"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Happy Holidays

Haku and Paloma enjoying a little couch time while we watch Christmas movies. 

Paloma with her cousin Selah lighting Hanukkah candles last week. 

Whatever holiday you celebrate this winter season, may you enjoy good cheer with your loved ones. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

What is Guacamole, Anyway?

Let's get one thing out of the way: there's no such thing as one "right" way to make guacamole. There are not even one hundred "right" ways to make guacamole. There are as many "right" ways to make guacamole as there are abuelitas in Mexico. 

I'd like to be a fly on the wall listening to a hundred Mexican abuelitas argue about how to make guacamole. There will no doubt be virulent partisans: for or against the inclusion of tomatoes; the chunky tribe versus the smooth; those who advocate garlic and those to whom garlic is a barbarian adulterant. 

If we turn to etymology, as I always do in times of doubt, we find that "guacamole" is a compound word made up of the Nahuatl words for "avocado" and "sauce." (Well, okay if you want to get technical the Nahuatl word "ahuahacatl" actually means "testicle" but that's only an interesting aside. Avocados grow in pairs. Picture it.) Therefore, guacamole is simply a sauce made with avocados. Quite likely, for the prehispanic residents of Mexico, guacamole may have consisted of no more than mashed avocados and salt, perhaps with chiles. 

I don't know enough about regional Mexican cuisine to pinpoint a cook's origin by her guacamole recipe, but I know how they do it in Oaxaca - or, okay, at least how my husband's family does it. In Oaxaca, guacamole contains tomatillos. When Homero and I were getting married, my mom hired some great caterers and told her we wanted a Mexican buffet. They worked up a sample menu and invited us to taste it. It was fantastic - the food is what everyone remembers about my wedding - but Homero had a problem with the guacamole. They had made a chunky style guacamole with tomatoes - like a pico de gallo suspended in a mousse of whipped avocado. Homero barely recognized it as guacamole - he wanted something looser, soupier, more liquid. In Oaxaca this is achieved by blending the avocados with soft simmered tomatillos, fresh raw chiles, onion, and cilantro. Oaxacan guacamole is smooth, of variable spiciness, and most often used as one of several garnishes on tacos, chilaquiles, enchiladas, or what have you. It isn't a "dip," per se. 

Over the years, I've developed what I consider to be my own ur-guacamole recipe, meaning the list of ingredients without which I cannot make guacamole, but in practice, I seldom make guacamole the same way twice. That list is:

- avocados (of course)
- chile (much preferred fresh but I'll use cayenne powder if I have to)

Onion is nearly as essential but I don't include it because  if I didn't have an onion (the horror!) I wouldn't let it stop me from making guacamole if I had all the other ingredients. 

In Mexico, avocados are cheap. Even in the states, in some areas, avocados used to be ubiquitous and inexpensive. In fact, they used to be called "poor man's butter" in Florida. Alas, no longer. Even in season, avocados these days are pretty dear. So I'm often looking for avocado-extenders. 
If I happen to have them, I'll use tomatillos. I like to use them raw, however, instead of simmered. For one thing, who is going to make guacamole if it involves actual cooking? For another, I like the fresh, slightly citrusy acidity of raw tomatillos and am not a fan of the soft, almost slimy texture of cooked tomatillos. 

Other extenders I've come up with are decidedly less traditional. I have used sour cream, yogurt, and even 

(Dum Dum DUM....) 


I started one time throwing in plain, tangy yogurt not as an extender, but because I was looking for a way to make the guacamole less calorically dense. I decided I liked it. The acidity of good yogurt is a nice balance to the creaminess of avocado. 

Personally, I like the texture that the addition of dairy products brings to guacamole. Avocado is so creamy and rich, and it seems to me that extending it with other creamy and rich products like sour cream or mayonnaise preserves that quality.  That creaminess always needs to be balanced by the acidity of lime. I might extend that to include lemon, but in my mind citrus is the only possible source of acidity. I have occasionally heard of people using vinegar and while I would never do such a thing, I'm not going to tell anybody else what to do. 

Which brings me to my main point. Any given dish made by any given cook has a story, a history. That history interacts with the tastes and the resources of the cook to produce a new dish - the actual dish that the cook is putting on his or her table on any given evening. "Authenticity" is a moving target, not a static Platonic ideal enshrined in any particular place or time. I am a good cook - I'm both respectful of tradition and inventive and innovative. I use everything I have at my disposal - the knowledge imparted to me by my mother and mother-in-law; the skills I have developed through trial and error; the ingredients unique to this farmstead, this time and place; and the feedback from my husband and children, my "customers." 

The food that I place on my family's table night after night is the unique and personal expression of the covergence  of multiple factors. That makes it "authentic." My guacamole is authentic. Is it authentic Oaxacan? No. Is it authentic Oaxacan-American? Yes.

Is it delicious? Hell to the yeah. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

December Doings

Spiced candied pecans. Made these today to send out in small pretty parcels to my family and close friends. A good friend and neighbor of mine has a relative who owns a large organic pecan farm in Texas, and every year that relative sends her a couple of big boxes of shelled organic pecan halves. Her kids sell them at a very good price to bolster their own Christmas funds. This year I got five pounds. They are the best pecans I've ever tasted, hands down. And they aren't made worse by candying them. Here's how I do it: 

Preheat the oven to 275.
For each pound of pecans:
Whip 1 egg white with one tablespoon water until frothy. Set aside. 
Mix 1 cup sugar with 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. You could vary the spice mixture to your taste. One year I made curried pecans. 
In a large bowl, pour egg whites over pecans and mix well to coat. Then add sugar mixture and turn well. Pour out onto a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, stirring the pecans well every 15 minutes. They should be almost dry at the end, and toasty but not very browned. 

I'm going to have to keep these pecans under lock and key until I get them packaged up and out the door. 

This year's advent calendar of events. This is the third year in a row I've done this. Some of the events include public festivals like tree lighting ceremonies and free Christmas concerts; some are family traditions like baking cookies and decorating the altar; and some are church events like helping decorate Zion for Christmas and going to the annual Carols by Candlelight evening. A few days just say "redeem this ticket for a piece of Christmas candy." 

Truthfully the kids are getting a little old for this - Hope is 14 and Paloma is 12. Every year I think "this might be the last year I can convince them to sit down and cut out snowflakes with me!" But so far, they have been excited to turn over the tags every evening before bed and happy doing the activities with me. Yesterday we put up Christmas lights, and tomorrow we are going to make cards, to mail out along with the pecans. 

Beautiful frosty December mornings. The mountains have snow on them, and the porch is icy enough to go skating on. 
Time to check the front closet and go over our supply of gloves and hats, and to get out the door a few minutes early to give the cat time to warm up and to defrost the windshield. 

All is well on the farm and we are ready for winter. We have hay, we have a freezer full of beef, we have propane and we have extra quilts. We are snug as bugs in rugs. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Hosting (Thanksgiving Menu)

It's my turn to host Thanksgiving. The job revolves between my mom, my sister, and I, with my mom usually taking two years out of three. Just these past couple of years she has unckenched a little, and been a little bit more willing  to cede the hostess role.  Even as a guest, however, she still commands the menu by the simple method of bringing every single dish she would cook if she were hosting herself. 

However, it is indisputably my job to furnish the turkey. After all, I do raise the silly things. This year is a little awkward. I made a mistake about the date of thanksgiving (I thought it was the LAST Thursday in November when it's actually the FOURTH Thursday in November. Normally one and the same, but not this year) and so Homero will not be here. He was planning a trip to Oaxaca, and I blithely told him "just make sure you're home by the thirtieth!" 

