"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Baby It's Cold Outside (and Inside)!

We are in the middle of one of the most prolonged cold snaps I can remember. This is the third or fourth day that the mercury hasn't risen above freezing, and it is not predicted to do so for nearly another week. In fact, daytime highs have been well below freezing - today I think it was 27. Nighttime lows are in the mid teens, and last night's windstorm brought the windchill down into negative numbers.

Years ago, when I thought the farm needed a name (why?) I chose "Windy Hill Homestead," which is very apt. There is always a stiff breeze up here, and when there is a storm, we get the brunt of it coming over the ridge from the water. Yesterday afternoon, as I went out to feed the animals in the fading sunlight at 4:00 pm, it was so icy that my hands were hurting within seconds, and whenever I turned my head crosswise to the wind, it felt as though tiny little icepicks were stabbing into my eardrums.

Trying to keep some water liquid for the animals is nearly impossible. When we put in the new water line last year (Bad News from Home), I decided to pay extra to extend it all the way out to the fence line, an extra fifty feet or so. That cost us an amount which I can't remember right now but which was far from insignificant. My husband was not keen on spending the extra money, but I was thinking of days like yesterday, days when I would be carrying the water to the animals in two five gallon buckets through an icy tornado, when the wind would blow the water right out of the buckets and into the tops of my rubber boots. Yesterday, I congratulated myself grimly on my foresight as I filled and refilled the bucket and simply lifted it over the fence. The wind blew it right out of the bucket and into my face, yes, but still I think it was an improvement.

No matter how much water I pour, however, it is kind of a moot point, because ten minutes later it is frozen again. The dairy cow in particular is always thirsty. I worry a lot about that poor little thing; she is terribly skinny, or at least she seems so to me. I've never had a cow before and I'm not really familiar with their anatomy. I know they are bonier than horses or goats, but this one's hipbones and ribs are sharp. I don't know why - she has alfalfa to eat all day long and gets supplemental grain twice a day, plus things like old carrots, beets, and apple cores. I gave her a double ration of grain and piled up more straw in her shelter. This morning she was up and bawling for her morning grain, so I guess she's going to be fine. I just feel terrible for her, all alone. The goats and ponies all crowd into the main barn together and they are toasty warm. I know because the water I carry inside the barn doesn't freeze. It gets knocked over and pooped in, but it doesn't freeze.

It's plenty cold inside the house, too. We have done a fair amount of weatherizing over the years, but the fact is, this drafty old farmhouse is never going to be very warm in winter. Homero's skills at installing weatherstripping leave something to be desired, so we hang a quilt over the door at night and lay a rolled up towel against the crack on the floor. A few years ago we insulated the crawl space, but most of the insulation was ruined in the flood (see above link) and we haven't had the time/money/inclination to re-insulate yet. Then there is the fact that this house faces a spectacular view to the north and takes advantage of it with lots of big, north facing windows. Only some of them are double paned.

the view to the north

Somebody somewhere told me about a cheap way to insulate windows, with bubble wrap. Having googled it, it seems to be legit. Today I went by a mailing shop and asked if I could buy a big roll of bubble wrap. They said no, but told me where I could do so, on monday when it opened. So, that's the plan for next week: cover my big, beautiful view with bubbles. Then see if I can come up with a threat dire enough to keep the kids from popping all the bubbles. 

Bubble wrap is only a band-aid - over the long haul we need to make some serious changes in how we heat the house. I bought a thousand dollars worth of propane this week and I don't expect it will last the winter. That's on top of the $500 I spent on propane back in September. Years ago, Homero bought a brand new oil burning furnace off Craigslist for a couple hundred bucks, with the idea that he was going to convert it to run on waste veggie oil. That would be cool, if it ever happens. The brand new oil burning furnace is right where he put it five years ago, when he unloaded it off of his truck. 

I would love to install a wood burning insert in our great big fireplace, which, incidentally, is another major source of lost heat. It's basically just a hole in the house, and we keep the flue closed and - you guessed it - hang a quilt over the hole in the winter. I looked into the cost of putting in a wood burning insert, and was staggered. Totally aside from the cost of the insert itself, we would have to have the whole chimney clad in sheet metal and get a bunch of masonry work done. Suffice it to say, it's several winters worth of propane at currant prices. 

In the meantime, I buy up all the wool sweaters I can find at Goodwill and constantly keep a teapot on the simmer for hot tea and cocoa. This week, the furnace has been running full blast night and day but the temperature inside won't go above 63. We are all dried out like beef jerky, sipping our tea and huddled on the couch under blankets in our sweaters watching movies.

Ah well, there's an upside... no mud. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Potato Day, 2013 (Indoor Games)

With the weather taking a sharp turn towards the shitty, and without a car capable of transporting all of us at once, we have recently found ourselves stuck in the house with a lot of time on our hands, and cabin fever was starting to set in.

I try to limit the amount of time the kids spend on their various electronic devices (subject for another post), and whenever they aren't absorbed in some beeping game or watching a show about shoes or something equally inane, they expect me to entertain them. I've mentioned that this is what books were invented for - long winter afternoons - but I get a lot of whining coming back at me. SO.... saturday I unilaterally declared Potato Day, 2013.

Potato Day is a venerable holiday in our house, going back to 1997 or thereabouts. I invented it one day when Rowan was a three year old bored with all her toys and not yet old enough to either shove outside or sit in the corner with a book. On potato day, we do all things potato-related we can think of....

Potato stamps, for example. I drag out the cookie cutters and we make Christmas wrapping paper with potatoes and paint. And glitter, of course, can't forget the glitter. While the kids are stamping, I make them potato snacks.....

Homemade french fries.....

and cheesy scalloped potatoes....

..and my favorite craft of the year: potato puppets. This is one of the three kings. Balthazar, maybe? 
Potato Day only comes once a year, so I'll have to think of something else for next week.... it's supposed to stay cold and wet for the foreseeable future. 

What do you all do on those interminable winter evenings? 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Farm Thankfulness

Things on the farm and the home front that I'm feeling thankful for -

1) The turkeys. We will be eating our own bird thursday, a beautiful creature who dressed out at 19 pounds. I sold two other turkeys, for $4/lb, a very decent price. Well, one of them I accepted half cash and half groceries, and some of those groceries will be on the thanksgiving table as well. In particular, I'm thankful for

2) the quart of dried morels I accepted as partial payment. I love wild mushroom gravy. The last turkey I decided to donate rather than stash it in the freezer for Christmas or something. Calling around, I found out that

3) the Lighthouse Mission in Bellingham will be serving a Thanksgiving meal on friday for those who missed out on the big day. I'm thankful they are doing this, and also that they can legally accept my turkey. Anybody looking for an easy way to help out the homeless and hungry this year could do worse than to donate to this hardworking organization.

4) I'm thankful that my mom is coming up from Seattle and we will have a crowd of family around the table. I'm sorry my sister won't be here, but I am thankful that

5) I don't have to make a gluten free, dairy free Thanksgiving meal.

6) I'm thankful that the buck is sold and the boarded does are gone home and that all my goats are probably pregnant and that goat breeding season is over for another year!

7) I'm grateful that the cold snap is over and I no longer have to water the animals with a five gallon bucket but can go back to using the hose like a normal person.

8) I'm grateful for my nieces, who are sweet, cheerful, hardworking, and funny. They are doing so well in school and making friends. I am grateful they are enjoying their time here and I'm so grateful for the trust that their parents put in me and Homero. It's a blessing.

9) I'm thankful for the beauty of my part of the world. I'm so grateful to be able to look out my window and see the mountains and the trees and the sky. I'm constantly amazed at the natural beauty with which I am surrounded.

10) I'm thankful for this house, drafty and creaky as it is, it's still shelter, and it's home.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mexican Turkey Broth (What is a Gizzard Anyway?)

At 6:30 this morning Homero and I squelched out through the cold mud and light rain to the chicken coop, to catch sleeping turkeys before they woke up. The processor had asked me to be at his place by 7 am. Homero would grab a turkey right off its perch and take it into the mama barn, tie its feet together with hay twine, and hand it to me. I'd wrap my arms around it to keep the wings from flapping and lay it down on its side on a tarp in the back of the van. Then I'd throw a blanket over the turkey and it would lie there quietly, seemingly resigned to its fate.

