Monday, August 30, 2010

Truly urban wildlife

Here's a weird backstory that is very loosely related to the topic at the end of the post:

Growing up, I had an intense dislike of cats, one that wasn't helped by my mom deciding to decorate my room in a cat theme. Anyway, when I was about 5 or 6 I had a dream I was staying at my Aunt D's house overnight. In the dream,  I came down the stairs to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and her cats were sitting there waiting for me. Before I could sprint across the foyer and into the bathroom, they mauled me. Curled up with my hands over my face, they would scratch and claw and bite my ears until I would wake up. That was probably my most common recurring nightmare growing up, one I had into my twenties. Since then, I have always given cats a wide berth. I am still not a cat person, but I am getting better. OK, that's it for the unrelated backstory. Don't you feel like you really know me now?

We have a cat at the ranch named Feather. Like most good cats she refrains from catching mice, squirrels, rabbits, gophers and other "nuisance" or "pest" species and focuses her attention on songbirds, frogs and lizards. Cats versus wildlife is a common theme at wildlife rehab centers where cat related injuries are the number one source of injury by a wide margin, accounting for 40% of cases. OK enough with the cat slander I promise, if it makes you feel better, I'm not a dog person either and I have seen Zoe eat her fair share of baby birds, bunnies and other wildlife. But back to my very round about story (we are getting there I promise):

Feather caught a snake. Unlike birds or lizards where she eats all the bird but leaves the feet and feathers or lizards where she eats the top part and leaves the back legs and tail, with snakes she tends to just scare and maim them and leave them on the basement rug. She brought in a snake the other day and while we couldn't see any injuries and he seemed OK, he was very cold and didn't move much. So we brought Mr. Snake up to the house and set him on top of Nathan's monitor to warm up. He got a clean bill of health and was released back outside.


A week or two later, Feather caught another snake, possibly the same Mr. Snake. We put him in a box on top of my monitor which is sans rocks and antlers to crawl around on. Then we made dinner, tidied the kitchen, closed up the house, went to bed and forgot about Mr. Snake. The next day, (surprise) there was no snake in the box. We searched as best we could, even thought about letting Feather inside to help, but in the end Mr. Snake was gone. I like to think he's taken up an urban lifestyle and is snuggled up on top of my hard drive or ipod (I looked, he isn't) as it hums away. So if you see a garter snake slithering through the green shag carpet, will you let him know I am looking for him? I know there are no cats in here but outside is far more suitable habitat.

Ranch recipes: Grass finished beef three bean chili


I love making chili. It smells good, is warm and hearty and I can make a huge batch and freeze some for the days where I don't feel like cooking or lack the foresight to remember to soak the beans. So when our sizzling summer heat peaked at a stifling 62 degrees the other day, I decided chili was in order.

As with most of my cooking, I made the chili with what I had on hand with a pinch of this and a dash of that. I've recreated a quick, scaled down week day recipe below but be sure to season to taste.

Grass finished beef three bean chili

1 large onion, diced
1T olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2T chili powder
1T cumin
1T oregano
1/4tsp cayenne (you can add more later if you like it hot)
splash of worchestershire
1lb grass finished beef
1 little can tomato paste
2 cans diced tomatoes with chilies
1 can black beans, drained
1 can pinto beans, drained
1 can black beans, drained
1 cup water
season to taste with salt & pepper

In a large pot, saute onion, garlic and spices in olive oil. Add ground beef and cook over medium low heat until cooked through. Add in beans, tomatoes and water. If needed, add enough water to barely cover chili. Turn up heat to medium until mixture starts to bubble. Turn down heat to low and cover pot. Cook 15-20 minutes before seasoning to taste. Top with sour cream, green onion or cheese and enjoy plain or with cornbread and a salad. Be sure to save some for leftovers, it is better the next day.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Save the date

Lots of people have come and gone from the ranch over the last hundred years or so and for a lot of different reasons. To this day I still encounter people fondly reminiscing of the times they spent at the ranch. If I meet someone of baby boomer age and they haven't been out to the ranch in a long time, I can make a pretty good guess that the last time they visited was about 30 some years ago - the infamous eclipse party. Though I was born post-eclipse, even I wish I could have been there; it sounds like one heck of a party.

Lucky for me, after 37 years, another total solar eclipse will be visible from the lower 48 States and the path tracks right across Central Oregon (no Portland or Eugene but Salem will see it). So you heard it here first folks, mark your calendars for the next eclipse party at the ranch, just seven years from today:

Monday, August 21, 2017 10:19AM

I'll see you there with my pinhole camera!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Harvest season


Ahh August. Hot and dusty. Must be harvest season. We've been busily harvesting our small grain crops the last few weeks. In a nutshell how harvest works is we wait for the crop to set their seed and dry down (hence the "amber waves of grain"). Once the crop is dry enough Lloyd drives the combine through the field to harvest the wheat or barley.

