"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Making Mole (Happy Birthday)

Tomorrow is Homero's birthday, and we are having a party. Nothing as huge as last year's - no Mariachis, no rented canopies - just a few families coming over to eat some goat barbacoa and drink beers around a fire. Homero will butcher Bambi, our smallest goat, tomorrow and give it to our friend Carlos' wife to cook.

I was surprised and a little hurt when he told me he was having somebody else cook the goat.  I had been poring over my cookbooks looking for some good recipes. However, I consoled myself that I would have plenty of cooking to do with beans, rice, three different salsas, aguas frescas, etc. I guess can I can get over the disappointment of not having to watch a giant stewpot full of goat meat all day long.

Then Homero began to fret that there wouldn't be enough food. I seriously doubt that - Bambi weighs about 85 pounds on the hoof and ought to provide a good twenty to twenty five pounds of muscle meat. Shred that up and it will make a lot of tacos. Homero, though, lives in terror that the food will run out, or that even if it doesn't, it might look like it could possibly run out and he will be nervous. He, like my mom, prefers that when a party is ended there is approximately 80% as much food on the table as there was at the beginning. So I suggested that I could cook a turkey (there's one in the freezer) and make mole.

Homero raised his eyebrow at me. He said "You want to make mole? You've never made mole before."

"I know that," I said, "but I think I can do it."

"Okay," he said skeptically, "but when my mom and sister make mole it takes two days."

"So I'll start today. If it doesn't work out, there will be plenty of time to go buy some."

Just in case anybody doesn't know what mole is, I'll do my best to explain. Mole means "sauce" and so it is.... there are many, many moles, and they vary wildly, but all of them have in common that they are a thick, smooth sauce made from a mixture of chiles, nuts, spices, and fruits. Probably there closest analog of mole in the American culinary lexicon is barbecue sauce - it's complex, savory and highly flavored, and everybody has their own secret recipe. Mole can be yellow, red, black, or even green. But what most people think of when they think of mole is Mole Poblano, the famous dark brown glossy version that contains chocolate.

I looked through my cookbooks. I looked up recipes online. I must have read through a half dozen recipes for mole poblano, and no two of them alike. Some contained tomatoes, others not. Some called for plantain; some for prunes, some for apple or raisins. All called for some kind of nut but in some cases it was peanuts, in others pecans. Other constants were sesame and chocolate, but in differing amounts. I decided I could simply use what I had and add one more variation to the theme.

Here is my recipe - although I will probably never make it exactly the same way twice!

15 guajillo chiles, 10 ancho chiles, and 2 chilpotle chiles. Break open and shake out seeds, reserving seeds. 

Toast chiles on a dry cast iron skillet about 3 minutes, turning. Do not let scorch! Put in a blender and cover with boiling chicken stock. Let soak 1 hour. 

Meanwhile: on same skillet, toast 4 roma tomatoes, one yellow onion (quartered) and 4 cloves garlic until blackened in spots. Get some good char on them. Set aside. Also toast 10 allspice berries, 10 cloves, and a teaspoon cumin seed and set aside. Toast the reserved chile seeds separately, until quite dark, and add to the other spices. 

In another skillet, heat 1/2 c. of lard. Okay, you CAN use vegetable oil, but I don't recommend it. Fry 1/2 c. of raisins, a cut up apple, and a quarter cup apiece of peanuts and pecans. Add three torn-up corn tortillas and a slice of bread. Yes, that's what I said. In the last minute, after everything else is fragrant and fried, add 2 tablespoons sesame seeds and fry another minute. Remove from heat.

When chiles are soft, blend well and then dump the blender into a really big bowl, and add ALL the other ingredients. Also add 3 oz chopped Mexican chocolate (or semi-sweet baking chocolate if you can't find Mexican chocolate) and 1 tsp. cinnamon, 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp black pepper. Mix well. What a mess. 

Working in batches, puree this big mess in the blender. This will work best if you have a heavy duty blender like a vitamin, but if not just keep blending. I blend each batch for a full minute on "ice-crush" and then dump it back in the same big bowl, stir, and scoop up the next batch. That way each batch keeps blending and re-blending some of the same stuff and it gets smoother. 

You will probably have to add a little liquid - use chicken stock. The final texture will be thicker than ketchup but not as thick as peanut butter. 

Now you can store the mole in a jar in the fridge for practically ever. When you want to use some, heat a little oil in a saucepan, add a cup of mole, and thin with hot stock to the consistency of heavy cream. Serve as a sauce for chicken or turkey, or cheese taquitos. VERY rich.

