August 31, 2020

Buck rub

buck rub on a downed tree
The neighborhood buck has come to visit, and he left a calling card - a buck rub. 

In the summer of 2019, one of the cherry trees out in the "west forty" toppled over for no apparent reason. It happens when you have a lot of trees. We don't really question the why of it, being accepting of nature's ways. It's slated for firewood, having had a season to dry. Allowing it to dry will make it easier to cut and split, and if it still has too much moisture in it, we'll burn it next year. There's no reason to get excited about it. Life on the manor unfolds at its own pace. 

This morning, when I stepped into my sunroom office, I noticed two things. First, the big poplar tree on the fringe of the yard dropped a lot of leaves overnight, and two, the buck rub. Buck rub happens as the bucks scrape their new antlers on whatever object strikes their fancy to rub off the velvet that has protected their antlers as they grew out over the summer. Yes, whitetail bucks grow a set of new antlers each year. If you're very lucky, you could be walking in the woods and find last year's set. You can even train your dog to scent them out.  

I've seen the young four-point buck in the woods, with his little harem of three doe and four fawns. I doubt the fawns of 2020 are his, but next year, those born will most assuredly be his. He must have that certain something since he already has the ladies lined up. 

I'm also very happy he chose a downed tree for a rub. There are visible gouges in the wood, deep enough to damage a living tree, or even kill one. That's what happened to an Ash tree twenty years ago, long before the borer beetle invaded. 

As destructive as deer can be, I'm glad to have them around. They are shy, graceful things when they're not eating everything in sight. Hunting them used to disturb me, but I know now that if there is no hunt, up to one-third of the animals in this area may starve to death over the winter. A quick death is preferable. 

But when hunting season begins, I step outside and talk to the local deer, advising them to stay on the manor and be safe. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

August 29, 2020

Morning glories

Yesterday, on my way to work, I drove past the local UM Church, generally referred to as the 'lower church' by the long-time residents of my community. That's 'lower' as in at the bottom of the mountain, not 'lower' as in a reflection of its community status. To my joy and amazement, I noticed the edge of the cornfield situated across the road from the church. It was laden with morning glory vines, glowing in varied shades of pink and purple in the sunlight. 

In all my years I've never before seen so many morning glories blooming in one place. I don't know what the farmer might think of it, but it was stunning. I turned the car around and went back to take a few pictures, none of which do justice to the beauty of the moment. 

Moments like that cannot be planned. They simply happen if a person is open to receiving them. Why did I choose to take that road to work yesterday? Whether I take the first or second turn to go to the highway doesn't matter. It's simply a matter of about half a mile on a country road vs. driving that half-mile on a two-lane highway. I have no set preference. Some days I take the first turn, other days the second. Being yesterday was a Friday, had I taken the first turn, I'd never have seen this as it will be Tuesday before I pass that way again and the blooms will be faded by then.

I wonder if that's a metaphor for life. Do we too often jump off on the first road, or opportunity, and miss what the next road has to offer us? We must make choices to move forward in our lives, and yet we often agonize if we're making the right one. And then a 'yesterday' happens to us. 

Among the many things I wanted to do yesterday was call my pension fund manager and get the numbers. How much is in my employee account, how much is in my employer account, and the three pay-out options for me. 

I'm not a big believer in signs. I think when we have a decision to make, our subconscious mind, if given time, works it out for us. What one may suddenly see as a sign, is actually a notice that we've thought about something long enough and it's time to act. Could I be mistaken in that? Certainly.

Was driving on that particular stretch of road to see that amazing vista of morning glories a sign? Was I being shown it's time to take the time to enjoy the simple country pleasures that mean so much to me? Did the universe use that long, long row of morning glories to tell me to be at peace and celebrate my decision? I'd like to think it did.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

August 22, 2020

Small process candied jalapenos

Cowboy Candy (candied jalapeno peppers)
Living in the year 2020 has meant I've needed to become determinedly focused on the items in my pantry and freezer. While I can't expand the space inside my freezer, I've been quite able to expand the space allotted to pantry items. 

We've been processing small batches of fresh produce. It's not enough to get us through to next year, but it is laying the groundwork for future seasons. Canning jars are more expensive than ever. A pressure canner now costs $100 and up, although I'm not sure I'm going that route. My great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother only ever water-bath canned and nobody died from food poisoning. If the contents of a jar looked bad, 
which it rarely did, the contents were dumped on the compost pile. And still, nobody died from the compost. 

Food canning isn't new. I confess I didn't pay enough attention to my grandmother when she was deep into the canning season. But maybe I picked up more information than I thought. The canning process isn't foreign to me. 

