Procrastination Pays Off – For the Chickens

Each fall we butcher part of our flock of layers to end up with about six to overwinter. We have a flock that is always in a state of rotation.   Each spring we get a few new chicks and each fall we cull older birds and poor layers to get down to our optimum number of six.    It works great as chickens lay best in the first two years.   After that they start to slow down.   That two-year limit also works good you as far as eating goes as well, as after two years they really limited in their use to stewing and stock.

This year we procrastinated our last butcher cycle.   We knew we wanted to get rid of three birds, but were having troubles deciding who was on that last list of the year.   The hens were laying unusually well even though the days were getting shorter.  We only had one poor layer who was on the short list.     We only had one hen was on the too old list.   We kept on talking and debating who the third one should be.  No single bird rose to the top of the list of the remaining birds.  We thought with time it would become obvious to us.

We were lulled into thinking we had plenty of time to get down to our magical number.   This fall was unusually warm.   It seemed like  winter was a long time away.    So we continued to put off the decision who to put on our final list of the year.  We did not feel the clock ticking because as long as we can run a hose, we can butcher.    I know Grandma’s from years gone by probably butchered year round, but I am not quite as tough as her.

Finally we went from late summer to a full-blown winter.  Cold sub-zero and lots of snow.    We had a snow storm that gave us the most snow in a single snow fall in 10 years.   It seems that our procrastination paid off big for our birds.   That debate on who should be number three, resulted in us having nine birds for the winter this year.

My Favorite Holiday

Not Christmas but Thanksgiving.   I love Thanksgiving because it is a holiday everyone can embrace.  It has nothing to do with religion or buying gifts.  Rather than separating us by our beliefs or economics,  Thanksgiving allows us all to come together.      It has everything to do with acknowledging good fortunate and  how blessed you are in life.  There is so much to be thankful for, the love of our friends and family, food on our table, shelter from the seasons, a job when so many don’t , our health for so many don’t, our country,  and I could list so much more.   We each have been given so many gifts.   It is one day set aside to encourage us to say Thanks.   That by being a holiday it hopefully forces us to take a time out and include a little reflection on how blessed you are.

I love that Thanksgiving is a secular holiday. I have over the years have celebrated with great joy and reflection with my family, friends and acquaintances of so many different religious persuasions.   We have hosted people in our home of many different faiths: Jewish, Islam, Christians,  Muslim, shamanic believers, agnostic, and no faiths at all, atheists.   In this time of such strife, that we came together in a single home and reflect on our blessings, was in itself a blessing.  We always said grace and everyone at the table contributes with something they are thankful for.   Imagine all of us praying together, not in the name of one religion or another but as humankind.   It  gives me hope that the rest of the world can work toward not fighting in the name of religion.  That is truly something to be thankful for,  the love of humankind.

Pumpkin Pie Update

I did not try to pass my from scratch pumpkin pie off on my friends as the same they always had, but instead asked them what they thought of it.  Different good, different bad,  or heck I can’t tell the difference, so why bother.

To keep this on the level playing field I used my favorite recipe the one on the canned Libby’s pumpkin label.   I really think their use of can milk makes it least likely to curdle.   I used my standard pie crust as well.

Before baking it, I can tell you that my 15 ounces of pumpkin was not as orange as Libby’s.   Mine was like pudding compared to the stuff from the can which holds shape like jellied cranberries.   I was worried, was it too moist?  They both were silky smooth.

Baking was essentially the same.   Same time.   Looked essentially the same.

Taste test was fun because my friends have not problem being brutally honest.   No one wants their chief pie baker to get a swollen head.    Here is what was decided:

  • Libby’s pumpkin pie really only tastes like the spices you put in it, the cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.   The homemade had another pumpkin squash taste.  Not bad, but definitely different.   Most everyone thought it was kind of cool to definitely have a taste of pumpkin in their pie.
  • The homemade was not as sweet as Libby’s.  Whatever secret hybrid that the Libby’s people use it is sweeter than the sweet pie pumpkin variety I got.   If you have a massive sweet tooth this could be a problem.
  • Texture was the biggest difference. Using the canned pumpkin you get something like a pumpkin flan or custard, more gelatinous.    With the homemade pumpkin despite it having been run through the food processor and appearing to be the same as the can it did not cook up the same.   It wasn’t gritting or anything like that with it.   The best way we could come up to explain it was can pumpkin was like skim milk, and the homemade was like whole milk.   There was something more substantial about it in the mouth, but you really can not explain it.

