Sunday, March 31, 2013

End of the day

Well, Easter 2013 has come and gone.  At our house, I was in the kitchen most of the day, and while the results were great, the day was not without drama.  My first batch of fool-proof dinner rolls ended up getting chucked after I discovered I hadn't added any salt to them. Blech! The ham was done long before anything else (but luckily, it stayed warm).  But the spinach casserole and chocolate-coconut cupcakes were fantastic.  

And now we're watching the marine layer move in from the sea, over the hills and gliding east toward our property.  By morning we'll be in the fog.  And the kids will head back to college and work, all going their separate ways and I will be sad for awhile, until I get the house clean and tidy and realize it will actually get to stay that way for the next several days.

That's a small consolation, but it is something I guess.  I love the chaos and laughter the kids bring, no question, but getting back to the usual routine is good, too.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy Easter!

We're currently in the midst of a homecoming of sorts; all the kids are here and we've been doing a lot of fun family things this weekend.  But I wanted to take a break from all that and wish everyone a Happy Easter, Passover, Vernal Equinox, or whatever it is you are or have been celebrating this past week or so.

And I hope someone or something brings you the taste or feeling of sweetness in this very sweet season of spring.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Marriage Equality for All!

This wonderful logo has gone viral today; although I was at the winery for bottling day and did not see it until I got home, I quickly added it to my Facobook profile.  It's in favor of marriage equality for all, which the Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments both for and against this week.

The taboo against "out" gays has been fading away for a long time, and all of the arguments against them having the right to live their lives as they wish have been leaking water like the Titanic after its close encounter with the iceberg.  But there's still a long way to go.  And in the meantime, our nation's uber-conservatives are throwing every argument they can against the idea of gay marriage.

Marriage is for the procreation of children, they say?  Well, OK.  Then we'd better ban child-free couples and anyone over 55 from marrying, since those unions can't, or won't produce offspring.

Marriage is a bond sanctified by God?  Then let's get on with the business of annulling the tens of thousands of secular marriages already performed by court officials and put marriage back into the church (although exactly which church is up for grabs, so get your torches and pitchforks and get ready for some good, old-fashioned holy wars).

Marriage consists of one man, and one woman, for life?  Then we'd better make divorce completely illegal, so that the 50 percent of marriages that break up can better conform to the "correct" standard.

Really, if my gay neighbors across the street decide to marry, what say should I have in it (except in purchasing the gift of my choice from wherever they happen to be registered)?  And why shouldn't they be entitled to each other's pensions, social security, tax breaks, and veteran's benefits, the same as I am with my spouse?

And don't tell me legal "partnerships" are the same thing as marriage.  That's like saying that since chocolate and vanilla are both flavors of milkshakes, I shouldn't be upset that I have to order vanilla and am banned from ever ordering chocolate.  If I'm banned from having one flavor, then obviously, they are NOT the same.  Duh.

I'm hoping the Supreme Court does the right thing and gives everyone in favor of marriage equality a reason to celebrate, soon.

Off the homesteading topic a bit, but there you go.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Formerly Crabby CrabApples

Blooming Out

When we moved in here, one of the first things I noticed were the dead-looking bushes running along the unattractive fence line to the north of our front yard.  Our original plan was to remove them and put some evergreen vines of some kind on the fence, in order to block the view of our neighbor's garage.  But on a random trip to the nursery, a woman who works there and is familiar with our neighborhood told me the bushes were actually crabapple trees, which bloom in a profusion of pink and white blossoms in spring and even produce edible fruit.  She said they'd once looked glorious, but had, in recent years, become completely neglected.  But she said she guessed they were probably still alive.

So I decided to give them a reprieve for a year and see what I could do with them.  I'm a softie that way, I tend to see almost any plant as valuable for something (except possibly bermuda grass and star thistle), and am therefore apt to try and work with it, as is, instead of ripping it out and planting something else.

