Building a Scare-Chicken!

With spring trying to break through the winter here in PA, I took advantage of planting my onion crop yesterday.  Each year I seem to up my onion plants….this year 522 little onion babies found their way into our soil !  Onions do very well for us so we are trying to capitalize on what grows well.

Planting our large garden is a heck of a lot of work.  So…I only want to do that work once, not twice or thrice or even more!  However, our beloved chickens turn into downright pests during planting season.  I know they are merely acting on instinct, but every year during planting season they scratch up seeds and plants, looking for worms and other insects.  Just yesterday, after spending hours planting my onions, I had to replant over 100 that got scratched out in mere minutes by a chicken invasion!  Many choice worlds were used during that replant.

So today, instead of getting upset over what chickens are naturally inclined to do–scratch in the dirt.  I took matters into my own hands and made a fine scare-chicken…and my first one ever.  Farmer McGillicutty is going to be pretty pissed if those chickens come near his onions!

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Happy Gardening…or as happy as you can make it!

Categories: chickens, Food, Garden, Nature | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

UnBEElivably Unfortunate News…

I’ve trekked out to visit my beehive a few times this past winter.  I noticed early on that there were a lot of dead bees around the base of my hive and clogging the entrance.  This didn’t look like good news to me.  Finally, with some warm days last week, I opened up my hive and my suspicions were, very unfortunately, confirmed.  My whole hive failed to make it through the winter.  From the looks of it…I dont think they even made it very far into winter.

 

This is the bottom board of my hive, covered in dead bees!

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I found my dead bees in their winter cluster (they huddle to stay warm!)

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Most of my bees were found with their bee butts sticking out of the comb.

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According to some bee mentoring friends, it appears as though my hive died from starvation.  The peculiar thing about this explanation is that the hive was FILLED with honey for the bees to eat over winter!  This colony die off could have been a result of an early cold snap that lasted for too many days and left the bees unable to break cluster and travel to nearby honey stores.  Another possibility, which I’m leaning towards, is that my bees did in fact swarm last fall.  When a hive swarms, many of the bees will leave the hive to establish a new colony elsewhere.  Due to the fact that my worker bees were building queen cells this past fall leads me to now believe that I didn’t prevent a swarm event.  The unfortunate part of swarming is that my present colony is then left with a smaller population of bees–>therefore a smaller cluster for overwintering and a greater chance of not surviving. 

I was, however, left with a good amount of honey that I was able to late harvest!  What a sticky task that was!

 

The boys gladly interrupted their baseball practicing to check out the honeycombs!

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We also had to do some quality control taste-testing while out in the field!

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HARVEST TIME!

Here is an entire frame of honey.  The left side of the frame shows how the bees capped the honey with wax.  On the right side, I cut the cappings off to show the beautiful honey stored underneath!

 

 

 

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I do not have a honey extractor, which would make processing easier.  Instead I crushed up the honeycomb and placed them in a sieve to drain.  This method leaves some tiny bits of wax that pass through, along with propolis and any natural pollens that the bees may have collected!  (These “extras” are touted to be beneficial for seasonal allergies!)

 

Here are the frames with the honeycomb cut off.

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Our final count was around 14 lbs of our own local woodsy honey!

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…somewhat of a sweet ending at least!

 

I am planning to try and establish another hive…in early April!

Categories: Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Sometimes Dinner Requires a Hatchet

I bet those pioneer ladies that we’ve long forgotten had to wield sharp hatchet-like tools in order to prepare dinner.  Around here it is unfortunately not so often.  However, last night’s dinner prep did require my husband’s hatchet.

We recently “cut” down on our rooster population.  We had four cocks and their fighting was increasing, likely due to spring being right around the corner!  And, our lady hens were starting to lose a lot of feathers from all of the lovin’ they were getting.  Around here we don’t let the strongest rooster survive…usually he’s the meanest and most territorial.  So we intervene to keep only a couple of happy cocks around.

So last night’s dinner was a taste test of fresh market chickens versus fresh woodsy farm rooster.  To prep our roosters, which we killed and plucked on Sunday…I needed to chop off their feet.  I had considered roasting them with feet attached but I couldn’t manage to pluck off all of the feathers around their feet.  (I did save the feet to work on today and use for future stock!)

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Also…roosters grow spurs on their feet.  This picture shows our dominant rooster and the size of his spurs!