That means he isn't available to butcher the birds. Aside from the one I will be serving, there are three others, already sold to neighbors. I could, theoretically, kill and clean a turkey, but it would look like a coyote did it. Not the nice, presentable, ready to cook carcasses my customers are expecting. So I went begging on Facebook, and found someone willing to do the job tomorrow, just in time to provide a fresh bird that won't need to be frozen. I'm paying ten dollars a bird plus some grass fed beef. Another day I will write about the difficulty of getting poultry butchered around here - it's a perennial problem. 

I have a couple of unique challenges this year, and it really isn't very convienent for me to host. Since Homero is gone for two weeks, I am handling the farm and the girls on my own. Both girls have demanding sports schedules, even over the break (Hope has wrestling practice even on thanksgiving day itself). I have my own interpreting work. And my knee, alas, has decided to go on an absolute binge of pain and weakness. For the first time ever, I've had to resort to a cane, in addition to a brace. I'm about as crippled up as I've ever been, and it's really very annoying.

The girls have been wonderful, though. Today, they helped me round up the turkeys, tie their feet together, and lay them under a blanket in the trunk of the car. There's small chance I would have been able to do that alone. And this afternoon, Rowan came over to help me clean the house. Well, she helped me pick up around the house, so that the cleaning lady I engaged for tomorrow will be able to actually clean. 

All in all, I am feeling rather hopeful. Supposedly, my
Mom is bringing desserts (my siblings and I have a betting pool going - my bet is six pies, a pan of brownies, a cheesecake, and a platter of cookies). My sister always does the mashed potatoes. That leaves, for me:

- one heritage breed pastured turkey, roasted with
- bread and herb stuffing
- mushroom gravy (for the vegetarians)
- wild rice salad with fennel and hazelnuts 
- plain baked garnet yams
- green beans with balsamic dressing
- mixed green salad

I feel a bit of a slacker opting for plain baked yams rather than something fancy like yam soufflé with pecan streusel or the "festive yam confetti" I've made years past. But enough is enough. And the wild rice salad is a great family favorite that I enjoy making every year. 

Wild Rice Salad with fennel and hazelnuts

-1 lb pure wild rice, cooked according to package directions
-1 large or two small bulbs fennel, thinly sliced, and feathery fronds reserved for garnish
-1cup dried tart cherries, or zante currants 
- 1 bunch green onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup roasted hazelnuts, lightly crushed
- good quality olive oil
- good quality balsamic vinegar (or lemon juice)
- salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

In a very large bowl, combine all ingredients. Toss well and let sit at least 4 hours before serving. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Predator Problems Redux (Coyote Edition)

We always lose chickens over the winter. Always. Some years are worse than others, but on average I'd say we have about a 30% chicken attrition situation over any given winter. And some years are just terrible. This year has been a bad one so far. 

We started the fall with eleven hens. Now we have five. It's especially annoying because these hens were youthful and excellent layers. Golden sex-links that I bought in spring as pullets. This was their first laying year, and they provided us with a surfeit of delicious eggs. The second year of a hen's life is generally her most prolific, and the third and fourth years are also excellent. I was looking forward to several seasons of eggy abundance. 

We've known for some time that we have a coyote problem here.  I have seen them, in broad daylight, in the neighbor's field, and we hear them  singing on moonlight summer nights. In general, I appreciate coyotes as a savvy, adaptable animal. They are handsome too, no matter what their detractors say, with their sandy brown coats and their sly, intelligent faces. Losing a chicken here and there is the price we pay for living in this lovely rural area. I'd be sad indeed to never hear coyote song again. 

But I do draw the line at the loss of more than half our flock, and it's barely November yet. And yesterday they took a turkey - a well grown hen, who was already sold at $4/lb. Now I have to call a customer and tell  them their family will be eating store-bought turkey this thanksgiving, and that makes me mad. 

So it was with mixed emotions at best that I regarded the dead coyote that my husband brought me last week. As he was driving home in the dusky evening, he saw a coyote lying on the side of the highway just off our property; the same place that our dog Haku was hit last summer. The coyote was perfect, intact. So much so that Homero approached it cautiously in case it might actually be still alive. It wasn't, but it wasn't long dead either. Still warm. 

Homero dragged it off the verge of the highway and well into our property, for no particularly good reason. "I didn't want it to get run over into mush," he said. "Come look." 

Not having ever been close enough to a coyote to touch one before, I didn't have much of a frame of reference. Local farmers tend to greatly exaggerate the size and menace of coyotes, claiming they are larger than dogs and can drag off full grown sheep. I know that is bull-puckey. Coyotes seldom weigh more than forty pounds, and are quite a bit smaller than your average German Shepherd. This one seemed to weigh about thirty-five pounds, and was female. 

There wasn't a mark on her, apart from a little blood around her muzzle. It's been a cold fall, and her coat was thick and soft. I felt quite sorry for her. I imagined her as one of the pups I'd heard singing earlier, in summer, and that her dan had taught her where to go hunting. She probably knew us as "easy pickings farm." Nice fat chickens, if you can get across the road, look out, it's a bitch. 

Another nice thing about living in a rural area in the age of the internet: it was quite easy to find somebody who wanted to pick her up for her hide. I mean, why not, might as well salvage something beautiful from this disaster. We've lost good poultry and an intelligent animal list her life in her prime, but why shouldn't somebody salvage a nice fur? 

Homero tells me he's absolutely positively guaranteed going to patch up the chicken coop before it gets much colder. I say - as I say every year - that we won't get any more birds of any sort until he does. I know what will happen- the earth will turn and spring will come. Chicks will show up for sale under heat lamps in the farm store. We will look at our sad skinny chickens who survived winter and decide they need an infusion of new blood. We will think we have all summer long to fix the chicken coop. 


Monday, October 16, 2017

Brewing Notes (Cider and Wine)

Mainly just notes for myself so I don't forget when I did what. Today I racked the rhubarb wine into a clean carboy. It's been about a month in the first one, and a week in a fermentation bucket before that. I tasted it as a transferred it and it's AWFUL. But that doesn't mean anything. The plum wine was gross at this stage too, and it turned it pretty good. This is only my second attempt at fruit wine. Last year's plum wine was the first. Having never even tasted rhubarb wine before, let alone made it, I have nothing to compare it to. I just had so much rhubarb I had to do something with it. If it turns out horrible it's no big loss - my plant puts out rhubarb enough for as muchexperimentation as I feel like doing. 

Also racked the cider into a second carboy.  The cider tastes pretty good already. It's very dry, though. I think when I bottle it in a couple weeks I will add a bit of sugar for a little sweetness and fizz. I like my cider frizzante. 

Brewing is fun. It feels like magic. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Beautiful Buck

Fall is the season for making decisions about goat breeding. 
Most goats are seasonal breeders, meaning they only go into heat during certain times of the year. In our climate, the does begin to go into heat as soon as the days grow shorter and the nights become crisp, usually in September. Every doe is different - one of mine, Polly, is an early breeder and goes into heat in late July or early August. If we have a buck on the place, she will get pregnant early and give birth in the depths of winter, which is not good for the survival chances of her babies. 

For that and other reasons, I have not kept a buck in the farm for several years now. It's convienant to have your own buck, for sure. Finding a suitable buck is one of the more time comsuming and annoying tasks of the year. First you have to find a buck you like, of the correct breed, conformation, and vigor. Then you have to talk about testing for communicable diseases and coordinate worming schedules; negotiate a price for multiple does; and decide whether you will transport the does to the buck or the buck to the does, and who will take on that onerous task. Some buck owners want you to pay for feed or to provide specific hay; some charge boarding fees for your does. 

