"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Lobsters of the Forest (Mushroom Madness)





These ugly lumps are actually highly prized lobster mushrooms. 

It’s prime time for mushroom hunting in the Pacific Northwest. The rains came in mid September, right on schedule, and since then we’ve had alternating rain and sunshine, which is just perfect for making the mushrooms pop up. By all accounts it’s been a bumper year for chanterelles. 

I have long been fascinated by fungi, but I’ve not done the work of educating myself to pick them, beyond a very few varieties that are easy to identify. There’s a patch of shaggy manes out in the back pasture. I’m relatively sure I can recognize agaricus campestres (though there are toxic lookalikes). If I happened to trip over a chanterelle or a morel I would know what it was. 

Nobody just trips over forest mushrooms though. You have to go out and search for them, and you have to get off the trails and go bushwhacking through the deep woods. It’s hard physical exercise and it gets you wet, dirty, and scratched up. Also exhilarated and energized. 

A relatively new friend of mine is a confident forager. In the past I’ve traded her goat cheese for mushrooms, but this year I asked if I could pay her to just take me out with her foraging. Not to any of her secret spots! That would be a very rude thing to ask. Just out into the woods and help me improve my eye for good habitat and gain some confidence identifying a few more varieties. She was happy to do so. 

We found several edible mushrooms - coral mushrooms and oyster mushrooms, a couple of decent boletes, and a small patch of chanterelles- but the coolest find was a large number of lobster mushrooms. 


The ugly lumps after careful cleaning.

Lobster mushrooms are cool. They are actually a boring, bland mushroom that has been attacked by another fungus and improbably turned into something delicious. Lobsters start out as Russula Brevipes, which is a large white mushroom that pushes up through the forest duff in evergreen forests. They are edible but exceedingly bland. Wherever you find lots of Russulas, though, you will find a few that have been turned into lobsters. The fungus makes them bright orange and hard, and curls them into fantastic, tortuous shapes. Keep an eye out for glimpses of orange poking through the forest floor. 

Cleaning them is a chore. You don’t want to wash them with water if you can help it because they will soak it up like a sponge and ruin their texture and dilute their subtle flavor. Use a stiff brush instead. Most lobsters will have at least a few wormholes in them (these ones are exceptionally free from worms) but don’t worry about that. Just trim off any bits  that seem too wormy to eat. Ditto any parts that are stubbornly grubby - though as my mom says, you gotta eat a peck of dirt before you die and eating it along with wild mushrooms seems like as good a way as any. 





There are lots of ways to prepare lobsters, but they are one of the few wild mushrooms tough enough to stand up to being sliced and fried in egg wash and crumbs like chicken-fried-steak. I added Parmesan to my bread crumbs and pan fried the mushroom steaks y til deep golden brown on both sides. I found I liked them better the more cooked they were, so next time I might use a little lower heat and give them more time. 



The other mushrooms we found went into a pasta side dish with spinach. My husband and kids were a little leery of eating the lobsters at first, but they both enjoyed them after trying them. Homero, in fact, ate an entire lobster mushroom
all by himself. 

After three hours of hiking in the intermittent rain and then cleaning the haul and cooking dinner, Ipushed back from the table, told everyone to clean up please,  I was going to take  a long hot bath. I earned it. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Last Chance Fuego



We’ve had a nice long stretch of dry weather - long for post-solstice September in the Pacific Northwest, anyway; about ten dry days in a row. I love this time of year when the sky is blue and the leaves are red and you can still go outside in a T-shirt. I’ve been spending my afternoons out with the goats, letting them feast on the fall-flush of grass. Waste not, want not is the motto of the season. We laid in only a small supply of hay this year, so the more I can fatten the goats on the September pasture, the better. 

The lack of precipitation has also allowed our brush pile to dry out. Several days ago, we tried to start a fire but the moist brush refused to burn. This afternoon I tried again, and with the help of a small amount of lighter fluid, I got it going. The last couple hours have been devoted to reading a magazine next to the fire and watching the first stars come out.




