Saturday, January 26, 2013

Snowstorms and other thoughts

It's hard to believe that we had 50 degree temps a week ago.  This morning we woke up to -8.  With blizzards blowing off Lake Ontario this last week, we hunker down and take care of business.  Winter is the time to take care machinery, build tools and stancions for the coming season, and make plans for the coming year.

When we look out, the snow swirls about us in great waves of white.  Conditions were so severe that at times the animal barn would appear and disappear behind the snow.  One walks cautiously beside the buildings this time of year.  Well aware that a load of snow could easily break and come sliding down, burying the unware passerby.

As suddenly as it came, the storms passed leaving 14, 16, 20, 24 inches of snow behind in its wake.  We gradually clear paths with snowblowers and plows, pausing occasionally to breathe in the frosty air while wondering at the new world before us.  

Deer and other wildlife now venture at twilight, pawing at the snow, hoping to find a bit of green grass hidden there.  Mice and voles burrow underneath, creating grass lined highways leading from nest to cache to water to other hiding places.  Those that come to the surface are soon discovered by Sparrow hawks and Owls.  

The orchard and the garden sleep, as we wait for winter to pass.

Something lovely to listen while watching the snow:  A Season of Silence (Winter Music) by Jesse John Wilson Music

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sauerkraut and other delicious treats

In the late Fall, just before everything freezes, the cabbages are harvested.  After enjoying bowl after bowl of fresh cole slaw and cabbage rolls stuffed with rice or ground pork, it was time to make Sauerkraut.

I'm always a little amazed by those folks who say that they don't like sauerkraut.  For me that's the equalivant to saying that you don't like cheese.  There are so many different types and so many flavors.  Today, I'll show you the basic recipe for the traditional Eastern European sauerkraut.

Ingredients:  cabbage; non iodized salt (I use canning salt)
Tools: chopping block, large sharp knife (please be careful), potato masher, food grade bucket w/lid, cheese cloth, large press & seal plastic bag.

 How many heads of cabbage do you need?  Of course this depends on how much you are making and how large the cabbage heads are.  In 2011, I made around 60 lbs with only two heads.  Each head was about the size the a bushel basket.  Once trimmed, was larger than a basketball.  2012 was a drier year so each head was only around eight pounds and about the size of a large softball.

The cabbage selected should be uniform in shape, have no discolorations or spots, and should not look dried out.

 Before getting started at all the chopping and squashing, take a look at the tools in your kitchen.  Many folks have large food processors.  If one is available to you, don't hesitate to use the shredding disk and save yourself from the potential hazzards down the road.  I only have a small six cup variety, so my options are limited.  If you are using a knife, please be very careful.  Before starting, clear your work area of any counter clutter, small fingers, and interested puppy noses.  Check the size of your knife to the size of the cabbage you are slicing.  If it is too small, you may end up cutting yourself or at least get very frustrated while chopping.  Next: sharpen your knife and wash carefully.
Gently remove the outer leaves exposing the slightly paler head.  Chop into managable sections, avoiding the bitter core in the center.  Take each section and slice into quarter inch segments.

There are lots of different containers available for curing.  Traditionally pioneers used nonreactive crocks with a wooden disk weight.  These can still be purchased from a variety of sources for those who are interested.  What I have found is that using a standard food grade bucket that has been throroughly cleaned works just as well.  Mine used to have frosting in it and was obtained from a local bakery.
 Place the shreds at the bottom of the bucket and sprinkle about a tablespoon of canning salt over it.  Add an inch or two more cabbage and sprinkle again with another tablespoon of salt.  The salt will draw the water out of the cabbage which will aide in the frementation of the kraut. 
Be sure to use non-iodized salt!  Salt with iodine in it will turn the cabbage black and not ferment properly.
 Now the fun part: with the potato masher, smash down the cabbage shreds as much as you can pressing out the air spaces.  If you have a child or partner that wants to help, this is a great place to have them join the fun!

Continue chopping, sprinkling, and smashing until the bucket is full.  Lay a piece of clean cheese cloth over the pressed, salted cabbage.  Fill a press and seal plastic bag with water, inverting it over the sink to check that it is completely sealed.  Gently lay the filled bag over the cheesecloth so that it completely covers corner to corner and weights down the contents.

 Gently cover with the lid to keep out dust and dirt while the mixture cures.  Don't forget!  Fermenting foods need to breathe.  Don't seal up the bucket too tight or place it where the air get stale.  Place the bucket in a cool, dark place, and forget about it for a couple of months.  Not really.  I write the date made on a sticky note and attach the label to the lid.  Periodically over the next few months, I take a peak at it to be sure it is fermenting properly and not growing mold or doing something unexpected.

After two or three months, the kraut is ready to can.  Heating and processing sauerkraut, stops the fermenting process.  It is the fermentation which gives the cabbage its sour flavor.  The longer the kraut sits and ferments, the more sour the taste.  When the cabbage has turned to kraut, it should translucent with no discolorations.  Black, red, or other signs of mold should be discarded.  The liquid should be clear.

When you first open the bucket, gently lift off the plastic bag and remove the cheesecloth.  I typically discard the top inch or so of the fermented cabbage to expose the lovely sauerkraut underneath.  Using my favorite tongs, the kraut is lifted out and placed into a large pot to heat while the large mouth canning jars are prepared.  32 pounds of cabbage produced around 10 quarts of kraut, including juice.  By using the freshest most succulent cabbage produced a great deal of juice.

For a change of pace, if you like a sweeter kraut, add caraway seeds to the jarred kraut.  By adding about a tablespoon full to the bottom, middle, and top, the flavors will slightly sweeten and become less sharp.

