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One of the questions we often get asked is, “Just what do you do with a llama?”
Llamas are wonderfully versatile animals and there are lots of things that people enjoy doing with them.

1. Packing. After all, this is what they were bred to do for thousands of years in South America. The greatest advantage of llamas as packers is their low impact on the environment. Their padded feet do less damage to the trail than people in hiking shoes. They are much smaller than horses or mules with the average pack llama weighing between 300 and 400 pounds. Llamas require much less to drink than most pack stock. Since they are members of the camel family, they are able to obtain much of their water from the foods they eat.

Llamas on the trail

Llamas on the trail

2. Shows. There are llama shows all around the nation where llamas are judged on their fiber and conformation and they can compete in a variety of agility and obstacle courses.

Backing through hay bale maze

Backing through hay bale maze

3. Parades. Who doesn’t love a parade, and everyone loves to see llamas in a parade. We have walked with ours in several Christmas Parades. We dress them up in reindeer antlers and tinsel and they are the hit of the day. They have been real troopers and haven’t been spooked by the High School Bands, fire engines, horses, or dogs. AND I have never had to clean up poop behind them.

Christmas Parade

Christmas Parade

4. Fiber. One of the most prized byproducts of llamas is their fiber. Their fiber can be used to make anything that you can make out of sheep wool. Plus llama hair does not have lanolin and comes in a variety of natural colors.

We shear our llamas once a year, usually in April or May, when the temperatures are above freezing and the highs are in the 70’s. By the time winter comes around again, their coats are grown out enough to keep them warm. Shearing the llamas is an absolute necessity. Heat stress is a major killer for llamas, especially with the heat and humidity in Virginia.

Before and After Shearing

Before and After Shearing

5. Pets. Although we pack with our llamas as a business, they are first and foremost our pets and companions. The time we spend with them brushing and grooming, feeding them, and even cleaning up poop, is very relaxing and enjoyable. We talk with them and watch as they interact with each other. Llamas can be very entertaining and affectionate in their own way.

Oooo! The water tickles my tongue.

Oooo! The water tickles my tongue.

6. Therapy animals. Llamas are often taken to nursing homes and children’s hospitals to brighten the day and bring a smile. Llamas are intuitive and seem to sense the needs of others. They are very calm and gentle animals.

7. Guardians. Llamas make good livestock guards. They prefer to be with their own species, but they will adopt and bond with their new herdmates, be it sheep, alpacas, or cows. They are very protective against coyotes, wild dogs, and other predators.

8. Golfing. Believe it or not, there are golf courses that use llamas as caddies. I’m not much of a golfer myself, but I could get into the game if I could walk the course with a llama.

9. Carting. Llamas can also be trained to pull a cart. They can be used singly or as a team. I expect that it would take a good bit of time and patience to master this skill, but I can only imagine the attention that you would get driving your llama through the park.

10. Walking and jogging. Sometimes I want a change of pace from walking the dogs. I halter one of the llamas and take a relaxing walk around the neighborhood. The llamas are very curious and attentive, and it is entertaining just to watch them as they observe the interesting things along the way.

Taking a stroll with Domino

Taking a stroll with Domino

So you see, llamas can be much more than just a pasture ornament, though that is one of the greatest pleasures that they give to me. There is no better feeling than to gaze down on the fields, no matter the season, and watch the llamas as they bask in the sun, roll in the dust, munch grass, hike through the snow, or pronk around the fence in expression of the sheer joy of life. So, what do YOU do with a llama?

Taking a dust bath

Taking a dust bath

Dreaming of spring

Dreaming of spring

curtains

Now, I know you are going to say that I’m one egg short of a dozen, but I recently saw, in one of my farm publications, an article about nest box curtains. The photos were adorable, and I thought, if for nothing else, my young hens needed a home improvement project.

Before embarking on this undertaking, I decided to do a little research to hopefully find a design that didn’t involve sewing. I used to sew…..somewhat. I had a basic cabinet machine that my Mom had bought when I was just a kid. Granted it was ugly, it only did straight stitching, and it took up floor space, which we were always in short supply of. But it was always there…always up and ready to go. If I needed to repair a 1 inch seam…zoom, it was done.

About 20 years ago, my sweet road warrior surprised me for Christmas with a new portable machine that could be packed up and stored out of sight and could do zigzag stitches and button holes. We were living in Italy at the time, so when we were ready to pack out and return to the states, I gave the old cabinet machine to my Pilipino housemaid. The portable machine now sits in the back of a closet, behind rolls of Christmas wrap and boxes of shoes, and gathers dust bunnies. It’s too much trouble to dig out and set up, so it hasn’t been used in years. I have forgotten how to sew. So… back to the chicken curtains.