Tuesday, October 1, 2019

October Altar (Waste Not)


An enormous volunteer squash plant grew out of our compost pile this summer. This happens not infrequently, and because squash vines love rich compost, the plants tend to sprawl over vast areas and produce prodigious amounts of squash. However, most summer squash are hybrid varieties, so volunteer plants that sprout from discarded seeds are unlikely to bear fruit that is much good for eating. 

All squash blossoms are nice for eating, though. We picked many many blossoms for stuffing inside of quesadillas, or for stuffing with goat cheese. But no matter how many blossoms we picked, there were plenty left over for making squash. Past volunteer squash have produced warty gourds, yellow crooknecked squash but with hard shells and thin meat, or strange globular fruits. This one produced tiny rubbed hard shelled pumpkins, the kind you see 
decorated  with googly eyes and painted grins in bins at the grocery store in October. I’m sure they would be poor eating, but they make a nice autumn altar. 



After we picked all the little pumpkins, I let the goats go to town on the giant vine. They appreciated it. After we enjoy them on the altar for a while, I am donating these little guys to my sister, who is a pre-school teacher. No doubt they will all be festooned with googly-eyes and painted grins. 

Happy Fall to you and yours. 


Friday, August 23, 2019

The Gift of the Crab




Hope’s best friend’s dad took the girls out to check his crab pots today. Of course I instantly told her to offer the Dad goat cheese for a couple of crabs. She rolled her eyes a little and said she would. 

Then she started texting me photos. Photos of a giant cauldron of crabs boiling in seawater. 

“Mom we got SO many crabs! And we’re going back out!”

“Don’t forget!” I wrote. “Goat cheese! Or ham! Or maybe some grass fed beef?”

More photos. More crabs. Big crabs! Hope learned to clean a crab. Hope sent pictures of herself eating big handfuls of snowy white crab, but no word on whether or not she was bringing any home.

“My right arm? My firstborn child?” I texted. And then “you’re killing me, smalls!” 

When she finally came home, she shook her head. 

“Sorry mom, they didn’t want to part with any crabs.”

“Really?!” I was surprised, but not THAT surprised. I mean, no matter how many dungeoness crabs I had, I’d still find it difficult to give them away. Maybe they were for a big event. Lots of people have crab parties on the beach this time of year. 

“Bummer!” I said. “I was really hoping....” 

“Sorry mom, But I could only ask him once, you know” she said, a little witheringly. 

“I know, I know. It’s fine,” I answered, but not really feeling fine. Dungeoness crab is the absolutely best seafood on earth. Fight me. 

Then the door opened and her best friend came galloping in holding an ice chest and both girls dissolved into giggles. 

“Gotcha, mom!” Hope teased me. “How could he NOT give you crabs? I showed him our text thread. You were THIRSTY for crabs.” 

Four big crabs, already cooked and cleaned. I didn’t even have a chance to give him anything in return. Hope’s friend is spending the night, so I can send her home with something. 

Not my right arm, though. I need that to hold the nutcracker. 





Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sweet Corn and Sweet Memories




If you’ve never had sweet corn Mexican style, you really have to try it. When I was a child, we rolled our fresh boiled ears of sweet corn on top of a cold stick of butter, unwrapped and set on the table for that purpose. The hot corn melted a deep divot in the butter, making each subsequent ear easier to baptize. Then we sprinkled the ears with salt and went to town. 

There’s nothing wrong with that “recipe.”  I believe it was Garrison Kieller, in his wonderful memoir Lake Wobegon Days, who first asked the question “yeah, sex is great, but have you ever had fresh sweet corn straight from the field?” I will not go on record as to my preference, but I will affirm that fresh sweet corn bathed in butter and sprinkled with salt is one of life’s great pleasures. 

The kind of super-sweet hybrid corn we enjoy in the states  was more or less unknown in Mexico until very recently. Traditionally, all corn grown in Mexico for human consumption is what we know as “field corn” and generally used as animal feed. A little more scientifically, it’s known as “dent corn” for the little dents that develop in the center of each kernel as it dries. This is the corn that Mexican families grow, dry on the cob, twist the kernels off and store in buckets, and eventually turn into nixtamal and grind into masa to make the staple Mexican food, tortillas, all year round. There are literally hundreds of varieties - white, yellow, green, blue, red, black, and speckled. 

