Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Christmas

When I was little, one of my favorite activities around the holidays every year was making oodles of Christmas cookies to give away to friends/family/neighbors/co-workers. (except for that one year we made the salt dough Christmas ornaments with the alphabet cookie cutters in everyone's initials. That beat cookies). My mom would spend HOURS with the three of us making dough, cutting out the shapes, baking and decorating the cookies... gobs of confectioner's sugar everywhere and food-coloring stained little kid hands. Sprinkles, silver balls, Christmas carols.... culminating in cracked out cranky kids, an exhausted mom, and a bunch of curly-ribbon clad cookie pacages. That my mother would then make us deliver with her. Thankfully we lived on a prep school campus, and most of this could be achieved by walking.

This year I coerced the Spawn into making Christmas cookies with me. He was a little trooper and put up with my Christmas cookie shenanigans replete with carols playing, and plastic cookie cutters. I am very thankful to the Spawn for letting me have that day of Christmas cheer (he got to play a fair share of videogames, too, so I know he stayed happy), and happy for us not ending up cracked out or cranky.

Granted we would have been done a lot faster if I could get more than one 15x10 cookie sheet in the oven at a time. Someday!

Roll and flip. Roll and flip.

Cut out those shapes - as close together as you can!

Ready to go in the oven.

Color Mixologist.


Ginger cookies. Notice the Airstream Custom oven. Teensy yet effective.


My fave**

*They got 3/4 of the way dry and then it started raining BUCKETS. Since the Airstream is a tin can, not much of the humidity made it back outside. Most of it got sucked up by my cookies. Only the few duds I had set aside for family consumption (another family tradition) survived the great humidity of 2011.

**even this one bit the dust. >sad face< 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Comfort Food

Don't mind the dirty dishes. Feast your eyes on comfort food, Stoneyhaw style. This is how we do things around here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Chicken Saddles

So. If you know me well, you know that I am against clothing on animals. Abhor would be more like it. I don't abide by dogs wearing cute little coats, and all that. My puppy agrees, and the one time she had a costume on (in obedience class. The one I HAD to take to be able to adopt her...the instructor put a princess costume on her...), she patiently waited until he had finished and turned his back before she shredded it into itty-bitty bits of pink confetti... but I digress.

My chickens now wear saddles. What is a chicken saddle? It is basically an apron they wear on their backs to protect them from the amorous yet less-than-gentle attentions from the roosters. Some of them have had most of their central back feathers torn out, and a few of them have had their sides scratched up. Big Bunny, our main rooster who gets the majority of the hen riding time, doesn't really have his spurs yet so it's really just his nails that have managed to inflict this much damage. And since I don't want to get rid of any of my three roosters (for quite a few reasons...), this is my current solution. I have 3 of the hens outfitted so far (turns out you can get about 4 out of an old pair of jeans), and will outfit two more... Waddly Wanda doesn't need one. The roosters leave her alone as she's currently not laying.

Cindy got the prototype, and it's gathered at the top as it's held together with a button. Subsequent versions have the straps just sown on, and don't bunch. Still working on the right pattern, but so far so good!

See the dark grey on Henny Penny's back between her back feathers and tail feathers? That's down that wouldn't be visible if she weren't missing back feathers...
Currently they're all being made out of an old pair of jeans, but somehow I see camo chicken saddles in the future... oh boy.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Circle of Life

This is a serious thing. Something that I think about a lot. With the chickens that I use for eggs, meat, and laughs, the deer meat I get from neighbors and friends, the animals around me....the seven year old I am watching (in awe!) grow... the man I love dearly...

You may remember that one of my chicks didn't survive more than a few days when we first got them. I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility and remorse for that little guy. I felt responsible for putting him through the trauma of travel by mail...

And yet I eat meat. I feel responsible for every part of whatever meat comes through my home... and while I shouldn't feel any more or less responisble for meat that I purchased rather than raised/killed, but I do feel a difference.

I have linked to this guy before, but there was a GREAT post the other day On Killing that I read, and that is essentially all I have ever really wanted to saw on the subject, but waaaaay better and more eloquently written. I love this guy.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Holiday Gifts

Holiday gifts are important to me. I know they are important to most, but I feel like by the time we get to the end of the year we're all a bit raggedy and the effort to do something for others is weightier than it would be in say, May. Which makes it all that more important methinks.

