"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Smoked Salmon Variations

Homero has some wonderful clients. One of them works for a local commercial fishery, and has gifted us with salmon more than once. A few months ago, this fellow gave us a side of king salmon, a gigantic side of salmon, about two feet long. It was vacuum packed, frozen, and we stored it in our chest freezer. I had been saving it for a special occasion - we would certainly need guests to help us eat that magnificent filet - but no occasion was forthcoming and there wasn't much else in the freezer, so I thawed it out the day before yesterday.

The salmon dwarfed my 9 x 13" baking dish. Not quite sure what to do, I cut it in half, crosswise, and then cut one of the pieces in half. I put those two pieces in the baking dish and rubbed them with oil and lemon juice and baked them at 325. The other piece I cut into four equal pieces and poached, thinking that I would flake it and freeze it again for use in making salmon cakes somewhere down the line.

As the salmon cooked, however, it very soon became clear that this was smoked salmon, not raw salmon. I personally have never come across an entire side of smoked king salmon, which may be why I wasn't expecting it. I didn't know such a thing was possible; I don't know anyone with a smoker capable of such a feat. The salmon was lightly smoked, still soft, rather like lox. As it baked, it turned into something more like the hard-smoked salmon I make at home. It was quite delicious, but there was a ridiculous amount of it!

It is not possible to eat smoked salmon as though it were regular baked salmon. As much as you think you love smoked salmon - as much as I love smoked salmon - it is just flat out impossible to eat more than a couple of ounces at a time. I know this because I served the salmon to my family in regular-sized portions, along with a nice quinoa-and-spinach salad. At the end of dinner, we had approximately 7/8ths as much salmon as we did when we started.

Now that the salmon had been frozen, defrosted, and cooked, I could not very well freeze it again. I'd have to figure out ways of using it up over the next week and half or so. First things first - I called up a friend who lives nearby and offered her some salmon. She took a pound or so off my hands, so that left only about four pounds of smoked salmon to deal with.

Today I made a smoked salmon dip to bring to church tomorrow - that used up a pound or so. Tonight I may make pasta in smoked-salmon cream sauce. The poached pieces lost a little salt and smoke in the process, and may be mild enough to use in salmon patties later this week. And somebody on facebook suggested smoked-salmon chowder, which is a great idea.

Smoked Salmon Dip 

8-12 oz smoked salmon, flaked
1 pound homemade chèvre (cream cheese is an acceptable substitute)
1/3 c. kalamata olives
1 tablespoon capers
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped chives (green onions are okay)
two or three pepperocini, finely chopped, with vinegar
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
spoonful mayonnaise
spoonful whole grain mustard
fresh ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly. Serve with bland crackers, such as water-crackers. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday Post from the Past

So I found a to-do list from about this time of year 2010. It's really funny how similar it is to the list I posted yesterday.

SUNDAY, MARCH 28, 2010

To-Do List: 3/10

In order of immediacy, more or less:

- Take a sample of Iris the goat's diarrhea in to the vet for microscopic analysis. She's had serious scours for four or five days now, and she's only eight days out from giving birth to triplets. This is the goat who had a hard time keeping the weight on while she was pregnant - I fed her and fed her but by the end of her pregnancy she was skin and bones nonetheless. She is a star milker - she produces well over a gallon of milk a day and in order to do that, she needs to be in prime condition. If she's losing tons of nutrients and losing hydration due to chronic diarrhea, well, that's just not a sustainable situation. I could concievably lose four goats - Iris and all three triplets. None of the other goats have scours, so I don't know what's going on.

- Fix the washing machine. It's broke again. I swear, I will never again buy a high tech, fancy-schmancy appliance if I can help it. I'm looking for appliances from the seventies - or better yet, the fifties - back when they made things to last. Go ask your grandma how long she's had her blender. If it's less than forty years I'll eat my hat. Even I, who am still under forty years old, had the same washer, dryer, and refrigerator for all fifteen years I lived in my old house in the city. I move up here, decide to buy all new appliances, and they've all broken down - some of them twice. Planned obsolescence. Please, industrial engineers, give it at least five years on a big appliance like a washing machine before it goes kaput. Less than that, and you just erode product loyalty.