Who knew that the idea of curtains for the chickens nest boxes has been around for decades, maybe centuries? Old time farmers used to tack up old gunny sacks over the nest box openings to provide the hens with privacy. Chickens apparently prefer to lay their eggs in a dark and secluded space, hence, a good excuse to hang some jazzy curtains.

The coop BC (Before Curtains)

The coop BC (Before Curtains)

There are lots of gorgeous coop curtains out there. Just google it, if you are interested in seeing more ideas. Many talented ladies make curtains with tie backs. Personally, that would have been my preference, but definitely involved more sewing skills than I wanted to resurrect. Then I saw some that were just straight valances….nothing more involved than sewing a rod pocket and a hem. But, it did involve digging out the dreaded machine and spending more time setting it up than the time it would take to do the whole sewing thing.

So I opted to find a readymade valance. Just by chance, I found a wonderful lady on Etsy that makes custom curtains, and she made these cute valances for me. I love the comical chicken design, and the colors were just perfect to brighten up the place.

Ready to move beck in

Ready to move beck in

I can’t say for sure whether the chickens approve, they haven’t started laying eggs yet, but it sure makes me smile while I’m scooping out chicken poop.

The Pullet Palace

The Pullet Palace

Wylie Wisteria

17 years ago, this month, we bought a wisteria vine and planted it next to a tree in front of the house. Year after year we waited for it to bloom. Year after year Tim vowed to trim it back.

“I’m going to build an archway between the trees and train the wisteria on it.”

“I’m going to stress it and cut it back hard to force it to bloom.”

“The vine is taking over the tree. It’s going to eventually kill it.”

Year after year, I defended the vine and told Tim to be patient.

This year, when the threats started again, I caved.

Just last week, Tim said he was tired of the vine and wanted to get rid of it. It was never going to bloom and it was all the way to the top of the tree. I said I was tired of his complaining, and he could do whatever he wanted. I only requested that he cut it before it fully leafed out so we didn’t end up with ugly, dead vine hanging on the tree all summer.

And Voila! The next day, the wisteria bloomed for the first time ever. Stay of execution.

Wisteria in bloom edit

If you live in the Northeastern U.S., you may be familiar with the number 1, most hated, invasive weed in the region, Garlic Mustard. It is a member of the mustard family, but has a distinctive garlic aroma when the leaves are crushed.

Garlic Mustard in the Wild

Garlic Mustard in the Wild

This weed is a non-native plant that was introduced from Europe back in the late 1800’s as a culinary herb. But it has gotten out of control and is taking over our woodlands, and strangling out our native plants. As a result, many communities are hosting Garlic Mustard Pulling Parties, where people are encouraged to gather for the day to yank out these pesky plants by the wagon load.

I didn’t know that you could eat Garlic Mustard until I recently saw a recipe for Garlic Mustard Pesto. Apparently all parts of the plant are edible, to include the sweet tasting flowers and the tap-root, which resembles the flavor of horseradish. Having lived for a few years in Italy, I am an aficionado of Italian Pesto; the traditional recipe using basil and garlic. And since we have patches of the Garlic Mustard growing exuberantly along the fringes of our woods, I decided I would reduce the infestation by eating some of it. You know the old expression, “If you can’t beat it, eat it.”

I checked out a few recipes online and picked bits and pieces of several recipes to come up with a recipe that suited my taste. I prepared it for the first time last night, and it was surprisingly delicious. I’m going to show you how I made it.

A mess of greens, as we say in the south, and my sous chef, Bayley

A mess of greens, as we say in the south, and my sous chef, Bayley

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

2 cups (packed) garlic mustard leaves. Pick greens from an unsprayed area and make sure you wash them well.

4 ounces pine nuts

3 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped (or 2 tablespoons wild spring onions)

4 ounces extra virgin olive oil

16 ounces penne pasta

3 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano is preferred)

Salt to taste

Ingredients for Garlic Mustard Pesto

Ingredients for Garlic Mustard Pesto

Directions

I started by picking off all the leaves and tossing them in a sink full of water. After swishing them around really well, I scooped them out by the handful, and squeezed all the water out of the leaves. I packed them really tight into a measuring cup.

You need two cups of firmly packed leaves.

You need two cups of firmly packed leaves.

It was about now, that I realized I didn’t have any chives. Well, I thought, this recipe is all about “the wild thing”, and we have plenty of wild spring onions sprouting everywhere, providing the llamas hadn’t eaten them all. (Our llamas love feasting on spring onions, as evidenced by the miasma of onion stink on their breath). So I grabbed my scissors and headed down the hill to harvest a clump. I had read a while back that the green tops of the wild onion were tasty in recipes, but to scale back on the amount, as they have a stronger flavor than the domestic variety.