So. Take that giant amount of effort and add thoughtfulness to it. (bear with me here) Yes. You could make a list of people you want to give gifts to - you could even go so far as to add what you want to give them next to their name - and you could go to the mall - or a megastore - and buy it all at once. At which point you absolutely deserve the latte you would buy yourself on the way home. Go you! And your recipients would be happy that you thought of them and all is happy and merry and bright.


You could make a list of people you want to give gifts to and add what you want to give them next to their name. And then take a good look at that list. You're gonna want to do a few things from here, all of which most likely (especially if you're me) involve the interwebs. Because you see you're going to add thoughtfulness to the mix. Which doesn't need to be exhausting. It can be fun, relaxing, and in my case (because I'm also slightly insane), cathartic. And by thoughtfulness I mean the majority of people on that list are going to get something handmade.

Thoughtfulness goes both ways. It's a two-way street, it's a dynamic duo.... insert twosome analogy here. If you can make everything on your gift list for all of your recipients, than you are a hero, you are awesome, and you are way above reading this little blog. Or you are a hermit who knows no one (which is scary). But you can get a gift for just about everyone on there that's handmade. You can do this by spending a quiet afternoon in your PJ's with a computer and a credit card, or you can support local businesses, artists, and crafters by going out in your community and doing your holiday shopping with a little extra thought. (and chances are your handmade item will be higher in quality and artistry than what you'd find at a megastore...)

Yes. Shopping at local businesses and buying your gifts from crafters and small businesses can be more expensive. But you are supporting your community and you can offset some of the costs with some of the homemade gifts you give. 

You might think the recipient of your gift might not notice, or might not care, but they will more than you'd think.

So I have made a pledge to make sure that at least half of the people on my list get handmade gifts. Possibly by me, possibly by a talented crafter on Etsy, or I can find someone here.

End sanctimonious rant. Comments welcome.

Holiday Greetings

'Tis the season to be merry & bright, bake & eat too many cookies & sweets, sing songs at the top of your lungs & off-key, to act like a kid & enjoy it, and to cut & decorate a scrawny-ass tree.

Charlie Brown has got nothing on Stoneyhaw. Booya!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Sneak Peek

I have something bubbling away in the corner of my oh-so-chilly "room":

This will be yummy.
Happy to be fermenting something again :)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

First Thanksgiving

Those of you who are paying attention may have noticed that while the title of this post is "First Thanksgiving", in all actuality it is my second one here. But last year my mother and I were still just getting into the groove of things, and kept turning to each other and exclaiming "we've been out here for two months already?!?! Whoa..."

... and so this is my first real Thanksgiving. I've been here a full year. I know where things are (OK. Fine. I still need to find a place to get my car inspected. Haven't figured that one out yet). I'm building up a network of friends and family out here. The manfriend and the spawn have come into my life and my space, and the three of us are doing better than ever. I have my two healthy dogs (Zora's skin issues aside). I have 9 chickens, 6 of whom are hens that don't seem to get that their production levels should be slowing down for the winter (although I'm sure they will soon). My garden did OK this year, and I am highly hopeful for next year (I had to let some of the beds go this year due to a bad combination of a drought and a lack of a good irrigation system). I have a better idea of this land - how it feels, how it acts, and what it seems to want (goats, baby! GOATS!). And I have a better idea of me - how I feel, how I act, and what I seem to want (goats, baby! GOATS!). I have ideas for what I want to add to the mix next year - bees, irrigation, more chickens, possibly rabbits...., and I have hopes for next year...

And we had a beautiful day. A beautiful day. The spawn inexplicably decided to sleep in. The weather decided to be beautiful. I spent time doing all of my favorite things - snuggling with my boys, enjoying the sunshine, cooking the food I love as long as I want, hanging out with my animals, and visiting with my plants and trees.

I am amazingly grateful to my family near and far, my friends, my flora and fauna, and my boys. Thank you thank you thank you!

The Lake is filling back up. Woot!


Marinade for rooster thighs.

Mixing the Green Jello Salad.

No Green Bean Casserole in this dojo. Roasted green beans wrapped in bacon, yo.