- Fences. Oh my god, fences. Fencing is neverending. Never. Ending. The main culprit now is Poppy pony - she has completely mashed down the field fencing between her paddock and the main paddock. The fence is now about two feet high. I don't even know if it's salvageable, or if we just need to cut it out and replace with new fencing. And if we replace it, with what? What I would theoretically like is fences like my sister and brother-in-law have: split rail wooden fences reinforced with field fencing so it works for both horses and goats. However, they have a paddock about fifty by fifty feet: I have over two thousand linear feet of fencing. Homero could do it - in ten years. We could hire it done - for twenty grand. Solution eludes me right now.

- Buy more hay. The grass is growing now, but I don't want my animals to eat it to a nub before it really gets started. One more pick-up load of hay - say, twenty five bales. That ought to bring us into prime grass season. The last hay we bought was total crap. I sent Homero to pick it up, and he knows nothing about how to evaluate hay. It's not his fault. But if I had gone myself, I wouldn't have bought it. It's mostly timothy, stemmy, dry, and not a hint of green in it. We are basically using it for bedding. The hay we bought before that was fabulous hay - alfalfa and orchard grass mix, third cutting, green as grass. The goats tore into it like it was chocolate laced with crack cocaine. I want more of that.

- Garden work. Homero plowed up a gigantic garden and has basically ignored it ever since (a big "I told you so" is choking me right now. Gakh - Hack - Haaawwk- ok I'm fine now). Now we have a thousand square feet of garden space which is rapidly growing grass, clover, burdock, thistles, and blackberries. I have hand-cultivated and planted a few rows here and there - spinach and swiss chard, forty row feet of potatoes, some italian parsley - but the great majority of it is going to waste unless it is either planted or mulched, fast.

Oh there's most likely a lot more, but just writing this much has worn me out.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Work Pile

There is so much work piled up around the farm that I figured I had better make a list. Not that I'm likely to forget what needs doing, since it's mostly all of the variety that you SEE when you LOOK AROUND, but even so. Lists are helpful. Helpful in putting off the actual work.

Since the weather turned about two weeks ago, we seem to have regressed back into late winter. After a sunny, dry February, we have been not-so-much enjoying a cold, wet March. It's back to mud boots and puddles, and I am feeling smugly superior to all those people who gave into temptation and planted their garden a month ago, only to watch it all rot in the ground. I can afford to feel superior, because I have been those people, every year except this one.

Mud boots and slickers; gloves and hats are once again required gear for venturing out. So, most of the outdoor work has to wait for a dry spell, but here we go, in no particular order:

1. muck out the barn. The animals don't like the rain, so they spend all day in the barn, which means it quickly gets disgusting. I ran out of straw a week ago (subheading

                 a) get more straw

    and so the barn floor is a thick compressed four inches of poop and old straw. It will soon be too                 compacted for me to move, so either I do it soon, or add it to Homero's list of chores, which is far longer than my own.

2.  Repair chicken coop. This is actually a fairly small job, although difficult for me as it involves climbing onto a roof. We just need to pick up the shattered remains of the plastic corrugated roofing (blew apart in a windstorm) and replace with corrugated tin roofing - already bought and stored right in the coop itself. Without a roof, the coop is just a swamp and the chickens have been roosting in the hayloft. Which means I have to convince a child to climb the ladder into the loft to gather eggs about once a week. I no longer climb into the loft. Not until we get a better ladder, anyway.

3. Dump run of historic proportions.  Homero recently cleaned out his shop. In a big way. In addition to removing the enormous stack of wood and building materials that are all that is left of our cute little cabin (story for another day), he also removed approximately 7,000 hefty bags worth of trash and assorted refuse, much of which is stuff we stored in the shop when we lived in Mexico a couple years ago (NewtoMexicanLife.blogspot.com) and never brought back into the house. Mostly books and clothes, but more than likely a few valuable items like photos and journals are also now mouldering in the rain alongside the fence, which is where the 7,000 hefty bags are resting, awaiting their final transport to that great refuse heap in the sky. Or, you know, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 
4. Strawberry Patch - as mentioned above, I have done almost nothing in the garden this year so far. I have some starts going in the greenhouse, but no work has been done outside. A few days ago, a good friend gave me a trash-bag full of strawberry starts, and I would like to get them into the ground soon.  My garden space is slowly undergoing a transformation from a regular mostly-annuals kitchen garden into a perennial garden, full of raspberry canes, rhubarb, artichokes, asparagus beds (soon), and strawberries. Hopefully the rain will let up soon and we can get the strawberries into the ground.

