Sweet Pickles!

Our cucumber vines are bearing many fruit. So many that, despite eating the cucumbers in salads every day, we still have a lot. It must be pickle time!

Today, I picked 8 pounds of cucumbers and processed them into 8 quarts of sweet pickles. Recipe and procedure below the fold…

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The Rain Falls

It’s been a long, dry winter. The alstromeria have given up and decided it’s spring again, sprouting up fresh leaves in just the past couple of days. And now, we have finally received some rain!

I spent some time last week getting a second cistern, Seena, hooked up. I got up on the roof and cleared out the gutter and blew the leaves and redwood cones out of the way. This morning, we got enough rain to put the new system to the test and it was found wanting.

  • The pipe that takes water from our rain barrels down to the cisterns has a very reduced flow. Only a trickle is feeding into Joseph-Ann.
  • The fitting between the pipe and the hose at the rain barrel is a bit leaky.
  • The overflow hoses from the rain barrels have come off; ideally, they’d feed back into the downspout but at a minimum they should route overflow off the deck.
  • The patch I applied to Joseph-Ann at the first hole I made to connect her up to Seena is not 100%. It has a very tiny drip. I’ve applied more caulking there, but it’s a worry.
  • The pipe connecting Joseph-Ann to Seena seems to have a drip right at the fitting onto Joseph-Ann. I’ve tightened all those bits, but that’s very serious. If I can’t stop that drip, then the new capacity means nothing as it’ll all leak away by the end of spring.

So, I’ve got a bunch of plumbing to do, and of course it’s raining while I’ve got to do it. On the plus side, the rain is supposed to last for a few days, so if I get these problems sorted out there’s still a chance we can save some rain.

Fresh Salsa

It’s fresh produce season again, which is wonderful. That plus a little encouragement from Thug Kitchen has got me making fresh salsa and guacamole pretty frequently. Hooray for our house! In case anyone was wondering, here’s the OCD salsa I just made (OCD because I did all that tiny chopping by hand, sort of a meditation):

  • 3 tomatoes (the roma kind, because they’re less juicy)
  • 1/4 onion (it’s a darned big onion, this would be maybe 1/2 a regular onion)
  • 1/2 a fuji apple
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1/4 bunch of cilantro
  • 1 jalapeño
  • salt

Quarter the tomatoes and take out the seeds and the juicy pulp around them. Slice the tomatoes into little tiny chunks. Chop the onion into little tiny bits. Slice the apple and chop the slices into little tiny bits. Cut open the pepper and remove the seeds, then slice it up into little tiny bits. Cut the cilantro into little tiny bits. Combine all these ingredients in a bowl and juice the lime over the whole thing. Sprinkle with salt, maybe 1/2 teaspoon. Stir it all together with a fork until it’s all mixed up. This is sweet and spicy and crunchy and not too soupy. It would be great on a tostada or in a burrito but it usually just gets eaten on chips while dinner prep is going on and then, whoops!, there’s no salsa.

Continuing Our Dogs’ Education

When we first got our rat terriers, we got them to attack the rats that were gobbling up our chickens’ feed (and eggs). It took them a couple of years to figure out that they were supposed to chase the rats and that if they weren’t fast enough, the rats would get away. Eventually, they figured it out and they are now very accomplished ratters. They’re still hopeless at tunneling, despite what various sources say about terriers being digging dogs, and despite my attempts to get them to go after the rats in their burrows.

It’s warming up and Junglemonkey has cleaned out all the bird feeders. The birds are returning and, as birds do, they’re billing out seed onto the ground. This, of course, is attracting the attention of the squirrels. I just noticed a squirrel sitting out on the back deck, chowing down on a bunch of spilled seed. I got Dagmar’s attention and, stealthily as we might, we went out the back door to the deck. I had to work to get Dagmar to pay attention where I wanted, and this gave the squirrel a two second head start. That was plenty of time, and it streaked off into the forest before Dagmar ever got within 10 feet. Still, it was obvious to me that this year, Dagmar has finally noticed that a squirrel is very much like a rat with a bushy tail, and clearly she enjoys chasing squirrels as much as she enjoyed chasing rats. I suspect she’s going to be spending this summer figuring out how to catch a squirrel.

Or trying, anyway. The cats haven’t yet figured that out, and they’re death on rats, moles, and birds. I reckon it’ll keep the dogs busy, though, and that’s got to be worth something.

Angry Birds

I love birds. I don’t keep any in the house, because I also like cleanliness, quiet and the ability to travel. The more pets you have, the harder all those things become. But birds are also carriers of pests, they’re filthy and they die easily. So, the best solution to the problem of how to keep birds without the hassle of keeping birds is to have a ton of bird feeders on the front porch.

a baltimore oriole

For the longest time I thought these were goldfinches, but they’re too big and too orange. And they all have tiny little baseball bats.

I had run out of my usual bird feed – that mixture of millet, that thing that looks like millet but is a little larger and a little darker (and the birds hate it – they won’t touch it in one of the feeders) and black sunflower seeds that I usually stock the feeders with. It attracts orioles, juncos, jays, chickadees,  sparrows and all the other birds we have around here by the sackful.

This time, I decided to do something different. I bought a suet cake to put into the holder we already had. Normally, if  the feeders have stood idle for a while before I fill them again, it can take the birds a day or two to discover that the cafeteria has opened up again. The feeders weren’t empty, though. The birds, especially the orioles (which are my favorites because, in addition to being lovely, they have a very pleasing song). In fact, as my husband and I sat out enjoying the afternoon, the birds kept landing on the porch railing, then immediately retreating to the trees that surround the house and screeching at us to get out of their restaurant, couldn’t we see it was lunchtime? 

