"Commentary from the Countryside"
Thoughts on current events,
history, homesteading, preparedness, real food, and anything else I find interesting, from a cranky, middle-aged woman's common-sense perspective.

Friday, February 24, 2012

My Winter Afternoon

The snow is pure white, heavy and wet, making instant memories of every footstep, hushing every sound.
The pine trees slump under their burden, flashes of color deep in the branches showing where the cardinals rest 
between visits to the feeder.

The air smells wet, white, and cold, fresh and pure it fills me with energy.  
My scarf is warm across my face, my heavy hunting pants and old sorels insulate me like a cocoon as I move through the drifts.

Gray-white clouds move slowly across the gray-white sky, trailing snow showers like heavy skirts.  Snowflakes veil the distant fields, closing in until no other houses or barns can be seen.

For this little time my little place on this earth is peaceful, unspoiled and fresh, almost primeval and I revel in the quiet.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Just Wondering

Now THAT would be a bad snow day

I was watching the weather forecast tonight, and they've put much of Michigan under a "winter storm watch".  However the forecast is calling for only 2 to 6 inches of snow between now and Saturday.  Now I know just a little snow can make roads slippery, but I'm thinking that anyone who lives in Michigan for very long is aware it can snow in February and that just 2 to 6 inches isn't really worthy of the winter storm label.

Please don't think I'm dismissing all weather incidents, as I know we are small and helpless against a giant flood, a true blizzard, or a drought-driven wildfire.  But I believe we should each do what we can to wisely prepare for problems, without government propaganda or interference.  It's only smart to have some drinking water stored in case the power goes out, disabling the well pump.  It's a good idea to have non-perishable food in the pantry in case an ice storm disrupts the grocery store deliveries, or firewood ready to keep warm during a blizzard.  To me, being as ready as possible should simply be a way of life.

During the entire newscast they had words scrolling across the bottom of the screen, urging "preparedness precautions".  I'd never seen the local broadcasters use terms like that before, have you?  It almost seems that the reactionary FEMA problems after Katrina have filtered through the government and media to the point of hysteria.  Now most any little bit of weather is portrayed as cause for alarm and lectures from the government filtered through local broadcasters:  stay home, don't use the roads, make sure you have radios to hear further government suggestions, and so on.  Am I a conspiracy theorist?  Not deliberately, but I do notice patterns that make me wonder.  The Feds rather enjoyed taking over New Orleans, and relieving law-abiding citizens of their firearms.  Is it such a stretch to think they may begin using hyped-up warnings or a manufactured crisis as a way to browbeat people into helplessness?  Into mindless compliance with authority?  I don't know, but I think it may be something that bears watching.

In the end, there's nothing we can do but be sensible and use our resources wisely, and remember there's only One who is truly in control.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.  Psalm 111:10

Take care, my friends!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Laundry in February

The long, gloomy, days of cold rain and gray clouds finally changed into a beautiful little storm with huge snowflakes.  They floated about, leaving kisses on my face and quickly piling up on every branch and twig.  Overnight the wind picked up and sculpted my new snow into long sweeping drifts through my yard that glistened in the morning sun. It was all so fresh and beautiful I longed to fling open the windows and banish the stale, heated air from the house, but then again, it was heated and therefore valuable, so I did not.  However I could indulge in hanging out the linens! It's only slightly short of heaven to collapse at the end of the day into a delightfully fresh set of linens and quilts that still smell of the outside and sunshine.
Stripping the beds and hauling everything down to the washer was the easy part; a little water, a little detergent, and I'm in business.  When the washer stopped it's groaning and clanking, I eagerly piled the linens into a basket and headed outside.  Then the fun began!  The sun had melted the surface of the drifts in my yard, and a shallow layer of ice had re-frozen along the tops - just enough to support my weight for a second or two, before giving way and allowing my leg to plunge through to somwhere in the region of China, forcing the other leg to bend and placing that knee somwhere in the region of my ear.  At the same time, the icy coating allowed the laundry basket to begin sliding down the drift and back towards the house. It became a contest to see if I could get a sheet out of the basket before it slid away, and then to pin it to the line before I dropped into the snowbank.  After the first couple of pillow cases I learned to hold on to the clothesline so I could still reach it after I fell through up to my knees in the hard-packed drift, while reaching out with the other hand to grab the basket as it went sailing by. A couple of times I tripped and fell face first, wrapped in the wet sheet while the dawg thought this was a great new game and planted her great hairy paws squarely in the middle of my back, pushing me ever deeper into the drift. I perservered through four loads until all the linens were hung, flapping gently in the breeze and sunshine, looking so innocent as I limped back to the house through the ice and snow, carrying the boot that had been pulled off by the deep drift.  The dawg meanwhile was laughing, a big doggie grin on her face as she gamboled about on top of the snow.