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THE END RESULT:

Everyone had both rooster and market chicken for dinner last night.  Both were excellent!  The rooster meat was darker but not really tougher by any means (and these birds were likely a year old and quite lean.)  My favorite part of dinner, however, was having my one son request seconds of “rooster, please!”

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Vegetarian Turned Butcher!

Vegetarian Turned Butcher!

Life’s journey is filled with crazy ups and downs and many many twists and turns.  When my darling husband and I were first married, I was a newly proclaimed vegetarian.  (This decision was made due to first-hand involvement with the USDA.)  I quickly altered my menus to include tofu, tempeh, a variety of beans, and TVP, among other vegetarian staples.  I spent the next few years avoiding meat like the plague…and probably drove my husband and friends nuts in the process.  The woodsy guy was an avid hunter and I even refused to cook any venison for him (sorry honey!!)

A few years into my vegetarianism, I learned from a Slovak relative that my family in Slovakia made their living as BUTCHERS.  What?!  That’s right…butchers.  I had managed to do a complete turnaround and was very far away from my family and “food” roots.  I labored over how I could ever visit these relatives and eschew their meat products.

While it was still at least a year after that news—I finally started to dabble in the world of meats again…partially fueled by my pregnancies and my body begging me for meat again! I remember my first taste of “post-vegetarian” turkey  (some friends had roasted a free-range bird for Thanksgiving).  I think I could have devoured the entire bird!  I also started to learn more about sourcing foods from local farms who didn’t follow the normal methods of raising animals in confinement.  Here are two local farms that we like to source our animals from:

I have also managed to completely embrace my husband’s hunting and pray that we get enough deer to fill our freezer and our bellies for the year.  The past few years have sparked me to become more involved in the butchering process.  Yes…my roots…BUTCHERING!

I can now single-handedly skin and butcher a deer from start to finish!  And….I enjoy it!

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I am glad to have rediscovered my roots.  I am not sorry for my long journey needed to get to this point though!  …may we all keep searching and growing and finding ourselves…even if it is as a butcher.

And, I did forget to mention that the woodsy guy purchased me my very own meat saw for Christmas.  Isn’t that the truest of love??

Smiles….

Categories: Food, hunting, Nature, Slovak, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The 100 mile club

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Our local recreation center recently sucked me back in to my favorite love—SWIMMING!  All of those health gurus tend to stress that you need to find some activity that you really love to do.  For me…swimming is it!  (I know I get this trait from my now 100 year old grandfather who used to swim 3 miles in a lake with minimal effort!)

Now, as a kid at swim team practice, my love of swimming turned to hate.  I learned that I enjoyed it recreationally, not competitively.  I wanted to glide through the water—using whatever stroke I wanted…resting when I needed to…spending some moments just floating and just feeling the water all around me.  I was not swim team material.  What I really preferred to do was practice my “synchronized swimming skills ” with the coach’s daughter…had we kept at it, I’m SURE we would have looked like this!

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But back to the present tense.  I have committed myself to swim 100 miles by the end of the year.  At last check in I’m at 5.7 miles, but I think I swam nearly 5 more this week alone!  It’s getting easier and easier to crank out the laps (1 lap=2 lengths of the pool, or 50 yards).  And the best part—It doesn’t feel like work!  An added bonus is that is also doesn’t feel like chronic cardio (I don’t know if I even break a sweat)—-just fun in the pool.

A few obstacles to overcome –

1.  The chlorine.

  •  I hate it.  I have taken to using a leave-in conditioner on my hair and tucking it away under a swim cap…helpful but not a cure-all.  My hair is down to my waist but will surely need a cut after the chlorine abuse.
  • My skin hasn’t freaked out yet—but I’ve religiously soaked in a salt bath days that I subject myself to the chlorine pool.

2.  Obsession.

  • I have this TINY problem where I can quickly turn something fun into something I need to do all of the time.  Take last week—I swam 3 days, it was lovely and probably in the vicinity of 120 laps.  This week, however, I will be swimming 4 days and will clock nearly 160 laps…fast upward trend?  Regardless…I still love it…for now.  :)

3.  The summer

  • I won’t be in the pool much in the summer…preferring to swim outdoors in the river or a lake or the ocean if I’m lucky.  None of these miles will count toward my 100 miles.  But, I think I can do a good job banking some early miles in these cold months!

