"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, June 30, 2008

Lancelot the Incorrigible

We have two dogs. Ivory (see "the land provides! part 1") has been with us since forever, but Lancelot is a new addition. Rowan wanted a pet of her very own so badly, and he was so beautiful, and so cheap! Of course, he had no training whatsoever that we could detect, although it's possible he knew a few words in Russian, and had never set paw in a house before. We didn't care; we were captivated. One evening before he acquired a permanent name,  Homero and I were watching one of those ridiculous cable shows, "Hotties of the 90's: where are they now?" or something like that, and as a result, the dog very narrowly escaped being named Fabio. Rowan wouldn't allow it, but I stand by my assertion that the resemblance is uncanny.

We love Lance, even though he has chewed through three remote controls, two pairs of glasses, three cell phones, and too many toys to remember. He has an annoying high pitched bark, sheds copiously and continuously, and cannot be trained not to jump on people and knock them over.

More to the point, he cannot be trained not to chase chickens. I've tried everything, including holding him down, growling in his face and biting his ears, which is what my sister says a mother dog does when her puppy does something very very bad. Lance will chase chickens merrily until he sees me coming, whereupon he will instantly roll over on his back, paws waving in the air, the very picture of repentance, until I turn my back. Then he jumps up and starts chasing chickens again. He doesn't kill the chickens - at least, not on purpose. What he wants to do is catch them, hold them down with his front paws, and pull all their tailfeathers out one by one. Some chickens survive this treatment; some do not. Actually, only one chicken has been killed, as long as I assume that the pig got the baby chicks and not Lancelot. 

Nowadays, Lancelot spends a lot of time in the attitude in the photo above - sticking his long nose through the gate and drooling lovingly at the sight of chickens.

Mea Culpa

Will I never learn? I am a terrible chick-killer. See black mama? She hatched out three lovely little black and white chicks today, two of whom are visible in the picture above. Also visible in the picture above is a dish of water, in which chick number three drowned this afternoon, after only a few hours of life outside the shell. It was a pretty gross discovery. Oh well, not all little fluffy chicks are meant to live, I guess. Now yellow mama has two and black mama has two. So may it remain!

It's raining eggs!

It's probably a good thing that most of my hens are elderly. If they were all in their prime egg-laying years, I'd be getting twenty eggs a day instead of a more manageable ten to twelve. Well, slightly more manageable. 

Most of the people in my family don't even like eggs. I was never a big egg eater, as a child I was more grossed out than anything else by a plateful of eggs, done any way you please. I only liked hard boiled eggs, and only then for their puzzle-like appeal: can you get the white off in one piece and keep the yolk perfectly round? I usually could. Then I'd throw away the white and lick the yolk until my mother said "go wash your face, you're a filthy mess." My own kids do the opposite; they eat the white and leave the yolks lying around to get eaten by the dogs (if I'm lucky) or to roll off the table and get stepped on (if I'm not.) Even today, I prefer my eggs hidden inside of something, like creme brulee or a chocolate cake. 

Only Homero is an unabashed egg lover. He'd eat three or four eggs every day if I'd give them to him. I want him to live past fifty, however, so I don't. This situation leaves me with a serious egg surplus. Of course I put out a sign "Eggs, $2.50" on my kid's chalkboard out by the mailbox. But I think the days when people would stop at a stranger's house to buy farm products are over, at least if you don't have a professionally made sign. Once Hope, Paloma, and I set out a folding table and some chairs and sat out there for almost two hours with several dozen eggs in front of us, but nobody stopped. Hope was devastated. "Mom, can we make a stop sign? Please? Then they'll HAVE to stop." 

Then I tried Craigslist. Ah, Craigslist, where would I be without you? I posted an ad asking gardeners to trade their excess produce for my excess eggs. I did have some response, and now I have two or three people who come by regularly to take a couple of dozen eggs and leave either a few bucks or some of their extra produce. One of them is a baker and last time he left me homemade marshmallows, which were a revelation. But for the most part, my bartering simply means that now I have too much spinach and kale as well as too many eggs. Oh well, at least I'm helping to create a truly local food network and furthering my goal of eating locally, right?