My awesome Pumpkin Pudding. All over my clean dishes. Ooops.

Rooster Thigh Sous Vide. (They came out SUPER tough as I overcooked the hell out of them. Better luck next time.

The Gleeful Spawn.

The Chocolate Chess Pie got the sour cream topping meant for the ill-fated pumpkin pudding. Perfect combo, by the way.

No caption needed.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tough Question

The other day on the way in to Tractor Supply for chicken feed - my local feed store out here in the sticks never seems to be open when I'm not working, and with me being away from home so much we don't have enough kitchen scraps to supplement them enough to do away with feed.... - the Spawn asked me a question that has been haunting me since.

"Are we farmers?"

I stopped in my tracks. I SO incredibly wanted to say yes. I vehemently wanted to say yes. But I had to say no. And then the hard part of explaining to the young inquisitive mind...

So...yeah...I have said before that contrary to appearances and no matter what I consider Stoneyhaw a farm. Yet I had to explain to that we're not farmers. And several weeks later I think I have kind of figured out why.

Stoneyhaw is a farm, but as of yet doesn't have any farmers. To me a farmer is someone who tends the various facets of said farm, and coaxes productivity out of it. Be it in the form of animals, vegetables, fruit, honey, flowers, hay, compost, humus, topsoil.... Basically someone who cultivates some aspect of the land be it amplifying an existing natural occurrence (humus), or not quite as natural (rows of tomatoes and pole beans, for example). Furthermore, a farmer is someone who uses said coaxed item to sustain themselves directly (eating the veggies) or indirectly (selling the veggies for money).

We still aren't quite there. With the building and winterizing of living spaces, and the full time job, my time has not been devoted to the farm as much as I would like. It's a tough one - I'm at work full time to make a living which takes away time from the farm...yet I need more time on the farm to bring it up to a place where I can make a living... And my living is most definitely only minorly supported by it. BUT. We are coaxing more and more out of it. While our garden took a hit this year due to the drought, our chickens are now coming into lay and we are getting 3 - 5 eggs a day (up from maybe 1, wouldn't you say?!). As we eat a lot of eggs, this helps to support us.

So I guess we're on our way. And I really can't wait until the day that the Spawn asks me this question and I can say "yes".

Monday, November 07, 2011


Whoa. So the 4 that were slated to move from the chicken palace to the fridge have done so.

If the notion of this bothers you, read no further. If the notion of me, your friend/daughter/granddaughter/niece/goddaughter/fairy-goddaughter/employee/coworker/acquaintance/neighbor/stranger, assisting in the demise and butchery of a chicken bothers you please go elsewhere.

That said, here we go. My humble (and humbled) thoughts on the subject. There aren't too many pictures involved because...well I was involved. The manfriend and I exhibited the teamwork that professional sports teams can only dream of in dispatching these roos. I am proud of us. Considering this was our first time out killing chickens together or out here. And our utensils prove to be lacking somewhat.

We had the 4 sequestered for such a day as Mike and I had off together. Today was that day. First things first. The spawn had finally saved up enough allowance for a new wii game, so off to the store we went where he proudly handed over a small fortune comparable to what I make over the course of a few days at work, and home we went with groceries and a new game. The manfriend and I went out and got stuff ready to go.

Large pot on a burner outside for scalding. Worked perfectly.
 We used a canner pot from my grandmother (who hopefully isn't reading this post) to scald the chickens. It worked perfectly. I was extremely happy with it. With a burner the manfriend had and my cheesemaking thermometer, we were set.

Slip knots, nail and a twist does the job

Heritage chicken.

 I don't have any pictures of the killing process. We secured them to a tree as best we could (I devised a slip-knot rope tie for their feet that I'm sure everyone else out there uses, but it was new to me), and slit their throats. We did it so they would go out as calmly as possible. By the fourth (and final for today!) we had it down pat. No one suffered too much, though.

I have to say that I found it to be extremely important for me to stand and watch the chickens as they left this earth. I couldn't watch the manfriend cut their lifeblood and then walk away. It felt disrespectful somehow to walk away while they were getting to the end of their roaming days, although I'm sure I was not on their minds at all.

 The first guy got dry plucked halfway, and then scalded. Really we just wanted to see how tough it was. It was tough. We gave them a dunk and all went much smoother. I don't know that it took too much time at all.

