Day 2, with apricots

Update on the diet: so far so good. Yesterday was fairly rough, with little energy and much sleepiness, aches and pains – likely caused more by an excess of rich food and drink the night before, than by the radical simplicity of Going Daniel. Last night brought another valuable reminder of Why Fatness Is Bad For You: I snored so loudly at one point that I woke myself up. Ugh! I’d feel sorry for Himself, if he weren’t as bad! However, snoring like a truck indicates a shortage of that essential princessness that lies at the heart of every woman. Well, maybe not every woman – but certainly at my heart, which is the one I’m concerned about here!

Today it was hard to wake up, but once I did I found I had noticeably more mental and physical energy than in the past few days. I’m also feeling nice and empty … Not to get too graphic, but all that roughage in yesterday’s fruit, nuts and veggies, flushed along with lots of our sweet, home-grown well water, is working its magic.

For breakfast this morning, I visited the apricot tree.

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This has been a great season for apricots! Over the past few weeks, Himself and I have been engaged in delicious experimentation in the kitchen (no, don’t you be getting all kinky, now! I’m fat and he’s old – these experiments were strictly culinary!) And I have been taking pictures and keeping track, specifically in order to share the bounty. Or at least to tantalize you with it.

This is where we started, before picking. The apricot tree, a pear and a nectarine all grow in a fenced area that is also home to our chickens. They have been STUFFING themselves on windfalls! Apricot chicken, anyone?

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So … first, Himself made a large batch of apricot jam. It didn’t set quite as it should have so is a bit runny, but the flavor is excellent – perfect for french toast or pancakes.

I then made apricot preserves. I started with this recipe, trebled for 6 lb apricots. but they cooked down so much I went ahead and added another 5-6 lb apricots (but without increasing the sugar). The result is just out of this world!

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Himself made apricot puree and apricot leather, and I filled the crockpot with apricots and stewed them down, with just a little stevia for sweetening. They are delicious and sugar-free, so I can enjoy them a la Daniel…:) (Stevia’s a natural substance, not an artificial chemical sweetener, so I feel okay using it.)

Finally on Sunday, I baked up loaves of vanilla cake for the freezer, only I replaced some of the milk with apricot juice, and then I dumped in a whole lot of fresh blueberries (a gift from a neighbor). I’ve been using this recipe since I was about 12; it was originally handed out with Stork margarine, which I don’t think even exists any more (plus margarine, you know, ick). It’s a fairly solid cake, which I like, and the recipe is pretty much fool proof. (For instance, I meant to double the quantities for this recipe and accidentally tripled them, and it STILL worked!) Fool-proof recipes are necessary for me. I’ve had a good run with these apricots but don’t be fooled; I am usually completely inept in the kitchen! Anyway, here’s the recipe – enjoy.

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Beat and Bake Cake

9 oz (250 g) sugar
6 oz (180 g) butter
10 oz (280 g) flour
2 oz (60 g) corn flour (aka corn starch, aka Maizena)
1 T (15 ml) baking powder
Pinch salt
4 eggs + milk to make 2 Cups
1 t vanilla

All ingredients should be at room temperature.  Set oven at 350 F (180 C).
Cream sugar with slightly softened butter.
Sieve together flour, corn flour, baking powder and salt.
Break eggs into measuring jug, add milk to make up to 2 C, and add vanilla essence.
Mix well at low speed, pausing regularly to scrape ingredients together.  Try not to mix for longer than about 1 ½ minutes total.
Pour into greased cake pans. Put onto oven rack slightly below middle.
Bake for about 30 min. Turn out onto cooling racks.

Variations:

Cocoa in place of corn flour.
Lemon or orange rind added to liquid, replace milk with water and lemon or orange juice, no vanilla.
25 ml coffee powder diluted in hot water and mixed with cold milk, then added to eggs.

Just another Wednesday

Some days give one a quiet sense of things accomplished, small steps taken in the right direction. I’ve had a few of those just lately, and it feels good! No huge achievements or startling epiphanies – just life lived quietly, one day at a time.

Like … sitting down now to write my second blog post in a week – thanks mainly to inspiration by the inimitable Aussa. (Yes, okay, go and look, click “follow”, but mind you come back, okay?)