So I first pruned them back hard, so they once again assumed the form of trees and not bushes.  I trimmed off all the dead wood, and laid down a thick layer of chicken waste around their trunks to fertilize them slowly, over time.  The next step was to add a couple more drip irrigators on each tree, as they were clearly starved for water, hence their ugly appearance.

The staff of life... 4 GPH drip lines and chicken shit

This is proof of my tendency to turn into a softie and save anything valuable that at least makes a stab at staying alive.  I looked at those trees and felt sympathy for them...trying to bloom, trying to grow, yet hindered by the fact that they were never given enough water or food.  

And this spring, they bloomed, beautifully, although a couple are still struggling a bit.  I am still planning on adding some vines to the fence line, but the trees will absolutely stay if they can make it through the summer, which I believe they all will, even the struggling ones.

This homestead life is often filled with failures and the lessons failure provides, but sometimes, successes happen too, and instead of firewood, you get productive, well-watered, and (at least in my imagination) grateful, happy trees, swaying gently and colorfully on spring's first breezes.

Happy tree

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Breakfast and some work

We are picking up and moving several yards of planting dirt into our three new raised beds this weekend. Grumble.  But we will also be heading to the historic Paso Robles Inn for a hearty farm breakfast before we begin our labors! Happy sigh.

Life's a trade off.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Different Worlds

Today I attended the regular monthly luncheon for the local DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) branch, which was a lovely affair, complete with red, white and blue place settings, some light salads and crackers, and a presentation on researching British ancestry.  On the whole, it was fantastic, except for the fact that their idea of lunch was, unfortunately, my idea of a light snack.  

Basically, this is because they eat like ladies and I eat like a farmhand. 

So I supplanted lunch by stopping at a sandwich place on the way home for some grilled chicken and a whole wheat roll with butter and strawberry jam, and as I was gratefully knocking all that back I had to laugh at the fact that I negotiate between two completely different worlds so much.

Maybe you do the same.  It could be a difference between your work life and your private life, or your family life versus your time with old friends, but many of us find ourselves straddling two different ways of living, or more.  Yet in the transit back and forth, there is often a beautiful balance.

I love down-and-dirty homesteading, for instance.  I love the simplicity that comes from making things myself, hanging my wash on the line and growing my own food.  But the other day I was reading a homesteading blog where the author (and many who commented on her post) were discussing getting rid of all clothing that they didn't wear regularly.  "I'm heading towards just having one uniform --  jeans and a t-shirt," one commenter stated, to the agreement of many others.  

It was interesting, because I could never do this.  As much as I love the simple life, I also love beautiful clothes, vintage accessories and cute shoes. I love standing in the often palatial halls of a winery tucked into the California hills with a glass in my hand and eclectic company surrounding me, watching the sun set. 

If I linger in those halls too long, I begin longing to be back on my hilltop, with my pellet stove, my dirt and my animals again. But its a fact: some of the pleasure of all that refinement comes from the juxtaposition of spending my days getting dusty, sweaty and sore doing manual labor, then jumping into a late afternoon shower, washing off the day, and putting of a fabulous dress and heading out the door when evening comes.

There are some in the homesteading community so dedicated to living the 1800's Life, as a lifestyle, that they would probably call me a poseur, and that opinion would not bother me, even though I don't agree with it.  I believe there's room for all kinds of homesteaders, and my homestead may function a bit differently than yours, just as yours will from somebody else's.

Besides, when I read those really hard-core homesteading blogs, I sometimes wonder what's not being revealed in the blog -- like maybe the fact that they keep a stash of Twinkies or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in the cupboard or occasionally spend a day doing nothing but lounging on the sofa and wasting electricity by watching reality TV shows. You never know.

All I do know is that for as many people as there are, there are at least twice the number of lives that could be lived by each of them.  Day life versus night life.  Hometown life versus vacation life. Homestead life versus wine country life.