5. Hoof trimming. Seems like it's always hoof-trimming time.

6. House projects - this is really Homero's purview, but my part of this work is to keep a running tab on what needs to be done; to budget for it; to gently remonstrate with Homero, and to prioritize. I'm not even going to go into that list here (plumbing projects, rot-repair, weatherstripping repair, etc) but just say that this list takes a psychic toll on me because I usually eventually have to threaten to call professionals and try to balance the relative importance of marital harmony against, oh, say, a working shower.

7. Fencing. I still have most of the cattle panels I bought last fall when we had some cash. We did the cheap and dirty thing by just using some of them to patch droopy spots in the field fencing. One of the larger projects that awaits drier days in actually removing and re-positioning all the cattle panels so as to make a real, continuous fenceline.

That's enough for now. Right at the moment, my regular daily work awaits - I need to move the ponies, milk the goat, and make dinner.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Nettle Season (Copycat Cheese)

Today was a beautiful unseasonably warm day for March. I think it was 60 degrees. We took the kids down to the beach, where it was warm enough for them to roil up their pant-sleeves and squish around in the cool mud, turning over rocks and looking for crabs and limpets.

It was more than warm enough for me to move some dirt around and plant some things in the garden - radishes, arugula, peas, even potatoes - but I have been sinfully lazy. In fact a large part of the reason we went to the beach is so I wouldn't have to feel guilty for not working in the garden.

Much easier than shovel-work is scissors-work: in the afternoon, after we got home from the bay, I took a pair of kitchen gloves, a pair of scissors, and a big brown paper bag and went out to the field to harvest nettles. In the past, I have usually used the nettles to make Avgolemono Soup, but this year I decided to make nettle cheese.

On the way to the bay, there is a wonderful local cheese maker, Samish Bay cheese.  They sell their beautiful cow's milk cheese at local farmer's markets,. and they are justly locally famous for their Ladysmith Cheese, Gouda flavored with Caraway, and Jalapeño Queso Fresco. They also have a seasonable fresh cheese, available for just a few months each year, flavored with nettles.

I adore stinging nettles. Well, let me amend that statement just a little - I love eating stinging nettles; I do not love accidentally wading into a patch of them in capri-pants. Stinging nettles are a wild child's nemesis - lying in wait along roadside ditches and fence-lines to attack the unwary. The merest brush of the dusty green leaves against bare skin causes a sting that lasts hours - not for nothing is this plant's name is Spanish "Mala Mujer."

However, the sting is easily removed by drying or by blanching for even a few seconds in boiling water. I put a full kettle on to boil, place the nettles in a colander in the sink, and trickle the boiling water over the nettles. Let sit for five minutes, then rinse with cold water and squeeze to remove excess water. Then they are ready to be used as food or medicine. Many herbalists consider the nettle to be a near- panacea (see, for example http://www.herballegacy.com/Vance_Medicinal.html) and I certainly can't quibble. But there is no doubt as to nettle's nutritional qualities.

Plus, they are just plain delicious. They taste like a blend of spinach and asparagus. They have a full, soft texture and a wonderful mouth-feel. They are one of those foods that you can feel make you stronger and healthier as you eat them.

Tonight, I am going to try making my own version of Samish Bay's nettle cheese. I am making my basic cheddar recipe, but in the second pressing I will add the finely chopped nettles along with the salt. Of course, I am working with goat milk instead of cow's milk, and also my cheese is made from raw milk whereas their's is pasteurized. I expect it to be delicious. I'll let you know.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

State of the Farm, Early Spring 2015

This has been, nearly, a year without a winter. We had a hard freeze and a few inches of snow way back in November, and several frosts over the months, but generally speaking it has been one of the warmest winters in recent memory. The local snowpack is at historic lows: about 30% of normal in the north cascades and less than 12% of normal in the Olympics and Vancouver Island. Everyone is expecting a protracted drought this summer and water restrictions.