Each jar was filled and packed down before having a bit more liquid added to 'cap it off'.  As always, if canning, be sure to leave about a half inch of air space at the top for processing.  Gently tap the bottom of the jar release any bubbles, using a knife along the inside to bring them to the surface.   Wipe the lip with a clean cloth, seal, and process in a water bath for about 15 minutes.

What to do with all the kraut?  The following are all delicious options:
This is a really nice fresh alternative to cole slaw.

Good with ham or other cured pork.  A show stopper at our house!  BTW: this website has a lot of very good recipes.  Also try their sauerkraut and apples for a lovely sidedish.

German Chocolate Cake:
Most folks think there is coconut in it but not this time!  Amazingly good without tasting 'krauty'.

Life is too short not to enjoy good food. Try some sauerkraut today! 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Chickenland 2013

We're enjoying a brief January thaw.  As tempertures slowly rise to the mid 50's, the deep snows from several weeks ago retreat.  The chickens aren't real thrilled about the cold, white stuff.  Besides, who enjoys walking around in one's bare feet in the snow?  The warm ground is a treat as is basking in the sunshine now that the wind has laid.
The chickens get a steady diet of layer chow all through the winter.  Occasionally as a special treat, we warm up a little fresh frozen kahl and set it out for their enjoyment.  Sometimes this is sprinkled with some meal worms for a little protein kick.  The protein helps keep them warm and a warm meal in winter is always pleasant.

Our big rooster's name is Sandy.  All the girls love him.  He's calm and is very much the flirt.  When a bowl of treats is brought out, after making sure that it's okay and safe, Sandy calls to the girls with a soft 'kah-kah-kah' noise.  As they approach, he picks up a choice piece from the bowl, then gently offers it to one girl and the other, until all have been given something.  They then go ahead and have their fill.  

Junior approachs the bowl
Once all the girls have had attention, our other rooster, Junior, steps up for his share of the treats.  The boys get along well with only an occasional kerfuffle.  There is about a month difference in their ages but their demeanors are similar.   

Someone asked me about the differences in coloration and markings.  All of our chickens are Americaunas except one, Inky.  Our jet black orphan chick, may be a Barred Rock but that's okay.  She's very friendly and will come over and hop into your lap if you come and sit in the chicken house.  She lays a brownish pink egg as opposed to the blue, blue-green eggs that the others lay.  The differences in color among the other chickens reflects the variety within the breed.

Both Sandy and Junior are Wheaten as is Little Miss.  Goldie is a Buff while Missy is considered a Blue.  Molly and the other girls are all classed as silver.  To read more about Ameraucanas check out .

Otherwise, all has been well in Chickenland and the eggs keep coming.  Shorter days means fewer eggs, but still enough for our personal needs.  What's most important is everyone is warm and happy and looking forward to the fresh sprouts come Spring!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Christmas surprise

About a year ago, during our annual trip to the big box home center, I wandered over to the after Christmas mark downs.  There among the deflated Santa balloon sculptures and strings of green chaser lights were some sad looking Christmas Cactus.  I decided that they needed a home and gathered up a few.

Once home, I repotted them all using whatever potting soil I happened to have in bin, throwing in a couple of handfuls of sand for good measure.  These were all brought inside and put on the kitchen island and in the window.

 Years ago I had a room mate who told me that one had to follow a very specific process in order to get a Christmas Cactus to bloom.  She would religiously provide hers with exactly 12 hours of daytime and night time, trooping her plant out from the floor of a darkened closet and into the living room each day.  For her efforts, she was rewarded with a handful of blooms.  (For those who would like to know how the ex-room mate took care of her plants:

Anyone who knows me, also knows that I appreciate nature's cycles.  When taking care of my new charges, I'm not about to be shuttling them back and forth no matter how pretty those blooms may be.  I figure that these plants are from the coastal mountains of Brazil.  Out in the wild, there are no little old ladies carrying them into the darkened bathroom or closet at night.  Yet some how they get by and keep making little cactus.  So live and let live.  Keep them comfortable, lightly watered, and don't fuss over them.

Just a couple of weeks before Christmas, I noticed that buds were starting to form and, sure enough, we had some lovely flowers to enjoy just after the holiday.
Sometimes it is best to let nature take it's course.  Be patient and don't forget to stop and watch the flowers bloom.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year from My Happy Acres

Winter has settled on My Happy Acres, putting the land and forest to a nice cool sleep.  As you recall, this last Summer was quite dry so seeing the snows come are a relief to many of us concerned about our wells and ground water reserves.  Besides, it's quite pretty to enjoy either out in it or from a warm window.

I understand that snow is not necessarily everyone's cup of tea but it does serve an important purpose.  Snow protects the ground from evaporation, keeping it warm while harsh winds blow.  Remember those lovely snow flakes?  They start their lives out as a bit of dust, soot, or other mucky bits blowing about in the air.  As water condenses on the surface, ice begins to form, creating the lovely patterns we are all familiar with.  (Want to see some cool pictures?  Go to: )

As the snow slowly melts, it gently percolates down into the soil, slowly watering and rejuvenating the land.  Deep water tables are replenished over time.  Without snow,  the water tables would dry up along with rivers, ponds, and lakes.  (Want to read more?  See how nature makes snow and how man made snow makers work at:

Everyone enjoys Winter in his own way.  Some like to ski.  Some like to build forts and snowmen.  Snow mobiling is very popular in Central New York and is sometimes a necessity although we are blessed with living on a road that gets plowed semi-regularly.  Personally, we have found that snow shoeing is a nice way to quietly enjoy the snow fall. 
Whatever you decide, enjoy the company of friends and family, and have a blessed New Year.