Sunday, August 13, 2017
Thursday, August 10, 2017
Thursday, August 3, 2017
Friday, July 14, 2017
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
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.
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.
Friday, June 30, 2017
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
1/2 cup milk (or more)
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
Posted by Aimee at 11:35 PM
Monday, June 12, 2017
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
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
|Nettles in the weeds|
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
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."
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
Raw Green and Cooked red 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
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
Posted by Aimee at 3:02 PM
Sunday, April 9, 2017
|Bunny, the house goat|
Last week, the younger girls and I went to Tucson to visit my dad. While we were gone, two of the does decided to give birth. Does have a sixth sense about the worst possible time to give birth, and that's when they always do it. Not only was I not here to help, but there was a major windstorm going on, too, with gusts up to 65 mph.
The first doe to give birth was our newest, Christmas. She's a first timer. The birth apparently went fine, but nobody noticed until a day (or two?) later. The baby, a single doeling, was dry and fluffy when found, standing up, and had a shriveled umbilical cord, meaning she was at least 24 hours old. She must have nursed on her own. However, Christmas developed a plugged duct or something, and was now showing signs of mastitis - as I surmised from a description of her symptoms over the phone - and was not letting the baby nurse anymore. Baby was going downhill fast, and mama had a lumpy, inflamed udder, which needed immediate attention.
I started spitting out instructions to my poor husband ("Go to the farm store! Buy penicillin! Here's a photo of where to give a goat injections! Milk! Milk! Massage! Massage!"). I called my sister and asked her to come and tube feed the baby, which she did (THANK YOU!!). Sister took the baby home and kept her alive, then handed her off to Rowan who kept her alive for another day, and between them they got her to take a bottle and suck. Meanwhile, Homero gave penicillin shots and milked Christmas, despite her frantic objections, every four hours. It looks like Christmas is going to be fine, and any scarring will be minimal. Hopefully, we won't have another one-teated goat like Flopsy.
Ah, Flopsy. Flops decided to give birth the next day - friday. And unfortunately, when Homero called me, things weren't going to well. There was ONE hoof sticking out of Flopsy's vagina, and nothing else. More frantic instructions. More abject begging, on Facebook this time, to knowledgeable goat people who have experience "going in" and retrieving kids. Thankfully, a wonderful neighbor of mine, who is totally fearless and well experienced, ran right over to help.
But there was bad news. Flopsy was carrying triplets, and two of them were already dead. In fact, from looking at them it was obvious they'd been dead for some time. This is the second year in a row that I've had stillbirths, and I'm going to address the possible causes with the help of my vet as soon as their office opens monday. I know there are several infections that can cause abortions - Chlamydia comes to mind - so I want them all tested. The other possibility is ketosis. Flopsy is quite thin, and the forage is still awful because of the cold wet spring. They have unlimited grass hay, and some grain, but it might not have been enough. It takes a LOT of energy to grow triplets.
|Flopsy deciding if will accept the other baby (no)|
There was a silver lining though - one of Flopsy's triplets was born alive. A beautiful little spotted doeling. She was very weak, and she needed tube feeding and warming up as well, which my friend very generously provided. After a night of warming and a bellyful of colostrum, she was well enough to stand on her own, so my friend brought her back to mama. And she is doing beautifully, nursing and generally thriving.
I am so grateful to my community! My husband did all he could, and saved the day. My sister and daughter drove all over the county to come and help; and my neighbors came to the rescue. Now I have two gorgeous new doelings instead of none. The only downside is that Bunny, Christmas' baby, will remain a bottle baby. I tried to get her back on her mama, but Christmas wants nothing to do with her. It's too bad, both because bottle babies are a pain in the neck, and also because if Christmas "fails" as a mama on her first try and rejects her baby, she may reject all future babies as well. If that happens, she can still be a good milk goat, but for somebody else. I like my baby goats raised by their own mamas, and out in the barn. Not in the house.
The girls, though, are loving having a house-goat.
Posted by Aimee at 2:36 PM