A Peck of Peppers

I had a lot of peppers ready in the garden. A peck? Probably not but about 10 pounds or so. I had six pounds of Fresno chile peppers, and the rest were red cherry peppers, cayenne and Anaheim.

Peck of Peppers

I have made hot sauce in the past. There are two basic methods, one is using vinegar up front, mashing the peppers and extracting the juice after cooking them. The other is fermenting the peppers by adding salt. I prefer the latter approach. However, I have wanted to try aging the hot sauce in a charred oak barrel and I found someone who wrote about his experience in this article.

The article described using a juice to extract the juice and I decided to try it. It worked really well. I ended up with a very red juice and a bin of pulp.

Juicing peppers

I poured the juice into the 3-gallon barrel, along with some water and salt. I should add the pulp back to the juice but it was difficult to get that pulp through a funnel into the barrel so I decided to let it ferment on its own. I’ll see if I get very much additional liquid. I will check the barrel in about a month and see how it turns out.

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Summer Sky

The southern sky in summer.

The southern sky in summer.

I’ve been experimenting with night sky photography with my FujiFilm X100S. I did several sessions up in the mountains on a recent vacation and I was really impressed by the level of detail — better than what I could see with the naked eye.

To take these pictures, I set the camera at the highest ISO (6400) for a 20 second exposure. I am testing out a lower ISO number and a longer exposure.

At Pillow Road, even though we are in a rural area, there’s more light pollution, even though it appears to be dark. So you don’t get the same amount of detail as I did in the mountains. Yet I really like what I am able to see shooting the southern sky, where the Milky Way is visible in August.

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Making Applesauce

We have a new reason to do canning this year — baby Henry! Katie came by and we made applesauce from red Gravensteins. She wants to have fresh applesauce in the pantry for when Henry starts to eat real food. I am glad to see that Katie wants to learn canning and she said it was easier than she thought. Like many things, the more you do it, the process gets to be familiar, which makes it easier. Still I have my copy of the book “Putting Food By” nearby.

Making Applesauce-3

We used the Italian food mill that I regular use to make tomato sauce. We cook the apples enough to soften them and then put them through the mill, which removes the seeds and skin. What came out was applesauce with a tint of red. We had more than enough for a dozen half-cup jars. I can’t wait until Henry gets to taste it for himself.

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The Down of a Thistle

Dried Cardoon

This is a head of a cardoon, which is much like an artichoke. Both are from the thistle family. I have both cardoons and artichokes in the same bed so I’m not 100% sure which one this is. I’m guess cardoon because of the height of the plant.

This flower is about all dried out. I was struck by the beautiful earthy colors, and fur-like texture, suggesting that we are slowly approaching the end of summer.

I took this photo with a new camera, the Fujifilm X100S.

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Fruit Roll Ups From a Juicer

The last of the plums (Santa Rosa and Beauty) were sitting on the counter, begging to be used. The nectarines were also ready to be picked. I needed to do something with them. Nancy had already made peach jam and I had frozen two bags of raw plum pulp. Glenda was visiting and she’s always liked fruit roll ups. I actually tried getting her to pit the fruit but no.

I decided I would try using my Omega juicer to create the puree. I pitted the fruit and then just tossed the plums and nectarines in the hopper. I got a nicely textured puree, and the juicer removed some of the skins. My only problem was by mistake throwing in a nectarine half that still had the pit. The juice crushed the pit and then shut down, fully jammed. I had to fuss to get it working again, and had to clean it all out. However, the experiment was a good success, better than a blender or Cuisinart. I did one mixture of plums and nectarines, and one of nectarines only.

I poured the puree on four trays (oiled) and set them in the dehydrator overnight. In the morning, I had the fruit leather, which I cut up in sections and rolled in plastic wrap.

Because I had some extra puree, and plenty more nectarines, I froze the puree as baby food for HDK, when he starts eating solids in a month or two.

  • Nectarines
  • The juicer working with pitted plums and nectarines
  • Nectarine puree ready to be dried
  • Plum puree ready to be dried.
  • The dried fruit leather on its tray.
  • The fruit leather removed from the tray.
  • I cut them in slices and rolled them in plastic.

Low Hanging Fruit

The Santa Rosa Plums are ready to be picked and I was reminded of the cliche “low hanging fruit.” One reason the fruit is low hanging is that the branches are sagging under the weight of all the fruit. Pick it now before the birds come for it or it drops to the ground.



