually able to land close enough to eat it.

And the squirrel. I know that this is a new squirrel because he is tiny. All of our regulars are rather large (or "enormous" if you ask my brother) so this little guy stood out. He didn't brave the feeder in the back where most of the larger squirrels congregate, choosing instead to scavenge for little bits of seed that the birds drop from the feeder in the front yard. He wasn't having much luck, since the juncos tend to pick up anything the chickadees or nuthatches drop, so I put out a small pile just for him and he seemed to enjoy that. Although, with the amount of food we leave out for all the various animals I would not be surprised if he doesn't remain small for long.

Meanwhile, the garden is sprouting a healthy crop of weeds. I would love to get out there and start weeding - it is, honestly, one of my favorite things to do - but I can't. April showers may bring May flowers elsewhere but in the pacific northwest the only thing April showers brings is more showers. This wouldn't be much of a problem if our soil wasn't pure clay. I think it is only a matter of time before potters come knocking at our door with a shovel in hand, ready to scoop up supplies for their next project. Perhaps I exaggerate - it is probably not pure clay. It's probably something like 98% clay, 1% silt and 1% sand.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rain: A poem

Just a short thought on rain...

Rain

am I inside
a Kenmore washer?
all this drip drip drip
because umbrellas
are for wimps
we always say
if you grew up here
you don't need them
anyway
and now
we're standing in the rain
thinking about water

Sunday, April 11, 2010

On puzzles and cats... and rabbits, oh my!


I have been thinking lately about puzzles. Puzzles and puzzle competitions. I don't know if there is such a thing as jigsaw puzzle competitions, but if they do exist I imagine them to be somewhat like chess tournaments: a large room filled with groups of people (because puzzling is always more fun with a partner or two) all working on puzzles while sitting at their individual tables, with the goal of finishing the fastest. The winners from each round would then compete against each other, repeating the process until eventually one winning group is determined. Or something like that.

But how to make each successive round more difficult? Ahh, I have the perfect suggestion. After each round, more cats and rabbits are added to the room. Why cats and rabbits, you ask? This is because cats, as evidenced by the photos above, love to sit in or on puzzle boxes, covering as many pieces as possible, and knocking off pieces onto the floor as they settle themselves. (At least that's what my cats do.) And what about the rabbits? They'll do what rabbits do best: chew. And here you thought what rabbits do best is mating, but you're wrong: chewing on things, especially expensive things, is their most favorite hobby. Any puzzle pieces that happen to fall on the floor will be susceptible to predation by wandering rabbits. A chomp, a bite, and your puzzle piece is gone. (At least that's what my rabbits do.) Well, it sounds like a good idea to me, anyway.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Where's Minna?





This just in: the Life on the Unfarm blog is now illustrated!

I finally broke down and bought a digital camera last weekend, so here are the first few photos of Minna.

Maggie is rarely more than a few feet from Minna at any given time, which is why, when I looked out in the garden and saw Maggie without Minna I was mildly concerned. Not a full blown panic but worried enough to go out and investigate. It didn't take long for Minna to pop her head out of the middle of the daylily, and then disappear back into it again. So here we go: Minna in her hiding spot in the daylily. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rustic Round Loaf, etc

I have, for the last twenty minutes, tried to come up with an amusing description of my day, a few charming stories of the goings on at the Unfarm today, and a clever segue into my bread recipe, but I've come up empty handed. I am, apparently, all out of good ideas for today. I blame my 9am two hour accounting final. Well, whatever the reason, the words aren't coming to me and I will have to content myself with a less than spectacular blog. Here goes nothing.


My day, except for the accounting final and my late afternoon ennui, was not very noteworthy. I have no idea how I did on my final, I can only hope that I passed it so that I never have to deal with accounting again. I also have no idea what triggered the case of ennui, but the result was that for a couple of hours I was completely unmotivated to do anything other than lie on the couch and stare at pictures of me as a five year old. I eventually forced myself off the couch and went out to put the chickens away, bring the ducks in, and (in a burst of motivation) take the dogs out for a walk. Somewhere in between the final and the ennui I decided to finally try out a bread recipe I've had for a few weeks. It's surprisingly simple to make, turned out well and looks like one of those fancy rustic style loaves of bread you see in gourmet bakeries. But you don't have to take my word for it... (notice the Reading Rainbow reference??)