There's room for all of it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Makin' Rain

So what's a cloudy day like this good for?  Not rain.  Nope, on this dry but cloudy day, I'm running the sprinklers (which is happening in this picture, if you look to the far left).  Over the last couple of days I've noticed our last stretch of remaining lawn in the back yard has taken on a definite yellow-ish cast, indicative of a lack of water.

It's only March, which in a normal year would usually mean our watering schedule would still be set for winter....a 10 minute sip of water, once a week, just to cover any dry weeks between storms.  You don't usually dare do more than that, because those regular rainstorms provide more than enough potential water to soak your yard nicely.  But in this very dry year, that 10 minutes weekly is just not cutting it, so last night I adjusted the watering schedule on the timer to water longer and more often.  And with a long stretch of clear weather in sight, it looks like we're going to be headed into a very, very brown and dry summer.

It's not a good sign.

While one or two dry years won't change the fate of our world, a longer period would.  Steve, the owner of the winery we like to frequent, was telling us a couple of weeks ago he's already had to start up his wells to water his vineyards, which means him, us and all our neighbors are all taxing the aquifer a little more than normal in this dry year.  And in an area of falling aquifer levels, that's never a good thing.

The other problem is the mineral content of our well water, which is high. In a municipal area, you'd just call it extremely hard water, capable of clogging your pipes and making your glassware opaque.  But in agriculture it's different. Every year, this area counts on some good, drenching rain to remove the built-up minerals from the soil and wash them away, so the rain deficit is a problem here, too, as plants don't grow as well in soil with mineral build-up.

The only bright spot is that, with so little rainfall, the brush around the area has not grown up as green or as thickly as it sometimes does.  This means that we probably have a lower wildfire risk than usual. But unfortunately, it also means that some wildlife, like deer, will have a harder time finding forage.  

But since it's a little late for enough rainfall to bring our totals back to rainfall, we'll just push through and look towards next year for some better rain totals.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spider Philosophy

Spring has brought with it house guests, some invited, some not.  Under the category of the "not invited" are those of the eight-legged kind, also known as spiders.  Right now the ones I see most are smallish and tend to be found on the tile floors in our bathrooms.  Their parents hang out (literally) on the porch overhang and are at least 1 - 2 inches long.

We also see the occasional tarantula outside, but they are harmless and are therefore not a threat of any kind. 

But while these spiders are harmless, the Black Widows found in the garage and around the property are not.  They are dispatched quickly using a shoe or can of Raid.  I make no apologies for that, if it can harm me, my family or my livestock, it can't stay around.

But it's what we do with the harmless house spiders that interests me. Unless there is a substantial risk that the spider will escape and be lost, say, somewhere in back of my bedroom headboard (where, in my fantasies, it will wait until I'm sleeping to crawl on my face), my usual method of control is a mason jar and page from a magazine.  I place the jar over the spider, run the magazine page underneath it, and place said spider safely outside where it can continue doing what God intended it to do -- killing other bugs.  If the weather is cold and makes them unable to fly, I've even been known to do this with house flies.  Perhaps I was a buddhist in a former life.

I learned all this at my mother's knee.  I believe she was the one who taught me, at a tender age, to value all life, in all its forms.  And yet now I wonder if I memories are correct, because the last time she was here and saw me capturing a spider to place it back outside, she informed me that, wherever she found spiders, she would smash them to a pulp, then and there.

I can't help but wonder what changed my mother's outlook regarding the wild creatures she taught me to respect and love.  Or maybe I over-estimated her love for them and she merely tolerated my own respect of their right to live. To some extent, I know it was a mindset I was born with, like having blonde hair or green eyes.  Perhaps my mom was only humoring me when I was a child.

I'll never know for sure, but as long as I'm alive, I hope I have a mason jar option for everything that I don't want in my life.  Contain its influence and remove it to a place where it can't possibly hurt you.  Then let it live out its life in peace, as you do yours.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Homestead Room

When we first looked into buying this house, we were surprised to find that it had an additional space attached to the north side of the building itself.  I'm not quite sure what its purpose was, because it's not accessible through the home, but it's nonetheless attached to it.  Self-contained sunroom?  Greenhouse?  Time-Out space for naughty pets?  Who knows.