The front part of the combine - called the "header" - grabs the grain and cuts the seed heads off and funnels them to an augur. Next they go to the "cylinder" which separates the individual seeds from the seed head or cob. The grain then goes to the part of the combine known as the "shoe" where the grain shakes across screens of assorted sizes. Light weight sticks, dust and chaff blow out that back while the heavy clean seed falls to the bottom. Then it heads to the clean grain bin for storage. Once the bin is full, the grain is augured out of the combine (via the arm on the right) and into a truck and combine operator Lloyd goes back to harvesting.


The truck driver then takes the vehicle over to the bins, tilts the bed up, opens a small door on the back and pours the grain into a triangular hopper where the augur sits. The grain moves up the augur and inside the storage bins where it waits for us to call a driver to take the wheat to The Dalles, Biggs or another grain elevator. Much of the Northwest's soft white wheat is shipped over to Asia for making noodles. The barley harvest this year we will sell as clean seed to seed outlets and other farmers. This tall forage barley is commonly used in pasture mixes in California for forage or cutting for hay.


You can tell that Lloyd has been harvesting for many years; very few seed heads escape the combine. I leave wider strips mowing the lawn let alone a 60 acre field.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What's in a name


This is one of my spring Americauna/Easter Egger hens. Even if she conforms to no breed standards, she is still a striking bird with the splashes of black across her white feathers and olive green legs. She is super friendly too. So what does a dazzler like her have for a name?


"Gross Sandwiches"

OK, let me explain that one a bit. When we got her as a chick, she looked like this:


When I opened the box when we got home from the post office, I picked her up and said, "This one looks like the guy that drives the car and eats the gross sandwiches!"

We had just spent the weekend with our friends Adam and Kristen and watched some old Food Network shows and this poor chick reminded me of this guy and well, the unfortunate name stuck. Isn't word association a funny thing?

Where there's smoke

We had some thunderstorms roll through the area last night that knocked out the power. We shut off irrigation so it doesn't drain down all the water in the line as well as turned off any sprinklers we had running. Since our house water is stored in a large cistern and gravity feeds the house, no sense in draining it down when you never know when the power will come back on.

Thunderstorms can also mean fire so when we smelled a hint of smoke, we headed up on the hill with binoculars to check out the horizon. No new fires, probably just smoke from a fire out of Clarno. However, we did see the most amazing sunset! Of course I did not have my camera but it was unbelievable; huge black sky with a strip of hot, hot pink on the horizon (the pinkest pink you can imagine), rays of color streaming across the underbellies of the black clouds, a pillar of colored light illuminating the 'bear' climbing up Mt Hood. We watched until the color faded from the sky and we bumped down the road back to our dark home.

Later that evening, I finish talking on the phone (thank goodness for corded phones when the power is out) and come around the corner to see Nathan cleaning a Colt Officer's Model .38 revolver by hurricane lamp. I chuckled a bit and we both decided it was a good task for such a night.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Manmade habitat


In the swimming pool yard there are two large open top, cement cisterns. Previously they were used for, you guessed it swimming pools, but in generations past they watered stock mostly horses. After Lloyd's girls were born the pools were fenced off and today they are their own little wildlife sanctuaries full of cattails, dive bombing red wing blackbirds and other pond critters.


This year there was an exceptionally good hatch of thumbnail-sized Pacific tree frogs.


How many do you count in the photo below?


Monday, August 16, 2010

Ranch recipes: grass finished beef kafta

At the Meat CSA delivery the other day, a few of our members suggested that recipes would be helpful as they ponder what to do with their shares.

I have to admit, I am not much of a recipe person. Much to Nathan's chagrin, I view recipes more as a suggestion than a requirement. In a sense, I have to do so out here. Going to the store to pick something up real quick or going out to eat is never an option as we live way to far out for such a thing to be practical. So, I rely on flexibility and creative use of what I have on hand.

This week, I happen to have loads of parsley that did not go over well as an extra farm product at the CSA drop. So I made a lazy version of kafta, a Lebanese spiced meatball.

Kafta ingredients (clockwise from top): parsley, garlic, onion, ground beef, cayenne, salt, allspice berries and peppercorns

Since we have already established that I am not a recipe person, everything should be seasoned 'to taste'. Here goes:

1 lb ground grass finished beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1/4 t salt
1/2 t ground pepper
3/4 t ground allspice
1/4 t cayenne
olive oil for cooking

Kafta (from the Persian "kuftan" meaning to grind or meatball) is traditionally made into meatballs or cooked on skewers but since we've already established that this is a lazy version, we are going to skip that part.