The from scratch pumpkin pie from  was different, but still to the group a pumpkin pie.   It wasn’t lot a lot of work and if I have pumpkins I will definitely do it again.

Kiddie Table

My Montana family that we spend the holidays with is all grown up.   What that means is there is no longer a kiddie table at Thanksgiving.  That is a huge milestone for  the kids.   It is a bigger deal than getting your driver’s license because that does not automatically move you to the adult table.  There is some secret magical criteria that only moms get to see that tells them when their youngsters are ready to graduate from that table reserved for all the kids.

When I was a kid growing up the kiddie table was made up of my cousins, my brothers and me.   My grandma’s house was a tight fit and I can remember years where if  it was not too cold out that the kids would relegated to the picnic table in the back yard.   If it was too cold for that we would be sent to the front room as not to disturb the men watching football on TV. I did not get to move from the kiddie table until I had moved away from home.  I wonder what that says about me?

The kiddie table was a great bonding time for the cousins.   We did not all live close to one another so we only saw each other at major holidays.   We quickly found old bonds and made new ones.   We did things that you could only do at the kids table, tell jokes, burb, laugh until Kool-Aid came out your nose, and try and one up your cousin.  You could be loud, not worry about proper manners, play with your food and con someone in to eating that stuff that your mom put on your plate you hated.   There were lots of things that you only  could experience at the kiddie table.

I on the other hand have never had children.  Not being a Mom I did not understand how you decided who was sent to the kiddie table and who went to the regular table.   When it came time for me to start hosting Thanksgiving I took the easy way out, one table.   I put the kids and adults all at the same table.  They were all mixed up, no kids end or segregation.   In retrospect I never gave a thought about a second table and if it would have it more comfortable for my guests.   Did the kids find the conversation boring?   Did adults not get to relax because they were worried about if their child would behave?   I wonder if I was doing a disservice to the kids who joined us as they did not get to chat up a storm and be goofy as my cousins and I once were.  Or was I giving them a boost by including them in the adult world?  Someday I will ask my nieces, nephews and the friends they brought with them to our house for Thanksgiving dinner, was the lack of kiddie table good or bad move on my part?    Maybe the fact they brought their friends with them Thanksgiving at our home says it all.   Maybe it wasn’t normal, but was worth sharing with your friends; good eats and good times.


The Pie Baker

Oh She Glows Blog is full of great instructions and photos.

I have loved to bake pies all my life.   I would rather bake a pie than any other dessert or sweet.    I have tried all sorts of pies over the years.   I honestly have not single favorite pie, and  I am always trying something new.  I love them all, old recipes and new recipes alike.

Last year my experimental recipe  was a pecan pie that used real maple syrup. I was trying to find something that made a great pecan pie without ending up with a gooey sweet filling.    It was a great result much richer and smoother than my traditional pecan pie.   It was definitely a keeper.

This year I happened to have two sugar pumpkins on hand and decided to try my hand at homemade pumpkin pie.   I remember as a kid my mother once had done this and the pumpkin was very moist and it present problems.    Like everyone today, I went to the internet looking for an option that looked promising.  The first thing that I found out is that the pumpkin in the can is likely not pumpkin, but some other kind of squash.   Now my interest was definitely piqued. Was there a difference if I used real pumpkin?  Will anyone notice?  I found an option that looked good on the Oh She Glows blog.   I have finished roasting my pumpkins, run them through the food processor until smooth as anything you will find on the grocery shelf.   I put it in a food mill and let the excess water drain out; lesson learned from my mother.  It now sits in my refrigerator ready for pie baking tomorrow.

I will post again later after the pie has been baked and ate by the family.   The other pies I am bake this year besides pumpkin is the requisite chocolate, an apple and a banana cream.