I wonder if I can get her to go out and bring all the laundry back in?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ranting Again

The older and crankier I get, the more I resent government interference in my life. I realize that we need laws and law-keepers for society to exist, as we are all fallen and sinful creatures in need of rules . But there's a point where the government oversteps all reasonable boundaries and becomes burdensome, and it seems we have passed that point. The government should be concerned with securing our borders, not with controling our lives.

This last go-round with the current administration is a clear example of government run amok. They treat the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as mere trifles to be swept aside in the bid for control and power. Obamacare is wrong on so many levels! If you look at countries that have socialized medicine, it's clear it doesn't work. And this latest mandate, that religious organizations must violate their beliefs or face legal or prosecution sounds more like Nazi Germany than the United States of America. I haven't had health insurance for years, and as much as I would like to have help with medical expenses, I'd rather continue to go without, than be part of this administration's plan.

Here's a link to an article that explains it better than I can: http://www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/18734

It's going to take a lot of time and attention and effort on the part of us everyday folks who don't normally have the time or inclination to mess with politics to put a stop to the wholesale theft of our rights. Even the most remote, self-sufficient homestead won't be safe. It's time to rein in the congresscritters before we lose everything that makes America great.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ten Pounds of Pressure

The food co-op had boneless chicken breasts on sale this week, so it was time to get out the Creature and have another go at pressure canning.  This time I did it a little differently and did not cook the chicken, but raw packed it instead.  It took longer than expected to get it cut up and in the jars; I'm convinced it's time to spend a bit of money on a decent cutting board.  This whole cutting stuff up on a paper plate thing is getting old fast.  I filled each jar with bite-sized chunks of raw chicken, leaving 1" of head space, and got them in the canner.  I always add a splash of vinegar to keep the minerals in my well from leaving a white film on my jars, so got that in with the required amount of water, and turned up the gas.  It's not quite so scary now when the Creature hisses and spits and whistles as it comes up to temperature, thought it's still enough to drive the dawg into hiding.  I was feeling pretty good as it merrily rattled along, thinking this isn't so hard, after all, and the seventy-five minutes went by fairly quickly as I did some chores around the house.  After the timer went off, I let the canner cool for about 30 minutes, then took the lid off and waited another five minutes before pulling the jars out.  It was a bit of a shock to pull up on one of the jars, only to have the bottom of the jar and all the chicken stay in the pot.  Uff da!  New discovery for today:  if I have a bit of an issue getting the empty jars off the high closet shelf, and one of them bounces off my head, hits the stool I'm standing on, and rolls down the hallway, don't use it for canning anymore!  (And no, I'm not entertaining any speculation as to which impact actually damaged the jar!)  The jar stayed in place while the canner was heating; the bottom of the jar simply separated from the rest in one piece when I tried to lift it out.  Thankfully there's no glass shards, the chicken was salvageable and is now in the fridge for lunch tomorrow.  Of course the bottle of lemon juice fell on my foot when I opened the fridge, and all this after a jar of jelly jumped off the pantry shelf and hit my ankle bone while I was trying to get the Creature down from it's nest.  Wasn't the full moon last night?

Call it bravery or foolishness, but despite all the mishaps I loaded the canner with the second batch of jars and put it on the stove again.  It's chortling away as I type; what the outcome will be this time I hardly care to guess, but I'm really hoping for an uneventful end to the evening and eleven pints of canned chicken ready for the pantry.