 

 

Please note: This club is not associated with the mile high club  :)

Categories: Health, Just for Fun | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

A facebook hiatus

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I can’t recall what year I finally caved and ended up with a facebook account…but it quickly grew into something I “needed” to check into each and every day.  These addictions can be hard to break (aren’t they all?!)  THIS SITE has a quiz so you can determine your facebook addiction status.  I’ve been facebook-less now for a few weeks and can now envision daily life without it!  (My apologies to anyone who thought they were unfriended by me…nope I just left—without much warning!)  Along with a facebook break – I had a blogging break!  I might still be on break here for a bit.  December is hectic enough, right?  I want to put a slower feeling back into this fast-paced month!

Speaking of slow…my main method of long distance communication used to be letter writing.  My grandmother Mim put me in contact with a “cousin” who lived in what-was-then Czechoslovakia.  She was learning English and I was excited at 10 or 11 to have a pen-pal in another country who I was related to!  Then in college, spending our summers apart, I did extensive letter writing to my sweetheart and present-day hubby!  I wrote EVERY day we were apart.  Even if it was seemingly mundane, I felt more connected if I could pour it all out on paper to my sweetie—and long-distance phone charges were steep over a decade ago!

So here I am now…ready to take another step back.  Who doesn’t love getting a hand-written letter in the mail?  I am already rediscovering how wonderful it is to handwrite some letters to friends and family.  I hope to continue on this path indefinitely….do I have your address?

Cheers!

The woodsy gal

Categories: facebook, Health, Just for Fun, technology | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Houses of Gingerbread

I’m not one to rush to Christmas…but for some recipes pre-planning and getting an early start are essential for success!

 

Starting when I was a little girl, it became a yearly tradition to mix, bake and make our very own gingerbread houses!  We would gather at our local church kitchen with out families over a 3 week stretch.  The first weeks were fun, but it was so hard to wait for the best part at the end—building and decorating our creastions!

 

Once we went gluten-free, I spent a few years NOT baking houses because I hadn’t figured out a suitable recipe.  I wanted something we could potentially eat as well…so just doing a regular house with wheat flour wasn’t an option.  Today I bring you my gluten-free recipe for your own gingerbread house!  Our pieces are baked and waiting for Thanksgiving break to piece together!

 

Gluten-free Architectural Dough

  • 1 ½ c. shortening (Earth Balance sticks or Spectrum Organic Shortening)
  • 2 ¼ c. brown sugar (don’t forget you can make your own!)
  • 1 ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • 7 tsp. powdered ginger
  • 4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. cloves
  • 2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cardamom (optional)
  • 1 ½ c molasses
  • ½ c. water
  • 8 c. gluten free flour
  •             – 2 c. brown rice flour
  •             – 2 c. sweet rice flour
  •             – 2 c. millet flour
  •             – 2 c. tapioca starch
  •             – 5 tsp. xantham gum

 

  1. Sift dry ingredients in a large bowl.  In a separate large bowl, cream shortening and brown sugar.  Add in water and molasses.  Finally, slowly mix in flour mixture of gluten free flours, xantham gum, spices, soda and salt.
  2. Divide dough into thirds…scoop onto wax paper, wrap and refrigerate overnight.  (If you aren’t going to bake within a few days, you can freeze this instead.)

 

 

Rolling Out Your Dough

You will need to generously flour 3 large cookie sheets (I use tapioca starch to “flour”.)  Only work with one third of the dough at a time and keep the rest chilled until ready to work.  Roll our dough onto cookie sheet…add more flour as needed to prevent sticking.  Roll as evenly as possible!

My handle-less rolling pin works perfectly for this job!

 

Take and cut out both of your roof pieces onto the first sheet of dough.  Do NOT peel any of the scrap dough away—this needs to get baked with the patterned pieces to prevent the dough from spreading.  Your second cookie sheet should be able to fit the two sides of your house, chimney too.  Your third cookie sheet can fit the front and back of your house…if you have extra space you can cut out tree patterns.

I trace my patterns onto cardstock first then lay overtop of my rolled out dough. You can use cardstock or cardboard to “preview” your house!

