Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Heart Tomatoes. No, Really. Really!

Oh. My. Holy. Tomato.

To say this was a bountiful season would be an understatement.  Now, granted, Mr. GT planted tomatoes in 3 of his 7 gardens (75 plants, he said), but I have been canning tomatoes for 4 weeks now.

We've made Diced With Green Chilis.

Pizza sauce



Spaghetti Sauce


I'll go down and take a picture of the shelves for you.  But here is a picture of the girls playing Tomato Hospital.

7 five-gallon pails.

I washed and triaged.  They hauled them in "ambulances" to their respective wards.  Pepper was in charge of plum tomatoes (Did you ever notice, Mom, that tomatoes are all named after fruit?  Plum tomatoes, strawberry tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, pear tomatoes, grape tomatoes).

Daisy was in charge of all other varieties.  They each had a sick ward where tomatoes who might die soon were kept for observation.  The healthy tomatoes (they decided there had been a bombing and many tomatoes had been hurt, but even the ones without visible injury had to be kept overnight) were separated for ripening, but still needed to be checked daily.

I promised them each $2 if they delivered all healthy tomatoes when I needed them.  Any infected and oozing patients would be a 10 cent deduction.  It was up to them to remove the dead members to the compost bucket.  Daisy earned $1.80 and Pepper, $1.90.

Rose Bud learned to can tomatoes and can go from boiling vat of red lava to sealed jar of ruby tastiness on the counter all by herself. 

Here is Sunshine "grinding" tomatoes one day.

Banana Boy just stands out in the garden and singlehandedly keeps the cherry tomatoes from overtaking the world.  The boy is getting his daily of vitamin C!

So anyway, last week at work I ran into a lady with whom I had discussed gardening and canning one time about 2 years ago.  She remembered that we had talked and I mentioned how I was drowning in tomato juice.  She offered to trade honey (she keeps bees) for tomatoes and even to pick them herself. 

Hot dog!

So she came over yesterday and picked up 4 pails of tomatoes (which Mr. GT had already picked for her) and left us with

3 brand new 5-gallon pails
1 qt. of honey
1 small honey bear
1 lb. of creamed honey
1 pt. of blueberry syrup (sweetened with honey)
and a half-pint jar of honeycomb

Jackpot!!!  I really felt like we got the better end of the deal, but she said she felt like SHE had so that meant we were even.  I can live with that.

She also asked about possibly keeping hives on our property in the future!  Cool beans!  I mean Bees!  She was very excited about the restored prairie nearby.

So that's been my August.  Tomatoes.  Tomatoes.  And more tomatoes.  Come on over for spaghetti in winter!

And She's Off!

A new cross country season has begun.  Time trials were Saturday and Rose Bud made varsity for the first meet.  Whether you are on the varsity or JV team changes meet-to-meet, based on your performance at the previous meet.  So you can move up or down throughout the season.

Top seven runners (both boys and girls) make varsity.  Rose Bud finished 5th, so she easily qualified, although 3 girls with potential to make varsity were not at the time trials.

In any case, she qualified for the season's first meet.

And the results:
Both varsity girls and JV girls finished 4th in team competition.

Rose Bud moved up throughout the race from 58th near the start to 46th about 3/4 of the way to finish 39th out of 75-80 runners.  She doesn't have her official time yet, but I clocked her at about 15:30. 

Varsity/JV placing is based on times. There were 3 varsity runners on her team who finished ahead of her and one of our JV runners (one who missed the time trials--a senior) WON the JV race with a better time than Rose Bud.

So time-wise, it LOOKS like she finished 5th within her team, which would put her on varsity again for Saturday.  We'll find out tomorrow.

In any case, she ran great, felt great afterward and was very happy with her race.  And she had fun.

All this after I dropped a dresser on her foot this morning.

We're moving bedrooms since Mr. GT and I are moving up to our now-finished attic.  Daisy & Pepper are moving into our old room.  Sunshine is moving into their room (from a shared room with Banana Boy).  Rose Bud is staying put, but got a new dresser the girls no longer needed.

All week we've been hauling and packing and shuffling and moving.  Today I was taking a dresser downstairs and it got stuck in the stairwell.  I had RB helping me juggle it around and it squashed her foot on the stairs.  Oops.

In her quest for ice for her foot, she jiggled something in the freezer so that it no longer closed properly.  I started poking around in there to fix whatever was blocking the door when a popsicle fell out onto the floor.  I bent down to pick it up and when I stood up--BAM!! I slammed my head into the corner of the freezer door.  I felt the pain on the opposite temple, actually.  Brain-jostling. 

While I was hopping around screaming "OW," RB said, "Mom, look at me."  I turned toward her and she said, calmly, "There's blood running down your head."

Payback, definitely, for smashing her foot.  She stayed far away from the furniture-moving for the rest of the day.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Trouble With Cats

"First they claw you and bite you and attack you and you have to feed them.

Then they go upstairs and they claw you and attack you again until you give them wet food.  Or tuna.

Then they attack you and bite you until you snuggle them.  I like the snuggle part.

They mew and mew and mew about.

And then you have to clean their litterbox!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I Just Butchered 10 Chickens!

There'll be a little bragging in this post.   I'm a little proud of myself.  And my clan.

Let me start with a story (because there's always a story).  Butchering chickens is nothing new to me.  At least seeing chickens butchered is nothing new.

We always raised chickens for eating, at least when I was very young.  Each end-of-September, as far back as I can remember, my grandparents and aunt and uncle came on a Saturday for butchering chickens.  And then, since everyone was there, we had a big dinner and celebrated our birthdays.

Yep.  We didn't hire a clown or a pony.  We killed chickens.

