"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, April 9, 2018

Baby Goats Make Grey Days Okay


Bunny needs to be beaten off the fruit trees. 







The babies are learning what’s good to eat (blackberries! Yum!). 




Paloma, being gently attacked. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Long Goodbye




Today at around five o'clock in the evening I got the call from hospice that my dad had died

.



It was anything but an unexpected death, which I suppose is obvious from the fact that he was in hospice. That was my doing. As his legal guardian, it fell to me to make the decision to move him out of the ICU, where he had spent the past nine days, and into a hospice, where the pretense that he might possibly recover would end, along with all the futile, painful interventions that maintained that pretense.

I've been shuttling back and forth from Bellingham to Tucson frequently in the past year, along with my sister. Last spring, or early last summer, I forget which, my stepmom called us and said she couldn't care for him at home anymore. We were unsurprised.  Frankly we wondered how she had been managing for the past several years. Dad had a stroke in 2002 that left him hemi-paralyzed, and his health had described a slowly declining arc ever since.

The visit that followed my stepmom's pronouncement was pure hell, a hell that illuminated for me every single thing that is wrong with American health care and the American way of caring (or not) for the elderly and disabled. My sister and I had to make one awful, wrenching decision after another. Dad resisted with all of his strength facing the truth that he needed a level of care that could not be provided at home, and he used every tactic at his disposal. In the end we left him in the local veteran's hospital on a psych hold, and I started emergency proceedings to become his legal guardian.

There followed several months of bureaucratic nightmare waltz. Dad was transferred from one facility to another. I think he went through five placements in a fewer number of months. He was in and out of the hospital. I, formally instated by a judge as his legal guardian, received midnight calls from emergency room physicians asking me what I wanted them to do.

"If I do nothing, he's going to die," said the voice on the other end of the telephone.

This happened more than once.

Those awful episodes were interspersed with weeks of semi-recovery in various nursing homes. The nicest one had chickens and a nurse who helped him plant some seeds in pots in the small courtyard. Dad was always a gardener.  I don't think there has been a single year of his adult life he didn't have some sort of garden, even in these latter years. My brother-in-law built him raised beds in his yard in Tucson, beds he could plant and weed from his wheelchair.

That reminds me, of course, of all the time he and I spent dreaming about a little five-acre farm. During the years he lived with me and my daughter in the blue house in Seattle. It was a game we played, the "Self-Sufficiency" game.


The self-sufficiency game (love you, Dad)


This time, this last time, the call came that dad was in ICU again, and nobody was really sure what was happening. The first doctor I talked to said he thought it was a pulmonary embolism; the next one said septic shock. Shortly it became clear that whatever the precipitating event was, dad was extremely ill and not very likely to recover enough to make it back to the nursing home. Not that anyone was willing to come right out and say that - but that's a post for another day.

My sister and I both flew down. Dad was in and out of consciousness. We spent a week more or less at his bedside. It was clear, to me anyway, that he was declining, but oh so very, very slowly. It was only after we both had flown home that he became entirely unable to eat or drink, and it was when they started talking about a feeding tube that I said "No."

"Get me hospice," I said.

My mother and my brother have both named me as their medical power-of-attorney, as did dad a couple years ago. I'm not entirely sure why this duty has devolved on me, but I believe that in my mom's case at least, she sees me as the child "most likely to pull the plug." She has made it clear to all of her kids that she has zero desire to hang around in agony one minute longer than necessary, but I'm the one she has designated to make it so. She trusts me to kill her. I can't help but wonder - in dark moments like this one - if my family sees me as unfeeling.

Sometimes I wonder the same thing about myself.

This is the second spring in a row that I have had to fly to Tucson during kidding season. For two years in a row, I have left my husband and kids, who are not experts by any means, to cope with goats giving birth and getting the kids off to a good start. Last year there were complications, and this year I anticipated more complications. Flopsy was once again carrying a ridiculous number of babies, and I knew they would need active help. I did all I could, which was to ask knowledgeable neighbors if they could be on standby, and give their phone numbers to my husband.

Even as I sat at my dad's bedside in the hospital, even as I interrogated his cardiologist or his nurse, I was thinking about Flopsy and her quadruplets. I couldn't help it. Dad was manifestly in good hands - being cared for by people far more qualified than myself and obviously good at their jobs. The same could not be said for my goats. I wanted to care only about my dad, to be in one place completely, at his side and nowhere else, but that just wasn't possible. Not for me. Maybe it never is possible for anyone, and I'm being unreasonably hard on myself. How would I know? This is the first time I'm doing this. Thank all the gods I made it this far.