  • I bake one sheet at a time at 350 degrees for around 20 minutes.  It’s especially important not to UNDERbake these as they need to be very dry to withstand construction and the added weight of candy decorations!
  • As soon as you pull a finished sheet out of the oven, IMMEDIATELY re-cut over all of your initial patterns.  Let pieces cool in pan.  It’s best to let your house pieces sit out to dry for a good week (longer if you have it).  The first year I did this…I was pressed for time and started to build 24 hours later.   Sadly, we never made a successful house that year…

 

When you are ready to construct your house…here is a recipe for Royal/Architectural Icing:

  •  3 egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 lb. powdered sugar (approx. 3 1/2 – 4 c.)

Keep a damp kitchen towel draped over your icing bowl to prevent it from drying out.  House construction takes a lot of patience!  Don’t work too quickly—give time for icing to set!  The roof is always the hardest part.  You may need to remake this icing if you run out, but it is best to make in these smaller batches so it doesn’t dry out on you!

 

**** I would advise waiting 24 hours between constructing and decorating.

 

Here is our house from last year…be as creative as you can!  I stuck with all gluten and dairy free candies so the kids could freely pick at it on Christmas Day!

Categories: Family, Food, gluten-free, Recipe | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Salty

Mark 9:50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

The woodsy gal here is a lover of salt.  Real salt from rocks.  You won’t find me shaking on a shaker of chemically made NaCL (sodium chloride), but rather some pink Himalayan salt or gray Celtic Sea salt.  Here is a great article  explaining the differences between table and real sea salt.  Did you know that these kinds of salts contain many other minerals and trace elements that your body requires?  Some of these 80-90 trace minerals and elements include:

  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Boron
  • Manganese
  • Copper

I always have pink Himalayan salt, and more recently Celtic salt, on hand and order it in bulk from here and they offer free shipping.

And I would REALLY like one of these salt blocks (hint, Christmas, hint, honey):

Even though many people are on a low-salt diet, it still holds true that we need salt to live.  It is my opinion to source this salt from a true source and not from chemical additions in processed foods and MSG.  And finally, maybe you remember someone bathing in salts when they were older for aches and pains.  This is a very healthy practice, for old and young and in-betweeners alike.  Again, your skin is quite adept at absorption–and there are many minerals that you can acquire just from relaxing in a tub filled with some epsom salts or even sea salts.  I do this on a regular basis and so do my kiddos!

I leave you with some “salty” quotes:

A wise woman puts a grain of sugar into everything she says to a man, and takes a grain of salt with everything he says to her.

  • Helen Rowland

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.

  • Isak Dinesen

A day without an argument is like an egg without salt.

  • Angela Carter

Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.

  • Nelson Mandela
Categories: Family, Health, Nurture | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Wintry Woodstove Beef Stew

Here in PA we went from weather in the 60s to yesterday only getting into the 40s.  I was fine with the drop because it meant a perfect evening for a soul-warming stew.  In addition, our warming woodstove serves double-duty as a cookstove for some of our fall and winter meals.  Last night’s dinner was fabulous!  So much so that I just had to share it with you today!

Wintry Beef Stew

  • 2 lbs. cubed beef (or venison!)
  • ½ c. Italian salad dressing – homemade or other
  • 6 slices bacon
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 4 carrots, sliced
  • 1 parsnip
  • 1 medium red beet, diced
  • 3 red potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 jar/can tomatoes (or fresh—about 4 to 5 medium-sized diced)
  • 1 cup broth (homemade is best, but I didn’t have beef broth handy and had to use my chicken stock, but it was a great substitution…any broth will work)

 

- Marinate cubed meat and Italian dressing for at least 30 minutes.

- Cook bacon in frying pan.

- Set bacon aside and pour bacon drippings into a stock pot or dutch oven.  (I used an enameled cast iron dutch oven.)

- Cook chopped onion until translucent.

- Add remaining ingredients.  Cover and cook 1 ½ hours, simmering

- Remove lid and cook uncovered for another 15 minutes or until stew reaches desired

consistency.  (This stew will thicken slightly as it cools down.)

 

(Optional: during last 15+ minutes, add 1/2 c. gluten-free pasta elbows or shells.  Also, you can sub different root veggies to your liking with this recipe, it’s very forgiving.  Many people would enjoy the addition of mushrooms to this as well.)

My lovely red enameled cast iron pot!