What to do with too many eggs/too many greens:

Challah bread (6 egg yolks, two egg whites)
Ice cream base (three to six egg yolks, no whites)
chiles rellenos (four to six eggs, yolks and whites)
angel food cake (to use up the extra whites)
Quiche of all kinds, but especially the kind with spinach/chard/collards/kale in it
(four to six eggs, 1 pound mixed greens)
Saag (no eggs, as many greens as you got, spinach, mustard, collard, kale, chard, beet/turnip...etc)
And if the eggs are totally on top of you.....and you feel up to a challenge....
Pastel de tres leches (16 eggs, yolk and whites)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Philosopher's Bane

Today I visited the noxious weed board of our county with a sample of a particularly annoying weed that is rapidly proliferating on my land. It starts out very small and feathery, innocent-looking, with a sharp, half-familiar, not unpleasant smell. But pretty soon it is seven feet tall, growing in thick hedges, stinking to high heaven with a rank, foul odor, and giving me hives whenever I brush against it. The goats, naturally enough, won't touch the stuff, with the result that it is spreading. 

I walked into the office of the noxious weed board with a wand of it in my hand, and the lady who met me visibly blanched. "Ooh, put that in the trash. Here, wash your hands." Turns out I have poison hemlock flourishing all over my pasture. Yes, the same plant that killed Socrates. It's a potent nuerotoxin, and it looks just like wild carrot (though it doesn't smell like it. I can't imagine anyone taking a whiff and deciding to eat it for lunch.). Madame weed board said "you just go to sleep, and never wake up."

It probably poses no risks to my goats, since they don't eat it, and it probably poses little risk to my kids, since it's stinky and sticky, but it is crowding out grass and other good forage that my goats need. The only good thing I heard about it is that it only spreads by seed dispersal, not by rhizomes or cuttings falling on the ground or anything else, so if I hurry, I can lop all the flowering tops off before they go to seed and maybe put a dent in it this year.

I went directly from the weed board to the farm store and bought a machete.

The self-sufficiency game (love you, Dad)

Years ago, when my Dad lived with me in my old house in the city, we used to play a game called "can you be self sufficient on five acres?" Or more realistically, "how close to self sufficiency can you get with five acres?" The rules were fluid, but they assumed our regional climate. We were only trying to get total food self-sufficiency, not clothing or energy, although if by-products of food production turned out useful for those purposes, it would be a plus. 

Now, I can play the game on my own real-life five acre spread - though I stress, this is still just a thought exercise. One thing I would need if I were really trying for self-sufficiency is a lot more hands. And energy. And knowledge. 

First, the plant side. Our biggest concern was always the staple crop. Wheat is out of the question in this climate, and like other cereal grasses, too demanding of space, time and processing. I wavered for a while on corn, thinking if thousands of Mexican families can eke out a living on an acre of corn, it must be possible, but again; too demanding. Too hard on the land and way too hard on me to process it all into nixtamal. So that leaves potatoes. I once read that a family of five can live on the potatoes produced by an acre of land, and potatoes grow very well here, all different varieties. And common opinion to the contrary, potatoes are very nutritious. Potatoes and milk provide all the nutrients nessecary for life, not that you'd want to live that way for long. Just ask the Irish. 

Next, the orchard. Currently I have eleven fruit trees: three each apple and pear, two plums, and two cherries. These can provide me with fresh cider, hard cider, fresh fruit, dried fruit, frozen fruit.... The trimmings from pruning each year are also useful. They can be used to smoke my ham and salami. Or I can feed them to the goats. More on that later. I'd like to add more trees, a couple of walnuts and a whole row of hazelnut bushes. Nuts are not only delicious and highly storable, they can also be a source of a highly necessary commodity: oil. I've never pressed oil from nuts, but for the purposes of this game I'm going to pretend it can be done with a motorized apple press, because I already have one of those. Oh yeah, and nut butter. Even the shells are useful as mulch and slug-protector for the garden.