We had enmolados for dinner last night - just heat some corn tortillas and when they are soft, grab with tongs and dip in the mole. Fold onto a plate, and top with crumbled queso fresco. Makes a very satisfying vegetarian (almost) dinner. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Baby Birds (Wild and Tame)

My property is apparently the perfect habitat for killdeer.  I love these handsome, graceful birds, with their piercing calls and their swift, low flights across the fields in the twilight. They show up every year in February, and begin a months-long process of finding a mate and rearing young. They like to nest in flat, open, gravelly areas. For two years running, a pair of killdeer has chosen to nest in my sacrifice area, where I keep the horses. It has been delightful to watch the devoted pair incubating eggs - both male and female sit on eggs, and take turns guarding the nest - and especially delightful to see the tiny babies hatch. 

Killdeer babies are identical to the adults, but smaller, about the size of a golf ball. As soon as they hatch, they begin to run about, with that peculiar killdeer habit of running in short, straight lines and stopping abruptly, as though by a traffic light. The parents stand nearby, watching and, if anyone comes too close, pretending to be injured, dragging themselves athletically about and screaming, to distract a potential predator from their young. 

The nest in the horse pasture hatched out about three weeks ago, and the babies are already half the size of the parents. There were four eggs, but only three juveniles. However, there is another nest now. A pair got started late, I guess. This new mama found herself a supremely unsuitable nest site - right smack dab in the middle of my driveway (see above). When one of my broody hens nests in a poorly chosen site, I wait for dark and then move her, eggs and all, to a site of my choosing. Obviously I can't do that with a wild bird. The girls set up barricades made of pallets, instead. Luckily, killdeer are not much frightened by bustle and hubbub. Even when we (carefully and slowly) drive right by the nest, the parent bird only moves away a few feet, and then returns immediately.  I am looking forward to observing this new family. 

This year, we ordered 8 turkey poults. Turkeys are one of the more profitable animals on the farm - if I can keep them alive until Thanksgiving, and grow them out to a respectable weight, I can sell them for $4/lb, which means each bird is worth somewhere between $50 and $75. These poults, broad breasted bronzes, cost $6.50 apiece. 

Because I belong to the Gleaner's Pantry , I can feed them very cheaply indeed. I always start them off on expensive Game Bird food, but soon enough they can eat scraps, bread, and get out on pasture to forage. Last year, we lost two full grown birds to coyotes, which was a blow, but even so, the entire turkey operation turned a profit, and provided us with our own bird for the holiday. This year, we will have to repair the fences and make an effort to keep the predators away. On each bird that I raise to full weight, I can expect to make a minimum $40 profit. 

That's better than I can expect on a goat kid! 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Spring Swaps

Spring is a good season for trading. I have eggs, milk, and cheese, and am on the prowl for anything to make gardening easier, as I get stiffer and lazier every year. Here are a few recent trades that made me happy:

- A pound and a half of assorted cheese for a dozen big, vigorous raspberry canes. I am slowly turning my garden patch into a raspberry patch. 

- A couple pounds of assorted cheese for credit towards future pruning for my fruit trees. The orchard is growing - that part of it not mutilated by tent caterpillars, anyway - and will need to be pruned this coming fall/winter. This fellow is happy rot accept cheese all season long and keep track of what he owes. It's a bit of a gamble, since I haven't ever traded with him before and don't know for certain he won't just stop returning my calls as soon as I run out of cheese. However, I have so much cheese I can't possibly eat it all and so what am I really losing, here? I know I'm making somebody really happy, so that's a gamble I'm willing to take. 

- Disbudding baby goats for various sundries. Since I acquired my own iron and started disbudding my own baby goats, other nearby goat-folks have been asking me to help them. I can't charge for the service - that would be "impersonating a veterinarian" - but I am not averse to accepting a small gift in exchange for my time. First, of course, I give a long spiel about how I am NOT a vet; that disbudding is an inherently dangerous job; that there is always some risk, of infection or brain damage; and by the way, did I say I am NOT a vet?

After I am convinced that the owner is aware of and willing to assume the risks, I am happy to help. It only takes a minute and so far, I haven't injured or killed any goats. And as far as I know, none of them have grown scurs, either; I tell everybody that if they do, I will repeat the procedure, but nobody has complained yet of an incomplete disbudding. 

One lady traded me a few cuts of grass fed beef and two jars of home-canned venison for the job. Another, my friend M., traded me several pounds of shelled, organic pecans from her uncle's farm in Texas. I made curry with the venison and pecan pie with some of the pecans.

I have a long list of people waiting for cheese. I have suggested, in trade, such things as canning jars, vegetable starts, jams and jellies, or meat. People have offered me other things - some interesting, some not so much. I have no use, for example, for evergreen tree starts. But sewing lessons? Yes, I think I might just enjoy that. 

I love trading with my neighbors.