My sister and I (when we got older) would catch and carry the chickens, upside down by their feet to my grandpa who chopped off the heads and tossed them in an oil drum.  After 10 or so, he fished them out one by one scalded them and bounced them around on the plucking machine.

Next they went to a table made of a piece of plywood balanced on two saw horses where my dad and my grandma gutted them.

Somewhere along the line, people who couldn't bear any other part of it got them and picked out the pin feathers with a paring knife.  This included my mom, my aunt and uncle and, later, my step-mother.

My sister and I never were invited to help other than to carry the chickens (and we thought we were big stuff to do that!) I don't know why.  I don't remember being grossed out by it.  We watched.  It smelled vaguely bad.  The dog nosed around under the table for scraps. This whole enterprise went on every fall until I was maybe 14 or so.

The gizzards went to Mrs. Wardeck up the road.

There you have my whole childhood.  Now to the present.

Mr. GT butchered 3 of our roosters earlier this spring.  He too grew up seeing it done by parents and grandparents, but never helped.  So to the internet he went, figured it all out, and one week when the kids and I were gone, he did the job.

And pretty much hated it.

This time I was invited to help.  Mr. GT confided to me after we were all done, that he was terrified that no one would help and he'd be left to do the whole job alone for 8 hours.
Our setup.  Left side: our old kitchen sink, a corian countertop piece (free on Craig's list) and the hose.  Center back: the plucking station (plywood covered with plastic) and Right: the feet et al. table (another piece of free Corian)

I was squeamish about the gutting.  It wasn't so much the rawness that didn't appeal to me, but rather the fact that it would be warm.  I can do cold raw chicken any time.  The more frozen, the better.

So Mr. GT fired up the propane turkey cooker and sharpened his hatchet.  He had four hanging to bleed out by the time we all got out there.

(I should mention that Banana Boy, who is very sensitive visually, pet-minded and prone to bad dreams had been shipped off to Nonny's last night.  HE was not invited to the butchering.)
I watched Mr. GT chop the head off the fifth one (He hates it.  Maybe I'll give it a go next time.  I once had to drown a nest of baby rabbits for him that had invaded his garden. He's too soft.  However, if you need a possum whacked to death with a shovel, he's your guy.).

He dunked the first chicken and we brought it to the plucking table.  Once you start plucking, the squeamishness for that vanishes.  Plucking is fun!  They sort of "unzip" right off the chicken.  Getting all the little feathers and the broken "stems" is a pain, but really, not hard.
Dunking and Rose Bud holding the one on deck

Pluck, pluck, pluck

Next was the feet/crop/neck/oil gland table.  The feet are super easy to remove (I'm sort of intuitive with this whole butchering thing, I was pleased to discover.  That makes me a 3rd generation expert chicken-butcherer).  The joint-finding, cutting, snapping, snipping thing was very "duh."  Rose Bud quickly latched onto this task, calling all foot-removing for herself.

She also liked to pull the tendons with the pliers after the feet were off, making the toes move up and down.  She had to individually play with each one.

The crop seemed a little creepy, but that became easy after about the 3rd one.  We withheld food from them since noon yesterday, so the crops were all empty.  We loosened each one and then went in to take out the neck.
A little different than "cropping" a photo

I would have loved to send Grandma a whole bag of necks, but sorry, Grandma.  I made them all into broth.  That's her favorite part.

Rose Bud also loved to cut off the oil gland above the tail and also called that job.

By the time we'd finished about 4 chickens, Daisy and Pepper joined us.  They rather sissily helped pluck, using just their fingertips.
Pluck, pluck, pluck

The next station was the gutting station.  Squeam-O.  There's also the whole gall bladder danger you have to be careful off, but in reality, that turned out to be a non-issue, really.  It's deeply hidden and protected in the gut-mass.

So Mr. GT sliced open the first one and I watched, then tried my own slicing.  Two fingers top, two fingers bottom, open up the cavity.

OK.  I am SO a natural at this.  My dad would be so proud.

I was able to get my hand in and it really is not gross at all.  And not as warm as I'd expected.  Every Thanksgiving I loosed the skin on the turkey and stick my arm up past my elbow under the skin to rub herbs all over the meat.  This was really no different (only warmer).

I was hesitant to pull the guts OUT, worried I'd break something, so Mr. GT had to pull out the first 3 after I'd loosened them, but after that, it was all ME.

ME.  ME.  ME.


I gutted a chicken!

Actually, Rose Bud had her hand inside by the 4th one (knock me over with a feather!!)  She was able to loosen everything and stuck her hand into most of them (she liked slitting, opening and loosening) but she never did get any guts pulled out.
Rose Bud, deep inside a chicken

I taught Daisy to open and clean the gizzards.  She loved that job.

Pepper dissected everything.  Two months ago I bought frozen chicken hearts at the grocery store when we were studying the heart and the girls wouldn't even enter the room where they were.  I ended up throwing them out.

Today, Pepper couldn't get enough of identifying parts and cutting them open and touching stuff with her finger.  She loved the lungs and the kidneys best.
Pepper carrying a headless, scalded chicken to the plucking table.  Isn't she CUTE????
Daisy carried raw hearts over to the heart/neck/gizzard pot for later broth-making.

So.  That was the most amazing thing I've ever done!  Seriously, if you've ever thought about it and been too squeamish, JUST DO IT!
Sunshine was at his most useful with the hose in his hand.  He put ice in the cooler, filled the coolers, rinsed everything, and sprayed the hose any chance he got.

So the first 5 were practice.  It took us (basically Mr. GT, Rose Bud and me) 2 hours.

The second 5 took just over an hour with everyone helping.

Just for fun, go read this step-by-step tutorial on how to butcher a chicken.  It is amazing and spot-on.  Very best directions on the web.

(And, we're having beef tonight, in case you were wondering!)