Then, of course, the vegetable garden. This is where my fantasy breaks down a little, because I am really a terrible gardener. In the old days, this is where Dad would shine. He had the whole garden plot all laid out. A quarter acre is enough to produce all the tomatoes, chiles, beans, squash, onions, garlic, zucchini, broccoli, beets, carrots, and herbs you need, if you have the energy to do french intensive gardening. I'll just take his word for it. 

So with my apple press, home-brewing equipment, dehydrator, extra freezer, and hundreds of canning jars, I could theoretically process all this for the winter. On to the animals.
Right now, we have about an acre and a half fenced in for the goats. This is more than enough for the three does we have. They are all over their heads in biomass. I think we could easily double the number of goats without stressing the land much. One buck, the rest does. Boy kids are for eating, girl kids are for periodically replacing my milkers. Three does lactating at any given time is ideal, because I can't milk more than that by hand. That would give me a gallon a day, easily.  I'll have to learn how to make hard cheese for storing, not just fresh cheese for eating right away. Of course, the goats need supplemental hay in the winter, and a certain amount of grain for the lactating does. If I can't manage enough land left over for cutting hay, this may need to be an input. But right now, on my real land, I have plenty of space for the garden, potatoes included, and there's still about an acre of just grass. And it grows like wildfire. I bet we could cut it three times in a year and store it.

My current flock of twenty laying hens plus two roosters seems about right to me. Only two of my hens are broody hens, and I'd need that number to be a little higher so they can reproduce at a rate that allows me to eat a chicken every couple of weeks. I'd just eat all the roosters that hatch once they get to a decent size. I don't know of any way to store excess eggs, so I'll make a little hole in the rules and pretend I can trade the to my neighbors for something we need. Salt. 
Once again, though, chickens need grain, and I don't have any.

Pigs. I don't like pigs much, but I think we gotta have them. If I'm pretending we are totally self sufficient, then we need a breeding pair. That would give us a tremendous surplus of pork, and I'd need to build a pretty big smokehouse. I have a serious knowledge deficit here, but oh, the ham, the bacon, the salami, the coppa, the sopressata... , okay, dad, okay... the bratwurst, the summer sausage, the breakfast sausage,the lard. Pigs don't need much space, we already have a pen that will hold them, and they can be let out to forage with the goats. 

Another animal I'm not crazy about, but which I think is absolutely necessary: bees. We need sweetener, and honey is the only option I can think of. Plus, of course, bees will improve the yield of my fruit trees and vegetable garden. I think three or four hives... but I'm going to make Homero learn beekeeping. That's fair. I'm the cheesemaker, after all.
The animals altogether produce a lovely lovely compost pile for the garden. The garden produces feed for the animals as well as us, with stalks and leaves and things we don't eat, plus of course our kitchen waste, which is great for pigs and chickens. A nice circular arrangement.
I think probably our diet would be heavy on the animal products and light on the vegetable products, which wouldn't bother my dad at all, but might bother me after a while. I'll have to bend the rules some more and get a cross-state trade going with a wheat farmer. He can have my extra piglets. How's one piglet for a fifty pound sack of wheat sound?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

self-sufficiency, one pint jar at a time

This past New Year's one of my resolutions (let's not go into all of them....no, no gym membership yet) was to eat more locally. Specifically, I wanted to source 50% of the food we eat at home from within the county. Obviously, we aren't getting local bananas or oranges, or rice, or even wheat. But I can get local - extremely local, within 10 miles local - milk, cheese, seafood, and meat, and of course my family's pork is local to within yards. I haven't bought an egg in six months, at least, and I haven't bought milk or yogurt in a month. I expected to be able to obtain most of our non-tropical produce locally, and to do a lot of preserving. Getting over my fear of canning is high on my to-do list. By the end of summer, I want to have a closet full of canned goods and a freezer full of frozen ones, all local and delicious.

So, when I saw a post on Craigslist the other day (craigslist is my little problem, I check the farm and garden section at least six times a day) and saw that a local lady was selling as much rhubarb as you can stuff into a five gallon bucket for $12. Must have overdone it a little on the rhubarb a few years back. I love rhubarb, and always buy some as soon as it is available in the spring, but it's crazy expensive this year, about $3.50 a pound, which works out to more than a buck a stalk. That's just silly. You'd need to spend $10 to make a pie. So of course I grabbed a bucket and hopped in the car.

