Thursday, September 29, 2011

Woolies and their Woes (part two: New Friends)

Sorry to have left things on a sad note, there.

We picked up Brighid's new friends a week ago and I admit the first few days were interesting. Poor Brighid had no interest in holding her own against her new evil aunties, Blair and Nance. After closing them in "the Chokie" or "the Squeeze" for twelve hours they were slightly nicer to each other. The Chokie is where you squish sheep into standing-room space (I used pallets to do this) so that they are forced to touch each other for hours on end without food. Once they are released, they smell alike and they are so hellbent on getting to the food that they theoretically stop attacking one another.

It worked to some degree, but Blair was still picking on Brighid so I separated her and I let Brighid and Nance get to know each other a little better.

Now they're more or less alright with each other. This morning they weren't letting Brighid hang out in the stall, but she didn't seem to mind much. They're really just bullies but my guess is once the leased ram shows up this winter they won't be thinking about each other much.

Still, what's important is that when it comes to feeding times everybody is willing to set aside their differences and dig in together!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Woolies and their Woes (part one: A Farewell)

I'm not sure how many readers follow my social networking accounts as well, but I'm sure some of you have heard that poor Gertrude didn't make it this past week.

Gertrude, her first week with us.
On Wednesday of last week I got up extra early to check on Gert. When I found her she was lying down, panting and grinding her teeth as if in pain. I knew it was time. The sparkle was gone from her eye and she looked at me with a very sad and calm expression that I hoped I would never see on such a spunky creature. I knelt beside her and scratched her cheek, and while she took some comfort from it, it was obviously through the kind of thick haze of lethargy that clouds someone on death's door. I tried to get her to stand, to nibble some alfalfa, to sniff a dandelion (which had been the only thing she would eat with appetite the day before)... she was only interested in letting the inevitable run it's course. I tried giving her a final dose of Banamine to ease whatever pain she was in and quickly found that she didn't even have the strength to swallow. The paste sat on her tongue where I knew it would do at least a little bit of good as it absorbed through her mouth.

As I walked to the house I dialed the vet and scheduled him to come out to the farm to help her on her way. Gertrude was definitely a pet sheep and as such she deserved to go quickly and quietly with the aid of the "big pink syringe".

I trudged up the stairs to our bedroom and flopped down beside Jeremy, who was still dozing, and told him that she wasn't going to make it. It was a sad realization, but it wasn't surprising to me. This poor ewe had been battling illness for more than eight weeks. I rolled over on the bed and propped myself up on my elbows so I could see her from the window.

After a minute I saw her shudder and her back legs spasm and I sprang from the bed. I don't even remember traveling from the house to the field. I can't even tell you if I used the gate or hopped the fence. Before I knew what was happening, I was kneeling beside her again, just as she gave a deep sigh and was gone. It was hard to watch the residual electrical impulses from her brain wrack her body after that. I knew she was gone. Her heart had stopped, as had her breathing, and her pupils had relaxed, but each time she twitched there was this unreasonable hope in my heart that she had decided to continue her fight. As her body finally settled I realized that more than anything, I was left intensely inspired by her determination to keep going as long as she did. Eight grueling weeks spent battling mysterious illness and bizarre symptoms, fighting what we're nearly sure was a genetic predisposition to white muscle disease as the damage to her heart and diaphragm slowly weakened her - She could be a poster child for the Icelandic sheep: Strong, Independent, Persistent and ultimately Stubborn.

 We left her body in the field to try to keep Brighid as calm as possible while we made preparations to pick up a new companion for her. It's funny how, despite being incredibly sad, one's brain can make the smooth transition from one crisis to another. Brighid was going to realize sooner or later that she was alone and it wasn't going to be pretty. She spent the early afternoon snuggled up with some chickens near Gertrude's body. It was such a sad thing to see. Poor Brighid had already lost her mother earlier this year to grass tetany, and now she had lost her best friend.

Finally we removed Gertrude's body and buried her beside Ingrid's at a friend's house down the road. Of course the spot we picked to dig was clay and rocks which we had to chuckle about; nothing with Gertrude was ever easy.

We put away the poultry for the night and got in the station wagon, bound for Olivet to pick up a new companion (or two) for Brighid...

Friday, September 23, 2011

NDiN: Collecting Simple Pleasures

Do you collect anything? My husband and I collect a lot of antiques and one of my favorite things to collect are antique spoons. You can find me blogging over at Not Dabbling in Normal today.

View my post about my antique spoon collection Here.