Doggie Flashback

Our dog, Harley, found himself at age 5 or 6 at a shelter, no longer wanted by his owners.   The prior owners told the shelter one story and we have since found out he had more difficult life than shared with the shelter.  That does not surprise us, who would expect someone who gives up their pets to tell the whole or real story.

It took awhile but we soon came to realized that our dog was not so sure of men, and men with work boots could send him over the edge.   The first-time we saw this he grabbed ahold of a man’s shoe and held on for dear life.   It was almost comical a 15-pound dog on a big old work boot.  The guy shook his foot and my little dog was sort of like a little piece of toilet paper stuck to his shoe.   He was not big enough fortunately to do any damage but it was a window on things yet to come.   We have come to the conclusion doesn’t like boots; work boots, snow boots, hiking boots, and will gladly attack the wearer of any of those.   Not the person, but the boot.    This summer he was in a room where a friend was walking around with sandals and out of nowhere he darted in snapped at the footwear and was gone in a second.   Another not so wonderful first.    Add leather sandals to the list of “wrong footwear.”

My friend coined a term that day that I think sums it all up a doggie flashback.   We think our dog was likely kicked in his previous life.   Most likely by a man in some kind of leather style boots, as tennis shoes have yet to spark any reaction from him.     He appears to want to strike first.  It is that survival instinct of fight or flight that kicks in when he sees that leather boot.   Little moron, doesn’t he realize that this could get him in trouble.   A less patient or perceptive family could send him directly back to the shelter.

Instead we have dedicated ourselves to desensitizing him.  We repeatedly set him up for failure and work on instilling better behaviors in him.   This is not easy, but we are slowly making progress.  We leave boots out all over the place rather than put them away where they belong.   Fortunately we have a whole collection to do this with, several pairs of hikers, riding, work boots, and anything else heavy and leather works for us.   He no long walks great distances around these empty boots.  He has learned empty boots will not get him.     We have taken up working  with friends and neighbors who wear boots.   When they stop by our place, we have a routine.   Harley has to sit and stay  in place and once that urge passes rewarding him for getting past that fight or flight behavior.     It is a challenge if he gets a jump on us and starts to challenge the boots first, and we have to get his attention to sit-stay, but we are not giving up.     My neighbor the other day complemented him on how far he had come.   That is nice to hear, but we know he still has a long ways to go in the fear that his doggie flashback causes.

I doubt we are going to ever get to the place where he won’t have a flashback now and then, but as his owners we are working hard to minimize them.   He is a good little companion, and like me he isn’t perfect.   I still need to work with him each day so he knows that we will keep him safe.   Some baggage we never get over in life, here is hoping that some day my dog will stop having flashbacks and have faith I will keep him safe.

Volunteering Even When You Don’t Want To

My family  participates in the Bountiful Baskets food co-op.   As a co-op, the food sites are run by local volunteers.    The system would not work without all the members helping out some.    They suggest you volunteer every 4-6 visits.   From a volunteer point of view it is pretty short term about two to three hours on a Saturday.    No real hard work.   A pretty ideal volunteer set up if you don’t want commitment.

Yesterday I had thought it was about time and had decided that today I would volunteer.  This morning I woke up and wanted nothing to do with it giving up my free time.   It wasn’t like I had signed up and I was not leaving them in a lurch by not showing up.    There was always next week.   My mood was foul and my body was cold.   My excuses were plentiful and my motivation was pretty scarce.

In spite of this I still found myself at the food site at volunteer time,  ready to work.    I was part of the assembly line that makes the baskets up.  I sorted potatoes and tomatoes.   I split banana bunches up in to same quantities. So I found I not  cold, but actually hot.   I made conversation with my fellow volunteers and greeted folks who came to pick up their baskets.  My mood never became stellar, but soon I was smiling and life wasn’t so bad.  A couple hours later I was wiping out baskets with a damp cold rag to put them away for next time.  Finally we were sweeping the floor so we left our site in better shape than we had found it.

It was over I had volunteered.   I had fulfilled my obligation that only I knew about.   I had made a difference.   Not like the life and death  kind of difference, but in how easy or hard the job would have been if I had not been there to help.     Like the floor at our site I was in better shape than I had been when I started.