Saturday, June 18, 2011

The One that Got Away (and the One that Didn't)

I was beginning to think that the dogs had retired from their job of keeping critters off the property. There are rabbits in my garden and raccoons up the mulberry tree. And the dogs seem to be oblivious. Have they given up? Gotten tired? Lost their excessively fierce urge to hunt? What gives, dogs?

But then they cornered a woodchuck yesterday. Unfortunately for them, they cornered it in the rock wall in the old milk barn foundation, where it wedged itself under the rocks juuuust out of reach of the dogs' snarling and slavering mouths. I could see its furry little rear end in there and I bet the dogs could have licked the thing. But they didn't want to lick it; they wanted to annihilate it. Except they couldn't get at it and it was driving them MAD.

I bet that was one traumatized little woodchuck, right there.

I was alerted to this situation when I heard the high-pitched yelps that indicate serious hunting. But there was nothing I could do to help them. Those rocks are cemented in and can't be moved; there was no way to get at the woodchuck from another angle. It was just . . . there. Where we could see it, but not get at it.

The MiL and I had to drag the dogs away and lock them up so the woodchuck could get out and go away. I hope that it considers this reprieve as an opportunity to examine its life and get on a more positive track. A track that does not involve coming on our property again, as it will probably not be so lucky next time.

Later in the afternoon when Cubby and I were wandering around outside, we came upon Otty eating some small animal. It was a little rabbit. Hopefully the one that's been eating my beets. So that probably made Otty feel a little bit better about the emancipated woodchuck.

It was a big hunting day for the dogs yesterday, albeit a somewhat frustrating one. But at least I know they're still on the job.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Worst Leftover, Made Better

If I were to take a poll concerning the food that makes the worst leftover, I think most people would say that fish ranks right up there. It's just . . . not good left over. For me, it's barely good fresh. And when I say fresh, I mean caught-by-A.-in-our-lake-yesterday fresh. Even that kind of fish is only okay in my own, non-fish-person opinion. Don't even speak to me of that nasty commercial salmon. Gross.


So, even fresh, I can only tolerate the nice, mild white fish A. catches. But then to have to stare at whatever's left in the refrigerator for a few days, where it gets all cold and gelatinous and extremely unappetizing? No, thanks.

This is a problem. Because for one thing, I hate to waste food. I especially hate to waste food that A. has gone to all the trouble to kill himself. But the fish he brings home tend to be really large pikes and pickerels, which I just cook whole because all the bones make it impractical to fillet them and which always result in some left over. And that brings us back to cold, gelatinous fish in the refrigerator.

Enter Darina Allen and Forgotten Skills of Cooking. The MiL gave me this awesome book for Christmas, and so far the only thing I've made from it is fish pie. But that I've made at least four times already. It's the best way to use leftover fish that I can think of. I mean, really, what wouldn't benefit from being smothered in white sauce and mashed potatoes?

The original recipe calls for poaching fish fillets in milk and then using that milk to make the white sauce. Since I always have the leftover fish when I make it, though, I skip that. The rest of it is stupid simple: First, make mashed potatoes. Then saute finely chopped onion in butter; take the onion out, crank up the heat and cook some sliced mushrooms until the liquid is mostly gone. Take the mushrooms out, make a white sauce in the same pan. Pull the fish apart into small pieces, making sure to remove all the bones in the process.

This part takes the longest for me, because pike and pickerel are some seriously bony sumbitches and fish bones in food are a serious downer, so I spend a long time carefully checking each and every little piece.

But after that (teeeeeedious) job is done, I just dump the fish pieces (and whatever leftover sauce I made to go with the fish, which is most often just butter, lemon juice, and whatever herbs I have on hand), onions, and mushrooms into the white sauce, add thyme, salt, and pepper and mix it all up. Then that gets put in a glass casserole dish, topped with the mashed potato, and baked until it's all hot and brown on top. You see? It's like a shepherd's pie. Only with leftover fish. It can be made ahead, too. Bonus.

This is not a fancy recipe, and it's not particularly exotic in its flavors. But it does its job, which is to use leftover fish in a way that is appetizing to the whole family. And that includes Cubby. He loves it.