Monday, September 19, 2011


My dear sweet Gertrude appears to be in a slow and bumping downward spiral. I think that I have finally figured out what it is that has been causing all of her symptoms. It was staring me in the face the whole time.

White Muscle Disease.

The white muscle disease can affect any skeletal or cardiac muscles, and in severe cases can cause damage in the heart and diaphragm. The symptoms of these complications?
  • Persistent Fever
  • Edema (presenting at first like bottlejaw)
  • Irregular and raised respiratory and heart rates
  • "Grunty" sound in the throat when breathing/eating (likely due to edema)
    (This also showed up in Gert as "mumblebaas" as my brother put it. Mumbled bleating)
  • Frothy white or clear nasal discharge
  • Stiffness of gait
Of course all of these can be caused by any number of bacterial or viral infections, but after three courses of antibiotics and administering two weeks of anti-inflammatories (despite the recommended max being five days), there has been little change in Gertrude's overall condition. It was with the help of a couple vets as well as Gertrude's breeder and another sheepy friend of hers that I was able to come to the conclusion. It's a difficult conclusion to face, too, because if it is her heart there is little chance at recovery. My vet has said that it is possible the WMD affected her diaphragm more than her heart and that if this is the case she will likely strengthen over time, though never completely recovering.

We do have a day here and there where she appears to be 100%. Her edema will clear up, she'll head out to the back pasture to graze and glean windfall apples, and her bleat will sound normal. This doesn't seem to last for more than a day or two. Three at most. And then she deteriorates again... swollen face, not bothering to go out for grass, etc. She has been eating, which is what has kept my hope up, but yesterday there was a change.

I had run out of their previous grain and was switching them to a new bag - the same stuff they'd been eating, but a different batch. When I poured their grain into their feed pans, the two sheep came running - Gertrude even managed a lumbering gait, herself. They stuck their snuffley faces into the pan and immediately Gertrude pulled her face back out. She is just disinterested. It's almost like she was expecting something else and was disappointed. Brighid was confused by Gert's lack of enthusiasm and munched less enthusiastically (I think she likes the tussle for grain).

This morning, even stranger, she was that way for her hay, too. If I throw her some new hay she gets super excited, lumbers over and shoves her face into the green leaves. Within a few seconds though she pulls her head back out and appears to lose interest. I had thought that maybe she had lost interest because she had been stung by a bee while foraging for apples, but it seems like after almost 24 hours she should be comfortable enough to eat again.

I'm kind of stumped for now. As in many cases with failing livestock, it's become a waiting game. I have been out in the barn every few hours to cheer her on as she eats a bit. If I hand feed her the grain or the hay she seems to have renewed interest. She'll munch from my hand for a minute or two and then trundle over to the hay bin and eat there for a minute or two on her own before lying down again. All I can hope is that when I leave the barn each time she continues to eat on and off, and it's not just with my encouragement that she takes food. Through all of this, she has always had appetite. This change makes me think we may be nearing the end...

If she gets much worse, I will have the vet out to help her along on her way. My hesitation is not only that she still has a glint of determination in her eye, but that she is the only companion for my other sheep, Brighid. Brighid lost her mother earlier this year - I don't know how she would take losing her only other companion. I do intend to get at least one other sheep, but I was hoping to wait until November to do that.

So yes. Waiting to see whether the downward spiral continues, or whether Gertrude can get herself turned around... I'll keep you all posted.

Monday, September 12, 2011

This Morning's Chores

I thought I'd share my morning with you so far. I tried to sleep in a bit, and managed to stay in bed until 7:15, which is a pretty big feat for someone usually up by 6.

Unfortunately, the addition of our second duck coop, right beneath our bedroom window beside the first coop, makes it pretty difficult to sleep in. The young ducks are used to sleeping all in one coop, and they're a little nervous about not being able to see each other at all times. I like to imagine the ducks in one coop whispering "I can't seeeee you!" and then the ducks in the other whisper back "I can't seeeeee you eeeeeither!" and of course then the first coop says it a little louder "Quack quack quaaaaaack quack!" and the next, and so on and so on until they break into full alert, panicking because they can't see each other. Inevitably one of the mama ducks will put an end to the ruckus with a very loud lady-duck call in her loud trumpeting voice and it becomes quiet for a few minutes... until... "I can't seeeeee you!"

Now, while this is going on, the sheep like to start chiming in. When the ducks get to their full volume, the sheep will run to the fence closest to the duck coops and Baaaa towards our bedroom window. They know that the ducks make a lot of noise when I come out to feed in the morning, so they want to express their need to be fed as well...

