summer greens at Mountain Glen Farm

summer greens at Mountain Glen Farm

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Winter Greens

So far, to say the least, our winter has been very mild.   But, I am reserving any opinion on the remaining days of the season...because, a person never knows!

The yard, garden and surrounding landscape definitely sports customary winter garb -  bare tree branches in full focus (deciduous leaves long gone), greys and browns the dominant colors.

Muhgo pine, yucca, bamboo and a bit of iris

But, there is still a lot of green to satisfy my passion for color; even a bit of red (berries) and pale yellow (some daffodils have already displayed the beginning of the flower buds - this is early even for my garden).

I like to take the typical short days and cooler temperatures of the season to remain inside and do inside stuff - read, write, quilt, cleaning (when I finally get the urge), and even relax.  But, this year is different.  The weather, for the most part, frequently encouraged me outside to continue with garden clean-up (affectionately known to me as 'make neat'). The plants are not growing (much), but even at rest, there are plenty of yard chores.  On really nice days, I am still able to hang laundry out to dry.  Motorcycle rides - never really stopped. 

My question....what happened to my 'resting' season? 

ivy and, Jake

Fortunately; I like to be outside working in my garden, playing with the dogs, taking photographs, enjoying the beauty around me. And, the greens in winter really capture my attention. 

poppy foliage

grape hyacinth foliage

rhododendron/flower buds - typical for the season

So, I take the days as they come and schedule my tasks accordingly.  There will always be time to 'rest', later.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Winter Buds

I decided to take a walkabout my garden and observe the nuances of the season.

I always like to look at the small things - things that are present; however,  take extra effort to discern.

The tree buds are my favorite - each bud is specific to a tree; thus, making identification easy - relatively speaking.  Back eons ago, I use to teach dendrology - tree identification.  I have remembered little, just enough to make broad observations; such as, I can identify an oak, but sometimes I cannot be 100 percent if it is a black oak, red oak, chestnut oak, or other species.  Other tree buds are so unique that identification is a 'no brainer'. 

I already know all the trees in my yard, so I am taking the opportunity of the season (no leaves, just buds) to carefully examine the buds of each tree.  Each bud is different and interesting.

Imagine.... next spring's leaves and/or flowers are encased in that small bud - such a little package for so much bounty. 

Enjoy a few of the buds I observed today...

Horse-chestnut buds - terminal and laterals

Yellow Delicious Apple buds
Sweetgum buds

Red Oak buds - clustered terminals, pubescent (fuzzy)

Yellow-poplar buds with spent flower (seeds)

Have you checked your buds lately???

Friday, January 27, 2012

Yummy, yummy, yummy

I am at it again - baking.

I still had two of those infamous California lemons remaining on my kitchen counter - pretty as they were, they needed to be used.

I saw a fairly quick and easy recipe for lemon curd in one of my magazines a few days back, but I   hesitated.

Hmmm...lemon curd.  I really did not know what lemon curd was except that it is frequently mentioned in cooking programs I regularly watch...Cupcake Wars (How bad can it be?), Chopped....

I like lemon, but just the sound of the word 'curd' put me off - until today.  The recipe suggested serving the curd with pound cake or scones.  I like both, and I have great recipes for both.  Scones won out.

First, I made the lemon curd. I know what lemon curd is nothing more than a creamier version of the filling for a lemon meringue pie - which, by the way, I love.  What took me so long to try curd???  Oh yeah, the sound of the word - silly me.

Second, I baked a batch of plain scones. 

Once the scones were cooled, and the curd chilled; I frosted my tester scone with the curd and took a bite....

OMG - again!  The flavors were fabulous. Even Becky's eyes rolled with tasteful gratification

My next problem...trying to refrain myself from eating the entire batch today!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

They're Back

I observed a flash of brilliant blue in my peripheral vision - Blue Jay, no....Bluebird, yes! What a pleasant surprise!

Yep, the bluebirds are back doing a bit of reconnaissance for their upcoming residence.

I could describe how the males are bold blue with definite red breast, how the females are an amazing muted version of the male of said species, and how they add a pop to the winter scheme.

I could describe how these birds fly from the fence, down to the ground, up to the nearby nesting box, back to the fence - displaying colorful beauty with each movement.

Really, all I need to describe is that big, wide, happy smile on my face.

Yes, the bluebirds are back...and I am grateful for such wonders.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Winter Landscape

Now that the winter season is upon me,  I am enjoying a winter landscape. 

This landscape is the same in many ways to every other season; and yet it is different, specific to this season.

The same trees are present; only now their branches are leafless and their structure  more evident.

The sun and sky are the same; only the sun shines at a different angle - producing more shadows and the sky is clear and more blue.

The mountains have not moved, they are the same; but now their color has muted to shades of grey and brown, indicative of the date on the calendar.

