Prairie at Dawn (and you can rest in January!)

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I stepped outside before the sun’s colorful hands glided over the edge of the prairie.  The lighting was surreal and looked as if I lived in a Renaissance pastel that might hang in the museum.  A painted landscape so beautiful my mind could hardly fathom.  The owls called to each other from tree to tree and the city lights in the distance shone against the silhouette of the mountain.

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Our year starts in spring when the baby goats are born and we start our early planting.  Spring is filled with preparing beds, planting at the right times, bottle feeding goat kids, cooing over baby chicks, and praying for warm weather.  We are also madly getting ready for farmer’s markets.  Preparing, bottling, labeling, farmer’s market checklist; tent, tables, chairs, displays, application fees, products made…ready, set, go!

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And we catapult into summer where for the next four months family and friends have troubles getting a hold of us.  Those close to us understand.  We live a whirlwind of sunrises, farm animals, farmer’s markets, farming, herbal business, preserving, holding classes, getting ready for winter.  Always getting ready for winter.

Grammie and Baby at Parker

Sporting my new fashion look.

September seems like it will be slower as some markets draw to a close and we see our pantry filling up but for the next three months we will still be actively preparing, just as the ants and bees do, to settle in for winter.  Always wondering if we have enough stored.  Enough food…enough water…enough wood.

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Moving was a wonderful thing since it marked the end of our years of pining for a homestead.  It is exactly what we prayed for.  Low enough rent and no utilities that we can afford to be healers.  The landlords share the property which is not something we would have ever considered before until we started being intrigued by the idea of cohabitating homesteads where we started to think that we should not share property with friends.  Too complicated.  But, the idea is sound.  The owners here are quiet and leave us to ourselves but we are all here if the other needs us.  Best of both worlds.  We are near my favorite city.  In twenty five minutes I am at a library, coffee shop, or restaurant if I want to be.  Then back to the confines of the vast prairie, large stars, and serene silence.  I am humbled to be here.  But moving was exhausting and we find ourselves longing for rest.  But there is something about Autumn that makes me want to keep working.  An innate desire to get things done and prepared.  The longer I homestead the closer to nature and natural seasons and intuition I get.

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Our friend, Jim, was one of my students; he is a Vietnam Vet, commander for a veteran’s organization, lover of plants and herbs, a survivalist, loyal friend, and in the tree business.  He gave me a great deal on three cords of wood.  Even though it is a lot of money for us, a winter without utilities will even things out.  He dropped off the cords one by one while Doug and I spent the afternoon stacking wood.  Doug kept stopping to pull up his jeans.  Forget a gym membership.  We work hard, our muscles are defined, we eat healthy, homemade food, and though we’ll be a little soft by the end of winter, we’ll be right back in the swing of things for the remainder of the year.  Homesteading looks good on folks.

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We have a pantry full, two freezers full, now a total of four cords of wood, and we are getting closer.  Time is ticking because we are still doing farmer’s markets through the end of the month and craft shows through the middle of December.  In between we get ready for our winter rest.  We are drying off the goat; we have plenty of cheese made and milk frozen.  We are getting ready to breed Isabelle again.  Today the gutters will be cleaned, homestead area mowed, garden worked on, chimney cleaned, and orders filled, even though we are under the weather.  The seasons don’t stop for sick days.  Soon we will only have craft shows on the weekends and the holidays to look forward to.  Then for three months we will rest and grow restless and be ever ready for the seasons to start over.  We are thankful to live this lifestyle.  This is truly the good life.

The Apple Harvest (and the sweetness of family)

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Aunt Donna invited us over to pick up firewood and to pick apples.  She could have invited a hundred people over for apples.  Her tree was so heavy laden with gloriously delicious apples that I rather fear a good many up high will go to waste.  After biting into the scrumptious orb I realized that the wonderful three boxes gifted to us from friends almost two months ago were not ripe.  I spent hours and hours in the kitchen prepping and canning and making apple sauce all to realize that they came out rather sour.  Healthy and still good, but I should have been patient.  Apples are to be picked in the latter part of September and into October.