Luckily, the goats gave birth without major complications and the neighbors came through in spades. Mental note: I need to by a few Starbucks gift cards. In fact, I was sitting outside in the fragile evening sunshine enjoying the sight of seven little goatlets prancing about the lawn when the call came. Dad had passed away quietly, deep in a morphine dream, without pain or agitation, after two weeks of hospitalization.

My dad was a fighter. He did not Go Gently into that Good Night. He resisted every step of the way, with courage and stubbornness. There are certainly easier ways to live and to die than the ways he chose - or the ways that fell to him though fate and genetics - and for my part I hope I find those easier ways. But I admire him his fighting spirit. No one can say he didn't do his damndest to the very end.













































Sunday, March 25, 2018

Baby Goat Drama



Flopsy’s quadruplets

For the second year in a row, I’ve been in Arizona dealing with my dad’s health crisis while the baby goats are born. The whole story will have to wait for another day but for the moment - three mama goats gave birth over two days. One of them had quadruplets and one of them is a reluctant mama who doesn’t let her babies nurse. Homero and the girls did a bang-up job, and once again a kind neighbor stepped in to help out. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Fermentation Files (Spring 2018)



As usual, I have a couple of different fermentations going on in the kitchen. At this point in time, after years of tinkering and experimenting, home-fermented foods are simply an everyday part of our diet - which is as it should be. Fermented foods have been an integral part of the diets of people in all parts of the world for centuries, if not millennia.

http://fermentalitylab.com/116655-2/

Fermentation is the answer to many problems - how to preserve fresh vegetables through the winter; how to turn easily spoiled milk into delicious, storable cheese and yogurt; how to increase the digestibility and the vitamin content of tough root vegetables; how to get drunk and party through a long, drab, grey season.

Fermenting  is a traditional and easy way of preserving fresh vegetables through the cold season in four-season climates, like northern and Eastern Europe where most of my ancestors came from. It is the only method of preservation that actually increases the nutrient content of the food being  preserved. Bacterial action produces high levels of B vitamins, including the hard-to-find B12.

Discover-the-Digestive-Benefits-of-Fermented-Foods_1383-1.html




My Kefir. A few years ago I bartered for some kefir grains and was sadly disappointed to learn that I couldn't put them in fresh, raw goat's milk. When I tried that, they died overnight. Turns out - as I could have learned from a very short investigation online - if you want to propagate a particular SCOBY (Symbiotic Community Of Bacteria and Yeast), you need to cultivate it in a relatively sterile medium. Raw milk is chock full of it's own community of bacteria and yeasts, and they are stronger and more vigorous  than whatever you are trying to grow. I was basically starting WW3 every time I put a few kefir grains into raw milk. And my soft, domesticated culture lost every time. The kefir grains I bought turned into sludge and disappeared.

The last time we went to Oaxaca, two and a half years ago, I got new kefir grains from my mother-in-law. She calls them "bulgaros" and she calls the product they create "yogurt." In fact (or at least in English) yogurt is something different - simply milk cultured with certain bacterial strains, and it can be propagated indefinitely just by adding old yogurt to new, scalded milk. Kefir is a different animal - a SCOBY. You can make new yogurt from old yogurt, but you can't make new kefir from old kefir. You need the SCOBY - the grains.

These look like little niblets of cauliflower. Keeping them alive and growing is fairly simple. Put a tablespoon of kefir grains into a pint of pasteurized milk. Let sit for 24-48 hours. Strain. The thickened, digested milk that you strain off is kefir. Wash the grains in water several times, swishing and draining. Then place in new milk. Some books will tell you to wash the grains in milk, and not water. Don't believe them. When I did that, the grains melted over time into sludge. As soon as I started washing them in water every two days, they grew amazingly. Which is what my mother-in-law had been trying to tell me, but for reasons of cultural imperialism and white privilege I had been ignoring her wisdom in favor of some white dude who got published. If you are lucky enough to have access to an intact system of food production, utilize it! Go figure.