While most of the harvest is let to mature and will be used as described above, some of it is picked “tierno,” or “tender,” and eaten fresh. It is nowhere near as sweet as our hybrid corn, but it has a toothsome chew, and a satisfying heft that fills you up as sweet corn does not. It’s a complex carbohydrate, for sure. 

In Mexican Spanish, a fresh boiled ear of corn is called an Elote. It’s one of the most common street foods, served slathered with mayonnaise, squirted with fresh lime juice, sprinkled with chile powder, and rolled in grated cotija cheese. The same assemblage of flavors can be served in a cup, made up of the kernels of corn cut from the cob and then dressed with the same toppings. In this form it’s called Esquites, and it’s my absolute favorite Mexican street snack. 

One of my finest memories is sitting on a wrought iron bench in Oaxaca’s zocalo on a fine summer evening, eating esquites and watching dozens of well-dressed couples of a certain age dancing to the music of a marimba band. One of my greatest ambitions is to be one half of such a couple, on a fine summer evening a score of summers hence. And lord, I hope there will be esquites to revive me after I tire of dancing. 


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Blackberry Blessings



Thursday, August 1, 2019

Preserving Log Update 8/1/19



Just a quick list to try and record most of what I've done this spring/summer before I forget:

- Cheese - approximately 20 lbs hard storing cheese. I'm not counting chèvre or other soft cheeses because those get eaten right away. Some of the hard cheese has been given or traded away, but I still have about 12 pounds in vacuum sealed 1-pound packages in the small fridge.

- Salsa - about 6 quarts. Really want to make more but I broke my fancy expensive blender canister. by leaving a spoon in it. Frustrating because I have plenty of ingredients for another 6 quarts right now, and I'm not sure what I can do with all those tomatoes instead, without a blender.

- Plum butter - on the stove right now.  A friend invited me to get plums from her tree, which is nice because we don't have any this year. I don't know what kind of plums these are - small, round, red, and sweet fresh but very tart when cooked down and pureed. I had to add quite a bit of sugar. The tree itself is gorgeous; very tall, and the leaves are as purple as the plums. Making about 8 pints, which is probably more than we can use. I would prefer to dehydrate, but these plums are clingstone, and when I try to pit them they turn to mush in my hands. I am dehydrating one load whole, pits and all, just as an experiment. But so far they've been in the dehydrator three days and no signs of getting dry enough yet.

- Pickles - two gallons kosher dills

- Six loaves zucchini bread in the freezer. I use James Beard's recipe (with less sugar) and its delicious and it freezes beautifully. However that only used up two zucchinis and they're six more on the kitchen table.

-Eight quarts frozen raspberries, two gallons frozen strawberries, 1 gallon frozen blueberries. Theres still time for more blueberries, and of course blackberry season is just starting. I want to lay in several more gallons of berries.

- ICE CREAM! good way to use up extra milk and eggs. I borrowed an ice cream maker from the Gleaner's Pantry and make two quarts of raspberry ice cream, and two quarts of rhubarb-vanilla (my rhubarb plant is still going strong). That reminds me -

- 5 bottles rhubarb wine. I tasted it when I bottled it and it was pretty decent. Hoping the bottled stuff turns out well after a few more months.



James Beard's Zucchini Bread

I reduce the sugar and oil both. by about 1/3, without ill effects. 

INGREDIENTS

    • 3 eggs
    • 2 cups granulated sugar
    • 1 cup vegetable oil
    • 2 cups grated, peeled raw zucchini
    • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/4 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
    • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

PREPARATION

    1. Beat the eggs until light and foamy. Add the sugar, oil, zucchini, and vanilla and mix lightly but well. Combine the flour, salt, soda, baking powder, and cinnamon and add to the egg-zucchini mixture. Stir until well blended, add nuts, and pour into two 9 x 5 x 3 inch greased loaf pans. Bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for 1 hour. Cool on a rack.




Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Fermentation Files (Pickle-Palooza)




I’ve been doing a lot of fermentation lately. There was the rhubarb wine this spring, which I bottled a few weeks ago (and sampled while I did, of course). I made a really amazing batch of curtido, which is basically sauerkraut with Latin flavors. That’s a little simplistic, but not wrong exactly. 

Curtido is heavily salted shredded cabbage with shredded carrots, thinly sliced red onions, oregano, and jalapeños (if you like). Traditionally it is barely fermented - just about the level of fermentation you’d expect if you made it the day before and then left it out unrefrigerated in a hot central-American climate. I made curtido but then packed it into a half gallon jar and pounded it as you do for sauerkraut. Two weeks later it was sour and delicious, the cabbage wilted but still crunchy. I just finished that batch yesterday, piled on top of black bean burgers slathered with mayonnaise. Delicious. 

A friend gave me a ten pound sack of organic red onions. I didn’t know how to use those up, so I asked in my Facebook group dedicated to fermentation if anyone had fermented red onions before. The response was enthusiastic, so I went ahead and tried it. I added several sliced Serrano peppers, because my goal was something as spicy and yummy as the pickled red onions you find as a condiment  on every southern Mexican table. I was very pleased with the result - but I thought the spicy pink brine was even better than the onions themselves. 

My favorite ferment will always be kosher dill pickles. Nothing is as satisfying as a salty, crunchy cucumber spear alongside a well made grilled cheese sandwich. We all love kosher dill pickles here, but even so I made too many last year. Too many being about five gallons. Eventually, they did all get consumed, but by November they were no longer as crisp and appetizing. Instead of eating them out of hand, I chopped them and put them into tuna salad or potato salad. 
This year I’m making two gallons. I imagine sometime in late September we will all be wishing I made more. 

And then of course there’s all the cheese I’ve been making... but that’s really another post. 

I encourage anyone who has ever been interested in lacto- fermenting to give it a go. It’s really entry-level food preservation. It’s low-risk and high reward. Here’s a neat chart I found in my Facebook group to help you get started. 









Thursday, June 20, 2019

Papa Fix-it-All

Tuesday a local, recommended appliance repair professional came out to our house and told us “you need a new fridge.” Homero told me he wanted to try to fix it. I rolled my eyes and said I’d give him two weeks, then I was buying whatever fancy fridge my heart desired. He ordered a $12 adaptor from Amazon that allowed him to refill the Freon. Today it came in the mail - two hours later and the fridge is cold again. 

He really lives up to his nickname “Papa fix-it-all.”

On an only slightly related note, I was absolutely certain that Freon was an element, one of the noble gases. I was so sure I told my family “I’d bet a hundred bucks right now. It’s on the right hand side of the periodic table of elements.... i think it goes Helium, Boron, Freon.....”


Homero: 1
Aimee:0 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Homero’s Birthday 2019


Carne asada. There’s no carne in this picture- just the traditional accompaniments of grilled nopales (cactus paddles) and green onion, along with the more American corn on the cob 




This handsome bench, along with another just like it, was my present to Homero. They were made by a local artisan - a guy who would probably find that title pretentious. Beautiful workmanship. They are all joined, made without nails. 




Nopales and cebollitas





Just a few of many accompaniments. Pico de gallo, salsa verde, queso botanero, and tequila :) 

It’s 2 am and I’m done, having worked since 9 am to make this a great party. I’m going to sleep and for god’s sake, homero, please remember to put out the fire with water.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Fermentation Files, Spring 2019



Spring finally sprang, and we’ve had a few weeks of beautiful weather. The grass grew all at once, the trees blossomed, and the rhubarb plant went wild. 


I love rhubarb, it’s exactly the kind of low maintenance perennial I want to fill my property with. But it is seriously prolific. By mother’s day I had already exhausted my family’s patience with rhubarb crisp, rhubarb pie, and rhubarb quickbread. So today I decided to start another batch of rhubarb wine. 

Last year’s rhubarb wine came out pretty good - dry, light pink, and quite quaffable. It’s nice to be able to start a wine in springtime, because most homemade fruit wines are only possible in the fall - blackberry, plum, hard apple cider. Rhubarb can be started now, in May, and be ready for drinking in September when the other wines are just getting started. 