Turns out, an awful lot of rhubarb can be stuffed into a five gallon bucket. More than you probably think. I had to buy a whole new set of jelly jars and call my sister. We made 26 cups of rhubarb sauce, not counting what we ate along the way and fed to the children, stirred into yogurt. After we'd canned half of it, we added lime zest and grated ginger to the rest and made lime-ginger-rhubarb sauce. I think many of my relatives can expect a pretty pink surprise in their christmas stocking!

Then, since we didn't have enough red stains on our clothing yet, we decided to take the kids to a U-pick strawberry farm nearby. I never would have guessed that three inexperienced adults and four children under the age of five can pick over 30 pounds of strawberries in under an hour. I'm currently taking a break from processing fresh strawberries for freezing. My children are bright red to the elbows and ears and have stomped at least six strawberries into the carpet. But I'm happy; I'm keeping my resolution. I will have strawberries in November.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chevre Chevere (to the tune of chim-chimeree from Mary Poppins)

My attempts at cheesemaking have been hit or miss, a little. I was constrained by several factors, the main one being that my only lactating goat, Iris, was feeding twins and had only a pint a day or so left over for me. It takes a gallon of milk to make 12 ounces or so of cheese, so I seldom had enough milk to even try. I used half and half goat milk and supermarket cow's milk. Also, my recipes would say things like "hold the milk at 72 degrees Fahrenheit for 18 hours" without any suggestions about how to do that. A yogurt-maker sprang to mind, but finding one in my town proved impossible. I resorted to bain-maries and the oven light, but I'm sure that the resulting temperature fluctuations had adverse effects on the cheese. As you can see from the picture, my equipment is pretty rudimentary. Joann, my step-grandmother (?) gave me an old fashioned food mill, which I found works perfectly well for draining fresh curds, especially when lined with a cut-up clean cotton pillowcase.  Some of the cheese was okay. Some of it was pretty darn good, but even when it turned out well, I couldn't duplicate the result. 

Some of these problems have been solved. Django gave birth a few weeks ago to one undersized baby girl, Valentine, and has so much milk that I have to milk her twice a day or she gets uncomfortable, this on top of nursing her kid. Between the two does, I'm now netting about a half gallon of milk daily, which is plenty to make cheese once a week and also to make yogurt and to drink. The temperature problem isn't solved, but now that daytime temperatures are in the range that I want anyway, I can simply use room temperature, if I start early in the morning. I'm beginning to get much more consistent results, at least as far as chevre is concerned.

For those of you who might not be familiar with it, chevre is the white, smooth, spreadable goat cheese that usually comes in the form of a log. If a menu just says "goat cheese," it's almost always chevre. I love it. I could eat it by the barrel. The last batch I made was the first batch that was 100% goat milk, all hand milked by me from my very own goats. And it was by far my best batch yet, snowy white, creamy, tangy and delicious. It was a big hit at my friend Sarah's solstice party yesterday. I know pride's a sin, but I was proud enough to burst watching people bite into my cheese and smile.

Friday, June 20, 2008

second chance chicks

The yellow mama has hatched out two chicks. There are four more eggs, but I don't think they're going to hatch. I only just discovered the chicks when I went into the mama barn - that's the small barn where I milk the goats, keep the feed, and put any prospective mothers to hatch/birth their babies - to feed the chickens their afternoon ration. Both yellow mama and black mama (my sister says these names are racist) are brooding in there, but yellow mama has been on her eggs for about a week longer than black mama. I had settles them in their own boxes up on the shelf, but when I went in, yellow mama was on the floor and her eggs were uncovered in their box on the shelf.