I had nothing to do with the cutting of throats, and some to do with the scalding and plucking. The manfriend did the majority of these chores. Butchering, however, was my deal.

And here's the deal. I kind of didn't do as well as I would have liked, nor as well as I have done in the past. I am not squeamish. Not at all. (Ok. My mother will correct me and interject that eyes bother me. And yes. Yes they do. But these chickens were headless at this point, so no worries there) But it has been a LONG time since I have gutted a chicken (or anything for that matter), and I couldn't remember how to get the whole damn package out. I just couldn't. My iPhone may have been in my back pocket, but I had chicken all over my hands (gloves are for sissies) and I was too busy racing the sunshine - it actually almost got warm today and I really didn't want the carcasses staying warm longer than necessary. So I cut the pieces off the bodies, got the gizzard and cut off the breastbones for soup.

I am happy to report I remembered to label the bags BEFORE filling them. Easier this way. I am unhappy to report that the nagging feeling that I had forgotten something at the store earlier was totally true, and I did not have enough gallon bags.
 Even with the meat that I couldn't get cleanly off the bone due to not being able to stick my hand in the body cavity, and because my knife wasn't nearly as sharp as I needed it to be (and no, can't find the whetstone. And yes, my sharpening steel is a bit worn out), we got 18.6 pounds of meat. Not including necks, breastbones and gizzards.

Rinsing before packaging.
 And now what? We wait. We wait for the chicken meat to cure somewhat in the fridge. Rigor mortis has to come and go and the enzymes in the meat need to kick in to tenderize it up a bit. And as the roosters were 6 - 7 months old (instead of 12 weeks...) we need all the tenderizing we can get.

So while the breastbones make broth:

and boy will we need this broth to stew the meat later!

tonight we feast on homemade pizza...

and stuffed crust pizza at that!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Chicken Update and a Quick Poultry Overview

It has been a little while since I did an update on our chickens. Which is doubly odd as they actually consume more of my thoughts than anything else really at Stoneyhaw right now... I guess part of me thinks no one else would really care about them...but this is my blog. Suck it haters.

Our current chicken count is 13:

One of the 4.

4 are slated to not be with us much longer (and whoa, that'll be a post!). They should have been harvested* about 2 1/2 - 3 months ago, but alas we run behind here. So now I have 4 monster roosters separated from everyone else (more about that in a minute) awaiting space in the freezer. The man and I just don't have the same days off from work, and building/winterizing our living space just takes priority over chicken butchering unfortunately.

Why are they separated? Mostly because they're getting older and getting kind of brutish. 7 roosters was too many. We knew we didn't want these guys around for that reason, and even if we were into breeding our chickens, they don't really have anything genetically to offer. They are incredibly healthy and large and have done a remarkable job of lessening the overall number of ticks and creepy crawlies this summer.  It's time for them to continue earning their keep by feeding my family.
Always a wondrous sight!

Another effect of them being separated is our egg count has gone from about 6 eggs a week, to 2 or 3 eggs a day. The main flock is noticeably happier, and it is definitely a good thing.

But I digress....

The main flock (9 in all) can be broken down into the Rhodies (really Production Reds, but it's fair to assume no one will ever know), the Hampies, an Australorp, and a Dominique.

The Rhodies:
Henrietta getting her daily snuggles.

Cindy and Big Bunny. Pretending to investigate the damage done to the box by little puppy, but really sneaking off somewhere, I think...

This group includes our favorite Big Bunny (our resident rooster, back from his injuries and strutting around like a champ), the Prodigal Hen Henrietta, Mystery, and Cindy.

The Hampies:
The Hampies and the Rhodies are IDENTICAL - the second from the right is our unnamed Hampie hen. L to R: Henrietta, Cindy, Mystery, Hampie hen, Hampie cockerel

Are as of yet mostly unnamed. We have one cockerel, one unnamed hen, and a hen we call Henny Penny. For two reasons. All flocks should have a Henny Penny, and she looks identical to Henrietta right now with her comb all flopping around ridiculously and 'Henrietta 2' seems insulting to the parties involved.

The Australorp:
Dexter - it's tough to see in this picture, but in the sunlight his feathers have a beautiful green sheen to them. Can't wait until his tail is done coming in!

