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Homemade Italian Sausage Recipe

Homemade Italian Sausage Recipe

 Homemade Italian Sausage Recipe

When I look for recipes for sausage I find recipes using sausage, not making sausage. It took me quite some time to come up with our homemade Italian sausage recipe a few years ago. It takes trial and error, and we have to consider the freshness and quality of the herbs and spices we use.

I tucked this recipe away two years ago after we raised a couple of pigs out near the orchard. At that time I asked the butcher to grind our sausage meat for me. It came back in neat five pound packages ready to be seasoned. This year our pig was raised for us and went to a different slaughter house. I asked for our trimmings to be packaged and sent back to grind myself.

homemade italian sausage, recipe, Weston meat grinderThe trimmings had more fat on it than I wanted in our grind so a lot of it was trimmed away. I used the Weston meat grinder we bought when I shot the bear in September for a blend around 80% meat, 20% fat. Once the trimmings are ground it’s time to add seasonings. That’s all there is to it.

We have Italian sausages pan fried with onions and bell peppers during grilling weather. I love Italian sausage in spaghetti sauce, and at Gundy’s suggestion, in meatloaf. This recipe is mild enough that the sausage can also be used at breakfast.

Winter’s Middle – We’ve reached the half-way point

Winter’s Middle – We’ve reached the half-way point

Winter’s Middle

We’ve reached winter’s middle, the half-way point of the season. It finally feels like a real winter this morning. When I went out to let the ducks and chickens out, bring them water and yogurt I don’t like, and a drink of water water that will melt the ice in their indoor pan, it was 0°. Some days zero doesn’t feel bad but today it’s sharp and stinging. I thought I’d go for an early morning snowshoe through the woods to look for animal tracks but came back inside instead. I’ll see how well it warms later on this afternoon.

winters middle, february 2, groundhog's day, imbolcAs I type I’m watching a blue jay resting in the hydrangea bush, recovering from a crash into the window. It’s awfully cold to not be at their best. He breathed hard and hunkered down, and I waited for him to fall off the branch into the fresh snow. The blue jay pictures were taken through a layer of plastic over an old farmhouse window and two pains of glass. I thought they were a lot more clear than they are.
winter's middle, blue jay, February 2

Inventory Day

February 2, inventory day on the homestead. A well-stocked homestead still has at least half of its needs on this day. Firewood? Check. We have more than half of the winter’s supply and all of next year’s cut, split and partially stacked. Vegetables?  Check, but close. The absence of fresh greens and roots from the high tunnel is missed. How I’d love a fresh cut salad with spinach, tender beet greens and winter-hardy lettuces, thin slices of just-pulled carrot and turnip, and onions from the pantry… The snow and rain is washing the soil this winter. We’ll recover it when I decide the soil has had enough spring rain.

Meat? This date doesn’t apply to meat for us. The bear went into the freezer in September, the chickens and partridge in October, turkeys in November, and half a pig in December. I hope we have more than a year’s worth of meat now. I hope in the spring we add four wild turkeys (we won’t, but one or two might happen) to the larder. We won’t hunt for meat again until September when bear season opens again. We intentionally put up more than a year’s worth of meat because I’m not raising any this year.

More Daylight

Daylight is 65 minutes longer now than on Winter Solstice. It’s noticeable and welcome. The ducks started laying again late last week, first one and now two. It shouldn’t be long before there are for or five duck eggs each day, and then for a short time seven. The chickens are doing well too with none of them broody and trying to hatch straw at the moment. It’s the first time since November that there’s been a full carton and more in the fridge.

After a while the blue jay noticed me watching through the window, turned as though to say goodbye, and flew away. I think once its aches and pains are gone it’ll be just fine.

My plans for the day were changed at almost last minute so I’m going to plow through writing work. I’m attending a workshop on Saturday and have a lot of reading and critique left. This weekend’s On The Fire recipe (homemade Italian sausage) has to be written. And there’s a big piece due on Monday that I’ve only scribbled notes on so far. I wish I were at the half-way point of something in the writing work right now. Maybe by lunch!