As soon as I had four strangely quiscent lumps under the blanket, I drove as quickly as I could out to the processor's facility. We unloaded the turkeys and the man asked me "do you mind if I kill them in front of you? I'm in a hurry."

"Not at all," I said, "do what you gotta do."

He had a neat contraption; a round stand with three metal, upside-down cones attached. The bottom of the cone is open. You dump a turkey in headfirst, so its head sticks out the bottom, and then when you cut its throat, it can't flap around. A twenty five or thirty pound bird can really beat you up with its wings. Even a healthy chicken can be difficult to manage. When I got home, I told Homero to look out for a discarded orange traffic cone; I bet we can use it for chickens here on the farm.

I asked the man to save me the livers and the necks. He said "don't you want the hearts and gizzards?" Actually I did not, but I knew Homero would, so I said, "yeah, save me all of it."

"Come back in an hour."

I spent a very pleasant hour at a local coffee shop with the sunday paper. It might not have been so pleasant for the people around me, however. I didn't have time to change my shoes before I left the house. I was in my barnyard gumboots. I did look for a good deep puddle and waded through it before I went into the coffee shop. Heck, its a rural area. I'm sure I'm not the only fragrant farmer who passes through.

The turkeys were just about exactly the sizes I had estimated - the smallest was fourteen pounds and the largest was twenty. They were beautiful, wrapped up in big clear plastic bags looking just like supermarket turkeys. Then the man's son, a husky twelve or thirteen year old boy who was helping, handed me a gallon sized ziploc bag full of innards. The gizzards were the most disgusting things I've ever seen; big, round, veiny softball-sized lumps of gore. I figured Homero would take one look at them and decide to throw them away.

I was wrong. He took one look and started rooting through the kitchen drawer for our sharpest knife. While I put a big pot of water on for the necks and started chopping vegetables, he carefully cleaned the gizzards, while we had this discussion:

"So what is a gizzard, anyway?" I asked.

"I hate to tell you this, amor, but it's the butt."

"The WHAT?"

"The butt."

"That's not a chicken butt," I said. "I think it's the crop."

"The what?" he asked.

"The crop. Or is it the craw?"

"What's that?"

"You know, the neck pouch where they eat little rocks to chew up their food."

"No," he said, "I've cut it out of too many chickens. It doesn't come from the neck. That's the buche, this is the butt."

In the olden days, we might have had to agree to disagree, but today there's google. According to Wikipedia, arbiter of 9/10th of all marital disagreements, the gizzard is neither the butt nor the crop. It's a secondary stomach, a grinding chamber additional to the crop (or, colloquially, craw). Although it is located in the last third or so of the digestive tract, it is definitively not the butt.

Gizzards are apparently pretty hard to deal with, though. It took Homero a good twenty minutes to split open, wash, and peel the four gizzards. There's a tough membrane that has to be removed. After serious washing, he tossed them into the pot with the necks and vegetables. That broth turned out to be the best broth I've tasted in AGES. We were all swooning over the soup, although only Homero elected to actually eat the gizzards. I don't know if the gizzards added materially to the flavor, or if it would have been just as good with only the necks, but it seems likely they added something.

Here's my recipe for Mexican turkey broth. This stuff will cure you of colds you haven't even caught yet, it's that good. Probably, however, it only has that magic if you have access to pastured turkey.

and Mexican Rice - makes a whole meal

for a big pot:

4 turkey necks
4 well-cleaned gizzards (optional but recommended)
1 yellow onion, rough chopped
3 cloves garlic
2 carrots, chopped
1 fresh jalapeño chile, chopped
teaspoon whole allspice
10 or so whole cloves
teaspoon whole black peppercorns
tablespoon salt

Put all ingredients into a large stockpot with a gallon of water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a fast simmer. Skim any scum. Let simmer two hours.

Meanwhile, make Mexican rice - heat a tablespoon canola oil in a large non stick skillet, and put in a cup and a half of long grain wite rice, a diced onion, diced red pepper, two cloves of minced garlic, and a large pinch of cumin. Stir with a wooden spoon until rice is lightly toasted and just beginning to  color. Add 1 can of diced tomatoes and several ladles of the simmering turkey stock. Turn heat down to low and cover tightly. Let steam twenty minutes or so until rice is tender and fluffy.

Set out a plate with the following condiments: quartered limes, diced avocado, minced green onion, cilantro, and more jalapeños. Also set out a bowl of good quality corn chips.

In every bowl, put a scoop of rice, then ladle over the broth. Everybody seasons their soup as they like best. I like mine with everything, including crumbled corn chips. Delicious and warming.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Freezer Puzzle (Turkeys for Sale)

Our four turkeys have a date with destiny on Saturday morning. I found a guy who will process them professionally (i.e., he has a defeathering machine) for $10 apiece. That is apparently a cheap enough price that Homero will allow me to pay somebody to do it rather than doing it himself. We do not have a defeathering machine. Nor has Homero ever butchered a turkey before. It's probably more difficult than a goat. You can shoot a goat.

I put the turkeys on Craigslist - I'd like to sell two of them. We don't need four turkeys, nor, indeed do we have room in the freezer for four turkeys. We already have a quarter of beef and most of a goat in the freezer, as well as many gallons of berries and about a dozen frozen zucchini breads that I baked earlier in the year when somebody left  a crate of squash on the porch. Oh, and a few gallon bags of broccoli.

Damndest thing. Homero was in Mt. Vernon in August, buying school clothes for the girls at the Goodwill there. A Mexican gentleman approached him with three enormous grocery bags of fresh broccoli and asked if he wanted them. Not if he wanted to buy them; just if he wanted them. Like, take some of this fresh broccoli off my hands, willya, friend? Nobody is surprised when their friends try to give them free zucchini, but a stranger proffering free broccoli is something I've never seen before. Of course, Homero took all the broccoli. Not knowing what to do with it, I blanched it and froze it in gallon ziploc bags. Turns out, frozen broccoli kind of sucks. It works for soups or quiches, but not for eating by itself.

Anyway, nobody has called me about the turkeys. I suppose it's kind of awkward to try and sell fresh turkeys ten days before Thanksgiving. But many people say that poultry is improved by a few days freezing, especially lean pastured birds like these turkeys. I hold out hope - I'm selling them at  the very reasonable price of $4/lb, and I expect them to be the perfect Thanksgiving size of about twelve to fifteen pounds each. In the meantime, however, we need to prepare for the possibility of having to fit four turkeys into the freezer by sunday.

I can consolidate a little bit, and probably bring a few more gallons of berries into the house-freezer, but we need to start eating out of the freezer NOW. I'm making a blackberry pie today, and I can do something with another gallon of broccoli - soufflé, maybe? What's really taking up space is the goat. Since I butchered and wrapped that myself, and I don't have a saw, it's in pretty large and awkwardly shaped packages. Maybe I should haul out the ribs and make barbecued goat ribs with broccoli on the side and blackberry pie for dessert.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pasture Puzzle (Chucking Monkeys)

Hope has been bringing home logic puzzles as homework lately. A man is trying to get a cat, a dog, and a mouse across a river in a canoe that only holds himself plus one animal at a time.... you know the rigamarole. I hate these things. Buy some cages, dumbass! Or maybe, you know, a bigger canoe? In fact, if you have to cross this river with such frequency, think about investing in a freaking bridge.

Similarly, I know that the real answer to my pasture puzzle is more fencing. But, like the man with his problematic menagerie, all I have is an inadequate canoe. Here's the situation:

-One main pasture.
-One sacrifice area.
- Both areas have good shelter, thanks to Homero's work expanding the field shelter last month.
- It's winter. I need to protect my main pasture as much as possible from hooves.
- One small herd of dairy goats
- Two ponies who are vicious bullies where food is concerned
- One dairy calf who is apparently very stupid.

In this scenario, the dairy calf is the annoying cat who cannot be left alone with either the rat or the dog. The goats and the ponies will both bully her and steal all her food. Additionally, only the calf gets expensive alfalfa; everybody else eats local grass hay.

Currently, the goats and the horses are in the main pasture and the calf is alone in the sacrifice area. This is the dumbest arrangement because it leaves almost all the hooves on the main pasture. Last night I put the horses in with the calf, but they kicked her out of the field shelter and she slept outside. And they ate all her hay.