Here on the manor, we take the time to plan our next steps in managing our resources be it a cash outlay or spending our time. It will take time to build up a reserve of canning jars, but it will be worth it in the end. This weekend I was able to obtain a small number of jalapeno peppers which made two pints of Cowboy Candy (candied jalapenos). It may not sound like much, but it helped reacquaint me with the canning process. Planning ahead, I'll plant my own pepper patch next season and be able to make more than two pints.

While none of my foremothers probably ever touched a jalapeno (much less ate one), I like feeling a connection to something that was an important part of their summers. For my great-grandmother, canning meant having food available for a year. In her day, one didn't just zip off to the grocery store in a heated automobile in the middle of January. For my grandmother, canning preserved the bountiful harvests my grandfather provided. They made it through the Great Depression because of those harvests, and she was able to share with family and neighbors in need. In later years, she shared part of the harvest with my mother and me. 

My mother canned because she liked to have better fruit available. She was also a fan of jellies and jams and we had a lot of those on hand. In my mother's time, hopping into the car and going to town for groceries was easier than canning and preserving. Grocery shopping was her norm, and so it's been in my time up until The Year of Our Lord 2020. 

We've already started to be more aware of what is in the products we purchase to eat and taken steps to reduce food additives. This year has opened our eyes to how fragile our supply lines are. So now I make plans and take steps to preserve our life here on the manor, one jar at a time. May that life remain fruitful. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

August 18, 2020

Perpetual vanilla

Vanilla extract used to be affordable. "Used to be" being the operative phrase here. I could go to the grocery and purchase a little bottle for about a dollar. All of a sudden, it's $30 for about twelve ounces! 

It has become time to make my own.

When you make homemade vanilla, it's a perpetual product. By that I mean you purchase the beans once and you're done buying beans. It's not a joke.

Purchase ten vanilla beans. I paid $30 for ten beans so it is a one-time investment. Buy a 750ml bottle of vodka. With the vodka, you can get as expensive a bottle as you like, but I stayed to the less expensive brand, mostly because I had a bottle already opened, but still about full. Then drop in the vanilla beans and put the bottle in a cupboard for six months. At the end of the six months, you'll have vanilla extract. 

You don't have to use the alcohol bottle. You can put this in a Mason jar or any airtight container, but it should be glass. And airtight. Airtight is important. I chose to keep it in the booze bottle just because I did. No real reason. 

This is how the perpetual part comes into play. You'll need a smaller bottle to decant whatever amount you feel is appropriate for your usage. After you decant the portion for use, top off the vodka in the steeping bottle and set it back on the shelf for another six months or more. 

The vanilla beans will keep flavoring the alcohol for years and years. As I write this post, a famous chef has said her vanilla beans have been active for twenty-five years! 

I may not live another twenty-five years. I hope my young cousins will keep it going. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

August 15, 2020

Not all garden scraps are scraps

A few years ago I became a fan of Pinterest. Back in the day, before it was taken over by advertisers, it was a gold mine of a full range of ideas from cooking to crafts to gardening. It became my habit to browse in the wee hours of the morning, before dawn, with a cup of coffee at the ready. One of the gardening ideas I came across was regrowing celery.

The method is pretty easy. Buy a stalk of celery and use it, saving about three inches of the root. Then set the root in a small bowl of water, using toothpicks if necessary to keep the root upright. Every other day, change out the water to keep it fresh. I proceeded to do that and in about two weeks, I had roots forming. It was time to plant the root in dirt. 

I didn't do anything fancy. I got a flower pot that had potting soil in it, dug a hole about an inch deep, and plopped the root in and backfilled. Since the roots were used to growing in water, I made sure to keep the dirt moist. In a matter of days, ribs began to grow. 

So far, I've harvested a few ribs for use in cooking. I sampled for taste and found it to be a little stronger flavor than the original stalk, but that's okay. It simply means I'll use less in cooking. 

I now have two plants growing and it's time to move them out of the flower pots and into a grow bag for better tending. The plants themselves are very attractive, but I need to tie up the ribs so they grow better. 

Since the experiment with celery worked, I visited YouTube and have discovered there are a lot more "scraps" you can replant. Onions, spring onions, garlic, ginger, romaine lettuce, leeks, beets for the greens, carrots for the greens, cabbage, some herbs, and potatoes and sweet potatoes. I have several sprouted potatoes at the moment, so I'm going to plant them today. I don't expect to get a real harvest, just test the theory. 

