"United we bargain, divided we beg."

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!