Step 1: Prep ingredients. Thaw beef, chop onion, press garlic, chop parsley, grind spices if needed (all I had was whole allspice and peppercorns so I had to use the mortar and pestle but grinding your own spices is not necessary).

Step 2: Put a non-stick skillet on low heat and add just enough olive oil to coat. Add beef, onion and garlic and cook uncovered on low for 10 minutes (remember this is grass finished beef, so cook it "low and slow" folks. The fat melts at a lower temperature than conventional beef so if you turn the heat up to medium or high, all of the fat that should insulate and protect the meat during the cooking process is gone. With ground beef it is still palatable but try medium-high heat on steaks and it's shoe leather for dinner tonight!) Add chopped parsley and spices and continue to cook another 10-15 minutes or until ground beef is cooked through. Season to taste.

The seasoned meat would be delicious served with garlic sauce, tabbouleh, fattoush, hummus and flat bread for a more traditional meal. But really this is a great way to prepare ground beef for wraps, burgers or meatloaf. Or if you hear heavy boots on the stairs and know a hungry husband is headed your way, you could just slap it on a homemade hamburger bun with a little ketchup and call it good. No time for fancy meals in these parts.



Sunday, August 15, 2010

Loss of a friend

I won't lie; somedays keeping livestock sucks. You get so used to seeing these animals as part of your everyday experience that when you lose one, even though they aren't pets, it still hurts. Sometimes people think that because we raise animals for meat that we don't care about them but I consider myself a much bigger animal lover nowadays than I ever did before I moved to the ranch or during my vegetarian years. It takes a special kind of love, care and appreciation to have animals come in and out of your life and sometimes, no matter how hard you try to keep a distance, you still get attached.

I lost my friend Lucille the other day. She was my favorite chicken, an ornery old barred rock hen. She would follow you everywhere, frequently attend our impromptu management meetings in the barnyard and of course gobble up Zoe's dog food.


There are gaggles of chickens running around here. Some are friendly, some are not, some have names, most don't. Lucille was the first chicken we ever gave a name, bestowed to her by our friend Kristen. I always loved the name. It was the middle name of my Great Nana, Wanda Lucille. She passed this summer too at age 95. Whenever I would have a tasty treat to offer my chicken friend and called out "Lu-ciiiii-lle", it reminded my of my sweet nana - even more so after she passed.

It seems a bit silly to be misty about a chicken but I'm not like this with each one. I picked up a dead hen from the chicken house the morning and while I was sorry to see her go, I knew the poor dear was old and that was part of life. But that doesn't mean that I don't miss Lucillle.

Who will run-waddle over to the basement door and beg for some cat crunchies? I would usually oblige but only if she didn't eat them off the ground. I would tell her, "Now you have to eat them out of the dish. We are civilized around here after all."

Who will I see all fluffed up and taking an afternoon nap curled up next to the dog and cat on the welcome mat by the front door?

Who will sit next to me as I prep the garden beds in the spring? I would clear the quack grass, she would clear the worms. Maybe she would scratch out the lettuce seedlings too but that's OK, you could chastise her like a dog and she would go sulk somewhere else until you called her back for an exceptionally juicy worm.

Who will beg for scraps from the compost bucket and jump straight up in the air to get that dangling carrot peel from your hand?

Oh well, such is the lives of animals. They are such a big part of our lives when they are around that we feel at a loss when they go. It stings for a while, but they continue to live on in our memory.

Fire season

Farmers can be a superstitious lot. As such, I don't much talk about fire season until after the rains start in the fall. Here's what I will say:

Last week, the Rooster Rock fire blazed over near Sisters. Everything is under control now but it sure did make for some pretty sunsets.


Ranch guests: Ian and Lauren


Recently we were able to share summer on the ranch with frequent winter visitors Ian and Lauren who were in Oregon for a friend's wedding and made a stop out here on their way back to California. They were good sports and said they would still be our friends even after we subjected them to wandering around in the barley field in search of wild oats; a project that is itchy, scratchy and because we got so much rain this year, the grain was tall enough to hit Lauren in the face. What good friends we have.

They were also able to level up their herding skills by helping move assorted chickens, hogs and cattle. Here they are pushing some cattle down the alleyway. Aren't they cute riding their matching scooters in tandem? (As Nathan and I were some of the first to get married in our circle of friends, I have the right to fawn over those next in line for the plunge :) )


Cheers you two! We will see you in the winter.