Monday, July 25, 2011

Out Sick

Hi Everyone, due to forces of the universe conspiring against me, I'm taking a little more time off from the blog as I do battle with what has turned out to be pneumonia (I know, right?) and as our (free, random) internet signal is on the fritz. I'm hastily typing this from the library in a rare burst of energy in the middle of a week and a half of basically lying flat on my back. I promise I'll be back here someday soon, healthy and raring to write. In the meantime, stay well and enjoy whatever season you happen to be in right now!

Friday, July 22, 2011

On My Mind...

I'm finally joining in with the Friday feature, On My Mind, over at Down to Earth. Technically I should have had this up yesterday, to tie in with Rhonda's Friday post (she's in Australia, hence the time difference), but I didn't manage it. Anyway, here it is today. 

On my mind today are my Scarlet Runner Beans.

Last year the Scarlet Runner Beans that I planted never came up (I think they got drowned in all the rain, plus mowed down by slugs), but this year this is what they look like two weeks after planting! The seeds are from my mom, who always plants them along the walkway in front of the house, where they climb up along the beams and create shade, plus they are just beautiful plants. I need to get out and make a string trellis for mine, from the top of the fence so they have something to easily climb. Scarlet Runner Beans can grow six or seven feet high, and they have gorgeous bright red blossoms and huge pods. The dry beans are beautiful, big and black, mottled in purple.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Happy Birthday, Matt!

Matt turns 28 today! This man is my best friend, and I am so happy to call him my partner in pretty much everything. Even in those moments when we want to strangle each other, he constantly enriches my life, and I am so grateful to have this awesome person here every day, supporting me and challenging me, traveling to the ends of the world with me, and always always making me laugh. 

Happy Birthday, Sweetie!

My brother and sister-in-law, Tighe and Lisia, are en route to Portland today, and will be staying with us tonight, so we'll have wonderful company here for Matt's birthday dinner. Tighe and Lisia just celebrated their one year wedding anniversary on the 14th, and Matt and I will celebrate 3 years of being together this Thursday, the 21st, so there are lots of things to toast to today! 

Also, look what I just picked out back:
That's a 1.5 quart mixing bowl, not bad for one day's harvest, I'd say! An excellent topping for a birthday cake, methinks...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

An Unexpected Weekend

The relaxing but productive "weekend at home" that Matt and I were planning on did not go remotely as we had hoped. As I left work on Friday, I received a text message from Matt warning me that he had a big surprise for me at home, "but don't worry, it's not permanent." Knowing Matt as I do, I figured said surprise could be one of three things: a boat, a haircut I didn't like, or an animal of some kind. The third option proved to be true, and we have spent the weekend caring for and trying to find a home for this poor little dog that Matt found abandoned at Vancouver Lake on Friday:

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

She's the sweetest thing in the world, but incredibly needy and requires human presence 24/7. When Matt took her, she had been running around by herself for several hours, and animal control wasn't responding. She had fleas and had chewed herself raw, itching around her tail. She seems to have been well fed though, so we think she probably wasn't on her own for terribly long. Matt brought her home, and we have given her a flea bath, covered all her sores with bag balm, and given her lots of love, and she seems to be doing much better, but still plenty freaked out. She has attached herself to Matt completely, which is adorable but also heartbreaking, because we simply can't keep her. Having her this weekend, it's been okay because we've both been home, but during the week we both work, and she goes absolutely bonkers if we go outside without her.

We looked all around for her potential owner (we had her scanned for a microchip, but she has none), looked on all the various lost pet postings, and posted a Found posting on craigslist. This morning, we got an email from the former owner, and the story is that she was the companion dog of that owner's father-in-law, who passed away last year. The lady took her, but couldn't support her financially, so gave her away to "friends" who apparently were moving away this week, and they seem to have abandoned the dog when they moved. It's been so sad and stressful for us all weekend, knowing what this dog (her name is Sherri, it turns out) has been through and that we can't keep her. We have all of our feelers out to find her a good home, hopefully with someone who is retired or works at home, who can be around all the time and take the dog along wherever they go. She is so incredibly sweet and friendly and has such expressive eyes that the whole thing has been so very taxing on us all, mentally and emotionally. To top it off, I managed to come down with some kind of bug yesterday, so am feeling a bit crook, as they say in New Zealand. It may just be on account of it having been so stressed about all of this.

I'm feeling very heavy at the moment about the reality that there are people in this world who ditch animals rather than going through the proper channels. I can completely understand not being able to keep a pet, and I can understand having obstacles to networking and finding the pet a new home, but I can't understand simply dumping a dog, particularly a dog that has never been without humans. It really breaks my heart, and I am so very glad that Matt brought her home, because at least this way we can make sure she goes somewhere good, where she can get the care and attention she needs.