It’s cheese season. The mama goats still have nursing babies on them, and will for the next few weeks. So I’m only getting about three quarters of a gallon daily, but that’s still plenty for making some cheese. 

This year I decided to switch up the cultures I usually buy.  In years past,  I have bought an all-purpose mesophilic starter that says it is suitable for chèvre, queso fresco, feta, and cheddar. And it is suitable for all those purposes.   But this year I decided to spend a little bit more for a fancier culture from France, and I’m so glad I did. My chèvre is leaps and bounds better than last year. It’s smooth, tangy, and delicious. It was a big hit at mother’s day brunch. 

Tonight I’m making cheddar with the same culture. I’ve made two batches of hard cheese before now, and they have been drying in the shelf during this nice dry weather. Today I broke out the vacuum sealer and sealed them up for long term storage in the fridge. That’s the best system I’ve yet found for keeping hard cheese at home without molding. It’s not ideal - the cheese doesn’t “breathe” if it’s vacuum sealed - but it does keep the cheese from molding for a good six months, which means we can enjoy cheese in December. 


Sunday, April 14, 2019

A Low Ebb (Spring of Fools)


I am not digging having a farm at the moment. 

It’s wet cold and windy and disgusting and muddy and the forecast suggests it will continue like this through the foreseeable future and likely until well after I have run screaming into the distance. 

The barn is still full of winter’s deep litter because nobody here is strong enough to muck it out, except my husband who refuses to let me pay someone to do it, but who also refuses to do it himself. “As soon as I finish this engine rebuild; as soon as I finish this transmission; as soon as everybody picks up their cars and I can take a couple days off...” As soon as Hell freezes over, he means, because Homero hasn’t taken a day off in months. Meanwhile, all I can do is keep throwing down fresh straw and making the whole problem deeper and more difficult to deal with. 

The Tom turkey is a vile monster who has injured two of the hens so badly that they needed to be isolated in the mama barn to recover. One of them appears to have a broken leg or something - she can’t stand up at all and so I’m afraid she has to be put out of her misery and into our freezer. The Tom, meanwhile, is angry about his missing hens and attempts to attack us whenever we step into the barnyard. He’s at least twenty-five pounds, better than knee high, and I’m not ashamed to admit I’m scared of him when he is hurtling towards me at top turkey speed, intent on battle. 
He’s going into the freezer too, as soon as Homero has time to do it, because I’m not going to try it myself. 

All the baby goats are sold. But it looks like we might lose another one. A couple who bought two bucklings took them to the vet to be disbudded Friday. I had told them that I don’t disbud, and tried to lay out the pros and cons fairly, but leaning towards leaving them alone. They decided to go ahead. And now one of the babies is in a bad way. His little brains are fried. He just stands in a corner and cries, can’t nurse or anything. 

I went to the vet for antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medicine, and steroids. This morning he’s unchanged, and I don’t think he’s managed to nurse. I can’t get a bottle into him either. He probably needs some tube feeding, but I’ve never done that before and am scared to try. Only good news on that front is that the new owners are very understanding. They trust that I’m doing my best and say they won’t blame me if I accidentally kill him while trying to tube feed him. 

Christmas, his mother, is once again being a shitty mom. She’s never really been a good mom - she kids easily and throws beautiful babies but she won’t let them nurse. Needs to be held. I’m sick of wrestling with her. Thinking I might try to sell her as an in-milk doe to somebody who just wants milk but not babies. 

Overall I’m feeling extremely dispirited and unhappy. I’m thinking it would be extremely nice to live in a little condo in the city, just a cute little one bedroom in a smaller building near some good restaurants and nightlife.

A building that doesn’t allow pets. 





Monday, April 8, 2019

......Or Does He? (Warning: Graphic Photo)


First, please enjoy this photo of adorable, healthy baby goats frolicking in the springtime, all right with the world. This is the reality for 8/9 babies born this year, and that’s not such a bad outcome. 