The pastures; same, now sporting the color of the time of year announcing that they are resting.

Winter use to be my most unfavored season of the four - not any more.  I have opened my eyes to the pleasures and differences that only can be realized during  the season of winter. 

The Winter of Our Discontent... a favorite Steinbeck novel, but not my sentiment.

And, I am glad I have discovered winter. I am content.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I'm On A (Cooking) Binge

My cooking/baking desire is still within my bones, so I keep creating.  And, I might add, eating.

During the past two days, I have made two recipes that I have always wanted to try, but; never have - until now.

Last night, along with a Gladys Taber recipe for Sukiyaki (so yummy - I will be making that again soon), I made Pork Fried Rice. I have always enjoyed fried rice whenever we went out for Chinese, but I have never made the dish myself. And, during every Chinese meal at a restaurant, I would always say, "I have to try making Fried Rice sometime." Last night, some time finally arrived.

I decided to double the recipe.  I was feeling confident that the results would be gratifying.

First, I had to make some fluffy white rice  - ten full cups of rice - now, that is a lot of rice. Glenn and I will be eating rice all week. My results in cooking rice have always been an on again, off again outcome. More off than on.  On - fluffy, off - mushy and sticky. Searching the Internet; I found simple, basic instructions and Voila...fluffy rice - amazing since I lost track midway through the process.  I got involved in something else (you know - multi-tasking) and came back into the kitchen to find my rice perfectly cooked.  I actually forgot that I was making rice.  Like I said, amazing!

I continued on, and as predictable, I found myself making revisions to the stated ingredients.  No fresh ginger; would dry, ground do?  Back to the Internet.  I discovered that I could use rinsed, crystallized ginger as a substitute for  fresh. I actually had crystallized ginger on my spice shelf from the time I tried it as a remedy for my motion sickness.  (One piece  of  crystallized ginger made me more ill than I had ever been from motion sickness; Sea Bands work so much better.)  So, I used the crystallized ginger in the rice along with corn, peas, eggs, ham.

Then, I needed curry powder  What is curry powder?  I had never stocked my shelf with this spice.  Again, to the Internet where I discovered curry is a mixture of many spices; most which I did have in supply.  Therefore, I just made my own curry concoction from a little bit of each spice listed that I had on hand - it worked! The results were most satisfying.

Yummy last night, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday....

The Fried Rice was so delicious - Glenn's comment - good thing I made a week's worth!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Burn Piles

Over the course of a year or two, several piles that we refer to as ' burn piles' accumulate across the farm. 

These piles include garden waste (weeds, dead plant material),  cedar trees cut back to obtain or reclaim more pasture acreage, household paperwork that needs to be destroyed (old tax records, old work files), rotten lumber, fallen tree branches and the like.

Glenn tries to keep the number of piles to a minimum by conducting an annual burn.  Lately, not so much... these piles have been building for, at least, three years. Eight, huge piles to be exact. 

Yesterday, as Glenn returned from his logging, he announced that he was going back out to burn THE PILES!  Yep, just spur of the moment decision like much of everything Glenn does.  I get use to it!

So, I walked out to document the flames -  always impressive since these piles are dry, dry, dry!

I think you have to be a bit of a pyromaniac to really appreciate the dancing of the flames, the intense heat, the whirling smoke. 


dancing flames

even the cows seem interested....

Friday, January 20, 2012

Woodpecker Wonder

I'm so excited....

While talking to Glenn in the kitchen this morning, I happened to look out the nearest window and I saw a woodpecker pecking holes in my favorite sugar maple tree. I was concerned for my tree, but that bird really caught my attention.   For some reason, this woodpecker looked different from any I have ever seen before. As routine, I made a mad dash for my camera.   But, I was having trouble focusing through the screen on the lower pane of the window.   I decided to move to another room.

As I was passing another window to get my shot, I noticed a flicker. These birds are so big, you cannot miss them. So, first a few photos of the flicker before moving over a few feet to the window where I could get a better shot of the  'unknown' woodpecker.

I ended up standing on top of the bed so that I could take my photos through the upper pane of the double hung window - no screen there.

Look closely - female...
Then, looking back at the flicker, I noticed that there were two. More photos. The flickers bob their heads up and down so rapidly; I kept missing a good, as in not blurred, photo. Within five minutes, I took almost 50 pictures, culminating with two or three that passed for, what I call, good.

Minutes later, while looking more closely at my photos on the computer monitor, I discovered that the two flickers must be a couple -  one a male, one a female. I was thrilled!

male...see the black moustache?

Next stop, bird book.

The best I could figure, based on the description as no picture was included, is that the woodpecker on my maple was a juvenile yellow-bellied sapsucker. We always have red-bellied woodpeckers poking around, but I do not recall ever seeing a yellow-bellied sapsucker; juvenile at that. This species is migratory in our area.    Again, thrilled!