So the first thing I did this morning was let the ducks out of their coops (directly below the window of my sleeping husband - I'm sure he appreciates it.) They get a bit of organic, locally grown grain each morning more-so to shut them up than because they need it. This time of year they spend almost the entire rest of their day out in the orchard cleaning up windfall apples and eating various buzzing insects.

After the ducks, I let the chickens out of their coop. I have two coops for them, the large coop and the nursery coop. For now the Ameraucanas are the only ones laying, and they live in the large coop with the accidental Cochins. What's left of the Buckeyes and Welsummers (after the mink invasion) stay in the smaller nursery coop. I let everybody out together and normally if the big rooster seems like he's going to be quiet he gets to stay out. If he's trumpeting and being aggressive with the girls he gets to be out for a few minutes and then I chase him back into the large coop where he spends his morning attempting to crow through the barn window. Once the afternoon hits, he's a little less feisty and he can come out and be with the other chickens. Mind you, this rooster's name is Dinner. He's particularly rough with the too-young hens, so we're not on the best of terms these days. This morning he immediately jumped on three different hens and then paraded around screaming his head off so I chased him back into the barn. ... Boys..

I fed the chickens who also get a bit of organic, locally grown grain (I love our local grain mill!) and tossed the sheep some grain as well. I really don't like the idea of graining livestock, but I do like the idea of happy (quiet) animals in the morning, so everybody gets just enough to make them complacent. Ha.

There is always a little bit of a scramble between the sheep and some of the Ameraucanas because apparently fighting off animals 10 times their weight is more fun than crowding the chicken feeders. What weirdos. The sheep like to head-butt the chickens across the barn, too, so it's not like it's an easy breakfast!

After I fed the sheep some alfalfa and mixed grass hay I figured it was time to collect eggs. I'm getting 4-5 eggs a day now, and I hadn't pulled them in three days so I picked up fourteen eggs this morning! They're beautiful shades of olive green and pale blue, and they're organic which is obviously a bonus. Gosh, I keep thinking I could do some sort of fantastic sculpture or installation with these beautiful, natural colors. They're such calming and gentle colors. I could stare at them for hours.

The Buckeyes, Cochins and Welsummers will all have varying shades of brown eggs. Supposedly the Buckys will lay a chocolate brown egg, but that's one of those make-or-break breeding characteristics that doesn't always get passed along. My guess is that only one of my Buckeyes is a hen anyway, since the other two are getting green tail feathers. Ah well. They're supposed to be tasty little boogers anyway, so it's not a waste to raise them, I just wish the mink had taken out the young roosters rather than some of the hens.

After counting my eggs I came outside to check water levels and found two of the Ameraucanas having a discussion on the fence. They like to sit on the fence because that's the first place the sun lands in the morning. This is "Dracula" on the left and "Caliophelia"on the right. Dracula is the most spastic of all of our chickens. She (yes she - Jeremy named her) acts completely normal when you approach her, but as soon as you lift her off the ground she screams like she is being eaten alive. Ah well. She also has the creepiest face of all of the chickens. She looks like she's constantly glaring and plotting against you. Hence the fact that she got the name Dracula.

The last thing that I did this morning before I came inside to feed the dogs and cat was take a quick glance around the garden. I've been reeeeally slacking in the garden this past month. The mosquitoes are worse than I have ever seen them and I've been so busy with other things that I've let the weeds go completely mad. I don't really mind having a weedy garden though. By this time of year pretty much everything is established and the weeds don't stand much of a chance anywhere but in the walkways between beds.

Anyway, while walking back up to the house I happened to glance down at my Mara des Bois strawberry patch. They're covered in blossoms and half-ripe berries! I've been missing these little guys because I took the fence down earlier this year, after the first crop, to use elsewhere. Because there is no fence around them, the ducks have been helping themselves! As of today, however, the fencing goes back up and the ducks can just deal. Strawberry shortcake in October will be a fantastic treat. I just have to remember to mulch and put row covers before the nights get cold!

So my final task for this morning is to work my way through the thirteen pounds of peaches, six pounds of nectarines, four pounds of (California) figs, five pounds of plums and five pounds of blueberries currently hiding in my refrigerator. This doesn't even begin to encompass the massive amounts of ripening pears and apples outside my front door! I need to get this stuff prepped and frozen asap so that I can continue to experiment with local fruit based pastries this fall and winter!

