Monday, November 23, 2009

The Stash

I was making banana bread the other day because the black bananas kept falling off the shelf in the freezer and landing at my feet on the floor. I have a great banana bread recipe. It's written on note paper from college. Don't know who gave it to me. The paper is stained with butter and a little the worse for wear, but still readable. Better yet, no one has ever turned down a thick hunk of this particular banana bread, especially when it is warm.

However, this was one of those days when I decided to stray from tradition and try out a new recipe I had found one that called for sour milk. Who wouldn't want to try something like this, especially if there was sour milk waiting to be used in the fridge? It was a day to experiment.

Sometimes I pull all the ingredients out at once to bake; other times I reach into the cupboard as I go. This day I started with all the wet products mixed together. I had thawed, gooey bananas, reject eggs from the chicken yard, butter melted in the microwave, vanilla from Mexico, sour half-and-half from the fridge. I mixed in the sugar until I had a creamy, brown soup.

Next, I needed to sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together. The first two ingredients were easy enough, but when I reached for the baking soda, it looked as if the last person to use the box had decided to store walnuts in it. Now, why would anyone do that? Seemed like an interesting idea, but it didn't really make sense since I usually store my walnuts in the fridge or the freezer. Walnuts in the soda box. Walnuts in the soda box. I was stumped. I started to idly pull the nuts out of the box, because what I needed at the moment was baking soda.

As I dug through the walnuts, I couldn't help but think storing nuts in the soda box was a bad idea with all the wildlife in our house. I re-framed the thought. Who would think storing nuts in a box in the cupboard was a good idea? Oh! I turned on the light to the cupboard and peered into its nether regions.

My mouse traps lay discarded on the floor, pushed into a corner. After a winter of playing death-eater, I had taken the summer off, figuring most critters would willingly look outside for fresh things to eat rather than raid the pantry for dry goods. Of course, here we were, coming into late fall. I had been canning for months, storing my goods, preparing for a time when fresh food froze and wilted in the ground. My traps had lain idle all this time.

A large, unopened bag of walnuts caught my eye on the shelf kitty-corner to where I stored the baking soda. As I pulled it out for a better view, walnuts cascaded to the ground. There was a large hole at the back of the bag. This bag was no longer new, and no longer as full as when purchased at the store! Well, at least that explained it. I was providing winter storage, a.k.a. "the stash", for our house mice, whose wily ways had apparently kept them safe from the sharp claws and quick pounce of Bubba. Or, maybe not. This stash looked a bit shabby and incomplete.

Most amusing? The soda box reads, "Help Fight Hunger". I don't think of baking soda, per se, fighting hunger, unless as the final ingredient necessary to make banana bread. But, I do think of walnuts as a product that could fight hunger all on its own. I just never thought of my role in helping to fight hunger in our resident mouse population...unless as the final ingredient in a mouse sandwich for the cat!

My College Banana Bread Recipe


3-4 mashed bananas
3 tbl warm water
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 c sugar
1/2 c butter

3 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

Mix dry and wet ingredients
Pour into greased/floured loaf pan
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour

Photo: Walnuts in a box of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Darwin's Farm Yard

Every time an animal dies as the result of a ridiculous accident, my vet says it wins the Darwin Award. She's a bit cynical, but she does have a point. Nonetheless, when one of our animals born on this farm has an accident, it makes me sad. We lost a ewe lamb yesterday for a stupid reason. She pushed her head through a small opening in the hay feeder, turned her head sideways so her jaw locked up against one of the metal bars, and then couldn't figure out how to turn her head in such a way that she could remove it. Ultimately, she suffocated because she went down on her knees and cut off the air to her windpipe. Damn!

Darwin would have said this wasn't a sheep we wanted to keep anyway. If it hadn't been the hay feeder, she might have been swept down the creek during a winter flood or found herself tangled in blackberries as the cougar approached. "She's a cute little black lamb with some Suffolk in her," I would have said. "This breeding tends to lend itself to larger lambs we don't have to over-winter with hay before we sell them for market. I like these lambs." Darwin would have said that 'liking' has nothing to do with his theory.

In the scheme of things, Darwin might have suggested that most of the sheep breeds could win his award with little trouble. To wit:
+ Sheep have a tendency to follow a leader no matter where that leader is heading.
+ Sheep will run for water if they see a predator even though they can't swim and will drown if they go over their head.
+ Sheep, especially lambs, will run straight into fencing to escape being caught and, while this hasn't happened to us (thankfully), they can break their neck doing this.
+ Rams have been known to butt heads through a fence so hard as to kill one (not sure if Darwin figures in here for testosterone or the thickest skull).
+ Once cast to the ground for worming or hoof trimming or whatever, a sheep will just give up and not move, even when released.
+ A lamb will stay caught in blackberries, bleating away and separated from the herd, until a person gets close enough with clippers to free it and then, boom!, it pulls free on its own.
+ If a sheep lies down in a ditch, it can often get stuck on its back and will die if no shepherd comes to help right it.
+ Sheep, when trying to avoid being forced to do something or go somewhere they would rather not, will jump right into the shepherdess, forcing her to think about carrying a 2 x 4 to hit them with next time this happens. (Okay, maybe the last one is not a Darwin Award, except for the shepherdess who was in the way, but it sure makes me mad when they do that!)

I've picked on the sheep for many of these Darwin Awards when, in fact, our farm yard includes turkeys. I was sure we would lose several this fall when they decided to roost in the raccoon's mulberry tree and would not come down no matter what we threw at them. Then it rained so hard and they chose to stay out in it, instead of following the chickens under cover.

Somehow, the Darwin Award, for an animal with wrinkled flesh on its face and hair coming out of places it shouldn't, seems more justified than for a soft, woolly lamb that only months ago was playing with its siblings and bouncing around the orchard. I think that's why vet Liz sighs in her cynicism. When tragedy hits the cute ones you have to wonder, what did Darwin see at first glance, that we seem to have missed?

Photo: (top) lambs and ewes in orchard in spring; (bottom) silly free-range turkey at back door looking in

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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