Incidentally, it's the perfect food for small, messy people who are attempting to master utensils. Because of the mashed potatoes, you see. Last night when we had this, I stirred Cubby's all up in a bowl and he swiped at it with his spoon. The potatoes make it nice and clingy, so he managed to get some of it on his spoon and in his mouth. And some of it in his nose. But that's just part of the fun of dinnertime with a toddler.

Anyway. Fish pie. You should make it next time you have leftover fish. Unless the fish you have left over is salmon, in which case I recommend calling for pizza and giving the fish to the dogs.

Happy Friday, poppets! Have a delicious weekend.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Little Tractor that Could

Last night I asked A. to drive Big Red into the pasture again so I could replenish my dwindling supply of sheep-shit straw for the garden.

I've been doing a lot of mulching, as you saw. That smelly straw goes fast.

Not only did A. drive the truck up there for me, but he helped me pitch the shit into the truck, thereby allowing the two of us together to load up about a thousand pounds of shitty straw in only about half an hour. Pitching shit with A. is a lot better than doing it by myself. Which I think might be the strongest endorsement of our marriage ever. I mean, would YOU like to pitch shit with YOUR spouse? If yes, then you're bound to go the distance.


After we got Big Red all loaded up, I gathered up the pitchforks and my gloves while A. drove the truck out of the pasture. Except he didn't. Because the truck was stuck. The tires spun and spun and dug right down into the slick, wet, nasty underlayer of sodden, shitty straw that offered no traction whatsoever.

This is not the first time Big Red has been stuck. Nor is it the first time we've really wished we had a four-wheel-drive truck. But Big Red is what he is, and he was definitely mired down.

A. managed to get one of the snow chains on the rear tire that was causing the majority of the trouble. The MiL came up so she and I could push while A. drove (it would have been better if A. could have pushed, but nobody can really drive Big Red except A., as you may recall). But before we tried that, A. thought he'd see if the lawn tractor could pull the truck at all.

This is the lawn tractor we got after our two-year-old lawn tractor blew up last summer. This latest tractor is a 15-year-old Toro Wheelhorse from back in the day when they were still made in the USA. This thing is solid steel and extremely sturdy. It also has some very low speeds on it, which is important for pulling purposes. I had my doubts it could actually pull a full-sized truck, though. I mean, it's a tough little tractor, but it is, well, little.

But we had nothing to lose by trying, so A. brought the tractor into the pasture and hooked it to the truck. Then I drove the tractor very slowly, A. drove the truck, the MiL pushed, and I'll be damned if that little tractor didn't pull that big ole truck right up and out of that mess.

With this display of pluck, our new/old tractor has earned himself a name. And not a derogatory name, either. A name that evokes the spirit of this brave little machine. Therefore, we officially christen him Tuffy the Toro.

They really don't make 'em like that anymore.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I Originally Published this Without a Title Because I Couldn't Think of One and I Still Can't so this IS the Title

A. got home somewhat late last night after spending some time fishing and then cleaning the pickerel he caught, so we didn't actually get to sleep until after ten.

And then Cubby woke up at five this morning, extremely unhappy about something. I suspect it was those always-convenient-scapegoats, The Emerging Teeth. Whatever it was, he was definitely not sleeping, and in fact didn't want to do anything except snuffle and cry pathetically on my shoulder. He did this for almost an hour, and then fell asleep on my shoulder in bed with A. and me for another hour, awaking around seven, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to head downstairs to throw some toys around.

After only seven hours or so of sleep, I was feeling distinctly less bright-eyed, definitely not bushy-tailed, and wondering how the hell I managed when Cubby was a wee one and sleeping more than four hours at a time was unheard of.

I suspect I just felt like shit all the time, but because I felt like that all the time, it seemed normal. But now that I don't feel like that all the time, I notice when I feel like shit. Bummer.

Maybe I should have just continued waking up every few hours. Then I wouldn't notice how awful I feel today. I would also get a lot more done. I don't think that's going to be my new schedule, however.

Have a lovely day, duckies. Here's hoping tonight features more sleep.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Through the Garden Gate

No, not this garden gate. My new garden gate.

Come on in! Don't mind the weeds.

After a few years of random bits of loose fencing propped up in this spot that kept falling over and scratching me and mysteriously disappearing when a piece of fencing was needed for something else, A. finally built me a gate. And a perfectly lovely gate, at that. He made it from various bits of wood he found around, plus some boards he made from the remains of the black walnut tree that tried to kill the sheep shack a couple of years ago. I love this gate very much, and I am very, very happy to finally have a gate on hinges at this end of the garden.