For the first time in months, maybe years, writing is not a struggle. I don’t feel I have to prove anything to anybody, including myself. I could work on any of a number of ideas I’ve lined up among my drafts, but instead I’m just going to record today – because really good days make memories, and really bad days leave wounds, but days like today get lived, and that’s worth noting.

Had to interrupt this for a quick errand of mercy. It is HOT – 106F, and I just saw one of our swallows on the veranda outside the window that I’m facing. (We have a pair that comes every year to raise a family or two under the veranda roof. I would like a whole colony; the poop is a bit of a pain, but it’s worth it to have NO FLIES on that side of the house, despite being close to the corral.) The poor creature was all fluffed up and panting. The river is only a quarter mile away, but I wouldn’t want to have to go that far in this heat. So anyway, I’ve put a bowl of water on the table outside, with a stone in it for perching on, and two guinea fowl all the way from South Africa, because all the best restaurants have exotic decor.

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And … now I have company. Himself and I share an office, and sometimes that’s a lot of togetherness. I do have my own (incipient) office, aka the Ivory Tower, upstairs … except that we don’t actually have stairs to get up to it. The room was inserted under the roof as an afterthought while the house was being built, and we have yet to figure out where the stairs should go. So for now, Himself and I share, and I should mention that he is unleashing his muse. Alackaday!

He is creating a video, complete with a carefully selected theme tune, that he filmed this morning, while I was playing with the tractor. The farrier is coming tomorrow to give Vos and Lizzy their monthly manicure, and I think we’re overfeeding them because the amount of poop they had generated was enough to make you go DUNGGGGGG. Jim scraped it all up into a tidy heap, which he was about to push off to the side of the corral, but then it occurred to me that I should probably learn to do tractor work myself because, you know, he’s getting old and all, and occasionally cranky, and anyway I’m fed up with being ineffectual around machinery. So I poked around a bit between reverse and first gear and – WHOOPS – up onto the dunghill, and making the scraper thingy go up and down, and you have no idea how big a gouge it makes when you rev and those huge tractor tires spin in the dirt! Eventually the heap was artistically untidy again and I had enough dust behind my contact lenses to feel that honor had been satisfied, so I let him get on with it.

No, I am not going to share the video. I was wearing shorts. My knees are visible. They have dimples. Nobody without the questionable benefit of a marriage license needs to see that. You’re welcome.

Anyway, driving the tractor was only one of the interesting things that happened today. The fun started shortly after sunrise, when I reminded Himself of various outdoor chores we had to do before the heat became unbearable. So the first task of the day was to persuade four reluctant and exceedingly stupid steers to move from one pasture to another. This involved much slow stomping through tussocky grass waving long whips, while they basically ignored me. Not for the first time I fantasized about just hopping up onto Vos driving them – I know for darn sure he was a cowhorse in a previous life – but that is probably not going to happen any time soon. This is why…

Vos Rearing

Then it was time to clean up the corral before Himself got going with his tractor. While I was picking up the random bits of junk that had somehow ended up in there (willow branches that Vos and Lizzie have done chewing on, and random toys and bits of wood that the wind or the dogs have brought in), I noticed that we’d grown ourselves a new crop of rocks. Yes, indeed, here in Eastern Washington we grow rocks. A scientifically inclined friend once tried to blame it on tectonic plates, but I’m pretty sure it’s trolls. Anyway, I wandered off to the veggie garden in search of a wheelbarrow so that I could cart them off somewhere useful. Himself said it was next to the grape arbor, but…

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… I couldn’t find it.

After my previously described tractor-riding adventure, I came back inside and read a few chapters of Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Invention of Wings” (highly recommended). Then I channeled Dave Ramsey and updated our debt snowball for the first time in about eight months and discovered that our debts had shrunk by about one-third despite being completely ignored, thanks to nothing more complicated than scheduled bank payments and this:

Credit card cut into pieces
Picture from Dollar Photo Club

Yes, cutting up your credit cards really does work. Who knew?