"What are you doing down there?" I asked, and then I saw a tiny head peek out from under her. The babies must have somehow fallen off the shelf and onto the floor after hatching, but they both seem to be just fine. In the hopes that a few more eggs might hatch, I brought the other four eggs down and placed them next to her, but she paid them no attention. Normally, she'd immediately roll them underneath her breast feathers, but not now. Maybe after some chicks hatch, they abandon whatever eggs haven't hatched after a certain amount of time? I don't know. I'll just have to wait and see what happens.
Meanwhile, black mama still has a week to go. I hope that by the time her babies hatch, yellow mama and her brood, however many they turn out to be, will be ready to move on out of the mama barn and join the flock, because I read that mother hens hate each other's babies and will attack them whenever they can. 
And, of course, these chicks have one big advantage over the last batch: the pig is dead (see "sad day on the farm").

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chiles rellenos

The first time I met my future mother-in-law, my future husband wasn't there. I travelled alone to Oaxaca, Mexico, and stayed for a week in his mother's house. Yes, it was a little awkward. Especially when she asked me when we were getting married; the subject hadn't yet come up between us. Trying to think of things to talk about and maybe do together that didn't require lots of talking (my Spanish wasn't what it is now, ten years later), I asked her what kind of food she would make for her son if he were there. She gave me this recipe. Demonstrated it, actually. My husband says it kicks restaurant versions all to hell (well of course it does, it's his mama's recipe.)

for 4 people:
4 large fresh poblano peppers
12 ounces queso fresco or monterrey jack
4 large eggs

6 to 8 roma tomatoes
2 jalapenos
one smallish yellow onion
1 or 2 cloves garlic
2 allspice berries
1 clove
large pinch cumin
2 cups chicken stock or canned broth
salt and pepper

roast poblanos under the broiler, 3 inches from heat, turning frequently until blistered all over, about 8 minutes. Place in a paper bag, twist shut, and let cool. When cool, peel the peppers, make a small slit in the side and carefully remove the seeds and ribs. Don't worry if some remains. Stuff each pepper with a 2-3 ounce piece of cheese. Set aside.

For sauce: in a large, dry skillet (If you don't have a comal, use cast iron) dry roast tomatoes and roughly chopped onions until blistered and blackened in spots. Add garlic, roughly chopped jalapenos, and spices. As soon as
spices give off a roasted smell, scrape everything into a blender. Blend with chicken stock. Pour into a saucepan and keep warm, adding salt and pepper as desired. 

Back to the chiles: 
Heat 2 cups vegetable oil in a large skillet to deep-fat frying temperature, until a cube of bread browns nicely.
separate the eggs. In a large bowl, beat the whites until soft peaks form. add the yolks and blend gently. Now, carefully take up a chile, slit side up, and pass it through the eggs mixture, coating it, and slide into hot oil. Use a spoon to flick oil over the chile and seal the seam. Fry about two minutes on each side, then place in a large baking dish (I use a lasagna pan.). Repeat with other chiles. Pour tomato sauce over the chiles and bake in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Serve with white rice and fresh hot corn tortillas.

weird eggs I have found

When we moved here, we spent all our money fixing up the old house; the leaky roof, the leaky plumbing, the snarly old electrical system from 1958 (with real fuses, yet). And the rot. Oh yes, the rot. This is western washington, probably the grayest and wettest part of western washington, and this house has been rained on continuously for 50 years. It took one whole summer and most of our funds to make it habitable (of course, this is why we were able to afford such a gorgeous piece of land. So don't think I'm complaining.). We had to try and conserve. So we got our first animals, the chickens, free off of Craig's List. 

There are more people giving away chickens than you might think. First, we aquired a pair of wild skinny hens, each with a brood of chicks, who promptly escaped my husband's  attempt at a coop (we named it the Parthenon) and flew away. They came back after a couple of days, to my surprise, and have stuck around ever since. Three of seven chicks survived, a hen and two roosters, who now service our flock. Next we got a set of four tiny little grey birds who look more like pigeons than chickens, but they lay lovely greenish-blue eggs. They fly pretty well too. Then came Agnes and Muriel, two hens who turned out to be extremely elderly and cantankerous, but whom we had promised not to eat. The real prize came later; a flock of twelve prizewinning barred rocks, great fat ladies three times the size of any of our other birds, pampered hens who had been to the state fair. The farmer was starting over with new chicks, because these ladies were now four years old.