Dexter came to us from a good friend at work. She is an inspiration in of herself, and I hope she will let me showcase her and her amazing horses and farm on here at some future date. She had an Australorp cockerel that was the result of an incorrect sexing (more on this here), was supposed to be a hen and isn't. To make matters worse, the poor guy was getting picked on (ha!) by her hens and was pretty much miserable. He started out pretty miserable here, too - he got out of the brooder on his first night, and spent a night and a day on his own in our woods. The third night we had him we found where he had roosted for the night, got him down and put him in with everybody else (you can do just about anything with a sleeping chicken. They're like small children and are really difficult to wake up completely). He spent a few days cowering in the back of the winter coop, and the aggressive roosters wouldn't let him get to the water or the food. We put him alone in the chicken palace for a few days with dog food to fatten him up again, and we paired him up with our remaining Dominique so he could bond with someone and not be alone. He has since been integrated into the flock with everyone else and is turning into a real rooster!

The Dominique:
Wanda, the Dominique who wandered.

You may remember I got 3. Alas all 3 got out and were feared loss (one loss was confirmed by me - I found her and spent a good 2 days crying off and on and convinced that all living things under my care were condemned to die...dramatic, but dammit if you pull an animal out of its natural habitat, you're responsible for its life AND its death. It's a big deal to me). A few nights later after all the chickens were closed up in their various coops (yup. We've got 4 containment devices of varying sizes at this point), and the little puppy let off his run, I heard a chicken squawking in distress. I thought maybe a predator was trying to break into one of the coops, or worse, and succeeded in doing so. The manfriend went out into the night and found one Dominique hen cornered by little puppy. We took her and paired her up with a then alone Dexter, and the two have bonded. The same friend that gave us Dexter gently suggested we call her Wanda because she wandered, and it stuck. Although even now after being integrated into the flock and them being in the main coop with everybody, she rarely ventures out with everyone during the day.

Case in point: I went down to check on them during the day when everyone but Dexter and Wanda were up eating kitchen scraps and having a good time in the sun. I found Dexter sunbathing in a wallow in the dirt right next to the winter coop, and didn't see Wanda anywhere. I got kind of scared that she had taken off, but thought it was strange as chickens really do learn where their home is after being there a few days. When I got closer to Dexter he moved, and there was Wanda, napping under his wing!

We love our chickens, as you may have gathered, and I could have a whole separate blog devoted to them and their antics. But there are enough chicken blogs out there, and I'll spare you. You just have to put up with a post like this every once in a while :)

*that's right, I said 'harvest'. Everyone who has chickens has their own thoughts on whether or not to eat their culls, and all that good stuff. Everyone also has their own opinions on their kids' involvement in the process. I read a blog (that I won't link to - I don't want to slander, I just severely disagree with her) about a flock of chickens and the writer didn't tell her kids how many chicks she ordered, nor did she let them be in the room when the box arrived as she didn't want them to see/know if any of them arrived in the mail dead. I saw this as a great opportunity to teach kids about death, and the important lesson that when we order animals through the mail, we are most likely condemning one to die. And that is an important lesson (neither I nor said blog writer lost one through the mail, btw - they all arrived in good health). We don't hide death out here - the Spawn is 7 and is fully aware that things die. Fully aware. I believe that it is a natural part of life and I don't believe in hiding it, sugar coating it, OR making it out to be worse than it already is. My personal belief is that our chickens that we don't keep (read: egg layers, and potential future fathers of more chicks) are food. I do not name them because I am only human and naming them humanizes them to a degree that I really have a tough time killing them. They are treated as best we can while they're here, and will be killed in the most humane way we can. And like our other foodstuffs that come from here, no part of them will be wasted; what we don't use will be fed to the dogs or composted and eventually fed to the garden. In that way I feel that their life is honored and respected.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


I used to be crafty. I used to make stuff ALL the time. And then North Carolina, The Manfriend, The Spawn, The Waddle Brigade and The Dogs happened. Also I got employed. And now I find myself wanting to still be crafty, but I have no time. Inspiration (and materials!) galore, but no time (or energy if I find some).

Wah. Wah. Wah.