Emily, Maryjane, Grandma, Me, and Grandma's sister, Donna last year at the grape harvest.

Emily, Maryjane, Grandma, Me, and Grandma’s sister, Donna last year at the grape harvest.

You have been to Aunt Donna’s with me before.  We went last year to join in the harvest of her bountiful grapes which we made jugs of delicious juice from. This year the vines hold little and the little apple tree that was average last year has outdone itself with bounty.  Next year we shouldn’t expect apples.  There is an ebb and flow to everything, I realize.  Droughts, rains, snows….heat, cool….last year the tomatoes were plentiful, this year the cold crops did exceptionally well.  It is a good representation of life.  Our lives are a constant ebb and flow of births, deaths, good times, sad times, memories, and moments.  Each day precious.  And what a glorious day to be at my beautiful aunt’s house, the one who helped inspire my farming and has answered questions over the years.

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Maryjane is an excellent harvester.  She at times surprises me with how intelligent she is.  She is so tiny but if you give her instructions she will follow them.  She is also the cutest forager I have ever seen!  Her mother is pretty cute too.

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Emily and I split a box of apples.  She was turning hers into caramel apples.  I may try to store mine.  We feel blessed to have access to fresh, nutritious food that didn’t cost us anything and for generations of fabulous men and women to teach and love us.  Such a sweet life.

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Margarita Chicken (easy to make, quick dinner, great with a margarita! Ole!)

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Sometimes coming up with three meal ideas a day can be tiring, even daunting.  I needed inspiration and a margarita and that is how this recipe came about.  The next time you want an easy dinner that is festive and delicious, try this one.  For the complete experience play salsa music while cooking, sip on your margarita, and dance around the kitchen.  Olé!

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In a zip lock bag (I just used the one the thighs were defrosting in) pour a real good splash of margarita mix and tequila over two good sized pieces of chicken.  We get hungry over here.

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Put back in fridge until ready to use.  I kept them in there a few hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

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In your first bowl add 1/2 cup of flour.  This is the key to good, crisp chicken.  Dredge the chicken in flour thoroughly first.

In the second bowl break a large egg and beat with a fork.  Dip the flour covered chicken pieces in egg.

In the third bowl combine 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup of cornmeal, 2 teaspoons of taco seasoning, 1 teaspoons of lime salt (or regular sea salt), 1/2 teaspoon of lemon pepper.  Chicken makes its last stop in this bowl.  Completely cover with flour/seasoning mixture and place pieces in a cast iron pan or baking dish.

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Bake for one hour.

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Corn and a crisp salad with chipotle ranch would be delicious with this.  ¡Buen provecho!

Now where’s Mama’s margarita?

 

A Family Pumpkin Party

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Holidays have always been important in our family.  It has been the catalyst for a million good memories, for rounding up the kids as they got older to bring us all together, to allow creativity, and to enjoy good food.

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We brought over all of the pumpkins from our garden (leaving a few for the resident buck) when we moved so our house is positively overflowing with a bountiful crop.  First dibs went to the kids that could venture out to our new house.  Andy and Megan had to work but Shyanne and Dillon, Emily, Bret, and Bret’s sister Becky drove over the river and through the woods to Grammie and Papa’s new homestead to take part in a pumpkin party reminiscent of their childhood.  We were babysitting Maryjane so she was already there to help me greet her parents, aunts, and Shyanne’s boyfriend.

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We served a simple meal of Jack O’Lantern hamburgers and veggie burgers (click for recipe), chips, pickles, and salad.  Cookies and homemade eggnog for dessert.  I was able to enjoy our festivities since everything came together so quickly.

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Becky, Maryjane, and her dad, Bret

Becky, Maryjane, and her dad, Bret

Shyanne and Dillon

Shyanne and Dillon

Maryjane with her parents, Bret and Emily.  Papa is in the back watching the Bronco game!