Now that you've had a chance to admire my pretty new gate, why don't you just step on into the garden for a tour of my mulch?

Plants, I mean. A tour of my plants.

Plants? What? Where?

Okay, so you can't actually see any plants there. That's because it's just a big pile of sheep-shit straw in which I planted the Ronde de Nice zucchini seeds. But soon there will be plants! At least, I hope so.

Ah, here are some REAL plants. Cabbages, obviously. In a nice bed of mulch.

The cabbages seem quite happy this year. They don't even seem to be infested with cabbage worms chewing their leaves into lace, as has been the case in the past. Perhaps the mulch repels cabbage worms? It kind of repels me, so I wouldn't be surprised if the cabbage worms are giving it a miss.

There are purple cabbages too, but they're not as big and I didn't take a picture of them. You'll just have to take my word for it that they have not yet died, and there are no cabbage worms on them, either. And yes, they are also mulched.

Why, look! It's more mulch! (And tomatoes.) Are you sensing a theme here?

Some of you may notice that I did not erect my kick-ass tomato support system this year.

And some of you may have better things to do than remember my method of staking my tomatoes.

But for those of you who DID remember and are wondering what the hell is up with those lame sticks on either side of the plants instead of my towering infrastructure of years past . . . well. I just didn't have it in me to spend the time to build all that this year. I know you all think I'm Superwoman, but even I have my limits. So those tomatoes will be tied to single stakes on either side this year AND LIKE IT. And if they fall over? Oh well. Fewer tomatoes that I have to can.

But wait! Before you lose all respect for me, here are some supports I DID build.

Pallets are like the little black dress of the woodchuck world--appropriate for every occasion.

Okay, so A. actually built one, but they were my idea. And I did cobble together the other one. The one that isn't as nice-looking and the one on which one of the cross-pieces has already fallen off, but I tried. I used a hammer and nails and everything. Those are for the cucumbers to climb up. We like to empower our cucumbers to reach for the sky.

And on that inspiring note, let us leave the garden and all do our best to reach for the stars ourselves.

Or something.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Last night around 8:30 I trudged up to the ram pasture to shut the door of the chick cottage and tuck the little chickies in for the night safe and sound. After I did that, I decided I'd better check on the status of the ripening mulberries (status: the harvesting will begin in a few days--brace yourselves). I was still a little ways away from the mulberry tree when I caught a glimpse of something scurrying up the trunk of the tree. At first I thought it was just a squirrel, but it seemed to be moving oddly for a squirrel.

And then I saw the masked face of a raccoon peering out at me from the crotch of the tree. Oh shit.

I turned around and sprinted back to the house, where I yelled to A. there was a raccoon in the mulberry tree, and then ran straight back to the tree to make sure it was still up there. Thirty seconds later, A. arrived with his shotgun, and shortly thereafter the raccoon was on the ground. Dead on the ground, that is.

I hate this kind of shooting of animals. A. doesn't really like it, either. Neither of us enjoy killing animals we're not going to be eating. However, this particular animal was within 50 feet of the chick cottage, and probably that very night would have been trying to get in to kill and maim all the chicks. So we had to kill an animal that we don't eat, but that would kill animals that we do eat. It has to be done, but it's still a little upsetting.

It's always somewhat sobering to realize how heartless that Mama N. is, and no matter how civilized humans may try to be, in the end, we're just a part of that natural world.

And on that note, allow me to wish you a most pleasant Monday, poppets!

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Yes! After days of hot, dry, sunny weather that was taking a toll on all the growing things, we got some real, measurable rainfall yesterday.

Of course, we did not get this rainfall until after A. had started the lake pump to fill the drastically depleted cistern and I had spent an hour watering everything in the garden with the pump water and A. had hauled water in buckets from the lake for the poor little trees we planted near the road recently. After all that hauling and watering and sweating and work . . . then it rained.

That Mama N. She's got a real sense of comedic timing.

But no complaints. We needed the rain, the rain arrived, and everything is perking up nicely. As soon as the sun comes back and it warms up a little, the garden will take off.

Including the weeds. But we won't think about that now.