So with the boys gone yesterday and today, I decided to make the following sampler for the manfriend. Hope he likes it.

Yes. It's not quite centered in the frame. Adds to the charm, dude.
I can't take credit for the design - I saw it here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

All I Wanted Was Some Cake!

Seriously. I don't have a sweet tooth per se, but a bittersweet sense of nostalgia seems to accompany autumn every year, and now that my universe revolves around a 7-year old (as well as a man, 2 dogs, and 12 chickens...oh and me) I have been thinking about my parents a lot. My mom worked (still does!) full time, and somehow managed to raise 3 kids while making everything from scratch. Everything! (remind me to tell you about not knowing what an Oreo was upon entering kindergarten. Thanks mom!) And she managed to make good stuff. As in tasty.

And every year for my Dad's birthday, she would make a pineapple upside down cake. My Dad's birthday is on St Patrick's Day, so why it comes to mind along with all the autumnal reflection makes no sense, but it didn't seem to matter. I have been craving a pineapple upside down cake.

On one of my days off from work, when I was all alone at the 'house' (my days off RARELY coincide with the boys' days off - it's a sensitive subject thankyouverymuch), I decided to 1) insulate the new space, and 2) make a damn pineapple upside down cake.

Oh. You noticed the lack of photos in this post? Keep reading.

I made the cake, and went and picked up the spawn from daycare while it was cooling in the pan. Then I flipped it out and put it on the table in the airstream while I went to insulate the other space.The perfectly candied pineapple slices nestled in their gooey goodness atop their spongy thrown glistened and beckoned in the afternoon golden autumn light...

We both went inside a while later - him to do homework, and myself to do the dishes. While doing the dishes, I popped outside to the fridge for THIRTY (ok, maybe 45) SECONDS to put something away, leaving the screen door open behind me. I came back inside and the little spawn looked TERRIFIED. Not "the Bogey man just came in and threatened to throttle me I'm gonna pee in my pants" scared, but "holy shit the hippie's gonna kill me" scared. I looked at the table. And I saw it.

A plate with a prefect ring of pineapple slices on it. Sans. Much. Awaited. Cake....

The spawn had been in his own little world (he has an extremely active imagination). I hadn't noticed in my putting things away in the fridge. The Waddle Brigade had descended upon the camper, eaten every crumb of the cake part, and left. We hadn't even noticed. Not only that, but nothing was misplaced. Not a crumb or a speck of anything out of the ordinary anywhere. And chickens (mine, anyway) are super messy eaters. I have CIA level covert chickens.

I still love them, but dammit I wanted that cake!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Anniversarial State Fair

I love state fairs. North Carolina has a good one, and after going last year I knew I had to go again this year. Had to. Especially now that there's a seven year old in my house/life....

Turns out that the only day the manfriend and I both had free that coincided with no school for the spawn and the state fair happening was Sunday, our anniversary. So. With my friend J from CA (who now lives in NY and does so so very glamorously) on a surprise visit in tow, off to the state fair we went. Woot.

It did not disappoint.

Traditional "this is where we parked" picture.

The Pink Flamingos were at it again!

As were the Jesus donkeys.

Ribs were among the many, many things we ate.

I was so excited about my Elephant ear, I only took an "after" picture.

So bright!

What did YOU get? I got a wet willie.

The manfriend is entirely too pleased with himself.

Mesmerized by blacksmiths

The second best ice cream I have ever had.
All in all, the fair was so much fun. SO MUCH FUN! Again we managed to miss the goats and pigs (they're in the second week, unfortunately), but we did get to see the rabbit and poultry barns and that made me happy. The manfriend and I keep toying with the notion of keeping meat rabbits... we'll see.

Also kind of excited as Alamance County (where I live) has in recent years moved the county fair to the spring. YAY!! I get fair action 6 months apart. Awesome.

But that day of fun didn't stop there. After getting back to the homestead, J politely inquired if she could take a picture with the manfriend's shotgun. Needless to say the manfriend was delighted to show her around his said gun (I am less than enthusiastic on the subject), and this is what happened.

You take one beautifully carved pumpkin:

Beautifully carved pumpkin.
Add a redneck/hippie combo and a gun:
Redneck/hippie combo
And end up with pre-minced pumpkins for the chickens!

Happy chickens!