Maryjane with her parents, Bret and Emily. Papa is in the back watching the Bronco game!

Maryjane then stole Papa's hat and mugged for the camera.  Papa is the real paparazzi!

Maryjane then stole Papa’s hat and mugged for the camera. Papa is the real paparazzi!

Zuzu watches over in her Halloween decoration guise.

Zuzu watches over in her Halloween decoration guise.

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My hostess gift, the children writing on my chalkboard wall.

Parties don’t have to be difficult to pull off.  A few special touches and folks you love help create lifelong holiday memories.

Winter Beans (a homestead staple)

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Beans are the epitome of security.  They are inexpensive, easy to grow, easy to cook, satiate hunger, and are full of antioxidants, phytochemicals, protein, and vitamins and minerals.  A pantry filled with beans means a winter without hunger.  A pot simmering on the wood cook stove symbolizes love for the recipient.

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I am in love with all of the old heirloom varieties.  I am addicted to their stories.  Like Lina Sisco’s Bird Egg variety.  The beans were brought to the west by Lina’s grandmother by covered wagon.  They are the larger beans with the red speckles.  They are delicious and colorful.  Yellow Indian Woman is the yellow variety that I grew and was quite prolific this year.  It is a variety that is hundreds of years old and was used as trade by the Native Americans.

I grew black beans and cannellini beans.  There are pinto beans and Anasazi beans to grow.  Or Lima beans or red beans for Cajun food.  The only thing difficult about growing beans is what variety to choose!

In my new garden here on our homestead I will be planting a long row (34x 2 feet) of beans and garlic.  The garlic will be planted the next few weeks and as they pop their cheery heads up over the soil I will be able to plant a bean in between each one next Spring.  Some need to be trellised but many do not.  Look for the bush variety or simply put creative poles up around them.  They also do well climbing up corn.  You can even plant uncooked organic beans from the health food store.

Shelling beans can be eaten just like green beans when their pods are soft and small.  In fact, they look like green beans and you are sure to question what you planted.  Leave them on the vine until they are brown and crisp but not too long that their pods reopen and plant themselves!  Around late August to the end of September you will be harvesting winter beans.

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They must be quite dry so I keep them in baskets until I am certain they are void of moisture.  Then the fun begins.  It becomes much like the puzzle that sat out at home waiting for the next participant to place the next piece.  I leave the whole pile on the table and as we walk by we shell another bean.  It is quite addictive and rather fun.  It feels like I could be a housewife in any era shelling beans to make sure that we have enough to store.

The key is growing enough to at least put on a pot of soup!  I tuck the beans in anywhere there is a spare six inches all the way through mid-July.

I love to peruse the Seed Savers Catalogue for new varieties.  Being a history lover as well as a lover of great food makes heirloom beans a part of this homestead.

Autumn Prairie Musings

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I am in love with this place.  It speaks to me…

of heartbreaks healed and promises kept.

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The lingering wood smoke scents the air as the rustic landscape captivates me.  It pulls me in and dances with me across further snow capped peaks and nestles me near in elder Elms.  I am pleased here, at peace, quiet, exhaled.

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Words and new poems run through my mind- cadences and song, psalms and prayers.  I think I have been burnt out for a long time.  Work too hard.  Expect too much of others and myself and often forget to live.  The rabbit that shoots out of the brush and away in a zigzag when I startle him cares not if I answer every call or busy work myself to exhaustion.  The wild world of nature will still be there if our chaos of whirlwind, human made, self righteous living were to end.  It would go on, more peacefully perhaps.  I breathe again and look out across the prairie and realize my soul is connected to this natural world and I come back to myself.

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The prairie is so alive.  Rabbits scamper under brush as owls speak in trees under foliage of vibrant hues.  Hawks circle, the sky is huge here.  Dauntingly beautiful, I cannot even find myself to paint.  I could never match the beauty.  Inspiration fuels me, revitalizes my senses.