I'm not sure what the natural lifespan of a chicken is. Most of mine are definitely on the downslope, maybe the equivalent of fifty or sixty year olds. But they haven't hit menopause yet, if a chicken ever does. The fat ladies each lay gigantic brown eggs every other day or so, and even Agnes and Muriel will occasionally produce one.

Now, I'm used to buying my eggs at the supermarket, and I have to assume that only the prettiest eggs ever get packed into styrofoam, but man, do my chickens ever lay some weird eggs. I'd say a good two thirds of them are of, shall we say, less than supermarket quality for one reason or another. Either they are heavily freckled, or they have little calcium bumps all over them, or perhaps they just aren't exactly egg-shaped. Agnes or maybe Muriel lays these bizarre, incredibly fat eggs with a thick calcified ring around the equator.  Another chicken lays wrinkled eggs. Wrinkled. Once, I found a tiny egg the size of a cat's eye marble, right there in the nest along with all the other eggs. I wonder about the hen who laid it. Did she lay a regular egg first? Was it a kind of an afterthought? Did it just squeeze out by accident after she thought she had finished? 

But by far the weirdest egg I ever found wasn't just odd; it was downright frightening. It almost gave me a heart attack. I reached in the nest box to collect it, and when my fingers touched it, they sank right in. This egg, although it looked normal at first glance, had no shell at all. Just a tough membrane that allowed me to pick it up and carry it into the house, yelling, "look at this you guys! You're gonna freak!"

Posole (Mexican dried corn stew)

The hardest part of making this dish is getting your hands on some posole. You COULD use canned hominy, but I'd pretend I'm not related to you. I use a brand called "los chileros," which has a website (loschileros.com) where you can order posole by mail. It comes in blue and white varieties; use whatever you think is prettier.
Posole can be made with pork (the pot I have on the stove is made with pork spareribs; the first use of our hog) or chicken. If you use pork, use about two pounds of meaty, cartilaginous cut like ribs or shoulder blade. If you use chicken, use a whole one. 
Put posole to soak in cold water the night before. Even two days isn't too much.
Three hours before dinnertime, bring meat and water to cover to a boil with three or four cloves, three or four allspice berries, a two inch piece of cinnamon stick, several black peppercorns, a teaspoon or so of cvuminseed, and three unpeeled cloves of garlic. Tear open and shake the seeds out of six to nine (depending how hot you like it) dried guajillo chiles. If you can't find guajillos, new mexico or california chiles will do. Add to pot. Skim scum. 
Rinse and add soaked posole. Keep at a fast simmer, covered, for about two hours, until meat is falling off bones and posole kernels have "bloomed." 
Use a fork to fish out the chiles, let cool on a plate, then use your fingers to "scrape" the flesh off the papery skin and back into the pot. Discard the skin. If you care about such things, or have company coming, you can debone the meat at this time. (this is one of the reasons I like to use ribs. Easy deboning.)
Serve posole with a platter of the following condiments, attractively arranged:
Finely shredded green cabbage
Finely chopped white onion
finely chopped red radishes
Lime wedges
cayenne pepper
This is a very filling meal, good for an unseasonably cold and rainy late spring day in the Pacific Northwest.

The Land Provides, part 1

Hi all,
Well, I know the Day boys grew up out in the country, and Dad tells me that you guys went shooting sometimes, but not really hunting for food. Darn. I was hoping he could tell me the best way to treat a wild rabbit.
Ivory, my dog (see photo gallery) is part whippet, and she is quick, but not, until yesterday, quick enough to catch one of the abundant wild rabbits on the property. Yesterday evening I was working in the garden when Ivory comes prancing by with a large brown rabbit dangling loosely from her mouth. I took it from her, praising her lavishly, inspected it, and found that it was quite surely dead, but also warm as life, and not a mark on it. Must have died of fright, or a broken neck. I brought it in to show to Homero, and told him that if he wanted to clean it, I'd cook it. He hesitated and asked, didn't I think Ivory deserved it for herself? After all, it was her first rabbit. Okay, I said, if you don't want to do it...but didn't you say you were going to butcher the next pig? And I haven't even seen you kill a chicken yet. So he took a quick look at YouTube and then skinned and gutted it quite neatly. Currently I have it marinating in red wine, olive oil, and garlic in the fridge. It's not much more than mouthful for each of us, but I figure it'll stretch out in a stew. Anyone got a recipe?