 

Last night I served this stew with some homemade gluten-free biscuits.  Recipe follows:

Gluten-free Biscuits

 

  • 3 c. flour

Gluten free flours:

¾ c. brown rice flour

¾ c. millet flour

¾ c. tapioca starch

¾ c. sweet rice flour

1 ½ tsp xantham gum

  • 4 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • ¾ tsp. cream of tartar
  • 2 Tblsp. Sugar
  • ¾ c. butter or Spectrum Organic Shortening or lard
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c. milk (coconut milk is my substitution)

Combine flours, xantham gum, powder, salt, sugar and cream of tartar in large bowl.

Cut shortening into flour mixture.

Combine egg and milk in small bowl and pour into dry mixture.

Stir until combined.  Gently knead/mix a few times with your hands.  Add a little more flour if dough is too sticky to work.

Roll out onto a well-floured cutting board or workspace, keeping dough thick ½ – ¾ inch.

Use a biscuit cutter or cookie cutter and cut as many biscuits from dough.

Rework dough and continue to cut biscuits until dough has been used up.  Cook on a parchment lined cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes at 450 degrees.

Categories: Food, gluten-free, Recipe | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Antibacterial Madness

I have a tendency to ponder those little things in life.  Here is a little thing that I don’t think SHOULD be so little.  Our family aims to avoid anti-bacterial soaps.  However, they are everywhere, right?  Why are they everywhere?  Because the media has once again done their job to scare the pants off of consumers, especially moms!  Germs—beware!

Let’s go back to basic biology.  We learned that our skin is actually our largest organ. 

 

This very large organ is VERY VERY handy at absorption.  That means, what we put on our skin is immediately taken into our body and becomes a part of us! 

Many people, including my former self, were unaware of this connection.  Look at what you slather on your skin over the course of a day –

  • shampoo
  • soap
  • lotion
  • makeup
  • hairspray/gel
  • lip balm
  • perfume….

Organisms that are a natural part of us are bacteria.  Many of these beneficial bacteria reside on our skin and in our guts.  Here is an article that even talks about our NEED for bacteria on our skin.

In our minds, though, bacteria conjur up a scary picture.  So to wash off these scary things we use high powered soaps and detergents—many of which include antibacterial agents or chemicals.  (Before you or your child takes a medicine, don’t you want to know what the implications are?)  The main ingredient in many antibactieral soaps is triclosan.  The FDA has been ‘studying’ the safety of triclosan since 2010—and still has not released its findings on this study. The Natural Resources Defense Council offered this info on their blog.

[Funny, but not really, that we allow the free use of these drugs/chemicals into products before we study their effectiveness and safety of use.]  The New York Times did a great article on this just last year—and even report how triclosan is used in some brands of toothpaste!

Also, if your home utilizes a septic system, your families use of these antibacterial soaps is also killing the beneficial bacteria that are a part of that system.

 – From: http://www.aero-stream.com/anti-bacterial-soap/

  • For septic system owners, anti-bacterial soaps can cause big problems for both aerobic and anaerobic bacteria: it kills them! Bacteria are the key component that breaks down organic waste in both aerobic and anaerobic septic systems. Killing them off essentially stops the system’s processes that break down organic wastes and can lead to problems such as odor, sluggish flow and more frequent pumping on one end of the problem spectrum to backup and system failure at the other extreme.

Even if you are on a public sewer system, keep in mind that all waste is treated and released back into the environment in one way or another.  Some treated sewage goes back into our waterways, other sludge will get spread on farmers’ fields as a fertilizer for animal feed.  Therefore this cycling of nutrients is directly putting antibacterial poisons back into our drinking and food supplies.  That is a connection many of us overlook.  Let’s cut down on these unstudied, likely unsafe, antibacterial agents.

Finally, did you know that ANY liquid soap (think: shampoos, hand soap, hand gel, liquid laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent) has to have some kind of preservative in it.  Most of these are not benign (sodium benzoate, methyl paraben, and ethyl paraben, etc).  These ingredients have been tagged as hormone and endocrine disruptors (tend to mimic estrogen hormone and might be implicated in increased cancer risks).  Instead of dousing with daily chemicals, try to source soaps with natural preservatives like salts, rosemary or grapefruit extract or lemon oil!  Or avoid liquid soaps and make a return to the bar!

Categories: Family, Health | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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