On the other hand, keeping a buck has its drawbacks. They are stinky, in season, and some of them are aggressive. They are generally speaking much harder on fences than does are, and more prone to escape and go marauding around the countryside damaging the neighbor's fruit trees. When breeding season comes around they must be kept separate from the does until such time as you want them bred, and that isn't easy. A healthy young buck will go to amazing lengths to breed an in-heat doe, including jumping a six foot fence. If you are still milking during breeding season, a buck's hormones will taint the milk and give it a rancid, billy-goat odor. 

On balance, I've decided that it's better to rent a buck than it is to keep one year round. For now, anyway. This year it was relatively easy to find a good buck. A friend of the family has a lovely, proven, black and white Nubian that he was willing to lend us for the three weeks it takes to complete a full breeding cycle. He isn't registered, but I don't care because neither are my does. Homero went and got him today. He transported him - crazily - in the backseat of our regular car, which means we will all have to sit on clean towels or smell like a billy goat for the next couple of weeks.  
But I'm happy - the does seem very happy, very welcoming. 

Here's a link to a post from a few years ago about the more historical and spiritual aspects of goat breeding:

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Piggy Piggy (More Pork)

 Paloma and the Pig 

Two new pigs have arrived on the farm. We weren't looking for pigs; we still have plenty of pork left in the freezer from the last pigs. Those pigs were so vicious and unpleasant that I was looking forward to not having any pigs again for
some time to come. 

However. I belong to a local farmer's Facebook group, and that means I just HAVE to see all the animals for sale at any given time. I can't even help it - it just appears on my feed. In the "old days" three years ago, I had to at least go to Craigslist and seek out animals to buy. Boy, that was like, the Jurassic era. 

So, a neighbor farmer friend of ours, from whom we have bought pigs before (but not last year's evil pigs) was advertising well-grown piglets for $125 each. A friend of his had to leave town quickly unexpectedly for a new job and asked our friend to sell off his herd of nine piglets. From the photos he posted, I could see that they were considerably older than  the usual weaners which sell for the same price. After consulting with Homero, I asked our friend to keep two for us. 

When he delivered them, I was surprised and gratified to see how big they are. They were almost the size of barbecue hogs which sell for $250 or so. I asked what breed they were and I got "Berkshire cross." That's good enough for me. 

These pigs are quite shy, and scared of people. I don't mind; I've found that if the pigs aren't scared of me, then I am likely to be scared of them. They spent the first few days in the big barn, but we have since transferred them to the sacrifice area. There, they can be comfortable in the field shelter, and have plenty of space for exercising. If they root up the ground, they will be doing me a favor, since that earth is compacted and gravelly. 

If all goes well, the pigs ought to be harvest sized by Christmas. In the meantime, we have to eat up the pork we still have in the freezer. To that end, I made a delicious pork roast yesterday. I just liberally salted and peppered it, put it in a casserole with a few cloves of garlic, and then poured over two cups of home pressed apple cider that was a week old and fairly well converted into tepache. I covered the casserole with tinfoil and crimped it well, and baked it at 300 for several hours. Absolutely delicious with smashed Prato salad. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Happy (Few Days Late) Mabon!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Happy Apple Cider Day (Neighbors to the Rescue)

A close up of the gear mechanism of the apple press. The girls and I had pressed about three gallons of cider today, and were only about a third of the way through the wheelbarrow full of apples, when the press broke.  It always breaks in the same way - the little rod that goes through the horizontal gear and attaches it to the presser-rod breaks. Last time this happened, after I let some over enthusiastic college boys use the press, Homero fixed it by using a nail to replace the little rod. Today, that nail broke in half. 

The girls and I could not figure out how to fix it. It's simple
enough to see how it works but the presser-rod had slipped down inside the tube and we couldn't get it to come up high enough to thread a new nail through the hole. Nor could we figure out how to remove the vertical gear which we would have to do. Nor could we find any tool hanging around capable of cutting off the excess nail so it wouldn't halt the turning of the horizontal gear halfway through a revolution. I learned that you cannot cut a nail with long-armed garden loppers, and it's dangerous, so don't try. 

Homero is in Seattle, and he wasn't answering his phone. I was about to give up, and frustrated because I had hoped to do all my pressing in one fell swoop his year. The apples which we gathered from a friend's orchard had already been resting for about a week and I didn't think they would last a whole lot longer. And I didn't want to clean up the press and the mess and then just wait for Homero to fix it. 

Then I remembered Mr B. The B's are close neighbors and friends from church. They are an elderly couple, from whom  we buy a side of beef every year that they have one to spare. One year, the B's borrowed the press, and when he returned it, Mr B had cleaned and serviced it, oiled it and sharpened the blades. I knew he could make short work of this simple
mechanical problem, and he might even enjoy himself while he was at it. 

Five minutes after I called, both B's arrived. It took Mr B a few minutes to figure out how to get the presser-rod to come up through the tube (it screws, but the mechanism is hidden), and after that it was smooth sailing. We brought over a collection of nails and he chose one, threaded it through the hole, marked where it needed to be cut, and then took it back to his workshop and cut it with his sawzall. There was some fiddling around with pliers and the cotter-pin on the vertical gear, and then presto! It worked! 

We all cheered. I convinced them to take home a little thank you basket, with a half gallon of cider, a few ham steaks from the freezer, and a jar of blackberry jam. They didn't want to take it but I insisted. 

Then we had to really rock and roll to get the apples pressed before dark. Pressing cider is hard work, even with a motorized press, and there were a whole lot of apples.  But we got it done. Hooray for good neighbors, who are handy and willing to lend a handy hand. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

End of Summer Summer Squash Casserole

Although I did not plant any squash this year, the squash has arrived as usual. My neighbor - he of the Hotel-Sized-House (HSH) - planted enough squash for the both of us. And then some. Every few days, we meet at the fence line and I give him a couple dozen eggs or a half gallon of goat milk and he gives me a box of produce. The last box had some potatoes and onions, twenty or so tomatoes, and eight big yellow crookneck squash. 

I've been putting squash in just about everything lately - chicken soup, Mexican rice, scrambled eggs. Nonetheless, the squash piles up. So I went looking for an application that would use up larger quantities. After perusing my cookbook collection and consulting Epicurious, I decided on a yellow squash casserole. I'd never made anything like it before, but it sounded good and it would use up at least two yellow squash. There were several recipes to choose from, but none of them exactly fitted what I had in mind, so I decided to do an experiment. I wanted something like a soufflé and something like a gratin. 

An aside. One of the nice things about being a lady of a certain age - and lord knows the pleasures are few - is that I have accumulated enough skill at a number of endeavors that I need not follow someone else's instructions, but can imagine what I want to create and be reasonably certain that I can in fact accomplish my vision. Sometimes there are failures - of course there are - but sometimes there are beautiful minor triumphs. 

Today's experiment was a success. Actually, it turned out so good that I might make the same thing even when we are not inundated with squash. I might actually BUY squash to be able to make this dish. Here's a recipe.

-Preheat oven to 350
-Make a simple bechemel sauce (about two cups - from two tablespoons butter, equal volume flour, and about two cups milk. I used fresh goats' milk) seasoned with plenty of garlic and fresh ground pepper
-Grate enough yellow squash on the large holes of a box grater to make 4 cups of grated squash. 
- in a large mixing bowl, mix grated squash, one half of a minced yellow onion, three eggs, and the (cooled) bechemel
- blend in one cup (give or take) grated pepper jack cheese
-scrape mixture into a deep casserole dish. 
- top with a mixture of fresh bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and oregano. 
-bake in a 350 degree oven (covered) for approximately 30 minutes. Uncover and raise heat to 400 to brown the crumbs. 

Serve with a green salad and some sort of starch - pasta or rice. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Beef Abundance (Simple is Good)

Summer is drawing to a close - not that you'd know it by the weather. Today, September first, it was 85 degrees and sunny. This is something like our fiftieth day without measurable rain. The forecast continues dry and hot as far as the weather-people can see into the future.

But the calendar is implacable. School starts this Tuesday, no matter the forecast. It's time and past time to get the kids new school shoes and jackets; to mow the last scraggly weeds; to shake off summer's languor and impose something like a schedule again. 

It's also time, more pleasantly, to eat up the meat in the freezer. Last week Mr. B., my neighbor, asked us if we'd be wanting to buy a side of beef this year again, and I said we sure would. Last fall, due to a silly series of miscommunications, we ended up buying a ridiculous quantity of beef - three quarters of a big fat steer, much more than we needed. Quite a bit of it is still in the freezer and needs to be devoured ASAP to make room. 

Today I thawed a package of rib steaks. A favorite cut of mine, they are heavily marbled and carry a thick rim of fat around the edges. If you aren't used to grass fed beef, you might be thinking "yuck, fat." I assure you that the succulent, yellow, flavorful fat of a grass fed and grass finished beeve is nothing like the pale rubbery fat on a factory farmed animal. 

These steaks don't need much. After thawing, I liberally sprinkled them with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and laid them on a big cast iron griddle slicked with quality olive oil and got out of the way. Flip after six or seven minutes and give the other side a sear. My husband likes his steaks medium well and I like mine medium rare, so I take mine off a few minutes early and let it rest while his continues to cook. 

As an accompaniment I boiled a half dozen yellow potatoes, and smashed them with a couple tablespoons of butter, a teaspoon of whole grain mustard, a spoonful of mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and a generous amount of minced parsley. A cold beer after a hot day's work rounds out the meal. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Preserving Log, 8/29/17

I haven't done as much preserving as I had hoped lately. This late summer season has been incredibly busy - partly for good reasons (family vacations to see once-in-a-lifetime celestial events), and partly for really sucky reasons (my dad has been extremely ill and I've flown to Arizona twice). Plus, this year Hope is entering high school and there are all sorts of orientations and meet-and-greets to attend.

All this means I haven't had time to get to the Gleaner's Pantry as much as I usually do, and therefore haven't had loads and loads of produce to can, totally aside from the question of time. However, I've done a bit here and there. Last week I made four cups of fig jam, and today I've canned three quarts of salsa.

Updated list:

1 Gallon dried apricots
3 gallons kosher dill pickles
1 gallon pickled green beans (lacto-fermented)
9 quarts apple-blackberry sauce
3 pints pickled beets
6 pints blackberry jam
4 cups rosemary-fig jam
11 quarts salsa ranchera

Cheesemaking doesn't count as preserving because we have to eat it fresh, but I've made some chèvre recently too. And soon we will be into apple season and I am planning to press a lot of cider. A new friend of mine lives nearby and has about twenty apple trees - enough that it makes sense to being the press to the apples rather than the apples to the press. We are going to make a day of it. And I think I will brew hard cider again this year, and that definitely counts as preserving.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Vampire Goats

When we got home from our trip to Oregon to see the eclipse (WOW amazing sight and a great family vacation), I noticed that one of our mama goats, Polly, had become skeletally thin. She has always been a slender goat. Some
goats are naturally thin, some are naturally plump, just like
people. However, Polly's condition was in no way normal - her bones were sharp and visible from a distance. 

There are many factors that contribute to weight loss on goats. One of the main ones - insufficient feed- is not an issue at my place because I have three acres of fenced pasture for three does to feed in, more than enough. Probably the most important factor after availabalility of feed is parasite load. 

Goats are particularly prone to parasites. They are a problem in every area of the country. There are a plethora of parasites - stomach worms, lung worms, coccidia. For the most part, parasites will not kill an otherwise healthy goat, but they will seriously depress her ability to produce healthy kids, abundant milk, and keep her own health intact. https://www.famu.edu/cesta/main/assets/File/coop_extension/herds/Practical_Management_Internal_Parasites_in_Goats1_7-23-2007.pdf

I use ivermectin to control parasites, but over the years I think my herd has built up some resistance, because this year ivermectin is not showing much effectiveness. In particular, my best doe, Polly, has lost a tremendous amount of weight while raising her twins. 

The caloric cost of nursing twins is, of course, very high, but a healthy doe with unlimited forage ought to be able to do it without losing condition. Polly has been losing weight, and when we got back from our five day trip to see the eclipse (AWESOME!!) she had suddenly become emaciated. 

I worked her again, with Ivermectin as usual and also with Quess, a different wormer which has a different mode of action. Hopefully that will have an effect, but in the meantime I needed to get those kids off of her. They have been sucking her dry. 

We have three kids left - Polly's twins and a single doe from Christmas. They are all of an age to have been weaned a month ago, at least, but I am softhearted and didn't want to separate them from their  mamas. Well, Polly's condition forced my hand. Two nights ago, I put all the babies into the sacrifice area. Such wailing! Such gnashing of teeth! Anyone would think they were being peeled alive. But no- they are just being weaned.

All three babies are seriously overweight. Obese even. They have "milk glitters" on their throats- signs that they are being over fed. And meanwhile their poor mamas are staggering around at the end of their endurance. I should have separated them a month ago. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Preserving Log Update

Surely one of the very best smells in the world is that of a bubbling vat of apples, enriched with cloves, cinnamon, allspice, and sugar. Doesn't hurt to throw in a quart or so of freshly picked blackberries, either. 

Yesterday I went to a neighbor's house - a person who is becoming a very good friend - and took home two shopping bags full of transparent apples. If you, like my daughter, thinks a transparent apple is an apple you can see through, read and learn. Transparents are yellow apples that ripen early. They are specifically sauce apples, being good for not much else. They are too mushy to eat fresh, and too mushy to juice. But they make wonderful sauce. 

I had invited myself over to pick apples after noticing, as I was driving by, a transparent tree that was dropping it's apples already. I asked if I could come collect some and she said "Please!" Once there, i realized that she actually has a serious apple orchard - about twenty trees of many varieties, and most of them are positively loaded with (as yet unripe) apples. I suggested that I ought to lug over my apple press later in the season and we should devote a day to cidering. That idea was met with enthusiasm. 

Today was given over to making applesauce. Good thing I was recently gifted so many canning jars, or would have had to go buy a dozen quarts. A dozen quarts is what I ended up with - though I actually canned only nine of them, because that's as many as fits in my largest kettle. The other three are in the refrigerator. One will go back to my neighbor as thanks, and the other two we will eat quickly. 

I've made some jam recently too. So the preserving log update is as follows:

9 quarts apple-blackberry sauce
6 pints blackberry jam
1 gallon dried apricots

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Decisions, Decisions

My youngest child, Paloma, says she doesn't like blackberries. Sadly, i see no option but to disown her. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Berries and Smoke

The first blackberries are ripe. I picked enough for a pie today, while I was grazing the goats, though I didn't make the pie. Tomorrow maybe. More likely I'll just whizz them up in the blender with some yogurt and call it breakfast. There's going to be a bumper crop, and if I can get my children to pick enough, I plan to make jam. Haven't made any jam in a few years, and blackberry jam is the best jam. School is starting soon, and we will need sandwiches. Peanut butter sandwiches are exponentially better when they have homemade blackberry jam on them. 