All of this is prepping for my retirement years and is an enjoyable hobby now. The manor is my own piece of Eden. How much better it will be when I'm able to enjoy the dawn in my garden every day.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

August 8, 2020

Magic lilies

When I built my house, my grandmother gifted me with perennials from her garden. I worked hard to make border flower beds and even harder to maintain them. 

It was a lost cause. We have too many white-tail deer around here, and they all seem to know when the buds and blooms are at their best. Deer-proof plants? Don't kid yourself. Deer will eat everything except daffodils. I've lived it and I know. These days, I'm content with a garden limited to a few things next to the patio and in pots. Sweating to provide the deer with "salad greens" is not part of my plan.

One of the many bulbs my grandmother gave to me were magic lilies, sometimes called naked lilies. Or vice versa. It hardly matters to me which is right or wrong. To her, they were magic lilies and so they will always be to me, too. 

In the spring, the bulbs send up sturdy green leaves resembling the greens of a daffodil. Then the greens turn brown and yellow and die off. When that happens, it's best to cut them off. Don't pull them because they may still be firmly attached and you could uproot the bulb. 

Wait for it...

Around the first week of August, pale pinkish-green stalks appear. They may be three or four inches tall one day, and twenty inches tall the next. It happens that fast. Then they open lovely, lacy, delicate pink blooms that last perhaps a week if you're lucky and the deer don't mangle them. After about a week, the stalks fall over. 

I let the stalks lie where they fall because the next year or two, there will likely be a new magic lily where the seed pod developed. It's a haphazard way of getting more bulbs, but it works for me. 

Here on the manor, we know we can't always improve on the ways of Mother Nature. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

August 2, 2020

An encouraging harvest

Working full time is a fact of life most of us deal with on a daily basis. We're no different here on the manor. I got my first job at age sixteen, and my partner even earlier. His parents rented a farmhouse and, being industrious even at the age of ten, he began doing odd jobs for the farmer. Between us, we have a lot of varied experiences. 

As I edge closer to retirement, my focus is more and more about what do to fill the hours I used to work. Container gardening will be something we do more of each year. We enjoy fresh produce and growing some of our own will be a worthwhile hobby. Preserving some of it will enable us to eat cleaner. 

This year we tried out a set of 5-gallon grow bags made of a heavy fabric that allows the bags to drain well - almost too well. Keeping the dirt moist enough was an issue during the hottest stretch of the summer. But all-in-all, the bags worked well. We're overrun with cucumbers, and the cherry tomatoes are producing at a good pace for fresh eating. The bell peppers were doing great until a young doe got brave and munched the top out of the plants. She didn't get down to the peppers, but she ate off the flowers so those plants are probably done. 

My task for this coming winter is to select a canner for next year and purchase canning jars. Why can instead of freeze? Freezers are dependent on electricity, for one thing. The other is that I feel the freezer is better utilized for meat, baked goods, and prepared meals. 

Growing up in the country, and watching my mother and grandmother preserve the bounty from the garden, has taught and prepared me to do this. I don't see it as work, but a connection to those who went before me. I've worked all my life with this as a goal - to one day, very soon now, to truly become the lady of the manor. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

August 1, 2020

Homemade bagels

Not so very long ago we made the decision to cut down on the amount of added chemicals and preservatives we consume. We're not turning fanatic, but we're taking steps. One of those steps is baking our own breads. We love bagels so we found a good recipe and gave it a try. The end result was, in a word, wonderful! 

We chose a very simple recipe: 
3.5 cups flour
1 packet instant dry yeast
1.5 tablespoons sugar
1.5 teaspoons salt
1-1/3 cup warm water

We have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer that, when purchased, was a game-changer to the way we cook. We combined the dry ingredients in the mixer bowl with the dough hook installed, and slowly added the water until the dough ball formed. After that, let the dough rise for an hour, and then formed the bagels. Once the bagels were formed, the tricky part came in to play. 

The bagels needed to be boiled, two minutes per side, and then placed on the baking sheet. The boiling is where the rough texture happens. Once on the baking sheet, give them a little eggwash and bake at 425F for 20 minutes. 

We consider our first attempt at bagels a success. They toasted nicely, smelled fresh and yeasty, and tasted better than store-bought. Six went in the freezer for upcoming weekend fare. 

It's not that we think baking bread together will solve all the problems with chemicals in our food, but it's one small thing we can do here on the manor. If we were twenty years younger, we'd have a large garden but we've settled for container gardening. We can't eliminate one-hundred percent of additives and chemicals from our diet but we'll do it when and where we can. It's one of life's trade-offs, and we accept that. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor