Monday, October 29, 2012

A Few New Blogs...

Just a note that I have updated my sidebar with some more lovely blogs to read. Straying slightly from the simple living realm perhaps, but staying within the realm of gorgeous photos, fun stories, and lots of inspiration. Go have a look!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Apples, Pears, Squash & Leaves

Well, hello there! Sorry, it's been awhile. Things keep being crazy, and above all else I'm longing for more time to be at home, do some sewing or knitting projects, and cook more often. Alas, school has the upper hand right now. Still, here's a few things that have been going on around here lately:

We went to an apple festival, and came home with a bunch of Spartans (one of my favorite varieties, grown by my dad) and McIntosh.

The main reason we didn't buy more than a couple dozen apples is that we had picked about 75 pounds of Asian pears earlier that day!
They are so delicious, and we have noted now that they don't ripen until mid-October. We're both too busy right now to manage any preserving, so we have been foisting big bagfuls off onto friends, coworkers and classmates, keeping only what we can eat fresh. Maybe I'll get a chance to do some baking soon--a pear crisp would hit the spot! After we picked, Matt pruned the pear tree, so all of our trees are looking good and healthy, although we still need to do some raking of leaves.

A big pile of scarlet runner beans are drying upstairs. I still can't get over the colors of the beans before they dry!

 We've been eating heaps of rainbow chard. Sauteed, steamed, mixed into a quiche, you name it.

All of this dill seed is now upside down in a paper bag upstairs, drying. I wasn't planning to collect and dry it, but found it in perfect condition in the garden, so decided to go for it.

I added a couple of blankets to my study spot on the loveseat. It's been chilly some of these days.

 The geraniums that Matt got for me early in the summer have moved from their hanging baskets on the front porch to the table in the living room. It's nice to have something blooming inside this time of year.

 Maybe I think this every year, but the leaves this fall have been particularly spectacular.

Last week saw the return of one of our favorite seasonal meals, baked squash and sausage. A staple from my childhood, incorporated into our household. 

And last but not least, tonight both Matt and I cast our votes on lots of important things, including whether or not we continue to have a president who believes that all Americans should have access to health care.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On the Weekend

Such is my life now, that I only end up having time to post once a week. Nonetheless, being back in student mode is pretty great. And much easier to keep up with schoolwork now that the rain has set in and it's less appealing to skive off and go play outside. Our true Portland fall weather finally came back this week, and nature is watering the gardens --and everything else--for us, quite regularly and liberally. In a break between showers today, we went over to the community garden with Elliot, to finish cleaning up our plots and preparing them for fall and winter. We cut down all the remaining sunflower stocks, pulled up withered bean plants, and carted away the contents of our compost piles. Elliot planted his and Jessa's plot full of winter greens and a cover crop of red clover, and I am pleased to report that every fall/winter crop that we planted in our plot over the last few weeks has sprouted and is doing well. Matt and I did some work here at home too, cleaning up the backyard of the remaining apple branches from pruning, and putting away the camp chairs and barbecue and anything else that probably shouldn't be rained on for six months.

After nearly 100 days without rain, it is awfully nice to hear the soft sound of it falling outside again, and to feel the coziness that comes with cold wet weather. I know I'll be complaining about it come January, but it's nice to enjoy it while it's still a novelty. The flannel sheets are on the bed, and soups and stews are a regular occurrence. I made my first rabbit stew on Friday (it was delightful), and dinner tonight was a white bean and squash stew, flavored simply with onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and bay.

Inside, this year's harvest is very apparent, in our meals and in our seasonal decor. Matt moved the chilli ristras inside so they can actually continue to dry, and hung them in the south window upstairs.

The last gleanings from our best tomato plants are decorating the kitchen windowsills:

And our meager squash harvest lives by the back door. It would just be a shame to put these pretty things in the basement where we can't see them:

Outside, the trees are turning and the leaves are falling. The days are getting dramatically shorter, and the hens have taken notice. We are eggless for the first time in a year, as they all began to molt this week. We were getting four or five eggs a day, and then suddenly last weekend there stopped being any eggs at all. We checked all of their secret laying spots repeatedly before we accepted the truth :). The run is full of feathers, and it seems they are all right on time- the internets and Carla Emery tell me that hens almost always molt in the fall, or when they have laid for about 11 months, and/or when they have been stressed out. All three are true in our case- it's mid-October, they are all the same age and started laying last November, and the introduction of Thelma and Louise, in addition to the suddenly wet weather, most certainly threw a wrench into their routine. Thelma has continued to be a loner and quite feral, attempting to roost on top of the henhouse and madly pecking whoever tries to lift her off and put her inside. We've learned to just herd her with a stick instead. Sigh. We rigged up the light and timer on the coop as we did last year to extend their days, and hopefully in a few months they'll be back to giving us some eggs again.

 After we ate the broccoli heads, the chickens devoured the rest of the plant. 

Mimi does not approve of the rain. 

Matt is very much enjoying his job, and is doing very well at it (no surprises here). It's been an adjustment for both of us (depressing as it was for him to be unemployed, it was awfully nice to have him home all the time...), but I think after two weeks we're both fairly settled in our new routine. Now we just have to remember to take our raincoats with us every day.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

From the Week

Wow, it's been a busy week! Matt started his job at precisely the moment that school kicked into high gear for me, resulting in a routine in which there are only two days per week when we are both home before dark. This week was particularly insane, with me in class on Friday night and all day yesterday, hence the lengthy radio silence.

I forgot to mention that I did make jalapeno jelly a few weeks ago. I used this recipe, and while it came out positively delightful, I would definitely reduce the sugar next time, probably by at least one cup.

I highly recommend it. It's particularly good with cheese and crackers, and on sandwiches that involve meat.

I also cut up our apple harvest, and put away several gallons of frozen apple pie filling.

Today was my one day at home for the week, and while I have a huge pile of homework lurking upstairs, I spent most of today outside. Our beautiful weather is continuing, although the nights are getting colder now.  Rain is in the forecast for next weekend; if we get it, it will be the first proper rain in three months.

We had baked colcannon for dinner one night this week. Definitely one to add to our menu plan on a more regular basis.

Matt and Elliot butchered all but two of the 8-week-old rabbits yesterday, and today I butchered my first rabbit (or any animal, ever, for that matter). WARNING: MODERATELY GORY PHOTOS OF BUTCHERING AHEAD. I know there are people who think it's insane to kill your own meat, let alone post photos of it, but in our society where the process behind meat and meat products is completely hidden from consumers, I think what we need is more visibility of the process. Strangely, it's completely acceptable to do your own butchering when it comes to hunting, but people seem to think it's weird and gross to butcher animals you raise yourself, and the smaller the animal, the more people get freaked out. It's certainly not something to be taken lightly, and we make sure to thank the rabbits and give them a last minute of cuddling and relaxation before they go, and it is distinctly difficult to watch the life go out of an animal's eyes. But if you eat meat than I think you need to be willing to see how the animal becomes meat, even if you don't actively participate. If you can't stomach the process, you probably shouldn't stomach the product. That said:

Matt did slaughtered and butchered the first one, so I could see how it was done.

I was a little nervous about getting the killing part right- it's a fairly tricky business and unfortunately it's relatively easy to break a rabbit's neck without killing it (the actual slaughtering is much easier on larger animals). So I asked Matt to kill mine for me, and after I've seen a couple more I will do it myself.
Here I had cut the head off, it was draining the blood and ready for skinning. 

Reflecting on it, the hardest part for me, apart from watching the killing, was the fact that the carcass was so warm the whole time I was processing it. I've cut up chickens and cut the skin from the meat, but the meat is always so cold that you don't necessarily get the sense that it was once alive, and of course there is no blood. It was also fascinating to see the insides and where the organs are and how they all fit together. I'm really glad I know how to do it now, and in a strange but satisfying way I look forward to being able to do the killing part too. Another skill in my self-sufficiency arsenal.

After putting the rabbits in the freezer and cleaning up, I worked on putting the veggie plots around the front yard to bed for the winter. I pulled out all the remaining tomato plants, and tilled it up and planted it in cover crops, along with some spinach and kale.

 I unhooked the drip hose and packed it up for the winter, and left the strip in the foreground (with the turning fork in it) alone- that is where we'll plant garlic later in the fall.

Now Matt is working on cleaning the house, and it's time for me to get a pot of chili and some cornbread going for dinner. Once that's done, I'll contemplate doing some schoolwork. It's just so good to be home today.