I was picking berries in a haze today. I refer not to my state of mind, but to the smoky air that has drifted in from big wildfires in B.C., across the border. Fires have been raging for weeks, and great swaths of the province have been evacuated. It seems that every summer brings more and larger forest fires than the year before. Two years ago (or was it three?) my mother lost her vacation home in the huge fires that raced across the Okanagon. The fires in B.C. this year are not yet as large or destructive as last year's. And right now there is even a fire burning in the moist hills around Bellingham, where fires have historically been rare. My sister's house is only a few miles from the edge of that fire. 

Myself, I've been freaked out about climate change for longer than anyone I know who isn't actually a climatologist. Maybe Al Gore. Ten years ago, my friends were raising their eyebrows at me and shaking their heads when I regaled them with information about rising seas and failing crops. It's no comfort to me that the general population seems to finally be catching up to me in their level of concern. I worry that it's pretty much too late. This is a case where "better late than never" doesn't really apply. 

Of all the many and varied consequences of climate change, I think the one likely to have the greatest impact in my lifetime and that if my children is the burning of the great northern forests. The past fifteen years or so, there has been a tremendous increase in not just the area of forest fires, but in their heat and destructiveness. 

Many species of trees, of course, evolved in concert with periodic fires, and some can only propagate after a fire. Not googling at this time of night, but some species of evergreens have cones that only open enough to release seeds after a fire. Recent fires, however, fueled by drought and higher temperatures, have been much hotter than those with which the trees evolved; hot enough to totally destroy trees that used to survive a scorching. Around the globe, vast areas of forest are being burned in ragged patches. It's my belief that the next fifty or so years will see the great global belts of taiga literally go up in smoke. 

Now I've thoroughly depressed myself. I can only comfort myself with the thought that from the ashes will certainly spring a host of blackberry vines. Out of the eater comes forth sweetness. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Preserving Journal

High Summer is upon us. Although I have yet to change the altar - it's still dressed with the kids' report cards and end-of-school paraphernalia - the preserving season has begun, and cannot be ignored.

This year, I've decided to try and keep an accurate record of all the preserving I do. So far, I had only posted one entry, and that consisted of:

Four quarts salsa ranchera
four pints pickled jalapeños
three pints pickled beets (all from a single beet bigger than baby's head)

Today I can add:

four MORE quarts salsa ranchera
three gallons kosher dills

for a running total of eight quarts salsa; 4 pints jalapeños; three pints beets; and three gallons dill pickles.

This is not counting cheese, since I still haven't figured out how to "preserve" cheese for longer than a few weeks. We either eat it fresh, or it molds.

Pickles make me happy. I love real lacto-fermentation, and I love real kosher dills. Last year, I made a ridiculous quantity of pickles; far more than we could eat, but luckily I found a neighbor who owns a dairy and cheesemaking operation who traded me pickles for cheese. Cheese that can, unlike my own, be stored and aged. Hopefully she is still interested in pickles this year, because three gallons of pickles is a lot.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The End of an Equine Era

It's been a hard week on the farm for animals. Aside from Haku's accident on the highway (not fatal, thank God), we have had to put down two other animals. My daughter's pet ferret, Commodore, who was seven years old and full of tumors, and Rosie Pony.

Rosie Pony was a shetland pony that I rescued nine years ago. On a whim, I stopped in at a neighbor's farm who had a sign outside saying "horse sale TODAY." She is a breeder of fancy Arabians, and I wanted to see some pretty fancy Arabians, just for fun, so I stopped. And there were plenty of beautiful, fancy Arabians. And in amongst them, this dumpy little grey pony, wth twin yearling foals at her side. When I asked about her, I was told that she was "from a big free-running herd in eastern washington" and that they didn't have much information about her, but that she was going to the auction (read: dog food factory) if nobody wanted her today. 

So, I took her home for fifty bucks. Nobody told me, because I assume nobody knew, that she was pregnant. Months later she gave birth to a lovely chestnut filly, who we named Poppy. 

Whatever sort of equine Rosie had been crossed with, it wasn't a shetland pony. Poppy quickly grew to be larger than her dam. And kept growing. Eventually, she grew into a sturdy 12 1/2 hands. Rosie was an excellent mama. For years I tried to interest my children in riding. They showed a few fits and starts of interest, but neither of them showed the kind of sustained interest that would justify putting large amounts of money into professional training for Poppy. So eventually, a couple of years ago, I decided to give her away to a family who would invest the time and money into her her that we couldn't. It was very sad, but I don't doubt it was the right decision. The family I chose, after much deliberation, has three little girls of just the right ages to grow up with a pony, and a next door neighbor and family friend who is a horse trainer. They promised to let me visit Poppy sometimes.

After Poppy left the farm, Rosie went downhill. She still had companions in the form of goats and the heifer cow, but she never really bonded with any of them. In fact, the cow started to bully her by leaping on her as though she were breeding. Poor Rosie staggered under the cow's weight. She had a chronic eye condition, which was mild when I got her but which got worse and worse with every passing winter until she was constantly plagued by inflammation and pain. The vet said he didn't know what it was but thought it was incurable, and gave me steroid creams and antibacterial medicines. They helped a little, but overall, her eyes kept getting worse. 

Then, this past spring, she foundered on the new grass. She was clearly in some pain, walking stiffly and bobbling her head. And then in the past few weeks, she began to move around very little, and to stay lying down even on bright warm mornings. One day I went out to the barn for morning chores and found her lying on her side in the muck, and she wouldn't get up. 

I don't know how old Rosie is. The vet thought she was probably about sixteen or eighteen when I brought her home, which would mean she would be twenty-five to twenty-seven this year. Not crazy old for a shetland pony, but well into retirement age. Considering the pain she was in, and after consulting with my farrier, who has cared for her the entire time we have had her, I decided to ask the vet to put her down. 

It was the right decision, but it makes me sad nonetheless. Not just for Rosie herself, but because I know I will never have a horse again - unless, perhaps, some yet unborn grandchild convinces her mom to get her a pony by saying "they can live on grandma's farm," in which case, I will totally take that child's part and completely override the reasonable objections of her mother.  

Our ponies were entirely impractical, but they were beautiful and affectionate and I loved them. Having a baby pony born on the farm fulfilled a childhood dream of mine, and was absolutely as lovely and unique an experience as I dreamed it would be. My girls will always have the memory of having a pony as a friend and a pet. I enjoyed them the entire time they were here, and I don't regret a single dollar spent on farriers, vets, alfalfa, or fencing! 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Coming of Age Custard Pie

I am forty-five years old. Incredibly, there has not been a death in my immediate family since my last living grandparent - Grandma Eva - died when I was about twenty, some twenty-five years ago. My other grandparents were either dead before I was born, or died when I was still very much a child.

As an adult, only a very few people I know have died, principally the mother of my stepfather. Grandma Joann was a lovely woman, who we saw on every holiday and who always remembered my children with presents or cards. The mother of my best friend died of ovarian cancer years ago, and I went to her memorial service.  That represents the sum total of my experience with human death, pretty much.

Never have I, until now, been an adult member of a community celebrating the death of one of its own. The church I belong to, Zion Lutheran, is a small rural church with a long history. I've written about Zion before. I joined in order to meet a deep, incohate need to be part of a congregation - to experience worship as more than a solitary activity - and in order to become more fully a part of the community I had moved into. That relationship has been everything I could have hoped, and more than I could have imagined when I first joined. It has been a deep pleasure, and a rather strange experience for a lifelong loner like me, to slowly become a fully instated, respectable member of a circle of peers. I am, believe it or not (few who knew me as a teenager would) a member of the church council. I sing in the (occasional) choir.