There is one more piece of the puzzle that seems like it ought to be useful but so far I haven't been able to make it so. I have a calf hutch ( Look! Up in the Sky! It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's.....)  in the sacrifice area with the calf and the ponies. Theoretically, I could put the calf's alfalfa in here and she could get to it but the ponies couldn't. In reality, I just spent a half hour crouched inside the hutch rattling a container of grain, biting my cheeks in frustration as the brainless calf peeked timidly in at me and occasionally barked her shins against the lip of the hutch. It's no use. She's just too stupid. It's not her fault.

The goats, on the other hand, are used to the calf hutch and have used it before. They will all crowd in and sleep in there together. That would leave the field shelter to the farm bullies, the ponies. The calf could go into the main pasture all by herself. She'd have the warm barn to herself - not counting the chickens. The main pasture would have only four hooves on it, instead of twenty-four.

I'd need to buy one more cattle-panel (Cattle (Panel) Rustling) before I can try this arrangement, because there's a small low spot in the fence around the sacrifice area and the goats can jump it. The vulnerable spot is right by the fruit orchard, too, and it would only take them five minutes to destroy the trees. And the van - which I need to bring home a cattle panel - is out of commission.

The logic puzzle just keeps getting more complicated. It's as if, while the man is standing on the riverbank with his cat, rat, and dog, somebody starts chucking monkeys at him.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Don't Forget

I am sick; another sore throat. I'm a little worried because the last sore throat turned out to be a vicious strain of strep that took two courses of hardcore antibiotics and a full three weeks to subdue. So I'm taking it super easy, drinking hot lemon water with honey and staying wrapped up in bed all day watching reruns of the Office on Netflix.

A few quick notes so I don't forget: sick or not sick, I have to be at Zion's holiday bazaar tonight and tomorrow morning, because I am in charge of the free ornament making for kids. All the posters say Free Ornament Making for Kids. If I'm not there, there's probably a lot of cranky moms who expected to be able to shop for knick-knacks in peace while little Jimmy got glitter all over himself under my watchful eyes. I think I have all the supplies I need but I might need to make a last minute run to Michael's for glue or something like that.

I picked a large bunch of delicious hot mustard greens from the greenhouse this morning - it does wonders for clogged up sinuses. I just chomp on it raw, and it clears me right out for a while. It's nice to have fresh tender young greens in mid-November, after the first frost.

The turkeys have a date with doom. I called around and found a guy who processes them for ten to twelve dollars a bird, depending on size. This time of year he's booked solid, so I have to get up at the crack of dawn next saturday and have them all over in Lynden by 7 am. I don't know how I'm going to transport them yet. Challenge for another day. It also means our Thanksgiving turkey will be frozen, but I'm not worried about that. Most of my Thanksgiving turkeys throughout the years have been frozen and I don't think it does them any harm. The part I'm not sure about is what to do with the other three. There isn't room in the freezer for four turkeys - especially not these big mothers. I think they are each in the twenty-five pound range. Maybe I will throw up a Craigslist ad, see if I can sell two of them.

Okay, that about taxed me. Going back to bed now. See y'all on the flip side.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Changing Seasons

Yesterday we had a lot of rain - cold, hard grey rain that made everyone want to stay indoors and watch movies. We mostly stayed under the covers all day until it was time to light the candles for the Day of the Dead.

At our house, the combined  holidays of Halloween, Samhain, and Day of the Dead are a major event. My husband comes from Oaxaca, which is the absolute epicenter of Day of the Dead celebrations, and continuing that tradition is an important way of teaching our children about their Mexican heritage. It is a lovely holiday and we all enjoy it.

this year's Day of the Dead altar
a graveyard in Oaxaca, decorated for Day of the Dead
Halloween is big, of course, is big because our kids are prime Halloween age, being eight and ten. This year they introduced their Mexican cousins, the Tamagochis, to American-style Halloween and trick or treating. They took to it like ducks to water, and so with four trick-or-treaters, there is a shit-ton of chocolate in the house right now.

We also celebrate Samhain, albeit in a low-key way. I simply change my household alter, removing my Demeter icon, symbol of harvest abundance. We dress the altar for Day of the Dead, and when I undress it again, I put up Hecate, goddess of the underworld. In the modern Wiccan calendar, Samhain, a cross-quarter day, is the last night of the old year. The new year begins with the beginning of winter.

My Demeter icon, which I took down this week as the abundant season ends. 
The last way that I keep track of the seasons is by my own personal idiosyncratic method. These are the most intimate and the most real to me, being dependent on no invented calendar, but simply on the observed realties of this little piece of earth. By my reckoning, today was the official start of mud season.

Although it dawned clear and bright this morning, the effects of last nights rain were profound. There was standing water all over the place, and for the first time, I put on my galoshes to do the morning chores. The ground felt squishy and somehow broken, like a summer squash that has been frozen and thawed.

And oh yes! It was also the end of Daylight Savings Time last night, so that means we will be saying goodnight to the sun at about 5 p.m. The long dark is upon us. Better stock up on hot chocolate and propane!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Lamest Farm Ever (Ethical Questions)

This place is pathetic. Seems like everywhere I look, I see an injured animal.

The new Jersey calf with her droopy broken ear, limping around on her dislocated hip, or whatever it is. She is actually getting around much better than she was at first, even frolicking a bit, but she will probably never be entirely normal. Homero holds out hope she can be bred and used as a family milk cow, but I rather doubt it, myself. He wonders if she can give birth normally; I wonder if one of her hindquarters will be unfit to eat. 

Flopsy the goat has something wrong with her left foreleg. She is a little slower than the other goats, bobs her head when she walks, and often holds her foot up off the ground. I thought it was hoof rot, because her hooves were horrible when we got from Mexico. All the goat's hooves were, actually; I think the renters hadn't trimmed in many moons. But this particular foot of Flopsy's was the worst: grossly deformed and swollen. However, after diligent trimming for three months, it's pretty much back to normal. I can't see that there's anything in the hoof that would explain her limp. Now I'm thinking she has a strain somewhere higher up in the leg. I'm a bit worried because she is certainly bred now, and the extra weight of pregnancy isn't going to do her any favors. Flopsy is a gigantic obese goat in any case, which is probably why the leg hasn't healed on it's own. I don't know why she's so fat - she just eats grass like all the rest of them. 

The white turkey got stepped on by a horse about six weeks ago. He was pretty bad off for a while. He spent most of his time laying down and his breast feathers all fell out. Now the feathers have grown in again, which greatly improves his appearance, but he still limps. He somehow flies up to the top of the chicken coop to roost every night, but I have no idea how. When he comes down in the mornings he flops heavily to the ground and it looks like a small airplane crash landing. I always try to run up and grab him to let him down gently, but he always evades me. 

Rosie Pony's intermittent eye infection is back, and her long lashes are gummed together. Twice a day I try to catch her, and if I can, I swab her eyes with warm salt water and cider vinegar. What she needs is to have her tear ducts irrigated, but she'd need to be sedated for that and last time, three years ago, it cost $400. (see What Do You Do With a Drunken Pony?)

The day before yesterday I saw Dorian, our elderly cat, sitting in the sun on the front porch. He was hunched up oddly, and when I went closer I saw he had one foreleg folded under him. I tried to get him to stand up and he fell over, crying. We brought him into the house and examined him, discovering a large, squishy lump over his shoulder. I couldn't find the shoulder blade, and that, combined with the way the leg was dangling, made me think he had a fracture or dislocation. 

A friend of ours, A., is a vet who makes house calls, and she came out yesterday to see Dorian, prepared to put him down if he turned out to have a fracture for real. Dorian is almost seventeen years old and in poor health; we weren't going to try any heroic measures. However, A. said that the big squishy lump was an abscess. We didn't find a bite mark, but A. said she saw a scar. She thought he had been bitten by something - maybe a rat- some time ago, and the skin healed over the infection. She said cat skin seals up quickly. I held Dorian while A. tried to aspirate the wound - without much luck - and then made a small incision to let the wound drain. 

I've been putting hot compresses on the wound three or four times a day, and giving him heavy doses of antibiotics. The poor cat is flat out, he hasn't eaten anything, not even the tuna I opened for him. I'm not sure yet if he's going to make it or not. The little girls are frantic, Dorian has been around since long before they were born. He's our oldest pet. 

The questions surrounding how much should be done to save a pet are complicated. The questions surrounding how much should be done for livestock are complicated as well. One of the reasons I didn't want a cow is that I know we can't afford the veterinary care she would need if she were to get sick or injured - further injured, I mean. I don't think we should have animals around if we are unable or unwilling to provide a certain minimum level of care for them. We shouldn't let animals suffer pain or debility, that seems like a simple statement. Until you begin to break it down into economic terms. 