Rustic Round Loaf
*you'll need a 6-8 quart cast iron pot with a lid

3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (or 1 packet)
1 1/2 cups water (between 120 and 130 degrees F)
olive oil as needed

Mix the flour, salt, and yeast in a large bowl, and then add the water and stir with a wooden spoon until it's blended. The dough will be "shaggy." Let it rest in the bowl in a warm room (70 degrees F) for 4 hours. Spray some olive oil onto a work surface (I just used a metal cookie sheet - I figured the bread board would be too sticky) and knead the dough a couple times. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest another 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 450 F, placing the pot in the oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, take the pot out, put the dough into it, put the lid on, and bake it for 30 minutes. Then remove the lid and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes until it is golden brown. Remove the bread and let it cool on a rack. Voila.


Things on the Unfarm have been quiet today, for the most part, with the exception of the rabbits, who are conspiring against me to get in as much trouble as possible. They are spending the evening launching a coordinated attack against the cardboard box that holds the fire escape ladder. I'll chase one of them away only to turn around and discover that the other one has taken advantage of the opportunity to sneak in behind me and start tearing at the cardboard again. Cardboard, it would seem, is one of the four food groups of rabbits. Occasionally the bunnies will leave the cardboard alone and move on to chewing the wood trim around the closet. This is why I do not generally let the rabbits have their free time when I can't be there to supervise. It always results in property damage. The only thing that could cause more damage would be to turn a beaver loose in here. Which, the way I tend to attract animals, is not an altogether impossible situation...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A thought or two on school

I have been in college for eons. The Grand Canyon was just a ditch in Arizona when I started school. Like I said, eons. After years of drifting somewhat aimlessly through the land of Academia I finally have a plan in place. I have an adviser and a checklist and everything. I also have - much to my dismay - over 100 credits still to go.

I am currently slogging my way through accounting and statistics - two classes I had hoped never to have to take, but for some reason they are needed, apparently, when you major in animal science. I will, of course, use them constantly in my career as a chicken wrangler (or whatever it is I decide to do.) That was sarcasm, in case you missed it.

There is one good thing that will come out of my three month foray into statistics: I have produced pages and pages of notes that I plan to roast vegan marshmallows over after finals. (If I wasn't going to try to recoup my losses on the cost of my ridiculously expensive statistics textbook by selling it back, I would probably roast that too - and enjoy it.)

My frustration with the current curriculum is exacerbated by the fact that I am not happy with anything less than a perfect score, and let me assure you that I am scoring well below perfect. It doesn't matter how many times I tell myself that it doesn't really matter what grade I get in statistics as long as I pass it, I have yet to convince myself that that is indeed the truth.

But while I continue to learn about standard deviations and bank reconciliations life continues as usual on the Unfarm. Minna's mobility has vastly improved and she even hobbles around the yard a bit now, with Maggie as her guard, keeping the chickens away. Kita's weight loss progress has stalled - partly because his arthritis is slowing him down, and partly because I caught him buried up to his shoulders in a bag of dog food the other day, munching away. The chickens have decided once again, for reasons they don't feel the need to share with us, that they will not go into their coop in the evening on their own. This means that if we cannot bribe them to come in with squirrel food, we will have to play yet another round of night time chicken wrangling, chasing the chickens all over the yard until we finally catch them. And finally, I woke up in the middle of the night last night to discover Buddy was throwing up on my bed. How pleasant. But then again, it was just another day on the Unfarm.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Welcome to the Neighborhood

The pasture across the street from the Unfarm is almost equal parts grass and blackberry bushes, with a couple wild apple trees and several hawthorns sprinkled in here and there as well. There are also a couple of places in the southwest corner where poison oak has settled in. (This fact I discovered by accident a few summers back. It was quite uncomfortable and needless to say, I have no trouble identifying poison oak now.) In the far west edge of the pasture a small stream flows out of the forest and trickles its way through the pasture.

The stream is rather small - it doesn't support fish, or even any crayfish, that I have ever seen - and by the middle of summer it is often just a trickle in places. Which is why I was surprised to discover, two summers ago, that some beavers had taken up residence there. Where they came from I have no idea, as the forest and pasture are a sort of island in the middle of suburbia and I wasn't aware that we had any beavers anywhere in the area, let alone near enough to consider immigrating to our neck of the woods. But immigrate they did - although I suspect they did not go through the proper governmental channels and are residing there illegally - and they promptly began altering the area to suit their tastes. It was actually somewhat amazing to watch the transformation. Every so often during the spring and summer I would shimmy between the wire fencing around the pasture, and amble down to the edge of the pasture to check out the renovations. Over the course of the last two years the beavers have built at least one impressively sturdy dam, taken down well over twenty trees, made a large clearing, and created two small lakes where the stream once was.

