Tuesday, July 27, 2010


We tend to think of Spring as the time for wildlife babies, yet now is the season when we really start to see them.  I had thought I'd save this post until the cardinal eggs in the Rose of Sharon bush next to our back door hatched but, sadly, they aren't going to emerge. Mama cardinal sat on those eggs for weeks in the extreme heat and the pouring rain. I fear the eggs may have cooked despite her elaborate efforts to provide shade and air conditioning. They should have hatched by the two-week mark. She hung on for at least three weeks, then disappeared. Three speckled eggs remain in the nest. Now, I'll never know if one or more of the eggs which varied slightly in color were cowbird eggs snuck in there when she wasn't on the nest.

The deer, of course, have fared better. I've seen two fawns--one complete with Bambi spots--and heard many alarm noises from the does across the creek as they warned of impending danger (usually me walking down to the garden).

Rabbits abound and I seem to have made friends with one particularly handsome bunny. Well, maybe friends is too strong a term, but the muscular little guy doesn't seem nearly so jumpy as the others when I cross its path going back and forth to see the buffs.

Several of the wild turkey eggs survived the ravages of raccoon raids and now we have two female wild turkeys who have teamed up to make the rounds with their little ones. One set of three babies has just learned how to fly (and are much more graceful at it than are the adults) and the other set is still strictly terrestrial.

This week brought a new animal to our attention. While we haven't seen any babies yet, we did see an adult female eastern spiny softshell turtle in the creek. When a shiny rock in the creek kept disappearing and reappearing despite no change in the water level, I got the binoculars out and got a great reward: a view of a type of turtle I'd never seen before. It has a very flat and spotted shell--noticeably different from most of the turtles we see around here (e.g., box, snapping, and sliders)--and a snout that narrows dramatically at the tip. Apparently, this turtle is found in many states, but the river basin of the French Broad (of which our creek is a part) is the only place in NC where they are found. From what I've read they are quite shy but do have powerful jaws and claws which they are not shy about employing if you try to catch one. I'm quite happy to observe from the window seat and watch her bask in the sun on the sandy creek bank.

An indigo bunting sighting along the driveway added a bit of color to this week's wildlife. More to come, I'm sure, but another thunderstorm is approaching, so it's probably time to shut down the computer before it's shut down for me.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

National Ice Cream Day

Happy National Ice Cream Day, everyone! In honor of this momentous, albeit manufactured holiday, it's time to talk about my new favorite toy: an ice cream maker. Big thanks to my friend, Kristin, over at The Unfussy Epicure for turning me on to this amazing little device. Until she posted about her experience making very strawberry frozen yogurt with her Cuisinart ice cream maker, I had no idea that ice cream maker technology had advanced so far.

The home ice cream makers that I knew always seemed destined for the next garage sale due to the amount of effort required (e.g., ice, rock salt, churning) to make the delicious end product and the difficulty finding a place to store the bulky machine. This Cuisinart, which I found on sale at Amazon for $40, gets around all those problems. It's small, making a maximum of 1.5 quarts at a time, which is more than enough for me and takes the sting out of flavor experiments gone awry. Plus, it doesn't take up much counter space and is easy to stash in a cupboard, if need be. But I haven't stopped using mine long enough to bother putting it away. No rock salt required nor any ice--just enough room in the freezer to store the bowl until it's time to make ice cream. Since it's electric, the machine does all the churning work and it takes less than half an hour.

So far, I've made lemon sorbet, very strawberry frozen yogurt, nibby chocolate/sour cream frozen yogurt, and two batches of licorice ice cream.

All have turned out better than I could have possibly hoped for. I rarely get excited about kitchen appliances, but this one is truly worth every penny.

Now that I've recreated one of my two all-time favorite Baskin--Robbins flavors by making licorice ice cream, I need to figure out how to make Daiquiri Ice (the original, blue ice--not the lame, lime version). Then it's on to new adventures like cardamom ice cream. What flavors would you make, dear readers, if you could make your own ice cream/sorbet/fro yo?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Watermelon Pickle

Nothing like hot, steamy weather to put one in a watermelon frame of mind. Normally, I'm opposed to the so-called seedless varieties both for the lie (there are seeds) and for taking the fun of seed spitting out of the equation. I did make an exception this time, as it was a freebie from EarthFare.
Being the only watermelon eater in the household, I had to eat an heroic amount of this most hydrating of fruits in short order to get it to fit into the fridge. Then it was a race to finish before it went off. I saved the rinds to make watermelon pickle--a trick taught to me by my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Spencer. With a little help from a friend, rinds were peeled and diced, then boiled in a sugar, vinegar, and spice mixture until tender.