Dorian's case is relatively easy. He's elderly and has other, chronic conditions. If he doesn't heal in a reasonable time frame, we will ask our friend to euthanize him and bury him beneath a fruit tree. He's a pet, with a name, so he gets a funeral and a headstone. Flopsy is in a grey area - she is livestock, not a pet. But she has a name and we all have feelings for her. If she had to be put down because of an injury, for example, we would never eat her. Homero might try to convince me to sell her as meat, but we would gang up on him and refuse. She would be buried in the goat graveyard, no funeral, no headstone. Flopsy is an animal with economic value - she provides us with meat and milk, year after year, and often with cash income from the sale of her adorable babies. Beyond the ethical requirement to provide her with some level of veterinary care that applies to all the animals, she justifies the vet's fee economically as well. Up to a point, anyway. 

Poultry does not get veterinary care. If a chicken gets injured, they get a cold appraisal and my best guess as to whether they will recover on their own or not. If I don't think they will, they get their necks wrung quickly and mercifully by Homero, and will be eaten or not eaten according to their age and health status. Chickens simply do not have either the economic or the sentimental value to justify spending money on the vet. I would only do that if, say, there seemed to be some sort of epidemic. 

These all seem like pretty middle-of-the-road positions to me, extreme in neither direction. But I know people have a wide range of opinions on these topics. How do the farmers among you make these kinds of decisions? How have you decided when it is time to authorize a pet? How much does money figure into it? Any comments would be greatly appreciated. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

State of the Farm (Mid-Autumn)

Last week we enjoyed a long stretch of beautiful fall weather. Temperatures reached the low sixties on a couple of days, and it was dry enough that the fallen leaves were crisp and crackly. Blue skies and light breezes tempted everybody outside to get the last of the outdoor chores done before the curtain of rain descended again, as we all knew it must. From our hilltop, we could see several thin columns of smoke, neighbors burning leaves and the accumulated detritus of the old year.

Homero built an add-on to the field shelter for the new baby cow. Our small three-sided field shelter was not really much of a shelter, being open to the north. The prevailing winds here are generally from the southwest, but during the deeps of winter we get strong, freezing north winds that sweep across the valley from Canada. The field shelter was adequate for a couple of shaggy shetland ponies, but not for a delicate baby dairy calf. Homero added two more walls, on the east and the north sides, leaving the west side open, and roofed it with corrugated plastic sheets. I hope those sheets can stand up to our winter winds; we'll find out.

Meanwhile, I staked out the ponies and let out the goats to graze on the last of the green grass before the frost. There hasn't been a freeze yet, but there surely will be soon. After the first frost, the grass loses most of it's nutrition and becomes fairly useless as fodder. I had to take advantage of the good weather to graze the animals as often as possible before that happens. The goats attacked the blackberry vines, which still have green leaves, and stood on their hind legs to eat the brown leaves off of the pear tree, the dogwood, and the copper beech. I drove them away from the cherry trees: I read that the leaves of the cherry are toxic right at this time of year - after they lose their green color but before they are completely dry. I have never seen any evidence of that, but why take chances?

It's goat breeding season, and the buck is still rank, but I think all the does must be pregnant already, because he has lost interest in them and now grazes peacefully alongside without harassing them. Some neighbors are bringing a couple of does this weekend to be bred. They are farmers, and I would trade with them for pumpkins or something, but money is tight right now and I need the $50 to pay the electric bill.

Rowan's garden is still producing. We did a late planting of inside the greenhouse, and so now we are enjoying spicy mustard greens and small red radishes. Outside, there are still carrots, spinach, and brussels sprouts. A late planting of various brassicas are tiny, but surviving. I don't think they will grow much over the winter, and I am predicting Rowan will have to tear them out next spring, but who knows, I might be wrong. When she tore out the old tomato vines she threw them to the goats, who loved the hard green tomatoes. I was worried the vines might be poisonous, but it doesn't seem so.

The chickens aren't laying much, but then again they never did. I don't know what I am doing wrong with chickens, but I never seem to get the egg production that others do. The five layers that my neighbor gave me were producing an egg a day each when she gave them to me; since I've had them they are producing about an egg a week. Chickens hate me. I don't know what to do - we are going through chicken food like crazy and getting nothing like as many eggs as we need.

The turkeys have grown up. They are really very big now; I have no idea what they weigh but I'm pretty sure one of them will suffice for the entire Thanksgiving crowd. One of them was injured - stepped on by a horse, I think - and is limping around. Maybe I will use that one as a practice turkey before the holiday. Pasture raised birds need a slightly different treatment than your standard supermarket turkey. Last time I cooked one, I brined it for a day beforehand and I think that worked well.

I think we are ready for winter. There are no major outstanding chores to be done. The propane tank is two-thirds full. There is hay in the barn and beef in the freezer. The year's butchering is done. I have made the rounds of the thrift shops and everyone has a winter coat and socks and boots. Bring it on, winter! Bring it on.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Meet the Cow (Chalk One Up for the Husband)

Homero has a friend who works at a local dairy. At any given time they have a few hundred cows and dozens of calves. Yesterday Homero got a call from this friend, saying there was a heifer calf available for free, if we wanted her. She had been injured somehow, probably kicked or trampled, and the owner didn't think she was going to recover fully, or quickly enough, or something. She was scheduled to be culled, but we could have her instead. 

Homero and I have argued a lot about cows lately (Imaginary Cows) and the family position on hypothetical cows had still not crystallized into unanimity, but when faced with an actual, cow, concrete and free, my resistance crumbled and so the baby cow came home with us. In the van. 

She's a scruffy little thing, and to be honest, she does look like a cull. Not only does she limp on her right hind foot, but she has a broken ear (the cartilage seems to be busted and she can't move it; it droops lifelessly) and she has a few small, open sores on her face. I asked our friend what was going on with her face and he said "oh they all get those." Inspires a lot of confidence, doesn't it?

I did some research (also called "googling") and found out that many people consider Jerseys to be perfectly acceptable beef cattle as far as flavor goes. In fact, they are known for their superior marbling. But they are a smaller breed, and relatively slow growing, taking a full two years to mature on grass. We will take our time deciding what to do with this little girl. If she does recover fully, we will probably breed her for a family milk cow - if not, she'll eventually become meat. In the meanwhile, she is a little bit lost.

The poor thing doesn't even know how to graze. She's never been out on grass. She was kept in a small pen, chained to the feed trough, where she was fed grain and a bit of alfalfa. At least this dairy doesn't use calf hutches - the calves are all together in one open building and they can see and hear each other. I know tonight she will be cold and confused. We have her in the small pasture with the three sided field shelter, which has alfalfa and water and a little grain in it. Hope she is okay in the morning.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Scavenge City (Gleaner's Pantry)

After moaning and wailing yesterday in this space about how hard it is to feed everybody, today I received an amazing bounty of free food. The two things are not directly related - it just happened that way.

Right up the road from my house, there is a small institution called the Gleaner's Pantry. I knew about it, in a general way, but I had never stopped by to check it out. The Gleaners collect expired or imperfect produce and baked goods from area grocery stores and then sort it and allow members to collect it for home use. Most of the food is perfectly fit for human consumption, and whatever isn't is taken away for chickens or pigs.

There has been a lot of press recently about the amount of food wasted in this country, and at the Gleaner's Pantry it is easy to see for oneself. A room, about twenty by thirty, was absolutely filled to bursting with food. This happens twice a week, and represents only a very small portion of the food thrown away by just a couple of local stores. Gleaning seems to me like a win/win situation - I get free or extremely cheap nutritious food, and the food is diverted from the landfills, where it would generate methane and contribute to greenhouse gases.

It works like this: for a yearly fee of $150, plus 2 hours of volunteer work per month, a person can come collect food twice a week. The first gleaning is free. Here's what I brought home today - if it's a representative sample, then it's an extremely good deal:

a large bunch of grapes
half a dozen apples
three grapefruit
three bananas
3 pounds or so assorted greens - spinach, kale, and collards
big bunch parsley
six limes
six big tomatoes
a dozen potatoes
a dozen yellow bell peppers
a dozen hot peppers
three loaves of rye bread
a beautiful pomegranate

Everything I brought home is fresh enough - not "just got home from the grocery store" fresh, but certainly as fresh as most of the stuff in my refrigerator is right now. Only the greens really ought to be used today, and so I am making my dad's curry. He uses beef, but I'm using goat (Recipe in Lieu of Post (Dad's Spinach Curry)).