Zion's congregation is old, and small. There are perhaps thirty families who belong, and maybe thirty or forty individuals who show up for services every Sunday. Most of these folk are elderly. If I had to guess at a median age for people seated in the pews on an average Sunday, I'd say about seventy. Many of them were married at Zion a half-century hence, and christened there even longer ago. The grassy, sloping churchyard hosts a couple score of gravestones, many of which bear the names of the parents and grandparents of current members. In the basement, where we gather for coffee hour after service, there is a wall filled with photos going back to the year Zion was built, 1903. In those days, mass was spoken in Norwegian. There is a very real continuity, a living history, embodied in this tiny, local institution.

Last week, the oldest living member of Zion's congregation, H. R., died. She was in her nineties, and had been a member of Zion all her life. Her photo is one of the older ones on there basement wall. My children and I knew her as a neat, friendly, well-dressed, and tiny lady who still drove herself to church. We pressed her small hands when we passed the peace. She had beautiful snow-white hair and a sweet smile. She had deep, deep ties in our area. She will be missed. Her memorial is Saturday.

Yesterday, I got a phone call from another of the OG's of Zion, M. She is above - or behind - or superior to me on Zion's official phone tree, and she was calling me to ask me to bring a dessert to H.'s memorial service.

Of course I was planning to attend the service. But it would not have occurred to me to bring anything if I had not been called. I suppose I would have thought, if I thought anything at all, that H's family would be bringing "refreshments." At the very few memorial services I have attended, the food was just there, as if my magic, and I was a consumer; not a provider. Even when my step-grandma died just a few years ago, I had nothing to do with putting on the service - I just showed up, signed the book, and ate the cheese and crackers. It was only when I answered the phone that I realized I had become, willy-nilly, a person to be called upon. To be counted on. A sister. A matron of the church.

"Yes, of course I'll bring a dessert," I said. "What time is the service?"

"Noon," M. answered me. "Just bring it by anytime before." And then she surprised me by asking what I was going to make.

"I'm not sure," I said, "probably something with rhubarb because I have an awful lot of it."

"Oh good," said M., "rhubarb is my favorite."

Coming of Age Rhubarb Custard Pie

eight cups (or so) chopped fresh rhubarb, from 10 to 12 stems

four store-bought rolled pie crusts, or a double recipe home made

3 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups flour

8 eggs

1/2 cup milk (or more)

tsp salt

Grease a 9 x 13" baking pan. Preheat oven to 375. 

Unroll pastry, or prepare homemade crust and roll out thin. Lay pastry in baking dish, leaving plenty of overlap on the edges. If using store-bought pastry, cut to fit. 

In a large mixing bowl  measure out sugar, four, salt. In a second bowl, beat all 8 eggs together with milk.add wet ingredients to dry, and mix with a fork. If very thick, add a bit more milk until you have a very thick but pourable mixture. Pour over chopped rhubarb and turn to mix, gently. Scrape into the baking dish, spreading to edges. Crimp dough around filling. 

Bake at 375 for approximately 45 minutes until crust is golden and filling is well set. Let cool and top with whipped cream or drizzle with sweetened sour cream. Cut into squares to serve. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Haku and the Highway


Practically the first thing that our neighbors said to us, when we first moved here in 2007, was "I see you have a dog, be careful. This road is hell on dogs." 

This road is a state highway, a two lane road connecting the freeway with the refinery, eight miles west. Tanker trucks ply the road day and night, delivering crude to the refinery and carrying away refined gas.  The speed limit is 50, but of course it isn't always respected. 

Add to that, we live right on top of the hill, and there's an extremely short sight distance from our driveway to the crest. So short, in fact, that the school district said our children couldn't be picked up at our driveway because it wasn't safe; they have to walk a couple hundred yards downhill and wait at a friend's driveway. 

In the ten years we've lived here, there have been three fatal accidents (that I know of) on our road, inside of a half-mile in either direction from our house. 

The dog we had when we moved here, the incomparable Ivory, was far too smart to go on the road. She learned the property's boundaries quickly and seldom strayed. Ivory lived to the ripe old age of fourteen. Haku, on the other hand....

Well, there are many stories on this blog about Haku. He's a difficult dog. A sheep killer. A roamer. A chaser of chickens. A jumper of fences. An eighty pound bundle of energy and mischief. But, this past year, as Haku approached three years of age, we had high hopes that he was settling down. Finally, he seemed to be learning the boundaries and staying close to me when I let the goats out to graze. I was starting to really trust him. 

Last Wednesday, I let the goats out to graze, and Haku stayed close to us for nearly an hour. Oh, he popped in and out of bushes and ran in circles around the back pasture, but he came
Back to check in every couple of minutes. After a while, I noticed he was roaming a little further and coming back to me more slowly when I whistled. I decided it was time to put the goats away and get him inside. 

I lost track of him as I was gathering the goats. I whistled the "come home" whistle constantly  as I drove the goats towards the back pasture. This took about five minutes and no answer. After I locked the goats in, I started back towards the house, still whistling. My girls, hearing me, came out of the house and starting whistling and calling too. 

Then there was a sickening thud and a loud yelp. I ran as fast as I could towards the road, but I was still far away. My daughter Hope screamed "Mom!" 

When I arrived on the front lawn, Haku was lying in the grass, with Hope, Shidezi, and my sister in law Temy gathered around him. Also a woman I didn't recognize. I asked her "are you the one who hit him?" She said "No! I'm
Your neighbor," and pointed towards her house. "I heard it happen." The person who hit him didn't stop.

It looked pretty bad, at first glance. There was a lot of blood and some bright white bones and Haku was crying. Temy (who is a doctor) ran in the house and found gauze and tape and covered the worst, most open wounds. Then she and I and the kind neighbor hoisted Haku
Into the truck and drive to the all-night emergency hospital where, by good luck, our good friend emergency veterinarian A.M. was  on call. 

A.M. Told us immediately she thought it was fifty-fifty Haku would lose that leg. So much skin was missing she didn't know if she'd be able to close the wound, which was heavily contaminated with road grit and oil and plant material. Haku stayed overnight and she did her best. 

In the morning, A.M. Told us she had been able to close the main wound. He was covered, however, with other wounds. He had stitches on all four limbs, and he had lost a lot
of skin off his tail where he had apparently been dragged. But X-rays showed he escaped any major fractures and any organ damage. Haku was one lucky-fucking dog, for a dog who had been hit by a car doing fifty MPH. 

In the days since, we have brought him to our vet twice for wound care. Both times the vet has said he is amazed and surprised at Haku's speedy recovery. He just unwrapped the leg, looked at it, said "wow," and wrapped it back up. Clearly, it will take some time to heal, but it looks like there is no danger of his losing the limb. 

In fact, the main problem we have now, six days out, is keeping him quiet. Haku has apparently decided he isn't hurt at all and there's no reason he shouldn't go tearing around as usual. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Goats are Pretty

Testing the new blogger app. I think I figured out how to upload photos 




Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Canning Log and Canning Jars

Finally, we seem to have caught up to the calendar. We've had weather hot enough to go to the lake and go swimming, and the first crops are just beginning to show up in local markets - snap peas, asparagus, rhubarb, spinach, radishes. On the farm we've been enjoying our very limited produce: rhubarb, nasturtiums, and tender herbs like chives and lemon balm. I did plant peas, but the vines are only about five inches tall and have not yet begun to flower. Raspberry canes are in flower, though, and there are lots of little green strawberries in the strawberry bed. Today I saw the first blossoms on the blackberry bushes.