Once again I have failed to make use of my several 275 gallon totes, which were originally purchased to store the spring rains for the dry season, for use in the garden. I still have not (after five years) set up a system to collect rainwater from the roof. Here's what I do have: a gigantic plastic cone, purchased from the vet for my long-gone standard collie. I'm thinking I can still set it into the opening on top of a tote and use it as a kind of enormous funnel. At the moment, the totes (those that have not been appropriated by my husband for his biodiesel manufacturing or for waste-oil storage) are sitting uselessly about, cluttering up the landscape.


This is just about the earliest spring anyone can remember. A wasp was blundering about inside the greenhouse shortly after New Years. I saw a honeybee in the first half of February. The first Killdeer's piercing cry was heard on January 31st (I made a note of it), and the choir frogs, known locally as Peepers, began to sing weeks ago.

Walking  around downtown some ten days ago, I saw crocuses and daffodils. One house, for an unknown reason advanced in springtime beyond its neighbors, even had a rhododendron in full bloom. 

Rhodedendrons are strange plants - I have a whole hedge of them, some fifteen completely mature bushes, and they are individually glorious, but I've never understood why their bloom times are so widely staggered. The first two, with delicate deep purple flowers, are blooming now, albeit mostly still in bud. The others - scarlet, white, mauve, and coral - bloom at odd intervals anytime between now and early June. It's nice to have an unending procession of flowers, but quite mystifying as well. Personally I would never have planted Rhodies - they are very poisonous to livestock - but I'm certainly not going to tear out a whole bunch of forty-year old, spectacular bushes. 

I was almost too late to prune the fruit trees. The buds were already swollen. You can actually prune at any time, it's only a courtesy to the trees to do it while they are dormant. Since I only lop off a few little suckers here and there (I am a very timid pruner) I figured I might as well wait until the juicy buds would provide a snack for the goats. After a long winter on a pure hay diet they appreciate the woody browse.  The buds on my orchard have not yet opened, but the ornamental cherries in town are a snowy mass of blossom. 

It is time to exert myself in there garden, if I plan to have a garden this year, which is something I have not yet decided. On the one hand, I have had some sort of garden every year since I was seventeen and I would hardly know who I was if I didn't poke a few seeds into the ground. On the other hand, I barely have time to wipe my nose after I sneeze these days, what with my new job (medical interpreter) and my volunteer duties. The Gleaner's Pantry  provides us with as much fresh produce as we can possibly eat. If it isn't as fresh as it would be from my own garden, well, neither does it require as much backbreaking work with a shovel. Right now on my stove there simmers a stew made with chickpeas from my pantry and kale, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and bell peppers from the Gleaner's. It is hard to justify the work and time to put in vegetables when I can have as many as I want for basically free. 

Actually, I have already started a tiny little garden. Two weeks ago, during the warm spell, Paloma had a friend over and she brought her little sisters. I amused the girls by bringing a half a dozen egg cartons out to the greenhouse and letting them fill them with sifted compost and plant a packet of sugar snap peas. They are just emerging now. In another week or so I will tear the carton into its component compartments and plant them directly into the dirt. I also filled up a couple of wooden planters and sowed them with arugula, which is already knuckle-high. Who am I kidding? There will be a garden here as usual. 

Let's see, other spring news.... I walked the pasture perimeter yesterday and saw that if I want to harvest nettles this year now's the time. Nettles are delicious - they make the most wonderful soup ((Stinging Nettle Soup (Wild Spring)) and I've heard they also make great pesto and tea, though I couldn't testify to that. 

With only one doe milking, I am not making a lot of cheese, but what there is is good. On the porch outside the kitchen I have a few planters full of herbs, and the clump of chives is up and green. To me there are few tastes as evocative of spring as green, oniony chives. I snipped a handful and chopped them fine and added them to some freshly made chèvre, and then I sat down and ate an unholy quantity spread on plain crackers, with red grapes. 

I love Springtime.