Then, after my visit to the pantry, I went to my neighbor's house to strip his apple trees. We were invited at church last weekend to go and get as many apples as we liked. Alas, there aren't enough to make it worthwhile to drag out and sterilize the apple press, but there are plenty of apples for eating, juicing, and probably for another gallon or so of applesauce. Now it's cold enough, they will keep very nicely in the shed.

I brought the neighbors some home baked pumpkin bread, and if we go back for more apples, I will bring smoked salmon. I have a whole lot of smoked salmon in the fridge - that's the other free bounty I received recently. There was a raffle as the tamagochi's school's open house, and I won a gigantic filet of king salmon.

Funny how quickly I can go from feeling put upon and whiny to feeling blessed and thankful. There is still the same amount of work to do - more! - but my attitude has done a 180. Now I'd better go wash some greens.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Feeding the Ravening Hordes

It's amazing to me what adding just two teenage mouths means to the family food budget, and to the amount of time I spend cooking. In addition to my own kids, we have taken on Homero's two teenage nieces, collectively known as the Tamagochis. They are twelve and fourteen, and are normal, healthy eaters; not slobbering goblins - not any more so than any other teenager, anyway. I figured that adding two mouths would be no big deal. Two can eat as cheaply as one, so they say.

Maybe I'm not being fair to the Tamagochis - they aren't the only new mouths. There is also P., my oldest daughter's boyfriend, who moved in while we were away and is still here. Rowan and P. buy their own food and cook for themselves most of the time, but I often find myself mentally counting them in as I cook, thinking "I should make enough so there will be leftovers for Rowan and P." He is a tall, lanky 21 year old and he can really put it away. Also, we are trying (again) to institute a Sunday dinner, a sacred hour when all eight of us will sit down together and eat like a real family, goddammit.

The main difference is that I have been used to sit down dinners for four, two of them small children. That's a very manageable and civilized meal. Now every single dinner is for six, and the kids are no longer small. It's more than a sheer numbers issue - the gestalt has changed. Dinner for six - sometimes eight - is just a bigger deal. It's louder. It takes longer. There are more dishes to wash, there are more taste preferences to juggle. It's more likely to be stressful.

Thank goodness the Tamagochis are not picky eaters. Even though they are used to an entirely different cuisine and a lot of what I make - while prosaic enough - is strange and new to them. I've made a lot of salmon lately - it's seasonal and we lucked out and won a massive side of king salmon at a school raffle - and that is definitely weird food for them. I tend to make lots of vaguely asian food - Indian curries and Thai noodles with peanut sauce, stir fries and miso soup with seaweed and tofu - and that is totally foreign to them. Thank goodness they are game to try to new things, and too polite to turn up their noses or complain. I had to tell them, "you know, if I ask you how you like something, and you don't like it, it's okay to say so. I need to know. The polite way to say you don't like something I make is to say 'it's not my favorite.'"

Yesterday was Hope's birthday and because there was so much work to do to get ready for the party, I just made some tuna salad, put a loaf of bread out on the counter, and said "if you're hungry, here ya go, knock yourselves out." Three cans of tuna and a whole loaf of bread disappeared in less time than it just took me to write about it. The hamburger from our beef is packaged in two pound packages, and that used to mean we had to have hamburger in two successive meals - not anymore. Two pounds is just barely enough to feed everybody once. A two-pound loaf of cheese goes in less than a week, and the milk - well, a gallon of milk doesn't make it through a day sometimes. I find myself buying quantities that used to seem ridiculous to me - twenty pounds of potatoes, a ten pound sack on onions.

My dad's mother raised seven children, six of them boys. All of my uncles are well over six feet tall, too. They were pretty poor, especially after my grandpa died and before my grandma remarried. My dad remembers being hungry fairly often. He says grandma used to make a single, enormous pot of some kind of stew or beans and just let it simmer on the stove for everyone to dip up a bowl whenever they wanted. It's clear to me that was the only way to keep six hungry growing boys fed without going stark raving mad. I wouldn't mind doing the same sometimes, but so far I haven't been able to let go of my ideal of everybody eating together at least most of the time. I grew up with sit-down meals every day of the week, and I refuse to give up entirely on the idea, no matter how much extra work it is.
Apparently I inherited the martyr gene from my Jewish ancestresses.

So for the time being, I am keeping up. My canned good pantry is laughable inadequate to the task - more on that in a later post - but it's there. Yesterday we brought home a quarter of a beef - 162 pounds, and I rearranged the freezer to fit it in. We still have a lot of berries and several smaller salmon. We have bunches of broccoli and some frozen zucchini bread I made earlier in the season. We have some green salsa and some frozen chicken stock. And we have most of a goat.

The season isn't over - today I was supposed to go pick up apples from a friend who has too many, but I didn't have the car. I can do it tomorrow. Then there's squash, still. There's plenty to do, and obviously nobody's going to starve. I'm just feeling the weight of my duty to provide healthy, interesting, good-tasting food for everybody, day after ever-loving day to be a bit heavier than I usually do. My favorite of all my motherly and housewifely tasks is cooking, and so I feel bad when even this becomes something of a slog.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Double Buck (the Craigslist Chronicles)

Sometimes it seems like I spend way too much time on Craigslist. I've toned it down since the early days, when I would spend hours scanning the farm and garden section looking for free chickens (you'd be surprised) or people who wanted to trade vegetable starts or raw alpaca fleece or something like that. I used craigslist to meet other local farmers, to set up useful bartering networks (New To Farm Life: Trade Network 2012 (Craigslist Chronicles)), and occasionally, to get rid of commodities I no longer wanted - this posting, in which I offer 25 pounds of free chicken livers, is a particular favorite of mine:

New To Farm Life: My Latest Craigslist Posting

One of my bad Craigslist habits is that I seldom remember to go back and delete a post after it has outlived it's usefulness. Usually this means nothing much beyond an annoyed e-mail once in a while, but this week, my laziness paid off. I forgot to delete the post looking for a buck to service my herd. We bought a buckling, (A Buckling Named Boob) so I wasn't in the market for a buck anymore. However, when a lady called me offering me a practically free purebred, papered, tested, and proven buck, well, I could hardly say no. Haboob, cute as he is, is still a tiny little baby and may not even be capable of mating this year. If he is, it won't be until January. I had resigned myself to not having any babies until early summer next year, and no cheese until sometime in July. When this handsome fellow popped up out of the blue, I jumped on him.

The lady, A., is simply getting out of Nubians. She is going to pure Nigerians (minis) and had no more use for Paxton. I guess she hadn't had much luck selling him at a decent price (the goat market fluctuates wildly; this is probably an off year) and decided finally she just wanted his stinky ass off the property before he went and impregnated the wrong does. She even offered to transport him, which is wonderful, because our van is broken down.

Paxton arrived on the farm at about six in the evening last friday, and fifteen seconds later, everybody was pregnant. The does must have been in heat - I can never tell - because Paxton took one look at them and did his Buckly duty before he even got all the way through the gate. So, doing the math, I ought to have a very busy week sometime in early March. Hooray!

We are keeping Haboob, of course. We will just wait and use him next year. For the rest of this breeding season, we can rent out Paxton, for cash or for trade in hay. Back to the barter section of Craigslist I go!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Butchering Season (the Breakdown)

Fall is butchering season. The grass is dying back and losing nutrition, and the meat animals are as fat as they are going to get. We've been keeping two goats alive, Polly's last kids, for quite a bit longer than we ever intended to. They are a year and a few months old, older than meat kids usually ever get.

The last time we bred the goats, I had such a hard time finding a buck that we eventually had to borrow my sister's buck. Blueberry is a beautiful animal, a terrific buck... but he's an Angora. That's a fiber goat. I have Nubians, dairy goats. So Polly's kids, all three of them, were half Angora, half Nubian. That's not a useful cross. They end up being no good for either fiber or milk, and not even really good meat goats, because they grow slowly and are small, like an Angora. They do have excellent flavor, but they take twice as long to grow a carcass only about two thirds as meaty. I only resorted to using Blueberry because I really needed the mama goat bred, so she would produce milk. I simply decided ahead of time that her offspring from that year would be meat animals.