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New Lamb


A New Lamb

A lamb was born Friday morning rather late in the season.  I carried it from the pasture, fearing it was exposed to turkey buzzards, and moved it to the shed and waited for the other sheep to surround it.


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Green Pastures

With the February rains, the grass in the pastures is growing. Is it ever green? The sheep are happy to be eating it. The lambs are growing as well. All wonderful signs of spring at Pillow Road.


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What a difference rain makes

The first photo of the pasture and sheep was taken January 26, just after the new lambs were born. The second photo was taken today, about two weeks later and following a heavy storm that dropped over ten inches of rain. Walking through the muck and mud today was kind of fun. With so many gopher holes, my feet often sank even deeper, as the ground gave way.

It’s been a while since we have a good storm like this one. We need more, but we had plenty this weekend.



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Contrasting Weekends and a Weekend of Contrasts

Bad and good karma.  Snow and sun.  White and black.  Pleasure and pain.  Life and death.  Winter and summer.  Being together, being alone.  Old and new.

Last weekend I was in Oslo Norway where it was as expected, snowy, cold and dark — and wonderful.  The days were short and gray.  I wore a parka and snow boots, walking through slush in the street.  I took a red train to the science center for Maker Faire Oslo and when its door opened the platform awaited with a blanket of untouched snow.   The talk I gave in English about Maker Faire was heard by a 100 or so Norwegians who seemed comfortable in English.  I had dinner with 200 makers.

Traveling, especially overseas, is a matter of always figuring things out because nothing is routine. I was checking maps, timetables and currency exchanges, often on my phone.  I was usually busy meeting new people all day, which I enjoy, but then I would return to a small, sterile hotel room. I’m alone, and struggling to get to sleep.  I have learned to take sleep when it comes and relax as though I were sleeping, even when I am awake most of the night.  One restless night in Norway, I tried thinking of morning, and a breakfast featuring herring and salmon.  The night before I was to fly home from Munich, I went to bed at 11 pm and woke up at 1:20 am.   I could not fall back asleep, try as I might.  At 4 am I got up for good, packed my bags and by 5pm I was on the train to the airport, the first leg of a long journey home.

This weekend, I was home, just Nancy and me.  I woke to the bleating of new lambs in the pasture.  I made my own coffee, the way I usually do.   I sat in my usual sunny spot by the window and read newspapers and a history book on my iPad.   I tended the sourdough, restarting it for bread I wanted to make.  I checked the glass jars of wine vinegar, which are going for several months.   I hand-watered the kale starts in the greenhouse. Outside it was warmer than summer, above 70 degrees.  California weather is an amazing gift.

The night before I learned that an old friend, Mark Harrington, had passed away in late December.   I had not seen Mark in many years but we met through our wives because our kids went to the same pre-school.   Mark worked as an OSHA inspector but I knew nothing about that side of him.   Outside work, he had lots of interests and he was an energetic and curious person.  He was always trying something new, and some of it was hare-brained.  He was always encouraging me to join him and I did.

I remember that we built a solar oven together, one with a large chimney.   It was a plywood structure that we lined with aluminum foil.   We used it to dry apples from my trees but I don’t recall it working that well.  Mark also taught me how to graft and we spent several spring weekends grafting trees in the apple orchard.  We cut grooves in each end, made them fit together, painted the joint then secured it with a white plastic tape.   We cut up old beer cans in strips and used them to label the new grafts.   In the fall, I rented a heavy wrought-iron cider press from the feed store and we had a cider-making party.   Nancy just showed me a picture of Mark happily working the press.

After Mark and his family left Sebastopol, I fell out of touch with him.  I read his obituary in the local paper online.  He had become a mountain-bike enthusiast.  Over the holidays, on a biking trip with his son in Annadel State Park, Mark had a fatal heart attack.  An article in the paper had a wonderful picture of him in Turkey from a recent trip.   Mark loved to travel.   He had met his wife, Ely, while on a trip to Peru.