What I did with the rabbit: Rabbit Cacciatore
If your dog brings you a nice fresh rabbit, clean it, skin it, and joint it, then:
marinate overnight in 1/4 cup olive oil, 3/4 cup dry red wine, two cloves garlic, crushed, a couple of peppercorns, a couple of cloves, a couple of allspice berries.
The next day, pat pieces dry and saute in small amount olive oil, along with:
one large thinly sliced yellow onion, a three inch branch of rosemary, two minced cloves garlic, a teaspoon of fennel seeds, lightly crushed. 
Meanwhile, pour the marinade into a small pot and bring to a simmer.
When onions are wilted and meat is browned, stir in a tablespoon tomato paste, and add the simmering marinade, a handful of chopped kalamata or other black olives, a couple of teaspoons of capers, and salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Keep at a fast simmer for a good hour. Add water when needed.
Separately, boil some pasta. I used penne, but bowtie or large elbow macaroni would be fine. Or tortellini. 
When meat is tender and beginning to shred from bone, serve over pasta. Shower generously with finely minced parsley.
It was really good. The dog got the bones. 

Monday, June 16, 2008

death of a pig

 When I scheduled the pig for butchering last friday, I didn't know I was going to have houseguests. 
My dear friend Charlotte, my best friend since we were both sixteen, came up to visit with her husband during spring break. She is a teacher in Glenwood, washington, which is so far out in the boonies that you probably won't know where it is even when I tell you the name of the nearest decent sized town, which is White Salmon. Hood River Oregon is the closest real town. It takes her about seven hours to drive here from there, so I was flattered, and exited to see her, as she is eight months pregnant with her first baby. 
     But I couldn't put off the farm chores. I had already rescheduled the pig's d-day once. And the baby goats needed to be taken to the vet for dehorning and castration. Some people do these jobs themselves, but I'm just not quite there yet. For a while, I had thought I would dehorn them myself, but then I checked out the instructions on the internet, with graphic pictures. It's a red hot iron procedure. And castration is way beyond my comfort zone. I know I'm probably too soft for farm life, but I decided I could be conveniently absent when the knackerman came for the pig, and the baby goats could have their various operations under anaesthesia. My guests were coming with me to the vet. (Aren't I a great hostess? I really know how to entertain.) So we were loading the babies into the dog crate when the pig killers showed up in their large and very businesslike white panel truck. I pointed them towards the pig and they walked right up and shot him in the head with a rifle. We turned away quickly. It took us about another five minutes or so to get all organized and belted in the car, and I thought I'd just ask the men if they needed a check or something before I left. But as soon as I looked in that direction, what I saw made me change my mind rather quickly. The pig was being dragged along the ground towards the truck, still flopping around violently. 
     Well, I was sorry my guests had to see that. I was sorry I had to see it. We all wondered aloud why they didn't just shoot him again. Then we went and had the babies' heads burned and balls cut off. I was feeling very barbaric. I was questioning why I couldn't be content eating plastic wrapped mystery meat like everyone else in the world. What odd brand of masochism made me decide that I should confront the realities of omniverousness? This feeling passed; realistically I know that my pig enjoyed a quality of life undreamt of by those pigs that provide grocery store pork. He was allowed to wander and root around, and generally behave in a natural piggish manner. He was healthy and relatively free. I don't have any guilt on that count.
    But it did continue to bother me that he wasn't killed quickly. So much so, that I decided to risk embarrassment and call the meat company.  "Why didn't they just shoot him again?" I asked. 
"Oh, he was dead," the lady told me. "I promise you, he was dead. They shot him point blank, they can't miss, and then they immediately cut his throat and stab him in the heart. He was dead. All animals that have nerves flop around like that," she said. "Even people do, but they don't show that on TV."
     "I guess not," I said. "Well, that makes me feel better."
     And it did, despite also making me feel a little foolish. I'm a nurse; when people die of natural causes in the hospital they don't flop around. Anyway, I was relieved. I was starting to actually question whether or not I'd be able to enjoy the meat. I'd just about decided that if I can't enjoy this pork, then I'll just have to stop eating pork altogether. I still don't know what strange breed of masochism it is, but if I can't face my meat with my eyes wide open, then I got no business eating it. I'll let you know.