The beavers have been great neighbors so far, even though they are elusive - I have yet to spot one, but I did once come upon a deer enjoying a drink from the lake - but tonight I have discovered an unexpected bonus. Apparently the creation of a new lake, however small it may be, is big news among the locals. Word has gotten out and a multitude of frogs have taken up residence alongside the beavers. I love the sound of the frogs croaking away in the spring but up until this year the only frogs we ever heard were the one or two tree frogs who have found their way onto the Unfarm. Not that I didn't appreciate their attempts, but there's something about the sound of a chorus of frogs that is sort of comforting, in a way. It reminds me of the country, I suppose.

So welcome to the neighborhood, little ones. Now if only I could convince a bat to move into our bat house. I wonder if they work through a realtor...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

It's official... spring is here

Spring is here. Okay, not technically, but for all intents and purposes it's spring. How do I know this? Because a few weeks ago I heard from the peacock for the first time, and just a couple of nights ago as I was falling asleep I heard the Great Horned owl that lives in the woods near our house.

The peacock, I should mention, is not ours. It lives on a small farm on the hill across from us, with the owl's woods in between us. In the fall and winter it tends to stick closer to home, but in the spring and summer it goes on walkabout looking for other peacocks. Unfortunately, we are rather low on peacocks in this area but that doesn't stop it from wandering. We even got a visit from it two springs ago - it came to the Unfarm in the evening and stayed all the next day before moving on again. I think the chickens attracted it in the first place, but weren't enough of an enticement for it to stay for any length of time. (The chickens, for their part, didn't quite know what to do with this GIANT bird in their yard, so they did their best to ignore it. It wasn't easy - he was quite a spectacle.)

The garden is also showing signs of life again: we have three crocuses (the last hold outs in the battle against the animals) that are up and blooming, a great many scilla have started re-emerging, and the daylilies are now a few inches tall. Oh, and the primroses - the primroses are making their come back.

That is how I know it's spring. This is not to say that the weather will be all blue skies and sunshine from now on - far from it, as we still have about three months left of the rainy season. These last few sunny days are simply a fluke, designed by the Pacific Northwest weather gods to torment those of us who choose to live here: they give us just enough good weather to send us into a sun induced euphoria, only to swamp us in again with clouds and rain from one end of the horizon to the other. But I've seen this trick before so I know to enjoy the sun but expect the rain, at least until June.

I suppose it is somewhat of a blessing then, that I am currently taking statistics and accounting - the homework keeps me occupied when I might otherwise be tempted to work in the garden. The amount of clay in our soil is good for the plants, but it means that the ground can't be worked until it has been sunny and warm for a couple of weeks at least, once the winter has ended. Until then, I get to spend my days learning about conditional probabilities and writing up financial statements. Does life get any better? (I certainly hope so.)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Destination: Panic, ETA: now

Good evening everyone, and thank you for flying Anxiety Air. Please fasten your seat belts and keep your chairs in the upright position. Our final destination today is Panic and our ETA is... now.

How did I end up here again? How is it that I seem to attract animals with less than ideal health? (Not that I love them any less - my animals are my world.) Let's review - a cat with hyperthyroidism that led to heart failure, a chicken that needed a hysterectomy, a duck with "failure to thrive" (meaning that there was something wrong with Kodi, but the vets couldn't figure out what exactly it was) and two rabbits who succumbed to severe gastrointestinal problems, one right after the other. And now here I am again, sitting in the vet's office with my duck, Minna, hoping and praying for good news.

When we last left our story, Minna was under the weather and I was contemplating a vet visit if she didn't show improvement by the morning. So, Monday morning, with no visible improvement, I packed her up (and Maggie, who would rather sit inside next to Minna all day long than spend even ten minutes outside without her) and headed to vet number three: the bird specialist. The diagnosis? A pinched nerve from laying an egg. The treatment: five days of Celebrex. If she still hasn't shown any improvement by Thursday morning, I'll need to recheck with the vet. Leaving the vet's office, I felt fairly optimistic - the medicine would work and Minna would regain the use of her leg. Need I say that today is Thursday and she still hadn't improved? The new plan is to finish the Celebrex and start a course of antibiotics (she produced two soft shelled eggs this week, prompting the vet to suspect an infection in her uterus.) If there is still no improvement by Saturday morning, Minna will head back to the vet for a cortisone shot.

Needless to say, I have been in a panic all week, and it is only getting worse with each passing day that Minna fails to improve. I am praying that she recovers from this, as I am nowhere near being ready to say goodbye to another of my little ones. I will add updates when I can. Prayers for Minna's quick recovery are much appreciated.