Sauerkraut. I probably wouldn't make sauerkraut very often except that my daughter Hope loves it. I like sauerkraut just fine, but its not what I would call a staple food. It is, however,  one of the easiest and cheapest ferments One head of green cabbage, and one or two tablespoons of salt, depending on the weight of the cabbage. Shred cabbage finely , massage with salt, pack into a glass jar and pound down tightly with a wooden pestle. Let sit on the counter at least one week, then test for sourness. If you like the taste, rinse quickly under running water, squeeze, and pack into smaller ja and put int he fridge.




Making bread. I lost my sourdough starter several months ago. This is a quick focaccia bread, made with store-bought yeast. Still yummy, however. I love baking, it makes me happy and nothing makes the house smell so good.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Porksicles (Deep Bedding)



After a prolonged, unseasonable warm spell in January, we experienced a brief, seasonable cold snap last week. Five or six days of temperatures in the high teens and low twenties, accompanied by small hard snow and high winds. 
Our pigs, which were very close to their butchering date, had only the three-sided field structure for shelter, and it was inadequate.

On a particularly cold night I asked Homero to go open a bale of hay for them to use as fresh bedding. He was outside a long time, and when he came back I asked what took him so long. 

“Amor, the pigs were freezing,” he said. “They didn’t even want to come out for food, and when they did come out they could hardly stand up they were trembling so hard.” 

“Oh no! Poor piggies! What did you do? Did you give them hay?” 

“Hay would not be enough, I moved them into the big barn with the goats.” 

The “big barn” is a 12x16’ barn from Home Depot which we have had since we first moved here. Every winter we use a deep bedding system; basically just throwing more and more dry straw down on top of the old, wet straw until it is a good eighteen inches thick. A couple weeks ago I dug down with my hand into the bedding and felt the heat from the natural composting. It was quite hot about six inches down - almost uncomfortably hot. The goats have been benefitting from this heat all winter long. 

Moving the pigs into the barn served a secondary purpose besides keeping them from freezing to death. As you might imagine (or might not, if you have no farm experience), removing a winter’s worth of deep litter is a back-breaking task. Even from a barn as small as ours is - the litter packs down tight and it takes a strong man (my husband) several hours to pitch it all out with a pitchfork, and then he needs a hot bath, a massage, and a shitload of Ibuprofen. Pigs, however, can plow through deep litter effortlessly with their snouts, like little biological diesel tractors. 

The pigs stayed in the barn for four days before the butchers came, and during that time they rooted through the compacted litter like badgers on steroids. The barn is now full of fluffy, relatively easy to shovel compost, which will greatly enhance our garden come spring. 

And the pigs themselves have now been removed to the deep freezers of Lynden Meats; soon to be dispersed to our customers, neighbors, family, and friends in the form of chops, ribs, bacon, and sausage, fuel for many a family feast. The pigs are dead, long live the pigs! 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Going Down in a Hail of Gory

It's February in the far northwest, which means it is the time of year that otherwise ordinary, well-adjusted people begin to contemplate going on a tri-state killing spree just for a fucking change of scenery. 


This is the greyest, wettest month - or maybe not, maybe it’s November but in November this had all just started and you could still feel a sort of relief because you could still remember red leaves against the blue October sky. You could still console yourself by recalling how hot and awful it was in August. In February it’s been grey and cold and wet for four months straight and August is just a dream, just a murmur, just a rumor, not something anyone sensible can actually believe in. Manifestly, February is all there is. 

Mud is all there is. Mud in the barnyard, mud seeping into your socks through the cracks in your gumboots, mud up to the dog’s belly, mud on your sheets, mud in your breakfast, mud in your mood, mud in your soul. 

This morning, it was raining when I went out to feed the animals. Driving rain, actually, sideways rain in a brisk wind that made my hair fly into my face and blind me. Feeding the animals isn’t easy now because the pigs are about as big as they are going to get (butcher is scheduled for two weeks from now) and they - in cohort with the incessant rain - have turned their yard into a sea of brown soup. It’s absolutely impossible to go into their yard for any reason. Besides the mud, the pigs are desperate with hunger. They hurl themselves against the fence as soon as they see me coming and emit high pitched shrieks. 