I claimed it as my Homestead Room, where I would keep all manner of empty mason jars, beer and wine bottles, bird netting, animal feed, supplements, etc.  I love having it.

The thing I'm liking best is that, in addition to the valuable storage space for all things homestead, it has nice double-paned glass sides, windows, lights, outlets, and even a ceiling fan, all of which make it quite useful as a greenhouse.  I am currently germinating tomatoes, green beans and spinach inside.  And it's warm and lovely in there, 24 hours a day.  I even use it to bring in some of the more tender plants I have in pots outside, like geraniums and basil, which allows me to keep them alive through winter.

It's the kind of room I never knew I wanted, yet nowadays cannot figure out how I ever lived without.  Some things are just like that I guess.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

I love this!

Big Ag and Groceries made me this lovely raised bed last weekend, specifically for herbs. (They also almost came to mano y mano blows over the geometric specifications of a triangular raised bed, but that's a story for another day.  Everyone lived.) It's about 5 x 5 x 5. Since it won't get as much re-planting as the other beds will, we decided to make it a little more decorative, hence the triangular shape and the end posts, which were left over from our front yard project.  

It is, as you can see, also lined at the bottom with wire, to prevent pesky gophers from dining on what we are growing.  We do this with all our beds, and even when planting berries and trees directly into the ground, because gophers are a huge problem around here.

I just love it, and can't wait to begin filling it with oregano, thyme and parsley to pick and use when I'm cooking something that needs those spices.  If I have room I may even add some sage, some chamomile and some cilantro.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Weekend Guests

We have houseguests coming this weekend, so I'm going to be trying to make the place look as attractive and inviting as possible today, so when my guests arrive they'll feel comfortable and welcomed.  

The inside of the house is certainly looking clean and pretty, but the outside....well, that's another story.  We have chicken wire, fencing wire and redwood boards sitting in the driveway, compost, wheelbarrows and old tomato cages sitting around the side yards, and other things pertaining to various and sundry projects hanging about, yet to be determined.
How it looks before cabernet

In other words, we're a homestead, or a hobby farm, whatever you want to call it.  I was looking at old photos of this house, before we bought it, and the woman who had it before us did no homesteading activities of any kind and, therefore, the place was spotless.  The garage was clean, the driveway was swept and had nothing (other than cars) in it.  The lawns went on forever and were bright, healthy green.

Oh, what a difference a few months can make!

But our home is not simply a place for relaxation and delicate enjoyments, it works for us.  It grows food for us, takes care of our livestock, and functions for efficiency rather than looks.  At least that's what I tell myself, anyway.  I would be less than honest if I didn't admit that some days, I pull into the driveway and wish it looked a little more like it did before we lived here....organized, clean and minimalist.

So I don't know what our guests will think of our outside mess.  Hopefully nothing.  But then again, we live in wine country, so whatever state they find us in, after we hit a few wineries for some tastings we'll doubtless return to find the whole place effused with kind of a golden glow, looking bucolic and peaceful, not ramshackle.

How it looks after

Just one of the advantages of living in wine country.  Rose-colored wine goggles.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Talking Heads -- Nothing but Flowers

This morning I was up early watering the orchard (we haven't yet installed the irrigation system for it, so watering is still done the old fashioned way, by hand).  I was standing alone in the quiet and noticed I was singing this song to myself:

Not a bad song to be able to relate to.  

P.S.  If the video does not load to your page, here's a link:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Notice To The Retailers of America

Dear Mega-Retailers of America,

Thank you for making it possible for me to buy all manner of goods and services, both needed and totally, ridiculously unnecessary.  However, please be advised of the following:

1.  I will not join your so-called "club" and carry your card around with me, everywhere I go, like an piece of identification.  The Rotary is a club.  The Daughters of the American Revolution is a club.  Lowe's, Orchard Supply, Rite Aid, and PetCo are not clubs.  They are businesses.  Since you yourself are a business, you should be aware of this important fact.