Polly threw triplets, as a first freshener. That's good, she's a good goat. She's going to be an excellent milker, as well. She raised those triplet without losing any noticeable condition. Before we left for Oaxaca, we gave away the single buckling to a friend of ours who was similarly in need of a buck. We explained that any resulting kids would not be prime quality, but he simply wanted his does freshened, so it didn't matter to him. That buck is now living the life of Riley down in the skagit valley, lucky fellow. The two doelings stayed on the farm while we were gone. One of them was given to our neighbor, I forget exactly why. The other was traded to another neighbor for four turkeys, after we got back.

Then, neither neighbor wanted to come get their goats. Time passed, summer passed. It started to rain. We called the turkey trade neighbor several times, and he always said the same thing: "Yeah, I'll be up there this week." Our other neighbor said he'd take the goat as soon as he got a pen built. Meanwhile, they are eating the grass and mashing down fences. The rest of our goats are older nannies; they don't jump anymore. But these little doelings were jumpers. One morning they jumped the fence and ate up half of the neighbor's fruit tree. I began badgering my husband to do something, either to the fences or to the goats.

One day my neighbor's wife was out working in the garden and we had a conversation across the fence. I told her that we'd bring over the goat anytime, or we'd be happy to do the butchering ourselves and give her the meat, but that we needed the goat gone. She told me to nevermind about the meat, her husband shouldn't have fatty goat meat anyway, he had a triple bypass just a few months ago, and that she would take the blame. So we went ahead and butchered the goats.

Or, I should say, Homero did. He is still a pretty fledgling butcher, having only once done the job entirely by himself before. It took him far too long to skin the first animal - nearly an hour. By the time he was ready to start on the second goat, the other neighbor had answered our phone calls and shown up to help. He knew what he was doing, and so the second goat went much quicker than the first. We have learned the fastest way to dispatch the goats is with a .22 bullet to the back of the head (never the front - a goat has a thick shelf of bone over the forehead and a bullet between the eyes would ricochet and be dangerous) and then immediately cut the throat. The little guys hit the ground and are dead before they know it. Then we hang them by the tendons in their hocks from the swingset and gut them into a kiddie pool that we keep around for that purpose. The kids are far too big for kiddie pools anymore.

When the goats were broken down into about eight pieces - shoulder and foreleg, haunch and back leg, ribs and belly, neck and back - the men brought them inside and I did the rest of the butchering on the kitchen table. I'm getting better. It's easy to separate the shanks from the haunch, but much harder on the front end. I need to read up on that. I had to use a heavy cleaver to cut through the bone, and it made sharp splinters that had to be carefully washed out of the meat. I cut away the loin from the spine and cut it up for stew meat. I cut the belly meat (the flank) from the ribs and packaged it separately. That will probably be marinated, pounded, and grilled as steaks. The ribs are not very meaty on these goats and probably it would take all of them to make a meal for the family, big as our family is these days. The biggest, meatiest part is of course the haunch, or the upper part of the hind leg. Each of those will make a big, fat roast.

The chart at the top of this page shows the cuts as they would be made by a professional butcher. Bully for the professional butcher - I really ought to study and practice a lot more. I wish I could make neat sections like that. But it's virtually impossible to learn how to do that from a book. You need - or at least, I need - someone to actually show me, someone to put my hand in the right place at the right angle and say "feel that?" In the absence of such hands-on mentoring, I do the best I can. I did okay, probably about as well as I did on the King salmons a few weeks ago (Fish Tale (Canning Salmon)).
Could somebody else do better? Sure. Did I do okay? Yup. I have a freezer full of neat packages wrapped in white paper and tucked into ziploc bags. As my mom always says, "good enough for government work."

I used all four shanks of our goat for the butchering day dinner. I seared them in a hot skillet and then braised them in a mixture of orange juice, chilpotle peppers, tomato, garlic, and cumin. They were very good, but they need to braise all day to reach that falling-off-the-bone consistency. I find that is the best way to cook goat. Again, according to the chart, there are fine chops and filets on a goat, but personally I haven't had much luck with cooking goat as though it were beef, fast and rare. Lamb works well that way, but not goat. Luckily, the falling-apart melt in your mouth meat was delicious, wrapped in fresh hot tortillas and dipped in the spicy sauce.

I am going to bring a package of the meat over to my neighbor, the one whose wife told me not to. Again, according to the chart, goat is actually very lean and has an excellent lipid profile.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Doing the Can-Can

Just popping up for a bit of air between canning sessions. I'm extremely pleased with my pantry, considering that we didn't get back into the house until high summer, and considering that I didn't put in a garden this year. Rowan's garden has kept us well stocked, especially with tomatoes, however. Here's what I've done so far this year in the way of canning:

10 pints king salmon (plus a few pounds smoked)

12 cups blueberry jam (a third of which is already gone)

6 cups bread and butter pickles

8 quarts applesauce

4 quarts tomato sauce

6 cups hot salsa

4 cups of lovely sweet pickled peppers, made from a mess of gorgeous bright red, yellow and green hot chiles from my neighbor's garden.

Aside from canning, I've also done a good bit of other preserving, mostly freezing. There are about twenty gallons of assorted frozen berries in the chest freezer, and an even dozen loaves of zucchini bread from the crate of zucchini that an unknown neighbor left on my porch (Anonymous Squash (Must be August)).

In the fridge I have a half-gallon of sauerkraut that we will probably never eat, and three quarts of kosher fermented dill pickles that we must eat soon, as they are getting inedibly sour. Next month we are getting a quarter of beef. More later - it's time to make dinner!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Buckling Named Boob

It looks like breeding season will be delayed this year. This adorable little guy just won't be ready for a few months yet. Breeding season is always a major pain in the butt, or at least, it has been ever since I sold Storm Cloud, my beautiful herdsire. Last year, of course, we didn't breed any goats at all, being in Oaxaca. The year before that, we had a very difficult time finding a buck and ended up with a less-than-satisfactory arrangement (Unwelcome Drama in the Goat Breeding Business).

This year, I thought I had everything all sewn up ahead of time. A woman I know slightly has a black and white spotted buck and we made arrangements for her to bring him over for a few weeks and I would pay her $100. That sounds expensive, but it actually represents a bit of a discount, as I had three does to breed, and the going rate for a proven, purebred, tested buck is about $50 per doe. I wasn't thrilled about the timing, because she was in hurry to get him off of her property while she had houseguests (STINKY) and I wanted to wait until a little later in the season so that babies would not be born in January. However, a buck in the hand is worth two on the internet, so I said to bring him on over.

A week went by, and I hadn't heard from her. When I called her, she said "Oh, I sold him already. I tried to call you..." I was disappointed, but it wasn't really a surprise. It's never easy to find a buck to rent. Something always goes wrong. So I went back to Craigslist in search of another solution. I found bucklings for sale galore, but none to rent. As regular readers have surely gathered, I have a lot on my plate right now and wanted to get this goat thing taken care of as soon as possible, so I can get back to worrying about other stuff, like my high-need nieces. So after consulting with Homero, we decided to go look at a couple of low-priced bucklings.

Unfortunately, they were all quite young. The fellow we picked, this handsome tan and white moon-spotted buckling, is just over two months old. Bucks can usually breed at about four and a half months, so we are looking at... um.... babies at the beginning of May. Hopefully. Right now, he is rediculously tiny and the does are beating him up mercilessly. It seems unlikely he will dominate them anytime soon.

My kids don't like the name I gave him, Sandstorm. Our last herdsire was named Storm Cloud, and intact bucklings have taken on weather-related names. We had Cirrus and Nimbus, for example. The kids were ready to mutiny over Sandstorm, until I told them that in Arabic a sandstorm is called a Haboob. Now we have a goat named Boob, for short.  Courtesy of Hope, my nine year old.

For my general thoughts on goat breeding, see The King Must Die (Goat Breeding and Divine Kingship)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Busy as a Bee

The first week of school is over and we are all still alive. My own children were chomping at the bit to get back to school after a year of homeschooling, and I was equally eager to see them go, so everybody was happy. My two nieces however, the Tamagochis, were not so thrilled.