I know what I'll be doing the rest of this busy late summer day, do you?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Balaton Cherry Chocolate Hand Pies

It's been a while since I've posted a recipe here or over at NDiN, not because I haven't been baking, but because I haven't been blogging nearly as often. I even try to keep the recipe posts to a minimum because I know you're here for a whole slew of topics, not just how to satisfy your latest sweet tooth, but as I've mentioned before, my sweet tooth is such that I can't help but post sweet recipes.

Wednesday of this week was my birthday so I had originally planned to have a small group of friends over last night. Despite all of my efforts, however,the nights 's festivities have ended up put off by everything from migraines to thunderstorms to pizza dough malfunctions. I ended up throwing in the towel, telling everyone I'd reschedule, and having a quiet evening with my husband, my brother and his partner. The only thing I did manage to pull off was the dessert, and so at the end of the night I was left with more than a dozen hand pies and some wonderful imported beers and ales gifted to me by my brother's partner. Yum. I chomped into a mini pie and immediately knew I had to share the recipe. It was much better than I had anticipated, and considerably easier than I had foreseen, too (especially after dealing with a finicky dough that was too-warm, too-sticky, too-crumbly in various stages. *grumble grumble*)

I'm not all that happy with the dough I used with these, so I'm not going to include that portion of the recipe. You can use whichever pie dough you like, as long as you're careful as you fold them over and stretch them. Some people add a bit of sour cream to their dough to increase the elasticity a bit. I just bought a new dough cutter and I'm very unhappy with it. It bends when I try to cut cold butter, which is maddening.

Anyway, part of the success of this recipe is in no doubt due to the variety of cherries I used. While at the farmer's market this week I talked to "the berry man" about the beautiful deep red cherries he had displayed on his table. Isn't it kind of late for such nice cherries? No, these are Balaton cherries.
Balaton cherries are apparently a fairly recent introduction in the states from Michigan State. They originated in Hungary and are technically a tart cherry, being prized for their deep red juice. They are supposedly the highest ranking tart cherry on the brix scale (the scale used to determine a food's sugar content using a saccharometer <-I like that word.) Because they are still technically a tart cherry, rather than a sweet cherry, they are juicier and better for cooking, and they develop an almost wine-like taste when cooked. I was a bit skeptical, but the berry man was so excited to tell me about them that I couldn't help but try one fresh.

Oh Yes.

They were delicious. I promptly bought every cherry he had left and left the market with a grin on my face.

I didn't know what I'd be making with these cherries, but I did know I wanted to work on some hand pies. I have it in the back of my head that I'd like to open my own pastry and confections business next year, selling at markets and festivals (can we say sweet tooth?) so I like to experiment when I can. My husband, Jeremy, suggested I try a chocolate cherry pie. It sounded mediocre to me, as I've never really been one for anything but pure fruit pies, but I figured I'd give it a whorl.

The results were fantastic. Subtle, melty chocolate with deep balaton cherry goodness, oozing out of an only-slightly-better-than-mediocre crust. Okay, apart from the crust, this was heaven. I'd like to apologize to our more health-sensitive readers. I've tried to cut down the sugar in my diet, and I've actually succeeded to... sort of. I've cut out all artificial sugars, and I only bake with cane sugar and honey. I guess more than anything I'm just more selective about the sugars that I ingest, rather than cutting them out of my diet. Anyway, I really like sweets. Sorry, folks.

And so, I share with you:

Chocolate Cherry Hand Pie Filling

Approximately 1lb pitted Balaton cherries (or other high-sugar tart cherry, like Montmorency) You may want to chop your cherries. I didn't, and it's still delicious, but it would be juicier if I had chopped them first.
1/3 cup crumbled chocolate - I used half dark and half milk and pulsed them in the food processor until finely chopped
1/2 cup cane sugar
1-3 tablespoons flour, if desired

Egg whites and Demerara sugar to top the pies

Combine the ingredients in a large bowl and set aside to macerate for approximately 20-60 minutes
In the mean time, prepare your dough. Don't forget to let it chill before making your pies. The cooler you can keep your dough, the flakier it will be. When your dough is ready, roll it out until 1/8th inch. Using a bowl, or cutting freehand, cut your dough into the desired shapes. Circles beget half circles, triangles beget triangles, squares beget rectangles, etc.

Dribble a bit of the chocolate cherry mix in the center of your dough-shape and fold the dough over, stretching carefully. This takes a bit of practice, especially to keep the dough from tearing. Using a bit of water, wet the edges of the dough and press them together. You can use a fork or a finger or something else to create a decorative edge on your hand pies at this point. I used a fancy dough press that my parents gave me for my birthday. It worked surprisingly well!