This has been one of those times when I feel the full weight of being an adult, of us taking on a burden that should never have been ours, but knowing that we have a responsibility to take care of this poor animal that deserves so much more. As Matt and I have said to each other, this is the kind of family we want to be: the one that takes on the hard stuff when we could so easily look the other way, and provides for those in need, be they human or otherwise, as much as we are able.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Glimmerings of Home

I am getting antsy to do some "Before and After" posts of the way the house looked when it was empty, vs. how we have set it up, but as we're still not completely unpacked, I'm going to hold out a bit longer. I'm sure you are getting plenty of glimpses in the other photos in the meantime. We are completely operational as a house, but there are still a few boxes that haven't really been touched, some sets of shelves that are just crammed with things that needed to not be in boxes anymore, we're still sleeping on our futon on the floor until we buy a bed, and we haven't touched the upstairs AT ALL. But nonetheless, we are set up to cook, clean, garden, shower, and do all the activities of daily life, so that's something. As of Monday night, we even have all of our clothes put away in the closet and dresser- three weeks after moving in!

So here are a few more snapshots of what has been going on around here recently:

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)
 I finally got a clothesline strung up! It took some figuring because our yard is so small and surrounded by greenery, and very few things to string a clothesline to! After exploring several options, I finally settled on stringing it diagonally across the yard, from an upright beam of the house to a juniper tree behind the compost bins.

 Matt is a knot expert, so I got him to tie the line securely to the tree, and then I tied the other end of the line into a metal hook, and put an eyebolt into the beam on the house- now we can easily roll up the line out of sight when we don't need it, and unfurl it and hook it through the eye when we need it!

 Matt spent an evening last week pruning back the tree in our front yard. I think it's a dogwood, but whatever it is, it was a little out of control, and it looks much much happier now. 

 Matt is getting a lot more confident in his cooking, and for good reason. He is challenging himself and almost always the result is fantastic. One night last week I had "Simple Pasta and Salad" on the menu plan for dinner, and he took it upon himself to learn how to make a true cheese sauce, made with a roux and everything. It was absolutely stellar.

This is a little salt pot I found at an op-shop back in New Zealand. It has taken the place of a salt shaker on our table, very nice since we use fairly chunky sea salt. The little spoon is an Air New Zealand coffee spoon :) Oh, and the beautiful tea towel/table runner was a housewarming gift from my good friend Rosa. 

 Mmmm, banana bread! On Saturday, when we went to the farm, Jessa brought us a couple very ripe bananas, because she likes hers green. I had a couple more that were about to go off, so voila- banana bread! 

The chicks really deserve a post of their own, so I'll have that soon. For now, it's time to go dip into the pot of lentils bubbling on the stove, then get out and do some weeding in the garden before it gets dark. I hope you're having a lovely week, and Happy Friday to everyone!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Chicken Stock and Strawberry Jam

I managed a pretty major accomplishment (for me) on Sunday afternoon and successfully canned a batch of strawberry jam! Having never canned on my own before, I'm pretty pleased with the results- every single jar sealed immediately, and it came out tasting great. We've been getting a lot of strawberries from our own backyard, but not enough to make a significant amount of jam, so we bought half a flat of local berries from a stand a few blocks from our house, and I used the strawberry jam recipe from the Ball Blue Book of Canning, except that I substituted in half a quart of raspberries from our bushes, because Matt prefers the mix of flavors over pure strawberry- and I have no argument!
 (Click on Photos to Enlarge)
 Strawberries waiting underneath our menu plan and a list of items to look for at thrift stores...

 The early stages, before adding the sugar.

 Sterilized jars waiting to be filled.

Ready for jars!

My only major trial was that I don't own an actual canning rack (since I use my 16-quart stock pot, standard canning racks are just too big) so I put this cooling rack in the bottom of the pot:

It served its purpose of keeping the jars off the hot bottom of the pot, but because it doesn't hold jars in place, the first jar I put in fell over and tipped the whole rack on a slant, and I had to quickly call in reinforcements (i.e. Matt) to hold the rack down with a long-handled spoon and keep the jar upright with tongs while I put in the rest! A bit of a balancing act, but it all worked out in the end.

 The finished product!

We sampled some for breakfast the next day, and I have to say I'm pretty pleased with the result!

Once the jam was done, I used the water in the canning kettle to make chicken stock, since we had had a roast chicken for Sunday dinner. With the water already hot, all I had to do was put in the carcass/bones, a bit of onion, a stick of celery, and some herbs and let it cook for an hour or so. Now, between good local meat, a big batch of stock, and lots of berries (half the flat got cut up and frozen), our freezer is packed with goodness:

I'm not a big fan of freezing things like stock in plastic containers, but all of our glass containers were in use and Matt had found a big stack of plastic freezer containers at a thrift store for $3, so until we can afford more Pyrex containers, we'll use these.

To freeze the berries (we've done both raspberries and strawberries), we lay them out on a baking sheet so they freeze without sticking to each other in big clumps, then transfer them into bags or containers once they are fully frozen. 