sad day on the farm

The black hen finally hatched out her babies...well, three of them, anyway. Three cute little black and yellow chicks, and seven more eggs. Maybe there would have been more. But somebody left the barn door open and the pig got in. Bye bye baby birdies. 
The poor momma chicken was running around looking for them all afternoon. When she settled down in the evening, I put a new egg next to her, and she rolled it underneath herself and sat on it, so I'm hoping that if I can buy a few new hatched chicks and slip them under her while she's sleeping, she'll adopt them. The book says you can do that sometimes.
Today I'm calling Kaiser Meats to come get the pig.

The story of easter weekend at Aimee's house.

Hi all, I'm sending you an e-mail I wrote to a friend, because reading over it, I realized it's funny. I guess it's been long enough now.

Dear K***,
oh PHEW!!!!! (wiping beads of sweat off forehead). I
> was so worried about J***, not knowing if chicken
> pox might be more dangerous for her because of her
> heart condition.
> You would absolutely not believe the weekend I've
> had. On Fridays my husband stays down in Seattle so
> he can work a long day Saturday, so I was by myself.
> I had 1) a dog who just had surgery, 2) a couple of
> kids with the sniffles (so I thought), and then 3)
> Rowan, my 14 year old, ate a kiwi fruit - which she
> has had before, mind you - and has an anaphylactic
> reaction. She's never had an allergic reaction to
> anything before. Suddenly, her face looks like an
> inner tube, she's totally flaming scarlet red, even
> the whites of her eyes, and she says "mom, I can't
> swallow right." I dump some liquid benadryl down her
> throat and call 911. Within ten minutes the house is
> full of firemen. They sent three ambulances. But the
> benadryl has kicked in, the swelling is going down,
> and I'm a nurse, so they say they don't have to take
> her in to ER. Shhesh. Okay, things are calming down,
> I'm getting the kids ready for bed, they are in the
> tub, Rowan is sacked out on the couch wheezing, and
> the post-surgery dog comes in with foam pouring out
> of his mouth, hacking and clawing at his face. At
> this point I want to just start running in circles
> with my hands up in the air. I haven't got the
> vaguest idea what I should do. I don't even know
> where there is a 24 hour vet hospital. The dog
> appears to be dying right in front of me, and I
> can't leave Rowan alone, even if I decided to chuck
> two naked toddlers into the car and peal out without
> a clue where I was headed. Thank god the dog
> suddenly chucks up a hair scrunchie and is instantly
> fine. It was midnight before my adrenaline level
> went down enough for me to sleep. Speaking of which,
> I need to get an epi-pen for Rowan.
> Then this morning, Paloma breaks out in spots and
> it's chicken pox. Well, the good news is I don't
> have to drive a hundred miles at the crack of dawn
> tomorrow to go have easter morning at my mom's
> house. We can have a nice leisurely breakfast right
> here at home.
> Here's hoping your easter is uneventful and peaceful
> and just the way you like it.
> aimee

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Wow. Never thought this technophobe would be blogging. I'm so technophobe that I actually moved to a small farm so I could make my own cheese and brew my own beer. I'm beyond technophobe, I'm certifiably luddite. So why am I doing this? Well, I kept e-mailing farm stories to my family and friends and they kept sending me back messages like "ROFL...why don't you publish this stuff?" Publishing is not in my likely future; I'm too busy taking care of teenagers and toddlers, not to mention all the cheesemaking and brewing. But when my fourteen year old daughter explained to me just how very simple it is to start a blog, and how even a total feeb like her mother could probably do it if she helped me, I decided that I could probably push my frontiers this far.

And it really was seriously easy. 
I'll upload my farm stories to date soon.