To finish off the pies, brush their tops and edges with egg whites and sprinkle Demerara sugar over them (the big, natural sugar crystals) to your taste. Bake your pies according to the directions of your pie crust. I think mine baked a little bit faster than predicted, so watch them carefully. Super dark crust isn't always bad tasting, but burned chocolate just isn't pleasant, especially not in a cherry pie.

Serve warm, with home made ice cream (or whatever you can come up with), and enjoy!

Are you enjoying the last few weeks of berry season by baking or cooking?

Sorry for the double post over at Not Dabbling! I really wanted to share this recipe both places!

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Deep Breath, Before...

Alright, folks. Brace yourselves... this one is long-winded.

Have you ever wanted to make a change in your life? Okay, obviously you have. The thing is, even little changes have a tendency to be daunting. Something as simple as switching the kind of shoes you wear when you go out can be unbalancing. Big changes can seem outright impossible, and so very often we sit back and think about them rather than actually making them happen. Sometimes this is a bad thing, but sometimes there is some good in it as well. Call it planning, rather than procrastination.

I have been a horse trainer and horseback riding instructor for nine years now. It's a consuming job that you really have to throw your back (and pocketbook) into in order to really do things correctly. I am the happy owner of eight beautiful school horses, and I have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, the lifestyle immensely. I won't give it up, probably not ever, but at the same time it's a very emotionally intense job. Teaching anything, when done correctly, takes a lot out of the teacher. I pour my very heart and soul into ensuring that my students are progressing, helping them find balance and confidence with their horses. When the economy crashed several years ago, I found myself struggling but still positive.

Of course part of any self employment is finding ways to ensure growth. In the current Michigan economy, and with many students' parents working in the car industry, the last few years have been a struggle to find new students. Obviously it's important to have new students/clients in order to continue to grow my business. Horseback riding, like a lot of other leisure activities, saw less of a decline than some things though. People don't always need high-end material items and so retail really did suffer a blow, but people do need their respite from the stresses in life. I found that a lot of my students have been able to continue through much of this depression (yup, I said it) simply because it is what they do to escape. I was lucky to be able to keep my head above water like I did.

This past year, however, has been a deadpan staring contest with a stone plateau. Each time I find new students, a few more head off to other things: college, other riding disciplines, boys... It's difficult to watch, but obviously I'm happy to have taught them in the first place. I've always just kept my chin up and forged ahead...

Lately though, I've had a sort of... itch; I feel as if I'm at a turning point. The past few weeks have been an interesting internal struggle for me. This itch is to do something new. I've felt it before, and usually I can satiate it by picking up a new hobby or a new book, but this particular itch refuses to be scratched. It reminds me of the way I felt just before starting college. Change.

At this particular junction, I can either give the horse industry another big ol' heave-ho and risk straining my back (and my bank account) or I can back down just a little bit and give myself time to rest. I am not leaving the horse industry. I am not giving up students or even really changing my business model (apart from selling a couple of horses). I still intend to forge ahead, throwing every bit of myself into my students' education... I am simply changing the way I think about the future.

Horses have been my career for a long while now, especially when you consider I've been doing this for 1/3 of my life. Even before I taught I was running my own horse photography business through much of high school and into college. It occurred to me recently that this is obviously my career, but that doesn't mean it's the only career I can have. I'm fairly sure that, just as easily as I stepped out of the retail world, I can easily step into the world of having multiple careers. I'm pretty sure that's what I need, too: something else to balance me out. Something creative, but perhaps in a different way.

What else do I want to do with myself? I've been thinking a lot about it, and I just can't decide. I could see myself studying patisserie, or maybe simply baking. I would love to do something in food, though I like to make my own rules so I'm not sure how that would work out. I could see myself doing something adorably silly like selling birdhouses and kitschy wildlife watercolor paintings at the weekly artisan market... This could be as simple as opening an etsy shop, even. I just need something else. Something to provide a bit of extra sand beneath my feet as I ponder the ocean of possibilities in my future.

So this is where I've come to lay out my thoughts in type and to sort through some things in a more concrete way. It's frightening to think about starting another career. I have lots of interests, but how does one make something their career without first putting hours of time and work into it? And how does one even know they want it to be their career before those hours are spent?

This is the pause before the break in silence, the plugging of my nose before cannonballing off the diving board. Before I dive into another career I should probably make sure I know how to swim.

Do they make little career arm-floaties?

Have you ever thrown yourself out there to begin a new career? 

Alternatively, has anyone ever worked in pastries before and do you have words of wisdom for someone seriously considering trying to get into patisserie? Schooling? Apprenticing?