To top off all the food goodness, I got home late last night after a long day to find that not only had Matt been busy doing yard work, washing dishes, and generally being awesome, but he had a loaf of herb bread baking in the oven! It's the first time he's made bread entirely on his own, and it came out amazingly. I took some in my lunch today and wished I had brought twice as much, because I didn't want to stop eating it. I'm so proud of him, and also glad I am the one who got to benefit from this deliciousness:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Day on the Farm

Yesterday (Saturday) we took a field trip, as it were, to Full of Life Farm, the farm that we buy most of our meat from. Jessa (Matt’s sis) came along, and we took the hour long road trip to St. Paul, Oregon, in the beautiful Willamette Valley, where Full of Life is situated. The farm is very new (about three years old), run by Bernard Smith, whose family homesteaded the property several generations ago. Bernard made the move from fast paced city life to farming after deciding to revolutionize the way his family ate, and bases his farming practices on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms. Matt and I try to eat only pastured, grass-fed meat and eggs from pastured chickens, and Bernard is an excellent source of both. He now partners with a neighboring farm and sells pastured beef, pork, chicken and goat in addition to eggs. We believe that the health benefits of eating this meat vs. commercially raised meat far outweigh any extra expense in it, and would far rather eat meat from animals raised on their natural diets on open pasture in the air and sunshine than from those raised in confinement, eating grain and other things their bodies aren’t built to process. Since transitioning to pastured meat, we eat meat less often (once or twice a week) and make the most of our purchases, making stock from leftovers and bones and eating small portions of a cut over multiple meals. We have also noticed that we get sick far less often and have a lot more energy since cutting processed meat out of our diet.

We first got to know Bernard and his farm about a year and a half ago when Full of Life Farm started selling at a farmer’s market in Portland. Matt and I visited the farm once before but didn’t do an in-depth tour. This time, we attended Bernard’s Family and Friends Day, and got a walking tour of the farm, met all the animals, and learned all kinds of things (and were pleased to find out we already knew the answers to a lot of the questions Bernard was asked!), then enjoyed a picnic on the lawn by the farmhouse and a performance by a bluegrass band, with Bernard’s teenage daughter on fiddle. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, sunny and about 80 degrees, and we felt right at home, tramping across farm fields, smelling the sweetness of fresh grass and clover and seeing our food roaming and grazing happily in the sun. 
 (Click on Photos to Enlarge)
Bernard explaining the brooding houses for the chicks.

 Red Broilers free ranging.

 The eggmobile, which follows the cattle through the paddocks so the hens can till the cow droppings into the ground to fertilize and encourage the grass growth. 

 300 red broiler chicks!

 Full of Life Farm uses guard dogs that are trained to protect livestock. Two Bernese mountain dogs guard the chickens.

 Layers free ranging. The breeds here are Australorp, Buff Orpington, Silver-Laced Wyandotte, and Ameracauna.

 Matt and Jessa crossing one of the cattle paddocks. 

 A beautiful Fjord Horse at the barn.

 One of the hogs chilling out in the barn. 

 Isn't Oregon a beautiful place?

 Turkey poults (Broad-breasted Bronze)

 The goats are guarded by an Anatolian Shepherd and a guard alpaca.


We ended the day by stopping into the farm store and buying a 10-lb box of beef cuts (which we split with Jessa) as well as some pork chops and a dozen eggs. We spent $71 and have enough beef and pork to last us at least six months, not to mention some delicious fresh eggs. I am loving the look of our freezer now:

We had a wonderful time, and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to know exactly where my meat comes from and how it is produced. There is such value in farmers and grocers who provide complete transparency about their practices, especially in this culture where so much of how our food is made is purposely hidden from us; because if we did know, we wouldn't eat it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Summer Days

We're on our third summer in a row now, and already the days are filled with so much sun and goodness that it all seems to be going by too fast. This week we achieved a bit of a routine around home, even with both of us being physically exhausted when we get home (Matt is teaching kayaking camps all day, and I am now biking 13 miles a day, commuting across town). Despite being tired, we have been maintaining our energy by eating good home-cooked meals (made easy thanks to menu plans) and by spending at least an hour every evening working around the yard and garden. Everything in the garden is growing fabulously, thanks to lots of sun over the last week, and we have put in a lot of work on the wild front yard, and are finally able to see the front of our house from the street!

I'll be back tomorrow with a post about our visit to a local farm today, but for now here is our past week in photos:
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)
 We celebrated the wedding of two close friends, with a pre-wedding picnic on the beautiful Sandy River, where the bride and groom went for a paddle in the kayaks they received as a gift.

Matt and I before the wedding ceremony. 

 Dinner for four: two good friends came over for dinner on Thursday night, and we dined on buttermilk biscuits, fresh green salad, and fruit with a variety of cheeses. To die for.

 Our mailbox, which previously resided inside this honeysuckle bush, is now easily accessible, thanks to some pruning work by Matt. 

Dinner for two: Pasta with Parmesan and fresh oregano from the garden, and tomatoes (not ours...) with fresh basil (ours!) and feta.

 This week, we are truly home.