The Tamagochis are staying with us for a year, to learn English and have the experience of living in another culture, and to become closer to their cousins. Their English is extremely limited - they cannot have even a simple conversation - and so they were understandably frightened about going off the middle and high school. I've been making the rounds of principles, counselors, and teachers, trying to get a little understanding of how the school plans to help them adjust. So far, the answer seems to be "sink or swim." They are both bright, hardworking girls, and so I am certain they will both be swimmers - but for now, they are scared swimmers. I can't blame them. In fact, I am filled with admiration for their bravery and guts.

The beginning of school is always a busy time, of course, with the endless papers to fill out, the parent-teacher association meetings, the volunteer sign up sheets, the ice-cream socials and the carpool organizations. And it happens smack-dab in the middle of the preserving season, when my kitchen looks like a small produce department threw up all over it.

Last week, I helped Rowan can some of the tomatoes from her garden. We tried something new - raw-pack diced tomatoes. You just dice up the raw tomatoes, pack into sterilized pint jars, add a little lemon juice and salt (and garlic, if desired - we always desire) and then process in a water bath for 80 minutes. I'm not sure what to think of the results. The tomatoes shrink up so much, there is a lot of empty space in the top of the jar. The seals are all good, so I assume the tomatoes will store well, but it looks weird.

The pears are falling all over the ground. The small funky ones go to the goats and chickens, but there are enough good sized ones to keep us in fresh eating pears. The plum tree finally produced a fair number of plums, too. Apparently the weird mushy ones I picked (Tree Trouble (What the Hell is Wrong With These Plums?)) were an anomaly. Thank goodness. Finally we have a nice big bowl of lovely italian plums on the kitchen table, looking all picturesque. And yesterday, Homero fixed the car of a guy who had an apple tree, and he brought home three shopping bags full of apples. Not near enough to press, so I guess I'm canning more applesauce.

And making a pie. Those girls come home hungry from school. Apple pie for an after school snack is what gets moms into heaven.

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Daughter's Garden

While we were gone in Oaxaca last year, my daughter Rowan and her boyfriend Phil decided to use the greenhouse and enlarge the garden area and put in a serious garden. They wanted to have a booth at the farmer's market, and while that turned to out to be bit beyond the capabilities of first year gardeners, they did in fact create a serious garden. Besides eating out of the garden all year, they have provided enough to give to friends and, just recently, to do some preserving. 

Above, you can see the greenhouse is full of weeds - but it is also full of lemon cucumbers, herbs, hot peppers, and tomatoes. Below, the two clawfoot tubs make lovely herb beds. Behind them, the remains of the kale is visible. 

 The sunflower patch went crazy, and the bright pink and magenta colored sunflowers look beautiful in the evening sun. I love sunflowers, although I always planted the mammoth yellow ones that produce edible seeds. If I was too lazy to gather all those seeds - and I usually was - at least they provided food for local fauna. Rowan, however, likes choosing unusually colored and rare varieties of all her plants. In addition to the pink sunflowers, she planted purple brussels sprouts and peacock broccoli, cheddar cheese cauliflower and deep red corn.

Today, we gathered quite a harvest. The tomatoes are finally ripening, and Rowan and I went out this morning and picked about twenty of them. A few of those and the last jalapeños went into a fresh salsa.  There were four eggs today - not much but better than usual - and six new ripe plums. I can only gather the plums as they fall from the tree, because the tree is home to approximately seventeen million big fat garden spiders, and I am a weenie. 

There are also lots of pears. We have several pear trees, and the ones I gathered today were Comice pears, my favorite. Ten of them are resting in a box on the kitchen altar for ripening. Hope they ripen up nicely; sometimes they do and sometimes they don't and I'm not always sure why. There are also lots of pears on the old Bartlett tree, but they are suffering from severe scab, as you can see in the picture below. I can peel them and use them for sauce, or I can throw the badly deformed ones to the goats. I may have to spray next year.

That's it for the farm's harvest, but we also have a lot of produce from the neighbors that I have to do something with. The other day, when the little girl who lives next door came over the play, I gave her a jar of blueberry jam to take to her mother. She did, but about ten minutes came back across the fields, staggering under the weight of a tote bag full of produce. The bag contained six ears of corn, a fat cucumber, three enormous zucchini, and a few pounds of sweet cherry tomatoes. We made short work of the cherry tomatoes, but the rest of it is still covering the kitchen table. 

Ah, August! 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Berry Abundant Berries (Child Labor Pays)

Someday, I hope to can something without injury. Today, I canned ten half-pint quilted jelly jars of blueberry jam, and as usual, burned myself by dipping a finger into the boiling water. This time I also managed to cut myself rummaging around in the drawer for that can-lifter I bought after the LAST time I burned myself by dipping my finger in boiling water. That was when I was canning bread and butter pickles a few weeks ago. Of course, I didn't remember that I'd bought a jar-lifter until AFTER I burned myself again. Ten pints is a lot of jam, but we had a lot of blueberries.

Tonight, I am making an enormous blackberry crumble to bring to a family barbecue. I'm using my largest lasagna pan, a hulking old 10x18" Pyrex monster. Probably takes about two gallons of blackberries to fill it, but that doesn't matter, because we are SWIMMING in blackberries.

Just about every morning, I start the kids off with a strawberry, raspberry, or blackberry smoothie. Yogurt and fruit, seems like a breakfast of champions to me. And it uses up a lot of berries. The freezer is jam-packed (you should excuse the pun) with berries. Last count was four gallons of strawberries, two gallons of raspberries (my favorite, so they go fast), four gallons of blueberries, and TEN gallons of blackberries.

Why so much fruit this year? Well, I have twice the labor force. Homero's nieces, collectively known as the Tamagochis, are staying with us for the coming school year. Their parents - Homero's sister and her husband - were impressed with our decision to spend a year with our kids in Oaxaca, and saw how quickly the girls became fluent in Spanish. They decided it would be good for their girls to have the same experience in reverse. Taking a year off from their jobs as physicians, however, was not feasible, so they asked us if we would be willing to host the girls for a year.

They arrived last week, just in time for the tail end of blackberry season. Although my children would be quick to call me a slave-driving berry Nazi, based on their experience picking strawberries and raspberries with me earlier this season, I was not the one who put the Tamagochis to work in the blackberry fields. Their father, who is staying until school starts, must have been eager to show us how much help the girls will be to us. He made them each a berry-picking bucket by cutting up a plastic milk jug and tying on a rope so it can slip over their heads (very clever!) and those two girls are some berry-picking machines, let me tell you.

Everyone around here is actually a little sick of berries, if you can believe that. That's fine with me. We won't be sick of them in January, and we may actually still have some then!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Imaginary Cows

My husband wants a cow. He's wanted a cow for years now. I do not want a cow, which is why we don't have one. Yet.

I don't see the point of a cow, for one thing - we have goats for milk, and when we are milking two or three goats (I say we, but I mean I) there is more than enough milk for drinking, for making yogurt and cheese, and even for the dog. There is no way we could possibly use the amount of milk a cow gives, even if I were to get rid of my goats altogether. Which is ridiculous: goats were my whole reason for moving here in the first place. Goats are the point of this operation, as far as I am concerned.

Also, goats have many advantages over cows which are entirely objective and have nothing to do with my personal preferences.

Goats are cute; cows are not. Goats eat blackberries and all sorts of weeds; cows do not. Goats are light on the land; an acre can support four or five of them. Cows are decidedly hard on the land; according to the county you need an acre of pasture for each cow. Goats poop neat little dry pellets that don't have any smell. Cows poop great runny piles of liquid stink that smears all over their backsides and udders. Cows carry tuberculosis; goats don't. Goat kids grow to butchering weight in about 5 months; cows take a year and a half. Or more. A goat goes through the whole winter on about six bales of hay - a cow eats six bales of hay a DAY.

Most of all, I know how to take care of goats. I know about their diseases, about how to help them have their babies, about their hooves and their parasites and their eating habits. I know which plants are poisonous to them and which plants are medicine. I son't know how to take care of cows. That's because I've never studied cows. I've never studied cows because I don't WANT a cow.

My husband says he will take care of the cow, that I won't have to. I ask him to please spend one full minute considering whether or not he will really get up at the crack of dawn every day and go out through the howling wind and sleet to hand milk a cow. Does he even know how long it takes to hand milk a cow? He says he will keep a calf on her so he doesn't have to do that. I say, oh great now we have TWO cows?