By evening, the suet cake had attracted two battling bird herds (I know that’s not the collective term for birds, but get your own blog if you want to be fussy about it). Steller’s Jays on the one side, orioles on the other. Sadly, the orioles have no advantages whatsoever. There aren’t quite as many of them, they’re smaller, quieter, and more polite. The jays come in like Anthony Michael Hall in everything he’s done since 1990, squawking and throwing their weight around and making pests of themselves. I’m sitting in my office facing the window that looks out on the feeders, and the suet holder hasn’t stopped swinging. No sooner does one bird leave than another one jumps on. What is it about kidney fat that drives birds into a raging, furious feeding frenzy?


Let Sleeping Creatures Lie

I’m here getting ready for the trip up to San Francisco, and the little doggies are bored, so I took them for a little perambulation down the driveway. It’s a fabulous day out, the sun dappling the driveway through the beautiful trees, the creek burbling a few yards away, and as the doggies walked up and down the driveway sniffing and peeing on things, I examined the work done by the landscaping guys. They had cut out enormous amount of periwinkle starting to overgrow the walkway on the high side of the driveway. There are tons of rat holes along the hill between our house and the neighbor’s. Normally obscured by the ground cover, the rats live their little ratty lives and do their little ratty thing.

The sudden denuding of the landscape must have confused the rats. Behind the hay bales that keep the mud from washing into our driveway, there was an enormous rat. It was curled up in the humus, sleeping peacefully. Now, I’m normally not a violent person, but when you’ve lived with wood rats for a while, you realize that any means are justified by the end of eradicating the rat population. Rats harbor all sorts of illnesses, including rabies and bubonic plague. Left unchecked, they’ll eat your insulation, your electrical wiring and set your house on fire. I have reason to believe that rats are capable of stealing your online passwords, taking your identity, and using it to establish large offshore accounts for which you will bear the responsibility of paying taxes. They’re horrible.

This particular specimen was 8 inches long, not counting the foot-long naked pink tail, and had a lot of fur. It had a teddy bear look about it, but I couldn’t let that influence me. I’m not a violent person, as I say, but I’m also not the teddy bear type. I pointed to it and got that high-pitched excited voice people use with animals and said “Hey, Dagmar! Come and get it!”

Dagmar came up looking carefully through the brush. I know that dogs are supposed to have a keen sense of smell, but it seems to me that when they are sniffing something out, they sort of shut off their eyes, because I could see the rat clear as daylight, but the dogs snuffled all around it before they finally sniffed right at it.

You would think that a rat might freak out at realizing that it was at the mercy of a bloodthirsty homeowner and two dogs whose favorite game is snap-back (where they pick up something, shake it, and hear its backbone snap). Except for one thing. These dogs are motivated by tiny furry things that run, squeak in terror and generally look frightened. This particular rat was curled up asleep, and my shouting and the dogs’ sniffing didn’t seem to give it any reason to interrupt its nap. Dagmar lost interest and wandered off, but Esme wanted in on the game now. She went right up to the rat and picked it up, giving it a few shakes and a chomp on the spine. That sort of treatment normally works on mice and smaller rats, but this one just looked up at her with a hurt expression on its face.

When the dogs were puppies and we were trying to get them interested in the dog sport of rat killing, they approached the rats cautiously. They would snap in a rat’s direction, then jump back. Since they’ve hit adulthood, though, rat killing has become efficient. I’ve never seen a second of hesitancy or fear in those dogs. Until they came to this enormous sleeping rat.

Bite. Jump. Sniff. Bite. Jump. Sniff. Sniff. Jump. Bite. Sniff. Sniff. Jump. Sniff.

Esme got bored and wandered off because I still had the treats in my hand and cut up hot dogs are far more interesting than a rat that doesn’t squeak or run. Dagmar, on the other hand, finally decided that the now-sodden and bloody teddy bear was worth her time. By the time I persuaded her to lay off, the poor thing was going stiff.

There are lots of interesting things about living out in the woods. The smell of horses drifting down the hill from the ranch across the way, the little roads that crawdads make along the creek bottom, the way you can turn a corner and be confronted with the kind of views most people only know from movies like Lord of the Rings – all those are reasons why we live here. I guess we take the disgusting with the majestic.

I Hate Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

When I first moved in with Junglemonkey I was surprised at how frequently I had to change lightbulbs. It seemed as though at least once a month and frequently more often than that there’d be a burned-out lamp that needed replacing. Living on my own, I’d go for maybe a year before having to replace a light bulb. Part of this difference, of course, is that a family of four turns lights off and on more times per day than a single person; maybe not four times as many, but still more. Another difference is that a three bedroom house has more light fixtures than a one bedroom apartment. Even so, it seems my family burns out bulbs more frequently than we did when I was a kid, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lightbulb actually work as long as the packaging claims it will, before or after I became a family man.

Now there’s this big push to move everyone to using compact fluorescent bulbs. In San Francisco, the main lighting in a given room may not be incandescent! But what the heck is this in aid of? The bulbs do not last any longer than the incandescents they replace, and they’re more expensive to purchase. They’re toxic (the fluorescent tube has mercury in it) and can’t be thrown away. The light is nasty. So what if they use a little less electricity? My new fridge, water heater, furnace, washer, and dryer – these all use way more energy than my lightbulbs.

Frankly, I’d rather use candles and oil lamps.