2.  I will not take your online surverys, with the chance to win a $1,000 shopping spree.  This would involve me either giving you my address or email, neither of which are any of your business.  I don't want you contacting me, sending me coupons for things I don't need which expire a week after their send date anyway.  You're trying to get me back into your store to buy more things as quickly as possible. Let's agree on the foolishness of this, and dispense with the charade.

3.  I will pay with green, paper cash whenever possible, so that neither you nor anyone else can track my purchasing history, just because I don't feel like handing over that information to you.  I will buy something, then walk out of your store, mostly anonymously.  The main reason for this is that I refuse to allow you to analyze my spending patterns to figure out how to get me to spend more.

Please consider yourselves on notice.  You have officially now become either Big Brother or The Man (take your pick), and I'm sticking it to you by keeping my information to myself.

Your friend (well, not really),


Waiting on a Comet

Comet PanStarrs is supposed to be making it's debut tonight in the western skies....I will be outside just before sunset with my binoculars, looking for it.

Comets don't come around very often, and it's always nice to see them as they briefly join up with us to race around the sun.  Galactic entertainment of the highest order!

To dream or not to dream

When we are young, we are told that we can achieve whatever it is we desire, if we're willing to work hard for it.  I don't know about you, but when people told me this, I always looked a little bit sideways at them, because I always felt like they were telling me just another of the mostly harmless lies that adults like to tell children, like the Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny.  

That's because, even I knew at that tender age that I could not have tea with Abraham Lincoln or ride a dinosaur, or travel to Neptune.  There are limits to what we can dream and what we can realistically expect to do.  And therein lies the dilemma.  Because what I can visualize myself doing is profoundly different than what someone else with the same skill set can.

That's because I think a fundamental difference in people lies in their ability to think of their dreams as achievable.  I knew lunch with Abe was out of the question, for instance, but other things were more reachable, like getting a college degree and being physically healthy.

For others, they also know they'll never share a baguette with Mr. Lincoln, but they also tell themselves the college degree or healthy body is out of the park, too.  And, for some, maybe they are right.  maybe they already have limits that would make those things impossible. 

But for others, they could do those things and their denial simply serves as a self-imposed limitation to what they will ultimately end up doing (or not doing) with their lives.  Like moving to the coast, or to a farm in the country.  Or finding love.  Or just being happy.

As Richard Bach once said, "Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they're yours."

Monday, March 11, 2013

New Kitchen?

White, white and more white!  Drives me nuts.
I'm convinced that most people are clueless as to what makes a good, functional kitchen.  When we moved in here, for instance, the first problem we had in our kitchen was a propane stove that was terribly unpredictable as to whether it would over- or under-cook any item in question.  It also filled the house with propane fumes anytime we turned the oven on. Apparently the lady who lived here before us never used the stove, and pretty much microwaved everything she ate.  We replaced the unpredictable, stinky propane unit with an electric range.  And it works well enough, and is very predictable. Problem solved.

But the kitchen has other issues.  There is no pantry. As you can see in the picture above, the microwave sits above the range and, if you put a large stock pot on the cooktop there's very little room between it and the microwave.  We have white cabinets and white 4 x 4 inch white tiles which pretty much means I'm either cleaning the kitchen constantly or living with grungy tile and cabinet doors.  The cabinets are deep (good) and have what I can only describe as crawl spaces in the corners (bad), where you can't see or reach any items that happen to migrate back there.

Check out the non-existent pantry!
OK, so yes, I'm bitching.  Everyone has things about their kitchen they don't like.  But when you homestead, your kitchen becomes a place you will spend hours and hours.  So, ergonomically, it has to work.

That's why we're remodeling ours.  

Big Ag got a nice little bonus this year from work, so this week I will be talking to contractors, and finding out prices, timeframes and options to re-do this kitchen, at least the cabinets, floors and countertops.  And you get to come along with me, through the construction mess to hopefully a lovely finished and functional new kitchen.