Notice the freshly drilled holes....
What a special morning -  a exceptional way to start my day!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mountain Glen Farm Cows To Matriculate

Yesterday, while I was enjoying a peaceful day on the farm, Glenn and Becky attended a day-long forage conference.

The most important subject to come from this conference (I got the Reader's Digest version)    is how to teach your cows to eat weeds. Yes - weeds! Yes - teach!

Weeds can be a problem, taking up space for more nutritious grasses, but weeds also have nutritional value. So,  why not get the cows to eat them - prickly thistle included. 

'Teach Your Cow To Eat Weeds' is an 8-day course.  I wonder if the cows know that????  Will there be any over-achievers?  Teacher's pet?  The idea is to expose your cows to different kinds of feed adding weeds along the way until the additional feed is 100% weeds.  At that point, the cows  introduced to said weeds will now naturally eat them if found in their pastures - simple.  Really???

Weeds?  Sorry, have to go to where the grass is greener...

So, come spring; our cows, and we are going to add the sheep in on the attendance, are going to school.

Our main farm has weeds, but a minimal amount in terms of the total percentage of pasture acreage.  Unfortunately; our new farm, from lack of real management for years, is inundated with thistle.  We had anticipated using a chemical herbicide because the problem is so bad, so very bad; but with this new tool, we are going all cow. 

This spring, after the cows learn to eat weeds, we will move about 20 head to our new farm and let them clean up, as in eat,  the weeds.  A win-win situation for sure - again, using the flerd in a beneficial way. Cows/sheep will gain more forage compatible to their taste buds, and the pasture quality will improve.  Pasture quality improves, livestock quality improves.  Natural, sustainable, economical,, win, win, win, win...

Hmmm...desks, paper, pencils, calculators, report cards - only kidding.

I wonder if we could teach the cows to weed between the vegetable rows in the garden????

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Winter Wildlife

Today's walk produced several sightings of wildlife.  I had not gone wandering in search of wildlife, but I am glad I was rewarded.

A bunch of geese, too numerous to count (they kept moving), enjoyed floating on the quiet water of the farm pond.

Close to the woods, I watched and listened to a annoyed pileated woodpecker - his unending chatter accompanied his up, down and around movement on a nearby tree.

A few deer had crept out of the woods onto the farm lane.  They watched my every, slow movement as I watched them.  When I got too close, they scampered back into the safety of the woods, tails waving high. Within seconds, the coloring of their winter coats blended with the trees' barks - and, they were gone from my sight.

Look at that tail - beautiful!
Nearby, I sneaked up on a male cardinal munching at some wild berries, rose hips to be exact.  His bold color never disappoints me. When he realized I was in his space; he kept eating, but with more caution.

The season has changed - winter being more quiet and subdued; but, still plenty to enjoy!

Buddy On The Run

I constantly watch Buddy, what seems to be minute to minute, chasing birds. I wonder if he ever gets tired - it does not appear so.

Buddy travels so fast that he becomes a black and white streak.  I see him, in a glimpse,  when I am inside the house and he is zooming past the window.  When I am outside, Buddy is at my side until that split second when he takes off.  I know, just by gauging his speed, that Buddy is chasing a bird. But, not any that is flying high in the sky. In fact, I rarely notice the birds that Buddy chases until I look way up in the direction he has headed; then I too, see the bird.

Buddy foiled by the fence, but he continues to watch from his ground position.

Flocks of birds and birds in proximity do not seem to attract Buddy's attention.  He likes those that are solitary, flying above the tree tops and higher.  So high in fact, that I know Buddy will always come out of this game, the loser;  that is good - at least for the bird.   Buddy might be frustrated, but he does not appear to be...go figure!  However,  he is getting plenty of exercise!

Buddy just likes to chase birds; birds he can never catch.  The fun is in the chasing.

So, if chasing a high-flying bird makes him happy - fantastic!  And, so much better than chasing our cows or sheep.

I favor a HAPPY Buddy!

Monday, January 16, 2012

From The Privacy Of My Home

It is amazing what I observe, by chance, from the inside of my home.

I never miss the opportunity to glance outside as I pass a window. 

This morning, while looking down into the back garden from a second story pane, I saw an upside- down bird, in my small dogwood sapling, engrossed in eating . 

Immediately, I identified the bird as a woodpecker - black, white, with a small red patch on the top of his head.  And, I knew what he was eating - a praying mantis egg case. The bright red berries of the dogwood have been long gone; eaten by the local population of Blue Jays and Mockingbirds.  All that remains on the branches are several egg casings and the flower buds for the upcoming spring blossoms.

I had never seen any bird relish the egg casings of the praying mantis, ever.  And, I have loads of these egg casings attached to my many plants growing throughout my garden.  A result of having plentiful praying mantis, I suppose. 