And now here I am, watching the shadows stretch toward the river while the swallows swoop around the veranda. There are a couple of finches, too, panting and ruffled. I hope they notice their water bowl soon! I’m pleasantly achey from the morning’s exercise, and I feel good about what I’ve done with today. It’s quiet – Himself is done with his artistic endeavors, and is off reading somewhere. The dogs are sprawled on the floor, asleep. All is calm.

Ah. Spoke too soon.The baby wants his dinner…

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Argos

What are the ingredients of an ordinary but good day for you?

Potatoes do it in tires

Time for a garden update.

Actually, that’s not true. It’s time to apply nose to grindstone, shoulder to wheel, butt to chair, fingers to keyboard and brain to my current editing project. But the heck with it … this morning I gardened until my leg was burning, came inside and iced until the sciatica was numb, and now I am just going to give time to a quick li’l update. THEN I will contort myself as described above and do something constructive about meeting the next deadline.

So, the garden update. I had help…

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This is Lola, who likes to keep an eye on whatever I happen to be doing around the place. She’s good company when she remembers not to lie on the newly dug-and-planted ground.
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Destra checks in periodically, but today was more interested in swimming in the horse trough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Potatoes are planted! I got 10 seed potatoes from Territorial – I chose Rio Grande organic – and they’ve been impersonating baby triffids on my desk for the past couple weeks. I hope they like being snug underground at last! I picked this spot because it’s one of the many places where I started a compost heap (a few years back) that Himself flattened when playing with his tractor, so the soil is nice and rich. This wasn’t where I originally planned to put them, but when I was outside actually putting them into the ground it made sense.

Behind the potatoes, against the chicken run fence, are the raspberry starts. I put them in the ground (dry root plants, also from Territorial) a few weeks ago and so far am seeing no sign of life, despite copious watering. Hope they’re okay! There were five, now there are four … thank you Lola for not lying on more than one…:(

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Each tire surrounds a single Rio Grande organic potato. The theory, which shall be tested this year, is that as the potato plants emerge, you keep covering them up with soil, adding more layers of tires as the soil rises. When you want delicious baby potatoes, dig ’em out. Otherwise just leave them in the rising ground; they should be fine through winter.

All six raised beds have been planted. Three of them are in seeds – Walla Walla sweet onions, mignon carrots, Lutz green leaf beets, cherry belle radish, Thompson broccoli and Crockett bush beans, as well as borage here and there to … ummm … attract beneficial insects, I think. Something good, anyway. The radishes are coming up gangbusters and need to be thinned, and I’m starting to see wisps of onion too, and maybe some beets and broccoli… but there are vast expanses of just DIRT the temptation to dig it up and see if anything is actually happening down there at supposed-to-be root level is about killing me! We also planted a few strawberries (I’m pretty sure the old ones I found when I cleared out these beds have expired), various tomatoes and jalapeno peppers.

In the background against the Nasty Neighbor’s boundary fence is a long bed with more tomatoes and peppers. In fall we’ll be filling it up with asparagus, but we decided not to move the asparagus from its current raised bed just yet. That was a good decision; we’ve been eating home-grown asparagus at least once a week. Yum!

Fanny’s plum tree is infested with aphids and isn’t doing too well. Himself has been spraying, which caused me to want to have a hissy fit, but then I decided to zip my lip instead. It’s about warm enough to plant nasturtiums, which are supposedly great at attracting aphids away from other plants. Pretty soon I’ll clear space around the tree and put some nasturtium seed in, along with aliums to help chase the aphids away. And after that’s done, THEN any spraying will result in an entirely deserved hissy fit.

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The grape arbor is full of weeds, but the two grape vines are doing well and look like they’ll bear fruit. Yeah! I’ll deal with the weeds in due course, but for now it’s enough just to keep them back from the grapes. Projects for this year:

  • Finish building the arbor (it needs poles across the top to support the vines in a year or two – and also to hold a hammock or swing)
  • Plant two more grapes (need to wait and see what kind we’ve already planted, as neither Himself nor I can remember whether they’re red or green)

05-07 Grape arbor

The compost heap looks a little flat. That’s the chickens, though – they do love to kick it around, and that’s probably as good a way as any to keep it stirred up. I added a barrow-load of weeds today, and Himself can do penance for previous devastation of a compostly nature by dumping a couple barrow loads of horse  pooh and raking it all together in a nice pile. How better to warm the cockles of the wifely heart?