Right now, my thoughts are leaning towards acid-stained concrete floors (no grout to clean) quartz countertops (tougher than granite, but still a solid surface -- no grout to clean here either!), a real range hood where the microwave now hangs, a built-in cabinet microwave and warming drawer (for proofing bread, among other things) and a PANTRY, even if it's just a big, double floor-to-ceiling cabinet.

I don't care how fancy it is.  I'm just tired to keeping my all my canned goods in the laundry room.

We went to Lowe's last weekend to browse and the saleslady was talking to us.  She was describing how hard she is on a kitchen, and when I asked what she did, she said proudly, "well I have six grandkids!  What can be tougher than that?"  

With all due respect, here's what can be tougher than six kids:  Boiling stock pots, placed on a countertop.  Lye spills from soapmaking. Sticky strawberry juice with pectin overflowing from jam-making. Citric acid and TSP, used for sterilization after winemaking.  The list goes on.

I'm calling the first contractor today, so we will see what can be done to make this kitchen more workable.  Because I believe the gateway to madness is a dynfunctional work space, and I intend to stay sane and reasonable in these years to come.  Well, pretty much, anyway.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Workin' the plan

This morning I picked out a flat spot on the hill and began turning it over with a shovel, in preparation for planting some onions, potatoes, and pumpkins.  Some of the soil in this particular spot has more clay than in other parts of it, and it will be interesting to see how things grow.  My other concern is that the critters may get in and render the whole project a giant fail; since it is our first time planting vegetables down here, I'm prepared for that.  But I'd prefer to be pleasantly surprised by a bumper crop of delicious food!

It still amazes me, after a life spent in either the city or suburbs, that I can pick any piece of ground in this pasture and simply start to grow things on it.  After a lifetime of running out of crop space before I'd run out of crops I wanted to grow, this feels like such a marvelous thing.  I hope I never come to take it for granted, because it's truly a privilege, this space we have that belongs to us.

On the garden side of the property, Big Ag is working on building me three more large raised beds for our kitchen garden.  This will allow me to fallow a couple of beds at a time and still have enough bed space for what I want to grow up here.  I've grown food crops in raised beds using a crop rotation method (thereby keeping each bed in a more or less constant state of use) but found that, even with regular addition of compost, production dropped off after a couple of years.  I think land needs to be fallowed for a season every year or two for a rest/rejuvenation period, and with extra beds I will be able to do just that.

And while we work, all around us spring blossoms are blooming.  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Spring Bouquet

Broccoli flowers, Rosemary, Breath of Heaven and Photonia.  Smells as nice as it looks.

Spring crops are ready to go!

Yesterday I checked at our local ag extension office to see what the last hard frost date is in our area and discovered, much to my surprise, that it was a couple of days ago.  As I've said since we moved here, this first year is a total learning experience.  I am learning everything from the ground up (literally) and finding out the frost ends this quickly here was something of a surprise, but a nice one.

This means its relatively safe to start plants outside that are a bit frost tolerant, although I wouldn't plant anything outdoors considered truly sensitive (like tomatoes) for several more weeks, just to be safe.  But everything I have gathered here should be OK to start. 

The dish you see is where my heirloom tomato seeds are germinating, which will remain indoors for another six weeks or so and the warm weather arrives to stay.  This is, by far, the best method I've used for starting tomato seeds.  You take a moist paper towel, lay down your seeds on it, and then cover it with another moist towel.  Within a few days (if you keep it moist and don't let it dry out) you will see exactly which seeds have germinated, and you can then plant those in pots and let them grow until they are big and hardy enough to go outside.  There are also some bush bean seeds germinating in the same way in the other room.

The other seeds will pretty much be directly sown in the raised beds we have, and I will take whatever I get.  I am hoping to get in a nice spring crop before I need to begin starting the serious summer plants -- zucchini squash,  crook-neck squash, the tomatoes of course, and cucumbers.  But I still need plenty of carrots and spinach, as I freeze those crops for use in things like casseroles, vegetable dishes and stews, which we eat throughout winter, so I'm hoping to get them in  and get them harvested and out of the ground by about June.