Watching this woodpecker, eating upside down, was a treat.  Previously, I have only witnessed these common woodpeckers chipping away at my silver maple tree for insects or pounding away on a grey-striped sunflower seed at my feeder.  Eating an mantis egg casing... never.

Since the winter weather with cooler temperatures keeps me inside more than I like,  I will continue to glance through my windows. Who knows what new spectacle I will notice next?  And, when I do see something unusual or different, I will certainly let you know - in a blog.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

And, The Baking Continues - Lemon Cheesecake Bars

I bought a mesh bagful of lemons last week to make one of the recipes used in the 2012 Friends of Gladys Taber Newsletter cooking column - no I am not going to tell you the recipe - if you are at all interested in Gladys Taber, I recommend that you join the Friends of Gladys Taber (see my note at the right). We always embrace new members.  If you do not know anything about Gladys Taber, I recommend that you read one of her many books - start with one about Stillmeadow - you might just get hooked.

I had the choice of buying individual, shriveled, brownish barely walnut-sized lemons for $0.44 each or a bag of six, large, bright yellow, California-grown lemons.  I bought the bag even though I knew I only needed two lemons.  I figured I could always make something else in the coming days with the remaining fruits.  I made the right choice.

Still in that cooking/baking mood from preparing my cooking column (as mentioned a few days back)...and still having leftover lemons, I decided to try some new recipes.

Yesterday, I used one of the lemons, sliced, in a marinade for a beef roast - also, a Gladys Taber recipe which will probably be included in a future column; so again, I will be secretive....

And, I also used one of the lemons, juice and rind, in a Lemon Cheesecake dessert. This time; I used  part of one recipe for the crust, and  I used a variation of another recipe for the filling and topping - cream cheese, farm-fresh eggs, freshly squeezed lemon juice, freshly grated lemon zest, sour cream, and sugar - yumm!

Glenn's comment, 'LEMON cheesecake, really?  LEMON?'  I like lemon.  Obviously, Glenn does not.

Both Glenn and Becky had three servings of that Lemon Cheesecake. Glenn rarely eats dessert and Becky diligently watches her calorie intake.  Both offered verbal compliments - something I rarely hear from either of them.

Even though cooking/baking took me most of the day and resulted in a sinkful of dirty dishes, and a scraped knuckle (ouch!) from grating lemon zest; having a successful, in taste and appreciation,  family meal was certainly worth the time and effort.

Try a wide!
I had bunches of fun cooking and creating; and, the effort is always more satisfying when the food tastes good.  I have made many an unappetizing meal  in my day - just ask the chickens. 

I prefer the delicious, successful ones!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Winter Morning

My mornings in the winter are dark as night - how can that be? Even if I rise later than my normal time, the outside is still hidden in darkness.

I prefer to wake to an amazing sunrise - sky sporting a thin line of amazing color just above the mountain ridges...color expanding to wider bands of multiple hues...a large ball of brightness rising sharply in the eastern sky. 

Solution...either enjoy this late sunrise hours after I have risen, or stay in bed a few hours longer - easy!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Visitor In My Garden Shed

As I walked into my garden shed one afternoon, I was immediately mindful of a visitor...a Carolina Wren had entered this small outbuilding. The little bird seemed confused as to how to leave as it frantically flew from corner to corner.

I knew I would probably never get a chance to observe this magnificent little creature within such intimate quarters again; so, I stood still and quietly watched this petite bird during the few moments when it felt comfortable enough to settle down to perch or to explore its immediate surroundings.

This little wren was very energetic...constantly in motion - looking up, moving down, turning about within the paraphernalia of my shed - shovels, baskets, rototiller - every tool and piece of stored equipment seemed interesting to this wren.

After a few minutes of one-on-one time with this feathered creature, I slowly opened the huge, double doors to provide the wren with the easiest egress possible. I walked away and gave the wren the opportunity to leave my shed on his own accord; much like he entered.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Apple Pie - Not quite!

Hot on the heels of completing the writing of my cooking column for the March 2012 Friends of Gladys Taber newsletter, I had this desire to keep on cooking/baking.

Glenn wanted his 'go to' favorite - apple pie. 

I was feeling a bit more creative; I wanted to try something new.  So, I searched through some of the recipes that accompany my magazine subscriptions.  I found one called Pear-Cinnamon Streusel Squares. (Family Circle Hometown Favorites Cookbook Vol. 4 supplement) Apples could be used as a substitute to the pears.  Directions were easy, ingredients were on hand in my pantry.

As usual, I began following the directions, and ended with making 'my' modifications.  I really made just plain Apple Streusel Squares - no pears, no added cinnamon-flavored pieces - more like apple pie squares.

Taste?  Delicioso!

Glenn's comment, "Why didn't you add raisins?" 

 (palm of hand hitting forehead) I did not even think to do that...there is always next time!