Until next time, may the Good Lord bless you and keep you.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Balancing Act

It's a life-long process, I think, to learn to slow down and count your blessings, and yet not lose sight of your responsibilities.  Sometimes I'll successfully walk that tightrope for months or weeks at a time; sometimes it seems like I'm riding an op-yop.  Yes, I played with one as a kid!  For those who don't remember, here's a page:  http://www.op-yop.com/.  I was always fascinated by the oscillating pattern of the strings between the discs, and the long-buried memory suddenly surfaced when I was thinking of ways to describe the craziness.  Now I'm wondering what it means when a childhood toy is described as "vintage", "antique" or "extinct"?  Ok, I probably don't want an answer to that!

There's been some more experiments in the kitchen this week, a little work towards making the house a bit more energy efficient; and a reminder put on the calender to check the propane tank!

The best out of the kitchen this week was strawberry-beer bread.  Most people make a funny face at the thought, but it is actually reallyreally good!  The recipe called for cherry stout and dried cherries.  Having neither, I substituted a bottle of Winter Ale found hiding in the back of the fridge, (no idea how long it's been there, the back of the fridge is a dark and scary place!) and dried strawberries from my pantry stash.  It smelled amazing while baking, and made the best roast beef sandwich I've ever had.  Here's the recipe out of the "Biggest Book of Bread Machine Recipes"  with my adaptations:

                                                                Fruit and Beer Bread

(My machine does 1 1/2 lb loaves, and I used the basic white bread cycle instead of the whole grains cycle)

1 cup cherry stout  (I used 1 1/2 cups Winter Ale)
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp butter
2 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
4 tsp sugar
1 tsp dried savory
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp yeast
1/2 cup dried tart cherries (I used 2/3 cup dried strawberries)

I added the ingredients in the order called for in the bread machine manual and plugged it in.  I'm not sure how to adapt the recipe for a hand-kneaded bread.  I always watch as the machine kneads the dough, and add liquid or flour as needed to get a good dough ball that holds together but doesn't stick to the sides of the pan.  For some reason this recipe needed a lot of extra liquid. 

I used some of this bread for breakfast this morning, topped with a fried egg and a slice of cheese.  Wow!
Another experiment was home-made Wheat Thins.  They're my favorite crackers, but terribly expensive, and containing hydrogenated oils.  I poked around online and found some recipes, and here's what I started
with from the e-how site: 

Rolling out the dough

                    Home-made Wheat Thins
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350F.

Stir together whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl.  Pour the oil and water into mixture; mix until just blended. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough dough no thicker than 1/8 inch.  Place dough on an ungreased baking sheet. Mark squares of with a knife or pizza cutter. Don't cut all the way through. Prick each cracker with a fork a few times; brush with oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in preheated oven, or until crisp and light brown. Allow to cool just enough to handle then remove from baking sheet and separate into individual crackers.

I used the whole wheat flour to dust when rolling out, it gives a nice nutty flavor but I used a little too much.  Next time I'll use less and roll out in wax paper.  I wasn't able to get the dough down to 1/8 inch (so I have Wheat Fats) but the flavor and texture is very good.  I would also score the dough pretty much all the way through, it was difficult to break them apart cleanly.

I also put together the cheddar biscuit mix purchased when a friend had a "Tastefully Simple" party.  Not worth it.  I'm going to experiment with another set of online recipes for this one.

The weather continues unseasonably warm.  Everything is brown and muddy and dreary.  It's like living through mid-March over and over and over again.  My senses are confused.  The angle of the sun, the position of Orion, and the colors at sunset tell me it's Winter; yet the smell of the wet earth, the browns of the fields, and the feel of the air tell me it's Spring.  It's really disconcerting.  I long for the fresh cleanliness of snow, crisp, clear air, and a landscape lit in silvers and blues.  Though I've read there's a brutal winter hitting parts of Europe; I wouldn't wish that on us here, and I pray that the extreme cold they're dealing with is over soon.

In the meantime I've been reading about window quilts and gathering fabric to make some for my living room windows, and taking advantage of the weather to load up some more scrap metal.  Thankfully the truck continues to start!  I haven't allowed myself to start the next jigsaw puzzle yet; it will be my reward for cleaning up and stacking the firewood, but I did get the recently completed one ready to frame.  I've found the best way for preserving my puzzles is not to use the puzzle glue and cover them from the front.  Instead I very carefully use a large sheet of cardboard to flip the completed puzzle upside down, and then apply ordinary contact paper to the back.  This keeps all the pieces in place for framing, without the warping effects of the glue.

Until next time, may God bless each of you with warmth and peace.