It may be raining outside, but I'm feeling a strong case of early summer here indoors.  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


It's that time of year.  Even though we haven't had much rain, the spring weeds and grasses have still gone wild.  And so, the age old question gets asked:  How do we deal with it?

One property's forage is another's weed issue 

Big Ag's solution to weed issues is to spray with something commercially strong, like Professional Strength Round-Up.  This usually results in a feisty disagreement (aka an argument) between us, as I don't believe in using commercial herbicides.  True, their manufacturers claim they carry a low mammalian risk ("low" is not the same thing as non-existent, however), but they are also known endocrine disruptors for mammals.  And the chickens, the frogs and toads which live on our property are all non-mammals, and are therefore even more vulnerable to its effects.  It's simply not worth the risk.

This afternoon, after the rain was over, I went out with a Hula Hoe and tried to knock some of the ones in our back yard down, but could not do it.  The hoe started to pull up the landscape fabric the former owner has put throughout the back yard, which is rapidly shredding and is therefore less effective against blocking weed growth.  I didn't want to shred it anymore and worsen the problem, so away went the Hula Hoe. 

Two options I'm considering are using a small propane garden torch, which appeals to the latent arsonist in me (Fire!  Fun!) plus offers me the feeling of payback when the star thistle that scratched my calves so badly disappears in a pull of smoke.  The other option is a 20% solution of vinegar, called horticultural vinegar, which is safe for organic gardens as well as for domestic and wild animals to come in contact with.  

Another option is to just weed whack it all down until summer comes, when anyplace we've not irrigated will become so dry nothing can survive.  We killed a whole lawn that way last summer.

Either way, it's on.  Me against the weeds.  If you don't hear from me for three days, please send out a search party ... and have them load up the garden propane torches when they come looking for me.  Things are ugly out there, I'm tellin' ya.  I have the scratched calves to prove it.

Cold weather, warm apple coffee cake

It's blustery and just a bit wild outside this morning, there is a cold front from the Pacific coming in and while I'm not sure how much rain it will bring us, it's definitely bringing us windy, cloudy and chilly weather.  

Today my only outside tasks were to tend to the chickens, turn the compost, and scatter the wildflower seeds I'd bought over the weekend, and then get back inside as quickly as possible.  Some days just don't lend themselves well to your usual work routine. When I worked at the Griffith Observatory, there were always astronomy magazines scattered about, with ad sections devoted to what were called, "books for cloudy nights."  I liked that; it was an acknowledgment that some jobs are dependent on weather. In the observatory's case it meant if you couldn't see the stars, you couldn't study them.  For farmers, it's magazines and "books for rainy days," since wet ground can't be worked, and wet crops can't be harvested. So since today is a rainy day, I plan to spend a good portion of it in front of the fire, reading.

Knowing the weather was coming, last night I baked up a little treat to enjoy on this "inside" day and make it a little bit sweeter ....Apple coffee cake with crumble topping and brown sugar glaze!

Apple Coffee Cake with Crumble Topping and Brown Sugar Glaze

Cake:1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups peeled, cored and chopped apples

Crumble Topping:1 cup packed light brown sugar
1cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Brown Sugar Glaze:1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons water

Directions:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish with 2 teaspoons of the butter.In a large bowl, cream together the remaining stick of butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating after the addition of each. In a separate bowl or on a piece of parchment, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add to the wet ingredients, alternating with the sour cream and vanilla. Fold in the apples. Pour into the prepared baking dish, spreading out to the edges.To make the topping, in a bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and butter, and mix until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the topping over the cake and bake until golden brown and set, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.

To make the glaze, in a bowl, combine the sugar, vanilla, and water and mix until smooth. Drizzle the cake with the glaze and let harden slightly. Serve warm.