As it turned out, the only thing I planned to do Saturday reminded me of Mark as well.   I went to the scion exchange in Santa Rosa, organized by the Rare Fruit Growers Association.  Members bring in cuttings from their fruit trees and make them available to anyone.   You can then graft these scions on to your own trees, making it possible to get different varieties of fruit from the same tree.   “I just love my Sierra Beauty,” said a woman, talking about an apple variety that I heard mentioned by several people.  There were lots of apple, pear and plum varieties, many of them which are never seen commercially.   I was to meet Milo there and found him in a workshop on pruning.  A local gardener who was also a teacher by day was leading the workshop.  He picked up branches he cut from trees in his yard and shared what might be called rules of thumb for pruning, noting that not everyone agrees with these rules.  It’s a craft shaped by many different views, like an ongoing conversation about what’s the right way to do things and when.   While the rules look simple, the craft itself is complicated and only acquired through experience.

  1. Early in a tree’s life the focus is on growing wood, becoming strong, not growing fruit.  In third year prune tree for fruiting.
  2. The biggest enemy of a fruiting tree is its own shade. Pruning is opening the tree for more light.
  3. Horizontal wood is the best fruiting wood.  Vertical wood stimulates tree growth, not fruit growth.
  4. Don’t prune in the rain; it will spread disease.  Prune only when dry — not getting much rain these days though.

On the way back from Santa Rosa, I stopped by DRNK Winery to see Katie and Ryan.  My daughter, Katie, is seven and a half-months pregnant — and she’s happy that the end is in sight as she’s having trouble sleeping.   The baby, which she calls “the creature” because she doesn’t want to know its sex yet, is an amazing thing to think of — that my daughter is going to give birth to another amazes me.   The creature will be its own person, creating its own life, and yet also extending ours.  The three of us had lunch together outside, and it was just so warm and comfortable, again making us think we were in summer.

When I returned home, something caught my eye in the side yard.  When I approached, I saw it was a weasel, lying on its back in a hole in the grass.   I moved forward cautiously, not wanting to scare it away and also grab a photo if I could.   Just a bit further ahead, I saw another weasel pop its head up, looking perhaps at both me and the other weasel.   As I came closer to the weasel, I saw that it was on its back.  At first I thought it was just lying on its back, basking in the sun.   Then I realized the weasel had been caught in a gopher trap.  If it had been a gopher in the trap, I would have been happy.  I don’t want to harm a weasel, which despite their name and reputation, help to control the gopher population.  I’ve enjoyed seeing them pop up now and then.  Unfortunately, weasels move through the network of gopher holes.  I could not do anything for this creature, although it was still alive.  It made me sad, especially with its mate popping up to look over.

I went to check on the sheep.  Three lambs, all of them black, had been born during the week while I was away.  I wanted to see them up close and try to get a good photo of them.  In the pasture, however, I saw not only the three lambs and their mother but also two more lambs, also all black, and their mother.  They must have been born today.   I had looked in the pasture this morning after hearing the three lambs bleating and there had only been the three.  Now there were five.   It is such a beautiful sight to see the new lambs, still getting used to being on their own feet and running back and forth between the two ewes.

As the sun was descending, I worked along the fence line, trying to get a photo of the sheep without the sun in the background.  I held my camera phone, fighting the light to find the right focus.   The lambs moved back and forth from one mother to the next, and began moving away from me.   I leaned forward to improve the shot.   I leaned too far and,my elbow grazed the electric wire.   The phone fell from my hands immediately and landed on the other side of the fence.   I was jolted backward, a bit dazed but not really hurt, just surprised.  That was dumb, I said to myself.

We have an electric fence around the pasture because several years ago we had lost all of our lambs to predators.  It could have been coyotes or even a mountain lion.   Milo had fixed the fence this week after noticing the lambs were born.  Well, I can say that it is working now.

I went back to the weasel, which had died.  I picked it up with a shovel, its golden brown body in the rusty trap and the low sunlight striking its fur as I lifted it off the ground.

Nancy and I took the dogs for a walk just before sunset.  We passed a vineyard that had just been pruned.   The canes that produced fruit last year won’t produce any this year and so they were removed, and sat in a pile for chipping.  The vines seemed bare but ready for this year’s growth.

Our usual route took us to the edge of town, where we cut through a cemetery and then through Luther Burbank’s Experimental Farm, a historical landmark for the man who was known as the “plant inventor.”  We ended up passing through the cemetery again on the way home.   As we walked through rows of tombstones, we read names off of monuments, thinking of first names that Katie and Ryan might want to consider, names now carved in stone and dated but names that were waiting to be taken and used again for new people.

  • The train to Maker Faire Oslo
  • New lambs in the pasture
  • The poor weasel
  • The vines have bee pruned


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