I decided I will try to keep a preservation log on the blog this year. Every year, I post what I'm doing in the kitchen when I think about it, but this year I'd like to be a little more methodical about it. I'm going to concentrate on canning, even though that only accounts for about a third of the preservation I do (the other thirds being freezing and smoking or dehydrating). Canning is an event - I usually devote an entire day at a time to it, which makes it easy to document. Of coursed, I've canned a little bit of salsa here and there already this year, but I'm going to start the log with last Sunday.

I'd been to the Gleaner's pantry on Saturday, and I brought back enough produce to mandate a canning session. I made three separate products in one day, which makes me feel especially productive.

- Four quarts of salsa ranchera
- four tall quilted jelly jars of pickled jalapeño peppers
- three pints of pickled beets, all from one enormous beet the size of a baby's head.

I'm not sure if I mentioned that a friend brought me several boxes full of canning jars as a gift. They were helping a friend clean out their mother's house after she moved to assisted living, and the lady had quite a collection. Many of the jars are beautiful, unusual varieties. There are some blue-tinted jars, and some lovely bell-shaped quilted quart sized jars, and some of those neat old square sided jars.

Unfortunately, some of them are old enough to be non-standard, which renders them totally useless for canning. There's very little more annoying than going to all the work of canning a batch of, say, pepper jelly, and sterilizing a bunch of jars only to find at the critical moment that the jar openings are just a little bit off standard.  Sooner or later, I'm going to have to sit down with a standard size lid, a wide-mouth lid, and a big glass of wine and separate the sheep from the goats (so to speak).

Then I'll have to decide what to do with all the pretty but non-functional antiques. I'm a sentimental type, so I can't just recycle them. Maybe I can trade them for something - like more stuff to can!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

State of the Farm, Late Spring 2017

Nettles in the weeds

The long, horrible, wet "spring" of 2017 is finally giving way to some warmer and drier weather. I read in the paper that this past wet season (the period of time between October 1st and May 1st) has broken the all-time record for precipitation in western Washington - a record set just last year. Even with my week long break to Arizona, back at the beginning of April, I was going slowly crazy from sun deprivation and from the constant rain. I hate the mud, and still dealing with it in May has been dispiriting. 

More important than my mood, however, is that fact we haven't been able to get much work done around the place. Anything that needs dry weather - setting new fence posts in cement, planting trees, tilling the garden - has had to wait. Then when the weather is good, we all feel a sudden urgency to do everything at once. Luckily, I have found a new farm hand. He comes recommended by a neighbor farmer, and he lives very nearby. Although only 17, he has proved a hard worker and can handle a shovel with the best of them. Hereinafter referred to as "Farmboy." Today he planted three trees and made a temporary pen for the cow. 

The other day I walked the pasture and was disappointed with the state of it. In a normal year, the grass ought to be well over knee high by now. But what with the cool weather, the lack of lumens, and the number of animals on it, the back pasture's grass is only ankle height. This is despite the fact that I kept the cow and the pony in the sacrifice area for much longer than usual. We went through twice the normal amount of hay last year, due to that and due to the multiple prolonged cold spells and feet of snow. I have been moving the animals around, trying to maximize use of all the grass growing areas one the property. I bring the goats out into the front yard to graze anytime I am home and it isn't raining, but that's only half an hour here and there, and I don't think it takes much pressure off the pasture. The pony and the cow have been in the orchard for a couple of weeks, which was great until I noticed that the cow is eating the smaller trees. I didn't want to put the cow back into the main pasture with the goats both because of the grass situation and because she has become a terrible bully since her horns grew and she has actually injured one of my goats. Have I mentioned that I hate cows? 

There is one area where the grass is doing well - a boggy area about 60 x 200 feet behind the blackberries and adjacent to the small pasture. We have never made use of this area because it is wet, and also because there is a lot of debris and metal and concrete pieces in the ground left over from when the previous owners demolished their dairy barn. The grass growing there is lush, bright green, and shoulder height - but it is Canary grass. Canary grass is a non-native species that flourishes in our cool, wet climate. It has mixed reputation - most people (and certainly the noxious weed board) consider it an invasive nuisance that crowds out better forage species. Canary grass hay is the lowest, cheapest variety of hay, and lots of people won't use its at all. Other people, however, especially people with low,wet pastures, actually plant Canary grass on purpose. In general, the literature tends to say that it is tolerable forage, although most other species of pasture grass are preferable, and most animals will ignore it if better forage is available. 

Myself, I wouldn't buy any hay that had much Canary grass in it, no matter how cheap. I will, however, try to encourage my animals to eat it when it is abundant and other forage is not. To that end, I had Farmboy use T-posts and cattle panels to make an enclosure 32x32 feet. That will keep the cow busy for a few days and when she runs out we can just pound two more posts and move the cattle panels to close in another, similarly sized area. This will keep the cow fed and away from my goats. For a little while. 

The trees that Farmboy planted today were two lovely little Asian pear trees that Homero gave me for mother's day, and last year's Christmas tree, which has been sitting in it's pot on the porch since New Year's. I am not very fond of Asian pears for eating, myself, but both Homero and the girls love them, and I like them because they can be pressed for cider like apples (and unlike European pears). 

Other new developments: we bought six turkey chicks from a neighbor farmer, and Haku immediately killed two of them so now we have four turkey chicks. We also bought six golden sex-link pullets from another local farmer who said she just got over-enthusiastic at the farm store and realized, after raising them for a few weeks, that she didn't actually need thirty of them. It's nice to find pullets instead of chicks, that doesn't happen too often. Now we need to make repairs to the chicken coop. 

I'm not putting in a garden this year, expect for a handful of snap peas. It was too cold and wet to plant anything until last week, anyway. 

Overall, things are fairly copacetic around here. The baby goats are growing like weeds. I have plenty of milk and cheese season is in full swing. It's a gorgeous sunny afternoon and I think I will grab a book and go let the goats out. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Haku and the Baby Goats ("Shepherd" Indeed)

No automatic alt text available.

Haku is in love with Bunny, the bottle baby. In this photo, he is clearly saying "mine." After several days of close supervision, we now trust him enough to leave him alone with the baby for, oh, up to five minutes at a time. He doesn't want to hurt her; he wants to lick her vigorously and unceasingly. That, however, is not pleasant for a baby goat. She quickly becomes wet and exhausted and needs to be rescued. 

As Bunny gets older and starts to jump and run more, Haku is becoming less trustworthy. I think his prey drive is engaged when the baby zips erratically around. So far, he has not tried to catch a baby with his teeth - only tried to pounce with his paws. But he has had to be scolded off often. I doubt very much if Haku will ever be entirely trustworthy with any livestock. 

Polly, the latest goat to give birth, certainly doesn't think so. Polly bucked the trend by giving birth easily and without drama to twin doelings. They were both large and energetic, standing up and nursing without help. I think my favorite is this pretty little brown and black girl. The girls have named her Ombre, after the way her colors fade into each other. 

Image may contain: outdoor

When I brought Haku into the mama barn to meet the new babies, he tried to lick them and kiss them the way he does with the house baby. Mama Polly was having none of it. She got between Haku and the babies, lowered her horns, and made menacing noises (well, what passes for menacing noises when made by a goat). When Haku persisted, Polly gave him her horns. Apparently deeply offended, Haku responded by growling and snapping at Polly - and I instantly hauled him away and scolded him. He needs to understand that the babies are to be safeguarded and that the mamas are absolutely sacrosanct. 

Maybe I am being a little bit unrealistic about Haku's vocabulary. I'd be happy if he just learned "gentle" and "no." 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Beat Up by a Sheep (For the LAST time)

Sometime this past winter, my sister gave us a sheep. A ram, actually. She and her husband raise Jacob's sheep, a heritage breed that is believed to be one of the oldest breeds around. They typically have four horns, and some even have six. They are not large, for sheep. They are a dual purpose breed, bred for meat and wool. They didn't want this particular sheep, my sister explained, "because he is an asshole."
Image result for jacob's sheep
Not ones to look a gift horse (or sheep) in the mouth, we said "thank you," and took him home.
Soon enough, we found out why they didn't want him around. Every time we went into the pasture, he would charge us like a deranged... well.... ram. Although he only weighed about fifty pounds, it still hurt like hell when he bashed into the side of my knee. And he didn't back off when I fought back, either. I took to carrying a stick, and once I hit him hard enough the nose to make him bleed (yes, I felt bad afterwards) but it made no difference to the sheep. He charged regardless.

The obvious solution would have been to kill him immediately, of course, but there were a variety of reasons we didn't do that. Firstly, we thought we could fatten him up. Secondly, the freezer was already full of beef, pork, and salmon. And lastly, Homero just didn't have time, and he is too cheap to let me schedule a professional to do any job he is capable of doing himself.

So we simply lived with the crazy aggressive sheep. I lost track of the number of times he knocked me down, but one instance stands out in my mind. It was mid-winter, and the ground was frozen solid. Over the past few days, it had repeatedly snowed, thawed, and frozen, and so there were a couple inches of ice in the barnyard, with hummocks of frozen dirt and gravel sticking up, and holes here and there as well. Treacherous ground, on which anybody might turn an ankle, irrespective of the need to fight off mentally impaired ovines.

The hose was frozen, so I was filling five gallon buckets directly from the spigot, precariously standing bent over on the ice-slick that surrounded the water pump. The sheep hit me from behind; I never saw him coming. I fell down, of course, and floundered around on the ice, unable to get up. The sheep backed up and charged again. He hit me in the hip, and I sprawled on my belly. I rolled over on my back and wildly flailed my legs trying to fend off his next charge. This ridiculous and humiliating scene went on for some time, until I managed to grab him by the horns and immobilize him. I still couldn't get up, however. My boots slid helplessly on the ice, and I didn't dare let go of the sheep to grab the fence for support. There were a few minutes of detente, the sheep and I frozen in an absurd tableau, catching our breath.

After a while, I managed to stand up, using the sheep himself as support. I lugged him into the barn and somehow closed the door between us. Then I limped back to the house, determined that the sheep had beat me up for the last time. Not so, alas, not so. Over the next few months, the sheep kept me well supplied with bruises. The children could not be sent out to do chores. We more or less lived in fear of this stupid, obstinate animal, himself apparently the victim of an overdeveloped instinct to attack everything that moved.

Recently, the grass finally being grown enough to provide forage, we moved the sheep by himself into the orchard, where he wouldn't interfere with daily chores. This worked fine until yesterday. Yesterday, I took the goats out to browse, and the sight of them moved the sheep to heroic efforts. He escaped, and as soon as he was free, he charged me. This time I saw him coming, and I grabbed him by the horns before he could hurt me. Holding on, I yelled for my husband. While I was waiting for him to run over from the shop, I noticed that one of the ram's four horns was curled back and growing straight into his own skull. As far as I could tell,  it hadn't yet penetrated the flesh, but it was surely uncomfortable, and soon would be downright painful, if it wasn't already. When Homero arrived, I showed him the situation, and said "we have to kill this sheep today."

Luckily, it was a fairly nice afternoon, and so Homero quickly dispatched the ram via a bullet to the back of the head (never the front; the bullet will ricochet off the shelf of thick bone). Within a couple of hours, the evil ram had been reduced to his constituent parts and was fulfilling his ultimate purpose of providing us with tasty protein. According to our personal system of division of labor, Homero deals with the slaughter and the icky parts of skinning, cleaning, and gutting, and delivers the meat to me inside in the form of large hunks - what I believe are called in the trade "primal" cuts - whole legs, shoulder, ribs and belly, back. I take it from there and trim and cut the chunks into reasonable portions as best I can, which isn't all that great since my only education in butchery is a thin book I bought called "home butchery of livestock and game."

The ribs (both sides) went into the oven, slathered with barbecue rub, and cooked on a moderate 325 degrees, covered in tinfoil, for about five hours until they were falling apart tender. That was dinner last night. I broke down the back legs into butt and haunch (I know those aren't the right terms) and packaged four nice roasts for the freezer. Then I took all the rest - shoulder, neck, back - and packed them into my giant tamalero (basically a gigantic spaghetti pot; a steamer) to make broth.

Today I strained the broth, ladled it into gallon ziplock bags for the freezer, and shredded the meat off the bones to be packaged in quart sized ziplock bags in the freezer. Except, of course, for the meat we are using tonight to make tacos de barbacoa de borrego.

Tacos de Borrego:

Make the broth

In a large steamer pot, pack all the mutton pieces (shoulder, neck, ribs, butt, whatever)
1 large onion
1 head garlic, separated
10 chiles guajillo, torn into pieces and seeds shaken out
1 tbsp whole allspice
1/4 cup salt
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns

1 gallon water

cover, seal with foil, and steam 4-6 hours, until meat is falling off the bone

Strain broth and save for another purpose. 
Shred meat off bones and serve on a platter with:

Fresh hot corn tortillas
minced white onion
minced jalapeno peppers
quartered limes
minced cilantro

Raw Green and Cooked red salsa

Green salsa:
10 raw tomatillos, peeled and rinsed
3 serrano chiles
1/2 white onion
blend in blender until fairly smooth

Cooked Red salsa:
10 chiles guajillo, toasted, soaked for 1 hour in boiling water
1/4 cup neutral oil, heated until shimmering
1 tsp whole cumin seed
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Blend soaked chiles, garlic, and vinegar in blender until quite smooth
heat oil in saucepan, add cumin 
pour blended chiles into pan; be careful, it will spit. 
Stir, add salt too taste

To serve:

lay out a platter of steamed shredded mutton, minced vegetables and herbs, quartered limes, hot tortillas, and cubed avocado. Have simple boiled rice on the side. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Happy Easter/Ostara

Easter is my favorite holiday of the year. Perhaps because my family always made a big deal out it, or perhaps because I live in a part of the world that has such long, grey, wet winters that the coming of spring is an event heartily longed for. Or perhaps because when I first started to learn about pre-Christian European religious traditions, my first mind-blowing revelation was that Easter was named after Ostara, the word for the vernal equinox, and that that word in turn was derived from Oestra - a fertility goddess whose name also serves as the root word of "estrus," the fertile portion of the menstrual cycle, or what is commonly called "heat" in animals. 

I have since learned that the etymology is suspect.  See the link for an excellent article about the history of the modern pagan holiday: 

That doesn't really matter to me - as the article states, muddiness or even deliberate fraud in the interpretation of the holiday does not prevent it from
serving as the basis for valid spiritual
practice. If it did, Easter itself would have no validity for the billions of christians in the world, being an appropriated holiday. But be that as it may, Easter has become the high holiday of Christianity, the celebration of the triumph of Jesus over death.

Ostara, or the vernal equinox by any of the thousand names it has held in thousands of human societies over all of human history,  has always been the celebration of the triumph of life over death. It is an eternal constant of life in the high latitudes of this planet that spring follows fall, as certain as it is that day follows night. 

I'm so glad that I grew up in a four season climate. It makes possible the sacred calendar, and that is the basis of my spiritual life. Easter is the real true new year of my soul - no matter what the calendar says. Happy new year! Rejoice in the color, the bloom, the infant life of the year.