I just wish my husband would carefully consider reality before he up and buys a cow. Right now, we have no space for a cow to live. The barn floor needs repair. It's good enough for dainty little goats, but a massive bovine would fall right through. That's one thing. Then there's hay. We've laid in our winter supply of hay - about forty-five bales. That's for two ponies and three goats. To feed a cow through the winter, we'd need to double that. Like I said, I haven't researched cows, but I'm pretty sure a pregnant cow (which is what he wants to buy) would go through forty bales of hay over a long winter. Then there's the issue of the pastures.

We have about three acres of fenced area, theoretically divided into three pastures. The big pasture, which has low boggy areas that need hoofed animals kept off of them in the winter; a smaller high pasture; and the sacrifice area, which is where the hoofed animals spend the winter so they don't ruin the big pasture. In actual fact, the fence between the big pasture and the smaller high pasture is mashed down and it's all one space. That means I can't practice pasture rotation.

Without pasture rotation, I need to keep the animal burden on my pastures very light, to avoid degrading my pastures over time. The county suggests one horse or cow per acre, and up to five goats. That's what I've got. Adding a cow without adding a pasture would be putting too much strain on the land. It's unsustainable.

So, if we get a cow we need to fence in a new pasture. That's in addition to fixing the barn floor and buying and storing forty bales of hay. And I don't have to do any of this work, right honey? You are going to do it all by yourself? By the way, where's the money for all this fencing and fixing coming from? And how much does a pregnant cow cost, anyway? Do you know how much money is in the bank account? No, because paying the bills is my job.

Our imaginary cow has already caused a first class marital spat. Cows are obviously evil.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pear Problems (Iris)

Iris loves to eat the hard, unripe pears from the pear tree. She just has a little trouble getting them down. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Anonymous Squash (Must be August)

When I got home from the grocery store this afternoon, I found this box of Zucchini on the porch. There must be twenty zucchini in there, and they aren't puny, either. Whoever it was didn't leave a note; I guess they don't want me stealing over to their house and leaving zucchini bread on the doorstep.

Thank you, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous Squash Donor! I am making several permutations of zucchini bread - chocolate, with and without walnuts; raisin; and savory with cheese. Into the freezer they will go, and then I need fear no bake sale all year long!

The only problem.... so far, I've made six loaves, and only used up two and half zucchini.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fish Tale (Canning Salmon)

One of the many blessings of living where I live is the seasonal availability of the world's greatest fish, the noble King Salmon. Salmon of one kind or another, often farmed, are available year round, but I wait for the local wild runs. To my mind, no other fish can come close to the deliciousness of a fresh caught wild salmon. 

Salmon has become very expensive in recent years, as has most quality seafood. The damage we have done and continue to do to our oceans through overfishing, pollution and acidification is catching up with us fast. The price of good clean fish is really the least of it, but I don't want to get sidetracked into a rant. Point being, I can only afford a few fish a year, and I want them to be salmon. 

A small scale local fisherman shoots me an e-mail when the fish come in, so I was ready. These fish came off the boat yesterday morning about 6 a.m., and I was there with a hundred dollar bill at nine. That bought me these two lovely twelve pound fish. I know that sounds like an awful lot of money, but I did some math, and by using up every last gram of meat on these fish, I can make each fish feed my family four times, maybe even five. That is, I can get somewhere between fifteen and twenty servings from each fish, and that brings the price right down in a very reasonable range. 

fresh kings

One of the fish was for eating fresh, and the other was for canning. I know that sounds like sacrilege, but ever since a friend of mine who lives in Alaska sent me some canned King salmon several years ago, I've wanted to try it. A King salmon is a big fish, it's hard to eat a whole one, and I like canned salmon better than frozen salmon. In fact, canned salmon is delicious.

I've never canned fish before - in fact I've never used a pressure canner and don't own one.  Luckily, a wonderful couple I know from church offered to help me. The gentlemen half of this couple is none other than Duckman , an avid hunter and fisherman who has been very generous with us. The lady half is R., one of the most welcoming women at Zion and an old hand at canning the fish her husband brings home. I was very grateful to have their help. First, however, I had to deal with the fish I planned to cook for dinner last night.

Never having filleted a whole fish before (I know, I know, how does a woman who considers herself a serious cook and who loves salmon as much as I just said I do get to the age of 40 without ever filleting a fish? Buy small ones and bake them whole, or pay the fisherman) I was terrified I was going to massacre it. Because it was so fresh, only hours out of the water, the fish was covered with a thick layer of slime, and it was so slippery I could barely hold on to it.

Thank God for Youtube. It took ten seconds to find a short, no nonsense video of a chef with a thick European accent cutting up a whole salmon. Of course, he made it look easy, which it wasn't. Maybe his fish wasn't as slimy as mine. Certainly, his knives were sharper. Mine need professional help. However, I don't think I did too badly for my first ever attempt.

Here is the fish after I removed the filets, with the bellies alongside. I know I left a lot of usable meat on the bones, but don't worry. I chopped the fish into pieces, removed the gills, and put the whole carcass into gently simmering salted water with a little lemon juice. It only needs about five minutes poaching, then all the meat easily slips right off the bones (ok, you have to dig around a little in the head). I salvaged close to a pound of meat from that carcass, and froze it in a ziploc bag. Sometime in the future, it is plenty to make a salmon cake dinner.  Also, I took the collars and bellies and marinated them for a few minutes in a mixture of sugar, soy cause, rice vinegar, and sriracha, and then broiled them skin side up under the broiler for 10 minutes or so. These bits we just gobbled up like candy, but it was plenty of meat that I could have made a separate meal out of it if I wanted to.

Here are the filets. They aren't super pretty, but I think I did okay. One of them was dinner last night (with enough leftovers to make some salmon salad sandwich spread) and the other is in the fridge, marinating in a dry rub. I'm going to break out my "Little Chief" smoker - which I've never used - and attempt to make some real smoked salmon. 

The second fish went out to Duckman's house with me in the afternoon. Let me tell you, watching him with a knife and a fish was a thing of beauty. In about a minute flat he had that big old King filleted, and the filets cut into pieces. He did a neat little trick where he sliced the skin off (not good for canning) without losing a millimeter of meat. Once again, I took the trim (a lot less of it, this time) for poaching and picking. 

We packed the raw salmon into wide mouth pint jars, and added nothing at all except a quarter teaspoon of salt to each jar. You leave plenty of headroom. No water, oil, or anything else. 

 Top the jars with sterilized lids and rings, and into the canner they went. R. and Duckman have a propane cooker set up in their shed; they don't like to can fish in the house because of the smell. I personally find the smell divine, but maybe it lingers.

I'm still a little sacred of the canner, to tell the truth. I just don't quite get exactly how it works. I mean, I can follow instructions, and I can tell when it's working correctly and when something is wrong, but I can't exactly visualize what the parts are all for, and what is happening inside. Anyway. We put the eight pints in the canner and added 2 quarts of water. We ran hot water over the inside of the lid and checked that the gasket fitted into the groove tightly all the way around. We closed it up and put the cooker on low. If you heat it up too fast, you run the risk of breaking all your jars.

When you can see steam venting continuously from the vent, you carefully place the regulator on. The little vent in the middle ought to pop up. If it doesn't, you just wait until it does. Then the pressure will start to rise, and you watch the gauge carefully. Salmon is canned at 10 pounds pressure for 100 minutes. Don't start the timer until the pressure rises to 10.

Then, settle down in your chair and read a book. We had to adjust the flame several times to keep the pressure right; it wanted to creep up. It's fine to let it go a little higher than ten, but you don't want it to go above 15. Once it's at pressure, it only takes the barest whisper of flame to keep it up.

While we were waiting, R. made hamburgers and corn on the cob from her garden. I had brought over a blackberry cobbler as a thank you, and so we had a fine meal. The girls ran and played on the lawn in the late afternoon sunshine and we grownups sat back and chatted about local goings-on. There's a new pastor at Zion. The grandchildren are coming to stay. A fishing trip planned for October. 

When the timer went off, we just turned off the propane. You have to let the pressure dissipate completely before you open the lid - in fact, you have to let it cool down. That takes quite a while, and it was getting late. The sun was setting and a big full moon was rising over the mountain. We decided to just let the canner cool down overnight and I'd come back for my fish in the morning. 

Which I just did. It's beautiful. I brought over a quart of my dill pickles as a thank you for Duckman, but he wasn't home. He's out on the Skagit river, fishing for humpies.