Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cool days, Autumn afternoons

It's been a cool day here in CNY.  Soft steady rains are gradually giving everything a nice deep drink.  I wanted to share with you my quiet day listening to the patter and rustle of changing leaves.  A walk in the woods refreshes the mind and clears one's thoughts, provided that one has the presence of mind to turn off the electronics or leave them behind.  So much of our stress these days seems to be self imposed.  When was the last time you went an hour or a day without your phone or tablet?  When was the last time you walked in the wood and listened to the rain?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Apple Picking time

What a beautiful weekend to go apple picking!  The apples are luscious and ready for picking.  Starting in late August through early November, apples ripen and become ready for harvest.  Some of these are good eating apples, while others make wonderful pies and desserts.  What is the difference?

When chosing an apple that will be cooked, consider if it will retain its shape.  Also consider if the fruit has a nice balance of tartness to sweetness.  Our family prefers Granny Smiths or Cortlands for pies and tarts however the Ida Red is also an excellent choice.  For those that like a sweeter all purpose apple, the Golden Delicious has a nice flavor.
There are hundreds varieties of apples.  Low in calories yet high in fiber and flavonoids, there is a grain of truth in the old maxim, 'An apple a day, keeps the doctor away.'  Recent research suggests that a diet including apples could be benefitial in preventing cancer and other maladies.  All I know for sure is nothing beats an afternoon spent with your family picking apples in the clear Fall air.

Except maybe a fresh, warm pie...

Fall  Apple Pie

6 to 8 tart apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (about six cups)
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp Tapioca pearls (dry tapioca)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp Nutmeg
2 Tbsp lemon juice (keeps the apples from turning brown and adds a wee kick to the flavor)
chilled butter
Pastry for 2 crust 9" pie (it's okay to cheat: Pillsbury makes a wonderful frozen crust for those of us who are pastry impaired)

Preheat the oven 400F degrees.  Combine the filling ingredients, coating the apples well.  Spoon the apple mixture into the pie shell, dot with butter, then apply the top crust to the pie.  Be sure to cut a few vent holes in the top so the pie can breath while it cooks.  Bake at 400F for about 50 minutes or until done. 

This simple filling can be used for a variety of desserts.  If you want to kick it up a notch, add 1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries to the apple mixture.  Remember: the dried fruit will help soak up some of the liquid, so you may want to slightly decrease the amount of dry Tapioca.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Signs of Fall

Have you noticed a change in the air?  Perhaps a whiff of drying leaves or a blush of frost tinging the dew on the morning grass? 
Signs of Autumn are subtle this time of year.  A few leaves tinted unexpectedly.  Golden rod and purple aster flag their colorful plumes in the cool morning breeze.  The last monarchs of summer begin to gather and make their way south.  Birds, such as the Canada goose, also gather and begin to feed, building their fat stores for the long flight to warmer, milder places.

As you walk in the wood, pause and listen.  The deer are beginning to gather.  Be cautious at the sounds of rattling antlers.  The male deer are establishing their places and have little tolerance for interlopers.  Also be cautious when walking in areas where people hunt.  Before walking down an inviting path, be sure to ask the land owner or manager permission.  Not only is this good manners, but could keep you or your pet from being mistaken for a deer by a hunter lying in wait.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Song of the Turtle

"The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land" (Song of Solomon 2:12)

A lovely quote from the King James Bible referencing the soft cooing of courting doves in the Spring.  Although each morning we are greeted by the songs of mourning doves, we are also well aware of the sounds of other critters in the bush. 

A few weeks back, female snapping turtles made their way out of their cool damp homes to seek out protected places to dig a hole and lay her eggs. One female can lay as many as 20 eggs however three to five is not uncommon.  Just after the last full moon of August or the first full moon of September, the hatchlings emerge.  They feed on slugs, earthworms, grasshoppers, and other tasty bits as they make their way to the safety of moister places near the creek and wetland.

These little guys were still covered in the mud they dug through as they burrowed out of their eggs and made their way to the surface.  Turtles are self reliant and are ready to feed and defend themselves as soon as they emerge.  Although they look cute, those heads are armed with jaws ready to nip the end of a finger or the tip of an inquisitive puppy's nose.  We rounded up those that had ended up close to the house, carefully scooping them into a small container, and relocated them closer to the woods yet protected by high grass.  Ravens, foxes, raccoons, and even older turtles, would enjoy a hatchling snack so we take care to put them someplace safe. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Natural verses Organic Farming

There is a lot of confusion in the market place regarding the differences in 'Natural' verses 'Organic' farm goods.  Although sometimes the words are used interchangeably, they can be quite different things.  In the US, products marketed as 'Organic' must meet certain guildlines and come from Organic Certified sources.  'Natural' products are not always from certified sources.  So what's the difference? 

In 1990, the Organic Food Production Act was passed by Congress to "establish uniform national standards for the production and handling of foods labeled as “organic.” The Act authorized a new USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to set national standards for the production, handling, and processing of organically grown agricultural products. In addition, the Program oversees mandatory certification of organic production. The Act also established the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) which advises the Secretary of Agriculture in setting the standards upon which the NOP is based. Producers who meet standards set by the NOP may label their products as “USDA Certified Organic.”

Later in 1995, specific definitions were further outlined to help clarify to the consumer what the 'Organic' label means.  Also at this time, the beginnings of regulations and enforcement came down, providing specific structure for farms and dairies to be certified organic.  These guidelines were finalized in 2000 and the law enacted in 2001.  It can take as much as three years to get certified.  Once completed, the farm or area within the farm is periodically recertified.  If for whatever reason the certification is lost, the farm cannot be re-certified until it once again reaches the required standards and passes thorough inspection.  For example: in Washington state, the use of an unapproved substance may result in a loss of organic certification for 36 months.

Here at My Happy Acres, although we are not currently certified Organic, we believe in and practice sustainable agricultural methods.  We have clean ground water and like many small farmers, do everything we can to maintain its integrity.  Living close to the land is not a fad or catch phase, but is our way of life.

If you are interested in Organic production and are willing to dive into 'the deep end of the pool', Cornell University has some guides that you may be interested in.  These are free to download and have lots of good information outlining the general practices recommended by them.