But now - 



This photo of the bite inflicted on baby number nine by my very own dog. There’s a story here - hold on before you condemn the canine. 

The last mama goat to give birth was Polly, last Thursday evening around 5 o’clock. She had a lovely set of twins, who both stood up and nurses with no problems, a boy and a girl. I was thrilled. However, when Homero went out the next morning to do chores, he found another baby in the ground, still wet and gooey, who had apparently been born quite recently. 

For those of you who aren’t goat breeders, it’s not normal at ALL for there be such a long delay between kids. No matter how many kids are in there, a normal birth usually takes an hour, maybe an hour and a half, tops. So this little guy was off to a rough start. It seemed he had aspirated some amniotic fluid. His lungs rattled and he was very weak. He couldn’t stand up by himself, and his mama ignored him. 

That’s a bad sign. I always pay attention to the mamas, they seem to be able to tell better than I can when a baby is not very viable. However, he was alive, so we went to work to get some colostrum into him. Throughout that day we bottle fed him every hour or so, and although very weak and coughing, he was getting some down. 

But there was clearly something wrong with him. His head was swollen, whether from the hard birth or whether malformed in some way was hard to tell. He stayed standing if we stood him up, but he couldn’t get up on his own and he didn’t try to walk. 

We had plans to go away for the weekend. I asked my good friend K., goat rescuer extraordinaire, if she wanted to try to care for him over the weekend. I let her know he was poorly and might not make it. She did want to, and in her usual way she went to work on him. 

She noticed, however, that he seemed to have a small wound on his leg. When she washed it and shaved him, it turned out not to be a small wound after all but a pretty serious dog bite. Overall the weekend, it got infected despite her care. When we got home, she let me know she thought the baby was suffering. 

I picked him up and took him to the vet. My gut instinct told me that the little guy was in his way out and I thought he should be put down, but I wanted to give the vet a chance to weigh in. There’s always a possibility he or she might say “no, no, all he needs is a course of strong antibiotics.” 

But my instinct was right. The vet told me his leg was actually broken, and that he seemed to have some neurological damage as well, whether from the hard birth or for whatever reason. His lungs were crackly with pneumonia. He had several complex problems. It went far beyond a course of antibiotics. 

And truthfully, that’s about all I was willing to invest in this kid. Even if he lived, he was still marked as a meat animal. If he wasn’t going to enjoy his year or year and a half on earth as a happy, healthy member of the herd, then it’s better to put him out of his misery right away. Which is what we did. 

As for Haku.... well, I’m fairly sure he wasn’t trying to kill the baby. After all, if a 95 pound German Shepherd wants to kill a newborn baby goat, he generally can do it without much effort. And Haku is so very, very gentle with the babies. He only wants to lick them all over. My guess is that he was attempting to help. 

Baby goats hide. In the barn, they hide behind hay bales. That’s their instinct. When Homero found this little guy he was hidden behind hay bales. I think Haku was trying to drag him out of his hiding place. My sister has a livestock guardian dog and she told me that he once injured a baby goat doing exactly that. 

In any case, there is one less baby goat in the world now. Poor little guy. But it’s good news for his mama, who now only has to raise twins. 






Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Haku Loves Baby Goats





....... or maybe he’s just checking to see if this baby is as tasty as he looks. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Four is Too Many




Christmas gave birth this morning, unaided, to quadruplets. They are all up and nursing, appear to be full term and healthy, and of course as cute as all get out. Three bucklings and one doeling. 

I’m not thrilled. Four is too many for a mama to raise alone. Having only two teats, even if she produces enough milk for all four (doubtful), the stronger kids will hog the teats and the weaker kids will starve. I’m going to have to pull a couple and bottle feed them, and I HATE bottle feeding. 

If there is anything in this world more frustrating than watching newborn kids try to stand up and nurse, it’s trying to get newborn kids to take a bottle. I’ve managed to avoid it most years, but I don’t think I’ll be able to this year. 

Christmas did NOT look big enough to have quads inside of her. I was expecting twins. She’s never had more than two before. 

Now I’m terrified for poor Flopsy! She’s twice the size of Christmas. She must have, like, nine in there.