05-07 Compost heap

 

It’s frustrating to be in May already and have so little done … but adding it all up like this is at least a little encouraging. And meanwhile the fruit trees are flourishing like mad. We’ll have apricots, nectarines and pears galore, and maybe a fair crop of plums. Well, I’ll just keep picking away, digging and planting as best I can between days of dust-laden wind and the ubiquitous deadlines.

Which I should focus on right now.

Except … I have to take Lola to the vet for a checkup. Ha ha! Another great excuse to procrastinate! Gotta love that adrenalin charge when it hits!

Boys and their toys, or, Alas! My compost pile!

What is it about men and Things With Wheels???

Himself’s favorite toy is his tractor. (I am not supposed to refer to it as a toy. Tractoring is Seriously Manly Stuff. But … come on. It’s blue, for crying out loud! And it has really BIIIG wheels. But I digress…)

Being an exceptionally devoted wife, and also somewhat in touch with husbandly reality, I understand that the main point of having a five-acre farmlet is to be able to ride around it on a tractor. Often this is a good thing. You can attach a flat blade and shovel snow off the driveway … and all the way along the private road … and clear to the end of the nearest county road if you’re feeling exceptionally public spirited and haven’t run out of gas. You can attach a thing with lots of teeth and use it to break up the freeze-dried cow patties that accumulate in the pasture during the winter. You can even race down the driveway, sans any attachment at all, to open the gate for people who are confused by the (unbolted) chain that keeps it shut.

And year after year after year, for the seven years we have lived here, you can have a stand-up, no-holds-barred, screaming fight with the above-mentioned wife regarding whether or not to use the tractor to plow the vegetable patch before trying to grow anything in it. (This fight has been known to last until well into summer, by which time, of course, it’s too late to grow anything at all. But the tractor is still brought into action for weed control. I have yet to win a fight over the usefulness of weeds as a means of dust control.)

Reasons not to plow the veggie patch:
1. It compacts the soil, which in our area is prone to compacting anyway. (I don’t know when last I saw a wild earthworm in our veggie patch.)
2. It makes the ground rutted and lumpy and hard to walk on without falling down, even when one hasn’t had anything to drink.
3. It creates dust, which in our (windy) area is fine as talcum powder, only not at all soothing when it gets between eyeball and contact lens.

Reasons to plow the veggie patch:
1. Must … drive … the tractorrrr…..

So this year I put my foot down. No tractor in the veggie patch! Serious grumping ensued, and a renewed threat of Separate Garden Zones. And … I just did not feel like having a fight about it. Right now life is good, I actually believe I may in fact manage to (a) plant, (b) maintain and (c) harvest a whole assload of veggies, but I don’t want to have to do it alone. So we compromised. No plowing, but the tractor was allowed in with a blade to scrape up the weeds (HOW do they grow so fast? They come rocketing out of the ground before it’s properly thawed!) The advantages of blading – leveling out the ruts left by last year’s plowing, and pushing mounds of spare earth to places where they were needed – were acknowledged. Areas to be bladed were agreed upon.

Most importantly, the importance of not messing with my precious, hard-earned compost heap were discussed at length, along with the question of how to stop the chickens from scattering the heap far and wide, and some bragging about how nicely it was growing what with all the barrow-loads of weeds and horse poop I had been heaving around.

Tractoring commenced. I had to leave the area because of dust, noise and evil smells, but that was okay, because seeing Himself having fun just warms the cockles of my wifely heart.

And today I went outside to continue gardening and, yes, I admit it, to photograph the compost heap for yesterday’s blog. This is what I found…

Former site of compost heap. Yep, you got it. A whole fresh set of ruts. And the compost? Scattered to the far reaches of the patch.
Former site of compost heap. Yep, you got it. A whole fresh set of ruts. And the compost? Scattered to the far reaches of the patch.

Seriously, if he ever brings that tractor into the veggie garden again, I may have to kill him.