Water-bath canning ensued and voila! Sweet and tangy watermelon pickle.
So, so tasty. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Buffalo pix

In case you were wondering what the buffalo have been up to lately, they've been busy entertaining....

Friday, July 9, 2010

Haymaker or Rainmaker?

Another heat wave, another lull in blogging. The past month has been a real challenge in the weather department.  The extraordinary heat combined with a dearth of rain made the grass crispy and the new farmer cranky. Days blur together in a round robin of watering the garden, filling the drinking water tanks for the buffalo, pouring water on the buffalo, pouring water on the buffalo wallow, and then pouring water in me and on me. One of the two 85-gallon rain barrels that I use for watering the garden went dry at the beginning of the week and the other is only about a third full, having barely received any rain since it went dry weeks ago.

The buffalo have had the worst of it. They had pretty well eaten their way through their current pasture by mid-June. We contracted to have a fence built around their next, much larger pasture about that time. We figured they could hang on for a couple of weeks, nibbling every last weed around the edges. That would have worked, albeit taking the grass lower than the four inches I'd ideally like it at, except for the darn heat. Because it was so blazing hot, our wonderful fence guy could only work a few hours each day digging post holes and running barbed wire up and down the steep slopes of our rocky pasture. What should have been a two-week project took a full month thanks to the brutal conditions. The buffs had eaten everything down to the ground about 10 days ago, so I had to buy in some hay to tide them over. That added another fun chore in the heat--hauling hay out twice a day. They continued to graze on what they could find (e.g., the leaves on the lower branches of a large apple tree) and even deigned to eat some weeds they'd previously spurned.

As of today: relief! On all fronts. The fence was completed around 2:30pm and at approximately 2:40, it began to rain. Hallelujah! I've rarely been so happy to be rained on. I went about the business of cleaning out water tanks and the bunk feeder that serves as a mineral feeder, moving them up to the new pasture, and filling them again. A thunderstorm drove me inside before I could introduce the buffs to their new space, but around dinner time, I was able to entice them over the creek with the promise of lush greens. It was like watching kids on Christmas morning. Their eyes got big and a split-second later, they were tearing into their presents with abandon.

So, what did the trick? I think it was the fact that I cut the rest of our hayfield yesterday. While the grass was long past being great nutrition, I had toyed with the idea of raking it up for emergency backup hay. I guess I tempted the rain gods by leaving it in the field overnight. I'll gladly turn it into mulch, however, just to get the rain. Regular readers may recollect that it's not been that long since I was kvetching about the surfeit of rain this spring. Yes, I've learned my lesson. Be careful what you wish for.

As long as we're talking about the weather, here are a few other consequences of our strangely hot, dry early summer:

The edamame, which were planted in early May and are supposed to take 120 days to mature, should be ready to harvest in a week or so.

We've had a major fruit and nut drop. The black walnuts and apple trees are showing their stress by dropping a lot of their goodies prematurely, presumably to conserve energy. We're also seeing a lot of leaves coming off those trees as well as the tulip poplars.

The sourwood nectar flow--the second most important flow for our local honeybees--is occurring two to three weeks ahead of schedule this year.

The black raspberries have been big, plentiful, and continue to produce week after week. The blackberries are coming in huge, tho' less plentiful than last year only because we cleared so many of the brambles in the orchard and in the pastures.

Most of all, it just feels odd to walk on hard ground. Our land is normally so soft, so loamy and moist that it is quite gentle on the joints. I'm definitely feeling more than my age this week as everything aches from hours of walking up and down and across ground so hard it feels like concrete.

On that note, let me sign off with a word of thanks, not just for the return of the rain, but also gratitude for a steady, gentle rain that won't wash away our unusually exposed soil.