The pig buckets are tied to the fence with twine, and I have to haul them up over the fence to my side to fill them with grain and slops. Then as soon as I lower them down on the inside, the pigs go into an absolute feeding frenzy and fight and wrangle and wrestle until they inevitably spill the buckets into the liquid mud. The grain disappears. The pigs grunt with frustration and begin whuffling through the mud, presumably searching for the drowned grain. I sigh, and start lobbing apples and chunks of stale baguette over the fence, aiming for higher ground. Soon this will all be over, soon the pigs will cease to be annoying animals who must be catered to at my peril and instead will be delicious cuts of meat that lie passively, quisently in the freezer, waiting for me to use them as I choose. To slather them with flavor, to lay them in a sizzling pan, to inhale their savory aroma and to eat them. The sooner the better.

As I am giving the goats their hay (and beating them off me and swearing as they leap up and stand on my chest), I look through the window of the barn into the chicken coop and see that there is a sizeable nest of eggs. Getting to them isn’t easy - the chicken coop is the goopiest, grossest part of the whole barnyard and my feet sink in alarmingly. But I make it, and I extract fifteen eggs from the nest, and place them in the bucket to bring them inside. I will have to wash them carefully, because of course they are pretty disgusting - covered in chicken shit and ordure, with bits of hay stuck to them. People without chickens, or people who do have chickens but live in dry climates do not know - thankfully - how gross eggs laid in winter are before they are cleaned up. 

Chores finished, I trudge back towards the house - in the driving rain. I keep my head tucked down and face turned out of the wind. As I step onto the slimy porch in my slippery gumboots, I instantly execute an inadvertent splits. My front foot slides out ahead of me, my back foot goes out behind. I go down and the bucket full of eggs goes up. Next thing I know I am aspraddle on the ground, and a hail of shitty eggs is raining down on me. Fifteen of them. All of them broke except two; and almost all of those broke somewhere on ME. 

Between the rain and the mildewy deck planks and the thirteen broken eggs and the gumboots, I spent a half a minute scrabbling around on my hands and knees before I was able to get upright. My clothes were such a ghastly mess that I stripped off in the playroom and left them in heap, to spray down with the hose later before bringing them in to the laundry room. 

One long hot shower later, nursing a steaming black coffee, I am trying to decide if August in Cascadia, lovely as it is, is worth enduring the horrors of February. No decisions have been made. I’m going to have to wait for neutral April to help me decide. 



Friday, February 2, 2018

Imbolc 2018

Seen on a walk today: 









Thursday, January 18, 2018

All Quiet on the Farm Front



It is the dark days. The quiet time, the resting time. The goats are pregnant - most but hopefully not all of them - and lie around munching their cud and avoiding the rain and the mud. The pigs spend their time rooting around in the mud, looking for a bit of beet or a squash or something they might have missed from breakfast. They are just growing, growing bigger and ever closer to their date with the butcher sometime in February. The chickens huddle up in the hayloft, laying their few winter eggs inaccessibly between the bales.

And we, the people, spend as little time out in the barnyard as possible, to tell the truth. It hasn't been awful, the weather, but it hasn't been nice, either. It's par for the course Pacific Northwest January weather - wet, windy, and grey. Nice weather for watching movies and reading books, not nice weather for trimming goat hooves or fixing fences. Not that those tasks can be put off forever, of course. Just until... just until... well, maybe next week.

Because of the gleaner's pantry, it is always preserving season around here. Lately we have been getting a ton of apples. Last week I brought home a dozen bags of assorted varieties of organic apples. First I made four quarts of applesauce, then I noticed that we already have an awful lot of applesauce that we aren't eating in the cupboard. So I broke out the dehydrator. It has five trays, and can hold about a dozen thinly sliced apples. Then it tales about six or eight hours to dry them the way I like them, so dry they are crispy. The dehydrator has been going for three days straight, and we have three gallon-sized ziplocks full of apple rings in the snack drawer. The kitchen smells great.

There's nothing much on the immediate horizon. The goats aren't due to give birth until late March. Holidays are over, no big celebrations coming up until Easter. My birthday is next week, but it isn't a landmark birthday (46) and I don't expect much of a to-do. Times like this I think I should take up knitting, or set up my studio again and try to get back into painting. Or maybe try again to journal every day. Or at the very least, do some ambitious cooking and baking.

We do have to eat some of the meat from the freezer to make room for the pork that will be coming in soon. Maybe it's time to have a party, and make a big old feast.

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)
-cilantro
-lime

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....) 

Mayonnaise.

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: