Sunday, February 28, 2016

sunday snaps

Just a few pictures from a day of sunshine and wind...
beginning with the morning light pouring into the barn through the south windows.
This is Azalea:

After morning chores, some quality time with the herd on the Upper West Side. Brilliant winter sun, but breezy - as you can see from Violet's coat:

Just like some people, some goats are not easy to photograph well. You may get a pretty shot, or a technically excellent shot, but the subjects just don't "look like themselves."
Acer is one of those goats.
But today, I somehow got several pictures of Acer that really do look just like the goat I many that it was hard to pick just one to show you!

But here it is: 

In the afternoon, Piper and I went for a little walk - as we do most days when the weather is decent - and for the first time in many months I brought a sketchpad and cushion.

After we rambled over hill and dale for a while, Piper was ready for a rest. The sun was warm but the wind was cold, so I plunked my cushion against a tree on the lee side of a little esker, and began to draw a maple tree. It has been having an adventurous and challenging life growing alongside a large rock.

Piper was happy to sit in the sunshine...
catch her breath...
have some treats...

...for about two minutes.
Then she changed position.

See that grey trunk behind her head?
That's the maple I was drawing.

And in case I missed the point...

 she moved in a teensy bit closer.
Her head is now on my sketchbook.
I guess that's enough sitting for today.

I hope you had a lovely weekend!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

bird news

Just two bits of information to share, both of which came to me (appropriately, now that I think of it) as twitter "tweets."

First: one of the Great Horned Owls has hatched! Here's an owlcam image of mama and the youngster, posted by @SavannahOwls earlier today.

please left-click to embiggen!

We're looking down at the top of Mama's head, and she is looking down at the baby, whose little round white fuzzy head is peeking out right above Mama's feathered toes. You can even make out the baby's beak with the egg tooth - pretty sweet!

Second (and you are going to love this): the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been building an online Feather Atlas for North American birds.

(screenshot from USFWS Feather Atlas)

This makes so much sense, I can hardly believe it didn't already exist! Maybe something similar is already available in other countries? Perhaps in Britain, where birdwatching (or "twitching") seems to have a long history as a national past-time?

(Screenshot from Atlas)

As someone who often picks up a feather and thinks, "Ooh, it's from a hawk! owl! Or...a duck?" I think this online atlas with it's user-friendly identification tools may be very useful!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

wednesday with words

Experiment: pasta made with butternut squash instead of tomato sauce. And lots of extra-sharp cheddar (is there another kind?). Pretty good! Next time I'll add mushrooms for additional texture.

The past few days have alternated between very cold and just cold, but often with enough sun to be quite pleasant. Much of the snow melted from open areas, though the ice - some of which has been here since December - will probably persist until there is consistent warm weather.
Could be months away.
Could be next week.

We got an inch of fresh snow this morning, and freezing rain all afternoon and evening.
So I'm glad I did this yesterday:

There are 11 pairs of handknit socks on that drying rack.
Some laundry is just more fun than other laundry!

Apparently, some interior decorating is also fun:

The other night, instead of simply digging in her big cozy bed to make it Just Right as she does every night, Piper chose to tear it open and remove the padding bit by bit.

It's been years since Piper did anything this destructive, but despite being out of practice, she certainly did a thorough job.

I had to laugh, though: see that white thing on the right side of the picture?
It's the "Do Not Remove This Tag" tag.
She Did Not Remove It.

There are some lines we just don't cross, right, Piper?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

so soon

Early? Well, I think so.
A bit.

Acer began shedding on the first of February, which was a full three weeks earlier than last year. And I thought that was early!

He hasn't shed his full undercoat, but enough of it has been falling out that I have been giving him a weekly once-over. The goal is to capture most of the fiber before it ends up decorating fenceposts and stone walls. The bonus for combing early is that there is usually less topcoat/guard hair shedding along with the cashmere undercoat. Nice!

I've been checking the other goats routinely, and have begun lightly combing Vinca, Violet, Azalea and Sambucus, also. Again, they are just beginning to shed, so it is a lot of slow, gentle combing for not a lot of fiber, but my reasoning is two-fold:

1) if I am able to sit and comb a goat on any given day, I had better do it


2) every bit of cashmere harvested now means less to be lost or combed out later.

(To be strictly honest, I am not sure the goats are buying either of those points. But they are definitely enjoying the extra oats and peanuts that come with the process!)

Would you like to see some fiber? I just happen to have some right here.

Some people really favor the whitest possible cashmere, over the other natural colors. This picture of Violet's first combing is for those people:

This is exactly how it came off the goat, and believe me when I tell you: raw cashmere does not come any cleaner than this. If you zoom in (or possibly if you left-click the images?) you can see guard hairs and bits of VM. But for raw fiber, this is a delight.
Good job, Violet!

So...the Cloud Harvest of 2016 is officially underway! It will now go on (and on and on, as Comptonia readers know perhaps all too well) for many weeks. It would be a bit shorter if I had more physical endurance.

It might be a lot shorter if I was less stubborn.
(Doesn't seem likely, though, does it?)

And on we go!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

owlcam 2016

I've been meaning to mention: the livestream that helped me remain sane in February/March 2015 is open again...

because the Great Horned Owls have returned to the nest!

Bonus: this year there are two camera angles to enjoy. The second view opens in a pop-up window so you can watch either - or both if you have the internet speed for streaming two at once. I don' took several minutes of trying to get this snap to show you:

If livestreaming is not possible at all on your connection, do not feel that you must therefore be owl-less...not at all! You can see many, many excellent screenshots and bits of interesting information posted on twitter every day, both by the camera operators and by people who are watching the cameras from all over the world. The twitter account to follow is ‏@SavannahOwls

These amazing owls have two eggs again...will we see them hatch?  :) 


Sunday, February 14, 2016


Crikey, it was cold yesterday. I did evening chores at 4PM to get the goats fed and settled before the sun went down, as it was already below zero. The funny thing is, when I later checked the goat cam, most of the goats were taking turns chasing each other around the South Paddock. Around and around and around. It went on until after dark.

Perhaps this is why those of us who remember spending our childhoods mostly outdoors all year round don't recall being troubled by cold. Maybe we were just running around constantly? If any of you decide to experiment with this, please report back. I'll be over here, wrapped in a blanket and eating cornmeal pudding.

I baked this yesterday, timed so there'd be something coming out of the oven when I came in from chores. It was a treat. Have you ever made this? There are a lot of recipes out there, and most are very similar. I'm happy with my version, so I'll share it in case anyone would like to try it. You know, after you come in from running around and around for a couple of hours.

Please note: even though it's baked in a skillet, this is not cornbread. This one is a sweet treat that belongs in the "dessert for a group" file as it's best eaten warm from the oven. I rarely make it just for myself, though leftovers can be warmed in a microwave and it's still fairly good.
But right from the oven?
My, my.

2 tablespoons butter
2 cups milk, soured by adding 1 tablespoon vinegar
2 or 3 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white self-rising cornmeal
3/4 cup (or less) brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cream

Preheat oven to 325F for deep Pyrex skillet, 350F for metal.
Heat your skillet in the preheating oven, adding the butter a few minutes before the batter is ready. You want the butter heated but not scorched.

Mix dry ingredients together in a big bowl.
Whisk eggs in a separate bowl, then add the sour milk to the eggs and blend thoroughly. Whisk milk mixture into dry ingredients, making a very thin batter.

When butter is melted, carefully remove skillet from oven (seems obvious, but I always have to remind myself that the handle is HOT) and rotate slowly to cover bottom and lower sides of skillet with butter. Then set skillet down on stovetop or extended oven rack, and gently pour the batter into center of skillet. The melted butter will rise up and engulf the edges of the batter pool. (Don't worry.) Then, pour all the cream into the center. (Trust me.)

Slide this unlikely-looking concoction into oven slowly to prevent sloshing, and bake for 45 minutes or til top is lightly browned.

Serve warm; the center will be a soft, smooth pudding and the bottom and edges will be lightly crisp from the butter. Lovely contrasting textures. Adding a little drizzle of maple syrup is nice, but it would be easy to overdo; this is a sweet, rich dessert.

Let me know if you try it!

Oh, and here's the temperature this morning:

That's -27C.

It's nearly 8AM but I expect the goats will be staying tucked in for a good long while yet. I wonder if they'll start their day with another game of tag?

Have a perfect Sunday, everyone!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

snow and stew

It's snowing again today.
Dara doesn't mind.

"Forget the snow," he says.
"Are there peanuts in your pocket?"

It has snowed for three of the past four days.
Tiny, tiny flakes. For hours and hours and hours.

Azalea catching snowflakes on her tongue.
(Not really.)
(Well, maybe.)

The total accumulation has been less than two feet (so far), but because it has gone on and on, the plowman has come twice. It's an expense, but after decades of not finding anyone reliable to tackle my challenging driveway, I am thrilled to be on this gentleman's list.

Once I asked him if he hates my driveway.
He was nice enough to say, "It isn't the worst one in town.
It is the second-worst."

I genuinely feel so much better knowing that!

There's been some Big Kettle cooking going on here.
I make a big pot of something simple,
freeze a couple of servings right away,
and then stretch the rest out over a few days
by adding something else to the pot each day.
It's a sort of Evolving Stew.

This ended up as red beans, rice, smoked ham, and cheddar.

This began as haddock chowder.
Then it became haddock/corn chowder.
And ended up as haddock/corn/broccoli chowder.
It was really good, every time!

I'm trying to always have something good, ready to eat.
It's the only way I will eat properly when I am tired.
And I really prefer good food to snacking.
But if I don't plan ahead a little bit,
and cook multiple servings of something good,
I'll rummage in the cupboard and eat crackers all day.
Or peanuts. Lots of peanuts.
I've been buying 5-pound bags of unsalted peanuts in the shell.
For the goats.

Would you want to look at this sweet, trusting face and say,
"I'm sorry, Betula. I ate all the peanuts."

Do you think you could? Really?
While he's standing patiently in the falling snow?

Let's look at that face one more time.


Time to make another kettle of stew!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

saturday snaps

Yesterday we got our first serious snow of the season.
About 8" of light but sticky snow.

Small plants seem to get a disproportionate load of snow.

Maybe it's character-building?

The youngest goats have seen a lifetimes-worth of ice already,
but this was their first "real" snow...

and it did not slow them down one bit.

While all the goats were tied for their breakfast buckets,
I took a few minutes to enjoy the west view from the barn.
The tree in the center of the image
is a magnificent red oak, Quercus rubra.

I hope you are having a lovely weekend wherever you are!