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Feeding Deer in Winter – Keep it Natural

Feeding Deer in Winter – Keep it Natural

Feeding Deer in Winter

(My February column in Maine Woodlands) Feeding deer in winter is tricky. We mean well but we can kill deer with kindness if we aren’t careful. Farmer’s Almanac said we’d have a lot of snow this winter, and they were right. We had more snow on the ground in December here in Talmadge than we had all last winter. Steve built a new food plot for the wildlife and the deer came. There were three bucks at various times, an older doe that’s usually without a fawn, a doe with twins and a doe with a singleton. Up the road a quarter-mile, neighbors had a doe with quadruplets eating under the apple tree most evenings. Most of the deer moved toward Grand Lake Stream to yard up together but a few stragglers have stayed behind.

The deer stopped eating the forage radish and turnip in the food plot in the last few days of December when a thick icy crust on top of 18″ of snow stopped them from pawing their way to the food. They occasionally walk through the plot and pass by the game cameras. They’re getting thin. Whitetails put on about 90 days’ worth of fat and their 90 days is running out. It’s hard to resist the urge to feed them. Deer will starve to death with a belly full of corn. You can’t change their diet, especially this late in winter without dire consequences.

feeding deer, deer eating cedarWhat you can do is drop a cedar tree for them. If the deer have eaten what they can reach you can bring the food down to them. We did this with good results in April of 2014. The deer returned from their winter yards to deep snow. Two cedar trees tided them over until the snow melted. The snowshoe hares also fed off the trees. The deer will most likely be fine without our help but if you want to give them a hand, keep the food natural.

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Musings on a Mid-Winter Morning

Musings on a Mid-Winter Morning

Musing

mus*ing: a period of reflection or thought. I’ve been musing a lot lately, even more than normal for these quiet winter times.

I seem to be at a loss for good words here right now. I write, think it’s pretty good, and then delete. My winter writing was planned with a four-month long workshop and gathering of creative minds but that’s been cancelled. It’s disappointing but something good is coming. Hang with me until the end. I’ve been musing a lot lately, mostly about the state of the world. I’m grateful for a strong husband who takes care of us and many others, for daughters and sisters I love dearly, and to live where I do in spite of our current “leader.” The work relationships I’m developing are fun and rewarding. Lots of things spinning around in this brain of mine.

Let’s Go Outdoors

I took the dogs out for a walk to get some fresh air and clear my mind before I sat down to write. We started in the food plot. The deer have been gone for a few weeks. There are no tracks or droppings from anything, not even the over abundance of snowshoe hares. The pumpkins are still there, barely nibbled. There’s another coyote, bigger than the last.

musing, pumpkins in snow, food plot

We got enough rain this month that combined with snow melt the pond’s water level up three feet. If the trout survived the low water and early freezing that limits oxygen in the water, they now have a better chance at survival. If I weren’t a klutz I’d be skating!
musing, pond, ice skating pond, homestead pond, small farm pond

Ava, looking for a bunny trail. She didn’t find one. Zoey did her zig zag search and also came up empty.
English shepherd, musing

Red squirrels’ winter stash. I saw apples stashed in trees all around me while we were out. Putting food up is a smart thing, especially these days.
frozen apple, musing, squirrel, stash, winter food

I did a bit of collecting while we were out. Usnea, a lichen commonly know as Old Man’s beard, drops from the trees in winter. Deer eat it as a last resort in winter but since the deer aren’t here I felt free to gather quite a bit. I brought in another moss I don’t know the name of and a handful of small spruce cones. The snow was littered with tiny seeds from the cones.
musing, lichen, old man's beard, usnea, spruce cone, nature

Where and how and with the amount of freedom I have isn’t lost on me. Where and how and with the amount of hate, pain and suffering others live in also isn’t lost on me. The beauty around me, even in the dead of winter when the evergreens are dull and hardwoods bare, and there’s little for color other than the blue jays, isn’t lost on me.

On Writing

Someone good has come my way. I’ve realized this week that I need help with this book I’m writing about this life I’m living in these woods I own. I’ve started working with Brenda, the energetic, creative, encouraging editor and writing coach behind Forest North Books. I’m looking forward to spending time with her this winter. Know that if I’m not here in the blog often it’s because I’m writing “the book” and making real progress. Or I’m staring out the window at the birds in the feeding station. Writing. Yes, let’s go with writing.