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Fall is evident in scenes I failed to notice in our past existence.  Piles of firewood in country front yards.  The thicker white coats on our goats.  Chickens getting new feathers, laying less eggs.  The winds are different, the clouds look different.  The colors increased- vibrant, charged, glowing.

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I watch for birds flying south so I have my timeline of preparedness.  Firewood.  Sweaters.  Pantry full.  Animal feed stocked.  Chimney swept.  Gutters cleaned.  Garden prepped.  Garlic planted.

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My list never ends but may I learn to live in a simpler breath.  Slower.  Methodical.  Meaningful.  Breathe, the air is sweet upon us and Autumn is in the air.

How to Make Chokecherry Wine

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A year from now we’ll have a tasting.  The tiny sip I had of the dregs was delicious.  Not vinegary at all and I am excited to see how it transforms itself in the next year while resting in the back of the closet.  I have wanted to make wine for some time.  It’s been on my Homesteading To-Do List of skills I must learn.  And in homesteading fashion I used what I had…some nice Pinot Noir grapes?  Nope, chokecherries.

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An old recipe in my friend Sandy’s book read as so:

Grind fruit.

Add 1 1/2 parts boiling water to 1 part fruit.  Let stand overnight.

Strain juice and add 3 pounds of sugar to 1 gallon of juice and 1/5 of a package of yeast.

Put in wine thingy (not its exact words) and there you go.

I was stuck on the first part.  Grind the chokecherries (which are mostly pits) with what?  I changed the recipe right off.

I prepared the chokecherries as I do for jam.  Boil in 1 1/2 parts of water until pits are showing and the color is a glorious pink/purple.  Then let set so that the sediment falls to the bottom.  The first batch I set overnight and it is a more vibrant color.  The other is lighter in flavor and color that set only a few hours.

I strained it and true to original recipe added slightly less than a pound of sugar to slightly less than a gallon of juice so that it would fit in the gallon jug I purchased for this event.  I poured it in.

The back of the yeast label said to only use about a 1/5 of a teaspoon for this whole mix so I minded and followed the yeast’s instructions rather than the original recipe.  I added that to the juice and sugar mix and placed the cool looking top on (the gallon jug and top contraption cost me seven dollars).  One pours a smidge of sanitizer into the curvy contraption.  I opted for rum.  I like to know what is possibly dripping into my wine.

I did two batches.  The first one was with the juice mix that sat overnight.  Richer in color and flavor I used brown sugar instead of white and red wine yeast.  The second one I boiled with a slice of ginger and used white sugar, adding a bit more sugar than the other batch, and used Champagne yeast.

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They then sat for six weeks.  The red wine batch bubbled incessantly and really gave a good show while the lighter one bubbled modestly.

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I am indebted to all the folks that work in homebrew stores.  They are your best sources for getting around the world of homebrew without making you feel like a complete idiot.  I could not fathom what I would brew the wine in or how on earth to bottle it or how to keep the air out or….they set me straight and sold me $70 worth of equipment to bottle with.  A dozen old fashioned looking bottles, a siphon, a pump, and a siphon valve.

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Place the siphon valve in the bottle.  This is attached to a tube that leads from the bottle to the gallon jug of fermenting wine.  Attach the end of the tube to the pump and hand pump the wine into the bottle.  I didn’t hold each piece firmly to the bottoms of the bottles so I got more air in than I would like but perhaps it will be more like Champagne…or something.  Once the bottle is full, pull out the siphon valve from the bottle and it leaves the exact space needed in the neck.  Close up the bottle (or insert cork) and let sit for a year.

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There are many books and recipes on how to make wine.  You can make wine out of anything from apples to dandelions.  For an investment of $80 I have seven and half bottles of wine.  I can reuse the bottles, the jugs, and the equipment so next time the cost is limited to the two bucks for yeast.

Now I do need to get a vineyard growing here….