Wild spring onions. Use only the green tops

Wild spring onions. Use only the green tops.

I had no idea what I was doing, but I decided that I’d go for 2 Tablespoons of the wild onions instead of the 3 tablespoons of chives. I minced them finely and tossed them in the food processor along with the 4 ounces of extra virgin olive oil and ran the food processor until the greens were finely chopped.

Next I added the pine nuts and processed the mix until it had the consistency of a paste.

Add 4 ounces of pine nuts.

Add 4 ounces of pine nuts.

At this point I transferred the mix to a mixing bowl and stirred in the parmesan cheese. I thought the pesto was a little too thick, so I added another tablespoon or two of olive oil until the consistency was right, and tasted it for salt.

Garlic Mustard Pesto.

Garlic Mustard Pesto.

WOW! Now, I must admit, I was prepared to hate this stuff. But, boy, was I surprised. It was delicious. It tasted a lot like traditional pesto, but it had a little zing. The garlic mustard leaves by themselves remind me of arugula, a little bit bitter and peppery. And this flavor came through very subtly in the pesto.

Now I couldn’t wait to boil up the penne and enjoy this taste of the wild.

Dinner is served.

Dinner is served.

I’m glad I don’t have to hate those pesky weeds nearly so much. Now I just need to find a way to love dandelions.

Feel free to give this a try, and let me know what you think.

Recipe

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

  • 2 cups (packed) garlic mustard leaves. Pick greens from an unsprayed area and make sure you wash them well.
  • 4 ounces pine nuts
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped (or 2 tablespoons wild spring onions)
  • 4 ounces extra virgin olive oil
  • 16 ounces penne pasta
  • 3 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano is preferred)

Directions

  • Toss mustard greens, chives, and olive oil into food processor. Run processor until leaves are finely minced.
  • Add pine nuts and process until it resembles a paste.
  • Remove paste from processor and place in a mixing bowl.
  • Add Parmesan cheese and salt to taste.
  • Serve over cooked penne pasta.
  • Sprinkle with additional parmesan if desired.

Bayley the Goldendoodle Lion

Bayley_Donna Parkman_2

Bayley_Donna Parkman_1

Bayley and skeletons

Bayley and Snake

Photos courtesy of my nephew: Kent Corley Photography

Wordless Wednesday

Browntown Baptist Church

Browntown Baptist Church

Full rack

I am not a gourmet cook by any stretch of the imagination. But, I do like to try new recipes. I’m constantly being bombarded by mouthwatering recipes, streaming over Facebook, or beckoning me from the pages of a magazine. And I succumb…

This invariably leads to me having to buy a new spice or condiment to make the new dish. If I were asked to name my greatest strength and my worst fault, I think the answers would be the same. I am organized. Not quite to the OCD level of organized, but maybe not so far off.

I like things to be arranged alphabetically whenever possible. And spices lend themselves to that very well. Except when you accumulate so many that they wind up all over the kitchen.

My very first spice rack was a gift from my dear Road Warrior, on our very first Christmas together, 40 years ago. It held 18 bottles of spice and it served me well for several years.

Old spice rack

Then I had a couple of racks that sat on the kitchen counter that held an additional 24 bottles. Plus there were two 2 tier lazy susans in the cupboard above the microwave that stored who knows how many more bottles. Each spice cabinet was alphabetically arranged, but I could never remember which cabinet was hiding the particular spice that I needed. And I always had to drag out the ladder to see what was lurking in the top cupboard.

I’ve been pondering on a better system for a couple of years. It seems like all the spice racks on the market assume that 12-18 spices is all you should ever need. (At present, I have a total of 63 bottles of different spices). I soon realized that I was going to have to be creative and come up with a design of my own. I scoured the internet for ideas, and took a bit here and a bit there and finally found all the pieces I needed to make my perfect spice system.

One thing I wanted to eliminate was the backup spice bottle. You know, you’ve got this spice rack with its own decorative bottles. So you’re getting low on cinnamon, you buy a jar and dump it in the decorative bottle, and you still have a quarter of a jar left in the ugly grocery store tin, so you put it in the cupboard till you need more. So you’ve now got duplicates on top of the 63 original spices.

Yikes!

So I found these wonderful 6 oz. bottles that will hold just the right amount. Actually, I first saw these bottles at Target. This is what they sell their own brand of spices in. After Googling awhile, I finally located them. They are called French Square Bottles.

4 bottles

The shelves are actually photo ledges. Google to the rescue again. And I used a clear glossy label and my own llama logo to create the name tags.
I actually have a little room for expansion, so for right now, there is just enough room to display photos of the real spices in my life….my pups…. Mayzie and Bayley.

photoSONY DSC

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