I’m starting a few herb and greens seeds today! What are you doing?

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Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe

Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe

The One Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe You Need

This is my favorite peanut butter cookie recipe. It might be my favorite cookie overall. Mum most often made peanut butter or chocolate chip cookies. I don’t remember many times when the cookie jar was empty.

Great for Kids

I’m a proponent of kids in the kitchen. This recipe is a great one for kids as well as for last-minute cookies.

It’s easy to remember, easy to make, and easy to eat an entire batch in a few days with a little help. I know people who can keep a batch of cookies in the house for two weeks. They eat one cookie a day. I am not them. Two cookies and a cup of coffee or rich hot chocolate and it’s goodbye cookies. I save a few for us and send the rest to work with Steve.

The ONE recipe is easy to remember. The only ONE peanut butter cookie recipe you really need. Most ingredients are measured in one cup or teaspoon.

PB&J

Peanut Butter & Jam cookwiches! I prefer my PB&J sandwich be made with jam between two peanut butter cookies. Use the soft cookies for this so that you can bite through the cookies without squeezing the jam out. A stiff jelly works well too.

peanut butter cookie recipe, peanut butter jelly sandwich, recipe

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Icy, Snow, Sleet, Freezing Rain, Writing

Icy, Snow, Sleet, Freezing Rain, Writing

Icy Icy Icy!

Snow, sleet, freezing rain, high winds, icy everything – but minor. We didn’t lose power, dead trees are still standing, and the snowy, sleety, icy, crunchy mess isn’t too bad to walk on as long as I have cleats on my boots. WiFi is the usual lost but these days it’s out or so slow it isn’t useful (remember 28.8 on dial up? lightening fast in comparison, no exaggeration) often regardless of the weather. A few days the ground under the evergreens was bare. It looks opaque now, kind of pretty but still dull.

It’s been quiet here, hasn’t it. I’ve been writing. A lot of writing happens these days but it’s for a book. I’ve been going in circles with this book for too long. I argue and debate myself over what should and shouldn’t be included, how much detail to give, narrow or widen the focus… That’s coming to an end today when I start working with Brenda, my book coach. We’ll be working together the rest of the winter and into spring. She’ll help me find clarity and focus today, and then I’ll spend the next two weeks working away, asking for help, direction and advice when needed, and preparing for our next session.

Out of Sorts

I’m a little out of sorts without a big seed order to put together, seeds to start in a couple of weeks, no high tunnel providing fresh greens, and too little outdoors time. The amount of hate (I won’t get political) being spewed is unsettling while women who aren’t affected by certain issues attack women who are. You’ve probably heard me talk about hunter vs hunter and outdoorsmen vs outdoorsmen. That’s mild in comparison. This isn’t Right vs Left. It’s woman vs woman. Politicians had nothing on this venom.

Fun Times Coming!

With this in mind, I have fun things with good people to look forward to. Carol and I are going to snowshoe as soon as the icy trails are suitable. I’m looking forward to some girlfriend time with her, laughing and visiting outdoors. I have a weekend of ice fishing coming up and I’m planning a camping trip for early summer. I’ll be hanging out with wonderful women in July when I make the trip back to Pyramid Life Center for a poetry weekend with Cynthia that moves directly into the women’s writing retreat I’ve loved for three years.

I’m off to put away the folded laundry that’s stacked on the loveseat, push the button on the Ninja for a fresh cuppa, and gather my writing things together. The icy weather will keep me in by the fire for the rest of the day. I’ll be on the loveseat if you want to chat. Comments are open and I’ll be checking in except for 1-2 pm EST when I’m hanging out with Brenda.

Icy raspberry cane

icy, coating of ice off a tree branch
icy lichen
icy spruce
icicles, metal roof, icy

Baked Beans Recipe – Traditional New England Saturday Night Supper

Baked Beans Recipe – Traditional New England Saturday Night Supper

Baked Beans Recipe

Baked beans were not my favorite Saturday night, or any night for that matter, supper. They’re as traditional as lobster bakes on the beach, clam chowder and moose tenderloin but that didn’t mean anything to me. Over the years I’ve tweaked the recipe, as you should do to make it suit your tastes, and now I love baked beans. Protein and iron rich, filling and satisfying, healthy fat from homegrown pork, and great for leftovers. What’s not to love!

baked beans, new england, recipe

Well…what’s not to love…”homemade” using baked beans from a can. I have nothing against them, some are delicious, but clearly they’re not homemade no matter what you do to them. It’s like melting butter, adding a little salt, pouring it into a bowl, and saying you made butter.

Bean Pot or Slow Cooker

baked beans

You can bake the beans in a traditional bean pot or your slow cooker. If the weather is bitterly cold I use the bean pot and keep the oven on to warm the kitchen. However, it’s easier to keep an eye on the beans using a slow cooker with a glass top so you can make sure they don’t dry out.

Warmed up baked beans for breakfast will hold you well to lunch time if you’re busy outdoors. They’re great in chili and refried beans.

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Ermine, Nature’s Mouse Trap

Ermine, Nature’s Mouse Trap

Ermine – Short-tailed Weasel

We have an ermine, called a short-tailed weasel or stoat when from spring through fall when its coat isn’t white. I mentioned it before. It still comes around now and then even though it’s wiped out the mouse problem for us. There’s been some concern by folks who get a glimpse of him about the safety of our ducks and chickens. So far it’s fine. If it’s going into the hen house it isn’t causing a problem. There’s plenty of food so the little guy is well fed. We like to live with the wildlife as much as possible. As long as they mind their manners they’re welcome to stay.

There isn’t a lot I can do to prevent the ermine from getting to the poultry. They can squeeze through a tiny hole to get in and the birds are outside during the day. I’ve read that ermine are nocturnal but we see him almost daily in morning and afternoon, same as every other ermine we’ve had. Relocating is inhumane this time of year. Taking an animal out of its habitat and moving it to a strange place in the dead of winter is likely to cause it a harsh death. I’m not sure we have a live trap small enough to keep it contained anyway.

stoat, short-tailed weasel, weasel, ermine
ermine, mouse,
I suspect the occasional scattering of small bird feathers we find under the bird feeder and around the back porch are signs of his successful hunts. We hope he’ll feast on the three red squirrels. I heard it skittering around the attic yesterday and hope that means he’ll will discourage the red squirrels from moving in when it’s time to build a nest.

Look carefully, there aren’t a lot of details. The ermine is sitting on an old moose antler that Steve found it in the woods last fall while he was hunting. It’s so old moss is growing, and the calcium is breaking down. It’s flaking away a little at a time. For now it’s interesting took look at, and the ermine likes to sit on it. When he’s unaware of my presence he’ll stand up straight and tall on the antler to get a better view of what’s around. This morning he knew I was there so he came and went faster than ermines already move naturally.

moose antler, ermine, stoat, short-tailed weaselErmine’s are small, adorable and somewhat personable predators. I lose track of time watching him and will miss seeing him when winter ends and he returns to the woods.

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Fish Chowder – From Lake to Bowl

Fish Chowder – From Lake to Bowl

Fish Chowder

A steaming bowl of fish chowder, a thick slice of homemade bread slathered with good butter, and a big spoon. That’s all I need to make a meal that leaves me wanting more even after I’m stuffed to the gills (you see what I did there?). Chowder isn’t just for seafood. You can use fresh water fish, and it’s especially good if you’re using fish you’ve just caught while ice fishing. I stick with white fish and skip any that are oily. If you’d prefer to use ocean fish I suggest haddock, cod or pollock. Good fresh-water choices are cusk, yellow and white perch, and bass.

fish chowder

Mixing it Up

You may now listen to On The Fire and The Big Wild on our new podcast!

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Rather than tell you how to make fish stock let’s use Hank Shaw’s recipe. He makes great stock and it’s so similar to my recipe there’s no need for me to duplicate it.

You can exchange the butter for salt pork or bacon. Cut it into half-inch cubes and saute to release some of the fat before you add the onions to the pan.

I grew up with chowder made from canned milk instead of heavy cream, and now I sometimes use half ‘n half if I don’t have heavy cream. All three are good but I prefer cream.

Some folks add 1/2 cup of chopped celery when they saute the onions.

Chowder stores well in the refrigerator. Refrigerate leftovers immediately without letting the chowder cool to room temperature because of the dairy and fish.

This looks great served in bread bowls. Traditionally, it’s served with Saltines or Oyster crackers.

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Track Maker – predator on the homestead

Track Maker – predator on the homestead

The Track Maker

I waited until it warmed up before going out this morning. Six below. -6°F, “feels like” -17°F (feels like needles on bare skin) when I went out. The ducks peeked out the door. A hen waddled out, looked around, stretched her right leg behind her, wings out straight, turned around and waddled back inside. I closed the door behind her and filled the water pans. The chickens are pecking at a pan of bacon fat I gave them a few days ago as a treat. The extra calories help them stay warm and maintain weight. We’re in the coldest part of winter now. I think I’ve already told you that. Ava snuffled enough birds to be satisfied that all was well, looked for eggs in the usual spots on the floor (she stares at them, I’m sure hoping they’ll leap into her mouth since she’s not allowed to take them) and went to the door to wait. One egg from Sweetie. The ducks aren’t laying and only three chickens are popping out eggs every couple of days.

It’s so cold the snow squeaks under foot. Ava and Zoey took off in the direction of the food plot then waited to see if I were going with them. None of us are getting enough exercise these days. I’d bundled up before leaving the house so we could go for a short walk. There were game cameras to check this morning. What left the tracks we found while walking Sunday afternoon?

Bobcat or Coyote?

Do I want to deal with an early bobcat or a coyote? Coyotes are easier when it comes to poultry but bobcats are far more interesting. I fed a starving bobcat at the end of winter 2015 to keep him alive and away from my birds. Do I want to do it again? The deer have moved on so I can set up a feeding station at the bear bait site without worrying about causing problems for the deer. Would I rather bait a coyote in the same spot? The difference between a feeding station and a bait is species. I’ll feed a bobcat to keep it away from the ducks and chickens but I’ll bait a coyote in order to shoot it. A bobcat will stay away from people if it isn’t desperate. A coyote is an opportunist waiting for one escaped bird rather it’s starving or not.

We went to all three cameras, two in the food plot and one in the wood yard, and swapped the cards. I pried the first one open with a little effort but the clasps on the second and third cameras were frozen solid.  There’s nothing good about taking your gloves off when it’s -7° and breezy but I wanted those cards.

And the Pictures Show…

The pictures show nothing definite but I’m pretty sure the track maker is a coyote. Right side of the screen, a coyote head. The camera triggered two seconds too fast for a full body shot. The batteries were probably too cold to snap the second photo sooner. Normally there are three or four empty pictures before something walks into the frame. We have the head and tip of a busy tail.
coyote, food plot, winter, track maker
track maker, coyote tailNotice the lack of tracks on the snow? The coyote is light enough to stay on top of the crust. Deer break through. It’s a big advantage for the coyotes. It snowed a few times between December 28 and January 6 when the track maker returned. I hoped to find the culprit in this photo but didn’t. Cold batteries again. Look closely. There’s a snowshoe hare
snowshoe hare, food plot, winter, snow, track makertrack makerHere’s what we know. Bobcats don’t come near the house unless they’re starving. We’ve had four bobcats here in 18 winters. All were starving and desperate enough to take their chances with us and the dogs. Two of them came in the winter of 2015 when we had more than 200 inches of snow. One of them killed two ducks but the other found the feeding station and didn’t come closer. We know there’s another coyote here. There aren’t any indications of a bobcat. I think the hare hopped through and the coyote followed its tracks and/or scent later. It snowed Friday night into Saturday morning. There wasn’t much of a crust on the snow for the coyote to stay on so it broke through and left the tracks that then collected snow.

Nature sleuthing. Don’t you love it? I believe the track maker is the coyote. Case dismissed.